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

A New Tiny Farm Life in Vermont

 Tiny House and Pups

After a decade long stint in the Southern United States, I’ve returned to the great Northern terrain of Vermont just in time for winter.  My husband and I have purchased 20 acres and a tiny house and are playing the game of starting from scratch all over again. The first snowfall has coated the landscape and our garlic made it into the ground just in time to rest.  This season of the year always finds my energy condensing back into my bones, bringing a heat into my core that was at one time stretched all the way to the sun. As I prepare myself for months of introspection and cabin fever, I can’t help but see this mirrored out into the farm organism on every level.  In order to experience the immense expansion of Spring, the world must take a deep inhale and set all of our minds to dreaming.

Forest in Snow

This mostly open landscape is begging of us to introduce new ecology and stratify the environment for productivity and habitat.  The land has been a heifer pasture for the last 35 years and boasts a soil to match. The ground was never too compacted by hooves or over foraged and a beautiful diversity of grasses and weeds carpet the pasture entirely.  The 4 acres of woods show some signs of being a hang out for cows and some work and some time undisturbed will help bring the breath back into the ground. A small pond that almost went dry during the drought of late summer has filled back up with the relentless rains of October and an occasional duck can be found quietly holding space.

Tiny House

With this blank slate we find ourselves trying to choose a path to follow.  We know we will grow vegetables and cut flowers like we have every year for some time now and Elliot has prepared some ground to do so.  We know we want to integrate perennials into our farm organism and want plant in such a way that the landscape feels inspired by the design.  The farm itself is a hill farm with our own perch resting right on top a massive ledge creating a flat terrace closest to the road. We have a small greenhouse to place before the snow gets deep and the ground freezes for the winter and will have laying hens arriving in February that will need somewhere to roost.  Ruminants are sure to follow when the ground thaws as we seem to always have a cow and some sheep rotating through our system.

Tiny House Kitchen

The tiny house itself brings a new element to the adventure for my small family.  How to use space, what to keep and what to donate-we have been spending some time reducing our life down to smaller and smaller pieces.  There is something absolutely liberating about removing clutter from your life. It is hard to imagine how many objects have made their way into your possession and how much energy each piece brings into your daily routine.  To shed some of these histories, even some of the more nostalgic stories, can refine one’s experienced reality to a more purposeful way of being.

Tiny House Loft Window

This process of elimination seems to benefit my mental health and spirit as the warmest place on the property is also reduced down to four small walls.  I’ve spent the better part of 2018 running around looking for my mind without any success and it seems to have settled here on this land, hopeful for some time to reconnect before a new year and new madness ensues.  We endured one of our hardest farming seasons to date and this time off from filling soil with seeds will be used to once again evaluate what brings us to this place of wanting to plant things and grow things and feed the people we love.  As we age with this practice our goals are different. One thing that remains the same is the hope that what we bring to the landscape will sustain it and us and this creation will add to the energy of ecological harmony the natural world invites us to replicate.

When I close my eyes I see the farm painted in berries, vines, trees, and tender plants; each archetypal being humming a tune whose notes attract an order and entice the natural world into collaboration.  I see animals, those who have trusted us with their care and their wild relatives, all heightening the sentience of our land and transforming our grasses and forages into stabilized fertility. My gratitude for my journey is never ending and being placed on this precious piece of Earth is a beautiful reminder of how far we’ve come. As the quiet cushion of snowfall and darkness slows down my body and fills my mind with thoughts, I remain eager to experience the natural and human community that will be built on this land from the dreams harvested of winter.

Darby Weaver has spent the last decade growing Biodynamic produce in the Southeast and teaching holistic and ecological methods to learners of all ages and backgrounds through articles, agriculture intensives, workshops, and lectures.  She has recently moved to the Northeast with her husband to begin a new venture on 20 acres in Wolcott, Vermont.

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.

Old World Skills Renewed


Old World Skills

The revitalization of the “Back to Basics” movement has brought with it the old world skills that the pioneers once used to survive, but with a modern-day twist. While no longer essential to survival, these skills are now being used by modern-day homesteaders to gain their freedom from dependence.

Skills such as preserving food, gardening, and raising animals were essential to the pioneers after they ventured westward in 1843. Fast forward hundreds of years and we now see another modern-day expansion; while not heading westward on the Oregon Trail but rather from cities to the country.

