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

Homesteading With The Right Partner: Dogs


There are so many excellent articles written under this heading about “how to” and “experiences in homesteading” it is hard not to be redundant. I prefer to write about those unwritten topics such as in this blog. The seldom spoken about topics that are sometimes taken for granted.

Wildfire. We have resided remotely at 9,800’ elevation full time for over 23 years. Our nearest neighbor is about one mile away and due to a wildfire last year we live in a small oasis of green within an extensive burn scar area. We always knew wildfire was a possibility but hoped we would never experience one. Residing in the mountains of a semi arid state like Colorado there is always the risk of wildfire but it was something we had hoped to avoid.

Recovery takes a long time. Going through the third worst wildfire in Colorado history is terrifying and stressful. Fortunately Carol and I went through the experience with each other which is better than experiencing it alone. There were various service groups which assisted but it takes a long time to get over a wildfire disaster and the service groups leave shortly after the disaster. We then had to lean on each other for our continued survival.

Living the dream together. All the hard work we have endured over the years to make a better life for ourselves could never have been accomplished without a good partner at my side. It has always been my dream to live as we do now but it was a totally new concept to Carol who has spent the majority of her life in cities. Moving to the mountains was a huge transition for her but she has adapted well and found new skills she never anticipated. Being able to live out a dream is pure happiness but having someone you love sharing it with you is beyond description. 

Carol gives 100% effort. When we first discussed mountain living, my wife, Carol, said she was willing to give it her very  best effort. Therefore, we set forth with the planning and had Carol shown any reluctance or uncertainty I doubt we could have prevailed for over 23 years. It is not just being able to cope with all the strenuous work required but someone to encourage you and pitch in and share the load when the going gets tough.

Sharing hard tasks. As I sit here typing on my laptop and looking out the window watching the snowfall, I am reminded that this type of lifestyle is enough to seriously challenge anyone, but having a good wife by my side to help carry the load sure does make life here much easier. Tackling the difficult or often routine tasks together is just about as good as it gets. We have firewood to cut, haul, split and stack, approximately 260 inches of snow, on average, to move and shovel, plus homestead maintenance, which all goes much easier when shared.

Time for entertainment. When we prepared to homestead remotely, we had taped movies on VCR tape to watch when we finally settled into our new lifestyle. We had two boxes of them and a few years ago, we tossed them having never watched any. Life lived remotely and heating with a woodstove doesn’t leave much time for watching movies, going out to eat or engaging in other social events. It seems on our homestead there is always something that needs doing so things get pushed aside like watching movies. Just recently we have set aside Sunday afternoon as movie time and so far it has worked out after 23 years of preparation.

Radical lifestyle change. The life we now live is so far removed from our previous lifestyle in the various cities where we had lived. Having a good partner by your side is instrumental in maintaining this lifestyle and we do it together because we love this lifestyle. Having a willing and selfless helper is what makes living here on the side of the mountain so rewarding. 

Dogs as part of the family. Having a willing and capable partner to help out on our homestead is clearly instrumental but also having our three German Shepherd dogs to assist is another asset that warrants mentioning. Living remotely we have numerous predators that roam our area and the dogs senses are very acute. They warn us of anyone coming around and any predators in the area. When we let them out in our fenced in backyard and all noses go into the air we know there is something to pay close attention to.

Canine warning systems. The dogs are our early warning system and it would be very difficult for anyone to sneak up on us without their letting us know. While Ruby is deaf that doesn’t mean she isn’t an integral part of the early warning system. Her sense of smell is acute and being deaf she is always more aware of her surroundings. Our canine family look out for dangers to protect us from and we look out to also protect them. Life lived remotely is a cooperative effort between Carol, myself and our dogs. There have been times that we have suddenly and unexpectedly come upon a predator. Having our dogs with us on leash has been beneficial in those situations.

