Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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A short TV spot about the full-blooded timber wolves we reared from pups and cared for until their deaths from old age, for a total of 18 years.


Newborn Lambs With Mother

Being a farmer and an entrepreneur is never dull. There is always a vast array of things to do and that need to be done. Throughout the day I literally ‘change my hat’ many times. This suits me fine. I may be tired at the end of the day, but always content and never bored. The summer months are particularly very busy; the vegetables are ripening and calling to be picked and preserved, maturing lambs are ready to go to market, and goat milking is at its prime, bags of wool require spinning. With all these jobs other chores tend to appear, like fencing, egg collecting….I could go on, but you get the idea. Add to this the fact that we live in a rural area that is quickly becoming a prime tourist destination. Running my farm market alone keeps me hopping.

Raising Pastured Lambs

Front Of Our Log Barn

Each season brings its expected tasks and some surprises too. Yesterday required me to do one of the chores I like the least, taking lambs to the abattoir. Our lambs are free range with no shortage of lush, natural vegetation to graze upon. They are healthy, large and quite spirited. Weighing around 100 lbs. each, being approximately 6 months of age and living an unrestricted life, they can be a force to be reckoned with. The evening before I transport the lambs, my husband, Tim, and I put them into stalls in the barn. At 5:30 am the next morning we load them into the back of our enclosed pickup truck. We load them early as Tim has an off farm job and loading these lambs is definitely a two person job. Believe me; I have done it alone. Wrestling one of these lambs when you don’t weigh much more than the lamb is quite a feat! I have also attempted, (emphasis on ‘attempted’), to load goats with the help of our daughter….that in itself is a story for another day!

On this particular July morning, with an overcast sky, Tim backed the truck up to the old log barn. Getting the first lamb in is difficult enough, but getting a couple more in without the first ones escaping is a challenge. We loaded three ram lambs and took a moment to look around in the dim morning light at the rest of the herd. They generally sleep close to the barn being guarded from predators by our guardian livestock dogs. Suddenly Tim called out, “there’s a baby!” My first response was to think he was joking around. Our lambs are born between November and February, with an occasional late being born in March or early April. This is July. Sure enough, amongst the herd, one of our Finn sheep-Gotland cross ewes had a very wet lamb on the ground beside her. Knowing that she may possibly have more, we lead her into the barn and put her in a stall with her lamb. There wasn’t much time to adore the new baby; Tim had to get to work. We drove down to the farmhouse and he headed out in his truck.

Our Century Old Log Barn

Our barn is a good walk back behind the house and I didn’t have time to walk back this morning as I had to get the lambs to the abattoir. Not wanting to stress the lambs in the back of the pickup any more than I had to, I left the truck at the house and went back to the barn with the ATV loaded with my milking paraphernalia for the goats, dog food and grain for the new mother. Of course, I forgot my flashlight. There is no electricity in this 150 year old barn. In the darkness, I could slightly make out the ewe and her new lamb. The ewe was lying on her side, straining. Not having time to return to the house for my light, I gently felt my way in the darkness. She pushed and then stood up. Oh, just the afterbirth I thought and then felt her back end just to be sure. Suddenly, she pushed again and a large black lamb slid into my arms. I lay the slippery baby down, wiped the mucus from its nose and let mom do her stuff.

I went on to milk the goats and complete my other chores before I made the drive into town with the lambs in the back of our pickup. While doing so I thought how peculiar life can be sometimes. Just when I thought my day was starting off with a ‘goodbye’, we unexpectedly find we are also welcomed with a beautiful ‘hello’. Life here on the farm is full of surprises!

Lambs, 11 Hours Old


House after 75 days

When we started with our grand plan to build a barndominium on property we owned in Texas (while still living in Australia), our focus was on things we could do in finite "chunks" while we were in the U.S. We also focused on doing things that family could supervise if they were discrete projects like coordinating with the power company on the location of the transformer.

Steps to Build Our 'Barndominium'

To recap the stages:

  1. We acquired some acreage adjacent to our daughter and family.
  2. We arranged for key utilities like power and a well while still in Australia
  3. We consulted with the firm to build a large metal "barn"
  4. We coordinated with an architect friend to create the details for the interior of the house, including detailed electrical drawings and other details
  5. We had a roadway cleared and reinforced from the main road down to the construction area

Three years ago (hardly seems that long now) the metal barn was built and I flew in from Australia, joined by a son from California and a week later, Julie joined us from Australia. In one week, we enclosed the exterior of the "house" portion of the barn (we don't have steel on the house area below 10' from the floor). The following week, we finished the siding, windows, doors, parked our travel trailer in the large garage/shop area of the barndominium, locked everything up and flew back to Australia.

Lessons Learned

The following 2 years were slow progress - mostly during our return trips each year. The rough framing of the house was done and most of the electrical rough wiring were completed. We had some lessons learned in this process:

  1. People don't do what you expect.  They do what you inspect.  If you want quality work, be there.
  2. Things cost more to get done when you aren't doing the buying
  3. Doing as much of your own work as you can saves money and increases quality.

A bit over a year ago, I returned, leaving Julie in Australia while I worked very long days (often with key helpers) for 75 days to take the raw frame of a house and turn it into a livable house.  Since Julie does much of her work from a home office, she can't work in a construction zone and while her company does have an office in the area, it's 30 miles away with significant traffic and no real advantage for work other than a faster network than we can afford at home.

Here's an internal view of the house when I returned:

House Condition When I Arrived

And here are a few shots of what we were able to accomplish in about 75 days:

View to the Kitchen

MBR ClosetDecorating the Living RoomOutdoor PorchOutdoor Patio

The large picnic tables on the outdoor patio were built by me and my oldest grand daughter who visited for a couple of weeks.  They were built from wood we re-purposed from the many pallets we received materials on and from some leftover 2"x 6" construction grade wood.

So was it all worth the time and exceptional effort? Absolutely!  Were there times when I felt completely overwhelmed by the thousands of things that needed to be done? Of course. Is there still a lot to do? Every day!

Looking Forward

So what's on the list of things to do in the short term? Cultivating the garden, building a second house on the property for Julie's mother (we'll do a manufactured house to save time) and developing various areas on the property for chickens, bees, animals and a water feature or small pond.

When we first envisioned the property, we had a two year vision from the time we arrived back in the US. I think now it's more like a 4-5 year project. Things take a bit longer than I thought to get done (a perpetual optimist), we've added things we would like to do now that we've been here awhile and (maybe most important) we've learned that not everything needs to be done tomorrow. Sometimes it's nice to take a deep breath, relax for a few days and enjoy the place for what it is - a beautiful work in progress, developed on land where nothing had been grown or developed before.


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

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


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.


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 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


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


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!

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