Tag Archives: Draft Animals

Which Draft Animal is Right for You?: Donkeys

What Draft Animal is Right for You?: DonkeysThose who are considering draft animals generally find themselves comparing oxen, horses, and mules. Donkeys do not receive nearly as much attention in the draft world, but that is not to say they can’t pull their own weight around the farm!

The donkey breed best suited to farm work is the American Mammoth Jackstock. Larger burros can do a surprising amount of draft work, as well.

Pros

  • Low purchase cost. Donkeys are typically very inexpensive, sometimes even free. A trained team may be a little more expensive (when locally available), but not by all that much.
  • Hardiness. While perhaps donkeys are not quite as hardy as mules, they are certainly extremely hardy. Parasites should not present any great difficulties, and neither should overeating. Hoof and leg problems are also rare in donkeys.
  • Low feed costs. Donkeys can thrive with very little feed (probably less than any other draft animal). They require supplemental feed if working hard on a regular basis, but less than a draft horse would. If they work only sporadically, they may not require any feed at all. Either way, donkeys do not require the same level of pasture quality that horses do.
  • Minimal hoof care. Out of all the draft animals, donkeys require the least attention to their hooves. As long as they have room to walk around and access to some rougher ground that will wear down their hooves a bit, they should not require trimming. But even if your circumstances make trimming a necessity, shoes are not necessary for donkeys.
  • Simple harnesses. Draft harnesses for donkeys and burros are typically quite simple, involving little more than a padded collar. This reduces the amount of time spent getting the donkey ready for work and then maintaining the harness.
  • Sure footing. Donkeys are well suited to working on uneven fields or smaller properties with hard-to-reach corners.
  • Versatility. A male work donkey could potentially be kept for breeding mules, as well. As an additional bonus, donkeys make good guard animals for sheep and goats. Some bigger donkeys can be ridden, although there aren’t too many donkeys with the size and back strength for this purpose (another point in favor of the American Mammoth Jackstock).

Cons

  • Small size. Most donkeys are too small for heavy draft work, and even a good-sized donkey cannot pull loads as heavy as an ox or mule can (although it might be able to outperform a horse of the same size). Nearly any donkey can pull a small cart loaded with firewood, but for heavier farm work you will want to consider a large donkey. You may also want to plan on two donkeys for every one horse that the job in question would require due to the donkey’s smaller size.
  • Variable availability. While donkeys in general are rather common, draft donkeys are not. Your ability to find a sturdy draft donkey will depend on where you live.
  • Independent nature. Donkeys can be difficult to train and work. They are more like cats than dogs when it comes to obedience, and they can be extremely wary, especially when young. Be prepared to earn their trust and to exercise a great deal of patience when dealing with potentially frightening situations. Also keep in mind that they will never allow themselves to be overworked or placed in danger. For most beginners, starting with a trained team is probably the best bet.

Conclusions

Donkeys are well suited to work on smaller farms. Even a miniature donkey can pull a small cart of vegetables or firewood. And donkeys also have the advantages of being versatile and quite economical to keep.

That said, most donkeys are not big or sturdy enough for heavier draft work. For this purpose, you will likely want an American Mammoth Jackstock, which may or may not be readily available in your area. But if you are considering serious logging or other very heavy work, you may be happier with something with more pulling power, such as an ox or a heavy-breed horse.

Also, not everyone gets along well with donkeys. Those who prefer a more docile animal will likely prefer oxen or horses. Donkeys are more focused on self-preservation—like a mule, but ever so much more so. But some people truly appreciate the intelligence of donkeys. It’s largely a matter of personal preference.

Which Draft Animal is Right for You?: Mules

Which Draft Animal is Right for You?: MulesThe mule has long been used as a draft animal, but it has been particularly associated with the hot climate of the South. It is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse.

While there aren’t exactly breeds of mule, not all mules are created equal. The build of both the jack and the mare involved are key factors in determining whether their offspring will be big and husky enough for draft work. Many mules are bred for saddle purposes these days, which means that they often have a lighter physique.

When selecting the parents of a future draft mule, you will want to look for sturdy, strong-boned donkeys and horses of the larger breeds. You will also want to select both parents, but particularly the mare, for good disposition. One of the best donkey breeds for draft mule breeding is the American Mammoth Jackstock. The horse can be of just about any desired draft breed.

