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


Folksy Aphorisms Designed to Educate

 

Most people have heard those witty quips or sayings intended to educate the younger generation. Sayings like "the early bird gets the worm", which is intended to teach that a laggard will be one step behind a more energetic person. Or "the second mouse gets the cheese", which warns against rushing into a situation carelessly. Many of those witty sayings directly apply to those of us who have our homesteads in a rural location. Many have obscure origins but still apply today.

“Don’t Corner Anything Meaner Than You”

Those who establish their homestead rurally face many challenges which can be of our own doing or sometimes outside our control. In the past three years we have been faced by two major incidents that were totally out of our control. In 2018, we had the Spring wildfire that was the third worst in Colorado history. The smart thing to do was evacuate far away from the flames and intense heat - which we did. We will be dealing with the aftermath for several years but our home survived.

“An Ounce Of Prevention Is Worth A Pound Of Cure” - Benjamin Franklin

Now, like most of our country and the world, we are self isolating and when we absolutely have to go out we keep at least 6’ from other people, wash our hands frequently, wear face masks and stay alert for any symptoms the Center for Disease Control has published about the corona 19 virus. We are more fortunate than many because our nearest neighbor is a mile away and we have purposely practiced social distancing for years. We have abundant fresh well water from deep in the ground and a plentiful stock of food. We keep a supply of food on hand because, post wildfire, the rain and melting snow brought mud/ash slides down the mountain washing out or blocking our road.

“Life Is Easier If You Plow Around The Stump”

Nothing could be more true, especially when it comes to getting in firewood. We burn during an average winter 9-10 cords of firewood. Life is easier when I cut down dead trees if I don’t get in a hurry and not pay good attention. A few years ago I cut down a 10-inch aspen and it landed on a small pine that bent over under the weight and hurled it back like a spear. I watched it zoom by and It hit a very large pine dead center and rolled off the limbs directly at me. I tried ducking under it but it rolled across my back leaving a very large bruise. I was reminded to plow around the stump — life is easier. I won’t make that mistake again.

“Drink Upstream From The Herd”

We recognized many years ago living remote in a heavily wooded area that our greatest risk was wildfire. Our property was littered with many rocks. We took those rocks and cemented them on the side of the house (see photo). We cut trees down from the house that were standing within 30 to 40 feet except for a few live aspens that are mostly water and are a low fire hazard. Any tree within that perimeter has the limbs removed up to 20 feet high and is widely spaced from other trees. Our only exposure was our front wooden deck. By removing the fuel source from around our home, we fortunately survived the wildfire and had a home to return to after the evacuation ended. Many failed to do mitigation and unfortunately ended up losing their homes. We literally were drinking upstream from the herd because of that mitigation coupled with a lot of divine intervention.

“Waste Not - Want Not”

We have been reminded of this repeatedly over the years. Instead of hauling still usable items to the dump, we store them and repurpose them. Chainsaws are a vital tool for any homestead and when they get repeated heavy use they tend to wear out. Prior to our moving here in the mountains full time, we took the basic and advanced small engine repair course so we could work on our own tools and replace parts when needed. Our rear blade for the tractor broke for the final time, we were able to repurpose the steel supports into a firewood holder and the blade into an anchor to hold the tractor tarp in place. We do not dispose of an item if it can be repurposed or repaired. We are however mindful of keeping out property tidy.

“What Your Head Doesn’t Do, Your Heels Will Have to”

I heard this as a small boy from my mother and how true it still is. I find myself repeating it often here on the homestead every time I get to my work area and have forgotten a needed tool. Boys and girls, listen to your elders when they share with you these sayings as they will come in handy throughout your life and help you avoid mistakes. All these years later I still find myself saying this to myself when I have to back track because I neglected to plan ahead so I would have the needed tools on hand for a project.

“Fool Me Once, Shame On You. Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me”

Regardless of where your homestead may be situated this saying applies. Thanks to social media, internet, satellite television and other media sources we are all in close touch with happenings around the world nowadays. News sources, politicians and others all seemingly try to fool us to accept their agenda.The days are mostly gone that we could look someone in the eye and generally tell if they were lying to us.

