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

Clicker Training Farm Animals (with Video)

Clicker Training with Ducks 

Photo By Fala Burnette, Wolf Branch Homestead

Most of the jobs I have held in my young adult life were centered around the animal care field. Working at animal shelters, you see a variety of behavioral issues that not only cause animals to be surrendered, but also to be returned after previously being adopted. Shortly after being introduced to clicker training by another worker, who was passionate about improving the chances of adoptability in the animals, I implemented it into the handling of my work as well.

Clicker training involves the marking and rewarding of a positive behavior response in an animal- you are helping them note the moment they did something right, and rewarding them for it. It begins by associating the sound of the clicker with a reward, in most cases the reward being food. While the sound is usually made by a handheld clicker that makes a loud sound when you push down on the button, some people choose to mark the action with a verbal cue such as a cluck, or simply saying a word such as "good".

The click must be immediately followed by the reward for effectiveness, so that they associate the sound with the reward. Once you have repeated this step, you then move on to marking the desired type of behavior with a click-reward. For instance, in teaching a dog to sit, you click and treat immediately when the desired behavior is performed. During this process, you also associate the word or hand signal with the action by giving it to the animal to ask them for that response. The process requires repetition and patience, but is an effective training method that is non-violent.

From a young age, I was interested in studying the body language and behavior of the animals at my Grandmother's farm, in order to better understand how I handled them. When I was researching clicker training for shelter animals, however, I was guilty at the time of thinking it could not work for livestock and poultry. I eventually discovered the work of the late Dr. Sophia Yin, who promoted low stress handling in animals, and noted that she had videos and articles about clicker training for horses and even chickens! It served as inspiration for further studying how a positive reward system could benefit livestock/poultry and their handlers.

I wanted to start off with the young hen we had at the time, who had been hand raised, but who was not always easy to catch. I began by withholding her normal bowl of feed, and instead I gave it to her throughout the day by associating it with the clicker. After a period of repetition with this, we moved on to various things such as "heel" in order for her to follow directly beside you, and "up" to put herself into her coop without fuss. I also began to use a hand signal to ask her to fly onto my arm, whether it be from the ground or a perch. Combining these three commands, the issue of chasing her around was eliminated.

Years down the line, we now have Khaki Campbell ducks who have been clicker trained as well. Before they were even feathering, the pair of them knew how to ring a service (desk) bell. While this was more of a training session for fun as they grew up, it led to teaching them to put themselves back into their run when they heard a bell ring. This became another instance where clicker training has saved us from having to herd them around, as they know now that they will receive a positive reward for coming to us when they are called.

It's not only poultry that can be trained in this way, as it can be applied to many other aspects of livestock handling. I have seen a growing number of horse trainers implement clickers into their work, teaching even an untouched Mustang that human contact isn't so bad! It can even be used to encourage a goat to learn to walk with a collar and leash. In the future, we have plans to use this method on training cattle (even though there is some debate on the effectiveness of it with working oxen) for various projects.

I recommend that anyone interested in using clicker training in their livestock and poultry handling first understand the basics of positive behavior/reward based training, and how to properly use the clicker (or verbal cue) followed by a treat. Have a good understanding of the body language of your animal, and also know what sort of treats or food will catch their attention. Young people should always have an adult present when handling their animals, and all of us should use sense and safety when training (again, being able to read an animal's body language fits in to safety).

Consider using these methods for effective training of your animals, whether it be for practicality or for fun. We've mentioned in the past that socializing your livestock can make the difference in everyday handling, and can even make the difference when selling animals. Can you picture the difference in a horse who is willing to lift his feet without a fuss, or a goat who is willing to walk to the milk stand calmly on her lead? Think about the enjoyment you could have with youngsters as you teach a backyard hen to run a miniature obstacle course! I encourage you to think of the ways that clicker training can benefit your homestead, not just for your dogs and cats, but for all the livestock and poultry too!

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.

