Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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6/26/2014

I don’t exactly live in the city and my bees aren’t on a rooftop. I’m not that cool. I do have bees though and I also have neighbors on all sides. When I first got into beekeeping, I worried a lot about neighbors and how they might react. Also, being a beginner, I worried that the bees might give them a reason to get upset. So, in hopes of helping and encouraging apprehensive beekeepers that are just starting out, I would like to share some wisdom I gleaned along the way that proved to be really useful.

Set Your Hives Up Early

Backyard Top Bar Hive

One of the best tips I received while attending bee school was to set my hives up a month or two before I would install my bees. This allows an opportunity for nervous neighbors to voice their concerns while giving you the opportunity to start a conversation about bees and assure them there is absolutely no threat (there aren't even bees in those hives yet). You can even give them a look at a hive and explain how it works. After this, they probably won't even notice when the actual bees arrive.

Educate Your Neighbors About Bees if They Ask

I was pleasantly surprised to realize that most of my neighbors weren’t afraid of the bees as much as they were curious. At this point, most people have heard at least a little something about the plight of the bees and are interested in learning more. It’s a good idea to keep an extra veil and pair of gloves around if you can and invite curious neighbors to get a closer look.  

Ask for Cooperation

So many people are so used to spraying fertilizer, weed killer, pesticides, etc. that they don’t think or know about the harm it can do to people, animals and pollinators like bees. In fact, where I live, (much to my extreme frustration) some people seem to consider regularly dousing their grass in chemicals to be an essential quality if you’re to be considered a good neighbor. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to make the person next door stop using harmful chemicals but you can have a friendly conversation with them asking them to give you a 24 hour heads-up if they’re planning to spray something or get a regular visit from the exterminator (shudder). Chances are, if you ask kindly and explain that it will give you a chance to close your bees up for a day (which has to be done the night before) they’ll happily agree and it might even get them thinking about their lawn care practices without you having been confrontational, rude or preachy.

Give Neighbors Honey

Now this is a very important step in having bee-friendly neighbors! A free jar of honey every so often goes a long way in making your neighbors feel positive and possibly even somewhat invested in the health and success of your hives. Everybody loves honey and it’s the best way to thank a friendly neighbor for their help and cooperation. After all, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.



6/26/2014

This is about a structure. A building, a frame, a plan, and much work. It’s about wood, and metal; hardware and screws. And, really, it’s about my Dad.

greenhouse frame

Ryan and I may have the plans and imaginings, but when it comes to the nuts and bolts of building, our ideas sorely need the skills that my father can offer. So while we stumble through our conceptual understanding of how the greenhouse skeleton should be framed into a working structure, Bob pulls out the tape, grabs the pencil behind his ear, and jots a few notes. He sketches, mulls it over, looks through the odds and ends stored in his tiny workshop...and suddenly knows exactly how he’d like to do it. He confers with us, laying out his plan as if there’s much to debate and consider, and letting us make the decisions.  But we’re not nearly so confident with right angles and level planes as we are with carrying heavy objects, growing food, or cutting wood. So we enthusiastically say yes to each of his queries, and couldn’t be more relieved to give him a carte blanche go-ahead.

We buy the hardware, and I haul dimensional timber back to our homestead on my shoulders. Using two rock bars, Ryan and I move boulders beyond the footprint of the greenhouse, then pull the bramble roots that are already trying to grow their way back inside this freshest of clearings.

My parents (my mother is a self-described top-notch helper) also prepare for this greenhouse project like, well... just like well-practiced parents. They carry over buckets of extra tools and backpacks full of hardware, plus lunch. Ryan and I head out to our respective job sites, and Mom and Dad head in to their own work. We’re lucky to have their enthusiasm.

A look over our shoulders as we leave the property for the day includes a glimpse of the five metal ribs arcing above bare ground. Brambles, stump sprouts, and saplings frame the simple lines of the greenhouse-to-be. Upon returning home, though, it seems to nestle into the landscape a bit more comfortably. Its form and function is taking clearer shape.

There are now baseboards waiting to be back-filled with wheelbarrow loads of compost and manure.  We have shoulder purlins stabilizing the ribs and preparing for the plastic to come. And the rear wall is framed with a doorway and studs. Lumber for the front wall is stacked and ready on top of my father’s well-worn sawhorses. Once I’ve brought in as much organic matter as I can to build the beginnings of deep, rich beds, the final wall will go up. Then the plastic covering. And then, and then, and then, we’ll grow a bit more food, with a tad longer growing season. And there’s two remarkably generous hard-workers over our hill with whom we’ll share the bounty.

greenhouse next to cabin

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



6/25/2014

If you are currently considering immigrating to Canada, the process may seem a bit daunting, especially compared to how it used to be. Currently, there are three steps that need to be taken before you can enter the country as a legal citizen. These steps include determining your eligibility, applying for citizenship and taking the Canadian citizenship test. Any and all information you need is made available online through Immigration Direct and Canada’s official government website, which includes an in-depth explanation of the point evaluation system.

Determining Eligibility

The process for determining eligibility is fairly straightforward. According to Immigration Direct, adults qualifying for Canadian citizenship must be at least 18 years of age and have permanent resident status for at least three years in the past four, prior to applying. If you are between 18 and 54, you must show fluency in either English or French and must also meet the criminal history requirements.

