Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Catch a glimpse of what farming looked like in Palouse, Washington during the mid-1940s. Farming has never been easy work, but back in the day there wasn’t the convenience of modern machinery. Kudos to those who still employ some of these techniques!

Video originally posted by: seattletimesdotcom


Homestead dairy goats need shelter. These are high-value animals that you’ll be working with on a daily basis, so it’s reasonable to provide infrastructure that’s convenient and comfortable for you and your herd. If you’re new to managing goats, you may want a shelter that is temporary and adaptable; chances are you’ll want to change your approach down the road. Experienced goat managers may still find use for flexible and portable designs as pasture shelters. Proper goat shelters don’t need to be fancy, but they do need to serve a variety of purposes. Even a basic dairy goat shelter could or should

• Protect goats from weather conditions
• Allow you to work with goats out of the weather (i.e. milking, hoof-trimming)
• Be located near a convenient source of water
• Include (or be near) a protected milking area that excludes goats (to keep it clean)
• Have (or be near) an area to store hay, straw, and/or grain separate from goats
• Have the ability to separate kids from adults, or individuals if necessary
• Be able to stand up to goat behavior, including rubbing, climbing, and jumping
• Be moveable to allow for rotational grazing

My wife and I have experimented with a variety of basic goat shelters for our homestead dairy goat herd. We generally kept our goats on pasture spring through fall, changing their grazing areas once a day to once a week, using overnight shelters that could be moved once a month to completely new ground to help break the parasite cycle. After moving the shelter, we collected the month’s worth of bedding and composted it, providing a regular supply of fertility for our vegetables. Kids were left on does during the day, and separated at night, which allowed us to milk every morning. We used several forms of winter shelter before building a permanent winter barn; we still used pasture shelters spring through fall. The permanent barn’s design will be a future blog post; here we discuss our experience with various non-permanent shelters.

Cattle-Panel Hoops with Tarps 

Goat Sheds Hoops

A line of 4’x16’ cattle panels bent into hoops, held in place with rebar pounded into ground, makes an easy shelter with tarps or plastic lashed on top. While panels can be expensive, we sourced most of ours used from auctions and elsewhere. These are easy to set up and take down, and all the constituent parts can be repurposed if you change shelter plans later on. The ends can be blocked off with more panels or wooden walls as desired. The shelter above left housed the herd, while the shelter above right housed our milking stand. These can be winterized by stacking straw bales along the open ends for insulation, and keeping heavy snow knocked off the tarps.


Goat Sheds Bend

When using these hoops, it’s important to keep the goats OFF. They’re wonderfully flexible with weather, but do not hold up to goats climbing and playing. The sequence above shows what happens if you don’t prevent this behavior: ruined hoops bent double by the herd climbing the hoop to reach an overhanging oak branch, and just to play. Preventing this is simple; just install a line of panels along the edge of the hoops, attached to T-posts, as shown in the first set of photos. These only take a few extra minutes to set up or take down (if moving the shelter) and will save your structure.

“Farmers Market” Pop-Up Tents with Cattle Panel Walls

Goat Sheds Tents Panel

You can also use cattle panels to enclose basic pop-up tents of the kind used at farmers markets and festivals. Set up the tents, and use T-posts to support a frame of panels around the tents. Gates are simply a shorter section of panel wired or tied to a post or neighboring panel. The panels are lashed together using baling twine, and the tents are lashed to the panels or the T-posts to hold them down in strong weather. These are especially fast to set up and take down, especially if you have a T-post puller (a simple leverage device that makes it easy to remove posts).

This design is only appropriate for warm weather, but does a good job of providing basic protection for a goat herd. Two tents provide an obvious division for kids and adults. It’s helpful to have the kid side open only into the adult side, which then opens to the outdoors. This way, you can easily draw the entire herd in at night, close the outer gate, then separate goats at your leisure. During the day, just leave all gates open to give free access to the entire shelter as needed.

