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Old 07-24-2006, 03:07 PM
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Is it possible to have a decent-looking lawn by keeping rabbits instead of mowing?


This may sound more like a sit-com character's [no pun intended] hair-brained scheme, or the fever dreams of a suburban fool, but I'm asking this in all seriousness. It just seems to me that the age of the Great American Lawn may be on the wane, and many of our teeming millions of homeowners -- be they stressed-out and overworked young careerists, or aging, soon-to-retire Baby Boomers -- who are unhappy with the demands of lawn care would welcome cheap, environmentally friendly, easy-maintainance alternatives more in keeping with the changing prerogatives of our times.

Is it possible to have a decent-looking lawn that is kept in check by a warren of cute widdle bunny rabbits, or would you end up with an ugly, scraggly ex-lawn that is nibbled to the dirt in patches, grows unchecked in others, and has holes and tunnels running throughout?

Let's assume optimal conditions: a stone perimeter wall deeply set into the ground and running fully around the, say, one-acre property with gated access (so that no rabbits can escape and no four-legged predators can get in), a goodly number of shade trees and bushes breaking up the homogenousness of the lawn and offering the rabbits cover from winged predators, a fountain or fish pond for water, a truckload of dirt or clay dumped in a corner where they can dig out a home, and zoning conditions that permit a fair degree of latitude with respect to landscaping choices and small-scale animal husbandry.

What would be the optimal ratio of rabbits to acreage? Given that rabbits tend to breed like, well, rabbits, let's further assume that our yardwork-averse homeowner is prepared to do some snaring or hunting and cultivates a taste for Hasenpfeffer.

Would we get similar results with a coop's worth of free-range chickens instead? They can get by on mostly grass and bugs, can't they? (And they couldn't really fly away either, could they?) Bird flu notwithstanding, I can think of three benefits WRT chickens: the eggs, their keeping insects in check, and, if you have a rooster, a 365-days-a-year alarm clock that won't let you down in the event of a power failure. OTOH, this option would definitely be limited to those living in the sticks...
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Old 07-24-2006, 03:18 PM
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I used Guinea Pigs in a cage with no floor. So long as I moved it regularly, they trimmed the grass evenly.

The drawback was all the little turds, though.
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Old 07-24-2006, 03:19 PM
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1) Rabbits will nibble one spot of grass right down to dirt before they move on.

2) You'll have a yard full of rabbit poop in pretty short order.
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Old 07-24-2006, 03:25 PM
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Cute rabbits are no good. Back in good ole' days my Grandma had rabbit farm. Once number of little furry prisoners escaped their captivity and set up colony in the backyard. They digged up whole underground city for them. Actually independent Rabbitstan survived for years, full of big, nice holes.

Even miniature pet rabbits have very strong digging instinct. Put them on the soft ground and blammo! - you've got hole in your nice lawn.

There is solution, though. Goats. Properly fenced goat is natural born lawnmower.
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Old 07-24-2006, 03:25 PM
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Now, let's talk sheep.
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Old 07-24-2006, 03:26 PM
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What you're looking for is a goat. Of course, you're still dealing with turds - just larger goaty ones.
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Old 07-24-2006, 03:28 PM
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Dunno about rabbits, but chickens are damn good eatin'!

We used to have a pretty good-sized chiken pen. The outer reaches of it were grassy, but everything near the coop was scratched and trampled into dirt. I'd think they would be pretty hard on the turf. I haven't actuall known wild bunnies to exfoliate a section of grass--sheeps are rumored to do that though. Maybe don't do this with sheeps. Grizzly bears eat mostly grass, I think. I just might have to give this rabbit thing a try.
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Old 07-24-2006, 03:30 PM
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Rabbits aren't recommended and won't do a good job. They just nibble and they will attractive foxes, coyotes, and funny talking hunters. Don't think about goats either. They just randomly rip and chew and you might find your smaller possessions missing.

