Tag: Small-Scale Farming

The Farm


ToggenburgThe Toggenburg is yet another ancient Swiss dairy goat that has enjoyed success wherever it has traveled. This breed took its name from the Toggenburg region in the eastern part of its native country and has been known there for centuries. It has been registered and recorded since the 1600s, but definitely traces back considerably further. Read More

Tennessee Fainting Goat
The Farm

Tennessee Fainting Goat

Tennessee Fainting GoatThe Tennessee Fainting Goat goes by many names—Myotonic Goat, Nervous Goat, Wooden Leg—and receives its claim to fame from its strange habit of falling down stiff when startled. As befits its status as a strange curiosity among goat breeds, it traces back to a small herd owned by a man who was a strange curiosity himself. This man was John Tinsley. Read More

The Farm


NubianThe Nubian goat is typically thought of as an African breed. In reality, it traces back to late 1800s England. As the British Empire expanded to new regions, ships brought back native bucks from many environments. Many of these bucks were large, hardy animals that promised to improve British dairy goats. In particular, bucks from Egypt, Arabia, and India were favored. Read More

Nigerian Dwarf
The Farm

Nigerian Dwarf

Nigerian DwarfGoats of dwarfish proportions were once widespread across much of Africa, their historic home being a large swath stretching from the Atlantic coast inland as far as modern Sudan and almost spanning from 20°N to 20°S latitude. These miniature goats varied by region, some being stocky, cobby little animals and others proportioned like true dairy goats. Read More

The Farm


LaManchaAs its name suggests, the LaMancha does have ancestors from Spain, but it was developed entirely in the United States. Its story begins with the arrival of the conquistadors. The conquistadors and the missionaries who accompanied them always brought along livestock for food. Goats were usually among the herds and flocks, thanks to their versatility; they could provide both milk and meat on long journeys or at isolated missions. Read More

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds
The Farm

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds

An Introduction to Heritage BreedsThinking about starting a farm with heritage breeds? If you are new to this topic, you may enjoy An Introduction to Heritage Breeds: Saving and Raising Rare-Breed Livestock and Poultry by The Livestock Conservancy.

This excellent beginner’s resource starts with the basics—defining breeds in general and heritage breeds in particular. It discusses the plight and importance of rare breeds, as well as the necessity to maintain genetic diversity within these breeds despite their falling numbers.

After a look at how different farming systems call for vastly different breeds, An Introduction to Heritage Breeds moves on to considerations of importance to new farmers, helping them honestly assess what species of livestock will best fit their needs and circumstances. Factors to weigh include:

  • Handling ease.
  • Noise and odor level.
  • Shelter and space requirements.
  • Zoning restrictions.
  • Daily food and water requirements.
  • Predator control.
  • Products.
  • Processing and transportation.
  • Potential markets.
  • Breed associations and other resources.

Next comes information on getting started with heritage breeds:

  • Choosing a breed.
  • Providing for the basic needs of your livestock.
  • Setting realistic goals for your project.
  • Setting up a system of animal identification and record-keeping.
  • Planning to market your livestock or livestock products.

Maintaining a heritage breed requires close attention to the principles of genetics and selection, particularly when the breed is teetering on the brink of extinction. An Introduction to Heritage Breeds provides an overview of this process in nontechnical terms. It also demonstrates that rare breeds can be maintained and promoted through breeding projects with very different emphases:

  • Performance and exhibition.
  • Production only.
  • Production and breed conservation combined.
  • Rescue of rare breeds or bloodlines.

The book closes with a look at how breed associations can either help or hurt a rare breed.

While An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is not a comprehensive guide to breeds, it does provide numerous breed snapshots, distilling the most essential facts about the distinctive characteristics of many breeds.

If you are serious about working with heritage breeds, you will quickly outgrow this resource. We recommend supplementing it with resources specific to your chosen species, including a guide to care, a guide to breeding and genetics, and a breed encyclopedia. If you can find any works written entirely about your breed, make it a point to add those to your bookshelf, as well.

