Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Welcome, City Shepherds!

The City of Lawrence just passed regulations allowing small ruminants (pygmy goats and sheep) to be kept within city limits! This is exciting news for livestock lovers with large lots!

But there's a down side. Goats and sheep are cute, but they ARE livestock, not pets. They aren't just dogs that eat hay.
Here are some words of wisdom from a livestock pro: First things first! Before you decide to get any kind of livestock, esp. sheep and goats, you need to have the following things really nailed down, not just "we'll figure it out when we get there".

1. Carcass disposal. Even if it's years in the future, you need to plan this BEFORE it happens, because you won't be in any shape to make decisions or track down options when it does. A rabbit or chicken isn't a big deal (chicken bones go in the trash all the time), but a goat or sheep in the garbage can in the middle of the summer is probably a bad, bad idea. Alternatives that work in the country probably won't work on a city lot.

2. Manure management. Everything poops (yes, dogs do, too). With livestock, this is a good thing IF you have a system set up before the manure starts rolling in.

3. Transportation. Don't just have the seller deliver your new livestock. If you don't have access to safe, humane transportation for it, don't bring it home. You may need to transport it to the vet in an emergency. Veterinary "farm calls" are an extra $100 or more on top of the cost of exam or treatment.

4. Veterinarian. Most Lawrence vets want nothing to do with small ruminants. Hopefully this will soon change, but unless it does, plan on taking your livestock to Eudora Animal Hospital, Pleasant Valley in Tonganoxie, or Baldwin. Many medications, esp. for sheep,  legally require a vet's oversight, even if you administer the medication to the animal yourself. That means establishing a relationship with an appropriate vet BEFORE there is a crisis.

5. First aid kit. Treatment tools, thermometer, basic treatments, bandages, wound treatments, etc. Figure this out with your vet. When crisis hits, you can handle it much better if you have the items you need at hand. Your vet, or an experienced livestock handler, can talk you through a lot on the phone.

6. Willingness to administer injections. Those vets are a long way away if your animal needs daily or twice-daily injections to treat an illness or injury. Also see #3.

7. Good fences, gates with good latches, animal shelters, AND animal-proof storage for hay, grain, etc. BEFORE the animal arrives. These need to be stronger than you can even imagine, because these animals like to rub (sheep) and climb (goats). Facilities must also include a small gated pen that can be used to catch and restrain the animal. They can run faster than you...even when they are almost dead.

8. Proper, humane restraints designed for sheep and goats. A collar and lead rope, at least. Also preferably a gambrel restrainer or cuff, for emergency restraint.

9. Feed suppliers. More than one source for the kind of feed you need, in case your usual supplier is out. Sometimes "out" means "until the next hay crop". There will inevitably be times when you can't just feed grass.

10. Back-up chore people. You generally can't take livestock for boarding, so you'll have to have someone come to your house while you are on vacation. Or out of town for work or funeral. Or when your entire family has the flu and can't crawl out to the sheep shed through a blizzard.

11. A lawn mower. Because there are kinds of grass your goat or sheep won't touch with a 10 foot pole.

12. Insemination. If you want to breed your sheep or goat so you can have babies and milk, be sure you have a deal with a stud owner in the country where you can take your gal for a honeymoon, or learn about AI for goats. Sheep pretty much have to be naturally bred. Bear in mind that many of us keep closed flocks, do not want other people's animals on our farm, and do not "loan out" our rams. Promiscuity can spread disease, right?

13. Backup source of colostrum and milk if you are breeding sheep or goats. Again, you won't have time or mental capacity to figure this out from scratch if your mom-critter doesn't have milk for her newborn. Colostrum must be given within 8 hours of birth.

14. A plan for male offspring. Please, please, please be real about this. If you want milk, you have to keep breeding goats or sheep every year, and you can't keep all the babies with limited space. Someone else will probably want your female animals, but most of your friends do not want non-productive animals unless they can take them for slaughter. Inevitably most male animals will be slaughtered. Don't breed if you don't want this to happen.
15. Learn about prey animal psychology. Sheep and goats are very, very different than dogs...they are more like horses. Studying up on low-stress livestock handling, Monty Roberts-style horse training, etc. will help you learn to interact calmly with your sheep and goats. Most people only know how to interact with dogs, using predator body language. If you interact with sheep and goats that way,  they'll panic, and you'll be frustrated.

NOW you're ready for the fun part--deciding which species, which breed, which farm, which animal, and what to name it!

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