new to group and homesteading.....??????

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by LisaLu70, Mar 19, 2005.

  1. LisaLu70

    LisaLu70 Member

    Messages:
    8
    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2005
    Location:
    Wisconsin
    Hi! I'm so excited to have found this forum! I will try not to have this post be a novel, but we are pretty new to homesteading and I have so many general questions.

    First a little background. My husband and I and our 3 children, after living in apartments, were thrilled to have bought our first home on 40 acres, two summers ago. (we are in WI) Approximately 35 acres of our land is rented to a local farmer who grows corn and soy beans. The first summer, we reaped the bounty of the previous owner's personal garden. The following year, I was a little overambitious and planted way more than our family could use. Nobody told me that 24 tomato plants could feed a small country! (hey, it was my first time, I was excited!) Needless to say, it was a valuable learning experience, and I know better how to plan. We do not have a "barn", but we have a large aluminum shed not very far away from the house. It has a dirt floor, and there are a lot of "gaps", nor is it insulated, but it does have electricity. about 1-2 acres around our home is yard. We have big dreams, but not a lot of money. We have ordered like 35 cornish cross chicks and we plan to use a portable pen, which my husband is presently making himself. We are taking it slow. We may also try some rabbits this year too, and are hoping to begin Beekeeping next year.

    Ok, now for my questions, and please forgive my total ignorance if some of the questions sound silly. My husband has only minimal experience, having participated in 4H and raised small animals in town, as a child. He's an avid reader and dreamer, and I really would like to do all within our power to make our dreams work.

    First, How do I go about marketing my extra produce? How exactly do farmer's markets work? Is anyone able to take their stuff, or do they contract with certain farms? I wished that I had been prepared enough last year, I could probably have made some money on my tomatoes. Who do I call to find out what farmers and flea markets to contact for more info?

    Next, We would like to take back our rented acreage and turn it into pasture land for some livestock, as yet to be determined. (currently considering bison, Yak, icelandic sheep and/or alpacas--all cold weather hearty) Does anyone know how we might go about doing that--turning our cornfields into pasture, that is? We have very little contact with the farmer that is currently using our land. His girlfriend brings us a check at the beginning of planting season and then the other half after harvest. Initially we thought we might start out taking it back gradually, in small parcels, because we were reluctant to give up the land rent, until we knew what we wanted to do with the land and were sure we could afford it. My husband hates having all this land, and not being able to do anything with it though. We wonder how much it will cost, how long it will take, my husband is already looking into various grasses and such, how we could find out who could do the planting for us, because obviously we have no farm equipment. Who could I call that might have answers to some of our questions? I'll also interject that we are "strangers" to this town, so we don't really know many people.

    Eventually, we would like to turn our homestead into a full time home business, but we are starting small with only what we know we can handle. Any input and advice or suggestions would be appreciated!

    Thanks a bunch!
    Lisa
     
  2. diane

    diane Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    1,983
    Joined:
    May 4, 2002
    Location:
    South Central Michigan
    Welcome to the board!! I sounds like you are approaching things slowly, which is always a good thing. I would suggest you visit the farmer's markets in your area very regularly this year and see how they are presenting their produce as far as price etc. and think of what is missing. Is there something that you would buy if it were there? Maybe that could be your nitch. There are quite a few market garden threads on the garden forum and here so maybe do a search for some other input.

    There are pastureland blends that you can seed your fields with. If you could hire someone, assuming you don't have a tractor, to broadcast and disk it in, you would get best results IMO.
     

  3. Terri

    Terri Singletree & Weight Loss & Permaculture Moderator Staff Member Supporter

    Messages:
    14,896
    Joined:
    May 10, 2002
    Location:
    Kansas
    "First, How do I go about marketing my extra produce? How exactly do farmer's markets work? Is anyone able to take their stuff, or do they contract with certain farms? I wished that I had been prepared enough last year, I could probably have made some money on my tomatoes. Who do I call to find out what farmers and flea markets to contact for more info?"

    Getting the right number can be a bit tricky. What I did was to ask at city hall and the extension office. You are trying to get ahold of the Market MAster, who is responsible for collecting the fees and enforcing the rules. The Market Master does not MAKE the rules, but she can tell you wjhat the rules are.

    Common rules include things like what food items can be sold, the policy on out of season produce, and so forth. The Market Master can ALSO tell you what people are not already selling, which is valuable info at planting time. And, everything is private enterprise. You have the produce, you rent a space, you sell the produce.


    ..........................................................................
    "We wonder how much it will cost, how long it will take, my husband is already looking into various grasses and such, how we could find out who could do the planting for us, because obviously we have no farm equipment. Who could I call that might have answers to some of our questions?"

    The extension office again. What would grow well in my area might freeze out in yours. The extension office always knows about local varieties and the most commonly needed fertilizers.

