Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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A dull knife isn't just worthless, it's actually dangerous to the user, because you need to press harder to cut, and there's more likelihood of a slip.  This video, from noted knife writer Len McDougall tells you how to keep your edge.


Herbal Chicken Treat Patties

Anyone who has ever tried to chase down a small child or squirrely chicken with the intention of administering some sort of herbal medicine knows that you’ve got to be creative ... and fast ... There are many articles out there filled with great advice on how to treat your flock naturally. Unfortunately, making up any herbal concoction in your kitchen is just the beginning of your troubles.

The best way to get herbs into your chickens is to grow them on your property and either allow them access as they free-range or frequently cut and drop the plants into their run. It is a rare chicken that will not jump on a pile of fresh greens. If you don’t grow them you can easily buy them dried from a local supplier or someplace like Mountain Rose Herbs. The herbs that can be of most benefit are:

comfrey (Symphytum spp.)
garlic (Allium sativum)
chickweed (Stellaria media)
burdock (Arctium lappa)
nettle (Urtica dioica)
dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

One of the most common ailments for which homesteaders want to treat their hens is a worm infestation. If your hen is tame and can stand to be given droppersful of tea, you may give a combination of wormwood and honey or molasses. Generally this is done a couple times a day for several days. Here at our farm, our chickens aren’t nearly that cooperative. They’re also a little spoiled and expect to receive special things from time to time or they go in search of my prized tomatoes. I devised a base recipe for medicine and supplement delivery that we hand out like treats. Your chickens may be hesitant at first but, believe me, once they get a taste they will attack it every time you bring one to them.

Chicken Treat Bars

(Making All-Natural, Homemade Chicken Deworming Patties video)

1/2 cup mixed grains
1/2 cup black strap molasses
herbal treatment of choice (usually a couple teaspoons of each selection)
bacon grease to combine

Stir the ingredients together and place the bowl in the freezer. When solid, quickly dunk the bowl in some warm water to release and turn the bar out onto the counter. It’s now ready to serve. Each treat bar would be enough for 2-3 chickens. You can make this recipe with just about any kind of chicken food, even starter mix.

These bars can be used to give daily supplements such as kelp meal or baked and crushed egg shell. If you have an enclosed chicken run, they can be used to prevent boredom in your flock. The addition of treats such as mealworms or dried fruit can be fun for them. Since they have to work to get the food out, the bars provide pecking and scratching exercise. Make a large batch and freeze them in individual bars. They last in the freezer and make it easy to pass them out whenever you need to. If you are giving these bars to treat for worms, which you may do from time to time if you have a non-foraging flock, I recommend the following all-natural additives:

carrot peels
squash seeds


Week Six ended up being one of the more fun and interesting weeks for me here at Polyface. I noticed that was able to better apply the skills I’ve learned without as much supervision and the intern team as a whole has become a very cohesive and capable unit. We are also preparing for Field Day, which is exciting.

Monday, July 7th

This week, I was assigned to Projects for morning chores. Projects is fun, as you basically take care of whatever comes up that needs to be taken care of. This morning, we cleaned out the main barn in preparation for some hay bales we needed to put there, assembled float valves for the watering systems for the pastured turkey nets that are going to put out later this week, and set up a training fence for the piglets (a small strip of electrified wire to train them about the joys of touching a live current with your snout). After breakfast, we had a planning meeting regarding July 19th’s Field Day gathering here at Polyface. I’m really looking forward to Field Day. The vendors and exhibitors that are coming all have products I’m going to need for back home and I’m excited to meet everyone that comes. I’ll be at the registration table first thing in the morning, so make sure to say hi if you’ve been reading these! After the meeting, we demolished two old turkey shade structures, saved what we could of the timbers and brought in the chassis to our shop manager for repair in anticipation of the new shade structures we need to build for the pigs.