What will work quite well is sheep. They make a nice, low, even cut and some farmers have let them graze on their lawn with good success. Sheep are incredibly stupid herd animals so grown ones don't have much value as pets but they are cute and lambs are adorable (and tasty). Shearing is much harder than it looks however. Make sure someone in the family knows how to spin and knit.
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Old 07-24-2006, 03:38 PM
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The wall wouldn't protect from one of the major predators of rabbits: hawks.
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Old 07-24-2006, 03:55 PM
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[QUOTE=Shagnasty]
What will work quite well is sheep. They make a nice, low, even cut and some farmers have let them graze on their lawn with good success. QUOTE]


Second the sheep. Goats, on the other hand, make terrible lawnmowers. They are more browsers than grazers, and will eat all your bushes before they touch the grass. However, if you fence a group of goats into a brush-filled area, they will clear out the brush very efficiently.

One old wives tale I've heard is that if you drink the milk of goats that are eating poison ivy, you will not develop symptoms if you come in touch with it.
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Old 07-24-2006, 03:56 PM
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Although sheep would probably do the best clip job, it's hard to imagine widespread acceptance of such a wool-gathering idea in the 'burbs. I know I stipulated lax zoning and all that, but I was thinking of rabbits, which are smaller, less conspicuous, vewwy vewwy quiet, and tend to crop up naturally in many a suburb, anyway.

But Slithy Tove's comment on guinea pigs got me thinking. What if you adapted a large (say, 8' x 8'), low-slung wire rabbit cage on wheels (complete with floor, so they can't escape) with the following:

1) photovoltaic panel array on the gently-sloped roof
2) motion detector
3) computer video camera
4) bare-bones CPU in weatherproof housing with large battery backup, loaded with pattern-recognition software and a program for timed, gradual motion at, say, three-hour intervals during the day)
5) electric motor to power them wheels (what, you were expecting hamsters?)
6) water trough, receiving any rain run-off from the roof, via a really cute little PVC gutter system

The idea being, during daylight hours, the cage moves itself over another eight feet (or whatever the size of the cage is) every two or three hours or so, provided that the rabbits are moving about anyway and that the grass has indeed been nibbled down (hence the camera and pattern-recognition software). No burrowing, no over-grazing, no predation, and easy population control.

Or, one can hold out for something simpler and cheaper, like an production-line version of this. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for the squeamish), there are no organic food by-products with a Roomba-like equivalent of a lawnmower.
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Old 07-24-2006, 03:57 PM
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I've seen ammo dumps with underground bunkers where the grass was kept in check by small herds of goats. It seemed to work well for everyone involved.
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Old 07-24-2006, 04:07 PM
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As someone who not only doesn't mow his back lawn enough but also has about six rabbits living in his yard (mainly because they like to hunker down and hide in the grass), I can say that they make little to no effect in the lawn. What they *do* do is eat the weeds. They bounce around, ignoring the bluegrass and searching for some native broadleaf vegetation to go to town on.

I guess they might eat the turfgrass in a pinch but I'm not sure if they're well suited to it.
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Old 07-24-2006, 04:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shagnasty
Make sure someone in the family knows how to spin and knit.
Or if you don't have someone in the family who spins and knits, I'll be happy to take the wool off your hands.

You know...if you decide to go with the sheep.
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Old 07-24-2006, 04:24 PM
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If you do decide to keep rabbits, you could easily control the population by releasing a strain of myxomatosis out in the wilds of your back yard. Tada! Hell, if it was good enough for an entire continent, it's good enough for you!
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Old 07-24-2006, 07:30 PM
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What about llamas?
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Old 07-24-2006, 09:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Scrivener
What if you adapted a large (say, 8' x 8'), low-slung wire rabbit cage on wheels (complete with floor, so they can't escape) with the following:

1) photovoltaic panel array on the gently-sloped roof
2) motion detector [etc]
Wait, this is your solution to making lawn care easier than throwing Scott's on it and mowing it?
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Old 07-24-2006, 09:15 PM
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As someone who's kept un-penned rabbits in his back yard for about 15 years, I can tell you they aren't much help in the lawn mowing department. However, in the keeping weeds down and completely devastating any and all rosebushes, they're the aces. They do have one other redeeming quality (besides being as cute as the dickens) - Fertilizer. I never fertilized my back yard, but it was incredibly lush and green year after year. I fertilized the front 4 or 5 times a season, and never got anything close to the results of a handful of rabbits and some alfalfa pellets.

