One thing that separates a productive homestead from an expensive hobby farm is the homesteader’s ability to close waste loops and recycle nutrients back into the production system. Here are three easy ways to get started accomplishing this task…
No matter how big or how small your acreage, composting is one of the easiest ways to capture waste nutrients and return them to your homestead. Weeds from the garden, kitchen scraps, manure from animals, spoiled hay, and many other things can be turned into a supercharged, soil building, fertilizer that will make your homestead more productive. If it once was alive, it can be made into compost. The great thing about compost is that anyone can make it, no matter if you have a 1/4 acre or 400 acres. We like to fill our raised beds with it to grow annual vegetable crops, apply it to pastures, and also hay fields. If you really want to learn everything you could possibly want to know about compost, I highly recommend the old Rodale classic called the Complete Book of Composting. For a quick overview of the process see this short article.
Chickens are probably the most popular kind of livestock for the average smallholder, and for good reason. Chickens provide meat and eggs, are inexpensive to purchase, easy to handle, and require minimal infrastructure. The best part about chickens though, is their ability to recycle waste. Chickens will eat garden scraps, kitchen scraps, insects and animal carcasses. After eating these things they produce meat, eggs, and high nitrogen manure! They can even be used for turning compost, taking advantage of their love for scratching. The lowly chicken is a homestead recycling superstar!
The hog is, by far, my favorite homestead recycler. No other animal can compare with the hog in terms of producing more useful products while closing waste loops on the farmstead. There are few things more enjoyable than turning table scraps, garden scraps, canning scraps, spoiled fruits, and extra milk into hams, bacon, sausage, and lard! Hogs are also great compost turners, using their snouts to dig and churn bedded packs. A couple of feeder hogs can be kept outdoors within an electric fence, with minimal shelter, and be ready to butcher as soon as cold weather hits. Every homestead should have a hog just to take care of waste.