Homesteading and Livestock

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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.


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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

Our Locavore List

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 1000’s 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 photo credits: 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.



8/18/2016

 

I read this question almost every day on the various online livestock guardian dog forums. First, congratulations! Second, I hope you’ve done some basic groundwork and preparation. If not, you need to get busy.

Hopefully you located a healthy pup from a good breeder who chooses her breeding dogs carefully for their working behaviors, temperament, and soundness. Most importantly, if you want a good working LGD, you need to buy a pup from a recognized LGD breed or crossbred of recognized LGD breeds – and nothing else. Two previous posts can help folks still looking for a LGD pup: Before You Buy a Livestock Guardian Dog or Puppy and Selecting a Working LGD Puppy.

What Comes Next?

People are happy to give you advice; unfortunately, much of it is contradictory. Myths and misconceptions abound. If you bought your pup from a breeder with good working dogs, their advice will be enormously helpful.

Much of what you do is determined by the role you have in mind for your dog. LGD breeds can function in their traditional role as a full time, outdoor living livestock guardian; as a farm and family guardian who may live in areas right around the house and occasionally visit inside; or as a family companion dog who lives indoors.

For a more complete description of these roles and how to raise a pup for these different jobs see: What is the Difference Between a Livestock Guardian, Farm and Family Guardian, or Family Companion. For our purposes here, I’m going to assume your new pup will be living and working outside full-time with stock.

Housing

Where to keep the new addition? In the house? With livestock or poultry?

If he is to be a full time LGD he needs to be housed in a secure and safe area with a good shelter outside or inside a barn. Yes, even in the winter. As long as he is a minimum of 8 weeks old, healthy, and in suitable housing he will be fine outside even in winter, unless it is drastically and unusually frigid. LGD pups and dogs live outside across the northern US and in Canada.

It is better, for several reasons, if he is 12 weeks old, but in either case if you bring the pup inside the house you are setting his expectations of where he will be living and the eventual separation will be even harder later.

An area about 16 by 16 feet square is a suitable size for a very young pup’s pen. Some folks construct a larger, permanent kennel that can be used when the adult dog needs to be confined. Livestock panels or chain link is often used. If you are worried about large predators and your LGD pup, make sure his pen is secure at night with a solid cover of stock panels, chain link, or a roof. Tarps are not sufficient protection from a larger predator.

Yes, he may cry at first – just like a new puppy in a crate in the house. But constantly responding to his cries or taking him to the house will make the eventual separation worse or condition him to escape to the house. Give him lots of attention in his place but don’t reward constant cries. Sometimes it is helpful to place his pen out of sight of your comings and goings around the house. Don’t let him live in your yard or hang out on your porch unless that is where you want him to work later.

Bonding to Stock or Poultry

If your pup is destined to protect stock or poultry, he needs to be within sight and sound of them from the very beginning, if at all possible. Pups from working parents usually have excellent early socialization to stock.

Some folks have very reliable older animals that can serve as companions to a pup, but you also have to be careful of the larger animal bullying or injuring the puppy. It’s never advisable to leave a pup completely alone with baby animals, new mothers, poultry, or stock that is not used to LGDs. Many folks keep their young dog near to stock or birds but without access to them unless they are being actively supervised. Puppy pens can be located right next to or inside your stock enclosure.

Take your pup with you when you do chores so you can supervise him and provide guidance. Some folks keep a young pup leashed to their belt while others let him drag a long line so that he can be caught if he starts chasing or other inappropriate behavior. Good behavior should be praised and bad behavior needs to be caught right in the act. Some folks sit out with the pup and their birds or animals to foster calm acceptance by both stock and dog.

In the homelands of these breeds, pups were never left alone with their sheep or goats but were always supervised by shepherds or older, reliable dogs. Many experienced owners do not believe LGDs are reliable until maturity at age 2 or so – especially in the absence of a good adult mentor dog or active supervision. Be especially careful with adolescent dogs during breeding or birthing times. This is especially unsettling to many dogs, which need to be closely supervised through their first season with birthing animals.

Livestock Guardian Puppy With Goat

Poultry are the most challenging and non-traditional animals for LGDs to work with. A very young pup is often good with birds in the beginning but without careful supervision, as the pup gets older there will often be chasing or playing that may result in tragic consequences.

Be prepared that this particular role will take lots of time before the dog is reliable. And yes, many great adult LGDs have accidentally played with or licked a bird to death before they became reliable at age 2 or so.

