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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
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Archive for December, 2007

Jackie Clay

Learning how to fix things

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

Living in the backwoods means fixing a lot of broken-down machinery!

David was on his way home a couple of nights ago when his heater all of a sudden began blowing cold air. Oh oh. Not good. He pulled over to the side of the road and looked under the hood. The heater hose had ruptured and antifreeze was spraying out of the split.

He managed to limp the car home, then splice in a pvc elbow, held in place by pipe clamps. It’s never nice working on a vehicle outside, in the dark, in a Minnesota winter. Wouldn’t a garage or shop be nice? But I stayed out with him, held a flashlight and helped hunt for parts. Finally, it got done and he put the whole area back together (air cleaner, etc.). Unfortunately, he had used up all our antifreeze and he’ll have to pick up a couple of jugs in town tomorrow.

He’ll have to stop at the Ford garage and have them look at the hose, as the temporary repair will only buy a little time; it won’t be safe to leave in place as pvc isn’t meant for that high a temperature. We don’t want it to fail when a storm’s blowing or in some out of the way place. Machines!!! They try to keep you broke and crazy! My donkeys are looking better and better.

Seriously, I’m glad that David is learning how to get a few things fixed; it’s a valuable life skill, depending on yourself and figuring what you can do to get back going again. A lot of 17 year olds just watch TV, play video games and expect someone else to fix all their problems. In the real world, one often has to depend on themself to get out of a fix, and the more practice you have the easier it is to figure out what to do.

Readers’ Questions:

How about when they leave home?

I hope this is not too personal of a question but it is one that I am facing and could use some help on planning for the future. I know that David is in highschool and the time that he will be leaving home is only a few years away. What sorts of preparations are you making now for that time when all the work etc. is on your shoulders? My children are in high school and my husband is handicapped and does very little of the farm work. We are not as rural as you are but still I need to be able to handle all the work when they leave. I do not want to leave the farm because it is what I have worked so hard for. What tools, situations, do I need to be getting in order now?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

Of course you don’t want to leave the farm! And there’s no reason to consider it unless it is what you actually want. What I am doing is working toward having everything fairly up-to-date (i.e. breakdown resistant!), convenient buildings and fences built and ways to do things that don’t require tons of strength. For instance, we have a four wheeler with a garden trailer so I can clean pens and spread the manure on the garden or dump it on the compost pile. Yes, I wheelbarrowed it for years, but this is much easier.

Perhaps you might want to consider raised garden beds to eliminate the tilling, bending and kneeling. I’m working toward a low-till system in my own garden. Because it’s new, I still have to till it, but am planting raspberries, blueberries, black raspberries and currants that are mulched instead of tilled. And when the garden gets in shape (soil fertility, weeds under control) I’ll be mulching heavily there too so that when my back gets worse I won’t have to till so much.

I’m keeping my poultry and goat population to something I can manage. I don’t feel that I could milk fifty does anymore. Or twenty. I have two milkers now, and that’s plenty, not only to milk but to feed and care for the babies. I also have our old whether, Oreo, and a buck. It’s enough. Likewise, we only have fifteen chickens, yeararound and four turkeys. Too many and it gets like work and you don’t enjoy chores any more.

One homestead help I love is our old moving dolly. It’s the two-wheeled kind and I can haul hundred pound bags of feed around, bales of hay, spaghnum moss, rocks, cement blocks and even railroad ties.

Another help is a five gallon bucket! I struggle holding a 100-pound sack on the edge of the garbage can feed container. So sometimes I’ll pour out some of the grain into a five gallon bucket, dump that into the can and repeat it until it gets a lot lighter. Okay. So I’m a wuss!

I absolutely loved the golf cart my son brought up for Mom to use in the summer. It was battery powered electric. Not only did she get lots of rides, but I used it for chores and garden work. It was quiet, hauled lots of stuff for me and was easy to get into and out of, unlike the four-wheeler.

Sometimes you will just have to hire some work done. You’ll be lucky if you look around, and find a nice teenager or out-of-work or underworked person looking for a little extra cash. I’ve hired Tom, our carpenter friend, to not only do a lot of the building I’m not smart or strong enough to handle, but also to help around the place on different projects.

In the plans for the near future are a hay/machine shed, a garage for fixing breakdowns in the winter, heated by a wood stove, more pastures, a fence around the whole garden/house area to keep the deer out and another small horse shelter. By doing these while I have David to help, I’ll have the use of them when he’s grown and walking his own trail. Every day I plan for the future and think about how to make things easier, quicker and safer. Next spring we’re adding more enclosed porch around the East side of the house. Now I do my laundry in the basement. But my knees are not good and I’ve decided to move the laundry up into the north end of the new entry porch so if they get worse I can skip doing the basement steps fifteen times a night.

