Green Business Ideas for Rural Areas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose who live outside the cities often are seen as a disadvantage when it comes to having a business. Think outside the box! Here are five businesses you can do in many areas especially those that are more rural.

Composting This is about as low input as you can want and one of the lowest cost businesses to start. You’ll need materials to make compost bins often these can be recycled. Old barrels, metal garbage cans, remnants of fencing materials, wooden pallets and a host of other materials can be used to create bins. Often this is materials other people are throwing out. You can surround your bins with flowers to block the view or even bushes that give the birds shelter and food. You’ll layer raw materials manure, vegetation matter and soil and mix occasionally. People with livestock often have plenty of manure they’d happily give you a pickup load. Vegetation matter is yard waste as well as wood shavings (often used as bedding with livestock), much kitchen waste and grass after mowing the lawn. A little good soil keeps the compost starting good.

Start up costs are as minimal or deluxe as you want to be. This is something that can be done discreetly alongside a garage or in a back yard on a small scale. It takes about six months to “cook”- the inside of the pile when deep enough heats up. Stir the pile occasionally to mix all the “ingredients” together. You can get started with a pickup for hauling things and recycled materials; or if you are looking at more volume, a small tractor with a loader on it to mix the pile and handle heavier work. The compost is wonderful for gardens. Some studies show that the #1 “crop” in the US is lawn grass and a great deal of that goes “away” into landfills.

Build bat houses Did you know that bats consume thousands of mosquitoes every night? Many bats are facing housing issues due to lack of habitat making bat houses for home owners to put in their trees can be a way to help the bats survive and help ourselves without sprays as well. Bat house plans are easily available online. For the person with basic tools already the only cost is the wood to make it with and often you can get free wood, with permission, from scrap bins on construction sites.

Build bird houses and feeders bird watching is a popular hobby bird houses and feeders give the birds housing and food. There are many varieties on the market but dig deeper. Many owls take a larger house with special dimensions in order to be happy and many of these raptors are losing habitat. This is a chance to not only help your income but also create a range of bird houses for those birds few think about that perhaps aren’t as well known and loved as the cardinals and finches. You can also go for simplicity making bird feeders from pieces of wood with the bark still on them. A few holes drilled to put hangers in, some perches and slather a peanut butter (chunky is good!) and bird seed mix that gives the birds more than the typical bird feeder. A small “roof” over it helps deter squirrels as well as extend the life of the feeder’ and can be as simple as a clean can over the end nailed or screwed in place. For those with tools the startup cost may be minimal scrap wood, cans and other “recycled” items have a use besides clogging landfills!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGrow something good! Do you love to get in the garden? Grow herbs, vegetables or even a small fruit orchard and sell at farmers markets. You can start seeds, make “natural” crafts from gourds and other crops, sell the finished crops or maintain a “pick your own” format. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Cost for basic garden tools and seed under $1,000. If you are eyeing larger areas a small tractor with attachments makes work much easier. Alternately, natural animal power can do the work although a big slower they don’t use fuels.

Just spin it natural fiber from sheep is, for many, a byproduct. Fiber can be from. Alpaca, llama, angora goat (mohair), angora rabbit and even dog hair can be spun, mixed and used to create yarn for weaving and knitting or crocheting. You don’t have to have the animals for this you can probably find those contacts that have fleeces for sale. These can make not only clothing but wonderful wall hangings and other items for around the home. Many of these fibers are available around the world and the cost is reasonable. If you are taking “raw” fleeces you need a way to wash them, card it (separate into sections for spinning). You’ll need a spinning wheel and loom which can vary greatly in cost. You might consider natural fibers or natural dyes. Cost to start under $1,000 US for spinning wheel and loom, additional $400-1000 for a drum carder which allows carding of fleeces faster.

The economy can close doors but it can open others. What are your talents and how can you use them for green and green business?

Draft Animals Offer Alternatives

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADraft animals are important around the world for getting in to places that mechanization can’t get to. A working draft animal is a valued transportation for carts as well as a means to move heavy loads. Cutting hay, plowing, powering a treadmill and packing are but a few tasks made easier without fuel with animal power.

