Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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8/31/2016

Things have been very busy for us on our off­-grid homestead in Idaho these past few weeks, and one of the main tasks we have been focusing on has been cutting and stockpiling firewood for the winter. Our first winter on our homestead we just squeaked by with three cords of wood, so we knew we'd need to get a lot more for this coming season!

At first thought, gathering and cutting your own firewood sounds pretty simple. You cut a fallen tree into logs and load 'em up, right? We wish! In actuality, the process for us was much more complicated.

Interested in the steps necessary for gathering your own firewood? Read on for some helpful tips from our own experience!

cutting your own firewood

First Thing's First: Firewood Cutting Equipment

There are a lot of tools that make gathering firewood a lot easier. Below is a list of some of our best picks for this kind of job. This list is not all-inclusive, there are likely other things you may need depending on the situation but it’s a good place to start.

Pickup truck: Preferably one you don't mind throwing stuff in and beating up a bit.

Chainsaws: We always take two with us in different sizes so that we have a backup in case one acts up.

Tow chain: Useful for dragging trees that are already relatively close to the road.

Felling Wedges: Used for when you have to drop a standing tree in a certain spot.

Snatch block: Used for pulling logs longer distances than a chain can reach.

Axe: Can be used to get your chainsaw unstuck or to split round logs that are too big to carry.

Safety Gear: Bring your helmets, ear and eye protection, and thick gloves. Working with heavy logs can be a dangerous business.

firewood cutting tools

Finding Places to Cut Wood

The best option for us on where to cut firewood was to turn to the public land, or a national  forest. We needed permits to do this that came to $5 per cord which was more than reasonable for us. After buying a permit for eight cords of wood (as many as a household our size is allowed) we were ready to find some trees!

national forest road

Deciding on Trees

The best firewood comes from standing dead trees. Look for trees without any green leaves or needles to ensure it's actually dead, not just dying. For us to comply with regulations (they may vary by state), we have to look for trees that are no farther than 100 feet from the road and are at least 150 feet from a water source.

Take care to learn the species of trees that are allowed for harvesting in your area. Where we live, birch and cedar are off limits, but dead fir, pine and larch are all fair game. Windfall trees are also legal to harvest so long as they come from the permitted tree types.

Make sure you really know what type of tree you are harvesting because in our experience forest service personnel will come, ask to see your permit, and check to make sure you are complying with regulations.

Fighting Off the Competition

In our experience, there has been a surprising amount of competition for firewood from the forests in our area. Part of the reason for this is because the Forest Service has closed some of the roads through the forest, meaning that all woodcutters are forced to stick to the main highways.

This puts a lot of people in competition for wood, meaning that you have to be quick to get any good trees. Because any trees in the woods are fair game, some of our friends have felled trees and gone back to get them the next day, only to find that someone else has beaten them to it. This can be frustrating, but it's a reality when lots of people go after a relatively scarce resource.

gathing and cutting firewood in the forest

The Value of Gathering Our Own Firewood

After seeing all the effort we go through, some people ask us if getting our own firewood has been worth the effort. Even though it was a lot of work, our answer so far is a resounding yes.

In just a few weeks time, we've gathered enough wood to save us the equivalent of $900 in fuel costs and we've gotten a free workout as well. Both of us lost weight while harvesting our wood, and we didn't even have to pay to go to a gym.

firewood larch

Beyond that, we have been making memories together, enjoying the time that we get to spend outside and working together for the good of our home. In the sub freezing temperatures of midwinter, we'll look back at the sweltering 90 degree days we spent gathering wood and smile.

It's good to know our work now will help keep us warm in a few months. I’m sure cutting your own firewood is not the best solution for everyone, but for us right now, we’re young and happy to put in a little sweat to save some serious money, not to mention be self-sufficient when it comes to heating our home.

We hope this video and article serves as some sort of inspiration to someone that is looking to take the wood heat plunge! Gathering firewood is an experience like no other!

Alyssa Craft moved to Idaho after purchasing 5 acres of land where she will build an off grid homestead from scratch with as little money as possible. She is blogging about the journey from start to finish in hopes of inspiring others that wish to take a similar path. Follow her many DIY projects, getting started with solar power, building a wood-fired hot tub and milling lumber with an Alaskan chainsaw mill. Follow Alyssa on her blog Pure Living for Life, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. View Alyssa’s other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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8/30/2016

Sarah Ratliff And Husband Paul

I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was summer 2007. My husband and I were both working for Amgen (the world’s largest biotech) in Thousand Oaks, California — about an hour north of Los Angeles. He was a systems administrator in the IT department, and I was working in the training end of manufacturing as the assistant to the department head.

