Tag Archives: homesteading

Old Gate Posts

There are plenty of old gate posts around here. Many were put in twenty years ago. They were pieces of old telephone poles.

Over the last few years these posts have gotten wobbly. I could sway them back and forth with one hand.

old gate posts fall over
The wind came by. The gate fell over. After twenty some years, the post had rotted through. The gate got pushed up and propped to look like the gate was still there.

Digging post holes in the Ozarks is not easy. Post hole diggers are only a way to remove dirt and gravel already knocked loose with a bar and sledge hammer. They aren’t even very good for that if the gravel is actually small rocks.

Arguing the way down two feet was only a matter of persistence twenty years ago. Now it is only sheer determination that makes the holes go down. Each one takes two days or more now.

old gate posts rot off
What eats away at a gate post? Water. Insects, Mold, Fungus. Even old telephone poles eventually give in to the relentless attacks.

So gates were argued with, lifted and moved inches at a time. Steel posts were driven down next to the posts and tied together to try to pull the gate posts up again.

The old gate posts kept getting worse. The pasture gate post was a source of nightmares as Augustus stood on the gate looking over at the does in the hill pasture.

Then one end of the clothes line fell over.

post hole digging nightmare
The original hole was dug twenty years ago to a depth of 30 inches. That is longer than my arm. And the post rotted off at ground level and is still pretending to be solid all the way down. The dirt and gravel must be dug out around the post piece as deep as necessary to allow the piece to be shoved. Putting water down the hole, a rope around the post piece and using a long metal post as a lever pulled the piece up.

It was time to get serious.

An unlucky young man came by looking for work. He was game to dig a couple of post holes. And he did dig two: the clothes line pole and the pasture gate.

He was well paid, but it wasn’t enough to entice him to dig the third post hole. So I tackled it as that gate had fallen over and was now propped up to appear to be there.

Old gate posts rot off in two ways. The pasture gate post disintegrated into wood chips easy to remove with the post hole diggers.

Old gate posts tied in
The old hinges wouldn’t come out of the old post. Twenty years ago we would have gotten them out. Now it’s easier to tie the old post to the new one and hand the gate. The gate is now standing and useable and that was the objective.

The clothes pole and the other post rotted off at ground level, but left solid post down the center to be laboriously dug out by hand.

Once the aches and pains subside, the joy of having working posts and a standing clothes line will make it seem worthwhile.

For 25 years we kept our place looking good. You can see it in “My Ozark Home“.

“We Took To the Woods”

My favorite places to go shopping are used book sales and stores. One of the books I found was “We Took To the Woods” by Louise Dickinson Rich.

Written in the 1930’s, the book would seem to be very outdated. Except it isn’t, at least for me.

Not everyone has electricity and running water, two of the great innovations of civilization. The Riches were tucked into a lumber company’s land in what was once a lodge for fishermen coming to the wilds of Maine. Only a dozen or so people live in the area year round. Mail comes in by boat in the summer and must be retrieved by hiking out two miles on snowshoes in the winter. Groceries are a similar proposition.

"We Took To the Woods" by Louise Dickinson Rich
The family lived in the small house over the winter as it was easier to keep warm. Summers were spent in what was one a lodge. One advantage to moving twice a year is how well you pare down your piles of possessions.

This would be an interesting challenge. Try to make out a grocery list for a month’s meals. Remember bread doesn’t keep that long. No, you can’t freeze it as you have only an ice box using ice for cooling. You make it. If you forget something, you must do without until the next month.

There are places where this is the norm. I read once about a place in Wyoming where access to stores was once or twice a year. How much flour? Did you remember the salt? The leavening? Canned vegetables? Paper products?

Cooking and heating are done with wood. Lights are kerosene with glass chimneys and wicks. Snow is waist deep for months. Temperatures drop to ten or more below zero.

Would you be tough enough?

“We Took To the Woods” is done as though answering questions people ask about living this way. How do you make a living? How do you keep house? What about the children? Do you get bored? Do you get frightened?

For me it brought back memories. We lived without electricity and running water for a time. I learned to cook on a wood cookstove. Snow was waist deep for six months up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. At least we could get out by car during the winter although driving on a snow covered road between snow filled ditches is a challenge.

“We Took To the Woods” also mentions about the logging. The lumber company still had logging crews staying the winter in the woods, piling the pulp wood near the lakes, ponds and rivers for the spring when all of it was floated down to the sawmill. These men were not Paul Bunyon types, no matter what the movies portray.

I enjoyed reading this book. It brought back memories I’m glad are now memories. Electricity and running water had their luster restored as I’ve gotten complacent about them. Complacent until the next time the electricity goes out.

Homesteaders Get Older

No one likes to think about getting older. Homesteaders need to.

I had three feeder steers fattening on the pasture. Each evening I would give each a small scoop of grain in the barn area so they would be easy to pen up.

One evening I was digging into the bucket for a scoop of feed when one of the steers swung his head around to chase a fly. I was standing several feet away and in no danger, but it was a wake up call.

I no longer raise feeder steers.

last steer as getting older

I like cows and miss seeing them in the pasture. A steer gets big and I am small. Getting hurt is not good for any homesteader but especially an older one.

Fact of Life 1:

Life works this way. Each passing day, week and year ages your body. It’s usually so gradual, we don’t notice. Then one day we wake up and discover we’ve grown older.

Slinging bales of hay is no longer an option. They get heavier each year. They are carried and set into place. Help is hired.

Ten years ago I would take ten wheelbarrow loads of manure out of the barn in an hour and a half, then go on to some other task. Now I get six loads out in the same amount of time and am exhausted the rest of the day.

Remember those steers? What occurred to me was what would have happened if I had been standing next to that steer. His head was two feet long. He weighed over a thousand pounds.

I find the ground seems harder now. My body doesn’t bounce when it hits the ground any more. I get hurt more easily, although I do still heal up quickly.

My homesteading adventures began when I was in my twenties. Life stretched out in front of me.

I loved and still love the lifestyle. However, what I did then, I don’t do the same way now, if at all. Plans for the future take age into account now.

Cloudy cat on hay

To my cat Cloudy hay is a great place to nap. To my goats hay is food and bedding. To me hay is money, time, work and peace of mind once it is stacked in the barn for next winter.

Life Complications 2:

Many homesteaders move out of the city to raise their children in a more down-to-earth style. They put in big gardens, can and dry and freeze, relying on many hands to get everything done.

Children grow up. Homesteading is hard work. It doesn’t pay very well. So these now young adults get jobs and move away.

I’ve known people who tried to keep cultivating that big garden on their own. Their children may live elsewhere, but they still want that canned produce. Neither the gardener nor the garden do well.

Stairs get hard to climb. Big houses are hard to keep clean. Health fails. The children now have their own families and lives. The old homestead is not part of them.

Natural disasters can create havoc, leave destruction behind. Cleaning up takes a long time. Is rebuilding worth it?

getting older means fewer goats

My Nubian goat herd is down to 15 adult does several of them older, 3 doe kids and two will be sold, 3 wethers and 2 bucks. The herd seems so small, not only to me, but to them too. The goats are much more nervous going out for the day.

Planning for the Future 3:

My goats have been with me through various moves and are a big part of my life. I rely on them for milk, manure for the garden and company.

