Peopling the Plains

Peopling the PlainsIf you have a serious interest in the history of Kansas, particularly its settlement, here’s a book you’ll probably refer to again and again.

Peopling the Plains: Who Settled Where in Frontier Kansas by James Shortridge breaks the history of Kansas settlement into four time frames, each one shifting the focus to a different part of the state:

  • The northeast, 1865.
  • The southeast, 1885.
  • The central plains, 1885.
  • The west, 1905 and 1925.

The book also delves into the questions of who settled where and why, examining census statistics to find out which townships were populated by New Englanders, Upper Midlanders, Upper Southerners, Lower Southerners, and various groups of foreigners.

Along the way, you’ll learn the answers to questions such as:

  • Who settled in the vicinity of the mines of eastern Kansas?
  • Did any ex-Confederates ever come to the state?
  • What role did the railroads play in peopling the plains?
  • Was the African-American town of Nicodemus part of a settlement pattern, or was it an anomaly?
  • Which groups of people settled the farming areas of the state, and which groups were more interested in ranching?

After illustrating who settled where with an abundance of maps and charts, Shortridge briefly examines the way these varying settlers affected the state in terms of religion, politics, farming practices, and even barbecue restaurants.

A fascinating read for the serious enthusiast, and a great aid to historical research!

Carneiro: The Sheep Town

Carneiro: The Sheep TownOne of the little dead towns of Kansas, just 12 miles east of Ellsworth, bears the name Carneiro (pronounced, “kahr-NAIR-oh”).  Interestingly, the name is Portuguese, not a very common language for place-names in this state, and it means, “sheep” or “mutton.”

Now if there is one type of livestock Kansas is typically associated with, it is undoubtedly cattle, not sheep.  Nevertheless, Carneiro reminds us of a forgotten piece of state history.

The name of the town came from the name of Edward Winslow Wellington’s 12,000-acre sheep ranch, Monte Carneiro.  It is uncertain why Wellington, who was born in Massachusetts and educated at Harvard to be a lawyer, chose to pursue sheep raising as his career.  But he was evidently enamored with Kansas, anyway.  After his arrival in the West in Denver in 1877, he spent some time wandering through various parts of the state with his sheep before settling on Monte Carneiro in Ellsworth County as his home.  His property soon became one of the largest ranches in central Kansas.

In 1882, Wellington decided to build a town, a shipping point for his sheep.  He and a few other ranchers in the area chose a townsite just a few miles south of Monte Carneiro, on the Union Pacific tracks.  Stockyards, a hotel, a school, and three general stores soon followed, as did a post office—named Carneiro.

Wellington’s animals were probably not the only sheep loaded onto the trains at Carneiro, however.  While much as been said and written about the range cattle industry and the great cattle drives, historians typically overlook similar stories regarding sheep.  Sheep grazed on the ranges of western Kansas (although Wellington’s ranch was one of the largest operations), and they were driven along trails to the railheads, as well.

Where did these sheep come from?  Mostly from states further west.  The first domesticated sheep in the American West arrived with the Spaniards centuries before.  The Spanish missionaries kept flocks of sheep, and it was from these that the Native American tribes of the Desert Southwest obtained their flocks.  More sheep were driven westward during the California Gold Rush to supply mutton for the hungry miners.

Carneiro: The Sheep Town
Early 1900s railroad map showing Carneiro (on the blue line, east of Ellsworth)

However, the sheep multiplied faster than people could eat them, and by the end of the Civil War, a flock of sheep could hardly be sold in the Western states—there were too many of them!  Adventurous entrepreneurs began to send their best shepherds back eastward to try to find a market for their flocks.

Driving sheep was difficult work.  The animals were skittish and hard to manage, and they were at constant risk from predators.  It took a patient, experienced shepherd to drive sheep to market.  Many of the shepherds on the great sheep trails were foreigners who had been handling sheep for generations: Basques, Mexicans, and Portuguese.

Many of the sheep went to establish range flocks in Wyoming, Montana, Texas, and the Dakotas.  Over 15 million went to the feedlots and railheads of Minnesota, Nebraska, and Kansas.  Some of the infamous cowtowns of Kansas were also shipping points for sheep, including Abilene, Wichita, and Dodge City.

And then there was Carneiro.  Of course, Monte Carneiro is long gone, as is the post office.  There are now fewer than a dozen people in the town.  The pastures are mostly stocked with cattle.  But the legend lives on.

