Animal husbandry describes the day-to-day care, breeding and the raising of livestock, primarily for food. Archeologists have uncovered evidence that our ancestors began domesticating wolves about 21,000 years ago, after the beginning of the current Ice Age. Livestock followed beginning 10,000 years ago. Although we have made advances in the technology we use to care for our animals, nothing has really changed in all that time. We still provide food, healthy living conditions, and protection from predation by species other than us. Over the years, selective breeding techniques have advanced as well.
The Role of Animal Husbandry in Agriculture
Depending on the goals of the operation, raising animals may or may not be desirable. If animals are a part of your plans, it is vital that you develop systems to feed, protect, and continue the lines of your livestock. Which systems you implement depend on:
- Type of animal
- Your farm’s environment
- What your goals are for your livestock
Types of Livestock on Your Farm
The most common types of animals chosen for livestock are birds and mammals. They require fewer specialized resources overall. Less common types of livestock are fish and invertebrates. Birds and mammals commonly use a combination of grazing and free-ranging with some type of confined structures for protection during the night. There are thousands of great sources for safe, east-to-maintain structures that you can either build or purchase. The decision to build or purchase will depend on how you manage your financial resources. Fish require a completely different set of accommodations, nutrition, and health regimens.
Your Farm’s Environment
When you choose your location, you choose which livestock you can succeed with. There are ways and techniques you can use to expand the animals that can survive in a location but there are limits. The more you try and force a particular species into an ecological zone where it doesn’t normally thrive, the more work you are setting yourself up for. In general, if someone was successful raising species X in your area, you can reasonably expect better chances of success. Ask yourself these questions. Can my chosen mix of livestock get all they need by free-ranging or can I get enough supplemental feed nearby? Can these breeds live year around in the local climate or will I have to spend a lot to control the climate sufficiently for their survival? Are these breeds known to be hardy and disease-resistant or will I need to spend an inordinate amount of time watching over them?
What Is the Ultimate Goal for Your Livestock?
There are two primary goals most people have for their livestock. Either they will use them to feed their family or they will raise them to sell. Most successful operations use both goals in some percentage of each other. If you choose to both use and sell your livestock, you have to decide the split. This is largely driven by your revenue goals for the stock you will sell. So, it is important to build this system carefully based on the farms business plan. For pure subsistence farming, it’s important to be just as exacting in your approach. The stakes are just as high for a family as for the bottom line of a business.
How Do I Learn All of This?
In short, working a farm is a never-ending journey. You need to use all of the resources at your disposal. You need to read and learn from experiences farmers and homesteaders. You need to network with people who know. In addition, there are many courses springing up daily from experienced, expert members of the community. We’ve put a few resources below to get your started. Whatever way you choose, the most important step is the first one.