Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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I started blogging about our journey from corporate life (at that time being lived out in Australia) to a rural homestead in Texas about four years ago.  We had acquired property near family and had developed the infrastructure - water well and electricity - while overseas and even started our home through the construction of a steel building in which our house was to be built.

Three years ago this month, I retired and came back to Texas to finish our house and make the property livable.  Julie followed in about three months and continues her corporate role working from home and traveling to work.

During 2013 and 2014, we made very good progress finishing the house, building out gardens and outdoor living areas, completing a large screened porch and gaining some level of control over the previously unmanaged property. We had big plans for 2015 and by April, our Summer garden (we are blessed with two gardening seasons a year in South Texas) was in full bloom and we were excited to have the biggest and best garden we've ever had.

Further, we had built a guest house and moved an aging parent into that house.  Also, another family member came to live with us while attending college so our entire family dynamic changed from "empty nesters" to care givers and helpers. We had even gotten to the point where we had bought a nice new travel trailer to make trips to the Gulf and elsewhere.


In April, 2015, we were struck by a really intense and damaging storm.  Tornadic winds and massive hail stones destroyed three cars and our new travel trailer. Our two houses sustained significant damage as did every outbuilding and outdoor living area and structure.  Worse, any animals, wild or domestic, living on our property were killed. In the early morning light, we could see that the 300+ trees (virtually all oak and hickory) on the property had been serious "pruned" and small limbs, leaves and debris were knee deep almost everywhere. We were in shock but quickly began the task of dealing with insurance companies, appraisers and getting some extra help to assist with the cleanup and repairs.


There was one amusing thing the morning after the storm. I remembered that I had left my old 1952 Ford 8N tractor and a trailer in a far corner of the property where I was doing some clearing of deadfall. I figured the 8N had met the same fate as the other exposed vehicles. To my amazement, the only damage I could find were scratches where the hail balls had exploded upon hitting the thick metal skin of the tractor. After inspection, the tractor started instantly and defiantly and I drove it through the leaves and branches back to the house so others could at least have something to smile about.

Forget the plans we had for projects during the year. Cleaning up, digging out and rebuilding took the remainder of the year.  In fact, 9 months later, I still have uncompleted tasks (small ones, but nagging nonetheless). We did repair the houses, rebuilt fences and outdoor structures, replaced the totaled vehicles and bought a used, damaged travel trailer which we nicely repaired and have only recently used for the first time. Our garden, shattered by the storm, never did recover to any extent except for an incredible watermelon crop that happened almost by accident.

Compounding the difficult year of rebuilding, we discovered that the somewhat erratic behavior of an aging parent was being caused by dementia. Numerous doctor visits during the year ate into rebuilding time but family priorities come first. By the end of the year, she was happily and safely housed in a senior living facility and just recently, our resident college student finished her program, got a job and moved into her own apartment.

So we are back to square one, so to speak. We are "empty nesters" again. We've had a productive (but not spectacular) winter garden and with the signs of an early Spring, we're planning our Summer garden. We've accomplished a lot on the property during the past year, but it has not been with the same joy and enthusiasm as before the storm. We are struggling to get back on the horse. Are we suffering with a form of PTSD from the events of the year? How can we regain the joy and enthusiasm we felt for our homestead in 2013 and 2014?

I know a number of you have been through this (and worse). After all, no one died in this terrible storm. We've lost a dog, a couple of cats and hundreds of birds and other animals that have made our property home. Despite that, we can really count our blessings that our houses withstood a powerful storm and were only dented and dinged. We've even built shelters for exposed cars and our rebuilt travel trailer and these shelters also provide a safe place for any outdoor animals to seek safety.

We've developed a plan for what we want to do on the property this year. We're anxiously looking forward to the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR at Belton, Texas, (an easy drive for us rather than the long drive to Topeka). We've always found the Fairs a wonderful place for inspiration and ideas so we're counting on that event as a good step for getting back on the horse.

I'd like to reach out to any readers who've been through similar events and experienced the same post event discouragement. What not only got you back to work, but also really got your juices flowing again? What ideas, techniques and activities would you recommend not only to us but also to others who might need a little encouragement or assistance to get going again?