Stacking hay is not on my list of things I can do (Yes, I fudge.) now. Mucking out the barn takes months. Trimming hooves, doctoring, disbudding, tattooing, selling, barn and fence repairs, the list goes on.

I have no family who wants my goats. I don’t want them to end up at the sale barn.

My herd is shrinking. It is down from 45 to 20. As my does age, I try not to replace them. In another five years, the herd will be 10 or less.

It’s hard to let go of dreams. I miss that big herd. It hurts to sell kids I would gladly have kept ten years ago. But I must face the future.

The garden is changing too. Weed control is largely done with mulch now. I plant fewer potatoes, tomatoes, squash etc. I don’t rototill anymore.

Someone is hired to bush hog the pastures. A crew is hired to haul and stack the hay and it’s accepted that they never stack it the way I want.

Each year brings more concessions to age. Each year means reassessing what is most important.

Homesteading is a wonderful way of life. I plan on raising a few goats, chickens and garden produce as long as I can. It’s hard to give up good food for the store bought variety.

But the greatest joy of homesteading is the land itself. And enjoying the land takes only a good pair of shoes, binoculars, a camera, a walking stick and time. Or maybe just a comfortable porch swing.

Ozark creek

Sitting or walking by the creek is peaceful. The sounds of the water and breezes in the trees are relaxing. In the distance the pastures and buildings remind me I need to get back and start chores.

Fresh Homestead Fruit

Fresh Homestead Fruit

Fruit trees take several years to start making fruit. Berries are faster, only a year or two. Fruit is cheap in the market when you think about the time, expense, labor etc. Why bother?

I never did like blueberries. One summer I needed a job so I picked blueberries. Noon came around. The stomach complained. I ate one of the blueberries, ripe, warmed by the sun. I like blueberries.

Red delicious apples are often mealy purchased from the market. My goats like them. I don’t. These same apples picked from the tree are firm and delicious.

Fresh fruit is far superior in taste to market fruit. It is picked when ripe, ready to use. That is why a homesteader should consider growing this crop.

homestead fruit black raspberries

Black raspberries grow wild in the Ozarks. They bloom earlier than blackberries. The canes have a pinkish red cast to them. The berries freeze well, if there are any left.

Decision 1: Which fruits should you grow?

Both fruit trees and bushes are long term occupiers of places. They have requirements that must be met or they might grow but will never produce. Plum and apricot trees grow here in the Ozarks, even bloom some years. Spring frosts kill out the fruit before it develops. Even native wild plums have problems.

Fire blight arrived at our place years ago. It promptly killed several pear trees. Borers are also a concern for peach, plum and similar trees.

Wild black raspberries grow here. These may not be as large as special varieties, but they are still large and good tasting. There is no reason to grow tame ones.

Wild blackberries of many kinds grow here. Most ripen their small fruit a few at a time and tend to form large, thorny masses. Tame blackberries are much better.

Even more basic for this decision is which fruits you will eat. Having a beautiful apple tree bearing large crops of apples left to fall on the ground is wasting space. The deer will appreciate this then go on to sample the garden.

Some old varieties have unique flavors but little disease resistance. Other varieties are very disease resistant. Unless you plan to spend a lot of time spraying, pruning, caring for your fruit trees or bushes, stick to the perhaps less flavorful, but less work intensive, resistant varieties.

In the Ozarks there are two native fruits to choose. Pawpaws ripen in late summer and need shade and moisture. Persimmons ripen in late fall and grow in old fields with lots of sun. Both put up shoots to form colonies of trees.

homestead fruit pawpaws

Pawpaws are an understory tree, growing in the shade in ravines and along streams. They are pollinated by flies and beetles. The fruit ripens in late summer and has a custard texture with a pineapple banana flavor.

Consideration 2: Where to put the fruits

Fruit trees now come as dwarf which are usually short lived, semi-dwarf and standard. I prefer the semi-dwarf as I can pick the fruit from the ground either by hand or with a picker. They take up less space than a standard sized tree.

The old way of planting trees was to create an orchard. This is fine, if you have a place big enough.

Another way is to use fruit trees as yard trees. They get large enough to be shade trees. They are beautiful when they bloom. They are conveniently close when their fruit gets ripe.

Bushes are another story, especially blackberries. These put up large canes that arch over to the ground and root to form a new plant. That nice, neat row quickly becomes a tangled mess.

Blackberries and similar bushes need to be in rows with wires to which the canes are attached. The berries are on last year’s canes. That means all the new canes the plants put up last year will produce this year’s crop. This year’s new canes will produce next year’s crop.

Once this year’s berry crop is ripe and picked, the canes can be cut off. The new ones are then trained up onto the wires and attached.

Grapes are another problem. Grapes don’t grow well in our yard as we are low with too much moisture and too many early and late frosts. We did give them a try.

Grapes can be grown in much the same way as berries using wires. This year’s grapes, unlike berries, are on this year’s growth. The vines are cut back every fall so they don’t get too long.

I have a wild grapevine on the back fence of my garden. It is a catch plant for Japanese beetles. Every fall I cut it back to the main stem. Every growing season the vines grow out fifteen to twenty feet, branching off to invade the garden, the apple tree and anywhere else it can get to. The branches have tendrils so they are hard to pull free once they are attached to another plant. Tame grapes are similar in this.

Grapes grown on a trellis are lovely. The vines can be left longer each fall. The bunches of grapes hang down from the trellis making them easy to watch ripen then pick. If you try a trellis, remember the vines will be very heavy and put strong supports under the trellis.

homestead fruit persimmons

Persimmons do ripen late, often after frost in the Ozarks. The fruits must be fully ripe when they are sweet. Green persimmons will pucker the mouth.

Warning 3: Creatures love fruit

Fruit makes great food even when green according to insects. They will drop by to suck up sap , lay eggs in and otherwise damage fruit. This will make the fruit misshapen with hard spots around the bites.

Commercial growers spray their trees and developing fruit to keep the insects away. There are organic alternatives. I haven’t used them and know little about them.

As the fruits get closer to ripening, other fruit lovers arrive. Woodchucks and raccoons climb the trees and nibble on the fruits, a bite here, a bite there, or disappear with the entire crop. They will keep at it as long as a single fruit remains.

One way to get rid of these fruit eaters is to shoot them. This does mean spending the night out in the orchard waiting for them to show up. Shooting a moving target with the only light provided by a flashlight is beyond most people.

We found another method. We got old duct pipe and put this around the trunks. A little grease around the top half made the metal too slippery to climb.

This works for creatures that can not jump. Squirrels jump. The trees need to be away from launching places and pruned up out of jumping range. Birds fly so they will devour some fruit unless you put netting over the tree and fruit.

Make sure no fruit is left on the ground around the trees to lure creatures to the trees. Over ripe fruit can be dumped out for these creatures at some location away from the trees. Pick all of the fruit off the trees.

Enjoy your fruit

Homegrown ripe fruit has so much more flavor than market fruit. Extra can be frozen or canned to use over the winter. It may be possible to have too much fruit; I have heard some people complain. That has never been a problem for me. I usually wish my freezer had more in it as it disappears all too soon.

Winter does roll around every year. Being cold is no fun. Many homesteaders choose to heat their homes with wood.


