*The Pros and Cons of Keeping Livestock*
(Part II)
By: MoonMist
29 June 2005

(Note: Part One Of this Article can be found HERE)

The disadvantages of keeping livestock need to be carefully considered before the first animal is brought onto your property. Thereís a certain amount of cost and labor intensity that cannot be gotten around when you decide to keep animals. How many and what kind of animals you can keep is limited by the amount of space you have to give them.

First and most important is fencing. This depends not only on the type of livestock you choose but the predators in your area. The idea behind fencing is not only to keep your animals in, but to keep predators out. One fox, raccoon or coyote can wipe out an entire flock of chickens before you realize what happened. In my area, cougars can and do target poultry, young horses, and goats.

The initial cost of fencing can be quite high, and installing it is a hard job, but itís well worth it as long as youíre serious about your animals. Some animals, like poultry, may need shelter only during the night and roam free during the day, though even then they may make a meal for a hawk. Of course the larger the animal, the more room it needs.

Small animals like chickens or rabbits can be housed in a fairly small area provided it is secure, and you donít have the amount of either materials or labor involved in providing for larger animals. This might be a good place to start in deciding whether or not you want to move to larger animals.

The fencing of choice for many people is electrical strands. Personally, I donít use it not only because it eats up resources, but I get a lot of power outages here and so canít depend on it. Other people swear by it. Itís initial cost is less and installing it is easier than a heavier fencing option.

Another consideration along with fencing is shelter. On the whole, three-sided sheds can take care of most housing needs, facing away from the direction of prevailing winter winds. This gives them a place to get out of the rain as well as bunker up during the cold weather.

While weíre touching on the subject of expense, thereís a lot more to consider than fencing. The initial cost of your animals depends on what the source is and what you intend to use them for. Many animals can be bought at relatively little cost at auction, but livestock people will tell you that an auction is a poor choice for obtaining what you want. Animals at auction are being sold for a reason, and often that reason is because something is wrong with the animal; itís sick, sterile, old, whatever. Thatís not to say you canít get adequate livestock at an auction, but youíre taking a risk when you do. The best choice for buying livestock is from people who are selling them straight from their farm. You can find them through ads in the paper, by asking at feed stores, or through someone you might know. If you want a high-quality animal thatís bred to give you the most in terms of meat or milk, you might want to consider a particular breed for these attributes. Thereís a tremendous number of breeds for specific purposes, but thereís also breeds that are multi-purpose. Once you decide on what kind you want you can get an idea of the cost by shopping around and comparing prices. It wonít make any sense to put out big bucks for a show animal when you can get one that suits your needs for far less.

The next big expense item in keeping livestock is feed. Animals need to be fed all year around, whether its forage they can get for themselves or the feed you provide in the dead of winter. Itís this latter that can really run up into some money. You have to be able to buy enough feed to keep the animal throughout the hard winter months. With cows, horses and goats, this means hay, which also means that you have to find a source of good quality hay before the cold weather. If you canít keep the entire load of hay on your property, make sure that itís stored somewhere where youíll have ready access to it.

Other feed costs include grain, which may or may not be fed during the summer months. In the case of chickens, it doesnít hurt to provide them with some sort of grain during the warm months - generally poultry feed is fairly cheap, and youíll get increased production if they have access to it. Grain feed for larger animals can, again, run into some serious money during the winter months. Not only do you have to have a source, but you need a place to store it, either on your own property or someone elseís. Of course in warmer climates the cost of animal feeds on a yearly basis is greatly reduced.

Livestock require a commitment from you that involves taking care of them day in and out, good weather or bad. Unless thereís several people available to help with the chores, such as other family members or friends, getting away for any appreciable amount of time is out of the question. This is perhaps the biggest drawback for people who can otherwise accommodate livestock in terms of cost and area. The animals need care every single day of the year - no holidays.

Another consideration is noise. If you have close neighbors there may be a problem with the noises coming from your place. Roosters will crow at all times of the day, though if you keep only hens (not likely if you want to maintain your flock) this isnít a problem. It seems obvious, but cows moo, horses neigh, geese honk, goats and sheep bleat - it may sound like music to your ears, but earn you an enemy next door. Come feeding time every animal on your place will make it known in no uncertain terms that it expects to be fed now. Of course if you yourself donít like the sound of farm animals, the entire experience is moot - youíre better off not getting anything you canít stand the sound of.

Sometimes thereís a "feast or famine" quality to the availability of livestock products. Chickens, without extra lighting provided to extend daylight hours, will generally fall off or cease production of eggs in the winter. You many have an abundance of milk from a cow or goat for a good many months, but when the animal is bred again for the following yearís milk thereíll be a dry period. (There are ways of storing these products to get over the hump but I wonít go into them here.)

Thereís one more aspect to livestock keeping that warrants special attention, and that is dogs. If you have one or more dogs, make sure you keep a careful eye on them around the livestock. Few dogs can resist chasing a chicken, and many kill them outright. Others will chase the goats or cows, even horses, which doesnít do good things for the health of the animals and contributes to uncontrollable behavior in the dog. There are some dogs bred specifically for the purpose of guarding both livestock and property, but these tend to be rather expensive and need to be handled in a specific way. Probably the best solution, and thereís still no guarantees, is to obtain a puppy and bring it up with the animals around so itís used to them. Grown livestock will often set a young dog in its place where it wouldnít dare to do so with a grown one.

These two articles have outlined the bare considerations of keeping livestock; thereís many more elements to considers on the basis of everyday animal husbandry. If you can provide the basics, chances are youíll do well with your livestock.

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