Farm Livestock: Choosing Mid-Sized and Large Animals

Farm livestock can overtake your time and energy on the farm, how to choose mid-sized and large animals, including pigs, sheep, dairy goats, horses, cows, cattle and disposing of unwanted livestock.

| May/June 1987

MOTHER'S Handbook: How to choose the right mid-sized and large farm livestock animals for your farm. 

Farm Livestock: Choosing Mid-Sized and Large Animals

Moving from raising the bees, poultry and rabbits we discussed in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 104 to keeping "real" livestock is quite a jump. Nonetheless, doing so is a move many newly arrived countryfolk are eager to make. And most of the time, things work out just fine for novice keepers of cattle, horses, sheep, goats and pigs. Still, it's wise not to commit yourself to large or mid-sized livestock without first analyzing the vastly greater demands on your time, facilities and budget that such stock will make. Once you've done your research and feel certain you're ready, I'd suggest starting of with feeder pigs. (See Figures 1 through 16 in the image gallery.)

Raising Pigs

As mid-sized farm animals go, pigs are easy to care for. They can be purchased inexpensively (for as little as $20 in many cases) as weaned piglets (shoats), require only a small pen and rudimentary shelter from the elements, need be kept just through the warm-weather months to mature and are anything but finicky eaters (Figure 1). With pigs, you have little to lose and much to gain. Even if your initial experience suggests that "pig ranching" isn't your cup of soup, you'll still have earned both that knowledge and a freezerful of tender, delicious, additive-free pork.  

Mature pigs kept as breeders require only four or five pounds of mash daily, plus whatever table scraps you can come up with. To fuel a 20- to 40-pound shoat to maturity (at which point you'll net around 120 pounds of hams, pork chops, ribs and bacon) will require six to seven months and some 500 pounds of hog pellets plus table scraps—or a half-ton-plus of garden excess or restaurant garbage. Including the cost of hog pellets, cholera shots and wear and tear on your equipment, you can raise pork for well under $1 a pound with little more effort than filling the feed and water troughs once a day.

To convert a pig into pork, you'll need either a) block and tackle, scalding drum, bell scraper, knives, stunning gun, cutting table, pickling tank and smokehouse (Figure 2); or b) the will and a way to haul several hundred pounds of uncooperative hog to a butcher. (Expect to pay from $30 to $50 per adult hog for custom butchering, hams and bacon salted and smoked in the bargain.)

To transport hogs, I equip my pickup with strong side and end rails, then herd the oinkers up a sturdy 2-1/2-footwide loading chute equipped with solid, three-foot-high sides (so the cantankerous beasts can't see out and be tempted to bolt). Here's a method for simplified pig loading:

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