Homesteaders Getting Dirty

Homesteaders Getting Dirty

There is only one way to garden without getting dirty: hire someone else to do all the actual work. This may be tempting but isn’t financially feasible. Gardeners get dirty. All that dirt does wash off the hands, knees, hair etc.

Clothes are a different matter. Ground in dirt doesn’t come out of clothes easily. The solution is to have clothes strictly for gardening. These can be washed clean and the leftover stains don’t matter. This is liberating too as you don’t have to be careful not to play in the mud or crawl across the grass.

clean not dirty cabbages

These cabbages will be gone before the okra goes in. The mulch holds in moisture, prevents dirty cabbage by blocking mud splashing up and keeps the ground cool the way cole crops prefer it.

Challenge 1: Creating the Garden

Bare dirt is a challenge to plants. They colonize the area as fast as they can. That new garden spot is occupied by residents that do not want to move Eviction methods depend on the size of the marked out area.

An easier way is to start in the fall. Cover the proposed garden area with feed sacks or cardboard and mulch. These will rot over the winter while killing out many of the plants underneath. The plot is then turned by hand or rototilled in the spring.

Starting in the spring, a ten foot square area can be done by hand. Use a shovel or spade to cut through the plants at the edge and lift them, roots, dirt and all to loosen the soil. Reach down, pull the plants, shake the dirt off the roots and toss the plants into a wheelbarrow or pile to be taken away. The entire patch may take several days to clear entirely.

A larger area can be harrowed with a tractor. Some rototillers will cut through sod. The plants must still be pulled up by hand, dirt shaken off the roots and tossed out. Any left in the new garden will start growing again.

The dirt will have lots of plant seeds in it. These will seize the opportunity to grow and cover the newly bare area in a green carpet. These seedlings can be hoed, rototilled or mulched to prevent them from creating a new plant jungle.

This seed invasion will never end. The seeds will blow in, get dropped off by birds or get carried in on shoes or clothes. The gardener will get dirty fighting this never ending war continuously as long as the garden exists.

weeding is dirty work

No doubt about it, chickweed gets really big in the garden with good soil and plenty of rain. Dead nettle gets lush too but dies back after a time. Pulling these is dirty work but helping the bees in early spring makes it worth the trouble.

Controversy 2: Rototill or not?

Traditionally a garden was rototilled or plowed every spring. Many gardeners still start their spring gardens this way.

The advantages of rototilling were getting the newest seedling invasion or winter cover crop turned under, loosening the soil and redefining the garden perimeter. The disadvantages were needing the ground dry enough to support the rototiller, keeping the garden open enough for the rototiller to maneuver around and mixing the top soil into the subsoil layer. It chopped up worms but exposed pest moth pupae.

I rarely rototill my garden any more. My garden is set up in small sections. A small tiller would work but fall mulching works too. I put down feed sacks with a mulch layer in late fall.

Some seedlings will come up through or in the mulch. These are not normally a problem. This year narrow leaf plantains are the common plant coming up and are being pulled as a kitchen crop. Morning glories, black walnuts and locusts are pulled. Chickweed is used as a garden crop then pulled.

My garden pathways do grow up in dead nettle, chickweed and henbit. These bloom early and are relished by bees. When I start planting, I start clearing and mulching the pathways for the summer. My method is to use a potato fork to loosen the soil, pull enough plants for one wheelbarrow piled high each day. It takes about ten days to get all the way around at this rate.

The mulch is pulled back from the row I want to plant. The seeds are put into the row. Some areas must have all the mulch pulled back as for the turnips and beets. Any exposed areas will need weeding so I try to limit them as much as possible. I don’t mind getting dirty or the time but my back complains after so much pulling.

After five or six years using the mulch method without tilling, I much prefer it. I can get into the garden earlier planting peas, spinach and other crops that don’t do well in warm weather. Rototilling is hard work. I like working in the smaller areas, each one sized for the amount of space I would work up in a day or use for a particular crop.

My garden is fair sized but works well with this method because it is broken up into small pieces. A large garden would probably not work out well with this method. There is no reason a large garden can not be worked up using both methods, a smaller area not rototilled and used for early crops while the ground is still too wet to rototill and the main area done in the more traditional method.

potatoes under mulch

Growing potatoes under mulch is great. Deeper mulch increases the yield. Labor is reduced. weeds are reduced. Harvesting is simply moving the mulch aside to pick up the potatoes. the mulch can attract mice and sow or pill bugs that eat potatoes.

Heads Up 3: Garden Residents

I suppose there are some gardeners who think their garden is occupied solely by the plants they themselves plant – they pull up all others – and the insects they invited in to pollinate those plants. My garden would be frightening to these people.

There are many plants trying to invade my garden. Many are unwelcome and are removed as soon as possible. Pokeweed, locust trees, walnut trees, bedstraw and dock are some of them. Other plants are welcome in small numbers. Evening primrose, hispid buttercup, moth mullein, morning glories and chickweed are among these. Lamb’s quarters and plantain are good eating so they are allowed in larger numbers, even one or two plants being allowed to set and scatter seeds.

Creatures come into the garden too. Toads, green frogs, black, speckled king and brown snakes, praying mantises, wasps, bees, lacewings and lady bugs are welcome. Box turtles are usually removed to outside the garden fence. Moles are tolerated only because I can’t get rid of them. Numerous insects come into the garden. Some are problems. Some aren’t.

The pictures of formal gardens, beautifully laid out, carefully tended and trimmed look nice. I prefer my casual garden. It is a comfortable place to be.

Before you panic at seeing some bug or creature in your garden, find out what it is. Most snakes are far more upset at seeing you than you are at seeing them. Take a moment to admire the colors and movements. Box turtles are vegetarians and love fruit within easy reach. Many insects will not bother you or do much damage to your crops.

Your garden produce will not look like the produce in the supermarket unless you use the commercial methods of sprays which defeats my intentions of no sprays. Bug bites are easily pared away. There are safer ways to repel bugs from picking them off (chickens love some of them) to soap sprays to wood ashes.

Yes, my garden is fenced. Chickens are a disaster in the garden as they dig up everything. Fences are great trellises and boundary markers. Normal fences will not stop woodchucks, raccoons or deer. The many wild residents seem to easily find a way in so they are lived with, enjoyed or avoided as necessary.

mulch limits the dirty work of weeding

Snow peas are an early spring crop and will be gone before the okra goes in. the okra can be started in cups then transplanted. clearing the pea row from mulch lets some weeds sprout. these are showing at the front of the row for the picture. Then they left.

Vegetables are not the only Crops

Raising your own garden produce is not necessarily cheaper than buying it. Labor is expensive. The real benefits of gardening come in fresh produce in new, good tasting varieties and time out in the fresh air. The satisfaction of putting the fruits of your labors on the dinner plate should count in the plus column too.

Homesteading is a dirty business. The homesteader collects plenty of dirt from livestock and working in the garden. Fruits such as berries and apples live above the dirt but have their own considerations.


Fresh Homestead Milk

Fresh Homestead Milk

Once fresh eggs with stand up orange yolks appear on the menu, milk comes to mind for lots of new homesteaders. Fresh homestead milk must be better than the commercial milk in the store. That milk is cows’ milk. The homesteader has a choice.

Most people around the world use milk from goats. The U.S. relies on cows. Both are available to the homesteader.

Decision 1: Cows or Goats?

