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

How to Recover From Damage to Your Home


When the unthinkable happens, it usually happens when you least expect it and are not prepared for it. Who could ever expect to have their entire house ravaged by a tornado? If you have an unused generator sitting in your garage, you probably bought it after dealing with a prolonged blackout.

And while you might struggle to get a campfire going, you’d be surprised how fast a fire can travel through your neighborhood. The point is, disasters can happen quicker than any of us usually feel prepared for. It’s understood that we can’t fully prepare for an attack from Mother Nature — but while natural disasters can happen unexpectedly, it’s still a good idea to prepare in advance as much as possible.

One day, the beautiful old oak tree in your yard might decide to become a part of the living room. It’s important to be ready for action if that unfortunate event should happen.

Assess Your Situation

Whether you got hit with a tree, a flood, a fire or a hurricane, you need to assess your situation and take immediate action. That may simply be accounting for every member of your family and getting out of your dangerous environment.

Do you have a known place you can go if you have to evacuate your city? Have a pre-determined place in mind — maybe the home of a distant relative or friend.

Contact the Authorities

Call 911, but realize you may be one of hundreds of people calling, depending on the scale of the catastrophe. Contact the utility companies if it’s appropriate.They may already be aware of the situation, but customers’ calls can help them identify affected areas. Call your insurance company or agent and report known and potential damages.

Document for Insurance Claims

Deal with your mess when it happens but realize your insurance company will eventually make it possible for you to clean up. Take care of immediate needs first and then allot some time to ensure you get compensated for your losses.

If your house and all its contents are destroyed, you will need to have documentation of your belongings in order to get compensated through insurance. Take photographs and video of all your possessions — especially those of higher value.

Keep receipts for further documentation. Locate your receipts, bills of sale, insurance policies, birth certificates and other important documentation you may need in the claims process. It would be wise to invest in a fire-resistant and waterproof storage box.

You could also elect to store these items in a bank safety deposit box if they are not needed around the house. That way, if your house is destroyed, your documents will still be intact.

Restore Safe Living Conditions

If you can stay in your home, count your blessings — but be prepared to do some work. Get out the chain saw and clear any fallen trees or limbs which may be blocking your roads or endangering your house.

If there is electrical damage, shut off your main line so you won’t have to deal with power surges or fallen lines that could seriously injure or kill someone. If pipes have burst, shut off your main water line. Clear your possessions from flooded areas. Put your most valuable possessions up high.

Remove wet and soiled drywall, as this will help the frame of your house dry out more quickly. Put out small fires, but don’t tackle any big ones. Leave these for the professionals. Cover broken windows with wood, cardboard or whatever material you have at your disposal. Remind your family how sharp glass is and that they should never touch it.

If you are going to hook up a generator, make sure you do so outside of your house and not near a window. Generators produce toxic amounts of carbon monoxide and could poison or kill your family if not used correctly.

Follow-Up With Your Insurance Claim

One of the most important steps in the claim process is finding a trusted restoration company — they have people who deal with these situations on a regular basis. If you have someone in mind, consult your claims adjuster. They usually allow you to choose whoever you would like as long as they are certified. If you don’t know one, your claims adjuster should have several for you to choose from.

Make sure you know your insurance policy. Some natural disasters may not be covered or may require a separate policy. Know your deductible, too, which is the amount of money you will pay toward any damages caused. In the case of a tree damaging your house, the costs would likely exceed the deductible. Minor damage may not, so it might be something you'd want to fix yourself.

Have more than one roofing company assess the damage. Unless you want to get up on the roof yourself, you are relying on their expertise to determine what needs to be repaired and how it should be done. Experts may disagree, so it’s important to get a few estimates.

Prepare for Survival

You might be living in less-than-ideal conditions for a while. Be grateful you survived and try to stay positive. This is the time to dig into your reserves of canned goods and water, assuming you prepared in advance. Try to ration as best you can so you don’t find yourself hungry or dependent on others.

Keep flashlights nearby. If you have a generator, use it to keep your cell phone fully charged at all times. It’s your only connection to government agencies, your insurance company and loved ones checking on you.

Pack a first aid kit with bandages, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, aspirin, wipes, antibacterial hand sanitizer and anything else you can retrieve from your damaged home which may help you in the future. Once you have done all you can do, you just have to wait for others to do their part. Be patient, but use your phone when you have to.

Keep others accountable for their role — just keep in mind that you may be one of hundreds or thousands of people affected.

