Which farm animal should I get?

scottmkivJanuary 8, 2007

I just bought a house on 1.3 acres of wooded land. My wife and I are both city folk, but eager to take advantage of our huge (to us anyway) new place.

I know that zoning issues won't be a problem, there are horses, cows, and chickens on nearby lots.

We want something that will involve realtively little upfront cost and we also don't want to have to pay too much for feed. We plan to eat whatever it is we get, unless selling it proves profitable enough, which I doubt. Essentially, we just want a low cost, relatively low upkeep solution which will be fun and give us some food.

My first thought was to build a chicken coop, and fence off an area for them to range in.

I also think sheep would be really neat, but I don't know if that is really practical on a lot our size. I have read that there are minature sheep breeds, and they seem like they might be a good solution. Is there anywhere relatively near DFW where I could buy them?

Does anyone think pigs would work well? We both love the taste of pork, but I don't know anything about the expense, or trouble, or mess of raising them.

We have two dogs, one of which is a border collie mix, and the other is a big lab mix that will probably want to rough house with whatever we get unless they are securely seperated.

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Each animal has drawbacks, starting with the simplest forms is usually best then progress as you learn. Rabbits and poultry are pretty forgiving. poultry can even be left ubattended for short periods, a day or so; they have potential as meat and eggs and manure for the garden. A pair or trio of rabbits csan produce a good amount of manure and have the ability to make a lot of food in a short time. Hogs require a good solid enclosure with some type of housing from cold or heat. Each pig will consume aboput 700 pounds of feed in the 5-6 months from weaner to dinner table. Sheep need to be sheared, not an easy task for the beginners but can provide meat and wool for spinning.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2007 at 3:19PM
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For what its worth, I performed the same cost benefit analysis recently on my new property and chose to begin with a dozen chickens. So far I enjoy them very much and hope to start getting some eggs in March. I constructed a suitable coop with *found* wood and fence temporarily and have begun building a much larger and considerably nicer coop which I will bring online as the pullets begin laying.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2007 at 4:16PM
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You will love getting out of the metro mess as we call it. We are an hour south of Ft Worth. We have a little more land 6 acres and we have chickens too. In Texas we don't have enought cold to hurt them and we even sell eggs for $4 a doz....you can make enough money for the feed and a little extra....My neighbors raise these neat sheep they are called Jacobs Sheep....you might look into them. I also would stay away from raising hogs they STINK! LOL! Welcome to farm life!

    Bookmark   January 8, 2007 at 4:32PM
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Maggie_J(z5 Ontario)

Rabbits and chickens for sure. Unless you have a market for eggs, don't start with too many hens. Six or eight will give you more eggs than you can easily use unless you have a very large family.

Rabbit meat is wonderful. A trio is best because then you can co-ordinate kindling dates so that both does have their babies at the same time. Then if the litters are uneven your can foster some from one litter to the other. If you butcher the young fryers at ten to twelve weeks you will have all the tender white meat you could hope for. Anything you can do with chicken you can do with rabbit. You will be able to grow much of your own rabbit food if you want to. I am hoping to get mine completely off pellets this spring... very gradually, of course.

So there you go. Start with half a dozen hens, three rabbits and a vegetable garden. If you want to grow fruit trees, berry bushes or asparagus, start those your first season too because it will be a couple of seasons before you get anything from them. That will be plenty for your first season and you will get quick, gratifying results from the rabbits, chickens and vegetables.

After that, when you have your starter projects running smoothly, is time enough to consider whether to get a goat, sheep, pig or whatever.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2007 at 5:33PM
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I would agree with the above post. We started with chickens and added rabbits. We eat both. Both are easy to keep and feed.(chickens are like pigs on 2 feet, they eat anything so we supliment their diet with our left overs and get more eggs than we can eat. I sell them at work. I probably get at least 2 dozen a day)we have about 30 chickens)

    Bookmark   January 8, 2007 at 5:46PM
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kydaylilylady(z6 KY)

Used to be a fairly general rule around here that 3-4 acres would support a cow/calf pair for the year. You could run 2/3 sheep or goats in place of a mature cow. In TX I suspect that acreage quote would be higher. Besides, larger animals in small enclosures can generate a lot of mud and smell. I think you'll be much happier sticking with the rabbits and chickens. You might try a pygmy goat if you want a larger animal.


