Q & A with Sally McGuire of Haines
Q: How did you come to raise your own livestock for food and why do you do it?
A: I’m nearly 70 and have produced, harvested, processed, or bought local the lion’s share of my family’s food. I learned how to do this from my mother, a pioneer in encouraging this sort of thing back in the 50s. A way [to localize food sources] that provides the most protein and calories the easiest way is growing your own meat, eggs, and milk. Just goes to show how far we have come from the day when people took that responsibility for granted.
Q: What can you tell us from your experience about raising chickens?
A: I notice that this year there is a very strong interest in backyard chickens as people have gotten worried about supply chains. Chickens are an ideal entry-level animal: easy to keep, don’t need much space, use your household food waste efficiently, and produce a very important fertilizer. (Note: for fertilizer, keep adding sawdust to the coop, or whatever you have available). I give my chickens a lot of the weeds I pull in the garden. I also grow food for them, including oats, potatoes (you have to cook them), whatever I can think of. I do buy chicken feed of course, but would rather not. Most hens will keep laying for a long time – several of mine are 6 or 8 years old and still going strong.
Q: What can you tell us from your experience raising goats and cows?
A: Goats are the next most important, or at least the next easiest. From spring to fall, you can find, cut, and carry most of their feed, or have a decent fenced pasture, which I don’t. (I have the pasture, but not the fence.)
A cow is at least as efficient a producer as your goats, eats most of the same things, produces a calf that is a far more efficient producer of meat (if it’s male) than a goat will ever be, and you can easily put up a fence for it. Downside is finding a bull for breeding, at least around here, or you can figure out how to do artificial insemination.
In many parts of the world, the winter feed for both cows and goats is branches of various small trees or shrubs that were cut and bundled. Or of course there’s hay. I use both- it’s not that hard to have enough bundled to give them one bundle a day all winter. Good use for salmonberry.
My Mom, for her cows which were Jerseys, would figure on a bale a day each- her bales were not that big though. In the late 1800s in towns, it was very popular to raise as much of your cow’s feed as you could on your lot in the city, as well as keep her there (and likely also a horse), and of course they also raised all their own vegetables there. Pretty impressive. They also supplemented, most of them, with some grain, and also hay in the winter was bought in. You can figure that 4 or 5 goats will eat as much as a cow, or so they say. Personally I think it’s more like 2 or 3 goats!
Q: How much land is needed to raise a cow?
A: I asked my Mom (author of Keeping a Family Cow) and she said that the short answer was “it depends”. You can certainly keep her on a suburban lot except for zoning regs, and buy in all her feed. I keep notes and/or save articles, so I can say that a year or two ago one article said you could keep a Dexter (a small Irish cow, quite popular these days) on half an acre – I assume they meant that’s all she needed for feeding.
Q: What other local foods do you produce on your land?
A: I have about 8 acres, outside of Haines. It was second growth when we bought it in 1985, and is now mostly grass and vegetable beds, with mostly winter squash and potatoes. We get most of our vegetables from our daughter in law, Sally Boisvert of Four Winds Farm here in Haines.