Pros

  • Superb heat tolerance. Historically, the mule was typically the draft animal of choice in the Deep South. The reason was its exceptional tolerance of heat and humidity.
  • Exceptional health and hardiness. Few domestic animals are as tough as the mule. It rarely gets sick, and it almost never goes lame. It has a high degree of parasite resistance. Its hooves are exceptionally sturdy and generally don’t require shoes unless it is being worked on pavement or very rocky ground.
  • Self-preservation instinct. Mules have an unrivaled ability to look out for themselves. They rarely make themselves sick by eating or drinking too much all at once (cases of founder are usually restricted to mules from pony mares). They will not allow themselves to be overworked, either.
  • Calmness. Mules are not prone to panic the way horses are. They may bolt out of wilfulness, but rarely out of fear.
  • Low maintenance requirements. Even when working, the mule requires very little supplemental feed (albeit more than a donkey). It does not require a pristine pasture or top-quality hay to stay in peak form. A draft mule is estimated to require about a third less feed than a working horse of the same size.
  • Longevity. Draft mules have long working lifespans, up to nearly 20 years with proper care.
  • A balance of speed and stamina. Speed and stamina are typically mutually exclusive, but the mule provides a very reasonable compromise. On a continuum with horses representing the most speed but least stamina and oxen representing the most stamina but least speed, a mule would be right about at the balance point.
  • Sure-footedness. Out of all the draft animals, mules are among the most sure of their footing, which is a plus on uneven ground or when working in tight quarters as when cultivating. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the mule has a narrower body and smaller hooves than a horse of the same size. The second is that it is always on the alert and acting as circumstances require.
  • Versatility. Your draft mule can also perform other work around the farm! It can be broken to ride just a like a horse, and when it is not otherwise employed, keep it in the pasture as a guardian for sheep and goats.

Cons

  • Prevalence of low-quality mules. Too many people try to make a fast buck by breeding a cull jack to an inferior mare. While miracles do happen, in everyday life any mule that results from such a breeding is highly unlikely to exceed its parents in quality. Purchasing a mule takes some research to avoid picking up somebody else’s nightmare. A docile mare and positive human interaction from birth are two ingredients necessary to make a good mule.
  • Expense. If you are starting out with a trained draft team (and you should give it some serious consideration if you are thinking about buying mules), a good mule team can be rather pricey.
  • Noise. This should not be much of an issue for anyone who has enough land to be considering draft mules. That said, those of you who are considering a mule for tilling the garden in a more populated area may want to factor in your neighbors’ feelings on the subject.
  • Training challenges. Mules aren’t exactly stubborn—they’re just super independent, and they have an exceptional ability to spot a person who isn’t really in control of a situation. But this independence, admirable though it may be in many situations, is not something most beginners want to deal with. Training mules for draft work is extremely challenging, and it requires a fair but firm hand, not to mention a considerable amount of time. Mistakes have long-term ramifications, and bad habits are extraordinarily difficult to weed out. (This is exactly why trained mules are so expensive.)
  • Complex harness. Although there are differences, the harness used for mules is much like that used for horses with respect to complexity. It takes time to get it on the animals, and it requires a good degree of maintenance.
  • Intelligent disobedience. Even a well-trained mule will disobey if it feels the need, and it will insist on taking time to look over any and all dubious situations before proceeding. This is precisely due to its beneficial self-preservation instinct. That said, not everyone can handle the independence of mules. Horses are more like dogs, mules are more like cats (although not quite to the same degree as donkeys). There is a reason why many people would rather train dogs than cats!
  • Sterility. The mule is the only draft animal that cannot replicate itself (with the caveat that most oxen are steers). Granted, your mule team should last for many years. But if you ever need to replace or expand it, you must purchase new animals or keep both horses and donkeys on hand to raise more yourself.

Conclusions

Mules can make a superb team for use in challenging conditions, and they are the epitome of low-maintenance draft animals. Add to that their nice balance between speed and stamina, and you have an excellent choice for serious farm work.

However, there is probably a good reason that draft mules are not more common than they are, and that is their temperament. Not everyone is going to enjoy working with mules. Beginners in particular may find mules to be too much of a challenge when learning the ropes, even when dealing with a trained team. (And an untrained team can be a nightmare for all but the most dedicated and experienced teamsters.)

When it comes to mules, there is no question that they are superb in low-input farm situations. The question is whether or not you are one of those special people who can get along with a mule.

Next week: Donkeys

Helpful Resource

Mule
More information on the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of the mule, from our guide to horse and donkey breeds.

Which Draft Animal is Right for You?: Horses

Which Draft Animal is Best for You?: HorsesThe horse has always been and still remains a great favorite with some who work with draft animals. It is widely in use among the Amish, and it has enjoyed the attentions of homesteaders and small farmers of all stripes in recent years.

While heavy horses are the ones commonly thought of as draft horses, these breeds are not the only option. A good, sturdy pony can be a suitable draft animal for a truly small farm.

Common horse breeds that can perform some type of farm draft work include:

Pros

  • Low cost of good animals. Compared to some of the other draft animal options, horses are relatively easy to come by, which makes them less expensive. If you are looking at starting with a team that is already trained, you will particularly notice the price difference between horses and mules.
  • Relative ease of finding supplies and information. Likewise, because horses are still comparatively commonly used for draft purposes, finding resources should be quite doable. Even if you live in an area where equipment and expertise are not locally common, the Internet has made draft horse resources widely available.
  • Sized for all purposes. Whatever you want to pull, there is likely a horse of the right size to tackle the job. For a very small farm that produces nothing but vegetables and firewood, a pony may be all you need. For field work and logging, there are the tried-and-true draft horses. And then there’s just about everything in between.
  • Docile temperament. Although not as easy to train as oxen, compared to mules and donkeys, horses are far more amenable and less independent-minded. This is particularly true of the large draft breeds. The horse can also tolerate more beginner mistakes than a mule can. A good draft horse may not be the fastest-learning animal on the planet, but it more than makes up for this in willingness.
  • Moderate heat tolerance. While the horse cannot match the heat tolerance of the mule (can anything?), it is far more suitable for summer work than oxen. Horses are a good fit for all but the hottest climates.
  • Speed. The horse is the fastest draft animal. If you are farmer who likes to hustle, this may be the best bet for you.
  • Dual-purpose transportation. Of course, this depends on the size of the horse and the size of the rider, but many draft horses can make surprisingly good saddle horses due to their kind, gentle dispositions.

