Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Grappling with the Morality of Slaughter


I remember when we first got chickens; a relative of mine had been given more than she could handle, and was happy to gift us our own starter flock. We had a beautiful mix of Barred Plymouth Rocks, but a few Cornish Xs as well. Not fully understanding how rapidly the latter variety grew, we let them mature well beyond pullets, and as they grew, we noticed they became more and more unwieldy.

We had an aging flock of meat birds that weren’t really designed to live past their butcher date, and far too many roosters to our hens - it was time to cull. I remember how nervous I was - it was intimidating enough to care for something and work so hard to keep it alive, and it went against a lot of my instincts to do the opposite and methodically kill them.

I knew it was a necessary part of running a homestead, and I knew these animals were living a far better life than those in the factory farms that wound up on so many grocery store shelves, but it was still a heavy concept for me to get my head around.

After a lot of research, watching YouTube videos, and listening to podcasts, we finally set a plan in place and began. We weren’t very good at it at first, and we’re still learning faster, more effective ways to dispatch animals with as little pain and fear as possible, but we had to start somewhere.

If Slaughter Makes You Sad, Is It Wrong?

A lot of people think that the unpleasantness of killing an animal is an indication of its immorality, that because it feels bad, it’s wrong, and it’s as simple as that. I can’t argue something as deep as the ethics of killing another living thing for survival, but I can say that that thought has certainly occurred to me before. If it’s this emotional, if it makes me this sad, is it wrong?

I told my husband about my concerns one day, pondering the morality of slaughter, and with wisdom beyond his years, he told me this:

“When you kill an animal, you should feel something. If you don’t, there’s something wrong with you.”

In that simple statement, I realized he was perfectly right, and that I was (once again) referring to emotions as a form of weakness, when in fact, it was just a human part of me - a normal part - and nothing to be ashamed of.

The fact is, killing an animal is a highly emotional experience - especially when you raise it. You’re taking a creature that you’ve walked out every morning in the bitter cold to check their heat lamps, sourced the best food you can for, and then you’re turning around and killing it, and that’s a hard thing to get your head around.

I look at it this way though: by whatever powers that be, I was given (supposedly) higher consciousness and self-awareness. I have this intellect that allows me to empathize with and understand what creatures go through in the sacrificial process of feeding me.

In some ways, I’m just like a bear - omnivorous and opportunistic in my approach to eating. But unlike the bear, I have this brain that knows it probably isn’t pleasant to be violently eviscerated, so I can choose to be kinder to my prey. Maybe most of us just aren’t seasoned enough to death, like the skilled bears are. Most of us don’t slaughter nearly as often as a bear does, and so maybe for that reason, our brains still have a hard time processing it. Lucky for us though, and the animals we choose to dispatch, we’re able to think through the process, and make informed, conscious decisions about how we go about this harvest.

Showing Respect to Livestock and Prey


I’ve read a lot recently about hunting rituals, and ways in which various cultures honor the sacrifice made by their kill. In some European countries, a small ritual known as “letzebissen”, or last bite is performed, in which a sprig from a preferred species of tree is pulled through the animal’s mouth from one side to the other, as payment of respect in the form of a sort of “last meal”.

Many other cultures have their own hunting rituals, the Native Americans putting a pinch of tobacco onto an animal’s body as a sign of respect, the plant having been believed to connect beings to the spirit world.

Though much of modern homesteading and hunting has forgotten these rituals - not as chest-beating signs of superiority, but as tributes to the sacrifice made by the animal so that we may thrive - it’s my belief that there is nothing more human than using our gift of intelligence to understand and respect what is given for us when we cull.

So no, I don’t feel bad for slaughtering my chickens - if our positions were reversed, I would be understandably upset, but appreciative of the fact nonetheless, that my predator had the decency to give me a peaceful and almost painless dispatch.

In our time raising chickens for meat and eggs, I’ve learned that in this moment, the greatest thing you can do for the animal is to send them off without fear, and as quickly as possible - but never rushed.

As we cull, I often sit with the chicken that’s next up in my lap, gently but firmly hugging its body, which helps to slow their heart rate and calm them, and talking to it in a soothing manner. I don’t care how crazy it makes me look - the chicken’s muscles inevitably relax, they’re no longer looking for a means of escape, and by the time they’re ready for what happens next, they’re entirely calm.

