Category Archives for "Animals and Livestock"

How to Bathe a Guinea Pig (Steps by Steps)

You might be thinking about getting the best guinea pig shampoo out there, but this must be a safe guinea pig shampoo, of course. Well, a guinea pig will allow you to have a lot of fun because this animal is truly gorgeous.

You need to keep your guinea pig truly clean because this will allow you to have fun with it for a long time. But you need to read the right information about how to do this right away, and you should not spend an arm and a leg to keep your guinea pig looking good at all times.

We are going to let you know how to clean your guinea pig as soon as possible so you can truly get what you want. The tips we are going to give you are not hard to do, and you will manage to use them right off the bat. Therefore, we encourage you to continue reading so you can know more.

Wash It

You have to calm the guinea pig before bathing it. You need to understand that the animal might become afraid or anxious because it does not know what you are going to do. Use a damp cloth to wipe your guinea pig’s fur as soon as you can too.

Use a container and pour just two inches of water into it. Put just a small cloth on the bottom of your container so you can prevent your guinea pig from slipping down the road. Lowering your guinea pig right into the water is something that you have to do right away too.

Use warm water to rinse your guinea pig as soon as you can. Scoop warm water with your hands to achieve this goal. You have to make sure that the fur of the guinea pig is wet after pouring the water into it.

You have to use shampoo right away so you can rub it onto the fur of your guinea pig as soon as you can too. Warm water should be used right now to rinse the fur of your guinea pig, and that will be awesome for you down the road too. Make sure that you use enough warm water over the food of the guinea pig.

Drying It

Use a clean towel to dry your guinea pig right away too. You have to wrap the guinea pig up gently as soon as you can too. The towel will get rid of most of the moisture over time. You have to towel dry the fur of the guinea pig now.

You need to brush the fur of your guinea pig as soon as you can too. This is useful if you have to deal with a long-haired guinea pig down the road too. Using a hairdryer is also great, yet you have to use this machine with all the caution in the world too. This machine is useful if you are in a cold climate.

Keep It Clean

Keeping your guinea pig clean is not as hard as you might have thought these days. You just have to change the bedding of the animal once every day, and that is all. You need to both disinfect and clean the cage once every single week down the road too.

You need to spot clean as needed too. You have to take a look at the cage of your guinea pig once per day so you can keep it free from any dirt out there. Keep the animal’s play area or hutch free from dirt.

Keeping your guinea pig looking good is not as hard as you might have thought because you can do this quickly and easily at all times. Make sure that your guinea pig is not afraid of you before starting to clean it these days too.

Remember that you will need to use warm water and a towel to achieve your goal. And getting a high-quality shampoo will also help you a lot down the line too. Make sure that the towel will be clean so you can truly clean your guinea pig down the line too. Keeping your guinea pig looking terrific is not hard because we have told you what you have to do right away. Do this and have fun down the line too.

Alpacas: Not just a pretty face

An alpaca suns itself in the summer sun. Photo by Renee Henry

Photo and story by Renee Henry

Wondering why it seems like you are seeing more and more adorable alpacas inhabiting local farms and homesteads as you drive through the countryside lately? Pondering what the fascination is with these unusual creatures? Alpacas are growing in popularity as a welcome livestock addition to many small farms and homesteads as word spreads about their gentle manner and practical uses.

Alpacas, members of the Camelid family, are smaller than their Llama cousins, typically weighing in between 100-200 lbs. and standing at approximately 3-4 feet tall. Their smaller stature makes them easier to manage than some larger livestock, and they can be transported in vehicles as small as a minivan.

There are two types of alpaca: The Huacaya and Suri. Huacayas have a thick, crimpy, fluffy fleece, and Suri alpacas grow long, silky fleece that often looks like dreadlocks. They are a herd animal and therefore it is recommended that you should always keep two at a minimum, although once you get a couple it is easy to get hooked on acquiring more. A three-sided structure is recommended — at the basic level – to provide a windbreak and storm protection, and fencing is necessary to keep them safe from predators such as coyotes and dogs.

Alpacas are a low-impact variety of livestock, as they can subsist on smaller pasture areas and they have soft footpads rather than hooves which means they do less damage to their pasture. Generally, one acre of grassy pasture can support a herd of up to ten alpacas. In addition, their food is supplemented with grassy hay (approximately 1-2 lbs. of hay per day) and grain, especially in winter or times when grass is less plentiful.

Maintenance is fairly low-key and much of it can be managed by their owners once a few skills are learned. Most importantly, alpacas must be shorn once each year to remove the thick coat of fleece that they grow. This should be handled by a trained and skilled shearer in order to avoid any harm to the animal and to ensure that the fleece blanket is removed properly to maintain its value as a commodity to your homestead or hobby farm. Alpacas are sturdy animals evolved to withstand the cold temperatures of the Andes Mountains and in order to keep them comfortable and healthy they need to have their heavy fleece removed before the temperatures soar in Spring/Summer. In addition to shearing, alpacas require occasional trimming of their toenails and regular vaccinations against the Meninga Worm, which can be deadly to the animals. (you can use these trimmers)

The fiber produced by an alpaca is praised for its warmth, softness, strength and fire-resistance, and can be a great resource for your homestead business. Alpaca fiber has a hollow core, which boosts its thermal capacity, making it warmer than sheep wool and other fibers. Nothing beats the cozy warmth and water resistance of a knit alpaca hat or scarf on a bitterly cold day. Additionally, alpaca fiber is considered to be almost completely allergen free because it lacks the lanolin oil that naturally exists in sheep wool – meaning that it can be worn even by those with allergies to wool products.