Cons

  • Spookiness. Out of all the draft animal options, horses are the most prone to panic. Needless to say, this can present some very dangerous situations for both team and teamster. Breed choice (heavy breeds are the least skittish), careful selection of your new team, and proper training will all go a long way toward preventing mishaps.
  • Health issues. Ideally, you will evaluate the soundness of any draft animal you are considering purchasing before bringing it home. That said, there are problems that can turn up after years of work, and injuries do occur. Horses are probably the most delicate of all the draft animals. Lameness and hoof problems are things to watch out for. There are also a number of genetic defects rampant in heavy breeds that, while not necessarily always fatal, may have a negative effect on their working ability.
  • Short working lifespan. In keeping with their more delicate physique, horses often have shorter working lifespans than either mules or oxen.
  • Complex harness. If you are interested in horses, you will need quite a bit of gear to make it all work. This means a greater up-front cost to get started, and a longer time spent harnessing in the morning before you can actually start work. The harness will also require considerably more maintenance than an ox yoke.
  • Feed needs. Compared to the other draft animal species, horses require the most inputs to perform draft work. This means high-quality pasture for certain. Most working horses need supplemental feed, too (although not as much as you would expect given their size, and they can provide the power to grow their own grain).
  • Shoeing needs. Fortunately, many draft horses do not require shoes to work. Unfortunately, many do, primarily owing to soundness issues that have resulted from a heavy emphasis on breeding heavy horses for looks in recent years. If you happen to have a team that needs shoes to avoid hoof problems, be prepared for hefty farrier bills—shoeing such large horses costs considerably more than shoeing mules or even saddle horses due to the large, specialized shoes that have to be made for them. For safety, some farriers also insist that draft horses be shod in stocks, a special restraint system something like a milking stanchion.
  • Less stamina. Horses get tired more quickly than mules or oxen. If you expect to put in long, grueling days of work, you may want to consider another option.
  • Poor self-preservation instincts. Donkeys and mules are pretty good at looking out for themselves and will simply refuse to be overworked. Those who choose to keep draft horses must do the monitoring. Keep an eye out for exhaustion, overheating, colic, and founder from drinking too much water too quickly.

Conclusions

First off, it should be noted that some people keep draft horses because they love them. No mule, donkey, or ox will suffice in this case. This is not entirely due to the beauty of horses, but often largely due to their personality. The difference between a horse and a mule in loyalty, obedience, and trainability has been likened to the difference between a dog and a cat. Many people find the former of each pair easier to work with.

Second, there is a great deal to be said for horses if you have no prior experience with draft animals. There is the temperament factor as already mentioned, but there are many other considerations. Horses are often the easiest of the draft animals to come by, and there are more people out there who have experience with them who can mentor you. Harnesses for horses are also relatively easy to find.

But working horses require maintenance. They need high-quality pasture to carry out the demands of farm work, and they may require supplemental feed at least seasonally. Shoeing them, while not always necessary, is also quite expensive. Care must be taken to prevent them from being overworked or going lame. And they have less stamina and shorter working lifespans than other draft animals. All this adds up to make the horse a less-than-ideal fit into a truly low-input operation.

However, this is one of those cases where each individual teamster will have to weigh the pros and cons for himself. Are horses readily available to you? Are there the necessary resources, equipment, and knowledge in your area to make the project feasible? Would you benefit from working with a less independent-minded animal? Do you just love horses? Depending on your answers to these questions, the benefits of horses may more than compensate for the negatives.

Next week: Mules

Helpful Resource

Horse & Donkey BreedsHorse & Donkey Breeds
If you have decided that horses are right for you, it’s time to choose a breed! Our guide covers the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of America’s favorite horses.

Which Draft Animal is Right for You?: Oxen

Considering adding animal power to your farm? Many who seek sustainability in their fields love the idea of working with a living team that is not dependent on fuel and that can contribute to the fertility of the soil. Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons of draft animals in general, you are ready to consider what type of draft team will be most suited to your farm—oxen, horses, mules, or those all-too-often-overlooked donkeys. Over the next few weeks, we’ll delve into the pros and cons of each option.

Which Draft Animal is Right for You?: OxenAn ox is a steer that has been specially trained for draft work. Oxen have been used as draft animals since the most ancient times, but they fell out of favor with the rise of mechanized agriculture. Fortunately, they have been enjoying renewed interest among small-scale farmers.

Most cattle breeds ideal for training as oxen fall into the dual-purpose category, although there are beef and dairy steers that are quite suitable. Examples of breeds that can be used as oxen include:

Crosses of many of these breeds can also be used for draft work.

