Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
The Aspiring Farmer Blog
If you’ve read our personal blog recently you know that we recently lost a cat to a curious guard dog. It was a tough loss, particularly because the cat was given to me by my sister and we had only had her for a few weeks when it happened. I decided to post about the incident on our blog because I thought other beginning farmers could learn from it. That got me thinking about all the other animal introductions we’ve done and how we approached each instance. It also got me thinking about all the future introductions we’ll have to do and how to make each one better than the last (although most have gone smoothly). It’s an interesting topic because it’s not something I gave too much thought before starting the farm, but now it’s one of my biggest preoccupations.
Why do I worry so much about it? For one, new animals might not always get along. We learned the hard way with the cat, but it’s just as important with the other animals too. But there’s many other reasons too...
Before purchasing the animal it’s critical to look for abscesses, evidence of prior surgeries, coughing, stool appearance, general demeanor (are they active, head up, or droopy, head down?), and many tell-tale signs of sickness. Despite your best looking over you could still end up with a sick animal. For us it was especially hard because we’d never purchased a farm animal before. One thing we tried to do to circumvent our naivete was to find people that operated in a similar manner to us and farmed by similar principles. If someone seemed shady or a deal was too good to be true it’s best to walk away.
Prior to making an official introduction to the new home it’s best to put the animals in a quarantined area for a week or longer as you monitor their health. Biosecurity is a big issue. Not just for the diseases that the average consumer hears about, but also for little geographical nuances that can impact entire herds and flocks of animals. Even though we’ve purchased all of our animals from within Tennessee we still have to be wary of different types of worms and illnesses that animals could bring. We’ve heard of people designating a “poop out” area where new animals will be sent and given de-wormers and other medication until they’ve thoroughly relieved themselves of the bad stuff. We don’t flush every new animal with all sorts of chemicals because it’s not part of our belief system, but I could see how that would be a good approach for a different farm model. Poultry are typically given a separate pen area and monitored for a couple weeks or longer. I'd imagine the same is done for pigs, cattle, sheep and the rest. We've introduced the dogs immediately, but they could bring on
Once you’re happy that everyone is healthy and ready to be part of the farm the introductions are different for different animals. With the chickens we were told to introduce them to the flock at night. Just plop them in the coop and when they wake up everyone will think they’ve always been there. That’s the easiest one.
With the dogs we introduced them one at a time to the other dogs and then one at a time to the goats. When I picked up the dogs I drove our car (a Subaru Outback) instead of the truck. I wanted the dogs to get accustomed to me along the ride instead of being tossed in the back of the truck. I was really nervous about the dogs getting along, but it turned out to be a non-issue. Just be sure to have a pen ready for them so they can't escape.
For the goats we just put them with all the other goats in the same paddock and let them sort it out. They will quickly determine who the “herd queen” is and where the new kids stand on the pecking order. I haven’t really heard of a different way, but I’d be curious to know if someone did it differently. We made sure it was a secure paddock, not just polywire, that way no one could run away or jump over the fence. With polywire the goats may decide to jump out and that would encourage bad habit formation. We want them to sort out the herd dynamics first and then introduce them to the electric fence on their accord. It’s best for the goats to get a “casual” shock when they’re being curious about the fence as opposed to getting a shock when they’re bolting out of the paddock. It teaches them to respect the fence.
As for other animals (pigs, sheep, cattle, etc) we don’t have experience. Pigs are in the plans for early June and I have no idea how to make that introduction. I figure thepigs don’t really need to “meet” the goats and I don’t know what good it would do if we put them together anyway. They’ll always be separate so it shouldn’t be an issue. With the dogs, on the other hand, it’s a bigger concern. I’m thinking we’ll put the pigs in a secure paddock and bring the dogs in one at a time and see how it goes. Anyone have suggestions?
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