This is our first post about the critters (animals) we want to raise, encourage and discourage on our little piece of paradise…
How exactly we are going to acquire, accomodate and feed/raise tall these critters is a different issue for another post! We are not even living there yet! And there is no shortage of advice on the internet and we are sure, more importantly, that much can be learned from friends and neighbours in Alekovo and elsewhere in BG.
So this is just a little taster of our dreams and plans for the livestock we want. Through the relationships we are building we are finding people who have thelivestock that we are interested in and heaps of great information and experience – vital for people like us who know nothing! Building these relationships now – even though actually getting the critters may be 18-24 months away – is critical to learning more about the how and why and what of keeping these “animal partners” who will make the difference between living at the subsistence level and living the “good life”.
Oh, and in case you think that all sounds pretty dreamy – we have to try and grow as much of their feed for all the year!
So here’s our thoughts on the livestock that we want as part of our new life in Alekovo:
Jane has ridden since she was a teenager and we had a few horses when we young and carefree in the UK. However, this time the horses we chose to have are not just to satisfy her equestrian pleasure buds, but they will have to work. We have made a conscious decision that we will use a horse and cart for local transport and also use the horse(s) for working on the property pulling loads, pulling out stumps, harrowing, etc. We can’t have (and feed) any critters that do not pay their way.
Ideally – dreaming 🙂 – she would like either 2 Cobs or Friesians, or a Clydesdale (eeeeek!!!) and a riding horse.
- Recreation (pleasure for wifey riding – and daughter when she visits)
- Transport (using cart within village and surrounding villages instead of a car)
- Real work (harrowing, stump pulling, carting, maybe even ploughing if we were brave enough and can find someone to teach us)
- Manure (of course and very importantly)
- Intelligent and sympathetic conversation for wife 🙂
Jane has found several suitable horses in the UK during her recent trip (and at the right price) but we have nowhere to keep them until we can move them to BG – grrrr).
The key issue with the horse(s) is that it (they) will have to do work in some way most days – they would not really be a ercreational investment. Many of our village neighbours use their horses and donkeys every day for things from going to the shop, or going to the next village to pick up some hay or produce or visiting a friend. And of course moving manure, fodder crops and other chores around the plot will be an every day requirement.
Nick has been in love with pigs (go figure???) for years and now it is going to happen. There are hundreds of thousands of web pages about the pleasures and perils of piggery – so we are aiming at the pleasures! We really want out pigs to be the hard-workers on our place and will use them for ploughing, tilling, rotavating, manuring of our land as we pass through each season – and of course meat and loads and loads of manure. We have found breeders/keepers of some of our desired breeds in BG and just hope that there will be litters of piglets around when we need them!
Preferred breeds we’d like to get hold of are Mangalitsa, Duroc and Tamworth as we’ve heard that these breeds are particularly:
- very hardy (we have very harsh winters) as they will live outside most of the time, all year round
- good rooting (digging) pigs, which is what we need – they will have to work hard for their keep and
- known for their tasty meat
Like every other critter they have a multi-functional role
- Digging/rooting/ploughing land
- Maybe eventually breeding for bartering / gifts (got someone in mind who might swap a pig for a lamb and show me how to do the slaughtering and butchering – wink wink Paul & Tracey)
- Intelligent conversation and daily entertainment for husband
Duh – roast chicken and all the trimmings, egg and chips (yeas!!!!), boiled egg and soldiers, chicken tikka masallah, chicken chow mein, lemon chicken escalopes, meringues, quiche, egg custard, cakes – to name but a few dishes from this wonderful creature – a must have part of the livestock team. But their critical contributions are all about food – their manure is potent and they do a great job on other dung (e.g. pig, horse and goats manure) to remove parasites and scratch the dung into the ground, making it more effective.
- Digging/scratching/preparing land
- Weed and grass control
Never kept chickens so idea what the best breeds are – this is one (I think) where we need to take advice from local (bulgarian) and expat friends on which are best for eggs and breeding.
