Wanting to start a Self-Sufficient farm

Discuss lifestyle changes to better survive disasters. This category is for topics pertaining to being self reliant such as DIY, farming, alternative energy, autonomous solutions to water collection and waste removal, etc.

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Wanting to start a Self-Sufficient farm

Post by GoldEagle » Wed Dec 26, 2007 11:03 am

A little background. My dad was born and raised a Minnesota farm boy, until he moved out at age 18. He is now in his mid-50's and hasn't really done any farming since then, but still can fix nearly anything. We have a farm up in MN of which 2/3 is going to be sold soon, meaning we will come in to some extra money (we have enough money to last a while anyways, this will help though). My dad wants to buy some acreage (50~100) in Kansas, and wants to rent out most of that acreage and then use maybe 5-10 of it to grow numerous crops, and probably bees (no livestock), for both sale and eating. I would prefer that it be organic. I already found a great site for organic farmers here: http://www.planetnatural.com/site/index.html

I got him a book called The Self-Sufficient Life for Christmas. He seems very interested. He hates people, traffic, etc, and our once small coastal Florida town (Melbourne) has even too many people for my liking. I wouldn't mind moving out there and helping him after college (I'm 18/Senior right now).

Does anyone have any helpful tips for how we should go about purchasing this land, building a house, etc? We already have a nicely rebuilt 58ish Allis Chalmers in absolute perfect working condition. My dad has knowledge, though old, of farm life and what to do. This book that I got him has all the basics, timetables for when to plant, how to grow plants, stuff like that.

So basically, tips for starting a mostly self-sufficient farm (any meat could be hunted, dairy could be purchased locally, only thing we would need is gas) that would have a wide variety of crops that we could both use and sell. Where should we buy the land? My dad was stationed in KS around 72, and he said he would like somewhere about 2-3 hours West of Kansas City, MO. All I want is a tiny town that won't have a lot of people, far away from large population centers.

Thanks in advance.
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Post by velojym » Wed Dec 26, 2007 11:42 am

For meat, you could also raise some of the less labor intense critters, like goats or rabbits. I've read in Backwoods Home (check it out, they cater to stuff like this, and seem a lot more open-minded than Mother Earth News or even Countryside, now) that instead of chickens, you may want to consider ducks.

We're working on starting a raised bed garden here in the 'burbs, though there won't be any dairy or meat production going on. If things go south, I'll be looking to find some rabbits or whatever else I can keep in a limited space.

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Post by GoldEagle » Wed Dec 26, 2007 11:45 am

My dad and I considered rabbits, but I just think I would become way too attached.

We were thinking about either chickens, ducks, or geese as a MAYBE. The thing is, that means you have to raise a lot of extra crop and use it as animal feed. Chickens would be nice for both eggs and meat. But I don't think my dad wants to live there forever, I think he said maybe 6 months out of the year. It's still really subjective.
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Post by Ad'lan » Wed Dec 26, 2007 12:37 pm

If you want to be a small holder, thats a great Ideal. But you cannot do it on the income of the farm alone (at least, not easily, and not on under 10acres)

You'll need an income to support your self, at least, from my knowledge. This might be very different in America.
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Post by GoldEagle » Wed Dec 26, 2007 12:45 pm

Fortunately, we're in a position where we have more than enough income to deal with it.
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Post by CB4 » Wed Dec 26, 2007 12:54 pm

I have aspirations of doing this as I near retirement age. Once my kids have moved out and have hopefully moved onto their own dime, I'd like to move further away from the city, onto several acres of land where I can make my own power, grow my own food, and live the rest of my years comfortably and self-sufficiently.
If my home/land and vehicles are paid for and I can light and heat my home on my own, grow most of my own food and barter for what I cant grow, then I'd have no bills and no need for income except for when my wife and I want to do something or buy something, then hopefully my retirement will be enough for that.

lofty aspirations, I know.
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Post by Ad'lan » Wed Dec 26, 2007 1:03 pm

In that case, good luck. I'm not an Arable man, but here's my advice.

Don't go for Modern Industrial breeds or strains. They may be fine for an Agribusisness, who can afford the exact right mix of Pesitisides, herbicides and fertilizer to make it thrive and produce a phenomenal yeild, but ti can only produce this yeild if it has those conditions.

An industrial Pig may grow at an amazing rate, and produce a litter every which way. But it must be kept at an exact temperature, and fed exactly right.

