Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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If your loved ones were depending on you to start a fire for their warmth in a pouring rain, could you do it? Survival expert and author of Practical Outdoor Survival, et al, shows you how it's done.


Hi everyone! This week was a lot of preparation for Polyface Farm’s last ever Field Day (It’s okay to boo. The people who attended Field Day were bummed when Joel made the last Field Day ever announcement.) and a good amount of working with machinery for me. It was a really fun week and I hope you enjoy reading about it! 

Monday, July 14th

bale pile

My morning chore this week was moving the broiler shelters. Those of you who have read my posts before probably remember that my adventures moving broilers has been a recurring theme, but I am happy to report that my shelter moving this week was greatly improved from weeks prior. My hands have gotten more used to this type of work (ie. manual labor) and over the course of the week, my roommate Alicia only helped me with a few shelters. Even though it was a humbling lesson to have learned, I am glad to see the progression of my strength and my patience. After morning chores, I had the chance to work in the gardens to clean them up for our impending Field Day visitors.

The afternoon (and better part of the evening) was spent stacking and moving square bales of hay at one of the properties Polyface manages with Daniel Salatin, Eric, our Apprentice Manager, Jonathan aka. Jak, one of our apprentices and Josh, one of my fellow interns. Doing this has been one of the highlights of my time here, as I got to drive one of our trucks and a gooseneck trailer full of huge bales of hay (I’ve included a picture so you can see what I’m talking about) from about 1pm until dark. Polyface subcontracts the making of these big bales to an operator with the proper machinery, as the baler we have only makes the small bales. After the bales are made and dropped onto the grass, it is our responsibility to gather the bales, stack them, salt them and cover them with tarps to protect them until winter. Since these bales are so large, we need the tractors to lift the bales, stack one on top of another, lift the two stacked bales and place them on the flatbed trailer. Said flatbed trailer driver (Me! And Josh. We had two trucks going.) drives a full load of bales to the massive stack (see photo) where another tractor is there to unload and stack the bales. Generally, it is the driver’s responsibility to get out, climb the stack and salt the bales, but Jonathan was doing that task the day I was there. We needed to bring these bales from one corner of the property to another, which included going through some fairly tricky turns through gates. Before we were unleashed, Daniel taught Josh and I how to make these turns and where I had never driven a trailer before and these turns included some backing up, I was a little nervous, but we ended up doing well. We were able to finish the hay that day, which I’m told is all the hay we will need for Polyface this year. !!!!!!!! After all the hay we’ve been doing, it seems odd that it’s done, but a relief nonetheless. All in all, it was a fun and exciting day, and was wrapped up with a double bacon cheeseburger and fries at Five Guys (a bit of a hay making tradition if you miss dinner because you had to work through it). Big thumbs up.

Tuesday, July 15th

hay bales

Tuesday was a big cleaning and rearranging day here at Polyface. After moving broilers and eating breakfast, my roommate Greer and I set to cleaning out the freezers, washing windows and wiping down shelves in the sales building. This was a bit nostalgic for me, as I had done all that during my two day check out back in December. It’s pretty amazing to think about how much my life has changed since then.

After lunch, we worked on the fence line along the area we bushwhacked last week. On Monday, our Apprentice Manager and some of the other interns had installed posts so all that needed to be done was to install the insulators (plastic pieces that hold the electric wire) and tighten the wire. It was a long fence, so this took three interns and one Apprentice Manager a few hours. In the meantime, we also worked on shoring up some pig fencing that was currently there and I learned how to make a gate on an electric fence. After wrapping up at the pig pasture, I helped my roommate Shalana reinstall some metal roofing panels that had been power washed back on the Racken, the hoop house where the rabbits and some of the laying hens live. The panels were pretty high up and we were having a hard time maneuvering them with one of us on the ladder and one not but Daniel came by with the tractor and lifted us up in the bucket. Things got much easier from there. I’m learning to really really love machinery.

Wednesday, July 16th

Wednesday, as usual, was a processing day. After moving my broiler friends, we all went to the processing shed to set up. This involves filling the metal tubs with water and ice, cleaning the tables, setting out knives and moving the crates of birds to where they can be easily reached. We didn’t start processing until after breakfast and during the processing I worked on quality control, gutting and lunging. We were done with everything by lunch.

