Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


Learning to Homeschool on the Homestead

Hen 

Fourteen years ago, when we first started homeschooling, I never would have imagined that there would come a time where so many kids would be schooling at home due to a pandemic. But, as we close in on the start of a new school year, students across the nation are facing a new way of schooling - from home. Whether a family is choosing to use the virtual schooling through the public school system, or choosing a more traditional homeschool method, or a combination of both - due to COVID, families are having to adjust to having the children in the home instead of away at school all day. If you have a homestead or backyard farm, this is an excellent opportunity to include the many life skills and lessons from the farm alongside their more formal education.

First and foremost, get the kids involved as much as possible in the homestead. This will look different depending on the age of the child and the type of homestead you have. Younger children will enjoy working alongside you as you teach them about the things you are doing together. Whereas older children will enjoy the freedom to take charge of a certain aspect of the farm, research and learn about it, and make it their own. If you have a garden and some chickens in the suburbs, that will offer different opportunities than a several-acre backyard farm in a rural area. Either way, giving the kids a break from the screen and the school books and getting them outside or in the kitchen to help with homesteading activities will be good for their bodies and their minds.

Kindergarten to Middle School Grades

The homestead is full of awesome, real-life, hands-on learning experiences that include a lot of math and science. In the garden, kids can learn about seeds, germination, pollination and pollinators, the life cycle of plants, soil composition, worms and insects, weather and water. Add in some art or composition by letting them sketch plants and bugs from the garden, or write a nature journal or poem. Take your harvest into the kitchen and learn about measuring, cooking, canning, freezing, dehydrating, root cellaring, and nutrition. Throw some history and geography in there by learning about preserving and using food throughout history and across the world, and cook something from a different culture for fun. In the barn, students can learn about animal classification, animal life cycles, basic biology and anatomy, treating illness or injury in animals, animal reproduction, and basic animal nutrition.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time putting together lessons about these things, the learning will just come naturally as you work together around the homestead and will supplement the formal education they are getting. Children are so curious and eager to learn new things. As you are working together, they will ask questions. If you don’t know the answer, go look it up together online and see what you can learn about it and then expand on the idea and learn even more. Kids learn best when they are being taught about a topic they are interested in. One question leads to another and then another and all of a sudden you will realize that together you have learned more than you thought you would ever know about something that started as one simple question from your child.

 East Friesian Lamb

Photo Credit: Kade Ludlam

Middle and High School Grades

Similar things can be taught to older kids, just in a more detailed and expanded way. For example, they can learn about genetics, Punnett squares, and heritability with your livestock breeding program. They can go into more detail learning about animal nutrition and feeds and feeding, analyzing the foods you are using and how they can be improved. They can learn about soil analysis and take some of your garden soil to be analyzed. Then they can figure out how best to amend it and fix any issues they found with it. They could also study cross-pollination, plant genetics (Punnett squares again), and seed saving.

Keeping good records about what you produce on the farm and what you spend is a great way for teens to get started learning accounting. And don’t forget that it is not all dollars and cents spent and earned, you need to take into account the value of the products produced by the animals for your family use. Each egg you eat from your chickens is one less egg you buy at the store and thus has a dollar value you can place on it.  You also need to put a value on your time spent working on the farm.  If your homestead is also a business, there are many opportunities for older kids to learn business management skills and customer service.

The thing our family finds most enjoyable for older kids on the homestead is to let them take charge of something around the farm, or plan and start something new on their own. Let them have a section of the garden, or a particular animal or group of animals. They can choose what to plant, when, how, and then harvest it and preserve it. Challenge them to make it as profitable and productive as possible - not necessarily by selling (though that is a good option too), but by providing food for the family. Have them keep track of how they do and whether or not they have improved production. Have they always wanted to add dairy goats or meat rabbits to the farm (or any other animal for that matter)?  Let them do the research into the different breeds, costs, housing, feeding, etc. Then have them come up with a plan on how to add the animals to the farm, including cost and income estimates. Help them gather the supplies and build what is needed, working together to find the least expensive ways to do it, potentially re-purposing or buying used. Then let them get the animals and raise them, managing them on their own, with your accountability, and learning as they go. When we have done this with our older children, we have been surprised to see how much more productive they can make it than it was when we were doing it without them.

