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

Roosters and Neighbors


Once upon a time, the morning call of the rooster used to be an integral part of people’s routine. Sadly, many have grown so detached from nature, traditional farming and rural life that they regard the rooster’s crow as a “nuisance."

Let me just edge in a quick word and say how unfair I think this is. If you live in the suburbs or on the outskirts of a city, and are trying to set up a small urban homestead, any complaint from any negatively-minded neighbor can be a dream-killer. If they keep a dog that annoys you by barking all day, or if their noisy lawn mower drives you crazy, you can hardly do anything. But if your rooster crows morning and evening, your neighbors can file a complaint and make you get rid of it, because it’s considered “livestock”.

So how do you reduce this possible source of friction with your neighbors?

Some people choose not to keep a rooster at all, but only a few laying hens, and replace them as they age. It can be a sensible approach in some circumstances, unless your neighbors are so fussy that even the clucking of a laying hen gets on their nerves. But keeping a girl-only flock is a disappointment if you have been planning on breeding your chickens and rearing your own tiny balls of fluff every year.

Choose your breed carefully. Some breeds are distinctly noisier, more dominant and, for lack of a better expression, cockier than others. Brahmas, Cochins, Wyandottes, Plymouth Rock and Australorps are known for their docility, and the roosters are relatively quiet, family-friendly, and easy to handle.

Keep just one. Two roosters in one flock will try to out-crow and in general to compete with each other; one will call, the other will answer, and so it goes on. If you only have one rooster of a quiet breed, he’ll give a couple of calls a day to assert his dominance over the hens, and that’s it.

Rooster collars. If all else fails, check out the option of no-crow rooster collars. They are easy to put on and do the bird no harm, but muffle the crowing sound. We haven’t personally tried this, but friends of ours have had great success in using them.

My last suggestion is broader and less technical; try to cultivate a closer and friendlier relationship with your neighbors. Give them a few fresh eggs when you can, invite their children to feed your chickens or see baby chicks when you have them. Usually, after people have been your guests, tasted your home-grown omelet, and played with your cute fluffy newly-hatched chicks, they are unlikely to complain over something that isn’t absolutely disruptive. In fact, they might even want to get some chickens themselves!

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

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The ABCs of Homesteading: O is for Organic and Beyond

This is the fourteenth post in the ABCs of Homesteading series. Click here to read the rest of the series.

Three Year Comparison 

I know I am going to disappoint some people with my next statement, but here goes: I am not an organic homesteader.

As far as I am concerned, “organic” is just a stepping-stone toward something that is actually sustainable. Sometimes, getting hung up on being organic is an impediment for real progress toward an even better goal like creating an ecologically-sound, fully-sustainable, closed-loop system.

Why Not Organic?

I don't have the room in this article to go into how little meaning that term “certified organic” has related to sustainability or human and planet welfare. But, I highly recommend that the next time you pick up organic produce from your chain grocery store, do a little research to find out about the company that grew it -- like how they enrich the soil, what they do improve the environment, do they pay their workers a living wage, etc.

Make sure to dig a little deeper than their home page and check secondary sources. If you can't find the information you need...well, by all means give them a call. Any farm worth the implied intent of that word “organic” should be willing to tell you about their practices and invite you to judge for yourself if their food is healthfully grown and good for the planet.

The Closed-Loop Alternative

So, if organic isn't good enough, what is?

In a word...Permaculture.

There are a ton of different ways to think about permaculture. For a short explanation, though, I am going to borrow Geoff Lawton's words. Permaculture is “[a] system of design that provides all of the needs for humanity in a way that benefits the environment.” Some people also use the mantra “Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share” to sum up permaculture.

Rather than a 9 page list of organic approved products and a hefty fee to be certified organic, permaculture has a short list of guidelines you can use to provide food and energy while creating vital, diverse ecosystems and improving the quality of life in for others in your area.

You can check out the full list of permaculture principles here.

Personally, I see permaculture as using what you've got, or can easily access locally, to make something much better and long-lasting. It's about one-time inputs to create perpetual, diversity-promoting, human and wildlife supporting ecosystems that will keep getting better with only minor occasional tweaks.

For example, we had a severe shortage of soil on our land when we bought it. Our property is heavily sloped. The two acres that are cleared were left unplanted for years and became severely eroded as a result. Our land was such a dust bowl that even broom straw wouldn't grow on it.

We started buying bags of organic compost, amending holes for planting, and trying to nurse things to grow. But after lots of failures, we realized we needed organic matter on a scale we simply couldn't afford at organic prices. We also hated bringing home all those one-time use plastic bags that we just kept sending to the landfill.

