I am often asked, “what animals should I start with?” My answer is always, “what animals can you feed?” If the trucks stopped running tomorrow, could you feed yourself and your animals? If not, I recommend not getting animals yet. Others are so excited that they take whatever free animals are offered and often bring disease and parasites onto the farm. Some diseases are hard to overcome. Free animals are often those that have problems.
That’s why it all comes back to dirt. Will your dirt raise healthy plants? Will your dirt grow grass that animals will eat? What do you already have on your property that makes it somewhat sustainable? If the answer is no to any of those questions, my recommendation is that you spend the first year making dirt. (This does not mean no animals the first year, but it does mean the correct animal for your size farm and how you can feed them.)
You can do that in several ways. Chickens or pigs are my animals of choice to begin. Pigs make lots of compost and will eat almost anything. If you can find free food from a grocery store or restaurant that is even better. Chickens in chicken tractors can move all over your farm planting their little nitrogen deposits and scratching up the soil. Both animals will turn food scraps into compost. Chickens are what we started with here at Abiding Pastures Farm. We fenced our garden area and let them roam. We lost some to neighbors’ dogs, hawks, raccoons, foxes, and possums, but we bought enough Buff Orpingtons to cover our garden and orchard area. They began to help the leaves and woodchips break down.
The easiest way to make compost, in my opinion, is to put the food through the gut of an animal. I don’t have to turn compost this way and they do the spreading. We did pile woodchips in the chicken run and under the rabbit cages. We had to shovel that on the garden. I hate doing that, but it is black gold.
Just remember that if you raise chickens in tractors, predators will kill them periodically. Chicken wire might as well be paper to a raccoon. Spend the extra money and use small welded wire for your tractors. Truly, nothing will keep out a determined pack of wild dogs, but that is a story for another day.