    Bookmark   January 9, 2007 at 8:30AM
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Unless you plan to clear your wooded land, sheep or goats would not be a good choice. Either of them will eat ALL available browse and then start stripping bark from trees. This is definitely not healthy for a woodland. The ground under the trees will then be bare, leading to erosion and manure issues. And sheep in woods and brush end up with VM in their wool, reducing its usefulness.
Oh and sheep/goats and dogs don't mix (unless its a LGD) I imagine a Border Collie would take special care, since their chase instinct is very strong.
Rabbits & checkens would be a good choice, assuming you can keep the dogs away from them, too. Keep in mind, just a cage won't protect a rabbit from dogs. Dogs are well known for tearing off toes and feet of rabbits through the bottom of their cages. So its a good idea to keep them inside a secure building, or at least inside an enclosure. you'll probably have small wildlife such as raccoons, possums, snakes or even feral cats to deal with from time to time, as well.
Not trying to discourage you at all - just wanted to mention things you may not have thought of so you can plan ahead and not have bad surprises along the way. :^)
Lisa at Somerhill

    Bookmark   January 9, 2007 at 10:49AM
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Also,if you have any water beds in your new place like a pond ect...you'd LOVE ducks! They're a great addition too! You can use the eggs for baking,and sell them...or do what we do and just have them to live out their lives and enjoy as part of the family! They are extremely easy to keep,only need to secure them somewhere at night to keep them safe from predators. Other than that,everyone needs a couple ducks...don't you all agree? :)

    Bookmark   January 9, 2007 at 11:03AM
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I'm on the chicken and rabbit bandwagon myself. I have had goats, chickens, pigs (they will root up your place and make mud puddles), cows and horses. Goats, pigs, and cows are a higher maintainence issue because of the more extensive fencing required, manure and bedding, etc. I personally don't think I would want to start with all that.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2007 at 3:07AM
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undercover_owl(8 Pac.NW)

Goats are great. They are smart animals, and can be trained. As a kid, I had one as a pet. My neighbors kept goats for meat and milk, but that won't be for everyone, since goats give off a distinctive flavor/scent. For example, have you ever tried goat cheese? I think it's delicious, but it does have a distinctive goat essence that not everyone likes.

We also had sheep. The first year, a sheep-shearer came by for shearing, but once we got the bags of wool, we didn't really have a plan for what to do with the cut wool. Uh, duh, do we send the wool to a yarn spinner or a weaver or something? Nobody knew what to do, so the yarn sat in bags, unused, and we never cut the sheep's wool again. The sheep just got to graze freely for a couple of years, until we sold them or gave them away, or something. It was a total wash.

Rabbits as farm animals: They are no fun. Compare it to raising feral cats.

Ducks are excellent. Chickens are great. Turkeys, too. Poultry is the way to go, in my opinion.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2007 at 2:04AM
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I love goat, and sheep cheese, and I would like to try making cheese sometime. However, I'm not sure I want to commit to waking up at the crack of dawn to milk animals for the next 10 years or however long the sheep/goats live.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2007 at 9:22AM
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There is a side effect to making that cheese; You eat it all up! I was making about a pound per day of several different cheeses, cheddars, soft goat cheese, mozzarella, etc., and I just ate way too much. If milking is not your idea of fun meat goats or pygmys are an alternative.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2007 at 10:37AM
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Chickens! :)

    Bookmark   January 12, 2007 at 1:19PM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Scott, if you decide to go for a goat('probably should get more than one - they ARE herd animals), then letting the kid get half or more of the milk would be an option. If you milk in the morning, at whenever suits and is reasonable, then you can let the kid in with the doe all day, separating them at night. If you won't be there for a morning or so, you can just leave the kid with her at night too. Of course, I don't know how much milk you want, need or would get, but it's an option.

You can schedule milkings, for cows, anyway, for whenever is convenient for you, as long as it is twice a day, at least during the 'heavy' milk period, as the cow doesn't care if you milk at 6 AM or 10 AM, as long as you do it again about 10-12 hours later. I see no reason why goats can't adjust their schedules as well. I think it's easier for dairy farmers to milk early, as then they have the rest of the day to work in, and don't have to milk at 10 PM, when their conventional neighbors would be sound asleep! You know how customs become traditions and traditions become "laws"!!

