Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Hens foraging in pasture

The hens hit the pasture after a morning release last summer. Photo by Megan Barnes

May is an important transition time on the farm. We’ve made it well past the half-way mark with lambing (80 little ones on the ground, with 10 ewes left to deliver), cold crops are almost all planted in the garden, the honeybees are attacking the newly-blooming dandelions, and this week baby chicks arrive.

Yes, the first batch of 100 little meat chicken fluff balls will be coming via the postal system. But there’s a problem: The hens are still in the coop! And, um, well, I tried putting 100 little ones in boxes in the basement once (for two weeks no less) because there was still a foot of snow outside — and that didn’t go over so well with the rest of the family. I still find chick dust in places I had no idea dust could travel!

Sharing Coop Space

So, the hen ladies have to move out into their summer quarters so that the chicks can have a cozy coop and our house can remain unmolested. But the summer coops still need to be cleaned because it was mid-November by the time the hens moved out and things pretty well froze in. Hmmm…I’m starting to think there has to be a hole in a bucket somewhere in this story.

We were breaking new ground for potatoes, and the soil in the fresh patch was in dire need of some organic matter. The poultry bedding looked like it had well started into the decomposition process, so we hooked up to the covered wagons with the truck and hauled them over to the patch, casting out the unwanted bedding and droppings, which had disintegrated into clumpiness and dusty powder. I tell you, we were all ready for a good shower after that shoulder-breaking job! That smell gets up your nose, and everything seems like you’re inside that coop. Cough.

Ok, enough with the dust — time for the pressure washer! But what may seem like a five-minute farm job always ends up being five other jobs rolled into one.

First, all the hoses have to be drug out of the garage from their tidy winter coils. Then the pressure washer borrowed from the neighbor needs to get running. Hmm…no luck. Looks like it hasn’t been serviced for a while, and the gas is low. Then it’s get the gas and clear the line and check the oil and try turning the water on and off, and get more hose, and…

And then, once the blast finally gets rolling, then anything needing pressure washing is fair game, like the lichen-colonized deck. You know how it goes when a handy tool is working well — you just can’t always stop.

One Job Becomes Ten

Today, with the coops all nice and dry, the project multiplying principle struck again. First, I spread barn lime on the floor of the mobile coops as a sanitizer, as Kara unscrewed the wooden roosts from the winter coop to reuse in the summer abodes. These had some broken parts that needed repairs, which meant finding those bits of wood squirreled away from previous projects…and find some fresh screws…and... here’s always some reason to save all the pieces on a farm!

Then we unscrewed the two 10-hole galvanized steel nesting boxes. This meant evicting the grumpy hens occupying the nests, removing the metal pans at the bottom of each cubicle, and hauling them up to the barn hydrant to spray and scrape clean. (Darn, that pressure washer was all put away — should have thought of this job when it was out and working.) Then, I scraped and swept the dust and cobwebs off the top of the nest box frame, so it was all tidy and ready to mount in the summer coops. 

Dried by the sun, the nest plates were ready to reinstall and be filled with fresh straw. But, of course, when you open a bale of straw, you think of all the other places that needed some fresh straw, like the turkey nest with the myriad of hissing cobra heads waiting your arrival. Somehow, they don’t seem to appreciate your offering as they display their motherly defenses.

Then it was finally time to fill the summer coops with fresh bedding in the form of planer shavings from the local saw mill. These we keep in a big old chopper box in the barnyard.  Throughout the winter, we rake and scoop out chips to freshen the bedding pack, but now it’s time to start the coop out fresh. No wagon or two this time — this calls for running the auger with the tractor and pulling that bedding pile that has receded to the back corner to the front for some serious volume work.

But that auger sticks out beyond the roof line of the chopper box, so it fills up with snow and water and freezes solid until about this time of year. The bedding there gets all soggy and half-rotted, so it’s no use as animal bedding. So instead of filling wheel barrels to take to the coop, we start by spreading out a tarp and emptying out all that yucky bedding first. It’s wet, heavy, and sticky. This means that by the time the auger is clear, the tarp is too full to move out of the way. Now what?