Paul Wheaton did a really great video with a woman named Alexia Allen, who showed him that there was a gentle approach to culling chickens, and that it could in fact be, quite an emotional experience. I remember watching this remarkable video, and though it was sad (and even Alexia herself was a bit emotional), it was sort of beautiful how much care she put into this process. Paul talks about the video quite a bit in this podcast, so if you’re not sure if you’re ready for the video, you get a feel for it in this episode.

The Farmstead Meatsmith is another great resource for information on respectful animal harvest. Their videos are highly inspirational, detailing their processes from start to finish on ‘the art of thrift’, and in using every single part of the animal. Most notably though, I find their respect in the way of killing their livestock the most profound - there is no padding to this content, nothing to diminish what is being done - only respect for the animal that is at the other end of the gun.

Paul Wheaton also interviewed Brandon Sheard of the Farmstead Meatsmith in this podcast on his butchering methods, and did a bit of a Q&A with folks down at the forums of - there’s lots of great information there if you’re a bit squeamish about just diving right into the videos (though I highly recommend you check them out - they are beautifully done, and so informative).

 Preparing to cull a particularly unruly rooster

If you’re reading this as a person who has never butchered an animal before, and are nervous about it, I’m here to tell you - I get it, we all do. It’s an intimidating thing, as it should be, and taking responsibility for the peaceful death of an animal is almost as great of a burden as it is to keep them healthy and comfortable while they’re alive.

Take your time with getting to know the animal’s anatomy and creating as stress-free a method as you can - something that works well for you both. Get as familiar and comfortable with the process and you can, and take the burden of that responsibility seriously.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Choosing a Milking Goat


Goat coming out to be milked.

Many assume that a “good milker” means an animal with high milk yields. In fact, the milk yield forms only one part of the milker quality equation, the other two parts being the state of the goat’s udder and teats, and the animal’s temperament.

A Tale of Two Does

To illustrate this, there was a time when I was milking two does, one of whom was the most sweet-tempered, patient goat imaginable - and she gave plenty of milk, too. However, she had a pair of teeny tiny teats which were extremely uncomfortable to handle, and my thumb muscle would be completely seized up by the time I’ve finished milking her. Milking took a long, long time, too, and if this goat hadn’t been obliging enough to stand calmly and patiently for me until I was finished with her, there’s no way it would have worked out.

The other doe had a very nicely shaped udder and comfortable-sized teats with large orifices. I could finish milking her in a couple of minutes – if she stood still, which she never seemed to be ready to do, even with a bucket of grain in front of her. She was skittish, nervous, and jumpy, and a kicker into the bargain. Eventually, with lots of petting and treats, her personality evened out a bit, but she was still a lot of work, and if it weren’t for her wonderful udder, I wouldn’t bother milking her at all.

Ideally, of course, a good family milking goat should combine all these benefits: an easy temper, a nicely shaped udder and teats, and a high milk yield. But personally, as far as I’m concerned, I’d rather have a goat that isn’t a super-high-yield milker but is friendly and easy to milk and handle, than a goat that produces a lot of milk but has a faulty-shaped udder and a nasty temper.

How to Choose a Milking Goat

So practically, when buying a milking goat, how do you know if you’re getting a good bargain?

In a goat that has already kidded, look at the shape of the udder. A good udder has a firm, round, symmetrical shape and is positioned close to the body. An udder that is hanging low indicates faulty connective ligaments and is a problem. It is prone to injury and makes milking, or even suckling for the kids, inconvenient.

The teats should be long enough for convenient hand-grasp. The size of the orifice matters too – it determines milk flow and, therefore, how fast milking will go.

If possible and if the goat you are looking at is "in milk", request to milk her and see how it goes. Keep in mind that if a goat is skittish around you, it may be because she doesn’t know you and this can be overcome in time.

If this is a doe that hasn’t kidded yet, ask to take a look at her mother and sisters and evaluate their udders. A good breeder will always be upfront and open and willing to provide any information you request. If you encounter a goat breeder who is evasive and defensive when you ask questions, run for the hills, even if the price is tempting. The quality of your livestock is everything – animals with problems are worse than no animals, and it makes sense to wait until you can purchase the best quality available.

