Category Archives: High Reaches

My Way of Country Living

Another Goat Winter Looming

What is a goat winter? It’s another winter of milking in the dark; doing chores in the cold, snow and ice; putting out hay; and all the other things that come up with livestock.

Nubian doe High Reaches Julliette

High Reaches Juliette stands looking toward the barn. She knows it’s milking time. She knows she should go into the barn. It’s more fun to make me go out and get her.

Why should I keep bothering with dairy goats? It’s not like I make any money at it. Far from it. They pay their way, if I don’t count labor.

Fall seems to bring up lots of uncertainty. Fall is the portal to winter. The days are getting shorter, colder. Everything is dying back, scaling back. Everything but the work load. That increases.

The garden must be cleared. The final harvest must be put up. The goat barn needs a final cleaning out with the loads going onto the garden. Goats need to be bred for those cute spring kids.

Nubian buck Goat Town USA Gaius hates goat winter

Goat Town USA Gaius looks out under the icicles lining his roof eave after a winter storm.

Did I say cute? Is there really a ray of light in this fall gloom? Is there a glimmer of a reason to put up with another goat winter?

For at least five months I must get up before dawn, struggle into long johns, heavy clothes and jackets. That’s before tromping out to the barn to roust the goats out of a warm spot to come in to be milked and fed. Each of those evenings I get to bundle up again and again roust the goats out of a warm spot.

So the annual assessment begins again.

Nubian doe High Reaches Violet

High Reaches Violet isn’t worried about winter coming. She will miss the grass, but likes the hay.

On the downside of a goat winter is doing chores in the dark and cold, watching the bedding layer mount up knowing spring mucking is coming and taking in less and less milk as the girls dry off to get fat with kids. I want to go places like attend a symposium, visit friends, maybe a book signing. Chores take longer, days are shorter leaving even less time between morning and evening chores, that window of time I can go anywhere.

spotted Nubian doelings will see their first goat winter

These three spotted Nubian doelings find storm downed sycamore trees great places to play.

On the upside of a goat winter is decent milk and cheese. There is that next crop of kids to anticipate. The garden would not do as well without the annual influx of manure.

Another goat winter is coming up. We will all survive. Spring is 170 days away.

Tomato Worm Time

The fall weather is holding at warm with no hint of frost yet. But killing frost can come any time. So the tomato worm invasion in the garden doesn’t worry me much.

I knew the invasion was coming. I was out in the garden one morning and saw a tomato sphinx moth by the tomato plants.

tomato sphinx moth

The tomato sphinx moth is large, nearly three inches long. The underwing has colorful orange stripes.

The moth flew up over a leaf, dipped the tip of her abdomen to the leaf, then flew on. She did this time after time going across the tomato patch laying her eggs.

A tomato worm is a voracious eater. Several can denude a tomato plant so only thick stems remain.

tomato worm eggs

Tomato worm eggs are small. Often they are laid singly rather than in groups as these are. they never touch each other. In warm weather, the eggs hatch quickly.

Generally I spot a worm, snap the stem off and deposit stem with worm in the chicken yard. Chickens like them once the ‘What is this?’ attitude passes.

By October my tomato plants are hanging over their cages. This year their foliage is especially lush. The plants hang over the cages and spread across onto the pepper plants.

We like ripe tomatoes, red and yellow, even striped. By October, when frost is imminent, the vines don’t need to set more tomatoes. They need to ripen the crop on them.

One way to encourage this is to nip off the new blossoms. I never seem to get around to this.

tomato worm

Tomato worms are colored for camophlage. They are the same green as a tomato leaf. They hug the stems looking like part of them. I can look at one and not see it, until, suddenly, my eyes refocus and the worm is obvious.

Enter the tomato worm. It happily nips all this new growth saving me the time and trouble.

There can be too many worms, but that hasn’t been an issue so far. The chickens are waiting, if it does.

The worms do nibble on some tomatoes. But some other critter is passing through nightly and picking a few. The losses aren’t serious at the moment, only annoying.

Besides, I have allies moving in. A small wasp lays eggs in a tomato worm. These eat the worm’s insides, put out white cocoons, hatch out to attack more worms.

dead tomato worm

The wasp larvae have fed, pupaed and gone. The dead tomato worm doesn’t drop off but still hangs grimly onto a plant stem. Tomato worm with lines of white cocoons on them should be left on the plant as the wasps will hatch out, killing the worm and go on to infect other worms.

So the tomato worm invasion becomes an event to watch, but not get upset about. I will probably find a few pupae in the ground later, tucked under the mulch. These are large, dark brown and overwinter in the ground.

Next May, when the new tomato plant crop gets planted, the tomato worm invasion will be a battle with the chickens the benefactors. Not in October.

Fall Feather Storm Time

Fall has arrived in the Ozarks. Between fall and the drought, leaves are turning and falling. Temperatures are cooling off. And the chickens have started their annual feather storm.

Feathers wear out. They get damaged and ragged. So birds replace their old ones with new ones every fall.

Chickens have lots of feathers. There are wing feathers. These are fun to make small quill pens out of.

The big quills are from big birds. Wild turkeys drop these out on the Ozark hills. Once I even found a vulture wing feather.

A chicken’s body is covered with feathers to keep their downy feathers dry. The down feathers look like a shaft of loose threads.

hen feather storm

Some hens never get real scruffy as the new feathers grow in before the old ones have dropped away. This hen has dropped many of her old ones and is still waiting for the new ones to grow in.

Molting time arrives in the fall and the feather storm begins. The hen house looks like the chickens have had a pillow fight. The hens are scruffy.

Everywhere the chickens go, the feather storm goes too. Along the chicken yard fence is paved with feathers. The milk room has pockets of feathers.

No, I don’t really like the chickens in the milk room. But the tin roof faces west and heats the room up to hot unless I leave the door open.

Feathers are made of protein so egg production has dropped. Some breeds stop laying now for the winter. I’m putting out more mice plus cheese to help supply more protein. Even extra milk helps.

rooster after feather storm

At three years old my old rooster is big. He now gleams under his new coat of feathers. His blue tail is starting to grow and will soon compliment his burnished bronze.

Roosters don’t lay eggs. My three have dropped their old feathers and grown new ones already. Their tails are the last feathers to grow in.

The old rooster has this spiffy new feather coat but no tail yet. The barred rooster has grown a single big feather so far. The arcana rooster never seems to have much of a tail.

It’s the hens who are still waiting for their new finery. The new feathers are starting to grow. They look like ranks of dark needles sticking out over their backs.

Once all the chickens have their new feathers, the feather storm will be over for this year. It will take longer to get rid of all the feathers blowing around.

Spotted Nubian Bottle Baby Agate

My book Capri Capers about Harriet and her bottle baby goats Capri and Agate came out long before this year of the spotted kids. So many people like spotted goats, I imagined Harriet would too. So two of her goats had spots and that meant spotted kids.

