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

Making Emergency Preparations, or Preparing for Adventure, with these Products

Think Tank Rotation Pro Camera Backpack

Think Tank Rotation Pro Camera Backpack.

Photo courtesy Think Tank

Like many Mother Earth News readers, we continue to expand our capabilities to adapt and build homestead resiliency and up our emergency preparedness. We’ve doubled our freezer capacity for food storage and have doubled down on our wood supply, just as national natural gas rates seem to be taking off.

Inflation looks to be anything but “transitory” or “temporary,” despite the messaging from the politicians. So, we made an investment in Monroe Money for local future purchases, where we received $20 bonus on every $100 invested; turns out, that’s a 20-percent guaranteed return. We also stocked up on some provisions, like rice and coffee - plus flour for our home-based food product business under our state’s cottage food law. Again, it’s looking like most of these items will be from 5 to 20 percent more expensive in six months, assuming we can even find them on the shelves. And the next wave of covid-19 currently hitting Europe will likely hit the US this winter, now that our borders are much more open to international travelers.

We’ve also invested in a few more products that may make the difference in an emergency situation, or if we have to go on the road for some reason, whether because of a crisis or for adventure outdoors. After the assault on the nation’s Capitol and the big freeze in Texas that exposed electric grid vulnerability, anything seems possible, at least to my wife Lisa Kivirist and I. So, we keep preparing. The following list are a few new items we’ve added to our stash.

Protecting Gear While on the Move with the Think Tank Rotation Pro 50L Camera Backpack

As a photographer, I’ve been on the lookout for a versatile, rugged and innovative backpack for my gear. In fact, I even have written media credentials from Mother Earth News when I opt to get into the field to cover disasters or other calamities. While testing out the Think Tank Camera Backpack with my photo gear, I quickly realized it’s perfectly designed as a survival or “bug out” bag, too, with its water-resistant coated fabrics, abrasion resistant nylon and other features.

 Think Tank Rotation Pro Camera Backpack with Tractor

Think Tank Rotation Pro Camera Backpack.

Photo courtesy Think Tank 

What makes this well-built and super comfortable backpack unique, however, is its innovative Rotation 180 technology of the backpack allows a spacious storage compartment to be rotated around from the backpack, to access the compartment contents quickly and without removing the backpack. The main central compartment of the backpack offered roomy space for food, clothing, hiking essentials and other gear.

As a bonus to comfort, besides the perforated back panel for airflow and breathability, there’s a 10-point adjustable harness, to customize how I could carry my load. Pockets were mindfully designed to accommodate a water bottle, quick access to a flashlight and daisy chain attachment points where I can attach items, like my solar-charged light. There’s a padded spot to stow up to a 16-inch laptop.

Because I been caught in severe weather more than once, I opted for a rain cover for the backpack. Similar Think Tank bags some in smaller sizes, like their 34L, which is accepted as a carry-on bag by most major airlines.

 GoDark Faraday Bag

 GoDark Faraday Bag

Photo courtesy Go Dark

Privacy and Security for your Phone with the GoDark Faraday Bag

It’s becoming harder than ever before to protect and maintain your digital security and privacy while on the move in our connected world. For our family’s one cell phone, we’ve reached for a GoDark Faraday Bag for added protection. From potential credit card Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) skimming to ubiquitous location tracking and potential data theft attacks, cybersecurity threats are becoming all too real. A localized digital attack could result from a simple, but nefarious, bump we might experience at a café or outside on the street.

Now we’re covered, as long as our phone is inside the GoDark Faraday Bag. Every day, we discover a new potential issue, like the “airplane mode” for our phone only preventing it from transmitting, not receiving. Plus, our location history is still recorded by our phone even if it’s off, then transmitted later when we reconnect.

When our cell phone is zipped up inside, the GoDark Faraday Bag protects our electronic device from hacking, location tracking and possible damage resulting from external electrical magnetic frequencies, or EMFs. The GoDark Faraday Bag blocks all outgoing and incoming EMF signals between 600 MHz and 6 GHz, including cell phone, wi-fi, Bluetooth and GPS signals. We tested it on our homestead and found it on par with our homemade EMF-box in terms of blocking cellular connections. GoDark has vetted the effectiveness of the bag through third party lab testing.

As long as our cell phone is inside the Faraday Bag, it’s like we turned off the phone and removed the battery. It’s a little surprising to us that so-called “burner phones,” cheap, prepaid and disposable cell phones, are still legal. A Faraday Bag may be the only option when the day arrives that burner phones are nowhere to be found after the government decides to clamp down on this disposable technology, often used by people who do not want to be tracked for whatever reason.

