Getting Animals to work for You on the Urban Homestead
by Anne-Marie Miller (Dash)
Not very much makes me green with envy. I love where I am at in life. Having an Urban Farm right in the middle of a bustling city is right where I am supposed to be right now. Having said that, when I see people online, using their animals to work garden beds and restore the land, I start to turn an ugly shade of green!
I watch videos of farmers using their chickens to “work over” a garden space to get it ready for planting. I see chicken tractors rolling over the landscape trimming and fertilizing the grass and I want that badly!
Because of the majestic oak trees in my backyard, we gave up on grass long ago. We took Jake Mace’s idea and covered the ground with wood chips and Fall leaves. The deep shade is perfect for my animals in the heat of Summer. It is in the front yard where I would love to stop using the lawn mower and let my animals do the mowing for me. Also, my neighbor could use some help controlling his vegetation, A’hem.
I am a pretty determined person. When I see a problem I seek a solution, so I built a chicken tractor/pen/lawnmower in my backyard. I was soooo proud of myself! I invited the whole family to come out and see my big accomplishment. Let me just say this one statement and let you sit with it for a minute:
I should have measured my gate first.
Yep, just a tad humiliating. Even when you turn the whole thing on its side, not going to happen! Hey, I am a gardener, artist, children raiser and chicken/rabbit chaser. Exact measurement has never been my forte. However somewhere in the gene pool that makes up my amazing family, there is an exact measurer. My son John is going to either be an architect or an engineer, I am sure of it.
He couldn’t help but notice the sounds of frustration going on in the backyard as I tried to shove the too large pen through the too small opening of the gate to the front yard. He is such a good boy. I say this because he was the first person to witness my error in measurement. He could have had a good laugh over it at my expense. He could have shared it with the rest of the family, but he just sat me down and spoke measurement truth into my life in his calm logical way.
The next weekend my son cleared time in his busy schedule for me. Together we built the perfect animal lawn mower, that, when turned on its side, would clear the opening in the gate. Success at last! I put my growing chicks in it and thought it was lovely.
Sadly, my neighbors did not. Animal control came for a visit. The tension was high. In my neighborhood we have a complaint driven system. As long as no one complains your golden. I have to say that I have had so much support from my neighbors, but it just takes that one person who has a bit too much time on their hands. You get the idea.
So, there I stood with the Animal Control Officer on my doorstep. I could have said many things. I could have explained that my growing chicks were a bit overcrowded because it would cause more stress on them to separate the flock than keep them together. I could have told him that; when he checked on the sanitation conditions at 6:00 am in the morning, I wasn’t quite up yet to change out their food and move their coop. I could have said a lot of things in my defense, but I stood there with my lips clamped shut just opening them up enough to utter a “Yes sir” and “Right away, sir.” Hey, I have self-control! Does that mean I’m an adult now? No, seriously, I know without a doubt that the people that work for my city could shut me down in a New York minute if they wanted to. After all, I have a “Stand out in the neighborhood” front yard garden! I know all the laws, by heart, and I know where I am pushing the urban farming envelope!
If you think this story is over, think again. Did I mention that I am a rather determined individual? I know my city pretty well, I think. In the city of Dallas if you dress things up a bit, people are all over that. You can take the same sorry looking pig, give it a bath and put a bow on it and you have a winner!
Thankfully a friend had given me a little coop that had so much potential and most importantly could fit through the gate. I spent hours painting this little chicken coop red with white trim. My engineering son put wheels on it. As soon as the weather cooled off, it was time to use my dressed-up chicken tractor in my front yard. I could only fit a few chickens in it, so they had to take turns working over my yard. They spent their time tilling an area that I have plans for a row of pomegranate bushes come Spring. There have been no complaints so far and the little scratchers have been at it 3 weeks now.
That is my garden/permaculture victory of how I was able to put my animals to work on my urban farm. How about you? Are you just itching to get your animals to work for you even in your front or side yard? What is stopping you? Is it the size of your gate? LOL
Check out my video showing how I get my animals to work for me on my Urban Homestead Here.
Share with us your challenges to apply this permaculture concept on an urban scale, or maybe your victories!
Anne-Marie or Dash (for the hyphen in her name) is an urban farmer in Dallas, Texas. She raises chickens and rabbits on less than ¼ of an acre. Plus, she has turned her front yard into a large stand-out-in-the neighborhood vegetable garden. In addition to the farming she does on her homestead, she helped create a community garden literally from grassy field to thriving garden. What stands out about her little urban homestead is her determined out of the box approach to overcoming obstacles. You can follow her adventures on her little urban homestead by visiting her blog, BloomWhereYourPlanted.com.