Livestock on the Homestead or Small Farm

The following information on livestock on the homestead or small farm comes from Five Acres and Independence by M. G. Kains. Five Acres and Independence is also available to purchase in print.

Whether or not to keep livestock of any kind on the small farm is a question to be decided only after the pros, but especially the cons, have been carefully considered. Perhaps the most serious objection to the majority is that most animals require space that can usually be more profitably employed on such small places.

In many cases there is less objection to a team of horses, than to other livestock (except hogs) provided that the animals are to be used a large part of the time for plowing, hauling, cultivating, and other work. The “pleasure horse,” especially in these days of autos, has no place on the small farm; his care and the area he requires, to say nothing of the cost of his keep, may be more profitably devoted to other purposes.

Even the work horse is open to the objection that though he may be a good worker there is not enough work to keep him busy a sufficiently large proportion of the time, he must be fed, groomed, bedded and watered almost as diligently while idle as when at work and given time-consuming exercise in order to keep him in good health. So far as the small farm is concerned heavy work such as plowing may be done more economically with a rented team or a tractor or even by a hired plowman or tractor owner, and light work mostly with a garden tractor or a wheelhoe. Hauling is more expeditiously and cheaply done with a truck.

A cow will require a minimum of an acre of pasture to support her, even though she will get much of the waste from vegetable and other crops. In addition to this, more or less area will be needed to supply her with fodder even when hay and grain are bought. On a ten-acre farm one acre in forage means 10% of the gross area; on one of five acres, 20%! These percentages are far too high to warrant keeping the usual cow for her milk and manure. The amount of milk needed by the family might better be bought so as to release her supporting land for the production of definitely profitable fruits or vegetables.

The cow is objectionable from another standpoint; she positively must be tended and milked at least twice daily, thus tying down someone to this duty. Neglect or postponement of milking may be fraught with danger of impairment of her ability as a milker, if not to the animal herself. Furthermore she should always be milked by the same person, not a series of experimenters who differ in their natures and abilities as milkers, for thus she may acquire bad habits.

On a farm large enough to warrant keeping a cow and where she may be properly managed she is a highly desirable animal to have; for if a good one she should not only produce ample milk for drinking, cookery, butter and pot cheese for the family and manure of special value in vegetable growing but profitably consume large quantities of unsalable produce and waste, thus converting worthless material into profit.

Though many a grade cow is a good milker, especially if her sire be a dairy breed bull, pure bred ones of the dairy breeds are more likely to be reliable, so preference should be given to them. Among dairymen who supply city markets the Holstein is the favorite because she is noted for abundant production; but the quality of the milk is distinctly poor when compared with that of other dairy breeds. The Holsteins are also poor foragers. When turned out to graze the pasturage must be good or their yields of milk will decrease.

The Channel Island breeds (Jersey, Alderney and Guernsey) are famous for the richness of their milk but they require more care in stabling, dieting and handling than other cattle. Of these the Guernsey is probably the hardiest and most easily managed.

I am prejudiced in favor of the Ayrshire because for more than a century my relatives have been breeders of it. The animals are hardy, active, wonderful foragers, abundant producers of excellent milk which though it is less rich than that of the Jersey and less copious than that of the Holstein it is, in my estimation, more palatable than that of either. The best cow I have ever owned was a pure bred Ayrshire for which I paid (not to any relative!) only $75 and which supplied my family with all the milk, cream, butter, and pot cheese we needed, besides furnishing all the whole milk two other families wanted.

Sheep have no place on the small farm. As they require grazing range cheaper, rougher, untillable land should be devoted to them. Moreover they should be kept in moderate to large sized flocks in order to have enough high grade wool to interest buyers. Similar comments apply to lamb raising for meat.

More and more milk goats are being kept on small farms and part-time farming country places. Little by little, Americans are overcoming their unfounded prejudice and bias against this profitable animal, often called the “poor man’s cow.”

A good milk goat fits the small farm better than a cow. Goats’ milk is delicious. There is no strong flavor to it if the goat is kept clean. There is no odor to a female goat. Many people cannot tell the difference between cows’ milk and goats’ milk.

The advantages of a goat on a small place are clear-cut. A goat can be kept for about one-eighth the cost of keeping a cow. From early spring until fall, the goat can be fed on farm-produced grass, weeds, and brush, with a small amount of supplemental grain. A small shed or a corner of a barn, 6′ x 8′, will make a satisfactory pen. A good goat will produce 2 quarts of milk a day for a long period after kidding, and the lactation period is usually 9 or 10 months. The goat should be allowed to “go dry” for 8 to 10 weeks before giving birth to young.