These skills once meant life and death for the pioneers, but today it is not as life threatening as it once was; but rather has become an asset to counter the rise of food prices and the addition of added chemicals, additives and preservatives to what we consume.

Food Preserving

The preserving of food has been around throughout history from the days of using the sun and wind to dehydrate food up to the invention of sealed tin cans by Peter Durand in 1810.

Most modern-day homesteaders are re-learning the old world skills of preserving food such as water bath or pressure canning, dehydration and curing for the sole purpose of eliminating their need to buy commercial products and the satisfaction of knowing where their food is coming from and exactly what was used in growing it.

Nowadays many homesteaders can tell you about the metallic “pop” that is heard after successfully preserving food; this metallic “pop” is like music in its own right.


While gardening itself, in my opinion hasn’t really decreased over the years, the way we garden has. As technology grew throughout the years commercial farmers and the home gardeners began to use chemicals to resist drought and increase the yield of their crop production; however, the modern homesteader has become leery of utilizing those chemicals and have chosen to go back to the earlier methods of the pioneers.

Having never had access to these kinds of chemicals the pioneers had to learn how to use what the Earth could provide, such as manure, crop rotation and companion planting; a perfect example is that of the Native Americans using the 3 sisters planting method which is a form of growing three different plants together so that are beneficial to each other.

In reverting back, the modern homesteader has developed many different kinds of beneficial methods based off of pioneer mentality, such as the “Back to Eden” method which is a no-till gardening method.

Utilizing the old world skills of gardening has begun to revitalize the homestead gardens into producing great results with less chemically infused food being consumed.


Pioneers had no choice but to raise their livestock on their own, barter or trade with their community for their meat. Sure, they had the opportunity for some wild game but the chances are that they had to rely more on their own animals than that of wild game to feed their families and to get a variety of meats.

Raising animals in my opinion is one of the harder old world skills, simply because they are a living, breathing things with their own temperaments, attitudes and personalities; because of this, there is so many things that you have to learn on how to care for, feed, and treat that when you have multiple animals on a homestead the knowledge gets to be quite extensive.

More and more cities are now beginning to allow the raising of some small livestock such as chickens, to be raised within the city limits. These changes have become a great advantage to the modern homesteader wishing to raise, consume and even sell by-products of or the animals themselves.

 “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” ~ Maimonides

This wonderful quote by Maimonides courtesy of Goodreads rings all too well to the modern-day homesteader; Anyone can buy food from a grocery store and feed themselves for a day; but learn these old world skills and you will feed yourself for a lifetime.

While we only touched on the surface of some of the old world skills, these are some of the most common that have found their way from the days of the pioneers to modern homesteads across the country.

I would really love to hear your opinion on what old world skills you have learned, so please take a moment and let us know by leaving us a comment.

Shane Floyd has been passionate about homesteading and sustainable living for more than 40 years. Now located in Oklahoma, he is using his experiences and passion to create his own sustainable homestead on 7 acres of land, using the same principles and ideals of his ancestors with a modern-day twist. Read about his adventures on the Floyd Family Homestead websiteor connect with Shane on FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestInstagramYoutubeand Amazon. Read all of Shane'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.

Thinking of Trying Turkeys? Some Tips For Raising a Small Flock

Mobile Turkey Shelter

Be it out of curiosity or naivety, we decided to do a trial run of raising a backyard flock of turkeys for a summer. We already had a large flock of backyard chickens that laid plenty of egg to supply our needs with extras left over to sell to friends and neighbours. So we were not complete novices when it came to poultry. But turkeys are not chickens. To borrow from Joel Salatin, the turkeyness of the turkey is not the same as the chickenness of the chicken. Beyond the basics of food, water, and shelter, these two species of birds have different behaviours and requirements.

As a result of our backyard turkey trial, we’ve learned some lessons and wish to pass along some key tips to anyone else who is considering raising their own Thanksgiving dinner. But before I proceed to the tips, I’ll quickly lay out the logistics of our turkey setup. First, we ordered six day-old turkey poults from a hatchery. Not the standard, big-breasted, flightless kind, but seven Artisan Gold turkeys, a heritage breed with a tendency to roam and roost. In essence, much of the qualities of a wild turkey. Second, for the first four weeks we kept the turkey poults in a brooder before moving them outdoors to a mobile shelter. Our final step was to open the door on the mobile shelter, allowing the turkeys to pasture on a fresh grasses and forbs within an electrified poultry fence. We then moved the mobile shelter and fence up and down the rows of our orchard. As a side note, their favourite edible was comfrey.

