Showing posts with label Small Farm Livestock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Small Farm Livestock. Show all posts

Heritage Lard Hogs

Heritage Lard Hogs and their role on the modern homestead for a more self sufficient lifestyle! #homesteader #heritagepork #pasturedpork

What was old is new again! Heritage lard hogs are quickly becoming more popular on small farms again! For their excellent red meat pork and silky lard, they are niche pigs with great potential! 

Heritage 'unimproved' Hogs

 The picture you see above was a drawing in a book my wife found in a used book store. She loves to find "old school " wisdom in out of print books!

The drawing depicts a typical "Red Berkshire Hog" circa 1881. To keep that date in perspective America was only 16 years removed from General Robert E Lees surrender at Appomattox (still a dark day to my beautiful southern-born wife) and only five years from George Armstrong Custer's defeat at the Little Big Horn. So we were not talking about a feed store grain fattened hog here. 
The Book The Compleat Farmer was compiled in 1975 and was a collection of reprints from the periodical "American Agriculturist" (established 1842) spanning over 50 years of its publication.

 As a former breeder of American Guinea Hogs and now Meishan Pigs, both 'lard' hogs, I was very struck by the portly profile of the Berkshire pictured above. He looked way more like the America Guinea Hogs I used to raise than the common "improved" carcass hogs I have grown all to used to seeing. 

While Berkshires are the oldest registered hog breed and today are constantly referred to as a "heritage breed" I was struck that I never recalled them looking so short legged or frankly so fat. So I did a Google Search on "Berkshire Images". What I found confirmed my initial recollections.

The Modern American Hog

Yes, this is a very representative image of what I found. Hmm, obviously something had happened between The Little Big Horn and today's "New White Meat". But this blog post isn't about the Berkshire Hog. Today it is still touted as one of the most popular breeds to cross with commercial breeds to increase the intramuscular fat content and improve the dry wallboard texture (my opinion not a stated industry standard) of most commercial pork. I will assume it has become what its breeders, and what livestock show( 4H, FFA, County Fair, etc) judges wanted them to become. I do chuckle when its touted as a hog representing its "original" heritage, however.

The Lard Hogs Role On a Homestead

No, this post is about the role of the heritage lard hog on older small holding farmer operations and if that role is still applicable today in the "modern" homestead. How that traditional role affected its growth rate, fat to meat ratio and final size requires understanding its role on those farms. And if those traits, if retained, can make it an ideal addition to the modern small homesteader. Also, a fuller understanding of what the lard hog was and it will help us as lard hog breeders to celebrate and maintain the breed in its true "heritage" form. 

 In the discussion of the "old time" southern homestead, I have a unique and rich resource to get impressions of what role the farm pig played in smallholder operations. My wife was raised on a 100-acre farm in Athens TN. More importantly, she grew up knowing not only her grandparents but two of her great grandmothers. This was a resource that stretched back to early 1900s and before. Their impressions and statements have been very revealing in the search to define the role of the "pig" was on their farms. Her two branches of the farming family tree were a bit different. Her one paternal great grandmother owned 100 acres of rich creek bottom land. That grandfather raised cattle, had raised hogs, raised hay, grew all of his finishing grain (corn) and had large gardens both with cash crops and home usage crops. He had a smokehouse, corn crib, and a full working sawmill to utilize his woodlots. In addition to all those endeavors, he held down a full-time job at the postal service.

 Her maternal great grandmother was a Cherokee Indian (whose family refused to report to the reservation) who owned 80 acres of a rocky mountaintop. She bought calves and raised them for sale(never eating something so valuable herself) and raised a feeder pig which she fed with the table scraps she was allowed to bring home from her waitress job in a local diner. Ironically in those times, the 80 acres and 100-acre farm were considered small (or medium at best) farm operations of that day. I think both farms were very representative of post-depression smallholders in the southeast.

 Farming was a big part of their income but after the economic devastation of the depression not deemed reliable enough to be the sole source of income. These people had an incredible work ethic to work and farm at these scales. Every family member had their role right down to the pre-teens. My wife's grandmother commented the other day "Your grandfather wore me out over THOSE gardens!".

The pig in those situations was bought as an early feeder in the spring. It was raised on pasture and its omnivorous nature made it the perfect garbage disposal when kitchen garbage was more likely to be pumpkin rinds and chicken entrails than plastic wrappers. Corn was reserved for late finishing of both the cattle and the hogs so the pigs had to be able to forage and live through lean times and thrive and fatten in better.