Pros

  • Dependable temperament. In general (because individual animals vary widely), oxen are less flighty than horses and less willful than mules. Good oxen are calm, docile, and very trainable.
  • Power. Oxen can pull some amazing loads! A well-conditioned team can pull up to 2-1/2 times its own weight for a short distance. Oxen tend to have a strong advantage when it comes to really heavy-duty work, such as clearing land.
  • Stamina. Oxen are known for their ability to work all day.
  • Low feed requirements. While oxen may face some stiff competition from donkeys in this regard, they definitely require less feed to work well than horses. They are far more forgiving when it comes to pasture quality, as well.
  • Robust health. Oxen are far less prone to some of the ailments that can force a draft team to take some sick leave. When genetically sound and properly cared for, oxen are much less likely to go lame than horses and also are not prone to colic.
  • Simple harnessing systems. Oxen typically require relatively simple yokes, rather than the elaborate harnesses used on horses. This is due to the structural differences between the two animals—an ox’s strength is in his head and neck, while a horse is stronger through the chest. A well-made neck yoke is quite comfortable for an ox, while it would tend to choke a horse. This translates to less expense, less confusion, less maintenance, and less time spent getting ready for work in the morning.
  • Associated enterprises. If you decide to raise your own oxen, you can easily complement the draft team with other enterprises. For instance, the mothers of your draft steers could be milked, and any surplus calves could be finished for beef.

Cons

  • Susceptibility to heat. In general, oxen like cooler climates than horses do. Working an ox team in very hot summer conditions can be detrimental to the health of the animals. (Using a Brahma or another zebu-influenced animal helps.)
  • Susceptibility to ice injuries. The hoof structure of oxen is very different from that of horses. Oxen are more prone to ugly cuts when walking on icy surfaces.
  • Horns. Most oxen have horns because horns can be necessary for holding a yoke in place, depending on the yoke design. However, horns can be dangerous to humans.
  • Slow pace. Slow and steady describes the ox. While he may be able to outlast the horse, he will certainly move at a much slower pace. Besides the fact that fieldwork will take longer with oxen, some implements, such as no-till seed drills, may not operate properly at such low speeds.
  • Lack of precision. Unlike draft horses, which are guided with bits and reins somewhat like saddle horses, oxen are trained to voice commands, and possibly to taps on the sides. Tight control cannot be attained with this system unless the teamster is on his toes and the team is very obedient. While this lack of precision won’t matter in many applications, such as pulling up stumps, it can be a problem when working in tight spaces, as when cultivating.

Conclusion

For truly heavy farm work, such as clearing land, the patient, hard-working ox is difficult to beat due to his impressive strength and great stamina. Keeping oxen is also a relatively low-cost way to enter the world of draft animals compared to some of the other options. Furthermore, if you are already keeping a family milk cow, you may be able to raise your own draft team!

However, not everyone will enjoy working with oxen. Some people simply prefer the speed and mettle of a good horse team, and they will likely be very dissatisfied with the plodding pace of oxen. Also, oxen can be cumbersome to handle in very small spaces or precise applications.

But for truly low-input systems, oxen are often a good fit.

Next week: Horses

Helpful Resources

Cattle Breeds
Have you decided that oxen are right for you? Now it’s time to weigh the pros and cons of the different breeds!

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
Includes considerable information on making sure your breed of choice will meet your needs, along with profiles of most of the ox breeds listed above. Preview free sample pages.

The Homesteading Bucket List Part 2: 25 More Practical Country Living Projects

The Country Living Bucket List Part 2

Ready for 25 more skills to build on the ones you mastered previously? This set is considerably more advanced than the first, so take your time and be prepared for the learning curve.

26. Prune a Fruit Tree

Although more involved than pruning cane fruits, pruning fruit trees is still quite essential to keeping your trees productive and healthy. Be sure to study some diagrams carefully before you tackle this one. Every cut you make will affect your harvest for better or worse for years to come.

Helpful Resource

Pruning Fruit Trees
Handy free document with illustrations from K-State.

27. Build a Fence

Good fences make good farms. Fencing the garden is a must to keep animal pests at bay. Fencing the yard is highly recommended if you have pets. Fencing the perimeter of the property discourages trespassers. One type of fencing that is better avoided at first, however, is permanent fencing subdividing pastures. Most grazing management experts recommend that beginners use only portable fencing to break up pastures for the first three years or so, as there is a strong tendency to overdo it when starting out, creating logistical mayhem in the long run.

Helpful Resource

How to Make Osage Orange Fence Posts
Making your own fence posts can be surprisingly easy.

28. Learn an Intensive Gardening Technique

Intensive gardening methods seek to maximize the yields of produce per square foot of growing space. These methods were usually created in response to the inefficiencies of traditional row gardening, which was developed based on commercial horticultural implements. For making the most of small areas, intensive gardening techniques cannot be beat. Consider some of these possibilities:

  • Biointensive gardening.
  • Container gardening.
  • Interplanting.
  • Lasagna gardening.
  • Mittlieder method.
  • No-work gardening.
  • Raised bed gardening.
  • Square foot gardening.
  • Soil bag gardening.
  • Straw bale gardening.
  • Succession planting.
  • Tire gardening.
  • Vertical gardening.