Neither of us have ever really liked duck except in pate or crisp fried chinese duck! But they love slugs and snails and that’s good enough for me! We need to learn to enjoy their meat more and apparently the eggs are really rich and wonderful. Will have to find out what breeds are best for the BG climate.
- Bug/pest control especially slugs and snails
Biggest challenge for ducks will be to provide them with a suitable pond/bath/batheing facility that can be easily cleaned out as apparently they do their mating in water!!
Like pigs, geese are something Nick has wanted to have for a long time. A bit of a romantic idea of the geese running around all over the place and being on guard. Might be good to have a goose team to help keep the dog team (“F Troop”) in place and behaving themselves. Definitely not very interested in goose meat (too greasy for me in my experience but we will certainly try it and see) but goose eggs would be definitely be good. One of their most useful qualities is grazing grass and weeds provided they stay out of the veggie bed (which is the same for all the poultry really I guess).
Need to research the right breed though (apparently the standard BG breeds are quite good).
- Meat (not so much – don’t really like goose but some people might)
- Keep dogs in check
- Grass/pasture management
- Milk, Cheese, Yoghourt
- Grass/pasture/hedgerow management
- Companionship for horses if we can train both goats and horses to live together
I grew up with meat rabbits – my Dad and our next door neighbour (“Uncle Vic”) bred rabbits for meat – remember this was in the 60’s when people still did that sort of thing in council houses in the UK. I was used to one day playing with the hugest black and white rabbit I had ever seen and then the next day having a most fantastic rabbit pie with parsley sauce that my Mum or “Aunti Molly” had made. We would need to get used to eating rabbit again but the meat is fantastic, they are great breeders (go figure) and a marvellous converter of feed/fodder to meat so we will give it a go. Remember that you should only name the breeding does and bucks – not the ones you are going to put on the BBQ or in the pot!
- Grass/pasture management
- Mittens and winter headgear 🙂
“F Troop” (american satire in the late 60’s – google it) is already formed! Lilly (2 year old Rottweiler) and Max and Rosie (9 months old as I write – we rescued them, parents were doberman cross and rottweiler cross) are already a kewl little 3 dog unit.
We are working on training the pups and they will all have a whole new learning curve to go through when they are introduced to livestock. BUT hopefully they will be accustomed and trained to us and our expectations, so that is a start – right??
- Intelligent “alternative” conversation for both husband and wife on a bad day 😉
- Companionship, really – we’ve had dogs for over 30 years now. Just love our dogs!
- Unconditional love 🙂
Wildlife and Visitors
Other critters we want to encourage but are not pets or livestock include…
- Frogs and toads to eat bugs and insects that attack the veggies
- Hedgehogs love to eat bugs and insects and they are just cute – amazing you can train them to come for tinned dog/cat food!
- Bees – only for pollination of plants especially fruit trees. Can’t imagine doing the honey thing, buzzzzzzzzzzz – OUCH!
- Bats to eat insects especially mosquitos (need to build bat houses) – this fascinates me.
- Birds to eat insects and help pollinate plants – can tolerate some birds feeding on some plants and fruits I guess(it’s not my planet for goodness sake)
- Birds of Prey – Owls are very common in BG and there are a lot of hawks around and it is fantastic to see them swooping over the huge swathes of land and forests – they are great to eat/catch mice and rats and other vermin, but only as long as they leave our baby critters alone – guess we will need to be on our toes and make sure the rabbits and chooks are well protected!
- Tortoises – often badly treated in BG for some reason but very very common – love them because (a) they remind me of myself (remember Victor Meldrew?) and (b) I had a tortoise as a child, even raced it at school fetes, and passed it on to my neices and nephews and it is still alive today! Also some species are omnivores so they will eat bugs and slugs and insects as well as nibbling the green stuff. Our friends Nigel and Joanna have a few in their garden and it is great to see them roaming fee.
- Storks – we already have storks on two power poles adjacent to our property. Considered to be good luck if nesting on or near your property and a significant part of BGs folklore and traditions.