Livestock, Feed, & Fencing Category

Friday, January 3, 2014

Regarding feed sources for home-raised pigs: Many supermarket chains will gladly "donate" outdated or overripe fruits, vegetables, and cheeses, due to the cost of container disposal. This often includes apples,  melons, citrus, tomatoes, avocados, and even prepackaged salad greens, berries and herbs.  Even a relatively small store will have 2-3 trash cans full, daily. They may even provide containers if they are emptied on a regular basis and kept clean. 

Commercial bakeries and baked goods outlets often provide bear hunters with barrels of donuts, snack cakes, and breads during hunting season.  Ask them if you can take care of the unsweetened "scraps" outside of the hunting season.

Most areas also have some form of a microbrewery or brew-pub within close proximity. The leftover hops and barley can even be mixed with feed.
A nice roast, some chops, or some home smoked bacon in return could go a long way to keeping a "supplemental food source" producing for many seasons. 

Thank you for all you do and have a very merry 2014! - Todd L. in Maine


Mountain Top Patriot wrote an excellent introduction to raising a few piggies for the homestead. Pigs are indeed smart and friendly creatures if you treat them humanely. One tip I might suggest, we've raised from 2 to 12 weaners each year for the last 13 years on our little farm, and we found that electric mesh netting (ElectraNet or similar) is a great tool to keep the piggies where you want them (and out of where you don't). We use the netting and a portable pig hut to move our piggies around areas we want cleared e.g. where my pigs lived this year is where my garden will be next year.
For those not familiar, electric mesh netting is a plastic grid, with the horizontal wires interwoven with wire to carry the charge. Step-in type posts are attached to the mesh at proper intervals to allow easy set-up.
The fencing typically comes in approximately 50 meter (165 foot) lengths. So if you made a square enclosure with the netting, it would be about 40 feet on a side, about 1,600 square feet enclosed. This is enough area to keep 2 or 3 piggies in for a week or 10 days; you might have to move them more frequently as they get older, or you could add another length of mesh. Two lengths of fence combined could enclose an area of about 6,400 square feet, a seventh of an acre.
Pigs quickly learn not to touch the mesh. One trick is to position the step-in posts leaning in, so that the pigs are less like to bury the bottom wires of the fence with their rooting.
And of course with the portable mesh type fencing you are not limited to a square configuration. We have assembled many odd shapes when we wanted to put the pigs in a particular area to be cleaned out. And you can easily alter the shape to protect things you don't want chewed up, e.g. fruit trees.
The fencing is a good barrier to predators, including bears, as well. - CSAfarmer

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


I hope this missive provides you the reader with insights and useful knowledge to raise your own pigs. I'm not a farmer, just a regular guy with five acres and the desire to eat healthy food our family raises, save some hard earned bucks, and be as self sufficient as practically possible. My intention is to provide a complete 1st hand account in order to convey the pertinent details so you can make your own determination as to pig raising and it's feasibility in regards to your particular circumstances. It is hard work at moments, but as pigs are a most useful and efficient meat animal, so too can the methods employed in their keep. I pretend no specialized claim to swine husbandry, this just one families factual successful account.

 Truth being told, I have found pigs are easy going cost effective animals requiring minimal attention compared to beef and chickens. The old timey nickname for them is "Mortgage Lifters", as these are wondrously efficient consumers of food. No other meat animal is as cost effective to raise on the homestead as swine. They are good natured creatures, curious, and can be most friendly when treated with respect due them. Given only water you would drink at their choice, quality feed on timely regular basis, a mud wallow, basic shelter for shade and dry refuge from weather, a pig will thrive. They have few ailments outside parasites of the digestive and respiratory track. They have great respect for electric fences, and require companionship of another of their kind for well being. Pigs can be rather intelligent. They appreciate a scratch from a rake and treats like table scraps, leavings from home canning and all manner of garden refuse. Come apple season much weight gain and desirable meat flavor can be added by use of picking up road apples, and drops of chestnuts, and the likes. Nothing goes to waste with a pig around. Your rejected garden corn, stalks and all are greedily consumed. Pumpkins, squashes, etc never go to waste. If you have space, pigs are consummate rooters. Free ranging in forest duff or a fallow garden spot yields a quality of meat and fat of unparalleled flavor and tenderness. It comes as no wonder as to why in times past the Kings wild boars where such a coveted prize feast. Another useful trait is pigs make for a fine 4 legged garden tiller. They root out weed seeds, tubers, and roots, will seek out every insect vermin and pest in the form of grubs and eggs, they can root easily to depths of a couple of feet or more of every square foot, and leave behind natural manure for next seasons garden.

Keeping them in requires about 2-3 feet height of fencing or pig grating, and a couple of strands of electric wire to keep them from rooting under fencing and escaping. Once loose some pigs can be quite the adventure to catch.  We make our fences in portable and modular sections.

If you have bears, it is advisable to put two strands of electric wire on the outside of your posts at mid thigh and waist heights. Bears will back out of a wire like greased lightning, have a tendency to break a wire in it's thrashing, so a second strand is proper backup. Use steel for bear wire. Get a 100 mile fence controller if you can. Even if you have only a tiny pen. It's the wallop of the shock you need. Our neighbor lost their 750 lb prize boar to a monster of a black bear. One swipe of its claws and the boar's head was hanging from skin. They didn't employ an electric fence. We've had bears tear up the wires many occasions, but has kept them out as of this writing.

Simply stated, Pigs are simply an amazing source of food. A 350 lb pig will keep a family of four in pork for a year. "Market weight" of a pig is 235 to 275 lbs. Raising past 350 lb weight reduces cost savings, they are more difficult to process, and the ratio of fat to muscle increases. Though fat back can be be luxurious and of the highest quality at this weight. A plus when rendering for lard, and for manufacturing soap.

With a little hard work and timely attention to detail a pig provides an abundance of high quality sustenance. One of the great aspects of raising your own pork is how efficient a pig is in regards to conversion of it's feed to yield of meat and other products one can use daily.
Pigs well kept and treated with attention to it's well being, quality of life and kindness it deserves for the bounty it ultimately provides for your family, can not be exemplified enough.

Depending upon ones pallet and the lengths one is willing to go to butcher and process their pigs, there can be little waste from a pig. No other animal, on a pound for pound basis, yield of wholesome and toothsome 1st rate meat, is as economical to raise as the swine. Add in to your piggy husbandry, home butchering, curing and smoking, and you acquire meat and other useful products costing approx a high of $1.50 per lb using commercial feed stock, to as little 25 cents, or even less depending on costs of your own grown feed.

If you choose commercial custom butchering, added costs run about 50 cents a pound hanging weight, (killed, gutted, skinned, halved, on a hook), usually a "kill bill" and fee for waste is accompanied, around 50-75 bucks, sometimes a wrapping fee, and if you desire bacon/hams, a smokehouse fee is added. It figures out to at least 1 dollar a pound non added value to go this route. Add in fuel costs for getting your pig to and from the slaughter house, the ordeal of catching the squealing little guys, (and if one so inclined cares), your pigs end up in a strange place and their care and timely demise is at the hand of strangers.

For our family, it is a strictly personal matter of being responsible to our pigs. As our pigs provide our family with abundance, it seems proper and moral they are treated with every kindness till their end. An aside being, a happy pig is a great tasting pig, it seems counter productive to raise your own, and then cart the poor thing off where who knows what happens to your beloved food source. But that is my personal point of view, and no disrespect intended to hardworking butchers who provide such vital service and folks who can not home butcher. Many good meat shops exist. Good shops reputations proceed them and your neighbors usually can attest to reputable meat cutters. Each his own. Liberty right?

As home butchering/processing is a game changer cost wise, it is a worthy consideration. A pig is a simple animal to reduce to freezer and smokehouse. The muscle groups are well defined, thus the cuts of meat you choose become self evident. Your first pig is a learning curve. But not to worry as even a mistake in cutting is not any loss because the meat will still be tasty and healthy if proper cleanliness in the processing is followed.
The question of all who butcher is to skin or not to skin. Personally I skin. This eliminates the scalding and scraping process required for edibility of retaining the hide for consumption. It is a matter of your personal tastes and if retaining the hide is of importance to you. (Traditional real cured aged hams require skin be left on.) Requirements for tools and equipment are basic and minimal.
More on butchering further along.

Okay, here is the skinny of the whole nine yards, start to finish, raising a couple of piglets acquired from a farmer who sells you a couple of the little squealers.

2 freshly weaned piglets require about 1 square of pen area, 10ft x 10ft. A warm dry place, some clean hay and or wood shavings to bed down in and to keep their pen sanitary. If you live in cold climes, a heat lamp as hypothermia can kill a just weaned animal. A simple home made v trough with wide feet at each end, or nailed to your pen wall for feed and a low sided water container. The little heathens will run through, stand in, fight over and flip everything.
A pig nipple, (stainless steel watering nipple made for pigs, activated by the tongue, fastened to something sturdy, gravity tank or pressure fed types, 12 to 30 bucks, highly recommended), is a real time saver and beneficial sanitary practice. But it can take a few days for some piglets to discover.

Get two piglets. Costs generally run $50 to $75. Add shots and castration ("nutting"), usually $20 to $30 dollars per piglet, if the seller provides this.
As they are very gregarious creatures, they fare much better with pen mates. You can sell one if 2 pigs is more than needed. You can recoup a considerable portion of your grain bill on both animals this way. You can also require a prospective buyer to put the cost of piglet and grain bill up front and the balance of costs at time of butchering. Do the arraignments in advance as finding a last minute buyer can be difficult.
Using mostly store bought feed at single bag prices, the last 2 years have averaged around $300 for 2 pigs of approximately 350lbs live weight, including all but expense of piglet and meds. This is allowing for free ranging in our large pens.
Work hard to find piglets raised in healthy caring conditions. This can not be stressed enough.
A healthy piglet is a healthy freezer of meat.
The next step sounds far more complex than it is. Don't be discouraged. Millions of folks go through it. So can you. I did and learned it on my own.
If possible, find a farmer who gives his litters full spectrum antibiotic/wormer shots and castrates the boys. If not, a farm vet can visit to do this service. Another option is to acquire your own at a farm supply that sells syringes and meds.  ( A bit of advice on this. If you believe these medicines are not kosher, no pun intended, your time and expense will end up a fools errand. Best stop here and avoid raising pigs. These meds have no known substitute. Eliminating parasites with these substances is essential to your pigs survival and edibility of meat. As they are used months before killing and butchering no known harmful traces remain in the animal. Enough said.)

Nutting, (castrating) is easy, but it's not for everyone.
To begin I stick a piglet head first in a grain sack, two people makes this chore easy if you have the help, the little feller will squeal like a baby being murdered, but will calm down after a minute if your helper holds his hocks firmly to stop the kicking and supports him between their thighs. Douche his scrotum with Hydrogen Peroxide, a clean cloth to wipe away dirt, another generous application of Hydrogen Peroxide, a squirt of betadine solution. Don't forget to douche your hands too. Now gently but firmly squeeze the testicles between thumb and index, favoring one testes, take a new sterilized box cutter blade, scalpel, or razor blade and just cut the taught scrotum along the long axis of the testes, the barest of cut necessary to the skin and underlying connective tissue and it will pop out through the incision. A very shallow cut mind you, 1/4 inch long or a bit more to accommodate the size of the testes. Events will be self explanatory. You will detect the connected sperm duct and connective translucent sheath. Right where duct enters testes, a quick clean cut. Do number two, the same. Done carefully with the minimum of invasion barely a trickle of blood will appear. Keep the cuts tiny as possible. Small equals quick healing. It's what you want. More betadine, a good smear of Bag Balm or Prussian blue over incisions and your done. Easier than it sounds. The first time takes a little getting used to. I never get totally used to it, but after the first time it goes easy and quickly. The piggies seem to forget soon as they are free of the sack. A serving of something special gets them back to their piggy selves right off. Observe the creature for a couple days for signs of distress. Nutting is done for a couple of reasons. A boar gets aggressive, wants to mate with every female, fights other piggies, the meat is different, they don't get as plump as quickly as a castrated pig, (Kind of like a capon, a castrated rooster). 

Next is what is required to set up their living conditions.
Piglets begin to be adult like in a few weeks to a month after weaned. So you have a grace period to set up a roomy paddock for them. Build as large a pen as you can. You can do this in stages. Pigs are born to root, the more space the happier and healthier they seem. If you have a fallow field or garden, or a bit of a wooded patch, you save on your grain bill as pigs will consume every root, tuber, edible vegetation, grub and insect in a given piece of earth. I think it adds wonderful flavor and the exercise provides excellent texture to your pork. When to let your little heathens out of their piglets quarters depends on getting them to respect the electric wire, keeping them from getting out of the type of pen you build, and weather conditions. First time out into their paddock, I stick around till I can observe they have learned the electric fence. It may take a few hours, but this way you can have a poke stick ready and if they are determined to rush the fence and bomb through you can redirect them with a firm whack or two. 

Until they get some body mass, they need a dry, draft-free place to use at their will.
There are a gazillion ways here, I'll give you mine. You'll find how it works for you.
Build a timber frame lean-to, dirt or plank floor, with a 2ft wide by 3ft high entrance, shingled roof. Build it rugged, a 200lb pig has tremendous neck strength and will try to root under everything or use it as a scratching post. Mark those words well. Driven posts help anchor everything. They love to use corners and a rough place to scratch. Use heavy spikes to nail things together well. Rough cut lumber is best. Next, out in their pen, scrape out a wallow for them. About 12 inches deep to start, a few feet wide, 6 foot long. Keep it wet till they begin to make it deeper. They will. Mud is very important to a pig. Keeps them clean, cool, keeps insects from biting. It's a pig thing. They be happy.

How large a pen?
Large as you can. Last year we gave our pigs just shy of an acre. Given the space, they will prefer to poop in one or two spots. The larger the pen the better their habit. Less stink too. As you can supply a good sprinkle of lime or wood ashes to their bathroom easily if it's in a given spot. Far less manure odor, less flies, happy you, happy pigs.

We try to use part wooded section, part garden plot, past or planned, for our pens as we move the pen to alternating sites each year.
As pigs can't climb, fencing only needs to be 3 ft high rolls of heavy woven type, or planking with spacing of around 6 inches, 5ft steel or wooden posts, insulators, and use steel for your electric wire, heavy gauge. A 100 mile fence controller if you can spring for one. Build 20 ft sections, use insulated hand gate disconnects, the spring loaded ones, to bridge each section. This way you can move or reshape the pen as needed. We also use pig panels in conjunction with post fence. Pig panels are ridged heavy gauge welded wire sections, 2ft high, 12 ft long, using a stake at each end secures them. These are very nice items, last forever, robust, but pricey. We buy one at a time as funds warrant. Pigs won't climb over, they burrow under. Use a wire about about 6 to 12 inches off the ground. This keeps them from escaping. After getting buzzed a time or two, they won't go near the fence. They usually know when your fence is energized also. A cheap fence tester left on your water barrel or a nail is good so you can test if your fence is running.

Piglets do well on regular swine feed. It is advisable to provide Purina Calf Manna or it's equivalent. We find this is a superb feed supplement for pigs. The increase in health and growth far exceeds it's added cost to our feed bill. Pigs seem to like it's anise flavor immensely. We have taken to providing it right up to the week of slaughter. Mix it in their standard feed. 1/4 cup per adult pig daily. 1/2 cup for piglets. The bag will give proper portion directions. Great stuff. When they are 75 to 100 lbs we cut back to adult portion.
If you are buying feed stock, you can save by getting bulk. We have large Rubbermaid trash cans filled with bulk feed at Southern states. Easier to move than 1 large bin. It is usually a general purpose corn/soybean grind, cost savings run about $2-5 less per hundred than bagged feed.
Another feed we add is steamed flaked corn. It gives your pigs a wonderful flavor and quality to fat and meat. It is whole corn that has been cooked in steam to a particular temperature, held there till the raw carbohydrates have changed to easier to digest sugars, (gelatinized), and then flattened between steel rollers. It is easy to chew and digest.
About 1 cup a day works well. The last 2-3 weeks before slaughter we dress out our pigs by using a 50/50 split between feed and steam flaked corn. This tends to sweeten up the flavor of the meat/fat and increase purity of fatback without making the animal overall too fatty.
Of course any refuse from kitchen and garden, or fruit/vegetables you can scrounge is beneficial. It will be greedily consumed. Very little will be rejected by any self respecting pig.
You can hand feed your pigs their main diet, or use an automatic feed box. Both have their pro's and con's. Hand feeding if you have the time keeps your pigs familiar with you. Personally I have used both, but because I believe it is important to treat the critters you are going to eat with care and kindness, I find it a responsibility to attend to them in such a manner daily. You also become more intimate to your pigs overall well being. But that is my personal preference.

About  2 to 3 months of adult life, it is advisable to worm your pigs. I think there is no reason to avoid this important deed. Your pigs will most certainly have some sort of undesirable parasite within their digestive or respiratory tract. These parasites will kill your pigs at worst, at the least will keep your animals from reaching healthy growth, reduce quality of meat and fat. Who would want to consume diseased meat? Aside from being counter to the whole idea behind the effort and cost to raise your own healthy meat. There are many worming meds, your feed store or extension can assist in choosing the type good for you. We use the style that is added to feed.

Enough can not be said about providing your pigs with clean water. All they want to drink, and of a quality you would drink yourself. Though they will sometimes like a bit of muddy water, if they desire it they will drink out of their wallow.
We use a 100 gal plastic stock tank, garden hose filled every 3 or 4 days, set up a few feet high, with a hose to a 6 inch post set deep, using a gravity type pig nipple, connected to tank and nipple with barbed fittings, hose clamps, using clear vinyl braided water hose. A 55 gal food safe barrel works well too. You can drill a hole near the bottom and install a bulkhead fitting to screw a barb into. Set your nipple around 12 inches off ground level. If you use it for piglets, a bit lower, then raise it after they get larger. A good height is their chin with their head level. Be sure to use a very stout post securely set in a post hole. To get your pigs to come to it, a handful of feed held next to the nipple, tease them close to it, tickle the nipple so water will stream out. Pigs are pretty smart, they will put two and two together, they will smell the wet ground, and being intensely curious critters will play with it regardless. Putting a shallow water dish under it will get them to use it too. One pig figuring it out is all you need as the others will follow suit. If you don't make a wallow hole and keep it from drying out, some piggies will tease the tank dry to make a wallow right under the nipple.

Slaughter time...
So by know you have some pretty nice happy plump piggies ready to slaughter. Taking them to the slaughter house entails getting them in your mode of transport. Trailer or cage, what have you, the day before they are to go, back your transport up to the pen at an opening in your fence, preferably a spot where the floor of your transport is close to ground level, like a bank or using a long ramp of low angle, put their food and water in your transport, and when your pigs go in to eat, close things up and you got them easy with no fuss. If it is a cozy trailer or such they will snuggle up in it naturally. They will be very interested but wary at first, if you leave them be, a few hours and they will be overcome with curiosity and go right in. Go back after dark and you can close things up and in the mourning you are ready to go.

If you plan on home butchering here is what works best for me.
Your going to need a rifle in. 22 LR caliber. You need a rifle and not a pistol. Use quality high power 40 grain non-hollow points or .22 Stingers.
A 10 inch or longer butcher blade.
Box of jelly donuts.
A way to drag then hang your pigs, a tractor with bucket, a derrick from a building or stout tree, chain fall/come-along/block and tackle of about10ft height all suitable to hang your animal.
Gambrels to hang your pig.
A hose and stiff hand brush to wash down your killed pig before gutting and butchering.
A clean butchering surface such as a piece of Formica counter top set on saw horses, 6ft x 2ft min, or a beefy piece of plywood you can cover with heavy mil plastic sheet.
3 clean 5 gal buckets. 1 is used with HOT water and soap to keep your tools in when not using or to give a quick cleaning, the second pail is HOT water and a touch of soap to as a second stage from the first pail, the 3rd bucket is HOT water with a few drops of straight bleach to rinse everything. Your hands should go through each bucket also whenever needs be. Trick here is you can not be clean enough.
Hot water
Ajax liquid dish soap
3 very sharp knives, a large butcher, long boning, and a small blade.
Food safe tubs to temporarily sort out your cuts and major meat groups. At least 3. We use clear Rubbermaid dish washing pans. Good size, they hold up, clean easily, and are inexpensive.
A second table helps here as you begin to break the carcass down into muscle groups then into portion sizes for wrapping.
A meat saw. I use a Milwaukee Sawzall with a 2ft demolition blade, and a 34 inch hand meat saw. The Sawzall makes short work for cutting down the spine.
Plastic/vinyl/latex gloves.

The key to great tasting meat is never touching it with bare hands. This is the gospel. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

As for putting your pigs down, a happy pig is a great tasting pig.
Die happy = Taste good.
The proper spot to shoot a pig is a quarter inch to the left of the center of an X drawn from the middle of each eye to each ear. The angle of your rifle barrel just a smidgen down from 90 degrees to the face of the forehead. In this fashion the bullet goes into the center of the brain along the divide between each brain lobe. Done properly the object is for the animal to drop instantly like a rag doll, with it's heart still beating, so you can do a proper bleed.

Do this deed when you will have steady temps below 36 degree's Fahrenheit for 24 hours. Pork needs to be cooled to a minimum of 38 degrees in under 24 hours. Also, properly cooled meat/fat is far easier to process as it firms up and cuts easier.

To calmly and gently coerce my pigs into position to be killed I use jelly donuts. No pig on earth can resist one. (Makes great bear bait too). The idea is to take a jelly donut, tease your pig into a suitable location, preferably clean dry and easy to get to spot, with a donut in my left hand, the rifle in my right, the 10 inch butcher blade in my back pocket, stuck in a fence post, or a helper to hand it to you and take the rifle. With the donut get the pig to stay still and raise it's head up to a good height and angle to put a round into the brain. Don't dally here, a few seconds of being teased and most pigs get testy and start to move around out of frustration of being denied such a wonderful treat. Don't get flustered or loose your nerve if you can't get a proper clean shot, give it a bite or the whole donut, and quietly begin again. If your calm, the pig will be too, and a clean kill is what you want here, so take your time and it will work out well. You can practice over a few days with a stick or an unloaded rifle, both you and the pig get used to everything this way. Some pigs no matter what wiggle around more than others because they may be hand shy or suspicious in nature. This is another purpose for why I prefer to hand feed my pigs, as they are used to a human and are more docile.

When the moment happens, the instant I pull the trigger, the rifle is handed off or dropped and I have the knife ready. Watch out as the pig drops, have your feet and legs out of harms way, watch for hooves also, as some pigs will reflexively kick and buck a second or two. Soon as possible, like within seconds fast, standing at the pigs head, grab the right front leg with your left hand, rolling the pig a bit to your left, feel with your thumb or index finger for the V at the very front of the brisket, it will be evident as the top of the ribs where they end at the base of the neck, it is a soft spot, take your blade, stick it straight in blade edge towards the chin till the point bottoms out against the spine side of the chest cavity, pull it back a tiny bit, turn the edge 90 degrees either way, edge now towards a shoulder, and using the v as a pivot point, sweep the blade far as you can, turn the edge 180 degrees sweep all the way to the other shoulder. This severs the ventricles coming out of the pigs heart as they are arrayed in a fan pattern. You sweep the cut across them and the pigs beating heart pumps out all the blood in approx a minute. If you can, get the pigs head down a slope as gravity helps a bit to bleed out also.
I drag my pigs to a good clean spot out of their pen, and using a hose and brush proceed to scrub it clean as can be. This assists in keeping the meat clean during gutting and skinning. Gutting is just like it's done with a deer. Whatever works well with you do it. Set your gambrel above the hocks and under the tendon, this is the most secure spot. Winch the carcass up, take a clean stick and spread the cavity apart to allow air to circulate assisting in cooling down your meat. About a day hanging will firm things up, and cool everything down in preparation for butchering.

A very toothsome delicacy you can enjoy immediately is the two little back-strap tenderloins running parallel to the spine inside the abdominal cavity up below the hams. These are just fabulous tender pieces of pork. On a wood charcoal fire they come out superb.
It is a rather splendid way to celebrate all the good hard work and wholesome goodness you aimed for attaining.

I hope this missive has been of assistance to many. It is a basic culmination pig husbandry from of a lifetime experience of home raising, gathering and hunting for the wonderful bounty God, nature and agrarian liberty provides.

If warranted by request, I could submit a second part concerning the butchering, wrapping, sausage making, canning, curing, and smoking aspects of home butchering.
Thanks for taking the time to read these words.
God bless you and your loved ones, this great nation too.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I first got serious about prepping in 2006, when I realized the U.S. Dollar was on its way down.  I had a young son at home, and I wanted to make sure he would be safe if civil unrest occurred. I built a home on some acreage in the country in 2007 and started getting setup to be self-sufficient. I believed 2008 was going to be a bad year, and I wanted to be ready. I installed a wood stove in my home and purchased a hand pump for my well. When I moved my chickens out to the new home, I felt we were right on target to survive the coming turmoil. In this article I am going to share some of the things I have learned.

As the years have passed, I have continued to perfect my small piece of heaven into a full scale food-producing compound. I have leveraged tax advantage from my sale of all natural meat, poultry, and eggs. I have learned many things about sustainable food production. And meanwhile, my son grew up and joined the military. He is thousands of miles away, and here I am still maintaining the refuge I had envisioned would be for him. I have had some trying emotional times learning to deal with a situation where I am no longer needed by the child I was trying to protect.  And then it occurred to me that there are many young people who are barely able to put food on their table, let alone make preparations for an uncertain future.  So I continue to live the lifestyle of a prepper and believe I may be sharing my knowledge and my stuff with people who didn’t have the time and resources to be ready.

The Tax Man Cometh
I have been able to use many of the expenses for developing my little farm on my income taxes.  Fences, buildings, irrigation installation, vehicle expenses, equipment, etc.   Because my goal is to make a profit by selling the food I raise, the costs associated with its production are tax deductible. The deduction has been very useful in keeping more of my hard-earned cash so I can invest it in the development of a farm. Each time I need to make a big purchase, I strategize how it is associated with the farming production, so I can properly account for it in my income tax return.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
When I first moved onto my acreage, there were no fences.  My German Shepherds would wander off to the neighbors at times. The neighbors’ dogs would help themselves to my chickens. The coyotes and foxes had my place on the top of their list of great places to score a meal.  And then one day, I heard a chicken in distress and ran with my dog to find the chicken in the tall weeds.  My dog got there first.  The scoundrel attacking the chicken was a small dog belonging to a neighbor. My dog killed it.  It nearly became an International incident.  The neighbor was furious. He threatened to kill my chickens if they crossed onto his land.  It was a tense time.

That is when I invested in good fencing. My fences are 5-foot high predator-proof mesh.  They keep dogs, coyotes, foxes and other neighbors out, while the chickens and turkeys are usually more interested in staying in.  I had a gate constructed with the same mesh.  My dogs patrol the acreage and anything that manages to get in, soon decides it wasn’t such a good idea to get in.  The gate is locked so some unsuspecting “visitor” doesn’t just open the gate and come in.  My chickens and turkeys free range and we seldom have a predator incident. The dogs are quite aggressive in protecting our turf.

Garlic Cures Everything
I need to get a good garlic garden planted, because I have so many uses for the stuff that I simply haven’t been growing enough of it. I have an astute neighbor who is also a prepper.  She noticed my need for garlic and planted a bunch to barter with me when things get dicey.  I put the garlic cloves through a hand-cranked juicer. The pulp is mixed in with corn for my sheep, cows, and poultry.  It helps flush out internal parasites, keep the lice and fleas away, and builds the immune system.  I also mix garlic into my dogs’ dinners sometimes to combat internal parasites. 

Garlic is a natural antibiotic and anti-viral.  The juice is potent stuff. I keep some on hand in the refrigerator all the time. If I feel a cold coming on, I can spread some of the juice or pulp on toast with butter and the cold almost always goes away within an hour or so.
When I had triplet lambs this past spring, one apparently didn’t get her dose of colostrum. She suffered an acute onset of e-coli within the first 24 hours and was near death.  I added garlic juice to some warm water and gave it to her with a syringe. I continued to administer the water with the garlic and honey every 10 minutes or so for a couple of hours. Three hours later, she was up and nursing. I have been told even with antibiotics, that kind of recovery is pretty much unheard of.

I have a small herb-garden in my kitchen.  Recently I noticed the basil was being killed by tiny gnats.  I mixed some garlic juice with some olive oil and put it in a small spray bottle.  The gnats apparently don’t like garlic, because they are gone and my herb garden smells like an Italian dinner.

There’s A Lot of Poop
Raising produce without the help of commercial fertilizers is tricky.  I started vegetables indoor this year with an “organic” fertilizer I bought at Home Depot.  They did very poorly and many of them just keeled over dead after a while.  I bought the fertilizer because, at the time, everything was frozen solid outside, so I couldn’t collect poop to make the poop water I usually start them with.  Lesson learned.  This year I have some poop set aside in a place where it won’t freeze so I can start my plants indoors with something I know works. I have also mixed some soil that I have ready to use.

Chicken poop is not ideal for gardening, but I have been successfully using it for several years. When I clean the chicken coop in the fall, I spread the stuff over the garden area, so it can be rained into the ground over the winter.  I till more manure in with my spring tilling.  This year, I did not use enough and I experienced poor potato yields.

Food Cooked on the Woodstove Tastes Better
I installed a regular woodstove (not a kitchen stove) in my home.  It has a removable rounded top that leaves a nice flat surface for cooking.  If I need to oven-cook something, I use a Dutch Oven.  Last winter I slow cooked Salisbury steak in a Dutch Oven and it was heavenly.  I have also found that potatoes have a completely different moist flavor if I wrap them in foil and put them in an area of the stove that isn’t in flames.  There have been weeks passed in the winter where my kitchen range was never used. It conserves energy and provides a warm glow to cheer through those gray winter months.

Cute Little Children Become Teenagers
It is a fact – those sweet little munchkins we build our lives around eventually turn into teenagers.  Mine became increasingly resentful of my prepping.  I have heard it said that teenagers become so ornery because it is God’s plan for us feel better showing them to the door when they grow up.  Shortly before my son left home, he decided it fit for him to list all of my personal defects which ailed him.  At the top of his list was my “paranoid” belief system that something bad could change our lives in big ways.  He made it clear he was unhappy with that belief and that he would be carrying on his life without such worries.  So far, so good.  He is traveling abroad and living a good life. I still believe I would rather be ready and wrong than not ready and starving to death.

The Lifestyle Is Very Attractive
Many people see my lifestyle and want to come join in.  Well, not join in the work, but join in the food and the fun and all the nice resources I have.  Over and over my generosity has been stretched and taken advantage of.  I have learned there are many lazy moochers out there who talk the talk and then lay around in my house watching useless television programs while I carry on with the chores.  And they feel the food is “free” because I raised it myself, so they have no urge to contribute.  My new policy for anyone visiting my farm is that they will be asked to participate in chores.  I will work them out of their fantasy about how great it is to live like I do.

People Hate Rules
When I have had to travel for business, I have also had to rely on friends to help with the farm.  I have found that, regardless of the careful instructions, they always think they have a better idea and do it their own way.  It has cost me animals and it has cost me having to retrain my farm to the correct behavior for my ecosystem to function.  It is frustrating. But it has taught me that I will probably have this problem if we have a SHTF scenario where people will be coming to me for safety and food.  And I don’t expect they will be thankful as long as they will be trying to change my life to fit their own view of how things should be.  It is human nature. I will have to be very strict and it could lead to confrontation.  I anticipate that will probably be unavoidable.

Counting the Tables You Put Food On is Rewarding
Last year, I put meat, eggs and poultry on the tables of 14 families.  Counting those families at Thanksgiving was a very satisfying experience.  Although this year it has been fewer because I haven’t had beef ready, I still feel grateful to play a role in many family meals. I have contributed to the lives of many people I didn’t even know.  I have sold products of my farm, the income from which has enabled me to continue on my adventure.

Life Just Keeps On Going
If I had poured everything I had and taken big risks when I first started prepping, I wouldn’t be prepping today because I would have lost it all. I truly believed 2008 would be a year of disaster – and it nearly was.  But the powers that be found a way to kick the can on down the road. And they keep finding ways to kick it down the road again.  Life is amazingly easy right now in the artificially secure world we have to live in here in the USA  I am so blessed to have good employment from home in an area where people are often trying to live on minimum wage. Technology has brought about enormous opportunities, while it has also let us be monitored 24x7 by not only the government, but also large corporations like Google, who track everything you do on the Internet and keep the data indefinitely (I prefer because they claim not to track).  While I hope it all keeps hanging on, I really can’t see how it can.  We are living in an unmaintainable sphere of reality that is rapidly growing more unmaintainable.  I have chosen to continue to be “paranoid” and prepare to feed people in an uncertain future.  The difference now is that I realize I will probably be helping people I never planned to help and I have learned some good lessons on how to deal with them appropriately.

Monday, December 9, 2013

We all have our own personal style at preparedness, and the style seems to mature with you the longer you prepare.  I have noticed this in others and myself; that we all gravitate towards the preparedness hobbies that best fit our personal inclinations—homesteading skills in the traditional sense just might not be your gig.  I get that—it is another great reason why a close knit community of prepared people is a super idea.  Let someone else make homemade candles if you just cannot get kicks and giggles out of dipping string repeatedly into a burning wax. (Tactfully)  Identify others, identify their skills sets, and build out from there.  However, I do not think that the “It’s not my fave” excuse will really be a luxury you can afford when it all goes down.  That works in a modern everyone’s-a-specialist society, but not in the real world of hunger and hard work.   If homesteading does nothing else, it builds the “somebody’s gotta do it” grit in yourself, your spouse, and your children—as I was reminded this week when I had to eliminate an animal that was born with spinal cord problems.  As solemn as that moment was for me, I took my place as steward of land and animal, also taking the opportunity to reflect on just how homesteading is a beneficial  crucial part of a prepared lifestyle.   

  1. The animals and structure are already in place.  Let’s face it: freeze dried food runs out eventually.  A steady diet of it (even the best of it) will leave your body hurting for a fresh egg fried up in some tallow or lard.  Just when do you plan on purchasing your livestock?  There will be many, who in a panic, will not reserve enough breeding stock to supply for themselves and others too.  Pack animals and livestock will be a true commodity.  So will fencing and shelter.   If you get it in place now, it will be life as usual for you later.
  2. You will learn your land.  You will learn its flora and fauna.  Before homesteading, I did not realize that I had such a mess of chokecherries down by the overgrown creek bed or that those Siberian Pea Bushes attracted the deer.  Knowing your land is key to protecting it from others and to surviving off of it in lean times. 
  3. You will develop a sense of stewardship.  You will feel a loyalty to the land that provides for you and will become better at maintaining it properly with a long-term perspective.  Sure, you could spray that nasty field of weeds this year, but you’ll lose a valuable cattle field for a season; so perhaps you’ll choose to cycle goats through it instead.  They will eat the weeds, fertilize the land,  keep Monsanto off your property, and provide meat or milk for your family.  This is a singular example of how creating an active polyculture on the land will create a sustainable yield for decades to come.   This mentality does not generally happen overnight; it is a seasoned approach developed through trial and error. 
  4. Frugality.  No one is as poor as a homesteader.  But then, we homesteaders measure wealth in different ways.  The bleating of animals, the rustling of the fruit trees, this is wealth to us.  When it comes to recycling and repurposing, we become masters by necessity.  Broken pots string together to scare the birds away from the garden, serve as plant markers, or work really well to provide drainage in the bottom of other pots.  You never throw a glass jar away;  broken furniture can serve as a chicken roost, a potting station, or a gate to a pasture.   You get the idea.  As a former rich kid, believe me when I say that this is a learned skill and an altered mindset that come only from practice (not Pinterest).
  5. Time Management.  You will learn to live seasonally based upon the season’s chores and food availability.  You will focus on the indoor stuff in bad weather, outdoor stuff in good weather.  This sounds trivial, but if you are accustomed to a consistent career in which your to-do list has a line of checkmarks at the end of the day, well….homesteading is not usually that.  You planned something that got rained out, or you fixed a broken fence instead of the original day’s plans.  You will learn to appreciate the successes along the way and to relax about the diversions.  Eventually.  In either case, you will make the most of the moment and learn to “make hay while the sun shines”.
  6. You will be healthy and strong.  I pounded fence posts for the first time in my life this past summer; I was unable to do it when I tried six months earlier.  The time I spend in the sunshine has altered my overall mood, appearance, and contentment.  I breathe deeply, I eat well, and feel  good. 
  7. Your children will receive a practical life education.  Most kids in modern America have a connection to their food, their land, or even to hard work.  If anything were to happen to our societal structure, how have you incorporated self-reliance into your child’s upbringing?  Problem-solving skills, tenacity, hard work, a sense of priorities, the ability to face unpleasantness, the list goes on.   
  8. Healthy Psychology.  Tied to number 7, it is not just the harder stuff that builds your child (or you), but the fun stuff too.  We have developed intrinsic motivators wholly unconnected…literally.  No plug, no batteries.  We reward ourselves for a hot day on the homestead with an icy dip in the mountain stream.  We reward ourselves on long wintery homeschooling days with a family game of Monopoly.  We know how to work hard, but we know how to have fun too.  We do it “off grid”…homesteading style. 
  9. Water.   A lot of preppers store plastic jugs of it “just in case”.  That is not a bad idea, by any means.  But is it the best idea?  When searching for our homestead, we knew the land had to have some type of water on it.  This is not possible everywhere, I understand, but it makes things easier now while trying to irrigate crops or water animals during a drought.  We use a Berkey Water purification system for our daily drinking water and I know—if it came down to it—the bucket brigade at the creek means that I never have to worry about clean drinking water in an emergency. 
  10. A rural environment.  This is the modern era—guys get pedicures and women get bicep tattoos.  Likewise, homesteading is no longer confined to rural America.  Goodness no—apartment dwellers can get into beekeeping and gardening, food preservation and other homesteading skills.  I hope that we can foster that self-reliant attitude no matter what type of geological environment you may occupy.  With that said, though, someone actively homesteading now will ultimately seek the place to stretch out.  Like-minded neighbors are usually the result.  If you are living out of the city limits with the hope of having livestock, your immediate (or even sprawling) neighbors are likely to have either the same tendencies or sympathy towards them.  I must make a caveat that I know firsthand this is not the case everywhere.  If you have yet to purchase land but are looking, talk to the neighbors.  Wilson and I, when initially searching for land in Montana, came across land with so many covenants on it that you could not have more than a single family pet.  The irony was that the land was originally Amish land in the mountains of Montana.   As an aside, that land has been for sale for over two years now…but still.   Find out about covenants, meet the neighbors.  You will find kindred spirits in most rural areas far more effortlessly than you would in metropolitan ones. 
  11. A physical connection to the Creator, which will serve as a moral compass in hard times.  This isn’t hooey about how you do not need fellowship because fishing on a Sunday morning meets that need; that excuse is contrary to Biblical counsel.  Still, there is something to it that when life hits me hard and I step out into the unforgiving snowstorm to check on the animals, I glance up long enough to see the deep hues of the pink and gray sky and think…for just a frozen moment…about my miniscule stature in light of an awesome God.  And then I hustle my tail back into the house.  The Heavens declare his firmament…not billboards, not the latest mobile app…the Heavens. When it all comes down in the end and you have the opportunity to help others in need, your long-term perspective of your smallness and your utter dependence upon God will guide you to do the right thing, should such a moment ever arise.  And it will arise. 

In the meantime, Wilson and I at Pantry Paratus hope that you will keep learning & working to produce, prepare, and preserve your own harvest.  - Chaya

Friday, November 8, 2013

Have you been thinking about leaving the crowded city and moving to a retreat? Perhaps you are weighing many factors, finances, age, leaving friends and family, and work.  But the most important factor you should weigh, is the answer to the question, “If the SHTF, can we survive here?”  If the answer is no, then take the leap and move!  We did! 

We sold our San Diego house and finally landed in Washington state, on the west side of the Cascades.  We aimed for the Redoubt, but due to work constraints we could not make that work for us.  So, last November, we closed escrow on our new 20 acre retreat in the country with rich soil, good rainfall, and a good well. It is in a farming community. 

After jumping in with both feet, I will tell you up front that if your plan is to escape to a retreat at the last minute, I strongly urge you to reconsider.  There is a big learning curve to retreat living, mistakes to make and plans to rethink.  If there is anything you take away from this article, I want it to be that message:  you need to get established first and practice your new skills. For example, this past first year I had to learn the growing season of the area, the problems with tomato blight, how to drive a tractor without killing myself, what works for purifying our water and more.  Because TEOTWAWKI has not happened yet, I have had time to sort out and buy seeds that will actually grow in my microclimate.  And when I drove my tractor under a big limb with the roll bar up, and the limb came crashing down on my neck, I was still able go to the doctor to make sure I didn’t crack my vertebrae.  Yes, I learn some things the hard way, and I am trying to learn what I can now before there is no medical care.  Mistakes made now are salvageable for the most part.  They are not so salvageable after TEOTWAWKI.  Move to your retreat soon if you decide this is for you.  Learn your sustainability skills and practice, practice, practice!

This first year, my life activities were dictated by the seasonal changes.  Almost everything I did depended on what season it was, planting, harvesting, canning, etc.  Even my indoor activities, sewing my quilts, organizing my pantry, etc, were driven by rainy days when I didn’t need to be outside.  Please keep in mind, I lived in a city all of my life.  And where I came from, it was, “Rain?  What’s that?”  I have never had to cut my own firewood, grow my own food sustainably, raise chickens or drive the aforementioned tractor ever before.  My association with seasons had to do with what kind of holiday decorations to put up. This is a big change for my husband and me.

November and December were very rainy months when we were moving in.  My husband travels quite a bit, so I spent several of those first days alone in the new house watching the rain outside and asking myself, “What have we done?”  It takes a sense of adventure and a lot of faith to take a leap like this, and you may ask yourself the same question, but take heart, it gets better.  I met one set of neighbors fairly quickly when they dropped by to say hi, and with their help I organized a housewarming for the other neighbors.  They also introduced me to a good Bible church nearby.  I got to know pretty quickly who were going to be the reliable friends, who was knowledgeable about growing a garden and canning and who knew the most about what was going on in our valley.  We also spent the winter learning what needed to be improved for our situation.  We lacked a wood burning stove, and once we installed it we learned how much firewood we used month to month in the cold months.  This first year we had to buy firewood.  The wood burning stove does a great job keeping the house warm and I think it is more comfortable than central heat.  I spent a lot of time unpacking and organizing these two months and finding out what needed to be replaced.  I had already created a modest stockpile of food, largely in part from the LDS Cannery in Reno when we were living there temporarily. (See my previous SurvivalBlog article: Visits to a LDS Cannery.)  I inventoried our supplies and went into town to stock up on many other items.  Some of those purchases included new cooking utensils, and cast iron items like a dutch oven and griddle that would fit on top of the wood burning stove.  I cooked on it a couple of times with the dutch oven just to know I could do it if needed. Referring to my own lists, I stocked up on OTC meds, toiletries, batteries, toilet paper, extra heirloom seeds and many other items. I also used this time to start buying canning jars and lids, including some of the reusable Tattler lids.  My philosophy in buying these so early was that I didn’t know when the supply line could end, and by harvest season I would still need them.  I bought more canning jars on sale later when canning season came around in July and August. Shopping was something I could do in the winter and it helped me learn my way around.

We also looked at our water situation. Our well produces drinkable water IF you close your eyes and imagine it isn’t really orange and turbid.  So we considered a plan to purify it and again after a couple of mistakes, we went with a peroxide treatment, coupled with water softening and reverse osmosis for drinking. We decided to store extra peroxide and salt for the future.  If we run out, the water is still safe to drink and can also be filtered with our Katadyn filter if it becomes too objectionable. I will discuss our well and electricity later in this article.

In January, I contacted a local nursery and had a long conversation with their expert on orchards.  I knew the bare root planting season was approaching.  Many nurseries place their orders for the next year’s trees around November so I wanted to find out what varieties they were going to carry and what was recommended.  I ordered 55 fruit trees of several varieties, paying particular attention to what trees best pollinate each other. I ordered semi-dwarfs in five varieties of apples, two varieties each of pear, Asian pear, cherries and plums. One other reason for ordering different varieties has to do with crop lost due to freeze.  If some trees bloom slightly later or earlier and a freeze hits, you may have some blossoms spared and still get fruit.  I neatly laid out the orchard to have roughly 15 feet between trees running southeast and southwest, with about 22 feet (hypotenuse) north and south.  One of my neighbors owned a tractor with a post hole digger and volunteered to start the tree holes for us.   Simultaneously, he dug post holes for the new fence. The nursery also had organic compost which they dumped into the back of my truck.  Twice I brought home a load of compost for planting and shoveled it out of the back of the truck into the orchard.  Because these weren’t muscles I was practiced in using, I developed a repetitive motion injury on one arm.  That was the last of my shovel use for a couple of months and was glad I had medical care still.  Come February and March, my husband planted the trees and we threw in a few extra varieties from the home improvement store.  The trees from the nursery did grow in very well!  Some of the trees actually produced this year to our surprise. But the home improvement store varieties had some mortality. If I was doing it again, I would buy only nursery trees. The nursery trees appeared to be older, sturdier and more suited to our area and were worth the few extra dollars.   We also took the opportunity to plant a few walnut trees strategically to lessen the view of the house when they grow up and to provide a good source of Omega 3. 

In March, we installed a six foot tall, 7-wire electric fence around the orchard.  We chose this fence configuration due to it’s success in controlling deer and elk in numerous studies.  We installed wood posts in the corners of the orchard, and between corner posts we used non conductive fence posts.  Of the seven electrified strands on the fence, five are 12.5 gauge high tensile wire, and two are white Gallagher Turbo Poly Wire strands.  The white Poly Wire placed higher on the fence improves fence visibility, which we hope will reduce the chance of an animal trying to run through it.  All strands are charged by a Parmak Magnum 12 solar fence energizer.  The battery keeps the fence charged day and night, even after weeks of clouds and rain. We were told by a local to mix molasses and peanut butter and put it on the fence to train the deer about the electricity.   Thus far, it has been 100 percent effective, and we have been able to keep out the two legged creatures as well, though I suspect in TEOTWAWKI this would not be much of a deterrent. 

April was the month for chickens, garden and a tractor.  Let’s start with the newly purchased tractor.  When it was delivered, we were taught how to operate it and I insisted on being the first to drive it!  With the instructor there, I took off with it around the yard with the brush hog going and had a little fun with it.  It was helpful to have him there to ask questions.  My husband got his turn and the rep left.  I pretty much took it as my job to use the tractor when something needed to be done as my husband isn’t always home.  For the most part, I did pretty well with it mowing around the house and in the orchard between the trees. Then there were two incidences that put a dent in my confidence.  The first incident was with the tree limb I already mentioned.  The latest incident involved me destroying the engine of the tractor.  I was removing fence posts with the bucket and mowing along side the road where the new electric fence is going for next years cattle.  I missed pulling one of the posts and not seeing it, I ran the tractor up on that post.  It went through the radiator and the oil filter.  Although I stopped the tractor after getting it off the fence post, the sudden loss of oil and coolant quickly overheated the engine and resulted in it needing a complete engine replacement.  I am lucky we bought tractor insurance, and TEOTWAWKI has not happened and I can recover from my mistake.  But I will say again, if you are planning to go to a retreat after SHTF, then you will not have the luxury of insurance or doctors being there for you while you learn from mistakes.  If you were already at your retreat, you could be learning these lessons now, not later.  My lessons learned about tractors:  (1) put the roll bar down to drive under trees, or cut the lower branches on trees, or do not mow under trees at all. (2) Back into tall weed areas with the brush hog, don’t drive over those tall weed areas engine first in case there’s something you can’t see (3) tractor tires have better traction going forward than backwards because of the [tread] design of the tires (4) wear a hard hat and hearing protection (5) don’t drive into a steep area sideways if you don’t want to roll your tractor (6) insurance can be a wonderful thing for your tractor! Yes, I will get on the tractor again, but with some added knowledge on tractor safety.  But, if you see me driving the tractor, you still might want to stand clear!

Late April, I also picked up my first chickens.  I had placed an order with a fellow who was a specialized breeder and was starting to think he wasn’t going to come through with the order.  So, I grabbed some different varieties at a co-op we had joined.  The co-ops here typically carry chicks until the end of April and I was afraid I would lose my opportunity to get chicks this year. Ok, you can laugh, I had the chicks inside in a box in a spare bedroom.  I didn’t have my coop set up yet and had to keep them warm, too.  The home improvement store sold me a shed which was constructed on our land, but I laid vinyl and my husband insulated it and finished it off inside.  He cut a small chicken sized door to the outside, where I had built the cage part of their coop with a screen door.  As my chickens got bigger, I was happy to get them out of the house.  I moved them into the coop and placed wood chips on the floor which I change out regularly.  Then I got a call from the breeder and now he had chickens for me.  It was too many chickens, but since I like to hold up my end of the bargain, I took them. Many of them were roosters, so I learned how to butcher a chicken as they got older.   If you are not too keen on butchering a lot of roosters, you may want to buy only the chickens you need from the co-op. Usually the co-op sells pullets (the females) but most likely you will get a rooster or two in the mix.  I will not go into methods of killing chickens, I’m still a little sensitive about that experience. But, for removing feathers without messing up the skin (after they are dead, of course), dunking them about four times in hot water at about 160 degrees F seemed to work best for me.  I butchered a total of eleven roosters and now have that skill in my repertoire.  What is left is what I consider a healthy number of chickens for my setup.  I have heard that you need about 4 square feet per chicken, which proved about right for me.  I do not free range my chickens because I want to protect them from predators and know where they are laying their eggs.  I’ve set aside extra food for them now that they are on a laying feed.  I have two roosters that get along well with each other in addition to my 13 hens.  One problem I nipped in the bud pretty quickly was some periodic aggression by both roosters towards me.  Each time, I grabbed the offending rooster and held him upside down by his legs for awhile to show him who’s boss.  Neither rooster attacks me anymore.

Let’s talk about the garden:  I count it a huge success to have just started a garden this year. Early April, I had started some seeds inside for transplanting into the garden.  Another neighbor came by with a tiller and cut an area 40 by 100 feet, where I had laid out tarps in advance to presumably kill the vegetation.  This was going to be the size of my garden.  We did a second tilling at the end of April. Early May, I started putting in my garden.  I planted a few rows a day and had most of the garden planted.

Then everything came to a screeching stop.

With all the recent talk about appendicitis on SurvivalBlog, my poor 56 year-old husband came down with it!  All the while, I kept thanking God for letting it happen when it wasn’t TEOTWAWKI and he wasn’t traveling. It was a very scary experience as his appendix had become gangrenous, and after surgery he was on IV antibiotics for several days.  I was terribly scared I would lose him. He is normally a very healthy, fit man.  He recovered more slowly than we anticipated, in part to his inability to sit still and rest. It was the first time I had faced the prospect of losing my husband and it still rattles me.  It also brought me to thinking about how absolutely difficult it would be to continue the work we were doing without him especially in TEOTWAWKI.

The days sitting in the hospital and then caring for him at home, the garden weeds got further ahead of me and some of my planted vegetables disappeared underneath them. The weeds looked just like the beets and spinach that was mixed in there. I didn’t fight the weeds too hard; victory was theirs.  But, I still decided to call my garden a success.  It was a big accomplishment to start a garden and have an area dug up for future gardens. I used heirloom seeds and was able to collect some seeds from the plants at the end of the season.  I did get food out of it, including green beans, cabbage, squash, corn and potatoes.  I had enough green beans for several canning sessions, and dug enough potatoes for my back to hurt.  The potatoes have gone into root storage as I have a chilly basement. I froze plenty of corn. It wasn’t the prettiest of gardens, but yes, I am calling it a success.

So in July, August and September, I did lots of canning.  Remember the big orchard we planted?  Well, we discovered we already had several mature fruit trees on the property! Surprise!  Apples, pears and plums came in and along with the garden vegetables, I was canning a lot.  I have a friend here who has canned for years, who was also gracious enough to give me lessons and recipes.  I found two canning books helpful, the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, and Canning for a New Generation. The latter has some wonderful recipes (spiced pears!) Yes, this is my first year canning, too. I made sauerkraut from my cabbage, adding caraway seed to it when I transferred it to canning jars.   Learning to can has probably been the most valuable part of the year for me.  Why?  Not only have I learned how to preserve my harvest for the winter months, but in practicing it I have learned what my husband and I actually like to eat and store more of the extra ingredients needed for those recipes.  For instance, the spiced pear recipe we like uses whole cloves and whole cinnamon sticks, so I have stored more of those.  If you are planning to can food in TEOTWAWKI, wouldn’t you like to know what really tastes good and works for you?  Some people have a very common genetic trait called “geographic tongue” that makes them extra sensitive to acidic foods like pickles canned in vinegar.  Is someone in your family sensitive to hot, spicy or acidic foods? Practicing your canning now will help you to sort out preferences and store the right ingredients.

In June, I purchased a Dakota Alert system that would monitor four areas and placed the monitors around the property at access points.  I know when someone is approaching the house, and sometimes know when the deer are going through an access point.  I do not get too concerned at every alert right now and familiarization with the alert may have desensitized me somewhat for when it goes off.  I know the time may come when I will need to seriously heed every alert I receive.

It’s now the first of November.  Hunting season is in swing in our locale and I am looking for that extra meat to put away.  As I am still learning the area and not up to speed on how to hunt this location, it is yet another thing I have to learn.  The deer that used to wander into our yard previously seem to know I am ready for them.  A successful hunt will mark the end of our self-reliance cycle for this year.  I was fortunate to have experience in hunting and butchering before the move.

So to continue about our water and power, this is not a complete project yet.  On a vacation to a jungle lodge a few years back, we noticed they ran their generator two hours a day to do their essential tasks.  Then the remainder of the time, the batteries supplied power to lights and a water pump.  We decided we would like to run a generator on one hour a day or less. During that time, we could run a washer, charge batteries and refill our home water tank.  We are on liquid propane for some appliances (stove top and oven, dryer), but a small electric current is needed as part of the operation as well.  So, we calculated the loads for our essential items, and bought a generator that will accommodate those loads while providing a charge to a battery bank.  Obviously, we think our water supply is the most critical.  We get our water from a well, which pumps it to a 300 gallon water storage tank in our basement.  From there it is pumped to our house fixtures by a 240 volt Gould pump.  Without AC power, we have no water.  We watched the National Geographic movie “Blackout” earlier this week, and it was ironic that we lost our power only minutes after the movie ended, but only for about an hour.  During that time, there was some remaining water pressure in the lines, but not enough to take a shower or flush a toilet.  So in addition to the generator, inverter and deep cycle batteries, we ordered an RV water pump (powered by a deep cycle battery) and are installing it in parallel with our main house water pump.  It is a fairly simple installation, but it required adding a one way valve on the output of the house water pump to prevent back flow.  This should give us water 24 hours a day. Based on a fuel flow chart for our generator, at roughly a gallon an hour for a full load, in 365 days we can go almost a year on our 364 gallon diesel tank, if it is full.  We try to run through the fuel to keep it fresh and keep some Pri-D in it to help preserve it. Once we have our set up complete, it will be tested with others in our group to see how this works and how we can trim back use of the generator.  If during that one hour a day, tasks are assigned to start the washer, cook a meal, take showers, operate a power tool, etc. then that’s not too bad.  Perhaps we can trim the electric chores to 45 minutes a day, or even 30 minutes a day with some good choreography.  I have timed the washer cycles and can wash a speed load in 28 minutes.  A wood drying rack in the same room as my wood stove does an excellent job of drying garments.  Who knows?  With some adjustments, and the addition of solar panels to help charge our inverter batteries, we may be able to go 2 or more days between operating the generator and stretch a tank of diesel for two years. Practice will tell us what works and what needs fixing. Once fuel runs out, we can still hand wash clothes, filter water, etc.  Some fuel will be retained for the tractor use and we are considering a second diesel tank. We will be working on a rainwater collection system later on and buying a hand pump for the well.

A note for the women:  I spent many years in a nontraditional job hearing how “a woman can’t do this”and “a woman can’t do that”.  If you hear it enough times it becomes easier to believe and as a result, we may not try to do certain tasks.  Yes, we may not be as strong as a man overall, but we know how to work smarter, not harder.  Think about this:  if your husband dies before or during TEOTWAWKI and it is up to you and only you, do you think it would have been beneficial to try some of those “man” things while he was still alive just to learn how to do it? I took this as my challenge this year to step up and try those things my husband would typically do.  I decided this year to use the chainsaws, use the log splitter, work with the tractor, run wire for the electric fence, and build the chicken cage and other things.  Trust me, I am married to a talented man who makes those chores look easy and he could do it all. But after his appendectomy, I kept thinking, ‘What if?”  I know I did the best I could this year and I challenge you to do the same especially if you have youngsters who depend on you should their Dad pass away.  In addition, this year I made a point of also practicing my shooting.  I focused more on my pistol, and practiced drawing, double taps and quick clip changes.  I had taken a few lessons from an NRA instructor the previous year but I was rusty. Gals, it is worth the money to pay for a good shooting instructor.  Some instructors will let you try their different guns out to for you to see what you like.  If you haven’t already, find that favorite gun you want to carry and get some lessons in using it. Go talk to the guys behind the gun counter and take some notes.  I went with a H&K .40 S&W, one of the more recent ones that had a grip that could be downsized for my hands, and a Black Hawk CQC holster made of carbon composite.  The holster doesn’t have the friction that a leather one does on draw, and this worked better for me.  Find a gun and holster that works for you, then practice.  Try a few “hips and head” shots while practicing, in case you encounter a target wearing a bulletproof vest.  While there are many good men out there who can protect a woman, they can’t always be there.  Take some of that responsibility on yourself.  A gun is a great equalizer!

You already know that it’s important to stay up on medical and dental care.   Get caught up on health issues before moving to a new retreat.  In some places it takes up to two months to get set up with new dentists and doctors, and if one doesn’t seem like a good fit, it takes more time to switch doctors.  I had to play catch up after I moved to get a delayed root canal done.  Right, no one wants to get one but it sure was a relief to have it out of the way.  I should have done it back in San Diego.  As just a side thought, if you still have your appendix and you are scheduled for another abdominal surgery, you might ask your doctor if they could go ahead and pull that appendix for you.  I was able to get my doctor to do this for me a few years back.  I think they wanted the practice for their residents and you might have a better chance getting this done at a training hospital!  Another decision I made a few years back was to have a cardiac ablation versus going on pills for an otherwise unmanageable arrhythmia.  What if I couldn’t get pills anymore?  Not fun, but glad I did it.  You have to decide for yourself.

Final advice:  If you have decided to move to a retreat, do it now.  It took a year of retreat living to get the seasonal flow of country life.  These are only the first lessons of self reliance.  My new neighbors have been a wonderful resource for me.  Should you find yourself equally blessed with good neighbors that are willing to teach you useful self reliance skills, open your ears and close your mouth. There is much to learn and practice, and you will be making edits along the way.  We are still editing and still have more to do.  Once TEOTWAWKI happens, there will be no “do over’s” in planning.

We took the leap and we like it!  We certainly pay less in taxes and in some states you can get a reduction in property taxes by operating your retreat as a farm.  Though our bodies hurt here and there, our hearts are happy in this beautiful valley.  Goodbye city life!  Green Acres we are there!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Always trying to learn and become better prepared I thought our family needed to start pursuing livestock and learning the ins and outs to raising them.  Since I deplore powdered eggs I thought we’d start with poultry.  After reading how easy quail were to raise I decided to give them a try this spring.  After all, it met many of the requirements I needed for raising poultry.  The chicks are easy to raise and inexpensive.  They take very little space.  I live in a subdivision so had only a small area to house them in as well as city regulations to follow.  Quail only need about 1 square foot each so my rabbit hutch was perfect for the eight babies I acquired.  Quail are quiet, social and friendly.  Great, they won’t bug the neighbors or waken them at 5:00 in the morning crowing.  They are quick to mature in just eight weeks with females laying an egg six out of seven days.  The eggs, though small, are said to be healthier than a chicken egg, less bad cholesterol and more good cholesterol.  The perfect project I thought for me and our family to prepare and have in case the Schumer Hits the Fan (SHTF).  Also, our retreat is three hours away so the quail would be relatively easy to transport, if necessary.
I started with 8 tiny babies only a couple of days old.  They are so tiny you must be extra careful they don’t drown in their drinking water.  I used a small waterer but many people place marbles in a small lid with water to prevent this tragedy from happening.  They need to be kept warm and it is important to use a heat lamp with a red or blue bulb.  If you use a white bulb they will peck at each other.  For the first week the temperature in their cage needs to be 100 degrees and then you can lower the temp 5 degrees each week.  When you hit 75 degrees they are ready to with stand the elements.  I did protect my quail though by bringing them into the garage at night or if we had wind and rain for a few extra months.  Quail need a higher protein feed than chickens.  Their feed should be 25% to 30% protein or higher if you can find it.  This is usually found in a game bird starter feed.  Our local feed store did not carry any feed higher than 22% so I had to travel an hour to get the feed I needed.  It is important they get clean water every day as they are messy little birds and the water is always dirty.  Bacteria in their food or water containers can kill your quail.  Some owners use a bunny bottle that hangs on the outside of the pen keeping the water clean and easy to change.  Mine have not figured out how to drink from this bottle so I keep the waterer inside.  Also, it is important the first couple of weeks to not have a smooth flooring as they can get straddle leg and will die.  Baby quail have extremely fragile legs for a couple of weeks after hatching and must have good footing.  I used good quality paper towels that had a bumpy texture.  Other people use an old towel or animal bedding.  I found the paper towels were easy to remove when cleaning the cage and replacing it. 
When I first got the babies I was up every two hours checking on them.  It was hard to keep the temperature even.  When the night was cold I had to move the heat lamp closer.  During the day when it was warmer I had to move the heat lamp away.  I was always worried they were being cooked or freezing.  You can tell if the babies are hot or cold by watching how they act.  If they are cold they huddle together close to the heat lamp.  If hot, they get as far away from the lamp as they can.  I also watched their water dish.  If baby quail get wet they will almost always die even if you dry them out.  So it’s important to keep them warm and dry.
For housing we started with a small bird cage.  The quail go through a “boink” stage.  They jump when startled or just for fun, hitting their heads on the top of their cage.  This can kill them by breaking their necks or causing head damage.  We left the top of the cage unattached so when they jumped and hit the top it was flexible and moved too.  At about 3 weeks we moved them to a larger wire cage.  This cage did not have a removable top so we put bubble wrap on the ceiling.  This seemed to work rather well and did not hurt the birds when they jumped and “boinked” their heads.  At 5 weeks we moved them to the rabbit hutch.   With this new home we glued foam on the ceiling.  This has worked very good as well.  We also put ½ inch hardware material on the floor making it much easier for the birds to walk and keeping them safe from predators.  It also makes cleaning the cage very easy.  Do not use ¼ inch hardware material as the feces does not fall through and is then very hard to clean.  Our hutch has a tray that slides out that makes emptying and cleaning a breeze.  The birds like to perch so I put a branch inside their cage to sit on and hide behind.  This helps them feel very secure and happy.
As the weeks went by I became more confident.  All eight were still alive and growing.  They would sing beautiful songs and were fun to watch.  At 4-5 weeks I started to feed them a boiled egg each morning.  Great protein and they loved eating it.  Then we moved on to fruits and vegetables.  A perfect place to send your food scraps as they are great little garbage disposals.  My quail love honeydew and apples but will eat anything I place in front of them including pasta and bread.  They love dust baths and are a riot to watch when bathing.  I fill their small plastic box twice a week and they dive right in and have dust flying everywhere.  They can fly rather well at just a few weeks so beware.  I’ve had them fly out when feeding or watering them.  They are tough to catch.  One afternoon when one flew out I opened one side of the hutch, closing the inside door to keep the others in.  An hour later the escapee had found his way back inside the hutch.  I peeked several times to see what was happening and found him calling and the others returning his call to help him find his way home.  It seems the grass wasn’t greener on the other side and this little fellow wanted to be back with his family.  Later when one would escape my husband made a butterfly net or rather a quail net.  It was very easy to catch one on the run or fly with this inventive net.
I wanted to raise quail just for the eggs.  I’m not interested at this time in their meat.  So how can you tell the difference between a hen and a rooster?  It is actually very hard to sex these birds.  The best way is by color and that takes a few months.  The type of quail I have show stronger markings in the males.  The males have a white eye band and neck.  The females coloring is more muted with these bands a beige color.  It is still difficult to distinguish the coloring between the two.  Some watch for the males to crow (which is nothing like a chicken) but who wants to get up at 4:00 am to watch the little birds?  When you finally figure it out it is best to keep one male for every two or three females.  I’ve read that if you keep all females one of the females will become the boss and rule the roost.  Out of my 8 hatchlings I have 6 males and only 2 females.  What are the odds?  There went my [planned] eggs!  Also, domesticated quail seldom set their eggs and lay them wherever they are standing.  I was very disappointed when I learned this.  To have babies you must incubate the eggs.  When SHTF it will be rather difficult without electricity to run an incubator.  The females need 12-14 hours of sun so this will also be hard during a grid down situation in the winter.  Also, the females usually only live a couple of years with males living three years. 
I enjoyed this little adventure.  There is a lot of information on the internet about raising quail that helped me.  The babies were fun to raise and something I was able to do easily in a subdivision.  My family loved the bowls of little hard boiled quail eggs in Brazil and so we were excited to have our own tiny eggs.  They sing a beautiful song and are fun to watch.  But sadly I think I will move on to bantam chickens.  I know they will set and raise chicks which will be far more beneficial than the quail in a TEOTWAWKI situation.  I have thought about using a bantam to raise quail chicks and may try this next spring.  This is why it is important to not only plan for the future but to put into action your plans.  Your plan may not be as simple or as profitable as you thought.  I learned a valuable lesson this summer.  These are fun little birds to raise but in my opinion will not be useful during a SHTF scenario. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

I have delivered my sheep to safety, and you may soon be called on to do the same.

Almost five years ago we started our own little flock of Katahdin sheep in order to be able to raise our own healthy, drug-free organic meat. Through the years we had 23 lambs, two rams, and many tough times (lambing in winter) as well as hilarious, joyful times (lambs frolicking and snuggling). We had read that in large flocks sheep have a mob mentality, but we discovered that one-on-one sheep had their own personalities and were much more complex than we ever imagined (kind of like people!)

In our main pasture they had things to climb on and jump off, big red exercise balls and Jolly Balls to play with, and more. We watched them try to figure out how to open the gate carabiners with their mouths. We watched lambs perform circus acts on the backs of their mothers under our floodlights at night. We gave them the best life we could, protected them in many ways, and gave them a quick and humane death when the time came (well, Katahdins are meat sheep).

One thing we tried and failed at was improving our pasture. Three years in a row we planted pasture seed and three years in a row we got skunked. A lot of work and money down the drain. Our property is just too dry and we couldn’t irrigate. So our sheep were on hay 7 months out of the year and required much higher quality (and correspondingly more expensive) hay than is typically fed to horses and cattle. When the collapse comes there would be no way to raise or buy / transport three tons of hay for over winter!
No hay, no sheep.

Buying that much hay wasn’t working for us, but equally we realized that we were too close to Spokane for the coming collapse. We couldn’t move the sheep on short notice and we couldn’t defend them against looters and rustlers. Our plan was actually to shoot our own sheep before bugging out rather than trust them to the “mercies” of hungry, desperate, violent people. But having to do that would not only take time and alarm the neighbors, but be enormously disturbing at the very time we needed to be focused and high speed.
They would just have to be moved to safety in advance.                  

Don't misunderstand: I loved the idea of being a “shepherd” – that identity was special, manly, challenging. It was an opportunity to learn many, many carryover skills. I took my responsibilities very seriously, learning from my sheep as well as from the Bible about what a good shepherd does and does not do (and the Bible has a lot to say).

"Yahweh is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing." (Psalm 23:1)

I learned that the shepherd/sheep metaphor is used throughout the Bible and applies not only to the relationship between God and his people, but between human leaders and the people depending on them.

"When He saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36)

Sheep need shepherds. Guard dogs are important and minimize predator losses, but sheep dogs are not a substitute for a shepherd.

When all the details miraculously came together it was a long drive to Montana to deliver my precious flock to their new home, but God guided me through the whole process. There were valuable things to learn and new equipment to purchase so that even the sheep sale and move was a prepping lesson. And it was a lesson in faith as much as anything.

The 12 hour drive there was grueling for me and my sheep, but it left me with a lot of time to think and pray. I know my sheep must have been wondering why I was doing this to them! And the answer was, This is what real shepherds do. They do what's best for their sheep, even if it's hard on the sheep, and even if it means the shepherd sacrifices and suffers too.
I spent half my profit on gasoline, replacing a tire, and a hotel room before the trip back. It was costly.
But it was worth it.

"Even if I go through a ravine as dark as death, I will fear no harm, for you are with me and I'm comforted that your shepherd's crook and club protect me." (Psalm 23:4)
Why would a shepherd take his flock through a dangerous area? To get to good pasture. It might be hard on the sheep, it might be dangerous, but the shepherd was with them, and that was enough. He could rescue them and he could defend them. The shepherd was prepared.

Many of us have adopted the "sheepdog" identity as so eloquently described by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his book On Combat. God has put people in our lives who need protecting – our family and friends, perhaps neighbors or citizens in harm's way when we're in public going about our business. We must have sheepdogs!

But I want to propose that some of us have been called to be shepherds. "Shepherd" is not just a defensive role, not simply a spiritual role, it is a visionary leadership role. Someone who knows people, who cares personally for those God has put in his/her life, and can motivate, encourage, and equip people. The shepherd is someone who knows where to go (sometimes literally), how to get there, and can lead his people to good pasture and still waters.

There's a negative example in Zechariah 11:15-16 that illustrates a shepherd's rightful duties: A shepherd is to care for those who are dying, look after the young, heal the injured and feed the healthy.

Sheep dogs are essential, but they're no substitute for a shepherd. What sheepdog can do all that?

Is that what God is calling you to do? Then welcome that calling, embrace it. It's not all up to you! Don't be afraid to step up. He will guide you as you guide them.
Even shepherds have a Shepherd.

He's proven he's a worthy shepherd: Our Great Shepherd, Jesus, delivered us from death at great personal cost. He suffered and sacrificed for his sheep, and led us from spiritual hunger and darkness to life and safety. And he will lead us home one day through the valley of the shadow of death to his great and joyful Pasture in heaven.
After all, that's what a real shepherd does!

The Sovereign Lord is coming to rule with power,
bringing with him the people he has rescued.
He will take care of his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs together
and carry them in his arms;
he will gently lead their mothers.

- Isaiah 40:10-11

Be prepared. Trust God! And take heart, brothers and sisters. Isaiah 43:2 promises that He will see you through. - ShepherdFarmerGeek

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Forgive me if this has been addressed, but what do you think is the best way to hide livestock from looters if/when the shtf?  it is no secret that we have animals.  Our property is such that the only clearings for pasture are near our house, which is in plain sight of our quiet country road.  From the street, you can see our house, a coop, a pen, an old tin barn, an outbuilding, a goat pasture, free ranging chickens and turkeys, etc.  We read that a privacy fence up front at the street would be a bad idea, as people can peep through the cracks, while the fence obstructs the view from the inside. Just locking our animals in coops/barns at night (or around the clock) wouldn't leave much of a mystery.  I haven't been able to find much info on the web about this topic.  one person was considering a hole in the ground to keep chickens out of view, but comments didn't support this idea.   another suggested bringing animals into your house!  Since half of our property is wooded we were considering building a hiding place there for our animals and some supplies, perhaps with a few moveable pens to allow forage.  Would it be wiser to hide in the woods with the animals, or stay put at the house and guard the perimeter?  Thanks for your advice.  - Lori R.

JWR Replies: There is essentially no foolproof way to conceal your livestock from looters and rustlers.

I'll begin with a bit of family history: In my late wife's family, there is an oft-repeated story of hiding their horses from "requisitioning" by the Union Army, during the Civil War. (They then lived in Ohio, well inside Union territory.) Whenever Union troops would pass through town, they would hide their horses in their timbered "Back 20," which was their wood lot. This ruse worked up until 1864, when a Union Cavalry unit passed through. One of the sergeants inspected the family's barn, and the distinctive sight of horse manure alongside the cow manure was unmistakable. They were "compensated" just $10 per horse, including the father's prized saddle horse, that was worth at least ten times that sum.

There are a few things that you can do:

1.) Keep your livestock quiet. Keep only cows and hens. (No bulls, no peacocks, and no roosters!)

2.) Position your livestock an poultry sheds behind foliage and behind buildings, so that they cannot be seen from any public roads.

3.) Keep your neighbors well-supplied with eggs, milk, meat, and butter, partly in exchange for them keeping mum about the existence of your livestock.

4.) Organize a Neighborhood Watch on Steroids.

5.) Having both a watch dog and a reliable intrusion detection system (such as a Dakota Alert) will be essential. (The Chinese-made driveway alarms are unreliable junk, and should be avoided.)

6.) Recognize that if your stealth and camouflage measures fail then it will probably come down to force--or the perception of the willingness to use force--that will deter looters.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Chickens are one of the most important yet overlooked purchases in the preparedness world. Chickens are relatively low maintenance, a joy to watch, and they offer a significant return on investment for the backyard homestead and small farm. Because they will eat anything from table scraps to fish heads, they are also very economical pre-collapse. On average, most chicks cost around three dollars each purchased from local co-ops and feed stores. They can also be bought online for reasonable prices (shipping costs are high, however, due to Postal Service regulations) and delivered to your local post office. Chickens of a variety of ages and breeds can be found on Craigslist or on local community advertisements.   

Due to the fact that a small number of chickens can be kept most anywhere (most city ordinances allow for at least a few), the cost of even a small batch of them can be made back after a couple months of steady laying. Water can be collected from rain via five gallon buckets, and a small amount of purchased feed can be supplemented with a bowl of milk every day (for protein), as well as any extra table scraps after meals. There are many reasons for keeping chickens, but I will cover the three most important: eggs, meat, and soil fertilizer. Most hens will normally lay four to six eggs per week in their first four years, after which their laying starts to drop off. The eggs are a healthy source of fat, as well as a source of protein. Their meat, on the other hand, provides a solid meal, with many uses, such as a healthy broth from the chicken itself, and soup from the bones. Thirdly, the chicken’s droppings and scratching both aerate and enrich the dirt on the areas they have been on. This may seem less important now, but the opportunity to maximize your soil potential could be critical in a collapse. A small flock of chickens in a concentrated, movable pen over spread out compost can both loosen your soil via the chickens scratching, and increase the soils fertility (it also substantially lowers the amount of actual feed you need to find or purchase for them).   Also, consider the long benefits of an average-sized flock of laying, broody-inclined hens, and a full-grown rooster. Most people anticipate an economic collapse following the hyper-inflation of the American dollar. While I agree with them (this seems to be the most plausible outcome), what if it’s a solar storm or a calculated government power grab? In both of these scenarios, there most likely won’t be an economic start-over for a long time, due to the very nature of these events. You can’t eat .308 Winchester, and pre-1965 silver coins don’t hold a whole lot of flavor. And while both of these things should have an important place in our purchases, you should at least have one way to continue food production to augment any bulk food storage, and a flock of chickens is one of the best ways to start.

There are three ways to start a chicken flock: The first way is to mail-order chicks from an established hatchery (such as Murray McMurray) or to purchase them from a store (such as Tractor Supply or a local feed store). When mail-ordering chicks, consider the date they are hatched. Chicks are more likely to survive if delivered in the summer or late spring, due to the fact that these months are warmer in most parts of North America. The second way is to hatch them yourselves with an incubator, and fertilized eggs which can be bought online. In this scenario, eggs are placed in a climate-controlled styrofoam box for around twenty-one days, and turned frequently so as to simulate an actual hen’s turning. There are many, many incubators (some with an automatic egg turner), with varying degrees of cost. Lastly is getting a hen to set on her own eggs .Obviously this not an option for new chicken owners, but will be the only way to get more chicks for those without a power source after the collapse. I highly recommend only buying breeds that will go broody on a regular basis, and in doing so giving yourself a somewhat steady supply of chicks. There are three important things that you need to have to make an easy transition from newly hatched chicks to started (or feathered) ones: warmth, shelter, and clean ground.  Warmth, which can be provided in a number of ways, is essential in the first two to three weeks (before they start to feather). This role is normally filled by a heat lamp. However, because the majority of survival situations involve no electricity, a heat lamp will not be an option. An alternative way to provide heat is to select a broody hen from your flock and, at night, remove her from her eggs and put her with the chicks. She will think she hatched them. While uncommon, it does sometimes happen that a hen will leave her brood, in which case there is not a whole lot that can be done without electricity.     

Providing safe shelter may require some serious creativity. Depending on where you keep your chicks, requisite pens and overhead shelter will need to be provided. Keeping them in either your basement or garage is recommended, as these areas are covered, and stay relatively warm throughout the winter. If you have neither available, then putting them under a covered porch or against the side of your house comes in a close second. If they are to be outside, then make sure you have at least two weatherproof tarps that are larger than the pen itself, as well as vehicle cover bungee cords to strap them down. Also, clean ground and bedding is essential in preventing disease in your chicks. I have found that pine shavings are generally the best option for my chick brooder( Note: it’s best to stay away from this option once they no longer need heat, because in a fixed, non-movable coop, much, much more feed is needed, as they will overgraze the area around them). However, depending on your region, your local Wal-mart or feed store probably won’t be open for a while after a full scale crash, and wood shavings will last less than a week if there is any moisture in it. With the aid of a machete or knife, tall grasses can be pulled or cut and laid down in the pen. Cardboard can also be laid down, but this remains clean for little more than a day or two, and is normally reserved as a short term option.

Once the chicks get their feathering in, they can be moved out into the field with the older chickens (if any), or moved into their own pen. However, if moved into a pen with the older hens, the two groups must be kept separate for at least a day. The reason for the separation is twofold: The new pullets (young female chickens not of a laying age) will get acclimated to their new surroundings, and, when the other hens come in for the night, the older ones will not be able to see the younger ones well enough to be able to peck them out. This can be accomplished by letting the hens out early in the day (preferably at daybreak) and confining the pullets to their new pen for the remainder of the day. Come morning, let all of them out, and a new pecking order will undoubtedly be established quickly.

A pen, or coop, is one of the key elements to keeping your chickens alive. There are a multitude of predators out there, such as raccoons, possums, weasels, snakes, rats, coyotes, and dogs, to name a few. In the city, there are less actual types of predators (mostly stray dogs), but they are harder to deal with. In the city, you can’t legally shoot an animal with anything more than a high-power air-rifle (Gamo makes very good, economically priced air-weapons). It is best, though, to have a good quality coop before you have any predator problems.   A good coop needs to be situated on well drained, yet flat ground. If placed in a slight bowl, water will eventually rot the wood on the coop. Hardware cloth is an essential element to making your coop (nearly) predator proof. (While chicken wire is more aesthetically pleasing, I have literally seen raccoons tear it apart far enough to reach the baby chicks inside) Hardware cloth is very strong, and provides less of a claw hold for marauding animals. Three inch screws are optimal, as these give a sturdy foundation when screwed into two by fours. Finally, going against all tradition, a fixed coop style pen is not optimal, due to the fact that wood tends to rot faster in a fixed position, as well as the fact that the chickens grazing will be less concentrated. However, a top opening, long (but not too tall) pen has been, in my experience, the most predator and weather resistant type of pen I have used. This type, normally called a “chicken tractor”, is designed to be moved, and can hold a fair amount of chickens.     Protecting your chickens from the weather is just as important (and as hard) as protecting them from predators. There are many combinations of factors that go into this. For example, in a snow storm or blizzard, hay or straw must be set down around the openings of the coop, and a tarp secured over any exposed tops to keep the chickens warm and dry. This also has the added benefit of hopefully adding enough warmth to keep the waterers from completely freezing over, and possibly cracking them. However, you also have to juggle the need for ventilation versus how much insulation there is. In a grid down situation, fulfilling your flock’s needs for warmth begins to get a little trickier. Hay is not always readily available. Tarps will tear, and bungee cords snap.   Also, due to the cold (or heat), water sources will begin to be harder and harder to find.

Heat can also be a problem, especially for thickly feathered breeds such as Cochins or Brahmas. In light of these problems, it is best to choose breeds of chickens based on your region. There are three breeds that will normally work for most North American climates: Light Brahmas, Dark Cornish (not to be confused with the Cornish Cross, a fast-growing, hybrid meat bird), and Barred Rocks. Light Brahmas are amazing winter layers that breed frequently, and are good for meat. Dark Cornish chickens also make great meat birds, but lay well in the summer. Barred Rocks lay best in the spring and fall, and forage well. However, learn to select chickens based on where you live. Cochins (a thickly feathered breed) will not thrive in New Mexico and Shamos, small game birds originally from Japan, and best suited for hot weather, generally don’t do well in Canada. If you want to have a fast-growing meat breed, go with the Cornish-cross. This breed matures in 6-8 weeks, and has tasty meat. Make sure to provide ample shade (I know of some who go as far as making mobile shade booths, but this is unnecessary for the smaller flocks like I am describing here) and lots of water, all the time. I cannot stress the last point enough. Try to keep the waterers as clean as possible, as this makes them want to drink from them more.  In the summer, check your flock frequently, and make it a habit to check them at roughly the same time every day.            

Feeding your chickens in a collapse can become difficult. It is a given that most large chain stores will close, leaving you on your own when it comes to feed. However, as stated above, by God’s design chickens will eat nearly everything. Gathering the food, then, is where the problem lies. There are many sources of foods that can be found, including: dandelions, wild flowers, wild apples and berries, and some types of grasses. They also eat many different types of meat, such as: crawfish, mice, skinned squirrels, bluegills, and liver. As also said above, gathering food can be a risk; however, a fair portion of these foods can be found close to home or bartered for (providing a barter based economy is established post crunch). Also, in the event that there is still gas available and for a fair price, put that mower to work. Chickens love scratching in freshly cut grass, due to all the insects and bugs normally found in it.  Water can also be collected easily, if gutters are installed. If they are not, a 55 gallon drum, or several food-grade 5 gallon buckets placed in an open location can be used as well. 

Finally, to get maximum benefit from your chickens, slaughtering is an important skill. Slaughtering can be done quite easily in a grid-down, post-collapse environment if proper care is taken to prepare your workplace and your tools, and if you are informed on slaughtering procedure. Sanitation is absolutely imperative. Knives must be spotlessly clean as well as the worktable. The table can be washed with hot and soapy water or a bleach solution (rinsed down of course). The first step is to kill it (normally done with a hatchet and chopping block), and then to remove the feathers. There are two ways to do this: one is by dunking the dead and bled out rooster in boiling water for one minute and then plucking it. However, the easiest way I have found to get rid of feathers is to skin the bird, saving time and a lot of mess. This is a bit tricky for the first time, but does get easier. With skinning, slow and steady is best, as you do not want to pierce the intestines or crop. If you do decide to pluck it, you can pull the feathers yourself, or buy or make a plucker yourself. Herrick Kimball makes the best of these, and also sells plans for making your own.   After skinning is accomplished, gutting is next. This is simply reaching inside the body cavity and removing the intestines, gizzard, and the lungs (by far the hardest part). Also, the neck, crop, and oil gland need to be cut away. With a good enough knife, and enough patience, slaughtering can be done. Note: Crowing roosters can possibly be heard from a long distance, and can be a security risk. It is important to learn how to slaughter before the Crunch. You may have to, and there is no reason to throw away a perfectly good rooster.

Eggs are what chickens are most associated with (we Americans love our eggs). Most hens should start laying at four to six months. They normally lay around five to six eggs per week, although this does vary depending on the breed. Eggs do not necessarily have to be refrigerated, and can stay up to ten days unrefrigerated, if they are out of the sun. It is always advised that you both wash and check your eggs for freshness. To check an egg to see if it is good, simply submerge it in a bowl of water. If it sinks, than the egg is okay, and not rotten. But if it floats, than the egg is not safe to eat. Due to the regularity of most hens laying, they represent a significant long term investment, which, in time, will pay for itself many times over. In a full scale collapse, a small flock of around ten hens and a rooster would be worth as much as gold.     

Because chickens drop a lot of manure, they are great for aerating and fertilizing the soil. When eight chickens are confined to a movable 4’ by 8‘coop for just two days, they will have spread their own manure evenly over the space of a standard garden bed, as well as chopped the ground up due to heavy scratching (in most circumstances anyway; in the winter, there will necessarily be a lot less bugs, and thus a lot less scratching). If put on a same sized bed of table scraps or lawn clippings, the same thing will happen, but much less feed will be needed, along with the added benefit of the compost being worked into the ground. In a week or two, you will be able to see lush, green grass start to grow back. Also, if proper fencing is available, they can be turned loose on your garden in the winter after everything has stopped growing. This will serve to prepare the soil for the next year via loosening and aerating the soil.      

