Learn the Rules for Raising Livestock

George DeVault gives a primer on the basic rules for raising livestock, including feed for livestock, living space, livestock as food and the production of an abundance of manure.

Rules for feeding livestock

Be prepared to feed new livestock you bring to the homestead.

PHOTO: FOTOLIA/GERARD LOUDENBURG

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This primer shares the basic rules for raising livestock. 

When daydreaming about adding livestock to your little piece of heaven in the country, it pays to be careful what you wish for. Someone just might show up at your doorstep with a real-life version of your livestock fantasy when you least expect it. You might go to a poultry swap, on a whim, and end up with a truck full of fowl, or think, like I did, that three little pigs would be easy.

Then what are you going to do? Know the basic rules for raising livestock. Think fast.

All of a sudden, you’ll need fencing, feed troughs and food, waterers and water, hay, straw or other bedding, pasture, electricity, a reliable fence charger (if you go electric, see page 72 in this issue for more on electric fencing), and an empty barn or shelter.

And that’s just for starters. Do you know where you can get your hands on a loading chute? How about a stock trailer? Do you know a good veterinarian for all creatures great and small? How about a butcher? Or are you properly equipped and skilled enough to pluck a flock of chickens, butcher a hog or a steer? Do you have the right equipment — and the stomach for it?

Is this cow right for you? Consider well before you bring ‘em home.

Cattle
Whether raised for beef or dairy, a single 1,000-pound cow requires one to two acres of pasture, according to the University of Rhode Island. Check your local Extension office for stocking rates in your part of the country.

Chickens
Most mail-order hatcheries require a minimum order of 25-day-old chicks. That’s so the chicks will generate enough body heat to keep them warm during shipment. Chickens require a predator-proof building or pen in which they can be shut up at night. Allow 2 to 4 square feet for mature birds of large breeds in open housing and 5 to 10 square feet in confinement.

Goats
They are often called the better dairy animal, maybe because when a goat kicks you it doesn’t break your leg like a cow can. The University of Kentucky recommends grazing four to six goats per acre of pasture. A goat needs about 15 square feet indoors and 200 square feet in an outside pen. Goats are one of the hardest animals to fence, since they crawl through, climb or jump over most any fence. Notorious browsers, goats will eat everything from poison ivy to your prize rose bushes.

Pigs
One feeder pig requires only 6 square feet of space inside a pen and the same amount in an outside run. One sow requires twice that amount, while a boar needs at least 40 square feet, inside and out. At temperatures of more than 90 degrees, spray pigs with a garden hose and provide shade.

Sheep
A mature sheep eats only about 20 percent of what a cow consumes, so roughly five ewes can continuously graze one acre. Beginners often find sheep easier to raise than cattle. Sheep also produce meat in less than six months, while beef takes 12 to 18 months. Plan on 15 to 20 square feet per ewe in an open shed. Lack of shade in summer keeps lambs from properly gaining weight.

Horses
A 1,000-pound horse eats up to 26 pounds of feed (hay, grain and pasture) a day and needs one to two acres of pasture. In arid Western states, that same horse might need nearly 30 acres. Left on the same pasture, horses often overgraze. That denudes pastures, causes soil erosion and encourages weed growth. Horses need protection from hot sun, wind and precipitation. Shelters can range from a simple windbreak or three-sided shed to box stalls inside a barn. Stalls should be a minimum of 10 to 12 square feet and at least 8 feet tall with a 4-foot-wide door the same height. Fencing can be anything from heavy board fence, split rail, woven wire to electric wire (placed on the inside of a more traditional fence). Fencing must be visible to the horse.


The Poop

All livestock enterprises have one thing in common — manure. Just one horse can generate eight to 10 tons of manure each year. The astute livestock producer treasures manure for its real worth: free fertilizer. Sheep and goat manure are highest in nitrogen, followed by chicken, beef, horse, dairy and swine manure. And it’s all great in the compost pile.


Livestock Resources

To help you sort it all out, visit these websites:
www.attra.org/livestock.html
www.animalagalliance.org
www.nal.usda.gov
www.animalagriculture.org