Eventually, with everyone doing their part, your home and family life will be restored in due time.

Photo by Alex Radelich

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Homesteading With A Sober Eye


As a rule (and please don’t hesitate to correct me if I’m wrong), the people who start upon the homesteading and/or rural living dream aren’t rich. That is because those who long for a simpler, more sustainable life generally don’t have the right mentality or the motivation for making a lot of money.

While I’m a huge advocate for this very lifestyle, and am passionate about simplifying and doing more on less, I believe one must be sober and walk this path with eyes wide open. You don’t have to be rich, but you need a stash of cash, some sort of a financial cushion, before you jump headlong into the homesteading adventure. If you barely have enough money to purchase your land and buy or build your house, you might very soon find yourself in a strait.

This is especially true if you buy a fixer-upper. When we bought this house, nearly four years ago, we saw all its flaws, but we had so many exciting plans – we would open a window from the kitchen, build a beautiful pergola with terracotta tiles, hire a tractor in order to make terraces on the part of our property which has a sharp slope, install a water recycling system… you get the idea.

Well, let me tell you, at this moment there’s still no window in the kitchen, and mornings are dismally dark because our only living area window faces full west. The pergola idea was abandoned in favor of a cheap little awning to keep the rain off the front step. The place where the terracotta tiles were supposed to be is still an ugly, uneven, sagging concrete square where water pools after every rain. And so on and so forth.

This happened mainly because we didn’t plan enough for unexpected expenses. A lot of money was swallowed up by urgent projects such as a leaky roof, drafty windows, and walls that needed to be plastered because the insulation was done all wrong (something we could have no idea of before living here for a few months).

Lesson learned: something will always crop up, and things always cost four times more than you planned, so set aside some money accordingly.

Another thing is ongoing expenses. It makes perfect sense to say, “quit paying rent for a measly little city apartment and move out to live a quaint, back-to-basics lifestyle on the land!” – and, indeed, there is no greater satisfaction than waking up in the morning and walking across the dew-damp grass into my own chicken coop to collect my own fresh eggs – but again, one needs to keep one’s eyes open as to the actual money matters. Some things about rural living are veritable money guzzlers. There’s the price of gas, for instance. Every drive for errands and shopping is a journey. The car gets more wear and tear due to the longer distances, and fixing it up costs money. Those who live in an area with decent public transportation can get rid of the car, or at the very least use it a lot less often, and save a great deal on gas, car maintenance and insurance.

Home maintenance costs money. Land maintenance costs money. Gas costs a lot of money. Whatever homesteading project you might want to do on your property costs as well, from setting up a chicken coop to building fences – though the expenses can vary wildly according to your budget, creativity and DIY skills. It takes a lot of time for these projects to turn productive, not to mention offset the initial cost. And while we love supporting our farmer friends and buying top-quality, organic local produce, it doesn’t actually save money – large chain stores and coupons do, though they are a disaster in terms of food quality, ecology and the community.

Lesson learned: a rural life is not inherently a low-cost life.

Another consideration is that, if you happen to be in urgent need of a little extra money, picking up a temporary and/or second job is a lot harder to do when you live out in the boonies and it takes at least an hour to drive out anywhere. Employment options will be limited, and that’s a fact.

My main point, however, isn’t to be negative and dissuade people from following their homesteading dream. On the contrary! But one does need a combination of realism and creativity in order to hang on through the initial hurdles. Here’s the best advice I can offer from our experience:

Don’t delay inevitable projects. You can say, “We’ll install a greywater system sometime in the future when we can afford it”, but you can’t say “Oh, it doesn’t matter that the roof leaks – we’ll just move in and fix it before the rainy season”. Next thing you know, the rains will start early, and you’ll be running around placing buckets underneath the trickles of water. So prioritize those essentials and pay for them at once, or set the money aside so that you absolutely cannot touch it for anything else.

Always plan to spend more money than you plan. This sounds rather like a paradox, but always take unexpected turns into account.

Be your own handyman (or handywoman!). If you aren’t a carpenter, plumber, builder, etc… well, it’s about time to diversify your skills, because otherwise, you’ll soon find your money sinking into a bottomless pit.

Alternative economy – swap products and services, lend and borrow tools and, in general, look for ways to pay with your time rather than your money. People have been doing it for millennia, creating strong communities and bypassing cash and taxes.