The post above was an excerpt from my book, Your Own Hands: Self-Reliant Projects for Independent Living.

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Using a Smart Splitter for Splitting Firewood Logs


Leave it to the Swedes to help take the backache out of splitting wood.

With great success, we’ve been testing out the Smart-Splitter designed and manufactured by the Swedish company, Logosol Smart Products, and distributed in the US by Lucky Supply America. We found it simple to use, effective on most logs we tried, zero-energy, zero emission and definitely safe.

We first came across these handy units at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, and had to know how well they worked on our elm and knotty logs. Sure, the Smart-Splitter handles 13-inch long, 10-inch in diameter, well-seasoned logs of maple, oak, locust and black cherry. But how about stringy elm, or logs with multiple limbs or those that are unevenly cut? This is our first hand experience.

Wood Splitting Made Safe

As homesteaders at our wind and solar-powered Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B, we’re always exploring efficient ways to meet our energy needs without using much — or any — fossil fuels. We heat our farmhouse with wood from downed trees, readily available and free for the taking in neighboring woodlots, on our farmstead or in our community. To the extent we can — in how we heat our home, generate electricity or grow our food (organically) — we strive to turn back the clock on climate change and build resilience.

For evenly cut, seasoned 13-inch-long and 10-inch-in-diameter logs without limbs, the Smart-Splitter worked like a breeze. Lining up the splitting wedge with existing radial cracks in the log usually allowed us to split the wood in less than six thrusts downward with the roughly seven-and-a-half-pound striking weight.


Unless you have lots of practice with a maul, or “splitter axe,” and the strength to heave the maul over your head for hours, the Smart-Splitter does the work quicker, safer and with less effort. It’s a tool that the whole family can use. Both my wife and teenager son, neither of whom would normally be found splitting wood, embraced the Smart-Splitter thanks to its safety and relative ease of use.

Generally speaking, the number of downward thrusts of the splitter’s striking weight increased in proportion to the type of wood logs we were splitting, their length and/or their diameter. While we followed the directions to use only well-seasoned and dry logs with lots of radial cracks, elm required the most effort — upwards of eighteen slams for a couple pieces. Others logs, like maple, oak and hickory, were split within six to ten thrusts. Impressive, for the little amount of physical energy we actually expended. We did encounter a few logs with limbs or knots so twisted that we were forced to set these aside to cut in half with a chainsaw later. The shorter the logs and straighter the grain, the less likely any issues.

No Wood Log Balancing Act

Like many homesteaders, we don’t get every log cut perfectly straight. This leads to an uneven log, logs with a slight angle to a cut side. If you perch these uneven logs on a splitting log to split with a maul, it can be a very frustrating balancing act. With the Smart-Splitter, however, this is less of an issue, since the splitter holds the wood upright. Just line the splitter edge up with the radial cracks in the dried log and you can safely split away. And you’re guaranteed to hit the wood in exactly the same spot until it’s split. That’s not to say you want to split uneven logs; it’s just a bit easier and safer to do so with the Smart-Splitter.

Once you get this tool set up, there’s no learning curve or eye-hand coordination. With the Smart-Splitter, it’s just a matter of lifting up the weight with both hands and thrusting it downward. No more deflections or bouncing the maul head off the side of the log.

Knots can be a challenge, though. If you get the splitting wedge lodged into the log, as we did on more than one occasion, there’s a stop nut on the bar to reverse thrust the striking weight to easily remove the wedge from the log. We’d then reposition the splitting wedge on a different radial crack and try again. The bigger the log, the more the effort, regardless of the type of wood. For those who like to get a little exercise while stacking up cordwood, you’ll get that too, just in a much safer way.

Making Kindling

You should never try making kindling with a gas-powered hydraulic splitter, lest you want to tempt fate with your fingers. Swinging a hatchet can also take a bit of practice. But the Smart-Splitter also has a kindling blade so that small pieces of firewood can be cut safely and quickly. We’re going to keep our splitter set up inside our shed for when we start running out of kindling near the end of the winter (which we usually do).

