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Healthy Livestock for Self-Sufficiency, by Brad N.

The term sustainability has been defined as “the ability to provide for today, without taking away from tomorrow”. Most of our modern agricultural practices today are anything but sustainable. Our selfishness and get rich quick mentality leave many producers making choices that benefit in the short term, but are actually causing long term damage to both our land and our livestock. In a TEOTWAWKI [1] situation the livestock owner who has been using good management decisions will have little trouble adapting. Those whose management is based on short term success and follow the advice of those who are selling the “magic bullet” for increased gains, will find themselves with a lot of sick livestock and a land base that is unproductive.

We raise cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits and chickens on our ranch. We also have horses, mules, honeybees and several dogs and cats. We have approximately 200 acres of grazing land with several more acres of timber, ponds and buildings. Our soil is productive and alive because of the diversity in our plants and animals. Management is the key to having healthy soil, plants, animals, and ultimately humans.

The more closely we mimic nature, the fewer problems we have. This is most easily seen with the time chosen for when our babies are born. Look at when the deer and elk in your area are giving birth to their young. If God has the wild animals giving birth in May and June, then I am guessing there is a good reason why. I have come to learn that He is a lot smarter than I am!

The majority of cattle producers in our area calve in February and March. Sheep and Goat producers have their lambs and kids born in December and January. I have yet to see a newborn baby come out with a winter coat on! The amount of labor and resources necessary to keep these little ones alive are unsustainable now and nearly impossible in a TEOTWAWKI situation.

Cold and Predators

Freezing cold is only the first problem our newborns face. Predators like fox, coyote, bobcat, mountain lions and wolves are always looking for the easiest meal. They have less options in winter and will key in on easy meals like lambs and calves. If we calve in sync with nature our babies are born at the same time as the wild game. Predators are much less likely to bother our livestock if they have access to a surplus of wild game.

There are more than just freezing temperatures and predators that newborn babies have to fear. Cold rains and muddy conditions in March and April are the perfect recipe for pneumonia, scours, and navel infections. Many articles are written and products pushed to help producers deal with these. Calving in sync with nature nearly eliminates all of these problems and it doesn’t cost anything!

Cows that calve out of sync with nature have a much harder time getting bred back to calve again. Body condition is the most important factor in determining if a cow will even cycle. If she isn’t in good enough condition to maintain her body weight and raise a calf, she certainly won’t be physically able to breed back. Calving in May and June matches the nutrient requirements of the cow with the nutrients that are available in the forages. There aren’t many nutrients in a snow ball! Cows that calve in May and June are fat and healthy before calving, after having a month of green grass to forage on. Most producers feed a High-Magnesium mineral to avoid grass tetany in early spring. Calving in May and June has eliminated this problem on our ranch.

Managing when our animals give birth is quite simple. The bulls are placed into the herd of cows on July 30th and removed September 11th. Rams are put in with the ewes on December 15th and removed January 20th. Our dairy goats have the same 5 month gestation as the sheep, so most of the goats are bred at the same time as the sheep. In order to have fresh goats milk year round we do have a couple of goats that kid in January. This is not ideal, but it is a great reminder for us why we don’t do this with all the animals!

Over-Grazing

The biggest management mistake most people make is having too many animals for the amount of land they have. This is called the stocking rate. We desire to graze 300 days a year and only feed hay for about 2 months. The average amount of hay feeding is about 5 months in most of the U.S. When you have too many animals, they tend to overgraze and keep the forages chewed down to the dirt. This causes the plants to have short root systems, increases erosion, raises soil temperature and reduces the health of the soil significantly.

The second management mistake is poor stock density. This is the amount of animals in a specific area for a given time. Our ranch is divided into many small paddocks so that the livestock are restricted to only a certain area for a specified amount of time. This allows the other paddocks to rest and recuperate so they can grow more nutrient rich forage. As we work our way through the ranch, moving from paddock to paddock, we are utilizing the forage more evenly and growing more forage than is possible by just opening the gates and letting the stock have run of the whole ranch. Having water available is usually the limiting factor when dividing the ranch into smaller paddocks.

