Fun-Size Farming: How to make your pets work for you

(Because it's about time they started pulling their weight, amiright? I know this will be controversial, but at Etheridge Farms we do not consider starring in YouTube videos and wearing funny seasonal bandannas acceptable animal contributions. Our animals have to help out before they get screen time.)

Bonnie and Cody, being subtle.

Bonnie and Cody, being subtle.

Here at Etheridge Farms, we have...how you say...a butt-load of animals. A small zoo. But our animals are not pampered. They're certainly not mistreated, don't get me wrong. We love our animals. They bring a lot of laughs.

When you're trying to grow fruits and vegetables, though, or raise small livestock like chickens, the animals we Americans have turned into pets can quickly begin to show their value...beyond the aforementioned YouTube videos and seasonally themed bandannas.

Do you have dogs? Almost any dog can be an asset

For a long time, I believed our dogs were basically useless. Cody is big enough to scare strangers approaching the house, which is a plus. Minus: his propensity to bark moments after a baby falls asleep in the house. (He has trouble differentiating between an attacker and a loudly rustling leaf.)

Bonnie is little and cute and cuddly, and I've never met anyone of any species who is more enthusiastic about life. But at age 5, I would label her "housebrokenish." If we're gone for more than a couple hours, it's possible she'll bust into a kids room and drop a deuce.

How my dogs work for the farm, even though they have no skills that real farmers would recognize

Guess what? One evening a hawk swooped into our suburban backyard and exploded one of our chickens. Hawks will not, however, try to land if there are larger animals about the yard. Enter: dogs!

Turns out, dogs scare more than just the FedEx delivery guy. Medium-sized predators will move along if they see a biggish animal meandering around...even goats will do the trick! (But I'll get to goats in a minute.)

Consider letting your cat outside (in certain circumstances)

Our cat Zoe (and her late sister Sophie, God rest her, I assume), were indoor cats for several years until we moved into our house. Many people have strong feelings about the role of cats, best illustrated by the views of Angela and Dwight:

Dwight tries to replace Anglea's dead cat, Sprinkles, with Garbage the feral barn cat.

I don't think Garbage would wear a Halloween costume. RIP Sprinkles.

What my impassive cat contributes to the running of the farm

She's a beautiful Egyptian queen of a cat. She also destroys mice. I'm no barbarian, but I also don't want (uninvited) rodents taking up residence around here. Put simply, Zoe is our hatchet man.

Even cute widdle bunny wabbits must pull their weight—and no, we don't eat them

Breeding rabbits for meat is a thing, but here at Etheridge Farms we haven't crossed the Rubicon into meat manufacture. And besides, if your Fun-Size Farm is a rental or an apartment, your landlord probably wouldn't be too keen on your butchering rabbits on the patio.

So how do rabbits fit in, then?

Your pet rabbit can be part of your Fun-Size Farm, even if you're an apartment or city dweller

Poop. Rabbit poop is not traditional poop, turns out.They're a combination of pellets and "cecotropes"...which doesn't sound much more appealing. But the point is: bunny poo-poo pellets are an excellent fertilizer for all kinds of vegetation—even potted gardens!—especially because they can be applied directly rather than composted.

Chickens: The Next Frontier

When you're using a public bathroom and someone goes in the stall right next to you.

When you're using a public bathroom and someone goes in the stall right next to you.

If you have a little bit of open space, you could consider chickens. Even some city-dwellers are finding ways to raise chickens in rooftop gardens and such. Chickens don't need a tremendous amount of space, but it should be noted that roosters are loud.

Good news! YOU DON'T NEED A ROOSTER. Unless you're hoping to hatch your own chicks, you do not need a rooster. And even if you want to hatch chicks, you can buy fertilized eggs and let one of your own hens sit on them.

The manifold benefits of chickens in your Fun-Size Farm

Here's a list in no particular order:

  • They lay eggs
  • They eat bugs, especially ones you don't want
  • They're hilarious
  • If you can let them free range a bit in your yard, their poop is fantastic for the grass and soil
  • You can compost their bedding when you change it out
  • They're fairly self-sufficient—they even put themselves to bed at night (well, theoretically. Some of ours have been hanging out on the roof of the coop at night so Noah has to grab them and put them inside, because...)
  • They're dingdongs, which contributes to the hilarity (see the photo above, in which two chickens squeezed into one layer box, instead of just using the one next to it)

If you have a dog, you can probably handle a goat

Dwopple

Dwopple

Songbreeze

Songbreeze

Goats are adorable and funny and mischievous. Ours finally came home from their farm of origin, Green T Homestead, last Friday. Dwopple (a wether, aka a boy who can no longer physically turn into a sticky old buck, if you catch my drift) is a perfect companion for his sister, Songbreeze.

The girls who raised our goats are a stunning wellspring of knowledge, and they also handled the goats regularly from their birth. So our goats are used to—and desirous of—human contact...

...and snuggling.

I do need to note that goats can be like dogs as far as companionship and cuteness and even size (ours are dwarf Nigerian breed), but they are like *mischievous* dogs. There are plenty of mischievous dogs in the world, and many of us manage them just fine, but be aware that goats can be equally mischievous with the added benefit of being expert climbers.

It's not an insurmountable issue, but you need to give it some thought.

Goats are hysterical AND useful, in many ways

For one thing, they won't keep your grass mowed (they're not grazers). They are browsers, more like deer, so if you do have some land and a lot of wild growth and brambles, they will clear it for you with impressive speed.

Just like most farm animals, their manure is an excellent addition to compost.

AND, when we have Songbreeze kidded in the fall (i.e. gets pregnant when we have her mated), she'll give birth to some adorable weensie goat kids and then provide us with milk!

HEAR ME OUT. I've had goat's milk, and once I got past the initial mental reflex of wanting to gag, it tasted just like the best cow's milk ever. Goats milk will only taste goaty if the does are allowed to be around bucks (bucks are stinky and make hormonal changes in the does they hang around).

Goats milk can be drunk, used for cheese, and even to make soap. I wouldn't say the same for dog's milk.

Everyone's buzzing about bees

Beekeeping is a medium-advanced move. We took a class with our local beekeeping association at the cooperative extension office (in English: we learned how to keep bees at the place where gardeners and farmers can get info). We took a test, and now Noah and I are both certified beekeepers.

You don't have to have a lot of land to keep bees. Plenty of people in suburban and even urban settings keep bees (again with the rooftops). One misconception is that honeybees are a deadly weapon—thanks Macaulay and My Girl! In fact, there are several varieties of honeybees, and the ones we keep in the U.S. are typically very docile. They'll only sting if they feel their hive is being threatened, usually when a beekeeper is fiddling around in there.

Don't bee afraid to keep bees (see what I did there?)

If you have interest and even a little bit of open space, I would encourage you to think about keeping honeybees. Beekeepers are a tight group, so you'll find a lot of support when you're starting out and beyond.

Plus, bee populations are dicey. Plus, homegrown honey. Plus, if you have started your Fun-Size Farm, the bees will help pollinate and increase the health and quality of your plants.

Reptiles...

are good for helping out with paperwork.

Fish...

Are fun to look at, and the water from their tanks is excellent, nutrient-dense water for plants when you change it out.

So there you go! A semi-comprehensive view on how to incorporate pets into your fun-size farm.

Catch up on Fun-Size Farming posts

Part 1Intro to Etheridge Farms

Part 2Dealing With Setbacks

Part 3Video Tour of Etheridge Farms

Part 4Starting With Herbs

Part 5Unlock Your Landscape's Potential

Part 6How to Make Your Pets Work for You

Part 7How to Make Valuable Compost the Easy Way