Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Goats on the Go

A few years ago we decided we would "value-add" our farm a little more. For us, value-add means to upscale any product or project the farm is currently involved in.

We took a look at the farm to see where we were paying out but not taking in equally. That would be the goat herd. Our goat herd was a "work in progress". Our initial plan for the goats was to get the herd Animal-Welfare Approved and then try to get approved for a micro-dairy.

Well, as things often go, it was going to take time and money to get our milking parlor up to par. We were Animal-Welfare Approved (AWA) and audited yearly. During this time, our herd of dairy goats grew. We were also keeping the wethers. We were practicing rotational grazing for the health of our goats, as well as staying up with our AWA requirements.

Just When it Looks Like Things are Going Well

As I said, looking at the growth of the herd and the expense, and asked myself what else we could do to bring income to the farm. The answer hit me when I decided to apply for a grant through AWA: goat rentals! It was the perfect solution. Take the wethers out to provide the rotational grazing they needed and that would leave enough pasture for the dairy herd to be moved around more.

So, I worked up a plan and submitted it for the Animal Husbandry grant. I was so excited. I had done my research, and I knew this was doable and was promoting another way farmers could have access to additional pasture to implement rotational grazing.

Well, I waited and I waited — finally, I got an e-mail! I opened it up and..."we're sorry..."

That was all I needed to read. I couldn't believe it. I just knew I had this. Well, if they wouldn't help me, I would figure out a way to downsize the expense and Alan and I would put our plan in motion, Goats on the Go would become a reality!

Question and Answer Time

Well, we would have to decide which goats would be taken out. How would we haul them, and how would we make sure they stayed safe after reaching their destination? So many questions, but eventually we came up with answers.

goat herd

Advertising a Goat-Rental Service

Advertising was the next issue. Advertising had to be free starting out. When starting any new venture we try to stay small and low expense until we see where it takes us.

We advertised in, which lists rentals by state and is free. We utilized the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) free classified, Facebook, and our online store through

We were also doing workshops on goat owning, sort of like a Goats 101. So, we would let our students know and it was word-of-mouth advertising.

Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn about when things start to go baaah'd.

Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that had been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Find Susan on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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Make Money Raising Livestock

Did you know that, as a homesteader, you can make a great living in the stock market?

No, I am not talking about the New York Stock Exchange big board. I’m talking about the big-time live(stock) market. For most homesteaders this means cows, but it could mean bison, water buffalo, or large flocks of sheep. I will put pigs in there as well.

It goes without saying that you will need adequate pasture land to accommodate these voracious grazers, and that there are many benefits to raising them.

For example, if you purchase a young bull for $1,000 or so and five ready-to-breed heifers for the same price each, your $6,000 investment will likely produce five calves that will be fed for free (by their mothers and your pastures) each year for 12 to 15 years. You’ll also likely incur mineral expenses, but that’s nominal.

What will you do with these calves?

Perhaps you will sell them as stockers when they are weaned, or perhaps you will raise and market grass-fed beef.

If you were to raise the calves as grassfed beef, as I have done for many years, it is likely that each calf would become worth approximately $2,200 for you (net) in about 2 years. This assumes selling to consumers in urban markets. You can earn more or less profit depending on whether you sell individual retail cuts or market the beef as whole, halves or quarters.

Often the values are even higher than this and prices have been rising steadily over the past few years. That’s in your favor, but keep in mind that there is a ramp-up period of a couple of years before you realize any income, since it will take roughly 24 to 28 months to “finish” the cows. For that reason, some people view this model as an attractive homestead retirement strategy.

Once your "beeves" are ready for market beginning in Year 3, those five heifers (now cows) will be throwing off about $11,000 per year in gross profit ($2,200 per calf times five per year). If they do this for 12 years, then your initial investment of $8,500 for the bull and heifers will return a gross profit of $132,000.

Again, that's only with one bull and five cows. If you have the land, you can multiply the herd size to fit your resources. Try safely getting those returns in the financial stock market.

