Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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12/22/2014

rex

Raising rabbits on our homestead has been such a joy for me, personally. It is a livestock that can be inexpensively taken care of, and is easily handled, processed and cooked. Not to mention, rabbit meat is making quite the comeback in modern cuisine in the United States and Europe. Rabbit is, in fact, one of the most common meals that our ancestors ate, and thousands of groups of people all across the world still thrive off of rabbit meat as their main source of protein.

I'll be honest, though -- raising rabbits wasn't always a joy for me. I wasn't really keen on the idea of raising rabbits when my husband first mentioned it. To think that I would have these tiny little bunnies one day, and dinner in the freezer the next, didn't quite appeal to me as a woman who loved cuddly things. But the more my husband talked about it, the more I became intrigued.

Here's Why:

• Rabbits are high in protein and in most cases, can replace chicken in your diet. They are completely all white meat, with little to no dark meat. Many times, you can replace chicken with rabbit in almost every chicken recipe.
• Rabbits are 90% more effective to process. It takes 5 to 10 minutes to process a rabbit, where it can take 30 or more minutes to process a chicken -- depending on your methods.
• Rabbits are more cost efficient than chicken and other "livestock". They are much easier to raise and very independent. When put on pasture, there is little cost in feed. However, if you live on a property without pasture available, that's ok too - feed cost is still quite low for the production that you'll need. Their diet primarily consists of hay (orchard grass and timothy hay) and feed (pellets or organic mixes). As well as other all natural treats (carrots, greens).
• Rabbits aren't considered "livestock" in most cases. This means they are a great option if you live in a subdivision or have a small backyard or an apartment with outdoor space. We live on a half acre (currently looking for more acreage) and know others that live on less than a 1/4 acre and raise their own rabbits for meat.
• One to two does (female) can produce offspring that can bring in up to 300+lbs of meat per year, depending on the breed and care they receive.
• Most doe's are amazing mothers and raise their own kits (babies) -- no incubator or brooder necessary. Rabbits are also very easy to breed, only taking 30 minutes per breed.
• Rabbits do not need an abundance of land to roam on. They are happy in "play areas" and in their cages when interacted with regularly. Most of your breeding rabbits will become like pets.

These were just a few reasons the thought of raising meat rabbits lured me in.

We first began our meat stock with Flemish Giant rabbits. They are what we refer to as the "gentle giants" in the rabbit world. In order to get a good meat offspring, the Flemish does needed to be bred with another large, but less boney, breed. We found that breeding our Flemish does to a slightly smaller New Zealand or Standard Rex buck really made for a fine meat rabbit. The key is always to make sure your buck, no matter what the breed, is smaller than your doe. This allows the doe to have a better pregnancy and less chance of her babies being too big for her to deliver. With Flemish rabbits, this also allows your doe to have larger litters.

If you are in a small apartment setting, I cannot suggest Flemish Giants for you. I'd consider something such as the Standard Rex or New Zealands. Flemish Giants can weigh well over 15-20lbs when full grown, and they need a lot of cage space in which to roam, especially mama's. 

After choosing your meat stock breed, you'll be able to tell after the first two litters how quickly you'll be able to harvest your rabbit meat (which is also dependent upon which does you match to bucks). Most of our litters are processed around 14-16 weeks, as we like a little more meat on them. But some breeds can be harvested by 12 weeks. We have harvested rabbits as old as 6 months old, and they are still just as good and tender as the younger harvests.

babies 2

Now that rabbit is one of our main sources of food on our homestead, we've really gotten efficiency down to a science. With a mixture of being on pasture seasonally and part-time, feeding timothy hay and non-gmo feed, our eight adult rabbits are only costing us about $25-$40 a month, depending on the weather, season, and how many grow outs we have in one particular month. We currently have a litter of nine in the nesting box, which are just now starting to eat pellets and hay. You will find that the more you offer wholesome foods and snacks to your rabbits -- such as pasture and timothy hay, and treats such as carrots and greens -- the less expensive your feed bill will become.

