Path to Sustainability is Raising Livestock

The Path to Sustainability is Raising Livestock

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Path to Sustainability is Raising Livestock – When it comes to living a more sustainable lifestyle, raising our own food plays a key role.

Dependence on grocery stores just won’t do!

We’ve been disappointed in the quality, freshness, and availability of many commercial food products anyway.

Even though we are big supporters of other local producers and farmers, we don’t want to totally rely on them, either.

Besides, we happen to enjoy gardening and raising livestock.

Both add a lot to our lives and contribute to our physical and mental health!

So as our family moves towards more sustainability, we’ve implemented some food production projects and have plans for others.

Here’s an idea of what’s happening on our farm and in our plans.

The Path to Sustainability is Raising Livestock
The Path to Sustainability is Raising Livestock

The Path to Sustainability is Raising Livestock

In the past few years, we’ve bought feeder pigs and calves from local breeders.

We’ve ordered several batches of chicks from hatcheries and bought a few more from our feed store.

This works as long as transportation and supply are not an issue.

But to us, it’s not totally sustainable.

We’ve heard talk of potential changes in interstate shipping of live animals. What if hatcheries were not able to ship baby chicks?

For the past two years, there’s actually been a shortage of weaner pigs even in our rural area.

What if we couldn’t find any to buy?

Livestock sustainability from year to year depends on access to breeding stock and feed.

Reproducing from year to year

We already keep roosters; we have broody hens and electric incubators.

We’ve bred, hatched, and raised our own baby chicks and have been evaluating the best breeds for long term sustainability.

So we could become independent when it comes to chickens for both meat and eggs.

But we also like to eat beef and pork.

For now, we could get calves from a neighbor and walk them back to our farm.

If need be, we could buy or barter for beef right down the road.

But there is no nearby source for piglets…should we get some breeding stock ourselves?

It’s easy to keep breeding stock of poultry and rabbits, but bulls and boars on a farm present more management challenges.

We might only need females if there’s a stud in the neighborhood and we can arrange visits.

It’s something to think about.

Guide To Raising Rabbits for Meat

Availability of feed

sust grainWithout grain and other feed rations, many of us could raise our livestock on forage for part of the year.

But what about the small homestead with little of nutritional value to be found?

And how about the dry brown months some climates present?

Stockpiling hay, grains, and garden products during the growing season is one solution.

Raising redworms, mealworms, or fish for feed is another option.

Kitchen scraps and even “people food” prepared especially for stock can be helpful.

We like to raise our livestock on forage and give supplemental grain rations to our poultry and feeder pigs.

That gives us a few things to consider.

How many animals can our pasture support?

Which animals could forage in the forest?

Where can we get grain and protein sources locally?

Which ones can we grow?

Do we need harvesting equipment, or is a neighbor available to hire for harvest?

We have an electric feed grinder.

Do we have generator or solar power to operate it if the grid is down?

Do we have a hand-operated mill or another way to break down the grains and legumes?

We’ve gotten a start on feed sustainability by sourcing local and regional feed ingredients for our homemade chicken and pig feed and learning how to proportion, mix, and grind.

But we’re always on the lookout for more sources!

Livestock processing

Harvesting eggs is as simple as collecting eggs daily from nest boxes and taking a look around for hidden nests.

Processing livestock for meat is another story–a bit more complicated, time consuming, and messy.

Do we know how to process all the livestock we raise?

Do we have the right equipment?

Our family has butchered small numbers of chickens and turkeys by hand.

We use a local mobile processing unit for larger batches, and a few local poultry producers will process our birds for a fee.

But if outside facilities were not available, we are prepared to do it by hand.

Here are some tips on poultry processing.

We currently have our large animals slaughtered and processed by professionals, but hunters in our family and neighborhood know how to butcher, cut, and wrap large animals by hand.

We need to evaluate our equipment and make sure we have everything we need.

Equipment for livestock processing includes electric and non-electric heating sources (propane stoves, campfires), pots, good quality knives, vacuum sealer, and other tools.

Consider how your processing will be affected if you have no access to electricity.