Host a Homesteading Camp for Grandchildren

Every homesteader (modern or traditional) with grandchildren wants the youngest generation to learn some self-reliance skills. A surefire way to get young people interested in living more sustainably is to make it fun. How about a week or two of Homesteading Grandparents’ Camp? It’s a great way to build intergenerational bonding.

girl with flowers

Even if you’re not a homesteader yourself, you can help your grands discover basic do-it-yourself skills while they learn greater appreciation for Mother Earth. Many of the following ideas can be used by urban grandparents, too, even if you have no outdoor space of your own.

Here are some tips for hosting a memorable and earth-friendly camp experience for the young ones.

Field Trips

Take a family farm tour—especially one with animals. Think baby goats!

Visit a farmers’ market and let the kids help you select some fresh vegetables for the week’s meals. Chances are they’ll meet some kid farmers while they’re there.

If you don’t have chickens of your own, maybe a friend does. There’s nothing quite like the face of a five-year-old holding her first chicken or gathering eggs from the nest. The next day’s breakfast will be a special treat.

child with chick

Look for a nearby pick-your-own blueberry or apple orchard. Some may have pastoral picnic areas or even some storytelling or musical entertainment.

pick your own

Other Outdoor Adventures

Go for nature walks in the woods or a field of wildflowers or a nearby park. Add a pair of binoculars for bird-watching. Have the kids hold an ear to a tree to listen for sounds. Count rings on downed trees. Look for different kinds of mosses and lichens.

Grab a good field guide and teach the young ones about edible flowers and ‘weeds.’ You probably need go no further than your own yard. Look for chickweed, purslane, or young dandelion leaves to use in a salad. Top it with nasturtium, pansy, or daylily blossoms for a pop of color.

Got an ice cream churn? Put it to use. Let the kids lick the equipment afterwards—it’s camp! (Be sure to take pictures.)

churn ice cream

Find a creek. Let them wiggle their toes and make mud pies while searching for salamanders or watching water striders ‘walk’ on water. Children can sail homemade boats or build a tiny waterfall with creek stones. (Instruct the parents to send along some mud-worthy old clothes. Water shoes are a good idea, too.)

After dark, watch fireflies or lie on a quilt and look at stars. Your grandchildren may have never seen a sky full of stars if they don’t live in the country. If light pollution is an issue where you live, drive out into the countryside.

Snatch a couple of paper bags and hunt for woodland treasures—twigs, small cones, leaves, seeds, acorns, etc.. Back home, the grands can arrange their finds on a piece of plywood or scrap lumber with some hot glue (with adult supervision, of course).

How about building a fairy garden in a secluded spot with natural findings? You can enhance it with a purchased fairy or other items from a dollar store, if you wish.

In the Kitchen

Make sprouts. You can buy seeds at a local natural foods store. They’ll be ready before the week’s up. You don’t need special sprouting equipment. Here are some growing tips.

Most kids find it fun to help cook, especially if they haven’t had much experience. Start with something simple, like a grilled cheese sandwich, or a pizza with fresh herbs and veggies from the garden. For a stove-free activity, make lemonade together and share an afternoon snack.

Make mozzarella cheese and then add it to a homemade pizza. Yum! (It’s not hard, and only takes about half an hour.)

Make butter in a mason jar. It takes some hard shaking, but it's magic. 

Building Projects

You can find simple wood working kits at home improvement stores for birdhouses, model trucks, and so forth. Add a mini-hammer and a grandparent for an hour’s worth of productive fun and bonding. Your grandchildren will learn simple woodworking skills and have a take-home project.

Engage them in a bigger building project. A fairly simple one is this bench—they can take it home or keep it at your place for when they need alone time or want to read a book out in nature. 

build a bench

If You Have a Garden

Let them help you plant seeds or seedlings, even more fun if you surprise them with kid-sized gardening gloves and tools. They can reap the benefits of their efforts on a later visit. Or if they live too far away, send photographs of the growing plants or the prepared dinner dish.

If the kids come for a visit at the right time, they can help harvest the evening’s meal. How exciting to dig in the earth and discover potatoes there! In our experience, children also love to twist ears off of corn stalks and shuck them. But watch out—they may chomp down on raw corn before you have a chance to cook it.

pick some broccoli

Here’s one that needs some advance preparation. Plant a bean tepee. All you need are some tree branches (or bamboo poles from your local gardening center), some twine, a handful of pole bean seeds, and a small well-composted space. Plan a visit for some time after the vines have reached maturity and you’ll have a unique shady spot for children to play in.

pole bean tepee

Winding Down

Be sure to include quiet activities. Try storytelling and reading together. Talk about when when their parents were young.

