Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Hi everyone! I hope you all had an enjoyable 4th of July! This week was a bit abbreviated simply because of the holiday, but there was still a lot of firsts for me. 

Monday, June 30th

poultry houseThis week, my morning chore was to work with Joel Salatin and assist in the moving of the Egg Mobile (the movable chicken coop that houses the free range laying hens) and other assorted farm tasks that need attention. The Eggmobile is moved using a tractor every other day, but did not need to be moved that morning. On days where the Eggmobile does not need to be moved, our responsibilities are to open the nest boxes, which are kept closed at night so the layers won’t sleep in them/mess them up, and check to make sure the birds are all set with food and water. After we did this, we went to one of the fence lines where the neighbor’s cows had gotten through and cut back the brush and plants that had grown up around the area to give the cows better visibility of the barrier. This is good to do even if the neighbors cows aren’t giving you trouble, as branches and such touching the wire can weaken the charge of the fence.

The rest of the day was spent building another Gobbledego. A Gobbledego is a mobile shade structure used for the turkeys and we built our maiden one last week. We will need to build two more shade structures for the pigs, which will be slightly simpler since they won’t need the roosting bars notched in. I anticipate we will be building those within the next few weeks. Since we had built a Gobbledego last week, we were able to build most of it between four interns, but we needed more hands on deck once it came time to lift the two halves and screw them together.

Tuesday, July 1st

Tuesday morning, the Eggmobile needed to be moved. Moving is a pretty straightforward process. The night before, the doors are closed on the coops while the chickens are inside sleeping. We attach the Egg Mobile to the tractor, move it to its desired location, detach it from the tractor, open the doors and then open the nest boxes. The birds are also fed using a bulk feeder, which needs to be filled every few days, so we also took care of that. After we finished with the laying hens, we went and checked on the fence line we had cleared yesterday to make sure nothing had gotten through. (Nothing had.) After breakfast, one of my roommates, Alicia, and I worked with Joel to clear another fence line on the farm. This was more intensive than yesterday’s fence line, as we were clearing saplings, low branches from trees, thickets of tangled thorny plants and all kinds of brush. It was hard work, as Joel is pretty handy with the chainsaw and there was lots of brush coming our way. One bonus was that we hacked down some raspberry plants so I got to trash pick some of the berries before they went in the pile.

After lunch, I spent a few hours with one of the apprentices running errands (ordering tires for the new shade structures, dropping off a broken tractor piston, getting fuel for the different machines here at the farm, etc.) and prepping the nest boxes at the Feathernet, the mobile chicken coop where the pullets live. The pullets are beginning to lay eggs, so we needed to clean out all the debris (old hay, acorns, manure, mouse nests, etc.) from the nest boxes that had been left closed up to this point and fill them with fresh hay. The pullets seemed pretty amped about this whole turn of events because when we’d go to get handfuls of new hay, there were always hens burrowing around in the hay pile being cute.

Once we got back, we got to be involved in an on farm pig processing. Polyface sends their pigs for processing to a USDA inspected facility, but where this was for our own consumption, we did not need to go to these lengths. We have processed plenty of birds here, but this was the first time I had ever seen any other type of animal be slaughtered. The whole process went very smoothly and it was interesting to see how quickly people were catching on to Daniel Salatin’s instructions given our experience with working on the chickens. For example, when he asked us to remove the feet at the joint, we knew what he was getting at instead of tilting our heads quizzically. Don’t get me wrong, he showed us how to do one. We just weren’t as mystified by the process as before.

Wednesday, July 2nd

Wednesday was a big day for me – my first cattle sorting day! Daniel, Will, one of the other summer interns, and I left at 5:30am for one of the properties Polyface manages. We needed to get there with ample time to herd the cows into the pens designed specifically for cattle sorting to be able to have things in order in time for the haulers. Our task was to pick out a certain number of cattle to be finished on pasture at Polyface Farm and the rest needed to be put into groups of 15 (that’s all the trailers will hold comfortably) to go to a different Polyface managed property to graze there. Both Will and I got ample time to work with Daniel and learn how the cows respond to different movements and body language. We were able to get a little over 240 head of cattle sorted and on their way and fencing down by about 1pm.