Safely Make Money Farming with Livestock

The nice thing about this financial model is that it’s quite safe. Even if you lack the skills or time to market the product as beef, you can always sell to private buyers or at sale barns. Unlike with pieces of paper, such as worthless stocks (remember Enron?), I’ve never heard of anyone having a total loss with livestock.

Staying with this scenario and assuming each cow needs one acre of grazing land, you will need approximately 16 acres of pasture. This is for, A) the initial bull and five cows (6), B) the five calves born the first year that will take two years to grow (5), and C) the five calves born the second year (5).

After the second year, the five grown calves will be sold or processed, clearing the way for the five new calves born the third year, keeping the pasture demand static at 16 acres.

Now, there are entire books on this topic, such as Grass-Fed Cattle: How to Produce and Market Natural Beef, and I encourage you to read them if this path interests you.

Of course, generating these returns requires that you purchase land for the animals. While the chart below shows the national average value of pastureland to be $1,200 per acre, good luck finding that in most areas.

Acreage Grazing Price Chart

In my neck of the woods, pastureland goes for $3,000 to $4,500 per acre, which is probably a better average to work with for most new homesteaders.

So, the 16 acres of land necessary for grazing will cost anywhere from $48,000 to $72,000 (not to mention paying modest annual taxes on the land), which takes a big “capital” bite out of the gross profit.

I emphasize the word “capital,” because the land-acquisition cost does not reduce your profit since, if you desired, you could sell the land at the end of the 12 years, likely get back at least what you paid for it and still have earned the $132,000. Plus, you would still have a dozen or so cows left over.

However, purchasing land ties up your capital for a long time, which is why you are entitled to the returns you can generate through certain farming enterprises. The returns go along with the risk and loss of capital.

Do You Have to Own Land to Raise Livestock?

No, you don’t, and some farmers follow Missouri farmer Greg Judy’s advice in his book No-Risk Ranching.

Today, Judy runs a grazing operation of over 1,400 acres of leased land over 11 farms. He and his wife went from near bankruptcy in 1999 to paying off a 200-acre farm within 3 years using his custom grazing model.

Using the above example of starting modestly with one bull and five heifers, you could consider leasing pasture land adjacent or local to you for perhaps $30 per acre, per year. Your annual rent would be $480 for 16 acres, and you would have no income from the grassfed beef operation to offset this for the first 2 years. However, after this you would generate $11,000 per year in income — far more than you would need to cover the expenses.

In this model, however, you would need to lease land that had good water (which will cost you more) or incur the cost of drilling a well. You would also have to fence it, as Greg describes in his book, but you would tie up far less capital. Perhaps you can even be debt free!

You may incur other minor expenses such as hay when grass is not growing, vet bills if you plan to use vets, and, of course, taxes on the land you own, but the income will drastically exceed the expenses as long as you market the product successfully.

Pastured Cattle Grazing In Field 

Other Market Farming Considerations

I cover marketing homestead products in Chapter 6 of my book, How to Make Money Homesteading. If you need some help/advice in marketing, either ask in the comment section below or join the free Farm Marketing Group on Facebook.

I caution you to avoid exotic animals unless economic times are very good or are likely to be. In poor economic times, people want and need basic foodstuffs and materials, and your attempt to market grass-fed zebra may prove more challenging than you expect. 

Stick what people want and know, unless you’re a highly-skilled marketer. Stick with beef.

You can do similar calculations to scale this up or down, or with other species such as pigs, bison, and so on.

The point is this: Putting the animals to work allows you to generate a stream of future income, improve your soil, and create wealth. The wealth is held not necessarily in fiat currency but in the value of your fertile soil and livestock.

Tim Young is the author of the Amazon bestseller, How to Make Money Homesteading, Start Prepping, and several other books on self-sufficient living. Tim and his wife learned to run and market a sustainable livestock farm, make cheese, preserve food and all the skills the term "self-sufficient" brings to mind. He shares this knowledge through his blog at and through his books.

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 revitalization of the “Back-to-Basics” movement has brought with it the old-world skills that the pioneers once used to survive, but with a modern-day twist. While no longer essential to survival, these skills are now being used by modern homesteaders to gain their freedom from dependence.


