I like to think of them as our "barnyard quartet." They are four endlessly interesting bimonthly magazines from Countryside Publications in Medford, Wisconsin: Countryside & Small Stock Journal, Backyard Poultry, Dairy Goat Journal and Sheep! Reflecting the neighborly sharing ethos of rural America, they're filled with communications from readers asking and offering advice on all things from dealing with varmints to canning techniques. All are popular sellers in the MagSampler.com newsstand, reminding us urban and suburban types that it's a big country out there!
Countryside & Small Stock Journal is subtitled "the magazine of modern homesteading." The March/April issue is heavy with articles about the promise of spring: "The Secrets to Growing Delectable Sweet Corn," "Growing Fruit on Your Homestead" and the cover story, "Getting Started with Bees."
I enjoyed a fellow's story about building his dream log cabin for his family on a 14-acre spread in New York State. There's a roadblock in his path: the mortgage on the property is owner-financed, and under its terms the seller forbade our hero from cutting any trees on the land. So he cut the pine logs on a small plot he owned in North Carolina, and schlepped them 600 miles in rental trucks. He figures the cabin, completed pretty much single-handed over a couple of years, cost him less than $3,000. The article is illustrated with the anonymous author's drawings of the log sled and log hauler he made, as well as the layout of the cabin's foundation pillars and a cross-section of the chinking process, which included mortar and fiberglass strips.
I've been pecking my way through the February/March issue of Backyard Poultry, designed for the farmer with a few dozen chickens or other fowl. The magazine starts off with a sobering report on avian influenza warnings from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Chickens have to live somewhere, and the issue provides well-illustrated articles about several types of movable chicken coops, as well as one designed to be built in a pasture for grass-fed range birds. Actually, the issue contains a raft of articles about raising pastured fowl, which apparently benefit mightily from a "salad bar" diet. Not only do free-range chickens taste better, so do their eggs, the yolks of which are a much darker orange than those of their henhouse cousins. So farmers can charge more for these products, but they have to worry about predators of both the four-footed and winged varieties, as well as parasites and winter weather.
What I don't know about goats would fill a good-size magazine, and that would be Dairy Goat Journal. The January/February issue contains an account of a cattle, hog and crop farm run by a family in Iowa. They also have a herd of 30 registered Toggenburg dairy goats, basically raised as a hobby for showing purposes. What to do with all that goat milk, especially since the farm is far from any market for the stuff? Of course, the (goat) kids come first, but they feed the surplus milk to calves on the farm, who grow nice and fat and bring more money when they're sold.
I was a little confused when I started reading an article titled "How to Make a Customized Goat Coat," until I understood that author Maxine Kinne was relating how she had been caring for her sick mini-goat and realized that the shivering Chloe would benefit from a layer of clothing. "Human clothing doesn't fit goats," she explains, "and if you manage to get it on a goat, it won't stay put." The article describes her design for a very simple, low-cost polar fleece goat coat, complete with webbing and quick-release snap rings.
The January/February issue of Sheep! features a nice article by John Kirchhoff, who runs a 150-ewe operation in Missouri. He frequently has to vaccinate, worm and select his flock. "I dreaded those sheep working days," he remembers. "I knew at the end of the day every stitch of my clothing was going to be soaked with sweat. I'd be covered in sheep manure, mud and hair from the waist down. I would be physically exhausted and my kids wouldn't speak to me for a week." So, being of an organizing disposition, Kirchhoff sat down and designed an ideal barn-working system.
His plan involved lighting, windows, air movement, gates and chutes, among other factors. A working knowledge of animal psychology is essential for such a task. For instance, sheep and other animals are attracted to light. "Many years ago," he writes, "I learned something the hard way: install windows higher than your animal's MLA (maximum leaping altitude)." Want to get your sheep to go through a chute with purpose and joy? Put a bright window at the end, and that's the direction they'll want to go. After a couple of years of designing, redesigning and building, Kirchhoff now has a near-perfect barn system, and offers the flow diagrams to prove it.