Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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7/22/2014

When some people hear the word “homesteader,” they jump to conclusions, some right, some wrong. Like me, you may have dispelled a number of assumptions and perhaps piqued some people’s curiosity. Despite preconceptions, this is not an antiquated way of life. Even though I choose to use throwback skills and good, old-fashioned hard work, I find certain aspects of homesteading way ahead of their time. Take raising kids, for example. Homesteading can get a bad wrap for being gendered, or worse, but I’d argue it’s just the opposite.

On Michelle's homestead, all of the kids learn carpentry.

Here’s what I mean: How many people teach their daughters skills that, in some households and areas, would be considered for boys only—and vice versa? On homesteads, our girls often learn carpentry by building coops and shelters, and our boys learn to can a harvest and mend a hole by sewing it up. This is a normal day for many of us but a revolutionary way to raise children in a world that, even now, holds certain expectations. Our kids generally come up doing more hard work than other kids (at least where we live, though certainly not everywhere), learning unconventional skills, and developing an appreciation for animals—and a practicality towards them as well. I suppose it’s not the norm, but to us, it’s life. And I like it that way.

When my kids were fairly young, my father and I took them both fishing. This was, to me, a rite of passage. I started fishing with my dad when I was young, as did my sister. It wasn’t a “boy” thing to us. It was simply our life (although my sister was NOT a fan). We’ve fished every year since, and last year I looked down the bank of the Yellowstone River in Montana and smiled. There, right next to me, up to their waists in water, were my daughter, son, and stepson.

Everybody in Michelle's house goes fishing, as she did growing up.My parents were not ones for teaching us “girl” skills only. My father was determined that, even though he had all girls, we wouldn’t be helpless damsels in distress. I learned plumbing basics, how to change the brakes on my car, and how to change the oil. I learned to listen for a knock in the engine and how to strip paint off of a 1980 Cadillac Coupe de Ville (aka my Mack Daddy Caddy). Years later, all of these skills would be more useful than I ever imagined when I became a single mom, solely responsible for a farmhouse and two kids.

Because of this, I’ve never thought much about differing what my girl would learn versus my boy. They have equal chores at home, both help cook, and both scoop chicken poop. I grew up hearing stories from my grandmom about her and my great-grandmom’s duties on the ranch. They planted and harvested, plowed and cooked. They hunted and skinned, fished and washed. There were no lines, no boundaries for them. Then again, my great-grandmom settled on land in Wyoming when it was still very difficult for women to do so most other places. Wyoming figured that if you could last five years in that terrain, you deserved land ownership!

This year, my daughter will be driving. She will be trained the same as I was: change your own oil, learn to change a tire, change your own brakes so that no one takes you for a ride. Know what you’re asking for in an automotive parts store. If nothing else, the store clerks will be impressed, and you’ll feel good about it. In addition to that, she’ll learn how to filet a fish herself and how to milk a goat.

My boy will learn those things alongside his sister and stepbrother, taught by my dad and their stepdad. But he’ll also be called into the kitchen to make dough and pasta and will learn to knit, the same way his sister did.

Hiking is a family activity for Michelle's household.

There are no lines in our homestead parenting, not between girl and boy or who contributes what. In addition to my upbringing, I chose this life for another reason. It’s human, not relegated to sex or race. It’s because the life we lead brings a certain toughness with it, a toughness I don’t feel kids get in school anymore. Like many of you, I’d imagine, when I was a kid, life wasn’t conducted with kid gloves. We learned about heartache from firsthand experience and notes passed in hallways, not plastered on Twitter and Facebook. Life on a homestead or ranch teaches kids about tough decisions, unpopular choices, hard work, and its results. They see death, they witness pecking orders. They develop a resilience and respect for life, whether they’re boys or girls.

This weekend, while we all fish and put the roof on the chicken run, I will be thinking of our homesteading predecessors. I will be thankful that, while they may have maintained certain gender roles, they weren’t limited by them. Pioneering homestead women and men were far ahead of their time. I guess some things never change.

