Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Take Me Out of the City, Get Me Out of the Crowds

The title of this post was intended to be hummed with the Take Me Out to the Ball Game song. My wife and I were recently discussing the joys of being outside of town on property. We don't even have much in the way of acreage (renting on 5 acres) but man how we loath when we have to go to a major city to do our bulk shopping, doctor's appointments, etc.

It is a weird transition but the more I'm away from the constant activity of a city the more I enjoy my space and freedom. Due to the nature of my work I still have conference calls with customers, other consultants and then family but that interaction is occasional. We don't mind the phone calls but there is something about getting in the midst of everything that just grinds on you. We come home for a visit now tired and thankful to be home. Some of it probably has to do with the 1 hour drive each way but also the traffic, general attitude and anger of people in the city and just being there that drives you crazy.

Another thing that has become more obvious now that I've been unplugged from 'The City Matrix' is how many people are just plugging along in their lives waiting for death to come their way. They experience a few joys but I talk to more and more people that say something like, "I'd love to do what you're doing!" Usually it comes back to me asking them why they don't...then the mumbling and "well yea but" comes into play. Yes there are adjustments that will be necessary and some will be harder than others but life is too short to not be out there doing what you want to do so go after it.

Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya! If you're even halfway considering getting out of town do it, you can always move back if you don't like it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Profit From Your Land

The more research I do the more I discover how many hard working people there are out there trying to make it in farming and/or ranching. It is truly staggering when you look at the amount of work these people do for the return on their 'investment.' They are obviously doing it because they love it however it sure would be nice to see them doing better instead of having a lot of struggles. One of the things that personally seems like a great idea to help a farmer hedge their crops is creating a member based operation.

An example of this is the Maple Creek Farm in Michigan. There are probably many more examples however I learned about them from some of the google videos when doing research on some rural issues (honestly I can't recall). For those of you 'in the know this may not be news however they are doing Community Supported Agriculture (CSA for short) where they have memberships (shares) available which cost $700.00 for a 20 week membership which lasts June thru October. That may seem like a lot but remember this is certified organic where they raise the right stuff which requires mostly hand processing. Be forewarned there is some language in some of their videos which may not be appropriate for younger viewers.

They have a Top Ten (10) Reasons To Buy Local Food list that I'd encourage you to visit.
1. Locally grown food tastes better.
2. Local produce is better for you.
3. Local food preserves genetic diversity.
4. Local certified organic food is GMO-free.
5. Local food supports local farm families.
6. Local food builds community.
7. Local food preserves open space.
8. Local food keeps your taxes in check.
9. Local food supports a clean environment and benefits wildlife.
10. Local food is about the future.
The list on their site provides a detailed explanation of each so don't delay and visit it.

Although this addresses this from the perspective of crops the same principle would seem to apply to animals as well. If you are raising animals and trying to profit from it make sure to spend more time on research than just going out and doing it. Go spend some time with people that are making money doing it!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Making Money Shearing Sheep

As we are researching our sheep more and the ongoing quest to find a breeder in our area that raises their sheep the same we we're going to raise ours I've come across something that some people promote as a great way to generate side income, shearing sheep. After more research we realized this is something we do not want to have to do so we're picking sheep that don't require shearing.

Let me explain further, most of the stuff I can find on the web by people raising sheep and related to shearing seem to indicate that they don't like doing it (or paying for it) and there isn't much money to be made in it. If you have your heart set on it or have found a niche market that offers you good return on your time investment then by all means proceed however most of the reading I've done seem to indicate otherwise. I've included a few shearing links as well as some sites that indicate they're happy to be out from under having to shear anymore. Another thing to look into are problems related to a sheep getting a bad shearing or by not being sheared. Do the research yourself and form your own opinions.

Wool: Asset or Liability?
Each year it gets harder to find a competent person to come and shear our small flock. The amount we pay to remove the wool from the sheep is more than the return we get when the wool is sold. With our busy schedules, we can find plenty of other things to do instead of making arrangements, etc. for shearing day. We have found a better way.

With the natural shedding of the White Dorpers, shearing day will be a thing of the past at our farm.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Survival...Nope, Just Old School

An interesting thing has been developing the longer we search for rural land and prepare our family for the 'migration', it seems that having a little backup of daily items becomes more necessary the further out you are. When doing some research on something I can't recall I stumbled across the Alone in the Wilderness 2-DVD Package. After doing some more reading about it I realized that this was the same show I saw about 20 minutes of on PBS late one night. The general story is a guy who because of an injury at work that nearly leaves him blind decides that he would like to enjoy what life has to offer, but not the way you think. He leaves the developed world and goes it on his own out in the Alaskan wilderness.