“When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going”

I was just a small child but I remember WWII and the wars and conflicts after that. I remember the polio epidemic (actually contracted it myself) and all the other health issues following. I have witnessed the resilience and toughness of the American people. When the going gets tough - Americans get going. We have demonstrated this time and time again. We are doing so again.

“The Best Way to Be Seen is to Stand Up. The Best Way to be Heard is to Speak Up. The Best Way to be Appreciated is to Shut Up."

So I have stood up and shared some of these old sayings designed to help us and I have spoken up by highlighting them in bold print and by shutting up now will bring this blog to a close. I therefore hope it will be appreciated.

Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site at Bruce Carol Cabin. 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.

Managing Working Dog Stress Under Stay-at-Home Orders

joy fly tucker 

Welcome to the new normal, at least for a while. Stay-at-home orders are announced daily and people are sheltering in place. Not only is this a mental strain on humans, it is also a strain on your working Border Collie.  If your normal routine is to stay at home and farm, your Border Collie might not notice you are staying  home more, however, if you are normally gone a lot, you are spending more time than usual with your dog. What can you do to keep your dog's mental and physical behavior as normal as possible?  What happens when things go back to normal?

If you and your family are normally on the go, this change in behavior may cause mental and physical behavioral changes with your working dog. Border Collies in particular demand a lot of time and work despite a stay-home order. You still need to be working with that dog and you may need to come up with ideas to keep your dog from becoming destructive or a pain-in-the-backside, while you are home. 

If your dog has a kennel, you should keep their kennel time as normal as possible but you also need to arrange a time to keep you busy as well, so get out in the yard or in the barn lot and work that dog and yourself. Take walks, work on new commands and enjoy the extra time you get to spend with your dog. Perhaps in the time you have together, your dog may learn some new commands or perfect those commands. You may also find some time to work on agility with your dog. This activity is a good distraction for your dog and might spend some of that extra energy that builds up. There are some pretty good Facebook pages that focus on agility dogs and training, they make for some good reading and might give you some answers to some of your herding dog training issues.

If you have a garden, you might even teach your dog to dig a hole to help you transplant tomatoes or dig a row to plant beans or corn. Find things for your dog to do, that can help you, in addition to being a herding dog. Whatever you do, get outside with your dog, walk, work and play, this is a time to take advantage of extra time with your dog.

What happens when things go back to normal? Your dog will have gotten accustom to that extra time with you and there will be an adjustment time when you go back to work and spend less time with the dog. You will probably see some behavior changes as the dog tries to figure out why you aren't around as much. These changes may not cause you as much stress but your dog is another story. Take that into consideration if your dog shreds a shoe that they wouldn't normally shred. All animals experience stress and a Border Collie is sensitive to change, it may take some extra time to adjust or to re-assure your dog that everything will be fine. It is important to think ahead about these changes before they happen.

There is nothing wrong with taking walks with your dog or taking care of your homestead while we are all in this quarantine phase. Fresh air, physical activity and mental exercise is good for both the dog and human. Take advantage of your extra time with your dog, you may find out things about your dog you never knew before.  

Mary Powell is a goat rental business owner and agricultural educator with 30 years’ experience working on ranches, farms and feedyards. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Kansas State University with an emphasis in Livestock Production Management. Follow Mary and her many misadventures with the goats on Facebook at Barnyard Weed Warriors and Ash Grove Goat Ranch or on her BarnyardWeedWarriors.com website.  If you have questions for her about her goats or Border Collies, email Mary at barnyardweedwarriors@yahoo.com. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

 


 

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Navigating a Frightful Goat Kidding Experience

All seemed well 

What are you to do when a doe has unexpected birthing complications? Before this year, we had only endured minor difficulties when it comes to kidding. A doe that needed a little extra help when pushing or a kid's head needing realignment seems scary enough. But what do you do when a kid is genuinely stuck? We have a doe, Ginger, that has kidded twice for other owners, so we expected no complications; however, she turned our world upside down this season.

A Normal Goat Kid Birth?

