It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain
When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 100 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS).
You can’t run male animals together.
In most cases, this isn’t true. In my own experience, bulls, stallions, male dogs and roosters do just fine running in the same corral, pasture or pen; I’ve never tried it with sheep or goats. I would, however, add a few caveats:
First, I would not run a young, really aggressive animal with an elderly male. I’ve noticed that particularly with stallions. The young one is pushy and the old one just doesn’t have the endurance to keep putting him in his place. If the young one is passive, it may not be as much of a problem. The father and son pictured above did fine together until the young one got to be about three and started beating up his 29-year old father (that’s quite ancient for a horse, by the way). However, running a young stallion (say about 12 to 18 months old) with four or five older geldings is a really good way to teach a snotty youngster that he doesn’t rule the world. Those good old boys will quickly knock some manners into Junior. Running a group of same-age stallions or bulls together usually works just fine. There will be squabbling, of course, until everybody learns his place in the pecking order.
Second, you must make sure they have plenty of room. Crowding any group of male animals into too small a space means more dominance fights. With roosters, in particular, the bird on the lowest end of the totem pole tends to get crowded into a tight corner and may be killed. If there’s plenty of maneuvering room he can usually get away. The industry standard for commercial chickens is two feet or less, which is ridiculous. How would you like to spend your life in an equivalent space of five square feet? Most backyard poultry experts recommend at least four square feet of coop for free-range chickens and up to 10 square feet total (coop plus run) for chickens in a run. Our chicken pens have a seven-foot square coop and a 16-square foot run for eight to 10 hens and a rooster. That’s more than 20 feet per bird. If you’re grazing them year-round, horses and bulls need a couple of acres apiece.
Third, the females of the species need to be out of sight, sound and smell. Otherwise, testosterone kicks in (think of teenage boys on the beach surrounded by girls in bikinis) and the squabbling can quickly become outright fighting. In any case, you need to keep an eye on things, and if somebody is getting bullied, make some changes. For that matter, even when you’re running females together, you should always keep an eye on the animals at the bottom of the totem pole. The ladies are equally devoted to the hierarchy, and alpha mares can be at least as mean and nasty as a bunch of adolescent girls. In fact, a band of brood mares is a lot like a high school, with cliques and popular girls – and the mares enforce the pecking order with hooves and teeth.
Take a Missouri Approach
Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum was the one who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so.