Sue Weaver lives in the Arkansas Ozarks with her husband and a fine array of animal friends including goats, sheep, horses, chickens, a donkey, a llama and a pet razorback hog. MORE ARTICLES
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A farm without livestock? Unthinkable! A flock of happy chickens, pigs to take to market, a freezer steer—they’re part of most city dwellers’ escape-to-the-good-life plan. Meanwhile, established hobby farmers dream of raising profitable, mortgage-lifting poultry or livestock. But what?
There are countless hobby-farm livestock options to choose from, but which (if any) are right for you? Here we compare some traditional barnyard favorites and a select group of alternative animals to help you choose.
Before launching any animal-related enterprise, be certain you are willing to accept its demands. Not everyone is cut out to keep livestock. Before jumping into a livestock venture, ask yourself these questions:
Ask a host of established hobby farmers and most will agree, there is little (if any) money to be made in commercial livestock. Feeder cattle, market hog and standard lamb-and-wool operations are faltering; however, there are ways you can turn a profit raising farmyard standbys. Many hobby farmers find success in two ways:
Here’s a run-down on some of the most popular livestock for hobby farmers.
Commercial beef prices skyrocketed in 2003; however, more sustainably profitable cattle ventures include marketing specialty beef—certified organic, natural or grassfed—and raising rare breed or miniature cattle.
Beef cattle are a fine choice for hobby farmers. They’re low maintenance and don’t require elaborate facilities. Most folks can manage cattle with a minimum of fuss and local veterinarians can generally treat their illnesses.
Chickens are part and parcel of the rural experience. They demand little beyond a safe place to sleep, feed, water, and a few hours of your time each week spent egg gathering and cleaning their quarters. In trade you get eggs and table meat . It’s a good deal!
Organic, natural and free-range chicken and eggs are health-conscious buyers’ first choices. Tack a sign to your mailbox or market through your local natural-foods co-op. Larger-scale ventures can investigate commercial niche marketing. However you cut it, chickens have a place on every farm.
According to Florida A&M University’s publication “Markets for Meat Goats,” 70 percent of the world’s population regularly dines on goat meat .
As ethnic communities in North America continue to expand, so does the demand for quality goat meat. To answer that demand, roughly 327,000 goat carcasses are imported to the United States each year. In 1999, 492,000 domestic goats were slaughtered at federally inspected meat plants and an additional 300,000 at state inspected or informal facilities. Meat goats are today’s most promising livestock. The demand for goats raised and slaughtered to ethnic specifications vastly exceeds the foreseeable domestic supply.
Viable goat ventures for those opposed to slaughter include dairying, marketing artisan quality goat’s milk cheese, producing high-end Angora and Cashmere fleece for hand spinners, and raising dairy-, meat- or fiber-goat breeding stock.
While many folks dream of raising horses, in reality, few horse breeders manage to turn a consistent profit. Nevertheless, there are always a few “hot” breeds in which money can be made. Can you peg tomorrow’s favorites? If you can, perhaps you’ll be the breeder who beats the odds and makes a living breeding horses.
It’s true: Most small- to medium-sized commercial confinement hog operations have closed shop due to high overhead costs and low pork prices. However, pastured pigs are easily cared for, and organic, humanely raised pork is in demand.
Many folks enjoy working with pigs. If that’s you, investigate those profitable specialty markets; ATTRA can help show you the way. Ask for a free, sustainable pig production report.
Sheep once were considered “mortgage lifters,” now it costs more to shear commercial sheep than the wool is worth. But lamb prices remain fairly strong, especially lamb marketed to coincide with Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious feasts.
Because hair (meat) sheep shed their fleece, they don’t require shearing —and they breed out of season, producing marketable lambs at just the right times. Hair sheep are growing increasingly popular with niche-market lamb producers, making them a best bet project for sheep entrepreneurs.
In 1994, the United States imported 66 million pounds of sheep’s milk cheese. And according to the University of Wisconsin’s report, “A Snapshot of the Dairy Sheep Industry,” meat and wool producers can boost their gross incomes by about 75 percent by milking their ewes. The American dairy sheep industry is in its infancy but rapidly expanding.
Other fruitful sheep ventures include marketing specialty fleeces to hand spinners and raising hair sheep, miniature, rare or heritage sheep breeding stock.
Female alpacas run $10,000-30,000, and a pet or fiber gelding costs $1,000 or more. In the large scope of livestock choices, there are more investment syndicates doing well in alpacas than any other farm-animal investments.
Llamas sell for considerably less than their diminutive cousins, but breeding high-end llamas is cost-effective, too. Llamas can be marketed as pets, pack and cart animals, and as sheep and goat herd sentinels. And both of these friendly camelids produce marketable fleece.
Raising rabbits for pets, fiber (Angora) and table meat makes good sense, but don’t go big-time right away. Proceed with caution and feel out the markets in your area. If you find a meat-rabbit buyer who accepts your fryers or if you’re willing to create a local market, go for it.
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