Monday, February 22, 2010

Finding the Right Breed

I've spent most of the afternoon researching breeds of pigs and attempting to network.  There are a TON of organizations interested in making Montana's food supply more locally based.  Very good to know!  Now if I just can get a hold of one of these groups - I left 5 messages today and haven't heard back from anyone yet. Sigh.  Guess I should expect us to be more excited about this than others.  I'll just have to convince them!  Better find my "Sales Lady" hat and dust it off.
Our goal is to breed and raise "heritage" livestock.  Our heifer, Ruby, is a native Milking Shorthorn (a critical status breed).  The native part makes her special - it means that there is no Jersey slipped in there, no Holstein...just Milking Shorthorn right back to the 1700's or so when they were introduced.  We're trying to find a balance between structure, foraging ability, temperament, good mothers and hardiness for our farm.  Ruby has so far fit the bill perfectly.  We'll find out in another month or so when she calves how she rates on milk production and mothering.    The reason that we're focusing on heritage breeds is simple: they have not been bred to survive in a tiny cage.  We need animals that have strong instincts about what to eat, how to weather a storm, birth their babies...all of this is essential.  I can't imagine having an operation that has to pull every single calf - somethings just wrong there - and then doesn't allow the cow to raise it.  This is business, I know, but to me it goes beyond some sad moral place that too many of us ignore when we grab a jug of milk at the store.
Tenatively, we're looking at Large Black Swine (also Critical Status) as our Pig Choice (Watch Status, but the nearest breeder is in Rigby, ID) and Dominiques are our Chicken Choice (picked long ago).  I feel like there should be an award handed out or something lol.  Chicken Choice is tricky because I'd like to have our meat birds be the same breed as our layers so that we don't have to keep buying a zillion chicks.  I'd much rather let then hens raise them so we don't have to fuss with heat lamps, feeders, and waterers in a small space.  The more we can let the animals do for themselves the less work load we'll have.  Of course, we're going to have to figure out the economics of this at some point.....
If you want to learn about the breeds we've selected so far I've posted the links below.  Also have posted a link to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy in case you're interested.