Many naturalists believe farmers are the closest to God since they earn their living from interacting with various aspects of nature such as soil, plants and livestock. The founding fathers of our great nation shared an almost similar view. Benjamin Franklin stated there are three ways a nation can generate wealth; war, commerce and agriculture. Of these 3, he opined that only agriculture provided an honest means of wealth generation. Since livestock farming is a major part of agriculture, let’s look at some keys to success.
What Is Livestock Farming?
Livestock farming is the rearing of animals for food and other uses. These animals include beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, camels, horses, mules, asses, and buffalos among others. Livestock farming also involves keeping commercial birds for meat and eggs. Such birds include chicken, ducks, turkeys, guinea fowls, geese, and squabs.
Importance of Livestock Farming
Any great nation is characterized by a strong, efficient and prosperous livestock farming. A strong animal agriculture allows a nation to keep and maintain full reserves of grains and other livestock feeds that come in handy when feeding animals for human consumption during hard times. Hard times can include emergencies such as natural disasters and wars. Besides providing much needed food during emergencies, meat is also a proven first-class protein with high nutritional value.
Livestock such as cattle, goats and sheep turn pasture forage, by-product feeds, harvested roughage, and urea into milk, meat and wool. Due to the crucial role cud-chewing animals play, meadows and pasture cover over 60% of the world’s farmland. Chickens are also excellent converters of feed, giving us meat and eggs. For ages, milk has been considered a complete and essential food by different societies. Historical data shows humans milked cows as far back as 9000 BCE. The Greeks used milk to treat some conditions as early as 400 BCE. Early Indian writings recommended milk as essential human food.
History and Origin of Popular Livestock Breeds
Beef Cattle Breeds
As with many other principal beef breeds, the Hereford, considered the most popular beef cattle breed in the U.S., originated from the British Isles in the county of Herefordshire. Its white face, crest on the neck, underline, flanks, stockings, and tail distinguish it from other beef breeds. The color of its body varies from cherry to mahogany red. The Hereford is medium-sized, but farmers have managed to increase its size at maturity and the rate of weight gain.
The Aberdeen Angus
Originating from Scotland in the counties Aberdeen and Angus, the Aberdeen Angus is a beef cattle breed known for its freedom from waste, smoothness, and high quality meat. The breed is solid black and sometimes may feature a white patch below the rear flanks.
The Shorthorn originated from early cattle breeds from norther Europe and England. They are also known as the beef, Scotch, or Durham in some parts of Scotland. They are good milk producers. At some point, Scottish breeders favored them for their compactness and muscular nature. However, emerging trends from the 1950s focusing on leaner and high quality meat, decreased the popularity of the Shorthorn. Its color varies from red to roan and sometimes from white to red and white.
Although they were imported into the United States from Europe and South America, the different strains of the Braham, such as the Gir, Nellore, Krishna Valley and Guzerat, have their origin in India. Some of the unique physical features of the various strains of the Brahman include:
- A pronounced hump
- Skin folds the dewlap and underline
- Large droopy ears
- Horns curving upward but facing back
The color of the Brahman varies from near white to brown and sometimes from brownish red to near black. The following make the Brahman a popular beef cattle breed in many regions:
- Resistance to drought
- Tolerance to heat
- Resistance to fever ticks and other pests
The King Ranch in Texas developed the Santa Gertrudis by crossing the Shorthorn and the Brahman. The Santa Gertrudis is hearty, large, and resistant to ticks. Besides Texas, this breed is also popular along the Gulf Coast.
Compared to cattle and other livestock, pigs are easier to raise and slaughter because of their size. You can rear them outdoors or indoors depending on your preferred farm layout. However, since pigs are monogastric, they are not good converters of large quantities of forage into meat like cattle. Therefore, for best results, pigs should be given concentrate feed. Pigs are mainly raised for pork or lard.
The Hampshire is a mutation of the Norfolk breed from England. It is completely black except for the white continuous belt that starts from one front foot and leg over the shoulders all the way to the other front leg and foot.
Characterized by white hair and skin, the Yorkshire, perhaps the most popular pig breed in the world, has its roots in England. As early as the 1800s, the British considered the long, lean and trim Yorkshire ideal for bacon.
