Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Freezing milk in quarts, or cheese in smaller containers, is an easy way to preserve excess dairy production. 

Every year, dairy animals such as goats produce too much milk, then too little, and homestead dairies have to be creative to avoid a cycle of waste before deprivation. In May and June, you’ll be flooded with milk, and by January or February you’ll be pining for those days of plenty. On our homestead, we used several methods of milk preservation and culinary planning to balance out these extremes and ensure we never had to buy milk even when our animals weren’t producing.

While you can stagger your breeding times to extend the milking season across several animals, this also creates more work and doesn’t easily fill the whole gap. Personally, we like having a period of time when we’re not tied to daily milking chores. On our homestead, we let the goats follow their normal cycle of fall breeding and spring kidding, creating the spring pulse of milk that slowly drops off over the summer. We generally dried the does off by the end of the year, a month or so after breeding, to allow their bodies to put energy into gestation. Thus there’s always a four-month gap of no fresh milk, sometimes longer depending on when we start back up again after kidding. Here are three approaches we’ve used on our homestead farm:

Freeze the Milk

It’s very easy to fill quart-sized containers with extra milk and chuck them in the freezer. This is especially useful during busy spring and summer planting times when time is tight, and can also temporarily help balance your freezer use. Freezers run most efficiently when they’re full, yet by spring and early summer most homestead freezers will have been largely emptied of the previous years’ stores, leaving temporary room for frozen milk. As a secondary benefit, this approach can also help buffer unforeseen shortages during the grazing season, for example if you need to discard milk due to animal health issues or medication.

We generally try to use ours within 6-7 months, using some as required for freezer space, and saving more for winter. The milk’s texture is usually a bit thinner and runnier than fresh, which may bother some drinkers, but as we don’t drink our milk, it’s not something we have an opinion about. Our primary use for thawed milk is to keep a yogurt culture going over the winter, as we easily eat a half-gallon of yogurt a week. A simple cheese like whole-milk ricotta is also easy to make with thawed milk, though we’ve had less success using it for aged cheese.

Make and Preserve Cheese

We find that fresh cheeses like chevre and whole-milk ricotta, which are very easy to make, also freeze well for the following winter. We’ll often use our milk abundance to make large batches of these cheeses, keeping a little out to eat fresh and freezing the rest in small containers. This is far more space- and energy-efficient than freezing whole milk, as cheese is much denser than milk, having removed the whey. You can also make hard cheeses, such as cheddar and gouda, which need to age anyway and thus “store” as part of their normal production. We tended to make 2 lb rounds at a time, storing/aging them in small, low-power-use wine cooler to maintain proper temperature and humidity. Making these in spring and early summer means the cheese will age about six months before you’re ready to eat it; cutting into your own wheel of aged cheese is an excellent salve for winter milk deprivation.


A basic wine cooler, like this Maitre’D from Danby, can properly store and age many wheels of hard cheese for later consumption.

Adjust Your Diet

We’ve long allowed our diet to follow the natural patterns of seasonal food production, rather than insist on having the same foods year-round. We eat an astounding amount of dairy when it’s abundant, and then replace those nutrients with other sources when it’s rare. This works quite well, as milk production peaks during the “hungry” months of spring and early summer, when other preserves are low and new crops like grains, beans, and potatoes aren’t yet ready. We butcher our meat supply in the fall, just as milk really starts to draw down, and eat through most of it by spring, when milk reappears. We don’t feel the need to have X amount of milk or Y amount of meat per day, as long as our seasonal and annual diets are well-balanced from the diverse, healthy foods we produce ourselves. This flexibility reduces the need to produce or preserve milk and other foods beyond what’s seasonal and convenient, freeing up time to do other things.

A Note About Whey

Making cheese produces a lot of whey, which is an excellent source of nutrition for people or animals. If you make cheese fresh during the milking season, the whey can be fed to chickens or pigs, used to start crocks of fermenting vegetables, added to home baking, used as a beneficial orchard spray, and so on. If you freeze milk for winter cheese-making, the whey then produced becomes an excellent source of mid-winter nutrition for a home chicken flock. Either way, don’t neglect the whey!

