In light of our recent rabbit misadventures I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about raising animals. It can be a real struggle to find the right methods to make raising animals work well and run smoothly. That said, these ten commandments of animal husbandry hold true across species and situations.
Most people learn this stuff the hard way, I know I sure have!
If you’re lucky, you learn these lessons as a kid when the stakes are much lower.
If you find yourself venturing into animal husbandry as an adult you may be overwhelmed and rightfully so. There are a lot of costly mistakes you can make. Hopefully these commandments can help you avoid many of those major mistakes. If you’ve kept animals from toddler-hood these are things that you can still always strive to do better in.
Heck, sometimes we all need a little reminding!
1-The making or breaking is in the details
Pay attention to flock dynamics, behavior, poop, habits, weather…
Seriously, animal husbandry requires you to be present with your animals.
You have to take time to learn what’s normal so you can identify what isn’t normal. What isn’t normal can be the tell-tale signs of illness, conflict within the group or predation.
For instance: Your chickens randomly start roosting somewhere besides their coop where they have always returned to faithfully. Chickens don’t willingly change a roosting location. If they up and move you should be looking for a serious reason.
Could a predator or marauding dog be harassing them at night? Is it in a desperate need of cleaning? Is there enough roost space?
By discovering the reason for a change in behavior you can potentially save yourself- and your animals- an immeasurable amount of time, money and grief.
Take it from me, I’ve had all three far more than I care to admit.
2-Keep it dry
This is important for two reasons
1: Excessive moisture is a health threat
Moisture contributes to dangerous levels of ammonia which does damage to the lungs making animals more likely to develop respiratory diseases.
It also gives a place for pests and disease to develop. Soiled bedding can actually be composted in place if sufficient carbon matter is provided and things aren’t sopping wet, which is the premise of the “deep litter” method; that’s totally awesome if you don’t know about it already.
2: Being wet is an extra level of totally unnecessary stress.
Wet bedding can make a night that would just be unpleasantly cold into a life or death situation. A wet animal, with or without shelter, is even worse off.
Moist closed up houses also encourage frostbite (we will talk about that more here in a minute) which can be a serious problem in the winter.
If your critters are wet and have no where dry to get shelter they are going to use tons of energy staying warm.
What does that mean?
They are going to eat more.
Think about it, providing dry housing which is a one time investment (ok, yeah there will be repairs eventually-but hear me out!) is going to be cheaper in the long run than always having to provide extra feed and replace animals that die.
3-Air flow is good
Remember what I said earlier about ammonia, moisture and frostbite? A huge solution to that trio of disaster is good ventilation in your nice dry housing. Lots of folks close up their housing tight as can be in the winter.
Resist the urge!
Make sure there aren’t drafts but also make sure there is still enough air flow to prevent condensation from forming on the walls or ceiling.
Ventilation is equally important in summer to keep your critters cool and moisture down so there will be fewer flies and places for nasty things to grow.
4-Prepare for the farm-pocalypse
Momentarily embrace your inner worry wart, pessimist, glass-half-full side.
Make a list of likely (and no- I don’t mean zombie invasions) emergency situations for your area and what you would need to get through them safely. Also, learn at least basic first aid for your critters so when your idiot horse sticks a fence post in its chest you can do something besides stand there and wring your hands until the vet shows up.
Yeah, childhood moment right their, some horses are just accident prone.
This should also include preparing for regular seasonal situations like freezing weather or super hot spells, no matter how unlikely they are to occur. Trust me friends, if you don’t think it can happen then it surely will.
5-knowledge is power
You should be an expert before you even get your first chicks or goat. That way you can realize how much you really didn’t know and still have to learn- Ha!
– ok sorry, that was mean! Let me try again.
What I’m trying to say is you really should have a good solid knowledge base before you bring home any animal but don’t fall into the trap of assuming you already know everything you will need. There is always going to be new research, new to you methods and information, so stay open and curious. That doesn’t mean you have to try every new-fangled idea you hear about but file them away for future reference. Engage in conversations with newbie’s and old-hats alike, you never know what you might learn that will save you a ridiculous amount of grief or what you might be able to teach.
|A very not normal poop…
6-If it smells, you have a problem.