After shearing, the fleece blanket can be sent out to a fiber mill for processing and is a real delight for hand spinners and fiber artists who enjoy more hands-on involvement in the processing of fleece. Fiber can be carded into roving for use in many needle felting and wet felting craft projects. It can be spun on the spinning wheel to create soft and luxurious yarn to knit and crochet into ultra-cozy apparel. Alpaca fiber comes in twenty-two natural shades! Colors range from white, grey, black, brown, fawn and a multitude of gorgeous shades in between. It is also very suitable for dyeing, making it possible to create a virtual rainbow of colors for use in handmade projects. If homespun yarn and fiber art is of interest to you, consider the ways in which having your own source of this fine fiber can help you boost production of handmade items to sell from a homestead shop, or perhaps offer classes in fiber processing (carding, spinning, dying, knitting) to create a source of income.

Many homesteaders focus on best practices to support production of their own food sources, and here, too, alpacas can provide added benefit. Alpaca dung, commonly referred to as beans because of its similar appearance to coffee beans, is a nutrient rich source of natural fertilizer for garden production. It is generally high in nitrogen and potassium and is not considered “hot,” meaning it can be spread directly onto garden plants without the risk of burning them. The herd uses communal dung piles, which makes it easy to quickly scoop up and remove manure from their pasture areas and use it directly in vegetable gardens or add it to composting heaps for later use. Many alpaca owners find a source of income through packaging and selling their surplus beans to local gardeners who are eager to get this power-packed fertilizer into their own garden beds.

Alpacas are quiet, gentle creatures. As they munch away on pasture grass, you will notice the subtle humming sound they make to indicate their contentment. Many owners will comment that they find themselves just hanging around the pastures to enjoy the peace and calm of the alpaca hum. While they are not overly friendly, alpacas are good-natured and rarely display aggressive behavior (males will sometimes spit and tussle to assert dominance in the herd). Alpaca babies, known as crias, often enjoy being petted and older animals can usually be hand fed grain as a treat, which is a real delight for visitors to your farm. No one can resist snapping a picture or two of these beautiful, doe-eyed creatures while visiting, and the lure of their “exoticness” can be an additional boon if you are working to create foot traffic to support a homesteading business.

Renee Henry is a fiber enthusiast residing in rural Western New York, where she and her husband and two children are learning about and practicing sustainable living while gardening, raising a flock of chickens, and lending a hand at her parents’ alpaca farm. A graduate of SUNY Geneseo, Renee works at a local community college and enjoys working with the many facets of processing and crafting with animal fibers.

Righteous Bacon

photo provided by righteousbacon

A self-proclaimed guacamole addict, Diana Prichard spends her days deep in the heart of Michigan on a hog farm. As a farm, food and political blogger, she shares her exciting life with a captive audience. We had a chance to talk to her recently.

When you were young your mother told you that you should marry a hog farmer? What made her come to that conclusion?

Yes, an Italian Hog Farmer to be precise. I’m not sure, exactly, but suspect it had something to do with my unique ability to put away a plate of spaghetti that weighed more than I did and my tendency for having champagne tastes on her beer budget. She must’ve been under the impression that hog farmers make a good living. She was wrong, but the benefits are paid in bacon so I keep at it.

Tell us about Olive Hill.

I joke that it’s my quarter life crisis. I was working full time and taking more than full time credits in my pre-med program in college when I decided to be a farmer instead. In hindsight it was probably more of a miniature mental breakdown than a purposeful decision making process, but it’s led me in an amazing direction so I can’t complain. Worn down and feeling lost, I’d gone AWOL from classes for a week.

I was on a trail ride with a good friend in the back forty, the fall breeze ruffling the soy beans beneath our mares’ bellies. As I vented about my schedule my friend planted a seed, suggesting I might be happier doing something else. Shortly before that I’d undergone a battery of tests for what looked like at the time to be ovarian tumors. They turned out to be cysts and nothing serious, but during the process I’d written a bucket list that had included “raise chickens for meat.” My mare’s name was Olive and, as they say, the rest is history.

Since then the farm has gone through several incarnations. We began with those chickens, just for ourselves. The next season we raised more and then more again later in the season, selling first to family and friends and then friends of family and friends of friends. The third season it kind of ballooned into this thing with a mind all its own. It was all wonderful experience, but I’m enjoying the more refined nature of the operation now. These days we have just the pigs, raising heritage breeds and their crosses on paddocks and in dirt and deep-bedded pens. We sell pork locally, direct from the farm, and we’re looking into wholesale opportunities for later this year.

You recently visited Africa with ONE (a grassroots campaign of more than 3 million people committed to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable diseases). What was the experience like? How did it change the way you view the world?

You know, I went into the experience very much expecting to be changed, but I think I just came back stronger and more rooted in who I already was. I’d like to think that means I had a strong sense of self and perspective before I left. I never felt like those things came easily growing up so it’d be quite a triumph for me at this stage in life. All the same, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget. When I first came back I wrote that I wasn’t so much moved to give as I was moved to do, to take action. That feeling has really stayed with me throughout the journey of re-entry and re-acclimation to our western ways. The people of Ethiopia gave me a tremendous amount of hope for the future and renewed my faith in our ability to make the world a better place.