A good stash of wrapping and storage materials includes butcher/freezer paper, plastic wrap, bags for vacuum sealer bags, and shrink bags (all BPA-free if possible).

Meat storage

While we have previously relied on freezers for storing meat, we are moving toward a multi-process system.

In the event that our freezers failed or power was not available, we don’t want all our meat to be in the freezers.

In addition to freezing, most meats can be processed by dehydrating (jerky, pemmican, etc.), and pressure canning.

Water bath canning is NOT safe for meats, broth, or combinations including meat or meat broth.

We encourage you to have a good understanding of food safety before processing meats for storage.

Also, solar drying of meats is safe in all climates.

If you are not sure about your area, consult your local cooperative extension office in the U.S. or department of agriculture in other countries.

Equipment for meat storage includes electric and non-electric heating sources (propane stoves, campfires), a good pressure canner, dehydrator (small tower style or larger cabinet style), multiple water pots, good quality knives, meat grinder, meat slicer, vacuum sealer, and other tools such as canning equipment.

Consider how your processing will be affected if you have no access to electricity.

Add a supply of canning jars/rings/lids, BPA-free plastic bags/vacuum sealer bags, and empty commercial jars (for dehydrated food only–do not use for canning).

Canning jars may be reused as long as they are free of cracks, and rings may be used over and over again.

Regular canning lids should NOT be reused in the canning process.

BPA-free plastic Tattler lids can be used multiple times.

Check all lids for sealing failures, and re-process or freeze those that don’t seal.

It’s a good feeling to have our protein production underway.

Next…we’ll move on to the garden and orchard for our sides and snacks!

You’re reading The Path to Sustainability Series:

Everything you need to Know about Pygmy Goats
Horse Grooming and DIY Farrier
The Path to Sustainability: Gardens and Orchards
The Path to Sustainability: Preparing and Preserving Fresh Foods

Do You Need a Livestock Guardian Animal? Here’s What to Consider

Livestock Guardian Animal

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Livestock Guardian Animal
black bear

Livestock Guardian Animal – Before we moved to our rural property, we knew we would need some help protecting our future livestock from the local coyotes, black bears, and cougars.

Here’s what we learned when deciding if we needed a livestock guardian animal. 

We knew that smaller mammals and rodents would also be an issue around poultry.

Therefore, we started to search for ways to keep our animals safe.

We were surprised to discover a group of animals categorized as livestock guardians.

Different guardian animal groups

There are three main classes of Livestock Guardian Animal that have proven to be excellent protectors of livestock in various situations.

Two species of livestock guardian animals — donkeys and llamas — naturally dislike canines and are effective against wolves, coyotes, and marauding dogs.

The third Livestock Guardian Animal class consists of several specific breeds of large dogs with strong instincts to protect their charges and aggressively fend off many types of predators.

As a group they are called livestock guardian dogs, or LGDs. Choosing a Livestock Guardian Animal must include consideration of several factors.

What to consider before getting a livestock guardian animal

Predators in your area

Stock you want to protect

Property size and fencing

What will the guardian animals need

Do you need a livestock guardian animal? 

Vigilant Livestock Guardian Donkey
Vigilant Livestock Guardian Donkey

If you have no predator issues, you may not need a guardian animal.

Some nuisance animals can be eradicated by other means, such as electric fences and mousetraps.

Securely-built chicken coops can deter the entrance of raccoons and weasels.

A good barking farm dog can ward off some would-be intruders.

But if you have large predators in your area or regular visits by animals seeking free meals, it might be time to put a livestock guardian animal in with your stock.

How many and what kind of predators do you have in your vicinity? 

Do you see small mammals, packs of coyotes, wandering bears, wolves or cougars?

A donkey will fend off individual canines and often small packs as well.

Llamas will fight one canine but are ineffective against a pack.

Neither donkeys nor llamas are effective against bears, wildcats, small mammals, snakes, or rodents.

Livestock guardian dogs will oppose anything that does not belong in its territory, including individual canines, packs of canines, wild cats, bears, and most other aerial and ground predators.

