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

Gender on the Homestead: Why this Mom Mows

Mom on Tractor

The very first purchase we made for our homestead was our trusty John Deere Rider Mower. The very first thing I said to my husband after we made that purchase was "I'm going to learn how to use it too."  

There's a tendency for homesteading projects to be divided along traditional gender lines - dad operates the tractor, mom cans the tomatoes; dad shovels the compost, mom makes the beeswax candles. And while some of these things are true in our house (I actually do make candles, but my husband was the first to try it) we are also very non-traditional in a lot of important ways. 

After all, a homestead is a family affair, and like many modern farmers the choice to lead this lifestyle was a joint choice - one my husband and I made together because we both love the projects and the idea of sustaining ourselves. So it makes sense that we do things together, trade off jobs, and take turns (especially when there are kids to manage too).

But there are some other important reasons to share the work:

We all need more movement in our lives. I've written before about the risks of a sedentary lifestyle and the fact that our families are seeing less and less movement in our every day lives. If we leave the heavy lifting, digging, spreading, and wood chopping to dad, the rest of us are missing the opportunity to develop our muscles through diverse weight-bearing movements. With the risk of osteoporosis and other degenerative diseases in women, in fact, it may be even more important for mom to keep active. Movement can also help you to release stress, and some repetitive movements (like mowing or swinging an ax) can also be meditative in nature as you get into the rhythm of them.

We all deserve a "time out." Let's face it, raising kids is not always a piece of cake. Every parent occasionally needs and deserves time to do something without the kids, but all too often moms are the ones left with the kids when dad goes to do a physically demanding project. He gets an hour of quiet time working his muscles while mom deals with temper tantrums or tries to get the kids outside to play. Likewise, sometimes BOTH parents need to get involved in a project so that our kids get a forced "time out" from parent intervention; eventually the boredom inspires them to think of something to do, and free play magically emerges.

We are role models for our children. The only way that gender lines are going to be dissolved (if you care about that quest, like we do), is if our children see examples of the ways in which we can reject stereotypical role-based assignments. My children see dad in the kitchen all of the time, and they ride the mower with mom. They see dad do the laundry and mom manage the finances. Then they see these jobs traded back and forth. While there are some projects my husband just has the sheer strength or experience to manage better than I do (chopping down a tree, for example, was something he learned how to do in college), and I admit that I sometimes want to fall back on gender norms when I don't want to do something (like taking out the trash or stacking the log pile) I try to remember that my kids are watching. For the most part I don't think my children see "dad's jobs" and "mom's jobs" along gender lines. I hope they will carry that with them into their future relationships and leadership roles.

I'd love to hear from others who are thinking about the intersections between gender and homesteading (or simply gender-divided tasks at home)!  How are you sharing jobs, assigning tasks, talking to kids about who does what?  

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’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.

Learning on the Homestead

Tanning and Skinning Book 

"The Ultimate Guide to Skinning and Tanning" by Monte Burch was a book I read when learning how to tan hides. On the left is a skinning knife with a gut hook, and on the right of the book is a fleshing tool.

A phrase I have heard many times in life says, "You'll never know 'til you try." Though the wording may be different around the world, the meaning to it remains very true. Without the will to grow and put forth the effort, an individual would find it difficult to take up new hobbies or projects that could benefit the future of their home, their income, and their well-being. Whether it's reading a guide on better livestock care or watching a video of how to construct your own smokehouse, there are always opportunities to learn on the homestead.

There are multiple ways to gain new skills and knowledge, and they all have their own pros and cons depending on what sort of learner you are. Some people are able to simply pick up a book with a few illustrations and put it into practice, while others may be able to watch a tutorial online on the subject. Watching a video may not be enough for others, and they may find it more beneficial to work with an experienced individual to guide their process. No matter which initial method you choose to approach something new, in the end, it will be necessary to put your learning to the test by doing it yourself.