While in the US we look at primarily the dog, mule, donkeys, draft horse and oxen these are just a few of the animals used for power. Camels, dogs, elephants, water buffalo and caribou all work for people also and as working animals there is a much different view.

Jobs the draft team can do include milling grains, hauling logs, lifting loads, plowing and farming, operating bellows and hauling loads.

The most powerful of draft animals and the longest lived is unquestionably the elephant. Normally it is the smaller Indian elephant used, valued in hilly terrain and serving as work animals since well before the birth of Christ. However, with mature males being aggressive and much larger as well as the elephant in general eating more than 500 pounds of forage per day, there is limited use for these amazing animals from a draft standpoint in the US.

For American uses equine and bovine are mentioned as draft animals. The draft horse, mules and oxen have their supporters and their critics. Both are threatened today. Modern agricultural practices of farming thousands of acres and sometimes tens of thousands of acres make the draft animals outdated. However, as indicated by the spike in fuel prices that can change quickly when grass becomes cheaper than diesel to get the fields tilled. Additionally draft animals are renewable.

The reasons for using draft animals are many. There is no foreign fuel required to power them. They can get into the fields earlier than heavy machinery. They cause less compaction of the soil and a draft mare can produce offspring for more power.

However, the critics have points also. They require care every day, whether you work them or not. They need time to learn how to do their jobs, and they are powerful enough there is a risk of injury. They are prone to injury themselves and if it happens when you need to get in the field then you can be stuck unless you keep extra animals. They take room and pasture.

Of course these arguments can be balanced by injuries happen with machinery also, and machinery is also prone to break down. Most owners don’t consider the daily care a bad thing but rather point towards it is time spent with animals they are truly partners with.

Draft horses have a long history in America. All have become more show than working but there are still many people who log and farm with horses. There are several main breeds. The Shire is a tall heavy breed originating in England and often called a Clydesdale. Shires often have more “feathering” on the lower legs. Clydesdales have become easily recognized due to their appearance on Budweiser advertising. Percherons and Belgians are actually more popular than the other two breeds. Suffolks are the only breed developed for farm work, and are always chestnut in color with minimal white. America’s only native draft horse, the American Cream, is critically endangered with just a few hundred remaining. Draft horses can weigh over a ton and a pair that are well trained are worth a great deal to someone who wants to work them.

Other heavy breeds not commonly seen as draft horses include Halflingers, Norwegian Fjord, spotted drafts, Gypsy horses and sometimes Friesians. These are all breeds suitable for light draft work on a farm.

Draft horse prices can vary from $1,000 to $4500 and more for show animals. For those serious about purchasing there is quite a few to pick from in the $2500-5,000 range in almost all breeds. Some examples in a recent advertising listing is a Belgian mare broke to ride and drive for $1900, a black Percheron mare for $3200, a Clydesdale gelding for $2,000 and a pair of Percheron mares for $6,000.

Donkeys and mules are another popular equine but unlike draft horses cannot reproduce themselves. Commonly they are the product of a large jack and a draft mare.

Oxen were often preferred over horses in early American farm life. Indeed 100 years ago there were several breeds that were viewed as triple purpose. These included Brown Swiss, Devon, Charolais, Simmental and Ayrshire. Today an overwhelming dominant breed in dairy and another in beef have all but eliminated some breeds but the Brown Swiss and Devon (now usually called Milking Devon) remain as favorites among oxen people with many shorthorns and other breeds also used.

The advantage to oxen they’re cheap. Oxen are often castrated bull calves from dairy operations so the price for a pair of baby bull calves is but a few hundred dollars. Typically oxen are not dehorned so many have horns. A pair of oxen, first called “working steers”, take a great deal of time to train and learn to handle.

Typical prices for an older started team recently advertised are a pair of Brown Swiss of about 1,000 pounds each for $1500; a pair of red shorthorns weighing 330 and 350 for $1200, a pair of Holsteins started on farm and logging chores for $1600 and a pair of 800 pound Chianina Holstein steers for $3500, the latter offered due to owner’s health. More finished teams include a pair of Brown Swiss tipping the scales at 2100 pounds each for $3200, a pair of Ayrshires the same size for $2750, and a massive pair of Holsteins for $3200. The latter were a 4-H project team and were 5’9″ each at the shoulder and weighed 2516 and 2688 pounds each large enough to learn to do some serious work!