Christopher Columbus and Hernando de Soto brought the red Jersey Red and the Duroc pigs into the United states from which the Duroc-Jersey originated. This breed has been around since the late 19th Century and is popular because the quality of its meat. It is a favorite in all of Iowa and some parts of Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota. It has been exported to countries such as Uruguay, Chile, Canada, and Argentina. Its color varies from golden red to mahogany red.
The Poland China
A cross breed from several other breeds found in Ohio, the Poland China dates back to 1860. Around 55 years later, the breeders in Indiana crossed the Poland China with native spotted breeds to create the Spotted Poland China.
Despite their ability to thrive even on limited water sparse forage, many farmers in the United States have dropped sheep rearing over the years in favor of cattle mostly because of the latter’s profitability. Here are some of the most popular sheep breeds and their countries of origin:
- Romney – England
- Lincoln – England
- Leicester – England
- Cotswold – England
- Merino – Spain
- Rambouillet – France
- Corriedale – New Zealand and Australia
The first case of domestication of goats is thought to have happened in the East in prehistoric times. Since then, goats have been kept by humans for milk, meat, cheese, leather, and mohair. In the United States, Europe, and China, goats are an important source of milk.
One of the advantages of keeping goats is they can thrive in quarters so small that a cow would not fit. Additionally, goats’ milk is of high quality even under less sanitary conditions than a cow could live in. It is also ideal for infants, and people with allergies. In Spain, Italy, Greece and parts of France, goat meat is a prized delicacy.
Below are some goat breeds and their place of origin:
- Angora – Turkey
- Boer – South Africa
- Cashmere – China
- LaMancha – United States
- Nubian – North Africa
- Oberhasli – Switzerland
- Saanen – Switzerland
- Toggenburg – Switzerland
10 Keys to Success in Livestock Farming
1. Develop One Enterprise First
For a livestock farmer to succeed, they must have a specialty they are known for. This is a defining feature that separates one farm from the next. For example, your farm’s mothership might be chicken or goat milk. You can build a brand and advertise it around goat milk such that whenever anyone talks about your farm, the first thing that comes to people’s mind is goat milk. This does not mean you can only keep goats, only that goats and goat milk are personal and specialty identifiers.
Even if you stop keeping goats one day or you diversify to other animals, you will have built a persona for your farm. Until you develop this identity, you should not add other enterprises. Become an expert of what you are good at before venturing into unknown territories.
2. Build a Team
Do a little reflection to help you determine whether your passion is building or selling; whether you are comfortable with routine or you prefer spontaneity. Whatever your preferences, you must develop a farm that your kids and others look forward to working in. Since personal interests differ from one person to the next, and you have to build a team to help achieve it all. Include people who complement your interests and those who supplement your weaknesses.
When starting off, you may have to wear more hats than you’d like, but as your farm expands, you have to build a team to help you achieve success.
3. Close the Carbon Cycle
The farm ecosystem follows the same rule as the rest of the ecosystem. In a farm carbon cycle, sunlight turns into biomass and decomposes to form humus. Humus provides nutrients to the soil from where plants collect and capture more sunlight. Pasture-based livestock farming with a strong preference towards woody-based bedding and composting farming are key elements of successful livestock farming. You should accumulate carbon in your farm without depleting it from somewhere else.
One of the most effective ways of closing the carbon cycle leaks is by cutting brush and letting it grow before cutting it again.
4. Do Not Rely on Others
While it is important to work with others, do not spend too much time seeking friendship and advice. Work on your projects first before engaging others so that whenever you meet them, you have something meaningful to contribute. Some farmers spend a significant amount of their time in government offices looking for grants instead of working on their farms. From experience, the more time you spend in government offices, the less successful you are likely to be. The first government office you will visit will refer you to another government offices, leading to a continuous loop.
If you can afford it, do your livestock farming project yourself and pay for it yourself. This will give you room for creativity and personal fulfillment and cut out the endless red tape. Instead of living off handouts and having to do it someone else’s way, you can do it your way. It might even be cheaper. From there, you can find mentors in the same field as you and share ideas.
5. Start Small
The wise men of the past said you should not put all your eggs in one basket. They were on to something. Many people looking to get into farming think that starting off big is the key to success. However, successful seasoned farmers will tell you it is not always the case. They advise to start small and then build up from there.