Following this, we went to another Polyface managed property to sort out a bull who needed to come back to Polyface, ear tag some of the new calves and set up cross fencing. When we got back, we learned that the chick delivery was going to be earlier than expected because of the 4th of July, so we needed to hustle and get fresh bedding and food ready for the new babies. It was a very busy day. Thank goodness Daniel had brought granola bars, because I didn't bring anything and it would have been a long day to go without food!

Thursday, July 3rd

chickensThursday morning was another Eggmobile moving day. After taking care of the layers, I was able to go with Joel while he checked on one of the new calves that was born at Polyface. After my chores with Joel were done, we interns helped with organizing the freezer inventory. Polyface has a large walk in freezer, walk in refrigerator and two freezer trailers so I can see the importance of keeping things organized. There are lots of places for items to get lost and trying to locate a pork belly in a freezer isn’t that much fun when you’re dressed for working outside in the summer.

After breakfast, we all worked on chipping the brush pile Alicia and I had piled up during Tuesday’s brush cleaning. Joel ended up getting in the bucket of the tractor so he could be lifted up higher to chainsaw more of the out of reach branches. The objective of this is to let more light in, optimizing growth conditions for grasses and other types of plants. I ended up being pulled off this project to make a restaurant delivery in Harrisonburg, VA, which I enjoyed. I like seeing restaurant kitchens and meeting the different types of people who buy local and sustainable food. We had some pretty intense rain showers following my return to the farm, so we did under roof chores for a bit until it cleared up and we were able to take care of the outside animals.

Friday, July 4th

July 4th was a pretty light day here at Polyface. We did morning chores and went to the 4th of July parade. We went later on to try and hunt groundhogs, but we didn’t see anything. Alas.

I hope you all are enjoying these posts. Please leave a comment if there is anything you’d like me to elaborate on and I can be sure to do so in the next entry. Thanks for reading!


Julia & Raisin - picture taken by Joe Sands

So, have you ever, even in this age of the internet, tried to find information on a certain, very specific topic, and just have not been able to find an answer, not even close? Here is the question: What is the best way to wash your goat’s udder and teats before milking?

Easy question, right? We were prepping our lovely dairy goats for milking, and as we were cleaning their udders and teats, we started discussing the best way to clean the udder and teats: Do you wash the teats first or the udder, do you clean the udder from the front to the back, back to front, side to side?

Cleaning the Udder

The internet didn’t provide the answer. Surprisingly, it was a fruitless search. All we found repeatedly was this sentence: “Wash the udder/teats before milking” and then a recipe on how to make your own udder wash or teat dip. To find an answer to our question, we went to Facebook to ask our fellow goat farmers, goat buddies and friends how they do it. Of course, if you ask 15 different goat owners one question, you get 15 different answers and this time was no different.

Is there Even An Answer?

Here are some options, as quotes:

1.” I clean the whole udder first, then use a clean cloth the clean the teats. Then I wash my hands, milk, clean the teats, and then spray the teats.”

2. “I never clean the udder, either before or after, and I don't use teat spray. I've never had a case of mastitis either!”

3. ”I only wash dirty udders, like right after birth etc. I use a warm washcloth with soapy water. During other times I dip the teat, wipe with a paper towel then milk. Then I redip.”

4. “We use a splash of bleach in hot soapy water to wash the teats, strip, then do a pre-dip, then dry with paper towel, then milk. Then we use a different dip for when we are done. We are also looking for new methods, etc. to help prevent mastitis. Considering using rubber gloves to cut down on germ transmission via our hands.”

5. “We also scrub our hands really good before milking, that “imo” is the most important part. We use a teat dip designed to seal the end of the teat off, which prevents entry of bacteria while the orifice closes off. If you have clean hands and they do not lie down for about 15 minutes after milking the orifice is closed. Many people also put some yummy alfalfa hay out that they go to right after milking so they stand and eat while everything closes off.”

6. “Here we wash the whole udder with spectrum udder wash, each teat gets dipped with pre iodine dip, washed with wipes and after milking dip with a iodine barrier dip (Astro-tek). We also sanitize our hands between does and before and after milking.”

7. “Hot soapy water with wash cloth- teats first, then teats with treated disposable dairy wipes, then dry with wash cloth, teats first. When washing udder, I'd say front then back. We shave our udders so that really helps.”

As you can see, the answers run the whole spectrum from not doing anything at all to doing a lot.


