Tag Archives: Livestock

Araucana

AraucanaThe history of the Araucana is very hazy, although it is certain that the breed comes from the Araucanía region of Chile, where it was bred by the native peoples. No one seems to know for certain if the breed predates exploration by the Spanish or not, and new research often directly contradicts old research.

What we do know is that the Araucana was common in South America by the early 1900s, and it was during this time that the breed was introduced to the United States. It appears that the modern breed that Americans call the Araucana was developed on our shores by crossing two similar landraces—the rumpless, tuftless Collonca and the tailed, tufted Quetro. A bantam type also exists.

The recent popularity of the Araucana, owing to its unique appearance and beautiful blue eggs, has unfortunately encouraged some deception in the world of hatcheries. Be aware that not all chicks sold as Araucanas are really pure Araucanas, but may be any mix of breeds that will produce colorful eggs. While these hybrids, known as “Easter Eggers,” are delightful chickens in their own right, prospective buyers may want to check out the integrity of the hatchery to be sure they will actually receive what they have purchased. At the present time, the only reliable sources of true Araucanas are individual breeders.

Uses

The Araucana is primarily kept for the production of distinctive blue-shelled eggs. It is also an interesting ornamental breed and a delicious, if small, meat bird.

Temperament

This breed seems to have some wild instincts that may render it a challenge to tame. It is remarkably alert, even flighty. Some poultry keepers believe that the Araucana may be somewhat more intelligent than the average chicken.

For those who have the patience to tame the Araucana, it can settle down into a gentle, friendly bird.

AraucanaHealth

Contrary to popular belief, the rumpless gene found in Araucanas is not necessarily lethal, although it does come at a cost. Rumpless birds lack the tailbone, tail feathers, and the oil gland typically found at the base of a chicken’s tail. The altered body structure can reduce the success rate of breeding chickens. The lack of the oil gland results in chickens that do not shed water well. Rumplessness may even be associated with higher mortality rates during the last few days of hatching. In an attempt to remedy some of these difficulties, some breeders mate rumpless chickens to normal chickens. Unfortunately, this does not accomplish the desired purpose because quite a few of the chicks will likely end up with strange-looking partial tails. While the fertility rates of these intermediate birds are higher than those of rumpless birds, the intermediates often have the same high mortality rates as the rumpless birds and may only have a partially developed oil gland.

The tufted gene truly is lethal, and it is different from the genes that causes the muffs (sometimes also called “ear tufts”) of other chicken breeds. The tufts, also known as peduncles in this breed, are actually unique organs protruding from the bird’s faces and opening up into a blossom of feathers. Unfortunately, peduncles may arise internally and cause serious complications. Chicks with two copies of the tuft gene typically die before hatching; those that do hatch fail to thrive and are usually dead within a week. Chicks with one gene for tufts still have high mortality rates.

In short, the true-to-type Araucana as it is recognized in America today is virtually incompatible with nature. Araucana chicks invariably have high mortality rates due to the fact that the traits considered to be of paramount importance within the breed are harmful to the chicken.

Pros

  • Suitability for all climates.
  • Ability to adapt well to confinement.

AraucanaCons

  • Scarcity.
  • Deceptive marketing among some hatcheries.
  • Ability as an escape artist.
  • Fertility problems.
  • Low egg production.
  • Dislike of using nesting boxes to deposit eggs.
  • Low hatchability.
  • Difficulty of successfully breeding birds that are true to type.
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Chicken BreedsChicken Breeds

 

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Getting Started with Livestock Part 4: Breed

Getting Started with Livestock Part 4: BreedIf you’ve looked into breed options at all, you’re probably bewildered. What are the differences between all these breeds? How do you narrow it down to just one or two?

These are not always easy questions to answer. For one thing, it will depend on your particular set of circumstances. For another thing, no two individuals within a breed are exactly the same.

Defining Your Expectations

The best place to start is with a list of characteristics you definitely want and definitely don’t want in your chosen livestock. To narrow your options down, ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I raising this animal for? Eggs? Milk? Meat? Fiber?
  • What type of environment will my animals need to adapt to?
  • What kind of temperament will I best be able to get along with?
  • What is my price range?
  • What breeds are readily available in my area?
  • What breeds interest me the most?

Most prospective homesteaders will probably want to look for animals that are disease-resistant, parasite-resistant, and suitable for low-input pasture-based production. In Kansas, don’t forget to factor in the climatic extremes! If you are selling either animals or animal products, you may also want to think about traits that might give you a marketing advantage (popular, heritage, rare, health benefits, etc.).