As far as the burrowing goes, I never really had a problem with it. The rabbits dug plenty of them, but all underneath the deck or toolshed (where they spent most of the day).

I also never had a problem with hawks or coyotes, but there was one time when there was a fresh litter of bunnies just old enough to start exploring the yard, that a neighborhood tomcat decided he wanted fresh baby bunny for dinner. The buck, good old Mopsy, chased him around the yard, kicked him in the face and peed on him before the cat managed to escape up a tree and over the fence. My wife and I laughed so hard we almost peed ourselves.

Our biggest problem was population control. They will have a litter of 7 or 8 every six weeks! We had close to 40 rabbits at one time. None of our friends wanted any and I'd already "donated" quite a few to the local state park. Then we discovered that pretty much any vet can spay or neuter a rabbit for the same cost as a dog or cat. We stabilized the colony at three, and it worked out pretty well.
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Old 07-24-2006, 10:10 PM
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We use the sheep in portable fencing to graze the lawns, but they won't replace a lawnmower...too fussy. They refuse to eat thistles and nettles and many other grasses so without occasional mowing you'd have a patchy thistle grove in front of your house by mid-June. They do, however, make it possible for me to maintain nearly 3 acres of manicured lawn without spending all my time behind a mower, and they poop little raisins which immediately fall through the grass to the ground beneath. Now, if I were abandon my mono-culture and get a few goats to graze after them I might have even less mowing to do. Goats love thistles and nettles. The answer may lie in an intensive rotation schedule by two or more grazing species who don't share sensitivity to the same parasites.

And I spin and knit, so they have other advantages as well.
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Old 07-24-2006, 10:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Caffeine Cat
here is solution, though. Goats. Properly fenced goat is natural born lawnmower.
*IF* you have the goats properly fenced in an area containing only grass, they will do a reasonably good job of converting grass to little brown pellets.

On the other hand, since goats naturally prefer to browse (as Long Time First Time already mentioned), your trees, bushes, flowers, and other non-grass vegetation will suffer greatly. Our goats ate the bark off of a large apple tree, killed several small trees, ate a lilac bush to the ground, and generally terrorized all of the large plants. They only went for grass when there was nothing else available.
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Old 07-24-2006, 10:44 PM
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How would sheep and rabbits work then? And you could make a nice game pie out at the end too.
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Old 07-24-2006, 11:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Slithy Tove
I used Guinea Pigs in a cage with no floor. So long as I moved it regularly, they trimmed the grass evenly.

The drawback was all the little turds, though.
This can be done with chickens as well. Google 'chicken tractor' -- but you've got to move it everyday, and there is the fertilizer.

