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The need to know where your food comes from is one of the most common reasons many people decide to farm. Most folks get started with a garden and maybe a flock of laying hens and a few goats. But, eventually, you may want to consider raising some larger livestock to improve your self-sufficiency, such as cows for meat or milk.

Obviously, adding large livestock gives you more control over where your food comes from and how it’s raised and processed. There are also other reasons to raise cattle on the homestead that are less common, such as using them as a work animal or for producing your own leather. They also provide large amounts of fantastic garden fertilizer in the form of manure.

Choosing to add a cow, or cattle, to your homestead is a big decision. Plan on doing a lot of research before you make a decision. You want to be sure that you have the proper education, infrastructure, and finances to take the best possible care of your new investment. Here are some of the basic things you’ll need to consider before adding cattle to your homestead.

Dairy Cow Basics:

Just one dairy cow can keep a family in milk and dairy products for most of the year. To produce milk, your cow will need to be bred either by a bull or through artificial insemination. Breeding is usually required once a year, but some cows will produce milk longer without being bred. Dairy cows can often get by on pasture for most of the year. Hay and grain are used to supplement during winter, if the grass is scarce, or if the cow is having a hard time maintaining her weight.

Many dairy cows can be milked for as much as ten to fifteen years, but their production will decrease over time, with the first five years being the most productive. Dairy cows require a serious commitment because they generally have to be milked twice a day. There are some tricks to get around this though, such as having the calf do the milking for you some of the time.

Some of the more common dairy cow breeds are:

1. Holstein: Holsteins are quite common and are easily recognized due to their black and white spots. They are known to produce large amounts of milk.

2. Jersey: The Jersey cow is a small cow that comes in all shades of brown. This breed makes an excellent family cow because they produce lots of high-quality milk, and they are sweet and docile in temperament.

3. Brown Swiss: The Brown Swiss is thought to be the oldest breed of dairy cow. Colors can vary from dark brown to silver. Their milk has a high protein to fat ratio that makes it perfect for cheese making.

4. Guernsey: The milk of the Guernsey cow has a golden tone because it contains large amounts of beta-carotene. Guernsey cows come in most shades of fawn and gold, and they often have white legs and markings on their bodies.

Beef Cattle Basics:

Beef cattle are often raised on pasture whenever possible. Grain and hay are also added to the diet when needed to maintain or gain weight, or according to personal preference. They can eat as much as 3% of their body weight in feed each day, so be prepared for a massive feed bill if you plan to overwinter them. Beef cattle are hardy, tough critters that can handle both heat and cold better than most other livestock species.

Just a couple of beef cows will keep a family in beef year-round. Many folks purchase a steer or two when they are young and raise them until they’re ready to be butchered, rather than maintaining their own herd year-round.
Here are some common breeds of beef cattle to consider:

1. Angus: Angus cattle were brought to the U.S. from Scotland in 1873. Most commercial beef growers choose to raise this popular beef breed.

2. Hereford: Originally from Herefordshire, England, the Hereford cow is a prevalent beef breed throughout the United States. It is known to be an efficient, early maturing breed.

3. Limousin: Limousin cattle originated in France and are known for their deep chests and strong hindquarters. They are incredibly hardy, adaptable, and efficient which makes them perfect for meat production.

Pros of Raising Cattle on the Farm:

In summary, the main benefit of keeping dairy or beef cattle is having the ability to produce your own milk and meat. You will be more self-sufficient because you can provide all the milk, dairy products, and meat your family needs. Dairy cattle become part of the family and often bond with their family making them much like a pet.

Your family will be healthier because they are consuming the best quality dairy and meat possible. Grazing cattle on your pasture will improve the quality of your pasture over time. And, you will also have a better garden, thanks to all the fabulous fertilizer your cows provide.

Cons of Raising Cattle on the Farm:

Raising cattle isn’t cheap. Both dairy and beef cattle can be expensive to purchase, and they require a lot of food. High-quality pasture can cut down on the feed bill, but you still need to plan on providing large amounts of hay all winter. If summers are dry, your pasture may not do well, which will mean you must provide a lot of hay all summer, too.