After lunch, along with chores, Greer and I were given the task of moving two of the manure spreaders from the shed to an area where machinery was to be parked for Field Day visitors to be able to easily check out the Polyface equipment. Daniel gave us this assignment because there was a spot of free time and he knew we needed to learn/practice driving the tractors and backing them up with attachments. My backing up attempt was going a little sideways (or potentially jack knifey) and Miriam, one of our Apprentices, came over and gave me a lesson. I did, with her very patient guidance, get the spreader where it was supposed to go and am grateful to her and Daniel for giving me the chance to learn this skill in an unhurried fashion.

Thursday, July 17th

Thursday was another processing day, as we needed chicken for our deliciously grass fed local Field Day lunch. I was on the lunging station, which I have been looking forward to getting. I enjoy lunging and wanted to see if I could do all of them myself. In an ideal processing line, there only needs to be one lunger and I wanted to make sure I could do that. Sheri Salatin, our legendary master chicken gutter (She’s just as good as Joel, which is saying something.), came down to teach us and help. She can gut six birds for every one we can, so I was pumped that I was able to keep up with her.

The rest of the day, my roommate Greer and I made signs for Field Day. We needed signs for the flavors of the drinks we were offering, signs for the rabbits, private residence signs, some directional signs and some signs asking visitors to stay off the hay that was stacked. We were pretty excited to be given this task (Crafts! Yay!), so we raised the scrap wood/roofing metal/extra paint/baling twine pile and spent the rest of the day working on signs.

Thursday night, we were joined by Darren Doherty, Lisa Heenan and their family  ( for a discussion on permaculture, their Regrarians movement, which is their effort to promote regenerative agriculture (you can find them on Facebook under Regrarians or on Twitter @Regrarians), and to learn more about the documentary, Polyfaces, they were hoping to wrap up filming on. Darren is a world renowned expert on permaculture (Joel refers to him as a genius when it comes to water) so having an opportunity to meet with him and his family was a treat. Also, if you haven’t seen the trailer for Polyfaces, you really need to check it out. Seriously. Google it now and watch it. Polyfaces. The documentary. I had seen it prior to coming here, but we had the chance to watch it again and now that I have spent time here and become bonded to those in the film, it was very moving. Those of us here really believe that the Polyface methods can, in a nut shell, save the world. Sometimes I get bogged down in the minutia of chores and day to day farm things and I tend to forget what motivated me to change my entire life and come here. Watching what Darren, Lisa and their children are putting together in the form of this documentary really inspired me and made me grateful to be here and to have chosen this life.

Friday, July 18th

Being the day before Field Day, Friday was a bit of a blur. After chores, Greer and I finished the remainder of our signs (They took longer than I was anticipating.), set up the food and drink lines, did some last minute checking on my broiler friend’s shelters and wrapped up the day helping Sheri Salatin prepping her website , which launched on Field Day. I strongly suggest that, even if you have the slightest inkling that you may want some farm help or would like to work on a farm, you check out this website. There are already several opportunities available all over the world already listed on the site and lots of eager people looking for a position. It’s a great resource and it was inspiring to be a part of setting it up.

We had had several past interns and apprentices arrive today to help with Field Day and at the end of the day we were all able to get together for a barbeque to get to know each other. There were so many people, some apprentices dating back all the way to 1998, and I felt honored to be part of such a special group.

Saturday, July 19th Field Day

Field Day came and went in a giant blur. It was awesome. I started out at 5:45 am at the registration table, which I was psyched to get assigned to because I like to meet people. We had visitors come in from Canada, Costa Rica, across the country, as far as Hawaii, and the energy was so positive.

