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Small Livestock

Meat Rabbits / Ducks / Chickens / Quail / Goats
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Butchering

Quail, rabbits chickens, ducks, goats, pigs
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7Posts

The Harvest

Our favorite varieties of open pollinated fruits, vegetables, grains, culinary herbs and medicinal plants. When to plant and harvest.
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2Posts

In The Kitchen

Recipes, cooking, processing, preserving
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Around the Homestead

Daily and seasonal practices for regenerative and sustainable homesteading.
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Regenerative Land Care

Homestead practices that tighten the loop, benefiting both animals and soil, can be regenerative, decreasing dependency on outside resources
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4Posts

From The Potting Bench

Tips From The Potting Bench
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2Posts

Q & A About the Books!

A forum for members to ask questions, leave comments and engage in discussions about the books by Laurie Levey
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1Posts

From the Heart

Thoughts and other tidbits on life lessons that emerge in sustainable and regenerative living.
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New Posts
  • I love the animals on the farm, I love hanging out with them, petting them, giving them their daily food as well as treats which always excites them, and I name them all. I like getting to know their personalities and talking to them, I especially like the ones that behave a little out of character for their species which always makes me smile and often makes me laugh. We have breeding animals that live long, happy and healthy lives. We also have 'grow outs' that are meant for butchering from the minute they are born. Our grow outs also get names, are loved on, talked to and treated with the same amount of love, respect and humor that the breeders do, we don't distinguish between the two. We know that anywhere from two to twelve months time we'll be killing and butchering the grow outs, and at first that was emotionally hard on us, but in time we learned that any grow out that isn't timely butchered needs to be housed and fed, and there just isn't enough room to keep them long term. We've tried selling and giving animals away, but in truth that's harder to do than it is to butcher them. What we want for these animals is a good life, healthy bodies, a feeling of being loved while experiencing joy, with plenty of space to move around in. Not everyone interested in these animals can provide that kind of environment. Travel stress is also a real issue and smaller animals often don't live through the move. After a few years of trying to find homes for animals we can't keep, we've come to recognize that our method of butchering these animals is better than sending them to a new environment where their health fails, their enclosures are too small and they are not fed enough. There have been exceptions that have worked out. There was Steve, a rabbit buck grow out that had one ear that was in a perpetual flop. He grabbed my heart at a young age and wouldn't let go. I didn't need another buck and his genetics weren't something I wanted in my breeding rabbits. I tried to butcher him, but come butchering day, while I hesitated, he gave me a look that made me pick him up and put him back in his hutch. Two weeks later I found him a home on a friends farm, where he could run free in a large enclosed field with another rabbit doe that was already there. He had a light colored coat and there was a good chance that he'd be picked off by a predator at some point, but that didn't concern me. If he had even a few days running free in a field before his life was over that made me feel happy for him. Steve fared well in that field for two years before my farmer friends needed to make changes on the farm and gave him a fast death with a single shot one day when he was out and about. They told me that later on that evening they threw more love to him while they had an evening meal of Steve Stew, that's a success story for me. There was also the rooster, AJ, who looked just like his sire, Alistar, and had his sires temperament. Alistar was the best rooster any homesteader could ask for. He watched over his hens, made sure none of them were too far astray from the flock, waited until they ate before he ate. When the hens hatched chicks he did the same thing. making sure the chicks had their fill of food before he pecked a bite. We saw him throw himself at predators, spurs first, to keep his girls safe. AJ was so much like Alistar that we didn't want to butcher him. Happily, friends a few miles away, who gave us our first chicken eggs for hatching out our original flock, had just lost their beloved rooster, Andy, to old age and hadn't replaced him. They have a wonderful set up for their chickens, which are well fed with plenty of space. AJ was a decedent of Andy's, he looked a lot like Andy and had the same temperament as Andy had. We offered them AJ and they happily took him, overjoyed to have Andy's great grandson to replace him with. Then there was the young goat doe, one sister in a set of triplets. She was feisty and fun and we named her Pipi Longstocking. Even as a really young doe we knew we didn't want to butcher her, but finding a good home for a goat can be hard. Goats aren't easy animals to keep and we weren't willing to give her to anyone who didn't already know how to keep goats healthy, happy and have a really good set up for them. A friend who has a buck that we use when it's time to breed our does came by one day with his girlfriend and young daughter, and we wandered down to the goat pen so everyone could hang out with the new goat kids. All three of them instantly fell in love with Pipi. They mentioned they were looking to add another doe to their herd and wondered if