Skills such as preserving food, gardening, and raising animals were essential to the pioneers after they ventured westward in 1843. Fast forward hundreds of years and we now see another modern-day expansion; while not heading westward on the Oregon Trail but rather from cities to the country.


These skills once meant life and death for the pioneers, but today it is not as life-threatening as it once was. Rather, relearning traditional skills has become an asset to counter the rise of food prices and the addition of added chemicals, additives and preservatives to what we consume.


Food Preservation

The preserving of food has been around throughout history from the days of using the sun and wind to dehydrate food up to the invention of sealed tin cans by Peter Durand in 1810.


Most modern homesteaders are re-learning the old-world skills of preserving food using such methods as water bath or pressure canning, dehydration, and curing for the sole purpose of eliminating their need to buy commercial products — and the satisfaction of knowing where their food is coming from and exactly what was used in growing it.


Nowadays, many homesteaders can tell you about the metallic “pop” that is heard after successfully preserving food. The “pop” is like music in its own right.


Home Gardening

The number of gardeners has fluctuated over the years, the way we garden has. As technology grew throughout the years commercial farmers and the home gardeners began to use chemicals to resist drought and increase the yield of their crop production; however, the modern homesteader has become leery of utilizing those chemicals and have chosen to go back to the earlier methods of the pioneers.


Having never had access to these kinds of chemicals the pioneers had to learn how to use what the Earth could provide, such as manure, crop rotation and companion planting; a perfect example is that of the Native Americans using the 3 sisters planting method which is a form of growing three different plants together so that are beneficial to each other.


In reverting back, the modern homesteader has developed many different kinds of beneficial methods based off of pioneer mentality, such as the “Back to Eden” method which is a no-till gardening method.


Utilizing the old-world skills of gardening has begun to revitalize the homestead gardens into producing great results with less chemically infused food being consumed.


Raising Livestock

Pioneers had no choice but to raise their livestock on their own, barter or trade with their community for their meat. Sure, they had the opportunity for some wild game but the chances are that they had to rely more on their own animals than that of wild game to feed their families and to get a variety of meats.


Raising animals in my opinion is one of the harder old-world skills, simply because they are a living, breathing things with their own temperaments, attitudes and personalities; because of this, there is so many things that you have to learn on how to care for, feed, and treat that when you have multiple animals on a homestead the knowledge gets to be quite extensive.


More and more cities are now beginning to allow the raising of some small livestock such as chickens, to be raised within the city limits. These changes have become a great advantage to the modern homesteader wishing to raise, consume and even sell byproducts of or the animals themselves.


“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” — Maimonides


This wonderful quote by Maimonides (courtesy of Goodreads) rings all too true to the modern-day homesteader. Anyone can buy food from a grocery store and feed themselves for a day, but learn these old-world skills and you will feed yourself for a lifetime.


While we only touched on the surface of some of the old-world skills, these are some of the most common that have found their way from the days of the pioneers to modern homesteads across the country.


I would really love to hear your opinion on what old-world skills you have learned, so please take a moment and let us know by leaving us a comment.


Shane Floyd has been passionate about homesteading and sustainable living for more than 40 years. Now located in Oklahoma, he is using his experiences and passion to create his own sustainable homestead on 7 acres of land, using the same principles and ideals of his ancestors with a modern-day twist. Read about his adventures on the Floyd Family Homestead website, and connect with Shane on  Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and Youtube, Amazon.
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.



You can read the previous posts in this series here.

Financing a college education? Did I fail to mention the beauty of Advanced Placement (A.P.) high school classes before getting to college? A solid score on the national A.P. test will land a student free college credits that can be applied to a 2- or 4-year degree. My wife and I had some personal experience with this.

For my part, ever the slacker, I only took one A.P. course in high school (biology) but entered college with a half of a semester's worth of credit that only cost me (my parents) the $50 fee for taking the A.P. test. We both had high school classmates that used A.P. testing to knock out more than a year's worth of free credits before they were even admitted to a college.