We had a beautiful house in a small, almost-rural town 45 minutes from work. We were enjoying the best salaries we’d ever made in our lives, which were complemented by bonuses and stock options. We had two cars, two motorcycles and two cats.

We religiously took two vacations annually — Europe, road trips to neighboring states and frequent trips back east to visit family and friends (Paul is from Washington, D.C., and I’m from New York City).

We had no children (by choice) and by all accounts were living the life. Some might call it the American dream. And apart from working between 50 and 70 hours a week, we were.

The ‘American Dream’s’ Stress Has Costs for Health

I woke up one Monday morning with an aura, which told me a migraine was minutes away — but this wasn’t new, I had been there many times before.

I ran through the list of possible triggers: How much water had I drunk the day before? How much caffeine had I consumed the day before? Had there been more stress than usual the day before?

No, actually for a change I was certain none of my usual triggers could be the culprit. I got out of bed slowly, grabbed the half empty glass of water from the nightstand and headed for the bathroom. I reached inside the medicine cabinet for two acetaminophen tablets.

First one and then the other, and I hoped within a few minutes the aura would disappear and I could get ready to go to work.

I knew from experience the worst thing I could do was to dwell on the migraine or worse, start running through my workday ahead of me. But there I was, sitting on the bathroom floor trying to remember all the unfinished things from the previous day’s To-Do list as well as the new things I would add once I got to work — assuming this migraine let up and I could drive.

When 45 minutes passed and the migraine hadn’t dissipated, I got concerned. Usually, if I caught the migraine at the aura stage, I could get rid of it quickly. Sharp pain on the right side of my head wasn’t much of an issue — the fact that I had no peripheral vision in my right eye meant I couldn’t leave the house until I could get it under control.

I crawled along the carpet to the nightstand and looked at the time. It was seven o’clock, and I had a staff meeting at 8:30. Even if I could jump in the shower at that moment, I’d still be late.

While I was still on my knees, I reached for the phone and called the other assistant in my department. She picked up on the second ring. I skipped my usual pleasantries: “I won’t be able to make it for our 8:30 meeting. I have a nasty migraine. Could you please…,” and with that I proceeded with a long list of requests to ensure she could get the meeting underway and then get my boss prepared to attend her meetings, with a promise I would try to make it in by no later than noon.

I hung up and held the phone as I tried to stand, using the bed to help hoist myself up. My legs could make it and my arms had plenty of strength, but my head didn’t want to do what it needed to do in order to stand upright. I fell backward and hit the floor with a thud.

I narrowly missed smacking my head on one of the tall wooden posts. The room was spinning a million miles an hour. “This is no ordinary migraine!” I said out loud to nobody.

The phone was now under the bed. Maybe I’d kicked it as I was falling. Using my elbows, I dragged myself across the carpet to feel around under the bed for the phone. The next call was to my doctor. I am not generally a drama queen, but I was scared. I knew something wasn’t right.

I explained my symptoms to the nurse. “You should come in right away,” she said. I’ll cancel her 9:00 AM, and you take that slot.”

Geez, how often does a doctor do that? I called my husband, who normally left the house by 5:30 so he could arrive at 6:30 and leave by 2:30 in the afternoon. I may have been able to drive slowly to the doctor’s office five blocks away with a migraine, but vertigo was making it difficult to stand and stay upright. I couldn’t trust myself behind the wheel. Paul came home and took me.

Californian Suburban House 

‘Keep This Up and You Won’t See Your 45th Birthday’

“I am going to shoot you straight,” said my primary care doctor. “This is your third bout with vertigo. You have migraines constantly. You’ve had an EKG, an endoscopy, a colonoscopy and CT scan to rule out cardiovascular disease, a tumor or other serious abnormalities in your brain and colon cancer. Combined with the heart palpitations, idiopathic IBS and intermittent numbness and tingling in your extremities, you have classic stress symptoms you’re ignoring. If you keep up this lifestyle, you won’t see your 45th birthday.”