You get the picture and I’m sure your imagination can come up with lots of “make-it-easiers” too. The best of luck. — Jackie

A homeopathic cure

Once again thank you for taking time out of your busy day to respond to questions from readers. You can tell that you put alot of thought into your answers. I am the lady who asked about the goat
who couldn’t get off her knees. I just read some suggestions from a very thoughtful person who suggested some herbal remedies and I would like to thank her. Well this is what happened after I read
your response, I was saddened but knew that I needed to do something. My chiropractor has been helping some of our arthritis pain with a homeopathic remedy called Traumeel and so out we went to
the goat with just 2 tablets in hand and she gobbled them down. Homeopathy is like cures like and is not a pharacutical concoction and my last hope. She has been with the other ladies (my does) for the last year and a half so I figured that a few more days wouldn’t hurt anything because if they got it they got it. Well the next day she was in a different part of the field and I was confused as to how she got their. The second day she was on her feet and I watched her walk to the other end of the pasture.I was shocked and couldn’t believe it. The third day she was standing and eating grain that was on the ground. Buy the fifth day she was actually trying to run when I called the ladies for their food. I am still in shock. I have tried all I could, even shots (anti-imflamitory drugs from the vet) and nothing. We would have to carry her everywhere she would walk no where on her own. So I am thrilled and thought I would pass this information on. The library has alot of books on the subject of homeopathy. My family and I use homeopathy with great results but with an animal you have to
observe and can’t ask questions. Oh yes and then my cat got into a fight and the wound festered and so a treatment of anti-biotics was needed and seemed all was healing well and then the infection came back. I gave the cat 3 small tablets (they dissolve immediately in the mouth and taste like sugar so no fights) and the next day the yellow puss was gone and the wound appeared to be healing and now it is just a tiny dot of a spot. WOW! This is a learning experience for me. With animals you don’t have the placebo effect so what you see is what you get, and I got two happy animals. I didn’t know what to do and you got me thinking arthritis so I knew that this was my last shot. Thanks. Her knees are also not swollen. If the symptoms come back I just simply re-dose once and watch. Can it be that simple, only time will tell.

Michelle Chapin
Fresno, Ohio

Wow! I’m impressed and very glad I was apparently wrong about it being CAE. How about sending ME some tablets? My knees have been pretty bad lately and nothing much is working. I’d sure like to jump and run around again. I’ve used herbal and homeopathic remedies for years but have never had an experience like you did with your goat. I’m very glad to hear she’s better. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Boy did we get a White Christmas!

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

Now I’m not a Scrooge; I love a White Christmas.  When we lived in New Mexico, I always missed the fluffy white snow.  Down there, all the snow blew sideways and was brown from the dirt in the wind.  Here in northern Minnesota we have snow, snow at least!  You know the kind that falls nice and fluffy, piling up on the pines and looking like a Christmas card picture.

But the weekend before Christmas, it started snowing hard, and it snowed and snowed and it’s still snowing. Last winter we barely had any snow; maybe a foot, total snowfall all winter.  Now just after Christmas, we’ve got about eighteen inches on the ground with drifts in some places four feet deep.

So we’re shoveling around the chicken coop, snow blowing around the front of the house where we come in, and shoving snow around with our big Ford pickup and snowplow.  The poultry thinks it’s fun.  David built them some snow caves in the drifts in front of the coop and threw corn in there, then leveled out some feeding areas.  The mallard drake we have flies out of the coop and belly flops along the path, quacking happily.  Even our fat turkeys waddle out to peck up the scratch feed before they go back inside.  They don’t like the snow and eat fast and go back inside.

I’m soaking a big kettle of pinto beans tonight so I can process them in the canner tomorrow.  It’s so convenient to have those cooked dry beans on the shelves.  We like refried beans and the store ones are so nasty it’s unbelievable.  Who killed the taste???  I drain a pint of mine, add to a big frying pan with a tablespoon of olive oil, heat it then dump in the beans and mash them quickly, frying at low temperature.  I always add diced onions, a half pint jar of home canned chiles and fry them up nice and dry.  Now THAT’s refried beans! The winter’s snow makes me want to have a pot of stew simmering on the stove, a few loaves of bread rising on top and some tortillas and beans for lunch with homemade salsa to top them.  So who’s worried about winter????  Pass the sour cream.

Readers’ Questions:

Dragon’s Tongue beans

Hi Jackie!