Be creative with your income sources. Reality check: you won’t be living off your new homestead anytime soon, and unless you have a thick cushion of savings, you will need to keep up some sort of income. Your primary goal is flexibility, whether you choose local employment or online options.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna'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.

Reflections from Our First Goat Kidding Season, Part 1

Oberhasli Goat Breed Lying Down 

For any goat owner, the kidding season can come with its share of stresses. However, when it’s your first kidding season, it can be downright terrifying. Although most births go off without a hitch, the fear of the unknown can be rather scary.

On our farm, we find ourselves right in the center of the scary unknown. We only recently started into dairy goats with the hope of creating some amazing goat milk products. This entire endeavor depends solely upon a successful first kidding season. Our heard must grow, and healthy does and doelings are the key components to the growth.

We are trying to be as proactive as possible coming into this birthing season. With the first births beginning mid-February, I find myself scouring the internet and referencing my goat books for any missed details. I have watched so many goat birthing videos I should be having nightmares.

Preparing the Goat-Birthing Setup

Ginger, our gorgeous Oberhasli doe, is the first due to give birth. Our veterinarian, Dr. Dean, came to check on her last week and update her CDT vaccine. He felt pretty confident that Ginger is only expecting one, maybe two, babies. He stated that this reduces the risk of potential problems dramatically, giving us a little peace of mind.

On the advice of the breeder, we bought Ginger from, we moved her to a private birthing pen in the garage this past weekend. We decided to use a 10-by-10-foot dog kennel we had laying around, giving her plenty of space to move about. We layered the floor with stall mats and clean dry straw to help keep her warm and comfy. All her buckets and food containers have been cleaned, sanitized, and filled.

Keeping Ginger in a heated garage during the unpredictable Ohio winter seems makes perfect sense — it also allows us to keep a closer eye on her as she comes closer to the finish line. If by chance we sadly miss the birth, we won’t have to be concerned that the babies will freeze to death.

Preparing for Goat Birthing Intervention

So, what all do we need in order to be prepared? After a ton of research and with our vet’s advice, we prepared a go tote.  I packed:

• clean towels
• rubber gloves
• KY Jelly
• thermometer
• nasal sucker
• scissors
• iodine
• baby bottle
• molasses

Our doctor is officially on speed dial in case an emergency intervention is needed.  Our hope is not to intervene at all, allowing Ginger to birth and mother unassisted. This is her third freshening, however her first time being given the opportunity to mother.

If her choice leaves us with a bottle baby, we are prepared for that scenario as well. We’ve purchased baby bottles and a play pen is on standby, while our children are ready to help take feeding shifts if necessary. We have been preparing mama as well by upping the protein level in her feed and adding extra alfalfa to her diet.

Oberhasli Goat Breed In Barn

The Farm Impatiently Waits

The whole farm is impatiently waiting to hear the first baby to bahhaa. Our Jersey steer, Fin, jumped the fence yesterday to find Ginger and check on her. That was a heck of a sight when we pulled up the drive. Who expects a cow to be waiting at the garage door? Not me!

Fin has never gotten loose or jumped the fence before, a first for everything I guess. Once we allowed him to see her, he effortlessly walked back to the barn and into his stall. The chickens have been clucking all about the big event for days, debating how many babies and the sexes. I believe they have a poll going. I wonder what the winner gets?

The other goats seem unsure whether or not they want to hear about the kidding experience, as they’re all first fresheners. As for Daisy, our Irish Dexter, she seems pretty content having all the hay in the feeder to herself for now.

My kids, hubby, and I can’t wait for the big event! We’ve been checking her ligaments and bag development daily for any signs. We are really hoping for a healthy happy mama and baby at the end of this journey. Stay tuned for Part 2, after  Ginger has her babies.

Photos by Noah Miller

Carrie Miller runs Miller Micro Farm in Ohio, where she spends a lot of her time preserving the bounties through canning and freezing and repurposing daily items around the farm in new and creative ways. She is a photographer and blogger for Community Chickens. Connect with Carrie on Facebook.

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 Organic Agriculture Research Act of 2018

countrysideEarly this month, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Organic Agriculture Research Act of 2018. This bill would reauthorize the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) until 2023, with a gradual increase of funding, from 20 million dollars to 50 million dollars annually.

“OREI was created over 15 years ago when the organic industry looked very different,” said Kanika Gandhi, Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “The organic industry has experienced massive growth over the last few years, and all signs indicate that consumer interest in organics will only continue to increase. Yet, despite its growth, domestic organic production continues to lag far behind demand for organic products. It is high time that our national investment in organic agricultural research is increased to catalyze the advancement of domestic production.”

