Homesteads and Horses: What to Know

Horses bring a variety of benefits to homesteads, whether by plowing fields or by providing compost for gardens or farmland. If you’re considering a horse for your homestead, there are a few factors to think about beforehand.

Their Daily Care

Like any animal, horses require daily care. Aside from hay and water, your horse may also need grain depending on their age and dietary needs. Their stall or shed will also need to be bedded throughout the year. While there are a variety of bedding options, straw and shavings tend to be the most common choices.

Your horses, or team, will also need daily grooming to prevent skin irritation from their tack or equipment. Grooming both before and after work is the best course against chafing, so consider using a series of brushes on your horse before work and then bathing your horse after work to remove any sweat or dirt. You’ll also need to keep your tack clean to prevent future rubbing or chafing.

As with any large animal, you’ll need a suitable shelter and fencing for your horse. Common shelters include barn stalls and run-in sheds. An added benefit of run-in sheds is that they can offer both shelter and access to a pasture or a dry lot.

There are a slew of fencing options for your horse’s pasture or dry lot. As an owner, you’ll want to take into consideration upkeep, as well as your horse’s breed. For example, you’ll need tougher fencing if you have draft horses, which are a common choice for farming.

Their Healthcare

While you can manage some of your horse’s healthcare, it’s important to have an equine veterinarian and a farrier.

Your veterinarian will likely visit twice a year for wellness exams, which include checking your horse’s teeth. Because horses’ teeth continually grow, their teeth often develop rough or jagged edges, which impact their ability to eat and can lead to weight loss. Since horses generally have their teeth filed or floated once a year, it’s important to have these wellness exams, even if your horse seems fine.

While some smaller livestock animals, such as goats or donkeys, are feasible to trim by yourself, find an experienced farrier to trim and/or shoe your horse. If you have a draft horse, you’ll have a limited selection of farriers, due to the breed’s size. Typically, your horse will be trimmed every six to eight weeks, based on their toe growth.

Choosing to shoe your horse is a decision best left to you and your farrier, as well as your horse. Shoes can be a remedy for lameness or excessive foot wear, which can result from fieldwork in certain climates or landscapes. Remember to update your veterinarian on any changes though, as lameness can be a sign of other health issues.

So, what can you manage? Parasites and vaccinations.

When it comes to parasites, prevention is the best way to manage the health of your horse. Though you can deworm your horse at the first sign of parasites, it’s recommended to maintain a preventative deworming schedule. For example, you could deworm your horse during each farrier visit. To find out which dewormers to use, talk to your veterinarian.

You’ll also want to speak to your veterinarian about vaccinations. Each year, your horse will need to be vaccinated for the following:

  • Tetanus
  • Rabies
  • West Nile
  • Eastern/Western equine encephalitis

Your veterinarian may recommend other vaccines based on your area and your horse. Your vet can also suggest a vaccination schedule, as some vaccines, such as for West Nile, can be given more frequently.

Vaccines can be purchased from a variety of suppliers. Typically, vaccines are administered subcutaneous or under the skin. Keep an eye on your horse afterwards to watch for any adverse reactions, such as swelling, lack of appetite or anaphylactic shock.

Their Training

While you can train your horse yourself, you also have the option to purchase a horse with farming and/or driving experience. Various techniques and tactics are used in training a horse for farming. A key component is communication and familiarity with your horse’s disposition.

If you are new to driving horses, you’ll need to be the trainee. Search for workshops or apprenticeships with local farmers who use horse power. Get a head start by researching and learning about farm equipment and tack used in horse-powered farming. Wait until you have sufficient experience, before purchasing a horse and/or team for farming.

Their Commitment

Like any animal, horses are a commitment. It’s important to weigh the amount of care and commitment a horse requires against their expected contributions to your homestead.

For example, consider the following:

  • Your interest and knowledge of horses and driving.
  • Your potential source of hay, bedding and feed.
  • Your possible location for shelter and pasture.
  • Your selection of equine veterinarians and farriers.
  • Your available time and work commitments.
  • Your current and estimated costs in adopting horse-powered farming.

Take the time to consider the above. Do the research. It’ll help you determine if horses are a good fit for your homestead — and that’s what you really need to know.