The programs that are working on the ground in Africa, and Ethiopia specifically, are making tremendous strides and all in ways that empower the people to do for themselves. It’s not all drop shipping food and water like is so often purported. The initiatives they have for educating farmers were, of course, especially interesting to me. Like all of their programs it’s really a full-circle effort, teaching everything from farming techniques to educating families on ways to prepare the new crops they’re growing so as to maximize the nutrition.

Above all, I’d say the people of Ethiopia taught me a lot about resilience and joy; two things on which you simply cannot put a price tag.

You do a lot of work helping farmers connect to their communities with social media. What advice do you have for farmers who are trying to get their message and products online?

Patience and persistence. Bringing up a social media presence is kind of like bring up livestock. They can’t fend for themselves at first. You’d never throw a chick or a calf or a pig out in a field and expect it to survive without a little help. You can’t throw your social media presence out there and hope for the best either. It takes time and you’re not going to net any results until you’ve at least raised it up to market age.

What is a typical day in the life of a woman hog farmer/writer/photographer in the middle of Michigan farm country?

One of the really great things about being a small operation is that we’re not doing the same thing every day. Our chores are still cyclical. Some are static, of course — feeding, watering, bedding, general tending — but things like farrowing, weaning pigs, castrating, and shipping pigs to the processor are all intermittent. I tend to write and shoot in the down times. When we’re busy with those “extras” there is less writing and less photography happening, and when we’re slow with just the everyday tasks I spend a lot of time behind the Macbook and camera.

What advice would you give other women who are taking a similar path?

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I see a lot of new farmers wanting to completely reinvent the wheel just for the sake of reinventing the wheel. It can cause a lot of headaches. You don’t have to agree with everything someone does to get something out of what they do. Pay attention, dig until you find the ‘why’, that’ll tell you something about how to go about change if change is what you desire. And you may just find that once you understand the ‘why’ change isn’t the goal so much as refinement.

How do you see the food movement in the United States? What would you like to see change?

I’m really excited about what I see happening in the food movement right now. There seems to be a greater sense of cooperation emerging, more willingness to listen and learn. These are the conditions under which real innovation comes about and that makes me very hopeful.

As for change, I’d like to see more of our prominent food and ag voices coming from farms. Right now most of our big food and ag names are people who are writing from behind desks in NYC, Berkeley, and so on and so forth. They’re sitting in urban centers, surrounded by concrete with no real life experience in fields and barns. That’s a big problem and aside from my farming aspirations, it’s something I’m really trying to change.

What do you see as the future of Olive Hill?

I’d like to do more wholesale, more farm tours and ag education. I’d love to open an on-farm shop and classroom to facilitate that. We’ll see. Right now we’re just focused on the hogs, turning out the best pork we can and growing smart rather than fast. Quality is important to me. Balancing flavor, production practices, and economics is our first priority in whatever we do.

What people/experiences have inspired you the most?

My Grandpa, who we called Poopsie, hands down. He and my Granny had a whole herd of kids, as was customary of German Catholic farm families of their time, and the family lore is that he ruled with an iron fist. I never saw it and I guess I’m happy about that. It allows me the luxury of seeing him through a smitten child’s eyes forever. He was the main cook in the family long before feminism made engaged fathers a thing. He was a gardener and I remember the smell of his musky cologne and tiny tomato plants filling the back porch of their farm house whenever we went for a visit in the late winter and early spring. He passed away when I was a teenager. I was far too cool to ask him about his gardens and recipes at the time and I regret not having had that chance a bit.

We asked Diana what her favorites were. Here’s what she said:

Favorite Farming Books

I’m one of those really nerdy people who choose to read things like ‘The Nutrient Requirements of Swine’ for fun. I also waste inordinate amounts of time digging through dusty boxes in antique shops hoping to find farm manuals and cookbooks from decades ago. Unfortunately, this makes me absolutely worthless at recommending books that people can 1) find and 2) will find at all entertaining. A few that I’ve enjoyed recently have been ‘Food In History’ by Reay Tannahill; ‘Blood, Bones, and Butter’ by Gabrielle Hamilton; and ‘The American Way of Eating’ by Tracie MacMillan. Not exactly farming books, but related.

What music are you listening to right now?

Barton Hollow by Barton Hollow.

Favorite Blogs?

My friend Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks inspires me on a daily basis.

The folks at Frog’s Leap Farm fulfill my tomato lust.

I visit What Katie Ate regularly just for the photography. Her ability to capture texture in food photography is unrivaled.

Favorite bacon recipe.

Bacon Cabbage Homefries. I love warm, hearty fare. If it can’t be eaten with your fingers I prefer it to be something best suited to a bowl.

Canon or Nikon?

I shoot Canon, but have to be honest. I chose my first Canon simply because of the brand name recognition, I knew it was a good company that would stand behind its products and knew nothing about Nikon. I’ve been pleased with that assumption, but I’m not as rabid about my brand loyalty as many.

Adventures in the dirt

Jenna Woginrich, of Cold Antler Farm

Jenna Woginrich, of Cold Antler Farm, in Washington County, New York, is a blogger, writer, farmer, shepherd and musician who is inspiring the world with her unique journey. From Scratch magazine had the chance to talk to Jenna about her life, farm and inspiration.*

What made you decide this was the lifestyle for you? How did you get started? Did you have any mentors?

