Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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8/5/2016

Buck

To read the entire ABCs of Homesteading series, click here.

Goats might make sense for your homestead if you have two hours a day to spend on care, money to burn, plenty of pasture, and a yearning to have them. (Otherwise, consider raw milk shares or trading for dairy with other homesteaders.)

After reading Goat Song by Brad Kessler, I fell into the had-to-have-them category. Plus, I am a cheese fiend, so our homestead wouldn't be complete without dairy animals. Given our mountainous, forested terrain, and limited acreage, goats made more sense than cows. I am stubborn as a goat, too. So, I kept at it even when it was more work and expense than expected.

Getting Started with Goats

There is a ton of great information available on raising goats on sites like Fias Co Farm, extension office publications, MOTHER EARTH NEWS blogs, and in Deborah Niemann's must-read book Raising Goats Naturally (available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store). There are also big differences in care requirements depending on breed, purpose in keeping goats, and your homestead setting. And it's easy to get information overload and lose sight of important things. So, as you begin your research, keep these elements in mind.

Determine your purpose for keeping goats. Do you want to raise meat, dairy, fiber, brush- clearing, or multi-purpose goats?

Identify your conditions, requirements, and available resources for keeping goats. What infrastructure do you have or can you build to house goats? Do your goats need to be family-friendly or predator resistant? Is climate a concern (e.g cold winters, hot summers)? How much land do you have for pasture? How will you confine your escape artists?

Plan your budget. Goats need housing suitable to their purpose (e.g. minimal shelter for meat, plush shelter for milking), fencing, minerals, clean straw, and nutritious food. Bucks need separate housing and pasture or you need to factor in stud-related costs. Pasture development is costly and is labor intensive. Goat prices varies by breed and pedigree. Common breeds are easier to find, cost less to transport, and may already be well-adapted for your area so they save you on vet bills. Goat registration and showing goats may be necessary for selling speciality breeds. And stuff happens, so build in a fudge factor.

Choose the right breed(s). Your local agricultural or extension office should be able to direct you to breeders in your area. Wikepdia has a table of goat breeds with utility noted. Goat societies, breed clubs, and owner forums are also good sources for breed info. Typing “goats and homesteading” in your search engine can give you information on the breeds other homesteaders keep. Dig deep and get the dirt on potential breeds so you are fully prepared to meet the challenges of goat ownership.

Rely heavily on experienced goat owner information. Newbies like me are so thrilled about having goats that we want to share our joy with the world, but problems like parasite build-up in pastures, identifying and treating illnesses, and caring for or culling older or weaker goats are still distant concerns for us. Spend time on the less-polished websites and forum posts from long-time goat keepers.

Along with all that prep-work, make sure you know goat math

Goat Math

I knew goats had to make babies to make milk, but I hadn't realized they would need to have babies every 8-12 months to keep producing milk or that there was a 145- to 150-day gestation period. Goats also need a two month milk-free period to recuperate before giving birth. After kidding (goat lingo for having babies), depending on number of kids (often twins or triplets), you may have to wait two months for useful amounts of milk from your does. This means up to four months per year with no milk from your main squeezes.

But wait...there's more! Doelings should not be bred until they are 80% of mature weight, or around 1 year of age. And some goats only come into heat once a year.

So, now for that math I mentioned:

Doe bought on September 1, 2016

+Comes into heat and is bred in October 2016

+Kids in March 2017

+Kids nursing until May 2017

= 8 months of care and feeding before you get milk

If you are going for meat, wait 11+ months for your first taste of goat chorizo. Alternatively, if you buy an adorable 8 week-old, just-weaned doeling born in March 2017 you may have to wait until May 2019 for milk.

Say what!? If your goat is only in heat in the fall and hasn't hit the 80% size-criteria in time, you may have to wait to breed until the following year. Breeding too early can put the doe and/or kids at risk for death or long-term health consequences and isn't recommended.

If this exercise in goat math hasn't scared you off, then read on for some tips that will hopefully make goat keeping easier for you.

Doe and Kid

Buy a Bred Doe

My herd began with two mature Nigerian Dwarf does who had already kidded. I picked one of them up on “weaning day” and immediately began milking her. She gave me just enough milk to make fresh cheese twice a week and add some to my morning tea. Way better than waiting 8 months!

Sometimes breeders struggle to find buyers for mature does since most new owners favor cuddly doelings. This means breeders may be willing to hold and breed a mature doe for you to ensure a good owner (and good price). If they make profit on selling kids, they may even be willing to let you pick-up at weaning like I did. Also, be on the lookout for farms that are down-sizing or getting out of keeping goats due to life-changes as they may have bred or milking does for sale. The worst a breeder can say is “no” so just ask.

When buying mature does, also ask why the owners are selling to make sure you aren't buying someone else's behavioral or health problem.

Have a Strategy

There are a lot of considerations that go into breed selection. I chose Nigerian Dwarfs because I can stuff them in my Honda Fit for vet visits and wrestle them onto the milkstand. Also, I wanted a breed that would be easy to sell as pets on Craigslist. Since they have twins or triplets, I can even sell kids in pairs to make sure kids will have companions in their new homes. Also, their milk is great for cheese-making.

But the primary reason I chose this breed is to have milk year round. My does can be bred every 3-4 weeks all year long. So, I set the kidding schedule to ensure milk production. The downside of smaller goats is that you need more of them. And that means work on the milk stand. They also seem like pets. So, their small size and the pet-factor make them a bad choice for meat.