    Bookmark   January 12, 2007 at 4:56PM
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Another vote for chickens, we have 8 laying hens on a suburban 1/4 acre & we get more eggs that we can eat but the chickens are a joy to have.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2007 at 1:38PM
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marbree(z5 MI)

Just over 1 and 1/3 acre isn't a whole of land, and with it being wooded there isn't a pasture so think small. Chickens, rabbits or goats seem to take less room, but with the wooded area you'll want to make sure to keep them safe from feral/loose dogs and wild animals.

Based on your last post, I also vote for chickens. There are a lot of different breeds, and they even come in miniature versions (bantams) as well as full size (standard). Some companies will even ship baby chicks to you.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 4:51PM
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Just to clarify, my whole land is decently fenced around the perimeter. I don't think it would hold cows or pigs, but Its a wire fence about 4 feet high with barbed wire worked throughout most of it.

I don't really need any milk, but I would love to experiment with cheese making, and the possibility of a few gallons a week would be nice. The option of leaving a kid with the mother unless I actually wanted to milk the mother seems like it would fit my schedule a lot better than the twice a day no matter what schedule for dairy cows.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 11:37AM
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marquisella(z4 NY)

My advice would be to start with chickes and rabbits and see how you like taking care of them.

They are the easiest to maintain and less time consuming.
If you enjoy them, and don't mind the committment of everyday care, then think about expanding your farm.

If you find you are "tied down" more than you like, then you know that more animals probably wouldn't be advisable.

I have to agree with other posters. 1.3 acres really isn't enough to support other livestock. Goats especially would have any forage eaten down in no time, and you would be feeding hay constantly, particularly in a wooded setting you are starting out at a disadvantage.

If you don't mind feeding hay constantly, the only other problem would be the eventual erosion of the land into a dirt bowl due to overgrazing.

It is suggested to only put 2 sheep per acre of pasture land, and its been my experience that that really isn't enough for long term grazing.


    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 1:22PM
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marbree(z5 MI)

The chickens and rabbits are good first step into learning the things you need to know to begin farming. Chickens are omnivores and love table scraps.

Just keep in mind that if you do work up to milk goats, you won't be able free range them on your property. You'll have to feed them hay year-round which will reduce their cost efficiency. They are also mastermind escape artists who love to eat roses, perennials, gardens and to jump up and walk on cars. If you have neighbors close by they might stop by for a visit.

You'll want to be on really good terms with your neighbors before you start with goats. A few extra eggs to share would be a good way to start an introduction.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2007 at 12:49PM
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sumac(SE MI)

What ever you decide please start small and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE educate yourself and secure proper housing BEFORE obtaining your animals. Invest in at least one reference book to have on hand. If you equip yourself beforehand the experience will be SO much more enjoyable. FWIW a vegetable garden is much more forgiving and more productive than any warm blooded animal. Enjoy your new property.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2007 at 1:08PM
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So I've settled on getting chickens. Does anyone have any suggestions about what breed I should pick?

They need to be able to deal with the Texas summers, sometimes it breaks 100 every day for a month, and the nights are almost as hot as the days.

I want a decent egg layer, and also a bird that is relatively large and good tasting for eating. I'm not especially concerned about efficiency in converting food into eggs/meat. I do want something that is very hardy and disease resistant. I would prefer a breed that is gentle and easy to get along with, but this isn't a huge priority.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2007 at 10:27AM
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Hi Scott:

First, congrats on your new homestead! Life is so much more pleasant when you have room to breathe.

Second, to save you time, cost and aggravation, please do not assume that because the acreage around you has livestock that you are also able to have livestock, even in AG zoned areas, there may be minimum acreage limits for livestock (here it is horses and cattle only on 5 acre or more) or convenants that run with your land i.e. some areas DO NOT allow pigs or large commerical chicken production with out special zoning or conditional use permits. Best advice is to check your particular lot's zoning and covenants, if any, before you bring any animals home.

