Letter Re: Questions on Gardening, Livestock and Dogs in North Idaho

Thursday, Jul 18, 2013

Dear CPT Rawles,
My wife and I, along with our three teenage son', are now eyeball deep in prepping, and have reached that stage where we pretty much have most of everybody's personal gear needs met, with the exception of a few small items here and there.  We opted to take care of that first, as we are stuck temporarily east of the mississippi, in the southeastern US.  Our intent when we began our prepping journey a couple years ago, was first & foremost to be able to make a hasty exit from this area if the SHTF.  Thus, our decision to gear up first, was to provide what we needed for our escape from here, and our trek to the redoubt, to my folks ranch in Wyoming, by whatever means necessary. That done, last year we took your advice on relocation to the American Redoubt, and purchased a small, undeveloped ranch property in northernmost Idaho, and I do mean very northernmost.  We are now only 320 days and a wake up from moving day.  While continuing to work on other details such as retreat construction, security, etc.  We've now come to the arena of agricultural issues.  We need some help because frankly, we must not be looking in the right areas for the information we are seeking, because we keep coming up basically empty.  We could only afford 11 acres (although it is paid off), about four of which is what I guess you might call bottom land, and I would think could be used as pasture if so desired, and has a small creek running through it.  The rest is up above it, and is basically flat and timbered, except for a cleared homesite, in what I would consider to be a small meadow, looking out over the bottom land.  It backs up to BLM land. Our property is vaguely in the Bonners Ferry region.  

Now, with that as the background, here is our issue.  Our goal is to reach a reasonable level of self reliance from the standpoint of renewable food resources, i.e. gardening and livestock.  We want to grow our own produce, as well as raise our own livestock.  There are so many different opinions floating around out there about nutritional needs, and how to meet them, that it's absolutely overwhelming, and now the only thing floating around here, are my eyeballs!   We've followed your blog for these past two years, and even written you in the past, because you are always so thought out and researched in the basis for your opinions, and the readership at Survival Blog has such a wide diversity of expertise.  Thus we thought we would seek out the advice and experience of yourself and our fellow blog readers, should this get printed.

Question #1:  All members of my family are adults, physically speaking as the youngest is 15, and the oldest is, well, in the interest of domestic tranquility we better not go there, but I can safely say not yet anywhere near retirement age.  What are our actual nutritional needs.  We are all healthy and have no significant physical problems to speak of.

Question #2:  Regarding garden produce, and it is my understanding that you and your family grow produce for your own consumption, do you have any recommendations on produce that will grow well in my area of northern Idaho, and help meet those needs?  Is irrigation required?  What is the growing season like there, and is a greenhouse necessary?  How in the world do you decide how much you need to plant for a family of a given size?  Is there a problem with deer and other garden pests, if deer are a problem how high of a fence is required to keep them out We are debating if a 6' fence would keep them out?

Question #3:  Regarding livestock for consumption, my wife is familiar with cattle, more so than I am, although we are both thinking that it may be easier, more prudent, and safer to raise smaller livestock such as dairy and meat goats, pasture pigs perhaps, ducks, and perhaps even rabbits.  Things that are smaller and more easily handled, not only in interacting with, but also from the standpoint of meat processing.  Any recommendations or suggestions we should research?  How do you go about determining how much pasture is needed for this various livestock?  What about livestock predation by cats, wolves, or bears, does this pose much of an issue up there.  
We read news articles about the wolves killing the hunting dogs of the mountain lion hunters, and wonder if there are any problems they pose with livestock or people even who are out hiking, camping, hunting etc?  We were thinking of bringing two Great Pyrenees as guard dogs if that is that a common practice up there.

Thanks in advance for any input yourself, or any of the readers may be able to give us, either from personal experience. or to simply help us better focus our efforts. 

Thanks for the great service you do us all with this blog!
Highest regards, - D. & M.

JWR Replies: Self-sufficiency on just 11 acres is doable, if you have a southern or western exposure and you clear most of it for gardening and hay cutting. There is no need to maintain a wood lot on your own property, considering the abundance of timber in North Idaho. No matter where you are, there is copious wood available or firewood and fence posts available with an inexpensive annual family wood cutting permit from the US Forest service. They have a 7-foot 11-inch length limit, for haul outs, to keep people from commercially cutting trees to mill into lumber. Cedar trees are common in north Idaho, and with those you will have fence posts covered. (Seven feet is the ideal length, for fence posts.) And Western Larch (commonly called Tamarack) as well as Red Fir are both also quite common, and make fantastic firewood.

According to our family's primary gardener (my wife, "Avalanche Lily"), the vegetables that do best in north Idaho are: Celery, potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini squash, short-season variety pumpkins, onions, turnips, strawberries, raspberries, black raspberries, and most herbs. Most cold-weather tolerant varieties of vegetables and fruit trees do quite well.

Getting a good crop of melons and tomatoes and some squash can be a challenge in many years, because of the short growing season. So Lily recommends short growing season varieties such Siberian tomatoes and Blacktail watermelons. It is best to get an early start with your seedlings, through use of a window box, cold frames, or better yet a proper greenhouse if you afford to buy or build one.

As for fencing, a six-foot tall fence is just marginal to keep out deer, even on level ground. In the Inland Northwest, a eight-foot tall fence is ideal. But be advised that if an elk, moose, or bear really wants in to your garden, be prepared to re-build your fence.

You also asked about livestock predation by "...cats, wolves, or bears." Your list is incomplete! Here in the Inland Northwest, you need to beware of: coyotes, wolves, bobcat, lynx, mountain lions (pumas), black bears, grizzly bears, badgers, wolverines, skunks, raccoons, golden eagles, bald eagles, several types of hawks, several types of owls, and numerous types of small furbearers such as marten and stoats/ermine. If you have a fish pond, otters and and osprey can also be a menace.

Penning up your chickens at night is a must! And depending on the meanderings of the local wolves and mountain lions, it may be necessary to pen up your sheep and goats in an enclosed barn every night, as well. Attacks on horses and cattle by wolves or bears are less common, but when they do happen, the results are often devastating. Typically, even if an animal survives the attack, it will be beyond recovery and need to be destroyed. Great Pyrenees are an excellent choice for this climate, particularly for guarding sheep or as companion dogs when hiking or huckleberry picking. (Although you will also want to carry Pepper Spray or Lead Spray (.44 or .45 caliber.) It is important that they bond with the sheep and become accustomed to staying out with the flock. (They won't do any good if they are kept inside your house!)


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