The two most common breeds are the Saanen and Toggenbing. They are hardy and good producers. One of the essential points for the farmer who plans on a goat or two is to buy from a breeder within reasonable distance so that the does can be taken to the breeder’s buck. It does not pay for the small farmer to keep a buck. Does come in heat regularly between March and September and remain in heat for one or two days.

On most small places, it is common to tether the milk goat at spots around the farm where grass, weeds, and brush are available for food. Make certain there is a good swivel between the chain and the collar. Each year scores of goats are strangled to death by faulty swivels. During the summer a pound of mixed dairy grain ration per day is usually sufficient; in the winter a doe producing a quart or more of milk probably can use 1 1/2 to 2 pounds.

The gestation period is approximately 148 days and very frequently there are twins and triplets. Often the small farmer can sell the doe kids to neighboring farmers and the bucks to the breeder from whom he bought his original milk goat.

One secret for efficient care from October or November until the following spring is to have the manger for hay, the grain box, and the water pail outside the goat’s pen. Then the chores can be done without opening the gate. Once a day the manure should be removed and placed in a special place to save for spreading on the garden in the spring. For bedding one can use straw, old hay, sawdust, or shavings. The latter can be bought in bales at reasonable cost.

Goats deserve decent care. They need to be kept clean and fed well. They are friendly animals and frequently become pets. The beginner will profit from reading U.S. Department of Agriculture Bulletin No. 920, Milk Goats.

The one domestic quadruped that best fits the conditions of the small farm is the hog. He requires smaller area than any other—merely a pen and some range, with shade and a good wallowing place. Except to provide him such items, good and ample feed, he demands no unreasonable time or attention. He is the most wonderful of all domestic animals as a converter of waste and worthless fruit and vegetables, even weeds into profitable meat. Hence his pet name, mortgage lifter!

It is not profitable on the small farm to breed pigs but it is highly so to buy young ones in the spring when only a few weeks old, feed them until fall and then convert them into pork, sausage, headcheese, scrapple, liverwurst, pickled pig’s-feet, and other toothsome delicacies. By purchasing in spring and butchering or selling in the fall the farmer may be relieved of the care and cost of winter feeding—four to six months.

Rabbits and Belgian hares, kept not as pets but for meat, are often profitable where most of the feed is produced on the place and where marketing conditions are favorable. They require good housing, exercise paddocks and preferably summer range on clover or alfalfa. During winter they need good hay with regulative rations of cabbage and other vegetables. As they are prolific breeders and grow rapidly they soon begin to return profits to the man who takes good care of them.

Personally I believe that no farm is complete without a dog, not necessarily a pure bred animal but one well trained and obedient. Among the 15 or 20 I have owned since boyhood the worst happened to be pure bred—poultry killers, garden destroyers, cow chasers and thieves. But their records are not mentioned to condemn good breeding! The best was a 50-50 Airedale-Collie—powerful, intelligent, well trained (thanks to his former owner, not myself!), a splendid watchdog and protector of wife and playfellow of the children, wonderful ratter and woodchuck destroyer and without a fault. No wonder he was stolen!

Though I strongly advocate having such a dog I as insistently urge that he be not allowed to feed and house himself as best he can but be given his own special, comfortable sleeping quarters, his own feeding and drinking vessels and that he be well fed at regular intervals. Surely he is entitled to expect these. “The laborer is worthy of his reward.”

As strongly do I sponsor the cat. Nothing equals him (especially her) as a preventive and cure of mouse and rat trouble. But, more than the dog, the cat needs protection when outdoors. As the law gives hunters the right to shoot any cat seen in hunting territory he should be taught while still young to wear a conspicuous, fairly stiff, leather collar, but loose enough to slip over his head in an emergency. A bell is a good thing to add to the collar because he can ring it when he wants to go out or come in the house. (At least, ours does!) It will not interfere with mouse and rat hunting as he soon learns how to keep it mute! Good feeding will remove the need of killing birds. Training while young and whipping him across the face and head with any dead bird he has just caught will usually cure him unless the habit has been allowed to form.

Properly managed and properly located livestock of almost every class except scrubs may be made to pay, but the small, general farm is usually not the place to keep them; also it is not the place, (few places are!) in which to indulge in “freak” animals such as skunks, frogs, muskrats, groundhogs, foxes, ornamental fish, snakes, alligators, guinea-pigs, squabs, songbirds, et al. So when tempted to “take a flier” in these or others, first consider the natural adaptability of the property to the special kind you have in mind; second, remember that no matter who declares “there’s money in it,” even though he can prove it with reliable records, nevertheless you are justified in concluding that if you yield and indulge you must be prepared to pay “fool tax” until you gain experience. You are much more likely to succeed with the ordinary domestic animals whose milk or meat you can surely sell than with freaks which by no stretch of the imagination can be considered as “staples.”

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Livestock on the Homestead or Small Farm

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