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What kind of stock can I keep on this land?  RSS feed

 
                              
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My husband and I just bought 18 acres, which is configured roughly in a "L" shape, with 12.5 being the long part and 5.5 being the short part.  Our house is going to be on the long section, which we're mostly going to keep as a wood lot and forest garden.  A small part of the front of that is open, with a stream running through, and we plan to keep that in hay for animal feed.

The problem is, we can't decide what kind of animals to keep.  We know we'll have chickens, but we want some stock that will provide us with meat and an income.  We've thought of goats, highland cows, yak, Icelandic sheep, and even fallow deer.  The problem is the makeup of the land, and our needs.  We'll sell the meat, but will be losing profit to the butcher, so the meat has to be attractive enough to buyers to make it worth the loss.  We'll drink the milk, and use the rest to make into soap and other products to sell (we won't be selling milk to drink).  We'd also love to get some fiber off of the animals, because the more we can use them for the better.  But we can't figure out which is going to be most cost effective and fit best on our land.

The 5.5 acre lot is just for the animals.  It has about 2 acres in front that is currently corn field, which we will be working to turn into rich pasture.  The pasture area is slightly low lying, and probably a bit damp.  The rest, which is a bit higher, is thick deciduous forest - youngish forest, with lots of brush and browse.  I want to do rotating paddocks, and hopefully will be keeping a couple of horses/mules as well.  So, here are our question and problems:

- If we do, say, five paddocks lengthwise so that they each contain about 2/5 pasture and 3/5 forest, how do we keep horses from going into the forest and breaking their own stupid necks?

- What kind of stock would fully utilize that sort of paddock configuation to it's best benefit?  Probably goats, right?  But there's no breed of goat that is good for milk, meat, and fiber.  Besides that, we'd have to keep the male separate to avoid the milk tasting funny, which seems like a hassle.

- I think yak would do ok, but would they hassle/hurt the horses?  And they need barbed wire, which would definitely be too dangerous for horses.

- Icelandic sheep are good for all three uses and would get along fine with horses, but will they use the forest part of the paddocks at all?  This is too small of a plot for the forest to go to waste like that.  I want something that will browse back there, and keep it a bit cleared out.

- Highland cows also won't use the forest part, will they?  And then again there's the danger to horses/barbed wire issue, and the lack of fiber.

- Fallow deer are a cool idea.  They'd use the forest and the field, get along with the horses, and give good meat and pelts.  But can you drink or use their milk?

*sigh*  As you can see, there are more questions that answers.  So...is there an animal that will suit all my needs and fit into my land?  What the heck could it be?
 
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Have you ever thought of mares milk?  The Mongols survived on it, and it is still a
preferred beverage in the area.  It is also drunk fermented.

Here is a video on the subject.

http://youtu.be/XVBs_BnWVws

I also found this:

"The Icelandic sheep is one of the world's oldest and purest breeds of sheep. Throughout its 1100 years of history, the Icelandic breed has been truly triple-purpose, treasured for its meat, fiber and milk."

http://www.isbona.com/icelandicsheep.html

Maybe you could have a breeding pair of goats and Icelandic sheep, eat the male offspring of both.
Save the rest of the sheep for wool and milk.

 
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Forgive me for asking a layman's question that regularly pops into my head:
What does one need horses for ?

I can see why people who want to use them as their only method of transportation would use them, but aside from that they seem to basically only do one thing: stand in the way.

You've already mentioned it:
They're picky when it comes to food, need lots of space (which they're not using very effectively), lots of attention, and are outsmarted - and outperformed - by oxen as draft animals.

As an aside: If you're Irish you'll know that they've recently become an export hit in your country - as meat from pet horses whose owners went bankrupt ...

