Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Myth of Farming

There's a modern myth being supported throughout America today. It's the myth that farming is easy. I have many friends who have decided that since raising animals looks like fun on TV and in magazines, that they are going to give it a whirl. They see pictures of smiling families surrounded by fat and happy cows, chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, etc. They think that farming is as easy as getting some free animals on Craigslist and bringing them home. It's not that easy.

First of all, once you get the animals home you have to have somewhere to put them. I have heard many horror stories of people keeping animals in inadequate enclosures only to have the animals either escape and get killed or have varmints enter the enclosures to kill the animals. It is not usually mentioned in the glossy "farming" magazines that goats can jump over almost any fencing, cows can push through most barriers, and that not much stops a weasel from breaching a chicken coop. Most of my friends that brought their animals home to ill-prepared housing, wound up with dead animals in short order. It's not as easy as just getting the animals to your property and then letting them go to live idyllically with you.

Secondly, once you have secured adequate housing for the animals that keeps them in and varmints out, you must feed the animals. All animals need to be fed on a daily basis. Unless you have a large pasture situation with fresh, free flowing water all the time; you must feed and water your animals daily, if not twice daily. If you live in a location where snow is on the ground for weeks at a time, then you most certainly have to feed your animals daily at least part of the year. They cannot be expected to survive and produce through the winter without gathered forage and fresh water. When considering housing for your animals, you must also consider food storage and water accessibility. If you have hooved animals, then you must certainly have hay. Hay takes up a lot of real estate and is tricky to transport and store. My same friends that brought their animals home to inadequate enclosures, also brought them home to inadequate food and water supplies. The animals that weren't killed from poor housing, died due to starvation or disease related to poor food sources.

Third, animals cannot be expected to live on food and water only. Each species has health needs beyond just food, water, and housing. Chickens need to be dusted periodically for lice, they need to be dewormed occasionally, they need supplemental calcium, and they need the right combination of vitamins and minerals to produce eggs. Goats must be supplemented with minerals at all times, they need to be dewormed periodically, they have vaccinations that must be administered, their hooves constantly need trimming, and if they are milk goats they need to be properly milked every day, twice a day. People don't often think of the other things that go into raising animals beyond food and housing. When their chickens mysteriously die due to massive mite infestation or their goats die from worms, that is when they learn the hard truth about supplemental health care. They don't learn it from TV commercials and movies.

Lastly, animals are a lot of work. Beyond needing to be fed and watered daily, their enclosures must be cleaned periodically, their housing must be repaired, the water buckets need to be cleaned, and the list goes on and on. If you have dairy animals, you must milk them daily, twice a day, every single day. You can't skip a milking just because you have something else to do. This can spell disaster for any milk producing animal. If you have meat animals, then you have to get them from living animals to edible pieces of meat somehow. This takes a lot of thought and effort.

In conclusion, I would like to see more magazines show the true colors of farming. I would like to see people who have learned the hard truths of farming tell their friends and neighbors who want to get animals. All animals deserve to be treated well and ignorance of proper animal care is no excuse for the death of the animal.