Why Neuter Livestock for the Homestead?

Neuter Livestock

The decision to neuter livestock is part of maintaining a safe environment on the homestead or small backyard farm. This choice is of primary importance. Most of us are not running a breeding operation. We are raising animals for weed control, meat for our table, eggs, and other things like fiber and fleeces. Often, people don’t have the space to keep a bull, boar, ram or buck separate from the rest of the animals. In addition to space and separate housing, there are some serious facts to consider. Controlling the population on our backyard farms and homesteads is of primary importance. All animals require care, feed, veterinary services and room to move around. Over population can occur before you know it.

Sparring at Timber Creek Farm

Boys will be Boys. Sparring is a natural activity for all goats and sheep and not necessarily just for Bucks and Rams

Not Breeding?  Then, Neuter Livestock.

If you are not planning to breed your livestock, the most responsible course of action is to castrate, or neuter you livestock. Animal behavior is one reason to go this route. Males tend to be more aggressive, which can be a problem if you are not prepared to deal with this trait. Food aggression can be annoying and dangerous. An eighty pound buck jumping on you to get the food bucket can result in you being injured. The food bucket can be enough to cause a curious friendly, intact, male animal, to charge you and ram into you.

I have learned that letting a ram lamb become too pushy can lead to having a 100 pound lap puppy who thinks he makes the rules. Our ram, Ranger, wouldn’t let me into the pen, once he was full grown. I have been knocked down and also had my ribs broken by overly friendly male goats and rams.


Buddy and Gary Goat

Neuter or Separate the Goats 

Unwanted babies is another reason to neuter livestock on your homestead. Males left in the same field with the females often become territorial. Do not think that you can wait until you see mating behavior before separating the animals. As we were told as teens, it only takes once! By the time you actually witness mating behavior, you are probably expecting baby animals.


Micah and Pongo, two of our whethered goats

When Should You Neuter ?

Timing is another factor to consider when making the decision to neuter livestock. Waiting longer gives the urethra time to mature and reach its full growth. This will go a long way towards avoiding a later urinary track blockage, which male small ruminants can be prone to.

Of course, waiting can also have consequences. I waited too long to neuter a goat kid one year. Then bad weather arrived and by the time I was able to move him to another pen, he had impregnated his mother, sister and all the other females. Oops! We had a bumper crop of baby goats the following spring. If I had at least separated the males when they were weaned, I could have avoided this result.


Charlie Pride of Timber Creek Farm

East end of a westward pig. Charlie as a young boar


Methods Used to Neuter Livestock

There are multiple methods to use to neuter  livestock. Surgical castration, Burdizzo method and Banding with an elastrator are all methods used by farmers. I have been taught to perform banding and use the burdizzo but for our farm, I have chosen to go with surgical castration.

My reasons are that we usually only have a few babies here at any one time. I feel more comfortable doing something if I do it often. Surgical castration is one hundred percent effective and we have a good farm vet that I trust to do the surgery. If we were in a more rural location and raised more babies each year, I would choose to go with banding. Banding cannot be used on male piglets as they do not have hanging down parts.

Banding can leave a descended testicle though, if you are not careful, which can result in an unwanted pregnancy at some point. Our Ram/whether, Ranger, was banded as a lamb by the previous owner. He did not realize that one testicle had slipped back up into the abdominal cavity during the procedure. It later descended into the scrotum and resulted in him being fertile. The common saying when doing a banding is “always count to two!” before considering the job complete.

Ranger at Timber Creek Farm

Ranger our Ram, that was supposed to have been neutered as a lamb

Another consideration is that the burdizzo and the elastrator for banding are both bloodless methods. Using a bloodless method results in less likelihood of attracting flies.

Are Roosters Neutered?

Roosters are not routinely castrated as it needs to be a surgical procedure and is not always successful. A neutered rooster is called a Capon. Neutering a rooster needs to be done before sexual maturity. In some countries this is accomplished by feeding or implanting estrogen but this is not widely practiced in the United States.



Cattle and Swine

A bull will test your patience and the patience of nearby neighbors. A bull will spend a lot of time trying to find the weak spot in your fence line. Not to mention the large size and strength of a bull. Castrating a male calf would be the right choice if you are not running a breeding program.