I have always been an avid reader, and I retain knowledge much easier through words. If I ever try to explain something to another person, I find it hard to describe the things I do out loud. However, if I were to write down step-by-step what I was doing, I would find myself giving much more detail on paper. This same concept also applies to the way I learn, because I seem to pick up more information and helpful advice by reading a book. It is also helpful to refer to measurements and instruction that is there for future reference in text, say you were without access to a computer. A physical book is often substituted with e-books and blogs in modern days, which can be equally helpful by providing you the chance to directly contact the author and possibly ask their advice.


At times, I have been unable to follow along with illustrations to pick up a new skill. It was necessary for me to watch a video of someone else at work. For instance, I have always been in awe of the intricacy of dream-catchers, and wanted to learn how the webs within them were made. A quick "how to" search led me to a visual tutorial that, coupled with the maker's slow process and thorough explanation, gave me the confidence to try it myself. There is a great benefit to videos, as you can pause or repeat them as need be.


Sometimes, little can compare to working side by side with a skilled individual that has years of experience and adaptation. Five people may all tell different tips and tricks for fur trapping, for instance, and sometimes you may find yourself combining multiple methods to achieve your finished product or pick up a new trade. You may even be lucky enough to have workshops and classes advertised locally, whether they are free or at a small cost. As an example, there is a farm a few miles away from us that offers classes for beginners on canning produce during the harvest season. Having a mentor is beneficial, as they can offer advice for improvement in person. It is important to find someone who is patient and willing to explain theirs steps when learning in this way.

Applying Learning to Tanning

I put what I learned into action by tanning this beautiful Whitetail deer hide. (Photo: Wolf Branch Homestead)

Putting Knowledge to Work

There comes a time to apply what you have learned to physical practice, and it will come with its challenges. You won't immediately be perfect at building, crafting, or growing something new. It takes perseverance, hard work, time, patience, falling down, and getting back up. When your first batch of strawberry jam doesn't set up right, or your measurement for the chicken coop is off by an inch, I encourage you to not give up. Instead, seek to learn from that mistake, refer back to instruction if need be, and try again. Taking notes as you go is helpful, and may benefit another learner in the future! There may be a hobby that you wanted to try that doesn't work out, but if nothing else, simply find satisfaction in knowing that you followed through. Just remember that you won't know the end result unless you give it a chance!

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 a small flock of chickens and tanning furs. 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.

Tips to Assemble a Hobby Bee Hive Kit

As homesteaders going on year three, we decided to start our journey as beekeepers.

bee hive kit 2

It is estimated that one third of the food that we consume each day relies on pollination mainly by bees.  Honey bees play a significant role in the pollination of important crops. Besides pollination for our garden and the 4 fruit trees we planted last year, we also wanted bees for the honey and wax.

After some research we found our Bee Hive Kit from a company called Their kits are made in the US, sourced from US Forests and they use Ponderosa Pine which is a species of wood that holds up a lot better than most.  

Many bee hive kits sold online are not assembled. We recommend buying an unassembled kit. We were able to learn more about the hive and the various parts by assembling it ourselves.

After unboxing our bee kit and finding literally hundreds of nails, plasticell, wood pieces and more, we were a bit overwhelmed, but we did not need to be. Here are some things we learned that can help make assembling your bee hive kit a breeze:

1. Divide and conquer. We assembled our kit on a large table. First we divided all of the like parts into separate groups.

Divide kit into groups

2. Assembly Line. First we decided to focus on just assembling the frames. The frames are comprised of 4 wood pieces, a plasticell sheet and 8 small nails. At first we assembled one at a time, but later found it much quicker to mockup all of the frames at once. As you can see in this image below- we are assembling 15 frames at once time. First we laid down all of the bottom pieces, then we joined the two side pieces and slid in the plasticell sheets and then we attached the top wooden piece above the plasticell. Next we hammered the nails (2 in each corner) to the top, flipped it over and hammered two in each corner of the bottom.

Assembly Line

3. Nailing: The majority of the labor was in hammering in all of the small nails. We found that our pneumatic/air trim nailer had nails that were the exact same size as the ones that came with the kit. So we switched over to the air/nailer and that really sped the process up.