Minors qualifying for Canadian citizenship must be permanent Canadian residents (there is no minimum residency requirements for minors) and you must have at least one parent applying for citizenship at the same time.

Immigration Application Procedure

After you have determined your eligibility, the next step is to apply. It is important to note that application forms differ depending on what your employment status is/will be. If you are unsure of which employment status to apply for there is an online questionnaire. If you already know your employment status, you can simply select it from a list on the Canadian government’s official site.

Prospective citizens can apply for immigrant status either online or by mail with forms that can be found online. Based on the 2013 immigration statistics, 80 percent of routine citizenship applications take up to 24 months to process, whereas non-routine citizenship applications can take up to 36 months.

Preparation for Application: Document Checklist 

  • Completed form: Application for Canadian Citizenship – Adults (CIT 0002)
  • Photocopies of ID and immigration documents: 1) Either your Record of Landing (IMM 1000) or Confirmation of Permanent Residence (IMM 5292) and both sides of your Permanent Resident Card (PRC) if you have one, and 2) two other pieces of personal ID, one of which must be a photo ID
  • Two other photos (in accordance with Citizenship Photograph Specifications CIT 0021).

  • Copy of receipt from fees (for a complete list, see “Pay Your Fees” on the CIC’s website)

Other documents you should have include:

  • Birth certificate or baptismal certificate

  • Marriage certificate

  • Adoption, separation or divorce papers

  • School records, diplomas or degrees for each family member traveling with you

  • Trade or professional certificates and licenses

  • Letters of reference from former employers

  • A list of your educational and professional qualifications and job experience (or your résumé)

  • Driver’s license, including an International Driver’s Permit and a reference from your auto insurance company

  • Photocopies of all essential and important documents in case the originals get lost (be sure to keep the photocopies in a separate place from the originals)

  • Car registration documents (if you are importing a motor vehicle into Canada)

Citizenship Test

After your application has been submitted, the next step is to take the citizenship test, which is mandatory for all adults who meet citizenship requirements. The test covers information such as the political and military history of Canada, symbols, systems of government, geography and the responsibilities of Canadian citizens. The test is usually written, however, you may be asked instead to attend an interview with a citizenship judge. To prepare for the test, take advantage of the Canadian government's free study materials.

Immigrating

After you have completed all of these steps, you are ready to immigrate to Canada. The Canadian government’s website has a checklist to help you prepare for a life in Canada. The best advice for crossing the border after attaining citizenship is to be as prepared as possible. You will need to keep important documents on your person at all times during this process, so make sure not to pack them in luggage where they would not be readily accessible. Upon crossing the border, you will be greeted by a representative from the Border Service Agency who will ask you two series of questions, one concerning you and your travelling party, and the other concerning your possessions.

Canadian Life

If you need help adjusting to your new life in Canada, there are resources for that as well.



6/25/2014

cows in stalls

Milk is food.  I repeat; milk is food, an incredibly delicate food with a flavor as complex as wine. If you decide to sell milk from your farm directly to consumers as a standalone beverage and you want to command a premium price, your milk must stand out. It must taste better and have a longer and more dependable shelf life than its competition, including commodity milk. Flavor and shelf life are directly impacted by how the milk is produced and handled on the dairy farm. The good thing is that you will know good milk as soon as you taste it. Here are my best practices for handling and producing the highest-quality, most delicious milk.

Keep your cows and their housing clean. No excuses. This is not a matter of working harder, it is a matter of working smarter. Sure, there will be occasional manure on the cows’ tails, flanks and feet. But, if your cows have manure built up on their bodies, something is wrong with their housing. You need to take care of it quickly. Manure can get into the milk and negatively impact flavor, making it taste metallic or like cardboard. Obviously, bacteria from unclean equipment or conditions can reduce milk’s shelf life. My advice: Take the time at the outset to set up your cows’ housing properly and they will keep themselves clean. And, don’t use too much chlorine when you clean. It is bad for milk flavor.

clean stalls

Think About the Feed. What you feed your cows can have a huge influence on the flavor of their milk. Let me break it down for you: Fresh pasture or fresh-smelling dry hay are the best feed for milk flavor. I’ve found that pastures in different regions present flavor surprises like mint and onion. Dry hay has its own unique taste and is good reliable sources of forage. Be careful of corn or grass silage, which, if it is put up too wet or dry, can have a huge, negative impact on milk flavor. Personally, I believe that properly put up baleage can be fed to cows with little or no negative impact on milk flavor. My rule is that if the silage, especially grass silage, smells good, it is probably okay for milk flavor as long as your cows also have access to dry hay. The key is a balanced ration of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals and lots of good dry hay.

Watch for Weight Loss. Cows that lose weight too quickly or become too thin over time can produce ketones that gives milk an unpleasant flavor. 

Handling Matters. If your milk is over pumped or handled roughly, the fat globules can be damaged, which can cause distasteful enzymes to be released that give the milk a soapy, slightly bitter taste known as "rancidity.” Rancidity is almost a universal problem with commercially processed milk.  It is so common that most consumers don't even notice it these days.

Avoid exposing your milk to off or unpleasant odors. Milk is very absorbent and will pick up off odors from the environment. This is even more reason to keep your milking barn and milk room clean and fresh smelling.

