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Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Labor-Saving Tractor Implements


Have you ever said to yourself, “I wish I knew about that earlier?” Or wished there was an easier way to accomplish a task? For those of us living on a homestead, those comments seem to come up often and such was the case with me recently.

I maintained our trail to the source of our firewood with a rake and shovel. Our dead standing aspen are at the far end of our property and to keep the trail open to them is a physically demanding job. In addition, there are all the tree limbs that have accumulated over the years. Both are hard physical jobs that usually don’t come without a lot of muttering to myself. I wished there was an easy way to accomplish these tasks or I wished I knew a better way.

Aggravating tree limbs. Probably the worst, dirty and most annoying job was dealing with the brush piles full of pine limbs. Those limbs catch on your clothes, scratch, cut forearms and legs, and are in essence a miserable nuisance. In the past we would haul them to the disposal site on our utility trailer but since they entangle each other (and did I mention they are totally annoying) we had to untangle them, and load them one at a time. It would take us most of the morning to remove one substantial pile of limbs.

Eureka! A solution. I also post articles on MOTHER EARTH NEWS Community Colorado Facebook page and as I was posting one, it had a photo of a Kubota tractor exactly like mine. On the front end was an implement that appeared as a task saver so first thing Monday morning I called our Kubota dealer to inquire if they made one for my size tractor. It turns out they actually do make them for a compact tractor and after some discussion I had them order one for me. I had checked implements on the Kubota website but they did not show a grapple. I found out they are made by a subsidiary company called Land Pride.

Making the job easier. A month passed and my grapple arrived and was installed on my tractor. It didn’t take long to remove those piles of branches. I drove up to the pile of branches and latched onto a bunch, let the hydraulics crunch them up and dump them on the utility trailer. What used to take all morning I can accomplish in 20 to 30 minutes. The entire job was done in a single morning that used to take days. Do I feel foolish for not having discovered this implement earlier? More than just a little.

Multiple uses. I have found it can also serve other functions as well. It can pick up and move rocks as well as move firewood without heavy back-breaking lifting. I can latch onto a downed tree and suspend it at a comfortable level so I can cut it to firewood length. No more bending over and ending up with a backache. 

Box blade for more labor-saving

The same time I ordered the new grapple I ordered a box blade implement. I had seen a box blade in use but always in conjunction with ripping up land to level that land. I had always maintained our long driveway with a single rear blade and also with a rake and shovel. It was getting pretty lopsided and ragged and I was hoping a box blade would make it easier to maintain.

Efficient and easy to use. Again I was impressed at how level the box blade made our driveway and I also used it on the trail to our firewood source at the far end of our property. What a labor saver it turned out to be and the cost was very moderate thanks to our stimulus check. I couldn’t accomplish with the rear blade in a week what I could accomplish with the box blade in half of a day.

'If only I'd known this sooner'. Those are two recent cases where I have said to myself,  “I wish I had known about this earlier”. I think about all the painful backaches, muscle aches and painful joints these two implements could have helped me avoid.  Not to mention hernia surgery to correct a tear that was from lifting large rocks that this grapple now moves with ease. Both implements take some time to get proficient with but the learning time is actually pretty short. Now thinking back on our 23 years here I don’t see how we lasted this long without these two implements. We did it the hard way and every day my sore joints and aches remind me of doing it the hard way. The satisfaction of doing it the hard way rapidly diminishes in light of my recent discovery of a grapple and box blade. 

'No fool like an old fool'. What I have spent over the years on across the counter pain medication could have paid for the grapple and then some. As I was growing up I heard my elders say, “there is no fool like an old fool”. Point well taken and I should have listened more closely back then. It is my sincere hope that someone who is in the same situation we were 23 years ago will read this blog and profit from my mistakes.

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.

What It's Like Cutting Your Own Firewood in the Forest (With Video)

Things have been very busy for us on our off­-grid homestead in Idaho these past few weeks, and one of the main tasks we have been focusing on has been cutting and stockpiling firewood for the winter. Our first winter on our homestead we just squeaked by with three cords of wood, so we knew we'd need to get a lot more for this coming season!