Animals and their poop have a normal smelliness.
Yes, I went there and you’re going there too!
You gotta learn what’s normal ( this is going back to the very first rule) which won’t be very hard- ahem- so that you can tell when something is not right. Horrible gag-you-riffic poop smells are usually because there is something seriously wrong, diet, illness or sanitation wise, that you need to address asap. Also ammonia – oh, our little friend– when you smell him your carbon to nitrogen ratio is not right- which means there is more poop and pee and water than bedding and it’s a huge sign that things need cleaned up, like yesterday!
7-Where the heeealing waters flow…
Providing access to clean pure water all the time goes a long long way toward keeping your critters healthy. Water consumption is also a good thing to keep a eye on. A big change in how much they drink could mean something’s wrong with your feed/water, feeder/waterer, they are sick, getting ready to have a baby, heat stressed, so on and so forth.
AJ thought you all might think I was an animal abuser because of the above photo. Let me assure you, that was not her pen. The little pig would do anything to get to chicken or rabbit feed. This was from before the fall when we had goats and ducks and a few other critters we don’t have now. This was the duck house and Daisy spend most waking moments trying to crawl into some pen to steal feed.
8-An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure
This goes back to paying attention to those details and preparing for the farm-pocalypse. Use the best possible methods, feed, housing, equipment and bloodlines you can afford. Make housing and fencing stronger than it needs to be and try to nip any up and coming issues in the bud before they turn into full blown money and time sucking problems. In the long run, it’s cheaper in every way to try to prevent issues than it is to treat sick animals, replace dead ones, rebuild fence or un-teach a behavior.
Just because your chickens aren’t pets or you plan on eating your cow that doesn’t mean you can skip making them easy to handle or getting up close and personal. Sure there are extensive range situations and that is a totally different than what we are talking about here.
By consistently handling your animals you build a trusting relationship.
They learn that you are safe. That at least for today, you aren’t planning on eating them. Ideally, you work with your critters early on so they learn to be comfortable with being touched everywhere, walking on a lead or whatever the equivalent, and with performing routine tasks. That said, you can still gentle an adult animal, it just often takes longer and is more work.
Emergency situations will be less stressful for them and easier for you to manage when they are not afraid of being touched. I would much rather try to get the cow who has been walked on a lead and brushed, out of a fence than the one who has only ever had hay thrown at it.
Case in point: I make sure my rabbits are all reasonably use to being handled, regardless of whether or not they are going to end up in the freezer. The previous farm manager here raised rabbits but only handled them to move does, separate litters or slaughter.
When his rabbits got out it took crazy ninja skills to catch them.
When my rabbits get out, you just talk quietly, walk slowly and scoop them up before they realize the fun is over. In fact two of his rabbits have been running wild here since early summer of last year. I just recently caught one, but only because it went in our chicken house where it couldn’t get away.
Here’s that rabbit as she was settling into captive life again.
I know this is getting long: I’m almost done and I’ll give you a cookie at the end!
If you come over here and wait for me to bake them, that is.
The other equally important reason to get touchy feely is that most animals are expert-level good at hiding how they really feel. This is a survival mechanism that as their caretaker you will have to work really hard to overcome, part of that whole paying attention to details thing we talking about earlier. Actually touching and examining an animal is going to tell you way more about it than just looking at it. You can feel what sort of shape they are in, look for signs of illness, wounds, parasites… you get the idea.
Not very much of that can be seen by “just looking” from a distance until the situation is dire.
Yeah, I like vegging out in my PJ’s as much as the next person.
But trust me, getting to bed ten minutes earlier or being able to spend a little longer on Facebook will not seem worth it when the consequence is a raccoon getting into the chicken house.
Not being lazy means you work at all the previous commandments, no slacking.
Ha! That’s rich coming from me, but really, animals are not for the faint of heart.
It’s a responsibility every single day.
Regardless of the weather, how you feel or what else you have going on. So before you take the plunge make sure you are ready for the commitment.
’cause it’s like you are marrying these critters!
-well, some husbands are arguably more work, but you know what I mean.
Now your turn! What would you add?