Of course one couldn't sell the horse meat in Ireland - people weren't that broke after the banking crisis - so the meat was largely exported.
 
pollinator
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If you're beginner farmers I wouldn't go for any kind of stock which is very unusual to your area.  Unusual breeds can be expensive to start with and often hard to sell.  Avoid large animals if you're not experienced handling livestock. You can always move up to larger animals once you're comfortable handling smaller ones and all their illnesses and injuries.  Looks like the Icelandic sheep will fit all your preferences.    Whatever you do, don't buy a ram which has been a pet, they can be dangerously aggressive. 

I'm of the opinion horses are not a great idea on most farms, and are an expensive hobby animal in most cases.  Anyway that's my personal opinion from seeing my folks blow wads of money on a "horse farm" and having spent a few years caring for a relative's lame geriatric horse (over 30 years old when she finally passed on). 


 
steward
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I don't see how fallow deer can be economically feasible unless you are doing a breeding operation.  Fencing alone could break the bank.  Recommended fencing is a minimum 8 feet.

Most people who eat venison live in/near deer country, so demand for butcher deer would be fairly low I would imagine.

Hogs and chickens produce the most meat for the minimal amount of labor and other inputs.  The highest labor in chickens is the processing of large quantities needed for a lot of meat.  Hogs win that game.
 
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Location: Hatfield, PA
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John Polk wrote:
Most people who eat venison live in/near deer country, so demand for butcher deer would be fairly low I would imagine.


I do agree that demand will be low, but here in NYC restaurants pay a fortune for game meats. Good luck getting all the necessary permits, though!
 
                              
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I'm keeping horses because I want horses.  I have no other hobbies, really, and I've always wanted my own horses on my own land, so now I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity.  I'm an experienced horse person (been riding them and working with them for 20 years) so I know what I'm in for with keeping them.

Icelandic sheep do seem to fit most of my requirements, except I doubt they'll go back in the woods and help clear it.  The long term plan for the patch is to have sparsely wooded pasture where there is now woods.  We're going to start out by selectively cutting all out firewood from that 5 acres, to get it thinned out a bit.  But even then, there will be a ton of stumps and brush, which is not exactly prime sheep territory, if I understand right.

Maybe I should get a couple of goats and a couple of sheep?  The sheep can graze the front and the goats can work on the back (I know they actually prefer the brushy spots) until it's good and clear, and then in a few years I can off them and have goat burgers.  But in the meantime, they can't just be eating machines, they need a purpose.  I don't want to keep a buck - it would ruin whatever milk the goats produced, and probably fight with the ram we'll be getting.  And I know what escape artists goats are, and how obnoxious they can be.  Maybe something very small, like Pygoras?  That way we'd at least be getting some fiber from them.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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If you want sheep to clear land, get Jacobs, they eat everything. 

Wanting pet horses is a perfectly valid reason for having them. 

 
steward
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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I agree with Ludi:

H Ludi Tyler wrote:
If you're beginner farmers I wouldn't go for any kind of stock which is very unusual to your area.  Unusual breeds can be expensive to start with and often hard to sell. 


What's the usual breeds kept in your area? While most local farmers  won't be using the methods you plan for, they're likely to have animals that do well locally. Good to know from an economic and animal health perspective.
I'm a big fan of sheep meat, milk and wool and there's a zillion bad jokes about New Zealanders' general...fondness
Sheep are significantly easier on soil structure and if you suspect that front 2 acres is wet, I'd be vary wary of heavy stock as they can do significant damage on soft ground.
I do get the impression Americans generally aren't that keen on sheep meat though.
As others said, I recommend avoiding deer. Red deer are farmed over here and they're a high-value animal, as much for the velvet (Asia:medicinal) as the meat, but they're a real challenge to keep. I started going on about why, but stopped. Too many reasons!
What's your thoughts on pigs? Joel Salatin rotates them in his forest.
 
pollinator
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In some areas, there is a good market for lambs for Eid.
 
                              
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I know there isn't a huge market for lamb meat, but there's no market for goat meat, and it seems like I've got to go with one or the other.  We need some kind of money maker to pay the bills, and the plot just isn't big enough to support cattle.  Besides, you can't get fiber from cattle, and I don't think highland cows (probably the only breed that would thrive on such a tiny, brushy plot) give good milk.