Freezing milk, making & preserving cheese, and eating seasonally can all help a homestead dairy get the most out of their animals with a minimum of waste or unnecessary work. With creativity, planning, and flexibility, you can enjoy your own dairy products year-round.

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

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Is it okay to let the fans and air conditioners go off in a shed with 20,000 chickens inside? Of course not, and poultry growers have been prosecuted and fined for such negligence.

Yet, the USDA as of September 18, 2015 has sanctioned this action as an appropriate "depopulation" measure in an avian influenza-infected poultry barn. The ends justify the means. Apparently, gassing and foaming (causing suffocation) are too expensive and time-consuming.

Time to death, optimistically estimated at 40 to 60 minutes, depends upon outside temperature. (We assume drinking water is shut off as well). Whether this method is used or not remains to be seen, but we have to ask, "What kind of people would condone such a slow, cruel massacre?"

Questioning the Root Causes of Avian Influenza

The bigger question is “why?” Why is avian influenza happening? The poultry industry prides itself on control, from environmental comfort and nutritional quality to bio-security. Everything is state-of-the-art technology throughout. It is technology that allows the incredible scale of production involving as few humans as possible, resulting in an extremely inexpensive product (well, at the store anyway).

So, where is the system breaking down? Industry blames migrating birds and “backyard flocks” (a catch-all USDA term for everything not huge), but the outbreak numbers don't support this. In fact, the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association's 1,000-plus members have been unaffected.

Benefits of Pastured Poultry

To my colleagues who have chosen farming and ranching in nature's image, avian influenza is neither surprising nor threatening, except in the sense of being an inconvenienced neighbor. Mass confinement of animals breaks too many rules to be sustainable, so it's a matter of when and how, not if, the system is going to break down. Mother Nature always bats last.

Natural agriculturalists don't even question that their animals live in fresh air and sunshine with abundant, clean water. We recoil at the idea of sub-therapeutic antibiotics to keep animals healthy.

Rather, we explore new ways to better replicate migration for the migrating animals, rooting for the rooters, and scratching and pecking for the scratchers and peckers. The more natural the environment, the happier and healthier for all parties. The more unnatural, the more AI, Salmonella, E. coli, fish kills, nitrogen pollution, cannibalism, liver abscesses...someone stop me — and who knows what next?

It is a damnation of today's Big Ag that a statement supporting natural production even needs to be made. But it's not just Big Ag. Big Ag is in bed with Big Bureaucracy. The very government officials charged with regulating Big Ag are ex-Big Ag execs.

Duh! The USDA is full of Big Ag execs making dumb decisions. Need an example? "Hey, let's irradiate meat so we can butcher so fast we get poop on it and just leave the poop on!"

That's why we call it the US-Duh. And that is how it became okay to let the fans and air conditioners go off in a shed with 20,000 chickens inside.

Photo by Morguefile/sioda

David Schafer is currently President of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Each winter since keeping bees at Five Feline Farm, we have experienced some winter loss. So every year we work toward improving the chance all hives will winter over by implementing change in our practice.

It is a process to incorporate learning from others and finding what works best for us. Most are minor tweaks; hopefully just enough to make a difference.

Start in Summer

Really? Start planning for winter in June and July?


It is crucial for the bees to store enough honey for their own needs. This year we moved our honey harvest to a month earlier. We put supers on the hives in early June, putting harvest in July and August. The last few years we had waited until July to place the supers, then found ourselves harvesting in late September. In our climate, this was not working and our bees did not have enough honey and pollen stored in the brood boxes. The bees need some of the last nectar flows to make honey for themselves. 

Early Fall Preparations

Even though Goldenrod makes a prized and distinctively flavored honey (see my Weed to Wonderful post), all of our honey supers have been removed before this late plentiful bloom. The bees do not have supers available for storage, so are packing in nectar and pollen for their own reserves.

