The Urban Farming (2015)
The urban nanny goat.
BEFORE YOU GET ANIMALS
“All goats are mischievous thieves, gate-crashers, and trespassers. Also, they possess individual character, intelligence, and capacity for affection which can only be matched by the dog. Having once become acquainted with them I would as soon farm without a dog as without a goat.”
—David Mackenzie, Farmer in the Western Isles (1954)
Animals are much more complex than plants and have a lot of emotional and physical needs. That being said, farm animals also don’t have a huge learning curve. If you are a caring person who can recognize a living being’s needs, you can raise an animal. These are the basics that you absolutely need to know before getting started. In addition, it’s a really good idea to find someone who has the kind of animal you want and just spend a couple of hours picking their brain. In this case, you really can only learn by doing. Just start small and add more animals slowly so you don’t end up in trouble. It’s important to note that there is no way this book can cover everything you need to know about animals and how they fit within an urban farming system. This chapter is just a guide to help you make better farming decisions.
Understanding how an animal thinks is important for your well-being and the animal’s, even if the animal is a wild creature you encounter in the wilderness. Humans have the tendency to think of everything as a human—or “anthropomorphize” things. The only creatures that we can really do this with are house pets like cats and dogs. Animals learn by cause and effect, and it takes time and repetition to learn behavior based on results. Much of what an animal does is based on instinct. I believe that an animal does feel attachment to a human, but it is also important to remember that the love the dog feels is doggy love. It is an instinctual love that is descended from the wolf pack, and that is the way the dog is relating to you. No matter how long an animal lives with you, it will still react in the ways that it has evolved to react. Anything that an animal does in relation to you will be your fault.
While most small farmers don’t have to worry too much about biosecurity, you still need to protect yourself against foreign health risks to your animals. It is just common sense to protect their health by preventing exposure to diseases from other animals, especially lately with avian flu, mad cow, hoof and mouth, etc. Small farms and homesteads tend to have hardier livestock. You can follow these precautions to help raise your animals to be hardy and build their immune system just as you would your children.
- Limit access.Unless you are making money from agri-tourism, you should limit the number of people who come in and have access to your animals. If you must have lots of visitors, they should clean their shoes before walking around. It is especially dangerous to have guests who have been overseas less than a week before; they should wait longer before being exposed to your animals.
- Change your clothes. When you go off the farm, and especially if you have visited an animal show, auction, or another farm with animals, change your clothes and shoes before handling your animals. Pick one pair of shoes that you only wear on your own farm, and another pair for going places.
- Purchase carefully. When you are going to buy a new animal, be very careful whom you are getting it from. Do your research and buy only from breeders with a good reputation. Make sure you know how healthy their herd is. Sometimes it’s better to buy from someone who has had animal health problems but fixed them, rather than someone who has no idea how healthy their herd is.
- Quarantine.When you buy an animal, or if one of your animals leaves the farm for any reason, quarantine it for at least twenty-one days. When it is by itself, observe it for disease so there is no risk of it spreading anything to the rest of your livestock.
- Keep clean. You don’t want mice, rats, and other pests to eat your animal’s feed. Not only do they make a big mess, they also poop in the food and spread disease. Use prevention to keep these critters out by keeping food in rodent-proof containers and keeping the area clean. You should also clean anything that comes in contact with manure, and it is recommended that you disinfect it.
- Observe. Keep a close eye on all your animals every day so that you will notice any unusual behavior or symptoms, such as blisters around the nose and lips, blisters around the hooves, or staggering. That way you can catch a problem right away and hopefully stop it from spreading. If any of your animals dies for an unknown reason, take it to a vet and have him find the cause.
First Aid Kit
Note: Everything in the kit should be kept cleaned and sterilized.
First aid kit checklist:
- Restraint equipment (for individual animals)
- Digital rectal thermometer with string and alligator clip
- Stainless steel bucket
- 16, 18, & 20 gauge hypodermic needles, 1-1.5” long
- 5cc, 12cc, & 60cc syringes
- IV complex hose
- Obstetric chains and handles
- Neonatal resuscitator
- Neonatal esophageal feeder
- Feeding tube (sized for individual animals)
- Small refrigerator for medicine
- Funnel and soft rubber tubing
- Cotton balls
- Cotton rags
Wound kit checklist:
- Rubber gloves
- Antiseptic cream
- Betadine cleansing solution
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Nonstick gauze pads
- 4” x 4” standard gauze pads
- Cotton roll
- Vet wrap
- Adhesive tape
How They Fit into the System
In a permaculture system, bunnies are not kept as pets. They provide meat, manure, and fur. Unlike other animals, they can never be allowed to roam the gardens because they will eat everything and multiply beyond control. Instead, they live in a hutch with a mesh floor so that their droppings will fall down for easy cleanup. A worm bin can be placed underneath for even easier cleanup. Rabbits eat grass, leaves, twigs, hay, vegetables, and kitchen scraps, and they are especially practical for urban farmers because rabbit hutches are legal in most places. Any rabbit breed can be eaten, but there are rabbits that are designed specifically for meat and grow to be much larger, such as California, New Zealand, Champagne d’Argent, or Florida White rabbits.
Rabbits aren’t fussy about their living space.
The nutritional value of rabbit is not as high as chicken or other meat staples, but since they are very self-reliant and quiet they make a valuable meat source. They need a constant supply of fresh water and the wire mesh of their cage should not be larger than half an inch. The hutch should be kept clean and dry and be sheltered from the weather.
Rabbits breed very prolifically and easily, but may not always be the best mothers. Small breeds should not have babies until they are six months old, and large breeds not until they are nine months old. Males and females should be kept separate and only put together for breeding for a short time under supervision by putting the doe into the male’s cage so that he notices her. It’s a good idea to have him try again about eight hours later just to make sure. Once she is pregnant, she should be provided with a nesting box and soft material such as hay or down. After the babies are weaned, the males and females should be separated so that they will not breed too early. They become very territorial and will need their own cages shortly anyway. It should be noted here that while siblings should not mate, it is common practice among rabbit breeders to allow mother/son and cousins to breed. Don’t breed a rabbit with defects or illness, and choose a good breeding pair promoting the best traits. Around thirty days later, the doe will kindle or give birth.
Newborn rabbits in a clean nest of hay and fur.
A doe needs a nesting box, which is a low-sided wood box with a tall back and a roof awning that comes down over the back, in her cage at least a few days before she kindles. She will pull her own fur out to make a nest. If she doesn’t, you can gently pull small bits of fur out all over her body. A couple of days before birth her fur will loosen and this will be easy to do. You can also add clean straw for even more warmth. Sometimes does don’t give birth in the box, and you will have to move the babies back into the nest. They will probably be too cold to survive, but you can try to warm them up. If you are able to save them, put them back in the nest in a little hollow of fur and cover them. Sometimes does eat their young, which can be caused by anything from stress to poor nutrition to just disturbing her when she was about to give birth. She may just be a terrible mother. Sometimes does don’t feed their young, or they step on them and kill the babies accidently. It is possible to try to feed them but chances are they won’t survive. Since she can have another litter soon, it may not be worth the trouble of feeding them every two hours. It is typical to breed a doe every six weeks and wean the babies around five weeks old, and with such an intense breeding schedule you may be able to raise three hundred pounds of meat.
How They Fit into the System
Chickens are foragers, so the best setup is to have them in a foraging area, but still close enough to your house to be convenient. They provide meat, eggs, feathers, fertilizer, pest control, and weed control. The chickens live in a coop that has an attached pen that runs along the border of the gardens and, if possible, an orchard. It should also have a second pen for chicks. The trees and ground in their pen should be well mulched with straw, corn stalks, sawdust, yard waste, or bark, with wire mesh around the trees holding the mulch in. The chicken run can be planted with fruit trees (which will drop fruit on the ground), grains, corn, sunflowers, and greens. When weeding the garden, the waste can just be thrown over the fence into the chicken run. The run is divided into several pens planted in succession so the chickens can be rotated when the plants are ready, and each pen also has a log on the ground. The log is left to sit for a while, then flipped over to reveal all the pill bugs and worms. The fence dividing these pens and keeping the chickens from your other gardens should be at least five feet high.
A backyard chicken coop that provides great predator protection.
Chickens can’t be let into the mulched gardens or orchards that are used for food production because they’ll destroy the mulch. However, you can let them into an unmulched orchard. When the orchard is young, only let bantams or very small chickens forage, where they will eat dropped fruit and weeds and fertilize the soil. There should be no more than fifty to one hundred chickens per acre in the orchard, or in a pasture with other breeds. Twenty-five light breed hens producing eggs will eat a quarter pound of food per day, and even more in a heavy breed. If you are using chickens as a cash crop, you may want to grow three hundred chickens per acre on a well-planned forage pasture. No other animals should be with them.
Alternatively, and this is especially the case for urban dwellers, chickens can live in a chicken tractor or ark. This is simply a small house for fewer chickens that is built to be moved around a yard or pasture. There are a myriad of designs and even commercially available chicken tractors made out of plastic that can be moved around a pasture in order to let grass grow again. See the Chicken Tractor section for how to build one.
The pasture for a tractor or pens can and should have shrubs such as pigeon pea, berries, and fruits, or plants like acacias, clovers, grasses, chicory, comfrey, and dandelions. Insects and larvae can be introduced by having a large manure pile or mulches, or you can grow your own crickets. You can give them cottage cheese or other dairy for more protein. They also need ground shells for minerals and grit to help them digest their food, which can come from their own eggshells, or from mussels or snails that you raise. If you don’t provide this, they might eat their own eggs. Gravel, sand, and pebbles can also be put in a container on the ground for grit. See the section on ducks for a homemade poultry feed formula.
The general consensus among free-range chicken owners is that you need at least one hundred chickens to make any kind of money from the eggs. A hundred chickens that lay a decent number of eggs, up to three hundred each per year, will give you thirty thousand eggs. These are usually sold for a couple of dollars (US) per dozen in a rural area and slightly more in a suburban location. If you take away your own share, you could make a couple of thousand dollars per year on them. This kind of profit is only possible if they are free range; otherwise, the money will be eaten up in feed costs.
Check your local laws regarding selling eggs. Usually, law requires that the eggs be clean and if you are selling more a certain number, they must be graded, or given a letter grade based on their quality. They don’t usually have to be washed, or put in a new container, but they do have to be refrigerated. Selling eggs in a free-range setting isn’t an endeavor that will pay your mortgage, but it will provide some extra income, especially since your chickens will be producing more eggs than you can use.
Chickens molt, or lose their feathers, once a year and usually in the fall, and they also stop laying eggs. The feathers will start falling from the neck, then the breast, thighs, and back, then the wings and tail. Molting is usually triggered by having less sunlight from shorter days. By using a light that is connected to a timer in the coop you can keep egg production up. If your chickens molt in the summer, it may be caused by stress, such as a food or water shortage, disease, cold temperature, or sudden lighting changes. Chickens also stop laying just because they get old. Their comb, vents, and wattle become shrunken and pale, their body will be smaller, and as time goes on, their vent, eye ring, and beak will become yellow.
The coop must be at least 3 square foot (0.3 m) per chicken. A manageable size is 7 x 7 feet (2.1 x 2.1 m), or 49 square feet (4.5 square m), which is enough space for sixteen chickens. A small chick-house can be attached to the side that is fortified from predators. Roosts are long poles or boards at least 18 inches (45 cm) from the wall and low enough for them to fly up to. Nesting boxes are square boxes around the wall about 18 inches (45 cm) from the ground, at least 12 x 12 inches (30 x 30 cm) in size. These boxes can be attached to the outside of the coop with a lid so that you don’t need to go in to disturb the chickens every day to get the eggs. The general rule is one box for every two hens. The chicken door should be 12 inches high (30 cm). In a cold climate, the coop needs extra insulation and should be able to be closed up at night. The following list of guidelines will help your chickens stay healthy:
These can be planted in your pens and pasture for your chickens to eat from. See the chapter on plants for more information.
Fruit and nut trees
Siberian pea shrub
Litter: Spread a moisture-absorbing cover such as wood shavings at the bottom of the coop. It should be at least four inches deep, loose, and dry. The coop should have proper ventilation and few water spills. Instead of cleaning it out once a week, you can pile it up until it is two feet deep.
Cleanliness: All houses and equipment should be disinfected before any new chickens arrive. Remove wet litter, moldy or wet feed, dirty water, or clean out nests when droppings get in. Once a year the house should also be cleaned and painted.
Water: Chickens should have fresh water every day, and it should always be available to them. The best way to do this is buy a chicken waterer that is designed to hang from the ceiling—it should be kept off the ground.
How to Keep Chickens Healthy:
- Disinfect the coop and equipment before you bring in new chickens.
- Keep bedding clean and dry, cleaning it out once a week.
- Clean and disinfect the coop once a year.
- Provide fresh water every day, making sure it is always available.
- Separate old birds from young birds to prevent the spread of diseases.
- Provide a small amount of crushed shells every day.
- Supply grit and keep water and food containers clean to prevent worms and parasites.
- Prevent cannibalism by providing adequate space and nutrition.
- Ensure that birds get needed vitamin D. In a northern winter, you may need to provide cod liver oil.
Young birds: Keep the young birds away from the old birds because they can catch diseases they aren’t immune to. They may also get pecked to death.
Windows: Put the window on the south side in northern climates, on the side of the roof that is lower so that the roof overhang shelters the window. The window should be able to be opened to provide adequate ventilation.
Doors: You will need a human door and a chicken door (about one square foot) that can be shut from the outside. You can close the little door at night for protection but you’ll have to get up early to open it.
The yard: Some people let their chickens roam the property, and others make a yard fenced with chicken wire. Smaller chickens need a fence of at least five feet. They enjoy litter such as straw, leaves, corn stalks, or cobs to scratch in.
The most common small design for a chicken tractor is an A-frame, with a triangular house and a totally enclosed triangular pen covered in chicken wire. The other common design is a rectangular pen. The house takes up one-third of the total space and has a square cut out for the chickens to go out into their tiny run. A side wall or roof of the house is hinged so it can be opened up for collecting eggs and cleaning.
Another feature that makes moving the chickens around much easier is wheels. The wheels must be set very low to the ground, as any gaps around the bottom of the pen can allow predators to get in. The solution to this is an extra wood barrier that is set around the pen that is simply removed when you have to move the chickens.
The A-frame chicken tractor.
There are so many different types of chickens that when people start to shop for their first batch they are often overwhelmed. In North America, most of our eggs come from white hens that lay white eggs, but there are hundreds of other breeds to choose from. These are divided into two categories: light or heavy. The light breeds can fly short distances. They aren’t good mothers and aren’t as hardy as the heavy breeds, but they are excellent at foraging and don’t usually need supplementary food. The heavy breeds don’t fly, are better mothers, and usually lay brown eggs. They tend to be hardier and lay eggs longer during the season, but they aren’t as good at foraging. Some breeds are also much nicer than others, cutting down on pecking order problems. When chickens see a weakness in a bird either because of size or injury, they often gang up on it and peck it repeatedly, sometimes to death. Orpington is one of the most popular dual-purpose breeds. They are fairly laid-back and easy to handle, making them a good choice for a beginner.
