Planning for future food (livestock)

LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,354 admin
edited November 2022 in Cattle

My post is more of an article than a short post. Please bare with me.

This is more a post for those who have a bit of land than those who don't. You don't need much to have animals, but you have to plan. I firmly believe that if you have any land zoned agricultural, you should be keeping your own livestock, and a variety if possible.

We have had many people comment wistfully about our lifestyle (they see it in a romantic light...for us, it's just getting by and is not often easy). They say that they wish they could or would have done similar. I understand that land is next to/impossible to buy anymore. We would like more, but we continue to do the best with what we have (and keep our ears & eyes open for possibilities).

For some, the time to raise their kids this way has come & gone. For some, they are caught in the web not always of their own making. I feel for those people. It can be hard to break free. But for many, they are caught in the web of their chosen lifestyle and aren't willing to sacrifice certain aspects to get there, even though they may have the means to start either small or it will continue to be unreachable.

Back to the livestock. Hopefully in the future, we will be better prepared with our animals maturing. We do know that we have too many animals for our space at present, but we can either eat some or sell at a profit (if needed). As an investment, some can be bred, so there is a return and a somewhat steady supply of new animals. We at least have options at this point.

We were recently able to get 2 week-old calves for $100 each. This is very cheap as dairy bulls go from $75 (if you are lucky)-100 for day old to 1 week old, dairy heifer calves up to $600, and beef are anywhere from $350-$500. Heifers cost more than bulls & steers & sometimes you run into a twin that is a free martin (unbreedable heifer) to boot even at that price.

One of our new acquisitions is a Holstein bull calf (so not worth much, but will make good bone broth & have some meat), but the other is a Holstein-Angus cross heifer and she is clearly taking after the Angus. So, we should be good for dairy (jersey cows known for excellent feed conversion & great dairy) & beef (with our small heritage highland bull...not a trendy & often problematic miniature beef). We are also talking about keeping one of our 3 little Large Black heritage cross piggies (also bought at a great price) as a sow to breed.

We may have to bring in more hay for everyone, but it can be done one way or the other.

Choosing your livestock carefully for a smaller tract of land can make a huge difference. You need to be careful to not follow trends and fads if you are concerned about efficiency. Many people get caught up in the web of hype & popularity and end up stuck with something that costs them.

Do your own research thoroughly from solid sources (and don't dismiss knowledgefrom other cultures/countries/languages), and determine to continue to learn thoroughly all about your animals and other future prospects.

Knowledge is good. Don't forget wisdom either, that's more important. That's knowing how to properly implement your knowledge. Not all "experts"/"experienced" folks (especially online) are as experienced or as expert as they promote. Not all keepers (even offline, old or young) have wise advice. Assess carefully what you hear. What is their background? This, I find, is very important. This should be closely followed with were they active or passive in their involvement with these types of animals growing up? Are they set in their ways or are they willing to learn? Do they assess things carefully, or are they impulsive? How long have they had a certain animal or breed? Do they actually know the breed very well or do they just have book/internet knowledge? Working knowledge, and hopefully wisdom, comes over time. All these things will determine the quality of the advice you get. Its amazing what passes as great advice/ideas sometimes that is really advice that should be discarded. It can be like a game of telephone. Sometimes the best advice is found from those quiet folks who keep to themselves and continue to do what they've always done, and not the ones that have a need to proclaim what they do.

Before I forget, I should mention that you should still be willing to try new things if the evidence from other (not parrot type) resources supports it.

If you have a small tract of land, you will generally be wisest to choose smaller animals with great traits such as ease of birth, maternal instincts, number of healthy offspring for those who birth pigs, hardiness, feed conversion, & usefulness, etc. They should have a clear purpose (and some can do double duty, such as poultry & some cattle). Being an investment, you will want good return and the possibility of multiplying themselves is a factor to consider.

You need to factor into everything your material costs (fencing, type of housing, maintenance), proper and good quality feed suited to the animal (generally for each cow it is 1 large, fairly heavily packed hay bale/month, a mix of grasses is often best), and things of that sort. Most expenses are one-time or once or twice a year things, thankfully.

Anyway, I know we chat here mostly about rabbits, goats, poultry & gardens, but I think that other livestock should be discussed sometimes as well and not be forgotten.

If you have land and as you are able, please get yourself livestock. Don’t be afraid of the unknowns or of being "tied down" (which is really an empty excuse, and a newer lazy concept of our selfish society). Getting livestock is a worthwhile investment that can reap great rewards in many ways.


  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 2,017 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning great information. I would add one thing, if your thinking of getting an animal for food that you have never eaten before... find a source that you can get a bit of that from and try it first. A food source is useless if no one will eat it.

    We had planned on getting dairy goats at one time. Found someone local we could get some goat milk and a few other items, such as goat cheese from. Milk was great the first day. As was the cheese and yogurt. After they had been in the fridge for a day or two, the flavor got very strong to us. We did not care for it at all. Not sure if this was typical or not. But decided not to try goats after all.

    We have a cow share with some friends about a mile from us, so for now that works well. I'd rather have something I can raise myself, but don't have room right now for cattle and they get pretty expensive here in the winter especially.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,354 admin
    edited November 2022

    @vickeym That's important!

    I should also add that you will need to decide if you are going to do any butchering yourself (and learn how & when). So many people depend on the butchering facilities available. We have heard that many are booked crazily into the future (like 1 - 1 1/2 years) or have shut down. It is also becoming increasingly expensive.