4. Double Check Fit- The hive bodies came with finger joints which made for a nice snug fit and predrilled holes for the nails.  Before nailing the hive bodies together,  be sure they are assembled correctly with a ledge on the top for the top of the frames to rest in as seen in the following picture:

bee hive kit

Being new to beekeeping we are joining a local bee club to learn more. We started in the cold of winter because we have a lot to learn before it warms up! Many sites have special offers on bee hive kits this time of year. If you want to learn more about our exact bee hive kit, visit

We plan to share many more blog posts and  videos as we take our bee hive kit outside and get our bees.

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.

When the Cold Sets In

winter homestead

An aerial view of our farm, before Farmstead Creamery was built. 

It’s cold outside.  Yeah, just a bit.  Just a little bit.  No, a bit more than that.  I got excited yesterday when I learned the high would be zero!  Whoo-hoo.  Is that still, like, jacket weather? 

While the farm animals would prefer teens and twenties for daytime temps, no one has had that luxury lately.  And projects that should usually take five minutes can seem to take FOREVER in this kind of extreme cold.  Or, well, some of them just don’t happen at all because the equipment refuses to start up.

Here are 20 sure signs it’s gotten pretty darn cold on the homestead this past week.  See how many of these you’ve tasted pieces of recently!  Or they might remind you of days back on the farm:

Even the heated waterers and water buckets are freezing up. Whoever makes the heaters only rates them to be good down to zero degrees.  And this is inside the coop or barn!  What were they thinking, I mean, we’re not the only place where it gets colder than zero.  Well, either way, it means lugging the brick-hard beast into the bath tub and running hot water until it’s all thawed out and ready to return to duty…at least for a bit longer.

My eyelashes freeze together just walking from our house to the chicken coop. Leaving the glasses behind, knowing they would only fog and freeze over, my hat is pulled down over my eyebrows and my purple Turtle Fur scarf is over the top of my nose, leaving a protective slit opening for my eyes—not unlike the view of medieval knights looking out from their helmet.  Even here, aided by my warm breath, ice forms on my lashes and, blink, blink, soon they start getting stuck closed.  But you know it’s REALLY gotten cold when your nose hairs freeze!

Even the winter-hearty water hose can’t come out in this polar vortex, so I’m back to hauling gallons and gallons to chickens, pigs, sheep, cows, and donkey in five-gallon buckets. Trotting through the uneven snowpack, the water sloshes and spills onto my Carhartt insulated chore pants.  After 45 minutes of ducking in and out of barns and sheds with this routine, the frozen sloshes and splashes have formed enough of a crust that I can hardly bend my leg anymore and the pants can stand up all on their own!

The bursting of trees in the woods as any last vestiges of their sap in trunks expands with a loud POP make me jump, thinking a gunshot has gone off. Three of these awaited me just this morning as the sun sparkled on the hoarfrost. 

If your leather glove or mitten gets the tiniest bit damp, good luck getting it back off the metal bucket handle.

I try everything I can NOT to take my hand out of the glove or mitten to latch the chicken coop door at night, which is covered with frost from the breaths of 200 laying hens and 20 ducks. This ice has formed into a jagged crystalline structure like the back of a frosted hedgehog. Invariably, after several minutes of struggle, I hold my breath and pull out the bare hand to just bloody get the job done before I freeze anymore.

The frost has heaved the turkey coop’s cement floor. I can no longer close their front door enough to latch it.  Instead, I devise an alternative latch involving a length of baling twine tied to the door knob that stretches out to the welded wire of their run pen, affixed with an S-hook.  No latch involved to freeze up.  Good, that will work.

The only vehicle that will work in the morning at all is the 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s the oldest vehicle on the farm. 

I wonder if they make snow tires or tire chains for my utility golf cart, so I can still…maybe…get by using it to haul water instead of this frozen pants and buckets deal.