It’s Elly Pllips, your editor at Rodale for the Veterinary Guide update lo those many years ago! I was thrilled to discover your columns in Backwoods Home and have followed them avidly for years.
Of course, I was horrified to read of Bob’s death (I somehow failed to read the issue where you told what had happened to him, and have always wondered) and of your own bout with cancer–as well as David’s recent experience with flesh-eating bacteria, yikes!!!!–but have been simply delighted to read of your many uplifting experiences on your new homestead. I don’t know if I’d found my own
home place, Hawk’s Haven, when we were still in touch, but I too have chickens (and many indoor animals) and a greenhouse, as well as my partner Rob, who’s so sweet and considerate. I have all fingers and toes crossed for you in that regard as well–God knows, if it could happen to me, it can happen to you!!! Anyway, I’m freelance editing and writing now, and have been really enjoying working from home with my golden retriever Molly and the cats keeping a  watchful eye on me as I pound away on the computer.

I’ve been meaning to write you for ages, but was finally pushed to do so by your mention of ‘Dragon’s Tongue’ beans in the latest BHM issue. I enjoyed those beans for the first time this past summer and they were the best I’d ever had! I can’t tell you how many beans-rice-and-sliced-tomato suppers I enjoyed while I was picking bagsful. Yum!!! I wish I’d had your mustard pickle recipe when I was picking more than even I could eat fresh (even with Rob’s help!). Next year I’ll know what to do.

Anyway, thanks more than I can say for enriching my life and those of all the BHM readership by sharing your experiences and wisdom. What a gift!!!

Much love,

Elly Phillips
Breinigsville, Pennsylvania

Hi Elly,

Yes, I do remember you and our work on the Veterinary Guide re-write for Rodale.  No, you didn’t have your new place yet; congratulations!!!

We lost Bob to a massive brain hemorrhage in the middle of the night, suddenly with absolutely no warning.  It still doesn’t seem possible.

As you know, we’ve kept on and have accomplished much in what I think is a short time.  I have been writing to a sweet guy in Washington state for over a year now, so who knows what the future might hold?  Good things, I hope!

Glad you liked the Dragon’s Tongue beans.  They’re among my favorites and I sure use them for a lot of different recipes.  Crops that produce like that AND taste great always get planted again and again here.  Have you tried Hopi Pale Grey squash yet?  It’s another huge favorite!  Both Seed Dreams and Baker Creek Seeds sell them this year.  I’m so glad because it’s almost extinct and that’d be such a shame.

Happy homesteading! — Jackie

A cure for a sick goat?

I wanted to make a comment and ask your opinion on the blog from Michelle Chapin from Fresno, Ohio. I read about her goat and I was saddened. And you said that there is no cure. I do a little studying into natural herbs and the medicinal properties they carry. I just wanted to throw out a few ideas before Michelle butcher’s her sweet little goat. I’ve learned that Fresh Basil is an intense infectious bacterial killer because of it’s volatile essential oils. It also has anti-inflamatory properties making it great for arthritis sufferers. Please refer to this site :  I also have researched Cayenne pepper and it is said to be a miracle cure all! You can get cayenne pepper in a pill form so it does not burn the animals mouth. And the last thing I have been researching is magnet therapy. The magnets are said to increase circulation, and reduce pain significantly!! Especially for arthritis sufferers. Maybe Michelle can wrap these around the goats joints and see what happens?? I truly believe these things can work for her, and I would hate to see her give up because a “medical vetrinarian” might tell her there is no cure. God has given us all the tools we need to survive and heal ourselves, and I believe her little goat deserves a second chance to frolic and be happy.

Jenna Hart
Ft. Walton Beach, Florida

Sorry, but I’ve tried about every herbal remedy known to man, ancient and modern and have never saved a goat that had CAE.  This is a very serious and contagious disease.  Once the goat’s knees are affected, the arthritis is severe; you can’t even force the knees to a straight position.  And this seems to progress very quickly to that point; by the time you realize there is something wrong, it’s too late.  I raised hundreds of goats in my life and quickly found out that prevention is a whole lot more successful than treatment.

Of course, the treatments you suggested might help.  No one can say for sure.  But in my experience, it’s only wishful thinking.  The problem with CAE is that it causes infection in the joints where any type of anitbacterial has a tough time accessing, whether natural or injected. — Jackie

Will creosote leach into plants?

I read in your last issue that you use railroad ties for your raised bed gardens. Do you think there is any harm in the creosote in them leaching into the dirt and plants?

