Livestock in the garden

August 7, 2010 in General Info

The first thing many people may think of when they hear the phrase “livestock in the garden” is something along the lines of “The goats got through the fence and are eating all the peas!”. At least that’s what pops into my head if I get a call like that in the middle of the day. But I just wanted to share a few words today on intentionally allowing animals into your gardening space.

I became a fan of using animals to help with farm chores years ago after reading in one of Joel Salatin’s books about how he used pigs to turn his compost. Have the animals do your chores, while reducing feed costs and doing so in a environmentally friendly way? You bet I’m in on that idea.

Now most of our animals contribute to the farm in several ways, with the most common being the contribution of fertilizer. During the three warmer seasons the sheep fertilize the fields and in the colder months it concentrates in the barn where we gather it for the garden. The rabbits also provide top dressing for the garden as well. But I want to use the animals in a way where I’m not just picking up manure and moving it around. I want to use them so I do less actual work.

One way we do this is to let the sheep graze the yards around the house from time to time. It keeps the grass down and spreads around the nutrients around. And the small pellets they leave behind are not a big mess and breakdown after just a few rains.

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We’ve also penned them into the garden after the end of the season with pretty good success. They cleaned up the grass and weeds that had gotten a bit out of hand, cleaned up the raised beds and saved me a bit of trimming. There was a bit of a downside as they scattered the raised beds without hard sides on them. But a few minutes with a rake and everything was tidy again. And believe me re-shaping the beds was a heck of a lot less work than all the cleanup the sheep did.

This year we went a step further. Samantha had several hens that were broody so we located one with her eggs into the garden. Chickens will pull up any small seedlings so we waited until the garden had some good growth on it and set her loose with the chicks. They nested in a small cat carrier at night, but as you can see below during the day they quickly moved in under the plants. (They are there, right in the middle of the squash.)

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The plants provided shade for the chickens and they did what chickens do best. They scratched up the soil keeping it aerated, pulled up any small weeds, and ate every bug they could find. As a matter of fact we didn’t lose a single squash plant to pests this year in the entire 4 foot by 32 foot bed. That alone ensures this has just become an integral part of our gardening going forward.

- Tom at the Broken B




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