The advantage to oxen is long standing that they could be used for beef if injured although many who handle them can get quite attached to their animals. The disadvantage is that they are a one time thing as castrated animals they cannot produce offspring. Like horses, oxen usually have names and are commonly purchased in pairs. Like other cattle they are creatures of habit so purchasing as a team is common. Single animals can be purchased but team animals are often yoked a particular way, with one steer always on the left and the other always on the right. For those who view cattle as being stupid animals working with oxen can be enlightening! Young steers are started very young, with basic training beginning at just a few hundred pounds, long before working on a load.

Draft power can do many chores around a farm from hauling logs, manure and hay to tilling fields and a wide range of other chores involving moving things from point A to point B. Some oxen are even taught to carry a rider.

Draft animals will need plenty of forage, feed, shelter and training. While many working at home can work barefoot some areas require shoes (yes for oxen and horses!). From a care standpoint they are low maintenance but some of that care is a part of normal working of the animal. This can include grooming before and after working, attention to health care and monitoring any cuts and scrapes they might pick up.

While they are a good alternative for many to a tractor they do require time. Many owners see this as a benefit, not a liability.

Beef Raising Basics

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany people have some land and decide to take advantage of it by raising some cattle for beef. There are several ways to do this, from raising a bottle calf to buying a weaned calf to getting yearlings to finish. You can also have a few cows and raise the calves from start to finish.

The first step is planning. Consider how much land you have available. How much time do you have available? Do you have previous cattle experience? Are you interested in raising a few extra calves for selling to cover expenses and if so would that be direct selling or at the sale barn? Are you interested in purebred, registered or just cattle?

The answers to these questions will dictate the type of cattle you choose. How much land do you have available? Do you have pasture or are you limited to a smaller dry lot situation? Either can be used effectively for raising beef, but the latter means having access to plenty of hay, silage or other forage. This can be done on pasture with good fences or, in a dry lot, with large or small bales of hay, a little grain and possibly protein supplements to boost growth.

Do you have previous cattle experience? If you do then you may be more able to deal with calving and husbandry more than someone who has never handled cattle before. The novice will need a quieter animal and more docile breed to handle safely than the one who has experience.

Are you interested in selling extra animals? If so will they be purebred or for meat, and will you make the effort to sell directly or just haul to the local sale barn? If you are depending on the market you may have a choice of black cattle. If you are selling directly or working towards a purebred herd you have a wider choice in preferences including rare breeds, horned breeds and historical or other breeds that may not be favored in the market.

Alternately if you are on a small area with limited room and raising for just yourself or to direct market you can take advantage of market breaks in price on red, white or tan cattle which typically bring less money at the sale barn than equal sized black calves. Equally the cattle with horns will be less expensive than those without horns. The reason for this is modern feedlots and equipment are set up for cattle without horns. Those with horns must be dehorned to fit in, which can stress the cattle and result in setbacks in weight gain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are interested in delving into registered cattle this, too, can affect your choice of breed. What breeders are in your area? Do you have the experience to maintain a semen tank and inseminate cows? If you don’t have room, facilities or experience for a bull then it means breeding via artificial insemination – or AI in cattleman’s terms or finding a bull owner who will let you breed to their bull, something that is a risk due to disease.

Keeping a bull yourself can be an option for some if you have facilities and an abundance of caution. Bulls are a ton of power that can and have killed people. Some are fearful of horned bulls but polled or dehorned bulls can also be dangerous, as it isn’t the horns that determine danger. Always have a clear escape path when handling a bull, no matter how gentle he is. Growing up we had an ex-show bull from the top Charolais ranch in the country and we trusted him a great deal but even with him were taught to respect (not fear) the power that could crush us without intending harm.

Are you interested in milk from your cattle? Although many have a dairy cow you can use the milk from any cow. Many of the breeds that were dual purpose (or triple purpose – beef, dairy, oxen) are good choices due to the ability of the cattle to be both.

