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The Benefits of Livestock Productivity

Livestock play an essential role in creating and maintaining a fertile, functional farm.

| June/July 2018

  • chicken
    Chickens’ valuable contributions include spreading out cow patties, eating hordes of insects, and providing eggs.
    Photo by Shutteye Photography
  • cow
    Cows are valuable providers — they fertilize soil and convert biomass into meat and milk.
    Photo by Shutteye Photography
  • sheep
    Sheep and goats gobble up weeds, seeds, and brush, transforming tangled, thorny patches of land into tidy, wide-open spaces.
    Photo by Shutteye Photography

  • chicken
  • cow
  • sheep

As scientists delve into the synergistic intricacies of animal relationships in historic ecological templates, they discover more and more the positive work animals can accomplish. From bison pruning prairies to beavers building ponds, animal contributions have protected water and built soil. A herd of millions of bison marauding through our neighborhoods would be incompatible with modern civilization, however, and a gigantic beaver pond across the interstate could be seriously disruptive. Fortunately, domestic livestock have filled these historic roles, working alongside humans to build civilization. Please enjoy with me, then, a brief look at critter services and livestock productivity on the farm.

Let's start with chickens. The ultimate sanitizer, the noble chicken stands between a farmstead and pathogens. Our friendly hens eat ticks, grubs, slugs, and insects. At Polyface Farm, the Eggmobiles (portable hen houses) disgorge 800 deposits of manure every morning on newly grazed pasture.

Chickens not only eat bugs in cow patties and then spread them out; they also harvest tons of newly exposed grasshoppers, crickets, and other insects living in the pasture. When the cows prune off the insects’ hiding places, the birds harvest them and turn them into fresh eggs. This works around a goat pen or cow milking stand too. Few animals are as energetic and faithful as the chicken for cleaning and disinfecting the farmstead.

A homestead with a handful of chickens on patrol has far fewer flies than one without. To a chicken, a maggot is better than ice cream. You can throw out the stinkiest, nastiest kitchen scraps and she’ll attack them as fervently as children going for mac ‘n’ cheese. I can’t imagine a functional farm without a flock of chickens. If we tried to pay someone to do what these ladies do, we’d go bankrupt in a month. They work all day, never complain, and go to bed when the sun goes down — what’s not to love?

Of course, other birds are adept helpers as well. Guinea fowl not only eat insects; they also announce intruders with their distinctive and raucous chortling. Many people believe them to be superior to dogs as security for a homestead. Not to be ignored, ducks provide wonderful bug control in the garden. Unlike chickens, ducks tend to leave vegetables alone. And an additional plus: They don’t scratch up mulch. They’re content to just roam around, waddling from area to area in a tight flock, looking for squash beetles, Colorado potato beetles, and other pests.

On to the pig. Two pigs can eat as much as a few dozen chickens. If you have a lot of garden scraps, dairy waste, or orchard rubbish, a couple of pigs can keep things tidy while growing bacon and lard. Need I say more?

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