Well, if it’s in the way, that means it’s time to put it to a purpose, and over the years we’ve used the wet, soiled shaving to mulch berries, herb gardens, flower beds, and more. We scoop it up off the tarp into wheel barrels or the dump bed on the back of the utility golf cart and haul it about the farm to prettify the landscape and add organic matter. But, of course, when you go mulch your herb garden, you realize that you still have to dead head the oregano and weed out the spreading sorrel…and...

Several hours later, we’re back to getting fresh bedding for the coops. The fluffy shavings help make the airy structure feel cozy, with the inviting nesting boxes in the back and leaning roost ladders in the middle. I hang the feeders, fill the waterers, and see that these abodes are ready for their feathered occupants.

The hens are certainly ready. Their winter runs are beaten and scratched. It’s time to give those pens a rest for a couple of months to regenerate and regrow. Out in the pasture, we move the mobile hen coops each week to keep the girls from digging too deep of dust holes or scratching the grass to death, but they can’t help themselves when faced with the same paddock for the cold season.

Mom and I string the electric mesh fence out from the chicken coop door, around the hen mobiles, encompassing the apple trees. Scratching beneath the apples is one of their favorites, so I’m hoping it will lure the ladies away from the old coop and towards the new ones. And I was right. In a rush, we had them chased out of the old yard, through the door, and onto fresh grass. We released the girls from their winter quarters, and goodness they were thrilled—tails held high, eyes busy looking for worms and slugs.

Now I’ve got to get that winter coop cleaned and spiffed up in time for the little cheepers that are coming. But that will have to be a story for another time — likely with its own winding detours and myriad of offshoot tasks along the way.

Here’s to happy hens laying tasty eggs, all summer long! See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café; 715-462-3453. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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As a farmer raising geese, one of the most frequent questions I hear is "what do goose eggs taste like". They are not at all unlike chicken eggs, but there are a few special features to these large, white eggs.


A goose egg is equivalent to about three chicken eggs, with a larger yolk-to-white ratio. Geese are seasonal layers, and you will generally only get eggs from a female goose from April through September. Their egg production varies depending on the breed, but most will lay around 40 eggs over the course of a year.

Because of the larger yolk-to-white ratio, goose eggs hold together well and produce a more dense, moist result when baking. Many bakers prefer a heavier mix, but if you need to lighten your recipe you can add a chicken egg. Like duck eggs, the larger yolk and general size mean that goose eggs have a higher nutritional content, including more Omega-3s, than hen’s eggs.

Diners with distinguished palates find goose eggs a little bit “gamier” than chicken eggs, but most of those sampling a goose egg omelet next to a chicken egg one cannot tell the difference. You will notice the richness of a goose’s egg if you eat it fried and you can see the deep colors of the yolk. Once again, it is that huge yolk that lends to the variations in flavor when tasters can detect them.

with chicken

Goose eggs are particularly sought after by those who make their own pasta. Between the richer color they give to pasta noodles and a history of being used in traditional Italian recipes, goose-egg pasta is a rare delicacy these days. Many pasta recipes call for a dozen chicken eggs, while using these giants can cut your needs in half.

Geese can be fed crumble, but the majority of their diet is made up by fresh greens. Their favorite snack is simple lawn grass, and this helps to brighten the color of the yolks of their eggs while keeping the whites pale.

A goose egg shell is white and thick. Cracking them takes a determined whack, or two, and the shells themselves are a prize. Many people will blow out goose eggs and keep the shells as decorations, and they are desired by crafters for shell engraving art. A carved goose egg makes a beautiful Christmas ornament or fireplace decoration, and the lattices and patterns that talented carvers can accomplish are truly stunning. Thanks to this alternative use, goose egg shells empty of both white and yolk are still valuable, and some craft stores sell eggs for over $10.