Jim Christie is a retired IT sales and marketing executive and sales person, aspiring builder, homesteader, beekeeper, cheese maker and gardener. He moved to rural Texas with his family after ten years in Australia. Read all of Jim's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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


The day my husband and I went to pick out our very first group of baby chickens together, he added a stipulation. My husband grew up around his grandfather's huge flock of chickens and ducks, and so he told me, "I get to have ducks, too." I agreed hesitantly, having no experience with ducks other than seeing my best friend raising them while we were in high school.

A short time later, we were bringing home two little brown ducklings from a local auction. They weren't old enough to have feathers developed, but were already a few weeks old. We were both new to owning them ourselves, so we had no idea what they were or even what gender they may be! Thanks to the help of a great poultry forum called BackYard Chickens, we soon were able to tell what breed and gender they both were. Our journey with two female Khaki Campbell ducks began here.

When the ducks got a little bit older, we gave them a kiddie pool to swim in. Even though it gets messy very fast, the day we change their water out is full of laughter. Both the ducks climb into the pool calmly and get a little to drink, then suddenly begin swimming around very fast and flapping their wings like crazy in the water. It seems like half the kiddie pool is emptied by the time they get done, because they have so much fun splashing it all out.

I let all the water out of the pool out one day and did not fill it back up instantly, so they went to their drinking water and got a drink before running around their pen and pretending to be swimming. I cannot even describe the chuckles it brought watching it, let alone telling someone about it!

The time came where both of our ducks were laying eggs, and we have really enjoyed cooking and baking with them. These large, white eggs have a thick shell and are very rich — having more protein than a chicken egg does. What we do not keep of our duck eggs, we have even been able to sell for $5/dozen locally. They've provided us with a tasty and profitable benefit to raising them.

The temperament of these ducks is beyond belief, being very docile and easy to catch. We have no trouble handling them during the day, and they have not tried to fly much. Every time they see you coming, they let out a welcoming quack, however they do get pretty noisy when it comes time to feed them! With the ducklings and the chicks being little, they were raised together with minimal fuss. (They do not go in the roost with the chickens at night, though, and instead have their own separate housing.)

Needless to say, we have grown very attached to our ducks, and are so happy that we made the decision to begin raising them. In a few months, we will be building two permanent pens near our cabin, so that the chickens and ducks can be separated. At this point, we will be looking to get a male duck and maybe a few more females so that we can hopefully start breeding and raising all the more of these wonderful birds.

Resources to Get Started Raising Ducks

If you have ever considered raising ducks, there are many articles you can refer to in order to help you select the best breed for the intended purpose (whether that may be a hardy egg layer or a larger duck for meat). I have listed below some great places to get started when it comes to selecting and raising ducks, and hope that it will help anyone who may be looking to start a flock of their own!

BackYard Chickens: We rely on this site a lot for helpful articles, and forums full of knowledgeable poultry owners. They helped us identify the gender and breed of our ducks.

Metzer Farms: Metzer Farms offers lots of information on the purposes and temperaments of different duck breeds. Not only do they offer the opportunity to order poultry from them, but they also have links on their website to different waterfowl rescues in the United States.

For The Birds: This page has basic care and feeding information regarding ducks, written by an actual avian veterinarian.

Fala Burnette and her husband are learning to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle on their farm, Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building a small cabin using lumber they have milled themselves, along with raising chickens, rabbits, & ducks. In Spring 2016, they will start growing a large crop of heirloom dent corn and watermelons that they will save to sell for seed. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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



How does it feel to be outsmarted by an animal? Really, we think we are so smart (at least I do) but it’s always humbling to have an animal outsmart you or see right through your apparently transparent façade. This is how life with pigs can be.

My first hands on experience was accumulated while I was at Polyface, where I had the special opportunity to take charge of the pastured pig operation on the farm and orchestrate the moving, feeding, and overall monitoring of the several hundred pigs that were under my care.

It was awesome.

Pigs quickly became my favorite animal on the farm. Why? They are smart. It takes brains and steadfast management to care for them correctly in the format of pastured pork (how it was played out at Polyface, anyway). I also knew that my parent’s property, where I was planning on returning  and starting up a family farm, is a savanna terrain that consists of a variety of oaks — an acorn smorgasbord during certain seasons of the year.

My mind’s eye could see pigs running here and there eating to their hearts content and building some of the tastiest meat I could ever have the luxury of eating. I also knew that pigs would be a good middle ground animal that could bring a delightful variety of product I could offer my consumers, and wouldn’t carry the higher startup costs that cows would (considering the price of animals as well as infrastructure).

