How Worms Can Deliver The Very Best Compost You’ve Used

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Image source: gardeningknowhow.com

Image source: gardeningknowhow.com

Image source: gardeningknowhow.com

Vermiculture or vermicomposting is the method of using worms to break down organic matter into useable compost for your garden. This method is catching on throughout the US, and you can often find “worm bins” for composting in your gardening catalogs.

To the uninformed, keeping worms in a bin outside or even in your home is pretty odd. However, vermicomposting has a range of different benefits that heavily outweigh any initial ick factor or hesitation over taking on a new project.

Benefits of Vermicomposting

Here are just a few benefits of harnessing the power of worms for composting:

1. Can Be Set Up Indoors.

Worm bins can easily be set up right in your home or even in a kitchen corner. A properly maintained worm bin doesn’t have a noticeable odor and to visitors it often just looks like a trash can. The real benefit of having a compost system right in your home is that you can add your table scraps right away rather than throwing away food or having to carry it out to your compost pile.

2. Organic Matter Composts Quicker.

In comparison to traditional composting methods, the vermiculture composting process is done in a third of the time. Even a substantially smaller worm bin could still produce more, and a better quality, compost compared to a compost pile.

3. Vermicompost is Superior to Other Types of Compost.

Science backs vermicompost as being higher quality and overall superior to other composts, even store-bought. You can see a data table of this on the New Mexico State University website by clicking here.

Due to its chemical makeup, vermicompost increases germination in seeds, boosts plant growth and also delivers nutrients to the plants for a longer amount of time.

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4. Microbes Present in Vermicompost Improve Plant’s Disease Resistance.

Those who use vermicompost regularly have noticed that plants fertilized with vermicompost are more disease-resistant and fare much better if pests are present. This is believed to be due to the presence of healthy microbes that live with the worms. They help break down organic matter but also are taken with the harvested compost and mixed into the soil.

5. Vermiculture Worm Bins Offer Two Forms of Compost.

There are two ways worms produce compost or fertilizer that you can use. The first: worm castings, which are the actual compost the worms create. The secondary way you can get fertilizer from the bin is through the excess moisture the worms create. This “worm tea” is a liquid that is rich in nutrients and can be poured right on your plants. Your worm bin set-up, even if it’s DIY, should have a spigot on the bottom bin so you can drain out this excess liquid.

6. Vermicompost Increases Soil’s Water Retention Abilities.

The worm castings which make up the vermicompost are extremely effective at retaining water. In fact, this compost can hold up to nine times its weight in water. When you mix the compost into your garden beds or pots, you are giving your soil a helping hand. This water retention means you conserve more water and also help those in dry climates improve their garden’s productivity.

7. The Whole Process is Pretty Much Hand’s Off Until Harvest.

Compared to traditional composting methods, vermicomposting is hands-off until the worms have completed the composting process. You don’t need to turn piles over or mess with the worms. All you do is feed them table scraps, inspect them regularly to ensure they aren’t underfed or overfed, and drain the extra worm tea so the bin doesn’t get too moist. You don’t go into the bin until you are ready to harvest the worm castings.

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Setting Up a Vermicomposting System

Even those who live in an urban setting with a container garden or have only some herbs growing in pots can set up a vermicomposting system. The wonderful thing about using worms is that you can scale it to your needs, whether you’ve grown a couple of tomato plants or are growing a large garden that feeds your whole family.

The first step is to determine what system you want to use.

Choosing a Worm Bin

There are plenty of manufactured worm bins on the market for a good price. These are often a nice choice for those who don’t need to produce a lot of compost. They are also ideal for those of us who aren’t so DIY-inclined or just prefer the streamlined look of plastic, especially if it’s in the home.

If you’re brand new to vermiculture, it may be a good idea to start off with one of these bins. If you decide you need to scale up then you can buy additional bins or make a larger system yourself.

That being said, there are many DIY projects that you can build to save some money.

Selecting Your Worms

Even though the common regular old earthworms compost organic matter, they aren’t especially suited for a vermicomposting set-up. There are two species of worms that are best for vermicomposting: brandling worms (Eisenia foetida) or, the most common species, red wigglers (Lumbricus rubellus).

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These worms are smaller than the earthworms you tend to find in your garden and are composting powerhouses. Earthworms prefer a soil-based environment, which is why they don’t thrive in a composting set-up. Red wigglers or brandling worms prefer the more wet compost set-up and will even live right in manure.

You can purchase red wigglers or brandling worms from many different sources on the Internet, from Amazon or eBay to worm breeder’s websites. I’ve purchased worms from Amazon and from worm breeders who have listings on eBay. I recommend you do a litter research or read reviews to ensure the person or company has a history of delivering healthy worms.

You will need about one pound of red wigglers to start up a worm bin the size of the commercial ones listed above. If you need to scale up, it is recommended to go with two pounds of worms per pound of food scraps/organic material you need to compost. The worms will produce roughly their body weight in castings.

Setting Up the Bin

Setting up the bin involves simply adding bedding for the worms. Some commercial set-ups will come with bedding to get you started. If yours didn’t or you’re building one, you can use the following different materials for bedding:

    • Shredded newspaper or printer paper.
    • Shredded leaves.
    • Hay or straw.
    • Moistened peat moss.
    • Old/aged manure.

Fill the bin with bedding and allow it to sit for a couple of days before introducing the worms. Make sure the bin is aerated (use your hands to lift the material) and slightly damp (not wet!) before adding the worms on top.

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Feeding Your Worms

Your worms can be fed a wide variety of different table scraps or other organic matter, such as:

      • Vegetable scraps.
      • Fruit scraps.
      • Eggshells.
      • Tea bags.
      • Used paper towels or napkins.
      • Coffee grounds.

Never feed your worms any dairy or meat products.

Harvesting Your Compost

The average-sized worm bin can be fed for roughly three months before you can harvest the castings. Fed on a daily basis, the worms should have eaten and broken down their bedding within that time. Once you’ve noticed that the bedding is gone, it’s time to remove the worms, separate the useable compost and replace new bedding for the worms.

There are a couple of ways you can do this, but the easiest is to construct a sifting frame from some leftover lumber and hardware cloth. Set this over a wheelbarrow or a bucket. Dump your worms and compost over this and then shimmy the frame to sift the compost through. Some little worms will get through, and you can pick these out if you want.

Vermicomposting is a super-easy process and quite fascinating since it’s powered solely by worms. It is a simple project to set up and requires very little maintenance. In return, you get some of the most powerful compost available.

Do you currently have a vermiculture set-up or plan to buy/build one? Please share any tips or other comments in the section below. 

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3 Problems You Better Solve Before Raising A Mixed Flock

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3 Problems You Better Solve Before Raising A Mixed Flock

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There is nothing quite as picturesque as a farmyard setting with chickens, ducks and perhaps a turkey or two wandering around. Unfortunately, a mixed flock may be more trouble than it’s worth. If you’re considering keeping different species of fowl or poultry together, there are a few advantages and disadvantages to keep in mind.

Advantages of a Mixed Flock

Some common reasons people want a mixed flock includes:

1. Aesthetics. Many people find a mixed flock to be very visually pleasing. While this alone isn’t a good reason to keep different species together, it is important to some.

2. Saves space. Depending on the species you are keeping, you can save space by keeping fowl together. You may be able to keep the fowl in one coop or at least have them share a yard/pasture/pond/etc.

3. Saves money. The above advantage also can mean that keeping a mixed flock can save you money in terms of building materials and fencing. This can be very tempting if you are building your pens or other structures from scratch.

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4. Beneficial for land: Keeping a mixed flock may benefit your property as each species contributes something. For example, chickens are great for keeping insects in check but may not eat pests like slugs. A few ducks will take care of the slugs, however. Chickens and ducks will eat some grass, but geese are excellent grazers.

5. Entertainment: Entertainment may seem like a funny advantage, but just like aesthetics, it can be a huge advantage for some people. Watching the interactions and behaviors between species can be quite fun and even educational.

There are many reasons people decide to keep different species of fowl together, but generally it comes down to saving space and saving money. Unfortunately, keeping different species together can easily become a problem.

Disadvantages of Mixed Flocks

If you are seriously thinking about combining different species, consider these three potential problems:

3 Problems You Better Solve Before Raising A Mixed Flock

Image source: Pixabay.com

1. Bullying. Bullying is easily the most common problem of keeping different animals of any type together. Fowl, in particular, can be quite territorial and aggressive; a simple Google search will show you numerous threads in forums in which people with just one flock of chickens need help with bullying problems. While some species get along together naturally, like ducks and geese, you can quickly run into problems when it comes to a big size difference like turkeys and chickens. Injuries and death can and do occur.

2. Disease. The next common problem with a mixed flock is disease and illness. There are a couple of specific issues with disease. First off, some fowl act as a disease carrier between species. For example, chickens are carriers of blackhead disease. This is the main reason hatcheries and breeders often stress to keep these birds separate. Secondly, some species are more susceptible to diseases than others. Something like a respiratory issue in a chicken flock can be more easily treated than a mixed flock with the same problem. Simply put, keeping species separate gives you bio-security against disease and allows more efficient treatment of illness and parasites.

3. Malnutrition. There is a common misconception that malnutrition always coincides with being underweight. In reality, livestock can be malnourished even if they visually look well-fed and healthy, even overweight. Malnutrition is simply a condition of livestock not receiving the proper nutrients in their food. Typically, if someone has one type of fowl, say chickens, they will buy chicken food. If they only have turkeys, they will buy a turkey food. Oddly enough, many people with mixed flocks just throw out one type of feed. This will quickly lead to malnutrition, deformities and even death. Each species must eat a species-appropriate diet, which can be very tricky in a mixed flock.

These three disadvantages are just the most common reasons why mixed flocks aren’t a good idea if you don’t seriously take planning and diet into consideration.

How to Make a Mixed Flock Work

If you are set on making your mixed flock work, you will need to do some homework. First off, limit how many species you are going to mix. Two or three species should be your limit unless you happen to have a massive amount of space.

All The Answers To Every Chicken Question And Quandary …

To limit bullying problems, it’s wise to make sure each species has its own areas to hang out around. For example, a large feature will keep ducks away from your chickens, although they may be in the same fenced area. In this case, an added benefit will be that your ducks, who will undoubtedly make a watery mess of their area (be it a pond or sunken-in trough), won’t dirty up your chickens’ water, feeders and dirt bath areas.

Waterfowl should be given ample space in terms of water, so you can avoid bullying problems among geese and ducks. A large pond will allow them to create their own territory boundaries, but if you don’t have that option you should give them different watering spots with plenty of space around them.

3 Problems You Better Solve Before Raising A Mixed Flock

Image source: Pixabay.com

Despite the potential for disease between chickens and turkeys, many people still keep them together. If you’re only raising two or three turkeys for the holidays, they may get along well with your chickens since it will only be temporary. If you plan to keep more than this or have hopes to breed, it would be best to keep them separate, as turkeys will act quite dominantly toward chickens. They might share a fenced-around area but should not be housed in coops together.