The day started where guests were welcome to watch chores being done, have some coffee and check out the farm. Come 8am, the rest of the morning was broken up into, essentially, two options. Your first option is to go on a farm tour with Joel, which lasts about 3.5 hours. The tour route encompasses the pastured broilers, the cows on pasture, the eggmobiles, the feathernet, the pastured turkeys, a visit to the hay shed and pigerator compost area and wraps up with the pastured pigs. This tour also happens after lunch, so many people decide to wait until the afternoon and instead will attend some of the other shorter and more specialized seminars such as a rabbit class with Daniel Salatin, a brooder and chick raising session with Miriam, one of our apprentices, and a forum of sorts on Polyface’s Apprenticeship/ Internship program. There was a break for lunch, where we served BBQ pork, chicken and beef, cucumbers, tomatoes and some of the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. The afternoon held another tour with Joel, if you had missed the morning one, along with some other specialized sessions. Some of the morning classes were repeated, but there were some new ones as well. Sheri Salatin had her marketing class, which I found very helpful, and there was a tour of our hoop houses with Jonathan, one of our interns, where he explained the season extension techniques Polyface uses in its garden production. The day was wrapped with a question and answer session with Joel that is always very popular.

In addition to the classes and tours, there were several vendors I got a chance to speak to and a book booth where I bought way more books than I’ll have time to read this summer. But knowledge is power, right?

On another note, it was fun to meet some of you on Field Day! Thank you to those of you who introduced yourselves. I really appreciated speaking with you all and am honored to be a part of this blogging community. I hope you all have a great week!


The last couple of weeks have been stuffed to the brim with obligations away from our homestead.  Long days of work away from home, friends’ weddings, family get-togethers, board meetings and committee work: mornings have started early and evenings have ended late.  Weekends and weekdays have blurred together in a haze of Things-That-Must-Be-Done.

Echinacea and asparagusConsequently, my time in our garden has been pinched.  A hurried jaunt through the beds and between the rows fills our plates for each meal; a few hours are found once a week to preserve the bounty of produce we can’t keep up with such as string beans, peas, zucchini, summer squash, broccoli, cucumbers, and kale.  The early turnips and cabbage are poised to overtake us as well, not to mention the blueberries, raspberries, golden raspberries, and blackberries.  Herbs such as mint, lemon  balm, catmint, lavender, and calendula, too, are hung to dry in spare moments, alongside lupine seed being dried high on our shelves.  Echinacea, cleome, nasturtium, chamomile, and monarda are putting out new blooms by the day, while an assortment of sunflowers and gladiolas are readying themselves to open to the sunlight that has been nurturing them all season.

Squash flowerAnd yet, that’s about as much as I can say.  The nuances of carrot growth, or why the first row of onion tops are falling over, or how far the winter squash meanders each day in it’s goal to overtake the compost pile, or what time the bees arrive on the thyme flowers...these are details I’ve missed seeing over these hectic days.  And it’s something else: the peace of mind that comes with time to share a meal, listen to the river, and converse as the sun sets low.  

Ryan and I - no doubt like so many of you reading this - are continually striving for the balance between home and away-from-home.  Sometimes we get it right, sometimes things happen, and sometimes everything happens at once.  

And in homesteading as we do, there’s a few extra difficulties thrown in.  We can’t drink if we haven’t hauled the water, we can’t cook if we haven’t gathered wood (dry wood), we can’t get “clean” if there’s no time for a walk to the swim hole, and we can’t communicate with friends, clients, and organization unless we’ve been elsewhere to use a computer or phone.  These facts are blessings, and choices we reaffirm each day, but also challenges.  We are trying to cultivate not just food and fuel, but a life based on and in our home and homescape.  And so we breathe a deep breath when we arrive home to our clearing in the woods, renew our commitment to a sane pace and purpose, and work towards keeping ourselves laboring at home: for ourselves, our projects, and our dreams, as much as the rest of life’s needs can allow. We love it here. 

Garden work is my specialty!  Weeding, planting, mulching and pruning services available, plus edible landscapes and garden designs.  Contact Beth via for your annual, perennial, herbal, or ornamental garden needs (see Business Directory listing under ‘Garden Design & Services’).


When we started keeping bees, questions came in two forms. "Do you sell honey?" and "Do you want my old equipment?" The first question was much easier to answer. "Yes, when we have surplus, we will sell." The second requires more consideration.

When people decide to stop keeping bees, they don't know what to do with all of their supplies. Since beekeeping can have some expense involved, it is natural to want to share the resources.