The super-durable outer shell of the GoDark Faraday Bag is both water and puncture-resistant; as a testament to its quality, it has a lifetime warranty. The inner felt liner protected our phone and actually did a better job at preventing accidental screen activation than when I walk around outside with just the phone in my front pocket.

 Roving Blue O-Pen Water Filter

Roving Blue O-Pen Water Filter

Photo Courtesy Roving Blue

Purifying Water with the Roving Blue O-Pen Ozone Water Purifier

No matter what the situation, access to safe drinking water is essential for survival. Roving Blue has managed to compress their Ozone technology and process -- electrolytic ozone -- into a convenient, portable, light and effective Roving Blue O-Pen Filter. It can purify 16-ounces of water in less than a minute.

The O-Pen so small, it fits in a pocket. But don’t let its small size mislead. By infusing water with a cloud of ozone gas, this filter is highly effective against dangerous bacteria, cysts and viruses, including giardia, salmonella and E. coli. Unlike other water purification options and more powerful than chlorine, there is no foul taste, odor or residue after the water has been purified with the Roving Blue O-Pen. When the process is completed, the ozone reverts to oxygen quickly, so there’s no chemical residue. Fully charged, the O-Pen can purify about six gallons of water, after which the unit is recharged with a USB cable.

 TrailHeads Cold Weather Gloves

TrailHeads Cold Weather Gloves

Photo by John Ivanko

Getting a Better Grip with TrailHeads Cold Weather Running Gloves

I’ve learned the hard way, my snowmobile gloves and other work gloves have limitations when it comes to doing certain tasks in the cold weather months. As a result, I’ve been forced to take them off when I often shouldn’t.

TrailHeads Cold Weather Running Gloves, however, provided the warmth, comfort and waterproof protection I needed while providing the needed finger freedom required to get the job done safely. The gloves are also touch screen compatible, so I can always access a smart phone without removing the gloves. The convertible black gloves allow me additional warmth with the slip-over mitten covering, but retain the finger access when dealing with small projects where more finesse is needed.

They’re now a permanent part of my emergency preparedness kit and bug-out bag. I’ve found they work great, too, when operating my camera and drone in cold weather shooting conditions. Their Hi-Vis slip-over mitten feature could come in handy if I need to remain visible in dark situations.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the sun. Both have been speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8 kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Homemade Homestead Christmas Gift Ideas

Jelly Jars

Home canned gifts. Photo credit: Kat Ludlam

It is that time of year – time to start thinking about Christmas gift-giving. If you are a homesteader, you can make some really great gifts that come right from your homestead and will add an extra special touch to your gift-giving this year. It feels amazing to share from the bounty from your farm in creative ways.

From the Garden:

Seeds – Seeds saved from your own garden are a special way to pass on your love of gardening to others. You can make special seed envelopes and decorate them with rubber stamps or decorative paper to make it extra cute.

Windowsill Herb Garden – you can make an old-farm style windowsill herb garden by using old pallet wood to build a box that holds 3-5 used (and washed out) metal soup cans. Line the box with plastic, so the water from the plants won’t leak out. Hammer or drill 3 holes in the bottom of each can. Add potting soil and plant the herbs with enough time that they can sprout before you gift them. You can use wooden clothespins for plant markers, and you could also add ribbons to the box or cans to dress it up.

kitchen windowsill herbs

Kitchen windowsill herb garden. Photo Credit: Kat Ludlam

Or, you can assemble a “kit” for them of all they need and they can plant the windowsill herb garden themselves.

Kitchen windowsill herb garden kit

Windowsill Herb Garden Kit. Photo Credit: Kat Ludlam

Dried Herbs – If you harvest and dry your own herbs from your garden you can pass those on to spice up someone’s kitchen. Find tiny jars and add ribbons or chalkboard tag stickers as labels. Assemble them in a small tray or basket.

From the Coop:

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love the gift of farm-fresh eggs. Decorate the carton or wrap the lid in Christmas paper to make it more fun and add a few recipe cards with your favorite egg recipes on them.

Christmas egg carton

Christmas Wrapped Egg Carton. Photo Credit: Kat Ludlam 

From the Hives:

Honey - Raw honey right from your homestead will be a sweet gift for all. Put it in nice jars and include a wooden honey dipper and consider putting a piece of fresh comb in the jar to give it the straight-from-the-hive look.

Candles and a Candle Holder - Homemade beeswax taper candles are beautiful and smell great. They are also easy to make. Tie three together with a pretty ribbon and tag. Or, if you are handy with wood, include a wood candle holder made from branches cut from your own property.