If this is an interest consider the Charolais, Limousin, Simmental or breeds that have split to specialize such as shorthorn/milking shorthorn, Devon/milking Devon or Braunveigh/Brown Swiss. These cows are typically a bit heavier milking to allow raising good sized calves as well as milk for a family.

You do not have to be tied into milking if you pen the cow and calf up at night – separate the calf on the other side of the fence from the cow. In the morning milk out a quarter (or two) and leave the other quarters for the calf, who will nurse eagerly as soon as they are reunited and milk her down during the day.

You may find that most beef animals have never been milked, leaving the decision to raising your own heifer and training her to accept handling. Cattle are creatures of habit – if you are consistent in handling she will learn what is expected.

Oxen are another option from triple purpose cattle. Usually worked in pairs they can also be worked as a single. While in training from just a couple months old they are called working steers. These are often horned animals but not always. While many find it acceptable to eat cattle but not horses because horses settled America they have conveniently eliminated oxen from history.

470_46717For many it was oxen, not horses, that pulled wagons west and broke ground for gardens. Horses were faster but often couldn’t work as long. Oxen were stronger but slower and very much an intelligent, trainable animal.

From a beef standpoint cattle can offer many options. Be it crossbred black cattle, shorthorns, longhorns or shaggy highland cattle all can offer options to the small farmer wishing to raise their own food.

If you have pasture area this can be done very economically with a few steers. Buying feeders of about 500-700 pounds is a good option if you are just interested in eating them without a great deal of time put into them. If you purchase direct from the farmer (your best option!) you can insure they are vaccinated, castrated and properly cared for, ready to go.

If you are considering purebred or registered stock are you interested in showing? This can make a difference in the price paid and received as well as the animals themselves.

For the novice work with an honest farmer and tell him (or her!) your experience level. Have him select a couple calves that are gentle enough for your ability. As you feed the calves in a pen the first few days they will learn you are a food source and be easier to handle.

Don’t take squirrely calves and turn them in an 80 acre field and have any prayer of catching them again. If you have 10-20 acres of pasture cattle are a great way to use it, but give your animals a few days to get used to you. Maintain good fences to keep cattle contained and neighbors happy.

If you are interested in cattle research, ask questions and choose wisely. Your satisfaction with the enterprise depends on it!

“Old Fashioned” Crafts give Inexpensive Vintage Look

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChristmas crafts can bring to reality gifts that are given with effort. Old fashioned Christmas crafts may be seen today as anything from the construction paper rings we made in grade school as garland to crafts for around the home. Vintage crafts have become popular again and it’s a better time than ever to look for old fashioned craft ideas, and put them to use making unique Christmas gifts.

Handmade soaps are an easy but exacting craft to do. Knitting, needlework, crochet and other crafts are thought by some as “old fashioned” crafts that can be done a wide range of ways.

Canning and sewing are considered by some to be old fashioned crafts but ones that can produce many Christmas gifts. There’s also metal working, woodworking and candle making that can offer a range of gifts.

Here are three easy crafts that can appear older than they are. All three are easy and with some creativity can lend to decorating the home or as gifts.

For the first rinse out and collect cans – juice cans or vegetable cans but as long as they’re all metal it doesn’t matter. Lightly draw an outline on the can – it can be a cross or star for example. Simple designs work best. Fill the can with water and put in the freezer so it freezes solid. Have a hammer and nail and pull each one individually to work while frozen…with your hammer and nail make holes in the outline. Think of a dot-to-dot pattern is the result you’re aiming for – your creativity dictates how close the dots are together. When you get the outline as you wish simply let the ice inside the can thaw in the sink or use it by sitting in a plant container to water the plant. When it’s empty put a small amount of sand in the bottom and put a tea candle in it – the light from the candle shines through the holes for a low cost decorative look that, in a dark area, doesn’t appear to be a ‘recycled craft.’

