Letter Re: Livestock at Your Retreat

Mr. Rawles:
Just a few tips on the livestock side of things, in response to Samantha’s piece on Livestock at Your Retreat:
– Your Mile May Vary (YMMV) on pasture needs. On the coastal plain, two acres per head of cattle will do quite nicely in most area. But in more “brittle” areas, such as the high plains, the East slopes of the Rockies, West Texas, etc, you will find yourself needing considerably more land than two acres per cow. (Check with your Agriculture college or county extension agent.) Hereabouts, one acre of good land will provide both grazing and hay for one healthy cow. (Can you see why I’m reluctant to leave this little slice o’ Heaven — even though it’s rapidly turning into the PRK-North?) Topsoil depth, rainfall, and growing season length are the critical factors. Always calculate twice as must pasture and hay field per horse as per cow.
– I applaud Samantha for recommending a dual-purpose breed, such as Brown Swiss. They are sweethearts, and give some of the very best milk (Second only to the Jersey, which does not throw a very “good” beef calf — but then, I grew up eating “sub-standard” beef from Guernsey/Hereford cross steers, and it didn’t seem to hurt me much.) Another couple options are Milking Shorthorn and Galloways. The Galloways are a rare breed, so finding breed stock may be a challenge, but they produce meat superior to the best Angus (Properly: Aberdeen Angus) on grass alone, are the easiest calvers, are self-tending (Even wolves leave them alone!) and are tractable (easy to work with). For small acreage, Irish Dexters are another option. They’re the pre-miniature beef miniature beef, and also give good milk. Birth defects (pugging) can be an issue, though.
– Cows do not need grain. In fact, they can’t digest it properly. God designed them to eat grass — nothing else. Feeding cows grain & meat products constitutes a perversion. (Which is why beef has gotten a bad name for being the major source of “bad” cholesterol — the grain turns to the worst kind of fat, whereas grass-fed beef produce high amounts of the “good” cholesterol.) Around here, the perfect mix is Timothy pasture grass mixed with red top clover and Alsace (The old-timers pronounce it “Al-Sacky”) clover. It also makes excellent horse pasture and hay. The two clovers up the protein content and palatability plus give you the added benefit of capturing nitrogen from the atmosphere (If you use inoculated seed.) You will want to grow grain for your horses — they can use it. Plus, you’ll want it for chickens and other fowl — not to mention for making bread, oatmeal, etc., for you and yours.
– Water, water everywhere — and there’d better be enough for your cows to drink! Besides grass the other essential for raising cattle is a reliable source of clean water. Cows drink a lot!
– Hay & hay storage. Around here, you need to plan on storing one ton of hay per head of cattle, two tons per horse. No, no, no! You don’t need a bunch of mechanical equipment to make hay. You can make the very best hay with just a scythe, a wooden hay rake (think of a long-handled wide-headed garden rake), and a pitch fork. The old rule-of-thumb was one good man could mow five acres a day with a scythe and two boys who were worth their feed could get it raked into windrows and have the morning’s mow in the cock by sundown. Figure half that until you been doing it for a few years. But you do need covered storage for it, because nothing bleeds off nutrients from hay like getting rained on. (But make sure your hay is fully cured before putting it in the barn — else you’ll get a nasty lesson in spontaneous combustion.) How many acres do you need to cut? Purdue [University’s agriculture department web site] has some rule-of-thumb calculations.
You can figure that you’ll probably get over two tons per acre on the first mowing, and progressively less with each subsequent mowing. [Here are two useful links:] How to make hay the old way, and Making hay for horses.

– If I were doing a working ranch as my group’s retreat, I would not think twice about getting a big tractor (100 hp or more) and a big round baler. I’d have the tractor fitted with as big a front-end loader that it would take. It helps you move those big bales (which make excellent hasty bulwarks) and you can use the bucket to dig yourself a dry moat in jig time. (I’d definitely use the tractor to dig one when fuel stocks started to run low. By then you aren’t likely to have county planning people nosing about much.) Read up on Irish hill forts and Civil War earthworks on the ‘Web.
– I’d do most of the work on the place with horses, just so I’d have enough on hand for me and mine to Bug Out if we need to. (I’d want a mount, a re-mount and two pack horses per person.) Horses can go where no 4×4 would have a chance. Since only the Russians do mounted calvary anymore — that’s my preferred mode of Bug Out travel. Horses outdistance leg infantry hands-down, and anywhere a 4×4 can go a tracked vehicle can go there quicker. (Helicopters trump everything, but you can usually hear them coming.)
– If you’re going to have little ones about, I’d definitely plan on keeping goats for milk, as goat’s milk is the universal mamma replacement. (And keeping goats will give bored children something to do on their scale – when they’re not raking hay or tending poultry or helping Mom in the gardens. No little princes or princesses in my retreat!) Most people who are lactose intolerant can handle goat’s milk. I’m an absolute tyro on keeping goats, so Samantha’s advice is probably better than any I’d ever give.
– Don’t forget “The Gentlemen Who Pay the Rent!” (Pigs) With pigs you use everything but the squeak. They are your pioneers and can plow your garden for you as well as stirring the deep bedding in your cow and horse barns for you. (A pig will dig deep for every grain of corn you hide in the bedding.) If you want to keep the brush down in your tree lines, just pig fence them and put the pigs in a couple times a year. (Throw a handful of corn into the middle of the deepest thickets and they’ll root ’em out for you.) You may want to invest in a stock of welded pig panels and steel fence posts so you don’t have to invest as much in fencing. (Less to hide behind, too!)
– Chickens. They’re dumb as rocks, and a royal pain to work with, but eggs, meat and feathers are not to be passed up. If you get into poultry, you’ll find they only thing dumber than a chicken is a turkey. (You have to run to get them under cover if a rain squall heaves into sight, because the turkeys will point their beaks to the sky, open them wide, and promptly drown in the downpour. To think that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird! Thank God cooler heads prevailed! I have heard that the wild turkey is a much smarter bird . . . I have to believe it, or the breed would be dead as Dodos.)
– Resources — These are starting points (the first three are books) They will all give you lots of other resources to refer to:
“Salad Bar Beef” Joel Salatin
“You Can Farm!” Joel Salatin
Any of the Storey Books livestock series
Ranch & Farm webring
Down on the Farm webring
Draft horse webring
Agriculture webring

Regards, – CountryTek