Our homestead rabbits aren't just here for our dinner table, however. In an effort to make everything we raise on our homestead have a purpose, we also raise our standard Rex rabbits with pedigree's and some offer show quality stock. The selling of kits from certain pedigreed litter's, in the long run, helps offset the cost of raising our meat rabbits. We are able to do this effectively by keeping one to two Flemish Giant does for meat breeding's, and crossing them with our Rex bucks for meat kits. The kits from the pedigreed straight Rex breeding's that are not of good color and show quality go into our freezer as well. This means that we are not "losing" anything at any point, as our pedigreed Standard Rex rabbits are also a great meat rabbit, even when bred straight out with Rex as sire and dam.

All of our animals, no matter what their job is here, are loved and cared for. Raising meat rabbits has been an amazing adventure, not only for my husband and I, but for our son as well. It has been an extremely easy outlet for us to show him how to properly care for an animal, since they are easy for him to tend to. From the beginning of their lives to the end, they are cared for deeply and earnestly by all of us. It helps us teach our son how to be more self sufficient at a young age, and it creates a new found respect for the animals that we raise as our main source of sustenance. 

Meat rabbits might not be for everyone, but they are certainly something to consider on your homestead. Whether you live on a 1/4 acre or 100 acres, homestead rabbits will never disappoint!

Amy Fewell is a work-at-home mom, homesteader, blogger and writer. Her and her family live on a mini-homestead in Virginia where they raise Icelandic Chickens, standard Rex rabbits, ducks, and more!  For more information about their homestead, visit them online at The Fewell Homestead.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

 



12/19/2014

 

The troops were all dead.  It was a killing field, or maybe the detonation of a small nuclear device, befitting the size of a bee, smuggled in on the back of some non-descript illegal; maybe a yellow jacket, or a hive beetle perhaps? The top bars were covered with dead and not a single one stirred when their home was taken away by wheelbarrow.

A cool breeze sifted through the lifeless tan and bronze bodies and found none worthy of flight. The weak sun, its honey colored glow serving only to highlight the disaster, failed in its effort to muster even one to attention. 

It had once been a thriving city, this emerald in the desert. Its Queen was held in the highest esteem and the little city was known far and wide for its royal jelly. So cheerful and productive were its citizens that the city burst with growth, ever expanding until its walls hummed with the buzz of good cheer. Guards were stationed at the front gate, ever alert and attentive, while the citizens came and went on their busy errands. Some brought nectar to honor the Queen while others brought stores of pollen for her workers.  The Guardian thrilled at the sight of them approaching the gate, laden with their weighty loads of plunder and landing heavily on the deck before going inside to present their gifts to the Queen.

As the supplies came in, waves of other bees would leave for the fields to gather from crocus, daffodils and hyacinth. This golden pollen and sweet nectar would not be enough to feed the masses, but the season was early and it was only the first fruits of the season. A cry had gone out from the Queens attendants that food supplies were running low and every available worker was needed to bring in the fuel that would feed and heat the castle.

Alas, their efforts failed.

On the eve of a bitter, frosty night, with temperatures hovering near 8 degrees, the heat had gone out in the castle. All hands gathered around the Queen to protect her and keep her warm. They worked their wings like they did every night, striving to maintain 90 degrees in the castle, but one by one, they fell away. The food supplies were exhausted and the workers, already weakened from lack of nourishment, could not keep the heat on throughout the night. As they perished, the remaining few worked harder than ever to maintain warmth in the castle, causing them also to fall aside with exhaustion.

Prowling, baying and ever present, the Queens greatest enemy crept through the unguarded door. First to the far reaches of the castle, then down the halls and through the doors to the inner chambers where it’s cold, frozen fingers immobilized the guards and reached the young brood snuggled in their beds. Quietly it stilled them before proceeding to snuff out the workers and subdue the Queen herself. The castle fell silent.   

This is how the Guardian found them the next morning. Searching throughout the castle, not even a single bee was moving. It appeared all was lost and the thriving little kingdom would perish.

Resting on a stump, reflecting on his loss, the Gaurdian watched the workers in a nearby lesser realm working the same fields of spring color the now perished kingdom had once worked. They would have known workers from the lost kingdom and he was sure that word had already spread throughout the land. It was then the Guardian felt the pangs of loss again.  He looked back toward the empty gates of the now silent hive. No longer were heavily laden flights landing like newborn birds learning their craft. It seemed impossible, that just hours before, this flourishing little empire had been silenced.  The Guardian mourned the loss of a dear friend, a friend closer to his heart than he had known.

