Livestock Farming :Searching Outside the Box

Livestock farming doesn't have to be cows, goats and chickens! We looked to other alternative livestock to find what fit our dream homestead! It can be a deeper learning curve but when the perfect livestock works it just brings you closer to your dream! Worth the effort! #homesteader #livestockfarming

Livestock farming can be hard in the beginning! Finding the perfect animal for your climate, land, and needs when there are so many choices can be confusing. Often an animal may work out ok but they don't fit in with the personality of the farmer. Something that is rarely talked about but just as important! Your dream homestead isn't going to be very 'dream like' if your animals make you crazy! 😒

Sometimes things just don't work out

We've been through the livestock. Just about every breed of goat available in America, 5 breeds of sheep,, so many chicken & duck breeds, different breeds of hogs, many breeds of rabbits and so on! Sometimes it was the 'breed', like with hogs for us. Hogs work for our climate and our land.  My husband enjoys taking care of them because, for the most part, they are lower input than most livestock. The AGH didn't fill our needs after a while though. We needed a hog that had larger litters with more income potential so the Meishan fit perfect! More about that here The Heritage pig breed we had never heard of that fit our farm perfect!

But with Goats, it was a different situation. They fit our land, filled our needs for meat (and milk before I became allergic) but didn't fit our climate very well. Nor did they fit my personality. They drove me insane with their high input deworming needs and other health issues. The smell of the buck really interrupted my 'dream' homestead. I need to walk outside and smell fresh air, flowers, horses! Not a musty buck stank 🤢

We were searching for the right animals and/or breed to fit our land and climate with the lowest input possible and greatest use of available natural resources. We started looking outside the box. Just because it is no longer a popular animal to raise as livestock doesn't mean it won't work for my small farm!  Again, some things worked, but somethings just didn't due to no fault of the animals themselves!
Livestock farming! Raising pigeons for meat

Livestock Farming and Searching Outside the Box 

Meat Pigeons, I wish they had worked!

There are many pros to keeping meat pigeons! And Of course cons like any other livestock. But overall they were pretty great! I was introduced to the meat when I worked at a Moroccan restaurant in Atlanta. It was called squab. I had no idea at the time that it was a pigeon and I didn't care! It was the most delicious meat I ever ate! When I found out what it was I did not care! It was SO good! I knew if someday I was blessed enough to have a farm I'd want to try to raise my own succulent squab meat!

So why didn't they work out?

The number one reason they didn't work is I suspect my breeding stock was highly inbred.
I got them from a breeder who had just let them mate over the years without tracking them. They had babies that grew up, paired up and mated no matter if they were brother and sister or not. He did not leg tag them so there was no telling how related they were.

I normally wouldn't have bought breeding stock from someone who bred like this but I was desperate! I had been looking for breeders within 4 hours of me for years!
They had problems being good mothers and laying consistently. The babies were sometimes very weak and didn't live at all.
Utility meat pigeons are extremely rare and their genetic base is very small. They are not cheap livestock to buy but if you can find good breeding stock you will have some of the nicest meat you can produce! 

Raising Pigeons for meat

Raising Pigeons for meat is nothing new!! Squab meat has been raised for centuries! It's been a meat served at high-end restaurants for many years! Here is an article dated 1970 from Mother Earth News about raising meat pigeons Raise Pigeons for Meat

They are very low input! They don't need a lot of room but they do need to be able to fly and exercise. The parent pigeons do all the work! They brood and raise the babies themselves. They start another nest of 2 eggs before the others are kicked out. If you have good breeding stock!
livestock farming pigeons for meat

Pigeons tend to be very prolific in the spring and summer. Eggs take 2 weeks to hatch, then squab is ready to eat in about 4 weeks. They are super fast to process!

They don't eat a lot. But they are seed eaters. Meaning none of my natural resources or gardens could feed them except my grain corn crops. I would have had to grow some other grains to feed them from our farm.
I might have done that if my stock had been more prolific.

I really liked them! I do admit I miss them...I really miss them! Their cooing and bathing .. Such beautiful birds! Birds I searched for years to purchase,,, it was a little heartbreaking for me to let them go. But I can't keep ALL the livestock animals. I have to focus on the animals I get the most out of and I can raise the most efficient way. Which for me means I can raise them without a feed store if I had too.

I won't say I'll never try these again if I could find quality breeding stock from someone raising for meat and keeping records.

There isn't a lot of information about meat pigeons online. I found this website and her ebook to be helpful, although she states that her pigeons ate vegetable and greens. Mine never would. Different breed maybe?
Pigeons for Meat

Donkeys Work and Took the place of 2 common animals that didn't! 

Donkeys took the place of 2 animals we had here on the farm that wasn't working out very well. Goats and Livestock Guardian dogs. 
This saved me a lot of money and time. Donkeys are much lower input and economical than lgds and dairy goat for us personally.

Replacing LGD's 

I was really tired of LGD's that killed poultry or ate baby lambs! If they didn't kill adult birds they usually killed chicks if they didn't kill chicks they still ate my eggs! Or escaping the fencing to roam! I even had several LGDs develop a taste for other animals feed so then they wouldn't allow the animals to eat their food! Sometimes they would guard the shelter and not let them inside during bad weather.