What you want are old breeds, traditional (though often rare), and they'll serve you well. Easy Births, or fertile seeds, rather than the modern sterile hybrids and up all nights you'll have with modern breeds.
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Post by GoldEagle » Wed Dec 26, 2007 1:08 pm

Like I said, we probably won't keep any livestock. But thanks for the advice, it will surely help if we decide to keep a cow or chickens.
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Post by Ad'lan » Wed Dec 26, 2007 1:18 pm

Well, It's equally applicable to plants.
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Post by GoldEagle » Wed Dec 26, 2007 1:23 pm

Interesting. Where would you recommend buying non-industrial seeds/plants?
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Post by Shep » Wed Dec 26, 2007 1:34 pm

You can probably find them at a farmer's co-operative or market or something similar if you have one in your area. Just make sure to read the packages very carefully. Also be on the look out for older folks who have been growing their own for the past 30+ years because they are likely to have seeds on hand from a "natural" crop. Also try to stay away from most things that say "hybrid" on it.

A natural farm/garden takes a while to get going compared to buying fertilizers and other materials but once you master the rotation and composting you would be amazed how different the soil becomes.

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Post by velojym » Wed Dec 26, 2007 2:37 pm

google 'Heirloom seeds' and 'open pollinated' and you'll find lots of info on plants that'll reproduce true from year-to-year with saved seed. You'll also
usually find advice on those same sites about caring for the plants without resorting to chemical help.
www.Burpee.com has a decent selection of heirloom seeds, as well as a bunch of other hybrid stuff.
I'm going to concentrate on mostly heirloom plants, but there are a few hybrid varieties that I'll try just for convenience. Long term SHTF, they'll fall by the wayside, but for now they'll work.

I'm planning to start with four 4x4' tables, loaded with veggies, including corn. We'll have a cherry tomato plant or two in 5 gallon pots, and some strawberries and herbs in window boxes. There's a chain link fence separating the garden area from the rest of the yard, and I think I'll plant some berry bushes (still have to decide which types) on the fence, and probably three fruit trees on the other side of the fence.

It won't be a 'self sufficient' setup for current-day income intense living,
but in a pinch, it'll go a lot further than relying on only our stored foods.

Chickens and ducks don't require a heck of a lot of feed, as they're pretty good scroungers, but they do need some...

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Post by RogerK » Thu Dec 27, 2007 6:37 am

Try here-

http://www.homestead.org/

Lots of good info on the forum.
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Post by Tetra Grammaton Cleric » Thu Dec 27, 2007 6:58 am

As a not as active as I was Permaculture designer who used to do permaculture design and application for suburban gardens, small acre country gardens, small farms and integrated agriculture/permaculture systems for large farms I can sincerely reccomend the principles of permaculture design for what you and your father want to do.

I added some other links below so you can get a handle on what permaculture is but all you need is this large book, Permaculture, A Designer's Manual by Bill Mollison.

Once you understand the Concepts of Permaculture Design you really don't need anything else on the subject. All your other organic gardening, rammed earth, free range chicken, heritage/heirloom seed, etc, etc resources become parts of the whole overruling system you will put in place. No hocus pocus, just common sense you'll be amazed that you hadn't thought of yourself.

http://www.seedinternational.com.au/pc_principles.html

http://www.permaculture.org.au/?page_id=20

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture
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Post by herbalpagan » Thu Dec 27, 2007 7:34 am

We are in the process of doingsomethingsimilarto what you want. (although, I have done it before)
My best advice to you is to take time. Time to build a concrete plan and think everything through. Also, to learn and find resources. Then take a trip out to the area you think you might want to live and stay for a week, if possible. Then you can observe and look for land. The concrete plan is the key as well as the learning.
Oh, I like FEDCO for my seed purchases. You can by in bulk, almost all seeds are organic and the price is cheaper because they are a co op.
Read a few books on land quality as well, so when you go look at land, you will know what to look for.
Good luck! :D
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Post by GoldEagle » Thu Dec 27, 2007 10:25 am

Thanks for all the help! I will definitely check all those links and books out.

Another thing I'd like to do is spend a week or two at the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, an entirely off the grid, self-sufficient farm in MO. What's even more interesting is that it's vegan, so they do it without raising any animals.
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Post by thorian » Thu Dec 27, 2007 10:31 am

I have a farm however we are far from self sufficient. I am still working on keeping the livestock live. of 4 bottle baby goats i have 1 left.
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Post by Trioxin » Thu Dec 27, 2007 8:38 pm

I would have to say that if you can't slaugter a rabbit, then the whole "self sufficent" thing may be a bit dirty for you.
Don't mean that to sound jerkish.

I buy seeds from seedsavers.org they are all organic, heirloom stuff.
Their success rate is near 100% for me.

I would recommend chickens over ducks. I have had both and a duck will eat WAY more than a chicken and produce fewer eggs. Yes, they are bigger, but not that big.

A pond would be a great idea for some aquaculture. Tilapia (spelling??)
or catfish would be tastey. Chinese raise carp.

