No hens, no smallholding! Unless of course you are vegan, which is fine: we are happy to raise animals, for company and consumption of their produce, if we are sure we can give them a good quality of life.

Our hens, geese and ducks are completely free to roam in the surrounding countryside, though they tend not to go far from home. They eat a variety of wild food as well as the organic grain we give them. With their rich social interactions, they make interesting company, as well as being decorative. Hens in particular are good at controlling vermin: we have never seen a farmyard rat and we have often seen our hens catching mice.


We have had several breeds of poultry, including the rather aggressive native breed  of the region, the “Black Castillan”, and we have settled on a disappearing breed from further south, the “Extremaduran Blue”. Of shy disposition and gentle manner, the hens are very good mothers, the cocks are good natured and make excellent sentries for the flock, and egg production is reasonable: poultry meat is not a priority with us (and is incompatible with free range) but when there is meat (the result of a kill by a predator) it is of very fine quality.


To be happy, ducks and geese need comparatively more space than poultry, and they need a pond. Unlike hens, they tend not to go by themselves into their shelter at dusk, so you have to round them up and guide them to safety for the night. The ducks in the picture are Call Ducks, a miniature breed of Mallard that can be quite attached to their owners.


Keeping an animal for milk is a bigger venture than having poultry. Goats, sheep and cows are a lot bigger than hens, ducks and geese and need more care (feeding, cleaning, veterinary care). To produce milk, they have to be bred essentially every year: you have to know what you’re going to do with the young. There is then the commitment to twice-daily milking, and to processing of any surplus milk (cheese, yoghurt, butter).

Goats are smaller than cows, but also livelier! We kept goats for many years, of the local Guadarrama breed. They are pure joie de vivre but they need a lot of time, especially if you want to keep them free range. For the moment, we are concentrating on the horses, though we may well take on some goats in the future - they are quite a presence on a smallholding!

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