Sunday, January 29, 2006

Looking Ahead

As I sit here looking out across the barn yard we are getting a fresh blanket of snow. It’s been coming down on and off since last night. It’s beautiful and still outside with the snow hanging on every limb and branch. Someone once said “winter in the North Woods is like living in a post card”. I couldn’t agree with them more, especially on a day like this.

This is a great time of year for reflection. To look back at what we’ve done in the past, dream of the future and what we are going to do next season. Kelli and I have simplified our lives down to the bare minimum here at the farm and it is time to regroup and get serious about what goals to set next.

We’ve had tons of experience raising all kinds of animals over these past years. Goats, sheep, pigs, steer, rabbits, ducks, geese, chickens, guineas fowl and horses have all passed through our gates. Not to mention the usual household pets dogs and cats. We each have our own dog, 5 in all, 4 in the house and 1 outside. The one outside is mine a beautiful Siberian Husky named Apollo. The cats are all outside too. Never been into cats walking on the counters and such, so outside they stay. You might wonder how we came to have all these critters what with the limited income we’ve had since moving to northern Wisconsin.

Really if you have the space, it isn’t that hard to find animals. For one thing there are plenty of folks who for one reason or another can’t or don’t want to keep them any more and are more than glad to give them to someone who will take good care of them. Also in our region there are several animal swaps which we quite enjoy. Folks from all walks of life come to trade, barter, or sell their country products and critters of every type. We have met lots of neat and interesting folks at animal swaps. One word of caution though. Obtaining anything from an animal swap can be a risky proposition as you can quite easily get stuck with someone else’s cast offs. Sometimes people are just there, getting rid of.

We once obtained a milk goat that way and after having it awhile you could see there where things about the creature that made you realize why they got rid of her in the first place. First of all she must of had some kind of birth defect because she had a hard time going full term with kidding and gave birth prematurely. She did work out alright as a milker, however. She was very tame, a real sweet heart really, but twice a day about a half an hour before milking time she would start this horrible bellering. I mean she sounded like someone was being murdered. We don’t have neighbors right on our door step but, they where plenty close enough to hear that terrible wailing. It’d carry a half mile easily. If we were out in the woods and it was getting even close to time to milk her she’d let us know. And if we didn’t come running she’d get louder and louder. Pretty soon people would swear someone just got their arm caught in a ringer. Didn’t take much imagination to know why she got taken to the swap.

That’s how we managed to acquire so many animals over the years. Mostly we got every bodies cast offs. You can get them real cheap or even free that way. But, I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t have to. Everything I have ever read through my life regarding raising any kind of animal is to get the best stock you can possibly afford. Now, there are charlatans who will rip you off every time. I don’t mean to suggest paying too much either. However good quality foundation stock from a reputable breeder is usually going to cost a little bit. The highest quality animals should fetch the highest prices. I have heard of good natured folks giving people who are just getting into it a break and not charging top price, just out of the joy of seeing someone get started. But, that is more the exception than the rule.

Then again if you aren’t going into breeding and if you just want to raise something for meat no sense paying a high price if you don’t have to. One time we got some runt pigs that way. We went to a well known pig farmer who always had babies in the spring. By the time we contacted him he was completely sold out of piglets but he did have a couple runts he’d let go for half what he usually charged. We bought them and they were fine. They didn’t get near as big as the usual pig when they where at butchering age but, it didn’t matter to us. They were healthy and sound otherwise. Tasted great. There is no comparing home raised meat with what you get in the supermarkets. Home raised is superior in every way. No contest.

Right now as I’ve mentioned previously, over the past year or so we have down scaled and are down to just raising poultry. They have worked well for us and pretty much pay their way. The next phase is to start experimenting with growing our own feed for the birds. Earlier I read Northern Farmers January 27th post about this very subject and am encouraged that we can indeed become independent from store bought feed. Currently we have gotten our egg layers off of the commercial laying mash and are using an old time mix that a good friend recently learned about. I’m embarrassed to admit that right now I don’t even know what’s in it. We just tell the feed store to give us Christine’s mix. The hens are laying well on it and are looking good and healthy too. As soon as I find out the recipe I’ll be sure to include it in a future post. One thing I know for sure is that it does not have soy bean. But the ultimate goal is to start growing it ourselves. Harvesting grain is something we know very little about so we have some learning ahead of us.