I had just turned 41 and wasn’t ready to die — certainly not for a job. I looked at Paul and back at my doctor. “Okay, we’ll make changes.”

When Paul and I returned home, we had a very long talk. By the end of it, we’d made the radical decision to quit our jobs and buy an organic farm in Puerto Rico. Our idea was to get my health on track, reduce our stress and give something back to Mother Earth by leaving it in better condition than we’d found it.

Regaining Health and Wellbeing in Puerto Rico

Our plan was to get some goats for dairy, chicken and ducks for eggs, grow bamboo (for construction and myriad other uses) and fruit trees from around the tropical world. Our hope was that within ten years or less we could be completely self-sustainable.

One by one we told our friends and family of our plan. All thought we’d lost our minds. And then the questions came — you know, the ones designed to talk sense into us:

“Are you really going to give up your salaries, bonuses, stock options and beautiful house in the suburbs to buy a farm?”

“What do you know about Puerto Rico? I hear there’s a lot of crime there.”

“What do you know about farming?”

“Do you even speak Spanish!”

“Where is Puerto Rico anyway?”

“You’re going to raise goats? What do they even eat?”

Certainly any person with a modicum of intelligence and sanity would have seen the problems with our idea that was conceived out of desperation. Of course, all of them were right: By leaving our all-consuming, consuming all lifestyle, with every single one of its known entities, to buy a farm on an island we’d visited twice for a total of a month and where we knew just a handful of people was absolutely crazy!

But for the first time in our lives we felt not only sane but in complete control.

What we knew is that we’d had a great time in Puerto Rico and that we liked the people we’d met. For our second 2-week vacation, we had stayed in a farmhouse on 8 acres in the interior of the island (about 2 hours from San Juan) and by day two felt like we’d been traveling the first 40+ years of our life and had finally come home.

The rest of the details, we decided, we could figure out as they would come up. After all, there’s no shortage of information on the Internet or in books, and surely we’d meet other organic farmers in our town.

Wouldn’t we?

Sarah Ratliff With Homestead Goat 

Sarah Ratliff and her husband, Paul, abruptly quit their jobs after 20 years into serving a lifetime sentence in corporate America, moved to the interior of Puerto Rico, and bought an 18-acre farm. The goal with their farm, which they named Mayani Farms after one of their two “starter” goats, is to be self-sustaining (versus selling anything). Sarah is a freelance writer who recently published the book Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide. Follow Sarah on Facebook and Twitter, and on her website, SarahRatliff.com.
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.


8/29/2016

The Off-Grid and Free series recounts Ron and Johanna Melchiore’s experience with ultra-remote living in the Canadian wilderness. Click here for all posts in this series.

'Tis the season for harvesting. Specifically, for me at least, the abundant blueberries and cranberries that are in quantity and free for the taking. When we first moved to the wilderness 16 years ago, both berries could be found in open areas but any open areas were few and far between.

In 1999, when we were first camping out and exploring this area we cut our food a little too close and what blueberries we could find helped sustain us. Johanna remembers flying out of here after our initial stay with nothing but salt and pepper left for food.  

Due to the fires in the area and the openings we’ve created around the house, blueberries and cranberries are literally everywhere. They are one of the first plant species to repopulate the ground after a burn. And for some reason, although the ground did not burn around the house, our “lawn” on two sides of our home, is a carpet of cranberries.

We each have our summer tasks and responsibilities and mine is to go out and harvest these berries. With berry rake in hand and occasional shouts of “hey bear”, I’ll head out into the burn to gather a half a bucket of blueberries in short order. Best to give any bear in the area a heads up that I’m coming in, lest I scare it and end up bear 'rasslin'.

Filled Blueberry Rake

An excerpt from my book Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness explains my procedure: 

A blueberry rake is a handy device that makes it much easier and faster to pick berries in quantity, as opposed to picking berries one at a time by hand. The rake has long tines that can get right in and snag clusters of fruit at once. The berries collect in a part of the rake that resembles a box. When the rake box is full, I empty the berries into my bucket and repeat the process. In good blueberry ground, I can pick five gallons in an hour.

Then we go through a sorting process to get rid of leaves and debris. First, we use a fan to winnow out lighter material. With the fan set on an outside table, we pour the berries in front of the fan, from one bucket to another. As the berries free-fall between buckets, the lighter leaves and debris are blown to the side by the action of the fan. 