Our next to oldest child, as a sophomore, scored well enough on her A.P. World History course to garner 6 credits and, as a senior, nailed an A.P. Literature test score good enough to garner 4 credits. Our boy, at age 15 and a sophomore, tackled A.P. biology (still waiting for those results).

(In our family, we have agreed to cover the kids'  testing fees, unless they fail to secure a score that grants credit; then they pay the $50.  Money is a great incentive for better studying.)

So, a key financial principal for us has been to have the kids start college with as much free credit under their belt as they can manage.

"Then what?," you ask. "That can only take you so far." Yes. Did you know that if your child, homeschooled or not, takes the GED exam, the scores could qualify the student for more free college credits?  Our second eldest gained an additional four credit-hours just through this route. For her, between the A.P. and GED tests, a full semester of college course credits will be covered at no cost! The things they do not tell you in life.

Also, way before we got to these points, where we could start executing these plans, the very month that each kid was issued their social security number, a month or so after birth, we began putting money into tax-free 529 plans.

By the time we quit our careers, each of the four children had enough funds in just those accounts to completely cover at least full two years of college here in Hawaii (more than had we stayed put in Virginia and they had gone to in-state schools). A little money here and there in tax-exempt Coverdell accounts and tax free educational bonds issued by the Treasury Department (from us and birthday gifts from relatives) will help pay for some of the remaining coursework.

The kids will cover some costs themselves, too. For example, our three oldest have taken jobs (no more than 10 hours per week) to help fatten up their savings accounts for expenses that lay ahead, to prevent them from having to go into debt before they enter the career workforce, and to gain some life skills experience. I'll note here that this requirement of the kids is not aimed at easing any financial burden on dear ole ma and paw — though it certainly helps.

Simply put, we want our kids to come out with a greater sense of responsibility than they would if we handed everything to them. Again, going back to our own experiences with alternate paths taken by student-peers of ours, I'll say that I graduated with kids who paid their entire way through 4 years of college by themselves through a combination of work and grants and scholarships or ROTC, and I can tell you that they emerged with a different mettle, a good measure of grit, compared to the rest of us soft bellies, and they did not waste time partying. That is not a bad thing, by most measures, and I am confident that our kids — as most — are up to the task.

And that about sums it up.

John and Esther Atwell and their four kids’ journey into sustainable living, organic food, and homesteading began while living in the San Francisco Bay in the 2008-2010 timeframe. Their current grand life experiment — detaching from a fast-paced, conventional, urban lifestyle to establish a sustainable, organic homestead, homeschool their kids, and become more involved in community and church — began in earnest in early 2014. The couple, graduates of Duke University and the University of Virginia, have homeschooled their four children — two of whom are now in college — and Esther previously ran a tutoring business focused on hard sciences and math up through calculus.  Find them online at Sojourn Chronicle and 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.


Building up a homestead is challenging under any circumstance, but when you work full-time and you have young children at home, “challenging” might just be the understatement of the year.

My husband and I purchased our homestead a short year ago, when our son was 5 and our daughter was 1. We both run nonprofits in our adopted state of Vermont, and though I get some time off in the summer, we do most of our homesteading chores after the kids go to bed. It is not unusual to do them by the light of our head lamps.

There are some days, however, when homesteading is a family affair and we get to share our love for this place with our kids.

In the year that we have owned the homestead, informed by the 5 years of suburban gardening with our son in tow that lead up to it, we have developed some tried-and-true philosophies when it comes to homesteading with kids.

5 Tips for Homesteading with Children

Reign in your romantic expectations for full-family homesteading. Kids are kids. We cannot expect our children to love every minute of working on a homestead, and it would be unreasonable to expect them to spend every minute doing so.

On most nights, we try to give our kids the attention they need after being away from us all day before attempting to accomplish chores. If we absolutely have to get something done, we will “divide and conquer,” making sure our kids have attention from one of us while the other mows or chops wood.

Choose exciting projects to involve the kids. While we don’t expect our kids to participate in every project on the homestead, we do try to find projects that will excite them and get them involved so that we can plant the seeds for future appreciation for our land.

