Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Training a Baby Goat to Become a Pack Goat

Lead Training: Standing

It’s almost never too soon to begin lead-training your future pack goat. At 5 months, this little wether is about one month behind the time I normally begin, but weather and work schedules made it difficult until this beautiful day just before Christmas.

It’s important to approach this task with patience and frequent breaks. What you are looking for here is the end of resistance and the beginning of engagement.  When a behavior is achieved, even a little, a release is given. Take teaching to lead, for instance. When tension on the lead is applied and you get even one step forward, release the tension and praise him. Count to 5 and reapply the lead pressure. The hand closest to the leg you are stepping out on should hold the lead and give a tiny tug with each step forward of the move forward you make with that leg, again, the one closest to him. That way, your little boy can connect the lead tension with a request to go forward, reinforced with a leg movement forward closest to his eye. Remember, they are babies and cannot draw the cause-and-effect conclusions that an adult goat can.

In the exercise you see here, the desired behavior is engaged standing. The little guy resists at first, bracing himself against the lead that is asking him to stay still instead of running off to mom.


You can see in the picture above he is braced and straining, looking away and the lead is taught.

The moment he decided this was an uncomfortable posture and eased up, I eased up on the lead even further and rubbed him. Physical and verbal reinforcement is very important to goats, especially young ones. The more information your reinforcement carries, the quicker he will get the idea of just what you are asking him to do.

In the picture below he has circled around me and is continuing to brace but his head is coming up.


He is not yet engaged but is relaxing and cooperating a tiny bit.

In the picture below, you will see even more softening.


He is already much more cooperative.

You can see that he is braced a bit on the legs closest to me, and the lead is taught, but his head is up and he is thinking. Now he is released and praised again. He is starting to get the picture and feels more confident and eager to do the right thing.


Once he comes to a standstill on his own, he is again praised verbally and rubbed. He is receiving no edible treats at this point in training. When he has reached a level of training that involves exertion, peppermint horse treats will be offered.

In the next picture you can see him approach voluntarily to see if that gets him a reward. He is plainly asking if this is the right thing to do. I praise him and then with slight upward pressure on the lead, encourage him to stay in his place. I will know he has comprehended what is being asked when he stands still while making sustained eye contact, even though I am wearing dark glasses.


I step back again. He steps forward, stops and looks up. Victory! The photo below shows his jaw rub reward moment. He has dropped his head a little but is still trying to keep eye contact. What a great little guy.


One minute later, he stands relaxed and squared, engaged and confident. Such a little gentleman already.


This entire exercise took 6 minutes. That is all you should do for about the first three repetitions of this initial behavior. Same with leading when you begin to teach staying at your side without pulling.

Always end each session with a good experience. Set them up for success, which some days may mean scaling back the lesson if he seems distracted or out of sorts.  Never punish, only praise, and yet reinforce the idea with each lesson that "resistance is futile". Happy training!

Lauren Hall Ruddell operates Planet Goat in the Utah high desert, one hour west of Salt Lake City. As the name of the operation suggests, goats are the consuming passion. Nubian dairy goats provide milk and adorable baby goats yearly, while the wethers occasionally, and vigorously, earn their keep in the back country. Find Lauren online at Planet Goat, and 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 Human Milking Machine: Hand-Milking Dairy Cows

My wife, Wendy, is Danish. Her mom often told us about her grandmother who worked as a milkmaid on a dairy in Denmark before milking machines were invented. Evidently her hands would become so hot after hours of hand milking that she would cool them by holding them on the stones in the walls of the dairy between cows. If you have ever milked cows by hand for any length of time, you know exactly how she felt.

I milked my cows by hand for a couple of years on the first farm I owned, a small hill farm in western Massachusetts. Then, I rented a larger dairy barn down the road that was equipped with a vacuum pump and milking machines. I raised my heifers at my farm and when they calved I would walk them two miles through the woods and across meadows to the barn I rented. I have very pleasant memories associated with those walks, especially the ones I took through the snowy woods.

When I first started milking cows by hand, I used muscles in my forearms that I never knew existed. Though I was young and fit as a fiddle back then, those muscles hurt for a couple of weeks before they finally became conditioned to the motion. If you plan to milk your cows by hand and haven’t done so before, be ready for some burning forearms. I know people who get their arms in shape for hand milking by squeezing tennis balls.

Hand milking is a good way to way to bond with your cows. It is also a calm and meditative experience. But personally I think it is a waste of my most valuable commodity: time. Before safe and reliable milking machines were invented around 1900, a cow might give a half a gallon per milking. Today, a good Jersey cow can give 4 or 5 gallons or more per milking.

My cows average around 2 1/2 gallons per milking. Getting that much milk out of a cow by hand takes time, maybe a 1/2-hour per cow or more and that whole time you are stuck under the cow and can’t do anything else.

If you milk your cows with a good machine milker, it takes about 5 to 10 minutes per cow. And while your cow is milking you can do other chores. Multi-tasking is essential on a small herd dairy. I need to get my chores done quickly so I can go to my day job. But regardless, this blog post is about milking cows by hand, so I will assume your decision to do so is well thought out.