Doing Your Research

Once you know what you are looking for, choosing a breed largely boils down to extensive research. Every breed has pros and cons, and every breed was developed to fit a particular set of conditions and expectations. The right breed for you will typically be a breed developed for essentially the same environment and production system you are dealing with.

What about crossbreeds and assorted mongrels? These may work great for you, or they may not. Again, it depends on your circumstances and the nature of the individual beast. A good rule of thumb is that crossbred animals are usually a great fit for production systems (hybrid vigor) and a poor fit for breeding systems (inconsistency). But this is a very general principle—the applications and pitfalls of crossbreeding are explained in more depth in our Breeding Toolbox series.

Ready to check out some of your options? Arm yourself with your laundry list, and spend some time with one of our breed guides. Also be sure to check out some of our other online resources for posts, books, and links relevant to your species of interest:

If you find a breed or several breeds that meet your requirements, you’re well on your way to having a great country adventure. Have fun!

Helpful Resources

Breeds of Livestock
An Oklahoma State University website featuring the histories and characteristics of all types of livestock.

Heritage Livestock Breeds Comparison Charts
A free online resource covering all types of heritage-breed livestock.

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
This book will walk you through the process of assessing your five needs, deciding whether purebred or crossbred cattle are right for you, and choosing from 40 beef, dairy, and dual-purpose breeds. More information and free sample pages are available for Choosing a Breed of Cattle.

Cattle BreedsCattle Breeds
Our online guide to popular and heritage cattle breeds, covering history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons.

Horse & Donkey BreedsHorse & Donkey Breeds
Our online guide to popular and heritage equines, covering history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons.

Goat BreedsGoat Breeds
Our online guide to popular and heritage goat breeds, covering history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons.

Chicken BreedsChicken Breeds
Our online guide to popular and heritage goat breeds, covering history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons.

Murray McMurray Chick Selector
This handy tool lets you filter chicken breeds by egg production, meat production, heat tolerance, cold tolerance, disposition, free-range suitability, and much more.

Getting Started With Livestock Part 3: Diet

Getting Started with Livestock Part 3: DietKeeping your animals on pasture obviously has financial benefits, and you’ve probably heard of the numerous health benefits, as well. Even nonruminants like pigs and poultry can derive a great portion of their diet from the pasture, although they will need some type of supplemental feed. So how do you make it all work?

Pasture

The key to using pasture as your sole or primary animal feed is to keep it in good shape. This means you can’t let your livestock trample or graze it into the dirt. The best way to avoid this is to ration pasture out just like you would feed—you give the animals a small space for a day or maybe a couple of days and then move them onto a fresh paddock. You keep working your way across your pastures in this fashion.

This is just a very superficial overview of rotational and management-intensive grazing methods. There’s actually a whole art to it, which is way beyond the scope of this post. Check the Helpful Resources below for more information.

Another thing you’ll have to think about is how many animals you can safely keep on your land. Stocking rates vary widely (sometimes even on the same property). Five acres per cow-calf pair seems to be the average in most parts of Kansas.

The cow-calf pair can in turn be used as a standard of measure, known as the animal unit, to calculate stocking rates for other types of livestock. Thus, on our average five Kansas acres, we could place one of the following options:

  • 1 cow-calf pair.
  • 1 stocker calf.
  • 3 ewe-lamb pairs.
  • 5 mature goats.
  • 1 pony (not a full-sized horse).
  • 1 bison.
  • 1 elk.

Stocking rates for pastured pork production have not received as much attention as those for other animals, so be prepared to do your own hands-on field research. A good starting point is to plan on about 10 pigs for every acre. Young, newly weaned pigs can be stocked more densely, while sows with litters will require more space.

Note that there are many variables that will affect your stocking rate. A 1,500-pound beef cow will require 1-1/2 times as much pasture as a 1,000-pound beef cow, for instance. Irrigation can squeeze more forage production out of your land. Also, simple attention to good grazing management will almost certainly raise your stocking rate above that of your neighbors!

Always err on the safe side when it comes to stocking rate. If you have a little more grass than your livestock need, it’s not a serious problem, but if you’re stuck with hungry animals, you’ll find yourself either buying hay or selling animals. Both can be painful, especially in a drought when everybody else is doing the same thing. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t have enough experience to look at your land and roughly gauge how many animals you can put on it, you probably don’t need very many animals (at least not yet). Some experienced graziers recommend starting with herds as small as two to five head when learning grazing management.

