We get all kinds of calls here from aspiring farmers and ranchers. Of those people that call about livestock, many of them have very little experience working with animals and that is a big red flag. The realities of animal husbandry are not what you see on the side of the milk carton. It is demanding, exhausting, dangerous, and at times devastating. You have to be tough and pragmatic to raise animals, and the bigger they get the more you have to think about how you are going to deal with emergency situations. I can say that every cattle rancher or dairy person that I know has been injured by their animals. Sometimes it is an accident sometimes it’s not, but it is always the person’s fault. Animals have a repertoire of behaviors and signs that tell you exactly how they are feeling and what they will most likely do next. The time you spend observing and interacting with animals will allow you to recognize these signs before they get dangerous. Before you even consider getting animals, you must go and work with them alongside someone who has experience with them. Visit a producer that has animals that you are interested in. Offer to help for free and watch and listen to how they handle their animals.
I never want to discourage anyone from raising livestock. Working with animals has provided me with the most intense moments of my life and the special opportunity to develop lifelong bonds with both people and animals. I have spent time in my fields crying from both joy and despair, and my network of friends is well acquainted with the 3 am phone calls and me telling them to bring gloves. But then there are the moments, when the calves are playing, and the cattle are relaxed watching the sunset, the fireflies are out, and you realize that at that moment you are all perfectly content. When you can look into an animals eyes and know that they recognize you or when they are injured and submit to your intervention because they understand that you are going to help, those are times that I cherish.
Our goal here at extension is to keep everyone, people and animals, happy and healthy and if you own animals that responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders. If you are not ready to restrain a 2,000 pound bull, if you are not ready for castrations, pulling kids, euthanizing chickens, or witnessing death, you are not ready for animals. That’s what the Cooperative Extension Agency is here for. Come take some classes, ask the questions, meet other people who do this work, and then you can go out and start making the mistakes that make you an expert.