Milking Dairy Cows by Hand

Frequency. Many people who milk by hand also milk just once per day. That makes sense if you cows don’t produce a lot of milk or you let your calves nurse on your cows or don’t feed any grain. It’s your farm. You will find your own way.

Prepping the cows. Prepping a cow to be milked by hand or machine is essentially the same process. Let your cow relax where she will be milked and make sure there are no loose clumps of hair dirt or manure hanging off her hindquarters or udder that can drop into your milking pail as you milk. A quick brushing or currycombing before milking will relax both you and your cow. If your cow is a little jumpy feed her a little grain or good quality hay to give something else to focus on.

Sanitation. Make sure your hands are clean when you prep your cow’s udder for milking. Some people like to wear milking gloves that help reduce the spread of bacteria and infections. I use an iodine teat dip.

Begin milking. First, I dip the cow’s teats with a teat dipper, starting with the teats furthest away from me. Before the dip dries, I hand start each teat with a few squirts and look at the quality of the milk as I check the cow’s udder. This stimulates the cow to “let down” and the first few squirts of milk usually contain the most bacteria. Some farmers squirt the milk into a strip cup to check for garget (clots of jelly like milk) that is evidence of mastitis.

Safety. If the cow’s milk looks or smells unusual in any way, stop and try to figure out why. Regardless, always discard any tainted milk and keep doing so until the milk returns to normal. If the cow’s udder is swollen or painful, address the condition immediately. Call the vet if need be and listen to his or her advice.

After I “start” the cow I’ll wipe and dry her teats with a paper towel. Never, ever wipe, clean, or dry multiple cows with one towel or rag or use a single pail of water to wash the teats of multiple cows. Doing so can easily spread bacteria and mastitis from cow to cow, especially Staph A mastitis. It is a very bad habit.

The grip. When I am sure the cow has let down and her teats are full of milk, I will start milking her. The grip you choose when hand milking depends on what works for you. The benefits of the “thumbs in” or the “thumbs out” grips were often the subject of hot debate among dairy farmers before the invention of the milking machine. Essentially, the process is very similar to squeezing toothpaste out of a toothpaste tube. However it still takes everyone who is learning how to hand milk at least a few tries before they get the hang of it and the process become routine.

Squeeze. Most people who are learning how to hand milk are worried about hurting the cow or injuring her teats and udder, as well they should be. It is a delicate area. And a cow that has recently calved can have a swollen and painful udder, especially if it is her first calving. But if you have ever seen a calf nurse a cow you know that their teats and udders are pretty rugged. Plus, the cow will let you know if you are making her uncomfortable. I have found that it is more effective to squeeze the teats than it is to pull down on them. And squeezing is the motion that tests the muscles in your forearms.

The pail. Squirt the milk into a squeaky-clean stainless steel pail that is ideally equipped a stainless milking screen and or top that partially covers the pail’s opening. Both can catch any debris before it falls into the milk. Keeping the milk clean as possible is essential. If your cow is producing lots of milk empty your pail from time time into a larger container so you don’t loose all of it if she kicks the pail over. All cows do occasionally. If your cow is fidgety have a helper scratch her tail head or curry her. That will help her to relax.

When is milking done? Knowing when the cow is done (or empty) when you hand milk is easy. She is done when the udder is slack and the milk stops coming out. It may a bit difficult to tell when a cow is done if she is fresh and her udder is swollen. It is just a matter of knowing your cows. When my cows are done milking I check each quarter to make sure they are all soft and milked out. Then, I dip my their teats again and I leave the teat dip on so it can dry. I don’t wipe it off.

Again, as I mentioned in my previous blog Producing Safe and Delicious Milk, quickly cool your milk and stir it or agitate at least a couple of times a hour. That is easy when you have a bulk tank, not so easy if you don’t.

Next up: Milking with a pipeline milker.

Steve Judge is a long-time dairy farmer and micro-dairy expert at Bob-White Systems. Driven by a passion for the Slow Food movement and a desire for communities to enjoy locally produced, Steve's goal is to create appropriately scaled dairy technology and equipment that will give small-scale dairy farmers the opportunity to sell safe, farm fresh milk and dairy products directly from their farms to friends and neighbors. Read all of Steve'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.

The ABCs of Homesteading: J is for 'Jack-of-All-Trades Journeyman'

This is the eighth post in the ABCs of Homesteading series. Click here to read the rest of the series.

Garden Before

To be “Jack of All Trades” is to have a lot of different skill sets. A Journeyman is someone who has a professional level of competence at a particular skill or trade. Becoming a Jack of All Trades Journeyman, as in someone who has a professional level of competence at a lot of different skill sets, is key to being a good homesteader.

Homesteading skills used to be learned from birth to adulthood. However, in this technological age, many of us didn't learn self-sufficiency as part of our usual education. So, new homesteaders have to make up for lost time which is easier to do with a skill-up strategy.