Close encounters. I specifically recall one time before we had fenced in our backyard. I had taken our dog Ben on leash out back to do his nightly business. Suddenly, his hackles rose up and he gave a low growl that sounded like it came from the very pit of hell itself.  It was the type of deep growl that would stop anyone or anything in their tracks. We went immediately inside and I later went out and checked for tracks in the snow. We were within 8’ of what appeared to be a large mountain lion standing in the shadows at the corner of our house. We have had many such incidents in 23 years here in the mountains.

From the first day we moved here until today there is always something demanding work or effort and life is interesting and always changing. Very few days are the same. Both Carol and I were thrust into a completely different lifestyle but neither of us would change anything about it.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog site. They live in a small cabin with their four German Shepherd Dogs at 9,800 feet elevation. Read all of Bruce's remote-living blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS 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 Hugs: What Becomes of a Childhood Fascination with Dinosaurs

Cinnamon the chicken

Cinnamon and her morning chicken hug out in the pasture.

As a kid, I was fascinated with dinosaurs.  I had a big poster about them in my room, I had realistic looking toy ones, and I had books on dinosaurs.  During recess, my friends and I would play make believe dinosaur games, racing around as velociraptors.  One of my best friends wanted to be an archaeologist, to go dig up dinosaur fossils in remote places.

He’s in medical residency now, and I may be the only one from the playground crew who gets to handle real (modern day) dinosaurs each day.

If you’ve ever wondered how dinosaurs moved, watch turkeys.  Their strutting legs, long knobby necks, peering eyes.  They bob heads back and forth as they stalk their grasshopper prey in the tall grass.  If turkeys were as big as Steve’s Prius, I’d have a serious problem! 

I already have a problem each evening when I try to collect the eggs from my turkey hens.  The ladies have decided that the best place to lay their eggs is under their summer trailer house.  This has the advantage of foiling the thieving ravens, but it’s not the easiest place for me to reach them either.  First, I must convince the five or six hissing turkeys to leave the egg pile and go into their house, so the nighttime predators don’t find them, and then I must retrieve the eggs.  This week Kara bought me long-handled grippers with a trigger on one end, which has spared me the army crawl “grab and retreat” procedure that was my previous recourse.

But even though turkeys are the most dinosaur-like bird on the farm, they are not the most social for human interaction.  A turkey would rather be left to her own daily agenda, thank you very much.  Please leave the food and water over there and go away.

Ducks are certainly less ferocious than turkeys, but they have a habit of anxiety attacks.  While a goose will take the issue head-on, a domestic duck is much more likely to run in the opposite direction at the slightest provocation — possibly running into or over the top of something in the process.  When I have a loose duck that I need to catch and return to the pen, her little heart is beating so fast I fear she might pop!

So yes, ducks are forever comical with their water splashing antics and little dances, but they don’t really want to be terribly social either.  Time to move onto the chickens.

If you’ve had chickens in your life, then you know this already, but to some it comes as a surprise that chickens have very individual personalities.  I had a hen once that lived to be nine years old named Butter who could stare down a rooster!  Nobody messed with Butter, and she never had a feather askew. 

Then there’s Grumpy, the feather-footed Light Brahma who has extra skin over her eyes that gives her a frumpy face.  She can’t always see you coming either, so I can scoop up her massiveness and give her a surprise hug — which she never appreciates.  She lets me know it too, wriggling and complaining.  But hey, she’s Grumpy, so why wouldn’t she be upset?

My favorite currently is Cinnamon, who decided she likes chin rubs and a chicken hug in the morning.  We have a little routine when I open her hen mobile built on a hay wagon in the morning.  She struts over, one of the first to be ready for the day, demanding some attention.  At least most days she wants some — some days the clover is more interesting than a hug.  She is, after all, a tiny version of a dinosaur.

I saw an article this spring by the Audubon Society, telling of which types of early birds survived the massive extinction caused by the fateful asteroid that ended the reign of the dinosaurs.  It was not Archaeopteris or any other type of tree-dwelling bird because all trees were wiped out in the planet-wide burning and sulfur rain that ensued.  No, it was a humble, small ground bird that looks rather like a guinea hen and had the adaptability of being able to eat seeds and insects as well as plants.  And it had a developed beak and no teeth — which is why all birds since have no teeth (unlike Archaeopteris).