This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.

Although she’s something of a newbie homesteader herself, Michelle comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a home on the grounds of a Pennsylvania CSA farm. You can read her monthly posts on beginner homesteading with kids and more here in HOMEGROWN Life, and sometimes you can find her popping up in The Stew, HOMEGROWN’s member blog.

Photos by Michelle Wire



7/22/2014

Our Backyard Honey

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

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

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

Ulcers and Digestive Problems

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

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

Wound and Burn Dressing

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

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

Allergies

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

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

Colds, Sore Throat and Blocked Sinuses

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

Hangovers

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

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

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


7/22/2014

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



7/21/2014

Murray McMurray Hatchery emailed saying the chicks shipped on Saturday — six days before the Home and Garden Show. They could arrive Monday, but more likely Tuesday, and even possibly Wednesday. If they arrived Wednesday, they would be ultra-stressed and some would probably be dead on arrival. Just-hatched chicks can be shipped in the mail because they have a three-day window before they must have food and water or become too weak to eat or drink.

Avoiding Chick 'Starve Out'Order Chicks By Mail

This stressful situation is called "starve out": when a chick becomes too weak to search for food and dies of hunger and dehydration.

In natural incubation, the three-day window serves as a chick buffer zone that allows the mother hen to remain on the nest, giving time for the all the viable eggs to hatch. After 3 days from the first chick pipping out, the hen’s duties and attention shift to the live chicks. She must abandon the un-hatched eggs to find food and water for her chicklings.

When the chicks arrived, I wanted to be 100% ready. I set up and tested the brooder on Sunday so that, if the chicks arrived Monday, their warm abode would be ready. Good thing! 7am Monday morning, the post office called and I could hear the distressed peeps over the phone. I’ll be right there!”  The faster I can get the chicks fed, watered and settled in, the greater their survival rate. Luckily, these chicks only had 2 days in transit, and they are here 1 day ahead of the Polar Vortex — so getting chilled during shipment was one less concern.

I switched on the lamps to pre-heat the brooder. Then I dashed off to the post with my mixed terrier dog, Woody, a certified poultry protector who is fascinated with chicks. The post office staff was really glad to see me. The high-pitched chirping was so loud they had the chick-box on the back loading dock.

It was a good transit. The tally was 312 live chicks, one dead on arrival that must have lost its footing and suffocated. Hatcheries put in additional chicks to make up for those that don’t survive the transit. These little fuzz-nurf-balls only weigh from ¾ ounce to 1.3 ounces.

The Chicks' First Food and DrinkBaby Chick With Mother

Barbara Mullinix, a Chickeneer member of the Shenandoah Valley Poultry and Garden Club came over to help me dip each chick’s beak into water for that vital first drink. The chicks had not eaten nor anything to drink since hatching, and they were ready for a big gulp and to chow down.

Chick crumble spread on top of the newspaper gave the chicks instant access to food; I added bedding later because the hungry chicks to fill up on the bedding instead of feed. They are already scratching and searching; no learning curve needed. Starve out is a danger during transport, but it can alsobe caused by feeders and waterers placed such that the chicks can’t reach them. This brooder there are multiple types of waterers and feeders so that every chick has easy access.

A chick’s first drink is critically important for re-hydration. These chicks’ first drink has a ½ teaspoonful of sugar and Vitamin B-complex in the gallon waterer. The sugar gives them quick energy. The B-complex vitamins are the stress vitamins and double to help prevent leg problems. I put the B-complex in the water alternating with a mild solution of apple cider vinegar (about 1 teaspoonful/gallon) for trace minerals and acidity to help digestion.

Chicken Waterers for Baby Chicks

Using several types of waterers affords chicks every opportunity to drink. There are waterers specifically for baby chicks, water nipples and gallon plastic waterers. Baby chicks take to water nipples quickly. Although the nipples can drip, they have the advantage of not spilling to soak the bedding the way other waterers sometimes do. The nipples are positioned above the chicks, and because of this, the chicks don’t get bedding or manure in the water. The height of the nipples needs to be positioned at, or just above, eye level. As with all the waterers, as the chicks grow, the water nipples need to be raised.