Make Learning Any Skill as 'Easy as Pie'

Over the years, I've trained hundreds of people on a variety of tasks and I can always tell in just a few minutes if students will learn quickly. It has nothing to do with skill level and everything to do with their approach to learning. Trainees focused on memorizing steps are always harder to train. That's because when you break any activity down into a series of steps, it becomes complex. However, trainees focused on getting the “gist” and using their own reasoning to figure out the process catch on quickly.

If you'd never had an apple pie and tried to memorize every step required to make one, you'd end up with a hundred steps to follow. All the nuanced details that go into peeling, coring, cutting, sauteing, measuring, incorporating, chopping butter sticks into pea-sized pieces, flouring your cutting board, roller, and hands, working the dough, oiling your pan, knowing which utensils to use when and how, and special preparation techniques, etc. add up to more information than a typical brain can store without excruciating memorization.

Instead, if you know what the pie should look and taste like and have an understanding of the broad phases of the process, e.g. make filling, prepare crust, fill crust, and bake, then successfully making a pie becomes much easier. This is true even for skills that require seemingly complex safety procedures.

When I learned to make soap with the amazing Mary Colman of Pinacle Hills Goat Farm, she gave a pep-talk in advance about lye safety. She told us it was a caustic acid (until your soap cures) and encouraged us to use gloves, goggles, and work only in well-ventilated areas. After that, she didn't have to tell her students how to avoid splashing, prevent lye burns on skin, or how not to inhale the fumes. We used our own brains to figure that out. Having a safety-context also made it easy to remember less obvious steps like using paper towels to wipe out the lye and fat mixing bowl before rinsing it under gently running water to clean-up afterwards.

Regardless of the subject, if you want to skill-up quickly, make learning as “easy as pie” by using four simple techniques.

1. Get the gist and major phases of a process at the start.

2. Try to reproduce what you learn, but don't get bogged down in details as a beginner.

3. Get feedback, or do a self-assessment, to determine what you can do better next time.

4. Practice often to keep improving.

Also, learning multiple skills at once is more beneficial than limiting yourself to just one. The skills don't even have to be related. Because learning is itself a skill, the more you use it, the better you get at learning new skills. And winter, on the homestead, is a great time to skill-up.

Ways to Learn New Homesteading Skills

Another thing I discovered, as a trainer, is that most people are not good at unapplied learning. Learning by doing is easier. For most homesteading skills, “on the job training” works best and allows you to complete projects as you learn. Following are some ideas for how to skill-up cheaply and efficiently on the homestead.

Book Learning. Books are the cheapest and least time-restrictive way to study new skills. Rather than just reading a book on shed building, read it while building your new potting shed or animal shelter. Apply the techiniques as you go. If you screw up or get stuck on some detail, take time out to do web research or pick up a different book for an alternate perspective until you feel comfortable with new concepts. Book learning works great for skills that can be learned over time like building and gardening.

Video Learning. Last year before we slaughtered our first pig, we watched a lot of videos. You only get one chance to kill your first pig humanely. If you mess it up, then your pig is terrified and any hope you had for a clean kill is gone. It's not like building a shed where you can back out a screw if you mess up an angle. For “one shot to get it right” kind of skills, videos are awesome, especially if you visualize yourself taking the actions and do a lot of mental rehearsal beforehand.

Community College Courses. Most community colleges offer personal enrichment classes like cabinetmaking, wine or beer making, high-tunnel building, welding, and more. Classes often cost under $200 and include a hands-on component. They also include workshop access so you can complete projects and make sure you enjoy using a skill before you invest in your own equipment.

Apprenticeships. For most of human history, higher education was for the wealthy-elite. Us, mere mortals, learned how to do stuff by working with others. This is still a great way to build practical homesteading skills. Many small businesses would be thrilled to give you skills training in exchange for free or cheap labor. But, being an apprentice means sticking to your commitment so the experience is beneficial to both parties. For shorter commitments, consider doing seasonal work and projects like pruning, harvesting and processing fruits and nuts, one-time building projects, event preparation, spring sheering, honey harvesting and winter hive preparation, etc.

Workshops. Traveling to workshops is not too practical for me since I keep livestock. Instead, I like to have them on my homestead. Last year, we had meat expert and award-winning author, Meredith Leigh (The Ethical Meat Handbook) come help with our pig slaughter and guide us through butchering, sausage making, and meat curing. It was cheaper to have her come to us than for us to travel to a similar workshop and hire someone to take care of our homestead while we were gone. And we got to share the workshop with our friends and family as our gift to them.

Gatherings. I got this idea from The Good Life Lab by Wendy Treymayne, a “must-read” for anyone wanting to skill-up on creativity and living in the waste stream. Basically, you invite all your friends to bring a skill to teach in exchange for learning skills from others. You can do this in the format of a club with regular meetings, or as a mega-weekend with campfires, food, and story sharing. Not only do you gain skills, but you also build community.

