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

15 Things I Learned From High-Altitude Remote Homesteading


Our snowy A-frame.
Photo by Bruce McElmurray

We have resided in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of southern Colorado full time for just short of a quarter of a century. Over that time we have learned much. Following are some of the lessons we have learned. 

1. This life is not for everyone. We have seen people come and go because this type of living is not only different, but it can be highly demanding. Many have tried it for a time but due to the fact that we get heavy snow in the winters, they resolved to only live here part time and not be full time residents. We received 285 inches this last winter, which can be somewhat daunting.

2. The weather in the mountains is unpredictable and weather forecasters often are wrong in their predictions. Therefore, we have learned not to put off until tomorrow what we can do today due to weather variations.

3. For us seniors, routine work is harder but not impossible. We just have to regulate ourselves to work slower and smarter. Also, this is the stage of life to have tools that will make our jobs easier. A tractor is a good example of a labor-saving tool.

4. Being self-reliant is important as living remote and getting help is not always possible, and that is especially true in the winter months where deep or drifting snow is likely. Getting repair services to access our home is iffy at best during winter months, so we have to be prepared to go without or fix it ourselves.

5. Living with wildlife is not as frightening as we expected it would be. We have mountain lions, bears, lynx, bobcat, coyotes, deer, elk and occasionally wolves. There are also smaller animals from voles to rabbits. Wild animals actually make good neighbors. We have found that wild animals are far more respectful than many of their human counterparts. The small critters are the most troublesome.

6. Living remotely with our nearest neighbor almost a mile distant does have challenges. Life is never static, and seems to be always changing. In the beginning of our day, we don’t know if we will be working on what we planned or if something else will command our attention.

7. We live remotely but rarely are we alone. We get an occasional visitor, but we have our various wildlife and birds to keep us company most days. Nowadays with the internet and cell phones, we are able to stay in regular contact with family and friends so we do not get lonely.

8. Snow consumes a good amount of our year; hence it requires some specific comments. The 250 to 300 inches of snow each season can be a lot to deal with. Coupled with the wind we get in the winter, it takes much of our effort to keep it cleared so we can move around freely. When we planned to move here full time, it was just a number to us but we greatly underestimated just how much snow that really is. We have learned over the years but 22 to 24 feet of snow over 6 to 7 months demands a lot of work. Mechanical means help but much of the work involves snow shovels.

9. Firewood is another major task. We choose to live with the radiant heat from a woodstove and that requires anywhere from 8 to 10 cords of firewood a season. That perhaps is our second greatest task. We burn aspen because it burns cleaner than the conifers and is a good heat source. We have acreage and we are able to get most of our firewood right off our property.

10. We enjoy having so many birds all year long. We have a variety of different birds, which are a good source of entertainment. We have several kinds of woodpeckers, song birds, chickadees, robins, hummingbirds, stellar jays, grey jays and clark's nutcrackers to mention a few. Observing their behavior right outside our window is educational and entertaining.

Winter sunrisePhoto by Bruce McElmurray

11. Living remote we learned to anticipate the unexpected and be prepared to act properly when something unexpected happens.Unexpected occurrences seem to happen far more often than we would expect.

12. We have a garden each year, but gardening at high elevation is challenging to say the least. When seedlings are young and tender we need to keep them protected with a sun screen. We also learned to garden in raised garden boxes that are fully enclosed in ½-inch hardware cloth to keep voles, mice, rabbits, squirrels, deer and chipmunks out of our garden. We learned that the hard way. The growing season is very short and occasional hail storms destroy our leaf vegetables. We don’t have much problem with insects but small rodents are a constant problem.

13. Our lifestyle has several health benefits. Our well water is crystal clear coming from deep in the ground and tastes like water should taste. The air at this altitude is fresh and clear. The strenuous outside work is good exercise and keeps us fit. We eat healthy and enjoy all the health benefits from this high altitude lifestyle.

14. There are also some inherent hazards to high-altitude living. There have been small dogs brought to our area who have been swooped up by raptors or killed by  predators. Small pets need to be carefully supervised. Visitors who are used to jogging at low elevations and try the same at this elevation often find the lower oxygen can be troublesome. Not to mention running down a dirt road or riding a bike where there are mountain lions. Running can trigger their prey drive and the runner can end up being hunted.