Chickens are an amazing, versatile tool. Be creative, learn from your mistakes, and faithfully use the resources God has given you.

Friday, September 13, 2013

This is in response to the recent question re wool cards for angora fiber. Please let me add a few important facts on this subject.

Angora fiber needs to be processed on cards with a fine tine. The fibers are comparatively short and incredibly soft and fine. Buy cards referred to as cotton cards or recommended for carding exotic fibers or cotton.

Yes, one can pluck and spin the fiber off a rabbit in one's lap, but that's generally a trick for fiber shows. Really, please, just pluck the rabbit and let it down to run around while you spin.

Unless one has a large herd of fiber rabbits, the fiber yield will not be prodigious. The OP mentioned only one rabbit, so they will only get about 6-10 ounces per year if they only harvest twice in a year.

For others, though, please know that maintaining a large herd of angora rabbits is extremely difficult. At one point in time, I had 40, and I do not recommend that unless one has no other responsibilities or has a helper. There are considerations above and beyond raising meat rabbits. Proper, regular grooming must be done to prevent wool block; saving a rabbit from wool block is time consuming and difficult without an IV or a vet. One can use a blow dryer for this on a weekly basis. Keeping the vent area clipped prevents nasty abscesses. Since one keeps fiber rabbits for many years, rather than 12 weeks, providing a place in the cage so the rabbit can be off the wire prevents sores on the feet. The poop detail is horrendous. The cages must be cleaned of poop and hair regularly for cleanliness and good health. I recommend a propane torch. Maintenance in hot summers is more important than worrying about cold winters. There are many other considerations.

Back to fiber. Angora fiber has no elasticity; thus an item of 100 percent angora will droop and have no spring or ability to naturally stay the same as when made. With small yields and elasticity concerns, the better method for maximizing angora is to mix it with sheep's wool or other elastic fibers, or to simply use it for trim or accents.

Consider also keeping a couple of sheep. When buying said sheep make sure to get ones with a softer hand (smaller diameter fiber/micron count) if wanting items to be worn near the face - scarves, wimples, etc. Consider Merino or Corriedale.

If one is serious about using wool for clothing, a drum carder is the way to go. Although expensive, a family could spend as much on enough hand cards to be productive as it might on one good drum carder. A person could spend an evening hand carding rolags to equal 20 minutes' worth of wool off of a drum carder. My personal favorite for solid construction is made by Strauch.

As with all survival gear, have some saved for the future. Carding cloth is incredibly expensive. In a SHTF situation, there won't be any manufacturers of carding cloth for a long time, I dare say. I've known beginners to use dog grooming tools as hand cards before investing in expensive fiber tools. Consider stashing away a shoe box of dog grooming tools in case someone drops a wrench on your carding cloth. (Don't ask me how I know. )

Sincerely, - J.G.

Friday, September 6, 2013

We all accept basic firearms safety rules and know that if we were able to carry them out flawlessly, there would be no such thing as an unintended injury or what we pitifully refer to as an “accidental” discharge. [JWR Adds: Properly, this is termed a Negligent Discharge.] There is another much more broad concept that, if we can also just hone it to a fine edge, we can employ it across a broad array of activities to greatly reduce the chance of damage, injuries and even death. Activities as diverse as cutting a project out of construction paper, opening that latest package from your favorite prep supplier, chiseling a door for new lockwork, raising a grain silo, stretching a fence or winching a truck out of the mud.

Like the safety rules for firearms, you can stay safe to an amazing degree, if only you can maintain the awareness and follow-through. Avoiding injury is always important of course, but in a TEOTWAWKI situation the need to avoid even minor injury will be of supreme importance, and more serious injuries might be more likely to result directly or indirectly in loss of life for lack of definitive medical care, or the inability to perform in vital roles and activities.

Stated briefly it entails always being aware of the Direction or Line of Force. Anytime work is being done, force is there to make it happen. From the tiny force necessary for something as trivial as cutting the string off a bundle to the amazing strength of a tractor pulling a disc harrow across a field, to a crane lifting a tower for a new windmill. From big to small, anytime any amount of force is applied energy is amassed that can be released unexpectedly, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. And “force” is everywhere around us, doing jobs large and small, making things happen or keeping things in check, all the time. Most times is obvious because work is getting done, something is moving! Other times it’s more passive, such as the stored energy created by  tension of guy wires supporting a radio tower against gravity.

Force in any direction: pulling, pushing, lowering, lifting, bracing, supporting, levering, prying, twisting. Whether you are using your body, a rope, wire, cable or wire rope, chain, a lever or tool of any kind, a brace or prop or other structure. When you are applying force to accomplish some task, applying pressure or attempting to resist or overcome other forces, like gravity or tension, there are points of failure in the “system,” or in the “machine” that you cannot entirely control or predict. What you CAN do, is make sure you are not in the path if the stored energy is suddenly released, or have a plan to accommodate the movement. And you can stay safe.

In the paragraph above I started to write “the unexpected movement” but that’s rule number one for what we’re going to try to accomplish, making sure it’s ALWAYS expected! When it comes to staying safe when force is in the picture, you must try to banish “unexpected” from your vocabulary.

You are lifting an engine with a block and tackle, the direction of force is a vertical lift against gravity. If the hoist fails, if the chain fails, if the attachment point fails, the release of stored energy, the mass of the engine, will be straight down. Make sure no body parts are ever in this path and no failure will harm you.

If you are raising a radio mast, or a windmill or a light pole, you know that failure will cause the object to fall out across the ground, and until it is almost vertical the path is easy to predict. But don’t forget about the other pieces of the system. What about the cable or rope that is applying the force? Which direction will it recoil if the pressure is suddenly released? Are there other pieces? A block and tackle, a winch, a come-along, supports, a tractor or other vehicle? What paths might these pieces describe if suddenly set free?

And in preparing to sidestep – literally - one of the greatest killers, is there anything in the vicinity that might change the path of a falling or suddenly released object? A great many serious injuries occur when a suddenly released moving object encounters an obstacle and deflects in an “unexpected” direction. (There’s that “u” word again.) You may think you are prepared for something to fall down. Provided it does in fact just fall “down.” But have you considered whether anything in the area could re-direct the object sideways? That takes being or getting out of the path from straightforward to perhaps impossible.

You are using a winch to get a truck out of a mud hole. The direction of force is along the winch cable in the direction of the pull. If any part of the system fails, things are going to move along this line. Either vehicle may shift, but the most violent reaction will be in the cable itself, being much lighter than the vehicles. It will recoil along the direction of the pull and can sever limbs as it whips around. If you’ve ever seen a winching and seen a tarp draped over the cable and wondered what the purpose was, it’s to hopefully capture and dampen some of that energy if the cable or an attachment point fails. You’ll also see hoods raised to protect windshields. But the best answer is don’t put yourself along that path of force. That’s one reason the winch controls are typically on a long lead.

A drawback to the ever-handy come-along discussed here recently, is requiring that you be up close to operate it. Another reason to never approach the rated limits of the device or other parts of the system, and to replace any components that show signs of wear or corrosion. You might employ the canvas drape device also if spacing permits.

Expand your awareness of direction of force to also encompass anything that is under tension. It’s easy to overlook things that are not currently being employed to apply force to move something. There are plenty of things that seem “passive” but are constantly under tension, that have the stored energy of a force being applied against a restraint, that can create a severe consequence if a part of the system fails. The guy wire on a tower or pole or antenna mast. A new fence line that hasn’t relaxed. A temporary or permanent prop or brace against an object or structure. These are all resisting tension or applying pressure against the force of gravity. It isn’t usually difficult to understand which direction things are going to move in a failure, but you have to expect the possibility of a failure and have a plan to be out of the way, and you have to account for all of the various pieces of the structure or machine that may be involved.

I first read a paper on this subject around the time I learned to sail. If you’ve ever been on a sailboat you know that it’s a jumbled (incomprehensible to the uninitiated) mass of cables and ropes comprising standing and running rigging. Cables that keep the mast and other things where they belong, and ropes keeping sails in place and moving them about as required. The forces involved are unimaginable. The pieces are carefully engineered, but not overly so on most pleasure craft. You look at the diameter of the cables and ropes, you look at the stainless fittings, you look at the fasteners, you think about the wood and Fiberglas bits they are connected to, and you wonder how on earth any of it stays together against the enormous pressures involved. But what really occupied my time was deciding where I did not want to be if any part of the machine failed. And though it’s not easy to escape the myriad paths of potential failure on a sailboat, I was always aware and tried to minimize the risk by not putting body parts close to and along the axis of lines under strain, or anything they controlled the position of for any longer than necessary.

When you are using a chainsaw, of course you have taken precautions against the dreaded evil kickback, but do you keep in mind the amount of pressure you are applying and where that pressure will direct the saw if the limb you’re cutting suddenly snaps or the cut breaks through? How and where you might fall if it throws you off balance, and more importantly what happens to the running saw?

You are using a digging bar to pry out a buried rock, do you maintain your awareness of what’s going to happen when the tip slips? Of what’s behind you if you fall? Or how you will control the dangerous top end of the bar if you do? I have shifted my position to one that didn’t give me quite as much leverage, but gave me a much better chance to control myself and the bar. That’s the trade-off you have to see as invaluable. The job will get done, eventually and with sufficient effort. But you may only get one chance to avoid a serious injury.

Stretching a fence is always dangerous because being up close and personal is unavoidable. Working deliberately, with another pair of hands, wearing appropriate heavy duty clothing and safety gear, minding the condition of tools, using a back-up tensioner, deploying canvas drapes a la winching, staying as close to the tensioner as possible while starting to attach the wire, working with your back to the tensioner, and working on the opposite side of the posts from the wire all help if something lets loose. Not to mention being aware of the energy stored in a new coil of wire when releasing the strapping.

When you are applying a great deal of force to a drill, do you keep in mind where that force is going to go if the bit breaks, or breaks through the material? Have you ever supported a panel from behind while pushing a drill through from the front and had the bit break through more easily than expected, only then to consider the juxtaposition of your supporting hand and the bit’s path? Your secret’s safe with me, comrade.

When you lift something with a jack, do you consider what will happen if the jack slips or fails? Yes, but what if jack stands won’t work in this instance? What if it’s a hi-lift jack situation? And have you considered a sideways shift of the object lifted as opposed to a simple straight fall? Lifting something, whether by pulling from above or pushing from underneath, always creates potential energy against the pull of gravity. And there is always potential for the support to fail. Don’t let a body part you value be there when it does.

All of this is not just about the “heavy-lifting” labor around the homestead. When you are cutting something with a knife or scissors, do you consider where the force, and the momentum that will suddenly occur, will carry the blade if the material gives way or the blade slips out of the cut? Another of your body parts, someone else’s, or just an object or material you don’t want to damage. How about when using a wood chisel? What about a hammer and cold chisel? A crowbar or pry-bar?

My son is eleven and can open any box or package or other wise wield a utility or pocket knife or scissors or shears more safely than many adults I know. Why? Because every single time he’s ever made such an effort I have been right there with the same question: If the blade slips out of the cut, or the material gives way, where is the blade going to go? Where is it going to end up? Where is it going to stop? And those things have occurred often enough – as they always will – to nicely demonstrate the concept and drive the point home.

When you have a stubborn fastener and you are applying ever-increasing amounts of force to a wrench, do you keep in mind the direction and force of movement if the wrench slips off or the tool or the fastener breaks?

Some of these scenarios we’re all familiar with and know the outcome is likely to be nothing more than some painfully skinned knuckles. But if you train yourself to always recognize and be aware of force applied, you can stay safe when the machine and the project and the forces ramp up to levels where a failure can cause serious injury or death. Or even just serious damage to the object in question and other things around it. Every single time you apply pressure – force – to anything large or small, realize that force is necessary because something is resisting movement. Take a moment to consider what will happen and how things will move if that resistance is suddenly lessened or removed, for any reason.

If you are making a cut with a circular saw you must be aware of the direction of force in the event of a kickback. But you must also be aware of the direction of force you are applying to move the saw through the material. Where the saw is going to go if the blade rides forward, up and out of the cut. What is beyond the material you intend to cut? And the big common target in these instances – where is your other hand? And if that happens, is it going to throw you off balance with a running saw in your hand? What happens when you can’t release the trigger because of your grip and because you’re trying to manage a fall? Where is your other hand going to end up as you try to break the fall? Under a running saw perhaps? Always consider the direction force is being applied and what the consequences will be in a failure of the system. I have stopped mid-cut and adjusted my stance and my grip to improve my balance and position, and to increase my control of the saw – including being better able to consciously release the trigger – in the event of a sudden change. All because this awareness is something I’ve cultivated and nurtured until it is ever-present.

You’ve heard that a sharp knife is safer than a dull one. This may seem counterintuitive, but managing force is exactly what this axiom is talking about. Sharp knives, sharp chisels, sharp saw blades all require much less pressure, much less force to cut through the material at hand. Much less pressure being applied means much less potential movement to avoid or control when material gives way or a blade slips out.

Stored, potential or “passive” energy can be difficult to see sometimes. A friend put up a ladder against a thick limb that needed to come down. (The standard rule is don’t use chainsaws on ladders, but we know that only works in the mystical world where the manufacturer writes the safety manual.) He had experience with a chainsaw and took all of the standard safety precautions. The cut was just outboard of the ladder, he wouldn’t have to reach, and the limb would fall cleanly in an open area away from the ladder on a slight away slope so it wouldn’t roll back. Even though he was actually not far off the ground, he even tied a short hank of rope over the top rung and the limb, just so he could concentrate on the cut. Sounds pretty thorough, so what was he missing?  The force buried in the tree. The effect of gravity on the tree from the large limb he was about to remove. It was as though an invisible rope was bending that tree toward the ground, and that rope was about to be cut. Disconnected from all of that extra weight the entire tree stood up straight in relief and flung him and the ladder backwards. He was very lucky. He did not suffer any injury from the fall, and was able to consciously toss the saw away. Great lesson. If only there was video.

Any time you lift something, beware of the direction of force of gravity. Anytime you push or pull on something beware of the direction force is being applied and what is going to happen to you or the objects involved if something fails. Anytime you see anything under tension or pressure, keep in mind the direction of force involved and avoid being in the path, or have a plan to remove yourself from the path. In many cases the movement will lie in two directions, the direction of the force and the “rebound” direction opposite, but always along the same straight line. That’s the axis you need be keep in mind.

At the very least perhaps you can avoid being the latest viral internet video with “fail” in the title. But you might also save a body part or life itself.

A simply mantra can reduce your chances of injury by many orders of magnitude:

  1. Always consider the direction of any force(s) being applied or potential energy existing in everything you come in contact with.
  1. Always expect some part of the system or machine to fail.
  1. Don’t be in the path of the direction of force, or any objects that may move in the event of a failure.
  1. If you are physically a part of the “machine” be prepared to protect yourself by maintaining our balance and position. Or in the case of some large complex operation, have a plan to immediately distance yourself in the event of a failure.

Stay safe!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Captain Rawles,
I've some info that might be of interest to the visitors to your blog.
What started out as an impulse buy by my wife and daughters 10 years ago has resulted in our discovery of a creature that has a very long life span, is a good watch or alert critter, is easy to keep, provides good entertainment and lays eggs.  It is African geese. We bought two of these as goslings and raised them to adults. By doing this, we discovered that they will be very loyal to their caretakers and friendly. Anyone that has been around geese know that they are bad about sneaking up behind you and pinching.  This is not true for those who have raised them and understand their tactics. My daughters were 14 and 16 when we got our first two geese.  They treated them as pets, cuddled and hugged and talked to them. Now 10 years later, they can go out and sit by the pond and the goose will come up and sit in their lap, and rest his head against their shoulder.  At the same time, he will chase and pinch my wife if she is not careful.  We ordered some more goslings this spring.  They weigh over 10 pounds now.  They are quite pricey, about $10 per gosling.  However, they live very long, up to 20 years.  We had a guy with a track hoe come and dig out their pond last year to six foot deep so it would not dry up during the droughts.  We also have the pond stocked with channel catfish.  We have a four foot high non-climbing wire fence around the pond with an electrified wire around the top to keep the predators out.  Our first two geese were males.  Our next batch has some females that have not yet started laying.  We have designated some as pets and others as a food source.  These geese do well on whole kernel corn which we raise on our retreat.
The benefits we have discovered are as follows:

1) These are very good alert animals.  They make much more noise than guineas, but they don't overreact as guineas do, so they are not as annoying.  They alert at vehicles, strangers, and new animals. People who aren't familiar with geese would not know they aren't being alerted and hide as would someone who is familiar with dogs barking.

2) They don't fly, so they stay inside the fence.  I killed all our guineas many years ago because they devastated our tomato crop.  I went to pick the tomatoes from our 50 plants and found a 5 gallon bucket of soured tomatoes the 25 guineas had pecked.  It wouldn't have been so bad if they would have eaten the whole tomato.  I did enjoy the guinea gumbo.  Now that we grow tomatoes in raised beds with a low fence around them, our one stray guinea doesn't bother them.

3) The geese in our pond and the corn we put out for them makes our pond a haven for migratory game birds.  It is illegal to hunt this spot with live "decoys" and bait, but in a survival situation that might be different.

4) Goose eggs are three times the size of chicken eggs.

If you are raising geese, below are some helpful links:
Worms in Waterfowl and Poultry
Gizzard Worms in Geese

Regards, - M.E.R.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hello Mr. Rawles,
Regarding the recent blog article Rabbits for a Stable (and Staple) Protein Source, by S.F.D. in West Virginia: I too have chosen meat rabbits to be my SHTF meat source. Raising, butchering, and of course eating domestic rabbit has become a great learning experience for myself and my family. The one problem I foresee is providing food for my rabbits. But one possibility, of which I have a friend who has much success with, is growing a substantial plot of dandelion. My friend from northern Maine has a 90 foot-long plot of dandelion which he harvests and then dries for the winter. I'm thinking if space isn't an issue, for either planting or storing the dried product, this is going to be one of the easier routes to take.  
Thanks for all you do, - J.K.

Monday, August 19, 2013

I enjoyed the recent blog article Rabbits for a Stable (and Staple) Protein Source, by S.F.D. in West Virginia.  With all the rabbits running around this year I have been thinking about giving this a try.  I had a couple of questions after reading though and hope you or S.F.D. can answer them.
1. Food pellets won't be readily available after the stores shut down.  What would you recommend for easily replenishable year-round rabbit food?
2. The temperature swings here in the South between seasons can be drastic.  Is there special care needed in extreme cold or heat?
3. Is there a particular breed that is recommended?  I could easily catch wild rabbits here to start, but they are kind of scrawny.
Thanks, - G.S.

JWR Replies: I've raised rabbits off and on since the early 1990s. Although feeding hay is more messy than using pellets, rabbits do quite well eating hay. Growing up in California's Central Valley during World War II, my mother raised rabbits and for their feed simply cut weeds in vacant city lots. Alfalfa is particularly nutritionally dense, but Timothy and Latar Orchard Grass also make good rabbit feed. (Latar is a favorite in the Inland Northwest.) Unless you have a large number of rabbits, you can grow your own and simply harvest it with a hand scythe. If you don't have room to grow hay, then you can buy it by the bale or more cost effectively by the ton. (Incidentally, Alfalfa bales are heavier than grass hay bales, so there are fewer bales per ton.)

Rabbits can handle cold temperatures well, although they should be sheltered from rain and wind chill. It is heat that kills most rabbits. In hot summer weather, one expedient is providing each cage with a frozen 2 liter water bottle. (Used sodapop bottles work fine.) If you have a double set of bottle sand carefully rinse clean the bottles before refreezing them, it is quick and easy to keep up to a dozen bottles in your chest freezer at all times. Evaporative cooling (using an old terry cloth towel hung vertically near each cage, and kept wet with a dripper system) works moderately well, but only when combined with a box fan.

Don't try breeding wild rabbits! Not only will the wild does tear you up when you try to handle them, but there is also the risk of endemic diseases, such as tularemia. Most meat rabbit breeders use the New Zealand breed. They were bred specifically for meat production. They put on weight quickly, which makes them economical to keep. If you want a combination breed (for meat and fur), then I recommend Rex rabbits. Rex bunnies are also cute, so you will also have a chance to sell some of your rabbitry's offspring for pets. But regardless of the breed that you select, be sure to get your breeding stock from a good breeder that has proven healthy bloodlines with does that have a history of large litters and good nurturing instincts. It is better to pay more for your first few rabbits, so that you get started with solid genetics. If you start out "on the cheap", then you will probably have lots of problems down the road. (Small litters, babies left on the wire to die, and so forth.) You should also swap bucks with other breeders once every year or two, to prevent excessive inbreeding,

Friday, August 16, 2013

What if you could have a protein source that is inexpensive to maintain, that would not draw attention the attention of prying eyes and ears and it actually produces valuable bi-products that can be used/traded/sold to help offset remaining costs?   Consider the common domestic rabbit.

Rabbits have been kept as a meat animal since before the times of the Roman Empire.  They have fed people during good times (as a farm or ranch animal) and in bad times such as: wars, famines, even in America during the Great Depression and both world wars.    Today you can find rabbit meat in some grocery stores, available online and shipped to you frozen and on the menus in some fancy big city restaurants.
Six ounces of rabbit meat contains up to 60g of protein. This is more protein than in similar sized portions of beef or chicken. They are an excellent a source of iron, phosphorus, and potassium.  Additionally, 6 ounces of rabbit meat has about 300 hundred calories – though not a problem for most Americans these days, this could be a possible issue in a TEOTWAWKI situation where calories are likely being burnt at much higher rate than most people do in a typical day at the office in these fatter times.  A larger herd of rabbits could be the answer to that issue.

Raising rabbits takes very little space and 6lbs or 7lbs of rabbit meat can be raised on the same amount of feed that it takes to produce about 1lb of beef. Rabbits are also much quicker to be ready for consumption.   A “fryer” rabbit is harvested three months after being born and when served-up with some easily stored pantry food likes beans, greens and rice you have a well-rounded, filling meal - the bones can then be boiled for a soup base for another meal. Another advantage with rabbits is unlike purchasing a calf or hog, your investment is spread-out over many animals and you can eat fresh meat, much sooner (daily if you keep enough animals) without the need to burn valuable resources processing hundreds of pounds of large animal in a relatively small window of time. 

My least favorite aspect of raising rabbits is killing and processing them.  On a positive note, it really makes you stop and think about where your food comes from.  The good news is you get about the same amount of meat from one rabbit as a same sized chicken, but without nearly the same amount of work.  The other good news is you can process a rabbit (from start to finish) in less than fifteen minutes, after your first couple of experiences completing the job.  A quick “rabbit punch” to the back of the neck quickly and humanely kills the animal.  I process mine well away from where I keep the other rabbits in a small processing station where I have a laundry sink, cutting board, knives, paper towels and a couple of buckets close by.  Hang them up by the rear feet, cut off the head and letting it bleed out for a couple of minutes is best, then carefully and shallowly cutting them from anus to chest - which allows you to removed organs (many people like the heart, kidneys and liver – but these go to our dog).  Skinning them is easy – start up and around the hind legs, make a circle with your knife around each leg and then slice down to your original incision and peel it down toward the shoulder and front legs (easiest to do while the rabbit is hanging upside down with a hook in each hind leg).  This method allows you to quickly skin them.  After this you place the carcass in some cold water to clean it and keep it fresh.  You can then quarter it up to cook immediately or place it in the refrigerator or freezer to store for later use – that is, as long as the grid is up and power is working.  It might be a good idea to try canning a few meals into jars and processing them in your pressure canner.
There are additional benefits to raising rabbits too.  Rabbit pelts can be processed and turned into an asset (more on that below), their manure is not a “hot” manure and can be placed directly into the garden without composting, but the real fringe benefits of the manure being produced is the worms that can live in it.  Worms can be free feed for chickens, used (or sold) as fish bait and they make the rabbit manure into something even better – worm casings (worm poop) which is an even better supplement for your garden (and also a possible income/bartering source). 

Some people tan or cure the skins or sell them to an outside processor – I think they would be good for crafts, etc. but it would take a lot of work to get enough of them to make clothing or a blanket for an adult.  Thus far I have not been successful finding a vender interested in purchasing the raw skins so these are currently being discarded.  This is unfortunate, as I hate to waste anything, but at this point I have found more pressing issues requiring my time.

These easy to handle animals are a handy commodity to have at your disposal, they can be sold as pets, food, 4H projects, and in rural areas even high school students in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) needing a project for their Vocational Agriculture classes are potential customers or they can be traded for something else you need.  You are only limited by your space and time commitments and your imagination.
Caring for two dozen rabbits takes about the same time as caring for two rabbits.  A mineral block, fresh water, some commercial pellets, hay and occasional treats are about all they need food-wise, though it is a good idea to handle them regularly to keep them familiar with you and thus easier to manage when it time to sell/trade/process them.  Well cared for rabbits take up little space, are quiet and will not draw attention if you are careful about your placement of their hutches.  Rabbit hutches are simple to build using some purchased “rabbit wire” and scrap lumber (though it is important to avoid using treated wood where they might be able to chew on it) and the hutches need to be placed where the occupants will have plenty of shade and ventilation. Rabbits can generally handle cold weather, but they really don’t like to get too hot.  Keeping them safe from predators is important too – not just woodland creatures, but your neighbor’s dog, your dog, your neighbor (think SHTF type of situations).  An existing building such as a garage or tool shed, with proper ventilation, can easily be modified to house your rabbits and their hutches.  People even have kept them in their basements when the situation called for it.  Stacking the hatches from floor to ceiling with trays or tin flumes between the levels to capture or channel dropping and urine will go a long way to keeping everything sanitary and discreet.

It is a good idea to keep good records of the production of your does – how large their litters are, the number of surviving kits, which buck you bred them with and how long they have been producing.  If the doe consistently produces large litters of healthy kits and this is documented, the records can then sometimes be used to place a higher value on any of the rabbits being traded or sold from that doe’s litter.  Good record keeping will also show you which does haven’t produced healthy litters of kits or which were does were not very good moms – this can help you cull the less productive animals and keep track of the pedigrees of the best producing members of your herd.  Some rabbit breeders tattoo numbers in one ear of each of their doe’s and buck’s to keep track of who is doing what and that is especially important if the rabbits are being kept all together, but based on the compact size of my rabbitry and the fact that each animal has its own hutch, I have never felt the need to go this trouble.

Some people use a colony approach for their rabbitry with the rabbits all living together in a big pen (picture a hippie commune), but I prefer to keep them in individual hutches (think bunny apartments).  I have found they are easier to care for this way, it is easier to keep records and if one of them becomes sick, you can quarantine it from the others until it can be treated.  It is also easier to monitor how much food each one is eating and their individual water intake.

Expanding you herd is simple enough to do. Take the female (the doe) to the male (the buck) for breeding and then return her to her cage.  Never take the buck to the doe’s cage as she will likely injure or kill him – I believe Marlin Perkins from the old “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” series called this behavior “territorial ferocity” - call it what you wish, but avoid this simple mistake.  I have found that if you take her over to the buck’s cage in the early morning, they will usually breed within a half hour or so.  After they settle back down, I usually remove the doe back to her cage and bring her back again that evening.  Sometimes they don’t breed when they first are introduced (especially if one of them is young), but the afternoon meeting usually goes well.  Sometimes they breed morning and afternoon – hence the term breeding like rabbits.  A healthy buck can take care of a dozen does (though not a good idea to have him that busy all at once).  If you have more than 6 does, I have found that it is a good idea to have 2 bucks to keep some diversity in your rabbit herd. 

The cycle goes kind of like this:  start out breeding the rabbits when they are about 6 months old.  The pregnant doe will usually have her nesting instinct kick in about 25 days after breeding.  Place a nesting box into her cage and give her some soft straw to complete her nest, don’t be alarmed when she pulls her own fur out of her underside and places it in the nest too.  She will give birth about 30 days from the date of breeding.  A couple of days after she has her litter of baby rabbits (kits), check the nest for dead or deformed kits that may need removed, but don’t handle any of the healthy ones, as the doe may reject them.  She will nurse them for 7-8 weeks and they will transition to pellets and hay during this time.  I let the doe rest for a few weeks in her own cage, the rabbits of the new litter (soon-to-be- fryers) are fine to be kept together. They will be ready for your skillet or for sell or trade a few weeks later and the doe can then be bred again to restart the cycle.  

If you follow this schedule, one doe can produce 1,000 times her body weight in a year’s time from four separate litters.  If you have 6 does on slightly staggered breeding schedules with each producing 4 litters each per year (with about 5-6 kits in a litter) you are looking at some serious protein being produced.  That is easily enough rabbits for a small family to have a couple of meals a week and still have some stock for trading/breeding/etc.  A larger family or group to feed could also keep a larger number of rabbits on hand.  

There is a lot more detailed information available online and in books and magazines that goes into much greater detail than a quick internet article can, but nothing beats hands on experience.  With all of the benefits that having a rabbitry can provide, it may be good idea to incorporate one into your long term planning.  Consider the possibilities.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

In response to Crazy As A Fox's recommendation of donkeys as a potential multi-purpose survival animal, I would argue that everything positive aspect of donkeys noted can also be said of mules (the product of a male donkey and female horse).  They have the additional benefit of being less stubborn, faster, and more intelligent than donkeys.

Working at a Christian dude ranch in Colorado, I had the opportunity to ride mules on a daily basis and can vouch for their amiability as well as their refusal to put their rider or themselves in danger which makes them particularly suited for inexperienced riders. Best Regards, - Scott in Minnesota

Friday, August 9, 2013

I am a Vice President o a very successful company in the western side of the Midwest.  I am in my early 60s, and after 30 plus years with the company - I will retire in next year or so with no debt, a good retirement plan, stable lifestyle – no worries, right?  So, why do some of those around me think I'm crazy (even me sometimes)?  Here's my story.
I grew up a farm boy working the family farm with my grandma and grandpa, old school Swede - German homesteaders - milking cows, slopping hogs, baling hay, walking beans, driving tractors, gathering eggs, and yes, shoveling S#%*.  Small rural town, 40 kids in my graduating high school class in late 1960s, sports, 4-H, Boy Scouts (be prepared), etc.  Dad and  Mom were both Marines in WWII. Brother was Marine in Vietnam (I missed the mandatory draft by 30 days in 1972 - otherwise I would also be a Marine.) My darling wife, an Asian pre-teen immigrant in mid-60's, has similar old time conservative culture values from her early years of primitive, survival type sustenance in post-war Korea, which was not a pretty picture or an easy life in the 50's - 60's.  As kids growing up, on opposite sides of the ocean, we weren't rich, but we never went hungry either.
Flash forward over next 40 years - college (didn't have enough money to farm), college professor, corporate job, worked hard, moved around, promotions, and the good times rolled.  In 2005 we purchased a small farm in an un-named western midwest state, as an investment, and was finally able to renew my farming roots ("Green Acres is the place to be...").  Bought some cows, chickens, and a donkey, and hooked up with a neighbor farmer to help manage-operate, and viola, I am again a farmer boy.  Not much of a cash flow farm, but a neat place with wooded rolling hills and pastures, lower quality crop ground, well fenced, two ponds stocked with fish, two wells, a couple of buildings, and a rocky bottomed creek that runs year round, plus an artesian water tube that also runs pure and clear most of the time.
2008 hit us hard - stock market crash and global financial collapse fears, Enron fiasco (yes, I too had, and still do have, way to much money tied back into 'the' company). This, coupled with my growing concerns with the changing ways of our society and culture, both domestically and globally, all led to a growing sense of concern of the future. In 2010, I cashed in a chunk of my retirement and paid off the farm, the cars and truck, and the McMansion house in town.  Debt Free!!!
But during this time I also started to think even more about about 'preparing' (Boy Scout).  Prepare for what - I do not know, other than my growing sense that our society is not sustainable the way things are going (Agenda 21?).  I stumbled on SurvivalBlog and got interested.  Since then, I have read many of the 'survival' books and blogs - yours and others - and I envision a day in the future that things won't be the same as they have been for 'us' over the past 50 - 75 years.

Even though I myself am spooked, now five years later in 2013, (stock market 15,000), I have to admit that I probably won't live to see a SHTF world. But, I do believe fully that my children or grandchildren likely will.  So, my prep activities are focused primarily for them.  Okay, now here's what I am doing and planning.
Hunker Down:  Refer to farm described above.  Very isolated. 10+ miles from nearest small town (<2000).  60+ miles from nearest small city (100,000).   75+ miles from nearest Interstate highway.   200+ miles from 3 larger mid-size cities (250,000+).  ~700+ miles from nearest mega city (CHI), 75 miles from nearest Interstate highway, 150+ miles from nearest 'strategic' military base.  Sits on secluded, low-travel gravel road, 2 miles from nearest county paved road.  County population is <19/sq. mile.  Few neighbors (<20 in 5 mile diameter).  Closest neighbor (1/4 mile) is a like-minded, well prepped and avid hunter and trapper.  I see this as Wyoming-like, in a Midwestern state, and I call it Redoubt-East.
Currently we are building a 'retirement house' on the farm - off-grid and self-sufficient capable with redundant solar, propane, diesel, electric, and wood power-heat systems, deep water well along with alternate artesian water source.  Constructed with solid concrete basement and concrete upper walls, small high, burglar-bar  windows, steel external doors, and video/sensor security system.  Also has concrete root cellar under basement and underground 'escape tunnel' out of basement.  Sized to hold our 3 families (if we crunch up).  Will be finished in early 2014.  Should be sustainable and secure for localized rogues or small scale insurgents, but probably would not withstand an army-like assault (if they can find us) - like I read about in some of the Armageddon books.  Also, we are keeping eye out for roving Obama drones!  Oh well.
Practice - not so much on shooting, but in the last couple of years, more so on gardening and more primitive food preserving skills.  My Korean wife remembers lessons from her grandma (watching) in food gathering and preserving.  Turnips, yams, kimchi, other basic staples - to take the bounty of the current year and preserve it to get through the winter (non-growing seasons).  In our practicing, we have 'discovered' a really neat way to naturally sun-dry some of the veggies and fruits we are growing (or buying at the farmers market).  We use two spare window screens (from the McMansion), thinly slice the veggies - fruit, and place between the 2 screens, clamp the edges, and set out in the sun to dry.  It takes about three days of good sunshine to fully dry.  No bugs, no muss, no fuss.  When dry, put in Zip-los bags (modern, yes, I know) and store in a cool dry place (root cellar is best).  This makes excellent, naturally preserved veggies and fruit (fancy food preservation machines not needed), that will provide flavorful and nutritious basic staples (scurvy) through the winter and beyond, if stored properly.  

Food - currently have at least 1+ year supply of easy living basics, even if electric-fuel grids go kaput.  Working at two year supply of very basics.  After 1 year adrift, we will go big time to gardening (have heirloom and hybrid seeds, tools, water & land), home-raised livestock (cattle & chickens) and abundant wild game (deer, turkey, fish), as needed.  Assuming Mother Nature and OPSEC security provides, should be sufficient to survive and lead to the 'rebuilding' process.
Security - we have decent assortment - rifles (varmint & long guns), assault guns, shotguns, handguns, knives and 'special' tools, accumulated over the years by the direct family members (and like minded neighbors).  We are not optimal in large stocks of ammo though, as we only got serious on this in last year or so, just when the ammo supplies went south, but we are able to self-load though.  Rather than blow brains out in current ammo craze (serious money), I will be patient and stock up further as retail stocks reappear. (Hopefully in near future).
Barter - we have been accumulating stuff (things), like booze, cigarettes, meds, households, ammo, gold-silver-coins, gadgets, etc.  No idea what will be useful or needed for a future SHTF scenario.  If it does happens, then 'stuff' should come in handy.  If not, then grand kids can all get together some day and go through it all, and laugh about their crazy old grandpa.
Survival Tip - Mr. Rawles advises that articles on practical 'how to' survival skills have an advantage in the judging.  So, those of you old enough to remember the movie ‘The Graduate’ remember the ‘one word’ success tip whispered to Dustin Hoffman: "Plastics."  So here is my 'one word' survival tip - Donkeys.  Yes, I said 'donkeys'.  Here's what a 'multi-propose 'survival' donkey' can do:

* Anti-predator - keeps roving coyotes, cougars, wild dogs (wolves?) away from cows/calves or sheep.  Really amazing to see! 
* Intruder Alert - donkey 'brays' at strangers coming up the lane (if you've never heard before, it definitely gets your attention).  Also, watching the donkeys laser-like ears and eyes is dead-on if you want to know where a lurking intruder is located.  Her (jenny) ears, eyes, and nose are much better than ours.
* Halter Breaking calves - another story in itself.
* Pack-bearing - can haul couple hundred pounds of gear/supplies.
* Cart Pulling - can pull cart (or person) with gear/supplies.
* SHTF transport - can ride - for when doctor (son) must make 'SHTF calls' around the township/county for house calls or emergency (good enough for Jesus).
* Family-Friend-Companion – it’s amazing what an apple a day can do.
So, am I crazy?  No question about it.  I could be planning an easy, fun-filled retirement with golfing, a beach home, and world travel vacations.  NOT - been there, done that!  Yes, I am crazy, but we are also HAPPY and EXCITED.  My wife and I are looking forward to the next 15+ years of a 'back to the farm' lifestyle, growing old together, rediscovering our rural roots and old fashioned passions, enjoying weekend visits and summer farm vacations with our kids and grand kids along with new found friends and good times with our rural neighbors.  And oh yeah, if the S does HTF, we will be ready, I hope.  Crazy as Fox.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

That was an excellent article By Michael H. about chickens. (Animal Food Sources in TEOTWAWKI.") One thing to consider is that raccoons can reach though chicken wire and dismember the chickens. Small weasels can easily get through chicken wire. It's better to use 1/4 or 1/2 inch (at the largest) metal hardware cloth for chicken coops and runs.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The prepper has many preparedness areas to consider. Obtaining and managing food, water cleaning and storage, security, communications, and efficient transportation, are only some of the areas that a good prepper will be concerned with. Finding, cooking, and storing food rightly seem to be the focus of many preppers preparedness strategies.   With food and water survival becomes much more likely.   While you may be cold or wet, uncomfortable, cut off from the rest of the world or in an unsecured location , you will at least have the essentials that will allow survival. Everything else can be worked out later.  Preppers as a whole are wonderful at buying food cheaply and drying, canning or otherwise preserving it for a later time.  Many also have MREs or some kind of freeze dried food that is easy to carry and lasts for a decade or more [if stored at a reasonable temperature.] However, not so many preppers factor in the huge boost that animals can give to almost any prepper’s survival plan.  I know that many people do not have much time, money or space for animals and thereby think that food on legs is not for them.  Many animals require copious amounts of all three, but not all.  We are going to quickly consider two animals that require little space, have little need for special equipment or pens and use very little space, specifically chickens and pigs. 

First, the humble chicken.  Chickens are the perfect prepping animal, as they will eat practically anything, need only a few square feet per bird, are very quiet (as long as you do not have any roosters) and are very inexpensive  to maintain.  Lets go through how to buy and care for chickens with a prepping mindset.  Chicks can be raised any time of the year, although depending on your climate it may be easier to have them arrive in the spring so you can take advantage of the warm weather and leave them to their own devices sooner.   We have always ordered chicks through Murray McMurray hatchery and have found them to be of consistently high quality.  Make sure to order your chicks a couple of months before you want them to arrive as they sell out quickly.  When the chicks arrive your Post Office will call you at about 6 am to tell you that your chicks have arrived and to come pick them up.  You do not have to pick them up.  You can let the Post Office deliver them as usual, but why subject the chicks to being bounced and jounced around in a mail truck for hours? 

Once the chicks are home the first thing to do is to gently unpack them and check for any dead or injured chicks (which is rare). Next you need some sort of enclosure to keep them in, either indoors or outdoors in a barn or shelter of some sort.  We have had great luck keeping our chicks in plastic kiddy pools. They are the right size and with some shavings on the bottom make a nice clean enclosure.  You can also use cardboard and make an enclosure as well.  Either way, put newspapers, shavings or sawdust down before you put the chicks in their new home to soak up any liquid from the chicks. Chicks need to be kept at about 98 degrees for the first several weeks of their life. One or two 250 watt heat lamps serve this purpose well and can be purchased for about  $15 at a local hardware store.  You can buy special chick feeders and waters for $7 or less but a low dish works quite well as a feeder and a low bowl or a mason jar turned upside down in a disposable aluminum pan works as a waterer.  

At this point you just need to refill their food and water (and they will eat a lot) and adjust the heat lamp.  If all the chicks are huddled tightly together then they are cold, so lower the heat lamp until they start running around a bit. The chicks may ship with a packet of Quik Chick,  a blend of vitamins that you add to their water for the first few days. If so just follow the directions until the packet runs out. Within about two weeks you can start easing up on the heat lamp( as long as its not really cold) and move them to larger more roomy accommodations.  There are many plans online for all sorts of chicken coops, chicken tractors and chicken enclosures.   If you have the inclination to build something big and fancy that is fine, but all you really need is a small movable pen, or a simple stationary coop.  If you have a small grassy area, or even better, a pasture, then a chicken tractor is totally the way to go.  A chicken tractor is basically a wooden, metal or PVC pipe frame wrapped with chicken wire and a roof over some or all of it.  The floor is either chicken wire or just open so that the chickens are able to eat the grass and bugs on the ground. After a couple of days in one area you just lift or drag the tractor to a new area and the process starts all over again.  If you have the land (and you don't need much) this is the ideal situation. You save on chicken feed as you only have to supplement what they are already eating from the land, and your chickens will be happier for being able to eat their natural diet.  Chickens will also live quite happily in a stationary coop, a small garden shed works perfectly for this.  You will have to regularly put some sort of absorbent  material down such as pine shavings, sawdust, newspapers or something like that to help with smell. Unless you have a lot a chickens in a small space though, it's really not that big of a problem. For feed, table scraps are ideal, they don't cost anything and the diversity of the food means that unless you eat nothing but chicken nuggets, your animals will be getting all the nutrients they need.  You can also buy chicken feed for about $13 per 50 pounds which, depending on how many birds you have, can last over a month.  If you go with egg chickens it will be about 6 months before they begin laying, but once they start you should be getting about 1 egg per day per hen.  Not bad when you consider that for a a couple dollars of startup cost per bird you can get an egg a day for several years.  Meat chickens grow much faster, if you buy a modern meat hybrid the grow time is under nine weeks. If you go the meat chicken route make sure you call the slaughter house where you want to the have them butchered at least a month before your ready to bring them in, since they get backed up very fast.  You can also buy chickens that can be used for both meat and eggs.  In a survival situation these could be ideal since one breed of bird could supply you with both eggs and meat.  Ask your chick supplier, they should be able to tell you some breeds that do both.

Now moving on to pigs. While the chicken can be kept by practically anyone with even a small  back yard or grassy area, pigs will require slightly more in the way of room and containment.  You will most likely require about 150 square feet per pig, so a 10 ft. by 15 ft. pen is adequate for one pig, although the more room the better.  If you have more room to work with your pigs will benefit by having more natural food to eat and more room to run around. If possible, it is always better to get more then one pig, as just one can get lonely.  If you can only get one pig you can make it work if you have other animals, such as a dog or cat, that might socialize with the pig. A old bowling ball can be put in with one or more pigs as a toy.  They will roll it around with their snouts and it distracts them for hours. Every second they are rolling the ball around they aren't thinking about how to dig out! Since pigs are the third smartest animals in the world after gorillas and dolphins, you need to put some planning into their housing and fencing.  In the old days the test of a good fence was if it was horse high, bull tough and pig tight.  Pigs are good diggers so it is important that there either be something around the walls to discourage them from digging out, or you need to bury the fence 16 inches so that they can not dig under it.   For pens, dog kennels work very well, or you can just fence in a small pen with high quality woven or braided wire.  We used Red Brand fencing which is very high quality, made in America steel fencing company.  Such fencing can be bought at your local farm supply or hardware store, and if your only fencing a small area is usually quite reasonable.  The two main things to remember about pigs are: they can dig and it is very important to provide them with a place to get out of the sun and cool off a bit. Pigs can actually get sun burned if there is no shade to protect them.

Pigs will literally eat anything.   So the only problem with feeding them is finding enough food.  If you call around to local restaurants and/or super markets and tell them your raising pigs they are usually happy to give you leftover or slightly out of date food for free.  Frequently bread companies have distribution hubs where most of the bread that is out of code, or will be out of code before the next time that company shows up goes.  Most of them will sell you a pickup truck load for $10.  With a little ingenuity it's very reasonable to be feeding at least two hogs for next to no out of pocket cost.  Pigs usually grow for eight months before being sent to slaughter, so if you purchase them in the early spring they will be ready for slaughter in the late fall.  Call a local slaughter house( do a web search for you area) in the early summer to make a slaughter appointment, as they will fill up fast! 

With these two animals it is very possible to keep you and your family in meat, both in everyday life and in a survival situation.  If you choose to get a couple of roosters with your chickens( which I recommend if you can put up with the crowing in the morning) then you can hatch chicks if you wish, thereby extending your flock.  Then you will be getting both eggs and if needed you could eat some of the birds every now and again, since you will be constantly replenishing your stock with your newly hatched chicks. For the pigs, if you get a boar and a sow then every spring and sometimes in the fall you can will get a litter of between 8 to 12 piglets, enough to eat some and sell some to neighbors or friends. In sum, with these two animals, which are easy to keep, inexpensive to maintain and provide good food for their owners, a prepper can extend his food supply dramatically.  Raising animals thoughtfully can be rewarding for the family, responsible  for the environment, and provide nutritious and sustainable food for months and years to come.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dear CPT Rawles,
My wife and I, along with our three teenage son', are now eyeball deep in prepping, and have reached that stage where we pretty much have most of everybody's personal gear needs met, with the exception of a few small items here and there.  We opted to take care of that first, as we are stuck temporarily east of the mississippi, in the southeastern US.  Our intent when we began our prepping journey a couple years ago, was first & foremost to be able to make a hasty exit from this area if the SHTF.  Thus, our decision to gear up first, was to provide what we needed for our escape from here, and our trek to the redoubt, to my folks ranch in Wyoming, by whatever means necessary. That done, last year we took your advice on relocation to the American Redoubt, and purchased a small, undeveloped ranch property in northernmost Idaho, and I do mean very northernmost.  We are now only 320 days and a wake up from moving day.  While continuing to work on other details such as retreat construction, security, etc.  We've now come to the arena of agricultural issues.  We need some help because frankly, we must not be looking in the right areas for the information we are seeking, because we keep coming up basically empty.  We could only afford 11 acres (although it is paid off), about four of which is what I guess you might call bottom land, and I would think could be used as pasture if so desired, and has a small creek running through it.  The rest is up above it, and is basically flat and timbered, except for a cleared homesite, in what I would consider to be a small meadow, looking out over the bottom land.  It backs up to BLM land. Our property is vaguely in the Bonners Ferry region.  

Now, with that as the background, here is our issue.  Our goal is to reach a reasonable level of self reliance from the standpoint of renewable food resources, i.e. gardening and livestock.  We want to grow our own produce, as well as raise our own livestock.  There are so many different opinions floating around out there about nutritional needs, and how to meet them, that it's absolutely overwhelming, and now the only thing floating around here, are my eyeballs!   We've followed your blog for these past two years, and even written you in the past, because you are always so thought out and researched in the basis for your opinions, and the readership at Survival Blog has such a wide diversity of expertise.  Thus we thought we would seek out the advice and experience of yourself and our fellow blog readers, should this get printed.

Question #1:  All members of my family are adults, physically speaking as the youngest is 15, and the oldest is, well, in the interest of domestic tranquility we better not go there, but I can safely say not yet anywhere near retirement age.  What are our actual nutritional needs.  We are all healthy and have no significant physical problems to speak of.

Question #2:  Regarding garden produce, and it is my understanding that you and your family grow produce for your own consumption, do you have any recommendations on produce that will grow well in my area of northern Idaho, and help meet those needs?  Is irrigation required?  What is the growing season like there, and is a greenhouse necessary?  How in the world do you decide how much you need to plant for a family of a given size?  Is there a problem with deer and other garden pests, if deer are a problem how high of a fence is required to keep them out We are debating if a 6' fence would keep them out?

Question #3:  Regarding livestock for consumption, my wife is familiar with cattle, more so than I am, although we are both thinking that it may be easier, more prudent, and safer to raise smaller livestock such as dairy and meat goats, pasture pigs perhaps, ducks, and perhaps even rabbits.  Things that are smaller and more easily handled, not only in interacting with, but also from the standpoint of meat processing.  Any recommendations or suggestions we should research?  How do you go about determining how much pasture is needed for this various livestock?  What about livestock predation by cats, wolves, or bears, does this pose much of an issue up there.  
We read news articles about the wolves killing the hunting dogs of the mountain lion hunters, and wonder if there are any problems they pose with livestock or people even who are out hiking, camping, hunting etc?  We were thinking of bringing two Great Pyrenees as guard dogs if that is that a common practice up there.

Thanks in advance for any input yourself, or any of the readers may be able to give us, either from personal experience. or to simply help us better focus our efforts. 

Thanks for the great service you do us all with this blog!
Highest regards, - D. & M.

JWR Replies: Self-sufficiency on just 11 acres is doable, if you have a southern or western exposure and you clear most of it for gardening and hay cutting. There is no need to maintain a wood lot on your own property, considering the abundance of timber in North Idaho. No matter where you are, there is copious wood available or firewood and fence posts available with an inexpensive annual family wood cutting permit from the US Forest service. They have a 7-foot 11-inch length limit, for haul outs, to keep people from commercially cutting trees to mill into lumber. Cedar trees are common in north Idaho, and with those you will have fence posts covered. (Seven feet is the ideal length, for fence posts.) And Western Larch (commonly called Tamarack) as well as Red Fir are both also quite common, and make fantastic firewood.

According to our family's primary gardener (my wife, "Avalanche Lily"), the vegetables that do best in north Idaho are: Celery, potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini squash, short-season variety pumpkins, onions, turnips, strawberries, raspberries, black raspberries, and most herbs. Most cold-weather tolerant varieties of vegetables and fruit trees do quite well.

Getting a good crop of melons and tomatoes and some squash can be a challenge in many years, because of the short growing season. So Lily recommends short growing season varieties such Siberian tomatoes and Blacktail watermelons. It is best to get an early start with your seedlings, through use of a window box, cold frames, or better yet a proper greenhouse if you afford to buy or build one.

As for fencing, a six-foot tall fence is just marginal to keep out deer, even on level ground. In the Inland Northwest, a eight-foot tall fence is ideal. But be advised that if an elk, moose, or bear really wants in to your garden, be prepared to re-build your fence.

You also asked about livestock predation by "...cats, wolves, or bears." Your list is incomplete! Here in the Inland Northwest, you need to beware of: coyotes, wolves, bobcat, lynx, mountain lions (pumas), black bears, grizzly bears, badgers, wolverines, skunks, raccoons, golden eagles, bald eagles, several types of hawks, several types of owls, and numerous types of small furbearers such as marten and stoats/ermine. If you have a fish pond, otters and and osprey can also be a menace.

Penning up your chickens at night is a must! And depending on the meanderings of the local wolves and mountain lions, it may be necessary to pen up your sheep and goats in an enclosed barn every night, as well. Attacks on horses and cattle by wolves or bears are less common, but when they do happen, the results are often devastating. Typically, even if an animal survives the attack, it will be beyond recovery and need to be destroyed. Great Pyrenees are an excellent choice for this climate, particularly for guarding sheep or as companion dogs when hiking or huckleberry picking. (Although you will also want to carry Pepper Spray or Lead Spray (.44 or .45 caliber.) It is important that they bond with the sheep and become accustomed to staying out with the flock. (They won't do any good if they are kept inside your house!)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The 'information' provided to you by Jennifer is false.  Please consider these:
The Pit Bull (a combination of four breeds: American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American bulldog and any other pure bred or mixed breed dog that is a combination of these dogs) has it's reputation as a dangerous breed for a reason.  Since 1851 there has not been any decade in which pit bulls did not account for at least 50% of dog related human fatalities.  For the past 30 years pit bulls have account for 65% of human maulings and deaths, fairly consistently, even though pit bulls account for less than 5% of the US dog population.
The pit bull advocacy movement, of which Jennifer is surely a part, is a well funded lobbying group which has overrun the ASPCA and Humane Society with people who ignore the facts of this breed.  Here is a more accurate fact statement.
Pit bull myths
Pit bull 'personality'
The ATTS test
"Pit bulls are not a risk to children":   The actuarial risk of a child being killed by a pit bull in the same house is approximately equal to a child being killed in a house with a loaded firearm; even though 50 million houses have firearms and only 3 million houses have pit bulls. 
You are clearly an intelligent man and if you take a little time and look at the links I've provided with the opinions of doctors in canine behavior and veterinary medicine, and actual real statistics I know you will see the tricks Jennifer is trying to pull.  Pit Bull owners and breeders are notorious for 'fudging the truth about their dogs, especially to themselves.

Regards, - Kathryn D.

James Wesley:
Readers should be aware that some states (like mine) now have laws on the books that could get you charged with a felony. If your Pitbull injures someone enough to require hospitalization, you could be charged. In my mind not worth the trouble with other breeds being off the radar. - Debra B.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Hello. As an American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) owner, I felt compelled to address the inaccurate information in the post titled, The K9 Question. Since the reputation of the ‘pit bull’ type dog has been shredded by the media and various myths, I ask that the information be corrected.
The post states; “On the other hand, if children are not necessarily a consideration and your needs are for a one purpose guard dog you might decide on one of the BULL TERRIER breeds commonly referred to as Pit Bulls.  They are easy to find.  Every dog shelter is overflowing with them because they can be difficult to train for the novice due to their stubborn, bull headedness.  But for the right individual they can be a loyal and fearless companion.”
There are several mistakes in this paragraph. First of all, the generic term ‘pitbull’ commonly refers to two breeds, the American Pitbull Terrier, and the American Staffordshire Terrier. The Bull Terrier and American Bulldog often get mistaken for ‘pitbulls’ but are separate breeds with separate temperament types and working skills.
Next, the American Pitbull Terrier is not a risk to children, any more than any other breed. The ‘pitbull’ temperament is friendly and loving to humans, although they may be aggressive to other dogs. A properly socialized ‘pitbull’ is friendly, outgoing, and does not make a good guard dog.  I think mine would give away the television for a pat on the head, she loves everyone. According to temperament testing done by the American Temperament Testing Society, American Pitbull Terriers pass with at a rate of 86.4%, while Golden Retrievers passed at a rate of 85.2%, and German Shepherds at 84.8%.
Finally, they are no harder to train than any other breed, and many APBTs are Canine Good Citizens,  serving as therapy dogs, drug detection dogs, and are world class dog athletes. They are a high energy breed that needs owners who are committed to proper training, socialization, exercise, and the restoration of the breed’s reputation. It is my opinion that the only value an APBT would have as a guard dog is based solely on the misrepresentation of the breed in the media and the myths associated with the breed. If you are looking for a true guard dog please consider getting a guardian breed like a German Shepard and do not get an APBT.
Here are a few links to back up my information:

Thank you for your time. Sincerely, - Jennifer L.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dear JWR:
There is an estimated 250,000 animal-powered farmers in the U.S. doing all or part of their farming with animals. I’d recommend for some good reading and information and a visit to Horse Progress Days to view the latest in modern equipment. Almost anything can be done with animals that can be done with tractors, even combining with a motorized forecart. Horse Progress Days has some interesting support equipment, including well made coal stoves and manual transplanters. If it’s in reach of you, I suggest attending for an eye-opening experience. The food is good, too. - James L.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Over at the One Scythe Revolution web site, Peak Oil expert Richard Heinberg states that in order to continue to grow the same amount of food in the future, without the use of cheap oil, we will need 40-to-50 million farmers, farming 3-to-50 acres each, cultivated with hand tools. No, not like in the Middle Ages. We are talking about "appropriate technology" here.

But let's face it, "appropriate technology" is wielded by slaves. Masters wield guns. Slaves wield scythes.

Here is quote: "One good scythe per farm, could revolutionize small-scale farming." I kinda feel like this has already been done.

I think the author of this tripe has never actually farmed on a large scale and has no sense of the man hours required. Also, mild steel work-hardened with a hammer and honed with slate was state of the art, around the year 900.  Carbon steel that can be heat treated has been the cool setup since around 1100 AD.  More recent alloys allow even better toughness along with light weight.  While the Austrian design may be better, it would still benefit from modern materials.

Then, of course, even 19th Century horse-drawn harvesters were tremendously more efficient:  

"Draft horses are used at Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS to harvest and stack the annual hay crop. The stacks keep the hay preserved until winter when it is fed to the site’s livestock.
The hay harvesting process involves five steps: cutting, drying, raking, gathering, and stacking.

Upon reaching maturity in mid-summer, the hay is cut with a horse drawn mower. The team of horses, mower, and operator go round and round the field cutting a 5 foot swath with each round. Once the cut hay has dried, the draft horses are hooked up to either a side delivery or dump rake. The rakes are used to put the hay into long windrows. The horses are then hooked to a buckrake. The buckrake has fork like teeth that sweep under the windrows and gather them up into large hay piles. The piles are then taken by the buckrake to either an overshot or beaverslide hay stacker. The hay stackers utilize a pulley and cable system powered by horses to gain leverage to lift the hay piles off the ground and drop them into the haystack.
Demonstrations of the equipment used to harvest and stack hay will be given by Grant-Kohrs Ranch staff and horses."

And other animals can serve for various processes that are presently done with internal combustion engines--such as goats for clearing brush.

As far as forging scythes, without modern powered forges and induction furnace, either one mines coal, or uses every man in the village for a week to do a large scale charcoal burn to manufacture fuel.

- Michael Z. Williamson (SurvivalBlog Editor At Large)

JWR's Comment: If the Hubbert's Peak predictions are right, then the best places to be will be those with rich soil and plentiful hydroelectric power. Scythe? Check. Battle rifle? Check. Electric ATV that can pull a Plotmaster? Check. Electric power (with batteries) is not quite as versatile and lightweight as fossil fuel-powered machinery, but it sure beats doing it all by hand.

Perhaps the new rule book will be written by those who can afford horses, harness, horse-drawn hay mowers and enough land to provide sufficient hay for the requisite winter feed (which can be harvested with those same horses).

Only freeholders with both productive farm land and guns will remain free.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I was born into a family of preppers.  My grandparents were all farmers and lived through the Great Depression in the Midwest.   My parents both grew up on farms and came from large families.  While my folks would not label themselves today as preppers, they would consider themselves as independent and self-reliable.  In order to understand my journey as a prepper, you have to go back a few years.  Early into my parents’ marriage, my dad just got out of the navy and worked in various cities and towns, from Texas to Minnesota.  The largest town we lived in was Minneapolis, but usually we lived in towns with a population of around 100,000 people.  As the family grew, there was a desire for my parents to move to an acreage, to get a large farmhouse, and to raise some animals.  By the early 1980s they were able to purchase an acreage that was homesteaded in the late 1800s and was located in rural South Dakota.  It was about 8 acres, had a barn, chicken coop, and two-story house.  It was located at least 20 miles from any town over 1,000 people.  The acreage was situated on a high water table, so we had an outdoor well and had a sand point well for the water in the house.   

After my parents purchased the property, they bought a milk cow, laying hens, some sheep, and a dog.  My mom planted a large garden (roughly 30 yards by 10 yards) with a variety of vegetables.  She canned the extras and created a pantry with shelving all the way to the ceiling with the many jars.  All my siblings helped in the process, hauling up the vegetables to the house and cutting them up.  Many of our neighbors grew large sections of sweet corn, so we would usually eat corn most days in the summer and then would have a few days devoted to freezing the extra corn (sometimes two pickup loads).  My parents went from having a small chest freezer when they were first married to purchasing two large, used chest freezers (these were about 6 feet long).  These came in handy when they began butchering their own cows, pigs, and chickens.  It was not too long until their freezers and pantry were full of meat and vegetables.

In order to save money on clothing, we would wear hand-me-down clothing, and my mom sewed/repaired our clothes to make them last as long as possible.  We attended public school and even in by the late 1980’s and early 1990s, I can remember being bullied because we did not wear “cool” clothes, have neat electronic gadgets,  or bring homemade things for show-n-tell/holiday time instead of from a store.  I remember these bullies using various names to me and my siblings, ranging from being a loser and hick, to poor and worthless.

It was this time in school that I vowed that I was going to get a great job, make a lot of money and show these classmates just how wrong they were.  I vowed that I was going to study hard so I could be the first in my family and go to college.  I wanted to get as far as possible from the rural life.  The summers would especially motivate me to study hard and change my future.  It was during the summers that I spent much of the time on my grandparent’s farm, getting up at 5:00 am, picking rock, milking cows, pulling weeds out of the fields, fixing machinery, putting up hay, and doing other chores until late in the evening.  By the end of the summer I would be even more motivated to move away and was left with a motivation to do well when school started up again in the fall. 

I excelled in school and did end up going to college.  My parents were unable to financially provide for me to go to college, so I did work-study, took out student loans, and worked as a resident assistant to pay for my dorm room.  The motivation from the summers at my grandparent’s farm was still fresh in my mind and I graduated four years later.  I did well in college and ended up going straight to graduate school, this time even further away from my parents.  I enjoyed the college life, much preferring the academic pursuits as compared with my previous manual labor on the farm.

It was then that my “average” life began - the life that I had always wanted.  I got married, graduated again and got a great job.  With both me and my wife working, we were making great money.  We had accrued over $70,000 in student loans, but where happy to pay just the minimum monthly payment.  We enjoyed eating out many times a week and spent a lot towards “entertainment” each month.  We bought a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom condo; a new car; and took a trip to Disney World.  Things were good. 

Then my best friend, a man in his twenties with a young family died of cancer.  It shook me up and made me reevaluate all aspects of my life.  It was then that things started to change for me.  We had a young daughter at the time and made a decision that one of us would stay home with her.  My wife quit her full-time job and went to a very part-time position (a few days a month).  In addition, my parents gave us tickets to a live Dave Ramsey event and we decided to get “gazelle intense”, getting on a budget and paying down our debts.  Even with our income going down greatly, it still felt like we had more money than ever.  Less than two years later we had to push “hold” on our debt pay-off, as we had a son.  My wife did not work at all that year, and our son had a difficult beginning, so our medical bills were pretty high.  Being a father to a son, I thought a lot about my role as provider and protector, as well as the legacy that I wanted to leave for my family.  It felt that I was a long way from where I grew up in terms of my lifestyle.  Life was fast-paced, we lived in the city, we went to the grocery store near our house a few times a week, and we even had all our yard/maintenance taken care of thorough our homeowner's association (HOA.)  But I could feel a yearning that there was something missing. And thus began my return trip home!

It was with two young kids that we decided to move back closer to my family.  The decision did not happen overnight, but rather over 18 months and a lot of prayer.  The housing market bubble had popped and we lost about $25,000 on our place but we packed up and moved anyway.  We found a two-bedroom apartment in our new town, only about 25 minutes from my parent’s acreage.  We decided that we wanted life to slow down and get back the skills that generations of my family had all known.  In order to do this with only one income we got creative on how to save money.  We began couponing, collecting the weekend newspapers on Monday from the motel just a few blocks from our place.  We sold our car for a used minivan.  I went to my parent’s acreage and helped butcher chickens like when I was a kid – my folks were grateful to have us back and to be helping so they gave us 30 chickens for our freezer (we acquired to small chest freezers that we have in our garage).  I helped my uncle butcher four large pigs, and like my parents, he appreciated the extra help, thanking me by getting me about 50 pounds of ground pork.  We used the envelope system for our budget and paid cash for our purchases.  We got a used food dehydrator at a garage sale for $5 and began to use it.  We tried our hand at canning and did a few small batches with various foods.  We made our own laundry detergent, baked our own bread, and tried to drive our vehicles less.  With these small changes, we currently have our monthly food budget at under $250 for our family of four.  We are proud to say that our student loans are down to about $4,500 and we don’t have any car payments or credit card debt!  We even have our $1,000 emergency fund and within a few months hope to have the remainder of our debt paid off.  We then hope to save for a house, maybe even an acreage just like my folks. 

Since moving back closer to my family, I have devoted myself to learning about new skills.  I have always enjoyed reading, so I naturally began to follow blogs and read books on how to be self-reliant and how to save money.  Much to my surprise, most of the books and blogs I was learning the most from were from a group of folks called preppers.   While I do follow multiple blogs now, I do have to say that it is SurvivalBlog is my favorite.  Not only has it helped me to stretch my dollar for food, I have acquired so many new skills that I now don’t know how I lived without them.  I feel that I am now a better provider and protector for my family.  I like that our house now has a medical kit, a bug-out-bag that we can grab at a moment’s notice and enough food to last us for at least 3 to 6 months.  I enjoy how there is a focus in SurvivalBlog about family and the importance on building relationships.  I feel equipped that even with all the negative news on television, my family is going to be okay, as we are going to be prepared.    

Saturday, April 6, 2013

I'd like to take exception to the recent article by M.S. on using augers to make plant holes. No professional would consider using an auger for planting. Augers compact and glaze the edge of the hole as they work their way down.  While this is great for post holes, it's a death sentence for the plant roots.
A far better and faster way is to use either a small backhoe  or an articulated trencher that will cut a fan shaped hole.  The spoil from the hole is broken up and now suitable for back fill. 

Post-SHTF, a good quality fiberglass handle round point shovel is all that any realistic person would need.
As a post script, if you haven't tried "Straw Bale Gardening" , it's just a great way to grow food with minimal effort and maximum results. - Loren

JWR Replies: I have witnessed the glazing that you've mentioned in heavy clay soils. But in my experience is not a big issue in light loam soil. The "best of both worlds" approach is to use an auger to start a hole, and then finish it up by significantly widening its diameter with a shovel or clamshell post hole digger. This breaks up any areas that are compacted or glazed.

The "shovel only " approach will work, but of course it is more time consuming. And by the way, good quality digging bar is a must when digging in rocky ground.

Friday, April 5, 2013

When planning to grow their own food, many people understandably focus on the plants. A plant, however, simply expresses its genetic blueprint to the extent it can based on the energy and materials available from the sun and soil. We can therefore state that a critical aspect of successful vegetable production is the quality of the soil.

Given the limitations of either the amount of warning you might have before needing to produce food for your family, or the amount of money you are able to put toward improving your soil to the point it will yield reliably, amending your entire plot all at once is often not feasible. The best short cut we have found for this situation is the use of the auger. An auger is a spiral digging blade for mechanically digging holes. These can be designed to run from a three point hitch on a farm tractor, or be handheld, motorized versions.

Rather than trying to improve the soil over the entire area of your garden plot, an auger allows you to make custom soil conditions in a 6-18 inch wide vertical tube in the ground. Much has been written about the disruption to soil structure and beneficial earthworms with standard rototilling. With this system, only the sod need be skinned off and the surface area mulched or planted with white clover. The surrounding soil structure and its inhabitants are not disturbed while the planting spots are custom made via the auger. Fencing contractors are often called in to dig holes in this manner for the planting of numerous fruit trees, and you might find that helpful if your homestead plans include trees.

Here is an example of how the system is put into practice: If you have soggy clay that will not drain, you cannot grow such things as wheat that will not tolerate ‘wet feet’. When you auger out a hole, the spiraling action of the blade will bring the soil to the surface, and deposit most of it around the edge of the hole. Within each of these holes, you can add gravel at the bottom for drainage, then mix the clay from the hole with sand and humus, compost or manure. Fill this mix back into the hole. Having added other materials, you will be left with enough clay to leave a ‘shoulder’ of subsoil around the hole, minimizing weeds from competing with your sprouting plants. You will have customized the immediate growing zone to the needs of whatever you will be growing in that spot. The important bacteria and worm population in the adjoining soil is available to move immediately into your fill. Additionally, this high fertility fill allows for very intensive plantings – making the most of any plant-able spot. A good mulching around the holes discourages weeds even more.

There is no yearlong wait for soil just turned under by a plow to have become the mature garden soil you will need to feed your family. Also, the holes can be dug right now with rented equipment or by a fencing company and you can then work away at making improved ‘fills’ as your time and money allow you to source the amendments needed by your particular soil. Sand will need humus, clay will need sand, acidic soil will need buffering, etc. If time permits, get a soil sample analysis and it will tell you just what you will require – but in a pinch you can bet that good compost will cover most needs.

Even if you already have a garden bed in place, with a used handheld auger you can over time improve the soil of your entire patch while having full use of the already amended spots to produce the healthiest plants. Intensively planted holes can produce more food than a standard plot just tilled and planted in rows, and pests often have a harder trek from planting to planting.

The 6 inch blade of the handheld augers is rather small for a planting hole. This can be remedied by making three holes close together in a cloverleaf pattern, and knocking down the soil walls between holes. If you will be doing a large number of holes, a great time saver over lying on your stomach and scooping the soil out by hand is to use a ‘clamshell’ post hole digger. The digger is two long handles hinged together, with a metal half-scoop at the end of each handle, and allows you to reach into the bottom of your augered hole and scoop out the loose soil.

The depth of each hole is determined by the length of your auger bit, the depth of your soil, the amount of amendments you can spare for each hole, and how much amending the soil actually needs. This will have to be assessed as you go, and will likely be different for each place on the property you work.

Watering needs are minimized with this system, as only the planted holes need watered – not the surrounding soil. In a period of limited water availability due to interrupted electrical service, minimal service for a well pump due to living off grid, or simply a season long drought, this is no small consideration. As each hole is surrounded by soil mass, there is less drying out than in a raised bed or mound. There is also a cost savings in protecting your garden from rabbits, as each hole can be encircled with chicken wire held in place by a few stakes or rocks. This will buy you time to finish enclosing your entire garden with proper fencing, as your budget allows. The same concept of surrounding each hole can be used to make individual small hothouse covers for protecting plants in early spring or into the fall. There is much less expense in making a greenhouse tall enough for a plant, than in making one tall enough for a person.

Most plants fit well with the system, the climbing vines utilizing a homemade teepee trellis over the hole. Our earlier example of wheat might not seem feasible – but the planting circumference allows for staking to prevent lodging from growing in rich soil (the wheat falling over in a rain storm), and the stalks from each hole make one nice shock of wheat once cut and tied.

Some final points regarding the versatility of this system:

The first pertains to the price of quality farmland. More and more of the good soil in this country is being gobbled up by large industrial agricultural corporations and/or housing developments. The options are becoming limited for those who are of modest means and/or do not want to be enslaved to a large mortgage for thirty years. By and large, the best option is to buy low priced land in the areas of poorest soil. Improving said soil can seem daunting to the most enthusiastic of homesteaders. But, even Mt. Everest is climbed one footstep at a time – and the poorest of soils can be improved one auger hole at a time, with immediate use of the holes that are finished.

Second, in the unlikely event of a long term, widespread crisis, homestead security would become an issue. This is particularly true for the women of the family, who are often in charge of the gardening. If the main garden beds are distant from the house, or near woods and/or a road, desperate individuals would have an easy time targeting the gardener(s). The auger system allows growing spots to be dug close to the house. These can be tended by an individual with less risk than a patch by the road. The main garden can then be tended at such times as numerous group members can be present for added security.

Third, the large three point hitch auger coincidentally makes a perfect space in which to cache two 5-gallon buckets on top of one another. Pack the buckets with whatever you need to keep out of sight, secure the gasket-ed lids, turn the buckets over and caulk under the rim of the lid. When the caulk is dry, the buckets can be lowered into their hiding place and covered. If you are concerned about a fencing contractor asking what the holes at the back of your yard are for (which he probably won’t), mark two holes 12 feet apart. Answer that you want to set gate posts for a future fencing project. The only thought he will have is to leave you his card, hoping you’ll hire him for the fencing job.

Last but not least, a pre-drilled hole can be in place if the need arises for a privy. In the unfortunate event that conditions deteriorate enough as to require a long term privy, the last thing you are going to have the is time on your hands to dig one. Auger the hole now, then add leaves or other material that will be easy to scoop out later but provide enough fill to prevent a small child or animal from getting stuck, and lay a scrap of plywood over the top.

No one wishes disaster to strike – and the more peace within oneself, the more peace one brings to the world. But history teaches that troubled times can and do occur, and it is prudent to be able to take care of your family. Additionally, when trouble does appear it is usually with little warning. Murphy’s Law says that if a disaster happens, it will happen just as you have settled on the homestead of your choice, have some dry provisions laid away, but have yet to have sufficiently improved your garden beds to the point they will reliably feed your group. The auger system allows for maximum production in minimum time, and a used auger and some appropriate soil amendments might well fit into the ‘must have’ items on your list.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hello Jim,
You have had a couple of good articles about having dogs for retreat/home protection recently. I couldn't agree more that dogs are a wonderful resource in many ways. I have two German Shepherds who keep my farm and home safe from humans and predators.  There are a couple points I would like to add.

First of all, not all dogs will fight to protect their pack. I had a German Shepherd several years ago who would try to hide behind me if there was danger. He was a complete coward, in spite of his attack training. When picking a protective dog, a person should size up the personalities of both parents, if possible. If the parents are rather laid back and unprotective, the puppies will probably grow up with a similar temperament. I have noticed that two dogs seem to be four times as good for protection, but they are also more difficult to control.

And once you have a protective dog, it is important to recognize that the dog doesn't always know when not to bite. A dog bite can be a death sentence without antibiotics, as infection is almost a guarantee. If your dog accidentally perceives someone to be a threat and bites him, there are numerous bad things that can happen to the you, dog, and the victim. My dogs are very protective and aggressive. I have to "protect" them from being in situations where they could get themselves in trouble. Although they are definitely my buddies, I have to handle them more like weapons than pets.

And lastly, dogs are not bullet proof. If there are desperate people who want to raid your retreat, do not believe they will hesitate to shoot your dog. In this situation, the dog will need to be protected too.  - Hobby Farmer

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Should you shelter-in-place or move to a retreat?  Lots of pros and cons about this, and most of it depends upon strength in numbers.  Obviously, the more remote and inaccessible your castle is, the harder it will be for intruders to discover or invade.  But I’m 65, and I don’t own any remote property.  My house sits on a very defendable cul-de-sac, essentially surrounded on three sides by water – my “moat.”  I could pull stakes and move to a national park or wildlife preserve, but it would be a simple campsite with tent and no walls, and I would need several families to go with me for security.
When our civilization collapses, which seems inevitable with our current insane government, I plan to do all the right things to ensure my home and area are secure.  There will be perimeter alarms and felled trees for roadblocks, trip wires and night vision.  But one thing that people overlook may be the very best alarm system ever known to man.  A dog.  But, better yet, two dogs.

I’ve been a veterinarian for over 30 years, and I’ve owned, seen and worked with a lot of dogs, including military working dogs and police dogs.  Recently I accompanied an incredible Labrador retriever, “Buster,” in search of World War II Missing In Action (MIA) Marines and soldiers.  Buster can sniff out bones that have been buried up to 100 years ago, detecting the miniscule amounts of aromatic organic compounds still leaching up through the soil from what’s left of the body.  Incredible, but just an example of “superhuman” abilities of dogs’ senses that include hearing, sight, and, perhaps, a sixth sense or even seventh and eighth senses.
We’ve just adopted two 5-month-old female German shepherd littermates into our household.  Or, as they would see it, our “pack.”  Although people try to treat pets as human members of their families, the dog will always consider the family a pack, with an alpha male leader, and alpha female head of the female members of the pack, and a definite peck-order of all. 
Detect fear, evil, danger, “something wrong”
The stories about military working dogs (MWD) and other extraordinary dog-related events are endless.  Dogs have been used by military units since Roman times and before.  Soldiers and Marines who served in canine units during World War I and II, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts tell about being alerted of the enemy long before approaching an ambush.  Some tell about doubting the dog, that the handler couldn’t see or detect anything wrong, but the dog was always right.   The handlers learned that no matter what, you always trust the dog’s judgment.  If not an ambush, then it was a trip wire, mine, dead enemy soldier, or something wrong. Nothing yet has been invented that can do a better job.
Regarding a sixth sense, I’ve heard stories about cat owners who have a group of people over to their homes, and if there is one person in the group who doesn’t like cats, the cat will find that person and focus on them!  Unexplainable.  Then I’ve heard mothers say their child brought home some friends from school and the dog growled at one of the kids when introduced.  I’d trust the dog, that there’s something to be cautious of about that one child.  Always trust the dog.
On Alert 24/7
In a home or retreat, it would be ideal to have a “dog door” so that the dog(s) can come and go as they feel the need.  We have a fenced yard and our dogs can go in and out of our heated garage, where they stay when we aren’t home.  I prefer that they be with us always, but I do have to go to work.  This brings up another issue:  separation anxiety.
Dogs are pack animals, and now you and your human family are the pack.  With just one dog, when you leave them alone to go to work, some dogs become stressed.  “Where are you?  Are you coming back?  Why did you leave me?  I’ve got to find you!  I’ve got to find you NOW!”  You come home to the door frame chewed up, with scratches all over the door (the one you left by).  Or there is other destruction due to frustration and anxiety; general freaking out.
I don’t think animals other than man have a concept of time.  They truly live for the moment, and don’t understand, “I’ll be back in an hour.”  Alpha (the pack leader) must be kept track of in case he/she needs me.  “Where’s Alpha?”  “I’ve got to find him/her!”  There have been medications to help with separation anxiety, but who wants to have their pet on meds all the time?  I usually advise obedience school and another dog for companionship (part of the pack is still here), or at least a cat friend.  Dogs aren’t fooled by leaving the television on, even if you run “Lassie” on it.  Sometimes this is more of a puppy thing than with an adult dog, but all dogs (and cats) seem to have a “fuller life,” and are more content with another dog to relate to.  I say, “Cats speak French and dogs speak German, so the same species is always better.”
Since dogs don’t understand time, they are “on guard” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  They probably don’t know what day it is, either.  They learn the sound of your car coming down the street and are at the door to greet you.  Common sounds, scents, and sights are recorded as “normal,” and everything else becomes suspect and in need of investigation.
Don’t need to be attack trained/naturally protective

Attack training would be a plus, but I’m a firm believer that all dogs need to go through at least level one obedience training.  That includes learning to, “Heal” (on and off leash), and unhesitatingly respond to the commands, “Sit,” “Stay,” “Come,” and “Down.”  Remember, these are COMMANDS, not requests.  If you have to repeat the command more than once, the dog needs more training (generally that means more assertiveness or “alpha-ness” from you).  In a bad situation, this may mean the dog’s life or yours if they do not respond immediately.  I’m always impressed by a dog with good manners.
Try to find a dog training club near you.  We have a local volunteer organization that offers basic and advanced courses at reasonable prices ($90 for 8 weeks/8 one-hour sessions).  Be involved in the training yourself, don’t give your dog to someone to train for you.  The dog will learn to obey the trainer very well, but who are you?  The trainer should be teaching you how to train the dog, not doing it for you.
Dogs are naturally protective of the pack, and will fight to the death to protect any and all pack members.  That doesn’t need to be taught.  Dogs seem to have the ability to detect evil/danger/threat, either through a sixth sense or from pheromones given off by the subject.  Pheromones are invisible clues that most animals live by.  A dog can walk out to the patio, sniff the air a couple times, and know that there are three dogs upwind; one a female (estrogen/progesterone), one a male (testosterone), and one “not right” (neutered).  Like the story of the male moth that can find the female moth on a tree miles upwind, they pick up on the ever-expanding “plume” of scent from the source.  By staying within that plume and moving toward increasing strength, the animal or insect can locate their quarry.
On patrol or translocating
When traveling, dogs tend to enjoy the trailblazing part; they like to run on ahead.  They are your “point” when patrolling or moving out.  Again, two dogs afford twice the sensory strength and can scan better than one.  Dogs can be trained to “alert” by lying down or freezing on point.  Down would be better, if you have to fire over them.  More training beyond the level one obedience will give you better control and more options.  In any situation, dogs are tremendous “force multipliers,” extending your eyes and ears well beyond human capacities.  Most sensible people also fear big dogs, and some ethnicities abhor them.  Because of this, dogs are sometimes shot first.  You don’t want this to happen, but it will put you on maximum alert and make you more than willing for payback.

Long before there were pet foods in bags and boxes on the grocer’s shelves, pets ate what we ate, or the scraps.  In general, if there is a balanced meal for us, the dogs can eat the same foods.  Commercial dog foods contain enough fat to go rancid if not kept in oxygen-low or vacuum storage.  Preservatives help delay spoilage, but all foods eventually degrade.  Certainly the dog will hunt on its own and eat wild game, as well as vegetation.  Eating a whole rabbit provides meat protein, some fat, calcium from the bones, and vitamins from the liver and organs.  But they are also eating everything the rabbit ate in the previous 24 hours, providing other vitamins and some roughage.
There are numerous dog food recipes online today to make your own balanced diet, but realize that all the ingredients may not be available in a future situation.  Share your vitamins and what you are eating, and the group will probably survive.  I won’t mention eating your dog in a survival situation!

Keep your dog’s vaccinations current.  Nine-way “distemper” shots are good for a year or more.  Rabies vaccine is good for one year the first time given, then should be boosted every three years thereafter.  Some states don’t recognize a 3-year rabies shot, but that doesn’t mean it won’t last that long.  Lyme disease (Borrellia) vaccine is also available, as is kennel cough (tracheobronchitis - Bordetella).  The nine-way shot includes canine distemper, hepatitis/adenovirus-2, parvovirus, parainfluenza, coronavirus, and four types of Leptospirosis vaccine. 
Post-collapse it will be hard enough to find human vaccines, let alone veterinary ones, so keeping your dogs away from other stray dogs will be important, too.  Some of these diseases are more deadly for puppies under a year old than adult dogs, such as parvo and kennel cough.  Mature dogs that have had several annual vaccinations should be well protected for years beyond their due dates, but anything is possible.
Flea/tick/heartworm/intestinal worm control

Many of the preventive products for dogs have very long shelf lives, and some have no expiration date.  In general, medicines and preventive products are good for at least five years beyond their expiry dates.  Mosquitoes carry heart worms, so basically all dogs are susceptible to infection.  The infection takes about three years to debilitate and kill a dog, but it is easily prevented with monthly heartworm medicine that you can stock up on and rotate annually.  Many heartworm preventives also contain intestinal worm medicine to kill roundworms and hookworms as well every month. 
Flea control is necessary to keep your abode from getting polluted with fleas, and monthly liquid applicators do a great job of keeping these bugs down.  Be sure to get high quality (98+% control) flea products from your vet, rather than over-the-counter look-alikes that are about 50% effective.  Some flea products also control ticks, but there are some very effective tick collars available that do an even better job.
Not From Pet Stores
I’ve been battling the puppy mill-pet store connection for more than two decades.  I didn’t know what puppy mills were when I graduated from vet school, but learned about them when I worked for a humane organization.  Pet stores (and now enterprising individuals who set up a puppy sale web site) buy puppies directly from the puppy mill breeder, or through a “broker,” who cleans up the puppy, vaccinates, de-worms them, and creates a “pedigree” of sorts.  The broker generally has the puppy for two or three days, then they are shipped out to the pet store.  The pet store pays $25 to $50 for the puppy (some breeds are more), then adds a zero or two to the price and has them on sale the next day.  People who say they, “rescued the puppy from the pet store,” are simply perpetuating this industry and creating an open pet store cage for a replacement puppy to take their place.
Not all puppy mill puppies turn out to be “lemons,” but quite a few have problems from inbreeding and neglect.  Realize that puppy mills (intense breeding facilities, dogs kept in “rabbit hutch” confinement, no vet care, minimal overhead investment) are the only consistent source of puppies for pet stores.  No matter what the pet store owner or staff tell you, the puppies are coming from mills.  One pet store chain was proud to proclaim, “We do not buy from puppy mills.”  That was a legally true statement, because they bought from a broker, not directly from the puppy mill. 
Puppy mill dogs are more likely to have genetic problems due to inbreeding.  When a mother dog is no longer producing sizeable litters, a female puppy is often kept to replace her.  When she comes into heat, she’s bred back to (guess who?) her father dog.  The pedigree is fudged, and business continues.  Congenital defects include bad hips, trick knees (patellar luxation), eye problems, epilepsy, and other issues not immediately detectable.  Ear mites, Demodectic mange, intestinal parasites, eye infections, lack of socialization, and exposure to distemper and parvo viruses are also common.  If the puppy is exposed to a virus, then vaccinated the same day, it’s virtually a race to see which wins.  Incubation time for the virus and the time it takes for a puppy to develop immunity against it are about the same, so it’s a gamble.  Also, if you take into account that many of the mother dogs are unvaccinated or behind in their vaccination schedule (overhead, remember), then the puppy lacks adequate maternal immunities.
Today you can find hundreds of online web sites that sell puppies, but the situation is the same; they buy from brokers or directly from mills, and only have the puppies for a few days to weeks before they are sold.  It’s all smoke and mirrors on the web site.
Here are some red flags to help prevent a puppy mill purchase:
1.    The mother dog is not on the premises (don’t believe, “She’s at a show” or some other excuse).
2.    There are a bunch of different breeds for sale by the same person.
3.    They’ll “meet you halfway” to complete the transaction (that’s because they don’t want you to see their facility or lack of one - all a sham).
4.    If registered, it is not through the American Kennel Club (AKC).  There are many “registration” companies out there that provide phony “papers.”
5.    The comment that “She was rescued from a puppy mill.”  That usually means she was bought at an auction or directly from the mill owner.  The source is the same.
People are making six-figure incomes by selling puppy mill puppies.  That’s why they do it, not for love of dogs.  Some will offer a lower price for cash, because they don’t claim the cash to the Internal Revenue Service.  So you are picking up some of their tax burden as well.  You are generally better off adopting a dog from a humane shelter or dog pound than buying one from a pet store or web site. 

