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What Do Livestock Farmers Do?

A young kid on a goat farm.
Barley, which is often used to feed livestock.
Livestock farmers may deal in cattle.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 April 2014
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Livestock farmers rear livestock, animals raised for fiber, food, or labor. A livestock farmer can handle anything from a small family farm to a large commercial farming operation, dealing with animals like goats, chickens, horses, sheep, cattle, and turkeys, among others. Some livestock farmers learn their trade through apprenticeship, often on a family farm, while others acquire skills through training in professional schools and colleges, and on working farms which accept employees who are interested in learning the farming trade.

The average livestock farmer tends to wear a lot of hats. He or she is involved in the breeding of livestock, making decisions about when to breed, which animals should be bred, and how breeding should progress to bring out positive traits or preserve a bloodline. The farmer may also collect semen for sale to other farms or artificial insemination on a farm where animals are not bred directly. During pregnancy and labor, the animals are monitored closely for signs of distress, especially if they are highly valuable. Livestock farmers keep meticulous records about breeding and genetics with the goal of breeding healthy animals and keeping track of the animals in their care and the animals they sell.

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On a day to day basis, a livestock farmer supervises the care and feeding of the animals. He or she may provide basic veterinary care to injured or sick animals, follow recommendations from a veterinarian to help specific animals recover from illnesses, or bring in a vet to deal with emerging health problems. The farmer also handles orders for feed and supplies, walks fence lines to ensure that animals are properly confined, keeps barns and stabling areas clean and orderly, handles waste management, and delegates various tasks to employees.

In the case of livestock raised for meat, the farmer either supervises slaughter or arranges to sell the animals to a slaughterhouse or feedlot. Milk animals such as cows also require special care, including daily milking and processing of the milk. Animals used for fiber, such as sheep, must be regularly sheared and may require special treatments to maintain the quality of the fiber, another task which falls on the shoulders of the livestock farmer. If livestock farmers are working with animals raised for their labor, they also participate in training these animals and selling or renting them, whether they are oxen used for plowing or horses ridden recreationally.

The work of livestock farmers is never done. They tend to get up extremely early to get started with tasks on the farm from milking to placing orders for feed, and they go to bed late, after they have put the animals to bed and dealt with paperwork which could not be finished during the day. This type of work is also very physically demanding, as livestock farmers must be able to handle large and sometimes recalcitrant animals in addition to hauling heavy loads of feed and manure.

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