Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Sizing Your Home to Fit Your Individual Needs


This is a collaborative blog by both Bruce and Carol McElmurray from each individual perspective. Both Bruce and Carol have varying viewpoints on some subjects when it comes to their home in which they have lived for 23 years. It is located in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of southern Colorado at 9,800 feet of elevation. Both have separately expressed their views as indicated below.

Carol: When we built our cabin in the Southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado we were both in our 40s. We chose to build a small A-frame which fit our budget and our goal of minimalism. Over the years, and now that we are in our 70’s, we have discovered some choices that we made that have made life a bit more challenging as we have aged.  Perhaps sharing these insights will help others who are making plans to build a retirement home.

Bathrooms. Carol: When we retired we moved from a 2 ½ bath home to a one bath home with a commode, sink and shower. We didn’t realize how often we would like to have had two bathrooms and a bathtub if only to give the dogs a bath in! Having more than one bathroom — even a ½ bath — would be a good thing to consider. Bruce: I would agree that having more than one bathroom even for two people would be a good option. It isn’t often that we have a conflict with the one bathroom but nature being what it is, there are occasional conflicts. A composting toilet would normally be an option but regretfully our county does not allow them. 

Second floor. Carol: It did not occur to us that as we aged that going up a spiral staircase to the sleeping loft would be an issue - but it has proven to be so. Having a home that is on one level is a good choice — or a sleeping loft for company or storage. Bruce: I have to agree that having a one story makes sense for when you grow older. Life in the mountains is hard on our bodies and especially our knees, ankles and hips. Going up and down stairs or a spiral staircase becomes increasingly difficult and painful. 

Bedrooms. Carol: The home we moved from had 3 bedrooms. We have only the sleeping loft. In retrospect enclosing an area on the first floor would have been a wise decision given the reasons cited above or even a second sleeping space. Bruce: We had considered converting our pantry into a bedroom when we became older but that became less practical as time passed and has become less of an option. Adding an additional bedroom initially would have been a better choice. 

Location of doors. Carol: Be sure to figure out where the snow that slides off the roof will go. Will it block doors to any entrances? Having to shovel your way out of your home on occasion is a bit of a problem as you grow older. Bruce: We receive from 250 to 300 inches of snow a year and sometimes get 3-5 feet in a single storm. The contractor that built the shell positioned the steps off the deck along the edge of the roof. We had to change that quickly because given a significant snow storm they were buried under 8 to 10 feet of hard-packed snow.

Basement access. Carol: Being able to get from the interior of the home to the basement makes things a lot easier, especially if snow blocks the doors to the basement during the winter time. Bruce: We do have storage under our house that is heated, separate and dry. I do not mind it as much as Carol does but in the winter we have to put boots, coats, hats and gloves on to get to it. Dealing with 23 feet of snow over a winter season can be difficult enough without having to shovel to get to the basement.  

Laundry room. Carol: Having the laundry room on the first floor instead of the basement makes things a lot  easier for everyone! Bruce: Since I rarely do laundry I really don’t have an opinion on this other than if a washing machine overflows it causes less damage if in the basement where water can be pushed out the door to soak into the ground. 

Closets and storage spaces. Carol: With the slanted roof of the A-frame, being able to build closets is difficult. We have done well by some inventive ideas. Bruce: Closet area has been a challenge for sure but we have adapted and overcome the issues and kept the house looking open inside. 

Kitchen, dining room, and living room. Carol: There is a good possibility that you will not need a big kitchen if there are only two people. Having a dining room for the occasional guest and a formal living room would be a waste of precious space. Bruce: I agree totally. 

Visitors. Bruce: Our small home does not accommodate visitors with only one bathroom and one sleeping loft. We don’t have many visitors but when we do we put them in the sleeping loft and have a sofa/bed downstairs for us. Depending on the length of stay we will often put them up in a motel in the nearby city of Ft. Garland. A local B&B is another good idea.

Garage. Our first project when we moved full time to our A-Frame retirement home was to build a two story garage - A-Frame - to match the house.  It has proven to be a wise choice. 