Essentially, birds not too unlike Cinnamon became today’s legacy of the dinosaurs, and I get to hug one each morning during chores with a big smile!  I think that Cinnamon would smile too, if she could.

We have a few of our “celebrity” chickens at Farmstead Creamery you can meet — one of each of five different heritage breeds including Speckled Sussex, Black Australorp, Buff Orpington, Araucana, and Tetra Red along with “Mr. Handsome” their rooster friend.  It’s part of helping folks learn about the animals we raise and the beauty and need for the biodiversity of heritage breeds (instead of all white chickens trapped in cages). 

Once temperatures drop too cold for this small celebrity crew to stay warm together, they’ll return to the rest of their friends in our laying flock, but until then you can stop by with the grandkids and ask them what type of dinosaurs we’re raising and see what kind of stories they can imagine about our feathered friends.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453.You can read all of Laura's Mother Earth News blogs 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.

All In a Day: Staying Flexible in the Homesteading Lifestyle

Kara with triplets

Kara holding triplets! 

We’re a family that makes lists as we endeavor to keep all the balls in the air and projects rolling.  There are lists stuck on the paper towel dispenser, lists on the whiteboard by the back door, lists in my journal, lists in the workshop.  Some of the lists live in my head—like the little daily to-do’s and don’t-forgets.

But Tuesday was a “thwart the list” day.

It started out fair enough, with mostly sunny skies on a crisp morning.  Tuesdays are the pack CSA shares day, so I was out in the garden harvesting cabbages, checking for cucumbers in the high tunnel, and loading up pie pumpkins in the back of the utility golf cart.  Chores went smoothly — the chickens, turkeys, and ducks all happy to see me.

We knew there was already a kink in the day because Kara had dairy training to attend in Chippewa Falls.  Every two years, she has to recertify that she knows how to test her sheep’s milk for antibiotics, even though she would never use them on the milk line.  It’s rather ridiculous but has to be done.

“I think we have two in early labor,” Kara reported over a steamy breakfast of pancakes and sausages as we watched the wide computer screen overhead that displayed the four barn cameras.  “I have pens ready.”

Kara hit the road at 10:30, about the same time as our first customers arrived — a younger couple dressed in flannels and Stormy Kromers that were enjoying an anniversary weekend of hiking in the Northwoods.  They savored a hearty Farmstead breakfast while I began to set out bins for the CSA shares, and Mom and Steve worked the fish and plant chores in the aquaponics greenhouse.

Mom checked back in shortly, eyeing the cameras.  “I’m going to head down to the barn.  I think something’s happening.”  She paged soon afterwards.

“Tell Steve to come down, there are two in labor,” Mom relays, sheep baahing in the background.  I find Steve in the greenhouse, and he’s on his way shortly.  Both ewes are in process when a third starts to give her low, momma baah.  Uh oh, three at once? 

I keep working on the CSA shares.  The bags are being loaded with produce, and I’m bagging Grandma’s apples when the power goes out.  No flickering, no brownout, just thud.  Done.  It’s 1:30 in the afternoon.  I grab the one corded phone we keep in the building for such situations and call Steve’s cell phone.  “Power’s down here!” 

“Here too,” he replied.  “I thought we blew a circuit with a heat lamp, but it appears to be everywhere.  Call Jump River.”

The generator kicks on in just a few minutes, and then there is another type of scramble at Farmstead.  While the generator powers many essential things, it’s not big enough to power everything in operation.  This means things like the gelato display case are off, so I’m whisking the pans of precious, frozen material into the holding freezer in the dairy plant, which is working.

Then I need to take a walk-through in the aquaponics to make sure those systems have come back on with the generator.  If the air pump is not working, the fish have 20 minutes before they use up all the oxygen in the water.  I identify a few issues but nothing life threatening for the system.

