Keeping Chickens as Productive Pets

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChickens are among the most productive of pets, and if numbers are an indication the back yard poultry movement is booming. Chickens are no longer cast in the barnyard to fend for themselves nor strictly farmed in volume – there are more options including pastured poultry and those with a dozen or less birds for eggs.

For most people interested in raising chickens for their own use it comes to whether you want to raise meat birds or keep hens for eggs. This can make a difference in the choice of breeds or the time from hatching to the table. The commercial industry uses white feathered birds but for home production there is no standard restriction.

Those interested in raising some meat chickens would do well to keep it at 25 or 50 in the order. That’s a chicken a week if they all survive, for the freezer. Many hatcheries will run specials sometimes a “frying pan special” which you can get a good deal price wise. Most of the birds will be cockerels, the less valued side of the quest for hens. Leghorn type are cheap but take a couple extra weeks to get to weight; larger birds can also take slightly longer maturing.

Most people looking for chickens for the back yard will be looking at ordering pullets and raising them for egg layers. Depending on the room available you can choose from white, brown or colored egg layers in a wide range of colors. Generally they will begin laying in about six months or so depending on breed. Some popular breeds for brown egg layers have been Plymouth Rocks, Wyandottes, Orpingtons, Dominiques and Rhode Island Reds.

Those with more room may enjoy the larger breeds such as Orpingtons, Brahmas or Jersey giants. Those with less room can still have the bantam varieties of many of these breeds or silkies which take less room and feed, produce smaller eggs but are still completely edible.

Chickens are often thought of for eggs and meat but another factor when you’re keeping chickens is manure. This can be added to the compost pile for fertilizing the gardens. Typically chickens will scratch dry any wet spots looking for bugs…which reduces flies and other pests.

Confined to a portable or stationery pen they are low maintenance pets that don’t bark all night, can let themselves out of the shelter in most areas and don’t need vaccinations. They don’t need daily walks or expensive toys, eagerly make use of many kitchen scraps and while they aren’t often “lap pets” they’re no less entertaining to sit and watch.

Make sure zoning is not a problem to keeping them, and do strive to keep them contained, odor free and well kept. There is a wide range of colors, feather type, sizes and appearances available from fancy to ordinary.

Did you know – A typical layer hen can mature at standard 5-9 pounds, smaller for bantams. Some crossbreds can be “sex linked” – or have colored females and white males at hatching. Pullets (females) eliminate having to deal with roosters and crowing.
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How to Make Goat Milk Soaps

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen you have an abundance of goat’s milk and you use it for drinking, cheese, ice cream and every recipe you can find that has milk it’s natural to want to find other ways to use it. With heavy milking Toggenburgs, Alpines, Saanens and recorded grades there was plenty of milk and soaps were a natural extension to make and sell.

Goat’s milk soaps have been credited with clearing skin conditions and milk soaps as a rule are gentler than those with harsh chemicals. Making goats milk soaps is not difficult but it is exacting.

You will need to gather supplies. These include a large stainless steel kettle for mixing the soap. Make sure this is stainless steel rather than aluminum or other materials as it not only has to stand the heat but the caustic nature of the lye reacting to make soap. A stainless steel spoon helps as well as a stick blender used just for your soap making. A wide variety of molds can be used including plastic containers providing they can handle heat. A couple of candy or meat thermometers are needed also as you’ll need to watch temperatures.

Highly recommended are plastic safety goggles and long sleeves with gloves. Keep pets and small children out of the room or confined when mixing soap for their safety and yours.

You can follow an existing recipe or as you gain experience create your own. An excellent source for soapmakers is http://www.thesage.com/calcs/l as you can plug in your type of lye, liquid, what kind of fats and it calculates how much lye to use for you.

For example to use 12 ounces of corn oil and 36 ounces soybean oil (vegetable oil) it calls for 12-18 ounces of milk and, for the medium range, 6.18 to 5.98 ounces of lye, with the lower range making a softer soap.

Measure the oils into a pan and place on low on the stove, with a thermometer attached to the pan to watch the temperature. While that is heating work on the other half of the equation.

