Rabbits: Self Sufficiency’s Secret Weapon

Siblings awaiting breakfast

Siblings awaiting breakfast

As I write this little essay, backyard chickens are all the rage.  And with good reason, too. They are wonderful creatures who provide their owners with an abundance of eggs and meat, along with hours of entertainment. Their bedding and manure, are outstanding components in the compost pile. We have around three dozen of them (with more coming in the spring), so my biases are out there in plain sight.

All this fuss about birds, though, makes it easy to forget about what may be the most valuable livestock to anyone seeking a simple, sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle; the rabbit.

Rabbits are quieter than chickens; a lot quieter. On the whole, they are easier to handle. While they do shed, your coop, yard, or pasture won’t look like killing fields the way they do when chickens are molting.

Rabbits are cleaner than chickens and cleaning up after them is way easier. Chickens make a terrible mess in their sleeping/nesting areas, while bunnies by and large keep their bodily waste away from where they like to sleep and hang out.  Their waste is also in nice neat piles of easily scooped up,  compact, round pellets rather than the runny, splatted mess that chickens leave in their wake.

One of our Does, Cinder, not feeling photogenic

One of our Does, Cinders, not feeling photogenic

Rabbit manure is arguably the best fertilizer you can add to your garden beds. Unlike chicken manure, rabbit guano can be used without composting and the bunnies provide copious quantities of it.

If you do decide to compost it (we do both), you will find that it does so easily and quickly. The manure is also a fantastic addition to worm beds.  Red wiggler worms positively adore rabbit manure, especially if it has a little bedding straw in it, and will turn it into the absolutely finest quality garden additive you can get anywhere.

Rabbit meat is tasty, mild, and highly nutritious. In parts of America, that benefit has been largely lost, as many urban and suburban dwellers have grown to see rabbits as cute little pets to pamper and snuggle with; but most of the world, and still large sections of this country consider rabbits and a food source. And let’s not forget that they are at the top of the menu for every predatory creature in nature, from birds of prey, to foxes, coyotes, wolves, weasels, bobcats, mountain lions, and more, to the family dog and cat, who will always have one eye fixed on Bugs as a potential meal.

I’m not going to take time defending rabbit as a food source, because all history demonstrates it to be so, and I’m not going to argue about it. We are omnivores and our self-sufficiency plan includes a rabbit meat. If you only see rabbits as pets, that’s fine by me. They are still a great benefit to you for the manure alone.

For those who process their own meat, rabbits are the easiest of all livestock to prepare for the freezer. It is much easier and faster than processing chickens.

Rabbits breed prolifically, so they can provide a continuous supply of protein and manure. For those so inclined, rabbit fur is still a great source for warm clothing and the hides can be good, basic leather.

New Rangers for 2015 under construction

New Rangers for 2015 under construction

Rabbits don’t require a great deal of space. Many people raise them totally in cages. We prefer to raise them on the ground when possible, though we do have cages in our barn for times when it’s necessary.

Older Rabbit Rangers In Pasture

Older Rabbit Rangers In Pasture

My wife has designed a moveable rabbit crate that serves the same function as a chicken tractor. We call them, Rabbit Rangers. Each Ranger has a nesting porch in the back, where the rabbits can get up out of mud and frost to sleep, nest and give birth. There is a large open area in the middle where the bunnies can hop about or graze to their heart’s content. The Rangers are moved daily so the buns can have fresh grass. Some manure is left behind, of course, which aids in fertilizing the pasture (or yard). The grass grows back quickly and much more lush, improving the quality of the field.

If a winter is particularly severe, we will move the rabbits, especially mothers with babies, to the cages in the barn where they can avoid the worst of the elements, but by March, they are back out on pasture. We think rabbits should be on the ground, hopping, eating, digging and doing what rabbits like to do.  The purpose of the Rangers is to allow that, while providing them shelter from both the weather and from predators.