29. Work with a Team of Draft Animals

What can draft animals do for you? Plenty. Two areas where draft animals still excel today are in small-scale grain growing and in sustainable logging. For farms with an agritourism bent, draft animals have considerable educational and entertainment value, as well.

Helpful Resource

Draft Animal Power for Farming
Important information to know before you get started, conveniently available in a free PDF download.

30. Grow Grain

You would be surprised at how little space it takes to meet a family’s annual grain needs! Furthermore, raising your own grain can be a way to avoid pesticides and GMOs while taking advantage of the impressive nutrient profiles of traditional grains that may be hard to find at the grocery store.

31. Freeze Eggs

Once your layer flock hits its stride, you will probably start wondering what to do with all those eggs. Freezing them is an incredibly simple way to save them for the winter, when your chickens will be taking a holiday. Frozen eggs are quite satisfactory when used for baking or scrambling.

Helpful Resource

How to Freeze Eggs
Step-by-step instructions.

32. Sell Homegrown Food

This is not an easy task, but fortunately it doesn’t have to be done on a large scale. If starting a full-fledged food business is not for you, sell a dozen eggs to some close friends. If you are more ambitious, set up a produce stand or sell grassfed beef to a restaurant.

Helpful Resources

Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm BusinessStarting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business
A 10-step overview covering everything from business plans to product pricing to sale venues. Read our full review.

Farm Fresh
Plenty of ideas for marketing grassfed meat and milk. Read our full review.

Kansas Department of Agriculture Licensing Guides
Important information to know before making your first sale. (If you are not in Kansas, check your state’s department of agriculture for a similar resource.)

33. Make Homemade Bread

Making bread does not have to be complicated! While some home bread bakers are true artisans, working with carefully crafted recipes and doing every step by hand, those who are pressed for time or inclination can use a bread machine.

34. Plant a Cover Crop

Whether you grow vegetables or grains, a cover crop is a great way to improve your soil—naturally! Cover crops can offer numerous benefits in the way of nitrogen fixation, weed suppression, and organic matter building.

Helpful Resources

Cover Crop Decision Tool
A superb online tool that factors in your objectives, climate, and soil conditions. Highly recommended for growers of both grains and vegetables.

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers
Useful site from Cornell that profiles 17 cover crops that work well in the garden.

35. Sew an Entire Garment

Again, keep it simple, especially to start. Make it easy on yourself by starting with a purchased pattern. Also, invest in some internet tutorials and how-to books before you pick up the thread. As a final time-saving tip, consider buying a sewing machine, particularly if you think you are likely to sew regularly in the future. A sewing machine can make garment repair and creation quick and easy.

36. Learn to Quilt

This time-honored tradition can be a great creative outlet! Furthermore, there are plenty of kits and books to get you off to a good start these days. If an entire quilt seems like a daunting first project, consider a pillow instead.

37. Build a Root Cellar

It seems like nearly every homesteader’s dream involves a root cellar. And it’s a great way to keep your produce fresh throughout the long winter months when you can’t garden as much!

Helpful Resource

HomeMadeHomeMade
This handy project book includes tips and plans for building your own root cellar. Read our full review.

38. Shear a Sheep

Shearing is something of a lost art, with few professional shearers left. Fortunately, thanks to a growing interest in country living across America, the skill of shearing still has a bright future among hobby farmers.

39. Learn How to Spin

Once you’ve sheared your first sheep, it is only logical to learn how spin the fleece into yarn. Unfortunately, spinning wheels can be very expensive these days. However, the drop spindle is an affordable alternative, especially if you want to test your level of interest before making a considerable investment.

40. Hatch a Batch of Chicks Yourself

There’s nothing like raising your own chicks from eggs. This is an area where you have quite a few options, too. You may want to purchase fertile eggs from a hatchery, or you can let your own rooster and hens do the work. You can bring the hatching process indoors with an incubator, or you can opt to let a broody hen provide a more natural experience.

Helpful Resource

The Broody Hen Versus the Incubator
A comparison of the advantages of each option.

41. Make Ice Cream

Even if you don’t have farm-fresh milk available, you can still make some mighty tasty ice cream with cream from the store. Many gadgets for making ice cream exist these days, and most come with recipes to get you started.

Helpful Resource

Ice Cream Ball
This is a fun way to make ice cream, but it does involve some exercise and some patience.

Stocking UpStocking Up
The third edition of this classic includes tips on making ice cream. Read our full review.

42. Make Cheese

Again, even if you don’t raise dairy cows or goats, you can still make cheese at home. If you are completely new to the process, consider starting with a beginner’s kit.

Helpful Resource

Stocking Up
The third edition includes quite a bit of cheesemaking information, including specifics on cottage cheese, ricotta, cream cheese, semi-hard cheese, and cheddar. Read our full review.

43. Learn How to Dehydrate Fruit

Many fruits can be dehydrated at home, and often without much investment in equipment. If you are new to food dehydration, consider starting out with your tried-and-true home oven. Other dehydrating options include solar drying, freeze drying, and using a special electric food dehydrator.

