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.

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20 comments on “Raising Animals

  1. Laurie Graves says:

    After reading this, I would have to say that being a vegetarian sounds quite appealing. As for chickens…interesting regional differences. My father kept chickens. We hardly lost any, and never to snakes. There are some benefits to a good, hard freeze every winter. πŸ™‚

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve never lost a full grown chicken to a snake, but I came into the coop once and found a black snake eating a chick. The rest of the flock was just standing around as if nothing unusual was happening. It’s fairly common to find black snakes in the nesting boxes eating their eggs. Here there is certainly no shortage of predators that eat chickens.

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  2. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, much to my grandson’s dismay, I don’t even have a pet. He would be so happy if I relented and let him have a dog but this old grandpa has had pets through out life and is done with caring for animals. I’ve dealt with most of the above … well except for snakes eating them. It’s even more trauma when pets die or get killed because they actually live with the family. Yeah, lost that argument as well. I really didn’t want pets in my bed but, yeah, my wife had other ideas. In my humble opinion, animals should not be inside a human house. Well, says the the man that had dogs, cats, fish, gerbils, guinea pigs, and rabbits in the house most of time. It’s kind of nice not having to deal with all of the things you mentioned in this stage of life. Understand I’m not saying no one should think my way and it’s just my opinion. I don’t think any less of my friends and family that fill there house with pets.

    Have a great animal raising day.

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    • Bill says:

      A pet is a commitment. We haven’t replaced our livestock guardian dog, because getting a dog is a 10-15 year commitment that we don’t want to make right now. Far too many people don’t think about the nature of their commitment to the animal when they get pets, in my opinion. By the way, I’m with you on animals in the house. I never liked it and it was against the rules when I was growing up. But I was overruled by the wife and kids on that. I reckon we have to choose our battles.

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  3. Laura Wills says:

    All great points. We have been raising chickens, ducks, guineas, sheep and goats for several years now. It is not easy, and animals die, as you mentioned for all kinds of reasons. Just this year we lost our favorite goat to a blocked urethra that quickly tuned into a ruptured bladder. We felt terrible and would know what to look for next time. It is always a learning process. Also, once you have raised animals for meat you realize how truly under priced our meat is. There is no way the stores can charge the low prices they do without factory farming.

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    • Bill says:

      I sure know that feeling. Sometimes when we lose animals, it’s the animal’s fault. Sometimes it’s our fault. Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault.

      I couldn’t agree more about the prices of meat and eggs in stores. They get away with that only because people don’t want to look behind the curtain. There are lots of devastating consequences to those low prices.

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  4. valbjerke says:

    I think back to a large bag of pasture seed we purchased…. ‘it’s got alsike clover in it – horses can’t have that’ the guy at the feed store informed us. ‘Yeah, well we don’t have horses and aren’t going to get any’ we replied.
    Two draft horses and many years later……
    Adaptability I think, is probably one of the most important skills a farmer can have. No way can you see into the future and predict absolutely every change you might make in terms of livestock. Had we tried to do that – we’d probably still be standing in the field thinking about the right course of action.
    Best fencing for draft horses? Whatever your neighbor doesn’t have πŸ˜„. We went with hydro poles and barb wire – now we’re not next door fixing their expensive smooth wire regular horse fence. Cows – barb wire, strands seven inches apart (a tip from our other neighbor who has cows). Pigs – something they can’t dig under.
    Predator control – we lose very little to predators – stucco wire fencing seems to keep the four legged’s out, and bird netting keeps out eagles and owls. Then and again – it’s possible that other farms around us are easier pickings. 😊

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    • Bill says:

      When we were putting in our fences we were told that horses won’t drink out of ball-waterers (I now know that isn’t true). So now we have waterers that require heaters and frequent cleaning–even though we have no horses.

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      • valbjerke says:

        I’m just happy the alsike didn’t really take that well in our clay soils. Over consumption of that particular type of clover can cause a horse to be photosensitive to sunlight, and lead to eventual liver failure. We really did not intend to ever have horses. Your point about ‘going slow’ when making decisions – is on the mark.

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  5. Eileen says:

    Hello, great post. There are many pro’s and cons to having an animal or pet. I have had a dog in my life except for the last couple of years, it hurts so much when they die. I get way too attached to animals. It is nice to be able to just up and go away for a few days without worrying about your pet. Thanks for sharing. Enjoy your day!

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    • Bill says:

      That’s the very reason we have refrained from replacing our livestock guardian dog. We consider that to be a very serious 10-15 year commitment and if we decide to take a year off and travel around the country, we couldn’t bring along a giant Great Pyr even if we wanted to!

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  6. Gosh you have some nasty predators – I guess we are luckier down here – the Bastard Mink was my worst and the dog finished his murderous spree. The travel thing is a biggie in our modern world, this is why i have decided not to breed my milk cow again. c

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    • Bill says:

      Predator attacks are fairly rare, but they’re a constant threat. I came very very close to getting a milk cow years ago. It was because of the time commitment and the inability to leave the farm that we didn’t do it.

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  7. You don’t really think about owls being such predators, but we lost some chickens to owls. They are rough on the farm fowl.

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  8. Dee Ready says:

    Dear Bill, you’ve given your readers a lot to consider, most of which I’ve not about, except for the killing to eat. I’ve been a vegetarian for 37 years and so that side of raising animals is hard for me.

    I grew up out in the country. We had two retired horses and a cow and a sow and chickens, but not as many predators as you mention. Mom did the work of taking care of the animals. All I ever did was to gather the eggs. Mom was, to my mind, a superwoman. Peace.

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    • Bill says:

      My wife and daughter are vegetarians, and it would be easy for me to be one too. The only meat I’m eating these days is what I consider our farm “surplus.”

      Sounds like you have pleasant memories of your mother and that she was great at animal husbandry. Not everyone is. Peace to you too Dee.

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  9. BeeHappee says:

    Well, if you put it that way, Bill…… I am ready to move into a canyon and eat cactus, crickets and lizards after this post. πŸ™‚ We recently watched “My Dog Skip” with kids, and where his dad did not want the boy to have a dog, because the dog will die some day, I was thinking, how my whole childhood I wanted to have a dog, even if the dog did die one day.

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    • Bill says:

      Reminds me of the Paul Simon lyric: “I have no need of friendship. Friendship causes pain.” I don’t think people should take on the responsibility of raising an animal if they’re not capable of it. Same with having children. But surely the joys of having a pet are worth it, even with the knowledge that we’re likely to outlive the animal.

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