As for feeding, you will need to come to some compromise to ensure all the birds get what they need to eat. You could feed them separately, but this will take up a lot of time. Instead, you should choose which species you cohabitate carefully. For example, you could keep chickens and ducks together on a non-medicated chick grow feed but add in calcium in a separate area for the laying hens and supplement extra protein for the ducks.

Raising a mixed flock can be very rewarding, but should be approached cautiously. Even a healthy, peaceful mixed group could suddenly go bad at the drop of a hat. Always be prepared for this by having some means of housing the birds separately if such an event does occur.

Do you keep a mixed flock or have done so previously? Please share your opinions in the comment section below.

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Off-Grid Laundry: How To Do It Exactly Like Grandma Did (And Why You’d Want To)

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Off-Grid Laundry: How To Do It Exactly Like Grandma Did (And Why You'd Want To)

If your home is like mine and you don’t have central air conditioning, then trying to keep the house as cool as possible when it’s hot outside is important. One very common appliance that can really heat up a house is a dryer.

Lately, I have been washing my clothes in the washing machine but hanging them up to dry. This doesn’t take long to do, and clothes dry quite quickly in 80-90 degree weather in the sun. Additionally, since air drying can leave clothes wrinkled and a bit rigid, I pop the dried clothes into my dryer with some fabric softener for about 5 minutes to get them soft.

Going “back to basics” is a great way to save money and electricity, as well as learn a new skill. Since everyone has to do laundry, learning how to go without a washing/dryer or just reducing your use of them can be very useful.

Washing Clothes by Hand

When you think of handwashing clothes, an image of a pioneer lady scrubbing away on a washboard comes to mind. If you are a woman, you may already wash your undergarments or other delicates by hand. There isn’t any real secret to washing your laundry by hand. It does take some elbow grease, but it’s a worthwhile skill to learn.

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The absolute basic way of washing clothes would be to fill up your sink or bathtub with warm water, add a few drops of your detergent or some other soap and start scrubbing. You can use a soft bristled brush, your hands or just scrub two pieces of cloth together. Once they’re cleaned, rinse with cool water and inspect to make sure you got everything out.

Truly washing by hand is fairly easy for lightly soiled clothes and if you just need to wash some shirts or denim. The next step up would be to use a washboard or scrubbing board. You can find these boards at thrift shops or yard sales, as well as online.

You could make your own washing board by replicating the build of the traditional boards if you are handy with tools. If you are disabled or have an injury preventing you from scrubbing away on a board, then a non-electrical washing machine could be your best bet. Hand-powered washing machines are perfect for larger loads of laundry or if you don’t want to/can’t use a washing board. These machines are very popular for people living off grid as well as during extended car camping trips.

Once you’ve got your clothes washed, it’s time to dry them.

Air Drying Clothes Properly

While you can string up a rope outside and drape your clothes over them, there are some tips to keep in mind.

  • Don’t hang your clothes directly in the sun. Direct sunlight will get your clothes dry more quickly but also causes a lot of stiffness in the fabric as well as sun bleaching. Definitely don’t air dry delicates in direct sunlight.
  • Hang T-shirts bottom up. Clip your shirts upside down on the bottom hem rather than at the shoulders. Clip marks are far less noticeable here.
  • Knit shirts, sweaters, skirts and other clothing should never be hung, as it stretches the material. Same goes for any type of knit, crocheted or wool bedding. Instead, lay these items out on a screen so they can dry flat. You can build your own screen for this purpose or MacGyver it by popping out a window screen or two and placing them on bricks to allow airflow.
  • Protect the vibrancy of clothes by turning them inside out before hanging up to dry. This is a good tip for regular electrical washer and dryer use, as well.

Off-Grid Laundry: How To Do It Exactly Like Grandma Did (And Why You'd Want To)While using a clothes line strung up outside with pins is the traditional way of drying clothes, it isn’t the only option. Clothes drying racks are perfect as a standalone way of drying clothes or an addition to your clothes line as a place to hang delicates, socks, rags and smaller items of clothing. Those of you in urban settings can also use those types of racks. Another option would be a retractable clothes line in your home high up towards the ceiling.

Making Your Own Detergent and Fabric Softener

Now, a quick word about laundry detergents and fabric softeners. Both of these products can be made right at home and for good reason. It will save you money and prevent exposure to the nasty chemicals typically in these products. You also will be able to infuse the scent of your choice into your mixes, which is a huge bonus if you are like me and don’t enjoy the scent of most store-bought detergents.

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There are TONS of recipes out there on the web for these two laundry essentials. Here is one of the most basic recipes to get you started:

  • 1 bar of Ivory soap, shaved (you can use a cheap cheese grater)
  • 1 cup of borax
  • 1 cup of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda

Mix and add whatever essential oil that is pleasing to you. The number of drops you will need depends on the oil you are using and how sensitive your nose is, so just use common sense. Drop in some oil, mix and sniff until you get to your desired scent strength.

As for fabric softener, the recipe is even simpler. Buy yourself a gallon jug of regular white vinegar and add in anywhere from 10-20 (or more, depending) of your favorite essential oils. To use this, you will first wash the clothes so they are clean. Empty the dirty water and refill the tub with cool water. Add in roughly a half cup of the vinegar mix and agitate the clothes a bit. Empty this out and do one final rinse (preferably under cool running water) to get everything out.

If you don’t like it, or would like to try something different, just do a Google search for “DIY detergents/fabric softeners”.

Laundry is a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Next time you have a load, skip your machines and try it by hand. Or at least hang them up to dry.

Feel free to share any tips and tricks, detergent recipes, DIY project for hangers, etc., in the comment section below!

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Ponds 101: What You BETTER Know Before You Start Digging

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Here’s What You BETTER Know Before You Build Your First Pond

Image source: Pixabay.com

 

Warm weather has arrived, and along with the sunny weather often comes a to-do list of projects. If you have been looking for a project to work on this year, why not build a pond?

We will get to the “how-to” in a moment, but first let’s explore the many benefits of a pond. Beauty, after all, isn’t the only benefit of a pond.

1. They benefit the local wildlife

Various species of wildlife benefit from ponds, even a small one. Ponds attract beneficial insects, serve as a water source for different animals, and can act as a haven for various amphibians and small reptiles. Birds love to have a clean source of bathing water, especially if you have a tempting waterfall feature.

Many species of amphibians are declining in population, especially in urban areas where pollutants containment water sources. You can help support these animals and offer a place for them to reproduce, even in a small pond.

2. Insect pest populations will reduce

Here’s What You BETTER Know Before You Build Your First Pond

Image source: Pixabay.com

Visit any pond and you will see various flying insects around, such as damselflies and dragonflies. These insects, as well as many others, will help control pest insects like mosquitoes. It’s somewhat of a misconception that ponds equal mosquito problems. Rather, it’s poorly managed ponds that are a problem. Take measures to prevent mosquitoes in your pond and your predatory insect friends will help control the rest.

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Mosquito larvae will be eaten by the larvae of these beneficial predatory insects. And don’t forget that having a pond will attract frogs and toads, both of which will further keep mosquito populations down.

3. Ponds can function as an emergency water source

Ponds are ideal as a source of water in an emergency. You will need to properly sterilize the water prior to drinking and, depending on the size and type of your pond, it may not be a permanent source of water. But it will still help in an emergency/survival situation.

4. Ponds support additional food sources

You can increase the variety of foods on your table with a pond. Raising fish is often the most popular choice, naturally. The type of fish you can raise will depend on your location. For example, warm climates could raise tilapia while those in cool climates will be better off with bass or crappies.

Aside from fish, you also can grow edibles like rice, watercress, water chestnuts and cattails. The majority of these edibles will grow very well in a healthy pond without requiring any labor from you.

5. You will get free fertilizer for your garden

Fertilizer from your pond can come in the form of green fertilizer and liquid fertilizer. Natural algae and other plants often work very well as a green manure, much like how you’d use cover crops. You can use the water from a large pond that has a healthy population of fish and plants to fertilize your garden beds and potted plants.

What Type of Pond Should I Build?

There are a few different ways of creating a pond, but when it comes to a backyard pond there are two main options: pre-formed plastic pond liners and flexible pond linings.

Here’s What You BETTER Know Before You Build Your First Pond

Image source: Pixabay.com

Pre-formed pond liners are a rigid piece of plastic – think of a kiddie pool – which you set into the ground or use above ground. You can order these liners online or find them at construction stores. Pre-formed liners are easy to use but you are limited in terms of shape, length and width.

Flexible plastic lining comes in large rolls and various sizes in thickness, depending on what the pond will be used for. The great thing about using flexible lining is that you have virtually no limits for the shape and size of the pond. These liners are also less expensive but will require someone else or multiple people helping you.

Overall, flexible plastic lining is the ideal choice for large ponds or those who have a very specific shape of pond in mind. Pre-formed pond liners are a good choice for someone who wants a micro- to small-sized pond.

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There are alternatives to pre-formed liners and plastic linings. For example, if you only want a small pond, you can sink a stock tank into the ground. Some people who have a heavy clay soil may be able to get away with not using a pond liner at all. Similarly, if you have good soil just adding more clay can help.

Where Should the Pond Be Located?

Before you start digging, you need to carefully decide where the best location for the pond will be. When you select an area, ask yourself:

  • How much sun will the pond get? Ideally, a pond will get partial sun — roughly eight hours a day.
  • Is the ground flat or sloped? Either works, but a pond on a slope will give you the best opportunity to do features.
  • Do you want to add water features like a cascade? Take these into account and whether you’ll need/want pumps to move water.
  • What is the soil like in the area? Even if you’re using pond lining, a heavier soil with a lot of clay will keep the shape better than sandy soil.
  • For large ponds in rural areas, do you have to worry about large mammals walking in the pond? Moose, deer, elk and livestock like cattle may walk through the pond and tear/puncture the pond lining. Be sure to choose the heaviest lining possible.
  • How deep do you need the pond to be? Any pond should be an absolute minimum of 18 inches deep. Keep in mind that if you plan to overwinter fish you will need more depth, especially if you’re in a cold climate where the water will freeze. If you experience freezing temperatures, you will need a minimum depth of 3 feet just for medium-sized koi to survive.

How to Dig Out the Pond

Here’s What You BETTER Know Before You Build Your First Pond

Image source: Pixabay.com

Digging out a pond is done either by hand or with earth-moving equipment. If you are planning on digging it by hand, be forewarned that it’s probably going to be much more difficult than you think. If you’re planning a small pond that isn’t very deep and you’re in good shape, go ahead and use a shovel. There is something very rewarding about digging a pond by hand. Deep ponds that are medium or large in nature will require earth-moving equipment.

