I’ve been reading Ben Falk’s The Resilient Farm and Homestead the past few weeks as I try to get a vision for how we can best steward this land. I like that it goes beyond permaculture concepts. It also talks about a practical implementation on a small scale. (His farm is 10 acres.) But when I got to his break out on the myth of livestock generalizations I was nodding my head and shouting, “AMEN!”
The Myth of Livestock Generalizations
Here’s what he had to say…
It’s essential to point out at the outset of this section that making generalizations about animals is about as accurate as it is about people. (Amen!) It’s pervasive, and you read or hear such nonsense as the following:
- “Goat’s eat everything!” (Actually, goats are one of the most selective grazers in the world and more picky than most creatures when given the chance.
- “That heirloom chicken breed is great for pest control.”
- “Chickens eat fallen fruit- put them under your fruit trees.”
- “That variety is such good foragers.”
Why are such statements nonsense?
Because they treat an entire species or variety as though they all act the same. Excuse my “French,” but when you actually work with such animals you see immediately that such ideas are complete bull____. Animals are individuals, just as you and I are. Let’s get that out of the way immediately because it really retards the conversation about animals and only comes about from too much reading and not enough doing. (AMEN!)
The point here is to remember that animals act based upon not only their instinct (breeding results) but out of their training, environment, stimulus, what they’ve learned, and many other factors. So we need to think in as nuanced a way about animal behavior as we do about people behavior. The accurate way to think of it is “this individual duck does this” or “this particular sheep does that.” And also, like people they change from year to year…. Just because an animal or group of animals tend to have acted in certain ways in the past is no reason to think they will always act that way. They respond to conditions just the way people do, actually probably more.” –The Resilient Farm and Homestead
This is SO true! And to be honest the online world is pretty guilty of perpetuating these livestock generalizations, I’m sorry to say. This myth is good to be aware of as we make decisions on the best livestock on our homestead. (And where the stock came from, how it lived before we had it, etc…)
So while I may give advice on which chicken breeds to pick, or some possible breeds you might want to start with, or the pros and cons of Dexter cattle, or how to choose a pig breed, remember your experiences with those animals may be different.
Your Black Australorp rooster may not be as gentle with the kids as ours was. Your Bourbon Red Turkeys might not attack the kids every time they go outside. Our Dexter cow died after giving birth. They’re supposed to be very easy-birthers so I hope that never happens to you! Maybe your chickens will defy all the odds and obstacles to escape the electric poultry netting too.
What you read about animals anywhere are simply generalizations. So don’t be discouraged or feel like a failure if things don’t work out the way you hoped! Learn lessons, take note of them in your homesteading records and move on.
Have you ever had animals whose personalities weren’t according to the book?