You can start with half a dozen animals and then expand after learning their feeding habits, their output, feed consumption and other related factors. As a beginner, experimenting with few animals first before going big is a mark of prudence.
6. Focus on Efficiency
Run your farm like a corporate business. Focus on reducing the amount of time spent in motion, especially moving from one workstation to another. Note down the amount of time you spend carrying out a specific task and work towards reducing it. Do not assume livestock farming is too noble to follow the principles of business. It is not immune to the principles of profit and loss.
As a livestock farmer, you produce, fix, pack and move just like a formal business. Streamlining these processes will help you reduce the time you spend on them leading to success.
7. Move Towards Value Addition
A farmer is more likely to experience price concessions than a manufacturer or a processor. To be a successful livestock farmer, put in places practices that promote value addition. Instead of selling live pigs to slaughter houses, you can slaughter them yourself and package them in small sizes or sell them as bacon. Branding and marketing go a long way in helping you push your products and increase your margins.
Taking up the processing and marketing duties might seem risky to some farmers, but they offer handsome returns if you’re able. If you do not want to sabotage your normal processes, you can add value to salvage instead of throwing it away.
8. Build Multi-Use Structures
Confinement buildings for animals are a perfect example of single-use structures. When the animals you are keeping are no longer profitable, such structures become obsolete since they are difficult to remodel and retrofit. The rigidity of the structures influences your future decisions and denies you the freedom to innovate.
Pole barns and pole sheds shift the strength of the structure from the walls to the poles, making it easier for you make changes to suit your currents needs without compromising the structural integrity of the buildings. Therefore, if the production of one animal becomes unprofitable, you can adjust the buildings accordingly to accommodate a different kind of animal.
9. Stay True to Your Identity
As your livestock farming business expands, you might be tempted to cut a few corners to meet the increasing demand for your products and also to maintain high margins. Sometimes this requires abandoning your original brand and acquiring a new identity. However, the expansion of your livestock farming business should be a reflection of your faithfulness. Do not disappoint the loyal customers who have been with you from the start. Do not compromise your products for the big bucks.
10. Reward Your Team
The best way to keep your team happy, loyal, motivated and innovative is by rewarding their efforts. A good place to start is paying your children for any work done. Offer handsome incentives such as commission packages to your team members and you will eventually reap higher returns. It is also important to note that rewards do not always need to be of monetary value; compliments and praises, and even food, are just as important, since people also work for other values besides money.
Factors Pushing Success in Livestock Farming
1. Low Feed Cost
Increased supply of corn and soybean has driven the prices of these down. This is good news for livestock farmers since they now spend less on feed and can reinvest their money by buying more animals or direct difference to other related ventures. Cow-calf producers are some of the biggest beneficiaries because they can keep the calves and feed them to maturity instead of selling them.
2. Increased Exports
Despite the ongoing international trade wars, as of late 2018 beef exports were at a record high. This increase has been in both volume and value, with beef from the United States doing great numbers in several top markets. The increasing demand for American beef abroad continues to make livestock farming a lucrative business venture at home. Although pork exports have reduced in 2019 due to the retaliatory duties imposed by China and Mexico, experts in the industry remain hopeful that a solution will be found soon.
3. Consumer Preferences
Consumer preferences in the United States continue to drive the growth of livestock farming in the country. Chicken continues to be a major delicacy in the U.S, and this increased consumer demand for wings and nuggets has seen the country become the biggest chicken producer in the world. Local demand for pork ribs, bacon, steak and burgers has also to the growth in the livestock farming business.
4. New Packing Plants
Several packing plants have set up base in different parts of the country, driving growth of livestock farming in those areas. One of those packing plants is the Clemens pork plant in Michigan. Another new pork packing plant is the Seaboard Triumph Foods in Sioux City, Iowa. Prestage Foods is also a new pork packing plant in Eagle Grove, Iowa.
Sustainable Livestock Farming
In recent years, there has been an increasing need to practice efficient food production. Biofuel production and a constantly growing population are negatively affecting land availability. However, the demand for animal protein is increasing as the world population increases. This demand has forced farmers to maximize milk and meat production at the expense of sustainability and efficiency.