If you have experience, you can rent a CAT or similar equipment. If you have no experience, it is best to hire someone – especially if you are planning a very deep pond. You also need to take into account where all that dirt is going to go. For large ponds, you will need to use a backhoe to move the dirt.

Be careful if you happen to live in an area that requires permits to build a pond or if you plan to divert a local creek into your pond. Always check your local laws just to be sure.

Where to Go From Here

If you are planning a large pond, I highly recommend checking out these websites and books for more information. These resources also will be useful for those who are building a small pond in their city backyard, though some of the content may not apply to your exact situation.

Feel free to write your experiences with building ponds, or simply share your own ideas for your future pond in the section below!

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DIY Warm Winter Blankets Anyone Can Make

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DIY Warm Winter Blankets Anyone Can Make

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As the winter temperature drops far below freezing, many people start to get out their thicker blankets and perhaps add a throw or two on the couch to stay warm. Learning how to make a quilt or even just simple layering blankets is a great skill to have. It will help you keep your family warm and also serves as an excellent gift for loved ones.

Learning How to Quilt

Knowing the basics of sewing, both hand sewing and machine sewing, is quite beneficial for homesteaders and off-gridders. You can mend clothing, bedding and other household necessities which saves money and a trip to the store. It can become a very rewarding hobby, as well. Knowing your way around a machine also means you can dabble in quilting.

Those with zero sewing experience are often intimidated by the thought of making a quilt. It seems difficult and complicated but in reality, quilting doesn’t have to be that way. With simple patterns you can make a beautiful, long-lasting blanket without driving yourself crazy. It is, however, a time-consuming process but can easily be broken down into steps. I recall my grandmother having a few Rubbermaid storage tubs under her bed, with each containing a different quilting project at various stages. When she became tired of working on one, she should spend a week or two on a different project, then move to another.

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DIY Warm Winter Blankets Anyone Can Make

Image source: Pixabay.com

One of the best ways to learn the basic of quilting is from a family member or friend. This traditional skill was often passed down but it seems to be a lost art in today’s world. Taking a quilting class is another wonderful option and can also open doors to new friendships. You can look online for quilting classes in your area or ask your local sewing/fabric shop. If you are very determined you can learn how to quilt right at home with the help of books, online videos or even an online course.

Here are a few great online resources and books about quilting:

Other DIY Blankets

Aside from quilting, you can also learn how to make knitted blankets as well as some basic thin blankets for layering.

Crocheting and knitting are two other skills that are great to have. I have found crocheting to be easier, but I know many who find knitting to be faster to learn. It isn’t difficult to learn one after the other so if you have zero experience, just choose whichever one is more appealing.

Knit blankets and throws generally require more time than a quilt but as an advantage you won’t need very much equipment as you would with sewing. Similarly to learning sewing basics, you can also learn how to knit or crochet from the help of a friend, through classes or on your own with the help of books and videos.

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Here are some resources to get you started:

And here are some basic crocheted and knitted blanket/throw patterns:

Story continues below video

 

If you have basic sewing skills but don’t want to take on the work of sewing a quilt, there are other simple blankets you can make with your machine (or by hand). Here are some of my favorites:

  • Faux Fur Throw – This blanket is one on my own “To-Sew” list. A good quality faux fur is warm and shouldn’t shed. Real fur is superior but faux fur is easier and makes an awesome gift. Although this throw is very basic, you can swap out the fleece for a different fabric. You can also make the dimensions larger or use batting between the fur and fabric to make it much warmer.
  • Recycled Sweater Blanket – Recycling or “upcycling” materials is rarely a bad idea. With this tutorial you can use up those old sweaters or even scope out your local thrift store for some great deals.
  • Fleece Blanket with Bias Tape – If you want a very basic project that you can easily complete in like 20 minutes, here it is. These fleece blankets look great with the added tape and would make the perfect gift.
  • Lap Duvet – Love the look and weight of a quilt but don’t want to sew an entire quilt? These lap duvets are the perfect introduction to quilting. They can also double as a baby blanket.

Finally, for the most basic blanket you can keep on your couch for those cozy movie nights, here are a few no-sew ideas. These make a fun project for kids to do as well.

Do you have any favorite patterns for blankets or throws? Please share your ideas in the comment section below!

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The 3 Best Livestock For New Homesteaders

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The 3 Best Livestock For New Homesteaders

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When it comes to choosing livestock for the homestead, everyone will have a different opinion about what type you should get started with. Here are three types of livestock best suited for the new homesteader or someone without much experience with raising animals.

1. Chickens

Hands down, chickens are the ultimate livestock for the homestead. These birds have a lot going for them.

  • Eggs: If you’ve never had farm-fresh eggs from happy hens, then you are going to be amazed at the color and texture compared to typical eggs from the grocery store.
  • Meat: You can raise your own meat breed of chicken or raise layers and cull the roosters for meat. Chickens are easy to process and don’t require the help of another person.
  • Pest control: Have a problem with insects? Chickens will take care of them. This is a great way to control bad bugs without resorting to pesticides.
  • Gardening: Tilling a garden is made easy with chickens. Just put up some electric netting around the area you need tilled and let them go to work. As a bonus, they will fertilize while they till. Chickens are also amazing at preparing land for a garden. They will quickly scratch out brush and grasses, leaving you with bare ground.
  • Composting: Using chickens for composting is a brilliant idea. The hens will quickly scratch up brown and green materials so you don’t have to worry about shredding. They will add in their own manure and leave you with rich compost — with hardly any effort on your part.
The 3 Best Livestock For New Homesteaders

Image source: Pixabay.com

There really aren’t any disadvantages to keeping chickens. They are easy to care for, and many heritage breeds are quite independent and hardy. Chickens are very entertaining and you will find that they each have their own personalities.

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Chickens are allowed within some city limits (no roosters!) so they are a great way for the urban homesteaders to add some food to their table.

2. Rabbits

Similarly to chickens, rabbits are a great addition to the homestead. Some of their advantages include:

  • Meat: Rabbit meat is delicious! It is very lean and healthy as well as easily digestible. Aside from taste and nutrition, rabbits are super easy to butcher and process. You won’t need to worry about feathers like you would a chicken.
  • Pelts/fiber: You can get pelts for craft use from all rabbits and fiber from certain breeds. If you enjoy crafts or hobbies like knitting, raising rabbits is a great way to contribute. You may even be able to make a little money from selling extra pelts or fiber.
  • Fertilizer: Rabbit manure is an amazing fertilizer and can be used as-is — no composting or maturing necessary (although it’s recommended). Extra manure can be sold to gardeners to help with the cost of raising the rabbits.
  • Green recyclers: Rabbits will gladly eat up grass and other green materials that you don’t want. They’ll also consume scraps from your vegetable garden.

A possible downside of rabbits is that they are cute! Some people can easily get over the idea of rabbits only being pets, but there are individuals who can’t bring themselves to viewing Peter Cottontail that way.

All The Answers To Every Chicken Question And Quandary …

Rabbits are quiet and don’t require a lot of space. They are easy to manage, and a good breeding stock should reproduce without a problem. Rabbits are especially good choices for urban homesteaders who can’t keep/don’t want to chickens or just want variety in addition to their hens.

3. Goats

The 3 Best Livestock For New Homesteaders

Image source: Pixabay.com

While goats can be challenging at times, their versatility and the sheer fun of keeping them easily makes them perfect newbie homesteader stock.

  • Dairy: Sure, dairy cows are the ultimate milk machines, but dairy goats are a much better choice for the average new homestead. Their smaller size makes them far more manageable and also decreases feed costs. You won’t need anywhere near as much land, either. A small family can’t drink as much milk as a Jersey cow can produce in a day, so going with a goat or two makes much more sense.
  • Meat: You can raise a meat goat or two every year for the freezer. Again, meat goats are often much easier for the new homesteader to raise than a beef cow. Also, if you keep dairy goats, you may as well breed her to a Boer or some type of meat cross so you can raise her kids for the freezer.
  • Fiber: Fiber breeds offer a third way of getting something back from your goats. There are only a couple breeds of fiber goats and it can be tricky to find a breeder, but it’s worth it if this interests you.
  • Brush Clearing: While sheep are mostly grazers, goats are browsers. Have a wooded lot or brushy area you want cleared? Add some goats! This is a great way of naturally clearing out an area without backbreaking labor on your part.

People sometimes struggle with goats because they lack good fencing. Goats are escape artists and very intelligent. If you have a weakness in your fence or a flimsy-latched gate, it’s safe to say they will find it. Don’t skimp on quality fencing and you will enjoy having a small herd of goats on your property.

Do you keep livestock? Please share your stories or tips for new homesteaders below!

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4 Overlooked Meats The Rest Of The World Eats (That We Should, Too)

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4 Overlooked Meats The Rest Of The World Eats (That We Should, Too)

Image source: mindcryme.com

Eating the organs of animals is quite popular throughout the world, but many Americans find the idea to be unpleasant. Perhaps that is because of a lack of exposure to organ meats or a memory of a badly cooked meal. Either way, adding organ meats to your regular diet can give you a significant healthy boost.

While some of these following meats aren’t actually organs but muscle, they tend to be lumped into the same category.

1. Liver

One of the most common true organ meats is the liver, and if you were to only eat one type of organ, this should be it. The liver is not only loaded with nutrients, but is a source of certain ones you probably struggle to get through other foods.

You may have already heard that liver is an incredible source of vitamin A. Retinol, a form of vitamin A from animal products, is a major reason for eating liver. Approximately four ounces of beef liver gives you more than 1,600 percent of the daily recommended intake of this vitamin. In addition to vitamin A you also get major doses of B vitamins. Don’t forget about the iron, folate and other nutrients as well!

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There is some concern that the liver can be a source of toxins, since one part of the many jobs this organ performs is filtering blood and detoxification of chemicals. This risk of this happening is quite low, but it’s a good idea to eat the highest quality liver possible — meaning livers from livestock that were not factory farmed. (Recommended: “Liver: The Underappreciated Superfood Of Yesteryear.”)

Recipes for cooking liver:

2. Kidneys

4 Overlooked Meats The Rest Of The World Eats (That We Should, Too)Less popular than liver, kidneys are another organ that can be quite tasty when cooked properly.

Just like the liver, the kidneys are a great source of vitamin A. Kidneys do have less vitamin A compared to liver (close to about half) but are still higher than most foods. Kidneys provide a nice boost of iron, as well — about five grams in a serving. Finally, these organs are a great source of vitamin B12 — at least 300 percent more than the daily recommended intake, depending on the type of kidney.

Recipes for cooking kidney:

3. Heart

Less often consumed is the heart. Of course, the heart is a muscle but it offers nutrients more similar to organ meats than muscle meats. Aside from that, heart is considered offal so it’s often lumped into the category of organs.