We chose to raise heifers for our feeder calves. The aggression is minimal as they mature but they are more content to stay on the farm.

Pigs – To Neuter or Leave Intact?

With swine, leaving the males intact in those pigs you plan to raise for meat, can result in an off tasting pork product, but only if they are left intact past the point of sexual maturity. This is a theory that is debatable, also. Some believe that if the males are separated from the female pigs, there is no tainted taste to the meat. Read more here. In our case, our weanlings are sold intact, to people who are planning an upcoming pig roast, to be held before the point of sexual maturity occurs. We are keeping one boar for breeding at this time. We are not having any issues with him as far as behavior, but he has two females to take care of and plenty to eat.


Charlie Pride at Timber Creek Farm

Hand raised pigs may be less dangerous, but it is always good to remember that the animal works on instinct.

As with any thing farm related, being informed goes a long way towards being successful. Make the decision before hand on how you will deal with male farm animals and make sure the task is taken care of in a timely manner.


neuter livestock

Marek’s Disease Symptoms to Watch For

marek's disease symptomsMarek’s Disease symptoms are caused by a particularly strong herpes virus. Marek’s Disease can be found in the environment. The usual symptoms involve the nervous system, eyes, skin and other organ systems. A strong variation of the disease shows tumor growth. Marek’s Disease is mainly seen in young chicks and older chickens. Chicks and chickens with Marek’s Disease can show a complex set of symptoms or be totally symptom free.

Marek’s virus is transmitted two main ways. The virus can be transferred by fecal droppings and by feather dander. 

Some symptoms of Marek’s disease can be mild and vague, some can be severe and deadly. Paralysis can occur, along with sudden death. Since Marek’s disease attacks cells that produce antibodies, the immune system is at a disadvantage. You may find that the chicken also succumbs to coccidiosis or another pathogenic, opportunistic organism found in the environment.

In Gail Damarow’s book, “The Chicken Health Handbook“, she notes that Marek’s is likely carried by most chickens. The virus can lay dormant for long periods of time. Stress factors can weaken the chicken’s immune system. After that, the virus is able to activate and further debilitate the already stressed bird.

marek's disease symptoms

Marek’s Disease Symptoms after Stress

Chickens with Marek’s Disease symptoms may have had an added stress in their environment. Some stress factors that can cause the virus to become active are:

Upset routine – Chickens, like most animals, prefer to have a schedule. They do better when they are fed around the same time and the same routine used for their care. Whenever possible, try to care for the flock consistently, every day. When someone is filling in for you with the care, go over the routine, so that the chickens have as much stay the same as possible.

Coming into Lay– When a pullet first begins to lay eggs, she may feel stressed. Some pullets will sail through this change as if nothing is different. Others may require more solitude, quiet, and take a long time to relax and lay the egg.

Bullying– The pecking order squabbles are a fact of life in any chicken flock. It’s natural and usually is sorted out without humans intervening. Occasionally, a chicken may be a real bully though and find a victim to really stress out. When this happens, your victim may become ill from the stress. Marek’s disease symptoms can flare from the stress. 

Stress Factors That are Easily Controlled 

Crowding – Too many chickens in the coop or brooder can cause stress. The crowded conditions can also lead to bullying and pecking order disputes. 

Dirty Coop/Poor Ventilation – A filthy, fly or rodent infested coop is definitely a stress factor. In addition the ammonia odor build up from poor ventilation is likely to make the chickens sick. Once the chickens are sick, the Marek’s Disease symptoms are more likely to flare up also.

Worm overload – If your chickens have any other illness producing factors such as coccidiosis, E.coli, Salmonella, or any type of Rhinovirus, they are already weakened. Intestinal worms weaken a chicken’s body by preventing it from obtaining good nutrition from the food. Some intestinal worms can cause anemia. All of these issues are going to leave the door wide open to a Marek’s Disease symptoms flare up. 

marek's disease symptoms

Prevention of Marek’s Disease Symptoms

Newly hatched chicks have a very short term immunity from the hen. Chicks that aren’t vaccinated run a very high risk of having Marek’s Disease symptoms.  Many hatcheries offer the vaccine as an additional service when you order your chicks. 