Helpful Resources

Stocking Up
The third edition of this old classic includes a considerable amount of information on your many dehydrating options. Read our full review.

Drying
This part of K-State’s Food Preservation site offers links to information on equipment, methods, storage, and more.

44. Make Jam or Jelly

Making homemade jam or jelly is not only a way to preserve fruit, it is also a way to achieve unique flavor. However, food safety considerations are crucial when making jam or jelly, so be sure to read up before you start!

Helpful Resources

Stocking Up
Includes very practical information on making jam or jelly. Read our full review.

Jams & Jellies
This part of K-State’s Food Preservation site has information on working with apples, cherries, peaches, and a variety of berries, along with general information on the various steps of the jelly-making process.

45. Learn to Knit

This is an easy and rewarding skill to pick up, and a natural next step after learning to spin. Start with something really simple, such as a washcloth or scarf, and before you know it you’ll be making everything from socks to sweaters.

Helpful Resource

Kids KnittingKids Knitting
Not only is this inviting, easy-to-understand book a great way to introduce children to a productive craft, it is a superb way for an adult to get started, too! Read our full review.

46. Learn to Crochet

And if you’re going to learn how to knit, learning how to crochet is also a natural choice!

47. Sell a Handmade Craft

Already selling food? Selling crafts is even easier. Considering adding your handmade items to your farm product lineup or setting up shop online.

48. Make an Entire Meal with Only Homegrown Ingredients

This is the ultimate goal for many homesteaders, and it is one that will require some planning. You will likely need a homegrown grain and some homemade butter to make bread or some other baked good. For a dinner, you will also want home-raised meat and a sampling of produce from the garden. For a breakfast, you might consider farm-fresh eggs and some homemade jelly.

49. Learn to Ride a Horse

While not absolutely essential on many homesteads, horseback riding can be excellent recreation, and it can be useful if you raise a larger herd of cattle. Consider this one a reward for a lifetime of homesteading well done.

Helpful Resource

The Basics of Western RidingThe Basics of Western Riding
While you will definitely need a more advanced guide at some point, this should get you started. Read our full review.

50. Teach a Country Living Skill to Someone Younger Than You

Here’s your chance to give back. Whether you pass your knowledge along to your children, to an apprentice, or to a blog reader, sharing your expertise will help ensure that country living skills are handed down through the years.

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle Breeds

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle BreedsLooking for the right cattle breed for your small farm or ranch? We have plenty of resources to help you make that selection, including our online guide to cattle breeds and the first book in our new Practical Country Living series—Choosing a Breed of Cattle by Michelle Lindsey.

But if you’re curious to know what breeds like-minded homesteaders are researching, we can answer that question, too. Here are the top 10 breeds our readers have been investigating.

10. Brangus

This composite breed is about 5/8 Angus and 3/8 Brahman. It combines the beef-producing efficiency of the former with the tropical adaptation of the latter. While its excitable temperament and limited cold tolerance make the Brangus a less-than-ideal choice for many, its incredible resilience under hot, humid, and buggy conditions have ensured it a dedicated following in the southern states.

9. Highland

The picturesque Highland is a favorite on many homesteads, and not just because of its looks. This breed is exceptionally versatile, able to provide meat, milk, fiber, draft power, and land-clearing services, among other uses. Furthermore, it is both docile and hardy, making it a superb choice for cooler climates.

8. Holstein

The Holstein is the iconic black-and-white cow that dominates the global dairy industry today thanks to its incredibly high milk production levels. While purebred Holsteins require too much maintenance to thrive in a low-input, pasture-based situation, crossbred Holsteins do have potential for the organic dairy business.

7. Shorthorn

Traditional dual-purpose Shorthorns are hard to come by these days, but specialized beef and dairy bloodlines still provide options for the modern homesteader, farmer, or rancher. The health and hardiness of this breed have suffered in recent years. However, it still retains its docility, its adaptation to cool climates, and its ability to produce high-quality beef or milk on pasture with proper care.

6. Charolais

The Charolais is primarily used to produce beef calves for the feedlot in America. Unfortunately, this breed has numerous problems that make it unsuitable for beginners, including a difficult temperament, multiple health problems, high feed requirements, and the potential for calving issues. Crossbreeding is the standard tool of choice to minimize these challenges while taking advantage of the large size and rapid growth of the Charolais.

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle Breeds5. Brahman

Although most American cattlemen think of the Brahman as a tool for producing crossbred calves with excellent heat tolerance and insect resistance, this breed is actually quite a bit more versatile than commonly given credit for. In other counties, the Brahman is frequently used as a dairy or draft animal. It is also a common ingredient when developing new dairy breeds for tropical climates.

4. Simmental

Here’s another dual-purpose breed that is commonly associated with crossbred beef production. While the Simmental is a large breed with high meat yields when adequately fed, it can also make either a productive dairy cow or a docile, sturdy work ox.