The world could never know what he had celebrated with these miniature friends, for few can know the intimacy shared between man and beast, however small, except those that occasionally choose to leave this world and become part of theirs.  He had walked the halls of their castle, known the inner sanctum and shared its secrets like no other.  The weight of it all brought not just tears to his eyes, but the burden of knowing he had broken the bond of trust shared with the keepers of this little fortress.  If only he had brought food to carry them through the spring until natures nectar flow filled the hive with nourishment.

The Guardian remained there on the stump, pondering his mistake and longing for another chance.  The incessant buzz of workers coming and going on their appointed rounds in the nearby realm were digging at his reminiscence of the times he had shared in the now silent deep before him.  One of those workers, struggling under its load came to rest upon his knee.  It paused long enough to rest its wings and he longed to carry it to the deck of its hive and spare it the effort to finish its trip.  Instead he simply watched while the bee looked up and appraised him with suspicion, before adjusting its wings to absorb the warmth of the sun.  Then, after a couple short buzzes, lifted off and lumbered to the landing deck of its own castle, the bright yellow pollen gleaming on its legs all the way.

As that single bee moved on with its life, the Guardian knew he must do the same and with one last glance at the still and lifeless bodies lying atop the frames of the bottom deep, he turned to go. The sun was gaining strength now and he felt its warmth reaching through his jacket as he passed the swelling buds on the peach tree. Then, upon approaching the upper half of the castle he had brought back to the house in his wheelbarrow, he could not believe his eyes. Surely he was mistaken, but the top of the hive, all across the top bars, was moving, slowly, but moving none the less.

Quickly he returned to the bee yard with this piece of the hive and restored the castle. He found blankets in which to wrap their stronghold in an effort to keep out the wind and restore warmth. He brought feed in the form of warm sugar water and soon the workers drank deeply. A quart and a half in one day! Now the fight was on. Were their enough workers remaining to heat the castle? Would sugar water be enough? Was all the brood dead? Was the Queen still a live? Long live the Queen!

Surely honey would be better than sugar water and the Guardian knew just where to find it.  Off he went, but before he could return the weather turned sour, the wind grew strong and drew the cold northern air down across the desert. As the flower blossoms closed, the Guardian made sure the castle was wrapped tight so no drafts were allowed inside.  Were there enough bees remaining alive to fight off the cold?  There was no way to know if their diminished numbers could accomplish the task.

The following day the weather continued to deteriorate and the Guardian dared not open the hive lest he release any heat the bees had managed to sustain. Once again he adjusted the blankets, making sure the little castle was protected from the wind and returned to his own castle to wait out the storm. The storm brought with it dashes of snow and a light rain. The odds were working against the keepers of the deep and he feared for their lives.

But in the morning blue sky had broken free and the wind abated, the Guardian approached the front of the hive where the sun now bestowed its warmth. They were there, busily making their trips to the field and in greater numbers than he had dared to hope.  Still he restrained his hand from opening the hive and allowing in the cold. Hope was alive and he dared not kill it for lack of patience. He busied himself in the garden for much of the day while making frequent trips to the palace of the Queen to watch in amazement at the life now returned to these once lifeless bodies.

Late in the day the sun burst forth in a brilliant display of its strength and beauty. Its golden glow brought life to all who reveled in its warmth to shake off the cold damp chill that had ruled the land. Now was the time. The Guardian rushed to the castle with a frame of pure golden honey in his hands. After removing the roof from the top of the castle he was thrilled and amazed at the activity within. The killing field had returned to life. Though mountains of dead bees lay upon the bottom board in the basement of the castle where the workers had cast them aside, it appeared enough of the once lifeless forms had returned from the dead to make a go of it.

Gently he removed an empty frame and replaced it with a full frame of the honey he had acquired. Now they would have the fuel they needed to run at full strength. A number of the workers and guard bees bombed him and dove at his veil, but it only served to draw a warm smile on the Guardian. Happy to see them alive and busy going about their jobs, he had not used his smoker to subdue their activity as surely they had been through enough.