Even in the winter, you may be able to keep your animals on pasture with proper planning. Stockpiling forage and planting cool-season grasses are two techniques for extending the grazing season and minimizing hay and feed consumption. Some animals, particularly dry beef cows, may even be able to thrive on dormant range grass in the winter with a protein supplement.

Harvested Forages

Of course, winter brings an end to the grazing season. Then what? Fortunately, hay and silage offer grain-free options.

Keep in mind that the quality of your harvested forage is very important. Animals cannot thrive on moldy hay, which can be a problem if the hay was improperly harvested or stored. Furthermore, blister beetles are toxic and can be a major problem in hay, particularly if you are feeding horses, so keep an eye out. Finally, remember that any pungent odors or flavors in hay for dairy animals will end up in your family’s milk supply!

The nutrient profile of the hay will depend on the types of forages that went into it. Legume hay is particularly noteworthy, as its high protein content can be absolutely essential or a needless expense, depending on what types of animals you have in what stages of production. Lactating animals will require more nutrition than dry animals (which is why it’s generally advisable to time breeding so that livestock will give birth when the weather is warm and the pastures are lush).

When it comes to sourcing harvested forage, you have three main options:

  • Harvest it yourself.
  • Have it custom-baled on your land.
  • Purchase it.

Determining which option is best for you is largely a matter of putting pencil to paper to work out the dollars and cents of the question. Also keep in mind that harvesting your own hay offers you more control over the quality but can be very expensive on a small scale. Purchasing hay, provided that it is good quality, offers an opportunity to bring in a natural source of soil fertility from outside, but it can also introduce noxious weeds and similar difficulties.

Getting Started with Livestock Part 3: DietFeed

Some animals will need feed to perform well and stay healthy. With these animals, you will have to be careful to keep your costs down without sacrificing the quality of their diet. Poultry and swine typically need some grain for peak health and performance. While ruminants are generally healthier without grain, some genetic lines (particularly among dairy animals) are bred for high production levels and may require feeding to avoid a breakdown. Horses may require supplemental feeding in winter or if working hard on a regular basis.

All this said, many animals are fed far more than is strictly necessary or even healthy. When determining whether or not your livestock will require feed, it is important to take genetics into account. If your goal is to minimize feed costs as much as possible, you will do well to seek out low-maintenance breeds, and low-maintenance genetics within those breeds. Thankfully, every livestock species still has breeds (typically heritage breeds) adapted to rustling their own living off the land.

Also consider your production system. Minimizing feed costs requires good attention to grazing management, and the smaller your property, the more important grazing management becomes. Furthermore, avoiding feed will often require some sacrifices, such as breeding in sync with the climate and accepting lower production levels.

What about growing your own grain for feed? Well, it just depends. Not only can creating a balanced ration be something of an art, the cost of making the feed can quickly add up to more than the purchase price elsewhere. Do the math. Does it make sense financially? Also, can you consistently guarantee the quantity and quality that your animals will need to stay healthy, particularly when first starting out?

Supplements

What kinds of supplements (if any) you need will largely depend on what kind of animals you have and where you live. Two people rarely agree on one magic formula. Many advocates of natural ways of raising all types of ruminants swear by kelp, and free-choice salt is also recommended in many situations. But what if your chickens are laying hens? Then you might want oyster shell or a feed that contains oyster shell. And what if you have dairy animals? You may need to consider a variety of vitamin supplements to keep them in top form. And what if your pastures are particularly poor? You may need a general-purpose stock lick.

The only way to know for sure what supplements will be necessary for your livestock is to do your research and then try it out. See what deficiencies are most common in your area to get off to a good start, but also be prepared to adjust down the road.

Planning a healthy diet for your animals is probably the most critical as far as your finances and their health are concerned, so take your time. Once you have a rough plan to reach your production, animal health, and food quality goals, you are ready to start looking into your breed options.

Helpful Resources

What is Management-Intensive Grazing?
An introduction to meeting the needs of both pastures and animals. Includes plenty of additional reading material.

Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course
For those who just want the basics of grazing management, this bulletin packs a great deal of essential information into a concise format.

What are Animal Units?
How to figure out how many animals your land can support.

Vitamins
Our own guide to the functions and natural sources of vitamins, along with symptoms of deficiency and toxicity.

