For anyone who is interested in living a more sustainable lifestyle, the most common idea is to purchase and keep livestock. Whether it be bees, cattle, rabbits, goats, or a mixture of everything, I’ve decided to list some helpful tips & tricks for the first time livestock buyer.
Use A Variety of Sources – There are many ways to buy livestock these days. One of the most common is to join buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook. Often, there are multiple gardening and livestock groups for a single geographical area. Other resources include Craigslist, local livestock auctions (see local Newspapers, Facebook pages, etc.), and local farmers. Many times, approaching a local farmer can be advantageous because you can really see and learn about where you’re getting your animal from. Farmers will sometimes allow you to put down a deposit on offspring when they are born or come of weaning age. Working with a farmer in this way will allow you to learn about the livestock you’re interested in purchasing while you wait for your new animal.
Do Your Research – If there is a particular breed of say, pig, that you are really wanting, DO YOUR RESEARCH! Figure out approximately how much land the animal(s) you’re wanting require. Figure out if they’re better foragers or need to rely primarily on grain. Look into FENCING! Fencing is potentially the most important piece of information to know, as it will prevent your livestock from escaping and costing you a fortune in possible fines or losses of livestock. Look into the type of livestock you’re wanting vs your property (ie. species of trees, slope of land, access to water, etc.). Figure out everything that you can regarding your animal(s) of interest.
For example, pigs can forage and fatten well on acorns, however acorns in large quantities can be toxic to goats. Some breeds of pigs are foragers, while most other breeds are rooting breeds. Look into a lard type vs a meat type of hog and decide which best fits your needs. Check sizes at maturity, most small homesteads are not equipped to handle an 800+lb hog. Check your climate vs climates the animals were bred for (ie. Mangalitsas are ideal in cooler climates, do not handle heat well). Look at average litter sizes if you plan to breed, and mothering ability. Find information on their personalities and temperaments (flighty vs personable vs aggressive, etc.).
If you have sufficiently researched and settled on a particular breed (or even a cross breed if they are readily available), keep searching until you find what you want. Don’t settle! If you’re prepared to take on two large black hogs, shop around and find yourself two large black hogs!
Prepare Your Enclosure – The last thing you want to do as a new livestock owner is bring home your animal(s) and realize you have nowhere to keep them! Prepare, at minimum, a secure holding enclosure (ie. stall in a barn, 4-panel square pen, chain-link dog kennel, etc.) for the animal(s) to live in, safe from predators and escape, until their permanent enclosure is done.
In preparing their permanent enclosure, be sure you have covered all your bases. This goes back to doing your research! Be sure to choose the proper fencing, provide sufficient shelter, allow for constant access to fresh water, have a feeding area set up if you require one. Decide if you will be separating your enclosure into separate pens to offer rotational grazing, or if you will simply use one large pen. Make sure all aspects of your enclosure are planned out so that you only need to make small tweaks as you go.
Decide on a Feeding Program – Again, back to doing research. Are you going to feed your animals on a commercial feed? Or will you feed a local mix? Will you rotate pastures or use one large one? Do you have a source for kitchen or grocery store scraps? Can you free-feed good quality hay and grass and forego grain all together? Do what works best for you, but also what is best for your animals.
Poop – Yes, poop. How are you going to manage it? Animals poop, a lot. Smaller stock like rabbits can be managed easily with a collection system under their cages. Larger animals like hogs and cattle will need to have their pastures scraped or a rotational system in place to help mitigate the large amount of waste they create. O2 composting is another good way to mitigate waste, though it is labor intensive. One system that I am fabulously in favor of, and plan to be trying soon, is Joel Salatin’s rotational & communal grazing system. He grazes hens behind cattle to spread the cattle waste and control insects. This is a concept that can be applied to most rotational grazing setups. Regardless, you need to come up with a plan for your livestock’s poop!
An Animal’s Purpose – Decide before even looking for animals how you’re going to be using them, and make sure everyone in your household is aware of this from the get-go. Making a decision regarding “Lamb-chop’s” purpose prior to purchase will make the butchering and processing portion much easier if everyone goes into it knowing he was always supposed to be dinner.
Ask For Help – My final bit of advice when purchasing new livestock is to ask for advice when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask because you think it makes you look dumb. I’ve said before that everyone does things a little bit differently, and just because it doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean that others haven’t had successes, or vice versa. Social media is a fabulous tool for this, there are hundreds of thousands of groups dedicated to homesteading and livestock alone that provide fabulous advice and resources for those new to the practice.