Courtesy Melanie Cook/Flickr
Raising farm babies can be time- and energy-consuming, no doubt about it. If you’ve ever considered consolidating your efforts by housing baby livestock together for their early days, here are a few tips and caveats to facilitate successful interspecies co-housing.
1. Evaluate pros and cons.
As with any endeavor, there are positive and negative aspects to consider when setting up shared livestock quarters. Besides using less space and consolidating feeding, watering and cleaning efforts, co-housing can cut down on expenses, such as electricity, building materials and bedding. However, be aware that larger animals could trample smaller ones, animals can transfer interspecies parasites and diseases and some species simply aren’t compatible.
2. Do your research.
Before going to the trouble of setting up shared quarters, make sure your baby animals will do well together. For example, although turkeys, ducks and chickens all have the same basic needs in similar form, raising them together carries some special challenges. Ducklings love water, and not only do they tend to get a lot of food into their drinking source, young chicks might also follow them into the pan and drown. Chicks and turkey poults require similar starter feed, but according to Kanas State University Extension, chickens can act as carriers to a parasitical disease called Blackhead (Histomoniasis), to which turkeys are very susceptible, so you must take precautions.
Baby pigs are usually non-aggressive, but they are omnivores, and at some point, their housemates might begin to look a lot like lunch. Bottle babies—calves, goats, sheep—can work well together, and goats might even help the calves learn to eat feed through modeling the behavior, but competition for that food could become a problem. Some species are more aggressive in temperament or appetite, so be informed. University extension programs have great breed-specific information, as do a multitude of forums and websites dedicated to the species you’re wanting to co-house. "Google it,” but be sure to verify your information with a reliable source.
3. Plan ahead.
Baby animals grow, of course; therefore, depending on the species you’re housing and how often you plan on starting those same species together in the future, you’ll only need the shelter for a relatively short time. Converting an existing pen or corner of your barn is a great option—start-up costs and labor are minimal. A few other temporary housing possibilities include a vacant horse or stock trailer, a dog kennel with a doghouse for shelter, a doghouse with an attached constructed run, or even a pen made with cattle panels tied together at the corners.
4. Consider each animal’s basic needs.
Whether we’re talking about baby birds, goats or bunnies, basic requirements are the same: species-appropriate food; a safe, clean water supply; shelter from the elements; and a predator-free place to sleep and grow. Again, research is your friend. Determine:
- How much space per animal is ideal: Crowding can introduce health issues.
- The temperature range each animal can tolerate and how to maintain it: Can babies get out from under the heat if they need to?
- Appropriate food for each species and whether nutritional requirements allow interspecies free-choice feeding. Essential protein requirements vary, and too much protein can be as detrimental to babies’ health as too little.
- Appropriate bedding: For certain species, some options might be better than others.
- Optimal light requirements and availability of safe-source electricity to obtain it. Remember, extension cords and precipitation are a bad combination, so find a way to shield those connections.
- Ease of entry: Unless you’re Houdini’s relative and enjoy that sort of challenge, save yourself some trouble by planning for easy access.
- Predator proofing.
5. Repurpose Your Shelter
If you don’t plan to reuse co-housing in the foreseeable future, once your animals have left babyhood behind, it can be repurposed. Obviously, a trailer can be hosed out. Panels, whether chain-link kennel, woven wire cattle panels or other types, can be reused, repurposed or broken down and stored for future use. Wooden pallets can be an affordable option for basic housing, and afterward incorporated into other projects. With a bit of foresight and planning, DIYers can utilize everything from plywood to T-posts and hog wire for shelters, then turn around and use those materials for a rodent-resistant feedbox, tomato cages for next season’s garden, or some other upcycling magic.
Setting up housing for interspecies baby animals seems especially tailored to hobby farms, and with knowledge, research, planning and a minimum of financial outlay, there’s no reason most babies can’t thrive alongside one another.
About the Author: Leslie J. Wyatt is a freelance writer with more than 200 stories and articles in publication, as well as two historical novels for middle graders. From the peacefulness of her micro-hobby farm in northern California, she writes all sorts of things; find her at www.journeywithhonor.blogspot.com and www.lesliejwyatt.com, or tweet her @lesliejwyatt.