The big advantage of cows, as far as I can tell, is that the fencing would be so much cheaper.  Barbed wire costs next to nothing.  I'm not thrilled about keeping horses in barbed wire though.  I think we're going to have to put up deer fencing - it seems to be a lot cheaper than regular woven wire mesh, wouldn't catch hooves, and we can stick with the plan of rotating the chickens behind the large stock.  But for the amount we'll need to put in, we're probably talking $6000.  Yikes!
 
Tyler Ludens
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I agree you should avoid barbed wire around horses.  I'm not a huge fan of barbed wire in any case.  For sheep you need sheep aka goat fencing. Here deer fencing is just two pieces of goat fencing one above the other, and chickens can squeeze through it though turkeys can't.  Horses may sometimes stick their hooves through goat fencing and get stuck.  Goats can also get their heads stuck in goat fencing, I've rescued a few on neighbors' land. 

Goat fencing:  http://www.tractorsupply.com/fencing/field-fencing/goat-fence-48-in-x-330-ft--3660338

Horse fencing (also would work for chickens):  http://www.tractorsupply.com/fencing/field-fencing/keep-safe-horse-fence-58-in-h-3610757

http://www.tractorsupply.com/fencing/field-fencing/non-climb-horse-fence-48-in-x-100-ft--3610707
 
                              
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The deer fence I was looking at was this, whcih has smaller mesh at the bottom and larger at the top.
http://www.wirefenceonline.com/product/FFPG2360
 
pollinator
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i would say what kind of meat isn't being sold a lot in your area that there might be a market for and do you have a butcher close?

easies might be hogs..they don't require specialized food or a lot of care..?? Or rabbits but they can be raised in cages..will provide a LOT of meat quickly.
 
                              
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We've thought about buying a pair of piglets every spring for fall butchering.  Pigs don't give milk though, so that can't be all we keep, and I don't feel comfortable putting them in the same pasture with other animals.
 
Shawn Bell
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Have you thought of Dexter cattle?  They are smaller than other breeds.

"exter Cattle

    The native home of the Dexter is in the southern part of Ireland where they were bred by small land holders and roamed about the shelter less mountainous districts in an almost wild state of nature.  The first recorded knowledge of Dexters in America is when more than two hundred Dexters were imported to the US between 1905 and 1915.  In recent years there has been a worldwide surge of interest in Dexter cattle.  They thrive in hot as well as cold climates and do well outdoors year round, needing only a windbreak, shelter and fresh water.  Fertility is high and calves are dropped in the field without difficulty.  They are dual purpose, being raised for both milk and meat.  Dexters are also the perfect old-fashioned family cow.  Pound for pound, Dexters cost less to get to the table, economically turning forage into rich milk and quality, lean meat."

http://www.dextercattle.org/

 
                              
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I've thought of Dexters and Highlands, but either way I'd be dealing with a bull, and I'm not sure I'm up to that yet.  I'm not even thrilled about having a ram around, but better that than a bull.
 
Tyler Ludens
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A lot of people who have cows use artificial insemination, though that might not be considered sustainable by some people, because it requires shipping, plastic containers, etc.

Another reason to choose a breed that's common in the area is you might be able to hire use of a neighbor's bull or ram.



 
John Polk
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I have read that the Dexter bulls are quite dicile (compared to other breeds).
Their popularity is growing quickly, as they are very well adapted to small holdings that are not all flat pastureland.  Perhaps you could make more money breeding than butchering.

 
                                
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I can totally understand you wanting horses (I want them, too) but unless you have some of the best pasture on the planet or are planning on bringing in a lot of feed from elsewhere, I don't think you have enough pasture for 2 horses plus other stock. In fact, I'm not sure you have enough for the 2 horses alone. (Not sure where you are located or what your land is like.) Horses are not nearly as efficient at turning grass into body mass and energy as ruminants. All the other stock you are looking at are ruminants and are more likely to be happy in the set up you're describing. If you want to be self-sufficient you're not going to be able to afford the horses, at least to start with.

