Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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“Ok” she said as she gestured to the small empty hen house that was sitting in the corner of the yard. “Tell me what I should do with my chickens."

It was a question that I was half expecting, half not expecting. I was visiting some friends who are in the middle of a renovation on a new house that they just purchased, and I had come over to check the place out. Having just returned to California after an extensive time working and learning at Polyface Farm, I have been ready to share the information that I have gathered. With the experience I attained there, I stopped off in Indiana where I helped get a small farm laid out;  I worked with the owners on certain aspect of the infrastructure, planning, and how many animals they would start with.

It was awesome! I’m ready to share and help more fellow farmers.

Sharing this information and my experience with others has been proving to be beyond enjoyable. I love talking with people and hearing their ideas, as well as laying out mine. As I have been having an increased number of individuals ask me to come and check out their places, or wondering if they can bounce ideas off of me, I have been seeing some trends and patterns with people’s questions. What I have begun to do is have a response/first question that I approach them with.

When they ask me “what should I do with my chickens?” I respond with “well…what are your goals?”

When someone says to me “where should I put up this interior fence?” I respond with “what are your goals with installing this fence?”

And when an individual inquires as to “what methods you would use if I had you started managing my cattle for me?” I answer with “well, let’s talk about what your goals are for these cattle.”

You see, your goals determine your approach to a situation and what your actions regarding it are going to be.

If my friends with the backyard chicken coop have their goal being that they want a dozen eggs a week, but that they don’t want the chickens wandering around their yard and pooping on the deck around their pool, then their approach to how they manage their birds is going to be different than it would be if they wanted the eggs, plus a level of tick and insect control that could be accomplished by letting the birds roam free in the yard during the day. One goal (keeping the birds in their fenced in coop) results in eggs on the table and ticks on their children, while the other (granting the birds range of the yard) might mean fewer to no ticks, eggs on the table, but extra time spent in the evening shutting the coop and sweeping the chicken poop off the deck. There’s a tradeoff. They need to decide what they really want. What they are willing to do for it. What their goals are.

This goal determining needs to be decided before an individual embarks on the journey of starting a farm, and then this question needs to be asked about the subsequent steps that result from the initial goal.

If a person is working full time and wants a little something extra just for themselves, the five hens in the backyard might just fit the bill. They set up their coop. They buy the pullets and feed, and there you go…happy homesteading. At this stage, Jane and John Doe aren’t going to worry about how to position interior fencing on their property or how to set up a brooder that can hold a thousand hens. That’s not part of their goal.

But let’s say that the Does decide that their 20 acres would also be great for raising five hogs and a hundred layers because they want to provide maybe a little additional income and they want to raise some extra food for their neighbors. Now this new scenario again begs the question on what their goals are, not just for themselves, but also for the property. How much does the land play into it? Maybe they don’t give a rip about the health of the land, and they decide to make a stall in the corner for the pigs and a larger coop for the chickens. The pigs make a mini moon-scape in their pen and the birds continue to do their thing. Overall health of the animals is obviously not as good as it could be if the animals were out on pasture, but the Does still have jobs they have to show up to since those punch cards won’t stamp themselves. On the other hand, let’s say that they have this awakening and it’s not only the animals that they want, but they see the potential of bettering the soil and increasing fertility and yield by rotationally grazing the pigs as well as granting the birds freedom to some pastureland. Well, now their “free time” is spent moving a group of pigs now and then and gathering the eggs from the Eggmobile that they created to better manage their free-range layers. Gone are the late evenings on the town, because they birds need to be closed in the Eggmobile and they don’t want to be heading out to the field to do it at 1am.

You can see where I’m going with all of this.

Goals determine everything, and I’m not convinced that everyone takes the time to sit down and ask themselves what they are trying to accomplish.

If you can set yourself up with a battle plan that leads to your objective, then you are ten steps ahead of where you would be if you just started throwing things together and seeing where you end up. I’m not saying both won’t work, because both methods probably would. But knowing your goals can save you frustration and trials down the road as you have something you are working towards.