Yet Capri is not spotted. She is patterned after High Reaches Topaz, a deep red doe, and High Reaches Juliette, my house brat of a kid. I have always liked red Nubians.

Capri Capers cover

Capri needed a friend. So Agate entered the picture. Mossy agate stones can be black with white spots giving her a name.

Raising goats is full of complications. One that came up this year was Spring. She had her kids early one morning with no problems.

I found Spring with a kid when I came out to milk. I moved the pair into the pen I’d set up the night before. Then I milked.

bottle baby Agate as a kid

As a baby kid, some of Agate’s spots were white, but most were brown. Most of Agate’s spots are small and all turned white. Even though Agate’s mother rejected her, she formed a close relationship with her sister.

After milking, I went out into the barn and found a second kid in the far corner of the barn. This kid had to belong to Spring even though she was at the other end of the barn from where I found Spring.

Agate was already showing her independence.

I picked this kid up and took her into the kid pen. I set her down by Spring and tried to get her nursing.

Goats can count a little. Mother goats bond with their kids and know how many there are. Spring had decided she had one kid, not two.

Agate became a bottle baby, my bottle baby.

bottle baby Agate checks on me

Usually the herd wanders out the gate and stands around for a time. Not during acorn season. The herd took off for the far end of the pasture then up into the woods, running away from me as though I were chasing them instead of trying to catch up. Once in the woods, the herd looked at me innocently, pretending not to laugh at having dragged me out a quarter of a mile in order to take a few pictures. Agate now stays with the herd but is glad when I am around. she keeps looking back to see if I am still there and calls for me to return, when I do leave.

Bottle kids bond with people. This is nice when bottle time arrives as the kids come over right away. They will answer you out in the pasture.

Bottle kids can be a problem to get out to pasture. They want to follow you, not the herd. Getting them out requires subterfuge.

I wander out with the herd until the bottle baby is busy playing with the other kids. Then I slip silently back to the barn.

Agate would be right behind me.

bottle baby Agate in the woods

Acorns are falling. The adult does are eagerly eating all they can find. Younger goats like Agate browse on leaves.

My Agate does go out with the herd now. She looks back and calls to me, often waiting until the herd is past her before catching up, still calling for me to come and join her.

When the herd comes in, Agate is beside me. She insists on being petted, pushing other goats away from me.

And Agate is still a bottle baby. She is more than old enough to wean. But she wants that time of bonding so I give her a partial bottle. As my milkers dry up for the winter and getting ready to have spring kids, I will have to wean Agate. But that is another couple of months from now.

Spotted Nubian Kids

This has been the year of the spotted Nubian kids here at High Reaches. These kids are due to the escape artist Augustus.

Silk surprised me with that spotted buck. She did have one spot in the middle of her back. She did have spots in her background. But the spots had gradually disappeared over the generations.

Nubian buck kid High Reaches Silk's Augustus

Nubian buck High Reaches Silk’s Augustus was such a cute little kid. Those big white ears. Those little white spots. At 200 pounds, he has grown into those ears. The spots are still there. His neck is getting thick as he matures.

Then came Augustus. He was a frosted gray with white spots from the time he was born.

This year’s spotted Nubian kids are different. The background black or frosted gray is usual enough. It’s the spots.

These kids don’t have white spots when they are born. They have brown spots. From what I’ve read, these are called liver spots.

one of the spotted Nubian kids

Born July 4th, this frosted gray doeling does have spots. They are still brown but showing white hairs so they will turn white in another month or so.

These brown spots are a problem. They persist for two or three months as brown spots. Many goats are registered by that age and described as having brown spots.

Except, when the kids are two to three months of age, these brown spots can turn white. The description on the papers is now incorrect.

So, why not list them as white spots on the application? Not all brown spots turn white and you won’t know until the kid is four or five months old.

one of the spotted Nubian kids

This twin doeling is black with spots. They are brown but definitely changing to white. The twins were born July 4 to High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie.

This year all my brown spotted Nubian kids have become white spotted kids. The youngest ones are just now making this change.

It is fun to see the spots. Spotted goats are pretty and popular.

one of the spotted Nubian kids

Six months old, independent, grain lover and covered with spots, big on the right and small on the left, this doeling is out of High Reaches Spring.

At one time the rage was for black Nubians. Some people bred their goats for color only. Soon their goats were black but not dairy goats, only pets, as they no longer produced a decent amount of milk.

Will breeding for spots do the same? Or have people learned?

Dairy goats are supposed to produce milk. Having pretty colors may be nice, but the colors don’t put milk in the bucket.

I still have four doe kids to sell. Three have spots. One is a plain brown. The spotted Nubian kids will gather interest immediately. The brown one won’t.

not a spotted Nubian kid

This doeling is so like her mother, High Reaches Trina. She is calm, friendly, but has no spots.

Yet the brown one is from a good milking background. She is friendly like her mother, Trina, who always comes over to stand by me to be petted and fussed over.

I am keeping Agate – yes, Agate, like in Capri Capers, black with white spots. I can only keep one kid.

Perhaps someone can see beyond the spots. Even plain brown can be a lovely color for a goat.

Find out more about Capri Capers and read some pages from the novel here.

Armadillos Eat Japanese Beetles

Lately numerous little holes have been appearing around the house and barn. An armadillo has been spotted nosing along in the yard. Another has been working through the goat yard.

I know. I know! Armadillos are resented here in the Ozarks. They can be terrible pests because of the holes they dig.

armadillos have armor

In spite of big ears, armadillos hear poorly. They do stand up on sturdy legs and can run very fast. Their bodies are covered with stiff, pebbly armor. The nine bands act as joints so the armadillo can bend. The ringed armor on the tail lets the tail bend.

I’ve heard people brag how their dogs kill armadillos. I’ve seen the carcasses along and on the road.

I’ve also heard people complaining about Japanese beetles. These insects destroy roses, okra, grapes and other plants. This has been a bumper year for them.

Japanese beetle

Japanese beetles eat out the leaf tissue between the veins. They are voracious and can soon leave a plant with only the skeletons of their leaves.

Japanese beetles lay eggs in the ground. These hatch into grubs that live and grow in the soil over the winter. When warm weather arrives, the grubs molt into beetles to fly off and devastate plants.

An armadillo is interesting to watch. It’s possible to get very close to one as they have very poor eyesight. Their hearing isn’t a lot better. Their noses rival a dog’s.

The armadillo is covered with front and rear pebbly armors. Ozark ones are nine-banded so they have nine narrow plates forming strips between the front and rear allowing the armadillo to bend.

A triangular plate lies down the face. The tail is a series of circular plates. Hair sticks out under the armor.

armadillos stand up

The armadillo is suspicious but hasn’t spotted me yet. It stands up to smell the air hoping to catch my scent. You need to stay downwind to sneak up on an armadillo. Notice those big claws on the front feet.

