Want to Raise Livestock? Only Do It If You Love It!
Posted: March 20, 2012
Know what the number one answer for "what do you think it takes to farm?" You have to love what you do – you have to enjoy it!
Do you love the idea of dirty, sometimes hard, work in order to produce your own healthy, sustainable food? Are you ready to feel fulfilled by producing your own meat, or make a few extra bucks selling it to your family and friends? Here are a few things to consider when getting started.
Know your municipality and if they allow you to raise livestock before you get started. Play by the rules.
Determine if you have enough land, time, and financial resources to get started.
- Land: It takes a lot more land to raise a steer than a handful of pigs or broilers. Do you plan to graze your livestock? Do you have enough land to rotate pasture paddocks and allow rest periods?
- Breeds: If you plan to have your livestock mostly or entirely in a pasture system, you should know certain breeds of livestock do better on pasture than others. Will you purchase young stock to raise out, or will you have breeding stock? Where will you purchase your stock? Is there a local farmer who raises the same breeds you would like to raise? Would you like to get livestock from a top producing bloodline? For some, breed and stock selection can be the most time consuming aspect to consider (there are a lot of breeds and breeders out there).
- Fencing: Is fencing in place or will you need to build some? Does the fencing need to be portable, or permanent, or a mix of both? Will you build yourself or hire someone to do this (and what costs are associated with this)? In some cases, your local NRCS office may be able to help you receive a cost-share loan for fencing. To find your local NRCS office, check out: http://www.pa.nrcs.usda.gov/contact/index.html. If nothing else, they can help you set up a conservation plan if you do not already have one!
- Housing: While livestock often prefer to be outside, they will need some type of protection from the elements sometimes. Whether it is a shed or a tree break, you’ll need to make sure your livestock have a dry, comfortable place to live.
- Feed: Is there enough forage to graze for the number of head you plan to raise? Do you have an outlet for purchasing feed, forage, or bedding if needed? These will all need to be considered.
- Market: If you plan to sell stock (breeding or feeder) do you have buyers already lined up, a marketing plan to acquire private buyers, or do you plan to go to an auction? If you plan to sell livestock for meat, will you sell live animals or by the half/quarter/piece? Do you have a USDA inspected butcher shop to take your animal, and freezer space if you plan to sell by the piece?
Prepare Your Goals/Business Plan
Set your goals (meat for yourself or sale). You at least need a budget to know how much it will cost to produce your own meat. If you plan to make a few dollars by selling your meat, you will need to know how much it costs so you can charge a fair price and know you are still making a few dollars. Penn State Extension offers courses in business planning. For a full list of courses for beginning farmers, visit the Start Farming Courses page.
Are You Going to Love What You Do?
If you have never raised livestock before, it may take some experience to know the answer to this question. Many farmers I talked to recommend getting on a farm and doing the work – not just the fun work, either – to know if farming is for you before you get started. Do not be afraid to ask a local farmer if you can help out a few hours a week to “learn the hard way” before you make an investment in something you may not even enjoy.
Are You Willing and Eager to Learn?
Experienced farmers who are doing well will tell you they never stop learning. Take advantage of educational and networking meetings through Extension, breed associations, young farmer groups, and other organizations. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn from others.
Raising livestock is certainly a rewarding challenge, and cannot be learned in any textbook – it often takes lots of time, trials, and often times, errors. I would love to hear about your adventures as you build and “develop your farm life.” Give me a call or shoot me a message – 610-746-1970 or firstname.lastname@example.org.