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Students in Illinois learn backyard farming

Published on March 22, 2012 3:01AM

Last changed on March 22, 2012 4:48AM


(LaSalle) News-Tribune via Associated Press

LASALLE, Ill. (AP) -- What's the difference between a dog and a chicken? Dogs can't produce hot wings.

More and more people are opting to keep animals that also produce food. Witness the city of La Salle's recent approval for residential chickens. On Saturday, 27 people attended a homesteading conference at Illinois Valley Community College.

Homesteading is farming in backyards or small farms by people who want to get back to the land and raise high-quality food.

There were classes all day on preserving garden produce, choosing animals, backyard chickens, gardening, marketing your products, beekeeping, creating a homestead business and running a small dairy.

The animal class was led by Deborah Niemann-Boehle who operates a small family farm near Cornell that produces meat, eggs, dairy, soap, wool, vegetables and maple syrup.

Selling her products is easy but she said she charges too little.

"I have more people requesting it than what I have available," Niemann-Boehle said.

Niemann-Boehle prepared attendees for having cattle, which require appropriate fencing. Electricity, it seems, is the only force cattle will respect, she said.

"Cows have this crazy idea that they can jump fences but they can't," Niemann-Boehle said. The cow lands on top of the fence and it takes wire cutters to free them, she said.

Her cattle range free and produce organic beef that fetches premium prices, Niemann-Boehle said.

"It's very easy to have organic cows, grass-fed," she said. "They're continuing to do really well on pasture without any external inputs." She feeds them hay in winter.

While chickens and goats produce eggs and milk before you kill them for meat, pigs don't seem to have other values prior to giving up the bacon. Niemann-Boehle discovered they make great garden tillers.

"If you need an area completely tilled up, they are nature's rototillers," she said.

Pigs also eat kitchen and vegetable scraps and whey from cheese-making.

"You put whey in front of them and they stick their noses in it until that pan is empty," Niemann-Boehle said. "They slurp up all of our whey and turn it into pork."

Her pigs also eat the fallen acorns on her driveway, she said.

"They're like a dog," Niemann-Boehle said. "They are so crazy-sweet."

Natalie Martin and her husband just moved onto some land outside of Jonesville. She attended the conference.

"We would really like to have our own homestead and grow our own vegetables and animals," she said. "My goal is to see what other people are doing."

Paul Breseman of Princeton anticipates a move into the country to start raising food, if he can convince his wife, he said.

"We're basically tired of city life," Breseman said. "We wanted to get out on the farm and get away from all of the (city life)."

Cathy Lafrenz owns Miss Effie's Country Flowers and Garden Stuff in Donahue, Iowa and talked about raising chickens.

On Sept. 11, 2001, after the terrorist bombings on the East Coast, she told her husband: "I just want to hunker down in Donahue where nothing ever happens and raise chickens," Lafrenz said.

Her husband bought her 18 chickens. Last fall she had 100. On Thursday she collected 53 eggs from her brood, she said.


Information from: News-Tribune, http://www.newstrib.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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