The front feet have long claws. These make them digging machines.

The mouth has stubs of teeth for grinding up insects like grubs. Young Japanese beetles are grubs.

The armadillo shuffles along. It’s nose sniffs the ground. It can smell a grub several inches down in the ground. A few digs with the claws reveals the grub. Dinner.

armadillos hunt by digging

Smelling some insect down in the ground, the armadillo tears out some grass and dirt to push its nose in further until the prey is exposed and consumed.

Armadillos don’t hibernate. It takes a lot of grubs to keep them from starving or freezing over the winter.

Over the summer armadillos hunt at night. That armor gets hot in the summer sun. When the weather cools down, armadillos come out during the day.

The holes have been around all summer. Now I get to watch the armadillos at work. The one around the house was so intent on hunting, it walked up within a foot of my feet. It realized I was there, turned aside and went another direction a bit faster than on the approach.

armadillos hide from danger

I startles this armadillo. It first backed into the goat-trimmed giant ragweed and hid. When I came another step, it bolted out into a bigger stand of ragweed and disappeared except for the rustling of ragweed plants.

An armadillo is not aggressive. It does not bite, sting or attack unless grabbed. It’s main defense is running away at amazing speed. The claws are formidable weapons used in self defense.

The little holes are annoying as the lawn mower bounces along over the yard. Even without the armadillos the mower would bounce along because of the moles. Between the two pests, perhaps the Japanese beetle population will be less next year.

Chickens Love Mice

My barn is over a hundred years old. It still stands only because oak is tough. Mice infest the area under the wood floor.

Burrowing rats tried to move in. These are large fierce rodents and attack the cats. The black snakes are the only defense against them.

The cats do catch mice in the barn. It’s a hard job as the mice have so many hiding places.

Mouse traps do a fair job. The problem with them is the pile of dead mice.

Chickens grab mice

Chickens are very competitive when it comes to food. It is more than “first come, first served.” It is “first come and can hang onto the morsel” or the morsel is soon carried off by another chicken. This hen is good at grabbing and racing off to a secluded spot, head away from the other chickens to keep from being noticed.

Enter the chickens.

I don’t really remember the first time I saw a chicken catch and eat a mouse. Adult mice have a small chance of outrunning a chicken. Young mice are dinner.

Most chickens have a hard time eating a large mouse. they generally don’t have the problem long as several chickens divide the mouse can enjoy dinner.

chickens eat mice head first

As most birds and reptiles do, the hen positions the prey head first and in a straight line for sliding into the gullet. With neither hands nor teeth, the hen jostles the mouse around until it is in the right place then starts gulping to move the mouse in.

I have a motley group of chickens as I like many different breeds so have a sampling of several. One of my favorites is standard sized Cochins.

My buff Cochins are getting old but are still tough. One seems very laid back until a mouse appears. Unfortunately for her but fortunately for the mice, she is getting too old to catch them any more.

mice go down slowly

Most of the mouse slides down smoothly. The back legs are a problem as they stick out and catch on the sides of the beak. The hen must work hard to get these in too. She is persistent.

This hen is not too old to be first to pounce on mice from the mouse traps. No one steals her mouse or even a taste of her mouse.

Like a snake the hen positions the mouse and swallows it head first. Her mouth and neck look much too small but stretch out snakelike inching up the mouse until the tail disappears.

mice snack consumed

Only the tail is left and it soon slides out of sight. The hen’s neck reduces to normal looking too small to accommodate a mouse. She doesn’t eat more than one at a sitting but will grab another in the afternoon, if there is another available.

Happily the hen settles down in a warm spot to digest her meal. Who needs to chase bugs? Not her.

The mouse traps are again set out. The next mouse course may occupy them in the morning.

Discovering Runner Beans

With my shade house to use as a trellis I started looking for vegetables that vined. Beans were one of them, including runner beans.

Growing up I thought the only beans were the kinds you saw in the market. None of these was to my taste.

That is true of most city people. Their food comes in packages and cans found on supermarket shelves. Only vegetables easily grown in commercial quantities and suitable for transportation make it.

Unfortunately the vegetables with great taste don’t often make the grade. If you don’t garden, you miss out on the myriad of different tastes available.

runner beans on trellis

Runner beans like the weather warm but not hot. Although this trellis is five feet tall, the vines easily reach eight feet. The vines don’t seem to be hurt by reaching the top then going over the top and down the other side.

Beans are good food. Navy, great northern, kidney and green beans are not on my menu. Pintos, Swedish brown, pink and yard long beans are.

Runner beans were intriguing. There are four hummingbird feeders up now as the migration surge is starting to wane. There were five. These beans are supposed to attract hummingbirds.

I ordered Scarlet Runner Beans. They came up, vined their way up over the shade house and began blooming profusely. The hummingbirds made the beautiful red flowers a regular stop.

There was one bean that season. I grow vegetables. One bean isn’t enough for even one serving.

This year I tried another variety, Sunset from Baker Creek Seeds. I also moved them to a place behind the bamboo so they would be cooler, something this bean seems to prefer.

runner bean flower

Runner bean flowers are the typical bean shape like an old fashioned shoe. The flowers are large, over an inch long. These are salmon pink but other varieties are scarlet or red and white.

The new trellis is a piece of cattle panel suspended on two metal posts. It’s five feet high. The bean vines are complaining it is too short.

Yes, the runner beans came up, met the trellis and climbed. Most of them did. The rest were persuaded to use the trellis instead of sprawling across the ground. These twine and have no tendrils as peas do.

Hot, dry summer weather stopped the vines. No growth. No flowers. Suffering persistence.

The weather cooled. The vines have covered themselves with soft pink flowers. These are huge, over an inch long. Hummingbirds regularly whirr overhead when I’m in the garden.

runner beans

The flowers become long pods on the runner beans. They are flatter than green beans and covered with short fuzz. The pods snap. The flavor is sweeter.

Then the beans started. Every flower seems to produce a bean. These are somewhat flat, wide and slightly fuzzy.

Now I am looking for bean recipes again. They are good raw, fresh off the vine. That doesn’t work for dinner. Stir fry, boil, toss with bacon, with new potatoes, the list goes on, along with plans for a longer trellis – not higher as I refuse to use a ladder to harvest – to accommodate these tasty new additions to the vegetable menu.

Solar Eclipse Arrives

All of the publicity about the solar eclipse rolled through my part of Missouri. Maps showed up in magazines, newspapers and online.

Astronomy isn’t my big interest. Stars are nice but they only come out after it’s too dark to garden or take pictures. Still, this big event sounded interesting.

Then the maps started showing Missouri details. The total solar eclipse was only 50 miles away!

That would mean my area would have almost totality. What would the goats and chickens do when it got dark?