To set up the Smart-Splitter, you’ll need hardwood log base at least 12-inches in diameter and about 10 to 20-inches high. A steel supporting rod is inserted about 5-inches into the hardwood base; a drill bit is provided for this initial setup. Once done with the base, we could set-up our splitter in less than thirty seconds.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Salethe award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographerIvanko contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient LivingThey live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How One Farm is Reinventing Agriculture with ‘Carbon Farming’ and a ‘Full-Diet’ CSA


Old McDonald of E-I-E-I-O fame would feel right at home on Essex Farm, a 600-acre spread in upstate New York where the future of American agriculture is being radically reconceived. 

For the past 60 years, farmers have been encouraged, seduced and coerced by agribusiness and federal policies to become ever more specialized. So it’s surprising to walk through a modern farmyard and hear a moo-moo here and an oink-oink there, and see 50 different kinds of vegetables growing in the fields.

And that’s just the beginning of what farmer and writer Kristin Kimball — working with her husband, Mark, and eight other full-time farmers — provide for 222 members in the Adirondacks and New York City.

Running a ‘Full-Diet’ CSA Farm

Members of their “full-diet” CSA (community-supported agriculture) receive a weekly year-round Cornucopia, which can include beef, pork, chicken, lamb, eggs, lard and dairy products. Plus fresh veggies — greens, lettuce, tomatoes, tomatillos, carrots, several varieties of peppers, cabbage, squash, eggplant, beets, onions, potatoes, parsnips, turnips, kohlrabi and more.

Then there’s fresh fruit — strawberries, raspberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, rhubarb. Grains too — four kinds of flour, cornmeal, steel cut and rolled oats, wheatberries, pancake mix, frozen bread dough. Don’t forget herbs — sage, mint, chives, fennel, meatloaf mix. And to round out meals—sauerkraut, popcorn and maple syrup. On top of all this, farm-made soap.

‘There’s something about the idea of most of your food coming from one farm that touches people,” Kimball says, noting that Essex Farms’ membership has increased every year since the start in in 2003.

But how can 10 people provide that much food for just $3,700 a year (with a sliding scale for families)? “It’s a constant juggle,” acknowledges Kimball, author of the acclaimed The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love. “It takes a lot of time and energy to come up with the systems to do it.”

It also takes a transformative vision of farming as a way to provide people local, wholesome food at a reasonable cost using methods that restore the earth, reinvigorate rural communities and fight climate change. Essex Farms is mounting a challenge to the very foundation of industrialized agriculture: mass-scale production of highly uniform and specialized crops for people in distant places.

Love and the ‘Dirty Life’

Showing that another kind of farming is possible remains the animating mission of Kimball and Mark, who first met when she interviewed him for a magazine article. Mark had formulated plans for this new face of agriculture while working on farms across the country on a coast-to-coast bicycle trip.

Kristin shared his vision, and 13 years ago they settled on a dairy farm near Essex, New York (which had sat empty for 20 years), and worked together to assemble the intricate systems necessary to provide a sizable share of people’s weekly meals from a single place. Even some sympathetic observers wondered if their plans were quixotic.

“There’s beauty and synergy in farming this way,” answers Kimball. “Vegetable skins and skim milk go to the pigs, broken eggs and manure make compost for the vegetables.”

Today, Essex Farms boasts barnyards filled with cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and horses; pastures and paddocks where the animals are rotated for grazing; 50 acres of vegetables; 15 solar panels; four old truck trailers converted into food processing facilities; two daughters; two ponies; a farmhouse where all the farmers sit down to a feast on Friday nights; and Kristin’s writing cabin tucked away in a woodlot near where sugar maple trees are tapped for syrup.

‘Carbon Farming’

Two years ago, Kristin and Mark launched the Essex Farm Institute to share what they are learning, and to draw attention to regenerative farming as one answer to climate change.

This means more than reducing fossil-fuel use in the production and long-distance transportation of food — regularly moving grazing livestock from one parcel of land to another allow the soil to sequester carbon out of the atmosphere. Practiced on a wide scale, “carbon farming” could help bring down carbon levels below the climate change threshold of 350 parts per million.

“Farming can go from being part of the problem to being a big part of the solution,” she says.

Farm Demonstration School and Agritourism

This Institute operates as a boots-on-the-ground ag school with demonstration projects, public events, an internship program and classes covering topics like welding, economics, and the “mob grazing” techniques central to carbon farming.

“It truly is a training ground,” Kimball explains. “Mark likes to say we give people practical experience but also the courage to try new things.”

