Homesteading Tips: Caring For Goats, Using Herbs and More

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Chicory roots can make a good coffee substitute.

A couple of your contented subscribers passed on your magazine for our inspection (thinking, I suppose, to enlighten our gross ignorance). We call ourselves organic farmers and — until we read your publication — believed we were self-sufficient. I must point out at once that we’re not turned on by the same things that delight the younger generation, we’re just old-fashioned, and have isolated ourselves from our neighbors, who think we’re slightly out of our minds. Still, even without books or knowledge to guide us, we’ve done fairly well.

I’ll grant that I could have used some of your helpful hints at times, especially when we blew our five-acre dream in northern California. We were in paradise, except that we had no water. Our entire supply had to be hauled from 25 miles away. I dug a well (by hand, with an axe) to a depth of 15 feet. The real estate agent had said that if I didn’t reach water at that point he’d have a shaft drilled at his own personal expense, but when I’d got down to 23 feet all he said was, “Well, well, that sure is a deep hole.”

Another of that agent’s famous remarks was, “It never snows around here.” You guessed it: We were totally unprepared for the four feet of snow which fell in September. By good luck, the forest rangers vaguely remembered that some idiots were living in a trailer house on the mountain. They checked on us periodically to find out if we were still alive, and plowed the road so we could get out. The whole affair ended with us living in the valley . . . but living.

At present I raise a variety of animals (mostly goats and rabbits) and poultry (geese, pigeons and chickens). The chickens are Araucanas — the “rumpless” variety, which lack upstanding tail feathers — and I’ve served as regional secretary for the International Araucana Society for the past year. I’ve also written a book about the breed in which I’ve tried to debunk some widely held erroneous beliefs, but the work may never see the light, since, so far, it’s failed to attract much interest and I can’t afford to publish it myself. Such are the tides of life.

Caring For Goats

Here are a few hints on goat-keeping I’d like to share: Lots of carrots and garlic in the animals’ diet will cure intestinal parasites, or perk them up when they’re in poor health and get them back into production. At first you may have a problem getting the goats to eat the garlic, but after a few tries they’ll nuzzle you for it.

A good armload of rose leaves and stems will act as a fine overall tonic, and the same amount of bean straw, given along with the regular hay ration, will keep the goats’ stomachs in working order. This fodder is cheap (we pay about a dollar a bale) and, in many areas, available free. It’s about as high in nutritional value as alfalfa, but should not be the animals’ sole source of crude roughage. Bean straw contains lots of beans — which the goats love — so feed it sparingly at first to avoid gas.

Scours in goats is easily cured by a dose of blackberry tea (made from the leaves and roots of any blackberry plant) in the kids’ milk ration or by an armload of roots and foliage given to the older animals. This remedy has none of the aftereffects common to patent cures, which leave the patients incapacitated for weeks before total recovery.

I picked up a 6-week-old kid at auction for $3.50 — in this day of high meat prices — because it was about dead from scours. I took the youngster home, fed it blackberry tea in its milk and one week later sold it back to the auction for $12.00. The revived kid was eating like a horse and frisking as though it had never known a sick day. (The same method will effect an amazing cure of diarrhea in humans, in some cases overnight. It won’t leave the stomach queasy, and a healthy appetite will be retained.)

Goat cream, which is usually hard to obtain, will rise quickly if a tablespoon of cow’s milk is added to some milk from a goat. I’ve been told that the goat’s fluid lacks an enzyme needed to make its butterfat separate, and that this addition supplies the missing factor. Whatever the reason, it works.

Using Herbs

I’m an advocate of herbs for human use as well as for livestock, and have a few ideas to suggest.

A coffee substitute may be made from chicory (those pretty blue flowers one sees along the highway in the morning). The roots are dug and cleaned, put into a slow oven and roasted until dry. They may then be ground in a food or coffee mill and perked in a pot or boiled like frontier coffee. The liquid looks just like water but tastes exactly like the more common breakfast drink.

Vegetable rennet: Stinging nettle (a relative of the mints, called “electric grass” by some people) makes a satisfactory rennet for cheese. The leaves of this plant also serve as an excellent green when boiled.

Herb wine: This drink, fermented from stinging nettles, mallow, wild mints and dandelion flowers, is bitter, but very good as a tonic. It’s best made with honey instead of sugar.

Willow bark tea is an excellent headache remedy. Only the black willow is generally supposed to contain the salicylic acid which effects the cure, but any botanist will tell you that all species of the genus have this property. The bark is shredded, dried over a fire or in a slow oven and ground for storage in a jar or dry pouch.

To make the tea, boil one cup of water for every tablespoon of powdered bark, pour the bubbling liquid over the herb and allow the mixture to stand overnight. The dosage is two tablespoons of the infusion to half a glass of water. The medicine is bitter, but can be mixed with mint or other teas to make it more palatable, or a spoonful of honey can be added.

