Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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It’s important to my husband and me to make our small farm as sustainable as possible. Composting toilets are the perfect fit for sustainability because they don’t use water. We want our farm to project different values than those that allow the immense use of water by Ohio’s ethanol plants, big agriculture and fracking. In this article, I’ll discuss our two years’ experience with composting toilets.

Composting toilets save water: Older toilets use as much as five to seven gallons-per-flush (GPF) of water. Although newer toilets cannot use more than 1.6 GPF, and high-efficiency-toilets use 1.28 GPF, that’s still a lot of drinkable water going down the drain. Compost toilets use zero water because there is no flushing. I discuss below what happens to the waste.

Besides saving water, it’s convenient to install a toilet in a cabin, boat or RV without connecting it to a septic system. We did this in an RV to allow farm apprentices to have private housing a distance from our home.

Composting toilets are Sustainable: The problem associated with composting toilets is usually how to safely dispose of human waste. What has nature always done with animal waste? It composts it, of course. And that is what we do on our farm.

Being a former physician, I recognize the potential dangers of fecal contamination to human drinking water and food. Let’s examine how we can deal with this safely.

Urine does not contain bacteria. When it does, the person has a “urinary tract infection.” What is in urine is a lot of nitrogen in the form of urea. In “Nature’s Head” composting toilet (below), the urine is collected separately from solid waste. We therefore use this diluted urine to fertilize nitrogen-hungry plants like sweet corn.

On the other hand, solid waste is full of bacteria that allow our colons to digest and absorb food. When people eat wholesome food and are able to avoid antibiotics, these are healthy bacteria.

Our compost piles consist of manure and bedding from our farm animals. After a couple years of composting, these ingredients become the vibrant soil that supports our garden crops. Can you think of any reason not to add human waste to a compost pile? Solid waste may contain some pathogens if put directly on the garden. But when composted, this risk is eliminated. Therefore, at our farm, all solid products from the composting toilets go into the compost pile.

Nature’s Head Composting Toilet: This composting toilet, in the intern’s RV, has worked out Nature's Headwell. We chose it because its 21.5-inch height and less than 19-inch base is the only one sized to fit in such a small space. Also, its price of $1,000 is less than other composting toilets.

This composting toilet is made in Ohio. They have been wonderful about answering our questions and there is an online video for installation. It does require an electrical source and an outside vent. It can use peat moss for solid waste rather than requiring us to buy a special medium. The small manual that is included is clear in telling both how to install and to use it.

This toilet collects urine separately from solid waste. The bottle for urine has a cap and carrying handle. We found it convenient to purchase an optional second bottle. The solid waste doesn’t need to be emptied until the storage base is 3/4 full, which isn’t often for a single person. The Nature’s Head company even encourages you to wait before emptying because “The longer you wait the more pleasant the job will be,”— mainly because the wastes will decompose to look and smell like dirt. Of course, we farmers would call that compost!

Sun-Mar Excel Composting Toilet: This larger composting toilet was purchased to put in the Sun-Maroriginal outhouse on our farm. I initially chose this brand because there was a non-electric option. But because the outhouse already had electricity, we bought the electric model to ensure there would be adequate air movement to make it pleasant for company. I use our solar panels to justify electrical use, but also put the toilet’s electricity on a timer so it automatically turns off at night. The advantage of this brand is its bigger size that makes it more comfortable for larger people and for those requiring higher seating.

This larger size can also be a detriment because it requires a minimum space of 45 inches by 22 inches. The price of $2,000 also puts it in the higher bracket of cost. I don’t like that it requires the company’s brand of “Compost Sure” instead of peat moss. As most other composting toilets, it does require a vent pipe, but it also requires a safety drain which exits from the bottom of an evaporation chamber. It is quite easy to collect the composted material from a drawer at the bottom.

