For the past couple of years we discuss off an on whether or not to add additional livestock to our farm venture. Christmas trees, vegetables and chickens - that is what we were working on and I decided that we wouldn't add anything new until we were able to successfully grow these things. The better part of last year was spent carefully growing little man and very little got accomplished on the farm. But we knew if we didn't take the next step progress would halt and the farm would remain Christmas trees, chickens for personal use and a large home garden.
Pigs were an intermediary and DH assured me that they would be here for a few months and feed us for the entire winter; that they have done. We are still eating pork from those two and the freezer still holds hams and bacons waiting to be cured. Swine have returned to the farm in a pasture situation, supplemented with commercial feed. Perhaps soon I will know enough about grass-fed pigs to try it completely without commercial supplement. They have been the easiest animal to raise so far. Increased fly populations this year do not appear to be adversely affecting them and I have been watching them carefully for all other sorts of afflictions like worms or respiratory problems, which thankfully there have been none of.
I finally decided that we could try rabbits so I joined the ARBA and got the Storey book on rabbits, borrowed several others from the library, devoured Internet postings, joined message boards and learned what I thought was almost next to nothing about raising rabbits. In another post I describe how we actually came into having rabbits at the farm. Their shed remains only half constructed and perhaps sometime before winter they will be out of the garage. Diarrhea has struck again - it is taking a toll on the rabbits with three passing away so far this week. It is with trepidation that I even consider adding another type of livestock to the farm.
Changing my work situation means that I am on the farm more and can take the time needed to make the garden successful, maintain the Christmas trees, make repairs to the chicken coop, etc. However, there always seems to be something that gets in the way - whether little man refuses to sit in his play pen for 60 seconds or the lawn tractor breaking this week or the brakes going in the car - something tries its level best to distract us. Research is being done on sheep. The pasture is already here on the farm with a significant amount of fence that can be recycled. Although reading voraciously about ailments and care of these animals and problems with the lambing process, I am concerned that I will not be prepared or able to handle that with which I will be faced. They are an ideal animal for the farm in that their value added products number three: wool, meat and milk. I know for certain I do not have the fencing for goats so they are not an option at this time and should they escape my other crop, Christmas trees, may not survive.
Dairy requirements of the farm and market may not be met with the milk production of a few milking ewes. Market cannolis use more than 96 ounces of ricotta cheese per week and at a grocery store cost of almost $4.00 for a third that much cheese, my bottom line is taking a pounding. This does not include other milk and cheese requirements for quiches, cookies, cream pies, etc. I know next to nothing about raising cows, but perhaps it may be time to learn.
That pasture once held heifers and should easily be re-used to hold milking cows with an appropriately sized solar fence charger. Milk from one cow will be sufficient for both her calf and for the milk needs of the farm. Housing for a cow can be constructed using salvaged materials and other lumber can be harvested from the farm. More resources are available in my immediate area on raising a milking cow, Franklin County is the dairy capital of Vermont. Beef from the calves or dry cows can be processed for farm use. I will have to look into either grass-fed options or the cost of feed for a cow, especially over the winter, and their access to water will have to be modified as the one pond in the pasture has since been pretty much overtaken with cattails and silt. Perhaps it is time to get a cow. Oh, Miss Librarian...