The gallon waterers can be a death trap; when a chick steps in the trough and looses its footing it can drown. The solution is to put marbles or stones around the trough of the waterer so the chicks can keep their footing and keep from soaked or drowning. Wet chicks can be chilled and stressed chicks.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet found the marbles for the waterers. With the early morning arrival I wanted to get the chicks settled in and de-stressed fast. After the chicks were making their contented trilling sound, I went searching for the marbles. Found them, but within the 20 minutes I was gone a chick had lost its footing and drowned in the lip of the waterer. Dang! Because I lost my marbles a chick died needlessly! Stomp, stomp humph and fume. With the marbles (or stones) in the rim of the gallon waterers no other chick drowned.

Down to 310 chicks.

Bedding for Chicks

The first day or two of brooding, I don’t put wood shavings on floor because the chicks eat the wood instead of their crumble. As the newspaper gets pooped-up we just lay down more layers to keep it clean. With 300 chicks that’s about 2 to 3 times a day. Extra work but I feel it’s worth it; every crop gets full. 

On the second or third day, I put some organic compost on the floor to give the chicksters some infant-size grit and probiotics. The compost is from my garden. The chicks innately know how to scratch and are making tracks in the dirt from the day-one-get-go.I believe giving the chicklings access to clean, organic compost in the brooder mimics a natural habitat. This would not be practical in a commercial poultry operation due to biosecurity concerns.

The next blog post will duscuss baby chick health care.

May the flock be with you!



7/16/2014

hand milking

There are essentially two ways to milk a cow. The first is the age-old practice of milking by hand. The second is by machine with buckets and pipeline milkers. More on this second method in my next blog. Cows, goats, sheep, water buffalo, camels and, even, horses have been successfully milked by hand for thousands of years. I milked my first cows by hand back in the 1970s. Milking a cow by hand is not as easy as it may first appear, so it’s best to know what you are getting into before you take on this important farming task.  

Get your technique down. There are a couple of different grips and techniques you can use, which before machine milking, were a matter of great debate.  I think the most important thing you can do when hand milking is to squeeze the milk out without pulling down excessively on the teat. It’s similar to getting tooth paste out of a tooth paste tube.  

Practice. Find a patient and tolerant cow to practice on when you are first learning. Once you learn the skill it becomes second nature.    

Get in shape. My wife's great-great-grandmother was a milkmaid in Denmark. Stories of her having to take breaks between cows to rest her hands on the cool stone walls of the milking stable for relief have been passed down through our family for generations. When you first begin milking a cow by hand, you will find muscles in your hands and forearms that you seem to only use when you hand milk. Until they get into shape, your arms will burn.

Keep everything clean. If you milk by hand, it is imperative to keep your cows and their udder clean. You don't want manure or bedding falling into the milk bucket. Everything you use—the bucket, utensils and vessels that will come into contact with the milk—must be squeaky clean. 

Cool the milk quickly. The milk must be cooled down to 38-40 degrees within a couple of hours after you finish milking. 

Stir the milk. It also helps to stir the milk occasionally unless you want to skim off the cream.  Keeping the cream and milk mixed will help extend the milk's shelf life and fresh flavor. 

Consider the time investment. Cows used to make much less milk than they do now.  If a cow produced one gallon of milk per day, as most did before WW2, you could milk her out by hand twice per day. But, today's cows routinely produce five gallons of milk per day, and milking one out twice a day can take a long time—up to an hour or more. Unfortunately, you can't do anything else when you are hand milking. Plus, you can only milk two of the four quarters of the udder at one time because you only have two hands. If you decide to milk by hand, it helps to be a good day dreamer.

Is Milking by Hand Really Better?