I went to a presentation at the library. I left with proper NASA issue glasses. Should I stay home for a partial or go north for totality?

before solar eclipse

This tree was just across the parking lot from where we were settled in. The sun was full on it making the green leaves vivid against the white chat on the ground.

The pictures of the corona were so interesting. I wouldn’t see it, if I stayed home. Where should I go?

The main path was filled with people charging for the opportunity to watch this event. Crowds of people were descending. This wasn’t what I wanted to do, be part of a mob.

But the event was so close.

Three of us opted to drive north 50 miles to Canaan Conservation Area. It’s a little, mostly wooded place we had never been to. It was noted on an eclipse pathway map in The Missouri Conservationist.

The barn light was left on for the chickens. The small pasture was left open for the herd. We drove north and set up in a big, gravel parking lot and waited.

solar eclipse begins

Shadows became more intense. Colors sharpened. The cicadas wavered in their drumming. The light dimmed so gradually, it was easily overlooked.

Solar eclipse viewing glasses are really dark. The only object visible through them is the sun. They made the sun look orange. The moon’s shadow was eating an arc out of the top of the sun at what would be one o’clock on a clock dial.

The temptation to take pictures didn’t faze me as I didn’t have the proper filter for the camera. I chose to take a picture of a tree beside the parking lot at regular intervals to show how the light changed as the solar eclipse progressed.

Slowly the light did change. It gave the appearance of putting on progressively stronger sunglasses.

By the time the sun’s disk was half covered, the sky changed too. It had been a typical blue summer sky dotted with clouds. Now it was dark, not the dark of sunset.

At sunset the sky’s blue deepens, gradually settling into purple that darkens into black.

This sky took on a gray tinge and looked slate blue in color.

solar eclipse sky and clouds

Puffy clouds were scattered around the sky. They were brilliant white against a sky now washed with gray as two thirds of the sun was hidden.

At sunset shadows darken and blend into the darkness of the ground. The eclipse deepened and sharpened shadows so they were stark against the white chat gravel.

The grayness intensified as more and more of the sun’s disk disappeared. The shadows sharpened. The drumming of cicadas lessened.

solar eclipse nears

Even when the sun was mostly covered the parking lot was bright. It looked like the world through sunglasses except for the razor sharp shadows.

Suddenly the sun vanished. The corona burst into view. It was much bigger than I expected.

Tearing my gaze away I found the parking lot was now dark. All shadows had vanished. A deep silence surrounded me.

A cricket chirped. Katydids took up the chorus. This is the night serenade during late summer but it was thin and ragged now. Grayish orange clouds showed through the trees at the horizon.

solar eclipse totality

Darkness turned the trees black, erased the shadows and colors. Jupiter and Venus appeared. The clouds on the entire horizon turned a grayish yellowish orange.

But the real show was still the corona. Even the sight of Jupiter nearby wasn’t the thrill the corona was.

As suddenly as the corona appeared, it vanished as a blaze of light appeared. The moon’s shadow was moving off the sun’s disk.

after solar eclipse

The eclipse is past. The sun is emerging again. Colors and shadows reappear.

Shadows reappeared. Katydids and crickets went silent. The cicadas started drumming. All the sounds of a normal day erased the silence of the eclipse.

Will I be an eclipse chaser? No. But I understand why those who are want to see this sight over and over. Two minutes was far too short.

There is another solar eclipse only a few hours away in seven years. Temptation.

Impatient Bucks Frustrated

My does are cycling. Every three weeks the does stand one by one gazing longingly at the bucks and wagging their tail. Being Nubians this is normally accompanied by loud cries all day.

My impatient bucks hang out over their pen wall blathering at any doe standing close. They don’t care if the doe is looking at them or not, she’s a doe and they are so irresistible.

The does go out to pasture. They march off in one direction or another and disappear for the day.

impatient bucks running

As soon as their gate is opened, my impatient bucks race off hoping the pasture gate has been left open, then check for scents of a doe in heat. Maybe they will come in for breakfast.

Impatient bucks bolt out of their gate racing off to check out any scents left behind. Augustus begins his daily sorrowful laments.

Eventually the bucks get back to the barn to eat what’s left of breakfast. Chickens love oats. I’m not too concerned as the bucks never seem to finish breakfast lately.

All day impatient bucks patrol the fences. They stand on the gym gazing out at the pastures.

impatient bucks waiting

Much of the day impatient buck goats stand or pace looking out over the pastures looking for the does.

All day the does ignore the bucks and their calls. Only one in heat answers them setting off a frenzy in the barn lot.

ignoring impatient bucks

The does go out to pasture and spend the day eating. The calls of impatient bucks are ignored. Eating is much more important.

In between watching for and calling for the does, the impatient bucks jockey for supremacy. Augustus and Gaius are the same size now so competition is fierce. So far the only casualty is the barn wall now six inches out of place.

Gaius is getting older. He is determined to stay boss buck. For now and maybe next year the match will be weighted on his side.

Once Augustus takes over, maybe before, I will need to split their pen to separate the two all night. The barn wall isn’t a big problem as the barn is over a hundred years old, badly built and falling apart. The big problem is the damage the two bucks can do to each other.

impatient bucks checking

When the herd at last reappears, the impatient bucks are there at the fence to check them out.

Last year Augustus leapt the fences. He can still jump but the extra barbed wire seems to keep him at bay. He’s a lot bigger and heavier so he won’t make it over the wire cleanly anymore and he knows it.

That means I get to set my own breeding season this year. That means October. For now the impatient bucks will have to wait.

Do you enjoy reading about goats? Check out Dora’s Story.

Otters Swim by

There was a time when otters were gone from Missouri rivers. Some people wish this was still the case as they eat lots of fish and crawdads.

The Meramec River is a half mile up the road from this place. It’s pretty small here and ignored by most big fish and creatures.

Our creek is even smaller. During dry weather the flow sinks down into the gravel so there is a series of pools. The fish are small minnows, darters and madtoms mostly in the inch to four inch range. A few minnows make it to six inches long.

Ozark creek in dry weather

When rain is scarce, the creek sinks down into the gravel leaving a series of pools. Even big minnows have trouble swimming around except in a few of the bigger, deeper pools like the one around the bridge piers.

When the creek sinks into the gravel, the fish become trapped. Many die. The crawdads feast and raise baby crawdads. They get big, six inches long, and fat.

Crawdads dig burrows down into the water table. They survive the low water times.

Under the circumstances, the last creatures I would expect to see in the creek are otters. Raccoons, opossums, snapping turtles, yes. Otters, no.

otters by creek bridge

Three river otters worked their way up from the river. Each deep pool was a buffet of minnows and crawdads.

Yet three otters did arrive at our plank bridge across the creek. They swam around in the pool around the cement piers and found a hollowed out place under a cement slab anchoring one pier.

