View Full Version : Livestock Chores

01-26-2010, 08:03 PM
Looking for information about chores when taking care of animals, specifically goats and chickens. In my fantasy novel, my MC lives alone in the forest. She gets supplies from the nearby village, but I want her to have some chickens for the fresh eggs and a couple of goats for milk. She also has a mule for transportation. Pre-industrial level of technology, but with magic.

What sort of daily chores would she need to do in order to take care of the animals?

How self-sufficient are goats and chickens? The story is going to call for her to be away for several days.

The animals will be kept in a fenced-in field with a stable. The field is magically warded to repel predators. There's a stream for water. What else is needed?

Thanks in advance!

Elias Graves
01-26-2010, 09:21 PM
Goats have to be monitored closely as they are escape risks. Most folks who have a lot of goats inspect the fences frequently. They are also kind of dumb and get themselves in trouble. They end up in creeks stuck a lot.
They will climb everything...boxes, cars, tractors...you name it.
Most of the year, they are pretty self sufficient with grazing but food is generally supplemented in the winter depending on where you live.
Most people will keep a guard dog around that protects the goats from predators. Some people will use a mule for a guard dog as well.
Herd dogs are sometimes used as well, but only if the goats are brought into a pen or barn at night...which is common.
Goats will wander. If there is a hole in the fence, they WILL go through it and wander off as a group.
Of course, if they are angora goats, you have to shear them twice a year.

Chickens have to be fed, eggs collected and put up in the coop at night. They don't require a lot of care. Keep the coop clean.
They will generally return to the coop every night on their own. You just have to go lock it up at night to keep predators out.
If the farmer is selling the eggs directly, he/she will candle all the eggs. You hold them up in front of a light to make sure there isn't an embryo inside. You don't want to crack THAT egg into your pan!


01-26-2010, 09:26 PM
Neither chickens nor goats respect fences. That magic better keep them in as well as predators out!

01-26-2010, 09:31 PM
Chickens are predators. Will the magic keep them out as well? Or does the magic only protect against predators OF chickens?

01-26-2010, 09:32 PM
Along the Yellowstone near Big Timber, Montana, we didn't have goats, but sheep are somewhat similar ruminants.

Except for bum (motherless) lambs which were bottle-fed cow's mink until able to forage on their own, all sheep grazed and nursed their young. Since they cropped grasses close, even pulled up and munched roots, they needed to be moved from field to field so that natural grass could recover. In Montana, we fed sheep alfalfa hay in winter. Here in Oregon, they seem to graze on their own the year round.

Chickens also foraged on their own, but we supplemented morning-to- night scratching for worms and insects with scattered corn or grain du jour.

Kathie Freeman
01-26-2010, 09:33 PM
Goats being kept for milk have to be milked twice a day, just like cows. If she is going to be gone for seversl days, someone will have to milk them, unless the kids are still with them. They have to be confined in a small pasture and fed hay and alalfa or their milk will be too strong for most tastes. Stalls have to be cleaned and fresh bedding put down. They need to be brushed regularly, too, and of course the udders have to be washed.

01-26-2010, 10:30 PM
Yes -- milk goats must be milked twice daily. If she has penned/non-free-roaming goats, she'll need to inspect and trim their hooves regularly. Same for the mule, although if she uses him for transportation he'll need hoof trimming less often than the goats.

Goats and mule will need daily hay if they're not roaming free to browse/graze on their own. And if they are confined, cleaning up after them is essential for good health!

In my experience, goats are pretty smart and fairly good at keeping themselves out of trouble. They are cantankerous and curious, though, and don't have a lot of respect for boundaries. Yes, they climb like monkeys.

Chickens find food on their own quite well if they're allowed to roam free, but they are easy pickings for predators. One doesn't need to collect their eggs with regularity, but older eggs won't be good eating.

01-26-2010, 10:56 PM
If the chicken do roam free they need to be rounded up and brough in before dusk or the will roost in the trees outside the enclosure.

01-28-2010, 10:04 PM
Most of the responses so far are at the commercial level and not the self sufficiency, medieval or homesteading setting. Goats don't NEED to be milked at all, unless you want to collect the milk for milk, yogurt cheese etc. They only start to produce milk after kidding (so you will need a buck at least some of the time) The more you milk them, the longer they will continue to produce milk since the nipple stimulation is what give a positive feedback on lactation. If you milk twice a day, then there is a risk that the kid won't have enough milk. The norm used to be to pen the kid away from the doe overnight in a barn partly for security and partly so that the milk would build up for the farmer to collect in the morning. After milking, the kid and doe are reunited until dark. If you want to milk twice a day, then eat the kid. If you want to maximize milk production, milk twice a day, never let the kid nurse, but bottlefeed it. It's far more work that way for a debatable return of increased milk yield.

As far as chickens go, the more they can wander, the more likely that they will lay their eggs somewhere other than where you want to collect them, but the more likely that they can feed themselves by foraging. It's a balance of labor vs yield. If you have more chickens than you can deal with and don't want eggs, let them freeroam. If you have very expensive chickens and can't afford to lose a single eggs, then they should be penned.

Of course penning has the drawback of higher loss from diseases too. It's all a balance.

01-28-2010, 10:13 PM
If the chicken do roam free they need to be rounded up and brough in before dusk or the will roost in the trees outside the enclosure.

For a medieval setting, yes. Today's specialized severely inbred chickens can be either too heavy to fly into the branches or too stupid to figure out how.

01-28-2010, 11:17 PM
Likewise, I know that medieval sheep gave out less wool, and medieval cows gave less milk. I suspect medieval goats would be similar.

01-28-2010, 11:50 PM
For a medieval setting, yes. Today's specialized severely inbred chickens can be either too heavy to fly into the branches or too stupid to figure out how.