Pillows for insomniacs can be made of heather leaves sewed into pillowcases. I don’t know what properties make it work, but the method is effective (it was used for sleepless patients in Germany during World War II). I find that to be really useful the pillow must be “fluffed” just before retiring.

A good, all-around, odor-free ointment can be made from the following ingredients: equal parts of lard or any substitute (vaseline could be used); elderberry bark, dried and pounded; dried and ground elderberry leaves, comfrey leaves and roots, kelp and oak bark. (This last item has no medicinal properties as far as I know, but is a good odor depressant.) Mix all the ingredients together and store the result in a tightly sealed jar.

The salve is good for all open wounds and can be used as a poultice. Corns and bunions are treated by applying the ointment every day and wrapping the affected part in a clean bandage. Usually the problem is gone within a week.

Arthritis remedy: My grandfather insists that a buckeye kernel carried in the pocket will relieve arthritis. I should warn you, however, that this is the same guy who was told that the stings of 100 bees would also have that effect. He tried the idea, and in the course of the treatment was asked by a friend if it was working. “Well, no,” said my grandfather, “but at least I’m not thinking about the pain from my arthritis.” (It’s a family joke to call this sort of thing a “Chinese cure” . . . after the old saw about the Chinese cure for headaches: Take a hammer in your right hand and vigorously strike the large toe on your left foot. The pain in your head will go away.)

Here are a few more assorted items I’ll throw in while I’m at it:

Storing Food

Dried food: Thinly sliced tomatoes may be sun dried and put into jars or waterproof sacks for winter use. To reconstitute the fruit, simply place the slices in water and use them as is (they taste exactly like freshly picked tomatoes) or drop them into the soup pot or the juicer. If you have trouble with bugs in stored dehydrated food, dry some horsemint (bergamot) leaves and space them among the packages.

Honey: Uncooked honey will crystallize in storage after a time, but will still retain an excellent taste. (Some people let this happen on purpose, for ease in keeping and because they like to use the sweetening dry.) If heated, the honey loses many of its enzymes and — to all purposes — is a dead food. Honey may be stored in the freezer in small containers and defrosted as needed. It will lose nothing in flavor and will be exactly as fresh as when put away.

Uncooked honey right from the hive (with the comb, if desired) costs only 35¢ to 40¢ a pound . . . in contrast to the cooked product, which now sells for 75¢ a pound.

Homemade wine is more likely to turn out as desired if an air seal is placed on top of the fermenting vehicle. I use gallon jars for this process, and wrap the mouth of each jug with a paper towel folded about an inch wide. Then I put a plastic bag directly over the top and fasten it in place with a rubber band.

Canned goods: If you must buy the stuff, check the weights and sizes of the products. The “family” can, may cost more and contain less than two of the smaller containers, which sometimes hold as much as a pound more between them than the so-called economy size.  

Kofta Recipe

Here’s an ancient recipe from the Near East. Everyone who tries this likes it.


2 cups warm water (between 110 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit)
1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups unsifted flour


Pour the water into a mixing bowl and stir in the yeast until it’s dissolved. Add the salt and slowly stir in the flour. Beat the mixture until it’s smooth. Scrape the dough from the sides of the bowl, cover the container and let the mass rise until doubled (about one hour).

Stir down the risen dough and divide it into 12 equal parts (or make loaves if you want). Put the segments on a floured board, cover and let them stand half an hour. Set two rounds at a time on an oiled and floured cookie sheet and press them lightly around the edges to flatten them. This forces air bubbles into the center of the bread to make a hollow for the filling.

Place the sheet on an oven rack at the lowest level and bake the kofta at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. The bread will puff but will not brown. Repeat the process with the other rounds.When all are done, place them under the broiler for one minute to brown their tops. The finished product will keep for a week without refrigeration and can be used hot or cold. To make koftesi (sandwiches of meat or other fillings) slit open the edge of a bun a third of the way around and insert the filling.

This bread has always been our favorite at picnics and dinner and makes a satisfactory take-along travel lunch. We think one of the best fillings is strips of any type of meat boiled in a soup made of onions, carrots and celery.The meat is removed when done and stuffed into the bun on top of a tablespoon of chopped lettuce and celery. The koftesi is then dipped in a small bowl of the soup with each bite, or the broth may be drunk along with the sandwich.

An effective restraining remark to smokers (in reply to their usual protest, “But they’re my cigarettes!”): “Yes, but you’re polluting my air.”   

Thanks for the pleasant ear and, by now, blurring eye, and best wishes to all at MOTHER EARTH NEWS (locally known as MUTTI ERD … we’re all Dutchmen around here, as you might guess).

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