For an hour or two there were sounds of big rocks plunking over, bubbling chirps, a growl or two, crunching and splashing. Heads poked up one by one through a hole and disappeared again.

otters look around

The otters found a great place to hunt crawdads. Every so often a head came up to check out the area and get a deep breath of air.

Finally the otters came out again. They climbed up on the bank and dropped back into the creek. Then they moved on, returning to the river.

The rains came. The creek is flowing again. Now would be a better time for these sleek visitors to stop in. At least that is my opinion.

Down in the creek the minnows and crawdads are getting back into their normal routines. They didn’t much enjoy their visitors and hope they don’t return.

Daily Herd Decision

Several years ago my goat herd had a lead goat. She was an Alpine. She was not head goat. that was a different Alpine. When the pasture gate was opened, the herd decision of where to go was solely hers.

The herd went to the gate and stood there, waiting. Loyal wandered out, threading her way through the herd and out the gate. Some mornings she led them north, some south.

herd decision to go out

The herd is usually eager to go out in the morning. The goats race out the barn door and wait for me to lead them to the pasture gate. Enough follow me to convince the entire herd to show up at the gate.

Loyal grew old and died. Dude took over for the next few years, but he was already elderly. He was the last of the Alpines.

Now the goat herd is only Nubians. They have relied on the Alpines for years for leadership. Even a few years after losing Dude, they haven’t found a herd leader. Instead they have a democratic approach.

herd decision for pasture

The herd hesitates at the pasture gate. Some goats graze. Most stand around listening for the horseflies to attack. The big problem is lack of a lead goat to show the herd the way.

Since I open the pasture gate, I am their first leader of the day. The herd straggles along to the gate.

I walk through the gate. The herd scatters as they walk through the gate. Some goats don’t make it out of the gate right away as the giant ragweed is right there waiting for browsing.

herd decision at the bridge

I am only lead goat stand in. I am respected only as long as I go the way the herd wants to go. Of course, if I pull down a tree branch or two, the herd will be glad to join me.

Finally the entire herd is outside the gate milling around. At this point I can go back in and close the gate leaving the goats to stand around. Or I can walk out to pasture.

If I close the gate, the goats look at each other. Some wander off to browse. The top goats are stuck with the herd decision: Where do we go today?

herd decision to cross the creek

There are no railings. There are spaces between the planks. The creek flows underneath the planks, even within a foot or so during high water times. The herd still crosses the bridge to avoid getting their hooves wet.

If I lead the way, the herd decision is put off, sort of. The main path leads toward the bridge across the creek. At this point the herd can go north along the creek or cross the creek to go south.

Most mornings when I lead, I walk a short way north. The herd gets to the bridge and stops. I turn to see them looking at me like I’m lost or something.

herd decision made

There is now a fallen tree for the kids to play on, lots of plants to browse and three possibilities for going out. One or another goat gets hungry and has a taste for some plant out one of the directions and takes off. everyone seems to give off a sigh of relief and follows. The decision is made for today.

The herd decision is already made to cross the creek. I’m not in on the decision. They pity me, turn and cross the bridge only to stop on the other side.

Again some wander off to browse. The head goats have another herd decision to make. They can go left up the hill and around. They can go straight and up the hill pasture. They can go right along the creek and to the ravine.

Finally one goat gets antsy. She takes off one way or another. The herd follows.

Find out more about goats while having fun solving pencil puzzles in Goat Games.

Using Mulch In the Garden

Weather in the Ozarks is boom and bust for rain anymore. Two or three months go by with plenty. Two or three months go by with little or none.

Summer heat coupled with no rain parches the garden. This is one reason for using mulch around my plants.

Using mulch to control ground temperature

My runner beans were planted, sprouted and growing by the time I finally got back to them with their mulch. Runner beans don’t like to be hot. The air temperature can’t be helped, but mulching will keep the ground cooler. Big weeds are pulled before the mulch goes down as there won’t be a paper layer now. Small weed sprouts are buried under the mulch.

Desert farmers in ancient times would powder up the dirt around their plants to slow evaporation. Water would seep to the surface and feed their plants but the air pockets stopped most of it from getting up to the hot sun.

Mulch works on the same principle. Water stays in the ground under the layer, even keeps the very bottom of the mulch wet but doesn’t come up through the air pockets to evaporate.

This is a problem as well as a help. Watering the garden is done often during dry weather. The moisture under the mulch can make over watering easy.

using mulch around beans

The mulch is up to the plants but not touching them. It is four inches deep but will settle to about half that once it rains. Most plants don’t want the mulch touching them.

Lately Ozark temperatures here have been in the nineties. Peppers plants, squash plants and melon plants love this. That doesn’t mean they like their roots that warm. This is another reason for using mulch in the garden.

Desert animals dig burrows. The ground may heat up to over a hundred degrees. In Death Valley the ground can get hot enough to melt rubber soles on shoes. An inch or two below the surface the temperature is comfortably warm.

using mulch around peppers

Mulch went around the pepper plants the day after I transplanted them. During the winter, a thick paper layer is put down with the mulch on top to stop weeds from growing. The paper rots over the winter. During the growing season, only the mulch is used.

Mulch works the same way. The surface bakes in the sun getting hot. Underneath the ground stays cool. The plants get the best of both, hot tops and cool roots.

The weed wars never cease for the gardener. As soon as one batch of weeds is destroyed, another sprouts to take its place.

Some weeds are interesting plants. Some are edible. Some are great for bees and other pollinators. Some are beautiful when they bloom.

I don’t mind weeding here and there. I do mind having a carpet of foot high weeds smothering my vegetables. This is another reason for using mulch.

Most weed seeds are scattered on the top of the ground and need moisture and light to germinate. The sprouts need light to grow. Mulch deprives them of that light.

using mulch saves water

This pepper plant hasn’t been watered in a week. The ground is still slightly damp and the plant hasn’t wilted. When I do water, I use a lot less water for each plant which saves on me as I carry the water in buckets.

Vegetable seeds need moisture and light to sprout too. The solution is to pull the mulch back from where the seeds are planted leaving it in place around this area.

Using mulch makes gardening a much more enjoyable experience for me. My preferred mulch is the wasted hay from the goat barn. Goats consider any hay tossed on the ground bedding.

Using mulch serves another purpose for me. It is a good way to use that wasted hay and gives it a chance to rot down and enrich my garden soil.

Ozark Homestead Early Morning

On a homestead days are filled with activities. During the summer the days are hot and dry. That makes early morning times precious.

Summer days are in the nineties here. That doesn’t sound so hot unless you add in the humidity at seventy percent. Early in the morning the air is fresh and cool.

Milking time will come soon. For now the goats are out enjoying the cool temperatures too. They are out standing around on the goat gym.

goats in early morning

The goats like to sleep inside the barn. This is convenient to the milking room door and breakfast. It is good insurance in case of evening thundershowers. But early morning lures some of them outside.