A family with kids arrives, unaware of the current situation.  I explain that we are experiencing a power outage, which means I can’t serve them food or process credit cards, but otherwise I’m happy to help.  They were hoping for gelato.  Of course.  The forlorn case sits dark and empty.

Back to the holding freezer I go, searching for the small pre-scoop cups I take to farmer’s market.  Fortunately, there’s enough flavors for everyone to find something they like.

I now can’t see the sheep cameras, so I’m using the corded phone to check in with Steve to know how progress is going.  The first ewe has delivered twins, and they’re working on the second one.  Steve started the portable generator near the barn to run extension cords for the heat lamps to keep the littlest lambs warm.  I turn to see that more people are coming in.  Gelato?  Of course.

Hours later, I see Kara whiz by in the red PT Cruiser, heading straight for the barn.  She had called in a tizzy when she could no longer access the barn camera remotely, and I explained about the outage.  Thank goodness the day was warm and sunny!  All those babies in the barn with no heat lamps and birthing without lights!  She finished her exam as quickly as possible and headed straight back to the farm.

Two clients arrive to shop for muffins (the very last two I had for the day and no option for replacements because the ovens are down).  “We tried to come from HWY B up A by Chippewa Inn, but they wouldn’t let us.  A big Jump River truck was there and said there were lines down across the road, so we had to come the long way.”

Yikes, this could be a while yet! 

I’m harvesting lettuce in the greenhouse again at 4:30 when all of a sudden the room fans turn on.  Power has been restored—thank goodness.  The CSA shares get stowed away in the walk-in cooler, an extra jug pen is being made for what is now the fourth ewe having her baby, and we’re all glad we made it through the day.

And that to-do list?  Well, we’ll take a running shot at it tomorrow.  Some days are one foot in front of the other, hold-it-all-together kind of days.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453. You can read all of her Mother Earth News blog 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 Recipe for Winter: Hygge for Homesteaders

Farmstead sheep sign

Our newest chalkboard sign, greeting visitors at the front door of Farmstead Creamery. 

As November begins, it can feel like the days are just flying past.  Winter’s approach, with its darkness and cold, can set off a cascade of grumpiness and wanting to hole up under a blanket and hibernate until it’s over.  But when you live this far north, the episode of winter can well be half of the calendar year, so there must be a better way for surviving, even thriving through wintertime.

Scandinavia has long had to find their winterer’s spirit, living even farther north on this planet than Wisconsin.  The Danes coined their own term for happy winter-making:  hygge (said “hoo-ga”), which roughly translates as “comfort.”  Stereotyped as candles and cozy interiors, hygge is actually an entire lifestyle choice that meets the challenges of seasonal affective disorder head-on.

As I’ve been studying the philosophy of Nordic hygge, I realized just how much our family and farm has intuitively built this into our practice — no wonder we look forward to wintertime!  I think we could all benefit from a greater helping of comfort, joy, camaraderie, and creative expression through the winter experience, rather than dread the oncoming season. 

Winter is inevitable — part of the natural cycle of the seasons — but our relationship to it is optional.  Throughout this winter, I’ll circle back to the elements of hygge, elaborating on how to embrace and celebrate the winterer’s spirit, but for now here is an overview.

Fresh Air and Exercise

For as long as I can remember, Mom’s favorite remedy for the blues, grumpiness, or lethargy was getting outside and doing something.  It might be going for a walk or a ski in the woods, chopping wood or shoveling snow — whatever got us off our butts and outside moving around.  There’s nothing like fresh, crisp air to wake up your senses, and being outside in what precious little daylight there is helps capture some much-needed vitamin D during the darkest time of the year. 

When you feel like you’re dragging through winter, find a way to get outside.  Walk the dog, help someone stack or split wood, collect balsam boughs for adding scented greenery to your home — whatever can help you enjoy time outside on a regular basis. 