Kendy Lucas
West Plains, Missouri

No, I don’t or I wouldn’t use them.  Ideally, a person would use plain, untreated wood of a species that is rot-resistant, like cedar.  But this is often hard to get and expensive.  Railroad ties that you get for a raised bed like mine are very used and old and I’ve never had any problem with the dirt or plants absorbing any odor.  I’d rather use these than the pressure treated green landscape timbers that contain arsenic!  (Some do not, but it is hard to tell them apart; even lumberyard employees often do not know.) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Reader’s Question about fatal goat disease

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

I have goats and I have one in particular who is down on her knees. I was told by a vet that that is where she will most likely stay and that I would probably need to butcher her. She is the best
little thing. She is loving and just good natured. Oh yes, she got her silly self stuck in the hay trough and when we got to her she dislocated her back leg. We popped it back into place with the help
from a neighbor farmer, but I am afraid to freshen her because she still favors that leg. The question is because she is not on her front feet they are growing weird and looked deformed and when I
trim them at the tip now I can’t clip too much off because I hit what appears to be a vein. Her feet are still not short enough when I get done trimming her feet. What is going on and what should I

Michelle Chapin
Fresno, Ohio

I’m sorry that you’re having this trouble. Unfortunately, chances are that your little doe has CAE or Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis, which is a fairly common problem in goats, caused by a virus. It is also a progressive type of disease that causes the crippling knee joints and usually eventually death. There is no treatment, but there is a blood test that your vet can have done for you. It is contagious, as well, so you might consider having the other goats in your herd tested to make sure none of them have it, as some goats can test positive for it, pass it on through their milk to their offspring when they nurse and never show signs themselves.

Many goat breeders are so watchful of this disease that they routinely test their entire herd and bottle feed all kids from birth with pasteurized milk.

If you have few goats and have had no problem with CAE in your herd, this probably is not necessary. But if you have goats coming and going (showing, breeding) or have ever had a goat evidence this in your herd, you might consider this step.

This is a hard part of animal ownership, the having to decide to put an animal down for its own good and that of your herd. It’s never easy.

There is no evidence that CAE can be transmitted to humans. — Jackie

Canned turkey pieces floating

I have canned meat for the first time (thank you for your instructions). I am noticing my turkey pieces have of course floated to the top of the liquid line in my jars – with small portions of the meat pieces sticking up out of the liquid entirely. Is that a problem?

Michele Zipf
Amelia, Ohio

No, this is perfectly normal. The worst that can happen is that that little bit of the meat kind of dries out. But when you heat it, it quickly softens and is perfectly fine. I’m so glad you had good luck canning your turkey. Now it’s onward and upward for you, from here! Good canning! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ve got a new farm dog!

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

Since our old labradors, three legged Pup (16 years old) and Wab (17 years old) died, we haven’t had a good old farm dog.  We have our three wolf-husky hybrids in the dog yard, but I’ve always had a dog in the house that went everywhere with me; chores, in the truck, fishing, hunting, you name it, the dog was there.  Mom has a small labrador/beagle mix that came with Mom and Dad when they moved here with us.  But Ike is a town dog; he doesn’t do chores, follow me around; he just wants to sit in the house.

For a year or more, I’ve wished we could get another labrador retriever to take the old friends’ place.  But I’ve never found a free pup looking for a good home, nor have I been able to afford a registered pup, to the tune of over $250.  But just last week, the folks at the local feed mill ran an ad for the last of their 11 lab puppies; $100 or best offer.  David was excited.  He said he’s put up $50 if I would.  So I told him to see what was left.

Labrador retrievers are a great all around homestead dog.  They have enough brains not to bite the neighbors’ kids when they visit, but will sure tear into an intruder.  I know this from past experience when I was living alone at the end of a long dirt road and a carload of drunk men pulled up at night.  “Yeah!  She’s alone!  Let’s go visit her!”  They were starting to pile out of the car when I told our lab, Pug, to “Get ’em!”

Now he’d never been trained to attack and he sure wasn’t mean.  I thought maybe he’d jump at the window and bark.  Ha!  He jumped over my shoulder RIGHT THROUGH the window and was at the car in a heartbeat.  You could just see white teeth flashing in the moonlight and four men pile back into a car, screaming like girls.

We have predators around, not having given us any trouble, but a gun and a good dog go a long way towards keeping it that way.  And you need a dog that can handle a large predator without damage.  But you DON’T want a dog that will eat your chickens.  A well trained lab won’t do that either.  Our wolf-huskies are great sled dogs, but no amount of training could teach them that those feathered temptations were NOT their play-toys or dinner!

So David came home, bearing a little 9 week old black lab.  “His name is Spencer,” David informed me.  “He just looks like a Spencer,” he said.  Well Spencer stopped at the vets on the way home for his shots and worming and now we’re in the process of housebreaking and training him.  He’s smart, too.  He’s already learned to sit and come.

A great benefit is that he’s entertaining Mom.  She gets bored in the winter, and Spencer is giving her plenty of attention and entertainment.  Winter won’t seem so long this year.


