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Small Homestead Questions  RSS feed

 
Posts: 5
Location: Marysville Wa
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I am wanting to start moving towards a more agrarian lifestyle with my family. I have about a fenced half acre and have read a lot about the best small animals but it rarely talks about how much space you need. I am getting 5 chickens and then the next step would be to add something like a pig, goat or sheep. I'd love the goat milk but I am a bit concerned about the amount of care. I need as efficient as possible? I like the idea of the goat due to the personality etc. I am trying to be strategic as I have media obsessed kids and need to get buy in.
I also have about 4 large raised beds that I would like to plant in starting this fall and would love some natural soil tilling if any animal is good at that? I thought about some movable chicken fencing I could move around the beds so the chickens could dig and weed? Will they do a sufficient job?
Ideas? Strategies?
Thanks!
 
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Posts: 1191
Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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1) you need 2 goats. Singletons would be miserable. If you want to get tied to a milking schedule, you might consider a pair of Nigerian Dwarf goat does. Find someone with a buck to breed them. You don't want to feed a buck all year for the 10 minutes of work you require annually and they stink. A half acre isn't enough to get away from that stink. You haven't said where this half acre is, but you are likely to need to bring in some hay regardless. Figure out what you will do with the babies ahead of time. You don't get milk until after the babies Realistically, goats take a few minutes to feed and water a couple times a day, if you do deep bedding, a big clean out a couple times a year to feed the compost heap. They need a shed and a fenced area, and if you are milking, I would personally want a separate shed and stanchion to milk in. We use livestock fencing panels and tarps to make u-shaped sheds that do well for things like a milking parlor and hay storage at a pretty low cost so it's not a fortune.

2) chickens do a good job of tilling, and eggs, and pest patrol and meat if you are willing to do the dirty work of butchering. They will destroy anything in the beds, so they aren't going to weed while you have crops in place, but in the off season a tractor would work. You could make a chicken moat around your four beds for the growing season.

One possible layout would be to take your garden rectangle, make a chicken moat around it, have a coop that opens onto the moat, the goat pen adjacent to the garden and coop, and the compost as close to both the coop and goat shed as is manageable. You can toss weeds to whoever would appreciate them And water central to all of that. It doesn't cost much to rent a trencher for a day and extend a water line. Well worth the expense, once you are sure everything is in the correct place.

I'm sure others will have other ideas, but I'm kind of assuming you are in a suburban area where free ranging beasts won't do.
 
Posts: 1983
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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Where are you located, Blake? If you go to "your profile" you can add the details of where you live.

I have found animals to be a lot of work because where I live in New England we have a pretty long cold winter and animals need fresh water and food. If I don't grow and store all the food they need, we have to buy it. Chickens are worth it to me because they give us eggs, excellent fertilizer and they are not picky about eating our leftovers.

Many people really enjoy their animals and get a lot of value out of them. I'm satisfied with chickens for now
 
Blake Paine
Posts: 5
Location: Marysville Wa
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Good ideas so far! The chicken moat won't really work for our bed layout. They are in 3 different areas.
What about moveable chicken fencing if I want them to till and clean an area?

I updated a bit of my info...I am in Marysville WA USA.
 
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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Just to let you know - with dairy goats you'll need shelter unless you live in a warm region. You didn't mention out buildings, houses, sheds etc. and with acquiring animals, especially if your work force hasn't bought in yet, you'll want to locate your animal shelters conveniently. As Matu mentioned - for the watering, feeding, milking and egg collection.

My Strategy - is to start right away, some like to have everything perfect first, but I find that I can make better decisions with some experience under my belt. So I jump in and learn on the fly, but that's me.

Next, just start with a limited number of animals, in line of sight of the house. You've heard out of sight out of mind, well it's true! But if your family can look out a window and see what the funny animals are doing, if they can hear the sounds the animals make and take care of them while on their way to ....? Then bonding is more likely to occur. This can be a bit tricky, so sketch up some plans and ask everyone for their ideas (and drawings).

Animals are a lot of work so planing how it can work is important. When we lived in the city we had 14 chickens, 5 ducks, 6 rabbits, 3 cats and 1 dog - and not one neighbor filed a complaint, a couple held up grand kids over the fence to view the back-yard petting zoo though. I had paddock for the chickens and a paddock for the rabbits, the ducks, cats and dog were free rangers of the backyard.

A tractor is nice when the weather is nice, but I find a walk-in chicken coop is also nice for the winter when no one wants to move the chickens or be outside longer than necessary (again your weather and feelings about it may vary).
 
Posts: 310
Location: Onalaska, Lewis County, WA
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We've lived with chickens in Seattle and surrounding suburbs for 20+ years now, and one of the best innovations I've tried with the hens is using an old dog run as a chicken tractor. The neighbor who lets us garden in her sunny back yard just happened to have a very old chain-link dog kennel sitting around. We salvaged an old canopy tarp from another neighbor's trash can, and covered one end (using bungee cords) to make a windbreak and rain shield. Then we took a bamboo branch and strung in horizontally about 2.5' up from the ground within the covered end to make a chicken roost. You don't need to worry about creating an enclosed chicken house; our climate is so mild the chickens will do fine with just one end covered. String some chicken wire or fencing over the top, though - raccoons will climb up and over and take your precious hens if you don't! I'm posting a photo of ours; hope you can see what I've done.