Measure the milk into the pot and add the lye to it. Always add it this way and with milk soaps watch carefully your thermometer. I found better success by placing the pan I’m working in in a sink of cold water. As you add the lye you will find the milk heats up considerablythe cold water outside the pan helps disperse this heat somewhat. By watching the temperature try to keep it less than 140 degreesas it starts to heat up slow down pouring and keep gently stirring.

The reason for this caution is to keep the milk from curdling, a problem some soapmakers have found. By watching the heat and doing it this way I never had a problem with this issue. Once all the lye is added you’ll need to carefully balance things to bring the lye mixture and the oils to the same temperature. I used 100 degrees as my temperature. The important thing is that both are the same temperature.

Once the same temperature is reached add the oils to the lye mixture, stirring constantly. Some soapmakers use a stick blender once the oils are added while others prefer to stir by hand. Be careful not to splash it or allow pets or children to stir it. As you are stirring you are looking for “tracing” which can take more than 15 minutes but with a blender can take less. Look carefully for this which will leave a drop for several seconds or leave a pattern where you have stirred for several seconds. Once this is seen quickly pour into your prepared molds as the soap is soft but can set quickly.

Once in the molds lightly cover and cover with a blanket to regulate temperature. If the soap cools too quickly it can spoil a batch. Carefully check the soap daily to see when it is set soft but firm. If you are using a mold that requires cutting you’ll want to turn it out and cut while it’s firm but not hardened. Once your soap is cut place on a rack out of reach of pets and children to cure or harden.

As you gain experience you can add oatmeal and other things to your soaps after the oils but before tracing begins. Some even add shredded rose petals! The 48 ounce weight can make a dozen cut bars but if you pretty up’ the edges don’t throw away the peelings and pieces. You can make laundry soap and even soft soap also.

Don’t underestimate the danger of lye but don’t be afraid of it either. Treat it with respect and use it carefully. Always add the lye to liquid, not the other way around.

Soap making is a way to use some milk, although not large amounts, but is also one more thing you can produce at home. Milk soaps are not difficult to make.

Home Pork Production: Raising Pigs on a Small Farm

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPigs kept properly should not “stink.”
  • Pigs MUST have shade and water to deal with hot days. Without it they will die.
  • A 225-250 pound hog will bring about 180 pounds of pork to the freezer.

Not so many years ago many farms had outdoor pastures for pigs. Confinement operations developed to raise large numbers of pigs in intensive conditions have been criticized by many; but raising pigs for the freezer is not difficult.

Small homestead production of pigs is not difficult nor is it expensive. It does take the right equipment and some important attention to non-negotiable issues. I’ve raised four Duroc gilts (females) in a 16X32 area. Some breeds, such as Large Blacks, Saddlebacks and Tamworths are less adapted to small areas and a larger fenced area suits them much better. Decide before getting ANY pigs and do some research as to which type you want. If you want to keep a few pigs to breed as well as producing meat for the freezer these rarer breeds can definitely use more people raising them and using them. If space is an issue you may be better getting the more popular breeds in a non-pasture situation. Simply buy “feeder pigs” – those pigs that are 30-40 pounds – and raise them to market size – 225-250 pounds.

If the closest you’ve ever been to a pig is the pork chop or sausage on your plate there are things about raising pigs you need to understand. Forget the often repeated statement that pigs stink. Properly housed and handled pigs don’t stink. The massive barns with 2,000 head do smell – so do proportionately sized places with 2,000 PEOPLE. Pig manure can be easily collected and composted – and given a choice pigs will have a designated “bathroom” area of their pen.

Those little cute pigs grow fast. Always keep in mind when handling larger pigs that despite what is often presented pigs are NOT vegetarians. They will eat chickens, lambs and small dogs that don’t get out of the pen fast enough. They can and have killed people and at one time when a work horse died it was hauled into the pig pen, a distasteful view of “recycling” but a fact on farms less than 100 years ago. Pigs are omnivores – they will eat whatever they find. If you bag unsprayed law grass it can be composted – or put in the hog pen. Leftovers, day old bread, several types of grain…several things can go into a pig’s trough. The amount of food needed is not as much as some might think if you use a protein supplement and corn, although corn is raising in cost at present and may not be a cost effective point depending on where you are. If you have dairy animals and an excess of milk that with grains can raise the pigs quickly and result in a great deal of pork in not a lot of space.