Also bacon. Never forget bacon.

So, pigs became my favorite, and I decided to get going with pigs once I finished at Polyface, learned what Joel Salatin and co. had to offer, and headed home. I have since returned to Northern California, started up the farm, and have a healthy assortment of animals under my management. I want to focus on the pigs for now though, because I have had people ask me what lessons I have learned going into working with pigs and what my procedure was for getting my pig operation up and running.

It is also important to note that I have planned from the beginning to start small, verify my market, my margins, and then grow accordingly. My first year would consist of small animal numbers and then I would ramp up once I was established.

So here’s my line of thought on it all. If this is helpful to you, awesome. If it’s not, then thanks for reading anyway. First, I will say again what I have said before: do what works best for you in your environment. I would tell anyone to listen to advice and learn what they can, but ultimately what worked for Joel and me back east doesn’t always work for me in California. And what works for me won’t work the same for my buddy in Indiana. Or my farmer friend in Tennessee.

You get the point.

Finding and Purchasing Pigs

For my situation, I knew that I only had X amount of startup capital and that would dictate somewhat the amount of animals that I could purchase and the infrastructure that would go along with it. You know where you stand in that regards, and if you don’t, than sit down and figure it out before you buy a single animal. I also knew that I have plenty of land to work with (well over a hundred immediately accessible acres) and I would be able to rotate animals without crowding each other during my first year.

I needed to find a good source for pigs, and that’s not always as easy done as it is said. I wanted to run one larger group all together, but knew that I wanted to keep my first group to roughly 15 pigs (average group size I was used to working with being between 30-50). To ensure a cohesive unit and prevent fighting, I wanted to get all the pigs at once and, if possible, from the same source.

I found a fine farrower (say that five times fast….no, really, try), talked with him a couple times, and then went and checked out his operation. This is an important step that I would recommend to everyone. Visit the farm your pigs are coming from. Check it out. Ask questions. Find out what they have been eating, have they had any shots (if that matters to you), what sort of dispositions do the mothers and fathers have, how have they been managed, is it a good clean looking organization or is it just chaos that will lead to a crazy group of pigs that you then have to deal with. All of these little things played into my buying decisions.

Using Electric Netting for Pig Management

After I got my little piggy’s home, I let them settle down for a couple days and acclimate in a hog-wire pen, and then I introduced electric netting to their world.

I put much thought into the format of electric containment I would employ with the pigs. At Polyface, I was working almost exclusively with 12.5-gauge electric wire that we would run in permanent paddocks. I knew that I planned on getting to that form of fencing eventually, but for the size group that I was starting with I wanted to try using the Premiere Electric poultry netting (I became very familiar with this stuff at Polyface).

The netting can sometimes be difficult to keep a nice good spark running through (especially in the hot summers of California with very dry dirt) so I helped offset this with a more powerful charger. I bought several lengths of the 164-ft electric poultry netting, and started the little pigs in two connected nets at a time, moving them once or twice a week. As the pigs grew, I moved up to three connected nets at a time.

Other Management Considerations

Something to think about is how much time you want to spend with your pigs. It is important to keep them respectful of you (after all, these are animals that get to be several hundred pounds of muscle and they could injure you without even meaning to in some cases) but it is very beneficial to have the pigs familiar with you. I like to train my pigs to come to the sound of my voice, which makes moving them much easier; if they should ever get out (it’s probably going to happen sooner or later no matter how hard you work to prevent it) they can come to my call.

Also, checking on them every day makes sure that I’m able to monitor them for any lice/unwanted pests. I am able to act at the first sign of problems and catch things before they become big issues.

Find good feed. I started my first group of pigs off with a lower quality of Organic feed, but it wasn’t making the cut and the pigs didn’t like to eat it all. After a bit, I decided to go with a different provider and I have been very happy with the results. This is another reason to be checking on your pigs and monitoring them. Watch what they eat, what they don’t, and how they physically respond to the feed that they are provided.


And have fun. Pigs are amazing animals that, when properly managed, can go a long way in helping to grow soils and benefit the land. I have seen my pigs help to aerate my soil (that’s a good part clay and rock), as well as improve water retention — and I’m early on in the use of pigs on the land I use. I can’t wait to see what happens long term. With more water retention, captured carbon matter, and strategic disturbance, will I see a greater soil fertility that’s followed by greater plant diversification? Will this create an upwards cycle that’s improving this piece of land, which will than support a greater number of animals who will then be used in the same methods of further improvement?