Once the chickens have plucked the weeds and scratched to the bare soil, I move the "tractor" to the next patch and use a broadfork to loosen the soil down to 1', and then either cover with mulch and let it rest, or plant into it. The width of my beds are dictated by the width of the kennel. The general rule of thumb is 2 sq. ft per chicken, which can be fudged it you're letting many chickens use the whole area. I have 3 hens and one rabbit (in her own cage on the ground) in this kennel and it feels HUGE! Could easily contain another 3-5 chickens. If you suspended the rabbit cages from the chain link, you could put several cages within the kennel and not sacrifice any floor space for the chickens - plus then the chickens would scratch in the extra rabbit food and pellets. Makes it easier to feed the rabbits if they're eye level, too.

I keep both the rabbit and chicken foods in a metal garbage can just outside the entrance. Very important to use metal to avoid vermin problems - plus, we only feed once per day, in the morning. No extra food laying around to attract unwanted guests.
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pollinator
Posts: 1361
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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On half an acre - no dairy animal unless you go for a walk with it each day of cut grass on other peoples properties. A goat/sheep needs an acre.
I think ducks are good too especially muscovies (they are ugly though).
 
master steward
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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Welcome, Blake! My husband, son and I live not too far from Marysville. I'm going to second Angelika in saying that ducks are awesome, though we have mallards types, not muscovies. We have a mixed flock of Golden 300s and Anconas (as well as a few Runners and a Khaki Campbell). They do a fantastic job of controlling pests, foraging for themselves, and laying almost an egg a day per duck...and the egg is twice as big as chickens, so it's more like getting almost two eggs a day per duck! Ducks are also quieter, allowing you to have a male so you don't have to purchase new layers every few years. Ducks also lay for more years than chickens. And, they love the wet and don't mind the cold.

Though, ducks won't till your garden. They also won't destroy your plants--just keep them out of your seedlings. Ducks can also be herded. You do have to manage poo a bit more and change their water (ours have a tray of water thats about 1 foot by 2 feet and 4-6 inches deep to bath in, as well as a pail of water for drinking out of. Though having a duck pond or kiddy pool for them to swim in is awesome, it does result in a lot of water that you have to manage since you have to change it every day).

As for goats, I would start out with the chickens or the ducks first. Managing livestock is a learning experience, and takes a lot of time and thought and energy. Get the small livestock figured out first, and then tackle the larger ones if it still seems like a good idea.

As for portable fencing, you can also just get poultry netting (electrified with a solar electric charger if racoons, coyotes, or other predators are in your area). Premier1 has both the fencing and the chargers, though we ended up getting our charger from Midland Hardware, as it was more affordable (we got the 6 Volt Solar-Pak Electric Fencer, and it's been great for us). Another, more affordable option is to buy the portable fence posts at Lowes or Home Depot (they're in the gardening section at Lowes) and buy some non-electric poultry netting online (or use the orange construction netting found in the lumber section at Lowes, but our ducks escaped from that. It does a fine job of keeping them out of areas, just not in a confined area).

But, yes, using portable fencing works well for rotating them through. It helps reduce feed costs, helps distribute their natural fertilizers, and can mow the lawn to a degree (ducks) or till it up (chickens). If you have chickens, you'll probably need to have a portable coop, too, which would be a more difficult build, especially if you end up wanting more chickens. With ducks, you can have portable fencing and a stationary duck house and just herd them to your fenced area. They herd rather well, especially if you have sticks &/or more than one person.
 
Angelika Maier
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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I don't know ducks eat a lot of greens and I would never let them in my veggie garden, unless there is a lot of other green around but they still like lettuce more.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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Once the veggies get a certain height, they don't seem to mess with them--they have bugs and dandelions and grass and other random weeds they like (like creeping buttercup!). We have broccoli that's 8-14 iches tall, and they leave it alone. They haven't eaten my squash or zucchini, either, or my pea plants or the blueberry bushes. The seedlings, though, they eat to death. But, then, they're not confined to my garden; if they were, I'm sure they'd probably eat the broccoli, pea plants, etc. During part of their day, their confined in their own enclosure which has salmonberry and sunchokes. They LOVE the sunchokes, and I had to fence them off from them until the sunchokes got tall enough to have leaves out of their reach. Even still, they knocked a few down and ate all the leaves. They, however, do not consume the salmonberry leaves, even if the leaves are young. In summary, from my limited one year of experience with ducks: If the plant has nice, soft rippable leaves,or small tender leaves, ducks probably shouldn't be left in there for too long if you want to keep it.
 