 Farm Fresh Eggs

Life Skills and Character

The most important thing that your children will learn from the homestead are life skills, work ethic, and good character. As they work alongside you, they will learn to be compassionate to animals and the importance of taking good care of the animals we choose to bring into our care. They will learn that not everything is fun and games, and that the not-so-fun work is just as important as the fun work. But that when you are working together as a family team, even not-so-fun work can become fun and strengthen your family relationships. And they will improve their self-esteem as they see their value and worth as part of the family unit working together towards something bigger than themselves.

Having your kids unexpectedly at home all day this school year will present your family with both challenges and opportunities. Get them involved in your homestead and you will likely find that you all learn and grow more than you expect.

To read more about our experiences homesteading with children, and tips for success, check out my blog post series Homesteading With Kids.   

Kat Ludlam is a high-altitude homesteader and owner of Willow Creek Farm in the Colorado Rockies, where she breeds landrace sheep, chickens, and crops accustomed to elevation. Check out Kat’s custom fiber-processing business, Willow Creek Fiber Mill, and read all of Kat’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Transitions: Preparing the Farmer for Winter

snowy barn

I enjoy operating my micro dairy year-round though I have to admit: spring and fall are my favorite times of the year. I am not a fan of the extremes of winter or summer. I can get the most work done when the temperatures are moderate and, at 63 years old, I tend to hide from the high summer sun rather than bask in it. At least during the winter I can put more clothes on to stay warm outside. 

Lighting. Winter certainly does present its own set of conditions that farmers in snow country must adjust to every fall. First, there is darkness; it is dark when I wake up and dark when I do my evening chores. Having good lighting inside the barns and out is very important. The flood light outside my barn has a motion detector so it turns on and lights up the barnyard when the cows or I go outside when it is dark. That is very helpful. I also recommend installing lighting in the sheds or other outbuildings where you work in the winter. But don’t feel the need to do everything all at once. Every fall I like to make one or two minor improvements to my Micro Dairy in preparation for the winter. 

Pre-snow prep. Next there is the snow, and when it snows there is always plowing and shoveling. In the fall, I try to make sure that the areas where I push the snow are open and clear. That means making sure that my firewood is stacked and all my machinery is out of the way. I take down temporary fencing next to the road and driveways. Plowing snow is non-productive at best so I do all I can to eliminate complications and or opportunities to damage my tractor or other pieces of equipment.

Downsizing the herd. I have to admit that sometimes the thought of the coming winter in Vermont can be a little daunting, especially if you operate your micro dairy alone, as I do. Back when my wife and I had a larger farm and milked 70 Jersey cows, our kids were younger and chore time was a family affair. Everyone pitched in. But now it is just me, trudging up to the barn in the snow and cold every morning and night. Since I am neither a hero nor a martyr, this winter I decided to lighten my load and sell two of my four cows. I kept one bred heifer and one milking cow so I would have milk to feed a beefer calf I am raising. Doing that essentially cut my chore time in half and reduced the hay and grain I will feed out this winter by 50 percent.

barn 

Milking cows twice a day can get tiresome, especially when you also have a day job. It is important to remember that having a small farm or a micro dairy allows you the flexibility to sell a few, or, even all of your cows and take a break for a season or two. If you have a larger herd you can sell your milkers and keep your calves and heifers and get back into it slowly when they begin to come into milk. The choice is yours. There is no dishonor in taking a little break.

Work smarter, not harder. I believe the keys to preparing for the upcoming winter of a Micro Dairy in regions that get cold, snowy and dark at 4 p.m. are first to make small improvements to your facility that will make it easier, quicker and more efficient to operate. Make a list of any small annoyances from the previous winter that you can correct. And then look for opportunities to reduce your workload wherever and however possible. Selling two cows and putting lights in the shed adjacent to my barn has made a huge difference for me this winter. Owning and managing a micro dairy is a matter of choice. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck in drudgery.