At first thought, gathering and cutting your own firewood sounds pretty simple. You cut a fallen tree into logs and load 'em up, right? We wish! In actuality, the process for us was much more complicated.

Interested in the steps necessary for gathering your own firewood? Read on for some helpful tips from our own experience!

cutting your own firewood

First Thing's First: Firewood Cutting Equipment

There are a lot of tools that make gathering firewood a lot easier. Below is a list of some of our best picks for this kind of job. This list is not all-inclusive, there are likely other things you may need depending on the situation but it’s a good place to start.

Pickup truck: Preferably one you don't mind throwing stuff in and beating up a bit.

Chainsaws: We always take two with us in different sizes so that we have a backup in case one acts up.

Tow chain: Useful for dragging trees that are already relatively close to the road.

Felling Wedges: Used for when you have to drop a standing tree in a certain spot.

Snatch block: Used for pulling logs longer distances than a chain can reach.

Axe: Can be used to get your chainsaw unstuck or to split round logs that are too big to carry.

Safety Gear: Bring your helmets, ear and eye protection, and thick gloves. Working with heavy logs can be a dangerous business.

firewood cutting tools

Finding Places to Cut Wood

The best option for us on where to cut firewood was to turn to the public land, or a national  forest. We needed permits to do this that came to $5 per cord which was more than reasonable for us. After buying a permit for eight cords of wood (as many as a household our size is allowed) we were ready to find some trees!

national forest road

Deciding on Trees

The best firewood comes from standing dead trees. Look for trees without any green leaves or needles to ensure it's actually dead, not just dying. For us to comply with regulations (they may vary by state), we have to look for trees that are no farther than 100 feet from the road and are at least 150 feet from a water source.

Take care to learn the species of trees that are allowed for harvesting in your area. Where we live, birch and cedar are off limits, but dead fir, pine and larch are all fair game. Windfall trees are also legal to harvest so long as they come from the permitted tree types.

Make sure you really know what type of tree you are harvesting because in our experience forest service personnel will come, ask to see your permit, and check to make sure you are complying with regulations.

Fighting Off the Competition

In our experience, there has been a surprising amount of competition for firewood from the forests in our area. Part of the reason for this is because the Forest Service has closed some of the roads through the forest, meaning that all woodcutters are forced to stick to the main highways.

This puts a lot of people in competition for wood, meaning that you have to be quick to get any good trees. Because any trees in the woods are fair game, some of our friends have felled trees and gone back to get them the next day, only to find that someone else has beaten them to it. This can be frustrating, but it's a reality when lots of people go after a relatively scarce resource.

gathing and cutting firewood in the forest

The Value of Gathering Our Own Firewood

After seeing all the effort we go through, some people ask us if getting our own firewood has been worth the effort. Even though it was a lot of work, our answer so far is a resounding yes.

In just a few weeks time, we've gathered enough wood to save us the equivalent of $900 in fuel costs and we've gotten a free workout as well. Both of us lost weight while harvesting our wood, and we didn't even have to pay to go to a gym.

firewood larch

Beyond that, we have been making memories together, enjoying the time that we get to spend outside and working together for the good of our home. In the sub freezing temperatures of midwinter, we'll look back at the sweltering 90 degree days we spent gathering wood and smile.

It's good to know our work now will help keep us warm in a few months. I’m sure cutting your own firewood is not the best solution for everyone, but for us right now, we’re young and happy to put in a little sweat to save some serious money, not to mention be self-sufficient when it comes to heating our home.

We hope this video and article serves as some sort of inspiration to someone that is looking to take the wood heat plunge! Gathering firewood is an experience like no other!

Alyssa Craft moved to Idaho after purchasing 5 acres of land where she will build an off grid homestead from scratch with as little money as possible. She is blogging about the journey from start to finish in hopes of inspiring others that wish to take a similar path. Follow her many DIY projects, getting started with solar power, building a wood-fired hot tub and milling lumber with an Alaskan chainsaw mill. Follow Alyssa on her blog Pure Living for Life, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. View Alyssa’s other 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.