Even the compost piles have snow on top of them. Typically, the decomposition process continues through the winter, which makes fairly high amounts of heat.  I’ve seen compost piles steam!  But this cold?  Nope, even compost microbes go dormant.

Even the 2-year-old sheep dog with puppy springiness in his step gets too cold to finish chores. All the dogs try to see if they can walk with the fewest number of feet on the ground.  Can I walk on three legs?  Can I walk on two?  Couldn’t I just hover please?

After collecting eggs from the coop, whether it’s morning or evening chores, I have to RUN with them to the farmhouse as fast as possible, before they freeze in the ice cream bucket and split their shells. Meander around too much and you can hear them pop, like miniature versions of the trees in the woods.

While it’s cold walking from Farmstead to the aquaponics greenhouse, it’s always colder walking back! Invariably the bottoms of your shoes are wet, sticking to the bare concrete entry way, and your hands are damp, sticking to the door latches!  Can I get that door latch with my elbow?  So THIS is why they made us put ADA compliant latches on all the doors!

You realize why in Vermont so many of the houses are attached to the barns, so you can walk completely inside back and forth. Smart people.  Why didn’t we think of that too…or the Fullingtons when they laid out the farm over 100 years ago.  Inflatable tunnel anyone?

There never seems to be enough wood brought inside for the wood stove. Wait, last piece?  I thought I just went and got a sled load?  Where did it all go?

The few songbirds left all seem to be roosting in the rafters of the turkey coop at night. When I open the door, they bolt out like freed prisoners.  The rest are in the barn above the sheep, only venturing outside when they need to.  I hope that they are finding enough to eat.  Any feed I spill while trying to transfer from 50-lb. bags to 5-gallon buckets is all cleaned up by morning.  So it goes as we all try to make it through the winter season.

None of the icicles have grown an inch this week. They’re just hanging there, waiting for the action to resume like jagged teeth off the side of the barn roof. 

There’s white frost, a quarter of an in thick, on the INSIDE of our front door’s striker plate. That’s, like, in the house.  Not even in a mud room.  And I’m totally serious.

That moment when you realize the water splashed on your chore pants has made it through the zipper and your whole leg is actually wet. How long do I have until frost bite?  How fast can I finish these chores NOW!!!?

That moment when you cannot pry yourself away from sitting in front of the wood stove like a lizard soaking up the desert sun. Chores?  In a minute.  You hear the wind howl, shudder, then tip the other shoulder to ease the sore muscles with the wood-fired warmth.  Maybe I’ll just get a blanket and sleep right here.  Maybe the dog would make a good pillow?  It’s the one real haven in a cold, white, windswept world.

Sound familiar?  One morning this week, I thought, whew, that was an especially cold chores day!  And what was it?  26 below! “Below what?” an East Coast friend once asked me.  “Below freezing?”  Em, no, a bit below that.  Quite a bit.  So if you have to venture out there into that bitter cold, bundle up, duck into shelters often, and try to avoid the perils of the endless splashing water buckets!  See you down on the farm sometime.

(Follow Kara on subzero chores!)

Photo by Jana Reeg Steidinger.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

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.

Enjoying the Snow

snowcovered farm

Yes, I know, snow can be a real bugger sometimes.  There’s the drift that always forms just a few feet in front of the garage doors.  Some years I think I shovel the same snowflakes from that spot over and over.  And there’s the new eight inches to clear off all the trails and driveways and walk-paths that crisscross the barnyard and curve their way past the pig pens and chicken coops.

When the first snows hit, we portion out all the shovels like they’re a ration.  One in the garage, one at Farmstead, one in the other garage, one at the coop, one in the barn, one at the pole barn, one at the back door.  You just never know when you’ll be stuck some place and need to dig your way out (or need the one in the car to get yourself unstuck yet again).  Wake up for chore time and some mornings you have to dig your way out!

Not that I’m complaining about the beautiful snow we’ve been having.  I love the elegant, clean look and brightness it adds to the landscape after November’s dulled browns and grays.  It softens the sounds, brightens the mornings and evening (even in the shortened days) and adds a sparkle when the sun is out to catch the frozen crystals like jewels trapped on tree branches.

