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


Farming Smarter, Not Harder, Part 2: Herd Size and a Farm Business Plan

goats eating cedar 

You know you are short on forage when a cedar tree is a treat!

Last time, I wrote about the beginnings of our Missouri farm and our problems with grass. This installment will conclude with our continued struggles with numbers and how we finally (maybe) got smarter.

Keeping Track of Livestock Numbers

Numbers mean livestock head count as well as an annual business plan review. First: the census of animals on your farm. I cannot tell you how many posts I read in social media that are the direct result of problems from overstocking. (Caveat: I am also guilty of this.) Our cattle numbers have fluctuated between the five calves we started with up to about twenty-four when the “big drought” hit, then back down to about twelve or so. Our goat numbers went from the eleven we brought with us from Virginia to nearly sixty, then (again, after the drought) down to a handful.

As years went by after the Big Drought of 2012, the fields recovered and improved each year. Lower stocking rates in addition to Management Intensive Grazing (MIG)  and stockpiling forage has many benefits- the sod thickens, grass species improve and runoff all but ceases. Gradually our cattle and goat numbers increased in response to the surplus grazing. We would rotate grazing paddocks and move the cows and the goats here and there, but I was not really keeping track of the numbers/animal units we were attempting to carry.

We had friends contact us who owned livestock we had sold to them in the past, asking us to buy them back as they were cutting back on their own herd numbers. We had plenty of grazing and obviously we did not learn anything from 2012.

A breeding herd of a bull and a dozen cows would do fine on our farm. A herd of mixed goats of 50 or so would do fine on the farm. Both herds together however put stressors on the forage, in addition to the lack of rains after the haying, that I should have paid attention to. Livestock numbers had gradually increased, we cut hay again, had a drought, and now we are in a tight spot. Again. Would we ever learn?

Secondly, something that would have saved us some pocketbook-ache would have been yearly reassessment of our farm’s business plan which is more than just projected expenses and income.  We started with a plan but we did not reevaluate it. For a few years, we were certified by Animal Welfare Association, now A Greener World, which meant we had to update our business plan annually. Two years ago we decided we no longer wanted to participate in the certifications, and with that, our annual business plan evaluation stopped as well. Major mistake.

Had I been keeping a tighter check on our numbers, stocking rates, animal grazing units, I might have avoided the hay fiasco we now find ourselves in. Lesson point; make a plan and update it annually. “Farm blindness” happens to us all.

heifer trio

2020 Irish Dexter heifer calves ready to sell.

Smarter Thinking for Goatherds

As the fall months of 2019 progressed and the days shortened, we acknowledged our mistakes. Cutting hay was a big error, we should have left the forage in the field.  Allowing our stocking rates to exceed what the pastures would carry under stressed conditions was just as bad a judgement call, if not worse. We were putting out fires of our own making. It was time to get smarter. Also, we are aging. Even more outrageous, we want to do things off the farm, you know, things that start with a “t” like travel.

Since the MIG paddocks had been taken down for haying, we decided to redivide the 12-acre field into three permanent sections with 4-by-4 woven-wire fence. This would allow contained grazing for the livestock, including wee baby goats and calves, in the section we desired and the other two sections gated off for regrowth. The “east” field that once had been nine MIG sections was permanently fenced into two sections, following an old terrace etched across the field. We still use electric twine and a solar charger to subdivide, but one strand (not three) to keep the cows where we want. Goats can duck underneath, knowing goats will go where goats want to go, within the allowed woven wire section.

Will this be the best way to utilize our forage? Time will tell, but future haying is out of the question and we know for certain that stockpiling forage and MIG practices do pay off. These changes should help with our Grass Problem; but only in growing forage and grass. Next we needed to reduce the numbers of mouths eating the forage.

We advertised our cows, selling the youngest of our breeding females first followed by the middle-agers. Currently, we are back to where we started with a bull and four cows. The goats, bred for spring kidding, will be evaluated with pen and paper after the kids are on the ground and again at weaning. Kids and does will be weighed for productivity and rate of gain. Culling the bottom 25% annually is a surefire way to optimize your goat herd. We cannot afford to keep and feed the slackers but I do not want to cull goats too early as sometimes the best producers are the not the beauty queens. Reducing livestock as well as looking over our business plan in a regular fashion will address the Numbers Problem.