Leaving the Goldenrod is commensurate with our philosophy of using as many natural resources as possible. If the bees can collect a natural source of food and pollen it will surely be better for them. That said, we did provide a concentrated syrup feed for about one week to give an extra boost. This brief fall feeding is double the strength of what we feed in the spring to a new hive. Given the short time frame before the bees may need to cluster, the sugar syrup will have a lower water content and easier for the bees to dehydrate in the cells. 

 Hive Feeder
After the syrup feeding, we added a round of brood builder patties to each hive. Brood builder patties are a thick gooey patty loaded with protein.

The last step in October was installing mouse guards. Mice seek out warmth and shelter and a beehive is an inviting location. Honeybees can defend the hive from intruders when they are active; however as the bees cluster and move up in the hive, they do not have the ability to guard the entrance. After disappointment with previous styles of mouse guards we are tying a metal guard with small holes for the bees to exit. 

Mouse Guard closeup

cropped installed mouse guard

Final Steps in Late Fall

In November, we are adding candy boards with an upper entrance to replace the inner covers. Another option for some ventilation at the top is small quarter inch pieces of wood inserted between the inner cover and outer cover. Both reduce condensation in the hive that may drip back on the cluster chilling them.

We will also be using a hive wrap to add a small protective barrier. This will be added when the days are consistently around freezing. Last year we tried straw bales stacked about six inches away from the hives to provide some insulation. Even though there was an air space between the hives and the bales, too much moisture stayed close.

You may have noticed that we are adding candy boards early this year instead of waiting for the January thaw. Some of our die off appears to have been starvation, so we aren’t taking any chances this year and plan to keep candy boards on throughout the winter.

Here’s hoping for a good winter and some early honey production in 2016.

Julia Miller also blogs about life on a hobby farm at Five Feline Farm. There is always something going on at the Farm. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


There are twelve breeds of geese currently recognized by the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection, and many more are bred around the world.  Some varieties have been specifically developed for certain tasks, such as long necked breeds for weeding and extra heavy breeds for meat.  Others are, for all intents, decorative birds.

Between the various breeds there are many personality differences and selecting the right breed for your farm will make a big difference in your enjoyment of your geese.  Here are just a few of the types you can find on farms today.


Long and lean, Chinese geese are one of two varieties that are easily recognizable by the sizable knob on the upper side of their bills.  They are one of the lightest weight goose breeds, and carry themselves in a distinct, upright posture.  Chinese geese are some of the best egg layers in the goose family, sometimes laying upwards of 100 eggs in a year.  Because of their long, slender necks and voracious appetites, Chinese geese are the breed most commonly used for weeding.  The adult male weighs about 12lbs and both males and females are notoriously noisy.  They will honk piercingly at the sight of strangers or unusual activity on the farm, and enjoy conversing with their owners and fellow geese in constant, guttural mutters.  Because of this they are ideal watch dogs, and they can be aggressive towards newcomers.  Chinese geese are one of the most practical breeds for a working farm, laying plenty of eggs and keeping crops weed-free as well as providing an alarm system.  Since they are one of the noisier varieties, they are not ideal for an urban homestead.

 Female African goose


Closely related to Chinese geese, the so-called African actually traces its lineage more to Asia than any other continent.  African geese have the same distinctive knob as Chinese, but are much heavier.  Adults are close to 20lbs with a loose dewlap under their beaks and a full, smooth abdomen.  African geese lay about fifty eggs a year and are good foragers but less active than their Chinese cousins.  Males tend to be aggressive, a fact that makes them excellent guarding birds.  The knob on the African goose is susceptible to frostbite and they require shelter in cold weather.


An increasingly popular farmyard bird, Embdens are one of the larger breeds of goose and are enjoyed because of their wide range of talents.  Heavy and fast growing, they are good for meat production but can also lay around sixty eggs a year.  A full-bodied goose with more horizontal carriage than the African or Chinese, Embdens are white with orange bills and feet.  Embdens are noisy enough to be effective watchdogs, but are not constant talkers.  Being friendly and hardy has helped Embdens become a common sight on a lot of hobby farms.  