Dairy Cows

These dairy cows belong to a friend. The front one is a Jersey/Ayrshire cross. The other is a Jersey. Jerseys are popular for homesteaders as they are smaller, gentle, high butterfat producing cows.

Either a cow or a few goats will provide plenty of homestead milk. This milk is produced after the cow or goat has a baby. The cow or goat will not give milk for two to three months before having that baby. It will be dry.

The dry period is very important for the mother to be. Their body is stashing away calcium and other nutrients producing milk will take away later on. The developing baby or babies take a lot of nutrition too. Cheating on the dry period will cheat you for homestead milk later.

A cow takes nine months to have a calf. A goat takes five months. A cow normally has one calf. A goat normally has twin kids, but can vary from one to three, sometimes four, rarely five to eight.

The pluses for cows is having only one. That one will produce several gallons a day for nine to ten months. Finding someone to breed the cow by AI or artificial insemination is fairly easy.

Dairy Goat

This Nubian dairy goat is High Reaches Bonnie. Goats differ from cows with two halves to their udder rather than four quarters. They are usually easier to milk. Their smaller size makes them easier to handle.

The pluses for goats is having an animal of a manageable size. A good goat will produce 3 quarts to over a gallon a day for nine to ten months. Up to six goats can be kept for the same amount of feed and hay as one cow.

Both cows and goats come in a number of breeds that vary in color, personality and milk volume, Both require adequate fencing and a building. Both will tie you to twice a day milking regardless of weather or health.

I prefer goats. I like the smaller size. I have been stepped on by both a cow and a goat. The goat is better. I prefer the milk.

Comparison 2: Cow’s milk vs. Goat’s milk

fresh homestead milk

Fresh milk should be stored in glass containers in the refrigerator. Glass is easier to clean than plastic.

An amusing thing at a county fair is to offer goat milk samples. Many people make an assumption the milk will taste bad as soon as they read that word goat. They will make faces as they take a sip. Those willing to keep an open mind will then look surprised and remark how good the milk tastes or how it tastes like milk from the store.

That does not mean goat’s milk and cow’s milk tastes the same. It does not. Both taste good.

Cow’s milk will separate into cream and milk layers. Goat’s milk will not. Both have plenty of cream in them, the composition makes the difference so one separates and one doesn’t. The cream content varies by breed and diet.

Milk allergies come in two common forms. One is to lactose or milk sugar. Both cow’s milk and goat’s milk contain lactose. This intolerance will often produce bloating and gastric symptoms.

The other common intolerance is to bovine or cow proteins. This usually produces sinus problems. Goat milk is often tolerated well with this.

Goat milk is digested much more quickly. This let’s some lactose intolerant people drink some milk and not react. It is a reason goat milk is easy on a sick stomach as one with ulcers and for acid reflux.

Problems 3:

homestead milk becomes homestead cheese

Homemade mozzarella cheese is far different from commercial mozzarella. It is not difficult to make.

Whether these are problems or not is a matter of which homesteader you talk to. One is extra milk.

Whether the homesteader chooses a cow or goats, there will probably be extra milk most of the summer. If the homesteader is like me, the thought of throwing that milk away hurts. There must be something that milk is good for.

One solution is cheese. Even the easy cheeses take time, equipment and facilities. Kefir and buttermilk are other possibilities.

Another solution is using homestead milk to produce a homestead pig or pigs. Sour milk soaked corn is relished by pigs and makes them grow fast. But pigs require a building and fencing plus a way to butcher them.

Another solution is to find people who want your extra milk. This is not always legal. Make sure you monitor your animal’s health. If you deworm or treat an animal, follow the withdrawal times carefully. The customer needs to provide the containers or you will be left scrambling for jars. Your homestead milk needs to be as clean, really cleaner than store milk.

Another problem is the responsibility. Milking is done twice a day, every day, regardless. Your day begins at the end of morning chores and ends at the beginning of evening chores. Vacations are no longer on your calendar.

One solution is to have a friend or neighbor who can milk for you from time to time. Another solution is to have a vacation while your milkers are dry although, for goats, this is normally in the winter. And the animals must still be fed and checked on daily. The other choice is to stay home or only take very short day trips.

Bull or buck service is needed every year. A homesteader with a few animals should not keep a male around. The male needs separate facilities. He will eat as much as a milking animal for use once a year. He can be aggressive and difficult to handle. A good male is expensive and a cheap one is not worth the cheap price.

It is much easier to find someone to AI a cow than a goat. A goat is easier to transport to a buck or the owner may lease out the buck. Find out about this before you need the use of a male.

Veterinarians get lots of training with cows. Goats can be ignored or barely mentioned. More vets are learning about goats so this isn’t as big a problem as it was. However, vets are not inexpensive. The homesteader needs to learn to do much of the routine vet care, get the equipment and find out how to use it correctly.

Food On the Table

Fresh homestead milk and eggs are great. They do not make a meal. That garden produce makes the meal.

Gardening can be challenging on the homestead. There are bugs, floods, droughts, good and bad soil, diseases, weeds and the list goes on. Is it worth it? The homesteader must decide.


Homestead Chickens

Starting With Chickens

I should start by saying I really like chickens. Even with that bias, chickens are one of the easiest kinds of livestock for a new homesteader to start with. Another plus is the huge array of breeds in so many colors laying eggs of different colors.

Therein is another plus as chickens produce eggs, meat and manure. They are small and have smaller building and fencing requirements. They are relatively inexpensive to purchase and maintain. Chickens are an excellent introduction to animal husbandry.

Many homesteaders do jump with both feet into keeping livestock getting several kinds right away. This is not a good idea unless you have raised livestock before. Making a mistake and losing a chicken hurts the ego but isn’t a financial disaster.

Animals are a responsibility. They depend on you for food, water, shelter and protection. Veterinary care is expensive so a serious homesteader will learn to do much of the health care on the homestead. Each kind of livestock will have special needs and it takes time to learn what they are and how to meet them.

Start small. Start with chickens. Find out why home eggs become your only eggs.

eggs from chickens

I have more chickens than I really need but I do like them. That means I have extra eggs. A woman wanted a dozen, so I gave her one. She came back to say she would never again get eggs from me as there was something wrong with mine. The yolks were orange. I’m afraid she did not realize the problem is with the store eggs, not mine.

Preparation 1: Build Before You Buy

Foxes, owls, hawks, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, weasels and mink all love chicken dinner. Black snakes find chicks and eggs tasty. The best defense is a well built house and yard.

Chicken houses come in many shapes and sizes, even portable. The only real concern is a house big enough for your flock. Even though chickens want and should be outside much of the day, bad weather, especially snow, will keep them inside and they want more than standing room. They get cabin fever quickly grouchily picking on each other.

Besides room for the chickens, the inside of their house needs roosts for them to sleep on, nests for them to lay eggs in and a feeder to hold feed for them. The water fount doesn’t need to be inside much of the year but will need to be inside during cold, snowy weather.

The house needs windows, preferably pointing east. It’s nice to open those windows during hot weather to keep the inside cooler. Regular window screen is not sufficient. Use quarter or half inch hardware cloth.

For those new to this, hardware cloth is not cloth but a wire grid. It comes in short ten or twelve foot rolls two or three feet tall. It’s easily cut with tin snips. This is nailed over the windows so they can be left open without inviting unwanted visitors in. It lasts for years.

