We love curating helpful reading material for country living enthusiasts!
If you are looking for a variety of useful books on everything from starting a farming enterprise to planting crops to drawing horses, we highly recommend the Homestead Bookshelf as the place to find what you’re looking for. We have collected public domain classics, modern paperbacks, free extension service PDFs, and even a few books published by Homestead on the Range to help you learn important facts and skills.
New to our site? Allow us to recommend some of the books our readers purchase or download after visiting.
Looking 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Choosing 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.
Our online guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of common and uncommon cattle breeds.
The classic sheepdog can be a handful, but for those prepared to feed his sharp mind and his insatiable drive to work the Border Collie has no peers. Impeccable timing and a positive approach to training are necessary to bring out the best in the Border Collie. That said, patience and consistency will reward the trainer with a versatile working dog that can control sheep flocks of any size with amazing precision and very little force.
It’s encouraging to see interest in the Bouvier among homesteaders, because this hardworking dog’s abilities are rarely tapped into today. He is usually a pet or show dog in modern American society, but he can be incredibly valuable on a small farm! The Bouvier is not only a superb guardian of home, family, and livestock, but he can herd anything from cattle to chickens. He is also a very sturdy draft dog and obedient to a fault when raised by a confident trainer.
The world of the Irish Setter can be rather confusing, as there are so many different bloodlines adapted to different purposes. But the good news is that this means there is probably a version of the Irish Setter just right for you. Take your choice from the intensely competitive field type, the casual old-fashioned hunting type, the stylish but smart dual-purpose type, or the laid-back show type, also an excellent pet.
The Anatolian Shepherd is a very popular choice of livestock guardian today, and little wonder. He’s smart, sturdy, and low-maintenance—a no-fuss dog born to protect. While sheep are the traditional charges of the Anatolian Shepherd, he can and will protect anything that is his, including children, chickens, goats, horses, and cattle.
The lovable Lab is a versatile companion, able to either nap on the couch or spend the day hunting with the same good-natured enthusiasm. A country lifestyle is the perfect setting for this breed, particularly if children and water are also involved. He can be quite at home with other animals, and he makes an excellent watchdog to boot.
Although not the best choice for a large farm or ranch, the fluffy Old English Sheepdog can do double duty as a companion and farmhand on a smaller hobby farm thanks to his great versatility. He can herd, retrieve, bark at approaching strangers, and pull a cart with the best of them. An extra bonus? He has the luxurious coat to make unique craft yarns for the ambitious spinner.
The working German Shepherd is a rare combination between guardian and herding dog. His unique gift is called furrowing, which means to pace along an unfenced boundary line to keep livestock in and drive predators out. Keep in mind that there are numerous German Shepherd bloodlines, some better suited for show and others for police and military work. The type with the furrowing instinct traces back to working dogs from West Germany.
This smart, fiesty little dog can be nearly as effective at vermin control as a cat and is far superior as an alarm system. Long associated with upper-class horse stables of the East Coast, the Jack Russell is nevertheless not too proud to rid the working farm of anything from rats to badgers (and he’s still a horse lover). Also popular are his close relatives—the square-built Parson Russell Terrier commonly kept as a companion and the low-slung Russell Terrier bred for hunting vermin in Australia.
Developed in America to handle the vast sheep flocks of the West, the Australian Shepherd is still a popular choice on many working sheep and cattle ranches. But keep in mind that the working Aussie is a high-octane dog with a keen mind, a vigorous protective instinct, and an insatiable desire to herd. Hobby farmers may prefer the more laid-back demeanor of the rarer dual-purpose bloodlines.
And the favorite dog among our readers is…drum roll…the English Shepherd! A close cousin of the Australian Shepherd, the English Shepherd branched off to meet the needs of smaller frontier farmers in the Midwest. Little wonder, then, that the recent revival in small-scale sustainable agriculture has resulted in a revival in popularity for the English Shepherd. He is a triple-purpose working dog with the ability to herd all types of livestock, guard either the home or the pasture, and track and tree a wide variety of game. Puppies can be hard to find, but dedicated breeders are scattered across the country.
Looking for the right herding dog for your farm? This excellent book discusses the varied working styles of both popular and rare breeds. Read our full review.
Growing your very first kitchen garden this year? Congratulations!
You are probably already aware that it’s best to start small. But if you are starting small, one of the questions you may have is what to grow in that limited space. The first and most important rule of thumb is to grow things that you enjoy eating. Once you have a list of favorites, however, you may decide to pare it back still further this first year based on what is easiest to grow.