So do it. Get a battle plan. If you need to, get advice. Read a book. Draw from the farming community and experience around you and formulate a plan of action that will help you fill those boxes in on your personal check lists.

I love check lists.

Let’s set some goals, people.

“It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goals to reach.”- Benjamin E. Mays

Interested in seeing more of what Tim does? Follow along through the lens of his camera on Instagram, username MyPolyfacePerspective.

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.


Using damaged kale as a milking treat.

Most dairy goats demand a treat in return for allowing you to milk them, often a scoop of grain or other purchased, processed snack. Many years ago, we decided to cut back on grain as much as possible, to reduce both expense and health concerns for our ruminants. This partly involved replacing the daily dose of milking treat with another foodstuff that the goats would enjoy sufficiently to remain cooperative on the stand.

Plenty of goats feel that milking ends when the food runs out, not the milk. Grain is like candy to goats, and regular old hay just didn’t produce the same satisfaction and cooperation in our herd. Yet the solution was not only obvious, but efficient: using various leafy vegetables from elsewhere on our farm.

Brussells sprouts, sweet potatoes, and pole beans all produce abundant leafy waste material ideal for goat treats.

What to Feed Goats from the Garden

As a full-time vegetable farm for most of our goat-raising history, we generated a lot of “waste” material which couldn’t go to market or CSA shares, but was just fine for goats. This included:

1. Unwanted leaves left over from harvesting roots or stems, such as sweet potato, carrot, parsnip, turnip, & kohrabi.

2. Damaged or pest-ridden leaves, unsellable but goat-edible, such as cabbage, lettuce, & kale.

3. Plant material left after production, such as Brussells sprouts, broccoli, peas, beans, and cowpeas.

Goats can be picky in their own way, but in our experience they’re remarkably tolerant of damaged or pestiferous vegetable material. Wormy cabbage leaves? Yes, please, with a side of protein supplement. This makes goats a perfect alternative to the compost pile.

We’ve found that sweet potato vines, in particular, are beloved by goats. Sweet potatoes  have can their vines removed several days before digging, so during this period we gradually harvest vines each day and use them as milking treats and overnight food. Then we dig potatoes whenever we’re ready, with the vines already out of the way and turned into goat food.

Growing and Storing Crops for Goat Feed

Diversified vegetable production should have something available for the goats during much of the growing season. We’ve even experimented with overwintering hardy collards to provide fresh green snacks during late fall and spring. We’ve also stored certain greens, such as kohlrabi and cabbage: the latter’s outer leaves are usually damaged and need to be stripped before sale or consumption, so we filled large coolers with these and stored them in our walk-in cooler for weeks, slowly feeding them out to the goats.

Workers on our vegetable farm stripping kohlrabi leaves into coolers, to be chilled and stored for later-season goat food. 

If you don’t have a vegetable farm or large garden, you could still consider planting a simple “goat garden” for a small homestead herd, a block of simple and hardy greens like kale, collards, or chard that will thrive without much attention, and produce a handy source of daily treats on your way to the milking location. These greens will remain goat-edible far longer than human-edible.

What Goats Eat Can Flavor Their Milk

It’s possible some greens may add flavors to the milk. This is something we haven’t experienced ourselves, despite all the different things we’ve fed out over the years. In fairness, we rarely drink our milk straight, turning it all into cheese, yogurt, and other products, which seems to eliminate any flavors our feeding practices might introduce.

Those with sensitive taste buds may want to experiment before feeding large quantities of an item to a dairy goat. That said, we’ve made a point of never feeding any alliums to our goats, in spite of a goat named Garlic being our herd matriarch for years. We’ve also avoided feeding any plants from the solonaceous family (tomato, pepper, potato, etc.) due to potential toxicity of some members of that family, and a lack of definitive answers in that regard.

Feeding sweet potato vines to appreciative goats 

Beyond milking treats, a goat herd of any kind functions as a great destination for large-scale vegetable matter. There are times when we need to clear lots of produce vegetation at once, particularly in the fall as frost looms, and feeding out cartloads of vegetable greenery saves moving fences to new paddocks as frequently.