The first DVD, Alone in the Wilderness, covers the initial building of his log cabin and all of the tools involved in making that happen. Mr. Dick Proenneke is a resourceful man and we get to see him as he goes to his new home site with minimal tools, building what he needs as he goes. He also has some great nature shots of Caribou (a.k.a. reindeer), Grizzly bear, Dall sheep and moose just to name a few. By today's terms it might be considered uneventful however our children (even the 5 and 4 year old) were locked on to the movie and it was amazing to see how many great things he built with his own two hands. Although Mr. Proenneke passed away in 2003 he left something that should be on the DVD shelf of any family.

The second DVD, Alaska Silence & Solitude, was not quite as good as the first but it filled in a few missing pieces. This video covers a visit that two men have with Dick and they journey around his area taking video and doing some sight seeing. The area is just beautiful and another example why conservation of our resources is so important.

We bought the 2-DVD pack and enjoyed it immensely, if you are looking for a family safe viewing experience this is it! The only objectionable material is where he briefly stumbled across the hide of a animal that was attacked by wolves. The scene lasts maybe 20 seconds and shows the carcass and he picks it up by the horns and talks about how the wolves have obviously been munching on it. Since my kids are familiar with hunting and how our food arrives at the table they weren't bothered by it but some sensitive children might be.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Farm and Ranch Land: Rain, Sleet, Snow or Shine

In case you haven't read Finding & Buying Your Place in Country I'll pass along a little freebie, don't just buy a piece of property in an area you're unfamiliar with unless you've done a lot of research and/or interviews with people from that area (that aren't trying to profit from their advice to you). In our ongoing quest to find the Texas land that will meet all of our requirements we've discovered a lot of differences in areas that are within just an hour of each other.

Even though that farm land you've found seems to be the best thing since sliced bread it may have many hidden nightmares such as being within one of the FEMA flood maps or neighbors that are less than friendly. It would be beneficial to call a high profile business in the area and just be friendly, find out what the area is like during heavy rains or adverse weather conditions. In one particular property we were looking out we found out that the area had high water every 5-7 years. They said the home that was on the site consistently had water up close to the top of the foundation and the area was fit for boating during that periodic weather. We discovered this by walking down the dirt road and talking to a car passing by. Turns out the guy was the electric meter reader for the entire area and lived on a high part of the road and gave us a lot of good input about the area.

If I haven't said it enough I'll say it again: research, Research, RESEARCH....are we clear yet :)

Once you've taken possession of the property your Garden of Eden may turn out to be a nightmare.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Travis' Appeal for Aid at the Alamo

This one is totally off topic but after reading it I wanted to pass it along for those of you who have never read it.
Commandancy of the Alamo
Bexar, Fby. 24th, 1836

To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world Fellow Citizens & Compatriots

I am besieged by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise the garrison are to be put to the sword if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender nor retreat.

Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism, & of everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country.

Victory or Death
William Barret Travis
Lt. Col. Comdt.

P. S. The Lord is on our side. When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn. We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.


View pictures of the original document

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Rural High Speed Internet

In the country getting a high speed internet connection becomes more of a challenge. Depending on the internet requirements sometimes searching for property can be dictated by the accessibility of high speed. In my case I cannot use satellite high speed due to latency issues and connecting to a VPN but if I didn't need to worry about latency my options would open up.

One thing to keep in mind when searching is the internet is not your friend in some cases. Rural internet companies are way behind the curve on marketing themselves property. For example the company I use currently is a great company however the only way I found out about them was by calling the Chamber of Commerce in the town closest to where we live. A few types of high speed to keep in mind if you're looking for high speed and it is a requirement for you work.

WISP (which stands for Wireless Internet Service Provider)
This seems to be the technology that is gaining the most ground in the rural market currently. The equipment costs appear to be significantly less than traditional wired connections as it is just going through the airwaves. Of the providers I've spoke with they offer both line of sight (IOW your equipment can see their tower) and non-line of site (can't see) service. The thing that has been interesting is the difference in quality of service between companies. Make absolutely sure to call around to businesses that might use high speed and ask them who they use and their experiences, you'll be surprised how some will open up.

Basically satellite internet beams the signal from a satellite in space to your house or vise versa and then back down to the providers data center. The problem with that is there is a tremendous amount of distance to cover which results in some latency (a.k.a. lag). For general web surfing, email, etc. this may not be an issue but getting it to work with a VPN or similar type of connection can be a problem. The other thing is the reviews for satellite providers tends to be more

Below is one example of the antenna that is used by WISP customers. The one at my house looks different but it is nighttime and I didn't have my camera handy so I swiped this off of the internet.

