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keeping animals if you aren't going to eat them?  RSS feed

 
travis laduke
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I have very little hope of this thread ending well at all, but let's try...

Lets also exclude the eggs and dairy for sake of discussion. Think of them as pets.

All the animals provide manure
Cows and sheep and goats cut the grass
Chickens control pests
Pigs root around


I'm guessing you'd still have to keep chickens in a paddock system like in Paul's article, or they'll poop where you don't want them to and eat what you don't want them to. You could probably convince some wild birds to do that without having to build a coop.

Ruminants might help you improve your soil faster, but eventually you have to plant some edible plants on that field. Would it be better to just sow some clover or something once in a while? 

From what little I've read about pigs in permaculture, they seem to do some valuable work.


What do you do when they die of old age or sickness? If you have a huge pile you can compost them.

I'm guessing in most cases the answer is no.

Horses though...
 
Larisa Walk
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Location: South of Winona, Minnesota
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We have a couple of sheep at a time for nearly 20 years, and have had chickens for pets.  The old sheep are buried near trees (lived to about 12 years).  We do use the wool and the chickens occasionally laid eggs, but they also provide manure and the other "services" that you describe.  Whether or not you decide to have animals on your homestead, please remember that keeping critters takes time and effort.  The animals have to come first if you're going to do a good job of it.  Animals are like children, except they never grow up and become self-sufficient.  If you like to travel, or go out in the evenings, you have to make arrangements for their care like getting a baby sitter.  And then there are the predators to worry about and defend against.  If you have a relationship with the animals, like with any pet, then this may be worthwhile for you on levels that go beyond the "work" they can do for your land.  If you're expecting them to measure up in some payback sort of way, you may well be disappointed.  We've enjoyed our time spent with our animals, but consider it more of a luxury than a necessity for us.

Remember that humans also produce manure.  And the time not spent tending to animals can be used towards some other activity, such as composting, scything grass for mulch or weed control, picking bugs, etc.  In other words, doing the stuff that a homestead animal would do.  I think examining your motives, abilities, and expectations would be the starting point for making a decision.  Do you really want to get up early each and every morning to feed/water chickens and let them out for the day, rain/snow or shine and put them to "bed" each evening, clean the coop, etc. 365 days a year for ___ years?  We've seen far too many homesteaders get stuck in the animal rut with too many chores running the people into the ground, or the animals being neglected.  Go slow with adding in more mouths to be fed, and have all the necessary housing/fencing/supplies before you start.
 
Alison Thomas
pollinator
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Walk talks some good sense there.

We too have some animals that are just 'helping' pets - sheep and geese do the lawn-mowing, hens do the bug-catching.  All do manuring.  We do have two pet pigs that are tractors (and small 'horses' for our little children) but we're thinking that we might let them have piglets next year and those will either be sold or go to the freezer.  We are not vegetarians though all the animals mentioned so far will always be pets.

And yes, they might be considered by some as hard work but we get so much pleasure fom having them around that it doesn't seem like 'trouble' to us.

We have been WWOOFer hosts this year and it has been wonderful to see other folk who haven't been near farm animals before really build up their confidence with them - especially the geese who are very tame.  We have had two very responsible WWOOFers who have happily stayed here and looked after the place whilst we have gone away overnight twice - what a luxury!
 
                    
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Your question raises issues of 1) system design, and 2) values.

1) I can think of systems where it would make sense to have animals purely for the ecological services they provide, not for their meat or milk or eggs. For example, goats in a kudzu infested area of the SE US could be very beneficial. Bees are used in blueberry and almond orchards to pollinate, and the orchardists don't care about the honey (though the beekeepers do).  The key is to recognize their place and value in a particular system ... large animals can be disruptive and expensive in many ways.

2) I cultivate passionflower simply because I value butterflies, and having clumps of passionflower leads to swarms of orange butterflies in my area. Someone with more land might want to foster a larger animal species for conservation purposes, or merely to appreciate them.   

In general, an animal element that does many different things is better than one that does just one -  an animal that provides milk and wool (and perhaps meat) in addition to grazing and manure services is generally more useful.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think they can be.  We have pet chickens, turkeys, and sheep. The sheep help turn grass, hay, and leaves into wonderful fertilizer.  The chickens help keep down grasshoppers.  The turkeys are fun to look at mostly, but also eat some grasshoppers (they're in a pen so they don't get out to catch more).

