Gardens, Gardening and Four Legged Friends
Gardening and Self Sufficiency
Cats are much abused for their various antics. However, there is nothing like a few cats about for keeping the birds on their toes and for decimating the rodent population. Rats kill far more birds as eggs and fledglings than adult birds are killed by cats. (Indeed, every year large numbers of young birds fly straight into greenhouses andwindows!) Neutered males make more slothful pets than females if you want to minimise potential bird losses.
Cats can be trained: I have five and most can even sleep with the chicks! (I think they prefer roast chicken and see it as a long stake-out.) Keep cats around by planting catnip, Nepeta cataria not Nepeta mussinnii, and valerian in warm sheltered corners. Catnip is also useful for driving away their fleas, although most effective is a proper metal flea comb used daily and this saves risking a pesticidal collar. Most cats love catnip, so it can be planted where you want them to lurk; a patch near the can really keep down bird damage.
If you are bothered by cats visiting your garden to leave freepackages in your seedbeds, try this compromise. Cats are notoriously lazy devils, so provide them with a well-sited tray of soft, deliciously fresh and crumbly material. They will use it rather than dig holes in the firmer beds and borders. The tray’s contents can then be emptied regularly and buried under trees or shrubs, putting the fertility where it is safe and useful.
Dogs can be much more damaging in gardens, depending on their temperament. It is up to the owner to train them to treatwell. Dogs can be taught to use a mulched and hedged off area for their loo and their droppings can be buried under trees and shrubs. Like cats, their parasites can be controlled by careful grooming. The bitches urinating on a lawn will cause bald patches unless the area is washed immediately with a gallon or so of water to dilute the urine. Both dogs and cats are natural carnivores; it is cheaper, more ecological and probably healthier to feed them cheap meat than tinned food which is four-fifths added water.
Rabbits and Guinea Pigs
Rabbits and guinea pigs make good pets and with a mobile run can be very efficient grass cutters. Their droppings can be safely added to the compost heap, too. Rabbits are also often kept for the table in rural France and I looked after them as a boy on the farm. They will convert much garden and kitchen waste into meat as efficiently asand with the light breeds the meat is almost like chicken.
Goats and Sheep
Goats and sheep are dangerous creatures to have near a garden, as they will both merrily debark and crop almost any valued plant they can get at. Given they can climb like a monkey and have all day every day to apply their wicked ingenuity, then sooner or later they will get out! Goats, of course, give milk, but are not grazers and will not do well with just grass – they are browsers, and need to eat your trees and shrubs! Sheep make better lawnmowers as they are by nature grazers – they just enjoy eating your trees and shrubs. Sheep can have more health problems and the milk is less desirable than goat’s.
Cows are relatively cheap to buy, live on grass and can give a lot of milk every day which you then have to find a use for. The milking is chore enough without the time taken to make cheese, butter, yoghurt etc. So a cow only makes sense where there are many people, say three families or so to divide up the labour and all the dairy produce. Cows will select the plants they need, but can pick up bad food habits just like us. Clear their pasture of ragweed, bracken, larkspur and other poisonous weeds. Hedgeand similar strong-flavoured weeds will taint their milk.