While bloat is theoretically a concern if you over-feed the animals, we’ve never experienced it from vegetable material. Introduce small quantities of new items first, and keep an eye on your animals. Also, because partially cured hay can cause bloat, we err on the side of caution with fresh greens and don’t feed wilted materials.

Our homestead farm doesn’t like spending money, or importing outside products onto our land, and making use of these greens helps with that. And since we compost manure and bedding, including uneaten plant matter, then use it as vegetable fertility, feeding out waste green helps complete an on-farm fertility cycle. We still have to buy hay for winter, and keep a bag of organic alfalfa pellets around as a replacement milking snack when greens aren’t available, but it’s remarkable how well garden/farm scraps work as goat treats to save money and recycle on-farm resources.

Photo 1 by Eric Reuter. Photos 2, 3 and 4 by Joanna Reuter 

Eric and his wife, Joanna, founded their homestead farm in 2006, within a narrow Ozark-style valley with diverse landscapes and ecosystems. Chert Hollow Farm seeks to integrate food and farming into the ecosystem. He managed a home dairy goat herd from 2008 to 2014, and currently works part-time for a nearby artisanal goat dairy.

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Bees have nested in your home. How do you get rid of them humanely?

There are no easy answers to this situation. After you discover bees have taken nest on your property, the first thing to do is contact a local beekeeping club — and some not-so-local — to see if there is someone in the club who does this, not so much for the bees, but as a part-time job. Sometimes there is, sometimes not.

You may be lucky and find a beekeeper willing to do the work just for the bees. Don’t hold your breath, though. If you do, the beekeeper will probably simply remove the nest — the cleanup and reconstruction will be up to you. If there is a person who does this for extra income, there are several routes you can choose. The good ones will give you a quote over the phone after asking a few simple questions. Be sitting down.

Non-Lethal Bee Removal is Work

Removing the bees, and not killing them, is work: deconstruction, removal and transportation, and reconstruction. This is where choices come in. The minimum amount of work is removing outside, or maybe inside, coverings and exposing the nest and removing it, and then that’s it. This part will cost the least, because it takes the least amount of time.

Once removed, the cavity needs to be washed and filled with insulation so it doesn’t attract bees again. You can do that, then put it back together, or hire someone else to do some or all of this. My suggestion is that you hire a beekeeper, not a carpenter. Hire both because it usually costs less. But not always. Follow the job and the quote and make that decision.

I never recommend killing a nest, but sometimes the difficulty of removal, the expense of repair, or the location of the nest make removal all but impossible. It happens. And bees out of place can be just as dangerous, and just as destructive, as any other insect. Sometimes you simply have no choice.

Call the Exterminator or Do the Job Yourself?

You can call an extermination company, but they often won’t handle this because of the difficulty of the job. And it is difficult to kill an entire honeybee colony in a wall or other structure because very often the brood continues to emerge for days, and they don’t want to return and retreat.

Exterminators will also often say it is illegal to kill honeybees to avoid this task. It isn’t, but now you know why they say that. If they do come, they will spray or use pesticide powder at the entrance in hopes that the nest is nearby. It may be close, it may be quite far from the opening.

You can often locate the nest from inside the home by putting a glass to the wall where you think it might be and listening for the hum of the hive. Find the nest, find the opening(s) and you can plan from there. If the nest is a long way from the opening, a powder will be more effective because the bees will track it into the nest, gradually exposing all the bees to the poison. It’ll take a month to kill the colony if you do this, but once you see no more flying bees, you can do the deconstruction, cleaning and reconstruction yourself.

You can apply the dust yourself and obtain the same results. But here’s a trick: Watch the opening and make sure there is only one. If there are more than one, close all but one. Duct tape is effective for this for a while. However, if you see bees coming and going from more than one entrance, you may have more than one nest. Don’t miss that.

Ladders and such may not be your best friends, but for this you can probably hire a beekeeper to come and apply it. Sometimes you get lucky and the entrance is close, and the nest is right inside. For these you can use wasp and hornet spray 3 times per week, right at the entrance. It’ll take two or three cans, but it will work. If, however, you do have more than one nest and you close their only entrance, you will have another problem — they will find another entrance. And it will probably be inside the structure, not outside. Suddenly, you will have bees coming out of electric outlets, pipe cutouts or wherever.