We did some research about local cow manure. We found a source that could deliver by the 20 yard truck loads. The cattle this manure came from were not living on a feedlot. They were living on good-sized pastures most of the year. In winter and early spring, they were herded into a feed lot twice a day for supplemental feeding and this resulted in accumulations of manure for that part of the year.

These cows did get some antibiotics when they needed them. But as they weren't living in close-confinement, they were not routinely dosed. Their supplemental feed contained GMOs and other toxic stuff. But a good part of their feed came from untreated grass in pasture and minimally (or not) sprayed, baled hay.

Was this manure perfectly organic? No. However, it was locally produced and the price was right. Also, if these cattle farmers don't find uses for all this excess manure by redirecting it to areas that will benefit from the application of this organic matter, then it will just become a pollution problem for all the people downstream from them.

After doing this research, buying organic compost at the price equivalent of $81 a cubic yard that was shipped in by truck from across the country, when we can buy the same volume of manure for $18 locally and be plastic bag free, just didn't make sense to us.

We had truck loads of manure, along with straw, and hard wood mulch delivered. Straw and wood mulch are also by-products of other industries in our area – namely grain farming and logging. We used these three items and lots of cardboard and paper that we rescued from being recycled using more energy intense methods (e.g. shipping it to China to have it turned into more packaging) to sheet mulch our growing areas. We also inoculated our sheet mulch with buckets of soil from our forests to encourage biological life in a hurry.

Here's how we did it: 

We started by soaking the ground, then applying a double layer of cardboard and paper.

We laid down about 4 inches of loose straw, topped that with two inches of manure and repeated that twice more. (When you put the manure on the straw, the straw flattens out to more like two inches. At the end we had about 12 inches of new organic matter piled over the cardboard.)

We scattered handfuls of native soil, dug up from under the trees in our wooded areas, on the top layer of manure.

We soaked all of that until it was wet all the way to the cardboard.

We topped that off with 4 inches of double-shred hardwood.

We soaked weekly if rain was insufficient to do the job.

We waited about three months and started planting in our sheet mulched areas by moving aside the hardwood mulch and digging holes in the mix below.

We've tried lots of formulas and variations of sheet mulching. This iteration has proved the most affordable and effective for us. In my experience, though, if you have air spaces in your sheet mulch layers, such as using straw or dried leaves, and top everything off with double-shred hardwood, it's hard to go wrong. Those air spaces and that insulative woody layer seems to bring on the biological and bacterial decomposers in a hurry.

Being practical and local instead of purely organic gave us the ability to go from this:

Before Permaculture 2014 

To this:

After Permaculture 2017 

Of course, we did other things like dig rain depressions and swales, build hugelkulturs, and make good use of pioneering plants that seemed to want to help us build soil (e.g. taprooted Curly Dock and Hairy Cat's Tongue). We chose appropriate plants for their locations and bombed our place with comfrey and cover crops to use as green manure. We also let ducks roam free to add constant fertility to our landscape. We used pigs, goats, and chickens strategically to work and fertilize our land. We added infrastructure that helped to stabilize our hillsides and create microclimates within our landscape. These things were all part of the permaculture design plan we created to help guide our work and actions and make good productive use of our resources.

This near total transformation of our land happened in under three years and would have been impossible if we'd tried to use strictly organic inputs rather than focus on using local inputs. Sourcing locally also helped us build relationships within our community that have led to access to more resources at lower costs and expedited our progress even more.

Now, our place is so far beyond organic, that the idea of wanting to be organic seems laughable. You don't need to buy some special brand of approved fertilizer that is developed in a factory and shipped around the world when you create a self-renewing, human-supporting ecosystem in your backyard. And honestly, buying products that are packaged in plastic and come by way of fossil fuel driven supply chains isn't my idea of organic at all! Using local materials, produced in transparent ways so I can see for myself how they are produced makes a whole lot more sense to me.

Supplemental Feed

Now, I know some people are still going to be stuck on the idea of organic animal feed. So, I want to address that question head on. Similar to all the arguments made above, I think buying industrial organic feed is more harmful overall than buying not-so-organic feed from your local grain mill.

If we had a local, organic feed mill, then I'd certainly try to support to the extent that my budget would allow. But as it stands now, I'd have to make a six hour trip to get organic feed that is not manufactured in international factories. Since I drive a Honda Fit and can't carry much feed at a time, I'd have to make that trip a lot. And quite frankly, I just can't routinely spend six hours in a car to go get animal feed.  That's just not sustainable for me!

