Best Farm Animals

Even in today’s technology-driven, urban-oriented world, there are still plenty of people who want to have a little land and grow their own food. Once you master gardening, the next step is often farm animals. After all, you have the garden surplus and manure is good stuff for building soil. If you don’t have any experience, though, it can be tough to decide which farm animals to choose. It’s quite doable to produce a fair amount of protein on very little land if you think ahead and plan well. Here are some considerations in choosing the best farm animals.

Delaware chicks.

Poultry and Rabbits
For the small landowner looking for farm animals, poultry nearly always top the list. Chickens, ducks and geese have a long and productive partnership history with humans for good reason. Guinea hens are another poultry option, as are turkeys. Rabbits are often lumped into this group as well. Of all of these, the chicken leads the flock for a number of reasons. They are readily available, whether you want egg-layers, meat or dual purpose birds. They will eat pretty much anything, which means you can feed them quite inexpensively. Chickens don’t take much space. If you
deep bed them, they will make compost for you. Ducks and geese produce fewer eggs, really need a pool or pond and aren’t very good at making compost. While they will eat grain, they are not omnivorous like chickens. Geese are actually grazers and need a daily supply of fresh green stuff. Guinea hens are more like chickens in terms of feeding and compost production. They produce fewer eggs, though, and are extremely noisy. Guineas are harder to confine because they fly well; free-range them and they’ll destroy your plantings, irritate the neighbors and roost on your roof at night. Turkeys combine the good and bad qualities of chickens, geese and guineas. They will lay some eggs in the spring, they eat a wider range of feeds than geese, the heritage breeds fly and they can be quite noisy. They also need more room than chickens. Rabbits are much quieter, which is a consideration if you have close neighbors. Many people find it harder to butcher rabbits and their diets are more limited, so you may need to buy feed for best health. It’s easy to collect their manure, though – just put something like wood shavings under the cages and shovel it up periodically.

Baby pigs are just plain cute.

Small Livestock
Sheep, goats and pigs fit into this category. A word of warning – once you move into small livestock, fences become an issue of prime importance. It’s pretty easy to build a chicken coop; a fence to keep pigs confined is another matter. While you can milk sheep, production is not all that high and sheep’s milk has a distinct taste. Most people who do milk sheep want the milk for cheese-making. You can get out of shearing by choosing hair breeds like the Katahdin, Dorper or Romanov. However, these are meat breeds. Sheep are also particularly prone to predation by coyotes, wolves, cougars and feral dogs. If you have limited room and want a meat/milk animal, goats are a good choice. Goats are also better for brush control and can rustle a lot of their own food (they are great at eliminating poison oak, for example). A good milking goat can produce about a gallon of milk a day and their lactation period is around 10 months (sheep are only good for about five months). Goats are escape artists – smart, curious and sociable, they like to visit the neighbors and can find any weakness in your fencing. They also like to climb on things – like your car, the picnic table in the back yard or your front porch. Like chickens, pigs will eat literally anything except citrus peels. They don’t have to have a wallow, which is one of the things that tends to make neighbors irritable because it smells like pig. They do need to have sun protection and welcome a daily bath with the hose, however. Most pigs will pick one spot in the pen to deposit their manure; clean it regularly and pigs don’t really have much of an odor. All of these animals are more difficult and time-consuming to butcher than poultry.

The herd waiting for dinner.

Large Livestock
The leader of the pack here is the milk cow. In addition to milk, butter, cream and cheese, she will produce a calf you can raise for beef. You need some permanent pasture (practice rotational grazing and it doesn’t take all that much, maybe two to five acres). You can also just buy hay, but the cost of your milk goes up considerably. Beef cows give you beef, period. You’ll need access to a bull or the ability to artificially inseminate either milk or beef cows. Another option is to buy a weaned steer or heifer and raise it for meat.
Decisions, Decisions
If I were starting from scratch with a few acres of land and had no farm/ranch experience, I would take it in steps. First, spend enough time building gardening skills to get to the point where you always have surplus food. For most people, this is a three- to five-year process. Build or repair your fences; the “horse high, bull strong and hog tight” motto should be your mantra for fences. Build or repair sheds, barns and smaller buildings like chicken coops or pig houses. Next step, chickens. Give yourself at least two years of managing the flock to gain some experience. Many people stop right there. If you can handle more, your next step would be either a milk goat or milk cow. These animals take more time, care and knowledge. I don’t recommend you add pigs until you have three to five years of milking under your belt. After that, the sky’s the limit – you might even branch out into exotics like emus and buffalo…

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Disaster Preparation – A Good Plan

What with one thing and another (fires, floods and blizzards), disaster preparation has been on my mind lately. There’s nothing like being
snowbound with no power, phone or DSL to help heighten your awareness of disaster preparation. When you live “out” you are much more likely to experience this sort of thing. Once the disaster actually occurs – especially if it’s weather-related and travel is a problem – you and your neighbors may only have each other. In the summer, wildfires are the big risk around here. By the first week in May this year, we had already had 10 small wildfires in the county. No matter what the disaster, the basics never change. Over the course of years, we have developed some daily habits that make disaster preparation and survival much easier.

This is about as much of a flood as we’re likely to deal with: one reason I live on high ground. Down in the valley, it’s another story.