After the Nest is Abandoned, Clean Up the Mess

Once the nest is dead, you have to go in and clean out the mess. There will be honey, wax, and lots of dead bees — figure a dead cat’s biomass that will gradually rot. The nest itself, now unregulated relative to temperature, will gradually disintegrate and the honey will run out, and soak through walls or ceilings. You have to clean and fill the cavity, fast.

When the Nest Does Not Pose a Threat

However, sometimes the nest is in a location that is not dangerous to passersby, not doing damage and not causing a problem. Can you let it stay there? In all likelihood, it will not make it through the winter and be gone by next spring and you can fix it then with much less difficulty and cost. Just leaving it alone is a choice, too.

Photo by Gallery Hip

Kim Flottum is the Editor-in-Chief of Bee Culture magazine. Bee Culture has international exposure and covers the practical side of keeping honey bees, whether one or two colonies in your backyard or on an urban rooftop, or managing them by the hundreds or thousands.  Connect with Bee Culture on Twitter and Facebook. Sign Up For The BUZZ free, right 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. 


Please note that I am writing about my personal experiences outlined in Part 1, which take place in the northeast U.S. with mob-grazed beef cattle. Some of the ideas below are not applicable to the Western states, where grass species and range management tactics are very different. I am also not addressing dairy farms or irrigated pastures. However, I firmly believe that the strategy described below works. I have observed its successful implementation on numerous farms from Missouri to New York.

Forage Recovery Management

Allow your grass to get tall enough to hide cows’ legs.

It’s common knowledge that short, vegetative grass is more digestible than mature, taller grass. For this reason, many agriculture professionals recommend a short grazing rotation (30-40 days). I personally disagree with this practice, in favor of tall grass grazing. By “tall grass”, I am referring to Eastern cool-season perennial forages such as orchard grass and tall fescue, grown to at least 10 inches between grazings.

My reasoning for using tall grasses is as follows. You can expect the root system of a grass plant to mirror the size you allow its top growth to reach. That means that a grass sward you regularly let grow to 12 inches has roots about 12 inches deep. If you graze your grass down to 2-inch stubble all the time, the root system will degrade and become very shallow. That’s fine if you could guarantee 2 inches of rain every week.

But when a drought hits (and it will!), short grass with short roots and no stored nutrient bank can’t survive. Nonexistent grass is not digestible at all! In addition, no trampling of forage mass (for decay into soil-building organic matter) can occur unless grass is allowed to reach or surpass about 10 inches in height. You can definitely forget stockpiling winter feed if you’re grazing into the dirt. Say hello to the hay bills.

If you provide your grass-genetic herd with taller, fully recovered grass, they will do just fine as long as their intake is never limited. Read that sentence again: If you provide your grass-genetic herd with taller, fully recovered grass, they will do just fine as long as their intake is never limited! Having hardy, easy-keeping genetics is absolutely imperative to successful tall grass grazing.

Dairy cattle and commodity beef breeds are generally high-maintenance animals with extreme production demands placed on them. These types of cattle may not be suited for grazing mature forages. Equally important is providing more grass to your herd than they could ever consume, every day and every move.

Managing your pastures to build soil fertility and plant nutrient content is hugely important if you’re grazing more mature forages. That topic could fill books, so review the work of Greg Judy, Allan Savory and Ian Mitchell-Innes for more information about holistic fertility building.

What is the key to getting this tall, abundant grass? Proper recovery period management! Recovery is the single most important factor that determines the sustainability of your grazing plan. It is the root (pardon the pun) from which all the benefits of mob grazing grow.

Consistent full recovery is the only cost-effective way to develop a strong forage-soil-microbial ecosystem. Any other fertilization method would require more money and labor than I’m willing to supply. Simply letting grass rest long enough has countless benefits: increased livestock carrying capacity, less water runoff and erosion, more attractive habitat for wildlife, and protection for soil organisms from scorching sun.