Our Answer

We fall somewhere in the middle and here is what we do:

Before the goats come on the milking stand, we brush our goats to remove loose hair from their backs, legs, and underside. Once the does are on the milking stand, we wash our hands, then we pre-treat their teats with a chlorhexadine spray. We wash our hands. Next we use a disposable dairy wipe (Wipe-Out by Immucell) to clean the teats, one side for each teat, and then wipe the udder from back to front around the sides like a figure eight. If the wipe still shows dirt, we use a second, and third or even a fourth teat wipe. As you guessed, a four wiper is a really dirty goat J. This is the time to notice anything that may need closer attention like a cut, abrasion, a sting, or even a rash. We wash our hands again, then we strip, then we wash our hands, then we attach the milking machine. After milking, we teat dip with a chlorhexadine teat dip with aloe and send them out to a yummy perennial peanut hay meal in their feeder. We clean the inflations of the machine with a disposable teat wipe between each goat.

We have opted for disposable wipes because they can just be tossed, and we have don’t have to mess with washing dirty cloths and hanging them to dry. Yes, it is more expensive to buy up front, but measured in time spent to wash cloths, the cost factor probably evens out. We have also found that the particular teat wipes we are using do not dry out the udders, our hands or cause rashes.


We have looked into and tried wearing disposable gloves while milking, but to do it right, you’d have to change the gloves between every goat and we feel a solid hand washing accomplishes the same thing.

We have stayed away from iodine based teat dips and udder washes, even though they may be very good, since many people have issues with supplemental iodine.

Now this works for us right now. As you have read before, there are many other ways to do it and none of them are wrong. The most important thing is to clean the teats and keep them clean before, during and after milking in order to prevent any bacteria from entering the milk canals and therefore minimizing the threat of mastitis.

And… if you have a goat or farm related question, you would like an answer to, don’t hesitate to e-mail me at Who knows, we might be able to find you the answer J, and of course share it with all our readers.


A short TV spot about the full-blooded timber wolves we reared from pups and cared for until their deaths from old age, for a total of 18 years.


House after 75 days

When we started with our grand plan to build a barndominium on property we owned in Texas (while still living in Australia), our focus was on things we could do in finite "chunks" while we were in the U.S. We also focused on doing things that family could supervise if they were discrete projects like coordinating with the power company on the location of the transformer.

Steps to Build Our 'Barndominium'

To recap the stages:

  1. We acquired some acreage adjacent to our daughter and family.
  2. We arranged for key utilities like power and a well while still in Australia
  3. We consulted with the firm to build a large metal "barn"
  4. We coordinated with an architect friend to create the details for the interior of the house, including detailed electrical drawings and other details
  5. We had a roadway cleared and reinforced from the main road down to the construction area

Three years ago (hardly seems that long now) the metal barn was built and I flew in from Australia, joined by a son from California and a week later, Julie joined us from Australia. In one week, we enclosed the exterior of the "house" portion of the barn (we don't have steel on the house area below 10' from the floor). The following week, we finished the siding, windows, doors, parked our travel trailer in the large garage/shop area of the barndominium, locked everything up and flew back to Australia.

Lessons Learned

The following 2 years were slow progress - mostly during our return trips each year. The rough framing of the house was done and most of the electrical rough wiring were completed. We had some lessons learned in this process:

  1. People don't do what you expect.  They do what you inspect.  If you want quality work, be there.
  2. Things cost more to get done when you aren't doing the buying
  3. Doing as much of your own work as you can saves money and increases quality.

A bit over a year ago, I returned, leaving Julie in Australia while I worked very long days (often with key helpers) for 75 days to take the raw frame of a house and turn it into a livable house.  Since Julie does much of her work from a home office, she can't work in a construction zone and while her company does have an office in the area, it's 30 miles away with significant traffic and no real advantage for work other than a faster network than we can afford at home.

Here's an internal view of the house when I returned:

House Condition When I Arrived

And here are a few shots of what we were able to accomplish in about 75 days:

View to the Kitchen

MBR ClosetDecorating the Living RoomOutdoor PorchOutdoor Patio

The large picnic tables on the outdoor patio were built by me and my oldest grand daughter who visited for a couple of weeks.  They were built from wood we re-purposed from the many pallets we received materials on and from some leftover 2"x 6" construction grade wood.

