Selecting livestock for the homestead

My thoughts and considerations…for now.

I’m sure more experienced farmers may chuckle as they read my plan, and I will probably look back a realize that, like most plans, it didn’t survive first contact. But I think it worthwhile to share how I am selecting the animals I am bringing on to Fiat Farm. There is a plan, and thought has been put into it. Whether it’s the right plan or not…time will tell.

We have acreage. We have pasture. We have woods. We have water.

Now we need animals.

But not just any animals. As a regenerative homestead our animals will play an important role in increasing the fertility of the land. Oh, yeah, and filling our freezer.

So, what are my considerations as I select livestock for Fiat Farm?

Here goes…

What is their role? As I research and select animals, I ask what role will it play on the homestead? Protection, pasture management, food? Most will have a dual purpose. For example, pigs will help with woods and pasture management along with providing pork for the freezer.

Can they thrive on our land? The animals must be able to thrive on our land with little to no input from us. We will provide water, some feed, minerals, and manage their frequent rotation to new paddocks; but most of their nutrition will be provided by our pasture and woods. I am selecting breeds known to thrive on pasture. I will need to supplement with hay in the winter, but the hope is that this is limited to January and February.

Are they healthy and disease resistant? I look for healthy, vibrant animals from a breed that is known to resist disease and parasites. The goal is to keep medical and veterinary intervention to a minimum. We cannot afford to nurse along a sickly animal. Rotational grazing practices (moving the animals to new paddocks frequently) and hearty stock will help us to raise a herd that thrives on our land. I am also reaching out to small farmers and asking about how their stock is raised before I purchase from them. I am avoiding stock auctions as many times that is where farmers take their problem animals to sell.

Are they a heritage breed that should be preserved? I want to preserve quality breeds from olden days. Why? I believe they have value. Much of the livestock bred carefully over generations to fit perfectly on a homestead have been discarded in favor of industrial production. I am looking for tried and true heritage stock.

Are they docile and low maintenance? Let’s be honest. Until two months ago I had never raised livestock. I have a huge learning curve and I need animals that will make this process easier for me. I am seeking breeds that are not aggressive and pretty much take care of themselves. This means breeds with docile temperaments, strong mothering instincts, and easy births. Honestly, I dream of waking up one morning to find my pregnant sow gave birth while I was asleep, and her piglets are healthy and happy. Mind you, we will be laboring to manage their movement through the paddocks, but I don’t want to have to go all James Herriot with my arm up a cow’s back end because she is having a difficult birth. At least not yet.

Will we eat it? Our livestock will both help manage the pasture and fill our freezer. We will raise what we like to eat. For us that means chickens, pigs, sheep, and cows. I have no plans to raise goats, a dairy cow, or rabbits. But remember that when I say “no.” God chuckles and says, “we’ll see.”

Having said all that, I would like to introduce to you our first livestock.

Piggies!

Magnus, our guardian dog, meets the girls.

For my first foray into livestock I chose the Large Black hog.

The Large Black are a heritage breed of swine listed as critically endangered by the Livestock Conservancy with just 300 breeding hogs as of 2008. They originally came from England, were popular through the 1940’s, then lost popularity after World War II when small farms gave away to industrial production. This breed did not do well in the industrial environment and their numbers dwindled.

I chose the large black because it thrives outdoors and will forage our pastures and woodlands. Our goal as a homestead is to limit the inputs required from outside our property to feed our animals. These omnivores will get most of the food they need from the plants, nuts, and grubs on our farm. They will live out in the pastures and spend their days looking for delicious food to eat.

They are known to be good mothers, easily giving birth to litters of 8-10 piglets. Docile and friendly they are perfect for the small homestead. We will add a boy to this group in a few months with the hope of having piglets of our own in the next year.

These two girls already have an important role to play on Fiat Farm. They are going to be my mobile tractors clearing the area where my gardens will go in the spring. They get to root around in the dirt and I get a tilled garden. Win-win.

The girls at work.

Look back at the first picture. Then look at the one above. Can you see the difference in their pen in just two days? They have been rooting around eating the grass, weeds and brambles from what was a wild and overgrown space. As they do this, they will add fertility with their manure and urine. Tomorrow, we will transition them to a larger space and start the move towards my garden area.

How does a suburban southern California girl decide she wants to raise her own food? About 8 years ago I discovered Joel Salatin. His approach to farming and enthusiasm for the land planted a seed that is coming to fruition now. Here is a short video overview of his philosophy and approach.

There’s a Better Way to Farm

If you like this, there are many more Joel Salatin videos to choose from on the internet. Maybe you will be inspired too.

The fun is just starting on Fiat Farm. I will keep you posted as more animals arrive.

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