Choice of Breed
If you want a particular breed, check with local kennel clubs about reputable breeders in your area.  You may have to drive a few hours to visit a breeder, but it will be due diligence.  Don’t be in a hurry to get a puppy.  Sometimes the breeder won’t have any puppies available just then, but have a litter or two on the way and you can put a down payment on one or get first choice.  It will be worth the wait to get a sound dog from a reliable breeder.
Breed rescue organizations should not be overlooked.  We’ve adopted three Dobermans from a rescue source that places adult dogs from various situations.  One of ours came from a home where the young son developed extreme allergies to the dog.  He turned out to be the best one ever.  Google “rescue” and the breed you’re looking for, and you might find a great match in your area.
Recommended breeds (personal choices): German Shepherd/German shepherd crosses, Belgian Malinois, Akita, Border Collie, and Doberman
Now, I know some of you are going to say they had a Jack Russell that was incredible, or a Staffordshire terrier that could hear a leaf turn over in the yard, but there are reasons why the military and police forces choose certain breeds.  Size is intimidating, and with size comes strength.  Herding breeds are more conscious of their surroundings and are always scanning the horizon and listening for clues.  Some breeds seem to be easier to teach than others (Irish setters come to mind at the slower end of that scale).  There are always exceptions to the rule, such as an occasional Lab that makes the cut, or beagles for airport sniffing, but the best overall dog, in my opinion, would be a shepherd or shepherd cross.  The smartest/sharpest/most alert dog I ever owned was a 65-pound German shepherd cross (3/4 shepherd by appearance).  She was $20 at a farm home with a hand-lettered sign out front. 
No reason to reinvent the wheel here.  Pick a breed that’s now being used for security work.  I’ve had several shepherd crosses over the years, three Akitas, and four Doberman pinschers.  Also a collie and a couple dachshunds.  Never owned a malinois or border collie, but I’ve worked on quite a few, and I totally respect the malinois.  The border collies are just high-energy, super-alert dogs that are anxious to work and anxious to please you.  I take care of a family of champion Rhodesian Ridgebacks, which are sight hounds, and they are very alert, fast, and powerful, but they’re going to cost you more.  Remember, you should get two.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Thank you for your service and for your tremendous witness and testimony shown through your blog!
I am not an expert on poison, but a recent event made me realize this is probably an important topic to cover on this forum. My forum searches did not produce anything on this subject.

About a month ago, my daughters small dog wondered into the garage while I was taking out the trash. When I went back into the living room I found him eating something green... which turned out to be an old rat poison bait he found in the corner of the garage. Knowing these can kill in a single feeding (he's very small) I rushed him to the all night emergency animal clinic with the remains of the poison cube in a small Ziploc. They asked me what type of poison he ate and I produced the green cube. They said they are all green and that there were no tests available to determine what kind it contained. One type was treatable and the others weren't. Fortunately they were able to make him throw up and basically empty everything from his stomach. I have been treating him with supplements (just in case) for a month and he is doing great.
Here are the key lessons that I learned… If you are storing food and decide to place poison with the storage and on the approaches:
1.      know the exact poison you are using
2.      keep the original boxes just in case
3.      know the treatments and be prepared to administer
4.      place them in a way protected from children and pets
5.      monitor them regularly
There are many different kinds of poisons available for rats/mice/etc. It is my recommendation to only use a type that IS treatable. These may not be as fast working, but at least you have a chance to save a child or pet.
A common type of poison I found that is treatable is called Brodifacoum - which should be listed as the primary active ingredient. There are many brands that offer this product. This type is highly lethal (4 to 5 days) and attacks the body’s production of vitamin K causing the blood to lose its ability to clot. As with my daughters dog, you may be able to treat an exposed animal by forcing them to throw up and giving them vitamin K supplements twice a day. I purchased some beef flavored vitamin K tablets from my vet to ensure he would eat them and that he received the proper dose. Note that this poison is 2nd generation.. so it lasts much longer in the body (from 20 to 130 days) than older similar types. My vet felt we successfully emptied his stomach and that I had caught him before he ingested much at all, so she recommend I treat him with supplements twice a day for 30 days just to be safe.
I'm sure there are many readers who have more knowledge on this subject and particularly the medical aspects of human ingestion. I look forward to their comments.

If someone decides to use poison and has any doubt at all about the type you have... I recommend that you throw it all away. Start over with something you know is treatable and obtain the treatment. - J.W.M.

Dear Editor:
Congratulations to TJ and family for getting connected with a great dog. I love German Shepherds!

Allow me to offer a couple of additions to the concept of survivalists utilizing guard dogs.

Food; When you ask people my grandparents age how they fed dogs “back in the day” you are likely to get the answer “the dogs ate table scraps” or the dogs ran around and found their own food. In a survival scenario there aren’t going to be any scraps nor is there going to be much to “forage.” Therefore if bringing a dog on to the team is your plan then you need to ensure you will be able to feed them. “Dog preps” if you will.

Vaccinations;  In addition to food preps it is a good idea to have a years worth of de-wormer on hand. How often you de-worm depends on the environment the dogs are in. Meaning in the suburbs once or twice a year should suffice however if they are around livestock they should probably be de-wormed every three to four months.

In a Schumer scenario rabies and “rabid” dogs will likely be rampant.  Have your dogs vaccinated with a three year rabies shot every year
Breeds;  The author mentions “watch” dogs versus “guard” dogs and there is a third category frequently referred to as “working guard dogs”. Working guard dogs sometimes referred to as “livestock protection dogs” do just that.  The litmus test amongst goat and sheep people of what breeds qualify as working guard dogs is breeds that can kill a cougar and run off a pack of wolves.  Much as I love German Sheppard’s and agree that “dobies” and Rottweiler’s can make excellent guard dogs, they are, on balance, no match for a cougar or wolf.

There are a good number of breeds used around the world as working guard dogs most of them are in the extra large breed category (German Sheppard’s are a large breed dog). The two most common working guard dogs are The Great Pyrenees’ and the Anatolian Shepherd.  The Great Pyrenees is an awesome breed but we opted for the Anatolians for two reasons. First where we live (within the American Redoubt) gets very hot in the summer and we felt that their thick bodies and long hair would not do well in such heat. Secondly the Anatolians have more of an “edge” towards people protection so they can function as both a guard dog and a working guard dog. These are very independent and head strong animals so don’t expect to teach them to attack on command but they are highly intelligent and fiercely protective so you don’t have to.  They are a 6,000 year old breed of dog from the Anatolian region of Turkey. In fact I was looking at some of the maps in my Bible and you can read about the area called "Anatolia" in the days of Moses.  With 6,000 years of breeding a “guard” dogs they know what to do instinctively.

The AKC web site states that the Anatolian is “a working guard dog without equal”.  However these dogs need space and are not for the uninitiated dog handler.  You can love these dogs up and play fetch with them etc but they are not pets. They do not go to the dog park ever, we have the veterinarians come to us or if they have to go to the clinic they go in through a side door directly to the exam room. These dogs are not to view any person or animal who is not part of the “pack” as anything but outsiders who need to be chased off.

Lastly any survivalists who decide to employ dogs should have a perimeter fence. That is your line in the sand and keeps your dogs from running away which helps insure their safety.

There are many great dogs and breeds out there and the German Shepherd may well be the best fit for TJ and family but I wanted to throw these ideas out there as a compliment to his article. - Peter P.

I read the recent post about guard dogs with interest, as I'm a new owner.  I agree with most of the points submitted.  A guard dog can be a 'heightened sensor' so you can rest as well a fierce opponent of aggression toward you and your family.  I have owned mine for a year and to be truthful never had an interest in dogs beforehand.  Even though I am a prepper, and practice stocking up on the 5 Gs (Gold, Guns, Ground, Gas, and Grub  - a Robert Kiyosaki-ism) I never gave considerable thought to a guard dog. 

Recently a friend of mine was very generous in that he gave me a puppy.  The breed was Black Russian Terrier and was shipped to me from the Ukraine.  As stated, I never had an interest but felt compelled to accept this gift if for nothing else that show appreciation for the immense generosity.  After being around this dog I quickly grew attached.  I also saw just how intelligent and quick to learn this breed is.  Even though I have limited knowledge of dog training, I could teach him basic commands in a few hours or no more than a day.   He is big and strong - tops out at about 130 lbs.   He doesn't slobber and doesn't shed.  I had him house broke in a few days and now he guards my family while I am away on business.  After saying this I guess I was a bit disappointed that this breed wasn't even listed in Caesars Top 10.  It's possible that it wasn't listed simply because of rarity and many Americans never heard of it (my vet included).  Even so there are several kennels in the USA that raise these unique canines and I would encourage those in the market to research them before making a purchase.  I would also encourage them to study the breed.  It's beginnings were founded in the Soviet army.  It was a highly classified project to make the perfect working dog/Guard dog.  Roughly 20 breeds were mixed together to produce what is now a Black Russian Terrier.  Such dogs as the Giant Schnauzer, Rottweiler, Newfoundland, Yorkshire Terrier etc were mixed together in an attempt to make a working dog that was durable in the diverse  terrain and climatic conditions of Russia.  My friend showed in various Ukrainian competitions it almost always outperformed the German Shepard.   And I personally watched them in attack drills - seeing them perform immediately on command.   

The only breed that was close was the Belgian Malinois.  I have also seen where the breed is used to pull small carts which could be useful if you had some walking to do.  Of course there are pros and cons to everything, and with me the maintenance of it's fur is the big drawback.  Keeping him groomed properly is a continual task that I usually do every 90 days.  And monthly I brush him out.  Other than fur maintenance, I find nothing negative and would recommend him along side the 10 submitted - and feel confident to say he could even outperform them.  In a TEOTWAWKI situation he would be a force multiplier. - S.K.

I enjoyed the posting by TJ about getting a dog to help out with protection during the long emergency, especially when you are "out of options".  There were many relevant points made, and I congratulate the writer's decision to add a protection dog to his limited preparation supplies.  That said, in my opinion, no dog will replace the necessity for other forms of self defense and home security.  More importantly, it is not as simple as it may takes a great deal of repetitive training to keep those dog-skills finely honed.  The addition of a dog to your mix is an augmentation, and a good one, if you have the right dog.  Chances are that even with zero background and training, a dog who has had the right exposure will come through for you.  A good chance exists that in the event of an attack upon your home, your dog may unfortunately be the first casualty, but in the meantime, we all have an inherent fear of getting bitten, and even a small dog's aggressive bark when we least expect it, can make us jump out of our skin.  I would also not recommend a "junk yard dog" that never gets the benefits of human interaction or controls.  The risks far outweigh the benefits...unless of course you actually have a junk yard.

I am a  former K-9 handler with a medium-sized Sheriff's Department in California prior to my retirement;  I was blessed to have lived and trained with the Danish Police, the source for my k-9 partner, "Sheik" (pronounced "Shike").  We worked night patrol and trained hard, for 5 + years, until I promoted out of the unit.  We lived together in my bachelor years, and became very close buddies.  We handled many high-risk situations together, from crimes in progress to felony car stops, and I miss him, to this day.  My only complaint?  That dog never wrote one report or testified in court even one time!. 

Needless to say, I have many fond memories.   His nickname among our squad was "John Wayne" because he was such a hard charger.  If he could talk he would say that I was a knucklehead and a pain to work with, but I had never been loved by an animal more.

It took a while before I was competent, and even longer to become really good at being a handler;  that came only after I learned from Sheik, and learned how to read him.  One of the enduring traits of Shepherds is that they are very loyal and forgiving.  I also witnessed and played the decoy or "bad guy"(taking bites or being a hidden suspect for the dog to find) for lots of K-9 teams, from departments all over, including the Danish Police.  I saw lots of dogs and lots of handlers, in all stages of training.  Most of the teams here in the states had dogs that were "Shutzhund".  More on that later.  Compared to the Europeans, who have been at it much longer, Americans were in the infant stages of understanding how dogs tick, and utilizing them  to their full capacity.  Our military has a much better grasp than the civilian/LE world, but of course the mission is entirely different.   I will also note that there are scientific studies going on now that are opening up whole new realms of understanding about man's best friend, and how he got to be so.

 A word about the mission.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with having an "alarm dog", even a sissy-pooch, who will notify you whenever anything goes bump in the night.  Know that you will have many false alarms, but he is just doing his job, and to the dog, a possum intruder, a butterfly intruder, and a man intruder are equally suspicious, and worthy of sounding off with an alarm.

Most if not all dogs are naturally suspicious, and protective, of their territory, whether that is the car, or your yard, some more than others.  Keeping your dog kenneled, or confined to your fenced yard, will make that suspicion grow.   He will become extremely suspicious of anything that makes a move or a sound on your property, which he views as his own.   I am a fan of kenneling, because it helped to protect my dog from the outside world, not the other way around.  Encouraging him to "watch him" when the moment presents itself will also help him in knowing what you want from him.  The right dog desires to please you! While his senses will be heightened outdoors, if the dog lives in your bedroom, frankly, his alarm will be too late coming, his sense of smell will be less sharp, and his sense of natural suspicion will be short, he will get lazy!

 In no case, ever, should the animal be allowed to wander the neighborhood.  That is a death sentence for him, not freedom.  Remember that dogs are pack creatures, their DNA is identical to wolves.  Don't let those floppy ears, wagging tail and soulful eyes fool you...they are pack animals (and you  must become the pack leader!)  Capitalize on the keen sense of smell that the dog is blessed with and that has proven itself time and time again, the acute hearing, his instincts to identify and neutralize dangers, and his physical fighting attributes, to your advantage.

On breeds.  Naturally I am biased toward Shepherds (the term "German" Shepherd is not used in Denmark, where they are known as Shaeferhunds, or "Shepherd dogs").  Of the 250 dog teams in the country at that time, there were only two that were not Shepherds, a pretty good indicator that the Danes did their homework on which breed would be best suited.  With respect to my Rottie-owning friends out there, just be aware, that Rottweilers require special handling, because they are stubborn!  One very major factor is the physical characteristics.  Shepherds have great endurance, and are able to withstand harsh climates.  Like some other breeds, there is an undercoat that acts as an insulator.  In my area, the short haired breeds are probably not the wisest choice for an outdoor dog.  A down side to having a Shepherd is that in certain parts of the country, they can be mistaken for a wolf or coyote, at a distance.

Nor does the dog have to be huge. One of the best working dogs I ever witnessed was a female Shepherd no more than 50 pounds...but you did not want to be on the receiving end when she hit you from six feet out on the run (and you will not outrun most dogs);  the "decoy" would hit the deck like a sack of potatoes, and without protection, would have been out of the fight, period.   The same holds true for the Belgian Malinois;   wirey, fast, and tough, now a leading figure for our military's combat needs.

Larger dogs have more physical problems, and of course can be expensive to feed as well.  They die sooner, and invariably suffer from joint and bone problems.  Never allow your dog to jump into car windows, crawl around on ladders in the air, jump over limbo sticks, all for the sake of "trials" that have nothing to do with the real world.  This will shorten the life of your dog and/or subject him to injury;  all of that pounding on the joints and tissues are not good for the animal, just like it is for us.  Yes, I did open the car door for Sheik, and no, I never competed in trials.  We would have received poor scores, undoubtedly, but I was more interested in the patrol dog attributes than what some judge determined to be the perfect "heel".  I would put my dog up against any other, any day.  We were actually one of the few teams who were always asked to do the "call off" drill during public relations "demos".  Why? because I had every confidence that the dog would call off in the midst of a full-on attack, even on a decoy without protective gear.  But it took training.

All of that said, folks will make up their minds on which dog to choose, much like firearms and motor oil, so let's move on.

Shutzhund dogs are impressive!  Just keep one thing in mind.  Shutzhund is more or less a sport, or competition, that tests obedience, scent work, and aggression, mainly.  It takes place on flat ground, usually a soccer field or similar setting, and is entertaining, as well.  Anyone would find it thrilling to watch.  Not to say that Shutzhund dogs will not "transition" to law enforcement or protection work, believe me, I have seen some fantastic dogs with a Shutzhund background.  But not always.  Put the dog and handler in a real world setting, on rural ground or an urban environment, like the roof of a department store as my memory serves me, or a pier jutting out into the ocean, and all of a sudden it is not the trial, or competition setting.  Stress enters in, and if the dog has what is known as "trained courage", and his heart is really not in the real world, you may have a problem if this is your sole source of protection.

I remember testing, and then rejecting, a police donation from a couple whose dog had a lineage to be proud of, and a high ranking in the dog show world and Shutzhund arena.  A beautiful animal with perfect conformation.  However, once away from his handler, on his own and early on in the test, the dog showed signs of extreme stress, i.e. diarrhea, straining to escape, etc.  I shut the test down immediately to avoid trauma, but at the owner's requests, brought the dog back a few days later for another round of different tests.  Unfortunately, when the handler was absent, the dog freaked out, clearly unable to handle a threat coming his way.  Perhaps his training was too harsh in the early phases, who knows.  The couple were miffed and bewildered at the same time, but could not but accept that their (expensive) prized animal was not even close to Rin-Tin-Tin status.  He was, undoubtedly, a great alarm dog, and a loving pet, and a dynamite show dog.

Some dogs are actually what is termed "sleeve happy", which can be attributed to misdirected training or just a dogs' obsession for the happens when a decoy can simply slip out of protective garb when the dog is hanging on during a bite, and run off, leaving the dog to wrestle with his prize, having torn the suspect's "arm" off.  Or "ball happy";  he loves to retrieve so much that he will leave the bad guy on his own, in order to go chase a thrown ball or other object.  These examples beg the will the dog perform under stress, multiple assailants, gunfire, around a female in heat, or offered food?  These are all things that must be included in training routines, constantly, so that the dog is always thinking.  Do you have the time, energy, or expertise to really tackle that?  If not, then settle for a giving, energetic, forgiving, and loving dog that also has protective traits, and suspicions of what he senses.  In other words, a good alarm dog.  That training is a lot less intense, and you have a good tool in your arsenal.

You will find that most "dog people" readily admit that they do not have all of the answers or pretend to have the correct fix for a problem each and every time.  The "dog whisperer", Caesar Millan, gets it.  He knows that the dog has a prey drive and other natural instincts, that he wants to interact with his human master, that he wants to have a job in the order of things, and above all, that the dog owner/trainer must be the pack leader in order to be successful.  Until our canine friends learn how to talk in order to tell us where we go wrong, then we will never be sure, at least this side of Heaven.  

Bottom line?  Choose the right dog for your mission, at least give it your best shot.  Do not pick up a freebie with "issues" and expect to change the animal to your liking.  You will, through love and patience, bring a traumatized dog "back to life", but you will not turn that dog into the hero that you may be seeking.  Dogs are much like children, they react negatively to trauma, but unlike children, they do not learn how to cope  as they mature.  Trauma has a huge negative impact on the dog's life, throughout his life.

So what would be characteristics to look for?

Besides the obvious health issues, look for a natural inquisitive nature.  Which pup chases the toy tied onto the fishing line, which one actually grabs it, and the ultimate, will he give it up to you when you ask him for it?  This is the classic retrieve, which in the form of a game will tell you a lot about the dog.  It goes against his grain to give it to you, but if he is willing to do that, this is a major plus...the desire to please, to make friends, to share his new-found bounty when he doesn't have to.
Test him with like models, just never demand at this stage, or frighten him.  Know this:  the dog who will not retrieve will usually not meet your demands of him.

Look for the leader of the litter, one who displays confidence.  Size is not the issue here.  How many times have we seen a Chihuahua-sized dog rule the roost in a group of dogs?  We hear, "he doesn't know how little he is".  This guy is the alpha, and dogs respect the leader.

Does he react with curiosity to noise, like some pebbles inside of a tin can that you have rolled into his world.  Does he chase it, poke it with his nose, bite it, bark at it, or, does he run away to the safety of the litter, never to return to that vile thing that makes a strange noise.  Does he show no ambition to check it out?  The ideal youngster is the one who cautiously approaches, perhaps barks, and grabs it!  This is a trait of courage, and overcoming his prey.

I personally like a pup that is mouthy, a big mouth.  Usually these are happy fellows.  This usually ties into that trait we seek, the alpha, the fighter jock, the confident one who wants the world to know that he his there and does not intimidate easily, that the world is his kingdom.  Dogs that bark on command are a huge plus, and keep in mind that once this command is mastered, and he knows exactly what it means to follow it, it is far easier to then teach him "Silence!" when the time for silence is appropriate.  

As previously stated, size is not necessarily the number one aspect of why you should choose a particular dog.  As Americans, we love everything big...big cars, big guns, big horses, you name it.  Just remember, the bigger the dog, the more problems you must deal with, not to mention that the larger dog is usually slower, and agility suffers as well... just as in the human world.  Picture that nimble Border Collie vs. a tank like a Mastiff, moving that herd around.  On the other hand, if you have ever wandered into a sheep pasture being guarded by a Newfoundland or similar livestock protection dog, you quickly realize this guy's capabilities, and will, to crush you like a rodent.

Male or female?  The facts are, that males are usually chosen for their fighting spirit rather than the females for their nurturing spirit, in the world of K-9.  That said, I have broken up my share of dog fights (a dangerous pastime that also gets real tiresome) to know that one usually does not suffer the same fate when handling the ladies.  Ditto for cat chasing, peeing on everything in sight, and other knucklehead things that, okay, males do.  Sheik, bless his heart, even went out of his way to drink from another dog's water bowl on the training field, and then, with a look on his face as if to say, "...bring it dude",  he peed in it.  The choice is yours, but just know that many of the same attributes are there for males and females alike, but with less aggression for the females who do not have the testosterone that the males do.  

A word on nutrition.  We have a 16 year old Dachshund, with Cushing's Disease, which is in essence a benign cyst on the pituitary gland.   Her weight ballooned, and with her severe diabetes-like symptoms,  I was preparing myself to say good-bye to this beloved little pet.  A friend told us about "Honest Kitchen" food, which is dehydrated, all natural, organic, USA-made dog food.  It comes in varieties depending on needs, and is easily prepared in small batches ahead of time.  It completely turned our little girl around.  The Cushing's has taken it's toll, and she has little muscle left now, but she is pain free, and for being the age that she is, gets around, at least for now.  We were blessed to have been given the gift of having her around for a little while longer.   The vet was amazed at how quickly she got back to her 8 pound ideal weight.  So I highly recommend it, and will keep it in my larder from now on as a nutritional, and tasty, protein-rich main source of dog food.  I read where it is actually approved for use by humans...if you were so inclined of course.  The poops, normally a messy and smelly chore, come out quite different with this food, easy to pick up and with far less unpleasantries, I am supposing due to the high fiber content and all natural ingredients.  Even in the case of occasional indoor "accidents", it just picks right up with no stains, smears, or intense odor.

At a cost of $50 or so for a 10 lb box, at first glance this stuff sounds unaffordable for most of us.  Keep in mind, however, that it is dehydrated, so in adding water, it is equal in duration to a big bag of high quality kibble.  It would be a great food for a working security dog.

Don't forget one final aspect of all of this: People who have dogs have a happier and more adventurous life, with less stress.  They live longer, and just enjoy their existence more.  Dogs are even taken into nursing homes and cancer wards, with fantastic results.  These animals can be our companions, our friends, and can make our tasks a bit easier.  In a world where chaos and social unrest are the rule of the day, I would say that owning and caring for animals, especially a good dog,  just might put a smile on your face.  As one pastor put it, the "Goodness" and "Mercy" mentioned in the Psalms, that follow us all the days of our life, are just the names of our four-legged pals. - L.R.D.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I always planned to have a bee hive someday but someday had not come until I mentioned my interest to a friend who promptly told me he was splitting a hive (taking a few hundred bees out to prevent them from feeling over crowded) in one week and that he would share the "split" (a couple pf hundred bees) with me.  I promptly ran to the library and checked out three books on bee keeping.  Many questions and concerns kept floating around in my mind, a few of which included:  I know nothing about bees!, What equipment do I need to start a hive?, How do I care for them?,  How will I get the honey out?    Following is the answer to all of these questions.  This will hopefully guide you in your steps to managing your own apiary (scientific name for bee keeping).  It is important to start beekeeping now and make mistakes before you really need the honey.  But if  you are reading this post TEOTWAWKI there are still ways that you can obtain a honey bee hive that I will address. I now have one hive in production and plan to build more.

Bees live for one purpose only and that is to work.  They spend their entire lives working themselves to death.  During the summer, when bees are the busiest they can live up to 6 weeks.  If a bee is born during a non-busy season they will live up to 6 months.  Within the hive you have three types of bees: Queen, drones, and workers.   The Queen bee is bigger than all of your other bees.  She looks different with a shorter thorax (the middle of the 3 sections on a bee), small wings, and a longer torso which enables her to back up her behind into a cell and lay an egg.  She puts off pheromones (a scent) that inhibits all other female bees' ovaries from working.  She can lay up to 2,000 eggs daily. 

A drone is a male bee that exists in the hive at a ratio of 1 drone to every 100 worker (female) bees.  The drones exist for the sole purpose to mate with the queen.  They are not able to feed or care for themselves and are cared for by their kind sisters. 

Worker bees, once hatched from a cell, start their work within the hive cleaning cells,  (a queen will only lay an egg in a clean cell), feeding and caring for baby larvae, grooming and feeding the queen, removing dead bees to the front of the hive, cleaning dust pollen and debris off other bees,  building wax from wax glands (located on the underside of their abdomen) and rendering it to honeycomb, capping pupae and ripened honey from their secreted wax, fanning honey in the cells to remove water which preserves the honey, and placing propolis (a sticky substance they make) in any crack that needs to be filled.  Once a worker's mandible and stinger are fully formed, at three weeks, they can work outside the hive foraging for pollen, nectar, and water and protecting the hive from impending dangers.   

The life cycle of a bee starts when a queen lays an egg in a cell.  The eggs, shaped like a small grain of rice, are hard to see inside each cell.  A pair of reading glasses may help a beginner spot the eggs easier.  The workers regulate the ratio of males to females by constructing larger cells for males and smaller cells for females.  The queen recognizes the cell size and deposits the correct egg within.  Usually drone and queen cells are on the edges of the frame and females are concentrated in the center of the frame.  Eggs develop for three days before moving to the larva stage where they look like small pearly white semi-circles in their cell.  The top of their cells are sealed to enable them to spin a cocoon around themselves and turn into a pupa.  They will emerge 7, 10 or 14 days later depending on if they are a queen, worker, or drone.  A queen takes 16 days from egg to maturity, a drone 24 days, and a worker 21 days.  
This is a brief overview of the life and function of a honey bee.  There are great resources to learn about honey bees if you decide you are interested in bee keeping.


It is important that you obtain a hat with a veil.  There are many options but I like an XXL (I normally wear a women's medium)  jacket with the veil attached.  This way the back of the jacket will cover me at all times no matter how much I bend over.  I will have no chance of being stung on the back.  You will need a hive tool to pry apart the boxes and the frames.  A smoker is used to induce the bees into a more submissive state.  Smoking a hive takes a lot of practice and has not come naturally to me.  You also want white gloves.  Bees do not like dark colors and if you can find white goat skin gloves it is best. 

The type of hive I have is called a Langstroth hive named for the man who invented a way to obtain honey and avoid ruining the hive each time honey was harvested.  For the hive itself you need a bottom board.  They come solid or screened.  Where I live in the Rocky Mountain region I have chosen to go with a screened bottom board to prevent significant condensation inside the hive in the winter that would drip and kill the bees.  You will need 2 hive bodies called brood chambers.  The height on these boxes are 9 1/2 in. and most of the eggs, growing larva, and pupa reside within these chambers.  When these boxes are full of brood, bees, honey, and pollen they can weigh 60-80 pounds.  On these brood boxes "supers" are often placed.  These boxes are shorter at 6 5/8 in height which makes them easier to carry and move around when they are full of honey and you are ready to extract.  Full they can weigh 40-45 pounds.  Within the boxes you will usually have 10 rectangular shaped wooden frames that contain foundation sheets stamped with a honey comb pattern to guide bees in building regular combs with uniform cells.  There are many types of foundation including:  pure beeswax, plastic with beeswax overlay, and plain plastic.  The foundation can be bought separately or already in the frames.  An outer cover rests on the top to protect the hive from rain, hailstones, and snow.  There are many other parts that can be added to a hive but these are the basics.

You will need to fashion from a net like material a hood that will keep your head and neck covered to prevent being stung.  Light colored gloves are preferable but any gloves will work.  Many beekeepers do not wear gloves because a stinger left in the glove will put off a scent that tells the other bees to sting. 

Early settlers frequently  used "bee gums" or hollow sections of a tree with a board placed over the top and the bottom to house their bees.  The problem that occurs with this type of hive is it will have to be destroyed by breaking it open in order to obtain the honey.  When you chop down the tree keep a few sections of the it to be able to replace the section that is dismantled every year to obtain the honey.  Make a few openings in the front of the hive small enough for the bees to enter but not large enough to allow mice or other small rodents that are looking for a warm house.
A smoker will be difficult to come by but a big torch from a branch will work just as well and will assist in helping the bees become more docile.  Over the centuries, wildfires have trained the bees that when they smell smoke they gorge themselves on honey and then leave the hive to find a new home. 


Placement of a hive is important.  You want good drainage around your hive.  Raising it off the ground onto cinder blocks or wood will usually keep moisture from getting inside the hive due to run off.  The hive needs to be in an area that you can get around and access easily.  You need to have water accessible.  Water is crucial to a bees survival.  They may need a float in your water source to prevent drowning your bees.  A windbreak will help them maintain their temperature during summer and winter.  A southeastern exposure is ideal to provide morning sunshine to stimulate the foraging bees to get up and get busy. 

Putting the bees in the hive

Early spring is the best time to start beekeeping.  This gives the bees all summer to build their stores for winter.  During the first year you will likely not extract honey.  The bee population is usually not high enough to produce extra honey and the bees will need the top and bottom brood boxes full to feed themselves from during the winter.  Bees are shipped in a box with a wire screen (also called a nuc box), with a can of syrup that will feed them on their journey through the postal system.  Be prepared for an early morning phone call from the post office to come pick up your buzzing package.  The queen will be in a small cage inside the package with several bees attending to her needs from the outside. 
            1. In the late afternoon or evening put on your protective gear, open the hive up to have access to the frames, place the nuc box near the hive and light your smoker
            2. There are 2 ways to do the next part, either a) splatter a syrup mixture onto the wire cage.  This will calm the bees.  Continue doing this until they quit eating. or b) Spray a sugar water mixture onto the bees.  This will not hurt them but will make it difficult for them to fly.  The sugar water mixture will also give them a snack as they will clean it off of each other.  Rap the cage onto the ground and let the bees fall to the bottom of the cage.
            3. Take the cover off the cage, remove the queen, and put the lid back on to prevent escaping bees.  Make a small hole in the candy plug that will allow the bees to eat their way through to the queen and release her.  Wedge her small cage between 2 frames within the hive making sure the candy plug is accessible to the bees. 
            4. Again rap the cage on the ground, then remove the lid and pour/shake the bees onto the frames in the hive.  At this point they are not going to be territorial and try to sting you.  They currently have no home and are not going to try to protect this hive.  It will take a few days before they call this new box home.  After you have poured most of the bees onto the hive, lay the box on its side to allow the other bees a way to crawl out and get into the hive.  Put the lid on top of the hive and then leave them alone.  Bees do much better without our help. 
After 3-5 days you want to make sure the queen has been released from her cage.  Open the lid during a warm sunny afternoon.  Hopefully most bees will be foraging and not at home.  If she has not been released, pull the candy plug out or push it carefully into her cage being careful not to squish her.  After this, leave them for a few weeks.  It is not prudent to check them more than every 2 weeks and many people wait 4 weeks.  When you do open the hive it will be hard to separate the boxes and the frames.  Bees use a sticky substance called propolis to glue all openings and frames together.  You will need to separate the box lid and the box with your hive tool, then put a little smoke into the crack.  This will induce the bees to go down into the frames and gorge on honey making them more sluggish.  After you take the lid off, lean it against the hive.  Pry a frame apart and lift it up, being careful to keep it over the hive so the queen does not fall off onto the ground.  When you look at your frames you want to make sure there are eggs and brood (growing baby bees).  The egg should be in the center of each cell and there should only be 1 egg in each cell.  If there are more than 1 egg in each cell it could mean your queen has failed and the worker bees have taken over by laying non-fertile eggs.  This will produce an all male (drone) hive which will die off very quickly as they are not able to care for themselves. 
In the spring before bees have a lot of plants to forage from they may begin to starve because they have eaten their reserves and have nothing to forage.  At this point it is a good idea to feed them.  There are many contraptions you can buy to feed them but last year the method I chose was to make a syrup with a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water, place it in a gallon zip lock bag, lay it on top of the frames, and then cut an X in the top of the bag.  The bees will land on the bag and eat from the syrup oozing out of the X.  My only expense was the sugar.  There are other recipes and substances you can use to feed bees but the important thing to remember is that during early spring you may need to feed your bees.
When working with bees use slow and gentle movements.  If you are quick or abrupt they will feel threatened and are put on high alert.  If a bee stings the stinger rips away from the bees body and the bee dies.  The stinger continues to pump venom into your skin so brush the stinger off quickly.  If you grab the stinger to pull it out you will force all of the venom into your skin. If a bee is squished this sends the bees into high alert and they are more likely to sting.  To get the bees off of the rim of the hive before putting the lid on use the smoker and they will bury back down into the frames, to again gorge on honey, you will be less likely to squish the bees and they will not try to harm you. 


In the event you do not already have bees, you can try robbing a hive to get your bees.  If you see honey bees around your property and are not sure where they have their hive hidden you can try this trick.  To do this you will need to make yourself a box with a glass or plexiglas top piece that will fit onto the box by sliding into grooves.  Place honey, molasses or a syrup mixture inside the box and place it somewhere you think the bees might come.  Once a few bees are in the box filling up on your sweet substance sprinkle them with flour.  Let them fly away and watch where they go.  They will go back to their hive and recruit other bees to come get food.  Other bees will come to your box.  Once your original flour coated bees come back to the box place the lid on the box and walk in the direction the bees flew off to.  This will bring you closer to their home.  At this point the bees will be full and ready to fly away.  Put the box on the ground when you no longer know which way to go, take the lid off, and let them fly away.  The bees will be confused for a minute, once they find their bee line they will head off towards home.  Watch them to see where they are headed and make a note of the landmarks you should walk to that will bring you closer to their hive.  When the floured bees come back do this again.  Put the lid on, walk their bee line (the path they take to and from their hive), let them out, watch them.  Do this again and again until they lead you to their honey tree.  Likely the tree the bees are in will need to be chopped down.  Doing this at night will be easier because the bees won't be active.  They will be sluggish and sleeping, especially if the temperature is a little cooler.  When you chop the tree down, place your hollow log (with a board nailed to the bottom) next to your main body of bees.  You want to find the queen, which is much larger and has small wings.  When you find the queen, deposit her into your hollow log and the other bees will follow.  You can take a stick and pick up bees on the end to shake into the log being careful not to squish your queen.  Place the lid on your hollow log and place them in their new location during the night.  At this point you would want to also take all the honey you can. 


There are two ways to extract your honey.  The first way is to buy or make an extractor.  Using centrifugal force the honey is spun out of the frame, collects in the bottom of a vat or bucket and then can be poured from a gate/nozzle near the bottom of the bucket into containers.  The second way to extract honey is to crush the comb and honey together and then strain the wax out of the honey.  One reason most people use an extractor is to save the bees the work of making beeswax.  For every pound of beeswax formed in the hive the bees could have made around 10 pounds of honey.  By using a machine that will spin the honey out of the frames the bees do not have to work to make more beeswax.  They spend their time and energy refilling the wax that is ready.  Extractors bought from a bee supply company range in price from $199.00 to $2,000.   Many people make their own extractors out of scrap metal, a food grade bucket, and a tool like a grout mixer that fits onto a drill and allows the frames to spin.  Many plans can be found online how to make an extractor.

Post TEOTWAWKI, unless you have an extractor, you will extract honey by crushing the comb and honey.  When a frame is 80% capped off (the bees seal the honey with a white/ yellowish waxy seal) you can harvest the honey.  Materials for your gravity extractor include two buckets, one of those buckets needs a lid.  To get a mental picture of what your setup will look like when you finish you will have two buckets stacked one on top of the other.  The bottom bucket will have a lid for the top bucket to sit on.  Poke or drill 3/16 in. holes in the top bucket to allow honey to drip down through.  This bucket will be placed on a bucket of the same size that has a lid.  Cut the middle section out of the lid.  This will allow the honey to drip down from the top bucket into the bottom bucket while sitting comfortably and securely on the lid of the bottom bucket.   If your frames have plastic foundation inside them you will cut or scrape the comb and honey into a pot or pan.  If you have wax foundation in your frames you can cut the foundation right out of your frames and place it a pot or pan.  Working in small batches crush the comb honey in the pot/pan and place it in the top bucket.  The honey will separate from the wax, for the most part, and move down through the holes into the second bucket.  Once your honey has moved to the bottom bucket, which can take hours to days depending on how warm the honey is and how much you have, it is a good idea to strain it again using a cheesecloth or strainer.  Make sure you do this in an area the bees can not get to.  They will rob you of your honey quickly if allowed the opportunity.  
Once you have completed your project, put your sticky tools and buckets outside near your hive.  The bees will usually clean the honey off of them and take it back to the hive.  Bees can not reuse their wax.  You can take the beeswax from the top bucket and use it.  Here are a few recipes for bees wax:

Candles:  Place wax in a pot or a crock pot and heat until liquid.  Use old metal food cans or small jelly or half pint jars, place a candle wick inside and fill with beeswax

Taper candles:  Cut a long piece of flat braid wick.  Heat beeswax in a pot and dip the wicks into the wax to make them the desired length.  Tapers are made in pairs because you dip both sides into the wax which allows them to hang while drying.  For the first dip leave them in the wax one full minute to allow the wick to soak up the wax.  Thereafter keep dipping until they reach your desired width.  When you pull them out hang them over a dowel or a rolling pin to dry.  This process will usually take a few hours so give yourself ample time.  Let them sit for a day before using them. 

Hand lotion:  1 part beeswax, 4 parts olive oil- heat the beeswax and mix in the olive oil.  You can add essential oils but that is optional. Mix thoroughly, place in a small container while still liquid.  It will harden up.

Chapstick:  2 parts coconut oil, 1 part beeswax a few drops of vitamin E.  This can also be used as a hand salve.  Use a cheese grater to get small pieces of beeswax.  Heat these, mix, then use.

Honey is amazing when I think about the health properties it has.  It is full of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals.  It tastes great and can be substituted for sugar in smaller ratios.  I am fascinated as I stand by my hive watching them come in and out interacting with each other.  Whenever someone asks me about my bees I tell them, "I don't know why I didn't do this sooner.  They are fascinating little creatures."  If you have thought about bee keeping in the past, just start.  Honey bees are very easy and beneficial to have around.      

Recipes using honey
Cough and sore throat remedy: 1 T of honey, 1 T of lemon juice, 1 c. of hot water

Soft Whole Wheat bread
2 1/2 c. very warm water
1 Tbsp. yeast
3-4 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. vital wheat gluten (secret ingredient)
1 Tbsp. dough enhancer (opt.)
1 Tbsp. Lecithin (opt.)
2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. softened butter
6-7 c. freshly ground wheat flour
Put water in mixer. Sprinkle yeast on top, then drizzle honey over it. Let sit for 3-4 minutes, or until yeast has bloomed and risen to the surface.
Mix in vital wheat gluten, dough enhancer, lecithin, salt, butter, and 1 cup flour. Slowly add 5 more cups flour. Let mixer knead dough for 8-10 minutes, then add more flour if the dough is still sticking to the sides. Add flour until dough pulls away.
Take dough out and knead on OILED surface. CUT, do not tear dough into 2 equal parts, and shaped into loaves. Place in greased bread pans, and allow to rise 1 hour uncovered. Place in cool oven and turn on to 350°F.
Bake for 30-35 minutes.
Remove from pans immediately, brush tops with butter or spray with a fine mist of water. I usually let them cool to room temperature while enjoying a few pieces with jam or honey, then slice completely and store in bread bags. I recommend freezing and thawing out the pieces as you need them - it is not hard, they defrost very nicely. Just make sure not to put it in the freezer while it is still warm, or the pieces will stick together and break when you try to pull them out.


Adams, John, 1972: Beekeeping: The Gentle Craft
Delaplane, Keith, 2007: First Lessons in Beekeeping
English, Ashley, 2011:Homemade Living: Keeping Bees with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Tend Hives, Harvest Honey & More   
MacBride, Roger Lea, 1995: In the Land of the Big Red Apple (Little House series)
Readers Digest, 1981: Back to Basics

Friday, March 15, 2013

We came late to the prepping party.  We didn’t own any guns.  We lived paycheck to paycheck in a suburban area.  We couldn’t afford to buy property in Idaho, while it’s still a dream.  We have slowly stocked up on short term and long term food and water, bought heirloom seeds and learned to garden, loaded up on firewood for two huge fireplaces for cooking and warmth, but that’s about it.  Recently our son, honorably discharged from the Armed Services, came home to start his life as a civilian.  He owned a 9mm and promptly proceeded to purchase a .22 handgun for ma and pa.  The problem was, we couldn’t find any ammo, anywhere.  We are a long way from being prepared, but better off than most people we know.  We decided to get a guard dog.  The difference between a guard dog and a watchdog is the guard dog is trained to protect the family using aggression, while the watchdog will alert the family by barking and making a fuss (with not much to back it up).  Our Brittany Spaniel is a good watchdog.  She barks at every new sound, when she needs to outside, and when she thinks it’s time to eat.  I think she trains us.

After searching for the right dog, we stumbled upon good fortune.  An acquaintance, a breeder and trainer, was looking to place her prized purebred German Shepherds trained in Schutzhund (google it or youtube it) with good families for personal reasons.  Schutzhund trained dogs learn to control their drive and learn to obey the owner even when very excited.  We gratefully met the dogs and selected a lovely 5 yr old gal who had won awards in self-defense, provided puppies over the years, and who was ready to relax with a good family.  If you didn’t know this gorgeous animal, she would scare the daylights out of you if you met her in a dark ally.  Our experience with her so far, is that she is obedient, playful, loving, and loyal.  She bonded quickly with our small family, including our existing family dog.  Our Brittany Spaniel was quite put out with the very big Shepherd invading her space, but the Shepherd helped her along by being respectful and careful.  They now can eat and nap in close proximity to one another.  It only took 48 hours for the dogs to come to terms with one another.

Our goal is to ensure our new dog doesn’t forget her good training and we have some planned exercises with her former owner to learn the Schutzhund commands and routines.  It is amazing that you don’t need to collar or leash this dog.  She responds immediately to voice commands and hand motions.  One afternoon she decided to explore the neighbor’s backyard (we have very low fences between yards).  With one firm call of her name, she turned around immediately and raced back to me, almost apologetically.  Impressive.  I’m not sure my Brittany Spaniel would have been so obedient.  She would have played hide and seek for a while first.

Schutzhund training includes tracking, obedience, and protection.  The most important part to understand about protection is that the dog has been trained to attack upon command, but more importantly to quit the attack by command.  The bite force of a German Shepherd, depending upon size and ferocity, is quite strong as compared to other dogs.  However, this is not an out of control attack dog.  This is a dog that works on command and quits working on command.  She only barks if confronted with a threatening situation.  She hasn’t made a peep since we’ve had her.  We are learning the German commands, but were assured by the trainer that she is very smart and will adapt quickly to our version of the commands without a problem.  This gave us a great sense of confidence. 

Some people believe that getting an aggressive-tempered guard dog is the right way to go, but how do you know that dog will not attack one of your
sweet grandchildren, the mail carrier, or a neighbor walking his or her dog?  One of my daughters is terribly afraid of German Shepherds having been bit by the neighbor’s Shepherd when she was a young teenager.  That dog took a huge bit out of her thigh, requiring a trip to emergency and many stitches.  She still has scars and is terrified.  The dog was not teased or threatened in any way; it just decided to attack for no good reason while the children were playing in the front yard.

One of the web sites I found that provided good information on what type of dog to get for personal protection was Cesar's.  Cesar listed the top 10 dogs in this order from best to least protection dogs:

1.       Bullmastiff – very big dogs
2.       Doberman Pinscher – need room, very fast, very smart
3.       Rottweiler – big, loyal
4.       Komodor – needs socialization to become a family pet
5.       Puli – very active and love to bark
6.       Giant Schnauzer – requires strict training
7.       German Shepherd – calm, smart, reacts quickly to threats
8.       Rhodesian Ridgeback – strict training required
9.       Kuvasz – very territorial
10.   Staffordshire Terrier – requires strict training and socialization

You can do your own research and talk to other dog owners.  Our choice was to find a highly trained and skilled German Shepherd for family loving and protection since we didn’t have the fortitude or experience to train one from puppyhood.  Every family is different and has different needs.  We wanted to snuggle by the fireside with our protection animal, as well as expect her to attack an intruder.  Purebred Shutzhund trained shepherds can cost into the thousands of dollars.  We were graced with a great deal by a loving trainer after searching for months online for the right dog, so I don’t suspect you will find the same kind of deal.  However, selecting a guard dog should be part of your preparation plans. 

Should SHTF, home invasions are expected to commence by the have-nots. The CCW By State web site provides home invasion statistics for 2011.  According to the web site:

“…1 in 5 homes in the US will be broken into or experience some sort of home invasion – in other words, more than 2,000,000 U.S. families!”  Other statistics cited: 8,000 home invasions occur every day in North America, 720 forcible rapes occur every day (that’s 1 every 2 minutes), 1,440 robberies occur every day (1 every minute), 4,320 violent crimes per day (1 every second), 2,468 grave assaults per day (1 every 35 seconds), 8,640 burglaries per day (1 every 10 seconds), and 28,800 property crimes (1 every 3 seconds)."

You may live in a low crime area, as we do, but should SHTF expect the aforementioned statistics to skyrocket.  These statistics cover all of North America, but just think about it.  I confessed to my husband that I had slept better than I had in a long time, since we brought the Shepherd home.  She hears what I cannot and is alert even while resting.  We all need our sleep to remain alert and make good decisions.

While you, like us, wait out the ammunition shortage, think about investing in a guard dog.  I would rather have our dog scare off would be intruders prior to using what little ammunition we have and save those bullets for worst-case scenarios.  Do your research and understand your family needs.  Understand your own limitations in regards to breeding, raising, and training a guard dog.  It is a huge commitment.  Don’t think you can go to the pound and pick up a Doberman or Pit Bull (which are plentiful at the pound) and hope for protection.  The dog may turn on you, your family members, or neighbors if not properly trained and socialized.  And the neighbors will sue.  You don’t want to stick out as the one house in the neighborhood everyone is afraid to walk by and be subject to a police visit for suspicion of having an aggressive and dangerous dog.  We made the choice to invest in a mature, fully trained animal rather than go it alone.  Good luck and good hunting.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A preface: This article is not about the perfect excursion to relieve your tensions regarding coming doom and gloom. If you need a vacation from your constant worry, then you have become slave to it. Slaves don't get to take holiday in Babylon! I wanted to share with friends and family some holidays that I feel were instituted specifically with the prepper in mind.

Many of us are well aware of the practical advantages of observing the sabbath. For those of faith it becomes obvious through practice. Those who are not religious but still enjoy a day of rest will doubtless recognize that this day of laziness is not wasted. Not only does it offer us time to relax and recharge, but time to reflect on the six days of work (or perhaps lack of.).

My family have long been observant of the sabbath but had never observed other festivals of the Bible. (I don't propose to convince the reader whether these festivals are commanded or not of modern generations, however.) I have chosen to celebrate them with my family and teach them to my children.

The keeping of these celebrations offers practical advantages to the faithful which only experience reveals fully and words do not suffice.

I have decided to only write about the two holidays with which I am most familiar and for which I have the most affection. Others more experienced may rightly point out that I deny justice to the wonderful holidays I have not included. But, my experience is limited by our slow rate of travel round the sun and lack of encouragement I received from our local spiritual community. Of the major holidays required of the ancient Hebrew people, I find most useful the holidays of Pasach and Sukkot, otherwise known as passover and tents/tabernacles.

Celebrating these holidays starts by finding them. It's not as simple as looking to the calendar and saying "Look, July 4th. Fireworks!". Yet it is simple none the less, and does not require inspection of a device that must be carried with you or placed on your wall. Every small child learns quickly that the sun passes across the sky during the day and the setting sun marks the end of outdoor playtime. Some (my children) learn that time of day and direction can be generally ascertained by watching for this sign. What was once common knowledge to the lonely shepard and astrologer alike and is no longer common knowledge, is that by watching the moon it is possible to determine what day of the month it is with a small margin of error. It won't help determining the days of the civil or gregorian calendar, of course. Noting the phases and completion of moons and counting them will help you determine when to have all of your nuts and berries packed away in your squirrel nest and when you should expect to emerge to plant your crops and assist in livestock giving birth. When you have been cut off from normal social contact and modern media, and your 20xx calendar doesn't arrive in the mail because there is no USPS or Fedex, and when you have long forgotten whether it's Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, or August, or September, the moon will be there for you!

The first sighting of a crescent moon indicates the beginning of the month. There are differences among observers regarding whether the day of the crescent or the day before is to be regarded as day one in the month, however I am content that the idea serves as a model for a people reliant upon providence of nature or deity. Meetings among remote groups of related or united people can easily be arranged in advance without need of device simply by counting the passage of days from the sighted crescent, which will appear the same day for my family in Oklahoma as our relatives and friends in neighboring states and communities. The anticipation of celebration or solemn ceremony heightens awareness of the passing days and lends to a more accurate count. There is always the possibility of cloud coverage for a particular region, in which case some communities may not be able to sight the crescent. For the benefit of those whose sighting is obscured, ancient Israelite communities that had clear view and could sight the crescent would sound a horn at high elevation enabling other expectant peoples or individuals to begin a count regardless of cloud coverage. The use of this horn of course is to protect against the margin of error previously mentioned.

Exodus 12 contains the first mention of my Prepper's holiday. It is a document that modern scholars can agree has been used for more than two thousand years and contains the story of an ancient people fed up with slavery. When the protagonist Joseph arrived in a foreign land he found wealth and prosperity after great ordeal. This wealth and prosperity was shared for many generations but ultimately his descendants found themselves slaves to the system that had been of such benefit. Many patriots today can relate to this predicament. In preparation for the coming declaration of freedom for these people, a holiday was provided. This holiday is not simply a time to munch down, or hope for a new toy. It is a mental and physical preparation for the conditions required of a free people. Passover approaches and it is fitting that I should share this event first.

The holiday is determined by counting 14 days from the sighting of the first crescent of the spring, at which point the moon will appear nearly full. The light provided by the full moon allows for nighttime activity which may be regarded as clandestine by those not participating. On the first night an animal is slaughtered. It is to be a year old male sheep or goat. The practical reasoning for this is not obvious to those who don't tend some sort of livestock, but those of us who witness a large number of hatched cockerels or bucklings kidding in spring, quickly adapt to the idea of dispatching the year old rooster that has begun attacking guests, or the young buck, newly invigorated with his masculine hormones, decides he's going to begin ramming you. Because new bucklings are born, and the yearlings have already done business with the does, these guys are obvious candidates for culling before the big break from captivity.

Instructions for the holiday include placement of a sign upon the dwellings of confederated parties in order to prevent death by friendly fire. Participants are instructed to prepare along with the culled yearlings, bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. You will find that edible bitter herbs are abundant for the wilderness traveler, and that flat dry bread packs nicer and lasts longer than the puffy and moist Wonderbread that we use to encase a picnic lunch. The meat is to be entirely consumed the first night. None is left to rot, attract scavengers, or be confiscated. All of this activity is done with awareness of the events to come and so the instruction to eat with cloak tucked into belt, shoes on the feet, and staff in hand is a protocol for SHTF preparedness. On this night (and every full moon) our family checks survival gear and makes certain that everything is ready to go should the need arise to head out the door forever to secure the blessings liberty.

Instructions for the holiday include seven days during which unleavened bread is to be prepared. In the zeal to produce a bread nearly void of yeast it is necessary to remove all yeast from the house in order to prevent airborne yeast from infecting the dough. This requires thorough cleaning and inspection of the home. In the process of looking for something so tiny and seemingly insignificant as invisible yeast, you will uncover every other imaginable flaw in your dwelling as well. Discipline in making this activity a yearly occurrence will provide the practitioner with a deeper situational awareness of his or her fortress and improvements that need to be made over the following year.

I have read that COSTCO is offering 6 gallon pails of long term storage foods. This may or may not be practical for you. For "do it yourself" types the preparation of unleavened bread serves as a wonderful model for homemade meals that pack lite, last long, and leave no plastic package behind as evidence of travel route. During these seven days the practitioner rests from labor and prepares mind and body for dangerous adventure and develops resolve concerning the decision to be free. As the full moon wanes, light sensitivity of the observer adjusts to the change resulting in excellent nighttime vision in comparison to those not preparing for the event or recently acclimated to operating by moonlight.

Moses told the Israelites to keep this tradition for all generations to come. It is a constant reminder of the path from slavery to freedom coupled with some very logical strategies to continually prepare for recurrent need.

The second holiday I want to share with you is Sukkot, also called festival of the tents or "booths." It is first mentioned in the book of Exodus chapter 23. After the exciting events surrounding the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, these newly freed people endured forty years of life on the run, living like vagrants in temporary shelters built from whatever they could scrap together in the wilderness. To be sure, this was a hard thing. Though slaves, these people had been living in modern homes according to Egypt's standards and had no experience with "camping out". They were apparently accustomed to fresh produce from the market and found no vendors in the barren Sinai Peninsula. Freedom is beautiful, but it is not easy.

The festival of tents is practiced in remembrance of the condition freed slaves often find themselves in. Upon release from incarceration, a felon may quickly learn that he has difficulty finding housing, employment opportunities may not be sufficient to provide adequate nutrition, and his social interaction and advancement among those not sharing this sad state is stifled by stigma. Newly obtained freedom is like this, and this is the situation faced by that ancient tribe.

Instructions for the practice of this holiday are found in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 29. Again this festival is found by sighting the crescent in the seventh moon and counting 15 days, when the moon should be fullest. The practice involves the building of a temporary shelter of locally obtained materials. Presumably the Israelites used very crude materials to build dwellings. In our family we camp out and cook in our Sukkot booth for seven nights. We build pole structures from cut or fallen limbs and cover with jute cloth made for deer blinds, lining the interior with cheap lightweight tarps as windbreak/insulation. We build our stove from clay and/or stone found at the location. Everything is done under the assumption that we have limited resources for this temporary situation. This entire planned event forms a real impression on the mind of a child. They love to have a go at making their own structure, and starting their own fire to cook their own food. It is a holiday event that celebrates the accomplishment of being able to make it on your own without the luxuries of the place you left behind. Following through every year with this practice at a prescribed date allows the participants to gauge attained growth and develop a sense of which deficiencies need to be addressed. This holiday along with passover and feast of weeks forms a chain of celebrations which coincide with important harvests. We found in our days spent living in the Sukkot booth this past year that aside from the hay harvest we were wrapping up with, the wild grape vines were full of ripe fruit and the hackberry, pear, and persimmon trees which dot the Oklahoma landscape were covered in ripening little blessings as well. We consumed piles of wild grapes during our celebration and made puckery faces eating the persimmon flesh.

All of the preparations I have described herein are very basic, and common knowledge to the readers of this blog. My hope is to share a practical method of incorporating productive behaviors into, or understanding them to be present within, ancient traditions and festivities which I find most wholesome to embrace. When practiced with regularity like a fire drill, and with the attention which accompanies exciting events and holidays, preparedness can become an enjoyable tradition for your family that will endure for generations. If these are not your traditions or you don't feel comfortable practicing traditions foreign to you, find these practical applications within the tradition of your people. If you have no traditions, it's time to start some!

To follow up on chicken coop design article "A Newbie's Perspective on Raising Chickens", please consider: 

My first coop had chicken wire all the way down to the ground.  The possums would get one on each side at night, bounce the chickens from side to side (chickens are stupid at night) and then they would grab one through the wire and extrude them through the wire eating as they went.  Within a month they were all gone.  The whole thing was very disturbing.

My new coop has plywood sides with hardware cloth (1/2" squares) on the upper part.  As in the article, mine is closed in with plywood siding on three sides (1/2 way on the ends) and open at the top on the remaining sides with siding on the bottom part (all the way around)  The closed in area has the nesting boxes.  I did a closed in room behind the nesting boxes so I can access the boxes by lifting a small door in each box on the rear wall.

In the chicken run area, I used chicken wire at the top and roof but I used hardware cloth for the first two feet off the ground.  Raccoons and possum are proficient climbers and will easily access the coop mentioned yesterday.  There is also nothing to stop an owl or chicken hawk.  We have panthers and I am sure an open top will not stop them.  if you put a pressure treated wood piece at the bottom perimeter in the dirt as a nailer, it will be very difficult for an animal to dig in.  I have not had any problem.  I did use cypress fence lumber in the beginning and that has rotted out.
Additionally, I put a thin stainless floor over pressure treated plywood in my coop, sloped it slightly towards one wall, left an small 3/4" gap under the wall bottom plate which is what the studs are fastened to  (supported on short 3/4" wood blocks every two feet) and I put a 3/4" piece of wood in the gap (loose)  to keep the snakes out.  Removing the wood plug allows me to wash down the floor.  If you taper the wood block and point the taper to the inside, it will funnel the waste out.

I am having a problem with something getting my larger birds during the day while they are free range, mainly the turkeys but the loss is manageable.  A fake owl has stopped most of my chicken hawk losses during free range.
In my garden area next to the coop, the chicken wire buried in the ground has rusted away and this weekend project is to put another wood nailer on top of the first one to refasten the shorter wire.

And regarding the recent article on underground caches I must mention you need to put a hard secondary cap over a rubber cap or a plastic bucket that is buried at a shallow depth.  This protective secondary cap can be made of thicker hard plastic, aluminum, steel, or pressure treated plywood.  I have cows (and they would collapse a rubber cap or a bucket.  A metal cap prevents that.  Of course metal will show up with a metal detector which would be good for you if you are caching so that would be bad if you have unwanted people searching.  With a cap, you can also use a probe to help relocate your items if the soil is not rocky. If you bury deep enough, you could use a dummy scrap metal piece above the cap to fool a coin shooting metal detector.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mr. Rawles and Readers,
I would like to make an additional comment on the well written article “A Newbie’s Perspective on Raising Chickens”.  It is true, that most of the hatchery breeds of chickens have lost their inclination to brood, however a few breeds still maintain their skills as good brood hens.  We purchased three Silkie chickens two years ago and I have been amazed at their tenacity toward both laying and setting eggs.  One hen tried for six weeks to set eggs in the pen in the middle of a snow drift in February and March.  She was so persistent that I had to build a small shelter over her to protect her.  Another hen tried twice to set a clutch of eggs.  She even continued to set after her eggs were destroyed by another hen.  I purchased three baby chicks from the local feed store and snuck them under her one evening about dusk.  She promptly stood up with a startled “BOK” and settled down on those babies.  It was an instant bond.  She is once again setting this spring.

I would also like to extol the virtues of the Silkie breed roosters.  We have had a couple of regular breed roosters that were brutal to both our hens, and us.  I finally had to dispatch them to chicken heaven.  We now have a Silkie rooster.  Silkies are a smaller breed and the males are very mild-tempered.  Because of the smaller size, they don’t tear up the hens (or the owners) like the large breeds.  Roosters are not only necessary for breeding but they provide protection to the flock.  They will sound a loud alarm when an intruder is in the area or a predator flies over head.  The hens know to immediately get under cover.  Roosters also alert hens to especially good food when they are free ranging.

I don’t recommend getting all of your flock in the Silkie type or any other small breed.  Definitely mix up the flock for size, temperament, cold hardiness and productivity.  Some of the old breeds work well like the Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks and Orpingtons.  These have proven to be hardy and consistent layers.  Because we live in an Alpine area near a ski resort, I have found the Leghorns to be inferior in length of time they produce as well as hardiness.  I have also found that on bitter cold nights, I need to bring my little Silkie hens in at night and house them in a cage in the basement.
Regardless of the breed, chickens are guaranteed to provide enjoyment and eggs in the right setting.  Of all the “farm” animals, they are one of the easiest to raise and keep.
Thank you for all you do through Christ, - Heather S.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I wanted to comment on this article.  I thought it was a great play by play of getting chickens and keeping them for eggs.

Just a few comments about the article and some tips I've learned over the years (mistakes I made myself) that I figure could help Adventane and others reading the article.
1.  It's common for a group of hens to find a preferred nest and use it as a community nest.  I commonly find two hens in the same nest.
2.  The crumbles are great for smaller birds but unfortunately for larger laying hens and other mature birds they can be a waste of money. Chickens are notorious for scratching it all out to find the perfect grain.  Pellets are a better choice and reduce waste IMHO.  Scratch grain is more than necessary during the winter when some animals look for high sources of fiber (it apparently helps them warm).
3.  For keeping some grass growing inside runs you can always place a grazing frame inside.  This is small wooden frame with 1/2" hardware cloth covering.  The chickens can't scratch it up but they can take advantage of the grass peeking through.
4.  Unfortunately most hatchery chickens have had the broodiness bred out of them.  Adeantane should not be worried about introducing new hens.  The adaptation period is generally short and mostly painless.

Thanks, - Jason A.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

More than fifteen years ago my wife and I began collecting a year’s supply of food.  Once we’d collected almost 20 cases of food in #10 cans, we pretty much let the matter slip from our thoughts.  It wasn’t until about six years ago that we began to realize that we didn’t really know what we had, or how long it might last.  That led us to thinking about what else we needed, and eventually we stepped with full intent into the prepping mindset.  We recently moved out of the urban shadow of a major US metropolis and into a small ‘Mayberry’-type town.  We found new friends, one of whom has a flock of about half a dozen laying hens.  After hearing his occasional story and anecdote over the months, my wife got it into her head that we needed to also do something like that.

Now whatever the reader might think of me or my masculinity for bowing to my wife’s wishes in such a crazy idea, let me only say that you haven’t known her for as long as I have, and one of the most important things I’ve learned is that she can be truly inspired by God.

At first I moved slowly.  We don’t have the land for raising flocks of chickens, and I don’t know yet if it’s even permitted in our town.  However, I did some reading and some internet searches and learned a few things.  While I was doing that she was actually working on the project.  She spoke frequently with friends about our/her plans until she found a nearby family that had the land and might just be persuaded to join in her reckless scheme.

We met to discuss the matter, sharing what little we all knew, and honestly, some of it was laughable.  But not letting ignorance stand in the way of progress, the two wives decided to go ahead and order a small flock.  Then they told us husbands that we’d better get moving on putting together a coop and a protected yard.  Not much can motivate a man more than the concern of disappointing his beloved, so we men-folk got started.  So here are the details of our joint effort, and some lessons learned.  (Full disclosure; I have no financial interest in any products or businesses that I may name, and will receive no compensation for any positive reviews.)
Our Girls, The Hens

Our wives ordered a flock of a dozen Sussex hens.  They are a reliable laying breed with good cold weather resistance, and this was useful, as we can have snow on the ground for about half of the winter days each year.  They were shipped together and were a month or two short of their standard laying age when they arrived, but I understand that gives them a little time to finish maturing and to become acclimated to their new home.  They are docile birds, (ours are brown in color,) and tend to greet us when we enter their yard, sometimes following us and pecking gently at shoelaces or socks.  They are still nervous at being picked up, but rarely struggle when I do it.  I’ve been told that our friends’ children can pick them up and sometimes even cradle them on their backs without the girls getting frantic.

They lay brown eggs.  The first ones laid were small, slightly larger than golf balls, but now they are all normal in size.  A few are double yolks, but this is rare.  They do have a slightly stronger flavor than store-bought eggs, but not as strong as the wild goose eggs that I’ve sometimes found in this area.

When they arrived we saw that they had all undergone de-beaking, or beak trimming.  This has become a common practice with laying hens, as it removes about 20 or 30% off the tip of the beak.  This reduces the severity of any injury if pecking occurs within the flock.  This hopefully prevents the hens from eventually descending into cannibalism.  The job done on our girls’ beaks appeared to have been a little rough, but I’ve seen no evidence that it causes them any current discomfort.  When they’ve taken food from my hand it’s felt like tapping my palm firmly with an index finger.  A sharp beak would probably have felt more like getting poked with a pencil point.  That is only supposition, however.  I cannot offer more of an opinion either for or against the process of de-beaking in domestic fowl.

Our friends’ oldest son takes care of most of the daily feeding and watering.  My wife and I come by when our schedules permit, which averages 30 to 60 minutes twice a week.  We try to let the girls out to scratch in the field.  The daily care is done mostly by them, but we help out where we can.  Let’s be honest; a 12 year old boy probably has a lot of other things he’d rather do than farming chores, so it’s only fair that we help out without complaining.
Their Shelter

Our partner was able to collect scrap lumber from his job and used that to build the coop.  It measures about 6 feet square with a 7 foot ceiling.  A single light bulb is always on, as we understand it helps the girls in the laying process if their day isn’t too short.  I expect we’ll turn it off in the summer time.   There are enough laying boxes for each of the girls to have their own, but we’ve seen that they tend to share.  We’ll frequently find three eggs in one box and four in another, indicating that they aren’t territorial.  They like to clump them together.  There are three horizontal perching rods inside, each about 3 feet long, for them to sleep on at night.  Access is via one  door for us and two for the girls.  Two are recommended in case one of the girls tries to block one in a dominance display.  The coop itself was built on stilts.  This provides protection from rodents that would otherwise nest under the floor, and it also tends to keep smaller children from climbing up inside without  adult supervision, as the first step is about 24 inches.  This entire structure was built in one side what may have been an old horse stable; it measures about 13x20 feet and is open on two adjacent sides.  This provides some wind protection, but even better rain and snow protection, as the coop was built under the existing roof.  This gives the girls some room for scratching and exercise.  Due to the slope of the land, some rainwater tends to flow in under the walls.  I’m working to improve the drainage so the girls don’t have to walk in muddy areas.

I was in charge of the fencing, and my wife and I dug about 30 feet of a 2-foot deep trench before finding out the high cost of the fencing I’d had in mind.  (I’d read that extending the heavy fencing deep underground would deter almost all digging predators.)  After apologizing and filling in the trench, I rigged electric fencing around their little yard.  I used single-strand wiring and an 8-foot grounding rod, and ran two lines in an alternating horizontal pattern starting at about one inch above the ground level and ending about 6 feet up.  The strands are 2 inches apart lower down, and the spacing increases after every few strands, so the upper lines have an 8-inch separation.  Above the final strand is a 2-foot gap to the roof, but I figure no predators will be able to jump that.  Electrical power is available to the stable, so that is used to power the system.  I chose a Dare Products Enforcer, model DE 60.  It’s rated to cover 4 acres of fencing, and provides .15 joules of kick.  I usually test it each visit by touching one hand across two wires and getting snapped.  I once tried touching the soil and a wire with opposite hands, and the jolt across my chest was more like a fist-punch.  I’ve not tested it that way since.

The wires are strung on the outside of the 6x6 beams that support the roof.  I rigged a 24-inch width of standard chicken wire around the inside of the beams to prevent the girls from reaching through and getting shocked.  However one day I was inside scattering dry grass and they were outside when one of the girls took off like a shot, quite angry and loud.  Seems she’d gotten a little too close and learned for herself what the yellow wiring can do.

The other two walls of their enclosure are old 4x8 plywood panels, and in most places they don’t quite extend to the ground.  This would have offered an easy entrance to any predator willing to dig for a few minutes.  Rather than slap wire fencing vertically on the wall, I laid it horizontally on the ground under the wall.  The fencing is 2”x4” welded wire, 18 gauge I believe, 3 feet wide.  About 4 inches extends into the chickens’ yard and the rest is outside, staked down in several places to prevent it from being dragged or tripped over.  Any predator digging at the base of the wall would have its efforts immediately frustrated.  I expect that some ground cover will grow up through it in the spring, helping to both hide and anchor it.
We purchase 50-lb sacks of layers crumbles, and they currently cost about $16.50 each.  ‘Crumbles’ is a mixture of rough-ground grains and has the consistency of cornmeal.  The girls have no problems with the feed, meaning they’re showing no evidence food fatigue.  I’m contemplating getting an extra bag of scratch grains feed.  Crumbles feed only gets lost on the ground when I’ve scattered it for them.  ‘Scratch’ consists of whole grain kernels, which will be easier to see and will provide them some variety.  Over the new year’s holiday I was delayed several days in getting a fresh bag.  That meant our friends had to find makeshift food, and it wasn’t fair to them or the girls.  The extra bag of scratch grains will provide a backup food source, and it has a longer shelf life than the crumbles.

The food is currently stored inside a galvanized steel trash can to remove the risk of attracting rodents. We suspend their feeding and watering trays about 8 inches off the ground for the same reason.

The water supply is susceptible to freezing, and one of the mornings I visited I had to chip the ice off the surface.  Since then I rigged a 60 watt bulb inside a half-cinder block, and set the water tray on top instead of suspending it.  It’ll keep the water warm enough, but the red glow from the plastic tray is kind of spooky.  It is intended to only be used when cold weather threatens, as it did for about a week recently.

The girls like a variety of foods, and kitchen leftovers are sometimes much appreciated.  “Sometimes” refers to both the food and the delivery method.  For example, they don’t like carrots.  Same with an over-ripe zucchini.  The ignored a half-apple someone tossed in, until it was stepped on; then the girls loved the resulting mush.  They love breads, but tossing in a three-inch heel from a stale loaf of french bread was useless.  They can’t eat it until it’s broken up, and they need us to do that for them.  I heard that chickens like raisins, but so far ours don’t.  We’re still learning.

Obviously, we’re trying to make this a working partnership, so finding faults or making recommendations for changes has to be done… diplomatically.  Only the condition of the water and feed get promptly mentioned to the parents if we find them empty.

Our Sussex hens are quiet birds.  They’ll ramp up their chatter when they hear someone approaching, because they’re curious to see who it is.  They seem to get along well; I’ve seen a few brief instances of pecking between some of them, but so far there’s not a bird who stands out as either the alpha or the omega.  They sometimes scare my 5-year old grandson when they get close, but he’s getting used to them and asked to see them when he was last at our place for a sleep-over.

As mentioned, we let them out occasionally to scratch in the surrounding field.  Their enclosed yard isn’t overly large, so they’ve scratched up what little vegetation there was.  I make an effort at each visit to pull up several handfuls of long grass from the surrounding field and scatter it in their yard.  It was originally intended to help soak up the puddles that sometimes formed after the rain.  Instead I found that the girls also enjoy eating it!  It also now provides a place to hide other food/treat items that they can discover as they satisfy their instinct to scratch.

Our area has its share of predators.  Raccoons and foxes are probably the most prevalent.  Before I had the electric fencing finished and charged up a neighbor’s dog got into their yard on two separate days.  Fortunately he wasn’t large, and he seemed more interested in the birds as entertainment, rather than food.  After the fence was activated there have been no problems.  However I have seen footprints of a large canine around the fencing.  This may be why we had our greatest loss.

I previously mentioned the gap I’d left above the electric fencing.  I stopped at that height because it became unwieldy for me to stand on a chair on the damp ground, and besides, no predator would jump that high, right?  The web site says that Sussex chickens are not prone to flying when mature.  Perhaps the girls weren’t yet fully grown (although they were already laying regularly,) or perhaps some of them didn’t read the web page, but several of them showed a tendency for escapes.  They stayed close to their yard, fortunately.  At first I thought the fencing had been shut off or the wires had been loosened.  After it happened again  my daughter and I trimmed several of the primary flight feathers on one wing of each bird, so that they would be unbalanced if they tried flying again.  It wasn’t  enough; we had yet another escape.  Eventually I resolved to block the gap above the wires with a few more rows of horizontal twine, and see if that kept them in.  I didn’t act soon enough.

Just before Christmas I got a text from our partner saying that 3 of the birds had gone to heaven.  Several patches of feathers outside showed where they’d been killed and partially plucked.  It was a needless loss, due to my procrastination.  After that I promptly ran the twine above the wire, and we’ve had no more escapes.  The feathery patches are still there, and they provide a sobering reminder of my need to be a more faithful steward.
What the future holds

We’ve discussed ordering a few replacements, but from what I’ve read the addition of new birds to a flock frequently results in pecking and a period of anxiety.  Another option would be to rent a rooster and see if any of our girls want to brood.  That’s a process I’ve only read about so far, so I can’t offer anything on the subject.  I do understand that a broody hen will need to be isolated from the rest of the flock for about 2 months, until the hatched chicks are at least a month old, and that she’ll not produce again for a few months after that.  Right now that step is only in the discussion phase.

Either way, the size of the coop is sufficient that we might keep up to 20 birds.  All we would need to add would be a couple more roosting perches.

Sussex hens aren’t bred for eating, but I realize that that will be the intended finish for our girls some day.  I’m not looking forward to that because, frankly, I’ve grown rather fond of them.  Perhaps we’ll sell them to a neighbor, or maybe I’ll have to man up and do the deed.  Either way, I’ll need to prepare for it, so that I can harvest the girls as humanely as possible.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

While I am new to the world of prepping; (having just read Discovery to Catastrophe and learned of prepping society), I have lived on a farm my whole life, and have spent the last 16 years home educating and canning my way to heaven.  It appears that my grandmother and mother taught me to be a prepper when I did not even know it and gave me life skills that are severely lacking in America today.  To pay homage to them, I respectfully submit the following essay:

Raising chickens for survival is an interesting topic these days when so many suburbanites are jumping on the bandwagon of backyard poultry simply because they want fresh eggs and a useful pet.  Considering the fact that the useful life of a laying chicken is about 3 to 5 years, with 5 years being a one- egg-a -month stretch, many of these folks are left with the question of how to humanely dispose of their now beloved pet.  If they are not big on chicken and dumplings, the compost pile may be the next best alternative.  Chicken retirement homes are a costly, disease harboring alternative.  But suppose said suburbanite would like to have a last supper with their pet- where to begin? This essay will proceed from egg to table, and the reader may decide where to enter or exit the train ride.

The safest and most efficient way to begin a survival flock of chickens is to order 15 to 25 baby chicks from a hatchery and have them delivered to your home in warm spring or summer weather.  By ordering from a commercial hatchery, the chicks will be free of disease, can be vaccinated for Mereck’s disease, and will be of a predictable lineage, meaning the breed will be expected to perform to the owners’ requirements. Research breeds before ordering, and match the chick order to the climate and the intended purpose of the chickens- meat, eggs, dual purpose free range birds or natural insect control. Hatching chicks at home is a romantic idea, but may not play out in reality unless eggs from a disease free flock are available. Hatchery chicks are available by sex also, to avoid raising too many males if eggs are desired, or too many females if fast growing meat males are needed.  Take time to explore the wonderful variety of poultry breeds available for their beauty and versatility.  For instance, many new breeds of pastured poultry like the Red Ranger combine the efficiency of commercial boilers with the free ranging adaptation of older breeds.  Breeds like the Silkie and Cochin are beautiful to look at, but need more protection from weather and predators, and tend to be more interested in hatching eggs than laying them.  Game chickens and jungle fowl require little care, will roost in trees and find their own grub, within reason.  They will hatch chicks and raise them without electric help, but don’t lay that many eggs or produce much meat. Let the chips fall where they may, a weekly chicken dumpling dinner from a bird shot out a tree is okay.  If you want eggs in the winter, consider old breeds like the Russian Orloff or Sussex that are known to be good winter layers, or put a light fixture in your chicken house to stimulate egg laying.

Many heritage breeds of chickens are not available for sexing, which means the chicks will be about half roosters and half hens.  There will be lots of roosters from certain breeds that eat feed but don’t produce much meat.  For economic reasons, it is best to allow these birds to free range in pasture and sunlight, don’t worry about toughness, and allow them to become stock chickens.  Process them for slaughter at about 2 to 3 months of age, as soon as it can be determined they are roosters.  Rooster chicks tend to fight more, have redder combs, a more pointed face, long, lanky legs and shorter tail feathers than pullets.  Of course the proof is in the crow!  In order to save on feed costs and prevent overcrowding and competition with the young pullets, slaughter these birds and turn them into canned chicken stock.  Chicken stock is a very important survival food, especially if water is in short supply.  Stock is an important source of minerals in the human diet, and using it to cook beans or rice in instead of water increases the available nutrition.  It is an important cure for colds and viruses and excellent nutrition for those recovering from injury or illness.  The cookbook Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon has an excellent recipe for soup stock.  Turn all spare poultry into stock during good times, can it in quart jars with a pressure cooker, and your emergency food supply is enriched, while you have less livestock to feed and care for.  (The same can be done with bones harvested from deer, beef or goats as well.)

As soon as the chicks arrive, they need to be placed in a small enclosure indoors (like a bathtub or large storage container) with a heat lamp bulb hung in the center to bring the area to 95 degrees F. Use old bath towels. [JWR Adds: Be sure to use a towel with a cut pile rather than a loop pile, so that the chicks don't snag their claws.] This will create a non-slip surface.  The chicks will need to be brooded at 95 degrees the first week, decreasing the temperature by 5 degrees each week until outside ambient temperature is reached. Clean water and chick starter feed need to be easily accessible.  On a daily basis remove the towels, shake the manure into the compost pile and replace with another clean towel.

At about 5- 6 weeks of age, the chicks will be independent enough that they can be moved to a protected outside enclosure with roosting space and shelter.  Expect to be a good mama hen, keep them out of drafts or damp and away from predators like dogs, cats and raccoons.  Do not leave cat, dog or chicken feed out at night as this attracts predators like raccoons, opossums and skunks.  Chilling of birds is the most likely cause of poultry diseases, many of which are airborne. Keeping birds protected from extremes of weather and good hygiene reduces chances of infection when supported by proper nutrition.

Young pullets begin laying eggs at 20 weeks of age.  Most breeds of meat birds are ready to be dressed at 6-8 weeks, depending on the desired product.  Young hens need a safe, secluded place to lay eggs, and young meat birds should be restricted to small pens to encourage tender growth.  Eggs do not need to be refrigerated unless they have been washed, extra eggs can be shared with neighbors or removed from shells, whisked, and frozen.  Dispatching meat chickens or non-laying (spent) hens is not an overwhelming project with prior preparation.  A garage or well-lit shed will suffice.  Assemble the following materials:

  1. A large pot for scalding water with a few drops dish detergent, deep enough to hold water and a whole chicken. Gas camp stove or indoor rangetop.
  2. A table covered with newspapers to catch feathers from plucking and blood .     
  3. Sharp knives and kitchen scissors.
  4. Coolers of ice to chill the birds, after washing the carcass in a large sink.
  5. Storage bags or vacuum bags and sealer to  preserve the birds for freezing, or largemouth canning jars to pressure cook canned meats.

Do not feed the chickens the day you plan to slaughter them.  Use para-cord to hang the live bird by its feet (slip knotted) from a tree limb, clothes line or etc.  Use the knife or shears to cut the jugular vein below the jawbone.  Allow the bird to hang and exsanguinate until dead.  [JWR Adds: A killing cone that retrains the chicken in a head down position minimizes the flapping and blood splatter. For smaller breed chickens, a plastic milk jug with the bottom cut off and the top spout enlarged slightly will suffice. You can attach it to a tree with a couple of drywall screws. For more sturdy designs, do a web search. There are lots of designs available on the Internet.] Be prepared for flopping and blood dripping below.  Once the bird is dead, use the legs like handles and dip the bird repeatedly in the hot water until  all the feathers are wet.  Keeping the bird too long in hot water will cook the skin, too cool a water temp will make plucking difficult. Depending upon if the work is done in cool weather or hot, water temperature must be continually monitored.

Pluck the chicken, remove the head and feet.  Remove the crop, esophagus and trachea (which makes a neat whistle!) from the neck side.  Split the skin of the abdomen under the breast bone, carefully bung the rectum and remove all the entrails and the lungs.  Reserve the liver, heart and gizzard if so desired.  Wash the bird thoroughly inside and out.  It is ready to be frozen whole or cut up in parts and canned the in the pressure canner.  If the chicken is going right to the table, soak it in a mild salt water solution while chilling it.  Then prepare older birds in the crock pot for dumplings, or fry younger birds. 

Discard the entrails [forelegs, heads] and feathers in the compost pile, or feed the entrails to your self-sufficient pig.  Pat yourself on the back for graduating from the preppers school of poultry life skills.

[JWR Adds: Chicken entrails should not go in your compost pile if you live in bear country. Bury them several hundred yards away from your house, or you will have uninvited guests!]

Monday, February 4, 2013

I really learned a lot from the Cooking the Farmyard Fowl article by Irishfarmer.  My chicken flock is reaching an average of two years of age and they are laying fewer eggs.  It is time to learn how to put them into the stew pot.

I had two questions raised from that article.  How do you make a killing cone, and how do you kill and process a chicken?  I found good information at the following links:

How to Make a Killing Cone  It includes sizing information ranging from bantams to turkeys.  That page referred me to How to Kill and Process a Chicken

On another subject, I have been compiling information, such as the above, on all subjects of preparedness, by creating PDF files using the free Writer software, and storing the files onto 4GB SDHC cards, which are suitable for use in any basic Android OS type of e-reader device.  I select e-readers based on their ability to display files from SD cards and to be able to charge up from a 12VDC power source.  One such suitable device is the Pandigital Novel, which is now showing up on discount electronics web sites.  I believe that these e-readers and SD cards will be highly useful for both survival and barter in the post SHTF world.

Regards, - Curtis from Texas

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In today’s world most people will never pack an animal to move their goods from point A to point B. However it wasn’t that long ago that animal power was the primary land transport system. In a grid down scenario it may return if only briefly. I offer this article only as an introduction, or primer with a few “how to’s” and a few “how not to’s”. If only one piece of knowledge stays with you, it could be very beneficial.
Many of the things I will cover are the basic principles of packing.  Some of the knowledge may seem like small details and subtleties but these can be crucial to an uneventful trip. These are learned through experience, trial and error and thoughtful observation. Some of the skills and nuances are becoming things of the past as we as a society become too civilized. Most of the readers of this blog should understand how fragile our system has become. When the supply chain breaks down because of lack of fuel, goods and supplies if available won’t be distributed. Since most people do not have a one year supply of food on hand, options have to be considered. If there is an apple orchard only twenty miles away how will the apples be utilized? Want to trade for some? How are you going to bring them back? In your Bug Out Bag? Wagons may be put into service if available and someone has the knowledge to drive them. Packing a horse or mule, to my way of thinking, will be a better option for most people.

Pack animals can cover just about any terrain and make their way through obstacles that inhibit anything wide or not smooth enough for wheeled vehicles. They have been used though out history to connect, conquer and advance civilizations. The desire to move bigger quantities further distances led to an occupation that few think about today, “The Packer”.  It may prove valuable to at least be aware of the subject.

Saddles: The foundation of your packing equipment will depend on several key items. This includes what kind of animal you are packing, the type of cargo being transported and the availability of saddles or makeshift items to construct a saddle. This may boil down to something as simple as two bags draped over the animals back (which never works out very well). The saddles could be custom made with all the bells and whistles.

The Sawbuck: Used on horses, mules, burros and a variant on llamas and goats. Frames are generally made out of wood, oak for the crosses and something softer like pine or poplar for the bars. The bars are what rest on the animals back and are carved and shaped accordingly. Side loads are hung from the crosses with leather straps attached to the bags or panniers. In my opinion this is the best all-around saddle. It lends itself to almost any equipment and hitch.

The Decker: Very popular in the Rockies and used on horses and mules. Instead of wood crosses steel rods shaped in an upside down U in both the front and back are bolted to the bars. There are variations in shapes that help with different equipment and load scenarios. Hooks are often used on panniers to attach quickly to the saddle. A padded canvas “half breed” is incorporated with this saddle to cushion the animal from the load. It is basically a saddle pad that stays attached to the saddle. Thin pine boards in the bottom of the half breed help distribute weight across the rib cage. The basket and barrel hitches are used commonly with this saddle.