Moving from the City to the Country [A PreTeen Perspective]

This was written by our 12 year old daughter since we asked for an entry from a younger person's perspective.

Moving from the city to the country has its ups and downs, but the ups outweigh the downs in my opinion. When we were living in the city it wasn't bad. We had a 3 bedroom/2 bath house with a medium yard. I liked it but I longed for more yard space. I'm an explorer at heart so I alwways explored the ditch behind our yard. Then suddenly it seemed like my parents wanted to move!

I was happy but frightened, what if I didn't fit in, what if nobody liked me! Those thoughts kept spinning round and round in my head. Also moving from the house which we had lived in for 6 years didn't help. We moved soon after to a little house on 2 acres. At first it was nice having 2 acres and it seemed like a lot to me! But after a month or so I grew bored to help pass the time after I was done with school [I'm homeschooled] I would go out and catch scorpions, skinks and black widow spiders. We looked at piece after piece after piece of property until we found it, a new rental. We needed to move because of some plumbing problems with the other place.

The new place was a 3 bedroom/2 bath house on 5 acres with a pond on it. When we drove up the first time to look at it I thought, "This is home!" So about 3 weeks after my parents signed the papers we got the property. We moved shortly before Christmas so with the boxes of presents for me and my 3 siblings we also had to unpack moving boxes. My favorite part of living in the country is having my pet bird, Skype and our chickens, we couldn't have those animals at our other rental.

My favorite chicken is named Starla, she is as tame as you please. She eats right out of my hand! So all in all I would have to say I like the country more than the city. Till next entry, See ya!

Budgie Girl - 12

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Free Range or Prairie or Coop Raised Poultry

When doing some research I stumbled across an article on Mother Earth News that reminded me I should probably do an introductory post about how you decide to raise your chickens. There is much discussion about raising chickens in a coop or letting them graze on your property (a.k.a. free range or prairie grazing).

From what I've been able to gather some people feel that having them in the coop with some supplemental time in a chicken tractor is comparable to free ranging. Personally that wasn't our approach and we don't live in an area where we've had a problem with unrestrained dogs or predators so I can't speak too much to it however the longer we have chickens the more I realize I wouldn't just keep them in a coop alone. At minimum we would add some time in a chicken tractor with the remainder of their time in the coop. One of the positives I see with this approach is it would force the chickens to eat what is in front of them as opposed to wandering around and picking off their favorites eats.

We decided however that we would allow our chickens to wander around our property with a few restrictions and forage for themselves. The never seem to wander too far from the coop (less than 100 feet) and the amount of feed they eat is significantly less then when we had them in the coop during their first couple of weeks with us (remember that the first batch we bought when they were ~4 months old). Aside from the cost benefit I believe the chickens will find the food that offsets whatever deficiencies they have in their diet. Although we're using a higher quality feed now than the stuff from the feed store I believe that poultry has been fending for itself for thousands of years successfully so it seemed counterproductive to restrict them requiring more money to be spent in the restricted process.

Before providing a few links related to free ranging and pasture poultry be sure to take a few minutes and read the article (linked above) titled Free Range Chickens from Mother Earth News.
The American Pastured Poultry Producers Association
Free-Range Chickens on my Small Farm
The Free-Range System in a Nutshell

One last note, if you are going to raise chickens for profit make sure you find a niche and service it well...don't attempt to compete with the grocery stores and just market your chickens as chickens and/or eggs as eggs. Focus on antibiotic free, organic, etc. but make sure you understand what those terms mean and the legal ramifications of selling the birds.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Rural Farm Land For Sale - The Twilight Zone

As we continue our search for land we've come across a few truths related to advertisements for rural property, so when you see the following: Rural Property For Sale, Land For Sale, Land For Sale By Owner, Farm Land, Raw Land, etc. keep in mind you might be stepping into.....The Twilight Zone.

There seems to be a general impression that if you don't disclose certain things in the MLS listing that once people get to the property they'll fall in love. Here is just a sampling of the pain we've experienced so far.

17 Acres
Heavy Woods
Great Location, blah, blah
It is within a quarter of a mile of an oil processing plant and you spend 20 minute gagging through oil smell which dissipates right before you get to the property as well as the HUGE power lines running right through the middle of the property, seemed cheap until we saw it, then it seemed overpriced.