Keep making small improvements to your farm and routines and soon the warm spring winds will once again blow and the grass on south facing slopes will begin to green up. In the meantime, button up!

Steve Judge has been involved with the dairy industry for 45 years as a farm hand, farm owner, farm manager, and marketing entrepreneur.  He is the founder of Bob-White Systems Inc., an innovative internet business that sells milking and milk handling equipment to smaller, sustainable, community-based dairies across the U.S. Watch Steve’s YouTube videos on small-scale dairying, connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Cost and Coop Considerations for the Heritage-Breed Chicken Farmer

A water bottle provides clean water and entertainment.

I’ve raised chickens off and on over the past 20 years. Over that time, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve worked hard to figure out a way to make the chickens generate a profit or at least pay for themselves. I’ve purchased adult birds and sometimes bought chicks. I’ve bred birds and seen many a chick hatch. I’ve witnessed miracles and suffered losses.

The biggest poultry losses I’ve undergone have been from predators. Building a solid chicken coop solved part of the problem.

Risks with Free-Ranging Chickens

If you are going to let your chickens free-range, you will probably end up losing a few. Letting one’s chickens run free means choosing freedom for them to enjoy natural surroundings, over the risk involved. A dust bath enables a chicken to lie in the bosom of Mother Earth, to dry out their feathers, and be renewed in spirit. Still, I take a risk every time I let my chickens out.

My coop is surrounded by forest, dense brush and long grass, and some birds will venture 200 feet away. I’ve walked out to the coop mid-afternoon and found a dead chicken every 20 feet, down to the road. I lost about 10 that time. Some predators won’t simply dine and dash; they’ll kill as many chickens as they can.

Letting one’s birds free-range means the pocketbook could take a hard hit. Your investment, let alone profit, could be gone in minutes. But I love watching the birds scratching up the ground, finding bugs and worms, and wanting to come back home to a safe place to truly relax, at the end of the day. It’s a dangerous world out there. A well-fenced outdoor chicken yard is on my to-do list.

In the months when going outside isn’t feasible, my chickens enjoy an indoor dust bath. Each of the three large cages in my coop has a dust bath: fine sand and dry earth in any suitable container. A baby bathtub works great. I often add a bit of diatomaceous earth. This helps keep mites and fleas at bay. I know the birds truly appreciate it; they use it often.

A variety of chicken breeds deliver a pretty variety of eggs.

Cost Advantages of Raising Heritage Breeds

Chickens will provide fresh eggs for eating, and if you have enough of them, selling. A dozen farm-fresh eggs can fetch $5 in my area. They’re even easier to sell if you’ve got a variety of eggs. Different chickens lay different sizes, shapes and colours of eggs. I chose Ameraucanas for their large, pretty, bluish-green eggs, the Leghorns for their consistent laying ability of large white eggs, and the Silkies, because they are usually good mothers that lay small pastel eggs.

Different breeds also have different behaviours. The Leghorns are bossy pigs, but they’re smart, keep themselves clean, and are the best layers. The Ameraucanas can be bold, but some of them will hatch out chicks. There are advantages and disadvantages to each breed.

From a financial point of view, breeding chickens makes the most sense. A single heritage breed chick usually sells here for $5. You could get $5 for a dozen eggs or $60 for a dozen chicks.

The market is presently far from usual. Lately, I’ve seen certain breeds — Silkie and Guinea fowl — sell for $15 a chick, and you’d be lucky to get them. One single super-mom hen could hatch out up to four batches of 10 eggs. With an 80% success rate, she would generate a good profit. That’s not including the eggs she will lay in the other months.

Electric Incubators vs. Broody Hens

The fact that I’m breeding chickens and raising young is the reason for the bulk of work in my coop. When the eggs are laid, I either collect them for eating or date them with a marker and put them under a broody hen. I live without electricity, so I don’t have an incubator. It takes only 21 days for that chicken egg to become a chick. I inspect the eggs on a daily basis. A few chicks have needed help getting out. I’ve saved quite a few, and sadly, accidentally, probably killed a few.