You Can Place Chicks and Poults Together in a Brooder

Turkeys are less resilient than chickens when very young, but they can benefit from the presence of a few chicks who can keep them company and show them the ropes. Both arrived as day-olds in the same box delivered from the hatchery. We kept the chicks and turkey poults together out of necessity; we only had the one brooder. This worked for us because we had a small number of each, eleven chicks and seven poults; and since the chicks were broiler birds, their growth was on par with the turkeys, at least while they shared the brooder.

From the start they were familiar with each other and huddled for warmth. Between the chicks and the brooder lamp, the poults could keep warm when the needed to. The more intrepid chicks showed the turkeys to the food and water. The birds also shared the same organic turkey grower feed, which meant extra protein for the chicks compared to their standard ration. They birds also shared water, which we fortified with apple cider vinegar and garlic. When they outgrew the brooder the chickens and turkeys went their separate ways. But our success rate was 100% - all the turkey poults and chicks survived their most vulnerable phase.

Turkeys Need a BIG Shelter

Turkeys take longer to grow, but they grow to be massive compared to chickens. For example, a broiler chicken processed at 8 weeks typically weighs 2.4kg and has put on 60 times its weight since a day old. Whereas an Artisan Gold turkey processed at 16 weeks (if it’s a female), weighs 6.6 kg and has put on 132 times its weight since a day old. A male, processed at 19 weeks, weighs 9.9kg and has put on 200 times its weight since a day old. Those bigger turkeys need a big space to grow. At a minimum, our heritage turkeys needed 4 square feet each by the time they grew to full size.

When they turkeys moved out of the brooder, they went into a 8 ft by 12 ft  mobile shelter that allowed them to eat fresh grasses. The shelter was on wheels, covered with poultry wire, and topped with a tarp for sun and rain protection. The roost area was elevated, accessed by a ramp, and had its own door and an additional layer of ¼ inch hardware cloth. The entire floor area of the shelter was open to the ground. Initially, the turkeys easily entered the roost area each night... until one day, they wouldn’t. We had made the doorway too small and needed to enlarge the opening. As they continued to grow, the space inside the roost was almost maxed out and the turkeys looked to roost elsewhere, which leads to tip #3...

Turkeys Like to Roost as High as They Can

Well, if they can fly, that is. Being a heritage breed, our turkeys could fly. While still young, they readily went into the roost area of their mobile shelter. But as they grew the turkeys wanted to roost higher off the ground. When they gained the freedom to roam about on a piece of pasture, they wanted to spend their nights on top of the roof. While they may have preferred being up so high, we did not like them being so exposed to predators and had to shoo them down each night and herd them into the shelter and then up onto the roost.

To curb this need to be high when they slept we tried trimming their wings. First, clipping only a single side, but they still managed to get up onto the roof. We trimmed the wings again, this time clipping the flight feathers on both wings. It made little difference. With a good running start, they could still manage to flap and scramble up the mobile shelter and onto the roof. We just accepted the fact that each night we needed to bring along a rake to shoo them off the roof. It was safer than leaving them exposed. And while they could scramble onto the roof, they never flew over the fencing.

So, in conclusion, if you wish to give raising a small flock of turkeys a try, don’t expect them to behave like chickens. You can expect them to grow large, need extra help when very young, and want to roost as high as they can - unless you opt for a big-breasted breed that can’t get airborne. And depending on how much energy you wish to expend caring for them, it may be your better bet.

In the end, we found it quite satisfying to raise, prepare, and consume our own turkeys. We will do it again.

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.

The ABCs of Homesteading: P is for Ponds and Preparedness

Pond Overflow Plan 

When I first started writing this blog series a few years back, I planned this post to be all about making ponds. This summer though, we had a climate reckoning on our homestead.

Climate Reckoning

From July 22 to August 21, we had 22.5 inches of rain brutalize landscape, bending tree limbs from the weight of water and testing the limits of our soil's water storage capacity. Shortly after that, we got a peripheral pounding from hurricanes Florence and Michael.

Mineral Maladies

After these events, everywhere I went I saw trees ad plants with signs of severe calcium, nitrogen, and other mineral deficiencies. In our vegetable garden, nitrogen disappeared and potassium and phosphorous rose to excessive amounts. The soil pH also dropped by about .5 throughout our landscape.