3. Hereford

Hereford varieties abound these days. You can choose from the long, tall modern Hereford developed for feedlot finishing, the classic mid-sized Hereford ideally suited to grass feeding, or the miniature Hereford, which is a good option for feeding a family on really small farms. There is also a polled Hereford for safer handling, and even a Black Hereford bred for producing Black Baldies without the risk of the occasional red calf.

2. Angus

The Angus is one of the most popular cattle breeds in the world today. Black Angus beef is associated with a quality eating experience thanks to marbling genes and an exceptional breed promotion program. The Angus has also won favor in the crossbreeding realm thanks to its ability to consistently pass on its hardiness, fertility, and beef quality to its offspring. While a quest for larger frames and heavier carcasses has led to the sacrifice of docility, calving ease, and forage efficiency in many Angus, the moderate-framed Lowline Angus has fortunately emerged to correct some of these issues.

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle Breeds1. Black Baldy

The most popular breed here at Homestead on the Range is, incidentally, not really a breed. A Black Baldy can technically be any crossbred animal that is black with a white face; most commonly, however, it is the result of a cross between an Angus and a Hereford (a miniature Black Baldy usually comes from a Lowline Angus and a miniature Hereford). The Black Baldy is primarily used for commercial beef production, as its fattiness and bland flavor do not make it an outstanding candidate for gourmet grass finishing. That said, it brings a great deal of hardiness to the table, along with a docile demeanor.

Helpful Resources

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
Not sure which breed is best for you? This book will walk you through the process of defining your expectations and narrowing down your options, wrapping up with profiles of 40 common beef, dairy, and dual-purpose breeds. More information and free sample pages are available here.

Cattle Breeds
Our online guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of common and uncommon cattle breeds.

Choosing a Breed of Cattle

Choosing a Breed of Cattle

We are excited to announce the release of a new book—Choosing a Breed of Cattle: 5 Needs and 40 Breeds for Selecting Cattle That Fit Your Purpose by Michelle Lindsey!

When you start by assessing the five needs of every future cattle owner, choosing between the many breeds of cattle available today suddenly becomes much easier. This book will walk you through the process of defining your expectations and then arm you with key information on 40 common cattle breeds, including beef, dairy, and multipurpose types.

With a little research, you will know:

  • Whether to choose purebred or crossbred cattle.
  • What genetic, geographical, and historical types of cattle are best suited to your purpose.
  • Which beef, dairy, or dual-purpose breeds are most likely to succeed on your homestead, farm, or ranch, no matter how big or small.

Once you have picked a few favorite breeds, we’ll even show you where to go to find more information.

Choosing a Breed of Cattle is the first book in our new series—Practical Country Living. The Practical Country Living series will offer country living enthusiasts the information they need to master new skills quickly. By the time you have finished one of our concise Practical Country Living books, you should be ready to take your newly acquired knowledge into the real world, whatever your area of interest.

More information on Choosing a Breed of Cattle is available here, along with free sample pages.

Heritage Livestock Breeds Comparison Charts

Heritage Livestock Breed Comparison ChartsWe recently linked to the Pick-a-Chick chart from the Livestock Conservancy, allowing prospective chicken keepers to compare the characteristics of heritage breeds at a glance. The Livestock Conservancy has many other useful charts for other types of livestock, as well:

Depending on the type of livestock under consideration, these charts offer basic information on important factors to evaluate when choosing a breed:

  • Purpose.
  • Size.
  • Temperament.
  • Preferred climate.
  • Foraging ability.
  • Litter size.
  • Mothering ability.
  • Production level.
  • Recommended experience level.
  • And much more!

The charts offer a very easy way to compare and contrast breeds, as well as a way to discover some of the rarer breeds:

  • Florida Cracker cattle.
  • American Cream Draft horses.
  • Poitou donkeys.
  • Mulefoot hogs.
  • San Clemente goats.
  • Gulf Coast sheep.
  • American Chinchilla rabbits.
  • Midget White turkeys.
  • Cotton Patch geese.
  • Dutch Hookbill ducks.

Highly recommended free resource!

Saanen

SaanenAnother traditional dairy breed of the Swiss mountains, the Saanen (pronounced SAW-nen) takes its name from its native Saane Valley located in the canton of Bern. It was in this region that the Saanen was bred to produce milk in abundance on the summer mountain pastures of Switzerland. However, it is interesting to note that the Swiss did not select exclusively for production or for hardiness—they also bred for the hallmark white coat.

The Saanen began to spread throughout Europe in the 1890s, quickly earning for itself a good reputation as a dairy animal. Its rapidly growing international fame brought it to American attention, as well. The first Saanen set foot in the United States in 1904, and around 160 others followed over the next two decades.

Unfortunately, the early American importers were not overly particular as to quality of the goats they purchased. Out of the original 160, only about 30 were physically sound. The descendants of these 30 were largely the genetic basis of the American Saanen population, but more trouble was soon to follow.

During the Great Depression, many goat keepers were forced to drastically reduce their herds. While some managed to hold onto a few goats, this nationwide disaster hit rare breeds, such as the Saanen, the hardest. Inbreeding crept in as numbers dropped.

