Beef and Dairy Cattle
Backgrounding is a beef production system that involves maximal use of pasture and forages from the time calves are weaned until they are placed in a feedlot.
On average, about 2.2 years elapse between breeding and the age at which heifer calves may be slaughtered. Producers may retain these calves for herd expansion or sell them, along with steers, to feedlot operators. The beef cow-calf business is well adapted to small-scale and part-time farmers who have land suitable for pasture and hay production.
Heifers are the foundation of any dairy enterprise. Farmers can improve their herds by replacing culled cows with well-fed, healthy, genetically superior two-year-old heifers. In most herds, dairy farmers replace 25 to 30 percent of the herd each year. These replacements represent a significant financial investment.
Production of high-quality dairy-beef is relatively new to the beef industry and depends almost entirely on Holstein bull calves. Until recently, most Holstein calves were sold for veal. However, the high-quality meat produced when these animals are fed high-energy diets and harvested at a young age (12 to 14 months) has become popular with consumers.
Beef cattle feeding is possible on small and part-time farms, but the cost of feeding drops significantly as the size of the operation increases. While it is a high-risk business, less land is required for a cattle feeding operation than for a cow-calf enterprise.
Although bison still have many of their wild tendencies and are only semi-domesticated, they are an agricultural alternative appropriate for small-scale and part-time farms. Bison adapt to a wide range of environments, feed sources, and management systems.
Commercial elk farming is a relatively new business that seen steady growth in the United States because of increasing demand for deer products, minimal acreage requirements for production, and adaptability of these animals to marginal pastures. Elk production is one way to diversify an existing grazing operation.
Red deer production may be a good option for some small or part-time farming operations, but potential producers should understand that they will need to be very active in marketing their product and be aware of the special handling requirements involved with deer.
White-tailed deer farming has become an established and growing industry over the past two decades. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are a species of wild ruminant commonly found in much of North America and a member of the Cervidae family, which includes deer, caribou, elk, and moose.
Poultry and Game Birds
Bobwhite quail are game birds indigenous to the United States. Their distinctive call, color, and flight patterns make them popular with hunters and wildlife enthusiasts. In Pennsylvania and other parts of the country, loss of natural habitats has created market demand for commercially bred birds, which are used to stock shooting preserves and wild areas.
Partridge producers typically raise one of two distinct species, the chukar or the Hungarian partridge. Chukars are generally purchased as day-old chicks, while Hungarians can only be purchased as eggs or mature birds. Major differences in husbandry methods between Hungarian and chukar partridges result in differences in the cost of eggs or chicks. Because of the difficulty in raising Hungarian partridges and the strong market demand for them, a premium price exists for these birds.
Pheasants, originally from Asia, are very popular game birds in the United States. They are gallinaceous birds, relatives of grouse, wild and domestic turkeys, quail, partridges, and chickens. Professional game breeders in Pennsylvania produce one-half million commercial pheasants annually, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission also produces birds.
Raising turkeys can be a satisfying educational activity as well as a source of economical, high-quality meat for your family and friends. By raising a small flock of turkeys, you can produce the freshest turkey possible while involving the whole family in working with and learning about live animals.
Egg production on a small scale is one of the oldest animal farming enterprises in recorded history. In this system, birds are fed some grain and allowed to forage for the balance of their diet. Birds can be used for egg production and may be harvested later for food.
Sheep and Goats
Dairy goat production is an alternative livestock enterprise suitable for many small-scale or part-time livestock operations. Some dairy goat producers have been successful in pasteurizing goat milk and building an on-farm jugging business, while others have ventured into processed milk products for retail distribution, especially specialty cheeses and yogurt.
While their curiosity and mischievousness may present some unique management problems, goats are highly adaptable animals that may be integrated into livestock operations of any scale. Demand for goat meat, milk, cheese, and hide has steadily increased in the United States along with the proliferation of ethnic and specialty markets.
A profitable Pennsylvania sheep milk industry needs three components: customers, processors, and distributors. There appears to be a market for milking sheep products. However, products are limited to fresh cheeses and yogurts because some imported cheeses, such as Roquefort, can be marketed at a much lower cost than those produced locally.
Sheep are ideally suited to small-scale and part-time farming operations in Pennsylvania due to their adaptability and nutritional versatility. Sheep can be fed a diet high in concentrates (similar to swine) or solely a forage diet. Furthermore, marketing opportunities are plentiful in the northeastern United States.
Compared to most other livestock enterprises, spring lamb production has lower investment costs and labor requirements, and quicker returns on investment. Spring lambing programs also have lower housing, feeding, and labor costs compared to more intensive lambing enterprises.
Additional Livestock Options
Honey bees can be managed to produce large quantities of honey, beeswax, pollen, royal jelly, and propolis (a sticky resin collected from buds and used as a glue in the hive), they are even more valued for the major role they play in pollination, especially of our agricultural crops.
Many Pennsylvanians enjoy a variety of recreational activities involving horses, such as trail riding, participating in horse and pony clubs, and competing in shows and other events; however, they do not have the necessary facilities to house their animals.
Most commercially raised worms live in surface litter and feed on decaying organic matter. The primary bait worm raised in the United States is the red earthworm (Lumbricus rubellus).
The type of aquaculture operation that you begin will be influenced by your financial and labor resources as well as available markets.
Rabbit farming has grown from raising a few rabbits for family consumption to large commercial operations with hundreds of rabbits. Investment in a rabbitry, including breeding stock, can be quite modest.
While the trend in the swine industry continues towards larger farms, opportunities remain to make money by raising hogs in a part-time enterprise. Approximately 80 percent of Pennsylvania swine operations produce less than 100 head per year, and only 1 percent produce more than 1,000 head per year.