When adding livestock of any kind, there are some major concepts to consider and implement. I look at our livestock as a long term investment. As such, I have a few strategies I use to ensure a return on my investment of blood, sweat, tears, and money.
The first is the why. Be sure the why is well thought out and defined. know that you will face set backs but keeping the why in the forefront of your mind will help you soldier through when times get rough. Our why is two-fold, wholesome food and freedom. Freedom by being less dependent on the system, on grocery and retail stores. Having this in mind, we have chosen animals that are truly multi-purpose. Our rabbits for example, provide not only meat, but fur for winter warmth, as well as a cold manure to supplement our soil throughout the growing season without burning our plants. Our chickens, Domonique’s, are dual purpose for meat and layers, but their feathers have long been used to stuff pillows, mattresses, furniture and more. Their bedding and manure is used to build up our compost. Our next venture is dairy goats. An animal that will provide us with milk, cheese, butter, and many other wonderful dairy products as well as a source of income by selling off kids, or meat if we can not sell them. The ones that go into the freezer will also provide us with hides for leather, and all of them will give us another soil amendment for growing food, multi-purpose.
The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is absolutely true. Concerning new livestock; prevention is two-fold, research and preparation. half assed attempts will only bring heartache and cost you money. Research as much as you can. How to care for the animal, both daily and emergency situations. How to feed them and how to house them based on your climate. Fencing requirements and predator prevention. Your preparation will be based off of this research. Be sure to have housing, feed, and first aid kits ready before bringing any animals to the homestead. Especially if you are unable to find a veterinarian nearby to help out when emergencies arise. Just know that research only gets you so far. There are folks who have been raising livestock their entire lives and are still experiencing new problems and learning.
Now, how to choose your stock. We have used three tactics when choosing stock. Babies, mature, and proven animals. Each have their pros and cons. Starting with babies will save you some up front cash, and allows you the time to bond with the animal and establish your hierarchal places. The downside is the amount of time and feed it will take to get the animal to maturity/butcher and then to begin seeing returns. Bringing in mature animals will cost a little more money up front, but will greatly reduce the time and feed before they begin to produce. We took this approach when we added new breeders for our meat rabbits. A rabbits gestation is only 28-32 days so we weren’t put off by the idea of letting the first time moms a few tries to see if they’d be good breeders. There is the chance that it will be more difficult to bond with a mature animal so be ready for a period of transition. The final option is the most expensive, proven stock. Proven stock has already shown their ability to breed, produce, and raise offspring. This is the approach we are taking for our dairy goats. The initial investment is hefty, but seeing returns so soon as well as the piece of mind it will bring to know that at least one of us knows what she’s doing, is well worth it to me.
The bottom line, there’s just as much work to prepare for livestock as there is to raise them. Like pets, these animals are lifetime investments. So do your due diligence so there is no unnecessary heartbreak or suffering.