As Kimball walked me around the farm, trailed by her 5-year -old daughter on a bicycle, a young couple and their three kids arrived. They were moving here from Rhode Island to study farming as soon as the husband was out of the Navy.

Many of those who come to work or study at Essex Farm stay in the area. “We all share equipment and help each other. That’s characteristic of the region. We all know this place is too small for us to be in competition.”

Jay Walljasper is a consultant, writer and speaker focusing on how to create stronger, better communities. He is also editor of the Commons website of the Blue Mountain Center arts community in upstate New York. Read all of Jay’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The ABCs of Homesteading: I is for 'Income'

This is the seventh post in the ABCs of Homesteading series. Click here to read the rest of the series.

Market Stand

People who do incredibly important things like grow wholesome food, educate children, care for the elderly or differently abled, make beautiful art, protect parks and wildlife, compassionately serve their communities, and otherwise contribute meaningfully to a better world always seem to make barely enough income to survive.

Meanwhile, people who provide financial “services”, of the kind that caused the 2008 (and beyond) global recession, earn exorbitant sums of it and spend it on luxuries that are detrimental to the health and happiness of the rest of us and our planet.

This kind of extreme income injustice is just one reason, in a very long list of reasons, why reducing my dependence on outside income has been a top priority for me as a homesteader. There are hundreds more, but I don't want to take up your time telling you things you already know. If you do want more reasons to aim for less dependence on outside money sources, please check out a few of my other articles:

Are you Prepared for Peak Chicken?

Homesteading - A Radical Re-Evolution

Extreme Weather and Food Resilience

But if you are already on board, read on for ideas you can use to increase your income independence!

Create an Income Inventory

Whether we like it or not, unless you plan to go money-free like Mark Boyle, author of the Moneyless Manifesto (a free, must-read eBook), you will need some income. But it is normally less than you think and there are often ways to change or reduce your current needs. Start by taking an inventory of where your current income goes. Divide your current spending habits into categories of fixed, sticky, and up for grabs.

Fixed expenses. Some income needs are “fixed” like student loans and taxes. You can negotiate payment schedules but these are tough to get out of. The best strategy for these is to pay down balances and reduce taxable overhead such property or income.

Sticky expenditures. Some stuff is “sticky” like mortgages and credit card debt. People often think of these as fixed, but you can opt for less expensive housing or negotiate credit card debt. You can even consider options like bankruptcy and debt-reduction planning. You may have to take a hit to your credit report to break free from indentured debt servitude quickly, but swapping credit ratings for self-sufficient living is worth considering.

Discretionary budget. Finally, there is your discretionary budget or what I like to call “up for grabs”. This is your take-out lunches or frou frou coffee habit, clothing expenses, grocery bill, internet and cable costs, and other things that you can immediately control.

Don't just guess at your expenditures. Track what you spend and categorize appropriately. Many people are surprised to find out how much they spend on spontaneous purchases, groceries, and other non-necessities.

Take These Income Interventions

Cable. Now that you know where your income goes, start with your “up for grabs” list and brainstorm about ways to reduce or modify your needs. For example, do you really need internet and cable? If you aren't ready to give up TV entirely, then consider cheaper video-streaming accounts to a separate cable bill.

Clothing. And do you honestly need more clothes or chochkies? If yes, shop yard sales. Better yet, start a clothes and trinkets swap group or check out DIY ideas online and make up-cycled stuff from “trash."

Grocery Store Replacement

Food. Grocery bills are an easy place for homesteaders to start cutting costs. After your initial investments in plants, seeds, and soil are out of the way, focus on growing high-calorie and high-cost foods to make the biggest dent in your food budget. Bulk buying also cuts cost and ensures you are better prepared for emergencies.

Cleaning. Baking soda and vinegar can replace many expensive cleaning products.

Gas. You can also cut gas (and increase time for making income) by limiting trips to the store.

Addiction. Try to avoid the “analog trap”. The point of this exercise isn't substitution — it's intervention. The goal is to mindfully break free from unsustainable, income-dependent addictions. If you currently spend $5 a day on coffee and a scone, then baking scones and drinking coffee at home will save money. But, as a homesteader with a flock of laying ducks or chickens, eggs and a garden-grown salad are better than buying flour and sugar to bake scones at home.