Once you get your new chicks that have been vaccinated, keep them separate from the flock. When you do this it gives the immunity time to build. Keeping the chicks in a brooder, separate from your older chickens, increases the success rate of the vaccine. The vaccine does not prevent the chicken from getting the virus. The vaccine prevents the virus from causing illness and symptoms. In addition, the vaccine may limit the amount of virus that the vaccinated chick can shed in the environment. Unvaccinated chicks have a much higher risk of becoming sick from Marek’s Disease. 

marek's disease symptoms

If you buy from a breeder that does not offer the vaccine or hatch out chicks on your homestead, you can purchase the vaccine to administer yourself. The vaccine must be used quickly and kept cool. Have everything set up and vaccinate all chicks as quickly as possible.

Are There Other Ways to Prevent Marek’s Disease?

Experiments have been carried out where new chicks were isolated for a lengthy time period. After 5 months of not being exposed to other chickens or any environment that had chickens, some natural immunity was found. Since most of us do not have the ability or desire to isolate our new flock members for 20 weeks, this method is not very popular. 

After 6 months of age, the probability of seeing Marek’s Disease symptoms reduces. Also, not all forms of Marek’s Disease are deadly. The mortality rate from many of the types of Marek’s Disease is around 20% or lower.  These chickens are shedding high amounts of live virus, though and will infect any chickens in the coop. 

marek's disease symptoms

Marek’s Disease Symptoms

Blindness, often with a gray appearance to the eye or both eyes.

Leg Paralysis, with one leg dragging behind or legs paralyzed in opposite directions.

Tumors are seen more in older chickens as a result of Marek’s virus. 

Reddened skin 

Progressive paralysis and uncoordinated movements, often starting at the neck, through the wings and legs.

Weight loss

Marek’s Disease symptoms may come and go. 

What to Do if You Suspect Marek’s Disease

  1. Isolate any chickens that appear ill
  2. Do not introduce new birds to the flock when you have an outbreak of Marek’s Disease symptoms.

Bio-Security Methods

Practice good bio-security measures when visiting other chicken keepers and when having visitors to your chicken area. It is always a good idea to wear different shoes when visiting other flocks than the shoes you wear to care for your flock. Care for the chicks before caring for the mature chickens, to lessen the chance of bringing virus to the chicks area. Keep wild birds out of the run using poultry netting. Always quarantine newcomers for thirty days before adding to the flock. 


marek's disease symptoms. Marek's disease symptoms are caused by a particularly strong herpes virus. Marek's disease can be found in the environment. The usual symptoms involve the


How to Raise Healthy Geese for the Backyard Farm

raise healthy geeseDo you want to raise healthy geese for your backyard farm? The goose is a good choice for a poultry addition to a homestead.  Friendly and good at foraging, the goose will add a whole new dimension to your daily chores. Many people think that geese are similar to any other water fowl, such as ducks or even that geese are like raising turkeys or chickens. This is not entirely true. Geese have some unique characteristics and needs and should not be considered the same as the ducks. Raising healthy geese is not hard though. Take a look at what geese require.

Are Geese Good Watchdogs?

One thing that seems to be a bit confusing is the thought of using geese to protect other poultry. This can be a dangerous misconception for the goose. Geese are territorial and protective. They will not back down readily from an attack, which may give other birds a chance to escape. However no goose is a match for an attack by a dog, large fox or any other larger predator. 

raise healthy geese


In order to raise healthy geese for many years, provide a suitable structure for them to go into at night. Geese do not roost on a bar like chickens, guineas and turkeys. Provide a well ventilated, sturdy, low to the ground structure. Line the floor with dry straw and the geese will be happy campers! 

Each goose requires approximately 3 square feet of floor space in the structure. Since you will rarely want to confine them longer than overnight, the house does not need to be very large.  Two geese could be very comfortable in a 3 by 6 enclosure.  

We use snap hooks on the latches for our poultry buildings for added security. Most foxes can’t figure these out and the raccoon haven’t outsmarted the latches yet.

When Raising Healthy Geese, Do You Need a Pond?

Geese are not like ducks. They need water of course but do not require water to the same extent. The one point that might make a difference is if you are hoping to brood goslings with your goose breeding pair. Geese have an easier time mating when in the water.  In any event, the geese won’t spend lots of time on the pond like ducks might.

