Tips for Raising Dairy Goat Kids

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADairy goats are an animal that people seem to either love or hate. Raising dairy goat kids is a key part in keeping these animals as well as insuring that you have a continuous supply of milk with each generation being better than the one before. As you become familiar with these animals you will see a side that few others do. The purpose of breeding is to make the next generation better as even the best doe will not last forever. Having healthy, quality daughters to step up in her place insures a steady supply of milk, but this doesn’t come without a plan and a fair share of time.

Pound for pound a good dairy goat can outmilk a cow. In an open ag forum I would get teased by dairy cattle people and at the first insult of my goats I issued the challenge. The fact is a good Alpine in the herd milked 18 pounds per day on official test, and at roughly 100 pounds that’s producing more than her body weight in milk every week. Seen another way, a 1,000 pound cow at 10 times the body weight would have to produce 180 pounds (also 10 times) to equal her and that simply does not happen. This was a good doe but not even close to the world record holder. That title goes to a registered Toggenburg.

Heavy producing does need good management to maintain that kind of production without taking a toll on her body. These are the kind of does to product to the bucks for daughters that continue the family tradition. Often those criticizing the goat see the other side of the picture. This is the low production, hard keeping doe with poor tasting milk often because she’s grazing on brush and garbage forage that do not meet her nutritional needs. The dairy doe, like her growing kids, needs good nutrition to perform at her best.

As a homesteader you want the former type of animal or her daughters, whether or not they are purebred. Don’t gauge butterfat or production on breed as this can lead you wrong and any doe said to produce “a gallon a day” should have a clearly visible milk vein’ that runs on the underside of her belly. I’ve never seen a heavy milker without that vein clearly visible no matter what size the udder is.

Once you select your dairy kids from these types of animals you need to start early to keep them growing and healthy. If you are raising them from early on make sure they get plenty of colostrum from the doe, preferably two or three feedings. Due to some health issues many people remove the kids from the doe and pasteurize the milk. This also insures there is milk for the people as well as limits the damage a kid can do to a doe’s udder when aggressively nursing.

Contrary to often stated opinion goats do not “eat everything” and as you start feeding them you will wish sometimes that was true! They will nibble on many things and do have an appetite for boxes because it’s fiber. However, from early on the young dairy goat needs quality feed.

This means good clean hay and plenty of it! If you can find alfalfa mix hay so much the better. Have a feeder the goats need to reach into in order to eat and minimize what is pulled out of the feeder if it hits the ground many goats will not touch it! This adds up to a major cost for the homesteader as wasted hay may not be bad, just on the ground. Some people run a couple of hair sheep with their dairy goats to clean up such hay and make use of it!

Plenty of clean water is needed also for the growing dairy goat. Make sure the tank or bucket is cleaned often and keep it (again!) from where feet or debris can get into the water.

Many breeders provide a trace mineral block as well as a good mineral. If you run any lambs with the goats watch the copper level in the mineral goats need it but sheep can ingest toxic amounts of it. Don’t be tempted to feed sheep mineral but rather use a mineral for dairy cattle. The difference in this became clear when a change meant darker, richer colors on the Toggenburgs and a better hair coat on the goats. Some things goats and sheep are the same but in many you will need to adapt things down from dairy cattle.

Deworm young goats and treat for coccidia, a parasite that can kill a young goat remarkably quickly. This means treating with Albon or other drugs for coccidia as a regular wormer does not kill them. A good quality grain should be fed as soon as the kids will start nibbling on it. Don’t overfeed though as this can cause stomach upset which can be fatal.

There are not many vaccinations needed for dairy goats but a couple that shouldn’t be skimped on are tetanus and C&D. These will cost you under $8 including the disposable syringe and needle. The C&D helps protect against enterotoxaemia or “overeating”, a digestive upset that can be fatal. Tetanus is advised especially if there has been or are horses on the property.

Dairy got kids need a dry clean place to live. Dry is important as it not only prevents health problems but also prevents parasites. Good quality dairy got kids are an investment in your food supply. Feed and house them well and they will return it many times over not only in milk but also in their antics. There’s the occasional kid that especially likes people that grows into the doe that is always following you thisclose and it makes it even more rewarding to be able to say “I raised her.”

5 Important Tips to Starting Chicks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpring is near and for many that means the peeping of chicks being started inside. Selection of a breed that works for you is important, but once your research finds those birds, a good hatchery and your order is placed there are some important things to have in place when the chicks arrive. Ideally this will be set up so it makes the transition easy.

Chicks absorb the nutrition from the yolk before hatching, which allows them to be shipped the first day without food or water. However, on arrival they will need a good start to stay healthy and thriving. You’ll need a clean brooder to start with. Hold off on bedding at first, simply having a clean bare floor. The brooder need not be fancy – a commercially made one can be used or you can adapt from many options. I’ve used a rabbit carrier inside a box as an effective way to start small batches of chicks, with 12-15 in each section of the carrier. Once the chicks identify food then bedding can be added to help keep a solid floored brooder dry.

Safety. Too many times those heat lamps are not properly hung, or a cord is frayed or worn. This is critical as too many fires result from such simple and relatively inexpensive fixes. Make sure the light doesn’t come in contact with flammable materials. Temperature is important! You want the temperature at the chick’s level to be 95 degrees. If chicks are too cold they will pile in a corner or on top of each other…often the strongest ones push underneath to the center and are then smothered by the others. Make sure the chicks have enough heat – if they’re avoiding the heated area then it’s too warm, but they shouldn’t be crowding on top of each other either. A good balance is the ability to retreat to food and water and a cooler area if they want to but plenty of warmth. The temperature should be reduced by five degrees per week until the chicks are feathered out, when they can begin transitioning outside.