While the easy-to-grow list will depend largely on your climate, soil, and local pest population, there are some staples that belong in every garden. There are also a few plants that are particularly adapted to the vagaries of the Kansas climate, and still others that recommend themselves everywhere due to their minimal maintenance requirements.
Here are 10 favorites that may be worth a try in your first year’s garden, along with a few tips for success.
Asparagus may seem daunting to beginners at first, since it is a perennial, is frequently started from crowns rather than seeds, and cannot be harvested the first year.
But even with these limitations, asparagus is still an excellent plant for beginners—once it is established it requires relatively little care. Weeding, watering, and cutting down the old tops annually are all that is required. As an extra bonus, asparagus will be one of the first things you will get to harvest each spring!
Carrots are not as difficult to grow as many gardening guides would leave you to think. The two main keys to growing long, straight carrots are loosening the soil before planting and using a generous layer of mulch to keep soil moisture levels even. The rest is purely patience.
As a final note, for best flavor, select a variety bred for fresh eating rather than storage.
No garden would be complete without tomatoes, and with hundreds of varieties to choose from there is definitely a variety bound to grow well in your area. One choice you will have to make is between determinate (bush) and indeterminate (vine) varieties, depending on whether you want to support the plants with a cage or a trellis. Another decision you will need to make is whether to grow only slicing tomatoes or to plant a few of the extremely easy-to-grow saucing varieties for homemade salsa and the like.
Three tips for successful tomato growing—strictly observe the recommended indoor planting and transplanting dates for your area (see our vegetable guide), use plenty of mulch, and water the plants deeply in hot weather.
Radishes are famous for being easy to grow. Furthermore, they are ready to harvest quickly—you should be able to grow multiple crops of radishes every spring and a few more in the fall!
There is very little to say about the minimal maintenance requirements of the radish. About all it needs is regular watering.
6. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes grow more or less like weeds once they are established. The easiest way to get started with sweet potatoes is to buy slips, or young plants. If you keep them watered well during the first few critical weeks, they will require relatively little attention thereafter.
One final tip for harvesting sweet potatoes successfully—dig away from the base of the plant to avoid hitting the delicious sweet potatoes. If you damage the potatoes with a fork or shovel, they will not keep.
Arugula is actually much hardier than lettuce, and the fact that it is a gourmet specialty green makes it particularly appealing. Arugula is a guaranteed confidence-booster for the novice gardener!
This plant is quite cold-hardy, but it will tend to become bitter as the growing season progresses. Err on the side of planting it a little too early rather than too late.
Jalapeños are arguably the easiest of the peppers to grow. They love hot summers and are tolerant of neglect.
No major growing recommendations are in order here. Just be careful when working with the peppers and their spicy oils in the kitchen. Wear clean plastic gloves when cutting jalapeños, and do not touch your face when handling them!
Lima beans are known for thriving in all but the coldest, wettest climates. They are also more versatile than they are typically given credit for. If you don’t enjoy old-fashioned butter beans, try letting the pods mature and harvesting the seeds to use as dry beans. They cook much quicker than black, kidney, or pinto beans.
There really isn’t much to say when it comes to lima bean maintenance. Bear in mind that watering too much is far more harmful to lima beans than watering too little.
Garlic really belongs in every garden, as it is so easy to grow and so essential in cooking. There almost isn’t a way to mess up garlic. You can plant it in the spring and pull it during onion harvest, or you can plant it in the fall and let it overwinter in the garden for nice big bulbs in the spring. If you do decide to overwinter it, you can grow it in a cold frame or polytunnel for an earlier harvest. But this is not necessary for success—garlic will grow just fine out in the ground under a layer of straw mulch.
The easiest way to start growing garlic is just to buy a generous-sized, healthy-looking bulb at the grocery store and plant the individual cloves. After harvest, save one or two of your best homegrown bulbs for future planting.
As for watering, err on the side of drier soil. Garlic will rot if overwatered, while the worst effect of underwatering is usually just smaller cloves. Always give the surface of the soil time to dry out between waterings.
1. Egyptian Walking Onions
This plant can make the worst gardener look like a seasoned green thumb! It propagates itself, it requires almost no attention, and it tastes delicious. It will satisfy your green onion needs without all the hassle of dealing with seeds or sets. And, with a healthy, generous patch, you should be able to harvest onions in all but the hottest summer and coldest winter weather.
The main requirement of Egyptian onions is a periodic hand weeding. An occasional watering will encourage growth. Harvest is simple—just snip off a few branches with scissors, or pinch between your thumb and index finger. Always leave each plant a couple of healthy branches to promote vigor and propagation.
While Egyptian onions do a fine job of spreading all on their own, you can expand your patch even more quickly by collecting the mature bulbs from the tops of dry plants and planting them yourself.