I started farming shortly after I graduated from college (with a degree in graphic design, not agriculture!) because of an experience I had in the Smoky Mountains. It’s a long story, including a near-death experience and a 35-ft tall waterfall but to put it bluntly: I realized life was short, and if it wasn’t for a grocery store and gas stations I had no idea how to live it. So in the spirit of those first pioneers in the Southern mountains I did as they did. I moved west. I got on some rented land. I learned beginner livestock husbandry through bees, rabbits and chickens. I learned to cook and sew and bake bread. I even taught myself the fiddle. It was in their honor and out of a love of the feeling of independence it welled up in me.

I did have a few mentors, most notably a fellow coworker in the office I was working at named Diana. She taught me the basics of chickens and bees, and showed me it was possible to have a farm and a desk in a cubicle at the same time. Something I never would have thought possible.

Tell us about your farm.

Cold Antler Farm has had many incarnations, and is currently on its third. It started on a rented ex-cattle ranch in Idaho, then moved to a log cabin in Vermont, and in the spring of 2010 I bought my first ever scratch of land. I now proudly own and farm six and a half acres of a mountainside in Jackson, New York. Here I raise sheep, dairy goats, pigs, working horses, poultry, honey bees, rabbits, and vegetable gardens. It’s become my full time job to keep this place (and its home online: running smoothly.

Who helped bring Cold Antler Farm to life?

Cold Antler is my home, and I am the only person who lives here, but it is the work of hundreds of people and thousands of readers around the world. The list of people would be too long to print, but know that none of this was a one-woman operation. I had mentors, neighbors, coworkers, family, relatives, friends and organizations create the farmer I am now.

How did you make it self-sufficient?

It’s not entirely self-sufficient yet, but that is the goal. I moved from oil heat to wood stoves shortly after moving in. My goal to move towards solar and wind keeps me saving my pennies. The animal systems are not a full-circle. I need to buy in hay and feed for my animals, because I can’t grow it. I have adapted to bartering though, and learned I may not have enough trees to grow all my firewood but I can trade lambs or sides of pork for cords of wood, and so even if I can’t create everything I need to keep the place moving, I can trade for a lot.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

I think buying the farm has been the biggest step, but what feels like the biggest achievement has been taking on horses. When I started homesteading five years ago I would never think I would be putting a harness on my own cart horse and driving down the road with lines in my hands across the country just five years later. Learning to ride, drive, and live with my wonderful Fell Pony, Merlin, has been as magical as it sounds. He changed my life, my self esteem, and gave me courage I didn’t know I had.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

I find it is the finances I have the most trouble with. The reality of any business is it needs capital to keep moving and growing. I had to adapt and change to the very true fact that I needed a lot of money to do this and didn’t have any. It required a lot of sacrifices, penny pinching, and learning to do things like barter for basic supplies and move from shopping at Banana Republic to Goodwill. When I left my job to do this full time, it got even harder, but the mortgage still gets paid and the blog readership grows and I feel like I am winning a secret game every morning I wake up here and don’t have to drive into an office. It’s not easy, but it is so ridiculously worth it.

What advice would you give someone who is just starting out?

Start now. Go out to your bookstore or library and get a book on your agricultural interest. Visit local farms, become a CSA member, or ask to be an intern. Turn your vacation time into haycation time and instead of going to the beach, go to a workshop on dairy goats or fiber management. If this is something you want, you can have it, but it requires constant immersion in a new world. Go get it!

What is a typical day in your life like?

I wake up around 5 am, winter and summer, and head outside to do morning chores. There are no tractors here, so I carry buckets to troughs, carry bales of hay and bags of feed, and check the health and status of the animal crew here. My border collie, Gibson, is always by my side. Together we herd and watch our animal staff go about their lives of life and birth, and in some cases death. I raise pigs and chickens for the table, some lambs too. I would love to tell you what happens next on a typical day but it varies so very much depending on seasons and the farms needs. For example, an April day would have me checking for new lambs and getting shots in babies and tails docked. A June morning would have me knee deep in the garden weeds, or plowing a field with Merlin for a pumpkin patch.

An October day could be cider apple collecting and pressing, or hosting a workshop. Regardless, every day I write and every day I make time for some good meals and exercise. My day is book-ended with another set of evening chores and I head to bed early. Some nights I tie one on, but most nights it’s a book or a fiddle by the wood stove and a dog curled up at my feet.

What do you see as the future of Cold Antler Farm?

I see it growing as I grow, becoming larger and more productive. I’m sure i will find more adventures and bigger pieces of land. I hope to find love out there in the dirt as well. Right now it is as open a book as could be, but my thoughts are positive and my main focus is to help get other people who want this started and thriving. For all the kindness I have received it is the least I could do.

What would you like your legacy to be?

Luceo Non Uro! (I shine, not burn!)

Story by Melissa Jones

Photos provided with permission by Cold Antler Farm. Originally by Jon Katz.

Beekeeping: 10 Questions to Ask BEFORE you get Started

If you are remotely interested in sustainable living or homesteading, chances are you have toyed with the idea of beekeeping. And why wouldn’t you? You love honey, you need bees to pollinate your plants in order to grow food, and who doesn’t appreciate making a little Do-Re-Mi on the side? If you ask me, it would be silly NOT to want to be a beekeeper. BUT (and this is a large BUT) there are, in fact, many reasons why you shouldn’t keep bees and many things to consider before you grab your butterfly net and start climbing trees to catch a swarm.

