Friday, March 8, 2013

We've moved!

Going Rural Guide has migrated to a new platform and domain.  You can find new posts at AaronMSteele.com/GoingRuralGuide.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What do doves and goats have in common?




On September 1, 2011, Iowa’s first mourning dove hunting season in forever opened. I celebrated the occasion by crouching in a public-land wildlife food plot that hardly deserved the label. Though the field probably held more mice than sunflower seeds, I scratched down five or so birds. More importantly, I determined to have my own dove plot to hunt for the 2012 season.


I’ve always wanted my own land to hunt on, but it’s become abundantly clear that I won’t soon be buying the 500 acres of prairie and mixed hardwoods that I had in mind. What I can swing, however, is a dove field on half of my three-acre home in the country. It just so happens that an Outdoor Life article entitled “1 Acre = 1000 Doves” caught my attention in the lobby of the barber shop in the spring of 2011, firmly planting the idea in my head that I could have my own little hunt club in the back yard. This thought occupied my brain through much of the following year.


As I planned and schemed I wondered how I would pull this off without breaking the bank and without any kind of farm machinery. No plow. No planter. No cultivator. And if I did manage to get a dove-friendly crop in the ground, what would I do with it when it was mature? No combine. No brush hog. No disc. Oh, and would I really have to apply synthetic fertilizer and herbicide just to shoot a few doves? I’m not one to vilify the practitioners of production agriculture - someone needs to feed the world - but using the tools of large-scale farming on my dove plot felt like overkill. It also felt expensive.


In the five years prior to my dove field obsession, the “extra” land at my acreage was committed to a hay field. A friend baled the hay and purchased the bales from me, and I didn’t have to mow a giant yard. Though it was still producing decent hay the concentration of alfalfa was shrinking, giving me an excuse to do something else with most of it. The strip of ground forming the “pole” of my flag-shaped field, however, was too small and poorly positioned to contribute much in the way of shooting. It also was too small (about 3/4 acre) to produce enough hay to justify baling.


What to do? Buy goats, of course!


Stay tuned for more on my dove field and goat adventure...with a surprise ending.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Another radio spot on Living the Country Life... Preparing your land for sale

Click here to get advice from me and Living the Country Life Radio on getting your ducks in a row before you sell your rural property.  And don't forget to check out my other posts on related topics.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fences, Suburbanization, and Living (but not farming) in the Country

Interesting how this law served rural Iowans well since 1851 and has only become an issue as the number of non-farming residents in the country has increased.  Should non-farmers adapt to the ways of country life, or should the law change?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Eminent Domain and Your Land - My Radio Interview with Living the Country Life Magazine

Did you know that the government can take your land, compensate you for it, and use it for a public purpose?  I filled in some of the details for Living the Country Life Radio recently.  Click here to listen, and let me know if you have any questions or comments!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Keep track of acreage stuff on your smartphone with TapForms


Personal database apps for smartphones are a new favorite of mine for tracking all of life's little stuff.  Rather than try to describe their full utility, let me give you a few examples.  I use TapForms on my iPhone to track my home's propane usage, my 11-year-old son's homework, vehicle mileage for work travel, and even my bird dog's hunting performance.

How?  Well it starts by creating a custom form that allows you to conveniently enter information into a computer that fits in your pocket, so it's easy to do in just a few seconds while a particular thing you'll want to remember is at the front of your brain.  I was bothered by not knowing much about the propane that was going in and out of our acreage's tank.  All I really knew was that I was getting large bills very irregularly.  So, I set up the following form:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Read my article in Living the Country Life Magazine

The latest issue of Living the Country Life (published by Meredith, the same company that publishes Better Homes and Gardens, Midwest Living, and many other familiar titles), includes an article that I wrote on rural zoning.  Check it out here.  Consider to subscribing to Living the Country Life.  It's a great publication and it's free!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Guinea fowl housing

I've highlighted the book Gardening with Guineas in this blog before, and I've found it to be a great resource throughout my guinea experiment thus far.  However, the author clearly writes from the perspective of someone who is happy with a long term guinea fowl relationship.  I, on the other hand, hate winter chores and would like to break up with my guineas round about November.

Ideally I'd like the birds to be on the ground eating ticks and other bugs from spring to fall, and then be off to meet their maker via my dinner table or someone else's.  Unfortunately, the chicks aren't available until late April or May (if you are quick enough to reserve from the first hatches), aren't mature enough to stand up to the elements until they are about six weeks old, and then -- according to Gardening with Guineas -- must spend up to twelve weeks orienting themselves to their permanent shelter before beginning to free range.  If you're counting, that's mid-July before any ticks meet their rightful and just end in the belly of a guinea!

So, a major part of the guinea experiment has become finding a way to speed things up and turn my guinea fowl relationships into a six-month cycle (roughly my turnover rate for high school girlfriends).  One way to do this is to simply set the birds free to fend for themselves as soon as they are physically able, allowing that some will be lost to predators, some may wander off never to return, and some may succumb to the elements (including speeding cars).  But with only nine birds to begin with and a hunting dog on the property, I figured this experiment would come to an abrupt end if I went that route.

