How To Harness The Benefits Of Livestock In The Garden

Too often, livestock animals are considered the enemies of a good garden, but different animals bring different benefits to a growing space.

by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen
PHOTO: Kirsten Lie-Nielsen

In the journey toward self sufficiency, many would-be farmers find themselves with a vegetable garden and some livestock animals. Often, they’re kept far apart or when the animals break into the garden it is mayhem on crops. 

But applied smartly, a diverse group of farm animals can help your garden flourish.

Fowl Friends

Understanding what plants are most appealing to your animals can help you plan how to integrate garden and animals. With geese and ducks on the farm, we keep lettuce, cabbage and Brussel sprouts fenced off or protected with wire domes when the birds are about. 

As long as they don’t eat the greens, ducks are invaluable in keeping pests away. They enjoy slugs, worms, caterpillars and other creepy crawlers and are more active hunters and adventurous eaters than our chickens. I credit our ducks with the lack of Tomato Hornworms, cabbage worms and more in our garden.

Guineas are hard-working and entertaining birds for a farm.

In addition to eating greens, the downside of ducks, geese and chickens in the garden can be the accidental destruction of plants by walking on them or scratching too much around them. That’s where guinea fowl are particularly adept. 

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They are lightweight and very active birds, and almost never harm plants that they’re kept around. They also have less interest in fruit and vegetable than other birds, and focus their energies entirely on bugs. 

Guinea fowl will eat all sorts of insects and small vermin. But they may be best known for consuming ticks.

livestock garden waterfowl ducks geese
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen

Pig Pals

It doesn’t end with the birds!The most helpful livestock introduced to my garden has been our pigs.

We overwinter our two Tamworth pigs in the garden, allowing them to uproot everything left at the end of the summer, turn over the soil and leave behind amazing fertilizer.With the pigs in the garden, we don’t have to worry about tilling or adding fertilizer in the spring.

Our girls are full-sized pigs, but farms with limited space may consider smaller varieties that are equally effective in gardens, such as Potbelly Pigs or American Guinea Hogs.

Here’s what you need to start raising pigs.

The Ruminants

Sheep and goats can have their place as well.

Goats are often too destructive to plants to be allowed in the garden during the summer, but they help the pigs take down what’s left before winter. Goats are particularly fond of corn. We feed all our remaining stalks to them as the weather starts getting cooler.

Sheep are more selective than goats, which can be useful for gardens with grass paths or mowing around fruit trees. Many sheep breeds are wholly interested in things like grass and clover, and so can keep lawns, paths and fields mown.

livestock garden sheep
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen

Free Fertilizer!

All of these animals also produce nitrogen-rich fertilizer. With pigs, we’re about to turn that immediately back into soil.

For the other animals who have stalls and coops to sleep in at night, their bedding is composted and turned a few times to fully decompose over a few months or a year.Once decomposed, this livestock manure is an invaluable source of fertilizer and rich soil for your garden.

In fact, some farmers are able to turn a little farm profit selling extra fertilizer to local gardeners.

Whatever animals you decide to add to your homestead or small farm, consider how you can utilize them to your garden’s benefits. It can mean less work for you, and happier plants and animals.

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