Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Spring livestock purchases
I want to take a moment to talk about farm breeding stock purchased for spring.
My suggestions are my own, and you can do what you like.
This is what clearly works for us, though.
If you're farming, homesteading, have a farmette or are just trying to be a little more sustainable by raising some type of livestock for your family, this time of year brings thoughts of new purchases for a new year, a new endeavor: Thoughts of how to improve your stock, enlarge your herd, flock and so forth. This is a point where you can choose to be more sustainable, more ethical and successful and to promote other small farms by making better choices for many years to come for your small farm.
I recommend you do that.
Reflect and research during these winter months.
Prepare your fence and shelter and milking area or whatever else you will need. Make sure expanding your dairy animals, fiber animals, dual purpose and/or meat animals or adding them to begin with are workable additions for you in terms of costs and time and space.
You'll make mistakes, but do your best to take on what you can handle.
Ask questions about breeds you are interested in from farmers successfully breeding nice animals, see them in person, learn all you can and take time to save money to buy the best stock for your purposes that you can possibly afford.
Understand you will pay good money for good livestock. I assure you, the cheapest route in livestock is NEVER ideal. Health, solid conformation and good production animals take tremendous time to offer to buyers, and they are not inexpensive to sustain on a farm for breeding stock sales. Farmers would never succeed if they give away or sell cheaply what is truly valuable, excellent stock. We shouldn't expect them to, either. You would not wish to give them away or sell them cheaply if you worked hard on your own breeding program, would you?
Visit farms with the animals you're considering are born on and decide if that breed may be right for you (you never really know until you try, but do your best to see what will work best in advance to save time and money).
Learn what breeds actually do what you need. Pygmy goats aren't and never will be dairy goats. Angus aren't dairy cows. Jersey cows aren't for beef production herds. Goat's milk isn't great for making butter. Etc.
Do not choose to support big factory type operations doing things unethically or unsustainably. This is especially true when thinking about poultry and buying from big hatcheries for chicks. Looks for small, ethical breeders raising true to breed standard. This also applies when buying dairy cattle. Mega production cows that are usually culled at age 5 aren't good choices. . .so a commercial dairy may not always be a good option when buying a future family cow.
If you're breeding it, you owe yourself, the breed and buyers and bloodlines something: You should be improving or maintaining nice quality animals in good health. They do not need to be perfect (no livestock is ever 100% perfect when placed against breed standards) or true show quality, but breeding toward the best is something to strive for and makes sense for the success of your farm. This takes time, education, money and care. You do not make a successful farm on culls.
Find out what the standard is of the livestock you are getting and try to breed for that. . .breeder to breeder, there is a bit if a type difference, but quality is quality at the end of the day.
Buy registered animals to preserve bloodlines, especially with rare heritage breeds, if possible. Papers DO mean something. You can learn so much from looking at the sire/dam and grandparents of an animal. You learn how they produce in certain lines, track production, life expectancy, offspring performance and so much more. This is vital and more than a little useful. That is the heritage of that animal, and then your buyer base will be of better quality. The people willing to take the time to keep records and register and pay more to continue their programs WILL have better animals because they have a larger investment of money and time in the stock; they care enough to go extra miles. There is usually more long term dedication at play. Keep records on how your animals produce, weak and strong points.
Do not devalue registered animals by not following through with paperwork. This is hurtful to the breeder you purchase from. We take the time to make sure the records follow our sales, so please keep this intact.
DISEASE - It is a huge deal. It can wipe out your livestock and prevent future healthy animals on your land for years to come. It can be a danger to you and make buyers never return.
You can't always be 100% sure on some diseases, but you can give it your best effort. There is almost some risk, but do everything you can to minimize your risks. Never buy breedstock from auction or folks who resale auction animals. The disease risks are too high. Run away from breeders who tell you all herds are diseased (many will tell you this) or that disease isn't a big deal. CL and CAE are huge problems in goats, OPP and CL in sheep and Johnes and BRUCELLOSIS in cattle - these are just some things to research and be concerned about. TEST - MANAGE WELL - TALK TO sellers before you buy. If they seem most concerned about pushing an animal on you, don't talk about their history with the stock or seem most worried about the bottom dollar - move on!
Consider what you can do that makes sense for yourself and your family to be more sustainable and provide more of your food this year ; raising small livestock for milk, meat and preservation can work even in small spaces if well planned and managed right. If you can't do livestock and wish to crop farm, remember much of this, with a few alterations, can apply to what you're going to grow on your land. Start with heirlooms and uncommon varieties of crops, for instance.
When you buy from a breeder, plan to create a relationship with that person. They will often be a valuable asset to you as you learn, and if they do not want to continue to help you after the purchase, they are likely not people you want to deal with.
Do not be upset when someone else endeavors into the same breed you have or makes more investment and buys better quality animals, thus developing a better reputation sooner. Just do the best you can and be happy someone else is doing the same. . . make friends with those folks. That has always served me very well; it will you.
Never dishonestly represent what you have. Some areas are subjective, but be as honest and fair when selling to others are you'd hope they would be to you - you cannot go wrong that way.
Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation? The hay appeareth, and the tender grass sheweth itself, and herbs of the mountains are gathered. The lambs are for thy clothing, and the goats are the price of the field. And thou shalt have goats' milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance for thy maidens
- Proverbs 27:23-27