As the days passed, a procession of even more dead bodies consisting of workers bees and many, many young, killed in their slumber by Jack Frosts icy blue hands were added to the growing graveyard at front of the castle.  But the surviving bees, once brought low by the same winter cold, carried on. They ate the honey, fed the Queen and she produced more young. The workers brought in the abundance from the field. Soon the glory of the old kingdom returned and with it, the glow of satisfaction in simple things, return to the Guardian.


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12/18/2014

Ecco

Homesteading with dogs makes good sense as their enhanced senses are very useful around a remote homestead. Our breed of choice is the German Shepherd Dog but which ever breed or mutt you happen to choose to live with on your homestead is strictly up to the individual and the type of homestead involved. All three of our GSDs are rescue dogs; we prefer to adopt from a rescue as opposed to raising a dog as a puppy. Those who have raised a dog from around 8 weeks old to adulthood know how demanding that can be and how those milk teeth like to find something to chew on frequently. That something may be your favorite boot/shoe or as large as your sofa. This is an appropriate time to write about rescuing a canine companion because some who buy puppies for the holidays will in about 4 to 5 months be turning them in to a rescue or shelter because they find they can’t deal with them. Puppies like to chew and they do not come with family skills so the new owner will have to do all the training. It takes a tremendous amount of patience and skill to raise a puppy.

Since I’m not familiar with other types of homesteads each person will have to determine their own needs and choice of a fur friend. Our homestead is situated in the mountains at a high elevation and surrounded with thick woods. Our goal was to incorporate into our family our four legged fur friends that will fit our lifestyle needs since we frequently see bears, coyote, mountain lion, bobcats, and sometimes wolves. We don’t particularly need our fur family to protect us although I’m sure they could. We just want to know when something is around so we can exercise reasonable caution. This is where our GSDs work well because of their high intelligence, keen smell, hearing and eyesight. Humans generally communicate by hearing, seeing and lastly smelling. Dogs mostly communicate by smelling, seeing and lastly by hearing. When dogs are born they are born blind and deaf. They manage for the first three weeks with their sense of smell and the other senses then develop. We also wanted a breed with traits where we could also meet their needs.

Dogs have a sense of smell - depending on the dog which is 1,000 to 10,000 times more acute than their human counterpart. Dogs can break the smell down into parts and can tell which direction it is coming from. Coupled with a dog’s acute hearing which is about 4 times the distance that humans can hear they can let us know if there is anything around that we should be aware of. Our dogs have peaked ears and when they hear something outside one or both ears will turn in the direction of the sound. Dogs also have keen sight but lack the ability to see things clearly close up or at a distance. With those two exceptions the remainder of their sight is excellent. Dogs also have the ability to sense fear and can quickly detect the emotions of humans.

Having now covered the keen senses of dogs it should be apparent why having them indoors with us on our mountain homestead is practical. They are excellent family members who keep us entertained and give us support, comfort and companionship. Beyond being family members who love and constantly display loyalty their senses help us to relax more by knowing they will alert us if anything comes around. When we see a nose go in the air or ears suddenly perk up we know there is something that may need our attention. They are also good judges of human character. We have consistently found when they remain aloof with people or display clear indications that they do not like that person that we should be equally cautious of that person.

Our preference is the German Shepherd Dog breed because of their intelligence, loyalty and family adaptability. They can solve problems, and are careful and calculating in evaluating situations. They rarely back down when confronted which is why we keep ours on leash because wild predators are also not likely to back down. That combination can create a dangerous situation and we want to keep our fur friends safe. We have seen how a pack of coyotes will try to lure a domestic dog off by taunting it and then running from it while leading it into ambush. I once took one of our dogs out after dark on a leash before we put in a 6’ high fence around our back yard and suddenly he stopped dead still and gave a low growl. A few minutes later I went back out with a flood light and found 8’ from where we stopped the fresh tracks in the snow of a very large mountain lion. That sudden alert by our GSD and his quick judgment saved us from a nasty situation.

Another time I was walking one of our dogs down the driveway on leash and less than 20 feet away a mother black bear with two 8- to 10-pound cubs came up out of the ditch suddenly. I recognized the mother bear and was not alarmed as I knew she meant us no harm. She had used our home in the past to raise prior cubs and train them. Our GSD did not sense any fear in me and sat next to me on command without any problem. We stayed in place while she trained her cubs on how close they could venture to us for about 15 minutes. When her lesson was over we all moved on safely. Had I shown any fear that could have turned into a nasty situation because our dog would have immediately sensed it and reacted to the danger.

