Thursday, November 3, 2011

Planning for Livestock

We drove up to Portland this past weekend to visit with some of my best old college friends (it was so good to see you guys!) and to stop by a farm in Sandy: Cascade Meadows Farm.  CMF raises all sorts of heritage critters, and most of them are small statured. My main interest was in their Icelandic sheep (a very small and very ancient breed of sheep from Iceland where they served as "the cow" for the community) and Miniature Nubian goats: we want sheep and goats for fiber, milk and meat plus the entertainment of watching some seriously cute critters graze and romp on our property.

Why small livestock, you may ask? Other than having animals with similar dwarf-qualities as our herding corgi dog, we will be small time hobby farmers, with the needs of a small family and the means of small freezers and less need for the massive production that commercial livestock growers have. Commercial growers want the biggest bang for their buck: if they're spending the money to get the animal butchered they want the most poundage off that animal as possible. For the small homesteader, however the need is different. If you're planning on butchering yourself, you need an animal that is manageable in size, but efficient in meat production. Icelandics have an excellent amount of meat for the size of the body, that is delicious and nutritious, and their fiber is multipurpose, with an undercoat suitable for clothing and an outer coat better for rugs. You can even milk them (who doesn't love Manchego???)

The same goes for the mini-Nubians. Full Nubians are really big, really noisy milk goats with a penchant for excape. The smaller versions are bred with Nigerian Dwarves for smaller stature and excellent milk quality and production. They're less noisy and more easily handled during milking time and slaughter. They tend to kid twins or triplets, and goat meat is actually one of the better meats for you, despite it not being commonly eaten here in the states (the only country in the world to NOT commonly eat goat meat).

Kirk also raises Dexter cattle, a small breed of cattle - which makes seeing how small the sheep are in these photos a little screwy.
It was a rainy day (gosh, rain in Oregon?) so their fleeces are wet, but you can see their lovely colors. You may not be able to tell how small they are, but they're pretty teeny, have naturally bobbed tails and come both polled and with horns.

We liked what we saw in CMF's Icelandics and liked what we heard about Kirk (the farmer)'s breeding methodology. He's no longer breeding mini-Nubians, but had some of his old goats at the neighbor's house for us to look at. Beautiful! I think we will most likely be getting our ewes from CMF, but may have to source our mini Nubians elsewhere. We're excited to have a source of excellent breeding stock, plus tons of information: gotta love a farmer who will talk to you about sheep and pigs for 2 hours straight, and is willing to lend lots more advice as we get closer to raising our own.

What we didn't expect while on the farm was to fall in love with a completely different kind of animal. We're now obsessed with American Guinea Hogs. Kirk passionately says that if he had only one type of livestock on his farm, it would be guinea hogs. If you're at all familiar with pigs, you may find that hard to believe. Pigs are known to root up pastures and make a mess of just about everything, plus they're really big! Guinea hogs are different! A. They're pretty small. The piglets were the size of Pocket and the boar was about half the size of a commercial sow. B. They're friendly.  Kirk's boar came right up to us for some belly scratching and some happy grunts. C. They graze! That's right, no rooting. No messing up the hedges. They are happy to graze all day long, and what's even better, they're happy to dispatch all your compost, your butchering waste, even your dead of old age livestock. We're obsessed with this incredibly useful and apparently delicious breed of pig and have put a breeding pair of Guinea hogs at the top of our 'livestock to do' list.

Kirk's full grown boar, complete with sharp tusks: what a friendly push over for the belly rubs. You can see how much smaller he is than a big commercial boar that wold be about twice his size.

We'll probably also be adding a Pygora goat wether to the team (i need pretty soft wool for hats and other next-to-the-skin garments), angora and meat rabbits are for sure, and will keep an Icleandic ram lamb and a billy kid for breeding our ewes and does to to be self sufficient, culling and eating the kids and lambs (and ewes and does) that don't cut the mustard. More on livestock management and breeding programs when the time comes. For now we dream, plan, research and learn in preparation for our extended wolly/furry family. We're pragmatic and ready to organically learn and decide which breeds work for us and which don't. I'm ready to change my mind. I'm ready to be disapointed. But i'm also ready to bring home those first animals and get a thrill out of all our 'firsts' with our livestock.

Pocket is so ready to get her 'herding' on, but she's not sure what to think about these piglets.

Do you have livestock? How did you finally decide which breeds to get?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you so much for your feedback, especially if you've cooked one of my recipes or tried one of my tips: let me know how it turned out!