Lgd's are used by many but for me, they cost us a lot of money and caused a multitude of problems on my farm! They also clashed with my personality. I'm used to highly trainable obedient dogs like Dobermans and Poodles. None of the lgd breeds are very smart compared to the dog breeds I love. 

Donkeys don't eat eggs or newborn baby animals! It's easy to feed them separately if I have too. They won't tear through a fence to steal chicken food! Nor, do they break out of fencing and roam the area. Leaving my stock at risk and risking damage to a neighbors property. They are more trainable than an lgd! Yes, the stubborn donkey is more trainable than an lgd! For me anyways.

I did do my research and got an older trained donkey to start. Donkeys and equine are a bit different than most livestock. Not harder by any means, but they have different needs. 

Replacing Goats

Ok, Let me get this out of the way. My donkeys didn't take the place of goat's used as meat! Although donkey meat is sought after in China, Italy and many other parts of the world, equine is not on my menu! 

But Donkeys did take the place of goats for dairy, weed eating and manure for the gardens!

Donkeys For Milk

Equine milk, such as Mare's milk and Donkey milk, is nothing new either! The domestication of donkeys has been around for hundreds of years and so has the practice of milking them and using the milk as a food, a beauty product and medicinally!

I had been having some health problems for years and it sounded like donkey milk could help. I seriously didn't know how much longer I would be able to farm or do much of anything! Long story short donkey milk helped and got me on a road back to health! They will always have a special place because of that!
It also revived my soap and skin care business. Goat milk soap has become over saturated in the market. Donkey milk, which is actually better for mature and allergy prone skin allowed me to not only revive the business but raise my prices because donkey milk skin care products are rare in the USA.
Plus it is absolutely the best-tasting milk I've ever had. I'm not a milk drinker and That's saying a lot! I've had raw jersey cow milk, sheep milk, all breeds of goats milk and even camel milk. Donkey is lite and sweet! It's actually refreshing! A word I would never use to describe any other milk.

Donkeys do not require the higher quality legumes and grain most goats need to be productive for milking. They do not give as much milk as a full size improved dairy goat but my small standard donkey gives me a quart a day on my dairy management program. That's plenty for us!

Donkeys for weed control

My brambles and unimproved pastures work great for donkeys! They actually do a better job at weed eating than goats. They also never get their head caught in the fencing and other non-sense goats did!

No animal will eat ALL of the weeds! Donkeys did better than goats, but Icelandic sheep cleared the land the best of any animal I've had. So if pasture improvement, clearing brambles and wood lots are a goal for you get a few Icelandic sheep and a guard donkey!

Donkey Manure for gardens 

It wasn't until donkeys that I could finally stop trucking in compost and manure for my gardens. All the poultry and ruminants we had through the years never produced enough to feed my vegetables and grain corn. The mass amounts of manure they produce is amazing for my ever-growing 4 season gardens!
This was an important part of our homesteading goal. Producing all the compost we need right on the farm to feed our gardens!

Donkeys other uses

They have other uses too. Riding, working, packing! You can read more about their uses in these 2 post What are donkeys good for?
and Other Products Donkeys Provide on a farm
If you think donkeys may be right for your farm read my ebook before you bring one home! It will prepare you and let you know what to expect.

Replacing 2 high input animals with 1 was huge for our farm!

Lgd's and Goats are great useful livestock for the right people and farm!! Just not this farm!

Turkeys didn't work for us unfortunately 

And I come to turkeys! Though not an uncommon livestock farming animal. They aren't very popular on small modern farms.

The turkeys are wonderful, interesting, beautiful birds to watch like pigeons. Back and forth I went on keeping them. My husband even really liked them! And he's not really into the poultry at all!

We tried 2 breeds. We preferred the Midget Whites. They ate less and weighed about the same at slaughter time as the Bourbon Reds. They are both rare heritage breeds.
You can read more about the Midget White and Bourbon red history on Slow Food USA
and Livestock Conservancy
livestock farming turkeys

They were actually easy to process for a large bird! Extremely delicious unlike any turkey I've ever tasted they were worth growing! Except...

Why didn't Turkeys work out here?

First, they were a bit delicate to raise as poults. For the first time ever I had to buy medicated food. I've raised many breeds of ducks, chickens, geese, and quail and I never had to buy medicated feed. But these guys just started dying and that was the only thing that saved them.
They ate a lot of grain. A LOT of grain! So they were way more input that I like to mess with.

Ultimately they couldn't' stay because they kept getting into my gardens and before long they would have been getting out of fences with no donkey to protect them. I'm not into feeding the local coyotes. And that was the end of that!
Turkeys must go :-( 

If I was ever to raise Turkeys again it would be the Midget whites and I got them here Midget White Turkeys

Livestock Farming Outside the Box

I've learned so much by looking outside the box when it comes to livestock farming and the gardens too!

Sometimes trying a little known breed can work out nice like
Silkie Chickens for productive homestead poultry!!
or the very rare but quickly gaining popularity Meishan hog! These hogs, domesticated over 5,000 years ago were exactly what our homestead needed when 3 other breeds didn't work out. Here is more info on them Meishan Pig Info and a video!

So yes, I'm sad turkeys and the pigeons didn't quite work out for us personally. But thankful I discovered one outside the box livestock experiment works like a charm and replaces 2 that didn't make the cut!

As always, Its a Journey!!
Have a blessed week and happy productive Homesteading! 

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