I know an incubator could increase my numbers dramatically, and solar panels on my coop roof would probably power them, but I like to see a baby with its mom, not in a machine. It also means less work for me.

An incubator is a great investment for a chicken farmer, but it is not without its problems. A very large chicken breeder I buy from lost 800 eggs at one time during a power failure — heartbreaking and a serious financial blow.

Not all hens will hatch out eggs. The average commercial breed will not raise young. Some heritage breeds have a higher rate of broody hens, but the Silkie outshines them all. Silkie chickens tend to have a great disposition and broody hens will sit on any type of egg: chicken, duck or quail. I’ve had 5-week-old Silkies that mothered day-old Guinea fowl chicks. I believe the Silkie is one of the most sustainable chicken breeds and they will always be part of my flock.

A simple container can make a great dust bath.

A Coop Cleaning Routine that Works

Besides trying to make raising poultry feasible, I’m trying to make it easier and more enjoyable. I’ve realized that I spend a lot of time working with my chickens. I want my coop to have a great feeling about it — a place I enjoy being in. A place my birds enjoy being in.

For most people, the cleaning of the coop is drudgery. But keeping birds confined to a dirty cage is not wise living. A clean coop means everyone will be happier and healthier. Old chicken poop is very dangerous to breathe. A good quality mask is important when cleaning coops, especially old, unused pens. I’ve got more than a few masks around.

I make sure I clean my coop often; if it gets too stinky, the job becomes miserable. Dirty cages mean more likelihood of soiled eggs, which are going to require washing. So, cleaning the cage more often isn’t necessarily much more work.

I designed my coop to allow plenty of room to run my large wheel-barrow down the center of it to make the job easier. In between cleanings, I simply stir up the bedding and spread a new layer of shavings over top. I love handling wood shavings; they smell fantastic and are great at keeping the wet areas dried out. I only use straw for bedding in the cold months, when the temperatures drop well below zero, and the birds can burrow into it to keep warm.

I’ve also discovered the convenience of using rabbit water bottles for my chickens. This device keeps the water clean, and several bottles means you can leave home for a longer period of time. I think that the water bottles also help relieve boredom in the coop. It gives the chickens something different to do. As we all know, the days are long when one is being cooped up.

There’s a lot to be discovered in the business of raising chickens. Let’s keep learning and sharing.

Jo deVries (Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is? and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Jo of the Woods and read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Unexpected Benefits of Owning a Goat-Rental Business

 

As I started out with my goat rental business, I had some pretty clear expectations. Then came the unexpected things. They weren't all negative, and in fact, the unexpected was full of positives. My goat herd is not only a green eating machine, it is also a great entertainment package that is therapeutic, educational and mesmerizing. This is more than a business to me; it is a way of life that brings a service but also brings joy to those who hire us and those who stop by to visit, watch and learn.

Ag Entertainment

Almost immediately, I realized that people would want to stop and watch the goats as they "worked", but it quickly morphed into something more. As I learned how the goats reacted to the various environments, I was soon able to tell the visitors about how the goats behave in a group and what to look for as they watched the goats graze. Watching five or six goats graze is one thing but to watch 70 to 75 goats is amazing!

I became an agricultural educator, giving short educational talks, answering questions — so you need to know goats — and you need to have fun stories to share about some of your more "adventuresome" goats.  We added two wethered males to the crew three summers ago, and they are the resident couch potatoes (there is a story there). They are also the token males on the crew, because we prefer to use females as this is a great way to re-condition them after weaning and to prepare them for breeding season.

My customers always get excited when they know we are coming to their property! They get a child-like excitement that many have not experienced since they were children and so they are overly excited and giddy. The anticipation is very satisfying to me. They love to watch as the goats almost fall out of my stock trailer as I open the gate to let them have their way with the weeds and brush. It is something I like to organize, to get the best thrill for all.