Twenty-five light breed hens producing eggs will eat five to seven pounds of feed per day. You can buy a commercial feed (preferably with 15-16 percent protein), or you can mix your own by combining ground corn with proteins and minerals. Chickens can also eat kitchen waste, but only once a day, and only enough to eat in 5-10 minutes. Onions and fruit peels can make the eggs taste funny. Chickens also need ground eggshells or oyster shells and grit to help them digest their food; it should be sprinkled on top. Remember to change the feed gradually over a week, increasing new feed from one-quarter to one-half to three-quarters. What most people do is feed lots of milk, as much grain as they want, a whole pile of scraps, then sprinkle the egg or oyster shells on top, and provide a continuous supply of forage and lots of water. It doesn’t have to be scientific. Gravel, sand, and pebbles can be put in a container for grit.
Types of feed:
Commercial feed: Usually contains chicken parts ground up and labeled as “protein.” For chicks, crumbles are best. For older chickens, pellets or mash work well. They come in packages formulated by age so you just pick the package suitable for you.
Starter feed antibiotic: A commercial chick feed that contains antibiotics. It should only be used for a week because the birds can become dependent on it, and it is expensive. Any feed with antibiotics should not be used for birds that will be butchered in the next week.
Homegrown chick feed: Mix two parts finely ground wheat, a little corn, and oats; one part protein: such as fish meal, meat meal, canned cat food, hardboiled eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, worms, bugs, or grubs; and one part greens: alfalfa meal, alfalfa leaves, or fresh greens, such as finely chopped lettuce. You can add wheat germ, sunflower seeds, linseed meal, etc. Their diet should be 20 percent protein. Besides sand for grit, sprinkle ground oyster shells or egg shells.
Homegrown adult feed: The best meal is about the same as for chicks, but you can use slightly less protein, 15-16 percent. Chickens can eat peels, sour milk, pickles, meat scraps, rancid lard, overripe and damaged fruits and vegetables, pods and vines, table scraps and stuff to throw out of the fridge. They won’t eat onions, peppers, cabbage, or citrus fruit. They shouldn’t eat moldy food.
Vaccinations: Birds should be vaccinated before twenty weeks for infectious bronchitis and Newcastle disease. If you buy pullets, they should also have been vaccinated for Marek’s disease in addition to the others. Consult your local veterinarian for other vaccinations needed for your area (some places have fowl pox or other diseases).
Parasites: Mites and lice are the common external parasites, and roundworms, cecal worms and capillary worms are the most common internal parasites. Cleanliness and management will prevent them. If you get external parasites, dust with wood ashes, powdered sulfur or diatomaceous earth, or dip the birds in 2 ounces of sulfur and 1 ounce of soap per gallon of water. The affected birds must be quarantined in order to prevent spreading. Worms can be helped by feeding them garlic and lots of grit.
Cannibalism: Birds naturally eat each other, but it is caused by stress, overcrowding, not enough food or water, space, malnutrition, the wrong temperature or the sight of blood on a chicken. Make sure you are not causing the problem, and then debeak the murderous bird. Use a sharp knife or toenail clippers to cut off the tip of the beak (but not far enough to cause bleeding).
Injuries: A broken leg can be splinted with a popsicle stick and masking tape; however, if the chicken does not have a disease, you may want to go ahead and use it for meat.
Egg-bound chicken: This is when an egg gets jammed in the chicken. She will strain to lay it but won’t be able to and will look constipated. Pour warm olive oil in her vent (her rear), and then try to rotate the egg out yourself.
Prolapsed vent: This can happen when a pullet lays too early. The end of the oviduct inside the bird will hang out of the vent. Wash the protruding tissue with warm water and a mild antiseptic, then lubricate with petroleum jelly. Push the mass of tissue back into the vent gently, dry her off, and then separate her from the rest. Feed her lots of greens and fresh water (no grain) to slow the egg production. In seven days she will be OK, but if this happens often you may want to use her for meat.
Impacted crop: Also called crop-bound, this is when the chicken eats something wrong and it gets stuck in the throat so it can’t eat. It will have a fat, soft throat and move its neck convulsively. Pour a teaspoon of olive oil down the throat and gently massage the neck, working the contents up and out of the mouth. Give the bird only water for twenty-four hours, then feed solids. If this happens often the neck muscles were injured, so you will have to turn it into meat.
Vitamin D: A bird that doesn’t get enough vitamin D won’t thrive, will lay thin-shelled eggs, have leg deformities or other problems. In winter, if you live too far north to let them run in the sun, you can give them cod liver oil.
Only really big commercial farms have lots of diseases. Usually a small flock has very few. You can’t eat a sick bird, so prevention is the key. If you do find a sick chicken, isolate it, keep it warm and feed it well. Some things can be vaccinated against, but usually a small flock doesn’t need it unless your local area is having an outbreak and a vet recommends it. If the bird dies, you will have to bury it.
Diseases that can be vaccinated:
Marek’s disease: Symptoms of this disease include leg paralysis, drooping wings, and weight loss. Birds may have tumors on their internal organs. A bird may carry the disease but not show symptoms, but other birds may die from it. The vaccination does not work after exposure to the disease for three or more days, and infected flocks will be contaminated forever.
Infections Lyrngotracheitis: Birds gasp for air and cough up blood, and it is frequently fatal. To avoid this, vaccinate after four weeks of age and administer a booster every year.
Fowl pox: People get chicken pox, chickens get fowl pox. Humans can’t get fowl pox. Birds get round scabs on unfeathered skin, fever, and weight loss. Birds that get it in the mouth sometimes die of starvation or suffocation. It is spread by insect bites or through wounds. All birds in the flock should be vaccinated in early spring or fall, with a yearly booster.
Respiratory diseases: Viruses such as Newcastle’s disease, infectious bronchitis, mycoplasmosis, turkey and chicken coryza, and avian influenza all have similar symptoms including eye swelling, runny nose, coughing, and poor weight gain. Get a blood test, bacterial culture, and virus isolation to find out what your birds have.
- Gather eggs at least once a day (three times is recommended) and clean out the nests once a week. If you leave them too long the chance of breakage is higher, which can cause the bad habit of egg eating. Separate dirty eggs from clean eggs.
- To clean dirty eggs, use the hottest water you can tolerate to prevent any microbes from entering the pores of the shell. Do not soak the eggs, and if you don’t have hot water, don’t wash them.
- Use nonfoaming and unscented detergent (if it has a scent the egg will absorb it), such as dishwasher or laundry detergent or Borax, and wear gloves. Rinse off with clean water.
As mentioned previously, molting is a natural occurence that can be caused by stress or less sunlight when your hens won’t produce eggs. It is possible to force a molt, which can make the hen’s production life last longer, if you do it at about fourteen months old. This simply gives them a much-needed period of rest.
Forcing a molt:
Day 1: Turn off the artificial lighting, so that the chickens are only getting about eight hours of natural light a day. Keep giving them water, but remove all feed for ten days.
Day 11: Give the chickens a full feed of cracked grain for two to three weeks.
Two to three weeks later: Feed the normal laying ration and turn the lights on again. The chickens will be in production in six to eight weeks.
“Retiring” a Hen
You can tell a chicken has stopped laying if the comb, vents, and wattle are shrunken and pale. Their body will be smaller and their pubic bones will be close together and possibly covered in fat. Yellow coloring will gradually return to the vent first, then the eye ring, earlobe, beak, and shank. Unfortunately, her laying life will be over and she is no longer pulling her weight. It’s time to butcher her and replace her, but unfortunately, she won’t taste very good and she can only really be boiled into soup. Most serious chicken owners retire their hens by two years, at that point they won’t be as tough as a three-year-old hen but still not laying as they could be.
You can purchase eggs from any agricultural store or dealer. Almost no municipality allows you to own a rooster because of the noise they cause. Roosters are very loud and they crow at all hours of the night and day, so it will be impossible for you to fertilize your own eggs. Considering how much trouble a rooster is and how unreliable they are at fertilizing, the eggs from the local dealer are really the ideal option anyway. Rather than incubating eggs you also have the option of purchasing chicks, which is described in the following section.
Electric incubators are cheap and easy to use, but you can make your own. Use a Styrofoam cooler or a cardboard or wooden box with a glass or plastic top. A wood incubator should be 11x16 inches, 11 inches high with a hinged front door. Drill ⅜-inch holes on each side, two near the top on the 11-inch sides, and two near the bottom on the 16-inch sides, for circulation. Make a tray of wire mesh on a frame 2 inches from the floor of the box, and put a water pan under it. Place the eggs on the tray and put a thermometer in with them. Use a 40-watt bulb to keep the eggs at 99.5°F at all times. Keep the pan of water full so that the air remains humid. It is very important to turn the eggs gently, a quarter way around, three or five times a day (never an even number of times, or the chick will lie on the same side every night). Mark an X on each egg to keep track. After ten days, make sure the large end is higher than the small end. After eighteen days, stop turning the eggs, and raise the humidity in the incubator. Most eggs hatch between nineteen and twenty-two days. When a chick pecks a hole from the inside, it is called pipping. The chick may start to pip on the eighteenth day, but it won’t actually do it until there is a hole showing. Whatever you do, don’t open the incubator, don’t even touch it. Don’t help the chicks get out of the eggs; they must do it on their own or they might die.
Candling an Egg
Some eggs may not work, and then they can rot and even explode. To find out if you have an unfertilized egg, make the room dark and use a very bright light behind the egg to look through the shell. If you see a clear egg, it is not growing. If you see a dark haze or gray clouds, it is rotting. If you see a dark red circle and no veins, the embryo died. If you see a small dark center and a network of veins, the egg is good.
Raising Chicks in a Brooder
A brooder is simply a box with a light that keeps chicks warm. You can buy a brooder, or you can make one by using a box with a red heat lamp and a thermometer. The bulb should be low-wattage, and the temperature should be about 95°F (35°C). A box 30 inches square (76 cm) with a 69-watt bulb can brood fifty chicks. Put your hand down to test the heat. If it is uncomfortably hot, the lamp is either too close or too hot. You may need to switch to a bulb with a lower wattage. Check the chicks two or three times per night the first week. If they are cold, they will huddle under the light, and if they are too hot they will stay near the walls. If they are content, they will look and sound like it by cheeping happily. Decrease the heat 5°F per week, so that by six weeks it is 70°F (21°C). Then you can turn the heat off unless it gets chilly. As the chicks get older, tape another box next to the first and cut a door. Hang heavy cloth in the door and the other room will be cool, so the chicks can run in and out. The light should be red or green and very dim, as a sudden adjustment to total darkness could kill them. Chicks also need water and bedding. You will need one gallon (4 L) of water per fifty chicks. Keep the water clean and full at all times, and make sure it is at room temperature, not cold, although you can’t put the water right under the heat lamp or it will be too hot and just evaporate. The first week use burlap or cloth rags (with no loose threads) laid out flat for bedding, over a layer of newspaper. Then, when they have learned what food is, graduate to a thick layer of black-and-white shredded newspaper, hay (not straw), or wood shavings. If you do use wood shavings, the pieces should be too big to fit in a chick’s mouth. Stir the litter every day, and remove wet spots to prevent spraddle legs (legs turning outward) and infection.
If you hatched your own, don’t give them food at first. Wait until they start pecking at the floor; then give them food. If you bought them, have food ready because they will be three days old. For the first week, give food on a paper plate, egg carton, cardboard, or some other surface that will bring the food up closer to their eye level. Once they figure out what food is, put the food in a tuna can or a trough—the container should be difficult to walk in and scratch food out of, but short enough to reach in. Each chick will need one inch of feeding space until they are thirty days old, then they will need three inches. Don’t put the feeder right under the heat lamp. Fill the feeder only halfway full to prevent them from throwing the food out. Clean out old food each time you fill it, and keep it full all the time. Chicks need small grit to help them digest food so sprinkle sand on top of feed.
Chick Dust and Moving Chicks
Chick dust is a powder that comes off the droppings when they dry that can get into your lungs and could potentially even cause lung disease. When birds start to molt, they can also release down into the air. Don’t keep chicks in the house for very long. When they are four weeks they can stand on anything, so if you have a separate room in the coop (not partitioned with chicken wire, which they can walk through), transfer the heat lamp and box to it. When they are six weeks you can remove the box, and when they are ten to twelve weeks you can put them with the other chickens (if they are big enough and weather is warm). These small chickens are called pullets and should be moved before they start laying. If the weather is warm, after one week you can let the chicks out on grass to run, but they get tired easily and will need to come back to get warm.
If your chicks get diarrhea, it is a sign of coccidiosis. The risk is higher if the birds are overcrowded or hungry. If they get it, add 1 tablespoon of plain vinegar to their drinking water. If a chick dies, remove it immediately so the coccidiosis doesn’t spread. Some chicks get a pasted vent, which is the term that describes when a chick’s back end becomes dangerously clogged with droppings. Use lukewarm water to remove the droppings, then rub petroleum jelly on the area, and make sure the chick is completely dry. Petroleum jelly can also be put on chicks that are getting pecked.
How They Fit into the System
Ducks are the gentlest and most versatile poultry. They eat algae and weeds from ponds, slugs, snails, grubs, soft greens and grasses, water plants, small tree greens, and grains. At the same time, they fertilize the soil and the water, which improves fish production. They like to walk on small plants and they eat some of them, too. Therefore, they work better in a well-mulched area with plants that are well established. They also need less care and feeding than chickens, although they need more planning. While a few bantam chickens can be thrown in a greenhouse, a flock of ducks require lots of water and grazing. If you have other animals that need to drink from watering troughs or ponds, the ducks must be separated from those water sources or they will make them too dirty. The general rule is that you can keep twenty-five ducks per acre of pond surface; however, ducks don’t need a pond necessarily. For an urban farmer, this means that the ducks need a place to splash around, at least a few inches deep. If you have a small pool three feet across and twelve to eighteen inches deep that ducks can dip their heads and feet in, the water will prevent diseases and feed them with bugs. Most city duck owners set a bathtub in the ground that the ducks can play in. If the duck area is next to a garden, you can open it up now and then so they can eat the slugs and pests, but only when the plants are at least as big as the ducks.
Ducks can be quite happy with this minimal amount of water.
Homemade poultry chick feed:
30 percent grain: finely ground wheat, a little corn, and oats
20 percent protein: fish meal, meat meal, yogurt, cottage cheese, worms, bugs, and grubs
50 percent greens: alfalfa meal, alfalfa leaves or fresh greens such as chopped lettuce
Extras: wheat germ, sunflower seeds, linseed meal
Sand for grit
Ground shells: mussel, snail, oyster, or eggshells
Homemade poultry adult feed:
30 percent grain: finely ground wheat, a little corn, and oats
15 percent protein: fish meal, meat meal, yogurt, cottage cheese, worms, bugs, and grubs
55 percent greens: alfalfa meal, alfalfa leaves or fresh greens such as chopped lettuce
Extras: wheat germ, sunflower seeds, linseed meal
Sand for grit
Ground shells: mussel, snail, oyster, or eggshells
If the ducks have adequate water, a grassy yard with new grass, and a forage garden with bugs in it, then you won’t need much extra feed. Ducks need young grass to eat, and if their pasture is too small and unvaried, they will quickly destroy a grassy backyard. If you must give them additional food, wheat is the best grain for ducks, and it goes well with oats. Hard round fruits and vegetables need to be crushed for them first. Liquid milk and hard-boiled eggs are good sources of protein for laying birds, and all ducks need calcium from eggshells or seashells, and grit. Ducks, unlike other poultry, need a little more niacin in their diet, but lots of fresh greens or peas should be enough to provide them with what they need. In turn, they will give you eggs and meat, feathers, pest control, and fertilizer.
