Utilizing Chickens, Goats and Horses for Fall Garden Maintenance

Manure.  It’s a wonderful thing.  I wonder what the horses would think, them being emotional creatures and all, if they knew that their manure is the only thing they’re good for(besides recreational and therapeutic purposes of course)?  Would they be angry?  Sad?  Happy?  Shocked?

Anyway, back to manure and gardening and fall.
I’m feeling a little giddy right now.  The kids are in bed, the baby is sleeping, hubby is snoozing right next to me and here I am.  Just me and my thoughts.  I don’t get to hang out with me and my thoughts too often as of late.  In fact, it’s pretty rare.  And being an introvert…you get the idea, right?  
So…it’s officially fall as we have the first frost warning tonight.  I still have some things in the garden like okra, peppers, kale and green beans.  We picked all of the beans today, peppers and okra yesterday and because the kale can withstand some frost, it’s still out there looking big and green and pretty.  I usually plant a fall garden but this year, well, you know, life happens sometimes and this is it.
Once I get tired of picking kale(it has a tendency to go on forever), I will start to use our animals to clean up and fertilize.  The key to making this work is to have a fenced in garden.  Ours is about a 1/2 acre, including some grass in between garden beds and four apple trees.

I like to use the goats first by putting them in the garden all day.  Usually in November we take them off our bigger pasture for the winter to give it a break.  That is about the time our garden is done so the goats hang out there for a couple of weeks. They do a great job of eating down weeds, vegetable plants and fruits that didn’t get a chance to ripen.  An added bonus is we save a little bit on hay while they are in the garden as they don’t need any during the day.  Once they have eaten down as much as they can, we put them in our smaller paddock for the winter.

I break out the chicken tractor and put several old hens or roosters that were hatched on the farm in there.  Depending on the weather, we move them about for a couple of months over garden areas that did not get fertilized with the chickens in the tractor last year.  The more ground we cover, the less manure we have to shovel in the spots that didn’t get covered.  We also move them around the apple trees to clean up any rotten apples and bugs.
When the goats are done cleaning up the garden, we usually let a horse or two graze a bit.  They don’t eat a whole lot of garden weeds or leftover plants, but they do eat the grass surrounding the gardens.  They keep the grass short, and again less hay is given while there’s plenty of grass to eat.

Remember, goats are foragers, horses are grazers.  So they work symbiotically together.  There are times we have put a portable pig pen over the garden too.  They do a good job fertilizing and rooting up the soil.  We have thought about just letting our pigs have the whole garden to themselves after everybody else is done.  They are getting pretty big now, so we might have some problems getting them from their pig paddock to the garden.  Might be more trouble than it’s worth.

I get bad visuals when I think about three 200 pound pigs loose.  In fact, just the thought could very well give me nightmares.

So… once we have utilized the animals and the garden is cleaned up, it’s about time for barn clean up.  That means a whole lot of manure shoveling.  Wherever we didn’t put the chicken tractor, that is where the manure goes.  We have sandy soil in some spots and sandy loam in most areas of the garden.  It makes for perfect soil and is so easy to work with.  The draw back is that  the nutrients doesn’t hold as well as clay soil, so lots of manure is required!

The manure we shovel out is multi-species manure.  We got a smorgasbord of cow, horse, goat and chicken manure.  Each has it’s own make up of minerals, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous ratios.  So when I test the soil in the spring after applying the manure, it is pretty spot on, not needing any amendments.

And that, my friends is how we utilize the critters in the garden.  How about you?  I’d love to hear how you do things!

If you like this post, you might like this book below.  Lots of good ideas for those who like to use what they have around the farm!