Looking after farm animals can be daunting if you are new at small acre farming. There is lots to think about in animal care and what you feed your livestock is one of the most important aspect in maintaining their health and fertility. Raising farm animals so that they are healthy and productive means a lot of hard work, some basic knowledge on what to feed them, good housing, and a good health care management system.
Animal Husbandry is the term given to the care, raising and breeding of livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry. It's crucial that you have a handle on the basic needs of animal care before launching into stocking your small farm with livestock.
Good husbandry, hygiene and proper nutrition are all essential to farm animal health. At a basic level, you should ensure that your small farm animals have:
• Clean water in sufficient quantities daily (dairy cows for example need up to 150 litres each a day!), sufficient food and possibly supplements to meet nutritional requirements, clean, disease free living conditions including paddocks and shelters, essential grooming including hoof care and shearing, room to exercise safely, including fencing to keep them from harm, companions for herd animals such as alpacas and goats, regular interaction from you/other carers so the animals are conditioned to be around people, health oversight including regular drenching for worms.
Familiarising yourself with the healthy state of your animals and keeping an eye out for health warning signs is an essential part of caring for livestock. When you check on your animals regularly, you will become attuned to their normal behavior and be able to quickly become aware of any warning signs that your animals are becoming unwell, such as:
• Weight loss/loss of appetite, lethargy, decreased or affected milk supply in dairy animals, diarrhoea or constipation, unusual movement such as limping, difficulty standing or changes in stance, swelling of body parts or nasal or eye discharge While having a good vet on hand is essential if you own livestock, learning animal healthcare skills is important if you are planning to keep any animals at all.
The primary diet of grazing animals is forage. Ideally, your hobby farm’s pasture would satisfy the majority of their nutritional requirements, but, often that may be impractical and require supplementing their diet with hay or forage. It is safe to presume that your livestock will consume approx. 2% of their body weight in feed each day, and adjust for losses. Adding supplementary feeds like Open Range Hobby Mix can fulfil the energy and nutrient deficit that may arise from feeding just fibre and pasture alone.
Most cattle enterprises in Australia, be they meat or dairy, are large scale. Small farmers may be interested in raising grass fed or specialty cattle, including rare breeds. Beef cattle are a much lower maintenance choice for small farmers. They don't require elaborate facilities and can generally be treated effectively for illnesses. However, they do require reasonably large quantities of water and you should be on the lookout for any nutritional issues as well as pests and parasites.
Dairy cows and beef cattle are usually fed grass during the spring/summer months and conserved forage (grass, silage, or hay) in the winter. These forages may be supplemented with cereals and other premixes like Open Range Hobby Mix to increase milk yield or live weight gain.
Sheep and goats
Sheep are another popular small farm animal that can be raise for meat, fleece or even dairy. Again, they need to be kept in a flock to thrive. There are many different breeds of sheep and you can suit one that suits your property i.e. sheep suited to dryer areas. While sheep aren't high maintenance, malnutrition, worms and other parasites and lameness can be common problems, and you need to have a management plan in place when you own sheep to ensure they are kept in good health.
Sheep and goat diets are similar to that of cattle, although barley and other cereals are usually fed only to pregnant and lactating ewes and to young lambs. During this time of reproduction, winter months or if body condition is hard to maintain, Open Range Hobby Mix can be fed to provide much needed energy.
Pigs are also renowned as one of the most intelligent animals, and can be a pleasure to keep. However, there are specific rules and guidelines around keeping pigs including nutrition and disease that you must be aware of, so it's important to be well educated before venturing down this path.
Pigs are omnivores, and in the past their diets included meat and meat products. However, this -is now prohibited because of the potential for spreading disease (particularly foot-and-mouth). Pig diets typically include cereal grains, oilseed meals, and other by-products of the human food industry. Pigs reared outdoors may also be fed a blend of steam flaked grains like Open Range Hobby Mix.
Alpacas should be pasture fed at all times. They do well on native pastures, however alpacas can be supplemented with good quality hay and/or various grains. Like other livestock, alpacas can also be affected by perennial ryegrass toxicity, annual ryegrass toxicity (ARGT) or phalaris toxicity. Supplementing alpaca’s diet with a commercial feed like Open Range Hobby Mix will ensure energy levels are met. Small amounts, used as treats work well for taming alpacas.
When it comes to farm animals, good hygiene including a deworming program, and consistent care can help deter health problems and ensure your animals have a happier, healthier life. Before adding a whole range of different animals to your farm, ensure you have the animal husbandry basics to care for them effectively. Remember, all skills are learned, start small and put in the effort to educate yourself about animal care and you will reap the rewards.