Our grape vines lost their leaves and went dormant for weeks in summer and then started putting on new leaf growth in mid-October. Some people's fruit trees blossomed as if it were spring.

Unexpected Outcomes

In other landscapes, where soil had obviously washed away in the flooding, loss of nutrients through leaching seemed a likely explanation for all those unhealthy plants. Yet, on our landscape, we only had erosion in two small areas which we quickly fixed.

For the past few weeks, I have been trying to dig deeper and understand how our soil could be so radically deprived of nutrients and our pH altered without any obvious erosion. If this was just a matter of nutrient leaching, then where did those nutrients go? They didn't make it into our lower pond or our collection swales as I would expect. They are not lurking deep within our soil because I tested our subsoil just in case.

My current line of thinking is that the nutrients might still be in our organic matter heavy soil, but are just not water soluble at the moment. Similar to how too much wood ash or bio-char can bind nitrogen in your soil, I suspect the heavy precipitation, coupled with the intense heat that followed, has caused nitrification and other variations of mineral binding.

Unfortunately, home soil tests can't tell me if I have inorganic nutrients stored in my soil. And, with the devastation across our state, the soil labs are swamped with more urgent tests to perform so my professional results are on hold.

Instead, I am now in the process of testing this theory with manual methods. Namely, I am using non-legume cover crops, the incorporation of uncomposted materials, and mycorrhizael inoculant to try to hyper-activate the biological processes that normally make nutrients available in soil. If I am right, I should see more nitrogen showing up in my at-home soil test in the next couple months.

I'm not a soil scientist. I study soil and experiment with techniques to maintain fertility because I must to grow food well (without industrial additives). I have enough experience now that my hunches usually pan out.

After this year, I am so thankful that I am not the sort who just applies lime and fertilizer like my soil test tells me. I actually understand the basics of how soil works and how plants uptake nutrients. As a result, my garden is coming back online faster than many others around my county. Still, even with my experience, this year has taught me something I believe will be critical in the coming years.

We Need a Whole New Level of Preparedness

Having your bug-out bag ready, keeping supplies on-hand for extended shelter-in place scenarios, and being skilled so you can mentally navigate and sustain yourself in emergencies are important. Building a resilient landscape, one that holds and directs water in floods and stores it for use in droughts, is necessary. Yet, in this new age of climate change, this kind of “static” preparedness will not be enough.

Regardless of the different beliefs on what causes climate change – we are unquestionably entering uncharted territory. There will be no ready answers for many of the challenges we will face on our homesteads. To succeed, we must be innovators and experimenters.

Modern homesteading preparedness requires us to understand our environment and recognize when -- and how -- it is changing. Then, we must respond to those changes using both wisdom and insight.

As scientists begin to understand how climate change is impacting our planet, models are being adjusted to reflect new knowledge. We need to do the same on our homesteads. As new knowledge becomes available, we need to incorporate it into our brains and use it to make informed decisions.

We need to understand how severe weather events will impact our soil and plant health and formulate preparedness plans to mitigate those effects. We need to predict what climate change means for our livestock. We have to reinforce our infrastructure to be ready for more violent weather.

We need to learn how to deal with more frequent extremes of cold, heat, rain, humidity, drought, dryness, and cloud cover. We need to follow the migration of plants and other species into  and out of our regions so we can use that information to predict and resolve challenges to our landscape. We need to learn from the experience of the people already on the forefront of devastating climate change.

Nurturing soil and planting a diverse range of perennial plants can help insulate our homesteads to a degree. Adding ponds and other water impounds can go a long way toward adding water resilience. Yet, this year has shown me though that these steps are a good starting point, not the finish line.

Our climate and our planet are rapidly evolving and as homesteaders, we must too.

Homestead Ponds

As a first step toward preparing your landscapes for future weather events, let's talk about ponds.

What is a Pond?

Ponds, swales, rain depressions, and bogs are all degrees of the same thing. They are basically devices for holding water in your landscape. The big difference between a pond and these other forms of water catchment is that ponds hold water above ground and the other tools sink it into the earth.

Basically, a pond is a sealed bowl. Swales and such are funnels. The process for making these different kind of water impoundments is roughly the same. With a pond though, you'll need to use some method to “seal” your bowl.

Here are some basic tips to help you plan your pond.