Getting Started with Livestock Part 2: Fencing & Facilities

Getting Started with Livestock Part 2: Fencing & FacilitiesThere really is no one right way to fence and shelter your animals. It’s a subject that will largely depend on your individual circumstances. But it’s also a subject that must be addressed, so here goes.

Fencing

What type of fencing and where to put it is going to depend a great deal on what kind of livestock you have. Nearly all grazing animals respond well to electric fencing, which is great because a portable electric fence makes rotational grazing easy. Even goats, which are notorious for their scorn of conventional fencing, can be contained with an electric fence if properly trained (more on that in just a minute) and if the fence is always kept in good working order. There may be particular cases when you might need to use barbed wire for cattle, such as along a property line; just keep in mind that even cattle don’t respect a barbed-wire fence the way they do an electric one.

For the more vulnerable animals, such as sheep and chickens, you may want to consider electrified netting to exclude predators. Just be aware that this type of fencing isn’t as easy to handle, and the weeds must be kept away from the bottom strands. Also, even electric netting cannot contain a lightweight chicken in the habit of flying out. The best way to avoid escapes is to move the pen often enough to keep the birds busy and contented and to avoid placing potential launch pads near the fence. Stubborn cases may need to have their flight feathers trimmed.

With the exception of chickens, newly purchased animals will need to be trained to respect electric fencing. Training consists of placing the animal in a safe enclosure, such as a pipe corral, with a short strand of electrified fencing set up at about nose level. Once the animal has received a shock on the nose, it will develop a healthy respect for the fence. Animals that have been born on your pastures do not need to be trained to the fence if kept with the rest of the herd or flock, as they will be taught by their mothers and the other animals.

So where do you put fencing? Some type of permanent fencing should definitely go around the boundaries of your land, but the rest is a little more subjective. Many regenerative agriculture experts advise against fencing in straight lines because this practice does not take into account the natural landscape and its needs. Instead, fences should follow natural contours, keeping similar forages and areas of terrain together to ease management (see Water for Every Farm by P.A. Yeomans for an in-depth explanation; read our full review here).

In the beginning, however, you may want to keep permanent cross-fencing to a minimum while you practice grazing management techniques and learn how to “read” your land. A good rule of thumb—if you find you have left a temporary fence in the same location for about three years, you are ready to replace it with a permanent fence.

Getting Started with Livestock Part 2: Fencing & FacilitiesShelter

Shelter, too, largely depends on the type of animal you are raising. A short drive through just about any part of Kansas will tell you that beef cattle get along with little more shelter than a draw, a shelterbelt, or perhaps an artificial windbreak, depending on how far north and west you are. Sheep, on the other hand, can benefit from a simple shelter during lambing and after being sheared. Goats like to have someplace dry to go when it rains. A llama just wants a shady spot to lie down during the heat of the day (and maybe a kiddie pool). Chickens need shelter from rain, heat, cold, and predators, as well as a clean, dark, private place to lay eggs.

Of course, in no case does the shelter have to be elaborate. The simpler the better, especially if it’s only for seasonal use. If you can put it on wheels or skids and tow it around the back forty, so much the better.

Other Facilities

For most small animals, unless you’re starting in on a huge scale (not advisable), you probably aren’t justified in building elaborate facilities of any sort. If you have several dairy goats or cows, you may need to consider a portable milking parlor, and having a small corral for handling newly purchased beef cattle will probably make your life much easier. But for the most part, think simple. What are the bare basics you can start out with? One horse may require a field shelter, but almost certainly not a stable. Likewise, processing your own broiler chickens for personal consumption will not require you to build a professional abattoir. As you expand and gain experience, you’ll probably find it worth the money to invest in a better setup, but start small and grow into it.

Once you have a rough idea of the fencing, shelter, and other facilities you’ll need, you’ll be ready to juggle pasture, harvested forages, feed, and supplements as you put together a healthy diet for your livestock.

Helpful Resources

HomeMadeHomeMade
This handy book offers guidelines on building a number of structures for housing and containing livestock of all types. Great for the do-it-yourselfer! Read our full review.

Free LSU Building Plans
Although the plans at this site are free, they are generally more elaborate and geared toward commercial production. That said, there is quite a bit here that could prove useful to those getting started with livestock.

Getting Started With Livestock Part 1: Water

Getting Started with Livestock Part 1: WaterWhen it comes to keeping livestock, the water supply of your land base can be a major limiting factor. Therefore, before you invest any money in farm animals, it is crucial that you take stock of your water situation first.

