PHOTO: Jesse Frost
Before you get a new animal of any kind, you should always make sure you have what you need. How are your fences? Where will your water come from? Do you have sheds, a good hay source, enough pasture? These are all essential to ensuring you have a successful and less stressful experience raising the livestock of your choosing.
However, there is one less obvious, but equally important, factor to consider when raising animals. Namely, can they make you money? Pigs can be great for both grazing pastures and forests, but what does the pork market look like around you? If there are two pork purveyors at every market, chances are that it’s going to be harder to sell your meat.
If you want to add animals to your farm, take a few minutes to run through these considerations. They may very well save you from an expensive experience and a freezer full of unsold meat.
Do Market Research
Perhaps the single most important factor in determining which animal to get is whether or not you can sell what it produces. A lot can go into choosing livestock, but if the market is saturated with what your animal of choice offers, that should have some say in your choice in raising them.
First, determine how many similar producers are in your area and markets. Then ask chefs what they lack. Go to farmers markets, put out a call for input on your Facebook page, and really spend some time researching how your product will sell. The profit margin in animal production can be small and slow at first, but nothing is more expensive than wasted product. That said, you do have some wiggle room if you really think one animal works better than the others, regardless of the saturation market.
Raising Animals For Meat & Dairy
With the above in mind, raising animals for meat does give you a lot of options. Pigs can be turned into sausage or brats, sold as whole hogs, cut into a variety of other products, and even used for lard. If pigs are on your mind, don’t let an over-saturation of pork in the marketplace immediately scare you away. Perhaps there’s a hole in the supply of local hams, bacon, lard or plain ground pork. Be thorough in your investigations so as not to write off the animal of choice before fully vetting the opportunities.
Dairy is perhaps the easiest of all products to value-add. It can be turned into any number of different items—cheese, yogurt, kefir, ice cream, butter—or sold as raw milk (if you follow your local laws, of course). Just because there are a lot of cheese and soup makers around, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a yogurt or butter artisan.
Raising Animals For Fiber
Raising animals for less perishable items, like fiber, gives you an enormous amount of flexibility. Perhaps no one is selling these items locally, and you can peddle your fiber next to your food. If you have an excess and you have all the steps from sheering to spinning nailed down, it may even be worth contacting local suppliers and asking if they’d be interested in some of your product. Do this before you buy the animals if possible. Contacting as many possible outlets as possible may very well give you an idea of how big the market is for that item, thus informing you as to how big or small you should make your operation.
Raising Animals For Fun Or Fertility
Two alternative reasons people may get animals are for their ability to increase fertility and because animals are a lot of fun to watch. So long as the animals you choose are more beneficial than time consuming, these are great things. However, I would recommend that any animals you get should to at least pay for their upkeep.
Animals will eventually need new fences, new waterers, et cetera, so if you are subsidizing your livestock with another venture, like the garden or a second job, suddenly they become expensive fertilizers. But even if you don’t want to sell meat, diary or fiber, you still have options for revenue from animals.
For one, some farmers sell tickets to a field day where people can come out and see the baby animals in the spring. That money can then go toward upkeep. You can also invest in good genetics or rarer breeds that are not abundant in your area. This would enable you to breed them, and you could ultimately sell the offspring for a large enough profit to keep the animals grazing.
Having experienced many aspects of animal rearing at this point, I highly recommend thinking all of this through before ever bringing an animal onto the property.