Therefore, if your predator problem is an occasional lone canine, any of the three types will do.

For small packs of canines, a donkey or LGD will work.

For larger canine packs and non-canine predators, a pair of livestock guardian dogs is the best option.

What type of livestock do you want to guard?

All three guardian types can be used with large livestock (horses and cows) and medium sized livestock (goats, sheep, pigs, and miniature cattle breeds).

LGDs can be trained to walk among backyard chickens without injuring them, donkeys and llamas may accidentally or intentionally kick or step on birds.

While donkeys and llamas may bond to their pasture mates, their defensive actions are more to protect their territory than to safeguard the stock.

LGDs bond to the stock or humans they are to protect, and will fend off any perceived threat or anything that does not belong in the area.

More relational and interactive with their charges than are donkeys or llamas, LGDs will assist with goat and sheep birthings and give special attention to stock that is ill or injured.

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Vigilant Maremma Sheepdog
Vigilant Maremma Sheepdog

Do you feel a need for personal protection as well as livestock defense?

Guardian dogs will bond with and protect humans as well as stock.

Donkeys and llamas will not normally accompany people as they go about their chores and tasks.

They will prevent entry of unwelcome people as well as animals.  They will patrol your home and yard.

Some of the LGD breeds are wonderful with children.

How many guardian animals do you need?

Donkeys and llamas are much more effective individually than they are in pairs.

Two donkeys or two llamas will bond to each other more strongly than to the stock they are to protect, and will usually be less attentive guardians than a lone donkey or llama would be.

Therefore, for best defensive support, individual donkeys or llamas should be with small flocks and herds of stock.

Livestock guardian dogs, on the other hand, work best in pairs and teams and will communicate from one to another as they strategically oppose intruders.

You can pen multiple LGDs with large flocks and large herds.

What type of fencing do you have or are you willing to install?

You can easily add donkeys and llamas to most livestock pastures or paddocks.

They require the same type of fencing as medium to large livestock.

A livestock guardian dog needs an effective fence to prevent it from pursuing predators outside your territory and from expanding its territory to include neighbors.

Are you willing to provide separate feed and individual attention?

Donkeys and llamas will generally eat the same grass or feed as livestock they share pasture with.

LGDs have different food needs from those of the stock and must be fed separately.

Raise donkeys and llamas as livestock. They don’t need human guidance.

Dogs require more time and effort in training and maintenance.

For the most successful operation, an LGD must have a working relationship with its human alpha figure(s) — usually one or more family members or a farm manager.

Special donkey and llama breeds?

Livestock Guardian Llama
Livestock Guardian Llama

There aren’t special breeds of donkeys or llamas that qualify them as livestock guardians.

In general, all donkeys and llamas have the urge to fight off canines.

The livestock guardian dog category includes several specific breeds of dogs.

Many other breeds of dogs will bark at intruders and chase them away; however, only the LGD breeds are instinctively wired to bond with stock, relentlessly deter intrusion, and fight to the death if necessary to defend their stock.

Livestock Guardian Dog Maremmas with chickens
Livestock Guardian Dog Maremmas with chickens

The LGD breeds include the Akbash, Anatolian Shepherd, Great Pyrenees, Kangal, Komondor, Kuvasz, Maremma Sheepdog, and Tibetan Mastiff.

Donkey, llama, or livestock guardian dog?

Choosing a livestock guardian animal is a personal one that depends on the individual farm, surroundings, and livestock requiring protection.

Many people have their favorites and stories of successful and ineffective guardian animals.

The important thing is to consider your predator situation and your resources, planning accordingly to protect your livestock.

The basics of caring for livestock may well be to get a livestock guardian animal. Whichever animal you choose, they can become invaluable to your family.

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How to Be a Livestock Guardian Dog

Livestock Guardian Dog

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Livestock Guardian Dog Augie smiling
Livestock Guardian Dog Augie smiling

How to be livestock guardian dog in case any of you do-it-yourself are interested!