A reader’s question:

Doing things one-handed

This is a hard question to ask because I don’t now how to ask it. But were goes have you had any body ask you how to do things one handed. like dressing chickens or gardening and so on? I only ask because I have only one hand. I now you had cancer in you arm so how did you do that stuff and other with the use of only one arm?

Linda Hinkle
Gig Harbor, Washington

This is a problem I’ve had lots of experience with.  Yes, I had cancer surgery on my left elbow and was a bit laid up with that, but also my adopted son, Javid, from India came to me with multiple handicaps.  These left him paralyzed from the waist down and also in his left arm.  As he wanted to join in all the homestead activities with the rest of the family, he grew adept at using his chin or a heavy duty fish scaling board with a clamp on the end to hold various items.  We still joke when we talk about him helping husk corn because he held it under his chin and pulled the husks with his able hand.  We call it “chin corn” and he says there was never any corn that tasted quite as good after he grew up and left home!

You can clamp a chicken with the fish scaling board (even if you have to jerry-rig it a bit).  You didn’t say if you have an arm that works.  If so, you have a great advantage because you can use it to weight down whatever you are working on.  You can use meat scissors to help dress chickens, instead of a knife.  There are all sorts of adaptive equipment available; some you’ll have to think of yourself for each homestead task.  Then there are ways to make a difficult task easier, too.  For instance, sometimes it’s hard to unscrew the ring on a canning jar, one handed.  But if you soak the jar in warm, sudsy water for a few minutes, it will usually unscrew easily, while held under your chin or in your armpit.

Adapting to handicapping situations is never easy, but everything IS possible if you get tough and decide you WILL do it.  Do you have a prothesis?  Can you wear one?  A friend of mine had his hand amputated after a car wreck.  Gordy was a cowboy and as tough as they come.  He got a prothesis (hook type) and soon learned to drive a team, drive his big truck and even tip his hat with finesse.

The best of luck and contact me again, if I can be of help. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Home grown eggs and Christmas trees

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

Why with all that science, can’t factory chickens lay a good egg???

This morning, Mom wanted some scrambled eggs and bacon.  I had one store egg left from those I’d bought to make deviled eggs.  (For ease, you need OLD eggs to make peeling eggs less of a chore.)  And, of course, I had plenty of green eggs, blue eggs and a few brown eggs.  Yes, I have Arucana chickens, which lay colored eggs, as well as assorted brown-egg-laying heavy breed hens.  The color really doesn’t matter much, but it’s just fun to have the different colors.

“Factory chickens” get the latest ground diet, scientifically proven to be the best for them.  Mine get bugs, milk and weeds in the summer and kitchen left-overs, milk and snow in the winter.  Of course, they also get a little scratch feed, as well.  They do have grit, oyster shell and water available, too.  Not terribly scientific, huh?

But yet, when I broke the two eggs into a bowl, the store egg was (as they always are!) pale yellow, with a watery white.  My homestead egg was orange with a nice thick, firm white.  Gee, could a natural lifestyle be better for chickens????  The proof is in the egg.

A lesson for mankind, all wrapped up in an egg shell.

Tonight, when David got home from school, we went out into the woods and searched for the perfect Christmas tree.  Living on previously logged off land, there are lots and lots of potential Christmas trees, just the right size to choose from.  And it’s always a hard decision.  But finally, we agreed on a nice bushy white spruce and David cut it, leaving about three feet of trunk.  (The tree won’t be killed, but will sprout two new trees from the trunk.  We’ll prune one off, leaving another nice tree to grow up later on.)


We brought it home and now I’m cleaning and re-organizing our living room so we can bring in the tree tomorrow night.  Everyone is always excited when we decorate our fresh, homegrown tree.  It’s even more like Christmas when we get to cut our very own tree! Our Christmas will be simple this year.  We’re lightening up on the gift giving and enjoying more visiting and eating.  Sometimes, in the past, Christmas got too depressing as we joined the rat race of GIVE MORE!  So we have made a decision to simplify our holiday season so we can enjoy it much more.  After all, it’s only 2 1/2 weeks till Christmas!   Hmmmm.  Then it’s New Year’s….and February pepper planting, then SPRING!!!

Readers’ questions:

Cake in a jar

Jackie, would you mind sharing your recipes for cake-in-a-jar and processing times? Since I enjoy canning, I always like to experiments with a new recipe, plus having cake handy for unexpected
company, is always a nice treat. Thanks; always love and respect your canning advice. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family!