 Dewlap Toulouse and Sebastopol


There are two varieties of Toulouse, a "production" version which is light-weight, moderately aggressive and a fair egglayer, and the Dewlap Toulouse.  Dewlaps are the largest breed of goose, often topping thirty pounds and appearing heavier due to their loose feathers.  Originally bred for the production of foie gras, these geese prize food and water over activity.  They are not effective foragers or weeders, nor are they noisy or aggressive.  Their temperaments are exceptionally docile and calm, and their full-figured appearance is striking.  They are an ideal goose for a home with children because of their personalities, and if you are not raising them for meat they are prize winners at exhibitions.  This variety is harder to find because they have low fertility rates and few farms specialize in breeding them.  A well bred Dewlap Toulouse will have a large dewlap hanging from under their beak and a broad body with round breast and sagging abdomen.  


A backyard favorite, Buff geese are a beautiful yellow-brown color not found in any other goose variety.  They are medium weight and friendly.  These apricot colored birds are not the most effective guard animals, but are fair weeders and are known to be docile, curious, and great parents to their goslings.  They are a perfect breed for a smaller farm, being both eye catching and amiable.


Roman Tufted

Roman Tufted geese were used in ancient Rome to guard temples and, legend has it, thwarted an attempted ambush by the Gauls in 365 BC.  Today they are small, striking white goose breed with a tuft of feathers growing upright on the tops of their heads.  Only an average egg producer, they are loud and alert, excellent watch animals.  Males can be aggressive, however the breed is generally calm.  For a smaller bird they are quite plump and can be good eating.  


Pilgrim geese are one of the few varieties that are auto-sexing, differing in color by gender.  Male goslings are cream colored with pink bills, and female goslings are gray with black bills.  As adults the females remain gray, and the males are white with orange bills.  A versatile bird they can lay around forty eggs a year and are medium weight.  They are good foragers and can be used effectively for weeding.  They can be quiet and are usually calm and friendly.  

 The unique Sebastopol


Possibly the most unique breed of goose, Sebastopols can be immediately recognized by their curly-queued feathers.  These small geese are largely decorative and have unusual fluffy feathers with flexible quills that often spiral down to the ground.  They are very quiet and friendly, and make great pets.  Sebastopols are too light weight to be good eating and only average egg layers, but their charming personalities and striking appearance make them a farm favorite.  They do require more regular water access than other birds to keep their feathers in good condition.  

There are many other breeds of geese and all of them have their own charms and skills.  You can learn about more details about some of the above breeds, and more, through the Livestock Conservancy or by contacting a hatchery.  While some geese make great watch dogs, others are curious and personable, and can be great backyard pets.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen farms about 2 acres of a suburban homestead using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Recently she has begun work restoring an old farm in hopes of farming full time in the future.  Find her online at Days Ferry Organics Blog.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



 “You mind holding that door for me, bud?”

The young Salatin boy, one of Daniel’s, holds the door of the hoop house open for me while I step over the board that’s holding back the bedding, and I step into the winter world of the chickens.

I was there that fine frozen morning to tend to the hundreds of birds that we had brought in to weather the cold Virginia winter. The little fella was there to take care of his ducks and gather their eggs. We worked side by side for a bit, me opening nest boxes to allow the chickens to begin their day of laying, while he carried a half-full bucket of water over and topped off the duck’s rubber pan. We spoke now and then, but this wasn’t the first time we had completed these repetitive tasks, and we mostly just went about our business. In some ways this situation, one in which I find myself working alongside a much younger farmer (call him a kid, young adult, whatever, I prefer young farmer) is familiar to me, and it strikes me that I am very fortunate to not find this a novelty.

