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PHOTO: Ana Hotaling
It’s often been said that chickens are the “gateway” animal when it comes to hobby farming. Adding additional livestock to your chicken farm is something many small farmers consider without enough forethought. If you have a few hens around the yard, you’ll soon find yourself rearing an entire menagerie. While some of us may readily embrace adding dozens of different livestock to our pasture, others amongst us may be somewhat more hesitant about expanding our animal-husbandry experience. Don’t be too concerned, however: Just because you’ve been raising a quarter of Rhode Island Reds doesn’t mean you’re going to come home with alpacas next week. If you have entertained the idea of adding another animal to your backyard brood but aren’t sure which way to turn, here are four suggestions to get you past the gateway.
Almost every idyllic farm scene features a few ducks swimming contentedly on a placid pond. Don’t let the lack of a pond stop you from enjoying a bird whose antics are every bit as amusing as those of your chooks. Ducks are a true joy to have around, and a kiddie pool or large tub of water is all they need to splash and bath to their heart’s content. Keeping your duck house clean may take prove a bit challenging after keeping chickens, as ducks tend to be messy eaters, and water and feed may slosh everywhere unless you pull their feeder and waterer at lock-up, then return them upon morning release. Because their droppings are mostly liquid, you’ll still need to clean out their coop on a frequent basis. Among the many positives to duck-keeping: duck eggs are rich and perfect for baking and ducks are infinitely easier to herd because they flock together.
Another waterfowl popular with chicken keepers is the goose. Geese make fabulous guardians for your flock, protecting your birds against smaller predators and honking loudly to alert you to potential threats. When raised from goslings, geese often imprint on their human caregivers, forming a loyal, loving bond that stays with them through adulthood. Like ducks, geese are unfailingly entertaining and thrive on routine but are also extremely curious about anything that happens in their domain, so be prepared for a web-footed audience should you garden, do yard work, or even sunbathe in their vicinity. Goose eggs are absolutely delicious and one egg — equivalent to three or four chicken eggs — makes a meal in itself. An added bonus? Geese are vegetarians, so all those tasty weeds they gobble up will make their eggs more flavorful.
Guinea fowl are the Cabbage Patch Kids of the domestic poultry world: they have a face only a mother could love. While they may not be the most attractive birds in the farmyard, they are definitely practical animals to have around… and low maintenance to boot. They are expert foragers, potentially able to subsist all summer long on what they browse. Guineas also adore ticks and will actively hunt for these “treats” and other farmyard nuisances such as snakes, mice, and chipmunks. Guinea fowl instinctively roost in trees well away from the ground and from ground-bound predators, so be sure their coop features a high perch. They may not lay many eggs — perhaps 30 per season — but what they do lay is quite tasty. Be aware of one key thing: guineas are rather vocal and not just at dawn, but all day long.
Going from a coop to a hutch may seem like a huge leap for those who have only kept backyard chickens, but rabbits are a very low-maintenance addition to any small farm or homestead. Rabbits come in all sizes, from the Netherland Dwarf (weighing in at about 2 pounds, fully grown) to the Flemish Giant (about four feet in length). Just as you did with your chickens, you’ll need to decide what your rabbit-rearing goal is. Do you want to breed rabbits for exhibitions or as pets? Do you want to raise meat rabbits? This will help you determine the breeds that are best for you as well as the type of housing you’ll need. Since rabbits are raised in confinement, you’ll only need a series of sturdy hutches, waterers, feeders, and hay trays and you’ll be set to go. A huge benefit to raising rabbits of any kind: their droppings make for fabulous fertilizer.
Livestock Expansion Planning
So if you’re considering adding additional livestock to your chicken farm, give ducks, geese, guinea fowl and rabbits a chance, but only after you do your research and are ready for the extra responsibilities.