Having animals seems essential to a smallholding. This view is not shared by everyone, but for us they are incredibly important. In the Biodynamic method of farming and gardening good compost is crucial. Our woolies, chooks, and pig provide us with that compost from their manure and bedding. They also provide us with fibre, eggs, meat and labour. Not to mention their companionship. Having a group of sheep play chase with you is priceless!
Chantecler: Canada has cold winters, and since this is where we live we wanted to make sure all our livestock could handle the winters without much effort from us. We looked into which breeds did well in winter and we found the Chantecler Chicken. This is a Canadian breed and is endangered. These large birds are hardy, self sufficient, and can withstand the cold. Development of the breed started in 1907 in Oka, Quebec by Brother Wilfred at the Cisterican Trappist Monastery. By the 1920′s they were a true breed. It has good production and can stand our climate. Their combs and wattles are very small to prevent frostbite. Fancy characteristics were not focused upon as the Chantecler was to be a functional bird.
It was thought the birds were extinct as chicken and egg producers focused on production and speed. This is not a strong point of the Chantecler so it fell by the wayside with the hatcheries. We are lucky enough to have 14 white Chanteclers, 12 hens and 2 cockerels from Oakesmuir Farm. They are wonderful to watch and are very self sufficient. They are quite large and did not start laying until much later than anticipated.
Marans: The French Maran is a relatively new breed to North America. It originated in France and is considered a dual purpose bird as well. There are nine recognized colours. It is known in popular culture as the producer of James Bond’s favourite egg. Their egg is a much darker brown than other breeds, sometimes looking like chocolate eggs. This apparently also makes them less proficient layers. Originally we had both Black Copper and Black Marans, but we traded the best copper cockerel for some other breeds to another breeder. So far we have found the Marans to be amazing foragers (something we had read that they were not), fair egg layers, and lots of fun!
Penedesenca: Another dark brown egg laying breed that was an accident. They were thrown in by the breeder. These birds originated in Catalonia, Spain. All but one of our Penedesenca‘s is black but we have one lovely partridge hen that looks like a wild chicken. she is our favourite to look at. It is quite a rare breed and we don’t know that much about it, yet.
Ameraucana: An American breed derived from the Araucana and American. The claim to fame of this breed is the coloured eggs they lay. They come in regular size and bantam varieties. We have three banties (which may be crosses), two lay blue eggs and one lays a green egg. They are small, have a pea comb (very small) and have wonderful sideburns that stick out. they are adorable to watch as they also have a lot of character. They are brown with black and white spots.
Wyandotte: An old American Breed, the Wyandotte is beautiful. We only have three golden laced hens, but they are a treat to look at. They are calm, polite, and have a rose comb, meaning it is small and lumpy. Another good bird for the cold.
Barred Rock: A fairly common heritage breed that is great for both meat and eggs. they lay large brown eggs prolifically.
Silkies: These are probably our favourites. We started off with two but then got more. We are hoping to have chicks in the spring. Silkies originate on Asia. they lok like fluffball with legs and a head. They are friendly, quiet, hardy, and good layers. Here they are living incubators, because a good hen will do a far better job of raising any chick than we ever can. Silkies also seem to really enjoy being mothers. They have blue skin (really!) and black bones. We currently have red, white, and grey silkies.
Originally we didn’t plan on getting sheep. But when a friend asked if we wanted to small sheep he had been given we couldn’t refuse. That is how we got Itchy and Scratchy. They are Shetland sheep and wonderful animals (well Scratchy is a tool, but that’s another story). Being from the Shetland Isles originally, Shetland’s are small and weigh under 100 pounds full grown. they are of feral origin which makes them extremely hardy. Their tails are naturally short so they don’t have to be docked, they have no wool on their legs and face which makes shearing much easier.They are a multi-purpose breed and have been used for fleece, meat, and milk.
Both ewes were pregnant when we got them so we have since had two lambs. These are cross breed (Shetland/Romney) and different from their Mum’s. We had one ewe lamb and one lamb ram who became a whether.They are now all called woolies.
The woolies are very elaborate lawn mowers. As we are trying to create a closed system that relies on as little petroleum as possible we got sheep instead of a lawn tractor. They have a small barn that is closed nightly and a permanent paddock. During the summer they are rotated around the yard with an electric netting fence. This lets us have a “slow release” fertilizer. Needing good pasture for the woolies has forced us learn about pastures and the nutritional value of plants.
Of course when you have young animals you can’t keep all of them. So we really had to make a tough decision and bring two of them to “town”, a nice way of saying to the abattoir. It was very difficult, but we did manage it. The feeling of having home grown meat that was treated as well as we could imagine was great. In some ways we truly became small farmers that day.
We wanted more lambs not only for fleece, but also for meat so we needed a ram. We acquired Thomas, a registered Shetland ram for breeding. He is a gentleman and a great “starter ram”. We now have three sheep, Itchy, her daughter Izzy, and ram Thomas.
Last, but certainly not least is our pig. We brought home Piggles with Gert from the same small farm. We were not going to get a pig, but when we saw her we couldn’t resist. Not really a good way to get animals, but it wasn’t as though we were never going to get pigs. Originally we were going to wait until spring. But now we have her and have completely fallen for her.
The first thought was she would provide labour in tiling our pasture, then be brought to town for meat. But after hearing her story (possible abuse and sickness in her past) we just want to provide her with a good home and enjoy her companionship. She is a smart pig and has pretty much trained herself to go into the corner of the barn. he is still very shy so we don’t pet her yet, but she is coming around. She is beginning to accept a person to touch her, and comes out when she hears us coming down to the barn. She is fully grown and weighs in under 100 pounds and is maybe 18 or 20 inches tall. She is a true pot-belly.
We did a lot of research in whether pot-bellies can be used for meat. we found out that that was their original role in South east Asia where they came from. Apparently, in efforts to make Asia pigs bigger the original pot-bellied are becoming very rare. So, we are at a cross-roads. Do we use pot-bellies (not our current piggy) for meat or not? Else where they are used as food, that was their original purpose, a small house pig that was easy to keep. They are pigs and share all the traits of other pigs such as intelligence, rooting behaviour, social structures etc. Pot bellies were brought to North America as pets and in a very short time many of them ended up in pig sanctuaries when people could not care for a pig properly, even a small one. So what is better? Having a great life, being cared for, and yes loved and then going to town better than having a bad life and being euthanized because no one cared enough. We don’t know yet.