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

Old World Skills Renewed


Old World Skills

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

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

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

Food Preserving

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobile Turkey Shelter

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

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

You Can Place Chicks and Poults Together in a Brooder

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

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

Turkeys Need a BIG Shelter

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

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

Turkeys Like to Roost as High as They Can

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

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

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

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

Rebecca Harrold homesteads and homeschools on a 23-acre property in rural Ontario, where she is engaged with all types of wiser living skills. She believes that restoring the land to its healthy, sustainable state will increase its resilience, and in turn, the resilience of the people who depend upon it. Connect with Rebecca at Harrold Country Home and on Instagram. Read all of Rebecca’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

The ABCs of Homesteading: P is for Ponds and Preparedness

Pond Overflow Plan 

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

Climate Reckoning

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

Mineral Maladies

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

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

Unexpected Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Need a Whole New Level of Preparedness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homestead Ponds

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

What is a Pond?

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

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

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

Tip 1: Site your Pond for Sufficient Water Catchment

Irrigation Pond Lined

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

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

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

Tip 2: Calculate Your Rain Water Catchment

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

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

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

Tip 3: Calculate Fill Time from Flowing Water Sources

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

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

Tip 4: Make Sure Your Catchment is Sufficient

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

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

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

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

Tip 4: Check Your Legal Regulations

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

Tip 5: Include a Shallow End

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

Tip 6: Include a Deep End

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

Tip 7: Manage Mud

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

Tip 8: Aerate and Filter Appropriately

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

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

Tip 9: Anticipate Overflow

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

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

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

Tip 10: Talk to Pond Owners in Your Area

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

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

Tip 11: Hire a Professional Excavator

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

Tip 12: Seal Appropriately

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

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

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

Tip 13: Predict Pond Filling Times

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

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

Tip 14: Plant Quickly

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

Tip 15: Expect Pond Maintenance

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

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

Tip 16: Start Small

frog pond lined

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

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

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

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


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

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

Chicken Behavior: The Dust Bath

Chicken Dust Bath

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

The Importance

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

The Process

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

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

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

The Homemade Dust Bath

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

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

A commonly used recipe for the provided dust bath is:

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

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

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

4 Perfect Dog Breeds for Your Homestead

 Border Collie Dog

Border Collie (c) JaneFlickr

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

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

German Shepherd Lab Mix

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

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

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

Border Collie

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

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

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

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

King Shepherd

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

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

4. Kangal

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

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

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


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

David Woods is a carpenter, outdoorsman, and author with more than 30 years of professional woodworking experience. He is the author of best-seller How to Build a Log Home and has educated more than half a million people on how to build a log cabin via his blog, Log Cabin Hub. Connect with him on Facebook, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

A Dream Fulfilled


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

Finally There!


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

Wholly Cheese


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

From Mist to Rain


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

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

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

Why We Live on a Homestead

Lower Garden on Homestead

Our friend’s daughter had just completed her second year of college, and wanted to travel for a week before returning to New York for a summer job in theater. My wife and I invited her to stay with us on our homestead in Utah.

One day toward the end of her visit, the three of us sat on the porch eating omelets. Sunlight dappled the poppies. Hens, the source of our eggs, pecked and scratched in the garden. A breeze wafted through the canyon. “Would you be willing,” I asked Sophie, “to share impressions of your visit?”

Ordinarily chatty, Sophie turned quiet. She fidgeted with the pendant on her necklace.

I tried to surmise her feelings. To my mind, the week had been pleasant. An avid permaculturist, Monte gave her tours of our garden. I taught her how to bake bread. The three of us took a day trip to Tony Grove, an alpine wilderness teeming with wildflowers and pine. And then we offered Sophie another quality we value: unstructured time. Without pressing obligations, she could read or walk or in any other way follow her spirit. Wedged between a busy semester and demanding summer job, these seven days provided a chance to relax.

“Do you want an honest answer?” Sophie’s dark eyes suggested reluctance.

Monte turned to her with an expression of gentle alertness. “I think you know us well enough for that.”

“I don’t get how the two of you can stand to live here. It’s so incredibly dull!”

I Love Creating an Art Form

Early this morning, I was sitting on the same tumbledown porch drinking coffee. Already I’d spent an hour watering the garden, another drying lavender and thyme. Soon I’d go inside to work. But for a while longer I’d delight in the shimmering of aspen leaves, the flowering of zinnias, the fruiting of vines. We live on our homestead for the beauty of it, which we’ve cultivated over the past six years.

This beauty is not one of rows, neat and tidy and free of critters and weeds. Like a modern painting, our garden boasts an organic composition of varying heights and movements and hues. Butterflies flutter on oregano flowers, hummingbirds nuzzle in sage. Sunlight shifts with the passage of seasons and hours and days; and the resulting chiaroscuro makes for glorious art.

Yet, it’s not an art form that appeals to all. Indeed, some do not even recognize it as such. Once, an apparently well-meaning neighbor who had stopped by for another purpose, offered to help us get our garden in shape. “I’d be happy to come by with my rototiller,” he said. Then he proceeded to list all the chemicals we could buy to increase efficiency and zap the weeds.