A chicken house needs two doors. One is sized for the chickens and is fastened open in the morning and closed at night. A spring screen door hook and a couple of eyes work well.

Your chickens must be locked up every night. An occasional lapse may not matter, but more than a night may leave you with little more than feathers in the morning.

The other door is sized for people. It should be wide enough to shovel droppings out. Since I use a wheelbarrow, the door is wide enough to back the wheelbarrow up to the door.

This door also needs a good latch and fit. It gives you easy access to fill the feeder and collect the eggs. Other visitors don’t need that easy access.

Electricity is very useful in the hen house. I use lights, incandescent bulbs, to extend the day in the winter. My chickens slow down but still supply me with eggs all winter. Six month old pullets will often start and continue to lay all winter using lights.

Build the chicken house before bringing chickens home. Baby chicks less than a week old are noisy, smelly and dusty in the house. Big chickens are a disaster.


Watching chicks grow up is fun. Seeing the different chicks can be a surprise as children are shown only fluffy yellow chicks and they come in so many other colors.

Decision 2: Chickens or Chicks?

Most people start with chicks. They are not terribly difficult to raise. The hatchery sends out day old chicks. You supply a warm place (brooder), chick started feed and water. You should have a thermometer you can put on the floor of the brooder.

A cardboard box with newspapers on the bottom makes a good brooder with a heat lamp hanging over it. Incandescent light bulbs give off a lot of heat. I start with a 100W or 150W bulb. Set the brooder up including feed and water before the chicks arrive placing the thermometer on the floor. Move the light up and down until the temperature stays at 100 degrees.

When the chicks arrive, take each chick out, dip its beak in the water and let it stand there. Happy chicks will get a drink then go off exploring. They will find the feed. The group will lie down together to nap. They have a quiet cheep used for talking to each other.

Wet chicks get cold and die. Cold chicks make a loud piercing cheep while huddling under the light. Hot chicks crowd the outside wall trying to get away from the heat.

Change the papers daily. Keep the feed and water filled. The chicks grow fast.

My preference is to keep the chicks in the house for about a week to make sure they are doing well. After that, the chicks are growing feathers and shedding dusty down everywhere. They get big and much noisier. The box will have an odor no matter how often you clean it. At that point the chicks are ready to move into their new house with the heat light, their feed and water and a cardboard wall around an area to keep the chicks warm.

As the chicks feather out, they need less heat. You can raise the light, lower the wattage or both. The chicks will tell you if the brooder is too hot or cold. Once the chicks are feathered out, the light is needed only at night, if it is cool. The chicks are also ready to occupy the entire house and go outside into their yard. Grass and bugs are good for them.

Crows will kill up to half grown chicks. If your coop like mine is not wired over, an easy way to discourage both crows and hawks is to tie twine pieces between the posts. The predators don’t know what the twine is and are evidently afraid they will be trapped if they go into the coop so they leave.

The problem with chicks is the time. Leghorn types start laying fastest at about four months. Most of the other breeds take six months. The advantage of chicks is choosing your breed and knowing how old they are and how they were raised.

The other option is to buy grown pullets or hens. These are very expensive in the spring and cheap in the fall. Many people don’t want to bother with chickens over the winter when they don’t lay as many eggs.

Younger hens will have slim, smooth legs. Their bodies will be slim too. These get bigger and coarser as a hen ages. Try to find someone who knows chickens to help you look over any chickens you buy. The flock may have lice or other problems.


My flock has many breeds in it. The different breeds do have different personalities as well as looks.

Considerations 3: Chickens For the Long Haul

The more you handle chicks and work with your chickens, the friendlier they will become. They can become pets. They live an average of five years.

Different breeds have very different personalities. Of the breeds I have raised, Buff Orpingtons and a good beginner breed. They are pretty, fluffy, friendly, calm and good layers. Standard sized cochins are all of these but lay fewer eggs. They also get bigger.

I grew up with big, old-fashioned Rhode Island Reds. The present breed has become much more like leghorns so I avoid them now. Red Hampshires are nice chickens.

Barred Rock and Dominique are the black and white chickens. These are friendly but hustle, getting into everything. Otherwise these are nice breeds. Gold and Silver Wyandottes are good too. Black Australorps are pretty, tame, friendly but tend to stop laying in cold weather.

Arcana chickens are cute with their cheek puffs. They are smaller and lay the green and blue eggs. They are flighty.

Most people like chicken dinner. Home raised chicken is much tastier than the store version. Order some cockerel chicks of heavier breeds and raise them for meat dressing them out at eight to twelve weeks of age. If pulling feathers doesn’t appeal to you, skin them.

I once heard it said: If you have livestock, you will have dead stock. There will be times you open the chicken house door and find a dead chicken. Why did it die? You may never know. If a number of chickens die, you need to consult a veterinarian or another chicken owner about it.

Chickens are long day birds which means they lay most of their eggs in the spring to early summer. They molt, dropping their old feathers and growing ones in the fall then stop laying for the winter. This is where I use a light.

Since I milk at night, I turn the light on in the barn and chicken house in the late afternoon. It stays on until I finish milking around eight. This fools the chickens into thinking the days are still long so they keep on laying. They do slow down as the weather gets cold but I do get enough eggs to manage.

The light I use is an incandescent. The energy saver bulbs did not keep the chickens laying. I haven’t tried the LED lights. It has to do with the spectrum or colors in the bulb light. Once the chickens stop laying, it takes six to eight weeks to get them started again.

Don’t leave bits of plastic twine or other debris around. It gets stuck in the chicken’s crop or storage area their food goes into first and can kill them as there isn’t enough room for food left.

A chicken coop will go sour in a few years of constant occupation by chickens. You can rig two yards up and alternate between them. Till and plant the resting one with grass. This is safer than letting the chickens free range like mine do. Besides, the chickens start getting bold and go places they shouldn’t.

Gateway to Livestock?

Like all livestock, chickens need attention daily. If you travel a lot, reconsider having livestock. Chickens do help you get a routine going and introduce you to feeds, the feed store and extra chores such as cleaning out the hen house. Asparagus loves chicken manure.

If you enjoy having those fresh eggs and don’t mind the work and being tied down, then you can consider trying you hand with some other more demanding livestock.

Like goats.

Homestead Dogs

Dogs On the Homestead

Early in the morning we take the tray of bird seed out and put it on the feeder platform. One morning a Great Dane was standing outside the back door growling. We own no dogs. This one belonged to a neighbor on the top of the hill behind us.

Consideration 1: Country Dogs

The old saying goes that good fences make good neighbors. They do. Yet those bad fences cause fewer conflicts between neighbors than dogs do.

Dogs are built to run long distances. Their instinct is to grab anything that runs away from them. Dogs have big fangs. Two dogs become a pack increasing the bravery of both.

One of the first things many people do when they move to the country is get a dog, especially a big dog. I’ve heard this is for protection of their homestead. And a big dog is very intimidating to any visitors, wanted or not.

Then another idea comes into play. Country dogs can run loose. There’s so much room in the country. The neighbors are far away. The dog will surely stay near home where its family and food dishes are.

One short term neighbor had two big dogs. Whenever he came home from work, both dogs were there to greet him. They lounged around on the porch in the evening and were asleep when he went to bed.

