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How to Keep Livestock and Make Money
Adapted from an article by Sue Weaver, Hobby Farms Magazine
A farm without livestock? Unthinkable! A flock of happy
chickens, pigs to market, fiber producing sheep or alpacas—
they’re part of most city dwellers’ escape-to-the-good-life plan.
Meanwhile, established hobby farmers dream of raising
profitable, mortgage-lifting poultry or livestock. But what?
There are countless hobby-farm livestock options to choose
from, but which (if any)are right for you?
Are You Livestock Ready?
Before launching any animal-related enterprise, be certain you
are willing to accept its demands. Not everyone is cut out to
keep livestock. Before jumping into a livestock venture, ask
yourself these questions:
• Are you willing to be on call for your livestock 24/7, 365
days a year?
Will you dutifully camp in the barn when horses are foaling? Will
you roll out of bed at 2 a.m. to feed a bottle lamb? Are you able
to retrieve escaped cattle and repair their flattened fences
under a sizzling noonday sun, missing that long-anticipated
televised ball game? Animals rarely get hungry, sick, loose or
injured at convenient times.
• Is a livestock sitter available when you need one?
If not, would you forego dinner invitations, overnight trips and
well-deserved vacations to care for your livestock? Keeping
livestock invariably ties you down. Neighbor kids or a vet tech
are good options for vacation care.
• Can you weather the inevitable livestock keeper’s lows?
How will you react when your favorite broodmare shatters her
leg or a weasel slaughters a slew of your prized chickens?
Animals die and injure themselves and each other. Evaluate
whether you can handle these stressors.
• If keeping livestock for profit, are you capable of selling
Could you send the steer to slaughter or could you sell the foal
you love? Are you willing to pull out the stops to market your
wares and continually monitor market trends to stay on the
cutting edge? Do you have the means to advertise and
market your business, maintain a farm website, and haul your
livestock to expos, demonstrations, shows and sales? If not,
think “pets and hobby farm,” not “produce,” and don’t become
• Can you afford to support your animals when things go
This is a big one. Markets falter. Disease can rip through your
herd. Expect the unexpected when keeping livestock. The
endeavor can be a pricey proposition. You need to ensure you
have the financial resources to see yours through bumpy times.
• What is your motive for keeping livestock?
Do want means of producing offspring to raise or to sell? Are
you simply wanting to raise livestock as pets? If you keep
livestock to claim a lower cost agriculture land tax assessment,
your venture must eventually turn a profit. How much profit is
enough? And would you be content if you lost money or your
animals simply paid their way?
Basic Livestock Owner Requirements
1. Like the animal—and the people involved.
Whether you decide to keep one animal or 100, you should
genuinely enjoy working with the livestock species you select.
You must also like the people associated with it. When you are
buying, selling, co-op marketing or showing, you’ll be dealing
with the people involved on an ongoing basis.
2. Ensure the livestock species you choose is suited to your
You could breed yak in South Texas and hair sheep in northern
Minnesota—but why? Panting yak and shivering sheep are
unhappy campers. Talk to area livestock keepers and choose a
livestock species adapted to the weather where you live.
3. Choose a livestock species compatible to your
temperament and physical capabilities.
Loud, abrupt or timid individuals rarely resonate with flighty,
reactive poultry and livestock. “Do-it-my-way-or-else” humans
and headstrong, aggressive animals are bound to clash. Assess
your mindset carefully and choose a compatible species.
It’ll save a heap of upset for all concerned. Interacting with
many animal species requires considerable brawn. Don’t take
on a bird or beast you physically can’t handle. It’ll be frustrating
and dangerous if you do.
4. Prepare adequate facilities before bringing livestock home.
If you don’t already have the necessary livestock facilities
available on your farm, make sure you have enough land,
financial resources and know-how to make the necessary
improvements. Also make sure you can obtain the necessarily
building permits to make the changes. If you need chutes and
squeezes, raceways or 7-foot bull-tight fences, build them or
choose a different species. Factoring in injuries, losses and
breakouts; it’s the safe and economical thing to do.
5. Take care of the livestock-keeping legalities before
Acquire any licenses and owner/breeder permits required by
federal, state and local authorities, and make certain your
property is zoned for the sort of livestock you plan to keep.