Tip 1: Site your Pond for Sufficient Water Catchment

Irrigation Pond Lined

In order to fill a pond, that water will have to flow into it from somewhere. Here are some ideas to consider.

• Place ponds at the low point in your property to catch all the uphill flow.
• Place ponds midway down a slope to catch uphill rain run off. Then you can use your pond to gravity feed water to things lower down slope like gardens.
• Place ponds near a roof for catchment.*
• Use hardscape areas like driveways and sidewalks as catchment.*
• Use gray water to fill your pond.*
• Use a hose, spring, or creek to fill your pond.

*For these kinds of catchment, consider using a plant based or other filtration system before that water gets to your pond.

Tip 2: Calculate Your Rain Water Catchment

In all of these scenarios, rain will add water to your pond. An inch of rain falling on a square foot of area will produce 0.62 gallons of water.

If you had a 1000 square foot roof as a catchment area, that would give you 620 gallons of water every time you got an inch of rain. If you had 42 inches of rain in average year, that would be 26,040 gallons of water per year. You'd just need to direct that water with gutters, pipes, or ground slopes to get it to your pond.

Additionally, your pond will catch rain. If your pond also has 1000 square feet of surface area, then between your roof and pond, you'd collect 52,080 gallons of pond water annually. Also, if your pond receives run off from other uphill areas, that will also impact the water flow into your pond.

Tip 3: Calculate Fill Time from Flowing Water Sources

If you are using running water source to fill your pond, calculate your rate of flow to figure out how quickly you can fill your pond. Time how long it takes to fill a 5-gallon bucket from your water source. If it takes you 2.5 minutes to fill a 5 gallon bucket, then your rate of fill is 30 seconds per gallon. If you have a 5000 gallon pond, that means it will take you roughly 42 hours to fill your pond.

I personally wouldn't use a well to fill a pond larger than a few gallons on a regular basis. But if you do, make sure you're water recharge rates necessary to support your needs. Also, keep in mind public water costs money and takes a lot of environmental resources to produce.

Tip 4: Make Sure Your Catchment is Sufficient

Regardless of which fill method you use, you need to make sure your water catchment or fill source is sufficient for your planned pond size. You can use online calculators or just do the mathi.

Rectangular Pond: Water Volume = length (feet) X width X average depth X 7.43 gallons/cu. foot = GALLONS

Oval Pond: Water Volume = 0.8 X ( length (feet) X width X average depth X 7.43 gallons/cu. foot) = GALLONS

Lakes = surface area (in acres) X average depth X 326,000 gallons/acre-foot = GALLONS

Tip 4: Check Your Legal Regulations

Legal regulations will also likely dictate what you are allowed to do on your property, e.g. your state might own the water that runs from your spring or stream, the city might regulate water catchment or digging activities. Find out what's allowed before you make final plans. 

Tip 5: Include a Shallow End

If you plan to use this for livestock or wildlife, include a shallow end. Without a shallow end to go in and out, some water fowl may drown. Pollinators also need shallow places to drink from your pond.

Tip 6: Include a Deep End

If you want to catch lots of water for irrigation, then the deeper you go, the more water you can hold in a smaller area (assuming catchment rates work). If you are overwintering fish, many of them will need deeper water to avoid being frozen if your pond ices over. Deeper water can also provide predator protection for free-range domesticated water fowl.

Tip 7: Manage Mud

If erosion happens on your property, then mud is likely to end up in your pond. Either plan to dredge your pond often. Or, limit erosion up stream from your pond using plants and debris.

Tip 8: Aerate and Filter Appropriately

A continuous flow of bubbling water (using a bubbler or a brook) may be needed to provide sufficient oxygen to fish. If you want clear water for aesthetic purposes, you'll need to factor in some kind of filtration system as well.

If you are catching water purely for irrigation, you may only need to filter when pumping water out. Aeration may also be unnecessary depending on how often you use the water.

Tip 9: Anticipate Overflow

This year, we learned first hand how much damage pond overflow can do in a bad storm. Our pond abuts our driveway. We use a draw down pipe that flows into a creek to keep the pond well below the level of our driveway.

This summer, that draw down pipe got plugged up and failed. Then we got 5 inches of rain in just a few hours, and lost half the gravel on our driveway when the pond overflowed onto it. We had a larger emergency draw down pipe too. But, the flooding took out our dock and we had to swim to get to it. 