Our sheep dogs love the snow, snapping up a mouthful in mid-gallop as they romp about the barnyard obstacle course.  For them, it’s like catching a mouthful of ice-cream.  They come up for air, noses powdered white, then keep running.  The sheep stand in their paddocks, observing the day, the downy flakes piling up on the their thick-fleeced backs.

The appearance of snow that sticks around on the farm also creates an interesting storyboard of who’s been where in the tracks left behind.  The appearance of the classic splay-toed prints of turkey feet outside the fence tells of either an escape or a wild visitor, the tunnels of mice and voles bely movements typically unseen, and the highways of rabbits and squirrels spell out their favorite routs and hidey holes. 

Tracking the paths of our wild friends and enjoying the views and sounds of the season of snow will all be part of our 4th Annual Snowshoe Hike this Saturday the 30th (starting 10:00 am) with naturalist Emily Stone from the Cable Natural History Museum.  Cross-country skis are welcome too, and we’ll stop back at Farmstead after the hike for a hot drink and tasty treat. 

I’ll be sharing the history of the farm as we pass by the old white pine stumps pulled from the fields by the original homesteaders or round the bend towards the unpainted gambrel barn, built in 1919.  Emily weaves the story of what’s happening in the woods this time of year—the active subnivium zone beneath the snow, the amazing properties of lichen.  Following the gently rolling topography, we move from barnyard to forest, hayfields to wetland borders.

This year the snowshoe hike will kick off a whole season of snowshoe/ski treks through our woods on Saturdays that I’ll be guiding.  Starting at 1:00 pm, the hike takes about an hour, beginning and ending at Farmstead, every Saturday throughout January and February.  Bring your own snowshoes or skis (and a friend!) and enjoy the quiet peace of the farm’s wintry hush.  Of course, we ask everyone participating to please respect that this is special access to private property, and the trail will only be open during these guided experiences.

One of my favorite parts about being in the woods in wintertime (other than that I can return without being covered in ticks!) is how deeply one can look into the forest.  Bits of movement between the silvery tree trunks catch the eye, a startled grouse looses her wings with a flurry of wind or a squirrel spirals skyward with great chastisement.  All those bits kept secret through the leafy season are laid bare, silhouetted by the crisp, white snow.

My favorite snow makes the farm look ready for a Dicken’s village scene—powdery, light, with the huge flake-clusters tumbling down with impossible grace.  They only stay that way for a little while before relinquishing their loftiness or slump in warming temps.  But the moment of standing out in this type of snow, listening to the immense quiet of evening (after all the animals are fed because before that there’s too much baahing and braying and squealing) reminds me how truly magical wintertime can be.

What is your favorite way of enjoying the snow?  Writing words in the freshness with your boots, like spelling a cursive message to the sky?  Making snow angels or snowmen with the grandchildren?  Skiing on the trails with your dog?

Whatever helps winter shine for you, make some time for that this week.  It’s easy to complain about the snow, but finding the magic again (a magic we all remember as kids when the coveted snow days would happen) helps lighten the load of wintertime.  Yes, there will still be shoveling and unearthing the car with its annoying crust of ice, but when was the last time you got to “play” with the snow?  Had a snowball fight for fun?

If you’re not sure where to start or are looking for some motivation, you’re certainly welcome to join us on a snowshoe/ski jaunt in the woods behind the barnyard.  But you don’t need me to enjoy the snow.  It’s available to all of us living in these beautiful Northwoods.  Even my ducks like it, burrowing about with their yellow bills.  What are they looking for?  I think it’s their way of just being outside, enjoying the snow.  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

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.

Homestead Repurposing 101

tractor tire sand box

I recent watched a TED talk that shared a study on the level of genius thinking in school students.  What is genius thinking?  Here’s an example.  Grab a piece of paper and, as quickly as possible, write down all the things you could do with a paper clip.  Go!