Feeders should be easy to find and filled with a good starter. This gets the birds started with all the vitamins and nutrition they need to thrive and become productive layers. It also supports muscle growth for meat birds. Make sure there is enough space for all chicks to have room at the feeder. A general rule of thumb is an inch of linear space per bird. Initially, because the brooder has no bedding, you can spread several small piles around the brooder. This makes it very easy for chicks to find feed and start eating.

Waterers should be cleaned and filled on arrival. Some people prefer a little sugar in the water for an energy boost, some prefer electrolytes and some prefer just plain water, but have it filled. As you pull each chick from the shipping box quickly dip their beaks in the water before letting them go. This shows them where water is, as well as the normal reflex of raising their heads to swallow. Quick introduction to water is important to combat any dehydration from their journey. Once bedding is put in the brooder, I like to (before bedding) but a small block, just a couple inches tall, to raise the waterers up. This helps keeps bedding out of the water, but be sure chicks can reach the water (no more than back high).

These five basic things can be provided many ways from reused materials to new name brand equipment. The important thing is attention to detail for healthy birds!

An Introduction to Meat Goat Breeds

boerkidwikiPDMeat goat breeds are often seen as being Boer and Boer cross. While it is true that any goat can be used for meat, just as beef cattle are heavier muscled than dairy so it is with goats. This puts more pounds in the freezer for the space and resources used.

Often misspelled as boar or bore, the Boer is a South African breed that is a powerful, stocky, meaty goat. They typically have large horns on the bucks with smaller horns on the does. The Boer was introduced and initially brought incredibly high prices with $30,000 or more not uncommon. They were crossed with Spanish and Nubian goats largely due to availability and the high cost of Boers made it impractical to sell them for meat. When the market crashed many found themselves with expensive Boers that no longer held the value.

The initial Boers were white with red heads although sometimes black or tan were seen in crossbreds. So dominant has the Boer been that anything carrying Boer markings was priced higher. They have a high growth rate but some became disappointed in the Boer as to finish well it was said they had to be feedlot fed’. The most disappointed were the people who believed goats “eat anything”, bought expensive animals and turned them into barbed wire areas with scrub brush that offered little to no nutritional value.

The Myotonic goat is smaller and has several names including Tennessee fainting goat, wooden leg and stiff legged goats. This breed has a high meat to bone dressing percentage and can make a good outcross for other breeds. The unique trait of these goats is their “faint” which despite appearances is not fainting or seizures nor is it painful. The muscles will stiffen and the goat often falls down, particularly when startled or scared. These goats absolutely MUST have tight fences as they are helpless in a predator attack. They are aware of what is going on but cannot run. Owners must make sure especially with this breed there is proper protection.

The Kiko has also gained favor among many as a more efficient grazer than the Boer. The Kiko is a New Zealand meat breed developed from native feral goats using Anglo-Nubian, Toggenburg and Saanen bucks then selective breeding to produce a meaty, solid and deep bodied goat with plenty of muscling. The horns of the Kiko are different from a typical Boer and the Kiko excels under natural conditions. Like the Boer the Kiko has a breed registry to maintain purebred meat goat lines.

The Kiko Boer cross has found favor with some meat goat producers. Still others have selected heavier muscled dairy animals such as some producers in California in the mid 1990s with working towards establishing a Santa Teresa goat. Using largely Alpine and LaMancha these goats were slated as a dual purpose, milking a good amount but also producing weathers that finished out at heavy weights. Indeed at one carcass show the Santa Teresa easily won the class over all the Boer crosses with simply more meat over shoulders, hindquarters, ribs and top.

The best breed of meat goat depends on your situation. Like most animals the goat can benefit from crossbreeding commercially to increase the frame and function. Buck kids slated for finishing for meat should be castrated for reasons of meat quality, although some ethnic customers require only buck kids be consumed so your methods depend on your market.

No matter what breed or combination of breeds that you use good genetics, good feed, good fences and good management will product the best meat goats.

Draft Animals Offer Alternatives

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADraft animals are important around the world for getting in to places that mechanization can’t get to. A working draft animal is a valued transportation for carts as well as a means to move heavy loads. Cutting hay, plowing, powering a treadmill and packing are but a few tasks made easier without fuel with animal power.

While in the US we look at primarily the dog, mule, donkeys, draft horse and oxen these are just a few of the animals used for power. Camels, dogs, elephants, water buffalo and caribou all work for people also and as working animals there is a much different view.

Jobs the draft team can do include milling grains, hauling logs, lifting loads, plowing and farming, operating bellows and hauling loads.

The most powerful of draft animals and the longest lived is unquestionably the elephant. Normally it is the smaller Indian elephant used, valued in hilly terrain and serving as work animals since well before the birth of Christ. However, with mature males being aggressive and much larger as well as the elephant in general eating more than 500 pounds of forage per day, there is limited use for these amazing animals from a draft standpoint in the US.

For American uses equine and bovine are mentioned as draft animals. The draft horse, mules and oxen have their supporters and their critics. Both are threatened today. Modern agricultural practices of farming thousands of acres and sometimes tens of thousands of acres make the draft animals outdated. However, as indicated by the spike in fuel prices that can change quickly when grass becomes cheaper than diesel to get the fields tilled. Additionally draft animals are renewable.

The reasons for using draft animals are many. There is no foreign fuel required to power them. They can get into the fields earlier than heavy machinery. They cause less compaction of the soil and a draft mare can produce offspring for more power.

However, the critics have points also. They require care every day, whether you work them or not. They need time to learn how to do their jobs, and they are powerful enough there is a risk of injury. They are prone to injury themselves and if it happens when you need to get in the field then you can be stuck unless you keep extra animals. They take room and pasture.

Of course these arguments can be balanced by injuries happen with machinery also, and machinery is also prone to break down. Most owners don’t consider the daily care a bad thing but rather point towards it is time spent with animals they are truly partners with.