The Practice of Centering

The holidays can make us feel like we’re being pulled in many directions at once, riddled with expectations and obligations.  They even make the list on medical stress scales, so the emotional burden is real!  Combining the severe shortness of the days with the push-pull of the holiday schedule, finding a way to center in the midst of everything is key to finding happiness in wintertime.

Swedes have a wonderful tradition of fika (said “fee-ka”), where they collectively take a break from the day to enjoy coffee “and a little something.”  It’s like taking a beat for selfcare and camaraderie, checking out from the hustle of the day and refocusing on simple pleasures and what matters.

Made By Hand

One of my favorite aspects of wintertime is that the farm workload lightens enough to bring out handcraft projects that have waited all summer.  Out comes the knitting needles and crochet hooks, the fabric and looms, the scrapbooks and drawing supplies.  Projects take over most available surfaces of our home, each in its own stage of becoming.

During the dark evenings, we gather around the warmth of the woodstove and work on projects — a cozy cowl, a coloring mandala, a prayer shawl —talking about things that matter to us or reading a book aloud.  Making something by hand not only helps ease winter evenings, they also create the self-satisfaction of watching your creation unfold.  The experience is palpable no matter what the medium.

Gathering Together

For many people, winter is isolating.  Old farming communities knew this and purposefully built in traditions of “visiting” or barn dances and quilting bees that brought rural folks together no matter the weather.  Creating space for building community is one of the central aspects of Farmstead Creamery, from Celtic music sessions to needle felting classes.

This weekend (Sat 5-7 pm) kicks off the first of our twice-monthly Community Dinner and Jam Session events, where Chef Kara will be making a huge pot of homemade soup, salad, rolls, and cookies.  Bring your needle arts project, an instrument, or just yourself for the evening to enjoy some comfort food and camaraderie in a relaxed environment.  All are welcome.

Food as Medicine

The holiday season can be filled with nostalgia foods:  cookies, pies, a giant turkey, and more.  You might spend days with family making lefsa or latkes, but the day-to-day of cooking in winter can sometimes fall under the bus for something that’s quick, easy, and filled with fat and starch (which might be what the overwintering body craves but won’t serve us well in the long-run).

Simple yet flavorful ways to enjoy wintertime vegetables, making your own big pots of soup, or learning how to find everyday joy in the kitchen are all great elements of hygge.  The “Taste of the Farm” article I co-write with Kara (currently featured in the Ashland Daily Press) is a great place to start.

Simple Comforts, Great Joy

In an age of consumerism, it’s good to remember that the smallest things really provide the most joy:  steaming cup of cocoa (fika!), fuzzy slippers or a new pair of socks, a sheepskin throw on the chair, a fresh muffin hot out of the oven. 

So, light a candle, take a sensory-infused walk, pick up a project, gather with friends, bake some muffins, and bring some hygge into your winter experience.  These are all part of a recipe for wintering in the beautiful Northwoods.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453. You can read all of her Mother Earth News blog 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.

Protection from Lyme Disease from Ticks or Mosquito-borne Illnesses on your Homestead

Inn Serendipity Homestead on 5.5 Acres (of tick habitat)

Mosquitoes and tick-related diseases are on the rise. It’s gotten so bad in some parts of the country that some communities in urban areas have taken to widespread applications of insecticides to kill off the flying pests. While covering up and staying away from insect-prevalent areas may be the official advice from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), for homesteaders and farmers, it’s completely impractical. The CDC also advises the application of insecticide poisons and destroying tick habitat, the exact opposite of how we manage our organic growing fields and pastures at Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B. While not our strategy, we’ve met many homesteaders who have embraced having tick predators, like guinea fowl and chickens, around, allowing them to roam free to eat ticks.