Smarter thinking also encompasses the garden, which can quickly turn a pleasurable thing into a dreaded chore. I love to can and learned we don’t have to grow tons of tomatoes, green beans, okra, cucumbers and such every year.  “Canning crops” are now on rotation, which also helps us with plant rotation. Compost from the goat barns,chicken coop and kitchen makes a fine soil amendment and by all means, put that pile near the garden!  Now that we are “gardening for two” our needs are smaller; reviewing the pantry stores and adjusting the varieties of vegetables we need. 2020 will be a green bean year and I found a variety of purple podded pole beans.  Purple pods should be easy to see- no more lost beans hiding in foliage.  Ditto for red okra. 

Yes, I would love our farm to make a profit every year by selling calves, goats, milk, soap and honey. How can we earn money while avoiding the unexpected expenses that are the result of our own farming ineptitude?  Farming smarter, that is how. Take a step back and look at your farm with the filter off- ask friends for their opinions, review that business plan and if you still do not have one, make one.  Do not get lulled into a false sense of security when you enjoy a few consecutive years of lovely, perfect weather.  Plan for the worst every year! You have read all the articles, posts, blogs and no doubt have come to the conclusion what works for one does not work for all; I am preaching to the choir. You can farm smarter and not harder if you remain flexible, set your goals, learn from mistakes and be fearless in making changes.

Mary Jane Phifer is a heritage cattle farmer and owner of Steel Meadow Farm in Mansfield, Mo., where she and her husband raise Irish Dexter cattle and Spanish commercial goats on their farm. Read all of Mary Jane’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Pet Peeves: Addressing Dog Abuse and Neglect with Education

 

My pet peeves may not be your pet peeves and some may clearly disagree or have their own opinions. Pet peeves can all be different but this blog is solely designed to initiate specific thinking into why some people are so ‘dogmatic’ in handling and treating their dogs in certain ways.

Riding In The Bed Of Pickup Trucks

Number one pet peeve is when I observe a dog/s riding in the bed of a pickup truck. Having been involved in animal rescue over the years, I have heard many justifications for why owners allow their dogs to ride in the bed of a pickup truck. I have also known of instances where the dog was thrown out of the back of the truck accidentally. In one case the driver went around a corner too fast and the dog fell out, fracturing its pelvis. In another instance the dog had its leash secured inside the bed and was half hung and dragged a distance.

Owners should really think about the safety of the animal and keep the dog inside the cab of the truck. The owner may be a good driver and normally exercise caution but what about the inadequate driver who is distracted or runs a traffic light or stop sign and hits the vehicle? The dog then becomes a projectile flying through the air. If you really love your dogs, keep them inside the vehicle where they will be more protected.

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

Number two pet peeve is chaining dogs outside in the yard instead of having them in the house with the family. Domesticated dogs still exhibit pack tendencies and they still crave togetherness. While humans don’t look, smell, act or think like dogs, they do represent a pack in which the dog feels comfortable. Dogs look to us to provide them security, affection and protection in their environment. While some breeds may be more protective of their family/pack, they also expect us to provide them protection as well. 

When the pack is inside the house and a dog is chained or confined outside, they are effectively banished from the main pack. I have heard people say that their dog prefers the outdoors to being inside with the rest of the family. I don’t find that a totally acceptable excuse. There are any number of reasons the dog may “appear” to want to remain outside as opposed to inside with the pack/family. If a rescue, the prior owner may never have allowed it inside and that is the dogs limited experience. Perhaps the dog never received the socialization it needs to be an integral part of the family/pack.

Adopting a Senior Dog

Our senior dog Bozwell, who will be 13 years old in a few weeks, is an example of an outside dog. He was rescued from halfway across the country from a kill shelter after he had escaped from his chain link back yard by unlatching the gate. We were ultimately able to learn some of his history which revealed he was kept outside, “out of sight and out of mind”. He finally at nine months old took matters into his own paws and left where he was neglected. While seeking his freedom, he sustained injury to his paw and caught an intestinal  disease from contaminated water. His owners did not even initiate looking for him for six weeks and by then he was with us.

Pampered and Spoiled

We were waiting for him to be transported across country to adopt him. He is now inside with us and is very content and happy. At his senior age, he lounges around the house on one of the five dog beds or the sofa and sleeps a lot. Senior dogs especially deserve to be inside and tenderly cared for, pampered and spoiled in their declining years.