1. Is it legal in your city/town to own bees? Do you live in a HOA?

If it’s against the law, research ways you can make an appeal, educate others, start a petition, and see if you can get the law changed for your area. I see too many people that buy bees regardless of the laws then end up being forced to re-home them, fined, and even sued. Avoid this by knowing your rights beforehand.

2. Is any member in your family allergic to bees?

It is still possible to own bees if you have allergies but extra safety precautions need to be taken.

3. Does your homeowners insurance allow it?

Ask before getting bees and inquire about adding additional liability in case of accidental stings.

4. Do you have a location out of high traffic areas?

Bees like to stay high and dry with a wind break and protection from the elements; boggy, wet areas should be avoided.

5. Can you provide a water source?

A beehive can drink up to a liter of water a day.

6. How close are your neighbors? Will the bees bother them?

You always want to keep your neighbors in mind when pursuing your homesteading dreams.

7. Is there a nectar source within 3 miles?

Bees will fly up to 3-5 miles away in search of nectar but will visit thousands of nectar sources in order to make that liquid gold. Chances are, you will not be able to provide enough nectar/pollen on your property to provide the bee with what they require.

8. Will you have time?

Bees are relatively low maintenance but they do require monthly inspection & check-ups, several hours during honey extraction, regular feeding, watering and adding frames/boxes.

9. Can you afford it?

There are ways to become a frugal beekeeper, However, the average person will not have access to, or the ability to, go the frugal route and the start-up cost can be pretty hefty, so this may be something you will want to save for.

10. How Many Hives Do you Want? I ‘thought’ I wanted one; I was informed I wanted two. Why two?

So, you have something to compare your hive to. If you’ve never seen a failing hive how would you know when to recognize the warning signs unless you had a healthy hive to compare it to?

• If your queen dies and you need to merge hives. Accidents happen and life happens, or in this case death. Ordering a queen bee is not always easy or affordable ($30.00 and up + shipping for one queen) and combining colonies may be the best choice for you at the moment to avoid losing a hive altogether

• Weak colonies. Combining a weak colony with a strong colony is sometimes needed for the survival of your hive.

• Double the honey. With all of the beekeepers in the beekeeping course and the hundreds of years of combined experience, not once did I ever hear “I have too much honey”, you will never have too much honey

Article by Amber Bradshaw

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Goat Facts – 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Goats


If you have ever even thought about homesteading, then you’ve thought about getting goats. These intelligent, curious and delightful animals are often considered a “graduation” of sorts: Most homesteaders start with chickens and move onto goats before considering larger livestock.

Goats can provide homesteaders with milk which can also be used to make cheese, soap or butter. Here are ten things you may not have known about domestic goats (Capra aegagrus hircus).

  1. Goats can vary in size from the 35 lb. Pygmy goats to the 230 lb. Boer goat. Both goats are actually raised for meat production, however, the Pygmy goat is also known for its high-quality milk.
  2. Genetic tests indicate that all domestic goats are descended from the wild Bezoar Ibex of Anatolian Zagros, a part of the Middle East. Scientists believe goats are one of the earliest domesticated animals, with evidence that suggests they were domesticated at least 10,000 years ago.
  3. Goats are naturally curious. While they don’t actually eat tin cans and paper, they are often seen chewing odds and ends mainly to find out more about these objects. Behaviorists think goats chew these items to find out more about them and to see if they are edible.
  4. That curious nature may be the root of a legendary story about goats and coffee. An apocryphal story on the discovery of coffee goes like this: Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder, started chewing coffee beans after his goats started dancing when they ate the beans.
  5. The largest number of goats in the United States resides in Texas. Goats can be raised, however, anywhere in the United States.
  6. While calling a group of goats a “herd” is acceptable, the more proper names for a group of goats is a tribe or trip.
  7. Cashmere, the super-soft and desirable wool used in many garments, is harvested from Cashmere goats. The wool is shorn from the goats and then “de-haired” which separates the coarse outer hair from the soft inner downy coat. The softer hair is spun into yarn and thread for textiles. Originally the goats were cultivated in Nepal and Kashmir, but they are now raised all over the world.
  8. The famous fainting goats don’t actually faint. A condition of the central nervous condition called Congenital myotonia, in which the muscles of the animals are temporarily paralyzed when they panic. The condition causes no pain, but the animals do fall over. Older fainting goats, however, keep themselves braced against a wall or other support, so they don’t fall over.
  9. The London Telegraph reported last year that goats have accents. Scientists at the Queen Mary University of London discovered the calls of goats change as they grown older and move into different groups. Goats in the same group sound similar to each other as they spend more time together.
  10. Milk goats should be separated by gender. If does (female goats) are kept too close to bucks (males) their milk can take on a “goaty” flavor, influenced by the strong scent of the buck. *Although, it should be stated that this is a controversial topic for goat dairy farmers… With many people stating that they would NEVER separate the goats. And many saying that they would never dream of having the goats live together in the same quarters because of milk flavor and breeding practices.

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Raising chickens: The Basics

March 19 is National Poultry Day. It’s a day set aside to honor the myriad of poultry that we benefit from: Chickens, ducks, turkeys, quail, peafowl, pheasant — even pigeons!

In honor of this great day, we give you a breakdown on how to raise chickens, the gateway drug of homesteading.

Check it out and leave us your tips on raising fowl in the comments below!

