Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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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!


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!


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:

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

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

A floppy Jubilee

In the evenings, after I’ve come home from my 9-5 and the barn chores are complete, my very favorite thing to do is to sit with my goats. This brings me a lot of peace and makes everything feel “worth it”, no matter how horrible the rest of my day has been. Each goat gets a little bit of individual attention, and my pats and scratches also search for lumps, bumps, scratches, ticks, and any other hidden surprises. I feel their coats and try to be aware if anyone is feeling particularly coarse or has flaky skin. Occasionally I manage to snag a hoof and check to see if a trim is needed.

Most importantly, I watch. Each goat has her own personality, her individual quirks. I love watching them interact, seeing their evolving relationships with each other as a herd. Sadie and Flinder, our two girls in milk, are currently trying to hash out who’s herd queen. Our “teenage” girls live to chase the younger “babies” of the group. The “Babies” spend a lot of time perched on the igloos, staying out of reach and trying to avoid harassment.

I’ve always considered this time spent sitting with goats a little indulgent on my part, and even a little on the lazy side since I enjoy it so much and I get to sit down and essentially do nothing. Recently however, I learned just how valuable this observation time is, and how essential it is to goat health and management.

While I was at work the other my husband messaged me and let me know our doeling Jubilee hadn’t finished all of her morning grain and had scoured. Since they were now browsing all of the new Spring offerings in their outside area, I chalked it up to an upset tummy and we gave her some probiotics. As the day progressed my husband let me know Jubilee was eating hay, browsing and drinking well, so I didn’t worry. When I got home and the goats were given their evening grain, Jubilee ate her share and I was reassured she was fine.

Healthy Jubilee

I settled on the floor for my evening goat time, and watched and petted and lounged. Jubilee was in her usual position on the igloo and I decided to take a few photos of her. While I was lining up for a good shot, I noticed her ears were droopy.

As I looked harder, I noticed her expression was a little vacant, her eyes lacking their usual spark. I told my husband I thought there was something “off”, and he reassured me Jubilee was fine. But I couldn’t shake the feeling. I got up and went for the thermometer for a quick check. As my husband held her, we watched together as the reading climbed to 106. Nearly suffocating with panic, I insisted we do it again, thinking it must be a mistake. The numbers climbed. My husband warned me not to panic, but it too late.

Long story short, it was 9PM, no vet available, stores closed, no Banamine on hand. Luckily, I have some really supportive, amazing goat friends who took my frantic calls and helped me get the medication I needed. Jubilee made a full recovery and has been her happy, healthy little self ever since. I also now have Banamine in my goat cabinet.

I am convinced that if I hadn’t known my little goat so well, we would have went to bed that night, and in the morning, found that Jubilee had died. I now consider my goat watching time an essential part of my goat care routine. And I don’t feel a bit guilty about enjoying it.                           

You can keep up with Carrissa and Feather and Scale farm on their FB page on her much neglected blog or check out the Feather and Scale Farm website at


Rollo when he was bornMy current goat kid tally was a bit dismal: five bucklings and one doeling. While I don’t have anything against male kids per se, everyone wants females and bucklings are considered undesirable since they don’t produce milk.

Too Many Bucklings

I already have a buck: Oreo. And while I’ll need a new buck to replace him, I don’t need them all now. Bucks are obnoxious and stinky. They pee on their beards and front legs. During rut, they’re difficult at best. Having six bucks during rut is impossible. Plus there’s absolutely no way I could keep them all away from the girls.

What that means is that I have a lot of meat on the hoof. Goat meat is very tasty – a low fat version of beef – and is very healthy. But buck meat is darn near inedible, so you have to neuter or wether the bucklings.

Wethers Make Good Pets

Another reason to wether a buck is that wethers make exceptional pets. If you’re looking for weed eaters on the cheap, wethers fulfill that roll nicely. Want a pack goat? Think wether. Want a low maintenance goat? Yep, wether again. You can keep wethers in with the girls and never worry about having the does accidentally bred. Wethers don’t fight like bucks either. So, there are plenty of reasons to have wethers instead of bucks. The downside is that they don’t give milk, of course.

This may or may not be an issue to you. For me, all my livestock must do something to earn their keep. So wethers will eventually go to freezer camp.