As a good homesteading strategy, even if you choose a large breed as your mainstay, you could keep miniature goats to augment your milk supply. If you aren't comfortable dispatching pet-like goats, but can't afford to keep all unsold offspring, consider outsourcing. Under U.S. regulations, goats must be slaughtered at a USDA or state-inspected processing facility if you want to sell the meat. Since these are the rules anyhow, why not turn a problem into a product to help support your homestead activities?

Goat Management 101

If you have ever worked in an office environment, then you know what it's like to work with goats. Does are wonderful workers, with great personalities, and they sure know how to schmooze up the boss (see this recent study to find out how).

Competitive Eaters

They can also be moody and try to gore the guts from the doe in the next cubicle over. They are competitive eaters, are always in cliques, and are a.) lazy unless motivated or b.) high-strung and irritating if not sufficiently challenged. They are prissy when it comes to rain and wind and they poop everywhere – even in their food and water.

As far as I know there are no “drama-free” offices or goat herds. But as any good manager knows, you can make an environment more amiable and your workers more productive by considering needs, appreciating strengths, and encouraging collegiality and good health. Towards that end, consider these tricks.

The Bully-Bowl and Kiddie-Cup

Give your bully her own bucket of feed away from the rest of the herd. All herds have a queen, and they attain that role by being stronger or smarter and a bit meaner than the rest. If your queen has her head buried in a bucket of food, she's less likely crowd the feed trough and head butt competitors.

Feed your kids separately too or they will stand in everyone else's food or get pushed out by the bigger goats.

Kid in Trough

Goat Litter Box

Goats may poop everywhere, but they are conscientious about where they pee. This means you can use a goat litter box. The box (or designated area) needs to be wider and longer than your goats because they will want to stand in it to go.

Start with about 3-4 inches of straw to trap the urine. Add 1 inch of straw as needed to control odors. Every two weeks, pitchfork out your litter pile and start over. Leave a little pee-straw behind so goats know where to go. Goats will occasionally miss or go somewhere else if the box is occupied. Just spread wood ash over the wet area to discourage repeated use and sweep it up when dry.

Goat Litter Box

Note: If you spread straw on the rest of the floor, goats will assume the entire floor is a litter box, so this method requires that you don't spread straw. Instead leave straw bales out as goat chaise lounges. When the bales break down from normal goat activity, use them to line your litter box .

Manure Master Plan

Wood floors make manure collection easy. Just sweep the floor twice a day and scoop the good stuff directly into a container for composting, like a 32 gallon trash can. Between the manure, goat hair, random straw from the litter box, and food scraps, this stuff seems to be the perfect composition of greens and browns for hot composting.

Add a little water to activate and cover. After your container heats up and then cools down (couple of days in warm weather), use it as mulch for new garden beds. Or, spread it over your red wriggler worm bed. Some of the manure may not fully compost by this method, so apply no more than four inches of manure at a time to avoid accidental hot composting and wormicide. Add kitchen scraps and weeds to give the worms variety. Then, put a thin layer of the used goat litter as cover to create a moist, dark worm paradise.

Space Planning

If you plan to milk goats, three separate spaces are recommended. You need: 1) a Milk Parlor, 2) a Kid Pen, and 3) a Goat Living Room. If you have resources for a goat mansion, then two others spaces are useful: 4) Birthing Rooms and 5) Bonding Chambers.

The Milk Parlor

Unless you enjoy having guest goats eat your hair and nip your knees while you are squeezing the teets of a (possibly) uncooperative milker, then a private milking stall is a “must-have”.

If space requirements or circumstances necessitate more than one goat in the milk parlor at a time, give your guest goat a treat bowl at the foot of the milkstand. If you milk from side to side, you'll be able to see when your non-milker makes a move (e.g. a run on the feed bucket) and can take preventative action such reminding them they already have a bowl. If your guest goat bothers you, you can blow on her face to simulate wind. Two or three lung-fulls usually does it. If these tools fail, opt for a strong tether and a quick milk-hand.

The Kid Pen

It's standard practice to begin milking does while their kids are still nursing. To do this, you need to separate the moms from the kids for several hours a day to build-up surplus milk. Generally this occurs overnight since most goats are busy browsing in pasture during the day. For details on how and when to begin separation read Raising Goats Naturally.

Kid Pen

If you only have one goat nursing a time, you can put the doe in the milk area overnight and milk her first in the morning. But if you have multiple mom's nursing, it takes less space to create a small sleeping area for the kids with a kid-sized litter box, fresh water, and room to twirl and jump, than it does to make a room to hold several full-sized does.

Goat Living Room

Of course you also need a place to keep the rest of the goats. Wind and rain protection are critical. But also make sure your goat house is well-ventilated because goats are gassy and sensitive to the smell of urine. Goats also like things to sit on like straw bales or pallets. Goats tend to be homebodies when not in pasture, so give them room to lounge as a group.

In extremely cold weather, you can insulate your goat living room with stacked straw bales and create straw bale seating areas to get goats off the cold ground. I usually buy about 20 bales at the start of winter for this and then use that straw in spring as cover for seeding pasture, garden bed development, kidding clean-up, and goat litter.

The Birthing Room

Birthing rooms are nice, but not always necessary. If you have limited space, keep a calendar and plan your pregnancies so they are spaced out by a couple of weeks. The last few days before kidding, does get really moody. They may even act like bucks in ruts. If you have two goats kidding around the same time, separate them to keep the peace and avoid injuries. If you are short on rooms, you can use stacked straw bales to divide your main goat room into smaller holding cells. Usually as long as hormonal does can't see each other, they will chill out.

