Thursday, January 24, 2013

Building Unity Farm - Creating an Animal Community

On our journey to become small scale farmers, we've visited many New England farms, orchards, and CSAs.   We've had 3 major lessons learned:

*Create the infrastructure you need before adding animals to the property
*Do not acquire more animals than you can manage
*Ensure the animals are compatible with each other and that you'll have a healthy community with symbiotic relationships

Infrastructure - many farms we visited had inadequate or temporary fencing, created or patched after an animal escaped or was injured trying.    Often there was little advance thought to manure management, workflow, and access for humans and machines.    In laying out our fences we placed gates on every edge and sized them based on the need for animal and equipment flow patterns.   The inputs and outputs of food, water, and manure formed the requirements for design before anything was built.

Number of animals - Today we have 50 animals, which enables us to give personal attention to every one.   Each night we examine all our chickens and guinea fowl to ensure they are healthy.   Every day the Great Pyrenees get two runs around the forest and orchard.    For alpacas and llamas,  we trim their toenails, clean their ears, examine their skin, weigh, and measure their body scores every month. This month we found a small ear abscess on one of the alpacas and performed an incision and drainage to accelerate healing.   My wife and I, plus the monthly help of the original alpaca breeder,  constitute enough resources to give personalized attention to every animal.   Many farms we visited had sick, underweight, and overcrowded animals that exceeded the capacity of the farmers to care for them.

Community - we chose our animals carefully.   Our guard llama lived her entire life with alpacas and was familiar with guarding duties.   Our alpaca spent their entire lives together as a herd.   Our chickens were hatched together on the same day.   The guinea fowl were all part of the same flock.    The dogs have bloodlines from the same breeder and grew up together.    We were very careful to introduce the llama to the alpaca so that each had enough space to acclimate to each other.   We introduced the dogs one at a time to the alpaca, and separated the dogs from each other until they established a relationship through a fence.   The chickens and the guineas shared a two room coop for months until we opened the door and enabled them to interact.  They now roost with each other.

The end result has been a harmonious community at Unity Farm.  The photo above shows Shiro, our 83 pound Pyrenees puppy, sleeping with Stanley, our 106 pound alpaca "puppy".  The dogs and alpacas curl up together for warmth on cold winter days like today, when it's 6 degrees in the barn.

We're very satisfied with our community of animals and will be very judicious in adding more.   This spring and summer we are removing an old hot tub on the property and replacing it with a koi pond, engineered to stay partially unfrozen during the winter.   We may consider adding indian runner ducks 
once we have a small pond for them near the barnyard.

We will not add sheep or goats because they will bring unique diseases and parasites to the herd of llamas and alpacas.    Every expert we've spoken with has suggested that public health/population health management of barnyards is best when species diversity is limited.

That's our animal community.    Thus far, the citizens of Unity farm are thriving in it.

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