Training and Socializing

Even if your new pup is to be a full time LGD, he needs plenty of basic handling and training as well – just do it where he lives and works. Take your children with you when you do chores and work with the dog, so that he comes to know them as well. It’s another myth that you should not give your LGD pup attention. LGDs always worked with shepherds. You want him to bond to you as well as his animals.

Even a working LGD should behave on a leash and have experiences being tethered and kenneled so he will cooperate in an emergency. And if he will need to visit the vet’s office, practice some car trips. Lots of walks in pastures or fields will help burn off some of that puppy energy before it becomes destructive. Meaty bones are also good to occupy time.

If your dog will live in or around the house, you may want to take him to puppy classes and socialize him to people and places, although LGD breeds are not a good fit for places like dog parks. Most folks don’t take full-time working dogs off the farm except to a vet.

Other Family or Farm Dogs

Don’t rush these introductions. Give everyone lots of time to settle and get used to each other through fences. Typically an older LGD will be kind to a young pup, but may need significant time to adjust to another adolescent or adult dog.

If your dog’s job is to protect your stock, many experienced folks recommend that you don’t allow him to play with your family dogs or other herding or hunting dogs. Yes he needs to know who they are and that they belong to you, but you don’t want your pup picking up chasing or other bad habits from these dogs. You don’t want him playing in your yard either. You also want him to protect your animals from dogs that threaten their stock. Definitely don’t allow your pup to play with neighbor or strange dogs. Don’t tolerate them on your property and make a show of chasing them away.

Fencing

LGDs need to be securely fenced unless you live on a very large property without neighbors or graze on open range. Barbwire or weak fencing is escapable, and boundary training is not usually successful with these breeds, which were developed over centuries to work on very large, open spaces. These dogs seek to patrol and they can easily extend their zone of protection against predators two miles or more.

Pups should learn to respect fences right from the beginning so they don’t establish habits of wandering and roaming as they mature – especially if they are intact. It’s much harder to break a bad habit than to prevent it from being formed in the first place. Some folks find electric scare wires (top and bottom) or an invisible or radio fence system to be a good backup to physical fences when dogs are determined to escape.

Invisible fence alone is not recommended as many dogs will “take a hit” in pursuit of a threat or a female in heat. Invisible or poor fencing also allows predators inside your pastures, making your dog’s job that much harder.

Problem-Solving Resources

After a good start with your pup, there are excellent resources for help with solving specific problems or dealing with different situations as they develop.

Online

Facebook group Learning About LGDs – reliable advice and a files section with articles from experienced members
Blog - Predator Friendly Ranching by Louise Liebenberg
Lgd.org - online library of articles by experienced LGD users

Books

Jan Dohner. Livestock Guardians: Using Dogs, Donkeys, and Llamas to Protect Your Herd
Farm Dogs: 93 Guardians, Herders, Terriers, and other Canine Working Partners

Orysia Dawyiak. Livestock Protection Dogs; Care, Selection, and Training

Photos by:

Akbash Dog pup by Cindy Wilber, Crescent Akbash Dogs, Missouri
Sarplaniac pup by Louise Liebenberg,
Grazerie, Alberta
Kangal Dog pup by Stuart Richens,
Banks Mountain Farm, North Carolina
Maremma pup by Deborah Reid,
Black Alder Ranch, Idaho 

With more than 35 years of hands-on LGD experience, Jan Dohner writes about the use of livestock guardians and predator control for Mother Earth News and Storey Publishing. For more information visit JanDohner.com. Read all of Jan'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.



8/18/2016

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There are some jobs that seniors probably should not do on a remote homestead. The reality, however, is that getting someone else to do them is not always possible. We heat our small cabin with a wood stove and burn approximately 9 to 12 cords of firewood throughout each fall, winter, and spring seasons.

Our home is an A-Frame construction, and hence the wind cap is over 30-plus feet from the ground. Any sensible person my age would have someone else go up and swap out the wind cap, but this senior homesteader still does it himself.

Dangerous Jobs

I can clean the chimney from inside the house but the windcap has to be done from the exterior. For many years, I would climb up to the top of the house, remove the wind cap, and climb down with it in one hand while holding onto the ladder with the other. Then, I would wire-brush the cap clean and climb back up to replace it.

Safety

My wife suggested that we purchase a second wind cap, so I would only have to make that trip once and I could swap them out each year. The process of replacing that wind cap is scary, even for this 75-year-old guy who has done it for many years.