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is exactly what the title suggests—an introduction, concise and clear enough for a reader with no prior experience with animals.


Helpful Resources

Cattle BreedsCattle Breeds
Our own guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of cattle breeds, including some heritage breeds.

Horse & Donkey BreedsHorse & Donkey Breeds
Our own guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of horse and donkey breeds, including some heritage breeds.

English Shepherd
The Farm

English Shepherd

English ShepherdLike many herding dogs of the British Isles, the English Shepherd traces back to the herding mastiffs of Julius Caesar’s Roman army. As these dogs were abandoned by the departing soldiers, they crossed over time with various local dogs and perhaps with the herding spitzes of invading Vikings.

In different parts of the United Kingdom, the dogs took on different forms to suit varying climates and tasks. In the unfenced hill country of Scotland, the quick, canny Scotch Collie (the prototype of the modern Border Collie) evolved to herd flighty sheep. Further south in England, where fences were the norm, a slower, heavier dog was used to handle an equally slower, heavier breed of sheep, as well as cattle. This dog was the English Shepherd, a prime example of a landrace.

While the English Shepherd had been distinct from the Scotch Collie for many years, the advent of the Industrial Revolution widened the rift between the two types. The Scotch Collie was bred for greater and greater savvy and responsiveness, while the English Shepherd remained variable, few efforts being made to improve the breed.

It was actually the Americans who developed the innate abilities of the English Shepherd. Colonists often brought dogs of this type with them to their new homes, and here the breed’s versatility was discovered. Not only was the dog able to herd any kind of stock, it could deter intruders, kill rats, supervise the children, tree a squirrel or possum for the evening meal, and, when night fell, keep a watchful ear open in defense of its home and family. In short, the English Shepherd was the small-farm dog par excellence, the faithful friend known to all as “Old Shep.”

Little wonder, then, that the English Shepherd moved across the continent with the pioneers. Only on the ranches and sheep ranges of the West did another dog take precedence, its cousin the Australian Shepherd.

While the English Shepherd was recognized as a distinct breed by the performance-oriented United Kennel Club as early as 1927, smaller organizations tended to lump it together with the Australian Shepherd. But the two breeds were definitely separate landraces due to differences in their purpose and geographical location. A difference in genetics led to some slight physical differences, as well. It was not until 1957 that the Australian Shepherd Club of America was formed, giving the Australian Shepherd of the Western ranch its own identity.

Since the English Shepherd was first and foremost a working dog belonging to the family farmer, AKC registration was rarely even considered as a possibility. This kept the heritage of the English Shepherd as a versatile and genetically diverse landrace intact, but it was not without consequences. As industrialized agriculture took the place of family farming, the English Shepherd found itself without a job. Other breeds were better known and better promoted to the general public as pets. The English Shepherd dwindled perilously.

Fortunately, a revival of interest in small-scale farming has gone hand in hand with a revival of interest in the versatile English Shepherd. Hobby farmers have rediscovered the breed and are giving it a place in their country lifestyle. This increased awareness has in turn brought the breed to the attention of agility enthusiasts, who have many options for pursuing their sport, including the AKC’s new Canine Partners program for unregistered dogs of all breeds and mixes.

The current population of the English Shepherd is nearly impossible to estimate. While puppies are hard to locate, the breed can nevertheless boast a small but extremely dedicated following.



The English Shepherd is in his native element on a small farm. Not only is he an excellent watchdog and guardian of livestock, he can herd just about anything.

Casual hunters may appreciate his ability to track and tree a wide range of game, but there are other good uses to which his nose can be put. The English Shepherd is a good choice for search-and-rescue work.

More recently, the English Shepherd has proven his ability as a companion, particularly for those with a competitive streak. He can excel in just about any dog sport from obedience to agility to Frisbee. He is also a soothing therapy dog thanks to his sensitive nature.