We have to remember that the livestock are working for us. They are not pets and we shouldn’t be working for them. Culling of inferior animals is the key to having a strong, healthy herd. If the animal fails to give birth or nurse their offspring unassisted, they are culled. If they fail to raise a healthy offspring to weaning age, they are culled. If they don’t rebreed within two heat cycles after raising a healthy offspring, they are culled. If at any time they need doctoring, they should be culled. They should be able to do this with nothing more than good forage, water, and maybe some salt. When TEOTWAWKI comes, our livestock will be better prepared than we are. If our livestock are pampered with every vaccination, supplement, fly spray, and gizmo the local co-op is selling, we are propping up a lot of animals that will fall quickly from our herds when these are no longer available. It is much more profitable now and could make all the difference in our survival later.

I always wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up so it’s been a great blessing to be able to raise cattle. There are many breeds of cattle and much variation within those breeds. The best advice I can give you when it comes to choosing your cattle, is to buy them as close to home as possible from someone who has the same management that you are going to have. The closer to home you get your cattle, the more likely they will be adapted to your forage, water, minerals, and weather. Most producers pamper their cows and they will quickly fall apart when you take away their crutches. Only buy from producers who are tough on their cows and make them work for a living.

Our ranch is located in a high rainfall, high humidity, region with heat indexes over 100 degrees in July and August. We also get below zero temperatures in the winter. With that kind of variety, we need a cow that is adaptable. We like red cattle because they can handle the heat and humidity. In my experience, the red hided cattle are 15 degrees more heat tolerant than a black-hided cow in summer. Our cattle will also get a good winter coat on them and do well in the winter. Good cedar thicket wind breaks and spring water tanks make for a much easier winter. Don’t try to make a square peg fit into a round hole. Get cattle that fit your environment and you will have less problems.

Sheep are the most profitable part of our operation. We raise hair sheep that are used only for meat. Their “wool” sheds off every spring and grows back for winter. Since it costs more to have sheep sheared than you can get out of the wool check, this is a plus to us. In a TEOTWAWKI situation there may be an advantage to having some wool available, but I couldn’t imagine trying to shear 150 sheep with scissors. Our sheep are extremely hardy animals that do not get dewormed, have hooves trimmed, or get fed grain. They are out on pasture with the cattle 365 days a year. Lambs are born unassisted on pasture in May and June. It costs as much to keep one of our cows as it does to keep seven ewes. If we sell a single calf for $650, that isn’t much compared to selling 10.5 lambs for $1,575.

Livestock Guardian Dogs

Sheep do have one requirement that I feel is a necessary expense, sheep dogs. We need both livestock guardian dogs to protect the sheep and a working dog to move them. There are many great breeds of each and getting good working dogs is essential. We use Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd, and Maremma livestock guardian dogs. Border collies are our preferred working dog for moving all kinds of livestock. Good dogs are expensive, but worth every penny.

Dairy Goats are the most entertaining and frustrating animals on the ranch. We have Nubian and Saanen cross milk goats. They give a good quantity of high butterfat milk and raise decent sized kids that are another source of meat. Goat milk soap is a big part of the reason we put up with goats. We have a donkey that lives with the goats and haven’t had any losses to predators. I have heard it said “if your fence won’t hold water, it won’t hold goats.” My suggestion is if you don’t try to keep them in then they aren’t ever out!

Start With Chickens

Chickens are a great place to start if you don’t have any livestock. They will help you to understand basic animal husbandry skills without a large investment. Dual purpose breeds that produce eggs and meat are a simple way to begin. Once you get that mastered you can start raising meat birds for a higher quality and quantity of meat. They are a more challenging animal to keep alive though. Chickens are excellent foragers and will clean up any scraps you may have.

Chickens and Rabbits are the only livestock on our ranch that get fed grain. This is definitely something to be prepared for in a TEOTWAWKI situation. You won’t be able to go down to the farm store and pick up a 50 bag of rabbit pellets every week or two. We grind our own feed for our chickens from locally sourced grains.