Riding saddles can be used in a variety of ways. Saddle panniers made to fit over riding saddles are quick and easy. Box and diamond hitches can be used without a problem here. A lash rope tied to the saddle horn and looped around the cantle can be tied into a basket hitch. Harder to find now, old military saddles like the McClellan can be reworked into serviceable rigs.

Saddle pads protect the animals back. Whatever you end up using should be kept clean. Caked up sweat, hair and mud will start to rub a sore in their backs. Keep the pads about three inches in front of the saddle so that it doesn’t slip back and allow the saddle bars to dig into the lower withers. Make sure that the pad is square and even before placing the saddle on. Then take your hand and push the pad up into the gullet of the saddle. This takes pressure off of the withers and will allow some air to circulate down the back bone.

Cinches should be kept clean. Wide cinches are best since they have more surface area. Narrow or old cinches that have cords broken only serve to cut the animal in half. If you want to see what getting kicked by a mule feels like, snug up a narrow dirty cinch on a cinch sore.

There are a variety of soft packs that are used on dogs and goats. Most of these hug the animal so care should be taken if hard and irregular items are placed in the packs.

Like your Bug Out Bag the saddle and rigging straps must fit the animal to work correctly and be comfortable. A breeching (or britchen) strap too low on the hind legs will inhibit movement and chaffs the skin. Same with the breast collar, by  placing it too high it can cut off the wind pipe. Saddle the animal and only snug the cinches at first. Let the pads compress and warm up especially when it’s cold. Tighten the cinches right before packing the animal. Done right, the horse or mule won’t become “cinchy”. One mule I used to pack could blow her belly up tighter than a steel drum. I would slowly take up the slack, maybe five times over ten minutes. Sometimes after loading her, the cinches would be loose and hanging down and we hadn’t gone anywhere yet. That was the way that mule preferred it. As long as the load was balanced she would go all day without a problem. Often at the end of the day all of my mules would come into the camp with their cinches swinging. They were working hard, sweating buckets and losing weight. It’s best if they stay snug but shows how balanced loads are key.

Hitches: Diamond, box, basket and barrel hitches are what are mostly used. There are many others and many variations. I have decided not to try to describe these. Some form of visual instruction is vital in my opinion. Pictures, videos or personal instruction will get you started on the right path. I will offer some tips learned from personal experience and observation of other professional packers. Often when watching someone else I learned what not to do!
-Lash ropes should be around 45 feet long and lead ropes 10 to 12 feet. Don’t short yourself.  1/2 inch to 5/8 inch diameter is good to work with. Cotton poly blends are nice, they don’t stretch as much as straight cotton. If cotton gets wet and freezes you are all done, you’ll need a saw to get any knots out. Manila is better in the cold and wet.
-Tie it right the first time. A living breathing animal is a huge variable in the equation. If the hitch is not right there will be a problem. It may be small and fixed quickly, or it could be quite a wreck.
-Don’t let excess rope dangle. Stumps, brush, logs, rocks and feet all have a way of “grabbin a-holt” of a loose rope.
-Any metal, such as cinch hooks, should not be in contact with the animal.
-Some people feed the lash rope through the spreader strap connecting the cinches. I don’t. If you have a wreck this can compound your problems. It’s harder to take the hitch off when your mule is standing knee deep in a creek with his load under his belly. During a wreck this strap is often broken any way.
-Always face the cinch hooks backwards so they don’t catch brush and branches.
-Always use the most effective and simplest hitch for that particular load. Don’t weave a spider web.

Loads: Amazing things have been moved with animals, grindstones, suspension bridge cables, timbers, wood cook stoves, eggs, guitars, gold and silver ore, generators and grandmas rocking chair. There are two main considerations here, the animals comfort and a balanced load. Without either one your load will be lost or the animal hurt. Now packing is one of those jobs where there are many ways to accomplish the end result. Endless arguments are made on the best way to pack a particular load. Do we split it in half? Box or basket hitch? Wouldn’t the diamond be better? In any event we can use some generalities in using the right tool for the right job.
-Canvas panniers: These are great for general purpose packing. Remember to place flat or soft items on the side going next to animal.
-Boxes or hard panniers: Use for canned goods, loose or heavy items. Provides protection to items like; eggs, pie, whisky bottles and Coleman lanterns.
-Slings: These are made of a sheet of canvas, maybe five feet long by two feet wide. At the top is attached a thin board with leather ears that the load hangs off of the saddle by. Two leather straps on the outside support the weight and wrap the canvas around the load. Great for duffle bags, hay bales, ice chests, cook boxes and the like. Quicker than having to manty some items up.
Manty: Basically a big canvas sheet wrapped or folded around smaller objects and tied up with half hitches to make a big duffle. It is used a lot with the decker pack saddle and the basket hitch.
-Top pack: This is gear placed over the animals back and onto each of the side loads. It’s usually lighter and softer than the rest of your load, like a bed roll. This can be shifted off center to help with balance.
-Pack covers are thrown over the tops of loads to help secure items and protect them from the elements. 6x8 or so is about right. Tuck the edges under the load and lash rope. This prevents tears, hang-ups and keeps the load secure.
-Load weights; Yes, I know that some of you He Men out there can carry a one hundred pound bug out bag, but for how many days in a row? See, this is why I like a pack mule; I’m not carrying the weight. Or if I do carry a pack, it’s a light one, allowing me freedom of movement. So, for day in day out traveling shoot for about 20% of body weight. As an example I would pack up to two hundred pounds on a standard to large size horse or mule. THIS INCLUDES THE WEIGHT OF THE SADDLE, ROPES AND PANNIERS ETC. We usually went for no more than one hundred and fifty pounds of cargo. Once the animals are in shape they can go like this a long time with an occasional day off.

To be efficient all voids are filled in making up the load. NO WASTED SPACE! A coffee pot for example would be filled with small items or maybe your coffee beans. Packing is an art and it is a 3-D puzzle. Now I have put together some unusual combinations, but a word of caution here, use common sense. Fuels such as gasoline should be completely sealed and checked. If it should leak out it will burn the animal’s skin and leave blisters. And don’t place it with your food items.

All sharp items such as axes, saws, shovels etc. should each be in a scabbard, sheath or wrapped securely. The front and back edges of loads should not come into contact with shoulders or hips. Tender raw spots will stop any travel plans. Baler twine or Para cord are used to tie up wrapped duffels or make quick repairs to saddles and rigging. Duct tape is one of the marvels of the world. Use it for taping over axes and shovels, repair holes in tarps, smooth over rough surfaces that might come into contact with the animal, keep buckles and hooks in place. Tape ice chest handles down to stop them from “knocking out a tune” while going down the trail. An ice chest on each side makes a great load but the handles banging and clacking gets old quickly and maybe you don’t want to attract attention with undo noise.

Balance is the key to packing a load so start with the saddle in the middle of the mules back. As an animal moves down the trail the load will rock back and forth. This is natural. If the load is balanced it will stay where it is supposed to, on the animal. Many people use scales to weigh out the cargo. This helps get close. When I worked as a packer we often would have contests to see who could come closest “by feel”. Picking up fifty to seventy five pound side loads, we could often get to within a pound or two. However, this alone will not mean that your load will balance. Is the majority of the weight high or low, inside or outside of the pack? Leverage plays a part here. After hanging your loads on the saddle, the packer rocks the load by pushing down on one side. Does it move equally side to side? Think of a teeter totter. Even if each side weighs the same they may not balance on the animal due to the weight distribution in the side loads. To correct this several things can be done. First check the ears or straps of the load hanging on the saddle. Are the loads hanging equidistant down each side? One may need to hang lower. Adjust up or down so the load rocks evenly. Items can be moved from one side to the other and the top pack can be moved off center to achieve balance. These should be small adjustments only. If the loads are really out of whack they need to be repacked. After starting your trip many loads will settle and items may shift. It is critical to pay attention and watch the loads as they rock back and forth as the animal moves. After you have started no one wants to repack. Adjustments can be made on the trail by using a “pack rock”. Take a fairly flat rock weighing a few pounds and shove it under the lash ropes on the outside of the pack. This adds weight and leverage to the lighter side.

Here are a few more considerations.
-Give your animals time to negotiate obstacles; they can handle the load better if not forced into going too fast.
-If your animals are tied in a string know that they have a pecking order. Some critters are best not tied to each other.
-Never tie your lead rope hard and fast to your saddle horn. If something doesn’t break you are likely to get pulled over. Take a dally if you need, and let go when necessary.
-Don’t use oversize saddle bags. I have seen this time and again. Thirty or forty pounds of dead weight over the horses’ kidneys is not doing him any favors. At this point pack the saddle correctly and walk yourself. An out of shape horse carrying too much weight first thing in the spring heading into the mountains will die. I’ve seen it.  
-The length of the lead rope should allow the animal to lower its head to the ground or get a drink but without any slack in it. Too much slack and one of the animals will step over it. A rope up between a horses’ hind legs is uncomfortable and they will let you know it. A front foot over the lead rope pulls that leg into the air and his head down when the leading animal takes off. It’s Hard to walk that way. And it always seems to cause rope burns.
-You may want to have a troublesome load on your lead mule where you can watch it easier.
-Learn how to tie a quick release knot and a bowline.
-There are many ways to tie animals together into a string and many arguments can be made for and against each. Never tie into the load of the leading mule. This would cause the load to be pulled off the animal. The majority of the time I tied the lead rope into a weak link on the saddle of the leading mule. Usually this was baler twine or Para cord. It can be tied into the back buck or ring of the saddle. Some make a “reach” from the top rigging rings to the back middle of the saddle. Then tie in a loop of baler twine or small diameter rope for the weak leak link. This kept the mule string together but allowed them to break apart and prevent catastrophe. Although there are situations calling for it, many horses and mules have been injured or even killed because they were tied hard and fast and one of the animals miss-stepped surged forward or pulled back at the wrong time. Steep switch backs and drop offs call for more attention when pulling a long string. One animal not staying in line and going around the wrong side of a tree always makes things exciting. Many packers use a bowline to tie the pack animals together. A better knot is a modified sheep shank. A loop of the lead rope is passed through the weak link and held with the remaining tail. Two half hitches are thrown over this with the rope leading back to the animal. This method stays tight and will always untie.
-Keep your animals hydrated. They need the water just like you do.

Horses, mules, llamas, dogs, goats and other four footed critters can be a huge help in logistical support. My experience deals with horses and mules but a lot of the principle methods hold true across the board. After an initial grid down disaster and a lack of fossil fuels, people may be forced to go back to real horse power. There are several good books on packing. I think one of the best is Horses, Hitches & Rocky Trails by Joe Back. A used copy should run you around ten bucks. His illustrations alone are worth the price.

Packing in the Rockies and Sierra Nevada wilderness areas has given me many fond memories. To ride a good horse, while leading a smart looking string of mules is satisfying.  Do it around a high country lake after the snow has melted in the spring and feel connected to the universe.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hi Jim,

A couple of things worth considering for painless pet euthanasia.  This is never a pleasant subject, but:

1. Carbon monoxide poisoning.  People die of this painlessly all the time.   Prepare a setup now to connect to your vehicle exhaust (or any other gas engine exhaust) to an enclosure sized to hold your pet.

2. A person can be made unconscious simply by pressing two fingers against the juggler veins in the neck without any feeling of strangling or otherwise. It's like going to sleep (the brain is deprived of oxygen and you black out).  A prolonged application of this will cause brain damage, of course, and eventually death.  I don't know the specifics, but one might be able to find out by a medical person or veterinarian about application to a pet.

Sincerely, - Paul B.

Responding to J.M.’s letter, Advice on Disaster Pet Euthanasia, I would like to say that even living on a hobby farm and dispatching chickens, turkeys, and sheep, if it came to putting one of my dogs down before a bugout it would still be difficult. Most good dog owners realize their dogs are not “just” animals, there is some degree of person-hood there that requires consideration and compassion. They’re not human beings, but they’re also not just inert, instinct-driven things either.

Trust me that euthanasia is only stressful up to the point where you actually do the deed. After that point it is a relief, and you know you did what had to be done. You move on to the next thing on the list and the grieving can wait until things settle down a bit, and it’s not an emergency any longer.

Speaking for myself, I find it enormously comforting to realize that God probably has a purpose for them beyond this life. Not sure why that’s so comforting, I guess it’s just realizing that God has a plan and He is good beyond my wildest imagination (and I can imagine a lot!).

Ponder the implications of these tantalizing Bible verses: Psalm 36:6, Psalm 50:10-11, Psalm 145:9, Proverbs 12:10, Ecclesiastes 3:21, Romans 8:21, Revelation 4 (mistranslated in most English versions as “living creature” the word is actually “animal” – the animal kingdom is represented before the very Throne of God!), and the inclusiveness of Revelation 5:13 – 14. I don't believe that the “Lamb who was slain” will forget the lambs who were by their very being a picture of his character. I just don't believe they will be left behind in the glory to come. And that’s an encouraging thought.

That said, for me it’s a matter of making a rational decision (usually old age or illness, so far) based on criteria that my wife and I decided on long in advance of the actual need. Make a list! And when the circumstances fit that list then decide! Follow through on that decision by doing what must now be done, suck it up, do not dwell on it or stew on it or stall – just set aside your emotions for a few minutes and focus on doing it right for your animal friend.

One thing that has been a big help for us in the past is to give our dog a dose of Acepromazine, an inexpensive, commonly-prescribed veterinary drug that we have on hand for sedating our animals during trips (and there was that one hyper dog who freaked out in thunderstorms…). If you crush the tablet (and give an overdose) then mix it with a little peanut butter you won’t have any problem getting your dog to take it, and when crushed it will take effect more quickly and more profoundly.

Being sedated, your dog will not pick up your agitation/stress/fear in the crisis situation and they’ll be easier to handle, you might even need to carry them or drag them on a rug or tarp if the sedative hits before you’re ready (might only be a minute or two). I wouldn’t try to smother a dog, it takes too long, is very hands-on, and even sedated the dog may reflexively struggle. Bleeding an animal out once deeply sedated is fairly quick (with presumably little perceived pain) with a deep cut to the neck jugular vein behind the jaw (shave off the hair, if you have time, to be able to see what you’re doing there).  

Using a firearm as James Rawles described is the quickest and most humane method, just bring enough gun – dog’s skulls can be very hard in the bigger breeds (I’d recommend being sure the bullet is entering perpendicular to their skull, or nearly so). Take your time and do it by the book. If your dog is sedated but still moving around you might need to tie them to something to safely hold their head still. (Once your dog is sedated you do not want to offer them anything else to eat or drink, so be sure you’ve got the sedative dose you want on the first try.) You do not want to botch your first shot. And make sure there’s no one downrange or anywhere a ricocheting shot might go!

If you have enough Acepromazine you may be able to give a massive overdose and they will just fall asleep and stop breathing on their own. Unless you have a stethoscope and are experienced with its use you can’t assume your dog has passed on, so once you think it’s dead you’ll need to take some additional step to guarantee that fact. They’re already dead, it’s just their dead body now, and you’re just making absolutely positive. Some paracord ought to do the trick… Our dogs depend on us, if we’re going to do it we need to get it right – they’re counting on a quick, humane death and we owe them that much.

Look, I know this is a hard, hard topic to discuss! People hate to talk about death, but we MUST! Working out the final details for your beloved companion dog will be a good conversation-starter for talking about our own deaths, and the deaths we may one day be forced into inflicting in self-defense. I’m sorry it’s so hard – ask God to help you through it with clarity and peace. Jesus, after all, knows all about death… and conquered it!

I fully expect to see my dogs around the Throne of God as well as redeemed humanity, angels, cherubs, seraphim, and however many other classes and species of sentient life God has chosen for the honor. It will be a big, noisy, slobbery reunion!

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed.” – Revelation 21:4 Amen!
Trust God. Be Prepared. We can do both! - ShepherdFarmerGeek in Spokane

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mr. Rawles,
I am constantly impressed by the wealth of information that I am able to find on your web site and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and all involved for the work you do on this.  I was also wondering if you, or your readers, might be able to help me out with a certain, unsavory aspect of my preps.  

Currently, our family is overseas in a country where we are required to maintain an evacuation plan and needed supplies at all time.  I am wholly on-board with this and have done this, even when not required, no matter where in the world we have found ourselves.  This time, however, we seem to have hit a potential snag in our evacuation plan in regards to one member of the family - the dog.  We brought the dog along with us (as we have done to several other countries) and were fully aware that, in an evacuation scenario we would be legally required to bring her with us to the evacuation point.  We have no issue with this and are fully prepared should the need arise.  However, we have now been told (contrary to the information received when deciding whether to bring the dog) that the dog's presence will potentially delay my children being evacuated as quickly as possible.  This, I have a huge issue with.  I have owned this dog since long before I met my husband or had our children, but I am still fully aware that it is only an animal, and my children's safety most definitely comes first.  

Should it ever come down to my dog or my children, the dog needs to be removed from the equation, no matter how well-loved she is.  Our concern now is how to best prepare for the potential need to euthanize the dog.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to find reliable information on this subject on the internet, as the vast majority of voices on this subject spout that only a licensed vet should be allowed to handle euthanasia.  In an perfect world, that would be where I would take her, but in a chaotic, SHTF situation I will need something a bit more hands-on.  If we were stateside, we would have the ability to simply choose the proper caliber, but due to our current location, firearms are not an available solution.  

Ideally, I am looking for the quickest, most humane way to put down a dog when firearms are unavailable and without the use of drowning or baseball bats (two of the more cruel solutions presented online that I could never bring myself to use on the family pet).  She is roughly 35-40 lbs and I am no bodybuilder, so I'm assuming that attempting something bare-handed, such as snapping her neck, would be not only ineffective, but cruelly inhumane as well.  Are there human medications that could be used to put the dog to sleep?  If a knife is necessary, what type is most effective and what would be the most humane cut to make?  I have never had to dispatch an animal before so please excuse the ignorance in these questions.
Sincerely, - J.M.

JWR Replies: Readers are advised to research their state and local laws. As J.M. mentioned, it is not legal for individuals to euthanize their pets in some sissified Nanny States. The proverbial "long walk in the woods" is never pleasant for those who must pull the trigger, but a .22 to the brain is quick and painless. SurvivalBlog reader Steve N. recommends shooting squarely down into the brain at a point made at the cross of imaginary lines drawn from each eye to the opposite ear opening. The shot should be angled in such a way as to have the shot travel in a straight line to where the spinal cord would meet the brain. (Aim very carefully, make sure that you have a safe backstop and be advised that in most jurisdictions, shooting is not allowed inside city limits.) If silence is a must, then repeated hammer blows to the back of the skull work well, and generally this isn't messy. For those who are soft-hearted about their pets, I recommend asking a neighbor to do the deed. And unless you are extremely soft-hearted, you should offer to return the favor, at a later date. (This way you aren't euthanizing your own pet.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

How can a family cow be an ideal addition to your food storage and survival plan? We started our self-reliance plan with gardening.  Then we planted a few fruits and added chickens.   One day we realized that if we had a cow, we could truly be self-sufficient with our food supply.    We now raise family sized milk cows with grazing genetics in Virginia.  This article should persuade SurvivalBlog readers who own two or more acres, of the wisdom of owning a family cow. It should also answer questions we frequently hear.

Why a Cow?
Owning a cow produces milk, cream (butter, crème fraiche, sour cream, cream cheese), hundreds of cheeses, buttermilk, yogurt (which you can keep going for years), ice cream, meat (the bull calves), and manure for the garden and fields.  Raw grass-fed milk is 500% higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is has health benefits for the heart, joints, and a myriad of other things.  Raw milk has natural probiotics and enzymes to help you digest all the goodness in the milk.  In fact, we learned that 90% of people who think they are dairy intolerant, are just reacting to the processing.  We used to think that three in our family were allergic to milk but found out that they can all drink raw milk and have no reactions whatsoever.

Raw milk is probably one of the most nutritious foods on the planet and has all the amino acids.  According to history, the famous Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan would ride a mare and take a mare into the rugged winter mountains and live on raw mare's milk for weeks at a time during his battle forays.   One could survive quite a long time on raw milk.  I know people who have done raw milk fasts for weeks at a time and their health thrived.

How to Purchase a Family Milk Cow? 

One can choose to purchase a calf or a mature cow.  There are advantages to both and some of it may come down to personal preference and/or budget. 
It will be less expensive to start with a weanling.  If one starts with a calf that has been “bottle” fed (as long as the calf has been fed with the bottle in a bottle holder the calf should not become too pushy.  Otherwise, they tend to butt you as they would their mom.  That is not "cute" when they get bigger.  Make sure the calf has been raised on real milk for four months.  This insures that the rumen will properly develop so they can digest forages as an adult and not need to have much grain, especially if you get what we call grazing genetics, which I will explain later.  It also sets the cow up for a healthier immune system for life. 

If you purchase a weanling, we suggest halter breaking and leading it while young.  Also, touch her all over.  Touch her on her belly, legs, udder, etc.  Make her move her leg back like you would if you were going to sit down and milk her.  Give her a voice command.  I say, “Move your leg back”.  Once your calf has bonded to you, it takes much less time to maintain that familiarity.  If your calf gets too pushy, correct them as mama would.   A smack to the nose, which is tender, and a sharp, “no!” usually works.  Eventually they learn what "no" means.

You could also purchase a mature cow but be forewarned that unless they are hand-milking already, you may need lots of determination  and patience to train them.  Mentoring would be useful too.  Sometimes a cow takes to milking almost right away once they get over their fear of people but it can take a good bit of patience if they were not what we call “gentled” as a calf.  The obvious advantage of an adult is that you can enjoy your milk and other dairy products right away.  Usually a neighbor or friend will donate money toward the care and upkeep of the cow to help pay for her, and take the extra milk if you have extra.

If the SHTF you can always breed her to a bull of any kind in the neighborhood but a cow will also keep lactating for years.  You just will not get the peak production that a freshening brings on.  However, you can live pretty well on 2 gallons a day, which is what the average Jersey should maintain with decent grazing and no grain.  Especially after the second and even third lactation which get subsequently more productive.

Size is one thing to consider.  You could purchase a miniature cow such as Dexter.   I personally have not been impressed with them but do your own research.  If you purchase a Dexter, make sure they come from milking breeding lines, as many Dexter’s are not milked and being bred for production.   You could purchase a mini Hereford that will not give as much milk but as any beef breed, can be milked.  Our favorite cow is the Jersey whether mini or full-sized.  The minis as a rule do not give as much milk and to be honest, there is always some way to use extra milk.  I will cover that later.  However, mini’s work well for some situations such as smaller acreage, family size, and are sometimes not as intimidating to new hobby farmers.  Minis will cost more as a rule.  All Jerseys whether mini or standard have wonderful cream so we skim off ½ of the cream to use for our ice cream and butter and we still have great tasting milk.  To me the most important factor to consider as far as intimidation goes is whether the cow was gentled (not spoiled) as a calf and whether it trusts and is bonded to people.

I prefer a full sized Jersey with the old-fashioned genetics and size.  The smaller, efficient size that Jerseys used to be a few decades ago.  Unfortunately, they are breeding the American Jerseys larger in later years and American Jerseys as a rule have many health challenges.  We have been fortunate enough to work with a couple of organic farmers that have preserved the old style Jersey.  You could also cross a Jersey with a beef breed such as Terrantaise (a French dual-purpose breed that has very rich milk) or Hereford to get the grazing genetics and better health genetics.  Make sure the baby is dam raised or raised on real milk four months to develop the rumen properly.  This will set up the immune system for life and help her to be an efficient grazer and not need large amounts of grain if any.

How Do I Care For a Family Milk Cow?  

In our post industrial revolution confinement operation farms where all the food is made and brought to the animals, most people no longer realize that in much of the U.S. animals can be pastured all year.   It helps if one learns the basics of rotational grazing and what is called stockpiling in order to accomplish this.  There is no need to stock mounds of hay in the barn except for drought or very deep snow where the cow can’t paw down to the stockpiled grass.    I also use a nice flake of green tender hay during milking time but if it could not be purchased, it would not be essential.  Rotational grazing also in effect doubles your acreage as it creates healthier forage.  The cow cannot just take what she likes and leave the rest.  This will kill off certain plants and allow weeds to thrive.  With rotational grazing you can reduce weeds dramatically and allow seeds that can lie dormant for many decades to grow such as legumes like red and white clover for example.  When you create the right environment, you will find that you have more variety and healthier forage.  This variety gives the cows a smorgasbord of nutrients necessary to go without grain. 

When we started to use rotational grazing, we could not believe the difference in the quality and variety of our forage.  We do spot spray the thistles but have been able to control all other weeds with rotational grazing.  Also, in our case since we have growing calves and lactating cows, we keep ours pasture shorter than many beef herds will so we like to mow it on the high setting after they graze an aisle to keep the tender lush forages coming.  In a TEOTWAWKI situation, this would not be necessary or even for a small hobby farmer.

We have split our field up into aisles.  There is a corridor all the way across the front of the field that every other aisle has access to and it contains the water trough.  We work on one aisle at a time.  Each aisle has a gate handle at the front end.  We open the gate to the aisle we are working on.  Then we use three or four step-in posts (you can push them in the dirt with your foot and pull them out by hand, no pounding needed) for the single [electric] wire that we move.  (You would use more if your aisle is wider.) Every day, we move the wire to give enough grazing for the number of animals we have in that field.  You will get a feel for that as you move them each day.  Don’t worry, they will let you know by bawling if they are hungry.  During some times of the year, you will have to move the dividing line faster or slower.  We use one line of the poly wire with several small strands of wire running through it.  This is easy to work with and if it breaks, you can tie it in a knot to connect it.  Knots do not affect the electrical current at all.  On our cross line that determines the amount of grazing for that day, we use an alligator clip with rubber protector (purchased at local hardware) to hook onto the main aisle wires on both sides.  This makes the dividing wire hot.  Our aisles are all done with the cheap fiberglass posts from the farm store that have to be pounded in except the corner stakes should be T-posts, which are sturdier and will shore up the whole set up and you will have less frustration operating the “gates” to each aisle.

We always rest one section each year for a seven-year rotation.  Another wards, in seven years we should be rotated back to the original plot to rest it again.  Resting is done by grazing once early in the spring and then letting it grow all summer.  This section can be grazed in the winter after all the plants have re-seeded themselves.   This improves the ground and forage wonderfully and is a biblical principle with benefits now proven by science.

Fertile soil produces nutrient rich forage, which keeps the cow healthy, and the nutrition is passed on in the milk.  One can do many things to improve the soil.  I will list a few.  The best thing to do is to have the local extension office or local feed store come out and take soil samples (or you may need to do it yourself with their instructions).  You want to know the ph of your soil and calcium level to know if you should lime it.  If it needs lime, do you need the high calcium lime or the high magnesium lime?  You only know by testing.  If you even consider doing chicken manure, test first.  Your phosphorus could already be high and it would not be the best choice of fertilizer your field needs.  The other improvement we do to our fields is to spray diluted milk, 3 gallons milk to 20 gallons of water , per acre and a very dilute solution of something called sea-90 (we get it from Countryside Organics but you could google it to find a dealer near you) which is a naturally mined sea salt that is very high in minerals.  If I were only going to do one thing,  it would be to spray the milk and if you can, the minerals during the spring and fall growing seasons each year.    You can use a 4-wheel ATV and sprayer or a backpack sprayer for smaller areas.  This will draw the earthworms and help to break up the soil and provide many benefits to your land.  The milk feeds the microbes in the soil (the living part of the soil that makes nutrients available to the plants.  Milk also raises what is called the brix, which is a natural sugar in the plant.  This makes the plants more nutritious and palatable for the animals but since insects such as grasshoppers do not have a pancreas and therefore cannot digest sugars, they leave.  It is simple and you can use your very own milk! 
You do not have to do these improvements to the soil.  If you can, and you want your forages high in naturally occurring minerals and nutrients so you gain the benefit of that through drinking the milk and your cow has better health, go for it.

We also feed our cows a few supplements.  Give free choice (always available) ½ kelp and ½ Redmond trace mineral salt.  You can go to to find a dealer of the natural trace mineral salt near you.   Hopefully, that same place would have the kelp as well.  If you keep both cool as possible and dry, they will last for years.  The most important nutrient to prevent mastitis is calcium.  (In addition, not overfeeding grain.)  The kelp and trace mineral salt does not provide a source of macro minerals but only has trace minerals in a highly digestible form.  For the macro minerals, you need to free choice something like Cattle Mineral Mix sold by Country Side Organics in Waynesboro, Virginia (they ship) or at least top dress a calcium supplement on their grain each day.  Lancaster Ag in Pennsylvania is also a wonderful source of natural supplements.  There are other ways to get the free choice supplements.  One of those is thru Advanced Biological Concepts, which has a top-notch free choice system for cows and horses.  Be prepared to pay a little more though.  You can do a web search on "natural animal supplements" for your state or find natural farmers in your area and query them.  We have done something similar to the above with all of our large animals for almost 20 years and have had maybe one or two incidences where we needed the vet for sickness.

As far as feeding the cow other than grazing, we give a very small amount of grain, mostly to top dress a supplement.  For example, we would give our ½ mini milk cow about two cups and our standard sizes one quart.  They do not need grain at all though especially if you get the grazing genetics going for you.  Too much grain is not good and will shorten the cow’s life.  Excess grain will make the cows system acidic and cause many health challenges that most confinement dairies think are normal occurrences.  If you feed more than ½ or 1% of the body weight in grain, the starch-digesting bacteria overcome the cellulose-digesting bacteria.  When that happens, they are no longer getting the nutrition out of their forages.  More and more organic farms are going grain free and focusing on rotational grazing to improve their forages instead.  We work with two different farms that only have the vet for pregnancy checks and routine testing, etc.  That is unheard of on conventional dairies where the cows only have 1-3 lactations because they are so unhealthy.  A note of warning:  If you buy a cow that is being given a lot of grain, change their diet slowly.  You may or may not be able to let her go completely without grain and stay in condition but try to get her down to not more than ½ of 1% of her body weight.  To be sure, a dairy cow does not have to look like a beef cow and in fact, we do them a disservice trying to “fatten” them up, but you do not want them to thin either.

Another advantage of not overdoing the grain is that you never have to trim hooves, as conventional farms have to do.  Our first cow was a cull cow.  She had really long feet and we could not find someone to come out to trim them.  We had her a couple of months and one day realized that her toes were chipping off.  They literally fell off to be a normal length.

Is There a Once-A-Day Milk Cow? 
Yes!  We milk our cows once a day.  If you are not pushing them with lots of grain, they can usually be milked once a day with some knowledge.  If you are over-graining your cow, you will not be able to milk once a day.  If you go out to the barn and her bag is tight and very full of milk, then you need to milk twice a day or cut back on the grain.  We milk once a day and have no trouble with mastitis or ketosis which is the scourge of dairies and many family cow owners.  We have the grazing genetics firmly in place and feed very little grain.  The only time you really have to watch them is the first couple of weeks after calving until the calf is drinking enough.  You can let the calf nurse or milk and feed the calf in a bottle and later a bucket.  You can also let the calf have all the milk (after a month or so) until you need milk and then separate the calf for 12 hours and milk the cow for your milk.  You can go on vacation or if you get too busy, the calf will eagerly milk for you.  When we travel, we turn the calf with mom and go.  We do not leave the calf with the mom full-time if the calf starts tearing the teats up.  If that happens, we only let the calf nurse twice a day and keep them across the fence from one another the rest of the time.  This way there will be very little separation stress and after the first couple of days, they get used to the routine and no longer call out to one another.   When we travel, we still put the calf with the cow but then separate and put salve on the teats if they have teeth marks when we return.  This usually works for short term even if it doesn’t work for long-term in cases where the calf has gotten to the size that they tear up the teats.  Some calves can nurse until they wean at 9 months, for others, they have to be separated and allowed nurse once or twice a day after four months or so.

When Do I Wean the Calf? 
The calf can be safely weaned at four months.  Their rumen is well developed and they are ready to just eat grass and good quality hay.  However, if you want, you can keep the calf on until 9 months.  Follow the suggestions above for nursing long- term.

Cows can be taught to tether.  Start with a shorter rope 10- to 15-foot (cotton will not burn them if tangled) and only where you can keep a close eye on her.  If you have a nervous cow, you should be right there to watch it.  You can lengthen the rope as she learns to untangle herself and not to take off so quickly that she hits the other end and flips herself.  I like to start with a calf but most adult cows can be taught to tether with time and patience.  You can purchase a tie out kit from outback outfitters for horse camping.  It is said that a chain does not tangle and loosens when they lift their foot.  I have not used a chain. 

This can be as simple as an electric fence but the perimeter fence should be woven wire or four-board fence for a TEOTWAWKI situation.    For now, you could do a 3-strand electric perimeter fence with plans to make it more secure as time and finances allow.  Talk to the most knowledgeable person at your local farm store for details about fencing.  If you have electric, be sure you have a solar charger and extra supplies.  Insufficient grounding causes 90% of electric fence problems so be sure to cover that with your farm store knowledgeable person.  In general, the rods must be galvanized to retain conductivity and if the soil is dry or poor then you will need more grounding rods.  Do not place the grounding rod to close to a building as it can electrify the building.

A good reference to read is Grass-Fed Cattle: How to Produce and Market Natural Beef by Julius Ruechel.  It is geared toward beef cattle but much of the information about fencing and rotational grazing and more is helpful for the family milk cow.

What to Do with the Extra Milk? 

We find so many uses for extra milk that we can easily use all that one cow produces.  We make cheese, butter, and yogurt as well as other dairy products.  Many cheeses can be made with buttermilk and rennet, which are quite easy to store.  Buttermilk can be kept going indefinitely as can yogurt.   You must buy the cultured buttermilk from the grocery store.  Add ¼-cup cultured buttermilk to ½ gallon of milk and let it set until it thickens.  Make more using the same ratios (you can make less) each week.  We buy yogurt cultures from  They specialize in cultures from around the world.  The two that we keep going are cultured at room temperature.  We don’t have to heat the milk or keep the temperature steady with a yogurt maker.  We simply skim our milk to allow room in the ½-gallon jar and put in one cup of yogurt from a previous batch.  If you make the next batch before the last one is too old, you can keep it going for a very long time.  It is best to heat the milk to 160 degrees, make a pure mother culture, and use that to start your first batch.  I freeze the mother culture in 1-cup batches so I can occasionally fall back to my mother culture if my yogurt gets to old before I make another batch.  In TEOTWAWKI situation, you would just be diligent about keeping your yogurt going and keep it away from other cultures such as buttermilk and sourdough as the bacteria’s can compete with one another and weaken your strain.

You can buy cheese-making supplies from or, which is a goat supply catalog, but they have products for anyone who milks.  They also carry my favorite cheese recipe book "A Cheesemakers Journey" by Mary Jane Toth.

Whey from the raw cheese making recipes, yogurt, and buttermilk can be used to make lacto-fermented drinks and veggie dishes such as kvass, kimchee, and sauerkraut.  These products have more probiotics per serving than a whole bottle of probiotics from the store.  Probiotics is one of our main treatment protocols for any immune system related issues as the gut is 75% of the immune system.  Your food becomes you medicine.  Two of my favorite books for this is Sally Fallon’s big book, Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats and Real Food Fermentation: Preserving Whole Fresh Food with Live Cultures in Your Home Kitchen by Alex Lewin.  With these two books, you will be able to preserve probiotic rich foods the traditional way.  Be sure to have glass ½ gallon jars, 1 gallon jars, and or lead free crocks on hand.

We also use extra milk for fertilizer as mentioned above.  We have never seen so many earthworms in our garden as since we have started putting on diluted milk as previously mentioned.

We feed extra calves, lambs,  and animals such as the cat (mouse patrol), the dog (head of ranch security), chickens (bug patrol and chief egg layers) and I have even fed it to baby rabbits whose mama just couldn’t keep up with the large litter. 

I hope you will consider adding a family cow to your homestead for your health and long-term food security. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Finding a good sustainable food supply post TSHTF has been a difficult and long journey. It’s going to be a lot more than storing dehydrated food, water and having some seeds. Eventually you will run out of food and will need a way to feed your family in sustainable way.  What are the best options of doing this? A remote retreat with several different types of livestock and a large garden all sound very nice but is it practical? Let’s go thru all of the options. In a post TSHTF situation we might have to consider mobility. Fire, radiation, large gangs or worse yet, our own government troops coming after us are just a few of the possibilities than could cause you to be highly mobile. I do believe it’s a great idea to have a remote retreat and even better if you live there full time. We also have to worry about security and maintaining a perimeter over all key infrastructure including livestock, barns, gardens, cisterns etc. We will have to maintain noise, light & smell discipline. It’s always better to avoid being a target going undetected. I would rather avoid a firefight at all cost. The sound of a generator or livestock, can be heard a long way off. It will mean I have power and or food. Same holds for maintaining light & smell disciplines. Cooking beacon or meat outside can let others know you have food. Blackout curtains will help with light shinning thru windows. The smell of a fire and or food that is cooking must also be avoided. Stealth is a key goal.

There will probably be long hard work days and or nights. This will cause us to need more calories and good sources of proteins. What are our best options?

Better have that garden already planted and know how to save seeds. There is a long learning curve with gardening. A large garden is very time consuming. There is a lot of hard work turning over the soil, planting, watering and weeding especially if it has to be done by hand. It usually takes several seasons to establish a good garden. How large of a garden will you need? A typical family of four will need between 1 to 2 acres of farmable land for use as a garden. Growing in pots or larger cans can help with mobility but the yield will be small. Drought, pests, diseases, deer and rabbits can all decrease production.  Higher calorie and protein needs will be very hard to meet with a garden. You might be an easy target for a sniper in a large open field maintaining or harvesting your garden everyday. Lot’s of work. So, having a garden as large as you can maintain is good but we will have to supplement it with some higher quality of protein. Pros: provides some necessary nutrition & vitamins. Cons: Can’t provide enough high quality proteins, hard work to maintain, poor mobility.

Fish can be raised in a pond if you have one. They can meet the protein requirements that you will need. Usually not too much work if it is already established. Raising fish in a barrel is another possibility. An aquaponic setup is another possibility. If you live in cold weather region where the water freezes you will not be able to produce year round. Pros: quality protein & fish oil. Cons: no mobility, seasonal, expensive set up costs, can be difficult to maintain, uses lots of water, water is very heavy to haul.

Small Livestock
There are many types of small livestock to consider. The best livestock will be one that is easy to care for, no special feed or supplements, reproduces fast, grows quickly, are very quiet, resistant to diseases, good mobility, no smelly waste, easy to protect against predators and large enough to feed a family of four. It would also be nice if it is easy to butcher, cook and tastes good. Let’s check out our common options:

Pros: Eggs (protein & fat) and meat are very high quality protein. Small space, good mobility and easy care.  High production of eggs- usually one a day.                                                                                            
Cons: Hens can be a little noisy at times, need a rooster for sustainability (lots of noise). Vulnerable to predators, need a good coop for protection at night.

Pros: small space, reproduces quickly, good mobility, quiet, good mothers, high quality meat protein, fiber, fertilizer- that can be used immediately.                        
Cons: high maintenance, don’t like the heat, messy, may have to grow some of the feed.

Pros: Milk, good quality meat protein, fiber.
Cons: harder to handle, get intestinal worms, need to rotate fields, hard to keep them penned in, must keep them dry, will need a large quantity of hay in the winter, management problems, noisy.

Pros: Milk, quality meat protein, wool, easy to handle.
Cons: Need to rotate fields, intestinal worms, need hay in the winter, can be noisy, management problems.

Pros: Good source of fat & quality meat protein.
Cons: Can be hard to handle, noisy, can take up a bit of space, poor mobility, can be escape artists and are messy.

Pros: Good quality meat, down, seasonal eggs. No special feed needed, good mothers.
Cons: need a large area to graze, noisy, aggressive, vulnerable to predators, 

Pros: Seasonal eggs, meat. 
Cons: need a large area to roam, noisy, difficult management especially when young.

Muscovy Ducks
Most ducks are very noisy. Muscovy ducks are extremely quiet. They don’t quack. They make a very soft hissing noise as a warning. They make this noise when you corner them or get too close to them. The sound is as quiet as a whisper. So they pass the first big test- noise discipline. The waste they produce is not too smelly. You will have to eventually compost it as they do produce a lot of it. Using a deep litter method, it can be done every 6 months. So they pass the second test- smell discipline. They are easy to care for. They do not need a lot of space. They are very resistant to disease and don’t require a lot of human intervention. Good fencing, minimum of 4 feet tall will help against predators. They free range/forage for their food. They do enjoy a high protein pellet food at the end of the day but it’s not necessary. They will produce eggs, meat and feathers. Feathers can be used to make pillows. They will lay between 80 to 150+ eggs a year depending upon their nutrition and if you remove the eggs or allow them to sit on their eggs. They will accumulate about a dozen or so eggs and then sit on them until they hatch. Training them to use nest boxes will help. Usually if you put their first eggs into the nest box, they will get the idea.

The process takes approximately 35 days for their eggs to hatch. They will hatch an average of ten to twelve baby ducks three or four times a year. After they hatch their eggs they will not lay eggs for 2 months. During this time they are great mothers and will spend all of their time with the baby ducks. The baby ducks will follow their mother everywhere during the first couple of weeks. The mother will protect them for older ducks that will occasionally peck at them. They can co-exist with chickens without any problems. They can eat table scraps or anything that you will eat. They forage well. They grow extremely fast. After 6-8 months the new baby ducks can reproduce.  They do not need a pond. They only need water just deep enough for a quick swim, maybe a foot to eighteen inches deep. A kiddie pool or a nice sized bucket is all that they would need. They will dirty the water fairly quick.

To clip their wings or not? They have a natural instinct to roost up high in trees or on top of the barn. They can and will fly around. Best to clip their wings after they molt, usually in the early summer. Two people are needed. One to hold the duck & one to cut the flight feathers. It does not hurt the ducks. Sort of like us clipping our nails. You cut the flight feathers on one side only. They like the shade, will eat insects and most types of grass. They like fresh water. It’s better to have a small creek then having to haul fresh water everyday. Standard poultry crates can be used to transport Muscovy Ducks. Catching them at night usually prevents as much stress as possible. The more interaction you have with them, the closer they will let you get to them. They grow really fast. Butchering usually occurs around four months of age. Wet-plucking their feathers can be a real pain. Adding a wax or a dishwashing soap can help. They are very tasty.

So Muscovy ducks are number one on my list. Since they get along well with chickens, I would include a few of them as well (no rooster). Rabbits would also be a must have. Goats, sheep, pigs and small cows are nice to have but do require a big step up in care, maintenance and are less stealthy. There is also a big learning curve as well. So if you plan on having these animals you should start now. Add as large a garden as you can care for. A garden may produce 25% of your food on average. Fruit trees and all types of berry type plants must be started now because it can take years before they will yield fruit. Bees can be added for honey and wax. Your time is going to be a big factor in any post-TSHTF situation. Lots of your time will be needed for security. Start your planning today.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I’ve always been a “glass is half full…when life hands you lemons you make lemonade…” kind of person.  So despite a divided nation after this recent election, geopolitical unrest, and our nation on the brink of financial collapse, I still see the silver lining. 

My husband and I purchased a small 900 square foot home, because it was all we could afford.  It was near the height of the housing bubble so we bought high.  We then spent the next four years, remodeling the one bathroom the tiny kitchen and living room to suit our needs.  After investing tens of thousands of dollars of our hard earned money, blood, sweat and tears we were feeling good about our sweat equity.  Then the market crashed and I got pregnant.  Deciding not to pour any more money into the pit, and deciding to take control of the financial situation we decided to sell our home and purchase a new one.  By that time the real estate market seemed to have no bottom and loans were nigh on impossible to secure from lending institutions.  We staged the little house perfectly and lived in that staged house for several months, evacuating every time a potential buyer came by, because an extra body in the house made it feel so much smaller.  Fortunately we were able to find a larger home that was more suitable for our expanding family and were able to purchase it at a 30% discount, however we finally sold our first home at a significant loss.  Investment guidelines for the early 2000s had become: “Buy high and sell LOW.”  But not paying two mortgages was nearly “priceless.”

The Tale of Two Mortgages

It was the tale of two mortgages that was the spark that initiated this whole journey.  My husband and I carefully assessed our financial situation and eliminated all “non-essential” expenses.  Those things included:
-Some expensive vitamins that were being shipped automatically and payments were automatically being submitted to our credit card. This was something we weren’t paying attention to until then.
-A wine club gift that we had gifted to our neighbors. We didn’t read the fine print that after the $60 intro offer, you’d be billed quarterly for $200.
-No non-essential food items. Only buy what’s on the list and only if we really need it.
-The Cable Television – Gasp. horror! What will you do without television?  This is the key to us developing our survival plan.

Life Without Television

We did keep Internet, as this was our means for paying bills, e-mail communication, web surfing and phone connectivity.  We began to read, a lot.  In fact, we can’t wait to crawl in to bed, early, once the kids are sleeping and read the news.  The mass media has become such a biased and agenda-driven source of misrepresentation, it is no longer reliable.  It has become a vehicle for propaganda.  The children absolutely did not miss television.  Though we’re not purists, we do have Netflix and Amazon video, so the young one loves the educational shows and the older one loves Mythbusters.  But as a parent I now have total control over what they watch and this includes, not exposing them to the early sexualization of children, the “new normal” of a “modern family” the extols the virtues of a non- mother, father, and God-centered family.

My Favorite Web Sites

I truly admire those talented individuals who are able to organize and centralize great information into a user friendly web site.  I wish I could do it because I occasionally get some good ideas, but I don’t have the time.  My "go to" favorites include:
-The Drudge Report, of course… “Wake the flock up” one of my favorite new quotes!!!  (my ultimate gossip go to site for pure entertainment) (because after watching Forks over Knives I freaked out and went plant based for six weeks)

My Eyes Open

When you begin to piece together the unprecedented power grabbing, freedom-reducing moves our own government is doing and put it in the frame of reference of what is happening geopolitically; it’s enough to lose lots of sleep.  The Middle East is destabilizing and essentially is one misunderstanding or missile away from full out war.  There has been an increasing frequency of climate change that has unleashed massive power outages, gas rationing, and Martial law – as evidenced by Hurricane Katrina, Fukushima, Haiti, Irene, Sandy, and the recent Nor’easter.

So We Became SLOW Preppers
I believe that these patterns are an excellent opportunity to learn “real time” about how people and governments react in times of duress.  We’ve all seen how the grocery shelves are wiped out within 48 hours of the weather channel predicting a storm. 

When we lost power with Irene then the Nor’easter, we decided the first order of business was to install a generator.  That project was eight months in undertaking.  There were no generators to be had, as a freak windstorm affected the western half of the US knocking out power to 3 million people in the southwest.  Once we got the generator, there were no transfer switches to be had.  The demand was high.  We finally got the transfer switch.  It took another three months to get a propane tank and service, again because of the backlog, but we stuck to our guns and finally got it all put in.  This time around, Hurricane Sandy left us without communication by phone but we had power thanks to the generator.

2nd Amendment

Speaking of guns.  Living in the Northeast makes obtaining a firearm difficult.  It took about 8 months.  First to find a class, then get signed up – another backlog there.  Then permits at the police station, state processing, temporary permit, and official permit, followed by my favorite part, shopping.  We started slow, read a lot and made one purchase at a time.  Now whenever we go to Wal-Mart we buy essentials and a box of ammo.  Say it with me now: milk, bread, eggs, toilet paper and ammo.  Try it again, diapers, wipes, and ammo.  See how easy it is?

The Mormons are on to something. I like their idea of food storage and rotation.  We should get into the practice of that.  I’m still working on it.  Christmas = family gift of a case of MREs.  When Mountain House backpacking pouch freeze dried food goes on sale at Wally world I pick up a bag or two.  It doesn’t have to be in bulk, but building it slowly is cheaper and you incorporate it into your lifestyle.  The kids love the camping section of the stores.  Then once in a while we pretend to camp in the basement and “sample” the food stores that are about to expire and rotate fresh stuff in.

Bug Out Tins

There are so many good Bug Out ideas on the web.  I came across “survival in an Altoid tin.”  It’s good to keep a few bucks in the car, some analgesics, band-aids, floss, matches a mini mag lite etc.  It’s always a good idea to carry a case of water in the car, you never know.  Making the tins was a fun weekend afternoon activity for the kids and we may turn this into a Christmas gift idea.


Our new home has a little more land and I grew up with chickens as pets.  My husband loved the idea as we often romanticize “living off the grid.”  Easter came around and we bought three chicks and the kids loved playing with them and caring for them.  My husband is pretty crafty and good with tools.  We purchased a scuffed up Rubbermaid tool shed from the local home improvement store. He cut some windows and a trap door out.  He installed a 2x4 beam for the roosting bar and because of the shape of the interior, was able to put two nesting boxes in there.  My husband thought that pets that give back in the form of food were so cool.  We eat beautiful omelets with tasty eggs that truly are antibiotic-free and hormone-free.  I reduce my garbage by putting kitchen scraps into a bucket and the chickens are so happy to get stale bread, pancakes, and bok choy stems.  The chickens think left-over spaghetti = worms and go nuts!  When we can’t keep up the 15-20 eggs per week, we again make good neighbors by giving away farm fresh eggs.


My parents always made it look easy.  Let me tell you, if you can grow a successful tomato plant from seed, you are waaay ahead of the game.  Gardening is a major skill.  Start by trying to grow anything.  I love perennials.  I have peonies, lilies and some other flowering bushes that come back every year.  Collards and Kale are almost year round depending on how harsh the weather is.  Herbs like rosemary, lavender, thyme, chives, mint, come back every year and are low maintenance.  I just put in some asparagus; we’ll see how it does.  I also am trialing cranberries as a ground cover and purchased a really great book on edible weeds, so I can increase my foraging knowledge.  This really makes you think twice about using poisons in your yard when you free range the chickens and want to forage weeds.


It takes time to build up your stores.  I think you should store things you like to eat because then you use it up and aren’t throwing away expired “survival rations.”  Pick up new skills, whether that’s gardening, weed identification, how to camp or build a fire, start small, make it a hobby.  When a disaster hits your area, open your eyes and perform your own mini SWOT analysis: S – Strengths, W-weaknesses, O- opportunities, T- Threats. 

This is a very individualized thing.  But I can tell you when gas cans become available again at the local store, I’ll be stocking up on a few.  While it’s nice to have a stockpile of gold and silver coins, it can be expensive.  Buy an extra roll of aluminum foil or duct tape the next time you are out shopping.  When you’ve been sitting in a dark cold house for a week, it can be demoralizing; you’d love some hot cocoa with a splash of brandy.  Stock up on cocoa, liquor, comfort foods and items.  Some of these have a very long shelf life and will probably be easier to trade or barter than a precious metal that has precious few calories.  Good luck with your slow and systematic prepping!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

I wanted to make a couple of clarifications to Emma C.'s article on fabric choices in survival clothing, specifically with regards to wool. As a full-time Shepherdess of more than 100 heritage breed sheep, my experience in handling and processing wool runs deep. 

It was written that (with regard to socks), Wool does take more care than other fabrics in that it should be washed in cold water and lay flat to dry. While that statement is mostly accurate in general fabric care, there are primarily two things that can permanently change (i.e. shrinkage or felting) wool fabrics: agitation (washing/scrubbing) and temperature.

Washing of traditional woolen items must utilize as little agitation as possible while cleansing. Intense scrubbing will simply cause your wool item to felt.  The soaking method is preferred whenever possible using a mild, easy rinsing type soap. Gently squeezing out excess water by folding the item in half is ideal. Larger items such as pants or sweaters can be folded multiple times, pressing firmly to release the water. Never wring or twist wet wool as you may end up with a hopelessly misshapen garment. When you wash wool, it is the temperature of the water for BOTH wash and rinse that affects wool.  You can wash your wool in hot water, if so desired, but you must also rinse the item in hot water to avoid shrinkage. It is in the variation of the water temperature that causes your wool treasures to shrink so drastically. If you wash in hot, rinse in hot; wash in warm, rinse in warm and so forth. Consistency throughout the cleansing process is key.

While cold wash/cold rinse is generally deemed the rule of choice when washing wool but it is not something set in stone. I personally prefer the hot water method, especially when cleaning my wool. Hot water kills germs and is much safer on the fibers themselves than using chemical disinfectants. Most smartwool blends have already been 'pre-shrunk' and are much less likely to be affected by water temperature or agitation. I have multiple pairs of these socks that go into the washer and dryer routinely with no effect on the end product. I could go on about the many benefits and uses of wool, perhaps another time. God certainly knew what He was doing when creating the sheep!

Thank you for such an informative blog. Blessings! - C.A.T.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I’m a prepper, however my situation is a little different than most.  I wanted to write an article explaining my unique challenges.
My family has a small ranch in New Mexico.  In the old days when it rained more often we ran about 100 head of cattle.  With the drought that has hit the southwest so hard, we’re down to about 50.
I know most of you are thinking, oh my goodness this guy is so lucky.  He can eat all the beef he wants when TSHTF.  The answer is yes, and no.  I had about the same initial reaction when I first started prepping.  I thought I’d just go home, to the ranch, from my day job and be safe.  I read all the books and browsed all the prepping blogs, then began to realize it wasn’t so simple.  Not only did I have to prep for myself, I had to prep for 50 head of cattle!  Plus a lot of other animals like chickens and dogs.
After I got my beans, bullets, and band aids squared away, my family and I started prepping for the cattle.  There’s little question that they are our greatest resource.  Imagine what half a beef could net us in a barter situation when everyone is starving.  Provided I can defend the livestock, and keep them happy, healthy, and alive. 

  1. Water

Everything needs water.  There are dozens of articles about water on survivalblog.  One gallon per person per day seems to be the golden rule.  For a cow in 100 degree summer heat its 50 gallons a day!  Crunch the numbers and that’s around 3,000 gallons of water per day worst case.  Some days they don’t need near as much.  We’re in the high desert, and do not have surface water.  No streams, lakes, ponds, etc.  Our current water source is pumped via an AC pump from a depth of ~600ft.  Running a generator to pump the water we would need isn’t feasible.  Solar was the solution.  We ended up drilling a new well and equipping it with a solar pump that can produce about 2,500-3,000 gallons a day in the summer.  To supplement this we installed a very large and complex rain catchment system.  All in all we have ,7500 gallons of potable (people) water and 38,000 gallons of stock water that we keep on hand at any given time.  This is fed all over the place via gravity to stock troughs and solar powered booster pumps to other areas such as the house.  As you can imagine this cost a great deal of money and my income is lower middle class.  It was a matter of priority setting for us.  In a grid down situation the cattle would all die without water.  That is not acceptable.

Here’s some advice about drilling a new water well.  I did a lot of the work on the well myself to save money.  Of course the actual drilling was done by a “professional”.  When you interview your well driller be sure to ask the following question, “Are you the actual person who will drill the well?”  Make sure it’s not his cousin, son, or some neighbor down the road.  We ended up with an inexperienced guy.  Our well also proved to be extra difficult to drill, because soon after drilling started he ran into caves and basically freaked out.  This ended up costing more money.  Ask around for recommendations and don’t just go with the lowest bid.

If you choose to install the pump and pipe yourself be sure to put more check valves than you think you’ll need.  I put one every 200 feet, and it’s not enough.  Install a good brass check valve every 100 feet. Do your own research about the gauge of wire to be used.  I ran number 10 wire down to the pump at 575 feet.  To compensate for the DC voltage drop I added another solar panel to bump up the voltage instead of buying the recommend more expensive number 6 wire.  The new well is working better than I dreamed it could.  Solar water pumping is amazing.


To feed cattle; it rains, the grass grows, and the cattle eat the grass.  Unfortunately for good healthy critters you have to add to that diet.  At the very least you must give your cattle some salt and minerals.  You’d be amazed at how much salt we use in a year.  I have food for myself stashed away, but also we’ve included several thousand pounds of bagged stock salt, and minerals.  We went with granulated bagged salt instead of blocks because it could be used for other things like salting beef. 

Sick animals need medical care too.  In my band aids section there’s plenty of the normal veterinary supplies we use on a regular basis.  Many of these items can be used for all types of animals including the two legged kind.  I did not include vaccines as once TSHTF the cattle should not be exposed to other cattle that could be carrying something nasty.  Of course that isn’t 100% certain but one must pick their battles. 


If you think your retreat security causes you to lose sleep at night imagine securing seven square miles of land.  Without an army; it can’t be done.  I don’t have an army, so another solution had to be found.  The current plan is to pen the cattle up at the ranch house during the night, and then send a small patrol with them during the day to graze.  We’ve erected guard towers at the retreat and at least one of them will be manned at all times.  I hope however that our remote location is adequate to keep the golden hordes at bay, because defending our retreat properly would need a very large force.  I suppose that could be said about any location.  I’m still searching for more people to join me at the ranch, and as many of you know, it’s very difficult to find like-minded people.  I’ve been fortunate so far and have some great folks who will stay with us in the event of a disaster.  We have a doctor and a dentist as well as some ex army guys.  I don’t know what the magic number of people needed is but there’s safety in numbers.

Bartering of beef

Without the power grid, cooling and preserving raw meat will be a challenge.  Currently (if you want really good meat) after you dress out an animal you typically hang them in a cooler and let the meat age for a couple of weeks.  This allows the natural enzymes in the muscle tissue to break down some of the harder parts of the meat.  Aged beef is quite simply the best food there is!  I’m sure 99% of the population has never had it.  The fast paced production slaughter plants today don’t age meat more than a day or two.  To age and store the meat we kill we have two large deep freezes.  I’ll soon be installing a solar system to run them.  One of the freezers will be equipped with a thermostat to regulate the temperature so the freezer can be used as a cooler.  Without the solar freezers processing and selling meat during the summer will be all but impossible unless of course I try to make 600 pounds of jerky.

To supplement the beef sales we also have a milk cow and lots of chickens.  If you have a bug problem, get yourself some chickens instead of an exterminator.  You’ll be amazed at the result, plus free eggs!  Our chickens and guineas roam free, but generally lay their eggs in the hen house.


We’re going to need more flexibility than other groups when we’re hunkering down on our ranch.  For this reason a blacksmiths shop has been setup.  Not only is it fun to learn how to make metal parts with nothing but a hot fire and a hammer.  There will certainly be a need for building things.  I don’t know what those will be; otherwise I could go buy a few.  
Heat in the winter is an issue too.  Our ranch house has no central heating.  We have a large fireplace and a wood stove.  I was 19 years old before I lived in a house with a thermostat.  A wood stove is a great way to heat a space but it uses a lot of wood.  We burn between 3 and 9 cords of wood a year depending on how cold it is.  I can only imagine how much wood the folks up north are going to need.  If you live in the colder areas of the country you had better get a spare chainsaw and all the stuff needed run the heck out of it!  I’ve stashed gas for the sole purpose of hauling wood from the pasture to the house, as well as a spare chainsaw (don’t buy a cheap one).  There are no trees around our house.  That makes for great sight lines from the guard towers, but it’s a long way to haul wood for the stove.

I know the EMP group out there must see that my plans would come crumbling down in the event of an EMP.  I just pray it’s not an EMP or CME that kicks off the SHTF chain of events. 

In conclusion: next time you feel overwhelmed about your prepping remember the poor ranchers out there who are responsible for a great many more mouths to feed and water.  I envy your relatively simple preps often, but this is the lifestyle I’ve chosen to keep.  I also feel that after the collapse, if I can pull my family and herd through, ranching won’t be such a hard way to make a living as it is in our current society. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

As a reformed "slip and fall" attorney, I would like to point out some issues related to dog ownership. I have defended homeowners and sued homeowners relating to dog bites.The article about the decision to pick a certain breed, Doberman Pincher, was well written and informative but I would like to add some additional points, too often overlooked, about dog ownership. For sure, I would check with my homeowner's insurance carrier to see if you have coverage for a dog bite, and secondly, if there are specific breed coverage exemptions. Often you will be unable to insure the risk of ownership for breeds such as Pit bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Dobermans, etc. For me ownership of a breed that cannot be inured is a deal breaker. One quick way to jeopardize your retreat and possessions is to have a dog bite victim sue you, even if the "victim" was an uninvited "guest" or even an invited visitor for that matter. A small yapping dog will alert you just as well as a Pit bull. A couple/few midsize mutts (insurers will consider Pit bull mixes the same as a full blooded Pit bull) would work well. You can't earn a living breeding mutts but there some perfectly good breed choices that can be insured. Aside from the monetary levels of liability insurance coverage, the best feature of a policy is the contractual right to have the insurer hire an attorney/law firm to defend you. This all relates to basic asset protection and if you are considering buying/breeding a dog consider the ramifications of a dog bite. Also, before you move, check out the homestead protection level of the state you may move to.

The American Redoubt states vary in degree of asset protection via homestead exemptions. I won't be moving there, but Texas is real good in this regard. Idaho $100,000, Montana $250,000, Washington $125,000, Oregon $40,000 and Wyoming $20,000 (I'm not moving to Wyoming). There is a whole lot more to this. I have been on both sides, plaintiff/defendant, and have seen people lose most of their assets. This is one of the most overlooked areas of "survival." If you want a pack of Dogo Argentinos, a great defense/offense, make sure you are not going to lose the shirt off your back. Thanks and God Bless. - Attorney John M.


I believe Dale has hit on some great points for taking care of the dogs. But the type or breed is something I need to address, there is another breed of dog to consider, it was breed in China for one and only one purpose to be a temple guard dog of both the building and the Monks who were non-violent believers.  The Chow has a undeserved reputation of being a mean and aggressive animal, as a SPCA volunteer and a part time breeder of chows, its a false conclusion.  The chows in this country have been bred to eliminate those type of characteristics and temperament.  Having said that, a chow has a very high pack mentality as it relates to its family pack (human & critters)  I have a few over the years and those chows have been devoted to even the cats in our pack. 
A chow is interesting in that even though its a med to  large dog, it requires very little "space" its pad will suffice and can exist with a person very well thank you in a small apartment.  It not a high strung or hyper dog, it very seldom barks or growls, but as their nature and training intended when it does you need to investigate. They are great with small children and infants, they will want to be close and have a very social inclination. You do have to watch non-family members interacting with the pack members(your family members) even horsing around and playing will put them into attention mode.    In China as a temple guard they were very respected and with good reason, they fear nothing, including mountain lion, bear or even an automobiles, ( I lost one of my males to a late night visitor who decided to explore my fenced back yard with 3 chows on guard, my male chow was killed chasing this person out on a highway and was hit by a truck).  I acquired a small female chow from the SPCA after her owner turned her in to them because they were fearful of her because she would just stare at them and they were intimidated by it.  I had her in my life for almost 15 years and the only time she even turned into a Zombie killer was the day a neighbors male 110-pound or so Rottie strayed into our yard from its home a mile away with the intention of showing that it was the king of the hill to my 55-pound female Chow.  The neighbors were all fearful of this rottweiler as it had caused problems with the neighbors animals and the owner was proud that his dog had that reputation.   What ensued next made me a believer in a chows capability as a guard dog, the rottweiler attacked my chow and she went ballistic on that male dog, I was sure she was going to be seriously hurt or killed, but after what seemed to be minutes and before I could secure any type of a weapon the rottweiler all bloody and looked like the preverbal jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces missing, left for anywhere except where it was and into contact with this thing that ate its lunch.  

Chows have a secret weapon, which I came to understand gives it such an advantage in a fight with anything, it possesses a extremely thick double coat of long hair which in a battle protects it from a bigger an even more determined opponent, while the opponent bites nothing but hair the chow is using it massive teeth to rip and shred critters with short hair and thin hide.   The next day I received a visit from the owner of the rottweiler, who was attempting to recover some money for the vets bills from the 50 or so stitches it had incurred.  He tried to sell his story that my chows had attacked his dog, at which time I pointed out it was his dog who trespassed on my property and attacked my female chow (my other chows were with my wife at the time who was out of town)  and my chow was forced to defend herself.  He was in disbelief that my little dog had almost destroyed his  bigger and meaner Rottie, to be honest at the time I was in shock myself that she escape a major injury.   So the lesson is make your own evaluations and choose the dog(s) that fit your family and situation.  Take a look at a Chow that was breed for one thing and it does that one thing very well.  Happy trails, - John in Arizona

Friday, September 7, 2012

They can move faster than any man, their loyalty suggests an inborn canine bushido, their senses seem to border on the supernatural, and their situational awareness chart does not include condition white.  They are the creatures you want to sleep at your bedside, walk beside you, and watch your children.  While the choices available for study cover a broad range for the serious survivalist; and the options for raising animals include many worthwhile creatures, consider the canine as an early pick.  Long before we finished moving to our retreat I was already plotting the pros and cons of various parts of the property and outbuildings.  Too much woods for cows to graze, just enough grassy hills for goats, garden here, greenhouse there, new bridge over there.  The list of possible projects was, (and still is) a never ending source of satisfying improvements.  One of the earliest undertakings in our endeavors towards self-sufficiency was raising dogs.  The goal was to get far past the learning stage during the pre-collapse world and maintain a selection of working dogs in a normal society.  During a crisis, the dogs will be used for protection and barter. 

The first real choice that had to be made was in a specific breed of dog.  After much study I narrowed the selection down to three breeds; the German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, and American Bulldog.  All had key traits in common I found important for a survivalist dog owner.  All had a high level of intelligence, trainability, and protectiveness with the size, speed, and courage to back it up.  I considered each breed in light of how we would need to live together with our family in a long term collapse / worst case scenario.    The  German shepherd was the first of the three to be marked off the list for one reason: hair.  The German shepherd sheds once a year for 365 days in amounts that exceed all bounds of belief.  I wanted dogs that can stay by my side 24/7 but building an extra solar array just to power a vacuum lest we all drown in dog hair wasn’t going to happen.  Note that we live in Tennessee and rarely deal with bitter cold, in less mild climates I would’ve needed dogs with the German shepherd’s protective coat.  If dog hair is not an issue for your situation, that a German shepherd requires no ear trimming or tail docking makes them a stronger pick.    

I next looked into the American Bulldog (not to be confused with the more common English Bulldog), a breed once very popular in the deep South but became nearly extinct during WWII.  Despite my interest, I was unable to find breeders that I felt were trustworthy and had any puppies available within a reasonable distance.  My other concern was that they have a less well known reputation compared to the other two picks, in a barter economy I wanted a highly recognizable, commonly known breed.  Last of the top three first considered breeds was the Doberman Pinscher.  I was at first hesitant due to the need for a professional vet to trim the ears to get the Doberman “devil dog” look; but decided to pick function over form should TEOTWAWKI ensue.  A Doberman without cropped ears is readily identifiable, unlike the American Bulldog who gets a “what’s that?” response in many cases. 

I spent several months picking my first pair of dogs from separate bloodlines then training them with the help of an experienced dog handler/breeder.  The joy of living with such intelligent and graceful creatures I soon found to be a tremendous boon that transcends the planning and training of the more mundane aspects of survivalism.   Lessons learned along the way:    When one of you dogs eats an entire bath towel bed, you get to spend $1,700 at the vet.  When you quit using towels as beds and think straw is a good idea for a bed while they are in the kennel (such as when you are at work), its not.  It is a huge mess and can introduce mold, bugs, etc.  Dogs are not goats so save the straw for animals that produce cheese or steak.  A 2’x4’ outdoor panel secured over a 2”x4” frame will have plenty of give for a dog to be comfortable on.  Add a dog bed heater to the underside and your dog will snooze happily on it.  The inexpensive heaters stay about 110 degrees and draw about 40 Watts.  Use small slats of wood to keep the heater in contact with the underside of the flexible panel.       

When your female is in heat, the chain link fence dividers in the kennel will be ripped apart by your male, you will then have puppies earlier than you wanted.  When you make the chain link fence three layers thick to keep your male from ripping them apart and your female is in heat, your male will rip the door off of the kennel and you will then have puppies earlier than you wanted.  Light chain with carabineers securing the door in a “Z” pattern seems to work.       

Other than the aforementioned surprises, everything went exactly as planned; good thing we started learning sooner rather than during a crisis.  A 20’x 60’ concrete slab under a roof to the side of the workshop proved to be a perfect location for a dog lot.  I partitioned it off with commercial dog kennel panels, reinforced on each side with an extra layer of fence.  A brick at the corner of each interior kennel section makes it easy to hose things down (a big plus when one kennel is full of puppies). I added lots of insulation to the ceiling and enclosed the walls with OSB and thrift store windows.  New shingles ended some rainwater leaks.   During the first winter after setting up the dog lot, I used an electric space heater to keep the temperature above 55 degrees.  The power bill was unacceptable!  The second year I insulated the roof which was previously plywood and shingles and switched from straw to heated wooden beds.  I kept the space heater set at 45 degrees but it proved to be largely unnecessary.  A large sheltered dog lot will make life much easier.  Don’t skimp and just throw a tarp over some 6’x6’ chain link fence.  Your dogs need protection from weather and room to play.  A lone dog is a little lot will be miserable but several dogs with room to exercise will be more content when they need to be out from underfoot.  When there is company, or when we are cooking, and certainly when pressure canning; all dogs go out to the dog lot.    

Cost: Kennel and dog lot remodeling ran $2,000.  Each dog was about $1,000 after ear trimming, shots, etc.  Each dog consumes about 500 lbs. of dry dog food per year, their diet is supplemented with eggs from our chickens, leftover meat from supper, and the occasional canned food as a treat.  I use Black Gold brand dog food in the black bag from my local farm store.  This amounts to $250 per dog each year.  Dry food in the bag stores for about a year and a one year supply for two dogs will stack on two standard pallets without being so tall as to be a hassle.  

Puppies:  After we’d had a bit more than a year of training our adult dogs we started raising litters of puppies.  Since the dogs were an exercise in prepping from the start, the puppies were an extension of this.  The first litter was a learning experience but over time the puppies have paid for the initial investments.  The best idea on puppy for prepping came from my wife.  She was looking at our then current “to buy” list of gear and noticed several firearms.  “Not everyone has the money to buy an expensive purebred puppy, but some people might have some guns they would trade instead.”  Now any time we have puppies available, we let people know if the price is too high for them, we’ll consider “an old deer rifle or something” as part of the deal.  As a survivalist this has been a huge benefit.  For example, last litter I ended up with a H&K MP5A5 look-alike in .22 LR.  I took it to a gun show and swapped it for an AK for my wife.  From other puppies I kept a very nicely modified Mauser and a .243 Savage.  We live close to the border of another state so I do take care not to deal over state lines, not that I honestly suspect an alphabet agency is looking for dog breeders to make examples out of, but I feel it is only prudent to be above board.  So far I have found that most of my customers have previously owned Dobermans, and are either in law enforcement or military families.  The most satisfying puppies were the ones that have gone on to be therapy dogs for disabled veterans.  In a long term crisis, and even post crisis, I suspect there will always be a market in the barter economy for a recognizable working breed of dog.  Practicing up on breeding, training, and trading has had a high initial cost and been time intensive relative to our other prep work.  Pure “dog time” runs about 1-1½ hours a day during puppy raising months, when the puppies are sold or the next litter still on the way I focus more heavily on training the adults.   

Whatever breed you select, be sure to do plenty of homework before you purchase your first dog.  Know what health problems are common in that breed.  Find out what problems come from genetics and if the parents have been tested; don’t discover that at age five, your dog comes from a line of dogs with terrible joint problems.  Pick a line that dies after a very long life rather than one that falls apart and has to be put down young.  Get your property ready, be it dog lot, kennel, or crate for housebreaking inside.  Have collars and leashes ready with spares for the ones that get chewed up or lost.  Find out what brand of food the breeder you’re purchasing from uses and have a supply of that.  You can gradually switch over to a different brand but have plenty on hand before you get home.  AKC has plenty of good information on basic training and breed specifics that you will want to consider before getting your first dog.  If you desire to have your dog professionally trained for protection, expect the trainer to ask you to wait until your dog is 18 months old or more so that they have had time to finish developing properly strong bones and an adult temperament.    

Be good to your dogs, and before you hand over a puppy to their new master, look them in the eye and know that those brown orbs looking up at you are going to change someone’s life forever.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I delved into raising quail by accident. What I mean by that is that a member of a local preparedness forum that I belong to (and administrate) posted some information about them and the idea that they could be a great homestead bird, either with or opposed to the standard chicken flock. My extensive research and admittedly short experience with them has lead me to some very positive conclusions about the Coturnix Quail.
First, these are truly amazing multi purpose birds. Not only can you get an end product of extremely nutrient and protein rich meat, but they can lay an egg nearly every day and amounting to 300 per year, starting at 6 weeks of age in their first year and will continue to lay for up to three or more years, although at a declining rate. Second, they are the rabbit of the bird world regarding breeding and feed conversion. Not that they can set eggs and have a few hatches a year. In fact, you’ll certainly need an incubator because rarely do Coturnix Quail ever set on eggs. They’ve been captive bred for so long now that [brooding behavior has] just been bred out over time. The upside is the egg production. With no eggs for the hens to set and hatch then raise, they will just continue to provide your egg a day unfettered by chick rearing. Third would be demand for eggs, meat and by-product of the birds.
Starting Out, the Incubator…

Raising quail is an easy proposition and requires little of your time if set up properly. First, you’ll need an incubator. These are easily home-made or may be purchased either used or new online. In any case, a decent new incubator is not terribly expensive. I started out looking around for used ones and found them at a few on places like Craigslist and eBay. I ended up finding a nice new model that suited me from GQF Manufacturing. The one I chose is model #2365 for $91.50 + shipping. This is a basic model that runs off of 12 VDC power and also comes with an inverter to plug it into your 120 volt electrical outlet. To a prepper, the benefits of the ability to run off of 12 VDC power is obvious. This model has a built in circulator fan that keeps the temperature in the incubator even. There is an automatic egg turner available that comes with quail egg sized cups, but I chose not to add this because of the additional electrical draw. The egg turner runs 24 hours a day. The incubator will hold over 100 quail eggs without the turner. The built in fan also runs all the time. Even so, drawing less then 3,000 Milliamps at maximum load even when the heating element comes on, a deep cell battery with little recharging should run it for the entire incubation period. Pick a warm spot in your house and it will run less often.

Got Eggs?...
Quail eggs are incredible as much as or maybe even more then chicken eggs. This applies to the health benefits as well as the very short incubation period and high hatch rates. Standard Coturnix Quail eggs only require 16-17 days to hatch. The Jumbo variety only takes 18 days. The incubator temperature should stay between 99.5 and 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity should be kept in the 40-50% range until two days before hatch. Then, the incubator goes on “lock-down”. You should stop rotating the eggs and increase the humidity to 60% during lockdown. Once the chicks hatch and dry off, they can remain in the incubator for up to 12 hours. Then, it’s off to the brooder.

Quail eggs are quite small as compared to a chicken egg. Chicken eggs tend to be around 55 grams. Standard quail eggs are in the 10 – 12 gram range and jumbo varieties can be as much as 14+ grams.  So it takes 4-5 quail eggs to equal a chicken egg. The differences in quail egg nutrition as compared to a chicken egg are many. One 10 gram Coturnix Quail egg has 3 to 4 times the nutrition of a 55 gram chicken egg. It has 13% protein as compared to a chicken egg’s 11%, It has twice the vitamin B2 and vitamin A. Quail eggs also contain three times the amount of vitamin B1 as well.  You can also get 5 times the iron and potassium along with being rich in calcium and phosphorus. Furthermore, quail eggs have a good deal of good cholesterol and none of the bad cholesterol. Thanks to an ovamucoid protein contained in Coturnix Quail eggs, they do not cause allergies or diathesis. That same protein is helpful to those suffering from allergy symptoms and, in fact, there are allergy drugs derived from this same protein. Quail hatching eggs can be found on E-Bay and there are some great breeders out there as well. A quick internet search will be very productive in locating these breeders. Quail eggs taste slightly different then chicken eggs. One reason is that the quail eggs have a slightly higher yolk to white ratio. The quail eggs are “richer” and taste better in my opinion. A great tasting way to preserve them is pickling.  They can be used in place of chicken eggs in any recipe.

Raising Quail Chicks…
Once they leave the incubator, quail chicks should be placed in a brooder. A brooder is simply a warmed container large enough to hold your chicks until they can be put in permanent breeder cages or community pens. The brooder should be kept warm, starting out at 95-100 degrees, with decreasing temperatures as the chicks grow and feather out. I, and most others, use an infra-red heat lamp suspended over the brooder. You can tell if the temperatures are too cool for the chicks as they will bunch together and try to keep warm. If the chicks are too warm they will get as far from under the lamp as they can. Brooders can be made up of any container that is high enough for the chicks to not jump out. I use plastic storage  containers for brooders and they work very well and are easy to clean. For the first 3 days I use a shelf liner material for the chicks to walk on. Using something solid but disposable helps prevent leg development problems that might occur from using a looser material. After 3 days I use hardwood pellets of the type typically used for horse stalls. The pellets break down very slowly and are highly absorbent, making them long lasting. Avoid using softwood shavings like cedar or pine. The dusts from these are dangerous for the developing chicks. Also avoid shredded newspaper. If they try to consume it, and they usually will, it can become a choking hazard or impact their bowels. Watering the chicks must be done carefully as well. The waterer must not be deep enough for the chicks to drown in. It takes very little water for this to happen. I use small bottle caps for the first three days that has some marbles in it. You’ll need to dip a couple of the chick’s beaks into the water so they know what and where it is. The others will follow along. Quail should be feathered out by 5 -6 weeks and ready to go to breeder cages or pens.

On To Adulthood…
Quail reach sexual maturity in 6 weeks. This means the males will be mounting the hens and the hens will begin laying eggs. That’s right, 6 weeks! At this time they should be in their permanent surroundings. Some breeders use large breeder pens and some use small cages. Either will work but I find the breeder pens work best. These can be old rabbit cages or purpose built cages. I actually made mine from inexpensive plastic 55 gallon barrels that I laid on their sides and built wire floors into. They are very easy to clean, never rot and are waterproof. Coturnix Quail only require 1 square foot of floor space per bird. They are very cold hardy and heat tolerant. Cage them according to your local conditions. They should be protected from wind and rain and extreme (sub freezing) cold, otherwise they’ll be fine. Coturnix Quail very much enjoy sand baths. They will jump into the sandbox and lie on their sides and happily chirp. It’s a big deal to them. Use a small plastic shoe box sized container with children’s play sand. Breeder pens should contain 3-6 hens and one male. All of my excess males are culled at 6-8 weeks. They are at their best size for the table at that time.

Coturnix Quail require a very high protein diet. The feed should have a minimum of 22% protein or the quail will suffer. Some signs of lack of protein are feather picking and fighting. Most growers use a non-medicated game bird starter typically available at Southern States or Tractor Supply Company type feed stores. Check your local feed store and if they do not carry it then see if they can order or make it for you, most will. Quail can be fed this throughout their lives and will require no supplement with this type of feed. Although they do like occasional treats of leafy greens (mine love spinach more then I do) and insects like mealworms or black fly larvae. Your quail chicks can be fed the starter feed but it should be crushed lightly for their little digestive systems. In a “grid-down” situation, alternative feeds may be used. Mealworm raising is something I’ll be trying out soon. The mealworms or other insects, such as black fly larvae, in combination with thistle seed, garden and table scraps can keep your quail fed without commercial feed while maintaining their strict protein requirements.  Thistle is easily grown so I keep some viable seed on hand for harder times and I stockpile a few buckets as well.

Quail should always have access to fresh, clean water. I use 32 oz. rabbit water bottles for my quail cages. These can keep as many as 5 quail in water for at least 24 hours a fill on the hottest of days. A self watering system would also work as well. Any of the nipple or cup type waters, typically used in chicken operations, will work fine. Be sure that your system is kept clean and ice free.

Got Quail?
Once your Coturnix Quail are laying eggs and you’re collecting and eating or hatching them, you’re ready to start culling birds. I hatch birds every 3 weeks. On this time table, I can keep us in quail meat and eggs as well as keeping fresh hens around to replace hens that are not laying or have produced through their maximum laying period. Quail can be culled any time after 6 weeks of age. That means that you can keep fresh meat around without refrigeration or freezers just by culling when needed. Quail are very easy to process. After some practice I can now butcher a quail in around 3 minutes each using only a pair of kitchen shears. I first hold the quail over my utility sink upside down. They will naturally extend their necks and I quickly remove it with one quick snip of the scissors. This is the most humane way I’ve found to perform this. After the bird settles, I remove the legs by cutting just below the knee joint. I then cut the wings at the joint where they meet the body. I then turn it in my hand and cut across the tail where it meets the body. I turn it around again and slide the scissors down its back between the skin and backbone. Peeling the skin off at that point is very easy. Once the skin is removed I cut along each side of the spine from that tail end. The entrails will come out with the removal of the spine. The bird can then be rinsed and is ready to store or eat. Quail meat is quite delicious and can be consumed any way that chicken can be prepared. It is moist and palatable with no “gamey” taste to them at all. Nutritionally, one Coturnix Quail has 20g protein and is very low in cholesterols and fats and is high in nutrients.

What Kind of Quail is that?
Standard Coturnix Quail are native to Asia and Europe and have been domesticated since ancient times. From this domestication, the Japanese Quail come in three main varieties. The choices are standard Coturnix Quail (Coturnix Coturnix Japonica), Jumbo Coturnix Quail and Texas A&M Coturnix Quail.  The standard Coturnix Quail do everything fast. They hatch fast at 16 to 17 days; they mature fast, are laying eggs and reach an ideal eating size at 6 weeks. These are the standard type from which the others varieties are derived. The Jumbo Coturnix variety is simply selectively bred Standard Coturnix Quail. The Jumbo variety will hatch in 18 – 19 days, and mature in around 8 weeks. They mature to a slightly larger weight then the standard sized Coturnix to nearly one pound. The Texas A&M Quail were selectively bred by Texas A&M University and are white in color, they typically sport a black or brown spot on their head. They hatch and mature like the Jumbo variety. Texas A&M differ from the other quail varieties in that they have a lighter colored meat. They are otherwise like the Jumbo Cotunix Quail. All of the quail varieties are very hardy and very rarely have health problems. They should be raised away from chickens, however, because they can transmit disease to each other.

Boy Quail Habits…
Male Coturnix Quail show much the same habits as other game birds. They are somewhat territorial and require access to 3-6 hens to be happy. Male Coturnix do crow but it’s nothing like a chicken. Their crow does not carry far and sounds much like any native wild bird you might hear close by. This means that Coturnix Quail are great for urban and suburban areas. They are very low-profile. Their mating habits appear a little rough and the hens will occasionally lose head feathers from courting activities. Any male that causes a hen to bleed badly or abuses a hen, and that does happen sometimes, should be culled. A good male takes good care of his girls. When you add treats to the pen, he will hover over the treat and emit a low grunting sound to invite them to what he found for them. He will also alert them to perceived danger with a quick series of grunts. Males can be identified by rust colored chest feathers, usually showing by around 5 weeks of age.

The Girls…
Female quail are generally referred to as hens like any other fowl. Females make no loud noises but can be quite vocal. They make a cricket chirping sound when they’re happy and “keep in touch” with their harem mates with low whistles. They will “bow” to you when you add treats to their cage and they will also puff and quiver their feathers. It’s very cute. Hens will occasionally fight. I’ve only seen this once but it can be brutal. I had one hen lose an eye to another hen. Hens displaying this behavior should be culled. Hens will usually ignore their eggs once they’ve laid them. Only about one in one thousand will set and hatch eggs. I have read of folks successfully setting quail eggs under bantam-sized chickens. Hens will only lay consistently year-round if given 14 hours of light. I have achieved this with a simple solar light set up over my opaque plastic barrel cages. A hen can be identified by her white chest feathers with small, black dots.

By-products from quail raising are many. Top of the list is their droppings. Very high in nutrients, composted quail manure is excellent for gardens and they’ll make a lot more of it then you think. Used quail egg shells go into compost as well. Feathers can be separated and used for stuffing for pillows, dyed for fly tying, crafts, etc. Cured quail skins can be sold and used for bird dog training and crafts.  Entrails and leftovers can be used for high quality pet food. I have sold them in pairs as pets as well. They make great pets requiring minimal care or space.

Coturnix Quail are a nearly perfect pre and post SHTF food source. Eggs hatch in 16-17 days. They grow to eating size in only 6 weeks. Their feed conversion ratio is extremely high. The eggs and meat are very healthy and the eggs are considered somewhat medicinal (Coturnix Quail eggs have been used in Asian medicine for centuries). Eggs can be used in any way that a chicken egg can. They are great for pickling and may be sold to local drinking establishments or at flea markets. I sell my excess eggs to Asian restaurants, particularly sushi establishments. They fetch $5.00 for a 10 pack in my area… That’s $0.50 per egg!! I do discount for larger orders, though. Coturnix Quail eggs are quite “under the radar “as well, making them easy to sell to establishments and at farmer’s markets. Most state health agencies do not regulate sale of Coturnix Quail eggs because they are considered game birds and not “fowl” and are generally not regulated by state game officials because they are a non-native species(just don’t release them, they will not last very long in the wild anyway). Check your state regulations if you do decide to sell them for human consumption because all state laws vary. They require only 1 square foot for each bird of living space. They are very quiet making them great for OPSEC. Pens can be indoor, outdoor, breeder pens, colonies or even re-purposed outbuildings. They make a great trade item… Quail are delicious!

