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Monday, December 28, 2015

What animals are the best range buddies for your chickens?

By Liz Greene

You’ve had your chickens for a while, you’re comfortable with their care and upkeep, and you’re thinking about expanding your little to farm to include some more critters — but you’re a tad short on ranging space. The solution, of course, is to range your new animals with the chickens. However, some creatures share space with chickens better than others, so it’s important to pick the right range mates for your flock.


Horses and chickens are a match made in heaven. Chickens provide a number of horsekeeping benefits. They pick up fallen kernels and pellets, keeping your horse from mouthing the ground to find bits of feed — a practice that can lead to ingestion of dirt and sand. Chickens also eat undigested feed and seeds that pass through manure, thus saving money by reducing feed waste.

Chickens eat flies, worms, grubs, bees, and all other manner of bugs. If they can catch it, they’ll eat it — which means it won’t be aggravating you or your horse. Furthermore, chickens love digging through manure to find worms and other tasties. Give them a pile of horse droppings and they’ll have the manure broken down and spread around in no time.

Chickens are surprisingly good for mellowing out a spooky horse. A horse with exposure to poultry won’t be startled by sudden movements, loud noises, or the occasional appearance of an egg.

It’s important not to let chickens graze with horses that have been given chemical de-wormers or any medication. It’s also necessary to keep chickens out of the horses’ hay due to salmonella concerns.

Goats and sheep

Goats and sheep are a popular choice for small farms and homesteads. You can allow goats, sheep, and chickens to range together with few problems. Just as with horses, chickens will pick up grain the goats and sheep drop, cutting down on food waste. They’ll be just as happy to eat the bugs that plague your hooved beasties. As an added benefit, chickens will provide companionship to the sheep and goats — and vice versa!

Guinea Fowl

Guinea fowl are the most compatible birds to keep with chickens, but they can be bullies. Most of the time it’s little things, like pushing hens off roosts and scattering the flock; however, if they pick a favorite mark, they can be relentless in their pursuit of a victim.

If you plan to keep both chickens and guineas on your farm, make sure to give them extra space to range. While some people house the birds together, it’s probably better to give the guineas their own quarters to avoid problems.


No matter what animals you decide to keep with your chickens, it’s important to install proper fencing. The right kind of fence will keep your critters from making a run for it, and thwart the plans of stealthy predators.

If your horses and chickens are ranging together, wire mesh fencing is perfect for restraining everyone. If you’re keeping chickens and goats together, goat panels with four inch openings should work well to keep everyone contained.

However, one of the best ways to stop predators is electric fencing. To deter wolves and coyotes, fences should have seven wires, spaced equally six to eight inches apart to a height of 54 inches.

The most important wire will be the ground wire, which should be placed four to six inches from the ground to keep predators from digging under — and to keep chickens from simply waltzing out.

A Note on Chicken Feed

Chicken feed contains a high level of protein and carbohydrates that can be dangerous to most large animals. Horses and goats are particularly sensitive to chicken feed as eating too much of it can cause bloating and death.

Arrange for your chickens to be fed inside the coop and make sure there is absolutely no way the other animals can get inside. Remember that goats are very clever and persistent at getting to what they want. They may climb through coop windows and will try to squeeze through any door.

Adding more animals to your farm will require more work, but you’ll find that you love them just as much as you love your feathered friends. And besides, watching them interact with each other will be almost as much a reward as the other benefits of animal husbandry.

Liz Greene hails from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. She’s a lover of all things geek and is happiest when cuddling with her dogs and catching up on the latest Marvel movies. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene or delve deeper into her internal musings at InstantLo

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Off-season uses for tomato cages

With a nod to Dr. Seuss ... 

"Where will we hang the stockings?" the kids asked me this year.
Christmas is coming, it's practically here.

For a fireplace we've got,
but a mantle -- with crannies and nooks for placing hangers and hooks --
a mantle, we have not.

Then the gardener got an idea. A silly idea.
The gardener got a wonderful, crazy idea.

"I know just what to do!" the gardener cried
and she threw on her boots and went outside.
She tromped through the snow past summer's veggie bed
and claimed metal tomato cages resting in the shed.

Why, upside down these garden structures are just the trick
to hang up our stockings for good Ol' St. Nick.
They stand on their own in the shape of the tree:
An efficient use of space, as you can see.

With clothespins in hand the gardener thought of other reasons
Tomato cages could be useful beyond standard growing seasons.
Greeting card displays! Hat stands! Mitten racks!
Boot shapers and homes for scarves drying in stacks!

Just think -- if you place a cage above a heat vent
You can make your own compact snow-gear-drying tent. 

As she brought a little of her garden inside for the day
the gardener began to look at things in an entirely new way.
To some it's absurd, but the possibilities are endless
When the wish is to create something practically spend-less.

Happy Holidays from Backyard Farming!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Shoveling snow off of fruit trees



The very thing that generally gives me a guilt-free pass from gardening -- snow -- delivered an usual chore this week: shoveling fruit tree branches.

Snow is nothing new here, but it came so fast and so wet and heavy (and so much of it!) that trees all over town strained and split with the extra weight. I don't want my little peach tree to suffer the same fate, which is why I tromped through knee-high banks to scrape snow off its branches. The tree is in my front yard, a steep slope of three terraces. In the best of weather it's like playing mountain goat to garden there. I'm sure I gave my neighbors quite the show as I climbed the hill and hoped to not lose my footing.

Ah, that's better.

Pruning tactics to maximize fruit production and sunlight to each branch also create a basin for snow. Hold your hand out, palm up, to see how. Hold your arm vertically from the elbow, with the hand bent back, as if you were a waiter holding a tray. Now curve your fingers. Your forearm is the trunk and your curled fingers the branches. When snow makes a branch bend at a notch, the risk for breakage is high.

My tree is against a retaining wall, where the upper level provides an easy reach to all the branches. (It's why we planted it there, for easier harvest.) If you attempt to remove snow from a bigger tree, be careful. Use a shovel to PUSH snow away from you, rather than pull it toward you. Obviously you don't want to get a snow shower, but you also don't want to dislodge an already weakened branch and have it fall on you. Consider that bent branches may whip upward when snow is removed; another reason to keep your distance and use a long-handled tool. Watch out for power lines.

I don't anticipate having to shovel fruit tree branches with every snowstorm, just when the weight of snow makes the boughs bow. (See what I did there?) 

Swing on tree heavy-laden with snow.

Oops! The patio furniture got left out.

What's your most unusual off-season gardening chore?

Wishful thinking

It's a sunflower snow tower! Think my neighbors are as ready to exchange snow shovels for garden spades as I am?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Decorate gingerbread house as a bird feeder

Here's a favorite seasonal project from the Backyard Farming archives: ditching the candy of a traditional gingerbread house and decorating with treats for the birds instead. (Read here to see how my candy frustration fueled this idea!)

Use popcorn, crackers, sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts, pretzels and -- what else? -- birdseed to adorn a gingerbread house. The house shown here is a grandpa special, made out of wood and designed for perennial use. You may use regular gingerbread, graham crackers or even simple cardboard boxes as the base. Of course you'll want to put a bird feeder house outdoors, but make sure it is in a sheltered area where it won't get damaged from rain or snow, such as on a covered porch. Put it somewhere you can watch from a window.

Instead of icing, I used a mixture of peanut butter and cornmeal to attach the bird treats. The cornmeal makes the peanut butter easier to spread, and is also easier for the birds to eat. Another option is shortening in place of peanut butter (still mixed with cornmeal).

Not only is this a fun project to make, you get the added benefit of watching birds join in the winter celebration.