Conclusion: I do realize that a five gallon bucket with some peat moss at the bottom and a toilet seat on top would have been a cheaper alternative to these composting toilets. However, people visiting seem to take well to using them and I am glad to “close the sustainability loop” with human waste on our homestead. I am also pleased when we can do our small part for the future by using less water now.

Mary Lou Shaw homesteads in Ohio. Her book, Growing Local Food,”is available through Mother Earth News books.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best 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.


Organic Whole Turkey

Organic whole turkeys will be butchered, packaged, distributed, purchased and roasted by the thousands over the next 30 days all across the USA. The average MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader (whether you're a commercial livestock producer, hobby farmer, or housewife) will already have their mind made up that they are only interested in organic turkeys (or a least a good quality non-GMO fed pastured raised bird). The real question, for most of us, is "fresh or frozen?". This post will help you decide which is best - whether you're raising, selling, or just eating turkey this year.

First, let's start with some definitions. According to the USDA, a turkey that is labeled as "fresh" must have never been stored at less than 26 degrees Fahrenheit. You and I may disagree with this definition, but the USDA isn't about to change their ruling. A frozen turkey, therefore, is a turkey that has been stored at less than 26 degrees Fahrenheit for at least some time.

For the average consumer, "fresh" is a positive word. It makes us think of springtime, flowers, and not getting food poisoning. So, naturally, there's a pretty big market for fresh organic turkeys. The real problem, however, for most small organic turkey farms and even larger organic turkey companies is that a truly "fresh" turkey (say, one in your refrigerator at 38 degrees Fahrenheit) has a very short shelf life of perhaps a little more than about a week. This would mean that if the "fresh" turkeys eaten in this country every year were truly "fresh," they would all have to be butchered, packaged, distributed, and sold in a very short period of time - too short, in fact, to be logistically feasible. By "faux-freezing" the birds at 26 degrees Fahrenheit they are able to store "fresh" turkeys for six weeks or more.

In contrast, frozen turkeys are always frozen at their peak or freshness and then thawed just in time for Thanksgiving. There is theoretically some potential for cell structure damage when any meat is frozen but for the typical consumer, there's not a lot of objective difference between meat that has been frozen and meat that has not. It's more of an issue of perception than objective or qualitative differences.

What's the real takeaway?

For the farmer, it's pretty clear that it only really makes sense to sell frozen turkeys if you want to stay sane and not run the risk or your product going bad or disappointing your customer with a "fresh" bird that is rock hard to the touch. There were years when I remember working packaging, sorting, and delivering hundreds of turkeys in just a few days time and I can testify that it simply isn't worth the stress. One night I remember staying up until 4 am packaging birds only to then have to get up at 6 am to deliver them. I was literally risking my life to be able to offer a fresh bird!

Today, I now run a small online grass fed and organic meat and poultry company and we now only offer a whole organic turkey that ships frozen with dry ice (at -109 degrees Fahrenheit!) to our customers all around the country. We've chosen not to to offer fresh turkeys anymore and it was the right decision.

For the consumer, I think the decision is just as easy. Who wants a bird that has been sitting in a quasi-frozen state for weeks on end? In this case, it's pretty clear that frozen organic turkeys are almost always the fresher choice.

David Maren is a Christian, husband, father, and founder of Tendergrass Farms - an online meats shop with a vision of sustaining family farmer by creating distribution channels for them to thrive economically. Tendergrass Farms offers a wide variety of grass fed beef, organic pork, organic chicken, organic turkey, organic lard, and organic leaf lard. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best 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. 


MOTHER EARTH NEWS digital edition cover

MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been providing information about how to live a more sustainable, eco-friendly life for more than 40 years.  We understand that it’s important we also “walk the talk,” so for this reason and more we set to work creating a slick and easy-to-use digital issue that allows us to reduce our paper and ink consumption while emitting a smaller carbon footprint from magazine deliveries.