Chickens and turkeys in a pen are excellent at clearing grass from an area if needed.  Sheep can also do this but not as well because they don't dig around like poultry.

Setting up pens and fencing for the animals was hard work, and shearing the sheep is difficult, but otherwise they are fairly easy to care for.

I should mention the sheep also help us have lower property taxes through the agricultural status of the land (which we hope to eventually change to wildlife management status).  Even with feed costs we come out a few hundred dollars ahead by having the sheep.

 
Jami McBride
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Location: PNW Oregon
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Great discussion....

I would add that it is worth having animals even if you are not going to eat them - if they bring you joy!

For many people the job of caring for something which depends on them is it's own reward.
Animals can bring people joy, peace and a calmer outlook.

So not mentioned in your first list - is the physiological bonuses of keeping pets for most people.  There are always those none animal types which are the exception.
 
Brice Moss
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Location: rainier OR
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I view a housecat or two as a necessity to country living because I prefer dead mice on my bathroom floor to the live ones that come in every year when the weather gets chilly.
dogs also serve useful purposes as alarm systems and in deterring deer
I've also allowed the two semi wild turkeys that came with the house to stay I suspect that they are the reason the coyotes don't come in my pasture
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I do my best to nurture worms and pollenators and pest predators. Even vegans seem mostly OK with that sort of activity.

There are practical reasons to keep bantams, and I also bet that if the entire world suddenly converted to a mix of religions that all forbade pork, swine would still play important roles at Polyface Farm and the Krameterhof.

Animal products play a role in biodynamic preparations. I'm tempted to speculate that part of the reason for this, is the necessary role that animals play, both in the material world, and the ecosystem of human ideas.
 
kent smith
Posts: 211
Location: Pennsylvania
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Can you have a piece of land and not have animals? If you were not on said piece of land wouldn't there be "wild" animals there? To me to say that I am going to live on a segment of land and not have animals is just as ridiculous as saying that I am going to raise just corn on a piece of land and think that this style of monoculture is in balance with nature.
kent
 
Jennifer Smith
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Location: Zone 5
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Those who know me know I garden as part of keeping my horses.  if I were to give up my horses I could give up gardening... but then what would I do with all the extra time?

 
                          
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machinemaker wrote:
If you were not on said piece of land wouldn't there be "wild" animals there? To me to say that I am going to live on a segment of land and not have animals is just as ridiculous as saying that I am going to raise just corn on a piece of land and think that this style of monoculture is in balance with nature.


Depends on what you're objective is.  If you want to look at it from the vantage point of ecological purity, domesticated livestock are no substitute for the native animals that predated human interference in the ecosystem.

What do you see today in, let's say, a suburban habitat?  Small animals in the form of birds and rodents.  If you're lucky, maybe a raccoon, possum, or skunk.  These are animals that have adapted themselves to tolerate or even thrive proximity with human development.  Go out into the "boonies" and suddenly you see deer, moose, bear, and mountain lions.

So you have to ask yourself whether you're talking about animals on the homestead that have a close symbiotic relationship with humans, either by design or not, or you're talking about "zone 5" (i.e. wilderness).  Two different things.

 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Wild animals come right into Zone 1 on our place.  Don't know how you manage to keep them out.   

Except for various insects, arachnids and one bat, we have avoided having wild animals in Zone 0. 
 
rose macaskie
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I loove animals but i would like to be rich and have an animal keeper to look after them at least while i wen tout i was alone in madrid all th esummer holidays and the fact that i had my little dog who is  a sweety, he  made it hardeso hard to go out and leave him alone. i would have been more free without him.
Foxes eat chickens if you leave them out at night, at least they do here in europe.
    joel hollingsworth mentions insects, considering the importance of insects to manure the land is  interesting in a documentary on insects in china they had a number for how many tons of manure the insects produce in i dont know what space. I had never thought of insects in that way before. That is the same documentary that had a man or boy with a truck full of azure tailed magpies that he took to places infested with tent worms and lead through the wood to the sound of a flute to eat the tent worms, magic, too much so, i think people find it hard to believe.
  I think maybe you could earn some money hiring ourt animals to permacultur gardeners and the like. Hire out a gaggle of geese for a week or two to eat up peoples snails in a ecological way  for instance, or a pig to dig up peoples land for them.
      A farmer near us when i was  a child gave us a duckling for the summer holidays, that she took back in the end, it was lovely, very friendly, it thought we were its flock an dran around after us.