Are You Prepared for a Chicken Emergency?

 backyard chickens foraging

You’re outside, pulling weeds in the garden and your hand brushes up against a squash plant.  The prickly little spikes from around the squash plant are now all in your fingers.  Most of them can be dusted off on your jeans, but a couple are stubborn and will need to be pulled out with tweezers.  You go inside, grab some tweezers and the hydrogen peroxide, clean it up and get the spikes out.

It’s expected that we have our own first aid supplies in our homes.  When we get minor cuts, bumps and bruises, we can take care of them without going to the local doctor’s office.  Isn’t it funny though that most chicken-owners don’t have the necessary supplies to safely treat the same minor cuts, bumps and bruises for their chickens?

Why You Need to Prepare for an Emergency with your Chickens

The old saying that chickens aren’t very smart is true to a certain extent.  Chickens tend to be more intelligent than we give them credit for (no, they won’t really drown outside in the rain), but they are livestock and if there’s a way for them to get hurt, they will usually find it and, well, get hurt.

Unfortunately for us as chicken owners, chickens don’t like to let us know that they are sick or hurting until they are really sick or hurting.  There’s a reason for that though.  Chickens are prey animals.  In the wild, prey animals are picked off by predators.  Predators will go after the injured, sick or old animals because they are easier to catch and less work for the predator.  Chickens that are injured or sick will hide their sickness or injury as long as they can to prevent themselves from looking like the easy target.  When you see a chicken that obviously doesn’t feel good, it usually means that the chicken is pretty bad off.

Once you notice that your chicken is either sick or hurt, you may not have a long period of time to get it the care that it needs.  You may not have time to run to the farm supply store for medical supplies.  You really may not have time to order the supplies online and wait for them to ship to you.  For many people, taking chickens to the vet isn’t an option.  A simple vet office visit fee can be nearly $100.  Even if you’re willing to pay to take them to the vet, there may not be a vet clinic near you that treats chickens. 

It’s important that we have what we need on hand to treat our chickens if they get sick or get hurt.  A well-stocked chicken first aid kit can treat most chicken illnesses and injuries.    

What do I need in an emergency kit for chickens?

Some of the items that you need in a chicken first aid kit are items that you probably already have at home.  Others you’ll need to round up at a farm supply store or a local pharmacy.  You can usually find chicken medications at your local farm supply.  But, the selection of products that are designed solely for chickens is pretty slim.

Many medications and products that you need in your chicken first aid kit are actually created for larger livestock and are used ‘off-label’ for chickens.  This means that although these are effective for chickens, they aren’t designed specifically for chickens and you aren’t using them to treat the species of livestock that is on the label.

Once you have all of your medications and products in place in your first aid kit, it’s important to understand how to use all of it.  Since chickens are good at hiding signs of what is wrong with them, it can be tricky to figure out how to treat them if they aren’t feeling well.

You need a ‘road map’ to tell you what is wrong with them.  By the process of elimination, you can figure out what’s going on with your chicken.  Knowing which questions to ask yourself are key to making the right diagnosis for your chicken and therefore treating them properly for what is going on with them.

I’ve created a Chicken Emergency Bundle that is complete with not only what you need in a chicken first aid kit, but how to use that kit to heal your chickens faster.  I’ve also included the ‘road map’ that you need to diagnose what is going on with your chickens.  Once you’ve determined what’s wrong with your chickens, you can start treating them.  I’ve created cheat sheets that you can easily reference to see how to treat your chickens. All of these things are included in the Chicken Emergency Bundle.  Learn more about the Chicken Emergency Bundle here and prevent yourself from spending hours searching the internet trying to figure out why your chickens are sick.