Cattle need a lot of space and high-quality fencing. You should plan on having about 1.5 to 2 acres of decent pasture for each cow and calf. On the other hand, they can usually get by with a basic three-sided shelter in most climates. A proper barn usually isn’t required.

Cattle aren’t suited to every farm and situation, but if you educate yourself properly, you will be able to make the best decision for your homestead. There’s nothing better than farm fresh milk and grass-fed beef raised by your own hands.

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Grow These 9 Plants for the Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

by Julie Dees

The first thing that comes to mind when you mention planting a garden is “FOOD”. Even if you are only growing some herbs, ornamental flowers, or a few potted posies, you can still choose plants that are “food“. Food for the birds, bees, and butterflies, that is.

Planting gardens designed for birds and pollinating insects is not a new thing. For centuries, gardeners have known the importance and value of beneficial wildlife. They selected plants to attract and sustain these helpful little workers.

Feed the Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

Today we’ll highlight some common beauties that you, the birds, and the insects will all enjoy. This list is a small sampling of plants that will do double duty. They’ll look pretty while also feeding your new little garden friends.

Asters – Asters are part of a large family (Asteraceae) of unique, star-shaped flowers. They are as popular with the bees and the butterflies as they are with the people who plant them.

Bee Balm – Bee Balm, aka Monarda, is a member of the mint family – meaning it can be invasive and should be contained. It prefers full sun and is also a favorite of hummingbirds.

Borage – The nectar replenishes itself in a matter of minutes after a pollinator has taken a drink. This makes borage a bee magnet. A popular herb for centuries, the blue flowers are often used in drinks and salads.

Crocus – Crocus blooms are often the first food of the year for bees coming out of hibernation. They arrive in late winter to early spring. The plants are happy in pots or in the ground and are a great option for naturalizing a lawn or open area.

Dahlias – Dahlias are a lovely, tender plant that enjoy full sun and rich, moist soil. Plant lots of them as they make one of the best cut flowers as well as a generous buffet for the good bugs.

Fennel – The blooms of fennel benefit our insect friends while the seeds feed the birds. This versatile herb is also a human favorite that grows well in full sun in well-drained, moist soil.

Lavender – Depending on the variety, lavender comes in white, pink, and popular purple shades. This fragrant summer-blooming plant thrives in well-drained soil in full sun.

Roses – Roses need a hard pruning in late winter/early spring. Regular deadheading during flowering prolongs the blooming season. Rosehips are a nutritional treat for birds and people alike as they make a lovely tea.

Sunflowers – These recognizable giants of the garden are a triple threat. They provide beauty, nectar for the pollinators, and seeds for the birds. They are also one of the easiest plants to grow.

A Few Cautions

There are a lot of gardening practices that can be harmful to the very creatures we are trying to attract to our yards. Here are a few tips to help protect them:

Don’t use pesticides and herbicides. Pesticides are designed to kill bugs. Period. Even if the label states they won’t harm beneficial insects, birds, or wildlife – don’t trust it. Instead, try to garden naturally or use safer methods of deterring pests. Herbicides and fungicides can also be highly dangerous to insects and wildlife. Use caution.

Diatomaceous Earth is not a cure-all product just because it is natural. It is not a safe alternative to chemical pesticides. It IS a mechanical pesticide which means it will kill any insect it comes into contact with. It slowly dries their exoskeleton out until they die from dehydration. Don’t use it anywhere the birds, bees, or butterflies may come in contact with it.

If you’re buying started plants, be sure they weren’t grown or treated with any chemicals. Many big box or mega stores are selling potted plants that are full of possible poisons. These ingredients can kill beneficial insects and birds as well as make people sick. Read labels and ask lots of questions.

Provide a water source for your winged visitors. (While this isn’t a caution, it’s an important thing to remember.) They need something to drink after all that work pollinating your plants. A birdbath, shallow pan, or saucer filled with pebbles or marbles for them to land on is perfect. Be sure to refill it with fresh water every day.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, what do you think? Have we inspired you to add some lovely plants to your garden, just for the birds, bees, and butterflies? Do you have any favorite flowers you’d add to the list? Let us know!

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