“Critter Tales is a must-read for every would-be homesteader. Tate is realistic but sympathetic about the trials that face folks new to animal husbandry in a farm setting. Readers follow along as she and her husband jump through the emotional hurdle of killing beloved chickens, figure out how to use water guns to train goats, and build innovative straw-bale shelters for pigs. Learning from Tate’s mistakes means you won’t be fated to repeat them, but at the same time the author’s engaging photos and stories will make you yearn to create critter tales too. Before you know it, you may be juggling livestock guardian dogs, chemical-free honeybees, and guineas of your very own.”
—Anna Hess, author of The Weekend Homesteader
“With witty tone and honest words, Leigh shares tales that will excite and educate any future homesteader. It’s like sitting across the table from a friend as you catch up on the latest news in her life. For anyone who’s dreamed of transforming a small plot of land into a thriving homestead full of life and possibility, this is a must-read book.”
—Angela England, author of Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less)
and Founder of Homestead Bloggers Network
“Leigh Tate does it again! In the tradition of her earlier book, 5 Acres and a Dream, Critter Tales is a wonderful collection of lessons learned, this time in the realm of homestead livestock. I highly recommend this book to anyone that is thinking about adding animals to their homestead as well as those who just love to read the stories of an authentic fellow traveler. Some people are natural born story tellers and Leigh Tate is one those people. “
—Scott M Terry , Farmer, Homesteader, and Host of Christian Farm and Homestead Radio
by Leigh Tate
Copyright © 2016 by Leigh Tate
Photography copyright © 2009-2015 by Leigh Tate and Daniel Tate
Pyrography and poetry copyright © 1996-2015 by Daniel Tate
Critter Tales Series is the electronic version of Critter Tales: What my homestead critters have taught me about themselves, their world, and how to be a part of it, copyright © 2015 by Leigh Tate
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, copying and pasting, or any other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For information, contact Kikobian Books, [email protected]
A necessary disclaimer: The purpose of this book is to entertain and encourage others with interests similar to me, the author. Within its chapters you will find accounts of my diagnosing and treating my animals for a variety of problems. Please note that I am not a veterinarian nor an expert in this area. You will not find enough information to diagnose and treat your own animals, you will merely find a narrative of my experience, including the use of herbs in treatments. Using herbs for medicinal purposes is highly controversial and requires a strict admonition to seek professional medical advice first. If your animals exhibit any of the same symptoms, it is your responsibility to find the correct diagnosis and treatment. This should be done through a veterinarian. These tales are not an endorsement of my methods, but simply a collection of things that happened and what I did. There is no guarantee you would have the same results, so please use appropriate cautionary protocol in this area.
To Dan, my partner in critter-keeping,
homesteading, and all of life.
Truth be told, I’m a print book person. I love the smell and feel of a book in my hands, I love turning pages, and I love having a copy of a good book on my bookshelves. That being said, electronic books open up a whole realm of possibilities for readers of books. An electronic reading device can hold an entire library of books which are easy to carry and easy to have available whenever a few minutes of reading time present themselves.
Some books lend themselves well to the electronic format, especially fiction or short non-fiction works. Books like Critter Tales or 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, on the other hand, are a bit of a challenge to convert to the digital format. Images, maps, tables, charts, and diagrams are either too small to see on an eReader screen or don’t render well in the conversion process. Photographs require many kilobytes of space which creates a book, not of physical bulk, but of digital bulk.
The answer for Critter Tales was to publish it electronically as a series. With the exception of the introduction and postscript, each set of tales is self-contained and presentable as a stand-alone volume. Minor changes had to be made to accommodate eBook formatting, acceptable fonts, placement of photos, and font size for captions. The reader of the electronic edition gets the benefit of color photos, which would have made the print version very expensive. With a series, readers can pick and choose the critters in which they are most interested and, I hope, benefit from my research and experience while enjoying the tales at the same time.
The creation of a book is a team project. As the author I get to have my name on the cover, but getting it from an idea in my head to the book that you now hold in your hands required help.
The heart of any book is the words which express the author’s ideas and communicate them to you, the reader. My beta readers read through the earliest drafts of Critter Tales and gave me valuable feedback on content, continuity, and clarity. Their questions and suggestions did much to shape the telling of the tales. To Garrett Alley, Sharon Campbell, Anna Hess, Nathan Huntley, Perry Overton, Elizabeth Sweet, and Barbara Wills, a heartfelt thank-you.
Once the ideas are committed to words, the book itself is designed. It is the proofreaders who take the freshly formatted pages and search them for the little mistakes that can distract the reader from an enjoyable reading experience. My sincerest thanks to Heather East, Fern Feral, Carolyn Miller, and Ellen Leigh Sadler for doing just that. If there are any errors left, they are entirely my own.