Ducks are social creatures and need a flock to be happy, so you’ll need to have at least two ducks or more. Each duck needs four square feet of housing. During the day this can be a three-sided shelter near the pond, but at night they need to be kept away from predators. They can be put in a simple shed. This shed should have a door for people so that you can harvest all the valuable fertilized straw. Ducks can usually fly and need to be clipped, or they will fly around your whole property or even leave completely. Use big scissors to clip off the ends of long feathers of one wing when they first grow, and after each molting after that. Don’t cut during the molting or you may cause fatal bleeding.
In the winter, they will run out of forage and can quickly turn the area around the pond into mud. Throw down another layer of mulch, such as fallen leaves or hay, as they stir up the earth. Ducks can tolerate freezing temperatures as long as they can still run back into their three-sided shelter away from the wind when they need to.
There are several breeds that are popular with duck owners that are better for eggs, meat, or both. Khaki Campbell is the most popular and was the first domestic duck breed, followed by Indian Runners. They produce just as many eggs as chickens, but are not good meat birds. Meat breeds include Muscovy, Rouen, and Pekin. To find a breed that is dual purpose or works well for meat and eggs, you will have to look to history and pick a heritage breed. Heritage breeds are types that were raised by small farmers over hundreds of years and are now not as commercially viable. Because of this, they are dying out. Ancona, Appleyard, Buff, Magpie, and Saxony are good dual-purpose breeds. Saxony is probably the best of these for their foraging and egg-laying ability.
Duck versus Chicken
Ducks may be nicer, but they are noisier. They do better around children than chickens, but make sure that you always act and talk gently around them or they will startle easily. Duck eggs taste different than chicken eggs, and ponds will add different flavors. You can cook duck eggs just like chicken eggs, except they can be a bit tougher—when frying, add a bit of water.
Duck males and females are difficult to tell apart. The female will have a loud, raspy quack, and the male will be a bit quieter or sometimes silent. Some male ducks will also become very protective of the females. If you have a motherly duck, it is best to let her raise her own ducklings, as she’ll do a better job than you. Ducks will start laying in the spring around six to seven months old and keep laying for three years or longer. They always lay in the morning and are very scheduled, so let them out of the barn after ten in the morning and then lure them back into the barn in the evening with a handful of grain. A mother duck and her ducklings should be kept separate from the other ducks until the chicks are six to eight weeks old. It has been recommended that very young ducks under five weeks old should also be kept away from the pond.
Brooding is about the same as for chicken, but the holders will have to be bigger to accommodate the bigger eggs. The temperature should be 99-100°F for forced air, or 101-102°F for still air. The eggs need to be kept very humid and moist. To do this either spray lukewarm water on them once a day or put a large sponge into the water pan and sponge the eggs gently with warm water when you turn them. Stop turning the eggs on the twenty-fifth day but keep spraying them with water until they pip. It will take twenty-eight days (except for Muscovy, which is thirty-five days), and on that day give one last spray and leave them alone.
Caring for Ducklings
Each duckling will need 1½ feet of floor space until they are seven weeks, then they will need 2½ square feet. For every thirty ducklings, you will need a 250-watt heat lamp, a little higher than you would need for chickens. Leave the light on all night, and make sure the outer edge of the heat circle is 90°F. Reduce the heat 5°F every week until it is at 70°F. The first two weeks the ducks should not be allowed to get wet, but they should have a drinking trough at least 2 inches deep, and only 1 inch wide. At four to six weeks, turn off the heat unless it is super cold. By four weeks, they should have started growing feathers so they can go outside in the daytime. Any other duck care is just like chickens.
Instead of chicken feeders for ducklings, use small box tops near the heat lamp, and then graduate to rough paper, such as the bottom of grocery store paper bags. You can use commercial chicken starter feed if it doesn’t have antibiotics and it is recommended for ducks. To make your own feed, give them cooked oatmeal with water for breakfast, scrambled eggs with water for lunch, and whole wheat bread with water for dinner, with some cut up greens. Gradually give them more and more greens, and at two weeks start giving them some grit.
PIGEONS AND QUAIL
How They Fit into the System
Pigeons are kept in tall cages that you can walk around in. Quail can be kept in much smaller cages and up to six can be raised in a square foot (0.09 m), although for our purposes we would want to give them more space than that. Quail can also live in the greenhouse because they don’t eat the plants; pigeons eat seeds and grain, and quail eat insects. They provide eggs and meat, and like rabbits can be legally grown in the city. For people who live in urban locations and are not able to raise chickens, pigeons and quail are sometimes allowed (although not necessarily in the quantities you will want to raise). Quail are considered wildlife, and in many places you may need to get a game bird license. A breeding pair of pigeons can produce twelve squabs, or baby pigeons, per year. Squabs are considered a gourmet dish and are incredibly easy to raise. Quail lay about two hundred eggs a year (almost every day), depending on how much light they have. If you add lighting during the winter, they can produce three hundred or more eggs. Unlike pigeons, quail aren’t very good at brooding their own eggs, and like chickens, they need a little extra help. They are more often raised for the eggs than for their meat, because they are smaller than pigeons but do lay more eggs.
The pigeon coop should be at least 6 by 8 feet square (1.8 x 2.5 m), and 7 feet tall (2 m). Each breeding pair also needs a nesting box attached to the wall off the ground, filled with straw or hay, and a constant supply of fresh water. Pigeons and quail are social animals, so it is better to have at least three breeding pairs at any one time. There are pigeon breeds just for show, but you are looking for a large meat variety like Cropper, White King, or Silver King. Quail breeds raised for meat include Coturnix (Japanese) and Eastern Bobwhite.
Pigeon coop made of recycled materials. The birds can fly out the top.
Pigeons and quail can both be allowed to fly free during the day because they will return to the coop at night. They will eat from the garden and fertilize everything, and it is a common practice. There is a much higher chance that predators will eat them if you do this, but make sure that they get closed in securely at night when they return to the nest. While most coops are designed to walk into, you could also design a coop that sits off the ground like a rabbit hutch to deter possums or weasels.
Pigeons mate for life and need very little care. As long as you have a breeding pair together, they will find a nesting box and settle in to make babies. Both take turns sitting on the eggs, which will hatch in eighteen days. Coturnix quail eggs will hatch in eighteen days and Bobwhite in twenty-three days. Pigeons will feed the squabs regurgitated food, and after twenty-eight days they can be butchered, before they start to fly. Quail can be butchered in six weeks. To kill a squab or quail, take it from the nest in the morning before it eats, cut off the head and hang it to bleed out (the same as you would a chicken). The feathers are carefully pulled out without scalding. Remove the feet and throw them out, and cut the body from the vent to the breastbone and remove the organs. Save the gizzard, heart, and liver. Rinse with cold water and refrigerate or freeze as soon as possible. It takes two squabs to make a meal for one person.
It is difficult to tell which birds are male and which are female. You will want to eventually replace your first breeding pairs with younger pairs, so you will have to watch their behavior. Males are noisy and busy strutting, while females are very quiet and sit still.
How Geese Fit into the System
Geese eat grass and weeds, and in return will fertilize the soil while leaving your crops and mulch alone. They also protect your property from predators and provide eggs, meat, and feathers. They should only be allowed into a well-established area so that they won’t squash any young shoots. They eat fruit and vegetables so they should be removed before your garden ripens.
Geese in the garden.
Geese can be let into the vegetable garden after plants like strawberries and tomatoes have grown to the point that they won’t sustain any real damage when the geese walk on them, but usually they will live in their own pen or with ducks. Put seven geese per acre in the field when they are more than eight weeks old, and let them graze until spring when the sprouts come up. There should be a fence around the field that is at least three feet high so they won’t get into any other gardens.
Geese can survive with a small pond just like ducks, but heavy breeds won’t breed unless they have more water. Six geese are the maximum population per acre of water surface. If there is enough of it, they can also live just off grass pasture and, unlike ducks, they eat older grass. Geese are meat birds, and do well as watchdogs or guards, although they are very quiet. If you keep a goose for a long time, it can become too big for you to handle and become dangerous if you aren’t around it every day, but a meat goose doesn’t get big enough to pose a threat, because you’ll eat it first.
There are breeds of geese for eggs and some for meat. Dark breeds are harder to feather when butchering, which is why you always see pictures of the traditional white goose in farm scenery. It is difficult to tell the difference between a male and a female unless you are practiced in flipping them upside down and looking in their vent. The easiest but less accurate way is to watch the flock for geese with a broader head, longer neck and more aggressiveness. A gander (male) has a deeper, louder call and is much more aggressive. It is fairly simple to figure out if you watch during mating. Don’t eat a goose more than three years old, which you can tell by the soft, yellow down on its legs.
The goose house needs to be 10 square feet (0.9 square m) per goose, and their yard needs to be very roomy, 30-40 square feet (2.8-3.7 square m) per goose. The house doesn’t need to be very fancy, just a simple shed that is very dry. A box feeder can be located inside, but the water trough should be outside under an awning. The floor should be covered with clean bedding such as chopped straw.
There is no commercial goose feed available, but chicken feed can be given if it has 15 percent protein. Geese also need oyster shells or grit at all times. A ration mixture usually includes 10 percent ground corn, 20 percent ground wheat, 10 percent wheat bran, 20 percent ground barley, 21 percent pulverized oats, 8 percent soybean oil meal, 2 percent dried whey, 6 percent dried alfalfa meal, 1 percent ground limestone, 1 percent dicalcium phosphate, and 1 percent iodized salt. If geese have pasture that is not alfalfa, they don’t need any extra feed. However, they are able to live entirely off pasture. Although they don’t mind eating old grass, they do mind eating alfalfa and generally won’t touch it unless they are very hungry. In the winter, provide dried grass, hay (not alfalfa), corn fodder, grain, and whatever scraps you would feed ducks.
Geese need to be clipped just like ducks, after each molting. Clip five inches (12 cm) off the feathers of one wing—careful not to clip the wing itself or during molting, which could cause permanent injury or even death. Geese are big and unwieldy—an irritated goose can bite your face, so always pick them up backwards, with the head facing toward your back and the wings pinned under your arm.
Gather the goose eggs twice a day. If you want to raise goslings, you will need a gander. A big gander can service two or three geese, and a smaller one can handle four or five. Once he picks, he will stick with the same females every year and help raise the goslings. Keep the ganders separate, and let them in with the hens in late fall or early winter. It is recommended to wait until a goose is two years old before breeding because the quality of their eggs is so much better. They will want to brood outside, in an old tire with straw or a tiny brooding house. When she starts to lay, take all of the eggs except two every day until the nest is full. Until she has a full nest, she may not start to set and you could lose some of the goslings anyway, so doing this will also provide you with goose eggs and she will continue laying. It takes between twenty-eight and thirty-five days for the eggs to hatch. Around day twenty, you will have to spray the eggs down completely with warm water and turn them over yourself.
Goslings raised in a brooder need the same floor space as ducks, one and a half square feet (0.14 sq m) until seven weeks and then two and a half square feet (0.23 sq m) after that, but there should only be twenty-five goslings per 250-watt heat lamp. They will need to be fed four times a day, with enough food to eat in fifteen minutes. This includes tender, green grass or weeds, along with a bit of duck food and some grit. In five to six weeks, they will be able to survive solely on a big pasture (1 acre or 0.4 hectare per 20-40 geese). If you don’t have a big pasture, you can add some grain. Goslings can be butchered before winter as long as their pinfeathers aren’t growing in, which happens in cycles. Since goose tends be greasier than other meats, their grease has traditionally been used for frying, pastry, and hand salves.
Natural Farming and Geese
Geese are natural weeders if you use them before your wanted plants come up. Put seven geese (more than eight weeks old) per acre in the field before the weeds are tall and coarse. A fence around the geese should be three feet high, and let them clear out all the weeds until your sprouts start coming up.
Gather goose eggs two times a day and clean them like chicken eggs. If you are incubating the eggs, a goose can hatch ten to twelve eggs in twenty-nine to thirty-one days, but they need to be turned by hand three or five times a day if the setting goose does not. Never turn them an even number of times or they will lie on the same side every night. You can also incubate in an incubator if you follow the same turning rules. Whether they are incubated under a goose or in an incubator, during the last half (after day 15) of the incubation period sprinkle the eggs with lukewarm water for thirty seconds every day to help with hatching. Remove the goslings from the nest as they hatch. Keep them in a warm place until they are at least three hours old. This prevents the goose from deserting the nest.
Plucking a Live Goose
- Catch the goose and hold it tightly by both feet. Turn it on its back with its head behind you.
- Carefully remove only the breast feathers of the goose, without tearing skin or injuring it in any way.
- If the geese were hatched early, you might be able to pluck them four times a year. A half pound of feathers per goose is a good yield.
As a beekeeper you are certain to get stung many times and you can build up immunity. However, you can also suddenly have an allergic reaction. Before buying bees, get tested for allergies to bee stings. Buy protective bee gear and always work with someone—so that if you do develop an allergy, he or she can get you help. When you get stung, scrape the stinger out quickly with your fingernail so that less venom will enter your skin.
Bees may be the most versatile urban farm stock. These beehives are located in Amsterdam.
How They Fit into the System
Bees are the producers of most of what you eat. Without their pollination, producing enough food to feed us would be impossible. They also make honey and beeswax. The most difficult part of keeping bees is making sure they have enough forage to make enough food to keep them alive through the winter. If they don’t have enough, they have to be moved or you will have to add sugar water to the hive to try to keep them alive. In an urban environment, location is key. Bees prefer to fly at least three hundred feet to their food source, and they won’t forage well in the face of a cold wind. Using your land map, place the hives away from the wind, and use hedges of herbs to shelter them in the direction that you want them to go.
There are two kinds of forage—pollen and nectar—and bees need both. The pollen species are planted within 100 feet of the hives, and the nectar species are planted at least 300 feet or more away. A line of herb hedges doesn’t even have to be more than 3 feet tall, and it directs them from the hive doorway toward the forage by sheltering them from the wind. It can be rosemary, acacia, or built-up soil beds planted with thyme, catmint, or field daisies. You may already have pollen producers around your house that were planted to provide shade: willow, acacia, pine, and vines like grapes. Everything else can be planned to flower in succession so that the bees can have a constant supply throughout the season. Having a minimum of thirty species to forage from is insurance for your hives. These include gooseberries, apples, white clover, blackberries, citrus, buckwheat, mustard, and other fragrant herbs. The rest can be supplied from field crops.