The Bonding Chamber

Some people also like to keep the doe and her kids separate from the herd for a few weeks so they can bond, grow, and recover. For me, this is a nice idea, but I just don't have the space. So I only wait until the little guys can jump (about 2 days) before I put them in with gen-pop. Until then I muddle through with the use the milk area and the kid pen.

Since I let them join the herd so young, I've created a few places for kids to hide under or squeeze into to get away from the big girls. I also keep a kid-sized feed bowl and water in these spots. And, I leave the milking room door open when not in use so new mom's and kids can rest/hide away from the herd.

Now that your totally spaced-out...on to a few more things you don't want to learn the hard way.

Buck Behavior

If you decide to keep bucks, and you probably will to ensure the health of your herd, you will need a separate buck pen. Wait until you need a buck to buy one to save on care and feeding. In fact, buy two so they keep each other company and increase genetic diversity.

And if you want well-behaved bucks, never visit your does before visiting your bucks if there is a chance your does might be in heat. Bucks can smell when a doe is in heat. So, if you see the girls first, then you end up smelling...well, like a doe in heat. To a penned-up/pent up hunk of burning love whose sole purpose in life is to impregnate your does, that can result in some pretty serious behavioral problems (and possible danger to you) if you skip this tip.

It's also a good idea to keep a few strategically-placed squirt bottles around the buck pen. You don't want to get close enough to a buck in a rut to use the simulated wind trick that works on milkers. But a high-powered water stream will simulate rain long enough for you to exit the pen.

Bucks are normally as easy to keep as does. But they have their moments and tend to be a bit more emphatic about having their way when they happen. As long as you understand their perspective, you'll get along just fine. P.S. The peeing on the face thing is really not a big deal. Buck urine is pungent, but harmless.

Feeding Goats

Goats are browsers and require a diverse diet for good health. As a new goat owner, I spent a lot of time studying up on goat feed. Initially, stories of malnutrition scared me into using “grain” as my main food supply. Grain, in the goat world, means something other than pasture or hay. I chose bagged pellets because they were convenient and formulated for goats. But I also took my goats on long walks and paid close attention to what they ate. I identified the plants and researched nutritional content.

Based on those observations, we fenced off an area that included all their favorites like black locust, red sumac, sourwood, maple, oak, and pine trees and lots of berry bushes and brambles. We then added pasture powerhouses like alfalfa, rye, mustard, lupines, cowpeas, hairy vetch and birdsfoot trefoil.

Goats in Pasture

Our pasture also came with mountain laurel, azaleas, and rhododendrons which can be poisonous to goats. My goats routinely eat the new leaf growth on these plants with no ill-effects. Occasionally a new kid will eat too much and end up sick. They get frothy at the mouth, spew their cud, and scream in agony.

A few hours later they are fine and they never do it again. When it happens, I squirt baking soda water in their mouths, keep them walking around the pasture, and periodically rub their rumens. I don't know if it helps, but it makes me feel better to be doing something. I've read that ingesting these poisonous plants can be lethal, but I suspect the fact that they are otherwise well fed keeps them from eating too much of a bad thing.

By accident, I discovered that if I seeded a part of the pasture with buckwheat the goats would avoid it. This effectively gives the pasture a chance to rest. When I am ready for them to graze in that area again, I scythe down the buckwheat and goats suddenly notice the other delicacies growing below. I can't swear this will work for others but since buckwheat is a good source of organic matter and a safe-edible (if your goats will eat it), it's probably worth a try.

In winter, my goats get more pellets. They also get evergreen ground cover, holly, pine needles, the fodder you water (see previous post, F is for 'Fodder'), and cold-hardy greens from our garden.

Disbudding and Wethering Kids

Disbudding refers to the burning off of horn buds on a two week old kid. Kids look terrible for about two months after disbudding, so if you plan to sell them, take pictures before they have giant scabs on their heads.

Wethering is goat-neutering and is performed at around 8 weeks of age. I “band” my wethers, as in put a band around their testicles to stop blood flow until they fall off. Some people find this practice controversial. Honestly, I find repeatedly putting does through pregnancy and labor so I can enjoy their milk controversial, but I try to make up for it by otherwise taking good care of my herd. Banding ranks below breeding on my list of things I feel guilty about related to keeping goats for personal use. And after a day or so, the wethers are as loving towards me as ever, so I don't think they harbor any bad feelings either.

Both procedures are generally considered necessary if you plan to sell kids as pets. They can be done on-farm with minimal investment and are fairly easy to do. But a livestock veterinarian performs these services in minutes and usually charges reasonable rates, so that is also worth considering. These are both subjects you should research and make your own informed decisions about.

Making a Goat Milking Stand

Having trained six goats to be milkers, I have discovered a few tricks to shortcut frustration and fast track milk production.

My first secret weapon is my milk stand. Like all milk stands, it has a place to attach a feed bucket. This is important because you can use a bucket of feed to lure the milker to the stand and coax their head into the medieval stock-like head trap. Then when done, you can remove the bucket and lure them off the stand to make room for next milker.

If you opt for an attached food container, you may want to give the milker an even better treat to tempt them off the stand (nicer than a wrestling them off). Bagged alfalfa pellets, intended for horses, work nearly as well as expensive goat treats at a quarter of the cost.