Finally, don't store your milk in walk-in cooler with apples. Apples offgas and will ruin the flavor of milk.

Marketing your milk directly to consumers necessitates producing the best milk that you can. Even today, when many more people than not drink commodity milk, you will know when you’ve got a high-quality milk product. It will just taste better. How do you get there? Just follow these simple rules.



6/24/2014

A territorial black bear in mating season can pose a genuine threat to a homesteader.One problem that has faced every person who ever tried to settle in a wilderness is coping with the animals who already make the place their home. A raccoon can’t understand that chickens in a coop aren’t there for it to eat, and mountain lions know only that sheep are easy prey. A pack of wolves sees no difference between a hereford calf and a moose calf, nor can they comprehend that a dog shouldn’t be killed for being a competitor, then eaten as food.  

I’ve always felt that any wilderness belongs to those animals able to make a living there; we humans might possess the power to displace or destroy them, but it’s their birthright, not ours. We self-righteously cry foul when a human subspecies attempts to kill off another segment of humanity that it perceives as a threat, yet our kind has been committing those very same atrocities against every wild species that has offended us since the beginning of history.  

Still, a settler in any wilderness must of necessity learn to cope with animals that consider the place their home, and my experience was no exception. Few wild animals pose a physical danger to people, and fewer still consider us edible, even when dead. But most denizens of the forest are territorial, as they must be, and to expect any of them to stop frequenting the places where they eat, breed, and bear young just because a human has taken up residence there is unjustifiably arrogant. It’s no less unreasonable to expect that they won’t take your food and anything else that appeals to them, should an opportunity present itself. That’s where troubles begin, because wild animals that raid the food stores of a homesteader may put him in genuine danger of starvation and sickness, especially through the long months of winter.

The most contentious challenge I faced in my own struggle to stake out a small bit of wilderness as home was from a 3-year old black bear. Mature enough to survive on his own, he’d been ejected from cubhood by his mother during the previous summer. She, like all grown sow bears, came into heat every 2 years, which meant she had forcibly abandoned her grown offspring in his second year to find another mate.

It was a story as old as bears themselves. The newly emancipated cub had been forced away from his mother and her new mate to prevent any possibility of inbreeding. Alone and confused, the adolescent bear had none the less survived quite well by following a trail of seasonal foods that his mother had shown him, growing to about 200 pounds in the first full year he’d spent on his own.   Barely half his adult weight, the young bruin already possessed twice my physical strength, and he proved to be very territorial, which made him a powerful and potentially dangerous competitor to me at the personal level.

Invasion

My troubles with this bear started the first week of June, when the cabin had grown to become a box of logs, but didn’t yet have a roof. Access into the box was through a 3-feet square fireplace hole in the left side of the rear wall. The doorway, which was to be more than 3 feet across and 10 logs high, hadn’t yet been cut out when the bear began making trouble.

Our dispute centered around my food barrel, a 55-gallon plastic openhead drum with snap-down plastic lid and a steel cam-locked retaining ring that prevented the lid from being popped off. I’d reasoned that the lid also couldn’t be pulled open from the outside, while thick high-density polyethylene construction would resist even the most determined animal from chewing through to its contents.

The bear’s first raid came during one of my trips to town. Big John had found a large pile of used roofing steel lying at the Emmett County fairgrounds, and the manager there had consented to let us have it if we hauled the entire bunch away - as well as all the cable, pipes, and other discarded metal lying about.   It was a lot of work, but I ended up with more than enough steel to cover a cabin roof, even if it did have nail holes through it already, and John made a few dollars by selling the rest of the scrap metal to a local junkyard. I loaded 16 sheets on top of the Indian van and tied it down in preparation for my return to the dam at French Farm Creek.

I’d been gone 2 days, and when I returned to the cabin carrying 4 bundled sheets of steel on my head, the first thing I noticed was that my supply barrel wasn’t where I’d left it. In fact, the 200-pound container had been wrestled free of its chocks and rolled 50 feet from its original location. Large powerful claws and teeth had left deep gouges in the barrel’s thick walls, and its surface was covered by muddy paw prints that clearly identified the marauder as a black bear. I was glad to see that, despite being knocked about, the drum had withstood an apparently persistent assault without opening. I dragged the heavy container back onto its moorings, while making a mental note that it was requiring considerable effort to do so.

The bruin made his next raid within a week, again while no one was in camp. Pete and I hiked in from the dam carrying 6 more sheets of steel on our heads to find the barrel still chocked in place, but opened, its lid and ring lying off to either side. Empty packets of powdered cheese, raisins, and chocolate bar wrappers littered the ground immediately in front of the open barrel, as if the brazen bear had plopped down right there to feast. A plastic screw-top bottle of vanilla extract had been carefully uncapped, then guzzled dry without leaving so much as a drop spilled. Most insulting was the large, awful-smelling scat left deliberately on top of my hardwood cutting board - a clear and somewhat ominous challenge to my claim on this particular piece of forest.

Author Len McDougall's hand-built log cabin in mid-construction.