My third “pet” peeve is unlike the above two insomuch as they deal with owners not thinking about their conduct; or owner negligence. This peeve pertains to those who abuse or damage dogs. Theirs is intentional and I can’t find words to describe in decent terms their conduct. It is good that most states and the federal government now have animal cruelty laws to punish them.

Restoring an Abused Dog

Anyone who has adopted a previously abused or neglected dog knows that the animal sometimes has fear issues. That was the case with our adopted girl Sarah. She would run and hide behind furniture when visitors came. She was afraid of noises and only by never raising our voice or even scolding her when she did wrong, coupled with gentle handling, did we restore her self confidence. It took us years, not months, to see her restored to her normal loving confident self. Abuse in any form in my opinion is inexcusable and Sarah revealed she was seriously damaged by abuse.

It was a very slow process with small increments at a time to help Sarah recover her trust and confidence. Even when we took her to the veterinarian she would cry pitifully. Visits where they would make a fuss over her and not treat or minimally treat  her helped her immensely. At home, coaxing her out from hiding to meet new people who would make a fuss over her also helped. She would hug my leg but to help her we needed her to actually venture out to meet people. Various loud or unusual noises she never quite got over but eventually tolerated.

Different Forms of Abuse 

Our senior girl, Ruby, was apparently confined to a small room because she refuses to enter our pantry or bathroom (both small). At her senior age, we have decided we do not have to change that dislike of hers. Ruby has no other obvious signs of being abused. Animal abuse at any level is totally unacceptable in my opinion and separate from negligence or neglect. Those who abuse animals should be severely punished and made to understand any abuse is not allowed in society. It is my opinion that there should be a national registry for animal abusers much like exists for sex abusers.

Photo courtesy from Google Images and Bruce McElmurray

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


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

Preventative Chicken Health with Nutrition and Natural Living

white layer that is sick
"My hens have stopped laying all of a sudden." 

"I don't know why my chickens have started picking on each other; they've never done this before." 

"I've recently had a few eggs that were misshapen and one didn't even have a real shell... it was soft." 

I don't know how many times I've been told stories like this from people that raise chickens.  They want to know what's going on with their flocks.  Most of these people are just normal folks like me and you that are trying to raise healthy birds for eggs or meat.  But, all of them have a common problem: they aren't providing the proper preventative care to keep their flocks healthy.

You see, chickens are really good at hiding when something is wrong and they do this for a very good reason.  In the wild, chickens are prey animals.  If you've ever watched a show on National Geographic, you probably know that predators will watch their potential prey before striking.  Predators will single out the old, sick, injured or weak animals to attack.  Chickens have evolved to not show signs of weakness as a way to avoid being targeted by predators.  So, when a chicken is showing signs that it's hurt or sick, that means it's really hurt or sick. 

It's very easy to overlook a chicken that has a health issue. It's much easier for us to prevent illnesses and injuries than it is to try to treat them once they turn into a major problem. 

I've put together a chicken first aid kit checklist that will help you to prepare a chicken first aid kit for almost any chicken emergency. You can find it for free here.

One of the easiest ways that we can keep our chickens healthy is to ensure that they are living a more natural life and are provided the best nutrition possible.

A More Natural Life

Chickens are busy bodies.  They wake up before the sun and keep busy until dusk. Chickens that are allowed out during the day are often found scratching and pecking consistently throughout the day. They don't take a break and nap during the day. It's just not in their nature. When we keep chickens in a coop, we're robbing them of the ability to be active.

Chickens can become stir-crazy and bored if they are left to their own devices or are overcrowded in their coop. If you must keep your chickens cooped up, there are some things that you can do to help keep them busy and entertained during the day.

Toys can be an excellent stimulant for chickens. My two favorite boredom busters for chickens can be easily made at home with things that you probably have laying around the house. 

Take an old soda bottle and remove the sticker from it. Clean it out and poke holes all over it. Fill it with scratch grains and put the top on it. Your chickens will see the grains in it and start pecking at it.  When it rolls around, it will slowly let out seeds. This will provide hours of entertainment for your flock.

You can also meet their need to peck at things by hanging an ear of corn or a head of cabbage from the chicken coop. They will peck away at it. When they peck at it, it will move, making it a challenge for them to eat it. This is another toy that will provide hours of entertainment.

If possible, the best thing you can do for your flock is to allow them time out of the coop. Even an hour or two a day can have serious impacts for your flock's health. The most ideal situation would be to let them out daily to free-range, but it's often hard to do that with predators and flocks that live in suburban or urban areas. 