Coffee. I'll spare you the sustainability-lecture on coffee. But if you must have it, consider reusable filters, save your grounds to grow oyster mushrooms, and give your myceliated, spent grounds to your worms to get great compost. It's not exactly a net-zero on the sustainability front, but it does turn a bad habit into a food production system and keeps k-cups from overloading our landfills.

Once you've had some success at the simpler stuff, move up your list to the “sticky stuff”. If you aren't in a position to buy your homestead outright, then how about renting out a room to a tenant, your garage as a storage space, or some of your garden area to apartment-bound budding homesteaders so you can pay off your mortgage faster? Can you convert your garage or part of your house to a home-based business? This not only makes for a new income stream, but it may also mean a tax deduction on your housing and utility costs for the square footage used as a workshop or office. You may even be able to deduct some of your car expenses.

Imagine Being Income-less

When you think you've done all you can using your income inventory and intervention, then imagine that you suddenly lost your income. Maybe the economy tanks again, industry leaves your town, and social programs like unemployment fail. You have nothing coming in and no potential to earn money the way you have in the past. Imagine it in gory detail because the more real it feels, the more useful the exercise. Then look at your income inventory again from your income-less perspective. What else could you cut if you had to?

If you have a steady stream of income now, you may not want to make these deep cuts yet. But by doing this exercise you know exactly how much income you really need to get by. And you can make a plan to create redundancies for that income on your homestead, if necessary.

Income Ideas for Homesteaders

Self service. You will probably not get rich as a homesteader. This is why most of us choose a path simplicity based on needing less, but enjoying more. We live below the poverty line, without safety nets like investments or health insurance. We fix our own cars, repair leaky roofs, chop our own firewood, and build or borrow what we need. Instead of spending money to buy happiness, we spend time to create it on our own terms. What we lack in income, we make up for with ingenuity. And that ingenuity can lead to untapped income makers.

CSAs and market gardens. Many homesteaders lean toward becoming market gardeners because they are already growing food. This can be a good income stream, but managing a CSA, prepping for and spending hours selling at a market stall are time-consuming and laborious. If you go this route, think about growing specialty products that people are willing to pay extra for and also consider direct marketing to neighbors, church, social or office groups, rather than just relying on income from farmer's markets sales which can vary dramatically from week to week.  Also don't limit yourself to vegetables.  Becoming a homestead poultry processor is a fairly simple process in many areas. And growing fruit to sell at market or setting up a pick your own orchard are good ideas. 

Pet care. Crazy as it seems, some people who  want dollar specials on food for their family will happily spend a fortune on pet care. This means pet sitting, dog walking, pet food sales, animal training, and other related activities can sometimes be a better income generator for homesteaders with strong aptitudes toward animal husbandry than human food. With backyard chickens making a comeback, temporary chicken care is another option.

Lawn and landscaping. Services related to plants and landscaping are also good choices for homesteaders. Lawn mowing and leaf and debris removal can provide a steady source of free organic material for your homestead and help earn you a little extra income. You can use your plant propagation skills to grow and sell potted plants or seeds. Exotic and perennial edibles are particularly in demand right as a result of the growing permaculture and edible landscaping movements. Developing and selling related products like finished compost, raised bed frames, and self-watering systems are also good possibilities. Consulting services for landscape design and implementation can also be part of your offerings with the right skill set.

Buyers clubs. Bulk buying is a good cost saving strategy, but it could also be an income stream. You could start a buyers co-op with your friends and neighbors, so that you can increase your bulk discounts. In exchange for organizing that buying power and doing the ordering, you could charge your members a small fee for your service. You not only get the savings from bigger buying power, but also a bonus for doing a little extra legwork over what you would already be doing for yourself.

What's in season? Seasonal work such as grape harvesting, building beehives, renting out your equipment, offering handy-person services, teaching courses, holding homestead tours, making crafts, selling cut flowers, up-cycling trash, and so many more income makers exists for the homesteader with lots of skills and a little ingenuity.

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive

Keep in mind that any time you start a business there are legal hurdles — tax codes, regulations, inspections...blah, blah, blah. So make sure you find out what requirements apply and cover your rear on the legal front to avoid unnecessary headaches.

Also, know that the more skills you have the more income potential you have. So your best investment in working towards income independence is skill building. Which is why our next entry in the ABCs of Homesteading is “J is for Jack of All Trades Journeyman”. Stay tuned for ideas on how to skill-up and homestead like a professional!