The biggest potential barrier here is cost; new tents can be expensive. We were able to source some used from other farmers, and in the long run, the cost for even a new one may be worthwhile given how sturdy and easy-to-use such tents are. They’re also easy to repurpose or resell if your situation changes.

Chain-Link Walls with Tarp Roof

Goat Sheds Chainlink

Standard 10’ chain-link panels, of the kind often used for dogs, work very well for goat shelters. With their own special brackets to hold panels to together, they’re a breeze to set up and take down, and the built-in doors in some panels make access and security easy. These can be expensive new, but we bought ours used. We lashed tarps onto the panels for additional weather-proofing, using separate tarps for each panel to facilitate disassembly.

In an early version (above left), we kept the milking stand on one side (where the adults also slept), and put the kids on the other side. Thus, we could milk each morning before letting the animals out to graze. In later versions (above right), once we’d built a permanent barn for milking and winter housing, the shelters only housed the goats, and we took the adults to the milking barn each morning before returning them to pasture. In this latter version, the divider panel down the middle has an internal door, to make separating kids easier (as described in the previous section). Each section also has its own external door to facilitate general access.

The most difficult part of this design is a suitable roof. At first, we bought a roof kit with pipes and tarp especially designed for this kind of shelter, but found we didn’t like it. The roof, with its open ends, allowed too much rain in, and was quite susceptible to wind. It was also tricky to set up and take down. We also experimented with winterizing a shelter like this, building a wood and metal roof overhead and insulating the walls with straw bales lashed to the panels. This worked okay, but was a real hassle to take down in spring when it was time to move the shed to new pasture.

Chainlink Shed Winter

Chain-Link Walls with Pop-Up Tent

Final Goat Shed

This is our favorite shelter. Both components have a 10’x10’ footprint; simply set up the tent, and enclose it with chain-link panels. The panels hold tightly to the tent’s legs and provide security, while the tent fits perfectly on top. Both are quite easy to set up and take down; we found that a single person could dismantle, move, and reassemble this system in a different pasture in about an hour. That’s pretty good for a once-a-month task. The rest of the setup is similar to shelters described above. A hay rack may be lashed inside the panels if desired, and bedding collects naturally in place, to be composted once the shelter moves on. A couple T-posts can be driven in at the corners and lashed to the panels and tent, if additional security against strong weather is desired.

Final Considerations

Any of these designs could be expensive if everything is purchased new, but creative sourcing can bring down the cost significantly. In addition, most of the constituent pieces can be reused for other purposes if your plans or needs change; there is little waste or permanent loss involved. These structures can be the true home for your homestead herd, or simply pasture shelters complementing a more permanent barn. The herd health benefits of living on pasture are significant, and it’s worth exploring whether such shelters could work for your goats.

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



Becoming More Familiar with the Polyface Eggmobile

Having grown up in the Sacramento region of California, fireflies were not a regular part of my childhood. They were never part of my “every day” bug exposure, if you will. Sure, there are many beetles, Praying Mantises and Jerusalem Crickets that might be odd to other people and are common place to me. But fireflies have always been the coolest thing.

I have relatives that live in Pennsylvania, and trips that took my family out that direction were welcomed because they brought me to firefly country. In my mind, fireflies are synonymous with cool summer evenings that find me and my siblings running through my grandparent’s lawn on a dewy evening, laughing while the winged marvels twinkle around me.

Fireflies also make me think of romanticized scenes from many a film, where they are often used to set a deep and often serene ambiance. When I was working with the Walt Disney Company at The Walt Disney Resort, The Pirates of the Caribbean ride was my favorite. The first segment of the ride is set in a swamp where (via use of a small fan and a gently pulsating LED) fireflies glow off and on to set the mood.

Eggmobile Sunset 

With this as my background, one of the small yet very enjoyable perks of working here at Polyface is when, during the late spring/summer evenings, I get to witness the fireflies come to life in the evening twilight.