Next, we pour all the fruit through a wire mesh to sort out most of the immature green berries. The larger mature fruit stays on top of the screen, while the green berries fall through and are discarded. Finally we hand-pick through the remainder, selecting the good berries to eat fresh or freeze. The whole sorting process will take an afternoon of work. Cleaning five gallons of blueberries is a tedious activity, but one that gives us jars of jam and juice, many bags of frozen berries for pancakes and muffins, and bowls of fresh fruit.

   Winnowing Blueberries

The procedure is the same for the cranberries as it is for the blueberries. With the proper tools and techniques, and a few afternoons of labor, we get our year’s worth of frozen fruits and canned juices.

Come winter, when the cold winds blow, temperatures drop and the snow deepens, it is innately satisfying to enjoy a breakfast of blueberry waffles or muffins. Or a dinner served with cranberry sauce. The topper is a nutrient rich glass of cold blueberry or cranberry juice to wash the meal down.

It’s at that time, we are able to reflect back on the previous summer’s harvesting efforts and realize that with a little toil, we have taken a big step towards being self-reliant for our food needs.

Ron Melchiore and his wife Johanna currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published by Moon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and on Facebook
and Pinterest. Read all of his 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.



8/29/2016

 

Setting a live trap for groundhog, with metal stake to hold the trap firm and bait wedged behind to lure animal deep inside. 

Mammalian garden pests can do serious damage to your crops in a short period of time. Whether it’s rabbits reducing your lettuce, raccoons rampaging in the sweet corn, or groundhogs gorging on greenery, a furry invader with a taste for produce must be stopped. Preventative measures, such as fences or guard animals, should be the first line of defense.

My wife and I always prefer to create a situation that keeps an animal from being a problem — this is generally less stressful for both us and the wildlife. However, preventative measures sometimes fail, and once a critter gets a taste of fresh produce, it becomes much harder to deter. Sooner or later, most gardeners in our wildlife-rich world will decide that it is time to trap an invader and remove it from temptation.

Humane live traps, such as those made by Havahart, are a practical answer to this situation, but outwitting the animal can also be frustrating. Here are a few tips from our experience battling mammalian marauders.

Locate the Trap Along Known Routes

Live traps will be more effective if the intended animal is sure to encounter them. Look for established paths or areas where you know the critter has been moving. For example, seek out a hole in your fence that they’ve pushed through, an entrance to a burrow, or a well-worn path to and from the garden.

Ideally, set up the trap to naturally funnel the animal into it by orienting the door against a hole or burrow, or setting up barriers to guide the animal in.

Mask the Appearance and Aroma of the Trap

Some animals are wary of an unfamiliar metal cage, so disguising the trap can help it blend in with the surroundings and deter the animal from clambering all over it and pawing for the bait from the outside. We sometimes use grass clippings or straw for this purpose. However, do not cover the trap with artificial items such as plastic bags — we did so only once and returned to find the plastic shredded into hundreds of pieces by the angry raccoon below.

For tough-to-trap critters such as crafty groundhogs, you might also consider the scents associated with the trap, which may include human smell or musk from a previously trapped animal. We wash the trap well in such a situation, and we will often rub the bait — such as a piece of overripe melon--over the outside of the trap to mask other scents.

Ensure the Trap Stays Upright

A trap just sitting on the ground can fail in multiple ways. If an animal intrigued by bait climbs onto it, or tries to reach inside, the trap can tip over and trigger the door, ending its usefulness and frightening (or possibly educating) the target. Even if the trap works, a trapped animal attempting to escape can tip over a loose cage.

The doors on many live traps only stay closed when the trap is upright, so a cage tipped on its side can release a trapped animal that may well avoid such traps in the future. We pass a metal or fiberglass rod through the cage mesh at the far end from the door and drive it into the ground as far as practical, preferably at least 6 inches.

Alternatively, it could work to lash a trap to a post or tree, or pile rocks or concrete blocks against it. Just be certain that any objects against the trap don’t interfere with the door release mechanism.

Select the Right Bait for the Target Animal

The ideal bait for a live trap is cheap or abundant, easy to deploy, relatively stable, and highly attractive to the particular target. Lettuce, for example, is not ideal bait for rabbits because it will probably wilt before the animal gets a chance to be tempted by it. The bait should also be special: something that animal does not otherwise have access to.

