I’ve just come in from feeding our water buffalo calves. Before we bought them, several water buffalo breeders warned us, “It’s hard to get them started on a bottle.” We’ve started lots of bottle kids and lambs, some of which initially resisted tooth and nail for the first few days, so we thought, “How different can it be?” But we were wrong! While Ludo glommed onto the bottle within days, Fezzik is still resisting the bottle at almost two weeks of age and we’re tube feeding him keep him fully nourished. This is a prime example of not fully researching an undertaking before jumping in. It’s not the first time we’ve done it and probably not the last. But it is so much easier when you truly know what to expect up front. With that in mind, let me share some of the things we’ve unfortunately learned the hard way.
Don’t assume. Maybe you know a good deal about the farm-based project you’re undertaking but it’s a rude awakening to discover you don’t know enough. If we hadn’t already had considerable experience with feeding tubes, we probably would have lost Fez by now. The buffalo breeders who warned me have kindly refrained from saying “we told you so” but I wish I’d have listened more closely.
Do your homework. I mean really do your homework. Sometimes you’ll find the information you need easily enough and sometimes you’ll have to do some serious digging.
The first person to contact is your County Extension agent. S/he can show you how to approach your project so it’s tailored for the place you live—something you simply can’t learn from books. Visit www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension to locate Extension agents in your area (and there’s nothing to stop you working with agents from adjoining counties if you like). Their services are absolutely free.
If you’re researching a farm business, don’t overlook ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (http://attra.ncat.org). You can download tons of useful material direct from their Web site and if you call them, they’ll compile a fat packet of printed material applicable to your needs. Their services are also free.
The first thing I do when I’m given a new book assignment is to visit YahooGroups (http://groups.yahoo.com) and sign up for a slew of email lists pertaining to that subject. Within a few weeks I can pick out the useful ones and unsubscribe from the rest. Good ones are treasure troves of information! An example: I just typed dairy sheep into the YahooGroups search box. This resulted in 27 hits, these great-sounding lists included: dairysheep, dairysheepproducers, milking, and dairystartup. There are lists devoted to virtually any farm endeavor you can think of. And yes, there is one called water_buffalo (http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/Water_Buffalo). :o)
Join organizations devoted to your subject of interest. Locate them over the Internet or visit your public library and ask a librarian to help you find them. If there are local chapters, take in their meetings. Ask for help; most people love helping others get started right.
Talk with friends and neighbors engaged in the sort of project you’re interested in, but be selective. Gravitate to those who are obviously in the know; just because someone has done something for a long time doesn’t mean s/he does it right.
The Internet is a researcher’s best friend, especially when you access it via the Google search engine (www.google.com). If you’ve never Googled, start by studying this basic guide: http://www.googleguide.com/advanced_operators_reference.html. Once you’re familiar with Google, the world is your oyster! In the past few days I’ve located three entire books about water buffalo (two downloadable as PDF files for free and the third is online), dozens of research papers on water buffalo topics, and a complete 350+ page book about yaks.
Books are nearly always useful and Amazon (www.amazon.com) is the place to buy them. New books are usually priced well below cover prices and if you buy $25 worth of new books directly from Amazon, shipping is free. However, don’t overlook Amazon used book sellers. When you find a book you’d like to buy, scroll to the right of your screen; you’ll see a box with the heading “More Buying Choices”. Click on it to find that book used, often at a fraction of the new book price.
eBay (www.ebay.com) is another favorite place to find unusual books at affordable prices. Over the past few weeks I’ve purchased three out-of-print water buffalo books and the most costly set me back $16. One that booksellers usually price at $25+ cost me $3.99 including postage.
The information you need is definitely out there if you know where to find it. I wish I’d have Googled water buffalo more extensively before we bought some. Don’t make our mistake, approach new projects fully informed. :o)