It is evenings just like tonight, right after the sun has set behind the ridgeline to the west, when I will walk, run, or ride one of the farm four-wheelers to the Eggmobile to close it up in preparation of Joel moving it in the morning. This short trip to the Eggmobile is the perfect opportunity to just soak the fireflies in. I often get distracted by them, but I don’t mind. And it makes the task of closing the Eggmobile something to look forward to.

If you have ever had the opportunity to visit Polyface, it is a safe bet that Joel’s Eggmobile was somewhere on your list of things to see. If you didn’t know it existed before your visit, I’m guessing you were familiar with it by the time you left. From what I’ve seen, it is one of the most duplicated structures on the farm, and I have heard about and seen many variations.

Our Eggmobile is a two-section version, with each section boasting a single axle. It is constructed from rough-cut lumber (milled from the farm), sheet metal for the sides and roof, and chicken wire on the ends to prevent early and unwanted departure by the birds. Each section holds four hundred birds comfortably, and has nest boxes and bulk-feeders that we fill as needed.

The concept is simple. The chickens return to the Eggmobile at dusk to sleep. We close the Eggmobile the evenings before we move it. The Eggmobile follows the cows; hence, the chickens follow the cows. We let the chickens out in the morning. Boom. Done.

Chickens on Run 

It is simple in practice, but there is much more going on here than first meets the eye. The Eggmobile follows the cows, leaving roughly a three day time period between when the cows are in a specific section and when the birds get on it. What this means is that the chickens are having their pick of delicious fly larva that are (at three days old) perfectly plump for the pecking. Moving the Eggmobile like this helps to keep the fly population down, keeps the pasture more sanitized, helps the cow’s manure to build the soil more efficiently (via the birds distributing and spreading it while tearing it apart looking for food), and provides the chickens with a continues supply of fresh “salad-bar”, as Joel likes to say.

As an apprentice, it falls on me and my fellow apprentices to close the Eggmobile. We take week long rotations, and this week it is my turn to complete the task. This entails me making my way to wherever the Eggmobile might be. Upon arrival, I first verify that all the birds are inside. I then disconnect the water line which is connected to the black poly-pipe that we have around the fields, and begin to roll it up with the crank-handle spool that’s attached to the end of the Eggmobile. It is important to note that it is VERY easy to lose the rubber washer that’s on the end of the hose. I make sure I don’t lose it. Losing it can cost other people extra time, which never makes them happy. I then empty the small water pan that the chickens drink from, and place it on the front tongue that the tractor connects to.

After the water line is properly stowed, I then stash the ramps leading to the small doors that the chickens travel in and out of. There are four doors, two on each section. Two of the ramps are laid between the two sections on the connecting rod, and two ramps are slid into custom slots directly below the doors. All of the doors are fastened with bungie-cords.

Now it is closed up for the night, and I’m done. It’s that simple. The procedure takes me maybe ten minutes tops. The journey to the Eggmobile consumes more of my time than the task itself. Come tomorrow morning, Joel and one of the interns will ride out on one of the tractors to move this sucker. After hooking up, they will make the journey to its new temporary resting place. Sometimes this journey is only a hundred feet and sometimes it is clear across the farm.

Moving the Eggmobile is officially Joel’s job, but I have done it several times while he is traveling and speaking across the world. Moving the Polyface Eggmobile is an adventure. It is wide, long, heavy, and has the turning radius of a ‘64 Buick. It is hard to hazard a guess as to the amount of fence posts that have fallen prey to its sluggish maneuvering and blunt sides. Once it begins moving forward, it is hard to convince it to do anything else. And heaven forbid you have to back it up. Oh my.

It is not the prettiest structure by any stretch of the imagination…but that’s the trick. The beauty isn’t in the aesthetics of the Eggmobile…it is in the innovation, imagination, and effectiveness that is all bundled together and morphed into the rambling chicken totter that makes its constant pilgrimage around the farm. Once you can see it for what it is, it is hard to view it as anything but ingenious.

So here I go. It is time to head out and shut the ol’ girl up for the evening.