Draft horses have a long history in America. All have become more show than working but there are still many people who log and farm with horses. There are several main breeds. The Shire is a tall heavy breed originating in England and often called a Clydesdale. Shires often have more “feathering” on the lower legs. Clydesdales have become easily recognized due to their appearance on Budweiser advertising. Percherons and Belgians are actually more popular than the other two breeds. Suffolks are the only breed developed for farm work, and are always chestnut in color with minimal white. America’s only native draft horse, the American Cream, is critically endangered with just a few hundred remaining. Draft horses can weigh over a ton and a pair that are well trained are worth a great deal to someone who wants to work them.

Other heavy breeds not commonly seen as draft horses include Halflingers, Norwegian Fjord, spotted drafts, Gypsy horses and sometimes Friesians. These are all breeds suitable for light draft work on a farm.

Draft horse prices can vary from $1,000 to $4500 and more for show animals. For those serious about purchasing there is quite a few to pick from in the $2500-5,000 range in almost all breeds. Some examples in a recent advertising listing is a Belgian mare broke to ride and drive for $1900, a black Percheron mare for $3200, a Clydesdale gelding for $2,000 and a pair of Percheron mares for $6,000.

Donkeys and mules are another popular equine but unlike draft horses cannot reproduce themselves. Commonly they are the product of a large jack and a draft mare.

Oxen were often preferred over horses in early American farm life. Indeed 100 years ago there were several breeds that were viewed as triple purpose. These included Brown Swiss, Devon, Charolais, Simmental and Ayrshire. Today an overwhelming dominant breed in dairy and another in beef have all but eliminated some breeds but the Brown Swiss and Devon (now usually called Milking Devon) remain as favorites among oxen people with many shorthorns and other breeds also used.

The advantage to oxen they’re cheap. Oxen are often castrated bull calves from dairy operations so the price for a pair of baby bull calves is but a few hundred dollars. Typically oxen are not dehorned so many have horns. A pair of oxen, first called “working steers”, take a great deal of time to train and learn to handle.

Typical prices for an older started team recently advertised are a pair of Brown Swiss of about 1,000 pounds each for $1500; a pair of red shorthorns weighing 330 and 350 for $1200, a pair of Holsteins started on farm and logging chores for $1600 and a pair of 800 pound Chianina Holstein steers for $3500, the latter offered due to owner’s health. More finished teams include a pair of Brown Swiss tipping the scales at 2100 pounds each for $3200, a pair of Ayrshires the same size for $2750, and a massive pair of Holsteins for $3200. The latter were a 4-H project team and were 5’9″ each at the shoulder and weighed 2516 and 2688 pounds each large enough to learn to do some serious work!

The advantage to oxen is long standing that they could be used for beef if injured although many who handle them can get quite attached to their animals. The disadvantage is that they are a one time thing as castrated animals they cannot produce offspring. Like horses, oxen usually have names and are commonly purchased in pairs. Like other cattle they are creatures of habit so purchasing as a team is common. Single animals can be purchased but team animals are often yoked a particular way, with one steer always on the left and the other always on the right. For those who view cattle as being stupid animals working with oxen can be enlightening! Young steers are started very young, with basic training beginning at just a few hundred pounds, long before working on a load.

Draft power can do many chores around a farm from hauling logs, manure and hay to tilling fields and a wide range of other chores involving moving things from point A to point B. Some oxen are even taught to carry a rider.

Draft animals will need plenty of forage, feed, shelter and training. While many working at home can work barefoot some areas require shoes (yes for oxen and horses!). From a care standpoint they are low maintenance but some of that care is a part of normal working of the animal. This can include grooming before and after working, attention to health care and monitoring any cuts and scrapes they might pick up.

While they are a good alternative for many to a tractor they do require time. Many owners see this as a benefit, not a liability.

Tips on Keeping Dual Purpose Chickens

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADual purpose chickens were selected and developed to be an efficient producer of both meat and eggs but they can do much more than that. If they are allowed in the barnyard during the day they help keep the insect population down as well as eliminate small rodents that are found.

Many people however misunderstand the function of these useful birds and seem to go to two extremes. This can mean total confinement, which they are less suited for than many commercial breeds, or total freedom which means they will feed something other than YOU! Anyone seeking to keep dual purpose birds needs to remember the principles they were developed for as well as the nature of predators to take an easy meal when they see one. For an owl seeing a dozen Plymouth White Rocks in an unenclosed pen it’s akin to hanging out the “Buffet here!” sign. The birds are not only unprotected but easy to see.

A fenced area of some sort is ideal to keep the birds safe from roaming dogs, coyotes, bobcats, foxes and a wide range of other animals looking for an easy meal. Even with this you can expect to lose an occasional bird to hawks, owls and other winged predators. Once a predator finds an easy meal source and many wild predators will return until the food source is gone.

In past and present chickens left to roam a barnyard have the relative protection of the buildings and people along with the bugs, weed seeds and other treasures that feed them as well as make them valuable to homesteaders! Use caution in letting them roam in your garden as they often will harvest as they roam!

Along with letting the birds out during the day it’s important to bring them into an enclosure at night. This habit can be taught early if you raise them because you bring the grain. As they mature simply bring the same bucket you feed with and call them, giving them a treat inside the pen in the evening an hour or so before dark. Normally whatever they don’t eat then they will in the morning when they wake before being turned out.

It takes little time before they begin automatically returning to their enclosure in the evenings, providing there’s shelter and plenty of roosting space. Nesting boxes should also be available as often hens will get into a routine of laying in the morning. This assures you don’t have to wander the barnyard searching for eggs and wondering how old they are, although you may find an occasional nest. It also keeps skunks and other creatures from dining on the eggs if your chicken coop is sound as it should be.

