Monday, June 28, 2010

So you want to raise livestock?

Whether you plan on raising chickens, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, or some other animal, there are  basics that you should know first before taking the jump into production. Keys to success in raising livestock include knowledge of goals, options, and resources. Knowing these key points will help to shape your farm and make it successful in the long run.

Goals and Options:
Your first step is to identify and evaluate your goals. Ask yourself why you want livestock. Is it because you want to produce a healthy food source for your family? Maybe you want livestock to manage the forage on your land? Or want livestock to produce and sell a fresh product to the public? Whatever the case, goals are instrumental in providing the founding steps to your new venture. 

 After you decide why you want animals, you need to determine what type of livestock will be compatible with your land. Some items to think about are number of acres you have available, township regulations, and property zoning. Maybe your township allows animals but only allows a certain number per acre.  If you only have one acre you probably will want to start with smaller animals, such as chickens.

You will also need to determine what type of operation you want to have. For example, if you know you want chickens, you will have to decide whether you want layers (egg production) or broilers (meat production). If you want to produce milk, you need to choose what kind of milk you want to produce such as goat milk or cow milk.

Knowing the specie of livestock you want to raise will help to evaluate what breed fits your needs. If you want to raise beef cattle and your goal is to be pasture based then you should choose a breed that produces more efficiently on pasture such as Belted Galloway. This is the same for all livestock. There are breeds that will produce better in certain conditions.

What kind of resources do you already have available? Facilities, finances, equipment, and advisors are all important when it comes to resources.  Knowing what you have available to you before you start raising livestock will help you to be more prepared.

For production on small acres of land and for the beginning farmer, basic facilities are needed but they also depend on the type of animal you decide to raise. For cattle, head gates, chutes, and pens are needed to make it easier to handle them. Smaller livestock such as pigs, sheep, and goats need separate pens for handling. Feeders, troughs, fencing, and shelter are important for all species. Feeders are necessary if animals are being fed grain. Troughs or tubs are great for providing a daily water source to your animals if you don’t have access to an automatic waterer. Fencing is also important when caring for animals. Livestock need a sturdy electric fence that should be six strands or more depending on the species you are raising. Electric fencing helps to keep livestock in and predators out. Shelter or shade is another important aspect of raising livestock and most imperative during winter and summer months. Shelter is probably the best idea to have for your animals to stay dry and comfortable. If shelter is not available, shaded dry areas will work as well so animals can stay cool in the hot weather.  

Of course these points are just the basics. Raising animals can be quite rewarding as long as you are prepared by knowing your goals. Be familiar with the livestock you want to produce. Rely on resources around you to make educated decisions. Penn State Cooperative Extension educators, veterinarians, other producers, and industry specialists are people that you can rely on when you have questions or concerns.

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