After 10 hours of early labor, Ginger entered into active labor, and everything was going off without a hitch. The first sac arrived as she laid on her side while slightly pushing. As the second sac came that carries the baby inside, Ginger became more uncomfortable. Still lying on her side, she continued to advance till a single hoof was visible. After 20 minutes, the second hoof peeped with contractions then disappeared between them. This kept happening for another 30 minutes or so before we began to fret.

As I went in to check on the alignment, I noticed all the right parts were lined up. The little teeth of the baby slightly grazed my finger, leaving a small slice as I felt around.

Realizing the Goat Kid was Stuck

All seemed well 2

As it should be?

I then noticed the baby's forehead wedged in the pelvis! I could not even fit a finger in between the pelvic bone and the head, and I have tiny hands and fingers. As I tried to pull downwards with the contractions, there was no give. My husband got her up from the laying position, and I tried again with no success.

I knew then we were in crisis; she now had two legs hanging out of her for over an hour, but no other progress. So I ran into the house and grabbed my phone to call the veterinarian for help. After calling three different numbers, I finally reached the vet's emergency phone number, but I had to leave a message. As I ran back to the barn, I could hear Ginger crying out in pain.

My husband stayed with her the whole time; she collapsed to the ground and began to look notably weak. As my phone started buzzing, my husband began to pull the kid with all his strength trying to preserve Ginger's life. We assumed the baby was deceased.

Phone Instruction from the Vet

ginger photo 3

Something just not right

The phone began to ring! I picked up the phone, and as the veterinarian began to talk, Ginger rolled to her back, and the baby mysteriously became dislodged. Ginger was so weak, and the baby was lifeless. Then it wasn't — it blinked!

My husband all but threw me the baby and a towel and said, "You take the baby, I got Ginger." With my phone and baby on my lap, the veterinarian kept talking and giving advice as I cleared the baby's mouth and nose. I began to rub the baby vigorously, and then the best sound, it let out a cry.

Ginger ran to its attention and began to clean her new baby. We then hung up with the vet, hoping we were out of the woods. Now mind you, it was now 1:00 AM, and we were exhausted; however, we stayed up with her all night.

As dawn broke

Ginger 4 ginger 5

His poor little legs he tried and tried

As dawn rolled around and first light hit the barn, we got a glimpse at the magnitude of the situation. Poor Ginger's lady parts torn from one end to the other and massively swollen. The baby's jaw was misaligned entirely, which explained how my finger happened to get sliced in the womb. He was unable to use his front legs, and yes, at this point, we realized it was a boy.

A quick phone call to our regular veterinarian eased our minds a bit. Ginger was put on steroids to reduce the swelling and pain along with an antibiotic to keep infection away. The baby, on the other hand, was a wait and see kind of circumstance. Within hours, his jaw began to realign by itself, entirely fixed by the next morning. However, he still had no use of his front legs. He army-crawled on his knees to and from his mom for feedings that entire first day.

By day two, the baby, now named Freddie, began to use one front leg, but the other would collapse beneath him. As day three rolled around, he was up and playing with the use of both his legs!

Healing Slowly 

ginger 6

Little Freddy

While on a tough road, they are both healing and getting stronger every day. Ginger is now medically retired; Therefore, she will never experience a traumatic kidding again. Now two weeks post-delivery, her lady parts are healing nicely. Freddie weighed in at nine pounds, which is a pretty standard-sized baby for the Oberhasli breed. Therefore, her pelvis is just too tiny to deliver more kids safely.

Freddie is growing and thriving every day. Ginger is a fantastic "helicopter mom," never allowing him out of her sight. The moral of the story? Never give up! Do not assume death, and always have an emergency veterinarian on standby and on speed dial.

ginger 7

All is well that ends well!

Carrie Miller runs Miller Micro Farm in Ohio, where she spends much of her time canning and freezing and repurposing items around the farm in creative ways. She is a photographer and blogger for Community Chickens. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Her writing has been featured in Grit Magazine, the Homestead Hustle Blog, Chickens Magazine, Hobby Farms magazine, and The New Pioneer magazine. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


 

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Why are Honeybees at My Bird Feeder?