Beef heart is high in protein and a very rich meat. It is particularly high in vitamin B12 and iron (notice a pattern here?). A three-ounce portion of beef heart will provide roughly 200 percent of the daily recommend intake of B12. Ironically, B12 is an important vitamin for cardiovascular health. As for iron, you can expect to get about 50 percent of your recommended intake if you are a man or about 22 percent if you are woman.

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Most people tend to find that heart has a very strong flavor, particularly beef heart. If you know you don’t like beef heart, then give the milder chicken hearts a try before writing off this meat altogether.

Recipes for cooking heart:

4. Tongue

A final muscle that isn’t an organ but often lumped into the same category is the tongue. Beef tongue is quite the delicacy in other parts of the world, such as Japan where you can find beef tongue-flavored savory snacks.

Since the tongue is high in fat it isn’t as tricky to cook and is quite versatile in how it can be prepared. The downside is that tongue isn’t as packed with nutrients as the other organs/meats. In comparison to the other meats mentioned, beef tongue only has 12 percent of the recommended iron daily intake and 22 percent for B12. Despite this, tongue is still a nice addition to add variety to your diet. Plus, it is usually quite cheap!

Recipes for cooking tongue:

If you truly dislike the taste of offal or organ meats, then don’t feel like you have to force yourself to eat them. However, there are many recipes out there that may work for you.

Do you enjoy organ meats or offal meats? Please share your tips for cooking up these meats in the comment section below.

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7 Off-Grid, ‘Un-American’ Ways You Can Save Money This Year

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7 Off-Grid, ‘Un-American’ Ways You Can Save Money This Year

Image source: Pixabay.com

Going off-grid isn’t cheap and certainly not something to jump into without research. Even if you can’t leave the grid right now, there are ways you can save up for that future by cutting your living costs today – ways that most Americans wouldn’t even consider.

Here’s seven:

1. Get rid of your cable

According to statistics, the average American spends roughly $65 a month on cable. Americans over the age of two, on average, watch about five hours of television a day, according to data collected by Nielsen. Not only is cable expensive (and will continue to increase in price) but it is often a waste of time. Sure, there are educational programs on some channels and sometimes it’s nice to sit back and enjoy a show or movie, but there are probably better uses of your time and money.

If you or someone in your family doesn’t want to give up television, you can switch to streaming services like Netflix or purchase a Roku box for you TV. With the latter you can still access many stations and TV programs, and some are available at no cost. Or even better, you can read a book.

2. Downgrade your cellphone and plan

The average American cellphone plans costs only slightly less than cable – coming in at about $63 a month. And just like cable, the cost is expected to continue to climb.

Some people rely heavily on their phones for checking email, making calls, video calling family, etc. If you are someone who can’t give up your phone for whatever reason, then you can look into a less expensive service. Nowadays there are more no-contract options and some cell phone companies boast rates of $50 a month or less.

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You also can downgrade your phone to one without Internet and email access, which will lower your cellphone bill even more. Being able to make phone calls and send a text message might be all you really need.

3. Limit going out to eat

This year, for the first time, Americans spent more money going out to eat than buying groceries for cooking at home, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Going out to eat is nice as a treat but is an incredible waste of money if you rely on restaurants for regular meals. Eating at home not only saves money but is better for you, so why not improve your bank account while staying healthy? Save even more money by starting a garden, planting some fruit trees for future harvest, raising some livestock, etc.

4. Get rid of your old stuff

7 Off-Grid, ‘Un-American’ Ways You Can Save Money This Year

Image source: Pixabay.com

Americans are pretty obsessed with “stuff.” It’s interesting how a country that can be so wasteful when it comes to food and produces so much trash also can have a packrat mentality. It’s pretty incredible just how much the average American keeps around.

One very shocking statistic is despite the average American home being about three times bigger than it was 50 years ago, about one in 10 people still have to rent offsite storage, according to the Self Storage Association.

You can find more interesting statistics on minimalism here.

Taking on a more minimalistic mindset when it comes to material objects is going to save you money. From a homesteading point of view, this means not cluttering your property with objects you never use but also looking at objects you may have with repurposing in mind.

5. Reduce the amount of water you use

Using flush toilets, taking 30-minute showers and soaking in giant, full bathtubs might be nice but they do waste a lot of water. Where water is a precious commodity, it would be crazy to use it to flush away human waste. Yet many Americans would find it odd to use something like an outhouse when a toilet is available.

Regardless of where you live, you can probably adopt better ways of water conservation when it comes to hygiene and bodily functions. Composting toilets are a wonderful idea and very versatile – some are even made specifically for RVs.

As for showering, you can go super basic by using heated water and dumping it on yourself (in a tub) or look into other options like solar showers. Also, whether you are bathing inside or outside, use the leftover water as grey water for your plants or garden.

6. Choose alternative light sources

When the power goes out it can be surprising to learn how much you rely on the ease of flipping a switch to light up a room. Most people already have flashlights around but in preparation of going off-grid and to reduce electrical bills, you’re not going to want to just rely on them at night.

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There are many ways of lighting your home while off-grid. You can use lanterns, candles, a solar light system or even solar-powered outdoor lights you bring inside at night.

Going off-grid can be done in stages, and even just reducing household expenses without the goal of going without the grid is still very beneficial.

7. Create an off-grid kitchen

Cooking in a modern kitchen uses quite a bit of energy. Making an off-grid kitchen is a great way to start learning more primitive cooking skills and reduce your bills. There are many ways to cook without power. It really depends on your home and what you find to be the best way for you.

For example, a wood stove is a great method of making a meal in the cold months while also heating your home. In the warmer months, it is best to take your cooking outdoors to keep inside as cool as possible. Even if you are in an urban environment, you may still be able to have a wood stove set up outdoors or use another style of oven for cooking.

What money-saving tips would you add to this list? Share them in the section below:

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5 Everyday Items Your Great-Grandparents Repurposed (That You Should, Too)

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5 Everyday Items Your Great-Grandparents Repurposed (That You Should, Too)

Image source: wikimedia

It’s a shame how wasteful the average American is today. Fortunately, for those who want to save some money or limit their contribution to the landfill, there are ways to reuse almost any common household object – just like our grandparents and great-grandparents did. Here are five things that you should really think twice about before throwing out:

1. Empty jars and bottles

Empty jars, bottles, food containers, etc. are all very useful. If you’re already inclined to repurpose things, your cabinets may be home to glass jars that were once used for jams, pickles and sauces, but now are sturdy drinking glasses. Mason jars also can be cleaned out and reused for canning.

Keeping nice glass jars is a no-brainer. But don’t forget about plastic containers as well. Food tubs can be thoroughly cleaned out and used for numerous things while saving you from having to buy Tupperware.

Very large plastic bottles or jugs can be used to store water for emergencies or cut to make handy scoops for pet food. Glass bottles with necks, like wine bottles, can be decorated and reused as vases or for other craft projects. These types of bottles and beer bottles also can be turned into drinking cups if the neck is cut off and you sand down the edge.

2. Old clothing and linen

Even heavily stained clothes or those with holes can be given new life. The most common way is to turn them into rags. Old shirts can be turned into DIY rugs or a throw blanket. Old denim can be reused that way as well.

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Don’t forget that clothing that is still in pretty good shape can just be patched up –  something our grandparents did far more often than we do today.

Aside from clothing you also can repurpose old linens. Sheets that are still in good shape can be turned into curtains. Worn-out sheets can be used as drop clothes for projects, turned into pet beds, or kept in your car as picnic blankets. Towels can be cut into rags or turned into braided rugs like the T-shirt project above.

3. Soap slivers

Image source: soapcinch.com

Image source: soapcinch.com

When you use up a bar of soap until it’s no longer easy to use or just breaks up into slivers in your hand, don’t throw it away. You can collect soap slivers and eventually make a whole new bar of soap.

Aside from using soap slivers to make a new bar you also can use them in a few other ways. Some sewing pros find that a small, hard sliver of white soap makes a perfect marker for drawing lines on fabric that will wash right out. You can put dried pieces of soap slivers in a small mesh or breathable bag and put them in dresser drawers, bags or the car to keep things smelling fresh.

4. Candle stubs

Similar to soap slivers, saving old candlewax is a good idea. Keep old candle stubs and scrape out old wax from jars. You can melt the wax from old candles if you are worried about breaking the jar. Once you have enough wax you can melt it all together to create a new candle (although you will need to buy or make a wick). Learn how to do it here.

Old wax also can be used to coat pine cones for homemade potpourri or used as a fire-starter if you layer some melted wax over an old egg carton or toilet paper tube. Some people keep leftover birthday candles to use for lubricating “sticky” zippers and for emergency fire-starters.

5. Old wood and furniture

Probably one thing that many people keep is old lumber, and for good reason. Scrap wood can easily be turned into awesome DIY projects.

Old furniture doesn’t need to be sent to the dump. You can salvage parts to create new furniture or to use in other projects around the homestead. Headboards can easily be turned into benches, coat racks or shelves. Dressers can be turned into kitchen islands or storage benches, and the drawers alone can be used for flower boxes, among other things.

Repurposing furniture can be really fun and is going to be a lot easier than starting from scratch with lumber. Turning old furniture into something new also is a great way of keeping a part of a loved piece of furniture in your home without sacrificing space.

What are some of your favorite ways of reusing or repurposing things around your home? Share your ideas in the section below:

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8 Fool-Proof Ways To Cook When The Power Is Out

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8 Fool-Proof Ways To Cook When The Power Is OutCooking when the grid is down can be a bit tricky for those who rely on their oven or other electrical appliances to prepare a meal. Whether you live in an area prone to power outages or simply want to add some emergency cooking methods to your bank of knowledge, here are some ideas for making a hot meal without power.

Keep in mind that cooking methods or tools for outdoor use are labeled that way for a reason! Be safe and if you aren’t sure whether a particular grill or other cooking device can be used indoors, take it outside.

1. Fireplace

Naturally an actual woodstove would be the obvious way you could cook off-grid, but if you only have a traditional fireplace, don’t worry! If it’s cool enough to start a fire, you can easily cook in your regular fireplace.

2. DIY alcohol stoves

Alcohol-fueled stoves are easy to make at home and cheap to use. These types of stoves are super portable and can be quite small, making them popular among campers and backpackers. They burn hot and can easily heat up a pot of water quite large compared to the stove itself.

3. Propane camp stove

Most campers probably have at least one propane camp stove. Even stores like Walmart or Target sell them. These stoves tend to work very well and are pretty easy to use. The only downside is that you will need to keep canisters of propane on hand and if you run out, you are out of luck.

4. Versatile ‘Crisis Cooker’

Unlike a propane camp stove, this handy portable device lets you use not only propane but also wood or charcoal. It works great with propane but in a pinch will allow you to boil, grill, bake or fry using other heating sources. For example, because of its unique design, you can cook a meal with only six briquettes. Wood chunks work, too.