15. We learned cooking at high elevation can create inconsistencies in bread and cake outcome. Careful adjustment and experimentation must be done to find the right combination for successful cooking.

Bruce and Carol live in the mountains in S. Colorado with their canine family and take measures to protect them from the wild predators that are around. They lead a somewhat different lifestyle and for more on them and their canine family visit their blog site at: You can read all of Bruce'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.

Prevent Flystrike in Sheep: How Farmers Can Strike First

lambs with chicken and birch 

Lambs with chicken
Photo by John Klar

Of the various adversities confronted in animal husbandry, insects and parasites can be some of the most mysterious, and destructive. Among those are a cadre of particular offenders belonging to the fly family. Technically, we are concerned here not with the “housefly” family of flies (muscidae) but with the “scourge of livestock” variety (family calliphoridae), which are a whole different kettle of fish.

Flystrike” refers to an outbreak of blowflies: those green, blue, or bronze buzzers that proliferate in summertime. Blowflies are a particular plague to commercial shepherds in Australia, but they are quite plentiful in North America, where they can cause horrible distress, including death, to livestock.

Sheep are particularly susceptible to flystrike, because of their thick wool, where not only moisture but organic matter (soil or feces) can become enmeshed, luring females from this particularly noisome family of flies to lay eggs in the matted wool. Maggots (incongruously called “gentles”) are scavengers of carrion and dung, so open wounds are also an invitation. Blowflies are famous in forensic medicine as the first arrivals when death descends — the time of death of human corpses is sometimes estimated by measuring the larval development of blowflies.

How to Identify Flystrike

Goats, horses, and other livestock can be stricken, but sheep owners must exercise special vigilance. Be alert for signs of agitation, reduced appetite, anxiety, or distress. During heavy fly seasons these behaviors are not uncommon, but in flystrike they may signal an infestation that can spread both within the animal and throughout the flock. Though used medicinally to debride dead tissue, blowfly gentles will eat living tissue, and not very gently. They often infest the tail or hind area where both moisture and fecal matter attract females to lay their eggs.

The author encountered flystrike with no forewarning, after perhaps 15 years without ever a problem. One season in late summer in Vermont, following extended heavy rain and humidity, several ram lambs — who were born in early February and so had not been shorn — began to show signs of distress. They had a run-in barn, and we dusted them for lice, but their condition worsened. They became even more distressed, so we brought in our trusted veterinarian, who promptly apprised us of their condition. We immediately treated all the lambs, but one ram died a few days later. The maggots had literally bored into him, causing ammonia poisoning.

That was one of the worst experiences of our sheep-owning journey, and I don’t want others (or their animals) to suffer such trauma. Keeping animals clean and dry is paramount. Fly traps or treatments, removal of large manure piles, and tail removal for lambs are all helpful.

What to Do When the Flies Have Struck

If flystrike is present, infected animals should be separated from the flock (and some would say culled for genetic vulnerability) and treated aggressively. Contaminated wool should be clipped away and destroyed. If their fleeces are heavy, shearing as soon as possible will reduce larval habitat and allow easier eradication. There are also a number of commercial products available, depending on application preferences and time to market (for meat animals). 

sheep with spruce tree

Sheep with shade and water
Photo by John Klar

Flystrike is just one fly-family attack that can occur against sheep, by the way.

John Klar raises grass-fed beef and sheep, and seeks to educate people about where their food comes from and how large corporate interests wish to dominate food production. He moved to Vermont and began farming in 1998. John and his wife, Jacqueline, built and operated an artisanal raw-milk cheese house, and have raised pigs, chickens, sheep, horses, cows, and goats, and grown many varieties of vegetables and herbs. Connect with John on Facebook, and watch his farming videos on YouTube. 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.

After 6 Years of Homesteading, We are Finally Free and This Video Talks About How

Homestead Family With Chainsaw

Family firewood day
Photo by Kerry Mann

Friends and family have asked me: “What does it mean to be a homesteader?”. My quick and simple answer is “freedom”. We are using our land and property to be more self-sufficient and to have more freedom. We do that by growing our own food, by heating our entire home and water with sustainable wood from our property. We’ve started several income streams with our homestead at the core.

After almost six years on our homestead, we now have eight small income streams and more freedom than we’ve ever experienced. The purpose of this post is to share our story and what we’ve learned with others.

