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Making the transition from commercial farming to homesteading wasn't easy ... but homesteaders do have some advantages.

Our family of five lives on five acres in the "Northeast Kingdom" of Vermont. Prior to purchasing our home seven years ago, we lived on several dairy farms where I was herdsman and one which we leased for ourselves.

We produce a good-size garden using only manure and wood ashes for fertilizer. We have some fruits (apples and berries) as well. Livestock consists of a small laying flock, 50 broilers (an annual event), and a Jersey heifer for dairy purposes). We have fed lambs in the past as well. Future livestock plans include a horse and more cattle.

A good background

In regards to livestock I feel I have an unusual advantage over many in my situation because of a strong background in dairying. Besides college level studies, work experience on my own as well as large farms, and Graham School, I also worked as a veterinary assistant, A.I. technician, and hoof trimmer.

Don't let this pedigree put you off. One does not need such training to have a family cow - you'll learn what you need to know - she'll teach you. (See 77/4:42-43).

Presently my "day job" takes me away during the day but leaves me most evenings, weekends, and holidays to work at home. My wife, Christine, recently returned to school, graduated and is now employed as a nurse in our local hospital. An admirable feat for someone running a country home, raising three children, and making long commutes to class.

Making the transition from commercial farming to homesteading was not easy for me. One major difference is livestock.

Paying attention to details

Homesteaders pay attention to details even more than farmers. Animals are not as expendable (or should not be) on a homestead as they are on a large farm. A homesteader or small farmer can usually invest more time and energy into saving or salvaging an animal than the big operator, where time and cost per unit are necessary scores of success.

Many modern agricultural publications and books do not address this, though I do glean a lot of valuable information from some of the better ones (e.g., Hoard's Dairyman). I have found practical and useful material in my small collection of old veterinary and farm books. Many of the books were written when most farms were still feeding pumpkins and mangels to cows, milking machines were a dream of the future, and most work was done by human and animal power.

These old books assume the importance of the individual animal... something a homesteader can readily relate to.

An example of putting some of this into practice happened to me a few years ago.

I began raising a bull calf for beef. Shortly after his arrival I noticed he started stiffening up, gradually swelling around his joints. My veterinarian confirmed my fears with a diagnosis of navel ill. This infection finds its way through the newborn's umbilical cord and eventually causes severe swelling of the joints. Prognosis is usually not good. My vet suggested I put the calf out of his misery.

I almost did. But because he was such an aggressive eater and energetic I decided to give him a chance. After consulting a veterinary book I have from the 1890s and making some modern adaptations, I drained fluid from his three infected joints and replaced it with penicillin G and bandaged it with ichthamoll ointment every other day for two weeks.

After two weeks only a slight lump was noticeable and months later friends could not believe it was the same animal. Had this animal been on a large farm chances are this kind of attention would not have been available.

That is not to say commercial farmers do not do well by their animals. I know of many a farmer who has lost much sleep staying up with a sick cow or spent Christmas day in the barn for one reason or another. I am merely pointing out a major difference in perspective on livestock for me as a homesteader compared with a commercial operator.

As a postscript to my infected bull calf - he was headed for the commission sales at birth. Because of that his navel had not been disinfected. This would have saved a lot of grief. Fortunately it all worked out in the end.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Wolf, Phil
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:718
Previous Article:From farmer to homesteader.
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