-rainy
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Old 07-25-2006, 02:02 AM
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On the other hand, since goats naturally prefer to browse (as Long Time First Time already mentioned), your trees, bushes, flowers, and other non-grass vegetation will suffer greatly. Our goats ate the bark off of a large apple tree, killed several small trees, ate a lilac bush to the ground, and generally terrorized all of the large plants. They only went for grass when there was nothing else available.
James Herriot the famous English vet/author told about the time he was called to a retching goat. He put his finger way back in the mouth of the goat, and found an elastic band. He pulled out the farmer's longjohns, which had caught on the tongue of the goat. "That's where they went!", cried the wife.
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Old 07-25-2006, 02:24 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rainy
This can be done with chickens as well. Google 'chicken tractor' -- but you've got to move it everyday, and there is the fertilizer.
In my experience with backyard chickens they don't eat the grass as evenly as, say, guinea pigs. They seem to be better at scratching up the ground and eating all the greenery, leaving bare dirt behind (perfect for planting).
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Old 07-25-2006, 08:01 AM
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Welcome to the boards, ellere!
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Old 07-25-2006, 08:02 AM
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The answer to the question you seek goes beyond you. Our limitation is suburbia. What got me thinking the exact thing you are thinking is reading a book called Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In the book he interviews a man who has figured out how to run a farm without all the chemicals. He calls it grass farming. No animals on his farm are in static pens. He has a field, it has grass. Once the grass is a certain height, he moves the mobile chicken pen over it, few days later, he moves the cows over it. Then the cycle starts over. Chickens rough up the ground, eat the bugs and such and process the leftover cow poop back into the ground, they poop, fertilize the grass some more, the cows come in, eat all the grass, viola! Beef.

As far as suburbanly acceptable grazers, the guinea pigs appear to be your best bet, the question is, would they do an entire area effectively, or would you spend more time/energy, moving their mobile pen?

City folk are so squicked out by animal poo I can't fathom them seeing anything other than a standard dog or cat as glorified poo factories. I personally would love a goat, heck, I'm considering renting one. Goat poo has to be the tidiest poo ever. I'm not sure if they have come out with any mini sheep, but I would bet you would have hell to pay with the neighbors.

BTW, never count on a rooster to wake you up, they crow all hours of the day and night, don't believe everything Bugs Bunny told you.

Also, one of the BEST alarm systems you could ever have is a herd of geese. It takes a string about 6 inches of the ground to keep them in and they HATE intruders.

Excuse me while I wander off to the woods with my goats and geese. So I can live how I WANT to live.
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Old 07-25-2006, 09:20 AM
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What about llamas?
Fishing for a link?
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Old 07-25-2006, 12:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Scrivener
What if you adapted a large (say, 8' x 8'), low-slung wire rabbit cage on wheels (complete with floor, so they can't escape) with the following:

1) photovoltaic panel array on the gently-sloped roof
2) motion detector
3) computer video camera
4) bare-bones CPU in weatherproof housing with large battery backup, loaded with pattern-recognition software and a program for timed, gradual motion at, say, three-hour intervals during the day)
5) electric motor to power them wheels (what, you were expecting hamsters?)
6) water trough, receiving any rain run-off from the roof, via a really cute little PVC gutter system

The idea being, during daylight hours, the cage moves itself over another eight feet (or whatever the size of the cage is) every two or three hours or so, provided that the rabbits are moving about anyway and that the grass has indeed been nibbled down (hence the camera and pattern-recognition software). No burrowing, no over-grazing, no predation, and easy population control.

Or, one can hold out for something simpler and cheaper, like an production-line version of this. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for the squeamish), there are no organic food by-products with a Roomba-like equivalent of a lawnmower.
The Scrivener, have you been reading Jean de Florette?

Just don't start digging a well on your property.
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Old 07-25-2006, 03:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Auntbeast
Also, one of the BEST alarm systems you could ever have is a herd of geese. It takes a string about 6 inches of the ground to keep them in
Hijack alert - Since we've a goose person to ask - Hijack alert.

I've been trying to find a way to keep the grass down in a grove(?) of blueberry bushes where the limbs droop so under the weight of the berries that mowing becomes nearly impossible. I once saw on television a Hawaiian coffee farm that kept geese in the grove(?) to eat the grass down. I surmissed that the geese disliked the coffee fruits and left them alone. I fear that geese might find blueberries tasty and eat them instead of the grass. Thoughts?

-rainy
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Old 07-25-2006, 05:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rhubarb
I also never had a problem with hawks or coyotes, but there was one time when there was a fresh litter of bunnies just old enough to start exploring the yard, that a neighborhood tomcat decided he wanted fresh baby bunny for dinner. The buck, good old Mopsy, chased him around the yard, kicked him in the face and peed on him before the cat managed to escape up a tree and over the fence. My wife and I laughed so hard we almost peed ourselves.
This is absolutely brilliant.

