Animal Husbandry Essentials

Keeping animals as part of a self-sufficient life-style is a big step, especially if looking after the family guinea pig is your only experience of looking after animals so far! It is the part that requires knowledge, time and commitment, but can be incredibly rewarding. Before deciding what if any animals you want to keep, there are a few important matters to consider .

LIFESTYLE CONSIDERATIONS

Are you prepared for the time, labour and commitment required to keep animals?

Unlike the family Guinea Pig; chickens, sheep etc can’t be taken around to a neighbour when you fancy a few days away! Animals need to be fed, watered and to be secure, which may mean opening and closing hen houses, stables and the like, twice daily  so it is important to have a back-up system for those times when you are away , and if you have to make a living then that might be more often than you think.

Have you considered the whole process – at some point some of those animals will have to be slaughtered and consumed – could you manage that? Certainly in many countries it is illegal for you to slaughter your own animals and they have to be sent to a local abattoir, so it is less hands on these days, but the meat doesn’t come back in nicely wrapped cellophane packets ! It is certainly something that needs to be given very careful consideration, particularly if you have given names to any of the animals!

Do as much homework as you can before making any decisions, talk to local farmers, or other small-holders, as well as local authorities, people are generally only too happy to pass on their experience and knowledge

LEGAL REQUIREMENTS

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of legislation associated with keeping animals, even chickens, in part due to recent health scares, but also due to Government bureaucracy.

If you want to keep pigs, cows, sheep and goats in the UK you will need to be registered as an agricultural  holding, this also applies to many parts of Europe,  and elsewhere so check out the requirements with the local authorities.

Keeping chickens normally doesn’t require a licence unless you have a flock of more than 50! Although it is illegal to feed them kitchen scraps

LAND

Perhaps with the exception of chickens ,  ( who can be housed in a mobile coop and moved on a regular basis) animals require varying amounts of land, that has to be made secure and be managed:

POULTRY chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys

Require housing secure from  predators and vermin, somewhere to nest and roost, with good ventilation
Land to scratch and forage, with shade from the sun , a dust bath and source of grit
Ducks and geese need sufficient water to swim in and get their heads under, in order to keep their feathers in good order – if you don’t have any natural water on your land then perhaps ducks and geese are not for you

COW, SHEEP AND GOATS

Whilst a 1 acre smallholding may support a cow, or couple of sheep or goats, the reality is that 5 acres is probably the minimum if you want to keep cows, sheep or goats, allowing for space to grow winter fodder
Only a few very hardy breeds stay out on the land all year, at some point housing will need to be provided, animal welfare regulations state quite clearly what is required

PIGS

Rough grassland is usually ideal as it allows the pig to root it up and can with a little management be kept on ½ acre
A sturdy but moveable pigsty with a supply of fresh water will be necessary

ROUTINE CARE

get to know your animals , their welfare is in your hands and a little time spent each day will repay huge dividends

POULTRY

Daily feeding, provision of fresh water and vegetable scraps
Weekly cleaning out of coop and run, with regular disinfecting
Regular checking of each bird to ensure they remain in good health

COWS, SHEEP & GOATS

In addition to grass most cattle will require additional feed at some point in the year
Breeding animals will also require additional feed and housing
The provision of fresh water is also essential

PIGS

Whilst happy to root around, pigs thrive on routine and will need to be fed 2-3 times day
The poorer the land the better the additional feed must be
Pigs must have water on demand as they require 1 litre for every 500g of food

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