A grass plant has recovered fully when it has grown back 3-4 mature leaves after being grazed. This is the earliest point at which another defoliation will not damage the plants. If you graze said paddock again before that time, the plants’ root systems and regrowth vigor will be harmed.

In the Eastern United States, full recovery can take anywhere from 60 to 120 days. It varies based on season, precipitation and soil health. I recommend allowing a recovery period of at least 75 days on every farm east of the Mississippi River. With the right cattle, it’s nearly impossible to have a recovery period that’s too long.

The only exception to the 75-day rule may be during spring greenup, when grass is growing extremely fast. You can decrease the recovery period that follows your first spring rotation, but only if cattle are stocked lightly enough that they eat only the tips of the grass.

When you’re grazing fully-rested tall grass, it should hide the legs of your small, barrel-gutted, stocky cattle.

Forage Allocation

Let cattle eat until they’re full and lie down, hiding their legs.

If you never see your cattle lie down, this could indicate a forage allocation problem. When provided with all-they-can-eat forage, cattle will fill up on grass, then lie down to ruminate. They repeat this cycle multiple times per day. You should regularly see your animals lying down and chewing their cud (which hides their legs).

If there isn’t enough feed for your cows, they will be up grazing all day, trying desperately to fill their rumens. They’re expending precious energy that could be used for gain, and not taking in enough of it as it is. Move the herd off each paddock when a maximum of 50 percent of the forage in it has been eaten. This allows the animals to select the most nutrient-dense forage and trample the rest. Animal performance is maximized, and so is grass sward health and organic matter incorporation into the soil.


Make sure to check the left sides of your cattle for rumen fill regularly. If there’s a sunken triangle between the ribcage and hip just below the spine, the animal’s forage intake has been limited. That triangular area should be full and rounded on properly fed cows. Give your herd more grass if you see sunken spots. You must check the left side of the animal, because the rumen is not visible on the right side.

(On a side note, even well-fed cattle will voraciously graze every new piece of pasture they turned onto. If you are moving multiple times per day, don’t be surprised if cattle are eating constantly. In this case, they’re probably not starving.)

In summary, your cattle should appear not to have legs. Breed for short, stocky, grass-efficient cattle whose legs get lost in the grass. Your grass must be allowed to recover fully to a tall height, covering the legs of your animals. Do not allow more than 50 percent of the grass to be removed and reveal your herd’s hooves.

Allocate your forage so that your cattle have more to eat than they could ever possibly ingest. This allows them to fill up, then lay down and hide their legs to ruminate. Breed and cull your herd to fit into a low-labor management plan, so you don’t have to spend time looking at your cows’ legs. If there’s no legs in sight, you’re grazing right!

Meg Grzeskiewicz is a ranch consultant helping new and experienced farmers build profitable grazing operations. Meg’s articles have been published in Progressive Forage Grower magazine. She now runs Rhinestone Cattle Company, a mob-grazing beef operation built on leased land and custom grazing. 

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.



All goat owners have one thing in common. Within months, weeks, or even days, we find ourselves asking the question. “Wait a minute. Do I own this goat, or does this goat own me?

I was reminded of this fact last weekend as a friend and I watched a football game. We had barely taken out seats when his phone rang.

“Hi honey! Wait, slow down. He is? He did what? But how did he… Oh man. Okay, okay. Where is he now? That far away?? Gosh. Alright, it’s almost the second quarter, do I need to come home?”

As a farmer who has raised several hundred goats over the years, from floppy-eared Nubians to stalwart Boers to the funky, wooden legged Tennessee Fainters, I knew right away that this conversation had nothing to do with a misbehaving child, or a missing family dog or cat. No, I told myself, only an escaped goat could generate so much surprise, alarm and resignation all within a 10 second conversation. My suspicions were quickly confirmed.

“It’s my buck, Slingshot,” my friend explained. “He was in his pen when I left, and now he’s a mile away, at another farm. Apparently, he climbed onto his shelter, stood on his hind legs, and launched himself over the fence. It’s seven feet high!”

“Do you need to go back?”