The afternoon was spent bringing one of the new Gobbledegos (The turkey shade structures we made last week and the week before.) to one of the pastures here at Polyface, setting up the shade cloth and putting the netting up. We were expecting to have turkeys out there within the next few days and needed to have everything good to go. After this was finished, we set out for evening chores.

beesAfter dinner, we had the opportunity to join Joel Salatin and his brother Art on one of their adventures. Joel had found a tree that had a massive beehive inside it a few weeks ago and had mentioned it to Art. Art is a talented apiarist and wanted to bring the trunk from the field where it was to the farm to get the try and get bees living in a hive. We all put on long sleeves and set out to watch as Joel, fully suited up in protective gear, chainsawed the hive out of the tree. I have to say, what I was concerned might be a complete disaster ended up being one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. Art smoked the hive and filled in the ins and outs with beeswax to keep our stinging friends from escaping. Joel then sawed off the section of the tree above the hive and nailed a board to the top of the stump to encapsulate the colony. Chains were then wrapped around the tree and attached to the bucket of the tractor. Once Joel sawed into the bottom of the stump, the remaining piece of the tree was lifted out exposing the hive and lots and lots of honeycomb. We hammered a board to the bottom (Again, encapsulation. Getting stung would have been a buzz kill. Get it? Bad jokes are kind of my thing.) and off the tractor went back towards the farm. Art and Joel noticed there was more honeycomb in the very bottom of the stump and we all clamored to get a taste of wild honey. The weather was beautiful, the stars and fireflies were out and as we were licking honey off our fingers, I said to my roommate Greer, “I guess we’re really living.” and she most certainly agreed.

Tuesday, July 8th

Tuesday morning, our job was to move a herd of cattle from one of the upper fields to the sorting corral, sort out some of the animals to be sent for slaughter and bring the rest of the herd back to the field. This got a bit hairy on the way back as a calf got separated from the herd and subsequently disappeared. I felt terrible that this had happened and we searched and searched but to no avail. The calf turned up a few hours later, so all’s well that ends well, but I still felt really bad.

Most of the rest of the day was spent stacking hay at one of the Polyface managed properties. This particular property has lots and lots of hayfields so we needed all hands on deck. Joel had been baling without the hay wagon attached to the baler, so we took turns driving the truck with the flatbed trailer attached while the others stacked the bales that had been spit out onto the ground by the baler. There were several trips back and forth bringing the hay to Polyface to stack. The bales were nice and light, so stacking wasn’t bad and the day went by quickly.

Wednesday, July 9th

Wednesday was a big day for me. I killed my first batch of broilers, which was a pretty formative experience for me, but I’ll get into that in a minute. We started the day gathering broilers from their shelters at one of the Polyface managed farms then helped this particular farm manager round up his cattle as the cows had gotten out due to some deer busting through his fencing. turkeys

I had originally thought my roommate Alicia was going to be killing that day, but she was called off the line before we started processing to help with the hay crew. Once I found out it would be my turn, I was nervous, as this would be the first time I had ever intentionally killed something (I’ve run over the occasional kamikaze squirrel before, but that doesn’t count.) and I was very afraid of hurting the birds if I made a mistake. Our apprentice manager killed the first twenty or so to give the rest of the processing line something to do while he taught me the technique. I definitely blinked a lot during my first few birds and our apprentice manager was kind enough to pretend not to notice. (I think I may have tried to tell him I had a feather in my eye or something, but I’m not sure.) Once I got the hang of it, the processing went well. It was fast, which was important to me. I knew if I wanted to be a farmer I would have to kill animals, and I wasn’t looking forward to it, although I was willing to do it. I am glad I’m over this hurdle, as now I know what to expect. It was an emotional experience to kill animals we all had raised, but where I expected to be sad or maybe feel negatively about eating meat, I felt at peace when everything was done. I took solace in the fact that the birds were raised comfortably and dispatched quickly. As a meat eater, I have finally participated in the life cycle that produces our food and that was important to me. I certainly do not think that everyone who eats meat needs to kill something to be able to fully experience what they’re eating, but this was something I felt compelled to do at some point in my life.