Feeding for Health

Many chicken illnesses can be linked to poor nutrition. Even the most well-meaning chicken owners can end up with chickens that suffer from nutritional illness from time to time.

If you keep your chickens cooped up, odds are that you purchase a pre-mixed commercial chicken feed. Pelleted feed is the most commonly fed chicken feed out there. These feeds are created to meet all of the nutritional needs of chickens and they usually do a decent job at it.

However, the nutrients found in chicken feed can break down over time.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does, your chickens can develop nutritional illnesses. Common signs of nutritional deficiencies are misshapen eggs, reduced laying or reduced growth rates and cannibalism. 

It's important to keep a close eye on your chickens if their diet consists of commercial feed. If you start to notice health problems or reduced production, consider either turning your chickens out for some forage time or adding supplements to their diet. 

An excellent supplement to add to chicken diets is the dried meal worm. They seem gross to us, but to chickens, they are the ultimate treat. They are packed with protein and nutrients that chickens crave.  Meal worms can be costly to buy, but they aren't when you consider how few it takes to give your chickens a protein boost. A small handful of meal worms is enough to satisfy a dozen chickens. 

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


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

3 Methods for Heating Greenhouses for Free

Greenhouses can be interesting environments to grow in. This is because standard greenhouse materials like glass and plastic (“glazing”) are extremely good at letting in light and heat in, and extremely good at letting heat out. With so much glazed surface area, greenhouses usually overheat during the day if uncontrolled. And because glass and plastic provide no insulation, at night they lose all that heat, causing them to freeze. Take this October day in Boulder, Colorado for instance: An all-glass greenhouse fluctuated from a high of 110 F to a low of 30 F in one day. Plants, like people, do not like this.

The primary challenge with greenhouse growing is stabilizing these temperature swings. Conventionally, people do this by blasting energy via heating or cooling systems into the greenhouse. But the smarter, more sustainable way of creating a stable greenhouse environment is to harness the excess solar energy coming in during the day, store it and use it at night. Or, if working with an existing greenhouse, to add an efficient heater that uses cheap and renewable fuels. These strategies all take understanding and research, and have some upfront cost, but the pay-back in terms of added growing and long-term savings is well worth it.

Also, remember there’s no cheaper energy than the energy you don’t have to use, so if designing a new greenhouse, build it so that it does not require much heating and cooling in the first place. This means using building a air-tight, insulated structure, using proper roofing materials, and orienting the greenhouse with the glazing facing South — where all our light in the Northern hemisphere comes from. If growing in an existing greenhouse, you can insulate your greenhouse and weather-strip air leaks among other things. Reducing your energy requirements to a minimum is always the first step, then incorporate the strategies below.

1) Store solar energy in thermal mass

The easiest and most common way to even out the temperature of your greenhouse is utilize thermal mass, also called a heat sink.  Thermal mass is any material that stores thermal energy. Most materials do this to some extent, but some do it much better than others. Water for instance, holds about 2 times as much heat as concrete, and about 4 times as much as soil.

Incorporating mass does two things. First, it absorbs excess energy during the day, creating a cooling effect. When the temperature drops at night, it starts releasing that energy, thereby ‘heating’ the greenhouse. Note: though I say ‘cooling and heating’, the thermal mass is not actually providing the energy, it’s simply storing it and releasing it later, like a battery. The size of the battery (or how much energy you can store) depends on the heat capacity of the material and how much mass you have. Below is a table comparisons a few different sources of thermal mass and their heat capacities.

Thermal mass and heat capacities chart

How-to

The most common way to use thermal mass is water barrels, because it has such a high heat capacity. By stacking several 55 gallon drums of water in a greenhouse, the grower can incorporate a lot of thermal mass. Barrels should be stacked where they are in direct sunlight, often on a North wall. Since plants will be warmer around the water barrels, put more tender plants — like seeding trays or warm weather crops — on or near the barrels. Growing with an aquaponics system — growing fish and plants symbiotically — has the nice benefit of the fish tanks doubling as thermal mass. Other variations include building concrete or stone into the greenhouse — such as using a concrete North wall or flagstone floor. Even the soil in raised beds will add thermal mass.