For the average small farm, small area place such as the pen mentioned above your best choices will be those such as the Duroc, Hampshire, Yorkshire or Spots. These breeds are common on many farms so easy to find. Typically they will have had the needle teeth clipped; and any boars will have been castrated. For what the typical homesteader is looking for – meat production, focus on barrows (castrated males) or gilts (females) rather than the boars. They’ll typically also have any vaccinations and worming needed to get the pigs off to a good start. Look for an animal that is healthy – longer bodied and lean. Eyes should be bright and eyes and nose should be free from discharges. Generally for home pork production avoid the “pot belly” pigs – they are too fatty and inefficient.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave a proper pen for your pig(s) before bringing them home…and make the fencing *tight*. For the 16X32′ pen mentioned get six hog panels – these come in 16′ lengths and are about 3′ high – they’re welded steel and will cost about $18 each. You’ll also need a dozen steel T posts at about $3 each – drive these securely in the ground and wire the panels to the inside of the posts, which helps lend strength when larger pigs push against it. You’ll need a tank – secure so it can’t be tipped – for water. Very important is a shade or shelter. It is absolutely important to remember you MUST help pigs in the heat. They MUST have shade. A pig trapped in the sun in hot weather will die – they cannot sweat and have no way to cool themselves. A water area or mudhole is a small relief but they still need shade.

If you pasture pigs be sure to have solid fencing – your neighbors will not be happy with finding your pigs in their garden. Traditionally, as mentioned, corn has been the grain of choice but oats, barley and rye has been used as well as leftovers from buffet salad bars, garden excess. Chopped alfalfa is another means to give pigs roughage and add 16% protein to their diet. You can buy alfalfa cubes for about $10 for 50 pounds in many farm and feed stores. Measure about a pound of these and soak them in water so they break down into useful forage. With this and a pound of corn you’re on your way to some of the best pork you’ve ever eaten. A 225 pound pig will dress out at about 180 pounds of meat – and can be done over the course of a summer. It’s a way to use what is often overlooked – kitchen scraps of many kinds, yard “waste” and a little grain.

When you’re planning on raising a pig plan on two. Pigs are happier with a buddy. For the 5-6 months you’ll be raising them it is possible – and recommended – the pigs be treated humanely. The initial housing investment will last for several years and is at or under $200. Do not be tempted to tether them. Yes many have done it for years. But a tethered animal – be it pig, goat, sheep, calf, dog – whatever without a fence is prey for roaming dogs, coyotes and other predators. There is no excuse for not keeping your animals safe, fed and watered. Your initial purchase of pigs will vary depending on the area, season, etc but generally about $60-90 should find you a pair of pigs. Depending on what you’re feeding there are of course those costs. But for $300 plus feed in roughly six months you’ll have about 360 pounds of pork for the freezer…and remember that fencing outlay is still there for next year!

When the day approaches for killing and getting the pig ready for the freezer there are a few options depending on where you live. It can be done yourself or you can contact a small butcher to do it for you. There is usually a “kill fee” and a small fee for cutting. You choose if you want the hams smoked or fresh. How thick do you want the bacon and chops, how spicy do you want the sausage. Some people use the whole hog for sausage – if your family like sausage this might be something for the second pig – you’ll still get hams from the other. The day of killing keep water in front of the pigs but withhold food. If you’re hauling the pigs somewhere keep loading and hauling them low key – do not stress them. Stress affects the meat – and stress isn’t necessary. If you back the truck or trailer up to their pen and leave them no other place to go but in the vehicle they will go in. Under no circumstances should you hit or start chasing them. If they’re reluctant to load don’t fight them…simply take a bucket and put over their snout/face – most pigs will back up….”steer” them towards the vehicle and when you remove the buckets shut the door and they’re caught. There is an occasional pig who will try to charge through but MOST pigs will back up. After watching some people in frustration use abusive tactics in loading a couple of 600 pound sows I grabbed an empty garbage can – in 30 seconds the first was in the trailer. Seriously. No hitting, no chasing no swearing.