The afternoon was spent taking turkeys from their mobile shelters and moving them to pasture. Moving turkeys is time consuming as their wings are very fragile and as adults, they need to be moved one at a time. This was a nice ending to my day, as I love my turkey friends, but I also got to see firsthand how happy the birds were to be in their nice big pasture. Knowing that the animals have a good life on the farm takes away any guilt I may have had about consuming them. All in all, today was one of those days where a loose end of mine was tied up and I was grateful for it. 

Thursday, July 10th 

This morning, the Projects team was responsible for helping with the restaurant load up. We go through the order sheet given to us by Polyface’s ordering managers and assemble what is needed. We then separate the orders into coolers, mark which cooler has what for Richard, Polyface’s very nice driver, and load up the truck. Since there are so many restaurants and moving parts, we need to be careful this does not get mixed up. After breakfast, since the piglets got old enough to leave the barn and move onto pasture, we broke down the empty pigpens to prepare the barn for Field Day and cleaned up around the farm.

The afternoon was spent moving turkeys from one of the contract farms to another Polyface managed property. We took the turkeys from their shelters, loaded them onto a livestock trailer (the cutest trailer load you ever did see, if I do say so myself, even though the 400+/- birds were loaded two at a time so it took a while) and brought them to their new pasture. I included a picture so you can see how funny they are.

Friday, July 11th

This Friday, we had an extra day of processing. Usually, the Friday processing is the third Friday of the month but where we have Field Day next weekend, we moved it up a week. For morning chores, we went and gathered more broilers, which went faster than Wednesday’s gathering since my Projects partner and I were better practiced.

After breakfast, I delivered a special order to a residence in West Virginia. I was excited to do this because I like meeting people and I also like driving. This took about five hours, so by the time I got back the crew was in full on Field Day prep mode. I was able to help our shop manager with organizing the scrap metal (I also like organizing.) until chore time and we were really excited about how much better everything looked. I also got some welding tidbits as we were slinging around rusty metal, which I found surprisingly interesting. Maybe I’ll take a class on welding sometime. It would be a good skill to have. Or I could just take to youtube like I have for sewing tips, although you can’t cause an explosion by making a mistake sewing a hem. We’ll see.

I hope you all have a great week! Thanks for checking in!


I’ve hOur homesteadeard people say that they want to homestead but “there’s too much work for a single family.” I agree that an ideal situation might include two or three families farming cooperatively so no one has too much work and everyone gets vacations. But waiting for an ideal situation keeps people from taking the first step. A few time management tools can help a homestead run smoothly and enjoyably.

My husband and I grow most the food we eat on our 13 acre homestead with the help of our garden, orchard, bees, poultry and cows. I admit that it can feel a bit like a three-ring circus at peak season, but we’ve figured out some tools for making our work manageable and enjoyable.

Allow each season to be unique: Perhaps most importantly, we do only the work that best fits our Ohio seasons. Having each season unique allows us to be refreshed by constant variety. In springtime, we realize our workload will accelerate sharply, but that comes after a restful winter. It’s a treat then to begin some of our vegetable seedlings in late February. The orchard is pruned in March and the beehives examined. The first calves of our small dairy herd are born in April and the pace sharply accelerates as milking begins. At the same time, chicken and turkey eggs are hatching and the little ones are then cared for in their “brood houses.” Adding one or two new tasks each week allows us to best fit them into our schedules.

Summer requires the steady pace that we have rehearsed for the last decade. The planting and weeding in the garden is quickly followed by summer’s harvesting and preserving. We have meat chickens in one chicken tractor and the young heritage birds in others. We don’t extract honey until all the calves are born and we can again sleep through the nights.

Summer is a preparation for an easier winter. Cheddar cheese accompanies fruits and vegetables into storage. Butchering chickens, making apple cider and shelling dried beans belong to the shorter days of autumn.