 

Helpful Resource

View South Over Carneiro, Kansas
An aerial photo from the Kansas Geological Survey.

3 Money-Saving Tips for the Farm

3 Money-Saving Tips for the FarmIt’s very easy to get carried away in our farm spending.  It seems that there’s always some handy tool or machine that would make life a little easier, and there’s always a steady stream of things needing to be repaired.

If you’re ready to rein in the spending a little bit, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Do it yourself.  Build your own toolshed.  Make your own fence posts.  Fix your own tractor.  Cure your own livestock.  The possibilities are endless!  Farming on a tight budget can really stretch your creativity.  Before running out and buying a part or calling in an expert, try doing your own research.  See if you can come up with a less expensive and equally effective alternative.
  2. Buy used.  There are some things you will have to buy, such as tools, but many times you can get along just fine without the latest, greatest name-brand item.  See if you can find a used part or machine that still has many years of working life left in it.  Check eBay or Amazon.  Or maybe a friend of yours is throwing away junk and has something he’ll sell you for a reasonable price.  Lightly used equipment can be a great bargain.
  3. Be honest.  Avoid falling into the trap of nickel-and-diming yourself to death.  Ask yourself, “Do I really need this just now?  Is there a better way to get the task done?”  If you can do without it…by all means, do!  There may come a time further down the road when your prospective purchase will more than pay for itself, but for now improvise.  Avoid impulse buys.  Instead, think through each decision carefully.

Saving money on the farm will often involve a little more time spent in research and in the farm workshop, but often the results are very satisfying.

Are you ready to think outside of the box?

Insects in Kansas

Insects in KansasIf you spend time outdoors, you come into contact with quite a few insects and other creepy-crawlies:

  • Bees.
  • Ants.
  • Flies.
  • Spiders.
  • Termites.
  • Cockroaches.
  • Earwigs.
  • Crickets.
  • Spiders.

On a more pleasant note, there are also butterflies and helpful garden friends such as praying mantises.

If bugs fascinate you or someone in your family, you may appreciate Insects in Kansas developed by the Kansas Department of Agriculture in conjunction with K-State.  The book offers photos and brief descriptions of approximately 850 species of insects and their relatives (spiders, ticks, etc.).  Also included are several pages of pictures of immature insects, so that you’ll never be at a loss for the name of any grub or caterpillar you run across.

Helpful information includes a glossary, an overview of beekeeping, and facts about how insects eat, breathe, and metamorphose.  And if you’re interested in collecting insects, you’ll find plenty of help here.  Ick.

The key to making the best use of this (or any other field guide, for that matter) is to become familiar with the classification system.  Insects in Kansas groups bugs by class or order, then family, then species.  Take some time to thumb through the book before taking it out into the garden or field.

If you’re inclined to enjoy the company of insects, you’ll probably find plenty of use for this guide!

Dutch Belted

Dutch BeltedThe Dutch Belted breed comes to us from Holland, as its name suggests. It probably descended from Swiss and Austrian cattle which shared its distinctive trait—a band of white hair wrapped around its middle. This interesting color pattern attracted the attention of the Dutch nobles, who adopted the breed to add to their collections of other belted animals, including rabbits, goats, pigs, and the unique Lakenvelder chicken.

The breed made its appearance in Holland by the 1600s, and by the mid-1700s began to thrive. The Dutch nobles were proud of their belted cattle, and it was some years before anyone could persuade them to sell a few. D.H. Haight, United States consul to Holland, was one of the first Americans to have any success, and he introduced a few Dutch Belteds to our shores in 1838. In 1840, P.T. Barnum made the next importation. The breed’s stunning appearance made a sensation in Barnum’s traveling circus, and when the time came for the cows to retire from show business, they set to work providing the milk for his farm in New York.

The Dutch Belted’s milking ability thoroughly impressed Barnum. Through his enthusiastic breed promotion, Americans began to import more of the cattle. Shipping them from Holland was costly, however, so they were never introduced in great numbers. An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe in 1906 put an end to the importations.

Although it never became wildly popular, the Dutch Belted slowly spread throughout the United States until around World War II. As the post-war economy began to take off, the Holstein became the dairy breed of choice due to its unequaled production ability, and all other breeds of milk cattle suffered accordingly. Only a few dedicated breeders thought it worthwhile to preserve their belted herds. The Dutch Belted was in danger of global extinction by the 1970s, many of the Dutch herds having been decimated in the Nazi invasion of Holland.

