Sustainable Animal Production
The Farm & Food Systems Team at Washington State University Extension is dedicated to offering online materials and coursework to support small-scale food and performance animal operations. Regardless of operation size, producers of food and performance animals face challenges in Washington State. For small-scale food and performance animal producers, limited resources and educational events are available. The goal of the Farm & Food Systems Team has been to work with food and performance animal producers on profitability; animal care and management; animal handling and welfare; sustainable practices; and product (meat, milk, and fiber) development, processing and distribution. We are working to create a network for education through developed materials and modules. This network includes WSU Extension professionals specializing in animal sciences for consult. Over the years the WSU Farm & Food Systems Animal Team: assisted with the development of mobile processing units; successfully worked to adjust state poultry regulations; and through promotional efforts, have created awareness of sustainably produced animal products.
Should You Raise Animals?: Many small-scale food and performance animal producers have limited knowledge about the animal industry. Before you decide to purchase your first food or performance animal you should ask yourself “should I raise animals”? This is an important question. Both food and performance animals are a time commitment and can be an expensive investment. It does change one’s lifestyle and reduce one’s ability to be spontaneous. Some animals need more constant care and management than others, yet all need observation so that slight changes in behavior or health do not turn into a major catastrophe.
Do you have the room to care for your animals of choice?: Animal handling and welfare are of concern and often the source of concern are the conditions that animals are raised in. Making sure that the environment you choose for your animal(s) will meet their basic needs and industry standards for animal care and welfare. Understanding that the space needed for different species (horse, cattle, goat, pig, chicken, etc.) does vary. Further, what type of space are you thinking for your food or performance animal – confinement, dry-lot and/or pasture? Animal welfare is really a function of proper animal care. If you are ever unsure of the room requirements the best thing is to seek guidance from a professional (WSU Extension educator, Veterinarian, etc.) in the animal industry. If you are still unsure a second opinion is always good.
Zoning: Just because you have property does not mean that you are allowed to have animals. If you own or are looking to buy property and choose to start raising animals it is best to consult with the municipality (city or town) and/or county for zoning restrictions related to your property. You may be allowed to have certain types of animals but there may be varying restrictions and conditions for each species allowed. These restrictions could include maximum number, maximum weight, sex restrictions (i.e., hens, no roosters), etc. These are legal restrictions that can be punishable by law.
Marketing Animals and Products (Inspection and Licensing): Many small farm animal operations start out as hobbies that turn into more. At some point small farm producers realize that income is needed to sustain the operation. This opportunity varies depending on the type of product that producers are selling. In some cases one can sell the product (fiber such as mohair, wool, angora, alpaca, etc.) direct without inspection. With perishable products (meat, milk and eggs) selling direct without inspection may or may not be legal. Understanding the type of market you hope to sell to will dictate the inspection channels that you will have to enter prior to distribution. Restrictions are in place as a way to provided consumers with a wholesome food supply preventing them from illness. There are challenges for each type of inspection and those challenges can be a source of frustration that some may choose not to deal with. Determine the animals you want and the products that you would like to market, and then determine what type of inspection it will take in order to deliver products to your consumers. Licensing for certain on-farm activities dealing with waste management, composting, water quality, etc., also must be met and kept up to date in order to be in compliance. Again if you are unsure then ask a trusted adviser.
Summary: Assuring that you have thoroughly asked the important questions with regard to animal production will point you in the direction of success. Raising animals is a holistic commitment of animal care and management, time and finances. If you are willing to make the commitment to raising animals, WSU Extension along with other trusted advisers will help in your discovery process, making the journey more rewarding.