The second one also is very easy, needing some plaster of paris (look in the craft department) and a box with sand in it. Make an impression in the sand (you may have to dampen the sand to get it to hold the shape). Mix up some plaster of paris according to the directions and pour into the impression. You can make a small sand covered decorative stand for small candles or put a hanger in it while wet to hang on the wall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe third easy old fashioned craft is an old time look with a today twist. Get a small vase or jar, a short (25′ is plenty) strand of Christmas lights and potpourri. You can use clear lights for year round or colored lights and pine potpourri for Christmas. Put a handful of potpourri in the jar then a ‘layer’ of lights alternating until only enough cord is left to plug in. Take a piece of scrap fabric and a rubber band and secure it over the jar, then tie a ribbon over it to cover the rubber band. You can also use lace or other material.

These are easy and inexpensive crafts to give a touch of the season, in your own creative way.

Farm Safety Important Around Farm Equipment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANational Farm Safety week is the focused reminder to farmers to heed safety issues. Those injured or killed while tending our fields and livestock bring real faces to the issue of safety. It’s something that consumers who purchase food never see and, for the most part, are blissfully unaware of. It’s been happening since horses, and power equipment makes the risk greater.

The average person can relate to the power of a car, perhaps a pickup truck. The power of large machinery on a typical farm can remove arms, legs and lives. It becomes personal when it’s someone you know. Whether an injury that is minor or life changing, or one that results in a death it’s tragic because so many are preventable.

A farmer in Ohio once had a farm worker remove the shield from the PTO shaft. The worker slipped and lost his leg in the resulting accident. An agriculture student working on a college farm was pushing to get the corn crop in when it jammed. In a hurry, he reached back and tugged the stalks without disengaging the power. When it cut loose his arm was in the machine along with the corn. He knew better, but at 19 his life was changed forever by a farming accident.

Even more tragic are the ones that result in deaths. It happens too often during the harvest season. Long days, longer nights, limited weather to get crops in and a push to get every dollar that can be made can mean exhaustion sets in.

A discussion among farmers brings many other accidents that could have been much worse. Alex chimed in with “(the) brake didn’t engage on 706 after engine was off, started rolling downhill, popped it in first to start the engine… and used the engine to slow the tractor down until the bottom of the hill, lesson, never park tractor for a few minutes on a hill.” Another told of nearly having a forklift pierce his foot – thankfully the ankle rolled and didn’t break – although badly bruised it could have been much worse.

Another commented farmers “must be careful with ladders/ lifting people in bucket-loaders too. Husband fell off a ladder just last night” while Laura added “I’ve always been afraid of flipping a tractor.”

These are very real dangers. On the farm dangers are many and include when the proper safety equipment isn’t used like PTO shields or even ear plugs around loud equipment and complacency. One farmer noted “around this stuff everyday and nothing goes wrong, but it only takes a second” while the Ohio farmer added “trust me, all the PTO shields stay on on our farm! We know what one mistake can do!”

There is additional danger with motorists on the roads in farm country that are unfamiliar with farm equipment. Some tips from farmers:

  1. Mike mentions “when approaching oncoming SMV (slow moving vehicle), don’t stop across from a mailbox! I can’t fit between you and a mailbox! Slowly, stay back far enough so I can see you in the mirrors, otherwise I don’t know you are there!”
  2. Another adds “Move over as far as you can! I’m bigger than you and can’t easily get a combine to the ditch.”
  3. An Illinois farmer says “Please don’t pass in guard rails. Pass slowly, we may not see you coming around if we are watching forward.”
  4. Never assume moving over isn’t swinging wide to turn.
  5. Leave plenty of room for loaded equipment which is much heavier than you think and cannot stop suddenly.

The equipment is not the only hazard. According to a Twitter post from OhioStateFSR: “26 fatalities occur on Ohio farms each year and of those 7-9 are grain engulfment related.” Farmers are killed every year by grain. Another serious issue is combine fires.

Not only in Farm Safety Month but every month farmers need to keep safe practices in mind.

Make sure equipment is stopped and safely secured before getting off. Check equipment and keep it maintained in good working condition to prevent malfunction and accidents, keep guards on those PTO shafts, lights maintained, have a wash sink in the shop and first aid kits stocked around the shop. Have fire extinguishers available and maintained.