Later the goats will go out to pasture spending most of their time tucked into the shade. Nubians do like basking in the sun, but the horseflies like sun too. These come in three sizes around here plus deer flies, all packing painful bites.

Sunrises are rarely spectacular here. Some mornings the world turns yellow. Other mornings a pink glow highlights the trees over an eastern hill.

The Althea or Rose of Sharon bush is in bloom at one corner of the porch. It is a rugged, determined thing. We ruthlessly chop it down to stubs and it comes back up to tower over the roof.

Early morning is the time for visitors to these pink flowers. Wasps and bumblebees visit each flower.

The air fills with the whirring hum of wings. Hummingbirds like the flowers too. One by one the birds come by to check each flower for a bit of nectar.

Cloudy cat in early morning

My Cloudy cat stays at the barn most of the time by choice. He expects his breakfast as soon as I open the barn door in the morning. He relaxes on the road waiting for me to show up then leads me to that door.

Cloudy Cat is out too. He is waiting for breakfast which means me to appear in the barn. As he waits, he curls up on the roads watching for anything interesting. There will be traffic on the road later but it is rare at dawn.

Birds are waking up and singing from the hills around the house. With the trees leafed out they are hidden until they decide to fly from one perch to another. Some fly across the sky and I wonder where they are going in such a hurry.

The cool air, the early morning sounds and the quiet make standing on the porch for hours tempting. But early morning is fleeting. The sun is topping the eastern hill to tell the world the day is beginning and it’s time to get started with the chores and activities that fill its hours.

Special Nubian High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie

High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie is a special goat. She is also a very lucky goat.

Pixie is a nice looking Nubian doe. Lots of Nubian does are nice looking.

High Reaches Jewel's Pixie

High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie looks like a normal Nubian doe out grazing. Her disability shows when she tries to walk as her back legs swing and sway. this picture was taken earlier this year.

Pixie is friendly. Lots of Nubians are friendly.

Pixie gives a lot of great tasting milk. Lots of Nubians do this too.

What makes High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie special?

Dairy goats need attention twice a day for milking. Every morning is much the same in many respects. The grain is readied. The goats are let in by pairs in my routine as I have two milking stands.

The goats jump up, get locked into the stanchion. I milk them while they eat. I unlock the stanchion and let them out so the next pair can come in.

High Reaches Jewel's Pixie

Born in 2011, Pixie was a good looking, healthy Nubian doe. She was about eight months old in this picture.

Pixie came in as usual one morning. Nothing seemed odd about her. Nothing was odd as I let her out with the rest of the herd to eat in the pasture for the day. I noticed nothing when the herd came in that evening.

Evening milking was normal. Does came in, got up, got down and went out.

Pixie came in and jumped up on the milk stand. She fell off, flat on the floor.

Shakily, Pixie stood up. Her legs were apart as though to brace her. She shook. She staggered when she walked.

That was several years ago. Pixie never recovered her balance. Her back legs are not steady. She has fits when she falls over in spasms.

Pixie still goes out to pasture with the herd. Many mornings she leads the herd out. In the evening she leads the herd in. She climbs the hills.

Perhaps in a larger herd or a commercial dairy, Pixie would be a cull. She is lucky my herd is small and I can accommodate her. She can’t get on the milk stand so I trim her hooves and milk her as she stands on the floor.

I will never know what happened to Pixie that day. Whatever it was, it left her with permanent brain damage.

Why would I keep such a goat as High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie?

Nubian doe kids

These twin Nubian does are outside for the first time at three days old and delighted to escape the boring barn. Both have liver spots which will probably turn white in a few months. High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie is a proud mother and keeps a close eye on her daughters.

Perhaps this set of lovely twin does is a good enough answer.

Nubian doelings can be ornery and get into everything. See how they fit into the book Capri Capers.

Green Frog Moves In

We use rain barrels positioned under the gutter downspouts. A half barrel sits by the porch for watering my container pepper plants. Except it is now occupied by a green frog.

Generally the rain barrels become mosquito or tadpole ponds. The mosquitoes get netted out. The tadpoles are left to grow up.

tadpoles

First, frogs call in the evening and far into the night. In the morning floating masses of frog eggs float in the rain barrels. The eggs hatch and tadpoles grow up until they turn into froglets and hop away. These are grey tree frog tadpoles.

At first only the grey tree frogs used the rain barrels. We would hear them calling every evening for about a month. If we were very sneaky, we would see one.

Now the tree frogs are only one creature to drop by. My garden barrels host American toad tadpoles and grey tree frog tadpoles.

The green frog in the half barrel doesn’t seem to call. It is small. It had a couple of visitors, but is alone most of the time.

Normally this half barrel gets emptied out quickly as my pepper plants grow. This year I have one container of four banana peppers, one of four Macedonian Dolga peppers and a couple of smaller containers of four Sparkle Russian peppers.

green frog on container

Since I wanted a picture of the green frog in the half rain barrel, it was sitting on the edge of a pepper plant container for the day. I don’t know if frogs eat millipedes, but there seems to be a population explosion of these this year.

Earlier the half barrel was supposed to supply water for the many flats of seedlings sitting on one end of the porch. The green frog trumped easy water access. I used a different barrel for water.

Watching the green frog is interesting. It floats along one edge of the barrel much of the time diving down to the bottom when alarmed.

Other times the frog sits poised on the edge of the barrel. There aren’t many mosquito larva in its barrel so it must be feasting on mosquitoes.

The barrel is full of algae. This is mostly the floating green algae with some on the sides of the barrel.

When I taught biology, one unit used this. Each group had two quart jars of distilled water and added a small handful of hay or grass clippings to each. The unit went through bacteria, protozoans, sometimes nematodes, populations, ecological succession, microscope techniques, population counting techniques, gram staining, water turbidity and, since a pollutant was added to one jar after a week or two, pollution effects. It did require laying in a supply of air freshener for the classroom.

green frog by creek

Green frogs, even though they are frogs, don’t always stay in water. There is one living in my big garden. This one is near a pool by the creek.

Walking around the barrel takes care. The green frog goes on hopping expeditions in the grass around the barrel. Its color and spotting make it hard to spot, especially since the frog huddles down trying to keep out of sight.

Rain is scarce lately. My garden and containers are dry. I carefully scoop water out trying to avoid the tadpoles, include the mosquito larvae and water my summer garden.

The tadpoles in some of the barrels will soon have legs and hop away. That should free up water in time for my growing plants. I hate choosing between those fresh tomatoes and a big crop of little frogs and toads.

Midland Brown Snake, Garden Asset

Transplanting tomatoes and peppers into my garden went slowly this year. The last few finally made it to the garden. Moving an old piece of mulch paper, I found a midland brown snake.

I was delighted.