So was it all worth the time and exceptional effort? Absolutely!  Were there times when I felt completely overwhelmed by the thousands of things that needed to be done? Of course. Is there still a lot to do? Every day!

Looking Forward

So what's on the list of things to do in the short term? Cultivating the garden, building a second house on the property for Julie's mother (we'll do a manufactured house to save time) and developing various areas on the property for chickens, bees, animals and a water feature or small pond.

When we first envisioned the property, we had a two year vision from the time we arrived back in the US. I think now it's more like a 4-5 year project. Things take a bit longer than I thought to get done (a perpetual optimist), we've added things we would like to do now that we've been here awhile and (maybe most important) we've learned that not everything needs to be done tomorrow. Sometimes it's nice to take a deep breath, relax for a few days and enjoy the place for what it is - a beautiful work in progress, developed on land where nothing had been grown or developed before.


Newborn Lambs With Mother

Being a farmer and an entrepreneur is never dull. There is always a vast array of things to do and that need to be done. Throughout the day I literally ‘change my hat’ many times. This suits me fine. I may be tired at the end of the day, but always content and never bored. The summer months are particularly very busy; the vegetables are ripening and calling to be picked and preserved, maturing lambs are ready to go to market, and goat milking is at its prime, bags of wool require spinning. With all these jobs other chores tend to appear, like fencing, egg collecting….I could go on, but you get the idea. Add to this the fact that we live in a rural area that is quickly becoming a prime tourist destination. Running my farm market alone keeps me hopping.

Raising Pastured Lambs

Front Of Our Log Barn

Each season brings its expected tasks and some surprises too. Yesterday required me to do one of the chores I like the least, taking lambs to the abattoir. Our lambs are free range with no shortage of lush, natural vegetation to graze upon. They are healthy, large and quite spirited. Weighing around 100 lbs. each, being approximately 6 months of age and living an unrestricted life, they can be a force to be reckoned with. The evening before I transport the lambs, my husband, Tim, and I put them into stalls in the barn. At 5:30 am the next morning we load them into the back of our enclosed pickup truck. We load them early as Tim has an off farm job and loading these lambs is definitely a two person job. Believe me; I have done it alone. Wrestling one of these lambs when you don’t weigh much more than the lamb is quite a feat! I have also attempted, (emphasis on ‘attempted’), to load goats with the help of our daughter….that in itself is a story for another day!

On this particular July morning, with an overcast sky, Tim backed the truck up to the old log barn. Getting the first lamb in is difficult enough, but getting a couple more in without the first ones escaping is a challenge. We loaded three ram lambs and took a moment to look around in the dim morning light at the rest of the herd. They generally sleep close to the barn being guarded from predators by our guardian livestock dogs. Suddenly Tim called out, “there’s a baby!” My first response was to think he was joking around. Our lambs are born between November and February, with an occasional late being born in March or early April. This is July. Sure enough, amongst the herd, one of our Finn sheep-Gotland cross ewes had a very wet lamb on the ground beside her. Knowing that she may possibly have more, we lead her into the barn and put her in a stall with her lamb. There wasn’t much time to adore the new baby; Tim had to get to work. We drove down to the farmhouse and he headed out in his truck.

Our Century Old Log Barn

Our barn is a good walk back behind the house and I didn’t have time to walk back this morning as I had to get the lambs to the abattoir. Not wanting to stress the lambs in the back of the pickup any more than I had to, I left the truck at the house and went back to the barn with the ATV loaded with my milking paraphernalia for the goats, dog food and grain for the new mother. Of course, I forgot my flashlight. There is no electricity in this 150 year old barn. In the darkness, I could slightly make out the ewe and her new lamb. The ewe was lying on her side, straining. Not having time to return to the house for my light, I gently felt my way in the darkness. She pushed and then stood up. Oh, just the afterbirth I thought and then felt her back end just to be sure. Suddenly, she pushed again and a large black lamb slid into my arms. I lay the slippery baby down, wiped the mucus from its nose and let mom do her stuff.

I went on to milk the goats and complete my other chores before I made the drive into town with the lambs in the back of our pickup. While doing so I thought how peculiar life can be sometimes. Just when I thought my day was starting off with a ‘goodbye’, we unexpectedly find we are also welcomed with a beautiful ‘hello’. Life here on the farm is full of surprises!

Lambs, 11 Hours Old


Which fire-starting tool works best — or at all? Is birch bark the magical tinder that it's reputed to be?