 Every year like clockwork the day after Thanksgiving the hogs were slaughtered. This was done then because typically the onset of cooler weather in the southeast lent itself for less risk of spoilage and contamination of the meat and fat. It also signaled the end of rich pasture and in those days overwintering a feeder animal was a fool's exercise. The next day the families women (of all ages) gathered to render the fats into lard. That lard had the wonderful trait of being able to be stored without refrigeration. And refrigeration capacity was in short supply or nonexistent in those days. Too much meat was more difficult to cure and waste was not an option. That precious lard was put into Mason jars and sent to the root cellars of the household. That lard would be the cooking oil and baking shortening for the entire next year. Olive oil was in Italy not the home farms of Tennessee. 

Meishan Pigs are the perfect small farm lard hog with the most excellent craft pork!
Meishan Pig, The perfect Lard hog for us
The cracklins that remained were fried crispy and devoured like modern junk food or put into cornbread. Some pork was consumed on the spot and the rest was sent to the smokehouse where it was smoked for the preservation not just for flavor. In fact, in those days the homestead hog was a dual-use animal. Those purposes were as a source of meat and FAT. It can be argued that the hogs ability to produce a storable fat source was even more important than its role as a meat source in a culture that was more likely to dine on a pot of beans than a cut of meat. 

So in review, the ideal 'farm hog" would grow to butcher size (typically 150-200 lbs) in 8-10 months and would easily add back fat and lard without graining. It had to be docile and for those retained for overwintering and breeding a medium size. Raising a feeder hog had many advantages. When you look at that farming model you can see why the American Guinea Hog, as a lard hog, became the most popular hog in the southeast. And why the Meishan, also a lard hog, was so prized in China!

The Modern Breeding of 'lean' Pork

Meishan Pork! Not your typical pork!
Meishan Pork Roast

Flash forward 80-100 years. The 80 hours work week smallholder has given way to a society returning from World War II  and Korea that invented the subdivision and found the reliability of the factory paycheck much more attractive than the grind(not the "simple life as some romanticize it today or in 1975 )of farm life. Those households found the chest freezer as readily available as the telephone or the light bulb. This society needed cheap quick and convenient food sources. Those farmers who stay behind on their acreages found it more profitable to focus on fast-growing cash crop hogs and use the additional money to fill their other homestead needs at these new "Supermarkets" popping up in even small towns. 
Lard? Well, that was quickly replaced by margarine and Crisco heralded by Government as a superior "healthier alternative". And quickly the medium lard hog like the Guinea Hog was an anachronism. 

Unable to be "improved" to modern standards and USDA grading systems which put the highest price on pork with the "leanest" qualities. Lard hogs fell out of favor and dangerously close to extinction.
Today lard hogs like the Meishan are enjoying a remarkable resurgence! But even as the new "homesteaders" and those who seek to become genetic repositories for the breed begin to acquire these pigs I fear that we are losing sight of the true "heritage" of the heritage hog. 

Don't raise a Lard breed if you want Lean Pork!

As new farmers and breeders from a fat averse society obtain the breeds like the Meishan I am always struck by those who try to breed and grow the Meishan or other lard breeds as "lean". That wring their hands over how quickly they become "rotund". I am already seeing AGH bloodlines which look more like the second picture above and not the first. You see being "rolly polly" is their heritage. They are LARD hogs. There are few true lard type hogs remaining. They were raised and bred to easily add precious fat, be ready for slaughter in 9-10 months, be docile enough to be a "yard pig", not attack your chickens or your children!
 To raise the hog so as to minimize fat, accept growth rates ( or to make inadequate pasture or supplemental feed available) that result in pigs that take over 12 months (some up to 2 years!) to reach 100lbs is not the preservation of the heritage of the breed. Its just maintaining human-modified gene pool. But as I make this case understand I am not a museum farmer. I do not keep animals on my farm simply because they are "heritage".I do not begrudge those who do. But my animals must be low input animals that provide excellent efficiencies in both growth and utilization. 
No hog fits that better for my farm than the Meishan as a TRUE lard hog. 
Other posts about Meishans and how they improved our farm 

Lard helps us achieve a Self Sufficient Homestead 

We celebrate and render the fats. The succulent and sweet fat makes the meat superior to what we can find from Krogers to Whole Foods. The reasonable(if slower than some breeds) growth rate of  9-11 months to `150# plus weights fits into our plans to butcher our own hogs in the fall and to smoke and can their meats in cool weather. For our application the Meishan is not heritage, it is superior. 