At the size of herd you are talking about, I don't think it makes sense to have your own male. So get something you can get bred in your area or by insemination.

Start with something common in your area that will fulfill some of your wants and get some practice in with that. Then go on to something more exotic. That way you can make your mistakes with low-cost stock and not the expensive purebreds. Work the kinks out of your stock raising system and don't try to solve all your problems at once. Stock is not permanent and can be changed in the future.

As far as what sheep will eat, there were sheep at one of my schools growing up and if they got out of their pen they would eat all the twigs of certain trees that they could reach, almost climbing the trunks. I remember willow was one of them.
 
Tyler Ludens
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CBostic has a good point, and I forgot to ask, have you calculated the carrying capacity of your land to know if you can support all the animals you want?

 
                              
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No, but we're going to start slowly and add animals as we see that we can.  The horses, if and when we get them, will be last because they'll pretty much be pets only.

Five acres is a decent sized area, and with a rotating paddock system (each one acre paddock will get a month to rest in between grazings) and eventually growing our own hay, I think we'll be able to find the sustainability sweet spot.  We're not talking about a lot of stock here - maybe two pygmy-cross goats of some kind (probably pygoras), a ram, and two or three ewes.  Icelandics eat a lot less than other kinds of sheep, which is one of the reasons we like them.  Any babies will be kept only long enough to fatten a bit, then slaughtered.

I used to work at a horse farm that had over a hundred horses on 40 acres (only about half of which was fenced for pasture), they always had lovely green fields.  They supplemented a lot less than you might expect, too.  I know it can be done, it'll just take some work.
 
Tyler Ludens
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In my locale it might take 25 to 50 acres to support one horse.   
 
                              
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This is upstate NY, near Syracuse.  The land is so rich that it takes work to keep it from getting overgrown.  When we were up there viewing parcels to decide what to but, I couldn't believe how huge all the plants were, and how many of them were edible.  I call it "the land of giant plants" because everything up there seems to grow to twice the size it gets to here, and looks twice as healthy.
 
                        
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The Dexter cattle seem to me to be a good idea..you could start with bred cows so the question of a bull wouldn't come up for a while. A point to consider is your market; if you don't have a ready market then it will be a lot easier to sell the beef than  goat or even sheep, though  lambs are highly profitable if you can get them ready in time for Easter.

Some sheep breeds are very persnickety about when they will breed, the Dorset  is supposed to be breedable any time of year which means that theoretically you could plan the breedings so they lambed so as to benefit from the best prices.

Whatever you end up with, I'd suggest getting an animal from somewhere close to you with the arrangement that you can take her back to the farm to be bred. ...this sort of arrangement is common with horses as you probably know. A.I. ing  cattle is pretty simple,..although the vet might have to make more than one trip.  Having the cow visit the bull  seems a lot simpler and surer..the bull will be able to tell better than you when the cow needs attention!

I don't know anything about A.I.ing  sheep or goats ( lots of people still take their does to a neighborhood buck to be serviced). Unless you are using the male for fiber or hauling things around, keeping males just to breed  once a year would be a very inefficient way to spend your money with your facilities, imo.

Do you have a stable market for the fiber? If so, then you might also consider llamas or alpacas which can frequently be picked up for very little as long as you stay away from "breeding stock"..I 've fairly frequently seen male llamas given away while other people are asking big bucks  for their animals. I suspect that dickering respectfully might get a decent price for an animal.  They aren't as much the escape artists that goats are, and llamas, at least, are used by some people to help protect the sheep from coyotes, dogs, etc.

They do eat them in south America but I doubt you'd have a ready market for the meat, maybe have to use it yourselves.  The fiber market seems to be extremely volatile though, so unless you are making it into a value added product that might be a bit scary to rely on for income.