The English Shepherd is first and foremost a working dog. He loves nothing better than to take orders, and he can be trusted implicitly to obey those orders without supervision. If necessary, he will also rely on his own keen problem-solving abilities to carry out his tasks and maintain order in his surroundings. He is very diligent, and always acts with a purpose. This means that if he does not have a job, he will create one, whether that is herding the children or forcing guests to remain in their cars.

Not only does the English Shepherd look to his humans for instruction, he relies on them for companionship. He is very much a people dog, always listening to what his humans say and often divining their intentions. While usually polite with strangers, he maintains a reserve at first. His devotion is for one family only (some individuals, in fact, are too possessive of their owners to live with other dogs). To them, he is always kind and sensitive. Without them, he is shy and insecure.

The English Shepherd, in keeping with his eager-to-please disposition, can learn very quickly. However, he is too smart to waste his time and energy on needless repetition, and he does have a stubborn streak that may come into play if drilled. Many English Shepherd owners recommend positive, informal training methods only. Again, he is very attuned to his people, and can pick up a surprising amount of training just by accompanying them in their daily activities and listening to their directions.

Because the English Shepherd is smart and attentive, he can easily learn to adjust his herding style to fit any type of stock. For best results, start him on tame sheep and ducks. This will bring out his gentle side early on. He can learn to use more force on tougher animals, like rams or cattle, after he gains experience. In these harder situations, his natural instinct as a heeler will come to the forefront. The English Shepherd prefers to drive a herd or flock ahead of him, but he can easily learn to gather animals into a group, as well.

Unlike many single-minded herding dogs, the English Shepherd will not compulsively herd once he has matured and can make a trustworthy livestock guardian. He will drive off predators, bark to alert owners to potential thieves, and even break up fights in the herd or flock. Unlike true livestock guardian breeds, however, the English Shepherd acts from a sense of duty to the master, not from possessiveness of the flock itself. He would much rather be working at the side of a family member than out by himself protecting livestock all day.



The English Shepherd is an extremely healthy dog with keen senses. The only widespread problem is hip dysplasia. Elbow dysplasia is also found throughout the breed.

An estimated 15% of English Shepherds are affected by multi-drug resistance. This is a genetic abnormality found in most herding dogs from the British Isles, and it can cause life-threatening reactions to some tranquilizers and heartworm medications.

Because most English Shepherds have tails, new owners may be surprised to see the occasional bobtailed puppy show up. This is perfectly normal for this breed and goes back to its past history. All working dogs were once docked to exempt them from taxes on pet dogs, and some farmers and shepherds deliberately bred bobtailed dogs for convenience.



  • Very diverse bloodlines, which ensures that a dog can be found to fit nearly any situation.
  • Ease of grooming.
  • Adaptability to most climates.
  • Hardiness.
  • Few health problems.
  • Versatility.
  • Work ethic.
  • Ability to adjust herding style to fit the needs of different types of livestock.
  • Agility.
  • Stamina.



  • Scarcity.
  • Need for very close human companionship.
  • Exercise needs.
  • Heavy shedding.


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Dog BreedsDog Breeds


The Farm


CollieThe Collie shares the same heritage as the rest of the sheepdogs of the British Isles. It traces back to the herding mastiffs of the invading Roman armies under Julius Caesar, perhaps with a touch of Viking spitz added later on.

For centuries, the Collie, or Scotch Collie, more or less resembled the modern Border Collie. These all-purpose farm dogs came in different varieties suited to different purposes. Shaggy-coated Collies, well insulated from the inhospitable climate, were ideally suited to tending the flocks on the hills of Scotland. Smooth Collies also existed, even in those days. However, they were more likely to be found driving sheep and cattle to market.

The split between the Scotch Collie and the Border Collie began as early as the Industrial Revolution. Farmers expanded their sheep flocks considerably to supply mutton and wool to the hungry cities, putting more effort into breeding specialized, highly efficient sheepdogs. At the same time, keeping pedigreed dogs became fashionable among the upper classes. The divide between show and working bloodlines began.

