Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dreaming Of Livestock

We've only lived for a couple of months on our land, and are still deep in the throes of "have tos" - all the immediate chores and repairs that must get done NOW and eat up most of the time we might otherwise have for "want tos". That does not, however, stop us from wishing and dreaming and sometimes even conspiring, and these days our thoughts are turning to larger livestock. This isn't new. We've been discussing meat and dairy animals since before the place was even ours, but we're now talking with a bit more intent and seriously considering the pros and cons.

The looming question on our minds is: goat, sheep or cow? Or a combination?

Our first (and almost automatic) thought was goats. Goats are small and inexpensive enough that we could keep a few, and they'd provide us with plenty of fresh milk and occaisional meat. We also have a large area of our property that is hilly and overgrown with brush - great for goats! The downsides to this are that we'd need to build extremely strong fences, since goats will free themselves from just about any enclosure if given the slightest chance, and frankly, while I like goat milk, I don't LOVE goat milk. I like it a lot for certain things, but wouldn't want to use it for others, as I find it rather more salty than cow's milk. Dairy goats apparently must also be milked twice a day, every day, which would mean a complete and total end to any spontaneity and flexibility in our lives.

I've begun just in the last week to seriously consider sheep. Sheep also produce milk, as well as meat and fleece, so they could be a good candidate for us. They are also a manageable size and from what I understand, are possessed of a more even temperment than goats. That is to say, they aren't as curious or prone to getting into things (or out of things!). It's fairly appealing to me to think that we could have all the benefits of goats, plus wool, with a somewhat more laid back animal. We also have a very large area of flat, grassy pasture with a few shade trees here and there, so accommodations wouldn't be a problem for them either. My biggest problems with sheep are these - I don't spin and really am not inclined to, so I'd need to find an outlet (or some use) for the wool, I've never actually had sheep's milk (only the occasional cheese) so I don't even know if I like it, and as much as I find lamb delicious, I just could NOT slaughter a lamb myself. I'd absolutely have to make other arrangements for that. They're simply too cute. Really. I couldn't do it. I mean, could you kill this??

Yeah, me neither. It's worth noting, too, that wool sheep seem less common in my area, possibly due to our extremely long and hot summers. I do see quite a few hair sheep, and sheep for meat, but finding an all-around multipurpose breed here might prove difficult.

I had categorically dismissed cows as an option until just yesterday. I had assumed that their size would make them too difficult to manage, plus we're literally surrounded by them, with a place selling pastured beef just down the road, so it seemed like there wasn't much point. But a cow would provide more than enough milk for us (and we know we like it) and they are generally quite docile, despite their size. There would be plenty of milk also for cheese, yogurt, cream and butter, and any excess milk could be offered to other folks or fed to our chickens or other livestock. We would also have the opportunity to raise a calf for meat every year or two, which would more than provide for the two of us. In this case, third party butchering would be a must. We simply don't have the facilities to handle such a large job and still keep everything acceptably clean. Given the great abundance of cows near us, I can't imagine it would be all too difficult to come by one. The big downside to a cow is the upfront investment. It costs considerably more to purchase a cow. Plus, a bigger animal means more feed, whether you're able to provide it with pasture or have to supplement with cut hay. The return on a cow is much larger, however, in terms of quantity of milk and meat. There is also the option of selling the calves on the hoof, which would return some dollars to our pockets.

All of these animals have their own unique appeal, as well as unique drawbacks. It seems as though the more I think about it, the harder it becomes to make a decision about which is right for us. Perhaps the eventual answer will be "all of the above", but boy, does that seem like overkill for two people.


  1. Even though it's way off the radar for us, I've wondered about this too. I mean it's hard enough to find someone to come and water/feed the cats and dog for a week. What on earth do you do when you need a pinch-hit-milker???

  2. Lewru, I have NO idea. Especially since we don't know anyone where we live now. We can board the dogs, which is what we've always done, but we couldn't even leave the chickens and rabbits overnight. I'm considering putting up a want ad at the feed store - maybe someone's kid would be willing to do that sort of thing for pay?

  3. We have a neighbor kid who takes care of our animals when we are gone. Otherwise, the would starve. Don't know what we would do without him.

    If you are thinking of goats; beware, they are even more destructive than chickens. Wehad one for about a week. It ate everything in the yard, even the shrubs.

  4. I vote goats.

    Not that I've ever had one, but fainting goats are so darn cute. :)

    The one thing I remember about livestock is that just like with children, you're definitely tied down!

  5. We have killed sheep, goats, deer, one steer, and a pig. Generally, if you need to, you can. And it's not as much work as it looks, plus if you have ever done a fish or a chicken, it's not that different; things are pretty much where you expect them to be.

    Assuming you will be home all the time or have someone skilled that can spell you, have excellent fencing, enough pasture or browse, and appropriate shelter for larger critters, I'd say goats. For a larger space, something like Nubians, for smaller, something like Nigerian Pygmies. Think "goat cheese ... " yumm!

    There is an old book, sometimes shows up on Amazon (there are 20 right now, from $2.81), which is a good read on goat farming:

    Country Women: A Handbook For The New Farmer

    risa b

  6. Have you considered a cow/calf combo? Get a cow, breed her, let her raise her own calf and don't wean it. You can milk occasionally but the calf would take care of that when you couldn't. The calf would also eat grass. At the end of your pasture season, butcher the calf. And so you only have to fed hay to the cow during the down season. What you end up with is "baby beef". It is cheaper and easier since you don't keep the calf for the typical 18 months, but for only as long as your pasture holds out. In my area (southern Pennsylvania) the pasture season is primarily from April-October.
    Check out Gene Logsdon's books, especially "The Contrary Farmer". Good stuff and very encouraging!

  7. I've raised sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits, and the occasional pig. If I had to decide on what kind of livestock I'd put on a small farm, it would be 2-3 goats.

    Sheep are easier than goats because goats are escape artists who will eat everything in their path, and will eat it down to the dirt. They will chew bark off trees. Secure fencing is a must. You also have to walk that fence every two or three days to make sure it's still secure.

    I like goats the best because they are funny, friendly, and easily trained. When I was a kid, my pet goat was as loyal as my pet dog.