Money and Freedom for Homesteaders

For me, freedom and money go hand in hand. Every single purchase I make is a trade for my freedom. Buy a candy bar, there goes a little freedom — buy a brand-spanking new car, there goes the odds of one of my four girls going to college. Buy materials to build a homestead dog kennel business, and cha-ching put some more freedom in the future-bank. Build a greenhouse and increase my property value, boom even more freedom in my future (and more growing season for our homestead veggies). Money = freedom I am not willing to willy-nilly exchange all of that freedom with little consideration for overpriced items like fancy smartphones, brand new cars, and a top of the line home with a maxed out mortgage. 

The greatest path to freedom is the paid off home mortgage. It is possible. We did at age 35. We didn’t inherit any money. I never went to college. I worked a soul-crushing warehouse job for 8 years out of high school. My point is anyone can do this. Check out Dave Ramsey’s YouTube channel for story after story of regular folks paying off their home mortgage early. 

We worked very hard to pay for our homestead in cash by the age of 35. Besides being extremely frugal, for many years we were also able to achieve this by purchasing a major fixer-upper. No one wanted to touch this property. Our young triplets on first viewing of our would-be homestead literally cried: “Daddy why would you want to live here?”. 

Our homestead was in extreme distress when we bought it. People often comment on our YouTube channel: “must be nice to have that beautiful 20 acres…” I usually respond with “nice, it's more than nice,  it's unbelievably amazing and it could have been yours too!”. If people could have seen this before we made it “nice” they’d be singing a different tune. 

Your Choices Can Make or Break Freedom

Our property was on the market for a couple of years, dozens of people hard-passed on it because they didn’t want to do the work to make it livable. Most of our peers were purchasing homes in pristine condition with granite countertops at the very tip-top of their price range. I just could never do that and trade all of my freedom for the next 30+ years.  That is a trade I am not willing to make.

Instead, we do just the opposite. We’ve always purchased used vehicles with over 100,000 miles for cash. I’d rather get punched in the back of my head every day for 5 years than buy a new car. What a horrible waste of freedom. Over the course of my driving years I estimate I’ve saved over $162,144 by NOT buying new cars. Here is the math- 24 years driving * 12 months= 288 months of driving and potential car payments. The average vehicle payment on a new car is $563. 288*563 = $162,144!  And that doesn’t include the cost of comprehensive insurance to cover that new car. $162,144 is almost $45,000 more than we paid to purchase our 20 acre homestead! So you see it is very possible. Plus many couples pay for two new cars!

So much freedom traded for that new car smell (that doesn’t last long). I’d rather enjoy my freedom working from home, kayaking with my girls everyday, golfing, going to movies and living on my own terms. That is worth a million new cars to me. 

Sure we don’t have that nice-new-car-smell — but we pay on average $1,200 for a used vehicle (like 2 monthly payments on a new car!). Our old homestead van was $1,200 (it had over 150,000 miles and was kind of ugly) but it lasted 6 years and we drove it across the country several times. My current minivan is a rusty grocery-getter but the AC works great, it gets me from A to Z and I paid $1400 total a few years ago. Insurance is dirt cheap and if it ever dies, I’ll fix it myself or find another $1,200 car because so many people hit 100,000 miles and think their vehicle is suddenly trash and sell it cheap to upgrade for something new. Frankly I think 100,000 miles is just barely broken in.

We buy used and saved the difference and we never use credit cards. Those fancy iPhones that do the exact same thing as a cheap pre-paid phone, yeah no thanks. Has anyone but us considered how much freedom has to be traded to afford one of those phones? And in the meantime my prepaid Android phone has almost every one of the same features for pennies on the dollar.

Speaking of phones and freedom, a while back I had this phone conversation with a friend, “Sorry friend, I can’t talk now I’m heading out to kayak…”

Response: “At 11am on a Tuesday? Must be Nice.” Yeah it’s amazing, I said. Sadly those same types of friends have new cars, the nicest phones, go out to eat all of the time and struggle each month to make ends meet. I feel bad for them.  They are always worried that if they lose their job it will all come crumbling down. It’s sad and stressful and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Our entire goal with every financial decision we make is to maximize our freedom.  I am always considering how we can spend our money to provide ourselves and our children with more freedom.