Some helpful quail links…
Raising Mealworms
BackYardChickens Forum has an informative quail section

My foray into quail raising , including do it yourself details and pictures on building my 55 gallon drum breeder cages, brooders, finishing pens, incubator details and other experiences can be seen at in the Gardening section of the forum. Regards, Bigdtc in Md.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mr. Rawles,
I have just finished reading your book How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It and found it very helpful and enlightening. There is one thing I was wondering and can't seem to find an answer anywhere.
Owning horses in an extended grid-down situation presents the question of worming. After most worming meds has been used or expired how would you treat your horse for worms? I've read about using different herbs but wonder about their safety and dosages.
Thank you, - Michael N. in Arizona

JWR Replies: As with most medications for humans, the expiration dates marked on veterinary medications are very conservative. Stock up when you find de-worming paste on sale. Perhaps a reader could chime in with some herbal or 19th Century do-it-yourself alternatives.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

It is my opinion that survival in a long-term, system-down situation will require a lot more than stored food and water. Survival may boil down to being able to produce food in a sustainable manner with little more than natural resources. Many people seem focused on “bug out” plans, food storage and gardening, with seemingly little thought to the long-term survivability of their plan. While gardens will provide sources of nutrition which are very necessary, the higher calorie and protein needs cannot be satisfied by gardening alone.
Eggs, milk and meat are good sources of protein with caloric benefits that vegetables cannot meet. Many people who share their “plan” seem to think that wild animals can be easily harvested to meet their needs. However, if one adds up all the people who plan to “live off the land,” there is an evident shortfall. I have spent the past several years experimenting with various types of animal product cultivation and I have found that, regardless of the fact I was raised on a farm, I have had a lot to learn. During the past year, I have tried my skills with sheep and found myself in wonderment of the most original homestead animal. In this article I am going to highlight some of my experiences and provide some information about vital reference materials.
Throughout the Bible, analogies and references to sheep were used to illustrate certain behaviors, scenarios and offerings. Jacob was given a “coat of many colors” which was spun from sheep’s wool. Abraham was asked to offer a lamb for sacrifice. Jesus was referred to as the “Lamb of God.” Sheep were so interwoven with early human culture, that their characteristics provided a source of analogy for many of the Bible authors. We have learned through thousands of years of example that history has a tendency to repeat in certain patterns. And throughout ancient history, sheep and humans played a coexistent dependency. I do not think I fully understood many of those Bible analogies until I made the choice a year ago to add sheep to my homesteading experience. Sheep are, for good reason, the original choice of livestock in the history of humanity.
Sheep provide a plethora of resources, while the overhead of raising them can be quite nominal. Wool can be used for spinning into clothing, blankets, rugs and other useful accessories. Sheep’s milk can be used fresh, in cheese or other recipes. Lamb is a delicious delicacy, which is both nutritious and healthful. Sheep can also help control weeds and provide fertilizer, as well as being a great source of entertainment. The understanding sheep and how to keep them alive could prove very useful in a situation where modern conveniences are disturbed.
When I purchased my starter flock of sheep, I was rather naïve and I did not do much research. But I found an older gentlemen who was eager to share his knowledge, and wanted to thin down his little suburban flock, due to neighbor complaints. His passion was for the Border Cheviot breed, but his daughter had started their small flock with Suffolk’s which were part of her FFA project. So, I purchased a mix of purebred Border Cheviot with Suffolk. It meant little to me at the time, but I have been learning the importance of the breed. One of the best overall references I have found, and use constantly, is Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep. This book has a very good section on breeds of sheep.
Selecting the breed of sheep is a rather important step in getting started. There are sheep (referred to as “hair sheep”) who do not need to be sheered, because they shed their wool each year, and their primary purpose is for meat. Right now, wool is not worth very much, so this seems an attractive option. There are sheep, such as the Suffolk, whose selling characteristic is the fast growth of lambs for meat, but their wool is not very desirable for spinning. I have been told, all of the black-faced breeds of sheep are not considered desirable for wool. The white-faced sheep, such as the Border Cheviot, have softer, more desirable wool. The Moreno breed is considered to be the best for wool production. There seem to be three major categories of traits for sheep: Wool, meat and heartiness.
I found the Border Cheviot to be flighty and difficult to deal with at times, but stronger and heartier than some of the other breeds. They are also quite small, so not as good for meat, and sometimes they have a hard time producing enough milk for two lambs. But the ewes have strong maternal instincts and rarely abandon a lamb. Some breeds are known for large numbers of offspring each year. They tend to have more problems raising the lambs themselves, with shortage of milk and apathy toward the big family, but are good for production of both milk and lambs for meat. The various breeds of sheep all have a set of attributes and drawbacks, so diligent study should be done before deciding on a breed to raise or cross-breed.
One of the most important choices a person must make is the Ram (or Rams) that will be used to produce next years’ crop of lambs. I was guided into purchasing a well-bred Suffolk ram, and I am happy for that guidance. My lambs this year are bigger and growing faster than the ones from the Border Cheviot ram last year. The Suffolk ram is also quite docile and not as aggressive as other rams I have seen. Although he does challenge me from time to time, he responds well to reprimand and he has not attacked me. The biggest challenge with rams is to make sure they do not hit you from behind. They wait for an opportunity, because they enjoy smacking other animals with their heads. I treat my ram cautiously because I know he could become quite dangerous, if not kept in check. I do not pet him on the head and I keep the relationship somewhat distant. Rams feel that friendship involves head-butting. The ram determines not only the type of lambs you will get, but also their personality and the mood of the flock.
My first major lesson in being a shepherd came when my costly young ram started looking depressed. He went off alone and lied under a tree for a day.  I figured I would keep an eye on him and hope he was better soon. He went downhill fast. By the time I got him to the veterinarian, it was discovered that he had a massive infestation of worms. When I asked if they had seen one this bad before, the veterinarian replied, “not in a living sheep.” He died shortly thereafter and I spent the evening digging a deep hole with a shovel. That was when I became educated on the most deadly threat to sheep – parasites.
There are a number of worms that will infest sheep. Roundworms are the most common infestation, and the culprit in my lamb loss. Initially, I used the chemical wormer, sold to me by the veterinarian. But I wanted to find a naturally sustainable way to manage this problem. The worm infestation runs in a cycle. Millions of eggs are passed in the feces of the sheep, later hatching and becoming worms that are ingested. My first strategy is to encourage my chickens to spend more time in the field, feeding on the eggs and worms. To do this, I changed their grain feeding pattern. I only feed a small amount of grain in the evening before they roost so they forage during the day instead of waiting around for food. But this will only help slow down the cycle.
The second part of my strategy has been the use of garlic juice. Initially, I was using powdered garlic in their grain. I had the veterinarian test a sample of feces from the sheep and it was found that there was a significant population of worms. It was recommended that I use the chemical worming solution immediately. I did a little reading and decided to hold off on the chemical solution. I bought a large quantity of whole garlic and put it through my juicer. I stirred the juice into the grain and fed it to the sheep. I repeated the treatment a week later, and then had another test done. The worm population had decreased, but there were still worms. So I continued with treatments for another month and tested again. Although still present, the number of worm eggs in the feces has diminished to a point that is not considered dangerous and chemical treatment is no longer being recommended.
Another type of worm of particular concern, especially for dog owners, is the tapeworm. It can be transmitted to dogs through ingestion of feces or meat.  However, natural treatment for this type of worm turns out to be much less complicated. I have been mixing a couple of tablespoons of food grade diatomaceous earth with the sheep salt, and tests have found no presence of tapeworms. I purchased a 50 lb. bag of this miracle solution at for an affordable price. A little diatomaceous earth goes a long way and it has many uses.
In addition to garlic, I have found apple cider vinegar to be of use in both controlling worms and aiding in the overall health of my sheep. I add several cups of vinegar to their water from time to time. Runny noses dry up and the sheep look healthier. The health benefits of vinegar for sheep, chickens, and even humans, are numerous. I use vinegar regularly for all of my animals. Sheep, like most animals dependent on our chemical treated culture, have a number of health hazards that are important to know how to treat. I am learning daily and I imagine the learning will continue as long as I have sheep. My friend, who has commercially raised sheep for 30 years, says she still learns something new every day. She recommended a book that is no longer in print, but I was able to buy it used on A Practical Guide To Sheep Disease Management, by Norman Gates.
Sheep are more economical with feed than many other four-legged creatures. However, quality of feed is very important for sheep. I have a high quality pasture grass with gravity flow irrigation. My sheep get very upset when I flood irrigate each week, but it creates a healthy growth of grassy nutrition. During the winter months, I feed premium alfalfa hay. When ewes are pregnant, the size of their stomach can be reduced by the space needed for the growing lambs. This can cause severe health problems, if proper nutrition is not provided. I grain my ewes daily during the last few months of pregnancy. A friend told me of her first year raising sheep wherein she lost more than half of her ewes due to lack of nutrition during pregnancy. It has crossed my mind how difficult it would be to sustain any of these creatures without the hay and grain so readily available in today’s world. But it was accomplished during Bible times, so I’m sure it could be done again.
Lambing can be a stressful time for both the sheep and the shepherd. Depending on when they are bred, sheep tend to lamb between February and April. In many parts of the country, this is a cold, blustery time of year. Some sheep are naturally good at pushing out healthy lambs, while others are going to need help. I am not going to cover all of the things that can go wrong, because that would be an article in and of itself.  However, I am going to say that, from what I have learned, being ready to take a gloved hand and feel around inside a sheep is part of the business. And I say “gloved hand” because, I am told there that as a woman, there are diseases which I can get from sheep without the use of gloves during birthing. Some breeds of sheep are natural with the lambing process and some will require a lot of help. I have had to “pull” two lambs this year from first year ewes that had trouble. It was a trying, but worthwhile experience.
Lambs need to nurse within the first hour of being born, or things can go sideways. If a lamb has not nursed properly, its mouth will go cold. This means the lamb is in trouble. Colostrum needs to be given to the lamb quickly to avoid death. The easier way to avoid this scenario is to hold the sheep and try to get the lamb nursing. Lambs need special treatment for the first 10 days of their lives, so separate enclosures with good shelter is advised. I had two pens with huts I purchased used from another breeder. It worked well for my six ewes. The new lambs should have their umbilical cords treated with iodine until they dry. They will also need to monitored carefully to make sure they are nursing properly and staying healthy. Books have been helpful, but I have found there is almost no better resource than a person who has spent a number of years raising sheep and is willing to share knowledge.
Lambs are also mentally weak. They will literally lay down and die if they think things are bad. My veterinarian put it this way, “remember the four S’s of sheep raising: Sick Sheep Seldom Survive.”  And most of the time, the ones that sick are the lambs. Recently, one of my lambs was somehow interpreted by my guard dogs to be a buddy that wanted to wrestle. Although there was no blood or obvious physical injury, the lamb thought this was the end of his life and just gave up. His neck seemed to have had some sort of whip-lash type injury from the incident, but he was otherwise healthy. I spent a hectic week trying to keep him alive and convince him to nurse again. My secret weapon turned out to be a mixture of water, honey, egg yolk and garlic juice, plunged down him from a syringe. He perks up substantially after a half cup of the concoction. However, without the intense care, he would still have given up at times because his neck hurt.
Predators are another big threat to lambs and sheep. I have my acreage surrounded with near-predator-proof fencing. I have watched coyotes and foxes stand at the fence and gaze hungrily at my animals. They have only a few places where they can get in around my gate, with some effort. And when they do get in, I have two 120 pound. German Shepherd guard dogs who will try to kill them. So predators are, for the most part, not much of a problem. However, in a situation less secured, there are dogs (such as the Great Pyrenees) who are capable of killing even a wolf to protect the sheep. Devising a predator plan is a very important part of a sheep operation.
Setting up my operation has been a somewhat costly venture, but I have found some significant tax advantages in doing so. Because I am raising livestock for a profit, the costs of setting up the pastures, fences, facilities, and purchasing of the initial stock has provided a significant tax deduction for several years. I will probably make a “profit” on my sale of stock this year and have some tax liability. But, so far, the benefits of the learning and the improvements to my small farm have proven to be a good move for taxes.
Lamb is a sheep of less than a year old. Lamb is considered to have a more “mild” flavor than mutton, which is the meat of a grown sheep. I “culled” a problem ewe last fall, by adding her to the butcher list. The “lamburger” and meat from the mutton sheep has been as popular with my customers as the lamb. My favorite ingredient for everything I cook with lamb is rosemary. Rosemary seems to sweeten and enhance the flavors, so I raise several rosemary plants in my kitchen and use it regularly. I recently marinated a leg of lamb in my sauce for 24 hours before roasting it on the barbeque grill, with terrific results. I often use the marinate sauce as a base for gravy. I have received some rave reviews from friends and family.
Rosemary Marinade Sauce

½ cup olive oil
¼ cup dry red wine
¼ cup fresh rosemary leaves, minced
¼ cup fresh garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
Preparing to live without modern conveniences is a lifestyle. I have made many sacrifices to live in my homestead. And raising animals can be very challenging while holding down full time employment. I imagine the thousands of years of history when human survival hinged on a herd of sheep that were watched over while they grazed on the hillside. The stories of the wolves and the battles to keep the sheep safe have become more meaningful for me. I have fortified my little farm to resist threats, both four-legged and two-legged. I believe long-term survival could mean that protecting a flock of sheep and a homestead might include dealing with people who are “bugging out” and need to be sent down the road. I strongly urge people to change their way of living now and move to a sustainable lifestyle.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Many children today are ill prepared to safely conduct themselves in a variety of natural settings. Watching all the parents around me twist themselves into knots dropping off and picking up their children, running them constantly to practices and clubs and using all their vacation days to be with the precious children on every field trip, it is apparent that wrapping children in steel wool is still strongly favored. The world is a harsh place and many of these children are ill prepared for a really bad situation. Older but still useful skills can encourage independence in a child and allow for a child to develop his or her response to a variety of situations where bad decisions with consequences will be faced. Horseback riding has danger associated with it and parents should act to discipline their children with regards to safety rules and safety training.

Preparing your child to react in a calm thoughtful way if they find themselves in a dangerous situation can save their or another child’s life. In my childhood, I found myself with the neighbor’s children playing on the banks of a freezing creek. The neighbor’s son went out onto the ice and being the smallest got out about 3-4 feet from the bank. He went through and was standing in water up to his chest. The current pulled him hard against the ice. When he tried to climb out the ice broke and when he tried to come back toward shore the current under the ice made him unsteady in the water. My mother had made sure I knew I should never walk on ice unless freezing temperatures had lasted many days unabated but if I did and it cracked I needed to get down and crawl or lay on my belly and slide to safety. I also knew if someone were to go through you needed to find a branch to help pull them out. He was completely soaked but we got him out. Since I was the better rider I got up on the fastest horse with him in front and cantered ten minutes back to his house. He suffered no ill effects but waiting in icy water for twenty minutes or more for his parents to arrive might not have had the same result. Would your child know what to do and have the skills to act safely and decisively?

While in a TEOTWAWKI situation, working horses will become more prolific. Being a lover and former owner of horses, I do not recommend anyone purchase a pony or horse for a child unless the parents are very clear as to the amount of work and expense it will require. Owning a horse is not needed to learn how to ride. In most communities, local stables offer riding lessons. It is also possible to trade work for riding lessons with persons who own horses as well. This work for lessons arrangement is better for many reasons than paying for lessons. Mucking stables, grooming, tack care, feeding and basic medical care provide needed lessons on handling and care of horses.

Early riding instruction can be vital. Older children and adults have difficulties learning basic riding skills due to being a larger size and height. The most common reaction of larger sized beginners I have observed is the tendency to lie down on the horse followed by fear and quitting or frustration at the lack of fast progress. A very young child can be sat on very gentle horse with an experienced handler and walked in an enclosed space at a very young age. I was sat on horses and my horse walked by lead at the age of 2. Below I summarize the basic plan of lessons I received building on my early introduction to the horse.

A. Orientation - On the ground.

Basic riding gear is needed. Proper footwear should include a sturdy covered shoe with a low heel. Clothes that are comfortable and will not ensnare you as well as a helmet should be worn. As a child, I did not want to wear a helmet but after seeing a friend of mine fall off numerous times I decided it might be prudent to wear my helmet.  Horses can be startled by running and loud sudden noises. When walking behind the horse either stay far enough away he cannot kick you or stay very close to his rump while running your hand along his body so he does not startle. Speaking normally and running your hands along the horse will help avoid spooking your animal.

  1. Introduction to the horse.
  2. For the first time, the horse should already be haltered and either in a stall or tethered. Now would be the time to bring that piece of carrot. Hold the hand flat with thumb tucked against the side of the palm and allow the horse to take the food. Stand at the side of the horse’s neck facing him on his left side. This is also the side where you will mount and dismount. Make sure he can see you. Speak gently. Scratch under his jaw or his chest as he prefers. Come forward and untie the lead rope. Lead ropes should always be knotted in a slip knot so a horse can be released with a single quick pull.

Since children may be too excited to pay a great deal of attention to the next three phases (2a, 3 & 4) some instructors choose to have a horse groomed and saddled and save the following three parts as follow-up instruction at a subsequent training session. Removal of the following three instructions is also appropriate for very young children. These techniques cannot be completed by any child who cannot reach the horse’s ears.

3. Practice standing near the horse and walking. Show the child how to be firm without shouting. Have the child hold the lead with one hand close to the horses head and the other to hold a place to keep the lead from dragging. Explain and make sure the child does not wrap the rope around their hands or wrist so that if the horse bolted they could just drop the entire rope without being snared by it. An intermediate skill to practice here would be jogging with the horse at a trot. Walk the horse in a circle bringing the horse to the area where you intend to groom. The slip knot should be demonstrated and the child should complete it at least once prior to moving to the next phase. Observe the child at all subsequent rides until the child can tie the knot without any assistance from you.

4. Grooming. The child should be taught the various implements used. A basic kit will include a curry comb, brush, hoof pick, sweat slicker (optional) and mane comb. Grooming takes place before and after a ride. The child should know that you use the curry (the sharp circular one) holding a steady and not overly hard hand moving in a counter clockwise fashion (against the hair) to loosen mud and hair under the minimum areas of the saddle, saddle blanket and girth. Horses generally like being curried so you may find that your horse likes his chest to be done and also his rump. You can also curry the legs and in a precise gentle way also get a patch of mud on the horse’s jaw. Horses are most sensitive on their belly and will shimmy their belly, pull away, bring a leg forward to kick at you or turn and bite you if particularly annoyed. Lighten your pressure in any of these cases and if this fails keep the curry to just the girth areas of the belly. The bony parts of the horse’s legs can also get unfavorable reactions so keep the curry comb to the other parts and only use sparingly to remove mud.  A child should not be afraid to apply some pressure to the curry comb since the purpose is to loosen dust, mud and hair. It should be done thoroughly. Rubbing it over an area once will not be enough to accomplish the loosening needed. The next step is to brush the curried areas with the hair brush. Brush the hair flat and remove all loose material. Horses love the hair brush and it can be used on all parts of the horse’s body excepting be careful around the eyes. 

The next stage is cleaning the hooves. For the purposes of this section, I will describe the procedure to you so that you can in turn demonstrate this to the child or beginner. I start at the horse’s left front leg. Stand with your back to the head of the horse and facing the tail. Run your hand down the horse’s leg and grab the fetlock area. Have the hoof pick in your other hand. Trained horses may automatically lift their leg but it is likely you will need to pull up bringing the hoof off of the ground. Rest the horse’s leg against your knee bring the hoof only a few inches off the ground. The hoof will be slightly in between your legs and to the side. If you are in the correct position, the horse is able to turn and bite you on your bottom. Most won’t. They are much more likely to put their foot down. Since they are strong they will probably succeed. Just lift the leg back up. When the horse sets his hoof down this is the most likely time they will step on your foot. If this happens, do not pull away but lean forward pushing your body weight against the horse. The purpose is to get the horse to shift his weight or step away. As soon as pressure is relieved pull your foot away. Depending on how much weight and how they got you this is going to hurt. Good shoes make all the difference. Now it’s time to clean out the hooves take the pick and slide it into the mud, pebbles, horse manure you find there clean it out from the sides. The sensitive part there is the frog and it is the leathery spongy part in the middle of the exposed area. Clean this area but do not jab it with the pick. Running the pick on its side here is one way to clean without worrying about hurting the horse. On either side is a cavity with a hard material bottom. The hard material may be scrapped with the pick without injury to the horse. This should be thoroughly cleaned out. Picking out material from the horseshoes is also a good idea. If there is a stone lodged in the hoof you need to work on removing it before you ride. Every leg is done in this manner. The back legs will be the ones the horse is most likely to put his leg down and must be done quickly. Most horses will take over when you release their leg putting their hoof down but some will need to be pushed down a bit to realize you are done.

The sweat slicker is used to remove sweat after a ride especially in summer and the mane comb is used to manage the mane and tail. These items should be easy to figure out but when you comb the tail stand to the side of the horse and pull it over. Do not stand behind the horse.

5. Saddling and bridling the horse. The girths should not drag and be brought over the seat. On the English saddle secure the stirrups. It is easiest to do this at the end of the last ride. On an English saddle, you pick up the metal stirrups and run it up to the seat of the saddle then you pull the leather strap through. This should secure them. Most English saddles have a saddle pad attached but with a western saddle you need to grab a blanket. Place the blanket so that its start rests slightly over the withers (the shoulder blades of the horse). Both types of saddles should be lifted and placed on the horse so that the saddle rests just on the edge of the withers. If you don’t get it placed correctly at first go ahead and lift and replace it until it is set right. Keep the English stirrups secured until you are ready to mount.  Go ahead and drop the girth. Reach under the horse and grab hold of the dangling leather. Children may need an adult to push it over so they can grasp it. The English saddle is the easiest to secure you just fasten the buckles under the flap like a belt. A girth of either type is the proper tightness when you can only insert your fingers under the leather and should rest on the smallest circumference of the belly behind the legs. If you cannot fit your fingers go ahead and loosen the girth. Horses tend to suck in air when saddled. This means that after you have secured the bridle you must recheck the girth’s tightness. In some horses, you will need to recheck just before you mount. The western girth is secured in a different manner. Take the leather and pull it up through the O-ring from the girth up to the O-ring near the seat of the saddle. Push the extra leather through the saddle O-ring and bring it out and to the side as you look at it. Wrap it horizontal in front of the leather just below the O-ring. Take it up and loop it through the O-ring again bringing it out and in a vertical direction. Now tuck this through the horizontal piece you have just created.  Pull it down. Tightening this girth will be needed and you must follow the leather re-tightening without untying the knot.

B. Mounting and Riding

Carry the bridle hung over your shoulder holding the reins up so they do not drag. To remove the halter go ahead and unbuckle the side letting it hang. Stand next to the horse’s head hold the bridle in front of the horse and pull the halter free of the horse’s ears. Horses tend to lift their head when the halter slides clear. If needed, circle the horses under the neck and behind the right ear with your arm to maintain some control. I prefer to hold the bit in my hand and lift it separate from the leather bridle bringing it to the horse’s teeth and having him accept it then quickly lift the bridle so the bit is not dropped back out of the horse’s mouth. This will keep the bit from smacking the horse’s teeth. Put the top piece over the horse’s head and secure the side buckle.

  1. How to mount properly. Bring the reins down so that they fall from the bit. Hold the reins with both hands. Emphasize the importance of holding the reins so that the thumbs are clear. Lead the horse into an enclosed space, if possible. Put the reins back up over the horse’s head and bring the stirrups down for the English saddle. Beginners can take the reins and a goodly chunk of horse mane in their left hand. Place the left foot in the stirrup and face the front of the horse. Beginners may need a lift and can have someone cup their left leg and boost them up without using the stirrup. A push from the bottom can also be used with the left foot in the stirrup. Swing the right leg wide so that it clears the horse and sit down on the horse. Encourage the child not to plop on the horse’s back. I have found that to maintain control bring the knee over and squeeze it against the saddle.  The instructor may hold the horse’s bridle while the rider still has the reins in their hands. They should hold the reins so the extra material goes over the top of the hands. Hold the reins with a little slack.

2. Orientation on the horse.

3. Now is the time to train the child how to react if a horse bolts or another horse nearby bolts. First, the child should try to halt the horse the standard way with steady pressure with both hands. If this fails the next method is to tighten and loosen the reins with alternating uneven pressure to regain control (this causes the bit to slide through the horse’s mouth) and if that fails, shorten the rein tremendously on one side and allow the horse to move in ever tightening circles until control is restored. The final method involves the emergency dismount. This generally hurts upon landing. The feet will sting and strength is needed to push the rider clear of the horse. The child does not want to end up near the horse’s legs. This is not a riskless maneuver and would most likely be used to avoid a collision. The correct way to do this during a real emergency is to drop the stirrups and reins, although the reins may be draped over the saddle horn in the western saddle or a loose tie of the rein ends could be created to avoid the reins dropping down to the horse’s legs. The hands are placed on the pommel or the withers and the left leg is swung over the back of the horse as in a dismount. This must be done with more force to propel the rider off and away from the horse. Use the hands to push off as well. When practicing this dismount with a horse that is not spooked some people keep their hands on the reins. Emphasis the rider to use caution following any incident where the rider would use these techniques as it is possible the horse will spook again at something small.

4. The proper way to ride a horse is to use your legs and thighs to grip the horse. Many new riders and even some that have been riding for a while only sit on the horse primarily using gravity to stay there. Children will struggle with this at first since their legs are not long. Growing up many of my friends never made the transition to actual riding but continued to sit on the horse. You can notice this when a child falls for seemingly no reason such as a horse pulling forward to try and grab some grass causing the child to roll or fall off. The knees of the rider should be bent and heels should be pointed down. This stance will help keep full contact with the horse between the rider’s thighs down to the calves. A stair step can be used by the rider to develop more flexibility in keeping the heels down. Stand one stair up and lower one heel over the edge of the stair keeping the ball of the foot on the stair. Press down on the heel. Both feet can be conditioned in this manner.

5. The aids. There are four natural aids used to control of the horse. They are the voice, seat, legs, and hands. Unnatural aids include the crop, whip, spurs and most importantly the bit. Beginning riders will use the legs and hands the most. Experienced riders will use the seat most. Only after experience and practice will the rider gain the confidence and expertise to have an independent seat. Riders should work toward reducing the large movements to control the horse. As is traditional now and may be imperative in a TEOTWAWKI situation, voice should be used sparingly or not at all. The bit is the most useful of the unnatural aids. After a ride and after good individual performance, I do praise and pat my horse.

6. Time to ride. The first aid used is generally a kick or tap from the heels into the sides of the horse. A young child may actually need to lift their legs a bit to make an impression to get the horse to walk and later trot. The older the rider the less force will be needed and experienced rider will generally only squeeze the horse’s side with their heel or just reposition their leg slightly. The hands should stay quiet and be low near the horse’s neck. Once the rider’s seat is more developed go ahead and have them shift forward to also signal the command to start walking. Encourage the child to be firm and keep the horse from stopping or trying to eat grass. From a walk or trot, lean forward and squeeze the horse’s side to proceed to trotting or cantering. Later, when the seat is developed it is possible to canter without trotting first. Turning is accomplished by tightening the rein on the side in which the horse should turn. Have the rider avoid pulling on the horse’s mouth. This desensitizes them. If a horse salivates, while working the bit this is fine. Apply steady pressure on the reins to halt the horse. Now is the time to keep practicing. The emergency dismount should be practiced as well as walking and trotting.  Save cantering for later lessons. If you are using an English saddle, you will need to post (lift yourself off the saddle) while trotting. I enjoy posting and find it makes riding a horse easier for longer timeframes. Posting when done correctly is all from the knees and thighs. Beginners will push off the stirrup at first but should work on strengthening themselves. Advanced riders can post in a trot with no stirrups (either removed from the saddle or crossed over so they do not bounce). These are the basic skills needed to progress to intermediate and advanced riding skills.

7. The ride is now over. Walk the horse and let him cool down. The harder he has worked the longer you should spend walking. Show the rider how to reach down and examine the horse’s temperature on his upper chest while still mounted. If he is hot there have the rider keep walking. Once the horse has cooled down have the rider dismount, pull the reins over the head and if using an English saddle run up the stirrups. Take him to the area where you will unsaddle and unbridle the horse. Have the halter ready at that location. Unsaddle and unbridle the horse. Have the rider slip the halter up and over the horse’s head. Now the rider should get a grooming kit and use the sweat slicker if needed and give the horse another curry and brush. The hooves should be examined as to whether cleaning is needed. After trail rides this may be necessary.

Happy riding.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Rabies – a legitimate concern or fear-mongering? 
As I watch my pet Golden Retriever "Doodles" cautiously sniff at the curb sewer, I believe the threat is real.  A family of raccoons lives in the sewer pipes, and just a few months ago a local dog died of raccoon rabies.  Could my children be next?

Ohio is on the frontier of raccoon rabies, but despite yearly aerial and ground baiting programs for oral rabies vaccination, the uniformly lethal infection is moving westward.  Bat rabies, the other common threat, is distributed more evenly across the United States.  (If you’re wondering about your own state, check out the maps at Rabid Raccoons Reported in the United States during 2010 and Rabid Bats Reported in the United States during 2010

Odds are you’re unaware of anyone who’s died of rabies. That might not be the case if you live in India.  In the U.S., human rabies is so rare that every case is investigated by the CDC (only 2–4 per year). In India, annual deaths top 20,000, with someone dying of rabies every 30 minutes. (Read this article.) This is largely due to under-vaccination of the dog population.  Per the World Health Organization, 15 million people worldwide are treated with post-exposure vaccination, which is estimated to prevent 327,000 rabies deaths annually.

So what would happen in America if the vaccine became unavailable and the population of stray dogs exploded? This could well occur in a true end-of-life-as-we-know-it scenario.  Though our population density is not that of India, clearly the number of cases would skyrocket. 

The next logical question is: what can be done about it?  Avoiding contact with bats, raccoons, wild canines, skunks, and suspicious dogs is obviously indicated.  Even pacifists may be motivated to acquire a gun and the knowledge to use one safely.  Clearly you should vaccinate pets and other domestic animals now

But what about pre-exposure vaccination in humans?  This is already recommended for veterinary students, spelunkers, and travelers to endemic regions where dog contact is likely.  In 2009 a Virginia physician diagnosed his own subsequently fatal case of rabies a few months after returning from India – and without suspicious animal exposure! His agonizing end is detailed at the CDC web site

If you ask your family doctor whether you should be vaccinated against rabies in case of widespread disaster, the answer will likely be no.  At a cost of up to $800 for the series of three shots, your insurance is unlikely to cover immunizations without a clear indication. However, if you visit a travel clinic, perhaps at your local health department, you may be able to obtain the vaccine, especially if you fall into one of the high risk categories mentioned above.  The low-risk state of Indiana has a nice summary regarding vaccination on their web site. Your own state should offer something similar, or read the CDC’s guidelines on Human Rabies Prevention.

If you do desire vaccination, how long is immunity expected to last?  Unfortunately only a few years.  Current recommendations for those at high-risk include blood testing for effective immunity every 2-3 years, followed by re-vaccination if titers are low. (Pets simply receive repeat vaccination.)

I have also investigated the question of using canine rabies vaccination on humans.  This has not been tested and likely never will be.  I expect the likelihood of allergic reaction might be increased.  However, per the doctors I consulted, they felt canine rabies vaccine has a good chance of effectiveness in humans.  If I were bitten by a bat or suspicious raccoon, skunk, or dog, and the only thing I had available was animal vaccine, I would certainly use it.  Curiously, some states, including Ohio, allow purchase of veterinary rabies vaccine by non-medical personnel, although most states limit sale to veterinarians only. The same dose is used for dogs of all sizes, with twice as much administered to horses.

So where does this leave us?  As a family physician, stockpiling human rabies vaccine is cost-prohibitive.  On the other hand, at $20/dose, stockpiling dog rabies vaccine is a consideration, both for professionals and laymen.  Vaccines do require refrigeration and commonly list a shelf-life of only a year or two, but having something on hand may be preferable to having nothing.  

While I cannot offer a one-size-fits-all answer on this topic, rabies vaccination is a valid question for serious preppers.

Dr. Koelker is the SurvivalBlog's Medical Editor and hosts the popular medical prepping site   

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I grew up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. I was raised by a single mother who didn’t have time for much besides working to pay bills. I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up on a farm or learn canning or learn any useful survival/life skills besides how to cook Hamburger Helper and I was doing that at the ripe old age of 10. I did become a pro at making stew though and I could probably tell you 101 ways to use pasta. And thanks to my grandmother I could even crochet you a scarf if you’re lucky and if I have the spare time between working as a realtor and raising six kids, who are now ages 10-to-22.
Getting married, moving away from home at the age of 18 and becoming a military wife introduced me to a lot of new people, new ideas and I was able to learn things along the way that have prepared me for almost any event that may occur in the future that would take most of us out of our comfort zones, be it a job loss, world financial crash, hurricane, government collapse or any disaster that may hit my area. When your husband is out of town for sometimes as long as a year at a time, you have lots of time for reading, television watching and experimenting and that is what I did and continue to do with my current husband who also works long hours. I didn’t think of it as prepping or hoarding or whatever terminology you want to give it. I didn’t have a book that was specifically about a SHTF (I really don’t like that acronym but it is one most people understand so I’ll use it) scenario and there was no Internet back when I started down this path in the 1980s. I just felt in my gut this instinct that I should always be ready for “something”. Maybe that was a result of being so close to the fire so to speak because my husband was in the military and his whole career revolved around preparing for what might one day happen, maybe it was from listening to my grandparents talk about the Great Depression or maybe it was a higher being and verses I had read in my Bible about what one day might happen to this world but regardless I started preparing for something that may never happen in my lifetime but if it does…I’m ready and I want to teach my children to be ready and hopefully these skills and knowledge will be passed on from generation to generation so if “it” ever does happen my loved ones will not only survive but prosper.
I don’t talk about survival skills or preparing for any cataclysmic event with my extended family or my friends because I know they’d just think I was crazy and I don’t ever want to worry my children or have them live in a constant state of fear but I do want them to learn so in our house we call the preparations “getting ready for hurricane season.” Most of the people I know have the proverbial “it will never happen here or it will never happen to me” mindset. That is fine for them but not for me and mine. They know we live in the country and we grow a garden and we have a lot of animals. They make fun of us, ask us how we can live so far out and why we don’t just buy our veggies at a Kroger's supermarket. That’s fine, but one day if the SHTF scenario happens then whose door do you think they will show up at? Exactly, mine. Because they will remember that Mrs. S. grows her own veggies and has guns and ammo and raises her own chickens and has cows at her back door. Only problem with that is the part we aren’t telling anyone and that is that we have another even more remote place that we are stocking and getting ready so that if the SHTF event ever occurs we will be leaving here because we feel that every hungry soul in Houston is going to head outside of the city limits and end up on our doorstep and we don’t want to be here when that happens.
When Hurricane Rita was due to hit in 2005 we got a taste of what would happen in the event of a disaster. We had nowhere to go so I sat on my deck and watched the farm to market road close to me turn into a parking lot. Several vehicles ran out of gas and there were no gas stations open because those people were evacuating too. There were no bathrooms so the street was littered with whatever people could find to relieve themselves on the side of the road. And I’ve never seen so much trash on my road. We were afraid to go to bed that night because those people might break into our house. One of my kids suggested we open a lemonade stand on the corner. We’d have probably made a fortune!  Regardless, that storm didn’t even blow away a plastic bottle that I’d left out off of the deck railing but it did teach a lot of people a valuable lesson, that they weren’t ready.
When Hurricane Ike hit in 2008 we thought we were ready. We weren’t going to evacuate after seeing the results of Rita, we were going to stay home and ride it out. I’d made sure that our above ground pool was emptied and cleaned and then filled it with clean well water and a little chlorine bleach straight from the bottle. I’d gone to the store and bought supplies and we’d battened down the hatches. My uncle had come over to wait out the storm with us and he and I stood in the garage and watched the storm blow by. Once again it didn’t do much damage at our house. Just a few fallen limbs. Then my current husband who was 42 at the time started feeling sick within minutes of the storm passing. He got dizzy and couldn’t walk. The phones, both land lines and cell had all stopped working a few hours earlier so I couldn’t call 911 but I knew he needed help and none of my skills as a Realtor were going to help at this point even though I had learned CPR as a Girl Scout Leader for my daughter’s troop. We loaded him into the car and headed into town 10 miles away. The storm hadn’t done much damage at my house but the streetlights were out and some were hanging so low one nearly hit my windshield. There were trees down everywhere and I had to navigate carefully around them. I had my hazard lights on the whole time. When we got to town I needed to make a left at what was once a light but was now just wires dangling down to the ground to get to the ER and no one [in the oncoming lane] would let me turn. The traffic lights weren’t working so why should they stop? I got a glimpse of how humanity becomes under stress. My uncle had to get out to stop cars and I pulled my Suburban out in front of them with a “you will let me turn into the ER or we’ll both get killed” mentality. I have raised six kids, so you can’t bully me and get away with it because I’ll push back! I got him safely to the ER which was packed with people and later learned that he’d had a stroke due a blocked carotid artery. Yes, even 42 year olds can and do have strokes, especially when they are out of shape, they dip tobacco and are under severe stress. Luckily for him he survived it and has very little residual damage except for poor vision and vertigo. We learned a valuable lesson that day. We still weren’t ready.
So that is the who and why of Mrs. S. in a nutshell. The whole point of this however is for you to learn something. So the following bullet points are my suggestions on what you should know, do or start learning now and what you should have on hand or stored so that if a SHTF scenario occurs you won’t have to show up on Mrs. S’s empty doorstep. There isn’t enough room here for me to list everything so I suggest you go online and order some books on surviving under tough situations. Do web searches on “prepper books, survival books, first aid books, Amish books, canning, homesteading, animal husbandry, gardening, etc” because there is a lot of information out there. You can go to Netflix and watch a television series called “The Colony”, it gives you an eye opening view of life in a post collapse situation although not everyone is going to be living with an engineer a doctor and a handyman who can build cars out of toothpicks MacGyver style, ha ha. There’s another show we watched called Survivors which was a post flu pandemic scenario. (Not to be confused with the television show Survivor where you outwit your fellow Survivor opponent on a pretty tropical island somewhere.) There’s also the Out of the Wild series on The Discovery Channel which I enjoyed. The old episodes are on Netflix. It will really open your eyes if they aren’t opened already. So, here’s the list and remember….this just touches the surface of what you need to know to be ready for a life changing event.

  1. Have a safe place to go in the event you need to leave and if you plan to go to someone else’s house, make sure you have permission or you might get met at the end of a shotgun. Don’t wait for evacuation orders. Leave at the first sign of trouble. If nothing else, think of it as a little vacation and if you leave a little to late, take the roads less traveled. Learn them now so that if your GPS isn’t working you can navigate your way safely out of town. Buy maps and keep them in your car. Most states have web sites where you can order them for free or go to a State’s travel welcome center and get one there.
  2. Volunteer with the Boy or Girl scouts so you can start learning basic survival skills. It’s amazing how many people in this world don’t even know how to start a fire. Speaking of fire, have lots of water proof matches, lighters and a magnesium fire starter. Having a fire can mean the difference between life and death. You can also make fire kindling using Gulf wax, an egg carton and lint from your dryer. Google it. It’s a Girl Scout trick I learned (I learned to cook on the bottom of a coffee can too!). Learn how to make candles or buy cheap ones at the dollar store. I prefer beeswax ones myself. [JWR Adds: All those new open flame sources around your home will make fire fighting skills just as important as fire starting skills. Buy several fire extinguishers or your house, and one for each vehicle. Study how to use them.]
  3. Take a CPR class and learn basic first aid then stock up on first aid supplies. Watch videos online about first aid. My current favorite is Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy. I learned to do stitches that way recently. Join your local volunteer fire department so you can use those skills you are learning.
  4. Start buying extra non-perishables and canned goods now because once the SHTF you can forget it. I like to buy freeze dried products because they can last for many years without expiring. There are several online companies to order from. Google “freeze dried foods”. I like the #10 cans but I have a large family. Regardless, most of those last 20+ years sealed and two more years even after being opened but read the labels. If you don’t know how to can foods, find someone who does and learn. Look at it this way, you can always give some homemade stuff away at Christmas time. My family loved last year's Pumpkin butter when I planted too many pumpkins in my garden.
  5. If you have the space and live in an unrestricted area, buy some chickens and start your own flock. Contrary to popular brainwashed opinion the eggs are safe to eat. We’ve been eating eggs from our chickens for nearly 10 years and we aren’t dead yet. I read Storey’s guide to raising chickens and that and trial and error taught me all I need to know about raising this food source. Hint: stop using ant poison granules in your yard our you’ll lose a lot of chickens. I like to order my chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery online but they sell them at feed stores and some farmers will sell to the public as well. You can also check with your local 4H club and go to livestock auctions. We don’t eat our chickens, just their eggs but if we had to we could. I keep a minimum of 12 but that is a lot of eggs per week even for my large family!
  6. Get a generator or alternative energy source now. Plain and simple. Personally, I like to have more than one source because generators run on gas and you could run out of gas and then what? My two choices are solar panels as a back up to the generator but I live in Texas where we have a lot of sun so maybe wind power could be your alternative power source.
  7. If you need to buy some land go to your local Realtor or do your own search online. One of my favorite web sites is There I was able to find lots of good deals. 50 acres for under $50,000, yes it’s on there! Hint: look in states like Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma if you are in or close to any of those states.  Don’t buy land that is a two day's drive away from your main home though. You want to be able to get there safely, not run out of gas trying to get out of Dodge. If you are lucky enough to not need to live close to town then you can live at your remote location and that isn’t an issue but for us we have to still live close to town so my husband can work. My job as a realtor allows me to work from anywhere. 
  8. Get a gun and learn how to use it. As a woman I prefer lighter guns with little recoil. Recoil is what a gun does when you fire it and it jerks your arm up. Not including the guns my husband has I have my own .25 handgun, .380 handgun (I wanted a pink one but they didn’t have any!) and .22 rifle. I’m your average sized woman at 5’5” and I can handle those guns easily even if I would need to use more bullets to take down my target. The important thing is that I be comfortable with the gun I am using and relying on to feed me and keep me safe. I used that .22 rifle to run off a cougar in my back yard once. I didn’t kill it, but it decided it didn’t want to stick around and eat any more of my chickens. I sure wish I had gotten a picture of that cat. My hunting family still thinks I was seeing things and just shot at bobcat!
  9. Have some sort of water storage set up or be near a water source like a creek, lake, river with year round water. A seasonal creek is great except when you have no water in the winter! I don’t mean “near” like a mile near. Carrying buckets of water from a mile away or more would be too much even for my football playing sons! I mentioned earlier that I have an above ground pool. I bought it at Wal-Mart for about $300. I keep it filled year around “just in case”. The week that my husband was in the hospital after Hurricane Ike passed through I was very thankful for that pool water. I used our huge Cajun turkey fryer pots to boil water on a Coleman propane stove for drinking, cleaning and cooking and used unheated water for flushing toilets even though we followed the “if it’s yellow let it mellow” philosophy that week because mom was not toting water all day. I was alone here with my kids and I was easily (I use that term lightly at my age) able to carry water in from the back yard as we needed it. I took showers at the hospital when I’d visit my husband but if I’d had to I could have heated pool water to bathe in. My next big purchase will be a Big Berkey water filter unit. I can’t wait to get it and try it out.
  10. Learn how to grow your own fruits and veggies. Trees are great for the environment and great for a hungry belly. Most fruit bearing trees require at least two of the same kind to produce and some don’t start producing for several years. You can also get a book on foraging and learn what you can and can not eat from nature. Most people don’t even know that those pesky Dandelion “weeds” are great on a salad.

I hope that I have provided some useful information to get you started on your journey to being prepared in the event of a catastrophic event in your area. Don’t be caught with your pants down. SurvivalBlog has lots of valuable information and resources that I hope you will take advantage of. I recently enjoyed reading James’ book, How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It which led me to his blog. Be sure and read it as a follow up to this article, because he covers many things that even I hadn’t thought of yet. Good luck and God bless.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My family is from the former Yugoslavia and it had been a family tradition to go back and visit the homeland of my grandparents. Unfortunately for me, by the time I could go, my father had passed and I found only one cousin willing to do it again. As luck would have it, it was the summer of 2000 and I thought the war had been long over. It was only recently I discovered that the horror continued right up until just before my arrival there.
After a short stopover in Frankfurt, we boarded a smaller plane to Zagreb. The flight was beautiful, the scenery, breathtaking.
I thought about the stories I was told about this place. My family were farmers there, and I was excited to experience the way of life that used to sustain them. I wanted to see the animals, horses, pigs, cows, chickens, the fields of vegetables, and how they did it all. I had heard about how they would slaughter the pigs, then salt and smoke them, and I really wanted to know how. I don't know if you've had them, but Yugoslavians are famous for their cabbage rolls. I wanted to know how to make the sour cabbage, and how they did all this for ages without refrigeration. I was fascinated with the idea of being self sustaining off the grid, and how they managed even after the war.

We rented a van to get to the tiny village of Covac near the larger city of Okucane. I was surprised at the military presence there still, there were checkpoints with armed guards asking to see your passport. Luckily most of them spoke English and didn't actually seem that concerned with us. We must have went through three before getting to our destination.

Arriving in Covac, it was like nothing I had ever seen. One gravel road, off of another gravel road, one small store at the corner. There were maybe 40 houses altogether, surrounded by fields and farther back, forests. At one time this place was beautiful. Now, unreal. Most of the houses had been destroyed and abandoned. Some had walls missing, bullet holes marred the surface of the concrete, trees even growing where the roof once was. The town pavilion that once held meetings, dances and parties was reduced to rubble. We pulled into the gravel driveway of the house we would be staying at. 

Our hosts came out to greet us, a young lady and her elderly mother. The house was small by western standards, a concrete square with a kitchen, bedroom and cold room. The kitchen had a table and chairs, a woodstove and small counter, and a laundry line all lit with a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. The bedroom held two single beds, and a dresser with a television with rabbit ears atop, again all illuminated with a single bulb. The cold room was farthest away from the woodstove, just a concrete room with shelving on all sides which interestingly doubled as the room to bathe in. The outhouse was about 40 feet away, past the open well, unlit of course. My cousin told me a story about using the outhouse while a chicken pecked her from below, I guess that's when they closed it off at the back. Regardless, I still had some anxiety about using the outhouse at night. The well was open, like the ones you see in old fairytales, with a roof and a bucket on a rope. Looking down into the water, I counted four frogs swimming around down there. I hoped they boiled the water before drinking. They didn't. Meals usually consisted of smoked, salted meats, sausage or bacon, eggs, fresh vegetables like tomato and onion, bread and soups.

I remembered my Grandmother telling me about picking beans in the fields, and moving the livestock from the forests to graze, and back to the barn. Looking out at the fields, there was nothing but weeds. The only livestock in the town was some chickens and a cow. I asked what happened, the stories I was told and the place I was in seemed vastly different. When the war came here people fled and later were forced out or had their homes destroyed or taken over. Most of the younger people never returned leaving a town of mostly elderly. There was no one to do the hard work involved in farming here, and no one could afford the start up costs again even if they could. At one time this land was self sufficient, the people were happy and free, now barren, a way of life lost. I wanted to walk in the fields that sustained my family for generations, I was told I was not allowed. Not allowed? Apparently it had not yet been cleared of land mines so it would be an enormous risk. I still can't believe that a tiny village, so far away from a small town had been hit so hard in this conflict. I recall a story from my Grandmother about her family hiding from the Nazis back in the war. That happened here, at least twice people were murdered in war, here, on this tiny strip of houses, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

We went to visit other relatives in nearby Gredjane, I had hoped they fared better, they didn't. My Grandfather's brother and his wife lived in a small brick house, the size of a shed. The four of us couldn't all be inside at once it was so small. It held a single bed, a woodstove, and a table and chairs. Nothing here was refrigerated, they had no electricity, not even a light. The towns people came by to say hello. Once again I was surprised at the age of the people who remained here. It amazed me that the elderly people chose to stay or come back while the youth took to the cities and stayed there. Leaving that place, it would be the last time I would see my relatives again. My Grandfather's brother died two years ago, six months after my Grandfather.

Back in Covac, it was bath day. My gracious hosts had to heat buckets of well water on the woodstove for me. I bathed in the cold room, in a plastic bucket a foot deep, two feet across. It wasn't pretty, but it did the job. I had to get used to brushing my teeth outside, and just spitting on the grass. I had never done laundry by hand, that wasn't so bad. All in all, life there seemed so quiet, peaceful. It was actually hard for me to sleep at night, I wasn't used to it being so dark, and so quiet. There were no streetlights, no traffic sounds, not even the familiar sound of dogs barking.

They did have a small garden close to the house. They grew potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbages, tomatoes and beans. Since the summer was ending we did get to help with some of the harvest. At this time, they didn't pull out all of the root vegetables, just some for the cold room to use, and some for next years' planting. We put the seed potatoes in a hole near the house. It was full of hay, we placed the potatoes and onions inside then covered them with hay and buried it. The cabbage was harvested, washed and placed in large tubs with brine, enough to just cover them.The tubs were stored in the cold room, then covered with fabric, a wood plank, and weighed down with a brick. Unfortunately my stay was not long enough for me to try them once the process was complete. I must say, although delicious when cooked up, the smell of them fermenting was a little harsh.

I did not have the opportunity to see any meat processing but I was told how it was done. Once ready, the meat was salted, and then smoked in smokehouses. This would occur in the fall so the meat was then hung in the attic which vented the woodstove smoke in one end and out the other. This would continue the smoking process thus preserving the meat longer for later use. After my visit, the smell of a wood fire always reminds me of my trip, and the taste of homemade smoked bacon.

Three weeks had gone by so fast, even here where there were no distractions in daily living. On the long ride home I had a lot to think about. I believe the one thing that made the deepest impression was the fact that this village, so remote, and so small was so deeply affected in their own TEOTWAWKI. I had just assumed that in almost any situation fleeing the cities is always plan A, this trip taught me otherwise. I believe we need to be careful in creating a plan for disaster that is sort of one size fits all. In this situation, in this civil war, the resources in the city were better. Those left in the country were completely alone in a horrific time and to this day, many of their stories remain untold.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Captain Rawles,
I wanted to add my two cents to the award-winning December, 2011 SurvivalBlog post How to Make Homemade Dog Food. This post was great to educate people on the fact that it wasn't that long ago that dog food wasn't purchased at the store and that the store bought "dog food" really isn't that great for "man's best friend". I learned this after getting my third dog. The other two did great on store bought dog food, and in fact, my Lab lived for almost 15 years on the cheapest dog food from Wally World.

When I bought my current dog I did the research on the breed and everything said that Great Danes, had digestive problems. Starting out, everything went great. Purchasing the middle to upper expensive dog foods did the trick, until she grew to full size. That's when it went south, and by south I mean she had uncontrollable diarrhea. Upping the ante I went for the most expensive food I could. Even with the lamb and rice formulas designed for sensitive stomachs, nothing worked. After about two months I was ready to give up. Back to the research phase. What I came up with was that the commercial dog food is full of grains and "filler" that, even though most dogs are able to adapt to this diet, isn't a natural food source. So now what?

If you notice what a dog's teeth look like, they are nothing like a cow or even like a humans. They do not have the teeth to grind up grains and grasses. They have teeth that cut their food. That is why our sharpest teeth are called canines! They may be able to eat both meat and some veggies like D.M.D. stated but since they are descendents from wolves, think of what a wolf eats. The only veggies/grains/grasses that wolves eat come from the stomachs of the latest kill.

I began feeding my beast raw chicken, eggs, and any other meat I could get my hands on for cheap. I have never seen such a turn around from a dog that didn't tolerate "dog food". She gained about 20 lbs within a couple months and was very healthy. The diet I started, and am still doing to this day four years later, is mainly chicken quarters. Raw and whole, with the bone and everything. I add eggs, raw, shell and all. Elk when there is scraps from the hunt, deer, fish, pork, really anything she will eat, which is almost any meat I have tried. The main ingredient for me though is ten pound bags of chicken quarters from Wal-Mart. When I started this diet, three years ago it was about $0.49/lb, now (no such thing as inflation right?) it is still about $0.67/lb which, when compared to any dog food from the store, it is very competitive.

I do not cook the meat and I do not take out the bone. From a young age everyone is told, "don't give dogs chicken because the bones will splinter and isn't good for them" well when chicken isn't cooked the bones are very soft and spongy, not dry. They don't splinter when they aren't cooked and aren't dried out. They go down with the rest and actually milk the anal gland when coming out the other end (a lot of pups have to have this done manually when they go to the vet/groomer, or they do it themselves by dragging their behinds on the ground). Again, think of what a wolf eats in the wild. They don't strip the meat of bones and cook it do they? Wolves and dogs have a higher acid level in there stomachs that take care of the bacteria that make humans spend the day in the bathroom.

Until that post I didn't know there was a debate about whether dogs were carnivores or omnivores. I do believe that dogs have adapted to their surroundings and can survive eating both, but, I do believe and have proved with my current dogs that they not only can eat an almost strictly meat diet but actually thrive on it. Try it yourself. Get your dog a raw piece of chicken and some rice with green beans and carrots. You'll see that your pooch, while able to handle all of it, has carnivorous tendencies.

SHTF scenario, Cujo will do just fine if he is eating the scraps from your table. Be it all meat or meat with veggies. I would guess that they could revert to their ancestral state easier than most would think. I think there are post's on feral dogs on here so you can educate yourself on that some other time. Keep your powder dry. - C.A.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Transportation is so easy today, its laughable.  I can take a flight from Seattle, Washington to Hong Kong and arrive 13 hours later.  Before oil was processed to produce fuel, a trip from Seattle to Hong Kong took several months on a boat in cramped conditions and meager rations.  Millions, if not billions, of people take our current methods and modes of transportation for granted.  What if these modes of transportation were suddenly not available because of (insert scenario here)?  If you can't think of a scenario, I'll list a few:  Peak Oil, World War III, End of the Petro dollar, and/or a societal breakdown.  If cheap gasoline were no longer available, how would you get around?  This article will attempt to address concerns of what could happen and what a survivalist/prepper can do to become more prepared to get around in a post-disaster world. 

I want to first consider one of the most efficient methods of transportation: the bicycle.  The technology in making bicycles has changed very little over the past hundred years.  This is because the main concept is so simple and so efficient.  The main advances in technology for the bicycle have been the materials.  Expensive bicycles in today’s world are made out of light-weight, durable metals and plastics.  You can find cheaper bicycles, but they tend to be made from cheaper materials, which tend to be heavier and less durable.  As far as the type of bicycle I would go with, it depends on the terrain around you.  If speed and lightness is your requirement, a road bike may be for you; however, if there is rugged terrain around you, or if you want to go off-road a mountain bike would be best.  If you don't have much cash, a cheap bike can be found at almost any department store for around a hundred bucks.  I would, however, pony up a little more dough for a lighter, heavier-duty one at a bike store.  Be sure you know how to repair your bike.  Talk it over with your bike mechanic and purchase the tools you will need in order to fix your bike.  The most common things are brake pads, tires, inner tubes, chains, and cables (for the shifters and brakes).  Be sure to have a few spare wheels, tires, inner tubes, and as mentioned before, chains.  As always, there are pros and cons to using a bicycle for transportation.  The upside is the light weight, effort to energy ratio, speed, low cost and ease of maintenance.  The downside is low cargo capacity, the need for roads or a trail, and they are also easy to steal.  One thing to consider is in a TEOTWAWKI situation, in almost every garage around the United States there is a bicycle, and sometimes spare parts.    So if you're short of cash, you can skimp in the spare parts area and focus on something more important.

The Horse
People I've spoken to often praise horses as a main mode of transportation come TEOTWAWKI.  This is most likely due to the prevalence of the horse in books and movies of the old west.  While they do provide fast transportation, horses need a high level of care.  Horses often weigh around a thousand pounds and require a high input of feed to maintain energy levels.  Horses need plenty of grazing land and a fence or corral in order to be kept.  They also need to be fed during the winter, and the availability of hay or alfalfa will probably be almost nonexistent, depending upon where you live.  Unless you plan to ride bareback they also require a saddle and bridle which require maintenance.  Something else to consider is how others will see you.  Not many people will be riding around on a horse, and if people see you riding one, they perceive you as being wealthy.  You may then immediately become a target for theft or worse. 

If you do intend on living off of the land and traveling often, a horse may be the right mode of transportation for you, for the horse can graze constantly when you're not traveling.  If you have a group with you, a buggy or wagon can be beneficial.  The issue is obtaining one post-disaster.  Be sure to know where you're going and the land around you for horses need to be watered just as you do. 

Our Own Two Feet
People have been walking from place to place since...well, as long as we've existed.  Our own two feet are wonderful machines of transportation.  The only problem is they need to be covered, unless you've lived your life barefoot and don't intend to walk on random sharp objects.  What you can do now is purchase several pairs of well-fitted hiking boots and other footwear you will need.  Tennis shoes wear out quickly, but you can run faster in a pair of tennis shoes than in boots.  The important thing is to purchase what you think you will need, and to be on the safe side, buy a few extra pairs and store them away.  If you have a bug out bag, it might be wise to throw in one of these extra pairs of shoes. 

Socks are often overlooked when prepping.  If you can afford it, buy several dozen pairs of socks that are suited to your environment.  The colder the environment, the thicker the sock you want.  Consider wool versus cotton as well.  Some people prefer one over the other, you will have to make your own choice.  The ability to wick water away from your foot is a definite must.  When walking long distances, or hiking, moisture is the enemy; water-wicking socks help remove moisture away from your skin, keeping your feet dry.  In your first-aid kit, also be sure to have some mole-skin; the best cure for blisters.  Mole-skin can be found in any first-aid section of most pharmacies.  Another addition to consider for your first aid kit is a spray or lotion for combating foot fungus.  If your toenails are yellow or unusually thick, then they are infected with fungus and need to be treated.

Waterproof boots are a must-have if you live in or near a wet environment.  If a flood happens and you don't have a pair, you'll regret not purchasing them.  They also work great in the mud.  If you happen to live in a snowy environment, you will want to purchase a good pair of snowshoes, and skis for cross-country skiing.  The ideal way to transport goods in a snowy or icy environment would be a sled and a team of sled-dogs, but they require a lot of upkeep and training.  A simpler way to transport goods would be a travois, which I will cover next. 

A travois is easy to build out of natural materials, and can be used to transport a load of goods, or even a person.  It is built by crossing two long poles or straight pieces of wood.  These two pieces of wood are bound together at one end; strips of leather, 550 cord, or rope will do, while a net or piece of canvas can be secured along the length of both poles, forming a triangle.  The narrow end of the triangle then leads to a person or draft animal to drag the travois after you've loaded it with goods.  Native American Indians used travois extensively, carting around goods, and even their tepee homes.  They also made smaller travois to be used by their children as well as dogs.  If a harness is made, it can actually be easier on your back if you use a travois instead of a large backpack.  You can also transport an injured person on a travois stretcher. 

Two-Wheel Carts
Hand cart have been used for centuries, and they are more efficient that a travois. They also don't leave a rutted trail like a travois. They are relatively stable and can carry surprisingly large loads. Modern carts include garden carts and deer carriers. Modern carts use bicycle type tires, so you will have to plan for patching tires, just like with a bike. And like a bike, the tires can be treated with Slime, internally, for self-sealing of minor punctures. There are also "airless" foam-filled tire available,m although these have greater weight and rolling resistance than air-filled tires..

Water Transportation
Water transportation used to be the main method for transporting large amounts of goods before the invention of gasoline and diesel.  It is still the main method of transportation, but by use of large oceangoing barges carrying thousands of tons of materials, commodities and products.  What do these barges rely on?  Fuel. 

If you live by a body of water, or the ocean you definitely want to consider using water transportation.  Canoes, kayaks, floats, tubes, and row boats in general are excellent ways of traveling on the water.  They also provide a platform to fish from in deeper waters.  Live near a lake?  You most likely already have a kayak, canoe or small waterborne vessel.  If you don't, put that on your priority list.  If you're thinking about a kayak, there are several varieties.  Recreational kayaks tend to be shorter and wider, offering more stability.  They are, however, much slower than the racing kayaks, which tend to be slimmer and lighter.  There are lighter recreational kayaks, but will cost more money due to the materials used.  If you're into SUP (Stand Up Paddling), that's okay, but a SUP board is more for recreational use than practical use.  The only practical use I can see for a SUP board is for spear or bow fishing, and even then it's not very practical.

Another thing to keep in mind is storing supplies in your boat, kayak or canoe.  Keep a few gallons of water, dried food and fishing supplies in the storage compartments, because you never know when that may come in handy down the line.  You can even think of it as your bug-out-boat.

Others Animals
Some may think using a cow or a donkey for transportation isn't very logical.  At first, I would agree, but it depends.  As a last resort, a light rider can ride a cow or donkey but it isn't going to go very fast.  Cows of course also provide more than just a mount.  A dairy cow can provide milk, providing that it hasn't dried off.  A cow can also be used for meat as we very well know, so don't begrudge the cow as a mode of transportation.  Cows as well as goats can also be used as pack animals.  Be sure the load is evenly distributed along the animal's back, making the animal more comfortable and less likely to give you trouble during the trek.  Goats also give milk as well as cows as well as offering meat.  Sheep don't make very good pack animals. Horses aren't widely known for their milk, yet there are people, mostly in Mongolia, that are known for drinking horse milk.  Unless you have previous knowledge of milking a horse, do not attempt to milk a horse!  Attempting to do so can endanger your life.  I once had trouble milking one of our goats (it did not want to be milked), I can't imagine the amount of trouble a horse can give you. 

Oxen or other large draft animals can be used to pull a wagon for group transportation or carrying large amounts of supplies.  Needless to say these animals will need to be taken care of, and the wagon will need to be maintained and fixed.  This includes spare parts, tools and a knowledge of carpentry.  These animals can also be used on a farm, for plowing, if you have the land available, and cleared land with good soil for growing crops. 

Man's best friend can help you in a number of various ways.  They may not be able to carry much, but they can be given some food stuffs or other gear to carry, provided you have saddlebags that fit the animal.  Dogs, if trained, can be hunting companions as well.  They can aid in defense, and also be a wonderful companion.  They don't take much to feed and generally take care of themselves very well.  If you also have several other animals, or a farm/ranch, dogs can also be trained to help protect your herd of animals.  Be sure your dog is trained, for domesticated dogs have been known to kill chickens, goats and other livestock simply because it is in their nature as a predatory animal. 

Hopefully this article points you in a direction you want to take for post-disaster transportation.  Once you have an idea, investigate your method further, and ask more questions of a subject matter expert.  The best thing is to adapt to your environment, now and in the future.  None of us have all of the answers, but if we adapt, and work together we will survive anything that comes our way.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The following are my observations based upon my experience with the care and processing of small livestock, living in a hot and humid climate on the Gulf of Mexico


Chicks of all species need warmth for their first few weeks, but on the Gulf Coast, and anywhere else with a hot climate, it's easy to overheat them. If you're keeping the birds outside, and it's anything over 80F or so, they probably do not need additional heat from a heat lamp or other source. Generally, I would take away a heat lamp and use a regular incandescent bulb if the temperatures were regularly over 65ish. If it is cool enough to still require external heating, keep the lamp off to one side of the enclosure. Be very careful to "round out" any corners the enclosure may have, particularly when the chicks are very young. Chicks pile up on top of each other and suffocation is a common cause of death in the early days. Ensuring there is enough room for all of the chicks also helps decrease the chance of suffocation.

[JWR Adds: In our experience, an oval galvanized steel livestock water tank works quite well for raising chicks. Add a screen of chicken wire across the top to keep out curious cats and to restrain hopping chicks. By placing a 200 watt heat lamp at one end of the tank, allowing the chicks to choose a place with a comfortable temperature.]

The food and water should not be under the lamp, to help minimize fouling or tipping of either. It also encourages chicks to move out from the heat. If the chicks are very young, and aren't a waterfowl species, marbles can be placed in the waterer (or bowl) so the chicks do not trip and drown. On account of their absolutely tiny size, quail chicks are particularly susceptible to falling into water sources, even despite marbles, if there is anything much more than a finger's gap between the marbles, as are guinea fowl chicks. Keep quail chicks in wire cloth enclosures for a very long time – some of the species are so small at adulthood, they can still easily slip out of standard chicken wire.

Some sources recommend treating the water with tetracycline and electrolyte additives – I personally had mixed success with that course of action. Some breeds and species seem to fail to thrive without it, and some fail to thrive with it. My best advice is to – if you choose to purchase and use the powdered additives – do so sparingly and not for long periods of time. And if you turn the water a bright yellow from how much you added – dilute it!

Chick starter, which is a higher-protein chicken feed with very small granules, can be used for most chicks with a fairly high rate of success. Some of the smaller quail species are actually too small for even that – cornmeal can be used for these, if you discover they are having issues, or grind some of the chick starter more finely.

While I have, at times, raised regular poultry and waterfowl chicks together, ducklings and goslings are very, very messy, and will make all the other chicks rather dirty, smelly, and sickly on account of how wet they'll get. The best course of action is to generally keep them separated, particularly since ducklings and goslings are happiest when they have a tiny "pond" to swim in from the get go. While very young, a pie pan will suffice for a pond (glass is better, as it is usually too heavy to tip over). The only real concern is "can they climb into it and climb out of it." If you do not keep a small swimming area for them in their enclosure, a kiddie pond is plenty acceptable, provided they have supervision (aka, "rescuers" for when they've tired themselves out). Stopped up bathtubs or sinks work, too, but as waterfowl defecate while swimming, you may want to pass on that option.

Should non-waterfowl chicks get wet, getting them warm and dry again is a priority if at all possible, as even in warm temperatures, they will catch cold and basically freeze to death. If you have a lot of chicks to dry, a heat lamp and a hair dryer (on low, held at a distance) works, but a dry towel and rubbing is better for the chicks (just be gentle!).

I have generally had poor success when grouping chicks of too disparate ages together – two weeks makes a huge difference in size for most birds. The older chicks will suffocate the younger ones, simply by being large enough the younger chicks can get underneath them and then get trapped.

Most chicks will begin to get their first real feathers (along their wings) within a week – unless it is unseasonably cold, or these are winter chicks – it is generally safe to remove a heat lamp (and sometimes even a regular lamp) once the chicks are about half feathered over their bodies. Naturally, common sense should be employed when deciding whether chicks still need their heat source or not.

Depending on the purpose and breed/species of the chicks, the methods of feeding and care after this point vary in detail, but not in the basics. All birds should have enough feed to "free feed" (unless range – these may or may not need supplementation, depending on your situation) and access to plenty of clean water. For chickens and turkeys, meat breeds can be grown at a quick rate by regulating their daily light exposure and feeding a high protein selection with added corn gluten (for that bright yellow color). Long periods of light and artificially cold temperatures are how the best "market" birds are produced. If you don't particularly care that it'll take twelve weeks instead of eight weeks for a similar size, I suggest skipping building an insulated and air conditioned enclosure. The birds turn out healthier, anyhow.

For waterfowl, if you don't provide them with a place to go for a swim, they will find one – usually another pen's waterer, based on my experience. Their food and drinking water should be kept fairly close together, as they generally need to water to help them eat standard crumble-based feed.

Once the birds are older than a month to six weeks, the care is basically the same. Adult birds should have access to grit – which is also a calcium supplementation for the laying hens. If you have guinea fowl (be careful about purchasing/acquiring these, as because of their volume and constant racket, they are generally banned in urban areas, even the urban farming friendly ones), be sure to keep them penned until they're about six months old, so they know where "home" is. The moment you let them range, if you intend to, they will spend time flying about and generally being a nuisance. On the other hand, they do tend to keep the hawks from dining on too many of your birds, as well as alert you that running outside with a weapon to scare off whichever predator was a-hunting maybe a good idea at that point.

If laying hens are your intent, be sure to build a coop with easy access for egg collecting. Our first coop had two wire doors that allowed for human entry (basically crawling into the coop) near both ends, on the same long side, the better to catch birds with. It later was modified, when we built a chicken wire enclosure with a wire roof (because of hawks), to include a chicken-sized exit in the middle of the long side without human-sized openings. The laying boxes were built into the ends of the coop, so that it was easy to reach in to collect the eggs. The coop had a solid floor, as did the nest boxes, and was raised a couple of feet off the ground to help discourage the rats. (This did not always work.) The coop was effective, but had its limitations. If you are unfortunate enough to have a cock that grows up to be violent and frequently attacks, having to crawl face-first into a coop is rather daunting. (As an aside, if any of your birds become human-aggressive, regardless of their age and quality, I strongly suggest culling the bird. An old rooster, even if past the point of being edible for your pot, makes good dog and/or pig food.)

Nest boxes should be large enough that the largest of your hens can sit comfortably in them with a couple of inches to spare. Because of this, if you intend to keep turkey hens for layers, I suggest the smaller breeds such as the Cannonball, although the Bronzes will also work.

Raising chicks from eggs laid by your own birds can be rewarding – and heartbreaking. It is a combination of equipment, practice, and luck. Research the topic thoroughly before attempting – and you may just want to let a broody hen (who will valiantly guard a nest of eggs from being taken) go through the trouble.

Chicken manure will burn plants if added straight to a garden. Let it "age" before considering adding it to a garden. I recommend adding it to the compost pile, first, so it cools down enough to not burn the plants.

A note on pigeons and squab: while squab is a fairly tasty meat, attempting to raise the chicks yourself is not something that should be undertaken. Purchase adult birds, and let them hatch and raise chicks. Squab should be "harvested" before the chick can fly, and the size will depend on the breed. The nest boxes should be placed a few feet above ground, and can probably be a little bit smaller than a chicken hen's nest box. If penned, they will need standard poultry fare. If allowed to range after they've learned where "home" is, they will pretty much take care of themselves.


Rabbits are small, relatively easy to keep livestock. The meat is lean, if that is a concern for your family, and the hides can be tanned for either fur or just skin. There are many breeds of rabbits. I do not suggest the long haired breeds for at least the Gulf Coast unless you intend to keep the animal as a pet or in an air conditioned facility. Californians (white rabbits with dark colored ears, nose, and feet) and New Zealands (mostly found in solid white, but sometimes red or black as well) are the two most popular "commercial" breeds. They mature fast and are fairly prolific. The does I kept often had litters of eight kits or more. I also raised Satins, which are so named for the satin sheen to their fur – very beautiful creatures, and lovely soft furs. We tried Palominos (colored much like palomino horses), which are supposed to have excellent growth rates for their fryers (butcher sized rabbits) but had issues with their feet being torn up in cages that the New Zealands had no issues with. However, don't overlook a doe and/or buck of totally unknown pedigree. Our first doe, Attack Rabbit, and the one who produced the largest kits, although often not the largest litters, was bought at a feed store who had gotten her from someone-or-another. She was a great producer for early Spring cash – she mostly threw spotted babies, regardless of the buck, and spotted baby bunnies sell very well as Easter bunnies and pets in general.

Rabbits are best kept in multi-cage hutches, with one adult rabbit per cage (except for breeding, which is not a long-term activity for a rabbit). Commercial rabbit food is certainly sufficient – it is a mostly alfalfa pellet with some additives. Roughage, such as grass, corn stalks, lettuce, alfalfa cubes, hay, or the like, should also be provided. Chewable items, like blocks of wood, should be readily available, as rabbits have to chew on things to keep their teeth from growing too long. Salt licks (small round discs of salt) should also be made readily available. There are plain salt licks (usually just white), and mineral salt licks (usually brown in color). My rabbits always seemed to prefer the mineral blocks to the plain. Rabbit feeders can be metal containers that fit into and through the side of the cage or crocks (heavy based bowls) sitting on the floor of the cage.

Like any other living creature, water should be readily and easily available. Rabbit waterers are bottle-fed gravity metal tubes with a ball-bearing that prevents too much water from coming out until the rabbit licks it to get water. These are generally attached to the outside of the cage. There are similar "nipples" for water lines, for larger rabbitries. Some breeders prefer to offer both food and water in crocks – I personally had issues with the water crocks being knocked over more times than not, particularly once a litter of bunnies was bouncing around in the cage along with the doe.

Despite the ease of growing and raising them, rabbits have a few "issues." Rabbit urine is highly acidic and corrosive. It will, eventually, damage cages to the point of requiring repair. Rabbit feces are rather "hot," and cannot be placed directly on a garden – the exception here being blueberry bushes, which love them. Worms, however, are often grown immediately under a rabbit hutch, as they break down the waste rapidly, and thrive on it. Allow rabbit waste to "sit" under the worms' tender care for a bit before attempting to add it to a compost pile or garden directly. Adding it to compost to finish cooling down is a better option than adding it straight to the garden.

Domesticated rabbits are descendants of the European cottontails, and thus, are not terribly heat tolerant, and, in the Gulf Coast's climate, are prone to heat exhaustion and heat stroke during summer. They are also not very productive during the summer months, because of this heat intolerance.

Despite their heat intolerance, rabbits can be successfully kept in the high temperature and high humidity climate of the Gulf Coast, with a few caveats. When selecting an area for the hutches, pick an area with decent air flow and shade to help keep them cool. The hutches should not be 100% solid sided, but be at least half hardware cloth, as well as having wire bottoms. Do NOT use chicken wire as the primary material – some rabbits like chewing on it. It can be used to wrap around any wooden posts (double wrap it and secure with U-nails; it's a pain to do, but works better). A piece of wood or sheetrock should be provided as a place to sit that isn't the wire bottom. Failure to do so can cause sores on the rabbits' feet. The nest boxes should also be constructed with wire bottoms, with an ability to mostly enclose them for winter litters. The hutches should also be located in a relatively quiet area – constant loud noises will stress the rabbits and increase the chances that the does will reabsorb their litters before birth, or even eat the kits after birth.

If you build the hutch, each enclosure within the hutch should be at least two feet square plus a reasonable height – it may look like a lot of space, but a nest box should be at least 12" wide by 18" long and 12" tall. Also make sure to construct the openings large enough to easily get the nest box into the pen.

After selecting a shady area with good airflow, the next caveat is this: if you intend to breed rabbits during the summer, for late summer or early fall litters, the buck will need, at minimum, a large bottle of ice to rest beside to maintain his fertility. Bucks lose their fertility when the temperatures get into the upper 90s F. I recommend two liter bottles mostly filled with water and then frozen solid for the purpose. You should probably have at least two bottles per buck – the first bottle will probably have thawed completely out by the end of the day, and he'll need cooling even overnight often. A fan in addition to the bottle of ice certainly would not hurt the buck, nor any doe in the area. One of the more serious show rabbitries I interacted with had an entire barn for their rabbits, somewhat insulated and could be enclosed during the worst of the summer heat for air conditioning, and in all but the coldest of winter, large livestock style fans ran from every roof-corner in the barn. The reason for this was that it ensured the rabbits' fur was not thinned out in reaction to the temperatures. As I was not involved in showing rabbits, and the furs and hides were kept for home use only, we usually made due with ice bottles and fans for our bucks – or forwent litters from June to September.

Breeding is done by placing a doe in with a buck for a short period of time. We generally kept ours separated unless breeding, because neither of our bucks were very bright (we only kept two bucks at a time). I had to occasionally move the buck to the correct end of the doe. Unless it is midsummer, if a doe does not produce kits after a couple of breedings (approximately 3 months), it is probably time to cull her from the colony.

The gestation period of a rabbit is approximately 30 days, with the resulting litters being 4 to 12 kits. Place a clean nest box in her cage a couple of weeks after breeding. The doe will start nesting a few days to a week before the kits are due, and she'll do this by pulling tufts of fur from her belly to make a nest with. Fill the nest box with a mid-quality hay (not too scratchy) for her, and she'll take care of the rest. Try to ensure her toenails have been trimmed, so she doesn't hurt the babies when they're born. When the kits are born, the doe will eat the afterbirth.  Occasionally, a doe may accidentally "eat" part of one of her babies – remove the corpse as soon as possible. An over-stressed doe may eat, or partially eat, an entire litter. Some … very few … seem to acquire a taste for doing so. If two litters are destroyed in such a fashion, cull the doe immediately. I have only had two does, in all the rabbits I've raised, acquire this "habit" – they both were violent rabbits to begin with. One was named Rabies, the other Rabies II. Rabies II left claw marks on my arm that took the better part of five years to fade. Does are likely to attack as they get close to birthing up until the kits have been weaned (4-6 weeks). In my experience, the ones to keep an eye on are the ones who attack without kits in the cage.

The kits are born furless and blind, but start putting on fur nigh immediately. Their eyes open between 8-12 days, and they start getting into trouble shortly thereafter. They can be safely removed from their mother's cage by eight weeks of age, and butchered from eight weeks to four months without any influence on the flavor – size and how long you want to feed them are the real factors here.

If you are attempting to grow your colony, select the best doe and/or buck from the litter. "Best" can be the largest, the most docile, the most wildly spotted, the most interestingly colored one, or what have you. If none of them meet your fancy, cull the whole litter. Sexing rabbits is an acquired skill, and not easily described with words alone. The pictures here are pretty good. Does are more useful than bucks, but raising an extra buck isn't always a bad thing. My personal preference, however, is to usually bring in a buck from another breeder, to keep from causing problems for the later generations. If you do keep any of the babies for breeding stock, make sure to keep a breeding book to track them, so you don't breed a doe to her grandfather-and-daddy – that's pushing it. Skip a generation at that point. Two unrelated bucks would be a minimum for raising breeding stock does. (If you want to get really complicated, you can also tattoo the ears of rabbits, to better track them. This is particularly useful for single-breed rabbitries which may not be able to distinguish animals by sight alone.)

Does can be bred at 6 months of age, and bucks at 7 months of age, but all the experienced breeders and books I read on the subject strongly suggested waiting until a doe was a minimum of 10 months old prior to breeding her. While a doe can theoretically be bred back to a buck the day her litter is removed from her pen, it is generally suggested to give her a short break between litters, for her own health.


I was introduced to the "art" of butchering chickens at the age for 12 or 13, when I raised my first set of market chickens for 4-H. It was messy, I cried, and hated it. I wasn't a stranger to death (one of the dogs had slaughtered, rather methodically, all but the birds that had been penned up as "the best" for show, two days before), I just wasn't comfortable with me being involved in it. Not to mention, there's something terribly savage and horrifying about seeing something's head cut off with an axe blade in real life, regardless of how many horror movies you've seen growing up as a kid.

By the time I was fourteen, and for the next twelve years, I performed almost all of the butchering. My father assisted with the larger animals (goats and pigs). He slaughtered and butchered one cow, while I assisted – I was too short to do that one primarily. When I visit now, I still lend a hand with the task if needed.

My father quickly established that I severely lacked the hand-eye coordination to use the axe to butcher chickens, and that I also lacked the upper body strength (and distance) to use the "standard" pull the neck method of breaking a chicken's neck. We cast about for a better option for a short girl in the 6th grade. We settled on tree branch clippers, the sort with handles about 2 feet long, and a short, curved blade, with a scissors like motion. It was my idea – the leverage gave me enough mechanical strength to make a clean kill, and the blades were long enough to pin a bird (and later rabbits) for the duration. My experience has been that clippers can be used successfully on birds below the size of geese and turkeys, and on rabbits as well. If the blade is sharp, the animal may be almost entirely decapitated, which allows for it to bleed immediately. I do suggest that, for rabbits, it be a two person job, to hold the rabbit's ears out of the way – their ears are extremely sensitive, and the commotion is enough to scare them a bit anyhow, no need to taint the meat. For geese and turkeys, I strongly suggest that the bird's wings be restrained (we did so by cutting a turkey-head sized hole into the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket, and having the body of the bird be inside the bucket) and a .22 bullet be used. It's fast, it's still cheap, and by pinning the bird's wings, the post-death twitching/flapping/etc. cannot break the wings.

When selecting a site for processing, I recommend access to clean water, buckets for offal, and fresh air. A flat surface is necessary for poultry; a place to hang the carcass is necessary (or at least vastly more convenient) for most mammals. A sharp knife or two is important; my preferred for butchering is a skinning blade with a gut hook.

From this point, there are three methods for finishing poultry: dry plucking, wet plucking, and skinning. Frankly, in my opinion, none of them are particularly easy to do, but wet plucking takes my number one most-hated spot.

Dry plucking involves pretty much exactly like it sounds. I strongly recommend this method for quail, squab, and young broilers. Remove the head and neck of the bird, as well as the lower scaly part of the leg. Generally I remove the first wing joint, as well, because it is far more hassle than it is worth to do otherwise. You may need a pair of pliers to remove the primary feathers on older chickens, turkeys of any age, ducks, and geese. Grab a handful of feathers (starting on the breast of the bird is easiest), pull against the "grain" of the feathers. On smaller or younger birds, such as quail or broilers, the skin is very tender and can be torn very easily, even when plucking. Start off with a lighter hand than you might think you need, and work up in force from there. Continue to do this until the carcass is as completely de-feathered as you can get it. You may prefer to leave the tail feathers on, and remove the tail during the next step.

Wet plucking involves a large pot of very hot water. If you are going to wet pluck waterfowl, a few drops of dish soap is recommended, to break the oil barrier on the feathers, so it is possible to do so. Prior to removing the head/neck, lower legs, and wing tips, dip the carcass into the pot of very hot water for 15-30 seconds, using the lower legs as "handles." Bring the bird out of the water, and give an experimental tug on the feathers. If they pull out fairly easily, continue plucking the bird. You may have to re-dip it if it is a large bird, or it cools off too much. Be careful to not over dip the bird, as when this occurs, the skin scalds and starts peeling. You will notice that wet feathers are very clingy, and like to stick to everything – you, the table, the bird, the pot, the post one landed on when you tried to get some off your hands. Wet feathers also don't smell particularly wonderful, which is why I rather intensely dislike this method. Once again, remove all the feathers. After this, remove the head/wing tips/lower legs.

Skinning is pretty much like how it sounds. It is trickier on poultry than it is on a mammal, however, as the skin attaches in odd seeming places. On chickens, it attaches rather firmly around the leg-thigh joint, the chest bone, along the back, and very firmly attaches at the base of the tail. The skin also tears easily, so instead of larger chunks, you generally end up having nearly strips. It can be a bit frustrating, and does remove some cooking options later. Remove the head/wing tips/lower legs before commencing; it makes the task easier.

Once the bird is plucked or skinned, very carefully cut across the abdominal cavity, effectively thigh to thigh, and then approximately down the middle (there is often a sort of ''seam" here, it may just tear a bit under tension). Only use enough pressure with the blade to cut the skin, not any more than you have to use. Scoop the offal out, being careful to not touch more of the exterior of the bird than necessary. At this point, you can try to either remove the tail entirely, so as not to risk fecal contamination, or, once you have some practice, you can detach the anus from the tail with minimal problems. Rinse the bird out and off with fresh water (as well as yourself), and get the bird into refrigerated conditions as soon as possible, preferably before you start on the next bird.


Mammals are more or less the same process, regardless of size. The tools necessary may differ – I don't have the strength to crack the hip bones on a cow or pig, or most goats, and need at least a hacksaw to do that job, but I can do so with a rabbit or other small mammal with my bare hands. Rabbits make for good practice animals for larger animals later, and the process is effectively the same for anything smaller.

Hang the rabbit from your chosen point. I either used bailing wire wraps around the hock of the back legs, or twine from hay bales tied into slip knots, tightened around the hock. Either way, the hock is a good place for an anchor point.  The rabbit's head should now be pointing at the ground, and all directions from this point are referencing the current up-down direction.

Run your knife in a circle just below the anchor point, all the way around the leg. Pull the skin taut with one hand, and gently run the blade down the middle inside of the thigh to the pelvic area. Repeat on the other leg. Very carefully cut across below the vent area, making the two cuts meet. Peel the skin down the legs, and work a finger under the skin, just below the tail, until you can get the knife through to cut the skin. Leave the tail on the carcass; it'll be a useful handle later. At this point, you should be able to peel the skin down the body slowly. Don't peel it down completely yet.

Finish removing the head from the carcass; there is usually a good bit of blood at this point. In a method similar to the hock area, cut the skin at the forefoot area, and then break the bone at that point. Use the knife to cut through the ligaments, and discard the forefoot into the offal bucket. Repeat with the other front foot. It's now possible to continue peeling the hide off of the rabbit without impediments. If it sticks at any point, very carefully cut through the offending tissue, as you don't want to pull the hide out of shape (if you intend on keeping it). If you don't care, just remove it as necessary. If this were a larger animal, you would have sliced the hide all the way down the belly of it, and pulled the hide off that way. You can do that with a rabbit, but it's just as easy to split the hide after it's off as when it is on. If you intend to keep the hide for other uses, feel free to take a moment to lay it out on a wooden board, flesh side up, and sprinkle it with salt to start the initial curing process.