 Bobbi Peterson loves writing and regularly posts on her blog Living Life Green. She’s also a freelance writer, green living advocate and environmentalist. You can find more from Bobbi on Twitter.




How To Kickstart Your Homesteading Skills

I know many of you are where I was a few years ago. You have this drive, this desire to be more self sufficient. You want to provide more for yourself, have more control over your life. You want to spend your hours working for yourself, not working for someone else to get the money to buy what you need. Your soul howls each day you are stuck in the city or urban area, wanting to be free. You dream of the day you can move ‘away from it all’ and take charge of your path.

OH yes, I know exactly where you’re at. The question is, are you sure you want that life? The media has largely romanticized homesteading and doesn’t give you so much as a realistic hint of how much work it will really be. Do you have the skills you need already for that life? If you only dream and do nothing to learn and practice the skills you need before you move to your utopia, you are setting yourself up for failure. You will get overwhelmed and give up, moving right back to the city or urban area you came from.

To answer the first and most important question, “Are you sure you want to live that kind of life?” there are things you can do that will help you decide if you really want the whole package or just parts of it. The best part? You’ll be kick starting your skills for homesteading at the same time! First, we need to identify the skills you are lacking in, and then choose 2 or 3 to start learning about. Then, you start to actually practice the skills.

Which Skills Should I Focus On?

There is no one “right” answer to this question, only the right answer for you. When you think of homesteading, what comes to mind? Gardening, preserving the harvest, chopping wood for the stove, cooking from scratch? Maybe your big thing is raising some livestock.

Once you’ve identified some of the things you most want to do, pick two or three of them to start. Look at them individually – do you know how to grow a food garden? Sure, everyone understands the basic concepts of putting seeds into soil, watering it, and watching it grow. Just because you get sprouts doesn’t mean you’ve successfully gardened. It means you can sprout seeds. A successful food garden happens when you’re harvesting, and preserving, the bounty for your family to eat over winter.

How Do I Learn About The Skills I am Lacking?

Hooray for the information age! Being a homesteader doesn’t mean you toss out modern technology; that would be silly! You don’t toss out a good resource just because it wasn’t traditionally available before! Thanks to the internet and YouTube videos, I have personally learned many skills that I will need for the homestead (and use in my everyday life now of course) that I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be for someone just starting out without it. Imagine you manage to grow a garden but then have to scramble to learn how to preserve it! Do you even know all the food preservation methods, let alone how to do them?

Hooray, once again, for the internet! Not only can you read all about whatever it is you’re studying, you can also watch videos of people, just like you, who are new and trying to learn. I find that many times, I learn tips and tricks from these videos and avoid a lot of newbie mistakes. I’ve even gone so far as to email the creators and ask questions. We homesteading folk are a friendly bunch and generally very happy to help people however we can. If you think about it, the smarter and stronger your neighbors are, the better off the overall community is, too!

To summarize, your resources to learn skills for homesteading include:

Not Sure Where to Start? Consider this:

Homesteading is about self reliance, providing as much for you and your family on your own and within reason. If you’re just not sure where to start, consider the things that every human needs to survive: water, food, shelter, warmth, comfort. Well, and oxygen but you get the idea. 🙂 Learn the skills that will meet those needs and practice them now. For example, I learned how to make a water filter with charcoal and sand. I learned about distilling saltwater to get both the salt and water out of the deal. I learned about water catch systems and different emergency water filtering options.

It All Starts With One Skill

Many people are desperate to homestead – their souls cry out for it! I imagine people stuck in the city, feeling like they live in an area where no possible “homesteading” can be done. WRONG! There are many people out there who have a fully functioning homestead on 1/10th of an acre! There are people who grow all of their greens, year round, in their apartments! Homesteading is more than chickens and canning. It’s an attitude and outlook on life. Instead of giving up because there’s a roadblock, homesteaders look around at what they have to work with and then adjust and adapt to get what they want~YOU CAN TOO!




How To Be A Successful Homesteader

Success is defined in a thousand different ways, regardless of what it is you’re trying to be successful with. Homesteading is no different and everyone’s definition of a “successful homesteader” will be different. I asked several people what they thought and though each answer was indeed different, there were some common themes that made me think, “More people need to hear this!”