Another option is a portable pen which the chickens go into at night. The trick here is not to move it very far or they “get lost” and don’t recognize it as home. Still another option are portable pens the chickens are in all the time, typically with a shelter area and nest boxes, solid wire sides and top and often a bottom as well. With this option the birds can scratch and hunt for bugs and get forage then are moved down to fresh ground. This can be more time intensive but can be an option for the right area. If made on skids a good sized pen with shelter on one end can be moved with a garden tractor or four wheeler, while a pen for just a handful of birds is usually smaller and can be moved by hand.

Make sure while planning mobile shelters as well as free ranging to always have water available for the birds. Use caution and have a log or board secured over livestock tanks. Some hens perch on the sides to drink, get bumped or lose their balance and for lack of being able to get out of the tank due to the sides they drown. This is a tragic loss of good birds that can be prevented with a little thought.

Dual purpose birds were developed to be able to forage and work best in that capacity. They can be much lower from a care standpoint than confinement birds but still need some care and attention to detail to insure they have a long productive life.

Good Choices for Homestead Chicken Flocks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen selecting chickens for home food production it makes a difference if you are seeking eggs, meat or both. For most homesteaders and small farmers there is little more enjoyable than chickens that produce eggs for Sunday breakfast as well as growthy fryers for dinner. This leaves the choices mostly to the larger breeds developed for doing both.

Some people have a preference for white or brown eggs or for the skin color on meat. Here in the US it’s said yellow skinned birds are more favored than the white skinned “English” breeds. Another consideration if raising meat birds and hatching eggs to do so is the temperament of the roosters. There is no excuse for a mean rooster and those that are can easily become Sunday dinner themselves!

For the purposes of dual purpose with a focus on not only producing eggs and meat but also foraging for part or most of their food, these are the breeds I recommend and favor.

Sussex chickens are white skinned brown egg layers that are hardy. Difficult to find in the “light” or “red” colors here in the US they are more easily found in the speckled variety. These are unique and personable birds that have wonderful temperaments, straight combs and each one is unique due to the dots on their feathers, seen as they mature. Often young chicks can look as if “iced” with white drizzled on them. Eager foragers that were developed for the farm the darker colors help protect them from predators during the day as they seek food in the farmyard. They are a “threatened” breed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Plymouth Rocks come in several varieties that sometimes are represented as breeds including barred rocks or white rocks for example. Among the other varieties are buff, partridge, blue, Columbian and silver penciled rocks, each with distinctive and beautiful coloring. They are hardy birds that grow well and lay brown eggs. These are more numerous than many of the other breeds but many have been “industrialized” so the original farm type is less common. Large size is needed with many of the breed being used as a crossbred for “Cornish rock” or game hens.

Wyandottes are another breed that have a long history in the US as a medium weight bird with rose combs that are less susceptible to freezing then the Rocks. Occasionally a single combed bird is hatched from rose combed parents but these should not be kept as breeders. For those who like a rainbow of colors these come in white, buff, Columbian, golden laced, silver laced, blue, silver penciled, black and partridge. They’re fast growing normally docile birds.

Brahmas are a delightful large bird with hens up to 9-1/2 pounds. Brown eggs and a small comb with feathering in light, dark and buff this is a bird that photos just don’t do justice. They are feather footed, often not favored for farm settings, but their gentle nature allow withstanding cold weather well. They do mature somewhat slower as they are a large breed at maturity and often favored for heavy roasters for the table. Not quite as prolific in the egg laying department as the other breeds these are still a nice large breed to have even if just a few to enjoy in the flock!

New Hampshire is a somewhat new breed with a deep body that has room for meat production as well as brown eggs. They are red in color with a little black in the tail. Long a favorite on small farms these are lighter colored than the Rhode Island Red.

Rhode Island Reds and white offer two colors that may be single or rose combed and have long excelled as a good layer of eggs for a family. Some roosters can be aggressive but normally these are quiet birds that may show traces of black in the tail and occasionally on the wing or body. From a breeding standpoint these should be not used in a program.

Araucanas and americaunas are distinctive for their “ear muffs” and sometimes beards that are visible from a young age. Their appearance is not the only distinctive quality about these birds as they also lay colored eggs in green and blue shell colors! These are hardy birds in a rainbow of colors that are active foragers and quite willing to do for themselves.

Orpingtons are a white skinned brown egg layer that matures at larger weights, about 8 pounds for hens with roosters a couple pounds heavier. Available in black, blue, buff and white these excel as a meat bird and were brought from England over 100 years ago. There was a boom for the breed when the commercial broiler ad roaster market demanded the larger sized birds but when that tailed off so did the popularity of the Orpington. Chicks can be somewhat passive and if raised in a group with other breed care needs to be taken to insure they all eat.

Dominiques were the bird of choice 100 years ago for their ability to raise a good meat bird, forage for food instead of relying on expensive grains and lay enough brown shelled eggs for a family. They were also expected to set and raise their own chicks to insure a steady supply of young birds for the table as well as replacement layers for the following year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuckeyes are an American breed that has been likened to feathered cats of the barnyard for their fondness of mice. This is a breed that is critically endangered according to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. This is a larger breed with a pea comb that leaves less to frostbite in cold weather climates. They are an active, free ranging breed with hens about 6 pounds and laying medium sized brown eggs. With a history dating back to Ohio in 1896 this breed has survived due to a handful of people who appreciate their hardy characteristics.

While many search for the dual purpose characteristics of meat and eggs it must be remembered too that these breeds serve another purpose as foragers. They help control bug populations as they seek morsels and should a mouse cross their path they will show you chickens are NOT vegetarians!

These are wonderful birds that can keep a family fed with basic care and TLC.

5 Top Rabbit Breeds for Homesteads

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen selecting rabbit breeds to feed a family the individual must always be considered. There is good and bad in many breeds or they would not still be in existence. The breeds for commercial raising are limited because of the demand for white fryers and a penalty for colored furs; this eliminates all but a very few breeds. However, as a homesteader you are not bound by this because it is you that will use the meat and, hopefully, make use of the pelt as well so as to not waste what is provided.