I grew up in a large family. Not on a farm per say but, thanks to my parents, we were always doing some level of homesteading.  Nothing big or fancy, but things that would put good food on the table. Through this form of childhood, I was on the receiving end of some crazy awesome instruction. More fundamental and hands-on as opposed to audible theory. It was a childhood that I can now look back on and see a few of the many ways that working outside with my parents and being responsible for the lives of several animals has influenced my life.

So, here I am, starting my own farming venture. I look back to when I was a young farmer. I also look back at my time with Polyface where I got to watch three different generations work together. I got an up close and personal look at what family farming is, with all the wonderful, laughing, exhilarating highs, and the snapping from frustration, yell at the kids, I can’t deal with my family right now lows. It seems that a family business is going to have both sides. It’s the nature of the beast.

So why is it worth it? What are some of the positive elements that come out of a childhood of hard work, dealing with others, and carrying out responsibilities? Here are a few things that I have personally observed. These, of course, are generalizations, but you get the drift…


Work Ethics

Children that are expected to work (strangely enough) end up learning HOW to work. I have come to believe that people (especially younger people) generally only rise to the expectations that are placed upon them. This goes for many areas of life, but I see it prevalent in work ethics of those that I have worked with. It’s always interesting to note the difference, and general higher level of work, that is accomplished by someone who was instructed and expected to work as a child.

Observation Skills

Being observant is a trait that comes naturally to some people, while others are forced to acquire this skill. I believe that it is something anyone can learn. How can we work on this? Teach the young farmers to be more observant.

Now, this isn’t just a “why can’t you be more observant” conversation where it is communicated to them and we expect results. We must follow-up the instruction with hands on execution of this skill. I worked as a camp counselor for several years, and I was once standing in a clearing with several children. I was expected to teach them about being more observant of our surroundings. When I asked them to be observant (these poor kids who had known nothing about nature aside from their public park and now found themselves out in the woods) they just looked at me. That wasn’t enough. I had to follow it up with practical execution.

“Use your eyes, and look at that bird,” I told them.

“Now use your ears and listen to the river, the wind in the trees, the songs the birds are singing. Now use your nose and smell the smoke from our campfire.”

That sort of thing.

You had better believe that the next time I asked them what they saw, they were much better able to tell me. I helped them learn WHAT to look for. This goes for farming and other day to day activities. I have to teach my little brother what to look for when he is feeding our rabbits. We are looking at how much they are eating, if there is a problem with a waterer, if there are ear mites. After these instructions, I can now just ask him to take care of the rabbits, and he better knows how to approach the situation.

Team Building

You don’t know someone ‘till you have to work with them. I think working with someone is one of the best ways to get to know them. It is much more effective than dating if you ask me. You will learn more about how a person responds to surprise/stress/frustration/critical thinking if you work with them. Much more so than if you were to sit down and enjoy a coffee with them. So if you work with your young farmers, you have the opportunity to create a bond with them. A bond that could grow strong and that they can carry into their work field once they get older. If they are smart, they understand how this bond can help them in their future occupation. Some people, of course, respond better to this than others, but I think that we all can benefit from this. Team building is more important than a lot of people might at first think.

So, there are three benefits. There are others of course, but let’s focus on those. Do you farm or homestead? Have a job that takes you outside? Incorporate your children of you have any, and if you don’t, find someone that could benefit from that exposure. I’m betting that there are more individuals that could benefit than you might think.

Share the knowledge that you have accumulated. It’s selfish of you not to. It really is. Others need you and what you have to offer. Reach out. Give a helping hand. It doesn’t take much. One day a week. One day a month. Find a young farmer who could use a little dirt under their fingernails.

I guarantee you can find it satisfying.

Also, we can often learn more while we are trying to teach someone than the people who we are trying to teach learn from us. Chew on that.

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

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Big Laurel Ecology Center 

For years, long before even our marriage was a certainty, my future husband, Ian, and I dreamed of Big Laurel Learning Center. Ian had been on numerous week-long visits and to summer camp sessions at Big Laurel; I knew of it simply through his glowing accounts.

