Introduction to Alternative Livestock
alternative livestock is gaining in popularity throughout Colorado.
Several areas should be explored before making any decisions. Are
you under any regulatory, covenant, or zoning restrictions for raising
alternative livestock? Will the land resource meet the nutrient requirements
for the animals, or will supplemental feeds need to be provided? Will
the potential profits (economic and recreation/enjoyment) outweigh
the fixed and operating costs? These and many other questions should
be objectively answered prior to initiating this unique enterprise.
domestic livestock operations, many alternative livestock enterprises
must be licensed to operate in the state of Colorado. The Colorado
Department of Agriculture assumes these regulatory requirements under
the Brand Inspection Division. According to a press release available
on their web site, they administer 37,000 brands to identify ownership
on cattle, sheep, mules, burros, horses, elk and fallow deer. They
also license and inspect elk and fallow deer facilities.
problem that alternative livestock owners faced in the past was the
lack of qualified veterinary care for sick animals. Through specialization
of veterinary students, increased demand for treating alternative
livestock species, and increased diversification of skills in veterinarians,
this problem is becoming less and less. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile
to locate a veterinarian knowledgeable and willing to treat alternative
livestock species. They will also be helpful in setting up a sound
herd health program for the prevention of disease. This benefit will
result in increased weight gains and production of other products.
negative aspect associated with some small-acreage landowners is the
lack of stewardship on grazing lands. Overgrazing, manure mismanagement,
and other mistakes by a few have created a negative impression in
the eyes of legislators and neighboring landowners. Care must be exercised
in how byproducts of any livestock enterprise are handled. Dust, flies,
manure, stored feed, and other necessities of animal management must
be planned on and managed in ways that are friendly to neighboring
landowners and businesses.
design and building materials are important for any livestock enterprise,
but especially for alternative livestock enterprises. Some design
details are regulated (fencing and setbacks), but some are a convenience
for animal management or aesthetics. It may be helpful to network
with current livestock owners to evaluate their facility design.
with people currently involved in raising alternative livestock may
help avoid pitfalls and novice mistakes. Observation of various management
activities, facility design, and development of markets for products
will help the industry remain viable for several years to come. Many
breed associations are also active for alternative livestock species.
are herd animals. Buffalo follow structured social orders (pecking
orders) determined by age, size and gender. Buffalo are well adapted
to Colorado’s winters because of their tolerance to cold temperatures
and ability to utilize low-quality forages. Historically, eastern
Colorado rangelands evolved under grazing pressures from buffalo herds.
Buffalo may be marketed for their meat and byproducts (including mounted
buffalo heads, skulls and hides).
of the fastest growing alternative livestock species is the domestic
elk. These majestic animals attract many newcomers every year, aiding
in its current good profitability. Captive elk production is relatively
new to Colorado, though has been active in Canada, New Zealand, and
states like Missouri. It is gaining in popularity because elk adapt
well to many different habitats. Colorado also has an active breeders
association, which actively promotes the business' expansion. Elk
ranching produces a number of diverse products including meat, antlers
(termed velvet), breeding stock, trophy hunting, and tourism (such
as bed and breakfast places). Of the least importance at this time
is the meat production.
are ratites, which encompass a group of flightless birds. Other ratites
include the ostrich, kiwi, rhea, and cassowary. Emus have poorly developed
wings, making them flightless, and have three toes on each foot whereas
the ostrich has only two. Emus are native to Australia. Commercial
production there and in the United States is a relatively new enterprise
however, They tend to be rather docile, but injuries to humans can
be sustained through improper handling.
are produced for their leather, meat, oil, and breeding purposes.
Leather is used in clothing, and is finer textured than cattle or
ostrich leathers. Emu meat has been marketed as a low-fat, low cholesterol
red meat, again similar to ostrich. Emu oil has been marketed as a
skin care product in Australia for years. U.S. producers are developing
markets for emu oil here as well. Of least importance is the breeding-stock
are more readily recognized as alternative livestock species because
they have been raised for many years in the United States. They have
been looked down upon in recent years because they were marketed as
a "get rich quick" species. Many of the investors who bought into
this marketing approach did not find this pot of gold, and since have
been warned against this risky venture. Ostriches are raised for their
leather, meat, and breeding purposes. Ostriches meat is marketed as
low-fat, low-cholesterol red meat, similar to emu. Carcass weights
will be slightly larger than emu.
Horses and Donkeys
horses are becoming popular recreational animals. They are known as
a height breed. Only horses that measure 34 inches or under may be
registered with the American Miniature Horse Association. They have
been touted for their usefulness in companionship and rehabilitation,
as well as used for pulling carts. Costume classes are a favorite
at fairs and shows throughout the United States. During the 16th century, they were developed for children of Royalty, and considered
prized possessions. Miniature horses and donkeys are raised for pleasure,
breeding stock, and tourism.
are but a few of the many alternative livestock species present in
Colorado today. Information on other species of livestock is becoming
easier to find each day, but sources of information should be evaluated
as to their reliability and applicability to Colorado circumstances.
are risks with any agricultural venture, but there may be added risks
with novelty or specialty crops or livestock which must be carefully
weighed in the decision-making process. Many people have been hurt
through venturing into alternative livestock enterprises throughout
the United States. Careful planning and self-assessment of your personal
aversion to risk should be conducted when considering these enterprises.
is also a great deal of satisfaction available with raising many alternative
livestock species. The mystique surrounding elk ranching, raising
bison, facing the challenges with introducing new meat products to
consumers, and many other successes have been enjoyed by many people
in these businesses. Creative minds can find success in these ventures.
State University Extension Service
(970) 356-4000 ext. 4465
Livestock Species for Colorado Landscapes (February 2000)
County Extension Director
Department of Agriculture
Inspection Division Fact Sheet
Miniature Horse Association
South Interstate 35W
Hulen Street, Suite 210
Worth, TX 76107
American Elk Breeders Association
North Prairie View Road
City, MO 64079
Elk and Game Breeders Association
Marion St., Suite 100
Research Extension Center
- A Manual for Success, 2nd Edition
information on this and many other Small Acreage topics are now available
- A Manual for Success, 2nd Edition
a copy of this book please contact the Adams County Small Acreage Coordinator