Another unique aspect of a goose’s egg is their seasonality. Because they are only laid during the summer months, there is a delicious mystery to these eggs. The few goose egg farmers around the country sell their eggs for more than $2 per egg, and demand for them continues. The only online retailer I was able to find for them,, advertise a half dozen for $70 not including shipping.

Goose eggs are a valuable and mouthwatering options for any recipe. If you can find them from your local farmer or at the market, try them out and see if you can taste the difference. Better yet, if you start raising geese you can enjoy these delicacies every day in the summertime.

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. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

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.



Rotational grazing can reduce the parasite load of goats, but this is difficult to accomplish with a dairy herd which needs to return to the same location every day for milking. Most dairy setups assume that the goats remain in a permanent shelter or barn overnight, adjacent to the milking area, and are only put out to pasture after milking and returned by evening. This means the goats are spending about half of their time in the same location and bedding, allowing problematic parasites to complete their life cycles and infect the herd.

On our homestead, we developed a pasture-based rotational management system that allowed us to keep the herd on pasture 24/7 during the warm season, significantly reducing our reliance on chemical de-wormers.

The core challenge in reducing many goat parasite loads is breaking the 28-day lifecycle of the parasites (at least the ones we’ve dealt with). As summarized in a useful article at,  “With few exceptions, the egg once laid, exits the host, hatches in the often hostile environment, then the juvenile larvae must find a way to get inside another host to develop to the adult stage.”

Loosely speaking, if goats are still living or eating in the same location after a month, they risk being re-infected by parasites. If the herd has moved on, the juvenile larvae will find no hosts.

Keeping the herd moving mimics the natural behavior of their wild relatives (such as mountain goats or deer), which do not confine themselves to feeding or sleeping in the same location year-round. As stated on the same site linked above, “in natural conditions the odds are against larvae surviving long enough to find the correct host.”

Portable Electric Fences

How can we simulate these natural and beneficial behaviors in a home dairy herd which, unlike wild caprines, must be milked once or twice daily, protected from predators, and otherwise managed in a human-practical way?

Our approach relied on moveable herd shelters which can be shifted to a completely new location every month, while a combination of permanent and portable electric fences  allowed for rotational grazing in a radius surrounding the shelter location. We briefly described the evolution of our shelter approach here, settling on chain-link panel walls with a pop-up tent as an excellent solution that was both moveable and secure. One person could disassemble, relocate, and reassemble this shelter in 1-2 hours depending on the distance to be moved, a reasonable monthly workload even on our busy farm. 

As for daily milking, we simply reversed the normal dairy procedure (milk, take herd to pasture, return by evening). Each morning, the adult does were led to our central milking barn, where they waited in a staging area just like a normal herd, each individual returning to the staging area after milking. When finished, the does were returned to their pasture location. We only milked in the morning, but the same procedure could be used for an evening milking.

One downside to this approach was the need to move goats to and from the milking barn even during inclement conditions, but we found that this was rarely a significant problem even in Missouri’s highly variable weather. Technically, this method still meant the goats were returning to a similar location every day, but as we didn’t feed them in the indoor staging area, there was little opportunity for them to pick up parasites during their brief time there.

Keeping a Milking Stand in a Portable Pasture Shelter

Another approach would be to keep the milking infrastructure with the pasture shelter, dedicating a small area for a milking stand. This eliminates the daily herd move and the weather issues, but increases the footprint and complication of shelter movement while ensuring more primitive facilities.

Personally, we preferred having a nice solid milking stand with a sink and plenty of room to work within a solid building, but either approach achieves the fundamental goal of keeping the herd on pasture.


Maintaining a moveable pasture shelter for the dairy herd produced another significant benefit to our homestead farm: a regular source of compost material. We used straw as bedding within the shelter, adding a little bit each day, and after a month a nice mat of fertile bedding had built up.

Once the shelter was moved, we built a compost pile using the bedding and whatever weeds and other greenery had accumulated around our fields in the past month. These monthly piles were much easier to turn and maintain than a giant annual barn muck-out. We managed these to organic standards, turning them five times within 15 days and ensuring they reached at least 131 degrees Fahrenheit during each turn. Once each pile was finished, we transported it to a central location for aging and later use.