To make matters worse, in the early 1980s, the United States Department of Agriculture began a campaign to raise the price of milk by reducing the national cow herd. A buyout program led to many dairy cattle being slaughtered for beef, and it was typically the non-Holstein breeds that suffered most. By 1985 the Dutch Belted breed was in a perilous predicament.

However, help was on the way. The few devoted Dutch Belted breeders left began increasing the breed’s numbers through the process of upgrading.  Interest in pasture-raised livestock in the 1990s brought with it an interest in heritage breeds that were designed to function best on grass, including the Dutch Belted. As a result, the future of this unique breed is looking much brighter. In fact, its numbers have increased so much that American Dutch Belteds are being used to revive the breed in its native Holland.

Dutch BeltedUses

While some hobby farmers keep Dutch Belted cattle just for their looks, the primary purpose of the breed is to produce milk, particularly in a grass-based system. Dutch Belted milk works well for making cream, butter, and cheese, but it is great just for drinking, as well.

Other uses of the breed include draft work and beef production. At present, breeders caution against raising Dutch Belted cattle for meat, since they are still fairly rare. However, there does seem to be potential for breeding Dutch Belted bulls to beef-type cows in order to raise crossbred calves for beef.

Temperament

The Dutch Belted is known for its sweet, trusting nature and its amazing patience. It is a very smart breed that quickly catches on to what is expected of it, and it will amply reward its owner’s loving care.

Health

Most Dutch Belteds are sound, healthy animals, typically free from the metabolic problems that plague the higher-producing breeds. Both their feet and their udders are structurally sound.

However, the skin on their white parts is somewhat sensitive. Owners should avoid using insecticides on their Dutch Belted cattle, or at least try to apply them only to the colored parts.

ProsDutch Belted

  • Consistent quality.
  • Hardiness.
  • Adaptability.
  • Suitability for grass-based systems.
  • Good foraging instincts.
  • Ability to maintain body condition on limited resources.
  • Amazing longevity; some continue to calve and milk until age 20.
  • Early maturity.
  • Exceptional fertility.
  • Very easy calving.
  • Calf vigor.
  • Excellent mothering instincts.
  • Persistent milk production.
  • Excellent milk flavor and quality.
  • Small, easy-to-digest fat globules.
  • High butterfat and protein content, perfect for cheesemaking.
  • High beta-carotene content.
  • High beef yield.
  • Flavorful, tender meat.
  • Significant hybrid vigor in crossbreeding.

Cons

  • Scarcity.
  • Milk production a little high for homestead use.
  • Lower production than commercial dairy breeds.
  • Calves sell poorly at sale barns.
Helpful Resource

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
Is the Dutch Belted right for you? This book will help you assess your five needs and make that decision. Includes a brief profile of the Dutch Belted breed. Free sample pages are available here.

Complete Series

Cattle BreedsCattle Breeds

 

Poultry Predator Patrol

Poultry Predator PatrolPredators are one of the most frustrating problems related to poultry-keeping.  Many times, you never even see the culprit, just the damage it did.  Coyotes, raccoons, possums, hawks, and owls all take their toll on the flock, but what can you do about it?

First of all, remember that prevention is the best cure.  If you have a predator problem, don’t let your chickens roam at large.  Safely enclose them in an electric netting-style fence designed for poultry, and check for shorts frequently.  Even if you can hear the fence charger clicking, a determined predator won’t be deterred by 2,000 volts.  4,000 is about as low as you want the charge to go; 8,000 is better.  This means that you will have to keep the grass cut short under the fence.

Also make sure that your poultry is safely housed at night.  Any hen or guinea perched out in the open after dark is an easy target for owls and other predators.  Bring them home and lock them up!

So what if a predator does pay your poultry a call?  First check your defenses and figure out how it got in.  Make sure your electric fence is working properly.  If the problem is that chickens are flying over the fence and making themselves easy prey, trim the flight feathers of the offenders.

Sometimes, though, a wily possum will figure out a way to get over or under a fence without getting shocked, or a hawk will make a habit of swooping down into the poultry pen for a daily meal.  If your flock is plagued by an inveterate predator, you may have to eliminate the culprit.  Depending your local laws and on what type of predator you are dealing with, you may need to consider shooting it or catching it in a humane trap to release someplace else.  Just check the regulations first!

Most predator problems can and should be prevented, however.  A good electric poultry fence is often the best line of defense.  (Just remember to move the pen regularly.)  As long as the birds have a charged barrier around them and a home to run to when threatened from above, you should have few difficulties with predators.