I don’t know. But that’s the plan, and I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, go make friends with a pig (the animal variety).

Interested in seeing more of what Tim Rohrer does? Follow along through the lens of his camera on Instagram, username FullBarnFarms, or on Facebook at Full Barn Farms. And read all of Tim's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


Last year, in September of 2015, we had the opportunity to finally pursue our dream of starting an off grid homestead from scratch. After our Realtor gave us a call to let us know that the land was officially ours, we found ourselves hitting the road, cargo in tow, just five days later to begin our new life.

It's easy to dream of starting a homestead, and we had all sorts of ideas about what it would be like. We knew that we wanted to build a home and do so affordably, so it wasn’t going to happen right away. We were okay with this and decided that we could put up some sort of temporary housing to get us by in the meantime, such as a yurt or a travel trailer. We ultimately decided on a travel trailer.

off grid homestead in winter

Because we moved to the Pacific Northwest, we knew that winters were going to be more hash than what we were accustomed to in Southern Oregon. Originally, we had planned on having a small barn built by winter so that we would have something to heat with a wood stove and to park our travel trailer in.

No doubt, this would have kept us protected and would have prevented things from freezing, but it turns out that the barn was too lofty of a goal to accomplish in such a short time. There was no way we were going to arrive on our land and have a barn built in under two months — we spent a month alone just accumulating the tools we would need to tackle such a project!

Here we were as winter arrived “caught with our pants down”. We decided that we had to tough out the winter in our travel trailer and hope for the best. We built an insulated, primitive enclosure for the trailer that we heat on an as-needed basis with a wood stove. We are able to keep things from freezing even when it’s 5 degrees Fahrenheit outside but when it’s that cold, it does require keeping the wood stove stoked 'round-the-clock. This is a chore we are okay with and it does fit rather seamlessly into our lifestyle. We’ve even found ways to make our wood stove as efficient as possible.

So far, it seems that while we have a lot of snow, temperatures may not get extremely cold this year. If they do drop below zero degrees, then we will have an opportunity to practice our ingenuity. It is so much easier to winterize things when you have endless electricity at your fingertips, but endless electricity is not a luxury when it comes to off grid living in a winter climate with little sun!

As you will see in this short music video, our winter activities have been very mild compared to the first and second months on our homestead. We have hunkered down and are doing what it takes to make it through our first winter so that we can resume our building projects come spring. When we aren’t collecting firewood, splitting firewood, or doing basic property clean-up, we are working hard on our online business so that we can hit the ground running come spring.

We are quickly learning that while spring through fall are for making progress on the homestead, winters may very well be all about recovering from the building season, preparing for the next building season, and just doing what it takes to survive and keep the home warm.

To follow our progress on the development of our off grid homestead, be sure to check out our blog Pure Living for Life. Winter will end before we know it and we have many fun projects lined up for when the snow melts! Stay tuned!

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 an off-grid 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 articles here!

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


In the last blog post (read Part 1 here), we covered the establishment of dreams, vision and purpose. I talked about the importance of setting goals that will eventually make your dreams come true. Goals must be realistic. I like using the acronym SMART in order to clarify goals: specific, measureable, achievable, relevant (to your dream, vision, and purpose) and timely. I talked about setting major goals that meet the above criteria and I used the following example of a major goal from our homestead:

By August 1, 2016 the homestead provides 80 percent of family’s caloric needs, averaged out over any given week (when we are on the homestead) in order to obtain more self-sufficiency, provide work for the family, reduced financial strain and healthy food to eat.

Does this major goal support our dream, vision and purpose? Yes. It is nested inside of that. Designing major goals should be a very lofty goal but must meet the SMART criteria.


The next step in the process of realizing your dream is to take your major goals and break them down into mid-term and short-term goals. Everyone needs to see progress on big projects or the tendency is to get demotivated. Setting mid-term and short-term goals keeps us on track with doing things that support our dreams and they keep us motivated. What’s the difference between mid-term and short-term goals? It’s subjective but it basically boils down to timeframe. As a general rule our mid-term goals are between 6-12 months and our short term goals are less than 6 months. Here are some examples of mid-term and short-term goals that are nested in the major goal example.