Supply

Let’s start by examining the water resources you have available:

  • What water sources do you have? Wells? Springs? Creeks? Ponds? Cisterns?
  • How much flow or capacity does each water source provide?
  • How reliable is each source, especially in a drought?

You might want to consider writing out a water source inventory and keeping it in a handy place for reference.

Quality

As you write down the different sources of water available to you, also make a note of the general quality of the water. There is a saying that if you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t make your animals drink it, either, but this is not necessarily always either true or practical. While you obviously want to avoid contamination as much as possible, and you should always strive to be a good steward of the water on your property, the importance of quality varies a great deal with the type of livestock you are raising. For dairy animals, clean water is an absolute must for quality milk production. Sheep also need reasonably clean water, or they won’t drink it. Chickens and beef cattle, on the other hand, seem to care very little about the state their drinking water is in. Yes, you should definitely give your livestock water that’s as clean and fresh as possible. But fit for human consumption? That may be a little over the top in most cases.

Water quality problems that are not acceptable include:

  • Unpleasant odors.
  • A pH below 5.5 or above 8.5.
  • Excessive salinity.
  • Fecal contamination.
  • Bacterial contamination
  • Blue-green algae.
  • High nitrate levels.
  • High sulfate levels.
  • Heavy metal contamination.

If there is reason to suspect that your water sources are less than ideal, some testing and remedial action is in order.

While you’re already thinking about water quality, you may also want to take a moment to think about extremes of temperature. Your animals will need cool water in the summer and unfrozen water in the winter. How will you get it to them?

Demand

Now that you know what you’ve got to work with, you need to find out how much water your chosen animals will drink in a day. Will your water resources limit the number of livestock you can keep? Bear in mind that there are many variables at play here. For example, a lactating cow will drink more than a steer, a milk goat more than a meat goat, and a European sheep more than a Navajo sheep, especially in summer.

For a starting point, consider the following estimates of daily water consumption per head:

Beef Cattle:

  • Calves: 5 gals/day.
  • Stocker calves: 15.
  • Dry cows and heifers: 15.
  • Cow/calf pairs: 20.
  • Bulls: 20.
  • Finishing cattle: 25.

Dairy Cattle:

  • Calves: 5 gals/day.
  • Heifers: 10.
  • Dry cows: 15.
  • Milking cows: 40.

Equines:

  • Ponies: 5 gals/day.
  • Light horses: 10.
  • Heavy horses: 16.
  • Donkeys: 6.

Pigs:

  • Weaners: 1 gals/day.
  • Feeders: 3.
  • Boars: 5.
  • Gestating sows: 5.
  • Lactating sows: 6.

Sheep and Goats:

  • Lambs and kids: 1 gals/day.
  • Rams and bucks: 2.
  • Gestating ewes and does: 2.
  • Lactating meat ewes and does: 3.
  • Lactating dairy ewes and does: 4.

Exotics:

  • Bison: 6 gals/day.
  • Elk: 6.
  • Llamas and alpacas: 3.

Please be aware that this is not intended to be a definitive guide to animal water consumption. The amount of variables that can affect the amount of water any given animal drinks on any given day is staggering. Until you get a better feel for your livestock and your water supply, think in terms of worst-case scenario.

So does your projected water use match your available water resources? If not, you will need to plan to either reduce your water use or increase your water supply.

Getting Started with Livestock Part 1: WaterDelivery

Water delivery methods vary by species, but there are a few golden rules that always apply:

  • Your animals should never run out of water at any point during the day.
  • They should have a fresh supply at least every 24 hours.
  • Their water should be protected from soiling as much as possible.

This means that you may be breaking ice at regular intervals in the winter. It also means that hanging poultry drinkers should be monitored for leaks periodically. And it means that livestock should not be allowed to swim in the pond (ducks, geese, and swans are the exceptions, as they benefit from having water to bathe in).

Other logistical factors unique to your situation will apply. For example, moving cattle to fresh paddocks daily will likely necessitate a portable stock tank.

So do you have enough water to supply your animals? If so, you’re ready to take a look at fencing and facilities.

Helpful Resource

Waterers and Watering Systems
Free PDF from K-State that provides an overview of water sources, power sources, drink delivery options, livestock water requirements, and permits.

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.

The Homesteading Bucket List Part 1: 25 Practical Country Living Projects

The Country Living Bucket List Part 1If you love country living, you probably enjoy reading websites and magazines that regularly feed your interest and give you new ideas of things to try out. After all, there are always new skills to be learned, and you never know what will become your next favorite project, hobby, or venture!