The Stand Bucket View

I added two rows of railing along 60% of the length of my stand, that I call “training bars”. I use the top rail to run a rope under the chest of new milkers who like to lay down on the job. I use the bottom rail to run a rope over the hind-end of goats who act like bucking broncos.

In extreme cases, I use two ropes and both rails. I have to reach around the rail to milk, but it's not actually in the way.

The Stand Rope and Clip View

I added a clip with soft ties at the back of stand to overcome the doe's natural instinct to kick me off when I've taken more than a normal share (like they do to their kids). I also added a slide-stop that keeps goats from stretching out too far (a variation on laying down).

To avoid spills, I milk with a handled cup and periodically empty this directly into my storage container. I use mason jars and pour the milk through cloth napkins to filter out debris. If a doe goes wild on me, I just move my hand, holding the cup, and give them a minute to calm down before I start milking again.

Start feeding does on the milk stand before they kid. Begin and end all milkings with praise and pets. And finally, remember that goats are mind-readers. If you aren't focused on milking, they'll exploit your weakness. Keep your head in the game!

Oh, and watch this video. This young lady's calm demeanor and excellent techniques gave me the wherewithal to train and milk my first doe. I don't know what I would have done without seeing it.

Say Cheese!: Making Cheese with Goat's Milk

Any new cheesemaker should check out the New England Cheesemaking Company  and get a copy of Gianaclis Caldwell's great book Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking: The Ultimate Guide for Home-Scale and Market Producers (available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store).

But for starters, try these simple techniques to make cheese and yogurt. For cheese, fill up a quart mason jar, cover it with a coffee filter and caning ring lid, and let it sit out on your counter until the curds separate from the whey, usually 1 to 3 days.

Curds and Whey

Strain out the liquid using a cloth napkin or flour sack towel. Tie up the towel like a hobo suitcase and hang it to dry for an hour or so.

When the consistency feels right to you, put the curds in a bowl, salt to taste, stir, and spread on fresh bread. Use the whey as a water substitute in baking, soups, or sauces.

Straining the Curds

For yogurt, add two tablespoons of your favorite store bought plain Greek yogurt to a quart jar of milk, cover, and keep at 80-90 degrees for two days. The inside of an unheated gas oven is a good place to develop yogurt culture. Or you can also use a water bath and occasionally add more warm water to keep the temperature up. I learned this trick from John Seymour's beautiful book, The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It (available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store).

If you stuck with me this long, then you've the makings of a great goat keeper. I give you my best wishes for a happy, healthy, and productive herd! Join me next time for The ABCs of Homesteading: H is for Horticulture. It's not just a big word, it's a super important skill every homesteader should have in their mental toolkit.

Tasha Greer spent several years “practicing” homesteading in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina where she currently raises pigs, goats, poultry, bees, worms, vegetables, herbs, trees, shrubs, and mushrooms. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. Find Tasha at The Way Back and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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


8/3/2016

Read Part 1 of this series here.

We started getting calls! The problem? The calls were from out-of-state. We added in mileage and the "goat rate." Some people were willing to pay this, but I wanted to contact our State Agriculture Department to see what permits we had to acquire before taking the goats out of state.

Goats waiting

When Things Start to Go 'Baah’d'!

Why is it nothing to do with farming is ever simple? Well, the State Vet told me we would have to have a health certificate on all the goats going out. I was thinking maybe a herd certificate but not all.

And, we would have to have a vet in whatever state we had them in create a health certificate before bringing them back into the state (we are located in North Carolina). I don't know if all states have this requirement, but I would suggest checking into it before taking animals out of state.

We tried to focus on local work for the goats. Many of the calls we got were from people who had the mindset that a lot of people do: Well, if they're "brush goats" why can't you just stake them? NO, NO, NO — and did I say NO?

Have a Plan, and A Second Plan

Make sure you know what you need to know about the basic safety and maintenance of goats to begin with. What are their needs when it comes to health, shelter, food, etc.? Also, what are concerns such as plant toxins and predators?

Each state is different on their requirements for moving animals in/out of state. Contact your State vet. You can Google search "Dept. of Ag (your state)" and this will usually give you a site with contacts for each department. Find out what permits and license is needed for your state.

If you are taking a job that is inside city limits, you may need a temporary permit for the goats. The property owner can check on this and it is their responsibility to have the correct permits.

You should decide on a “generic” application for your customers to sign. Make sure they understand your terms before either side agrees and signs. There are no set standards. Really what works for you and your animals.

When you are deciding how you will run your business, you may want to look at these options.

You can take jobs that are close enough you can do daily, 8- to 10-hour, trips or you can take larger jobs taking up to 3 to 4 weeks to finish. With these trips, you need to decide whether or not you want to take a camper/tent and stay with your herd or if you want to make arrangements to check on them weekly.

Setup depends on which of the above options you have chosen.

Now, Lets Get to Work!

You always make an initial visit to the property before taking the goats. You need to do a walk-around of the area to be cleared. Make sure there are no toxic plants that the goats can eat. See if the property already has fencing, because if not, you will need to prepare for this.

Does the property have accessible water for the goats? If not, you must provide water while they are on the property. Ask about predators. Coyotes or neighboring dogs. Does the property have shelter (can be a lean-to) for the goats to get into away from rain and drafts? If not, you must prepare. This way, you can get a “feel” for how many goats you need and supplies you will need to take. You can also give an estimate of your total fee.

You will need a vehicle and trailer for hauling your goats. Whatever you haul the animals in needs to be covered.