Mid-Term Goal-Setting


These mid-term goals were established in October, 2014

Expand pasture (using a silvo-pasture model) by 2 acres by June, 2015 in order to support more animals on the homestead. We reached that goal with more silvo-pasture and forested paddocks expansion coming in the future.

Establish and implement comprehensive water strategy: system of swales, springs, ponds and rainwater catchment to supplement our well production by July, 2015 in order to improve homestead water for animals and irrigation.   By July of 2015 we had a system of three ponds with 100s of yard of swales connected to the seasonal stream. We can irrigate the swales from the seasonal stream and ponds and we can use overflow from the swales to feed the ponds. Additionally, we have rainwater catchment set up with over a 1000 gallons of storage for animals and gardens. We are still working on developing springs to further improve our water situation.

Establish a food forest with at least 30 productive trees, bushes and plants by October, 2015 in order to start getting major perennial food production in the future. As of now we have terraced food forests and linear food forests along swales comprised of over 200 plantings of productive trees, bushes, and plants. Here is a sampling of our plantings with too many cultivars to list: chestnut, butternut, hazelnut, walnut, apple, pear, peach, plum, paw-paw, black locust, honey locust, Siberian pea shrub, raspberry, blackberry, mulberry, currant, sea-berry, elderberry, comfrey, clover, many different herbs and flowers.

Short-Term Goal-Setting

These short-term goals were established in October, 2014

Build light, portable, inexpensive infrastructure by March, 2015: fixed chicken coop, mobile chicken coop, rabbit hutch, 2 chicken tractors and 2 rabbit tractors, in order to facilitate layers, meat birds and meat rabbits. Currently we have two fixed coops (one doubles as a greenhouse), one mobile coop, six rabbit hutches (10 stalls), five chicken tractors (including a few more built for customers), and two rabbit tractors. In 2015 we butchered over 150 birds and rabbits. In 2016 we will be doubling that number at least.

Establish and maintain an egg layer flock of at least 20 birds with production by March, 2015 to become self-sufficient in eggs. As of spring, 2016 we have 42 layers that keep us full in eggs with egg sales to offset all costs of having the birds except labor.

As you can tell, the above goals are connected and work to support the major goal. This is key. When making mid-term and short ask yourself this question: Do these goals, if accomplished, help me to achieve my major goal?

Quite frankly, most people don’t even set written goals. If they do, often times they are poorly structured and read something like this: to be a better person in 2016, to become fit, to be kind to my fellow man. For all the reasons stated previously, these will not work in any meaningful way. However, even with well written goals that conform to SMART goals, there is the harsh reality that goals are still hard to reach. Major goals, mid-term and short-term goals need a plan of action in order to accomplish them. A plan of action, simply stated is how you actually get stuff done. You’re moving from being the CEO, or owner of your life (setting all of your goals, thinking deeply about your homestead and business) to being the specialist and the operator.

Let’s use an example:

Mid-term Goal restated: Establish a food forest with at least 30 productive trees, bushes and plants by October, 2015 in order to start getting major perennial food production in the future.

Plan of Action

• Research micro climate and good cultivars for this area
• Research and determine best location for food forest
• Determine budget for food forest
• Plan and establish water in place for irrigation with water access and swales
• Fence in area for establishment
• Prepare area with animals: chickens and ducks
• Prepare area with cover crops
• Plan food forest layout
• Order appropriate productive and support species
• Plant productive and support species

These are all the major tasks that need to be completed in order to establish a food forest. The next step is to put these major tasks onto a calendar with a realistic timeline.

Weekly Routines

Establish weekly routines by committing time to your top priorities in life. Ideally, what you are doing here is establishing habit patterns to get stuff done. Even though much of your weekly routine may not directly impact a particular goal what it will do is keep balance in your life that allows you to accomplish your goals. Here are some examples of weekly routines:

Have a family planning meeting every Sunday night covering previous week, the next week and coordinating any scheduling events or conflicts

Watch a family movie, or play a family game every Friday night with homemade pizza and popcorn

Daily Routines

Establish daily routines. These are recurring events that enable you to be more productive by putting many tasks on auto-pilot. Ideally, we would all have a morning and evening routine. As you can hopefully see all these things work together to ultimately help you to realize your dreams through a systematic goal setting and action plan paradigm!