Instead I spend all that time I save, on not making organic feed pilgrimages, growing food for my animals to help make deeper cuts into my dependence on supplemental feed. For example we use all those ideas I mentioned in F is for Fodder and E is for Edible Landscapes. We also free-range our animals in our woods and strategically throughout the areas we have planted. We feed our pigs eggs and chicken and duck parts. We feed our chickens pork scraps. We give our pigs and chickens leftover dairy products from our goats. We use the pigs, chickens, and ducks to clear and fertilize more areas of our property for growing high quality, year-round goat and other livestock forage. The more we plant, the more insects and volunteer plants show up on our landscape creating even more food sources for us and our animals.

Our way is not perfect, but each year we get closer to a closed-loop system and the point when supplemental feed won't even be necessary. And we get there faster by spending our time on the homestead and our money where it does the most long-term benefit for us and our community.

Warning on Non-Organic One-time Inputs

Now, not all local sources are equal. I heard a story about someone putting old hay on their edible landscape and having everything die from the herbicide in the hay. I can't say for sure, but my guess would be this either happened because the hay came from a new hay field that was heavily sprayed in preparation for planting or the hay field had been sprayed with Grazon.

Grazon is extremely good at eradicating weeds. But even all the non-organic farmers around here avoid it unless they are about to lose their hay fields to Buttercup infestations. They are also cautious about feeding their own animals Grazon sprayed hay. I only know this because I talk to the farmers who supply our not-quite organic products.

When you work with local suppliers, you can simply ask what chemicals were used and then decide whether those are OK for your one-time inputs or not.

Now that we've talked about going way beyond organic, if you go through the earlier posts in this blog series, I think you'll see that so much of what we have already covered have been rife with loop-closing connections. Even in my last post N is for Nutrition, I mentioned how I use ferments we make from products grown thanks to the manure and service of our animals to then keep our animals healthy.

There so many incredible, workable solutions coming from the permaculture community that you really should spend an immense amount of time checking it all out. But for me, the thing that really sets permaculture apart from other homesteading systems is its emphasis on slowing, spreading, and storing water in the landscape. So, if you want to start to super power your garden pest protection and improve your landscape's hydrological health, then stay tuned for our next installment The ABCS of Homesteading: P is for Ponds!

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 at the reLuxe Ranch. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. Tasha also is also a contributing author for The Grow Network. Find Tasha at The Way Back , reLuxe Renderings, 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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The ABCs of Homesteading: M is also for Mushrooms


This is the twelfth post in the ABCs of Homesteading series. Click here to read the rest of the series.

If you read my last post, The ABCs of Homesteading: M is for Meat, then you know I am not a vegetarian. However, I do care deeply about our environment and I know that meat is a luxury to be enjoyed in limited quantities. So, to supplement our diets, we also grow mushrooms – shiitake mushrooms in particular.

1. Growing your own shiitake at home is easy. Here's what you need to do.

2. Get hardwood tree limbs that are about 5-7 inches in radius and cut them into manageable lengths.

3. Drill holes in a diamond pattern about with each hole being about 6 inches apart.

4. Inject sawdust spawn into the holes or hammer dowel spawn into the holes.

5. Cover your spawn-filled holes with melted wax to make sure the logs don't dry out while your shiitake mycelium is colonizing your logs.

6. Stack your logs in dappled shade in a crib-fashion to allow good air circulation and easy watering.

7. Water like you would a garden until the logs begin to pin (e..g tiny mushroom heads start popping up in your logs).

8. When pinning starts, either soak your logs in a tub of water to cause a flush of fruiting. Or, for strains that don't like force-fruiting, keep them extra moist while the mushrooms do their thing.

Stand your ready-to-fruit logs up so you can get mushrooms on all sides and then watch and wait for mushrooms to explode. Some people will also take pinning logs indoors to make sure mushrooms don't get soaked in big rains or grow slow if the weather changes radically.

Harvest mushrooms while they are firm and still growing to make sure you don't have too much competition with other shiitake lovers like insects and animals.

Cook and enjoy!

It really is that easy. However, there are a couple other things you might want to know to make the process cost-effective and highly productive.

Sourcing your Limbs

In our part of North Carolina, trees are abundant. Since logging companies are generally not interested in the limbs of trees, there are secondary wood handlers who go into logged areas and convert the limbs to firewood or mulch. You can often make an arrangement with some of these limb processors to have them deliver whole limbs, roughly 5-9 inches in diameter to your homestead for a reasonable price. In our area, this is about $75 per load. One load is more than enough for our personal use and we convert any extra or damaged limbs to firewood.