Snakes are not my favorite creatures. I tend to avoid them with a live and let live philosophy. Midland brown snakes are different.

midland brown snake

Snakes like to relax on gravel roads as the road is warm, a great place to bask. This midland brown snake was basking and flipped its tail up in a defensive posture when I urged it to move off the road. The small size makes it easy to pick a stubborn one up and drop it off on the side of the road.

At most a foot long, these snakes are not intimidating. They are shy. They hide under the mulch or stones or boards.

Brown is part of the name because a midland brown snake is several shades of brown. The background color is tan. The dorsal stripe is ecru. The splotches are dark brown.

So, midland brown snakes are pretty. Why are they a garden asset?

Spring here in the Ozarks was wet. Vegetation is lush. Slugs moved into my cabbage.

Only one head was damaged. This little midland brown snake may have saved the others. Slugs are top of the menu, a delicacy.

Another favorite food is earthworms. I do appreciate having earthworms in my garden. However, even with the moles and midland brown snakes munching on them, my worm population is booming. Goat manure and mulch probably help.

midland brown snake

Because midland brown snakes are small, they are on the menu for many creatures including chickens. This little beauty didn’t move, when the paper roof disappeared. It was hoping I wouldn’t notice it was there. I left it still coiled under the paper.

This particular snake was very lucky. I had pulled a few weeds from the bed, walked around the bed and across the bed, pounded two posts in for tomato caging and started to crawl around digging holes for my transplants. Somehow, I didn’t step on the snake.

After I moved the paper and found the snake, I put the paper back. I transplanted four tomato plants and a dozen pepper plants.

Then I went to get my camera. The midland brown snake was still curled up under the paper. I took a few pictures and replaced the paper. This is a valued garden ally. Soon there will be more mulch for it to hide under.

Read more about plants and animals of the Ozarks in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

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.

Wood Heat Keeps You Warm

Wood Heat Keeps You Warm

Long ago I remember visiting my Grandmother during cold weather. I would stand straddling the floor vent with hot air blowing up. She had gas heat and it felt great.

A house I rented had electric heat. The thermometer said the air was a comfortable temperature. I was cold.

Most of my life I’ve lived with wood heat. Like gas heat, wood heat is warm, even hot. Unlike gas or electric heat, wood stoves burn down unless fed regularly. Then the house gets cold.

Lots of homesteaders use wood heat. Here in the Ozarks wood is cheap and plentiful. Usually it requires a chainsaw, a tractor or truck to haul the wood, a splitting maul or wood splitter and people to do the work. There is no monthly bill.

That is the appeal. It sounds like a great idea. The reality may not live up to the hype.

wood furnace for wood heat

This is one model of outside wood furnace. This model is one of those for sale at Brown’s Heating and Cooling in Salem, MO, where I took this picture.

Decision 1: Picking a Wood Heating Stove

At one time wood heating stoves were big, smoky affairs taking up a big corner in the main room of a house. There were the upright types, the long, low types and the ones with an enameled casing over the cast iron section. The companies making the stoves kept trying to make them more airtight to minimize the smoke escaping into the room but this slowed down the combustion reducing the heat produced.

These interior models are still sold. They are often decorative with enamel casings and windows in the doors. When the chimney or stove pipe is installed correctly, they don’t smoke and keep the house warm.

Outdoor heating stoves are popular now. These are a stand alone stove connected to the house through duct pipes. Most of the smoke stays outside with the stove.

Electric fans blow the heat through the ducts. If the electricity shuts off, so do the fans.

These stoves can be rigged to supply hot water as well as hot air, but need to be kept running year round to keep that water hot.

Blower fans are a good idea with any wood stove. A lot of heat goes up the stove pipe. Hot air rises and sits at ceiling level.

We have a small fan from an old refrigerator behind the stove pipe. A small fan is very effective and takes little electricity. Many larger blower fans take a lot of electricity and are expensive to run. It blows the wood heat from the stove pipe out across the room at the level we are at. If the stove leaks smoke, the smoke will be blown around the house too.

woodpile for wood heat

We cut tree trunks up as lumber so our woodpile has lots of smaller pieces in it. Pieces under four inches diameter can be burned as is, no splitting required.

Chore 2: Cutting and Splitting Wood

Different kinds of wood burn at different rates and make different amounts of ashes. Black walnut makes excellent kindling as it catches fire easily, burns fast and hot to get other wood started, but makes a lot of ashes. Dry sycamore is much the same.

Oak is the preferred wood in the Ozarks. Once dry, it burns slowly putting out lots of wood heat and making few ashes. It usually has a straighter grain making splitting easier.

If a fire is hot enough, green wood from live trees will burn. Much of its heat is used to dry the wood so it can burn. The best wood has dried for a year and is called seasoned wood.

Trees get old and die or get blown over in storms. We rarely cut live trees for firewood as the supply of newly dead trees is enough to supply all of our needs for the winter. We usually put up our wood in early fall but spot the dead trees over the summer.

Some of our neighbors wait until cold weather arrives to cut wood. I’ve done that. Cutting wood is hard work and doing it in the cold makes it harder. Besides, having that wood pile cut and stacked before winter lets us relax and enjoy the autumn knowing our source of wood heat is ready and waiting.

Anyone who has built a campfire knows a match will not start a big piece of wood burning. Newspaper, cardboard and finely split dry wood will get bigger pieces burning. Different sizes and shapes of stoves take different kindling set ups. The best way for a particular stove is learned by doing.

Different sizes and shapes of stoves take different lengths and sizes of wood. No stove takes logs a foot in diameter. This is where splitting comes in.

We normally stack the log pieces and split them as they are needed to fill the wood rack. We can do this because the wood is from dead trees and already dry. Split wood dries faster but absorbs more rain or snow melt water. Wet wood smolders making lots of smoke and little heat.

Splitting wood with a maul is hard on the back. The maul can bounce off the wood. The maul can miss the wood. The wood can split suddenly. Accidents and injuries come with splitting. Wearing gloves helps.

Although I’ve never used one, I know many people who like wood splitters. There are several kinds.

No matter how you split the wood, it is work. It takes time. Stacking the wood takes time.

A number of creatures find a wood pile a great place to live. The various beetles and other insects aren’t much of a problem. Mice and rats vacate quickly. Snakes leave in the fall. Still, keeping the wood pile away from the house is a wise precaution.

splitting wood for wood heat

I prefer a splitting maul with a longer handle as I am a small person. The short handle needs more umph! behind it.

Headache 3: Wood In the House

No one enjoys going out to the woodpile in the snow at midnight to get wood to put in the wood stove. The solution is to keep a small pile of wood by the stove ready to put in as needed.

We have a double tiered wood rack. It’s about four feet tall with a shelf on the top. Under the shelf are two areas two feet tall, four feet long and two feet deep. Each space holds enough split wood to heat the house for 24 hours.

The nice part about having the two spaces is when the wood pile gets wet. The wet wood has a day to dry off before it is needed in the stove.