Honeybees at birdfeeder 

Have you noticed honeybees visiting your bird feeders on those first warm days at the end of winter?

For several days I saw honeybees foraging at the bird feeder with cracked corn. A close up view shows they are collecting dust or pollen on their hind legs. What would honeybees be foraging for in a bird feeder?

Believe it or not, it is the cracked corn. More specifically the dust on the cracked corn. These dust particles resemble pollen grains and also contain some trace amounts of corn pollen.

Honeybees appear to be somewhat opportunistic and willing to do almost anything for the survival of the colony. When the weather begins to warm and the colony starts to ramp up brood production, the bees need pollen to make bee bread to feed the larvae. When it is still too early for plants or trees to produce pollen, the bees look for any protein source so they end up at bird feeders.

Honeybees do not live on honey alone. A honeybee’s diet is made up of both carbohydrates and protein. Honey and nectar provide the carbohydrates. Pollen is the source of protein. Both contain traces of amino acids and other nutrients, but protein is a critical component of bee bread. Bee bread is the primary diet of larvae and honeybees from Day 3 of life onward. The exception is the queen bee who is fed royal jelly throughout her development.

This early-season hunger for pollen also begs the question about what beekeepers are feeding their honeybees. It is common for candy boards or simply granulated sugar to be added during the winter. In fact, although I left a good amount of honey in my hive I did add granulated sugar twice during the winter. Sugar is easy to add to the hive: place an approximately 2-inch spacer under the inner cover, lay a sheet of newspaper on top of the frames and pour on the sugar. Between the honey stores and the sugar on top of the hive, I’m certain the bees have adequate amounts of carbohydrates.

Now I’m concerned for their protein stores until the pollen is more readily available. To this end, I have added some commercially available protein patties. These sticky patties contain a pollen substitute mixed with a thick sugary paste made from molasses. It also has added vitamins and other micronutrients that are helpful for the bees to build up their strength.

Pollen substitutes are also available in a granule form and can be put in shallow dishes for the bees to collect. Although some of these purchased feeds may contain other not so helpful ingredients, (like corn syrup) any are surely a better quality protein for the bees than corn dust.

Julia Miller is co-owner farmer and beekeeper at Five Feline Farm. She is the author of Simply Delicious, a memoir of cooking and The Long Road to Market, a guide for market farmers. Connect with Julia on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Marketing Homestead Products: Should You Rent a Farmer's Market Stall?

 

Photo byAvel Chuklanov

The Marketing Homestead Products series offers market gardeners and homesteaders tailored advice for selling their goods. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of joining up with a CSA, renting a farmer’s market stall, and the various forms of advertising available to your farm-based business.

If you operate a small farm or homestead, chances are you've considered joining a farmer's market. These markets are steadily increasing in popularity, with 8,600 of them in the United States, and new ones are popping up all the time. 

While they can be incredibly lucrative, they require a regular time commitment and face-to-face engagement with your customers. When choosing which one you'd like to be a vendor at, make sure your business goals align with what the market can offer. 

To get started, you'll need to rent a stall or booth. The costs are often reasonable and vary based on the location. Some markets rent out stalls once per season and require full attendance with little flexibility. Others may be available for lease each week or month. Whatever the situation, research your local area to find out which opportunity is best for your situation. 

If you're interested in learning how to join a farmer's market, discover the numerous benefits of renting a stall. 

1. Customer Visibility

If you are a new or beginning farmer, markets can be a great way to meet new and potential customers. Depending on your business strategy, it can also be an excellent way to attract people who may not be close to your property. 

In many states, farmers must travel a significant distance to command decent prices. In these situations, markets can be an ideal way to meet those who may not be able to see your farm physically, but still want to support your business. 

2. Marketing Opportunities

Most farmer's markets come with some degree of free marketing. Your name will be on their website as a vendor, and pictures of your stand or booth may appear on their social media pages or newsletters. Your physical presence at a market is also a benefit if you have other streams of revenue that you want to advertise. 