    Also, the extension office can help you find out how to find who does custom work in your area. And, you might contact the tenant using the number on the check. Mind, I have NEVER hired ANYBODY to do custom work, but there will be people here who have. They can advise you on how not to step on peoples toes when you make your arrangements: I cannot.

    Now, the number for the extension office might be in the government pages, or under the numbers for the local university. Or try a 4-H group, they should know. Or, you might have to call information for it. Every county seems to have a different place to list the extension office.
     
  4. Jena

    Jena Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    2,490
    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2003
  5. milkstoolcowboy

    milkstoolcowboy Farmer

    Messages:
    337
    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2003
    Location:
    MN
    Lisa,

    If you posted some more specific questions regarding market gardening, raising chickens, etc. on the different groups here (poultry, cattle, sheep) you might get more responses.

    I'll leave the gardening and sheep questions to others, as I just do what my wife tells me in the garden, and I don't much care for sheep (we had when I was growing up, and I don't care for them).

    Just a word of caution on the exotic species like Bison, yak, llamas. There seem to be fads in some of these animals, and a boom-and-bust cycle. In my area of MN, I have seen llamas either given away or sold for $5. There were a few guys raising Bison, but we're down to just one herd in the area now. The guy has a full-time job off the farm. He had a hard time marketing Bison beef profitably through existing buyers (no competition really so he had to take what they offered, which was low), so he runs a store on the farm and gives tours, has a Buffalo days weekend, etc. Bison require a much stronger fence than do cattle, and if you bought some and decided they weren't for you, might be hard to market them. As for yak, I don't know of anyone with domestic yaks, but I know people sometimes confuse Highland cattle for yaks. A true domestic yak is very slow to mature.

    I don't know where you are in Wisconsin, but a Hereford is a tough, hardy, rangy animal able to take the worst winters. Probably be much cheaper to acquire than Bison or yak and a lot easier to market.

    You don't say whether you and your husband are going to count on this 40 for all your income or keep off-farm jobs. That, coupled with other expenses and debts might dictate what you can do realistically. If you have owned the place two years, don't you have a contract with the current renter? I wouldn't rent without a contract, which would stipulate the two payments per year (a lot of them are March 1 and November 1) what can be planted (if hay ground, how many cuttings can be taken, whether corn stalks can be baled, etc.).

    Right now, you've got the rent (let's just say the cash rent is $80/acre on 35 acres = $2800) and the expense associated with this is your land tax. If you go toward pasture and raising livestock, you won't have that rent and you'll incur expenses of buying stock, building facilities (fence, building, waterer) and buying feed at least part of the year. In addition to the chickens, a couple of low facilities ways to experiment with raising livestock would be to buy a feeder steer and a couple feeder pigs in the spring, and then feed them out and butcher in the fall. Neither of these requires much in the way of facilities: just small lots fenced in, some simple feed and water troughs, but you would likely want to buy feed (grain). This way you can get a feel for raising larger livestock without having to over-winter them. You could probably get your hands on some day old bull-calves and raise them up to feeders.

    This way, you could get your feet wet with some animals and then gradually build up some facilities (three-side pole shed with southern exposure, perhaps another pole shed for hay, straw and equipment storage).

    If you do plan to seed down some of that crop land to pasture, I'd suggest going with a cover crop of oats. Seed the oats with a drill in the spring and the oat drill will have grass seed boxes that will put down your pasture mix. There's probably guys who combine oats in your area and you'd have a small income from the oats and straw, and the new seeding will grow up after the oats have been cut off. This helps the seeding get established without getting overrun with weeds. This is an alternative to direct seeding. Talk to some established farmers in the area that run cattle on pasture and raise hay for their opinions on direct seeding.

    Just some thoughts, and there are as many different ways to get started as there are people starting out.
     
  6. Terri

    Terri Singletree & Weight Loss & Permaculture Moderator Staff Member Supporter

    Messages:
    14,896
    Joined:
    May 10, 2002
    Location:
    Kansas
    Milkstoolcowboys suggestion that you start out small to get a feel for things has a lot of merit. Allowing for the house and garden, you might have 4 acres you can start on while still getting the rental income.

    I am starting out with bees, and I am glad that I started out small, so that I made my mistakes on a small number of hives. For example, I didn't get the entrance reducers on early enough in the fall, and so I lost my strongest hive. Mice moved in.

    Such a simple mistake. But, there is ALWAYS a learning curve, and our budget is tight enough so that I chose to make my errors on a small number of bee hives.

    The upside is that I did not lose money because only one hive full of bees were lost. The down side, of course, is that I will not earn much money at all this summer. Bees must work for a year before a hive is established enough to yield honey, and I only have 3 established hives. I have ordered more bees for April, but they will not produce this year.

    This summer, I expand a bit! ;)