When you are looking for home food production these rabbits can also be good for showing as well as, for many, pets. Because for efficient production of meat they should be 5-6 pounds by 4-5 months it eliminates the small breeds. The dominance here is the larger 8 pound plus mature animals that have decent sized litters, raise them without a great deal of pampering and for those who are unsuited for show or breeding, provide a family with clean, low cost meat for the freezer. As long as there are hungry people there’s no reason for “overpopulation” of rabbits. Additionally, by using them for meat it guarantees they won’t be mistreated or turned loose to fend for themselves by placing in a poor pet home.

REX were developed for meat and fur production. They have a soft, plush fur that makes it ideal for crafts as well as for shawls or other products you can make at home. The Rex is typically 8-10 pounds at maturity and with good feed can produce a litter six times per year. This takes top management breeding her, when the kits are a month old rebreeding her. At 5-6 weeks she is removed from the litter so she has 2-3 weeks to rest before the next litter is due. A good homestead rabbit should be able to maintain this with a minimum of issues providing *good* management is given! Rex are normally easy going rabbits and come in a wide range of colors from the recently accepted amber to blue and broken (or spotted) patterns. More recently the otter has been expanded from just black to include blue, chocolate and lilac colors.

AMERICAN CHINCHILLA Developed in America for food and fur this normal’ furred rabbit has a deserved reputation as a good mother. With a 9-11 adult weight she can produce 5 pound fryer rabbits by the time they are just a few months old. The beautiful color of the chinchilla breeds is actually developed with rings of color on each hair, visible when you lightly blow into the fur. The disadvantage to this beautiful breed is they are critically rare so it can take some effort to find them. They still do well what they have done for nearly 100 years produce a family with food.

NEW ZEALAND Long considered THE meat rabbit the white variety is the most common rabbit in the 8-10 or so pound size. If you see a normal fur white rabbit chances are it’s New Zealand. Less common is the red and black New Zealand with blue and broken black being developed for those who aren’t commercial and want more than white fur. From a commercial standpoint the white fur takes dye the best, but from a home-raised standpoint artificial dyes don’t compete with natural colors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGIANT CHINCHILLA This is a large breed of up to 16 pounds with the chinchilla coloring, developed for the larger size that can carry more meat on a wide frame. The breed is American made with a docile temperament and good mothering abilities. Like the American Chinchilla they can be hard to find. Although more numerous they are still recovering from low numbers that threatened to make them extinct.

SATINS. My experience with Satins was less than satisfactory due to poor breeding ability on the stock, but it remains they’re a large, beautiful fur breed. Like the Rex, a recessive gene alters the coat and once you see a Satin in full bloom you won’t forget it! They have a beautiful natural sheen that sparkles with deep, rich colors to the fur. They are a good sized breed, many say a little more temperamental but this could be certain lines also.

Other breeds that can work include Californians, Americans, Beverens, Sables, Cinnamon, champagne de argent, palominos and many others. Look for those that mature over eight pounds.

Whichever breed you choose get from a good breeder, ideally one who keeps and selects for animals that exceed in situations you have. If you will be raising them in outdoor hutches it makes sense to select rabbits from parents who were raised in that environment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATell the seller what you are looking for if you want to show it’ll mean a little more expense sometimes especially with the more popular breeds. If you want strictly home meat production then seek one that is good for breeding with a family line of good conception, good mothers, 8-10 kits per litter and raising those kits to weaning. A doe that has 7 per litter is a better bet than one that kills every other litter.

With that in mind, you are time and money ahead to cull any animals with bad attitudes, poor mothers and bucks that consistently sire small litters when on a good program. There are some does that become hormonal and when they have babies get defensive. This is different from the animal that bites every time you reach in the cage.

Select and keep what you like. Even if you show, if you like the offspring of a certain rabbit don’t cull just because a couple judges don’t like her. YOU feed and care for her, you pay the feed bill and you have to look at her every day! At the same time give consideration to comments given if you show because this can also help your goal of meat production. While toenails and white spots don’t make a difference the strength of loin, width of shoulders and general width all the way down DO make a difference. If you think from a practical standpoint that is where your meat is the muscle.

Don’t think just because you’re raising for food you can feed low quality feed and get good production. Good quality care and feed is needed for production. Just because a litter is slated for food production doesn’t mean using cheap poor quality feed and little care if you do you may end up disillusioned and with nothing for the freezer. A bag of low quality feed can be $10-12 for 50 pounds; top quality is just a few dollars more.

Good care means good food. Don’t believe the claims rabbit tastes just like chicken either! You will be disappointed. Rabbits are leaner and need to be cooked differently than the higher fat foods we’re used to.

The rabbit is an amazing animal. A good doe on good management can produce over 200 pounds of meat per year in an area of a small storage shed. It’s best to have three or four does and at least two bucks. Focus on quality feed, quality care and production and a rabbit can produce more than you think for your freezer. Treasure them!

Selecting the Right Sheep Breed For You

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASelecting the right sheep breed starts with what do you want the sheep to do? With the answer to that question it directs your answer while eliminating those who don’t do so well at what you want.

For example if you’re looking at showing in open market lamb competition you might get away with a Hampshire or polled Dorset but your primary choice will be Suffolk. That is what excels in the show ring. However there may be some arguable exceptions. A small sized youth may be more comfortable and learn more with a cheviot or Texel which aren’t as tall but still make the muscle weight to show. True it would take an exceptional animal to win, but for many the WINNER is learning to make the most of choices and livestock husbandry, which they’re more likely to do hands on.

If you’re looking to raise lambs outside on pasture what kind of range do you have? How big are your pastures and are you interested in meat or wool? If the latter do you have a market or are you willing to work hard to develop one? Do you want to mess with wool at all? If you aren’t willing or able to shear the sheep and there isn’t someone to hire then don’t think about anything but hair sheep or maybe hair cross.