Log candle holder beeswax taper candles

Log candle holder with beeswax taper candles. Photo Credit: Kat Ludlam

From the Woods:

Coasters - In addition to the wood candle holder above, if you have woods on your property and you have branches from your pruning and thinning work, you can make really nice coasters. Leave the bark and any lichen and moss for character and apply the finish right over it all to seal it. Add some felt pads to the bottom of each finished coaster to protect the table surface. Tie them together with some twine and add a tag.

Log Coasters

Log Coasters, Photo Credit: Kat Ludlam

From the Kitchen:

Home-Canned Items - If you do any canning then you probably already know that home-canned jellies, jams, butters, and pickles are big hits as gifts. Add Christmas fabric to the top of your jars and special tags to make them festive. Arrange them in a basket or build a little crate for them with pallet wood.

Jelly jars in crate

Home-canned items in jars in a crate. Photo Credit: Kat Ludlam  


If you are a knitter, crocheter, or sewer, there are innumerable items you can make as wonderful gifts.

Kitchen Dishwashing Basket - Put together a kitchen basket that includes crocheted dish scrubbies, knit or crocheted dish cloths, and your favorite dish soap.

Cloth Napkins - Handmade cloth napkins are quick and easy to make with a serger or sewing machine and many people will be surprised by this re-useable alternative to paper napkins. You can roll them up and arrange them in a basket – add a ribbon and tag.

Cloth napkins

Cloth napkins in a basket. Photo Credit: Kat Ludlam

These are just a few ideas. The sky is the limit when it comes to gifts you can give from your homestead. Look around you at what you are producing and then find a way to make it into a great gift that your friends and family with appreciate getting…right from the homestead.

Kat Ludlam has been homesteading in Colorado for 15 years now. She and her husband, Daniel, are the owners of Willow Creek Farm, where they breed specialty wool sheep, milk sheep, chickens, and crops that thrive in their location. They also own and run a custom fiber processing mill, Willow Creek Fiber Mill . Kat loves to feed her family from their land, and teach others to homestead as well. Read all of Kat’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.

Recounting the Many Rewards of Rural Living

Beauty and tranquility in the picnic and campfire area.

Photo by Jo DeVries

The transformation of the landscape over the four seasons in Canada is dramatic. Autumn is presently in in full bloom. The leaves of the maple trees are aglow, the evenings are cooler, the air fresher. The bathing suits have been packed away, and most vacationers have left this part of cottage country except for a few that return for Thanksgiving. Hopefully, we’ll be able to leave out the lawn chairs for another month or so. This has been one of the best fall seasons in memory, temperature wise. There’s still no hint of frost in the forecast.

Country Road Fall Drives

I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a few long, country drives over the past week. I can drive for hours in any direction and still be surrounded by the glorious autumn colours, mingled with magnificent rock outcroppings, wide-open wetlands, and areas of dense, dark, evergreen forests. The spectacular show of the autumn leaves draped over miles of rolling hills is stunning. The green, yellow, orange and red leaves against a backdrop of varying shades of blue and grey creates an ever-changing masterpiece of exceptional design.

As always, the show will only last a short time, so I made it a priority this year to absorb as much of that beauty as I could. Thankfully, with the advantage of photography, I can enjoy those spectacular sights for years to come.

I am so incredibly grateful for my blessings, and the era of which I am living in. What a luxury to jump in the car, visit briefly with distant friends, pick up groceries somewhere new, and simply enjoy the splendid sights during a six-hour road trip on the back highways.

Putting Pigs to Work

My leisure time is somewhat limited at this time of year, so my outings are restricted. I have two demanding pigs and can only leave the farm between feeding times, lest they get the idea to dig their way to freedom.

The elderberry grove that the pigs have been clearing is looking better now that we’ve finally had some rain. The pigs found it difficult to dig in that area during the hot summer months due to a third year of drought but have made up for lost time in the last couple of weeks. The soil has had a good going-over, and most of the field is bare save for the elderberry.

Next February, I will cut back the aging elderberry stalks and put them in water. In the spring, I will plant the newly rooted canes in the prepared field.


The pigs helped clear the field allotted to elderberry.
Photo by Jo deVries

Technology on the Homestead

I learned everything I needed to know about elderberry from magazines and the Internet. What a time-saver to learn from other people’s experiences!

We enjoy many conveniences in this day and age. In the past, people were more likely to do what everyone around them did, knowing very little about alternative ideas. Nowadays, people from around the globe can easily share data, plans, and photos within seconds. Having access to a world of information in the palm of our hands is remarkable. Even knowing the approximate weather conditions coming our way is invaluable.

