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Gettin' Big (and the decisions that come with it)

Well, our spring babies are getting all grown up. We still have the odd group popping up here and there, but all-in-all the season is over for new young and we are working towards downsizing for the winter. Which leads to some hard decisions.

With the exception of the few late arrivals, the rest of our young from this year with need to be sorted for their destinations over the next few weeks. Mainly the newest arrivals are ducklings and with the latest batch it puts us at about 30 ducks/ducklings. We are keeping a few with unusually lovely coloring, but very few. Our male-to-female ration is already a little off, and it is likely that the pretty ones are probably boys! Therefore, with one exception, any males that don't find new homes will be send to freezer camp the next time we have an opening.

Speaking of freezer camp, we have about a dozen rabbits headed out tomorrow. The bucks and does are all animals with bad body conformation, cow hocked feet or some other issue that would not only make them a bad choice for breeding, but might even cause the animals discomfort. The rabbits with good form will be headed to the Union Fair with us to hopefully find new homes.

Culling is one of the less pleasant parts of homesteading to talk about, even when you are used to it. You cannot keep all the young - especially the males - and most homesteads can only handle so many animals. Some offspring can be sold, but not all and here too the males will always be harder to move than the females.

In addition, not all animals should be kept or sold. Animals with serious flaws in their genetics should not be made someone else's problem. This is especially true when breeding rare heritage breeds. Often animals that would be culled in any other breed or species are sold due to the difficulties with finding breeding stock. Just because an animal is rare does not automatically mean it should be bred and we do not keep or breed animals that do not fit out standards.

Breeding rare animals is often divided in thought between the conservation breeders who want to breed for rescue purposes, and those who breed with a rancher/farmer's eye. Personally, while the conservation of my animals is incredibly important to me, I fall into the second category. I want to encourage new breeders, but I know that perfect animals are hard to come by. Deciding for myself, and helping other decide, what are acceptable flaws that can be bred out, versus traits that will damage a breed is important. It is not just for the good of my buyers, or for the breed. it is important to me. When a breed is as rare as some of the ones we raise, bad genetics released off my homestead will eventually find their way back. Making certain my buyers have good stock means that, hopefully, I will buy back even better stock some day.

If you are a new breeder, find the best stock you can. Your future generations will thank you for it. Don't buy based on a cute face. Check teeth, legs, udders, ears - whatever your animal has that may be prone to genetic defects.

A goat with good legs
Bad legs that will interfere with udder development

First time breeder? Ask questions.

  • Most rare breeds have associations with experts who can help as well.

  • Don't just ask the breeder you are buying from. There are some great breeders out there, but we can't help but fall a little in love with every kit and kid, and we may fail to see their defects the way we should.

  • For the not-so-good breeders, asking about the flaws in your potential animal is about like asking the used car salesman what is wrong with the car.

  • There are magazines and professional journals with advice. We've even written in some!

  • We are happy to answer where we can, and we will tell you if we can't.

Whatever method you choose, know what you are buying and what you are breeding.

And no matter how much it sucks, be prepared to cull.

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