I would also recommend the book "Storey's Basic Country Skills, A Practical Guide to Self-Reliance" ISBN1-58017-202-4, buy it or borrow from the library. It is a compilation of all the little Storey Books on various subjects from planting, livestock, slaughtering, building, canning, preserving, etc. Even has a recipe for homemade root beer from sassafrass root bark :)

If your place allows livestock, definately start with chickens, they are very entertaining! I would also recommend McMurray Hatchery (online and print catalog) if you are willing to get the minimum order of 25 chicks for shipping. Otherwise, the local feed store or Tractor Supply store should have chicks in the spring. Banties (Bantams) are small chickens and Standards are the big chickens. Many breeds come in both sizes, but there is more ornamental type variety in the Banties. My personal favorites in the calm variety are Cochins & Brahmans(feather footed), Tophats - Golden & Buff Polish, Crevecour; Buff Orpingtons and Black Australops. The last two are dual purpose standard sized breeds. When they stop or drastically reduce laying around 2-3 years of age, you can slaughter for meat. Leghorns are very good layers of white eggs, but very neurotic. Ameriaucanas lay pretty blue and khaki colored eggs and are neither docile nor aggressive. Rhode Island and New Hampshire Reds are also good layers, but we've found them to be more aggressive. This is all observation on our homestead, where the chickens free range. If you have kids or just don't want roosters, you don't need them to get eggs.

I hate to be negative, but goats, sheep, cattle and horses just won't work on your lot. Not if you want to practice good land stewardship. There just isn't enough room and they will quickly destroy the land. Also, milking animals require a schedule, you just cannot decide to milk one day and not the next. You will also need a male or access to one for without babies, there is no milk to milk *LOL* Milking also requires sanitation of all the milking equipment after each use and some periodic speciliazed care to prevent buildup. Expect to spend much time with preparation, actual milking and cleanup. Add extra time and expense if you also need/want to pasturize. If you really want to make cheese, buy the milk from someone else.

And finally, you can purchase a single feeder pig to finish out on your fresh feeds and then have it slaughtered. It can be kept in a confined pen/paddock and it will get a bit messy but you can do this once every two years or rotate the pen area to keep the land healthy. You will need lots of freezer space but the meat is fantastic! :)

Good luck with your new homestead!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2007 at 11:30AM
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marbree(z5 MI)

Hi Scott

I found a picture of a chicken coop on the farm life gallery, and I thought you might lbe interested in looking at it. They even have the fence buried so that the chickens can't dust themselves out nor can other creatures dig their way in. I'm not sure if it's what you had in mind, but it looks like a nice one.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2007 at 9:55AM
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Roberta_z5(Z4/5 IL)

If you have very hot summers, a heavy breed chicken probably isn't a good idea. We have both heavy breeds and also Americanas which aren't real heavy and love to hang out in the trees in the woods. This is great for protection and also keeps them cool in the summer. They seems to be able to take the heat much better than our New Hampshire Reds.

The NHRs lay more eggs (brown) but don't seem to have nearly as much fun as the Americanas which lay the blue/green eggs. They have little beards and ear muffs and the roosters don't have big combs which is a real plus in our frigid winter.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2007 at 4:32PM
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So what was this business about sheep in wooded areas getting "VM" in the wool? What is that about? I also have a small portion of land on my five acre plot that I have been thinking of MAYBE devoting to some miniature cheviot sheep. I don't know just how "mini" they are or feed requirements, etc.. just in the thinking and planning stage at the moment. I know.. I should also just stick with chickens and rabbits for now. :-))

    Bookmark   February 17, 2007 at 11:47PM
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"VM" is vegetative or vegetable matter - things like straw, hay, burrs, twigs, etc. all of which can make it hard to shear the fleece off the animal. It will also need to be picked out or "skirted" off the fleece before further processing.

Before you purchase any type of animal, please do lots of research. Read books (Storey publications are great for this), check out species/breed specific chat groups, and best of all, visit local owners and/or breeders. There is a lot more to keeping healthy livestock and healthy land than people realize. It is more complicated than just getting a few critters and putting them out to "mow the lawn."

Goats will eat browse (tree leaves, brambles, woody things), forbs (weeds) and grasses, in that order. If left too long without green things or supplemental feed (hay or grain) in a wooded area, they will begin to strip the bark off, killing your trees. They will also knock/bend over small saplings to get to the leaves on top - great when you want to clear woodlands, not so great when you want to preserve them. Sheep need pasturage - lots of green grass though they will eat forbs as well and some breeds will sometimes eat browse. Both animals are social animals and you will need more than one to keep them happy. You can get by with two or three goats, but should probably have three to five sheep.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2007 at 6:18PM
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Your biggest drawbacks are your lot size and the demands for feed, water and shelter of whatever stock you choose. If I was in your shoes I would check with the county to see what, if any, restrictions you might have before going any further. Then I would lean towards a nice large garden space, some fruit trees and bushes, some nut trees, poultry, rabbits, dwarf or pygmy goats (only a few, and then they would be milkers) and maybe build a pond for aquaculture. Remember that no matter what you choose they will rely upon you for the majority of their foodstuff, which means you buying grain, hay or processed feed. If you were just hoping on letting them "free range" you won't be able to do it on the size of the acreage you've got.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 2:21PM
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marquisella(z4 NY)

Sheep usually get Vegetable matter (chaff) in their wool when they are inside during the winter months from laying down on the hay/straw..