A very special thank-you goes to Leslie Koster, my editor. Her enthusiasm, encouragement, and expertise have been a blessing to me every step of the way. It is my sincerest hope that this humble, self- published book is a credit to her.
The one to whom I am most grateful is my husband Dan. These are not just my tales but ours. He was always willing to discuss my ideas, gave me helpful feedback, and never complained when I was lost to the computer and late for chores.
Critters are the center of our homestead world. From the time we get up, to the time we go to bed, even during the night, our life revolves around them and their needs. It is a partnership, really, which provides a framework for the functioning of our homestead and the stability to our lives. We are sometimes pitied for being “tied down” by our animals, and it’s true that there can be no spontaneous trips or long absences for us. Not for both of us, anyway. But this is the life we choose, a committed relationship with the land and the lives it sustains.
My husband Dan and I come from typical middle class suburban backgrounds. Our experience with livestock was grounded in what we learned in kindergarten and from visiting petting zoos. We knew farm animals provided many useful things, such as food in the form of eggs, milk, and meat. As gardeners, we knew that manure is an important source of nitrogen for good compost, which is essential for growing healthy fruits and vegetables. As a handspinner, I knew all about fleece and fiber. When it came to choosing and caring for livestock, however, we knew we had a lot to learn.
We started our homesteading journey with a purchase of five acres. When we bought it, part of it was cleared and part of it was wooded. It had no fencing and no barn, but there were two old outbuildings that could be a beginning for animal housing. There was much uncertainty. What kind of fencing would we need? How many animals per acre could we keep? Would our outbuildings be adequate for shelter? Were they big enough? What about feed? We knew we would need to buy most of our feed in the beginning, but we wanted to work toward feeding all of our critters from what we could grow ourselves. What would we need to grow? How much? What would it take to process it and how would we store it?
We pondered what kinds of animals to get: chickens, turkeys, goats, a cow, a guard dog? What breeds? How many? Could they live together? Would they need their own areas? How big would those areas need to be? Our biggest concern was that we would not be able to care for our animals properly. Dan did not want our excitement and enthusiasm to overrule common sense. There were two considerations here – the critters themselves and the land. The last thing we wanted was to end up with more critters than we and the land could support.
The framework for all these questions was our homesteading goal of self-sufficiency. Many people associate this term with isolationism. For us, however, it had nothing to do with that. What we sought was a fuller experience of providing for ourselves. We wanted a stronger connection to the sources of our food and to be a part of life’s seasonal rhythms. We both love being outdoors and working with our hands. We are not interested in the latest consumer trends or newest technological marvels. We sought to rely more on doing and less on buying. We would read The Little House on the Prairie books or Ralph Moody’s Little Britches series and admire the characters’ contentment with what others deem a hard way of life. The simplicity of their lifestyles appealed to us.
When we bought our little place in early 2009, we had big plans. Even so, we spent close to a year simply observing. We noted the direction from which the rain came and which ways the wind blew. We observed which areas received the most sun and which were slow to drain after a storm. We walked the land and discussed what we hoped to accomplish. Where would be the best spot for a garden? For an orchard? Where would we build a barn? How about beehives? We took notes, made sketches, and created a Master Plan to map out what we hoped our homestead would look like someday.
It was during this first year that I spent a lot of time researching various critters so that I could understand the various aspects of their care. Thanks to the internet, there is a lot of information available, but I had to learn how to weigh each bit of advice against our situation and our goals. For example, I learned that alfalfa is a popular feed for goats, but I also learned that it does not grow well in our part of the country. If I wanted to grow our own hay I would need to look for an alternative crop. Another example is breeds of chickens. Living in the southeastern United States meant that I was less concerned with how winter hardy a breed is, and more concerned with how well they could tolerate our summer heat. I quickly figured out that there is no one- size-fits-all plan for either critter-keeping or homesteading.
When it came to getting animals, our plan was to start small and build to numbers which were manageable for us without overgrazing or overusing the land. One thing this meant was that we couldn’t keep all the critters that were born or hatched on the homestead. We reckoned we would sell, trade, or eat the surplus. This purely rational decision points to a different kind of learning curve, one that involves the heart as well as the head. We not only had practical skills to learn, but emotional ones as well. Would we really be able to kill and eat animals that we had raised and come to know so well?
Critter Tales is the story of how we are learning the answers to all of these questions. It is divided into sections, one for each type of critter, with the sections divided into individual tales. With most sections I start with what I learned from my initial research. The tales themselves range from anecdotal to technical, and I’d have to say that we’ve learned just as much from our experiences as from my research. Without a livestock veterinarian in the area, most of our problem-solving relies heavily on that research. Although I am not trained in animal science or health, I will nonetheless share what I learned, what we did, and the outcomes, both good and bad.
