A new MOTHER reader shares his experience with keeping hens laying, feeding pigs, trapping rats and more in this letter.
Carl offers tips on how to catch rats with a simple, homemade trap.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/HEIKO KIERA
A very dear friend — a retired college president — gave me his back copies of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. A gift of life! Where have you been? Where have I been? I'm deeply moved to learn of the depth and magnitude of longing felt by my kindred across the country as shown in page after page after page of pleas from cultural prisoners I never realized existed.
I've always attributed the urban mess to the urban mentality ... a sort of sloth and over cultivated fastidiousness that makes people willing to be exploited by the economic system in exchange for a false sense of security. And, for the past six years, I've considered myself a lone escapee from the middle-class ghetto. Sure, I've suspected that there were others like myself lone eccentrics here and there — but I never dreamed that there was a whole class of beings who desperately want out and back to the good earth.
My own break took the form of homesteading 40-plus acres on the Animas River (a shortened version of the Spanish name, "River of Lost Souls") here on the Colorado-New Mexico border. Thanks to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, several of my projects — solar heat, wind power, methane generation — are looking more pragmatic and feasible. All promise to alleviate some of the mistakes I've made so far and add new dimensions to my goal of self-sufficiency.
There are still problems, of course: I find I lack some skills I need (welding, for example) and I have yet to learn where to get things like bearings and a shaft for an S-rotor wind machine. Also, for economic reasons I've hung on to a 40-hour-a-week government job and commuting 35 miles each way every day leaves me precious little time for homestead development, and even less for writing.
Nevertheless — now that I've discovered my kind — I'd like to squeeze out time enough to share experience and knowledge. I'm well up on irrigated gardening, dowsing for water, raising chickens, pigs, goats and cows, trapping fur-bearing animals, hunting big game (almost 100% success with elk and deer), home care of game meat, low-cost housing construction and food preservation by drying, canning and freezing. I can also advise on building with stone (I was a masonry contractor at one time) and on income tax and social security problems (my government job). And I'm able to provide information on this part of the country. My working territory covers all of northwestern New Mexico, but I'm familiar with the entire "four corners area" of New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Arizona.
A few small but useful things come to mind right now. Here's an idea for goat raisers: The critters are impossible to fence but easy to tether. Use a long steel cable staked at each end (this is oil and gas well country and used cable is cheap and plentiful at junkyards). The goat should wear a short chain with a snap hook, which you attach to a steel ring that can slide the entire length of the staked line. To move the animal to an adjacent area, simply shift one end of the cable.
How about a super mousetrap? Use a five-gallon bucket or any open-top container with straight sides 18 inches or more high to catch rats and mice. A 55-gallon oil drum, with the upper end removed, works fine if you have room for it. Wet a piece of heavy wrapping paper and stretch it across the top of the open container. Secure it with string or elastic until it's completely dry. Then use a razor blade to make two crosscuts at right angles to each other through the center of the circle. End the slits about two inches from the edge. Bait the trap with dabs of peanut butter or soft cheese placed near the center, or hang the food on a string several inches above the middle of the paper cover.
If you're using a bucket or other short container, the bottom should be covered with an inch or two of oil or molasses so the critters which fall in can't get up enough momentum to jump out. Oil works better for continuous use, and you may want to stretch the paper on a separate hoop so you can remove it to get your "catch" out of the barrel. The 55-gallon drum with two or three inches of oil in the bottom is the best trap for rats.
In case of problems with rats, ground squirrels, gophers or muskrats burrowing around your foundations or walls, pack the holes full of coarsely crushed glass. They won't dig through that stuff but you can't dig in it much either, so don't use it in the garden or flowerbed.
If the crows or blackbirds are getting your newly planted corn or peas or whatever, try making cones out of old fashioned sticky flypaper. They should be about eight inches long for crows, smaller for blackbirds. Bury the traps in the earth point down, open end even with the surface of the ground. Put a kernel of corn or a few wheat grains way down in the bottom of each cone and scatter more around the hole for bait. When the crow tries to get the seed, he comes up wearing the flypaper on his head. Thus blinded, he won't fly and is easy to capture or shoot ... however you're inclined. After you've caught a few you'll probably have to quit for a while or try a new location. Those birds are smart and soon figure out any scheme to trap them.
To stimulate hens to lay in cold weather, give them warm water to drink and feed them meat and fat scraps (especially the waste from a meat saw, which is full of bone meal). Any large supermarket with a meat cutter department has plenty such leavings. Some charge a small amount and some give the stuff away, but in either case it's cheaper than high-protein commercial feed. This diet raises the body temperature of the hens and puts them back in production.
For those into pigs: If you live anywhere near a good supply of trash fish — carp, suckers, etc. — make a deal with local fishermen (trade them worms or something). Pigs love fresh fish and it's a good source of protein. Just don't feed it for a couple of months before butchering, because the body fat picks up the flavor. By the way, tell your angler friends that corn borers — the kind that get into the ears just before you pick them — are terrific bait ... almost as good as catalpa worms, if you know what they are.
Finally, a comment on Flipping Houses for Profit (May/June 1974): If the McCuskers had held the house they remodeled until six months from the date of purchase, only half the gain would have been taxable. Of course, if their total income for the year of the transaction was low, the tax advantage may have been outweighed by the benefits of selling promptly. If the sale resulted in an income one-third higher than the couple made in any of the four previous years, however, they could have eased the tax bite by income averaging. (A free pamphlet on the subject is available through any IRS office.)
Well, no more writing time now. Gotta go.
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