Limbs should be fresh cut so that they have not already been colonized by other species of fungus. In summer, we only accept limbs from trees cut within the previous six weeks. In winter, there is less concern about fungus competition. So, we might take limbs that have been down as long as 10-12 weeks if they were cut while the trees were dormant.

Aging Fresh Cut Logs for Best Myceliation

If you happen to get same day service, then you will want to age your limbs about 4-6 weeks to allow some of the sap to dry. Living trees have natural resistance to being colonized by mycelium. By aging your logs before you inoculate them, you increase the odds of successful myceliation, e.g. the development of all those lovely little thread-like roots that draw nutrients from your log to make mushroom fruits.

Cutting Your Limbs to Size

When the limbs are delivered, you'll need to use a saw or chainsaw to cut them into more manageable lengths. The length of the log really depends on what you can lift and handle. We cut ours to 4-5 feet in length because this is what fits in our bathtub for soaking. This size also makes stacking and standing up easy. But, we've got good backs and can handle heavy loads. Often at Shiitake workshops, logs will be cut to 2-3 feet in length so that log keepers who are not in the habit of lifting 50 pound loads can still handle the logs. So, go with the limb length that is most comfortable for you.

You also want to use the tree types that work best for your selection of shiitake. In general, our favorite is red oak for most strains of shiitake. The bark tends to hold up longer which means the logs stay moist with less watering on our part, giving the mycelium a better start. However, you can also have good success with white oak, sugar maple, ironwood, alder, sweet gum, and American beech.i

Choose the Right Shiitake for your Conditions

Just like with vegetables in your garden, different strains of shiitake will do better in different climates. In our area, we have a lot of variation in our climate from year to year. We hedge our bets by growing cold, hot, and all-weather shiitake strains.

Good retailers will give you lots of detail on the best growing conditions and substrate (e.g. which kind of tree limbs) for each strain of shiitake. They will also explain any special procedures for inoculation and for care of for your logs to achieve the best results.

Choose the Right Tools for your Spawn Selection

You will want to use high quality drill bits for drilling your logs. Depending on whether you are using plug spawn or sawdust spawn, your drill bit size will vary. Good retailers will tell you the drill bit size and style that will work best for the spawn you choose.

Additionally, if you plan to inoculate logs annually as we do, consider investing in specialized tools that can literally cut your workload down to less than 1/10th of the time it would take to make do with lesser equipment. High-speed drills, specialized drill bits, and inoculation tables are one time purchases that can last a life-time with good care and make growing mushrooms on logs a pleasure rather than a pain.

Care for your Logs as you would a Vegetable Garden

The number one mistake new shiitake growers tend to make is to neglect their logs. Shiitake spawn is pretty resilient so even without care you might get some crop. However to get reliable shiitake production, you need to water your logs regularly, keep in dappled sunlight, watch for pinning and water or soak as needed, and then check your mushrooms regularly to harvest shiitakes at their peak.

In extreme dry conditions, you may need to cover your logs with plastic sheeting and keep moist or water more often. You can use a greenhouse in winter to expedite myceliation and force fruit during the shoulder seasons. However, in our experience, shiitake logs really love spending lots of time with other living trees in a forested area. Though we do use our greenhouse at times to ensure year-round production, we do most of our production outdoors in our wooded mushroom grotto.

Eat Shiitake Regularly for Good Health

Shiitake are a super food in my opinion. Not only do they taste amazing, but they are loaded with good nutrition. They are high in Pantothenic Acid, Vitamin B6, Niacin, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Selenium, Riboflavin, and fiber.ii Why buy supplements when you can just grow and eat your own shiitake at home?

We'll talk a bit more about staying healthy on the homestead in the next installment of The ABCS of Homesteading: N is for Nutrition Management. But until then, enjoy your shiitake!

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 at the reLuxe Ranch. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. Tasha also is also a contributing author for The Grow Network. Find Tasha at The Way Back , reLuxe Renderings, 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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The ABCs of Homesteading: N is for Nutrition Management


This is the thirteenth post in the ABCs of Homesteading series. Click here to read the rest of the series.

Even before I started homesteading full-time, and raising and growing my own food at home, I lived on a diet of mainly local, farm fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, and other products. I almost never ate packaged foods and I exercised regularly. Yet I still wasn't healthy. In fact, I was sick all the time from asthma, allergies, stomach ailments, headaches, and back pain.