To ensure sustainability, we must find a way to practice livestock farming with the best interest of farmers, communities and the planet at heart.
In the next part, we will look at strategies to reduce the economic and environmental impact of livestock farming while increasing the volume and value of animal proteins.
Raise Regionally Appropriate Animals
One of the keys to success in livestock farming is to keep animals that suit your geographical area. Blinded by the lure of high profits and productivity, some farmers import animals that cannot do well in their areas. Before bringing in animals from elsewhere, find out how they will react to the change of climate and other factors such as local diseases and parasites.
Reduce the Amount of Human Food You Give Animals
Research shows that livestock consume up to 70% of all the grains produced by developed countries. More than a third of cereal grains produced worldwide goes toward feeding livestock with cattle being the biggest beneficiaries. To reduce these numbers, farmers should feed their animals especially ruminants foods that humans cannot consume. Appropriate feed include;
- High-fibre crop residues
- Grazing pastures
A big majority of countries in the EU rely on silage, grass, hay and supplement them with cereals for over 95% of their milk production. Grazing pasture is almost entirely responsible for New Zealand’s milk production. China is also making a change from imported grain with reports showing they are heading towards crop residues like rice straw. Not only does this leave more humans with food they can eat, but it’s better for the animals, too. Ruminants were largely meant to graze, not down enormous quantities of cultivated grains and sugar.
Keep Animals Healthy
In many parts of the world, many humans suffer from illnesses directly linked to unhealthy animals. Data shows that each year, at least 2.4 billion people in different parts the world get sick from zoonoses. Around 2.2 million of those die. Apart from losing lives, keeping unhealthy animals also lead loss of capital and production. For example, the world spends $5 billion annually to curb the foot-and-mouth virus. The United Kingdom alone spent $830 million in the last 10 years to control Bovine tuberculosis, and experts predict this figure is likely to double in the next decade.
To prevent loss of human life and loss of capital, livestock farming must adopt practices that ensure animals are optimally healthy. Such practices include:
- Observing and reporting cases of antibiotic resistance
- Reducing overcrowding
- Treating affected animals instead of entire herds
- Avoiding risky pastures
- Avoiding sources of infection
Monitor Costs and Benefits
Factors such as controlled grazing can maintain ecosystem services, improve biodiversity, and increase carbon capture by plants and soil to ensure sustainable livestock farming. Manure from cattle fertilizes the soil, which benefits the plants; a good thing since the alternative would be to use synthetic nitrogen from fossil fuels. Livestock also provide traction, wool, hides, and biogas fuel. To ensure sustainability, we must tailor livestock farming practices to match socioeconomic and environmental needs.
Go for Quality Not Quantity
Americans are famous for their love of meat. As of 2007, the average American consumed around 276 pounds of meat annually. A big part of this comes from processed foods like sausages, burgers and fast foods.
While populations from poor countries benefit in many ways from cheap meat, including better physical growth and cognitive development from consuming reasonable amounts of animals proteins, nutritionists and health experts have raised concerns about the impact high quantity and low quality consumption of meat has on public health in rich countries.
Increased rates of some form of cancers and coronary heart disease in the United States have been linked to our insatiable appetite for highly-processed meats.
Consider Smart Supplements
Supplements boost productivity among ruminant animals such as cattle, goats and sheep. They promote growth of microbes, enabling them to provide better nutrition. Some plant extracts improve how rumen microbial use energy and nitrogen ensuring an increase in milk and meat production while reducing ammonia and greenhouse-gas emissions. Sustainability can be achieved by investing in research to find the most beneficial microbes and limiting nutrients, and also cheaper methods of administering them.
Keep in Touch With Emerging Trends
One-size-fits-all approach to livestock farming can only get you so far. While keeping up with what is happening everywhere in the world might be impossible and time consuming, ensure that you are always aware of emerging and changing trends in your field of specialty. Research and innovation improve efficiency and increase profits. What was working a few years ago might not work today or in the future. Therefore, farmers must keep up with new farming practices to remain globally competitive.
In our quest to find the keys to successful livestock farming, we have to understand the history and origin of some of the most common breeds of animals found in our region. We also have to look into factors influencing success in the industry and also study sustainable practices to enable us better prepare for the future.
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