BUILDING A FRIENDLY AND LOVEABLE LIVESTOCK FLOCK ON YOUR FARM ~
Everyone always asks us why our farm critters are so darned friendly; not just with humans but with each other. We have two huge Labrador Retrievers, a Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog, two big rams (sheep), two big bucks (goats), a stud alpaca, plenty of roosters and three large quarter horses who all love on each other all the tiime. We have ample females (sheep, goats, alpaca, horses and chickens) as well, but they are never the issue on a farm. It’s the boys and the demonstrated aggression that comes with being ‘in-tact’ males.
So, why are all our ‘in-tact’ boys so darned gentle? Our biggest ram is so docile my husband scratches his head every morning as he waits on his ‘loving’ from dad before he leaves his pen. Our roosters love our dogs and visit them and the dogs don’t chase them. Our bucks love on our rams and our horses watch with interest and fond affection as they all frolick and play. And, at night, all the animals seem to relax as they hear the barn ‘sounds’ of all the other critters, not their own species, in the stall next door.
The answer is, at our farm we buy all our breeding flock as babies and we raise them around all the other members of our farm family, fondly known as our ‘anfam’ (animal family). All the new borns that are born here at our farm are also raised together. It is in this setting at such a young age that the animals build trust and develop their sense of ‘their herd’. We, as humans are part of their herd, as well. While this may appear to be such a minor element of standing up your own farm, it is truly for us, the cornerstone of our flock development strategy. What may not appear significant in its first or second season, evolves towards something profound in follow-on years.
The affection all our livestock have for each other and also for us is obvious to even the non-farmer. As one such example, one of our prized milking does with insanely awesome genetics (gorgeous doe, throws triplets, lots of milk and wonderful mother) had an absess on her jaw this last week. We literally took her into our vet who does house calls but also works at the local ‘small animal’ clinic down the road. We brought ‘Nala’ into the clinic that really does mostly dogs and cats, on a leash. She walked right in, sniffed the dogs, said hi to the older ladies sitting down, talked to all of them in her little cute goat bah she does, and then starting checking out the office. The older ladies were completely floored. They wanted to know all about her and immediately fell in love. The clinicians all got out their cameras and took pictures and posted it on their facebook pages including the clinic’s own facebook page saying, ‘goat in today…amazing goat’. There were so many inquiries into this wonderfully docile and trusting animal of ours. I explained to them upon inquiry that she has always been raised with people, dogs and cats. They are her herd. Thus, she is just saying hi to everyone. The dogs were equally mesmerized at the clinic finding her quite the interesting entertainment for their doggy afternoon. It was interesting that the older ladies were interested in getting one as a pet and were asking if the Nigerian Dwarf goats could be house trained. Indeed, they can as I shared that these little dairy goats are becoming all the vogue in urban homesteading environments due to their ample milk, small size, friendly disposition and easy care. They were thrilled. This is Nala and two whethers with our daughter. She is the little black and darker brown one. Our daughter is an amazing aspect of our farm, as her hands on engagement with all of them really develops a personality in our livestock that is quite loving, like Chloe is.
It is important to know as an organic farm some parasites can cross across livestock breeds. How we handle this is we do pro-active fecal testing which we do at home with our own fecal equipment to monitor the health of our livestock since we do not ‘throw the medicine shelf’ at our animals. Prevention is key to organic livestock raising. Also, along with fecal testing on a regular basis, each ‘species’ have their own pens at night. We incorporate rotational grazing for the livestock and keep our pens and water buckets exceptionally clean. Cleanliness is a key element of livestock health and well being. Also, pasture grazing that assures the grass isn’t grazed all the way down to the roots and the poop can decompose while livestock are in other pastures, always rotating. We use a chain harrow to drag our fields at least two to three times each season, spring, summer and fall as well to break up manure. We also overseed with grasses we want to continually strengthen our pastures. Last, we continually spread compost across our fields as well for nutrient strength. We wait to let that compost truly decompose and usually wait at least one year before we use the composted material back on the fields themselves. We raise ‘composting worms’ as well to help break the manure down effectively with optimal value for the final compost to deliver returns when it is re-distributed back onto our soil.
Raising loving livestock so that your farm is not just a farm, but a family, is possible to do. When our animals interact with the community or with our grandkids, or us, it is a very deeply touching experience due to their level of trust and pleasure that goes both ways within our ‘anfam’. We encourage new urban and micro-farmers to consider that little bit of extra time and effort to develop an ‘anfam’ way of life on the farm. The rewards are great not just for the heart but also for the pocketbook as the new urban micro-farm buyers who tend to be young families with children or retirees who want an outlet for their grandkids, prefer the loveability factor when purchasing their founding flock.