Main Breeding Buck, James, In Ranger

Main Breeding Buck, James, In Ranger

If you are interested in raising Rabbits as part of your homestead, feel free to ask us anything you like. I would also recommend any of the Backyard Rabbit forums on Facebook.

Do you raise rabbits? Are you considering it? Tell us all about it. We’d love to hear from you. Got questions? Send them our way.  Remember, we’re in this together.

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Project Self Sufficiency: Why Planning Is Spontaneity’s Best Friend

calendarI would like to say I am a spontaneous person. I’d like to, but I can’t. I am, however, impulsive. They sound similar, but impulsiveness is much more expensive, and far less fun. Trust me, I know these things.

Spontaneity is creative, fun, and surprising. Impulsiveness is chaotic, confusing and demanding. Let me give a quick example of each.

A spontaneous farmer gets his work done ahead of schedule and says, ‘Dang, I think I’ll take my wife to the movies.’  An impulsive farmer looks through a seed catalogue, sees a bunch of new or cool varieties and buys them up to add to his usual products without giving thought to the financial, time or space costs, giving himself more work and stress as a result.

The key to opening up opportunity for the former and inhibiting the latter is, planning. December is my planning month. (Note: planning does not come natural to me. It is way to disciplined for my random, extemporaneous mind, but it is a skill I’ve cultivated at great cost over the years). I sit down with my calendar, my budget, my seed catalogs and business plan and work out something that makes sense.

By knowing what I have room for, time for and money for, I can minimize stress and optimize production. I will always ask Brittan’s input, to make sure I’m growing and raising things we will actually use or sell, because my tendency is to grow things that are fun.  For example, we almost never eat eggplant, but I think they are beautiful plants with gorgeous flowers and fruit. They are also challenging for me to grow. Last year, I didn’t ask her about them and planted way too many. Actually, two would have been too many, but I digress.  I wasted hours and hours nursing a couple dozen eggplants only to have 90 percent of them go to the chickens or compost heap (same thing, really).  This year, I will plant a maximum of two, because she reminded me of my impulsiveness last year, so I could work it into my plan.

I use a calendar to write down a planting schedule to ensure I get everything out at the right times. The plan cues me when it’s time to get seed trays started in the greenhouse and when it’s time to feed my plants.

Planning in advance reminds me when to schedule the arrival of new chicks or ducklings. I know when I’m going to buy feeder calves or put my male goats in with the does for breeding.

One of my favorite tools is a planting chart provided free from the University of Georgia Ag Department. I found it several years ago as a .pdf online. While not exhaustive, it gives great guidance on when to plant specific crops for both the spring and fall seasons. I love it. Many States have similar guides. I encourage you to do a search for your area. If you can’t find one, contact your County extension office and see what they have.

As for calendars, this time of year they are on sale EVERYWHERE. Or you can print out a blank one from an online template which is my normal plan. This year, though, I’m going to buy a notebook style like a Franklin Planner so I can keep more detailed notes. Wait, did I just use the word, detail….

Planning is an evolving process, but I encourage you to try it. It will save you many tears and sleepless nights.

Now it’s your turn. How do you plan your homesteading/farming year? When do you get started? Please share, we’d all love to learn from you.  Also, send us any questions you have. We’re in this together.

 

The Little Turkeys That Could

Mr. Crooked Gets A Secret Meal

Mr. Crooked Gets A Secret Meal

Meet ‘Mr. Crooked’. He is one of two special needs turkeys on our farm. He was born with a deformed beak. The upper and lower portions of the beak are off set which makes it difficult for him to pick up feed or bugs or pluck off blades of grass. As a result, he is 30% smaller than all the other turkeys.

Our other misfit is ‘Janky’. Jank’s knee is deformed and he walks with a severe limp. He’s always been that way. As he has grown, his leg has increasing difficulty supporting his body. Foraging is very hard for him now and his growth rate has recently slowed.