Crisis Cooker: The Most Versatile Backup Stove In The World Allows You To Cook Anything, Any Time, Any Where

5. Campfire

A great way to cook up a meal is just to make a fire outside. You can either build a campfire in a safe area or build a dedicated fire pit for cooking. In good weather it can be a lot of fun to gather around a fire in the backyard and make a meal with family or friends around. As for cooking techniques you could make a spit, build a rack for grilling or go the route of using a Dutch oven. Click here to learn how to cook with a Dutch oven.

6. Rocket stove. The rocket stove is an efficient option that uses only bricks and wood and can be assembled in a short amount of time. You will still be able to use all of your other normal kitchen equipment with this stove. The other beauty of the rocket stove is that it doesn’t just have to be used in a survival situation; it can also be used as a temporary backup on normal days when your regular kitchen stove breaks down. The downside: It’s not portable.

7. Charcoal grills

Grilling or barbequing isn’t just for summer events. A charcoal grill has the advantage of you also being able to use it for a wood fire if you don’t have briquettes. The downside is that grills tend to be rather large.

8. Dedicated outdoor oven/outdoor kitchen

Everyone can benefit from having an outdoor kitchen area, but especially those who live in rural areas. A dedicated outdoor oven (whether it’s an old wood stove, masonry stove, etc.) heated with wood or propane makes cooking more enjoyable and it’s always reassuring to know that there is always a way to cook outside. Consider building an outdoor kitchen area or at least have the oven covered with a simple structure. A big benefit of having an off-grid outdoor kitchen is that you can still cook up big meals in summer without heating up your house.

How do you prefer to cook when you have no power? Please share your comments and your favorite easy off-grid recipes below!

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What Is The Right Age To Teach Kids About Guns?

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What Age Should I Teach My Kids About Guns?

Image source: theguardian.com

A common question of new parents on the homestead is this: “When should I teach my kids about guns?” This is a tricky question, as there is no one right answer.

Generally, age doesn’t matter; maturity of the child does. A 5 year old who is respectful and listens well to instruction can safely be taught firearm basics, while another child may be 14 or 15 before he or she can or should be taught. Therefore, it’s important to use common sense in deciding if your child is mentally mature enough to understand the potential danger of guns and be able to listen to your instructions.

Most parents and authorities on gun safety will agree that children should be taught from a young age to leave firearms alone, unless they have permission from an adult. It’s a good idea to show your kids what firearms you may have in your house to let them become familiar them, in the event they find a gun in or outside of your home. Generally, this can be done when a child is only a few years old. Many parents make the mistake of simply telling a kid, “See this gun? Never touch it!” — and that’s the end of that lesson. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly a good idea for a few reasons.

How often did your parents tell you not to do something — but you did it anyway? In fact, maybe the reason you were pushed to do what you weren’t supposed to was because your parents made it such a big deal not to do it.

The problem with “don’t touch this!” is that it puts curiosity into most kids. There are terrible stories every year of children finding a gun and playing with it, completely oblivious to what they are doing because they were never taught. These events often lead to serious injury or death.

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A better way of teaching children respect is to lay out some of your firearms and introduce your kids to them. Tell them a little about each gun and instill some basic firearm safety rules. Allow them to ask questions and let them touch or hold the gun. Explaining the power of a firearm can be difficult for a young child who may not have an understanding of what death is.

Some parents may show their child a hunting video, explaining that when someone uses a gun to shoot a deer (or other game) that it leads to death. Shooting a gun at someone isn’t a video game; what gets shot won’t get back up. How you go about explaining this is up to your personal beliefs. For some hunting families, kids may be brought up with guns at such a young age that they understand very quickly that guns are not toys and they do kill.

Ideally, a child shouldn’t fear guns or become nervous around them, as this isn’t safe, either. Instead, the child should learn that guns are useful tools but need to be treated with the upmost respect. While shooting at targets may be fun and exciting, guns are absolutely not toys and must be handled carefully.

What Age Should I Teach My Kids About Guns?

Image source: History.com

It isn’t a bad idea to begin teaching kids from a very early age about gun safety rules, even if you know the child may not be mentally mature enough to learn how to shoot for years. Depending on how you learned about firearm safety personally, there may be different rules you have memorized. There are many different gun safety rule lists out there, but my two favorites are Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules and the Ten Commandments of Gun Safety. They are as follows:

Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules:

  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

Ten Commandments of Gun Safety (these may vary depending on the source)

  1. Treat every gun with the respect due a loaded gun.
  2. Carry only empty guns, taken down or with the action open, into your car, camp and home.
  3. Always be sure that the barrel and action are clear of obstructions.
  4. Always carry your gun so that you can control the direction of the muzzle.
  5. Be sure of your target before you pull the trigger.
  6. Never point a gun at anything you do not want to shoot.
  7. Never leave your gun unattended unless you unload it first.
  8. Never climb a tree or a fence with a loaded gun.
  9. Never shoot at a flat, hard surface or the surface of water.
  10. Do not mix gunpowder and alcohol.
Image source: sportsmenforaccess.org

Image source: sportsmenforaccess.org

The Four Rules is a great starting place for educating your child. Teach them to your child and get them to memorize them. Ask them safety questions randomly and see if they don’t just recite words but actually understand the rules. Once safety rules and handling are completely understood by a child, you can move to learn how to safely shoot a gun.

Most parents will start off with airsoft rifles or BB guns before turning to an actual firearm. Starting with a BB gun is never a bad idea and since it is quiet with no recoil, it really helps a child gain confidence. A common mistake in firearm safety is letting a child shoot a gun that is too much for them. The recoil or the loud sound can be intimidating and end up teaching the child to flinch in anticipation when firing a gun. This is a terrible habit and one that is difficult to break.

Once a child is comfortable with a BB gun and is eager to shoot a real gun, a .22 rifle is a great start. They even have child-sized .22s like the Chipmunk and the Crickett. Don’t rush the process of teaching your child how to comfortably and safely shoot. Have fun and be sure they are enjoying themselves. You may be having a blast teaching your child these skills, but it’s a good idea not to nag them or tire them out.

Have you taught your kids firearm safety yet? What age did you learn how to safely handle and fire a gun? Please share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below:

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Recipes From History: Foods That Can Last 100 Years

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Survival Superfood That Can Last 100 Years

Image source: Parks Canada

When it comes to long-lasting survival foods for emergency situations, most pantries are filled with dried or canned foods and emergency meal kits. These foods tend to last for a few years with proper storage, which is impressive. But did you know there are other foods that can last for even longer — even past your lifetime?

In fact, there are a few stories of certain foods remaining safely edible for upwards of 100 years. While the majority of these claims have been merely anecdotal, there is no doubt that some foods can easily last decades or more under the right conditions.

Here are 3 foods that are easy to make or gather that will easily outlast typical canned or dried survival foods.

Pemmican

Pemmican has a long history as a food that seems to never go bad. This food is a mixture of fat and protein made into a paste and then dried. Think of super tough, calorie-packed fruit leather.

This peculiar jerky-like food was developed by North American Native Americans as a high-energy meal that could be taken on long journeys without spoiling. The idea was passed on to Europeans, who found it invaluable as a protein source by explorers and trappers.

Pemmican isn’t difficult to make and there really is no exact recipe, since traditionally the protein and fat sources that were used depended on whatever the people had. Therefore, modern pemmican’s protein component could be anything from store-bought beef to wild game like deer or moose. There are cases of Natives adding fruits for taste and increased nutritious — although this fancier Pemmican was often used in ceremonies and other significant events.

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You click this hyperlink to go to a modern-day take on a Pemmican recipe. In short, this food is made by crushing previously dried meat (jerky) and mixing it with crushed dried berries and an equal amount of melted fat. Pemmican can be eaten as-is, added to stews or fried up in a pan with vegetables or other foods you may have on hand.

Hardtack

Another food with an interesting history is hardtack (or, hard tack). This cracker-like bread or biscuit was made popular by sailors and soldiers. The idea of baking a hardened bread or biscuit to take on long voyages or treks originated all the way back in ancient Egypt and Rome. In wasn’t until 1667 that hardtack became part of a standard diet for the Royal Navy.

It wasn’t until 1801 when a baker began producing hard tack (called water crackers) in America. These water crackers became a mainstay and also were eaten by troops. There are even hardtack biscuits in Civil War museums today.

Hardtack isn’t a tasty food since it’s just a mix of flour and water, but it did do a good job of keeping soldiers in condition. There are still some companies in the US that make hardtack for Civil War reenactments, and these biscuits can still be found in supermarkets throughout the world.

There isn’t really an expiration date on hardtack but it’s generally believed that if kept in dry, insect-proof containers out of sunlight these crackers can easily last 50-100 years.

Watch the video below to learn how to make it:

 

If you want a different recipe, then use this one from Parks Canada, which was used by surveyor Major AB Rogers:

  • 4 cups flour, preferably whole wheat
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups water, approximately

Directions:

  • “Preheat the oven to 375°F | 190°C.
  • “Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl. Add enough water − possibly less than two cups − to ensure that the dough sticks together without sticking to your hands, the rolling pin or the pan. Mix the dough by hand.
  • “Roll the dough out, shaping it roughly into a rectangle. Cut into the dough into 12 squares about 3 x 3 inches and ½-inch thick. After cutting the squares, press a pattern of four rows of four holes into each square, using a nail or other such object. Do not punch through the dough. The appearance you want is similar to that of a modern saltine cracker. Turn each square over and do the same thing to the other side.
  • “Place the squares on an ungreased cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Turn each piece over and bake for another 30 minutes. The crackers should be slightly brown on both sides.”

And finally …

While not a meal by itself, honey is a great addition to a survival diet for a number of reasons. Not only is raw honey great for the body internally (and the taste buds!) but it also performs double-duty as a natural healing salve. Unfiltered raw honey in its most natural state boosts the immune system, provides antibacterial and antifungal protection, and is loaded with various minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.

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It cannot be stressed enough that these numerous benefits and longevity apply to only raw honey. Honey that has had additives added or has been heated to a high temperature doesn’t offer the same benefits. Some supermarkets or health stores will sell unprocessed, raw honey, but you can always find an apiary where you can buy your honey straight from the source.

For best results, honey should be stored in a cool, dry place in mason jars with secure lids. Ideally, the honey should be kept at room temperature but this only helps prevent crystallization. Raw honey is one of the only foods, if not the only one, that has no expiration date. A jar of honey was unearthed that was more than 5,000 years old and still deemed fit for human consumption!

Other foods with tremendously long expiration dates include sugar, raw maple syrup, white rice, beans, ghee and bouillon cubes. Even if you have a garden and livestock in the event of an emergency, stocking up on true survival foods will ensure you get plenty of variety during hard times.

What foods or advice would you add to the list? Share it in the section below:

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Beyond Cast Iron: Homestead Cookware That Will Last Forever

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Beyond Cast Iron: Homestead Cookware That Will Last Forever

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The homestead lifestyle is generally one centered on frugality, self-reliance and going back to basics. These characteristics can all apply to the kitchen. Just visit any cookware or kitchen supply aisle in a store and you will see a huge array of gadgets all promising to make cooking easier.