Many don’t realize how large pigs can get. The 225-250 pound market weight is not full grown. I’ve known some pigs – Yorkshire and a Tamworth – that weighed at or over 1000 pounds. Mature breeding animals are very strong and can kill a human if they wanted to. If you’re thinking of keeping animals to breed it’s important to know what you’re getting into and learn a little more about hog behavior. Some breeds of pasture pigs still carry the maternal instincts while others aren’t as much so. It’s important to remember pigs can and will eat anything smaller than them….and for some sows this can include her own pigs. Additionally with some pigs do not ever ever ever pig up a piglet without her securely on the other side of the fence. Pigs don’t normally jump but I’ve seen sows come up a good ways through the overhead door of old type hog houses and there are many who have lost fingers and more to a mama sow in blind defense of a baby pig. You really need to get some experience and be prepared when raising pigs. Each one is unique and many ARE good mothers and aren’t a danger to handlers – but sometimes you don’t know until you have that piglet screaming in your hands. Use caution.

Pigs can provide a freezer of meat in a relatively small area. They were once called the “mortgage lifter” for their ability to use food stuffs that would otherwise often go to waste – the pigs turned it into meat. They’re interesting animals and should be handled with caution and appreciation.

Did you know…

Darker hogs are often used more in the south and in outdoor operations due to the white pigs’ probability of sunburn. All pigs should be given a shady place to escape the sun and heat.

10 Hay Stretching Tips for Livestock Owners

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting hay stored up for winter is better than money in the bank. When hay supplies are tight, it can be tough.

Many areas with drought or flood are having hay shortages this year. Making your hay stretch helps assure your animals will be fit and healthy all winter long. With owners of horses, goats, sheep, cattle and other animals competing for hay often what is available is expensive. Maximize your hay use. Depending on what part of the country you’re in some have more options than others.

1. Plant winter grass. With enough time to get established before cold weather this may be an option for some in warmer climates. Having some grass turnout can reduce the amount of hay needed.

2. Increase fertility of pastures. Fertilize, mow and increase the quality of forages. If $100 in seed will increase this do so. If you need to run a soil test do so. Make the maximum use of what you have.

3. Rotate pastures. Don’t let horses or sheep overgraze what you have. Rotate to other pastures or dry lot them part of the day. Taking care of your pastures is vitally important when there’s little hay – that forage can make a difference!

4. Improve hay storage. Get it up off the ground so the bottom layer doesn’t get moldy. Cover it up securely and watch roof or tarp problems where a leak can mean loss of hay. If it’s 3 bales in some years that isn’t much – but for the person with a few goats that might be a weeks worth of hay! Keep hay dry and stored for maximum effectiveness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA5. Use hay containers to reduce waste. Have feeders, tubs or some means to keep hay off the ground and reduce loss. Hay that is wasted isn’t feeding the animals it’s intended for. Some have gone to chopping hay and mixing with the grain.

6. Some horse owners are checking in to “complete” rations. Many caution to not eliminate hay totally even with these rations – without roughage horses are more prone to colic. One horse owner had the unfortunate issue of a major colic right before a big event – his horse was out of the action as was he. He’d not fed hay for 7 months and thought the “complete” feed was enough.

7. Check into hay cubes. These can be soaked for better digestibility – by soaking small amounts and breaking them up even small fainting goats can eat these without a problem. For horses, the recommended amount is three pounds a day depending on size of the horse – but much less than people think they need to feed! A 50 pound bag will last one horse several days.

8. Stretch some hay with beet pulp. Soak it before feeding or use it for no more than 10% of the ration. It’s highly recommended to soak it – beet pulp swells up when moisture is added to it and if this is in the belly after eating it can cause some digestive upset if too much is eaten. Simply use a tub, colander, bucket (depending on how much you’re making) and add water until it starts to pool then let it sit 15-20 minutes. Stir up to insure all gets wet. Do not store it wet – it will go bad. Key thing – keep it dry and stored in clean tubs, wet thoroughly and feed it fresh.

9. Use pellets for part of the ration – although alfalfa pellets are most common many areas have feed stores that offer an oat/brome pellet or something similar. These can stretch hay supplies.

10. Feed by weight and pay attention to what the animal eats. Tossing a flake into the stall is easy – but is that flake 8 pounds or 20 pounds? This makes a big difference in the ration! If you are using beet pulp, hay cubes, pellets and/or pasture you’ll want to adjust they hay down and might feed just five pounds of hay per horse.