    Considering this present crazy world, it is a good idea to plan on DIY and not assume availability when you want it or be dependent on a business to get it done.

  • JennyT Upstate South Carolina
    JennyT Upstate South Carolina Posts: 1,273 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Such great information, @LaurieLovesLearning and @vickeym! Thanks for sharing, so much to consider and mull over. 😉

  • JodieDownUnder
    JodieDownUnder Posts: 1,482 admin

    @LaurieLovesLearning great conversation. In my experience, the type/breed of animal is important as well as input costs. Example, when I owned my last farm (2004-2017) I wanted a small breeding nucleus of hardy, fertile, hassle free cows. I chose Angus & Angus cross for my females. They were tough, quiet, good doer’s, easy calving & I could wean the calves at 7 months & sell them straight to the saleyards. We use to keep one for private use (eating) every year. They were cheap to run, enough country to graze on without being supplemented (except for a few minerals) no improved pastures, so the cows did a great job on their calves, a nice little operation. I kept back the best 2 or 3 heifers each year for replacements. That way I could run about 20 breeders & cull anything that did not calve or for other reasons.

    Then a few years in, I purchased 3 friesian (Holstein) x Angus cows with calves at foot. All healthy & in good order. Me thinking that a dairy x would be a great vealer producer. Then drought hit us & the big, heavy milking cows fell to pieces. I’d already sold the 1st lot of calves & they were about to calve again. No matter what I fed them, they just looked terrible. The calves were ok but the cows were a bit lean. Because they were big girls, they were harder to fill. I weaned the calves early, so the cows would recover. None of the 3 went back in calf & in the end I sold them to the meatworks to cover my losses. I learnt my lesson, don’t be tempted to go outside what you’ve planned without good research. The 3 cows I’m referring to were too big, when I stood next to them, I couldn’t see over them, they must have been 16hh (horse talk) so a lot of feed goes into them, just for maintenance, let alone a drought & no fresh pasture. I did not have issues with my other cows.

    Temperament is another important attribute. Docile animals are more pleasurable to be around, hassle & stress free. No point having nervous, fidgety animals that jump fences or put you over a fence. Always go for docile.

    If you’ve not had experience in this area but are keen, educate yourself, introduce yourself to a good, local breeder & get some tips, very worth it in the end.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,354 admin

    @JodieDownUnder Angus are very good beef animals. As far as Friesian, I understand that they are a bit different than the North American Holstein. The Friesan is usually more stocky (but still quite large). If I understand correctly, the genes of North America's Holsteins stem from two popular bulls.

    We chose small animals not only because we like the cream from the Jersey, but they are efficient and make sense moving forward. Highlands are also efficient (even thriving on poor...weedy...pasture/feed) & resilient and supposed to make a good cross. As you say, @JodieDownUnder, big cows are harder to keep fed. That is certainly in our thoughts. You do need to consider your land properties. Some have special needs that need to be met, some are more giving.

    I agree with docile, but any cow can be quirky and some may just enjoy sitting on/jumping/going under or through fences. The highland is not a fence pusher, nice if you don't want to be pushing bulls back toward their pasture.

    I mentioned no miniatures. They are a fad. Even the dexter, that isn't a miniature, has issues. The problems that stem from these have to do with an abortive tendencies and dwarfism. Those factors need to be considered. It is something we don't want to deal with. Again, you want as efficient & trouble free as possible.

  • Megan Venturella
    Megan Venturella Posts: 678 ✭✭✭✭

    I wanted to just mention that if your refrigerator isn’t cold enough or the milk isn’t clean enough, raw goat milk starts to taste funky pretty early. I had to lower the temperature on my fridge to 38 and now my milk keeps very well. I’m only mentioning it because I feel like goats get such bad press sometimes and they are such great animals for people with less land or hard to use land.

    That being said, all very solid advice!

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 2,017 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Megan Venturella That is great to know and could easily have been our problem. We are off grid so unlikely our refrigerator was that low since ours is an ice chest.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,354 admin

    @vickeym Here it is recommended to be between 1°C up to 4°C. No warmer. Some people think it's the number setting on the fridge (it is not). You will only know your temperature if you buy a fridge thermometer & use it. It's worthwhile.

  • Owl
    Owl Posts: 346 ✭✭✭

    Don’t be afraid to think outside the box either. I’m currently feeding my rabbits on the green peppers and sweet potato vines that are thriving in the greenhouse. I haven’t purchased feed for them since February because I forage for them from what I have and have plans for next year to grow feed for the chickens and cows. I do understand that you have to build the rabbits up slowly to a fresh diet but they are thriving.

  • nicksamanda11
    nicksamanda11 Posts: 721 ✭✭✭✭

    Good idea- feeding forage

  • Jason's Works
    Jason's Works Posts: 17 ✭✭✭

    @vickeym @LaurieLovesLearning @JennyT Upstate South Carolina

    Probably well known by all here but I've found to be sure and keep the water source for the buck separate from the does as his "cologne" on his beard can taint the water, therefore giving a strong goat flavor to the milk, cheese, etc.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,354 admin

    @Jason's Works I'm glad to see that you got the avatar & name change worked out.

    I'm not a goat keeper (nor do I like goat cheese), but I was aware that a buck can taint milk... any milk, even cow's milk. That's one animal we most likely won't ever keep is a goat.