Dealing with Lyme disease in the Upper Midwest, let alone other parts of the country, can be daunting, often perplexing the local health care system. My son most likely had Lyme disease off-and-on for over a decade before my wife Lisa Kivirist and I had to switch health care provider from The Monroe Clinic in Monroe, Wisconsin, to Lutheran Gundersen in Hillsboro and work with a doctor who was willing to examine the symptoms and listen to the patient and consider that we actually do live in an extremely dangerous area with respect to prevalence of the black legged ticks (deer ticks), the usual transmitter of the dreaded and debilitating Lyme disease and other tick-related infections after being bit. Our doctor at Gundersen was actually willing to make a clinical diagnosis of my son’s infection. As it turns out, the official blood tests for Lyme are extremely unreliable, offering both false negatives and positives. In the case of my son, the blood test did, eventually, come back positive, confirming the clinical diagnosis.

The typical dose of 14-days of the antibiotic Doxycycline to treat for Lyme may -- or may not -- always completely knock out the stealthy bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi or other problematic bacteria carried by ticks. I’m still managing what I can only ascertain as chronic Lyme disease or another tick-related disease. When I start asking around, I’m hardly alone. The litany of symptoms, which often can change and be seasonal, are tormenting. From aching feet to headaches, sudden shoulder or elbow pain to irritable bowel syndrome, the list goes on and on, related to what some people experience. According to the CDC’s website: “Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.” The only symptom my son had was a swollen right knee. Turns out that Lyme can mess with Lymph glands and get into joints, making them swell up.

Protection Against Tick Bites and Lyme Disease

We live out in the country, like many homesteaders. There are woods, tall grasses, places where standing water collects and where deer run wild. What the CDC gets it wrong, I think, is that covering up is an effective strategy against ticks. I’ve found the ticks merely hitch a ride on a pant leg inside our home or crawl up under clothing. While more research is needed, another huge problem may be that climate change has made ticks’ winter survival more successful. Their populations have mushroomed and their range has spread rapidly across the US.

To project against ticks, we’ve focused on insect repellents. Like many families, my family tries to stay clear of the toxic DEET-based repellents, that while effective, have adverse effects. We’ve found most of the natural products to be only modestly effective -- but we’re still searching and trying these.

However, we discovered Proven insect repellents, which are available in sprays and lotions, depending on the use. According to Proven, their repellents have been tested to effectively repel mosquitos, ticks, black flies, biting flies, stable flies, ants, gnats, chiggers, sand flies and no-see-ums. In other words, Proven sprays and lotions can protect from insect species carrying Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya, West Nile Virus, Lyme Disease, Powassan Virus and tick-borne Encephalitis. Proven repellents are distributed by Sawyer Products.

We used Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion on our face and arms; it’s best for children or use to completely avoid any inhalation and want as much as 14 hours of protection. We regularly used the slightly fragrant Proven Insect Repellent spray on our legs and arms when it was hot and we worked outside all day in our shorts and t-shirt; this spray, however, should avoid contact with clothing.

Finally, we used Picaridin Insect Repellent Spray when we had to hit the woods for harvesting our firewood, since we could spray it on our boots, pants and long-sleeved shirt without harming our clothing. When using the Proven repellents, we’ve not discovered one tick on our body, nor on our clothes that we wore back into the house. We found the Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent spray can feel a little greasy, but it washes off easily in a shower. Compared to getting bit by a tick, this was a welcome trade off we happily took all season long. All repellents should avoid contact with eyes, so we ended up using it sparingly on our face since we usually break a sweat from farm work.

Proven and Sawyer products use a patented active ingredient of Saltidin (Picaridin), its molecular structure modeled after piperidine, a colorless organic compound found in the black pepper plant. While derived from natural and plant-based origins, it’s a manufactured ingredient, made in the US. Proven repellents will not melt or damage plastics like DEET might, making it a much better option when using it for camping or hiking.

“We understand that many people prefer all-natural products when available. However, if they aren’t effective, the tendency is to return to DEET,” said Emily Dix, Operations Manager at Proven. “In the current environment, when insect-borne illnesses are on the rise, we wanted to come to the table with a truly effective repellent that was still mindful of health.”

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the sun. Both have been speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8 kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs./em>

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.

