The Complete Guide to Country Living

Book Three
Animals

by
Gene GeRue
author of
How To Find Your Ideal Country Home
and many friends

ISSN: 1528-8056

Copyright 2008 Gene GeRue

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Go back to Book Two: Plants
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Animals overview and action sequence
Animal considerations
1. Fences
2. Buildings
3. Tools and equipment
4. Dogs
5. Cats
6. Chickens
Sources for additional poultry information
7. Ducks, geese, turkeys, guineas
8. Rabbits
9. Goats
10. Sheep
11. Hogs
12. Dairy cattle
13. Beef cattle
14. Horses
15. Exotic animals
16. Honey Bees
17. Emergencies
Animals Bibliography

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Animals overview and action sequence

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Animal considerations

Those who raise and slaughter their own animals control the quality of the meat they eat. Commercial meat producers feed animal waste products and the ground-up remains of other animals, and use various chemicals to enhance growth including growth promotant implants, and to avoid disease in animals confined close together.

Running nutrients through animals to produce human food uses up calories, so meat production requires more land than vegetable production. Economic analyst Louis Bean found that an acre of land used to produce meat can provide one human with adequate protein for 250 days, while an acre cultivated in soybeans would provide protein for 2,200 days (http://www.fund.org/facts/enviro.html).

Food animals use varying amounts of their caloric intake to maintain body functions. The feed conversion rate for fish is very high, nearly l.0 for trout. Chickens have a conversion rate of 1.9 to 2.05. A rate of 2.8 is good for hogs. Large animals use much food for maintaining body heat and for energy. About the best feed conversion rate for beef cattle is 4.28 pounds feed to one pound weight gain for confined bulls. Cold weather increases the amount of food that is used for heat.

Animals that get most of their food by grazing produce the least expensive meat. Those raising meat animals in areas of mild winters that allow year-round grazing enjoy lowest feed costs.

Food animals need land, housing, fencing, purchased or grown and processed food, lots of water, veterinary care. Breeding requires maintaining a stud animal, taking females to a male, bringing a male to the females, or using artificial insemination.

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1. Fences

Building and maintaining fences is a lot of work, so use the best materials you can.

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2. Buildings

Animals with adequate range that includes windbreaks need less housing than we sissy humans imagine. But South Dakota range cattle standing in below-zero wind burn a lot more calories maintaining body heat than a Kobe steer in a stall. Calories cost dollars. So does shelter. Your decision.

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3. Tools and equipment

Fencing pliers are designed to pound and pull staples and to cut wire. To tighten stock fence, build or buy a fence puller, two boards that bolt together and allow fence to be tightened by pulling with a tractor, truck, or come-along.

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4. Dogs

Purposes

Indoor dogs are treated as in cities so this is about outdoor dogs. While city dogs are primarily pets and guards, country dogs can be valuable assistants. In addition to being pets and guards, country dogs are livestock guardian dogs, herding dogs, hunting partners and predator control managers. Because of travel we held off on getting dogs. Then, Jezebel, our first cat, was taken by a bobcat. So we got the dogs to protect the cats, which we got to eat the mice which attracted poisonous snakes, one of which put a powerful hurt on me. Haven't seem a copperhead or rattlesnake near the house since the cats and dogs took over. Before we got Dax the German Shepherd and Benny the Australian Shepherd we continually lost chickens to coons and other critters, deer nibbled fruit tree buds, woodchucks dined on lettuce, coons ate sweet corn and strawberries, armadillos destroyed garden and flower beds and the grassy areas we euphemistically call lawn. No more. Dax and Benny take care of business. They run free but are trained to stay within a hundred yards or so of the house. They own that territory and chase away any critters that come within their sight, smell or hearing. The dead armadillo or coon occasionally found indicates that some species include slow learners. Benny apparently knows that ownership includes airspace because he chases turkey vultures that soar too low. If he could fly they would be in big trouble.