  A woman has done a study of the importance of the cow in indian economy and found the cow is an economic benefit  though they don't eat beef or kill cows. Many hindues don't eat meat at all. They drink yogurt made from cows milk in india and the cow patties are mixed with straw and left to dry and then serve as fuel and all th etroubles with petrol ore a sign of how important fuel is, so impoverishing the soil of organic matter i suppose. Cowmuck plasters walls and is said to stop insects from coming in and is used as flooring in many countries in the world. Wangari Mattai describes plastering her mothers house in Africa, in the holidays and that was done with cow manure and ash.  The cow is holy in india so its urine and feces even get to be medicinal. Burnt cow patty is meant to be a very good fertiliser. agri rose macaskie.

   
 
                          
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There is already a small but growing industry for renting goats to clear brush.  Why this sort of thing is catching on, and so many other things we could do to be more sustainable hasn't, I don't know.  Maybe the novelty-factor.  Plus goats are cute.

In our area we have a big problem with Winter Moth.  It completely defoliated a weeping cherry in our property.  If there is something good at eating these things, I'd like to know.
 
rose macaskie
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I woul dtry corvidos. THeir used to be a lot when i came to spain thirty years ago but there aren't many magpies left i hardley ever see them any more except in my square in madrid.
  th efarmers go fo rthem in engalns they are varmint but maybe we should not, maybe the azure tailed magpie is not the only member of the corvid family to go for tent worm type things.
  Strange isn't it if goats are getting popular, they are meant to cause desertification . Here they go where the shepherds take them move on when the shepherds want, get called off trees if shepherds want, in marrocco i saw children keep the goats they were herding off a small unfenced patch of wheat th esheep r goat tha twent near the wheat got  astone thrown at it they nhav eabsolute control over the animals, it is the shephereds actions not the goats that lead to goning over the same ground till the vegetation is done for and as afar as i can make out it is done on purpose for fear of fires, the vegetation is not just eaten down, which, as far as i am concerned is all right, but  it is eaten out of existence. When you say it should not be over grazed there are people who talk as if you did not think it should be eaten down to reduce fire risk. There are always people to twist what you say to make you sound unreasonable. agri rose macaskie.
 
Josiah Maughan
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Location: wellsville, utah
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we use all of our pet/food pets for one thing really. to teach our children how to love animals, respect life, take life (when necessary) handle different types of animals.

on neighbor asked why we raise goats and chickens, if not to eat.

i'm not raising goats and chickens. i'm raising men.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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blot101 wrote:
respect life, take life (when necessary)


This is a very difficult issue and almost impossible to talk about.  I'm not even sure any of it "makes sense."    I love animals, have pet animals, even have pet animals of the edible variety, except we don't eat the pets.  We may eat their friends, however.  I admire and love the wild animals on our place but I am planning to eat some of them.  How can I love an animal and be willing to eat it?  I can not explain this to myself.  I would not eat my dog even if I were starving, but I might eat a pet chicken.  Is the dog more "worthy" than the chicken?  Maybe I identify with the dog more because she seems more "human" (capable of communicating)?  But I know dogs are edible and people do eat them (even at least one person on this forum). 

What I don't understand is the idea of not respecting the animals one will eat.  As though death is somehow easier or better if one has suffered throughout life.  Some people (not here necessarily) seem to think it is wrong and bad to have regard for food animals and to treat them in a friendly way, that the animals will "feel betrayed" if one kills them after being kind to them.  So it is better to treat them in an unkind way throughout life so they won't "feel betrayed"?

As I say, this is all difficult to talk about. 

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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mos6507 wrote:If you're lucky, maybe a raccoon


Raccoons love cities! I've heard that their population density varies just about proportionally to humans' population density. They often use storm drains as burrows.

They certainly keep a lot of organic matter out of the landfill. I understand they aren't good for chickens, though, especially with the talent they have for opening door latches.
 