Our Backyard Honey

Before I get into talking about all of the wonderful benefits of honey, I want to make sure I’m specific about the kind of honey I’m advocating. To experience any real benefit from it, make sure that first and foremost it’s raw honey. Most of what you buy in a grocery store will have been heated to remove any “impurities” and to keep it from crystallizing which is supposedly more attractive to consumers. Heating raw honey destroys enzymes and basically turns it into a simple sugar without many nutritional or medicinal perks.

Honey labeling is barely regulated by the FDA and there is essentially no testing that takes place to verify what is on the label. When buying honey, seek out local beekeepers and ask them about their beekeeping practices. Ask them if they’re honey is raw, and how they deal with issues like varroa mites and small hive beetles. Some beekeepers use strong chemicals to fight these pests and traces of those chemicals will remain in the hive. Also, ask them if they ever feed their bees and if so, if they feed high fructose corn syrup. Feeding bees is sometimes necessary but not anytime close to harvesting the honey and I would avoid any honey that is produced by bees that are fed corn syrup of any sort.

Last but definitely not least; honey should never be given to an infant under 12 months old as this could cause rare but very serious infant botulism.

Ulcers and Digestive Problems

Raw honey has widely been reported to potentially prevent, cure or alleviate symptoms of a wide variety of health problems affecting the mucous membranes of the body including stomach ulcers, mouth and throat ulcers that result from radiation treatment for cancers of the head and neck and (read on) sinuses and sore throats due to colds or allergies. Bastyr Center for Natural Health reported a study finding that people receiving radiation therapy for cancers of the head and neck were significantly less likely to suffer from ulcers when given 4 teaspoons of honey 15 minutes prior to treatment, 15 minutes after treatment and then again six hours later. These types of ulcers are the reason that many people quit their radiation treatment as it can make eating difficult or impossible.

Studies in New Zealand have shown that raw Manuka honey was effective in killing the bacterium Helicobacter pylori which is said to be the cause of most stomach ulcers. This is thought to be due to the antibacterial properties of the honey.  

Wound and Burn Dressing

The pH of raw honey (between 3.2 and 4.5) along with antibacterial, antiseptic and many other properties make it a superior dressing for wounds and burns. Honey is excellent as a wound dressing as it cleans pus and dead tissue from infections, suppresses inflammation and stimulates growth of new tissue. It also shortens healing time and minimizes scarring.

Manuka honey is a honey from New Zealand that comes from the Manuka flower of the Tea Tree and has recently enjoyed much praise as a cure for and even prevention of Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This honey by itself and also in combination with antibiotics has undeniably saved lives that would not have otherwise been saved. That’s pretty awesome.


People suffering from seasonal allergies may find relief in a daily dose of raw local honey. Because honey is made from the nectar of plants and trees likely causing your symptoms, some say that it acts in a way that is similar to an allergy shot; exposing you to miniscule amounts of pollen and propolis that over time encourage your body to build a tolerance to the very plants and trees that are causing your symptoms.

For this purpose, make sure the honey is local and also ask the beekeeper about their filtering process. You’ll benefit more from a honey that is strained but not super filtered. That way you can get all of the bits of pollen, propolis and wax that you’re after. When it comes to filtering, less is more!

Colds, Sore Throat and Blocked Sinuses

Just about everyone knows that honey soothes a sore throat but did you know that a study from Penn State Medical College in 2007 showed that honey is more effective in treating coughs and sore throats than the leading over the counter remedies containing dextromethorphan? Next time you’re under the weather try honey first and see how it treats you.


Hangovers are said to be caused by the production of ethanal in the body. Honey replenishes sodium, potassium and fructose which aids in recovery. Fructose also acts as a sobering agent by speeding the oxidation of alcohol in the liver. So next time you’ve had one too many, take a tablespoon of honey.

I’m not writing about anything new here. Throughout ancient history you will find that pretty much all cultures and religions documented the importance of honey in healing countless physical, mental and spiritual ailments. So what better way to start your day than with a spoonful of this divine nectar?

Lindsay Williamson is a North Carolina beekeeper who is passionate about all-natural, chemical free beekeeping. Her emphasis is on having healthy bees and she harvest delicious, raw, strained or natural comb honey only when the bees have a surplus. For information about purchasing honey email her at

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