Photo credits: Linde Mitzel, P3 Photography

Sean and Monica Mitzel homestead with their family on 40 acres and are using permaculture techniques and strategies for the property. The property will eventually become a demonstration and education site where they raise dairy goats, pigs, rabbits, chickens, and ducks. The Mitzels have planted more then 50 productive trees and enjoy wildcrafting, propagating mushrooms, and raising and training livestock guardian dogs. Listen to The Courageous Life Podcastand 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 Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


training tools

Anyone contemplating moving to a remote area where you can establish your homestead and has a furry family member needs to consider some factors. If the location you choose is similar to where we live, there are wild animals and birds of prey that could pose a threat to your beloved family member. Large dogs are not immune to the dangers of remote living and smaller pets actually face more dangers.

There are so many topics to take into consideration when changing lifestyles that it may be easy to overlook your furry family member or make wrong assumptions. This post is being presented to invoke some thought along these lines. We do not have any cats, mainly due to allergies, but cats face as many threats as canines do when it comes to animals or birds that would look upon them as a food source. This post will be mostly focused on canines because that is where this writer has some experience.

Predators that Pose a Threat

We have coyotes, wolves, bobcat, mountain lions, lynx and bears that will see domestic family members as a source for food. We also have eagles, owls and hawks that will swoop down and carry off a small dog.

These are not occasional threats, and even if your dog can hold its own with other domestic dogs, it will be no match for the predators that it will face when living remotely. It only takes one encounter to regret not taking more precautions and exercising more control over your beloved pet.

Predators are very accustomed to hunting large prey, wherein domestic pets are more accustomed to hunting chipmunks, rabbits or squirrels. Deer present a separate threat to dogs and will be covered later.

Keep Pets Close and Be Especially Diligent

We keep our fur family on leashes and have them well trained so they come on command. We have a 6-foot fenced-in backyard where they can run freely but never without us being present. The fenced in area will keep predators out, except for a lion which can jump the fence, but it is unlikely that any would attempt to enter an enclosure with four German shepherd dogs.

Even when walking our dogs on leash, we have had mountain lions pass by very close, showing little fear of our dogs. The same with bears who do not seem to pay any attention to our dogs. This is our 19th winter living here, and we have only had one serious encounter, and that was with a coyote which was driven off after being very persistent.

Properly Train Dogs

Displayed in the photo are the tools we use to train our fur family. The bean bag is by far the most effective. It is just some cloth material with some pinto beans inside. It is used to show displeasure over certain canine behavior. It is thrown near them but not to hit them with it. It is a distraction and lets the animal know it is demonstrating unwanted behavior.

Some people use a newspaper, but we prefer not to hit our fur family. The whistle is one designed for dogs and with their acute hearing it is an immediate high-pitched distraction. We use it when they want to bark at a squirrel or some other animal. Barking only puts predators on notice that a domestic animal is nearby.

Deer Pose Special Threats

Deer are a special threat to dogs, especially if the dog is allowed to run free. If the dog chases the deer, it stands a good chance of having those sharp hooves used on it and most likely maiming it or killing it.

That is another reason we do not allow our dogs to run without constraint. We have personally witnessed a doe deer use its hooves on a coyote and it was brutal to see. Once the deer had it down, it leaped high and came down with all four hooves on the coyote several times.

Useful Training Commands

Living where we do, one of the most important commands to teach a dog is "come." If they don’t come immediately when called they may not get another chance. Also "sit" and "stay" can be important.

I was once surprised by a mother bear and her two tiny cubs which came up from a ditch 20 feet from us. I gave our dog the sit/stay command and he sat next to my leg for 20 minutes while we were entertained by the two cubs and mother. The mother would let the cubs get about 10 feet from us and then give them a warning where upon they would scamper up a tree.

The point is that you never know when a predator can suddenly appear and it is best to be prepared. It is best to have pets trained ahead of time, because when the time comes to use that training, yelling at them only serves to excite them more and could put everyone in a very bad spot.

Mountain Lion Threats

Mountain lions have been known to come right up on a deck or porch to get a domestic dog. It only has to happen once, because the dog really doesn’t stand much of a chance against some of these wily and strong predators.

These incidents can happen suddenly and one of our friends once told us their beloved dachshund was taken by a bird of prey when they let the dog out in the yard. It was gone just that fast, so being super cautious is a virtue when it comes to your pets safety.