There are tools at our disposal that people only dreamed of a hundred years ago and a mind-boggling array of materials to choose from. Our generation has the benefit of all the information from previous successful building concepts and can add to it many modern conveniences and practical updates. Windows, mirrors, and skylights are items that drastically changed the construction industry, and now we can have them delivered to our door.

In combining the old and the new, we can design and create durable, practical, beautiful, sustainable buildings that will last for generations. That is my long-term goal. In the meantime, I’m starting to wrap things up for another season; snow could appear in as little as a few weeks.

Building a Living Roof Greenhouse

My present building project, and first living-roof endeavour is a small greenhouse adjacent to my chicken coop. The excavation job, which I’m doing by hand, will involve at least another 20 hours. I hope to put the foundation in next spring. Should I win the lottery, and this great weather continue, it might be done sooner.

Chicken Woes

My chickens had a rough time this year.  Mid-season, predators killed my purebred Silkie rooster and one hen. That meant that I could only hatch mixed-breed chicks, which are not as easy to sell as purebreds. I decided to discontinue my breeding program for this year. Then my friend accidently cooked two dozen eggs in her incubator. Hey, stuff happens.

A couple of months later, six of the chicks I had hatched were killed by predators. I don’t know exactly what killed them, but the list of predators in these parts is endless. I have since replenished my breeding stock, and all is well.

Rural Living Offers Perspective

I know that my decision to move to a rural area and develop a piece of inexpensive bush land was the smartest decision I have ever made. Being surrounded by nature is the healthiest environment in which to stay grounded in. Viewing the world from a distance has many advantages. It’s easier to think clearer if one is outdoors in the fresh air, away from the many distractions that bombard our lives.

After living in the bush for 20 years, I have spent countless hours thinking about how our environments shape who we are. I am constantly reviewing my actions, renouncing unhealthy learned behaviours, and streamlining my practices. I am on a quest of learning what it means to live off the land and considering the various ways I might achieve sustainability and independence.

It is our society’s reliance on gasoline and electricity that scared me into rethinking things. To pass that kind of a lifestyle on to my son just seemed wrong. I wanted to give my descendants the opportunity to live a healthier, happier, and more secure existence. Working the land brings satisfaction to the soul in the short term and sustenance in due time. It enables one to fill photo albums of developments, achievements, and memories and most importantly, leaves a trail for others to follow.

Homesteading Requires a Long-Term Vision

Changing this plot of land into a sustainable farm is a lifelong commitment. I’m working with a long-term plan in mind. I’m imagining what the place will look like in years to come and inching my way in that direction.

Many of the trees will not be fully matured until I’m long gone, and I’m at peace with that. Some of the trees on my property were here before I existed and will still be alive when my son is gone. I am just glad to have stood in their shade for a time. This is God’s country, and I consider it an honour to be caretaker of a small piece of it. Living close to nature is an existence that I will forever be grateful for.

If you have not yet tried it, I strongly recommend taking the leap. This planet is our most valuable asset and real estate is always a solid investment.

Jo deVries (Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is? and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Jo of the Woods and read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. /span>

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Raising and Butchering Broiler Chickens at Home

 broiler chicken

Broiler chicken, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Improve your health by eating naturally raised chickens. Their meat has more heart-healthy yellow omega 3 fat and less saturated fat than poultry from the store, and you can ensure that they are eating a natural diet of insects, greens, and seeds.

It’s as simple as raising and butchering broiler chickens in your own backyard. Once you master a few basics, you’ll spend 11 easy weeks a year raising them and one day having a butchering party with friends. You can successfully raise broilers outside in the Mid-Atlantic from May-October.

Choose Your Breed

Freedom Ranger Chickens make the best home broiler flock since they are active birds that reach their peak weight of 5-6 pounds in 10-11 weeks. They grow well in free range and fenced pasture environments, foraging for food during daytime hours. Other broiler breeds that grow more quickly tend to be unable to walk around after a few weeks as they get too heavy, too fast. 

 baby chicks

Baby chicks, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Choose Your Numbers

Determine how many dressed broilers you can stuff into your freezer and how much space you can devote to raising them. We have typically limited ourselves to 30 birds who forage on 2500 square feet of pasture. We could easily raise twice that number in this space without harming the pasture. Or we could raise two batches of 30 with a short break in between.