I can already see the fireflies twinkling in the dusk, lighting the way to the Eggmobile that’s tucked away somewhere in the shadows.

Interested in seeing more of what Tim does? Follow along through the lens of his camera on Instagram, username MyPolyfacePerspective.

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


This hands-free approach to using a chainsaw could speed up your wood cutting process. As with anytime you choose to work with a saw, please use caution and be careful if you try this method yourself.

Video originally posted by : Ajem Endziner


My mother never visited a fabric store until she was in her sixties, yet she sewed clothes for my sister and me, made beautiful quilts and decorated our humble home with delightful handmade curtains, tablecloths and couch covers for years. One of my favorite dresses as a youngster was an outrageously bright jumper she made from an old housecoat.

My mother carefully saved each button, zipper and scrap of eyelet trim for other projects. I’d watch as she ripped apart old clothes to remake into something for us, and I’d think how when I grew up, I’d buy brand new fabric from a real store for sewing.

With five sisters who still like to exchange outgrown clothing with each other, my mother filled the hall closet with hand-me-down “glad rags” from my aunts and cousins. Even in the 1960s, this was an outdated practice. Today, it is almost unheard of while stores overflow with cheap clothing and textiles. Thrift stores receive so much donated clothing that they often give it away, as do churches and schools.

In the 1700s and earlier, clothing was among the most costly items for an American household. After a garment was completely used up, thrifty housewives would save even the tiniest bits of fabric for quilts, meticulously cutting out any stains and mending tears. In the 1800s and early 1900s, peddlers (often called “the rag man”) would trade wares for discarded clothing, pieces of rugs and other fabric scraps. According to the American Agriculturalist of 1880, a worn out pair of pantaloons could fetch 20 cents, not a bad sum more than a century ago.

My mother’s quilts were made of all manner of cloth, including corduroy, wool, flannel and cotton. I didn’t realize it then, but her hodgepodge mix of colors, patterns and textures made the most fascinating quilts.

When I made my first quilt as a young woman, I bought yards of crisp, new coordinated polyester fabric. Every piece was perfectly matched in weight, design and consistency, right down to the threads per inch. I was quite proud of my first and following creations, but came to realize my quilts back then did not have the homey feel and character my mother’s did.

Today, I happily sew with glad rags just as Mom did and believe I have recaptured that comfy-as-an-old-quilt feel in my stitching. Plus, I can just glance at one of my quilts and see my grown children as toddlers again, with smidgens of my daughter’s dresses and boys’ shirts mixed among the squares. My expense is minimal and nothing goes to waste.

To sew with recycled fabric:

• Make a tiny snip at seams and then tear the fabric instead of cutting it. This will reveal the fabric grain. For small quilt pieces, following the grain is not necessary, so don’t throw out tiny scraps if the grain is going the wrong way.
• Bag up buttons, zippers and other notions to sell, donate or use in craft projects, ornaments or children’s costumes.
• If you use 100-percent cotton and other natural fabrics, not manmade (polyester, rayon, spandex, etc.), the scraps can be composted in your yard or garden. T-shirts and jeans make especially good mulch. Worms love rotting cotton.
• Men’s clothing in particular is usually worn to a frazzle, but can still yield salvageable fabric behind pockets, at the upper back of shirt sleeves and beneath yokes.
• Save loosely woven or threadbare fabric for disposable rags instead of paper towels. I keep a stack of 4” T-shirt squares near the kitchen sink for oiling cast iron pans, for example.
• Often, if a fabric is too faded or stained to be pretty, it can be used wrong-side up. This can even be done just for variety.
• Ask at yard sales and thrift stores for clothing and fabric items they intend to throw out.
• Ball up strips of thick jean seams or elastic from fitted bedsheets to use around the homestead for such things as tying up tomato plants.
• For an especially treasured quilt, include pieces from Dad’s shirt or Grandma’s old housedress.
• Prewashing is no longer necessary (unless a garment smells like mothballs or musty) because fabrics from garments and household linens have already done all the shrinking, stretching and bleeding of colors they’re going to do.
• Don’t be afraid to have fun and mix fabric weights and textures. Large-print patterns, like those in drapes, cut into interesting small squares and triangles.


