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Homesteading in Owen County, Indiana.

I have been wanting to write every time I read an issue, but because I try to straddle both sides of the sidewalk, it is hard to find enough time. There are so many things to do on both sides that it is difficult to satisfy everybody, so we just try to satisfy ourselves. My director at work can't understand why I expend so much physical effort to chop wood to keep my family warm or to raise our own food, when all he has to do is plop a few dollars down at the market and get what he wants. This is the same man who will run for miles in little circles indoors down at the "Y" for exercise! I am glad we are made wondrously diverse!

What most prompted me to write is the letters complaining about the mischievous raccoons. They can also be deadly! When I was a struggling student at Purdue University, I was fortunate to have a part-time job as an animal caretaker at the Veterinary Research Department. They were doing research on a terrible parasite that the little masked bandits spread through their droppings. The raccoons are not affected by these roundworms, just other animals.


We are in Owen County, Indiana with 10 acres carved, out of the beautiful rolling hills, spring fed creek, scattered trees, and lots of wildlife. It is if you are looking for land to homestead. Taxes are low, schools are good, and land is available as far out in the boonies as you can stand. There is no zoning yet, so you have to be careful who/what your neighbor is. We bought the place from a widow whose husband's goal was self sufficiency. The land was improved with a small but livable house, barn, root cellar, chicken house, and other assorted termite riddled outbuildings. We put some rabbits in cages in the old corn crib, which has wooden floors and plenty of ventilation. A small orchard was In sorry need of pruning, and the fence was in worse need of attention. We are still working at getting it producing.


We started out pasturing some Jersey calves for a dairy farmer in exchange for a steer. (Working capital was short then.) We didn't have the electric fence, and had some bad dog problems from the neighbors. Their dogs kept chasing the calves through the fence so much we were spending every daylight hour chasing loose calves or fixing the new holes in the fence. We finally had to give the calves back and pay cash for the steer, which we tried to keep by itself. (Bad idea!) He knew how easy it was to get through the fence, and he was feeling the herding instinct. We finally had to take him to the processor when he sought out other bovine attention from the cows across the "bottom." He wasn't really big enough, but better we get him in the freezer before someone else did.

The next spring we bought five Hereford heifers at an auction, after we put in the electric fence! We sold them in the fall to family and friends (traded one for half of a 1942 9N Ford tractor, the other half cash), and had one for ourselves. They were so much better quality than the Jersey. We got Angus last year, and they were bigger and even better. This year we got some black and white faced steers. I got them even bigger, so when our grass slows in the fall, they will be 950-1,000 pounds. We feed them a small amount of purchased corn and oats twice a day, once in the morning, and again at night. I've found this gives them a routine, and if they do get out, they know if they are at the barn at those times, or hear my peculiar whistle, they will get grain, and they do come running! We have many people interested in buying the beef.


We started out with a paper sack full of little peeps purchased from a guy with a cardboard sign in a parking lot. We also got two turkey poults. They were all of questionable breed, sex and condition, but they were cheap. Five chickens were female, and two Rhode Island Reds are still alive and laying. The turkeys thought they were chickens too, and we raised them along with the chicks. They did not come down with any of the common diseases. It is probably due to there not being any chickens in the coop for several years. The male made a great Christmas dinner, and we were pressured by family and friends not to eat the female (after she stopped laying eggs, which were very tasty, but ugly!) so we traded her for some more chickens to an acquaintance who didn't know our friends. We now have some Light Brahmas, Barred Rocks, and our two old Rhodies.


The garden spot was in a good location, but not close to water and the soil was completely drained of life. It was hard as concrete, but plants grow much better on concrete. I tilled and planted buckwheat for a green manure crop like I read about but what little came up was only a few inches high. I knew I had to take more drastic measures.

I made several four foot squares from the short fence posts we replaced that were rotted off at ground level, and were too short for reuse on the fence. Much manure and leaves later, we have a few nice raised beds that grow what we eat and can. We add one a year or so, depending on the availability of posts and manure.


I have lucked into owning a real honey of a tiller. If anyone can find one at an auction like I did, buy it! It is yellow, and has a big cast aluminum front end that is very distinctive. It is a single cylinder two cycle and is built to last a couple of lifetimes.

It is the original Rototiller, made by the Graham-Paige Motor Co. between 1945 and 1949. It is a rear tine configuration like a famous red brand, but with no sparing of expense for ruggedness. For instance, there are oversized roller bearings on the crankshaft and in the transmission. It can swath 26" wide by nine inches deep. Parts and manuals are still available from Frazier Farm Equipment, Auburn Indiana (219-925-2210). I had to take it into a local shop to replace the recoil spring, and the man at the counter gave me the name of someone who offered 12 times what I had paid for it! I am not well known for my senses, so I still own it. I think it looks much better sitting next to the 9N than some new fangled red or blue one would.


Recycling may be in vogue for yuppies, but it is a way of life on the efficient homestead. All the food scraps are recycled into chickens, rabbits, pigs, or cat and dog. We love turning odds and ends, old leftovers, moldy whatever into eggs or edible meat. That is the way it was done on my grandfolks farm - everything used but the squeal, cluck or moo.

In the fall I carry off carloads of free post-Halloween farmstand pumpkins, which make great pig food, or people food, since we made a batch of pumpkin butter last year from some of them, courtesy of the recipe in Countryside

Old bits of aluminum siding and wood scraps become J feeders for the rabbits, an old tv antenna bought at auction for a dollar becomes beanpoles, all rocks found while gardening go to the driveway, etc.

I have even obtained the hardiest, most anything resistant strain of grass known to mankind to plug my yard's bare spots: driveway grass! I "Tom Sawyer" the kids into pulling the plugs for me after a rainy day, and they even help me plant them if I make a fun game out of it. There are many other types of plants left in the driveway that help fight erosion. Who says you have to keep your driveway plantless anyway?

Reference information

I have been dreaming and reading about homesteading since I read Living the Good Life by the Nearings. I have also found the Foxfire series fascinating. It is an amalgam of history, culture, and subsistence living, as well as uncommon common sense. Most libraries carry the whole set. I recommend them all highly.

We also subscribe to The Tightwad Gazette. (The Tightwad Gazette, RR 1 Box 3570, Leeds, ME 04263-9710.) It tends to be a bit yuppish, but we wind up with penny pinching ideas from it that are well worth the $12 annual cost. Sitting on the coffee table, it also makes a bold statement to visitors about our philosophy.
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Article Details
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Author:Hawkins, Gene
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Previous Article:What do homesteaders do for fun?
Next Article:Report from northeast Oklahoma.

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