As one farmer notes “Cell phones, Facebook and our ability to communicate thru technology have made (communication) easier, but I believe we work longer hours also.” This is particularly true when harvest can mean not only working all day but well into the night. Some farms run nearly 24/7 trying to get the harvest done, without people to work relief. After a certain point however the brain shuts down and farmers need to catch some sleep. Taking occasional breaks to stretch, a snack or meal even if it’s in the field with family can make a difference.

For some when an accident does happen farm neighbors rally around. Alex notes “it is amazing to see how a community helps others like the 14+ farmers that harvested a crop for a farmer in the hospital.”

For those who live near farm areas – please heed the advice of farmers and use extreme caution driving especially in harvest season. A motorcycle or small car stands no chance against a combine. For farmers – take the time to be safe. A few minutes can save a life!

Build a Fence to Suit Style, Need

FH010003_editedThere is a wide variety of fence designs available for homes of any style or taste. Before you decide on what to build, consider what you want your fence to do. Are you looking to confine pets or children? Do you prefer a privacy fence or perhaps wish to fence off around a pool or other area? Like any other household project, building a fence is best done with a plan and thought to the best fence for the job. Along with the type of fence, the primary use of it and the cost you might also consider the labor involved to build a fence.

If you are looking for a long lasting, low maintenance fence to confine pets or children, to accent landscaping and allow seeing through to your home while minimizing access to it, you might consider chain link. Costs to build a chain-link fence can be somewhat high, not as much for the chain link but the posts and fittings that go with it. It can be somewhat labor intensive to put up but once installed you have a fence that will require little maintenance for years and still looks great.

If you don’t have little dogs or children but do have larger dogs, an option in fence design might be an ornamental fence – these are often described as “iron” fences with bars that allude to elegance with stability, and often are not a “do it yourself” kind of project.

Another option is PVC covered wood fences which can vary from decorative to a plain post and rail. The PVC covered wood extends the life of the fence without painting or maintenance, although some clean the fence annually with a pressure washer to remove debris and the green tinge that occurs in some areas. If you know how to build a fence these have been constructed by people with an eye to detail and a willingness to do the work themselves.

Wood fence designs vary widely from a picket type fence to one with more texture to a solid privacy fence. Basic information on how to build a privacy fence is available online. Aside from the installation there is also maintenance of staining and care of the wood to preserve the fence itself.

Getting the right kind of fence for what you need at a cost and maintenance you can live with.

Gas Furnace Maintenance

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhether you do it or have someone hired to do it, furnace maintenance is something that needs to be done. Now is the time to schedule a pre-season maintenance for your gas furnace in preparation for the winter ahead.

Ideally at the end of last season you properly “put to bed” the heating system. Insure that power is shut off at the electrical breaker and the gas shut off and thoroughly clean all dust and debris from the base of the furnace as well as around the burners. Use care to not damage the thermocouple or other sensitive parts of the furnace. At the beginning of the season start with a new air filter, which should be changed regularly as needed during the heavy season. A good way to remember is to do it the first of every month and you’ll never have to remember “when WAS that done?!”

There’s a belt that drives the blower which you should inspect for wear and tear. Ideally this is done at the end of the season so there is plenty of time to get a replacement belt. Check the tension of the belt – it should be taut with less than ½ to ¾ inch deflection when pushing on it. If needed tighten this to insure trouble free, efficient operation.

Gas furnace maintenance also includes lubrication of the oil bearings if it’s an older motor. A light oiling, just a few drops, helps keep everything operating smoothly. Replace the furnace cover and turn the gas and power on, firing it up to make sure all is running smoothly.

Double check the venting of the furnace – this is important as it carries deadly carbon monoxide from the home. A dirty furnace produces higher levels of this odorless, colorless gas that kills too many people each year. Don’t let it take a loved one in your home!

Check the color of the flame on the pilot – it should be a sharp blue base that is burning clean. A yellow flame indicates problems, which could be a dirty burner that keeps the air and gas from mixing properly. If there’s a dusty smell for a short period it could be simply combustion chamber is dusty. Another problem with a gas furnace can be backdrafting – air comes in through the chimney and chokes off the venting needed. If you’re not sure about doing the work yourself hire it done.

The important thing is to invest in gas furnace maintenance. Keep it maintained for safety!