For example, you may sell a limited selection of products at a farmer's market, but the majority of your income is from your CSA. While the farmer's market may bring in some revenue, it serves the dual purpose of also sharing your name and product with a world of potential customers.

3. Community Engagement

Farmer's markets are an incredible way to connect with other producers. For instance, if you decide to set up at one of the five biggest markets in Baton Rouge, you can meet people who sell fruits and vegetables, baked goods, dairy, seafood, spices and more. This variety of offerings can be beneficial if you specialize in one area but want to collaborate with others. 

For example, a food truck at the farmer's market may try your fresh produce, using your tomatoes on their burgers every Saturday. Not only do you gain a valuable connection and a weekly buyer, but you also increase your community engagement. 

4. Low Start-Up Costs

Selling at farmers' markets is relatively inexpensive. Depending on your location, you may be able to find a small, local space to try out before you feel comfortable joining a larger establishment. Because of the low cost of investment, markets can be a low-risk solution for homesteaders. 

The trickiest part about becoming a vendor in a decent farmer's market is not the cost, but the limited availability. Many highly competitive markets, such as urban areas like New York City and Washington, DC, are challenging to get into. Most vendors have been in place for decades. When they leave, there is often another farm, or multiple, on the waiting list to take their place. 

5. Competitive Prices

Most homesteaders can garner high prices at farmers' markets due to where these spaces are situated. In the United States, for example, society is becoming increasingly urban. Experts predict that by 2050, around 66% of the global population will live in cities, where the cost of living tends to be higher.

When farmers travel to large markets, they can sell their products at a higher price. Small and local markets also command higher prices than wholesale. People prefer to buy direct from the grower, rather than going to a grocery store where products get shipped in. The added transparency allows buyers a greater sense of awareness and responsibility when it comes to their food. 

6. Limited Liability

If you've considered opening an on-farm establishment but don't want to make the infrastructure commitment, farmer's markets can be a great place to start. With this option, you won't face any concerns over liability, because the market carries this responsibility. 

A market also comes with other added amenities, such as bathrooms and parking. When you set up your booth or stand, all you have to worry about is your products and the customers. 

Selling at a Farmer's Market

Now that you know how to sell at a farmer's market, it's time to decide which one is right for you. Markets vary in size, location and function. Some only take place during the summer months, while others are semi-permanent operations. Your local space may function as an attraction on weekends, emphasizing arts, entertainment and baked goods. You can also choose a more dutiful place, one open all week, and attempting to fill the need of a grocery store.

Regardless of these variations, a farmer's market can be an excellent way to attract customers, gain traction in your community and sell your product for a higher value. Renting a booth or stall is a necessary step in joining a market. Luckily, however, the process is easy and affordable.

Read the full Marketing Homestead Products series.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on GRIT, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog, Productivity Theory, 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.

Beating Boredom on the Homestead

multiple ways to beat boredome 

Upon writing this article, our world is facing the COVID-19 virus that has so many people in quarantine, or their government has encouraged people to stay at home and children to no longer be in school. Because of this, people may find themselves looking for ways to stay entertained during this time of distancing and avoiding the crowd.

For the homesteader or self-sufficient individual, you may be saying- "I have enough things to do already!" in this time. Right now, spring has arrived and crops are on the mind. But for yourself and others, I hope this will serve as a list of ideas for things you can do with your family and ways to keep your mind busy so that you can beat boredom in the future!

Pick up a book. Perhaps you have a few dusty books on the shelf that deserve a good read. Now is the time to pick one up, and find yourself a title that you'd like to read for the first time, or perhaps read once more. Brew yourself a cup of coffee, whether its the electric pot or a percolator on the wood stove, and sit down with a good book! 

Training pets/livestock. No matter the circumstances, animals still require our care and attention. But if you have down time, this is a great opportunity to work on training and teaching your animal friends some useful things. Give clicker training a try, and help an impatient dog learn to sit and wait for food. Exercise your horse that hasn't been ridden in awhile, and go back over basic ground work.