Choose Your Environment

You want to balance safety and health for the chickens. We use a 50x50 foot fenced pasture with a three sided shed which is the night coop for the chickens. Wood-framed door panels covered in chicken wire keep chicks in at night while keeping predators out. They are encased with wooden lathes and cross bars so that raccoons can’t break in. A heat lamp hanging from the rafters over an enclosed section of the shed serves as an early brooder for the baby chicks. The chicks stay in the brooder area for about three weeks and then begin foraging on pasture.

 three sided shed

Three-sided shed, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Choose Your Feeding Program

The chickens are let out on pasture to forage for bugs and vegetation during the day, then put away safely at night. We provide free access to organic, non-GMO feed at night to ensure a balanced diet. Water is available at all times in the shed and also out on pasture.

Choose Your Butchering Day

We always share the costs with friends and then hold a group butchering party where everyone takes home a portion of meat. Over the years each person has begun to specialize in handling a couple of the jobs for the day.


Sharing hard work with friends, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Choose Your Butchering Set-Up

No matter how you set up your work area, the steps are similar.  Here’s how we set up our work stations and the steps we take at each one:

Station One

  • A board with a hole in the center set on stacked cement blocks at both ends
  • A killing cone made of chimney flashing runs through the hole creating a funnel
  • Live chickens are placed upside down in the cone with their heads sticking out the bottom
  • A trash can lined with plastic sits below
  • Using one hand to stretch out the neck, you cut the carotid artery with a scalpel letting the blood drain out fully


Bringing chickens to the killing cone, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Station Two

  • A large kettle of water heated to 150 degrees over an outdoor camp stove
  • Scald the dead birds in the kettle for 30 seconds, plunging them up and down by the feet to quickly heat and loosen feathers

Station Three

  • A clothesline slung between two trees
  • Two small loops are attached to the line with slip knots
  • A large barrel sits below
  • Slip each of the chicken’s legs into a slip knot and quickly pull off all the feathers into the barrel


Plucking station, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Station Four

  • A 6 foot folding table, a hose with sprayer attached, poultry sheers, a scalpel, and small propane torch
  • The head and feet are cut off here, as well as the small oil gland at the base of the tail
  • The vent is tied with string or a rubber band to keep excrement from contacting the meat
  • The torch is used to singe off the pin feathers

tying and singeing

Prepping the chickens, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Station Five

  • is indoors at the eviscerating table
  • Large coolers hold ice-water baths, and we have stacks of two-gallon freezer bags
  • Using our hands we reach in and remove all the organs from the rear of the chicken
  • The chicken is washed in cold water and dried
  • We then put them into freezer bags by holding the full bag under water up to the zip line so as to squeeze all the air out of it before zipping it up with the chicken inside
  • The bagged birds cool off in the ice-water bath for several hours


Eviscerating before cooling, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Station Six

  • First they go into the large refrigerator where the cooled birds are placed in their bags for 24-48 hours to make the meat tender
  • Then they go into the chest freezer where they will keep well for at least 6 months


At the end of the butchering day, photo by Sheryl Campbell

That’s all there is to it. Eleven weeks of just checking on the chicks twice a day to make sure they are healthy and to replenish their food and water. Followed by one very full day of processing made fun by sharing it with friends.  Go out and find a few friends, set up your growing area, and raise a few broilers of your own. We hope you have fun on butchering day and thoroughly enjoy the healthful meat you’ll raise.

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth Gardener and Grit 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.

Sticking Points


 Mountain sunrise.

Photo courtesy of Bruce McElmurray

Much has been written on ‘how to’ start and maintain a homestead but I have found little on how to keep on going when things pile up and it gets tough going. Many people have grandiose ideas about homesteading but after a while when the reality of all the hard work bears down on them, the dream gets tarnished when the going gets tough. 

Getting A Backlog: 

Homesteading takes tremendous dedication, organizational skills and a strong work ethic. There is always something that needs attention and pretty quickly things can unravel as you move from one project to another. Getting bogged down in one task can leave others undone. Next thing we know there is a backlog of things needing to be done and the homesteader is overwhelmed. 

Lessons That Carry Over In Life: 

I associate homesteading with when I used to lift weights. Most of my life I have lifted weights and I see a parallel between some things I learned when lifting weights and homesteading. When doing the bench press for example, you have substantial weight balanced over you and that last repetition just won’t go up to full extension. You  have reached what is referred to as a ‘sticking point.' No matter how hard you push, that weight just won’t go up. There you lay with that  weight teetering over you and it won’t move upward. 

Having A Spotter In A Time Of Need: 

That is where your spotter steps in to help. The spotter puts his hands under the bar and you assume he/she is helping you lift. Laying flat on the bench, you can’t actually see if they are lifting or not when in reality their hands under the bar are only a facade. They aren’t lifting but you can’t tell that because it appears they are getting you over the sticking point. You then push the weight up with strength you didn’t know you possessed. Your brain, which previously told you there was no way that weight was going up,  allows the weight to suddenly go up exclusively from your effort. Your spotter has deceived your brain and the “can’t do” suddenly is “accomplished."