Shelby DeVore is the founder of Farminence. She's an animal expert with more than 20 years of experience raising chickens for meat, eggs and show. She also taught high school agriculture and FFA. She taught many poultry science courses and coached numerous poultry judging teams. You can read all of Shelby’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.

Choose the Right Rooster

little roo

There are many benefits to having a rooster in your backyard flock. The rooster will keep the girls in order, alert them to predators, and often give his life to protect the flock. And if you want to hatch your own chicks for a truly self-sustaining flock, you will naturally need at least one roo. 

The problem around here - and in many other backyard flocks - is that we always end up with too many roosters. We hatch chicks every year, and around half are male. This year we had about 60% male chicks. We don't slaughter our birds, but when we give our cockerels (young roosters) away, we are aware that some of them may end up in the stew pot.

Considerations before You Add a Rooster

It's hard to be totally pragmatic and just weed out as many birds as possible when you have raised them from an egg. Plus, cockerels are fun and often so handsome it's hard to part with them. It can be tempting to keep a "backup" rooster or two in case something happens to your alpha roo. Keep in mind the following, though:

1. If you have more than one rooster, they might fight. It doesn't always happen. Often, birds that grow up together establish a relatively peaceful hierarchy — but in other cases, feathers will fly. We currently have two roosters, and one drew the other away from the coop so that the second roo sleeps in a tree.

2. With two roosters, you will have more than twice as much crowing. They will compete: one will crow and the other will answer. Then over and over. This might be a problem depending on whether you (or your neighbors) are light sleepers. We had to get rid of our "backup roo" for that reason before and eliminated not 50%, but more like 75% of the noise.

3. Too few hens per rooster means that the girls won't have a moment of peace. The roosters will fight for the hens and mate over-zealously, harassing them until they have bald patches on their backs. If you have 8-10 hens, one healthy, virile rooster should be enough for a high percentage of fertilized eggs. You may need one rooster per 4-5 hens in a less active breed, such as Silkies.

How to Choose a Rooster

If you have several cockerels, how do you choose the best rooster?

The rooster you choose now will sire all your chicks next season, so look for the traits you want to see in your flock. If you breed heirloom chickens, choose the rooster that displays the most correct breed traits. Otherwise, look for good size in dual-purpose birds, predecessors that are good layers, healthy appearance, and temper.

Whatever you do, don't put up with a mean rooster. Some people think all roosters are aggressive - not true! Choose a friendly bird with a docile or at least non-aggressive disposition, or you'll have hell to pay every time you go to tend to your flock. I want roosters that a toddler can comfortably pet without getting pecked. This depends in a large part on the breed  — if you have Brahmas or Orpingtons, you have a better chance of a friendly roo. Hand-raised chicks that were handled frequently from hatching tend to be friendlier, too.

Good luck to you with choosing a healthy, easy-to-handle rooster that will protect your flock and sire many cute baby chicks!

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern 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 PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead 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.

Choose the Right Breed of Dog for Homestead and Family


We prefer the German Shepherd Dog for their size, loyalty, intelligence, watchfulness and companionship. We do not exclude other breeds but we mostly lean toward the German Shepherd, based on our remote lifestyle. Some people favor the mutt, some prefer specific breeds or mixed breeds. It is a matter of personal taste and homestead need. We actually love all dogs but living at 9,800’ elevation and remotely we could not have a small dog. Eagles and birds of prey have been known to swoop down even with the dog parent present and carry off small dogs. 

Choose a dog suited for your environment. We also have coyotes and other predators. I recall one time I was walking our Border Collie/Australian Cattle dog mix (Gypsy) and German Shepherd (Ben) and a coyote darted out and went after Gypsy while on an expansion leash. Our German Shepherd showed the coyote some vicious teeth, gave a low growl - sounding like it came from the very pit of hell - and the coyote ran off. With a 100% German Shepherd and human advancing on it, the coyote lost all its courage. We therefore choose dogs that are suited to our lifestyle and environment. 

