Winter Homesteading: A Must-Read Guide to Staying Ahead

wintergardenThere’s a misperception shared by some that farmers have it pretty easy, relatively speaking, in the winter months compared to the high production summer months.  This isn’t exactly true.  Summertime means longer daylight hours and more time spent working outside, but the short days of winter carry their own responsibilities.

We’re expecting several consecutive days of winter storm warnings here in the Sierras, and that means that with the exception of feeding and watering the livestock and keeping a watchful eye on the goats who are showing signs of kidding soon, we won’t be outside working if we can help it.  Sure, there’s always a chance that a limb (or worse, the entire tree) will drop and take down a fenceline, but for the most part, if we’ve done our fall prepping right, everything and everyone should be able to sit out the storm safe and snug in their shelters, pens, and coops with little intervention on our part.

For famers, wintertime means paperwork and in my case, the annual love/hate relationship I have with QuickBooks when entering all those receipts I swore I was going to enter as they came in over the summer and never found time or inclination to do.  Winter also provides the time for inside work like research and continuing education.  Farming is as much science and accounting as it is manual labor.

I’m always looking for ways to save money and time and in order to so that, I need to be organized.  I need to know how to address an injury or illness in an animal before I need to know it.  Thanks to the Internet and other people’s hard work, I’m able to find that information.  As much as I dislike the Tax Man and QuickBooks, I love spreadsheets, printable templates, online calculators, apps I can load onto my mobile device and take with me in the field, and quick reference graphs and charts.

Informing

Some of my favorite downloadable documents for the rabbitry come from AZ Rabbits.  They can be used as they are or, if you’re comfortable with Excel, they can be edited to suit your particular needs.  I use a modified printed version of the doe sheet in the rabbit barn for quick reference and have added formulas to the cells of the electronic copy of the spreadsheet to keep on my computer.  By adding formulas, I only need to add some of the information and Excel does the math for me. Especially helpful if you suffer from The Maths like I do.

This app available on the Google Play Store takes a different approach.  Instead of evaluating the feed before it goes into the cow, it evaluates how the feed looks once it comes out.  Aptly named the Cow Poop Analyzer, it works by comparing photographs you take to stock photos to determine the approximate crude protein and digestibility of forage/feed.  This app almost makes me wish we had cattle just so I could try it out.

Wild Edibles for Livestock

We rely pretty heavily on forage for our livestock, so these two links from Purdue and the University of Vermont Extension come in pretty handy.  Some people call them weeds, but our goats call them noms!  It also helps to know what you’re dealing with in your garden.  These two links do a great job of helping to identify weeds:

Intro to Weeds

Weed Identification

Of course, we also want to know if something is toxic and we need to eradicate it before the goats do.  For that, we use the FDA Poisonous Plant Database and the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Science.  A couple of good links to help with breeding can be found here on calculators for the gestation of goats.

American Goat Society

Goat Biology

Predators

Sometimes despite our best precautions, we have to deal with predators.  To be the most effective and to quickly eliminate the threat, we first need to know what type of predator is attacking our animals.  This link, from the Texas A&M University does a great job of explaining what to look for to identify what we’re dealing with.

Budgeting

We run a multi-species farm and keeping track of the feed costs for all the different animals and their requirements can sometimes be overwhelming.  I really like this Feed Value Calculator from the Government of Saskatchewan (http://www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/feed_value_calculator).  It’s one of the most detailed calculators I’ve found.  From their Overview:

“The Feed Value Calculator calculates the relative value of crude protein, total digestible nutrients (TDN), calcium and phosphorous, based on the market price and nutrient content of four reference feeds (barley grain, canola meal or wheat distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) or feed peas. 1:1 mineral and limestone.

A cost factor is then calculated for each nutrient.  The cost factors are used to calculate the relative value of other feeds based on their nutrient content.  Detailed user instructions are provided in the “Market Price of Reference Feeds”, “Relative Feed Value” and “Feed Price Comparison” worksheets.

The Feed Value Calculator uses Multivariate Statistical Techniques. The Inverse Matrix computations were validated by Dr. Peiqiang Yu, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture Research Chair, Feed Research and Development, College of Agriculture and Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, using the IML procedure in SAS®.”

The Pearson’s Square Protein Calculator (a simple protein calculator) can be found here.  If you’re looking for one specific to goats, this one from the Langston University does a good job and also includes the biotype, class, and gender of the goat in its calculations or this one from SheepandGoat which addresses the feed needs of lactating dairy goats.

Organizing Supplies

Winter is also the time that I finally have a chance to sit down and take stock of MY shelter.  With all the work that goes into the animals, it becomes even more important that I have a way to organize my home.  Reformation Acres has an extensive list of free or for-fee templates for organizing the million tasks that need to be done to keep a household humming along.  You can also find Essential Prepping Calculators that cover a variety of topics.

There’s a lot of value to hands-on experience when it comes to farming, but it also involves a lot of science and that type of knowledge is ever-changing as we learn more about biology.  The University of Massachusetts Amherst, Washington State University, and Triton College all offer courses in agriculture and the best part is they’re online!

Although it may seem that farmers get to take the winter off, there’s more work to be done indoors and technology makes it possible for us to stay organized and continue learning even during inclement weather.  Just don’t ask me how much time I spend on Pinterest.  Stay tuned!

Ruby is a first generation Californian who grew up in the heart of the Central San Joaquin Valley farming community. She’s been involved in agriculture for 40 years and learned to preserve food, traditional home arts, to hunt and fish, raise livestock and garden from her Ozark native mother.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published January 7th, 2016
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