Six Considerations Beginning Livestock Farmers Must Make
Grazing systems for livestock stretch as far as the grazers mind can conceive and no system is a one size fits all. Within rotational systems there are multiple species, leader/follower, management intensive grazing, basic rotational grazing, and any combination of these. The system you choose depends on farm size, animal size and forage needs, personal preference, fence availability, multiple or single species, soil conservation, pasture diversity and a number of other things. It is imperative that the beginning grazer assess these things and research what works best for them.
Fencing is a given when raising livestock, but consideration in the beginning must be made as to type and placement. Once again, there are many options available including woven wire, barb wire, high tensile, electric, and a host of other less popular materials. Growing up chasing cattle I loathed electric fence, but it works well for some cattlemen. Some use it in management intensive grazing to make daily or twice daily moves. Preexisting fence and any fence built must be a consideration when deciding on a grazing management system. Although one doesn’t have to have all the fence in place prior to livestock purchase; a plan must be.
Stocking Density is the number of animals placed on a given area of land and must be considered prior to purchasing livestock. A beginning grazer may not be able to make an accurate assessment at first, but they must educate themselves on the concept. Overgrazing and under grazing can be harmful to soil health. To great a stocking density can cause less water retention of soil, less grass to harness nutrients from the sun, parasite problems, and damage to the population of beneficial microbes beneath the soil surface. Under grazed pasture can also be a problem. Cattle for instance prefer grass and legumes and will not eat most weeds. A greater herd size will cause them to trample the weeds eliminating them as competition for preferred vegetation. Grazing another species can also be used to eat the weeds. So it is imperative that the beginning producer research and understand these concepts.
The hardest thing for most people is to admit when they are wrong, but it is impossible to predict completely the efficiency of a cow or other livestock. It’s important to keep thorough records of each animal to establish the ones that need to culled from the herd. Weaning weights, ease of calving or kidding, mothering skills, breeding consistency, animal demeanor, and parasite resistance are some criteria to consider in your culling program. An animal that can‘t raise its young is a money loser, as is one that cant maintain body condition. Never be afraid to cull a cow, goat or other animal if they don’t meet your standards.
There are multiple markets a livestock producer can consider. This consideration should be done prior to purchasing livestock. Our farm raises commercial cattle that thrive on grass and have good marbling that we market to local consumers. We also raise meat goats that are sold on the market. Some livestock producers raise only registered stock or show quality animals. Some raise a specific commercial breed that sells well in their area. Your preference, grazing system, farm size or experience will help you make the decision on what type of animal you raise, but the market in your area must be considered as well.
Depending on your management system livestock will have to be worked army some point. Maybe you have a good rotational system that negates the use for wormers, but what about vaccination? Will you band your calves or goats to make steers and wethers? How will you tag these animals? Its much easier to considered a working facility early in the game. Designing chutes to load and work livestock in conjunction with fence building is a smoother and cost effective approach.
I can’t honestly say I made all these assessments in the beginning, but it’s my hope you can. Proper research and planning will save you money, make healthier livestock, better pasture management, soil health, and more efficient livestock. With this planning raising livestock can be rewarding on so many levels.