Both dog and family must be compatible. It is also important to adopt dogs that like you as much as you are attracted to them. This sounds  simple, but our adopted Echo was very particular. I picked him up at the shelter to transport to the rescue and during our two-hour drive he bonded with me. Since I qualified potential adopters, I sent a few potential adopters to see if he was a fit for them. He would sniff them and then turn his back on them, remaining aloof toward them. When I learned this, we went immediately to adopt him ourselves and I have never seen a more happy dog. He had been waiting for us to come back and clearly didn’t want anyone else and spent the next eight years always by my side.

Dogs reveal their inclination. It is best to make absolutely sure the dog is attracted to you before adopting. Through no fault of your own, you may remind them of a similar person in their past that they had a bad experience with. Recently when Carol went into town for groceries she saw Lucy (see photo) in the shelter as she drove by. She went back to inquire about her and Lucy was immediately attracted to Carol and calmly laid at her feet. She is now one very happy family member, having chosen us as much as we chose her.

Carefully observe the dog’s body language. Watch for subtle body language and behavior. It is devastating to adopt a dog and then have to take the dog back to the shelter because the dog will not respond to you or remains aloof when you get them home...or developing bad neurotic habits like chewing or other destructive habits. By being careful in choosing a canine companion initially will help avoid the dog receiving the ultimate rejection by going back to the shelter. Picking the right dog for you and your family requires considerable pre-planning and astute observation when selecting the dog. 

Dogs should be inside and part of the family. The Border Collie mix (Gypsy) mentioned earlier was a surrender by some friends of ours. We occasionally dog sat her when they were away, but while with us she was inside the home and got along very well with our German Shepherd, Ben. Our friends had kept her mostly outside and she had some close encounters with predators. We do not believe in outside dogs and ours are always inside with us. Gypsy was always very happy to come visit us if only for a week or two. When we were asked if we would take her, there was no hesitation on our part. When I went to pick her up she eagerly got into the truck and never looked back at her old home. She lived out her long life as a member of our family content and happy. 

Don’t believe everything you read. There are numerous sources to help decide on the right breed of dog for people. Some are very good sources and some not-so-good. I was reading one not-so-good on social media recently that was telling people not to adopt numerous popular breeds of dogs or bring them into your home. The reasons given were ridiculous and certainly contrary to my long experience with those breeds. On the lengthy list were dog breeds like Shih Tzu, French Bulldog, Jack Russell Terrier, Shar Pei, Basenji, Australian Shepherd, German Shepherd, Husky, Pekingese and Greyhound to mention only a few.

Dog or owner. My personal experience with several of the many breeds mentioned are totally different from what the person writing the article claimed. The tragic part is that some people will assume the article is truthful and not adopt some of the very best breeds of dogs. I have friends who have had Greyhounds, Pit Bull Terriers, Chows, and Jack Russell Terriers and they are the sweetest, loving and best behaved dogs possible. The difference is that good dog parents equip themselves with the knowledge required to handle, treat and train the dog. 

Training the dog. The adopter should have the skills needed to properly train the new addition to your home. Dogs that are specific breeds do have certain traits and the adopter should be familiar with those traits. It is my opinion that the adopter should do some research on training techniques and breed characteristics before adoption. 

Seek the right resources. There are many different training techniques available on the internet and numerous books on the topic which all generally work. There are also professional dog trainers, which is how I learned, and hands on experience then helps refine your technique. My trainer was a military friend who trained military dogs. My refinement came later from a wild wolf at a local sanctuary. I prefer the Lucas Method, which was reported in a previous post. Training should always be gentle and consistent in my opinion.

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. .

Essentials for Starting a Homestead


For those thinking of taking the leap into homesteading or farming, there are some tools that can make all the difference.  I have compiled a list of some of the most used and useful objects on our homestead, ones that have a general appeal (not specific to any kind of livestock). 

Canning Supplies

Canning supplies start with a collection of canning jars.  You can add to your abilities to preserve and ferment with funnels and racks and toppers, but just starting with the jars you will find them undeniably useful.  