The fiber market is exacting – no weeds, seeds or “trash” in the fiber which weakens the fiber as well as takes more work to clean. This necessitates *GOOD* pasture that is clean to insure the fleeces aren’t contaminated.

For those without a great deal of room interested in wool the Shetland may be an option – maturing about 90-125 pounds with ewes slightly smaller, the Shetland has a Bradford count in up upper 50s or higher, with 2-4 pounds per shearing not uncommon. Several colors are available and they are considered a rare breed both in the UK and the US.

If you’re dedicated to conservation the Leicester Longwool may be of interest. This is an old breed once kept by George Washington now critically endangered. They have a heavy curly fleece that is commonly 11-15 pounds with some up to 20 pounds. Those with more room and a real dedication to wool may consider the world’s largest breed – the Lincoln. Adult ewes are often 200-250 with rams 250-350 pounds, with distinctive long fleece that is well wooled to the knees and hocks. The Cotswold is slightly smaller.

Another interesting breed for fleece is the Romney big enough for a good eating and with a low “grease” – or lanolin – content to the wool. While the lanolin can be a good product many correlate the amount of lanolin affects the taste of the lamb, which if affecting the fat makes sense.

If you’re not interested in fleeces as much consider the Barbados blackbelly, Wiltshire horn or possibly the California Red.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose without a great deal of room may find the 160-200 pound size of the Cheviot (ewes to 160 pounds) easier to handle than the larger breeds. If volume is your interest Polypays can be the solution, with the ability to lamb more than once a year and breed early. Another option is the Southdown but these do have wooled faces and legs, an objectionable quality for some. For something the same size but completely different consider the ‘redheads’ – Tunis sheep have red heads and a reddish cast to the wool. They’re born red.

For something completely different there’s the Karakul, originally brought to the US for pelt production. They are a “fat tailed” breed with ewes 100-150 pounds and rams 175-225 pounds not uncommon. They may be several colors and are distinctive in the sheep world.

The Cheviot isn’t to be confused with the slightly larger North country Cheviot – similar but the latter is not uncommon for ewes to be 180 and rams 300 pounds. The North Country Cheviot is also known for being aggressive on dogs.

In the larger range size of Suffolks ewes are 180-250 pounds with rams 250-350 pounds. Hampshires are also black faced and ewes are minimum 200 pounds with rams 275 and up. In appearance the Hampshire has wool on top the head where the Suffolk does not. Another similarly sized breed is the Oxford which has a black face but more wool on the face, down to the nose.

Slightly smaller at maturity is the Dorset, with ewes 150-200 pounds and rams 225-275 pounds. These may be horned or polled. They have a white “open” face (no wool on face).

Remember these mature sizes when you get “cute little lambs” – don’t tease them or play with them in any way that they butt at you. A 200-300 pound ram can do a lot of damage – don’t fear them but do treat them with respect. If you’re not large enough to ‘tip’ them for trimming and shearing plan and train when they’re small enough to handle. With one Dorset ram I knew throwing him wasn’t going to happen (I’m 5’2″!) so from the time he was a few months old I picked up his feet. He learned much as a horse and as an adult he was very easy to do his feet. Often I could do all 4 faster than others could tip him!

Also research the grazing and finishing abilities of your chosen breed. These are just a few of the sheep breeds available, and there’s many who are in other countries but not here.

  • Breeds vary from adult weights of about 100 pounds to over 300 pounds.
  • Some are wool specialists while others are for meat
  • Consider the amount of pasture you have – don’t overgraze.

Did you know?While in the US we think of sheep for fleece or fiber, the Friesian breed was developed for milk. Dairy sheep, including cheese, is in the US but less common than the other uses.

Endangered Species – Dairy Cattle Need Conservation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the early 1960s Golden Guernsey milk was prized – the Guernsey cow was second only to the Holstein. Today Guernsey numbers continue to fall despite the needed characteristics she has had all along and she is officially a “watch” breed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. This designation tells there are fewer than 200 annual registrations in the U.S and an estimated global population less than 2,000. According to some sites this is roughly the same numbers as wild pandas – yet pandas get much attention. The Guernsey is just a cow.

Also on that “watch” list is the Ayrshire, milking Shorthorns and Galloway cattle. Not far up the ranks is the Brown Swiss. Critically endangered is the Kerry, milking Devon, Canadienne and a beef breed, the Florida Cracker. Less than 500 of these animals remain – and they need small farms for existence…they could simply cease to exist.

This is an urgent situation and most of society is blissfully unaware of it. The modern dairy uses the common black and white Holsteins, a breed which for decades has been developed for a high confinement, high grain, high production situation. She is not one for longevity – only highly exceptional cows are 7 or 8 years in the herd. Consumers interested in purchasing milk – or meat – from animals raised on grass are less likely to find it among these confinement animals simply because that has not been a selection trait. She has not needed to walk for hours per day grazing. Even the high butterfat Jersey is often a confinement animal in today’s farm situation. The above breeds, however, CAN supply a good amount of milk on grass. Volume is not everything.

The Guernsey cow is a smaller sized animal, fawn and white or a golden and white color that is very distinctive. Often this high yellow is carried down into the fat of the animal, something that makes her less than appealing to many as a beef producer. She was developed as a grazing animal on a small island in the English Channel, and first brought to the US around September of 1840. Today, with the use of artificial insemination and an aggressive young sire program a young bull might have 1,500 offspring in up to 400 herds across the US. This provides a sound genetic base – but with that the Guernsey needs the other critical thing – demand. Only a demand for products from these less popular animals will truly make keeping them a viable option for more than purists with a love for the breed. The Guernsey is known for producing high butterfat and protein in her milk with 20-30% less feed per pound of milk than larger breeds. She also contributes a high concentration of betacarotene in the milk and adapts to warmer climates. American Guernsey Association, 7614 Slate Ridge Blvd., P.O. Box 666, Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068-0666. Phone: (614) 864-2409.