There are three types of honeybees: Italian, Caucasian, and Carniolan. Italians work harder, Caucasians sting less, and Carniolans are the gentlest. Honeybees can only sting once (unlike wasps) because they die, and this makes them less likely to sting. You can either buy bees from a supplier or buy a whole hive from a local beekeeper. The latter option is the easiest because the hive will be well established. Once you have one or two hives, you can have an unlimited supply by encouraging bees to establish new hives.
You will need a hive, a smoker, a hive tool (a small hooked lever for taking frames out of the hive), bee clothing, a bee brush (for brushing bees off a frame) and a feeder.
Backyard frame inspection.
It is sometimes better to buy a bee outfit because you know that it will be safe. But to make your own you will need the following:
Very thick leather gloves that are easy to move so you can handle frames easily.
Gauntlets that cover the top of the work gloves and come up above your elbow. They need to be tight around your arm, made of canvas and baggy so the bees can’t reach you.
Work boots with your pants tied tightly to the outside of the boots. If bees get in your pants they will crawl up your legs quickly so it is even better to have an additional cover over the top of your boots and pant legs that is tightly sealed.
White, baggy coveralls. If they are made of rip-stop nylon, the bees won’t be able to walk on you.
A construction hard hat, jungle-style hat, or bee-proof straw hat with a firm, wide brim. The bee veil is difficult to make, but it goes over the top of the hat and sits on the brim tied firmly with a drawstring. Make sure the drawstring is secure because if your hat comes off then you will get stung on your face. If you do have to use a hard hat or other hat without a back neck protector, you will need to make a cardboard protector, which you can fasten on with duct tape.
You will need a hive, a smoker (although a stick with burning rags might do), a hive tool (for a standard hive), a bee brush, and a feeder. The smoker is the most important; it has a chamber in which you build a small fire and put it out, which creates billowing smoke. A pump pushes smoke out.
A hive has several layers. At the bottom is a hive stand, a platform that makes sure the hive is level. Above the stand is the bottom board, a thin frame that holds up the brood chamber. The brood chamber is where the bees make their home, and it is where the queen lays eggs, which are deposited in cells to become baby bees. Supers, or honey supers, are shallow boxes that sit on the brood chamber and usually hold honey, although sometimes they have baby bee cells. It is better to have a shallow super than a deep one because they can get too full of honey and be difficult to carry. Each super has ten vertical removable frames. On each frame is foundation, a flat sheet of beeswax that has hexagons imprinted on it as a template for the bees to build cells on. In most areas used bee equipment is illegal because of disease, so contact your area’s department of agriculture before purchasing any.
There is a new invention known as the Flow Hive, which is basically a super that has special frames with partially built honeycomb cells. When you are ready to harvest the honey, the Flow Hive allows you to turn a lever that releases the honey from the cells and pipes it into a jar. At the time of this writing, this invention was so new that it is difficult to give a review, but the professional beekeepers who have tried it highly recommend it, especially for new beekeepers. The price is the same as for a regular hive so there is not much risk here.
Knowing the Hive
Beekeeping is not something that can really be learned from a book. It takes a lot of practice to be able to recognize the different types of cells and bees, which is why your local bee club can help you out (usually for free). The Flow Hive might make the job simpler, but you will still want to learn these basics:
Brood cells—dark-colored caps (unlike honey cells, which are light-colored) and contain baby bees.
Queen cells and bees—one inch long (2.5 cm) and look like a peanut shell that hangs away from the rest of the comb. They contain baby queens. Queen bees are an inch long (2.5 cm) and have a tapered body. They look unique. The other bees won’t crowd around them.
Drone cells and bees—stick out like the queen cell, but not as far, and have bullet-shaped tops. They contain baby drones. Drones don’t have stingers, are very fat, and have big eyes. Their only job is to compete to mate with the queen. It takes twenty-four days for a drone to hatch.
Worker cells and bees—the smallest cells, are level with the rest of the comb, and contain baby workers. Worker bees are the ones that sting and they keep the hive going. It takes twenty-one days for them to hatch.
- In your smoker, start a fire with crumbled paper and add tinder such as pine needles and dry grass. The fuel doesn’t need to be too dry because you want it to create smoke. When the fire is burning well, close the lid, and use the pump to keep it smoldering.
- Stand to one side of the entrance to the hive and blow smoke in the door. Wait a minute or two, take off the cover and blow more smoke in the top.
- Whenever the bees start to get agitated with you, use more smoke. Be careful not to hurt a bee or it will release a panic odor alerting the other bees to sting you.
The hive can be inspected if the temperature is over 50°F (10°C) and the weather is nice. Some people take a look once a week but that’s a bit more than the bees are comfortable with. In general, it is only necessary to check in if you suspect a problem, and in the spring and fall. In the spring, carefully remove every single frame and find the queen. Look for queen cells, find out how many bees there are, how many brood cells there are and what type, how much honey is coming, and whether they need more supers. Supers prevent overcrowding, which prevents swarming.
Bees always need fresh, clean water. However, big ponds don’t make a good water source because the bees may drown or be killed by a resident dragonfly. One or two hives only need a nearby outside faucet left to drip onto a slanted board. If you have lots of hives, a soaked mat near the pond or a very tiny pond near the hive can supply them with water. If you see bees standing around outside the door of the hive in warm weather, and you know the hive has a high population, it means they are having trouble cooling the hive. Move the hive into the shade, make the entrance larger, and stagger the supers for ventilation. In the winter, making the door much smaller will help them keep heat in and also prevent mice from creeping in and stealing honey.
Bees fare better in a warmer climate—when they are less likely to freeze—because of the greater availability of food. Placement is the key to a successful hive. Point the door of the hive in the direction you want them to go (usually toward the pollen-producing plants), and away from houses and barns and loud motors. Every hive will need fifty to one hundred pounds of honey to get through the winter. If they get low on feed them 2 parts granulated sugar per 1 part water, and in the spring you can give them artificial pollen.
Artificial pollen recipe:
1 part brewer’s yeast
3 parts soy flour
1 part nonfat dry milk
Use as much natural pollen (such as goldenrod saved in the fridge) as you have. Put directly into the hive.
Making New Hives
To move an entire hive, plug the door of the hive very tightly with a porous material that allows air in, so the bees won’t suffocate. It must be very secure or you will find yourself in the middle of an angry swarm. To create more hives, start at the beginning of May. You can take four frames with brood cells from your most established hive, as well as some honey and bee bread (or pollen). Bee bread is yellow and grainy. You will also need worker bees, which you can just brush into the hive. It is better to have one queen cell per frame also, but if there is not, they will make one. Put the frames into the new hive and stuff the door loosely with grass. It can take two weeks for the hive to produce a queen, and then the queen needs four weeks to mature and mate. The bees will put so much effort into this process that they will only make enough honey to support themselves over the winter, and you will not be able to collect any honey that year from the source hive or the new hive for yourself. You also run the risk of losing a new colony if they fail to feed royal jelly to the queen on the first day of hatching.
Keeping Bees Healthy
Keeping bees healthy is your most important job. If you notice a sick bee, you have a responsibility to inform local bee inspectors so that you can prevent a die off. This is when a bee population in a geographic region is decimated because bee disease spread quickly. Follow these good practices:
Only buy bees from a place with a good reputation.
Don’t buy used equipment unless you’ve talked to your local apiary official.
Replace foundations every two to four years.
Watch for disease and infestations every time you open the hive:
- bees that can’t fly
- discolored or misshapen cells
- punctured or sunken cells
- dead larvae
- dead bees
- swollen bees with shaking wings
- mites with eight legs
- gray webs in the comb
Early spring: Check that they have enough food, and supply them with artificial pollen. In some cold climates, you might see dead bees at the bottom of the hive, but usually this means the queen has died. If the queen dies and there are no eggs, the worker bees will wander around and eventually die, too. If they do have eggs or larvae they will make a new queen. The workers should keep the hive very clean. If it gets dirty, it’s a sign that the queen is gone and they will all die.
Late spring/early summer: When you think the bee population is big enough, add another section to the hive to sustain the increase in comb production. This is also the time to split the hive into two hives if you want. If the bees feel too crowded they will swarm—that is, they will leave the hive as a group. They won’t sting, but you may have to track them down and coax them into the hive. Splitting the hive and adding sections prevents this.
Fall: On a warm sunny afternoon, take out the honey. Leave at least fifty to one hundred pounds for them to eat during the winter, depending on how long your winter is.
Winter: Keep the hive very well ventilated, and protect it from wind. Check their food supply and add sugar or sugar water to keep them from starving.
Types of Bees
Honeybees: They can only sting once because they leave their stinger in your skin and then die. This makes them more careful with their stinger and less likely to get you. There are three breeds: Italian, Caucasian, and Carniolan. The best way to get bees is to order them from a local company or purchase a hive from a local beekeeper. Some groups have been breeding bees for microclimates in the hope that they will be more resilient to disease. As mentioned earlier, bee diseases spread very quickly, but can be prevented through better genetics by raising bees that are can resist the types of diseases found in one area.
Wasps/yellow jackets/hornets: They don’t eat flower nectar, they eat bugs, fruit and other foods. They are great to have in a garden because they eat thousands of pests in one season, but they will also sting for any reason, and over and over again.
African bees: There is a lot of hype about these bees since they escaped from a lab in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They tend to attack as a swarm and have killed a few people. You can outrun them if you can run fifteen miles per hour for five to seven minutes, or eight to ten city blocks. Don’t ever use bug spray because it just makes them angry—the only way to deter them is with huge quantities of soapy water, from a fire truck.
Types of diseases and pests
Acarine: These tracheal mites will bore holes in the air passages of bees one to eight days old and suck out their blood. Keep the bees producing babies so your population goes up despite the deaths. You may need to use a Terramycin treatment.
American foulbrood: This is the worst brood disease, a bacteria that causes larvae to rot. The cell caps will be an off color, sunken in, and punctured. The larvae will be dark brown, slimy, and smell like rotten eggs. By law, you must report it to the state or provincial regulator. To prevent it, you can use Terramycin powder as a treatment once in fall and once in spring. It can develop when your bees can’t remove dead cells fast enough. A healthy, balanced colony may be able fight the disease successfully. You can tell by watching a few minutes and see if any dead stuff is being taken out of the hive.
Ants: If you have ants in your hive, they are a symptom of other problems. If the colony has become weakened because of disease or a failing queen (which may cause the workers to pull back from the brood), ants will plunder the colony. Sometimes this can make the bees leave.
Chalkbrood: A fungus that causes the larvae to die. They turn from white to gray, to black, and then get hard and chalky. Take out the infected combs and burn them.
Chilled brood: Not a disease but the brood is too big for the outer edge to get warm in cold temperatures. You will find bees dead at all stages, from babies to adults.
European foulbrood: This disease resembles American foulbrood but there is no treatment. Only an experienced bee person can tell the difference by pulling out the larvae with a stick—it won’t be stringy.
Nosema: Bees naturally carry a parasite in their intestines called Nosema apis. If they don’t get enough pollen, the nosema multiplies and kills them. Bees will be swollen and crawl around outside the hive with their wings shaking. Make sure bees have enough pollen, and there is a preventative medicine called Fumidil-D.
Sacbrood: A rare virus that makes cell caps look dark and sunken. Larvae will look gray and black.
Stonebrood: Very rare fungus that makes cells green and mildewy. The bees fight this disease themselves.
Varroatosis: A mite from India that will kill European bees. It is light brown, oval, and has eight legs (if you see six, it is a harmless louse). It kills drone cells. Use plastic pesticide strips or the colony will die.
Wax moths: They lay eggs on the combs and then the caterpillars eat through it when they hatch. You will see fine gray webs around paths and tunnels through the comb. If your colony is strong, they will kill them.
Removing honey and making wax:
- Some suggest heating wax in a double boiler in order to purify the honey and remove the wax. This not only ruins the color, it also drives out the oils and fragrances destroying the flavor. The best way is to hang the honey in a strainer bag and allow gravity to do a perfect job.
- Take the wax and put it in a box and set it on top of the hive. Leave it one day and then remove it—the bees will have cleaned all the honey off it.
- Wrap the wax in a thick cloth such as sweatshirt material. Put the wax in a double boiler on low heat and melt it. As it drips through the cloth it will purify.
- If the wax looks dirty, and you have a woodstove, add a little cider vinegar and a little water and keep it at 135-140°F for two to three days. The dirt will settle to the bottom and honey will sit just below the wax floating on top.
Many bee clubs own a centrifuge for extracting honey. If you don’t have this, gravity does the trick.
How They Fit into the System
Goats are exceptionally good at clearing pasture and effectively clear the toughest brambles and unwanted vegetation. They can be temporarily used for this purpose by penning them or tying them with a halter and moving them from place to place. Goats can be so destructive, however, that it is only recommended to keep a few for milk and meat production. More than one goat per person in your family is unnecessary. If you do use lactating goats to clear a pasture, you will have to give them a little bit of grain to keep their milk production up.
Goats aren’t necessarily allowed in the city. Things are changing in many cities by people who already own goats and are willing to face the music if they get found out. The key to success here is making sure your goats look and smell great.
How Many Goats
An average doe makes about three quarts of milk per day: one to one and a half quarts goes to her kid, leaving only one and a half quarts per day. If she is a new mom, she will give even less than that. The more does you have the better, because they can feed their own babies. They also adopt orphaned babies of other animals, feed extra milk to other animals (such as chickens), make cream and butter, and supply you milk. Have one goat per person in your family.
Before you buy a goat, find out what breed she is, the age, if she has been bred and to what kind of goat, and how many times. Find out how many kids she had if she has been bred, how long she milked, what it is like to milk her, how much milk she gives, how many teats she has, and if she jumps fences. Find out if she is hard to catch, if she bites or butts. Has she had a distemper shot, and will she wear a halter? See her parents, sisters, or brothers, or other family members. If you buy a buck, remember that they stink, and they must be handled carefully. You will need to decide whether to keep it separate or with the herd (see below).
A clandestine goat.
Goats are clever and can also jump high. The fence should be at least four and a half feet (1.4 m) high, with a quarter acre (0.1 ha) per goat. Wrap trees with chicken wire so they can’t strip the bark off, and make sure the fence does not have a gap wider than 8 inches (20 cm). If the goats can’t see through it, they won’t try to get out. If you must have a rail fence, make sure they can’t squeeze through. Goats can unlock most standard latches with their tongue so a padlock may be necessary. If the goat does try to get out all the time, put a Y-shaped yoke on its head so it can’t fit, and soon it will give up trying. Then you can remove the yoke. The goat house can be any kind of sturdy three-sided shed in their pasture, or in the barn as long as there is 36 square feet (3.3 sq m) per goat, with clean hay for bedding.
Goats are very curious, so pretend to examine something while showing her some grain. Not only will she want the grain, she will want to see what you are looking at. You will need a second person to help you, and when the goat walks closer to investigate, the helper can grab her. If you spend a lot of time with your goats, this may not be necessary, as they can become quite attached to you. Here’s how to find out the sex of the goat: a boy pees from the middle of his belly, and a girl has to pee squatting backwards a bit.