Currently OREI is the only federal program specifically focused on organic research, and it is the only federal farming program whose funding is set to expire at the end of the 2014 Farm Bill cycle. If this bill is passed, it will help ensure that the funding for the program increases to an amount that will bring to the total budget for organic research in line with the current demand and growth projections for the organic farming industry.

Passing the Organic Agriculture Research Act of 2018 would mean that organic farming in America could continue on a level that would keep up the growing demands of the country for organic food products, and continue to further increase the quality of organic farming.

This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

Women’s Rising Involvement in Agriculture

landOver the past few decades, women have become more involved in agriculture, buying their own farmland and starting their own farms. It is estimated that within the next 20 years, 371 million acres of land will change hands as farmers retire or leave their land to the next generation, with the vast majority turned over to women ownership. If this is a true estimation, then the next 20 years will add to the nearly 300 million acres of U.S. land currently owned and farmed by women.

Research shows that in some areas, women actually get the job done better than men do. Women farmers and landowners have a strong conversation and stewardship ethic, meaning that women are more likely to talk about any farming problems or struggles, and reach out for help.

American Farm Trust’s Women for the Land initiative address the difficulties that women in particular face in accessing conservation programs and resources. The initiative consists of three main components: research in women landowners and their barriers, engaging women in conservation, and technical assistance and policy reforms.

Very little research exists on Americans who own or lease farming and agricultural land, particularly the women. AFT uses their Women for the Land program to fill this gap in research by developing and testing a new landowner survey, focusing on the short- and long-terms goals of women farmers across the country. This survey looks to address the unique hurdles that women face owning and farming their own land.

In 2012, Women for the Land began using “learning circles” for women landowners in the Mid-West and Mid-Atlantic regions. These events strive to bring women landowners together to create a network of knowledge and support, as well as get these landowners in touch with female conservation professionals. AFT keeps the full and updated schedule on their website for women to register for upcoming events in their area.

The Farmland Information Center (FIC) provides information and technical assistance to women landowners, customized specifically for them to help them get ahead in a farming industry typically dominated by men. The FIC also provides a website and toll-free hotline for women to get access to knowledge on conservation programs, farmland protection options, succession plans, and more.

AFT and Women for the Land work to ensure that women have a prominent place in the world of farming and agriculture, and continue to do so long into the future.

This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

Nesting Boxes ABCs

 hen in box with chicks

It’s mid-February, and if you live in the northern hemisphere, this means that days are lengthening, and though it might still seem like the dead of winter, the biological clock of your chickens unmistakably indicates the approach of spring and the season of egg abundance.

A behavior pattern I have observed in my flock at this season are hens checking out the nesting boxes, and sitting inside them for a few minutes, without actually laying an egg. It’s like they are thinking, “Hmm, I’m going to start laying soon. Check out this neat and comfy spot! Which one is better?”

Chickens like to lay their eggs in safe, snug and quiet corners, and such your nesting boxes should be. To avoid crowding, it is recommended you have one box per 3-4 hens, though chickens, like humans, often have a tendency to believe that something used by someone else is inherently better, and will all try to lay in the same box anyway.

Build a Better Box

With some basic carpentry skills, you can easily build your own nesting boxes out of wood scraps, but even if you don’t know which way to hold a hammer, there are plenty of simple and cheap DIY solutions. Among them are 5-gallon buckets (resting on their side, obviously), old cat litter boxes, large plastic containers with the top cut off, and old re-purposed drawers and crates. The nesting boxes should be stable, so that they aren’t prone to falling even if the hens tend to shove each other, sheltered, and with a rim to prevent the eggs from falling.

Our favorite nesting box solution is the kind of light metal containers we often find near stores that sell spices, nuts, etc. They are rectangular and have a round opening that is the perfect size for the average chicken (see picture). They do rust, but there’s always a supply of new containers free for the taking when we want them.

Your nesting boxes should be padded so that the chickens are comfortable and the eggs don’t break. Straw is a popular choice; wood shavings, dry leaves or pine needles can be used as well. I usually pad my boxes with dry grass I collect from our yard. We also put a dummy egg or two in each box, especially in the beginning of the season, to encourage our chickens to lay there, but that’s entirely optional.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts to provide a comfortable laying place, your hens will still decide that the bushes at the far end of your property are a more attractive spot for egg-laying. It is extremely frustrating to wonder for weeks why a hen isn’t laying, only to follow her one day and discover an immense clutch of eggs you can barely reach. If a hen goes broody and begins sitting in such a secluded spot, and you don’t find her in time, she may well fall prey to a fox or another predator. The only way to break such bad habits is to keep her confined to the coop for at least a week, or however long it takes to see that she is consistently laying in one of the boxes you provided.