I myself go through phases, feeling like I’m a total failure as a homesteader. We moved to our own land and I don’t even have a garden to speak of anymore, let alone a ton of land (we live on 1/3rd acre) for livestock. “What a joke I am, what a poser” is something I’ve said to myself often over the years. “I don’t have <insert item or skill or possession here> so I’m not a ‘real’ homesteader, even by modern definitions!”

Sound familiar?

Here’s the flip side of things: another view point. It’s something that I have to remind myself of, sometimes often. I am a successful homesteader because I have the following:

Can-Do Attitude: Anyone who has been in the work force knows how important your attitude is. It plays, in my opinion, the largest role to your success. If you go into a project with a bad attitude, of course things are going to go to crap! All you will see is the negative and not the solution staring you in the face.

Adaptation: To be a successful homesteader, you absolutely must have the ability to adapt and overcome. It’s not something we are usually born with so much as a learned perspective. Unless you have a ton of money to buy whatever you could possibly need (I don’t know many rich homesteaders, do you?), you have to adapt and overcome the challenges that come with the lifestyle.

Adapting includes needing an imagination to find creative and sustainable solutions. You don’t want to slap a fix on something over and over again – you want it to be fixed and good to go! Generally speaking, homesteaders don’t go buy new, they look around their own property and community first.

Working With What You Have: Success comes from resources and some of the best resources you can get are already on your property! The leftover scrap wood is not garbage…you can make planter boxes for flowers to pretty and brighten the place up a bit. The perfectly usable gutter that your neighbor is just going to throw out after getting them replaced can be used to plant a vertical strawberry patch. Free supplies and strawberries for years: seems like a win-win to me!

There is the old saying “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without.” Sometimes, that means getting very creative – particularly the “wear it out” part. We all want stuff to look nice, but when you homestead, it’s function versus form. I would rather have a hideously looking water pump that worked than a shiny pump that failed me 90% of the time.

If you’re caught up on the looks of everything, maaaaybe homesteading isn’t for you.

Being Reasonable and Realistic: We all have talents and limits. Some people can plot out a new field and have it all ready to be used in a couple weeks. Others can make a database from scratch. NO ONE can do it all on their own and that’s especially true when it comes to living a homestead life.

It’s unrealistic to think that your new homestead will have everything all at once. If you expect you’re going to start year one with a huge garden, chickens, goats, bees, and pigs…you better have a serious backup plan because chances are very likely you will fail. That is simply too much! You’re already changing your entire lifestyle, schedule, and redefining what’s important to you. Even if you have some experience with a hobby food garden and a few chickens, the whole game is changed when you go full time.

Sometimes, you really should call a professional instead of going the DIY route. The money saved DIY’ing your plumbing, for example, may end up costing you a lot more than you saved if you did it wrong. Electrical is even worse of a risk! Being frugal isn’t a competition. Leading a simple life doesn’t mean you don’t spend money. Using the money you have wisely is a good balance.

 

Did you notice? All of the things listed above isn’t something you buy. It’s something you learn and live everyday. Homesteading is a lifestyle that takes commitment!




3 Reasons Why I EDC A Water Filter (And Bottle!)

I always have a water bottle on me. All.The.Time. Since giving up soda pop (I miss the bubbles sooo much), I’ve taken to being one of those women who haul around a reusable water bottle like an extra appendage. I also EDC a water filter or always have one close at hand and it has come in handy more times than I can count!

First off, I know it seems a little odd to most people to carry a water filter with them. I carry a backpack everyday and it has all sorts of bits and bobs in there that have shown me an EDC bag isn’t just for disasters! When it comes to the lifestyle I live, not to mention where (rural Alaska), an adventure or afternoon hike can lead you to places you didn’t expect! Having water, and the means to reliably filter more, is a big deal and this is the first reason I carry one.

We have tried both the LifeStraw and the Sawyer water filters. For us, we much prefer the Sawyer system for several reasons.

  • Smaller
  • Filters more
  • Comes with cleaning system to purge the filter
  • Comes with a heavy duty plastic bag that can be used for gravity filtering and water storing

They are roughly the same price. I go into more details on different emergency water filter solutions in another article. The purpose of this one is not to compare different options, but more to discuss the importance and ease of having one close at hand, if not carried everyday like I do.