Each goat needs about four to five pounds (1.8 to 2.3 kg) of hay per day of mixed grass and legumes, such as alfalfa. That’s about half a bale of hay per ten goats, twice a day, placed on a hayrack. Since you probably have them on an overgrown pasture, they will eat less hay. Goats also need salt and water at all times. Goats won’t lick a salt block, so you will have to provide loose mineralized salt. While goats are destructive and curious and tend to get out of their fencing, in other ways they are very easy to care for. If they get lice, rub them down with vinegar. Trim the hooves once a month using a knife or hoof nippers, or they will keep growing. Goats are very susceptible to worms and under regular standards would be wormed three times a year. Under organic certification worming is not allowed. The goats themselves will control their own worms in the way that they eat. They eat higher leaves first and work their way down, and wander far distances over their pasture, which is why the tree method of the pasture is particularly valuable for them. They should be rotated to new pasture every three weeks, which is the lifespan of a stomach worm. They need to be kept in very clean conditions with fresh, clean water readily available at all times. Unless you have lots of room for the goats to roam and lots of forage available off the ground, you may have to worm them.
Goats will try to eat anything, including poisonous plants. Check their pasture for these common dangers:
Breeding does need a quarter pound of grain per day starting on October 1st and increasing a quarter pound (0.11 kg) per week until the start of November when each doe is getting one pound (0.5 kg) of grain per day. This will increase the chances of having twins and triplets. For healthy older does, taper off this grain starting December 15 (six weeks after breeding), and then bring it back up again starting February 15 (six weeks before kidding). First-time breeders and unhealthy animals can keep eating grain all the way through. Bucks that are running in with the does will have access to grain as well, but it should be gradually tapered off when they are in good condition.
Check the mother’s udder twice a day after kidding to make sure it isn’t too full. Her milk will come in three to five days after kidding, so during that time don’t give her grain or it will come in too fast. What you feed your goat can change how the milk tastes. If the milk tastes bitter, try removing high-odor foods like garlic or cabbage from her diet. Goat milk may taste naturally “goaty,” but you can fix this by putting a pan of baking soda in her feed trough. Keep it full of soda and in a few days the milk will taste sweet, and in fact any goat eating grain should eat baking soda to avoid a sickness and too much acid. Pregnant does who are producing only a little milk should stop milking two months before kidding, but you can keep heavy-producing does milking all the way through continuously. Pregnant milkers need high-quality feed, but you should still watch their weight.
To have milk from a doe, she will have to breed with a buck. You will not be able to keep a buck in the city, not only because they can be very aggressive but also because they really stink. You will have to rent a buck or purchase semen.
Breed your does 149 days or five months before you want to have kids. For small farms, having kids around April 1st is ideal, so breed on November 1st. Don’t breed does that are less than seventy pounds or two years old because they will have health problems. The doe will almost always kid exactly 149 days later. Does are in heat when they spend time sniffing and wagging tails toward the buck pen, and they will make more noise.
When a doe is close to kidding, you should check on her every morning, and if she has delivered you will need to find the kids as soon as possible. A barn floor with dry bedding is ideal if they are familiar with the place. Give her clean, fresh water in a small bucket and lots of good hay. When she starts to give birth, you can clean the nose and mouth to help the kid breath. Otherwise, leave her alone unless
Pregnant does can be susceptible to ketosis, with symptoms that include dullness, lack of appetite, grinding teeth, and wandering. To prevent this, give the does blackstrap molasses during the last two months of pregnancy. Stress, overfeeding, underfeeding, or lack of exercise can cause it. It’s a good idea to trim the hooves at this time as well.
- her water breaks and two hours pass without seeing any part of a kid
- she’s in great pain and thirty minutes pass with nothing happening
- she’s totally exhausted and fifteen minutes pass with nothing happening.
To assist in the birth of a head-first kid, pull gently downward with each contraction. If one of the situations above occurs, or you can see a bum or neck coming out first, scrub your hands and arms well and make sure your nails are very clean. Reach in very carefully, determine the kid’s position and gently reposition it until its feet and nose are coming out together. After delivery, give the doe a bucket of warm water with some molasses in it and let her deliver the afterbirth. She may eat it, or you can bury it.
Wipe the kid’s face, and if the goat isn’t doing a good job of drying the kid, then go ahead and dry it off. If you find a kid outside after birth, bring it inside and wrap it up next to a heat source until it is warm. It isn’t necessary to tie the cord, just dip the end in iodine or alcohol to kill bacteria. It’s common for a goat to have two or three kids, and they should be standing up right away. If one doesn’t nurse within the first fifteen minutes, help it by holding the teat in its mouth so it can suck. If it doesn’t suck, squirt milk in its mouth and then try to get it to suck again in three or four hours, or when it seems hungry. Some kids need help like this for three days. If it still doesn’t suck after several hours, then you’ll have to bottle feed, but only a couple of times so it learns to suck—then try to get it back on the mother. Don’t keep the kid in the house or away from the mother for more than six hours or the mother will reject it. For three to five days after birth, the kids and mother should be kept separate from the herd until they are strong and nursing well.
A rejected kid must still be fed colostrum. Give the mother a little grain and milk her. Save the colostrum and put it in a bottle with a lamb nipple on the end and feed it to the baby. If the kid is too weak to use the lamb nipple, use a human baby’s nasal aspirator (or syringe). Never feed a kid cold milk. It is so important to get the colostrum into the baby, otherwise it could die. The kid will have to be fed two ounces (57 g) every two hours on day one, gradually increasing to three ounces (85 g) every three hours on day three, and six ounces (170 g) every four hours on day seven. Work your way up to eight ounces (226 g) morning, noon, and night for two weeks, and then gradually to sixteen ounces (0.5 k) morning and night after you milk. If you can’t give the kid goat’s milk, the next best is cow’s milk, but they can still get scours (or diarrhea) and die more easily. You will have to butcher the kid if you don’t have goat milk, or if you need the milk yourself. It is possible to overfeed a kid. Normally a mother goat lets the kid start eating and then walks off after less than a minute. Frequent, small meals are better. After they are two or three months old they can be weaned, but a bottle-fed kid will be more attached to you and become annoying.
Let the kids stay with their mother until they are strong and eating solid food well. This usually takes two months for singles and twins, and three months for triplets. Then separate the kids from the mother at night and milk her in the morning, then put her back with the kids. In a few days they will learn the routine, although they will make a lot of noise about it. As the kids wean, keep milking her more and more so she will get used to holding more milk in her udder at a time and her teats will lengthen. You can either keep letting the mother feed the kids at night and only milk once a day, or you can gradually work toward milking her every twelve hours. If you let the mother nurse once a day, she will eventually wean them herself.
Besides the rejected kids that you can’t feed, it is also likely that you will end up with more billy goats than you need. Nanny goats are valuable and you will hardly ever need to kill them because you can sell them instead, but billies don’t give milk and if you have too many then you get no milk for yourself. All of the extras can be raised for meat until the fall. If you have them butchered in November, you won’t have to feed them over the winter.
Stainless steel equipment without seams are the best and also the most expensive containers for milk. Food grade plastic and glass will work if they are seamless, but don’t reuse plastic milk jugs from the store. You’ll have to purchase containers. Rinse buckets, containers, and utensils in lukewarm water right after you use them or they will collect difficult-to-remove milk deposits. Wash them after every use by scrubbing thoroughly in warm, soapy water, then rinse again in scalding water. Air dry upside down. Any cloth used for straining should be rinsed and boiled directly after.
A goat-milking stanchion.
Goat milking troubleshooting:
The milk won’t let down: Massage the udder either with the cleaning cloth or with bag balm, or gently pat the udder like a kid butting her. If she still won’t let down, real goatherds suck on the teat a little.
Drying up milk: This is done to let her have another kid. When you milk, leave a little milk in it. When her milk production has reduced, milk her only once a day. Be aware of the signs of mastitis as this is when she is most at risk.
Mastitis: The first sign is milk with strange textures: flakes, lumps or strings. Don’t drink it and don’t throw it somewhere that an animal can lick it! Wash your hands very well after touching the animal because it is infectious. Even healthy does should be checked at least once a week by squirting the milk into a cloth. Feel the udder for tumors, large hard areas, or an abscess. An abscess is a red, tender swelling of a whole side of the udder, which makes it warmer and more difficult to get milk from. If you allow it to get worse, the milk may turn yellow or even brown or pink from pus and blood. The only cure is antibiotics. A bruised udder, getting too full for too long, or having had a previous case of mastitis makes her more susceptible.
Self-sucking: Goats are flexible enough to suck their own milk. Other than butchering, you can use an Elizabethan collar or side-stick harness that can prevent her from reaching the udder.
Getting the milk:
- Clean the milking utensils in warm, soapy water.
- Put the goat in a stanchion, a frame that holds the goat by its neck. Many people have a milking stand that raises the goat a little higher for milking comfort. Brush the fur to get out loose hair and dirt, put down fresh bedding and keep the long hair under the udder clipped.
- Put some feed in the stanchion’s trough. Milking is done every twelve hours, starting early morning before they eat. Always be on time or the goat will get too full, which is painful. If you aren’t a morning person, just make sure that you really stick to a schedule.
- Brush the doe and look it over for problems. Then wash your hands and dry them, and fill a bucket with water 120-130°F (49-54°C).
- Wash her udder and teats. This helps the milk let down, and removes dirt and bacteria, making better milk and a healthier goat. Wait a minute after washing to start milking.
- The goat needs to be happy and relaxed for the milk to let down. Put your thumb and forefinger around the teat near the top of the udder, pushing up slightly and allow the teat to fill with milk. Then close your hand around it and squeeze the milk out while pulling down. Keep your hand away from the nipple hole or the milk will go all over. Squirt the first three squeezes into the ground because the first milk has more bacteria in it. Make sure you completely empty the udder or she will produce less and less until it’s gone.
- Strain the milk. Use a regular kitchen strainer lined with several layers of clean fabric such as a dishcloth, muslin, or even a cloth diaper.
- If you choose to pasteurize, get a double boiler. Use a thermometer to heat the milk to 161°F (72°C), stirring constantly. Maintain that temperature for twenty seconds, then quickly remove it from heat and immerse the pot in very cold water, stirring constantly until it gets down to 60°F (16°C).
- If you don’t pasteurize, put the storage container inside another container full of cold water. It needs to be chilled to 40°F (4°C) within one hour. Store any milk in the coldest part of the fridge.
Besides baking soda, to prevent the “goaty” taste in milk, you can prevent a distasteful flavor in milk by only using seamless stainless steel, food grade plastic, or glass to store milk. Keep milk out of sunlight and fluorescent light, keep the barn clean, and clean the udder and your hands. Don’t feed the goat strong-flavored foods (such as onions, garlic, cabbage, or turnips) less than seven hours before milking, and don’t let her smell the buck or let the buck near the milk. Don’t smoke around the milk.
Processing Goat Milk
Goat cream is harder to remove than cow cream. Cow cream will just rise to the top if you let it sit. If you put goat milk out for twenty-four hours some of the cream will rise but not all of it. To get it all, you will need a cream separator specially made for goat’s milk, or you will have to put the milk in the fridge for five days and skim off the cream. Run the milk through the separator and save the cream. The rest is your skimmed milk. You can freeze cream for later if you thaw it completely before using.
Pour the fresh milk into clean jars up to ½-inch from the top of the jar. Put on the lids and process in a pressure cooker for 10 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure or 60 minutes in a water bath canner.
Make curds and whey:
Let the milk sit out in a covered enamel roaster, a canning kettle, heavy crockery or a stainless steel bowl until it gets completely sour or “clabbered.” Don’t use aluminum! Keep the temperature at 75-85°F. It should be placed on a warming shelf on your wood stove or other warm place as if you were letting yeast bread rise. However, it should not be too hot. When the curds separate from the whey, it has “set up.” It will feel like jelly, and it will form a single large curd floating in the whey. If you need clabbered milk sooner, add 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice per cup of milk. Goat milk takes longer to set up, as many as five days.
Churning cream into butter:
- You will need some kind of churn to make butter. Either use a traditional churn or make your own using a quart jar with a lid. Again, people have used an electric mixer with success.
- The cream must be 60°F, or about room temperature, and put it in the churn or jar so it is half full.
- Churn steadily and rhythmically, not too fast and not too slow (if you are using a jar, simply slosh the cream back and forth). After twenty to thirty minutes butter clumps will form.
- Remove the butter from the milk (the milk is buttermilk) and put it in a bowl of cold water. Roll it into a ball, then flatten it and repeat just like kneading bread. Change the water frequently when it gets cloudy, and as the milk is rinsed away the butter will start to feel waxy.
- Keep working the butter until the water stays clear, then take it out and squeeze out the water. Mix in flavoring (such as honey, salt, etc.) if you want, then pat it dry with a clean towel and press it into a mold or form it into a cake shape. Cover and put in the fridge or freeze for later.
- Use pasteurized milk so the good bacteria don’t have to fight bad bacteria. You can make yogurt right after pasteurizing if you cool it to 110°F (no hotter or it will kill the acidophilus bacteria).
- While the milk is still on the heat, add 1 heaping teaspoon of cultured starter per quart of milk. Stir gently, then remove from heat and pour into clean warm jars.
- Put the milk in a warm place and keep it warm. A few easy ways to do this are put the jars on a heating pad and cover with a towel, or place them in an insulated cooler filled with 100°F water, or use your oven.
- Once it’s warm don’t disturb it. Six to eight hours later it should have thickened and then it is ready. Add a half cup powdered milk to it if you want it to be thicker, and mix in flavors such as fruits, honey, or vanilla. Refrigerate immediately.
Most people use plain yogurt from the store that has live cultures. Make sure it is live—some yogurt is not. Make sure it is well stirred, and keep it separate from the starter you will be using. Save one-half cup of your first batch and use it as your next starter within five days. If your yogurt gets a weird taste or smell, scrap your starter and start again.
How They Fit into the System
Sheep can be let into the orchard to forage after the trees are at least seven years old, but they must be carefully controlled. They must be taken out if they start to damage the trees. However, just because the orchard is not available doesn’t mean trees can’t be developed as a mainstay of their food within their grazing area. Trees provide food and protection from the elements, benefit the soil, and prevent erosion. Sheep also need a salt lick and a variety of other food types. A legume-grass mix pasture will feed five ewes and eight lambs per acre in a northern region, but it needs to be rotated every week. In the last month of pregnancy, ewes need a half to one pound (0.22 to 0.5 kg) of grain per day. After lambing, sheep with one lamb need one pound (0.5 kg) of grain; sheep with two lambs need one and a half to two pounds (0.7-0.9 kg). This can be gradually tapered off in the next two months. A ram needs one pound of grain each day during breeding season. This grain supplement can be offset by tree forage. Each sheep also needs one and a half gallons (6 L) of fresh, clean water every day. Every spring you will need to gradually introduce the sheep to pasture so they can adjust. In the winter they can forage from a harvested corn field and roots left in the garden. Each sheep will eat seventy-five pounds (34 kg) of grain and ten bales of hay over the winter.