You will need temporary fencing. Premier 1 is a good source for fencing needs. If the area is remote you may need a solar charger. These can be found at Amazon.com. Your job may require temporary shelter. There are animal huts available at FarmTek. You may also need watering containers for the goats while they are away.

Fenced in

Which Goats Should You Employ (and How Many)?

Deciding which goats to take out, I would suggest wethers for this type of work. I would not suggest intact bucks. This could prove dangerous. I would not suggest does in milk or very young goats. You could take unbred does if you must.

How many goats do you need to take out? That all depends on the size of the area needing clearing. For instance, if you have somewhere around an acre...you would need 3-5 goats. This would probably take about 3 weeks for the goats to eat it down.

If you’re doing day trips, you can stay with the goats and you don’t need to worry about shelter. Some people cannot spare the help to be away from the farm that long and opt for the other choice. If you’re leaving the goats make sure you come to check on them at least 1time per week. Anything could go wrong and you may be liable for any damage if they happen to get out while you’re not there.

Sample Pricing

If you have approx. an acre and that requires 3 goats for approx. 3 weeks and you need temporary fencing (solar-powered electric) that would run $125.00/week+: $100.00 one-time set up fencing fee + $100.00 delivery/mileage. Total for the job would be $575.00.

Require a $100.00 set-up fee when job is scheduled. Require a $100.00 delivery/mileage to be paid when goats are delivered, and finally, $125.00 at the end of each week the goats stay.

This can be broken down if you decide to do daily trips. Just make sure your customer is aware and understands your terms. Make sure there is a signed agreement. Remember this is just a basis for you to work from.

Now, go out there and put those goats to work!

Note: We no longer offer goat rentals. We are trying to let people who are interested in this idea know how to go about it without wasting so much time and energy as we did.

Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that had been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Find Susan on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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



7/28/2016

Life on a Homestead

The images most people get when they think of life on a homestead is that of the Amish community — people living off-grid without modern technologies — or the images of families living in the remote wilderness as glorified by reality television shows.

Homesteads come in all different shapes and sizes, from being in remote wilderness to a backyard in town, from ½ acre to several hundreds of acres, and everything in between.

While these are forms of homesteads, there is a very wide base as to what is considered a homestead and what is not. Most modern homesteaders live on-grid with modern technologies such as power, internet, and modern conveniences. Yes, there are those that are living off-grid with no power and no dependency on anything but themselves but the former is more common than the latter.

No matter what format each homestead is, one thing remains the same throughout, and in my opinion, that is the desire for each individual to achieve a sustainable lifestyle while continually lessening their dependence on outside resources.

Life on a Homestead is 'Simpler'

One thing that most people would state about homesteading is the life itself is simpler. Well, as with anything, living on a homestead has its ups and its downs, but generally most homesteaders can agree that they would not change it for the world.

Yes, life seems simpler compared to the fast-paced life of the city. You have your daily chores that you have to do, such as feeding your animals, watering your garden, milking your cows or goats, collecting firewood, or more.

However, if you actually look at it, life really isn’t more simpler than city life. In fact, there is much more work that you have to complete within the same amount of time that most people complete in their day. This work must be done each day and does not stop for inclement weather, does not stop for sick days, does not stop for vacations or days off.

Life on a homestead is hard work, it is constant work and if you don't do this work potentially you, your family, or your animals will go without food, water, or more.

Now, do not get me wrong. As the old proverb goes, All work and no play makes jack a dull boy” (courtesy of Wikipedia). There is so much beauty in a homestead. Being able to take a dried-up seed and cultivate it into something healthy to feed your family, or raising an animal from birth, or getting your very first egg from your flock of chickens, is special.

The Joys of a Homestead

Chickens on homestead

There is not a homesteader who has raised chickens that cannot tell you the pride they have felt when they bring in their first egg from their chickens. That egg is the best egg in the entire world, bar none. It surpasses every egg ever laid before it, because that homesteader worked day in and day out to raise, nurture, and grow their flock, and now they are able to reap the rewards of their hard work.

Every homesteader can tell you of their first time successfully canning their harvest — the musical pop of the metallic lids of the jars that every homesteader can relate to. The birth of a baby animal from an animal that they raised (and raised its mother before her and its mother before her and so on) is wrapped in the homesteader's pride.

The feeling of being able to sit back some days and look over your land and see nature working in harmony together because of the sweat of your brow. The smiles on your family’s faces as they gobble down fresh food from your land and you knowing that it is the healthiest meal that you could possible provide.

So, no, life on a homestead is not simpler than that of city life, because the homesteaders has to be doctor, veterinarian, event manager, midwife, accountant, salesperson, farmer, gardener and more all wrapped into one. But in my humble opinion, life on a homestead is more pure, more basic and far more rewarding, however all of this is in the eye of the beholder.

The Pains of a Homestead

Not everything is as joyous as it sounds on a homestead — life itself can be downright cruel and heart-breaking.

One of the biggest things every homesteader faces on a homestead is loss. This animal that you have spent years raising, taking care of, treating with respect and love is found dead across the field as you go out to feed it in the morning. That same animal who has greeted you every morning and has showed you affection in the only way it knows how. Now it is dead from a predator, dead from disease, or dead from something unknown, it does not matter what the cause is — it still hurts.

While we strive to work within the laws of Mother Nature, sometimes she can be very cruel. Spending many hours working on your garden pulling weed after weed, making sure the pH balance is just right, making sure the correct nutrients are in the soil, watering like clockwork and on any given day it is all taken away by floods, hail, storms or lightning induced fire — it does not matter what the cause is, it still sucks.