After that, the bear prowled the perimeter of my camp every evening after dark, huffing loudly and purposely clacking its teeth together in an attempt to frighten me away from my food. Pete questioned my sanity one night when I took up a flashlight and a stout white ash sapling in either hand, and ran toward where the bear stood grunting at us from the shadows, merely 50 feet to the rear of the cabin. Taken by surprise, the bear wheeled and ran from my approach. My ash stave whooshed past its rump, and the animal broke into full retreat, easily outdistancing me. I continued pursuit through the darkened woods for better than a hundred yards to show it that my intentions were serious, stopping when I realized that I didn’t know where the big animal had gone. I felt considerably less brave as I flashed the Mag-Lite over dense forest and realized that there might well be an angry bear with good night vision behind me in the shadows.

When I returned to camp, muttering and cursing, Pete looked at me as though I’d just sprouted a second head. “Len,” he said, “what would you have done if that bear hadn’t run away?” I explained to my young friend that black bears are by nature unwilling to fight if they can flee, and that if this one had stood its ground, a couple of thumps from my hardwood bludgeon would have convinced the animal to head for safer ground. The look on Pete’s face said that although he respected my judgment about most things, he wasn’t too sure about it this time. I hid my grin and changed the subject, because I wasn’t too damned sure that I was right, either.

Whether I was right or wrong was a moot point, because the bear was back again the following night, having learned only that I couldn’t run fast enough to catch him, and that I couldn’t see in the dark. I chased him through the woods again, this time backing up the flashlight with my .308 Winchester rifle. But even the roar made by this respectable caliber when I fired it into the air didn’t keep the overly bold bruin from returning. It was obvious that this bear had acquired a taste for human food - for all he knew, the cabin was a wonderful place where chocolate and cheese simply sprouted from big plastic barrels. The animal was only following an instinct to put on 50 pounds of fat in preparation for the coming winter, but I could no more allow his larceny to continue than could my musket-toting predecessors.

Frontiersmen of old were known to resolve such maraudings by lying in wait for a troublesome bear, sometimes over a baited leg-hold trap, then killing it on sight with a bullet. I didn’t think so lethal a solution would be necessary for a 21st century frontiersman. Savvy as they’d had to be, the sourdoughs of old didn’t have access to the half-millenium of scientific data about black bears that I had at my disposal, nor had they possessed the modern materials I did.

Cutting out the cabin’s doorway, a daunting bit of hard labor that I’d been putting off, now became an imperative. Because I intended to build my own door from rough lumber I’d split off full logs, the height and width of the opening was at my discretion. I decided to go with a 4-foot opening that was 7 feet from threshold to top, a fairly standard size doorway.

With those dimensions in mind, I framed in what would become the opening, measuring from the cabin’s front centerpost. To allow room for error, I mounted a 10-inch diameter framing log vertically at 4.5 feet from the centerpost, angling its top to correspond with the end rafter above. The doorframe would actually mount flush to the cut ends of the wall logs, but this framing log was needed to hold the corners tighly in place while I cut through them.   Once the framing log had been fitted, I secured it to each wall log with a countersunk lag screw.  

That was the easy part; now I had to remove a 4-foot section from 8 wall logs to create the doorway opening. I set to work with axe and saw in the morning, cutting, chopping, and sweating all day until a door-size hole had been made through the cabin’s front wall. Then I set to work flattening the top of the foundation log with axe and hatchet to form a threshold.

When the doorway was finished, I tugged and cussed the heavy blue container inside the cabin walls, chocking it on place over the fireplace hole to prevent entry from that avenue. There, within an enclosure too tall for a bear to see over from all fours, I hoped my food cache would be protected by the marauder’s own sense of claustrophobia. To further bolster the bear’s reluctance to raid my cache, I left the campfire burning and a radio playing whenever I left the cabin site for even a short time. If it was dark outside, or would be by the time I figured to return, I left a lighted kerosene hurricane lantern secured to the cabin’s centerpost, seven feet off the ground. In front of the doorway outside, a candle lantern burned atop a section of sawn log that I’d upended to serve as a small table. There was no danger of fire on the cleared dirt and sand of the cabin site, and the cabin wall logs were too large and too green to be ignited by a half-pint of kerosene, should the lamp be knocked down.

One morning in the middle of this contest, Cheanne came into camp while I was cutting out the cabin’s back window. I was expecting her, so I barely glanced up from my work when I heard her coming down the trail toward the cabin. But I was more than a little surprised at the way she made her appearance. In her hand, pointed skyward at shoulder height, was the Glock .40 caliber pistol she prudently carried with her whenever she came to see me. There was an excited look in her bright blue eyes. I pointed my fingertips at the clouds and said half seriously, “What?” She holstered the Glock, and with a huge smile told me how a large, brazen bear had shadowed her, making no attempt to remain unseen, for the last few hundred yards before she turned off the main trail toward the cabin. She and a 200-pound bear had walked virtually side-by-side in the same direction for the last hundred yards before it deliberately crossed her path no more than 50 feet ahead, then disappeared into dense woods on the opposite side of the trail.

It was pretty clear that the bear had known she was there, and was testing her courage. When she’d drawn her sidearm and continued along her way, regardless of the big bear’s presence, it had doubtless concluded that her lack of fear meant she was a potentially dangerous opponent and best left unmolested. I was glad for her courage, because if she had retreated, or worse, fled, there was a better than even chance that the bruin would have regarded her as prey and given chase. I didn’t want to even imagine how that chain of events would likely have concluded if she’d backed down.