Our dogs play a vital role in our lives as valued family members but they also have their work in alerting us when there is something outside due to their constant vigilance. In summary homesteading with our canine friends makes our family complete and provides us with a level of safety that can’t be duplicated in a home security system. Our security system can think for themselves and evaluate potential situations and alert us when needed. Besides, our family of canines are very well trained plus their size alone can intimidate other animals. I don’t think any homestead is complete without our canine friends to complete it.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their canine family go to McElMurray's Mountain Retreat.


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12/17/2014

cows 

Genetics: Breed for Small, Stocky Cattle with Short Legs

For optimum grass efficiency, you should be breeding for a small-framed animal. Your specific farm environment will naturally sort out your ideal mature animal weight. You will end up culling animals that are too big because they will be poor performers. Over time, a dominant genetic type will emerge, bloodlines that your farm has selected specially for performance in your exact micro-climate and under your management program. However, efficiency always increases as mature weight decreases. If a 1,000-pound cow and a 1,400-pound cow both eat “X” amount of grass in one day, the big cow will use a larger portion of that grass just to keep herself alive. The small cow will be able to fulfill her maintenance energy requirements with less of that grass, so she can put a larger amount of it into milk, body condition and gestation.

Small cattle are capable of weaning a larger percentage of their body weight than large cows for this reason. Commodity cattle producers are often too preoccupied with calf weaning weight to focus on what percentage of cow weight their mama cows are weaning. Of course this is bound to happen in an industry where calves are sold by the pound. However, you can carry more cattle on the same amount of land if they are smaller. Would you rather have one six-weight calf to sell or two four-weights? The small cow strategy pays off!

You’ll also appreciate it during calving season, because you’ll have far fewer incidences of dystocia when breeding to a small bull. This past summer, I bred my Red Angus herd to a frame-size-2 Belted Galloway bull weighing around 1,100 pounds.

Choose the Right Genetics for Grassfed Beef

The cattle you select for and breed must also be of correct conformation and type for grazing, in addition to being small. A slab-sided, late-maturing, tight-gutted, spindly-legged animal has no place in a grassfed operation. This genetic type has been developed for speedy grain-finishing in feedlots. Leave them there! Grain cattle often have pinched, restricted heart girth areas (right behind the front legs) and flat sides that hardly stick out at all.

Choose females with huge round rib cages, which protrude significantly when you look at the animal from front or back. There needs to be room inside them for a lot of grass and a calf. You should look for stocky cattle with short legs and not overly thick bones. The show cattle industry has been selecting for big bones, which is totally counter-intuitive for meat production. A large volume of bone decreases carcass dressing percentage. If it’s sold by live or hanging weight, the buyer gets stuck paying for a bunch of useless bone. Short legs and finer bones are indicators of grass efficiency, because there’s less body weight that will require extra precious grass just to stay alive. Breed the stilts out from under them. Aim for cattle that resemble tanker semi trucks: a huge volume of gut “tank” space to hold grass, short “wheels” to get around on, and a wide, stocky frame.

Management: Breed and Manage for Cattle You Don’t Have to See All the Time

Of course, you can’t see your animals’ legs if you don’t see your animals at all! Beef cattle are not like dairy cows, which require constant labor inputs. You shouldn’t have to be working with them more than once per day at most. In some situations, you can check your herd every few days, or even go months without seeing them (in the case of Western ranches). Choose the management protocols YOU want to implement on your farm, and breed for cattle that fit into them. If an animal makes you step outside your routine daily workload, cull it! For example, you can decide “I don’t want to check my calving females at night.” Then go to bed. In the morning, your herd should be happily grazing and new calves should be sucking. If anything has gone wrong, cull the animal in question. (Of course, provide prompt veterinary care to alleviate suffering and keep the animal(s) alive until you can sell them. But don’t give them a chance to do it again!)

A veterinarian once told me, “The best medicine is trailer-mycin, it cures everything!”

So now you have a bunch of short-legged grass-type cattle. In my next article, I’ll discuss how to hide those tiny cow legs in lush, plentiful grass through proper forage recovery and allocation.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


12/16/2014

Veteran survival instructor, and author of 16 not-self-published books about the outdoors (including the critically-acclaimed adventure novel, The Mackinac Incident ), Len McDougall reveals one of the simplest, yet most valuable, navigation tools that woodsmen have relied on for hundreds of years. 