Big Laurel took on a life of its own in our heads, the great pipe dream and “what if” question of our abilities. We saw the place as the perfect destination to mesh our skills and passion, a place that we could both be of benefit to and benefit from. We even found a way to get paid to live there.

Everything seemed so perfect — in concept. But actually packing every belonging into our midsize SUV and driving the nine hours to make this dream a reality catapulted our idealist optimism from the comfort of theoretic to the stark uncertainty of reality.

Still, the leap into the unknown was made. Newlyweds of two weeks, we crossed state borders, and moved into a living organism of a derelict mansion on top of a mountain with far more rooms than we could ever heat in the winter. This house depends on massive barrels of rainwater, and a passable wifi connection means traveling a mile down the road to the neighbors. Forget cell service; that’s only accessible at the bottom of the mountain.

And our closest neighbors and coworkers? They are two nuns that are more frequently seen on quads than afoot.

Rustic Home 

A ‘Mountain Call’ to an Appalachian Land Trust’s Historic Site

Some key facts to understand the place where we now work and live:

JASMER is an Appalachian land trust started by the visionary Edwina Pepper in the 1960s in an attempt to prevent the segmenting of land in the region as coal companies bought large tracts for strip mining. It now holds about 500 acres.

Edwina Pepper lived on the mountain ridge in a rambling, forever-growing stone house with her children and nephews. There they created a sustainable homestead and specialized in crafts, such as wood working, pottery, essays on mountain living, organic gardening and the promotion of Appalachian culture.

A big contribution they made was creating the Mountain Call, a journal that they published in the home and distributed throughout the community. Edwina’s work and this home were mentioned in the June 1979 copy of National Geographic. Ian and I now reside in Edwina’s old home, the Knob House.

In the early 1970s, Edwina Pepper advertised in the Mountain Call for two teachers to come and form a school on the mountain ridge in order to educate the local children that couldn’t make the hike everyday to the school below. This call was answered by two nuns, Sister Kathy O’Hagan and Sister Gretchen Shaffer. They formed the Big Laurel School, a one-room school that was operational for ten years.

Now, the nuns still live on the mountain and run Big Laurel, though the school has been transitioned into a retreat center that hosts groups year-round for educational service opportunities that teach about Appalachian culture, environmental sustainability, and the effects of coal mining on the region.

Web of Life Ecology Center 

Americacorps Placement as Homestead Caretakers

Ian and I have taken Americorps positions at Big Laurel, which means for the next 11 months, we will be living in and maintaining Edwina Pepper’s old home, working in the local schools as teacher aids, and doing whatever we can on the premises of Big Laurel to help further its mission as an Appalachian ecological learning and retreat center.

In essence, we have been granted access to the sandbox of our dreams. Scattered throughout the property are abandoned buildings, chock full of goodies left behind years ago: High quality garden tools may show up in one shed, while another reveals sewing machines, drill presses, and chicken feed dispensers.

Fruit trees are being choked out by the encroaching forest, and the old chicken coop can be seen through the heavy brush that has grown up around it. This place positively groans with the weight of its own history, and it’s in desperate need of some caretakers. And that is the job that Ian and I have enthusiastically taken on.

Adventures in Remote Living

This blog is going to be a record of these adventures. As two relatively inexperienced homesteaders, can we actual adapt to such a rural lifestyle? Will Ian and I be able to keep chickens alive in the winter? Will the garden’s heavy clay soil impede the growth of anything we plant? Will the loneliness and isolation caused by our useless cell phones make us go crazy? Will our idealistic dreams be proven naïve and leave us disheartened and bitter by next summer?

Right now, there is no way of knowing the answers to these questions, so the only way to go is forward with as much passion and enthusiasm as we can muster. And I can hardly wait to get started.