Early decisions count. When you build an A-Frame where the side walls are really the roof it limits your adding on options.  Also in the high mountains where we get heavy snowfall the snow sometimes piles up several feet deep coming off the roof. While our home is cozy and we have adapted to its limitations, it meets our needs very well. Its small size makes it easier to clean and we don’t need to clean or maintain areas we don’t often use.

Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site at Bruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Hatch Chicks Without Wasting Eggs

new chicks

Though it may be hard to believe, spring is coming, and chick season with it. If you have never hatched your own chicks before, you might want to give it a go this year — and if you have hens that go broody, letting them sit and rear chicks the natural way may save you a whole lot of hassle in monitoring an incubator's temperature and humidity. Neither will you need to provide a heating lamp later on. A good broody hen will have an excellent hatch rate and will care for the chicks, teach them to forage, protect them, and keep them warm.

Many guides advise letting a hen accumulate a clutch of eggs on which she will eventually sit, but this method has proven wasteful and ineffective to us. Though a hen may lay in the same spot and accumulate a clutch, there's no guarantee she will actually go broody anytime. The eggs that are piling up in the nest may become spoiled or broken. Or the hen might try to cover too many eggs and the hatching rate won't be that high. In the meantime, you'll be wasting good eggs you could have used.

Here is a method we have been using successfully for several years:

Collect all eggs every day. Discard any that are cracked, too dirty, or odd-shaped — those are not good for hatching and had better go into an omelet.

Keep eggs that are meant for hatching in a cool, shady spot (not the refrigerator) and turn once a day. Maintain an ongoing rotation so that all the hatching eggs you have at any given time are not older than one week. Freshness will ensure best results. Eat any that had been laid over a week ago — it's still much fresher than any store-bought egg.

Place several dummy eggs in each nesting box. We have bought ours very cheaply in a toy store. You may also order a bunch online. This will make sure the broody instinct is not turned off by lack of eggs, though I have also seen hens sit on rocks or even over an empty spot.

Keep an eye out for signs of broodiness. You'll know easily with some practice: telltale clucking, feather puffing, and refusal to move from the nest even at night. Wait 24 hours until the broodiness is well established, then gently remove the dummy eggs and slip a few real eggs under your hen at night when she's sleepy and less likely to be disturbed (or nip your finger). Make sure your hen can cover the clutch well — don't give her too many eggs or the heat distribution will be uneven and some will fail to hatch.

Provide access to food and water for the broody at all times, but don't be distressed if she hardly seems to move from the nest at all. She might hop down briefly to eat, drink and poop once a day, and then go back to her eggs right away.

Happy hatching! 

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband, and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

7 Ways to Reuse your Homestead Firewood Ash (with Video)


A cord of hardwood produces roughly 5 to 10 gallons of wood ash. Here are a few ways that you could recycle your ash. You can read the ideas below or we also posted a YouTube video (scroll to bottom of this page) that shows some of these examples in action.

Woodstove cleaner. Mix some ash with some water and create a paste. It becomes an abrasive cleaner to clean your window. It works surprisingly well

Cleaning oil spills. Ash can absorb oil spills just like kitty litter can. My husband does all of our car work in our garage, and we sometimes get oil spills on the ground, we have been using some cheap cat litter, but why not use what we have on hand and what is for free? By sprinkling wood ash onto an oil spill, it will absorb the oil and allow for an easy cleanup with an outdoor broom and dustpan.

Repairing ruts in driveway. We use ash in ruts in our driveway and it hardens up like concrete!

Eliminate odors in fridge or freezer. I use baking soda to absorb odors in my fridge, but I just found out that putting a cup or so of ash in a bowl or even a mason jar towards the back will do the same trick as the baking soda.

Natural ice melt. Did you know you can use ash as a way to melt ice on your driveway or walkway? There are natural minerals in the wood ash that help melt ice. Just be careful if you put it close to your house when entering, it would easily come into your house from your shoes.

