You Can, But Should You?

Author: Dr. Susan Kerr, DVM, Washington State University - Klickitat County Extension

Publish Date: Spring 2013

Perhaps you’ve just acquired some acreage and your dream has always been to raise livestock as part of your home food production plan; maybe you plan to sell products to your neighbors or even beyond. That’s great! We have a many helpful Extension resources to support your efforts; Extension educators are strong advocates of local food systems and those who want to produce high quality, safe and wholesome food products.

HOWEVER (you knew a HOWEVER was coming…), just because you have the space, time and even desire to raise livestock doesn’t mean you should. Really. I mean it.

Animals are living, breathing, feeling beings that need care on a daily basis. Much of this care costs money--sometimes lots of it. The purchase price of an animal often is the least expensive aspect of raising it. Livestock require fences, shelter, handling facilities, feed, clean water, waste removal, preventive care, predator control, veterinary care, routine management practices, emergency care and much more. If this list sounds overwhelming, please do not purchase even one animal.

One of the most rewarding moments in my Extension career occurred a few years ago at the University of Alaska’s annual Sustainable Agriculture conference. After giving presentations about goat health and disease, nutrition, predator control, reproduction, selection and other fundamental aspects of raising goats, a very happy prospective goat owner shook my hand and said “Thank you so much for this workshop! It was the best $500 I ever spent! You made me realize I don’t want to have goats if I have to work this hard!” I regarded that as a win-win for this woman and her future goats: they weren’t harmed by her lack of willingness to provide adequate care and she incurred no financial losses or frustration.

It takes a lot of knowledge to raise livestock successfully (meaning they live). It takes a lot more to raise them profitably. Unfortunately, due to rising land, fuel, feed and other costs, it is very difficult to raise livestock profitably, especially for beginners. If you really need to make money with an agricultural enterprise, it is hard to recommend livestock production to a new producer as a sure-fire way to be profitable.

Due to the low return on investment, lack of knowledge, lack of animal selection and many other reasons, it is easy for people to overstock their property with too many animals. Overstocking is an animal welfare issue. Sanitation and individual animal care are affected and preventable diseases soon become the norm. It is tragic when animals die due to preventable conditions including starvation.

Many people who want to raise livestock but are new to this industry don’t know what they don’t know and fall prey to misinformation, particularly from the Internet. Sadly, animals have died from their owners’ lack of research-based information.

Misinformation that I’ve read recently includes:

  • Organic livestock can’t be given vaccinations
  • Livestock can balance their own diets by selecting what they need to eat
  • Livestock know which plants are poisonous and avoid them
  • Blanket statements regarding numbers of animals that can be supported by a given amount of acreage
  • Purebred animals that have given birth to crossbred offspring can never have purebred offspring in the future
  • Garlic, yeast and/or diatomaceous earth are effective dewormers for internal parasites
  • It is natural for sheep to retain their wool throughout their entire life and cruel to shear them.

Livestock owners are obligated to care for the animals that enrich their lives and/or wallets. Educated and responsible owners realize they owe their animals good lives and humane deaths, regardless of species. If you don’t have the time, space, knowledge, skills, resources or motivation to give livestock the care they deserve, please do not purchase even one animal. Really, I mean it.