You looking at any off-grid power stuff??
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Post by Apollo-11 » Thu Dec 27, 2007 9:08 pm

Trioxin wrote:A pond would be a great idea for some aquaculture. Tilapia (spelling??)
or catfish would be tastey. Chinese raise carp.

You looking at any off-grid power stuff??
I read somewhere that the fish can be raised in 55 gallon barrels. Take the stinky fish water, when it needs to be changed out, and use it to fertilize your plants. The fish can be fed with worms and bugs out of your worm composting bin. (Red anglers, not earthworms.) We are starting to get a worm bin going and they are very fat and happy... reproducing very fast too! (Then the worm castings can also be used as fertilizer).

Let's see... I think I got some of that from "The Survival Greenhouse". Not 100% sure of the title though. Good book.

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Post by mr.trooper » Thu Dec 27, 2007 10:16 pm

GoldEagle wrote:My dad and I considered rabbits, but I just think I would become way too attached.
Then do chickens.

you dont have to eat them, just eat the eggs.

If space is an issue, then get one of the smaller variety's of chickens.

Beware though, many of todays chickens are so hybridized that they only do one thing well...they dont meet the ideal of a chicken most people have.

for example, chickens raised to lay lots of eggs often have no brooding instinct. Many of them wont even lay their eggs in a nest; they will just drop it wherever they happen to be at the time, because they have to do it so often. This can make collecting the eggs difficult unless you keep them in very small pens most of the time.

Other types of chickens are raised for meat. Those types of chickens may only lay an egg once in a blue moon, and it may not be very big.

Either way you will have to invest in a incubator to sustain your population. Most modern chickens do not go "broody" on their eggs with any sort of reliability. Its been breed out of them to make room for other "more desirable" traits. Thats what makes them so high maintenance.
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Post by Tetra Grammaton Cleric » Thu Dec 27, 2007 10:19 pm

Trioxin wrote:I would have to say that if you can't slaugter a rabbit, then the whole "self sufficent" thing may be a bit dirty for you.
Don't mean that to sound jerkish.

I buy seeds from seedsavers.org they are all organic, heirloom stuff.
Their success rate is near 100% for me.

I would recommend chickens over ducks. I have had both and a duck will eat WAY more than a chicken and produce fewer eggs. Yes, they are bigger, but not that big.

A pond would be a great idea for some aquaculture. Tilapia (spelling??)
or catfish would be tastey. Chinese raise carp.

You looking at any off-grid power stuff??
Ducks have thier place... the "Indian Runner" breed is especially helpful at removing snails, slugs and bugs from your food production areas. They are teh microverminterminatorz.

Chickens are best used as a totally integrated part of your system... the permaculture design rule of everything doing at least three jobs lets you see the chicken as the powerful tool it is. (:lol:)

Chicken tractor beds: do some google-fu to check this concept out... chickens will get rid of spent crops, work over the soil with thier scratching habit and fertilize the soil as a bonus. You can have the tractor beds coming off thier main pen for ease of access or situate them remotely. Also, some folk set up mobile or temporary poultry fencing around spent vegetable crops that are in need of "tractoring".

Food Forest/Multi layered Orchard Chicken LRRP: Chickens can be released from thier main pen into your food trees area to do weed/pest/soil loosening/spot fertilizing on occassion. The food forest/multilayered orchard should be already robustly established and you shouldn't be to precious about the herbage layer. Remember (this goes for the main pen design as well) that chickens are originally a rain forest species and feel more comfortable with available low cover/understory overhead. Also, give them temporary mini-coops where they can camp for the night if left out or shelter from an imagined predator attack (nothing short of their main pen and some awesome dogs should be able to protect them from a determined fox on a raid but chickens being chickens can and will get paranoid and become less productive).

Feeding the Chickens? Hell no, I'm recycling this organic waste and culling my worm farm herd to managable levels: Split your weeds, food scraps, diseased plants, spoiled fruit and vegetable product, and other organic matter into stuff you're going to compost; stuff you're going to make "medicinal" composts or teas out of; stuff you're going to feed to the chickens; and stuff you're going to feed to your worm farm. Feed the scraps intended for the chickens out on an area set up as a "scratch", this gives the chickens the opportunity to behave in thier natural manner when confined in the main pen.

A design combination I will personally take credit for is have your worm farm (bathtubs, purpose built, etc) abutting to the scratch/feeding area of the main chicken pen. That way when you go to feed the chickens and the worm farm both locations are in the same spot reducing your time and energy inputs. It's a simple matter of scooping off a handful or bucket of worms from the wormfarm and throwing it onto the scratch as well. Compost worms such as the Tiger and Red Wriggler are pretty much 100% good protien. A chicken feed x amount of live compost worms a day will need IIRC a 1/5 less of other feed in it's diet and will provide much better quality eggs. Anyone with a properly working worm farm will know a lonely compost worm is never lonely long so don't think this is a waste of your worm farm herd. As a bonus any escaped worms will make for the scratch and become chicken feed you didn't have to use your own energy/input to put there.

