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Tuesday, July 3

Getting Started with ... Livestock

When we were first starting out, the man at the feed store told us, "If you're going to have livestock, you're going to have dead stock."  At the time, we laughed it off, having no idea what he meant....but boy did we learn!

Knowing how to care for livestock is something that takes years to master...and the man at the feed store wasn't talking about us in particular, but anyone who cares for livestock...seasoned or not.

Leigh Tate, blogger at 5 Acres and a Dream, has recently released a guide that breaks down livestock for beginners.  While some books say that they're for beginners (but aren't really), this one truly is.

Before we get to the book, I'd like to address the title.  "Prepper" is a word that either draws your interest or is an immediate turn-off....there doesn't seem to be much in-between.  However, in our experience, it's just a different twist on the word "homesteader."

We don't consider ourselves to be preppers.  We do, however, have a little bit of land and have reached a certain age where earning a living in a world of zeroes and ones just isn't cutting it anymore.  There's something innately fulfilling about being able to create something with your own two hands.  We have found prepper books to be an invaluable source of information for homesteading questions.

Whether you’re looking for a farm-to-table solution that provides fresh meat and dairy products today, or a long-term plan that will feed you and your family after the collapse of civilization—or both!— this all-in-one preparedness guide is for you. It teaches sustainable animal husbandry skills that allow you to build and operate your own small-scale ranch anywhere from a backyard to a bug-out bunker. 

Packed with tips, techniques and strategies, this handy guide breaks down everything you need to know, including how to:

• Choose the best breeds for your needs
• Build barns, coops, hutches and fencing 
• Grow feed and utilize pastures 
• Breed your stock and raise offspring 
• Protect your animals from predators 
• Provide basic health and vet care 
• Preserve fresh milk, eggs and meat

In this book, you'll learn easy, low-tech or tech-free ways to manage both your land and your livestock.  It covers poultry (chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, and guineas), sheep and goats, rabbits, and cattle.  As a prepper book, it takes the perspective of long-term survival and preparedness, but in the terms of maximizing your investments, that can only be a plus when you're looking to start a small homestead.  

The book covers :
  • Chapter 1   First Things First
  • Chapter 2   Best Breeds fpr Self-Reliance
  • Chapter 3   Barns, Shelters, and Fencing
  • Chapter 4   Forage and Feed
  • Chapter 5   Breeding and Pregnancy
  • Chapter 6   Blessed Events: Birthing and Hatching
  • Chapter 7   Eggs, Milk, and Meat
  • Chapter 8   Keeping Them Healthy
  • Chapter 9    Keeping Them Safe
  • Chapter 10  Keeping Things Manageable
  • Conclusion: If SHTF 
It also has several handy charts for at-a-glance knowledge, including :

  • Livestock overviews (sizes, expected production, acreage needed, natural and productive lifespans, example breeds)
  • Grasses, legumes, and forbs (annuals, perennials, warm and cool season examples)
  • Hay Feeding Needs
  • Homegrown and foraged feeds
  • Natural vitamin and mineral sources
  • Gestation times for livestock
  • Labor times and number of offspring
  • Incubation times for various poultry
  • Homemade feeds for hatchlings
  • Supply lists (birthing, hatching, milking, routine and emergency care)
  • Alternative de-wormers and medications
  • How to know when you need a vet
  • Normal range of vital signs
  • Common livestock predators (includes signs of attack)
The book is well-organized and does not presume that the reader has any previous knowledge.  It starts out at the beginning and walks you through the needs, care, and troubleshooting of each animal, helping to build your confidence along the way.  There is also a great selection of extra resources for further information at the back of the book.

Meet the Author
Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Leigh and ask a few questions that were on my mind...