I would be a little wary of the highland as they are reputed to be very slow to mature.  Dexter or Kerry cattle would likely be fine on anything a Highland could thrive on. (Kerry cattle also very small..endangered now I think, although they are supposed to be excellent cattle. The Dexter got to the small cow crowd first.) One  good and even tempered cow  could probably raise an adopted calf as well as her own as long as it wasn't a huge breed calf.

However, sheep sound promising. I can't imagine that you couldnt find a market for the number of lambs you will have to sell,  there are a lot of people in NY State and I bet you won't have any trouble finding someone in Syracuse, if not closer, who would be delighted to find fresh lamb available. 

Agree with everyone else, that deer are likely NOT a good idea, at least until you have got things running.  If you can't find a ready market for lamb, you are really unlikely to find one for venison as people simply shoot their own if they want it. I suspect you would have to be producing a steady supply in order to interest specialty meat shops and you don't have the space to do that.

Good for you for sticking to your guns re horses. Life is too short to needlessly deny yourself a lifetime dream and utility isn't always the entire answer. Train them to harness and drive to town to buy your coffee Besides, riding is excellent exercise!

Btw..there is a thread somewhere here about what animals get along with pigs and the consensus seemed to be: all of them, if common sense is used and the pigs grow up with them.
 
                            
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You have already received quite a bit of advice from others on this thread.

  If I was starting over again after these past twenty years, raising horses, sheep, goats and recently calves(and twenty more years raising smaller livestock) I would spend some time talking or networking with local small meat, milk, fiber producers to find out what livestock they have had the greatest success.

Consider a range of factors like: availablity and cost of quality breeding stock, borrowing stud animals instead of keeping your own, the cost and quality of local animal feeds, the demand and seasons for the marketing of for local products, local vet, butchering, sheep shearing, dehorning services,  etc.

Have known many people to get into one kind of farm animal or another, only to run into a great many obstacles that some prior local condition research might have avoided.  Homesteading for me has always been a steady and mostly enjoyable learning curve of the experiential variety.

I didn't know any of the questions to ask when I started out. Now I try to provide reliable information for new farmers through our local network.





 
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I have horses, three of them. My goal is to use them to work our land, ride to a froe to market, and yes for pleasure. You know what there is nothing wrong with having a horse just for fun. Some people by a boat that mucks up the lakes. Some people by sports cars that use a lot of gas. With a horse you can use them to fertilize your land and love. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for that! May I make a suggestion on the breed? I have halflingers, they are wonderful family horses. A do it all breed.
 
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I don't have any, but I second the dexters. My folks own some highland cattle, and while good browsers are also enormous. There is a place with dexters not far from Syracuse, a creamery that makes kefir cheese from dexter milk in Lansing. The woman who owns it gives tours, my wife and I would like to check them out, maybe you can too. http://www.kefircheese.com/Index1.html
 
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Rose,

A few things to ponder... Why does one breed need to do it all (meat, milk, and fiber?) Goats and sheep will pasture together in a large paddock, especially the more docile goat breeds. Also with goats you don't need a male at all if you can find a breeder in the area. Oberhasli are good milkers and big enough for meat production, while Jacob sheep are good for fiber and are a little more 'robust'.

Also, why is barbed wire dangerous for horses? The equine PC police frown on such 'plebeian' practices; but I have had a lot of horse behind wire fencing. Yes, I have patched some nasty cut. But not as many I have from board rail arenas, actually.
 
Stacy Zoozwick
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The reason PC police don’t like barbed wire, is because a horse does not have thick skin. As big as a horse is they actually have about the same as we do because it is so thin. So that is why barb wire is not a good idea. It cuts deep in a horse, unlike a cow that is thick skinned. I personally don’t have barbed wire. I saw a horse slit open from front shoulder to hip, and his entire inside was out. I do not judge anyone for having barbed wire. I know it is expensive to fence and its a lot of hard work. I do suggest two strand of electric over or in front of it though. That way they will not think to push through it. It save a lot in vet bills.
 
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