To break the hips easily, grasp one thigh in each hand, and bend them backwards. You will hear a crack, and possibly even see the pelvic bone fracture through the muscle, which is very thin. This should be more or less directly below the vent. At this point, very, very carefully cut around the vent area to open it, and down across the fracture. Using the gut hook, if you have it, or a very delicate touch with a straight blade if you must, cut the abdominal muscles all the way down to the ribcage. Cut through the tail bone, and use it as a handle to pull the intestinal tract down/away from the body of the rabbit, to prevent contamination. Then carefully remove the lower organs. You can remove the heart and lungs without cutting through the ribcage, but as rabbit is generally cut up instead of served whole, there is rarely reason to avoid doing so. Cut through the ribs and scoop out what remains. Rinse the rabbit, your hands, and knife (or knives) thoroughly. Then, gripping the thigh and foot of one leg, break the leg as close to the anchor point as you can. Repeat with the other leg. Hold on to the carcass, and cut through the remaining tendons and ligaments on one leg and then the other to bring it down from hanging.

Place the carcass into a refrigerated area as soon as possible. The meat can be aged for a day or so, if you prefer, frozen immediately, or even made that night.

Again, this is roughly the same procedure for almost any mammal. I've even used it on raccoons that managed to get caught in the traps set up to stop chickens from being stolen. (On a side note, to get rid of the really gamey taste, cook raccoon with onion, sliced apples and potatoes. The apples and potatoes won't be human edible afterwards, but the raccoon will turn out tasting rather like beef. Just be sure to cook it very well done.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Good Afternoon,
 As someone who has tried playing the big stock market as mentioned in Profitable Homesteading: How to Thrive in a TEOTWAWKI World, by Dusty, I’d like to add the following caution.  Don’t quit your full time job if you want to try this option.  For the past year or more we in Central Texas have been in  exceptional drought conditions.  I have a small herd of Dexter cows.  Due to the lack of grass in my sixty plus acres of native pastures I have been forced to rely on 1000 lb bales of hay and local co-op 20% protein pasture cubes.  My five adult Dexter cows and three unweaned calves consume a $150 bale of hay in approximately a week ( roughly $21/day).  The hay is supplemented with two sacks of cubes a day at a cost of $17 pr day.  Due to the drought we have been feeding for almost a year in an effort to sustain our small herd of breeding stock until the rains return.  Please note that this one year cost of $13,870 for feed alone requires that we have an outside source of income to maintain our homestead lifestyle. 

Just as you gamble putting your money into Wall Street stocks, you gamble with large livestock. While your gains can be great – your losses unless you are willing to sell your stock at the local sale barn as soon as you run into trouble can be catastrophic.  If you are trying to build a sustainable herd of large stock you have to have sufficient capital or a well paying full time job to see you through the hard times.
Sincerely, - Pete in Central Texas

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The idea of homesteading is not a new one.  As a species, we humans have mastered the art of living off the land better than any other species, learning along the way to capture fire, clothe ourselves and even preserve food that we grew to later nourish us. We weren't content to stop there though.  Mankind “evolved” to reassemble natural materials into unnatural materials such as plastic and combine countless ingredients produced or grown by man into processed foods such as Twinkies, which we figured we might as well wrap in plastic.  Although the modern age has brought many possibilities, many fear that we have gone too far.
We now find ourselves, as a species, barley able to live on our own in the natural world, as we’ve accumulated too many allergies, too many dependencies on modern conveniences, too much dependence on government assistance and, let’s not forget, too many pounds to make it on our own.  Now, Mother Nature is calling many of her children home.
Modern homesteading is alluring to many but let’s face it, even (especially!) in a TEOTWAWKI world taxes still have to be paid, fuel needs to be bought and most of us want health care.  And so we find that the living off the land begins with considering how we will generate personal income.  As a new and modern homesteader, you will get to (have to) create your own job description and set your own priorities with the goal of earning sufficient income to afford you the lifestyle you want off the land. In other words, your first step as a homesteader is, ironically, to think like an entrepreneur.
This essay is designed to help you to develop your own plan to do just that so that you can make the transition from traffic to tractor. While it was tempting to write a quick, one-page article about "how to make money as a homesteader", it requires much more effort to do the concept justice.  Therefore, this essay will be organized as follows:

  • Part One includes this introduction and the steps you'll need to take before you being homesteading to give yourself the best chance for success.
  • Part Two will provide ideas for Generating Income With Your Land
  • Part Three will focus on Using Your Skills to Make Money
  • Part Four will discuss ways to Generate Income With your Farmstead Products

Of course, while this essay is detailed and specific in many ways, it must be viewed as a starting point for each individual reader.  With so many specifics unique to each reader such as level of debt, skills, cash, health, knowledge and countless other factors, no article can inform a reader of exactly how to go about homesteading. Rather, the intent of this essay is to get each reader thinking about what they want, what they’re capable of and showing just some of what is possible so that they can develop their own plan.
The good news is this. There are tons of ways to generate dependable, steady income from homesteading! This essay will list dozens of them but that represents just the tip of the iceberg. Viewed all at once, it may seem overwhelming, dangerous and best to just stay put in the safety of your cubicle.  However, as Winston Churchill said, “The optimist sees opportunity in every danger; the pessimist sees danger in every opportunity." And you, my prepared friend, are an optimist!
So, are you ready? Let’s get back to the land!

Part One - You’re Not Ready to Farmstead...Yet!
The ideal situation is that you're thinking of becoming a homesteader but haven't transitioned yet.  You may make the leap down the road...say, in a year or two, unless TEOTWAWKI forces your hand sooner! 
Here are the priorities and actions as I see them to help you to get ready to homestead.

  • Get Some Land.  I realize that sounds obvious. I mean, after all, it's hard to really homestead without at least a little land.  You don't need too much but you do need some.  If you're one of the lucky ones who has inherited land, fantastic and congratulations!  But most of us have to find and buy our own land.  For a couple of reasons I believe the time to do that is now.  First, I believe that rural/farm land prices will only escalate over time as more and more food will need to be produced to feed a rapidly expanding global population.  Second, if you need to finance the land as many people do, interest rates are at absurdly (and artificially) low levels.  Getting land is an undertaking in and of itself though.  Consideration must be given to the region and climate since so much of homesteading depends on what Mother Nature decides to do. There is also that tiny problem of how to pay for land.  Consider making a trade. You may be able to find cheaper land in a more remote area that is equal to what you could sell your suburban home for.  If you are not already a homeowner, then your main focus will have to be how to save for land.  No matter what your situation, the next priority on the list is probably the most important.
  • Get Out of Debt. If you're an American, you're almost certainly in debt. Almost all of us are...the entire country is.  We use credit for mortgages, furniture, automobiles, appliances, school, health care, home improvement and, of course, for consolidating other debts we owe!  Our society seems to collectively embrace using debt to enjoy today what virtually none of us saved for yesterday. Whereas we once left college with degrees in hand and went straight to a waiting job, today we leave laden with tons of debt and, with no jobs waiting, leave to occupy city parks instead.  Debt becomes part of our life and few of us are ever able to jump off the treadmill that propels us to chase always more income to pay it off.  Of course if you've amassed a lot of debt it is easier said than done to get out of debt. It begins with a change in mindset.  Rather than dreaming of what we want in the moment and seeking immediate gratification, we must keep our focus on the ultimate goal of homesteading.  The best way to get there is to pay down the debt.  Make your homesteading dream so real that you can almost taste it and it will become easier to forgo the taste of that morning cafe latte because it means you are one dollar closer to your dream.  The purpose of this article is not to give debt management advice, but rather to underscore the importance of doing everything you can to eliminate the debt you have.  Society has conditioned us to believe we're entitled to conveniences and luxuries, whereas the mentality of homesteading is about living on what we can produce and do ourselves and not borrowing. Get into the homestead mentality, now.  For every dollar that goes out ask yourself, do I need to spend this now or should this be saved? The less debt you have as a homesteader then the less income you'll need to realize.  
  • What Do You Really Need? In the homesteader mentality you will likely find that you don't have a lot of time or interest in those things that occupy so much of your mind-share (and wallet) as an urbanite.  This makes the transition easier once you've made it.  Urban life seems to require many non-essential expenses and distractions such as cable/satellite television, lattes, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, dining out, gym memberships, furniture, clothes, tobacco, alcohol, movies/sports/concerts, HOA fees, lodging/vacations, pet care, shiny appliances, repairs to shiny appliances, pest control, lawn services, water bills, and so on. You'll find as a homesteader that you'll incur very few of these expenses.  Take whatever steps you can to start practicing this now. Instead of missing television, homesteaders will become distracted by nature and the pleasures of growing their own food. You can too! While the Internet may be seen as a very real necessity for homesteaders, particularly given their isolation and need to connect with customers, that one expense can consolidate to give you access to most news, information and even free video programs on Hulu, YouTube, iTunes and elsewhere.  All of these expenses seem "necessary" to us as urbanites, but viewed through the lens of a homesteader they are quite unnecessary indeed. If you can't cut the cord and do without them where you are now, TEOTWAWKI homesteading may be very trying for you.
  • Learn to Garden. Now! Regardless of which income producing paths you choose one thing is constant among all homesteaders; they ALL garden and grow at least some of their own food.  No matter where you are currently living you should be able to practice some gardening skills.  Learn to plan your garden, plant and germinate your own seeds indoors, transplant into small raised beds or container gardens, learn how to improve soil, how to identify and manage pests, study companion planting and square foot gardening if you are keen on a small parcel or raised beds if room allows and so on.  And you don't just have to focus on your veggies.  Practice with small fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and even blueberries.  By the time you get to your ideal homestead you'll be comforted by the hands-on gardening skills you have practiced and the knowledge you have gained through reading. 
  • Get in Shape. I don't mean do more push ups, squats and more crunches. Sure, those are great if you're trying to look good on club night but the cows and sows on the homestead won't give you a second glance.  Farmsteading takes a toll on the body.  Your tasks could include bending and kneeling to weed and plant, hoisting 50 pound or more bags of feed and balancing them over a feeder, carrying crates of chickens, shoveling compost or wet snow, bending over cheese vats, lifting heavy wet trays of veggies out of the sink to prepare for the market and so on.  To make matters worse, if you get injured while on the job you'll have no one to call to inform you can't make it in that day, so you better get your body ready. How?  Focus on flexibility and tone.  To my way of thinking, this means yoga and pilates more than dumbbells and pull up bars.  It also means getting your weight down to the right target level for your age and height, so walking, hiking, swimming or climbing may help. Whatever it takes, get your body in farmstead shape!
  • Read - For millennia knowledge was passed from elders to juniors in social circles so that succeeding generations understood important food production, preservation and survival skills. Unfortunately, most of us missed out on that transfer of knowledge as our parents and grandparents instead were part of the convenience generation that food marketers cultivated.  So how do we regain those lost skills?  Start by reading as much as you can.  The problem is sifting through all the sources of information available such as books, blogs, articles and magazines.  Your study assignments go even beyond reading to watching movies, videos and listening to podcasts.  The choices are many and it can be hard to find exactly what you want, so I suggest finding topics that intrigue you and then learning everything you can.  Once you find something, get involved with a forum or group and start talking with your virtual buddies.
  • Find Like Minded Souls - Get off of Facebook and get onto sites such as or that can give you practical knowledge and encouragement.  Seriously.  Find people who share your ideals and who are searching for the same answers.  Networking will get you there much faster and you eyes will be opened to new possibilities.  Talk to people who have taken a similar journey and ask them to share their story.  Find people who have learned the skills you are seeking and reach out to them.  Ask them for resources or see if they would be willing to let you watch a homestead activity the next time they do one, like making soap or collecting honey for instance!  And seek out and attend all of the free farm tours and events you can find.
  • Focus on Lasting Investments - There are many things you may want to acquire before becoming a homesteader that will help you once you're on the land. There may also be items you want to trade in for something more practical.  For example, how about trading your shiny compact car for a good, solid used diesel truck that you can ultimately drive into the ground.  In addition to saving money when buying and insuring this truck, it will be useful for hauling animals, seed, feed, fertilizer, name it, and being an older model it will be easy for your rural friends to repair and keep running.  If there are any new items you are considering buying between the time you read this sentence and the time you move to the land, ask yourself this question: is this item essential to my homesteading dream?  If not, then you don't need it.  If you can afford it then the choice is yours, but make sure it will be a lasting investment well worth the expense.  After all, homesteading is not about deprivation. But if you're not sure how to afford living off the land then perhaps you should consider postponing any discretionary expenses until you figure it out.
  • How Much Do You Need? - Finally, you should calculate how much money you really need to make. And, while your first thought as you contemplate becoming a homesteader may be "how will I make money" remember this: Saving Money = Making Money!  By lowering your expenses and producing much of what you'll consume when you homestead, you'll find that you don't need to make nearly as much as you think you do.  After all, how much of your current paycheck goes to food that you'll produce on your own?  How much goes to nice clothes, dining out, fuel and simple luxuries that you'll want to do without?

So there you have it, a few things to get you thinking before you put the shovel in the ground and start digging the homestead garden.  Let’s move on to Part Two.

Part Two – Making Money With Your Land
Let’s not think of living off the land, but rather “thriving” off the land.  You’ll probably be able to figure out how to produce your own food so that your health and nutrition thrives, but what about income?

Homesteading is all about multiple streams of income...the old “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” concept. There are almost countless opportunities for income generation but of course there is no one “right” answer given the differences in personal situations, markets, climates, inherent skills and so on.  What I will attempt to do for you is to categorize the three main income areas, and then break those categories down into specific ways you can sell something to earn money.

The three categories of earning money off the land are, 1) using your land to make money, 2) using your skills to make money and 3) selling products that come from your land and/or skills.  This section will focus on using your land to generate income.
Thinking Like a Homesteader
Before we get to the actual ways to make money it’s appropriate to spend a moment discussing mindset. As you contemplate each of the income generators in this and later sections, attempt to evaluate them from multiple perspectives.  For instance:

  • Is the income opportunity one-time, seasonal or continuous? Raising heritage turkeys can be fun but you'll likely only get paid at Thanksgiving, whereas consumers buy pork year round.
  • Can the income opportunity be scaled (if there is a lot of demand can you expand to meet it) if you want to?
  • Can you overlap operational/income producing areas to increase efficiency? For example, If you raise a hog then you need either a large garden (scraps) or local cheese operation (whey) or brewery (spent grain) to make raising the hogs essentially free.
  • Does the income opportunity allow you to differentiate yourself or are there lots of people who can offer the same thing?
  • What are you good at now and can that be transferred to income opportunities on the homestead (accounting, writing, woodworking, etc.)?

Play the Big Stock Market
No, not the NYSE big board but the big time live(stock) market.  For most homesteaders this means cows, but could mean bison, water buffalo, large flocks of sheep and I'll put pigs in there as well.  It goes without saying that you'll need an adequate amount of pasture land to accommodate these voracious grazers and there are many benefits to raising them.  For example, if you were to purchase a young bull for $1,000 or so and five ready to breed heifers for the same price, you'd likely end up with 5 calves produced and fed for free (by their mothers and your pastures) each year for 12-15 years. 
What will you do with those calves?  Maybe sell them as stockers when they're weaned, maybe raise grass fed beef, which we'll discuss in part four.  However, to give you a sneak preview, if you did raise them as grass fed beef it's quite likely that each calf would become worth about $1,500 each for you (net) in about 2 years if you can get them to urban markets. Clearly there's a ramp-up period of a couple of years before this produces income for you, but starting in year 3 those 5 heifers will be throwing off about $7,500 per year in profit ($1,500 per calf x 5 per year).  If they do this for 10 years then your initial investment of $6,000 for the bull and heifers will return $75,000.
Of course you'll have to consider any expenses you may have, such as hay when grass isn't growing, vet bills if you plan to use vets and of course taxes on the land they graze, but the income will drastically exceed the can market the product successfully.
I would caution you to avoid exotic animals unless economic times are very good or are likely to be. In poor economic times people want basic foodstuffs and materials, and your attempt to market grass fed zebra may turn out harder than you anticipated. 
You can do similar calculations with other species such as pigs, bison and so on, but the point is this; putting the animals to work allows you to generate a stream of future income, improve your soil and create wealth.  The wealth is held not necessarily in fiat currency but in the value of your fertile soil and livestock.

Play the Penny Stock Market

I'm not talking about you becoming the Gordon Gekko of the pink sheets but rather raising rabbits, goats, chickens, turkeys, eggs, bees, and the like on a limited scale.  These species are much more common on the homestead than water buffalo and herds of grass fed cattle, and for good reason.  They're smaller, easier to handle in small areas, diversified and in many cases you can even process (slaughter) them right on your farm or homestead and sell to consumers, which you cannot legally do with red meat (lamb, pork, beef).

No doubt that many if not most of these small livestock belong on every homestead, but keep in mind there's a difference between you raising rabbits for your own table and you raising meat rabbits to generate income. Unlike the example with the cows, you'll likely need to continually purchase feed for your rabbits (and especially chickens) and feed costs seem to perpetually escalate.  The amount of income you can generate may be rather limited for a farmer, but may easily help to sustain a homesteader.  For instance, if a doe produces 4 litters per year of 8 kits each, we'll assume you may have 30 fryers to sell (losing two to mortality) each year at a weight of 3 pounds each.  If you could charge $6 per pound then each doe would generate $540 in sales of rabbit meat before backing out feed costs.  Alas, you'd better be prepared to butcher them yourself as your beef processor might be a bit perplexed if you hauled in a load of rabbits for slaughter.

Small stock could also include honeybees, which may be particularly attractive with all the concern about colony collapse disorder.  With bees you can sell nucs, full hives, 2 or 3 pound bags of bees or just queens.  For many commercial beekeepers, this is quite a lucrative endeavor!
Bottom line?  Small is beautiful, but smaller the livestock, the smaller the absolute income potential.

Farm Stays & Events
Agritourism is a growth area and I expect this to continue even if economic conditions remain soft.  It's not just you who is being called to the land.  We are all becoming more aware of how disconnected we are from our natural world.  Can you not imagine a soon to be married couple wanting to have their wedding overlooking your beautiful pastures, ponds and happy animals?  I can, and they'll pay well for it because competitive alternatives also charge good money for the service.  But ask yourself if this is a one-time, seasonal or continuous opportunity?  Likely seasonal at best depending on how well you market it, but getting back to re-purposing all your investments and efforts, you could use the same facilities for corporate retreats and other events.
What about a farmstay bed and breakfast in your home or in a refurbished barn?  Sounds quaint, romantic and what a lot of people would be in the mood for.  And it doesn't have to be a normal house. It could be a yurt, tipi or the wall tents that they do at MaryJane's Farm bed and breakfast, for $240 per night.
If you don't want guests staying over night then you could consider farm dinners. These outings normally feature local chefs and offer the advantage of introducing paying customers to other products or services you have available.
Variations  - A hunting preserve, guided hunting/fishing excursions, RV/tent farm camping, summer youth farm camps, pond fishing, corn mazes, haunted woods...

Skills Classes
This is a variation of the above but the emphasis is on teaching skills to consumers.  What kind of skills?  How about cheese making, butchering classes, hide tanning and earth skills, foraging, soap name it. Butchering classes can run the gamut from this $50 hog butchering class on a Wisconsin farm all the way to Fleisher's $10,000 Level 3 butchering class that takes 6-8 weeks!
This seems to be an area that many homesteaders and farms ignore. Perhaps they don't feel they have the patience or demeanor to meet the consumer expectations.  If you're comfortable with students or people in general then I encourage you to consider offering skills classes. It will do far more than generate seasonal or continual income for you; it will forge a bond with many of your visitors that will motivate them to become loyal supporters of your farmstead.

Become a Grower
This is one reason why you want to become a homesteader, right?  To put your hands in fluffy soil, tug gorgeous carrots right out of the ground, cut fresh flowers that you planted, snip asparagus in early April...  If these iconic images of homesteading inspire you then it's reasonable to expect consumers will want the same.  Retreating to our earlier discussion of one-time, seasonal or continual income opportunities, "growing" is one income area that can absolutely be as year-round as you want it to be.   And, unlike farm stays or classes, eating is not normally viewed as a discretionary expense. After all, people gotta eat.  In a TEOTWAWKI world, focus on the essential organic foodstuffs!
There are lots of great books on growing including several by Elliot Coleman that I'd recommend.  Just remember that if you're new to gardening and if you're garden plot is new, you should expect it to take at least 3-5 years before your soil tilth and fertility catches up with your expectations of light and fluffy soil.
Variations - Mushroom cultivation, live plants, greenhouse transplants, heirloom seeds...

Hays Sales and Grazing
If you find yourself with some decent pasture acreage you can use it in many ways to create a "cash crop": grazing or selling organic hay.

Custom grazing is a contractual arrangement where you provide the pastures, fencing, water and grazing management for others who place their animals on your land.  You can charge either by the day, by the pounds gained or both.  If you're short on cash but long on time and enthusiasm this may be a good option for you.

Let's say you had 40 acres and you wanted to improve the fertility anyway.  You may strike a deal to graze 40 cows, stockers or cow/calf pairs and someone else would provide the animals that you wouldn't have to pay for. Be careful if you take in bulls as they'll eat 50% more, on average, than cows so you're stocking rates (and prices you charge) need to reflect this. 

In a stocking scenario you may have 40 weaned calves that are dropped off in April that you graze until October. Let's assume they arrive weighing 550 pounds each and your pastures could allow them to gain 2 pounds per day on average for 180 days.  By the end of October each stocker would weigh 910 pounds, having gained 360 pounds (180 days x 2/lb/day). In total you would have added 14,400 pounds of beef (180 days X 2/lb/day X 40 head).  If you charged a rate of $.60 per pound of gain then your income for the six month grazing contract would be $8,640.  Rates vary of course and you could charge much more in drought/dry areas than you could in lush areas, but then again you'd achieve more weight gain in lush areas than you would in dry.  Then again, you don't even need to own land to custom graze for others. You can lease it as Greg Judy explains here if you have a smaller homestead and don't have the room yourself.

Another alternative for some income is to simply produce organic hay, either for the grass-fed beef or horse quality market.  Organic doesn't just mean letting your pastures means having quality forages that are non-GMO and are managed organically with no chemicals at all.  You'll get more per ton for square bales than round, but those in the cattle market will very likely not want to fool with square bales, so you should choose your market first.  If you don't own hay equipment then you can hire out the job, but this is often challenging since all hay tends to come in around the same time and those with hay equipment are in pretty good demand during those times.

Variations: Blending tree plantings into grazing areas for a silvopasture, thereby generating both current and long-term income from timber

Breed and Board
Do you love animals and want to become a breeder?  There are many ways you can do this on your homestead.  Of course you can use the large or small livestock mentioned above and become a breeder of rabbits, sheep, goats, pigs, cows or any combination.  There's always ads in Craigslist and in local ag publications for these and many people looking to buy weaned piglets, 4H rabbits and calves, and so on.
Another idea is to breed and train livestock handling or guardian dogs, such as shepherds or collies to herd sheep and cows or great Pyrenees to protect livestock. I expect both of these to be in constant demand as more and more preppers and homesteaders emerge and need proven genetics to help with their animals.
If you love horses and your new homestead has a barn of sorts, offering boarding and grazing for horses may be just the thing for you.  You may be able to charge $150-250 per month or trade in value for full 24/7 pasture turn out...the more you can offer the more you can charge but of course rates vary from region to region. It's yet another way you can generate income from a homestead parcel that you couldn't from a city apartment. 

Basic Materials

Finally, you're sitting on a gold mine of sorts with your new piece of land.  You'll likely have some woods that could offer rough timber, firewood and pine straw among other things.  If you're handy with a chain saw or if you want to invest a few thousand dollars in a portable saw mill, you could be producing lots of custom cut lumber in no time.
Understandably, many people look upon all the rocks on their land disapprovingly, but perhaps those rocks and boulders could become landscape rocks for someone else?  Although this falls more into the category of one-time income streams than continual income, it could be a good way to clean up your land while beautifying another person's property at the same time!

While some of these ideas touch on product offerings, the above represents just some of the ways you can use your land to generate income.  Some techniques are quite passive and very long term (silvopasture) while others are very labor intensive and offer immediate income gratification (transplants).  Of course there are more ideas and perhaps you'll share some below, but this is enough to get you thinking. 
If you know how much money you need to make, how much capital you're comfortable risking and, most importantly, what you are passionate about, then I'm sure you'll find some ideas that sound right to you.  But I'll repeat something I said in the first post to be sure it sinks in: Saving Money = Making Money!
To a homesteader's way of thinking you not only save money and therefore need to earn less (and therefore pay less in taxes) by producing so much yourself, you also lock in prices and create a personal buffer from inflation.  Milk prices may go through the roof for everyone else, but yours will always be the same.

Part Three – Making Money With Your Skills

Regardless of who you are, I'm confident in assuming one thing about you; you have at least one or more skills.  Everyone does.  And your roster of skills and capabilities will only expand when you move to the homestead as you learn all sorts of new gardening, farming, mechanical, crafting and other talents that others need, and are willing to pay for.  The trick for you will be to market those skills into income generating assignments that will allow you to comfortably live your dream life off the land.
Hopefully part two of this four-part series gave you ideas to think about how your land could work to generate income for you, and tomorrow's part four will give you numerous ideas for products you can sell. This third portion of the series will be a rapid fire listing of money making ideas that bridge the gap between your current/future skills and market opportunities.
In this section we’ll focus on skills and services that you can sell from your homestead and I'll divide the list into two macro categories. The first will be physical skills that you can perform for your local community.  You need to be in close proximity to make money with the ideas on this list.  The second will be virtual/online skills you can easily sell to anyone around the world and collect money via PayPal, check or wire-transfer.  As always, these ideas just scratch the surface so please share your ideas and comments. If you're interested in some of these ideas but don't have the skills yet, just remember that it's not too late. You'll be learning lots of new skills as a homesteader.   Get the knowledge and training you need and start earning income with it.
Ready?  Let's begin!

Physical/Local Services to Make Money as a Homesteader

General Services
- There are lots of "general" needs that many folks in rural areas need.  By the way, just because you're moving "out there" to become more self-sufficient doesn't mean that the people already there think that way. You may be surprised to learn that they value the convenience of grocery stores and having hired help to do things for them.  What kind of things?  Fence installation and repair, automatic gate installation and repair, painting, household repair and so on.  If you're interested in or handy with any of these then put the word out by printing a business card and pinning it at the local feed store and elsewhere where people congregate.

Tractor Work
- One way to really justify (or rationalize) the purchase of a tractor and implements is to use it not only for your property, but to hire it out for local projects.  The jobs you can hire it for depend on the features of the tractor (does it have a front-end loader, for example) and the attachments you have. Depending on what you have you could earn good money by cutting/baling hay, mowing large fields, disking, tilling, seeding/planting, maintaining long gravel driveways, bush hogging, moving piles of dirt/gravel/debris, snow plowing, and more. Advertise yourself.

Gardening Work
- You'll become expert at organic gardening and growing food in no time, and you'll likely become the best in your area as others are happy to let the grocery chains feed them or, if they have their own garden, rely on chemical controls.   I expect that more and more people will become interested in organic methods of growing food and you can avail from this trend by "marketing" your expertise to others.  What can you do?  Teach them how to install raised beds or drip irrigation lines, how to build soil with manure/leaves/grass clippings, how to garden without tilling, how to schedule successive plantings and winter gardens, protecting plants from frost, how to set up compost bins, how to capture rain water for the garden, how to companion plant or how to trap plant for pests, etc.  Get the idea?  There's lots you'll be learning that others won't know but will want to know.  Yes my dear reader, you can become THE Plant Whisperer!

RV Repair
- Repairing recreational vehicles isn't necessarily difficult, but it is specialized. Given the concerns about the economy, jobs and so on, it's reasonable that there will be more and more people taking economical RV getaways or simply living in their RV's.  This means more and more will need repairs and, let's face it, how many RV repair people do you see on the side of the road?  It's an opportunity to specialize and become "the" RV repair person for your area.

- If you are good at mechanical repair then you'll be in need.  It's always hard to find a good mechanic.  If you are also good at small engine repair and farm equipment repair (tractors, RVs) then you'll be even more in demand.

- Many people in rural areas know how to weld but most do it for themselves or their farm.  The opportunity is there to offer welding and small fabrication for hire, if you have the skill.

Sheep Shearing
- If you have sheep on your homestead you could shear them yourself and then hire this service out to others.  Most sheep owners don't shear themselves and it's always hard to find someone local who does.

- Artificial insemination (AI).  With more and more homesteaders and small farmers starting up with smaller herds of animals, many don't want the danger or cost of having bulls, boars and rams on their property.  Or perhaps they simply want to add genetic diversity to their herd by using AI.  Either way, if you learn this skill and make the modest investments in equipment, then you will be in demand for sure.

- I mentioned how boarding could be an offering that your land could enable, but you could expand this if you're skilled with horses by offering riding lessons and horse training.  There are horse people in every neck of the woods, so you'd likely find a waiting clientele.

Get Sharp!
- Perhaps you could become expert as sharpening knives, chainsaws and tools.  You'll likely need this for yourself anyway so why not make some extra bucks by offering it to others?

Equipment Operator
- Perhaps you don't have the equipment to hire out but you know how to operate a tractor, bobcat, bulldozer, track loader, excavator, ditch witch, backhoe or the like. There's always a need for this in the country.

- If you like to build then you're in luck as this is a skill that most people either don't have, or don't have time for.  From repairing buildings to constructing sheds, additions, barns and so on, you'll probably find more work than you can handle as fewer new homes are built and more repairs/add-ons are in demand.  And, to broaden your offering even more money, learn and then teach cob building techniques!

Electrician, Plumber
- Not much I can add to this. If you can do these, people will need them, especially if you develop skills with alternative energy and plumbing techniques!

Hauling Animals- You may have a truck and purchased a livestock trailer when you moved to the country. Guess what, not everyone has one.  Let locals know that you can haul livestock for them or post your skill on Craigslist.

- With fancy new phones anyone can take a picture.  However, only skilled photographers can compose and create an emotive work of art worthy of celebration...and compensation. If this is a talent of yours then you'll have a unique income stream.

- I'll probably include workshops and classes both as a skill and a product, but with your new skills why not offer mobile city/suburban workshops on creating raised bed gardens, chicken and rabbit tractors, etc.  If the money is back in suburbia, go get it and bring it home!

Computer Repair
- Are you good with computers and Internet issues?  Many people, if not most, are not.  If people know you're around and that you're good with eradicating viruses, freeing up memory, recovering files, providing Internet access alternatives and the like, then you're in luck...and in demand!

House Cleaning
- Yea, you know what this means. Just clean your own house first! :-)

Meat Processing
- Now, you can't do this as an inspected processor unless you want to go through the red tape process, but since you'll likely learn how to skin rabbits, eviscerate chickens and maybe even slaughter sheep and goats, you could offer this as a service for others who want to butcher their own animals. Just be very careful how you position this; you are selling only your knowledge and service and in no way are you selling meat, since the animals already belong to the customer.

Bridge the Gap
- Some farmers struggle with marketing and distribution but perhaps that's an area you're good at.  Consider becoming a distributor for local farmers and getting their products to retailers, restaurants, resorts and other stores.  It will be good for the producer, good for the buyer, good for the local community and you won't have to produce anything yourself!

Online/Virtual Services to Make Money as a Homesteader

Broker Deals - Basically buy something for $.25 and sell for $5.  How?  Farm auctions have lots of valuable and often new items that can go for very little money.  If you can create a market for it via Craigslist, eBay, Facebook or your own community contacts, here's your chance.  My advice is to consider useful items that are harder to find and are easy to ship.   A wood stove may be cheap but you'll need to sell it locally which will limit your market reach. [JWR Adds: I recommend gathering references on collectibles. See our Bookshelf page for some coin, gun and antique book links. Study and then bring those reference books with you when you go on farm auction trips. If you become a subject matter expert, then you can turn that into a money-making venture. Many people make a good living as "pickers". (See the television shows "American Pickers" and "Antiques Roadshow", for some examples of collectible items that are sought after.] I concur about only buying only small and lightweight collectibles that can be mailed.]

Consulting - What do you do today?  Is it something in business, academia, law, medicine, technology, etc. that you could offer as a distant consulting service?  Can you package it into an online or remote training offering?  Perhaps you're an accountant and setting up and managing Quickbooks is easy for you, but challenging for folks around you. Or maybe you're a business hot shot with expertise in logistics, marketing, human resources or strategic planning.  With all those skills I bet you can figure out how to offer business coaching, life coaching or consulting online.

Making Money Online
- As I said, I don't know you or what specific skills you have. That said, there are lots of ways to make money online using skills you probably already have. I don't want to define each of these here, so let me just list a few ideas for you to think about or research:

  • Copy editing
  • Free-lance and content writing of e-books, articles, blog post, press releases, product reviews, proof reading, forum posts...
  • Illustrating for authors, web designers, etc.
  • Become a Virtual Assistant (VA)
  • Offer research assistance to authors, editors and writers
  • Web or graphic design
  • Web security consulting
  • Voice-overs or record your own ad-supported podcast
  • Language translation

Note: Not sure how to find these opportunities or how to market yourself?  Try eLance, Guru, SideskillsFreelance Jobs or iFreelance.  You'll probably be surprised how many opportunities there are. Just be sure to specialize and differentiate yourself, otherwise you'll likely get lost among the other freelancers.

- Authors such as James Rawles, Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon and Joel Salatin have been able to make a living off the land with publishing being a primary source of income. Could you be the next one?  Why not!  If you have good writing skills and can identify the right topic for right audience, it's easier than ever to get published and, more importantly, distributed with print on demand (POD) offerings from Createspace by Amazon, Lightning SourceDog Ear and others.  Just take a page out of Salatin's and Rawles’ book and remember the importance of "branding" yourself and your expertise.  If you create a following as they have, followers will eagerly await your next book and you'll be on your way to a passive income stream.
There you have it, just a sampling of ways that you can use your skills to get money from the farm fairy, often very good money, while living your dream life off the land.  For modern homesteaders the Internet creates a global market and, unlike with physical products, it doesn't matter where you are geographically located if you're offering virtual/online/writing services.

Part Four – Making Money Selling Farm and Homestead Products

Farmstead Meats
- Organic, grass fed, sustainably raised, pastured, heritage...what have you, there is a growing market of consumers looking to connect with and support farmers who are tending the earth ethically.  These consumers are just as anxious to support the local community as they are to tell Monsanto and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to take a flying leap. 

When selling meats directly from the farm you'll have lots of choices to navigate. The first choice may be if you want to sell bulk (whole/half/quarter) animal or small retail packages.  If you sell bulk then you can avoid the hassles of becoming licensed to store packaged meats in your farm freezers by technically selling a "live" animal to the consumer. You then deliver the animal to the processor and the consumer determines how they want the animal butchered, pays the processor directly and picks up their cuts.  The consumer saves money or a per pound basis and you save headaches.
Alternatively, you can sell individual packaged cuts such as roasts, ground beef, pork chops, rack of lamb and so on to consumers.  This requires you to have meats processed by a state or USDA inspected facility and you'll have to follow regulations for storing and transporting your labeled products.  The regulations aren't that burdensome in most places, but the costs for freezers, utilities and transportation must be considered. Of course, when you sell this way you offer products to a much larger market. After all, there's more people able to buy a pack of ground beef than there are those interested in half a cow!
Other options for selling meats are wholesale, retail and restaurants.  The above options that sell directly to customers constitute direct marketing. You'll get the highest price selling that way for sure, but you'll also expend the most effort and need the most marketing savvy...for sure.  Selling to wholesalers or distributors could put your products on retail shelves and it takes time and effort to set up these relationships (you can also sell your other farm products ((below)) this way).  Many farmsteaders want to sell to restaurants and for good reason. If you're near the right markets there are many fine chefs who value delicious and local ingredients, and you want to sell to people who value what you produce.  Some chefs want smaller portions and packaged cuts that you are selling directly to customers.  If that's the case you probably won't have much room to discount prices unless the chefs commit to larger bulk quantities or weekly deliveries since your costs won't be any lower.
Of course a lot more could be said on this topic but the point of this essay is to give you ideas and to get you thinking of what works for you.  For many farmsteaders, selling farm raised meats will be the heart of their income generating engine.
Variations - In many states you may be able to process poultry (which includes rabbit) on your farm and not use an inspected processor by using a P.L. 90-492 exemption. Read carefully and check with your state regulators before proceeding.

Farm Fresh Milk
- Admit it...the phrase kind of conjures the image of the old milk truck, glass bottles being dropped on your doorstep and old fashioned wholesomeness. Consumers today have become so disconnected with their food that many don't even realize that they're drinking ultra-pasteurized "formerly" milk until they read an article about it or hear mentioned on the news. When many do they go looking for real milk, usually raw, from a local farmer.  And they're willing to pay anywhere from $6 - $12 per gallon for it depending on where they are in the country and if the cow was fed grain (least expensive) or if it was purely grass fed (most expensive).  Be sure to operate within the implicit and explicit laws of your state.  Also check out the Weston A. Price campaign for real milk and if you decide to sell milk, list yourself there.
Variation - butter, buttermilk, yogurt, etc. if you want to pasteurize. [JWR Adds: Be sure to check all the legalities first, particularly at the State level.]

Farmstead or Artisanal Cheese
- If you're milking cows, sheep or goats anyway, why not turn the milk into delicious farmstead cheese?  Farmstead cheese is cheese that you produce from the milk of YOUR animals, where as artisanal cheese is cheese that you produce from milk that you buy from another dairy.  Either way, you'll need a state approved and inspected cheese operation and anywhere from a modest investment (several thousand dollars) to a major investment (over $100,000) to set up your make room, ripening room, cheese cave, equipment and so on.  There's no denying that it takes an investment to become a cheese maker, particularly a farmstead cheese maker where you have to invest in animals and milking facilities, but for many the lifestyle and payoff is undeniably alluring.

Farm Fresh Eggs
- If you raise your hens on pasture then you'll be producing the most beautiful and nutritious eggs available anywhere.  Just check out the chart to the right.  And keep in mind that not all egg varieties are the same.  Many consumers will pay much more for duck eggs than chicken eggs, and you can also sell hatching eggs (turkey, geese, ducks, chicken, guinea, etc.) instead of eating eggs.

Vegetables and Herbs
- There's not much limit to what you can grow for consumers and restaurants.  Warm and cool season vegetables, fresh flowers, herbs, you name it. You'll have the same choices to make regarding selling (direct, restaurants, retail, wholesale) as you do with meats but there's one big difference. Whereas meats can be stored frozen for months the value in vegetables is to be sold fresh, often the day they're harvested.  So you'll want to line up your customers first either by having a solid relationship with restaurants or by operating a CSA for individual customers.

- Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, peaches, apples, figs, melons...get the idea?  Almost everyone has a sweet tooth and these can be harvested, sold and delivered directly to farmers markets, restaurants or consumers, or you can offer pick-your-own options.

- Maple syrup, honey and sorghum syrup all come to mind. With concerns about allergies I would expect a continued rise in the demand for local honey.  All you need is to make or buy some bee boxes, get a bag of bees and a queen or a nuc and let them pollinate your garden. Then you're on your way to the sweet life!

Craft Supplies
- You'll likely find countless supplies on your farmstead that can be marketed and sold to crafters, such as rabbit pelts, turkey and peacock feathers, wood cuttings, wool and more.  Take a look on eBay to see what's selling and then see what you have.

- Rather than selling craft supplies from the farm why not make your own jewelry!  Think of using feathers from peacocks, turkeys, guineas or geese. Or, perhaps you have a large deer population and you'll find lots of shed antlers in late winter. These and more can be used to make unique (one-of-a-kind) pieces of jewelry. [JWR Adds: The Etsy web site is a good place to retail your wares online.]
Variation - Instead of jewelry, make rustic woodworking gifts from your downed trees.  Think of tables, willow furniture, log furniture, kitchen utensils...whatever you can dream up..

Wine and Beer
- Due to stringent regulations you may not want to produce wine and beer, but what about becoming an accomplice?  Could you grow local hops for the beer market or grapes for local wineries using your land? I bet you could and that few people are!

Value-Added Products
- I won't attempt to count all the ways you could add value to products that you could produce on the farm, and most would require some regulatory approval.  But imagine farm fresh baby food, dog treats, lard, jams, salsa, grains, cured meats, pickles, sauerkraut...the list goes on.  Don't be afraid of seeking regulatory approval as it's not as hard as you think. Just call the health department or your state department of agriculture and find out what you need to do to comply.  Others do it and so can you.

- Cultivate mushrooms for consumers or restaurants and if you live among chanterelles, morels, etc., learn to hunt and sell these delicacies at farmers markets and to restaurants!

- I mentioned photography yesterday as a skill and it certainly is that, but your rare breed animals and quaint rural landscape offer you unique resources to create poetic imagery.  You could add value by printing and creating frames from your woodlot and selling through various resorts and stores in your state, or license use of your high-resolution images through various providers.

Make Custom Knives, Tools
- Necessity is the mother of all invention, they say, and farmers are an inventive group.  Perhaps you'll come up with tools you need to tend your garden such as the wheel hoe to the right. Or you could offer plans on how to build them yourself like the the folks at WhizBang
Perhaps you know how or want to learn to make knives from rustic materials such as spent saw blades, antlers, wood, etc.  It's not too late and it would be unique and functional.

Building Chicken/Rabbit Tractors
- When folks, particularly urban folks, see your fancy chicken coops and tractors they'll likely want one of their own. They won't have the time or skill to make it, but they'll have the money to buy it. Market directly to them through local organics associations, conferences, publications and online groups.

- Put your marketing hat on now. You're not selling a load of smelly waste, you're selling organic fertility! Better yet, nutrients!  From worm castings to rabbit pellets and, yes, horse manure, you're selling what everyone needs for healthy plants and topsoil. Variation: Compost

Artisan Meat Products
- You don't see many people doing this because, as with cheese making, there is skill, investment and regulatory compliance required. And therein lies the opportunity!  Imagine making pancetta, pepperoni, saucisson sec, salami or Iberico style long-aged cured ham from your rare-breed pigs that consumed acorns and whey.  Know anyone else in your state doing this?  In your entire region? Is that sausage I smell or is it opportunity?

Tractor Dealer, Feed Dealer
- Perhaps you'd like to sell a small amount of farm equipment or feed in your area.  If it's under-serviced then you'll find opportunities to do so. This will be especially true with feed as you'll likely find organic feeds, fertilizers and nutritional stuffs hard to come by unless you have them shipped in. Is it possible that others can't find these as well and you could become the supplier?

Homemade Lotions, Soaps, Candles
- You'll no doubt learn to make all of these things anyway for your homestead. If you have the raw materials, such as lard, goat milk, etc., then you may want to make artisan soaps for customers.  You can sell to local markets or sell online. There may even be more of an opportunity with making lotions, shampoos and creams that are all natural and free of chemicals.

- You could sell supplies such as wool or yarn, or you could add value by sewing bags, aprons, cloth diapers and more.

Hopefully some of these ideas got you thinking about how you can sell products and make a good living off your farm or homestead, but I bet you know of even more ways!  Many of the products and skills I've discussed are small scale and tug more at the homesteader's heart. Some, such as retail meats, cured meats and commercial cheese making speak more to those interested in farming as a business.  What's right for you?  It depends greatly on how you answer the questions in part one of this essay, namely how much money do you need to make.  But also how ambitious you are and how much energy you have.  Those are issues for you to ponder. 

One thing is certain; there are lots of ways to earn income from your farm or homestead. I don't know about you, but I take a lot of comfort in that.

People who are new to farmsteading or entrepreneurial life in general are often nervous, if not downright scared, about the prospects of not having a comfortable and secure paycheck coming in each week.  What I will say is that when you do make that transition and learn how to generate income for yourself that you will never again worry about whether you may get laid off, how your employer is doing or if you'll have money in retirement.  You'll make the life that you want for yourself and no one will be there to deny you the pay raise, if you want it, or more time off, if you want that, although getting both would be the ultimate triumph!
TEOTWAWKI will be present a scary new reality for most people. But you can begin to position yourself now to not only thrive financially in a TEOTWAWKI world but to help others to adapt and enjoy their new world.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mr. Rawles,
I very much enjoyed reading the article about Keeping Chicken in a Backyard Flock, by Nightshade. I have 58 hens and seven roosters and I enjoy every one of them. I did want to address one statement, however. It's concerning the comment about the presence of a rooster and his ability to produce a hormone that turns bad cholesterol into good cholesterol. Perhaps the author of this author could verify that claim? I have contacted the nutrition experts at our state's university research center on the matter, and they have informed me that there is no scientific evidence to support that claim. They said: "Dietary cholesterol, cholesterol that is found in the food itself, including meats and meat based products, are not measured by HDL and LDL and instead listed just as dietary cholesterol. Once a person has consumed the food, whether it contains dietary cholesterol, dietary fat or a combination, the person's body makes cholesterol to handle/transport the fat and cholesterol. This transport includes HDL and LDL among others. The type and amount of each is unique to the individual and each person's body handles the lipids (fats) differently. So, even if the egg were to have more HDL (which it wouldn't) there is no guarantee that once it was ingested it would react the same way. Your body may choose to handle the cholesterol differently dependent on several factors."

Personally, I believe that the nutrition of the egg and the hen that lays it is directly correlated with the diet she is given. Green grass and other green matter is very good to supplement the diet, and is said to reduce the cholesterol of the egg. The rooster should be more fertile on the same diet. I have had questions before now about whether the presence of a rooster would cause a hen to lay more, but I haven't found any claims to suggest that. I suppose that if nothing else, the rooster crows very early in the morning, which wakes the hens up so they get off the roost and thus are exposed to more light, which is what makes them lay more. My purpose for having roosters is to produce fertile eggs for the sake of hatching new chicks and for them to to watch for hawks and owls when my flock is free ranging. It may be possible that the sperm has some nutritional benefit, I suppose, but I can't find any proof of it. Sincerely, - A.R.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In a SHTF scenario, already having a small flock of laying chickens will be of great benefit for everyone from an urban backyard to a rural, backwoods bunker setting. They are easy to care for, provide eggs and eventually, can grace your stewpot once they have stopped laying. Given the opportunity, they are also resourceful, and will scavenge for insects, grubs, and their favorite greenery. Be warned, they absolutely adore strawberries and kale, and will eat it right out of your garden!

A laying hen reaches maturity and begins laying eggs at around 4-6 months of age. She will lay an average of two eggs every three days for the next 3-5 years. After that, you may wish to consider adding the girl to the stewpot. Laying hens are not as tender as young meat birds (which are typically slaughtered at eight weeks of age) but their meat is still salvageable if boiled or tenderized with some vinegar prior to cooking.

Laying Hens or Meat Birds?

The first decision you need to make is whether to have laying hens or meat birds. Chickens have been cultivated for a long time, and while some breeds make excellent laying hens, and lay large eggs for a long period of time, other breeds are definitely cultivated to grow quickly and be consumed in short order.
We have twelve Araucanas and one Rhode Island Red – all laying hens. The Araucanas lay a pale blue-green egg, that is considered a medium sized egg. The Rhode Island Red lays an extra-large brown egg. Rhode Island Reds are known for their large, high production egg capacity.
At this point, we have no meat birds. However, from my past interactions with them I have to say that they are very different from their egg-laying counterparts. Meat birds have one goal – to consume as much food as possible. That is why in eight weeks, a meat bird will average about 6-8 pounds, whereas my delicate Araucanas weigh in at a total of five pounds each full grown. Meat birds can also be rather aggressive, pecking and drawing blood on each other and more importantly, you. Take care if you have small children and meat birds, it could be traumatizing.

Benefits That Chickens Give

Will Eat Leftovers - Besides the obvious benefit of providing eggs and meat, chickens are one of nature’s garbage disposals. An omnivore, a chicken will consume nearly anything – meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, grains, rice. Not a single thing goes to waste in our house between the chickens, dogs and cats. Chickens will eat anything smaller than themselves – this means mice, if they can catch them. A few months ago, we caught two marauding mice in the house. We fed them both to the chickens who fought over the little carcasses – waste not, want not.
We also feed them their own eggshells, which are high in calcium, negating the need to buy crushed oyster shells as a calcium supplement.
If you have carnivores (dogs and cats) than you will probably feed them most of your meat scraps, but save a little for the birds. I’ve given them leftover soup, rice, quinoa, carrot peelings, the bases of broccoli, cauliflower leaves, tomatoes, and so much more. For a special treat, feed them some grapes, they go crazy for them and it is also a good source of water for them as well.

Will Process Paper
– There’s no need to burn paper, and please don’t throw it away. Instead, shred it (I actually use a high-capacity shredder and shred everything (phone books, newspapers, magazines, envelopes, you name it) and then place it in the chicken house. On the floor and in the roosts it absorbs the chicken waste, which is high in nitrogen. From there, simply sweep it out the door onto the ground of the enclosed chicken coop. This makes the ground less muddy. During the summer we also add grass clippings and encourage our neighbor to bring over his grass clippings to us as well. During the warm months, every 1-2 months we will rake up all of the gunk from the ground and throw it into the compost. A month or two later and it is compost, full of nutrients and ready to be spread onto our raised beds and worked into the dirt.
Pest Control
– In the warm months we open the door to the coop during the day and allow the hens to roam free, scratching and digging in the grass and raised beds. They search for and find plenty of insects, grubs, and even will go after mice and small birds. This provides them with some extra protein which they need for egg production. Later in summer, feed them any tomato hornworms you may find. They adore them, and it saves your tomato plants from being denuded of the sheltering green leaves tomatoes need for protection from the sun.

The Chicken Rules

Chickens are easy to keep as long as you follow the basic rules of good chicken ownership. So here are some quick tips to keep in mind.
Easy to Doctor – They are quite easy to doctor. You will need: Q-tip cotton swabs, triple antibiotic cream, pine tar, and if you like a general poultry antibiotic. Basically the first three ingredients are to treat your bird if they get in a tussle with another bird. This happens more when they are younger and the pecking order (yes, it’s real) has not been established. A chicken will rise within the flock by pecking a foe until she bleeds, and since chickens are naturally attracted to the color red (blood, red-painted toenails, red grapes, etc) that bird will then be pecked and pecked repeatedly, and chickens can and will kill one of the flock if not stopped. We bring in the hurt bird, wash off the blood, sometimes apply baby powder to help with the clotting, spread some antibiotic cream on the wound and then paint it with pine tar.
It smells bad and tastes worse. An attacking bird gets a mouthful of that and decides to pick on someone else!
As for the general poultry antibiotic…chickens sometimes get colds. If you see one that is lethargic and has not moved, has drainage around the beak or eyes, she may benefit from a regimen of antibiotics. They are available in most feed stores and you simply add them to the water. In one hen’s case, we had to force feed the antibiotics to her with a dropper. After three days she got better and she is now doing great.

Excessive Heat Will Kill Them – I suggest letting them loose during excessive heat waves and allowing your hens to search out the shaded, cool areas of your yard. Provide plenty of water, throw in some chunks of ice if you can to cool it down. We installed a fan in the chicken house last summer and placed it in front of a hunk of ice. The girls clustered around that or dug into the dark, shaded areas of our yard and into the cool dirt. I would not advise trying to eat a bird who dies of heat stroke unless  you see it die and know there wasn’t any other reason for it to be deceased (sickness, etc).

Cold Doesn’t Affect Laying, Light Does – I hear it over and over, “My chickens stopped laying because it has been so cold.” No, they could care less about that. Instead, it has to do with light exposure. Chickens need approximately 12-14 hours of exposure to direct light, in order to release an egg. Cloudy, overcast days have the same effect. Beginning in October, or earlier if you live in the more extreme climes, install a 40 watt bulb in your chicken house on a 12-14 hour timer. We have ours set to turn on at 6am in the morning and turn off at 8pm at night.
We had watched our production rates fall to around 3-5 eggs per day from our thirteen hens. After installing the light, production spiked and has stayed steady at 8-10 eggs per day. Our record is 11 eggs in one day – keep making those eggs, girls! (Or it is the stewpot for you)

Keep a Rooster (if you can get away with it) – Roosters can be noisy and are often aggressive. And most of us live in urban and suburban settings that prohibit us from having one. However, if you can get away with it, I do suggest having a rooster. For one, roosters provide an enzyme that turns the ‘bad’ cholesterol in eggs to ‘good’ cholesterol. Most importantly though is the ability to renew your flock. If push comes to shove, you want the ability to make more birds and in a SHTF scenario, you won’t much care if they are meat birds or laying birds – they are FOOD, plain and simple. Portable, easy to maintain, FOOD. Having a rooster there to propagate more of the food opportunities just makes good common sense.

Protect Them From Predators – I would think this would go without saying, but there are plenty of creatures out there besides us who think chickens, and their eggs, are tasty treats. If you let your birds free range during the day, be aware that hawks and eagles find them to be a yummy main dish. Raccoons and possum will also happily hunt and kill your birds in the dark of night. I recommend a chicken house that you can lock them in at night in, and an enclosed chicken yard (covered which chicken wire on all sides) as a sort of double protection. Occasionally dogs or even cats have been known to hunt chickens. Our dogs know not to hunt them, but one of the cats found the practice to be fun and entertaining – until the entire flock of chickens chased after him and ‘pinned’ him under a forsythia bush for a good twenty minutes. After that he wasn’t too interested! Snakes, rats and mice are also a concern. Snakes love eggs, and the rats and mice tend to go after the chicken feed.
We have found keeping chickens to be easy, entertaining, and…delicious. For more tips on chicken care, recipes for pickled eggs, and more, click on the link below.
Chickens, Recipes and More

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I got one of the USDA's surveys, too, and had an interesting discussion with whoever responded to their "contact us" email address. I noted that my paper form claimed very clearly that response was required by law, but the web site version of the survey said it was voluntary. So I asked which was true, and was told that Public Law 105-113 "authorizes the [USDA] to conduct an agricultural census every five years," and explained the form was to help them save time in some further census process. The response said nothing about whether my response was required or not, though it did (of course) say the law required all information from respondents to be kept confidential, specifically that it "cannot be used for purposes of taxation, investigation, or regulation." It ended with a warm fuzzy statement about how important agriculture is to America (for some definition of "agriculture", I guess).

So I replied, saying they hadn't answered my question, which I repeated. Their response said, "To try to completely answer your question, the Census of Agriculture, conducted every five years, is a survey that by law requires a response from operators who are involved in agriculture. Though other NASS surveys do not by law require individuals to respond, NASS is required by law to conduct these surveys and publish statistics from the information gathered."

You'll note this still doesn't answer the question, though it does say I need to respond if ever they come knocking with actual census forms. In my emails I also mentioned that the questions ask about "land that is in government programs", in the description prior to question 1. All other questions depend on this answer to question 1. I own "land with the potential for agricultural production" (kind of vague, don't you think?) but none of it is part of any agricultural government programs. It's subject to property tax, emergency services can presumably access it without penalty in time of emergency, and I guess it could be subject to seizure under eminent domain, all of which means it's probably part of one government program or another. But, I don't have a government loan on it or equipment I use on it, I don't get subsidies, so I call it "not a government program", and put "0 acres". All my other responses were thereby zero, as they all depend on how much acreage I operate. Regards, - E.K.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A range of considerations come into play when selecting food to cache at your retreat for survival post-TEOTWAWKI: caloric load, shelf life, storage space required, price, ease of preparation, etc.  This article will deal with a topic I hold dear to my heart: fresh meat.  Depending upon where your retreat is located, hunting may or may not be a viable option; space, facilities, and season impact animal husbandry choices as well.  While pork and beef are preferred sources of meat for many Americans, there is no argument against the fact that pigs and, even more so, cattle require a fair amount of room and feed to thrive.  That is why guinea pigs make an excellent survival food, whether your Bug Out Location is rural or urban, temperate or alpine.

Guinea pigs were domesticated by the Incas about 7,000 years ago in what is now Peru; people there eat around 65 million guinea pigs a year – over fifty percent of Peru’s animal protein, according to veterinarian and food expert Calvin Schwabe, author of the book  Unmentionable Cuisine.  Vegetarian mammals, they can be fed for little or no money, depending upon your access to grass. Guinea pigs are quiet, which provides an advantage if your retreat must be hidden or appear unoccupied, and they are highly portable.  They reproduce quickly, due to a short gestational cycle, and reach sexual maturity (important for a breeding herd) at a young age. Guinea pigs do not usually cannibalize one another, and people living in an area served by Craigslist or near a guinea pig rescue organization can often find free guinea pigs.  While their skins are small, they produce supple leather that would be well-suited for clothing items.  In addition to their short gestational cycle and early age of sexual maturity, guinea pigs are advantageous for a post-disaster environment compared to other livestock because their feeding efficiency is high:

4:1 ratio of forage/food to growth weight for guinea pigs
8:1 ratio for cattle or sheep

Establishing a breeding group of guinea pigs

Female guinea pigs are fertile one month after birth; breeding females are called “sows”, and the males are “boars.” The gestational cycle, including estrus, averages 80 days; females can bear up to five litters a year.  Each litter averages four pups, though established pet breeders in the United States have achieved much higher litter size.   Stillbirths are fairly common, so you will need to plan to breed more guinea pigs than you expect to keep or eat. Research supported in the book Microlivestock: Little-Known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future indicates that a herd of 20 females and 2 males will produce enough meat annually for a family of six. Depending upon the size of your retreat and the number of people in your survival group, you might select one of the following models for your breeding herd:

Model A
1 boar and 2 sows bred over a 5-month period with no harvests:
2 sows x 2 litters yield an average 16 pups
8 pups from first litter (assume 4 females/litter) bred 1x during initial 5-month period yield an another 32 pups
At end of initial 5-month period, herd is likely to = 48 guinea pigs
This model is good for short-term food production but unsustainable for long-term breeding because it will promote the appearance of recessive genetic traits.

Model B
2 boars and 3 sows bred over a 5-month period with no harvests:
3 sows x 2 litters yield an average 24 pups
12 pups from first litter (assume 6 females/litter) bred 1x during initial 5-month period yield another 48 pups
At end of initial 5-month period, herd is likely to = 72 guinea pigs
This model is better for both long-term food and breeding.

The more boars you have in your initial breeding group, the more genetic diversity you can create in your herd.  Make sure to select the larger guinea pigs for breeding.  If your food needs are not urgent are expected to exist long-term, rotate/rest your breeding females to promote greater likelihood of full-litter delivery.

Tips for herd management:

  • Guinea pigs are social animals and mix well in a herd, though an all-male group may incite aggression.  Boars do well together if they are pairs that have been brought up together.  Cull boars from your herd for eating to keep space/management needs low.
  • Use spray paint or Sharpie markers to identify lineage; this enables you to maximize genetic diversity in your herd. Colored markings on the guinea pigs conserves space better than creating segregated pens.
  • You will want to segregate by sex if you are establishing breeding lines or trying to control the rates at which litters are produced.
  • Pregnant females should be housed alone when possible to minimize stress.  Keeping the mother and babies separate from the herd until the babies are weaned is a good precaution.
  • Sex the guinea pigs early (you will  need to examine the genital area closely to do this; females will have a Y-shaped opening under a flap, and males’ penises will appear if you press above the genital area.)  Knowing the sexes of your herd will allow you to control breeding rates.
  • Harvest your guinea pigs before the age of 3 years; the strain of breeding shortens their life expectancy (by contrast, pet guinea pigs commonly live to be as old as eight years.)
  • Females must be bred for the first time when they are between four and seven months old.

Feeding Your Herd of Guinea Pigs
If you have a yard or outdoor space with grass available, your guinea pigs can subsist totally on grass and vegetable scraps leftover from your kitchen garden.  If your post- TEOTWAWKI retreat is an apartment or bunker and you do not expect to have access to vegetables and fresh plants, you will want to store baled alfalfa or pellets; you will likely also have a smaller herd than makes sense for someone with a rural retreat or city house with a yard.  Guinea pigs must have green food to eat, as they are susceptible to scurvy.  Grass or the ends of your vegetables are fine.  They are selective eaters and will not eat once they are full, so if you add fresh food to a bowl or cage and they have leftovers, the leftovers will not get eaten; make sure they finish what you’ve made available to them before providing more food.  If possible, make hay and/or pellets available to them all the time and supplement with vegetable scraps.  For indoor guinea pigs (think – urban stronghold), you should provide a small handful (1/8 to ¼ cup) of pellets per guinea pigs each day.  Their weight gain should be apparent; you are raising them to eat, so too much food is not really a problem.

Housing Your Herd of Guinea Pigs

Being both small and sociable, guinea pigs require very little room; you can keep ten females and one male in a cage, pit, or cardboard box together.  Extensive herds can be cared for by a single person.  It is helpful to provide bedding (straw, wood shavings, etc) whether they lodge indoors or outside; if provided adequate bedding and shelter from wind, guinea pigs can live outdoors in any season.  They handle cold temperatures better than hot, as they are chubby, furry little creatures.  Some people in Peru let the guinea pigs run loose in their homes; others allow them to forage outdoors during the day and herd them into pens or underneath their homes to sleep at night.  For a rural retreat that may have lots of predators, I recommend building tractors (essentially wire mesh cages with no bottoms) to concentrate the guinea pigs in small areas for grass consumption.  Their portability makes them a good food source even in the event that you may have to bug-out.  Guinea pigs do best if they are housed either outdoors or indoors; going back and forth between the outdoors and a conditioned environment is not as good.

Food Value and Preparation

Guinea pig young may be weaned at three or four weeks and experience rapid weight gain for four to six weeks; by age ten weeks, they should be big enough to be worth eating.  Dressed carcasses result in a little over half of the guinea pig mass to be food value.

Preparation is simple: skin and gut your animal.  The head is commonly left on and provides a few little morsels of crispy flesh.  You can also blanch if you wish to scrape the fur off but leave the skin on.  Grilling or cooking on a spit over a fire is the easiest way to make your meal; simply rub with salt and spices and cook over flame – turn frequently, as the animals are small and burn easily.  stewing is also yummy.  The feet can be eaten whole, bones and all.

A few simple recipes:

Dry-rub with a mixture of spices:  cumin, paprika, black pepper, coarse salt, dried basil or cilantro.  Butterfly and grill over flame until the skin is crisp.

Rub with salt and pepper and deep-fry or pan-fry in oil; serve with a spicy peanut sauce or garlicky marinara.

Bake whole in an oven or pit lined with coals (if using this method, wrap with foil or large green leaves from a plant you know to be nontoxic); guinea pig is an excellent dish for preparation over a campfire. Enjoy!

JWR Adds: I know that Lisa's article will elicit howls of criticism, but facts are facts. Just because guinea pigs ("cavies") are cute, doesn't make them inedible. Harvesting them for meat is no different than what has been traditionally done with rabbits. Both rabbits and cavies are herbivores and in my estimation both are perfectly safe to eat. And both breed almost like tribbles. But be advised that neither are considered kosher. Raising guinea pigs can actually be profitable in the short term, by selling most of your sows' offspring to pet store buyers. Our family did this in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I was briefly lured back to the corporate world, and living in the suburbs. As I recall, our family's little herd peaked at around 90 cavies, at the turn of the century. In 2001, weaned cavies were selling for $5 each, wholesale, in Northern California. The buyer even came to our house to pick them up, and he offered to buy all the cavies that we could supply. This arrangement more than covered all of our expenses, including feed and cages that we had bought via mail order, from Bass Equipment. Eventually, we sold our entire remaining herd to the wholesaler, just before we moved back to the hinterboonies. But we still make good use of the cages, for our rabbits.

Although most states don't even have procedures in place for commercial processing and sale of cavy meat, there are very few restrictions on selling them "on the hoof." Peruvian ex-pats are few and far between in the U.S., so plan on raising your cavy herd just for the pet store trade, for now. Thus, you can gradually build a herd and selectively breed for size, large litters, and and sows with good nurturing behavior. If and when the economy disintegrates, you can easily transition your cavies into a sustainable meat herd for your own family's use.

But needless to say, consult your state and local laws before starting any breeding program.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

After reading "Survivors: A Novel of the Coming Collapse", I thought I would share a few experiences with horse ownership. I really enjoyed the book, a real page turner. And I wanted to weigh in on the techniques and experiences outlined in the book concerning horses. Let me first say that what was portrayed in Survivors is indeed real and doable, however the techniques and experiences in the book require a good deal of experience and training.

For the beginning first time horse owner who isn’t sure how tight to cinch a saddle, I would say getting a horse to lie down is a daunting, near impossible task at best. Getting a horse down is difficult because the last thing a horse does before it dies is to lie down, not something they are naturally inclined to do on command. Also, horses are a prey animal and think in those terms, that is, when you can get them to think and not react.
My horse journey started in my mid-teens on my uncle’s horse ranch in northeastern Ohio. He had a slew of them, stallions, brood mares and geldings. His top stallion was a grand national reining champion and was not a horse for the casual or timid rider. He required a firm, experienced hand. My exposure to this level of horsemanship kind of escaped me at the time and looking back I would have made better use of this experience. Fast forward 35 years or so and I regret not taking the opportunity to really learn from the best.

Today, I own three horses, two geldings and a mare. The mare came to us when my wife adopted a wild mustang who was with foal at the time. The foal was born on the farm and on my daughter’s birthday so it is easy to keep track of her age. Two summers ago, we were able to take the mare’s mother to a wild horse sanctuary and set her free as she was unbreakable. By unbreakable, I mean unusually harsh methods of training would have had to be employed to get her to accept a bit and saddle. With her being raised in the wilds of Nevada (Alkali Flat Region) this resulted in her being hopelessly on high alert. We believe in a more humane, natural horsemanship method whereby the horse becomes your partner and a willing participant with will broken but with spirit intact.

Training is a real big issue and should not be skimped on in the beginning. When we realized that our knowledge and experience were woefully inadequate, we sought out info on the internet and found several trainers with programs that you could buy. My two favorites are Clinton Anderson and Chris Cox. (See SurvivalBlog's DVD page.) Both are outstanding and are past Road to the Horse champions. I have been to many Clinton Anderson events and training clinics and his methods are very adaptable to even a green horn with little or no training or experience. Both of these horsemen are the real deal and have proven methods at an affordable price.
A word of caution on choosing a method and trainer as there are many people in the market place who make lots of big claims. Our experience after having been taken advantage of a couple of times as we learned about trainers is results. If you look into the two horsemen above, you will find they are very stingy with their endorsements. They do give them but it is after the new trainer has been under their direct supervision for several years. The internet is full of wannabe “Horse Whisperers” who will take your money and not produce any lasting or tangible results. Just keep in mind that horse owners and trainers are like firearms owners, everyone has their own opinion and way of doing things and are not afraid to tell you.

Today, seven years later, our mare is a top notch, do anything, bomb proof ride that is eager to please. My wife just completed a nine month saddle series for barrel racing, pole bending and hairpin at our local horse club. While she didn’t place high enough to win a saddle, her 14 ribbons out of 27 possible, speaks to my wife’s and the mare’s ability. She is not a barrel racer per se but chose this nine month event to truly develop her skills and relationship with her horse. The journey to get them there was not always an inexpensive, pleasant or easy one. The lesson here is that if you are considering getting into horse ownership, it comes with many hidden challenges. Depending on your level of experience, an older well trained gelding is probably best. In a survival situation, western is the preferred style of tack and riding, in my humble opinion.

The geldings are quite different from each other and the mare. The paint is about 8 years old, beautiful to look at but a handful, we call him “Dennis the Menace”, he’s always in trouble. The quarter horse is 18 years old and you can leave him in the pasture for months on end then decide to saddle him and off you go, no worries. The quarter horsewas a rescue and we got him to keep the paint company as the mare will beat them both to a pulp if pastured together. Hence, you need multiple pastures if you have mixed genders. Stallions are only for the most experienced owners and have their own special requirements. The average 1,100 pound stallion is not to be trifled with under any circumstances. Wrecks happen in a snap; you “will” not “can” be seriously injured or killed in the blink of an eye. Even the best, well trained gelding can spook without warning resulting in injury for the horse or rider or both.

Veterinary care is the next big issue. Just this week Dennis the Menace, who can be very colicky when the weather changes, had a particularly bad episode of colic. A cold front moving through with 20 degree temperature changes can wreak havoc on a horse’s digestive tract, don’t ask why just be aware it is a real phenomenon. We treated his early symptoms ourselves with some Banamine which usually helps him through. After several hours he showed no signs of improvement and a call was put in to the vet. After examining the bowel by hand (yes, long plastic glove and up the rear, armpit deep), intubation and pumping water and meds down the nose, 2 shots, one to sedate him and the other an anti-spasmodic, he was put in a paddock to watch for the rest of the night. And yes they’re like kids, they never get sick at 9 in the morning, it’s always after dark and in the rain. The cost was $285 which was not that much considering that a trip to the university vet hospital for a surgical remedy can run in the thousands. You have to be prepared to make some difficult choices to treat or to put down. These are real issues and can’t be sugar coated. As much as we love Dennis, he is not worth several thousand dollars in veterinary costs for one episode. The mare probably is at this point but I pray we never have to make that decision. You must be prepared for this eventuality.

Tack, grooming and housing are other serious expenses that must be considered when deciding on horse ownership. Tack can be a huge cost to get into; we recommend used tack until you firm up you discipline choice to keep the cost of entry low. There are many good deals to be had on used tack and Craigslist is an excellent resource. If you choose to take the plunge you should choose which avenue of horsemanship you want to travel. Western, English, Western Pleasure, Reining and Dressage are just a few of the different disciplines you can try. In a survival situation your choice should be adaptable to light draft work like pulling a buggy or cultivator or other small implement. If you intend to have a horse pull anything bigger than a small buck board or one or two row cultivator you will need a big draft horse or mule. My neighbor has a big (19 hands, 1,800 lbs) Percheron mule that can really lean into a plow and work all day. When in a crunch situation every extra mouth had better be in a position to carry its weight. Horses are big vacuum cleaners that suck up large amounts of food and resources, plain and simple.

There are many intangibles involved in horse ownership and choosing the right horse. Each discipline requires its own set of tack, temperament and tools. In my way of thinking, horses are like employees; I would rather hire for attitude and train for skill than hire a talented but high maintenance prima donna. When looking at horses for sale, it is important to look at a lot of them as this will give you an idea of what a good temperament is and how to spot it. After you have narrowed down your choices don’t be afraid to show up unannounced or on short notice to make sure no shenanigans are afoot with drugging and such. I have heard on more than one occasion of people getting home with their new horse only to have major problems after the drugs wore off. All reputable sellers should be willing to spring for a vet check when you are ready to get out the checkbook and buy.

It is worth noting that there are over 100,000 unwanted or under-wanted horses in America alone as I type. The BLM manages the Wild Horse and Burro Adoption program. There are many more horse rescues throughout the USA. I would suggest that anyone seriously interested in ownership with the time, skills and energy can find many opportunities to come up to speed very quickly. If you think you will find yourself in need of a horse in a crunch situation, do it now while things are pressure free. Trying to harness Ole Shiloh to get to the General Store after the flag goes up could be a life threatening proposition if you’re not prepared.

In closing, it must be stated that inexperienced riders and green-broke horses “Green on Green” leads to “Black and Blue”. We have the scars to prove it and want to make sure if you are heading into horse ownership you’re forewarned. Go volunteer at a rescue or find someone who will let you muck stalls in exchange for training and riding time. That said, we have had a wonderful and pleasurable journey with our horses. They can be very troublesome at times and make you scratch your head in worry. They can also give you many wonderful times of enjoyment. There is nothing as satisfying as spending the day at an event or on the trail with friends. One last thing, it is very easy to be all gung ho in the beginning, it is also very easy to get sidetracked with other things and end up with an expensive pasture ornament. Horse ownership is a serious commitment and should not be taken lightly. Happy Trails!

Monday, December 26, 2011

How do we feed our pets when there is no dog food at the grocery or pet stores? Do we give up our pets or panic? Neither, we go back in the days before Iams or Purina and do what our grandparents did to feed their dogs. Now we can fed our pets in a balanced and considered way from what is now known about pet nutrition.

So what did people fed their dogs? People fed mostly table scraps or their developed their own recipes. There weren’t the hundreds of dog food varieties as there are now.

After World War II, Gaines and Kennel Ration began the pet food trend with canned horse meat. Mostly as a way of getting rid of surplus horses and using up cans made for the war effort. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s when dog food really come into its own.

The ironic trend is now going back to natural dog food. After the poisoned grain episode from China and the increasing cost of dog food. My dog, Adam, who I adopted came with multiple bags of very expensive sensitive stomach dog food (that he upchucked anyway). I decided I’d try my friend’s homemade dog food recipe she used.

With a degree in Animal Science, I decided to put my education to a practical use. So after several versions of the following recipe, here is the most balanced one. My German Shepherd dogs love it. My pup Adam went from 56 to 104 pounds and his liver functions have improved 100 points. This recipe is simple and versatile and far less expensive than canned or dry food.

I call it the “Third Recipe”, because all the portions are in roughly thirds; Rice, Vegetables and Meat. Once you get into the routine, it is very easy and you’ll know what amounts you are regularly using.

Important point to remember is dogs are omnivores, not carnivores, which mean they eat all sorts of stuff, not just meat. A meat protein diet will make a dog hyper and overly aggressive plus damage their kidneys. Feeding dogs is being sold as an “exact” science now. The basics of good nutrition are covered in this formula and inexpensive to feed.

The “Third Recipe” for Dogs

  • White rice boiled with an optional chicken bullion cube – carbohydrates for energy, easy digestion and bullion cube for favor. You can substitute potatoes occasionally. No pasta, will ruin a dog’s teeth.
  • Vegetables - frozen or canned or fresh - green beans or peas/carrots or mixed vegetables – I prefer frozen over canned – and green beans are best. Easily digested and have fiber.
  • Meat – chicken, turkey, tuna or beef or wild game or eggs
  • Two half meals – morning and evening- and the cup portions depend on the size of your dog(s).  All ingredients are roughly in thirds, but if you have an active dog, use more rice.

The most inexpensive way is to buy 25 to 50 pounds of rice is from Costco or similar retail outlet. Those little bags in the grocery store are quite pricey. I store rice in “Vittle Vaults” porthole screw top lid hard plastic dog food containers. Buy on these storage units on least expensive and free shipping and you use these for all sorts of bulk food storage.

You’ll need to make more rice every third day as it gets watery and becomes a great bacteria medium. You can use a rice cooker, which I don’t like to clean. Or make it from scratch in a stock pot. White rice recipe is usually 2 cups of water for every cup of rice.

If you are not used making rice, it takes a little effort at first.  So for two big German shepherds, I make four cups of rice at a time - eight plus cups of water, bring to a boil with a bullion cube and then add 4 cups of rice. I have on designated big stock pot Brown rice is harder to digest, tastes like cardboard and the point of the white rice is carbs for energy and easy digestion.

Green beans are the best all around vegetable. Green beans are fibrous, full of nutrients and pulls particles through the digestive tract. Mixed vegetables, peas and carrots are fine also. Vegetables, like corn and lima beans, aren’t broken down in the digestive tract and a waste of money. Shop around for the lowest frozen vegetables or seal-a-meal or can your own. Broccoli is fine if you are willing to perish from dog gas attacks.

You can use a variety of meats in this food. It depends what your dog will tolerate. Be careful not to rotate types of meat until you have a feel for what your dog can tolerate. I always cook the meat. There is too much contamination to take a chance on causing a hemorrhagic intestinal bug from raw meat. When adding to food, cut or pull the meat into smaller portions for better digestion.

Eggs are a very cheap and inexpensive protein. I hard boil the eggs and add one or two to the meal. You can fry or scramble if you want to spoil your pooches. Eggs and rice are the ingredients of expensive ID (intestinal diet) dog food from the veterinarian.

Chicken - is great, it is easy to digest and inexpensive. I crock pot or broil a $5 pallet of 10 chicken thighs from Wal-Mart. Chicken thighs have lots of meat and only one bone to remove. I add one chicken thigh per meal serving for my German Shepherds. When traveling I bring cheaper canned chicken breast to open and add. Chicken with bones removed is the perfect meat.

Turkey is inexpensive. Cook a turkey up when they are on sale, then package the meat into portions, freeze and take out as needed.

Tuna – I give this for only one meal a week. It is inexpensive if you buy the store brand and the oil/water is good for their coats. Too much processed ocean fish has mercury. So limit the amount.  Fish oil capsules from what fish? Goldfish? Natural fish is best.

Beef – Beef is hard for dogs to digest. Crock pot up beef stew meat until tender and broken down. So if you insist on feeding beef, crock pot for tenderizing and easier digestion. Hamburger is fine in limited amounts, but can be it is a little greasy and pricey to feed regularly.

Wild Game– Feeding your dog, venison or other game is okay. Just make sure it is thoroughly cooked. You don’t want your pet to get sick from some weird intestinal bacteria or parasite. Some wild game is very rich and less is more with pets. Just make sure your pet can tolerate this meat to avoid diarrhea and other intestinal episodes.

You can supplement your dog’s nutrition with a daily over the pet counter vitamin. A money saving tip is to buy the senior dog vitamins. They contain twice as much vitamin per pill. So, buy the senior dog vitamins, break them in half and you get two vitamins for the price of one.

As in all things in life, balance is the key. Dogs don’t mind eating the same thing daily. Do not give your dog gravy or lots of fatty food, as this can cause pancreatitis and could kill your pet.

This food can be put it into zip lock bags and frozen. Don’t blend this food into a paste that is bad for the dog’s teeth and causes the food to lose all the nutritional value.

Dry Dog Food
I do have some dry crunchy kibble dog food out. I prefer Purina, mostly because they are an all American ingredient dog food and never had recalls from overseas tainting like Iams or other brands. Purina One chicken and rice is a good all around dry dog food. Old Roy is a suspect dog food made in China. Science Diet is mostly corn based and not as digestible. Friend with kennels call Science Diet the poop making food, since it all gets eliminated. Eukanuba is a very fatty dog food and should only be fed to active bird dogs or dog with similar energy burn levels.

For three days with two meals a day, it costs me about 75 cents a day per dog on average. This is for the rice, green beans and chicken, even less with eggs or more with beef. Once you get into the routine, making your own dog food it is a very healthy and economical solution and better for your pet’s health.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I cannot even remember a time when I wasn't a "prepper".  Although until a few years ago, I had no idea of what I was preparing for.  Before the dawn of my awakening, I had serious urges to learn how not to kill plants and flowers. I wanted to grow my own food eventually, so I started with a trip to the local Big Box store, and bought some bare root fruit trees. Now in my mind, they are already dead, so if I could resurrect them, and keep them going, I was on my way. If they didn't survive my over-nurturing tendencies, then I wouldn't feel bad, as they were dead already! To my surprise, all but one survived the first year, and I tasted the sweet success of peaches fresh off the tree!  What I didn't know then, was that you always thin out the fruit the first year or two, or all the branches break. I learned the hard way.  That summer I built two 4x8 raised bed garden boxes, and planted up a storm. I read nearly every garden web site, watched all the you tube videos and read all the books that I could get my hands on, and learned about proper drainage, shading, and organic pest control. It is all a balance act as I found out, but I am now eating most of my diet from my garden. Quality garden soil is the key. Everything else can be managed. 

Along the way, I found articles  and blogs on TEOTWAWKI and WTSHTF. I read Bible prophecies, Hopi indian prophecies, and listened to those whom I trust, warn of impending disasters, and world wide trouble. Economic collapse, social unrest, changing weather patterns, and evidence of global disasters increasing in intensity, and frequency, answered any questions I might have had about the urges to prepare that I had been experiencing for many years.   In a disorganized way, I started buying long term food storage, beans, rice, wheat, and canned meat. At the time, I did not have a wheat grinder, and had absolutely no idea of what I would do with it, when the time came.  A plan would have been the smart way to start, but I eventually bought a hand grinder.  It was not until the electric grinder that I found at a yard sale, came into my life years later, that I actually ground the wheat to make bread.   Another lesson learned along the way : White wheat? Red wheat? Which do I use for bread? Gluten? Why do I need to add that?  Gluten needs to be added to make it rise better. After a few flat loaves, I asked  questions. Once again, I learned the hard way. I also did research, and learned that the nutritional value of wheat is increased by up to 700% by sprouting. What a find that information was, for my long term food storage plans. I will sprout my wheat, and throw it into salads! 

Momentum was building, as guns were acquired, CCW permit obtained, ammo purchased, water tanks, 72-hour kits assembled, and a trailer for hauling what I needed out of town if it came to that.   I'm a single mom here, with two grown boys, and I was feeling a little bit lonely as I used what extra money I made, to purchase more and more food storage, for at least a year's provisions. I personally knew of no one else doing this. I was feeling a bit like a hoarder, and occasionally had to do a reality check. Finding like-minded people on web sites, and blogs like was a tremendous help, to center myself.  Reading and re- eading the lists of organized ways to approach preparations has helped me move forward. I sure wish I had started that way.  Just after the real estate bubble burst, I saw the values declining so rapidly in housing, that I realized one of the most valuable pieces of advice given to me is to be debt free of consumer debts, and to own a house free and clear. I accomplished getting free of installment debt after a time, but the house mortgage was going to be a bigger challenge.  

I still had a little money in savings, but really felt uncomfortable with the money in the bank, after having narrowly avoided the markets' mini-crash in the late 1980s, and read about savings and loans collapsing.  So I decided to use what I had, to build my emergency short term, or long term retreat on a piece of land that I had purchased some seven years prior when I had been buying things to prepare without knowing why.  This was a perfect plan, to secure a small home that would be paid for, off grid- independent of city utilities of any kind.  It would be for me, a great investment, and a place to retire to as well. I work for myself, so for me, this was it. This was the only retirement fund I would have, a place to live.   Construction started two months later, after researching plans found on line. Again,  planning was lacking, as there was urgency in completing this project, and the builder was pressed for time too.  But my cabin stands proudly, in a rural area, 165 miles from the nearest city, and 15 miles from a town of 20,000.   

There is a fantastic neighbor across the street, but the first line of defense, is a fence! So that went up right away with the help of one of my sons, and some friends.  In spite of broken bits for the rock drill, cuts, bruises, and sore backs, we made it through the excruciatingly long week of stretching fence, and barbed wire on top. I did the hard part - I watched, and made lunch for everyone! :)  

The house is equipped with a composting toilet because I bought property without doing a percolation test first.  (Learning the hard way.) The perc test determines if a septic can be put in, and in this case, there were too many rocks!  Water must be hauled, but there are underground tanks that can be purchased inexpensively, to hold plenty of water. (you can buy up to 10,000 gallon tanks) I presently have 1,200 gallons stored, in 300 gallon tanks,  but will be installing two 1,500 gallon tanks this next summer. Wells dug in this area run $35,000 and up.  When in conservation mode, the average adult uses three gallons or less per day for drinking, cooking and washing (heated over the stove- sponge bath I would suppose)  So I will have plenty of water for over a year. The water system is pumped with a 1/3 horsepower recreational vehicle water pump, and an extra pump is hidden away for emergencies. Water is run through the cabin with pex line, which is easy to work with. I installed an on demand propane water heater for the shower, and kitchen sink. The Berkey water filter sits proudly by the sink, and is always filled. Extra filters are in the pantry. 

The cabin has a ventless propane heater, and a cast iron wood fireplace.  A funny thing about propane I learned last winter: In extreme cold, regulators freeze, and propane heaters do not work, nor do propane stoves and ovens!  Last winter I went to the cabin to experience the Christmas season in the snow. Hah to me. the temperature had dropped to -15 degrees Fahrenheit and everything in the cabin when I got there at 9 p.m., was frozen!  I think of SurvivalBlog, where I learned "two is one, and one is none". Oh thank goodness I thought, that I had just installed this new woodstove. I had not yet used it, but this was to be it's maiden fire.  Funny thing about fire places and wood stoves... there is a bit of a learning curve. I was being conservative of electric, because I wasn't sure of how charged the batteries were on the solar system, so I lit the oil lamps for light, which adds a cozy feel, and I set out to light myself a great fire! I remembered to be sure the flue was open, but I left the door open while I was attempting to defrost the cabin. I grabbed a cast iron pan from the kitchen, threw in a piece of chicken and some veggies, and shoved it into the wood stove.  Yum, dinner was great, but when I stood up and turned on the light to wash the dishes, I realized that the whole room was filled with smoke, and if I had installed a fire alarm, everyone within miles would have known what a dummy I was with my first fire!  