Fertilize gardens. If you create a circle of wood ash around your crops this will prevent slugs and snails from crossing into your plant beds. Or dump a bucket on your garden

Dust bath for poultry. I have so much sand here on our homestead, but I just found out that ash helps treat fleas and other insects, it’s perfect for helping poultry relieve themselves of parasites. Chickens naturally dust bath to help clean their feathers of pesky bugs but give your girls an extra boost by adding some ash to their dust area.

Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and Instructables, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube pageInstructablesPinterest Facebookand at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Winter Homesteading Safety Tips

Winter Homestead Gravel Farm Road

Photo by Pixabay/Michael Gaida

Life on a homestead can be difficult in winter, especially if you live in a remote area. The farther you are from a town or city, the more self-reliant you must be when the cold weather arrives. Knowing what to do before winter, and how to handle tough situations throughout the winter, can help make your life as a homesteader more satisfying and less stressful. If you live on a homestead, here's what you need to know about staying safe when winter comes. 

Stock Up on Supplies

The farther you live from a town or city, the harder it may be to reach town when you need supplies. Having supplies on hand can keep you out of dangerous situations that require you to drive to a store in poor weather conditions. When stocking up on supplies, focus on non-perishable items. Many people preserve their food throughout the growing season, to have food on hand when winter arrives. Whatever you can't supply for yourself, buy before winter arrives. 

Don't just stock up on the necessary things; stock up on treats for yourself and the people you live with. That may be coffee, chocolate, sugar and other standards that people consume throughout the day. The more you have on hand when a big storm hits, the less likely you are to venture out into the snow. Keep the supplies up off your floor and in pest-proof containers. When storing items that come in cardboard boxes, place the boxes in tubs to keep them safe from mice or insects. 

Stay Safe from Snow and Ice

Snow that piles up on the roof in large mounds can fall off the roof and bury someone underneath, so if you live in an area that receives a lot of snow throughout the winter, be aware of snow and ice on the roof. Icicles can be their own problem, causing ice dams that lead to leaks in the attic. Icicles often develop when warm air in the attic causes snow on the roof to melt and roll down into the gutters, where it re-freezes.

One of the most effective ways to prevent icicles from forming is to insulate your attic properly, to keep the warm air in the lower part of the house. The easiest way to insulate your attic is to fill the space between the joists with loose insulation, until the joists are completely covered. You can also fill the space between the joists with fiberglass batt insulation. If you're not familiar with insulation techniques, talk to an expert before doing it yourself. If you insulate incorrectly, you could reduce air circulation in your attic, which could lead to moisture problems. 

Practice Carbon Monoxide Safety

Carbon monoxide is a dangerous but invisible threat. During the winter, fuel burning devices that keep us warm need to be handled with care. Inspect any heaters you plan to use, clean out your fireplace, and make sure to test your carbon monoxide alarms (or get them if you don't have any).

Know Your Resources

Have the phone numbers for emergency services in your area on hand in the event of a disaster. If you don't have a land line, this may be a good time to get one. Cell phones often go out when towers lose power. If you have family in the area, ask them to check on you in the event of a major storm. This way, you'll know that someone will be sure to check on you, even if your home loses power and your lines of communication are cut. 

Winter Sunrise On Country Farm

Photo by Pixabay/Mark Martins

Manage Road Access

Prepare your snow-clearing tools, like your snow shovel and snow blower, before the winter arrives. If access to your property is limited, you'll need to make sure you can drive in and out even whenever it is snowing. When snow starts to fall, remove snow early and often. It becomes far more difficult to shovel your way out of your house once the snow has built up to insurmountable heights. Keep melting salts or chemicals on hand, if you use them. Don't forget that rock salt can injure animal paws, if you have many pets in the area. Be thoughtful about your use of melting chemicals and rely on your snow shovel or snow blower when you can. 

Mend Your Fences Before Winter Arrives

If you have livestock or pets, you probably have fences on your property. Mend fences before winter. If your fences have weak points, they are likely to become points of entry or exit when the snow starts to fall, and once your property is covered in snow, mending your fences will become far more difficult. 