6. Discuss your livestock venture with area veterinarians.
Are veterinarians in your qualified to treat the kind of animals
you choose to keep, whether it be chickens, bison, alpacas,
deer or something else? Are the vets willing to treat your
animals? If not, are you willing (and able) to transport sick or
injured animals to a specialty practice and to learn to perform
routine maintenance procedures yourself?
Our nearby horse vet would treat sheep, but not alpacas.
Luckily, a veterinary practice 30 minutes away had a strong
interest in alpacas.
7. Decide whether you want your venture to be self-
For this to happen, you must market the commodity you
produce. Make certain you know your target species to the
Visit successful breeders and producers, and ask a world of
Subscribe to periodicals, read books, and conduct online
Meet with county cooperative extension agents, and consult
with experts at your state veterinary college.
8. Educate yourself to perfection before you buy.
Don’t charge into any livestock enterprise on the basis of
Making Livestock Profitable
Ask a host of established hobby and small scale farmers and
most will agree, there is little (if any) money to be made in
commercial livestock. Feeder cattle, market hog and standard
lamb-and-wool operations are faltering; however, there are
ways you can turn a profit raising farmyard standbys. Many
hobby farmers find success in two ways:
• Niche Marketing
Raise a livestock species that you can market to a specific
demographic. You can try raising goat kids or lambs for a
specific ethnic community, or raise organic or grassfed meats.
• Value-added Marketing
Instead of raising animals for market, raise them to sell their
byproducts. You can raise sheep or goat for cheese or yogurt or
free-range chickens for eggs.
We were successful marketing half or whole lamb, custom cut
to the buyer's specifications. It took a few years to build up the
customer base, mostly by word of mouth or by posting on our
small local stores' bulletin boards.
One tip: don't underprice your products; they're probably better
than what's in the grocery store or the craft store, and many
people are willing to pay a good price for what you've produced.
Check out these resources:
Texas A&M Factsheet: Niche Marketing
Ohio State University Extension: Agriculture & Natural
Resources Value Added Products
Oregon State University small farms
AOA: Alpacas as a Business
More Things to Consider Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Making money with livestock?
Shelter - a 3 or 3½ sided run-in shed is fine in
most climates, though the humans will be
happier working in a barn.
Space - enough room to take a run and stretch
Good fences - secure enough to keep dogs,
coyotes, and other predators out; it's not as
hard to keep the alpacas in (as long as you
remember to close the gates!).
Food - they prefer grass, but a good grass hay
should be available also; a field of tall grass
that looks good to us may be over-mature with
little nutrition and not very tasty.
Water - clean and always available.
Vitamins & minerals - as a block or loose, or
supplemental pellets, or both.
Companionship - at least one other alpaca
(even a llama is not the same for them); 3 or
more feels more like a herd and therefore safer.
Shearing - once a year as well as toe-trimming,
vaccinations, deworming when necessary. Do
not deworm on a schedule; run a fecal sample
(or have your vet do one) to determine
whether or not you actually have parasites.
We sometimes talk about "pet alpacas", but as cuddly as
they seem, they are not really pets in the same sense as
a dog is a pet.
Most of them don't like to be petted or even touched. There
are exceptions, but you should be very wary of a 'friendly'
young male. When he becomes an adult, he may not
understand the difference between humans and alpacas -
he may treat you as another young male, which means
pushing, chest butting, or even biting.
It's important that your alpaca respects your space and
comes only as close as is respectful. This doesn't mean
you have to go in for heavy-handed dominance, however.
It also does not mean that you have to be wary around
adult males, as you must be with stallions, rams, bucks,
or bulls. I can walk up to my male alpacas, while they are
breeding, put my arm around their necks, and pull them
Alpacas' major defense is running away; if they're very
angry, they will spit; they may kick, especially if they're
surprised from behind; they may bite each other. But it's
very unusual for them to do any damage to a human.
It's easy to halter train them. With further training, you can
put them through an obstacle course; you can even teach
them "tricks" like putting trash into a waste can
or fetching their halters.
A good resource on training, handling, and overcoming
problems is Marty McGee Bennett's book and website
Other sources of info are:
OSU (Oregon) Extension Service
Clackamas County, 503-655-8635.
Washington County, 503-725-2110.
4-H in Oregon
NCAT Sustainable Agricultural Project
Spinning demo at the Fair.
Taking our act on the road.