Placing the food barrel inside the cabin walls seemed to be working for about a week. Then one especially warm evening just after dark, Pete, Jerod, and I returned from a swim at the beaver pond to find the bear feeding leisurely outside the cabin doorway. The marauder heard us coming toward the cabin, and for just a moment stood his ground, as if to defend the rich goodies he had plundered from our mutual food stores. Without pausing or saying a word, I slid the .308 off my shoulder as we came within sight of one another at a distance of less than 30 feet, intending to kill this bear right there in front of the doorway if it didn’t immediately retreat. As he had with Cheanne, the bruin sensed from my demeanor that he was overmatched and in imminent danger. He wheeled and ran off, taking with him a stuff sack containing 2 pounds of chocolate bars and other candies.

Inside the cabin walls, the now lidless barrel lay still chocked in its original position, its retaining ring and lid removed as deftly as I could have done it. Cheese, raisin, and candy wrappers were strewn everywhere on the ground just outside the doorway, carried there one item at a time so the animal wouldn’t be caught by surprise inside the cabin’s confining walls. I couldn’t escape the irony that I had provided this marauder with music and dinner by candlelight.

Pete, who had until then thought my bear problem was humorous, suddenly became more sympathetic. The stuff sack of chocolate bars had been his, and his furnacelike metabolism made him take the theft of precious calories more seriously than most would have. He said it was pretty clear that this bear had to be terminated, but his extreme prejudice turned to a grin when he noticed that Jerod and I were getting a laugh from his sudden change of heart.

I was heartened to see that the critter still feared a confrontation with humans. Still, it was asking for trouble on several fronts to let this bold young bear get away with such larceny. Since it had apparently figured out the barrel ring’s latch, I further secured its shipping lock with a bent nail that required fingers to remove it. Then I enlisted Jerod, who can bench press a small truck, to help me hoist the still very heavy barrel up to the cabin’s ridge pole, 10 feet overhead, and hang it suspended from the groove around its mouth using my logging rope and a timber hitch knot. I later gave up this strategy after the bear learned to bounce the barrel violently enough from below to slip its noose. I’d already tried laying 4 set leg-hold traps across the threshold, placing them upside-down so they’d snap shut when disturbed, without actually catching the critter that set them off. Nothing seemed to discourage this bear.

Pete left the following night. Jerod and I walked him to where his Bronco was parked at the dam, 1.5 miles from the cabin, and we returned to camp just after dark. Jerod was standing in front of the cabin’s doorway, examining it by lantern light. I was building the fire up to provide more light when a low prolonged growl issued from the shadows immediately to Jerod’s left, no more than 10 yards from where he stood. Eyes wide, he looked at me and asked, more or less rhetorically, “What was that?” I answered, also more or less rhetorically, “What do you think it was?” His reply was to walk quickly over to the safety of the crackling fire.

Jerod left the following day, and I went back to work on the cabin. I spent the next week on the roof, lag-screwing rafter poles between soffet logs and the ridgepole. Next came the process of fitting and nailing down sheets of metal roofing to provide a shield from the pounding rains that fell in sheets whenever air temperatures dropped enough to allow condensation. I was getting incredibly tired of living in a tent. Surprisingly, my tents, a 3-man Moss Olympic that was my home and a 2-man Starlet that served as my clothing storage, never caught the interest of any wild animal. I worried that a bear powerful enough to bounce a 200-pound barrel through the forest would have no trouble shredding these vital pieces of equipment, but neither received so much as a tear in their screen doors during the entire 6 months they remained in service. I believe it was the combination of strong human odors emanating from a small enclosure, but animals of all types shunned them.

The food barrel, however, remained irresistible. The bear took to circling the cabin every day just after noon, oblivious to the noise my hammer made against steel. I could see his big coal-black body clearly from my elevated position on the cabin’s roof as he prowled the perimeter of the camp, and I knew damned well that he could see me, too. A showdown was coming, that much seemed inevitable, because this bear was losing more respect for me with each passing day. It pissed me off having to do it, but I made a loaded pistol part of my daily attire from then on, even when I was on the roof. I didn’t even take a crap without the gun strapped to my hip, and whenever I left camp there was a rifle in my hand. I rehearsed our final encounter in my mind a hundred times, trying hard to envision every possible scenario. The bear wasn’t bad, and to kill him merely for stealing food would twist my conscience in a very uncomfortable way. I obviously couldn’t beat him hand-to-hand, but shooting the animal meant that I would be forced to kill him, because a wounded bear could be counted on to double back and jump me from hiding. Yet if I didn’t instill a strong fear of humans into its psyche, this animal would then become a real danger, not only to me, but to every backpacker and mountain biker who was carrying food. The solution was to punish the bear enough to make my homestead an unpleasant place for him to visit, but not severely enough to provoke a retaliatory response. That was going to be tough, and very probably dangerous.