There are two reasons that canning jars and supplies are at the top of my list.  First of all, canning is the easiest entry into self reliant living.  Grow even one tomato or cucumber plant, can the harvest, enjoy it on a winter day: it’s a start.  Heck, you can buy your vegetables or fruits at the grocery store and can them if you want a quick introduction.  It’s just such an easy way to get started and to enjoy the simple pleasure of making food last.  All you need are the jars and your kitchen and a little bit of time.  The second reason  for a canning jar collection is that the jars are just so very useful.  We ferment cider in them, we milk into them and store milk in them, we make yogurt in them, we use them for bouquets, we can scoop feed with them, we could plant things in them, we store dry goods and seeds in them, there is just no end to the usefulness of a good canning jar.  So go out and get yourself some canning jars, try some fermentation experiments, or just start using glass as your favorite way to store all manner of things.

Good Gear

What a difference good gear makes!  I mean durable, hardworking clothing that keeps you dry, warm, safe, and allows you to move freely.  But won’t old pair of jeans do that?  Not on the farm.  If you keep livestock, or you live in a seasonal climate, or you’re doing any kind of construction or land restoration, jeans are not always going to cut it.  You’ll find yourself up to your knees in mud, working in the pouring rain, working in negative temperatures, having various animals chew on you…you get the idea.  

When I first started farming I still wanted to wear skinny jeans but I quickly changed my ways.  You need durable boots, you need coveralls that can keep you warm in winter and also allow you to remove them and go back to looking like a normal human, you need a warm hat and good gloves, and you need a good winter jacket and a good rain jacket.  It just is uncomfortable without these things. You also need breathable summer gear that is still durable.  Invest in good gear and it will make a huge difference in your day to day experience.  That being said, don’t over invest.  Buy clothes you won’t mind seeing covered in every possible animal fluid, have holes chewed in them, have holes burned in them, and generally end up stained and tired but still working.  My go-to brand for gear is always Carhartt, which is affordable enough to replace if it gets damaged - but tough enough that that rarely happens.


Buckets are like canning jars.  You cannot put a number on their uses.  I’m talking five gallon buckets with handles.  If you go to a hardware store grab a couple.  You will haul animal food and water in them, you’ll move dirt and rocks and store trees, you’ll move shavings to a brooder box or even move baby animals with them.  

Even though on our farm we have a tractor, a wheelbarrow, and several outdoor faucets for easy water access, I use five gallon buckets every day, multiple times a day.  They’re how you get the water from the faucet to trough which is never quite close enough (especially in winter when hoses can’t be used), or get the pile over the obstacle and to the tractor or wheelbarrow.  They carry pig feed out to their remote pasture.  They are endlessly useful and having a few on hand has saved the day on more than one occasion.  Bonus: they also make an excellent seat should you need a rest after a long day.

Good Wheelbarrow

Like buckets, a good wheelbarrow will be used for transporting any number of heavy objects from point A to point B.  A wheelbarrow can carry more than a bucket, of course, and it’s easier to move heavier things.  And a wheelbarrow can be wheeled in to smaller spaces and more difficult terrain than a tractor.  

If you keep any kind of livestock a wheelbarrow is an absolute must for cleaning stalls.  Any wheelbarrow is going to be helpful, but I personally would recommend a two-wheeled design.  They are usually bigger, and so can transport more; but most importantly they are more stable.  That stability and maneuverability makes all the difference.  As with gear, I think it is also important to spring for the best built wheelbarrows, if at all possible.  Spending extra on a very durable model will mean you never have to purchase one again.  

Digging Bar

I cannot tell you how often I reach for the simple digging bar on our farm.  A digging bar is a simple steel rod, usually around six feet long, with one flat end for gripping and one chisel end for prying.  It’s different from a crowbar in that it doesn’t have the curved end and it’s usually much larger.