So when purchasing our homestead we were not just looking for a great property for homesteading we were also looking for a property with the potential for many income streams. After almost six years on our homestead we now have 8 income streams and more freedom than I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. The purpose of this post isn’t to humblebrag about our successes, we still make less money than the average American family, but I think we have more freedom than most families. I’d say we have more freedom than some of the richest families who still manage to spend like crazy or work like crazy to make even more and can’t stop to live in the moment.

Strategies to Achieving Homestead Freedom

The freedom that we have is a true blessing. Here are a few strategies that helped us achieve our goals and get more freedom:

1. Read up. Late in life (last year) I started listening to Dave Ramsey. Then I bought a few of his books.  His baby-steps (which are free to follow) are amazing and life-changing. If you’ve never heard of Dave, check out some of his debt-free screams on his YouTube channel, they are so inspiring.  Some people may not like Dave’s politics, I don't care either way. What I do know is that Dave is an expert when it comes to personal finance and there is undeniable proof that he has guided more folks to take financial action and change their lives forever than anyone else I can think of. If I was starting over I would 100% focus on Dave’s Baby Steps from Day 1. 

2. Think long-term. A long time ago we really cut back spending unless it's a necessity or an investment. When I say "investment", I don’t mean the stock market, although that is one way.  We usually invest in ourselves. Some examples include our homestead, our greenhouse, our airbnb rental, our dog kennel, our YouTube channels.  When we spend money it is often spent with a future return planned.

3. Set goals. We started writing down goals.  I wrote down a goal last year. I wanted to get to 10,000 subscribers on YouTube. I wrote down little action items to achieve that. I laser focused on that goal. My very next video went crazy (it now has well over 1 million views). A few months later I surpassed 50,000 subscribers. I credit that solely to writing down my goal and making a laser-focused action plan. Thoughts and whims in my brain are not laser-focused action plans,  goals need to be written down. 

4. Prepare for tough decisions. I coined this phrase and I say it all the time to my four girls. “Your life is a result of the decisions you make” It’s on you. We really focus on making good decisions. If I could win 1 million dollars OR win 1% more wisdom I would take the 1% wisdom without ever blinking an eye. 

5. Focus on what you can control. Despite what the mainstream media would have us believe we are still living in one of the greatest times in history. I chose to focus on things in my life that I have control over. That includes my personal actions and decisions on a daily basis. Being positive and making wise personal decisions will change the world 1000x more than focusing my efforts on global issues or politics or trying to change others. 

6. Learn everything. The most successful people in the world have one thing in common: they read all the time. With the internet and all of the resources we have available it’s hard not to read all of the time. Years ago I hated my day job. I wanted to work for myself. I had literally every resource available to help me do just that. Books in the library, magazines and oh yeah this little thing called the internet. It’s so easy these days you don’t even have to read, just watch a YouTube video and you can learn almost anything. Imagine starting a business 100 years ago. It was all on you. Now we have all of these amazing resources to guide us and most are free. 

If you want to learn more about us and learn specifically what our eight income streams are on our homestead, we did a YouTube video on just that.

Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube page, Instructables, Pinterest,  Facebook, and at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’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.

Lessons from Hatching Chicks in Late Winter

Happy, healthy chicks, despite a rough beginning. Photo by Jo deVries

Last year, I got back into raising chickens after taking a couple years off to write a book. Demand for birds was high in 2020; I was lucky to get what I did. I started the season with a selection of adult birds of different breeds. The birds bred, and I was blessed with a great variety of chicks. I hatched out 35 chicks and kept my four favourite chickens and 10 Guinea fowl.

I thought that the Guinea fowl were going to become my new flock of bug eaters as we had become so close, when they were little.That feeling didn’t last long.  The Guinea fowl were great until they reached maturity — then total hysteria every time I entered the coop. That was it; I’d had enough. I posted an ad, and they were gone the next week. The chickens were on their own to deal with the ticks.

Supporting a Broody Hen

In December, the chicks I had hatched began reaching maturity and started laying eggs themselves. I had a good idea which hens would be the first to sit on their eggs, to go broody. When a chick is only a month old, you can put very young chicks with it, to help determine the nature of the bird. Chicks that will develop into broody hens usually have that type of disposition even as young birds; their mothering instinct is already in place.