City grazing as an alternative to mowing.
Sheep don’t need much housing. A three-sided shelter in the pasture is sufficient, with a place in the barn for lambing or extreme weather. Sheep are very vulnerable to stress. Moving them in a truck, abrupt feed changes, or even loud storms are enough to make them stop eating and even have a heart attack. They are also an easy target for predators. A dog is the most effective prevention. A border collie will herd the sheep, or you can have a guard dog live with the sheep in the field.
Breed your sheep in October and in five months you will have lambs. If your sheep have hair on their faces, clip the wool away from the eyes, and also tag her, or clip the wool away from the vagina. Every time you do something to a ewe is a good time to check her feet. You can buy a yearling ram every year from an unrelated herd to breed with the ewes and then eat him afterwards, which is probably your best solution in an urban environment. Obviously it’s a bad idea to use rams from the same family for breeding. Lambing is almost exactly the same as kidding for goats, and orphan lambs can drink goat milk as a replacement.
What to look for when buying sheep:
- Ram: Has good legs and feet. Does his job as a ram.
- Ewe: Doesn’t have mastitis. Udder is soft and in working condition.
- Is not overweight or underweight.
- Does not limp.
- No hooves are hotter than the others, and no green tinge (signs of foot rot).
- Mouth is sound, gums have no anemia and are very red.
- Eyes have no anemia, arteries around eyes are red.
- No swelling or lumps under the chin.
- Ask about sheep history.
- If possible, ask if the sheep had rectal or uterine prolapse (lining protrudes from body); it is genetic.
- A sheep with a “broken mouth” (teeth missing and crooked) is not worth it.
Sheep Pasture and Feeding
A good pasture will feed five ewes and eight lambs per acre for the season in northern regions. It’s a good idea to have 25-50 percent more than that for management. Legume-grass mixtures are good for sheep. Alfalfa-grass and trefoil-grass will regrow in fifteen to twenty days. Rotate their pasture every week. Put loose salt (not in blocks) under cover outside for them. Sheep need one and a half gallons water a day, fresh and clean. Make sure that you clean the feeders before giving food, watch to make sure that each sheep is eating well, and every ewe should have one and a half feet of rack space. If you are using the wool, you may need to keep the wool clean—don’t let burdock, thistles, fleabane, Spanish nettle, or other burred plants grow in the pasture where they will rub on the sheep (give them to chickens). The pasture should be divided in half so that you can rotate when the grass is eaten down. Rotation helps prevent worms. The following is a list of feeding guidelines:
Pregnant ewes: Feed ewes in the first four months of pregnancy three and a half to four and a half pounds alfalfa or clover hay. In the last month of pregnancy give one-half to one pound grain also, such as whole oats or shelled corn.
Ewes after lambing: Give one pound of grain per head to those with one lamb, one and a half to two pounds to ones with twins. After two months, feed one half to one pound grain. When lambs are weaned, take away all grain suddenly, and only give a little hay for the week to help dry up the ewes.
Before breeding: During breeding season give rams one pound of grain a day. Put ewes on top quality hay, lush pasture, or give some grain.
When turning out to pasture: Every spring when you turn out the sheep to pasture wait until the grass is a few inches high and give them a big pile of hay so that their feed will change more gradually.
During winter: You can let your sheep eat from a harvested corn field, give them roots from the garden, and two to four pounds of hay per day per sheep, or ten bales of hay per winter. Plus give them seventy-five pounds of grain.
Creep feeding young lambs:
Start feeding lambs at two weeks even if they will be finished at pasture. Grind the feed at first, then feed whole. The creep feed should contain 15 percent protein, and 20-40 percent high-quality alfalfa hay given in a separate rack. A lamb will typically eat one and a half to two pounds of rations per day from 10 to 120 days old.
Take particular care of sheep after stress, such as storms, transportation, or abrupt feed changes. They may stop eating, or even have heart attacks. Symptoms of diseases include breathing, dullness and listlessness, refusing to eat, lying down a lot, and going off alone. Keep a rectal thermometer and if you see any of those symptoms, check their temperature. Normal temperature is from 100.9 to 103.8°F, average is 102.3°F.
Enterotoxemia in lambs: Symptoms include tremors and convulsions, diarrhea, and collapse, and death usually occurs in two hours. It is caused by the bacteria Clostridium perfringens. Lambs get it from overeating and quick transition to rich foods. To prevent it, make sure to transition to new foods gradually, having a scheduled and fixed feeding regimen and vaccinate pregnant ewes. It cannot be cured once caught. It is prevented with Clostridium perfringens, Type C and D toxoid, administered by a vet during pregnancy and a booster at least four weeks before lambing.
Vibriosis: Causes abortions, dead and weak lambs. It is the most common cause of sheep abortions. Ewes and lambs require two vaccinations, then yearly boosters.
EAE: Caused by Chlamydia psittaci. Produces abortions, eye infections, lamb arthritis, epididymitis (fertility problems in males), pneumonia, and diarrhea. The vaccine is usually given with vibriosis bacterin.
Leptospirosis: Causes abortions, anemia, and systemic disease. A killed bacterium is given to immunize sheep.
Tetanus (Lockjaw): Clostridium tetani enters the body through open wounds and causes muscle spasms, stiffness, and other nervous system problems. Seventy-five percent of lambs infected from tetanus die from it. A Tetanus toxoid vaccine every ten years prevents it.
Clostridial disease: Also called blackleg, malignant edema, and braxy, it is a soil bacterium found in the intestinal tract. Symptoms are lameness and swelling just beneath the skin (subcutaneous), and rapid death.
Bluetongue: Also called sore muzzle, the virus is spread by the biting midge. Produces mouth ulcers, nasal discharge, crusty nostrils, and lameness. The vaccine is a live virus vaccine that must be introduced to a flock only if they have it because it will give it to them. Wear rubber gloves and follow directions.
Sore Mouth: Also called Contagious ecthyma, causes pox, or lesions on lips, nostrils, eyelids, mouth, teats, feet, etc. Spread through direct and indirect contact.
Sheep are especially vulnerable to predators since they are not that smart and get scared very easily. Sheep have died from heart attacks when hearing thunder. Dogs can chase a sheep to death without biting it, and of course any larger animal can and will eat a sheep. The prevention to this is a dog. Either get a border collie to herd the sheep when you need to (they also are great at watching children), or get a guard dog to live with the sheep in the field. One of the best guard dogs for this purpose is a Great Pyrenees. They stay in the field and attack sheep predators. To raise one of these the ideal way is to have a ewe nurse and raise the puppy and it will become part of the sheep family but keep its guarding instincts.
If the sheep is too fat, start a diet six weeks before breeding or she will be at risk for pregnancy problems. Two weeks before breeding, “flush” the ewes by putting them on the richest pasture or giving them really good alfalfa hay, or give them 50 percent more grain. This will increase the chances of having twins or triplets. If the sheep breed is not “open-faced” (it has hair on its face), clip the wool away from the eyes, and also “tag” her, or clip the wool away from the vagina. Check her feet and trim at the same time. It is common to schedule lambing for February, so since sheep-mating season is from September through December, breed in October. In five months, she will lamb.
Get your ewe into a lambing pen that is completely dry, protected from wind, with a room. Check your herd every two hours because the sheep will give birth all around the same time. Gather together iodine, warm water, soap, lubricant, and old clean towels or blankets.
Note: Make sure there is a veterinarian or knowledgeable person available around the time of lambing if possible.
- If the ewe’s water broke and she has been straining for twenty to thirty minutes and no lamb is born, you will need to help.
- If you haven’t tagged her already, clip the dirty and excess wool from around the ewe’s birth canal. Then wash her with warm, soapy water.
- Wash your arms with warm, soapy water and apply an antiseptic lubricant. You might want to use a sterile obstetrical sleeve instead.
- Enter the ewe and feel the lamb to see what’s going on. Find out how many there are, and which feet go with which legs before you start pulling.
- Deliver the closest lamb first (if it’s twins). Pull gently downward between the legs of the ewe, rotating gently if you need to free a shoulder.
What to do if it’s a breech:
If you feel a tail instead of a head, call a vet. If you can’t get the vet, get an assistant. Have the assistant to hold the ewe up by the hind legs. Put on a rubber glove and push the lamb forward. Then pull its hind legs straight (they will be bent forward). Gently but quickly pull the lamb out the same as if it were head forward. Clear out its nostrils.
New lamb care:
Pinch or cut off the umbilical cord four to five inches from its belly. Dip the navel into iodine. If the lamb is really chilly, wrap it in a blanket or towel and bring it into the house to get warm. Then get it back to the mother quickly to start nursing. It should nurse within thirty minutes of birth, and if it isn’t interested, milk some colostrum into its mouth. If the mother isn’t doing what she’s supposed to, rub some placenta on the baby, especially around its anus. Even an orphaned lamb can be adopted by a ewe if you rub a new placenta on it.
Sheep’s milk makes excellent cheese and makes more cheese per pound than cow’s milk. It is easier to make into cheese than goat’s milk also. You should get 1 pint-1 quart of milk per day. It also makes great yogurt and ice cream but not very good butter because it is naturally homogenized.
Bottle-fed lambs are called bum lambs. If you have goat milk, use it. If not, buy a replacement with 30 percent fat, 20-24 percent protein, and less than 25 percent lactose. Orphan lambs occur somewhat frequently because a ewe will not recognize its lamb if it does not smell right. If you take the lamb in the house to get warm and bring it back, the mother may have totally forgotten it. Feed every four to six hours until it is three weeks old, then every eight hours for the next two months. The first few feedings the lamb will not drink more than 2 ounces.
Shear during dry weather. Put the sheep in a small pen or in a barn with a clean floor or tarp nearby. Have someone hold the sheep but not by the wool. Put the sheep between your knees on its side with its head pointing toward your back. Cut off any dung locks (wool with poop in it), grease tags (knots of matted wool) and throw them out. Then clip the wool off, cutting as close to the body as you can (about ½ inch away), and it should come off all in one piece. Start with the head, clip across the body from one side, across the back and to the other side, zigzagging all the way to the rear. Don’t cut the skin, and don’t cut twice—if you don’t get it with the first clip, forget it. Treat any cuts with disinfectant, check the hooves, and let her loose. Lay the fleece out and examine it for dirt, let it dry, and gather it up with the side that was against the sheep’s skin on the outside. Don’t store it with plastic, instead use paper or cardboard. When you are done, go have a medical professional check you for ticks.
Aquaculture isn’t just a pond. It is a closed-loop system of growing fish in a cycle with plants and other animals. These range in size from small backyard ponds to large intensive aboveground tanks. Historically, the South American chinampa structure of canals stretching between large planting beds were filled with fish and were some of the earliest examples of highly productive aquaculture. Because aquaculture does have such high production value with relatively little effort, it is very tempting to set up the large tank system and turn it into intensive agriculture. Some very profitable methods have appeared in which one species tank-grown fish are grown with plants in an aquaponic system. The value of the diversity of species is its ability to become a self-reliant and self-contained system that uses very little effort and grows a variety of food.
A closed-loop aquaculture system.
If you have set up a multiple-pond system, with several small parallel ponds for younger fish, or fry, you will have a much easier time managing your fish stock. Fish will breed and your fry will get eaten unless you segregate them. Raise the fry in one of the small ponds and release them when they are bigger.
To raise fish, the oxygen level of your pond becomes a crucial factor. Besides keeping the pond clean and clear of too much animal waste and weeds, the aerator can be essential. Solar pond aerators and fountains are available; they can add essential oxygen for longer periods of time than an emergency aerator (such as a lawn sprinkler) can provide. It is much smarter to prevent a drop in oxygen levels, which can be caused by a heat wave or a nitrogen bloom. The biological controls of the pond are in three levels:
- Aquatic vegetation, like duckweed. These create oxygen during the day and feed your plant-eating fish.
- The plant-eating fish eat the plants and create fertilizer and debris. Bass or other predator species may be able to live in a netted-off area to control the fry population.
- Freshwater prawns live on the bottom, cleaning up debris.
You can eat all of these creatures as well. The prawns need help periodically to clean up the muck, which must be dredged up or it will decrease the oxygen in the water. This precious material should be used as compost or mulch, or used to grow seedlings as historically was done in a chinampa system. Or it can be piped and automated through an aquaponics system.
Rules of Successful Aquaculture Management
- The pH of the water should be 7+.
- Don’t use fish stock with diseases.
- Choose species you want to eat and you can also sell locally.
- Make sure to analyze your aquaculture in relation to the elements around it.
A pond with lots of fertilizer will grow more algae, and if you want to raise mostly prawns then you might want to leave more of it on the bottom than usual. Typically, a pH of 7+ is necessary to grow fish, and this is regulated by the addition of fertilizer. A semi-fertilized pond grows tilapia. A pond with bass or trout must be cleaner. Fish need to eat 1 percent of their body weight per day. To grow big and fat they must eat 3 percent of their body weight.
Per quarter acre (0.10 ha) of pond surface, it is possible to raise all of this:
- 40 pounds of bass (predator species)
- 80 pounds of catfish
- 120 pounds of bluegill (eats insects)
- 350 pounds of tilapia (eats plankton and plants)
Tilapia is the most versatile and efficient fish to grow, and for this reason it is incredibly popular. The stocking rates per acre are maximum numbers that are used as a guide by fisheries to show how much you can grow if you are only raising a single species in a pond. See the tables that follow for some general polyculture stocking guidelines. These are some common species used in polyculture (please note that regulations vary from region to region, and some exotic species may not be legal in your area):
Tilapia: Tilapia don’t like cold temperatures and prefer warm water, but they are fairly hardy and will tolerate most places during the summer. They only take four months to grow from a fingerling to something edible. Duckweed is the best way to feed tilapia. See the chapter on plant species for more information on growing this amazing water plant. They need adequate shade under water lilies and other plants. To harvest, lower a net into the water and spread worms or breadcrumbs on the surface. When they come over to feed, scoop them up with the net. You can winter a few small tilapia in an indoor aquarium or tank. When the weather warms up, release them back into the pond. The stocking rate of tilapia is around three thousand per acre.
Bluegill: It takes about three years for bluegill to grow to an edible size. They prefer warm temperatures and are often used to feed bass. They eat insects, fish eggs, and small crayfish. They also like vegetation for shade and shelter. The stocking rate of bluegill is around five hundred per acre.
Bass: Bass are the most effective method of population control in a pond, because they eat other, smaller fish. They like warm water with lots of plants. The stocking rate is one hundred per acre.
Minnows: Minnows eat mostly algae and some insects, and their principal use is as food for bass and other predators. They should be introduced a year before the bass are brought in, so they can build up their size and numbers. They can live to be three years old, but are usually eaten before then. The stocking rate of minnows is up to two thousand per acre.
Trout: Trout need cold water, and so they do better in big deep ponds. Alternatively, you can raise them over the winter. The water temperature needs to stay below 60°F (15°C) and above 34°F (1°C). They don’t do well with other fish besides minnows, and they eat insects as well so you wouldn’t need as many minnows as you would for bass. The stocking rate of trout is four hundred per acre.