My old goat Isabel didn’t come in one evening. I was afraid she had gotten down in a hollow in the pasture and couldn’t get up so I went out to find her. She didn’t get up or come in because her throat was torn out by the neighbor’s two dogs. They fled at my approach.

People two and three miles away told about these dogs chasing and pulling down deer when I went out with pictures trying to track them down. The neighbor protested they didn’t go anywhere or do any of this. It took a second goat killed to get anything done.

The fact is: You don’t know where your dog is or what it is doing when you are not watching it unless it is inside a fenced yard.

dogs at the neighbor's

When I stopped at a neighbor’s house to take this picture, this dog turned and growled at me. I know these people but would not care to stop to visit with this big dog standing loose in the front yard. These same neighbors owned the Great Dane.

Opinion 2: Reasons to Not Own a Dog

One of the main reasons I don’t own a dog is time. A dog needs your time. You keep it amused, play with it, feed it, pet it, take it on walks.

When I go for a walk, I want to see the wildlife. Dogs chase it away. I want to stop and photograph wildflowers preferably not trampled on while I set up my camera. I do not like hearing a dog bark. I prefer listening to the birds and the breezes up in the trees.

We enjoy seeing wildlife in our yard. One fall a group of buck deer came through several nights. A wild turkey paid a call one morning. This does not happen when a dog is in the yard.

Dogs are juvenile delinquents. If you do not give them something to do, they will come up with something, usually something you do not approve of. When my cats chase my chickens, the chickens squawk and run safely away. A friend’s dog likes chasing chickens but then uses one it catches as a ball leaving the chicken badly injured or dead.

One dog is an invitation to others to come and join it or it to join them. We have neighbors with lots of dogs. We would prefer these dogs stay at their house, not ours.

Many goat owners own a livestock guardian dog for good reasons. So far I have not needed one full time. In two decades there has been call for one four times. If that changes, my status may change.

In the meantime I will enjoy the company of dogs when I visit other people. The time I save will be used in my garden or with my goats or walking and taking pictures.

livestock guardian dogs

Many goat owners own Great Pyrenees guardian dogs. This one belonged to the Victors guarding their Boers when I was writing Goag Games. They now raise Savannah meat goats and still have guardian dogs.

Decision 3: Choosing a Dog

When the movie One Hundred and One Dalmatians first came out, the breed became immensely popular. By a year later, this was the breed dropped off at animal shelters. Why? The dogs are pretty, good natured, hyper, need a lot of exercise and attention and their new families couldn’t manage this.

I love the looks of Border Collies but will never own one. The breed is a working breed. It lives to herd and will herd whatever is around and does so by nipping at heels. This would not be popular with my goats or chickens. Children aren’t too happy about it either.

Research the dog breed before bringing one home. At least you will have an idea of what to expect. Even a mixed breed dog from a shelter will have some of the characters of their dominant breed. Besides, the people at the shelter will know something about how the dog acts.

A perennial problem in the country are those people who bring out unwanted pets and drop them off at your house. You live in the country. One more dog or cat will fit right in.

It’s normal to feel sorry for these unfortunate animals. Unless you are rich, you can’t afford to keep all of them well fed and cared for. They can be stock killers someone else decided to pass on to you. A tomcat that moved into my barn started killing chickens.

In the long run, it is usually cheaper to take them to the local animal shelter. Or you might be able to find homes for them with a local free ad on the internet.

The dog you want for your homestead is the one you pick out.


Livestock is often on the agenda for new homesteaders or anyone moving to the country. Chickens are a good introduction.

Finding Your Country Place Part 1

There is no one perfect country place. Instead there are many, each suited for the people who plan to live on it. The chances of finding this dream country place are slim, but you can try.

How do you decide on your perfect country place?

Our search began in a United States Department of Agriculture yearbook. We wanted to have the four seasons. We wanted a rural, agricultural area. We wanted to stay in the middle of the country.

The yearbook went state by state describing each area. We went over the climate data, the commercial data and settled on Missouri, the Ozarks area. It was far enough south to have milder winters than up in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. It was far enough north to have the four seasons. It was rural.

Like so many people wanting to move to the country, our funds were limited. This means making compromises with that dream place. What is most important to you?

neglected country place

It doesn’t take many years for a pasture to grow up in cedars, sassafras, brambles and buck brush. Fence wire gets broken. Posts fall over. Most prospective buyers take one look and go elsewhere.

Decision 1: House or Land?

If your funds are limited, this is an important question. Nice houses have big price tags. Livable houses have lower price tags. Bare land has the lowest price. Smaller pieces of land have higher prices per acre than larger pieces.

We wanted the most land we could afford. Our lives center on being outside in the garden, with the livestock and walking the hills. A house is nice protection from the weather and can be fixed up.

The country place we chose had an ancient barn and an old hog house on it, no house. But it had lots of land with a creek, a dug well, overgrown pastures and falling down fences. The hog barn could be used as a house in a pinch but there was a nice spot to build a house.

This was an option for us as we had no children. A family would need something different. However, a used mobile home can serve as a place to live until a better house is built. My parents lived in a tent for a year while my father built a house.

Another consideration in Missouri is the lack of building codes in rural areas. What looks like a nice house can be a hidden nightmare. Look over that house with someone who knows about building houses before you get some unwelcome surprises.

We found out about this when the house and property across the road became available. Nothing in the house is square. Five different people had added onto the house, none of whom tried to coordinate with the rest of them. A simple job like putting on new shingles requires a lot of preparation as no one had ever replaced the wooden shakes now a hundred years old, no one put metal flashing or edging so parts leaked or were rotting and the haphazard roof additions weren’t tied in correctly so had to be rebuilt.

A friend’s house is much nicer to look at but has many more problems needing fixing. These may or may not be mentioned before you buy, probably not. That leaves you fixing the problems.

reclaiming a country place

Using a bush hog knocks down that overgrowth. Some people use herbicides, but those kill desirable plants too as those so-called weeds have more nutrition in them than grass. Even cattle will eat tender new growth. Goats relish the variety.

Caution 2: The Neighbors

In the city neighbors are right next door. Fences and walls separate neighbors to minimize conflicts. That changes for your country place.

Neighbors come in three classes. The best ones are people you love to know. I was blessed with one such neighbor when I bought my first country place.

Mr. Kesner explained how to build a fence, how to arrange my place, how to fix up the house and broke my pony to work my garden. I learned about his hunting dogs and tales of town when it was younger. If anything went drastically wrong, I had help right next door.

Another class of neighbors ignores you. They and their animals don’t bother you. Often you are on speaking terms, just not friendly ones. A disaster will garner help.

Then there are the nightmare neighbors. These are the people who live across the road and raise dogs that bark any time you show your face. Perhaps they go by the animal shelter or just collect stray dogs and let them run. They raise cattle but never fix the fences. They have loud parties and strange visitors at all hours. They steal your livestock and other belongings. They shoot your animals for the target practice.

Please, I am not making these instances up. We’ve been lucky but I know many people who haven’t been. It’s important to check the neighbors out before you buy even a great piece of property.

This is another reason to buy as much land as you can. It puts the neighbors farther away. We own both sides of the county road so no one can move in across the street.

That doesn’t mean we are complaisant. We rarely go anywhere together leaving someone here most of the time. People cruise down the county road at five miles an hour checking everything out. The local paper has long lists of burglaries.

country place reclaimed

Once pastures are reclaimed, it isn’t hard to keep them looking nice. We bush hog in late summer giving grass time to grow back for fall and winter grazing.