I generally give them a timeframe for how long I will take to set up fences. Then I will let them know when I am ready to let them out. It is almost like being the announcer in a three-ring circus. The customers love this!

Ag Education

For the more educated part of my job, I make sure I have plenty of information about the digestive system (the four-compartment stomach is of great interest) and gestation. Information on certain goats (a life story) is also of interest. Some customers even regularly inquire about certain goats throughout the season.

As the goats come out of the trailer, they run the perimeter of the area, tasting things as they go, as if to check out the buffet before plowing into the main course. Then the goats work as a team to bring down young saplings, vines and branches as if they've planned their attack on the brush.

Ag Therapy

My weed warriors perform a service, yet they are a mesmerizing entertainment that is also therapeutic in nature. I've watched many tired customers come home from work and start watching the goats, and as they watch, the amazement of the goats relaxes them and erases the work day troubles away. This is as satisfying to me as the nice paycheck we get as we leave.

Mary Powell is a goat rental business owner and agricultural educator with 30 years’ experience working on ranches, farms and feedyards. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Kansas State University with an emphasis in Livestock Production Management. Follow Mary and her many misadventures with the goats on Facebook at Barnyard Weed Warriors and Ash Grove Goat Ranch or on her BarnyardWeedWarriors.com website.  If you have questions for her about her goats or Border Collies, email Mary at barnyardweedwarriors@yahoo.com. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Start ‘Em Young: Connect Kids with the Land to Yield a Lifetime of Harvests

Young Boy Milking A Goat

There are many voices clamoring for our kids’ attention these days — from mobile phones to video games to extracurricular activities. But one voice is increasingly getting drowned out in the noise: the call of the wild.

Whether you are an aspiring farmer, established homesteader, or entering the “grandfarming” stage of life, getting your kids or grandkids into the great outdoors and connecting with nature will teach them invaluable skills and help prepare them for a prosperous future.

Nurture a Work Ethic

Federal labor laws prevent businesses from employing anyone under 14 years of age. While the intent of these laws is laudable, there are serious unintended consequences. Meaningful labor is a blessing; it builds confidence and character in young boys and girls. A young person who has not worked until the age of 14 will have a hard time adjusting to the demands of life. But any child who can walk can start contributing to a farm economy.

“A farm is a good place to teach kids a work ethic,” I once opined to a former dairy farmer and grandfather of three. “It’s the best place,” he corrected me.

Collecting eggs, feeding rabbits, and picking strawberries can be done from the earliest of ages, and are a real service — assuming some of the strawberries make it back uneaten. As kids grow they can take on bigger chores, including weeding the garden, watering the livestock, and mending fences.

The work on a farm is never done. But as long as the work is readily connected to rewards — a fresh strawberry pie or tasty BLT sandwich — kids will learn the value of work early and be well equipped to meet life’s challenges.

Two Children Harvesting Strawberries

Offer ‘Unscreen’ Time in Nature

There are screens for every crevice of life. Screens for theaters and screens for home. Screens for work, school, supermarkets, restaurants, billboards, gas stations, and of course, screens in our pockets. If there is one virtue that connecting with the land brings, it is respite from screens —taking our eyes off of what is simulated and artificial and re-orienting us to what is natural and real.

Unless adults take the lead, our kids will grow up immersed in a virtual reality and miss the wonder, imagination and rhythms of the natural world.

Wonders such as: tasting that first ripe cherry tomato of the season, whether grown on an apartment balcony in the city or on a two-acre garden in the country. Or watching the tulips sprout suddenly after a long winter. Or witnessing the miracle of new life emerge from a pregnant ewe — and then its twin a few moments later.

Immersing our kids in the natural world away from screens leads to increased imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills — qualities that are highly sought-after by employers today. It also helps to balance one’s perspective of life and the role technology plays in it.

Father Child With Baled Hay

Plan Productive Play to Foster Love for the Work

The old adage is true: “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.” The best way to get kids involved in farming is to start them young and make it fun.