On the whole, turkeys are a pain in the tootie. As they grow, they get into everything, including our neighbors’ gardens. They pick on the chickens and ducks and they gorge themselves on everyone else’s food.  They are, without doubt, the stupidest creatures under heaven. Their only redeeming feature is they taste great with cranberry sauce.

Farming teaches me a lot about life. Sometimes it discourages me, but often I marvel at how resilient and resourceful some of God’s creatures are. I am frequently inspired by them to be a better man.

Many animals born with physical deformities simply die. They just quit. Others, like Crooked and Janky, are made of sterner stuff and find a way to overcome. These two birds have more than impressed me with their fortitude.

Despite his challenges, Mr. Crooked roams the fields with the rest of the birds, working to gather what food he can. It’s difficult, but he never gives up. He has learned to tear off plants since he can’t pluck them like the rest of the flock. He often can’t even pick up the feed pellets we put out because his beak is so offset that he can’t grip them. He will drop ten or fifteen pellets to every one he gets, but he dives in nonetheless.

I have learned that if the pellets are in a pile, he can get more because they are easier to access, so I do my best to accommodate him.  He will follow me out to the rabbit pasture while the other turkeys and chickens are occupied with the feed I’ve scattered in a field for them.  While I’m feeding the rabbits, I will pour little piles of food for Crooked so that he can get extra nutrition. He leaves a lot of it behind because once it spreads out he can’t pick it up, but I don’t mind. Since it’s just good rabbit feed, the wild bunnies will come along and gobble it up.

Janky can’t keep up with the other birds anymore when they go out to forage.  For a while he was rather discouraged and would lay down in front of the barn and sulk. Then one day he stopped pouting and realized he didn’t have to keep up, he could just go at his own pace. He moves slowly and methodically, but he’s out foraging again. It is very impressive. Sometimes I sneak him a little extra when no one is looking.

I hate wasting feed and I would never give extra food to a lazy animal, but Crooked and Janks are the very antithesis of lazy. They work hard to overcome their challenges, so I happily assist them. I never begrudge Mr. Crooked his extra cups of expensive rabbit feed, because he has demonstrated his willingness to do his part in his own upkeep.

Similarly, Janky has earned his secret feedings by his determination to succeed.

I wish more PEOPLE would live like Crooked and Janky.  I am inspired by men and women, who, despite physical or mental challenges, refuse to give up or sink into a victim mentality, but get up and fight to fend for themselves.  I NEVER resent those individuals getting assistance or help along the way.

Sometimes, one of the other turkeys will spot me feeding Mr. Crooked and will come running to grab some of it. I will always shoo the greedy bird away. There is food everywhere for him. He doesn’t need the hand out, too.

I’m guessing the analogy is clear, just in case it isn’t; while I NEVER resent a helping hand or a safety net for those who need it, I get very perturbed at greedy takers and lazy ‘vicitms’ who want a piece of a pie they don’t deserve. If you can work, work. If you can hunt, hunt. If you can forage, forage. There is plenty for everyone.

Finally, to every man, woman and child, who refuses to be a victim; who gets up every day and joins the fray; you have earned my respect and gratitude. I honor you and you inspire me. I will work harder today because of you.

Now, it’s time to go feed the turkeys.

How the Simple And Sustainable View Real Estate Differently And Why You Should,Too – Part 2

Simple living houseIn Part 1, we looked the history of American personal real estate investing. We discovered we had made a mistake thinking that investing in home ownership was the best thing we could ever put our money into. It turns out that houses are just as subject to economic and market pressures as stocks and mutual funds are. So let’s spend just a few minutes discovering a new way to think about home ownership and money.

The Simple, Sustainable crowd want to limit risk and maximize life.  We learned that big, oversized suburban homes, don’t actually improve our lifestyles, they only make them APPEAR to be improved. In reality, those houses have to be filled with stuff. Stuff costs money and generally depreciates in value rather quickly. Financing the typical suburban lifestyle frequently requires multiple incomes, which increases the number of vehicles a household needs. Those vehicles must be purchased, fueled, insured and maintained. The stress of the big circle of the big suburban lifestyle is killing us.