Hint 3: Real Estate Agents

Real estate agents are normally friendly people. They have to be as their living depends on selling property. This bears repeating: real estate agents make their money from their commissions. The higher the price you pay, the more money the agent makes.

When we bought this property, there was no internet. Today properties are listed with pictures and descriptions. You can take your time with no one breathing down your neck and check out the listings in your target areas.

I’m not good at bargaining, mostly because I don’t do much of it. Real estate and car sales still operate on bargaining. That can work for or against you. If your target area is popular, you may have to offer more than the listed price to buy the property.

Lots of rural areas are not so popular. That gives you the chance to make lower offers on properties listed at more than you want to spend. All the owner can say is no.

As soon as you tell a real estate agent the price range you are considering, the agent starts making a mental list of properties to show you. The agent will assume you want a nice house on your country place. These may or may not be what you are looking for. This is where you push to see properties that are closer to what you want.

We wanted to garden and had goats and chickens. One property the agent took us to see had one flat spot big enough for a house. The rest of the place was a steep hill. It is possible to garden in terraces but setting them up takes a lot of time and work. Plus you are either going downhill or uphill anytime you step out the door.

Another piece was miles off the paved road. A gravel road, at least it was called a road, went to the property. Actually the road went down a dry creek bed that split the piece in two. High water would mean being stuck for the duration.

Then there was the property with five miles of rutted driveway leading to it. The nearest town was a blink and you miss it kind of place.

That does bring up the towns. Take a look around. You will be going into town to shop. How far away is town? The local library was a big deciding factor for us. Do you feel comfortable in the town? If you need to find a job, what is the employment situation? These things matter if you, like us, plan to live there for years.

Don’t be in a hurry. Don’t settle for property totally unsuited for what you want to do. Don’t pass up a good piece because it is overgrown and needs work to be that great place of your dreams.

Knowing a Good Property

There are signs to look for when you go looking for that country place. This is where a little botany really comes in handy. Buying a good tree guide will help.

Part 2 will go over some of these signs.


Water Is Vital

People, gardens and livestock require water. Cities and towns generally have water departments and pipes taking water to houses and businesses. Some rural areas join together to form water districts to supply water to their members.

Most rural areas leave water supply up to the land owners. There are generally four sources in the Ozarks: drilled well; springs; rain; and surface sources such as dug wells, ponds and streams.

Ozark Water Facts

I love to garden. It’s a great way to take out frustration pulling those persistent weeds. It’s relaxing to dig in the dirt. Those little sprouts are exciting to see. Fresh, home grown food, especially food you grow yourself, prepared for dinner is so satisfying on several levels.

Floods or, more accurately, high water events are not uncommon in the Ozarks. They are usually short-lived but destructive. The bedrock of the Ozarks accounts for this.

water carved bluff rock

This bit of exposed bluff rock has some cavities in it but they don’t open into any caves we know of. There is no water coming out from this rock but it stays moist from the creek just below. The rock is pitted with cracks both horizontally and vertically.

Lesson 1: Missouri has Lots of Caves and Rocks

The Ozark Plateau is a Karst formation. This is a huge block of limestone riddled with holes formed by acidic rainwater seeping through the rock and dissolving some of it. Such an area, and there are other Karst areas around the world, are known for caves, sinking streams, sinkholes and springs.

A common belief is that water seeping through soil is cleaned of much of the debris in it. This is not true in a Karst area. Debris falls through or is dumped into sinkholes and sits for decades with water flowing by. A stream can carry debris with it as it flows down through a crevice and disappears. The debris may or may not arrive at the spring where the water reappears.

Parts of the Ozarks have a granite bedrock. Everywhere the rocks break into small pieces. The soil seems to grow a new crop of rocks every year. Rarely is the soil more than inches deep.

My garden soil has a lot of gravel in it. This is annoying when I try to rake a seed bed smooth. But big rains rarely make a mess of my garden as the water drains through quickly.

Other people I’ve talked to have more clay and their gardens can stay muddy for weeks. Still, the vegetables usually survive or even thrive with the moisture.

Drought is different. Drought creeps up as day follows day with no rain. The garden starts drying up. The plants shrivel. The weeds curl their leaves and droop. Only water can help them.

captured rain is a water source

Rain barrels under a drain spout or eave overhang fill quickly. Mosquitoes can be a problem. I have an aquarium fish net and sweep them up every day or so to keep the larva from hatching into adults. The larva dry out quickly when tossed on the ground.

Lesson 2: Supplying Water to the Homestead

Filling jugs in town is possible but a real nuisance. There is never enough. Buying bottled water is expensive. The best way is to have water on site.

Rain is one source of water. In the Ozarks rain is a feast or famine proposition. That is where rain barrels, ponds and streams help. Some old houses still have cisterns under them filled from rain funneled down from the roof.

I use rain barrels for watering my garden. There are two roofs overhanging the garden and I place the barrels there to catch the run off from March to November. Plastic barrels do not do well filled with ice.

During long dry spells, I supplement the rain barrels by refilling them with water pumped from a nearby creek. This method works fine during short dry spells. The creek disappears under its gravel bed in droughts. Ponds dry up. Even springs can stop flowing.

All of these are lumped under surface water. This means the water can pick up all kinds of things from debris to manure to chemicals from the surfaces it flows over. Garden plants and soil filter out much of this. Using these for drinking water without filtration is risky.

A neighbor uses a spring for house water. The spring has a fairly large flow but does fluctuate according to the rainfall or lack of it. The amount of mud and debris flowing out of the spring increases in wet weather. The water must be filtered carefully at all times as a spring is basically surface water and can have any number of pollutants in it.

Another is a dug well. This goes down into the water table. The water in the well is surface water and the level will rise in wet conditions and fall in dry conditions. Heavy manure or fertilizer applications will taint the water quickly.

I have a dug well and do use it for livestock water buckets. The water temperature stays about the same all year so the goats appreciate relatively warmer or cooler water depending on the season. The well is above my garden so compost doesn’t affect it. We have no close neighbors above the well so the water stays palatable to the goats.

This water may be used to cool off in the summer but is not used for drinking water. Lots of creatures call the well home even though the top is covered. I occasionally pump up amphipods, little white shrimp like creatures.

The other option is a drilled well. Having one put in is expensive but the well rarely goes dry even during a drought. The well requires a pump, pipes and pressure tank.

A well bucket can be used in a drilled well. The bucket is dropped down into the water to fill then pulled up using a crank. This is a lot of work for a small amount of water, about two gallons. I’ve done this before and did not enjoy it.

Drilled wells with good casings to keep surface water out of the well are the most reliable source. The amount of water flowing into the well determines how much water can be pumped out before there is no water to pump. The water level will gradually rise again but doing this is hard on the pump and can ruin it.

dug wells are surface water

The original dug well has a cement slab over it with a small opening. We covered this opening to keep chickens etc. from falling in and put in the hand pump. The pump must be easily removable to change the leathers or flexible ends on the pump pipe that control the water flow out while you are trying to pump the water up the pipe.

Lesson 3: Considering Water

How much water you need depends on how the water will be used. Gardens and livestock take lots of water. Washing machines, dishwashers and long showers take a lot of water.