While the easiest to install, thermal mass can be slow to react. It takes longer to disseminate the heat throughout the greenhouse, limiting its effectiveness. But, given the low upfront cost, adding thermal mass to a greenhouse is a popular method for extending the growing season. It may not get you year-round growth of all things, but it can certainly take your greenhouse to the next level.

2) Incorporate a heat exchanger

Pipes in an underground heat exchanger

To go one step beyond standard thermal mass, you can incorporate a heat exchanger to circulate air through the source of mass. This idea goes by many names. It’s often called a Climate Battery or a Subterranean Heating and Cooling System (SHCS) — a name popularized by John Cruickshank of sunnyjohn.com. Ceres Greenhouse Solutions, based in Boulder, CO, also has a variation of the system called a Ground to Air Heat Transfer (GAHT) System.

There are many configurations, but the mechanism of energy transfer and storage is always the same. When the greenhouse heats up during the day, a fan pumps warm humid air from the interior of the greenhouse through a network of pipes buried up to 4’ underground (most systems consist of a couple layers of tubes buried at 4’ and 2’ below the surface). The drop in temperature forces the water vapor to condense, and in that process (called a phase change) energy is released. That energy is stored in the soil, causing the soil to heat up. Thus, the process creates a large mass of warm soil underneath the greenhouse year-round. At night, when the greenhouse drops in temperature, the fan kicks on again and extracts that heat from the soil. It’s a relatively simple, time-tested system; ground to air heat exchangers have been used in homes for decades.

3D model of an underground heat exchanger

A ground to air heat exchanger works very well for two reasons: First, the amount of available mass (the size of the battery as we mentioned before) is huge. For example, there are 768 cubic feet of soil beneath a 12’ x 16’ greenhouse, assuming a 4’ depth. If you lined the whole North wall of the same greenhouse with two rows of 55 gallon water barrels (16 barrels) they would have a total of 118 cubic feet of mass. That means, using the volumetric heat capacities in the table above, the underground heat exchanger has about twice the capacity as the water barrels. Moreover, because a ground to air heat exchanger connects to the deep earth and thus theoretically has an infinite capacity. For a diagram to better understand this, see CERES Greenhouses picture here.

Secondly, because air is actively being pushed through the ‘battery’ it increases the rate of heat exchange. The hotter / cooler air is distributed around the greenhouse more evenly, preventing cold pockets. Additionally, using fans allows you to use the mass when you want: a thermostat kicks the fan on and off at certain set temperatures. I.e., the fan will start pumping warm air down into the soil when the greenhouse reaches a set temperature (say 80 F), and draw it back up when it has gone below 50 F. Thus, an underground heat exchanger gives you some control over thermal mass; it’s kind of like taking thermal mass and making it smarter.

Variations

The material of the battery can vary. Some people backfill the area underneath the greenhouse with gravel or stones instead of soil. If you already have a greenhouse, or can’t excavate on your site to do much ground work, you can create an alternative battery above ground. You can build an insulated mass of soil or other material, such as a box of river rocks in front of the greenhouse. The system works the same way, only the location of the thermal mass is different.

3) Use an efficient renewable-powered heater

The above systems show you how to harness the sun and store solar energy, which is a good first step to natural heating. If additional heating is needed, consider a highly efficient heating system that runs off of cheap and renewable fuel.

Rocket mass heater

One of the common systems used in greenhouses is the rocket mass heater, a super efficient variation of a wood stove. Instead of just exhausting hot air straight out of a chimney like a standard wood stove does, the rocket mass heater first circulates the hot air through a mass of cob, brick or stone before it’s exhausted out. The air warms the mass which holds the heat and slowly radiates it back into the greenhouse over a long period of time, even after the stove is done burning. The rocket mass heater also uses a double combustion chamber, making it much more efficient than a standard wood stove — a couple hours of a burn with a small amount of wood can heat a greenhouse overnight. Most rocket mass heaters are DIY systems; you will have to investigate and design a system that fits for your greenhouse using the plethora of plans and explanations online.

Compost pile under construction

Another common greenhouse system is the compost-pile heater, which relies on the magic of aerobic bacteria to break down organic material and give off waste heat. Like the underground heat-exchanger, a compost heater also relies on a heat exchanger: water is circulated through tubes running through a large compost pile. Because of the aerobic decomposition, a compost pile can maintain temperatures of 100-160 F. The heated water is then is circulated through the greenhouse where it dispenses heat. Of all the systems, this one probably takes the most tinkering to get right and keep going. You must first build your compost pile with the right material and consistency to get it to a high temperature, and keep adding to it or re-building the pile as it decomposes. However, a large, properly constructed pile (see picture below) can keep a 1,000-2,000 sq. ft. greenhouse heated for a winter. For these reasons, compost pile heaters are often best suited for larger greenhouses.