I strap myself into a climbing harness and go up the ladder and tie off on the top rung of the ladder. Then, I have to turn and face out to be able to reach the wind cap (see photo). There is nothing in front of me but thin air, and it looks much higher from up there than the 30-plus feet it really is.

Physically Strenuous Work

Usually, positioning the ladder is the hard part as getting it up from the garage on a steep incline to its needed position is strenuous and awkward. Then, lifting the heavy ladder into position is equally difficult.

Once it is in position, it is only a matter of climbing almost straight up, holding the clean wind cap in one hand and the ladder with the other hand. I tie off my climbing harness on the top rung and turn around and take one wind cap out and put the other one in, then reverse, then go safely back on the ground.

Aging Infirmities

One year, I paid someone who installs chimneys to take the wind cap down. It was clear they were close to petrified when they had to turn around on the ladder and face out and then reach out to take the wind cap off.

I haven’t wanted to put anyone through that again, so even though I’m getting up in age, I still do it myself. With stiff joints, lack of agility and normal aging aches and pains, I can and still do it, but I go slower and use more caution.

I would sum up the experience by saying when you turn around and reach out for that wind cap, if you have any heart problems, they should be revealed at that point. It can be done but clearly is not for everyone or the faint of heart, nor anyone with balance problems or dizziness.

Felling Trees

With several acres of heavily wooded property on a near 45-degree slope, there are trees that need to be dealt with regularly. They die of disease or overcrowding.

Another fairly dangerous job is cutting them down for removal. With two very painful knees, resulting from prior surgeries necessitated by sports injuries, when a tree starts to fall off the mark, it can be pretty scary. You have a chainsaw running in your hands and a tree that may fall where you don’t want it to fall. In spite of all the precautions you may have employed, the tree may not always react as you had hoped.

Deceptive Trees

In the past, I have started to cut into trees that are rotten inside and start to fall almost immediately. When that happens, you need to move fast, which can be hard to do for us seniors. I have compensated for that contingency by always making sure I have an unfettered escape route before I even start the cut.

Once, I cut a wedge from a tree and had not cut more than 2 inches into the 15-inch tree when it suddenly gave way and came crashing down. I had an escape route planned and narrowly avoided injury. Thinking things through before acting is wise and safety conscious.

Planning Ahead

The other hazard is not only finding the right escape route but being able to back away fast. When the tree comes down, it often has the base bounce up, and if you are caught with the base under the chin, it is probably all over.

Trees also tend to hit and bounce either right or left, which can cause injury if you guess wrong. Another associated problem is bucking up trees on the ground. The log can roll and if you are downhill, you need to move fast to keep from being rolled over by a heavy log. While it is harder to buck up a log from the uphill side, sometimes that is the best course of action if you can’t move out of the way fast enough.

Two of Several Problems Faced by Senior Homesteaders

These are just two specific areas that can be dangerous to a senior homesteader and that should be planned for. By using good common sense and extreme caution, the job can be done even though we are slower, gimpy, and less agile.

Remote homesteading at any age is hard, but it is much harder when you are senior in age. The glamor of homesteading when younger is far different than when you must face the reality of exercising greater caution to compensate for stiffness and decreased agility when you are senior.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog site:www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com. They live in a small cabin with their four German Shepherd Dogs at 9,800 feet elevation. Read all of Bruce's remote-living blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS 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.


8/17/2016

Summer is here and sunny days are plentiful which has only been feeding our itch to get our solar on! We’ve been delaying our solar installation for a few reasons I’ll explain later, but we’ve finally taken the plunge and we’re finally reaping the benefits of renewable energy.

Why Did We Wait So Long to Get Started with Solar?

Just shy of one year ago, we arrived on our off grid property which we chose for many reasons including the huge solar potential! However, there were some roadblocks to diving straight into capturing the sun straight away. Some of these roadblocks included:

• We were heading into winter, so solar potential was less
• We had a limited budget with many other expenses taking precedence

• We simply had no idea how much power we would need on a day-to-day basis

• We had no idea what our future power needs would be, so sizing would be guessing

• Running power tools, most of our power needs would be on-demand

• Solar panels aren’t much good without a proper battery bank, which a big expense

• A large outlay for solar wouldn’t yield a big return on investment for years to come

• We’ve never built a solar setup and sounded intimidating, confusing and frustrating

• Solar has come a long way but many components still can’t be easily upgraded

• Security is challenging as we’re just getting started and theft would be heartbreaking

solar power potential on off grid property

All that said, solar just wasn’t a huge priority. Until recently, we have been relying on a single RV battery and our generator for our power. This system was working well as we chose the happiest balance between efficiency and output on our Honda generator so fuel costs have been a modest $50-100/month which you can read about in our monthly expense reports.