Showdown

The showdown came one hot, sticky night in early July. I was trying to fall asleep in my tent, a few yards from the cabin’s rear wall. The tent’s front and rear doors were as open as the mosquitoes would allow, but the air was thick with humidity and not conducive to sleeping. As usual, I’d left two lanterns burning to illuminate the cabin, not so much to discourage the fearless bear as to provide me with sufficient light to get off an accurate shot. I’d just dozed off when I heard the scratching of stout claws against plastic, followed by the distinctive sound of the heavy barrel being rocked on its moorings from inside the cabin walls. This was intolerable; it was one thing to raid my cache when I was gone, but to have this bold and powerful animal invade while I was sleeping crossed the line between annoying and dangerous. My hand settled over the loaded .40 caliber automatic lying next to my head. I made no effort to be quiet as I zipped open the tent’s net door and scrambled toward the cabin, pistol at the ready. I really had no desire to shoot this bear - in fact, I rather admired his pluck - but the situation had to be resolved, one way or another.

As I ran around the back corner of the cabin, I could see the bear over the wall, still near the barrel. He saw me and spun toward the doorway at a gallop. I couldn’t get an accurate shot through the rafters, so I raced him to the doorway, coming around the front corner of the cabin as he was exiting the structure. If he so much as turned toward me, I intended to shoot him until he was dead. But the bear seemed panicked, wanting only to get away. Just before his furry black rear end disappeared from the circle of illumination cast by the door lantern, I squeezed off a round as near to his bouncing buttocks as I felt I could get without actually penetrating flesh. The bullet didn’t hit meat, else I would have found flesh and blood on the ground, but there was a small cluster of black fur lying on the leaves nearby, clipped free when the hollowpoint grazed the bear’s wide ass.  I listened intently for several long minutes, ready to fire another, killing, round if the bear turned, but the panicked bruin crashed headlong through trees and brush until it had traveled beyond my hearing.

Satisfied that I’d made my point, I crawled into my tent and tried to get back to sleep. No sooner had my eyes closed than once again I heard a rustling and scratching from inside the cabin walls. This was it, no more warning shots. I unzipped the tent’s screen door slowly, and as quietly as if I were stalking a deer, I crawled on hands and knees to the rear wall of the cabin. My palms were wet and sweat trickled down my forehead as I rose slowly to peer through the window hole in the cabin’s back wall. The Glock’s sights were in front of my eyes as both simultaneously cleared the uppermost log. My fingertip was lightly touching the gun’s double trigger, depressing the safety so that only the slightest pressure would cause it to fire. There, squared in my sights and sitting atop the front wall with a nearly empty powdered cheese bag, was a fat raccoon weighing about 20 pounds. Maybe it was the noise made by the crinkling plastic wrapper, or maybe the ‘coon was simply too involved with this delicacy to pay attention, but it hadn’t noticed my approach. There was no way I was going to kill this animal, either; yet I couldn’t allow it to consider my cabin site as a food source any more than the bear could. I held my finger firmly against the Glock’s trigger, and when the raccoon raised its head to look about, I released the sear, sending a bullet between its ears and about 2 inches above its furry skull. The ‘coon screeched and backflipped off its perch, hitting the ground outside the cabin with an audible thud. It scrambled away into the shadows with a rustling of leaves, uninjured except for the strong impression of terror I’d inflicted on its psyche.

I couldn’t help but laugh as the ‘coon’s chattering headlong escape continued until it was out of earshot, even though my shot had also put a hole through the door rafter. I crawled back into my tent, sure that any animal even considering raiding my camp was long gone, but sleeping lightly and well armed, just in case I was wrong.   http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-log-cabin-len-mcdougall/1110845978?ean=9781585744596



6/24/2014

The organizers of the Home and Garden Show heavily promoted chickens before and during the show on TV stations, radio, newspaper ads, and their website. They made a 30-foot vertical banner that simply said: “chickens” pointing down to our booth. There was a lot of anticipation and focus on these chicks. Chickens had become the centerpiece of the show, these chicks had to show up healthy and showcase camera ready.

The chicks would arrive 2 to 4 days before the H&G Show began on Friday. They had to be kept warm (brooded) at 95 degrees, fed & watered. This is the fragile time for a baby chick. If a chick can survive the first 5 days, then chances are higher that it will live to adulthood.

When I co-owned and operated our organic, free-range poultry ranch, we routinely brooded batches of 400 chicks. But that was over 12 years ago. We had a barn and commercial equipment. Plus, we only brooded in warmer weather—late spring to late summer.

The CSP chicks would arrive February 25th or 26th, the week before the H&G Show and the same time a “polar vortex” was predicted to hit our area with plummeting, sub-zero temperatures and chilling gusty winds bringing the wind chill to sub-zero temperatures.

We needed a well protected and easy-to-keep-warm area to set up the brooder. The only place big and warm enough was our main office. It has a wood stove as backup heat if the electric goes out. To keep the chicks continually warm at 95 degrees, we wanted a backup heat source. There would be fine dust everywhere in the office, so we covered all the electronic equipment with plastic.

Brooder Setup and Heating Sources

There can be several heat sources used during brooding. I don’t use or recommend heat lamps anymore for brooding or chicken care. As co-host of the Chicken Whisperer Talk Show, we heard too many horrible stories about heat lamps burning down homes, garages, and coops. To me, heat lamps are an unnecessary dangerous fire-hazard. I also think that the intense light and radiation is hard on the baby chicks’ eyes and their hormonal systems. Try it. Put a 250 watt heat bulb about 24” from your face and you will understand how intense the heat is. There is a safer, gentler way.

