Thursday, June 13, 2013

Alternative Livestock Ideas

WARNING: We normally strive for a ratio of about 50% silliness and 50% useful stuff in our posts, but this post is closer to 90% silliness.  If you are a first time reader, make sure to check out some of our other posts before writing us off as kooks.  After reading the other posts, you will probably still think we're kooks, but at least you'll have a better sample on which to judge us.  To the rest of you: take off your thinking caps.  It's about to get stupid.


As we were reading through Joel Salatin's You Can Farm, we started thinking about what other livestock could be raised in a niche market for a profitable farming enterprise. We recalled a story about some folks who have a herd of goats with which they travel around and offer brush-clearing services.  This seems like a great system because a large fraction of the feed comes from land the farmer doesn't have to own, or even rent!  What other types of animals could this model be applied to?  We came up with a few examples:

Beavers: A traveling colony of trained beavers could be used for ecologically sound timber felling and dam building.  The beavers would probably even clean up the brush from the fallen trees and leave a small pile of mulch near the trunk.  Illegal to modify those wetlands on your property?  Not if the beavers do it! (okay, maybe it would be if hired beavers do it, but it's probably a gray area, legally speaking.)

Woodchucks: Need to install a culvert under that sidewalk?  Running an electrical line to an outbuilding?  Hire out a herd of well-trained whistle pigs to get the excavation job done lickety-split.  Alternatively, if you need party entertainment, have a giggle as a herd of woodchucks wiggle through your yard, randomly snacking on stuff.  They're also good at staring contests.  It's a scientific fact that woodchuck videos are at least as funny as cat videos, although greatly underrated. A woodchuck and a cat in the same video?  How does this not have more views than Gangnam Style??  (Katie says, "Ok, Jake.  We understand that you think groundhogs are inherently funny.  Get over it.")  Another big bonus is that they hibernate in winter, which would dramatically reduce feed costs.

Anteaters/aardvarks: Pest control with insectivorous mammals must be a hugely untapped market.  Every spring when colonies of pavement ants swarm on sidewalks or come looking for food in kitchens, there must be a seasonal outcry for an environmentally-friendly solution that doesn't require poisons or vacuum cleaners.  People would probably love to rent out a herd of anteaters for a few days until the problem is solved!

Uh-oh, Katie.  Call the anteater guy--they're coming in through the window!  What do you mean there's no anteater guy?  I wish there were!

Honey badgers: For problem species that anteaters won't eat, honey badgers can probably take care of the rest--bees, snakes, rodents, honey badgers love them all.  They're also good diggers, so if the woodchucks get out of control, honey badgers can probably solve the problem.  What could possibly go wrong with this one?

Clams/mussels: Want to filter your greywater as a final step before reusing it on the garden or houseplants while simultaneously raising tasty and healthy seafood?  Install a raft of freshwater clams in your greywater effluent system and watch the water become crystal clear while the clams become huge and delicious.  Actually, this is pretty much just aquaponics, so the business model is already proven. 

Cats: Would definitely be useful for rodent control and as a source of hair for spinning yarn, but mostly we wanted to post a link to our favorite commercial of all time.  We can never remember what the product is, but the production is brilliant!

Hummingbirds: Some flowers store their nectar too deep for honeybee tongues, so other species are required to pollinate them.  Are there enough of these flowers to sustain a business?  Maybe not, but how awesome would it be to command a flock of hummingbirds!

Monkeys: What's the hardest part of picking apples, pears, and peaches from trees larger than 'dwarf' size?  The ones you can't reach!  Wouldn't you like to get them before they fall on the ground?  Maybe you could with a tribe of trained Capuchin monkeys.  They'd be super smart and probably work all day bringing in the high-hanging fruit and nuts without damage (mostly).

This little guy, with proper training, could pick the highest apples and pears on your tree and bring them down to your basket with nary a bruise or blemish.  Photo credit: ADW.

Otters: Have your aquaponic/greywater clams gotten out of control, or are they doing so well you don't have time to pick them yourself?  A trained bevy of otters would enthusiastically pick them for you.  One could also offer harvesting services for oyster or sea urchin infestations.

Squirrels: Planning to start a pecan or walnut orchard?  Need to plant ten acres of oak trees on your new hunting land?  Bet it would be great if you didn't have to plant each acorn yourself.  For a small fee, a herd of squirrels could do the job in a couple days, given enough seed stock.  One could offer trained squirrels that plant trees in rows for easier harvesting, or untrained squirrels for a more natural look.  Additionally, squirrel meat is very lean and tasty when properly prepared, and squirrel hides tanned hair-on are pleasantly soft and durable.

Fox squirrel about to plant or eat an acorn.  With a little training, he could provide the labor for your entire reforestation project, or at least plant your walnut orchard for you.  Photo credit: Wikipedia.

These alternative farming proposals would also stimulate a market for talented animal trainers. So, if you have squirrel- or honey badger-training skills, feel free to jump on the bandwagon now, before this concept really takes off.

Do you have experience with alternative livestock?  What are some other potential enterprises that could be stacked on these here?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!


  1. Bears: One of the problems of salmon fishing is how much commercial fishing depletes the ocean, and few people want to spend the amount of time fly-fishing. The solution? A few trained black bears. Stick a few on a stream, sit back, and relax. They keep a few for themselves, cutting down on the need for artificial feed.

    Bats: mosquitoes got you down? Sick and tired of spending countless dollars on cancerous DEET-based products, butane repellents, or battery-powered noisemakers? A team of well-trained bats could certainly help. These talented mammals can eat their weight or more in mosquitoes and other pests every day. A few days with a disciplined flock could certainly help reduce your irritating insect load.

    1. Brilliant! We knew we could count on you to participate in our silliness. Bats had crossed our minds at one point too, but then we forgot to include them in the post. Thanks Pete!

    2. Bats are also a sustainable food option- or so says my favorite 1970's cookbook, which includes a recipe for fruit-bat soup.

      Personally, I'd vote for the woodchucks (ever see one lazily sunning itself on your deck while it thinks you're not looking? adorable.) and the cats. But that might just be because I agree about the best. commercial. ever.

      And I've wanted a small herd of wombats since I read an article years ago about a small firm in England trying to sell them as lawnmowers. Sadly, they're not imported to the US, nor are they particularly friendly. But still...

    3. Our 'Eat Like a Wild Man' cookbook has a bat recipe also. :-) It's funny that wombats aren't friendly, because they really look like they would be. Maybe they're upset about pooping cubes.

  2. Fireflies: how many millions of dollars a year do we needlessly waste on lighting? Nature has us covered! A few quart to half-gallon jars with a bit of firefly food in them (i.e., a bit of nectar-pollen type foliage) and you have 2-3 weeks of natural, lava-lamp style lighting! (Okay, so the total lumens created may not be that high...)

    1. I think they key is to get the lumens focused where you need them, like if you accidentally smoosh one on your glasses or something. Not that that's ever happened...