When we first moved to our homestead, it would take me whole day to dig a few holes to plant grapevines or to prepare one row of our garden. And I had to rest frequently to get it done. Now I can easily dig 10 deep holes, install a fence, and prepare several rows of our garden beds in half a day's work. Then I can milk goats, haul hundreds of pounds of water around our homestead, toss around 50 pound feed bags like a Scottish Highlander hurling trees, and more. My asthma symptoms are even infrequent now.

I have more energy, strength, and stamina as a homesteader at 42 years of age than I did as an athlete at 18. So what changed?

Part of the dramatic improvement in my performance is simply that I have become more skilled in the years since we moved here. I also get a whole lot more exercise throughout the day, as a homesteader, than I did working in an office so I am more physically fit. But there are also less obvious, but equally tangible reasons why my health is so improved. I attribute quite a bit of it to some basic dietary changes that have happened as a result of homesteading.

The big prevailing lesson I have learned is that there's a lot more to nutrition than just what you eat. Nutrition is about supplying your body what it needs to stay alive. If you didn't already have nutrition, you'd be dead. But that's not what most of us are aiming for when we talk about “good nutrition”.

We want freedom from illness and radiant good health. To get that, you have to think well beyond just checking a box and supplying your body with calories, minerals, and vitamins. You also need to think about using your nutrition to help your body's vital systems achieve their peak performance.

Nutrition Transmission Methods Matters – Getting Your Vitamin D

One of the first things I realized related to my nutrition, as a homesteader, was that transmission methods really make a difference. For example, our skin is actually designed make vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. Taking a vitamin D supplement technically gives your body that nutrition. However, it's a bit like putting your heart on a bypass machine. Your body is no longer doing the work for you and so your overall quality of health is not likely to be the same.

To get the maximum benefits from Vitamin D, I know I must get it directly from the sun, by way of my skin. And the amount of time I need to spend outside to do this varies from day to day. On cloudy days or in winter, I may need to spend the better part of the day outside to get a sufficient dose and I may have to take off my jacket and expose my arms despite the cold.

Getting enough vitamin D from the sun at all times of the year can be difficult depending on where you live. The link below has some really detailed information to help you calculate and plan for your sunshine needs.

Go for Good Gut Health – Eat Fermented Foods

Your colon is literally like an internal compost pile. In a perfect world, stuff gets processed and moved out of there within 36 hours. To break things down that quickly, it's got to function a bit like hot composting on steroids – meaning it requires the perfect environment and a huge amount of biological compost helpers. And so, a healthy colon must be full of all sorts of biological critters like bacteria that decompose everything you send through your digestive tract.

Like your compost pile though, if you don't create the right circumstances for good bacterial decomposition, you'll just get a stinking, nasty mess. Eating a lot of fiber certainly helps keep your colon clear. But, from experience, I know that nothing is more effective at creating optimal digestive health than eating fermented foods.

Now I am not a scientist, nutritionist, or medical expert of any sort. But, a few years ago one of my family members was given some antibiotics that ended up making her have a three month run in with diarrhea. It was so bad that her life was actually at risk from dehydration. Her doctor put her on every kind of pharmaceutical antidote available with no effect. Finally, he told her to quit everything he had previously prescribed and start eating probiotic yogurt three times a day. A few days later her problem was solved.

That experience stood out in my memory. And since then I have encountered a lot of people who were advised by their doctors to up their fermented food intake, particularly yogurt, while taking antibiotics.

With this mainstream medical experience in mind, as we started homesteading, we also began experimenting with making our own ferments. Sauerkraut came first, then kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, radishes, mustard, arugula, mints, cilantro, cucumbers, beets, mustard, lemons...

We literally started fermenting everything just to see how it would turn out. Some of it we use as condiments like fermented cilantro on tacos. Some we eat with eat as sides like kimchi or fermented green tomatoes. Others we snack on like fermented pickles, beets, or radishes. Homemade yogurt goes in our smoothies or is slathered with honey and served as dessert. A variety of homestead vinegars go in our salad dressing or are added to water to make refreshing beverages. And of course there is wine and cider for weekends (those count too, right?).

Since we started using ferments in our every day diet, our overall health has improved. When we do occasionally get worn down and end up sick, we up our intake of ferments and recover faster than others who caught the cold or flu at the same time. We also tend to be more energetic and able to get our necessary tasks done while being sick.

We even use fermented foods to improve the health of our animals. The benefits of probiotics are pretty well-documented among chicken and goat owners. And they can be expensive to buy for those of us living on impossibly small budgets. But now that we do so much fermenting at home, I can just share what we use with our animals and cut my animal care costs.