It can be a good thing to get used equipment from beekeepers who are ending their operation. However there are also some things to keep in mind.

What do you know about the type of beekeeper they have been. Is this compatible with your apiary?

Did they use chemical pest treatments?

Did they monitor regularly for Varroa mites and wax moths?

Did they have an infestation of hive beetles?

Did they have foul brood?

Some of these diseases, pests and viruses can live in an empty hive long past the active colony. You do not want to bring problems into your operation. Any equipment where a colony has been infested with foul brood is required to be destroyed.

In addition you need to know the rules in your locale. Notification is required in Illinois to move used equipment and bees from county to county. An inspection may be required. Check with your state's Department of Agriculture for the rules that apply.

You do have some options for used equipment, so don't automatically turn down the offer. Smokers, protective clothing and hive tools are easily cleaned and reused. But what about the rest of it?

Think Outside the Hive Box

After a thorough cleaning, sanding and refinishing, old hive boxes make spectacular decor. This CD rack is fashioned from shallow comb super boxes.CD rack

A combination of brood boxes and Illinois deep supers come together in a rustic bookcase.


If the boxes are not sturdy enough for bookcases, consider breaking down the boxes and fashioning other objects. These decorative wine bars were created from wood salvaged out of old supers.

Wine Bars

Note that reusing your own equipment does not carry the same concerns listed above. In fact, using pulled comb from your own hives is a method of recycling that is a perfectly acceptable part of routine management of honeybee colonies. Bees will clean up and reuse the drawn comb. As long as you have not had significant pest infestations you can reuse frames of drawn comb for a few years. Do freeze the frames and boxes in between uses for at least 24 hours. This will kill any hive beetles or wax moths that may have taken up residence. .Replace when the comb turns dark.

The advantage to using drawn comb in hives is the bees do not have to spend time and energy maxing wax. In the honey supers they can focus on storing nectar and making honey. In the brood boxes energy is spent on foraging and raising brood.

Consider all of your options when someone offers you used beekeeping supplies. What other creative uses can you think of?

Be sure and check out our website and Facebook page for more about Five Feline Farm. There is always something new and interesting at the Farm.


chickBrooding healthy, well-adjusted chicks is not just keeping them warm and fed. In my opinion, there are at least four pro-active things you can do to assure thriving chicks.

1. Healthy Chicks Come From Healthy Parents
If the rooster or hen was malnutrition chances are high their chicks will have nutritional deficiencies passed from the parents to the chick. Start right and get chicks (and hatching eggs) from producers who take good care of their breeding stock.

2. Protect and Enhance the Chicks Biome
My chicks get probiotics in their first feed so that their immune system is supported. I never feed medicated feed chicks. Medicated feed gives a sub-therapeutic dose of antibiotics that can alter the chick biome and contribute to bacterial drug resistance. I treat the individual; not the entire flock. Giving the chicks probiotics also helps prevent and treat pasty butt.

3. Fine Dining within Hours of Hatching
It doesn’t matter if chicks hatch from under a hen or in an incubator; they have about three days before they must eat or suffer starve out where they become too weak to eat or drink. They never seem to catch up. It is these 3-days that allow the mother hen to remain on the nest giving time for more eggs hatch. Even with a hen still hunkered down in incubation mode for the slow-pippers, the early-hatched chicks are already dashing around in search of food.

Newly hatched chicks do not need to wait to eat! Within hours of hatching, the newborns are ready for food. They innately start scratching and searching calories. The earlier your chicks get nutrition, the less stressed and healthier they will be in the long run. This is one huge advantage of local incubation (without the need to ship chicks) is that it greatly reduces stress and minimizes starve out.

4. Eliminating Delayed Starve Out
Delayed starve out is a subtle killer. Many folks don’t realize that a chick’s recovery from the stresses of hatching and shipping are not over with their first drink and full crop. There can be a shadow starve out. This is when a chick doesn’t get enough high quality protein food, and 100% clean water.

Delayed starve out can be caused by feeders and waterers placed such that the chicks have trouble getting access or can’t reach them. This is especially true with smaller bantam breeds.