More often than not, though, these gadgets or “must-have” appliances don’t work as well as marketed or they end up living in the back of a drawer or cabinet because you really never use them. Perhaps you do enjoy them but find that they break easily or that nifty non-stick coating on your favorite pan is already chipping. You can save a lot of money in the long-run and improve your cooking experience by investing in simpler, basic cookware and kitchen utensils – some of which your grandparents or great-grandparents used.

Everyone has their own way of cooking or preferences for certain types of cookware. But in general the following kitchen equipment will be used quite often in the homestead kitchen.

1. Cast iron cookware

Cast iron definitely has its place in the homestead kitchen and honestly, even just cooking with cast iron makes you feel a bit like you’ve gone back in time. It also has a lot of benefits, such as:

  • It isn’t expensive and will easily last many generations.
  • It is naturally non-stick (when properly seasoned).
  • It retains warmth very well.
  • It is extremely versatile (on stovetop, in oven, over campfire, etc.).

Cast iron doesn’t really have any disadvantages, but there are some things to keep in mind. First off, most basic cast iron pans aren’t going to have some type of handle to prevent you from burning your hand like other pans. Even I have made the mistake of grabbing the handle while I was busy cooking and not paying attention.

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Secondly, some novice cooks complain they don’t like cooking with cast iron because the food sticks badly, it’s difficult to clean, or their pots/pans started to rust. This is unfortunate because all of those issues are solely due to improper care. Simply put, cast iron cannot be treated like other metal cookware. These pans must be seasoned and cleaned in a specific way. If you care for your cast iron cookware properly you will find they are great cooking tools.

Check out articles here and here on how to care for your cast iron.

2. Stainless steel cookware

Aluminum pans are cheap but stainless steel pots and pans are what you should invest in. Stainless steel is more expensive but you will get a heavier pan that is better at holding in heat. A well-made stainless steel pan is thicker and will sit much better on a stovetop. Stainless steel is also non-reactive, so you don’t need to worry about pitting from salts or acids if you use common sense.

3. High-quality knives

Image source: Pixabay.com

Image source: Pixabay.com

A dull knife isn’t just a pain to use but also can reduce the quality of your food by crushing while cutting. A dull knife is also more dangerous than a sharp one – the reason being is that you have to apply more force with a dull knife and if you slip, you are more apt to cut yourself.

If you enjoy cooking, you really need a good set of knives and a knife sharpener. There are a lot of different kitchen knife brands out there, so I recommend doing your homework before buying. Good kitchen knives are an investment. They aren’t cheap, but they will easily pay for themselves. Good knives should outlast your lifetime easily. You don’t need to break the bank to get new knives. I recommend replacing your underperforming knives with new ones over time, starting with whichever style of knife you use the most.

4. Glass or ceramic bakeware

If you are someone who loves baking your experience in the kitchen will be much more pleasant with high-quality bakeware. Although you can find really great bakeware that isn’t a brand name, there are two name brands that are exceptionally impressive – Pyrex glass bakeware and Corningware. You can often find Corningware that is still in great shape at thrift stores or garage sales. Heavy, thick and well-made glass or ceramic bakeware is going to last for many generations.

Bonus Advice

Finally, I like wooden cooking utensils. The sound of a wooden spoon stirring around a pan is quite lovely, plus you don’t need to worry about scratching metal or non-stick cookware. Wood won’t react with acidic foods while cooking, either.

Some people do worry about bacteria in the wood grain, but the same can happen in plastic or metal utensils. Just wash your wooden utensils after use and be sure they are dried immediately. Wood spoons can easily last a lifetime when cared for properly.

What are some of the most-used pieces of cookware in your kitchen? Please share in the comment section below!

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Here’s Why Your Should NEVER Rake Your Leaves

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Don’t Rake Your Leaves This Year! (Here’s Why)

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In preparation for winter, many homeowners go through the grueling task of raking and bagging leaves. Maybe it isn’t a big deal for those with very small yards in the city, but it can be quite the workout in large yards or around rural homes.

Well, as it turns out, raking your leaves can lead to a more attractive yard but may not be the best idea. Why? Keeping leaves in your yard not only helps the creatures around the tree, but also boosts the health of your lawn, too. Read on to find out how to do it.

Why Leaves Fall

Deciduous trees lose their leaves in autumn as a survival method; no leaves means the tree can conserve water and energy to get it through the winter. As most aspects of nature, a tree losing its leaves doesn’t just help the tree but also assists the environment around it.

The many animals and insects around the tree are looking for shelter to get them through the upcoming winter. In a very wonderful way, the critters are able to use these leaves as a home until spring arrives. As with most things, this system works perfectly well in nature. But it’s a different story when humans begin to disturb this process by raking their yards.

The Problem with Raking

Raking leaves and bagging them destroys the homes these many creatures need. All homeowners should do their best to work with nature and support their local ecosystem. Not only is it part of being a steward of the land, but it also improves the lawn. Homesteaders will benefit from healthier beneficial insect and animal populations come spring, which will improve their gardens, woodlots, ponds, etc.

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This no-rake method has been used for decades by various homeowners but lately has made its way into the mainstream, including a recent USA Today article.

Examples of some critters that call leaf litter home in winter include:

  • Box turtles
  • Salamanders and other amphibians
  • Snakes
  • Spiders and other arachnids
  • Snails and slugs
  • Millipedes and centipedes
  • Beetles and other insects
  • Moth and butterfly pupae
  • Worms and other soil aerators
  • Soil-improving microorganisms
  • Important fungus and healthy bacteria
Don’t Rake Your Leaves This Year! (Here’s Why)

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For example, when caterpillars have a safe place to live you will have a much healthier butterfly population in spring and summer — which will in turn help your garden, fruit trees and general vegetation. Healthy insect populations that rely on leaf litter in winter will also feed birds and predatory insects.

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While animals benefit from the no-rake method, so does the ground. It will act as a natural fertilizer, improving your soil and also suppressing weeds. Not to mention, skipping raking completely saves a lot of time and reduces costs from bagging.

What to Do Instead of Raking

So if you don’t rake your leaves, what do you do? There are a few options. Some people don’t rake their leaves at all, or just wait until spring arrives before raking them away to a new location. This is ideal, but it’s understandable if leaves covering the lawn bother you. If that is the case you can instead:

  • Rake up leaves and move to the outskirts of your lawn or just somewhere else on your property where it doesn’t bother you.
  • Rake up leaves and put them over your garden beds for protection.
  • Rake up leaves and leave them around the base of trees in your woodlot as mulch.
  • Mulch the leaves with your mower. Some homeowners use a mulch mower or a special mulch attachment, but neither are necessary. Most mowers will mulch leaves simply by driving over them.

This year, don’t think of fallen leaves as an annoyance, but rather an amazing way nature protects vulnerable critters in winter – and fertilizes your lawn.

Do you have any “leaf advice”? What do you do? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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5 ‘Forgotten Foods’ Your Grandparents Ate That You Should, Too

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5 ‘Forgotten Foods’ Your Grandparents Ate That You Should, Too

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It seems as though our grandparents and great-grandparents were overall much healthier, despite having lived off of a diet high in fat, meat and carbs. There is a lot of debate and varying opinions about why past generations seemed healthier. Regardless of what you believe, you can’t deny that diet is a major factor in health.

Here are 5 foods that were common on the dinner plate that you may want to add to your diet.

1. Homemade butter

If you’ve never had homemade butter, you’re really missing out. Butter made from grass-fed raw milk is absolutely delicious and loaded with nutrients to boot. Fat is nothing to fear when it’s from a source like this.

The benefits of homemade butter are numerous, including:

  • Is a high source of easily absorbable vitamin A.
  • Is loaded with antioxidants which protect against free radicals and fortify arteries.
  • Is rich in vitamins E, K and D.
  • Helps reduce stiffness in those with arthritis.
  • Helps keep the brain and nervous system performing well.
  • Helps protects and heals gastrointestinal infections.

Making homemade butter isn’t difficult and you don’t need a churn. All you will need is milk, a little salt and either a mixer or a simple jar.

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2. Organs

In past generations organs were certainly not wasted and often relished as a tasty, nutritious meal. Even though not everyone is a fan, it is well-worth it to add them to your diet every now and then.

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Some of the best types of organs include:

  • Heart (beef, lamb and chicken) – technically a muscle.
  • Liver (beef).
  • Brain (any).
  • Kidney (beef).

Other options are tripe and tongue.

Organs tend to be an acquired taste, and generally beef organs are a little milder compared to lamb, mutton, pig, etc. Organs are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fats and amino acids. Liver is particularly nutritionally powerful and actually has the highest amount of vitamin A of any foods. An added bonus of these organs is how inexpensive they tend to be.

3. Bone broth

5 ‘Forgotten Foods’ Your Grandparents Ate That You Should, TooBone broth or bone stock is another food item that many people pass up, instead buying a premade stock from the grocery store. This is a real shame, since homemade bone broth isn’t just more delicious but also very healthy. Plus, it reduces waste by using up those leftover beef or chicken bones.

Bone broth can be made from really any bones, even fish (which is quite popular in Asian cuisine). This protein-packed elixir is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Even studies have proven that chicken bone broth truly does help get rid of a cold! Read this article to learn how to make it.

You can use your bone broth in a soup or simply drink a mug of it.

4 Fermented foods

While some cultures still eat a lot of fermented foods, most Americans don’t — save perhaps for pickles. Since most people don’t rely on canning to preserve their foods, the use of fermentation isn’t really common. For past generations, fermentation was used more often to increase the longevity of food. The fermentation process also gives different nutrition.

Some of the most common fermented foods include:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Pickles
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Kimchi
  • Salsa

While some of the above fermented foods are from different cultures, they are still a healthy food you can enjoy. Properly fermented foods are filled with vitamins, minerals and probiotics. These will, of course, vary depending on the vegetables you use. There are also different methods for fermenting produce.

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Some recipes require a brine, like pickles, while other foods, such as sauerkraut, can be lacto-fermented. Lacto-fermentation simply uses salt and spices, along with water. Some sauerkraut and kimchi recipes use no water. Instead, the salt naturally pulls moisture from the produce.

You can find tons of at-home pickle and other fermented food recipes online. I highly recommend you give them a try. Aside from health benefits, it is also a great way to ensure you don’t waste extra produce from your garden.

5. Wild game

Hunting is still a popular hobby in many parts of the US, but it’s safe to say that most of our grandparents or great-grandparents ate wild game much more often. Wild game, both large and small, offer health benefits that many normal meats from livestock don’t.

As a whole, wild game is far leaner than beef, pork or lamb. The meat is also believed to be nutritionally superior, because the animals ate what they were supposed to eat. Rather than consuming grains and hay, deer and elk eat a variety of fresh foods. Compared to most commercial livestock, meat from wild game is much higher in omega-3 fatty acids.