Lard Soap! Great Homestead business!
Lard Soap

My wife utilizes those lards along with other farm-raised products to produce an entire skin care line including soaps, lotions, and shampoo bars. We no longer buy cooking oils or butter as we bake, cook and fry in lard. We would be lost when faced with a "lean hog".So before we as a community lose these qualities I would refer you to a quote from the introduction of The Compleat Farmer:

"The Compleat Farmer is an indispensable guide to good country living. It is, as its subtitle suggests, "a compendium of do-it-yourself, tried and true practices for the farm, garden, and household" 

But it is more than that. It is the sage sound salient advice of the nineteenth-century American farmer and his wife, selected, edited, and arranged for its practical use today.....these serviceable, interesting ideas from America's past speak directly to America's present. All are immediately applicable to a society bogged down with energy and cost problems, wanting to cut back, wanting to live a simpler less costly life, but not knowing how or where to begin"

Those words were written 40 years ago in 1975. I would argue the simple life those evenings I work past dark and peel off my manure stain jeans. But there is much wisdom in those old small farming methods. Do they ring true for you too? In closing, I offer that if you choose to raise a Guinea Hog, Mule foot or a Meishan always consider raising it true to its "heritage". 

For if you do and if you learn to treasure and celebrate those wonderful fats its value to you will be more than just a museum piece. It will be an indispensable part of your homestead and possibly a niche business as the fats are becoming trendy amount certain healthy dieters as well as for high dollar charcuterie plates.

American Guinea hogs
American Guinea Hog 

Heritage Hog Breeds

For more info on Heritage hog breeds, including lard breeds check out the Livestock Conservancy

You can also check out the American Meishan Breeders Association

If you want to know even more about Meishan pigs and how they are the perfect homestead pig for us and our homestead business you can sign up for the list for regular updates on the breed and the press its been getting! 

Sign up for the Meishan Tales Newsletter and get all the latest info on this amazing pig thats perfect for many small farmers! #pasturedpork #heritagehog

Livestock Farming :Searching Outside the Box

Livestock farming doesn't have to be cows, goats and chickens! We looked to other alternative livestock to find what fit our dream homestead! It can be a deeper learning curve but when the perfect livestock works it just brings you closer to your dream! Worth the effort! #homesteader #livestockfarming

Livestock farming can be hard in the beginning! Finding the perfect animal for your climate, land, and needs when there are so many choices can be confusing. Often an animal may work out ok but they don't fit in with the personality of the farmer. Something that is rarely talked about but just as important! Your dream homestead isn't going to be very 'dream like' if your animals make you crazy! 😒

Sometimes things just don't work out

We've been through the livestock. Just about every breed of goat available in America, 5 breeds of sheep,, so many chicken & duck breeds, different breeds of hogs, many breeds of rabbits and so on! Sometimes it was the 'breed', like with hogs for us. Hogs work for our climate and our land.  My husband enjoys taking care of them because, for the most part, they are lower input than most livestock. The AGH didn't fill our needs after a while though. We needed a hog that had larger litters with more income potential so the Meishan fit perfect! More about that here The Heritage pig breed we had never heard of that fit our farm perfect!

But with Goats, it was a different situation. They fit our land, filled our needs for meat (and milk before I became allergic) but didn't fit our climate very well. Nor did they fit my personality. They drove me insane with their high input deworming needs and other health issues. The smell of the buck really interrupted my 'dream' homestead. I need to walk outside and smell fresh air, flowers, horses! Not a musty buck stank 🤢

We were searching for the right animals and/or breed to fit our land and climate with the lowest input possible and greatest use of available natural resources. We started looking outside the box. Just because it is no longer a popular animal to raise as livestock doesn't mean it won't work for my small farm!  Again, some things worked, but somethings just didn't due to no fault of the animals themselves!
Livestock farming! Raising pigeons for meat

Livestock Farming and Searching Outside the Box 

Meat Pigeons, I wish they had worked!

There are many pros to keeping meat pigeons! And Of course cons like any other livestock. But overall they were pretty great! I was introduced to the meat when I worked at a Moroccan restaurant in Atlanta. It was called squab. I had no idea at the time that it was a pigeon and I didn't care! It was the most delicious meat I ever ate! When I found out what it was I did not care! It was SO good! I knew if someday I was blessed enough to have a farm I'd want to try to raise my own succulent squab meat!