Homestead or Not

So, whether you choose to live life on a homestead or not, knowing that regardless of the size or shape we all face the same kinds of situations in one format or another. For good or for bad, it is how we choose to see and react to each situation that makes us who we are: homesteaders living a modern life on a homestead.

Shane Floyd has been passionate about homesteading and sustainable living for more than 40 years. Now located in Oklahoma, he is using his experiences and passion to create his own sustainable homestead on 7 acres of land, using the same principles and ideals of his ancestors with a modern-day twist. Read about his adventures on the Floyd Family Homestead websiteand connect with Shane on Facebook, Twitter,  Google+Pinterest, Instagram, Youtubeand Amazon. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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7/27/2016

Goats on the Go

A few years ago we decided we would "value-add" our farm a little more. For us, value-add means to upscale any product or project the farm is currently involved in.

We took a look at the farm to see where we were paying out but not taking in equally. That would be the goat herd. Our goat herd was a "work in progress". Our initial plan for the goats was to get the herd Animal-Welfare Approved and then try to get approved for a micro-dairy.

Well, as things often go, it was going to take time and money to get our milking parlor up to par. We were Animal-Welfare Approved (AWA) and audited yearly. During this time, our herd of dairy goats grew. We were also keeping the wethers. We were practicing rotational grazing for the health of our goats, as well as staying up with our AWA requirements.

Just When it Looks Like Things are Going Well

As I said, looking at the growth of the herd and the expense, and asked myself what else we could do to bring income to the farm. The answer hit me when I decided to apply for a grant through AWA: goat rentals! It was the perfect solution. Take the wethers out to provide the rotational grazing they needed and that would leave enough pasture for the dairy herd to be moved around more.

So, I worked up a plan and submitted it for the Animal Husbandry grant. I was so excited. I had done my research, and I knew this was doable and was promoting another way farmers could have access to additional pasture to implement rotational grazing.

Well, I waited and I waited — finally, I got an e-mail! I opened it up and..."we're sorry..."

That was all I needed to read. I couldn't believe it. I just knew I had this. Well, if they wouldn't help me, I would figure out a way to downsize the expense and Alan and I would put our plan in motion, Goats on the Go would become a reality!

Question and Answer Time

Well, we would have to decide which goats would be taken out. How would we haul them, and how would we make sure they stayed safe after reaching their destination? So many questions, but eventually we came up with answers.

goat herd

Advertising a Goat-Rental Service

Advertising was the next issue. Advertising had to be free starting out. When starting any new venture we try to stay small and low expense until we see where it takes us.

We advertised in www.GoatFinder.com, which lists rentals by state and is free. We utilized the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) free classified, Facebook, and our online store through www.localharvest.org.

We were also doing workshops on goat owning, sort of like a Goats 101. So, we would let our students know and it was word-of-mouth advertising.

Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn about when things start to go baaah'd.

Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that had been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Find Susan on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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7/26/2016

Building up a homestead is challenging under any circumstance, but when you work full-time and you have young children at home, “challenging” might just be the understatement of the year.

My husband and I purchased our homestead a short year ago, when our son was 5 and our daughter was 1. We both run nonprofits in our adopted state of Vermont, and though I get some time off in the summer, we do most of our homesteading chores after the kids go to bed. It is not unusual to do them by the light of our head lamps.

There are some days, however, when homesteading is a family affair and we get to share our love for this place with our kids.

In the year that we have owned the homestead, informed by the 5 years of suburban gardening with our son in tow that lead up to it, we have developed some tried-and-true philosophies when it comes to homesteading with kids.

5 Tips for Homesteading with Children

Reign in your romantic expectations for full-family homesteading. Kids are kids. We cannot expect our children to love every minute of working on a homestead, and it would be unreasonable to expect them to spend every minute doing so.

On most nights, we try to give our kids the attention they need after being away from us all day before attempting to accomplish chores. If we absolutely have to get something done, we will “divide and conquer,” making sure our kids have attention from one of us while the other mows or chops wood.

Choose exciting projects to involve the kids. While we don’t expect our kids to participate in every project on the homestead, we do try to find projects that will excite them and get them involved so that we can plant the seeds for future appreciation for our land.

We have learned that our 6-year-old loves to feel strong, so we involve him in projects that allow him to demonstrate his strength — like shoveling compost into his own wheelbarrow or moving logs. We comment frequently on how he is building his muscles and on how much he has accomplished — we’re certain our daughter will want to do the same when she is older since she tries to do everything big brother does and usually succeeds.

When your kids are helping, don’t aim for perfection. With all of our willpower, we resist the urge to tell the kids they are doing something wrong or should do it another way. We’re trying to let our kids develop their own love for the land, and lecturing them about proper watering techniques will probably build resentment instead.

Instead, we hand them the hose on a gentle setting and let them go wild, not bothering to worry about whether they will need to change their clothes or whether they are watering everything perfectly. We can always follow up to fill in the gaps.

If we’re worried they’ll cause harm, we restrict their watering to a certain area of the garden that is more resistant to their not-so-gentle touch.

Resist the temptation to spend money on “kids” equipment. You’ll find kids gardening tools and equipment in all sorts of places, from miniature shovels and rakes to miniature versions of farm equipment — there’s a cartooned version of almost everything. But let’s face it, most of it doesn’t work very well or breaks if a child tries to do real work with it.

