Adding new poultry and livestock to your farm or homestead is commonly done in the spring. How do you avoid the common pitfall of adding too many, too soon? I use the following three questions when evaluating our homestead’s ability to carry more animals.
Am I adding only the animals I have room for?
Can I afford to care for the new animals properly?
Do I have the time and physical ability to care for the new additions along with the current stock?
These are important questions for me, and maybe you, to use when evaluating adding poultry and livestock. I do understand the way having too many animals can come about. They are so cute and start out life looking so helpless. How could we not want to take them all home and add to our homestead? Really, how much trouble can more goats, chickens, ducklings, lambs really be? Yes, I do understand. But I will give you some thoughts to ponder about the steps you should take when bringing home new animals to add to your already existing flocks and herds.
Adding New Poultry and Livestock
Bio-security is a term used to describe the care used when adding new animals or disinfecting equipment, or pens used by one group of animals before being used by another group. Animal Bio Security aims to stop the introduction or spread of various diseases or infections into your already existing animal groups. The key components in animal bio security are prevention and containment.
With this in mind, the first thing you should do before bringing home that homeless duck, unwanted goat kid, or free chicken is to make sure it appears healthy. Even if there are no obvious signs of illness, take the time to care for the new addition in an isolation coop or pen. Do not let it interact with your current animals until you are certain it is healthy. Most recommendations point to ten to thirty days of observation, before integrating into the current flocks or herds.
If you can add more than one bird or animal, it gives those in isolation a buddy to hang out with. Some people will use one of their existing flock members as the new friend for the newcomer. Of course this has some inherent risk and if an illness is introduced, you can lose both the new animal and your existing flock member. Adding new birds and livestock is a tightrope walk! There is no one right way, but always use a period of quarantine so you don’t end up with your entire flock suffering and ill.
Don’t Track Illness to Your Existing Flocks
Often we forget that our shoes and farm boots can spread illness. Stepping in infected feces in one pen, and walking into another pen will spread the pathogens. In order to keep your existing flock healthy, tend to their needs first, every time. End the chore time with the care of the newcomers in the isolation pen. Spritz your boots with a spray bottle with diluted bleach, or use a foot bath tray containing a soapy and bleach treated water. Do this every time. I knew better and still brought a serious case of Coccidiosis to my flock by not changing or cleaning my shoes after taking care of a friend’s flock. Take the extra time to protect your animals.
After the quarantine period, I use the following method to begin introducing a new flock member. Place a crate in the middle of the chicken run with the new flock members inside. (This is the same method I use when introducing pullets to the flock) After a day or two of this introduction, I begin to let the newcomers out while I observe for any problem behavior.
Pecking order behavior is normal and will occur. Watch for severe attacks, otherwise let the chickens begin to work things out. After a couple days of this, put the new comers into the coop at night as the flock is going to roost. Continue to observe closely for a few days to make sure there are no serious altercations. Most times, there will be little to no problem with new flock members. Use enough feed bowls or feeders to ensure that all the chickens have access to food and water during the adjustment period.
I have had both easy times and hard times when adding new ducks to a flock. Occasionally, male ducks get very territorial about the female ducks and become aggressive. You can remove the aggressive drake and let the newcomers adjust and then re enter the drake after things have settled down. This may work and has worked for me in the past. Young male ducks are especially hard to adjust to other male ducks. Having enough space for the ducks to get away from each other also helps. I have also separated the flock’s males and females, so they can avoid the natural hormonal drive. I have found ducks tend to be quite cliquey and ostracize any newcomers. This will eventually work itself out but at first it can be sad to see the newcomer being rejected and chased away.
Horses, Goats, Sheep
When adding pasture animals, I try to always do the introduction in the morning after a feeding. This will lessen the aggression concerning food issues. Goats and Sheep will head butt each other and it may look quite aggressive but it is normal. Horses and ponies will chase and nip at each other or do nothing at all. Observe closely at feeding time and feed separately when necessary. Most cases will work out with little or no intervention if each animals needs are met. With goats and sheep make sure to have more feed bowls than animals and spread the feed out so even the low animal on the herd pecking order has a chance to eat.
Do not overcrowd the existing housing. Overcrowding can lead to stress and stress can invite disease due to weakened immune systems. Adding new poultry and livestock can overcrowd your coops and barns, leading to hygiene problems, and overly soiled bedding. This also stresses the natural ventilation in the building.
If your budget for animal feed is already feeling tight, adding new poultry and livestock may not be a good idea. Remember, they may be cute and need a home, but you still have to feed and care for them. Feed costs mount up quickly. It’s important to budget some funds for emergencies such as veterinarian help or natural occurrences from bad weather.
Time and Energy
Make sure you can physically care for the new animal, even when it is full grown? Do you have the energy to clean up more stalls, pens or coops? Are you strong enough to handle a full size sheep when the new cuddly lamb becomes a full grown feisty whether?
I think we all want to believe that we can handle what ever we take on but its good to take a long realistic look at the future before adding new poultry and livestock to your homestead.
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