|A very alert Leghorn watching us carefully as we intrude into her personal domain. Mind you, that is one of the walls of the goat pen that the dominant goat apparently semi regularly kicks the chickens off when the goats are inside.|
The basic set up of Michelle Chandler's operation had the rabbit hutches ringing the back yard of her house proper, and around the edge of her recently constructed small barn. Off the barn into the woods beside her house was a large fenced off area that I wouldn't be able to accurately guess the area of. Just keep in mind her entire house and farming operation including this fits into her slightly over 1 acre property. Inside that fenced in area was a mixed area of dry and swampy woods that had fairly good ground cover, and housed both her Nigerian Dwarf Goats, and her many varieties of chickens.
Michelle had goats at her farm for milk, and that is one of the primary reasons we have been considering goats as a long term potential investment. Seeing the dwarf goats in action was very educational. I was initially surprised to see the goats and the chickens in together, but they seemed to coexist peacefully for the most part, and I would be willing to bet that the goats are a deterrent to most forms of predation that are in the area. Either way, the lady of the house and I have a lot of work to do just getting the chickens and rabbits set up and working properly before we even begin properly researching goats. It was great to see how well they can work in a small farm setting though.
Chickens: Opinionated, fractious, and full of personality, the wide variety of various chickens that Michelle has at her farm were quite an engaging bunch. Unlike some chickens we have met they didn't come up to be petted, or to see what you had (since obviously it's for them, right?). That said, they explored, pecked around the terrain, and let themselves into or out of what ever they felt like. This was a very useful thing for us to see in action. In any number of places we've been told, or seen written that "chickens consider any fence a suggestion." Observation drives it home, as seeing a four foot high fence relatively easily fluttered over by a heavy breasted chicken was not an uncommon occurrence.
Unlike most of the people we have talked to, Michelle did not have overhead netting or a roof for her chicken area. Given the size of it, it would be prohibitive in cost for her to do so. Instead she simply noted when we asked that with chickens, you do just have to accept that there will be losses. Given the size of her flock that is easier for her to do than some. However, given that the lady of the house and I plan to free range as much as possible, it does lead to some potential re planning.
We asked while we were there how the chickens seemed to handle the wet areas, and the woods. She said that they hadn't had any problems due to the wet which was a relief for us given that even the driest areas of our land can get a bit wet when it has been raining and stays that way until days after the rain is gone. As for the woods, we could see for ourselves that the chickens were comfortable there, bouncing around in between trees, under logs, over logs.
Reading does not equal reality.
Beyond the no, duh of that statement it was important for us to see a real small family farm designed for feeding the family working. It was neither a factory farming set up, nor the most perfect designed rabbit, chicken, goat resort to produce the happiest animals on the face of the planet that never suffered a single inconvenience or danger. It was a farm where the animals are considered, cared for, protected, and fed as well as possible. The biggest lesson for me was learning that I Must think differently to successfully raise my own meat. Practicality is not just killing every animal that is sick, and it is never ignoring the outside realities of a situation. It is also realizing that, we are going to make mistakes, and animals are going to die. Our job is to do our best, and learn from our mistakes, and as much as we can be wise and learn from those of others that have made them before us.
I'd like to thank Michelle for letting us come, and being a teacher to us. She showed that our ideal of being self sufficient does not mean self centered, is entirely possible.