Some people still contend that hand milking is more gentle on the cow than machine milking. I disagree. I think this is a misperception resulting from the horrendous mechanical milking machines developed in the 19th century (More on Early Cow Milking Machines here). They could do — and did — a lot of damage to cows’ udder. Today's modern milking machines are the result of a century of research and development. When properly set up, adjusted and operated, they are very gentle — far gentler than a nursing calf to its mother’s teats and udder. Calves can be very rough and sometimes make their mother’s teats bleed. If you have the time to let the calf stay with its mother to nurse once a day, then it may make sense for you to avoid the investment of a milking machine and milk by hand.

At the end of the day, hand milking is a personal choice for every farmer. Think about the time investment, the number of cows that must be milked and the amount of additional work you have to get done on and off the farm. If your cows are relaxed and your forearms are in good shape, it can be a very rhythmic and soothing experience for you and for the cow. Happy Milking!



7/15/2014

Mother Earth News. jpg

I have been a faithful reader of MOTHER EARTH NEWS since it first was published in 1970. The very first edition I read was in newspaper form unlike the beautiful glossy magazine that is published now. I can remember going by the magazine rack in a store while I was getting some walking exercise from my desk on a lunch break and picking up a copy thinking it looked interesting. After getting the copy back to my office started reading and I was hooked for good. Since that early edition, the publication has changed considerably but the underlying subject matter as a guide to living wisely has remained the same. It is still strongly contributor oriented.

Congested Living vs. Simple Living

From that first edition of MOTHER EARTH NEWS which I read from front to back I have discovered that those who gravitate to the magazine are a special breed of people. People who like to do things for themselves, are conscious of the environment, desirous of keeping things simple and living wisely. Those who live in a chrome/glass world and drive upscale vehicles may not be as interested in the magazine but I have learned never to rule anything out and I’m sure there is still hope for those people too. I’m also sure there are those who are stuck in bumper to bumper commutes to work each day that dream or long for a less complicated lifestyle. I remember during my one hour commute to work each day how I would smell the exhaust fumes while I crept along with what seemed a never ending string of traffic. I would dream of a less complicated life where I could be in the country or the mountains with fresh air, pure water, less stress and living closer to the earth and nature.

I have always been a conservationist and reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS helped me to realize that there were many like myself and provided me the desire to one day make a life change from the stressful situation I found myself in. Living a simple life in harmony with the environment and trying to leave our little piece of homestead as natural as possible to what it was when we carved out our home initially and sustaining its suitability for others who may come in the future has been our goal. A conservationist is someone who preserves, guards, protects and exercises wise use of the environment and wild life.

A Single Thought Was Born

It was those many years ago when I picked up that initial edition of MOTHER EARTH NEWS that a thought was born that someday I could live like what the contributors were writing about. A wiser, more simple life without all the stress and conflict of the corporate world. That initial thought was nurtured over the years with each copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS I read until it became a serious desire and goal. Then as I finally neared retirement age it became more of an obsession to redirect my life. So here I sit typing this on my laptop living the dream that I wasn’t sure would ever happen but finally did became a reality. I can envision someone today picking up their first copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and as they read the magazine hatching a thought of one day living a less complicated life too.

When I look around our mountain homestead I now realize that reading all those publications over the years has enabled me to employ many of the things learned that have now made our life better. Making it far better to experience living wisely without the repetitive unexpected surprise events that can challenge a person. Questions I would not have contemplated were answered before the need ever arose by reading Mother Earth News all those years. Reading comments to the editor in each edition reveals to me that others are still making that lifestyle change or planning to. I believe many others have ventured into a new life style over the past 40 years due to the existence of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

While I do not consider myself an expert on living wisely, I now enjoy writing about our life here on the mountain and telling about all the hard work involved. How living in close proximity to wild animals - some that would paralyze people with fear - is actually very normal and they make respectful and excellent neighbors. How every morning as I step outside I take a breath of fresh air that has natural odors and not vehicle exhaust or other neighborhood smells. How pleasant it is to draw a glass of crystal clear water from our well that is cold and refreshing. These and many more things all contribute to our enjoyable lifestyle and it started many years ago when I picked up that first copy of MOTHER. A dream was hatched that day and I suspect that many more dreams have also hatched for others over the years.