Tasha Greer spent several years “practicing” homesteading in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina where she currently raises pigs, goats, poultry, bees, worms, vegetables, herbs, trees, shrubs, and mushrooms. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. She also raises and processes poultry, herbs, and other edibles at the reLuxe Ranch. Find Tasha at The Way Back and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Produce the Safest (and Most Delicious) Milk on a Micro Dairy

Milk is food. Commercial dairy farmers are under so much pressure to increase milk production and cut costs that they often overlook that fact. As far as I know, there are no economic incentives for commercial farmers who are shipping milk to commodity markets to produce better-tasting milk.

The Quest for Better-Tasting Milk

If you’re not familiar with the pasteurization process, you can read all about it here. It all goes on the truck and is eventually blended with milk from many other farms anyway. I believe the very noticeable decline in the flavor of fluid milk in the U.S. is responsible for a nearly 50% decline in per capita consumption of fluid milk in since 1950. Even dairy industry insiders quietly admit consumers have forgotten what good milk tastes like. This is your marketing opportunity!

When you are selling your milk directly to your customers, it is extremely important to pay attention to and be knowledgeable about milk flavor, shelf life and safety. Those are the prime factors that determine the reputation your milk and brand will enjoy in the marketplace.

Study after study shows that word of mouth is the most important marketing tool for any business. Your customers will speak well of your milk if it has a good, clean flavor and reliable shelf life. We pasteurize our milks using a Low Input – Low Impact (LiLi) system is gentle on milk, resulting in a safe and delicious pasteurized product that can be sold on its own or used in various dairy products.

Note: For better or worse, your customers will simply assume your milk is safe. So it is extremely important to make sure that it is — for their sake and your own.

Controlling for Disease: Mastitis, Staph Aueus and More

Milk flavor is every bit as complex as the flavor of wine. Good-tasting milk starts with the health and diet of your cows. Needless to say, cows need to be healthy and milk cannot be tainted by mastitis, blood from injury, medications, etc.

Discard any milk that does not meet these qualifications. Mastitis, or an infection in a cow’s udder, is a topic that is far too complex to discuss in this blog post. I suggest carefully researching on your own if you are or are planning to milk cows.

Staph Aureus mastitis is incurable and highly contagious. The infection is not always evident. It comes and goes. Test a sample of your milk for it and if your milk tests positive for Staph-A, test each cow individually. Be sure to take milk from all four quarters for the sample. Isolate the infected cows and, at the very least, milk infected cows last.

In the end, it may be best to bite the bullet and remove them from you herd. Remember: Test all cows you are planning to buy for Staph A before you agree to buy them.

A Cow’s Diet Impacts Her Milk

Your cows’ diet or ration has a major impact on your milk’s flavor. It needs to be properly balanced — for example, feeding long-stem hay in some form is vital. Too much corn or grass silage, improperly cured silage or baleage with strong odors can significantly damage milk flavor.

A lack of vitamin E and other vitamin deficiencies will affect the milk’s flavor as well. Personally, I think it pays to keep it simple. Feed for body condition and herd health rather than production. A diet of green grass (be careful of the weeds in your pastures), dry hay, and a little grain is the perfect recipe to produce the best tasting milk.

I’ve shared my most basic methods for the proper milking of a cow on Mother Earth News before — and you can read it, here.

Cleaning Dairy Equipment

Everything that your milk comes in contact with once it leaves your cows must be squeaky clean and sanitized — don’t leave any remaining residue on your equipment. Both chlorine and iodine can cause noticeable “off” flavors.

Warm or hot potable water should be the last thing to come into contact with your milking and milk handling equipment. Always follow the recommended dilutions rates that are on the labels of your dairy cleaning and sanitizing chemicals.

General livestock care and sanitation is essential to your success — make sure you’re prepared and browse through our product selection here if you’d like to dive deeper into supplies.

Off odors will also imprint themselves on the flavor of your milk. The areas where you milk your cows and store their milk should smell as fresh and be as well ventilated as possible. Avoid manure, strong silage and ammonia odors in those locations and keep your dairy animals as clean as you can.