So Many Skills, So Little Time

Time is always going to be limiting factor in learning new skills. So it helps to prioritize your skills training based on what gets you to self-sufficiency faster. When I lived in the burbs and worked 70 hours a week, I spent time learning quick and easy skills that fit into a hectic schedule like preparing less popular cuts of meat, foraging for mushrooms, growing greens and herbs. But when we move to our 10-acre homestead and I started homesteading full-time, I shifted my focus to big ticket items that made me less dependent on outside resources.

Growing a large vegetable garden, soil building (including composting, sheet-mulching, vermiculture), water management (including filtration, rain catchment in ponds and cisterns, and self-watering systems), and keeping livestock (including animal processing, animal medicine, butchery, cheese making, feed-systems/cost cutting, fence building, food preservation, manure management, pasture management, and shelter making) were key.

Garden After 2

With those skills well underway, I've now moved on to skills that relate to comfort, not just survival. But, I still prioritize based on self-sufficiency. For example, I mentioned soap-making. This one only made my skills list after we learned to harvest and store firewood and had processed our pigs because those skills produced the wood ash for lye-making and lard for soap.

However, for someone saving up to buy a homestead, making soap from store-bought goods instead of homestead products, might rank earlier on the list as a way to cut costs and create an income stream to fast-track a homestead purchase. Your assessment of what skills to acquire when depends on your current situation. But, wherever you are on the path, becoming a Jack of All Trades Journeyman will help you on your path to self-sufficiency.

The Alphabetical Skills List

In addition to the skills mentioned in preceding sections, here's a list of skills to consider learning for self-sufficiency, income, and entertainment on the homestead.

Greenhouse Growing

Aquaponics, alternative energies, aquaculture, bread-making, beekeeping, beer brewing, basket weaving, carpentry, crafting, celestial navigation, cob building, cider making, design (landscape, passive solar, furniture, outbuildings, etc.), earthbag building, first aid, fishing, fermenting, foraging, fiber-making, gun safety and maintenance, grain-growing and processing, greenhouse building and growing, herbal medicine, handyman skills, hunting, hair-cutting, insect identification, irrigation systems, juggling (literally and figuratively), jewelry-making, knife-sharpening, knot-tying, legal research, laundry (by hand), moonshining, mushroom growing, maple syrup making, mead making, musical instrument playing, meditation, masonry, nutrition management, organic growing, orcharding, oil seed production, permaculture, plant propagation, quilting, repurposing, rain barrel making, small engine repair, sewing, seed-saving, self-care, tool-making, urban farming, vermiculture, vinegar making, welding, wilderness survival, well drilling, wine making, whittling, waste management, xeriscaping, yoga, and ziplines (for fun and easy transportation of goods or people).

To get you in the spirit of skilling-up, our next blog entry will be The ABCs of Homesteading: K is for 'Kitchen Skills'. Stay tuned! In the meantime, check out the rest of the Alphabet of Homestead Skills here.

Tasha Greer spent several years “practicing” homesteading in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina. She currently raises goats, poultry, pigs, herbs, worms, and maintains an extensive edible landscape at the reLuxe Ranch. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. Tasha also is also a contributing author for The Grow Network. Find Tasha at The Way Back and 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.

Once-a-Day Milking From a True Believer

Udder close up 

I guess the headline gives me away: We love once-a-day milking. We have practiced it now for 1½ years, and we don’t plan on ever going back to twice-a-day milking. Why? It gives us back our 5 p.m. time slot to pursue other projects or, every once in a while, even relax and eat an early dinner. We still get about 75 percent of the milk and use about 2/3 of the grain and only half the supplies. What is not to love?

We were well suited to switch from twice-a-day milking to once-a-day milking: We don’t show our goats, we are not on DHI milk test, we typically milk our does through for two seasons, and we dam-raise our kids and we start out milking the moms only once a day. After four to six weeks, we separate the kids at night for their slumber party, then in the morning, we milk the dams about 2/3, leave breakfast for the kids, and turn them out together for the day.

So, when the time came to wean the kids, we just kept milking the dams once a day, and switched our current milking does to once-a-day milking. It worked for current milking does, because they were towards the end of their extended milking cycle with a slightly lower milk volume. And besides wondering what the heck happened to their evening milking, they settled into the new routine quite quickly and without problems.

Benefits of Once-a-Day Milking

Here is a list of the quite obvious benefits milking goats only once per day:

• Extra time in the evenings

• Not having to spend  one and a half hours milking in the evening left plenty of time for feet trimming, grooming the Pyrenees, hanging with the goats, or other projects that would have normally been cut short by milking. And on occasion, especially in the winter, it has been nice to actually end chores, with the exception of night check, at the time when it gets dark.

• Significant decrease in supplies and expense

• We now use half the amount of teat wipes, teat spray and any other supplies used for the milking routine. This, of course, translates into a substantial financial savings over the course of a year.