For example, we won’t use the crop being raided to bait the trap, since the target animal is unlikely to be enticed into a metal box to eat something it knows how to pick right off of the plant. Peanut butter is a good all-around bait that will catch many critters, particularly raccoons, opossums, and even the occasional skunk (oops!).

For rabbits, we have had success with sweet potatoes, either plain roots or sprouted with leaves. We’ve tried overripe musk melons for groundhogs based on other advice, though success has been limited. Memory says that we once trapped a long-elusive groundhog with peanut butter when we were going after a raccoon, but we attribute that to good trap placement and a little luck.

Place the Bait with Care

Standard instructions say to place the bait just beyond the trigger plate, but bait placed too near the trigger, or too loosely, can make it easy for a crafty critter to grab it and retreat without setting off the trap. If baiting with peanut butter, we’ll smear some directly onto the trigger, encouraging the animal to lick and jiggle it. The rod we use to hold the trap down also comes in handy for baiting.

A little peanut butter smeared high on the rod way at the back of the trap can encourage the animal to come deep into the trap where it is almost certain to put its weight on the trigger. Non-smearable items, such as melon, can be wedged behind the metal rod, once again forcing the animal to delve deep into the trap.

We’ll sometimes put a bit of bait in front of the trap, giving the critter a free trial and enticing it to enter the shop for more.

Use a Remote Camera to Monitor the Pest and the Trap

Over the past few years, we’ve monitored mammalian activity with “trail cams” of the kind used by hunters to scout game. These simple devices pair a basic digital camera with motion detectors, scanning their field of view and snapping photos of anything that moves. Many include infrared night-time capability as well. If you have a pest problem, consider using a trail cam to monitor the situation before setting a trap, to learn what you’re dealing with, and when and where it’s moving. This information will help you set a trap more effectively.

Once the trap is set, it may be worth leaving a trail cam to monitor the trap. This way, even if you don’t catch anything, you’ll know whether (and when) anything nosed about, and can improve subsequent efforts. If you do catch something, you’ll learn when it happened, behavioral information you can store away for future efforts.

 

An overnight remote trail-cam image showing a fox investigating a trap which has already caught a raccoon.

Check the Trap at Least Daily and Rebait as Needed

It’s important to check any set trap at least once a day. Even a “humane” live trap is a very stressful experience for the animal caught in it, and the trapped animal should be dealt with as soon as possible. Once you’ve lived-trapped your intended target, your next step is legally constrained by the wildlife code or other relevant laws in your state. It’s worth researching and considering your options, both legal and ethical, before deciding how to proceed.

If the trap was unsuccessful, bait may need to be refreshed. Peanut butter can be eaten by ants; melons that started as too overripe for us can soon become too overripe even for a groundhog. Also consider changing the location or the bait.

Finally, it is worth considering whether something could be done differently to prevent an animal from becoming a problem in the first place. Could electric fences around specific tasty crops keep out the problem critter? Would other deterrents have done the trick? Trapping problem animals is one of our least favorite activities, so it’s worth putting some thought and effort into ways to minimize this task, always striving to keep trapping as a means of last resort.

Eric Reuter and his wife, Joanna, founded their homestead farm in 2006, within a narrow Ozark-style valley with diverse landscapes and ecosystems. Chert Hollow Farm seeks to integrate food and farming into the ecosystem, at various times managing vegetable & grain crops, perennial fruits, dairy/meat goats, poultry, timber resources, and natural habitats. Read all of Eric'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.



8/29/2016

 

The locavore movement is pretty popular and generally boils down to eating food that is produced within 100 miles from where one lives. That’s great! There are many benefits to eating locally: the food is almost assuredly to be more nutritionally dense, contain less preservatives and will certainly be fresher. All wonderful reasons to become a locavore. The ideology of the locavore movement tends to focus on environmentalism: carbon footprint reduction, health and saving the planet. 

Here are The Prepared Homestead‘s top 5 reasons to become a locavore. By the way, you don’t need to join groups or pay membership fees to become a locavore, you can just do it. Now. Today. You can also call it whatever you like. Also, we do not advocate legislating any kind of localism. We agree with Joel Salatin on this. 