How I Wether Goats

Other people wether goats in various ways. I band my bucklings when they reach 3 months old. Younger than that and you run the risk of urinary problems. The way I do it can be considered somewhat controversial because not everyone thinks of it as humane. The truth is if you band quickly, there’s no pain. None of my bucklings have ever cried or even made noise while I banded them. The only time I’ve had them scream is when they got tired of being held – and that was before I had a chance to band them.

The Elastator

You use an evil looking device called an Elastator, which you put the neutering band on the four prongs. When you squeeze the handles, the prongs open where you slip the scrotum into the neutering band. You can’t be squeamish with this as you must make certain that both testes are well within the scrotum before you close the prongs and slip the band off of the prongs. The band cuts off blood flow to the testes and they wither and die in a couple of weeks.

The main concern is to not get either nipple caught inside the band. They’re very close to the scrotum so if you’re not sure, keep a set of scissors handy in case you have to cut the band and try again.

It’s best to have a partner hold the buckling sitting on his rear with his legs splayed so you can get at the scrotum. It usually requires that person sitting behind the kid while you perform the banding. Today I actually banded Rollo while he was standing up in the milk stand, happily munching on sweet feed. This was, by far, the least stressful banding. Given that Rollo is skittish with humans and doesn’t like being handled, it shows just how simple and gentle it really is — at least for goats.


The is the second part in a multi-part blog following our "adventures" as we build our much anticipated new pole barn. Click here to read Part 1. We made the decision NOT to build the barn ourselves and are using the same building supply and contractor who built our beloved pole barn house and tractor/hay pole barn. In this post, you will see we are making changes and adapting our plans:

As it turns out, where I thought the barn should go is not where it needed to go. We staked out the dimensions, pulled the diagonals to check for square, and drew a string level.  One diagonal was nearly 48” below the upper corner. That is quite a bit of fill to move around.

In the meantime, we got our first quotes on the project. Realizing we needed more lean-to space and a little less interior, we trimmed the barn to 28x36 adding two 12’ lean-tos on the 36’ sides.  Total footprint will be 52x36’.

barn plans

The bid came in at approximately $14,000- labor included; the 12’ lean-tos are a significant extra, 10’ would have been much less but we already have 10’ lean-tos on the tractor barn, and they “almost” cover equipment, round bales, etc.  The extra 24” will be worth it in the long run.   Plans include two sliding end doors, 4 skylights, insulated roof (prevents that irritating condensation “rain”) and two walk through doors.  We may pour a 10x10 concrete slab in the corner of the barn or outside on the north lean-to for a future milking area.

run off ditch

(Right) The ditch to prevent run-off from flooding the new barn.  After a 2” rain we found the ditch works as planned.

Glenn mowed the paddock with the brush hog, then began to ditch just uphill of the site.  Our soil is thin, on a layer of crumbling sheeted rock, with a layer of clay underneath.  Water will soak into the soil and run off, following the rock layers.  Once the ditch was completed, we saw how much more level the paddock is at the new ditch.  Easy enough, we moved the corners of the barn west 60’.  Now the lowest diagonal is only 12-18” below the highest corner.

The cows will have 3-12’ bays to shelter in during the winter and we will easily be able to put two round bales under the lean-to roof for them.  The goats will be able to go inside the barn.  The actual floor space they will have is about the same as the current goat barn.  We could not see any reason to make it larger, which breaks the number one rule of barn building- always build larger than what you think you will need.


The picture is from an old satellite image before we even divided the field into 16 grazing sections.  The dotted lines represent the peak of the roof.  The working pens are currently adjacent to the old goat barn and the pipe panels, 10 and 12’ sections, are easily moved.

With the barn moved uphill to the west, the original paddock is now divided into two- the working area with the sweep tub and holding pens will all need to be rearranged and configured, but this is actually a very good thing.

Now we need to get up with the dozer operator.  Our neighbor has a dozer but he is behind on his hay and hay always comes first.  We figure a half-day (less actually) is all that will be needed.  We could use our tractor to push the topsoil around, but a trained professional is called for at times.  In the meantime, we will continue to do what we can to better tweak the plans.  We are even thinking that the site of the old goat barn would make a great greenhouse, and that we can definitely build ourselves!

Next blog post:  Dozer work

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MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

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