Still, the two collies were essentially the same breed until Queen Victoria visited Scotland around 1860. On her trip, she fell in love with the humble Scotch Collie. The royal patronage created a boom in the breed’s popularity. However, while the working sheepdog was bred for speed, savvy, and responsiveness, the Collie of the aristocracy was bred almost exclusively for looks. Selective breeding proliferated taller, fluffier dogs, while a cross with a Borzoi introduced a long, slender, refined head. A particularly successful dog, Old Cockie, was born in 1867. His good looks and sable coat, relatively uncommon at the time, became the goal of every breeder. In just a few short years, there was no mistaking the show Collie for the working Border Collie.

The first Collie shown in the United States appeared at the second-ever Westminster Kennel Club show in 1877. The following year, two Collies appeared at Westminster, both from Queen Victoria’s royal kennel. Royal patronage again did its work of popularizing the breed, this time among the American upper classes. On Long Island and all along the Hudson, nearly every prestigious estate could boast of a kennel of fine Collies, as the wealthy imported them for whatever price was asked. Even J.P. Morgan was an early promoter of the breed in the United States.

The importations continued until about 1920, when Americans became great breeders of show Collies in their own right. Many famous kennels were established in the 1920s and 1930s, while the breed became even larger and more refined in American hands. One of the great breeders of this era was Albert Payson Terhune, who not only bred dogs that are still found in pedigrees today, but also made the intelligence and nobility of the Collie famous through his numerous books and stories.

But the Collie still had not reached the very pinnacle of its fame. Lassie first appeared on the silver screen in 1943, launching the Collie to the dizziest heights worldwide. For the next 30 years or so, Lassie regularly appeared in movies, television shows, radio broadcasts, and children’s books. Every child wanted his or her own Lassie. Now the Collie was not just the dog of the rich, but the dog of the American family.

Not surprisingly, the situation was ripe for unprincipled breeders. Puppy mills obligingly stocked pet stores with Collie puppies, giving no consideration to the health or temperament of their animals.

Fortunately, the Collie, while still a favorite, has experienced more moderate popularity in recent years. Currently, the breed ranks 37th in AKC registration statistics. Interestingly, these numbers include the smooth-coated variety of Collie, which breeders report is becoming more common in some areas. Smooth Collies have existed since the earliest history of the breed, but all modern Smooth Collie bloodlines trace back to a tricolored dog named Trefoil, born in 1973.

A new development in the Collie breed is a renewed interest in getting back to the dog’s herding roots. Despite over 150 years of breeding almost exclusively for conformation, breeders and trainers have discovered that the herding instinct still lies dormant in some dogs, particularly in the smooth variety.



The gentle Collie is first and foremost the finest of pets and therapy dogs. Not driven by working instincts to the same degree as other herding breeds, this dog loves nothing better than to be the companion and protector of humankind. For this reason, he also makes a worthy assistance dog for the disabled.

Collies bred for work are more suited to small acreages than to big ranches. They make good watchdogs, but they can also herd small flocks of sheep or poultry, making them an excellent choice for hobby farms. They can also make a good showing in competitive herding.



Does Lassie sound like an exaggerated ideal? Guess again. The Collie is the epitome of a family dog—gentle, loving, and docile. He can be quite content accompanying adults in their daily activities, but he is at his best in the company of children. His sweet demeanor makes him the most trustworthy of canine companions, his active nature makes him an enjoyable playmate, and his protective instincts make him a dependable guardian. In short, once his puppy instinct to herd by nipping is trained out of him, the Collie is the ideal children’s dog. While his loyalty prevents him from attaching himself readily to adult strangers, he will generally take quickly to the younger set on the first meeting. One thing he cannot do, however, is adapt himself to being left home alone for extended periods of time.