Completed compost pile

Summary

Which way to go? Several factors play in:

What are your goals (how much space are you trying to heat, and to what degree)? Each system has a different capacity for heating. How much control do you want to have? (Some systems are active and some are passive. (i.e., You can crank up a rocket mass heater but there’s not much you can do to change water barrels).

What constraints are you already working with? (i.e., difficult/rocky soils will rule out an underground heat-exchanger.) Think about how much floor space in the greenhouse you have for things like water barrels. And most importantly think about the time and labor involved in installing each system, as well as the on-going time/labor that it can take to run each system (i.e., an underground heat exchanger can be automated, whereas a rocket mass heater cannot be). Again, while you need to do some homework upfront, having a warm greenhouse churning out fresh food throughout the winter (and free!) is the best payoff you can get.

(Top) Photos courtesy Ceres Greenhouse Solutions: Pipes in an underground heat exchanger for a 12 x 20 greenhouse. 3D model of an underground heat exchanger below ground.

(Middle) Photo courtesy Verge Permaculture: Rocket mass heater in a greenhouse.

(Bottom) Photos courtesy Golden Hoof Farm: Compost pile in mid-construction with tubing for aeration. Completed compost pile.


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

Choose the Right Breed of Dog for Homestead and Family

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Maintaining Healthy Goat Hooves

Our herd on the rocks

The original natural state of any animal must be considered when making decisions about how to care for your livestock. The natural and original state of a goat is dry rocky hillside. This dry and rough environment helps goats to naturally maintain their hooves. When moving goats away from that natural setting you must make artificial modifications to accommodate their new environment. It often takes a period of time to figure out how far to take these accommodations to maximize the health of your herd. 

Goat Habitat and Pasture 

Goats do not like to get wet. When the rain comes to our farm as it often does in Kentucky the cows relish in it while the goats make a mad dash for the barn, crying the whole way. While there is absolutely nothing you can do to control the rainfall; you can do some things to make your herd more comfortable, and maintain the health of their hooves, in the weather they like least. 

Shelter for a herd of goats does not need to be big and expensive. If you consider the size of your animals and understand it is a place for goats, not humans, you can create a dry shelter for very little. Our goat shelter is an upcycled swimming pool donated by a friend. This shelter is goat sized and inexpensively keeps our sweet little goats out of the weather. 

Upcycled Goat Barn

Hay is excellent for absorbing urine from the goats and run-off water from rain. Scattering out hay on the floor of your goat shelter is a reasonable way to disperse your hay. Too wet of an environment for a goat can be detrimental to the overall health of your animals. The issues that result from too much moisture in your goat habitat are everything from worms to hoof rot. Creating a nice dry environment will eliminate these sorts of issues before they begin. 

Pasture rotation is important for the general health of a goat herd. As goats defecate in their pasture ground bacteria and worms build up that can cause intestinal and hoof issues. Rotation allows the bacterial and worm load in a pasture to naturally decay and new grass to grow. Incorporating steep and rocky hillsides in your pasture if possible is also a benefit to hoof health. Goats are natural climbers and will wear down hooves if they have places to climb. Even goats housed in the best of pastures will require some trimming.   

Goat Pedicures 

Goats are naturally high-maintenance animals and, therefore, require pedicures from time to time. Because goats are a lot of physical labor to tend to, we will typically do all of the worming, vaccinations, and hoof trimming at the same time. There are a variety of ways to trim goat hooves. Some people trim them on milk stands. I have even heard that some people turn them on their backs. Some of our goats are quite large and I feel like getting them on their backs would be more fight than its worth. We typically have a tag team operation as we have more than one person to complete this task. My husband holds the goats horns while I trim their hooves. This is one of the many reasons we keep our goats horned as the horns serve as convenient handles. 

Sharpening the Shears

To start you need a place to confine your goats so you do not have to run them down. We coax the herd into their shelter with some feed and then close them in. Our goats are very friendly so are safe to be in a small space with. If your goats are not so friendly I would recommend containing them in a space where you are separated from the herd and have the ability to cull one goat at a time. You will need a sharp set of goat shears. These shears are inexpensive and well worth the cost. They are just the right size for goat hooves.  

