Pros: Good advice for wannabe homesteaders
Cons: More complex than many might want
Out here in suburbia, we don't have a lot of use for information about pig farrowing or movable electric fences to guard the cows, but "The Practical Homestead: The backyard handbook for growing food, raising animals and nurturing your land" will satisfy a lot of people interested in some less-involved projects.
Not too long ago, I acquired seven chicks (alas, thanks to The Feral Cat, we're down to six), and raising them has proven a little more complicated than, say, the dog. I followed my neighbors' lead; they had bought six chickens, lost one to traffic, and then added an illegal rooster, just executed last night because of his appallingly bad behavior. Another neighbor has asked me for a couple of chickens. So suddenly, our little neighborhood has gone rather farmish without the large pieces of land needed to become truly self-sustaining. And, after reading this book, I realize that my instinct to move them about a bit (driven by the desire to find the best, safest spot) was the right one. It's not healthy for them to remain in the same confined area for too long.
Chickens (and The Feral Cat) have a way of discovering little holes in the fences that make escape or intrusion possible, so the most immediate good information in this book involves fencing. While an electric fence that would zap the cat is tempting, I've settled for learning about placing chicken wire, anchoring fence posts more firmly and adding hedges or other plants to hide unsightly fencing.
Beyond fencing, though, there's a wealth of information, some of which can be adapted to smaller scale situations, some of which can't.
There is, for example, a chapter devoted to a small home farm, defined as half an acre, a not-usual property size here, but then people here with properties that size tend to want to have gigantic lawns and maybe pools. Zoning, too, would be a big issue. Our town just recently began permitting chickens but geese and ducks are still verboten.
But if you're inclined, such a farm could include a vegetable garden, room for a couple of pigs, a goat, a chicken pen, fruit trees, bees, a small strip of wheat and odds and ends of toolsheds, workspace and other poultry.
Throughout the book, there is much discussion about purpose and value. It is not, for example, a good idea to raise animals you don't care about. They take a lot of work and extra attention, something you're not likely to offer if you're just looking to make money.
Chapters address such issues as selecting the right piece of land, aniaml husbandry, fruits, food from the fields (picking the crop that works best for you) and home comforts, such as making breads, cheese, curing bacon and making jams and pickles. If you have the right sized land and, most important, the labor available to maintain the property, then you too can raise and butcher pigs or take on any number of other projects, and this book will help you do that. I particularly enjoyed the addition of advice about enjoying the end product of your labors because some days, raising animals seems like all work without payoff (yet).
The book is well illustrated and designed for good reference. If you don't care about selling mohair, for example, move right along to the composting section, or vegetable patches. It's an easy book to read with lots of good information on a huge variety of topics.