12 January 2008

Animal Farm

Small apology to the shade of George Orwell

Stonehead hits the nail on the head with his characteristic pragmatism, asking "Should you keep chickens?" and trying to inject a note of realism into what look set to become a new fashion wave in the UK.

We've seen too many people, over the years, acquiring various animals simply as Wandering Lawn Ornaments.  Sometimes in appalling ignorance of the animals' needs, and with predictably disastrous consequences.

One neighbour acquired a small calf:  The idea of a cow wandering about the place, peacefully mowing the lawn, painted a pastoral watercolour in his city-habituated imagination... The calf was very young, and still needed milk supplements.  A few days later it was dead from starvation.

Another neighbour has a partner who "loves animals" and can't help herself acquiring ever more.  Fortunately she is quite clued-up on their care and keeping, but cannot bring herself to control the inevitable population-bomb, nor will she allow anyone else to do it for her, being too distressed by the thoughts of somebody eating her beloved animals.  So they have several-dozen Guinea Fowl (which happily escape into the wild when their numbers become too great,) 3 or 4 horses, unknown numbers of ducks, geese and chickens, two goats, a couple of dogs, and one vastly-overweight Pig.  All simply as "pets".  The feed bill each month is staggering.  And he is kept pretty busy building and maintaining animal housing and enclosures.  Oh! In fairness, they do milk the goats and eat some eggs.

All this is apropos, as I am thinking of acquiring some more animals to help around here.

I have in mind a couple of goats to help manage the rank, weedy grass-bramble-and-alien-tree infestations in various parts of the farm, to be followed by a couple of pigs to clean the soil of roots and weed tubers as a prelude to a planting of grains or beans, then following-up with fodder crops again to close the circle and bring the animals round again for the next cycle.  Fortunately a neighbourhood friend (as opposed to a mere "neighbour") has great experience with goats, and has been considering getting a small herd for herself again, so we'll probably try and find some way to work together on that, pooling our knowledge, resources and energy.  Another local farmer keeps a herd of pigs as part of his (commercial) farming, so I have a local source of expertise (and animals.)  I freely confess my ignorance of both goats' and pigs' habits and needs, but will make sure I cure that deficiency before taking any concrete steps in this.

Then, too, I'm thinking about adding a couple of sheep to keep the grass around the houses under control...

One of the catches in this Grand Scheme is that we are "mostly-vegetarians".  We still eat some poultry and seafood, but not Pork/Beef/Mutton -- mainly because we feel physically better than if we ate as much meat as most people.  So what to do with a healthy, growing population of various animals?  I could just sell them on to a local butcher, but frankly I don't trust the man's methods, animal-handling practices nor hygiene.  This is probably the single biggest problem for me to solve before acquiring more animals.  I will not abdicate the responsibility for closing the circle.

A local friend, Don, made the comment (having kept goats himself) that animals tie you down a lot.  You can't just pack up, lock the door and go on holiday -- or even out for an evening -- without making provision for the animals to be fed, watered, shut-in at night, checked for accidents,... But then that's true already with our Chickens and Dogs.  Not to mention the delights of cleaning the Chook House in the pissing rain.

I do have one nit to pick with Stoney's post, though: "Chickens are not dumb"?  What other animal, upon laying an egg, spends the next half-hour announcing the availability of fresh food to every predator in the neighbourhood?  I'm often led to wonder how the hell the species has survived this long!

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