10 Acres
Heavy Woods
Realtor Note: Huge oak and elm trees on 10 acre tract.Very secluded,small spring fed creek through property.
The reason it is secluded is because it is in the middle of people who don't have a cleaning bone in their body, 57 broken down cars, piles of trash (literally household garbage), etc. The creek that runs through it is probably someone's ruptured septic ;)

I could go on and on but these are just a few randomly picked tidbits for your reading pleasure. Originally I was going to call this Rural Farm Land For Sale - The Big Lie but I decided to make it a little more interesting. We all know that agents embellish sometimes but some of these properties are not even close to how they're described.

Free Range (a.k.a. Pasture Raised) Eggs vs Store Bought

To do a brain dump of everything we've been learning about raising our own animals and the health benefits of the food that we generate would fill the disk on this server. Here is just another example of the information that we're coming across that supports our decision to raise our own animals. We got our first batch of chickens and should start getting eggs in the next few months...we can't wait. We're opening up the coop during the day now and they're starting to get used to coming out, eating and scratching and returning to the coop.
Eggs from free-range hens contain up to 30 percent more vitamin E, 50 percent more folic acid and 30 percent more vitamin B-12 than factory eggs. And the bright orange color of the yolk shows higher levels of antioxidant carotenes. (Many factory-farm eggs are so pale that producers feed the hens expensive marigold flowers to make the yolks brighter in color.)
Source: Agribusiness and the Decline of Nutritious Food
If the nutritional differences aren't enough to sway you then go ahead and look at the picture of an 'egg farm' above and see how much that stirs your appetite.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Chicken Feed

When we first bought our chickens we were told the previous owner had been raising them on crumbles. We didn't go too much into details so I'm not sure which brand they used but we ended up stopping by the local feed store and picking up Purina Mills® Flock Raiser® which seemed to work fine. We know our long term goal was to have most of their feed provided by nature so it was just a matter of time before they were let out during the day and in the coop at night to protect them from area predators.

As discussed before we were taking some our chickens to a processor in our area. After a quick visit with the owner of the ranch we found out they have all of their feed custom manufactured for them based on a mix designed by a poultry nutritionist. It had some of the things we had researched that were good for them (oyster shells, kelp, etc.) as well as being extremely fresh. They use so much feed per month (they have quite a few chickens and processing for others was just a thing they fell into) that there stuff is never stale. The 3 bags of stuff we bought were less than two weeks from the place that manufactures their feed and you could tell a difference. The baby pullets and older chickens ate the stuff like it was chicken candy. They have a mix for chickens that are laying which we'll probably need to upgrade to in the next month or so however now that our older chickens are pasture grazing they aren't eating too much feed anyhow.

If you're looking at raising chickens for profit I can't provide any expertise as we're doing it primarily for ourselves however the reading I've done the cost of feed is a huge issue with making a profit. Click on over to the Homesteading Today Forum and look at the Poultry subforum, there are some sharp people there who have a good grasp on what to do to keep costs down and birds healthy. A few of the people I've talked to track their costs pretty closely so you can get an idea of the costs and profits involved in raising your own flock.

Where There Is No Doctor

One of the things to keep in mind in a rural setting and personally I don't think is anything to be in fear of is access to health care. Our family has been re-evaluating health care and our health/wellness approach in general but I thought I'd offer up a great book called Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook.

The book discussed previously will lay out some of the general thinking related to health care around a property however this book discusses application. We've only needed to use the book a couple of times so far for a few non-critical needs but the information in the book is concise and something you will refer back to again and again for issues related to your health and wellness

Chapter 1 - Home Cures and Popular Beliefs
Chapter 2 - Sicknesses That Are Often Confused
Chapter 3 - How To Examine A Sick Person
Chapter 4 - How To Take Care Of A Sick Person
Chapter 5 - Healing Without Medicines
Chapter 6 - Right And Wrong Use Of Modern Medicines
Chapter 7 - Antibiotics: What They Are And How To Use Them
Chapter 8 - How To Measure And Give Medicine
Chapter 9 - Instructions And Precautions For Injections
Chapter 10 - First Aid
Chapter 11 - Nutrition: What To Eat To Be Healthy
Chapter 12 - Prevention: How To Avoid Many Sicknesses
Chapter 13 - Some Very Common Sicknesses
Chapter 14 - Serious Illnesses That Need Special Medical Attention
Chapter 15 - Skin Problems
Chapter 16 - The Eyes
Chapter 17 - The Teeth, Gums, And Mouth
Chapter 18 - The Urinary System And The Genitals
Chapter 19 - Information For Mothers And Midwives
Chapter 20 - Family Planning - Having The Number Of Children You Want
Chapter 21 - Health And Sickness Of Children
Chapter 22 - Health And Sickness Of Older People
Chapter 23 - The Medicine Kit