Andrea Del Gardo
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Because of the experts warning about canning cakes in a jar, I can’t give you recipes; I just used any instant bread, such as banana bread, lemon bread, etc.  The wide mouthed pint jars were lightly greased and filled about half to 2/3 full.  The jars were then set in the oven and baked at 350 degrees, till done.  IMMEDIATELY when taken out of the oven, the hot, previously simmered lids were placed on the jars and the rings screwed down firmly tight.  The jars sealed as they cooled.  But I really can’t give you this information. — Jackie

Eliminating rodents

My little homestead in the Ozarks is inundated with mice, rats, squirrels, and bats. The bats have found a way up into the attic of my house and I don’t have a clue on how to get them to find another
abode. Any advice on how to rid my place of the above? Thanks for your blog. I check it daily for your news and wisdom.

Bonnie West
Norfork, Arkansas

Sounds like you need to either set a good trap line or find a good cat!  To get rid of the rodents, eliminate their feed as a starting point.  They’ll likely leave if they can’t get into the grain, livestock feed or other edibles, including sunflower seeds in your bird feeder.

As for the bats, crawl up in the attic on a sunny day, armed with a couple of bags of steel wool and a can of foam insulation.  A bat can crawl through a crack half an inch in diameter, so look about for cracks, often along your chimney flashing or at the eaves.  Stuff the steel wool in the crack, then hold it in place with the foaming insulation, which hardens and swells to seal tightly.  You may need to do this more than once, but you’ll see a drastic decrease in bat population in the house each time you go bat-proofing.

I really like bats (but not in the house!).  They eat an incredible amount of insects each night and are interesting creatures to watch.  You might consider hanging a few bat boxes up under the eaves of your outbuildings.  This may encourage the recently evicted bats to take up better housing.  Good luck. — Jackie

Keeping cats healthy

We recently were given four kittens to be barn cats and mousers. We have only been on this ranch a few months and know we risk predator losses, but do you or BHM have information on natural ways to keep pets healthy, such as what to use for worming?

Your parts of the magazine are the best and most interesting to me, and you are an amazing woman both for knowledge an experience. (Know any single young women who are looking for a partner? My son is afraid I’ll die and leave him with no one to share with!)

Donald Allen
Afton, Texas

Congratulations on your move to ranching.  Having been a veterinary technician for over 20 years, I’ve seen and tried a lot of natural wormers, etc.  Unfortunately, few have really done their job.  I’ve had people tell me they used XXXXX and their cat was now totally worm free and healthy.  But when I asked if they’d taken a fecal sample in to their vet to have it checked following the treatment, every one hemmed and hawed around and ended up saying that they KNEW their cat was now worm free and healthy.  Not good enough for me.

The ONE huge thing you can do to keep your cats healthy is to have them neutered when they reach six months of age (males) or four months (females).  Why would neutering them keep them healthy?  Because a whole lot of sickness and injuries are the result of the cats’ contact with feral cats during breeding activities.

Also, a female can have two litters of kittens a year, with an average litter of five.  Not only will you soon be overrun with cute kittens, soon to be not-so-cute cats, but the mother cats will become stressed from being pregnant so often and nursing untold litters of kittens.

It is a fable that mother cats are the “best” mousers.  Just like “hungry cats make the best mousers”.  Not so.  Neutered cats will mouse very effectively and healthy, well nourished cats will be in top shape to hunt happily.

It’s a very good idea to have your kittens vaccinated against the most common cat diseases.  One of the most frequently encountered is feline distemper.  While a cat can recover from it, few actually do.  This is a very “hot” disease and is easily passed from a neighboring or feral cat passing though your yard and having fleeting contact with your own cats.  Talk to your vet.  The vaccinations are not expensive and will probably save your cats’ lives. — Jackie

Encyclopedia of Country Living

I realize you are very busy like all of us who have animals and such. My question is what books would you suggest for raising both chickens and rabbits? I have been trying to find them through our
local library but they don’t have what i need. I have been trying to find out how may sq ft are needed in the building for each chicken and whether rabbits need to be inside a building in cold country. So
far haven’t located either information. Good luck on your place and hopefully someday I will also get to the country once again.

Deborah Glass
Wrangell, Alaska

A very good homestead book that covers raising rabbits and chickens, as well as a million other useful things, is The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery.

Basically, it’s recommended that laying hens need 1.5 sq. ft. of room inside and 8 sq. ft. in outside runs.  There should be one nest per every 5 hens.

Rabbits can take a lot of cold, provided that they have shelter from the wind and cold.  I always brought my hutches into my lean to barn after Thanksgiving, as in Minnesota, the weather soon turns from autumn-like to winter, with sub-zero temperatures.  But my lean to was unheated and just provided shelter from the frigid winds and blowing snow.  Given a nice nest box and lots of straw or shavings, rabbits do quite will during the winter. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

There’s another homesteader in our family!