Rabbits are something fairly new to us. They are an exceptional source of a delicious, renewable supply of meat. They are much overlooked and underappreciated in today’s society. The amount of food they can supply a family compared to the cost of feeding and caring for them is much better than any other livestock we have. They are very easy to process and are definitely a great animal to have on the ranch. Having a good Livestock Guardian Dog that is trained to not eat chickens and rabbits makes life a little easier. Just the presence of a LGD will keep most predators away.

All animals require the basic things we do- nutritious food, clean water, shelter, and protection from predators. If we take care of them, they can supply us with more nutritious food than we can buy in stores today. While starvation will be a problem for many when TEOTWAWKI hits, it doesn’t have to be if we are prepared.

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#1 Comment By Henry On April 12, 2020 @ 10:13 am

What a good read. Thanks

#2 Comment By Mama Bear On April 12, 2020 @ 11:58 am

Love this article. I have local farmers and ranchers who give me a hard time because I am always searching for heritage breeds that do NOT need assistance in birthing. But this is exactly why. I need animals that can live and reproduce without modern supports.

#3 Comment By 0ldhomesteader On April 12, 2020 @ 11:35 pm

Mama bear,,,,,,,,the EPD of the bull is the key to calving ease, I’ve seen Dexters have problems, Jerseys too. The most reliable calving ease I have experience is longhorn ,most difficult were pinzgauer (175#) and Belgium blue (dubbed muscled )
If your going to have cattle you need to learn how to handle birthing problems ,doing “C” sections may be a little much though
If your going to keep cattle find some one with real experience and spend the time to learn what and how , most real cattle people would be glad to teach you ,
If you do things right cattle can be a joy ,if not a heartache at best at worst a grave mistake,even with experience you can be badly hurt or worse.
I can’t imagine life without the girls (MOO)

#4 Comment By Mama Bear On April 13, 2020 @ 12:08 am

I agree. I have goats, rabbits, sheep, pigs, chickens, and turkeys. I am pretty ruthless about culling those who can’t birth without problems. Just lost a gilt that had trouble birthing. So many of the modern breeds and hybrids can’t birth without help.

When TSHTF there won’t be the medicines and gadgets to support these modern animals.

Those who have problems and survive I either sell or butcher. I now have goats and sheep that very very seldom have birthing problems. Working on the pigs.

For cattle, I am looking at Belted Galloways. Their calves are smaller so birthing problems are rare and they are excellent mothers. There is a source not far away so in the next year or two I will add cattle.

#5 Comment By 0ldhomesteader On April 13, 2020 @ 12:45 am

Mama bear,,,,we had white galloways for years ,used for crossing with Angus,nice breed ,good points ,,dubbel coat for better wintering ,good feed conversion ,my hand raised were nice to work with ,,, harder on fences than Angus ,,polled,,standoffish at times ,
Liked them

#6 Comment By Anonymous On April 13, 2020 @ 1:16 am

I appreciate the feedback. Double coated for winter is good for here because we can get some very cold temps in January and February. I did not know about the double coat. Thank you.

#7 Comment By Ed C. On April 12, 2020 @ 1:22 pm

This is the best, common sense article on farm sustainability that I have ever read. I started working my newly acquired farm just 8 years ago. I had always wanted to raise livestock and plant a larger garden for all of my adult life. I wanted to be able to be self sufficient and better prepared to take care of my wife and myself plus all the rest of the family that will suddenly appear when TSHTF.

I almost headed down the wrong road you warned about when I first started, but met a younger man who had already made that mistake and made a correction in his operations. Bottom line is that one cannot maintain a herd of large, black Angus cattle on a pasture of high-dollar improved grass that requires annual, expensive fertilizer. I raise red, South Poll cross cows now; they can survive and still look good with limited input. All of the issues you addressed are spot on; not just for the cattle, but all the other farm animals as well.

Thanks for your words. I trust that others take notice. Unless you are a wealthy, retired oil tycoon, you cannot maintain a showcase ranch with the best looking oversized cattle and the greenest improved fields when TSHTF. Not to mention that you will be the biggest target in the county for the renegades fleeing the large cities.

May God bless you and your family.

