Saturday, July 5, 2008

"Small-Scale Livestock Farming"

People often ask me how I learned to do everything I do. Many assume I grew up on a farm and are surprised to learn that until 2002, I lived in the Chicago suburbs for nine years. I grew up in a small town in Texas, went to college in Connecticut and grad school in Rhode Island, and then married a naval officer and literally moved to the four corners of the United States: from Connecticut to Washington State to Florida to Hawaii. We had a dog and cats and even a guinea pig and a rabbit when we were suburbanites, but how did we learn to milk goats, raise chickens, and make cheese? Between the Internet and books, I don't think there is a lot that a person could not learn to do. Getting back into farm life after grad school, I came across one of the books I read six years ago, Small-Scale Livestock Farming by Carol Ekarius.

This is a great book for anyone contemplating raising livestock in a natural environment. The book doesn't give you enough information about any particular species to be able to raise them, but it gives you a basic idea of what you'll need to know about housing, fencing, and feeding. For more details on goats, for example, you would need to get a book devoted to caprines.

The best part of this book is the explanation of how grass grows and the ideal timing for cutting hay and rotating pastures. Considering the scarcity and price of hay this year, this part of the book is especially interesting to me now. I mostly ignored it the first time I read this book, because our hay field more than met our needs. We have a lot more animals now, and I think we could still be completely self sufficient with hay, but we have a lot to learn! We've already made some mistakes this year, but hopefully, next year we'll be able to rotate pastures properly and harvest enough hay that we won't have to buy any.

There is also a marketing section in the book, but I am trying to ignore it because I want to focus on just being self sufficient, rather than trying to make money. After all, when you live on a farm, every penny saved really is a penny earned -- and you don't have to pay taxes on it! Yesterday, three of us picked $64 worth of raspberries (based on local cost) in 90 minutes. Not only did we get all those delicious berries, we didn't have to earn $64 to pay for them, nor did we have to pay sales tax on them. The carbon footprint of those berries is also absolutely 0. But I digress -- if I ever decide to start marketing our products seriously, this book has a lot of good ideas on that topic also. The farmer profiles are especially interesting, but I have to remind myself not to get seduced by their financial success stories. After all, I really do not want to raise hundreds of chickens or dozens of pigs every year. I just want to have delicious, organic food produced by happy animals who are living the life that nature intended.

4 comments:

Virginia Lyons, alpaca rancher said...

I was a city slicker too. 30+ years in Calif and the computer industry before retiring to a ranch in Texas. I raise alpacas, mini-llamas, and now dairy goats.

There's some good info about fencing at Livestock Fencing">, and it has free online fencing cost estimators, for any type fence imaginable.

Right now, I'm learning to make cheese from my own dairy goats. Soon we'll be baling hay for the 2nd time.

Deborah said...

I'm always excited to hear about people learning to make their own cheese. I assume you've discovered cheesemaking.com. I buy almost all my cultures from them.

Nancy K. said...

You are an Inspiration!

Deborah said...

Aw, shucks, Nancy! Thanks, but I honestly think that if I can do this, anyone can. When I was in school, I was always the kid who was chosen last for teams in P.E. and came in last place running. While part of me still wants a cow, another part of me is scared by their size, because I know that I can't make them do anything they don't want to do. But there again, it's a matter of brains over brawn. So, maybe I doubt my understanding of cow psychology.

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