Likewise, half of the pleasure that kids get in helping their parents is from using the same equipment that the adults are using (within certain safety guidelines, of course). Children will learn more and be more confident if we trust them to use adult tools to accomplish adult chores in reasonable, kids-sized chunks.

For example, buy a small but sturdy real-life wheelbarrow instead of the flimsy plastic ones that can’t actually carry dirt, and invite your child to move sawdust or light topsoil with it. They’ll feel more empowered and important, and you’ll get much more bang for your buck.

Find creative ways to engage kids while you are working. If we absolutely must get work done while our kids are around, we try to create a play space or activity that will keep them engaged while we are working.

Take a page from the research on outdoor play and develop a natural outdoor play space near your garden — natural “equipment” like logs, rocks, pieces of wood, or string can be made into magical creations by creative kids.

For more ideas, visit websites and social media spaces dedicated to outdoor play for kids. Some of my favorites include Wilder Child and Timbernook. Food can also be a great source of entertainment. We often pack a picnic lunch with our kids to take down to a blanket in a shady spot of the garden.

It may take some time and practice for your kids to develop the free play skills necessary to keep busy while you are working, so be grateful for even a few minutes as you start using this strategy.

One of the primary reasons we purchased our homestead was to create a place that would be better for our kids — a place where we could provide for them and also help them to develop a sense of connection to the play where they are growing up.

We don’t want them to view the homestead as something that takes their parents’ time and attention away from them instead. These strategies are helping us to find that balance, all while realizing that we have the rest of our lives to build our homestead but only a few precious years when our children are young.

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page.


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7/26/2016

The revitalization of the “Back-to-Basics” movement has brought with it the old-world skills that the pioneers once used to survive, but with a modern-day twist. While no longer essential to survival, these skills are now being used by modern homesteaders to gain their freedom from dependence.

 

Skills such as preserving food, gardening, and raising animals were essential to the pioneers after they ventured westward in 1843. Fast forward hundreds of years and we now see another modern-day expansion; while not heading westward on the Oregon Trail but rather from cities to the country.

 

These skills once meant life and death for the pioneers, but today it is not as life-threatening as it once was. Rather, relearning traditional skills has become an asset to counter the rise of food prices and the addition of added chemicals, additives and preservatives to what we consume.

 

Food Preservation

The preserving of food has been around throughout history from the days of using the sun and wind to dehydrate food up to the invention of sealed tin cans by Peter Durand in 1810.

 

Most modern homesteaders are re-learning the old-world skills of preserving food using such methods as water bath or pressure canning, dehydration, and curing for the sole purpose of eliminating their need to buy commercial products — and the satisfaction of knowing where their food is coming from and exactly what was used in growing it.

 

Nowadays, many homesteaders can tell you about the metallic “pop” that is heard after successfully preserving food. The “pop” is like music in its own right.

 

Home Gardening

The number of gardeners has fluctuated over the years, the way we garden has. As technology grew throughout the years commercial farmers and the home gardeners began to use chemicals to resist drought and increase the yield of their crop production; however, the modern homesteader has become leery of utilizing those chemicals and have chosen to go back to the earlier methods of the pioneers.

 

Having never had access to these kinds of chemicals the pioneers had to learn how to use what the Earth could provide, such as manure, crop rotation and companion planting; a perfect example is that of the Native Americans using the 3 sisters planting method which is a form of growing three different plants together so that are beneficial to each other.

 

In reverting back, the modern homesteader has developed many different kinds of beneficial methods based off of pioneer mentality, such as the “Back to Eden” method which is a no-till gardening method.

 

Utilizing the old-world skills of gardening has begun to revitalize the homestead gardens into producing great results with less chemically infused food being consumed.

 

Raising Livestock

Pioneers had no choice but to raise their livestock on their own, barter or trade with their community for their meat. Sure, they had the opportunity for some wild game but the chances are that they had to rely more on their own animals than that of wild game to feed their families and to get a variety of meats.

 

Raising animals in my opinion is one of the harder old-world skills, simply because they are a living, breathing things with their own temperaments, attitudes and personalities; because of this, there is so many things that you have to learn on how to care for, feed, and treat that when you have multiple animals on a homestead the knowledge gets to be quite extensive.

 

More and more cities are now beginning to allow the raising of some small livestock such as chickens, to be raised within the city limits. These changes have become a great advantage to the modern homesteader wishing to raise, consume and even sell byproducts of or the animals themselves.

 

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” — Maimonides

 

This wonderful quote by Maimonides (courtesy of Goodreads) rings all too true to the modern-day homesteader. Anyone can buy food from a grocery store and feed themselves for a day, but learn these old-world skills and you will feed yourself for a lifetime.

 

While we only touched on the surface of some of the old-world skills, these are some of the most common that have found their way from the days of the pioneers to modern homesteads across the country.

 

I would really love to hear your opinion on what old-world skills you have learned, so please take a moment and let us know by leaving us a comment.

 

Shane Floyd has been passionate about homesteading and sustainable living for more than 40 years. Now located in Oklahoma, he is using his experiences and passion to create his own sustainable homestead on 7 acres of land, using the same principles and ideals of his ancestors with a modern-day twist. Read about his adventures on the Floyd Family Homestead website, and connect with Shane on  Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and Youtube, Amazon.
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7/26/2016

Make Money Raising Livestock

Did you know that, as a homesteader, you can make a great living in the stock market?

No, I am not talking about the New York Stock Exchange big board. I’m talking about the big-time live(stock) market. For most homesteaders this means cows, but it could mean bison, water buffalo, or large flocks of sheep. I will put pigs in there as well.