We have learned that our 6-year-old loves to feel strong, so we involve him in projects that allow him to demonstrate his strength — like shoveling compost into his own wheelbarrow or moving logs. We comment frequently on how he is building his muscles and on how much he has accomplished — we’re certain our daughter will want to do the same when she is older since she tries to do everything big brother does and usually succeeds.

When your kids are helping, don’t aim for perfection. With all of our willpower, we resist the urge to tell the kids they are doing something wrong or should do it another way. We’re trying to let our kids develop their own love for the land, and lecturing them about proper watering techniques will probably build resentment instead.

Instead, we hand them the hose on a gentle setting and let them go wild, not bothering to worry about whether they will need to change their clothes or whether they are watering everything perfectly. We can always follow up to fill in the gaps.

If we’re worried they’ll cause harm, we restrict their watering to a certain area of the garden that is more resistant to their not-so-gentle touch.

Resist the temptation to spend money on “kids” equipment. You’ll find kids gardening tools and equipment in all sorts of places, from miniature shovels and rakes to miniature versions of farm equipment — there’s a cartooned version of almost everything. But let’s face it, most of it doesn’t work very well or breaks if a child tries to do real work with it.

Likewise, half of the pleasure that kids get in helping their parents is from using the same equipment that the adults are using (within certain safety guidelines, of course). Children will learn more and be more confident if we trust them to use adult tools to accomplish adult chores in reasonable, kids-sized chunks.

For example, buy a small but sturdy real-life wheelbarrow instead of the flimsy plastic ones that can’t actually carry dirt, and invite your child to move sawdust or light topsoil with it. They’ll feel more empowered and important, and you’ll get much more bang for your buck.

Find creative ways to engage kids while you are working. If we absolutely must get work done while our kids are around, we try to create a play space or activity that will keep them engaged while we are working.

Take a page from the research on outdoor play and develop a natural outdoor play space near your garden — natural “equipment” like logs, rocks, pieces of wood, or string can be made into magical creations by creative kids.

For more ideas, visit websites and social media spaces dedicated to outdoor play for kids. Some of my favorites include Wilder Child and Timbernook. Food can also be a great source of entertainment. We often pack a picnic lunch with our kids to take down to a blanket in a shady spot of the garden.

It may take some time and practice for your kids to develop the free play skills necessary to keep busy while you are working, so be grateful for even a few minutes as you start using this strategy.

One of the primary reasons we purchased our homestead was to create a place that would be better for our kids — a place where we could provide for them and also help them to develop a sense of connection to the play where they are growing up.

We don’t want them to view the homestead as something that takes their parents’ time and attention away from them instead. These strategies are helping us to find that balance, all while realizing that we have the rest of our lives to build our homestead but only a few precious years when our children are young.

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page.

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.


If you are trying to stay away from chemical fertilizers, stack the functions of the plants and animals on your property and save money then these simple fertilizer teas are just for you. There are many different kinds of fertilizer “teas” and we will be covering three of them in this blog. We will talk about comfrey, rabbit manure, and vermicompost tea! All of these teas work very well. IF you want to do a deep dive into fertilizer teas read some of Dr Elaine Ingham’s work.

A couple of general considerations on making fertilizer teas: first, make sure you either have your own source or get them from a trusted source where you know how they were grown/raised. For example, if minimizing chemical exposure is important to you then understanding the source is extremely important.

Second, all liquid fertilizer teas are quick acting. If you are looking for a prolonged and steady source of nutrient release then other methods will work better in most cases. One of the great benefits of liquid fertilizer teas is the application can be made at just the right time. If your plants are in dire straits this is also a good time to give a fertilizer tea boost.

Third, all three of these fertilizer teas can be used as a foliar feeding or a regular water feeding for the roots.

Finally, all of these methods can be sped up with aeration through stirring or using something like an aquarium aerator.

1. Comfrey tea (for plants) is simple to make and great as a fertilizer tea. For a very simple start just fill up a container, like a 5 gallon bucket, about 2/3 full with comfrey leaves and add water. Let sit for around three weeks and you are ready to go.