Animals face dangers in the cities and suburbs but many of those dangers are from vehicles or predators of the two-legged variety. When you live remotely, the dangers are numerous and usually fatal. If a dog darts off into the woods chasing a rabbit, squirrel or chipmunk and they end up lost, their chance of an unfavorable encounter are considerably greater.

The purpose of this post is to inspire some thought and hopefully keep your pet safe and your experience a more happy one. Our fur families deserve our full attention toward keeping them safe in an otherwise hostile environment.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and remote living go to: McElmurray's Mountain Retreat. Read all of Bruce's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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I look outside my window on this cold January day watching the snow fall and thinking of the bees. They should be clustered tightly, conserving warmth and moving only as necessary to access food. My attention turns to apiary planning.

Apiary Tasks in January?

Yes, there are things to consider for the apiary in the dead of winter. As I mentioned in a previous post, The Beekeeping Year Starts Now, this is the time to order honeybees for spring arrival. If you wait until it is time to install the bees, it is too late. Now is the time to pour a cup of tea (sweetened with honey of course) and outline apiary goals for the year.

Here at Five Feline Farm, we plan to more than double our existing three hives. One of the existing hives is quite weak going into winter. Although we are trying to support these bees with additional food, it is not expected to survive the winter. Which leaves us with two viable hives.

We need a plan to increase.

Historically Speaking

In our first four seasons as beekeepers, we have ordered packages from one supplier. The packages are produced in Florida and Georgia, then shipped in late April or early May. We pick up 3 lb. packages, drive them home and install in our empty hives. Having bees shipped from warmer states is the only way to obtain packages of honeybees. Over the past couple of years, we have had some difficulty getting these packages to thrive. Maybe the travel is too much of a shock for the colony or perhaps, just not good queens.

It was a good way to get started, but we are ready to diversify our sources hoping for better long term viability.

2016 Plan

To diversify our sources, we are taking a three pronged approach. Remember the goal is to reach six hives.


We will again purchase 3 lb. packages of bees, this time through Rural King. Rural King is a popular farm supply store in the midwest, although since honeybees are available through their online store, anyone should have access. One thing I like about this store for ordering bees is the ability to choose the breed of bee. Unfortunately, when I placed my order the Carnolians were on back order, so I ordered Italians. The packages will be shipped in April from California. A longer trip than the ones we previously got from Georgia and Florida but they are shipped overnight air, so should be fine.

Two new colonies will be established from packages.


Next we are buying nucs (short for nucleus hives) from a member of the local beekeeping club. Nucs consist of five frames of brood, honey, pollen stores, worker bees and a mated queen. These five frames are placed in the middle of a hive body, flanked by additional empty frames with foundation to fill out the ten in a standard hive box.

The advantage to nucs is the honeybees have a head start. They already know the queen, she is laying eggs and the miniature sized colony is on drawn comb. The disadvantages are the risk of transferring mites or other disease since you are also purchasing drawn comb with brood. Purchasing from a reputable source helps mitigate these risks.

Another potential disadvantage is cost. Not only is the supplier providing the bees, but also five frames of foundation. Interestingly, the price I am paying for the nucs is about $25 cheaper than the packages. Shipping is no doubt the difference.


For the final two hives in the expansion plan, we will do a walk away split of the two existing strong hives. In an earlier post I discussed walkaway splits.(The Walk-Away Split, Pros and Cons) Simply put, the two hive body boxes will be split, each becoming a foundation for a new colony. One box from the split will have the queen. The other will quickly discover they are queen-less and raise up a new queen. Hopefully this will also delay any swarm impulse.


There you have it: from three hives to eight or maybe nine if the weak hive survives winter. If by chance the weak hive survives winter, we will have seven. Our goal is to increase both honey production and wax for our other hive based products. This diversification plan mitigates some of the risks involved in increasing the apiary by choosing different sources and methods. I’ll report on progress with each of the sources over the season.

Photo credits: Honeybees on Brood by C. Birkhead, Installing Package Bees by J. Miller.

Julia Miller is a co-founder of Five Feline Farm, a Central Illinois hobby farm. In addition to beekeeping and writing, you’ll find her catering to the every whim of the resident cats. Follow Five Feline Farm on Facebook, Twitter and now Instagram plus Five Feline Farm. Read all of Julia's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

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