Raising Animals

In a comment to yesterday’s post Gordon noted that keeping animals on a farm can prevent the farmers from traveling. That is a true and important observation. His comment has caused me to think of some of the other downsides to raising animals on a farm/homestead and I thought I’d mention a few of them this morning, for those weighing the pros and cons. My purpose is neither to encourage nor dissuade folks from keeping animals, but rather just to throw out some of the factors that should be considered.

Of course the benefits of domesticated animals on a homestead are fairly obvious–the most important two being that they provide food and fertilizer.

I’m not going to dwell on the cost and time commitment associated with animal husbandry. There are significant cost and time commitments to raising vegetables too. I will say though that it’s important to do your homework carefully before getting animals. For example, we built our fences expecting them to only contain horses. When we added goats those fences were unsuitable and had to be modified at considerable expense. We added a corral and head chute gate when we had cows, only to find it unnecessary and a waste of money when we decided not to keep the cows. Just think those kinds of things through. Look down the road as best you can, and go slowly.

The single hardest thing about raising farm animals is killing them. I’m not going to dwell on that, but any homesteader needs to consider carefully what this will mean and what it will require of them.

The death of animals one has raised, usually from birth, is distressing. And it isn’t just on processing days that farm animals die. They get sick, and can suffer long and painfully. This will often require that they be euthanized (not an easy job to say the least). They die in childbirth. They die as newborns. They die from doing stupid things. They die from predators.

We lost eight kids and a doe to coyotes this year. Last night a coon killed ten of our neighbor’s chickens. A friend of ours lost 5 ewes and over a dozen lambs to coyotes. Another friend lost 10 lambs to coyotes. Our chickens are killed by foxes, hawks, coons, possums, dogs, snakes and coyotes. Our flock of guineas was wiped out completely by owls. If you keep animals you will have to deal with losing them to predators and you will have to deal with the reality that you have an obligation to protect them–which can mean killing the predator animals.

Market day can be distressing as well. Separating young bucklings from their mothers, loading them into a trailer, and driving them to the market to sell, is not a pleasant experience. But you can’t keep lots of buck goats or roosters. They’ll fight each other and make the lives of the females miserable. Getting rid of the extra males, whether you do it yourself or delegate the job, isn’t easy.

Then there is the point Gordon made–your obligation to the animals will tie you down. We can leave the goats unattended for a few days, but the chickens have to be tended to daily. If you keep a guard dog, he will have to be fed daily too. Of course if you keep a milk cow or a milk goat, she will have to be milked at least once a day. If you want the flexibility to travel, even for just a few days, you have to have a plan for it that involves having someone tend your animals.

Farm animals sometimes escape. When they’re outside the fence they can eat your gardens, or your neighbors gardens. Large animals can wreck cars with very serious consequences. Sometimes cows or pigs escape and are never recaptured. Make sure you have good and appropriate fencing, but also keep in mind that gates are sometimes left open, trees can fall on fences, the power can go out, etc.

I reckon that’s enough for now. Just some things to keep in mind when planning for animals on the homestead.