Livestock Guardian Dog – Even though I am a very busy dog, after a bit of negotiation with myself I agreed to do it and so…here is my DIY how-to!

Now where should I start.

HMMMMMM.

First off, you all need to know that I have a job. Literally.

I get paid in many different ways, like kibble and belly rubs, but my job on the homestead is a very important one.

I share it with my sister Callie, and together, we are literally in charge making sure that no unwanted animal, person, or thing steps on our homestead without permission.

And we take this responsibility very seriously.

I was told that we feel that way because it was bred into us by lots of generations before me.

My grandfather actually lived and worked in Italy guarding sheep in the hills there.

That is where our Maremma Family is originally from and that’s what they did.

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I don’t know where Italy is, but I do know it is a long way away.

My father was brought over to a place called New York where he works now.

I am one of his kids!!

His name is Crisco, and he taught me how earlier Maremmas took their jobs in Italy very seriously and that their instincts have been passed on (whatever that means) to Callie and me.

And now we apply those instincts to our job here! 

So, what is a livestock guardian dog, you ask?

How to Be a Livestock Guardian Dog

Livestock Guardian Dog Augie and Callie
Livestock Guardian Dog Augie and Callie

There are some other kinds of livestock guardian dogs besides Maremmas.

Lots of people know about the Great Pyrenees.

And there are the Kuvasz and the Akbash. We are all big white dogs.

The Komondors are white too but wow do they ever have long curly hair!

The Anatolian Shepherds have short hair that is usually tan or brown.

Then there are the Tibetan Mastiffs and a few other livestock guardian breeds that are less common in the western world.

We all came from different countries.

But the thing we all have in common is that we have been bred for centuries to defend and protect our charges against predators, even ones that are bigger than us.

We are not afraid to give our lives for our livestock or our people…that’s what Livestock Guardian Dog do.

Well anyway, back to Callie and me. This is us on the right–she’s the very cute one and I’m the terribly handsome one.

The place we guard and call home now is about four acres.

This placed is fenced and it is our place. Our territory.

Mom and Dad live here and there are lots of chickens. Sometimes lots of kids. Sometimes other animals.

We live on a hill and if we see someone drive up we GO on ALERT.

Livestock Guardian Dog Alert bark

Well what does that mean?

That means that we start our ALERT BARK!

Actually we do our ALERT BARK anytime something is out of the ordinary. Like if we hear a coyote, or another dog, or anything outside.

We have a few different barks, and even at night Dad and Mom can tell if we are just talking to each other, telling the deer to stay outside the fence, or warning the coyotes to keep right on moving past our place.

Our ALERT BARK is pretty impressive if I don’t say so myself.

But even our plain Bark is.

We even bark at the neighbor cows sometimes but we are learning that they are OK.

Yeah right, anything that big can’t be totally OK, can it?

Many people that meet us comment that they are glad they didn’t meet us at night!

Well, barking is really our first line of defense.

We are not attack dogs, but if necessary we would attack and fight a predator that was trying to hurt our chickens or our people.

Actually Callie and I practice wrestling (of course in fun) almost every day.

We just want anyone or anything that shouldn’t be around to go away.

The Bark is a great tool for that.

Pretty proud of it…The BARK…has a real ring to it doesn’t it?

So it makes sense that I don’t live in the city, eh?

Livestock Guardian Dog Callie howling
Livestock Guardian Dog Callie howling

Callie has a great bark too.

That is Callie in the picture demonstrating The Bark–I wanted you to know it’s her because I DO NOT WEAR A PINK COLLAR! 

So anyway, plain and simple…when intruder animals come…we bark…and when they go away we stop.

Friends coming for a visit

When Mom or Dad want people to come into our fenced property we all follow a procedure.

Of course, new people and new cars, including delivery drivers, always get barked at.

Sometimes very loudly!

We won’t let them in until Mom and Dad say they can come in.

Mom and Dad say “ENOUGH” to tell us that they are taking charge. We know we need to stop doing what we are doing including barking, and then, well…we stop.