Water is life. Without it, you won’t last more than 3 days. This is my second reason for carrying a water filter. Most people don’t consider how much water they really use in a day, a week, or a month. Between hygiene and cooking, not to mention lawns, car washing, and laundry, the average person uses 80 – 100 gallons of water per day! (source) So, it kind of makes sense that we should take some simple steps to increase our chances of having access to safe, potable water.

Last year, my husband and I took a 3 mile hike (one way) to a lake. The hike itself isn’t too bad – there is a boardwalk and stairs for most of it. There are some good elevation climbs here and there but when you’re out of shape…let’s just say we went through the water much faster than we’d thought we would. We had 3 liters between us but by the time we made it to the lake itself, we were out.

It was pouring down rain, which helped for a swallow or two. Of course, we were prepared with our Sawyer filter and Kelly Kettle (reviewed here) so it wasn’t the end of the world. We didn’t have to worry about getting sick from drinking unfiltered (and boiled!) water.

The third reason I carry one on me, or have access to one at all times, is because it’s small and easy, so why not? I don’t care one iota what other people think of me. They can think I am some crazy prepper or survivalist all they want. I know I will have clean and safe water – something taken for granted by most in the United States. I would rather be in charge of my own needs and being prepared to meet those needs is something I take seriously. Water is kind of a big deal for us to survive and grow.

All joking aside, there are more good reasons to carry a water filter with you than there are reasons not to. The bottom line is when you need a water filter….there’s usually a pretty good reason. Preparedness isn’t just for some major natural or man made disaster. It’s for dealing with the malarky that comes after the disaster. Water is just as important as air and that is why I will not be caught without my water bottle and filter!


WANT MORE!? Follow the links to see what a few of the Prepared Bloggers always carry in their EDC. Would you feel safer with these items close at hand?

Shelle at PreparednessMama always carries cash, find out why and how much she recommends.

John at 1776 Patriot USA tell us the 5 reasons he thinks his pistol is the essential item to have.

LeAnn at Homestead Dreamer won’t be caught without her handy water filter.

Justin at Sheep Dog Man has suggestions for the best flashlights to carry every day.

Bernie at Apartment Prepper always carries two knives with her, find out what she recommends.

Nettie at Preppers Survive has a cool way to carry duct tape that you can duplicate.

Todd at Ed That Matters tells us about the one item you’ll always go back for…your cell phone

Erica at Living Life in Rural Iowa knows how important her whistle can be when you want to be safe.

Todd at Survival Sherpa always carries 3 essential fire starters wherever he goes.




What Makes A Homesteader?

The term ‘homesteading’ brings up different images for different people. It’s safe to say that most people’s imagination would include growing food, a large spread of land, chopping firewood, and raising and butchering livestock. While this was assuredly how it used to be, the “Modern Homesteader” tends to do things differently. The end results may be the same, but the methods are different. So, if it’s not the land, the methods of farming, or whether or not you raise livestock, what makes a homesteader?

I’ve had people tell me that I’m not a ‘real’ homesteader because my current plot of land is a third of an acre. I’ve had people tell me there’s no such thing as a ‘real’ homesteader anymore. When I ask these people why, the first person replied with “You have to have a ton of land for your garden and animals. There’s no way you can produce everything you need!” The second person’s reply was along the same lines: “Because homesteaders didn’t have dishwashers and washing machines and electricity!” Sound familiar?

It’s kind of like telling someone they aren’t a ‘real hunter’ because they no longer use sticks and rocks like the cavemen did.

So, tossing aside those judgements, let’s dig into the nitty gritty of what ‘makes a homesteader.’ The dictionary definitions paint a picture about as clear as mud, mostly saying that a “homesteader is a person who works a homestead.” (source).  Not very helpful and yet, it does give a bit of a path to follow. The function of a homestead is to produce as much of the things you need as possible. You work your own land for food and survival, not head off to work for someone else and buy what you need. Keep in mind that even the pioneers of old had to go to the Trading Post for things like salt and cloth. Even the ‘real’ homesteaders had to get money to buy things they couldn’t make themselves.