The design purpose of a digging bar is to lever large rocks.  That is certainly a useful purpose on the farm, especially in rocky terrain or if you are trying to clear out a garden bed.  A digging bar can help you move rocks that would be much too heavy, or are too rooted in the ground, for you to shift on your own.  It can do the same thing with any other large object such as fallen trees.  But honestly, more than anything I use our digging bar in winter for ice clearing.  I use it to chop ice out of the walkways so that the animals and myself can walk safely, I use it to chip ice out of water buckets and I use it to dislodge various things from the ice so I can use them.  While our digging bar sees plenty of use in the summertime, in the wintertime there isn’t a day I do not use it.


Possibly a controversial choice because I know many farmers who work only with manpower or use horses or cows/ox on their land - but a tractor is an invaluable asset for us.  A small plot of land, or land in good working condition, can be easily worked by hand.  But a farm of any size (ours is 93 acres) or in disrepair (ours had been abandoned for thirty years) is going to require some serious heavy lifting.  Adding a tractor - even a small one, or an ATV with a dump bed - will avoid many aching muscles and possible injuries, and help you restore your land in a fraction of the time it would’ve taken by hand.

That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank on on a fancy, brand new tractor.  When we moved to our farm we had a family vintage 1949 Ford 8N.  We cleared forty acres of field with the old tractor, which was strong enough to haul rocks and logs, and a brush-hog attachment allowed us to mow down anything smaller.  Within two seasons our fields were workable again.

We did add another tractor, one with a bucket scoop and more power, after a few years.  We now do the majority of our work on the farm with a 1985 John Deere 1050.  We can move earth and mulch, flatten some areas and make piles in others, clean up our manure pile, haul all manner of things, mow fields, move trees, carry equipment, and control brush fires.  

Vintage tractors, wether the family heirlooms or slightly newer models, are the way to go.  The benefit of both of our tractors is that we can work on many of their issues here on the farm.  They aren’t run by a computer, they’re simple enough that a farmer can understand them.  And, they are much less expensive than new models.  While a tractor may be one of the bigger investments you make in your farm, it can still be affordable if you look for good used models online.

Patience, and Open Mind, and a Sense of Humor

And of course, the right mindset is everything.  Farming and homesteading are long games.  There are many setbacks and heartbreaks, frustrations and changing plans.  You need the ability to look at a piece of land, envision a future of food production for it, and then work patiently towards that goal.  Planting fruit trees or asparagus may take years to pay off.  But a homesteader does it anyway.  Crops may fail, and even the most well cared for animals can fall victim to injury or disease.  But you keep persisting, treasuring the moments of success and learning to grow and change with the land.  

It’s easy to become overwhelmed on the farm, but a love of the lifestyle and a belief in doing better each season keeps you getting up and taking care of the animals and the land every day.  And the right equipment can make it all easier.  Hopefully with some of these tips you will be able to make the transition to a homesteader’s lifestyle smoothly.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200-year-old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

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Learning to Homeschool on the Homestead


Fourteen years ago, when we first started homeschooling, I never would have imagined that there would come a time where so many kids would be schooling at home due to a pandemic. But, as we close in on the start of a new school year, students across the nation are facing a new way of schooling - from home. Whether a family is choosing to use the virtual schooling through the public school system, or choosing a more traditional homeschool method, or a combination of both - due to COVID, families are having to adjust to having the children in the home instead of away at school all day. If you have a homestead or backyard farm, this is an excellent opportunity to include the many life skills and lessons from the farm alongside their more formal education.

First and foremost, get the kids involved as much as possible in the homestead. This will look different depending on the age of the child and the type of homestead you have. Younger children will enjoy working alongside you as you teach them about the things you are doing together. Whereas older children will enjoy the freedom to take charge of a certain aspect of the farm, research and learn about it, and make it their own. If you have a garden and some chickens in the suburbs, that will offer different opportunities than a several-acre backyard farm in a rural area. Either way, giving the kids a break from the screen and the school books and getting them outside or in the kitchen to help with homesteading activities will be good for their bodies and their minds.

