If you're not down with the more intense parts of animal husbandry then you might want to hide your mind from the rest of this post...just a little warning....
When we started having animals on the farm we knew that we would have to make many tough decisions. Decisions that are maybe even controversial. We feel strongly about caring for our animals, all of them, intended for consumption or not, in the most humane way we can manage. We provide them with the best housing and food that we can afford and we are mindful of allowing them to behave in a manner that is most akin to their natural instincts. This, we need to balance against our need to contain them to a reasonable space that we can manage to fence, our finances, and our own personal health and safety.
The finances part we manage by not taking on more than we can afford. It is not difficult to get in over your head with grain and hay costs, and we are ever mindful of how much we spend every month and whether we can afford to maintain an animal in what we consider to be at least humane...and more likely....excellent conditions.
We also give our animals more space than they probably need. We feel they are healthier this way...and happier. Example: Pigs dont like to mire in their own waste anymore than we do--ours get lots of space or a stall that is mucked daily and we have leaner pigs because of it. That's fine with us.
On the more grizzly side of things, we have had to make several tough calls:
1. Disbud (dehorn) Goat Kids? Answer: YES
For us, having small children around unpredicatble animals with hard horns and knowing that we may need to use wire sheep fence for part of their pasture (which can be very dangerous for the goat if they get their horns caught in it), answered that question for us. While neither of my bottle fed does have ever come at me with their head, I cant say the same when it comes to my children (goats butting my kids...not my kids butting me), or for my Liza goat---who is much like her dad---pretty aggressive. Also, I felt that if I was going to have my face really close to these goats when milking, that it would be more prudent to have a horn-less goat. I have now successfully disbudded several goat kids with an iron--its quick and doesnt seem to bother the kids for long at all...its not pleasant...but a few moments of unpleasantry and a lifetime of ease and safety are the choice that we made. I respect others who decide otherwise...like so many things...its a personal choice.
2. Castrate piglets? Answer: NO
This was one job that I had fully prepared myself for. Our sow was to farrow for the first time and I was prepared to castrate all of the little boy piglets myself. I read the materials, over and over, set to go watch another person do a batch, and checked out the equipment. The thing is that most people want to buy a castrated male piglet for meat. Its been the long standing wisdom that you have to castrate boars or you get 'boar taint' or an off taste in the meat. After doing a ton of reading we decided that we disagreed with that long standing wisdom and successfully sold all of our boar piglets uncut. Hooray! I really was not looking forward to removing the testicles of little piglets--could I, yes--but glad we decided it was an unnecessary intervention.
3. Ring pig noses? Answer: NO
Some people put rings in their pig's noses so their pigs don't root up their pasture. We have large black hogs. They're pasture pigs. Supposedly they don't root and just eat pasture. Our observation is that this is true, IF you have really good quality pasture...which we do in some areas...but dont in many areas. BUT. The way we see it is, the pig roots up the nasty pasture area and eats all of the grubs and moves the soil around---and leaves behind some fertilizer. Then we move fence, add pasture seed, and voila! Good pasture. Plus, along the lines of letting animals follow their natural instincts---it just didn't set with us to make it painful for a pig to root. They're rooters. Its what they do. Again---I get why someone would do it. Just not for us.
4. Dehorn calf? Answer: YES
This was probably the biggest choice for us yet. We got our calf at 3 months old. A little on the old side to use the disbudding iron...and we stalled a little. But in our hearts we knew we did not want a dairy animal with horns. The woman who sold us the calf had a scar just under her eyeball from an unintentional meeting with a horn tip. Really close to being blind! Another woman we know was recently gored in the back by her docile horned cow. They don't mean to do it--most of the time. Its just that they move quick and if you are in the wrong spot--well it only takes a second. With two little kids and me planning to take a seat down by her side and extract milk--it just didn't make sense to take the risk. I think cow horns are beautiful and I am glad that some people are willing to live with them.
So we had to wait until the cold season since dehorning would be a bit more of a meaty endeavor and would attract flies and maggots in the warm temps. A few weeks ago we went ahead and made a very luxurious ($$) call to a specialized bovine vet. Not messing around here. There are plenty of farmers that do it themselves--power to them. We called the vet. It involved: a local anesthesia block, a general sedative, a scalpel, a wire saw, artery forceps, a dehorning iron, antiseptic spray and some anti sedative uppers. It was really no big whoop. The most intense part of it all is that my cow now has two (temporary) holes in the top of her head through which I can look directly into her corneal sinus. The holes are about as big as a pencil and should close up in a couple weeks. Still....that is just wierd. Believe me, we did a ton of reading on this one, and our vet was excellent. Daisy was babied and pampered and popped right up and started eating hay immediately after the procedure. I am relieved that it is done and she is snuggly and calm as ever. Maybe, if i have time tomorrow I'll get a picture up of what it looks like. From a science-y point of view its really quite interesting.
Anyways...controversial or not, that is how we have handled all of those decisions. I don't know that I ever thought I would be sitting up at night reading about artery forceps or how to press a piglet scrotum just so...but its all part of it. I think its good stuff to know. That when you look at a cow, you ask yourself about the horn situation...or when you see a litter of piglets you wonder how and if the farmer handled that castration. Its real stuff, isn't it?! Opinions?