In the middle of February, my hen Sandy went broody. I debated for a while, whether it was too early to hatch out chicks in mid-March; sometimes we still have snow in April. Yet, she was willing, and I was keen to get a jump on the season. I left Sandy to sit on 10 eggs. After feeling guilty about the frigid temperatures, I crocheted a wool pad to help insulate the eggs. Sandy hated it. I had been silly enough to introduce it to her during daylight hours. When I slipped it under her in the evening, she was fine.

The crocheted pad proved a bit too rounded on the edge. Photo by Jo deVries

On a few occasions, I would find that an egg had rolled out of the crocheted basket. The curved edge of the pad would make it more difficult for an egg to be rolled back in. I decided that 10 eggs were too many for the hen to manage during this time of year, and removed a couple. On two other occasions, I found an abandoned egg in the corner, and removed it. Now I was down to six eggs.  

A week later, I decided I would bring Sandy and her eggs into my cabin. I had done this several years before; hatched out chicks in a cage in my kitchen. Since Sandy was a bit big for the cage, I decided to just put her on the floor in one corner, under a table. It was mayhem. Sandy scattered the eggs. She then proceeded to poop all over my couch. Luckily, it was covered in a quilt. Back in the coop, she settled down quickly.

Help to a Struggling Chicks

The eggs she was hatching had a green tinge to them; Sandys mother is a purebred Ameraucana that lays the most beautiful large green eggs. These light green eggs were due to hatch on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. That day came and went.

The next day, there was a small hole in one egg. Hours later, there was no development but I could hear the chick chirping. I peeled away a bit of the shell. It looked to me like the white outer membrane was drying out and limiting the chick’s mobility. I peeled away some of the outer membrane and absorbed a bit of blood with a tissue. I put the egg back under the hen. A couple of hours later, there was no further development. I peeled away more shell and more membrane, and returned the egg to the hen.

An hour or two later, I found the cold, wet chick sprawled out across the straw. I imagined the hen had gotten up for food or water and dragged the chick with her. The chick wasn’t able to get back to her, and she obviously didn’t help it. There was a half shell laying beside it, with blood vessels visible on the inside of the shell. I was sure the chick was dead. I held it in my warm hand, and prayed. Its half-closed eyes closed completely. Well, that’s something. I walked to my cabin. Once inside, I determined the chick was alive, yet too weak to move. After warming it up on the woodstove, its revival was surprisingly quick. I returned it to its mom a couple of hours later. Oh, happy day!

I started with 10 eggs; three of the green ones hatched. Photo by Jo deVries

The next day, the other five eggs were now overdue. I heard chirping from one egg, but there was no crack. I chipped the egg and peeled some shell away. Again, the outer membrane was dry. I didn’t want to repeat the first incident, so I kept the chick warm on the woodstove. It was still too weak to chance leaving it with its mother.

It needed to be kept warm, so that evening, the two chicks slept together, wrapped in an alpaca hat, in a small carboard box, under my covers. They woke me up in the middle of the night, demanding to be fed. I mixed chick starter with water and fed it to them with an eye-dropper. They protested, but then slept till morning.

The next day, I returned the chicks to their mom. After some grueling debate over my predicament, I broke open the four remaining eggs. Three were still yoke; they had never developed. The fourth, was a chick that was also apparently trapped in its drying membrane. I took it inside my cabin and helped it out. There was more blood than the first two; I doubted it’s survival. When it was dry, I brought in one of its siblings to encourage it and help keep it warm. The chick immediately perked up. Once again, I slept with two chicks beside me in a cardboard box.

Lessons from Winter Chick Hatching

Helping chicks hatch is certainly not recommended, although I’ve seen a hen do it on a video. Hatching takes time. The blood must stop flowing through the blood vessels surrounding the chick, and the remaining yoke must ascend into the chick’s abdomen. Rushing this procedure could be fatal for the chick. We should only help out if the chick is likely to die if we don’t intervene.

I should have candled the eggs at some point, which would have saved a lot of disappointment and energy.

Would I do it again; let a hen sit on eggs in February? Probably not. But I’m happy to see Sandy thoroughly enjoying her babies, which are perfectly healthy and growing quickly.

Farm life is wonderful, but it isn’t easy. It’s demanding work, and sometimes involves difficult choices and sad endings. Still, there are the miracles and the many Kodak® moments that make it all worthwhile. Keep on farming!