Breeds

Dog Breed Info Center has general information on most breeds, including a photo. Our dog Benny is an Aussie so I will use their entry for that breed to illustrate what the Info Center provides.

Australian Shepherd

Description
The Aussie, as it is known, is a medium-sized, robust, well-balanced, rustic dog with pendant ears, an abundant medium-length coat, and a bob-tail. He should be attentive, lively and agile with a body slightly longer than its height at the withers. The Aussie has a strong, deep chest and stands squarely on all fours. The front legs are straight. Front dewclaw removal is optional, but rear dewclaws are generally removed. The feet are compact and oval with arched toes. The top of the head is approximately the same length as the slightly tapering muzzle. The head has a moderate stop. The teeth form a scissors bite. The medium-sized oval eyes come in many shades of blue, amber and brown, often combined with flecks. The triangular, pendant ears are set high on the head. The medium length coat comes in blue or red merle, red or black tricolor, all with white and or tan markings. The hair around the ears  and eyes should not be white. The coat may be straight or slightly wavy, and should have feathering on the back of the legs, and a mane and frill around the neck. Hair on the head, front of the forelegs and on the outside of the ears is shorter than the rest of the coat. The tail is generally docked if it is longer then 4 inches, though most are naturally short. Each individual's masculinity or femininity is clearly defined.

Temperament
Australian Shepherds are easy going, perpetual puppies that love to play. Courageous, loyal and affectionate, they are excellent children's companions that are great with active children. A devoted friend and guardian, for they are naturally protective. Very lively, agile and attentive - they are eager to please, with a sixth sense about what the owner wants. Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent and easy to train. Though aggressive when at work with livestock, the Aussie is gentle with human friends. Australian Shepherds needs lots of exercise and a job to do, as the breed is very intelligent, active and easily bored. They can become nervous and destructive if left alone too much without exercise. They are naturally suspicious of strangers, so they should be well socialized as puppies. Working lines of Australian Shepherds may be too energetic to be suitable pets. Some like to nip people's heals in an attempt to herd them. They are quiet workers, unlike some breeds, which are bred to bark constantly at livestock. This breed is not usually dog aggressive.

Height, Weight
Height: Dogs 18-23 inches (46-58cm.) Bitches 17-21 inches (43-53cm.)
Weight: Dogs 30-45 pounds (14-20kg) Bitches 27-40 pounds (12-18kg)

Health Problems
The gene for the beautiful merle coloration also carries a blind/deaf factor. This may be expressed only in merle/merle crosses. Be sure to check the hearing on merle puppies. Some are prone to hip dysplasia and PRA.

Living Conditions
This breed is not recommended for apartment life. They are moderately active indoors and will do best with at least a large yard.

Exercise
This energetic working dog needs plenty of vigorous exercise to stay in shape, or better yet, some real work to do.

Life Expectancy
About 10-12 years.

Grooming
The coat is easy to groom and needs little attention. Brush occasionally with a firm bristle brush and bathe only when necessary. This breed is an average shedder.

Origin
Despite the misleading name, the Australian Shepherd is not Australian at all, but was developed entirely in the U.S. to work as a herding dog on ranches. It is possible that the name was derived from one of the dog's ancestors. The breed's principal forebears were most likely Spanish dogs that accompanied the Basque shepherds and herds of fine Merino sheep exported to both America and Australia in the early days of the colonies. At some point it probably crossed with Collie stock. It has only recently gained recognition as a distinct breed. Its many talents include, retrieving, herding, watchdogging, guarding, police work, narcotics detection, search & rescue, agility, competitive obedience and performing tricks.

Group
Herding, AKC Herding

Recognition
CKC, UKC, NKC, AKC, NZKC, Australian Shepherd Club of America

Training

Dog training books are written by authors who have had success with their often unique methods. Buy only one such book or you will likely confuse you and your dog with varying approaches.