Chicken behavior is a fascinating thing, and the start of egg (and, by extension, chick) season is always exciting. Whether you are a new or experienced chicken keeper, I wish you the best of luck with your flock this spring.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna'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.

Some Tips to Winterize an Outdoor Chicken Run for a Backyard Flock

Coop covered in poly

We recently had a record-setting series of cold days settle upon us. The previous four winters had been mild and we were lulled into complacency about winter preparations for our flock of outdoor chickens. But when this recent cold snap hit, we were not completely prepared for it and had to scramble to make our chickens more comfortable. What follows is a list of some of the lessons we learned and what preparations to make for next year so our flock will fair better when the cold weathers wallops us again.

First, let me set the scene: during the winter our chickens live in a stationary coop with a small door that gives them access to a sheltered run. The outdoor run is framed with 2 by 4 walls and is wrapped in hardware cloth. It is also has a roof framed with 2 by 6 boards and is covered with plywood and asphalt shingles. Now, to make that a comfortable place for the chickens on frigid day:

Make the Outdoor Run into a Cozy Space

As in other years, we had cut and hung a section of plastic tarp to block the prevailing winds from the west and north that blew through the run. But when the cold snap hit, this proved to be insufficient wind protection and, in addition to blocking only some of the wind, was also blocking sunlight - not something you want to do if you wish to encourage your hens to continue laying through the winter. We knew our setup needed improving when our birds started to show signs of frostbite on their combs.

Fortunately, we had some old greenhouse poly stored away that we rummaged up. We took down the tarp and wrapped the walls of the entire run with poly, effectively making it a greenhouse-like chicken run with minimal drafts and lots of natural light. When entering the run afterwards, it was noticeably warmer than the air temperature outside. The chickens seemed to like this set-up better too, as the snow no longer drifted into the run and reduced the space the chickens felt comfortable using. 

Offer High Calorie Foods to Boost Metabolism

Keeping warm requires extra calories, and if the calories come from quality sources, all the better for the chickens. On especially cold days we treated our birds to a porridge made from their feed with a handful of sunflower seeds stirred in. They were also given mealworms or cans of wet cat food, which we mixed into their regular bowl of kitchen scraps, and emptied into feed bowls in the run. When we had enough spare eggs, we even prepared some scrambled eggs with parsley, thyme and oregano. They also enjoyed some homemade suet comprised of bacon fat, flax seeds, millet, and sunflower seeds. We also purchased a suet block and placed that in the run, too.

Continue Adding Carbon Sources

We had an outbreak of ringworms during the cold snap. With all the chickens being confined to the run, we had the ideal conditions for ringworm to spread. We quickly realized that we needed to employ a deep bedding approach in the outdoor run to bury the droppings and make the worms’ eggs less accessible to the chickens as they scratched and pecked about. To combat the worms already within the chickens, we added diatomaceous earth to their feed, gave them freeze-dried and fresh chopped garlic, and periodically tossed them pumpkin seeds. All of these offerings were meant to make the chickens’ digestive tracts uninhabitable for the ringworms.

Provide Activities for Chickens

Our chickens were used to being outside free-ranging and no doubt felt a little bit of cabin fever when the deep snow and blistering wind chills prevented them from getting out on their own. Confined to the coop and run, they needed some extra activities and stimulation. Typically, that excitement came in the form of new straw, which the chickens quickly got busy at scratching through and spreading throughout the run. We also threw scratch onto the straw to encourage even more scratching. When we had a half head of cabbage leftover, we punched a hole through it and strung it from the rafters.

When the weather warmed up enough to melt the snow, we opened the door to the run and let the chickens out once more. I think they were just about as happy as chickens can be with all the space to roam about in and fresh ground for scratching.
Rebecca Harrold homesteads and homeschools on a 23-acre property in rural Ontario, where she is engaged with all types of wiser living skills. She believes that restoring the land to its healthy, sustainable state will increase its resilience, and in turn, the resilience of the people who depend upon it. Connect with Rebecca at Harrold Country Home and on Instagram. Read all of Rebecca’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.