Winter provides a slower time for resting, visiting, hobbies and reading. We intentionally no longer milk and let the calves take the mothers’ milk. We don’t use a hoop house to extend the growing season. The food that was preserved in summer provides easy meals for winter. Remembering the slower pace of winter also makes it easier to keep going during the longer days of summer.

Then, after three months of short, slower days, we are ready for springtime to arrive with the return of moist soil and beautiful baby animals. Enjoying the seasons makes homesteading much more fun.

Not only does each season have its unique work, but it also has its unique “treats.” We only make ice cream and fresh mozzarella cheese in the summer. Likewise, summer is the only season we stand in the garden and munch on fresh vegetables. Hauling out the cider press goes along with the shorter days of late summer and autumn, and the smell of food cooking on the wood burner is unique to winter. I love all the seasons because of their uniqueness.

Have a weekly routine: Besides respecting the uniqueness of each season, I’ve found another time management skill that helps me through each day and week. I’m sure I took this from Laura Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods,” but having specific tasks for different days of the week gives me the reassurance that routine tasks will get done.

On summer Mondays, I make cheddar cheese and do laundry. That still allows mid-afternoons for other projects. Tuesday is the day I attend to the garden’s needs which vary through the summer. The chicken and ducks’ houses are cleaned on Wednesday. Thursday morning is when our house should be cleaned so that Friday the grass will get cut.

It may not work out quite like this, but this keeps certain tasks from being neglected. It also frees up my brain from making “to-do” lists.

Share tasks: Creating meals from garden produce takes more time than eating highly-processed food. To make best use of our beautiful produce, we fix one “big” meal a day, usually at noon. To give time for other chores, or to have more free time, my husband and I have different days of the week that we’re responsible for the noon meal. Having this variety to our days is fun. Besides, I love staying out of the kitchen until it’s time to eat on his cook days!

Time management tools are only helpful if they make work more enjoyable. Because homesteading requires flexibility just to keep up with the animals, weather and seasons, time management tools need to be modified to suit the individuals and their situation.

There’s no reason to fear the work of homesteading when there are tools to allow the work to remain enjoyable and rewarding.



bucket milkerBucket milkers were the first mechanical milkers to be used successfully on cows. Two breakthrough discoveries that made the machines—which date back to the late 1800s—effective and safe for cows were the ability to make the milker pulsate in conjunction with a vacuum and the development of a two-part inflation to massage the cows' teats during milking. These developments were welcomed with glee by most dairy farmers. Even though newer and more efficient technologies have been developed since, bucket milkers are still used by many dairy farmers with a small herd (30 or fewer cows) with much success. Here are my best practices for using a bucket milker on a micro-dairy.

What is a bucket milker?

First things first, let’s get a clear understanding of what a bucket milker is. Most standard systems consist of a vacuum pump, a bucket and lid, a pulsator and a claw. The vacuum pump is connected to the bucket milker via a vacuum line. It’s job is to maintain a steady vacuum for the proper operation of the bucket milker. If the vacuum pump and regulator aren’t functioning properly, a cow’s teats can be injured. Most bucket milkers hold 4 to 8 gallons of milk from one, and sometimes two, cows before it must be emptied into a bulk tank to be stored and cooled.

How to use a bucket milker

Learning to operate a bucket milker is similar to learning to drive a car. There is a lot to learn up front, but it soon becomes a matter of habit. Eventually, you will operate the machine on autopilot.