Raising chickens is fun and easy, but not for the faint of heart. Before starting out, you must know chickens prime egg laying years are in the first three of adulthood. So, if you want to raise them for eggs, then you’ll need to be aware that chickens live for 8-10 year — sometimes longer — so you’ll get diminishing returns as time goes by.

Many chicken keepers deal with this by eating their birds. Others, like ourselves, grow a bit to attached to the animals, and keep them around for as long as possible. The choice is yours, but be aware, raising chickens can get expensive.

First: Buy your chicks

Find a reputable hatchery, or a local chicken keeper whom you trust, and buy chicks from them. While you can buy adult, laying hens, I find it better to raise the birds from just a day or two old. It’s more expensive to feed them for the first bit, but you’ll get to know the birds better. If you buy your chicks from a hatchery, pay the extra cash to get them sexed. You don’t want to raise too many roosters, as they get aggressive with the hens when there are too many roosters to compete with. A rooster isn’t required to produce eggs.

If you get your chicks locally, take the time to visit the farm where they’re hatched. Look around. Make sure the place is clean and organized. Make sure the adult birds are healthy. Look for bright-eyed, curious animals that are calm and active. If the birds are listless, or stressed, it could be indicative of health problems that you don’t want to deal with.

Second: Brood your chicks

For the first weeks of life, chicks will need to live in a brooder. You can purchase one or you can build your own. Either way, make sure the birds stay warm. The chicks aren’t big enough to generate enough body heat to keep themselves warm. The brooder ensures they have enough heat and light to grow up big and strong. Make sure the brooder stays clean. Young chickens are voracious eaters and they’ll make huge messes in the bottom of their brooder. Make sure you clean it regularly (for us, once a day was just enough).

Third: Feed your chicks

At the early stages of life, chicks need to be fed starter feed, for at least 8 weeks. After the eight week mark, switch them over to grower feed until they turn about 20 weeks old. Then finally, layer feed. You can buy all of these things at your local feed store or, if you’d prefer non-GMO feed (we do!) then you can buy it all here.

Most chicken starter is medicated to prevent coccidiosis — a parasite that can kill young chickens. However, many chicken keepers prefer to avoid medicated feed, as it can increase the parasite’s resistance to drugs over time. And if you’re going for organic certification, you’ll may have to use non-medicated feed. If you do decide to go with all natural feed, which is what we use, then you’ll have to do a little more research. Add diatomaceous earth to your feed and organic apple cider vinegar to the chick’s water. It’ll boost their immune systems, fight the parasites and the DE will help kill the parasites. Make sure they have plenty of clean, fresh water available at all times. (check out Corid (Amprolium) for Chickens)

Fourth/Third: Get your chicken coop ready

Chicken coop designs are as varied as people. Everyone has their own way of doing it.

Basically, you’ll need a place for your chickens to sleep, stay out of the wind, rain and cold. If you want to build your own, here’s some designs on Pinterest.

Make sure your coop is big enough for the number of chicks you have. A good rule of thumb is you’ll need 2 square feet for each bird. Bigger is mostly better, as long as your coop is warm and dry. If you chickens aren’t free range, then you’ll need a run — basically a place for the darlings to run around, socialize and get some exercise. Make sure the run is open to the air, covered to prevent predation from hawks, has shade and grit. (you can check out: best chicken coops here)

Grit is a product that allows birds to digest food. It also supplements their diet with calcium. You can buy it at feed stores, or online. Again, make sure your chickens have free access to water and food. It’ll keep them happier. Happy chickens produce more eggs.

Fifth?: Enjoy your chickens

While you can get tons of eggs from your chickens (average laying rate is two eggs for every three chickens daily), you’ll also get tons of joy from the little darlings. You’ll have to feed and water your chickens every day, but after the novelty wears off, it’s easy to forget to take a little time to just sit and watch them. So whenever you have a free minute, I advise you to go and grab a bucket or foldable chair and just sit and watch your birds. They’re surprising complex animals with a sophisticated social structure (the proverbial pecking order). Bring some treats! Enjoy.


Make a fodder system: A fodder system, either purchased or made, can provide supplementary nutrition for your birds. And it gives you a chance to know everything about what your chickens eat.

Here’s a video:

Insulate your coop: If you build your coop, insulate it. The extra effort and expense will keep your birds more comfortable. Comfortable chickens are happy chickens. Happy chickens make more eggs.

Close your flock: Once you get the number of chickens you’re comfortable with, don’t get any more! This is called “closing your flock.” By not introducing new birds into your flock, you prevent disease and infection from coming into your coop. New birds can bring parasites and disease into your flock. If you just have to buy new birds, make sure you quarantine them for at least a few weeks before introducing them into your flock. It goes a long way into keeping your birds healthy. (you can read Backyard Chicken Books for Beginners)

Getting Goats 101 – Everything you Need to Know to get Started

Getting Goats 101
Think you’re seeing more goats lately? Well, it’s not your imagination. After chickens, goats are the fastest growing livestock animal in the US today. They’re increasingly popular on small farms and homesteads because they’re easy to care for and so useful. Goats don’t require pastures, are easily handled and housed, and can provide meat, milk, fiber, fertilizer, and brush control. Goat milk and meat are preferred over cow in most of the world, and folks in the US are starting to catch on in a big way.