Try a new hobby. Now is the time to give a new hobby a shot. If you've been wanting to learn to play an instrument, finish a large puzzle, identify the constellations, or even pick up woodworking- this is your moment! Remember, we live in a time where internet capability allows us to order the necessary tools and items online, and even watch tutorials with video streaming if you have the ability to.

Work on crafts. If the kids are at home with you, this is a great opportunity to get together and work on some crafts! Make a birdhouse or feeder from material around the house, and teach them about the type of birds that visit and show them how hard our feathered friends work to build their own nest. Get a head start on some potential Christmas gifts, and spend some time in the workshop on these projects.

Prepare the garden. Spring is the time to organize your seeds and pick what you'd like to plant. The garden and fields need to be plowed, and it will soon be time to sow. If you do not currently have a garden, consider building yourself at least a raised bed/elevated box with some scrap wood laying around and learn about heirloom seeds. Get hands-on and tend to your seedlings until one day before you know it the harvest has come, and fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, or an ear of roasting corn is on the table!

Watch favorite movies. Whether you have a few old VHS tapes, a DVD collection, or a streaming service, consider watching a few movies! Re-watch a childhood favorite, or stream and rent a new release you wanted to see. Gather together and even watch old home movies that may include loved ones no longer with you, and reminisce on those moments.

Go for a nature walk. Enjoy some fresh air if you can by taking a walk outdoors. Scout for animal tracks and identify deer trails that may help you next hunting season, or keep an eye out around the poultry pens for potential predator tracks. If you've got a pond, take yourself a cane pole and go fishing. This is another great opportunity to teach your children about wildlife, and help them lean to identify different animals and how they live.

Make a checklist. What are some things that you would like to accomplish this week? Make yourself a checklist of those things, and find satisfaction in putting a check mark beside each thing you complete. This is a great way to organize your thoughts and necessary chores.

Spring cleaning. Spring brings to mind for some the action of cleaning up the home or the shop. Now is the time to set aside a few boxes to donate or have a Summer yard sale. De-cluttering the home has often been synced with de-cluttering of the mind, and some folks find peace in getting rid of things no longer needed or rearranging the furniture.

Try a new recipe. Check out the pantry and see what ingredients you have on hand, or flip through a recipe box handed down through the generations. Pick yourself a healthy meal or even a new dessert to try out. Even try a new spin on a favorite drink, and make something such as strawberry lemonade.

Call a friend/family member and catch up. Take a moment to call someone today and just catch up, check on them, and encourage them. If you have a friend needing a kind word, or a family member in another state you haven't seen in awhile, give them a ring and just say hello.

Keep your mind healthy and active by trying new things, or preparing for the Spring and Summer seasons, and enjoy each day! While these are just a few ideas to combat boredom, whether on the country homestead or a city apartment, I hope that they will serve as a foundation for other ideas and activities that will help you make the most of down time.

Photo by Fala Burnette, Wolf Branch Homestead

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala'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.

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Make an Emergency Plan Book for your Homestead

volcano evacuation plan 

Volcano evacuation plan.

You Know It and Live It! Farm Life is great, it is wonderful- but ask a dairy farmer when they last had a real vacation and they might look at you funny-“What is this word you say, ‘vay-cay-shun’?”

Did you ever hire a babysitter to look after a child and not give them detailed instructions?  Doubtful!  Prepping for a farm sitter is no different. Planning for a trip helps to ensure that everything goes smoothly, but it is The Unexpected that suddenly pulls you off property which might cause unforeseen issues.  Mandatory evacuation orders? Natural disaster? Family member far away needing care or assistance?  Does your partner need to be hospitalized for several days? What if it is you that needs to be in the hospital?  Who will manage the farm-property-livestock-pets in your absence? You might be lucky to find a farm sitter on short notice, but how will you give them all the information needed to cover the bases?

Compile a Farm Emergency Plan Book (a.k.a The Farm Sitter's Manual)

Write down a list of every bad thing you can imagine that might happen to you, your family, your farm, and your surroundings.  House fire, barn fire, wildfire, flood, tornado, lack of electricity, downed fencing, drought, medical emergencies for you and your family.  What other things might pull you away?  Parents?  Relatives?  Friends?  For the sake of argument, go ahead and add “planned time off.”