Stocking Up
I’ve commented (probably ad nauseum in some readers’ minds) about keeping the pantry full. While we try to limit our trips to town, I do check before I go down to make sure I’m not out of something important. In addition to food, this includes such disaster mainstays as batteries, matches and toilet paper. And don’t say, “But I live in town.” Municipal water systems run on electricity; within 24 hours of our latest storm, every store in the big town had empty shelves where batteries and bottled water used to be. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only excuse for bottled water – it’s useful for disaster preparation. A lot of those stores were also low on foodstuffs, assuming they were even open. The power outage took most of them out and the roof of one caved in after the last storm.
Fueling Up
The only source of gas in our town is the local store; it’s a 250-gallon tank and it has electric pumps. There is no source of diesel, which we need to run the backhoe and, in a pinch, fuel the pickup. We keep at least one 50-gallon barrel of each around. When the budget allows, we add a second barrel, especially of gas. Gas left to sit for extended periods deteriorates and is only good for starting fires (which is why I find those apocalypse novels about salvaging gas a couple of years later to run vehicles so amusing). Hubby makes it a point to add a preservative to the gas barrel and to keep some on the shelf so he doesn’t forget when we refill it. When we do go to town, we always fuel up. Oldest granddaughter learned with this storm why Nana always preaches at her to keep the gas tank full. She got stuck in a snowbank and had to spend the night in her car. But gas is also vital if you have to evacuate, as many people in the Oroville dam Paradise fire evacuations found out the hard way.
As with fuel, regular maintenance assures that tools, equipment and vehicles are ready when you need them. You don’t want to be applying the grease gun in the middle of a howling blizzard (and in the dark) so you can go plow a foot-and-a-half of snow off the roads. Hubby is a bit of a fanatic on the subject of keeping good tires on the vehicles. If you have adequate tread and know how to drive in snow, you can get plenty of places without four-wheel drive.
Daily Habits
Keep an eye on those important things in your life. For example, we call when we need propane, as the fancy electronic sensing equipment the company tried to use wouldn’t work up here in the hills. So I check the tank at least once a week and call when it gets close to 40 percent. We get our drinking water from a spring – when we get down to one gallon, it’s time to make a water run. While I’m not a fan of excess clothes, we both have enough undies that I could go at least two weeks without doing laundry. Since I do laundry once a week come you-know-what or high water, we’re good. I also check the big flashlight periodically to make sure it’s in working order (it hangs right by the door so it’s handy) and we have flashlights in the vehicles and on key-chains.
Most of our disaster preparation centers around our knowledge that weather is the most likely cause of a disaster in our area. Our earthquake risk is relatively low and we’ve never had a tornado, but fires, floods and blizzards are on the high end of the scale. It’s a standing joke at the clinic where I work that if anyone wants to know the weather for the next few days they should ask me. We have also learned the hard way that the “experts” typically underestimate the amount of rain or snow we are likely to get. Not entirely their fault, as it’s hard to predict for individual areas in a region, but they underestimated the amount of snow this last time by a factor of 16 to one. I check the weather radar at least twice a day and when we’re outside, we watch the sky.
Make A Plan
There’s an old saying that planning enhances performance; that’s certainly true of disaster preparation. However, there’s a corollary – you can’t plan for everything. At my clinic, we planned for a closure if the snow was heavy enough, but those plans were based on having telephones and/or email to communicate. Snow took out power, DSL and phone lanes, so communication was impossible. When the disaster actually occurs, you have to be ready to modify your plans or jettison them entirely if they hamper your chances for survival. My sister had to evacuate during the Oroville dam crisis. Since she had kept her vehicle fully fueled, packed with essentials and ready to go, she could avoid main roads and didn’t need to worry about gassing up. Even so, it took her three hours to go 30 miles. She wound up staying at a different site than her target refuge; traffic was too heavy. Plan, yes, but stay alert and be flexible.

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Other Voices

I’m doing something a little different with this week’s post, with a focus on farmers. If there’s a theme to this blog, it’s probably a combination of think for yourself, be as independent as you can and don’t believe everything (more like don’t believe anything) the “experts” tell you. I’ve ranted about
growing your own food, buying local, being frugal and so on for nine years now. This time, I want to bring some other voices to the narrative. There’s good news and bad.
In The Company Store, Chris Martenson talks about how farmers are in much the same situation as the laborers in Tennessee Ernie Ford’s rendition of Sixteen Tons. Martenson is a scientist (his PhD is in neurotoxicology), an economic researcher and futurist who specializes in energy and resource depletion. He puts his money where his mouth is: from VP of an international Fortune 300 company to a modest homestead in the Northeast where he grows a garden, homeschools his kids and works hard on building community and relationships. The Company Store explains much of what is wrong with farming in the US today.
The second link is to Civil Eats, for an article entitled Is the Second Farm Crisis Upon Us? It adds some additional data and fleshes out more of what Martenson is talking about.
The third link is a National Geographic article, Why We Need Small Farms (which, by the way, produce 70 percent of the food in the world).
Last but certainly not least are links to the website of Singing Frogs Farm and Throwback at Trapper Creek. Elizabeth and Paul Kaiser started Singing Frogs Farm in 2007. They are a great model of how it can be done. Nita Wilton is a third-generation farmer who went from conventional to grass-based farming. She’s too far away to be an actual mentor, but I’ve learned a lot from her. She’s another great example of how you can make it work.
I hope that you will check out these articles/blogs and that they will spur your thoughts and your actions to help make things better for us all.

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