Protect Your Livestock and Pets

Livestock and pets need to be kept warm and given food and water throughout the winter, and their water needs to be kept above freezing temperatures, so they have access to water when they need it. Repair your barn (if it's needed) before winter arrives, and keep the watering trough in the barn where it is unlikely to freeze. If your animals are not allowed to move in and out of the barn throughout the day, use an outdoor irrigation system designed to prevent water from freezing in the winter. 

Plan for Emergencies

When stocking up on supplies, include a three-day supply of water (a gallon per person per day) and a three-day supply of emergency food, not to be used unless it is a true emergency. Make sure the food you select is easy to prepare, requiring little or no cooking. Keep a big supply of firewood on hand, and stock up on medicines, just in case you're sick and unable to leave the house. 

Winter can be a fun but challenging time on a homestead. For more information about how to stay safe this winter, communicate with other homesteaders in your area. Share tips and tricks to find out what works for your neighbors and friends. Most of all, stay safe and healthy this winter!

Ryan Tollefsen is the founder and team leader of Unity Home Group. As an avid supporter of sustainable living, he aims to help homesteaders navigate some of the lesser-known challenges of finding the right place to build roots for their homestead in his guide to assessing off-grid land. Read all of Ryan’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Keeping Your Working Dog In Line


That morning started out like any other morning on the farm, with Fly helping me with chores.  My soon to be two-year-old Border collie gets to help me move goats around, while I put feed out.  Fly moved perfectly and perhaps a little slower than normal but not enough to cause alarm.  Two hours later, when Fly walked in the door from playing in the yard with her brother, Tucker, her back legs were not working correctly and I immediately knew we had to get her to our vet.

Dr. Arbuckle pulled blood on Fly but nothing showed up but the physical exam was much different.  There were no broken bones but she was definitely out of alignment and needed a chiropractic adjustment.  Not only was Fly whip-lashed, two other spots along her spine were out of place.  Fly was not happy with the adjustment and dragged herself over to me after the adjustment, back legs still not working correctly.  Two weeks of complete rest were ordered and I carried my scared pup out to the car and home.

The day of the adjustment, Fly's legs went from barely working to not working at all.  I carried her outside to do potty breaks, which she quickly figured out what I was trying to help her do, by holding her back legs for her.  I put her on a puddle pad in the living room, while I was sitting beside her and the rest of the day, she was in the crate.

The second day she showed some improvement and was standing on her own but needed me to carry her outside to do her potty breaks.  You could see the look in her eyes that she did not understand what was happening to her.  My heart was nearly broken, thinking she would never fulfill the dreams I have for her going to a sheepdog trial.  I wondered if I would ever see her circle the goats and creep up on them in her flashy way.

Two weeks later, Fly was starting to come around to her normal self or at least she was trying her best with all the restrictions she was under.  The vet adjusted her again at the two week visit and ordered another adjustment two weeks later.  By the third adjustment, Fly was bouncing around as if she had never been unable to walk.

Our vet was very adamant about Fly getting regular chiropractic adjustments.  She lectured me that every working dog should have regular adjustments, to keep them in working order.  They are athletes and like human athletes, the occasionally tweak their body and need to be put back in alignment.  Dr. Arbuckle also said that Fly's longer body style also makes her more prone to slipping out of alignment.  Lesson learned.

Your working dog is an extension of you and that extension is not an unbreakable.  They strain muscles and break bones.  It is up to you as their owner and caregiver, to ensure they keep themselves in top operating shape.  If they get tumbled by a cow or goat, you may want to consider chiropractic care, just to help them recover faster.  If your vet doesn't do chiropractic care, you should find a vet that is trained to do adjustments so you can keep your working dog athlete in tip top shape.

Mary Powell is a goat rental business owner and agricultural educator with more than 27 years’ experience working on ranches, farms and feedyards. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Kansas State University with an emphasis in Livestock Production Management. Follow Mary and her many misadventures with the goats on Facebook at Barnyard Weed Warriors and Ash Grove Goat Ranch or on her website.  If you have questions for her about her goats or Border Collies, email Mary at Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

You've Heard About Pet Shops, but What About Poultry Shops? Part 1

The brooder 

When you have a barn fire, you lose more than just the motivation. You lose pets and years of hard work. We are beginning a new chapter in our book and moving from Rescue into Retail. It was truly a hard decision but with how our situation unfolded, it was the best decision for us and our animals.