Now I really want one of those German giant rabbits as yard animal, to keep the stupid wandering neighborhood cats out of the yard.

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Old 07-25-2006, 05:36 PM
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You guys are posting some weird links... and re. reading Jean de Florette, no, but I saw the movie after it came out. I'm afraid it doesn't necessarily pay to be too enterprising and inventive no matter where you may live.

And to hijack a hijack, my WAG is that rainy's geese will be only too happy to eat the blueberries... leaving behind "gooseberries" in return!
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Old 07-25-2006, 06:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Scrivener
What if you adapted a large (say, 8' x 8'), low-slung wire rabbit cage on wheels (complete with floor, so they can't escape) with the following:

1) photovoltaic panel array on the gently-sloped roof
2) motion detector
3) computer video camera
4) bare-bones CPU in weatherproof housing with large battery backup, loaded with pattern-recognition software and a program for timed, gradual motion at, say, three-hour intervals during the day)
5) electric motor to power them wheels (what, you were expecting hamsters?)
6) water trough, receiving any rain run-off from the roof, via a really cute little PVC gutter system

The idea being, during daylight hours, the cage moves itself over another eight feet (or whatever the size of the cage is) every two or three hours or so, provided that the rabbits are moving about anyway and that the grass has indeed been nibbled down (hence the camera and pattern-recognition software). No burrowing, no over-grazing, no predation, and easy population control.
I have run this proposal across my financial people and they have advised me that it would be more cost effective to employ a gardener for the next 37 years.

You now owe me $23,419 in consultancy fees.
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Old 07-25-2006, 06:37 PM
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Be sure Hal Briston doesn't get near the lawn if you do decide on sheep...



We're not even close to done with making fun of Hal, right?
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Old 07-26-2006, 06:54 AM
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Given that sheep are herd animals, would it be humane to keep just one all by itself in your backyard? Would it be frightened or lonely without companionship, or would it be perfectly happy to graze alone?
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Old 07-26-2006, 12:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chez Guevara
I have run this proposal across my financial people and they have advised me that it would be more cost effective to employ a gardener for the next 37 years.

You now owe me $23,419 in consultancy fees.

ha! Thanks for the laugh.

Re: goats

To hell with the grass, they might be worth it just for their entertainment value. When I was a kid, our neighbors had goats. They are quite brilliant problem solvers. I once saw them cooperating in the following fashion: One goat (goat A) was laying on the ground near a fence while another (goat B) stood on A's back with its (goat B's) front feet on the top wire of a cattle fence to reach the tasty tree-leaves above them. Also, they have amusing little nose-lips and will lick you and try to eat your hair. Yes, they will desecrate your foliage, but isn't it worth it?
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Old 07-26-2006, 12:15 PM
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Artificial lawns have come a very long way in recent years. This isn't your father's astroturf.

http://www.waterlessgrass.com/
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Old 07-26-2006, 01:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ellere
In my experience with backyard chickens they don't eat the grass as evenly as, say, guinea pigs. They seem to be better at scratching up the ground and eating all the greenery, leaving bare dirt behind (perfect for planting).
Oh, yeah. A dozen chickens can turn 150 square feet of grass into bare dirt in under a week.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Auntbeast
BTW, never count on a rooster to wake you up, they crow all hours of the day and night, don't believe everything Bugs Bunny told you.
You mean I *wasn't* supposed to turn left at Albaquoikey? We pen up the chickens (and rooster) at night. He doesn't make noise until we let him out in the morning. Not much noise, anyway.

Quote:
Originally Posted by psychonaut
Given that sheep are herd animals, would it be humane to keep just one all by itself in your backyard?
We've always kept our hooved mammals in groups of two or more. Sheep and goats interact and play with each other, and as they get older, they just keep each other company. They're definitely herd animals. Get two, not one.
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