At the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in West Bend, Wisc., on August 8-9, I will be demonstrating how to use a treadle sewing machine and use recycled fabric. I will also have with me several quilts made entirely of discarded clothing. Be sure to stop by Booth 1907 (the year Mother’s Day was conceived) to say hello and learn more about sewing the way great-grandma did it.

To see more of my efforts with glad rags, please see our blog, Sewing and Quilting the Old Way with Glad Rags.

Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid with human power, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.

Photos by Linda Holliday; old photo courtesy of Darla DeGroot

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


Hello everyone! First of all, I would like to apologize for not writing a blog post sooner. Hopefully the title of this post explains the reasons why I have been seemingly missing in action…

Since I haven’t written in a few months, some of you may forget who I am. Just kidding! (Sort of.) Anyway, last summer while I was interning for Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm (read my posts from that experience here), Dan held down the Sugar River Farm fort back in New Hampshire. While working full time, he also managed to run a coop of meat chickens and rotated five pigs through pasture.

Preparing to Raise Chickens Commercially

Through the generous support of friends, family and neighbors, we sold pretty much all of our product and planned to ramp up production now that I was back from Virginia with a brain full of relevant knowledge.

Then came the spring and it was time to build coops. Over the winter, we managed to secure a contract with an up-and-coming company in Massachusetts to raise chickens for them. This company essentially makes agreements with local farmers to raise animals for them following their pasture-based, humane handling model, specific to each type of animal (beef, pigs, chicken, turkey and lamb), which they then deliver to their customer’s homes. This company ended up pre-ordering a significant amount of chickens per month from us, which necessitated the building of six new coops.

Chicken Coop Design for a Commercial Operation

Chicken Coops 

In coop design, we deviated a bit from the traditional Salatin-style chicken tractor, making the footprint 10 foot x 12 foot as opposed to 10 foot x 10 foot. Instead of being a low-profile shelter, ours look more like a mini hoop house.

Dan had used this type of model at the first farm he worked at and liked them. Now that I have used them, I like them, too. There are pros and cons to both models. The Polyface tractors, being heavier and lower to the ground, are a better option if wind is an issue where you live.

The adapted model we use is lighter, which I like, as moving is easier. Also, the taller structure makes feeding and catching a bit more ergonomic for me. I am not known for my brute strength and sometimes would have trouble lifting the lid of the Polyface tractors in one hand while putting the feeder in with the other. Everybody has their own style, strengths and limitations, and different models of tractors will work better for different people.

In an effort to not get in a heated debate about who has a better mobile coop, I think we can all agree that as long as the coop is moved every day to fresh grass and the birds are protected from weather and predators, who cares what it looks like?! I do plan to write a detailed instructional as to how to construct a coop of this style in a later post.

Designing the Brooder


For our brooder, Dan made a generously sized area lined with hay bales for insulation (also because they were inexpensive and disposable, in case our concept didn’t end up working out) with one half being covered in insulated foam boards with heat lamps installed and the other half covered by plastic netting for ventilation. The netted half lifts up using a pulley system to give us better access.

When the birds first arrive, we put them exclusively under the foam board covered section with the lights on to better control the temperature. As they get a few days older, (also depending upon the ambient temperature of the barn the brooder is in) we then let them access the other half of the brooder.

They then stay in the brooder until they are three weeks old. Many people put their birds out at two weeks, but we prefer to have our birds a bit more feathered out before they go outside. (This is New England, after all.)

Expanding Beyond Chickens

Along with the chickens, we were able to get 21 piglets, one group of nine and one group of twelve, both heritage crosses. The group of nine has been living in the forest and the amount of underbrush they can clear is impressive. The other group of twelve is living in some pastured areas and Dan has been rotating them every few days.