As mentioned before, it isn’t just big game like deer, elk or antelope that is good for us. Don’t forget about small game like rabbits and even squirrel. If you live in a rural area but don’t hunt, ask your neighbors or friends that do hunt if you could buy off a portion of their deer or other animal from them. Most wild game takes a little getting used to for some people, while others find that they taste delicious. It is definitely worth a try!

Please share your favorite meals and/or recipes your grandparents may have passed down to you in the comment section below!

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The 4 Most Humane Ways To Kill A Backyard Chicken

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The 4 Most Humane Ways To Kill A Backyard Chicken

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If you raise livestock for meat, naturally part of that process will be learning how to properly euthanize the animals. However, even if you only keep a few loved pet hens for eggs, you still should understand how to put down a chicken in the event of a severe injury or other emergency.

People who are very sensitive about these things may prefer taking a severely sick or injured chicken to the vet or ask a knowledgeable neighbor to dispatch the animal, but remember that having someone to help you isn’t always going to be possible. If you take on the responsibility of caring for a flock of chickens, you also take the responsibility of having to put down a suffering one if such an event does occur. That goes for any type of livestock and, for some people, even pets if they live in a rural area very far from any veterinarian.

Methods of Putting Down Chickens

Do a simple Google search for how to humanely put down a chicken and you will find a whole slew of different answers — some of which work very well while others shouldn’t be used.

First off, if you are someone completely unfamiliar with euthanizing a chicken, it is easy to fall under the assumption that a “brutal” method must not be humane. For example, using a sharp knife or hatchet to lop off a chicken’s head is often seen as gory and even torturous by some, simply because of the blood. I’ve found many threads in forums about the subject of “humane” euthanasia where the person seems instead to be looking for the best way to kill a chicken with the least participation on their part — even if the method they choose isn’t humane at all.

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Here are a list of a few of the most humane methods:

1. Decapitation

Probably one of the oldest methods used, decapitation is a quick death for a chicken when done swiftly. You will need a very sharp, heavy knife/cleaver or a sharpened hatchet, plus someone there to hold the chicken. (You also can use what is called a “killing cone,” which requires only one person.)

Typically, people will use a tree stump as the chopping block. You will want to hammer two nails into the stump, just far enough apart that it will hold the chicken’s head in place. The purpose of the nails is that you can stretch the chicken’s neck slightly (this won’t hurt the bird) so you can get a clean cut. This should all be done very quickly but quietly to ensure the bird isn’t stressed. Have your helper pick up the bird, place the head gently between the nails so the neck is straight, and then chop.

It isn’t a pretty process but this method is quick and humane. It is also fairly fool-proof if you use a sharp knife/hatchet and swing down hard.

2. Cervical dislocation

The 4 Most Humane Ways To Kill A Backyard Chicken

Image source: Pixabay.com

Cervical dislocation, or simply breaking the chicken’s neck, is another method that is humane when done correctly but requires more knowledge and confidence to do correctly compared to decapitation. I cannot stress enough that you must be confident in your ability to use this method correctly. There are many people who actually don’t break the neck completely and this just leads to a painful death for the animal.

There are a couple of ways to do this:

  • Snapping the neck by hand ­– This is obviously a very hands-on approach and therefore not suitable for some people. What you will do is hold the chicken in your left arm, grasp the chicken’s head at the base of its skull (you can feel where the skull meets the neck) and snap the chicken’s head in a down and out movement. This is difficult to describe to in text, so I recommend you watch a video on how to do this or ask for an experienced neighbor or fellow chicken owner to show you. I’ve seen people do this on full-grown chickens, but I am not a very big person so I have only used it on young chickens and older chicks.
  • Using the “Broomsticking” Method – The broomsticking method is done by placing the chicken down on a hard surface between your feet, placing a broomstick behind the chicken’s head (just where you would place your hand), stepping down on the broomstick while simultaneously pulling up the chicken’s back legs to snap the neck. Again, please watch a video or have someone show you before trying this to ensure you do it properly. I haven’t used this method on chickens, but it is what I use for rabbits. It is quick, humane and does allow a smaller person to dispatch an animal that may be too large with the above technique.

Cervical dislocation is easy to learn and does have the benefit of being a bloodless method. However, please refrain from trying to just “wring” the chicken’s neck. There are some people who try simply to grab the chicken’s head with both hands and fling it about or over their head in an effort to break its neck. This is incredibly stressful and painful for the chicken since more often than not this fails. Please use one of the two above methods instead!

3. Use a gun or pellet gun

Another humane method is to use a gun (like a .22) or a pellet gun to dispatch the bird. A pellet gun is often more than enough as long as it is powerful enough. The pellet handguns are quite useful. Typically what I will do is wrap the chicken in a towel, place it on the ground and kneel down over the bird.

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I will then use a pellet gun close to the chicken’s head to dispatch the bird. This is a very easy method but not doable from those who don’t have a gun/pellet gun.

4. Using a CO2 ‘chamber’

This final method is better suited for chicks, bantam or young adult chickens. It requires more work but some people do prefer it for one reason or another. I recommend reading this article for more information. Some people also use a paintball CO2 canister as well.

Another method that seems to get passed around that is not at all humane is placing a chicken in a bag or box which is attached to a car’s exhaust. This is not humane like CO2 and is a very painful death, with the combination of heat and chemicals. If you are going to use anything, go with the above CO2 chamber or use a different method altogether.

Putting down a loved hen or favorite rooster isn’t an enjoyable process but it is important to know how to do it properly – and is necessary if you are raising chickens for meat. As mentioned before numerous times, it is best to watch educational videos or have an experienced person help you. Some rural vets will even give you advice on how to properly dispatch a chicken at home.

What is your preferred method to kill a chicken? Share your advice in the section below:

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Firewood 101: How To Ensure You Have More Than Enough Fuel For Winter

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Firewood 101: How To Ensure You Have More Than Enough Fuel For Winter

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For people who have lived with wood heat for years, firewood is pretty much a no-brainer – just another part of living in the country. But people who have just moved to a home that relies on wood heat or just installed a wood stove might not find it so simple.

Here is a brief rundown on selecting, buying, splitting and storing firewood for the beginner – and in making sure you have more than enough for the season.

Types of Wood

When it comes to type of wood, there are four categories to keep in mind:

  • Hard vs. soft
  • Green vs. seasoned

Hardwoods and softwoods refer to the type of tree. Hardwoods like oak will burn longer and create a nice coal bed. Softwoods like pine will burn hotter and more quickly. An ideal woodpile should have a mix of these dense and soft woods. Softer woods tend to make good kindling and help to get the fire going before adding bigger piece of hardwood. Softer woods also are useful for getting a room heated more quickly, whereas hardwoods will maintain the heat and last throughout the night if maintained properly.

Softwoods also can be nice to have in the spring and fall when you only want to warm your house in the morning to take the chill off. Keep in mind that some softwoods like pine can have a lot of sap in the wood, even after seasoning. This can cause a creosote build-up to happen more quickly, so keep that in mind.

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The terms green and seasoned refer to the age and status of the firewood. Green wood is newly processed firewood that still has a lot of water content. Naturally this water content is going to make the wood difficult to burn and also might cause gunk to gather in the chimney. It just isn’t efficient. Seasoned firewood is wood that has been split and stacked, then allowed to sit in storage to dry. Depending on the wood, you can season firewood well in about six months. But some people choose to gather a ton of firewood a year or two in advance to ensure they have plenty of nice, dry wood.

It’s best to get your firewood in the spring if it’s green so it has time to dry by late fall or winter, depending on your climate. Seasoned wood costs more money and is more difficult to find.

Buying vs. Gathering

When deciding whether to buy or gather your own firewood, you should consider a few things. If you live on some acreage with trees it can be tempting to want to play lumberjack. But take a moment to think about that. If you are brand new to woodlot management, you can do a lot of damage to your property if you haphazardly take trees without considering the long-term effects. Aside from that, say there are some damaged or already fallen trees you have your eyes on. That would be fine to take but you will need to learn how to safely use a chainsaw and should have someone else with you in case of an emergency.  Even experienced chainsaw users can become complacent and end up hurting themselves. Learning to use a chainsaw is an important skill for anyone who lives in a rural area. Just be sure you educate yourself either from the help of a friend, a class, or online videos before cutting trees.

Firewood 101: How To Ensure You Have More Than Enough Fuel For Winter

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Cutting and gathering your own firewood is quite a laborious process, especially since you’ll still have to split and stack it at home. If that is something you’re interested in and you have the time to do it, by all means go for it. But keep in mind that your firewood pile may not be seasoned by the time you are done. If it’s your first year with wood heat, it would be a better idea to start gathering wood but also buy enough for the first winter.

If you’re in a rural area you can find ads for firewood in the local newspaper, online (like Craigslist) and through word-of-mouth. If your town is like mine, you might even see trucks loaded with wood and a sign with a phone number as an advertisement. For most people it’s easiest to just ask friends if they know a good source of firewood in the area.

When buying firewood be sure to ask whether the wood is seasoned. You also should inspect the wood yourself before paying. It’s a good idea to measure the stack of firewood before paying to be sure you get your money’s worth.

Cords vs. Truck Loads

The reason for measuring wood is to determine whether it’s a cord or not. A cord of firewood is roughly 8-feet x 4-feet x 4-feet. Typically, wood is sold by the cord, so it’s a good idea to get an idea of how much wood that actually is. Depending on your climate and your home, you may only need a cord. Whereas others may need three or more to be safe. It’s a good idea to ask local friends/acquaintances or the person you are buying wood from for an average amount of wood needed for your region’s winter.

Firewood also can be sold as a face cord which at face is 8-foot long and 4-foot tall but only as wide as the logs. A lot of private firewood sellers sell by the pickup truck load. This can be a bit tricky because you really won’t know how much you are getting until you get it unloaded and stacked. Depending on the truck, you can get about one-third to one-half of a cord in the bed based on how neatly is stacked and how high. A face cord is roughly a neatly stacked, full-size pickup truck bed load.

Splitting and Storing Firewood

Whether you cut your own wood or bought it, once you have logs you will need to split and stack the wood for storage. This is the most time intensive and tiring part of firewood and perhaps the one major reason why some people do away with wood heat. It is a great workout, however, and very rewarding once it’s all done.

chores homestead winter fallYou will need a nice open area for splitting firewood and it’s nice to have someone there to help with placing the logs in front of you or take turns splitting. You also will need a good quality splitting maul. The traditional, wooden-handled ones are nice but will tire you quickly so if you are buying a brand new one, you should probably go with a fiberglass handle.

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You’ll also want a splitting block. This can be a stump or a very large log. Splitting on the ground is doable but a splitting block will make your job much quicker and much easier on your back. It’s going to take a bit before you get into the swing of using a splitting maul accurately and efficiently, so don’t become discouraged. It’s really helpful to watch a video on proper swinging technique.