Once the grazing season was mostly over (usually around Thanksgiving in Missouri), we moved the herd back to the permanent barn for the winter, basing them there until kidding was over, usually March or early April. They still had plenty of access to nearby pasture, but returned to the barn at night throughout this time. This does give an opportunity for parasites to start building up again, but they aren’t as active during cold winter weather.

We monitored worm load through eye color and samples taken to our vet, who was impressed by our low worm count despite no routine use of deworming agents. Once the herd left in spring, we built one big compost pile from the winter bedding, which reinforced our preference for the smaller monthly piles produced during the grazing season.

This approach is not 100% effective against all kinds of internal goat parasites. We still ended up having elevated counts at times, such as during especially wet periods or when new parasites were introduced by our abundant wild deer herd (as diagnosed by our vet). At such times, we still used chemical de-wormers on an as-needed basis. But our approach to pasture-based shelters meant that most of the time, chemical de-wormers did not need to be part of our herd management, which made us feel better about the quality of our milk and our soils.

Eric Reuter 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, at various times managing vegetable & grain crops, perennial fruits, dairy/meat goats, poultry, timber resources, and natural habitats. Read all of Eric's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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.


Shiitake mushrooms are an easy to grow, delicious mushroom for beginners to learn to cultivate. Shitakes have a satisfying meaty texture when sautéed, broiled or baked, and they have a distinctive 'unami' flavor that makes them popular in Asia.


Our Appalachian homestead has given us lots of opportunities to experiment with homesteading skills like using a wood-fired earth oven, making vermicompost with worms, washing with soap nuts and building rabbit lawn mowers, so it seemed a natural next step for us to start experimenting with cultivating our own mushrooms. We learned a lot from this project that I am sharing with you in article. Think of it as a starting point in your own journey of learning the art of shiitake cultivation from spore to fruit.

Mushroom Logs

Mushroom spawn requires hardwood logs that are well shaded and protected from severe winds. Red Oak and White Oak is the preferred wood type for shiitake cultivation. Trees used for mushroom logs should be felled in mid to late winter to be inoculated in early spring. Let logs age for two weeks before inoculating them. Only use logs with intact bark because gaps in bark can allow other types of fungi to get in and contaminate your spores.

Prepare logs that are between 3-8 inches in diameter and in lengths between 3-4 feet. Too long logs become cumbersome to work with; too short ones dry out quickly. Properly managed small diameter logs can produce more mushrooms though the logs will decay quickly. That's not a problem though, because 'spent' logs can be ground up and used as compost.

mushroom farmer

Choosing Spawn

Shiitake mushroom spawn comes in two types: Plug spawn and sawdust spawn.

Plug spawn is mycelium grown into hardwood. It's easy to use because it requires no special tools and is extremely durable. It takes longer to grow and is more expensive than sawdust spawn, but it is a smart choice for beginner growers.

Sawdust spawn is the preferred spawn for shiitakes. This spawn type grows faster than plug spawn but is more sensitive to drying out. Consisting of mycelium grown into hardwood sawdust, inoculation is complex unless the process is mechanized with specialized equipment.


The Inoculation Process

Shiitake mushroom inoculation works best when it happens as early in the spring as possible, or when daylight highs are above 40 degrees f. A high speed drill should be used to make 5/16 sized holes 1 inch deep, spaced 6 inches apart, in staggered rows. This will create a diamond pattern.

Fill the holes with spawn as quickly as possible to avoid an opportunity for contamination. Specialized spawn tools like a thumb style brass inoculator can be used. Next, cover the loose sawdust spawn immediately with hot wax, usually cheese wax. Get the wax as close to 450 degrees Fahrenheit without burning it as you can to ensure a good seal.


Spawn Run

Shiitakes take between 6 months to a year after being inoculated before the mycelium grow through the log in a thread-like network. This is called the "spawn run".