The Milking Shorthorn breed was developed when the shorthorn breed split into milking and beef registries. It is said the milking shorthorn comprises best the characteristics for dual purpose – using for milk and meat. The first shorthorns came to the US as “Durhams” in 1783. They were actually known as a “triple purpose” – having not only meat and milk for the early pioneers but also steer calves were trained for draft use as oxen. They are a colorful breed, being red, white, red and white spotted or roan, the latter a mix of red and white that is unique to the shorthorn. The breed’s hardiness and adaptability along with efficient production made them very popular in early America. They are long lived, easy calving and economical to run especially on grass. They are easily managed and an animal that is injured or not kept for breeding is good enough to provide a good amount of meat for the family. More information can be found at the American Milking Shorthorn Society, P.O. Box 449, Beloit, Wisconsin 53512-0449. Phone: (608) 365-3332 or http://www.agdomain.com/web/usmilkingshorthorn

The Scottish developed Ayrshire cow is arguably one of the most efficient grazing cattle on the planet. Said by some to be nervous, the breed was developed to provide milk and meat to smallholders and dairies in their native Scotland. They are red and white, only – although the red varies from light to dark. Color markings vary widely from almost all red to nearly all white often with jagged, flashy spots. They were known for years for their beautiful horns – something unwanted in today’s confinement system. They are ideal for less than ideal conditions as they were developed under tough conditions with rugged terrain and varied climates. The bull calves can be raised as steers, providing meat for farm families. The overall average for the breed is over 12,000 pounds of milk with some herds as high in average as 17,000 pounds of milk. The current world record for an Ayrshire is 37,170 pounds of milk and 1592 pounds of butterfat. Overall the Ayrshire, like the other breeds, can’t compete with confinement developed Holsteins for volume. A pasture as their food source however and she’ll turn the tables on a good many confinement cows.

The Red Poll is at threatened status with the ALBC – another English native developed on tough pasture for both milk and meat. They are naturally polled – that is they do not have horns – and have been in the US since 1873. They’re a smaller breed, good for rougher less than ideal conditions.

The Dutch Belted breed was a dairy breed originally brought to the US by PT Barnum for his famous circus. There were outstanding individuals milking as the breed became better known as one of the supreme dairy producers alive in the early 1900s. A distinct white belt found only in this breed and the belted Galloway (more of a beef breed) makes them easily recognized.

The Kerry, a small breed usually black in color, were developed as a family cow, for longevity. She was expected to produce a calf every year, either females for breeding or the males not needed to breed for meat. She could still be producing at 14-15 years old. Her small size makes her no longer favored and this breed is highly endangered.

470_46717The milking Devon, like the milking shorthorn, was originally a triple purpose animal. Her calves are still used for milk, meat and oxen power. Unlike many breeds where the draft purpose was a side benefit the Devonshire cattle were known for their speed, intelligence, strength and willingness to work as well as the ability to adapt to many climates. The Devon cows provided good milk for cream and cheesemaking. Oxen are no longer a main power source and the beautiful red colored horned animals have dwindled, their characteristics of hardy ability to survive on low quality pasture no longer important in a world of high confinement. Because they were developed as working animal and often handled by children the breed is noted for their excellent docile temperament. There is more information at American Milking Devon Association 135 Old Bay Road, New Durham, NH 03855. Phone: 603-859-6611

Can we continue the specialized highly industrial pace of many modern confinement farms? What if consumers demanded something else…what if by way of disaster the qualities these breeds have are needed and they are no longer alive? Our food supply could well be saved by these animals – we must save them. Using them for food – both milk and meat – and creating a demand for them allows those raising them a means to continue to do so. There are no zoos or conservation places for cattle. Attempts to form one have been met with “great idea!!” but no donations to do so.

These breeds must be conserved. Extinction is forever.

Home Pork Production: Raising Pigs on a Small Farm

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPigs kept properly should not “stink.”
  • Pigs MUST have shade and water to deal with hot days. Without it they will die.
  • A 225-250 pound hog will bring about 180 pounds of pork to the freezer.

Not so many years ago many farms had outdoor pastures for pigs. Confinement operations developed to raise large numbers of pigs in intensive conditions have been criticized by many; but raising pigs for the freezer is not difficult.

Small homestead production of pigs is not difficult nor is it expensive. It does take the right equipment and some important attention to non-negotiable issues. I’ve raised four Duroc gilts (females) in a 16X32 area. Some breeds, such as Large Blacks, Saddlebacks and Tamworths are less adapted to small areas and a larger fenced area suits them much better. Decide before getting ANY pigs and do some research as to which type you want. If you want to keep a few pigs to breed as well as producing meat for the freezer these rarer breeds can definitely use more people raising them and using them. If space is an issue you may be better getting the more popular breeds in a non-pasture situation. Simply buy “feeder pigs” – those pigs that are 30-40 pounds – and raise them to market size – 225-250 pounds.

If the closest you’ve ever been to a pig is the pork chop or sausage on your plate there are things about raising pigs you need to understand. Forget the often repeated statement that pigs stink. Properly housed and handled pigs don’t stink. The massive barns with 2,000 head do smell – so do proportionately sized places with 2,000 PEOPLE. Pig manure can be easily collected and composted – and given a choice pigs will have a designated “bathroom” area of their pen.