Family Cow: Three Things to Consider


Keeping a family cow can be rewarding - endless access to raw milk, free lawnmowing service and fertiliser for your garden - but it comes with responsibility. Here are three things to consider before adding a family cow to your homestead.

Do you have time?

Depending on your cow, you may have to milk her twice a day for up to an hour. While this is not a huge time commitment, it is a regular one. You will be up early every morning, and you will need to be home every evening. Cows thrive on routine and will expect you to milk at the same times every day.

We have had some success with keeping the calf with the cow so that it can take most of the milk when we don’t need it. This way we reduced our milking to once a week when the calf was old enough to take the milk. But when the calf is young it will not be able to take all of the milk and you risk a cow developing mastitis (which can lead to death) if her udder remains full.

As you cannot predict how much milk your cow will make or how much the calf can drink, you need to be prepared to milk twice a day for at least several months she calves. Certainly if you want to continue milking high volumes you will need to be consistent in feeding and milking your cow twice a day.

Do you have enough feed?

People ask me if they have enough land for a family cow. Its not really the land that is important, but the pasture on the land and your ability to supplement with hay and grain. We have particularly poor pasture here most of the year, and we need to feed our cows hay and grain so that they produce enough milk for us and their calves.

This can become expensive (I am sure that store-bought milk is cheaper!). Even worse, it can be difficult for us to buy hay when conditions are bad in our local area. You need to be sure that you can provide enough feed for your cow to survive, and if you intend to keep milking her through times when you have no pasture (i.e. winter snow or summer droughts), then she will need extra feed for milk production.

As a rough guide, a lactating family cow will eat about one small bale of hay a day (and as her calf grows, it will eat a proportional amount of hay too). You will also need to feed grain of some kind to sustain the energy requirements of the modern dairy cow. The amount she needs will depend on the quality of the hay and pasture available and the type of grain you can access.

You can also consider growing root vegetables such as turnips and beets to feed your family cow when pasture is poor. Be careful with sourcing waste products such as old bread, spent brewery grain and waste from vegetable processing, as they are often poor quality and can contain harmful chemicals.

Do you have enough water?

A lactating cow can drink up to 100 litres per day (26 gallons per day). She will drink more in hot weather, if she is eating dry food or if the water is salty.

Sources of water for your cow include bore or well water, dam or pond water, town water supply or rainwater collection. It will pay to have your water source tested to ensure that it is low in salt, particularly when using bore or pond water (our local town water supply is from a bore and surprisingly high in salt).

In colder climates, ensure that water troughs cannot freeze over. If your water source runs out during the year, do you have an alternative emergency supply to ensure that you have enough water for the family cow and homestead?

A family cow is an investment. You need to prepared to give her the time for milking and pay for quality feed and water to get the return of a bountiful milk supply. If you can satisfy these three considerations then you are well on your way to keeping a family cow.

Liz Beavis is a small-scale cattle farmer and soap-making beekeeper in rural Queensland, Australia. On her Eight Acres Farm, she sells beef-tallow soaps, honey and beeswak, and is the author of Our Experience with House Cows, A Beginners Guide to Backyard Chickens and Chicken Tractors, Make Your Own Natural Soap, and the Solar Bore Pump Handbook. Connect with Liz on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Repairing, Cleaning and Product Durability on the Homestead

CleanWell disinfectant on kitchen counter 

A huge part of managing our sustainable, solar-powered homestead is keeping our expenses in check. As my wife Lisa Kivirist and I write about in ECOpreneuring, we can increase our cash flow by decreasing our trash flow. We’re always asking: Do we need this? No, on the microwave in the kitchen. No, on the all-terrain vehicle -- we’re still fit enough to walk around our small farm. We can borrow or rent a pick-up truck when we actually need to use one to move wood or supplies, about once every three or four years, rather than own it. All this has made our farmstay bed and breakfast Inn Serendipity and homestead more profitable.