Trimming the hooves

When you pull up the goat’s leg to inspect the hoof, take your closed set of shears and clean any debris out of the goats hoof. They have fairly rough pads on their feet; but, you will still need to use caution when scraping. When you begin to trim, take just a little at a time. Just like when cutting your own finger nails if you cut down too close to the quick you can cause the goat pain and a wound that will bleed and raise the potential of infection. It is best not to get over excited when cutting. When you start cutting you will need to be cautious to maintain an even trim on the hoof. If your goats walk away with uneven hooves it could cause great discomfort for them. 

If you have plenty of room for your goats to roam outside and places for them to climb they will naturally wear down their hooves. They will still need a trim from time to time. If you have goats that are in smaller spaces you will need to trim their hooves more often. 

Holly Chiantaretto is an organic farmer and goat breeder in Kentucky where she also raises cattle, pigs, and chickens and preserves the harvests from her garden. Connect with Holly at Hallow Springs Farm and on Facebook. 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.

Keeping Honeybees for Profit or Pleasure

Three honeybee colonies 

Most people get started with only one or two hives, then expand into a thriving business as friends and neighbors begin asking to buy honey. There is no right or wrong answer to the question of pleasure vs. profit, but there are a few things to consider. 

Your Personal Goals

Do you want to increase pollination of your home garden, plus eat fresh honey from your own colony? You will notice improved flower, vegetable and herb production from the honeybee’s pollination efforts. Two hives should produce enough honey for a family plus some to share with friends. Around the holidays, you will be a hit when you gift a bottle of local honey. 

Or is your goal geared toward building a thriving farmer’s market business selling jars of golden honey to your community? Beekeepers in Central Illinois who produce enough honey for regular market sales tend to have a minimum of 10 to 15 colonies. There is no shortage of customers clamoring for raw local honey in bottles ranging from  two ounce samples up to quart size jars. Prices fluctuate by market; however it is common for honey to sell at a rate of $1.00 to $1.50 per ounce.

The bulk of income is typically made from selling extracted honey although wax based products are also popular. Other income options include selling harvested pollen, rearing queens, and creating nucs (short for nucleus, essentially a half sized colony with a mated queen). Large operations may rent out colonies to be transported for pollination purposes, such as to the almond crop in California.

Start Up Costs

Beekeeping can be expensive. A complete hive plus a package of bees purchased from a supplier may cost $350-$400 each. There are ways to reduce this cost, such as building your own hive boxes and catching swarms.

You will need some protective equipment. A veil and hive tool are the minimum essentials. Most new beekeepers also use a jacket or coveralls and gloves.

If you decide to build a business and profit from this venture, you will need several hives. This can be done over time and costs can be reduced by splitting existing hives.

In addition to the hive boxes, protective gear and honeybees, you will need a way to extract and bottle honey. For the hobby beekeeper, there are simple extractors that can be made from inexpensive components as I describe in a previous post (Extracting Honey Economically). For home use, any clean jar can be repurposed for honey storage.

If you are extracting large amounts for sale, of course the need for larger, more durable equipment and consistent containers will become necessary.

Size of Operation

Honeybees do not require as intensive of a management level as some other livestock, say cattle for instance, but they do need some oversight. Spring and summer are the most involved time; however there are tasks through all seasons. Weekly hive checks during the early spring through summer are essential to monitor brood production, pests, colony health and honey stores. Spring also requires monitoring established hives to manage swarming and split colonies if necessary. Late summer and early fall tasks include honey and wax harvest, cleaning and proper storage of equipment. As you can imagine, handling one or two hives may only require an hour or so, but additional time will be needed for larger numbers or travel distance to your hives.

Other Options

If all of this sounds overwhelming, you can also be involved with beekeeping in other ways. Volunteer your time to assist a local beekeeper. Beekeepers are friendly folks and often appreciate a helping hand. For the cost of your own suit and gloves, you could be involved in the experience. You will be able to learn about honeybees, watch their interactions and enjoy the hobby without a large investment or the sole responsibility.

Again, there are no right or wrong answers in this decision. The most important consideration is the amount of time and money you wish to invest initially.

Julia Miller is co-owner farmer and beekeeper at Five Feline Farm. She is the author of Simply Delicious, a memoir of cooking and The Long Road to Market, a guide for market farmers. Connect with Julia on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, 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.







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