Living Simple, Sustainable lives, means instead of buying as much as we can afford, we look for the minimally viable living space.  It means prioritizing the land over the structures. It means smaller mortgages, spread over shorter periods of time. We think in terms of 15 year mortgages, maximum, and getting them paid off early.

A smaller house is less expensive to buy, to heat and cool, to maintain and to furnish, which reduces our expense requirements even more.  Fewer operating costs allows for faster wealth building or faster mortgage reduction. I bet you can feel your blood pressure dropping just thinking about it.

Besides the financial savings, reduced energy costs benefit the environment by reducing nonrenewable portions of our footprint.

Most Simple, Sustainable lifestyles include growing some, or all of our own food. I’m not just describing the back to the country, homesteaders, like my wife and me. More urban and suburban dwellers are gardening (much of it organic) than at any time since the end of WWII.  Whether the motivation is environmental, financial or nutritional, it’s a win for everyone except big corporations.

Let’s summarize: The Simple, Sustainable, Lifestyle, has less debt, on shorter terms, smaller operating costs, better nutrition, and less stress. We have taken back ownership of our time, our lives and our finances. We are investing in our families and in ourselves, rather than handing our hard earned cash to big banks, insurance, utility and oil companies. We are keeping it and using it for things we value rather than handing over to someone else.

I remember once, a friend parking his big, new, heavily financed truck next to my little runabout commuter car. As we got out and started walking to the office, he said, “Geez, Sam, what is that thing you’re driving?”

“Paid for”, I grinned. Years later, I’m still grinning.

There is a revolution happening all over America. Some haven’t caught on yet, but the movement is growing. Americans are beginning to think differently about real estate and home ownership. Rather than throwing money after the appearance of wealth, we are looking at ways to build REAL, tangible, cash in hand wealth. We have minimized risk, have more liquid assets and own our houses outright. We have less stress and sleep great at night. We’re not afraid of the next economic bubble. We have created a kind of immunity.  We love our simple, sustainable lives. And we’d love to have you join us.

I sure would like hear from y’all. Drop in a comment, or send an email with your thoughts on how you’ve simplified your life, or how you’d like to. After all, we’re in this thing together.

 

 

 

 

Six Reasons Why Fall May Be The Best Time For You To Start Gardening.

Kale

Kale

Many, maybe most, people think of spring as the time to plant a vegetable garden. It makes sense on the surface. After the end of a long, cold winter, we want to get outside and play in the dirt. Certainly, spring  and summer gardens are great, especially for fruiting plants like tomatoes and peppers. But in my opinion, fall may be the best season to learn to garden. Here’s why I think so.

  1. Many of the fall/winter vegetables are less maintenance than their summer cousins. Kale, collards, and green onions are great examples of perfect beginner options. Apart from a little bit of thinning after they sprout, they almost look after themselves.
  2. Fall root vegetables like turnips and beets have a long shelf life compared to most summer vegetables.
  3. Weeds tend to be less of a problem because they are beginning to die off.
  4. Less water is required because the weather is not so oppressively hot drying out the soil and the plants, and because most fall crops don’t produce huge fruit that drink up the water.
  5. After the first frost, insects are less of a problem than in a summer garden. Sure there are still a few around, but they are easier to deal with. A few sprays of some soapy water will usually do the trick.
  6. You won’t sweat nearly as much because of the cooler days. That alone is worth a great deal. Can I get an ‘Amen’?

So if you’ve  been thinking about taking the gardening plunge, there’s no better time than the present. Go ahead, get a little dirt under your fingernails. It’s good for you.

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What’s your favorite fall vegetable? I can’t wait to hear.  I’ll tell you mine next time.