Or, if they are in an area with burdocks & sticktites, then that will get into the wool as well.

When I first got my sheep, the week before I went out patrolling my pasture for burdock plants and cut them all down. Yes, they did start to grow back, but sheep love to eat burdocks so eventually they kept nibbling it down until the plants died.


    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 9:11AM
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We started with chickens and rabbits. We now have about 40
chickens and 10-12 rabbits. We have 3 different coops that we rotate the chickens on and the rabbits are in the barn. We have about 7 acres and on the back 3 acres we just about have our quota of 3 goats and 2 ponies. We really enjoy the chickens and both of my boys show them at fairs and 4H activities. We have about 6 rabbit's in the freezer and cant wait untill summer, nothing like grilled rabbit. We have a huge garden where we grow corn/potato/cantalope/watermelon/beans/peppers/tomatoes.

We have about 10 fruit trees apple/pear/peach/cherry and a huge grape arbor. We enjoy making jellys/jams, apple and pear butter.....

It took us about 10 years to get all of this going. So my advise is just have fun and enjoy your land and the animals you get..

    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 7:34PM
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roseyt(z8 TX)

Scott, we live in East Texas and our Rhode Island Reds are now a little over a year old. They did fine through the summer with access to plenty of water and shade. Their egg laying has been excellent.

If your neighbors aren't too close, you might consider a pig. Yes, they require a good enclosure but the payoff (homegrown pork) is well worth it.

I completely agree with the suggestions to garden and plant some fruit trees. You might check into square foot gardening to make the best use of your space.

Good luck to y'all!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2007 at 1:16PM
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Don't forget that you might be able to succession garden. My father used to do that here in Missouri and with some vegetables he was able to get two or more crops off of the same space. If you are far enough south you might get three. Your biggest problems will be heat and water.

As to the pig issue, you can rotate the location of your pen. In one issue of Countryside magazine there was an article by one lady who uses a two year rotation system. She keeps a couple of pigs in one pen, while gardening the other. Then the next year the pigs go into the other pen, and garden is made in the remaining one. This away the pigs fertilize the garden space for her one year, and she gets the benefits of the garden space for a year. She built hers with a shelter between the spaces, but a portable hut would work just as well. Just leave gates between the fences seperating the areas. If you don't want to put up permeanant fences just use stock panels and electric wire on steel posts. (The electrified fence must be on insulators, of course.)

As to chicken selection, look to the smooth legged varieties, and as to the size of wattles and combs it might help to have larger combed ones. Easier heat dispersion. The biggest thing is your coop will need adequate ventilation in a hot environment.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2007 at 3:50PM
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I ended up getting Nigerian Dwarf goats. I just had two babies born which brings my total to 5. I think I need more like 10 to keep my property cleaned out. Right now they can't even begin to keep up with all the weeds and brush.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 3:29PM
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We live on 1.5 acres of land & started raising Rhode Island Reds & Plymouth Barred Rocks last April. We live in a hot/humid area but our Plymouth Hens lay very well, not that our Rhode Island's don't. Out of 21 hens, we get an average of 15- 17 eggs a day.

My suggestion would be to buy from McMurrey's & pay the extra cost. Why? We bought from a Farm Supply Store & our Barr Rocks lay white eggs. (They are supposed to lay brown eggs.LOL) They taste good but are not in the "show" class. Our Rhode Islands were sort of sickly. Some just reached close to full size & just began laying eggs. They are over a year old.

Chickens can be very sweet animals & become quite attached to a person. We had to tend a lame Barred Rock & she is a cuddler now. We put her in a Chicken tractor, along with a tiny (year old) Rhode Island & the Rhode Island grew in leaps & bounds plus started laying for us. They nestle close to each other like buddies now. Our hen is all healed but I enjoy keeping the two seperate from the whole flock due to their friendship.

Definitely think about building a chicken tractor along with your coop & educating yourself about what first aid treatments/remedies to keep on hand.;-)

Have fun! They are a delight.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2008 at 10:26AM
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