Those little cute pigs grow fast. Always keep in mind when handling larger pigs that despite what is often presented pigs are NOT vegetarians. They will eat chickens, lambs and small dogs that don’t get out of the pen fast enough. They can and have killed people and at one time when a work horse died it was hauled into the pig pen, a distasteful view of “recycling” but a fact on farms less than 100 years ago. Pigs are omnivores – they will eat whatever they find. If you bag unsprayed law grass it can be composted – or put in the hog pen. Leftovers, day old bread, several types of grain…several things can go into a pig’s trough. The amount of food needed is not as much as some might think if you use a protein supplement and corn, although corn is raising in cost at present and may not be a cost effective point depending on where you are. If you have dairy animals and an excess of milk that with grains can raise the pigs quickly and result in a great deal of pork in not a lot of space.

For the average small farm, small area place such as the pen mentioned above your best choices will be those such as the Duroc, Hampshire, Yorkshire or Spots. These breeds are common on many farms so easy to find. Typically they will have had the needle teeth clipped; and any boars will have been castrated. For what the typical homesteader is looking for – meat production, focus on barrows (castrated males) or gilts (females) rather than the boars. They’ll typically also have any vaccinations and worming needed to get the pigs off to a good start. Look for an animal that is healthy – longer bodied and lean. Eyes should be bright and eyes and nose should be free from discharges. Generally for home pork production avoid the “pot belly” pigs – they are too fatty and inefficient.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave a proper pen for your pig(s) before bringing them home…and make the fencing *tight*. For the 16X32′ pen mentioned get six hog panels – these come in 16′ lengths and are about 3′ high – they’re welded steel and will cost about $18 each. You’ll also need a dozen steel T posts at about $3 each – drive these securely in the ground and wire the panels to the inside of the posts, which helps lend strength when larger pigs push against it. You’ll need a tank – secure so it can’t be tipped – for water. Very important is a shade or shelter. It is absolutely important to remember you MUST help pigs in the heat. They MUST have shade. A pig trapped in the sun in hot weather will die – they cannot sweat and have no way to cool themselves. A water area or mudhole is a small relief but they still need shade.

If you pasture pigs be sure to have solid fencing – your neighbors will not be happy with finding your pigs in their garden. Traditionally, as mentioned, corn has been the grain of choice but oats, barley and rye has been used as well as leftovers from buffet salad bars, garden excess. Chopped alfalfa is another means to give pigs roughage and add 16% protein to their diet. You can buy alfalfa cubes for about $10 for 50 pounds in many farm and feed stores. Measure about a pound of these and soak them in water so they break down into useful forage. With this and a pound of corn you’re on your way to some of the best pork you’ve ever eaten. A 225 pound pig will dress out at about 180 pounds of meat – and can be done over the course of a summer. It’s a way to use what is often overlooked – kitchen scraps of many kinds, yard “waste” and a little grain.

When you’re planning on raising a pig plan on two. Pigs are happier with a buddy. For the 5-6 months you’ll be raising them it is possible – and recommended – the pigs be treated humanely. The initial housing investment will last for several years and is at or under $200. Do not be tempted to tether them. Yes many have done it for years. But a tethered animal – be it pig, goat, sheep, calf, dog – whatever without a fence is prey for roaming dogs, coyotes and other predators. There is no excuse for not keeping your animals safe, fed and watered. Your initial purchase of pigs will vary depending on the area, season, etc but generally about $60-90 should find you a pair of pigs. Depending on what you’re feeding there are of course those costs. But for $300 plus feed in roughly six months you’ll have about 360 pounds of pork for the freezer…and remember that fencing outlay is still there for next year!

When the day approaches for killing and getting the pig ready for the freezer there are a few options depending on where you live. It can be done yourself or you can contact a small butcher to do it for you. There is usually a “kill fee” and a small fee for cutting. You choose if you want the hams smoked or fresh. How thick do you want the bacon and chops, how spicy do you want the sausage. Some people use the whole hog for sausage – if your family like sausage this might be something for the second pig – you’ll still get hams from the other. The day of killing keep water in front of the pigs but withhold food. If you’re hauling the pigs somewhere keep loading and hauling them low key – do not stress them. Stress affects the meat – and stress isn’t necessary. If you back the truck or trailer up to their pen and leave them no other place to go but in the vehicle they will go in. Under no circumstances should you hit or start chasing them. If they’re reluctant to load don’t fight them…simply take a bucket and put over their snout/face – most pigs will back up….”steer” them towards the vehicle and when you remove the buckets shut the door and they’re caught. There is an occasional pig who will try to charge through but MOST pigs will back up. After watching some people in frustration use abusive tactics in loading a couple of 600 pound sows I grabbed an empty garbage can – in 30 seconds the first was in the trailer. Seriously. No hitting, no chasing no swearing.

Many don’t realize how large pigs can get. The 225-250 pound market weight is not full grown. I’ve known some pigs – Yorkshire and a Tamworth – that weighed at or over 1000 pounds. Mature breeding animals are very strong and can kill a human if they wanted to. If you’re thinking of keeping animals to breed it’s important to know what you’re getting into and learn a little more about hog behavior. Some breeds of pasture pigs still carry the maternal instincts while others aren’t as much so. It’s important to remember pigs can and will eat anything smaller than them….and for some sows this can include her own pigs. Additionally with some pigs do not ever ever ever pig up a piglet without her securely on the other side of the fence. Pigs don’t normally jump but I’ve seen sows come up a good ways through the overhead door of old type hog houses and there are many who have lost fingers and more to a mama sow in blind defense of a baby pig. You really need to get some experience and be prepared when raising pigs. Each one is unique and many ARE good mothers and aren’t a danger to handlers – but sometimes you don’t know until you have that piglet screaming in your hands. Use caution.

Pigs can provide a freezer of meat in a relatively small area. They were once called the “mortgage lifter” for their ability to use food stuffs that would otherwise often go to waste – the pigs turned it into meat. They’re interesting animals and should be handled with caution and appreciation.

Did you know…

Darker hogs are often used more in the south and in outdoor operations due to the white pigs’ probability of sunburn. All pigs should be given a shady place to escape the sun and heat.