During the spawn run, stack your mushroom logs loosely to create airflow. The best log stacking techniques vary on climate zone, wind levels, average rainfall and your ability to protect the logs from wind and sun. The optimal production for shiitakes happens when they are kept at 35-45 percent moisture content. Keep your log ends off the ground or on weed-barrier fabric to prevent contamination from wild strains of fungi.


Fruiting the Crop

Shiitakes inoculated with sawdust usually fruit the fall after they are inoculated. Logs can be “forced” to fruit by being submerged in cool water for 24 hours and then stacked upright to increase the airspace for mushroom formation. Upright stacking also causes logs to recover more quickly by stimulating wood decay and fruiting behaviors.

Beware of pests around your logs. Mice like to chew on mushroom caps, but they rarely cause any damage. During prolonged humid weather slugs and snails can sometimes harm shiitakes grown close to the ground.

Harvesting Your Mushrooms

Mushrooms fruit to full size over several days. Shiitakes are ready to be harvested when their caps are 70 to 90 percent open. When they begin fruiting make sure to check our mushrooms every day. Mushroom development speeds up in hot weather and caps can quickly expand beyond prime condition on hot nights.

To harvest, twist and pull the stem off. Never cut mushroom stems because this shortens their shelf life significantly by drying them out. Mushrooms can be stored in any container that is well-ventilated. After your logs have produced a crop, let them rest for 2-3 months to give the mycelium a chance to regain the energy needed for fruiting. A healthy, well taken care of shiitake log can fruit for 2-8 years.  njoy cultivating this delicious fungus! The healthy results are well worth the wait.

Lydia Noyes is serving as an Americorps volunteer with her husband in West Virginia at the Big Laurel Learning Center. There, they live with their ever expanding collection of animals and are caretakers of a historic Appalachian homestead that resides on a 500-acre land trust. They also help to run a mountain-ridge retreat and ecology center. You can find her at her personal blog and Instagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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.


The previous articles in this series have shown how plants build soil by converting atmospheric carbon into sugars which then become humus, nature’s precious topsoil. We’ve seen that cover crops, compost and compost tea all complement this system.

In this post, we’ll look at the essential role that grazing animals have in this system, and how to successfully manage our ruminants in a sustainable manner.

Dutch Belted cows on pasture

Sustainable (Planned) Grazing

What is sustainable grazing?: By definition, sustainable grazing allows nature to keep our pastures, soil and animals healthy long-term with minimal inputs. Although ruminants have been blamed for depleting forage and contributing to climate change, mimicking nature allows us to graze our animals sustainably.

How Can We Imitate Nature When Grazing Animals?

To see how nature has kept the planet healthy for thousands of years while providing food for indigenous people, we only need to think of buffalo herds on North American prairies or antelope grazing the Serengeti plains or caribou herds roaming the arctic tundra.

There are two characteristics of their grazing pattern that prevented forage from being depleted and kept the planet healthy.

First, these animals all had predators that kept them “bunched” in tight herds for protection.

Second, because they had to keep moving away from their dung and urine in order to graze, these tightly bunched animals kept moving. We can imitate this “bunching and moving” with our own herds with rotational grazing through paddocks. This “planned grazing” is also called “holistic management.”

What Are the Benefits of Planned Grazing?

When doing things nature’s way by “bunching and rotating” our animals, we’ll be able to:

• Prevent “cherry-picking” and destruction of the most nutritious forage.

• Allow sufficient recovery time for forage to both grow tall and roots to grow deep which can then absorb and retain rain.

• Break up the soil’s crust to better absorb rain.

• Fertilize plants and soil with dung and urine.

• Allow the densely spaced hoofs to work some plants into the soil for additional fertilizer.

• Build humus rapidly, at four to six inches a year, from atmospheric carbon.

• Ameliorate climate change by sequestering atmospheric carbon into the soil.

How We are Converting our Homestead to Sustainable Grazing

Fifteen years ago when we bought our little farm, it had an undivided, ten-acre meadow. We purchased two pregnant cows and grazed them on the entire pasture throughout Ohio’s grazing season, just as generations before us had done.