Autumn colors.

Photo by Bruce McElmurray

You May Be Capable Of More Than You Realize: 

The first time I experienced this I couldn’t believe my spotter had not done any heavy lifting to get that weight back in the rack. I have seen it repeated many times and have done it myself as a spotter.  I thought he was helping lift when in actuality he was only using minimal pressure. I ended up pushing the weight up beyond what I thought was within my ability. It is the same for a troubled and overwhelmed homesteader. A spotter can be a  friend/family member or neighbor, someone who may have a more objective view of your situation based upon their experience and common sense.  

Stubbornness Can Substitute But A Spotter Is Better: 

A mindset of determination can, in some people, be a worthy substitute for a spotter. Sometimes you just have to put forth more effort and take that next step forward to do what you previously thought impossible. 

No Homesteader Is Immune: 

Any homesteader can go from exciting to overwhelmed before you even realize it. As you look around the homestead you see so many projects that may need doing and you reach your sticking point. Where to start? Which one should be first etc? You end up being so overwhelmed that you end up doing nothing and everything spirals further out of control.  What earlier enamored you to homesteading suddenly becomes an overwhelming and hopeless pit. The inclination to give up creeps into your thinking and you contemplate just starting over somewhere else.

If You Need Help - Seek Help:

Under those circumstances it is no disgrace to admit you need help and to reach out to a friend, neighbor or family member to help you get past the sticking point. It is unrealistic to ask them to do all the work, but to help you organize your thoughts and get you back on the right path and to work past your sticking point. After all, it is your homestead and hence your responsibility but help is welcome. 

Can A Homestead Be Restored In A Week - Yes It Can: 

This principle can best be demonstrated in a popular television show where a father, his daughter and son go to homesteads in trouble and spend one week helping them to get back on track. Once restored to a more normal homestead, the people can move forward once again to fulfill their dream. The family does some jobs that will help the homesteader carry on and restore the homestead. When they leave, the homesteader sees a path to the future and is focused on a direction to success.  

Helping One Another: 

Sometimes it only takes another perspective to get the troubled homestead back on a forward moving path. Homesteading is a unique lifestyle and those who engage in it are equally unique and special. It often takes working together and sharing knowledge and experience to make it a success. I am fairly certain that  many experienced homesteaders would agree that when you look around the homestead you always see things that need to be done. The question therefore is what priority should they be given?  

Seniors Work More Slowly - Factor Into Prioritization: 

Being able to prioritize is a valuable asset on any homestead. Some things should be placed above others. The older I get the more I realize the importance of having a priority list of ‘to do’ tasks. As a senior I realize being able to have a priority list is vital in keeping the homestead functioning smoothly. No longer am I able to work as fast as I once did so making sure I have a priority list is doubly important. 


Any homestead can get into trouble whether it is a fledgling or established homestead. There are natural occurrences that can throw it off track and being able to prioritize tasks to keep it on balance is essential. Sometimes it may take a new perspective from others to help keep the dream alive.

Bruce and Carol live in the mountains in S. Colorado with their canine family and take measures to protect them from the wild predators that are around. They lead a somewhat different lifestyle and for more on them and their canine family visit their blog site. You can read all of Bruce'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.

Raising Sheep for Excellent-Quality Wool, Part 2: Proper Skirting and Shearing

Crimp and Luster of Bond Fleece 

Beautifully organized crimp and luster in the wool of a Bond sheep.

Photo by Kat Ludlam

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how choosing your sheep, selectively breeding them, and feeding them properly greatly effects the quality of wool and value of your finished wool products.

How you handle the wool during shearing and afterwards also has a big impact on the quality and value. Many a beautifully grown fleece is ruined after it is removed from the sheep due to improper handling. But before considering how to handle your fleece, it is important to understand breaks in the fleece.

Breaks in the Fleece

A break in the fleece is a section of each fiber that is thinner and more fragile than the rest of the fiber. They are caused by stress or poor nutrition. If there is a time during the growth of the fleece where the animal undergoes a lot of stress (moving to a new location, giving birth and lactating, being chased by a predator, etc) the fleece won’t grow as strong during that time, thus creating the “break,” or weak spot, in each fiber. If there is a time during the year where they are not getting adequate nutrition, that can cause a break as well.

Break in a section of wool fiber

A break in a group of fibers. You can see the line of weak spots appearing as lighter and thinner when you hold it up to light.

