I recently read Barnyard in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, and Cattle by Gail Demerow (check it out here). I got my relatively-new copy from Amazon just about three weeks ago, and already I’ve succeeded in dog-earing it all to hell. For the last three weeks this book lived in my purse. I took it to work with me and read it on my lunch break, or when I was stuck in a waiting room at the doctor’s, any time I have a few minutes to kill. It was that engrossing. I’m actually kind of sad that I finished it, since now I don’t have any more chapters to look forward to! I actually wrote a review on Amazon.com, which I have never taken the time to do before (spoiler alert: I gave it 5 stars).
I’ve read many beginner “how to homestead” books, and the livestock chapters are always short because they can only provide so much information when they are covering so many other topics. I was ready to move on to something a little more in-depth. This book was it. The author doesn’t assume that you already know the subject, so it goes into painstaking detail (just what I wanted), but without being condescending OR simplistic. Excellent, excellent guide. I just wish it covered pigs, the only common livestock animal not included. Still, it is a FANTASTIC introduction for the farming novice.
Ms. Demerow covers a little about the history of each species and the breeds within it, before diving into the care and keeping-of information. Besides the basic care required in all stages of the given species covered, she also includes a run-down of the most common diseases of each species and how to treat it, as Well as how to breed and care for the young, how to milk a goat or cow, how to shear a goat or sheep and spin the fiber into yarn, and almost anything you can do With these animals. It answers not only basic questions but ones I would not have known enough to ask in the first place. Which is why it is such a good beginner’s book. For any complicated procedure, it also provided detailed step-by-step diagrams, as Well as information tables for feeding, birth weight, etc. I love a good table, making them was also one of my favorite Ways to study. They boil a complicated snarl of data down into easy to digest, easy to remember, concise little bits of information. Anyway, it’s a GREAT book, and if you are at all interested in adding chickens or rabbits to your urban farm, or even ducks, geese, sheep, goats, or cattle to your rural homestead, then strap on your workboots and go buy this book!
In fact, this book convinced me that it’s possible to start keeping chickens and rabbits right now, even though I still live in a suburban area and the farm of my dreams is at least a few years away. I will not be getting chickens until spring, so I have all winter to prepare. I may be getting rabbits sooner, it depends on what I can find in the area. I already have three wire rabbit cages that a friend of a friend gave me. I plan on fixing up my garage this winter to turn it into a rabbitry, although the first breeding pair can be kept in my house. Since I can keep them in my living area at first, it’s not too urgent to get the garage going. If I find a good deal on a couple of purebred or champion rabbits I get them right away. I am planning on breeding Angoras, because I can harvest their fiber for handspinning yarn several times a year. You actually shear them just like you do sheep!! I’ve been very interested in fiber farming for a While, and it would be awesome to start with bunnies right now. One day I’d love to have sheep, goats, and alpacas for fiber, but hey, everybody has to start somewhere.
I will probably show them too, and sell the babies for a little profit. I love my job (I work at PetSmart) but its minimum wage and hard to live off of. Instead of getting a second minimum wage job I decided to try to get several streams of income (I already donate my blood plasma regularly for a little extra spending money). What better thing to do than start a small (very, very small) business involving animals? I’ll be learning valuable homesteading skills, producing a product for my own use (wool for spinning) and a product to sell (the babies), and since PetSmart doesn’t sell rabbits anymore I’m not competing with my employer, so no worries of conflict there. Plus, I’ve always found raising and caring for animals very fun and deeply fulfilling. It’s perfect for me on so many levels.
There are five or six breeds of Angora rabbits, depending on who you are talking to, but the American Rabbit Breeders Association only recognize four of them, if I remember correctly. I have not yet decided on which specific Angora breed I’ll start with. In the future I will likely raise more than one, but for now I think it is safer to start with just one breed, to avoid getting overwhelmed right out of the gate. I will write a longer post about rabbits sometime in the near future. Somehow it feels appropriate that I am beginning to work on this new venture as Samhain draws near. While it is not an ancient Greek or Egyptian holiday, it is considered by many to be the Pagan New Year, or at least the Wiccan one. So my immediate goals as this new year and new season approaches are clear. In the meantime, Happy Halloween, and Happy Homesteading!
Amanda Artemisia Forrester