Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Choosing livestock

One of the first things people need to think about if they plan to move to a farm, start a farm, ranch, hobby farm, or anything else with animals is what do I get?  I dont think most people put enough thought into what they want to get until they have gotten a few things and realized it can be disastrous   The first thing you need to take into account is your needs/wants.  We were lucky in that this farm is a generation farm so it is debt free.  We had to build our house, but the land was paid for.  There was no animals here, so we had to put up fences, buy animals, shelters, etc.  For most people, they will be buying the land, so money will be a factor in every day life.  So your first thing you may want to do is cut down on your grocery bill.  This takes time, effort, and money.  I know, sounds odd, but growing your food is a long term investment and will pay for it's self, but not in a week.

So, growing your own food.  You have veggies, fruits, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, dairy, etc.  You have to choose what is going to be the first and easiest thing for you to do when starting off.  Here are some guidelines that we learned the hard way.

1.  First thing you need to do is make a list of what you want to accomplish.  If it is just in your head then no one else will know.  Your partner or children or family or friends that may be willing to help wont know what they can do or where to start without a list.  Personally, I always make lists, it helps me see what is most important.

2.  Prioritize that list.  Which animal is most important to what you want to accomplish?  Is it dairy?  Poultry? Beef?  It is all up to you.  But how do you choose the importance?  Well, here are a few things to help you accomplish that:
     A.  Which is easiest to start with for you?  If you have no prior knowledge, chickens may be the easiest.
     B.  Which will be the cheapest to start up for you?  Do you have fencing on your property or will you have to put them up?  Do you have feeders and a way to water them?  Will you have to buy feed for them or will you grow it?
     C.  Your personal comfort level.  Some people are afraid of birds.  Some wont go near a calf, much less a full size cow.  Some are afraid the pigs will bite them.  You have to really think and maybe visit a farm to see what you are comfortable with.
     D.  Is there anyone local to you that is willing to help teach you or will you have to learn on your own?  That is a big one because if you start with say a dairy cow, that is expensive, but saves a lot of money.  However, if they are not cared for properly they can die pretty fast.  So you want someone to help you or have a great vet that is cheap.

3.  Do research.  Look at your list.  Which thing was most important to you?  Your research should be centered around the animal most important to you.  Here is what you need to look for:
     A.  Social needs of the animal.  Is it a herd animal?  Then you have to have at least two.  Is it a flock animal?  Then 5 is better.  Is it a small animal that will be caged like a rabbit?  They can be alone.
     B.  How many of the animal chosen do you need to meet your goal?  Do you want to have your own chicken to eat and eggs to eat?  Do you want just enough milk to drink a day or do you want to make all your own dairy?  You have to know how much you want from this animal to know how many of the animals it will take to produce that.
     C.  Space.  How much space is needed for the amount of that animal that you want?
     D.  Fencing/Cage.  How much fencing will you need to put up or how many cages will you need to build?
     E.  Feeding.  How will you feed the said animal?  Do you need commercial feed?  Do you need hay?  Do you plan to grow your own?  Do they need minerals?  BTW, if you think that you can ever get away without having to give any animal a mineral and you do not have perfect soil with no snow cover ever, then you are lieing to yourself.
     F.  Water.  Most will think this is easy, and for most it is.  If you live in a warm climate, then you have to understand that they will drink more and thus need more water, so will you have an automatic system or just fill them up twice a day?  If it is a cold climate, really think about how you will keep the water from freezing or will you just give them water two to three times daily?
     G.  Shelter.  What type of shelter is needed for that animal?  If it is something like a rabbit, then you just need the cage and in the winter a small area they can get out of the wind.  In the summer, they need shade. If it is cattle, will you build a barn or just a three sided lean to?
     H.  Medical care.  Last but not least, how will you provide any vet care?  Will you provide vet care?  You will at least need to have a good vet that you can call and get medical advice from and that you can purchase the needed medications from.

4.  Set goals.  Now you know everything you need for your animal.  So, where do you start?  Well, first thing is containment   Put up your fences!  Your fencing needs to be suitable for the job.  Dont use two strands of barbed wire if you are going to get goats.  Dont use a 3' high fence if you are getting poultry.  Put up proper fencing and you will have a lot of issues solved already.  Next is the shelter.  They will need it to get out of the weather.  Then food and water set up.  Set your goals according what you can accomplish.

5. Do your list!  I know, repetitive.  But you need to have everything ready before you bring home your new animal.

6.  Now you are ready to get your animal.  So, where do you go?  Well, there are recommendations for every type of animal.  But, to make it short, contact breeders, associations, neighbors, other farmers.  Ask them if they know of anyone reputable to buy from.  Soon enough you will hear just a few names that keep coming up.  Your best bet will be to buy from those people.

7.  Get your animal home and enjoy them.  It is work, but if you let it, it can be enjoyable too.

Monday, April 1, 2013

What you learn.

Recently I posted about making butter and soft cheese.  I had a friend ask me how I learned to do this.  This year on the farm we have had some really joyous births and await several others.  Again, I get asked questions concerning how I learned to care for these animals.  It occurred to me that most people have gotten so far away from the farm and where their food comes from and how their food is made and grown that a lot of knowledge has been lost.  For me, I mostly read the books dating back to the late 1800's as they have the best information that has nothing to do with commercial feeds.  Then it is a lot of experimenting and putting everything into practice.  I was raised in the city and before I moved here I had only grown a few veggies.  It is amazing the things you can learn that after you learn it you sit back and go, wow, that is just common sense!  So, I will try to tell you what I know and what I have learned and then we will learn more together.

Our farm raises Highland cows, Jersey cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, and goats. We use commercial feed for the rabbits only.  The others we grow our own feed and just get minerals for them.  We live in a climate that most would never live.  It is a zone 1B.  Yes, you read that right.  1B.  We do get colder then that sometimes, but not for very long.  The hardest thing is watering the animals as it freezes in less then an hour.  Even a greenhouse will freeze in this weather in the winter.  So, our choice of planting is very limited.  We are still young at farming and still learning.  If you think you can learn everything about farming or animals you might as well stop reading now.  You will always learn something new.

So, what would you like to know about or learn first?