Thursday, January 27, 2011

Books For the Modern Homesteader

I thought I'd post some of the books I have found useful in my homesteading adventure.  For those who don't know it both my husband and I were raised in the city and had no experience with livestock, gardening, etc. at all before we made  the decision to start urban homesteading.  That's not to say we just jumped in feet first.  I had been reading on the subject for 3 years before we took the plunge.  Here are some books that I will always keep on my shelf.

Backyard Fruits and Berries by Diane E. Bilderback and Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

This is a great book on Fruit and Bramble propagation and care.  It covers varieties, planting, care, and pruning.  A definite must when it comes to your mini orchard or bramble patch.

Back To Basics -  Readers Digest

Very good book covering everything from building a log cabin to milking goats and cows. It also has large sections on traditional American skills like quilting, rag rugs, shoe making basket weaving etc.  It is similar to the Encyclopedia of Country Living which I also highly recommend.  in fact I would recommend the Encyclopedia over this book if you have to choose.  But this has some sections the other book doesn't.

Storey's Guide To Raising Chickens

Any of the Storey books are excellent on raising livestock.  This is very in depth on every aspect of chicken raising for meat or eggs.  I will say that the Encyclopedia has more info on broody hens though.

Keeping A Family Cow

This is a must read if you are even considering a milk animal.  It pretty much sold me on the benefits of a cow over goats.  I love goats and we had milk goats, but there is just no denying that a cow is better for a large family and for things like cream and butter.  It goes in depth on the costs vers. the benefits of the family cow.  What you need to raise one.  Feeding, birthing, and cow emergencies.  If you think a cow can't make sense I would say read this first and then make your decision.  Warning!  This book talks in depth about the dairy industry, you may never want to drink milk from the jug again!

I still am clinging to my dream of a jersey milk cow someday, and with prices shooting up and our family demands on milk, butter, and cheese only going to get worse I think we'll have to work it out.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living - Carla Emery

I know I have another post on this book, but I couldn't write a recommended book list without it.  Carla covers everything about homesteading.  Even down to giving birth at home and how to use a wood cook stove.  If you can't get any other book get this one.  It has more information than any book I've found and many things you will never see in some books.

Books are great but hands on experience is the only way to learn certain things.  Reading and studying can only get you so far when your dealing with living breathing creatures or plants.  So even though I think these books should be on every homesteaders bookshelf having a person of experience is perhaps the best teacher.  If you want chickens you should join 4-H chickens so that you can become friends with those who have priceless knowledge.  If you want to grow a big garden do the same thing.  If you want to can food contact the local extension office and they can refer you to those in the community who are master canners. 

To highlight my point on the need for establishing community for your skills I'll tell you a funny story.

When we first moved to Wyoming I immediately wanted to get chickens.  For years I had been reading and studying about how to raise them, the cost effectiveness of keeping them, etc.  So finally my dream came true when we moved out on 5 acres in the country.  We got a dozen hens from someone at our church.  They weren't the prettiest chickens you ever saw, kind of ragged and mixed bred.  But they were hardy (having survived Wyoming winters without a coop) and layed just fine. I loved watching them from the back fence busily scratching for grubs and worms out in our garden.

We had also recently joined 4-H for rabbits and chickens with my eldest daughter and were heartily welcomed into the group.  The group had amazing leaders that were fun and friendly to us newcomers. 

Well one day I went out to collect eggs and noticed that one of the chickens was behaving strangely.  She seemed uncomfortable and kept making this strange squeaking noise.  Alarmed I separated her from the flock.  This was during the height of the Asian bird flu scare and many of my family members had expressed their concern with me owning chickens on the off chance that the flu would reach my flock.

As she kept squeaking I finally called the leader of our rabbit/chicken club and told him the problem.  This mans name was Marvin and he was the kind of no nonsense man that you often see in farming.  He was a bit gruff but the kids loved him and he loved teaching the kids.  He had been raising rabbits chickens ducks and turkeys for more than 20 years and had a wealth of skills.

After listening to my story he bluntly said that he had seen chickens do that before and it was most likely due to my hen having eaten a mouse. Chickens cant tear things apart so when they get ahold of a mouse or snake they swallow it whole.  Well I almost couldn't believe it!  I just had a hard time envisioning the chicken eating a whole mouse.  I mean how could she get her beak open wide enough?

He told me not to worry, within a few days the mouse would be digested and the squeaking would go away.  He of course turned out to be right and the hen went on to live a long life, but it proves that the best reference you can possibly have is an experienced person.  Because I can tell you no chicken raising book I ever read had information on squeaking chickens!

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