The legendary intelligence of the Collie is not a myth, either. Many a Collie, even in these modern days, has proven his ability to detect something amiss in a situation and respond by protecting those he loves. Also, his ability to think like a human and to anticipate his master’s desires without a word spoken is considered uncanny by owners.

The Collie loves nothing better than to please. This, combined with his instinct to keep his living quarters tidy, makes him exceptionally easy to housebreak. More advanced training can be tackled with ease, as well, if due regard is paid to his sensitivity. The Collie will break down under harsh treatment, even if “harsh” is merely a loud tone of voice. A more dominant dog will still back down under a mild verbal reprimand. Also, don’t bore the smart Collie with needless repetition. He thrives on challenges, not drills.

There are differences in temperament between the Rough Collie and the Smooth Collie. The Rough Collie is more dignified and reserved, often preferring to watch rather than to take part in new situations. The Smooth Collie may respond to the novel with more fear at first, but after warming up is more likely to become an active participant.

Smooth Collies are more likely to display herding instinct than Rough Collies, but there are examples of Rough Collies becoming effective herding dogs on small flocks. Training can be a challenge, however, since even a Collie with herding instinct will tend to rely heavily on the handler for direction and encouragement. Starting a Collie on docile, dog-broken sheep is of paramount importance, as he will probably back down if confronted by a stubborn animal. Once used to being in control of the situation, he tends to work close to the flock, using his physical presence to keep the animals together instead of staring them into submission like a Border Collie. For extra emphasis, a Collie may also bark and nip.

Choose a Collie from a reputable breeder—poor-quality puppies are still bred on a regular basis. These dogs tend to be compulsive barkers and are rather high-strung. If frightened, they may bite, which makes them very unreliable around children.



While Collies do not suffer from a particularly large number of health problems, many of the health problems they are prone to are serious and widely distributed throughout the breed. The most common are:

  • Multi-drug resistance, which can cause life-threatening reactions to some tranquilizers and heartworm medication.
  • Collie nose, which is fading and ulcerating of the nose caused by the autoimmune disease lupus; not to be confused with sunburn due to lack of pigment.
  • Nodular granulomatous episclerokeratitis, an autoimmune disease that causes cells in the eye to proliferate and that can damage the cornea; usually seen in Collies with Collie nose.
  • Collie eye anomaly, a genetic defect that prevents the eye from developing properly.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy.
  • Dermatomyositis, an autoimmune disease that causes skin lesions and sometimes muscle swelling.
  • Gray Collie syndrome, a fatal genetic defect that affects bone marrow, resulting in cyclic drops in blood cell numbers; affected puppies are born light gray (not to be confused with blue merle) with light-colored noses.

Fortunately, some Collie problems are easy to avoid. Sunburn is common in Collies, particularly on their noses. Most dogs will benefit from a canine version of sunscreen when outdoors. Also, do not shave Rough Collies in summer. This leaves them prone to sunburn and insect bites on their bodies. To help them beat the heat, keep them inside with the air conditioner.

Like many large dogs, Collies are prone to bloat. Keep their digestive systems comfortable by feeding them two or three smaller meals a day instead of one large meal. Avoiding activity and excitement within an hour of meals helps, as well.

Finally, do not breed two merle dogs together. The resulting puppies may be born white, blind, and deaf.



  • Suitability for families with children.
  • Trainability.
  • Tidy habits.
  • Minimal grooming needs (Smooth Collie).
  • Cold tolerance (particularly Rough Collie).
  • Agility.
  • Speed.
  • Strength.



  • Prevalence of irresponsible breeders.
  • Need for constant human companionship.
  • Heavy shedding (both varieties).
  • Extensive grooming needs (Rough Collie).
  • Poor heat tolerance (Rough Collie).
  • Serious immune problems.


Complete Series

Dog BreedsDog Breeds


Pros and Cons of Niche Marketing
The Business

Pros and Cons of Niche Marketing

Pros and Cons of Niche MarketingNiche marketing is the norm for many small business owners, no matter what they are selling. Before diving in, however, it’s best to have an understanding of both the opportunities and the challenges of niche marketing.