More information on growing popular garden vegetables, including planting, care, and harvesting instructions.
Kansas certainly has its share of oddities, not the least of which are some of its unique small towns.
Many lists of strange Kansas town names have been made already, but there are still some peculiar names that are frequently overlooked. Allow us to share the 10 Kansas towns that have, in our opinion, the strangest names, along with some background on the origin of those names as far as is known.
10. Dry Wood
Dry Wood is a ghost town and former railroad station in Crawford County, about halfway between Fort Scott and Pittsburg. The post office only lasted from 1894 to 1915. Prior to that, the town site was a Civil War post for about a year starting in the fall of 1862. The primary purpose of Camp Drywood was to defend the Kansas border against Confederate guerilla fighters, but it also temporarily served as a refuge for Unionist Indians fleeing present-day Oklahoma. The town and the camp both took their names from nearby Drywood Creek, presumably named for its belts of native forest.
Speed may sound like a strange name for a town, but it was actually the surname of Abraham Lincoln’s attorney general, James Speed. Speed is a tiny town located in Phillips County. In 2010, Speed had 37 residents.
In keeping with the fast-paced theme, Kansas also boasts a Hasty. This ghost town is located in Woodson County and appears to never have been a community of any considerable importance. It was likely named for the Hasty family of that county.
Agenda comes from the Latin word for “list of matters to be attended to by the assembly” or, to put it more concisely, “things to be done.” Agenda, located in Republic County, boasted a post office and a railroad station before the town officially existed. While the details of the name selection have been lost over time, presumably it came from the agenda of the locals regarding establishing a town.
6. May Day
The story goes that May Day in Riley County was so named by its postmaster because the post office opened on May 1 in 1869, 1870, or 1871. Records at the Kansas Historical Society show that the post office actually opened on April 13, 1871. Apparently the postmaster considered it close enough.
5. Good Intent
Located in Atchison County, Good Intent was populated by Catholic farming families and early on known for its Sunday school. The name Good Intent appears to have been an expression of religious sentiment.
Ransom in Ness County was originally named Ogdensburg, but was renamed in honor of General Thomas E.G. Ransom. General Ransom was a surveyor and civil engineer by trade. He served with distinction in the Union Army during the Civil War, receiving severe wounds in the Battle of Shiloh and leading his soldiers up to his very last moments before dying of dysentery.
Deerhead, once home to a small colony of Russian Jews, is located in Barber County and shares its name with the surrounding township. Deerhead Township had a population of 14 people in 2010. No explanation has been found for the name of the town or the township. Presumably it was a prime hunting location in its day.
2. Red Onion
Red Onion was a mining community in Crawford County. The name is considered a typical example of mining camp whimsy.
1. Swamp Angel
Swamp Angel is an abandoned community in Pottawatomie County with a name that remains something of a mystery. While the lost community does appear to have been located in a flood plain, some researchers contend that the name comes from a historic cannon nicknamed “Swamp Angel.” This cannon was used by the Union army to besiege Charleston, South Carolina, during the Civil War.
Whether you are still in the early planning stage or are trying to overcome your first obstacle, one of the best things you can do is to read extensively. Many others have walked the path before you. Why not smooth your own learning curve and take advantage of their experience?
While there are many excellent books we could recommend (just check out our bookshelf), we have picked out 10 must-reads to get you going.
Need to identify a plant in your pasture? Start here. Although a little technical, it is well organized and supplied with a glossary and illustrations for ease of use. The plant descriptions include useful notes on suitability for livestock where applicable. (Not from Kansas? Search Amazon for a guide tailored to your state or region.) Read our full review.
To solve problems with insect pests, you must first be able to identify the culprit. This guide offers descriptions of 850 species, liberally illustrated with color photos. Bonus: It includes a section on beekeeping! (Not from Kansas? Search Amazon for a guide tailored to your state or region.) Read our full review.
How to start a farm business in 10 steps. This is a concise introduction to the questions you will have to answer as you get started. Learn how to write a business plan, find funding, choose venues, price products, meet legal requirements, market effectively, and more. Helpful resources are provided each step of the way. Read our full review.
Need equipment for your farm? See if you can build what you need before you buy something. This book offers ideas for projects useful around the farm, the garden, and the house alike. Whether you need a fence, a compost bin, a simple animal shelter, or just an easy way to bale hay on a small scale, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here. Read our full review.
Great starting point for animal health research. Covers the basic care of cattle, horses, goats, sheep, swine, poultry, rabbits, dogs, and cats. Each chapter begins with the basics of animal housing and feeding specific to the species in question, and then moves to a discussion of the symptoms and treatment of the most common health problems. Advice on home vet care basics, such as first aid and administering medication, is also provided. Read our full review.
