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Raising alternative livestock

Raising livestock doesn’t always mean cattle, hogs, or sheep

Beef, cattle, sheep, and hogs are considered traditional livestock. There is another group of animals that goes beyond what’s commonplace in the barnyard. Bison, elk, alpacas, llamas, and donkeys are examples of “alternative livestock”.

Ginger Myers is the Extension marketing specialist for ag and natural resources at the University of Maryland. She says before you venture into exotic animal ownership, think about special stewardship considerations and whether you have the ability to properly care for them.

"You certainly need to take a look at can you meet their nutritional needs or are you going to have to buy in feed? Are they going to need special fencing? Sometimes you need a high tensile fence with tight wires at the bottom so they can’t crawl through, or a higher fence," says Myers. "How are you going to water these animals? Is there water on your property?"

Myers says all animals need some sort of shelter. Even hardy bison should have a place to get out of the weather if they want to.

Who will you call if your alternative livestock get sick? Myers says finding veterinary care for specialty animals can be a challenge, so it would be smart to learn their basic medical care.

"Being able to take their temperature and knowing what a normal range is, and administer some kind of medication if you need to," says Myers. "So, if you haven’t had experience with handling livestock, you need to work out that or go visit someone else who has these to talk about how do they treat them? How do you catch them and tie them up so you can take their temperature, or you can administer an aspirin if they need it."

Alternative livestock often fall outside the regulations for conventional animals, so there may be special licenses or permits to apply for.

Learn more about raising alternative livestock

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