Then they tell us the people are OKAY and they are FRIENDS. Then they tell us to “GET BACK AND STAY” so other people can come in when Mom and Dad open the gate.

These people have to take off their hats and sunglasses so Callie and I can have a good look in their eyes to see if WE think they are OK.

Did you know we can read?

Well we can’t read books but we read eyes and body language.

Anyway Mom and Dad tell us again that these people are OK, and then they are our friends too!!!

People who don’t know what an LGD is (that is industry talk for Livestock Guardian Dog) are amazed how we can make an instant transition from a barker to a friend.

Callie and I are very smart and when those people come again, we will remember that they are OK.

Protecting our people

Livestock Guardian Dogs Augie and Callie with chickens
Livestock Guardian Dogs Augie and Callie with chickens

My dog dad told me a funny story when I was a pup.

Once at a farm someone came to buy a goat, but the Maremma that lived there wouldn’t stop barking at him.

The man was shifty…and the dog wouldn’t stop barking.

The mom and dad there finally told the man that he couldn’t buy a goat there because their dog didn’t like him.

The man got real mad and his “true” personality came to the surface.

Couldn’t hide that from a Maremma! No sireee.

We Maremmas are a good judge of character and that is well documented.

Livestock Guardian Dog On patrol

OK, moving on.

Many times a day and during the night, Callie and I do what we call “The Patrol.”

We actually walk the entire perimeter of the fence line to make sure there are no intruders.

Sometimes we go together, and sometimes we take turns.

Since we use the same path every day, it gets pretty well worn, but that makes it easier for us to patrol in the dark.

Sometimes as evening comes, we just feel the urge to do The Patrol and without warning we just do it.

So day and night, we make sure all the animals outside the fence know that this is our place…and they aren’t welcome.

We walk all around the fence line.

We check on all the chickens and make sure they are doing all right.

If they are acting nervous about anything one or both of us will stay with them till they feel better.

Livestock Guardian Dog Augie watching
Livestock Guardian Dog Augie watching

We check the gates and make sure nothing is trying to get inside.

We walk around the barn and the other outbuildings that are in our territory.

Sometimes we bark at little chipmunks that are in the woodpile, but we really know they won’t hurt anything.

When The Patrol is finished we sit at our vantage point and watch, looking all around until it’s time to make the rounds again.

Sometimes we lie down, but even when it looks like we are sleeping, we are on watch.

This is me, the regal lion-looking one, wearing a BLUE collar under my beautiful white mane. 

Even while we’re resting, if anything alarms us, we are up and running in seconds.

Our dad and mom have seen us talk to each other and then go to separate corners of the property if there are two alarming things at the same time.

Livestock Guardian Guard Dogs are an integral part of the farm security

Well, let’s see what else…oh yes, we are big.

Like over 100 pounds big. So if the Bark doesn’t scare a predator away, we can run toward it and that is also scary.

If need be, we could slam ourselves into the intruder which would be pretty dramatic.

We could also fight, but our real goal is not to fight, but just get the predator or intruder to hightail it away and never come back.

Oh—and don’t ask us to herd animals.

We don’t do that–we have to draw the line somewhere!

Protection– that’s what we do.

We are not herding dogs any more than herding dogs are livestock guardians.

The only time we herd is if we need to keep our animals in a corner safe from a predator.

Everybody knows Callie and I are security guards and not pets, but sometimes I humor the little kids when they want to scratch my belly and pet me.

(Don’t tell anyone, but we love kids.)

Sometimes it looks like I am asleep but I am always on guard.

In fact, when kids are here, one of us stays close by them at all times.

Livestock guardians like us are happy to protect chickens as well as miniature cattle breeds and more.

I guess that’s about it for my story today–Callie is calling me for Patrol duty.

One quick look back at my post first though…and you know what?

I don’t think any of you could be livestock guardian dogs.

Because if you are reading this post, you are probably not a dog. 

So will you do me a favor?

If you know any livestock guardian dogs, could you read this post to them?

Just in case they need a refresher course, you know.