That is absolutely false.

Production strain cornish crosses are the only commercial birds that applies to, their growth is so screwed up most can't even walk after about 15 weeks. All other breeds are perfectly capable of being range birds. And there are plenty of strains of the older types left that can fly as well as a pheasant. I used to raise China games, and if I didn't round them up at dusk they would roost about 60 feet up in our fir trees. I even had one araucana hen who built her nest and hatched eggs in a tree 10 feet off the ground. The babies all hopped down and started running around as they hatched.

ETA: Free roaming hens pick a spot to lay their eggs and generally stay with it. If you know where it is, you can make the rounds once a day and collect them. Generally they bawk loudly when they lay an egg, so if you're working outside and keep an eye on them it's pretty easy to figure out where their nests are. We used to mark one egg with an X and leave it there so the hen wouldn't move somewhere "safer", and we wouldn't pick up a nasty old egg to eat.

You will probably miss some though, and those are usually the hens that come waltzing out of the brush a few weeks after vanishing with a whole slew of chicks in tow. Not a bad thing really.

01-29-2010, 06:29 AM
I suspect they knew about clipping wings long before present day - to keep chickens roosting in the chicken house and not in the trees. Back when we had chickens, we clipped their wings & let them run free during the day, but they went to the chicken coop to roost. We also had a large fenced enclosure for them to roam during the day in case we were gone & they could get in their coop at night by themselves.

01-29-2010, 07:17 AM
Goats: Ditto on fences and most everything else said.
With one pasture, they are going to get some nasty worm burdens, and the pasture is going to be torn up in a season or two. I assume the value of rotational grazing was learned very early on in history. So she needs at least two fences or she'll be wondering why her goats are all sickly. On the bright side, goats don't get equine worms (essentially- the one they share isn't a big deal usually) and vv, so they can be pastured together (if the mule doesn't beat on the goats or vv) or separate if needed. Chickens will help break up the manure and kill some of the parasite eggs/larvae but not all.

Goats, starting with the fall: That's fun times for the goats and your buck will be crazy hormonal. If he's not intimidated by your MC, your MC will quickly be intimidated by him. Any kids at this time will be a few months old. It would be prudent to slaughter and process them for the winter and to not have to feed an increasing number of goats each year. Bonus- warm furs. Downside- processing furs takes a lot of work. More than the meat. It might be best to sell most the skins, but she'll have to at least start on them or time things with a buyer very well.

Fast forward to spring and you've got a bunch of pregnant does. They will need LOTS of spring grass or some grain or possibly both. If she's got too many in the oven and not enough calories (which can happen even with enough intake if she's got worms eating her calories for her) she'll get deathly sick and in that time period has a grave chance of survival (google pregnancy toxemia for details).

If all goes well, the does should deliver well on their own. Most breeds outside our heavy ag system had to deliver or die, so problems were less common but not completely rare. Babies can be kept with mom as described above, and the more does she has the more milk she can have per day ofc.

Runts and any sickly babies will probably have to be killed, particularly if your MC doesn't have time and energy to spend on a kid that's not likely to make it.

Btw, is your MC the type to make cheese, given her talents?

On to chickens- coup them for protection. With magic it doesn't have to be anything special since the spell will keep those with pointy teeth out. Any that decide to lay eggs in the bush may or may not make it back with babies in tow. Usually they come back with up to a dozen, sometimes a lot less if snakes or illness make the clutch smaller. (Aside: I had about 5 guinea keets hatch from a clutch of over 20, and several pip. I realized during the hatching something had infected the eggs and all I could do was watch (you never help a bird hatch lest you make them bleed out. Either they have the strength or they don't) (okay, some cases can survive mild, careful help). Anyways, the ones that made it were healthy, but with crooked toes. The toes was likely due to too many eggs under one mama and had nothing to do with the infection).

Where was I? Grain is a plus, but if the goats/mule are getting mixed grain then some of it will be partly undigested in the feces (whole oats typically come out much the same as they went in) and the chickens will enjoy that and might not need their own except in winter.

In short, the more naturally your animals live, the less management (ie-time) they require. But the more time you put in, the less losses. Fences create problems along with solving them as you've probably figured out ;)

So how is your MC going to get hay, or will she turn them out for the fall and winter (they'll need some ID marking) and hope for the best come spring? Is she going to go out in the winter to throw out hay (typically at least once a day, but could get away with less), walk the fence, and break the water? Or are they drinking from a stream?? (She'll want to keep upstream ofc, ick) Hauling water is a real PITA, and so is going out to break ice in water buckets or on stream surfaces when you risk breaking a hip on the ice on the ground.


01-29-2010, 07:21 AM
Also, those chickens do best when the excess roosters are made roasters. Sure beats cornering a bloody chicken and trying to patch it up.

01-29-2010, 06:16 PM
You might want to decide how reliant your MC is on the forest for her own supplies vs. the town. Does she forage often in the forest? Makes use of the raw materials there? Or does she get most of her supplies from town that she doesn't have right on hand at home?

If she's pretty self-reliant and only goes into town to get supplies like forged metals and 'luxury' items that she can't get from foraging/growing her own, then I would think she'd be able to forage/find the eggs that the chickens lay out in the 'wild'. She'd also know how, when and where to find other eggs and the like as well, thereby being less reliant of keeping them cooped up. Also, if she tends to be out in the woods more often than not, she might have made a deal with a local shepard/goat herd, who watches animals from a group of people (all marked/branded) during the day in exchange for goods from the owners. (Think the children's book, Heidi.)

01-31-2010, 05:45 AM
That is absolutely false.

Putting you on ignore now.