While your homesteading bucket list can (and should) be unique, you may find that the following suggestions spark an interest that you didn’t even know you had. You’ll also find helpful resources for jumping into many of the projects. The projects are roughly organized with the idea that the skills will complement and build upon one another.

We will feature 25 projects this week and 25 more next week for an even 50.

Have fun!

1. Start a Country Living Library

The perfect starting point! Reading broadly is the key to knowledgeable country living, and therefore the key to success. Want to get the most bang for your book-buying buck? Start with a few classics with philosophies that appeal to you—those that provide inspiration and a broad feel of what you are aiming for in your country living adventure, whether that is a slower lifestyle, a farm that pays the bills, or just a source of healthier food. Also pick up a few beginner-friendly how-to books on projects that you intend to pursue in the near future, such as gardening, cooking, or chicken-keeping.

Helpful Resources

Top 10 Books for Beginning Farmers
This list includes titles on gardening, field crops, livestock, food preservation, starting a farm business, and more.

The Homestead Bookshelf
Our steadily growing selection of the best books on country living out there!

2. Learn About Five Alternative Agriculture Concepts, Practices, or Systems

Once you have a library, you’ll be ready to explore the many options available for those looking to farm a little differently. You will likely want to mix and match to adapt to your unique circumstances. However, each of the different systems has much to offer. Topics you might research include:

3. Create a Budget

Living within your means is a huge part of country living. Take some time to plan how you will pay off any and all debt, and then start saving!

4. Start a Vegetable Garden

No matter how little land you have, you almost certainly have enough room for a vegetable garden, even if it consists solely of a few pots on a porch. This is probably the most rewarding country living project you can tackle.

Helpful Resources

Starting a Garden or Orchard
This series walks you through the basics of water, workload, location, logistics, and plant selection.

How to Plan a Garden
A step-by-step guide to mapping out a successful first garden.

5. Plant an Herb Garden

And while you are working on your vegetable garden, be sure to make room for a few herbs! Your herb garden does not have to be a separate feature of your property. Many herbs can protect your vegetables from insect pests if grown as companion plants.

6. Plant an Apple Tree

A dwarf apple tree is fairly easy to care for compared to other fruits, and it will reward you for years to come.

Helpful Resource

Planning Your Fruit Garden
Just the basics from K-State.

7. Build a Small Shed, Coop, or Other Shelter for Livestock

Livestock require shelter, and many country handymen enjoy building their own. What you build will obviously depend on what you intend to raise. Just keep in mind that simple is often best.

Helpful Resources

HomeMadeHomeMade
Includes many basic projects that will come in handy on your new homestead! Read our full review.

Free LSU Building Plans
These structures tend to be larger and more involved, but there is still plenty of useful material here.

8. Start a Flock of Laying Hens

What homestead would be complete without laying hens? This rewarding project is truly a must—homegrown eggs are infinitely superior to commercial in appearance and peace of mind, not to mention nutritional value.

Helpful Resources

Choosing a Breed of Chicken
Tried-and-true tips for selecting breeds that will meet your needs.

How to Welcome Your Mail-Order Chicks
A step-by-step procedure for getting your baby chicks off to a good start.

Storey's Guide to Raising ChickensStorey’s Guide to Raising Chickens
An essential book for the beginning chicken-keeper! Read our full review.

9. Build a Birdhouse

A backyard full of birds is a place of beauty. Furthermore, these delightful creatures will do their part in keeping insect pests under control. Have a little extra time on your hands? Make a few more birdhouses than you need and give them away as Christmas gifts to those nature lovers on your list!

Helpful Resource

The Complete Book of Birdhouse ConstructionComplete Book of Birdhouse Construction
Very concise illustrated guide with detailed plans for homes for house finches, great crested flycatchers, purple martins, phoebes, downy woodpeckers, wood ducks, and bluebirds, as well as specifications for many more. Read our full review.

10. Use Native Plants for Landscaping

Native plants have a tremendous advantage when it comes to landscaping—they are exceptionally well adapted to your area! When setting about beautifying your place in the country, consider some of the hardy plants that are native to your soil and climate.

11. Make Compost

Composting is not as difficult or mysterious as many books would lead you to believe. While there are many advantages to a precisely controlled hot compost pile, cold composting is a forgiving method that can have you looking like a pro in no time!