Another solution is to have a roof over your entire wood pile. In the Ozarks this would be a large roof.

Watching the weather forecasts is a good idea too. When severe storms are coming into the area, we split enough wood to fill the wood rack, fill the wheelbarrow for an additional day, even put a few smaller logs on the floor in front of the rack to use all night.

No matter how carefully you brush sawdust and other dirt off the wood, some comes into the house. Beetles working under the bark drop a stream of sawdust onto the floor. Smoke descends as a fine dust throughout the house.

Wood heat feels great. Wood heat can be economical to use. It is a messy source of heat.

Those bits of sawdust are not good for vacuum cleaners. Shop vacs will work. The best idea is to have a linoleum or cement or other floor covering in the area around the wood stove. Then a broom and dust pan work well.

As long as the wood stove is being used, I sweep the house daily. Our stove is an old one that does smoke. A newer stove putting out less smoke would help with this. I sweep up the dirt from the wood in the racks and the smoke dust.

wood heat wakes bessbugs

Bessbugs look fearsome, but aren’t. Pairs live in old, rotting oak raising their young. They can come in with the firewood. Then the two inch long beetles march across the floor looking for a way outdoors and back to the woodpile. These are one of many insects that can live in a woodpile.

Living the Simple Life

Every now and then I meet people moving out into the country wanting to live the simple life. They dream of garden produce, livestock, wood heat. They dream of leaving the city behind.

I grew up in a city suburb. My father took us tent camping, but these were fun outings. We had chickens. My father had vegetable gardens.

We still lived in the city. Stores, other houses and people were all around us.

I was in my twenties when I left the city behind. I’ve lived the simple rural life for many years now. I love it, hate it, get frustrated by it, but would never move back to town, if I had a choice.

And that choice does loom off in the distance. Why? The one thing most people don’t want to think about but must face sooner or later is forcing this issue.

People get old.

 

Floods, Wind, Cleaning Up

The late afternoon storm didn’t amount to much at first. The clouds were black. A few short showers brought the goats in from the pastures.

Thunder and lightning sent the cats hiding. The garden needed watering and the noise made false promises.

Breezes arose. These became wind. The trees began to sway and whip back and forth. Roaring filled the air.

Inside the house all went dark and quiet. The electricity was out.

After the wind blew itself out, we went out to inspect the damage and make plans for cleaning up. Leafy twigs littered the road. Branches hung from tree trunks or littered the ground.

Then we looked out along the creek. The electric lines descended from the pole to the ground. Sycamore trees were lying across the creek and creek bottom. Cleaning up would be a major job.

Further down the creek a sycamore had snapped off about five feet up. The tree had blown across the creek and slammed into an electric pole. It snapped off at the base and both now lay on the ground.

Electric lines snaked along the creek along the tractor road. The top of the next pole had snapped off. So had the top of the next pole. Over two hundred feet of electric lines lay on the ground. I went in to call the electric company.

cleaning up debris will take time

The winds from the second storm blew big trees up by the roots and snapped off smaller ones. The floods from the first storm cut deeply into the creek bank leaving cliffs behind.

Phones and Electricity

At one time phone lines were up on the electric poles. That changed years ago now when the phone company put fiber optic line underground. The line does have electricity running through it but is not part of the electric grid.

The phone was still working.

This was Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend. We didn’t know it then, but 85 MPH winds had ripped through town downing trees, snapping electric poles and tearing up buildings. Other out of town areas had the same winds leaving destruction behind. We aren’t the only ones cleaning up storm debris.

The cooperative phone line was busy.

Rural areas don’t have regular electric companies. The houses were far apart so no one wanted to put up all the lines spending lots of money for little in return. Cities and towns had electricity. Rural areas didn’t.

During the Great Depression, the federal government passed a law allowing rural areas to form cooperatives for the purpose of bringing electricity to these farms. Those in a coop area are member/owners. Even with this, electricity took a long time to get to parts of the country. I substitute taught at an Arkansas rural school where electricity didn’t arrive until 1967.

I tried off and on that evening but didn’t get through. The phone wasn’t working in the morning.

electric line cleaning up

When this electric pole snapped off, the lights went out. The tops of two more poles snapped off to leave a big job behind cleaning up.

Doing Without Electricity

Generators are popular items around here. We don’t have one. The electricity is rarely off long enough to be a real inconvenience.

When we lived up North, we had a generator. I found out then that the electricity from it and that from an electric line are very different. The generator puts out little power surges which can damage or destroy some appliances – think computers.

A friend has a generator. She told me something went wrong when her husband turned it on. It sent an electric surge through the lines frying the surge protectors, even starting a fire in one. Her refrigerator no longer works.

We didn’t have electricity up North and live fairly simply here in the Ozarks. We got out the candles.

Kerosene lamps are used in the movies. We’ve used them. They do give off more light than a candle. They are also fussy.

The kerosene must be the right kind. The wick must be the right length. Any excuse is good enough to smoke up the chimney which is glass and breakable. It gets hot quickly, is slow to cool down and will shatter if touched with cool water when you try to get the soot off the glass.

The soot is another story. Fine. Black. Sticky. Messy. Hard to wash off. Streaks.

Candles are easier.

It’s nice to watch a movie in the evening. I like writing on my computer. We can live without these.

Books take no electricity. We have lots of books.

goats cleaning up leaves

The goats aren’t sure what happened. The leaf bounty is welcome. They are happy to help with the cleaning up.

Electric Conveniences

Flushing the toilet wasn’t hard. A couple of buckets of water from the rain barrel worked fine.

Candles worked for putting light into dark rooms.

My stove uses propane – gas – so cooking wasn’t a problem.

The refrigerators warmed up. The frozen food thawed but I had used much of it up for space to put more over the summer. The refrigerators needed thorough cleaning anyway.

The chickens don’t mind milk to drink.

Life slowed down. It was nice to have such quiet. There was plenty of cleaning up to do to keep us occupied all day.

Did I miss the electrical conveniences? Most of the losses were more annoyances than tragedies. One I did miss a lot: running water in the kitchen.

I had caught rain water in clean jars to use in the kitchen. I’ve lived without running water and know how to make it last. I’m spoiled.

Putting food into a saucepan and turning the tap for water to cook it in is so convenient. Washing off that dirty bowl or plate or utensil or hand as I go from task to task preparing a meal is so convenient.

Perhaps if the electricity was off longer than three days I would miss it more. But the three days without running water was frustrating.

Cleaning Up

After the flood, the creek had washed out several trees which had fallen. After the microburst [seems to be similar to a small tornado with no funnel cloud, not touching the ground but following a definite path], a swath of trees is left uprooted or snapped off.

Looking at the mess is disheartening. Cleaning up the mess will take months.

One ray of light is the store of firewood waiting to me cut up and hauled in. We do heat with wood.

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.

chicks

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.

chickens

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.