A homesteader is a person who desires to provide for themselves and their family through their own efforts. They are more concerned with the pursuit of self reliance and happiness than monetary wealth (generally speaking, of course). Though many out there wish to be rich, those who seek out the homesteading lifestyle tend to wish for the more simple and basic things. They find more joy in tilling the soil than driving a sports car. They take more satisfaction from a project and job well done than their investment portfolios.

Homesteaders look at the world differently than the average person. What one person sees as a pile of trash or ‘junk,’ the homesteader sees raw materials to work with to create what they need. When you decide to start living a homestead life, your mentality begins to shift over. I used to be one of those people who scoffed at yards that had piles of various ‘junk’ in them – even if the piles were neat and tidy. “How can they stand to live like that!?” I would ask. I get it now. I understand that the pile of scrap metal is a treasure trove for a homesteader. The pile of ‘dirt and garbage’ is actually a compost pile making them fertile soil for next year’s crops. They keep all their old sheets, jeans, and towels to make rag rugs out of – or patches, cloth rope, and a million other things.

I learned that the saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” is a mantra that many homesteaders live by. It took me a solid year before I really noticed the mental shift in myself. Now, when something is broken or I need something to make life easier, I ask whether or not I have the resources already on hand. If I don’t, can I get them? If I have to buy them, would it be cheaper to buy the item instead of crafting it myself?

Homesteading is not about how much land you have. It’s much more about how you live. You can be a ‘homesteader’ on a third of an acre, using electricity and modern conveniences. I grow as much of my food as possible and preserve it. I harvest the bounty of where I live in berries, meat, and fish and preserve that, too. We build/craft a lot more of the things we need instead of buying it outright. My little garden shed is a prime example. We could have bought a pre made steel or wood shed and slapped it together. Buying the wood and building it ourselves saved money and we ended up with a shed we actually wanted instead of what was available to choose from. On the mushy side, it’s also something we built together that will last us several years and is a great memory. 🙂

As with most anything, it is your actions and skills, not stuff, that makes us what we really are. Just because someone owns a jet doesn’t make them a pilot. Having a full set of Snap On tools doesn’t make you a mechanic or carpenter. Your skills and actions do. Relying on yourself more than others, making do with what you have or bartering for what you need….these are actions of a homesteader.

Because there is no one “correct” answer to this question, I asked for the help of several fellow homesteaders who also share their experiences, tips, and tricks with those who want to learn. Below is their answer and a link to their site!

“A homesteader is a person with the mind set to make there own, grow their own or raise their own!” The Petite Plantation

“A homesteader strives for self-sufficiency by growing or raising their own food, making household items, learning about and using alternative medicine and energy, and striving to protect and repair nature.”Off Grid Homestead Prepper

“A homesteader must have passion and perseverance. You have to love what you do, and never, ever give up just because a day is tough. There are always blessings all around us!” – One Ash Homestead

“A homesteader is someone who strives for freedom through self-sufficiency: freedom for their time, freedom of their energy, and financial freedom.”Hillsborough Homestead

Homesteaders are people who take responsibility for their own well-being. They are more interested in producing than consuming.” – Farming My Backyard

BONUS: FarmingMyBackyard.com has a great article about being a homesteader in the city! Click here

 




Can You Homestead With A Baby?

I have gotten a lot of questions about being able to homestead with a baby. While I am past the age where having one would be wise, my initial reaction is always “Of course you can! Heelllooo….pioneers had babies, and they made it!” In truth, during those times, you never really knew if your child would make it to adulthood or not. The lifespan was considerably shorter overall but infant mortality was also considerably higher.

Logically speaking then, with our modern conveniences and better healthcare, it should almost seem easy to start homesteading with a baby. Right?

Since I don’t have any authority on the matter, I turned to fellow blogger and Homestead Dreamer guest poster, Dana from MamaZedHomestead.com. She lives on the opposite side of the planet in Australia. I love her down-to-Earth, quirky style. Here’s her take on Homesteading with a Baby.


Can You Homestead With A Baby?

There will always be a long list of excuses for not getting something done. We as a species are fantastic at procrastinating and making up reasons about why we can’t achieve a task. It could be due to a lack of funds, a lack of knowledge or just a shear lack of motivation. Your dream of homesteading just gets further and further away. One question that I asked myself was, “Can You Homestead With A Baby?”

Short answer? Of course you can! More honest answer? You can, but you have to be willing to work hard.