I could spend all day citing the scientific and anecdotal benefits of ferments. But, rather than bore you with facts and data that you can easily research on your own, why not just try it? Ferment something, eat it daily for a couple of weeks, and see how you feel. You can check out my fermented pickle recipe for starters.

Yes – you do need to eat these daily for lasting benefits. But ferments are delicious, so why wouldn't you want to?

Water, Water, Water!

As Sharon Porter and Marjory Wildcraft, over at The Grow Network, often tell me, “Water is a nutrient.” And it is the one nutrient that an extremely large proportion of the population are dangerously deficient in.

If you aren't drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of water each day, you are probably dehydrated. Dehydration is highly correlated with almost every terrible chronic disease you can think of. Every single time you feel thirsty, there is a really good chance you have increased your risk for heart disease.

I just spent 54 hours researching and co-authoring a project about chronic dehydration and good hydration practices. So, I can say based on reading countless scholarly studies, and on my own experience with dehydration, that just because we don't always feel thirsty doesn't mean we're well-hydrated. And since absolutely nothing is more critical to the functioning of your body than water – or our planet for that matter since life could not exist without it -- drinking lots and lots of it matters for good health.

Other beverages can hydrate, but nothing is more effective at hydrating for good health than clean water. You also need to balance your electrolytes for good absorption and usage rates. Sodium and potassium are both essential for optimal hydration. Most of us have excessive sodium in our diets. The antidote to sodium overload is to drink more water. Potassium, however, is in short supply in many of our diets (particularly in the US).

Personally, since we raise goats, their milk makes up a large part of my daily calories. A cup of goat milk has almost 500 mg of potassium per serving, or about 1/6th of your daily total requirement. Between my heavy consumption of milk, yogurt, cheese, and using whey in soups and eating large quantities of kale, spinach, mushrooms, beets, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus, and cabbage that are high in potassium too – I usually get more potassium than the recommended dose. Prior to homesteading though, I probably never even came close to meeting my daily needs for potassium though. And I always felt dehydrated no matter how much water I drank. Potassium intake makes a big difference in hydration health.

Drink sufficient water and balance your electrolytes – particularly sodium and potassium – for good homestead hydration.

Quality and Freshness of Your Food Sources

A final factor that has really made a big difference in my health is eating fresh harvested food of the best quality. Even when I shopped at farmer's markets before, I would often leave my fruits and vegetables in the fridge or on counter tops for days to weeks not realizing that these once fresh edibles began losing nutrients the moment they were harvested.

Now, because we grow our own food at home, we harvest most of our fruits and vegetables right before use. We do store some vegetables. Things like extra strawberries go straight to the freezer to preserve nutrients. Long-storing foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions are properly cured for nutrient preservation. We also grow year-round greens and ferment many of our vegetables while they are fresh to help preserve the vitamin and mineral content.

Freshness is not the only factor that contributes to the quality of our food. We grow in soils that have a regular supply of fresh compost. We use crop rotation and cover-cropping to ensure that the mineral content available to our food sources remains high. We amend with rock dust and wood ash to add trace minerals on a regular basis. Though no one has tested this theory in a lab, my body tells me that each bite of food eaten from our own homestead holds more nutritional value than most of what I can buy.

Now, there are a lot of really wonderful small farmers out there who grow vegetables for market using practices just like we do on our homestead. (I'm one of them!) Just make sure you ask about their soil, their use of compost, and other methods they use to ensure high vitamin and mineral content in fruits and vegetables.

There is obviously a lot more to good homestead nutrition than what I can cover in this blog post. So, I hope you will take these ideas as food for thought on your quest for maintaining radiant health on your own homestead.

Next up in ours series, let's talk about the “O” word. No...the other one. I mean Organic. Be on the look out for The ABCS of Homesteading: O is for Organic and Beyond!

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 at the reLuxe Ranch. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. Tasha also is also a contributing author for The Grow Network. Find Tasha at The Way Back , reLuxe Renderings, 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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Reflections from Our First Goat Kidding Season, Part 2

Ginger Chilling

We left off Part One with some pretty high expectations and excitement over the upcoming arrival of our first baby goat(s). Sometimes in life things truly don’t go the way you build them up in your head. We had our go tote all prepared and even added a few more items along the way. As Ginger’s due date neared our anticipation grew. We watched over her hoping to catch any signs that the time was near. As her due date came and went, it was as if my emotional balloon had a slow leak. When is this baby coming? Is everything ok? The weekend brought more questions than answer with it. When no signs of labor were seen I made a call to our Veterinarian, sadly he was not taking after hour calls. Therefore, we waited impatiently through the weekend.  

