Monday, December 22, 2014

Livestock - The Ugly Side

I've had people tell me how delightful it would be to raise animals....the fun of seeing babies play and grow, to watch the mother-baby love affair, to watch something grow from baby to adult. They say they'd just love to have such & such, be it a sheep, rabbits, goats, etc. Everyone talks about the good aspects, but if I'm going to get involved with raising livestock, I believe that I had better make sure that my eyes are completely open to the whole shebang. Everything about having livestock isn't just  fun and games. Sadly I'm discovering that many people getting into keeping animals don't know that in advance. 

Keeping livestock is work. Feeding. Watering. Tending. Veterinary care. Maintaining housing and fencing. Learning the husbandry for each type of livestock. The danger involved with handling livestock.  The problems with predators. The worries and what-ifs......what if they get sick, what if the get loose, what if they hurt somebody else, what if they get out and get hit by a car. Then there's the weather problem. They still need tending during rain storms, hurricanes, blizzards, sweltering heat waves, frigid winters......mud, snow, ice, dust. Not always so much fun, eh? 

One big bummer about having livestock is that each one that gets born also has the potential to die. While most homesteads intend that some of the livestock intentionally die in order to become food, there are times when they die when we don't intend it. Things happen. Illness, injuries, accidents, fights, poisonings, predators, killings. Yes, I've heard tales of intentional killings such as a despicable hunter, a feuding neighbor, a malicious person. 

To date the only livestock deaths on my homestead have occurred fro one of four causes: intentional slaughter for food, illness that failed to respond adequately to veterinary treatment, old age, and predation. 

Predators are the one reason that really gets me riled. Around here, dogs are the number one predator. Almost always they are or have been somebody's pet. 
Above, a neighbor's dog. Normally a nice animal. Actually lives with two adolescent ewes. But dogs are dogs, and under the right circumstances they follow their instincts rather than training. Last Saturday I walked out to the back pasture to handout alfalfa treats and to check on the lambs only to discover this dog in the process of destroying a ewe who had given birth 24 hours earlier. The dog was probably drawn to the smell of the blood  or the sound of the lamb, thus it dug under the fence. I don't know how long the attack went on, but the poor ewe was badly mauled and beyond saving. 
Yes, this is the ugly part!!!!

But if people are going to get into raising livestock, I feel that they had better be able to handle the ugly part or at least have a game plan on how to get someone else to handle it for them. 

Ugly parts I've had to deal with .....
....predation injuries. I've lost a number of ewes and chickens to various predators. 
....birthing complications. I've had one special ewe that didn't make it while trying to deliver quads. Broke my heart. 
....birth defects and abnormalities. What would you do with a chick with a severely deformed beak or leg? Or a lamb born with a major defect? They need to be dealt with. I've had to dispatch deformed lambs and chicks.
....sick or abandoned newborns. Not all moms turn out to be good or willing moms. And if the farmer doesn't want to bottle feed the newborn, then some other solution has to be decided & acted upon. Most farmers don't bother bottle feeding an orphans lamb, but I do. It's my own decision on how to handle the problem. 
....over population. During drought I've run out of pasture. Decisions have to be made. Either reduce the number of animals or commit to spending big bucks to buy feed. My decision has been to sell or butcher the excess and buy feed for my keepers. 
....flystrike. Until I learned to effectively combat flies and how to aggressively treat flystrike, I lost some sheep. It's a tough way for a dumb human to learn and the sheep are the losers. 
....lost sheep. It's a nightmare. Yes, the sheep are gone but what's worse is the worry of where they are. Will they eat some neighbor's garden, causing major resentment? Worse yet, will they cause a car accident? 

I've talked with plenty of people who got out of keeping livestock because of the ugly parts. They hadn't learned what to expect until they were up to their ears in trouble or grief. So I'm just giving a bit of a heads up to anyone thinking about getting into keeping livestock. Yup, it's not all fun and games. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry about the loss of your new ewe. Perhaps the dog was allowed to roam too freely. We had neighbors who thought coyotes were getting their cats (several households), but it was due to a dog (a Malamute!) that the owners felt "shouldn't be confined". It was spotted with a freshly killed cat in its mouth, so we called Animal Control -turned out, several folks called, and the dog was caught. The owners were furious, but Animal Control cited them, and slapped them for having no license, and more. Fortunately for us, the owners moved out of the county. No one knew what they did with the dog.