Photo by Kat Ludlam.

Broken section of fiber at a weak spot

A smaller section of the same group of fibers broken after being tugged while holding each end. The fleece broke right at the line of weakness.

Photo by Kat Ludlam.

A break can decrease the value of the fleece, or potentially make it nearly unusable. If the break is near the center of the fiber, then as the fiber is being processed it will break at the weak spot and can ruin the ability to make it into the finished product you are hoping for. Breaks are sometimes unavoidable, but how you time your shearing can help you manage the breaks better.


As stated above, birthing and lactating can, and usually does, cause a break in the fleece. The best way to manage this inevitable occurrence in your breeding flock is to shear eight weeks before they are due to lamb. By doing this, the break will be located towards the tip of the fiber and thus won’t affect your finished product like it would if the break were in the middle of the fiber growth. Other reasons to shear before lambing include that it keeps the ewes from being too hot during labor, it keeps the back end of the ewe cleaner after birthing, and it helps the baby find the udder and nurse easier.

Another important aspect of shearing, after timing, is hiring a good, professional shearer. Using a skilled professional can make all the difference in the world. A good shearer will give a clean shearing with minimal second cuts (short pieces of wool caused by running the shears over the same area twice). They will also be able to shear each sheep in about five minutes, thus decreasing the stress on the animal. A fleece that is cut evenly and doesn’t have many second cuts will process into much nicer, consistent roving and/or yarn.


Skirting the fleece is the process of removing the undesirable portions of a fleece from the good portions. The obvious undesirable portions are the rear end, legs, and belly wool because it is not an even length, is full of vegetable matter (VM), and is very dirty. Sometimes the neck wool needs to be removed due to large amounts of VM. And in some long wool breeds that have wool that parts along their spine, the spine might need to be removed as well since it can accumulate a lot of VM right along the part. Another thing to look for and remove during skirting is the second cuts (described above) that can happen during shearing.

Most people think that you skirt once, after shearing time. While this is somewhat true, the way to get excellent fleece is to have a primary skirting and a secondary skirting. The majority of skirting should happen DURING shearing. This is the primary skirting. As the sheep is being sheared, someone should be squatting near the sheep (without being in the way of the shearer and his/her ability to maneuver the sheep around), grabbing the undesirable fiber as it is being sheared off, and putting it in a separate pile away from the good fiber. This really helps because when you pick up a full fleece after it has just come off the sheep, the VM and undesirable fiber from the belly, legs, and rear end start to mix in with the good, barrel-fiber and it is much harder to remove that all later. Removing rear end, legs, belly, and potentially neck and spine wool (if needed) right there on the shearing floor will go a long way towards cleaning up the fleece. Once you have done the preliminary skirting during shearing, the fleece can be taken and laid out somewhere to air and dry (especially if the sheep are hot and sweaty during shearing) and then bagged.

Secondary skirting can happen any time after shearing. Take the fleece and lay it out on a table. The best option for a skirting table is one made with the top surface being hardware cloth or some other open mesh. That way the VM and smaller pieces can easily fall through while you work. If you don’t have a skirting table, it is fine to just use any table. When I use a regular table, I like to put a sheet over it and then skirt the fleece on top of that because it makes clean up a lot easier. Work through the fleece a small portion at a time, removing VM, obvious guard hairs (guard hairs will also fall out during the milling process), second cuts, and any fiber that isn’t the high-quality that you want. If you are seeing significantly different lengths in your fiber, you should separate the fleece into two piles, one of the shorter fibers and one of the longer. This is also the time to separate it by color if you have a multi-colored animal and want it to be separated out by color. Skirting one fleece can take hours, depending on the quality of the shearing and the amount of VM you are dealing with. Good skirting greatly increases the value of your raw fleece and the finished items if you are having it processed.


When you are finished skirting, it is important to store your fleece properly. It should be in a plastic bag that is tied closed and has no holes in it so that wool moths cannot get in and ruin the fleece. Some people choose to put moth balls in with their fleece. Don’t do this. The chemicals and smell can be nearly impossible to fully remove from the fleece, and many mills will not accept your fiber for processing if it has had mothballs in it. You can research more natural options for protecting your fiber from moths that are quite effective if you don’t think you can keep the bags sealed.

Bagged raw fleece

Skirted, raw fleece bagged and ready to be sealed and stored.

Photo by Kat Ludlam

Don’t forget to label each fleece with the animal identification and the year, either by writing on the bag or including a paper inside the bag with the fleece. You might think you will remember later, but when life happens and you don’t get around to processing them right away it can be hard to remember not only which one is which, but also what year it came from. You can also weigh the fleece now and mark that on the label to help you know exactly what you have and how much.

