Sustainable, eh?

We hear talk now and again about the lack of sustainability in this breed and that breed, and I have to roll my eyes a lot of the time. I hear what it means to be "sustainable."

I mean, I like the word. I like what is beckons us to become. . .I do. I find some interpretations humorous, that is all.

Often it surrounds how much are to give livestock and what to feed them - 

I hear it a lot about dairy animals.

I hear them say dairy animals aren't sustainable, but then, I find it odd that almost every person I ask that grew up in this area (a hilly area of WV) in the 1920s, 30's and 40's either had parents with a Jersey cow or a family member with one. Hmmm, then wonder how much more sustainable those folks telling me how dairy animals don't make sense on a homestead are than those authentic folks from way back?

That is where the comedy comes in.

While grain is often needed in higher production cows and at least some grain is needed in goats, everyone I know talking about sustainable livestock and small farm practices - even those who work exclusively with heritage breeds - at a minimum. . .offer their chickens chick starter when hatched and/or use heat lamps and/or incubators and/or quite a bit of non-handcrafted from items and many items not solely from their land to support their farming and livestock needs.

So where do we draw a line?

It is as if some really believe the delusion that livestock should thrive in captivity after thousands of years of domestication on small plots of land with no management, no care and just produce for us. . .that seems very greedy and unkind, really.

Good production requires great management, selection, hands on care and it requires interventions - just as we do not live without at least some items purchased in a commercial form, neither should we expect animals that have been domesticated and adapted (yes, including all heritage breeds) to husbandry to exist on our small plots of land like feral, unmanaged beasts.

What type of farming is that? It isn't.

It is as if some of these folks really want wild animals that require to real farming, no care. . .and to just reap free rewards. . .

Heavens - that will never happen.

If you're looking for carefree livestock - you're looking in vain.

Healthy, well bred, well managed livestock selected for performance with consideration given to ease of management and production, dairy animals included, can mostly all be useful and worthwhile and sustainable depending on your situation, family size, region and land size.

Common sense statements:

If you want milk for even a small family, it only makes sense to chose a real dairy cow or goat. Handling many dual purpose animals in an effort to get a small amount of what one correctly bred, health dairy animals can give is a waste of time, which I know none of us have. . .

If you want laying hens, bantams and ornamental birds aren't the right choice.

If you want meat goats, crossing your Nigerians and Pygmy goats with Boers will not really help your efforts.

If you want a type of pig to do well foraging to offset feed costs, research before making a choice . . .all breeds to not perform the same turned out on land.

If you are looking for a meat rabbit, do not raise Holland Lops and dwarfs. . .

If you're looking to raise your own Turkeys, remember the Broad Breasted Whites do not mate naturally, so you're barking up the wrong tree with those. . .

If you want a grass based dairy cow, look for lines that actually have the dams doing so with success. . .Holsteins are generally out, and remember, you need a lot of nice pasture that is WELL managed for that to work. . .hoping to grass base a cow that comes from even good grass based genetics will not work if you have only 3 acres of decent grass. . .having the land denuded for a fanciful, ill planned idea sure doesn't help anything.

So many factors decide what is sustainable - what is sustainable on 200 acres of wonderful pasture is NOT sustainable on 20 acres of WV hillside. . .

Do not get caught up in fanciful ideas of homesteading and farming.

Be realistic.

My father grew up in the 1920s in WV. He lived on a WV hillside farm with many brothers and sisters and was very poor. His family farm had chickens, a dairy cow, hogs and they hunted rabbits and squirrels and beat the ground plowing out what little they could grow to feed themselves and to store winter feed for the animals. Yes, they didn't leave these hardy Appalachian animals to make it on their own in the winter. lol. That is what it took to survive. They worked to keep those animals alive, and believe me, they didn't turn them out unmanaged like wild beasts. No one looked excessively fed, but they survived.

Remember what sustainable looks like - look up old Appalachian farm photos if you need a reminder.

Try to raise hardy livestock, keep that as a goal, but understand, there is no such thing as care-free/ maintenance free livestock, and in WV, with our terrain and lack of lush pasture and flat land, there is rarely such a thing as livestock that exists only on what grows here on our small bits of land.