I know. Things are a little slow around this blog. But not in my life. See how the two are related? I heretofore pledge not to neglect Thee anymore, Oh Blog. At least not as much. That’s something, right?
So, animals. When we moved out here to our little ten acre homestead in late July, the first thing I wanted to do was buy a half dozen varieties of homesteady-type animals. (And plant fruit and nut trees, because that’s what you’re supposed to do your first year. They take so long to fruit! But I digress…) But see, there was the *small* matter of ripping out all of the nasty carpet and installing new pine plank floors (so fast to type, yet so much work to execute! and so many details!)…mixing up the laundry room a bit and installing a new front loading Bosch set…painting maaaany a wall and ceiling….installing bathroom and kitchen fans…installing a new fireplace insert…light fixtures…blah…blah…you get the drift, eh?
The kids and I didn’t actually end up moving in for a month, or late August. Then we began unpacking, and homeschooling, and settling in…and I don’t have to tell those of you with young children that there are still boxes unpacked, empty walls begging for some pretty pictures, windows screaming for coverings, and cold fingers begging for mittens that Mama can’t find.
With winter around the corner, we have many indoor-type goals: finish unpacking and decluttering, decorate a bit, mini-renovate the bathroom (rip out moldy cabinet, install new floors, paint again), unpack and declutter some more, pick and install flooring for the lower level bedrooms…and I have high hopes of at least half that getting done.
However, we are quickly realizing that we should have bought the chicks as soon as we moved in, in late summer. That means we’d have full grown laying hens by spring. And let me tell you, we are in dire need of some homegrown, free range eggs around here. All five of us eat eggs almost daily (including Asher, who loves him a scrambled egg for breakfast), and it’s an important source of protein for us who can’t afford free range, locally produced meat every day.
And then we also realize pretty much daily that dairy products pretty much kill our grocery budget. Milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, sour cream, buttermilk…I have to ration these like crazy. We need a dairy animal, too!
So our tentative plan is to start with the smallest, easiest to take care of, and most needed creature: fowl. Chickens or ducks. (I say “or ducks” because our neighbor has 22 ducklings that are starting to feather out; he wants to sell them to us for a great deal. They would start laying in the spring! If we buy chicks in the spring, they won’t lay until fall.) Then, we’ll work up in size from there.
While we hope to sell any excess, our primary motivation in raising homestead animals is to provide our own family with high quality, ethically produced food.
Here’s the list, as worked out in my head during many sleepless nights with Asher:
- Ducks - late fall/early winter 2008; eggs and meat
- Chickens - spring 2009; eggs and meat; looking to buy a cold weather-hardy dual purpose heritage breed, like the chantecler
- Turkeys - spring 2009 or 2010; one of the rare breeds, as on this ALBC list
- Goats - fall 2009; perhaps we’ll buy a bred doe next fall (we’re thinking LaMancha), with a wether for a companion, and start milking when she kids in late winter/spring; this will provide us with milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Dairy Cow – fall 2009/2010; if we choose not to do goats, we may do a dairy cow; we could have all the milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, buttermilk, sour cream, whey, etc. that we could ever need, plus extra to sell or feed to the poultry; we could raise the calf for freezer beef every year
- Beef Cow – spring 2010; whether or not we choose to milk goats or a cow, we will want to have a steer to raise for the freezer; we can sell the extra to family or friends, as a whole cow is probably a bit much for us; we could also buy a dual-purpose (meat and milk) breed like a Mini Devon or a Dexter, and have both dairy and meat cow possibilities
- Bees - spring 2010 or 2011; honey!
That’s “all” for now. Something for milk, something for poultry, something for eggs, something for beef, and maybe honey down the road. A lot of these plans need to be worked with finances and life circumstances in mind, of course. And our barn needs lots of work, so we can’t have any animals until we learn how to fix it up. Anyone out there a barn expert? Help?
As for goats v. cow…we can’t decide on this. In the goat column: We happen to live near two very wonderful small-scale goat dairies, and plenty of other goat breeders/keepers, and could get some good goats with knowledge and support to go with them. Goats are browsers more than grazers, which means they prefer small trees and shrubs over pasture; we happen to have one very brushy, overgrown “pasture” that needs cleaning up (not to mention our little overgrown wood). Goats are smaller and easier for me to handle. Smaller also means easier to transport; they can be hauled in a car, if needed. With children around, smaller also means less dangerous for children (though caution will still need to be exercised, obviously). I have milked a goat and know I can do it, with a little practice. Goat’s milk is naturally homogenized and is more easily digested by most humans (imporant with cow dairy intolerances in our family). And here’s the bottom line: goats are much more affordable than a cow. Like, a good dairy cow will cost upwards of five times what a good dairy goat will cost.
In the cow column: cow’s milk is not naturally homogenized, meaning the cream will easily separate from the milk. That means not just milk, cheese, and yogurt, but also butter, buttermilk, whey, whipped cream, sour cream, and I’m sure many other products I haven’t thought of yet. (Some folks say it’s possible to make butter with goat’s millk, it’s just very difficult). A family dairy cow (I’m thinking Jersey, or a dual purpose heritage breed like a Dexter) will produce anywhere from 1.5 gallons to upwards of 6 gallons of milk a day, with Jerseys being on the high end. We would be able to make any dairy product we could ever need, plus have extra to sell. Due to familiarity, it’s easier to sell cow’s milk than goat’s milk. And we would have a baby cow every year to either raise for beef or sell. (I’m still not sure what we’d do with baby goats; I’m really unfamiliar with goat meat, but I can’t waste anything, so we’d probably learn how to cook goat, too.)
Those are my thoughts on animals right now. If I’ve missed anything, or you have any advice or questions to throw my way, please do. I can’t wait to get started!
(Maya just peeked over my shoulder and said, “Can you say, ‘Maya wants ducks?’ Because I do.” So there you go.)