Many have had to already begin selling animals, knowing their hay supplies wouldn’t last through the winter or being unable to find hay. Other people in other areas have long since laid in their winter supply and are good for the season. Of course watch what your animal’s condition is and adjust accordingly – common sense says when it’s freezing they’ll need more than they will when it’s 70 degrees; and if they start looking ribby up their feed a bit. But with the shortages in some areas and the difficulty in finding and storing hay stretching what you do have becomes more important!

10 Awesome Farm and Home Sites

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAre you looking for information about farming online? Would you like a source for accurate information to learn more? Would you like to make your household more efficient? Read on!

The amount of websites that come up when you do a search for “agriculture” is staggering. Each has links to follow as well and there’s a wealth of information to be found.

1. agriculture.com – from classifieds to farming information to a forum this site has a great deal of information and links. There’s a section solely for women in agriculture, there’s forum sections for animals, crops, small business and many other things affecting modern agriculture families and residents.

2. progressivefarmer.com – another great farm orientated site. There is offers to subscribe to the magazine of the same name, as well as information on a wide variety of agriculture, from traditional farms to much more.

3. almanac.com – The Farmers Almanac has long been a resource for farmers and non-farmers alike. This site expands that – with a section on weather, natural information, cooking and baking and much more. There are so many links on this site for information it’s easy to get sidetracked – but much good information and a chance to share recipes with others.

4. AmericanLivestockBreedsConservancy – This organization is dedicated to fanciers of rare livestock breeds, some that are critically endangered. There’s many links to information, merchandise, books and much more for animals.

5. cattle.com – information, sales, breeding and much more information about cattle on this site. Heavy stress on beef breeds but dairy cattle included. There is some of the profiles still under construction – but a good site useful to those interested in cattle.

6. creativehomemaking.com – This is a site to bookmark – with much information and articles about home management, gardening, cooking and much more. Decorating on a budget has information of use to those even not on farms.

7. organizedchristmas.com – This site and the sister site have a great deal of information to make the holiday season enjoyable, with less stress. The organizedhome site also is extensive in information. Efficiency in planning and running the home can save money and frustration, and allow us to do more with less.

8. ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/ – Oklahoma State offers a wonderful complete site for livestock enthusiasts. There’s information, links, photos on common livestock breeds such as Hereford and Angus cattle as well as less common breeds such as Hereford hogs and many more. Look through rare breeds as well as get information on animals that might fit your farm or homestead.

9. farmshow.com – Another site sponsored by a magazine. For anyone who loves tinkering – making things from scraps and nothing, finding unique solutions to problems, this site and the magazine is a must read! Extra income opportunities are included as well as new products and reusing things. There’s a whole book on other uses for school busses, for example.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA10. gardeningbythemoon.com/signs.html – The moon affects tides and many other earthly things. With garden tips, moon phases and information on planting in those phases and signs, which many have done via various farmers almanacs for years, this is a site chock full of information.

While many abhor the internet as a source of information, and it’s true there is much misinformation on the internet as well, these sites have much information and it’s changing – there’s so often something new to see when looking a week later than what was there previously. The next rainy, dreary afternoon when there’s not much to do – or when it’s too hot to accomplish much outdoors, spend some time planning, organizing and making your household and farm more efficient. So often a few little changes can save so much!

Be An Unwelcome Home for Flies

Ebook excerpt from SlowMoneyFarm.

barnFlies aren’t welcome in barns, paddocks, homes and other areas we like to be. So why do so many provide for them? Take steps now to discourage and evict them!

There are many ways to kill and repel flies. Flies need – like all things – favorable conditions to live, food and water. And not much of the latter! They cause problems with hygiene and can harm production of animals. They’ll bite sores on dogs ears and infest live animals with maggots, given the right conditions. Flies get no mercy – and often a several prong approach is used in fighting them.

Livestock producers often offer “fly blocks” – in blocks like the familiar 50 pound salt block these blocks are fed to animals and discourage flies. Horse owners have daily supplements available to feed the animal as well with their regular food.