The next animal venture we get into we want to do it right. It is going to have to be self supporting if we are going to do it at all. Like our friend Christine, wants to get into raising meat goats. We have talked in the past about going in on it with her. We have the space and if we teamed up together to harvest our own feed right here then it might work out. Finding a market is also another big consideration.

Well, I guess I’d better wind this down if I’m going to get it posted today. I have some pictures that I want to include and with this dial up connection it takes what seems like forever. Our kids are house sitting for some friends and we are going to take a chicken dinner down and eat with them.

Oh, by the way, we just got the last of last falls broilers butchered up this past Friday. Boy were they some hefty buggers.

Until Next Time


Blogger Scott Holtzman said...

Sounds like your set for an eventful 2006. I’ve been clearing out some “dead wood” mentally in preparation for some progress this year. Nothing like having some clear thinking to bring focus in to our lives.

We have begun our two ‘starter’ projects for the year. A worm farm, and some hatching eggs which are incubating currently. We’d be quite interested in the feed mix when you find out.

The meat goats seem to be an interesting endeavor if you can find the right markets for your product. Keep us updated and thanks for the winter photo, it looks wonderful out there! Regards.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

I'm so glad you addressed the topic of acquiring livestock. We're newbies in the agrarian world and have lots of big plans but not a lot of cash. (As I remarked wryly to the Aspiring Agrarian, I'm the Clueless Agrarian!) Lord willing, we'll be raising chickens for eggs and meat and dairy goats. Where to get them has been the dilemma. I would be very interested in your feed recipe as I was just the other day grilling Northern Farmer on this topic. If only we could grow our own grain, but our space is too limited. Looks like you have a lovely parcel of land on which to raise a family. God bless you! Emily

3:24 PM  
Blogger RL said...

Hi Scott,
Since we moved to Wisconsin we have yet to get bored. So I guess you could say every year has been eventful. 2006 is sure to be full and abundant as well.

I read your blog about the worm farm and eggs. I was excited to hear that you were doing that. Before we moved here, back in Illinois we started raising rabbits. And we did a little gardening. It was a good peliminary experience.

We love it here in this area.

Nice to meet you. We were "Clueless" in the past as well. We did lots of reading and studying. It was hard to sort through all the information that's out there. Often times there are conflicting opinion's on any given topic, be it chickens, goats, rabbit's or what have you. We'd just jump into it armed with a plan that sounded good to us and then wind up adapting it to suit our particular circumstances. Not everyone's situation is the same. I'm the type of person that learns best by doing.

Just holler if there is anything we can help you with. Not that we have it all figured out. Basically we learned by our "mistakes". Sometimes we learned at our poor animals expense.

We feel blessed to raise our Children in such a wonderful place.


As soon as I find out the feed recipe we are using I'll edit this post and put it at the end. It'll just take a phone call to our feed store.

8:36 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

Thanks so much for the encouragement and offers of advice, Russ. I'm sure I'll be taking you up on it! We do figure that we'll be learning as we go and making mistakes but that's to be expected, not having any role models to learn from except perhaps my mother-in-law who grew up in a farming family. God bless....Emily

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Russ!

Interesting blog! Loved seeing your pictures! I'm going to have to learn how to do that one of these days!

Your winter pic could be used as a picture postcard.

Only 2 weeks before I start germinating garden seeds. I consider that the official start to spring up here in the Great White North.

May God continue to bless you and yours!

4:39 PM  
Blogger RL said...

Your welcome Emily.


Hey Steven,
I took that winter picture on Sunday morning the 29th the day I made this post. The red shed is one of the original buildings. You can't see it in the photo but, to the right of the shed is an old hay barn set on a stone basement. It was just big enough to keep a few cows in. Some day I hope to redo the stone work as it is in bad shape.

The sleigh is one we bought about 6 years ago along with two aged Belgian draft horses. One of these days I'll post some pics of the sleigh in action being pulled by the horse's. We don't have the horse's anymore. Some day I would like to get a pair of Fjords.


11:07 AM  

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