Is a garden or orchard part of your plan? Make sure you have this encyclopedia on your shelf. If you have a question, whether about the needs of a specific plant or about implementing a sustainable gardening practice, you will find a concise answer here. No wonder this book has stood the test of time! Read our full review.
Whatever type of food you need to preserve, it is almost certain that you will find directions in one of the editions of this classic. The original edition offers good old down-home cooking, while the third edition was made for the health-conscious crowd. Both include substantial information on making the most of your harvest, whether it be fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, or meat. Read our full review.
If you intend to grow field crops in Kansas, this one is not optional. (Good news—it’s free!) Multiple charts tell you when to plant and at what rate. (Not from Kansas? Check your local extension service to see if they offer a similar resource.)
This one is a must! Even if farming is your hobby, you can still benefit from the valuable planning tools provided in this book. In five straightforward steps, learn how to write a business plan that you will actually use. Identify your values, recognize your current position, develop your vision, examine your options, and choose your path. Worksheets and examples help you through the process. Highly recommended—and it’s free! Read our full review.
Need inspiration or ideas? Give this one a try. Joel Salatin shares valuable tips for successful and profitable farming, drawing from his experience along the way. Learn how to choose enterprises that will work for you, then develop your farming philosophy and dive into direct marketing. You don’t need a large land base or a well-filled wallet to get started. Salatin demonstrates that it is your mindset that makes the difference. A must for all beginning farmers! Read our full review.
Many Kansas towns have charm. However, a few stand out as delightful places to visit and explore.
Allow us to share 10 towns that we feel are must-sees.
A larger town with a busy but inviting feel, named for Union General James McPherson of the Civil War. Enjoy the attractive architecture, particularly the stunning, castle-like county courthouse. Keep your eyes open for murals.
For a quieter neighborhood, try this one. Impressive architecture, such as the courthouse and the middle school, is present here. The highlight, however, is the Davis Walking Trail on the east side of town. The trailhead is across the highway from the Celebration Centre.
Amish country has a unique charm. When you’ve enjoyed the rural scenery a bit, stop at Carriage Crossing for a cinnamon roll or piece of pie. Or shop for food and gifts at Yoder Meats and Kansas Station near Kansas Highway 96.
Now for another truly small town! The historic Santa Fe Railroad depot on 3rd and Boone is an attractive building, well worth visiting and photographing. The most memorable part of Madison, though? Just spend a little bit of time driving through town, preferably from south to north. The hills are rather impressive.
6. Cottonwood Falls
If you like limestone, this is the town for you. Start at the historic and beautiful bridge over the Cottonwood River. Then follow Broadway right up to the spectacular Chase County Courthouse. This 1873 structure is one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Architecture.
Atchison is an incredibly interesting town—we’re just scratching the surface in our recommendations. If you enjoy history, start your trip at the visitor center and county historical museum on 200 S. 10th. If you like architecture, you could probably spend a whole day perusing the streets. If you want to get out of the car and walk around, head southwest out of town to enjoy the scenery of the International Forest of Friendship. And, whatever your plans, drive over the Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge on U.S. 59. The 1938 bridge is unfortunately no longer with us, as it was too narrow for modern traffic demands. Still, the new bridge provides a spectacular view of the Missouri River well worth seeing.
This town has quite a bit to offer! Brownstone Hall and the Brown Grand Theatre are both worth seeing, as is the elaborate Nazareth Motherhouse. Outside of town is Camp Concordia, where German prisoners of war were kept during World War II. Joler Park at Peck and Crestview offers a chance to get out and walk on a shredded rubber path. On the quirky side, be sure to stop at the courthouse and contemplate the sight of a granite ball weighing just under a ton rotating slowly in a fountain.
Step back in time with the bright, well-kept downtown of Peabody. The historic buildings enhance the small-town charm. Looking for a specific recommendation? Just drive through town on Walnut Street and enjoy the ride.
2. Scott City
Scott City has an open, spacious feel. Check out the stately county courthouse, then drive around to admire the town. Don’t miss the sculpture titled Cattleman’s Harvest outside Security State Bank.
1. Council Grove
History, architecture, food, and scenic walkways—this town has it all! There is too much to pack into this brief paragraph, so keep your eyes open as you drive. Many of the historic landmarks of this Santa Fe Trail town are well marked. Must-sees include the beautiful downtown, the Kaw Mission, the Madonna of the Trail, and the gorgeous walkway along the Neosho River. Little wonder that Council Grove is listed as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas History.
Need help finding the murals in McPherson? Find addresses and summaries here.