they could get Pipi from us when she was old enough. Done! When Pipi was six months old she moved a few miles down the road where she is happily living now. But, most of the time, the grow outs are butchered at the right time so the space we have to house them in isn't overcrowded and the foraged foods we depend on for feed isn't spread too thin or dwindling in supply. All butchering days are the same for us in that we take the time to set up for them well, often times doing the entire set up the day before so we're ready to go first thing the next morning. Our first priority is always to make sure the animal will leave this life in a fast and pain free way, without any stress and preferably while they are chowing down on a mouthful of their favorite food. Our second priority is to make sure we have everything we'll need, set up and in place, to utilize every part of the animal that we just killed. A table, buckets, bowls, knifes, a water source, rags... whatever may be needed to process that animals body so nothing gets missed during the skinning, gutting and aging process. For us, part of butchering an animal with love is making sure we've used every part of that animals body in appreciation for the life it has given us. I have found that raising and butchering livestock in this way, I feel myself humbled by the grace and dignity of these animals, from the smallest rabbit in a hutch to the most aggressive goat in the pen. I have found that not turning away or shutting down emotionally while consciously participating in the cycle of life while butchering these animals in a loving manner, I am firmly grounded in the energetics of grace and dignity within myself, and I learn from these animals how to let go with ease. We all get to choose, every single day, how we approach any thought, task or event before us. When it's approached with love, I find that grace shows up rapidly, even in places you never thought to find it, and that changes the manner in which I am willing to live for all time. I find the feeling of grace addictive. Living a life without the feeling of grace, for me, is a dim shadow of what living is... and the only doorway I know to it is love.
  • Rita and I are often asked how we learned so much about the wide variety of homesteading skills we have. People wonder if we grew up in a homesteading families and have been doing these things all our lives. The answer is not really, but kind of. We’re both creeping up on 60 years old, and back when we were kids, do-it-yourself was the normal way people did just about everything. The do-it-yourself things weren’t so much homesteading type things, but the attitude of taking care of your own needs with things like painting the house, cooking from scratch 3 times a day, making your own clothes, fixing your own car and so on, that was the normal way average people operated in their lives. The process of taking care of yourself involves a lot of failures along the way, it’s not uncommon to learn a half a dozen ways NOT to do something before zoning in on the ‘right’ way to get it done, with ‘right’ being the most efficient way that yields good, long term results. There are plenty of times, depending on the job, by the time I figured out how to do it well I don’t need to do it anymore. That’s especially true with many repairs. I’m an ok carpenter, I’m not good at it but I can build something that’s going to serve its purpose and last for as long as I need it to last. If you look at my carpentry and mention that nothing seems to be square, level or plumb, I’ll laugh and tell you I don’t use those words, if I did, I’d never get any carpentry done. A friend of mine made of a big deal about one of my greenhouses not being square, level or plumb and I said those things weren’t my goal, my goal was to have a structure I could use to grow plants for sale. He scoffed a bit and gave me a look that let me know he didn’t think I had a clue as to what was REALLY going to work. It’s 15 years later and my incredibly useful and fruitful little greenhouse is still standing, we’ve been growing plants in it for the past 15 years that sell so well we have been able to make our sole income from homesteading. My friend, who was more interested in the perfect structure, is still trying to make his life work financially. I’m not saying that the perfect structure wouldn’t have been nice, it certainly would have been, but it wasn’t the goal and things not being perfect along the way never stop me from reaching my goal. I’m ok with something being ‘good enough for now’ or even having complete failures that I’ll learn from. Sometime last summer I told Rita that I didn't care how many gallons of goat milk I ruined while figuring out how to make a goat milk brie... I was going to figure it out and it'd become a staple in our home. She whole heartedly agreed. So in true Laurie style, I started doing what I already felt wasn't too hard to get right, which for me was making chevre, and I did it over and over again every week until I could make it in my sleep. I coated some of the many, many, many rounds of chevre that we now had in black pepper and garlic powder and aged them for 3-4 weeks to see how aging works. The first attempt was good, but I realized the rounds were too small, the weight / mass loss during the aging process made the finished product incredibly small. The next attempt was better as the fresh cheese rounds were larger but I forgot to sterilize the aging mat and all the rounds got a nasty mold on them. I cut off and discard the unwanted mold and salvaged most of the cheese, but it wasn't the end product that I was looking for and it also meant I had to empty the cheese cave and sterilize it, a necessary job that is more effort than I wanted to put out because I forgot to sterilize a piece of equipment before using it. Guess what I never forget to do anymore! The next batch was perfect. The rounds were big enough, I didn't forget to sterilize anything, and the chevre aged into a nice sized finished product that's called Belper Knolle. It's a hard cheese that can be