“No,” he shook his head, smiling. “Slingshot’s my buddy. He always comes home.” He glanced nervously at his phone, however, checking for text messages. “That is, at least he’s always come home in the past.”

Ten minutes later, good news arrived. Slingshot had been returned home via a pickup truck and trailer, and my friend and I were able to enjoy the game without further goat-induced distractions. But it got me thinking. Right there, contained within one phone call, were four great tips that every goat owner should understand before embarking on one’s own goat odyssey.


Goats are Capricious

It’s no accident that we take the word ‘capricious’, defined as “given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior” from the root-word ‘capri’, meaning ‘goat’ in Latin. For example, turn your back on a goat that’s contentedly munching in a thicket of honeysuckle, and within five minutes it’ll be in your neighbor’s flowerbed. Then, pretend not to notice him in the flower bed (after all, goats seem to love human attention nearly as much as geraniums), and five minutes later it’ll be back in the honeysuckle patch. As far as I can tell, capriciousness is Chapter 1 the Goat Operations & Procedures Manual.

Goats Climb On Everything

Do you own a tractor? Goats will climb on it. Do you own a car? Goats will climb on it. Do you have a child? Well, they might not climb on little Susie or Jimmy, but they’re probably thinking about it.

At first, it’s entertaining to witness how nimbly a goat can ascend an otherwise insurmountable object. One afternoon, I discovered that twenty goats had navigated my hay elevator, climbing three stories into the mow. Have a mulberry tree? They’ll scramble up that, even walking out on the limbs.

But when it comes to them climbing on top of your vehicles, it can be a real pain in the butt. As in—you guessed it—goat poop on the top of your car. For seasoned goat farmers, I can practically see you nodding straight through my computer screen. So, the ‘bottom’ line is this: If you have something you don’t want the goats to climb on, then put it away somewhere safe and secure.

Goats Can Escape From (Or Into) Everywhere

Speaking of safe and secure, do you have good fences on your farm? Yeah, I thought I did, too. Turns out that a fence that’s cow-proof, sheep-proof and even pig-proof is typically little more than a trifling impediment for a goat. In fact, I honestly believe goats see fences as an intentional challenge, something needing to be crossed. It’s like leaving a jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table at your grandparent’s house. Within a few hours, you can guarantee grandpa will be hard at work, finding all the edge pieces.

And that’s exactly what goats do. They find the edges, and test them. Leave your barn door open a crack? That’s an expressway for a goat. Have a small hole in your fence? It’s an open invitation for a goat to ram his head against it, making it wider. Got a corral that’ll hold the toughest, orneriest bull? Pull out your stopwatches, folks. A goat will be out of there in seconds flat.


Goats Are Our Friends

More than anything else, however, goats are friendly and lovable. Just like my friend said, “Slingshot’s my buddy.” Despite their capricious, climbing, pooping and escaping ways, at the end of the day these creatures are so inexplicably gregarious that we always find a way to forgive them. They’re kind of like a younger brother during his college years; always making a mess, always trying some reckless stunt, and forever getting into our refrigerators when we’re not looking, eating all of our leftover pizza.

But at the end of the day, we still love him, right? And we even learn to live with his annoying habits. After all, every family—and every farm—needs a lovable, forgivable scapegoat.

Photo credit Molly Peterson and Forrest Pritchard

Want to know more about goats? Then check out my new book Growing Tomorrow, where I visit a prison in Colorado; the inmates milk 1,200 goats each day!

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 number one rule at the Bob-White Systems Micro Dairy Farm is that our cows must be easy and safe to handle. I don't want to have to catch or chase after our cows when they are out on pasture. I want them to come to me when they see me.  Usually they will just follow me to wherever I want them to go or I can also lead them by their collars.  Sometimes, if they are feeling rambunctious, we may have to put a halter on them but that is rare.

Our Micro Dairy is a dairy farm, not a wildlife refuge. I don't have the time or desire to chase cows across the countryside if I need to get them into the barnyard or barn.  And I don't need cows that are difficult to milk. As a result I raise my calves so they will grow to become tame, calm and well-mannered cows. Here is how I do it:

1. I try to have my cows calve on pasture (during the warmer season here in Vermont) or in my calving pen if it is cold or wet outside.