Even worse are empty feeders and waterers! The lack of nutrition and dehydration causes a chick to become increasingly weaker. It eventually dies of hunger and/or dehydration usually within the first week of life.

Chicks afflicted with delayed starve out are easy to spot. They have a droopy stance, often with eyes closed, and a drained-energy way of getting around. They don’t have the vigor and Joie de vivre of healthy chicks. Some commercial operation guidelines recommend that these chicks be culled because they will probably always be under-weight and small. Once a chick has lives 7 to 10 days they generally will grow to adult chickenhood. But survival is not enough, you want your chickens to thrive.

My treatment for listless chicks is to put them into a stress-free place where they don’t have to compete and cope with other rambunctious chicks. I have a 10-gallon aquarium and the glass allows for easy observation. A seed-starter heating pad for radiant floor heading and allows the natural sleep cycles to click in. Once out of the hustle-bustle listless chicks usually begin to perk up, eat more leisurely, sleep soundly and most of them fully recover.

feeding chickOne of my favorite supportive treatments is raw egg yolk (from my hen’s eggs) mixed with a little warm water and fed with an eye dropper or oral syringe. Just a drop in the tip of a chick’s beak is enough to get it swallowing the yolk and seeking more. After a several yolk feedings the chick starts to eat on it’s own. Within a few days the chick recovers its vigor and is ready to rejoin the rest of the batch. But sometimes a listless chick just peacefully fades away; no interest in continuing life. Not all chicks will survive. Dealing with death is as much a part of incubating as is life it brings.

Eggs and Hope Spring Eternal,

Top Caption: This is the look of a chick needing immediate special care. 

Bottom Caption: Treating chick with egg yolk and an eye dropper or oral syringe. 



The sunset with smokeTonight we had a fire moon.

I call it that because in the summer when the forest fires start up, the moon glows orange in the sky. I wish it were unusual in Montana, but it’s just not. Fires and smoke every year is the norm until a “season ending event.” Which is usually the first snowfall.

Experience in Living in Wildfire Prone Areas

I lived in Colorado for many years. During the last few years fires became commonplace there as well as here. As a sled dog racer, I had to have a plan to get out of the mountains if a fire threatened us. While I no longer race sled dogs, I do still have a plan, especially for my animals. Evacuations are last minute affairs and if you get any prior warning, such as being put on standby evacuation, you’re damn lucky. Most of the time if you wait for the authorities to knock on your door, you have no time. You’re lucky if you get out before the flames hit.

I’ve been evacuated once. I’ve been on standby evacuation twice. I’ve lucked out and not lost my home during those instances. The fires have been intense. My husband and I spent a week sleeping on a friend’s hide-a-bed because of evacuations.

Have a Plan

A fire nearby the author's home

As much as I hate sounding paranoid, my husband and I each have a bug-out bag and a plan should we need to leave fast. It always takes twice as long to get packed up and gone than you’ve planned so have a line drawn in the sand when you’re going to bug out. Know where you can take your animals so they can be cared for. Know where you’re going to stay, even if you’re planning on staying at a friend’s, a relative’s or even at a hotel. Many shelters for fire victims do not take people with animals, so you need to know ahead of time where you’re going. Knowing these things will put you ahead of about 97 percent of the other people who are evacuated.

Don’t Assume Anything

Don’t assume your friends and family will take you in. To my horror, my family refused to take me in because I had one dog who could not be boarded and even though she would stay in her crate most of the time, they didn’t want her there. Even though she was my trained agility dog. Luckily a friend whom I mentioned above took us in. I managed to board half my sled dogs and took care of the other dogs at my friend’s kennel. It was a very stressful time.

Don’t assume that going just a few miles down the road will be enough either. Fires have a tendency to threaten large areas and even metropolitan areas. Knowing where the fire could go is very important.

So tonight I look at the fire moon and sigh. Fire season is on track. I can only hope it’s going to be a short season.

Maggie Bonham is a multiple award-winning author of more than 30 books and the publisher of Sky Warrior Books. You can check out her blog Eating Wild Montana about her adventures with hunting, raising, and growing her own food in Montana.


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