We’ve made it a point to pick the breeds of all of our animals off of the ALBC endangered lists. We have a whole host of them: Tamworth pigs, American Milking Devon cow, Chantecler chickens, Toulouse geese, Saxony ducks, Percheron horses, Midget White turkeys.
We also have Icelandic Sheepdogs, Icelandic sheep and Icelandic “Settlement” chickens (Landnámshænurnar). Icelandic chickens are not on the ALBC list because they are too rare and only came here in 2005. There are only a couple thousand in Iceland. There are also some in Sweden. They really need to pass out some of those eggs! There are a decent number of breeders of the sheep and dogs outside of Iceland.
Why do we do it? We like the thought of establishing breeding groups of all the animals, to help preserve them. We like the hardiness of them. We like that they all breed by themselves, no AI necessary. They make good parents, by a high percentage. We cull hard for bad parenting. We like that they survive fine outside all year round with minimal man-made shelter. Three-sided sheds are fine. They do well on pasture and grass when it’s green, hay when it’s not. We feed a very limited amount of grain, mostly to the birds, and even they mostly forage when it’s green outside. They’re yummy. They’re personable. They’re cute. They’re friendly. They’re smart.
That’s the rub. There’s a reason farmers bred the smarts out of most domestic breeds. I visited a 100-cow grass-fed dairy the other day. He moved them from paddock to paddock every 24 hours, and to and from the milking parlor with one small strand of electric wire fence. Man. My cows and horses would jump that without even noticing it, and no one else would need to even jump.
We don’t have a whole lot of good fencing. We are slowly repairing it all, as well as trying to run new fencing around recently cleared pasture. We need that pasture! There’s grass out there going to waste this year because we can’t use it very much. We’ve been tethering the cows and horses, which mostly works. Actually, we tether Prince and Pearl stays near him, and Danny only goes walk about once a week or so. We usually find him within a day or two. He likes wandering around the woods, free-range cow. He shows up for some treats after a bit, takes a cuddle or two.
We finally have the back paddock holding sheep. We fenced that last spring, and the wire we chose was cheap because we needed so dang much of it that we pinched pennies. That was really, really stupid. (It collapsed under the snow load and is falling down all over.) Well, first we tried electric there, which was a total waste of time. Our sheep will NOT stay behind an electric fence. We know that. We can’t run the bottom strand close enough to the ground because we are too bumpy and it shorts out so easily, and they easily find low spots to scoot under.
One side of that paddock is the swamp. We thought the sheep wouldn’t go into deep water and scoot around the fence. We were wrong. But I had an idea last year that Frank thought was crazy, but it actually worked. We just ran another 50ish feet along the swamp, further out in deep water and angled back. That sees to have done the trick.
Except not for Buffy and Faith. We put them out all alone with the sheepies last night, convinced they were ready. They don’t chase the sheep at all. They like the sheepies. (They still chase chickens. We’ve lost two recently. Sometimes they still chase turkeys. Oy.) They stayed out there for a while, splashing in the water, and we left them after a bit. They showed up at the front door an hour later, wanting back to their shed, their kibble, their water bucket.
We need to figure out a better way to feed them. We can’t free-feed kibble, because George will eat it. Sheep aren’t supposed to like meat-flavored things, but George didn’t read that book. (And the dog food is made from lamb! So we really don’t want him eating any of it at all, ever.) So we’ve been feeding them raw meat, as well as some cheese and some cooked meat, as we get it from the pantry. They love it, it’s good for them, but they act all protective and aggressive around it, guard it instead of the sheep.
The Midget White turkey herd went walk-about a half of a mile to a neighbor’s house. Rude! Loud. Obnoxious. Pain in the neck. All of our neighbors are very nice about it, but we really try to keep the animals contained to our farm. They have just a little too much personality, and they are getting harder and harder to move about. The dogs love to do it and can do it alone, even, but it’s a pain in the neck that they get so much practice.
I could tell you why the Saxony ducks and Toulouse geese keep getting out now. It’s because one of the pigs (Parvati) would JUST NOT STAY IN THE FENCE, and broke a gate to the back paddock, so it’s barely patched upright right now. The drought has made it so dry that even watering the grounding rods on the electric charger wasn’t helping. The ducks and geese found the pond in the front and now jump over or go under that gate, routinely. Oh, well. My flower garden was about done, anyway. Huge improvement there this year! It wasn’t sheeped!
The rain in the last few days has helped so much. I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear a squealing pig when she touched that fence. The piglets can still get out, but they won’t go far with mama inside. YAY! I am so tired of chasing pigs, and the dogs are really good at putting the back by themselves, mostly. But the fun of running cutie piglets gets stale after the fourth or fifth time a day.
That’s why I’m really starting to question our sanity with all of these heritage breeds. A few stupid critters would come in handy these days. You should see the quality of the fence in Ireland that holds sheep all over the country. Insane! Our sheep wouldn’t even notice it was there. In Iceland, they don’t use fence to contain the sheep. They use fence to keep the sheep OUT of gardens and towns. Big difference! That’s why most of my garden is still doing well this year. We’ve managed to keep the sheep out all year! It’s a miracle. (If only we could keep the turkeys and chickens out! We need an additional four feet on top of the five we have.) The horses and cows did get in a few times, and yesterday Buffy and Faith CLIMBED the fence to get in to kill a chicken, and walk on my broccoli plants. I was not a happy camper, running out like a lunatic in my nightgown, pre-coffee. That’s really not fun.
There are reasons we wanted to be diversified. Being able to run the birds after the sheep helps break up the parasite cycle. This is our second year of NOT WORMING the sheep, at all, and not losing any to parasites. If we either keep them in jail and feed them baylage or keep them in a paddock with high browsing, it seems to work. We’ve even mostly kept them out of the death paddock, only letting them in once, after the horses, and still didn’t lose anyone. A miracle! So having a variety of critters really does help.
We wanted the Tamworth pigs to root up rocks and stumps, and they are brilliant at the job. We’ve managed to keep all the big pigs in this year. which again is a freaking miracle. We only have the two new girls who are small enough to get through low spots, and the piglets. I told Parvati the other day that I’m about to start culling for fence breaking, even if she did have 11 piglets in her first litter.
I’m ranting. Go figure. I take a break from fencing and chasing critters to write about fencing and chasing critters. I’ve been dreaming about it, too. That seems so unfair, brain. I do enough in reality, thanks! Shut up, brain!
So anyway. My big thought of the day is that someone needs to tell farmers considering heritage breed to also consider the quality of their fencing before they do it. Smarter critters need better fencing.
We are having a “Slow Foods Dig In” on September 25th from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. We are going to run electric fence around about 10 acres so we have a new place to put the pigs, horses and cows, all the critters that will respect electric. It’ll be mostly moving brush away from the fence line, then helping to pull the wire through. Bring hammers to help nail the tubing that hold up the fence if you want to do that. We’ll have lunch from food here on the farm, and will get some beer and lots of water.
If you’re in the area and can help, we’d love to see you!