finely grated and smacks of a good parmesan. It's now a staple for us. I made a round of cheddar every week, too. It was the cheese I had learned to make while learning how to cut curds from a friend last February. The first round was a total disaster. I messed up cutting the curds, I forgot to do the cheddaring step and pressed it badly. I literally fed it to the dogs 2 days later. The next one looked really good, I didn't repeat any of my previous mistakes and I did that same cheese every week, adding different spices to it and playing with different forms to see how those rounds turned out. I have yet to taste any of the cheddar rounds I’ve made, if I’ve made some kind of error that’s going to effect the flavor or texture I’ll find that out when I cut into the first round a few weeks from now. After several weeks of making chevre, belper knolle and cheddar I was feeling some confidence in my cheese making skills I decided to try my hand at brie. After going through the process of making, turning and salting the brie for several days, (and as far as I can tell I haven't made any mistakes in that part of the process) then getting it in the cheese cave to age (which it's still doing and that seems to be going well) I realized I now had the understanding and some skill at making a bloomy rind cheese which meant I could make a version of Humboldt Fog, which is an amazing goat milk cheese that’s fairly pricey to buy in the store... so I started that a few days ago. I’ve already made one mistake, but am still working with the rounds to see if I can still get an edible product out of them. If I can’t, I’ll make it again and again until I get it right. A couple of weeks ago while reading a cheese making book, it occurred to me that I could make another household favorite, gouda, thanks to the repetitive cheddar making,.. so I made a round of gouda last week. I won’t cut into that round for another 6+ weeks to find out if I did ok with flavor and texture, but I’m not worried about it. Time will tell and I’ll be back after it again whether my first gouda is good or not. Two days ago I made cottage cheese from 2 gallons of fresh goat milk that turned out fantastic on the first try and sometime next week I'll be pulling some mozzarella and figuring out jack cheese. With every cheese I make I gain a better understanding about milk, ingredients, time, temperature, equipment, curds and whey which improves my knowledge and abilities. This is the way it goes.... little by little, learning from every failure until you're zoned in on success, and branching out from there. I can't think of a thing in my life that hasn't been improved on because I'm not afraid of or exasperated by the failures. I also recognize that when I AM finding something too hard to keep at it, it's because I didn't really want to be doing it in the first place... and those are the things I let go of.
  • Getting domestic meat rabbits to breed 'like rabbits' isn't the easiest thing to do. You'd think it would be, but a rabbit that lives alone in a hutch for most of its life doesn't necessarily have good breeding instincts. Diet can play a part in breeding, it's been shown that rabbits need a healthy amount of vitamin A & E in their bodies to 'get in the mood', and a diet that's low in these vitamins can create disinterest in a rabbit. When I first started breeding meat rabbits and only had 3 does and 1 buck, I tried everything I could think of, was suggested to me or that I read about to improve the breeding success with my rabbits. It wasn't a big deal if breeding attempts failed in the beginning as I was raising rabbits for the manure they produced, but the more kits the rabbits produced the more manure I had to use, so I was interested in figuring out what I could do to improve breeding success. The standard practices for breeding rabbits is to take a doe to the buck, usually in his cage. The reason for that is to keep the buck from spending any time in a new environment, the doe's cage for example, where his primary interest will be to scent mark the surfaces, he'll do that for quite awhile before showing any interest in the doe. The person who took the buck to the doe's cage is left standing there, watching him scent mark until the buck has decided he's happy with his work and turns his attention to the doe, then the person waits to see if the buck is going to be interested in the doe and if he is if she'll be receptive to him. It's a bit time consuming. When the doe is taken to the buck's cage the scent marking ritual doesn't need to happen and breeding can take place in seconds.. if you're lucky. Once the doe is in the buck's cage she runs the show. She's either receptive or not, and if she's not there's no breeding going on no matter how much or how often the buck tries. I've seen bucks positively exhausted from attempting to breed over and over again in a 10 - 15 minute period with no success at all because the doe isn't even a little receptive. On top of that, an unreceptive doe can be dangerous to the buck. It's not unheard of for the doe to attack, injure and even castrate the buck while they are in a cage together, so walking away from the cage and leaving them alone can be a risky thing. An experienced breeder can usually see signs of aggression coming from the doe right away and get her out of the cage before there is any harm done to the buck, but you're always taking some kind of chance when you walk away leaving them alone together. If you're feeling secure that there won't be any fighting or attacking going on if you walk away, it is possible that left together long enough the doe will become receptive and breeding will occur, but without watching them together the entire time there's no way to know if the doe ever became receptive. You can leave them together for an hour or two, walk away to do some other things. come back and have no idea if there was a successful breeding or not. At that point you just have to wait 30 +/- days to see if the doe kindles (gives birth) or not, and if she doesn't you wait another week for good measure