Some swear by a bag of water with a penny in it suspended in a doorway – and another method herd was suspending a bundle of stinging nettles from doorways. For those preferring not to bump into nettles there’s many other options. Some recommend adding apple cider vinegar to livestock tanks. Vanilla added to rabbit water bottles can help cut flies down.

There’s various assortments of sticky traps – fly ribbons as well as tubes and an assortment of other shapes to hang around the buildings and flies stick to the surface when they land there. There are electric fly zappers which can bother especially horses when a fly hits it and they hear the snap like an electric fencer.

There’s fly predators – which allow the flies to live but feed on the larvae. Reportedly this is the option at a place that could have a large swarm of flies – the Kentucky Horse Park. This is a place that must be fly free for comfort of horses and the guests visiting.

Another option for smaller barns is a gadget which hangs on the wall and periodically gives a spray of fly spray. A larger adaptation is automatic fly sprayers – where a large barrel has tubes running to each stall throughout the barn and with use of a timer sprays the barn several times a day. A mist is sprayed on each stall at a set time. This is convenient and when it works effortlessness. Some don’t like the idea of fly spray falling onto the ground and the feed that might be in the stall. A wide range of fly sprays are available also for use on individual animals.

Fly rubs – a large round cloth hung between two poles – can be soaked in fly chemicals where cattle go under it and treat themselves when it wipes some fly spray on them. Mixing up and applying fly spray to a group of animals is another means of fly control.

Still another means of flies involve the use of traps – generally a plastic gadget with foul smelling attractant in it and water – the fly gets in and can’t get out. Some are disposable “trap n toss” while others can be rinsed out, replacement attractant purchased and a fresh batch put out when the trap is full. These are effective but smell bad – effective for turnout paddocks (out of reach of horses) or loafing sheds.

Fly baits are another choice. Generally a bright blue or yellow these are spread around or set in some kind of container where flies can get into it. One that is cheap – take a 2 liter soda bottle. Cut several small holes in it for flies to get in/out of. Put your bait in it and hang up out of reach of pets, children and other animals. Small holes allow flies in/out but don’t allow birds access to it. Like any poisons great care should be taken handling this bait – it is foul smelling but in combination with other factors works!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s other means of fly control that take nothing but time. Wash horse and livestock water tanks on a weekly basis in warm weather. Not just filling – get a little $1 scrubber at a dollar store and scrub it out, dump it and rinse. Buckets in stalls should also be washed out. Rinse thoroughly and refill.

Pick up manure in paddocks and keep manure picked up around other species. The less manure standing around the less likely flies are to be around. Some recommend the use of lime under rabbit cages and other places that sometimes aren’t easily cleaned. Trays under rabbit cages should be emptied, rinsed and refilled often. Clean up old wet feed and hay – haul to the compost pile or mix in the manure pile. Move the manure pile further from the barn – something that helps not only with flies but as a fire issue also.

For animals that sweat give them an occasional hose down – removing dirt and sweat removes a reason for flies to pester your animals.

Fly control can be expensive but in using preventative measures where possible it makes the maximum use of what you do have to buy. A combination works best for most – perhaps good management combined with sticky traps, traps and bait. For outdoor or sheltered situations this is the most effective option. Fly blocks are effective for those with larger animals.

Fly control need not be expensive – but needs to be done on small homesteads as well as larger farms.

Large Farms, Small Farms, Labels & Options

The media and special interest groups alike make much of small farms vs “corporate farms”, “factory farms” and “big Ag.” With individuals also jumping on this bandwagon it, like ‘natural’, ‘organic pet food’ and ‘free range’ doesn’t really mean much.

In one forum a small farmer, a couple dozen chickens and a dozen rabbits, was deemed “big Ag” because of the idea that all farmers are needed – including large ones to feed the volume of people in the USA and beyond. That is simply fact. The majority of people don’t grow their own food, won’t grow their own food and can’t afford custom raised or certified organic.

When people move to the country it’s often to find peace of mind, to be able to raise at least a portion of one’s own food. If you live next to a 500 cow dairy, get along with the farmer and enjoy the open space does that make your 5 or 10 acres “big ag”? Of course not!

Is too much made of it? When it creates division between neighbors, peers, agriculture and other divisions does it matter?