Dilute the concentrate with about a 1:10 ratio of comfrey tea to water and you have a great fertilizer to use on your plants. Comfrey not only provides a good NPK boost, it is also packed with micronutrients.

2. Rabbit manure tea is simple to make and highly beneficial for plants. You can go simple or complex. Start simple. Use a ration of 1 part rabbit manure to 5 parts water, let sit for seven days and it’s ready to use. When ready to use, dilute by using one cup of manure tea to one gallon of water.

Rabbit manure tea is higher in nitrogen then the other teas listed here but not nearly as high as chemical fertilizers so if you need a bit more of a nitrogen boost look to use rabbit manure tea.

3. Vermicompost tea (worm castings) is another easy to make fertilizer for plants. Take a couple handfuls of worm castings (poop) and add water. If you stick to the same 1/5 ratio as rabbit manure you will do just fine. Let sit for 1-3 days and it’s ready to use on plants.

Again, you can speed up and perhaps, increase the beneficial microorganisms by aerating and/or feeding the solution with a sugary substance like molasses.

All three of these fertilizer teas are great for providing nutrients and micronutrients to your plants, helping to keep you off the chemical treadmill and to save you money. If you are more interested in the science of soil check Dr Ingham’s online course.

Sean and Monica Mitzel homestead with their family on 40 acres and are using permaculture techniques and methods for the property. The homestead is a demonstration and education site where they teach workshops and raise dairy goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, and ducks. The Mitzels have planted food forests, guilds and enjoy wildcrafting and propagating plants. Sean and Monica can often be found podcasting or speaking and teaching at different events. Listen to the podcast and to learn more about the Mitzels, visit The Prepared Homestead. Read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.       

All photo credits: Linde Mitzel, P3 Photography

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Having clean laundry was my greatest off-grid obstacle until I discovered two secrets: rainwater and a hand-crank wringer.

1919 woman washing with baby

During long-term power outages before we transitioned off-grid, I washed clothes in a canning kettle.  It was not terribly difficult, but I was never thrilled with the results. I haven’t used an electric or gas-powered dryer for decades, so line-drying laundry wasn’t the issue. In fact, I think hanging clothes out to dry is therapeutic (all that fresh air and exercise) and enjoyable (no dryer racket or static cling).

The problem was getting the clothes clean. I would rub and scrub and twist the water out until I could twist no more. Small articles weren’t too grueling, but sheets, jeans and large towels held so much water that the clothesline sagged nearly to the ground. The fabric took eternities to dry and was stained by excess water marinating along the bottom edges for hours. I tried all sorts of soaps, but still had dingy laundry.

For a while, I thought, "Well, that’s just the way it is." But then I started some serious washerwoman research. As always to relearn old-time skills, I grabbed my books from the mid-1800s and early 1900s. Incidentally, sites such as have made such investigation just a click away. At the end of this article are links to a few antique homemaking books in the public domain that can be downloaded and saved for future reference.

Early Laundry Routine

Because so many styles of mechanized washing machines have been designed and patented through the years, I thought washing clothes by hand must be absolute drudgery or inventors wouldn't have bothered.  Many lengthy books, such as The Laundry Manual; or Washing Made Easy by a Professed Launderer, 1861, were devoted entirely to washing clothes. Days of the week revolved around a laundry schedule:

“The family linen must be looked over the day before washing, and people in Scotland usually prefer Tuesday to be that very important day – first, because it is best to have the washing early in the week, so that it is all finished and put away before Saturday. Second, because it is better to have Monday to look over and mend clothes, soak, remove stains, etc., and of course that cannot be done if we wash on Monday, as Saturday is too far away, and the clothes would lie too long if soaked on Saturday; and Sunday, of course, is out of the question.

“If possible, 1 or 2 hours ought to be added to the day at the beginning of the washing day, to prevent the wheels of the household machinery getting out of the gear before the day is over, and prevent the breadwinners from feeling unnecessary discomfort.