• We use about two-thirds of the feed. At first, we didn’t any feed grain in the evening, only our perennial peanut hay (similar to alfalfa), and as a result milk production dropped off substantially, more than we expected. So we started feeding grain again in the evening, but only half the amount of the mornings, and milk production increased again.


Factors to Consider for Once-a-Day Milking

Here is a list of factors to consider for OAD milking. We don’t consider them con’s, but they do need to be considered before embarking on OAD milking:

• Decrease in milk production. You could expect a milk reduction by about half when you go from twice-a-day milking to once-a-day milking, but that is not so. The research we read pointed to a reduction of about 30 percent, and that’s exactly what we got. Think about it, and it makes sense: Even with twice-a-day milking, usually does give more milk in the morning. That is because overnight the does rest and spend most of their energy producing milk — well, and chewing cud. During the day, the does spend more energy browsing, playing, head butting, flirting with the bucks, and so don’t produce as much milk for the evening.

• Another reason is that there is usually a longer time period between evening milking and morning milking (about 12 hours) than during morning and evening milking (10-11 hours). So, with once-a-day milking, you are just deleting the smaller amount milking time. To compensate for the 30-percent reduction in milk, we just added two does to the milking lineup and now have the same amount of milk.

Healthy Udders

Over-full udders would usually just be a problem in the month right after giving birth and would definitely be more of an issue if you pull the kids right a birth, which is not a practice we endorse or follow for various reasons. As I stated earlier, we leave the kids on the moms full-time for the first four to six weeks, and then separate the kids at night to be reunited again with their moms after the morning milking — we milk out half of the milk and leave the rest for the kids — for their breakfast and the rest of the day.

So the kids take care of the first month’s peak production and by the time we start milking the does, the udders are already used to the milk production and with a few exceptions, handle the once-a-day milking well, because the kids are taking care of the “overproduction”.

In cases where we have leaking udders in the morning, we delay separating the kids at night or we relieve the pressure at night and definitely milk those does first in the morning. After about six to eight weeks, we usually have no more leaking udders.


Mastitis/Increased Somatic Cell Count

When milk sits in the udder longer, the somatic cell count does increase naturally, especially in the beginning. But with our milkers, it has not increased to the point where it would be indicated on a somatic cell count test like the California Mastitis Test or any of the commercially available test cards.

We test our milking does, especially in the beginning, on a weekly basis and have not had an issue with somatic cell count or mastitis due to once-a-day milking. Of course, vigilance and extra sanitation are the key. There is also more research material cited on this topic within the Gianaclis Caldwell articles, and this seems to be the norm in operations that switched from twice-a-day to once-a-day milking.

Conformation of Udder

Other articles have gone into more detail about what type of udder is more suited to once-a-day milking. To be honest, we have not paid much attention to the type of udder — we have switched all goats regardless of udder type and all of them have transitioned fabulously.


Earlier Drying Off

None of the goats we have transitioned to once-a-day milking show any signs of drying off earlier than normal, and for us that is after an average of 18 months of milking.

In conclusion: If you are looking for more disposable time to spend on other farm projects and could use a bit more disposable income — and can do with 30 percent less milk or are able to add a couple more goats to make up for the shortfall — then once-a-day milking might just be the ticket for you. And apparently, even farms on milk test can make it work. However, that is for another expert to explain.

Julia Shewchuk owns and operates Serenity Acres Farm on 80 acres in Florida. Serenity Acres runs on solar, is Animal Welfare Approved-certified, houses anywhere from four to 10 WWOOFers and interns, and is the home to 58 dairy goats, 16 Black Angus cattle, 278 laying hens, 3 horses, 3 cats, 4 house dogs, 6 livestock guardian dogs, and 6 ducks. Read all of Julia’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.

10 Ideas to Save Money as a Homesteader


Homestead living is a unique lifestyle that many embrace. There is a great deal of work that goes into being frugal, though. Both you and your property must change to accommodate your lifestyle. As one who practices the self-sufficient, fulfilling way of life, I have a few tips that can help you in your journey. Here are some frugal living tips that you can do to save yourself money and help you become less dependent on others.

1. Always Keep Pallets On Hand

Pallets are essentially free lumber. Around my farm, I have used pallets for everything from a floor in the laundry room to a chicken coop. There is so many things that you can do with this free source of wood. Pallet wood is sturdy, does the job, and it is free. The internet is full of crafts with people using pallets as their wood source. Anytime you see pallets pilled by a dumpster or sitting by the road, grab as many as you can.

2. Save Your Seeds

When you have a plant or crop that does particularly well, make sure you save the seeds. You can cut your gardening costs significantly by recycling seeds. Also, rather than buying expense plants that are already growing, start your seeds by pods early in the spring. When you start planting in early March, you will have plants the size of store bought varieties by May when its time to get them in the ground. Save yourself money by doing most of the work yourself.

3. Buy in Bulk

As hard as you try, there are some things that you just cannot produce. Flour, sugar, and other household staples are a clear example. I buy my flour in 50 pound containers. Since I make a lot of bread and other goodies, it goes quickly. My 50 pounds of flour costs me around $10. If I run out and need to run to the local grocery store for a quick pickup, a small 5-pound bag will cost me around $3. It is easy to see that small things like this can add up. Always keep your shelves stocked so that you never run out of food.