You can find my books at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.com.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


12/16/2014

 ice skating

I love skating on our pond. It’s one of the many things that make living here awesome. We’ve been corresponding with a lot of readers lately who say “Oh, I just dream of living like you do.” Many seem to work at jobs they’re not overly enamored with. So let me state, just to make you feel better, that I have no plan on how I’m ever going to retire. I’m going to have to keep working until I drop dead in the potato patch. And really, not a bad way to go I think. Better than wasting away in some institution.

That being said, since we moved here 15 years ago, when I was 40, I’ve had a pond to skate on, and I love skating on my pond. I am overjoyed when I skate on my pond. Just going round and round and round and zoning out and smiling like a mad man. It helps that the pond is right under the wind turbine. “I” put that up! I did that! And it powers my home, especially at this time of year when the solar panels do much less of the “heavy lifting.” I can see both of my solar arrays from the pond too. “I put them up! I did that! OK, I did all that with the help of my neighbor Ken. He’s awesome too!

I’m not sure where this love of skating came from but ‘the force is strong in this one.” I spent part of my childhood in a house along the St. Lawrence River, which drains the Great Lakes into the Atlantic Ocean. So I grew up skating on outside ice. There were the rare times when the ice would freeze thick enough to skate on without any snow on top. You could cross country skate. If you wound up and slapped a puck as hard as you could it would take you 10 minutes to catch up to it.

After we moved away from that house we spent many Christmases at my parents’ cottage on a lake and I always shoveled a rink. So when we moved here having my own rink really was a dream come true. When I skate on my rink I do not think about my lack of retirement funds, or just how long it will be before we’re burning the furniture to stay warm. I just think how lucky I am to have this little bit of frozen water beside my cozy little house off the grid that I can skate on ... whenever I want … for as long as I want … in whatever direction I want.

I do think about the monetary value of this rink. What do you figure it costs to build a hockey arena today? Half a million dollars? A million? So the way I figure it, as I skate around, I’m worth a million bucks! Take that evil mutual fund companies that run ads trying to scare me about the terror of retiring without sufficient funds … in the stock market … which always goes up in value … forever … right?

I particularly like skating at dusk. There is nothing like the feeling of zipping around on a pond where I can see our cozy little house all toasty warm-looking, lit by the batteries charged by the sun and the wind, heated with wood that absorbed carbon dioxide as it was growing. It’s simply magical.

Pond skating is a very Canadian (and northern American) thing to do. There is a great song by Tom Cochrane called ‘Big League’ with the line “Sometimes at night I can hear the ice crack, it sounds like thunder and rips through my back…” Our pond cracks and makes horrific sounds when we skate on it. Joyful fright.

ice skating 

In our book, Little House Off The Grid, I talk about our neighbor Ken who has been so instrumental in the evolution of our home to one that runs so smoothly. One night before we had completely moved here I came up during an ice storm to test a generator. It was winter and I was dressed in arctic survival gear, constantly in fear of running the truck off the road and freezing within minutes. Ken stopped in on his way home from work. Despite the freezing ice pellets that were being blown around, Ken was dressed in leather shoes with a leather jacket that was undone showing a cotton shirt and tie underneath. He skated across the frozen lawn and said, “Well at least there’s no black flies!” BEST… LINE… EVER!

When we moved here I had a backhoe come in and dig out the spot where water had sat the previous spring. It was a natural indentation so I thought if I scooped out some soil/sand, we might have a shot at a pond, and therefore a rink.

Then a few years later Ken was over one day with his ATV and offered to clear the rink after a big snow. He couldn’t get much traction so his brother-in-law Cyril stood on the back of the ATV. Still not go. So I got on. There we were, 3 people on a one-person ATV, 27,000 lbs on newly formed ice with a great weight of snow on it as well. I was lucky that I was perched precariously on the very back of the machine so I could jump off the moment it all went crashing through the ice. I was wishing I’d put a rope near the pond so I could pull Ken and Cyril out. And how were we going to fish the ATV out once it plunged to the bottom? Ken, as always, is never fazed by any of this. He gets a kick out of my constant state of panic.