2. Generally, I will separate the cow and the calf once the calf has been cleaned by its mom and is dry.  


3. I milk the calf's mom as soon as I can and bottle feed the calf 1/2 gallon of warm colostrum. I usually have no problem getting the newborn to drink, though sometimes it takes patience and the knowledge gained from feeding thousands of new born calves. From that point on, I will not let the calf nurse on its mom for several reasons. First, I want the calf to bond with me so that its first loyalty is to me and not the herd. Second, calves can be very rough when they nurse.  They can bruise and cut the cows' teats. I just make it a clean break.

4. Then, I will tie the new born calf to the inside wall of the barn opposite the manger and make a nice thick bed of shavings and rowan for it to lay down in. I make sure it has enough line to easily get up and down but not so much that it can hang itself.  Why tie the calf to the wall?  First I want the calf to get used to being restrained.  The calf will struggle a bit at first but it soon grows used to being tied.  Second I want the calf to be in a high traffic area where it can see it's mom when the cows are in and where it will become familiar with all the sights, sounds and smells of the barn.  

5. I pat and scratch the calf every time I go by it so it will get used to my touch. I also refresh the calf’s bedding often so it is clean and dry.

6. After an average of two weeks I will move the calf outside to our 10 foot by 10 foot calf pen that is right next to the barn and the driveway. The calf pen is actually part of the cow's run in shed so the calf and its mom can see one another and touch noses. Feeding the calf there is easy and convenient and the calf becomes accustomed to the traffic on the driveway that includes cars, trucks, tractors, dogs, people walking etc. 

7. While the calf is in this pen I will train it to drink from a bucket and increase the amount of milk I feed it to a gallon or more per feeding. I will have the calf humanely dehorned at the earliest age possible. The calf will stay in this pen a month or two depending on how fast she matures.

8. During the warmer months, the next step will be to introduce the calf (not old enough to be referred to as a heifer) to our heifer paddock, which is approximately 200 feet long and 100 feet wide. The paddock includes a nice old apple tree and a small run in shed, more than enough lush grass for a small heifer and a water tub. Plus, it’s located close to our house, orchard and garden where I can keep a close watch on it.


9. The heifer paddock is enclosed by a four strand high tensile electric fence. In order for the fence to be effective, I have to train the calf to respect it. I do this by first making sure the fence controller is working at full strength. I then tie a long but light line to the heifer's halter and give her enough length so that she can touch the fence and learn about it herself — and not connect me with the shock. It is important that the calf is old enough to understand the connection between the shock and the fence. If learned properly, this lesson will stay with the heifer for life.

When the calf is a few weeks older, the next step will be to train her to respect a single strand of polywire. That will allow me to safely turn her out with the herd in the larger cow pasture that is enclosed by only one or two strands of polywire. I do this by dividing the heifer paddock up into two sections by a single strand of polywire and letting her learn about it on her own under my careful watch.

10. After she is about six months old, weaned and clearly respects the fence she is now a heifer that I can put her out with the cows. It is always nerve wracking for me when a heifer goes out into the big pasture on her own for the first time. We live in a thickly settled village and the last thing I need is an excited heifer running amuck through the neighborhood. So far, we have been lucky.

This may seem like a complicated process for raising calves, but it flows logically and in the end, the calves become heifers who can rejoin their mothers in the herd.  Then they have calves of their own and become cows and the cycle goes on and on.

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.



One of the wonderful aspects of permaculture is the mindset of integrating systems in ways that enhance each other. Over the last few years we’ve read books, watched videos, took courses, and done small-scale experiments to learn these processes. It wasn’t until we actually got onto our homestead (almost one year ago) and started implementing these principles that we truly began to learn and fully appreciate the beauty of integrated systems.

One of the concepts we are always trying to focus on is the permaculture phrase, “The problem is the solution.” We don’t think there’s any better “problem” to utilize this principle on than waste. When we think of old coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable peels and ends, plate scrapings, crusty bread, grass clippings, manure, and so on, we don’t always think of it as a resource. But what a resource they are!