Blake Paine
Posts: 5
Location: Marysville Wa
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Laura Sweany wrote:We've lived with chickens in Seattle and surrounding suburbs for 20+ years now, and one of the best innovations I've tried with the hens is using an old dog run as a chicken tractor. The neighbor who lets us garden in her sunny back yard just happened to have a very old chain-link dog kennel sitting around. We salvaged an old canopy tarp from another neighbor's trash can, and covered one end (using bungee cords) to make a windbreak and rain shield. Then we took a bamboo branch and strung in horizontally about 2.5' up from the ground within the covered end to make a chicken roost. You don't need to worry about creating an enclosed chicken house; our climate is so mild the chickens will do fine with just one end covered. String some chicken wire or fencing over the top, though - raccoons will climb up and over and take your precious hens if you don't! I'm posting a photo of ours; hope you can see what I've done.

Once the chickens have plucked the weeds and scratched to the bare soil, I move the "tractor" to the next patch and use a broadfork to loosen the soil down to 1', and then either cover with mulch and let it rest, or plant into it. The width of my beds are dictated by the width of the kennel. The general rule of thumb is 2 sq. ft per chicken, which can be fudged it you're letting many chickens use the whole area. I have 3 hens and one rabbit (in her own cage on the ground) in this kennel and it feels HUGE! Could easily contain another 3-5 chickens. If you suspended the rabbit cages from the chain link, you could put several cages within the kennel and not sacrifice any floor space for the chickens - plus then the chickens would scratch in the extra rabbit food and pellets. Makes it easier to feed the rabbits if they're eye level, too.

I keep both the rabbit and chicken foods in a metal garbage can just outside the entrance. Very important to use metal to avoid vermin problems - plus, we only feed once per day, in the morning. No extra food laying around to attract unwanted guests.



Laura...I am liking this idea but have a few questions? What are you using for nesting boxes? Are they elevated and attached to the fence? I'd love some more photos of the inside? I have been looking for a cheap dog run but have not found anything yet. I like the idea of being able to lift everything and move it.
 
Blake Paine
Posts: 5
Location: Marysville Wa
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Thanks for all of the input guys...I am learning so much.
Can ducks and chickens be together in a coop or would they need separate living quarters?
My younger kids would love the ducklings!

I saw this on Craigslist and thought it looked awesome!
Thoughts?
http://seattle.craigslist.org/est/grq/5160877837.html
 
Nicole Alderman
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Posts: 5180
Location: Pacific Northwest
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I do not have chickens, only the ducks, but I have read that they can be happily housed together, especially if you do not have a drake (the drakes can sometimes get a little....randy....with the chickens and injure them. Here's an article by Erika Strauss about it: http://www.nwedible.com/aggressive-duck-sex/). Ducks don't require much in the way of housing--no perches or raised nesting boxes (they like a nesting box on the ground), so as long as the ducks can waddle into the house, they should be able to share. You should also probably have an easier time of it if the chickens and ducks have ample room to roam and a bit bigger house. I would also assume that they would get along better if you raised them together.

As for the tractor, I've never used one. It looks fine for the amount of chickens pictured, as long as you don't have predators (raccoons can reach through fencing that big and rip off pieces of chicken and eat them alive through the fence .) I also can't tell how secure the nesting boxes are. They would need hardware cloth over the openings to predator-proof them. I think chickens also need perches to roost on, and I don't see those, so you'd have to add those in, which shouldn't be too difficult. Here's an article about predator-proofing chicken (& duck) housing/fencing: http://www.communitychickens.com/10-tips-for-predator-proofing-chickens/
 
Blake Paine
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Location: Marysville Wa
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Oh man...that duck video was very funny! I do have a 2 year old and a 5 year old and I've heard the male ducks can be aggressive with little ones. Any truth to that?
I was also wondering if there is a danger in buying a used coop and putting a new flock in it?
 
Nicole Alderman
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Our son will be two in a month, and we've had ducks for a year now. They have never once hurt or even acted aggressive toward him at all. They are also not hand-tame (we never really had time to bond with the few of them we raised). We have 18 ducks, three of which are drakes. When we started out, we had seven drakes and three females (we did not get lucky!). None of our ducks have ever hurt us or my son. My son chases them around and all they do is run away. He's also fed them. I could, perhaps, see them getting aggressive if he managed to corner them and pick them up (not being hand-tame, they don't like being picked up. That wouldn't be a problem if your kids raised and bonded with the ducklings). But, they have room to run, so there's never been a problem. It has frankly never even come to mind that they might hurt him; they have no inclination toward it. They have never hurt us, either. Some breeds might be more aggressive than others, perhaps. All three of our males are anconas. Muscovies might be different, as they have claws, and I've heard they're more aggressive (more like geese). But our ducks have never been aggressive.

As for buying a used coop, the only danger I could see would be possible diseases passing from the old flock to your new one. If you clean and sanitize it and put in new bedding, I can't imagine there being any problem.
 
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