This cultivated beauty did not come of ease. Though the one-acre on which we live and work already boasted a pine forest and shade trees, we have since planted fourteen fruit trees, dozens of bushes and more than a hundred varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs. That first March when the soil was still frozen, we wore gloves not only for cushion, but also for warmth. We spent five or six evenings a week weeding and digging and planting. Soon after, Monte got to work building the chicken coop and yard. One night she was outside hammering well past dark with only a lantern for light.

“Wanna come in for dinner?” I called.

“I’ll be right in,” became her refrain for the next 40 minutes.

When finally she did, we needed to re-heat the food and learn better ways of honoring each other’s paces.

That first year and even the second, the beauty of our homestead sustained us even as the stress of unrelenting tasks tried our resolve. Many an evening those first few years, we spent hours digging pasture grasses with roots as dense and unyielding as wire. On occasion, we excavated wire. And yet we both appreciated the context of our labors: our own corner of the world where the red-orange glow of the western sun infused the snow-peaked mountains and rich brown earth with nature’s splendid lighting design.


And then the food we grew and raised also began to sustain us. One autumn evening that second year, Monte set the wheelbarrow beside the potato patch and proceeded to dig. Her straw-yellow hair contrasted plainly with her dirt-encrusted face, giving her the look of an urchin. But what a happy urchin she was as she unearthed potato after potato after potato. To observe her expression was to understand that this was among her most joyous moments thus far on the homestead. That evening we filled the wheelbarrow to the gunwales. That winter we ate many a spud.

Since then we’ve enjoyed cornucopias of foodstuff from our harvests. Some of the more unusual include nasturtium flowers, honeyberries, sorrel, and mache. We live on our homestead for the taste of it. Much of what we grow is not available at the market. This, I suppose, is because it would be prohibitive to grow this produce on a large scale or because it would not survive transport intact. And when certain products are available – I’m thinking of goji berries and ground cherries, for instance – they are seldom local and fresh, but rather dried and packed and shipped from abroad. They’re also expensive.

So yes, we live on our homestead for the cost of it. It’s not merely that we save money at the market, but also that by spending less to purchase food, we are able to work fewer hours at jobs that do not contribute to our sense of purpose and more at one, homesteading, which does.

We Do Work Hard, For Ourselves

And then there’s the cost to the earth that shopping at the grocery store entails. I try to imagine all the steps involved in bringing a sprig of rosemary to the supermarket shelf. There are the laborers who grow it and harvest it, the trucks that drive it to the processing plant, the plastic manufacturers who produce the hard plastic in which the rosemary is packaged, the processing plant where the sprig is placed in plastic and sealed, the warehouse where the package is stored, the truck that delivers it to the grocery store, the workers who put it on the shelf, the cashier who rings it up, and the plastic manufacturers who produce the plastic bags to bring the rosemary home.

Do we shop at the grocery store? Yes. Do we contribute to processes akin to the one I described? We do. Are we content with that behavior? We are not. But we are pleased that as we produce more on our own, we contribute to it less.

To be honest, I doubt we would grow and raise our own food to avoid that cost alone. The work is far too demanding. We try to live by our values, but we are not saints. If anything, we’re hedonists. We live and work on our homestead for the sensual pleasure of it. To step out our front door in the summer is to delight in a bouquet of lemon verbena, hyssop, and mint.  By September, sprigs are drying in our kitchen, bringing the aroma – and beauty – inside.

While much enters our home from the garden, much also returns. Take our vegetable scraps, for instance. We feed them to the chickens. The hens produce eggs. We eat the eggs, and then dry the shells to give to the composting worms or else place around tomato plants as a deterrent to slugs. The chickens produce manure, which we add to our outdoor compost bin, and later to the garden. The vegetables grow well. We eat them and feed the scraps to the chickens. We live on a homestead because this cycle provides immense satisfaction. It gives us the opportunity not only to observe the entire process, but also to be significant agents in it. No mere consumers, we are also producers and actors. To participate in this cycle deepens our ties to the homestead and to each other.

Our roles vary according to interest, ability and need. No factory-line operation, our labor is more that of a theatre performance where many skills and activities contribute to successful results. A week’s work may include picking berries, making jam, digging horseradish root, preparing horseradish sauce, drying tomatoes, feeding and watering the chickens and compost worms, gathering eggs, cleaning the coop, turning compost, moving hoses, watering the garden and orchard, grafting a tree branch, replacing a door on the shed, raking leaves, mowing grass (with a manual mower), collecting firewood, and building a trellis. It also includes more thinking and planning than we would have ever imagined.

One morning our first spring on the homestead, I stepped outside to bring Monte her coffee only to discover her in nightgown and work boots engaged in what appeared to be a ballet. Arms extended in bras en couronne, she seemed to be observing her shadow. “I’m trying to figure out the best place to plant the apricot tree,” she said in response to my question. She proceeded to explain the angle of sunlight over the course of a day and a season. Admittedly, my understanding of this matter has progressed little since then – I should probably forgo dreams of becoming a sailor – but what I did gain was an appreciation of the importance of close observation in the stewardship of a homestead.