Hang up a hammock for some sky gazing, daydreaming, or a stress-free chat.

Help them make their own book about their camp experience. Poster board cut into 5x8 sheets makes a sturdy background for drawing or gluing magazine cutouts and relatively flat nature findings. Punch holes and string them with colorful bits of yarn to finish the book.

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

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 Making of a Vegetable Herding Dog


English Shepherds are herding dogs. They are work dogs and need to be kept busy. We have animals on our farm, and our dogs help herd and protect the farm animals at times, but it’s not a full-time job. And this puppy needs a full time job. We are vegetable farmers. Vegetables don’t need much corralling. Now that Kenai is two, I am starting to realize we have created a job opening we didn’t know we needed. He really is herding the vegetables.

Not So Helpful Help

As a puppy, when we would dig in the soil to plant, he would dig in the soil too. This was not helpful help. When we were digging up sweet potatoes, he would dig holes too. Cute, but this is a job that could get out of hand. I could see how this digging job could become a real problem on a vegetable farm. We needed to find a different job for Kenai.

The hard-working dog was just trying to find his job. He tried on another hat that summer. When we would carry row covering, he would try to tug the pile of cloth the other way. Another not-so-good job. When we were carrying a big crate of produce, he would try to get under our feet or take the opportunity to bite at our shoes. More unhelpful helping.

Herding Vegetables

Kenai is two years old now and he has settled into his role as a vegetable herding dog.  Here is how it works. When I am making my way down a row of cucumbers or zucchini, harvesting, he walks along, keeping close attention to what I am doing. When I find a dinged up cucumber, I cut a piece off and throw it. Kenai dashes after it. He chews it a little, drops it and waits for the next one. Sometimes he gets a few in a row, back and forth along an open row, and then he knows he needs to wait a while. He will stay at attention, monitoring for the next cucumber to step out of line. You’ve got to keep those vegetables all together, when you are herding produce. Minutes go by; you might be lost in thought. Look up, and you will find you are being watched quite intently. He is on the job, herding vegetables.

Kenai is very good at his job. He respects the little piles of cucumbers or zucchini that I set next to the plants as I am harvesting. He might look at them longingly, but he doesn’t touch them. He doesn’t really want one anyway. Taking one for himself is not what he is after. He wants me to pick one up and cut it, so he can catch or chase a piece.

When you’ve got 300 feet of cucumbers to harvest, you might need a farm vehicle to help haul heavy crates. After that, it is good to have a friend to help get the job done. And in this case, a vegetable herding dog might be just what you need.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene'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 Value of Mentorship


Do you have a farming mentor? If not, consider finding one. Preferably, someone who was born in a farming family, has spent their life on a farm and admits to knowing, they don’t have all the answers.

Today, a lot of folks jump on the internet as soon as they have a problem. Whether it’s plants or animals, there’s plenty of “advice” on line. What my farming mentor told me, early on was, “if you meet someone who thinks they know everything about goats, get away from them.” I have found that to be true, in the real and the virtual world. 

I’ll call my mentor, who fits into the lifetime farmer category, ask him about a problem I’m having. “Brian”, I’ll say, and I’ll go on to describe what’s happening. “Don’t know, never had that before," he’ll say. I laugh.

I’ve learned, farming is a little like detective work. When you break down and start to pick apart the problem, eventually, sometimes, you come up with a solution. More often, it’s a process of elimination and calculated guesswork. Having a mentor to work it through, helps.

I am a big fan of Temple Grandin. Someone with a different perspective. Dr. Grandin, PhD, was born with autism. Yet, she has gained international recognition and respect for devising solutions to simple farming issues. Companies like McDonalds have hired her to teach their “cowboys” how to round up herds of cattle. It’s all in the details. Little things we miss. Through her work, we’re learning how animals perceive their environment. When we know how they view the world, we can better understand what their needs are. Once we know that, the relationship between us and them becomes a partnership. It makes everything from rounding them up to milking, easier. If you’re not familiar with her work, I highly recommend checking her out.

