Household animals may not be what everyone expects from a book about how to garden. But for your land to become similar to nature’s ecosystem, animals must be allowed to do their part.
To give some inspiration along the way, I have made a brief compilation of the most common household animals when it comes to self-sufficiency.
Household animals are vital since they are useful in many different ways; such as processing the land they walk on, providing fertilizer to our cultivations, and providing food of various sorts. At the same time, animals give us love and warmth when we spend time with them in their daily care.
Animals require both responsibility, respect, and effort, but they provide plenty in return. So before you acquire your animals, you need to know what the different kinds need and how well they suit what you can offer.
If you are a beginner, it is good to start with small, relatively easy to care for animals. That’s why many people start with chickens. Another relatively easy animal is ducks, but they must have their duck pond. The next step is often a few sheep – larger and requires a little more of everything. Then maybe it’s time for a household pig and then finally the big step – cows. They are probably the most demanding of all our domestic animals, especially if the family wants milk.
Here in Sweden, we have the Swedish Board of Agriculture that requires that the animals are looked after twice a day. Remember to check your country’s laws.
Chickens as the first animal
Chickens are, as previously stated, often the first animal many people get. They are durable, productive, relatively easy to handle, and require proportionally little space. Chickens provide a reasonably good return compared to the work put in – by providing both eggs, meat, and fertilizer. Chickens are also good at processing the soil, and they require relatively little care.
The more you socialize with them, the more social they become. If the chickens learn that you have something tasty with you, you will be met by a bunch of running, happy chickens as you approach the chicken coop.
If you live in a more densely populated area, it may be advisable to refrain from having a rooster. In some municipalities (here in Sweden at least), it is even prohibited to keep roosters in more densely populated areas. However, you are allowed hens in most municipalities.
Geese as household animals
Geese are primarily kept for their meat since they do not lay that many eggs. Geese are good grazing animals as they are herbivores. Also, they can utilize pastures that are too small for, for example, sheep. They also do not require much work and are easy to fence in, as they do not fly or jump very well.
Geese live in lifelong relationships and can die of heartbreak if one of them dies. Some geese are quite noisy, and they make a mess due to their stool being larger than smaller birds.
Geese can grow fairly old – up to 10-15 years. With age, they can become quite stubborn and are happy to act as “watchdogs” around your home. Geese are also more intelligent than other poultry, so anyone interested can teach their geese a few tricks.
Ducks as household animals
Ducks are kept for their meat, and they, too, are grazing animals. Most ducks are sweet and somewhat talkative birds. They are typical herd animals, and the behaviour follows suit. Completely unprovoked, they can set off at full speed uphill and down dale to knock over everything in their path. They can be a bit messy, so you may have to muck out their winter home pretty much every day. Ducks have a more mixed diet than geese, and they will not only gobble up the grass but also insects, worms, snails, and slugs.
Muscovy ducks is a great household animal
Muscovy ducks are also kept primarily for their meat. It is said to be the best meat among domestic poultry, at its best if they are allowed to go outside and eat their natural diet.
Muscovy ducks are birds with personalities and are happy to be around their owners. However, they can be difficult to fence in since they both climb and fly. They are large birds and therefore leave quite a lot of droppings.
In areas with a lot of Spanish slugs (not-so-affectionately called “killer slugs” in Swedish), they have proven to be a great asset by happily eating large amounts of these.
Although they are good egg-layers and good at taking care of their young, they are not as popular as you might wish. Maybe this is because they are considered rather ugly, but they are well worth having.
Rabbits as household animals
Rabbits are underrated animal from a food perspective as they are usually bought for the sake of the children. The best rabbit variety here in the north is the “Gotlandskanin” – a rabbit breed from Gotland – since it is low maintenance and very social. A good international breed is the Champagne d’Argent rabbit, also very easy-going, docile, with a fair amount of meat. Keeping rabbits is done for the meat, pelts, and potential income from sold kits. The meat is not very tasty in itself, but the more varied diet of different grasses and herbs, the better. You can also try to give them sticks of juniper, which is supposed to provide the meat with a more “wild” taste.
The easiest way to keep a few rabbits is to use the classic netted rabbit cages with a house at one end. The cage should also have netting on the bottom as rabbits like to burrow. However, the rabbit cages require some work as they must be moved frequently so that the animals have fresh grass to eat at all times.
If you want a lot of rabbits and have space, they are happiest if they are allowed to be outside in a larger fenced area with a house for protection. Of course, they may decide to dig a tunnel and escape, but they usually stay close to home. If you equip yourself with a net, it is easy to retrieve the escapee. It is best to shut them in at night to protect them against foxes. The rabbits can survive outside year-round as long as they have proper wind protection with dry berths. Rabbits do not like living in heated rooms or spaces.