Jo deVries (Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is? and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Jo of the Woods and read all of Jo’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.

Costs to Start Off-Grid Homestead

A year ago to date, Jesse and I decided that we wanted to buy some property in a remote area of the country and to start a homestead from scratch, including the building of our own home (read part 1 and part 2 about that decision). Our end goal was to be debt-free, have freedom and work on being as self-sufficient as possible.

Photo by Adobestock/robertkneschke

While we understood how starting our own homestead and building our own home from scratch could help us to achieve our financial goals in a timely manner, we knew that we would need a substantial amount of money to get the ball rolling. Last we checked, land was not free, building materials weren’t free, tools weren’t free, and getting a loan for the entire deal would be working against our goals.

We knew that if we tried to take the frugal approach to this journey that we could soften the financial blow, but we still didn’t know what to expect. We ran some rough numbers in our head as to what land would cost, what the down payment would be, what an RV would cost and what various aspects of land development would cost. That said, all we could do was estimate the total cost to get started, save up some money and roll with the punches.

We started our journey just five months ago, have spent over $30,000 on various aspects of the journey, and thought it would be helpful to others to document what we spent money on so far as some expenses were more predictable than others. The thing to keep in mind is that while our initial investment in our homesteading journey is high, the expenses will taper down over time as will our monthly expenses. It will fast-track us to financial freedom.

 off grid homestead
Photo by Alyssa Craft

Rough breakdown of expenses for the first five months.

We thought it would be helpful to break down our expenses for not only our own benefit, but to provide insight to anyone else who is interested in embarking on a similar journey. We will be providing detailed expense reports on our blog monthly, so bookmark that page if you’d like to stay up to date, but here is what our expenses have looked like by category.

Land ($4,500 + $357/month): We paid $45,000 for five acres of land, paid $4,500 as a down payment, and have a $357/month payment which we hope to pay off within the next 1-2 years.
• RV ($2,500):
We are choosing to live in a 19’ travel trailer while we develop our property which we got at a great price. This was a one-time payment and allows us to own the roof over our head rather than waste money on an apartment. We can resell this when we are done for at least 2x the price, if not more.
• Pickup truck ($1,750):
Neither one of our vehicles was equipped for towing or construction work, so we sold our brand new car and bought a pickup truck with cash instead.
• Generator ($2,300):
We bought a portable 3,000w generator and were okay splurging for one that was quality, quiet and lightweight. Our property is off the grid (and will remain that way) so this purchase wasn’t optional.
• Land development ($7,000):
So far this includes getting a septic permit ($860), having our septic installed ($3,500), renting an excavator twice, paving our driveway with gravel. Installing a septic system ASAP we realized was critical for us, but it may not be critical for all folks.
• Assets/tools ($9,050):
While we had a vehicle of tools upon our arrival, the first, second and third month of our journey were spent investing in tools and materials. Some things we bought include a 4x4 four wheeler ($1,000), a utility trailer, an 80cc chainsaw for milling lumber, and many other tools both large and small. We also were able to acquire $20,000 in building materials for few thousand dollars by being creative.

The thing to keep in mind with these expenses is that these assets help us to build our home for a fraction of the cost of buying a home and having a mortgage, and we can resell them if we need to or when we are done. Instead of having money sitting in our bank accounts, they money is wrapped up in physical assets

cost to start a homestead from scratch
Photo by Alyssa Craft

Breakdown of monthly, ongoing expenses.

The goal is to eventually eliminate, or significantly reduce these expenses, as we get closer and closer to being self-sufficient while living off the grid. However, this is what our monthly expenses look like five months into the journey as it pertains to this type of lifestyle (excluding personal expenses that we’d have on or off grid at this point such as groceries or car insurance).

Propane ($30/month): This is for heating the inside of our RV and cooking.
• Generator fuel ($150/month):
If we are outside then we are likely working with power tools and if we are inside, it probably means the weather is too harsh to work and we are working online in which case we need to fire up the generator frequently to charge the RV batteries and our laptops.
• Water ($1.25/month):
We don’t yet have water on our property so we fill up in town.
• Laundry ($25/month):
No water on our property, so we do laundry in town.
• Internet ($65/month):
Internet is a little higher as we are off grid.
Land ($357/month): We hope to pay this off in 1-2 years but can take all 15 if we need to.