Although this method constantly depleted the most nutritious plants, we usually had adequate forage because Ohio gets moisture from rain or snow pretty much year-round. As Allan Savory says, year-round humidity allows pasture to recover, even when being constantly cherry-picked. However, it only took the drought of 2012 for us to realize that our pasture needed more resiliency.

We knew the easy part of establishing rotational grazing would be dividing the meadow into smaller paddocks with electrical fencing. But each smaller pasture, or paddock, requires water and shade. Each original paddock was therefore fenced to include mature trees. Since then we have also purchased a portable shed to provide shade.

We then had a well dug in the meadow to provide water to each paddock. A windmill was built and water lines buried to each paddock. Additionally, we are gradually improving the forage by frost-seeding a variety of legumes and grasses each March.

So far, we can now rotate our animals through seven separate paddocks, all with shade, water and improved forage. With only nine cows, we certainly haven’t yet achieved “bunched” or “mob” grazing. However, being able to rotate the cows to keep forage from getting shorter than eight inches has prevented the many bare spaces that previously existed between plants.

Windmill and portable shelter

What is 'Mob Grazing' and When is it Essential?

Mob grazing refers to having a great density of animals moved through each paddock — as many as 800 cows per acre. (The Soil Will Save Us, Kristin Ohlson, chapter 4). As Allan Savory says in his TED talk and satellite photos demonstrate, mob grazing is necessary in most of North America — from about Indiana’s eastern border westward.

However, the more extreme weather of climate change may require all of us to graze our animals more densely. For those of us who don’t want to increase our herd size, Joel Salatin tells us how to mob graze a single cow.

Finally, we probably all know well-meaning people who think grazing animals are bad for the planet. Here is how you can help educate them.

Ruminants Don’t Contribute to Climate Change or Desertification

Grazing animals have been maligned for accelerating climate change because of the large amount of methane released from their rumens. But when livestock graze, the soil is enriched, plants thrive and bacteria in the soil called “methanotrophs” absorb all the methane emitted from the cows’ rumens.

When humans survived as hunters and gatherers, our planet thrived with larger herds of animals than are grazing today. Nature’s complex and inter-related systems always keeps things in balance — if humans don’t interfere.

When herds are allowed to “cherry pick” an entire pasture year-round, the good forage does not have time to recover, large bare spots appear and the quality of the soil and plants decreases. Remember that the current deserts in North America’s southwest were lush prairies when nature kept large herds of animals bunched and moving. Grazers don’t cause deserts; the people who manage the animals do.

This is the last article on working with nature. I hope the series helps you work better with nature to build healthy soil, plants and food while also helping our planet.

Mary Lou Shaw is a retired family practitioner who emphasized preventive medicine, is now homesteading with her husband in Ohio. Besides growing their own food, the pair help preserve genetics and knowledge needed by others to foster rare breeds. They have a large garden and orchard, Dorking chickens, Narragansett turkeys, Dutch Belted cows and bees. Buy Mary Lou’s book, Growing Local Food, through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482. Read all of Mary Lou's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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.


Our lake free of ice.

Ice out! The lake is finally ice free — it's time to put the boat in the water, dust off the fishing rods and stalk the creatures of the deep!

In a previous post, Off Grid and Free:The Dangers of a Slush-Covered Lake, I had voiced my concerns about slush on the top of the ice surface and how those conditions complicate float plane travel. But once the lake is well on its way to melting, travel by float plane is no longer an option. The planes cannot land safely on a lake surface of rotting ice. At this time of the year, any float plane that was on skis is now being converted over to pontoons for open water. During this period of spring break up, we are truly on our own and an expensive helicopter is the only means of transportation available to us.