When you plan your design you need to direct where excess water will go. If your pond is perfectly level, then water will run off in all directions. If your pond has a low point around it's perimeter, called a spillway, water will flow in that direction. You can use a draw down pipe to lower water at will, or automatically, before it reaches the spillway. Whichever method you use, good maintenance and monitoring are also key!

Tip 10: Talk to Pond Owners in Your Area

Depending on your terrain, other considerations may dictate the shape and size of your pond. The kind of soil you have, underground impediments, and more may impact your choices.

A good way to get started with planning your shape is to talk to other people in your area who have ponds to find out what factors influenced their choices.

Tip 11: Hire a Professional Excavator

Small ponds can be dug by hand using basic equipment like a shovel, digging bar, and wheelbarrow. Large ponds, though, usually require excavation equipment. It takes a while to get good at properly digging ponds. So, consider hiring a professional operator to do your digging.

Tip 12: Seal Appropriately

You will need to seal your pond somehow. Depending on the porosity of your soil and the rate and regularity of your water flow, you may be able to seal it naturally by vibrating the soil with heavy equipment or tamping.

Alternately, you may have to install a pond liner or use other methods for sealing your pond. For aesthetic ponds, plan your design to hide your liner using bog areas and rock features.

On our homestead, our spring fed pond is naturally sealed. It's at the low point in our property and was already boggy at the outset. For my rain fed ponds, higher on our property, in rockier soil, pond liners were necessary.

Tip 13: Predict Pond Filling Times

Depending on your water catchment method, filling your pond can take months. For example, with one of our rain fed ponds, we finished it just before a drought. Based on our planned catchment and our rain averages, we had expected it to fill in 4 months. However, given our drought conditions, it took 7 months to fill.

If you need your pond filled ASAP, then you may need to consider alternate filling methods if your normal catchment isn't sufficient.

Tip 14: Plant Quickly

If you are making a living pool with plant bogs and floating plants, add your plants quickly to begin filtering water and encouraging biological life. Start with as many full-size plant as you can for best results. And, consider using temporary filtration methods until your plants fill in.

Tip 15: Expect Pond Maintenance

A pond is not a fix it and forget it kind of thing. It needs maintenance to keep it's shape, address erosion, maintain the balance of life, and more. Keep a close eye on your pond for the first year to establish your methods for maintenance.

Do inspections before and after heavy rains and make corrections as necessary. Droughts also impact your pond. Keep an eye on fill levels and consider topping off ponds during droughts to keep your pond liners covered for UV protection and to keep your natural seal intact.

Tip 16: Start Small

frog pond lined

Before you tackle a large pond, make a few small ones to get the basics down. My first frog pond was made using my hose, a galvanized bucket, some scavenged rocks, top soil from my yard, and a water lily plant from the hardware store.

My latest frog pond design is a bit more sophisticated. It is fed from a dry creek bed, that gushes when it rains, where water passes through a rock field and then a mulch field for filtration. Then, it hits a lined, in-ground pond with a bog area full of cattails, lily pads, water mint, and water hyacinth. A slate spill way overflows to series of three rain depressions that then outlet to the edible landscape areas in my garden.

Once you get started with ponds, you'll start to find lots of places to tuck them in your landscape to increase biodiversity and beauty. Start small and work your way up, increasing your pond size and your skills as you go!

Good luck with your pond building and your climate change preparedness!


Tasha Greer spent several years “practicing” homesteading in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina in 2014. Together with her partner Matt Miles, she raises goats, poultry, pigs, herbs, worms, and maintains an extensive edible landscape.  For an up to date list of Tasha's current works visit her 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.

Chicken Behavior: The Dust Bath

Chicken Dust Bath

To hear the words "dust bath" together seems contradictory, yet this is a very important piece of poultry behavior to help them clean themselves. Exhibited by the chicken rolling and kicking within a dip in the ground, or a provided space for birds that don't get the opportunity to free-range, the act of covering themselves with dirt is actually a method to rid themselves of problem pests.

The Importance

Having an area to take these dust baths is extremely valuable for chickens, in that it is shown to reduce external parasites that commonly plague poultry, such as lice and mites. In warm Summer months, there is the added benefit of providing a chance for the bird to cool down. While it may appear to be a frenzied action as you watch on, this behavior is noted by chicken keepers to signify a happy bird!  As a backyard chicken owner over the years myself, I came to know each flock on a personal level, and studied their actions daily. I noted that they appeared to be in their most relaxed state while dust bathing, showing contentedness as they closed their eyes after a good roll.

