According to the ASPCA, about 44% of households in the U.S. have pet dogs. Have you ever wondered how keeping a dog can affect your garden? How about keeping a goat? Or chickens? We’ve put together a list of common (beloved) backyard creatures and explained the pros and cons of each (from a gardener’s perspective). Read up before acquiring the trappings of a good petting zoo.
We all love dogs, right? Sure, dogs are great. But they aren’t great in the garden. Dogs have been known to trample (or eat) (or urinate on) crops, dig holes, and just create general mayhem in gardens. Honestly, there is very little benefit to having your dog in the garden, except for her company, of course.
Cats, on the other hand, will keep your garden free of mice and rats. (Bear in mind that they may also hunt birds and other pollinators.) They tread carefully and most likely will not eat your veggies, but they may mistake your soil for kitty litter, which can put you at risk for toxoplasmosis and other infections.
Chicken manure is extremely rich in nitrogen, which is great as a natural fertilizer, as well as a compost activator. (Just be careful not to burn your plants, as sky-high nitrogen can be quite hot.)
As naturally curious creatures who are frequently on the move — and keen on investigating any and all potential food — chickens make great tillers and mulch spreaders. Chickens will also forage in your garden, which means that they’ll cut bugs, slugs, and food waste — but they’ll also eat up some of your harvest if you’re not on top of it. (It’ll make for egg-cellent eggs, though, so you may be okay with the trade-off.)
Goats are well known for their tendency to eat anything and everything, from hay to that t-shirt you’ve had since college. This can be a pro: Goats are great at clearing land to create new beds and lawns. (They can even digest blackberry bushes and other prickly plants.) But it can also be a con: Goats will devour pretty much any vegetation in their paths, including trees. In other words, your pet goats can be your all-natural weed eaters, but you need to be conscious of where you let them graze.
Like chicken manure, goat manure is an excellent source of nutrients and nitrogen for both your garden and your compost pile — and it could be free. Goat manure has a more balanced pH (it contains less nitrogen), lower moisture content, and composts more quickly than chicken manure. Both will improve your soil’s structure and help with moisture retention.
Sheep make great (if somewhat picky) lawn mowers! And they, too, produce quality manure. Sheep manure, however, is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus and potassium. These elements can help keep pests away and promote strong root systems. Since sheep manure doesn’t smell terribly bad, it can also be composted and used as mulch.
Pigs can be well utilized at certain points in your garden’s life. You’ll probably want to keep them on the other side of a fence most of the time, but their tendencies to dig, consume leftover crops, and, of course, their manure make them exceptional helpers post-harvest when you’re prepping for next year’s planting.
If you don’t think that bees count as pets, then you obviously haven’t seen this viral video. Of course, bees often aren’t so open to snuggling, but they have been kept domestically (usually on account of their honey) for several millennia. You already know that bees are pollinators — some of the very best, in fact — capable of pollinating crops up to four miles from their hives. So, bees are fantastic for your garden (and your neighbors’ garden too), often helping to produce better flower and crop yields. There are a few things to keep in mind before rushing into DIY apiculture, however: Bees should be kept somewhere that provides minimal disruptions to the hive, an “open flightpath,” and access to fresh water, like a pond or even birdbath, within 40 feet of the hive(s). While domestic bees typically aren’t aggressive, there is always a risk of being stung and a chance of swarming, which is just how healthy, growing bee colonies expand to new territory. Make sure that you thoroughly research what beekeeping entails before diving in, but once you feel ready, have fun and enjoy that honey!