The smoke was so thick in the cabin that I had to sleep on the floor that night, because I couldn't breathe!  Yes, I did open the windows a crack, to vent the smoke outside, but I realized that there was a flue adjustment, and the door was suppose to have been closed.  (No wonder the cabin was still cold, outside the four foot ring around the hearth).  I called a friend in a panic, who after having a great laugh at my expense, told me how to adjust it to heat the house comfortably. (yes I learned the hard way - again)  

The following day was sunny, and a bit warmer but still no propane. No worries, I have a solar oven. It worked like a charm to cook lunch, but I soon realized that if I was to survive with this thing, I had better plan my meals a day in advance, because the sun is out for a limited time. No planning dinner at 3 p.m. in my neck of the woods!   The sun... A funny thing about the sun I discovered. It never makes appearances when you need it! I had decided with the cabin, solar was the way to go. So I started small, with two 175-watt panels, and eight T105 batteries, and an Outback pure sine wave inverter. Great system if the sun is out all day. Some days it is not. Darn that jokester the sun. It seems to be out all day when I am not there, but when I go to visit the cabin, it is cloudy. The battery bank is drawn down too quickly, and then Wham! I'm out of juice. No lights, no water pump, no radio, no charging the cell phone.  During the summer, which is the rainy season, it happens this way every day.  So I learned two more lessons the hard way:   Lesson 1. Always have a water tank that provides gravity feed to a house. Lesson 2. Buy more panels to charge the batteries up faster, or a wind generator.  I also have a gas generator, but it does require gasoline, and I am 15 miles from town. Lesson 3. Always keep a spare can of gas handy.   So now I have a great log sided shed built behind the cabin, to house the back up generator, and the 25 gallons of gasoline, the stockpile of charcoal, the 8 gallons of oil lamp fuel, the tools, washer (which will be run with generator power, and gravity fed water), dryer for use when it is raining, and all of the camping supplies.  

I have built up to a two year supply of food, soaps, Clorox, medical supplies, hundreds of matches, and flints for when it is raining, and I am outside for what ever reason. Handguns, rifles, shotgun, ammo to hold off an army,  300 + seed packs 1/2 heirloom, and 1/2 hybrid to sell or trade.  I am finally taking inventories of all that I have stored, to best rotate, and plan for future needs. I have learned that vodka is used for making tinctures with herbs, and I may consider buying a couple of cases to sell or trade in an extreme situation.   I am designing my green houses, and a heating system to extend the growing season well into winter.  I am collecting books to read, mostly non fiction, and movies to watch on cold dark nights. I have purchased 4 more solar panels 190 watt each, and before they are installed, I will be pricing the tracking pole mount. It increases productivity by at least 30%. 

I now have two 55-gallon drums, and hand crank gas pump, which will all be assembled and filled next summer. I expect to fill one with diesel fuel for barter or to sell. Diesel lasts for years, and I have distant neighbors who use it.  A four wheel drive vehicle is a must in a rural area during winter.  I would love to learn about ham radio, and to be certified to operate one.   I have a 10x20 covered chicken run with a coop at the retreat location and a small flock of eight hens. They live in the city for now with me, but travel to the cabin and stay in the summer for extended stays. They seemed to enjoy their last summer vacation. I always have eggs to share with neighbors.  Last but not least, My son and I purchased an older kick-start dirt bike, kept in our home in the city, with a 72 hour kit nearby, and an off road map from point A to point B.   Next year my project is to learn to use those fishing poles I bought at the swap meet!  Respectfully submitted B. R. in Arizona

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dear James,
Thanks for all you do to educate us all.  You certainly woke me up.  I offer a few thoughts that may be of use or interest to your readership:

I live off-grid, at end of a mile-long driveway. Been here twenty years. Spring water, solar power, wood heat. Have chickens, goats, cows, machine shop, wife and kids, and a few bang-sticks.

Save for the critical issues of man-power to mount a defense, and deep enough pockets for deep stock of supplies, I look “prepped”.

From this perspective, a couple of thoughts.

First, I am not growing all the feed for my livestock. I purchase corn for the chickens, mixed grains for the animals I milk, and hay to winter the cows. Having livestock does not improve preparedness, unless you are growing all their food: they are just more mouths at your table. My plan for mine must be to kill and preserve, or trade them off, early in any economic collapse scenario.

Second, we are remote enough (in People's Republic of West Virginia), and sufficiently off beaten track, to have little concern about the hungry urban refugee hordes. There are however two real, local threats to our security.

The first is neighbors, who are not well-prepared with supplies of their own for the long-term, but know or suspect that we are. We are deliberately on good terms with them all, but hunger trumps politeness for most folks. Some country people have moral codes they live by, but many that are raised on public school and “disability” and sixteen kinds of welfare, are more elastic.

The second is, alas, the Sheriff. Ours currently is a former Marine, who was elected as perhaps most are in hopes of improving an office seen as corrupt and ineffective. Unfortunately he turns out to have no respect for what I would consider fundamental Law. I discovered this a few years ago, when my ex-wife was making false complaints to various State agencies about me, and on one occasion when the Sheriff was escorting one of these onto my property I asked him, did he not feel that these people should have a warrant?

His response was, “John, when was the last time the Constitution was actually followed?”

I feel confident that, in the event of any real or threatened collapse of large scale order, he will either cooperate eagerly with any Federal or State martial law or relocation or collectivization plans, or will attempt to establish his own locally.

I think this sort of situation potentially exists in many places that might otherwise be considered fairly safe. Even local authorities who consider themselves highly principled, may easily be misled by what seems to be compassion, to use their power to “save” the ill-prepared by expropriation from the prepared.. This is of course no more than the the welfare-vs-charity debate in microcosm....with flying lead dressing.

“Zombie hordes”, “Blue Helmets”, or “Federales” will not know to look for you by name. But your neighbors and your local sheriff will. If you do not know them already, then get to know them now, and plan accordingly. - John in West Virginia

Friday, October 21, 2011

Greetings, fellow preppers!  In this article we share our experiences of the past two years to help you see the complexities of growing your family's food.   In the long run, food production is crucial to survival.  It takes both knowledge and hands-on experience to successfully manage livestock and grow fruits and vegetables.  Currently  three of us live on our homestead full time with a possibility of about 20 folks ranging from infants to senior citizens if TEOTWAWKI occurs. 

Fall is a good season to make plans and prepare for next year' s growing season.  I think this basic information will help you realize just how much effort is entailed in raising sufficient amounts of food with limited or no machinery to assist.

The two basic categories of food production are animals and plants.  In addition, we also have a large amount of stored bulk foods for both humans and animals, along with a wide variety of heirloom seeds.


Overall, we try to invest in heirloom breeds, not fancy over-bred  versions that are reliant on special diets and medications.

Chickens - Provide eggs and meat.  Our bantam hens typically raise a brood of 8-10 chicks once or twice a year if we do not gather their eggs.  Right now we have 12 five-week-old and 11 three-month-old chicks. About  half of them will be roosters who fight and harass the hens when they mature. We also have several large hens who lay brown eggs.  The chickens  free range mostly in the orchard and herb/berry garden.  They receive  whole wheat and oyster shell in the evening. We could easily supplement their protein needs by adding a worm bin in our garden. Another way to reduce the amount of grain needed is to sprout it for several days.  This increases the bulk of the grain to three times the original amount and provides additional nutrition.  I soak about 2 cups of wheat in a  half gallon jar, rinse it several times a day and feed it when the green shoots have their first joint.

Ducks - It has been very satisfying since the ducks came to see empty snail shells scattered around the property.  We have established a small pond for the ducks to enjoy.  Our four Khaki Campbell ducks used to consistently produce four eggs per day, but then we got rid of the drake because he damaged some of the hens.  That was a mistake.  Without the drake, the ducks actually started changing into drakes and we ended up with only one duck laying eggs.  We purchased six newly hatched ducks and one drake who are now old enough to swim in the pond.

Goats - Currently we have three does and two doelings.  We chose to sell this year's wethers rather  than butcher them.  Two does are milking full time.  We sold one doe with twins because she had two orifices in one teat and it was impossible to milk her with a bucket - the milk sprayed straight out.  The goats provide us with more than enough milk for drinking, cheese-making, kefir, yogurt and cooking.  The milk also helps feed our dogs and cats.  During milking the does are offered a quart of grain that we mix ourselves from bulk oatmeal, wheat flakes and split peas.  I also cut greens for them  to reduce the amount of grain needed.  We planted two small raised beds of alfalfa last year and this year we were able to get three cuttings from them.  I used organic sprouting seeds because the FDA recently approved GMO alfalfa without restrictions and we do not use GMO products. We added  two more alfalfa beds this year. We also have comfrey, kale and miscellaneous vegetable thinnings.   We cut the tops off of our strawberries to reduce slugs and discovered that the goats love strawberry leaves.  All the goats have access to minerals with kelp, diatomaceous  earth and wormwood added occasionally for parasite control.

Sheep - We purchased five registered Icelandic ewes a few months ago.  They also free-range and are given a cup of alfalfa pellets at night, with kelp and herbs added twice a week.  They have constant access to minerals. The Icelandic breed is hardy and can be triple purpose:  Wool, meat and milk.  We are going to breed them this fall to an outstanding ram.  We have an experienced shepherd as our mentor to teach us about keeping sheep.

Dogs and cats - The dogs provide predator protection, particularly at night.  The cats reduce the rodent population.  We feed our dogs beans and rice with eggs, milk and an herbal powder that supplies trace minerals.  They receive kefir-soaked oatmeal at other times. Thus, we can get by without commercial dog food and, as an added bonus, our older dog became much stronger and healthier once his diet was improved.  The cats are trickier.  They require more whole protein so we mix commercial cat food with eggs and milk for them.  If times get tough the cats can be on their own with just supplemental milk from the goats.  All the animals enjoy whey leftover from cheesemaking.


Here is a list of the fruits and vegetables we are currently growing.  An * means that we actually harvested food, feed or seeds from that plant this year.

Fruits:  Apples*, aronia*, asparagus(chose not to harvest because it is a new bed), avocado, blackberries*, blueberries*, cherries (birds got every one), citrus, date, figs (birds again), gingko, goumi, grapes, kiwi, medlar*, mulberry*,  nectarine, peach, pear, plum*, pomegranates, raspberries*,  rhubarb, serviceberry*, silverberry*, strawberries*, and wintergreen*.

Vegetables:   Alfalfa*, amaranth*, artichokes, beans, carrots*, celery*, chard*, chick peas*, chives*,  corn*, cucumbers*,comfrey*,  favas*, French sorrel*, kale*, leeks*,  oca, onion*, parsley*, peas*, potatoes*,  pumpkins*, shallots*, squash*, stevia*, and sunflowers.

Grains:  Buckwheat*, flax*, kamut*.

We also have about 20 herbs.

Diversity is the key to success.  Depending on weather conditions, pests and diseases, fruits and vegetables may do well one year, then nothing the next.

We have four main growing areas for our plants:  A young orchard with about 90 trees, an herb and berry garden , a vegetable garden and a greenhouse my husband built this spring. 


Watering - occurs about six months out of the year in our area, takes 4 to 6 hours per day. 
Manure water/Urine bucket - this is dumped on plants for additional nutrients.
Weeding  - grass and clover are our ground cover, but constantly invade the plant spaces.
Pruning/Staking/Trellising - dead limbs can be removed at any time, thinning is usually done in dormancy.
Remove pests/diseased leaves and plants - We have sawfly larvae (aka slimy guys) that hatch 3-4 times a summer, along with caterpillar eggs deposited in fruit tree leaves. 
Mulch - we do this just before the rainy season so the nutrients can soak in over the winter.
Netting for protection from birds - losing all the cherries this year taught us the need for netting.
Manage greenhouse - what to plant, when, how to arrange plants for the most production space.
Start and tend seedlings - We are trying to grow food year-round, so this is a constant process.
Enrich soil - we add manure, sawdust, and compost.
Manage poultry for insect control in the orchard and herb garden - have to remove the animals before they start eating the crops.
Save seeds - one of my favorite chores.  I use lots of plastic containers to keep the seeds until they are totally dry, then I label and put them in plastic bags for the next year.
Manage planting schedule - I spread out my seedlings plantings so I can take better care of each batch.
Harvest fruits and vegetables - this can include canning, drying and freezing.
Clear land for planting/build new raised beds - we  keep adding land as we have the time and resources to improve it.
Plant propagation from cuttings and layering - this is to gain experience in starting plants.


So, with all these plants and animals, how does a typical day look at our homestead?  Here is a sample of our daily summer chores for food production.  This does not include housework, building projects, emergencies, community involvement, etc.

Each morning we let the chickens out of several  coops - the regular coop, the small coop with half-grown chicks, and the little coops that have moms and chicks.  Ducks are let out;  goats and sheep are turned out to graze and the does are milked.  Goat stands are cleaned.  Water containers are filled and ground grains are put out for chicks.  Whey is also put out in pans in the herb garden for chickens to drink.   Cats and dogs are fed.  If it is a cheese-making day, I get the milk started early in the morning and work on it along with my other chores.

After breakfast it is time to begin watering.  We stagger our watering so that we do not empty out our 1,500 gallon tank, which can refill one time during the day giving us a total of 3,000 gallons.  Currently I begin with watering a dozen trees in the orchard for 20 to 30 minutes per set, running four hoses at a time.  It takes six days to cover all the trees .  While the hoses run, I inspect the trees for pests, remove diseased leaves, leaves with sawfly larvae and webs with caterpillar eggs.  Recently I have begun putting a gallon of manure tea on the  trees after watering to increase their nutrition.  Our trees are young and mostly semi-dwarf.  I pull weeds and cut grass which I feed to the ram who is kept in a small paddock.

Then I move to the vegetable garden and do one of four sections.  The greenhouse is watered about every third day depending on temperature.  Seedlings and new transplants are watered daily, usually with manure tea.  Seeds are gathered as they mature.  Weeds are tossed over the fence to the ram.  Old plants are removed.  If it is a planting day, I will do that in the late afternoon; usually I fill the pots with soil the day before.

We take a break in the heat of the day, sometimes down by the creek or catching up on things in the house; often we take a nap.

In the afternoon I am back to watering. The herb/berry garden takes the longest and is divided into five section, one is watered each day. Then the evening round-up begins.  Cats are fed, ducks are given food and clean water.  Chickens are fed, eggs gathered, nesting hens are checked.  The sheep are lured in with alfalfa pellets, then the goats are milked.  The ram is taken out and grazed under supervision for about an hour.  By dark everyone is secured in a barn or coop. Our new pond is still leaking so if there is water left in the evening, it goes to the pond. Often dinner is after chores.  Then we relax with games or movies or reading articles to each other.  We go to bed before 10:00 p.m. most nights because chores start again at 7:00 a.m. the next day.


I plant by the lunar cycles because the groundwater is affected by the pull of the moon's gravity.  Each month I mark a calendar with the planting dates and  whether is is time to plant above or below ground.  The basic idea is to plant all things that produce above the ground when the moon is increasing (from the new moon to the full moon) and things which produce below the ground when the moon is decreasing. 

I must confess that I have a hard time eating raw greens  even though I am well aware of the health benefits.  This year I began training myself to eat and enjoy greens by taking a small bite of one type at a time until I developed a taste for it.  I began with French sorrel which has a delightful lemony flavor, then added common amaranth (aka pigweed) which has little flavor at all.  Then I added tender young comfrey leaves. Parsley, which I enjoy in small amounts, grows year-round in our climate so we are keeping several beds of it around.  Currently I am working on chard - again, I started with young tender leaves.  Next for me is kale which I started for our winter garden. 

We love peas and this year grew several rounds, starting them about every three months with the fall peas getting planted just last week.   I am going to see if I can grow them year-round,using the greenhouse in the winter. Our favas also did well this year.  We dry them for sprouting or cooking.  I save the largest and healthiest seeds for next year's garden. 

I love seed saving.  All it takes is letting a few of each type of plant to grow its complete cycle which is two years for things like carrots, celery and parsley.  When the seeds have dried on the plant you simply remove them and after drying for a few more days, place them in bags or containers in a dark, dry environment until planting time next year.  If the rains come early, the entire plant can be put indoors tied to rafters.

Grains are a staple of life.  I have several small raised beds of kamut growing - an ancient wheat.  The kernels are much larger than today's commercial wheat and I enjoy the flavor, plus kaumt seems to agree with my digestive system more than hard red winter wheat (which we have stored).  It would take much  more than we grow to supply our bread-making needs, but my experiments show that grains can be planted from May through July and still ripen before our long rainy season starts.

Another lesson I learned the hard way here is that I must start seedlings in pots and transplant them after they get several sets of leaves, otherwise the many birds, rodents, and slugs have a feast.

Avoid growing one crop year after year in the same place.  We rotate crops and also intermingle different species  in the raised beds.  Companion planting can actually boost production.  Grow different varieties of the same plant.  Did you know that the 1845 Irish Potato Famine in Ireland was because most farmers  grew only two species of potato which a disease wiped out?

Our soil is mostly clay and our heavy winter rains seem to leach out any nutrients that might be in it.  Vegetables that we planted directly in the ground our first year were dismal failures.  We built raised beds and put together the best soil we could for the first year out of some topsoil we came up with, but it was not until we had manure from the goats and sawdust from logging some trees that our plants began to thrive.  This summer our original compost bins from our compost toilets were a year old and well-decomposed so we filled three new beds with it.  I planted kale in those and one old bed.  The kale in the compost beds is four times as tall and wide as the little seedlings in the regular raised beds. Our composting toilets cost less than $30 to build and work well for our family.  In one bathroom we keep urine separate to apply directly to plants. 

All winter I clean off the goat stands and put the droppings around the trees in the orchard, the berry bushes and replenish the raised beds with it.  In the summer I half-way fill 5-gallon buckets with goat pellets, add water and use it for manure tea.

A kind neighbor filled our trailer with river silt from his property which we put around the orchard trees.  They are young trees and have not been doing well in this soil despite applications of manure. 

The high-hoop greenhouse has been a worthwhile investment in our Pacific Northwest climate.  The greenhouse is 16 x 24 with a raised bed along the south side and a planting table on the north side.  Even though it is unheated, we started tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, peas, carrots(for seed) and various other plants a couple of months sooner than our neighbors were able to.  The center is filled with Earthboxes - unique planting containers that have a water reservoir in the bottom.  I put about a foot of composted soil in them and plants flourish.  Earthboxes and the greenhouse seem to complement each other.  Our main concern with the greenhouse is the short livability of the plastic covering - although supposedly good for 8 years, ours already shows signs of near-tear marks after just one season.  We plan to use our old glass windows to build a second greenhouse.

Birds are another learning experience.  The crows and bluebirds ate every single fig on all of the fig trees.  Other birds ate every single cherry and they began picking off the ripe blueberries until I got netting up.  While I am writing this, my husband is putting up PVC hoops over the two largest figs which we will cover with netting - I don't mind sharing with our wild creatures, but they simply cannot take every bit of our food supply.

Blackberries are abundant here.  Most people clear them away as noxious weeds - we use goats to clear ours, but I have a large planting of blackberries in the herb/berry garden along a fence line and found that their quick growth provides lots of feed for goats when they need to be confined for some reason.  We also enjoy the berries, so this fall we will allow more blackberries to start along our fence lines.

Although this sounds like a lot of work - and it is - my husband and I love our life.  We have spent many years at desk jobs battling office politics and worrying about the stock market.  Now our stock investments all have fur or feathers a and our rate of return is phenomenal!  We dance in the meadow and thank our Creator for our beautiful slice of paradise. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Technology is a significant force multiplier in emergency situations.  There are several options I’ve found in my preparations to incorporate electronics into our everyday use and emergency preparations.  Hopefully these ideas will be of use and get others thinking about possibilities.  My goal in utilizing these ‘gadgets’ is to increase availability of resource while decreasing maintenance and effort – all at low cost if possible.  I’d like to share a few of the low-cost options that are simplest to try that we’ve adopted in our preps.

I’m an engineer and realize most of the tools I use won’t be appreciated by everyone, but I do recommend that everyone invest in a simple Digital Multi-meter.  They are quite inexpensive (as little as $15) and useful for troubleshooting automotive and equipment electrical problems.  They are easy to use and with all the information and tutorials on the internet anyone can begin taking advantage of their use.  Besides this tool, the rest of my recommendations are targeted to anyone of any background.  There are several helpful electrical gadgets we’ve found and use that have many broader options.  The best part is that these ideas will hopefully start generating interest or ideas of your own.  Realistically most adults won’t start collecting schematics or advanced electrical tools, but they can start learning new things, or may have friends or better yet, children, who are interested in pursuing these areas more.

Some simple things, first.  In a big family we have need for a lot of flashlights.  The kids use them often and so we often find batteries are dead when we need the light most.  On eBay we have found many Chinese suppliers of low cost, solar powered LED lights that have dramatically decreased our monthly expenditures for batteries.  Sure, these lights are cheaply made (you get what you pay for) but work great for everyday use.  Do a search for “Solar LED keychain” on eBay and you can easily find them for less than $1 each ($0.73 on average).  Over the course of a month we accumulated 10-15 of these lights and they all work great.  They are cheaply made and break easily, so think of them as disposable and to keep the kids from wearing out your more dependable gear.

Another good source of solar LED lighting is the inexpensive outdoor lamps available at all hardware stores.  Wal-Mart sells them for ~$2.  We keep these lights all around our chicken coop, outdoor buildings, and garden to help keep deer and predators away.  They also contribute to security and our own convenience when out-n-about at night doing chores.  They are inexpensive enough to proliferate anywhere needed and require no maintenance.  Another option is to use electrical tape to blacken the side of the light facing our home to improve visibility, or to help minimize visibility of our place from roadways.  Keeping these lights about the chicken coop also has improved egg production and extended the laying season longer into the dark days of winter.

EBay is also a great source for inexpensive wireless door chimes and passive infrared (IR) motion detectors.  For $3 each we picked up a number of different devices to test out as deer and predator alarms.  Some devices work great, others are less effective.  All are effective at detecting our dog at 6 feet, and many will see the dog as far away as 30 feet. For less than $10 we have a wireless perimeter around the chickens that detects any small animal movement and provides loud alarm to deter intrusion and warn us of detection.  Another $20 watches over our half-acre garden from deer or elk intrusions.   The alarms seem to deter the deer better than when we left a radio on out in the dark, and do well to give us and the dog a heads-up that marauders are probing the defenses.  The dog is learning well to respond to the cheerful doorbell chimes when they go off.

We purchased a more expensive IR detector that turns on a sprinkler when deer approach the garden and it has worked well, however it requires us to leave the hose on all night, and is too expensive to deploy in adequate numbers to cover all the fruit, garden, and other vulnerable locations on our place.  These low cost wireless chimes have worked very well for us to provide numbers and coverage.

All of these devices use the smaller, “pen-light” batteries and require replacement every few weeks.  Being an engineer, I’m always looking to ‘improve’ original designs or modify them to my unique needs (or wants).  I hate stocking and replacing batteries, so the logical next step was to combine the solar panel from the LED lights to power these wireless motion detectors.  Simply disassembling the LED lights and wiring the power (red) and ground(black) wires into the motion detectors has eliminated the battery need.  Some motion detectors require more power than others, but all the ones we’ve tested are adequately powered by the solar cells.  If more power is needed, simply use two or more solar cells daisy-chained together to boost the voltage to the detector.  Dropping a clean plastic container over the top is adequate weatherproofing that will not hamper the detector too badly, though I recommend spending time to make a more robust enclosure for your device to ensure longer life and use.

Another option to consider with these low-cost LED devices is to make an emergency charging circuit for your cell phone or handheld gadget.  The landscaping lights are recommended for this option.  Again, simply connecting multiple lights in a daisy chain and wiring a surplus USB cable to the mix works well for charging a FRS radio.  If you disassemble the light, you will discover one or more rechargeable battery inside – usually an “AA” size.  This can be removed and used as needed, and then replaced to recharge in the sun.  Some lights we’ve looked at have the battery soldered or “fixed” in the light, and others use a non-standard size battery, so do some snooping before purchasing in quantity.  Many of these solar devices have a single 3.6V battery.  The cheap keychain lights, for example, are sufficient to power a small “spy” camera that is the size of a car’s FOB, and can power the small camera to record video for up to 3 hours, continuously.

I wanted a more ‘discreet’ warning system around the chicken coop than the loud siren of the motion detectors provided, and found that by simply cutting the wires to the small piezo speaker inside the detector and connecting a separate LED to those wires, the detector gave a visual instead of a verbal warning to me.  Individual LEDs in various colors are available from Radio Shack or online for pennies.  The longer wire on the LED connects to power, the shorter one to ground, though on the speaker’s wires it doesn’t matter which wires the LED connects to.   I inserted the LED into a small tube cut from a pen, and now the LED indicator became very discreet and directional – only seen in the direction the LED was pointed.

There is another alarm available for very low cost to detect movement.  Small magnetic alarms that commonly are attached to a door or window are available at our local “Dollar” stores, and have a piercing alarm when the smaller bar is taken away from the main unit.  Besides their obvious use for detecting unwanted entry into your home or shop, these alarms work great to ensure the kids don’t forget to cover up the chicken feed bin, or leave the coop door open, or any other ‘reminder’ you want to keep a door closed.  I like to turn one on and throw it into the boy’s bedrooms on those mornings they haven’t gotten out of bed by the 3rd call!

As a science project with the kids, we created a GPS-based device that we wanted to launch with weather balloons of helium to track wind patterns, and to set adrift in the ocean to watch water currents.  First, we designed a custom circuit and software to record the GPS track, but in the end we found a much better, low cost solution that has many other applications worth considering.  Instead of a custom circuit, we found that on eBay we could purchase an older cell phone (I recommend a Motorola i415) with GPS capabilities for less than $10.  For another $6 we got a pre-paid phone SIM for the phone.  Using an on-line service for real-time cell phone tracking, we could watch the cell phone travel in real-time, and get our GPS data even if we never got the cell phone back from the ocean.  These phones make great, low-cost equipment tracking similar to Lo-Jack for much less cost.  A possible option for farm equipment, shipping container, or other large item you want to keep tabs on.  Gluing a strong magnet to the phone and modifying the charging cable would allow you to place the phone under the hood, wired to the vehicle’s battery for constant power. 

Rather than running 120AC power out to some of our remote locations, we’ve chosen to use car batteries for lighting and power needs instead.  It is great having a spare battery or two on hand, and with inexpensive solar arrays it is easy to keep them charged and available.  I’ve wired our garden house to use low-cost LED lighting strips, which run off the battery.  The solar panel easily keeps the battery topped off and ready for the infrequent use and the 12V is a standard supply for most battery powered devices and gadgets to run off, too.

With 12V readily available, there are a couple other electrical devices worth mentioning.  Various Internet sellers and eBay have remote controlled relay devices for under $15 (search for “12V remote relay”) that are great for remote control of any motor, light, or device.  They are simple to wire up and use, with little electrical experience needed.  It is nice when the lights are left on out in the garden house to have a remote control by the window in our house to simply click, and turn them off.  This gives all kinds of options to our OPSEC considerations.

For locking or mechanical actuation, I love using inexpensive, 12V automotive door lock solenoids.  Again, for less than $5 these can be had and applied to any number of uses.  We lock our chicken coop door at night with a door lock solenoid (remotely controlled, of course).  These solenoids are very strong (more than 7 lbs of pull in some cases) and work well to flip a wall switch, too. 
Two options we are using for power generation include solar panels and hydro power.  Neither option is able to generate more than 150W of power, but that is adequate to charge a single or bank of 12V car batteries.  Car batteries are the power supply of our choice because they are readily available, stable, and carry significant electrical power.  They are robust for charging and 12V is a common input power for many handheld devices.

I do not believe 120V AC is a viable option for TEOTWAWKI.  It requires extensive resources to generate and is neither safe nor versatile.  We do have several generators for running our freezers and power tools, but in a dramatic or long-term scenario, our plan is to rely on gas-based power tools (i.e. chainsaws, generators, rototillers, etc), propane powered stoves and refrigeration, and DC power based communications equipment.

Solar panels are readily available and easy to use.  We have several that are 40 to 50W, and with an inline diode to protect from back current, they work well to maintain car batteries.  Several springs and creeks in our area provide us and our neighbors with hydro power sources, too.  One design we built for a neighbor is based on a GMC truck alternator.  GMC alternators have a built in voltage regulator and are robust for many alternative power generation options - do a search on Google for “bicycle alternator” and you will see many clever designs for bike-power, for example.  This is one reason we keep several older model GMC trucks and a Suburban around – useful, common parts.  The alternator can be used for a 12V generator supplying up to 100 Amps of current to run AC inverters, charge batteries, or run pumps.  The neighbor’s spring is captured in a 2,000 gallon tank, and channeled off the side to ABS piping into the alternator’s turbine.  The alternator was ~$80; turbine blades are homemade and piping all from scrap on hand.

A lower cost option we used on another neighbor’s stream is my favorite.  Instead of an Alternator we used a 1200 gallon-per-hour bilge pump as a generator.  More regulation circuitry was required, but because the output was under 10 Amps, a simple solar regulator from eBay for $12 was adequate.  The smaller stream’s flow was diverted into a garden hose, fitted easily to the bilge pump’s output to run the motor as a generator.  Total setup costs (besides labor) were under $50.  These have been simple, fun, and safe ways to engage with neighbors in exploring options for remote power generation.  This setup is charging two car batteries and running 12V lighting, shortwave radio, dual-band ham radio station, and a fan in his remote shed.

Finally, one last electrical option that has worked out well for us is a water pump for our drip irrigation system.  Some of our plants require more regular watering than others, so we put in a simple drip system of tubing.  To automate it as much as possible, I used a small barrel suspended from 30 feet high to provide the water source for the tubing.  To keep the barrel full, especially in the summer months when rain is less frequent I used a small bulge-pump (12V) I had on hand to pump small amounts of water out of the livestock trough into the bucket.  I did rig up a simple microcontroller to only turn the pump on for 20 minutes each day which required more than basic electrical skills.  The pump is inexpensive and keeps the water barrel charged without any attention required.

All of these ideas are inexpensive and as simple as possible.  Just imagine what is possible with a small, microcontroller (mini computer chip) that costs less than $1.23 and very advanced sensory and computing power!  While not generally of use most people, there are options out there for your consideration.  As an engineer my emergency preparations include keeping extra microcontrollers on-hand for any number of needs.  The powerful capabilities of these modern devices are a big force multiplier for automating farm and garden tasks as well as the obvious security/OPSEC roles.  If you don’t have a working knowledge in these areas, your children may.  Many different options are available to encourage your kids, friends, etc to pursue learning if they are interested in these things, which will pay off not only in your emergency preparations, but enable them for potential engineering careers in life.

Since all of the devices mentioned are less expensive, it should encourage people to experiment with them.  Hack them, open them up, and try using them in new ways.  Kids love exploring and tearing apart things, and many of these projects have been fun for us to explore with and for the children to learn new concepts, science, and practicing putting stuff back together.  There are several photographs of these and other projects on our family blog, (Northwest Podcast).  Since these ideas are based on 12V DC they are much safer, though higher current levels must be respected.

The last note I would make regarding using electronics or technology in your preparations is to echo the warnings of the scriptures.  No gadget can replace faith and trust in the Lord.  There are significant risks and dependencies in using electronics but many of these (such as an EMP event) can be prepared for.   The scriptures warn us of trusting in the arm of flesh (Jeremiah 17:5) and of worshiping the works of man’s hands (Micah 5:13).  I believe that our culture is at great risk to this form of idolatry because of the technological blessings the Lord has given us.  Let’s use these gifts to bless the lives of our families and those around us, and put all of our trust in the Lord.

Friday, October 14, 2011

After reading the article about protecting your chickens, I would like to comment on my solution.  After experiencing my early failed attempt at chicken raising because the possums would chase the night dumb chickens back and forth against the chicken wire enclosure and extrude them through the chicken wire eating as they pulled, I built chicken coop number two. 
First I built it off the ground with a slightly sloping plywood floor covered by galvanized sheet metal ship lapped to protect the floor. When pressure washing, the water flows to the outside.  At the low end I raised the wood stud base plate up 3/4" (on pointed wood spacers below each wall stud) to allow the water to drain into a gutter on the outside.  I put removable tapered wood pieces in the gap to keep the snakes out. A lip on the spacer allows removal with a flat shovel.  I then paneled the walls up 4 feet.  The next four feet is hardware cloth on three sides so the animals cannot reach through.  I have an aluminum roof of surplus house trailer porch panels.  Inside I have nesting boxes, a roost, and a closet on the back side for gathering eggs in a closed in room through hinged and latched access doors.  This closet is great for my incubator and I could use it for baby chicks but I currently put them in a garden area with the hen.  Out of 30 chickens, I only have two that will set.
I built a closed in chute into the closed in garden area, which includes a wire roof.  The chickens have access to five different garden areas that can be individually separated.  From the adjacent garden area,  I built a small opening with a slide door two feet off the ground.  On the outside of the opening is a horizontal metal grate (I used stainless) suspended on electric fence isolators. Plastic tie wraps worked great.  I put a thin stainless plate on the ground below the grate.  This is not necessary but guarantees a charge.  I installed a 12 volt fence charger to the grate and to a ground rod with an additional wire to the bottom plate.  I use 12 volt because of future power issues.  A small solar panel keeps it charged and solar fence chargers are available.
The chickens being two legged jump up on the grate without being shocked.  The four legged animals reach up and get a shock as they are grounded.  I later had to add plastic sheets around the door opening as I had a baby possum get through.  The only problem I had is a big chicken walking under the grate and touching the grate underside while grounded.  A fence under the grate around the grate posts would fix that.  The fence would have to be grounded.  I used this method for months and could leave for days at a time or not worry about coming home after dark.  Since I go to work before daylight, they could leave as needed.
Since I now have geese, ducks and prior turkeys which are all stupid, I have quit using the device.  I put them up at night now.
I am building coop three in the deep woods.  I am using stainless for the floor as the galvanize is starting to rust due to the acidic chicken manure.  I am going to experiment and see if the chickens can live with out me feeding them. I may not check them for days at a time.  The design is the same but with my hot water collectors on the roof.  I have noticed the chickens are not eating chicken feed if they are free range.  I also feed them wild bird seed which they devour.  I note the wild game is not eating the corn and sunflower seeds we are putting out including my chickens. Perhaps it is because chicken feed is now made with GMO grain. 
I put up a fake owl over the garden and I have not lost a chicken to chicken hawks since even though they range a 100 yards away.  Before, I lost at least one per week.
I bought three of your latest books and sent two to my daughters.  I have just started reading last night.  So far it is a little slow compared to your first book which I could not put down and which caused me to spend since 2007 prepping day and night.  I built a container house complete with living areas all on solar including refrigeration.  Since I now realize I cannot defend the house, I realize that was a mistake and therefore I am working on plan C which is more remote.  My live in nurse girlfriend is getting tired of not going anywhere on weekends.  The video I saw recently of biker types raiding retreats got my attention.  If events transpire as expected, I have you to thank for my being prepared. - Jim T.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My foray into the world of self-sufficiency began with two animals and a dream: two Nubian dairy goats, to be exact, and a whole load of criticism and laughter from those who thought I was crazy! “What do you know about raising goats?” , and “Why bother, isn’t it easier to just go buy milk at the store” Smirk, smirk. Little did they realize, this made me ever more determined to have the last laugh.

My husband was grudgingly tolerant, and my children were excited and blindly trusting their mother to know exactly what she was doing. After all my thorough research I jumped in feet first….and fell. And fell and fell again. But, after some blood, sweat, and tears I believe I have learned a lot and would like to share what wisdom I have gained with those who might be considering the dairy goat as a fresh milk source for their family.

Goats are an excellent choice for family dairy needs! They are intelligent, inquisitive creatures and they each have their own unique personality. Some have endeared themselves to me more than others and I am only a tad ashamed to say that I have my favorites. Most of my does (females) weigh around 130 pounds, and are easily handled by both myself and my small children. Their senses are sharp, and they are curious to a fault. I have one particular doe who will refuse to hop on her milk stand when I have swept the floor underneath it, because she knows something is different.

In comparison to a family cow, goats are much smaller, and obviously require less feed. They are less intimidating than a cow, and again easily handled by children. The only exception to this would be the buck (an intact male goat). Bucks can grow quite large, and some become aggressive or try to show dominance. We have a rather large buck on our property with enormous horns, and my children are strictly forbidden to go into his pen.

Goat’s milk, if handled properly, is delicious. It is not “goaty”, bitter, or distasteful. It is creamy, sweet goodness, and is good for you! Goat’s milk is easily digested, and some folks who cannot tolerate cow’s milk will have an easier time with goat’s milk. Please do yourself a favor and never judge fresh goat’s milk by the vile concoction in the can at the store.

I will only briefly touch on the subject of pasteurization. I believe this is a personal choice, and I do not believe there is a right or wrong choice. Please do your research and make an informed decision regarding what is best for your family. Regardless, your milk will need to be filtered before drinking. Filtering will ensure that any bits of dirt or hair will be removed from your milk. I use milk filters bought from a dairy supply catalog (Hoegger’s, Jeffers or Caprine Supply). I have personally tried using coffee filters and several layers of cheesecloth and those methods did not go over well for me. If you choose to pasteurize, it can be done stovetop with a stainless steel double boiler, or you can purchase a pasteurizer. You will need a thermometer if you go the stovetop route. I use a simple candy thermometer, but there are dairy thermometers available for purchase. Dairy thermometers come in handy if you so choose to try your hand at making cheese! In reference to raw milk please check with your individual state’s laws and regulations. In many states it is legal to drink raw milk [produced by your own goats] but illegal to sell it. Again, please do your research and try to be respectful of others personal decisions.

That said, I would like to provide readers with some insight that I wish I had had when I started out. I love and respect my goats for being providers(of milk or meat), however, should you choose to neglect or abuse them do not expect much in the way of getting anything back.

1. You will become a doctor. You must learn your goat’s body language, and recognize immediately what might be “off” behavior. Once a goat is obviously very sick, I would say you have about 24 hrs. to diagnose them or have them seen by a vet, or you will likely end up with a dead animal. There is a saying “A sick goat is a dead goat”. Most of goat care is focused on prevention, because once a catastrophic illness hits, very rarely will a goat pull out and be “normal”.

2. Do not expect to find a vet easily or at the last minute. Waiting until your goat is in the throes of a difficult birth, or until they are off feed running a fever are NOT the time to try to find a veterinarian. First of all, veterinarians who are well versed in goat care, or even those who will give it a half-hearted attempt are in incredible short supply. For reasons unbeknownst to me telling a vet that you have a goat is like telling them the black plague has infected your household. Most vets do not want to even talk to you-I have, in fact, had vets actually hang up on me when I mention the word “goat”. I have been so lucky to find a wonderful veterinarian who actually has been spot-on with most of my goats vet needs. It took me five years to find him. Until then I had to read everything I could get my hands on regarding goat care, illness, disease, etc. I wrote everything down in a “goat notebook”, and wrote down vaccines, antidotes, medications, side effects, common diseases, etc. I learned to recognize symptoms and make decisions quickly. There will be times when you just have to guess and hope you’re right, when death is imminent. Do not feel guilty for this, it is part of the trials of raising livestock.

3. Goats will not eat tin cans (although they may nibble on them out of curiosity). In all reality, goats are pretty picky eaters. They are small ruminants, meaning they have a four chambered stomach. They need roughage(hay, pasture, weeds, tree leaves) to maintain a healthy rumen. They love to browse, but will do very well grazing on pasture like a cow or a horse. Growing kids and lactating mothers are benefited by a grain ration. I use a loose grain mix with 16% protein mixed at my local grain elevator. Please do not overfeed grain or let children feed them grain unless you are certain they will not overfeed them. Grain can be measured or weighed, but if consumed in massive quantities can cause death by acidosis. Regular over-usage will result in fat goats which causes difficult births and overall unthriftiness. This can also cause susceptibility to goat polio, which I can tell you first hand is a heartbreaking disease. Goats also need certain minerals to maintain good health. There are minerals in block form, loose mixes, or you can even mix your own if you are so inclined. Please educate yourself by reading as much information as you can on maintaining a healthy rumen for your goats - it is vital to their well-being. In my experience the local extension office and 4-H manuals have been very informative!

4. Buy a good book or two. This is something I wish had done years ago before writing down enough information to write a book myself!

5. Goats require a certain amount of dedication and perseverance. You will have to milk every day. If you cannot commit to this please save yourself the trouble of purchasing any dairy animals. You will also have to learn to give your own vaccinations, trim hooves regularly, assist with birth, deworm them regularly, provide fresh water and food daily, and much more. You will watch them give birth and you will eventually watch some of them die. You may even have to shoot them (or have hubby do it) if they are suffering. In a large herd euthanasia is not a realistic option.

6. Learning to milk will bring frustration and tears. Please do not give up-it is worth it. It will come naturally over time. I did have days that I ran from the barn kicking whatever happened to get in my way, tears streaming from my face, ready to commit a mass murder of those *!#! Goats. You will cry over spilt milk! Or at least feel a tinge of joy at the prospect of committing physical violence against those stubborn creatures!

Remember, just as a new nursing mother cannot “let down” her milk if she is anxious, or in pain. If her baby screams in frustration, she will tense up and the whole thing goes down from there. A goat will sense your nervousness or frustration, or even your anger. The best bet is to try to stay calm even if you must walk away for a few minutes and come back. Learning to milk my Jersey cow was one of the worst times in my life. I know now it was because I was deathly afraid of getting my head bashed in every time I put my face next to those enormous legs. My cow knew this-knew I was afraid, and she decided to become “boss”. Another reason to never let your livestock dominate you. If they refuse to back down, even after time, they become a danger to you and yours, and I would recommend sending them to slaughter.
Milking can become very relaxing as you get better and better at it. Music helps, too. Milking should always be done in a stainless steel bowl/pail and all your milking supplies meticulously washed after each milking. There are commercial washes you can buy, although I think Clorox and soap and water work pretty well. After time your equipment may develop a residue of sorts called “milkstone”, and you can also buy cleaner to take care of that.

Please don’t let this deter you. My six year old can milk (until her little hands get tired!). As with any new skill, it takes practice. One more thing-if your hand muscles tire even after you master milking, or you have arthritis, there are many kinds of milking machines out there. Some are even just simplistic pumps, similar to a breast pump.

7. Most of your does (females) will need to be bred once a year to keep a steady supply of milk. Many people who choose not to keep a buck for this purpose can usually find someone in their vicinity who is willing to let their buck “service” your doe for a small fee. You will need to do this when your does go into heat. Watch for these heat signs-Excessive bleating, tail wagging (called flagging), swollen, red vulva, discharge, riding other does. Some will display all, some, or none of these behaviors. One of my does has a few hour window where she will stand to be mounted by a buck. This is called “standing heat”, and sometimes it’s difficult to catch! Some breeds of dairy goats will go into heat year round, some only in season (usually September to March).

If you decide to keep [an intact] buck he will grow big and usually pretty stinky! He will urinate on himself, and do some pretty obscene things! A buck needs care as well, so even though it is difficult sometimes, please don’t neglect him. Hoof trimming is an area where bucks often get neglected. Who wants to pick up that smelly, urine soaked leg? I always enlist my husband’s help in dealing with my buck, especially if he is in rut. Please don’t ever turn your back on a buck in rut. That is unwise at best, dangerous or deadly at worst.

8. Have an idea beforehand what you want to do with your surplus goats. It is always exciting when kids are born, but then you have to figure out what to do with those boys. It is not realistic to think you will be able to keep them all. Yes, they are adorable when little, but they grow quickly.

Castration can be done in a few different ways. There is banding, which is simply placing a string latex band around the testicles with an Elastrator--a tool designed for that purpose. This will of course cut off circulation and cause the testicles to go necrotic and fall off after some time. If done too early, you risk the urethra not maturing enough and susceptibility to bladder stones. If done too late, it will be agonizing for your goat. I know this because it happened to me recently and after watching said goat literally screaming and writhing on the ground, I had to cut the band off. Now I have a young buckling trying to breed all his sisters, and I have to rid myself of him ASAP. He will either be sold to slaughter or will go in our own freezer. This was a huge mistake on my part, but being the softie that I am, I could not bear to see an animal in so much pain. This method seems to me more torturous as time goes by and I can hardly bear to do it anymore.

Another method is to find and crush the cords carrying the sperm to the testes using a tool called a burdizzo. This involves no blood and is considered a “closed” castration. I have no personal experience with this tool however there is a lot of support for it on the Internet.

The last option is surgical castration which , in my opinion, is not a feasible option for most folks, considering the price tag. A lot of people are in support of keeping a wether (castrated male goat), as a pet. In my experience they are sweet and wonderful for about two years. Then it seems that this would be about the time a buckling would be coming into maturity, and they get some dominance issues. I have known many goat people who have sweet and loving wethers. This has just not been the case for me. Your excess males can be sold for meat or 4-H projects, or as pets. It will be a decision you will have to contend with.

9. Last of all, try to find "goat people" to help you out especially the first few years. There were many times when I called upon others who knew way more than I did. I even called some late at night in desperation. They will be your best support system!

In closing, all of this may seem intimidating, but as with anything new you will find what works for you. As raising my own "kids", it has been a challenging , yet rewarding experience. And I promise you, you'll never see any sight more joyful than children playing with all their new "babies". It doesn't get any sweeter than that!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A friend of mine was thinking of getting into the meat goat business.  Since I have been raising goats for several years now, she asked me a few questions to which I responded with the following.  I thought that preppers considering adding a goat or two to their menageries might be interested in these thoughts as well.  In the past five years I have learned a lot and it has taken five years to become really competent.

First off, it is important to get your goats from a reputable source.  I got mine at auction, which meant that I was getting other people’s culls.  Most of the does I bought this way were fine, but they did bring in some disease that I have had to fight ever since.  I knew to isolate the animals for two weeks before putting them all together, but that was not long enough for a classic problem to arise.  This is casseous lymphodonitis (CL), which is a bacteria that gets into the goat’s system through a break in the skin and manifests as an abscess, usually on the neck.  It is said that there are only two kinds of goat ranches; "the ones that have CL or the ones that will have CL."  Everybody gets it sooner or later, I am told.  You can have a specific vaccine made for it by sending a culture to a veterinary lab, but I haven’t done it.  I have tried the commercial vaccine, which is good on several strains, but it did not work on mine.  So, now I just lance the lumps and isolate the goat until it’s gone, but it seems to pop up again every so often.  At least I have never had a kid get it and that is the most important thing.  The disease seals itself off from the body, so there is no harm to humans to consume the meat, but it is illegal to sell the carcass of an animal that has it. 

Another reason people cull a goat is that she might harbor parasites.  It is said that 5% of the goats carry 80% of the parasites, so if a rancher notices one that gets wormy a lot or sooner than the others, he is going to be culling her.  Parasites are responsible for nearly all goat death and battling them is the most important part of raising a herd.  We drench with Ivermectin every three weeks through the summer, starting in March, or the month before kidding is expected to begin.  Each nanny also gets a drenching the day she kids because birth causes an explosion of parasites for some reason.  You check for anemia by looking at the inside of the eyelid, the pinker the better.  If I see that the Ivermectin isn’t keeping the goats in the pink, I switch to Cydectin.  It is recommended that you use only one type of wormer for a year because parasites develop immunity and you need to have a back up medicine that still works.  Don’t even bother with Safeguard, goat parasites are completely immune to that. 

The great goal of all goat people is to get to the stage where they don’t have to use any commercial wormer at all.  This is accomplished by frequent field rotation so that the goats do not re-ingest larvae as they graze.  Rule of thumb is to move the herd every three weeks to interrupt the life cycle of the pests and to move goats off a field whenever the grass is shorter than six inches.  Some goat people swear by diatomaceous earth as a supplement, and we have tried it with good results. 

To start with 5 or 6 goats, you wouldn't need that much fenced space. You want to use field fence or some other stuff they are calling "goat fence" with holes of approximately 8 x 12 ".  I just use the regular woven wire 39-inch stuff that sells for around $120 for 330 feet.  The benefit of the larger holes is that goats with horns are not likely to get their heads stuck and all goats seem to think that the grass is greener on the other side.  If you are going to grow meat goats, one good thing is that they are not the escape artists that the leaner dairy goats are.  They seem to know that they are too heavy to jump over unless they are highly motivated.  We also fenced off about half an acre to hold the billy when he is not in use as stud.  Again, a Boer buck generally knows he is too heavy to jump over the fencing and as an added bonus, the Boer males are usually quite gentle and sweet tempered. 

I would fence 10 acres to start and also invest in some solar powered electric mesh fencing so that you can rotate the goats from one section of the field to the next (to avoid parasite infestation).  General rule is that one acre will feed 6 goats, but I don't agree with that.  We run 30 to 35 goats on ten acres, but we have two extra ten-acre fields into which they rotate every 3 weeks.  This amount of land supports them fine as well as all their kids, of which we usually get around 50 a year.

Prior to when TSHTF, you will want to know about selling your kid crop for profit.  Recent butcher kid prices were $1.34-1.44 per pound for 40-50 pound kids.  50 to 70 pound kids were fetching 1.60 a pound.  Bigger than that and the price goes down.  So, you can get $100 per kid if you can raise them to a good weight before summer forage peters out, which is questionable around here.  My kids were not up to weight by the end of August this year, but I think it was because no one wanted to eat much during the heat wave. You will be paying at least $7 a head to the auctioneer and of course transportation costs because there are only a few places to sell goats.  Get on line and search for usda goat auction prices.  I am unable to get the URL to transfer in here, sorry.  They publish each week the prices they are getting, August and Sept being prime time for goat selling.

There is no need to be around to take care of the kids once they are born. Nannies are great for taking care of their kids. Of course, you will almost always get one bottle kid a season, where for some mysterious reason a nanny will reject a kid.  If you are going to insist that she feed that kid, then you would have to be on hand to catch her and make her do it 4 times a day, or you would have to be around to do that feeding for the first couple of weeks.  But the easier thing to do at that point is to sell the kid cheap, or give it away to a 4-H-er. I only feel that I have to be on hand for the births and most of the time, not even then.  Out of my 30 nannies this year, I was needed for only one breach birth.  I stay with them long enough to make sure the kids know how to eat and after that, they are on their own.  I do "jug" my new families, put them into privacy stalls for three days before returning them to the herd.  This is to make sure all is well, the doe is getting enough to eat, and the kids know exactly whom their mothers are, but you don't really have to do this.  If you are willing to lose a few kids, you can leave them completely on their own. 

If you leave your kids on their nannies, there is little that you need to be on hand for, but maybe you were thinking of taking the kids off and feeding them from a milk bar so that you can re-breed the nannies faster.  If you do that, of course, you will have to be around to fill those canisters.  But, if not, all you really should do is watch to make sure the kids are eating.  Right after they are born, they usually find the teat within a few minutes.  If a kid searches too long and gets tired before getting that first dose of colostrum, he may just give up and die.  So, I help them out in finding the teat.  Often though, a doe will kid unexpectedly and by the time I have found her, she will already have those kids cleaned up and nursing.  I would say only about ten percent of the newborns need any intervention at all, as long as the weather is reasonably warm.  About an hour after the kid has had its first meal, I check back to stir the kid up for a second meal.  They can get sugared out and sleep too long if their mothers don’t wake them and then they are too weak to get back to the breakfast table.  I find that it is usually a first time mother that doesn’t know to nose the kid back to life.  If a kid doesn’t get to the teat at first, I milk some of the colostrum out and give it to the kid in a syringe.  Just an ounce of that stuff is enough to save a kid’s life. 

Timing your kidding is the most important thing to being able to sit back and enjoy it.  I don’t put my buck into the herd until November 1, so that our kidding always starts in April.  If kids come in the winter, you MUST be there to dry them off, warm them up and get them in under a heat lamp.  They will almost certainly die if you don’t.  Much better to wait until all danger of freezing is past.  Gestation is five months and five days, so you can pretty much time your kidding for your vacation or take time off from work if you want to do all of the things I do.  Lots of people just let Nature take its course and they lose a few kids, but that is the price of not having to be there.  One great thing about goats is that they almost always kid during daylight hours.  I don’t think I have ever had one kid at night.  In April, one of us checks the herd every two hours during the daylight hours.  When we notice kidding happening, we stick around, but more often than not, the nanny doesn’t need us at all.  But, if a doe is in labor for an hour without kidding, you have to intervene, go in and get those kids out.  Most men’s hands are too big to go inside a doe, so I hope there is a willing woman on the ranch.  If you don’t intervene in a breach, you won’t just lose the kids; you will lose the nanny too.

The other big thing about goat tending is trimming their hooves and this probably takes more time than anything else we do for the herd.  If you don’t do this, you will get foot rot, the animals won’t want to go far to graze, they will re-ingest parasite larvae and then they die.  So, foot rot is no laughing matter.  You may get rot even with perfectly trimmed hooves and they get a kind of weepy skin condition in between their toes in wet weather.  I slather them with a commercial hoof antibiotic and give antibiotic (LA 200) injections if the case is a bad one.  A footbath through which the goats must walk each day would probably get me out of this chore, but I haven’t ever figured out how to make those demons go through one.  They hate wet feet.  Putting the goats’ feed stations on top of a circle of gravel or rock also helps to keep hooves drier and excess hoof growth in check.

Goats do need some shelter.  They hate rain, but don’t mind snow a bit.  As far as food goes, goats need higher protein levels than other ruminants, so we feed clover/grass mixed hay in the winter, alfalfa for the last month before kidding.  We also set out several high protein vitamin and mineral blocks.  Goats are picky eaters and they are terribly wasteful with hay.  We use V-shaped square bale feeders with a tray beneath to catch falling hay.  You can also just set a round bale in the field, but pretty soon it will be soiled from goats jumping up on top, and most of it will be strewn around the ground. But a round bale of plain old grass is fine for filling them up, even if it doesn’t give them all that they need.  If you go this route, you should also feed a cup or so per goat per day of commercial goat pellets.  They push and shove each other in a mad dash to the dinner table when you feed pellets, so we have to make sure that the underlings in the herd get something to eat.  No goat will ever admit that she is full and will always tell you that she is starving. 

Few vets have much experience with goats, so you are on your own a lot.  You will need to learn about health issues, preventions and treatments. Whether to castrate or not.  Vaccinations.  Get some good books and make friends with other goat people.  Your local land grant university may have a goat expert and a small ruminant project, so you can go to classes or even just call them up.  And be prepared to fall in love.  You know, a sheep is a sheep is a sheep, but each goat is an individual.  They are clever animals and very personable.  You will quickly learn their language and be able to communicate with them.  After my dogs, my goats are my best friends.  Oh, that reminds me.  You don’t want to have a herding dog on the ranch.  Instead, you want a guardian, like a Great Pyrenees.  Any dog that starts to chase a goat should be banished from any dealings with them, for sooner or later that dog will give in to instinct and either hurt or kill a goat.  Even little dogs are a danger in this regard.  Your enemies are dogs first, coyotes second. 

And that also reminds me to tell you that goats don’t herd, they follow.  If you try to herd them, more often than not, they will just scatter and circle around the herder to get back to wherever they want to be.  We accomplish herd moves by pouring goat pellets into a wheelbarrow and walking down the lane with the herd following.  Goats are so smart that they learn any routine involving food in a matter of a day or so.  I just honk my truck horn and they all come running up from the field.  They can be stupid too, though, forgetting how they got where they are and wanting to go through a fence instead of back to a gate.  Just remember that you are smarter than a goat and if you think about it for a minute, you will figure out a way to get them to do what you want them to do.  One of the best bits of advice I ever got was, “if you are fighting with your goats, you are doing something wrong.”  Pay attention to what motivates them, which is always either food, the need to be in a herd, or the well-being of their kids.  Pay attention to what is happening in any move.  If kids get too far behind, you will lose them because they only care about Mommy, not pellets.  So, always make sure the kids are keeping up, slowing your movements to allow for that.  Keep the herd herded up as much as you can.  Any stragglers will be impossible to catch.  Watch the nannies too.  They will show you what they care about most at any given moment by looking at it.  If they start to lose interest in the food you are offering to make them follow you, it is a matter of proximity, so get closer. 

In conclusion, I know that I have neglected to tell you which items you should stock up on and how to tend the herd without any commercial products.  I have not yet addressed this issue in my own herd in a complete manner.  I would definitely pre-order a good supply of a long-acting antibiotic along with a drenching gun that doubles as a vaccinator.  Be sure to order replacement parts and lots of needles.  Get five good pairs of hoof trimmers.  An annual vaccine that must be kept refrigerated is Clostridium Perfringens Types C and D with Tetanus Toxoid.  I have stocked a five-year supply.  I also keep on hand about twenty pouches of powdered Corid for the treatment of coccidiosis, a condition that can be avoided for the most part by keeping goat quarters clean.  To get around purchasing commercial feed, we have planted twenty acres of alfalfa and that is a complete feed.  I feel that Vitamin B injectables are necessary just in case you see a goat convulse.  I also mix up my own “go juice,” which is a combination of water, corn syrup and vitamins.  I give this whenever a goat may need a quick jolt of energy.  Finally, I keep a powdered supply of electrolytes for dehydration.  There are many supplements and preventative or curative products on the market.  You will simply need to decide which ones to stock up on for yourself, given your specific circumstances.

Mr. Rawles;
Greetings from a new fan.  On the subject of horses, I can recommend the video from Pat Parelli titled The Seven Games. I have ridden horses for years but when I bought my own horse I got a few Parelli lessons from the owner.  It completely changed 30 years horsemanship almost overnight.  My horse is my friend now and much easier to train since I know how to communicate with him.  The cd's and the Parelli method is great.  

Yes, horses do require your time they are not an ATV that can be parked and left behind.  They are not for everyone, but they can do things that an ATV can never do.  Keep up the good work. - Rodney W.

JWR Replies: Thanks for that recommendation. And by the way, a friend recommended the Mike Bridges horse training clinics.  Mike is not the best known clinician but he's one of the best teachers and horsemen in the nation. He's based in Halfway, Oregon, but does clinics all around the country.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The cover art on your latest novel prompts these comments about horses.  There may be  folks who are thinking that in the future horse power would be a viable alternative for transportation, agricultural, and other uses.   It can be.  But you need to be aware that horses are not just hairy vehicles, and they don’t come with an owner’s manual.  They are thinking, feeling, decision-making animals.  And regardless of how well trained they may be when you get them they will quickly settle, for better or worse, at your level of knowledge and experience.  If you don’t know what you’re doing you may fairly quickly wind up with a horse that is useless, dangerous, or both.

If you’re considering the use of horses in the future it would be prudent to learn all you can now.  And that means hands on learning.  Book learning won’t do.   The only thing that will keep you safe is knowledge and awareness.

A lifetime isn’t long enough to learn all there is to know about horsemanship, but it’s a start.  Find a competent teacher, start now, and enjoy the experience. - Rick S.

JWR Replies: Thanks for your letter. A good deal of the story in "Survivors" has to do with the lead character getting to know and work with his horse, an excellent gelding named Prieto. Yes, I agree that there is a steep learning curve.  For newbies, I recommend that they learn from a pro, and that they spend a lot of time around horses before they ever even consider buying one to bring into their family. (Yes, I do mean family.) Clinton Anderson's excellent series of instructional DVDs (such as Downunder Horsemanship- Gaining Respect and Control on the Ground) are a great start, but there is no substitute for lots of hands-on time. Frankly, most people's temperaments are better suited to buying an ATV than a horse.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When I began to plan my families survival food stores, it quickly became apparent that if/when we lose our suburban grocery store lifestyle, my stores are only going to last a limited time.  I also realized that there is a point at which more food is pointless without more trucks to move it and more people to drive them and more mouths to feed requiring more food.  I live in Phoenix, in the suburbs, in the middle of one of the harshest deserts in the world, where any TEOTWAWKI scenario will be a G.O.O.D. situation.  Relocation now is a desirable but unattainable option, so I am preparing to the best of my ability.  The solution to this vicious food cycle is to develop a plan that incorporates short term emergency food with long term sustainable food generation.  To this end, my plan includes emergency food to sustain my family through transitional periods, a garden and a store of non hybrid seeds for future planting, and carefully selected livestock which the rest of this article will be devoted to.

The idea of having to rely entirely on hunting or fishing for meat and other animal products does not seem sound to me.  Sport fishing becomes sport crawdad catching when the Game and Fish Department haven't stocked the rivers and streams of Arizona, and if the populations of major cities were suddenly all roaming the countryside trying to find food I imagine game would become scarce.   My solution: become the crazy neighbor with all the weird pets.  (I tried to be subtle, but roosters crow at five a.m. and my goats aren't silent all day long either.)  But, I have very strict criteria for all my 'pets'.  #1 They must be useful for feeding my family.  #2 They must be low maintenance and able to feed on forage.  #3 They must be small enough to be kept in my suburban backyard and small enough to go on the road if we need to bug out. #4 They must be hardy and disease resistant.  Cows, pigs and horses are too big for the backyard, too expensive and complicated to care for, and would be impossible to bug out with, but chickens, rabbits, and dwarf goats are compact, practical, low maintenance, and a renewable source of eggs, meat, and milk.   

Chickens/ Eggs

When I first started looking at small scale livestock, the obvious place to start was chickens.  There is no end to the benefits of the egg.  They are a source of protein and healthy fats that you can't get from gardening alone.  I purchased my first baby chicks as an impulse buy and thought they could just free range in my back yard after outgrowing the box in my laundry room.  Turns out the free range plan had drawbacks and after the dog ate my baby chicks we put a little more planning into action.  A year later, we have healthy, thriving birds, tons of eggs and we only spend 3 or 4 minutes a day caring for them. 

Chickens are very low maintenance critters.  In a back yard setting they need food, water and shelter.  Shelter can be just about anything that keeps the dog out.  Ours is a 4 ft. by 4 ft. cube made of 2x2 lumber enclosed by plywood on one end and chicken wire on the other, with a little door and some roosts.  Or, they can free range, but you'll want to clip their wings to keep them from flying over the wall, you'll have to hunt for the eggs, and instead of cleaning the coop once every few months you'll be cleaning chicken feces off everything all the time, and then there's that whole dog thing.  I feed commercial food, because it's easier in our compact space, but they can feed on forage alone, they like bugs and grass.  The watering is the most difficult part because it gets nasty quickly.  You have to change it frequently(like twice a day).  I solved this by making some nipple style bucket waterers.  Now all I do is check the water level of the buckets and top them off every now and then.  You can get the nipples for under $2 on line at and find information about making them through an internet search.   

I ordered my chicks on line because I was very selective about the breed.  There are hundreds of breeds of chicken and some are bred for eggs, some for meat and some for both.  I chose Wyandottes because they are a dual purpose bird, good egg production and still meaty enough for dinner.  They are also relatively quiet, docile, and bear confinement well.  The web site has detailed information on the characteristics of different breeds and links to mail order suppliers.  When you order through the mail you usually have to buy a minimum of 25 or they won't survive shipment.  Twenty five birds is a lot so plan on butchering some or go in with someone else or sell your extras on craigslist.  And of course a handful just won't make it through the first week so get at lease a few more than you need.  After that they are very hardy.  

Each of my five birds lay about five eggs in seven days giving us two dozen eggs a week.  I also have two roosters (just in case one dies) so that we can hatch our own fertile eggs.  To hatch eggs, you can buy an expensive incubator, but all you really need is a box, bedding, a thermometer and a hygrometer that can be found in reptile supplies at pet stores so that you can monitor and adjust the temp and humidity, and turn the eggs every day.  You do not need a rooster for your hens to lay eggs for eating.  A rooster will keep your hens bred resulting in eggs that are fertile and can be hatched out.  You only need one rooster for about a dozen hens, but it's always good to have a spare.  There is very little difference between eating fertile and non fertile eggs.  When you collect your eggs, the ones for hatching should be kept warm and the ones for eating should be refrigerated, or kept cool, this will prevent them from growing into baby chicks.  It takes about twenty days for chicks to hatch, it takes about five months for the hens to grow to laying age, then they will lay for two to three years, then dinner.  Butchering and plucking are not as difficult as they sound either.  The hardest part is waiting for them to stop moving after you kill them, (I'm girlier than I thought).  You can find anything you need to know about chickens on line, but it's a good idea to have a reference book in hard copy. 

In a G.O.O.D. scenario, we have a 2x3 ft wire cage that they all will fit into for transport in the back of our truck and I made a lightweight run out of PVC and cloth netting that can be easily assembled and broken down in the wilderness.  It is low to the ground and has a larger footprint, 5ft by 10 ft by 2 ft tall, so I can move it around allowing the birds to find forage during the day and be returned to the more secure wire cage at night when predators might be out.  After the initial investment of the birds and their equipment, and the work of building the shelter and setting up the bucket waterers and the homemade incubator, their daily care consists of dumping a cup of feed in their trough twice a day.  I spend 12-15 dollars a month on feed but I get 8 to 10 dozen eggs in a month. 


According to what I've read on line and in books, rabbit meat is among the most nutritious you can eat.  They are also easier to butcher than chickens, no messing around with feathers, and provide you with leather.  There are several breeds of meat rabbit.  I picked New Zealand because I found a local supplier.  Another meat breed is Californian and now we have one girl of that breed as well.  The pet rabbit world is a little offended by the idea of meat rabbits, so you might want to be subtle.  For instance, a craigslist search for meat rabbit will come up empty, but if you search for homestead rabbit or New Zealand rabbit you're more likely to yield results. 

Rabbits are easier than chickens to care for.  The trick is to be clever about their hutch set up to minimize extra work.  Each rabbit needs their own hutch or else they will fight.  We had two sisters together for a long time and thought they were fine, but as soon as they reached maturity they began trying to dominate each other and had to be separated.   We have very roomy hutches for them here in the backyard, but a few well placed pieces of plywood will divide one cage into separate spaces for each rabbit in a G.O.O.D. situation.  We made them out of 2x2 lumber, plywood and hardware cloth for some sides and the floor.  The bottom of the hutches are made of hardware cloth so that the feces falls through and the rabbits feet stay clean and dry.  This is important for their health.  Our hutches sit on a 2x6 frame on the ground filled loosely with straw.  This absorbs the urine and contains the feces.  Rabbit manure is extremely good for the soil so every three months or so we move the hutches off to the side and shovel the whole mess into a wheelbarrow and into the garden.  Rabbit manure does not have to compost.  It can be added straight to the soil.  The babies won't do well straight down on the hardware cloth.  So we add nesting boxes to the hutches a week before kindling.  The bottoms of the nesting boxes are made of tighter hardware cloth and filled with dried grass, and then momma rabbit lines it with her own fur.  The doe is completely self sufficient with her young.  Just keep her fed and she knows what to do.    

We feed a commercial rabbit food for the same reason as the chickens, it's just easier in the city.  But our californian doe is an escape artist and she lives under the shed for weeks at a time with no food provided from me.  I save all my veggie scraps and strawberry tops for them and give them weeds from the yard.  If they had to subsist on forage they would be fine.  We use the same bucket style watering system that we made for the chickens, with the same nipples and all.  We have one five gallon bucket from the hardware store sitting on top of the last hutch and a length of PVC pipe that drops down then angles and spans the length of the hutches with a cap on the end.  Each hutch has a water nipple poking in through the hardware cloth side.   Fill one bucket, water every rabbit, yeah!  A five gallon bucket is more than a month's supply of water for five rabbits and it stays surprisingly clean. 

Now for the good part, the gestation period for the rabbit is about a month.  They have 8 to 12 kits per litter.  It takes about two months for the young to be up to butchering size, which coincides with weaning so you only ever have to feed the doe. New Zealands give about three pounds of meat per rabbit.  So you're looking at 20-30 lbs of meat every three months per doe.  If we round that to 25 lbs, you're looking at 100 lbs of meat per doe per year.  This rapid turn around is what makes them so valuable.  Of course, not every mating results in pregnancy, not every litter is born alive, and sometimes mom isn't producing enough milk for all the kits, so the law of redundancy is important.  Breed more than one doe at the same time.  I'd rather have too much than not enough.  Rabbits are also less hardy and disease resistant than chickens, but keeping one particular animal alive is not as important.  If one isn't healthy, cull it.   Frequently save your strongest kits for new breeding stock.  It takes eight months for them to reach maturity, so plan ahead. 

The other main advantage to rabbits are their hides.  Tanning is surprisingly easy, but yucky.  All you need is an acid/brine solution, a plastic bin, and gloves.  I followed the directions in the book Backyard Livestock: Raising Good, Natural Food for Your Family, by Steven Thomas and George Looby (ISBN-13: 978-0-88150-760-7).  It worked great.  Water, salt and two ounces of sulfuric acid, which I found at a prospecting supply store, mix in the plastic bin, add the hides and shove it in the shed for a month.  I couldn't make shoes from the leather, rabbit is too thin, but there are a million other uses for it.  Tanning in a wilderness setting is a topic for future research. 


Goats are getting a little further into the realm of farming than backyard pets, but in the city I live in, a person can keep two dwarf breed animals in a suburban backyard, under the exotic pets exemption.   The Nigerian Dwarf Breed is perfect for this purpose.  They were bred specifically for milk and have a higher butterfat content than other breeds.  Their milk is also less goaty tasting than the stuff you can buy at the store.  They are about the size of a medium to large dog, smaller than my border collie, but bigger than my beagle.  They won't do well alone so you must have two.

They need a shelter that will keep them out of the elements.  A doghouse is fine.  They also need enough space to move about.  I wouldn't suggest letting them roam free in the backyard because it's easier to clean up after them if the mess is contained to one area and they will eat things you may not want them to eat.  We enclosed a corner of our yard with chain link fencing.  It's about 15x15ft, very roomy for them, and then we put down a layer of straw.  We have a heavy duty bucket for their water, we tried the nipple style and they figured out how to use it, but I didn't feel like they were getting enough that way.  We feed them alfalfa hay and a loose mineral supplement that includes copper.  They must have this.  It's also sold in bricks like a salt lick but the brick melts away in the rain.  We leave a few spoonfuls of loose minerals in a pan in the pen and it lasts for weeks.  We also feed them baking soda.  They have complicated digestion and baking soda helps them with tummy aches.  We just leave a little in the pen and they eat it when they want.  For a treat, they love animal crackers.  Grooming includes keeping their hooves trimmed.  If you buy goats make sure you get ones that have been tested for CAE.  CAE is a virus that causes a joint disease and animals can carry the virus with no symptoms.  It is non-communicable to humans so the milk is safe for consumption from an infected animal, but it is communicable to other goats through nursing and breeding.  If your goat has this virus they might eventually need significant veterinary care. In a survival situation you must have healthy animals or you've wasted your efforts. 

I have two female goats, one is barely up to breeding age, 8 mos, and the other is pregnant.  The gestation period is about six months and they have one to three kids usually, sometimes more.  I have been caring for them for a while now but we haven't been milking yet.  This next bit of info is the result of research and has not been tested by experience, yet.  Nigerians give up to a quart of milk per day.  You'll need a milk pail, strainer and strip cup, preferably all made of seamless, stainless steel.  Nigerians are small so your milk pail shouldn't be huge.  You wash the udders before milking, and then collect a test sample in the strip cup.  Look at it and smell it.  If the milk seems off, milk the animal, but toss it out.  If the milk looks and smells normal, keep it.  After you're done milking, pour the milk through the strainer to remove any hair that may have fallen in.  Pasteurize or don't pasteurize depending on you personal preference by boiling the milk to kill possible pathogens.  This will also kill beneficial enzymes.  Now you can make butter and cheese.  My grandmother made what she called "kick butter."  She put the cream in a gallon glass jar with some ball bearings and the women would sit and sew, or chat, while rolling the jar back and forth across the floor with their feet, kicking butter. 

My girly goats are not as low maintenance as my rabbits and chickens, but daily care still only takes a few minutes to toss out some hay and check their water and minerals.  When the kids come, the milking process will add 15 minutes twice a day to my chores.   Every few months we use a gas powered tiller and turn the soil under, burying the old chicken feces and straw, and then we lay down new straw.    Eventually this is going to be very, very good soil for the garden.

When the SHTF, we have a large dog crate that they will both fit into to travel in the back of the truck.  They walk on a leash and we also have a corkscrew stake and 20 foot tether that we can use in the wilderness to let them roam about during the day.   They can also survive on forage and a wilderness shelter can easily be constructed for them that suits the climate in question.  We do not have a buck because they need to be housed separately and we don't have the room.  I am trying to talk my sister into housing a buck for us in her backyard, but have been unsuccessful so far.  If the SHTF before I work out this detail we will be praying for a baby buckling to mate to our other doe and keep the whole thing going. (Our girls aren't related.) 

In Conclusion

This article is intended to provide an overview of the ease and benefits of raising small livestock in a suburban setting and a survival situation.  It is not all inclusive or a replacement for doing your homework.  Again, a good book to start with is the book Backyard Livestock: Raising Good, Natural Food for Your Family.  It provides a range of information on raising and harvesting animals. 

Since I began my experiments in small scale livestock, my family has completely changed our eating habits.  I started this because I want to know that I have the skills to feed my family if there are no  grocery stores.  But now, whether TEOTWAWKI happens or not, we are trying to become grocery store free.  It is rewarding in ways I can't capture with words.  Food from restaurants I used to love, tastes like cardboard and motor oil now.  My husband and I sit in the backyard in the evening surrounded by life.  I love watching him sweet talk the chickens when collecting the eggs.  My children are learning to respect nature, understand food, and give thanks to God for it.  My first experience with butchering was also very eye opening.  There's a reason why the first kill turned a child into a man in primitive societies, now I know I can do what it takes to feed my family. 

One final note, the skills you acquire from these kinds of things are far more important than the stuff you collect.  You can't expect to try something new for the first time in a crisis situation and have it succeed.  My first chickens were killed by our dog(we no longer own him).  My first gardening attempt was a dismal failure because my soil was bad and I didn't know to fix it, I do now.  My first litter of rabbits died because the doe didn't get her milk in and you can't bottle feed rabbits successfully, now I'm growing herbs that increase milk production to feed to my rabbits and goats.  And the first two goats I bought had CAE and we had to sell them and start over.  Everything is a learning process.  Our little "mini ranch" in the city is starting to thrive now that we're getting the kinks worked out, and I'm confident we could take this show on the road.  Get skills and experience before you are facing starvation.  Start small and take it one project at a time.  If you've never made food from scratch, start experimenting.  Make butter.  Sew a simple project.  Grow some herbs.  Can some food.  Don't wait for a life and death situation to learn how to be self reliant.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

While TEOTWAWKI may or may not happen soon, one can never be too prepared. Loss of job or illness can happen any time. Being prepared can lessen the stress in your life and also lead to strengthening your family bonds. Not everyone has the financial or physical means to opt out or bug out at a moments notice. What we can do is start with Baby Steps and work our way up to where we want to be.

• Research
• Plan
• Schedule
• Execute
• Learn to be thick-skinned
• Follow up and be flexible.  Change can sometimes lead to opportunity.
• Try new things when possible.
• Don’t get discouraged.
• When you can’t trust your own government, trust in God

Below is how we started.

Baby Step 1Get out of town if possible. If you are in a city, at least try to position your family / self as close to the edge as possible. If you ever need to escape quickly, the closer you are to the edge, the higher the probability of making your exit strategy work.

After many years of research and talking about moving out of town and becoming self sufficient, last fall we finally had the means to do what we called our first Baby Steps. We purchased a new home on 5 acres out in the rural farm area. While not as off-the-beaten-path as we would like, it was what we could afford at the time and it had several advantages.

It is largely wooded, with a creek running along the property, deep well that is connected to one of the largest aquifers in the country, septic and leach field already in place, sufficient outbuildings to get us started, and no neighbors for a quarter mile. The downside is that it is on a state highway and is totally electric. We can’t remedy the location, but will do our best to be off grid as soon as possible.

While we had been talking about doing this for years, many of our friends and family thought we were nuts! No we are not right wing fanatics, just realists. My husband and I have watched, listened, read, talked about trends we see happening in our country and figured, better safe than sorry.  Raised as a Mormon, it was routinely pounded into my brain that we needed to have 3 years food storage. While I'm no longer Mormon, I still believe that they were right about being prepared. Our journey had begun.

Baby Step 2.: Do your research. Write your plans down and make a schedule. When possible include family and let them help you execute your plans. Develop a thick skin as you will always have someone who doesn’t get it.

I am very lucky that my 76-year-old mother has always supported me in anything I wanted to do. She is one smart woman and realized that what we were contemplating was not only to our advantage, but hers as well. If SHTF, she too would be cared for. God blessed me with a wonderful mom and to this day, she still inspires and encourages me to do my best and knows I can do anything I set my mind to do. She has also come out to the farm to help with canning, gone to yard sales looking for supplies and even come out and taken care of our animals so we could be elsewhere for a few days.

Baby Step 3: Learn to be flexible. Plans can change and rigidity can lead to disaster.

This spring we bought our first chickens. We didn’t have a coop yet, but bought chicks and had them in a big tub with a light and feeders lying on top of wood chips. Watching them grow fast, we realized that we needed a coop quickly and began to prepare in earnest. My husband designed and built a very affordable chicken tractor that would allow us to move it around to a fresh spot on our property every day so that the chickens could forage. They can get in out of the weather when needed and have a safe place to roost at night. While this was a good start, after two months of having to move it every day, we soon realized that we wanted a more permanent coop before winter. I really didn’t relish going out in the cold to move it or even to feed and water the chickens in the cold. Also, watering in a tractor in the winter could be impossible in freezing weather. We will continue to let them free range in the warm months, but are building a new 9' x 12' coop with a covered 20' x 20' run for the winter to keep them safe from hungry predators. This will also allow us to increase our flock size.

While they may be dirty little birds, they can be quite endearing as well. All of our chickens come running to greet me whenever I come out. I have a couple of small hens that when I sit down, will jump up and sit on my lap and wait to be petted. They don’t do this to my husband or anyone else, just me. This may seem weird to some readers, but they tend to lay more and larger eggs when I treat them well. They will eat any scraps we have and between the chickens and dogs, we don’t waste anything! They are now laying eggs every day and our friends and family who once thought we were nuts, are asking if we have any extra! Eventually we hope to produce enough eggs to provide local family and have extra to sell to cover the cost of feed. We will also be raising chicks to coop-ready size and selling them to folks who don’t want to raise baby chicks but want to have a small backyard coop. Again, this should offset the cost of feed and supplies. They are also great for barter or for a charity item.

Baby Step 4: Be willing to try new things.

At the beginning of summer we decided that we needed to be raising meat in some form, but couldn’t afford to buy a cow, pig, or sheep. After researching alternatives we decided to invest in rabbits, so we purchased two small female California/Mini Rex cross rabbits, and soon after added one California buck and two California does. In August we were lucky enough to obtain another California doe and a New Zealand Buck.  Breeding began. We had our first two litters last week and are getting ready to breed the other does this week. These first litters will be part of our breeding stock. Their offspring will be dinner! Many of our friends and family are watching our farm’s progress. I know when it comes time to butcher; there will be those with their hands out wanting meat since prices are steadily rising, even here in farm country. Rabbit meat tastes much like chicken but is much leaner. We have limited freezer space,  so we will be canning much of the meat as well as smoking some of it. 

Baby Step 4: Don’t get discouraged if you have to deal with stumbling blocks. Think of them as opportunities.

This was our first year to have a garden and we were very unprepared. To say that it didn’t do well is an understatement! When the opportunity to make friends with a couple of local farmers arose, I grabbed it. We now have a list of farms and orchards to get fresh fruit and veggies and have been canning up a storm.  I have even canned chicken and inexpensive cuts of beef. Later we will be doing venison and rabbit…. Yum!

We have a room with really good light exposure and I hope to grow herbs, lettuce and whatever else will grow there this winter. I’ve already signed up for a Master Gardener class in January and hope not to have the same issues with my garden next year.

We don’t typically eat much jam, but I decided to can as much of it as I could. This can be used for gifts or as barter down the line. I let all my friends and family have samplers of my Caramel Apple Jam to try. Getting volunteers to come help is no longer a problem! I can always use the help and this is also a way to get them to start thinking about prepping for themselves. Apples don’t can well unless you are making apple butter, jam or apple sauce. Using a dehydrator we have been able to put up a bushel of apple slices with a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar. Later they can be eaten as is or added to oatmeal, bread, muffins, or anything else.

Food storage is such an important part of our survival / self-sufficiency strategy and knowing how to store is important. We would love to have a nice hidden root cellar or storage room, but it isn’t feasible yet. For now we have  converted a small room into our storage room. We purchased metal shelving from Sam’s Club that are easy to put together, take down or move and have shelf height flexibility. Everything is dated and oldest items are used first. I have divided the room into six sections.

  1. Canned foods/ bottled foods
  2. Non-foods such as shampoo, soap, zip-lock bags, aluminum foil, garbage bags, paper towels and toilet paper, etc.
  3. First aid supplies.
  4. Barter and/or gift items
  5. Animal feed and supplies.
  6. Seeds for next year.

One of the things that drew us to our property was the backwoods. When we initially walked the property, there were signs that deer had been bedding down in the little glade out back. Neither of us have had much experience hunting. I have been once many decades ago but really want to develop that skill-set. We bought my husband a shotgun and I’ve been encouraging him to hunt. He loves my cooking, so talking to him about a recipe for venison pot roast or spicy venison sausage gets him thinking about hunting. I may try to hunt myself, though being only five feet tall, I am unsure of how I would get it strung up or transported without the help of a much sturdier person.

Our dryer went out and the washer is on its way out. We have been nursing it along for weeks now. Instead of going out and buying another big expensive set, we have ordered a small portable washer and a dryer that mounts on the wall. We put up several retractable cloths lines, two in the house and a large one outside. While I don’t particularly like the feel of line-dried clothes, they will do in a pinch. To save on our electric bill, I am line drying everything we don’t need right away and the things we do need quickly, starting them on the line and finishing in the dryer when they are just slightly damp. This also softens them up so they don’t feel like cardboard. It is good to have options!

This summer I took up fishing and was able to stock some fish in the freezer. Some of it was carp. People say they aren’t edible, however, they are a great source of protein for our animals. I keep and process anything that was legal size. I would love to learn how to smoke them the way the Indians did. For the time being I am only able to can, freeze or dehydrate anything that we want to store.

Division of labor has been a big deal here. My husband works seven days a week most of the time and because it is third shift, his internal clock is not on the same schedule as mine. We discussed the division of labor when we first got together 17 years ago and while the workload has increased dramatically since we moved out here, we have tried to stick to it. He brings home the majority of the money that allows us to survive and I take care of the day-to-day things. I am able to generate some income from my home, but can only do so in my spare time. I currently design web site for local groups, do art work and hope to add more money to the family kitty by selling eggs, chickens and maybe a few rabbits. For any woman reading this, there are always things you can do to help your family financially. Whether it is bartering or cash, it all helps.

During our Baby Steps process, one of the most important lessons I have learned is to keep myself on a schedule. If I keep to one, I get things done in a timely manner and have extra time to read or try new things. If I miss a scheduled time, my whole day seems to be flipped upside down and I feel exhausted by days end.

I tried cleaning the rabbit hutches and coops every day, but found that it ate up too much of my time and really could be done every other day. Now I have set it up so that the chicken coop is one day and the rabbits the next. The rabbits and chickens can’t tell the difference.

There will always be extra projects to take up your time. If you stick to a schedule as much as possible, you will have time to do more! While we are still taking Baby Steps, we can foresee a future where we are self sufficient and ready for anything. With God’s blessing and many Baby Steps, we know we will survive what is to come!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

We don’t have a lot of money, however with everything that is happening in the world today and all of the signs yelling in my face that I better get ready or face not being able to feed my family of 6, I started prepping.  I have taken a class at our local community college on the subject and learned a lot of very useful information.  However I didn’t stop there.  I sought out and purchased numerous books that are on the book list here at Survival Blog and did some extensive research on the subject.  Just recently I decided to write my story to share with others because I noticed that most people are purchasing their food storage items from different food storage companies and while we don’t have the money to be able to do that, I have still been able to help get my family better prepared for WTSHTF.

The first thing that I did was invest in two pigs, one of which we've already butchered, which was quite a learning experience.  I purchased what I was told was eight hens, and ended up with six hens and two roosters.  Which is fine because without roosters you can’t get more chickens unless you purchase them and WTSHTF we will not have that as an option.  I also purchased 8 goats of different breeds, six of which have died for undetermined reasons. This left me with just one male and one female.  While the death of most of my goats was a great inconvenience, I would much rather it happens now while I am able to easily replace them.  The pig that I still have is currently pregnant and is due to give birth the 1st week of October, and I have made the arrangements with a local farmer to trade one of her babies straight across for one of his males that have not been altered for breeding purposes.  With us taking these steps now, we have been able to practice butchering the animals and will have a consistent supply of fresh meat therefore taking that out of the list of things that we will need.  One thing to keep in mind when it comes to any type of livestock is that you do not need to stock up on commercial wormers and things of that nature.  Do your research and you will find out what you can use as a natural means to take care of these issues.  An example is that cantaloupe is a natural wormer for goats and pigs.  I just cut one up and feed it to them and they love it.  Also after you are done with your garden at the end of the year, don’t just leave what is left to rot or till into the ground.  You can chop up most of the stocks and use it as food for your animals.  The corn stocks are good for chickens and pig, and the list goes on and on.  Once you are done with that, just let the goats lose in your garden and they will do the rest of the cleanup for you while also fertilize the ground for next year.