We love providing our readers with simple, cost-effective ways to make a difference, and this is one.  By purchasing a digital issue, which is available on both Apple and Android devices, you will still receive all of the same content as the print magazine, plus you’ll save paper and help reduce the company’s fossil fuel consumption. Our digital issue is linked to our website in order for you to peruse related MOTHER EARTH NEWS articles with the swipe of your finger. We also thought it would be fun to link most of our author bylines to the author’s online biography. Are you unsure as to why you should listen to Steve Maxwell for DIY advice or Barbara Pleasant for composting tips? Simply click on each author’s byline to see their credentials and to understand why they’re one of our most trusted experts.

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Author Len McDougall cuts up venison to feed his sled dogsAuthor, novelist, survival instructor Len McDougall feeds venison bones that he's hacked from whole carcasses to his grateful teams of Siberian huskies.  He and his wife began the practice of feeding raw meat, poultry, and fish (no pork — pork is difficult to digest, and not especially nutritious) to the purebred gray wolves that they raised, under license, for 18 years.

They no longer raise wolves, but the longevity and good health of several generations of sled dogs who shared that diet says that it agrees with dogs, too.

Enjoy the video of these happy dogs, and don't miss watching Len McDougall's other videos.

You can find many of the author's magazine articles on-line, as well as his books.

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


DR Kinetic Log Splitter. In-use 1.

Kinetic technology is the wave of the future when it comes to log splitting. Instead of using hydraulics as most log splitters do, kinetic log splitters use a hefty flywheel system that stores energy from the engine in spinning flywheels, releasing it in one burst to pop through logs with record speed. No waiting for the ram to slowly press its way through a log, and then painstakingly retract itself. Here are some incredible facts about kinetic log splitters:

1. Their full cycle time is as little as 2.5 seconds. How long is the cycle time on your hydraulic splitter? It's probably somewhere in the 15- to 30-second range. Those seconds add up when you're splitting cord after cord. With a kinetic log splitter, you can expect a cycle time of 2.5 to 3 seconds, including auto-retract. This makes them about 6 times faster than most hydraulic models.

2. They aren't measured in terms of tonnage. When you go shopping for a new log splitter, the first thing you probably look for is tonnage. It makes sense; in hydraulic splitters, it's the best way to assess their power. Kinetic log splitters can't be accurately measured in terms of tons because the force they produce comes in one quick thrust, instead of a prolonged push. So here at DR, we tell you what hydraulic tonnage our kinetic log splitters could outsplit. For example, the Pro-XL RapidFire kinetic splitter can out split a 34-ton hydraulic.

DR Kinetic Log Splitter. Studio.

3. They're easier to maintain. With no hydraulic oil or pumps, kinetic log splitters are much easier to maintain than hydraulic units. No leaky valves, no messy oil. The only maintenance a kinetic splitter needs is an engine tune-up now and then, just like any other piece of machinery. And electric-powered models don't even need that!

4. Yes, they can handle tough logs. Kinetic log splitters can handle any type of log that a hydraulic model can. Knotty ones, tough ones, you name it. They have the power to pop through even challenging logs at a pace that you just won't believe!

DR Kinetic Log Splitter. In-use 2. Scott.

5. They are available in powerful electric models. Electric log splitters are a great way to be able to split wood indoors – say in your shed or barn – or just have the convenience of not having to deal with messy oil and gas. Electric hydraulic splitters are usually only available at very low tonnages (3-ton, 5-ton, etc.). This is great for splitting kindling and other small logs, but what about the big guys? DR recently introduced an electric-powered kinetic log splitter that can out split any 22-ton hydraulic! That's plenty of power, all powered by clean electricity.

6. Kinetic technology is nothing new. While applying kinetic technology to log splitting may be a relatively new concept, the system itself has been around for ages. Modern designs are adapted from mill machinery used during the US's industrial heyday – solid steel machines built to last and last!

Want to see for yourself how fast kinetic log splitters are? Watch a kinetic model outsplit a hydraulic in a head-to-head competition:

Want to give a kinetic log splitter a try? Check out the top-of-the-line selection at DR Power Equipment, and even try one on your own property for 6 months. 