Are you ready to capitalize on your strengths as an entrepreneur in a niche market? Read on.



  • Live your dream. Not all of us are cut out to be multimillionaires or world powers, but that doesn’t mean that we have to settle for boring 40-hour jobs. Niche marketing taps into passion—our passion and the passion of like-minded customers.
  • Set the trend. Have you spotted an underserved niche? You have a tremendous competitive advantage! By developing products that meet the needs of the niche and by marketing those products efficiently, you have an opportunity to dominate the market. The more unique your niche, the greater the likelihood that major players will shy away from competing with you.
  • Scale down. Don’t have the space to raise a thousand hogs? Don’t have the workforce to crank out a thousand handmade chairs? Niche marketing means that you don’t have to mass produce. With the world being the marketplace these days, you will actually find running your own niche business much easier if you focus on a particular customer base that you can serve well instead of trying to compete on the global scene.
  • Offer quality. Many of us sleep better at night if we know that we have pursued quality in our endeavors. Niche markets tend to reward that pursuit.
  • Set your price. Yes, if you are unrealistic when setting prices, you will do yourself out of a job. That said, when niche marketing, you do have some control over prices. You do not have to be at the mercy of the corporate world, but can consider both margin and customer expectations.
  • Put the dollars where they matter. It can take a big budget to compete in the global marketplace. You probably don’t have the money to advertise your home poultry flock enough to compete with Tyson. You may not be able to advertise a new formula of soft soap that can steal the market from the leading brand, either. By focusing on a niche, however, you can set a budget that reflects the size and purchasing power of a specific group of people and reach them more effectively.
  • Connect with customers. Businesses thrive when they put their customers first. While large companies can serve customers, niche businesses have a unique advantage in this area. You probably already have a feel for what your customers need; therefore, you can probably meet that need and give them the tailored service that they are looking for. This in turn results in loyalty to your brand.



  • Learn as you go. How well do you know your market and your products? To succeed at niche marketing, you’d better be prepared to become an expert in your field. You will have to stay abreast of information concerning all aspects of producing and marketing your chosen products.
  • Research the market. Maybe there’s a reason that the niche you are looking at has not been filled. To take an extreme example for the sake of illustration, there’s a reason farmers’ market participants in Kansas don’t offer homegrown bananas. Producing bananas in Kansas is simply not practical. As another example, there’s a reason that you aren’t likely to find a high-end restaurant catering to a low-income neighborhood. The locals probably are not going to eat at the restaurant because they can’t afford to.
  • Start small. A niche is small by definition. By finding a niche, you are accepting the fact that your product simply does not fit all potential buyers. It may never become a staple at the grocery story. By scaling up too fast, you run the risk of losing your hard-earned customer base. Also, do your market research in advance. Be sure that your niche is not too small to support your business.
  • Count the cost. Developing a niche market takes time, effort, and money. Count the cost before you make the jump. And be cautious about taking on debt—heavy liabilities have been the undoing of too many startups. Recognize the fact that it will be a while before you start to see a profit. While your margin may be better than a mass-marketing company’s margin, you will still get a slower start because you won’t be making nearly as many sales, especially at the beginning.
  • Pay the price. Big companies can get discounts on supplies and shipping because of the volume they work with. A niche business works on a much smaller scale, usually making its production costs per product higher.
  • Work, work, work. Face it—niche marketing is a lot of work. You will have a hard time tapping into preexisting marketing structures (unless it’s Amazon) because you stand out from the crowd. Mass marketers look for products that fit the box. Therefore, you will have to handle your own promotion and distribution for the most part. This takes time and effort.



Niche marketing is an outstanding way for a startup to gain a foothold in a global economy. However, it requires focus, knowledge, and close attention to the bottom line.

A niche business is not a big business, and it cannot be run in the same way. Capitalize on your strengths—but do your research.