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By Margo Hale, NCAT Southeast Regional Director, Armed to Farm Program Director, and Agriculture Specialist

Last week, I shared a few thoughts about getting started with livestock.

In the Getting Started with Livestock Podcast, NCAT Livestock Specialist Linda Coffey and I discussed our farm goals, how our livestock enterprises help us meet those goals, and how the goals influence our livestock management. On my family’s farm, we want our livestock to make money, so we are always looking for cost-saving ideas. We also want our livestock enterprises to be easily managed without too much labor. We are a busy family and have focused on time- and money-saving systems.

I want to share with you a few pieces of infrastructure and equipment we have on our farm, why they work for us, and ways they don’t work. I always find it helpful to see how other farmers feed and water their animals. Maybe you will get ideas that you can implement on your farm—or you can send me ideas for improvement.

Watering Systems

As Linda and I discussed in the podcast, providing water is one of the first things you must figure out. On our farm we have a pond, a well, and county water. We also collect rainwater from our barn and sheds. We use all these resources to water our animals on different parts of our farm, depending on how we have our pastures divided and animals separated.

We try to find cost-effective ways to do most everything on our farm, so we like to use recycled materials and captured rainwater as much as possible. In one of our pastures, we have gutters on part of a shed and small shelter that empty into a tub. One of our friends had new gutters installed on her house and gave us the old gutters to use around the farm.

Barn with gutter attached

 

White water tubs for livestock

We did have a regular stock tank here, but it was too tall for our young goats to reach. We had an old IBC tote that we weren’t using, so we cut it in half to use as a waterer. This works great for the goats, but when cows are in this pasture, they tend to stand in these low totes, dirtying the water. It doesn’t take much rainfall to fill this water tub. We do have a water hydrant nearby that we can use to fill the tubs if there hasn’t been enough rainfall.

Metal barn with barrel for water catchment and gravity-fed bowl waterer.

We have a small pasture next to our barn that we use when we have pigs and when our goats are kidding. Our free-range laying hens like to hang out in the barn, so they use this waterer, too. There is a 55-gallon barrel that captures rainwater and fills the bowl waterer, pictured above. The gravity-fed bowl is mounted over a small concrete pad, so the animals (pigs especially) don’t make a muddy mess around the waterer. We don’t often graze our cows in this small pasture, but when we do, this waterer doesn’t work too well. Several cows can empty that 55-gallon barrel quickly!

 

We use a similar set-up at our chicken coop (pictured above right). We have a coop with nest boxes and an enclosed run built on the back side of our shop. The hens have free range of our pastures, but we shut them in the coop at night. Once again, we use gutters on their coop roof, draining in to an elevated 55-gallon barrel. There is a hose from the barrel to a water bowl with a float. Our winters are fairly mild so we can use this system year-round. On occasion, the bowl and hose freeze and we have to carry water to the chickens. We have used this for our flock of about 20 chickens for about seven years, and I’ve only had to put water in the barrel a couple of times.

Hay-feeding Systems

We are in hay-feeding season on our farm, so I will share with you the equipment we use to feed hay.

A metal hay feeding ring with goats standing on the hay inside.

We use a hay ring (above) to feed our cows, but this is problematic if you have goats or sheep. We have a few young goats with our cows right now to keep them away from our billy. They prefer to eat standing on top of the hay, soiling the hay and causing a lot of waste.

Elevated round bale feeder with goats eating hay.

We have an elevated, round bale feeder that we use for our goats. This keeps the hay off of the ground and the goats cannot get on top of it. The cows are able to easily eat out of it, too. This reduces the amount of hay they waste.

Elevated square bale feeder with goats eating hay.

We also have an elevated square bale feeder. We don’t feed many square bales (remember we want low labor), but do use them when we have goats in a small pasture right after they have kidded or are just feeding a few goats. Once again, keeping the hay off of the ground reduces waste.

We move the hay feeders to a different spot each time we feed a bale, typically feeding on an area that needs some extra fertility. There are many different ways to feed hay, but this is what works for us on our farm. Unrolling round bales is a great practice, but we don’t have enough animals for that to be efficient. They would waste too much before eating the majority of the bale. We have rolled out smaller portions of a round bale, but that was time-consuming.

Learning More

There is always trial and error before you figure out what systems work on your farm. I hope this virtual tour of our farm’s watering and hay-feeding systems will help you find what will fit your situation.

The ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture publications linked below have information about infrastructure and equipment for different livestock enterprises. As always, our NCAT Livestock Specialists are available to answer your questions and provide you with additional resources. Please email or call us at askanag@ncat.org or 800-346-9140.

ATTRA Resources

Small-Scale Livestock Production

Sheep and Goats: Frequently Asked Questions

An Illustrated Guide to Sheep and Goat Production

Hogs: Pastured and Forested Production

Hooped Shelters for Hogs

Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production

Intensive Grazing: One Farms Setup (video series: Nine Chapters)

Managed Grazing Tutorial

Photos by Margo Hale

By Margo Hale, NCAT Southeast Regional Director and NCAT Livestock Specialist

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, I, like many of you, was focused on working from home while also homeschooling my daughters. I was busy postponing and rescheduling several NCAT training events and figuring out how to best serve our ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture clients. As the pandemic continued to spread, we saw various impacts in all aspects of our life. Across the country, we saw our traditional supply chains falter, and consumer buying habits changed overnight. Thankfully, our household never ran out of toilet paper, but it was several weeks before I could find rice and beans to buy!

Because we raise our own beef, pork, and eggs, I rarely pay attention to those areas of the grocery store, but it was shocking to see empty shelves. We sell only a few beeves and hogs each year, mainly to friends and coworkers. You can learn more about how we sell our beef and pork from this short video https://attra.ncat.org/small-scale-meat-sales/. While we never have a problem selling what we have available, we also don’t usually have an overwhelming demand. As soon as COVID-19 hit, though, people who have never bought meat from us before began reaching out to see if we were selling meat. They wanted to stock their freezers! I heard from farmers all over the country that this was happening to them, too. This demand is great for producers, but it also comes with some challenges.

Meeting Increased Demand for Local Meat

You might be able to gain new customers during this time, as people are wanting to stock their freezers and prepare for supply-chain disruptions. You want to ensure that these new customers continue purchasing from you even after the grocery stores are restocked. In order to do this, you must provide an excellent product and good customer service. It is tempting to quickly scale up production to take advantage of the demand, but don’t do so at the cost of quality. Don’t process and sell animals that don’t meet your highest quality standards. Providing great customer service is another way to keep customers coming back. NCAT Specialist Dave Scott and his wife Jenny shared some really great tips on providing excellent customer service to their meat customers in the “Direct Marketing Meat” podcast series.

Episode 128. Direct Marketing Meat with Dave and Jenny Scott. Part 1

Episode 129. Direct Marketing Meat with Dave and Jenny Scott. Part 2: Processing

Episode 136. Direct Marketing Meat with Dave and Jenny Scott. Part 3: Relationships

Episode 137. Direct Marketing Meat with Dave and Jenny Scott. Part 4: FAQs

In the ATTRA video COVID-19 Market Adjustments, you can also hear how COVID-19 has affected Dave’s and Jenny’s business, Montana Highland Lamb.

Plan for Processing

Selling meat can be a challenge when processors are overwhelmed by demand.Another challenge many livestock producers are facing is the lack of processing. Access to meat processing facilities has always been a challenge for small-scale livestock producers. The problem has been exacerbated during the pandemic. Producers are increasing production in response to increased demand for direct-to-consumer meat sales—which means there are more animals to process in facilities that already have limited availability. For example, I can usually call just a couple of months in advance to schedule a processing date for our animals; I called our processor in May and the earliest dates they had were in January 2021! Our hog will be awfully big by then. If you are a livestock producer and haven’t already booked your processing appointments for the coming year, I encourage you to call your processor today. I had a great conversation with Rebecca Thistlethwaite with the Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network about these challenges with processing, especially during this time. You can listen to that podcast here.

If you are a livestock producer, there is a great opportunity to meet the demands for locally produced meat, though there will likely be some challenges. If you are selling meat directly to consumers for the first time, expanding production, or have questions related to processing, please know our NCAT Livestock Specialists are here to help. You can contact us by calling 800-346-9140 or emailing askanag@ncat.org.

Related ATTRA Resources

Organic and Grass-finished Beef Cattle Production

Direct Marketing Lamb: A Pathway

Direct Marketing

Working with Your Meat Processor

ATTRA COVID-19 Resources

Other Resources on Selling Meat

Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network

NMPAN COVID-19 Resources

Farm to Freezer: The Logistics of Online Sales & Shipping Meat Webinar

The New Livestock Farmer: The Business of Raising and Selling Ethical Meat

Direct to Consumer Beef Webinar Series