4. You Must Have Chickens

I know that having chickens isn't for everyone, however, the bounty that they provide is undeniable. First of all, chickens seem to breed quickly. Your population can become overrun in no time flat. Secondly, you can use what eggs you need and sell the rest. It can be a great way to supplement your income. So many people are using chickens now that even local grocery stores are carrying chicken supplies in their pet departments. You can use chickens for meat, eggs, and for a great source of income.

5. Consider Other Sustainable Animals

While chickens are a great start, it is good to have other kinds of animals on the farm too. For instance, goats and cows provide milk and pigs provide meat. Having some animals can be hard work, but it can pay off royally. Forget the grocery store that charges an arm and a leg for food, you can grow your own. You know what your animals are eating and their living conditions. Even if you live in a small area, you can have a couple animals to help sustain you and your family. Cow milk is at a premium these days, so having a cow around is always nice.

6. Do Your Own Home Repairs

An adequate toolbox is necessary for any homesteader. When the faucet is dripping, you take care of it. Learning to depend less on repairmen and more on yourself is essential. If you get stumped on something, the internet is full of tutorials and helpful videos that can help you out. Since some repairmen can cost anywhere between $65-$100 an hour, even if it takes you a bit longer, it is worth the savings.

7. Make Your Own Soap and Cleaning Supplies

Probably one of the biggest savings around is by soap and cleaning supplies. I am shocked at the prices of cleaning items these days. A simple bottle of window cleaner can set you back almost $4.00 a bottle. Why in the world would I pay that much when I can make my own cleaning products for a matter of pennies? Window cleaner is vinegar, water, and some fragrance. You can also use ammonia, water, and some fragrance. The spray bottle is a one-time investment of around $1.00. This is just an example of how easy it is to save big. Another thing to consider is the chemicals they put into these cleaners. You can make items that are much safer for you, your family, and the environment.

8. Buy Meat From Processing Plant

If you don't have space or time to mess with real animals, consider buying your meats from places other than the grocery store. Meats have a huge markup in the store. If you buy from a processing plant or someone who slaughters and prepares animals for people, they can get you a seriously good deal. It's always best to buy beef and pork in bulk and keep it in a freezer. For instance, lamb goes for $15 a pound in the grocery store, but when you buy it in bulk, you will pay as little as $5.00 a pound. It's a huge saving.

9. Barter and Trade

One of the ways people from yesteryear paid for things was through bartering and trading. If you need a new tractor, perhaps you can make a deal and include that old ATV you no longer use. You can volunteer your services or some meat from your bulk storage. Don't be quick to rush out and get loans on things you need. Learn to trade with locals and get better deals. Sweat equity is always best.

10. Repurpose and Reuse

Recycling goes way beyond bottles and cans. People are recycling cabinets, buildings, wood, and anything they can get their hands on. If you have an old barn on your property that has seen better days, use the wood to help build a new one. There are so many things that you can do when you reuse. Old things can be given new life and character with some paint and creativity. Don't be afraid to try new things. If it doesn't work you haven't lost anything. You can also use your repurposed goods to barter for new things.

Homesteading is easy when you have the right tools. Your initial investment may cost you, but after you're set up, it's all about taking care of yourself. It gives you a sense of accomplishment to make your own things, and it helps teach children an appreciation for the things they take for granted. Do you have some homesteader tips and tricks that can help someone else? Be sure to leave your comments below. We want to hear from you.

Jennifer Poindexter and her husband raise most of their food and a variety of animals in the foothills of North Carolina, where they built a small homestead on very little money. She writes about all of her adventures at Morning Chores, where she shares the knowledge she has gained with others that might want to take the full plunge into homesteading. Read all of Jennifer'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.

Milking Cows with a Bucket Milker


The bucket milker was the first mechanized milking system to be invented, a long and painful process that began back in the 1850s. The first bucket milkers were crude and dangerous for the cow. It wasn’t until the pulsator was invented around 1900 that the first successful bucket milkers were introduced to dairy farmers in the US.

A Brief History of Bucket Milkers

During the 20th century two brands and styles of bucket milker came to dominate the market. The first was the Surge Belly Milker and its design was very innovative for its time. The bucket, claw and pulsator were combined into a single assembly that, when in use, hung from a strap that went over the back of the cow called a Surcingle.

In 1999, Surge stopped manufacturing the belly milker and a larger dairy equipment manufacturer bought the company and retired the Surge brand. However, Surge Belly Milkers have a retained a cult following and they are still being used today, primarily on small farms for both cows and goats. Replacement parts are still being manufactured for the units.

The second style of popular bucket milker was developed by DeLaval. Instead of hanging from the cow, this bucket sits on the floor beside the cow when in use. The milking claw is attached to the bucket via a milk line and the pulsator usually sits in the lid of the bucket. This style unit is still being manufactured and is the most popular style of bucket milker in use today. As the original DeLaval patents have all expired, DeLaval style bucket milkers are being manufactured and used all over the world.