Shrimp/prawns: The fewer the shrimp, the larger they grow. Freshwater shrimp need temperatures above 65°F (18°C) but not too hot. They don’t survive a cold winter. Shrimp are stocked at a rate of sixteen to twenty-four thousand shrimp per acre depending on how big you want the shrimp to get.
Mussels: Freshwater mussels prefer a temperature of 50-90°F (10-32°C). They eat very tiny planktonic food at the bottom of the pond and act as a natural filter. You need to use local species that like living in still water. Check your regional fish laws for how many and what type you are allowed to collect, and take a few from several ponds or lakes so that you don’t impact the population. They can filter up to a gallon of water an hour, so you don’t need that many. They can be stocked at a rate of about two hundred per acre as long as they have adequate food to eat.
Catfish: The more catfish eat, the bigger they get. They eat minnows and small fry. Make sure you have at least a thousand minnows per five hundred catfish. Catfish are winter hardy, although over the winter they don’t eat or grow much. Catfish don’t do well with other species besides minnows, and they prefer a clean pond. The stocking rate of catfish is fifteen hundred per acre.
Crayfish: Crayfish (or crawfish) are another bottom feeder, and they prefer temperatures around 65-85°F (18-30°C). If the temperature drops below 45°F or above 88°F, they will burrow into the ground and go dormant. They are vulnerable to predators, especially when they molt, because they do come up on the shore. They need lots of vegetation, shallow water, and hiding places. The stocking rate of crayfish is two hundred per acre.
Stocking rates depend on two factors: oxygen and food supply. The more you aerate the pond, the more fish you can grow. The more plankton, vegetation, and minnows you have, the more food supply is available. At the same time, the more plants and fish you have growing, the less oxygen will be available and the less you can grow. It is a cycle that you must try to keep in balance. The following tables are illustrations of sample stocking rates in a polyculture system. The rates are intentionally set quite low for better growth rates.
Stocking Rate Per Acre
The best rules of thumb used here are: reduce everything at least one-third simply to have enough oxygen; avoid growing species that compete for the same food supply, unless you are experienced.
Suggested polyculture scenarios:
Stock Rate Per Acre
Stock Rate .25 Acre
Stock Rate Per Acre
Stock Rate .25 Acre
It makes sense, once you have become obsessed with raising fish, to turn to aquaponics. Aquaponics is a closed-loop growing system that works a lot like hydroponics, except that instead of chemical fertilizers you are using natural fish fertilizer from live fish directly from your own tanks. This system uses 10 percent of the water that would be used by traditional farming because it is continuously recycled, and it produces more food in less space. This is a relatively new field of production and so there isn’t even a lot of information or books out there to guide you.
As a beginner, the best thing you can do is to purchase a predesigned aquaponics system from a reputable company. This way you can skip all the trouble and expense of trial and error that has already been worked out in these systems, and it is well worth it. Once you’ve bought that small-scale system, you’ll have the experience to build your own large-scale system. Greenhouses work best, not only to keep the fish at a constant temperature, but to provide a controlled, well-lit environment for your plants as well. Many people are doing this indoors as well, with some success as long as high-tech LED lights are used.
These are the parts of an aquaponics system:
Grow bed: A strong, waterproof, food-safe container with enough volume for the plant roots as well as a flow area under the plants.
Piping: Pipes that flow into the grow bed have holes for water flow, while other pipes are smaller and push water from or to the fish tanks. These are PVC or CPVC.
Fish tank: A short, wide tank is better for fish because it prevents dead zones and has more surface area. It should also be designed to hold the volume of water it needs to.
Pump: A magnetic drive submersible pond pump with the right flow rate and head pressure.
Sealing: Seals between pipes and tanks include silicone, Uniseals, and bulkhead fittings.
Timers: Automation is essential in the aquaponics process to reduce fatal mistakes. The pump needs to be timed in order to flow the right amount of water.
Grow media: A structure for your plants to sit in that doesn’t decompose and is the right size to not clog the pipes. This has to be purchased from a supplier.
Aerator: Something to add oxygen to the water.
BUTCHERING AND PRESERVING MEAT
Putting an Animal Down
There are times when you will have to put an animal down because of injury, age, or illness. In those situations, you may also want to use the resources available in order to not waste anything. While you can’t eat the meat, you could make leather or gelatin. Butchering can be sad and stressful. If you are butchering a wild animal then you may not feel as much remorse for the creature as if you raised it yourself, but it is still sad. If you raised the animal from a baby and it had a name, it will be much more difficult to eat. It doesn’t matter if the animal is for milk or eggs or meat, they all deserve love and kindness, and they need to be killed humanely, without terror, with as little pain as possible. Don’t kill the animal in its home in front of its family.
This is the reality of owning animals for food. If you can’t handle this part, it’s probably not a good idea to have them.
It is time to butcher farm animals for meat when the temperature is 40°F during the day, when the pasture doesn’t make enough food for the animals, or when a sheep or goat is nine months old or younger. Chickens can be killed anytime.
Decide what you are going to keep of the animal. Hooves can make gelatin, and intestines can be used for catgut (used in stitching up wounds). You can also save the hide for making leather. You will need a butchering knife, a gambrel, a big container to hold guts (like a bucket), a hose connected to running water, and a large clean bowl. It is also a good idea to have a rope or chain to hoist the body, hooked to the gambrel, up high enough for you to work comfortably. Another very good idea is to get an experienced friend to help you and teach you how.
According to the University of Iowa, there are only a few acceptable methods of killing an animal, and most require a veterinarian:
- Small animals (rabbits/rodents): carbon dioxide, barbiturate overdose, and anesthetic overdose
- Dogs and cats: barbiturate overdose, anesthetic overdose
- Birds: barbiturate overdose, anesthetic overdose
- Farm animals: barbiturate overdose, anesthetic overdose
Notice that it is never recommended to shoot the animal or chop off your bird’s head, as most farmers practice. Injecting an animal with drugs before butchering makes it unusable for meat, and it is incredibly expensive. However, before you go out and start shooting or knifing an animal, you must remember that if you get it wrong you will cause a great deal of pain in the last moments of your animal’s life. Also, if you stress out a goat before you eat it, the meat won’t taste as good. Learn to do it right, or don’t do it at all. Practice your aim on an inanimate target first so that you will only have to stab once.
In the country you would shoot a goat with a .22 rifle in the back of the head. A larger animal needs to be shot in the front, hopefully with a hunting rifle. To find the right spot, draw a line from the tip of each ear to the opposite eye, making an X. Shoot at the center of the X. Try very hard to shoot a big animal on the first shot or it will charge toward you.
In the city, you can’t shoot a gun, so you have to use a very sharp knife. You will need to quickly and cleanly cut the jugular, the main artery in the neck. First, sharpen your knife to the very sharpest it can be. Take the animal away from its family, far enough that they won’t hear it, and tie its legs together. For a goat, the easiest way is to place it on the table with a bucket below and hang the head over the bucket. However, you also need to calm the animal down so that might not be the best position. Once it’s calm, grasp the ear firmly and stick the knife in behind the jaw. Pull out quickly, slicing all the veins and arteries.
Burying an Animal
Sometimes livestock die from an infectious disease or a disease that prevents you from using it for meat, or if you don’t eat your livestock, animals will just get old and die. Eating meat contaminated this way can cause you to get sick or even die. In most places, the requirement is that you dispose of the body on your own property within thirty-six hours after death. The only way to have someone else dispose of it somewhere else is if you hire a licensed rendering company.
Before meat processing got more efficient (or regulated), you could pay a licensed rendering company to get your animal, liquefy it, and turn it into meat and bone meal for feeding to animals. This is not a good choice because of transmission of diseases, and the ethical implications of this option are obvious. Another option is to incinerate the animal in a special high temperature incinerator. These require permits because they stink and use a lot of fuel. Some large farms compost their animals above ground in special facilities, then spread the compost on the fields. For the small homesteader, burial is the best method, but if the ground is frozen you might have to cremate the animal. If you do decide to burn the body, make sure you burn it down to ashes. One good thing about cremation is if the animal was sick, there is no chance of spreading disease.
Here are some rules for burying an animal safely:
- You must dig a hole that will put the animal at least four feet below the surface.
- The land can’t be dug up again—it must be kept as an animal graveyard.
- The burial pit must be at least one hundred feet away from anything.
- The soil must be deep and fine textured.
- There should be no danger of groundwater being contaminated.
Immediately after Killing
Note: Pigs need special procedures for cleanliness. Don’t follow these instructions for hogs.
- If the animal is not where you want to butcher it, put a noose around its neck and drag it to where you want. This needs to be done right away because the next step is best done with the heart still beating.
- Hang the animal upside down from the hind feet and slit the throat (if you haven’t already) by sticking your big knife in and pulling it outward. Make sure to sever the arteries and veins. Any time you make a cut, avoid cutting into the hair—instead keep your knife between the flesh and skin and cut out. It is so important to hold the hide away from the meat as you cut (for example, hold it away with your left as you cut with your right). Your hand, the hide and hair should never touch the meat, in order to avoid contamination.
- If this is an uncastrated male, remove the head and testicles or the meat will be tainted and taste bad. To remove the head, use the slit in the throat to cut all the way around. For a goat, twist the head until the bone snaps. With a larger animal use a meat saw to cut the spine.
- Make slits between the Achilles tendon and the ankles and insert the gambrel. Remove the front feet, and hoist the animal to a height convenient for work on the animal’s rear end.
- To remove the skin, starting at the slits at the tendons, cut around the foot (cutting out), and be careful not to cut the tendon. Slice a line down each leg from that point in the center of the leg. Then where the two lines meet, slice down the center of the body to the neck.
- Starting at the junction between the two leg cuts and the body cut, use the skinning knife to separate the skin from the flesh. You will have to pull the skin with one hand as you go so they will come apart.
- If you are going to save the hide, be careful as you go. Skin the whole belly, then work around the legs from front to back.
- Start the top of the Y (the junction of the cuts you made earlier) and skin up over the crotch. This is the tightest spot so be very careful if you are saving the hide. If you leave the fat on the body it will be easier to skin.
- Skin over the anus to the tailbone. Pull the tail sharply and it will separate from the spine. The rest of the animal will be easier to skin. Raise or lower it to be a comfortable height.
- To skin the forelegs, start on the outside of the leg and work around to the front. Then skin the neck and inner forelegs and the skin should come off.
- Cut around the anus with the sharp pointed knife, being careful not to poke any holes in the intestine. When the anus is free, pull it out slightly and tie it off, unless it is a goat (not necessary for a goat).
- Cut down the belly (from the inside out), holding the guts away from the point of the knife with your other hand. Cut through the belly fat down to the sternum, and then cut the meat between the legs.
- Cut out the penis if it has one, then place a very large container underneath to catch the guts, which will be bulging out of the hole you just made. If this is a ruminant animal, green liquid may flow from the neck, but this is just cud. Don’t let any cud get into your container.
- Cut through the fat surrounding the guts and sever any tissue connecting them to the rear wall of the body cavity. Pull the anus through from the inside, and then take it out of the body cavity through the big hole. Take your time with this step and go slow—if you poke a hole in any of the intestines or the bladder, it will contaminate the meat because liquid is still in there.
- Pull the intestines and bladder out of the body. Just reach in and lift them over the sternum and out (they go into the big container), and most of everything will be hanging out of the body. Strip off as much belly fat as you can, which can be fed to chickens. Cut out the organs you want to keep and put them into another bowl that you have handy (the liver, kidneys, etc.).
- Cut the flesh that is left, which is connecting the stomachs to the body, and let them fall into the big bucket. Cut out the diaphragm and the connecting tissue behind the lungs and heart to remove them. Separate the heart from the lungs, and squeeze it to get out the blood. Put the heart in the bowl to keep. Put the lungs in the bucket.
- At the neck, cut out the windpipe and make sure the hole is clear all the way through the body cavity. Hose the whole thing down with cold water.
- To get the tongue, cut under the jaw in the soft space in the middle. Then reach in and cut the tongue loose at the base. To get the brain, saw it in half with your meat saw. If you want to save the head for head cheese, skin it, remove ears, eyes, nose, and anything else that is not meat or bone, and brush the teeth to clean them.
Cutting Up a Goat
- Cut behind the shoulder blade to remove the front legs, then cut off the bottom half of the leg at the elbow. The bottom half is not good for anything but soup bones. The shoulder can be packaged as it is, or the meat can be taken off the bone and rolled and tied for roast, or it can be chopped for stew meat or stir fry.
- Take as much meat from the neck as you can and use it for soup. Saw through the backbone between every rib to get chops, or take the bone out completely, or just cut out the whole muscle bundle along the backbone. When the whole muscle is taken it is called backscrap and is the best-tasting meat.
- Use the meat saw to cut the ribs from the backbone, then cut the ribs in half with your knife and package. Cut out the meat under the backbone—this is the tenderloin.
- Cut off the rear feet, then cut off the legs at the knee. The bottom half of the leg is the shank. Remove the leg at the pelvis and use it for roast. Take out the bone now or package as it is.
- Go over all the bones and get any last bits to be put into sausage and jerky.
How to Kill a Chicken
- Catch the chicken, either by sneaking up on it at night or by catching it some other way. Have a large bucket ready for catching blood, and if you are going to remove feathers, have a large pot or bucket starting to boil.
This is the Whizbang chicken plucker designed by Herrick Kimball.
- There are many ways to kill a chicken. A common way is to do it with an ax on a chopping block. Hold the chicken with one hand and use a heavy-headed ax to chop the head off in one blow. The chicken may move its head at the wrong time, but the goal is to cut as close to the head as possible. Another way is to hold the chicken just below the head and swing it so the body twirls around, and on the third swing the head will separate from the neck. Or to prevent flopping, tie the chicken by the legs upside-down to a tree branch. Cut off the head with a sharp knife. The least messy way is to cut off the top of a milk jug, two inches below the handle. Nail it to a wall, with the small end down. Pick up the bird by the ankles. Put it head downward into the jug so that its head pokes out the small hole (that used to be a pouring spout), hold the head and stretch out the neck a bit and cut at the base of the head with a sharp knife. A .22 will kill a chicken also.
- If you used a method in which the bird can’t move, the bucket should be ready under the chicken to catch the blood. If you used the chopping method, you will need to quickly stick the bird into the bucket, or the chicken will flop around all over for a long time, scattering blood everywhere. Let the blood completely drain out.
- If you just skin a chicken you do not have to go through all the work needed to remove feathers. To remove feathers, while the bird is draining, make sure the boiling water temperature is between 130°F and 180°F (hotter is better). Lay out newspapers or other cover to pluck on.
- Grasp the bird by the ankles and immerse the body in the hot water. If you are using a roasting-style pan, soak the breast first and flip it. Every feathered part should have an equal time in the water, including the feathered knees. It should take about thirty seconds.
- Put the bird on the newspaper (but don’t ever let the skin touch the lead-filled ink), and start picking out feathers as soon as you pull it out. Start with the wing and tail, then the body and then the pinfeathers. The big ones need to be pulled in the direction they grow.