What is Sustainable Agriculture?

What is Sustainable Agriculture?It may seem simple to define sustainable agriculture, but ask two people what it is, and you’ll probably get two different answers. Many of the various perspectives have similarities, but each approaches the subject from a slightly different angle. Here are three of the most common viewpoints.

 

Environmental Focus

One common view is that sustainable agriculture is about using farming practices that protect the environment. This type of approach often focuses on:

  • Avoiding the use of potentially harmful chemicals.
  • Raising livestock humanely.
  • Creating diverse habitats for wildlife.
  • Conserving natural resources such as fuel, soil, and water.

Sustainability in an environment-focused system comes from keeping nature’s many cycles unbroken.

 

Community Focus

A second approach to sustainable agriculture stems from concern over the decline of small communities in recent years. As people move out of rural areas, towns die. Therefore, some sustainable producers take their role in community health very seriously. They seek to keep their small towns alive by:

  • Supporting local businesses.
  • Drawing potential customers to the community.
  • Providing employment in their area.

 

Family-Business Focus

A final definition of sustainable agriculture focuses more on the farmer and his family. Proponents of this view feel that farmers should be able to make a profit on what they sell and enjoy the fruit of their toil. But this is not all. A key feature of this angle of sustainable agriculture is its emphasis on ensuring that the next generation will have an incentive to carry on with the farm. The goals of this approach are:

  • Improving the margin of farm-based businesses.
  • Providing an enjoyable lifestyle for the whole family.
  • Employing any family members who want to work on the farm.

 

The Complete Approach

Many successful sustainable farms have chosen to combine all three perspectives into a more rounded view of sustainable agriculture. One of the best things about approaching sustainable agriculture in this manner is that it gives the producer a chance to think for himself, to pick and choose the practices that line up with his beliefs and create a unique enterprise. There are as many different ways to farm as there are farmers. Why should we all approach things the same way?

By creating a farm that fulfills his life purpose, the farmer will able to find deep satisfaction in his work, knowing that he is on the path his Creator laid out for him. This will ensure that his work is eternally valuable, thus achieving the ultimate in sustainability. Because that life purpose is guaranteed to include service to others, the farmer will also have a profound impact for the better on both his family and his community. Furthermore, because he is called to be a good steward of his possessions, he will manage the environment wisely, but without magnifying it beyond its proper perspective.

What more could we ask? This type of sustainable farm is something we all could benefit from. Let’s do it!

 

Helpful Resources

Stewardship
More resources on all aspects of sustainability.

You Can Farm
Excellent presentation of how the pieces of sustainability can balance each other out. Read our full review.

Found: God’s WillFound: God's Will
Finding your life purpose is easier than you think! Read our full review.

“Doing the Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way”
Any type of work can be God’s work. What you do in life isn’t nearly as important as how and why you do it.

Building a Sustainable Business
The tools in this highly recommended guide to building a business plan emphasize all aspects of sustainable farming. Don’t start a business without it! Read our full review.

Getting Your First Horse

Getting Your First HorseYou or your children have always wanted a horse or pony, and now that you have a home in the country the time is right to buy one. But before you purchase your first horse, some preliminary research is in order.

Getting Your First Horse by Judith Dutson is a great place to start.

This guide walks beginners through the process of buying and caring for a pleasure horse. After giving you the information you need to make a wise purchase, Getting Your First Horse helps you choose the appropriate supplies and housing facilities for your horse. Subsequent chapters cover the basics of feeding, health, and safety around horses. A chapter on breeds is also included and is illustrated with beautiful color plates.

Getting Your First Horse does an excellent job of warning beginners of potential pitfalls and helping them weigh the pros and cons of each decision they will have to make. While this book will not teach you how to ride, it will help ensure that you and your new horse share many enjoyable years together. Great starting point for those with no prior experience with horses!

Devon

DevonThe Devon, affectionately called the “Red Ruby” or the North Devon to distinguish it from the unrelated South Devon breed, presents the same historical dilemma as so many other ancient breeds of cattle do: Where did it come from? Was it brought to England by the Phoenicians, the Celts, the Saxons, or the Vikings? All we know for certain is that when the Romans arrived in southwest England sometime around 55 B.C., the Devon was already there.

Quietly the breed served its masters for hundreds and hundreds of years, steadily producing meat and milk, as well as putting its shoulder to the yoke. Fads came and fads went, but the Devon maintained its rightful place on the farms of England. Little wonder, then, that when the first emigrants to America began to set up their farms, they set about importing some of the cattle they had known and respected back home.