#8 Comment By 3AD Scout On April 12, 2020 @ 1:44 pm

Brad N-

Thanks for sharing. As someone who is just starting to populate their homestead with livestock you have provided some great insight. Very insightful information on not feeding cattle grain. Any thoughts or advice on Pigs?

#9 Comment By alfie On April 12, 2020 @ 2:15 pm

this is a good article, it brings back memories of growing up on the farm in the 50’s and 60’s here in the upper mid west. Of Dad and Mom and I helping a cow birth a calf in the middle of night in Feb or March, only to find out that the calf is born dead ( and sometimes had been dead for awhile inside the cow ), or of sows having piglets and needing help. Yeah, this article has brought memories. A lot of them good and some not so good.

#10 Comment By kerry On April 12, 2020 @ 2:47 pm

Great advice. Thank you

#11 Comment By Animal House On April 12, 2020 @ 3:12 pm

Thank you for this article!! It is full of professional common sense that some ranchers are lacking. Working with Mother Nature is way better than trying to fight against her.

#12 Comment By Mesquite On April 12, 2020 @ 3:34 pm

You stated you raise hair sheep. May I ask the name of the breed?

#13 Comment By St. Funogas On April 12, 2020 @ 3:36 pm

Brad, thanks for such an excellent article! From the laugh-out-loud comment that if a fence won’t hold water, it won’t hold goats, to the high efficiency of your operation, it’s a wonderful read.

Thanks for sharing that you always wanted to be a cowboy when you grew up. Too many of us abandoned our dreams in the pursuit of things more “practical” and then discovered that happiness is way more important than practical. Even though I’m in my sixties, I still need to know that people made their dreams come true.

So, what do you do with all the goat milk soap you mentioned? Do you sell some or do you just have a whole gaggle of kids that need a lot of baths? lol.

Is there a formula for figuring out the carrying capacity of your land or was it mostly by trial and error?

Thanks again for the great read this morning.

#14 Comment By Telesilla of Argos On April 12, 2020 @ 3:53 pm

Brad N! Thank you!!! Solid and informative. We very much enjoyed your article. Our homestead animals are limited presently to chickens, but we have considered (and are considering even more seriously now) the addition of land for the purposes of expanded ranching. The sharing of your experiences has renewed our in-home conversation and idea development.

#15 Comment By AngoraLady On April 12, 2020 @ 4:19 pm

For those interested in heritage breeds, I highly recommend The Livestock Conservancy. [2]. You can also look up specific breed organizations. We started with Jacob sheep 18 years ago and are very pleased with their hardiness and good mothering skills. We initially got them for wool, but their main use now is for meat. I am waaay behind on my wool processing.

#16 Comment By SaraSue On April 12, 2020 @ 4:44 pm

Thank you so much for this informative article!

#17 Comment By 0ldhomesteader On April 13, 2020 @ 12:16 am

BRAD N ,,,,,,, good article!!!!!! Rancher 7,000 acres ,after a early retirement ,did some things differently , but don’t disagree ,winter calving to time for fall sale made a difference in the check and bottom line , Had lots of calfs in the kitchen by the wood stove over night ,nights of sleeping in a chair next to a new calf ,the bathtub full of very warm water to revive a calf dug out of a snowbank ,

LGD ,anatolians ,,, a pair will turn a black bear ,three will rout a wolf pack , two will hunt and kill a coyote ,,biggest problem is to not make pets of them ,

Overgrazing at time can be a useful tool for fire suppression

Goats got to love them BUT can be from hell in the garden ,and never ever leave the kitchen door open with the goats loose ,there is a reason the devil is often pictured as a goat ,,
OBTW a cow in the kitchen is bad too

Worst day on the ranch is better than any thing city ,,almost ,,,

#18 Comment By Avalanche Lily On April 13, 2020 @ 3:41 am

Love your post Olehomesteader!

Shalom, blessings, Chag Sameach,

Lily

#19 Comment By NM Preper On April 13, 2020 @ 4:17 pm

I have had very good results raising New Mexico Dahl Sheep. Very hardy breed! Easy keepers and they taste good.

#20 Comment By GritsInMT On April 14, 2020 @ 7:09 am

Great article Brad!