Properly clean the cow and start her with your hands. Check out my last blog for tips on how to milk a cow by hand.
Hook the vacuum line to the vacuum port on the bucket milker and turn on the vacuum pump.
Place the bucket on the ground beside the cow next to her rib cage. This leaves you room to access her udder. 
Grab the claw and hold it under the udder with the milk hose pointed towards the front of the claw. Once you, the cow, the bucket and the claw are in position, open the vacuum to the claw and listen to make sure that the pulsator is clicking properly. bucket milker tubes
Put the inflations on the cow's teats one at a time starting with the teat farthest from you.
Make sure the claw hangs straight down from the udder. It cannot be twisted during milking. As you develop confidence with your milking skills, you may find that pulling the claw forward or otherwise adjusting its position on the cow will speed things up. This will take time and is not to be rushed.

Don’t Forget to Relax

As I always say, the most important thing is to relax so that you and your cow can enjoy the milking process. If your cow is not used to being machine milked, give her time to become acquainted with the sight and sound of the milker. If you’re doing things right, she’s not spending all day in front of machines. Move slowly and talk to her in soothing tones of voice. Most cows enjoy being milked. I have even had a few cows become so comfortable during milking that they lay down with the machine attached to their udder. It’s surely a comical sight—and not a problem just as long as the claw doesn't break.

Next up: Why Time is Money and the Value of Pipeline Milkers on a Micro Dairy.



While it is important to do regular inspections of your bee hives, you can also learn a lot about Hive Entrance Onethe state of the colony just by sitting and closely observing the front of the hive and entrance. Observing the hive from the outside minimizes the disturbance that occurs inside when they are opened up for an inspection. It is also a good way to do a “quick check” of the hive if you are pressed for time. Additionally, I enjoy being able to just sit and spend some time with my bees without having to interrupt their daily work!

While watching the hive entrance, the first thing I take note of is the reaction of the hive to my standing near them. A normal hive will take little or no notice of me, and will continue with its normal activities. If the guard bees approach me, or act in an aggressive manner, it means that there is a problem with the colony that should be investigated. It could be that problems with the queen are making them more “grouchy”, or that night time intruders such as skunks or raccoons are causing the hive to become more defensive. Scratch marks near the entrance are a sign that animals are the problem.

I then take a look at the bees at the hive entrance. A strong hive will have bees stationed at the entrance – the guard bees. These bees are checking the bees returning to the hive to be sure that they belong to that hive, and are not intruders from another hive. The guard bees also keep a look out for other intruders such as wasps, hornets, mice, etc.  

The entrance of the hive should be a busy place – you should see many bees taking off from the hive entrance while others are returning with nectar and pollen. Speaking of pollen – sometimes it is possible to get an idea of what flowers the bees are visiting by looking at the color of pollen they are bringing in. It will vary in different areas, but in our area maple is pale yellow, blackberry and raspberry are grayish, and white clover is a dark yellow. By observing the pollen the bees are bringing into the hive, and being aware of what is blooming in your area, you can get a good idea of what plants your bees are visiting.

Hovering Bees

If you are watching the front of your hive in the late afternoon, you may see large groups of bees “hovering” in front of the hive. They may be moving up and down or moving in a “figure eight’ pattern. These are newly hatched bees that are “orienting” to the hive entrance. If a hive is producing many bees, it is a good sign that there is a healthy laying queen in the hive.

There are also a few things to look for that are cause for concern. One of these is robbing behavior. Robbing tends to become more common in fall when nectar becomes more scarce, and bees are trying to prepare for winter. Signs of robbing are bees wrestling and fighting at the hive entrance, and bees aggressively circling the hive looking for ways to get in. If you see robbing happening, it is important to take steps to stop it immediately.   The hive being robbed could be weakened to the point that it will not survive the winter. For tips on putting a stop to robbing, see my previous blog, "Honeybees and Robbing".

Another concern is bees crawling in front of the hive, unable to fly. If you look closely, you may see that the wings are deformed. This can be caused by tracheal mites (if the wings seem to form a ‘K”), or by varroa mites. Again, if this is observed, steps should be taken to sample for and decide on a treatment plan for these parasites.

A third observation that could be cause for concern is large numbers of dead bees in front of the hive. While it is common to see some dead bees as the house bees clean out the hive, a large number could indicate that something is wrong in the hive and should be investigated further by doing a full hive inspection.