“We don’t need a law against McDonald’s or a law against slaughterhouse abuse – we ask for too much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to opt out en masse.” — Joel Salatin

Top 5 Reasons to Eat Local Food

1. Sourcing food locally builds and supports local economies. In fact, being a locavore creates opportunity for new markets. When you are a strict locavore you are supporting the market gardener who lives close by, the homesteader who sells eggs on the side and your neighbor who wants to trade your bookkeeping work for 1/2 a hog. If everyone reduced their shopping at Wally World by even %50 local jobs would be created from local demand. This is a huge reason to be a locavore. The more and longer money stays local the more benefit to that area. 

2. Buying food locally builds community. It’s easy to see that building local economies and sourcing locally means you have to get to know the people that provide your food. To meet all your needs locally you will likely have to use non conventional means to get the food. You might have to go the farmers market on Saturdays, meet the egg guy on Thursdays at noon in some random parking lot or go to your local farmer. Heck, maybe the farm comes to you.

In many cases, this leads to relational development which leads to stronger communities. It doesn’t mean we need to throw out our online communities or other networks it just provides the impetus for local community. In fact consider joining our online community as a supplement to the local. 

 

3. Locavoring builds resilience to shocks in the system. The modern agricultural system is steeped in Just in Time inventory and is underplayed with the assumption of cheap energy. For whatever reason, if there was a shock to the system, the local economy is more resilient just by sheer location. If the price of energy were to spike, let alone the trucks and ships stop, it would impact the local economy less. As preparedness minded people, this reason alone should be enough to convince us to become a locavore. 

4. Eating locally is healthier. The locavore movement is exactly right. The modern system is extremely efficient (as long as we have cheap energy) at producing volume, looks and shipability. Nutrient density? Not so much.

Necessarily, when products are shipped around the world they have to be harvested early and in many cases have preservatives applied. Local markets can choose cultivars based on taste, nutrient uptake and density. Plus, nothing needs to be picked early or preserved for 1,000s of miles of travel.

It is better to buy locally, even without organic certification than to buy organic from out of the area. No question. It’s the same thing with animals, small, local producers tend to be transparent. You can know how those animals were raised. 

 

5. Being a locavore forces people to be creative and develop skills. Sourcing all of your food needs can be challenging and it will require creativity. Many local markets are incomplete or not well marketed. After all, it’s hard to compete with the Wally World’s. However, it can be done. Ask around, talk to the gardening clubs, 4-H people, local university extension office, homestead groups and whoever else you can think of.

Sometimes it’s as simple as finding someone who is growing their own food and working a deal to have them grow extra for your family. It’s not just farmers, It’s homesteaders, urban gardeners and your neighbors. 

Can’t find that thing you really like? Lemons? Quail? Then grow it or raise it yourself. As an example, lemon trees can be grown in cold climates. During the warm months they are kept outside. In the fall they are brought indoors. With a little study, anyone can develop the skill of growing lemons. Quail take up very little space, grow to full size in just 8 weeks for butcher and/or egg laying. They are relatively simple to care for and can be incorporated into almost any situation. It doesn’t get anymore local than that. 

Being a locavore is about so much more than protecting the environment. Let’s take the modern agricultural system an opt out en masse. Check out our online community for ways to help in your local food movement.

Sean and Monica are available for consulting work regarding property analysis & design, personal coaching and speaking engagements.

All photos by Linde Mitzel, P3 Photography  

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 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.



8/26/2016

Ancona Ducks Swimming in Lake

Keeping ducks comes with a variety of interesting obstacles — there is never a boring moment! As the proud Mama of five Ancona ducks, it is my responsibility to make sure that they are safe, happy, and taken care of.

While we have always provided them a safe home with a variety of hiding places, fresh straw, and access to food, they have been free-range on a neighborhood lake for the last 4 years. If you aren't familiar with Ancona ducks, they are basically the Holstein cow of the duck world. They all have unique patterns, usually black-and-white like ours, but can also be other colors suck as silver or chocolate.

Due to their squat stature, Ancona ducks are unable to fly and are happy in most seasonal locations year round. I did a ton of research before selecting this specific breed for us, and have not regretted it for a second.

The Confrontation

Last week, a neighbor came knocking on the door, and it wasn't good news. Turns out that the quackers had been camping out below his bedroom window at night, chattering until the wee hours, and up again at the crack of dawn to announce the new day to the world.

Apparently, this neighbor did not appreciate the melodic sounds of nature, and laid down an ultimatum: "The ducks have got to go."