Josiah Maughan
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Location: wellsville, utah
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Ludi wrote:
This is a very difficult issue and almost impossible to talk about.  I'm not even sure any of it "makes sense."   




it's true. alot of it has to be unsaid.

this summer a dog killed a chicken (or i should say wounded it beyond repair)    it was our favorite chicken of all time. it was sad to kill it.  my son was very curious. we harvested the meat, and buried the rest.
he's still quite young, and didn't fully understand what happened. only that the chicken was hurt, and in the end he had to say goodbye to it.

he can see though, that we are sad. he can see that the chickens get hurt. he can see that we treat them very well all the time. he knows we eat the chicken too though. he saw me harvest the meat, and started saying "eat, chicken"  (he's starting to talk now)  but still knows he cannot mistreat them, and that they're "nice chickens"  (actually, he calls them "tookatoo's"  because of how the rooster sounds when he crows, so he say's "nice tookatooa"

i'm sure in his receptive state of being young, he can plainly see more than us when it comes to emotion, and unsaid lessons.  i'm sure that's how i learned too.

 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm glad you understand this difficult emotional space.
 
Daniel Morse
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All animals have a life span and usefulness. We ate our pet cows, chickens and pigs when we were children on the farm. Otherwise we would have starved. It is about balance, usefulness and love. Yes, I dared to say love. To be mean to your brother or the other kids was not a good thing. To be mean to an animal was FORBIDDEN! We were taught that we are the stewards of them. To have a good and useful life for the animals, till time came to harvest. Then it was a quick and merciful killing.

Looking back and around us on the farms we grew up on. This directly related on the families and children. People who raised the animals as less than just a soulless and useless spirit I have found to be lacking in certain human qualities. Greed, cruelty, mean and selfishness to name a few. We are not new age hippy fall out. We are Midwestern blue collar rural farmers and factory workers. We treated the animals as part of the larger group. Pigs have feelings too. No reason to give them a bad life. The results are better meat and animals, for example. Tasty nutrition. It comes back to you in so many ways.

The problem is that many people go over board with animals. Grow what you can manage, use and need. Same with cats and dogs. Children too. There is a balance. Nothing breaks my heart than to see animals caged, hungry, filthy and ignored. I see it all the time. They have needs that must be met at all costs. They have no choices. It is YOU who must take responsibility. If it does not have a useful place or a loved position ornamental, emotional or otherwise, or it causes unbalance, let it go to a good home or put it in the freezer. It is about choices.

Like a flower bed. They have no use. But they look pretty and bring enjoyment. Not everything is about meat and crops. Of course many flowers have medicinal and other qualities. Not to mention bees need them too. Its not always about you folks.

To be our pets or livestock is a good journey. This is reflected in our home. Think about it. Our ground is fertile.

 
Jay Green
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Excellent post! I agree!

One some forums on which I participate, people seem to think that keeping chickens or other livestock for food means you cannot name them, get attached or have any warm feelings towards them if you intend to kill them later for food. They somehow feel that it is hypocritical or self-damaging~emotionally~to do this.

I treat all my animals with dignity, respect and warm feelings, be they for food or as pets. I don't compartmentalize them in my mind or my emotions. They are creatures for whom I intend to be a good steward and, as such, I see it as my responsibility to make every day they live here a good one except the very last moment of their very last day~that last, brief moment of separating life from limb cannot be avoided. I pet them, I talk sweet to them, I make sure they are fed, comfortable and safe and that I have provided the best life I possibly can.

I also love them enough to see them fulfill their purpose on this Earth, be it as food for another creature or as a working animal that gets a job to do. I let them express themselves according to their species and I don't treat them as merely an object on which to express my emotions...they have a separate social life from us humans that needs to be shared and expressed with their own kind in their natural environment~outdoors. I try to keep two or more of each species for this very purpose...this is something that no amount of petting, loving on or attention from us humans can provide.

I also love them enough to not waste their being to old age or sickness if they are good for human consumption. I can't think of a better way to show appreciation towards an animal than to consume it...far better than burying it to be consumed by bacteria or insects. Ingesting its energy gives it a chance to live on in me for awhile longer. I derive immense satisfaction in knowing that I gave that animal a good life, a quick death and honored it by using it for its intended purpose.


ETA: As to the topic at hand...for me? It isn't worth it to have them and not consume them. Money wasted on animals as lawn ornaments could be used for those in need...those who need food and shelter more than I need to pet an animal for the "joy" of it. Animals utilized for food can feed many people and provide comfort and joy in the doing, animals used as pets bring joy only to their owners. I try to keep a wider view of the world and those around me, even on my small piece of land.

 
Brenda Groth
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don't plan to eat the cats but they are great rodent control
 
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