OK, this post isn’t exactly about babies (not human ones at least) but I couldn’t resist the title. It does hold some bearing tho. Befor bringing home your first child, you have to be prepared. You make sure you have a crib, clothing, food, first aid items…the basics for raising a child. The same thing applies to bringing home new pets or livestock. Befor you bring them home, you have to be prepared. Animals don’t have nearly as many needs as children but there are some basics that must be seen too.
Most farm animals are happy with the simplest of shelters (just take a look at my duck shelter) so this doesn’t need to be a huge expense. 2x4’s and plywood are invaluable resources to keep around the homestead. Sheet metal is a bit more expensive but I promise you will find a use for even the smallest pieces. The most important things to remember with building a shelter are to make sure it is tall enough to accommodate your largest animal, and that it is wide/deep enough to comfortably fit the entire herd/flock. It is tough to say what size, specifically, is needed for each type of animal. For horses, they say each animal needs at least an 8 foot by 8 foot space for themselves. I have three horses that happily squeeze themselves into a 12x8 area. They have more space to spread out but they choose to squish themselves together. So, the size of your shelter will be determined by the animals using it. So long as everyone can get out of the elements and no one is fighting, it is big enough. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and go big! Orientation is also important. The purpose of this shelter is to protect your animals from the elements. Take into account the position of the sun throughout the day and attempt to avoid building your shelter in an area that would allow the sun to shine directly into it at any point in the day. Also determine which way the wind blows. You don’t want the wind to blow into your shelter any more than you want the sun shining into it. For air flow, you can put in windows or eave vents. And finally, along with orientation, you need to determine where to place the shelter on your property. Choose a location that is on higher ground to avoid creating a mud hole. You also want to choose somewhere that is easily accessible for cleaning and emergencies.
As much as animals like a nice cozy home to tuck into at night, they absolutely love being able to stretch and run whenever possible. Most cattle and horses are happy in a field enclosed with t-posts and wire. Cattle can be in barbed wire but I strongly suggest you do not put horses in barbed wire pastures. If a horse should run through the fence or even just lean on it, barbed wire could cause serious injuries that could end the useful life of your horse. Sheep do well in similar fencing but the spacing between strands will need to be much closer together. Goats, on the other hand, will need rather sturdy fencing. What I have found works well is a combination of mesh fencing and wood. Goats have a knack for finding ways out of pastures. Make sure the fencing is built tall and sturdy to deter the goats from climbing over or pushing their way out. Pigs will need the sturdiest of fences if they are kept in a smaller pen. Livestock panels are a great way to enclose small areas and are easy to move around. For any animal, the smaller the pen the stronger the fence will need to be. If you are fencing in a huge field, you have more liberties with fencing. Poultry of any kind (many people like to bring their birds in at night to keep them safe from predators) will need tight mesh fencing. I chose to use pallets, to keep predators out, with mesh along the inside, to keep the ducks in at night. Some people choose to put aviary netting over their poultry enclosure to keep their birds from flying out and to help keep predators out.
Many animals can survive on what they forage for in the fields. In most areas tho, it is smart to supply hay regardless of the animal or its purpose. Hay for ruminants does not need to be as high quality as that needed for horses. Check the common weeds in your area and talk to your hay provider (or check your fields if you do your own hay) about anything that may be in the hay that will be toxic to your animals. Grain is a supplement and in no way NEEDS to be fed to any animal. Many owners choose to grain their animals for various reasons but I repeat it is NOT necessary. Determine what your animals need for nutrients and decide for yourself (possibly with the help of a veterinarian) what your animals need as far as supplements. A clean fresh supply of water is absolutely essential to the survival of any animal. If you are lucky enough to have a stream or creek running through your pasture, you are all set! Those of us that are not that luck have to supply water every day. Any container can become a water trough. I have seen everything from old bathtubs and plastic barrels to brand new galvanized tubs. Check the water every day to make sure it is clean and clear and to top off any container. In the winter you will need to make sure your animals can get to their water by either using an electric deicer or smashing the ice. A clean fresh supply of water and hay and your animals will be fat and happy.
Halters and leads are important to have on hand in case you ever need to catch or move an animal. You should have a few rolls of cotton and a bottle of surgical scrub to clean cuts and scrapes, gauze and vet wrap to cover wounds. It is a good idea to keep some antibiotics on hand just in case, and always have your veterinarian’s number close to the phone in case of an emergency.
Once you have all those bases covered, you are ready to bring home your first animal. Livestock can bring numerous things to any homestead. Food in the form of meat, dairy, and eggs is the biggest reason many people keep animals. Horses are used for work and pleasure. And any animal brings with it an immeasurable amount of entertainment (sometimes good and sometimes bad). Whether for work, entertainment or consumption, animals are an important part of any homestead.