Managing your menagerie


It's important to do your research, before filling your garden with four-legged or feathered friends, says Jennifer Stuart-Smith

If you have a large garden or a paddock, it can be tempting - and sometimes helpful - to keep animals. What animals you decide to keep depends on many factors including how much space you have, how much you are at home, and what purpose you want them to serve - if they are to be more than simply decorative.

Hens

are not only appealing to watch, as they peck and scratch around in the dirt, but they can also be prolific layers. Modern hybrids tend to be the best in terms of quantity of eggs, while fancy and rare breeds tend to lay fewer eggs and slow up during the winter. You can keep hens in a moveable 'ark' or run, as they love fresh grass each day, in a more permanent run with electric fencing or free range. Striking a balance between freedom and safety is a challenge as the more free range they are, the more easily they can be picked off by Mr Fox. Chickens need regular feeding and clean water as well as a nice clean nesting and perching area.

TOP TIP HENS: Clip the long, outer feathers of one wing, not both, to prevent chickens flying out of an open run - Sheila Hume, Poultry Enthusiast

Geese

As well as being good at keeping your grass down they are also popular as security, as they make a racket at the sight of strangers. Unlike chickens, who will put themselves to bed, geese need to be ushered into their sleeping quarters. They will need adequate sleeping space - about 2sqft per adult bird - and protection from damp and draughts as well as grain and pellets daily. As with all poultry, they need grit so they can mill the food in the gizzard/crop. Fresh water is essential for drinking, although they don't need a pond - a plastic tub or child's sand-pit filled with water is enough. Beware: big geese do big droppings.

Pigs

have become popular thanks to the likes of TV chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Pigs will wreck whatever ground you put them on (they are a 'natural rotavator') - although this might be just what you want if you are planning vegetable cultivation once the pigs have moved on. There are many breeds, with different traits; some more docile, some who are a little less keen on rooting and foraging. What you are rearing them for is also important. Do you want lean bacon, fat belly pork or merely a pet? Whatever pigs you choose, you'll need decent pig-proof fencing that can't be pushed down.

TOP TIP HENS: PIGS: Pigs love to forage for roots, fresh green vegetation, grubs and insects - so move their pen regularly - Ian Jones, Hartley Coffee House and Farm Shop

Sheep

are another natural lawnmower, with less dramatic droppings than geese! On the downside, they cost more to buy initially, and will require more care, such as annual shearing, worming (as geese do too) and hoof-trimming. If reared from lambs, sheep can be tame and friendly or, as adults, can be trained to follow a bucket. As with pigs, you need to make sure your fencing is secure, though sheep tend to clamber and jump out. Sheep may need extra feed in winter or if you decide to breed from them. Sheep are rarely in danger from foxes, although young, weak lambs are vulnerable.

Goats

will eat anything and everything. They are also escape artists and will climb trees and bushes to get their next nibble. Do not rush to get goats, without doing your research. They can be tame and affectionate - and if you keep a female for breeding, you will have goat's milk 'on tap', though you need to be a dedicated milker. Goats need space, with somewhere to browse, exercise, climb, investigate, explore and play. They do not tolerate wet weather so need a shelter which they can retreat into. Billy goats can be smelly and all goats can be noisy - neither of which will endear you to your neighbours. You have been warned!

TOP TIP HENS: GOATS: A goat-specific mineral lick is a good idea, preferably a large one if you have several goats. A Rockies Red 10kg is ideal - Charity Farm Countrystore

If you want to keep livestock (excluding horses and donkeys) you will need to register your land with the Rural Payments Agency, who will issue you with an Agricultural Holding Number (CPH). Even one goat needs a CPH, but you only need to register poultry if you're keeping more than 50 hens, and this doesn't apply to ducks and geese.