The Process

Dust baths begin naturally with the bird approaching a spot of loose soil, scratching the area as if they were foraging. They scratch the dirt out of their chosen spot, creating an oval shaped dip in the ground. Depending on the weather, they tend to select a sunny place for cool days, or a shaded area when it is hot. The chicken will then lower themselves into the hole they've made, taking a position that resembles laying.

Leaning to one side, they will use their leg to kick dirt onto their back. The chicken will then straighten up and puff their feathers, shaking the dirt around in an attempt to cover themselves fully. During this time, a chicken will also rub the side and back of their head in the dirt as well. If the area lacks loose dirt at any point, they will use their beak to pull outside dirt into the hole near their chest.

This process can last for a good deal of time as the bird repeats the process of kicking, rolling, and shaking the dirt on themselves. When they are finished, they may close their eyes and remain relaxed in place, or they may stand up and go about foraging once again.

The Homemade Dust Bath

In the event your chickens are unable to free range, or live in an area with hard-packed clay that makes it difficult for them to find loose soil, consider providing a homemade dust bath mixture for them! Start by selecting a deep container to put the mix in, with short enough sides the chicken can hop onto. Examples of containers include old tires, kiddie pools, and even litter boxes. With larger flocks, a kiddie pool is an ideal option, as it allows multiple birds to bathe instead of fighting for a small spot.

While recipes and measurements for the mixture vary, the basic ingredients are loose dirt and sand. Other ingredients include wood ash, food-grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE), and dried herbs such as Lavender or Mint. Caution should be taken when using Diatomaceous Earth if the mixture is too dusty, as it can irritate the nasal passage of humans when breathed in. Be sure to follow the directions and precautions on the package label.

A commonly used recipe for the provided dust bath is:

• 2 parts loose soil
• 1 part sand
• 1 part cooled wood ash (wood only, not from burning charcoal or garbage fires)
• 1/2 part Diatomaceous Earth.
• OPTIONAL: 1/2 part dried/powdered herbs (Lavender, Mint, Rosemary, and Sage)

While it is an important action to the chicken, it can also be enjoyable to watch from a distance, especially for someone who has not seen the behavior before. Consider the benefits to your chicken's health and well-being by ensuring they have a place to dust bathe regularly.

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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

4 Perfect Dog Breeds for Your Homestead

 Border Collie Dog

Border Collie (c) JaneFlickr

Life on the homestead can get hard, especially if you’re on your own. So have you ever considered getting a working dog to help you? Chances are you want animals that can provide some worth but can also be a pet.

In this article I discuss 4 different dog breeds which make the perfect homestead dog.

German Shepherd Lab Mix

First on my list is the German Shepherd Lab Mix. As their name suggests they are a crossbred dog, with a German Shepherd and Labrador as its parent. German Shepherds were originally bred to be used as working dogs with high levels of intelligence. Their temperament is best described as ‘protective’ and they will guard anything they regard as their own. As for Labradors, they were originally bred for gun dogs, so they would retrieve anything their master had shot. Because they were bred to retrieve their temperament is very obedient.

When you combine these two breeds it means you get an intelligent, obedient guard dog that is very active. This is what makes them perfect for a homestead. Due to their level of intelligence they can easily be taught basic commands such as stay and recall. Also due to the German Shepherds protective instinct, they will also help to keep any livestock or chickens safe from predators.

Not only are they ideal as working dogs (when outside roaming around your homestead) but they also make fantastic pets. So if you have a young family they will be even better suited to you. They get on very well with children and will turn into a loving, loyal family member.

Border Collie

Border Collies were initially bred as herding dogs to manage flocks on the Scottish highlands. They are incredibly intelligent, loyal and very hard working. If you lead a busy outdoor life, the Border Collie will have more than enough energy to keep up with you.

You can expect your Collie to be inquisitive, alert and agile. In terms of size your Border Collie will grow up to 22 inches tall and weigh up to 45 pounds. Females will be slightly smaller at 20 inches and up to 40 lbs.

In terms of life on the homestead, they make the perfect companion. They will happily roam outside all day, in all weather conditions. Their thick double coat, will keep them warm in all weather conditions, so they are ideal for those of you in the northern US with more rain.

What makes them ideal for the homestead is their high level of intelligence. They can very quickly learn advanced commands such as guard and go to a specific location.  They would be the ideal companion for larger homesteads.