Believe me, I know odor problems can be a tough problem to solve on a dairy farm of any size. Just keep the above advice in mind and do your best. Your customers will appreciate your efforts! Believe it or not, storing milk in a cooler with apples can also hurt its flavor.

Milking Technique Influences Flavor Quality

Rough handling and over pumping of milk can damage the milk’s fat cells and give it an off flavor referred to as “rancidity”. The resulting slightly bitter taste is so common in milk today that most consumers don’t even recognize it to be a flavor defect.

I have found that I can pump my milk once with a standard impellor milk pump and not risk off flavors. But, if I need to pump it more than once, I will use a pump that is designed to be gentle, such as a positive displacement or diaphragm pump.

Cooling and Storing Fresh Milk

It is very important to begin cooling your milk as quickly as possible after it leaves the cow in order to retard the growth of bacteria, which can harm its flavor and shorten milk shelf life. Ideally it should be cooled to 45 degrees Fahrenheit or less within two hours after you are done milking. That is tough to do if your milk is in a container where it is not stirred or agitated a couple of times per hour.

Plus, if the milk isn’t stirred, the cream will rise and the thin layer between the cream on top and skim milk below is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. You can significantly extend the shelf life of your milk if you keep it stirred. Obviously, the ideal tool for storing milk and achieving the best flavor and longest shelf life is a correctly sized bulk tank with an automatic agitator that stirs the milk for a few minutes three times per hour.

To learn important considerations about raw milk and potential risks, read Considerations for Drinking Raw Milk and the Threat of Leucosis and Johnes Disease.

Steve Judge is a long-time dairy farmer and micro-dairy expert at Bob-White Systems. Driven by a passion for the Slow Food movement and a desire for communities to enjoy locally produced, Steve's goal is to create appropriately scaled dairy technology and equipment that will give small-scale dairy farmers the opportunity to sell safe, farm fresh milk and dairy products directly from their farms to friends and neighbors. Read all of Steve's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Turkeys on the Table


80 turkeys this year. They all made their appearance in June. Two rounds of turkey hatches emerged in our walk-out basement from the incubator, starting as carefully selected speckly eggs hurried into the house beneath my jacket to keep them from being chilled. Then an additional 50 white “peepers” came in the mail, needing warmth and their beaks dipped.

Then they grew into lanky teenage-hood, always getting into trouble, escaping, hanging out on top of the coop roof or randomly roaming the lawn after flying over the fence.  But this last week was the last week for the turkeys (other than the breeding stock we’ll overwinter for next year’s hatch).

Thanksgiving is approaching, but before the tables can be set, there’s another phase in the turkey experience that is required — butchering. After an exhausting day of processing the last 30 birds, this poem came to me as I sat on the floor in front of the wood stove, trying to drive away the chill.

The Day that Turkeys Died

The day that turkeys died,
It was the last
We all wanted it to be the last
Day for butchering.
Since mid-July every Monday
Or sometimes Tuesdays
And even one Saturday
We were butchering,
Churning our way through 400 meat chickens
Old roosters
The lame duck
And then turkeys.
Sometimes five of us
Sometimes only three of us
Often times only three of us
Working the stations with tired,
Bruised hands.

Turkeys are hard
They beat with wings so strong
Legs so long sporting talons
They know how to put up a good fight
Know better than to want to be caught
Like the unsuspecting meat chicken
Blobby, white basket balls
Of juicy breast meat
Topped by tiny, curious heads.

Turkeys have tiny heads too
Which gets them into trouble
Their curiosity calls them forth
To adventures
For which they are completely unaware
Of the risk.
But turkeys do know
That if you climb into their tractor
Again and again
To catch their friends by the ankles
And carry them away
Something is amiss,
Very amiss.

The last ones are always the feisty
Strong, quick, sly ones,
Harder to catch
They bounce and spring and flap,
Tearing at your cheek with wing tips,
Beating at your arms and legs.

I’d rather they would stay
Plump and happy.
But their time is coming
When all the wayward turkeys
Are called to the table,
Called to task,
Called to duty.

I can’t keep them all winter,
Can’t feed them all winter
And soon their beloved grass
Will be covered over with snow.

Those turkeys are now safely in the freezer, awaiting their Thanksgiving homes.  If you’re still looking for a delicious turkey fresh from our pastures, maybe we’ll see you down at the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.