Raise Healthy Geese with the Right Food

Geese eat grass. That is their primary food source. If you plan to raise healthy geese on grass, they will need all access, every day to grass.  The grass should not be too long. Three inches tall is a good measurement. The geese will nibble the grass and graze along. All the nutrition the geese need is included in the grasses. If you don’t have enough pasture or grass you can feed wheat, poultry layer pellets and supplement with fresh greens. Lettuce, cabbage, and occasionally, cooked vegetables can be fed, also.  

  • note- do not feed layer crumbles or mash to the geese. It can disrupt ability to swallow by getting stuck in the upper bill. 

Wheat is provided in a bucket and covered with water. The wheat sinks to the bottom of the bucket. This prevents wild birds, rats and mice from accessing the wheat. Also, picking up all food at bedtime helps prevent rodent infestations. 

If you happen to have sheep to graze down the grass first, helps keep the grass short enough for the geese. If you don’t have sheep available, just mow the grass down to a reasonable height before letting the geese out to graze. 

Housing with Other Poultry and Water Fowl

There aren’t any reasons why you can’t keep geese with chickens or other large water fowl. Each situation will be different. Most likely you will get more than one gosling to begin with. As the goslings grow you will notice that they probably stick to their own flock and the chickens will stick to hanging with the other chickens. 

The geese will grow considerably bigger than your chickens and you will need to watch for any aggression. Areas that are large enough for everyone to roam and graze give you the best chance of different poultry species getting along.

raise healthy geese

Geese Breeds

Light breeds – Brown and White Chinese and Roman Tufted

Medium breeds – Pilgrim, American Buff and Sebastopol

Heavy breeds – Toulouse, African and Embden

Geese can be loyal and affectionate pets. They bond to each other and can be territorial during mating season. Since geese can live 15 to 20 years, you will be able to enjoy your pet geese for a long time. 

raise healthy geese

Live Animals for Easter?


Live animals for Easter?

Its that special time of year.  Spring has sprung, flowers are blooming, grass is beginning to turn green and we long to spend more time outside.  When we visit the local farm and garden center,  everything is bustling!  The seeds are in stock, bulbs, seed potatoes, and cool weather veggie plants are available.  But what is that peeping noise coming from the center of the store?  Baby Chicks are for sale!  Look at how adorable they are, small and soft and downy.  They chirp and peep and nap and run around.  Wouldn’t the kids love them?  Wouldn’t it be awesome to bring a few home?  Surely the kids will love taking care of live animals.  No, we don’t know anything, but we can just leave them in the backyard right? 


Live Animals for Easter?

Think Before Bringing Home Live Animals for Easter Gifts

The reality of this and other scenarios is being played out in garden centers and feed stores all across the country at this time of year.  Hopefully, the store has someone on staff that can talk the impulse buyer off the ledge and return them to their senses.  Giving live animals as Easter gifts has a long tradition but it is not one that I support.  Are you shocked?  Me, the proponent of raising chickens? 

Yes,  I believe that raising chicks, ducks and rabbits requires careful thought about how the animals will fit into your life.  These cute little balls of fluff are a lifetime commitment, at least the expected lifetime of the animal.   In our more agrarian past, many people had some sort of homesteading going on in their back yard.  Or had a close by relative that lived on a farm.  The future of any live Easter basket gift was certain to include a future move to a home coop, or a nearby farm. 

Now, this is not usually the case.  Many live Easter basket gifts are turned out to fend for themselves once they grow bigger and messier.  Or they are turned in to the local animal shelter which is probably not equipped for poultry and may have trouble placing grown rabbits too.   Chicks and ducklings are considered livestock.  Rabbits may be considered pets, but not everyone appreciates the behavior of a house rabbit. 


Live Animals for Easter?

Before buying live chicks, ducklings or baby rabbits for Easter gifts, consider the following questions.

  1. Do you live where you can keep the animal?
  2. Did you plan on raising animals in your backyard?
  3. Are your children responsible?  Are they old enough to take on the care of a pet and the care involved?
  4. Have you considered the entire life span of the chick, duckling or bunny?
  5. Where will the animal be housed?  Is this realistic?
  6. Can you afford the food, care and housing requirements for the animal?

