On Livestock and Self Sufficiency by TAS

Most of the readers of Survival Blog agree on at least the distinct possibility, if not the absolute certainty, of a collapse. This may come in a variety of forms – flu pandemic, economic depression, or an EMP attack are likely scenarios. Regardless of the form, the result will be very similar and our concerns are as well: How do we protect ourselves and our families and provide a living? While stocking up on beans, bullets, and band-aids is the initial response, further preparation encourages us to find a defensible, as well as productive retreat. But then what? So you have your retreat (or not), you’ve stocked up on seeds and a food mill, and “the event” actually comes. Are you prepared to provide for yourself when the food runs out or if society never returns to “normal”?

My family and I got a crash course in self-sufficient farming when my husband left the Air Force to fulfill my life-long dream (and eventually his, as well) of returning to the farming lifestyle of my youth. We made the highly idealistic decision to get out, not get a job, and learn how to make it. I might add, the farm of my youth was not a self-sufficient farm, so we had a pretty steep learning curve. And there is a lot to learn. When you have an established farm and have gained experience, pneumonia sweeping through your cattle herd would be a problem, but not insurmountable. Butchering chickens will no longer be an intimidating production. Reserves or other income will make poor beef prices a disappointment, rather than enough to drive you out of the business. It is vitally important you learn the skills necessary to provide for your family now, not when your survival depends on it.

The first thing you need to do is stop saving all your seeds, and plant them! (Keep enough in reserve in the likely case you are not able to harvest all your own seeds from your first gardens.) Even if you are in the city or suburbs, convert much of your manicured lawn to a garden. Without a lawn, there is still the option of container gardening and community gardens. There is a lot to learn about gardening, and even the most experienced gardeners are learning new things and still having unexplained crop failures. Square-Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew is an excellent resource. Master Gardeners at your local County Extension Office, as well as free publications offered there, will give specific recommendations for your area. The most important thing, in my experience, is to get out there and weed and water, and harvest when the time comes. We are all busy, but consider it therapeutic, or part of your homeschooling curriculum, or family quality time.

So now you have your harvest, and no one can eat as much zucchini as your garden was kind enough to provide you. Even if you haven’t been able to grow your own, buy bulk produce and practice putting it up yourself. Save up, and invest in the equipment you need to preserve your harvest. It could be a freezer, which although not viable for long term if the grid goes down, is great for now. We have zucchini bread in January. Lehman’s is a great resource for food preservation equipment, but Wal-mart has all your basic canning materials, as well. Canning was very intimidating for me, but in the long run, it is not as difficult as I believed. Get a book, read it, but then do it. Head knowledge is never the same as actually gaining the skill by doing it. A pressure canner is next on our list, in order to preserve meat and vegetables safely, in case we lose our freezer.

Next, of course, is livestock and larger-scale farming. Many may feel this is not an option because of your location. The Memsahib has already written in great detail about keeping rabbits, both in town and in the country. Bees are a great option for in town, and in many locations, chickens are legal, also. Both bees and chickens will be helpful in your gardening endeavors. Chickens are great for eating garden pests; just make sure your plants are mature enough to withstand their scratching, and fence them out when your tomatoes and zucchini are mature if you want to get any!

As for location, is it really necessary to live in town? For some, it may certainly be. For others, you may need to consider it. Jim is an advocate for moving to your retreat, so I won’t belabor the point. If you’re there, you should be taking advantage of it. While there may be little time for full-scale farming, you must do a little on the side to learn the skills before your life depends on it. And if you don’t have a retreat, consider other options. Is a local farmer or rancher willing to lease you a few acres to put some animals on or grow some wheat? We have chosen to rent a small place with less than 10 acres to hone our skills on. The house leaves a lot to be desired, and we could be living in a nicer place in town, but this was the trade-off we made.

Once you have found your few acres, work it as efficiently as you can. We enjoy the books Country Life by Paul Heiney (unfortunately out of print; try your library) and Guide to Self-Sufficient Living by John Seymour for getting the most out of your acreage. Country Life is more of a motivator/idea provoker, whereas Seymour’s book is more “how-to”. And, of course, a must-have is Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living, which is extremely detailed on the many subjects it covers. You Can Farm by Joel Salatin, while less self-sufficiency, is a fantastic book about farming, and getting the most out of your land, while putting the most into it. There are many examples where we are putting this into practice. What follows are what we have chosen, but the opportunities are diverse to becoming more self-sufficient. Research and choose what works according to your preferences and situation.

