Portable shelters and chicken tractors make great animal shelters for small livestock to find refuge.
By Ron Macher
In Making Your Small Farm Profitable (Storey Publishing, 1999), Ron Macher shares proven methods for farming smarter and explores today’s new crops, new livestock, and new markets that translate into new ways to make money. He explains how to capitalize on lucrative niche markets that others overlook, plan for optimal farm efficiency, compare costs against profit for common vegetables and livestock, sell your products a dozen different ways and more. In the following excerpt from chapter 5, Macher discusses the best animal shelter options for your small livestock.
You can purchase this book in the GRIT store: Making Your Small Farm Profitable.
Animals on pasture will use shelter only when needed, but it is good to have in rough weather — particularly for young livestock.
If you are on a small acreage and have no access to land with previously built shelters or naturally occurring livestock protection, you will have to build some sort of shelter. In my opinion, the best animal shelters are three-sided, open to the south, well bedded with straw, and portable. Some people even build shelters from hay bales. Smaller, portable shelters allow for multiple uses for crops and livestock, and will change as your farming operation evolves. A shelter under 40 inches high is best for small livestock — sheep, hogs, and poultry — to prevent rain and snow blow-in.
Multiuse barns should be avoided. They are harder to adapt, are fixed in place, and with multiple livestock types in one building, can increase disease problems. If your building cannot be portable or you already have one in place, and you use the building for birthing animals, do not use it again for birthing for 6 months or more. This will help to prevent disease.
Different animals need different kinds of shelter at different times of production. For instance, a thick cedar grove is excellent for calving or lambing.
Cedars have vast amounts of fallen needles for bedding, and usually do not have low-hanging branches in a thick stand. They shed snow and rain in all but the heaviest downpours, and sheep like to be underneath them. I rotate pastures so that when it is time to lamb, the pasture with my cedar grove has grass that has not been grazed to the ground when I need it for nursing mothers.
Most livestock are pretty good mothers and do better on their own, rather than being confined to a small farm lot with a high potential for disease. They do especially well birthing on grass pastures when the grass is really growing (April/May for the Midwest) or whenever the temperature is in the 60s in your area. Sunlight and fresh air go a long way toward keeping your livestock healthy.
If you have predator problems, a fenced-in shelter to which you lead the livestock at night is essential. Poultry, in particular, need a place where they will be protected from coyotes, owls, raccoons, opossums, cats, and other predators. This may be a large poultry house to which chickens are returned each night, or a small portable coop such as a Smedley unit (normally for hogs).
A popular idea today is the chicken tractor, where poultry are kept in a portable 10-by-12-foot cage covered with chicken wire, with half of it covered in aluminum roofing. These open- bottomed shelters allow you to move your chickens daily through your garden or fields to eat insects, forage for weeds, and incorporate their droppings in the soil without damaging your plants.
You will also need shelter for machinery. If your machinery is left out in the rain and sun, you are just throwing your money away. Rust and weather wear shorten the life of tools more quickly than does anything else. A machine shed where you can keep your tools and machinery dry, store repair equipment, and have a place to work on your tools will enhance your machinery, save you money, and improve your quality of life.
Excerpted from Making Your Small Farm Profitable (c) Ron Macher, line drawing by Cathy Baker and line drawing by Chuck Galey, used with permission from Storey Publishing. Buy this book from our store: Making Your Small Farm Profitable.