Heat rises. So much heat is wasted in brooding because it goes out into the ambient room temperature. Simply covering the brooding area with what we call “brooder blankets” keeps the heat down with the chicks so that lamps with 60 and 75-watt bulbs can maintain the 95 degree temperature needed by the hatchlings. DO NOT use brooder blankets with heat lamps; this is a fire hazard!

For this brood of 300 chicks, 4 lamps were suspended from the ceiling with 60 or 75-watt bulbs. I’ve also used seed starter heating pads for radiant floor heating. Plus this many chicks put out body heat that also helps keep them warm.

The brooder itself can be insulated to help keep in the heat. This includes the bottom, sides and top (with the brooder blankets). The homemade brooder for these chicks consisted of sturdy, thick cardboard boxes taped together in a 2-foot high wall and about a 8-foot diameter circle. Our office floor is painted concrete, which is cold.

Reflectix insulation as a first layer under the entire brooding area helps keep the heat in and the cold out. On top of the foil insulation was a layer of plastic sheeting. After that was cardboard and finally, thick, multiple layers of newspaper. This brooder will only be used 4 days before the H&G Show. The paper & cardboard flooring can be easily changed if it gets soaked by a spilled waterer or becomes too soiled by the chicks to be healthy. I’ll add aspen wood shavings after the chicks have settled in.



6/20/2014

moving chickensHi everyone! We’ve just wrapped up week two – another busy week. I feel like I’m getting more accustomed to the work routines, but overall, I’m tired! I think I’d have to have been an Olympian prior to coming here to not be tired and a little sore. Chores, projects and all the other farm tasks tend to be very physical work and can take a lot out of you. I remember reading on Polyface’s website before applying for the internship that the interns tend to have a rough time for the first few weeks adjusting to new people, surroundings, water, workload and the like and for me, settling in hasn’t been difficult. Everyone is really nice and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. I’m just tired! I have a feeling this will dissipate in the next few weeks as I get stronger and I keep bulking up on the delicious farm food. Enough about that – on to the week!

Monday, June 9th

Monday morning started out with watering the broiler shelters. We usually have teams of three working on the broilers; one to move the shelters, one for watering and one for feeding. After chores and breakfast, we split up into groups and each did different projects. The group I was in unloaded and stacked four wagons of hay making sure to salt each row before stacking more hay on top. Joel and Daniel told us this cures the hay, makes it taste better to the animals and prevents moisture. It was nice to be able to do this under the roof because we had some pretty intense showers that morning. After hay, I helped one of the apprentices fill the pig feeders using a grain buggy hooked up to the tractor, did some clean up projects around the farm and packaged ‘parts and pieces’ (parted up chicken pieces) for the walk in freezer.

After lunch, I went with one of the apprentices to a farm property Polyface manages to move cows into their new paddock. In Joel Salatin’s book Salad Bar Beef, the cross fence/cow days process is explained, but I’m going to wait until we have our presentation from Joel (this is supposed to be in the next week or so) before I go into greater detail. Essentially, the cows are allowed to mob graze a particular section of paddock until it is eaten down to a certain point. They are then moved on to the next section through a system of electric fencing (“cross fences”) that are very easy to set up and dismantle. The cows learn this routine, love getting fresh pasture and are thus very easy to move.

My evening chore was to feed the turkey poults, which was a lot of fun. Baby turkeys, and turkeys in general, are pretty friendly, amiable and funny. I haven’t had the chance to work with the turkey poults in the morning, but at night they are given additional feed and water along with some grasses, which they love.

Tuesday, June 10th

Tuesday morning’s chore was working with the rabbits. I split this with one of the apprentices, so my job was to feed the rabbits their greens and move the mobile rabbit shelters. The rabbit shelters are pretty handy and do a great job of keeping the grass low. I’d recommend building one if you’re looking for an urban homesteading project. (Last week’s blog post shows a photo of a mobile rabbit shelter.) After breakfast, my group of interns went to sort pigs with one of the apprentices. Polyface has this nifty hydraulic pig trailer where the back end lowers to make it easier for the pigs to get on and off. The goal was to remove twelve of the largest pigs from the herd for processing. We end up herding most of the group into a makeshift corral and letting out the ones that are too small, too young or otherwise not suitable until we have the twelve that we want. Once that was completed and the pigs were brought back to the barn from the field, the same group of us went to get Polyface’s bulls that are kept in separate farm managed properties. This was the first time I had ever seen cattle loaded into a trailer, so it was a pretty interesting field trip. This was also the first time we were able to practice our cattle calls, which was pretty funny. We were all being bashful and not wanting to bellow out the wrong sound, so it made for a fairly quiet cattle drive.

After lunch, we unloaded two more wagons of hay, using the same salting and stacking method. With as much help as we have, the unloading goes quickly, but it is still hard work. This was followed by dismantling a retaining wall that has seen better days, my being allowed to drive the tractor for the first time (Yay! It was for about three minutes, but still, yay!), pulling up old garden plastic and prepping a garden area for sweet potatoes.