Start gently training puppies the day you bring them home. Training starts with play, just as a mother dog plays with her pups. You are now the substitute parent. Never give a command unless you back it up. For instance, use the command NO only when you are serious. If you give a command and then let the dog get away with not following your order you will never have control, much like the parents you have observed in supermarkets babbling ignored orders to their rantipoles. The children are not bad children; the parents are bad parents. Be a good dog parent.

If it will be unconfined or within a boundary fence, show a new pup its territory by taking it for a walk each day around the perimeter of the area you wish it to patrol. Some feel that urinating at intervals as wolves and coyotes do is useful to mark the territory. You are the alpha male or female, show by example.

By the time a pup is four months old they should understand the commands NO, COME, SIT, DOWN and STAY. Some HEEL training on the leash will be useful for when the dog must be taken to the vet for shots or other treatment.

Feeding
Dealing with problems
roaming, killing livestock

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5. Cats

Dogs were the first animal domesticated tens of thousands of years ago, cats were the last only a few thousand years ago. That is still displayed in thier temperment. Dogs do anything to please its human masters, cats could care less.

We long resisted getting pets because we travel quite a bit. Then one summer I was bitten by a pygmy rattlesnake and laid up for three months. We now have three cats. Our cats perform the valuable service of killing mice and rats, which lessens grain losses and snake population. A sadness is that the cats occasionally take birds. Cats led to dogs; we have two dogs because our first cat was taken by a bobcat.

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6. Chickens

The best poultry overview I have found is on the estimable Journey to Forever site, Poultry for small farms.

NOTE: picture of Taj Mahen and/or my coop

Housing

Chickens don't need much beyond protection from wind, rain and critters. Their poop is urine and feces combined, is very moist, so even with ample dry litter the challenge is to keep the chooks dry. We call our henhouse the Taj Mahen. It sits on a sloping site under a large walnut tree. Designed for a dozen hens, it is six feet by six feet, has a concrete floor, has four raised nests which are accessed for egg collection via a hinged board outside, has roost poles at several heights, has a simple self-feeder that holds fifty pounds of feed. There is a people door of people size and a chicken door of chicken size that lets out onto a lounging porch. The shed roof is highest at the south wall which at the top has a vent opening covered with quarter-inch hardware cloth. Smaller vents are at the top of the lower north wall, a design that creates natural air flow to carry off moisture and provides ample summer cooling. Belying the conventional advice that chickens should be kept draft free, the hens always roost on the uppermost poles, directly in line with air movement between the vents, even on the coldest winter nights.

Breed considerations

Before getting your first chickens you must decide why you want them. There are breeds that are super at converting feed to eggs. Other breeds are ready for the frying pan in eight weeks. While some breeds such as Buff Orpingtons--my favorite--are considered dual purpose, those breeds that have been bred for eggs or meat are much better for those uses. And then there are the show breeds, the exotic, the fancy. Nurseries will try to persuade you to become interested in fancy chickens because the more you fancy chickens the fancier will be their bank accounts. So, even though you order 25 straight-run (unsexed) Rhode Island Reds, the nursery will include with your order five chicks that will look different, you will wonder what they are, they will become colorful, heavily plumed, feather-footed, or some other feature sure to entice you. Nearly all hatcheries will send you a free catalog illustrating the breeds they offer--see Sources at the end of this chapter.

Obtaining and raising chicks

"I never see an egg brought on my table but I feel penetrated with the wonderful change it would have undergone but for my gluttony; it might have been a gentle, useful hen, leading her chickens with a care and vigilance which speaks shame to many women."
Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer.

The best way to get and raise chicks is nature's way. Chicks raised by hens have far fewer health problems than those purchased from hatcheries or hatched in home incubators. Buy a broody hen and some fertile eggs. Put nine to fifteen (depends on hen size) fertile eggs under an insistently broody hen and keep her protected and supplied with water and food. Give her a nest box large enough so she can turn easily. Put it in a safe, quiet, semi-dark place. Chicks will appear in three weeks and the show begins. Especially if you have children you really must do this at least once. For the first two days chicks neither drink nor eat but let the hen make the decision of when they venture forth. So give the hen and chicks easy access to water, food and dirt. Keep them protected from dogs and wild critters that relish poultry--coons, possums, weasels, mink, foxes, rats, hawks, owls, more.

