Ever fancied waking up to the sound of your own cockerel? Or taking your geese for a walk? Or coming home from the office and getting a cuddle off your pigs?
While it’s not practical for a lot of inner city dwellers, owning farm animals – and doing so responsibly – is possible. But research and know-how are essential. Let's meet five non-farming farm animal owners to learn more…
When it comes to predators we’re all aware of the crafty fox. But rats are just as much of a problem. If not worse, as Lesley Severs, a proud chicken owner for over 25 years, will attest.
“A while ago every morning I’d come down and one of the chickens would be dead,” she explained. “It took a while to work out, but it turned out rats kill them and eat them from the inside out. It was awful! My husband puts poison down under the run. We’ve got dogs as well so there’s a risk of them eating the poison too.”
Other things Lesley’s taught us includes having a solid floor on your chicken run as foxes can – and will! – dig under any depth of fence. And that cockerels are feisty security guards.
“I’ve had a couple of really vicious cockerels,” admits Lesley. “A friend was looking after our chickens while we were on holiday once. He got trapped by them in the run and had to ring and get help!”
Who knew chicken keeping could be so gruesome or dangerous? One thing you do need to know is that if you decide to sell any of your coop you’ll need a salmonella certificate from DEFRA.
Chris Ashton and her husband Mike’s love of geese was a happy accident; their daughter was given two goslings one Easter and they instantly fell in love with the animated birds.
They’re now experts at pure breeds such as the Brecon Buff, African and Chinese and have written various books on the subject.
“They’re very tame! Our birds see us a lot, from hatching right through their development, so they’re very comfortable and confident with us,” says Chris. “They’re very social. You can have a great head banging conversation with a goose!”
But geese can’t just headbang with us humans. The key thing Chris taught us about keeping geese is they 'imprint' on each other - they copy behavioural aspects of their peers. If you get one goose it will imprint on you and will become incredibly lonely whenever you pop out. Other major factors are space and noise…
“They’re not like chickens and can’t be kept in a run,” explains Chris. “So you do need a big back garden and you must consider your neighbours; some geese are much louder than others. If you live on a housing estate, I’d suggest investigating whether you can actually own one because there may be restrictions on keeping livestock.”
Jennifer Wayte owns two Shropshire sheep, Sugar and Spice. Like all wise animal investments, she spent a long time researching before they joined her family. With a freshly planted orchard behind her physio clinic, she required a breed that wouldn’t munch her saplings.
“I Googled, I read, I met local farmers,” she explains. “We discovered Shropshire sheep don’t eat trees. All they do is stand under them when it rains!”
In fact sheep don’t need housing at all and can be kept outside all year as long as they can find natural shelter. As hardy as this seems, however, there are heaps of essential regulations.
“Twenty years ago you could buy an animal and take it home in the van,” says Jennifer who once ran a children’s petting farm. “These days you have to go through a lot of paperwork but DEFRA are great to work with.”
And sheep are great to keep. As Jennifer explains…
“I once saw a fox chase Sugar,” she tells us. “Spice ran after the fox, jumped on its back and flattened it. He’s quite heavy, the fox didn’t see him coming!”
The now-empty fox set behind her clinic is a daily reminder of Spice’s valiant display towards his sister.
Katie Dunsmore has only kept farm animals since January but has already achieved national recognition in the press thanks to her football training program for her sheep. Since the summer she’s also added two KuneKune pigs – Poppy and Peppa – to the small plot of land she rents with her father. Admittedly they lack footy skills, but they make up for it in cuddles.
“They’re so friendly,” she says. “They let you rub their bellies for hours! I was told the more love you give them, the more love they give back and it’s so true. Poppy is a bit bossier than Peppa. She nudges her out of the way to get more food!”
As cute and idyllic as this sounds; Katie is serious when it comes to the hard work involved. They need feeding twice a day and plenty of mucking out.
“You’ve got to get stuck in!” she warns. “My advice to anyone would be to make sure you’ve got enough time, money and space. You don’t need a shelter but we’ve got one for them in case it rains. You’ve got to put the time in. They’ll be shy to begin with, but when they trust you they’re your best friend.”
Meet Biblin Zinnia, a prize winning goat. This summer saw her notch up two Best In Class accolades and next year her owner Ros Earthy is hoping she will score a Best In Breed.
Ros has kept goats for 30 years and has plenty of advice for anyone who has the space and time needed to keep them responsibly. She’s also a great myth buster… It turns out goats don’t eat absolutely everything.
“It’s a complete myth!” she says. “They do enjoy a very coarse diet, though. They’re browsers rather than grazers and often pull at things out of curiosity. They’re actually very intelligent. You might find one that opens gates for instance. They’re also very affectionate. I liken them to a cross between dogs and cats. They’re not quite as needy as dogs but do enjoy a cuddle more than most cats.”
Another myth Ros has busted is that you should never tether your goat in case something startles them and they decide to run. When they reach the end of their tether it can cut off the blood supply to the brain.
“My other advice,” she continues. “Is to invest in very solid, reliable fencing and a decent shed. If one is really thinking of getting a goat then join a local breeding society. They can offer priceless advice and put you in contact with trustworthy sellers.”