Before we moved to our homestead, we were “suburbanites.” We did try our hand at compost on a very small scale, but when you have seven children that little compost receptacle fills up quickly, and you inevitably resort back to using the garbage disposal and trash cans, which we did.

Now that we’ve transplanted our family to the country we look at things from a different viewpoint. It’s pretty amusing to consider how much we’ve changed in this aspect. Case in point: Now, when friends and family visit, I almost cringe when I see them throw perfectly good “waste” away in the trash can (I secretly dig it back out). A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.

But, I’m happy to say, we’ve done a complete 180, our waste is now a resource, and yours can be too! So let’s discuss some important aspects of composting.

First off, I have to confess, we do not compost perfectly, and we don’t pretend that is our objective. Our intention on our homestead is to minimize input while maximizing results. Could we get quicker results if we honed our compost method and spent more time tending to it? Sure, but we’re pretty happy with the results we are getting. We want to encourage everyone to start a compost whether it is with a large-scale multi-bin system or small-scale compost turner on an apartment deck. Sometimes keeping it less labor-intensive makes your system more “doable.”  It can be as simple or complex as you want — but as we always say, “just start."

Compost Ingredients

So, with that in mind, there are four basic ingredients to composting that you need to think about: carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen.

First, you need to add both carbon and nitrogen in a balanced ratio. If you can keep this ratio correct you will have a healthy and non-smelly compost pile. Carbon would be items like shredded newspaper, cardboard, leaves, wood ash, etc. Think of these as “brown.”

Nitrogen would be items such as grass clippings, coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, and so on. Think of these as “green.” The ratio of carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) you are looking for is 25-30:1. There are many helpful lists online that would aid you in determining the levels of carbon and nitrogen of individual items if you want to do the math and work toward perfect balance. However, what we do is keep a bin of carbon rich material (brown) on hand, and each time we add “green” material to our active compost bin we also add this “brown” material.

This all could turn into a real science if you were looking for the perfect ratio, but how we’ve decided to compost is a little bit looser and less intensive. We keep an eye on the smell of our bin, if we have a smelly compost bin we realize the levels are off and we add a little more “brown” material. Pretty simple.

Oxygen and Moisture Content of Healthy Compost

Next you need some moisture. This is an important component as it will keep the helpful bacteria growing and happy. Make sure there isn’t too much moisture as this will cause too much compaction, decreasing the next necessary item: oxygen.

One of the ways to ensure proper watering is to keep a cover near. If it is raining, you will likely want to cover the pile to keep it from getting overly wet. If it is very dry outside, then you need to water your active pile once in a while, then cover it to help retain the moisture and decrease evaporation. As you can see, you will probably need a cover. Don’t get caught up in finding the perfect cover — even a plastic sheet held down with large rocks will suffice.

As mentioned above, the final element is oxygen. The addition of oxygen can be achieved through turning your compost pile to aerate it. Again, we do not do this; we have chickens that like to work our piles. I think that helps a lot, but the other thing we have in our compost pile is plenty of “brown” material in the form of manure-covered straw. This straw is layered throughout our pile to not only keep the balance of carbon and nitrogen in check but, because it is rather course material, it provides pockets for air to travel through.

Those are the basic ingredients for a compost pile. We’ve decided to keep ours very simple and non-demanding, but if you are really interested in shortening the break down process there are books, articles and videos out there that will show you how to use the elements to their fullest [Editor's note: Search the MOTHER EARTH NEWS archive by typing "Compost" in the search bar above].

No matter what, I highly recommend learning more about composting so you can thoroughly employ your “waste” for improved soil fertility and abundance.

Remember, the four basic ingredients are:

• Carbon: “brown” material
• Nitrogen: “green” material
• Water
• Oxygen

Start a compost pile, don’t worry about perfection, read, learn, and experiment.

If you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact Sean and Monica at Sovereign Sonrise Permafarm and form more information n composting, please listen to podcast Number 86 on iTunes and Stitcher radio, or go to The Courageous Life Podcast.

Blessings from Sovereign Sonrise Permafarm - Monica Mitzel

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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