Life in general gets harder when you have a baby. You might have these wonderful images in your head about your baby sitting in their highchair while you bake. How about feeding the animals while your beautiful toddler holds your hand as you’re walking? I know I had that one quite a bit. There will be days where your life is idyllic and you think to yourself, “Why was I ever worried?”

Then you wake up with a foot shoved in your face, the smell of dirty nappy wafts through the air and a high pitch scream for breakfast snaps you out of it.

I always wanted to be a mother. It wasn’t just one of those goals that I had to tick off my life’s to-do list. There was a deep seated need that wouldn’t be fulfilled until I had my baby. There is not a single day that goes by that I regret our decision to start our family. However, I also have to remind myself daily about why we swapped to life on hard mode in the first place.

Little dude is now 17 months old and we are due with his little sister in 3 weeks. That’s right, we went back for round 2. What is wrong with us? We still can’t answer that.

I’ve learned that you can still get your chores done when you have a baby. You just have to be a bit more creative about it.

These are the tried and tested ways that we survive homesteading with a baby.

“Cages” are your friends

Alright, maybe not real ‘cages’ (though some days…). By this, I mean any cage-like device that exists these days to keep that mini human in one spot. Get yourself a baby gate, a play pen, a blow up pool without the water…find a way to trap that little monster into one place so that you have some sense of control over the situation.

While inside, we have a baby gate that successfully keeps the child out of the kitchen. I can still see him and the trouble he is usually in, but I don’t have to worry about opening the oven and having him throw himself towards it.

While outside, we are lucky that our current property is fully fenced. That’s not to say that he can’t get himself into something he shouldn’t. It just means that it narrows down the amount of distance that he can put between us. Before he could walk, play pens and blow up pools were a great way of keeping him in one spot. Right now? I’m just thankful for the enclosed fence.

Get them involved whenever possible

I’ve been told time and time again that they are never too young to learn. While this is true to a certain degree, I think the phrase, “They’re never too young to try to help” is a more accurate statement. Even though he is only 17 months old, little dude has ways that he helps out. These can include:

  • Carrying the peg basket when we are putting clothes on the line (inevitably dropping them and deciding to play with them at some point but USUALLY we make it to the line first)
  • Putting dry washing into the basket while I fold (before taking it back out. Then putting it back in…You get the idea)
  • Sweeping. I have no idea where this fascination comes from, but my kid is OBSESSED with brooms. He has two of his own mini brooms which he uses to move dust around. I’m hoping this will lead to an older child who is just as enthusiastic about cleaning as he is now. One can dream, right?
  • Wiping the table. At this age, he loves to mimic us. As soon as I see him trying to do a job I would normally do, I will either get him to help or do it himself. As he gets older, he will be able to take on harder tasks.

It will all depend on the age of your child and really, their attention span. Even if you can get them to do a job for a few minutes, you are still supporting their development. One day it will pay off!

Use A Carrier

When I first got my Manduca carrier, I asked myself how I had ever coped without it. All of a sudden, I could be hands free! This was great when he was younger and clingy, just wanting to be carried all day and see what was going on. I could get outside or I could get a sink of dishes done! Sometimes he would fall asleep. Other times he would be happy just peeking out from the carrier and watching the world go by.

Have older children? Here are some tips and tricks for gardening with kids!

The only reason I stopped carrying little dude was because my current bump got too big. As soon as little miss is born, she’ll be in the carrier and I’ll be back to figuring out how to do my chores with two. Silver lining? At least it’ll almost be hands free.

They sleep. Eventually.

This one isn’t as reliable, but it can work out. When I wake up first thing in the morning, I mentally try to prioritize what I want to get done that day. These jobs are usually split into what I can do with bub, what I can do while he is entertaining himself, and what needs to be done while he is asleep.

It will take practice to figure out what chores fit into which categories for you. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and have a reliable nap time and length. Other days, baby might decide that your plans really don’t matter and you’ll be lucky if you even get a shower that day.

The main thing to remember is that you have a baby. It’s obviously something you won’t really forget, but looking after that little life is a chore in itself. You might get to the end of the day and think you haven’t been able to get anything done. Actually, you have. You made it through another day. Cut yourself some slack and try again tomorrow. Try to plan ahead, just don’t be too heartbroken if that plan gets thrown out the window.