Lydia Noyes is serving as an Americorps volunteer with her husband in West Virginia at the Big Laurel Learning Center. There, they live with two nuns and help to run a sustainable homestead mountain ridge retreat and ecology center that resides on a 500-acre land trust. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Beautiful Valley Homestead 

We can never base our lives off of the "what-ifs," but when the threat of the "what-ifs" become a reality, you should never be caught off guard, especially on your homestead with animals that depend on you for their care.

Preparing for disaster isn't something I thought I would have to do when my husband and I first got married. Farm animals weren't even something we saw in our future, as we laid peacefully in our small one-bedroom town apartment. Now, living out here, it's something that we have to think about. We have livestock that depend on us, a child that depends on us, a river in the back, and a basement that could flood at any moment.

Prepare Your Household

Before all other things, you need to make sure that your family and household are in order. Animals and barns are replaceable, the people you love are not. Your family should have a routine. Who does what when threats of storms and natural disasters loom? Each person should have a job that they know how to do and do it well. Yes, this might mean you have to practice, but it's well worth it.

If you have small children, this might be even more of a job for you. You are solely responsible for the safety and well being of those little ones.

Make sure you have the following things on hand at all times in case a disaster takes you off guard:

A generator. If you have the funds, it's well worth the investment. You can even find them inexpensively on social media yard sale sites, farm barter sites, and craigslist. If you have freezers full of meat, this is especially necessary.

Canned and non-perishable food items. Those Summer veggies come in handy in the Winter time if you lose power during a snow storm. Otherwise, stock up on organic items, such as veggies and broth. No need to go all "end of the world", but it's good to be prepared.

A wood stove and air conditioning unit. This isn't possible for everyone, but if it is, I highly suggest investing in heating with wood. This comes in extra handy during the winter months if you lose power or have a large snow storm come through. It's even great during those fall hurricane days. Wood stoves can heat your home as little or as much as you'd like, but it's also a necessary heat element for cooking. We always say that we would rather lose power in the cold months rather than the hot months. It's extremely easy to cook on a wood stove. As far as an air-conditioning unit, it's not necessary, but if you have a generator, you'll thank yourself!

Cell phones charged and good service. Your home phone is bound to go, make sure you have your cell phones charged and ready. If you don't have good service, invest in a cell phone booster or know a good spot where you can get service.

Weapons and ammo. You might have to protect yourself, but chances are, you'll need it more for hunting your own food should you run out or need it in a pinch.

Prepare for flooding. This is something we do every single time the threat of hurricanes or heavy rains come. If you have a basement or area of your property that is prone to flooding, get this under control before the rain comes. Ask me how we know --insert eye roll--. If you do not prepare, you will regret it. Create ditches around your home to direct water away from it. Put in french drains if necessary (before the threats come). Whatever you do, make sure your house doesn't flood in the middle of a disaster. Sandbags might be necessary if you live in a low country area. And ultimately, you just might have to make the decision to leave your home after everything is battened down. Your life is worth far more.

Have plenty of flash lights, candles, batteries, and oil lamps. These are things you can prepare for well in advance. Make sure you have a good source of light, and more than one.

Blankets, hats, coats, extra clothes. Enough said.

Medicine & first aid kit. Make sure your herbal remedies, medicines, and first aid items are easily at hand. Make sure you are never on the verge of needing a refill -- always have it on hand.

Games and entertainment. Especially if you have children. Have a "game crate" around so it's easy to find.

An escape route. Sometimes, you can do everything possible and it's still not enough. Make sure you have a plan of escape. We have rivers on all sides of us, we can only get so far before we hit flooded roads should that type of disaster happen. Make sure you have a plan in place, not only for your family together, but for your family apart. Sometimes a disaster may hit when someone isn't home. How will you get to them? Where is your meeting point?

These are things each of you should know ahead of time. 

Prepare Your Homestead

There are also things you need to think about when it comes to ensuring the safety of your homestead and animals.

Water source. You need to know where their water is going to come from at all times. If it's winter time and you lose power or the ability to get water from the hose, what will you do? A manual well pump is something you should highly consider.

Feed and treats. These are things you should never be on the verge of running out of. Always make sure you have enough for a weeks supply.