There is also my group of Indian Runner ducks that I wanted for pets and for eggs. They are definitely a skittish breed and make a lot of noise, but they are really cute and funny. We got them as ducklings in April, so the eggs haven’t shown up yet. We should see them in the next few weeks!

Along with our wholesale account, we are selling at one farmers market, which has been a lot of fun. We are getting a lot of community support and are working towards getting our name out there and educating people on the benefits of eating locally. It’s pretty amazing to think how far we’ve come from imagining what it would be like to be able to have a viable farm business and now we’re actually working towards it.

Granted, our wholesale client brings us the lion’s share of our business and it has been a blessing to have this steady income while we build infrastructure and obtain more equipment. We were able to buy chicken crates, water storage units and pay for the materials for the coops with the income we have received from this partnership and we are very grateful. It is our goal to become more efficient, which will make us better able to provide for our animals and in turn provide more food to our community.

My next post will be a more descriptive explanation of how our coops were constructed. Please be sure to comment if you have any questions or if there is anything else you would like me to write about. Until next time!

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


Barn After Rain

Everyone has a dream, and although we are lucky enough to have had ours come true, our homestead lifestyle required time and work to make a reality. I’m so honored to be invited to write for one of my all-time favorite publications, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, in order to share with you how we made our homestead dream come true.

Having a Good Life but Wanting More

My husband and I had the good life (at least a version of it): We lived in Dallas and had a nice home, wonderful children, promising careers and all that qualifies for the good ‘ole American life in suburbia. We were in close proximity to entertainment and restaurants, museums and parks, movie theaters and concert halls.

But after awhile, it felt like we were doing the same thing every day and we no longer felt fulfilled. We wanted something more.

I’ve always been keenly environmentally aware, even as a youngster. Before it was the “in” thing to do, I was refusing plastic shopping bags, instead opting to bring my own reusable fabric bags. We wanted a better connection to land and environment. I especially hate to waste food and am constantly searching for ways to fully utilize the food we’ve grown or purchased. We’ve constructed raised bed. I’m careful to use lots of rich compost when I’m planting to give those seedlings a healthy start.

Newborn Calf 

Finding Homestead Property and Purchasing Hereford Cattle

When we found this piece of paradise in Northeast Texas, we knew this would be where our future was to be found. As we stood next to the cobbled-together gate and viewed the overgrown and cluttered property, the old and broken fences and the tattered 1880s barn, it was apparent that we had LOTS of work ahead of us! But with renewed hope of a new and exciting future we took that leap and purchased the property.

We decided that we liked the old-time western look of the Hereford cattle breed, so we contacted a breeder and purchased our very first registered Hereford pairs. One step at a time, we drew closer and closer to the life we dreamed we could live.

Living where we do has taught me a new appreciation for the beauty God has blessed us with each and every day. I notice the small things more — the beauty of the first tiny spring flowers to peek out from the sleeping grass, the graceful hawk that calls to her young as she teaches them to fly, and the amazing array of colors present on a butterfly’s wings. I try to be as gentle as I can as I tread on this land and in this life.

Cultivating an Environmental Self

I’ve learned to improve our garden soil so that I can produce more of what we eat and to preserve the rainfall for garden irrigation. I’ve learned about the price paid for convenience foods in currency, health and environmental terms and I’ve begun to make many of those things myself in a healthier and less expansive manner.

I’ve become so much more aware of my environmental self, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to make small changes that have a real effect. One step at a time, I find that I’m rediscovering myself.

I’ve heard the phrase “Bloom where you’re planted,” and I’m so blessed to have been planted here! There is, of course, the joy of a new calf and the worry of droughts and floods, but also some pretty spectacular Texas sunsets and a blissful life filled with things that are important to me.

I invite you to follow us in our dream through this blog. I’ll tell you about Taylor-Made Ranch’s DIY projects, gardening, water and energy conservation, a few clever “Homestead Hacks,” and how to use what you already have to fill a need.

Click here to learn more about Taylor-Made Ranch. You can follow them on Facebook here. 

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

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