With that option out, I determined the best place to start was with the right shelter.  I had several goals in mind:
  1. Make it cheap;
  2. Make it portable;
  3. Make it low maintenance;
  4. Protect the birds from nighttime predators; 
  5. Speed up the process of "imprinting" the birds on my acreage.
This last point is critical.  My theory is that good visibility out from the shelter into the property will accustom the birds more quickly to the property they will be ranging.  That, combined with moving the shelter around the edge of the property, should have the guineas well-oriented by the time I let them out.

I started with an old, flare-side grain/feed wagon.  I built up a shed-style roof and enclosed the sides with hardware cloth.  Note that the pen cants outward over one side of the wagon and creates a shelf (caged-in with repurposed wire shelving) where the birds like to sit.  From there they can see outward in three directions, upward, and down to the ground.  When I move the wagon to a new place on the property's boundary I always try to face this perch inward to give the birds a new view of the property they'll soon be free ranging.






Extending from the grain door on the end of the wagon is another area that the birds can access to take in their surroundings.  It includes a door that hinges downward to the ground that will eventually allow the birds to go in and out as they please.  This piece of the shelter served as the birds's brooder from 2-4 weeks old and can be removed to be used in that way again for next year's batch of keets.




Inside the shelter 2"x4" boards span the wagon box to provide roosting space, a feeder made from PVC pipe provides nourishment, and a 5-gallon bucket and nipple drinkers deliver water.  More on these accessories and other details to come!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Guinea fowl keet sings its heart (and other stuff) out

This lonely 2.5-week-old keet sure can sing! Whoops.  I guess we all respond to stage fright differently.

The Great Divide - The basics of land division, part 1

Maybe you're a city dweller yearning to move to the country and as you drive down the road in the rural area of your choice you pass field after field and farmstead after farmstead and you think, "I could just buy a little corner of all this space and build a house, or I could make an offer for one of those old farmsteads and fix the place up. It'd be easy!"



If only it were that simple! In truth, though, the division of land (and, yes, the scenario above would require land to be divided) can be very complex. And expensive. And time-consuming. But the results can also be very rewarding, so let's get started!

First, some vocabulary. The original public land survey of much of the United States divided land into large townships, which were further divided into smaller standard units (sections, each a square mile), and then into still smaller units (quarter sections, each 160 acres), and finally into even smaller units (quarter-quarters, each 40 acres). These units and some combinations thereof are called "aliquot parts." They are the basic pieces of real estate that can be transferred from one owner to another with relative ease. Like ice cubes from a tray they can be added or subtracted from your glass in any combination you desire -- until you want a third of a cube. Or a sliver from this cube and chunk from that one. That's when things get tricky.

States vary on how they regulate land divisions but there are typically two different vehicles for dividing land in a way that doesn't follow the standard boundaries of aliquot parts -- the plat of survey or the subdivision plat.  As their names imply these are similar but they often demand vastly different things from the land seller and (by extension) the buyer.  A plat of survey is a scaled drawing of the portion of the property that is to be separated from its "parent" parcel of land.  The drawing is based on a survey of the new boundaries of the property, and must be prepared and signed by a licensed surveyor.  The new piece of land is officially born when the plat of survey is accepted and filed by the local government (usually the county).

The plat of survey is often an adequately formal way of defining and recording a land division when it divides an intact, original parcel of land (e.g. a quarter-quarter) into two pieces.  The acreage I live on was an original farmstead owned by the people who farmed the 40 acres on which it sat.  When I bought it, a division was made with a plat of survey to separate the farmstead and a few acres from the rest of the farmland, thus creating two pieces of land where before there had only been one.  The survey was simple, producing the plat of survey itself was simple, and the filing process was simple.

The subdivision plat, on the other hand, is usually anything but simple for two reasons.  First, the instrument itself is significantly more complex, calling for additional and more intense survey work and the preparation of accompanying legal documents.  Second, the local government approval process is much longer and open to comment from the public, usually calling for at least two public hearings before two different reviewing bodies.  Why?  Well, all of this is triggered by the creation of three or more pieces of land -- a subdivision.

"Now hold on just a minute," you may be saying.  "I just want to split off one little piece of heaven for myself.  I have no intention of developing a subdivision."  Well, here's the problem.  When you split off your little piece, you create a second with the remainder of the original property.  And, suppose that wasn't the first division of the original parent -- or aliquot -- parcel.  Suppose the farmer that owns the land you want to buy sold a little strip off the corner of the parent parcel years ago because it was on the other side of a creek and made more sense to be farmed by his neighbor.  You see, the divisions are cumulative, and the division you are now proposing will actually create the third parcel out of the original aliquot.  Congratulations, you are now a subdivision developer!

Yes, you and I both know that buying an acreage in the country and developing a 200 lot residential subdivision in suburbia are very different things.  Unfortunately, the regulations aren't that intuitive and the division described above will be treated very much like the one in suburbia when you seek approval from the local government.  Believe it or not, there are some good reasons for this which we'll delve into soon.

Keep checking back, and please send me your questions or post comments!