There are many chores on a homestead that are quite enjoyable in small doses: transplanting seedlings, caring for baby chicks, milking a goat, or harvesting pumpkins. Conversely, the worst thing you can do is assign your kids chores you don’t like yourself. (Yes, I am referring to cleaning stalls.) That is a recipe for alienating kids from the land, as I have heard from many who have fled the farm as young adults.

Splitting wood might not sound like fun to most. But to a 9-year-old boy, pushing the lever on the log splitter while his dad sets the logs is genuine play. When the woodstove is keeping his family warm through the winter, he’ll take satisfaction in knowing he wasn’t just passing time but using it productively.

As children get a little older, starting a farm-based business selling flowers, eggs or purebred rabbits, is entirely within the capacity of a 10-year-old boy or girl. And such enterprises, regardless of success, will teach valuable lessons about stewardship, finances, and working with people.

Teach Intergenerational Skill-Sharing and Relationship-Building

Before the Industrial Revolution, before the factory displaced the home as a center for production, families worked together. From our 21st-century perspective, it can be difficult to grasp how differently families lived and worked back then. Children were raised, educated, and employed their whole lives on the family farm, often for several generations. Those who did not stay on the farm were apprenticed to local tradesmen, supplying much-needed goods and services to the local community. While they did not have most of the conveniences and creature comforts we enjoy today, they did have one thing in steady supply: relationships.

One of the tradeoffs we made for our modern conveniences — whether consciously or unconsciously — was giving up opportunities to mentor our young people through the context of work. Factory production meant the end of the apprenticeship model, the method by which generational skill, culture, and faith had been passed on for thousands of years.

But we don’t have to accept these tradeoffs. We can reclaim our place as mentors as we work alongside our kids. We can teach our children about stewardship as we kneel beside them in the garden. We can model resourcefulness as we harvest lumber and firewood from our woodlots. The deepest conversations usually surface while working — shaping souls happens more often in the barn or field than around the dinner table.

We are not merely making connections with the land, we are making connections with our kids. The growing season is short: Our sons and daughters will be moving on soon enough. This is our chance to sow the seeds that will prepare them for a healthy, happy, and abundant future.

Mother And Daughter Planting Garden

Photos by Rory Groves

Rory Groves is a technology consultant and family farmer who lives in southern Minnesota, with his wife, Becca, where they farm, raise livestock, host workshops, and homeschool their five children. He is author of the forthcoming book Durable Trades: Family-Centered Economies That Have Stood the Test of Time (Wipf & Stock). Connect with Rory at The Grovestead, and read all of his 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.

Collect Windfall Apples

windfall apples

Photo by SuperND/Fotolia

A time-honored tradition for country folk is harvesting wild foods, such as fiddle-head ferns in the spring. But sometimes, on the edges of former homesteads, you can find semi-wild foods (or food that has gone wild!), such as apples.

Pioneers and homesteaders have been planting apple trees since Plymouth days. Apples are a wonderfully versatile fruit; they can be stored for months and used as is, or transformed into cider, sauce, and dried apples for pies and cobblers. Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) spent much of his life in the late 1700 and early 1800s planting apple nurseries, primarily in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. It is said that some of those trees are still bearing apples.

But you don’t have to go to those states to find free-for-the-asking apples. Just by taking an autumn drive in the country, you will probably find an old farmstead with an apple tree or two loaded with apples, ready to become deer and bear fodder. Before picking, always try to find who owns the trees and if it is OK to pick the apples. You also might find trees, full of ripe apples, in your neighbor’s. They may be thrilled to have someone pick them rather than having to deal with rotting apples in the grass.

I was prompted to write about windfall apples by my experience at work this week. A group of us were taking our noon walk, where we routinely pass a closed retirement facility. Most of the leaves have fallen and so I noticed a formerly hidden tree, full of red somethings. On closer inspection, I discovered that it was an apple tree, still loaded with good fruit. Since no one is currently living on the site, I felt comfortable taking a few apples to make into apple sauce. Many of the apples had blemishes and some bug spots, but on the whole, they were perfect for boiling down for sauce. What a serendipitous find!!