What if your homestead floods? Where will your animals go? This is probably one of the hardest things to think about. Many people won't have to think about it, but for those of us who live near a water source, it's a necessity. For small livestock, move them as close to the house or furthest away from the water source as possible. Yes, this means you need to plan in the heat of the moment. For larger livestock, that's something that will depend on your property. Make proper plans ahead of time so that you don't have to "think" about it when disaster strikes.

Wind and Rain. Wrap those hutches up (and any open areas) with plastic. Make sure that any animals in open spaces have ample shelter and security. A wet animal isn't always a happy animal. Make sure all animals have a "higher shelter" that they can get to if necessary that is easily accessible.

Snow and Winter. Winter time is the worst for homesteaders, in my opinion. I have seen too many homesteaders lose animals because of extremely cold conditions or Winter storms, simply because they did not prepare for them. Have plenty of straw on hand. Make sure all animals are in a draft free shelter. Hutches should be wrapped and stuffed full of straw. Stalls should be warm too. Please do not use a heat lamp, it is not necessary and it is extremely dangerous. The one year we used a heat lamp, it did more harm than good. Also, if you lose power, you don't want your animals to be accustomed to heat and then suddenly have to adjust to extremely cold temps. Make sure you have a "plowing" plan. Have the tractor or ATV ready to plow everyone out, but keep on top of it while it's snowing. Don't think you can be a hero and tackle it when it's all over with. It's not easy plowing 18 inches of snow.

Have the necessities. An animal first aid kit. Halters and leads. Extra mending tools and fencing for fences and anything else that might go wrong. Gloves, extra boots, and your vets number on hand.

Prepare Yourself, Physically and Spiritually

Most of these things mentioned above are just common sense. We all know how to take care of our animals and families. Though, some of us suck at preparing in advance. This isn't a blog promoting freeze dried foods and doomsday prepping. It's a blog to help you prepare with common sense tactics. Learn what's around you and how to use it or overcome it, because doomsday prepping could certainly not work in your benefit at times. People and things can take your food, but they cannot take your knowledge and strength.

The final thing, and one that is least prepared in advance — prepare yourself. Physically, mentally and spiritually.

You must be able to keep your family together in a disaster. You can lose your mind after it's all over with, but in the moment, it's not an option.

Get in shape and know your body. You need to understand that your health is important, not just for your sake, but for other peoples sake should something happen on your homestead. This isn't something you can go out to the store and buy the day before a disaster. This is something that you should work on constantly. What are you limits? Could you pull yourself out of rushing water if you got caught in it? Could you pick your child up and run for your life if necessary? It's not something we like to think about, but it's something we have to think about.

Hide His word in your heart. Because that Bible might not be close by in a freak situation.
Learn how to completely rely on Him. And understand that every single thing in this world happens for a reason. It might not be directly "God" all of the time, but He certainly makes all things work for His good and for the good of those who love Him.(Romans 8:28)

Encourage yourself so that you can encourage your family. This might look different to you than it does to me. But you must be mentally able to keep your family going through it all. If you start flailing about in a tantrum or stress or fear, so will they. This also goes along with relying on God, because there's absolutely no way you can do it alone. Keeping calm and peaceful in a situation that is anything but -- it's a pretty big deal.

There are so many things that we, as individuals, would do differently and must prepare differently. We are all different and have unique characteristics and homesteads. Whatever it may be, make sure you are prepared, whether you know the disaster is coming, or whether you're completely taken off guard. It's not a fear tactic, it's your responsibility. Our ancestors and people in the Bible were prepared for these things most of the time (Ecclesiastes 11; Proverbs 6; Proverbs 13:16; and more) . Why shouldn't we be?

Amy Fewell is a work-at-home mom, homesteader, blogger and writer. She and her family live on a mini-homestead in Virginia where they raise heritage breed chickens, standard Rex rabbits, ducks and more! For more information about their homestead, visit them online at The Fewell Homestead.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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