- You will be left with a bird covered in down and fine hairs. Use a gas stove flame, candle, propane torch, or alcohol burner to singe these off. Make sure you can’t set anything else on fire.
- Now the chicken is cleaned or drawn. Put it in very cold water to cool it, and either get ready near a faucet or get a bowl of cold water. Also get a sharp knife, a cutting board, a box lined with wax paper or a bucket, and a container to put chicken pieces in.
- When looking at the bird, if it feels very light and the muscles are thin, and the innards look strange and have abscesses, then there is a strong possibility the bird had tuberculosis (or TB), so don’t eat it!
- Cut off the head and throw it out. If there is no head, cut off the top of the neck if it got dirty, and discard.
- Feel for the knee joint where the scaly leg joins to the feathered knee, bend the knee and cut across the joint until the foot is off.
- Put the chicken on its back with the rear end facing you. Cut across the abdomen from one thigh to the other, being very careful to not cut into any intestines. Reach inside between the intestines and the breastbone until you reach the heart, and gently loosen the membranes that hold the innards to the body wall. The gizzard, heart and liver will come out in one big mass; put them in the box or bucket. Watch out for the green sac embedded in the liver; if it breaks it will make the chicken taste bad.
- Scoop out the lungs, which are stuck to the inside of the ribcage, with your fingers and put them into the box or bucket. Cut around the vent (the anus) with lots of room so you don’t cut into the intestine. Throw that into the box or bucket.
- The kidneys will be stuck inside the cavity against the back. With your fingers, scoop out as much soft kidney tissue as you can, but you won’t be able to get all of it, and that’s OK.
- Cut the skin down the whole length of the back of the bird’s neck. The crop (the thin skinned pouch on the bird’s esophagus) tears really easily, so you will have to pull the skin away. Pull the crop, esophagus, and windpipe out of the bird and put it in the box or bucket.
- Dispose of the innards by burning, composting, or if they had no chicken diseases, feeding them back to the chickens. Don’t feed to dogs or cats or they will start killing chickens. If you want to save the giblets (heart, liver, and gizzard), cut the gallbladder off of the liver, rinse the liver, and put it in a giblet bowl. Cut the gizzard open along its narrow edge three-quarters of the way around, and dump out food and grit. Peel off the yellow inner lining in the gizzard by separating it at the edge you cut at and pull it out. Rinse the gizzard and put it in the bowl, then cut the heart away from the arteries, rinse and save it. Cut the neck off at the base and put it in the bowl also. Wash the feathers and save.
- You can clean the outside of the chicken with soap and water if you rinse well, which removes any remaining dirt.
How to Kill Any Other Bird
Turkeys can be killed the same as chickens, except the bird is five times bigger so it will take longer. To scald a turkey, it is easy to use a metal garbage can and heat the water to 140-180°F for thirty to sixty seconds. To remove turkey pinfeathers, put the bird under a faucet and use pressure and rubbing to remove them. Ducks are difficult to catch because they are easily injured, so grasp the bird by the neck and pull its body into your armpit, holding the wings down with your arm. Keep the duck away from your face, and kill just like a chicken. Hold geese the same way as a duck, but make sure that you are holding the neck behind the head so you can keep the beak away from you. To scald a goose, heat the water to 155°F, and soak for as long as four minutes. To clean water fowl, you will also need to remove the oil sack on the tip of its rear end and all the yellow area around it.
Killing a Rabbit
- Hold the rabbit’s hind legs as high as your chest with your left hand, and hold it around the neck with the right. Pull the head down and while bending the head backwards as hard as you can until you feel the neck snap. The other method is to whack it in the back of the head as hard as you can.
- Hang it by the hind feet with the feet spread as wide apart as the body.
- Cut the skin off from the hock joint of each hind leg and peel back so you can see the Achilles tendons, and stick hooks, ropes, chains, or a gambrel to hook in the tendon.
- Cut off the front feet and tail. Use a small sharp knife to cut the skin between the legs, starting with the hock joint on the inside of the leg and working up the inside of the other leg to the other hock joint.
- Cut the skin from each front leg to the neck, and peel the skin off the body starting at the hind hocks. It should peel like a banana, so that it will be inside out. Cut around the anus and any place that the skin does not come off easily.
- Put the skin aside for tanning. Cut around the anal vent and down to the breastbone down the middle of the belly. Don’t cut into any intestines!
- Pull out the intestines, reach into the chest and pull out the heart and lungs. Look at the liver, and if it has white spots or any discoloration, it has in infection and you can’t eat it and neither can any animal. If it has white cysts on its stomach or intestines, it had tapeworm and it must be cooked very well to be eaten.
Meat grinder plate sizes:
⅛ inch: hamburger, bologna, franks
¼ inch: hamburger, salami, pepperoni
3/16 inch: course-ground hamburger, breakfast sausage
⅜ inch: chili meat, first sausage grind
½ inch: chili meat, vegetables
- If you want to save the liver, cut away the gall bladder very carefully, and don’t spill the gall bladder. Wash the liver well, and wash the rest of the body.
- Take the rabbit from hanging up, then cut off both front legs at the shoulder and both hind legs at the hip.
- Cut through the ribs on both sides parallel to the backbone. Divide the rest of the back into two or three pieces. Cut away the meat from the hind legs and haunches or loins.
A goat should age one week at 40°F, and longer if it is colder. A larger animal needs to be hung at least two weeks at 40°F. A goat can be hung whole, but a big animal needs to be cut in half. To halve it, have someone help you. Face the belly while your helper holds the body and helps guide the saw from the back.
How to Fillet a Fish
Note: This technique can be used for a medium-sized fish such as coral trout, barramundi, or salmon and can be used on any fish with scales.
- Put the fish on a very clean, flat surface belly down. If the head is not removed already, hold onto its head with the hand not holding the knife (if you are right-handed, then the head would be toward your left). You will need a thin flexible knife and a broad flat knife, both sharp.
- Use the thin knife to cut downward just behind the head in a diagonal line until you reach the backbone, and run the knife along the top of the bone until you reach the top fin nearest the tail. Use a sawing motion and do not try to cut off too much fillet at this point.
- When you’re near the tail, hold the knife flat against the backbone and push the point through the side of the fillet. With the knife sticking out the other side, cut through the remaining fillet toward the tail. Peel the fillet back with one hand while cutting with the other using small slicing motions. Turn the fish on its side with the backbone facing you.
- Starting just below the Y bones coming off the backbone, cut one-quarter inch deep the length of the fish until you reach the point you stopped with the first fillet.
- Cut deeper this time, skimming along the edge of the ribs from front to back again, stopping at the same point as before.
- Make a cut along the top of the belly by following the white line in the skin and lift off the fillet as you cut.
- Turn the fish over and repeat steps 3-7 on the other side. After you’re finished, there will be sections of meat behind the rear dorsal fins. This portion does not have Y bones in it, so run your knife along the backbone all the way to the tail to remove a boneless fillet.
- Repeat on the other side and you should have a total of five boneless steaks.
- To remove the skin (this is optional): Hold the skin in one hand and use the flat knife to slice a small portion of the flesh away from the skin. Cut a finger hole in the skin and hold it by the hole.
- Use the knife to gently remove the skin by holding the knife at an angle and pulling with the other hand. Do not cut or push with the knife.
The teeth in the fish can be sharp so be careful not to stick your hand in there or you can get cut. Don’t poke yourself with the spines in the fins. Freeze or can any fish that you are not going to use right away.
- Set up a big pot over a heat source. It is best to do this outside because of fire risk and the greasy coating this process creates. Build a fire without high flames or flying embers under the pot, or the tallow may burst into flame.
- Have a lid handy that fits completely over the pot so if the tallow does catch fire, simply cover it to seal out oxygen. Do not try to put it out with water.
- Fill a big pot ¾ full of chopped fat (goat, deer, elk, or whatever animal). The chunks should be no bigger than ½-1 inch in size). Cover the fat with water and bring to a rolling boil.
- As the water boils away the tallow will begin to be extracted from the fat. Keep up the boil the whole time, and when most of the water is gone you will see the mixture change.
- Watch the pot closely. You will see the bubbles becoming smaller and less violent, and the color will change from light, muddy brown to a dark, clear liquid.
- The fat is rendered when it turns into brown crisps that look like bacon, and it will smell like bacon. This will take about three hours, and when the water is completely evaporated a light, white smoke will come off it. Take the pot off the flame immediately or it can catch fire, and be very careful not to spill or it can cause an explosion.
Boil the hooves, horns, and scrap pieces of hide for a few hours. Let it cool and the oil will rise to the top. Use as it is or mix with fat.
- Let cool 10 minutes then strain out the impurities. When it is still warm you can use it to make tallow candles in a candle mold.
- Use goat or sheep leg bones, or chicken head, feet, necks or backs (3 pairs of feet make 1 pint of gelatin). Put them in a pot and cover with water.
- Simmer the bones for at least 4 hours. Goat and sheep should be boiled for 6-7 hours, while chickens need a bit less.
- Let the bones cool, then skim off the fat from the top of the water (see Neat’s-Foot Oil, above), and the sediment from the bottom, and remove the bones. The liquid left over is the gelatin.
- To clarify the gelatin, heat until the gelatin melts. For every quart add ½ cup sugar or honey, and the shells and slightly beaten egg whites of 5 eggs. Stir it in, then stop stirring when it gets any hotter.
- Let it boil 10 minutes, add ½ cup cold water, and boil 5 minutes more. Remove from heat, cover with a lid and let it sit in a warm place for 30 minutes.
- Get a large clean dishcloth and fold it to make several layers. Soak it in hot water and ring it out, then strain the gelatin through the cloth. You will have to squeeze it through the cloth (hold the cloth like a bag).
- If it doesn’t get clear, strain it through again. To set up, or harden the gelatin after using it in a recipe, put it in the fridge. If it doesn’t set up that means you added too much liquid. Pineapple, papaya, mango, and figs all need to be cooked before using or they will also prevent the gelatin from setting up.
You could smoke meat instead, which tastes delicious, but smoking takes a smokehouse and several weeks of time and constant vigilance. Salting is a practical and efficient method of preserving meat with very little effort.
- Clean the meat, and cut off anything you don’t like. Save the fat to make clarified fat. Dry the meat with a clean cloth, and cut it into smaller strips so that it will be easier to make sure that the meat in the middle is preserved. Rub spices into the strips, and then rub tons of salt into them until you can’t rub any more. There are salt curing products available made just for this purpose, but these contain sodium nitrite, which you probably don’t want to use.
- When you’ve rubbed in as much salt as you can, cover it in a layer of salt to coat it. Hang it up in a place that stays consistently 59°F (15°C) for at least three weeks, checking often for spoilage. A basement or cold storage is ideal. It should stay edible for at least a few months. The way this works is that salt dissolves into the water in the meat, preventing bacteria from growing if the balance is greater than 3.5 percent salt to water. Ideally, it should be over 10 percent salt. You can’t really control the percentage but if you just rub so much salt into the meat that it just won’t accept any more, you can be fairly sure that you’ve got it.
- When you are ready to cook it, just wash off the salt well. You might have to soak it a little bit to get it all out.
Clarified Fats and Butters
Fat is useful and healthy, as long as it’s used the right way. There is a big difference between the fats found in factory foods and the natural fats found in homegrown meat or dairy. You will still want to remove excess fat when you are cooking, but it serves a useful purpose.
Lard is an unpleasant word that is synonymous with clarified fat. It is fat that is cut up, liquefied and filtered. When it cools, it becomes a block of lard. Often several types of fats are mixed together, and you can even add a small amount of vegetable oil. To make clarified fat, save all the fats from chopping up meat and store them in the freezer for when you are ready to process them. When you are ready, put them into a saucepan and simmer on low for a few hours until the fat is liquid. If you would like to make your own bullion cubes out of it, cut up onions, carrots, leeks, turnips, herbs, and spices, and add salt and pepper to the fat. Once it is liquefied, pour it through cheesecloth and allow it to cool. It should last years, and can be used in soups and stews, or for greasing a frying pan.
Clarified butter, or ghee, lasts much longer than regular butter. Once made into ghee, it can sit at room temperature for months without going bad. The butter is melted at a very low temperature until it is completely melted. Don’t stir it, but you can raise the heat slightly so that it steams a little. Don’t let it turn brown. The solids will rise to the surface, which will need to be skimmed off. Eventually (usually hours later), it will be a golden color and completely clear. Pour it into a container and when it is solid and cool, put the lid on tightly. Clarified butter is used in cream sauces and for frying.
If you have quite a few chickens, they will probably produce more eggs than you can eat. Eggs can actually last a long time on their own. In the fridge in a regular egg carton they last about six weeks, and in a plastic bag can last two months. Cold storage, pickling, drying, and freezing can extend that time and possibly get them through the winter when the chickens aren’t laying.
For cold storage, pack freshly gathered eggs into a wood, plastic, or ceramic container in sawdust or oatmeal with the small end down. Don’t store the eggs near anything smelly like onions. They must be stored at 30°F to 40°F (-1°C to 4°C) in fairly high humidity, and will last about three months.
To pickle eggs, first hard-boil them, cool immediately in cold water, and remove the shells. Put them into wide-mouthed jars. Soak them in a brine of ½ cup of salt per 2 cups of water for 2 days. Pour off the brine. In a saucepan heat:
- 1 quart vinegar
- ¼ cup pickling spice
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon sugar
Bring this mixture to boil and pour it over the eggs. Screw the lid on tightly and leave them alone for seven days to cure before eating. Pickled eggs will last four to six months in the fridge or a properly chilled cold storage.
The easiest method of storing eggs is freezing. Use only fresh, clean eggs that you didn’t have to clean yourself. This means eggs that happened to not get any dirt or manure on them. Crack the eggs and put their contents into the freezer container bag. Only freeze as many eggs per bag as you will use at one time because you can’t refreeze the eggs once you thaw them. Stir the eggs together without whipping in any air, and add
1 tablespoon of sugar OR
½ teaspoon of salt per cup of egg
They will keep for eight months in the freezer.
Drying is a somewhat more time-consuming method that extends the life of your eggs. Compared to other methods it may not be worth it since they will only last three to four months, which is as long as simply putting them into cold storage. Nonetheless, you might still want to do it. Crack very fresh eggs and beat them well in a bowl. Pour them into a drying surface that is lined with plastic or foil, no more than an eighth of an inch thick. Plates work for solar drying or you can use a dehydrator. In an oven or dryer, dry at 120°F (49°C) for 24-36 hours, then turn the egg over, remove the plastic or foil, break it up and dry for 12-24 more hours. In the sun, it will take five days until they are dry enough to break easily when touched. Grind the egg into a powder and use in baking, or reconstitute by adding an equal amount of water (half cup of egg powder to a half cup of water).
Lard is the most effective method, if you have lots of lard. Use very fresh, clean eggs and dip in melted lard. Lay them out to dry, then buff them gently with a clean towel to remove any excess and to ensure that the lard is spread all over the egg. Then pack the eggs in salt in a large bucket so that no eggs touch each other. Put the bucket in a cool place, and stored this way they will last six months to a year.