then try breeding her again. That process gets old, fast. When I had 3 does and 1 buck I always made sure I fed the does black oil sunflower seeds for a vitamin E boost and dark leafy greens for a vitamin A boost for 3-4 days before trying to breed them. I found that worked ok, it increased the does receptiveness about 60%, but I was still having issues with failed breeding attempts. To rectify the situation, as manure production was still my main goal, I increased the size of my herd to 7 does and 2 bucks. With more does I was getting more litters as I had numbers on my side now. More litters meant more manure, but it also meant more rabbits to butcher. For a few years we had lots of rabbit meat in the freezer and our need to buy meat in grocery stores was greatly reduced. I also had more home grown meat waste / bones to give to our raw fed dogs so it also reduced the amount of money we were spending to feed them. Not all the does were breeding well all the time, but enough were breeding now and then to keep us in manure, meat and dog food. That was good enough for me... but I still felt like breeding rabbits shouldn't be this hard, there had to be a good solution to the issue. A few years later is became legal where I live to sell backyard butchered rabbit and poultry at the Farmers' Market I attend. Cool! After making sure I met all the requirements from our local health department, the local ag department and from the organization that puts on the market, I started to take home raised, backyard butchered rabbit meat to our Saturday Farmers' Market for sale... and sales were good. Now I was considerably more motivated to figure out how to get my rabbits to be more receptive to breeding. The first thing I did was to once again increase the size of my herd to 12 does. With this increase of does I needed to redesign my rabbitry to accommodate all the new hutches. As I was pondering the new configuration and getting material lists together to build new hutches an idea came to me about building a hutch just for breeding. What if I had a hutch that could be used as temporary housing for a new rabbit, or rabbits in transition but it's main function for use was a breeding hutch. I liked the idea! Even if it didn't work out, so what.. I'd have another hutch ready to go for something in the future... and there's ALWAYS something happening here where spare hutches come in handy. Getting back to rabbits breeding 'like rabbits'. I believe a big part of the breeding problem is that the rabbits live alone in their hutches for most of their lives, their interactions with other rabbits are limited to what they can see, hear and smell. In a colony setting meat rabbits can roam around and interact in ways that make sense to them, which allows their natural instincts to flow, they don't have to reconnect to those instincts like caged rabbits do when it's time to breed. Because my rabbits live alone in hutches I decided that the breeding hutch needed to be someplace that all the rabbits could see, smell and hear what was going on in it. I thought that would give them the best opportunity to have time to reconnect with their breeding instincts and maybe they'd start 'breeding like rabbits'. I placed the rabbit hutches in a horse shoe shape with the breeding hutch in the middle of the horse shoe. All the rabbits would be able to see, smell and hear what was going on inside of it when any breeding was going on... and it has worked like a charm. For my breeding routine, which is always the same, I start breeding in mid September. Due to the high heat of summer, I breed my rabbits from mid September to the end of May every year. I give all the does a break from reproducing in the triple digit heat of summer as that weather is hard enough on a rabbit without the does being pregnant, kindling and nursing during those months. The first good, cool weather morning in September I put an experienced buck in the breeding hutch and give him 20-30 minutes to go to town scent marking it. When he's done, I put an experienced doe in with him, one that is apt to be receptive, and I watch to see if they have a successful breeding. In all the years I've been doing this I've never had an experienced doe not be receptive immediately once she's in the breeding hutch. Once I see she's being receptive I know she isn't going to hurt the buck and I'm free to walk away. I leave them together for a minimum of 24 hours as they can continue to breed for some time. Even if they don't continue to breed, it's time for both of them to be in the physical company of another rabbit and I think they like that.. so I leave them together. The next day I put the buck back in his hutch, the doe back in her hutch and I get a new buck and put him in the breeding hutch, where he goes to town scent marking the whole interior for 15 minutes or so. When he's done scent marking it I put a new, experienced doe in with him and watch to see if there's a successful breeding.... and there always is in a matter of seconds. Repeating the process I leave them together for 24 hours then get them back to their respective hutches, then get a new buck into the breeding hutch and so on. The really great thing about the breeding hutch is that it allows for the instinct of breeding to kick in for all the does around it. I don't try to breed maiden does until the very end, after all the experienced does have been successfully bred, that's when the maiden does have experienced successful rabbit breeding over and over again from their hutches through vision, smell and sound and have had time for their natural instincts to kick in. In the past two weeks I have bred 7 of 9 maiden does in the breeding hutch with 2 different bucks, and all 7 maiden does have been receptive to the bucks within 10 seconds of being put in the breeding hutch. Time will tell if they kindle, if they have large or small litters, if they can keep their litters alive and if they are good mothers... but the initial hurdle of getting a maiden doe to breed was easy to get over, thanks to a well placed breeding hutch.