1.  It seems that homesteading is something you've taken up as an empty nester.  What was your 'previous life' like, and how does is affect your approach to homesteading?
Yes, we got a late start on homesteading. It was always something we wanted to do, but early on we decided to homeschool our kids which meant adjusting to one income. That meant there wasn't extra income to put by to save up for our own property. We rented in a semi-rural area, however, which enabled us to have a large garden and rabbits. I canned and preserved a lot of our food and kept a large stock-up pantry. We used wood for heat. So in a sense, we were homesteading, but it seemed very limited compared to what we wanted to do.
That was in the late 1990's to early 2000's, during the height of speculation about Y2K and the analysis of its lack of aftermath. I mention that briefly in the introduction to Prepper's Livestock Handbook, but it had a long-lasting impact. It made me understand the absolute necessity of preparedness. No, the world as we knew it didn't come to an end, but being prepared has been lifesaving since then on more than one occasion: extensive power outages, times of joblessness, even being able to generously help out-of-work friends.
The biggest challenge of starting as an empty-nester, however, is knowing we don't have several decades ahead of us to slowly build our homestead. We understand that as we get older our energy levels be lower, so we feel a certain pressure to get things established before that. If we started younger, we would have approached it one area at a time. For example, we probably would have first modified the house to better suit a self-reliance, then established extensive gardens and orchards, then prepared for livestock, then worked toward energy independence. As it was, we started on all fronts at once. It's not necessarily an impossible way to approach it, but by working on so many areas simultaneously, we always feel like we have a lot of loose ends!
2. If someone was interested in getting started as a homesteader, which animal would you recommend breaking the ice with, and why?
I'd say chickens or ducks. Most folks recommend chickens, but ducks are an excellent alternative, especially Muscovies because they are a quiet breed and are content with just a large pan of water to bathe. They don't need a pond. The advantage to starting with either of chickens or ducks is that they are easy to obtain, inexpensive, and don't require a lot of room or costly housing and equipment. They can get most of their diet from your garden and kitchen scraps. Plus almost everybody uses eggs. For those wishing to be more self-reliant in meat, chickens or ducks are a good animal on which to learn butchering. In addition, they provide excellent manure for the compost pile.
Rabbits are another possibility, especially if one lives in an area with animal restrictions. Rabbits are quiet and can be housed in a garage or basement, so they can still be a valuable food source for anyone wanting greater food self-sufficiency. They do require a nominal investment in housing and feeding equipment, but rabbits are inexpensive to purchase and except for hay (unless you grow your own) can be fed from your yard, garden, and kitchen.
3.  It seems that many empty-nesters are making the switch from a 9-5 job to homesteading.  Why do you think this is?
Yes, that's true. I think the reason for that is age and experience. Empty-nesters have been in the 9-5 system enough years to realize that its promises of wealth, security, and leisure are empty promises. Some people do obtain all that, but others experience the flaws in the system and understand that there is a cost. There is a huge cost to the environment, and equally important, to human dignity as well. Keeping the economic growth machine going requires a lot of little cogs; little cogs that keep spinning their wheels but can never escape the rat race.
I think most of us have a sense of purpose in raising our children, but once they leave the nest that purpose leaves with them. Many folks seem to think that the purpose of life is accumulating stuff, while others realize that more and more stuff will never satisfy one's soul. As an empty-nester I then realize that the industrialized consumer system is a hopeless one for me as an individual. Homesteading is the answer. It offers freedom from the rat race and a sense of life purpose. And it's true. Nothing is more satisfying that eating things I've grown with my own hands, being my own boss, or experiencing the joy of new farm babies and animal antics. Those things are priceless.
4.  You've written a few introductory books for homesteaders.  What's next on the horizon for books?
I would like to move toward next steps in homesteading, because I think there is a growing need for that. While many people are just starting out, there are others who have the basics down and are looking to build on those basics toward greater self-reliance. I was able to do that somewhat in Prepper's Livestock Guide. It was written to help someone in the early stages of homesteading and livestock keeping, but there is also quite a bit of "next step" material, such as growing feed and hay, making feed mixes, establishing sustainable pasture, and alternative methods for food preservation.
Currently I'm in the outline stage for a sequel to 5 Acres & A Dream The Book. That book was about our early days on our homestead, when we were trying to establish our basics. Now we're striving to take our self-sufficiency to a higher level, which means facing new questions and challenges. It's meant not only re-evaluating, but finding new ways of thinking. My hope is that our trial-and-error experiences can encourage others on the same journey.
5.  What else would you like folks to know?
That there is no perfect time to start homesteading! No matter where you are or what your circumstances, make a start. Doing something is better than doing nothing. The best way to get nowhere fast is to do nothing.
Expect the unexpected. There will be set-backs, but these are part of the learning process, and set-backs are not necessarily bad. I learn a lot from my problems and mistakes, often finding better solutions than I expected.

Remember that a lifestyle change is a huge undertaking. It takes time, but it's well worth it.

Pick up your copy of the Prepper's Livestock Handbook today!
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