Becoming debt-free and self-sufficient happens one step at a time.

While we are still in the money-spending phase of our journey, we are slowly acquiring what we need to be self-sufficient and build our own home. If you would like to see detailed, itemized expenses by month, be sure to check out the expense reports page on our blog. We will be publishing expense reports monthly as a way of sharing our (hopefully duplicateable) progress with others. We invite you to follow along!

Alyssa Craft moved to Idaho after purchasing 5 acres of land where she will build an off grid homestead from scratch with as little money as possible. Follow her many DIY projects, including building a timber frame barn, an off-grid hot tub and starting an organic garden. Find Alyssa on her blog Pure Living for Life or Facebook. View her other MOTHER EARTH NEWS articles here.

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.

Water Storage Hassles I've Faced During My Off-Grid Life

 Large Home Rainwater Collection System

 A large-scale home rainwater catchment system may work for some.
Photo by Flickr/aquamechanical

Water: the elixir of life. Don’t waste it, and appreciate it always. This mantra will really come into focus when you live in town serviced by city water, but find yourself in a disaster situation of going without for a couple days. Imagine the faucet of your bathtub wears out and starts streaming water non-stop and your only option is to turn off the water at the city meter to cease the endless money from flowing down the drain. 

You check for parts for the faucet, but it is old and can’t be repaired. The only plan is to tear the wall apart to replace the faucet. Not having the knowledge or tools to solder copper pipe,  you call your plumber. Because it is after 5:00pm, you get the answering service saying they will call you back. After not getting a call back for 15 hours (it's now 9:00am), you call again, moving the plumber to assure you that they will get someone there by the end of the day. $1,700 later, the issue is repaired but the plumber has the same problem you do: turning on the city shut off; It is stuck. At this point, you are in after hours, so you leave a message with the city to come turn the water back on. Total time elapsed without water is 41 hours and a reminder that water is precious.

My Off-Grid Ubringing Informs My Views on Water

I remember years ago reading a book by Senator Paul Simon about how water is the most important commodity and that many wars would be fought over this necessity. Indeed, they already have. It is the main component in our bodies, and people have died from water deprivation after a few days. Growing up off the grid, I consider running hot water the pinnacle of modern civilization.

How little water can you survive on say for a week? I keep enough half-gallon glass bottles stored in my kitchen to last me a week and rotate them by drinking from them. So, in the above scenario, I had enough water to drink. I tried to create  a habit of keeping the bathtub full to have water to flush the toilet but could never seem to keep the habit going. I do have a 5-gallon bucket full of water that could, with conservation, flush for a week.

I have had the water be out on the farm for over 10 days waiting for the pump-repair company to pull out and replace the pump. I needed to haul water from the pond for washing and toilet flushing. In the city, that is not an option, but rainwater catchment is a good alternative.

Water Storage Options I Consider

Plastic bottles. If you use the expensive plastic water bottles, don’t. The plastic leaches; therefore, it is not good for long-term storage — and it tastes horrible after sitting around. I do keep a few in my car, as they can handle the freeze and thaw of winter. I store and drink from glass, although I hope to be able to one day afford stainless steel water storage (I doubt I will ever be able to justify the cost).

Portable filter. Over than 15 years ago, I did buy a filter-anything water filter for my go-bag, but besides the initial test, have never needed to use it. I have considered passing it on, but I like the peace of mind knowing I have it. Most things I don’t use regularly I give away or sell. It is a good practice to use equipment to make sure you know how it works and that it works. I need to heed my own advice and try to use my water filter more.

Jugs and buckets. It always makes me wonder how we store lots of food but rarely figure out water storage. A couple food-grade, 5-gallon buckets can be easily stored or stacked, or you can get one of those 5-gallon office water coolers (but avoid the electric ones in order to save money) along with some extra 5-gallon jugs.

Cisterns. Once we lived in a house without a water source. It had a rainwater collection cistern and a pump for running water. The rainwater went through a sand-and-charcoal “filter” to remove the worst. We hauled drinking water, as well as hauled water with a big tank in the back of the truck to refill the cistern when it didn’t rain much.

Solar stills. It is amazing how little water a person can live with when knowing how precious it is. I remember learning how to make a solar still but besides practicing while camping have not had to make one. I have read even in the desert, a solar still can make enough water to survive on. 