The second way to get chicks is by using an incubator designed for that purpose. You can build an incubator. The challenges are maintaining 99 to103 degrees depending on how heat is provided, maintaining correct humidity--83 to 88 percent until the last few days before hatching, then 90-95 (wet bulb), turning eggs several times a day so the embryo does not stick to the inside of the shell. If the electricity goes off, your incubator cools down and the embryos die. Then there is lack of communication. Hens talk to their unborn chicks, creating a bonding. After chicks hatch, mom hens cluck them under her when she perceives danger, cluck to show them food, cluck to reassure them as they venture further into the scary world. So if you want psychologically sound chicks, use the broody hen method or cluck to your chicks. Be careful to not sit on them.

The third method is to buy chicks from a hatchery. I do this when I want all chicks to be one sex, females for egg production or males for meat. Commercial incubators are emptied, chicks are sexed, boxed and shipped the same day. Chicks do not eat or drink for two days, can go three days if kept near 95 degrees. All chicks without mothers need extra protection from predators and drafts, dependable warmth, water, food, light. Prepare and test your brooder area several days before ordering chicks. Cute chicks in the bathroom or kitchen create odor and cause fine dust to float onto everything, so fix a place away from human quarters. A friend and I cooperate on chick rearing for our laying flocks. If it's my turn I take my old layers to his place. Then I clean the henhouse, put down sand and sawdust on the concrete floor. I install an old light fixture that has several sockets into which I put low-wattage bulbs. Relying on only one bulb is a recipe for disaster. I suspend the fixture above the center of the brooder area. I put a thermometer under the light and adjust the light height until it maintains 95 degrees at chick level. I hang parts of a cardboard box on a nearby low roost pole so the chicks can go there if the temperature is too warm or they want to avoid the bright light. The secret is to give them enough room so they can be in a space that gives them the heat and light they prefer. As with incubators, the loss of electricity may mean the loss of chicks. If you are awake when the power goes off, go get the chicks and bring them into a warm place in the house. A cardboard box works well. Crowd them a bit so they lose less body heat.

Metal or plastic chick waterers screw onto a glass jar. As chicks grow, put the waterer on increasingly higher platforms so it fills less from the detritus thrown up by their incessant scratching. I use the purple medicated tablets in chick water for a few weeks and then gradually stop using them. Chicks raised by hens don't need medication.

NOTE: Picture from MEN article

The Chicken Moat

Chickens love to scratch in garden beds and their scratching uproots small plants. Hence the question of whether to fence the chickens or the garden. My first answer here at Heartwood was to do both. I designed and built the chicken moat in 1983--my article and photos describing it appeared in The Mother Earth News No. 111, May/June 1988. The chicken moat is a double-fenced run surrounding the garden perimeter. In addition to controlling chickens, the moat provides a clean edge for the garden and repels most garden predators. The chickens patrol the moat during daylight hours, eating weeds, seeds and bugs, all of which they love, especially grasshoppers. At night the chickens are locked up in a secure henhouse. The garden is protected by the double fencing from most animals that lust for veggies and fruits.

I built the first moat of six-foot poultry fencing, the two fences spaced six feet apart. These dimensions keep chickens in and deer and hawks out. While deer can jump higher than six feet, they cannot jump, gather themselves and jump again within the six-foot space of the moat, or at least they think they can't, so they don't. They have great leaping ability--I believe it's lack of landing space that deters them--six feet between fences is not enough room for a deer to land without the risk of getting its nose jammed into the second fence and then having insufficient room to gather for another hop. They apparently have good depth perception and recognize the danger of being trapped between the two fences. They never crossed my chicken moat for the many years I had it. I took the moat down when the chicken wire rusted out. By then I had the dogs. Now the deer don't even bud my unfenced fruit and nut trees two hundred feet from the house. Before the dogs, deer would come within a few feet of the house and eat anything they chose. Even rabbits and woodchucks were substantially deterred by the double fence. They apparently didn't like the extra work of getting to the salad.

