4 Livestock Breeding Best Practices to Implement in Your Herd — or Flock!
When starting a livestock breeding program, the essential step is setting clear goals that you’re breeding for — and then stick to them!
Many farmers develop and maintain an on-farm herd (or flock) of animals specifically adapted to thrive on their farm with the qualities they value. That may be a herd of beef cattle that finish well on just grass, no grain needed. Hardy sheep that don’t need to be wormed. Or a flock of turkeys that thrive on pasture production.
Other farmers may be breeding specifically to produce pedigreed animals meeting breed standards, show stock or even healthy, superior-quality breeding animals that sell for a premium.
Either way, setting clear goals for your breeding program and following standard livestock breeding best practices will take you a long way to your perfect herd (or flock)!
1) Start with the Best Animals You Can Afford
Always start your herd with the best-quality animals you can afford to buy.
Many new livestock farmers make the mistake of starting with cheap (or even free) animals, thinking it is a quick way to start their breeding program. Those animals set you up for failure more often than not —poor vigor, critical conformation faults or high susceptibility to pest and disease. If nothing else, you’ll spend many years trying to breed “away” from the problems you started with.
Look for high-quality, vigorous animals and make sure to vet carefully anybody you’re buy breeding stock from. Ask to see parents (or the whole herd). If you are purchasing a pedigreed animal, make sure you see (and can take) the pedigree with you, there are many scams amongst so-called “purebred” animals.
One option for starting a herd on a tight budget is purchasing older male animals. This is a common practice in beef cattle. Ranchers will typically switch out their herd bulls after several years to keep their genetics from getting in-bred. This gives you an older — but proven — animal to add to your herd at an affordable price with several years left to contribute to your gene pool.
If you can only afford one really good quality animal to start with, make sure it is a male. Your male will have the most significant impact (to start) on your breeding program.
2) Livestock Breeding Selection — Keep the Best, Eat the Rest
Another tried and true “best practices” standard for breeding is to “cull, cull and cull again.”
This can be one of the most challenging, even emotional, concepts to enforce in a breeding program. It can be hard to choose if you have an animal you bred and like for some reasons but not others. Or, when you have better young stock than your older stock, it’s time to let the older animals go.
Another way to think about it is your herd is only as good as the worst animal in it. Rigorously culling out the animals with unwanted traits is the fastest way to reaching your breeding goals.
If your ultimate plan is to develop a program to sell your extra livestock as breeding quality, make sure to only sell as breed