Goat breeds are divided into three types: meat, dairy, and fiber – with several breeds readily available in the US within each type (see goat breed chart). Any of the breeds can be used for both meat and milk, but they’re classified according to their main usage. The meat breeds are taller and stockier, the dairy breeds lighter and more refined, and the fiber breeds typically fall somewhere in between. There’s also one breed within each type that’s considered miniature (the Pygmy, Pygora, and Nigerian Dwarf), and that can be kept in suburban settings (if local zoning allows it) because of their small size.

Choosing a breed

Choosing a breed comes down to what you want the goats for — will it be primarily for milk, meat or fiber? What breeds are available in your area, the cost, and breed size?

If milk or meat consumption is a primary goal, then tasting that breed’s milk or meat is important. Taste can vary substantially from breed to breed.

If fiber is the goal, then it is important to make sure the breed you are interested in produces the right fiber.

Next, it should be determined whether purebred goats are desired; it is easier to sell their offspring, but if they will just be used for meat or farm milk, it may not make sense to invest in purebreds.

Finally, you will want to make sure the breed is readily available within travelling distance, is in your price range, and fits your size constraints.  The miniature breeds are increasingly popular because they often cost less, fit in small spaces, and are very easy to handle (like a medium size dog).

Once you have chosen a breed, it’s best to visit several reputable breeders, look over their goats, check out the housing arrangements, ask lots of questions, and make sure you will be happy with the support they’re willing to supply. Information and experienced veterinarians for goats can still be hard to find, so having a willing “mentor” can be invaluable.  There are also several serious goat diseases that should be avoided, and reputable breeders will be willing to show evidence that their herds are free from these diseases.  It’s a good idea to avoid goats from auctions, as they may bring hidden problems or diseases with them.

Housing for goats

Housing for goats ideally includes a barn with room for the goats and their kids, water, feed storage, lights, and a separate area to milk in (if you’re going to be milking).

However, all that is absolutely required is a shelter that will keep them dry and out of the wind. Goats do need protection from predators such as coyotes, mountain lions, wolves, and stray dog packs; so housing them in a barn often makes sense. It’s also much more comfortable for humans and kids (baby goats), particularly during kidding season and while milking. Goats need a minimum of 10’ to 15’ square feet of protected space per goat, if they also have access to outside space.

Goats prefer wooded browse to pastures (they prefer to reach up to eat rather than down like sheep or cattle), and will happily eat things we consider nuisances like poison ivy and brambles. In addition to browse, they need good hay, goat minerals, water, and grain (when pregnant or milking). If an area for browsing can’t be provided, goats will do fine on hay alone for roughage. Besides food and water, they generally require regular hoof trimming, a couple of semi-annual vaccinations, and worming to prevent internal parasite infestations.

Fencing for goats

Fencing for goats is a very important, as they tend to be escape experts.

There are many fencing options available, but woven wire fencing that’s at least four feet tall and supported by sturdy wooden posts is highly recommended. Welded wire fencing should be avoided because the goats will rub and stand on the fencing causing the welds to break.

Many owners combine woven wire fencing with electric strands at the top and bottom (on the outside). The electric at the top keeps the goats off the fence and the electric at the bottom helps keep predators out. Woven wire spacing of 2” x 4” rather than 4” x 6” is recommended if horned goats or miniature breeds are being fenced (so the horns don’t get caught as readily and the miniatures can’t slip through).

Goats are social animals, a herd should start with at least two.

And since goats multiply quickly (usually producing at least two or three kids per year), a herd can build quickly starting with just a few does (mature female goats). Many start their herds with two or three doelings (baby does), and build from there. Male goats (bucks) are very smelly during the mating season, and many goat owners choose not to keep any if there are good quality bucks in the area that can service their does. If a buck is kept, it should generally be penned separately from the does, and also needs a companion (another buck or wether (castrated buck)). Bucks are housed separately from does so that the buck smell does not affect the milk, and so that it’s known when the does have been bred.

For those interested in meat goats, many people find that goat meat (chevon) is easier to digest than beef or pork, and it’s low in fat (see Table 2), making it an excellent meat source for small farms and homesteads. In addition, the markets for meat goats include those for goat meat, show goats (4-H or FFA), breeding stock, and pack goats. Today, the meat goat industry is the fastest growing livestock industry in the US, primarily because there is so much ethnic demand for goat meat. For delicious milk, it’s important to buy does from good milking bloodlines since milk production, butterfat, and protein content can vary widely even within breeds.

Milk production and butterfat content also vary widely from breed to breed, and higher butterfat content milk is generally preferred for drinking. Excess milk can be made into yogurt, cheese, and butter for home use; but selling goat milk or milk products from the farm can be difficult. Many states prohibit the sale of raw milk, or it’s against the law to sell milk unless you’re a licensed “Grade A” dairy.

However, excess milk can often be sold as “baby” food for breeders (to feed to puppies, kittens, etc.) and some owners sell “goat shares” so that others can obtain raw goat milk. When planning to market goat milk, it’s best to check the rules in each state carefully and proceed cautiously. There are; however, ready markets for dairy goat milk soap, breeding stock, and show goats.

Homesteads with fiber goats can process the fiber into roving, yarn, batts, and knitted products for extra farm income. In addition, the market for fiber goats is growing so there’s also good demand for breeding stock and kids.