You can find more from MamaZed on Facebook, Pinterest, and www.mamazedshomestead.com.




Should You Add Cattle to Your Homestead?

If you’re considering cattle as an addition to your homestead, you’re probably well on your way to total self-sufficiency — if you’re not there already. Chickens, ducks, goats, and sheep are all good starting animals. Just like with each species, cows have their own unique needs. Being able to make sure you can care for them and legally have them are the first, and most important, steps.

Determine Your Needs

When you’re starting out, there are a few important things to consider before you add cattle. The first is understanding that cattle need more room than goats and ducks. While you won’t need 300 acres for a personal herd, you’ll need enough land for them to exercise and graze on. There is plenty of information out there on having a backyard homestead! If you plan to start off with dairy cattle, like many people do, then differentiating between dairy cattle and meat cattle needs is also important.

If you’re interested in dairy cows, usually one cow is sufficient for a family. However, it might be beneficial to the cow to have two! That’s because cows are very social animals, and they actually have best friends. As good as you are to your animals, you still won’t actually be a cow. Keeping them healthy, both physically and mentally, is an important aspect of getting the most for your money. Plus, then you can use the extra milk to trade with other homesteaders!

For beef bulls, you can either get them from the dairy cows, as many homesteaders do, or you can work with other homesteads to acquire them. Of course, if you’re happy with the meat you get from goats and sheep, there isn’t any reason you have to have beef. You can simply sell the bulls to others who have need of them.

Breeds

There are a variety of different breeds of cows. Some are best for dairy, and some are best for meat. If you intend to have primarily dairy cows, you can still get meat as you will probably have some bulls born to your producing cows.

Some of the dairy breeds include the ever popular Jersey cow, Brown Swiss, Milking Shorthorn, Dexter and the American Milking Devon. All of these breeds produce milk at about four percent butter fat, but their output varies. The Dexter produces the least milk, at about two gallons a day. However, it is known for having good, lean beef. The Brown Swiss produces the most milk, at about nine gallons a day. Their milk is excellent for making cheese, but you may not have a need for that much milk!

The Milking Shorthorn is the largest dairy breed, produces an average of six gallons of milk a day and is excellent for both dairy and beef. It is a popular breed and relatively easy to find. However, as the largest breed, it might be a bit more difficult to manage!

If you intend to breed and sell your cattle, then the American Milking Devon is your jackpot. These cows are excellent homestead animals, are quite rare and are in high demand. Taking the time to find and breed them would certainly pay off in the long run.

Preparation

If you’ve decided on your animals, you need to make sure your land will support them. Grass is necessary for optimal dairy and beef production, but you need the right amount of land and fertilizer to make sure the grass you provide is as good as it can be. You don’t want to try to feed your cattle on a poor pasture — it simply won’t be good for them.

You will probably also want to include grain in your meal plan for the animals. Not only is it vital to keep them well fed during the winter, but careful regulation of their diet is also important to prevent milk fever during calving. Typically, grain supplements and high-quality hay are the best substitutes for pastures during the winter.

As far as taking care of your herd, it’s important to understand that sometimes you will need to cull. A poor-producing animal will likely remain a poor-producing animal, while taking up the same amount of resources as a better one. It will only benefit you to either use it for meat or sell it.

Housing

Last, but certainly not least, you need to keep your cattle safe. This applies to whatever kind you have. They will need shelter and easy access to water year-round. Calves and yearlings may need additional warmth if the winter is especially hard. Proper feeding and monitoring of the animal’s diet is also important to keep them in good health.

Of course, you’ll also need good fencing! A mild electric fence is best, but you might be able to get away with a non-electric fence if yours is sturdy enough and you have a very small herd. A good fence will also help keep predators out. Cows, in particular, will need an enclosed space if you live somewhere with harsh winters. If you are unlikely to see snow and ice, then an open shelter may be sufficient.

No matter what, adding cows to your homestead is sure to be an adventure! Be prepared for the bills, commitment and infrastructure, and you and your cattle will both be very happy!


 Bobbi Peterson loves writing and regularly posts on her blog Living Life Green. She’s also a freelance writer, green living advocate and environmentalist. You can find more from Bobbi on Twitter.