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Farm animals have an important place on the homestead. From the backyard homesteader to the full time farmer, producing your own eggs, milk and meat is a fulfilling accomplishment. We give our farm animals fresh food and water and the best care possible. But could our farm animals being doing more for us in return? We need to look at “the pigness of the pig and the chickeness of the chicken” as Joel Salatin puts it.
Instead of working against each farm animal’s natural instincts, why not have those instincts work for you instead?
Goats are typically thought of as “lawn mowers” because they have a reputation for eating nearly everything. While it is true that goats like to eat, they are not good lawn mowers as they don’t really like grass. Sure, they will eat grass, but only after everything else is gone. However, goats do love to eat woody plants and brambles such as blackberries and roses.
On our farm, we have a lot of multiflora rose and even more wild blackberries growing in the pastures. We put the goats to work by allowing them to eat as many brambles as they want. The goats are happy and so are we! Blackberries and roses are resilient and the goats may never completely eradicate them, but they will definitely keep them under control. Plus, it’s free goat food!
Pigs love to root around and dig wallows in the ground. If left in a pen, it won’t be long before they have rooted up all of the grass and there’s nothing left but bare dirt, or mud as the case may be. Since pigs love to root around, let’s put them to work!
We decided to place a melon patch in an area that was all grass and would require quite a bit of work before we could plant our melon plants. Instead of prepping the melon patch ourselves, we let the pigs do it for us. The pigs were in the pen for about 2 months and during that time, they had a great time rooting up the grass. By the time we moved the pigs out, the grass was gone. The ground still required some tilling, but there were no clumps of grass to deal with! Our pigs have also rooted up shrubs and small trees in unwanted places. Tree stumps can also be removed by pigs by placing grain around tree stumps to encourage them to root around the stump. it’s amazing what pigs can do with their snouts!
Pigs can also loosen up deep bedding in the barn. Drilling holes into the bedding and putting grain in the holes will encourage the pigs to root deep into the bedding. The bedding will be loosened and the composting process of the bedding will speed up. We plan to have our pigs help us with the deep bedding in the goat barn this year. I will still have to shovel it out of the barn, but it should be an easier job to scoop and the material will be much more valuable!
Chickens & Guineas
Chickens love to eat bugs and scratch around in the dirt, making them excellent pest control. We have a mobile chicken coop for our chickens that is moved every day. Our chickens free range during the day and then are locked up in the coop at night. We have our chickens follow our cows around in the pastures. The chickens love to scratch through cow pies and eat fly larvae, which is excellent fly control in the summer. All by letting the chickens do what they love to do!
The chicken coop has an open floor, so the chickens fertilize the pasture where the coop is parked for the day. Moving the coop every day prevents the chicken manure from killing the grass but gives the pastures some excellent fertilizer.
Our flock of guineas has one purpose: tick control. They travel together in a group all over the farm, eating ticks and other bugs. Guineas can be loud, but the tick population has drastically reduced in the areas that the guineas frequent. They will also warn of any intruders, including snakes. Guineas are a must on our farm!
Sheep are much better “lawn mowers” than goats will ever be. They will eat grass and are great weed control! Due to overgrazing prior to our purchase of our farm, we have some pastures with weed issues, ragweed specifically. The sheep love ragweed so much that they will eat it first and then look for the grass. This past summer the sheep stopped the weed cycle by midsummer. They had eaten all of the leaves and seed heads off of the ragweed in the pastures where they had been rotationally grazed. It will be interesting to see if the ragweed is gone this year. But if not, the sheep love to eat it so we’ll put them to work!