Kindergarten to Middle School Grades

The homestead is full of awesome, real-life, hands-on learning experiences that include a lot of math and science. In the garden, kids can learn about seeds, germination, pollination and pollinators, the life cycle of plants, soil composition, worms and insects, weather and water. Add in some art or composition by letting them sketch plants and bugs from the garden, or write a nature journal or poem. Take your harvest into the kitchen and learn about measuring, cooking, canning, freezing, dehydrating, root cellaring, and nutrition. Throw some history and geography in there by learning about preserving and using food throughout history and across the world, and cook something from a different culture for fun. In the barn, students can learn about animal classification, animal life cycles, basic biology and anatomy, treating illness or injury in animals, animal reproduction, and basic animal nutrition.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time putting together lessons about these things, the learning will just come naturally as you work together around the homestead and will supplement the formal education they are getting. Children are so curious and eager to learn new things. As you are working together, they will ask questions. If you don’t know the answer, go look it up together online and see what you can learn about it and then expand on the idea and learn even more. Kids learn best when they are being taught about a topic they are interested in. One question leads to another and then another and all of a sudden you will realize that together you have learned more than you thought you would ever know about something that started as one simple question from your child.

 East Friesian Lamb

Photo Credit: Kade Ludlam

Middle and High School Grades

Similar things can be taught to older kids, just in a more detailed and expanded way. For example, they can learn about genetics, Punnett squares, and heritability with your livestock breeding program. They can go into more detail learning about animal nutrition and feeds and feeding, analyzing the foods you are using and how they can be improved. They can learn about soil analysis and take some of your garden soil to be analyzed. Then they can figure out how best to amend it and fix any issues they found with it. They could also study cross-pollination, plant genetics (Punnett squares again), and seed saving.

Keeping good records about what you produce on the farm and what you spend is a great way for teens to get started learning accounting. And don’t forget that it is not all dollars and cents spent and earned, you need to take into account the value of the products produced by the animals for your family use. Each egg you eat from your chickens is one less egg you buy at the store and thus has a dollar value you can place on it.  You also need to put a value on your time spent working on the farm.  If your homestead is also a business, there are many opportunities for older kids to learn business management skills and customer service.

The thing our family finds most enjoyable for older kids on the homestead is to let them take charge of something around the farm, or plan and start something new on their own. Let them have a section of the garden, or a particular animal or group of animals. They can choose what to plant, when, how, and then harvest it and preserve it. Challenge them to make it as profitable and productive as possible - not necessarily by selling (though that is a good option too), but by providing food for the family. Have them keep track of how they do and whether or not they have improved production. Have they always wanted to add dairy goats or meat rabbits to the farm (or any other animal for that matter)?  Let them do the research into the different breeds, costs, housing, feeding, etc. Then have them come up with a plan on how to add the animals to the farm, including cost and income estimates. Help them gather the supplies and build what is needed, working together to find the least expensive ways to do it, potentially re-purposing or buying used. Then let them get the animals and raise them, managing them on their own, with your accountability, and learning as they go. When we have done this with our older children, we have been surprised to see how much more productive they can make it than it was when we were doing it without them.

 Farm Fresh Eggs

Life Skills and Character

The most important thing that your children will learn from the homestead are life skills, work ethic, and good character. As they work alongside you, they will learn to be compassionate to animals and the importance of taking good care of the animals we choose to bring into our care. They will learn that not everything is fun and games, and that the not-so-fun work is just as important as the fun work. But that when you are working together as a family team, even not-so-fun work can become fun and strengthen your family relationships. And they will improve their self-esteem as they see their value and worth as part of the family unit working together towards something bigger than themselves.

Having your kids unexpectedly at home all day this school year will present your family with both challenges and opportunities. Get them involved in your homestead and you will likely find that you all learn and grow more than you expect.

To read more about our experiences homesteading with children, and tips for success, check out my blog post series Homesteading With Kids.   

Kat Ludlam is a high-altitude homesteader and owner of Willow Creek Farm in the Colorado Rockies, where she breeds landrace sheep, chickens, and crops accustomed to elevation. Check out Kat’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.

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