Moving into retail is a different world. Being a chicken, goose, duck, and quail lover, I was looking for items for my kitchen, my traumatized birds, and myself and going through eight different websites was time consuming and really just a hassle. One website for medications, one website for specialty items, and another for kitchen decor. I stopped browsing and went to bed. The next morning, my husband asked if I had had any luck. An idea struck. What about a shop that has everything poultry related all under one roof? No more hopping from website to website to find what I, and probably other enthusiasts, were looking for. 

Since I know nothing about retail, I asked a few close friends how it works. For the past two months, I have researched and started putting together items that I liked. Then, I asked my poultry friends what they would like and it kept growing and growing. The pet chicken world needed somewhere and the homesteading community needed somewhere besides browsing multiple websites online. So my husband and I went back to work. We converted a large shed to hold two separate coops and a brooder. The middle that was left will be the brick and mortar store that we plan to open this upcoming March. There are some amazing websites and brands for both the pet chicken and the working chicken and we are incorporating both into our store. 

I have met some truly amazing people throughout this whole venture who love poultry just as much as I do and I get to work side by side with them! The fire took a loway from us but it has given us many blessings that we would not have had if it had not have happened. So after we figured out that we were going to roll with this crazy idea, work started. Like mentioned above, we bought a large shed. The very first thing we put in the shed was a brooder. 

After the brooder was in, we worked on the coops. One went on either side. We then started adding displays and shelving. Not long after this, product started coming in! We were well on our way to opening but still had a lot of work to conquer to make this crazy idea a reality. Part 2 will get into the nitty-gritty of retail.

Marissa Buchanan is the owner of Buchanan’s Barnyard, a mini-pig rescue and poultry conservation farm. Connect with her on FacebookTwitterand Instagram. Read all of Marissa’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Urban Chicken Predators

When we moved from out in the boonies to a small town and started our new little flock of urban chickens, I thought we'd have an easier life where predators were concerned. Foxes, the bane of our chicken's existence for years, were left behind, as were hawks and owls. 

Imagine my chagrin when six out of twelve of my pullets were taken by a sneaky stray dog that wasn't even interested in them as a food source but was just after satisfying its killing instinct. MY killing instinct was strongly activated too! It was one of those moments when I was really glad we don't own a gun, because shooting that stray was mighty tempting. 

Thankfully, living now in an area with established veterinary inspection services, we had a door we could knock on. I lodged a complaint and, after a while, didn't see that dog again, which makes me hopeful that it was caught. Nevertheless, there are other stray dogs in the area, so, for now, I only let my chickens out under supervision while we figure out a good, affordable, and reliable fencing solution. 

There are other predators in the area, too, which I am wary of:

  1. Cats. My neighborhood is full of street cats, and while I'm a great cat lover and see the importance of cats in keeping the population of rodents like mice and rats under control, feral cats can easily go for chicks and young pullets (though they are less likely to mess with adult chickens). 
  2. This is somewhat mitigated by our own (chicken friendly) cat being very territorial and guarding the yard against other felines. 
  3. Rats. We have some massive rats in the area, though thankfully not inside the house right now. Rats can steal eggs and young chicks, and are strong suspects in the case of two chicks of ours disappearing without a trace. 
  4. Snakes. Like rats, snakes will likely go for eggs or young chicks. Snakes swallow eggs whole and you won't see any broken shells. Thankfully, the snakes in our area are not venomous. 
  5. Mongoose (mongooses? Mongeese?!). in our area, the Egyptian mongoose is pretty common. These little carnivores are very good at sneaking into chicken coops through even the tiniest openings and can decimate a whole flock in the blink of an eye. We haven't encountered them here yet, but other chicken keepers in the area have shared horrifying tales. 

Bottom line: Never assume you get fewer predators when you and your chickens move to another area. There will always be something that wants to eat your beloved birds, so invest in a watertight coop and well-fenced run. 

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband, and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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