Most of what we have in our food storage is done at home by me.  I can, dehydrate, and preserve almost all of the food in our storage.  There are numerous things that you can do yourself that will save you money instead of purchasing it from a food storage company, not only that you will know what is in it and can alter the ingredients to suit your family.  Today for example, I have way too many eggs in my fridge and instead of letting them go bad, I am making egg powder with the extra’s and adding it to my food storage.  To make homemade egg powder, you put the eggs in a mixing bowl, do not add milk or grease to your frying pan, and then fry them up in your frying pan, just like making scrambled eggs, but without the grease.  Once this step is complete, you put the eggs on a cookie sheet in a single layer and then put them in the oven at 135 degrees for about 10 hours.  I prefer to use the food dehydrator to do this since it takes less electricity and does not heat my house while it is getting done.  Once your eggs are completely dry and brittle, place them in a blender and blend them into a fine powder.  To store them, I use an old jelly jar that I cleaned when it was empty and then pour the egg powder into that and then place an oxygen absorber on top, seal the lid and then label it with the date and what it is and the reconstituting information.  To reconstitute powder eggs is simple, 2 T. is the same as 1 egg, mix the 2 T. with 4 T. of water and then use as you would a fresh egg. 

|The wheat that we buy for our food storage is purchased from the feed store that we currently get our animal food from.  I took the label off of a bag of wheat and called the company and asked them what the difference was between what they sell and what I can get at the store.  The guy that I spoke to explained to me that farmer’s do not decided what field they plant is going to be for human’s and what is going to be for animal’s and the only difference is that what is bought at the store goes through another [screening] cleaning step that can be done at home.  What I do is, I have an old window screen, take the wheat out of the bag and then shake it around on the screen on a breezy day. I would not suggest doing this on a windy day as it will blow away a big portion of the wheat, but on a breezy day, it is just enough to help blow away the extra dirt or left over shells that were not completely removed.  Once I am done with this, I store it in a food grade bucket that I get for free from a local fast food owner. 

The point that I am trying to get across is that you do not have to buy everything that you will need for food storage from a company, there are many things that you can do at home and then you will also be able to do it without everyone and their brother knowing what you are doing.  I can’t express enough to do your research before you begin and do not listen to everything that you hear.  I was once told that there is no way of preserving cantaloupe and I didn’t listen, did my research and found a great recipe for cantaloupe preserves that my family loves.

When it comes to water storage, we buy all of our soda and juices in the plastic containers and then when they are empty, I wash them out, sanitize them, and then refill the containers with water.  Do not do this with milk type containers as the jugs are now made to naturally decompose and when you need to use the water that you stored, you do not want to find out a minute to late that the containers have started decomposing and all of your water is now on the ground.  I go out every six months and dump the water in the garden area and refill the containers with fresh water so that I know that it has not gone bad.  When you store your water you want to keep it in a dark area, what I did for this was, I got an upright freezer that no longer works and store my water in that, it stays dark all the time except when I am adding more jugs or changing the water in the jugs.  People will give you these old none working freezers and fridges for free, you just have to look for them.  I also like using this method because I don’t have to worry about stray animals getting into them and doing their business on my containers.  Also WTSHTF and they start to get empty from using the water these containers will be used as containers for gardening, this will allow me to plant more crops without the worry of small animals getting them before we have a chance to eat what is grown.  It also is a way to grow more without others not in our group knowing what is in there, from afar it will just look like an old appliance.

With the money that we save on our food storage, I go to the local thrift stores and seek out other items that we will need.  I have purchased wheat grinders, meat grinders, and none electric items that would be useful and some that will be just nice to have.  One of the items that I purchased was a hand crack ice-cream maker.  Now if there is no electricity then you are wondering how I have going to use it, well when we hit freezing temperatures outside I can make ice that way and it will be a nice treat to the kids.  The one thing with kids is that they don’t care how cold it is outside, they just know that they like ice-cream.  I have saved so much money by going to the thrift stores and buying the items that people don’t want because they can get the new and improved version that takes less work.  These are the items that I want and use.  I have gotten 2 dehydrators from the thrift store and am able to dry twice as much in one shot.  Always remember that someone else’s trash can be your new treasure and can make life so much easier WTSHTF.

You also do not need to purchase heirloom seeds from a manufacturing company, I get mine from an organic farmer that has a roadside stand that only grows and sells heirloom varieties.  I purchase my produce from them and then preserve what I buy and then save the seeds for storage.  It is cheaper this way because I am cutting out the third party.  Just make sure that the farmer that you are getting these from is a reputable farmer and is not just saying that they are heirloom when they are not.  Again, do your research. 

Soap is one of my favorites.  I e-mail the company that sells Fels-Naptha and Borax and they will send you coupons in the mail, I then take these coupons to Wal-Mart and purchase these items as well as Arm and Hammer super washing soda.  Do not get the regular baking soda as it does not work the same, you need super washing soda.  I make our laundry soap and this soap is also good for washing dishes.  I have stocked up on enough ingredients to make two years worth of soap for laundry and dishes for under $10.  To make the soap you need, 1 bar of fels-naptha, 1 cup Arm and Hammer super washing soda, and ½ cup borax.  In a large pot boil 4 cups of water and grate the fels-naptha soap into it.  Mix it until the fels-naptha is completely dissolved.  Then place this mixture into a 5 gallon bucket and add the remaining ingredients.  Stir until everything is mixed together and then fill the bucket the rest of the way with hot tap water.  Let sit overnight and the soap will gel.  When you need to use it, stir the soap in the bucket and dilute half soap and half tap water in an old laundry container.  Shake to mix prior to every use.

I also save money when it comes to personal hygiene items.  Do not overlook the fact that you will need soap, shampoo, toothpaste and brushes, and so on.  I get most of these items for free or for fewer than 50 cents apiece.  I am able to do this because I jumped on the coupon bandwagon and do my research prior to going to the store.  There are many web sites that have already done the research for you if you do not have the time to do it yourself.  An example of one that I use is  When I purchase toilet paper for the house I get the bigger package and then take a few rolls out and repackage them in old plastic bags from the store and then put them up.  It is cheaper to get the bigger package and put some away for storage then it is to get the package for your house and then another for storage.  The plastic grocery bags will be used in other areas such as trash bags WTSHTF.  Always look at prices of things and try to think outside of the box when it comes to storage.  Everything has a use, don’t overlook this and think that you need to throw away things because there is nothing that they are good for.  Look around and you can probably think of something.  WTSHTF, we will need trash bags, but I am not going to stock up on them when I save the grocery bags that I get at the store for free package other items in them now and then have them with I need them.

We have four children and WTSHTF, I feel that they will be affected more than us adults will be.  What I am doing to help them during this time, is, I buy small cheap toys, coloring books, and reading books for them that are a part of our storage.  The toys that I buy are ones that do not take batteries that have been clearance out during the year and at the big clearance sales after Christmas.  I plan on using these items as birthday and Christmas presents for my kids.  This will better enable them to adapt to the new way of life as we will know it without then having to give up on everything as they know it.  They will still have these special times of the year to look forward to and will also give them a sense of normalcy in a time that will not be normal to our current way of life.

As a final thought, I would like to say, that while there are easier ways of preparing, don’t let not having the money stop you from getting ready for a time that I believe is fast approaching and is inevitable.  Think outside the box and make use of the Internet for some of your research.  Just remember that if you research things on the internet, you write down the steps of how to do whatever it is that you are looking at.  Don’t rely on your memory since WTSHTF, we will all be living life much different than we do now and it is better to have a written copy of something then try to remember something when life is already going to stressful enough.  Good Luck to everyone.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

This is my first time writing to SurvivalBlog. We have been raising goats and sheep for five years. Country Lady's comments in Dairy Goats 201 - Birthing Kids are pretty much on the money. We have had to pull stuck twins, bottle feed when one of our ewes' had 1/2 of her bag go dry(she had twins) and have lost sheep to pneumonia and a goat to bloating. We raise our sheep and goats for meat on the table. My wife read every book about sheep and goats that she could. It was a good information source, But in the end, our vet, who is a wonderful country vet who has seen it all, said "throw those books away!" You have to be with the animals. You have to be ready for what ever. We use old towels to wipe down the babies, we vaccinate right away and babies and mom go to a horse stall with a heat lamp for a couple days. Its can be cold in upstate Michigan. The best advise you can get when starting out is the advise of someone who has done it before. Our sheep and goat experience has been rewarding and we plan to eat if everything falls apart . Happy hobby farming , it’s a good way to be prepared. Remember to help those willing to help you! Chuck in Northern Michigan

Being addicted to raising goats, I was quite interested to read Dairy Goats 201 - Birthing Kids, by Country Lady. I realize that if one crammed 1,000 goat breeders/raisers into a large auditorium, 1,000 different "correct" ways would probably present themselves as to birthing. I'd like to take a moment to point out several issues that in 10 years of being a goat keep I've learned:

First, re: "The father of all the babies listed below is Cappuccino, a half Nubian, half Nigerian Dwarf yearling buck. Since Cappy is fairly small, we expected easy births of smaller babies, but that turned out to be just a theory as both male kids had large Nubian heads that caused a lot of birthing pain for the two smaller does."

Bucklings, specifically Nubians, do not mature until approximately three years. A yearling might weigh 80 pounds and the same three year old might weigh in at 200 pounds. I might look to the width and depth of the pelvic cradle of the does, especially smaller breeds for inability to kid with ease.

"Anne punctured the sack with her fingernail (she had already washed her hands and poured alcohol over them)."

The alcohol is great, the puncturing might present a problem.

In a perfect delivery, goat kids would be delivered with "nose down between legs." But we don't live in a perfect world.

Presentations are likely to be breech, one leg forward with the other hitched behind the pelvic bone, or a myriad of other complications. The placenta is designed to protect and cushion the kid from the outside world until full delivery. If the presentation is not "appropriate" or one must manipulate a tangled set of limbs as the kids seem to "race to emerge first", what happens if the Placenta has been pierced? The fluid, and in some cases the Meconium can be forced back into the lungs. A kid might suffocate before emergence if the delivery is extended beyond several minutes. Worse, the kid might survive to not thrive with constant infections.

God designed a wonderful system in which a Doe in most cases will remove the membrane from the muzzle of the kid by licking. This serves numerous purposes two of which are: stimulating breathing and eliciting the cry which from first breath will be identified as "her kid" strengthening the bonding process.

"We tried to get Baby to nurse Calico, but all she would do was lick her - we realized that Baby must have been bottle-fed and did not know how to mother."

This is a fallacy that many newer individuals subscribe to. While there are Dams who are what we might consider "poor" mothers, Nature has imbued in these critters the drive to reproduce and nurture their offspring. In the case of a CAE (Caprine Arthritis-Encephalitis Virus) Positive Doe if one chooses to "reduce the transmission" (notice I do not say eliminate, but that would be another post entirely) it is imperative that the kids be removed before the Dam cleans them at all.

After years of "clean goats", I did have a positive and did pull the kids. Both Doelings delivered and mothered kids 20 months later. This year our crop of kids totaled 42. Of those I chose to remove a Quad or two, pull some as bottle babies for 4H or Show purchasers, or assist a first freshener with production issues. In the years that I have done this, not one Bottle Doe has kidded with issues of inability to Nurture with the exception of one line that seemed to have a reappearance of this trait. This line was culled as if TSHTF, coddling cannot be continued at this level.

In all it is wonderful to read of someone who enjoys raising goats. I'd encourage those who are interested to research, research, research - now. Our lines have been bred over the last six years or so to maximize production with lower grain input, increase worm resistance thereby reducing our dependency on wormer, and increase mothering skills. - Mutti (A SurvivalBlog Reader via TMM, and originator of The Goat Chronicles.)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A few months ago, SurvivalBlog posted my article entitled "Dairy Goats 101" which described some basics of goat ownership.  This follow-up article will take you through the five kiddings that we recently experienced. 

Let me start by emphasizing what many others have stated on Survival Blog:  Book learning is not enough - you must  practice survival and self-sufficiency skills.   Don't just read about having livestock, get out there and buy some animals and gain experience immediately before you need to rely on these animals for food.

To get into milk production the does must give birth.  We waited until February to breed our goats because we have long, wet springs - goats are susceptible to pneumonia when wet or chilled.  Five months later in sunny June and July our five does gave birth.  I read books and web sites about birthing baby goats, the only problem is that most of my goats did not read the same books! 

About two weeks before our first doe was due to kid, I prepared a birthing kit containing large and small towels, paper towels, The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery, a bulb syringe, alcohol, and an iodine tincture. I added another large bag of towels, it seems that you just cannot have too many towels, especially when twins come along.  With each birth we spread  towels to keep the babies off the dirt and straw.  This made it easier for the mothers to clean them off and prevented contamination with feces.  We also wiped noses and mouths and sometimes suctioned them out if there was a lot of mucous. 

Assisting with birthing animals is not for the faint-hearted or those with weak stomachs.  My teenage daughter was quite put off by the  amniotic sacs, membranes, fluids and blood attending each birth.  Watching a doe eat the afterbirth is a bit unsettling, but is important for both predator protection and nourishment.  After delivery, I prepared a large bowl of warm water with molasses for the mother.  Some does drank two bowls; a couple refused it entirely.

The father of all the babies listed below is Cappuccino, a half Nubian, half Nigerian Dwarf yearling buck.  Since Cappy is fairly small,  we expected easy births of smaller babies, but that turned out to be just a theory as both male kids had large Nubian heads that caused a lot of birthing pain for the two smaller does.

Birth #1.  Nana, our large Alpine doe, let me know she was ready to deliver while I was milking another doe early in the morning.  How did she communicate this to me?  She stuck her head over the fence to get my attention, then I saw her extremely full udder and that there were two deep hollows on either side of her backbone where it connects to the tail.  I finished milking in record time, then used a halter to slowly lead Nana to a clean stall in our new barn.  We stopped along the way for each contraction and then she bedded down in a clean stall with fresh hay. 

First she passed a mucous plug, which she promptly ate.  Nana is an experienced mother.  She even sucked the wax plugs out of her teats during the contractions so her kids would be able to get the milk easier.  I called my neighbor for help when I noticed a chunk of tissue coming out where I expected to see a sac of amniotic fluid.  Anne, my neighbor,  did not know what the tissue was, but by now the contractions were coming much stronger and finally a sac started to emerge.  Anne punctured the sack with her fingernail (she had already washed her hands and poured alcohol over them).  Soon we saw two little feet, then a nose.  Anne put steady downward traction on the legs during each contraction.   Traction  means that she did not try to pull the kid out, just held the legs downward so they didn't slip back inside between contractions.  Soon a slippery little kid was out and struggling to get on her feet.  We helped wipe the kid down while Nana licked her feverishly, making soothing goat sounds the entire time.  We understood her hurry when she laid down and a second sac began to emerge.  This kid was born much more quickly and again Nana did a great job of licking and cooing to her baby.   About an hour later Nana delivered her afterbirth - a slimy mass of tissue, fluids and blood.  It is important that the entire afterbirth comes out or deadly infections and/or bleeding can occur.  Nana ate part of it, but as soon as she lost interest, I used a plastic bag to gather up the rest and I put it in the trash - we did not want to bury or compost it because the scent would attract our dogs and the local coyotes, mountain lions and bears.

Nana obviously read the same book I did and had a classic delivery - two beautiful twin girls, Keri and Fawn,  who were on their feet within ten minutes of birth and experts at nursing after we helped them a couple of times.   To help a newborn latch onto a teat,  get them sucking on your finger then use your other hand to push the teat into their mouth, squeezing a little milk so they get the taste.  Pushing their heads onto the teat does not work well. 

For several days I had to milk Nana because her udder became too full for the kids to latch on.  After that  I put her in the milking stand with some grain and minerals  just to get her in the routine for milking.

Birth #2. Baby is a sweet half Pygora, half Nubian doe.  She was very uncomfortable during her pregnancy, resting on her front knees when she laid down and not wanting  to be around the other goats.  I eventually put her in an entryway by herself at night.

Baby's birthing process was an absolute disaster.  She went into labor one evening 20 days prior to her due date (typical gestation is about five months). Instead of being bedded down in a clean stall in the new barn, she went back to the old barn which was filthy and gave birth in quick succession to two small, weak kids.  Then Baby began to bloat.  She was grinding her teeth, breathing rapidly and obviously in great pain.  She could not take care of her kids or move.  We figured she was bleeding internally and was unable to pass the placenta.  I thought we would have to put her down if her suffering grew much worse.  We wrapped the kids in towels and kept rubbing them down to get them dry and warm. The male kid was chilled from the time he dropped and died within an hour.  The little doe, whom we named Calico, was stronger. 

We checked on Baby throughout the night and about 3:00 a.m. she had passed the placenta.  In the morning we showed her her daughter (Calico was too weak to stand).  We tried to get Baby to nurse Calico, but all she would do was lick her - we realized that Baby must have been bottle-fed and did not know how to mother.  Calico put up a good fight for a day and a half  (we used a heating pad to keep her warm and an eye dropper to feed her) then she too died.  We kept Calico with  Baby for several hours after she died so Baby would know that she had lost her kid.  Still, two days later when Baby regained her strength, she spent many hours each day looking for Calico and crying for her. 

I had to start milking her due to udder engorgement and it is still difficult to get her to stand still for a milking.  Her teats are small so milking takes a long time.  However, she is giving a half gallon a day of rich, sweet milk.  Now when I lock her into the milking stand I give her a lot of fresh grass along with a bit of grain to keep her occupied while I milk.  Some days it works, some days she fights and fidgets the whole time.  With does who kick and fidget, I milk into small glass jars, emptying them into a larger jar every few minutes.  Much more milk is saved this way.

Our research revealed that the most common cause of premature birth is being butted in the side during pregnancy.   We sold Becky, a doe who continually butted other goats in the side, when we learned this.

Birth #3. We knew that Holly (a mixture of Alpine, Nigerian Dwarf and Nubian) had been bottle-fed, so we were concerned about her ability to mother.  During the latter stages of the pregnancy I noticed that she had an extra teat right above her normal teat on one side of her udder. Her labor began normally, but then the contractions got stronger with no results.  Finally I saw the hooves and began to feel around for a head, then I realized that this was only one very large hoof and I couldn't find the other foot at first.  Again, we called Anne. 

With the contractions getting more forceful and Holly arching her back and screaming in pain, Anne finally got the second hoof out.  Then she extended one leg more than the other to allow more room for the head.  While Anne was at the action end, I was comforting Holly and helping support her body during the strenuous contractions.  With tremendous  effort, Holly managed to get the head out and delivered a healthy buck kid.  The head was Nubian-style, much larger than an Alpine head.  She licked him a little, but we did the majority of the cleaning up.  Anne and my husband helped Holly get to her feet after a while.  She did not eat her afterbirth so we disposed of it.  By the way, washing huge loads of towels was an almost daily chore during kidding time.

Holly delivered late at night so I spent the night in the barn.  She had apparently put something out of place in her neck during labor because she shook her head and cried most of the night.  I comforted her and helped her kid nurse when he wanted to.  She  recovered the next day.  Holly is not  a wonderful mother, but she does an adequate job.  Because of the udder defect we sold her as a pet along with Bandit, her son, to some very nice people who adore her.

Birth #4.  Boots is 100% Nigerian Dwarf, a real cutie and an experienced mother.   Generally a rather timid, stand-offish gal, she buddied up to me before her kidding time.  I spend a lot of time with each doe to be sure we have a bond during labor - which translates to them waiting for me before they give birth and delivering in the barn rather than off on the mountainside. 

Boots did not read the book.  Her ligaments thinned three days prior to kidding and she had a mucous show every morning.  After a few days no one believed me when I said that Boots was going to kid that day. 

On the third day, Boots was ready to go into full labor when a friend arrived for a tour of the property.
While Boots put her labor on hold due to the interruption, our friend  taught us how to use our dehorning iron by disbudding the two kids who were ready.  One of the twins turned out to be naturally polled (hornless).  He also showed me how to tell when the back ligaments are fully relaxed by feeling along the backbone.  He said that Boots would deliver  within a few hours. 

As soon as he left, Boots laid down and went into serious labor.  Again, hard contractions and no action, so dear Anne arrived again.  This time my husband learned how to do the gentle traction as the legs were delivered.  Boots worked very hard to deliver a large buck kid with a Nubian head.  (Nubians have large wide heads, Alpines tend to be narrow and wedge-shaped).  It is unnerving to have your little goats screaming in pain.

Boots also has  a defective udder.  She has double teats on one side,  both of which give milk.  I had to milk that side out for several days until her son was strong enough to handle both teats - now that seems to be his favorite side.  We also sold Boots and her son as pets.

Birth #5. Angel Rose is the daughter of Nana and also a full-blooded Alpine.  This was her first kidding.  Her  ligaments thinned  and her bag got tight with milk, but she did not go into labor that day.  I checked on her a few times in the evening, then opened my bedroom window so I could hear any noises from the barn during the night. 

Early in the morning I ran out and checked, but still no action, so I turned her out with the other mothers.  I was home alone and Anne out of town.  It was afternoon when I saw Angel Rose lying down under the trees.  I checked and sure enough there was a membrane showing and definite contractions.  I coaxed her back into the barn with a bowl of grain.  She ate some blackberries  I picked for her and seemed pretty relaxed.  I went to turn off some hoses in the orchard and by the time I got back I could see two hooves  through the sac. I punctured the sac and soon  a little nose and tongue protruded.  A couple of easy pushes later her kid was born and she began licking and cleaning her up. A few minutes later I saw three different sacs protruding from her .  Deciding it was best to just trust God that all would work out, I enjoyed watching the new baby get to her feet quickly and start looking for food.  But just as she starting rooting in the right spot, Angel Rose moved away, laid down and quickly delivered another kid with the same ease as the first one.  No screams, no hard labor; you would never know this was her first birth.  While the second kid was being born, kid #1 crawled over to her mother, found a teat and nursed as her sister came out.  The second little doe was trying to stand up before the hindquarters were delivered.  All I basically did was put towels in the right places.

Angel Rose was fastidious about cleaning herself up after the birth, so I gathered the twins onto my lap and they took a nap until the afterbirth was delivered and eaten by their mother.   While you do have to make sure that the entire afterbirth is delivered, you do not need watch it get eaten!  I named the precious little girls Sugar and Spice.

So to sum up our experience:  We had it easy, all the presentations were feet and head first, no breech births.  While the two smaller does struggled with the large heads, they both delivered without tearing because Anne used clean gentle fingers to help ease those heads out of the birth canal.  We are very pleased with the four doe kids and will be keeping them as a three-way cross that we expect will give lots of rich milk (from the Nubian and Nigerian Dwarf breeds) for a long time (from the Alpine side).

Because we are keeping the daughters, we have also sold Cappuccino, their father.  We will not be breeding any does this coming fall and to keep Cappy separate from the herd for a year-and-a-half seemed a waste.  To avoid the large head issue, we are going to get a Nigerian Dwarf  or Alpine buck in a year so that all our does can have smaller babies.    We will also be keeping the pregnant does in separate stalls to prevent injury during the latter stages of their pregnancy. 

Within a few days of birth all the kids with horn buds must be disbudded unless you keep a horned herd.  The two kinds cannot mix because goats like to butt each other.  Disbudding is a painful, but quick process that kills the horn cells with extreme heat.  We bought a highly recommended disbudding iron, the Rhinehart X-30 with a pygmy tip, for about $70, online.  We use three people to disbud.  My husband uses a leather glove on one hand to hold the head still and protect the ear while the other hand  holds  the hot iron.  My daughter holds the rear legs off the ground to prevent jumping and I support the upper chest, front legs and help stabilize the head.  It is not easy for us to deliberately inflict pain on our baby goats, but we do three 2-second holds  on each horn bud to be sure the job is done right.  The kids scream bloody murder while the iron is touching them, but quiet down as soon as it is off.  We carry them right back to their mothers afterwards.  Usually they run and play within minutes while we need a few hours to calm down.  Since we sold the buck kids at a young age we made sure that the new owners would know how to castrate them in a few months. 

[JWR Adds: A hinged-lid kid holding box can easily be constructed from plywood. (There are are also commercially-made boxes, available from companies like Caprine Supply.) A disbudding box has a hole for the kid's head. The box minimizes the squirming factor, thus making disbudding safer, and reduces it to just a two-man job. In my experience, a box that is narrower than those shown in most of the online plans works best. The only crucial dimensions are the box height and the size of the neck aperture. Also, do not wimp out on the number of seconds that the iron must be applied, or the germinal roots will grow sharp horn scurs, which can be worse than full-size horns.]

Now that the birthing is behind us, we spend lots of time each day just enjoying the antics of these adorable kids.  They run, jump, climb and play king of the mountain on every stump, then snuggle into chairs, boxes and hollow logs for their naps.  They are learning their names and in a few years will be having kids of their own and providing milk for our homestead.  I am milking two goats presently, getting 1-1/2 gallons of milk daily and making cheese, yogurt, ice cream and kefir to add nutrition and variety to our diet.  I love my goats!

This is a good time of year to buy some goats.  Check out Craigslist, the local feed store, and shopper ads.  Get to know someone who has raised goats for many years who can mentor your first year.  Start small and enjoy these amazing creatures while you become more prepared to face an uncertain future.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Food storage is important for short term survival, and everyone should have at least a six months to a multi-year food supply. But long term survival requires that you grow your own food. Whether it is TEOTWAWKI or just losing your income because you were laid off from your job, a home food production system is essential to your security.

Most successful food production systems involve using a greenhouse for year round food production, as a greenhouse extends the growing season, and shields your crops from severe weather. Another advantage is that a greenhouse is better protected from nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare than open field farming. And a greenhouse has greater physical security than an open field against pests and animals that might want to share in your harvest, whether they have four legs or two.

One problem with a greenhouse is providing an efficient watering system that doesn't require you to hand water your plants, and that will reclaim the run-off or excess water that would otherwise be lost into the floor of the greenhouse. Water is always an expense, and if your city water supply or electric powered well pump is not working, then it would be almost impossible to manually haul enough water by hand to maintain your greenhouse plants. Another problem is how to keep the temperature of the greenhouse stable without using propane or electric heaters. A greenhouse needs to store the heat collected during the day, and slowly release this heat so that the plants won't freeze when the sun goes down. I believe that the concept of "Aquaponics" solves both of these problems, and is the perfect technique for growing food off the grid in a greenhouse.

Aquaponics is a combination of Hydroponics (growing plants in water), and Aquaculture (growing fish in water). Aquaponics uses low energy water pumps to move the water from the fish tank through a gravel-filled bed to filter the water for the fish, while providing water for the plants growing in the gravel bed. The low pressure water pumps recycle the water for continuous use, and require a very small amount of electricity power which can be provided by a solar panel.

The fish in an Aquaponic system are a good survival protein source, but more importantly the fish create ammonia as a waste product, which provides fertilizer for the plants. The fish ammonia is converted into liquid nitrate fertilizer by autotrophic bacteria that reside in the gravel-filled growing beds, which is where the plants are raised. The water pump moves the water from fish tank into the gravel filled grow beds and back to the fish tank, thereby watering all of the plants automatically, while purifying the water for the fish by removing the ammonia. Around 98% of the water is conserved and reused, with very little makeup water needed. This solves the large water consumption problem that most greenhouses have. And, the large amount of water contained in the fish tank (ours has nearly 1,000 gallons) acts as a temperature buffer, which moderates the daily swings in temperature in the greenhouse by storing the excess heat during the day, and gently emitting the heat each night to keep the plants from freezing. The thermal storage capacity of the water based Aquaponic system fully complements any "Solar Greenhouse" design.

Aquaponics produces a large amount of organically grown food, as much if not more than a standard hydroponic greenhouse, without purchasing any hydroponic chemicals. Once you have the system set up, it pretty much runs itself with much less effort than traditional gardening. And if you can grow your own fish food from duckweed, black soldier fly larvae, earthworms, crickets, etc., then the system becomes almost completely self contained.

Our setup is pretty simple, and cost around $1,500. We built a small greenhouse frame using recycled wood. Inside we built our Aquaponic structure that is 8' x 8' wide and 8' tall. The foundation of the structure is an 8' x 8' wide by 2' deep fish tank made out of 2x12 lumber lined with a 12 mil rubber liner, all of which rests on concrete blocks. Above the fish tank are 4 gravel filled grow-beds mounted on 8' tall 4x4 posts. The grow beds are wooden boxes made from 2x12 lumber that are 8' long, 2' 6" wide, and one foot deep. The grow-beds are spaced 5' and 8' off the ground directly above the fish tank, mounted on top of each other like bunk beds with a walkway between them. Since the grow-beds are only 2' 6" wide, there is room between them for a 3' catwalk over the fish tank to let us stand and work between the two sets of stacked grow-beds.

There are a lot of ways to build a cheaper aquaponic system. Once way is by using recycled plastic barrels for the fish tanks, and making the grow beds by cutting plastic barrels longways and laying them on their sides on a wooden rack and filling them with gravel, and then plumbing everything together with PVC pipe. You can also do it on a small scale with a standard aquarium and small water pump to push water through your potted plants on the windowsill, as long as you have a place for a "biofilter" such as a gravel filled bed or refugium where the bacteria that changes the ammonia into nitrogen can reside.

A working "biofilter" is the key ingredient to a good aquaponics system, as the bacteria in the biofilter keeps the fish water clean, and changes ammonia into nitrogen for the plants. The bacteria need to reside in a wet environment that has plenty of oxygen, and little or no light. A gravel bed that is alternately flooded and drained, is perfect for this type of bacteria to thrive in. Other aquaponic solutions, such as Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and Deep Water Raft Technique, use a large amount of netting submerged in the water to give a place for the bacteria to reside. We chose a grow-bed filled with 1 foot of gravel as our biofilter, as it is simpler to build.

The bacteria in the gravel biofilter changes the ammonia into nitrogen in two steps. The first step is performed by the Nitrosomonas bacteria, which changes the total fish ammonia (NH3 and NH4+) into nitrite (NO2). The next process is accomplished by the Nitrobacter bacteria that changes the nitrite (NO2) into nitrate (NO3), which the plants use as fertilizer. The ammonia and nitrites are very toxic to fish, while the nitrates are fairly harmless, so it is important to monitor the bacteria by testing the water quality using the inexpensive aquarium test strips sold at any pet store. As long as you have a large amount of gravel or other media for the bacteria to colonize, your water quality won't be an issue. If you are using sterile media, you won't have any bacteria to start with, and you will need to purchase the bacteria from an aquarium shop or from Fritz-Zyme. We used gravel from a creek, as the Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter bacteria is always abundant in river gravel. Since these two types of bacteria work in tandem and do not reproduce quickly, it may take anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks to ramp up the bacteria to full production. So, it may important not to add a large number of fish at the same time unless you already have a good supply of bacteria at work in your system.

Our first step in construction of our Aquaponic system was to lay an 8' x 8' "carpet" of around 40 concrete blocks for the foundation of the fish tank. It took a long time to get the blocks level using a spirit level and a long 2x4, but this is probably the most crucial part of the construction. The next step was to build the fish tank out of wood, that would ultimately be fitted with a rubber liner. I created a square box out of 2x12 lumber standing on their edges, that was a little less than 8' x 8' and held together by wood screws. I designed it so that the 2x12's had an extra 3.5" overlap or "flap" on each of the corners, so I could drill holes and put carriage bolts through the 4x4 posts and 2x12 sides from two different directions on each of the outside corners. This holds the wood seams together. It is very important to "overbuild" the tank seams on a wooden fish tank with carriage bolts, wood screws, etc. as the water pressure is very great. Once I had my square box built, I made sure it was perfectly "square" by measuring the distances diagonally across from each corner. When these two distances were the same, I knew it was square. Then I covered what was to be the bottom of the tank with 8' long 2x4s, nailed into the 2x12s with a 2" gap between each 2x4. When I turned the 8'x8' box over and placed it on the concrete block foundation, the gaps between the 2x4s allowed me to put shims between the blocks and the 2x4s, so that each concrete block was helping to evenly support the 2x4s that held up the fish tank.

For the bottom of the fish tank, I nailed an 8'x8' section of heavy duty 1" flooring over the 2x4s that were shimmed against the concrete blocks. The next step was to secure the second set of 2x12s standing on edge on top of the first set, to bring the fish tank up to two feet in depth. I again secured it to the 4x4s with carriage bolts in all of the corners, all the while making sure the 4x4 posts were plumb. Copious amounts of wood screws were added wherever possible. After this I inserted the rubber liner to make the tank hold water.

I calculated the weight of the water in the tank as follows: 8' x 8' x 2' equals 128 cubic feet of water, times 7.5 gallons per cubic foot, equals 960 gallons of water. With around eight pounds per gallon, this would give a total of 7,680 pounds of water, not to mention the gravel beds. So, I am giving a lot of detail on how to over-engineer the fish tank, as with this much weight and water, there will be no small failures, only big ones.

Now this is a very large tank, and as you can always add more grow-beds or an NFT system to the tank, but it is not so easy to add another fish tank that is incorporated with the pumps into the same aquaponic system. The general ratio from the research I have read is that you can use 2 cubic feet of gravel growbed for each cubic feet of water in the fish tank. Since I plan to feed my family off this system, I thought it was better to start with a moderately large fish tank, and then add more grow beds later. And, the larger your tank, the less problems you will have with any rapid changes in temperature, pH, Ammonia, or other problems. A larger tank with over 500 gallons of water buffers most problems, and gives you more time to find a solution and correct it.

The construction of the grow beds was much easier, as there were no real water pressure issues. I nailed 2x12s to the upright 4x4 posts to form boxes that are 8' long, and 2'6" wide. For the bottom of the grow-beds, I nailed 2x4s laid on their sides, and covered them with 1" flooring, topped off with the same 12 mil rubber liner I used on the fish tank, which I purchased at FarmTek.

The next part was the plumbing. I used rubber Uniseal bulkheads to hold the 1" PVC pipe straight up for a stand pipe drain in the bottom of each grow bed. The Uniseal is great, you just drill a hole with a hole saw through the rubber liner and 1" flooring in the growbed, and insert the rubber Uniseal bulkhead, and then slide the PVC pipe through the bulkhead. The 1" PVC pipe is a tight fit, but there are no leaks, and you can pull the pipe out later if you have a problem. To keep the gravel away from the stand pipe, I used a 3" PVC pipe about 8" long that I drilled with about 50 ¼" holes and nested the 3" pipe around the 1" standpipe.

By stacking the grow-beds on top of each other like bunk beds and placing the inputs and drains on opposite ends, and I make the water traverse the entire length of each of the two gravel-filled grow-beds in the stack before it can return to the fish tank. I use two 330 gallon per hour fountain pumps I got from Lowe's to pump water to the top growbed. Since it takes about 15 minutes for the grow-beds to fill up, and about 45 minutes for them to drain, I set a timer that runs the pumps for 15 minutes on the hour. This gives me the "ebb and flow" water system that is crucial to aquaponics. Each growbed needs to fill up with water to irrigate the plants and the bacteria for the system to operate. But each growbed also needs to dump all of the water back out, so that oxygen can reach the plant roots, and the bacteria can function. If you don't drain the water, you will have an anaerobic condition (no oxygen), and your plant roots will die and harmful types of bacteria will begin to develop.

One way to create an "ebb and flow", or "flood and drain" cycle is to use a Bell Siphon, which will automatically siphon all of the water out of the grow bed once it reaches a certain depth. Bell siphons are widely used in Aquaponics, and the University of Hawaii has a good research PDF on how to build one. However, the bell siphon can malfunction, and they assume that your water pumps will run continuously. That is, with a bell siphon, if your pumps quit working, you may end up with a grow bed half full of water and no drainage. I opted to build something simpler, with just a 6" long stand pipe out of 1" PVC, with a ¼" drain hole just above the bulkhead. The stand pipe is the main drain pipe, that sticks straight up and keeps the water from ever cresting higher than 6" deep, as it will just flow into the pipe. The ¼" drain hole just above the bulkhead keeps a continual drain going, but the amount of water it relieves is less than the 330 gallon per hour pump is putting into the growbed. So, after the growbed fills up and the water crests over the standpipe, the timer will shut the water off and the rest of the water will slowly flow back out through the ¼" hole at the bottom of the standpipe. I found this approach to be more energy efficient for an off-grid system, and the water retention period in the growbeds is long enough for the ammonia-eliminating bacteria to function completely.

Using "free" river gravel for the media in the grow bed is the cheapest option possible, but other media options are vermiculite, perlite, expanded clay balls (which are sold under the trade names of Hydroton and LECA for Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate), and coconut fiber, which is also called "coir". We have tried adding a layer of coir over our river gravel, and found that it makes it easier to start the plants from seed over planting directly in the river gravel. The coir does not deteriorate, is PH neutral, and wicks the water up to keep the seeds moist for germination. You can get 35 pounds of coir in compressed bricks from Terra Prima Industries for around $70 with shipping.

Fish selection is another topic for Aquaponics. Tilapia are the most commonly used fish, as they are herbivores that eat algae and aquatic plants, grow very fast, handle crowding well, and are very prolific breeders. Tilapia are mouth-brooders, and raise their young inside the mother's mouth. Tilapia have a lot of advantages, but they cannot handle cold water. The White Nile Tilapia, which grows the fastest of the species, will show stress at water temperatures less than 62 degrees, and will die at 55 degrees. The Blue Tilapia is the most cold tolerant, but will die at temperatures less than 50 degrees. Tilapia really need 80 degree water. If you are off the grid in a cold climate with Tilapia, you will need to find a way to heat the water to these temperatures, year round. This means some sort of solar thermal panel that will thermo-siphon or otherwise pump hot water up to the fish tank. Fish cannot handle thermal shock or any quick changes in water temperature, so you will have to construct some sort of heat exchanger that can fit inside the fish tank. This adds a lot of complexity to an off grid food production system.

For this reason, I chose to go with Bluegill, as they can handle water temperatures down to 39 degrees, and the greenhouse always keeps the water at least that warm without assistance. Another reason I chose Bluegill is that they are much cheaper than Tilapia, as I cannot get Tilapia locally. The "Tilapia Source" is a great company to work with, but they would have to overnight them to me for $70, plus charge $2 a fish – for a total of $170 for 50 Tilapia fingerlings. Instead, I bought 100 Bluegill for only $40.00 from Farley's Fish Farm from their truck that came to our local Farmer's Co-Op. Farley's serves about 12 or 13 states here in the Southeast USA, and I found them to be a very reasonable resource for fish.

Bluegill is a good fish for Aquaponics, as they handle crowding well, can tolerate various PH and other water quality issues, and do not generally eat each other. Other fish used in Aquaponics are Catfish, Yellow Perch, Bass, Koi, Goldfish, and sometimes Trout.

I had a minor problem in the beginning with a fish disease called "Columnaris", which I diagnosed from from a "Fish Pharmacy" web site. Columnaris is a small white growth that occurs on the fins. The Fish Pharmacy web site had a toxic pharmacy solution for every fish problem. However, in Aquaponics you are not going to be able to treat the fish with anything that is not organic, or that you would not eat yourself. This excludes all of the anti-fungal treatments, or any medicine that contains some type of poison. Even the regular antibiotics that are meant for fish are not meant for humans to eat, and need to be excluded. I found from research on the web that Columnaris responds well to the addition of salt and other minerals to the water, on the order of 1 tablespoon for every 50 gallons of water. For my setup, I put over a cup of sea salt into the water, and the disease has began to retreat, with only one fish still showing signs. Columnaris is in almost every fish tank, and probably came in with the fish, or in the river gravel I used. It finds an opening when the fish are mishandled in some way. My mistake was to not acclimate the temperature of the fish when I brought them home in a bag from the fish truck, which created a lot of stress. We should have let the bag float in the water for 15 minutes before letting the fish out. The thermal shock and other rough handling I did on day one is probably the reason for the Columnaris problem. But since I only had to add sea salt to the fish tank to correct the problem, I will have no worries about eating the fish at some point. I can discard any fish that show signs of Columnaris, if they still have that problem when I harvest, and only eat the best. I know exactly how these fish have been raised, and what has gone into them, which is much better than what you buy at the supermarket. But what I find most reassuring about raising and eating fish I raise is that when the fish are eaten fresh, there are very few diseases that fish have can be passed on to humans, unlike the trichina worms that pigs can give to humans, tularemia in rabbits, tetanus in horse meat, etc. These diseases can kill you if you live in a time without access to modern medicine. Columnaris won't hurt humans, and aquaponically raised fish will not generally have diseases that affect humans, and so are a very healthy source of protein.

But the real purpose of the fish in Aquaponics is not just for food, but to provide the ammonia to power the bacteria-based fertilization system. If you don't have fish, any organic ammonia source can work. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, the ammonia contained in human urine can work just as well as what the fish produce, and while waiting for my fish to arrive, I actually used this technique to jump start the bacteria in the system. The result was that the water clarity improved once the bacteria were given enough ammonia to thrive. Another option if you don't have fish is to use the ammonia and nitrogen found in a "manure tea", which is made by placing horse manure in a burlap bag and immersing it in the water tank for short periods of time.

Dissolved oxygen in the water is another important topic. Using an air pump to diffuse oxygen through airstones in the fish tank improves water quality by helping the aerobic bacteria to grow and the fish to be active and healthy. Without an air pump, you cannot raise enough fish to power the nitrogen needs of the plants. I purchased a 65 liter/minute Eco Plus Commercial Air Pump from AquaCave for $79.95. This pulls 35 watts on 110 AC, and is quite sufficient, as it easily powers four 12 inch airstones in the tank, plus 4 48" flexible air curtain diffusers I buried under the gravel in the grow-beds to help aerate the bacteria there. This is a floating piston commercial type of air pump, as the standard diaphragm pumps would not have enough power or longevity. For a backup system when the power goes out, I bought a 25 watt 12 volt DC air compressor from AquaCave that runs directly from a 125 amp-hour marine battery, which gives over 2 days of run time. To kick in the DC compressor when the 110 AC power goes out, we used a small plug-in DC transformer to hold open a relay, both of which we ordered from Jameco. When the 110 power goes out, the transformer loses current, and the relay closes which completes the circuit for the DC compressor to draw power from the battery. For a large Aquaponic system with over 100 fish, you have to have redundant air systems, for if the fish go for more than four hours without air they will asphyxiate.

In calculating our total power consumption for running the Aquaponic system using solar panels, the two 330 gallon per hour water pumps for the grow-beds draw 13 watts each, but run only 15 minutes each hour, for an average hourly usage of 6.5 watts. Adding the 25 watt DC air compressor gives a very low total power consumption rate of 31.5 watts. Solar panels and a few marine batteries can easily power this system if you are permanently off grid, and I hope to do this soon.

But to be truly off-grid with Aquaponics involves more than just using solar panels, as you need to create your own fish food as input to the system. Right now, I am using some water containers to grow Duckweed (which is an aquatic plant with high protein that the fish love), but mainly rely on Purina catfish food to feed the fish. To close the loop that would make me independent, I will be building a compost pod that harvests Black Soldier Fly Larvae, along with giving the fish the earthworms from the compost pile. Another protein source I am using is a small electric light about 4 inches over the fish tank with a timer that turns on at night. The bugs fly in and bounce against the light and into the fish tank, where the bluegill snap them up. Now that's a good bug lamp!

The output of produce from the Aquaponic setup is phenomenal. The cucumbers, tomatoes and basil are growing about 3 times faster than in my container garden, and 5-6 times faster than using traditional soil techniques. For more scientific proof on the superiority of Aquaponic gardening, a Canadian research group has written a paper that indicates how Aquaponics outperforms hydroponics. Will Allen of Growing Power has a great video that shows how he grows 1 million pounds of food on 3 acres using Aquaponics. The tremendous production potential of Aquaponics over traditional gardening techniques should make anyone that has a greenhouse investigate Aquaponics.

My next step for the Aquaponic project has been to develop a Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) setup, which consists of running the fish effluent through 20' long sections of vinyl gutters, which feeds the plants that are mounted with their roots in the gutters. Thin plywood is mounted on top of the gutters, with a 2" hole drilled every 6 to 8 inches. Inside the holes I put nylon netting that holds some pea gravel to provide support for the plant roots in the nutrient-rich fish water. The top of the plants grow on top of the plywood. The gutters have a 40:1 slope (6" over 20'), and a small pump puts water into the high end, with the water transversing the gutters and draining back into the fish tank. This is nearly identical to a standard hydroponic setup, except I am using renewable fish effluent from the fish tank instead of purchasing standard hydroponic chemicals to feed the plants.

YouTube is an excellent video resource for understanding the various Aquaponic systems. A quick search on YouTube for "Aquaponics" will bring up many videos. Be sure to find the videos by Will Allen at Growing Power (an aquaponic farm in downtown Milwaukee ), or by Nelson and Pade who did much of the original Aquaponic research, or any videos by "Backyard Aquaponics" which is located in Western Australia. Aquaponics is very big in Australia as it is a good solution for gardening in a dry climate. One of the best technical articles online to understand the technology of Aquaponics is "Optimization of Backyard Aquaponic Systems." Any articles written by Dr. James Rakocy of the University of the Virgin Islands would provide another expert source for Aquaponics. Wikipedia also has a good article that gives an excellent overview of Aquaponics, and the picture in Wikipedia of the "small portable Aquaponic system" (which came from Growing Power) is the model I used for my system. I just kept looking at this picture, and it finally dawned on me how simple this is. For more technical advice, the book "Aquaponic Food Production" by Nelson and Pade will teach you everything you need to know.

Most preppers live, or hope to live, as far away from the city as possible. But the problem with rural life is the lack of a steady income. An Aquaponic greenhouse can potentially earn enough to make rural living possible, as long as you can occasionally get to a market to sell your produce. Aquaponics is the only type of hydroponic vegetables that can be certified 100% organic, as all other types of hydroponic vegetables use inorganic chemicals for their nutrients. Premium organically raised vegetables will command much higher prices at restaurants and stores that cater to health conscious buyers. But Aquaponics gives you something that no other organic producer can create, and that is, organic produce with roots that have never touched any soil. You can sell lettuce and other vegetables with the roots attached, as no dirt will have ever been on your roots. By leaving the roots attached and not injuring the plant, the "living lettuce" and other vegetables you sell will keep much longer and your profit will be greater.

The one final thing I have to say about Aquaponics is that it gives any prepper something even better than a nearly endless supply of food, and that is, a large quantity of water. If everything else fails and I end up eating all my fish and produce, I still have 960 gallons of water that I can filter and use. In fact, if I extract the water as it comes out of the gravel-filled grow beds, it already has a good amount of filtration, and is probably healthier to drink than the chlorinated and fluoride filled water that comes out of a city tap. Every prepper needs a large amount of stored water, and this is a great way to do it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dear Mr. Rawles:
A few months ago I sent in an article titled, 'Midget White Turkey, the Perfect Homestead Bird'.  The article described everything as it was...then.  But we've had a few hitches and I thought if people are preparing for serious times, they might want to know some of the problems we've also faced (and are facing) raising turkeys, especially since Survivalblog keeps a 'library' of all the articles that come in and someone might be using our article as a guide.

After the first successful hatch, we were unable to raise a second one.  Multiple candlings showed most eggs were fertile and began to grow, but then the eggs died.  Changes of nest, weather, which birds were allowed to set, etc., did no good.  Clutch after clutch failed to hatch.  The eggs that were incubated didn't hatch, either. 

There really isn't much out there about Midget Whites, but we finally found someone at a hatchery who was able to shed light on our problem.  It seems that turkey eggs only have about a 50% hatch rate even among the experts.  The hatchery lady said we were very lucky on our first hatch.  The key, she said, is to be sure to have clean eggs, even washing them in a solution designed for eggs.  Bacteria is said to be the big culprit in losses, but there are also tight protocols for incubators.  We don't mind working hard if we get birds out of this!  We're following the new lead now and hope to have more success.  But we would like your readers to know that if the 50% hatch rate is true, this isn't the ultimate meat bird we were recommending and hoping for ourselves. 

The breed doesn't have to be artificially inseminated, is hardy in winter, the birds are calm to work with, and all the rest we said is true.  But without better hatch rates, the feed to meat conversion rate is pretty bad. - L.C.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Texas Rancher’s comments on fence building are spot on.  Build it right the first time or you’ll regret it.  If you’re in big country, then barbed wire is the way to go.  If you have a smaller place, from a few acres to a few hundred acres, you may want to consider high tensile electric fences.  High tensile fencing has a number of advantages over other types of fencing, particularly if you live in an area where there are trees.

If you’re not familiar with high tensile electric fencing take a look at  They are a good source for information and supplies. 

High tensile fencing is as close to indestructible as a fence can be.  I’ve had trees two feet in diameter come down on the fence.  If they haven’t hit a post I can take a chain saw, cut the tree off the fence and the fence springs back into place.  This happens because the fence is built with springs on each strand of wire.  When something hits the fence, be it a tree or a bull, the fence gives and then springs back.  A tree will lay there until you take it off.  A bull will bounce off.  If the fence is properly built it’s hard to break.  You may have to replace a few staples, perhaps a post or some insulators, but that’s about it.  Use a solar charger and you’re not dependent on the grid.  Plus, a high tensile fence allows for more distance between line posts.  This means lower cost.  I build six wire fences, with three wires electrified. There are other choices.

I’ve built fences from boards, pipe, barbed wire, woven wire, and high tensile.  Unless you measure your land in sections rather than acres I think high tensile electric is the way to go.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The following are some of my suggestions on backyard poultry flocks, based on my experience:

Before you take possession of your birds consider where you will keep your flock. A backyard can work just fine, if your local zoning abides it. If you are going to let your birds roam outside their coop then you will need to fence your yard in to keep the birds in and four legged predators out. Fencing can be as simple and as aesthetically pleasing as you want. If you have an existing solid fence you are in luck. If you do not have any fence in place, consider the cost and what you have available. Wire fence comes in many forms. Typical rural fence, sold as “pig” fence which keeps large livestock in their pastures could work if you put chicken wire along the bottom to keep your birds in. If you are starting from scratch you could use 48 inch chicken wire and T-posts every eight feet or so. Some folks prefer to use an electric fence to keep the birds in and the pests out. Don’t forget a gate so you can get in and out with your wheelbarrow. I have found wire, posts and gates at yard sales and farm auctions.

Next you must consider what you will house your birds in. Take into account how many chickens you want to start with. I would recommend an even dozen to start. There are plenty of designs out there to facilitate a small backyard laying house. Another method is a “chicken tractor’ which is a large cage on wheels. The idea is that the birds are free ranging inside the pen and the pen can be moved around inside your property to keep the grass fresh. Things to consider are ease of cleaning and egg collecting. Some designs have a mesh floor raised off the ground so you can scoop up the future compost without going inside the building. There are designs with the laying nests accessible from the outside, so you don’t have to go in the coop to retrieve your eggs.

Chickens do poop and you need to clean it up promptly to keep the smell and the flies down. Also what are you going to do with the end results? Will the garbage man take it away? Can you compost the litter for your garden?  The litter makes excellent compost but there is a bit of a smell that may cause a problem in the urban environment.
Also you will need to consider what bedding to use. You will need to cover the floor with something to collect the waste. I use wheat straw since I compost the litter. In the past I have used wood shavings with good results, but consider how the wood chips might affect your garden.

To keep the flies at bay a proactive approach is best. I try to keep the coop clean by cleaning out the litter every week. Some flies will hatch though so to get the varmints I hang glue strip fly catchers inside the coop. Just hang them from the ceiling where the chicks can’t get caught in the sticky tape and the tape won’t catch you. You may need to replace them during the fly season as the tape fills up. Also the flies can be trapped using the stinky bait method. You can purchase the bait and trap from your local store. It is usually a plastic jug half filled with fly bait and hung around the coop where flies congregate. Once the trap is filled it can be disposed of or emptied, refilled and reused.

You will need some basic tools. A pitchfork, a flat shovel and a yard rake are the bare essentials. If you go with a bigger coop and a larger flock you will find that a wheelbarrow is essential to haul the litter and the straw bales or wood chips.

Now that you have a fenced in place for the chickens to run and a coop to protect them you need to select your birds. You can order live chicks from any mail order bird supplier and pick them up at the post office. The local agricultural supply outlets usually order chicks and birds in the spring. As a new birder I would recommend you start with grown birds. The mortality rate for the baby chicks can be high and if you start with the grown birds you will be ahead until you have some experience raising birds. Look on Craigslist under Farm and Garden for birds in your area. You can also look for a local sale barn or poultry swap meets in your area. There are merits for the various breeds and they all have their supporters. Heritage breeds are becoming more popular and are a way to preserve history right in your own backyard. The idea is to keep the genetics of the old time birds from going extinct. Look on the internet for ideas for different colorful breeds. I would recommend starting out with hens only. The flock of hens will provide you with unfertilized eggs and be much quieter than a flock with a rooster. The rooster will crow at all hours, day and night and the neighbors may not appreciate the noise. You can branch out into trying to raise chicks at a later time if you so desire.

You have to feed and water your fine feathered friends. Any agriculture supply store will have laying feed for your chickens. You will also need to offer crushed oyster shells and cherry stone to your birds. The cherry stone goes in their gizzard to grind their food and the oyster shells provides calcium and gives the eggs a tough shell. You will also need a place to store your grain. I buy chicken feed in 50 pound sacks and store it in blue barrels with lids in my garage. The bigger the barrel the more feed you can store.
I hang my feeders and self waterers about eight inches off the floor using light weight chains. You can buy the feeders and waterers at the ag store or the net. The birds will eat lots of feed and drink plenty of water, especially in hot weather. For the cold weather there are insulated and heated water containers so the birds can always get a drink. Keep the waterers clean by frequently spraying them out with a water hose. Algae may grow inside the plastic waterer, so add a drop of bleach and let it go to work by setting the waterer in a secure place where the chicks can’t get to it. In a few hours rinse the waterer thoroughly and set it back up in the pen.

Other things to consider. The chicken coop should be locked at night to keep the predators out. Tragedy can be averted by keeping your coop locked up tight at night. My coop has a small chicken sized door that is locked open during the day for the girls to have free access and has a hasp with a spring loaded snap to keep Mr. Raccoon out at night. Ventilation is provided by two doors on opposite sides covered with chicken wire and securely closed at all times. In cold weather there are solid doors to keep the snow out and are wired open in good weather.

Once you have your flock established in their coop you can sit back and watch the eggs roll in. You should check for eggs in the morning, when you refill the feeders and check the water, and in the evening before you lock them up for the night. You may want to check more often in the warmer months. Our eggs go straight into the fridge and once a day the chief egg washer cleans them up and puts them in the carton. Eggs have a natural oil on them that protects the inside. If the eggs are clean you can hold off washing them until ready for use and they will last longer. Cartons are another matter. You can have family and friends save egg cartons for you to get started, or you could buy a gross of cartons from a retailer. Be sure and get the bigger sized cartons so the lid will close over the eggs. Some of our girls lay monster sized eggs. Cartons can be reused several times until being sent to the recycle bin. If you have enough eggs for your own consumption you might consider giving them away or trading or selling them. Check your local laws for the rules on selling eggs in your area.   

This is a short list to get you started. Use your local County Extension office, library and the Internet for resources to get more information. Chickens are easy and rewarding to raise. They don’t take lots of room or time, and they provide eggs for the table. You don’t have to spend a bunch of money to get started. Of course you need to check local zoning and have good relations with the neighbors to make sure you can raise a flock where you are. Good "Cluck" with your birds.

Dear Mr. Rawles:
As a Texas rancher, I understand the difficulties associated with fence building and repair. Too much fence building in a short amount of time will run off a good ranch hand. Mudflap's comments about proper clothing and hydration when fence building are right and should be given attention. We use twisted smooth wire (no barbs) for horse pens but to contain cattle, barbed wire is necessary. Good gloves are essential. Pigskin gloves are very barb resistant. You will be nicked by the barbed wire, so stay current with tetanus shots. Every vehicle on my ranch has a set of fencing pliers and other fence repair items because I have discovered many small repairs over time to be much easier than waiting for things to get so bad entire fence sections need rebuilding. Many small repairs over time is also much easier than continually tracking down stray cattle.

Six wire barbed wire fences are stronger and seem to function longer than those with fewer wires. They also catch more tumbleweeds and blowing debris which in high wind conditions can bend T posts. We go on tumbleweed patrol during sustained wind conditions. I can walk across the prairie and maybe see one rattlesnake but let me work on a fence and they are everywhere. My wife was bitten by a rattlesnake a few years ago and almost died. After that, we got really serious about rattlesnakes and wear pistols in flap covered holsters at almost all times when doing routine ranch work, and at all times when fence building. Flapped holsters are a must in our windy and dusty climatic conditions. They also protect the pistol against wear and damage and help preclude loss, especially when on horseback. Sure these holsters are slow but so is a dirt clogged weapon and where the wind blows almost all of the time, a weapon can clog in one day. Graphite rather than oil helps reduce dirt problems. Blowing dirt also causes magazine feed problems so we use flapped holders for them as well. We disassemble magazines routinely for cleaning but I digress.

Many fencing problems are caused by not placing rigid poles (steel pipe, creosote dipped wood, or cedar) at intervals in a T post fence. We use six to eight inch oil field pipe either driven into the soil with a ram or set in concrete both at low spots to keep a tight fence from pulling the T posts up, and on ridges which seem to be weak places for wind and animal caused shear forces.

We take extra time with T post clips to ensure both ends are securely wrapped around the barbed wire. This causes the wire to be pulled up tightly against the T post. It can be tedious but I believe greatly improves the integrity of the fence. Western union and other type splices can work with barbed wire but I have found that pairs of high tensile crimp style tube splices per wire splice to be more trouble free in the long run. Tab through the photos to see how these are crimped. A well built fence (and it must be surveyor straight - vertical T posts with tops all aligned) will always need less care than a shoddy fence.

At every point where a barbed wire fence changes direction we use six to eight inch pipe braces set in concrete. Such a brace consists of an eight foot long vertical pipe at the point of direction change (three feet buried in the ground) flanked by similar pipes on either side in line with the old and new fence directions. The three vertical posts are connected by five foot runs of horizontal pipe welded a foot below the tops of the vertical pipes. A front end loader is essential because these size thick walled pipes when welded together into a brace, may weigh a thousand pounds. Wooden posts are easier to work with and steeples easy to use, but nothing lasts like thick walled oil field pipe. We wrap several turns of a short piece of barbed wire around the vertical pipes leaving two wire ends, one about two feet long and the other four feet long. The shorter free end is wrapped tightly around the the longer end. The fence stretcher and splices are then used to connect the free end of this wire to the long run on down the fence line. This is the only way I have found to ensure taught wire runs using when metal pipe braces. We strive to get it right the first time.

A good quality fence wire stretcher is also important. T posts can be difficult to pull out of the ground if a fence line is being moved. We use a T post puller T-Post Puller. Everyone should have a Hi-Lift Jack and they work well with a post puller, but if I'm moving a line of fence, we usually have a tractor with a front end loader on site so I chain the T post puller to the front end loader in order to pull up the posts. The loader bucket is also a good place to store the pulled T posts. The higher on the T post the puller is placed, the less chance of bending the post.

I hope these comments help. The only thing I like about fence building is the end of the day. - Texas Rancher

Monday, May 30, 2011

I especially liked the February, 2001 SurvivalBlog article about Forever Preps. I now have enough salt to last me forever in Mylar lined buckets. That includes regular salt for salt curing. I need saltpeter. I have dry bleach, hand tools, skills, and Jesus. I’m working on the rest. As a matter of fact, within my extended family we have four medical people, a fireman, a teacher, a banker, an accountant, HVAC technician, mechanic, farmer, baker, trucker, engineers—we don’t exactly have a butcher or candlestick maker, but my son tends to his own deer and fish and I have made plenty of candles!  What works for me may not appeal to you but I’m on a tight budget now so here goes.

I have several health issues, so I have plenty of prepping to do. I think I finally have a handle on the high blood pressure, cholesterol, gout, diabetes, and GERD. I’ve lost 5 pounds in the past five months, blood pressure-perfect, A1C is 6.4—waiting on cholesterol and gout results. The doctor wanted to know if I’d been exercising so I told her yes.

The truth is, I’ve been working long hours at the store and have been raising chickens for meat, eggs and feathers. That means building a coop and run. I got my ideas from here and here, and here My framework is all PVC—3 pieces 1 ½” for base and 5 pieces of ½” for ribs . I used 2 pieces of ¾” plywood, hardware cloth, screws, hardware, lath, 2” x 2”s, clear and aluminum building panels for the 4’ x 8’ x 4’ coop and chicken wire for the 8’ x 10’ x 2’ covered run again PVC framing-8 pieces of ½”. I can easily expand this run for more birds.  I used a skill saw, drill, hand tools, and a borrowed jig saw. I had three pairs of hands to help. Since my latest batch of Buff Orpingtons are only three months old, I haven’t installed nesting boxes yet. I plan to install in the area below the roost. There’s plenty of room in the 4’ x 4’ roost for more birds so I can raise more in my bathtub on newspaper and flaked pine shavings. They are covered by aluminum screening anchored with scrap boards and warmed by a 100 watt light bulb. The screen keeps them from flying out when they get six weeks old or older and keeps the inquisitive cats out if the door gets left open. My work at the store allows me to get a few dollars worth of nickels a week and recycle all the newspapers I care to. (To use for mulch or TP in hard times because Sears doesn’t publish a Big Book any more.)

I’ve been gardening, canning, drying and freezing for years. I have plans to raise rabbits for meat and fur. Right now, we only have a pet rabbit for learning.  We catch and use rainwater when possible. My son and I ask friends and clients for used barrels. We have a spring and ponds. I need to get an alternate way to pump water. My son and a friend of mine are the fishermen. My son and I hunt. I think we should learn to trap also. If I could talk my son and daughter into letting me have sheep for meat, wool and cheese and goats for meat, milk and cheese, I’d be happy—besides, they would mow the grass instead of a gas guzzler or even a reel mower. (Boy, was that fun growing up!) My daughter helped me get my son on board with a root cellar. She has agreed to supply the labor this summer. I did manage to talk my son into a raised bed for carrots and potatoes. He even suggested silt fence from a home center instead of boards. You will need additional stakes to fit your area, heavy duty stapler, and a sledge hammer to pound the stakes into the ground.  I was lucky and got all the peat moss I needed on clearance. I had compost and also added vermiculite. 

See the book Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre by Brett L. Markham. The potatoes are growing berserk. If I could talk my dad into letting me farm his land, I’d have self-sufficiency in sight. I want sheep, goats, llamas, ducks, geese, horses and cows. We had chickens, pigs, ducks, horses and cows when I was growing up. We raised most of our own vegetables and grain also. I could raise enough food for the livestock and the family too. Yes, I learned how to plow with a horse and a tractor. My 25 year old Troy Bilt tiller needs another engine. So, in other words, I’d have the ‘beans’ covered. 

For the ‘bullets’, I buy cases of ammunition on sale from big box stores or online with tax returns. As long as that lasts…I have a .22 LR (with 3,000+ rounds), a 12 gauge semi-auto shotgun with interchangeable chokes that takes 2 ¾” – 3 ½” shells (I've accumulated 575+ shells of assorted types), a  .32 Special revolver (150 rounds), 35# right hand and 40# left hand recurve bows, edged weapons from 2 ¼” folders to a 40” fencing foil, slingshots, and have plans to buy a crossbow. I need to stockpile arrows and bolts. I’m also growing bamboo arrows. Bamboo is very invasive. There is a good Instructables article on making arrows out of bamboo. I prefer to grow my own feathers [for arrow fletching] instead of buy them. My son also has a 75# compound bow, guns including a black powder pistol and .243 Winchester rifle. He also has blades that range from large folders to a 2-handed claymore. I know how to reload shot shells and my son wants to learn rifle reloading. We are saving brass and shells to that end.  Before leaving ‘Bullets’ I’d like to add a few words about security. I really appreciated Chino’s Retreat Security article. My budget does not include razor wire topped chain link fencing. I plan to use rocks in aluminum cans but they may be suspended by waxed dental floss. Cans would be painted on the away side. My son has planted holly bushes. We also have wild blackberries.

For barter, I sew and have a treadle ready to convert my machines. I bought one at an antique shop and got tubing, connectors and shaft collars from McMaster. I also found the instructions for that project. I couldn’t bring myself to sand a plastic hand wheel.  I have fabric stockpiles from before Wal-Mart’s closing of the fabric department at $1 and $2 per yard. Don’t forget sewing needles, machine needles, and thread. I also do many types of needlecraft—you’ll need yarn or roving to spin. I could also barter chickens, eggs, feathers and so on. I was a math teacher. My son is strong and can do many types of labor. Right now he’s a landscaper. He can also weld, do auto repair, body work, masonry, and carpentry. My daughter is a cosmetologist but since I’ve taught my kids all they would pay attention to. She can install flooring, plumbing, cook, clean, and do most of her own auto repair as well! Their dad, a Navy SEAL, has passed away.  He served in Vietnam and was the only one of us not in Scouting. We are teaching my grandchildren everything they can understand also.

Now for the Band-Aids: I grow many of my own herbs but triple antibiotic ointment does not grow on trees. However, there are plenty of dollar type stores that can supply gauze, alcohol, peroxide, adhesive bandages, etc. $5 dollars a week can buy a lot at those places. When I run out of a bottle of cinnamon for metabolism support, I buy two. At the end of 5 years I’ll have enough for another 5 years, if I don’t forget to buy two when I run out of the first bottle. Same for all the other OTC meds my doctor has me on for various conditions. Go for the twin packs at the big box store. If your goal is to be ready in less than five years for five years of lean times, then you’ll have to adjust your plan accordingly. Don’t forget to rotate! I wish I had the budget to buy it all up front, but I don’t so I do the best I can and try not to worry about the rest. I cannot grow my prescription medications so I’m trying to reduce the need for them.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Would you like to provide a good meal for your family and know where the meat has come from and who has handled it and not have to rely on going to the grocery store to purchase it?  Well that was me a few years ago.  I was concerned about the safe handling practices of store bought meat as well, the cost of the store bought meat.  I really wanted to be able to take pride that I could grow and process my meat and not have to rely on the grocery store.  I already process deer so I thought this couldn’t be much different.  It really isn’t.  The killing is the only part that I truly hate, but that part is extremely quick.  If you live in a suburban neighborhood, then you can most likely still have “pet” rabbits.  We also make raised garden beds from the little pellets that are conveniently deposited into a waiting wheel barrel. We add worms found in the yard to the garden beds and have very nice rich soil the next season once the worms do their job. 

Before obtaining your rabbits, you will need some basic equipment: 1 cage per adult rabbit, 1 feed trough and water dish or bottle per rabbit and then you will also need 1 or more nesting boxes for your does.  If you have just one doe, then one nest box will be fine.  If you have two does, then depending on your breeding routine you might be able to get away with just one box or you could decide on keeping two nest boxes.  Nest boxes can be made or purchased.  When we first got our rabbits we picked up some cages, water bottles and nest boxes from where we got the rabbits at. 

You will need to start off with some good breeding stock of a meat breed.  In rabbits you can line breed (breed siblings) for a few generations before you start seeing genetic problems.  I personally have chosen to start with non related stock.  You can start breeding your doe or does as early as 4-1/2 months of age.  We have found rabbits are extremely easy keepers and have been very healthy for us.  We have purchased our stock from local animal auctions and off craigslist as well. 

We chose on the New Zealand breed of rabbit.  They have a good meat to bone ratio.  They are the typical Easter bunny rabbit, you know the white bunny with red eyes.  Some people like breeds that produce various colors and such.  But for me my bunnies all look the same so I don’t focus on getting attached to one particular rabbit.  My son who is now five thoroughly enjoys them as well.  He knows that what happens to them and where they end up, but he also knows that just two weeks after butchering time a new batch of bunnies will be born to play with.  He is there around us when we are butchering.  When he was younger we would just leave him inside to watch cartoons and we would tell him what we were doing, but after time went on he prefers to be outside watching us during the butchering.  We want our son to know where his food comes from and not to be afraid of it.  Someday his life could depend on it. 

We have one buck and one doe that we regularly breed.  Their names are Max and Ruby. (If you have little ones, you might recognize those names from a cartoon.)  We have Ruby in a larger cage than necessary, but that is just because I choose to keep the litter with the mother until the day of butchering.  During the summer I do not want them crowded and overheating.  We butcher our bunnies at 8 weeks of age.  Some people do it as early as 6 weeks and other wait until 11 or 12 weeks.  We have found that if we allow them to get older then the skin gets tougher to skin out and the meat is a little tougher.  Rabbit meat is a very lean meat.  There is generally some loose fat between the hide and the shoulders and again some between the hide and the belly.  You won’t find any inside the actual meat though.    Rabbit can be utilized in any chicken recipe.

Make sure that you keep your rabbits housed where they will have adequate shade and a roof over their heads to shelter from the sun, rain and other elements.  Rabbits are very easy keepers.  Our rabbits our housed outside with a roof over their heads and we use a privacy fence to block the wind from the west and there is a garage to their north to block the north wind.  During the summer there is a large shade tree that provides them with a cool shady spot and during the winter we will tack up plastic over the remaining sides of their cage.  The plastic can be left up or allowed to cover the cages in times of nasty storms in the winter.  You always take the doe to the bucks cage.  You can just stand around and watch to ensure that your buck has successfully completed his deed.  We usually allow him three times during this visit, then put your doe back in her cage.  Do NOT keep them in the same cage on a permanent basis.  If you do you will never know when to expect a litter.  Then if you want to ensure a larger litter put the doe back in with the buck twelve hours after the first breeding.  Rabbits ovulate based on sexual stimulation and they can ovulate once every twelve hours.  So this is the reason to re-breed your rabbit twelve hours later.  Now is the hard part, just waiting.  The gestation period is 29 to 33 days.  Each doe will have a very regular schedule as to how many days she will go before producing her kits.  My doe goes 30 days exactly.  About five days before you are expecting the kits to arrive place the nest box in her cage.  Depending on the temperatures, I may add hay, straw or pine shavings to her box as well.  If it is very cold, then I will fill the nest box up completely, the doe will make the nest in there and pull out any excess she doesn’t want.  We will check on our doe various times per day when she is due so we know exactly when she has her kits.  The doe we have is very trusting and does not mind if and when I mess with her nest and kits.  We have had other does in the past who have been aggressive in regards to us checking out their babies.  Those does went bye bye very soon as I do not enjoy being scratched or bitten.  Mostly though, New Zealand rabbits are extremely gentle. 

After your babies have arrived you will need to check out the nest box to make sure that there aren’t any dead babies in there or any uneaten afterbirth.  Remove all the nasties and then just check on and count the babies each time you feed and water your doe.  Rabbits cannot pick up their young the way a cat or dog can so if a baby gets out of the box there is no way for the mommy to put it back.  You will have to move them back to the box or they will die.  Also, if you go out one day and you find a dead cold looking kit on the cage, go ahead and put it back in the middle of the nest box with the other kits.  I have found babies like this and thought they were dead, but after placing them back in the nest box, they came back to life.  So do not count a "dead kit" as dead unless it is cold and dead.  Ideally there needs to be at least three kits in the litter for the babies to be stay warm enough together.  Once I did have a litter of only two babies during the fall, they did make it just fine.  When the babies are three weeks old you can remove the nest box and continue to watch them grow. 

When the babies are six weeks old is when I like to breed the doe.  Then two weeks later your babies are 8 weeks old and we butcher.  This routine will allow the mother to keep her young with her and also allow her to have a two week rest period before she kits again.  This routine also keeps you from having to keep a cage just for weaned babies.  I really like this schedule as it keeps me from having to move the babies to another cage.  I keep one buck and one doe at this time.  This schedule allows us to have up to one rabbit per week as I butcher a litter of rabbits every ten weeks.  Rabbits usually have 7-12 bunnies per litter.

When we butcher the rabbits, we prefer to can the meat now, as opposed to freezing it.  We do still freeze some, but the canned rabbit has such a wonderful flavor and it is also extremely tender. 

We have chosen the raw pack method with the meat still on the bones due to it being simpler and more time saving.  Cut up your rabbits so that you have good size pieces.  Add those to your quart jars.  Add one teaspoon of salt to each quart.  Do not add any liquid.  Allow a 1-1/4” headspace per jar, add your lids and bands and process for 75 minutes at 11 pounds of pressure in your pressure canner.  The flavor and texture is completely different from fresh or frozen to canned rabbit.  Yummy!

Having two does and one buck will provide your family with up to two rabbits per week all year long. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

As we find ourselves moving back to basics on and around the farms, more people that have had no livestock ever also have no clue how to feed them or how to take basic care of them, are getting them. In the past two years, I have personally rescued and placed 115 horses and assisted in numerous other rescues. I can’t stress enough about proper care and feeding. It is easier to maintain a healthy weight then to put it back on an animal. For each 100 pounds lost, it takes three months to put it back on the right way, without injuring or killing the animal. Water intake is crucial, the amounts are based on age/weight, type and breeding status. When the SHTF, there will be little or no access to bagged feed, bulk/surplus hay and supplements.

When you are looking into buying horses, cows, sheep and goats, take into consideration that – the smaller the animal the less it needs to eat and it will yield less meat, milk and in some cases offspring. The calculations in this article are taken from research done during my time working horses (almost 40 years), cows and farm living. For those raising young stock – powdered milk, Carnation canned milk and Karo syrup are a must for orphans. If you can find powdered colostrum get it and vacuum seal it. Stock up on wormers and antibiotics for your animals too, because they can and will need them. Common veterinary antibiotics include Penicillin, Amoxicillin, Erythromycin ("E-mycin"), Keflex and Sulfonamides. Tetracycline and Doxycycline can also be used, but are more disease specific. A Merck Veterinary Manual is extremely useful and if you have livestock get the right tools to help diagnose and treat. [JWR Adds: I also recommend the books Veterinary Guide for Animal Owners by as well as Where There Is No Vet by Bill Forse.]

Here is a standard feed calculation for horses :

W = HG 2 X BL


W = Weight in pounds
HG = Heart girth in inches
BL = Body length in inches

Starting at your horses chest at the top shoulder point to the point of the buttocks (about an inch away from the tail) gives you body length, from the wither to the to the point of buttocks.
It is a maximum of 3.5% of their total body weight in grain and forage, with the maximum going to only foals to age of 1 year. Of that only .5 to 2% of it is supposed to be grain. That means if you have a 60’ x 150’ yard don’t get a horse unless your supply of hay is permanent and inexpensive. In the northern states where the grass dies off fairly early (late fall) then you need to have this down – each horse will consume 1-2 flakes of hay 2 times per day, each bale has 10 flakes. (DO NOT feed out a lot of alfalfa as your horse can colic or founder).

Let’s say your horse will eat 2 bales per week at a cost of $3-$10 a bale. Buy in large quantities when the hay is being baled and it will cost you less. Down in the southern states we feed out less hay as our grass doesn’t begin to die off fully until later in the year (based on heat and rainfall). Round bales are great BUT will mold if not covered properly and then can’t be fed out to special needs or stalled horses, some say you can’t feed it out at all, but those with horses mixed with their cows do know a little different. Round bales weigh from 400 lbs to 1200 lbs and are priced from $10-$75 each. With seven horses on 12 acres I will go through 12 round bales from December to May, average of 1 bale per pasture per week or every other week. Horses need some supplements so we need to have alternative methods to buying them. Grain does go bad and you do have to balance what you give them, lower protein for less active horses from 3-10. Use no cotton seed or cotton seed oil, as it can damage reproducing horses and can cause other health problems.

Your first horse requires at least 1.5 acres, and as you add more, you will need at least 1 acre per horse. Straight oats and corn can be given, but both are higher in protein and corn causes the horses to produce more heat so I would be careful how much feed to put to them. There is one kind of horse that will eat other protein: the Icelandic Horse will eat fish (dried salmon). Remember that horses need from 6-20 gallons of water per day per horse.

Cows the feeding is a little different due to creep feeding and hay consumption but on average they will eat up to 30 lbs of feed per growing animal at 1,200 lbs so about 2-3% of body weight and whether they are dairy, beef, pregnant, steers or calves. You will need about 1 acre per animal or you will have to supplement more. The nutritional needs vary based upon what you have and you need to plan accordingly. If you have had even 1 case of blackleg show up in your calves stock up on vaccines because it doesn't die out in pastures, it will lie dormant and will kill infected calves. Cows need from 4 gallons per day to 23 gallons per day per animal.

Goats: You can have quite a few, but I would recommend only 8 per acre, maximum . They do need roughage and can have ¼ lb to 1 lb of grain per day, but no urea, natural protein only as it can make your goats sick or they can die. Goats will eat everything including poison ivy, your garden, blackberry and raspberry plants. Goats tend to jump and require better fences than other livestock. You can train them to tie out; I wouldn’t use a drag because they will drag it through your fences, bust the pipes and eat pipe insulation. Kids can die off quickly if exposed to rain and cold when very young. They can also suffer from floppy kid syndrome, which is just as it sounds and can be treated early with thiamine, penicillin and Vitamin B. Goats need from 1/10 gallon to 3 gallons of water per day, per animal.

Sheep need roughage, at ½ lb to 1 lb per day for babies and recommended creep feed adults from 2.5 lbs to 7 lbs or increase 2-4 lbs to 6-12 lbs haylage/corn silage but not for lambs, no copper. Protein supplements for late gestation ewes, lactating ewes, rams and feeder lambs. Use it only when you give no alfalfa with corn. Urea can be fed to adults at 1-3% of feed. Sheep need 1/10 gallon to 3 gallons of water per day per animal.

Pigs can do very well in pastures, but even a well fed pig will nibble on a sick or dying animal. Horses can and will hurt pigs, so when feeding, separate them. Farmers used to plant mangels (fodder beet), turnips or rape. This can be given to cows too. Boars can be killed without neutering if they are kept quiet for about 24 hours before slaughter. Pigs need ½ gallon to 6 gallons of water per day per animal.

Due to over grazing, no rotating, or tilling, we do rob the pastures of natural supplements and make it more necessary to add grains. With livestock pastures should be rotated, rested, tilled and replanted as needed.

Stack your pasture with cows and chickens (bug control) and geese with sheep.

Some people do give out store surplus stale bread to all their livestock and it does work. But if you give them a lot right off the bat they can get sick. Rice bran can be given; we use it on underweight horses. Wheat bran we feed out in the cold weather and to older horses that need a little extra. Mineral oil can be kept on hand for occasional colic.

Natural herbal worming – caraway 56%, parsley 20%, chicory 10%, chervil and dill 14%. You can also use wormwood, mug wart, chicory and common tansy. They have found that the ingredient in some plants and ferns that are effective against parasites is filicic acid. Willow has salicin and it is said if you feed horses the leaves they will not get worms and a decoction of the bark treats flukes and diarrhea. Tannin also works. But I would discuss the options with a vet or vet school and see what is toxic in your area and what will work on the parasites in your area. Never use tobacco as it can damage the lining of the stomach. Injectable wormers have a longer shelf life than paste wormers.

Fly control helps reduce parasites. In easy fly control method is ¼ cup apple cider vinegar twice daily over food. Larva and such in your troughs add algae eaters and goldfish. Keep chickens in your pasture. For fleas adding some guinea fowl keets (they are great watch birds too) and sheep will help. (When we have sheep I do notice a decrease in the presence of fleas).  Muscovy ducks eat mosquito larva in standing water.

In a SHTF situation remember that prevention will be a huge thing and our ability to treat ailments in our animals will be limited. Find alternatives now, look for what you will need later and buy extra.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Like many preppers, we've been looking for ways to expand our self-sufficiency.  With 25 years of experience raising chickens for both meat and eggs, adding another meat fowl seemed like a good move.  Although we had raised both broilers and laying hens of many breeds, we hadn't found a good all-purpose bird among the chickens, although many lay claim to the title.  They either laid poorly (eating all the while) or were very short on meat when killing time came. 

As readers may know, chickens in America have been bred for two tracks:  meat (fast growing, often leg problems, too big to properly breed) and egg layers (broodiness bred out, goal of one egg per day bred in, hens 'wear out' quickly, especially if pushed to lay with extra light.)  The standard way of raising for us had been get chicks from a hatchery, raise to eating/laying size, replace with a new set as needed.  This is not a self-sustaining plan.  So, after extensive research, we chose the Midget White Turkey (MWT) and began our personal experience with this breed.

MWTs have several huge advantages for the homesteading prepper:  (1) they're smaller, eat less, need smaller housing and can do some foraging for themselves, (2) they love human beings and are easy to handle, (3) they are good setters and mothers, and (4) they taste wonderful.  The meat is close grained and takes like real turkey.  Every bite, from the long, oval breast to the broth from the bones smells and tastes like an old-fashioned turkey dinner.  Finally, (4) they are easier to kill and clean than bigger birds, and in a scenario where food has to be eaten because of lack of electricity or refrigeration, a MWT can be polished off in a meal or two, depending on the size of the group.

I say 'we', because two homesteads are raising the MWT right now so as to have a larger gene pool.  SW Farm used electricity in the shed this past winter and raised the birds, initially, on wire.  NW Farm got young birds from SW Farm and raised them in a well-insulated shed on wood and on the ground.  So we got to see how different methods worked.

The turkey lore warns of grave problems with disease if turkeys are raised on the ground, and this may be so for young birds or other breeds.  SW Farm found that the turkeys didn't like being on wire and their claws became so long and curved they had trouble walking on a regular floor on the coop.  As soon as they were let out on the ground they ran to get dust baths, then began to graze.  The claws were worn down, as the Lord intended.  So both Farms moved to a 'barnyard' setting for the turkeys.  SW farm uses a moveable pen, with protective netting.  NW Farm uses a stationary yard, with netting, again, against hawks.  Both flocks have done well with no losses to disease.  SW Farm did find it's easier and healthier to have a low screen made of furring strips covered with hardware cloth in the coop under the roosts.  There's less walking in droppings and a quick cleanup by removing the screen, raking out, then replacing it.

Turkey are susceptible to coccidiosis, a bowel disease that makes their droppings look like chocolate pudding.  They do not 'grow out' of this like chickens do.  It can progress to blood loss and small, unthrifty or dead birds.  So we began the birds on commercial feed with Amprolium.  After the birds graduated to regular pellets we still had to treat for coccidiosis with liquid medicine added to their water.  Oddly, the stated cause for coccidiosis in turkeys is from the ground, previous birds, or their own feces.  In our case, the housing was new, the birds were on wire (droppings fell through and were promptly cleaned up) - there was very little contact, yet they got the disease.  The Merck vet Manual seems to imply it's almost impossible to avoid.  With treatment and more space, they seemed to recover, and now there is only an occasional problem that I suspect is more from too much forage than disease.  Perhaps a reader is more expert and can respond to this idea.

Throw away all the turkey legends when dealing with MWTs.  Midgets are not stupid, won't drown looking up at the rain, aren't susceptible to diseases that ravage the commercial birds, such as blackhead, and do not have to be artificially inseminated.  When we initially ordered our birds we had one loss upon arrival and another due to an accident with the waterer.  All the others flourished.  They got wet as dishrags on rainy days, don't mind walking on snow (and we had a lot of it) and seemed hardier than chickens in many ways.

The poults (baby turkeys) were ordered from Murray McMurray Hatchery and came as 3-day old birds on 4/21/2010.  As poultry go, they are expensive, and only straight run were available from any breeder.

They were brooded very simply, with a heat lamp and draft shield.  The first egg was laid on November 1st at SW Farm.  NW farm didn't have the first egg until spring.  This is probably due to the fact that SW Farm has a light in a coop  with large windows and NW doesn't. 

You'll immediately notice that these turkeys mature much more quickly than chickens.  Not only do they get bigger faster, they display pecking order behavior and sex-linked behavior only a few weeks old.  Initially it was hard to tell which were the males and which the females from our straight-run order because the females would fluff out their feathers, fan their tails and display aggressively while finding their place in the flock.  A turkey fight is pretty impressive - the birds grab each other by a beak lock and fight until one is exhausted.  They can and will draw blood in the fight.  They also peck the head and beak of another bird and can damage the beak.  So beak clipping is necessary.  If you clip too deeply, be ready to cauterize with a hot knife.  We did not de-beak them as poults.  Females will fight this way as well as males.

As adults, females will still fight over the mating order, the nests and pecking order.  I found it necessary to re-clip the beaks of the more aggressive ones.  But toward humans, they are friendly, interested, and will allow themselves to be fed by hand and handled.  Keep in mind that birds discover things by pecking, and they'll peck your clothes and skin.  Our turkeys were trained not to peck hands and even a nesting hen would only give a 'warning peck' to a human, that is, not really bite down hard.  A hard bite will leave a blood blister, and those claws are sharp.  So be warned and wear gloves yourself if you're clipping beaks or some unwanted attention.  MWTs are very forgiving, though.  Where a chicken would run away for a week after a de-beaking, the next time the Farmer came in they were all gathering around.  

Under normal conditions, overall MWTs are less aggressive to humans than other fowl I've seen.  This is good, because a WMT male weights