The Solution

Fortunately, my husband and I are both stubborn, and not ones to blindly comply with the wishes of others. However, it is important that we keep the peace in the neighborhood. As soon as the neighbor left, we put on our thinking caps and decided that if we penned them up at night, then that would resolve the majority of his concerns.

We weren't excited about the new chores this would create for us, and dreaded attempting to round them up each night, but we were willing to make the effort if it meant we could keep our flock. We had some 3-foot fencing in the garage left over from another project, so we hauled it down and built an impromptu fence for the ducks.

I asked my husband about predators, but he assured me that if the ducks couldn't get out of the pen, then predators that could potentially harm the ducks wouldn't be able to get in either. Due to the location of their duck house, they are protected by fences on two sides and the lake on the third even without our pen, so we have never had a problem with predators in the past. But you know, I just worry about my duckers.

The first night was easy. They were already hanging around their duck house, so we simply put the fence up around them, gave them a bucket of fresh water since they wouldn't have access to the lake throughout the night, and crossed our fingers.

We got up the next morning, and they were fine. In fact, they didn't even seem that interested in leaving the penned in area, even with the gate open! We went ahead and shooed them out so that they could find the opening and understand how our new situation was intended to work.

That Night, the Craziest Thing Happened

We went down to close the ducks up, and they were already in the pen! We simply got them some fresh water, closed the gate, and we were done. We had expected to spend hours chasing them all over the lake, but they were right there, ready and waiting.

The third night we did have to round them up, but as soon as they realized where we wanted them to go, they went straight back to their house. Every night since then, they have been already in the pen, waiting for us to close the gate.

I was floored. Could it be true that the ducks actually preferred to be penned in?

As I watched them, it seemed almost as if they enjoyed the security that the pen provided. They are actually spending quite a bit more time at their house now than they ever have before. All this time, we thought we were doing what was best for them by allowing them to be relatively wild ducks who just happened to have a home if they needed it. But they were craving security, that was why they had been sleeping by his house in the first place. It provided them the best visibility of the lake and all the access points.

So now, our free range ducks have become protected ducks, and they have never been happier.

Flock of Ancona Ducks

Our ducks never cease to amaze and delight me. Keeping animals has brought so much joy to my life, that all the challenges have been worth it.

What ways have your pets/livestock surprised you? Let's talk about it in the comments!

Emily Baker launched the Incubators.org website in 2010 with her husband, Christopher. The site offers everything you need to incubate and hatch eggs. Emily has personally assisted thousands of hobbyists and breeders in selecting appropriate incubation equipment and supplies, proper use of that equipment, and providing general incubation support. She has also had multiple articles published regarding incubator selection and technique. Read all of Emily'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.



8/24/2016

 

I’ve always wanted a livestock guardian dog, but it also needed to be an incredible family dog that could be with us at all times. Unheard of, right? Everything I have read has continuously said LGDs must remain with the herd at all times.

I thought a livestock guardian was outside of our near future, because honestly, we only live on a half-acre homestead, and I just simply didn’t want to pour $1,000 into a pup that wouldn’t have much space to patrol. And while our new pup isn't considered a "livestock guardian," her breed has an incredible history of guarding and herding livestock.

However, we were still in the market for a new puppy this summer. My son’s birthday is the end of August, and the one thing he continued to ask for was a puppy, even though we already have a 2-year-old black lab. Do you know how hard it is to find a puppy that’s ready for a new home in a certain month? Very hard, when you’re looking for a specific breed.

I, myself, wasn’t really interested in a new dog. In fact, I tried to talk my husband and son out of it. Because the reality is, guess who’s going to take care of that puppy? Me, yes, that’s right. We already have Samson, our lazy lab. In fact, whenever I post photos of him on Instagram I often hashtag him #notafarmdog. It’s true. He’s nothing but a cuddle bug, but I’m ok with that.

So, I thought to myself, if we’re going to get another dog, then it’s going to be a dog that can do a job around here. Our stipulations were that it had to be a natural guardian of our family and property, it had to be family friendly and not easily aggressive, it had to be fearless and eager to please, and it had to be strong and courageous while remaining gentle and soft towards its pack members.

In other words, it had to be strong and fearless enough to go up against our neighboring bear friends, and yet gentle enough to want to sleep in the bed at night. Sounds like the perfect dog, doesn’t it? In no way did I think we would ever find it…I assumed it was a myth in my own mind.