I think I will make a note on the calendar for next fall to locate some more orphan apple trees in my area. Making apple sauce from a variety of apple types makes for the best tasting sauce. And if I find enough really tasty ones, I can make my father's favorite apple dessert - a schnitz pie. But that story will have to wait for another day.

Do you have a favorite found food? Tell us about it.

Managing Your Property for Healthy Wildlife with Dr. Grant Woods, Part 1

 Dr. Grant Woods with deer

Dr. Grant Woods of GrowingDeer.tv demonstrates how to process a deer post-hunt. Photo by GrowingDeer.tv

I have been a fan of GrowingDeer.tv for a few years now, learning more about the management of wild deer and their habitats, while also being educated further about trapping as an important part of that process. GrowingDeer was created by Dr. Grant Woods, a wildlife biologist with a specialization in deer management, to share his knowledge and experiences freely with the readers of their blog and video viewers. I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Woods via email in this two-part series, hoping to encourage others to learn more about this valuable website and to get more involved in the management of their wildlife.

In an uncertain time where many processors may be booked up or turning away customers, GrowingDeer offers information such as this educational video on processing your own deer at home. Video Credit: GrowingDeer.tv

Fala Burnette: Thank you Dr. Woods for agreeing to this interview! It's a true pleasure to talk about wildlife management with you, and introduce the readers to GrowingDeer.tv. I'd like to start off by asking what initially motivated or encouraged you to really become involved with wildlife management, and property management to promote healthy wildlife?

Grant Woods: I was raised on a 100-acre family farm in southwestern Missouri at the edge of the Ozarks. There were no deer in the county and I had heard the Missouri Department of Conservation was restocking deer in the area. For some reason that piqued my interest and I thought about seeing a deer. I wondered if there would ever be deer near our farm!

Then, before school one morning when I was in the first grade I was checking rabbit traps my father and I had built.  While walking to the next trap I found a female fawn (approximately six months old) that had been shot illegally in one of our fields. I remember running to our hog barn to get my Dad before he left for work. Dad drug the deer to our barn and left it as he had to go to work and it was going to be cold all day. That evening we skinned the deer, fleshed the pelt, and rubbed Epsom salt on the inside of the hide as that's all we knew to do.

I had plans to hang the hide in my room but Mom had different plans so it was placed inside our barn and I would rub it and wonder about deer for years. I believe God used that moment to inspire me to become a deer biologist and I'm still following that inspiration.

Years later I learned about habitat characteristics and how degraded wildlife habitat was in some areas. Once I learned the vast negative impacts low quality habitat has on many wildlife (game and nongame) species I focused on learning and implementing techniques to improve habitat quality and therefore wildlife populations.

Comparing your childhood years (as you mentioned with low numbers and poor habitat) to now, and even in your work advising others on how to improve their properties, what sort of changes and benefits do people begin to notice when they pay more attention to improving these habitats?

I'm currently 59 years old and I didn't hear of anyone intentionally improving native habitat for deer or other species of wildlife until I attended college and then such actions were primarily conducted on state and federal lands.

Now it's extremely common for private landowners to improve native habitat using techniques such as timber stand improvement and prescribed fire. These improvements almost always provide substantial benefits for nongame critters as well.  As an example, many private, nonindustrial stands of timber throughout the United States of America were high graded during the past few decades. High grading timber is when the best trees are harvested and the less desirable trees in form and size are left.

Many folks purchase property primarily to have a location for them and their family to hunt. Because hunting is their primary priority they often are more interested in improving wildlife habitat quality then maximizing income from a timber harvest. This encourages them to leave the best trees while reducing the number of trees per acre and allow the residual trees to have less competition for sunlight and soil moisture. This not only improves wildlife habitat and carrying capacity by allowing native grasses and forbs to grow between trees but also allows a better crop of trees to be produced for future timber supply and revenues.

Part 2 of the series covers site maintenance and tips for encouraging health in your deer populations.

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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