Now- how can you assist someone who will step into your muck boots? I would suggest making a binder with all the pertinent information needed to get the job done.  It should be as foolproof as you can make it.

Begin with your own name, farm’s physical/street address, phone number, email.  GPS coordinates might be helpful too.  The following lists are the bare bones for such a plan- make your notebook an extension of yourself.  Add to it often and update the information as phone numbers and contacts change; it cannot be overdone! I would even recommend to put each page in a plastic sleeve to make the pages “water resistant.”

Your farm sitter has a mighty big responsibility in your absence and your foresight and preparedness can make a huge difference between a so-so job and a great experience. You might even enjoy that vacation!

Emergency Contacts

  • List of Neighbors by name, phone number, email and physical address/directions.
  • Veterinarians: Names, contact numbers (it helps to already have a Doctor/Client relationship)
  • Utility Companies: phone number, website (is there a special number to call to report outage?)
  • Local Law Enforcement: emergent and non-emergent phone numbers.
  • Fire Department: emergent and non-emergent phone numbers.
  • Ambulance: emergent and non-emergent numbers.

List of Livestock/Pets

  • List of all livestock and where they are located/housed- a map of your property is handy for this.
  • Categorize each with a tab- write down specific information so if, for example, one of your twelve goats is ill, the person holding the notebook will know which one it is.
  • Add notes on herd behaviors; who is friendly, who is wary, who is too friendly…
  • Don’t forget barn cats.

Daily Routine

  • Begin in the morning and give an outline of what is done each day.
  • Be sure to include things that might be done once a week (like watering the garden).
  • Describe how you go about doing the tasks yourself- e.g., how do you call up the animals?
  • What is fed and how much do you feed? Where is the feed?  What measurements do you use?
  • Do grazing areas need to be changed? What is the rotation and how is this accomplished?

Where Things Are and How to Do Them

  • Keys to tractor? Keys to house? Keys to farm gate padlocks? Do you have a stock trailer? If evacuation is called for, can the farm sitter load and transport in your place?
  • Will your farm sitter be using the tractor and where is the fuel?
  • Does the mail need to be picked up and if so, where would you like it to be kept?
  • If the power goes off, do you have a generator? Is there a main safety throw switch so you can tie the generator into your farm circuit? How is the generator started? Does the power need to be on and if so, for how many hours a day?
  • Where are tools for simple fence repair? Wire? Temporary fencing? How do you typically fix your fencing?
  • Where do you keep your livestock equipment/medications/first aid? If you are really organized, you can even add directions and dosages for certain medications to be administered in your absence. A goat might come down with bottle jaw the day after you depart and a deworming would be in order if your farm sitter knew what to use and how much to give.
  • Oh no! An animal has died!  What do you do with the carcass?
  • Oh my! An animal has given birth! Make notes if you are expecting birthing to be going on and your typical procedures to handle this.

How You Can Be Contacted

  • This information should be kept in a clear plastic sleeve at the beginning of the book and updated each time you are leaving the farm. How can you be reached, where will you be and for how long.
  • Tell your neighbors that you have such a book and where it can be found. Inform them that you included their contact information in it. 
  • Don’t hide the binder, but make it easy to see- “The emergency plan is in the red binder beside the computer.”
  • Between your planned and scheduled trips, the binder will be ready in case of emergency.

 cow and calf

Your cow probably will not need assistance when calving, but leaving your farm sitter with an emergency plan book will give YOU peace of mind!

In a perfect world, time away from your farm will be planned well in advance and you can personally go over your notebook with your chosen farm sitter.  Ask them questions, have them ask questions- there are no silly/bad questions! Your own family members, if farm sitting for you, might not know what to do in certain situations. In the event you are pulled off your farm with little to no warning, you will rest easier knowing that you have left your farm in good hands.

Mary Jane Phifer is a heritage cattle farmer and owner of Steel Meadow Farm in Mansfield, Mo., where she and her husband raise Irish Dexter cattle and Spanish commercial goats on their farm. Read all of Mary Jane’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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