It goes without saying that you will need adequate pasture land to accommodate these voracious grazers, and that there are many benefits to raising them.

For example, if you purchase a young bull for $1,000 or so and five ready-to-breed heifers for the same price each, your $6,000 investment will likely produce five calves that will be fed for free (by their mothers and your pastures) each year for 12 to 15 years. You’ll also likely incur mineral expenses, but that’s nominal.

What will you do with these calves?

Perhaps you will sell them as stockers when they are weaned, or perhaps you will raise and market grass-fed beef.

If you were to raise the calves as grassfed beef, as I have done for many years, it is likely that each calf would become worth approximately $2,200 for you (net) in about 2 years. This assumes selling to consumers in urban markets. You can earn more or less profit depending on whether you sell individual retail cuts or market the beef as whole, halves or quarters.

Often the values are even higher than this and prices have been rising steadily over the past few years. That’s in your favor, but keep in mind that there is a ramp-up period of a couple of years before you realize any income, since it will take roughly 24 to 28 months to “finish” the cows. For that reason, some people view this model as an attractive homestead retirement strategy.

Once your "beeves" are ready for market beginning in Year 3, those five heifers (now cows) will be throwing off about $11,000 per year in gross profit ($2,200 per calf times five per year). If they do this for 12 years, then your initial investment of $8,500 for the bull and heifers will return a gross profit of $132,000.

Again, that's only with one bull and five cows. If you have the land, you can multiply the herd size to fit your resources. Try safely getting those returns in the financial stock market.

Safely Make Money Farming with Livestock

The nice thing about this financial model is that it’s quite safe. Even if you lack the skills or time to market the product as beef, you can always sell to private buyers or at sale barns. Unlike with pieces of paper, such as worthless stocks (remember Enron?), I’ve never heard of anyone having a total loss with livestock.

Staying with this scenario and assuming each cow needs one acre of grazing land, you will need approximately 16 acres of pasture. This is for, A) the initial bull and five cows (6), B) the five calves born the first year that will take two years to grow (5), and C) the five calves born the second year (5).

After the second year, the five grown calves will be sold or processed, clearing the way for the five new calves born the third year, keeping the pasture demand static at 16 acres.

Now, there are entire books on this topic, such as Grass-Fed Cattle: How to Produce and Market Natural Beef, and I encourage you to read them if this path interests you.

Of course, generating these returns requires that you purchase land for the animals. While the chart below shows the national average value of pastureland to be $1,200 per acre, good luck finding that in most areas.

Acreage Grazing Price Chart

In my neck of the woods, pastureland goes for $3,000 to $4,500 per acre, which is probably a better average to work with for most new homesteaders.

So, the 16 acres of land necessary for grazing will cost anywhere from $48,000 to $72,000 (not to mention paying modest annual taxes on the land), which takes a big “capital” bite out of the gross profit.

I emphasize the word “capital,” because the land-acquisition cost does not reduce your profit since, if you desired, you could sell the land at the end of the 12 years, likely get back at least what you paid for it and still have earned the $132,000. Plus, you would still have a dozen or so cows left over.

However, purchasing land ties up your capital for a long time, which is why you are entitled to the returns you can generate through certain farming enterprises. The returns go along with the risk and loss of capital.

Do You Have to Own Land to Raise Livestock?

No, you don’t, and some farmers follow Missouri farmer Greg Judy’s advice in his book No-Risk Ranching.

Today, Judy runs a grazing operation of over 1,400 acres of leased land over 11 farms. He and his wife went from near bankruptcy in 1999 to paying off a 200-acre farm within 3 years using his custom grazing model.

Using the above example of starting modestly with one bull and five heifers, you could consider leasing pasture land adjacent or local to you for perhaps $30 per acre, per year. Your annual rent would be $480 for 16 acres, and you would have no income from the grassfed beef operation to offset this for the first 2 years. However, after this you would generate $11,000 per year in income — far more than you would need to cover the expenses.

In this model, however, you would need to lease land that had good water (which will cost you more) or incur the cost of drilling a well. You would also have to fence it, as Greg describes in his book, but you would tie up far less capital. Perhaps you can even be debt free!

You may incur other minor expenses such as hay when grass is not growing, vet bills if you plan to use vets, and, of course, taxes on the land you own, but the income will drastically exceed the expenses as long as you market the product successfully.

Pastured Cattle Grazing In Field 

Other Market Farming Considerations

I cover marketing homestead products in Chapter 6 of my book, How to Make Money Homesteading. If you need some help/advice in marketing, either ask in the comment section below or join the free Farm Marketing Group on Facebook.

I caution you to avoid exotic animals unless economic times are very good or are likely to be. In poor economic times, people want and need basic foodstuffs and materials, and your attempt to market grass-fed zebra may prove more challenging than you expect. 

Stick what people want and know, unless you’re a highly-skilled marketer. Stick with beef.

You can do similar calculations to scale this up or down, or with other species such as pigs, bison, and so on.

The point is this: Putting the animals to work allows you to generate a stream of future income, improve your soil, and create wealth. The wealth is held not necessarily in fiat currency but in the value of your fertile soil and livestock.

Tim Young is the author of the Amazon bestseller, How to Make Money Homesteading, Start Prepping, and several other books on self-sufficient living. Tim and his wife learned to run and market a sustainable livestock farm, make cheese, preserve food and all the skills the term "self-sufficient" brings to mind. He shares this knowledge through his blog at SelfSufficientMan.com and through his books.


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








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