Thoughts on Lake Ice

"Spring break" up is one of the most exciting times of the year for us. Not only have we survived the long winter, but animals are more active and migratory birds and waterfowl have come home. We eagerly watch the lake as it slowly releases its icy shackles with the anticipation of open water, fishing and boating to come. The following is an excerpt from my book Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness:

“Lake ice doesn’t melt like a big ice cube. As it melts, the ice starts to honeycomb and melt water trickles down through small, nearly invisible fractures. It is through these cracks and small air bubbles, which were frozen in time during freeze-up, that melt water flows, eroding the ice as it permeates the layer. The lake goes through stages of melt, with the color of the ice changing from white to gray, to dark gray, to finally black, as the thickness of the ice decreases.

When the ice turns dark, we know we are getting close to ice out. By the time the remaining ice is 6 inches thick, we are able to pick up chunks that shatter into dozens of smaller fragments, as though they were sheets of glass that had been dropped.

Wind plays a big role in how fast the ice melts. Think of it as a big fan blowing air across the surface of the ice. Once the ice sheet has melted along all of the shoreline, it becomes a free-floating mass, able to be pushed around by the wind. Holes further out will start to open as wind keeps working their edges. If the ice is weak enough around its edges, we will hear a tinkling sound as the wave and wind action loosens small shards of ice. Bays are the first to shed their icy shackles, the water no longer confined by a frozen layer. Soon thereafter, smaller ice sheets break away from the main body and are driven by the wind currents on to land or into each other. More and more chunks break off, and soon there are wide open expanses of water, not only along the shoreline but further out. The direction ice sheets move is, of course, determined by the wind. It is both fascinating and scary to see a sheet of ice maybe 3⁄4 mile long being pushed down the lake, towards our shoreline. Once the sheet has momentum, it’s hard to stop and it will start piling up on shore as the ice keeps advancing, pushed by the wind.”

Moving Ice Is Powerful

A moving sheet of ice has enormous power. We all know the effect glaciers have had on the earth's surface, but each year, we witness a mini version of the force of an ice sheet on the move. If we are at the beach at just the right time, we can watch as it piles up on shore, chunks of ice folding upon themselves accordion style as the wind driven ice continues its push forward. Anything in its way is subject to those forces.

In particular, our dock. Despite our best efforts to protect it, the sheet of ice took our dock and deposited it onto the shore. I now have a day's work ahead of me to rebuild sections and get it back in position where it belongs so we have a place to park the boat. Fortunately, this doesn't happen every year. If we are lucky the wind will blow it away from our beach, but no such luck this year.

Dock and Piled Ice.

While the “pool” is open for water play, I think we'll wait until the water warms up before we take our first swim. Believe it or not, a dunk in 35- to 40-degree water doesn't have much appeal!

Thanks for reading and I'll be back again shortly. Please stop in for my next post. It will be about a subject that is dear to my heart. I will tell you how we survived direct hits by two different forest fires.

Ron Melchiore and his wife Johanna currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published by Moon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and on Facebook and Pinterest. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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.


Developing A Pond A Long Term Plan worth A Look

Obtaining water off the grid is one of the most valuable activities on any self-sustainable homestead. The value of water is so important that without it, self-sustainability can be severely hindered. From watering our gardens, our livestock, and ourselves, to washing clothes, doing dishes, and taking showers, water is a staple of life. As Americans turn on their facets and take their long showers, wash their cars, and frolic in their swimming pools without a thought, many of us living off-grid shriek!

If you are new to off-grid living and just starting your quest,you will appreciate the focus of this article. For many newbies, habituation to their old lifestyle can be difficult to break away from.

Thus, when planning for your homesteading needs, when it comes to water, a whole new set of skills, thinking, and habits need to be formed. Here are some simple tips to get you on your way to getting off grid water right!

Mental Preparedness: Breaking the Habit

Mental preparedness? Sounds a lot like some psychological mumbo-jumbo, right? Not really. Going off-grid, even on a modern homestead, does require a different set of mental skills and thinking.

If this lifestyle is new to you, one of the biggest water obstacles may be your habits! It's easy to become habituated to easy water access. But the reality is that off-grid homesteading dictates that water can easily become scarce and can affect your daily life when it's difficult to obtain or becomes unavailable.

