When we think of farm animals we often think of cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens (and other birds), as well as farm cats and dogs. However, since moving to the country myself, I have discovered a few other animals that no farm should be without.
A standard donkey, photo by author.
Donkeys come in many sizes, from the cute miniature, up to the mammoth. All sizes are ridable but training donkeys is much different than training horses. Donkeys do not respond well to force or punishment, but love treats and rewards. They are smart must be allowed time to think about what you are asking them do to. If they figure out that it is safe and to their benefit, they will usually go along with the plan, but if they view it as unsafe they will refuse.
Donkeys are extremely observant and can recognize people and new animals. They have a dislike for canines, but can learn to recognize your dog. Donkeys should be treated with respect, they can kick and often do so without the warnings generally given by horses (eg ears pinned back). They can “cow kick” which means kicking out to the side. It is for these reasons they are useful as guard animals.
Donkeys are prone to getting fat if overfed - their neck gets big.
Llama standing guard over a Jacob Sheep lamb. Photo by author.
Another choice for people looking for guard animals are llamas, and to a lesser degree the smaller alpaca. Llamas are very observant and also quick to recognize new comers and investigate them. Not all llamas or alpacas have the “guard” instinct, but when kept with animals such as goats or sheep they will intimidate some predators. As well because they are observant they can alert the other animals to danger.
Gelded males work best as guard animals, intact males may be too rough with the other animals. Females are alright too. The main consideration is to only have one llama. If you keep two or more they will form their own little herd and will not bond with the sheep or whatever animal you want them to protect.
Some llamas grow very long fleece and require yearly shearing. If this is not something you want to do, select a lower grade animal. At one time llamas commanded a high price, they were in the thousands. Today a wise shopper can find llamas being given away for free, or at least at a low price.
Miniature Horse stallion. Photo by author.
These are not kept for any other reason than a novelty to entertain ones own self and perhaps their children, or grandchildren. Miniature horses simply look cute and are more of a pet than a useful farm animal. These are not called ponies because their body shape still resembles a horses (ponies have slight proportion differences)they are called are horses, and stand under 38 inches tall (or under 34 inches tall, depending on which registry standards you go by).
Miniature Horses are often used to pull carts and can be ridden. However it should be noted that just because they can be ridden, does not always mean they should. Being unnaturally small their backs are not as strong as larger horses. As such larger children, and adults should stick to riding larger animals. As a rule if the riders feet touch the ground they are too big to ride. Animals under 24 inches tall should not be ridden at all.
Miniature horses are prone to founder so should not be given oats or lush grass. Otherwise they are pretty simple to care for and have long lifespans. Some of the tiniest ones, those under 24 inches tall, have more health problems, and more difficulty in foaling. In fact most registries try to discourage people breeding dwarf animals.
Male Swinhoe Pheasant. Photo by author.
Certainly no farm is complete without free range chickens but there are other birds that are fun to keep if not just for their attractive appearance. Such are the ornamental birds such as peafowl and pheasants. These birds are not only simply beautiful to look at but will eat some insect pests. Pigeons are another ornamental bird kept often for the purposes of competition as in homing races or bird shows.
There are specialty game bird feeds for people who wish to keep these birds but they will manage with chicken feed as long as they can forage for insects as well. Depending on the climate they may need heated winter shelters. Particularly with peafowl as the males develop longer tails every year. These tails have a blood supply that will freeze and kill the birds in a colder winter.
Guinea Fowl are commonly kept as guard animals; they can make a lot of noisem they also help eat bugs. Ducks are kept for eggs, and entertainment, and of course peafowl are very attractive. Each bird has its own specific needs and care requirements which should be researched further.