Tips for Buying the Right Bucket Milker

If you plan to buy a used bucket milker, be very careful to only buy a Surge or DeLaval-style bucket. During the first half of the 20th century many companies made their own versions of belly and floor style bucket milkers. Brands included Universal, McCormick and Perfection. I suggest you avoid these off brands unless you know exactly what you are doing and know that you can upgrade them and put them into working order.

Some Universal buckets can be upgraded as lids that accommodate modern pulsators are still being manufactured for them. But they are not easy to find. Perfection Belly Milker buckets may be used with Surge lid assemblies but it isn’t “perfection”. I have had many people tell me they found a used bucket milker for a great price on eBay only to end up being stuck with an obsolete collectors item.

I also suggest you buy a good vacuum pump with at minimum a ¼ HP motor driving the pump producing, at least 5 or 6 CFM. There are many vacuum pumps on the market that were not designed to milk cows. Avoid them. A good vacuum pump should have a motor and vacuum pump, a reserve tank, a vacuum gauge, and an adjustable vacuum regulator. Don’t risk hurting your cows by buying something online that looks like a good deal but doesn’t include those components.

How to Use a Bucket Milker

Here are a few tips that may help when you use the bucket milker on your cow or cows for the first time. Don’t just bring it out to the barn and try to slap it on your terrified cow. Practice with it and learn how it works and how best to put it on your cow before you try to put it on your cow. Use you partner’s or kid’s hands as “test teats”. Have some fun with it.

Here are a few basics: The (You) vacuum gauge on your vacuum pump should read between 11 to 15 inches. Thirteen inches is generally recommended. The pulsation rate should be right around sixty pulsations per minute. A single pulsation is actually a pair of beats when you listen to it, an upbeat and a downbeat. The rate can be adjusted by turning an adjustment Allen screw on the back of the pulsator, near its base. Just don’t turn the screw too far. Turn it slowly as you listen to and time the pulsation rate. Over-turning the adjustment screw is the most common way pulsators are damaged.

I recommend locating the vacuum pump as far away from the cow as possible. I like to have mine in a separate room. The vacuum line between the pump and bucket can be just about as long as you want to make it. A longer line gives you more vacuum reserve. Or you can mount a 3-inch PVC vacuum line in your barn where you milk your cows and connected that to your vacuum pump via a vacuum line and a stall cock. Then you can install more stall cocks for your milking buckets. I also recommend installing a vacuum gauge in the vacuum line where you can easily see and monitor it.

Locating the vacuum pump outside of your milking area makes the milking environment quieter and more relaxed. But if that is impractical make sure your cow is used to the noise before you milk her. In freezing climates, it is best to have your vacuum pump in a dry area where, ideally, the temperature doesn’t go below freezing.

Introducing Cows to Machine Milking

If you have a cow that has never been milked with a machine before, you’ll need to introduce it to her slowly. Bring the bucket out to where you will be milking and put it down beside your cow.  Reassure her that it isn’t going to eat her.  Let her smell it and put the claw under her udder before you turn the vacuum pump on. The whole idea is to give your cow an opportunity to become accustomed to the sight and sound of the milking equipment before you milk her.

Don’t rush the process. You and your cow need to be relaxed. I raise my calves in the milking barn so they learn the sights and sounds of the barn from day one. Milking for them is usually an easy adjustment.

Prep the cow the same way as you would if you were going to milk her by hand. When you put the claw on her udder start with the rear teat furthest away from you and continue on to the front teat closest to you. Because you practiced the process previously, you should know how to attach the claw without sucking too much air and losing your vacuum. If the pulsator stops beating close the claw, relax and allow the pulsator to start beating again. You’ll figure it out. Learning how to machine milk is a bit like learning how to drive a car. There is a lot to remember at first, but soon it becomes routine.

Do not overfill your bucket with milk. It is best to empty your bucket after each cow unless you are sure it can hold the milk from the next cow. You do not want the vacuum pump to suck up milk. If you do you will have to stop and flush it out. How you do that depends on the style of the vacuum pump you have. Better to be safe than sorry.

Cleaning Bucket Milkers

Cleaning bucket milkers is a process I don’t enjoy. When I was kid, I was trained to break down all three bucket milkers we used after each milking and scrub all of the parts.  That included pulling the inflations out of the shells. When done, everything was hung to dry. The old water heater in the milk house was coal-fired, so the water was scalding hot. The process took about an hour and I was usually hungry or tired or both.

These days, most people don’t break down the claws after each milking. They simply put the claw into a pail full of water and cleaning solutions and suck them into the milking bucket and scrub it with a hand brush (again be careful not to overfill the bucket and suck water into your vacuum pump). Always follow the instructions on the labels of your cleaning and sanitizing solutions in regard to water temperature and dilution rates.