Beside all the practical reasons for keeping them, goats are typically gentle creatures that are just plain fun to have around. They are very social, and if handled regularly from birth, form loving bonds with humans. And, there is no place happier than the goat barn during kidding season – goat kids are irresistibly cute and just add joy to life!

better hens and gardens

Next: Goatpacking in the Back Country

Rabbits: The Other Perfect Little Livestock


Amidst all of the cheerleading going on out there about chicken-keeping,  I’d like to give a shout out to another small animal that makes a great addition to any homestead whether it’s urban, suburban, or small-farm; rabbits. Our family has kept rabbits (for varying reasons) for nineteen years and I often wonder how they manage to stay just off of the perfect livestock radar.

Throughout history, they’ve proven themselves time and time again to be an ideal livestock choice for small farms. In a world where farming is synonymous with “land” and “acreage”,  rabbits make excellent hobby farm mini-livestock as they have minimal space requirements and demand very little in the way of financial resources or specialized equipment. They’re as versatile as they come and are kept for companionship, show, meat, fiber, and manure.

Gentle rabbits are easy to house, handle, care for, and transport. They can provide healthy meat which makes them a smart choice for breeding and raising for food. The savvy rabbit-raiser will research the individual rabbit breeds and choose one that catches their interest, as well as incorporates two or three of the above reasons when practicing small-scale rabbit keeping.

Rabbit Manure Makes Fabulous Compost

The rabbits here at Laughing Crow have always been used for showing (both 4H and general shows), fiber for hand-spinning, and my number one reason — poop. I swear that this is why I have the most amazing compost for my garden.

One of the most valuable by-products that your rabbits can provide for you is top-of-the-line manure. I’m excited to notice that it’s recently getting the attention it deserves and becoming widely recognized by gardeners as the most nutritionally balanced manure of all the herbivores for the garden and compost piles. It’s a nutritionally rich, balanced organic fertilizer and soil conditioner — and is extremely effective. As an added perk it will also improve the texture and tilth of your garden soil.

Most herbivore manures used as soil amendments, which need to be composted (aged and broken down by microbial and macrobial organisms) before being applied. No so for rabbit manure; it can actually be used fresh from under the rabbit cages and be incorporated directly into the garden and landscaping. Because its nutritional content is already extremely well-balanced, it doesn’t need the time other fertilizers take to decompose to a workable quality. You can use it right away, without any fear of burning plants.

That said, if you’re using it in your vegetable garden, you may prefer to add it to the compost pile (where it can break down completely) to be sure that any potentially harmful pathogens aren’t transmitted to food plants. No worries, in the compost pile is where rabbit poop shines. Not only does it bring its long list of goods, but it’ll help make quick work of the organic matter in your pile; you’ll have fabulous compost in no time!

The message here is the next time someone says “What’s could possibly be as good as chickens for our homestead?” Consider letting them know about rabbits, the other perfect little livestock.

Grandpa’s Feeders

Grandpa’s Feeders

At Sunshine Sisters Farms, we have about 50 full grown birds: 15 ducks and 35 chickens, depending on when you count them.

Originally, we started with about 12, but as time went by, one of the Sunshine Sisters decided to become a crazy chicken lady full-time.

When we started, we scattered the food on the ground. It worked fine. As the flock grew, however, this method became rapidly untenable.

Chickens require about a quarter pound of food per day. Ducks require a similar amount. With so many birds, it meant we had to scatter about 50 pounds of feed per day. Even then, the animals appeared stressed. Without a permanent food supply on hand, they would react to the slightest noise. Even walking buy sent them into a frenzy.

So, we started looking around for solutions.

At first, we used pipe to construct feeders and put three inside the pen.

This calmed them down, but each feeder only held about 15 pounds of food. So, by our math, they needed to be fed twice a day.

This turned out to be wildly successful, as our chickens grew calmer and settled down a bit.

Then it rained.

The construction of our chicken run meant the pipe feeders were exposed. While a cap on top of the feeders prevented the bulk of the feed from getting wet, splashing water from the ground got into the feeders, clogging them.

We had a long run of rain this summer, with what seemed to be a month of rain nearly every day.

Our pipe feeders stayed clogged, and at this point, we decided it was time to seek out another solution.

That is when we found Grandpa’s Feeders.

Made of galvanized steel, these box-type, gravity feeders can hold 20 pounds or 40 pounds of feed. We got the larger, 40 pound option.

The design of the feeders meant they can sit on the floor of our chicken house so they can stay out of the weather.

The really unique thing about the feeders is the lid. The lid covers the food until a chicken steps on a plate, which works a lever that lifts the lid off the feeder.

While the feeder comes with instructions on how to train the chickens to use the lever action in about three weeks, we actually did in in three days.

On the first two days, I locked the lever in the open position. Then on the third day, I closed it entirely. I then scattered feed on and around the activation plate. The chickens, trying to eat the food around the plate wound up stepping on it and opening the device.

I stood by them for a few minutes, pushed them off the plate and watched as they climbed back on it.

After a few repeats of this process, I noticed other chickens watching.

The chickens who watched the process copied their companions and learned how to use the new feeder (proving that chickens are smart creatures.)

Since getting the feeder, we do less work, as it needs to be filled much less.

Since we feed our chickens table scraps and forage, they consume less food when they are not looking at it, so using Grandpa’s Feeder seems to have cut our food bill by about 10 percent.

We still use the pipe feeders as a back up, but since Grandpa’s Feeders stay clean, dry and free of flies, we do not see any reason to go back to using anything else anytime soon.