Eggs, Manure, Fast Compost and chicken self supplied Chicken Coop central heating: A main pen for chickens should have thier coop featuring raised perches which simulates the "let's sleep in a tree" natural behaviour. Laying nests are for exactly that and should be provided for the girls that do that job. The raised perch rails are best staggered in an ascending manner (think bleachers) and there should be a comfortably accessable door/hatch for you and a shovel or rake to get in behind it as required. This keeps the chicken manure produced while they sleep concentrated in one easily harvestable spot again, reducing the amount of time and energy inputs from you - don't make work for yourself, make a system that works for you. The heat rising from the manure below them goes a long way to keeping the chooks warm on cold nights if you have your draught/ventilation/airflow right (again, the first principle of Permaculture design is to make a single element do at least three jobs, see how it works?). Also important to note is to never put fresh harvested chicken manure in bulk directly onto plants or topsoils. It is too hot, too acidic and, well, too nasty. Because of it's very high nitrogen levels it is ideal for making fast compost by combining with bulk carbon matierial you would normally think would be only good for mulch or as a more minor ingredient in a more standard nitrogen to carbon ratio compost recipe. Do not let the fast compost go aenerobic or it will bite you in the ass due to the ewww and what a waste factor (don't throw it out though... recompost it or make compost teas out of it). Keep it aerobic and you will be rewarded with fast bulk compost perfect for raised bed/no dig style gardening that usually chews up huge amounts of your regular recipe compost much to most people's disapointment.


See, one element does multiple jobs and each job interacts with other elements in an integrated system. There's more than eight different jobs in this post for the humble chicken and it's habits, byproducts, and some elements it interacts with and we're barely scratching the surface. (bad pun intended, sorry.)

edit: +1 to Mr Trooper on breed selection, steer clear of battery hen breeds.
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Post by Ad'lan » Fri Dec 28, 2007 5:23 am

If you are going for Eggs for sale (and anything more than half a dozen hens, you will be), I'd suggest going for somthing distinctive, like
Creamlegbars which produce beautiful, if small, blue eggs. Or better, and I take credit for this cross breed (at least on my farm), cross creamlegbar with Rhodebar and you get big Green Eggs.

Having an Auto sexing breed is useful (thats what Bar means, the male chicks look visibly different to female ones).
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Post by thorian » Fri Dec 28, 2007 11:37 am

Of all the diffrent varieties of chickens that I have had over the past couple years.

Americauna's are the friendliest and are decent layers

Bantam Silkies are the most amusing and Cute and good for 4H or kids pets not really good meat or egg producers

Spitzhaubens produce the most eggs for the same amount of feed however they are small and would not be meat chickens. I have a tame one that is currently living in the house. It was attacked by a cat and while i was tending to its wounds it became extremely tame and just hangs out. I put it out and it sits there waiting for you to pick it up. the good news is that you can keep more of them in the same square footage as a larger breed.

Cornish crosses are only good for one thing meat. They are not prolific layers and I have actually had several die of heart attacks. They will lay on their sides and eat constantly.
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Post by GoldEagle » Fri Dec 28, 2007 12:19 pm

Thanks a lot for all that helpful info TGC!


Quick question, what's the egg production like for an average chicken? Say, how many eggs per x amount of days? Is their production significantly increased if the eggs are fertilized by a rooster?
Trioxin wrote:I would have to say that if you can't slaugter a rabbit, then the whole "self sufficent" thing may be a bit dirty for you.
Don't mean that to sound jerkish.
It's just the whole cute-and-fuzzy thing. I'm an animal lover. I would rather just sell it off than kill it and eat it. It would take a LOT of getting used to, to be able to eat a friend. I'm already a vegetarian so that doesn't help. (and before you bitch at me for being a vegetarian, I have my own personal moral and nutritional reasons). And there are all-vegan off the grid self sufficient farms, just an fyi.

We were actually contemplating doing crops only and no livestock, but a couple of cows and some hens would greatly increase revenue.
Trioxin wrote:I buy seeds from seedsavers.org they are all organic, heirloom stuff.
Their success rate is near 100% for me.
Bookmarked, thanks.
Trioxin wrote:You looking at any off-grid power stuff??
We will try and build our house as off-grid as possible, with the aim being to end up 100% off the grid. Any links would be helpful.

thorian wrote:Of all the diffrent varieties of chickens that I have had over the past couple years.........
We think we would get at least 5 Rhode Island Reds (we have friends in MN who still have "normal", non-hybrid ones), but now that you mention Spitzhaubens, I'll have to look into those further.

We are also thinking about maybe 2 Jersey cows for milk.
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