Wednesday, June 11th

Wednesday was for the most part a poultry day for me. I started out by moving the broiler shelters. Earlier in the week, another group had removed broilers from the shelters at another farm that Polyface manages, and after breakfast we interns took a trip to this property with Daniel and the other apprentices to learn how to prep the shelters for the next group of birds. Prepping the shelters includes scrubbing out the water pails that sit on top of the shelters, the chicken waterers themselves and water trough and also repairing any shelters that may have suffered some wear and tear. I’ve included some photos so you all can see the way the shelters look, but for the sake of not passing on incorrect information, I’m going to ask that you refer to Pastured Poultry Profits for any technical questions. (I’ve only been here a few weeks, so I’d feel weird pontificating to you all about how to build one.) In any case, we shored up any boards or braces that had cracks, stapled down any wayward chicken wire and moved the empty pens to their proper positions. We then helped Daniel as he repaired some wire fencing and cleared brush to make room for a new fence the property owner plans to build.

After lunch, we went into the brooder where the broiler chicks have lived for the past few weeks, put them in their crates and sent them off to greener pastures (literally) to live in the shelters we prepped for them that morning. It was nice seeing them ride off as I knew they would enjoy the fresh grass and nice prepped shelters. After they left, we prepped their brooder for the new baby chicks that we were expecting and my evening chore was putting the broilers to bed. I didn’t actually do that, but that’s how I like to think of it. We check their shelters, make sure everyone is doing well, top off their water and make sure they have enough to eat.

Thursday, June 11th

cross fenciing

Thursday morning was moving broilers again for me. Along the duration of having interns moving the shelters, the spacing (not surprisingly) had gotten a little off kilter and one of my roommates and I had to correct their placement. I’m sure I had something to do with the off-kilterness, so it was a good lesson to have to correct them. The rest of the morning I spent packaging part and pieces (See Monday’s blurb to remind yourself what that entails), helping our inventory manager organize the freezers and then helped at the sawmill until lunch. The corral we were conceptualizing last week with Daniel will be coming to fruition and boards needed to be made.

After lunch, we went to one of the properties Polyface manages to move a herd of cows and chop thistles. I wish I had photos to show you all, but I was too busy making sure we didn’t have a traffic jam that I didn’t think to take any. Sorry. We ended up herding the cows up the road to their next pasture and two of us needed to stop any oncoming cars. After the cows were settled in, we each took a machete and hacked the top of the thistle plants that were encroaching on the pasture. I recommend that everyone in their life hit a thistle with a machete at last once. It’s awesome. I then wrapped up the day by putting the broilers to bed and washing eggs.

Friday, June 12th

setting fence posts

Friday morning I moved the feathernet (the laying hens and their netted fencing) with one of the apprentices and another intern. To move the feathernet, we set up a new area for them using electric netting, guide the hens in, use the tractor to move the large mobile coop the girls call home to fresh pasture and move their waterer. All in all, this takes us about a half an hour. I’m sure it can be done faster once we all get more proficient at setting up netting (which can become a tangled mess if you’re not careful) and are more used to driving the tractor. The rest of the morning was spent doing clean up projects around the farm and weeding in the hoop houses where we grow our vegetables.

The afternoon was devoted to setting up the posts for the corral. Last year’s interns didn’t have a chance to do this, so I think the apprentices who were interns last year were as excited as we were. Daniel and Joel both taught me how to dig a posthole and my job was to use the digging bar (others refer to it as a pry bar) to loosen the dirt so the posthole digger would have something to remove. Just like I’m not super handy with a sledgehammer (yet), I’m not all that handy with the digging bar (yet). I have to give the Salatins props- they are very patient. We dug the deep holes for the corner posts, as they were longer pieces of wood, but we used a hydraulic post pounder to install the posts. Watching that thing work made me grateful for machinery. After a few weeks of consecutive hard work, I really appreciate when there is a machine that can do the work for you. We stayed all afternoon and by the end of the day, we had installed the posts and set up the supports. All it needed was boards.

At dinner that night, I spoke with Sheri Salatin about her new website www.EagerFarmer.com. Sheri came up with the idea for a website that connects farmers and property owners who need help (managers, interns, etc.) with those who are looking to work on a farm. It hasn’t fully launched yet, but I’d encourage you all to go to the website and sign up for the email updates. The more people we can get connected, the better!

hay rake

Saturday, June 13th

I worked this past weekend, so you’ll have an extra day’s worth of entries this week. Interns generally work one weekend a month, three interns per weekend. This past weekend, I worked with Erik and Tim who both like to sing while they work, which made for a pleasant weekend soundtrack. We started the morning with moving the broilers and filling the feed bins using the grain buggy. I was also able to drive the tractor again, which was fun. After breakfast, we had the good fortune of being able to go to a farm estate auction for the morning. This was a big treat because I love auctions and even though I purposely left my wallet behind, I still managed to buy a few things (a small sythe and a kind of broken pair of nippers – for $4, I couldn’t resist.). There was also a tractor for sale, some mowers, some antique farming equipment and lots of tools to look at. We interns peppered Daniel with questions, “Daniel, what does this do?” “Daniel, what’s this?” “Daniel, how much should this cost?”, so I’m not sure how relaxing of a time he had. After we returned, we worked on the sawmill making more boards for the fence, moved some of the pastured pigs and wrapped up the day with homemade pizza.

I hope you all enjoy the coming week. We’re planning on making a lot of hay and finishing the corral, among other things. See you next week!









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