livestock 101Keeping livestock on small farms - Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Farm animals can be classed as "companion animals" just like dogs and cats.
  • They can provide meat, milk, and fibre.
  • They can also provide manure for fertiliser, and control pasture through grazing, especially in areas which cannot be mechanically mown.
  • Livestock can provide extra income if well managed.
  • Keeping farm animals is a wonderful educational experience for children, and in the process they learn a great deal about their fellow humans.

Cons

  • You are legally responsible for all animals in your care under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.
  • Keeping livestock will restrict your personal and family activities.  For example you will need to make arrangements for their care when you go away.
  • You will need to work outside in all weathers, regardless of the time of day or night.
  • Livestock and their trading have a varying requirement for capital, and profits from this investment are by no means guaranteed.
  • You will have to deal with birth, death, disposal and slaughter of animals.  The 'sight of blood' is a common feature on a farm.
  • You will have to invest in machinery which has associated dangers, as well as using chemicals and veterinary drugs.  Accidents causing death and injuries on farms are very common.
  • You will need good stock handling facilities (eg yards and pens) to ensure the safety of stock and people.
  • Animals on a farm will attract vermin such as rats and mice which will have to be poisoned. Poison bates are a hazard for pets.

Some common options

These notes are deliberately brief, and more extensive information is on the website.

Calves

  • A very popular starting option for a small farm.
  • Calves are easy to obtain, and they bond well with humans due to regular contact at feeding times.
  • You need a shed and good hygiene.
  • You need good pasture for when they start grazing at 4-6 weeks old.
  • It costs around $300 to rear a calf without the cost of labour so profits are not guaranteed.
  • You can quit them at any time or keep them on to sell as big cattle.

Older beef animals

  • Cattle grow into large heavy animals and you will need handling facilities - yards, head bail and loading race.  You may be able to share with a neighbour.
  • They are a good option if you just want paddocks grazed.
  • You can buy and sell to suit your grass growth.
  • They are relatively easy care - only need pasture and water.
  • Only run heifers or steers for meat and never bulls.
  • Large cattle can pug and damage pastures in winter so breed choice is important.
  • Keeping breeding cows to produce beef calves but it means you have to keep or lease a bull.

Sheep

  • Most people dislike sheep as they consider them a lot of work, and they get all sorts of diseases!
  • You need good handling facilities for holding and drafting sheep.
  • They bond well with humans, especially if hand reared.
  • Breeds vary in their behaviour.  For example on a small block with small children, you don't want very active sheep such as Cheviots or Perendales unless you know how to handle them in good facilities.
  • Sheep also have to be crutched; dagged and shorn and wool returns will hardly pay for the shearing.
  • They are the best option to keep grass well mown, especially in areas where you cannot get a machine.
  • They are always at risk of wandering dogs and rustlers.

Goats

  • The bond very well with humans, especially if hand reared.
  • They are browsers and not grazing animal. So they love trees and shrubs and regularly risk poisoning.
  • They don't like clover so pastures will become very clover dominant, and other stock will be needed to graze the pastures.
  • They are prone to footrot but this can be culled out over time.
  • Mohair is a good option, but the only other good option is meat.
  • A breeding herd requires keeping bucks which smell strongly in autumn.

Horses

  • Horses are large heavy animals and are high on the ACC list of causing accidents to people.
  • These are special interest animals mainly for riding, or breeding for specific markets such as eventing, show jumping, trekking.
  • You will need special yards and housing.
  • Horses are the worst of all grazing animals as they overgraze some areas of their paddocks and use others as a toilet.
  • You have to control their intake of high-protein pasture to prevent founder of the foot.  This means tight grazing control where large amounts of dung will accumulate
  • This dung needs to be disposed of by regular collection or harrowing.

Pigs

  • Pigs are intelligent animals and bond well with humans.
  • To perform well, pigs need to be fed grain-based feed. Kitchen scraps are not enough.  So you will find that feed costs are higher than expected.
  • Pigs thrive well outside but they will pug paddocks, even if they have nose rings.
  • Pigs like to graze, but a nice pasture can soon turns to mud in wet weather.
  • The like to wallow in mud holes in the paddock, and will make these even if they are not provided.
  • Pigs are very clean animals if they are allowed to be.  They can be very smelly if not and you will have complaints from neighbours.
  • If you want to keep sows for breeding, you'll need to keep a boar and these can be dangerous if you don't have experience in handling them.
  • There's always a good market for weaner pigs.   Weaner pigs are very hard to contain as they easily sneak through fences- and find their way into the garden!

Poultry

  • Keeping a few hens is an attractive option and they quickly become people friendly by regular feeding.
  • Few if any small farmers keep laying birds in cages, so they roam 'free range'. This can include the garden where they make dust baths (even if these are provided), and they eventually find their way up to the back door and even inside the house!
  • The end up having to be restrained in some kind of run, which ends up being an 'intensive' system.
  • If you work out the cost of eggs produced, it's always cheaper to buy them, so you have to put a different value on your own chooks' eggs to counteract basic economics.
  • Egg production
  • Poultry (hens, turkeys, ducks, geese) kept for meat take a long time to fatten when run outdoors as their feed conversion efficiency is low.  They are best confined if that meets your aims in keeping them.
  • Ducks need water and their egg laying is very seasonal.

Rabbits

  • Rabbits have a very bad image in NZ - and there is always fear of domestic rabbits escaping to add to the pest population.
  • The need to be confined.
  • The rabbit fibre market (Angoras) is currently very small and you need special skills to keep them successfully - eg shearing.
  • The rabbit meat market is small and is currently met by importations from China.
  • Because of the rapid reproductive rate of rabbits, the offspring from two-three breeding does can easily provide enough meat to feed a family for a year.
  • For good meat production, rabbits need to be fed high-energy grain-based feed, supplemented with green feed to maintain health.
  • Rabbits make good pets if their owners learn to handle them correctly - otherwise they can bite and scratch with nasty implications.

Camelids (Alpacas, Llamas)

  • These are specialist animals and are kept mainly as companions.
  • There's a specialist market for alpaca fibre but it is not large.
  • Up to now they have been very expensive due to short supply.
  • Money is made by breeders encouraging others to become breeders so they can sell stock for big money.
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