Basic Livestock Care for Beginners
If you are just starting out in small farming without much experience in raising animals, you’ll need to commit to learning about how to care for them responsibly before bringing them onto your farm. Whether you are planning to focus on raising animals to contribute to a livelihood or just want a few around the property for the farm experience, all animals need appropriate care.
As an owner, you must provide food, water, exercise, and appropriate shelter every day. You’ll also need to learn the basics of health care and recognise warning signs that your animals might be ill.
Animal Husbandry 101
Animal Husbandry is the term given to the care, raising and breeding of livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry. It’s crucial that you have a handle on the basic needs of animal care before launching into stocking your small farm with livestock.
Good husbandry, hygiene and proper nutrition are all essential to farm animal health. At a basic level, you should ensure that your small farm animals have:
- Clean water in sufficient quantities daily (dairy cows for example need up to 150 litres each a day!)
- Sufficient food and supplements to meet nutritional requirements
- Clean, disease free living conditions including paddocks and shelters
- Essential grooming including hoof care and shearing
- Room to exercise safely, including fencing to keep them from harm
- Companions for herd animals such as alpacas and goats
- Regular interaction from you/other carers so the animals are conditioned to be around people
- Health oversight including regular drenching for worms
Familiarising yourself with the healthy state of your animals and keeping an eye out for health warning signs is an essential part of caring for livestock. When you check on your animals regularly, you will become attuned to their normal behaviour and be able to quickly become aware of any warning signs that your animals are becoming unwell, such as:
- Weight loss/loss of appetite
- Decreased or affected milk supply in dairy animals
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Unusual movement such as limping, difficulty standing or changes in stance
- Swelling of body parts
- Nasal or eye discharge
While having a good vet on hand is essential if you own livestock, learning animal healthcare skills is important if you are planning to keep any animals at all. Not only will these skills help you intervene before your animal get beyond help, but you will save on veterinary bills by being able to undertake basic care, such as drenching, yourself. You should also be able to monitor your flock’s vital signs include temperature, pulse and respiration so you can pick up signs of illness.
The most valuable tool for treating animal injuries or wounds is a well-stocked first aid kit. You must be prepared to administer basic emergency care for your animals, in case a vet can’t reach you immediately. Put together a basic first aid kit with all the essentials including:
- Absorbent cotton, bandages and gauze dressing pads
- Adhesive tape
- Antiseptic scrub
- latex gloves
- rectal thermometer
- Oral syringe (for dosing medications by mouth)
- Sterile saline solution (for rinsing wounds and removing debris from eyes)
Ask your vet or other local landholders for advice on local diseases and parasites that may affect your animals and monitor them for any signs of illness.
The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) requires that every property keeping livestock must have a Property Identification Code (PIC) and tag animals correctly to assist in tracking movements. Even small farmers keeping just a few animals must have a PIC, which helps manage livestock movements to control spread of disease. All livestock movements must be recorded on the NLIS Database.
If you are not experienced at keeping livestock, it’s important that you learn about Animal Husbandry rather than relying solely on trial and error. The top ways to gain experience are:
- Formal learning look for courses run by TAFE or sponsored by your State agricultural deportment. There are also some online learning opportunities.
- Short courses and workshops are often available on specific aspects of husbandry, for example free range pigs or keeping alpacas
- Reading blogs, articles and books on farm animal care for hobby farmers.
- Talk and/or gaining experience with other local farmers
- Seeking guidance from experts such as your vet.
Choose well and start small
When it comes to animal husbandry, start small and choose your animals well. Depending on your lifestyle, your interests and the amount of effort you want to put into your small farm, there may be more appropriate livestock and farm animal choices for you. Some popular small farm animals are listed below.
Alpacas are popular guard animals for protecting flocks of sheep, make cute pets and can also produce beautiful fleece for sale. As companion animals, they need company so ensure you understand the psychology of alpacas before investing.
Most cattle enterprises in Australia, be they meat or dairy, are large scale. Small farmers may be interested in raising grass fed or specialty cattle, including rare breeds. Beef cattle are a much lower maintenance choice for small farmers. They don’t require elaborate facilities and can be treated effectively for illnesses. However, they do require reasonably large quantities of water and you should be on the lookout for any nutritional issues as well as pests and parasites.
Chickens are possibly the easiest livestock to manage on a small farm, just needing a safe shelter, food (including kitchen scraps) and water. Good fencing is essential to protect your chooks from foxes or other predators. Delicious fresh eggs are a great reward for keeping chickens.
Instead of a traditional coop, consider whether a chicken tractor would suit your property better:
Goats are hardy and well suited to the Australian climate, and highly productive. They can be kept for meat, dairy, fibre or as pets and will keep your meadows well grazed. As companion animals, you need at least two goats if you want them to thrive. Dairy goats do require a much more intensive level of care than those kept for other purposes.
Organic, humanely raised pork is in increasing demand and if you are interested in pigs, they can be a profitable purchase. Pigs are also renowned as one of the most intelligent animals and can be a pleasure to keep. However, there are specific rules and guidelines around keeping pigs including nutrition and disease that you must be aware of, so it’s important to be well educated before venturing down this path.
Sheep are another popular small farm animal that can be raise for meat, fleece or even dairy. Again, they need to be kept in a flock to thrive. There are many different breeds of sheep and you can suit one that suits your property i.e. sheep suited to dryer areas. While sheep aren’t high maintenance, malnutrition, worms and other parasites and lameness can be common problems, and you need to have a management plan in place when you own sheep to ensure they are kept in good health.
When it comes to farm animals, good hygiene and consistent care can help deter health problems and ensure your animals have a happier, healthier existence and your farm is more successful. Before populating your farm with a whole range of different animals, ensure you have the animal husbandry skills to care for them effectively. Remember, all skills are learned start small and put in the effort to educate yourself about animal care and you will reap the rewards.
If you have any questions about animal husbandry, please give us a call on 9651 1312 or drop in to our Moora or Yerecoin store. We are an independent local family-owned Western Australia rural store, and we love sharing our knowledge and experience with our customers.