Helpful Resource

The Complete Compost Gardening GuideThe Complete Compost Gardening Guide
This friendly book makes composting easy! Read our full review.

12. Raise Earthworms

Earthworms are a gardener’s best friend! If you just want to introduce the children to these fun and fascinating animals, keep it simple and house some worms from your backyard in a clear jar with some garden soil and kitchen scraps for a while. Serious about raising earthworms? Try vermicomposting!

13. Identify the Plants in Your Pasture

What’s the best pasture grass to start with? Often it’s whatever is already occupying the place! Learn what plants, useful and toxic, are on your land, and use that information to find out how to manage your native pastures to advantage.

Helpful Resource

Grasses of Kansas
Our own guide to Kansas grasses, their characteristics, life cycles, ecology, uses, and hazards.

Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses
A very useful website with concise information and photos galore!

14. Press Flowers

While you’re in the pasture, collect some plants to press and store in a nature journal. Not only is this a fun craft, it will help you master plant identification over time.

15. Dry Herbs

Many gardeners believe that the flavor of homegrown herbs dried in small batches and stored for short periods of time is far superior to that of dried herbs that have sat on the grocery store shelf for a while. Fortunately, the skill of drying herbs is not a difficult one to acquire, and these days there are many methods, ranging from hanging up bundles of herbs in an airy place to using sophisticated solar dehydrators.

16. Save Heirloom Seeds

The practice of saving seeds to plant and to share is a time-honored one. Some old vegetable varieties are only around today because one dedicated gardener thought they were worth preserving. Make sure your favorite heirloom plants are still around for future generations by saving the seeds!

Helpful Resource

Vegetables
Our guide to growing vegetables includes step-by-step instructions for saving seeds.

Basic Principles of Breeding Heirloom Vegetables
Information on ensuring a healthy gene pool when saving heirloom plants, for the truly dedicated seed-saver.

17. Start an Indoor Container Garden

Even if you have space for a large outdoor garden, there are still advantages to growing a few plants in pots indoors. Herbs are often more convenient when placed within arm’s reach of the cook. Indoor container gardening can be a simple way to extend the growing season. Also, container gardening makes growing some plants, such as citrus trees, possible regardless of your climate.

18. Make Your Own Mulch

There are many types of mulch that can easily be made at home. Shredding discarded newspapers and collecting lawn clippings are two options within reach of nearly every homesteader. With the right equipment, you may also be able to cut your own straw or chip your own wood mulch.

Helpful Resource

A Brief Guide to 13 Common Garden Mulches
Learn about the pros, cons, and best applications of over a dozen mulches, some of which are easy to make yourself.

19. Build a Cold Frame

There’s a reason homesteaders love cold frames—they are easy to build and highly effective at extending the growing season. Don’t neglect this valuable addition to your country lifestyle!

Helpful Resource

HomeMade
Includes plans for a cold frame. Read our full review.

20. Put Up a Bird Feeder

Bring some cheer to your place during those cold winter months (and enjoy the satisfaction of doing a good deed while you’re at it!). Bird feeders can be surprisingly easy to make.

Helpful Resource

The Backyard Bird Feeder's BibleThe Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible
This fun and friendly book includes numerous do-it-yourself bird feeder projects, and it will even tell you what your favorite birds prefer to eat! Read our full review.

21. Cut and Use Firewood from Your Own Property

Many find cutting firewood to be a very satisfying way to heat their own homes. Keep in mind that not all firewoods are created equal. Hardwoods are much more efficient than softwoods, and seasoned wood is highly recommended for a nice, clean burn.

22. Mend a Garment

Clothing mishaps are inevitable on a small farm, so it’s best to be prepared. Learning these simple skills can extend the life of your clothes considerably:

  • Sewing on a button.
  • Stitching a tear in fabric.
  • Patching blue jeans.
  • Darning socks.

23. Make a Piece of Furniture

Here’s a winter project that can quickly make you very popular with your relatives! Furthermore, making your own furniture can provide you with the satisfaction of owning one-of-a-kind pieces that fit perfectly into your home.

24. Learn to Tie Basic Knots

Knot-tying is a very useful skill for those who spend time working outdoors. Even if gardening is your only country living project, you would be amazed at how useful a good knot can be.

25. Prune Cane Fruits

To maximize the health and productivity of your cane fruits, such as blackberries and raspberries, regular pruning is recommended. Fortunately, it is also quite an easy skill to learn.