Once you’re ready to go you can start splitting the rounds. If you bought firewood, be sure to measure them to ensure they will fit into your stove. Also, don’t go overboard with splitting. You don’t want a bunch of small pieces of firewood. It’s better to split a round into thirds or quarters and also leave some as halves for overnight burning. You can use an ax or hatchet for splitting the thirds or quarters into kindling.

After splitting the wood you can stack it for storage. There are a couple of different ways to stock wood, so just be sure you stack in a way that allows plenty of airflow.

Within six to eight months your stacked firewood will be ready to burn. For fire safety reasons, it is best to store your firewood well away from your house. You can keep a small stack by the house in a safe area and move a days’ worth or so into the house everyday if you have the space. Keeping kindling stacked by the stove is also a good idea to help it dry more quickly and help you get a fire started without hassle.

Wood heat is wonderful, and there really isn’t anything quite like a warm fire with the occasional crackle to relax by at the end of a long day.

What advice would you add on chopping and storing firewood? Share your tips in the section below:

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Choosing A Homestead Dog: Why Conventional Wisdom Often Is Wrong

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Choosing A Homestead Dog: Why Conventional Wisdom Often Is Wrong

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When it comes to a good homestead dog, the breed doesn’t matter as much as some people think. There are just as many mutts out there doing work on the farm as purebred dogs, but there are some advantages of the latter.

Mixed breed dogs tend to be:

  • Healthier than purebreds and overall more hardy/resilient.
  • Far less expensive.

But you get the downside of:

  • Not knowing the genetics behind the dog.
  • Working ability is fairly unknown until you start working with the dog.

The average purebreds are often:

  • More expensive.
  • Susceptible to genetic health issues/temperament issues.

But you get the benefit of:

  • Knowing what the dog will look like as an adult.
  • Having a pretty good idea of how the dog will act temperament-wise.
  • Having a much greater guarantee of the dog being able to perform the tasks you need it to perform.

Many novice dog owners make the mistake of believing that a registered purebred puppy means it is guaranteed to be of good health and temperament. This is absolutely incorrect – unless, of course, the breeder has a personal guarantee on the stock. Also, keep in mind that there is a huge difference between working breeders and show/pet breeders.

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The majority of breeders who focus on showing their dogs aren’t going to be producing working dogs, as they are focusing on conformation and outward appearance. This is fine if you want to show your dog or simply have a pretty pet, but it is going to leave you frustrated if you expect that dog to perform as a working animal. If you want a working dog, go to a working breeder — plain and simple.

Overall, mixed breeds can work perfectly fine for a number of rural activities, like property or livestock protection, hunting, ratting, herding, etc., but you really won’t know until the dog matures. Purebreds from working lines will be a better choice for activities like herding, protection and hunting.

Livestock Guard Dogs vs Property Protection

One of the most common reasons for having a dog on the homestead is for protecting livestock, serving as a watchdog and helping to guard the property from wildlife. A dog doesn’t need special breeding to work as a watch dog. Most family dogs tend to bark when they hear something out of the ordinary or see a stranger approaching the home.

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A lot of dogs will also start up a ruckus if they smell/see a bear or coyote wander onto the property. Some dogs are much better at this than others, so if you have a real predator issue, you should keep that in mind. Livestock guard dogs (LGDs) tend to be very good at sensing predators naturally, and other breeds like the Karelian Bear Dog have strong instincts to repel predators without getting themselves in harm’s way.

A good dog for repelling predators should ideally have a good nose, be quick and agile, persistent yet smart. It should have a sense of self-preservation, however. It wouldn’t be much use to you if your overly brave dog ran right up to a bear just to get itself mauled.

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When it comes to livestock protection, many people go with a purebred dog, with some of the most popular being Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherds, Maremmas, Akbash, Kuvasz, etc. Crosses of these, for example, Pyrenees x Anatolian, can also work out just as well if they are from working parents. Many other breeds of dogs just don’t have the instincts to properly protect livestock omr the patience to live with them on a daily basis. If you have a lot of money and time invested in your livestock, invest in a well-bred dog or pair of dogs for protection.

Even with LGDs, you still need to do your research very carefully when looking for a breeder. Although these dogs haven’t had their genetic work ethic damaged as much by show breeders, you still should be wary. Also, even if you purchase a puppy or dog from immaculate working lines who was raised right out with livestock, don’t just put any new dog out with your livestock without supervision. Always monitor a new LGD for a while before allowing him or her to be trusted alone with them, regardless of whether that dog was working without a problem in its previous home.

Consider Adopting

If you are looking for a homestead dog who primarily will be a companion but also work as a watch dog, I highly recommend you consider adopting. There are a lot of dogs, especially adult dogs with nothing wrong with them, which could easily adapt to homestead life. Depending on where you live you may even be able to find nicely tempered purebreds that ended up at a shelter due to no fault of their own. I’m in a rural area and the shelters around here often get purebred cattle dogs, border collies, some LGDs, Labradors and more.

If adopting isn’t for you for whatever reason or you are looking for a specific breed, you can start by asking around in your local area, searching online for breeders or posting wanted ads in classifieds. As stated above, be very careful when it comes to choosing a breeder. Backyard breeders often post online or in newspapers, charging a hefty fee for a purebred, registered puppy who could very well develop health problems down the line.

What are your favorite homestead breeds? Do you have any stories to share about your beloved canine companions? Post your thoughts in the section below:

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How To Find Free Livestock For Your Homestead

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How To Find Free Livestock For Your Homestead

Image source: Pixabay.com

To me, one of the most exciting and fun aspects of living in a rural area is raising livestock. For new homesteaders short on money it can be difficult to get into livestock. With some careful research, however, you can find great opportunities to bring home free livestock to get you started.

Where to Find Free Livestock

There are a lot of different ways to find free livestock. Here are some of the main ones:

1. Online classifieds

This is one of my favorite ways and it’s also one of the best ways to find free livestock. There are a few different online classifieds websites, but I find Craigslist.com to be the best resource. Keep an eye on the “Farm & Garden” section as well as the “Free” section. Another online source for free livestock ads is Facebook, specifically Facebook groups for your local area. Many rural areas have their own user-created groups for livestock classifieds.

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Sometimes you can find free livestock ads in print in the newspaper, but I find this to be pretty rare since the person would have to pay to publish the ad.

2. Rural farm stores

Local farm stores also can be a source of free livestock. Typically it’s the smaller mom-and-pop style stores versus the large chain stores. One of my local farm stores allows people to bring in free animals to give away during their business hours. I’ve seen everything from barn kittens to chickens and even purebred Nubian bottle babies. Also, check out the bulletin board at the farm store – you can often find free livestock ads there.

3. Word-of-Mouth

If you have a specific type of livestock in mind – like some new laying hens or a dairy goat – simply putting the word out there through friends can really help. You can even ask the owner or manager of a local farm store if they can keep an ear out for what you are looking for or if they know anyone trying to get rid of livestock.

Tips for Finding Healthy Livestock

Here are some quick tips to keep in mind when you are checking out promising free livestock.

1. Thoroughly examine animals

chicken illnessAlways, always thoroughly examine livestock you are interested in – whether it’s a couple hens or a dairy cow. This doesn’t mean you just look at the animal – you need to physically examine it as well. Run your hands over it to see if it’s in good condition, check the feet and mouth, take note as to whether the animal is easy to handle or familiar with people. Look in its ears and check the eyes. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carefully check out the livestock. If you find a problem, ask the owner about it. Minor issues such as slightly overgrown hooves on a goat can be taken care of. But noticeable illness or physical deformities mean you should pass.

2. Ask questions!

This seems like an obvious tip. But from personal experience, some people hardly ask any questions about the stock. Ask about age, health history, production history, reason for selling, current diet, etc. I find that reputable people should be happy to answer these questions. If you find that the seller avoids answering questions, doesn’t seem to know much about the animal or otherwise can’t help you, be very wary.

3. Take along someone with experience

This is a great tip for people new to livestock, especially when adding large stock to your homestead. Ask a friend who knows what to look for to go along with you to check out a potential animal. They will likely notice things you wouldn’t have or even have their own questions for the seller that you may not have thought of.

4. Avoid playing “animal rescuer”

Sometimes people give away livestock simply because they have no use for it and don’t need monetary compensation. Others may be purposely giving away livestock for the purpose of helping others get their homestead started. Most of the time though, people are giving away livestock because they don’t have the time or money to care for them. This often leads to free livestock having health problems from neglect. It is really easy to see a sick animal and want to take it home in an effort to make it better.

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I’ve done this a few times and while on occasion it turned out well, more often than not it just isn’t worth the effort. It’s really difficult, but try to avoid bringing home sick livestock believing that you can make them better. You may get lucky but you’re likely going to end up wasting time and money.

5. Try to visit person’s home versus meeting elsewhere

Image source: PheasantViewGoatSoap

Image source: PheasantViewGoatSoap

If you can go to the person’s home and see what conditions the livestock has been living in, you can get a better idea of how healthy the animal is. Even a fairly healthy looking rabbit or sheep could be a problem if they’ve been living in filth. Ask if you can pick up the animal at the seller’s house. However, I wouldn’t avoid an animal just because a person is not comfortable with a stranger at their house. Just be sure to carefully examine the animal.

6. Ask local friends if seller is reputable

There have been two occasions in which I brought home free livestock (rabbits) that ended up being a problem health-wise. I later found out from friends that the seller is known for selling/giving away sick animals. If you have homesteading friends in your rural area, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they’ve heard of the seller before. It could save you some trouble, especially with large livestock like cows or a horse.

7. Take large animals for a vet check

Yes, it will cost money. But taking large livestock to your vet for a check is never a bad idea. This is a very common practice with horses, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it with cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, etc. Also, ask the seller if they have any vet/vaccination records on the animal they are giving away.

8. Quarantine ALL new livestock

Finally, before you bring home any free livestock, make sure you have a place to quarantine them away from your current stock. Do this every time, regardless of whether the free animal was a gift from a trusted friend or a pickup from someone you’ve never met.

9. When to avoid free livestock

As awesome as finding free livestock is, there are times when it’s better to spend some money and invest. One situation where this is a good idea is with large livestock that will be giving back for many years – such as cattle, goats, equines, etc. Spending the money to buy quality, well-bred and registered stock may set you back at first but you will have healthier animals and be able to sell the offspring for more.

I’ve found that a lot of fellow homesteaders will happily work with you on the price of their livestock if you talk with them about your passion for homesteading and simply ask. Perhaps they may lower it, allow you to pay off the animal in payments, work off the price or do some trading. Even if they don’t want to budge on the price, sometimes they might take a small down payment and hold the animal while you raise the funds to purchase it in full.

What are some of your free livestock finds? Please share your stories and tips in the comment section below.

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