At a very young age, my grandmother taught me the importance of respect and proper care of animals that were critical to a farm. As an adult, I learned that proper socialization and handling were also key components to the relationship between a human caretaker and their livestock. This article is intended for those with small homesteads or breeding programs, as it may be more difficult to spend this time with your animals if you have a large-scale operation (such as a beef or poultry farm).
There are two key reasons that the socialization of livestock should be a concern for small farmers and homesteaders. Let's break this down to show you why it can benefit you and others.
It is much more pleasant to feed, lead, and medicate a friendly herd or flock than it is to chase around a flighty group. It can make the tasks of milking a cow or collecting eggs enjoyable instead of being a chore. As an example, we have a female goat who was handled from the start, and she now leads easily and stands for her hooves to be trimmed with no fuss. Having a well-mannered animal can make it easier on you in the long run.
After brief training, we are able to lead our goat on a collar and leash- Photo: Wolf Branch Homestead)
If you breed and sell livestock, you may come across potential buyers who want to know the animal's background and personality. They may be looking to purchase a rabbit, and will ask if it is easily held. It could be someone wanting to buy a nanny goat, and they will ask how easily she stands to be milked. From our experience, the ability to answer these questions can really make a sale. Also consider the joy your family or guests can have from petting or holding a farm animal with a good personality.
The first few weeks of an animal's life would be the ideal time to mold their personality and encourage their behavior (often referred to as "imprinting"). They are young and learning to associate with species other than their own. The time spent frequently handling these young animals helps them become used to human interaction. However, it is still possible to work with adult animals with low-stress, non-violent training. In simple terms- reward good behavior, but don't reward for the undesirable behavior.
A young duckling being tenderly held- Photo: Wolf Branch Homestead)
As a personal example, we recently hatched out four Khaki Campbell ducklings that were handled tenderly from the beginning. A few minutes each day of picking them up and giving them fresh food and water introduced them to human care. Now they are three months old and they look forward to seeing us, and allow us to pick them up with ease. When it came time to sell a male duckling, many questions were asked about his personality and raising, and we were able to answer them successfully so that he could go to his new home.
Luckily, there are many good resources available today online and in print that help us understand how to handle our animals with care. A quick internet search can lead you to articles that can help with behavior and training issues. Frequent handling and attention to the personality of the animal(s) is what you should strive to achieve. Please consider working with your livestock and poultry on a daily basis to develop a beneficial relationship between human handler and animal.
Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. This year, they have raised a large crop of heirloom Hastings' Prolific corn that they are selling seed from, along with making their own cornmeal. They are currently putting the finishing touches on a small cabin built from lumber they have milled themselves. Along with breeding Khaki Campbell ducks, they also raise laying chickens and goats. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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