A valuable resource if you are interested in learning more about this subject is “At the Hive Entrance” by H. Storch. This book was originally published in German, and then translated to English and reprinted in 1985. It is considered to be “the definitive guide” to understanding what is happening inside the hive by observing the outside of the hive. It can be a little difficult to obtain a printed copy, but many libraries - especially libraries maintained by beekeeping clubs, may have copies you can borrow. I also noticed that it was available for download on several websites.Hive Entrance Two

So next time you are itching to go inside your hives and see how the bees are doing, consider instead, pulling up a chair. A lot of what you would go into the hive to look for can be determined just by watching the entrance!






air tankWhile we’re constantly on the lookout here for simple ways to do chores without electricity, sometimes slick solutions surface quite by accident. Using a hand water pump as an air compressor to pump up a flat tire was one of those serendipitous discoveries.

After using our hand pump to fill the pressure tank for watering our vegetable gardens, my husband commented about the amount of compressed air in the tank.

Pointing to the condensation line on the outside of the tank, he said, “You know, I bet I could fill a tire with this.”

The next thing I knew, he was digging through miscellaneous parts in the shop. In no time, he came out with an air chuck, hose and fittings. To test his theory, he used the compressed air in our 40-gallon pressure tank to fill an inner tube.

inner tubeThe 14-inch inner tube filled in just a few seconds, without using all the air in the tank. Even if the task required filling a tire to 35 PSI, it could be done.  We would simply drain the water from the tank (preferably by watering some plants), and then pump it up again. After repeating the process, pressurized air is transferred from the tank to the tire – all without energy of any sort except human power.

Most homes with private wells have cold water pressure tanks. When the water is forced into the tank (by hand pumping or electric pump) the air above the water is compressed. As we found out, this compressed air can be utilized.

In any transfer of air from one vessel to another, the air will equalize in the containers. For example, if there is 50 pounds of air in Tank A and 0 pounds in Tank B (or a tire), the air will equalize in each tank. So, to fill Tank B to 35 pounds, Tank A must be pressurized again to 50 pounds and repeated until Tank B reaches 35 PSI.

Of course, the small amount of compressed air at the top of a pressure tank would not be practical for operating pneumatic grinders and such. But, in an emergency, this would be a quick, reliable way to pump up a flat tire. Compressed air could also be transported to the field with a portable air tank.

How to Use a Hand Pump as an Air Compressor

Any hand water pump capable of pressurizing a tank for indoor plumbing will work, along with a pressure tank that has connections for air fittings. (A larger tank will hold more air than a smaller one.)  

air fittingRemove the top plug or cap from the top of the pressure tank and install fittings for a quick-connect air coupling. Connect the air hose to the coupling. The end of the hose should have an air chuck to fit your tire or tube valve stem.

Pressurize the tank by filling it with your hand pump as usual. Do not exceed the manufacturer’s recommended safe limit. We fill ours to 50 pounds of pressure. Now connect the air chuck to whatever needs to be inflated. That’s all there is to it.

The concept of pressurizing air with water is not new, but has been virtually forgotten since fossil fuels enabled humans to compress air mechanically, as John R. Hunt points out in a 1977 Mother Earth News story, Harness Hydro Power with a Trompe. Long before electricity, humans compressed air with the help of falling water from rivers.

“For the homesteader or farmer with a small waterfall or a good-sized stream on his property, the trompe is a natural,” writes Hunt. “It offers a virtually inexhaustible supply of free compressed air ... cool, dry air that can be used to operate a forge, drive machinery, or air-condition a house or barn in hot weather.”

A 1978 Mother Earth News article, Mother’s Homemade Air Compressor, explains how to build an air compressor.

To see a video demonstration and more photos of our setup, please see our blog, Compress Air with a Hand Water Pump (includes video).

Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid with human power, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.

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