As a way of saying thanks to our readers, everyone who signs up for updates or subscribes during the month of September will receive my list of the top 10 fall vegetables for beginning (and experienced) gardeners. Also, feel free to send in your fall gardening questions and photos of your fall garden.

 

 

Loving Our Simple, Sustainable Life

logoI complain about the heat….a lot. Mostly, that’s because I don’t have a lot of other stuff to complain about.  My wife and I live on a 6.25 acre homestead in NW Georgia, with 6 dogs, 4 cats, 8 goats, 2 cows, 2 miniature donkeys, 8 ducks, 7 turkeys, 30 something rabbits, and upwards of 50 chickens. In the spirit of full disclosure, the livestock population goes up and down with the seasons and space in our freezer.

We need more shade trees for the pastures. I guess I could complain about that.

We have a garden that provides food for us and some for the animals.  We don’t have an automatic watering system, so I have to drag garden hoses around and they love to get tangled on things. Sometimes I complain about that.

Our house could use some new siding and there’s often fence to repair (weird thing about farm fences. One day there’s no hole, the next day there they are. I blame aliens).  I could complain about that.

My car has a big dent in the side where someone backed into it and just drove away. It’s not attractive.  My wife’s truck needs a new fuel filter and two of our vehicles have broken air conditioners. That’s annoying.

Yep, if we search hard enough, we can all find something to complain about. But the fact is, my wife and I have to really search to do so.  We have no mortgage at the bank. We owe nothing on our cars.  My morning commute is about 50 feet (from the back porch to the barn).  My wife has a home based business, so she has to walk 48 feet to get from the bed to her soap studio.

We didn’t have to go to the grocery store at all this week.

Our life is not always easy. The work can be very physically demanding and sometimes the bank account is running on fumes, but we love our simple, sustainable, lifestyle.  We both love what we do. My wife makes handcrafted milk soaps, scented candles and other natural body products. The business grows daily and is about to go viral. Check her out at www.yellowbarnsoap.com, or on Facebook at Yellow Barn Soap Studio.

I farm, write books, and coach other people in how to farm, garden and simplify their lives and lifestyles spiritually, financially and career wise.

As recently as three years ago, we were ‘living the American Dream’ with a big house in the suburbs, huge mortgage, and a two hour a day commute with all the trimmings.  I had a well-paying, highly stressful job in Corporate America. We had also started farming in our suburban back yard and on land we rented from a friend at Church.  I had twitches and tics from the stress. I couldn’t sleep. I went through a series of heart tests, including wearing a heart monitor 24/7 for a month.  The doctor told me my choices were either de-stress, go on antianxiety medications, or die.

Dying didn’t sound all that appealing, and I hate medication. I am way too much of a control freak to use chemicals to regulate me, so I opted for door number 3 and decided to de stress.

It took a while to decide on our priorities and create a plan, but we did it. We found a worn out Emu farm out in the country that was in foreclosure and purchased it. My wife did some renovations to the old, but livable trailer, we fixed the barn and cross fenced the property and moved in. We still have a lot of rehabbing to do on the farm, but it’s worth the effort.

We put our house on the market. It took longer that we wanted to sell it and we had to take money to the closing table, but we got out from under it. We were working our plan. We had hoped to totally unhook from the corporate drip by the end of 2015, but my company decided on some restructuring and eliminated a number of Director and VP positions. I was eliminated.

That was one of the most frightening, liberating days of my life. Did I mention I’m 57 years old, in a bad job market? We weren’t ready for the ‘arm bands’ to be removed, but here we were in the deep end and it was swim or drown.  We’re swimming.

We’re still growing, still learning, but the tics are gone, our health is better, and the biggest thing I have to complain about is August in Georgia…or a Braves losing streak. Life is good; and getting better.

What about you? What steps have you taken to simplify your life or make it more sustainable? We’d love to hear about it.  While you’re at it, please follow this blog and join the adventure. Let’s change the world together.

 

 

Books by Sam Burton

IOU NO MORE

Isitoq’s Hound