Hawks will not strike chickens in the six-foot space. I figure that hawks know they could easily hit the moat patrol but getting airborne again between two fences is too risky. I never lost a hen or rooster in the moat. Racoons are not slowed by fencing unless it includes one or more electric wires. Squirrels are undeterred by fencing. Using metal fence posts only slightly slows coons and squirrels. Squirrels will actually fight electric wires. Feisty little fellers.

If I were building another chicken moat, the only change I would make is to use what here is called dog wire, much heavier gauge wire than chicken wire. It can be had in various opening sizes, for instance one inch wide by two inches high or two inches wide by four inches high. Like painting, fencing is time consuming work so spending more dollars on a product that will last makes sense. Initial labor stays the same but the better product stands up much longer so subsequent labor is greatly reduced.

The openings in the fence material must be small enough to preclude rabbits. Even with small openings, baby rabbits will occasionally squeeze through and eat themselves too big to squeeze back out. When they reached the appropriate size I had them for dinner.

Brace your outside corner posts well and you can avoid bracing interior corner posts. Simply run a loop of heavy wire between the two posts and then use a stick to twist the wire until it gives the desired tension. After tensioning, bend the stick as parallel to the wire as you can and secure it with a short piece of light wire.

Constructing gates is the biggest challenge. It is easier to build a chicken tunnel and one gate than to build two gates and then worry about hens making a moatbreak when you pass through while heavily laden with tomatoes. To allow the chickens to pass under one gateway I recycled an old culvert pipe by burying it just below the ground surface. At another gate I built a tunnel of concrete blocks covered with cedar boards. Make gates wide enough for your garden cart to pass through.

Quick chick notes
    1. Female chicks are pullets, which start laying at about five months and are then hens.
    2. Male chickens are called cocks, roosters and several unprintable names. You don't need a rooster for hens to lay eggs.
    3. Don't keep a rooster unless you want fertile eggs or you have big trouble awakening. A mature rooster can seriously injure a person with their spurs.
    4. Fertilized eggs look and taste alike and have the same nutrition as unfertilized eggs.
    5. For fertile eggs, keep one rooster per 12-15 hens. Too many roosters means abused hens. Copulation most resembles rape.
    6. A female chick has within her at hatching the nucleus of every egg she will ever lay and thousands more.
    7. Homestead hens lay eggs for several years but production wanes with age.
    8. Laying hens are light sensitive. Optimal lighting is twelve to fourteen hours per day. Wintertime lights increase egg production.
    9. Give your flock the largest range on pasture plants that you can--their happiness and your feed cost savings will be great.
    10. Without chickens our language would be bereft of: pecking order, chicken (fearful), flighty (nervous), crowing (bragging), cocky, dumb cluck.
    11. Neither the chicken nor the egg came first. See Darwin or your religion instructor.
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Sources for additional poultry information:

The Poultry Connection lists more than 100 hatcheries, has links to bulletin boards, clubs, enthusiasts' personal pages.

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7. Ducks, geese, turkeys, guineas

Breeds, housing, feeding, propagation.

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8. Rabbits

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9. Goats

The University of Maryland Goat Handbook covers the bases from Angora to Teeth. Thanks to Laura Archbald for the lead.

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10. Sheep

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11. Hogs

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12. Dairy cattle

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13. Beef cattle

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14. Horses

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15. Exotic animals

Llamas, ostriches,

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16. Honey Bees

Honey
Pollen
Pollination
Africanized Honey Bee
Sources
Organizations

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17. Emergencies

Skunk-meets-dog solution: one quart three-percent hydrogen peroxide, one cup baking soda, one teaspoon dishwashing liquid. Mix ingredients together, rub through dogâs hair. Repeat as your nose requires. Tell dog to avoid skunks.

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Animals bibliography

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Copyright 2008 Gene GeRue