The Usual Signs of goat labor:

Some become aggressive 
The doe begins to paw and build a nest
Vaginal discharge
Loose tail ligaments
Appears restless
Stares off into space
Curls upper lip
Licks and bites her sides
Sides hollow out
Bottom of the belly gets lower
Udders begin to fill
Vulva becomes flabby
Bleats and wines
Grinds Teeth
Breathes Faster
Goes off by herself
Acts uncomfortable
Loss of appetite

Such a mixed bag of symptoms. With each passing hour, I became more confused and worried. I began to think of other possible resources I could count on for guidance. 

The Internet Experts

I began to read the goat forums and converse with other goat owners who had much more knowledge than me. They all began to chime in with amazing advice and questions. The problem lied with their advice was way over my head. I was told check her ligaments. Check for what? Well after watching a bunch of YouTube videos, the ligaments feel different as they get close to labor I learned. They make it seem easy but the truth of the matter is, I had no idea what they felt like before. So, how would I know they were different? So, that theory was out the door, it just made me more confused. The next piece of advice was see if she dilated. Um No! I have no clue what a cervix is supposed to feel like dilated or not. I started thinking am I supposed to just know this stuff? Then I was asked has she bagged up? This one I could answer no, her teats seemed fuller but no bag. Is she acting different? Other than her being seemingly annoyed with me, not really. Can you feel the baby? I followed the instructions and placed my hands upon her stomach just up from her teats. I felt nothing. Did she lose the baby at some point? Did she absorb the baby? I didn’t even know that was a thing.

The Original Owner

I contacted Ginger’s previous owner and she handed me pretty much the same advice as the internet people. So, I sent pictures of Ginger and asked what she thought. She stated she really didn’t look pregnant. Then she asked me where did the baby go if she lost it. Well, it wasn’t in her stall, cause I clean that every week. Therefore, I have no clue. Feeling as though I had worn out my welcome with her I decided not to bother her anymore. The last thing I wanted to do was irritate her but the vet is not in and she is a wealth of information.

Time to Call the Doctor

Now the proud new member of the hurry up and wait club. The weekend passed with no resolution. As Monday rolled around I called Dr. Dean’s office for their advice. I was told to simply wait, it will happen when it happens. Now six days past her due date and still no signs of an impending birth I called again. I asked if we could do an ultrasound or bring her in for him to examine. Once again being reassured to just wait as long as she seems normal. What if I’m waiting on something that is never coming? What if she did somehow lose the baby? What if we wait too long and the baby becomes too big? Why does this have to be so scary? I was more nervous waiting for this baby, than I was for my own. 

Left with more questions than answers, I feel no more knowledgeable then when this journey began. And how does it all end? We are left with no baby(s), it came to light that one of two possibilities took place: a miscarriage or an absorption of the fetus. We were all so excited for this baby but in the end Ginger is healthy and happy and that’s all that matters. We have at least one more shot at a baby being born here this spring when our new bred Oberhasli joins the farm in a couple weeks. 

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Are Your Chickens Laying Funky Eggs?

Crazy eggs

The inner workings of a chicken are mysterious. In 24 short hours, a hen can create an embryo, build a sac of albumin around that yolk, then pack the whole thing away inside a hard egg shell. But sometimes the production line doesn't go according to plan.

If you keep chickens, you're likely familiar with double-yolked eggs. This is a simple malfunction --- two yolks are created rather than one, similar to the way human twins form within a mother's womb. In case you're curious, yes it's possible for a fertilized, double-yolked egg to hatch two chicks...although the more common scenario involves only one chick living long enough to poke its beak out of the shell.

But what about less common egg malfunctions? I've had two reports of interesting oddities this week, first the minuscule fairy egg and then a rather astonishing triple yolker, one yolk of which was enclosed within its own individual shell.

How about you? What's the craziest thing you ever found when you brought home an egg from the coop and cracked the shell?

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How to Grow Chestnuts and Hazelnuts and Why You Should: Chestnuts


This is the second of a two part post discussing a presentation at his year’s NOFA New York conference. If you missed part one, check it out. In this post we will move onto chestnuts. Once again, thanks to Akiva Silver, owner of Twisted Tree Nursery, and Brian Caldwell of Cornell for all the practical information.

About Chestnuts

Chestnuts were once the dominant hardwood tree species in Eastern America. On average they made up a quarter of temperate forests, and their huge size, high quality wood, and prolific nut production made them a valuable source of both timber and food. But indiscriminate logging and the introduction of chestnut blight destroyed almost all of these trees. Luckily, Asian chestnut varieties are resistant to blight, and they produce the same delicious nuts as their American counterparts. Since American chestnuts are more cold hardy, crossing the two creates a tree that is robust, disease resistant, and able to be planted all the way into climate zone 4.

 Once established chestnuts will crop well with minimal care, so they are a great choice for permaculture setups or for anyone who is just looking to easily grow more of their own food. Because they flower in late June or early July, they are not susceptible to the frost damage that can burn the blossoms of apples and other fruit trees. Further, chestnuts don’t have much of a tendency to alternate bearing - they should produce roughly the same crop year in and year out. The nuts are high in starch, making them a wonderful alternative to grains, particularly since dried chestnuts can be turned into exceptionally delicious flour.

Unless you specifically seek out varieties selected for timber production, these won’t be the towering, 100 foot monsters that previously populated American forests. But they will still mature into full size trees, 30-50 feet tall and wide, so think carefully when establishing a chestnut planting. Make sure you get stock from a reputable nursery that is selecting for blight resistance, vigor, and productivity. Trees live a long time, and spending a few extra dollars for quality at the outset will pay dividends for decades.

Rodents, deer, and hungry neighbors will scavenge the fallen nuts, so harvest them promptly once they start dropping if you want a good yield. Weevils are a more insidious problem. Adults lay eggs on chestnuts, which hatch into larvae, which in turn feed on the nut. They then enter the ground beneath the tree for an extended period, sometimes as long as three years, before emerging in August as adults to lay eggs on the burrs, thus continuing the cycle. Disrupting this pattern is another reason to harvest thoroughly and quickly. If weevils are a chronic issue, placing harvested nuts in 120 degree water for 20 minutes will destroy any eggs or larvae they contain without hurting eating quality or viability as seed.

Chestnuts fall to the ground when ripe. It’s easy enough to harvest them by hand, but a nut rake, nut wizard, or other picking tool will save both time and your back. They have a spiky husk that they easily slip out of, but removing the glossy brown shell is a bit trickier. The classic preparation is to cut a slit or an ‘X’ in each chestnut and then to roast them on a stovetop or in the oven. This gives them a caramel flavor, and it should make the shell easy to peel away by hand. Another option is to dehydrate them, after which a nut cracker can separate the dried kernels.

If you’ve ever had the frustration of shelling a chestnut, only to find that the thin, tannic skin called the pellicle is fused to the nut, you have another good reason to grow your own. Commercial chestnuts are often from European trees, and the nuts these produce have exceptionally clingy pellicles. This is much less of a problem with Asian and hybrid trees.

Chestnuts are delicious on their own, but they are also a great addition to stuffing or hash. Dehydrated nuts can be added to stews or cooked into porridge, or they can be milled into flour in a home grain mill. (If the mill’s hopper has too small a hole for the chunks of chestnut to fit through you will need to coarsely crush them first. This can be done by hitting them with a hammer, a rock, or any other crusher you’re clever enough to devise.) Fresh chestnuts will keep for two or three months in the crisper section of a fridge. Dehydrated nuts and flour can last almost indefinitely if kept dry.

Tips for planting Chestnuts

1. Chestnuts are fine with considerably more acidic soils than hazels, but if your ph is extremely low you should amend it to at least 5.5.

2. Aim for trees spaced at about 40 feet on center. You can plant more densely and thin as the trees grow, saving the most productive, but leave room for them to fully mature.

3. New plantings of chestnuts are even more sensitive to waterlogging than hazelnuts, so making a mound or berm in which to plant them will greatly increase their odds of surviving.

4. Use fencing to prevent deer from nibbling on young trees, and in the winter protect their trunks with rodent guards to stop mice and voles from girdling them.

5. Plant at least two chestnut trees, since they do not self pollinate.

6. Expect to wait about five years for your first harvest of nuts, and about twelve for close to full production.


Winter may seem like a strange time to think about planting anything, but it is actually the best time to start planning where to put chestnuts and hazelnuts. Trees can live longer than people, and if they are planted in a good location they can improve the land for generations, so take the time to be certain you are putting them in the right place. Really think about what it will be like when they are fully mature and productive. Research nurseries whose stock is suited to your climate. Take a soil test if you haven’t before. There is time an expense in establishing chestnuts and hazelnuts, but once they have set their roots they will yield a bounty of food for both people and wildlife for decades to come.

Photo Credit - Akiva Silver

Garth Brown is an owner of Cairncrest Farm. He sells 100% grass-fed beef and lamb as well as pastured pork and poultry to Long Island, Brooklyn, and the greater New York City area. You can read more of his writing on his farm’s 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.