A year down the road, we had a much better idea of our power needs and with summer upon us, our itch to stop burning fuel, cut the noise and start collecting sun was begging to be scratched! So we decided to take another look at solar to see if we could get to make sense or not.

Really? Solar Still Wasn't a Good Fit?

Starting our search again for solar quickly turned to disappointment. Once again, we found that many of the same issues we had identified earlier still couldn’t be ignored like the inability to upgrade components like inverters and charge controllers from starter setups to larger systems. Despite understanding our immediate power needs, we still couldn’t be certain of the future system we’d want so buying components was still a gamble.

generator for power needs

 As it is today, you simply have to replace many solar components  if you start with a budget system or pick wrong out of the gate.

One issue we did address was the upfront cost of a battery bank. We happened upon a small bank of eight second-hand L16 batteries on Craigslist for $750, which represents a 78% savings over buying new. For anyone who knows batteries this will make them cringe! Buying second hand batteries is not advisable unless you accept that you might be throwing money into the wind.

For us, it was worth the risk as we knew when we were ready for solar, we still wouldn’t be in a position to spend $8,000 to $10,000 on a battery bank. Just having a battery bank at all would be helpful to store any of the power we could collect. If we could get a couple years out of these batteries we’d be happy. Time will tell!

solar power l16 batteries

Discovering a Solution We Had Previously Overlooked

Not content to give up just yet, we stumbled on a social media post from a solar company whose products we had been researching. They were to be attending an RV convention a few hours away and we were way overdue for a drive through the mountains. We made last minute plans to attend the very next day.

There we ran into Stefan from Go Power! by Carmanah Technologies. He was super friendly and willing to give us a hand. We threw at him our scenario and our frustrations. He validated many of our concerns and agreed that going full solar right now might be unwise.

Go Power! presently works in the 12v mobile solar space with products for RVs and mobile work solutions. They don’t really offer anything big enough to meet our future needs yet, but Stefan shared with us a product we really hadn’t considered: portable solar power!

getting started with portable solar power

Because we had so little experience with our power needs, we really hadn’t considered portable solar as the systems at first glance seemed far too small. Not to mention the cost per watt was higher than most other setups once you penciled things out.

After doing some quick numbers, sort of quantifying our actual power needs presently, it looked something like this:

• Charge 2 MacBook Pros daily
• Charge 2 iPhones daily

• Charge 4 Nikon camera batteries daily

• Charge portable Walkie Talkies periodically

• Keep RV battery charged up (runs our pump, fans, lights, heater fan)

• Run 2000 watt inverter which powers our internet and router

• Keep our L16 battery bank topped off (no plans to draw off it, just don’t want it to discharge)

When it came right down to it, the numbers were in favor of a portable system. Going this route would solve nearly every problem we had!

How is Portable Solar Power Working for Us?

Our attitude changed from trying to go with a once-and-for-all solar setup to offsetting our generator use. We chose a 120-watt, 12-volt, portable kit from Go Power! which has a built-in charge controller, is easy to setup and connects easily to our RV battery via a 12-foot cord. It’s sturdy, the wire size is generous and it yields about 7.4 amps of current in full-sun, giving us a little over 1,000 watts of juice throughout the day.

portable solar panels

We’ve had our solar kit setup for about 7 weeks now and in that time we’ve had just five situations that required our generator including some power tools and pumping water 70 feet to up gravity-fed cistern. Otherwise, we’ve been generator-free for nearly two months now!

We no longer have to worry that we made the wrong decision or overspent on a system that won’t fit us in the future. Surely, we’ll always find a use for this portable 120 watt array. It’s easy to stow so we don’t have to fret over theft.

It’s meeting our needs today and for the near future and easily fits into our budget at just over $500. Being a ready-to-use system means we didn’t have to become backyard engineers to get everything right. It was hooked up in 5 minutes and has worked perfectly since!

Our estimated savings is around $90-100 per month with fuel prices increasing and wear on our generator. In just a few months, we’ll have recouped our investment. Meanwhile, our generator has been getting a much-needed break and we’re happy to finally reap the benefits of all this wonderful sun!

If you’ve been thinking about solar for boondocking, off grid tiny house or other projects give portable solar another look. You just may find it’s a perfect fit for you too!

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, including building with reclaimed materials, 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.


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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