As we were plowing the rink Ken turned to Cyril and said, “Cam made this!” referring to the pond. I would never take credit for the work of nature or some Supreme Being or life force, but I have to say it was the SECOND BEST LINE EVER. “Cam made this!” And that’s why I love Ken like a brother. And why skating on my rink is a joyful, joyful, joyful thing to do.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 


12/15/2014

Cow Milking

The Importance of Testing Milk (Raw and Pasteurized) and Your Animals.

One big benefit of running the private and FDA-certified Bob-White Systems Dairy Lab is that we get to see what works and what doesn't work to keep milk clean. “Clean," for our purposes, means that it passes Vermont's Tier II Raw Milk Standards, which happen to be some of the most stringent in the country, more so than federally regulated pasteurized milk standards. At the lab we perform FDA-certified testing to ensure raw milk producers are compliant with Vermont’s standards. We also perform non-FDA certified tests for diagnostic services. That means we see all kinds of milk, with all kinds of problems, and we help producers troubleshoot many different issues.

Vermont’s Tier II Raw Milk Standards require that raw milk intended for retail sale pass four tests; Total Bacteria Count below 15,000 cfu/mL, Coliform Count below 10 cfu/mL, Somatic Cell Count below 225,000/mL (500,000/mL for goats), and no Antibiotic Residue found. “cfu/mL” stands for Colony-Forming Units per milliliter; bacteria form colonies, and this is the number of colonies per milliliter of milk. Antibiotic residue looks for traces of cow penicillin or other antibiotics that could affect people with antibiotic allergies and probably contribute to the creation of the notorious MRSA and other antibiotic resistant bacteria. Every state has it’s own set of regulations and laws regarding raw milk, more info can be found at the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the map below.

Raw Milk Map

Federally regulated, commodity raw milk for pasteurization must have a Total Bacteria Count less than 100,000 cfu/mL and a Somatic Cell Count less than 750,000/mL (1,000,000/mL for goats). Pasteurized milk must have less than 20,000 cfu/mL of bacteria, 10 cfu/mL of Coliform and no requirement on somatic cell count (they don’t increase after leaving the cow). It’s important to note that Vermont’s Tier II raw milk is “cleaner” than pasteurized milk you buy in the store. However, the fact is that failing these test standards doesn’t mean the milk is harmful. A high count only means the milk was produced and handled in a way that could support harmful pathogens, were they present. In other words, if harmful bacteria were to enter your production practice, it could flourish, but it might not be there at all. These test standards are the tools we currently have to assess milk safety, so that’s what we’re going to use.

Animal Health for Clean Raw Milk

With that background in mind, we’ve pulled together a few basic guidelines that will help you produce “clean” milk in your micro-dairy, homestead, or small-farm. This first post begins with the animals.

Start With Healthy Animals. Imprecise as the tests may be, they can still help you to find a healthy animal. High counts on any of those regulated tests will tell you that something is wrong. In addition, Bob-White Systems offers other diagnostic testing that is not covered under Vermont’s standards, but are still quite important.

We offer a New Cow Test and a New Goat Test that can be performed with a small sample of milk sent through the mail. This$60 test can help you to avoid unbred cows, sub-clinical mastitis, staph infections, Johne's and Leukosis diseases, Coliforms, E. Coli, and bad milk quality (low fat content). One visit from the vet is more expensive and time-consuming than this test. Also, studies show that 89% of U.S. farms have at least one cow with Leukosis, and 40% of the American dairy herd is infected.

Veterinary care is important. In addition to testing the animals, having a vet look at your prospective cow or goat is an excellent way to avoid other health issues that don’t pertain to milk. Vets see so many animals; therefore, they have an excellent idea of what a healthy animal looks like and can help you avoid hoof problems, diseases and general poor health. A vet can also tell you about the body condition of that animal, if it will need a lot of extra feed or if it seems relatively hardy. Having purchased a Jersey in very poor condition I know it takes a long time and a lot of work to put weight on a thin animal that bears a calf every year.

Between a vet visit and milk testing, you can feel confident that the animal you bring home will be a healthy addition or beginning to your herd. That peace of mind is worth a lot.

My next post will cover the milk parlor and milking best practices.


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