Once the economic hardships passed, however, Americans turned back to European genetics to revive the breed. Saanen bucks were imported via Canada and worked wonders on the breed’s productivity and physical structure. This marked improvement was probably the cause of the rapid expansion of the Saanen in numbers and popularity, across both the nation and the world.

 

SaanenUses

The Saanen is frequently referred to as the Holstein of the goat world, making it well suited to commercial dairying, or perhaps an ambitious homestead with a way to use, sell, or otherwise dispose of all that milk.

Surplus wethers make satisfactory meat goats, or they can be trained to pull carts and carry packs.

 

Temperament

Compared to other goats, the Saanen is remarkably quiet and laid-back. It takes to routine very readily, and there isn’t much that can get under its skin—even close confinement. It seems to have less capacity for boredom than many breeds, and it will not try to scale the fences looking for entertainment (although it may tunnel out if presented with an opportunity).

The Saanen loves its people and makes a truly sweet companion. Combine this with its calm, even temperament, and you have a goat that will cause little trouble when being handled.

 

SaanenHealth

The Saanen is typically hardy and healthy. However, it is a high-production dairy breed best suited to intensive management, and it is not immune to breakdowns when its needs are not taken into consideration. Close attention to a diet that can compensate for abundant milk production is a must.

Also, the Saanen is prone to sunburn and skin cancer if not provided with shade. This is not a problem with Saanen goats with colored hair, referred to as sables. But even sables still need shelter to avoid the rain.

 

Pros

  • Superb disposition.
  • Suitability for confinement.
  • Adaptability to cool climates.
  • Disease resistance.
  • Hardiness under proper management.
  • Longevity.
  • High frequency of twins.
  • High levels of milk production.
  • Quality meat.
  • Strength as a pack animal.

 

SaanenCons

  • Tendency to burrow under fences.
  • Susceptibility to sunburn.
  • High nutritional requirements.
  • Low butterfat content of milk.

 

Complete Series

Goat BreedsGoat Breeds

 

Nubian

NubianThe Nubian goat is typically thought of as an African breed. In reality, it traces back to late 1800s England. As the British Empire expanded to new regions, ships brought back native bucks from many environments. Many of these bucks were large, hardy animals that promised to improve British dairy goats. In particular, bucks from Egypt, Arabia, and India were favored.

When crossed with English dairy goats, the foreign bucks produced superior milking animals with good health, high production, and long lactations. The blend gradually developed into a new breed known as the Nubian.

The Nubian’s fame quickly spread, as did its population. The first three Nubians in America arrived in California in 1909. In short order, the breed became a popular choice in the United States, as well.

Today, the Nubian is believed to be the most common purebred goat in America.

 

NubianUses

In the United States, the Nubian typically specializes in dairy products. It is well suited to the production of fluid milk, but also shines in the areas of cheese and ice cream.

However, Nubians are more versatile than they are typically given credit for. Surplus kids can be raised for meat and subsequently hides. They can also be trained to carry packs or pull carts.

The Nubian is a common choice when upgrading Boers to produce a hardier meat goat.

Small-scale homesteaders will be interested to note that a miniature version of the Nubian exists for those with limited acreage.

 

Temperament

The Nubian is an inquisitive, sociable goat that thrives on human interaction. It bonds readily and is patient with children.

While the Nubian goat is sometimes described as stubborn, this trait can be seen in a positive light—the Nubian is smart and forms habits readily. Take advantage of this characteristic by training your goat the desired farm routine. Once accustomed to being in the right place at the right time, the Nubian will respond obediently and with initiative.

Note that Nubians are known for their loud, complaining voices, which may be an issue in populated areas. While they are not vocal at all times, if they are dissatisfied for any reason, the entire neighborhood will hear about it. Keep them quiet by meeting their needs for food, water, shelter, and affection. Does will also need the attention of a buck to avoid noise-making problems when they are in heat.

 

NubianHealth

Overall, the Nubian is a healthy, constitutionally sound goat. However, several structural problems are prevalent throughout the breed, so choose dairy animals and breeding stock carefully.

The Nubian originally had an undershot bite, as this was thought to help it efficiently browse high tree branches. Today, this trait is being selected against because it can hinder the goat from eating grass.

Another common structural difficulty in the Nubian breed is unsound udders. Be sure to examine the udder structure of any dairy goats you purchase.

The Nubian goat is known for long ears, originally developed to protect the eyes and ear openings from blowing sand. In colder climates, however, these ears can be more of a hindrance than a help, as they are prone to dangling into water troughs and freezing.

 

Pros

  • Tolerance of most climates, particularly hot ones.
  • Few health problems.
  • Longevity; can often produce past the age of 12.
  • Long breeding season.
  • Prolific tendencies; healthy does regularly give birth to two, three, or four kids at a time.
  • Udder conformation easy to milk.
  • Good milk flavor.
  • High protein and butterfat content of milk.
  • Rapid growth.
  • Heavy muscling.

 

NubianCons

  • Noise.
  • Exceptional ability as an escape artist.
  • Susceptibility to frostbitten ears.
  • Prevalence of unsound udders.
  • Low milk production levels.

 

Complete Series

Goat BreedsGoat Breeds