{Book Review} The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan

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Rodale offers a free trial of this book, click on the pic

The Backyard Homestead, edited by Carleen Madigan

I got this book because I wanted a nice, well-rounded introduction to producing food, livestock, and other edibles on my property, regardless of the size of my property, and I wanted it to appeal to someone who really didn’t know much about the topic.

This book was exactly what I had hoped it would be.

Madigan covers a wide range of “backyard homesteading” topics, and each is presented in a way that 1) can appeal to newbies like myself and 2) gives enough information that you know what you want to search for outside this book.

Chapters are divided into: The Vegetable Garden, Backyard Fruits and Nuts, Meat and Dairy, Poultry, Homegrown Grains, Easy Herbs, and Food from the Wild. Each of these chapters has a surprisingly abundant amount of information, from starting seed and transplanting to harvesting and recipe suggestions. There are oodles of great illustrations throughout the book to give quick, useful reference. One of my favorites is a section that shows 5 simple-to-construct methods for growing/supporting your plants vertically. The last suggestion is a wooden and wire A-frame, which, while it’s a simple and obvious solution, was not one I’d ever taken notice of until this book. Madigan gives instructive tips for making the supports, so I’m looking forward to trying it out for my watermelons this summer.

I also enjoyed reading through the livestock sections even though I don’t have the capacity for livestock yet. She gives brief but pertinent descriptions of fowl (laying vs. meat), cows (dairy vs. beef), and more. Did you know that, although the Nigerian Dwarf Goat is a miniature dairy breed, it produces the same approximate amount of milk as the stockier African Pygmy Goat (a meat breed)? She also claims that the milk from the miniature goats is sweeter because of a higher fat content, which helps my case for getting a couple of these babies.

My only concern with this book (and many others like it) is kind of a double-edged sword. Perhaps one assumes that, by picking up this book, the reader will do further research and make themselves thoroughly aware of the realities of keeping livestock and the toil of growing your own food. Sadly, there are plenty of would-be hobby farmers that could see this book (and many others like it) as sufficient for leaping into the world of backyard homesteading. For example, the “drawbacks” she lists for keeping chickens are barely a paragraph long, and there is at least three times more space dedicated to expressing the ease of keeping chickens and how rewarding it can be.

While this is certainly true, chickens – and any livestock – bring a host of “cons” alongside their “pros,” and I think it’s important to give these cons credit, or at least strongly encourage further research into the matter. To her credit, Madigan does remind readers about the inevitable slaughter if the chickens will be their meat birds, but there’s more to the story.

Which leads to a difficult question: how can the ‘experts’ educate both sides of the story without wasting precious energy and resources? This book is about backyard homesteading and how to do it, not the potential disasters found therein. Authors must trust that their readers will use their brains and do further research, but does it hurt to remind them of the realities of rearing their own food? I don’t know. I say this now knowing how many barnyard critters are 1) released, 2) unwanted, and 3) in need of rescue, because people didn’t take the time to get the whole story and got in over their heads.

Of course raising chickens is easy. But it’s also hard. Growing your own food is easy. But it’s also hard. I’m veering now, but I feel like these are important issues. At any rate, my point is this: this is the perfect book for a person who is 1) already serious about backyard homesteading and is aware of the risks/requirements, or 2) wants to satiate a curiosity about backyard homesteading and is willing to do more research outside this book.

This tome is a great lifting-off point, but do not mistake it for a tell-all encyclopedia. It showed me that I’m very interested in chickens, dwarf goats, and possibly starting a miniature vineyard; but I will be getting books dedicated solely to those topics before moving forward.

Have you read this one? We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments!

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Posted on May 18, 2014, in Book Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. “I say this now knowing how many barnyard critters are 1) released, 2) unwanted, and 3) in need of rescue, because people didn’t take the time to get the whole story and got in over their heads.”

    Really important topic to bring up (perhaps a bit of a veering off, but such a great point). Half of the birds in my flock started their lives with some other family: at some point their owners “released” them at the local dumping spot here in my hometown. We check that spot often to see if there are any new birds looking as though they may not make it.

    I think much of the popularity of backyard homesteading has been presented as bright/shiny/cute without all that much practicality. I’d really like to see a lot more of that in the general conversation, including feasibility of livestock and poultry projects.

    Great post, and I don’t have that book yet, so I may have to pop down to the store and pick up a copy!

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      I agree – it’s almost as if all the graphic designers got together and created a beautiful, fresh look for the backyard homesteading movement but forgot to include the ugly parts, which people need to know if they’re going to make educated choices. Animals require years of care; plants require seasons of maintenance; it’s not something you do in your free time, and you have to be well prepared. It’s certainly a lifestyle choice.

      I’m also working with a wildlife rehabilitator and am shocked at how many backyard ducks get dumped at ponds – only to die when winter comes because they do not migrate. It’s a shame, but hopefully people can keep spreading the word about balance! Thanks again for writing :)

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