The first cattle in New England were Devons, three heifers and a bull shipped to Plymouth Colony in 1623 at the behest of Edward Winslow. After clearing and plowing the land at Plymouth, the breed spread quickly throughout the developing country. Everywhere the colonists settled, the Devon went with them, from New England to Florida.

In a sense, the story of the Devon is the story of America. It supplied the butter for George Washington’s table in the peaceful days before the Revolution. It appeared on the state seal of Vermont when the war was over and the Constitution was ratified. It pulled the covered wagons of land-seeking pioneers venturing out on the Oregon Trail. And it broke the prairie sod in the days of the Homestead Act.

But the faithful Devon ox had rather mixed success in its subsequent progress through American history. The Holstein and the Jersey replaced its role in the dairy parlor, while on the beef side of things, it was found that larger breeds ate more grain and therefore brought better profits to the feedlots. And after World War II, who needed cattle for draft work?

Some persistent breeders clung to their Devon cattle, patiently developing its beef qualities in spite of the growing influence of feedlots on the American cattle industry. They even bred a polled (naturally hornless) variety that was easier to handle. This specialization in beef, however, disturbed some old-timers who valued the versatility of the original type of Devon. A handful of teamsters in the New England area divided from the main body of Devon enthusiasts and began focusing on the old, horned stock, which they renamed the American Milking Devon.

DevonBetter days have come again to both types of Devon, thanks to a renewed interest in both heritage livestock and grassfed beef. The time was right for a revival of the breed at the turn of the century. In 2002, renowned grassfed cattle expert Gearld Fry began importing Devons from New Zealand as the epitome of good grazing genetics. The cattle were a success in the grassfed industry, and even attracted the attention of conventional cattle ranchers. With its great crossbreeding potential, the beef Devon seems to have regained its secure foothold in America, and is even reaching record numbers worldwide. As for the American Milking Devon, even though it is far less popular than its meatier cousin, its numbers are also on the increase as it benefits from continued interest in homesteading.

Uses

There is a Devon for every purpose. The beef type, besides producing excellent meat in low-input systems, has earned respect for its ability to contribute its good traits to its crossbred offspring. The American Milking Devon can also produce good beef as well as milk and pulling power. Its milk is ideally suited to making organic cream, butter, and cheese. Both types of Devon are good choices for small farms, and both have potential in conservation grazing, the practice of improving native grasslands with livestock.

Temperament

The Devon is renowned for its docile, friendly nature. Even the bulls are good-tempered when treated kindly, although they will resent rough handling. Devon cows make doting mothers.

There are some differences between the beef type and the milking type. In general, the beef type is somewhat less intelligent, but calmer and easier to handle. The milking type is smarter, livelier, and pluckier.

Health

Devons have earned an excellent reputation for their good health. They seem to have a natural resistance to many diseases. Sun-related problems like cancer eye are very rare in Devons, and lameness is virtually unknown. Bloat is also rare in this breed.

Pros

Devon

  • Size suitable for small acreages.
  • Easy on both pastures and fences (except when the occasional horned Devon grounds an electric fence).
  • Hardiness.
  • Resistance to external parasites.
  • Adaptability to most climates and pasture conditions, particularly drought.
  • Amazing efficiency.
  • Ability to thrive on minimal inputs.
  • Strong foraging instinct.
  • Longevity; both bulls and cows frequently stay in the herd until 14 years of age.
  • Early maturity.
  • Superior fertility, even in hot weather.
  • Few calving problems.
  • High survival rates.
  • Sound udders.
  • Rich, high-quality milk.
  • High butterfat content (good for making butter and cheese).
  • Beef type grows fast and finishes well on grass alone.
  • Superior gourmet beef with a fine milky flavor.
  • Juicy, tender meat even on poor forage.
  • Great endurance as a draft animal.
  • Ability to work for long periods of time at a brisk walk.
  • Good temperament and hybrid vigor when crossbred.

Cons

  • Milking type can be hard to find.
  • Trend for bigger bulls is starting to cause calving problems in beef type.
  • Relatively low quantities of milk, although still enough for a small farm.
  • Lower quantities of beef than some of the more popular breeds.
  • Draft animals can be a handful for beginning teamsters.
Helpful Resource

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
Is the Devon right for you? This book will help you assess your five needs and make that decision. Includes a brief profile of the Devon breed. Free sample pages are available here.

Complete Series

Cattle BreedsCattle Breeds