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Sustainable Animal Husbandry, Part 2

In the last article, we talked about the common practice of whole stock culling, which is when the decision is made to harvest all livestock at the prime age for storage, use, or sale. The pros of this method are fiscal savings by reducing feed usage to only a part of the year for livestock that requires supplemental feed. Another is the benefit of putting all the work into harvesting and being finished until it is necessary to produce the next crop. Some of the cons are storage, will you be using electricity? Freezers? Canning? The other is that if your storage method should fail, you have lost all your hard work.

Some folks can utilize a half and half method, culling a batch but leaving half for other uses. There is the old school keep them until you need them method as well. Let’s discuss these two and why they might be options for you to choose from.

When thinking about the half and half method I think it is key to realize that most people who practice this are also choosing different breeds of animals for their process. Let’s say you decide you want enough chickens to supply your eggs and enough chickens for meat storage. Not for sale, just for your family’s use. So you decide you want 15 egg layers, Production Reds because they lay the most, lay a large egg, and are the most efficient at converting food into eggs. In a separate space or tractor, you decide you want 40 meat birds. These will be a cornish cross or ranger or maybe 20 of each. They will grow fast, gain weight quickly, and can be butchered in 8 -10 weeks as your schedule allows. So you have chosen an egg-laying breed and a meat breed to grow.

The third option for your birds is to select a good hearty egg layer that is also a meat bird. Collect your eggs and hatch some of them, producing your own meat birds to grow and cull. This method cuts out the need for hatcheries and typically the survivability of homegrown animals goes way up. Without shipping concerns and being able to time your hatches with the weather and time of year, you can optimize your production while lowering your cost and loss. The only thing is to remember you will need to replace your laying hens every few years with some young girls and you cannot use your offspring to breed back into the line.

This is done with sheep as well. You may want a small herd of milking sheep that foal and mother well so you can continue the herd growth. This flock will be close to your house and may only include one male and 2 or 3 females. You will need to decide if you are going to choose wool versus hair sheep. For a larger space, you may want to produce enough lambs to take to market every half turn. There are breeds that can be bred twice a year. That requires some major strategizing on the farmer’s part as well as a boost in your feed requirements. The ewes will need a lot of vitamins added to their diet and you will need to make sure they have plenty of food all the time. You can also split your herd so that while one group of ewes is pregnant, the other group is gone to lambing. Once lambs are born you want to sell them at 6 months old or when the average weight is 60 lbs. Unlike chickens, you aren’t culling the flock, you are selling or culling the offspring.

These principals follow trends with other animals as well. Pigs for instance have a variety of breeds with different traits. You may want an excellent breeder pig while grabbing some fast growers to butcher in a short time. Keeping the breeding animals separate from the meat.

One other thing to mention, which diversifies your production a little more is to consider being a breeder. If you feel that providing for your family has been a challenge you have tackled and met, then maybe it’s time to expand and start planning to supply others in your community. That is when the principals from the previous article really come in handy. When your ready to think bigger and broader, use all the advice you can possibly get. Also realize that in the end, most people choose breeds, quantities, and layout of their property based on trial and error. It’s going to be obvious to you which animals you enjoy and which you do not. Which projects are benefiting you the most and which ones to avoid. It will take time but eventually everyone can have the type of set up they really want.

Thanks for reading this blog post. I have a lot of up and coming changes and the blog will be reflecting those differences.

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