Here's reality for us in our region: We have forest fires and very dry hot summers. Last year, the temperature rose well past 100 degrees for weeks on end. Along with the forest fires, wells were drying up and springs were down to a dribble.

Talk about water being liquid gold! There was no filling up kiddie pools for frolicking or water for the decorative fountains in the flower garden! Gardens were dying off and literally abandoned.

Learning to rethink water consumption starts with basic changes: Take shorter showers, turn off the water when brushing your teeth or washing hands, do dishes once a day, and get your car washed when you go to town. Longer-term planning should address giving up a big lawn and choosing a garden method that doesn't require watering everyday.

Every facet of water planning needs to start with changing the mental habits we have created over time.

Above ground tanks a viable option for water preperartion

Water Preparedness: Backup Water Systems

Depending on the region of the country you are located, water may be readily available and a back up system isn't needed. When we lived in Wisconsin, we had water everywhere. But not all regions are this blessed. If you are in a dry area where water is such a commodity, let's consider some practical preparation for preservation. and storage.

Aboveground tanks. Aboveground tanks are a very viable solution and are widely used for the collection and storage of rainwater, backup water use, and fire-protection reserves. These tanks are easy to handle and can be filled using your own well water, spring water, or by hauling water from a municipal source or a lake or river.

Sizes range from anywhere to 20 gallons up to thousands of gallons! Keep in mind that water tanks on a homestead should be used as a sensible backup. They can be used for drinking water, but on most homesteads, these are utilized for garden, livestock, laundry, showering, etc., during dry times.

Truck tanks (portable water tanks). These tanks are manufactured in one piece with seamless construction and are designed to fit both full-sized, American-made and "mini" pickup trucks.

Many homesteaders that do not have abundant water at their fingertips will haul water from another source. Your municipality is a option, but even the local river, creek and lake (which is free) and more readily available is a great off-grid source.

Getting a 12-volt pump or a sump pump connected to an inverter is a solid backup plan for pumping the water into your truck tank.
Rain Catchment a option with limitations

Rain catchment. Rain catchment can be a cheap and easy way to harvest free water. Any roof can be turned into a rain-harvesting system with few pieces of gutter strung together, and your set.

Even roofs such as on the chicken coop, the tool shed, and the woodshed can be used. All can provide you with downspout ability. In addition, the more barrels you have to catch the rain, the more gallons you will have for off-grid use. Scour Craigslist for free or very economically  priced barrels.

You don't have to create a elaborate rain-catchment system. Keep it simple — when it rains, it will pour for you!

Developing water (seeps, spring and ponds). Don't overlook the very doable possibility of developing a seep spring or even a pond. If you have any of these options on your off-grid property, this can be a very valuable investment for your water preparation needs.

We know many people off-grid who have actually spent the money to just rent a excavator and dig a pond. Our property was owned by a fellow who had the very same idea and, lucky for us, had already began developing the pond. Now we reap the benefits as our underground water tank overflow spills into the pond and keeps it well feed — a brilliant idea that gives us water year round!

Be creative. Springs don't need to be elaborate, either. Our neighbor has a spring high above his off-grid cabin. He simply placed a black water line hose at the source with some screen and used gravity to pipe the water down to his cabin — more than 450 feet of line!

It is amazing what one can achieve for backup water preps. The bottom line is that off-grid water is indeed a precious commodity. Turning those preconditioned habits from our old water-wasting lifestyle into a greener, more conservative attitude will increase your future success on your first off grid homestead.

Starry Hilder and her husband, Mark, live off-grid on a 13-acre self-sustaining homestead in the stunning mountains of Northern Idaho. Unique in their approach to homesteading, they rely on working with nature and utilizing their skills and knowledge with a back-to-basic outlook. From hunting and fishing, to gardening, composting, canning, and trail running, paddling, and hiking, there is never a dull moment on their property. Starry enjoys sharing her journey and all their life skills on their YouTube channel. Read all of Starrys' MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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