Aur Beck has lived off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur'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.

Lambing Basics for the New Shepherd

ewe nuzzling lamb 

Ewe nuzzling lamb. Photos by Sheryl Campbell

Spring is my favorite time of year. It’s when our lambs are born. We originally starting raising Katahdin hair sheep as a more entertaining way of keeping our pasture areas mowed. We also chose this breed because they lamb easily and are good mothers. Being newly-minted shepherds we figured we should have sheep that knew what they were doing since we didn’t have a clue.

Our sheep typically lamb in the early morning hours and we find them nursing happily when we get out to the barn in the morning. That’s how most of our lambs are born.  Quickly, no fuss, and without human interference.

Lambing can be a scary time though if you’re not experienced. Lots of stories circulate of having to stay up all night in the barn with the sheep throughout the birthing season. True if you buy more difficult breeds than we did, but not so with Katahdins. Fears about still born lambs, breach births, and skittish ewes can make people shy away from raising their own sheep. But buy a hardy, self-sufficient breed, and prepare ahead for unlikely emergencies to be ready to handle anything gracefully.

Important Lambing Supplies

Lambing Kit for all Births

  • Old towels
  • Nutri-drench
  • Betadine
  • Small cup (like a Dixie cup)

Additional Emergency Supplies

  • Long latex gloves
  • Vaseline
  • Lambing rope
  • A halter
  • Vanilla extract (you’ll see why)

 bottle feeding

Emergency Nursing Supplies

  • Powdered lamb formula
  • Powdered colostrum substitute – or frozen colostrum from a prior birth
  • A lamb bottle and nipple

We keep all of the items from the first two lists in a handy tub to carry out to the lambing shelter with us. We keep our ewes in a permanently fenced winter pasture that includes a 3-sided shelter large enough to divide into large birthing pens when we think they are within a day of giving birth. Emergency nursing supplies are rarely needed so we keep them stored in the house. If you have to use them, follow the instructions on the containers.

What Happens on Lambing Day?

In a typical birth, the ewe’s water will break, she’ll go through a period of labor, and she’ll give birth. On our farm this typically happens in the dark morning hours in early to mid-March. By the time we arrive on the scene, the ewe is generally finished licking her baby clean. Lambs take 30-60 minutes to get fully on their feet and figure out the mechanics of nursing.

new lambs with mama

 New lambs with mama

At that point we simply dry the lamb a little more with the towels, give it an oral squirt of Nutri-drench for extra energy, and dip the remaining piece of the umbilical cord. To do this put a little Betadine in the cup, hold the cup firmly against the lamb’s stomach (with the cord inside the cup), then quickly flip the lamb and cup upside down and back upright. This disinfects the stub to keep out infection without making a lot of mess.

When Things Go Wonky

The gloves and Vaseline are for when you need to “go in” and straighten out a lamb in the birth canal. They, and a clean towel, are also for when you need to help pull a lamb out that is only partially birthed. The lambing rope is for serious situations when you need to fully help the lamb out of the birthing canal. We’ve not had to use one in the decade we’ve been raising sheep. The halter and vanilla are for those times that the ewe rejects a lamb, or just can’t figure out how to nurse. By restraining the ewe with the halter you can help a lamb to latch on and nurse even if the ewe is not cooperative.

Every now and then, a ewe rejects a lamb, refusing to nurse it and kicking it away. For the full time shepherd with a large flock there are a number of things that can be tried. For small operators like us, we’ve discovered a handy and quick solution. We found a new use for vanilla when one of our ewes rejected her smallest triplet. Nothing in the sheep books seemed to work.  Since sheep can tell their lambs by smell, we decided to work by scent.  Rubbing vanilla on the ewe’s nose and on the lamb’s bottom convinced the mama that this was indeed her baby – he smelled just like her! Our vet denies that this can work, but we’re leaving the vanilla in our birthing kit as it’s worked every time we’ve used it over the years.

triplets nursing

Triplets nursing

Lambing season is our favorite time of year!  It is such a joy to see how God designed the ewes to give birth and care for their little ones right from the start. It is humbling and awe inspiring when we are privileged to help out. It is relieving when we don’t have to. Watching lambs gambol across the meadow to explore their new environment makes any work we have to do well worth the effort.


Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth Gardener and Grit 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.

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