What We Can Learn from Raising Livestock

Raising livestock has taught Joel Salatin a lot about his own behaviors and interactions.

| February/March 2020

 sheep
Photo by Adobe Stock/tntk

I’m confident that working with animals has made me more mindful of how I relate to other people. Gardeners, this column isn’t a slight against what we can learn from plants. We can learn plenty from them too. But for now, I want to concentrate on what I’ve learned from a lifetime of raising livestock.

1. Train early and seriously. The longer bad habits persist, and the later in life training starts, the harder it is to get control of your animals.

The smartest farm animal is the pig. In my experience, no animal trains better to electric fence, but no animal tests the fence as much. When we buy weaner pigs at about 40 pounds, we put them in a solid physical pen and train them to electric fence within a few days of them becoming acclimated to their new digs (literally). A portable energizer connected to a short wire 3 feet away from the end of their pen offers a 10,000-volt lesson. As we say around here, “When you’re training to electric fence, you want their first experience to be memorable.” Don’t dillydally around with halfway voltage. Make it hot.



To keep it consistent during the training period, we put a spring in the middle of that wire to keep it from breaking when the pigs run through it. Without the spring, the pigs would keep breaking the wire every time they went over or under it, and it would be more of a sideshow than a consistent training thread.

Early and aggressive exposure to limits and expectations enables a lifetime of enjoyment. If you can’t go to bed at night knowing your animals will be where they’re supposed to be tomorrow morning, you can never really sleep. To be effective, electric fence must be sufficiently energized, tight, visible, and the right height. If any of these is wrong, you’ll have issues.





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