Got that?  So, most folks will think of 15 to 20 things they could do with a paper clip.  Genius thinkers will come up with upwards of 80 or 100!  This is because they are willing to take the idea of a paper clip but free it from its current restraints.  “What if,” the genius thinker asks, “the paper clip is 40 feet tall and made of foam rubber?”

What the study found, using similar methods to the question above, is that 95 percent of kindergarteners are genius thinkers, but by 6th grade that number has shrunk to less than 10 percent.  Kids get carefully trained to get the answers “right,” rather than free associate outside of the box.

For the homesteader, it’s essential to be able to draw on that kindergarten ability for genius thinking.  For instance, there are all kinds of things on a farm built for a single purpose:  a dog collar, a tractor tire, a fiberglass fence post, a shepherd’s crook, a broom, and baling twine.  Let’s run with those fairly ordinary farm objects for a minute and see where the genius thinking goes.

See, the reason for this exercise is the well-known fact that stuff breaks on a farm.  Yes, I know, it breaks more often than I would like it to.  So then what?  Throw it away?  No!  We’re way too thrifty for that.  But the piles of “I’ll use that someday” can quickly overrun the working parts of the farm, so it’s critical to put that obsolete thing to a good purpose.

Let’s start with the dog collar.  Well, it didn’t actually break, but the puppy grew up and it no longer fits.  The collar is still in working condition, if a bit well-loved.  Now what, into the drawer?  Ah, but Kara has a gate to the sheep pen that needs a latch.  But it butts up to a metal T-posts, so the usual chain and latch method that requires anchoring to a wooden post won’t work. 

The solution?  Put the dog collar around the gate and the post, and you have a new way to lock it!  Might be a little harder to get in and out (the sheep certainly haven’t figured it out yet), and it froze solid with the last ice storm (Mom thawed it out with her bare hands…that method could use some improvement), but hey, it’s in use.

dog collar latch

Ok, onto the tractor tire.  Of course, there’s lots of things for these enormous rubber doughnuts.  The old Farmall tractor that came with the farm had cut-up chunks of tire strapped to the old metal wheels because it came from the era of cleats rather than tires.  But I can run faster than that tractor, so it’s not really seeing work these days.

You can lay the tire on its side, fill it with soil, and make a flower bed.  Or, even more fun, take a saws-all to the rim and fill it with sand for the kiddos to have a farm-themed sandbox to play in!  It makes the saws-all smoke, but the end result is pretty spiffy, and the tire sides hold up well to the lawn trimmer’s string as you tend the grass.  We made one of these for Farmstead, and it gets a good workout all summer.

Next is the fiberglass fence post.  We use electric mesh fencing for our sheep and poultry.  This helps to keep them safe from predators while being lightweight and movable.  But now and then the fence gets challenged by a situation (a sheep tries to jump it, a storm reeks havoc, or my foot gets caught and I’m the one all tangled up) and the post will break off just above the metal step-in spike. 

Time to buy a replacement post.  But what to do with the old one?   While no longer useful for fencing, the fiberglass is still flexible and a bright white.  I use them as herding sticks for the chickens and turkeys.  Easily visible for the birds and lightweight for me to carry, the nudges and taps on their feathery sides are gentle because of the fiberglass flex.  There’s usually a few handy by the coop door.  Never know when you need to persuade an escapee back into the coop!

What’s next, a shepherd’s crook?  Do they make any of those meant to last?  One wily moment with a well-muscled sheep and a barn support beam between you and her, and the pole is mangled or broken.  Time to place another order and hope there’s a sturdier version on the market.  But now what for the misshapen one?  They hang out in the barn for all sorts of arm-extension jobs like nabbing the handle of a bucket on the other side of a corral panel or knocking open the latch on the little door up on the side of the barn where you throw down the hay bales.  It’s handy for shorter folks like me.  Though I’ll admit that, even with the crook, I’m still jumping to reach that barn door latch.