Bark at you later…Guard Dogs

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The Backyard Cow: Guide to Keeping a Productive Family Cow

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The Backyard Cow is for “Those people who want to keep cattle on a small scale, be it for household dairy or recreational purposes (or both).”

It is written with the homesteader in mind.

Does that sound like you?

We’ve had beef cattle before, but until I read this book, I didn’t see any way I could ever keep a milk cow.

Not enough space, not enough time, not enough knowledge.
The Backyard Cow Book Review
But author Sue Weaver has changed my mind.

I now know that a cow does not take a lot of space or time.

And with this book at my side, I’d have just about all the knowledge I’d need.

As the author points out in the preface, most everything written about cattle is about managing herds of cattle, not the individual milk cow or steer for riding or field work.

The Backyard Cow: An Introductory Guide to
Keeping a Productive Family Cow By Sue Weaver

The Backyard Cow An Easy and Fun Read

The Backyard Cow book is like a treasure hunt with both large chunks and wee tidbits of information.

The main text itself is very interesting, thoroughly covering all the cow basics.

But scattered throughout the book are additional little sidebars: anecdotes, quotations, poems, legends, and song lyrics about cows.

The effect is a presentation of academic and scientific facts with a touch of playfulness.

Everything You’ll Need to Know

The table of contents indicates the three main sections of the book: Meet the Cow, Have Fun ‘Til the Cows Come Home, and Care for Your Cow.

Three appendices explain Restraint, Clicker Training, and even Emergency Euthanasia.

A cow glossary, resource list, and index complete the package.

From cow breeds and history to behavior and purchase considerations, “Meet the Cow” covers it all.

“Have Fun” includes details on how to milk a cow, ride a steer, and raise a calf.

There are recipes and instructions for several homemade dairy products which must be delicious made from fresh milk.

“Care for Your Cow” tells readers all about breeding and birthing, shelter, feeding, and health care.

Picture this! Illustrations include sketches, diagrams, and delightful historical black and white photos.

Line drawings demonstrate how-to steps for tasks such as milking a cow and tying a slip-knot halter.

About halfway through the book readers are treated to an inset of 16 pages of beautiful full color photos of cows in fields, cows with children, and homemade dairy products.

Right from the first pages of this book, I was on a learning curve.

I usually think of breeds as having specific purposes, but that wasn’t always the case.

If you have a smaller plot of land, you may consider miniature cattle breeds.

Owning a Dairy CowInside the World of a Dairy Cow

Weaver explains, “Historically, most breeds were dual- or triple-purpose cattle.

Herefords were developed as much to serve as brawny oxen as they were for their meat-making ability.”

A beef breed with a dairy background makes a great family cow, producing sufficient milk while bearing calves that will provide good beef for the table.

You mean cows can talk?

I’ve watched cows and thought they didn’t have much going in the social department.

Yet Weaver explains the bovine communication system and even provides a code translation.

She tells us how each group of cows
has a hierarchy, with the “top cow” getting first choice at everything.

There will be other “leaders” with specific roles: perhaps one will lead the way out to pasture each morning, and another will direct the trek back to the milking parlor at the end of the day.

Fascinating!

But the book’s big surprise for me was the chapter on riding steers.

A plodding steer provides a leisurely trail ride or even a way to get from one place to another.

Who knew?

Weaver indicates that steers are in some ways easier to train and ride than horses.

She has used her equine expertise to develop training methods that she explains in detail.

One thing that was not a surprise to me was this quotation, a little Lithuanian proverb: It is difficult to teach a cow to climb a tree.

Open Letter From a Kansas Rancher and Cowgirl Brandi Buzzard Frobose Rancher, wife, mama and steward of the land

Have You Considered a Dairy Cow?

Oftentimes, people can be turned off by the amount of work (and milk!) that cows have a reputation for.

However, with the right breed and cow, this is often not the case.

Dairy cows can be a very manageable part of many homesteads.

If you have any questions about milk cows, or wonder if you could ever keep one yourself, The Backyard Cow is a must-read.

You will find yourself referencing this book often.

Plus, it’s just a fun read overall.

All the basics are there, along with much more!

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