It might have been a curse or a blessing but I grew up with a mother who is the queen of looking at something and telling me five other purposes for whatever she’s holding. That skill set is a real treasure for living more sustainably because it makes it possible re-purpose and re-use lots of things that people easily toss in the trash.
Life at the barn is just naturally an activity that lends itself to re-using and re-purposing things. In any barn the first goal needs to be to reduce what we need and use. The main way this can be demonstrated is by composting anything that rots - throwing all of the manure into the compost bins or piles. Bins can be made from junk lumber or discarded pallets, OR just piled around trees and bushes for fertilizing. The next goal is to re-purpose or re-use items as much as possible - plastic bags for egg gathering, mineral buckets for carrying small amounts of feed.
Most of the ideas that are listed here are meant to encourage creativity. Knowing what to re-use is limited only by the imagination.
Here are a few ideas that we’ve used over the years:
ANIMAL WARNINGS: Make a hole in used canning jar lids, or tin cans and thread with heavy string. Hang these in areas to scare off birds, squirrels, and deer (you’ll need back up strategies as well but that’s another article). When they move in the wind, the wild animals are spooked.
BEER BOTTLES: Embed the beer bottles in a wall to use for hanging rope and tackle.
CONTAINERS: Turn the barn’s old grain bin on its side and add shelves for storage or add rails to create roosts for a tiny hen house. Medicine cabinets hang easily and are great for holding small items needed for a variety of tasks.
HEAVY-DUTY PLASTIC BAGS FROM Animal Feed: Use for raised beds or walls by filling with clay or gravel and stacking them like bricks. Fill with leaves to use for winter livestock treats. They make good storage for used feed bags - just fold up the bags and stuff them in. OR cut them up and sew on handles to make large or small shopping bags, or gift bags.
LLAMA POO: This is a perfectly balanced “poo” that makes a great “tea” for plants that have two sets of “true” leaves. Place a couple of cups of the poo in a one gallon milk jug for a couple of days and then water plants with it. Refill to use over and over until the “tea” isn’t yellowish anymore. Dump the sludge on a plant and refill with poo and water.
LIVESTOCK GROOMED HAIR: Leave bits of fur and wool on the ground in the spring for birds to gather for nest building.
MARKERS: Nail used canning jar lids to a stick, then paint or use permanent marker as needed to name where to re-hang items, or directions for feed, etc.
MILK JUGS: Create walls and small buildings by cutting off the bottoms and stacking them on top of each other.
OLD BED SHEETS: Use them to keep deer away. Just wrap the clean old sheet around a used towel (used by a stinky human or dog) and then place along the edge of the garden. After it rains a few times, you’ll have to put the human/dog scent back onto the cloth – just let the dog take a nap on it again. This really works!
OLD ICE CHEST: Great to use as a mobile first aid chest to hold supplies or for often used tools - great for spring kidding season - can hold towels and a variety of emergency much-needed items.
POTTING SOIL: Reuse potting soil by disinfecting with boiling water poured over it or build a simple solar oven (www.bluerockstation.com) to pasteurize the dirt with the heat of the sun.
SCOOPS: Use one pound coffee cans to accurately measure feed for livestock.
SNIPPETS OF STRING: Hang string around the yard in old falling apart baskets for birds to use as nesting material.
Annie Warmke lives and works at Blue Rock Station, a sustainable living experiment that includes the first Earthship east of the Mississippi. She’s a goat herder, a writer and a skilled lover of nature. For more information on her work and books visit www.bluerockstation.com.
Photos: A solar shower with milk jug walls, raised herb bed made from feed bags filled with clay and covered with earthen plaster.