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


A surprise doelingBolt was looking thinner and thinner. Despite multiple wormings, extra food, and putting her into a pen to gain weight. With both her and Blaze failing to have healthy kids, we were seriously thinking of putting them into freezer camp. Our reasons were practical. Being Boer mixes, they tended to consume a lot of food. They were no good for milking because they carried double teats on each side and didn’t produce as much milk as my dairy goats. So, with Bolt failing to conceive this year and Blaze having a stillborn, we both decided to write off the Boers as a learning experience.

Until today. Tomorrow we were supposed to get cooler weather in and our first frost. I walked into the barn to feed critters and Bolt was in labor. Labor? I pondered the signs carefully. She looked thin – I hadn’t seen any obvious sign of pregnancy. I sort of noticed that her bag looked a little bigger, but given she hadn’t had a kid when the others were delivering. I went into the pen and tried feeling if the baby was in the canal. It wasn’t. So, I finished feeding everyone and went back up to the house to get lunch. We turned on the goat pen camera and called it good.

A little while later, I thought I saw something that looked like a kid beside Bolt. My husband went out to check and came back with a “Kid alert!” So, I went down to the barn with the right tools to cut the umbilical cord and tie it off. There was a lovely little doeling with LaMancha ears and Boer markings. Bolt had mostly dried off the little girl and was happily munching on hay. My husband was holding the doeling in his arms and petting her. The doeling was snoozing comfortably there.

How many kids have I seen born? It was getting in the dozens. How could I have missed this? I suspect that my thought that Bolt was infertile had a lot to do with it. So, now I’m thinking Blaze is carrying too.

We named the little doeling Frost. After all, she was born before the first frost.

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


New Window ViewMany people have contacted us the past few years asking about how to get started planning their own new homesteads. I have written numerous articles about how we went about building ours. They include articles like  Homestead - Where To Start? What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?, Lessons Learned Parts 1 and 2, and many others found here at Mother Earth News.

For this article I have created a checklist of potential expenses to consider when planning your own homestead. It is by no means comprehensive and most of the items you are already aware of as typical living expenses. The list is based on the probability that you will be living in a rural area although homesteading in the city is certainly possible.

As you may know, homesteads can vary hugely in cost depending on the level of comfort and convenience you choose. Some people may choose to live in a tepee and others like us will choose a more traditional structure. You may choose to have satellite services or not.

The list below is intended to get you thinking about your own expenses you may choose to afford and others you may not have considered. An “oops” moment later on can be expensive. Your own similar list can help you make choices on when to start your homestead, how much money you may choose to borrow, or what you are willing to live without to get started.

The List:

• Land
• Realtor Fees
• Clearing
• Road Building
• House Construction
• Barn or Out Buildings
• Fencing
• Septic System or Other
• Well or Water Source
• Permits
• Moving Costs

Homestead Angora Goats
• Animals
• Feed
• Pens and Fencing
• Vet Care
• Garden Supplies and Fencing
• Tools
• Generator(s)
• Farm Equipment
• Craft Supplies
• Food Prep Supplies

Monthly Bills
• Food
• Homeowners Insurance
• Medical Insurance
• Fuel for vehicles, generators, farm vehicles, and equipment
• Property Taxes
• Other taxes (income tax, sales tax, etc)
• Vehicle Licensing
• Other licensing (hunting and fishing)
• Clothing, etc.
• Satellite for TV
• Satellite for computer
• Phone service
• Propane or other heat and cool fuel expense

• Repairs and Maintenance

If you are thinking of starting your own new homestead, start by making a comprehensive list similar to the one above. Don’t be overwhelmed. Consider each item one at a time. Decide which items are necessities and which are conveniences and go from there. It’s better to be prepared and aware than not! Always keep your goals realistic.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites  and

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



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