My mentor doesn’t have autism, but he intuitively knows animal “language”, and has been listening for 70 plus years. It’s priceless. The trick is, pay attention. It’s all in the small details. His method of teaching and learning. Observation. No need for words.

Today, we are bombarded with information. When you choose a farming lifestyle, most of the information you need is right under your nose. If you listen, watch, smell, feel your way through your day, the answers come. Leave your head out of it. It only confuses things. Meet your local lifetime farmers. In the dirt under their nails, the callused hands, the lined faces are all the answers you need. Trust in it. I do. It’s never steered me wrong.

Dyan Redick is an artisan cheesemaker, writer, and fiber artist is coastal Maine where she operates Bittersweet Heritage Farm, a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farmstand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat’s milk soap, caramels, woolens, and whatever else strikes her fancy. Follow Dyan on Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

We Made Some Mistakes Along The Way Series: Leaving The Nest, Part 2

At least none of our mistakes were this bad....


This is the third installment of the We Some Mistakes Along the Way homesteading blog series. Find all installments here.

Ever wonder what homesteaders mean when they throw that phrase out there? I do. And it always seems so neat and tidy when they say it. “We made some mistakes along the way” – “but everything is great now, and we’re in a happy place of realized dreams, unquestionable skill and that stuff doesn’t happen anymore.” Okay, I don’t think anyone has ever meant it that way, but that’s how I read it. I always wanted – needed to know more about those mistakes.

What were they? How did they feel about them? And were they really mistakes or decisions based on unknowable circumstances that changed down the road? Like when we moved our front door over four feet, then years and multiple changes later, decided to move it over another four feet? Were they big mistakes, like pouring concrete over their septic tank or little things like ordering the wrong paint color? Did those mistakes make them feel like a total failure, or did they go on unfazed? Did they re-make the same mistake because they were unfazed, and did feeling like a total failure help them to double down and do better next time? Would they change anything, or did they look at all mistakes as pavers on the road to their goals?

Maybe all of those things. Maybe none, I don’t know. But that’s what I always wanted to know. Homesteading life is hard. Fixer uppers are hard, and family life – no matter what the situation – is hard. Life is never short on challenges, hardships, and of course, mistakes. There is so much packed into those seven little words, “we made some mistakes along the way.” But that is where the humanity is, I think. That is where the stories are.

So, would I change anything? Everything? Maybe.


Sometimes I want nothing more than to sell everything, pack up only the essentials and move into a townhome – a fully finished townhome with trim, beautiful trim. Have a patio garden. Or maybe no garden at all and support my local farmers. I think about packing only what we need into our RV and traveling full-time. Never mowing a lawn again, never milling up another tree, and never spending another 7+ years renovating a home while struggling to make it feel like a home.

Would I call that a mistake? That’s where it gets complicated.

The dirt bike, slices from our old Poplar tree as our new stepping 'stones', and our unfinished deck


Definitely not for my husband. This is his dream, and he gets to make things happen every day to realize that dream. It is hard work, but it is his work and it is what he wants. If he didn’t have this place as an outlet he may have turned to a life of crime, drinking and mayhem.

The Kids

And definitely not for our kids, who tell me often “I love our house.” And they really do. They love everything that comes with it. The weird little peepholes in my ceiling. Seeing first-hand how things are built, torn down and restored. And nothing beats the excitement of yelling “timber” as a tree falls in the woods. It is a powerful thing, all the experiences these kids get to have. All while catching crayfish in our little creek and racing dirt bikes around the yard. They couldn’t do this in a town home.

Some of the bounty of the new place

Me. Lordy, here we go…

For me is really where it gets complicated. Me, who can’t stand an open project. Me, who needs a safe, predictable place to roost where everything has its place and everything is in its place so that I can relax and be productive. Me who identifies, maybe a little too much, with my chickens. Poor girls will stop laying for weeks if you mess with their coop. I hear you girls, I hear you.

I always felt like I wasn’t being the best wife and mom I could be because of the constant stress of making this a home. I wanted it to just be a home. Like the one I used to have. The one I had time to build before I had to share that attention with babies. I wanted to just focus on my kids. And ditch this third child with a 30-year mortgage. And be happy. But what I have come to realize is that being the best mom and wife means supporting your family’s needs and dreams as equal to your own, and making it all work so that everyone feels valued. Doing this has made my husband the best father he could be, even if I struggled. It has been, as we used to say in the Army, a gut check. Not my favorite time, but who actually likes painful periods of personal growth??

Adults: we're gonna have to pump this out *groan*. Kids: Mud pit!!

It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere

Sure, we could have done this somewhere else and the road may have been easier. But would it? There would have been other struggles. There always are. So, mistake in moving here? No. Paver in the road to our goals? Yes. Have I felt like a complete failure and then picked myself back up again? Yes. A thousand times, yes. Do I sit on the couch, eat too many chips, binge watch a show and feel sorry for myself for a couple days first? Yes. Sadly, yes.

We made big mistakes, like not closing up the soffits in our chicken coop, allowing a raccoon to get in. That cost us half our flock, as well as months of nightmares of dismembered chickens we were responsible for keeping safe. We made small mistakes, like we should have made our driveway “loop” bigger so that it was easier to turn around, and maybe omitted the center island all together because then it would be easier to maneuver cars, trucks, trailers and equipment around.

We have learned that it is okay to keep moving and adjusting the plan. What is right now, may not be right five years from now and it is not “giving up” if you don’t stay locked in. There is no shame in saying “been there, done that” and moving on. The goals those pavers are leading to may not be the place you thought it was. It may be entirely different. No one gets the blueprint for life, though Lord knows, we try our mightiest to figure it out.

For us, I have made peace that our goals as a family will never lead us to a townhome. But they may lead us in an RV full time. Ever see an RV towing a chicken coop? Maybe you will someday…. 😉

Jennifer Dickinson is a nurse, gardener and chicken-keeping Mom who was inspired to try homesteading life in her late 20s after reading an issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. You can now find her weeding her gardens, tending chickens on her homestead in the rolling hills of the Garden State and planning her great RV escape. Connect with Jennifer on Instagram and Facebook, read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here, and camp with her on Hipcamp 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.

Eliminate Standing Water on Your Homestead and in Your Backyard

 Wheelbarrow with stagnant water

Combating areas of standing water can be a serious problem that homesteaders, gardeners, or any homeowner must face. Standing water is caused by a variety of issues and while many times, can be resolved easily; it can develop into a real concern for the health and well being of your home and homestead.

Sources of standing water

Standing or stagnant water is very common in outdoor spaces and refers to any pool of water that does not flow or have any movement. One of the most common sources of standing water occurs when objects such as buckets, tools, planters, and children’s toys collect water after a rain. With small children, I am constantly battling trying to remember to collect all toys and bring them inside after use. We many times leave them out in the rain, leaving them to collect rainwater. Buckets, wheelbarrows, and other carrying tools are also items we have a hard time with remembering to put away. I am continually guilty of starting a weeding project, not finishing, and leaving the bucket of weeds out to be filled with rainwater shortly thereafter.   

Gutters and drains are also common sources of standing water. Gutters and drains can become clogged or simply restricted if not cleaned out properly and frequently. This issue is often overlooked and usually not addressed until a clog is noticed and a larger problem has occurred.

Water features such as ponds and birdbaths can yield standing water if not properly maintenanced. We have a very small pond on our property that easily collects and holds water.  For years now, keeping it running has not been a priority so it constantly collects water and needs to be drained and cleaned frequently. Not only can it become unsightly but it also attracts rodents and insects.

 Pond with algae

Another common issue that leads to standing water is uneven grading. Water can settle into areas where the ground is unable to drain sufficiently. Many times this occurs in gardens where the ground is slanted or inclined. Our property has many areas where water collects and needs intervention in order to drain properly.

Garden with Drainage Issue

Problems and concerns

Standing water can become a real problem as it causes many health concerns for humans and animals. Not only can standing water be unappealing in looks and smell but it can become a breeding ground for bacteria, mosquitos, algae, and mold. In addition to this, it can also attract rodents looking for water sources.  More than just an annoyance, standing water that is not addressed can pose real dangers to your home.


Stagnant water can breed insects such as mosquitos. Mosquitos love stagnant water and actually need a source of water to complete their life cycle. Of the four stages of a mosquito’s life, three of these phases are spent in the water. This makes standing water the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. Even very small collections of water, such as children’s toys that have crevices could be enough to allow for mosquitoes to breed.


Water that has been standing unaddressed for some time can attract rodents looking for sources of water. This water can then become contaminated with fecal waste which contains many types of harmful bacteria. Leptospira is a harmful bacteria that can be found in water that has been contaminated with animal urine. These puddles or areas of standing water could be very dangerous to pets or children who may come in contact with or ingest this water.


Algae is a common microscopic organism that can eventually breed and grow in standing water. Algae can grow in puddles or collections of water, as well as, ponds and water features. While naturally growing algae is necessary for the success of the ecosystem, algae growth in puddles and buckets can turn harmful quickly. Once the algae has grown to a certain point, it will begin to turn colors such as green, blue, and black. Both unsightly and harmful to animals who may drink it, algae is an issue that can be prevented. In ponds and water features, it is important to reduce growth of algae by use of a filter and skimming methods. 

Water Damage

Water that is settling close to any structure can cause extensive water damage. Continuous standing water can cause wood and brick mortar to break down at higher rates than normal. Water located near the home can seep into the ground and down into the basement if not addressed.

Standing water prevention and maintenance

1. Store any container that can hold water upside down.

2. Pick up tools, buckets, children’s toys, play tables, kiddie pools and sandboxes before each storm.

3. After each storm or heavy rain, check homestead for any areas of standing water to identify problem areas.

4. Clean birdbaths and ponds regularly to ensure no growth of bacteria and to ensure that any pumps are working.  Place birdbaths and ponds in areas with limited light in order to reduce photosynthesis which leads to algae growth. For more pond and water feature care, see this article titled, "DIY Natural Backyard Pond."

5. Clean out gutters, drains, and feeding vessels regularly.

6. Before adding any hardscapes, such as pavements, walkways, or garden beds, make sure all areas are properly graded and address any possible areas of poor drainage.

7. If your garden has an incline, make sure that you do not plant anything in the area where the water settles. If you do not take the drainage of a garden into consideration, you will end up with vegetable plant sitting in a dirty puddle after each rain. For more guidance on standing water in your garden check out this article titled, "Dealing with a Wet Spring in the Vegetable Garden".

8. Address any areas of your yard that does not drain properly by putting in a French drain or other draining solution.

9. Set up a rain collection system and reuse the water to water your plants.

Standing water is a just one of the continual issues that homesteaders and gardeners face.  Many times the source is easily fixed or eliminated and other times more in depth methods to correct drainage issues may occur. A quick survey of the property after a heavy rain will help identify any problem areas and allow for quick clean up to avoid breeding mosquitos and bacteria. Using these methods, you can eliminate any harmful problems that may occur due to standing water on your property.

Stephanie Leaf is transforming her family’s Maryland home into their homestead dream property. She and her husband own a masonry business and do the majority of the renovation projects themselves, with plans to expand their garden, cultivate herbs, build a chicken coop and involve their children in every aspect of self-sufficiency. Connect with Stephanie at Wingin’ it on the Homestead and on Facebook and Pinterest.

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.

Senior Homesteading


Electric Thermal System (ETS)

What is it like to homestead when you are in your senior years?  While I can’t speak for all senior homesteaders I can speak for myself. We homestead on 11 acres located in the mountains of  S. Colorado. We have taken our property from undeveloped land to a point where we can move around with ease but even now after 23 years of exhaustive work there seems to be as much work remaining as initially encountered. It is similar to weeding a garden, it seems after you have just finished it needs doing again.

Endless Work:

The hard work seems continuous and if we thought it would be easier as we became older we were deluding ourselves. Trees continue to fall over and each winter brings more dead limbs to the ground. Gathering them and mulching them or hauling them off is an endless task at 9,800’ elevation. Structures need to be maintained and winter damage needs repair or replacement. Run off from the 290” of snow received last winter creates washouts that need repair. More rocks work their way to the surface that need to be dealt with and so it goes ad infinitum.

Altered Work Techniques:

How does that impact a person in their senior years?  It means we work slower and much more carefully. Instead of picking up that freshly exposed rock that we could trip over we use the tractor to move it. I would not even attempt doing it like I used to do it because knees and other joints have been abused enough and are already painful. I used to split firewood by hand but now we use a mechanical splitter. In short, the work doesn’t change much but doing it needs to be approached from a different perspective - a smarter, less stressful and safer manner. What used to take a day to accomplish can now take several days.

Evaluate Tasks First:

Seniors can successfully maintain their homestead but we must do so differently and more cautiously. We may work slower but we work more efficiently. We use tools where we can as opposed to raw muscle power like we once did. We contemplate the easiest way to perform a task as opposed to rushing into the task. We don’t bundle tough physically demanding jobs together but instead spread them out over time.

Adjust And Adapt:

Seniors can without doubt homestead and can still enjoy all the things that brought us to our homestead in the first place but we clearly must alter our approach. We still enjoy working outside and the satisfaction of working with our hands and seeing our accomplishments.   If we thought at this stage of our lives we could sit back and say “job well done and now it is time to enjoy life and rest in all our past work” - that is not reality. Seniors must learn to adjust and adapt.

Electric Thermal Systems:

One of our adjustments was to install electric thermal systems (ETS). ETS are electric heaters that heat ceramic bricks and then slowly dissipate the heat as needed. (see photo) They are electric and heat the bricks during the non peak hours at a discount rate on our electrical bill.  That has greatly reduced our need for 9-12 cords of firewood each winter. While we still depend on our wood stove for heat during very cold periods the ETS saves us from getting up during the night to periodically feed wood into the stove. Due to the high efficiency of the units our carbon footprint is still very small.

Working Carefully - Avoid Accidents:

Agility for seniors diminishes with age and accidents can happen. Some examples I have experienced are being hit with a tree that came back, slipping on frosty steps, sustaining two ankle fractures, smashing a finger, getting tangled in a tree limbs,  falling backwards and sustaining 5 stitches in the back of my head, a hernia plus all the falls where no obvious injury was noted. Being able to fall correctly is a skill worth knowing for seniors because falls will happen on steep terrain.

Can Seniors Really Homestead?

So how does a senior homestead?  Much more carefully and with more forethought.  Is it still  enjoyable? Absolutely, but it requires a much different approach to tasks and being more aware to avoid unnecessary risk as described above. Would I recommend it for other seniors?  It would depend on the physical condition of the senior. If the senior is healthy with good body and joint condition then that individual could successfully handle the difficult tasks confronted later in life. Also, if the senior purchases an established homestead that requires fewer demanding tasks it could be much easier. Starting from scratch on raw land is physically demanding and it would depend on the individual senior whether they could do it or not.

Would I Do It Again?

Life for us continues to be demanding as there is considerable snow to shovel in the winter (290” last winter) and while we need less firewood now to cut, haul, split and stack there is still a significant amount needed. In spite of all the hard work required I couldn’t be happier. The rewards clearly outnumber the hardships and pain in my opinion. Having a partner that is willing to share in tasks and that shares the same back to earth values is extremely important. If I could turn back the clock I would without a doubt do it again.

Remote Lifestyle:

When we first developed our property we had neighbors but the Spring wildfire reduced homes on our road to only ours. We are now the only home on our road but we are far from lonely. We have little time to feel alone with all the work to do just to maintain the homestead. We still have plenty of wildlife around our home to keep us entertained. Satellite television keeps us up on world events even though we feel better not knowing sometimes. Our nearest town (22 miles one way) is where we go for groceries and hardware. Also where we go to have human interaction when we feel we need it. It is a lifestyle that suits us.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their German Shepherd Dog Bozwell and their mountain lifestyle visit their blog site at:

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