An easy choice was chickens. They provide eggs, meat, and several other services to improve our situation. Although there are different thoughts on this, we are still free-ranging our chickens until avian flu becomes more of a localized threat. They get plenty of protein from insects, the eggs are more nutritious due to the chicken’s high chlorophyll intake, they manage the horse and pig manure in the pastures by scratching through it, and all of this saves on feed costs for us. In addition, they keep down insects in the garden. In spring, we will hatch our own eggs. We could easily buy chicks, but believe hatching our own eggs is a skill to learn now, before we need to do so.

Our sow grazes out with our horses. Her grazing saving us feed costs, and if pigs are allowed to root, they don’t need minerals. It is not cost-efficient for us to keep a boar for only one sow, so we have learned how to artificially inseminate. In TEOTWAWKI, that will likely not be an option, but we pray by that time we will have enough land to keep a boar, as well as more sows. Not only are we gaining experience raising hogs, but are able to provide ourselves and extended family pork which is vegetarian-fed and antibiotic-free which we would otherwise be unable to afford. Also in the spring, we will turn part of our horse pasture (not that great, anyway) into a corn patch so we can at least supplement our pig and chicken feed. I have spent the last week digging up my last garden, and mixing all the great manure our animals have been kind enough to provide into it.

For a small acreage, hand tools are sufficient, although hard work. Although we have not expanded yet into growing our own grain, we stock up on tools as we can find them and afford them, and practice with them. We also have a team of Belgian Cross yearlings (from the mares we owned during our farming experiment), although I would recommend anyone new to horse farming buy an experienced team and get training. Doc Hammill in Deer Lodge, Montana provides numerous clinics as well as videos, and is very reputable. My husband will attend training next year to help start our colts right. Lynn R. Miller, also the editor of Small Farmer’s Journal, has several books which are great resources. Right now, the colts are hay burners, but we enjoy them. Since our goal is to have a large enough acreage to necessitate horses, we will keep them. Unlike tractors, you have to feed horses even when they are not working, but they can help make their own feed. And unlike tractors, they can make more of themselves when they wear out. They are also future transportation, if needed.

Next on our list will be to acquire a dairy animal. We have postponed this because of the time commitment involved and the requirement of daily milking. But we feel this is an important addition (especially considering the price of milk and the amount we go through!). Beyond teaching us the skills needed for keeping a dairy animal and providing artificial hormone-free milk, this will allow us the opportunity to learn to make butter and eventually, cheese. In addition, a milk cow’s calf will provide us with beef and extra milk will augment pig and chicken feed. Dairy goats are a better option for many people and deserve serious consideration.

I am not going to mislead you – this is a lot of work and money, too (although providing your own food saves money in the long run). My husband works a full-time job, while I homeschool our young, growing family, and we do a lot of things ourselves in the interest of saving money (cloth diapers, clotheslines, wood heat). That doesn’t give much time for self-sufficient farming, but we feel truly worth the current sacrifice. The argument I am making here is that there are a lot of skills that many used to know, that now nearly no one knows, and they are not that easy to learn! It has been a humbling experience for both my husband and I (a born perfectionist), who were successful in our careers, school, etc., to find we couldn’t do much of a practical nature! I prefer to learn now, rather than when my family’s survival depends on it. And we have a resource that many people in our society overlook – children. Children require a lot of love and care, but they do not require nonstop playtime. Our children are learning skills and do chores as their age and ability allow. I pray they will be much more skilled than we are. They are a force multiplier, particularly if you find something in which they are interested. Mom and Dad can’t be an expert in everything. For example, my #1 daughter wants to learn to spin yarn. So our plan is for her to become the resident sheep expert as well as the expert in yarn production.

Although it may be difficult to learn and find the time for, the ability to provide for yourself provides incredible rewards. If we should need to return to a less technologically “advanced” society, many people will not have the knowledge, skills, and determination to do so. A few forward-thinkers will. Which do you want to be?