Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Our Farming Responsibility

Any time you breed and raise animals for any reason, you will have to deal with excess animals. Whether breeding chickens for eggs or goats for milk or horses for pets, you will have to responsibly take care of the extra and unwanted animals that may happen from planned or unplanned matings.

When hatching chickens, there is always a chance that you will get roosters. Roosters aren't very useful to the small farmer because roosters don't lay eggs, they can be noisy, and they tend to fight with each other or harass the hens. Hens are more desirable because they are the ones that lay the eggs thus producing something in return for their upkeep. Many people decide to forego the chance of hatching roosters by ordering sexed chicks from a hatchery. This way you are mostly guaranteed to have only hens when you want them. The farmer circumvents the responsibility of taking care of unwanted roosters by laying that responsibility on the hatchery. The hatcheries deal with their extra roosters by either selling them at a discount price or euthanizing them humanely. Any roosters that remain after the orders for the day are filled get euthanized because they cannot be shipped after they are 48 hours old because they will die during shipment.

When hatching chicks on the farm, the farmer has to be prepared for the possibility of high percentages of roosters. The most appropriate way to get rid of extra roosters is to butcher them yourself. Unfortunately most egg laying breeds and almost all ornamental chickens are not good candidates for eating. They take a very long time to mature to any size and the meat can be tough due to the age at which the roosters are mature enough to identify them as roosters. They will provide meat if you are willing to work for it. If you want more robust roosters that might make better broilers or roasters, consider crossing your egg laying or ornamental hens with larger breed roosters. The chicks will be a mixture of the two breeds and may have more meat on them than the purebreds. If you are trying to produce purebred hens that come from smaller breeds then be prepared to have lots of low quality rooster meat to use that will take more time to butcher than it may be worth. Have a plan in place for this problem. These roosters may only be good for stews or chicken stock. Some farmers turn their unwanted roosters into homemade dog biscuits or cat treats. Taking time to consider what you will do with any possible roosters produced is a responsible thing to do before hatching chickens.

Unwanted animals in goat dairy farming are common. Does are the only ones that can produce milk. They must be mated and have kids in order to produce that milk. Bucks are needed for mating but they are not needed for anything else. Wethers can make good pets but are totally useless and can be quite a hassle to feed and house with very little return on investment. Since goats need to have kids to produce milk, there will always be an excess of goats on any farm. Dealing with this excess is very important.

The farmer should take care to breed only as many does as milk is needed. If you want milk for your family of 3, then you really only need one goat to produce more than enough milk. Don't breed ten goats because you will be stuck with lots of extra kids and lots of extra milk, which is a waste. When considering breeding your dairy goat, you should carefully think about will do with those kids when they are on the ground. If you want to sell them as future milk producers then you should breed your doe to a buck who will bring in good genetic qualities that will make the kids good producers. If you want your kids to be for meat then you should breed your doe to a meat buck so your kids will grow fast and beefy. Buck selection is just as important as doe selection with every mating. Don't just breed your does to whatever buck you can find or else you can be stuck with a lot of useless kids. Be careful when mixing breeds of goats.

Be sure to analyze the goat market in your area before you start breeding. Do people want purebred goats who are registered or do they want mixed breeds who produce a decent amount of milk? Is there a goat meat demand in the area? Also figure out what people expect from the goats. Do people want them tame and bottle-fed for family farming? Do they want them dam-raised and wild for brush control? Do they want them disbudded or wethered? What disease tests do people in your area demand? Do the goats need to be CAE negative? Do some planning ahead of time so you don't have dump your extra goats on Craigslist when you need to get rid of them. Watch the markets in your area and talk to other local goat people to see what is most desirable. You may want to raise purebred Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats but if no one in your area will pay the price you want for them then you may have to change your plans a little.

Once the kids are on the ground, you must have a plan for what to do with them. If they are does, decide if you want to keep them or not and where you will sell them if you don't want to keep them. If they are bucks, decide if they are good enough for breeding or if they need to be wethered. Even if you are raising bucks for meat, I recommend wethering them quickly so you can avoid any problems with them breeding your does when you aren't looking.
Try not to sell wethers as pets. Too many people buy them when they are cute and cuddly, then the wether grows up into a large goat who eats too much and takes too much time to care for. The people then either sell the wether to the next unsuspecting chump or butcher him or shoot him or dump him. A wether's life is not an easy one!

Butchering kids is a great way to deal with unwanted goats at home. They can be butchered as newborns and dressed out like a rabbit or chicken. They can also be milk fed and raised to 3 - 6 months old to be butchered out with a little more meat on them. Goat meat is very similar to venison and can be quite delicious. Many foreign countries rely on goat meat. Call your local butcher or slaughterhouse to find out if there is an ethnic demand for goat meat in your area. This may help you decide what to do with the goats you produce.

Unwanted horses are a real problem. If you want to find a free horse, just look on Craigslist on the first day of autumn. You will see hundreds of ads for free or very cheap horses that people are trying to get rid of before they have to feed them through another winter. Horses are a particular problem in farming because they aren't butchered to eat (or at least Americans frown on this practice for some reason) and they usually serve no real purpose. Horses are large and eat a lot of grain, hay, and pasture. They need daily care and usually desire consistent handling. They also can live a very long time. Most farmers do not use their horses for anything that pays for their upkeep. Some horses are used for work on the farm but most are merely enjoyed for recreation.

People like to breed horses because the foals are cute and they dream that they can make money selling the babies. Unfortunately the foals grow up into unruly horses that need to be trained, fed, and cared for. Also horses are a dime-a-dozen in this economic climate so no one is going to pay big bucks for a horse anymore. This leaves us with tons of unwanted horses and no one who wants them. Very rarely is a horse born on the same farm that it lives on and dies on. Most of the time a horse is passed from owner to owner until it finally dies from poor care, starvation, lack of veterinary services, injury, euthanasia, or (rarely) old age. Not many people want to deal with the increased demands of an older horse. Usually about the time the horse becomes 18-20 years old the current owner is trying hard to dump it somewhere where they won't have to pay for its special feed, special hay, and special vet care.

Being a responsible horse owner means being very careful about producing unwanted horses. You may have a wonderful mare who would make wonderful babies but if no one wants them then you are really condemning them to the least humane and most inconsiderate form of life. I believe that no life at all is much better than a life filled with horrible experiences. Take care to decide if you can care for another horse before breeding yours. If you can't keep the foal, why assume that someone else will care for it??

As farmers and caretakers of animals, it is our duty and responsibility to take care to honor those animal lives. We need to carefully consider each life that we create. If we take the responsibility to create that life then we must take the responsibility to care for that life, even if it means that we have to end that life in a humane way. We cannot assume that someone else will care for the lives we create. Thus we must believe that the creation of that life in the first place is our largest responsibility as a farmer.