If you are going to bring home live animals for Easter, start with research and not impulse.  Buy the best quality you can and make sure the timing is right before giving in to the impulse and spur of the moment purchase. 

live animals for Easter gifts

Do you need more information on the topic of getting homestead animals?  You might enjoy Before Getting Homestead Animals


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live animals for Easter

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Janet writes about many homestead and livestock related topics on her blog Timber Creek Farm. Her new book, Chickens From Scratch, is available now through the Timber Creek Farm website or from Amazon.com   

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 This post appeared first on Backyard Poultry Mag.com

Self Sustaining Living -Reusing Chicken Coop Trash


self sustaining livingSelf Sustaining Living on our farm means I try to reduce the amount of waste that the farm sends to the landfill.  It’s not always easy and I try to think creatively in order to reduce the waste. 

Every week our chicken coop residents eat through two fifty pound bags of feed. Every week that is two poly bags that end up in the refuse pile waiting for trash pickup. The longer we farm, the more conscious I am of how much waste we produce.  I doubt I will ever get it down to zero, but if I can continually reduce the amount of stuff that comes from our homestead and goes to a landfill, I will be satisfied that I tried my best.  

Some things we naturally have always used at least twice before it heads to it’s final destiny.  Although newspapers are recyclable, I normally use them again to line the rabbit hutch floor, or the chick brooder in the spring.  Cardboard boxes usually are recycled through the chicken coop as a nest box or hiding spot for smaller chickens.  And then there is the issue of all those poly bags that are now the way chicken feed is sold.   Two bags a week, fifty two weeks per year, 104 feed bags total and that is just from the chicken feed!   

Extra tidbit > there are over 19 billion chickens in the world!  For more fun facts on chickens check this post.  That’s a lot of chickens and waste from chickens!

I see the pile of feed bags accumulate every week on our farm and it bothers me to send them to the landfill.

Coming up with some additional uses was fun and creative. Basically, many of the uses you  have for a purchased vinyl tarp can be replaced by using an empty poly vinyl feedbag. 

self sustaining living

Here are some ways you can reuse empty feed bags and increase your level of Self Sustaining Living

Tote bags and reusable shopping bags – Take these to the grocery store, library, any place that uses those tiny annoying plastic shopping bags that only hold three items. 

Reuse the  empty feed bags as trash bags,  instead of  garbage bags.  We always have an empty feed bag propped up in our feed room.  We use it to collect the tops from the feed bags, and any other trash.  

Use the poly fabric feed sack as you would any wipe clean fabric.  Make place mats, coasters,  stadium seats, covers for patio furniture cushions.

self sustaining living

self sustaining living

Around the farm or barnyard, reuse the feed sacks to line the nest boxes for ease of cleaning.  I also use the bags to cover open windows for storm protection, or to cover the duck house open space at the top during the coldest part of winter.  We do the same with the top parts of the rabbit house too.  The large wire covered “windows” are great for summer ventilation but leave too much space for cold winds during winter.  

Self sustaining living

Using Poly Feed Bags for other Animal Housing.  

In our rabbit hutch with runs we use the feed bags under a few inches of dirt and mulch or bedding.  The poly vinyl bags help protect the wooden floor in the hutch.  In the run, having the old chicken feed  sacks under the dirt, keeps the rabbits from digging out under the fencing. 

I haven’t thought of any ways to reuse the poly vinyl feed sack with any activities for the sheep and goats, but give me some time to think about it!  

At the end of the day, the important thought is that we should be aware of what we use and throw away.  Even if you are being careful about how much you consume and throw away, there is waste.  Thinking about the waste products and coming up with a way to replace another item with something recycled from the poly vinyl feed bags will help keep some trash out of the landfills.  


self sustaining living


Compost, the Ultimate Reusable Product from the Coop

Making sure we are responsibly caring for the coop manure and used bedding is very important.  Not only cleaning the coop out regularly, but turning the waste into dark healthy compost is the healthy way to control the waste.  After a year, the compost added to soil will provide nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil in your garden.  

What products do you reuse from the coop, to help control the amount of waste that heads to our landfills?  Share you experiences with farm style, self sustaining living in the comments.

Self sustaining living

This post first appeared on Backyard Poultry Mag.com

self sustaining living