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

My daughter-in-law, Kelly (Bill’s wife) had a tiny, very healthy baby boy. Right in the middle of a good old Minnesota blizzard! Bill kept me posted by cell phone from the hospital. He knew I’d be biting my nails, wishing I could be there. But unfortunately, the roads were nearly impassible and with my 91 year old mother I knew better than to try it. Yes, I knew we could drive, although it’d be a slow drive, as visibility was nearly zero, but if we had some unknown car problem, such as a fuel pump going, we’d be sitting by the side of the road with Mom in better than a foot of blowing snow.


By nightfall, we’d had about 18 inches here at home and it was still snowing. But by bed time, it had stopped and the wind wasn’t blowing. When I woke up this morning, there wasn’t any more new snow and the storm seemed over. So I checked the weather radio, which I do every morning and evening, especially when contemplating a trip. They said we’d have from one to two more inches of snow but the winter storm warning had expired.

Hooray! I quickly got up, dressed, got Mom up and dressed, gave her her pills and breakfast, woke up David and got ready to drive the 80 miles to Duluth. I knew the roads would still be slick, but felt confident that I could make the drive alone with no trouble. Grumbling David stayed home to be with Mom (although he would have much rather have gone with me!).

In two and a half hours, after passing several SUVs in the ditch, I arrived at the hospital and got to hold my newest grandchild, Mason Donald Spaulding. (Were my children EVER that small????) Sigh. They grow up so fast.

Readers’ questions:

Making a milking machine?

I have been milking a holstein-jersey cow for quite a while and am interested in making my own milking machine. I need help. I don’t know what size vacuum pump I need. I know about the other equipment but nothing about the pump. I don’t want to injure my cows, and have you seen the prices of milking machines online? Any help you could offer will be greatly appreciated.

Kevin Windham
Louin, Mississippi

You’ve got me, as my milking machine is on the end of my arms! Long ago I had a dairy herd and used milking machines. But I picked up good used equipment at a farm auction. The pump cost $50 and the two milkers and belts went for $25 each set. I did need to buy new inflations as the old ones were cracked and nasty. I think rather than trying to build your own, I’d go this route. You can open a whole can of worms by having a vacuum machine that delivers the wrong vacuum. (Can you say MASTITIS?)

I would put an add in a local shopper or even an online site for farmers, asking for a good used vacuum pump and milker. I’ve done this a lot and had great results. And made some friends in the bargain. Good milking! — Jackie

Outside wood boilers

Hi Jackie, I am licenced home inspector and trainer in CT. I just want to start by saying you are an inspiration to the off grid folks,I hope to be there someday myself. The recent blog on wood-stoves and outdoor heaters is a good thing for more folks to understand. I heat with a BIG Moe wood stove, it works great. The issue with some of the outside boilers is a new one to most folks. is a good starting point to learn about the problems folks have with these boilers, and where the companies which build them need to get to. Hope this helps you and others to know more about these new dinosaurs, and maybe the companies who build these will take notice if we all know more about what we should expect out of our wood fired boilers. Maybe an in depth article from someone at BWH. Keep warm.

Brian Dunbar
Harwinton, Connecticut

Thank you for your information. I’m lucky in that my oldest son, Bill and his wife heat with an outside wood boiler and I also have several friends who do, as well. The trick for us is to figure a GOOD way to make them work when you live off grid! There are a pump and blower that run nearly constantly and we have that to contend with. So right now, it’s in the thinking stage. This might last for a year or five. Who knows? But one thing for sure is that next winter we’ll have at least one other wood burning stove in the house. My kitchen range just doesn’t hold a fire long enough to heat the new greenhouse when it’s way below zero. — Jackie

Bavarian style kraut

Jackie, we make kraut every year. We are looking for a recipe to make the bavarian style with caraway seed. We have not been able to find one. Thank you for your time.

Ruth Gross
Roscommon, Michigan

A German friend gave me her recipe so I could pass it on to you. I hope you like it.

2 quarts sauerkraut, drained\
1tsp caraway seed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 C medium ale (if you like)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil

Add chopped onion and caraway seeds to oil in large frying pan. Cook onion until tender and toast caraway seeds, stirring well to prevent scorching. Add drained sauerkraut and ale if you wish. Heat well until flavors are well blended. Serve warm with a good dark rye bread and some fried German sausages! Good eating! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Winter’s first storm is a shakedown cruise

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007


This winter came with a big BANG, in the form of cold and first a foot of new snow, then after only two days, another eight inches. We thought we were ready. Well, pretty much so, anyway. After all, we’re not exactly new to snow country after living here and also in the mountains of Montana. We have a 3/4 ton Ford plow truck, a bulldozer, a snow blower and a shovel.