This stewardship teaches us the extent of our abilities. I would have never guessed that one day I’d coil fifty-foot hoses, master a pry bar or identify flowering plants. Monte surprised herself in becoming skillful at pruning, grafting and propagating trees. Neither of us imagined that we’d know which vegetables grow well together, and which do not; which require more nitrogen or less water or more fertile soil. We never envisioned that one day with the help of compost worms and permaculture practices we’d make our own soil.

We’ve also learned to acknowledge our limits. After several failed attempts, we discovered that our lumberjack skills are merely mediocre. And so recently, we hired an arborist to fell a dead pine. The least expensive way to do so comprised what is referred to as chop and drop. Once the logs and branches were on the ground, Monte and I needed to move them. It took several hours of physical labor to convey them to the firewood pile, permaculture beds, and other places where we put them to use.

No Gym Fees Necessary

Which leads to another reason we homestead: the physicality of it. “Guess we can save on the gym,” Monte has said. Not that we’ve ever joined one. But her refrain is apt. Why donate precious energy to a treadmill when we can use it to convey tree trunks or bury cinderblocks beneath the coop yard to discourage raccoons? With one we’re out a wad of cash (and given other people’s experiences, little to show in return), while with the other we’ve contributed to our sustenance.

And health. We’re both in fine fettle. While many of our age (fifty-three) struggle to reduce caloric intake, we dine on sausages and sage, potatoes with butter, fried eggs with homegrown shallots and chives. We enjoy every morsel.

Not all homesteading experiences kindle joy. The first year we kept chickens, we stored the feed in its original bag. One winter morning, I spied a mouse in the shed. I filled the feeder, closed the door, and hoped the mouse would depart. Instead, it invited its friends. That spring as soon as the snow had melted, we spent weeks clearing out mouse droppings and an occasional carcass. We salvaged metal implements, but discarded those made of wood. We purchased two aluminum cans with lock-on lids.

One cold autumn, skunks made their home under our porch. (Loud music and bright lights encouraged them to seek alternate cover, but not before spraying our dog.) Before we reinforced our chicken yard with cinderblocks, raccoons dined on two of our hens. Voles, unresponsive to nearly any deterrent, leave droppings around our house even now.

These nuisances, noisome though they are, seldom inspire dissuasion. In such moments, we remind ourselves to pan out so that we gain a larger view of the scene. And what we see is a radiant life.

What at times does try our resolve is the amount of energy we need. Typically we feel up to it, and go about our tasks with zeal. I’m thinking of the fun (yes, fun!) of pushing the wheelbarrow uphill on a cool autumn day with mounds of pumpkins, butternuts and sweet meats. Or of gathering and chopping branches to burn in the hearth. Sometimes our energy levels coincide, and in those moments we collaborate in moving fences or shoveling paths through heaps of snow. But at other times we’re like Turkey and Nippers in Bartleby the Scrivener: one of us is on while the other is off.

Last winter our roof accumulated ice dams and nearly three feet of snow. Local news stories circulated about rooftop collapses. Roofers were backlogged for months. One day when the mercury read minus twenty, we bundled up in snow pants and boots, and set a ladder on the icy ground. I held it while Monte climbed. I handed her shovels and rakes. Then we switched places. In this manner, we cleared a low part of the roof above the entrance door. But even with one of us clutching the ladder, it wobbled. If we fell, we’d sprain an ankle or wrist. We accepted the risk. If we fell at higher points of the house, we’d plunge to our death. We adore our homesteading adventures. But foolhardy we’re not.

Early homesteaders lacked this luxury. Without home insurance and other protections, they may have taken risks we do not. Lives were lost to beasts, tetanus and other homesteading hazards. (Sometimes they still are.) Given those circumstances, would we choose to live as we do? It’s a difficult question. Yet, on balance, we’re inclined to say yes. Even now, our lives are not risk free. We’ve been bitten by spiders, stung by wasps and bees. We’ve had accidents with pruners and mauls. And yet, the vitality we feel as we go about our tasks tips the balance in its favor.

So do evenings when we relax on the sofa, tired but content from vitalizing work. Summer twilights we listen to crickets or read. Winters we cuddle by the fireside with wassail or wine. Occasionally, we enjoy the company of family or friends. Mostly, we spend time alone basking in our solitude of two. 

Basking too in the poetry of our life together here, poetry comprised of snowy haystacks, cackling pheasants, and two beloveds reposing among the pines.

And then finally – and maybe Sophie would appreciate this – we live on the homestead not only for the poetry it offers, but also for that it inspires. Anything but dull, the muse of our homestead has roused in us many a verse. If I steal into the garden unbidden, I’m apt to hear among the chorus of buzzing and birdsong and breeze, Monte composing a song.

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

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