I do suggest completely breaking down your claw, inflations and shells once a week for a complete cleaning and to check for milk residue. Clean the milk line as well.

It is important to replace your inflations as recommended by the manufacturer. Most rubber inflations should be replaced every 1,200 milkings or sooner if they are damaged.  I replace my inflations twice per year even though that is less than 600 milkings for me. Silicone inflations and silicone milk lines last a lot longer. Change them as recommended by the manufacturer.

I firmly believe that the advantages of using a bucket milker over hand milking include a better and more consistent milk-out and the ability to do other chores while your cow is milking. I do not agree with people who say hand milking is better for a cow than machine milking, as long as you have the proper milking equipment and it is set up and maintained properly. The basic technology has been around for over a century and it has been refined and improved to the point where it is extremely reliable and gentle on the cows.

Next up: milking with a pipeline and a discussion about “over milking” verses “under milking."

Steve Judge is a long-time dairy farmer and micro-dairy expert at Bob-White Systems. Driven by a passion for the Slow Food movement and a desire for communities to enjoy locally produced, Steve's goal is to create appropriately scaled dairy technology and equipment that will give small-scale dairy farmers the opportunity to sell safe, farm fresh milk and dairy products directly from their farms to friends and neighbors. Read all of Steve'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.

What's It Like Butchering Roosters for the First Time?

One of our biggest goals when we moved to our off-grid property in Idaho a year ago was to learn how to become more self-sufficient. This word can mean so many different things to people, but for us it means being in control of the important factors that govern our own lives like food, water and shelter.

In the past year we've been working hard getting our off-grid water system functioning and have hand-built plenty of structures on our property, but food was the one category of self sufficiency that we weren't equipped to fully address.

Until now.

Recently, we got some first-time butchering experience when we slaughtered some roosters from a neighbor. It was an extremely educational experience that taught us a lot. Killing animals for meat was definitely intimidating at first, but surprisingly enough, it's not as difficult as we previously thought it was going to be!

If you haven't had the chance to butcher your own livestock but are eager to try someday, our experience might give you encouragement that even inexperienced first timers can figure it out.

An Unexpected Opportunity

A few days back, we got a call from a neighbor that had some extra roosters that he was willing to give us if we wanted to butcher them. Our philosophy in life is to always say yes to unexpected opportunities, so we quickly accepted his generous offer.


Now that we had roosters available, we needed to figure out what we were going to do with them. As is our nature, we hopped online and looked through Youtube videos on how to humanely kill chickens. It quickly became clear that having a real person mentor us would be a lot more helpful than watching the process through a screen, but because of the circumstances we decided to make do and set out to learn this new skill through experience alone.

Preparing Our Work Space

Before we picked up the birds, we took the time to properly prepare our butchering station. This involved running some equipment errands and spending money to buy a kill cone, but we are always happy to invest in our homesteading education.

Taking the Roosters to Their Final Home

Getting the roosters from their cage into the kill cone seemed like an easy enough process, but one of our birds managed to escape, causing us to spend the good part of an hour chasing it up and down our hillside.

Finally it became clear we weren't going to catch this speedy bird with our bare hands, so Jesse resorted to rooster hunting. Thankfully his first shot connected with the rooster's head, and after some dramatic back flips down our hillside, it was dead. Though we accomplished our goal of getting a dead bird, this wasn't at all how we were hoping to do it.

With renewed resolve to get the task done right, we grabbed the second rooster and tried to fit his head through the kill cone. It took some finagling to get everything in place, but eventually we were ready to make our cut.

Making a deep enough cut was difficult for us as first time butcherers, but after a few attempts we succeeded, and the rooster was dead.


Post-Processing Our Birds

Processing the roosters was the easiest part of the whole ordeal for us. We submerged each bird in a pot of scalding water followed by cool water and then worked to pluck off their feathers.

Making internal cuts and pulling out the organs was made much easier through the help of another Youtube video, and we set aside the feet and throats for bone broth, while feeding the heart, liver and lung to our very happy cats.

After we were done, the roosters were packed into Ziploc baggies and stuck in the freezer to be cooked up on another day. Our first butchering experience had been a success.

Our Thoughts on the Process

The reality of homesteading isn't as glamorous as magazines sometimes make it look; oftentimes the jobs we have to do are messy, brutal, and very time intensive. Though not everything went as we would have liked, we are immensely proud of ourselves for taking advantage of the opportunity that presented itself and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones.

Knowing that we have fresh meat in the freezer that we provided for ourselves gives us a better feeling than any grocery store meal can compare to. We love this lifestyle and the way it constantly presents new challenges to us, and we can't wait to see what tasks we can learn about next.

Who knows, maybe next year we'll be raising and butchering our very own chickens!

Alyssa Craft moved to Idaho after purchasing 5 acres of land where she will build an off grid homestead from scratch. She is blogging about the journey from start to finish in hopes of inspiring others that wish to take a similar path. Follow Alyssa on her blog Pure Living for Life, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. View Alyssa’s other 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.