The garden can be left to die in mid summer when rain is scarce. Clothes can go to the laundromat. Showers can be timed. Water is still an issue.

Water is definitely on your list before you go looking for property. Having more than one source is an advantage. Having no sources is a recipe for frustration.

The property here works well. There is a creek that flows all year. It supplies water for livestock out in pasture and my garden during dry times. There is a dug well with a hand pump to supply livestock water at the barn. There is a drilled well to supply the house. Rain barrels supply additional water for the garden and container plants.

We knew before we bought any property we would need water for all these things. When we looked at different properties, we checked out the water sources. If the property didn’t have water sources on it, we kept on looking. Yes, looking gets tiring and you are tempted to compromise. If you compromise on the water you need, you will regret it as long as you live there.

creeks are surface water

Creeks are nice on a property. They do bring problems with erosion – preventable with a riparian zone – and fencing as high water carries fences away.

With Great Trepidation

Deciding to try living in the country, maybe some homesteading is not an easy decision. It can be downright scary. Maybe it should be at least a little scary.

Picking out that piece of property needs to be a little scary as it is not only a big financial investment but where you will try to live this new life style. The wrong piece will doom you to unhappiness, struggle and failure. The right piece can make you wonder why you waited so long to move.

How do you know a good property from a wrong property? The next two weeks may help.


Country Living Introduction

Escape the rat race. Leave the crowds, the crime, the problems behind. Move to the country and live the simple life.

This is like believing, if you’re poor, winning the lottery will solve all your problems. All it does is trade one set of problems for another. And the new set includes problems you are unprepared for.

I did leave the city behind many years ago and wouldn’t want to move back. Country living suits me but the learning curve has been steep and painful. I am still learning about the simple country life through reading and the school of hard knocks.

weather and country living

Weather is an important consideration. I don’t mind a little snow and cold but don’t need months of it. The Ozarks weather suits me most of the time.

Lesson 1

My way of country living is definitely not for everyone. That is true for all of those how-to books and articles.

This does not mean reading these books is a waste of time. It means you must adjust what you read to the conditions where you live or plan to live.

I live in the Ozarks. There is a winter here but nothing like northern areas where snow is measured in feet for months. I tried that. No, thank you.

Rich deep soil may exist here and there in the Ozarks, but not where I live. My garden soil is half gravel. It grows a lot of nice vegetables but not carrots or other deep taproot ones. It dries out quickly. Hot summer sun cooks the plants.

A lot of those gardening books and articles won’t apply to me. I do enjoy reading them as I find ideas now and then to improve my own garden. Other ideas may sound good but don’t work for me.

livestock and country living

Gardens and livestock tie you down. Livestock, especially, needs attention daily.

Lesson 2

Know what your goals are before you look for a place to move. Be sure those goals are realistic. Just as important is whether or not everyone in your family shares those goals.

Are you wanting more room between you and the neighbors? You don’t intend to do serious gardening or raise livestock? Then all you need is a house on an extra large lot.

Are you a serious gardener? You might keep a few chickens but raising livestock isn’t on your agenda. You will look for a place with good gardening potentials.

Are you planning on raising livestock? This takes room unless you dry lot and then you need a big hay barn. Cows like pasture. Goats like brushy hills. Horses murder pastures so they need extra space. All need water.

Is a nice house important?

If you will hold down a job, be careful your dreams stay small. Nothing burns you out faster than working all day, every day and still never getting things done.

Consider, too, you don’t need to achieve all your goals the first year. It takes years to build up a good garden spot, arrange it the way you want and find the crops that grow the best for you. If you’ve never had livestock before, get one kind so you have time to learn about them, make sure their housing is adequate and you are comfortable with them before the next kind comes home.

It is tempting to dream big. Having a big dream is fine. Start small and build up as you are ready. You can look for a place big enough and suitable for that big dream, if it ever comes true. Big dreams take more than one person working to achieve them. At the very least, they need everyone supporting them or everyone will end up unhappy.

wildlife and country living

Wildlife invades even the cities but country living is living in wildlife territory. That place you buy belonged to them first. And some of them will come in conflict with you.

Lesson 3

I grew up in the city. I was lucky because my parents kept chickens. For a time we had rabbits. We ate some of them.

The how-to books and articles explain how to raise and butcher your own meat animals. There are good reasons for raising your own meat. I prefer to.

What is missing from those directions and matters a lot to city people is what it is like to butcher an animal you have raised and cared for sometimes for over a year. This is not some neatly wrapped package in the market meat section. This is a living breathing animal that doesn’t want to be your dinner.

Or you find one of those cute raccoons in killing your chickens. Perhaps it is your dog doing the killing. Or a woodchuck is eating your garden and fruit.

Either you can look at the animal and pull the trigger, ending its life, or you can’t. If you can’t, move to the suburbs. You will be much happier.

Think It Over

Country living has lots of challenges. Every day can bring life and death decisions. Ordinary days mean hard work.

There are times I shudder thinking about the day’s agenda. There are times I would love to sit down and relax, not bundle up to milk in thirty degree weather. There are times I ache from head to toe.

This is part of country living. I might sometimes think I’m crazy to keep doing this. Then I drive to town and see the houses side by side and the people crowding the stores, hear the noise and smell the cars.

For me, living in the country far from neighbors, able to walk the hills, enjoy my garden and animals makes all the downsides worth enduring. If you agree or, at least, want to try country living, perhaps you can benefit from what I have learned over the years.


The first homesteading topic which is on water will be posted next week.

Homestead Life

Kidding season has begun. My first kid, a little buckling, arrived last Friday. He’s a cute little kid.

Nubian buckling

High Reaches Precious Jewel had this cute little buckling.

At a Missouri Writers, Ink meeting I was speaking with someone who does a lot of blogging. She was saying how people seem to only tell the good things when they post on their blogs. After all, who wants to hear about the problems, the disappointments, the drudgery?

Watching Jewel’s new kid today I saw he was limping. When I checked he had a broken back leg.

It has healed so this kid’s leg was broken before he was born. It had healed itself and now it was strengthening as he learned to walk.

This is one of those things that happens when you raise livestock. It’s one of the things I wouldn’t normally mention except for what I heard at the writers’ meeting.

Homesteading sounds so wonderful on the web. Quiet days. Productive gardens. Healthy animals. That is the homesteading people like to write about, love to live.

That homesteading is often wishful thinking.

Weeds, deer, rabbits and disease invade the garden. Four wheelers, motorcycles and noisy trucks drive by on the road. Animals get sick and sometimes die no matter what you do.

That is the homesteading no one likes to write about. That is the homesteading reality that smacks newcomers in the face and can defeat them sending them back to the city and the reality they know.

Homesteading is a lot of work. It isn’t something you learn overnight. You learn something new almost everyday.

Homesteading is a way of living that can bring great disappointments and great joys. Most of the time it is spent putting one foot in front of the other checking off tasks on an endless list of things to be done.

Nubian doe and kid

Only a couple of days old, the buckling still enjoys being out in the sunshine. Jewel is on high alert. There must be something out there to threaten her baby boy.

Looking at that first new kid of the season learning to walk on his now healed broken leg I sighed. Harbinger of the season? Probably not. Just another event on the homestead.

The kid is doing fine. Jewel is a proud and attentive mother. The potatoes need planting.