We tossed around the idea of Dobermans, German Shepherds, German Short Haired Pointers, and mixed breeds. But it wasn’t until one morning, when I came across a breed in our local Valley Trader newspaper, that I realized I had found a pup that I could really enjoy here on our homestead.

Enter the Black Mouth Cur Mountain Dog

As I read through the extensive history of this breed, and the fact that the breeding lineage has been kept fairly narrow over the past century, I was sold. The Black Mouth Cur is a herding, hunting, and guardian dog that has been traced back all the way to 347 BC. The Celts are widely attributed to the development of the Cur breed, and by 1000 to 600 BC, they had already developed several different lines of Curs.

Each lineage had a certain job, but each one also excelled in any job you gave it—be it herding, guarding, or hunting. When the Irish and Celts came to settle in the United States, they brought their beloved dogs with them, and so began the Black Mouth Cur generations here in the U.S.A.

 

Today, we have several different lines of Curs, and many that are mingled in between the few. These lines are the Southern Black Mouth Cur from Alabama, the Foundation Black Mouth Cur from Texas, the Ladner Yellow Black Mouth Cur from Mississippi, and the Florida Black Mouth Cur. With many breeds, dogs are bred for color and standard of perfection, but with Cur breeders, the standard of perfection is how well the dog can perform on demand.

If the dog has exceptional abilities, then it doesn’t really matter how black its mouth is or how yellow its body is — it’s a good dog.

Typically, a Black Mouth Cur can be between 40 lbs and 90 lbs. Again, this is all dependent upon the line that you purchase from. Our pup, Delilah, comes from the Ladner background from her Sire’s side, and a mixture from her Dam’s side. This has created a nice in between color of red and yellow, a black muzzle with a touch of white, and a white chest. Her body will be slender and her legs long, much like a hound.

Curs are typically used for hunting wild boar, treeing coons and squirrels, herding livestock and protecting livestock, and are also greatly used for protecting their own family. Some Curs are even used in search and rescue groups because of their exceptional skill of tracking and their fearless nature. They can take down a bear or coyote quickly, should you come across one. And will even fight until death if it means protecting what is its own.

So, we traveled over an hour and a half into West Virginia, from our home in Virginia, to meet Delilah and her eight puppy siblings. We were instantly in love. She chose us. She instantly clicked with our son and would follow him everywhere…and she still does.

Delilah is almost 10 weeks old, but already shows great promise in her ambitions. She is curious and smart. One of the smartest dogs we’ve ever had. You can see her working problems out in her head as she watches. She was house trained the first week we had her, and she continues to learn her perimeter of our property. She sits with the chickens and pays them no mind—she knows they are “hers” and there is no need to think otherwise. Though, we will continue to monitor her closely.

She is a family dog, but she is a farm dog as well. Our very first farm dog. She runs along behind me when doing chores, and sits and waits patiently for me until I’m done, keeping guard. She already knows basic commands and is becoming more and more trustworthy inside the home as she gains knowledge of what is “no”, what is “leave it”, and what is “good girl."

The other evening you could hear a pack of coyotes off in the distance, across the river. She stopped and listened intently until they disappeared. She wasn’t leaving her post until they were gone. My heart gleaned with delight as I sat and listened with her. Once gone, she jumped in my lap and gave lots of kisses. What a fine pup she is.

I am excited to see how Delilah grows and learns on our homestead, and I am so happy I didn’t talk these boys out of getting her. She is teaching me as much as I teach her. And if nothing more, she has the sweetest, most spunky spirit a homesteader could ever ask for. This homesteader certainly is honored to train her and guide her into the warrior she will become for our family.

In the meantime, she sleeps at the foot of our bed, and curls up in between our heads when she catches a chill. And in the mornings, she smothers us in kisses. And you know what, that’s ok with me too. This breed in exceptionally versatile and goes against everything I’ve ever learned about LGDs. I’m hopeful this bond will continue through the remainder of her life here in our homestead, and beyond.

Amy Fewell is a writer, photographer, blogger, and homesteader based in Virginia. Along with her husband and son, she raises heritage breed chickens, quail, rabbits, and more! She believes in all natural holistic living for both her family and her animals. And she is currently working on a cookbook of traditional family Farmstead recipes. Check out more from Amy at The Fewell Homstead and www.AmyFewell.com, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 


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









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