Store your raw and/or skirted fleece in their sealed bags in a climate-controlled environment. Do not let them get direct sun and do not let them get hot. If a fleece is subjected to extreme heat, it melts the lanolin (the natural oils from sheep skin) and will ruin the fleece.

Your fleece is now ready to be sold as a raw, skirted fleece, or it is ready to go on to processing, either by hand, or by mill. By following these guidelines about raising and caring for your sheep, as well as proper handling of the fiber, you can take your wool production from good to excellent and increase the quality and value of your fiber and fiber products.

Kat Ludlam has been homesteading in Colorado for 15 years now. She and her husband, Daniel, are the owners of Willow Creek Farm, where they breed specialty wool sheep, milk sheep, chickens, and crops that thrive in their location. They also own and run a custom fiber processing mill, Willow Creek Fiber Mill . Kat loves to feed her family from their land, and teach others to homestead as well. Read all of Kat’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.

Johnny Appleseed Organic Invitational


12 Organic Gardeners 

6 Growing Competitions

4 Grand Prize Options

Organic gardeners throughout the United States will have the opportunity to compete for prizes including $50,000 cash, a Bitcoin, a new electric vehicle and a small farm as the first-ever Johnny Appleseed Organic Invitational gets underway on Sun., Sept. 26. The launch date coincides with the birthday of John Chapman, the real life American frontiersman who inspired the Johnny Appleseed legend.

Presented in partnership with Mother Earth News, the contest is intended to showcase the skills of the nation’s top organic growers and provide a platform for them to share their knowledge. Video entries will be accepted through Nov. 30, 2021, with finalists selected in December and the competition itself set to take place during the 2022 growing season.

“Everyone acknowledges that organic food is healthier and better tasting, but there’s a pervasive myth that truly sustainable growing practices can’t produce an abundant enough yield to feed American families,” said Jeff Meyer, founder of Johnny Appleseed Organic. “The Johnny Appleseed Organic Invitational will prove that we can provide for everyone while producing food in a responsible, ecologically friendly manner.”

Growers selected for the competition will be among the most talented and experienced gardeners in the country, and will compete from home as permitted by their local growing season. It is free to enter the contest and no purchase is required.

Contestants will receive points for their placement in each competitive category, with a cumulative winner determined at the end of the contest. Categories include:


  • Heaviest tomato (as determined by certified scale)
  • Hottest pepper (Scoville scale)
  • Most beautiful flower arrangement in a 65 gallon grow bag (determined by social voting)
  • Heaviest sweet potato in a 65 gallon grow bag (as determined by certified scale)
  • Heaviest squash (any variety, as determined by certified scale)
  • Best organic gardening ‘hack’ (determined by social voting)

Each competitor chosen for the invitational will receive $1,000 in cryptocurrency, and the overall cumulative winner will receive their choice of grand prize options including $50,000 cash, one Bitcoin, a brand new Ford F-150 EV, a Kubota tractor with attachments and a restricted deed for a small farm at the Johnny Appleseed Organic Village, a sustainable living development nestled within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge near Folkston, GA.


A live leaderboard will run throughout the competition, and will feature multimedia content from the contestants, including tips and tricks for other home gardeners following the competition. Leaderboards will also be updated on and 

To learn more about the competition or submit your entry, visit Johnny Appleseed Invitational.


Since 1970, Mother Earth News has embraced the back-to-the land movement, concentrating on sustainable living topics such as organic gardening, do-it-yourself projects, renewable energy, green home building, natural health, and food preservation. Through its magazine, website, podcasts, live events and online learning, Mother Earth News inspires millions of people to live self-sufficient, healthier lives. From the organic farmer to the survivalist and the suburban dreamers longing to move to the country to the long-time rural dwellers who manage small acreage, Mother Earth News provides the “can do” information everyone needs to live a sustainable life.


Johnny Appleseed Organic is a green technology company focused on creating sustainable, environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional farm and garden products. In March 2021, they debuted ClimateGard™, an ethically derived, no-kill organic fertilizer infused with cutting-edge microbiology. They followed that up with ClimateYard™, a probiotic lawn and landscape formula designed to eliminate harmful runoff caused by traditional lawn products. The company also offers grafted apple trees genetically identical to the last surviving tree planted by John Chapman, the real-life American frontiersman behind the Johnny Appleseed legend, and is a leading authority in the carbon sequestering, food producing practice of Climate Farming™.

For interview opportunities, contact George Atchley (PR Coordinator, Johnny Appleseed Organic) at 904-386-2006.

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Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

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