Some of the sections are a chronological telling of our experiences, others are less so. In trying to share what we’ve learned, it made more sense to arrange much of the information topically—such as kidding problems or how to introduce new chicks to an existing flock—rather than chronologically. These aren’t things we figured out the first go-round, but over the years. I felt my readers would benefit more from having all related information together in one tale, rather than spreading it out in bits and pieces throughout the various tales. I’ve tried to conclude each section by discussing the long-term impact each critter has had on our homesteading plans and goals, with a view to the future.
The hardest part of writing such a book is that the tales are never-ending. There is always another lesson learned, always something new to tell. At some point, however, a stopping place must be chosen so that the work of preparing the book for publication can commence. Because some of the sections are prepared months in advance, I have indulged in a postscript to bring my readers up to date before the book must be finalized for the printing press. My most current critter tales can be read at my blog, www.5acresandadream.com, where the telling is ongoing.
For more information on the Critter Tales Series and where to purchase visit
Also available in one volume in paperback. For more information and where to buy, visit .
The paperback version of Critter Tales lists resources by critter. I followed that format by putting the related resources in the appropriate eBook volume. Following are the resources listed under “general.” It includes some of the information mentioned throughout the book, plus some of Dan’s and my favorite “go to” sources for information.
Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills, by Readers Digest. Out of print but still available.
Craigslist for livestock, tools, and equipment: www.craigslist.org.
Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery. The classic how-to.
Forage Identification and Use Guide, University of Kentucky: http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/agr/agr175/agr175.htm.
Kinsey Agricultural Services, pasture soil testing with recommendations for organic soil amendments. 297 County Highway 357, Charleston, Missouri 63834, (573) 683-3880, [email protected], www.kinseyag.com/.
The Livestock Conservancy to learn about heritage breeds of livestock: www.livestockconservancy.org/.
State Cooperative Extension Offices for helpful local information: http://nifa.usda.gov/partners-and-extension-map.
YouTube for videos on how to do (or not do) just about everything: www.youtube.com.
Leigh Tate and her husband Dan homestead five acres in the foothills of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Their goal is simpler, sustainable, more self-reliant living, and a return to agrarian values. In addition to critter keeping, gardening, food preservation, cheese making, and woodstove cookery, Leigh loves to write about homesteading. She is the author of the popular , The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, and You can read about Leigh’s and Dan’s ongoing homesteading adventures at her blog, .
What does it take to become a successful homesteader? Based on her popular homesteading blog, 5 Acres & A Dream, Leigh Tate shares how she and her husband Dan are facing the challenges of trying to establish a self-sufficient homestead; from defining their dream, finding property, and setting priorities, to obstacles and difficult times, to learning how to work smarter, not harder. She shares what they’ve learned about energy, water, and food self-sufficiency for themselves and their animals too. Included are copies of their homestead master plan plus revisions and a sampling of Leigh’s homestead recipes. Paperback.
For more information and where to buy, visit .
Similar in style to 5 Acres and a Dream The Book, Critter Tales presents an entertaining but honest exploration of the challenges of sustainable critter keeping on a self-reliant homestead: suitable breeds, numbers of animals, housing, fencing, growing one’s own feed, health issues, mysterious disappearances and deaths, dealing with predators, critters that won’t stay put, and how the animals themselves don’t always agree with “the experts.” Discusses the various philosophies of keeping livestock, and includes the author’s careful research and real-life learning experiences with chickens, goats, llamas, puppies, guinea fowl, cats, pigs, and honeybees on the homestead. Paperback.
For more information and where to buy, visit .
an eBook series
Most homesteading how-to books start at the beginning. They are written to equip the aspiring homesteader to get started in homesteading: how to garden, how to preserve food, how to get started with livestock, etc. offers “next step” skills to further enhance the homesteader’s self-reliance and sustainability. Available formats: epub, mobi (Kindle), pdf, rtf, lrf, pdb, txt, and html.
Available in both eBook and print!
and more to come.
For a complete list of all available titles plus other news visit
Critter Tales Series is the electronic version of Critter Tales: What my homestead critters have taught me about themselves, their world, and how to be a part of it. While some books lend themselves well to the electronic format, others are a bit of a challenge to convert to the digital format. Images, charts, and diagrams are either too small to see on an eReader screen or don't render well in the conversion process. Photographs require many kilobytes of space which creates a book, not of physical bulk, but of digital bulk. The answer for Critter Tales was to publish it electronically as a series. With the exception of the introduction and postscript, each set of tales is self-contained and presentable as a stand-alone volume. Minor changes had to be made to accommodate eBook formatting, acceptable fonts, placement of photos, and font size for captions. The reader of the electronic edition gets the benefit of color photos, which would have made the print version very expensive. With a series, readers can pick and choose the critters in which they are most interested and, I hope, benefit from my research and experience while enjoying the tales at the same time. Volume 1, Concerning Critters, introduces the reader to my husband and me, our homestead philosophy and goals, and to the tales that follow.