As a result of our positive cash flow, we’ve been able to focus less on income generation and more on repairing items, cleaning and maintaining what we own -- which takes a lot of time as many homesteaders know -- and repurposing items we already have on the farm. Scraps of metal remaining after siding projects for our barn and cabin became a new metal roof for an old chicken coop. Thanks to my son learning how to build sets for our local community-supported Monroe Theatre Guild, he used his new skillset to build a fun, outdoor farmstead cocktail bar for our various potlucks using old barn lumber. Creative frugality makes our rural dream a reality, providing the financial freedom that comes with cultivating a sense of living better on less.

We’ve always been big fans of the durable economy, selecting materials and items that will be around for years. When we do go shopping, we’re always looking for items to last, usually with limited lifetime warranties, and ideally made locally or in the USA, and when possible, designed with sustainable materials. We avoid the temptation to pay less for something because it’s “a deal.” Items made with quality materials and workmanship will last longer, and that’s a great thing for the environment and our pocketbook.

We try to be as wise as possible on what we purchase and always ask if we need it. Here are a few products we’ve found for repairing zippers, cleaning surfaces, or wearing (a well made wallet) in order to keep our credit cards and driver’s license safe from possible illegal radio frequency hacking.

Repairing a Zipper with the FixnZip

From a backpacks to luggage, sleeping bags to duffle bags, fleece jackets to jeans, zippers are ubiquitous. And sometimes they break or wear out. Instead of turning jeans into rags or pitching the suitcase in the dump bin, FixnZip, from CTF Enterprises, provides an easy and affordable do-it-yourself solution to extending the life of your zippered items. We used it on a backpack and fleece jacket.

The FixnZip simply slides over any broken tooth and coil, metal and plastic zipper and replaces it as a new zipper. No tools, needles or threads needed. And if the item you fixed completely wears out, you can remove the FixnZip and put it on another item. The slider parts are made of nickel-plated zinc die cast, with the spring and thumbscrew made of stainless steel, and come in three size designs for different needs.

Protecting your Private Information with a Durable Allett Wallet

Identity theft and security has become a concern of ours, especially when we get off the farm and around crowds. Allett men’s or women’s wallets and travel wallets are among the slimmest options on the market, made in the USA, and are radio-frequency identification (RFID) blocking, providing more peace of mind that our credit cards won’t be compromised due to the military-grade RFID-blocking material thwarting signals sent from illegal scanners. More state-issued driver’s licenses than ever before now have RFID chips that would transmit the contents of the front of the license. The US Passport already contains a RFID chip.

Allett wallet for protecting privacy

The Allett wallet is an immensely practical item that exemplifies durability as well, as it’s designed to last seven to ten years. Compared to my thick and fraying wallet given as a gift not long ago, the handcrafted Allett men’s wallet should last and is already much more comfortable to have in my back pocket. It’s so thin and light I could have even worn it in my front pocket without anyone noticing. Allett’s selection of items are available in both leather and nylon.

Cleaning a Home with CleanWell Botanical Disinfectants

“Cleaning products can release a plethora of chemicals into the air, including ones linked to asthma, developmental harm and cancer,” according to the Environmental Working Group. This growing body of research is nothing new to most homesteaders, many of whom have opted for homemade versions made from vinegar and baking soda. We have a homemade stash, too.

However, to sanitize our counters before preparing Inn Serendipity’s breakfasts or baking my wife’s Latvian Sourdough Bread for local orders, we’ve increasingly used CleanWell’s chemical-free, plant-based Botanical Disinfectant All-purpose Cleaner when we want to be sure we kill 99.9-percent of household germs. We let the surface air dry completely before rolling out the dough.

On several camping trips, we’ve also used CleanWell’s Botanical Disinfecting Wipes on cookware and cutting boards. And we’ve found CleanWell’s lightly-scented bathroom cleaner is quite effective for sanitizing toilets and sinks. All their products are made with the natural antiseptic, Thymol, a botanically derived ingredient obtained from thyme oil. If you happen to already use Seventh Generation Disinfecting Spray Cleaners and Wipes, these products use CleanWell Inside disinfecting technology.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8-kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs. Read all of John’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.

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