Keep It Simple

When I contribute an article to MOTHER, I try to follow the formula from long ago by other contributors and keep it factual, straight forward and informative. This particular article is more for my benefit than other readers as I need to keep reminding myself how all this actually came together for me. I hope I never take our lifestyle for granted or lose its unique benefits. Maybe then I can impart something that will in some small way benefit others in their dream to live a simple more healthy life.

Life Changer

When you pick up a copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS you don’t know what it may actually inspire in you. A single thought of living life more wisely, simply and efficiently may actually grow into something that will one day redirect your life. I can clearly track my desire back to 1970 when I picked up that first issue of Mother Earth News. I have found over the years that there is something in each issue that I can benefit from. I think it can be fairly stated that Mother Earth News changes lives. I’m sure glad I picked up that first issue.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com/



7/15/2014
HOMEGROWN pigs in mud

Ah, summer on the farm. The tomatoes and peppers are coming along. The squash and zucchini are booming. And the cows are trying to get their fill of grass at sunup, before the heat of the day sets in.

Sounds perfect, right? The very picture of abundance, joy, and prosperity so many people think of when they hear “family farm.” The truth is a little more complicated. Sure, summer has its strong points but it also has its downsides.

First, let’s talk temperatures. So far, we’ve only had a few days over 90 degrees, but July and August are the usual boilers around here, in West Missouri. We also have high humidity. In fact, nearly every day I’ve watched a World Cup match, I’ve heard that the brutal temperatures and humidity in Brazil make soccer hard to play. And yet our temperatures and humidity in Missouri have actually been higher than those in Brazil. While farming is not a 90-minute endurance of speed, like soccer can be, it certainly takes a lot longer than 90 minutes each day to get our work done. And pretty soon it's gonna be 100-plus degrees, with hot winds and high humidity. It’s like carrying buckets and hoeing in the middle of a furnace.

(Pig image: Our pigs keep cool by hanging out in the water, too.)

Second, weeds. By now, summer weeds are sharp and tough. When weeding the veggie patch, you can hardly pull anything without getting a sticker stuck in your hand or finger. Oh, and don’t forget the poison ivy.

Third, mowing. Sometimes we mow pastures and bale it up (that’s hay) so that the cows, sheep, and goats will have something to eat in winter. Sometimes we mow so that the grass quality will improve for the next round of grazing. Sometimes we mow to kill the weeds starting to go to seed. We also have to mow our yards, which, unfortunately, are usually too large. I hate mowing, but it has to be done. It just never seems to end.

So, how’s a farmer to cope? Easy. Do what every farm family does. Get yourself a cheap little swimming pool. It’s hours of fun for the kids and it takes the edge off. It keeps me cool—and sane. Plus, even for us organic farmers who hate chemical fertilizers and such, the chlorine in the pool can be a very good thing when it comes to killing potential rashes. Yes, here at our house we try to keep the chlorine to an absolute minimum, but it’s still in there.

HOMEGROWN Farmer Bryce's backyard pool

I know. I know. It would be nice to live in a place with cool and clean spring-fed creeks, the idyllic “swimming hole” of so many songs and poems harkening back to the good ole days. But not everyone can live along the Current River in the Ozarks. In fact, if more of us lived there, it wouldn’t be very clean and pristine. Not to mention the fact that it’s rocky, with very, very thin soil. In other words, not great for agriculture.

So, those of us in the Farm Belt cheat. We fill up our pools with water and blast that water with chemicals to keep it clean. It might disappoint some of you who think we farmers are strong and hardworking and stoic in the face of summer’s adversity. But we all need a coping strategy. Mine, and that of most farm families I know, is to pop open a beverage (I prefer Boulevard Beer from KC) and to take a dip.

This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.

Bryce Oates is a farmer, father, writer, and conservationist in West Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: to wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

Photos by Bryce Oates









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