So after the storm blew out, David went out to hook up our snow plow so he could plow our mile long driveway. But the motor wouldn’t even grunt. No power. We banged on it with a hammer, then took it apart and cleaned it out. Earlier, David put in a set of new brushes, thinking we were all ready for winter, for sure. Wrong! Okay, he went out and got the snow blower, which we’d started on and off for the last month, to be sure it was ready. No stale gas, new spark plug. And it just wouldn’t fire up!

So he went out and swept the snow off the dozer seat. Evidently the battery terminals are corroded because IT wouldn’t even click! And we’d run it a week ago and everything was great. (You saw the pictures on the blog, even!) As it turned out, only the shovel worked that day.

By then it was dark and I started the generator so I could at least wash clothes….it’s kind of zen for me….calming and routine. I was about fried! So I washed clothes and did the blog, sending it off to the BHM office. Then the lights flickered and the backup system kicked on. The generator was still running but we had no electricity. Oh oh. That’s not good. And I didn’t go down to Virginia to pick up the one that was in the shop, fixed. Eeek. The only one we had was our backup, backup generator that was not reliable.

But luckily it did start and run. And the next day David took the plow truck in and it only cost $18 to put on a new solenoid on the truck and the plow motor hummed happily again. We picked up the fixed generator and took the one that wasn’t generating. Then David plowed our drive nicely while the snow blower warmed up in our new greenhouse. Things were looking up. Especially when a few hours later, it started easily.

I took it out and used it to clean up around the house and goat barn. The goats acted silly when I ran it near their pen, but quickly forgot it when I gave them a can of feed. We went around the barn, banking snow against the west walls for warmth and gave everyone a bale of hay for bedding so they can lie down and be toasty warm. After all, tonight it’s supposed to get down to -25. What will the rest of the winter be like????

The way I look at it, the first big storm of the winter is kind of a shake down cruise, letting you know what more you need to do to be prepared. Preparedness is not a destination, it’s a trail. But sometimes there are plenty of bumps on the road. You just need to keep going, no matter what.


Readers’ questions:

Are very old canned goods still GOOD?

My parents have oodles of home canned goods in their basement. They are about 15 years old! We can not seem to make them understand that they need to get rid of them. How do we go about getting rid of these jars? My father says that he will just take them out to the back of the garden and dump the contents and clean the jars. He wants to reuse them if at all possible. I do not think that is a good idea!!!!!! Please, help!!!!!!!!!!!!!! From a very frantic daughter in Ohio, Joyce!

Joyce Williams

Gee Joyce, you’d be a REALLY frantic daughter if you were mine!  I have quite a few jars of home canned foods that are over 15 years old.  This is one of the BENEFITS of home canning; once canned properly, the food is good for nearly forever unless the seals fail (like when the lids or rings get rusty) or if the food gets soft (unusual, except for some pickles) or becomes discolored (usually from being in the light).  If the jars are sealed, the food is good.

True, some nutrition may have been lost, but then nutrition has been lost when you use bleached flour or eat store bought vegetables in a can (these are harvested past prime and processed under less than ideal conditions.).

If any of your parents’ food is discolored or the lids are rusted, you CAN simply dig a hole in the yard and dump the food in it.  Washing out the jars is perfectly fine.  If the food smells bad or could be spoiled (like if a lid rusted or came loose), the jars can be washed and sterilized by boiling in a big kettle of water.  It’s simple and safe.

If they were my foods and jars, I wouldn’t let you into the basement!  Just kidding, Joyce.  I know you are really concerned but this isn’t as bad a situation as you might think. — Jackie

Do you wash bands and lids before canning?

When canning you wash the lids and bands;do you dry the band before putting it on the jar, over the seal or do you leave it wet?

Anne Malone
Dayton, Ohio

I actually don’t wash my bands and lids before canning.  I wash the rings after I take them off the jars, after the jars have sealed and cooled, then I put them away dry.  The lids, which are new, are just put into a pan of simmering water, with the heat turned off until you put them on the jars hot.  The rings are dry and should stay dry to avoid rusting  Rust eats up the rings and can also eat into the lids if the rings are wet, damp from a damp basement or poor storage.  This is why I remove the rings after the newly canned jars are cooled.   I use to keep the bands on the jars but found that they often started rust forming.  Not a good thing! — Jackie

Hominy making

I know that yellow dent corn needs to be cooked in lye water to remove the hull and make the vitamins easier for our bodies to digest, but does one need to prepare a flour corn such as Hopi Blue
or Seneca Indian before grinding into meal this way? