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

Counting Blessings is Central to Home-Scale Resilience

Pebble Garden Pathway Through Forest

Once dense brush; this woodland garden is taking shape.
Photo by Jo deVries

Whether things are going OK or not often depends more on our perspective than the actual facts. Inner peace amidst a storm is evidence that the core of hope is, in fact, bigger than the storm that completely engulfs it — the size of the storm is no longer relevant. Due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, we have been forced to re-examine our priorities, analyze our surroundings through new eyes, and recognize the many non-essentials in our lives. There are always positive outcomes from a negative situation; after a storm, there is a rainbow.

Many of those living in the country feel blessed with stay-at-home orders, but the workload of living off the land has not lessened. Barns and fences still need to be built but the price of materials has skyrocketed, and common items are now harder to find. There’s a shortage of competent labourers, and people trained in the trades. In addition to the changes in our lives due to the pandemic, the usual challenges that come with gardening and farming continue.

Adapting to Water Stress

In my area of Ontario, Canada, we have now endured three years of drought. And although it hasn’t been to a devastating extent, everything needing water has been affected. The farmers and market gardeners without irrigation systems sleep less soundly; each day their work is tougher while the harvest and profits dwindle. It’s hard not to be discouraged.

We must keep in mind that there are many people in the world who deal with water shortages on a daily basis. Millions are facing serious water concerns in the near future as populations, pollution, and global temperatures increase. We are dependent on water. It would be prudent to spend our time and money on wells, water collection, irrigation, recycling and filtration systems.

I will soon be moving my pigs to a newly fenced area 100-feet farther away from the creek where I haul their water from — it’s already a 100-foot hike. This has given me incentive to look at other possibilities. I’ve decided to install a system to collect the water from the north side of the chicken coop roof, and pipe it the pigs through an 80-foot (recycled) hose, hidden in the evergreen trees. There is at least a 5-foot drop in elevation from the coop eave to the pig trough; perfect.

And if it doesn’t rain, I’ve still got the creek as a solid backup. I’m glad I stuck to my guns when searching for property. It had to have a water source that wouldn’t dry up. You might have to go farther out in the bush to afford it, but you’ll never regret having a spring, creek or dug well.

Mini Herb Garden In Forest

Herbs temporarily grow alongside a spent, pink lady-slipper.
Photo by Jo deVries

Adapting to Pest Invasions

This is also the third year of a huge caterpillar infestation. Everything that sits under a tree is covered in caterpillar poop. My van shows evidence that there are some incredibly large caterpillars out there.

Some trees were completely stripped of their leaves, making it look more like November. My young apple trees and weeping mulberry lost all their leaves in only a couple of days. I have a large oak tree that stands on top of my little mountain. Early this spring, I took a paint brush and covered a 6-inch strip around the trunk with vegetable oil. Perhaps another oil would be better — I need to do more research — but that oak is the only tree with leaves on it at the moment. I hope to treat the other oaks next spring; who knows how much more damage the trees can endure?

Using Time Wisely Means Vigilantly Watching for Lessons Learned

Round One of life is full of tests. Mother Nature continues to test our knowledge and resilience. Do we understand that Nature is as surprising, cruel, and destructive as she is beautiful, dependable, and life-giving? Are we doing our best to take care of her? Have we learned how to use natural antidotes, patience and understanding to resolve natural problems? We were warned by our predecessors of the hardships that may come our way. Have we listened, and prepared our homes and larders accordingly? Are we prepared for fire, flood and famine?

Although I will have owned my property for 25 years on July 31, I often hoped to have been much further along this road. Illness, writing a book, and well, life have distracted me from this project. When feeling overwhelmed, looking at old photographs help affirm just how far I’ve come. Before-and-after shots are always worth taking.

This year, I’m happy to say, things are progressing at a surprising pace, despite arthritis flare-ups, vertigo symptoms, and spraining my ankle, twice. I haven’t worked this hard in 10 years, and feel all the better for it!

Food Self-Sufficiency Does Not Need to Wait

The biggest thing my homestead has been lacking is a permanent vegetable garden. I’ve made a few attempts but couldn’t commit to the labour required to maintain them, and they were soon buried in weeds. My two pigs are presently clearing land for a new vegetable garden and orchard and cleaning up the overgrown elderberry grove. Half of the new steel fencing was put in place last month, and the other half is happening this month.

Waiting for gardening space has proven unbearable. I couldn’t help but pick up a few seed packs and starter plants when I cruised the nurseries for my weekly gardening fix. I was determined this year to put effort into food production as soon as possible, even if all the elements weren’t yet in place. I decided to temporarily home my veggies and herbs in my newly developed, woodland flower garden. Perennial green onions of various types, garlic, lemon-thyme, coriander, chocolate mint, tomatoes, squash, and a cultivated blueberry bush are growing amongst lady slippers, trilliums, lilies and iris. I’m already enjoying a harvest, tiny as it is, on almost a daily basis.

We will be blessed if we have taken responsibility for the things that are in our control.  I’ve witnessed many miracles along this road to a simpler life; the quick healing of my ankle was just two of them.

Having the opportunity to work towards living a sustainable life is something I’m incredibly grateful for. I hope my work would make my grandparents proud. They left The Netherlands on an incredible voyage, with many children in tow, and only faith that they were making the right decision. They worked hard until they couldn’t, and provided opportunities for their descendants as a result of their years of sweat and tears.

I’m thankful that the land they immigrated to is so rich in natural resources, wide open, and relatively undeveloped. I look forward each day to fulfilling the task we have all been assigned to: being stewards as heirs of this awesome planet and its inhabitants. Conditions are often far from ideal, but the trials make us a tougher lot. Let’s continue to share the challenges and the solutions. We’re all in this together.

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

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

Country Wisdom from Mom That Holds Up Today


A frequent sight looking out our window
Photo by Bruce McElmurray

The sayings that my mother used to use that I once thought were ridiculous and meaningless have, as I’ve gotten older, lingered in my brain. Now, I they seem to actually have some validity and merit. Some apply while others like the following do not: “I’ll wipe that smile off your face." “Come home when the street lights come on." “Close the door; were you raised in a barn?" “Because I said so."  “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about."

The ones that apply today that come back to sometimes haunt me over my current circumstances on our homestead contain wisdom like: “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”. Back then, that usually applied to my chores or homework. Today, that applies to much more relevant things.

Fire Starter from a Downed Tree

We have a tree on the edge of our property that blew over and looks like it was hit by lightning at one time. It is a bonanza of excellent lighter for starting fires in our woodstove. A sliver of it will get a fire going fast.

These are overlooked by most people as all they see are tree roots sticking up out of the ground. Some of those roots are so rich in pitch that we use long fireplace matches to light them. I once found an old wood fence post that was the best lighter I have ever had the pleasure to use. Many times when a tree is struck by lightning, the sap/pitch flows down to the roots as the tree dies. When that tree falls over and the roots are exposed, they are full of pitch that has dried and is highly flammable. We discovered this particular source a few years ago, and it is now our secret stash that we use to start fires in our woodstove.

Today is the Time; Not Later

Today, between rain showers, I cut enough lighter material to last us through the next winter. We have had several days of rain and wet weather and I knew if “I put off until tomorrow what I could do today”, I would get involved in other projects and possibly would have to hike up the mountain on snowshoes in the winter. Going straight up the mountain in the winter is not an enjoyable task, especially with a bow saw to get frozen lighter.

The Time Has to Fit the Circumstances

Sometimes we can’t avoid putting off until tomorrow what can be done today. Last winter was rather brutal for us and getting anything done, like an appointment to get the oil in our vehicles changed, was next to impossible. We were still within the Covid-19 restrictions and hence, our mechanic with his small waiting room posed a problem as his waiting room was closed and we had to wait outside for service to be completed.

Waiting outside would not normally be a problem except when you make an appointment two weeks ahead and when the day finally comes, you find there is a blizzard or the temperatures are in the negative. We had to reschedule three times to finally get in and still it was cold outside and the wind was blowing. We changed mechanics to one that had a more sizable waiting room. Even that did not work well — when it was time to drive into town, our roads were drifted in. Sometimes we are forced to wait until tomorrow.

Preventing a Worse Scenario

Another of my Mom’s sayings was “A stitch in time saves nine”. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic and “shelter at home”, we had to put off some needed medical treatment. I had a strange growth on my skin that I was highly suspect of. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was small but by the time I was able to feel safe going to the medical facility it had gotten much bigger. I refused to go to the clinic because that is where those who had contracted Covid went.

Regardless of the precautions they claimed to take I simply did not view it safe, so I put off until tomorrow what should have been done today. As I lay there on the table and the surgeon was removing the growth, I remembered Mom’s saying that “A stitch in time saved nine”. What would have been three or four stitches ended up being 15 or16 stitches. You were right, Mom; “A stitch in time saves nine”.

Plan Carefully to Avoid Wasting Time

Mom had another saying and that was, “What your head doesn’t do your feet will have to”. That old saying applies to me nearly every day. When I go to cut down a tree for firewood and find that I did not bring the right items, like wedges or rope, that saying smacks me right between the eyes. Or when I change the oil in the tractor and have taken the wrong wrench. I do that myself although the sophistication of modern vehicles is a challenge for me. When I finally found the oil filter on the Jeep I couldn’t figure out how to get to it. I decided it was cheaper to have it done by those who had the right tools than to do that myself.

I don’t know if others on occasion remember these old “Mom sayings”, but I sure do as I have outlined above. Some I can now laugh at like, “I brought you into this world, I can sure take you out”. When I was in my mid teens and very fit, I recall standing there looking down at my mother who was 5 foot 1 inch tall and her reminding me she may be smaller than me but she could still put me over her knee and spank me. I believed her then and I believe her now even though she passed away over twenty five years ago.

Mom Was Much Wiser Than I Knew

Those old sayings of hers worked then and I find many of them work now. One that I remember well was - “You are known by the friends you keep”. That is especially true in the small community where we presently reside. Our nearest neighbor on our road is a mile away. We choose our friends carefully as we have found some who appear friendly are actually anything but friendly. I don’t want to be identified with them.

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

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

Rattlesnakes on the Homestead

Muck Boots 

Muck boots
Photo by Kat Ludlam

We recently moved from the high-altitude Rockies, where there were no poisonous snakes at all, to the high plains of Colorado, which is “crawling” with rattlesnakes. In order to learn how to stay safe, we had a snake biologist from Adaptation Environmental Services in Denver come to our property to assess our set-up and teach us all about living in areas with these dangerous creatures. He taught us about snakes and how they live, and he walked our property with us and showed us the strengths and weaknesses of our buildings and landscaping so we can make choices that deter the snakes from coming into areas of the farm that we and our animals frequent.

If you live in snake country there are some easy steps you can take to keep your family and farm safer. But first, you need to understand the habits of snakes.

Snakes are cold-blooded, meaning they can’t regulate their own body temperature. Thus, depending on the outdoor temperatures, they must move in to cooler spots or warmed spots to keep their body at a good temperature. During the hottest part of the day, they are hiding in prairie dog holes underground, or in the shade of your porch, buildings, or in piles of building supplies. During the cooler mornings and evenings, they are out and more active, moving around and hunting. And when the weather starts getting chilly, they will want to sun themselves out on the driveway, cement, or asphalt in open areas where they can take advantage of the warmth of the sun. Keep these habits in mind as you move around your property, knowing where to look for them during that time of day and weather will help you be more aware.

Protect Your Legs

Most snake bites happen on the ankle. Wearing appropriate shoes that will protect you from a potential bite as you move around your farm is the first step and goes a long way towards human safety. We made a rule that when the kids or we are moving around the farm, we must be wearing our muck boots or our cowboy boots. And especially if we are out in the pastures, whether walking or on a mower or tractor, boots are a must.

Don’t Go Digging in Junk

Every farm has a certain amount of “junk” piles around the farm. T-posts, lumber, rolls of wire, or any number of building supplies and items that you are saving for the right project dot the landscape of the homestead. Unfortunately, these piles are the perfect hiding spot for snakes. They are cool and protected during the heat of the day.

So, when you need to go looking in piles of stuff, it is important to bring a long stick of some kind to use to lift up the items while you stand back and make sure there are no snakes hiding. If you reach down and just start grabbing stuff with your hands, you risk getting a bite on your hand, arm, or even face as you lean over. Once you have lifted and shifted things around enough with the stick to be sure there are no snakes, then you can bend down and grab what you need.

Junk pile on the homestead   

Junk pile
Photo by Kat Ludlam

Smart Landscaping

Limiting the places for snakes to hide in the most populated areas of your farm is very helpful. Low bushes and plants, shady areas under the deck or in the cracks of retaining walls are all areas a snake might choose to hang out during the heat of the day. Walk the area around your house and barns and identify the locations snakes will like. Then, either remove them, or change them to make them unappealing to snakes.

And those piles of “junk” I mentioned earlier, don’t put those right next to your barnyard or right where your dogs like to go sniffing. Keep them out away from the populated areas of the farm. Being purposeful about where you choose to put places that will attract snakes will help keep you safer.

Snake Fencing

There are places on your farm where you know that snakes are going to be drawn to that you can’t really change or remove but you still want to keep safe. A vegetable garden or berry patch, for example. Your low-lying bushes and plants will be a perfect shady place for them to hide in the hot days of summer, and you will also want to be there, kneeling down and reaching in to weed or harvest your plants. That makes for a perfect chance for a bite.

Another place might be a play area for your kids. The shade from a play set and such could be a resting place for a snake and you want your children to be able to run out and play unharmed. For locations such as these you should consider the option of snake fencing. There are companies out there that can build a snake fence for you, or you can build your own.

Dogs and Snakes

Most farms have at least one, and usually multiple dogs. Snake aversion training your dog can help teach them to give snakes a wider berth and can save your dog’s life. The training tends to be more effective with some dogs and less with others. Different dogs have different personalities and will react differently to the training. Our house dog did not learn much from the training, but our farm dog did. It is worth it to at least give it a try, if it doesn’t work for your dog then you are right where you started, but if it does work it can help save their life.

There is also a rattlesnake vaccine available. It does not prevent your dog from dying from a snake bite, but supposedly can increase the time period from the bite to death, giving you more time to get them to the vet. It is a very controversial vaccine and some vets say it doesn’t work at all, and some say it is worth it to give it to your dogs. Do your research and talk to your vet before you decide what is best for your dogs.

Livestock and Snakes

The best way to protect livestock from snakes is to be sure that their housing area and the surrounding areas are free from any of the places snakes can hide, such as piles of junk, low lying bushes, etc. Make it unappealing for snakes to want to be in the areas your livestock lives.

As far as chickens, ducks, and other small poultry, generally the most at risk are the eggs and the babies. If you plan to raise chicks or ducklings, or are having trouble with snakes stealing eggs, you should enclose the housing area with ¼-1/2-inch wire mesh, buried out at least 6 inches from the sides to keep the snakes out. Also, check for any cracks and holes in the coop that could let in a snake. Rattlesnake babies can be as small as ¼ inch. But they are unlikely to go hunting for food in your coop if they are that small because the eggs and chicks are likely much too big for them to eat.

There are many steps you can take to help safeguard your family and your farm if you are living in poisonous snake territory. By purposefully making choices that will make the areas on your property that humans and animals frequent unappealing to snakes, you can help prevent a nasty and dangerous encounter.

Kat Ludlam spent14 years homesteading at high-altitude in the Rockies and now is building a new homestead in the high plains of Colorado. She and her husband, Daniel, are the owners of Willow Creek Farm, where they breed specialty wool sheep, milk sheep, chickens, and crops that thrive in their location. Kat loves to feed her family from their land, and teach others to homestead as well. Check out Kat and Daniel’s custom fiber-processing business, Willow Creek Fiber Mill, and read all of Kat’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Daunting Homestead Tasks Offer Life Lessons

Turning this eye-sore into a garden seems a daunting task.
Photo by Jo deVries


New steel fencing; a solid investment in sustainable food.
Photo by Jo deVries

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that life is full of ups and downs; best to buckle up and enjoy the ride, remembering that we never know what’s around the next corner. I do know that the tough times usually make for good stories in later years, and the miracles I have witnessed give me hope when facing the seemingly impossible.

Still, it is easier to give advice than take it, to occasionally feel overwhelmed, to lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. I try and remind myself to consider those people who were in charge of the clean-up after the 9-11 attack or of a devastating earthquake or major fire. How does one handle a problem of such magnitude?

Well, how do you eat an elephant — one bite at a time. And that’s the way we need to approach life’s enormous challenges: one step, one day, one work shift at a time. And each day that we do our best with what we’ve got, we have earned a good night’s sleep.

When I first bought my 6-and-a-half acres of bush land in Ontario, I tried to do everything at once. I was passionate about the idea of living sustainably. This pulled me in too many directions, and some things only got started or half-finished. Many chickens were killed by predators due to inefficient caging, the gardens quickly grew over with weeds, the brush that had been cut had re-grown. It was apparent that this lifestyle would require endless work. Working hard is fine, but I needed to prioritize my projects, and make sure that the jobs would not have to be re-done at a later date. I needed to be smarter and more efficient.

A Miracle in the Chicken Coop

After getting our cabin suitable enough to live in (for us anyway), I built a solid chicken coop. Since being built, I have had a number of years of successful chicken breeding, and the coop now pays for itself.

I had an early start on hatching chicks this spring, but had a few fatalities because of chicks having difficulty hatching by themselves. Two particular chicks were helped out by my son, Jordan, and me and then placed in a towel in a bowl on the woodstove to warm up and dry off. Hours later, I put them back with their mom, feeling that they would be best with her overnight. Everything seemed fine. The next morning, I went out to the coop to do my usual chores. I was horrified to see both chicks lying lifeless on their backs, only inches from their mother.

When chicks are helped out of their shell, sometimes the remainder of the yoke has not yet completely ascended into their abdomen properly; throwing them off-balance. If they fall on their back, they are like turtles and might not be able to get up. A newly hatched chick will die of exposure in a very short time in cold temperatures. This hen apparently believed in “survival of the fittest”. These chicks never had a chance once they tipped over.

Heartbroken, I quickly tucked the chicks under my shirt and ran to the cabin. Once inside, I stroked their lifeless bodies and prayed. There was no movement, yet I couldn’t bring myself to toss them in the woodstove — not quite yet. I propped them up on the firewood that was drying in the woodstove oven. I continued to pray, begging for a miracle. I kept saying, “I know they're dead, I know, but You can make them alive, please. I wasn’t crying; just feeling empty and terribly guilty.

Then it happened. One chick, the bigger one, took a deep breath, its eyes still closed. I burst out in tears of joy and expressed my incredible gratitude. It was happening — a miracle!

I grabbed my phone to video-tape this amazing phenomenon. I focused. Then the second chick took a deep breath. Now, I was sobbing uncontrollably. Although their breaths were really far apart both were, in fact, alive. Praise God!


Hope (front) and Justice, an hour after being found lifeless.
Photo by Jo deVries

It took some time for them to regain their strength, but in hours they were snuggling with their two siblings and mother like nothing had happened.  Days later, they were all running around outside in the sunshine, catching bugs. I named them Hope and Justice.

When our time and energy is used towards living in harmony with Mother Earth, and we recognize our heavenly Father and his power, we will witness miracles. I’m honoured to have witnessed many. My efforts to live sustainably have been abundantly blessed, despite my many blunders.

Turning an Overgrown Field Around with Pigs

As far as gardening goes, this spring I was facing a field that was a disaster. The gardens and elderberry bushes were completely overgrown with hay. The wooden fences I had put up more than 20 years ago were rotted and needed to be removed. The field had become a forest. This was worse than starting from scratch; at times, I felt overwhelmed at the idea. Where would I start?  Okay, one step at a time.

In April, I bought two young pigs and housed them in the rotting pony corral. Perhaps I could get a few more months out of it.

I posted an ad at the local gas station, looking for an experienced person to install steel fencing at a reasonable price. I felt that steel posts would be a smarter long-term investment — I didn’t want my son to have to re-do this job in 20 years.

Three weeks ago, the first stage of the fencing was installed, giving the pigs a much larger area. Seeing the progress gave me the big boost of inspiration I needed!

I’m doing the preparation work now, so that the second part of the fencing can be put in next month — busy clearing trees and brush. Spraining my ankle twice in the past two weeks was a big set-back, but I’m trudging on.

Pinky and Red are happy to do the roto-tilling.
Photo by Jo deVries

Finding Assuredness Homestead Community

In the end, to attain sustainability we need community. We need family, friends, neighbours and those of like minds, helping each other and exchanging products and services. But more importantly, we need faith; faith that even when there is no one else around, we are never alone to face our struggles. Let’s just put in our time and do our best, working hard, and sleeping well because of it.

A good piece of land to grow a family, food, firewood and timber is better than money in the bank. It’s a solid investment, not just for my benefit but for future generations. The land I have cleared, the trees I have planted, and the gardens I have started are all a testimony of my commitment to a simpler more natural lifestyle that I want to pass on to my son. I’m working the soil on bended knee, and happy as a pig in mud. The pain and frustration from the hardships are quickly forgotten, and the joy of the miracles continue to warm my heart.

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

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

Goats: Spring Cleaning!

Photo by Unsplash/Antondarius

Originally published March 2012

Some have said that a “heat wave” can be defined as three consecutive days where the temperature is 20 degrees or more above the normal recorded temperatures. Well, by that definition we had a heat wave in Maine this week! Woohoo! It was 82 degrees yesterday, March 22nd and 83 & 80 the two days before. Average temps are usually in the mid 40's to the low 50's in March, we've even seen it 25 degrees below zero in mid-March, so we're all soaking this up. One of my friends sent me a photo of her two daughters dressed in shorts and flip-flops standing on a huge snow-pile.

Part of our usual spring clean up includes branch and fallen limb removal which we did this year in mid-March instead of late April! My husband actually scooped up the remains of a snow-pile and dumped it elsewhere so the snow melt wouldn't run down our driveway.

Photo by Janice Spaulding

Today was the official “GOAT CLEAN UP DAY”. Each of our very pregnant girls was led out of the barn and on to the fitting stand. Some needed to get their udders trimmed before kidding in another two weeks, others just needed their hoofs tended to. All of them got their annual CD/T vaccinations.  

Photo by Janice Spaulding

First girl on the stand was Winnie. Her registered name is Wenonah, but I like Winnie much better because it lends itself to some cute nicknames! She's a French Alpine and compared to our American Alpines she's more on the petite side. Being smaller in stature though, does not prevent her from becoming humongous during pregnancy. We call her “Wide Winnie” or better yet, “Winnie-bago”. It's normally way too cold at this time of year to be outside trimming udders, so we usually do it after they kid rather than before. Not this year!

Photo by Janice Spaulding

The photos of this beauty show her before her “dairy trim” and afterward. Hairy udders cause several problems, one being that hairs can drop into the milk pail during hand milking, YUCK! Secondly, while you are squeezing the teats you can accidentally pull some of the hairs on the udder. This will cause a foot in a bucket faster than you can say “heck”! Also, it's way easier to clean up their “tushies” after kidding without all that excess hair.

Photo by Janice Spaulding

After the trim, and a booster shot of their annual vaccine (we use Covexin 8), we  tackled hoofs. The last time the girls had a hoof trim was back in November, so they were a little over due. They are well mannered and were very patient while I snipped and clipped their hoofies. I tell them that it's like having a pair of new shoes, but they aren't too interested in my ramblings; if they could talk, they would probably say “would you please, just shut up and get this over with!”

Well trimmed hoofs are an important part of good goat health! Severely overgrown hoofs can cause leg, pastern, and foot problems.

Photo by Janice Spaulding

I stress “flat” when I teach hoof trimming at Goat School. So that we don't have to compromise our girls and boys hoofs to first time trimmers, we have our meat processor save goat hoofs for us. I have folks put their cadaver hoof in the position that a goat would be standing in, on a flat surface, after they are finished with the trimming, so that I can do a proper critique. This fun task has helped many people to understand what can happen with an improperly trimmed hoof!

Photo by Janice Spaulding

We will begin kidding around April 3rd, AND, I just got a new camera, so, stay tuned for more kidding photos! I'll also be doing a post on disbudding as soon as those new born kids are ready. We have strong opinions on the topic of disbudding, I'll explain and provide some good photos of actual disbudding.

Are you interested in attending Goat School? Visit Goat School to learn how.

Our ‘Lamb Tractor’ is a Frugal Solution for Moving Small Livestock: Video

Black & white lambs. Photo by Adam D. Bearup

We have owned and lived on our own 20-acre piece of paradise for about 10 years now. Throughout the years, we have raised many animals on this farm, including feeder cattle, egg-laying chickens, meat chickens, ducks, hogs, and turkeys. We have always discussed raising lambs and this year, we finally are in a position to be able to do it!

Locating and Transporting Lambs

It took several months to locate lambs to buy in our state. I thought that it would have been easier to locate lambs to buy, and I learned quickly that lambs are not as readily available as I had hoped. I talked to the lady who was selling the lambs and asked for her advice on how we should haul them from their farm to ours. She has seen everything from hauling lambs in dog crates to people putting lambs in the back seat of their cars.

The “lamb lady," as we now call her, urged us to find a way to haul lambs that would prevent them from jumping out. I immediately thought of the small trailer that we use to haul pigs and other animals to our farm with.

Constructing the ‘Lamb Tractor’

Our thought was to have the lambs live in a “lamb tractor”, which we would move around the pasture each day. We have raised feeder cattle several times, and that means that we have extra cattle panels in our storage barn. These cattle panels are 16 feet long and 50 inches tall and are basically sections of a very sturdy fence that are normally used to close off pastures and make feed lots. I decided to take four of the cattle panels and tie them together with metal ties to form a big square.

This big square would be our lamb tractor. I put a tarp over half of the lamb tractor so that the lambs had a shady place to be during the sunny days. The tarp would also keep the lambs dry when it rained. I used an old horse hay feeder in one corner of the lamb tractor and made sure that I could drag the lamb tractor around without too much effort. With the lamb tractor assembled, it was time to go get the lambs.

Watch the video to see how our adventure goes in picking up the lambs and bringing them back to our farm. Subscribe to my YouTube channel to keep up to date with my new videos.

Adam D. Bearup is a designer, green builder and farmer, who learned about biodynamic and regenerative farming for a project he built in Northern Michigan, The Earth Shelter Project MichiganAdam has degrees in marketing and management and a Masters of Science in Green Building. 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.

Bird Brains: Personal Experience, Behaviour Research, and the Welfare of Laying Hens

Jacob Holding a Hen

A younger Jacob with one of his hens
Photo by Roger Yip

“Here chick chick chick,” a 13-year-old me called out as I slipped on rubber boots and headed towards the run where I kept my hens. Hearing the call I’d taught them, my dozen birds scurried towards me and congregated at the fence as I stepped into the run and tossed them some cracked corn. Several of the hens, senior members in their social hierarchy, let out their usual “tick tick tick,” as they ate, communicating to the others that good stuff had been found. I checked the nest boxes in their coop - just three eggs. I dove into the lilac hedge where I’d seen a few hens exit a minute ago. After being poked and scratched by the shrubbery, I found a small depression lined with eight eggs, hidden quite expertly.

Eggs are arguably the most ubiquitous animal-based product, but they’re produced by a species that is poorly understood and often underestimated by most consumers. This month, I was lucky enough to connect with my former colleague Dr. Misha Ross, who is a published poultry behaviour researcher in the University of Guelph’s Animal Biosciences Department. You can watch the full length interview here.

The Avian Telos

I often refer to telos, a term for purpose, adapted by Bernard Rollin to mean the hard-wired nature of an animal. The telos of egg laying chickens is highly complex - their unique personalities, intelligence, and social structure are both entertaining and worthy of investigation. As Misha put it, “[the idea that birds are unintelligent] is a prevalent misconception that people have, and I think they use it to justify not caring about the animals.”

Much like humans, chickens live in social groups with a dynamic hierarchy; this is where we derive the phrase ‘pecking order.’ From a scientific perspective, the pecking order tells us a lot about bird brains. I learned from Misha that, “chickens have the capacity to perform simple logic: something called transitive inference, which can be seen through the pecking order.” 

Back in the day, my hens’ habit to lay their eggs in the lilacs instead of their nest boxes was certainly inconvenient, but it was a great example of one of the strongest instinctual motivations of hens. As Misha told me, “a hen has a really high motivation to find a secluded spot to lay her eggs away from other hens.” The nest boxes I had created simply weren’t as quiet and secluded as thick shrubbery. Other things a younger me observed in my backyard chickens - foraging, perching, and dust bathing - were also echoed by Misha as “highly motivated urges that chickens have.”

The North American Egg Industry

The majority of the 350 million laying hens in Canada and the USA are not afforded the opportunity to express any of their highly motivated natural behaviours. Since the post-war revolution of animal production, hens have been housed in battery cages, which are traditionally small, with no nest boxes, perches, or substrate for foraging and dust bathing. The result is that hens on traditional farms experience varying levels of chronic stress and exhibit a range of abnormal and destructive behaviours.

Producers Aren’t to Blame

It’s easy to place all the blame and onus to change on egg producers, but doing so ignores the complexity of the situation. Once consumers were separated from food production, price became the main motivation in the grocery store. Egg farmers, most of whom authentically enjoy their animals and way of life, had to either intensify their production methods or else lose their profits to others who would. 

The Present ‘Solution’: A Mess of Terms

Growing awareness of animal welfare has begun to drive out battery cages in North America, and ‘cage free’ eggs are widely available (albeit pricey). A multitude of branded terms are hurled at shoppers in an attempt to fetch top dollar for a dozen eggs. Go to your local health food or natural grocery store, and you’ll see egg cartons using terms like ‘free run,’ ‘free range,’ ‘enriched,’ ‘organic,’ and more. In general, ‘free range’ means the hens have outdoor access along with some form of enrichment inside - things like perches, nest boxes, and substrate to forage or dust bathe in. The other terms generally mean that enrichment has been provided, but without any outdoor access. According to Misha, “a free range system has the potential to provide the best welfare for the chickens, but so much depends on management. Even a free range label is no guarantee of good welfare.”

Consumer Behaviour: The Key to Rapid Change

In Canada, although battery cages are still the norm, they are being slowly phased out, and will be banned altogether within the next 15 years. Similar bans have greatly improved the welfare of laying hens in Europe. While legislation has an obvious role in protecting animals, it’s a slow moving ship, and perhaps not as effective as grassroots change in animal industries, as I learned from leading Ontario beef producers. Consumer behaviour is the one thing that has the potential to improve animal lives right now. Besides reducing your consumption of eggs, there are a number of things you can do to help egg-laying chickens.

Look for the Right Labels

If it’s within your means to buy added welfare eggs at the grocery store, third party labelling programs are the best way to make sense of the mess of brands and terms. Animal Welfare Certified, Certified Humane, and Certified Organic are exemplary third-party labels: according to Misha, “they are scientifically informed, and there’s no conflict of interest between the certifier and the producer.” Do some of your own research, or read about other labelling programs in my introductory article

Connect with a Producer

The best way to ensure your eggs were produced by happy (or happier) hens is to connect with progressive producers and assess their system with a critical eye. Look for farms which give hens the opportunity to nest, perch, dust bathe, and experience the outdoors. An ideal facility provides an outdoor environment that the birds will actually want to use (i.e. not an open unsheltered field). If you’re a keener, get a producer on the phone and ask them about their strategy and how it impacts the health and welfare of their birds. 

Bring Chickens into your Community

I’ve always been quick to promote backyard poultry as an avenue for ethically produced eggs. As Misha reminded me, backyard hens are a significant investment, and not to be taken lightly. Disclaimers aside, I know from personal experience that managing poultry is an incredibly entertaining and gratifying experience. Misha believes that backyard chicken keeping is a really great endeavour for the people willing to invest in giving the animals everything they need. He added that if people have the opportunity to interact with chickens housed properly with their needs met, this could bring out the charisma of the birds that is often overlooked, catalyzing more thought and better consumer decisions. 

If you’re ready to take on a time and financial commitment, investigate your local bylaws and consider taking on a few hens. If you go through with it, make it a community event. While keeping birds may not be for everyone, the opportunity to observe and interact with chickens is a wholesome outdoor activity that could bring you closer to your neighbours while encouraging them to reconsider their own role in the improvement of animal lives.

Jacob Maxwell is a biology student and veterinary hopeful in Ontario who divides his time between animal biology coursework and hands-on experience with veterinarians and animal researchers. Connect with Jacob on his blogA Try-Hard's Guide to Having Fun, and on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and LinkedIn. Read all of Jacob’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

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