The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Use moderation with animals

Lucy, a Chesapeake Bay RetreiverEventually, every homesteader will be faced with the thorny issue of livestock.  Chances are that your homesteading dreams included lots of animals giving you fresh milk, eggs, and meat.  The reality, though, is that animals can use up your time so quickly that you're working for them instead of vice versa.

My first piece of advice for new homesteaders is to make a distinction between pets and livestock.  Use your own judgement on the pet front --- we love our cats and dog and believe that the time we put into them is totally worth it for our own mental stability. 
We don't even pretend that our pets pull their weight on the farm with their limited mouse-catching and deer-chasing abilities.  But we also know that having more than our current two cats and one dog would be too much for us to handle.

HoneybeesIn the world of livestock, as I mentioned earlier I do recommend that all homesteaders start out with a worm bin.  Most homesteaders will also be able to handle a few chickens either their first or second year, especially if they are careful to start small.  If you are big honey eaters the way we are, I would recommend getting honeybees around year two or three, once you're established and have a bit of time to devote to their care.

MuleWhat about bigger animals?  We divide larger livestock into three main categories --- draft animals, dairy animals, and meat animals.  Due to our own failed experience with mules, I recommend that unless you've had experience with draft animals in the past and have at least an hour a day to devote to them, you save draft animals for later (if ever.)  To me, dairy animals are in the same boat --- you need to be willing to be tied down twice a day for the rest of your life.  (With just our pets, chickens, bees, and worms, we can go out of town for a few days without needing to find a farm-sitter.)

If you want to branch out beyond worms, bees, and chickens, I would start with meat animals.  Even so, I wouldn't consider embarking on the project unless I had a good pasture and a place to store hay for the winter.  Small meat animals like poultry and rabbits might fit into year three or four of your ten year plan, but I suspect that larger animals would be closer to year nine or ten.

Of course, as with all parts of your homesteading plan, you should decide what's most important for you.  If all you've ever dreamed about is having a milk cow, then by all means move it up to year two and put off the garden until year four.  After all, the best part of a homestead is the way it allows you to choose your own adventure.  Don't forget to have fun!

This post is part of our Starting Out on the Homestead lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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