First, light the boiler fire and fill the boiler. Then, make and take a cup of tea, which is the best and necessary refreshment before starting hard work at an early hour.” Household Cookery and Laundry Work by Mrs. Black, 1882

Generally, 150 or so years ago, laundry was mended and sorted on Monday, washed Tuesday and pressed, mangled and starched Thursday and Friday. Unsurprisingly, doing laundry was an enormous task — considering a woman’s dress could contain 12 yards of cloth, water was heated manually in tubs, and many clothing articles had detachable frills to be cleaned separately.

Multitude of Washing-Machine Inventions

I applaud all those many inventors who strived to make the task easier. The vast array of washing machines I encountered reveals inventors’ determination and abstract thinking. Early machines shook or pounded clothes clean, often smashing buttons and ripping expensive fabric in the process.

1857 washing machine

The American Floating Ball Washing-Machine, patented by Indiana farmer Mr. Moore in 1857, employed 200 to 300 floating elm wood balls the size of Seville oranges (about 3”) to gently rub clothes as a laundress manipulated the machine’s long handle. It was said to very closely imitate human hands in "pounding, scrubbing and squeezing." Whew. I bet children enjoyed playing with that gadget.

While the multitude of washing machines evolved into the spinning drum models common today, the wringer went to the wayside – until us modern homesteaders demanded its revival. And, you know what? The wringer has changed little in more than 150 years. It is still simple, effective and easy to use.

Wringers Back in Style

1866 clothes wringer

In the mid-1800s, a wringer was relatively expensive because of one feature – vulcanized rubber on the rollers. Care had to be taken to prevent damaging the rolls, which were costly to replace. During World War 2, the U.S. government even advised housewives to take especially good care of their wringer washers. After the war, rubber eventually became affordable.

By the time I was a child in the 1960s, wringer washers were practically extinct although my mother used one until I graduated from high school. I shudder remembering the horror as I carelessly pinched my fingers in the electric-powered wringer, but admit the machine was exciting for a youngster to use.

When I decided I wanted one for our off-grid evolution, I thought my husband could retrofit one of those 1950s machines. They still occasionally turn up at auctions, but go for inexplicably high prices. I am not sure if the novelty drives bids, but recently we watched as a line of the old machines, some not operational, sold for more than $200 each. As it turns out, a modification would be impractical and costly. Besides, I only wanted the wringer and not the tub.

I found the perfect solution online. After setting up the three-compartment restaurant sink we nabbed at a consignment auction, we ordered an American-made stainless steel hand-crank wringer from in Missouri. I had no idea such devices were still manufactured, especially in the United States. The wringer is very similar to those from the Civil War era – simple, effective and easy to use – except made of longer-lasting, better materials.

Laundry Setup with a View

Modern clothes wringerThe restaurant sink may seem a bit over-the-top for a tiny off-grid home, but it is my entire kitchen/laundry/mop/garden wash station. The wringer easily clamps from one basin to the next and the drip tray can be flipped to divert the water from one sink or another, an improvement during the past hundred years. Wringing laundry with this simple tool eliminates labor spent twisting clothes and it actually gets the water out, very important for bright, clean laundry. Without all that hand-wrenching, too, garments aren't distorted out of shape.

In an upcoming article, I will explain why rainwater is best for laundry and how to quickly test your water yourself for hardness. Meanwhile, for more old-fashioned household laundry hints, check out these online books:

Reference Books Free to Download

1. Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Mrs. Isabella Beeton, 1861

2. Household Work; or the Duties of Female Servants, 1850

3. The Sunlight Year Book, 1898

4. Household Cookery and Laundry Work"by Mrs. Black, 1882

5. The British Housekeepers Book, by John Henry Walsh, assisted by a committee of ladies, 1857

6. Hand-Book for the Kitchen and Housekeepers’ Guide by Flora Neely, 1879

7. The Ohio Farmers Home Guide Book, 1888

8. The Laundry Manual; or Washing Made Easy, 1863 (in my opinion, the best of these guides listed here)

For more photos and fun facts, see our blog, Off-Grid Laundry Made Easy.” Photos by Linda Holliday, U.S. National Archives and

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

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