Last year, we started as small as we possibly could with livestock: We got a couple bee hives for the backyard. Last trip we made to North Carolina, a couple weeks ago, we moved the bees, or what's left of them. We weren't sure when we were moving them, in 30 degree temperatures, but by the time we reached North Carolina and moved the hive off my truck, we saw a bee fly out. Although temperatures have been in the 50s for part of the winter, bees don't go out to forage until the temperatures get into the 70s. Last year we started out with two colonies of Carneola honeybees. While one hive never seemed to really thrive--it eventually collapsed--the other one always seemed busy, and probably took on refugees from the hive next door. In any case, we're hoping enough bees made it through the winter with an established hive that we won't have to start over. We'll be adding a few more hives this spring anyway, so it will be interesting to see how the bees do on our new property.
We're planning on adding chickens to the list of livestock, though we're already a bit wary of the local hawk population. Our neighbors mentioned they lost all of theirs to a hawk last year. We plan to move them around the cleared areas in a covered chicken tractor, a la Joel Salatin's methods at Polyface farm. Actually, it seems like people are doing this at every farm we visit. The chickens are allowed to browse a new patch of land every day, usually in an enclosure called a chicken tractor--a fenced in coop with a roof and wheels, which is moved to a new location every day. Ideally, the chickens would graze on bugs in the cow manure, after cattle had passed through a mob-stocked field a few days earlier. The chickens would then condition the soil with their rooting and fertilize it with their poop. We don't plan on having any cattle, however, but the system still works nicely and definitely improves the soil. We're planning on getting heritage breeds that are good layers but also reasonably hardy.
Ducks are certainly a delicious possibility too, since we have a small pond. I've read they're easy to keep and manage, provide richer eggs than chickens, and particularly like to eat slugs and other vegetable garden pests. Muscovy ducks have an especially good repuation as good permaculture breeds. The ducks may or may not be sharing the pond with the catfish and smallmouth bass that the previous owners stocked the pond with. When we expand the pond, we're considering the idea of building a linear pond or two, in which to try to raise trout.
Moving on up the food chain, we're also thinking about having a few pigs. Pigs are great at clearing out underbrush and conditioning the soil in forested paddocks. Moreover, acorn-raised, free-range pork tastes fantastic! The down side of all this is that I know next to nothing about slaughtering and butchering pigs. I was a vegetarian for several years, mainly out of ethical concern for factory farmed animals, but since humanely and locally raised meat has become available in recent years, I've gone back to eating meat, and I think I enjoy pork the most. To paraphrase Joel Salatin, "So what if the pig has one bad day--he's still doing better than most of us."On
We're considering dairy goats too, at some point in the future. The problem with goats is they're mischievous and destructive. They'll eat pretty much anything, which means they'll eat pretty much anything you don't want them to eat, like your fruit trees, garden vegetables, etc. On the other hand, goat cheese is delicious, and dairy goats are a whole lot less work and responsibility than dairy cows.
So, we'll see where things go as far as livestock is concerned.
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