So why didn't they work out?

The number one reason they didn't work is I suspect my breeding stock was highly inbred.
I got them from a breeder who had just let them mate over the years without tracking them. They had babies that grew up, paired up and mated no matter if they were brother and sister or not. He did not leg tag them so there was no telling how related they were.

I normally wouldn't have bought breeding stock from someone who bred like this but I was desperate! I had been looking for breeders within 4 hours of me for years!
They had problems being good mothers and laying consistently. The babies were sometimes very weak and didn't live at all.
Utility meat pigeons are extremely rare and their genetic base is very small. They are not cheap livestock to buy but if you can find good breeding stock you will have some of the nicest meat you can produce! 

Raising Pigeons for meat

Raising Pigeons for meat is nothing new!! Squab meat has been raised for centuries! It's been a meat served at high-end restaurants for many years! Here is an article dated 1970 from Mother Earth News about raising meat pigeons Raise Pigeons for Meat

They are very low input! They don't need a lot of room but they do need to be able to fly and exercise. The parent pigeons do all the work! They brood and raise the babies themselves. They start another nest of 2 eggs before the others are kicked out. If you have good breeding stock!
livestock farming pigeons for meat

Pigeons tend to be very prolific in the spring and summer. Eggs take 2 weeks to hatch, then squab is ready to eat in about 4 weeks. They are super fast to process!

They don't eat a lot. But they are seed eaters. Meaning none of my natural resources or gardens could feed them except my grain corn crops. I would have had to grow some other grains to feed them from our farm.
I might have done that if my stock had been more prolific.

I really liked them! I do admit I miss them...I really miss them! Their cooing and bathing .. Such beautiful birds! Birds I searched for years to purchase,,, it was a little heartbreaking for me to let them go. But I can't keep ALL the livestock animals. I have to focus on the animals I get the most out of and I can raise the most efficient way. Which for me means I can raise them without a feed store if I had too.

I won't say I'll never try these again if I could find quality breeding stock from someone raising for meat and keeping records.

There isn't a lot of information about meat pigeons online. I found this website and her ebook to be helpful, although she states that her pigeons ate vegetable and greens. Mine never would. Different breed maybe?
Pigeons for Meat

Donkeys Work and Took the place of 2 common animals that didn't! 

Donkeys took the place of 2 animals we had here on the farm that wasn't working out very well. Goats and Livestock Guardian dogs. 
This saved me a lot of money and time. Donkeys are much lower input and economical than lgds and dairy goat for us personally.

Replacing LGD's 

I was really tired of LGD's that killed poultry or ate baby lambs! If they didn't kill adult birds they usually killed chicks if they didn't kill chicks they still ate my eggs! Or escaping the fencing to roam! I even had several LGDs develop a taste for other animals feed so then they wouldn't allow the animals to eat their food! Sometimes they would guard the shelter and not let them inside during bad weather.

Lgd's are used by many but for me, they cost us a lot of money and caused a multitude of problems on my farm! They also clashed with my personality. I'm used to highly trainable obedient dogs like Dobermans and Poodles. None of the lgd breeds are very smart compared to the dog breeds I love. 

Donkeys don't eat eggs or newborn baby animals! It's easy to feed them separately if I have too. They won't tear through a fence to steal chicken food! Nor, do they break out of fencing and roam the area. Leaving my stock at risk and risking damage to a neighbors property. They are more trainable than an lgd! Yes, the stubborn donkey is more trainable than an lgd! For me anyways.

I did do my research and got an older trained donkey to start. Donkeys and equine are a bit different than most livestock. Not harder by any means, but they have different needs. 

Replacing Goats

Ok, Let me get this out of the way. My donkeys didn't take the place of goat's used as meat! Although donkey meat is sought after in China, Italy and many other parts of the world, equine is not on my menu! 

But Donkeys did take the place of goats for dairy, weed eating and manure for the gardens!

Donkeys For Milk

Equine milk, such as Mare's milk and Donkey milk, is nothing new either! The domestication of donkeys has been around for hundreds of years and so has the practice of milking them and using the milk as a food, a beauty product and medicinally!

I had been having some health problems for years and it sounded like donkey milk could help. I seriously didn't know how much longer I would be able to farm or do much of anything! Long story short donkey milk helped and got me on a road back to health! They will always have a special place because of that!
It also revived my soap and skin care business. Goat milk soap has become over saturated in the market. Donkey milk, which is actually better for mature and allergy prone skin allowed me to not only revive the business but raise my prices because donkey milk skin care products are rare in the USA.
Plus it is absolutely the best-tasting milk I've ever had. I'm not a milk drinker and That's saying a lot! I've had raw jersey cow milk, sheep milk, all breeds of goats milk and even camel milk. Donkey is lite and sweet! It's actually refreshing! A word I would never use to describe any other milk.

Donkeys do not require the higher quality legumes and grain most goats need to be productive for milking. They do not give as much milk as a full size improved dairy goat but my small standard donkey gives me a quart a day on my dairy management program. That's plenty for us!

Donkeys for weed control

My brambles and unimproved pastures work great for donkeys! They actually do a better job at weed eating than goats. They also never get their head caught in the fencing and other non-sense goats did!

No animal will eat ALL of the weeds! Donkeys did better than goats, but Icelandic sheep cleared the land the best of any animal I've had. So if pasture improvement, clearing brambles and wood lots are a goal for you get a few Icelandic sheep and a guard donkey!

Donkey Manure for gardens 

It wasn't until donkeys that I could finally stop trucking in compost and manure for my gardens. All the poultry and ruminants we had through the years never produced enough to feed my vegetables and grain corn. The mass amounts of manure they produce is amazing for my ever-growing 4 season gardens!
This was an important part of our homesteading goal. Producing all the compost we need right on the farm to feed our gardens!

Donkeys other uses

They have other uses too. Riding, working, packing! You can read more about their uses in these 2 post What are donkeys good for?
and Other Products Donkeys Provide on a farm
If you think donkeys may be right for your farm read my ebook before you bring one home! It will prepare you and let you know what to expect.

Replacing 2 high input animals with 1 was huge for our farm!

Lgd's and Goats are great useful livestock for the right people and farm!! Just not this farm!

Turkeys didn't work for us unfortunately 

And I come to turkeys! Though not an uncommon livestock farming animal. They aren't very popular on small modern farms.

The turkeys are wonderful, interesting, beautiful birds to watch like pigeons. Back and forth I went on keeping them. My husband even really liked them! And he's not really into the poultry at all!

We tried 2 breeds. We preferred the Midget Whites. They ate less and weighed about the same at slaughter time as the Bourbon Reds. They are both rare heritage breeds.
You can read more about the Midget White and Bourbon red history on Slow Food USA
and Livestock Conservancy
livestock farming turkeys

They were actually easy to process for a large bird! Extremely delicious unlike any turkey I've ever tasted they were worth growing! Except...

Why didn't Turkeys work out here?

First, they were a bit delicate to raise as poults. For the first time ever I had to buy medicated food. I've raised many breeds of ducks, chickens, geese, and quail and I never had to buy medicated feed. But these guys just started dying and that was the only thing that saved them.
They ate a lot of grain. A LOT of grain! So they were way more input that I like to mess with.

Ultimately they couldn't' stay because they kept getting into my gardens and before long they would have been getting out of fences with no donkey to protect them. I'm not into feeding the local coyotes. And that was the end of that!
Turkeys must go :-( 

If I was ever to raise Turkeys again it would be the Midget whites and I got them here Midget White Turkeys

Livestock Farming Outside the Box

I've learned so much by looking outside the box when it comes to livestock farming and the gardens too!

Sometimes trying a little known breed can work out nice like
Silkie Chickens for productive homestead poultry!!
or the very rare but quickly gaining popularity Meishan hog! These hogs, domesticated over 5,000 years ago were exactly what our homestead needed when 3 other breeds didn't work out. Here is more info on them Meishan Pig Info and a video!

So yes, I'm sad turkeys and the pigeons didn't quite work out for us personally. But thankful I discovered one outside the box livestock experiment works like a charm and replaces 2 that didn't make the cut!

As always, Its a Journey!!
Have a blessed week and happy productive Homesteading! 

What are Donkeys Good For?

Donkeys are good for a homestead for many reasons! Easy to care and multipurpose! Some uses for donkeys you may know about, but some you may not. Could donkeys be useful on your homestead? #donkeys #homesteader #donkeycare

Due to the overwhelming response to my donkey posts I've decided to move them all to a new site all for themselves.

You can find this article and many others about donkeys here

Sorry for any inconvenience.

The Best Homestead Chicken: Silkie Chickens!

You'll never believe out of the 20 or more breeds of chickens we raised Silkie chickens were the best homestead chickens for us! Find out why they worked so well for our personal homestead needs! See if they might fit your homestead! #homesteadchicken #silkiechickens #homesteader

Now I know what you're thinking.... silkie chickens for a working homestead, ha!
Believe me, I've heard the negatives about silkies too for a working homestead.
They are supposed to be poor layers, bad foragers, not enough meat to eat on them, not hardy!
Doesn't sound like the right homestead chicken for a practical-minded subsistence farmer such as myself!
Basically, they are thought of as a novelty, good for nothing but a pet or show chicken.

silkie chickens are a great homestead chicken!

A case for Silkie Chickens for a Homestead

I'm here to say all these things are true and wrong. Because it all depends on your lines! Just like with most animals or livestock.
Show animals are typically bred for looks first, everything else later. Everything can't be a priority in a breeding program. I prefer utility first, looks later! So I looked for someone breeding for utility first to purchase my silkie chickens.
I ordered my best Silkie chickens here because they raise their silkie chickens for the Chinese Market in NY. Silkie Chicks Hatchery

silkie chickens are a great homestead chicken!

The silkie chicken is the easiest chicken I ever raised honestly. I've had around 20 different breeds from tiny bantams to big serious homestead chickens like Buckeyes.

silkie chickens are a great homestead chicken!

Turns out my silkie chickens have not been delicate at all! They live in my barn with Muscovy case you didn't know ducks are messy! As you can see below it has not a reflected badly on the health or beauty of my silkies.

They have been very low input and easy to raise! Even when our temperatures got down to 0 this winter,,, they were fine.

They are extremely economical to feed! Try the least expensive I've ever raised chickens!
They are SOOOO quite!!!

silkie chickens are a great homestead chicken!

Silkie Chicken Meat

Honestly, this was the most delicious chicken I've ever eaten in my life!
Yes, the skin is black and yes it was good too! That one little rooster fed me and my husband to our fill for dinner, then made a wonderful rich bone broth the next day.

The smaller size made processing a breeze, super easy to pluck. So we didn't need to use a plucker. The meat to bone ratio was very good.
Best part? Well, next to the fact it was the best chicken I ever ate, this meat cost me pennies to raise. 
The hardest thing was the slaughter because they are such nice birds, but the roos weren't being nice to each other and someone was going to end up dead.
So it had to be done... and it was a blessing the meat was so amazing! Purely Poultry is a hatchery I've ordered from before that actually offer Silkie broilers! Silkie Broilers
There is a high demand for silkie meat in Asian communities. It might be a great niche market if you have a large Asian population near your farm. Here's a company that sells the meat (about 1.5 pounds) for $19! BellaBella Gourmet 
Whew, that's not your average chicken price! Its a niche business a small farmer in the right area could actually profit from. 

Some say it is healthier than regular chicken... check out this link...
Benefits of Black Chicken meat

silkie chickens are a great homestead chicken!

Silkie Chickens are Foragers 

So what about silkie chickens being bad foragers?
They forage plenty, all day!
Here's something though, they just can't forage destructively and scratch everything up because of their overly feathered feet! So they are perfect for areas you may prefer not end up being bare ground! 
They don't wander far away though like a lot of chickens. They are very easily contained away can't fly over my fences! 
Which means they are safer because they have to stay with my flock guardians and means I don't have to chase them down and clip their wings!
This saves me so much time! An animal that is hard to manage can suck the day away from you!
As a busy farmer that has had her fair share of dealing with high input and hard to manage livestock,
I truly appreciate how easy these guys are to deal with. 

Silkie Chickens for Eggs

If you have a large family or an egg business Silkie chickens may not be a good fit. They only lay 90 to 120 eggs a year. Which is plenty for me and my husband!
The wonderful thing is my silkie chicken hens lay on sprouted grains and pasture, needing no fancy layer feed.
The egg is small but not as small as bantam eggs or quail eggs. It just cost so little to feed them! So I will take it!

For other tips on how we learned to save money on our feed bills you can check out this post Saving on the Feed Bill

They are supposed to be excellent mothers. The Silkie chickens I got from JM Hatchery never went broody. Which is great! I wanted eggs not babies from them. The 'show' silkies I bought went broody all the time. Good to keep some of them around if you do want babies. they are very docile too!

silkie chickens are a great homestead chicken!

Extra Things to Know

Silkie chickens like ALL chickens are highly vulnerable to predator attacks! Neighborhood dogs, (with irresponsible owners!) possums, raccoons, owls, snakes, rats!!! You name it, just about everything out there wants to kill chickens! Which is one of the biggest heartbreaks for me with poultry. They can be so hard to protect. That's why it's important to me they stay in the fences I put them. My livestock guards can't protect them outside their fencing.

Using a livestock guardian dog has its own very bog issues with poultry. 
  • First, it's very hard to find a dog that won't kill more chickens than the predators did!
  • Second, it takes about 2 years for a dog to be trusted around poultry. 
  • Third, the can still snap and kill your birds (I had a well seasoned, trusted lgd that did this)
  • Forth, they will eat the eggs you're working so hard to get!
What to do?? Use donkeys! Hands down the best protection you can have for poultry! They don't roam, they don't eat eggs, they barely notice poultry and its rare to have one kill birds. They are more economical than dogs if you have space and finally they don't bark all night! 
Check out my ebook for more info on Livestock guardian donkeys and see if they can fit your homestead.
Donkeys are the best livestock guardians for chickens!

If you don't have the space using NiteGuards helps with nighttime predators and we've used them for years! They work great!! 

So Silkie Chickens can be a good homestead chicken for the right homestead.

  • They Cause me no drama
  • Take little of my money  
  • Wonderful low input chicken... I didn't think there was such a thing ;-)
I tried them on a whim,, so glad I did! They have been a joy and a blessing.

For my other favorite low input poultry check out Coturnix Quail Farming
and Why Quail Worked for Us

Do check out my our Pinterest boards for lots of great homesteading and poultry ideas! Homestead and Horses Pinterest Boards

Reasons your Farm needs Miniature Horses

There are many many reasons to have miniature horses on your farm. Some are fun, some are logical and some you may have never heard of! Find out more facts about these incredible little horses that can make your dream farm better! #miniaturehorses #minihorse #farmhorse

One of the best decisions I've made in my 10 years of having this farm was to add miniature horses to it! They have brought me unbelievable amounts of joy since the first one arrived.
After my first miniature horse, Stormy, I bought 2 mini mares, then traded for 2 more mini mares then was given a miniature horse stud on trade for a future foal.
As much as I love my riding mare I worry about how long I will be able to handle the workload and cost of keeping her. She isn't a hard keeper but she certainly eats a lot more than a miniature horse and she requires shoes because she has tender feet. She also requires much more training than the miniatures do because she doesn't learn as fast. I love her dearly but these are real concerns. There's only so many hours in the day and limited money in the bank.
If you are looking for fun and love horses but are afraid of the common reasons not to get a horse (can be dangerous, expensive to feed, the time commitment for training, high maintenance care cost) then a miniature horse for your farm might be the answer!

5 Reasons to have Miniature Horses on your Farm

Driving miniature horses on your farm

  1.  Driving miniature horses is one of the more expensive activities but I got into it but still for less than the cost of a good riding horse! You can read about that here Driving Miniature Horse on a Budget There are plenty of days I just do not have the energy to clean up and tack up my mare for a ride. It takes me twice as long to groom her as it does a miniature horse. Although riding is relaxing I find driving much more so relaxing! And being able to take my grandson on a cart ride is priceless! I'll never forget that big grin on his face
  2. Safer than a large horse. Especially for someone with no prior equine experience. I learned the hard way that buying a 16 HH horse was not the best option because of my lack of experience with a horse like that and for many other reasons! As someone who is only 5'5 I felt awkward and intimidated working with him. He knew it too! If he got an attitude with me he could really kick out! Meanwhile, training miniature horses isn't intimidating at all! It's fun and if they kick out with some attitude and do get me (which they never have..yet) it's not likely to be life-threatening like it was with the bigger horses. I also feel much better with my grandson around the little ones too. Even a docile large horse can seriously hurt someone and not even mean too.
  3. Easier to train. I find them to be extremely fast learners! What takes my miniature horses to learn in a couple of days takes my riding mare and other larger horses I've worked with weeks to learn! If ever! Which works nicely for me because I'm used to training poodles and Dobermans, which learn extremely fast. I call my minis the poodles of the horse world :-) Training a miniature horse is a blast! Here is one of my Pinterest boards on Liberty Training which they excel at! Liberty Horse Training Ideas 
  4. Economical. Common sense is going to tell you they eat less than a big horse! Much less! But did you know it actually cost more to keep one of my dogs than a mini horse? They also do not need to be trimmed by a farrier as often as big horses. Honestly, if you've trimmed a goat, sheep or alpaca you can trim your miniature horses' hooves and save even more money which is what I have learned to do.  I will admit you can get a little crazy with the tiny cute tack, thank goodness for craigslist and ebay where I can usually find good deals! But it is really not necessary for my miniature horses to have purple leg boots and matching halters! or is it ;-)
  5. Pasture and yard maintenance No kidding around here! My miniature horses eat weeds and browse better than my goats did! They are not picky at all! Keeps the pastures and the yard looking nicer! Yet they don't completely destroy pastures and pull roots up like sheep do!
Miniature horses actually do a better job of eating weeds that goats without destroying pastures like sheep! #miniaturehorse #farmhorse
Comanche enjoying weeds in the vineyard area that had been closed off all summer.