King Shepherd

As their name suggests the King Shepherd is the king of all shepherds. It is a crossbreed between the Shiloh Shepherd and a German Shepherd; meaning you get a large, intelligent dog who is extremely loyal. Many people are attracted to them because they are eager to please their owners, which means they have even been used as service dogs.

Fully grown you can expect males to reach up to 29 inches and 150lbs and females to reach 27 inches and 110 lbs. This makes for a large, intimidating presence on your property. They are ideal for your homestead if you’re mainly worried about security and want a working dog who can also be kept as a loving family member.

4. Kangal

The Kangal is perhaps the ultimate homestead dog. They were bred and developed on Turkish mountains to defend the large packs of sheep from wolves. In fact just 2 Kangal dogs can protect a flock of up to 200 sheep! They are even being used to protect flocks of chickens now and replacing roosters.

You shouldn’t bring this dog inside; they are a true working dog and have yet to be domesticated. If you’re looking for a dog to help out around the homestead and become a part of the family; the Kangal isn’t the dog for you.

Where Kangals excel is at perimeter control. They will happy patrol the perimeter of your homestead and keep predators away. This is perfect if you have free ranging chickens. They are extremely low maintenance, and for a large dog require a surprisingly little amount of food. This makes them ideal if you’re on a tight budget yet want a large intimidating dog’s presence.


I hope that one of these dogs meets the specific needs of your homestead. They can become an invaluable tool to keep your homestead safe from predators; some breeds can even become a loving family member. Remember though not all breeds should be integrated indoors and live with you; especially the Kangal.

David Woods is a carpenter, outdoorsman, and author with more than 30 years of professional woodworking experience. He is the author of best-seller How to Build a Log Home and has educated more than half a million people on how to build a log cabin via his blog, Log Cabin Hub. Connect with him on Facebook, and 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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

A Dream Fulfilled


It was a misty September morning when I finally got to partake in an event I had been waiting years to attend. The evening before my husband and I packed up and headed from Northern Ohio down to Southern Pennsylvania. The trip was amazing the views of the mountains were stunning. As we arrived at our hotel, just outside of Seven Springs, the anticipation began to build within me. We settled in for the night, we sadly slept very little, though the hotel was gorgeous the beds were inhumanly stiff. The next morning, we quickly headed to breakfast, then subsequently loaded up our luggage and headed to the big event. After a thirty-minute drive we arrived at our destination! Where were we? 

Finally There!


The Mother Earth News Fair! We parked the truck way upon the hill and began the slow descent to the conference center. A brisk walk, which was luckily all downhill, was just what we needed to loosen up our aching backs. As we entered the front doors we searched for a place to trade in our tickets for our VIP passes. After 30 minutes or so, we found a gentleman that was able to find us our passes. With passes in hand, we headed straight for the book store. To look around and buy our passes to the cheese making class taught by my idol Gianaclis Caldwell. Here is when we made a huge mistake, we purchased six books and some shirts! Now we would have to lug the books around with us all day – uggghhh. What were we thinking? We found ourselves walking amongst the vendors learning, chatting, and experiencing a ton. Snapping photos along the way of a few great items that I thought could make great blog options for Community Chickens.

Wholly Cheese


Before we knew it the time had come to go make some cheese - Wahoo! We headed down to the classroom and found seats rather quickly. There she was standing before me, Mrs. Caldwell! The class did not go off without a hitch, the electric burners kept blowing the outlets, leaving Gianaclis to make do to say the least. She was a trooper, standing before the class finding a way to make the best out of the situation. We did all end up getting to make cheese but honestly, I do not think anyone would have cared either way. It was so much fun just to hang out with, listen, and be taught by someone of her caliper. She even took time to sign books, for anyone who had them, of course I had four….lol….she signed each one! 

From Mist to Rain


After her class we headed off to the VIP lounge for lunch, wow does Mother Earth News know how to put on a lunch! We ended our day with a bus ride back to the truck as the mist became a rain, it was like the sky felt my heart at that moment.A bit sad to go but also excited to head towards home. A fabulous uneventful trip home finished off a perfect weekend for us. If you haven’t had the opportunity to head to a Mother Earth News Fair, make time, it will be well worth it! 

You can follow me on FacebookInstagramWebsite, and Twitter. Grit MagazineMother Earth News MagazineCommunity Chickens BlogHomestead Hustle Blog

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.

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