The broom?  Well, while it still looks like a broom, it’s useful for getting turkeys off of roofs, scrubbing coop window screens free of dust, and various cleaning processes, but when the bristles wear down to nothing, saw off the sweeping part and keep the handle.  You never know when the handle of something else will break and you need a new one in a pinch, or they also work great for door props, tarp props, anti-rooster self-defense weapons, roost rungs, bucket carriers, and on and on and on.  Broom handles are the “paper clip” supreme of homesteading.

But baling twine?  I’m afraid that baling twine takes the cake.  Woe to a farm that doesn’t feed hay.  I can’t imagine homesteading without twine around, draped in bundles from a nail in the barn wall like big hanks of sisal or pink plastic dreads.  Baling twine is one of those things I always try to have in my chore-mongering utility golf cart (that and zip-ties, a harvest knife, a scissors, a pliers, a screw driver, and assorted garden tools…there could be a whole other article just on the many uses of those items!).

But back to baling twine.  Not only does it work great for tying things down (or up) but also for splices, latches, trellises, supports, harnesses, leashes, hoists, tethers, straps, brace ties, join ties, and any other imaginable situation.  Armed with baling twine and a Girl/Boy Scout’s knowledge of knots, this everyday item becomes a lifeline to success under the harshest of circumstances.  Baling twine anchored to T-posts in the midst of lightening saved my poultry from drowning in that terrible September storm a few years ago.

Still brainstorming more ways to use a paper clip?  Keep that genius thinking going.  The other word for this process is repurposing.  “I know this object is meant for this process, but what if I…?”  Next time you feel like throwing a broken thing out, take a moment to think about how it might be repurposed.  The results might surprise you!  Time to make sure I still have baling twine handy before chores.  See you down on the farm sometime. 

Tractor tire. Photo by Laura Berlage.

The dog collar gate latch.  Photo Steve Barnes

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

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 Caring for Baby Chicks

brahma cross baby chick 

Although it's the dead of winter, I know that many chicken enthusiasts like myself are already planning how they will start or expand their flock come spring. Maybe, like us, you are browsing sales ads and hatchery catalogs, in delicious hesitation about the perfect breed to start raising when the days get longer and warmer.

We are big proponents of breeding and raising chicks the natural way, with broody hens, but sometimes running the incubator or ordering a batch of baby chicks can have definite advantages - such as, for example, the ability to monitor valuable eggs extra carefully, and to give your flock a head start in the spring. If you are not averse to the idea of keeping chicks indoors for a few weeks, your February babies may well be ready for the outdoors as early as March or April, depending on your local weather - at about the time when your hens are just thinking of getting back to laying. 

Start With the Basics

If you have hatched some chicks in the incubator or brought some home from a breeder, it is your responsibility to provide all their needs – a safe, warm, clean environment with food and fresh water always available.

We do things very simply around here. For our brooder, we use a large cardboard box lined with newspaper or wood shavings, which are changed often. A heating lamp is suspended from a board placed across the top. We provide food in one tray and water in another – a heavy ashtray works very well for this purpose, as it’s stable enough not to be overturned and flat enough so that chicks won’t drown or get wet through if they stand in their water, which they like to do. If you use a deeper dish, fill it with marbles or rocks.

Make sure the chicks are not crowded. If some chicks are weak and get trodden upon, they can be squashed to death. Remove them to a separate brooder until they recover.

In almost every source I’ve checked, commercial chick starter is recommended for baby chicks, but I confess we have never used it. I expect I’d get a lot of rotten tomatoes hauled my way by experts if I suggested this officially, but remember, I’m sharing our personal experience here.

We offer our chicks a diet of regular chicken mash, or layers’ mash – whatever we have on hand – supplemented with mashed hard-boiled egg and, from very early on, treats in the form of fruit and veggie scraps. I also take the chicks outside, under supervision, and let them peck and scratch in the yard for a while each day (weather permitting, of course). We have raised many generations of healthy chicks this way.

I wish you the best of luck with your chicken nursery, and am sure you are going to have fun with your flock.

Part of this post was an excerpt from Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.

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