Miniature Horses as Farm Work Horses

Those are some logical and even fun reasons to keep miniature horses on your farm. Now here are some reasons to keep miniature horses for a more serious-minded homesteader who wants more contribution from their farm animals!

  1. Using a miniature horse for farm work is a real thing! I'm currently working with one on my stockier bodied miniature horses hoping to prepare him for some hauling work with a wagon. Most people don't realize that miniature horses were once used to work coal mines! These strong little workhorses were put to work at 4 years of age and retired in their late teens. They hauled heavy coal all day, lived in the minds stables and were known as 'pit ponies'. Here is an article on  Celebrating Pit Ponies. Now obviously I'm not suggesting we work our miniature horses like this but the article shows what they were bred for and are very capable of working! For a more recent look into farmers using miniature horsepower, check out this article from small farmers journal on Mini Horse Haying
  2. Mare's milk is a real thing! If you've been on my blog at all you'll know I'm a huge fan of donkey milk because it improved my health! Here are some of my posts on the subject Donkey Milk Posts. But Mare's milk has a similar nutritional profile making it a wonderful choice for an alternative for people who have digestive issues and milk allergies like me! Much like donkey milk, Mare's milk is not a new thing either Wikipedia Mare's Milk! And it's still widely used in parts of Asia and making a comeback in parts of Europe! You can read about Mare's Milk benefits in this article Milk and Health Mare's Milk. For taste and health benefits equine milk is definitely my choice for milk! I can feed a mini mare for less than a dairy goat which saves me money on a very useful medicinal food source we need.
  3. Horse manure makes big gardens possible! It wasn't until I brought in the donkeys that I had enough compost to fertilize my own gardens without having to bring any in! Donkey manure breaks down faster and isn't as nutrient dense as horse manure though. Horse manure is actually slightly higher than cow manure in nutrients! And nowhere near as smelly as poultry manure! Its less likely to spread a disease to humans and properly dried makes a good fire starter! Some farmers even report it keeps deer out of gardens like in this article Mother earth News: Oh Deer not horse manure! Deer often graze with my horses so I don't think they dislike horses on my farm. But overall, Horse manure makes all my gardens possible, which is a huge part of our self-reliance and the main way out of the grocery stores!
So as you can see there are some very practical reasons to keep miniature horses (and donkeys) on a working farm!
Keeping miniature horses on a farm provides enjoyment, pasture management and help with farm work amount other things! #farmhorse #maresmilk #miniaturehorses

Already have a horse or donkey? You can check out my

Looking for healthy ways to keep your costs down on equine check out my DIY herbal health and grooming recipes
Rain Rot Remedy
Homemade Fly Repellent

There are many other reasons the keep miniature horses on a farm, I'm sure! Especially for a horse lover who can't ride or doesn't have room or money for a big horse. They are amazing little equine and have brought huge joy to me every day I go out to the barn and see them. Their energy is contagious! It's impossible to be unhappy when one of my little guys comes up and nuzzles me for scratches. If I'm feeling a little lazy with my workouts I know I can halter up a mini horse who is always ready for a nice hike.
So, although my mare was the one who got me into fitness so I could ride better, my miniature horses actually help keep me motivated! So many reasons, my friends, so many reasons :-)
They have truly been a blessing on our farm.