Helpful Resource

How to Prune Blackberries
Step-by-step instructions for both winter and post-harvest pruning.

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.

USDA Releases 2017 Ag Census Results

The average American farmer is still getting older, and his net farm income is still declining.

But the number of young farmers is increasing, the value of their production is above average, and the number of farms consisting of nine acres or less is on the rise.

Here are the highlights from the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture.

National

2 million farms, 900 million acres, and 3.4 million producers. That’s a snapshot of the current American agricultural scene.

It is important to note that in the 2017 census, the USDA changed the way some of the questions were asked. The most noteworthy change was redefining producer to refer to anyone involved in making farm decisions.

Key facts from the latest Census of Agriculture include:

  • The number of farms in the U.S. dropped 3.2% to about 2.04 million in 2017.
  • Of America’s 900 million acres in farmland, about 401 million are permanent pasture, 396 million are cropland, 73 million are woodland, and 30 million are used for other purposes.
  • The number of farms consisting of 9 acres or less rose to 273 thousand in 2017 from 224 thousand in 2012, the only acreage category that increased in numbers other than farms consisting of 2,000 or more acres.
  • The average producer is now 57.5 years old, compared to 56.3 in 2012 (partially reflective of terminology changes in the census).
  • The number of female producers has increased by 26.6% since 2012 (primarily reflective of terminology changes in the census).
  • 58% of all farmers have their primary occupation outside of farming.
  • 75% of all farms across the nation have Internet access.
  • In 2017, U.S. farms produced $388.5 billion in agricultural products, down from $394.6 billion in 2012.
  • The largest farms ranked by sales (those selling $5 million or more in agricultural products) accounted for less than 1% of all farms, but over 35% of all sales.
  • Producers under 35 years old had a total value of production of $273,522, compared to $190,245 for all producers.
  • Total U.S. production expenses have decreased 1% since 2012.
  • Total U.S. net farm income has decreased 5% since 2012, despite an 11% increase in government payments.
  • The average net income per farm has decreased 2% to $43,053.

The top 10 states attracting beginning farmers (those with 10 or fewer years of experience) were:

  1. Alaska (46% of total number of producers statewide).
  2. Georgia (33%).
  3. Maine (33%).
  4. Hawaii (32%).
  5. Florida (31%).
  6. Rhode Island (31%).
  7. West Virginia (31%).
  8. New Hampshire (31%).
  9. Colorado (31%).
  10. Vermont (30%).

The top 10 agricultural states by sales were:

  1. California ($45.2 billion).
  2. Iowa ($29.0 billion).
  3. Texas ($24.9 billion).
  4. Nebraska ($22.0 billion).
  5. Kansas ($18.8 billion).
  6. Minnesota ($18.4 billion).
  7. Illinois ($17.0 billion).
  8. North Carolina ($12.9 billion).
  9. Wisconsin ($11.4 billion).
  10. Indiana ($11.1 billion).

The top seven agricultural counties by sales nationwide were all located in California.

The top five commodities nationwide, ranked by sales, were as follows:

  1. Cattle and calves ($77.2 billion; the leading state was Texas).
  2. Corn ($51.2 billion; the leading state was Iowa).
  3. Poultry and eggs ($49.2 billion; the leading state was Georgia).
  4. Soybeans ($40.3 billion; the leading state was Illinois).
  5. Milk ($36.7 billion; the leading state was California).

Kansas

On the Kansas scene, key facts from the census include:

  • The number of farms fell to 58,569 in 2017 from 61,773 in 2012 owning to a decline in numbers of medium-sized farms.
  • Farms of 1 to 9 acres increased to 2,665 in 2017 compared to 1,975 in 2012.
  • Farms of 10 to 49 acres also increased to 10,101 in 2017 from 9,776 in 2012.
  • The average farm increased in size to 781 acres in 2017 from 747 acres in 2012.
  • The estimated market value of land and buildings climbed to an average of about $1.4 million per farm in 2017 from $1.2 million in 2012.

The top five agricultural products in Kansas in 2017, ranked by market value, were:

  1. Cattle and calves (58.1% of total sales).
  2. Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas (32.3%).
  3. Hogs and pigs (3.8%).
  4. Milk from cows (3.1%).
  5. Other crops and hay (1.4%).

More documents related to the ag census will continue to be released over the next few months and years.

The next census of agriculture will be in 2022.

Helpful Resource

List of Reports and Publications
All the data currently available for the 2017 census, plus release dates for upcoming publications.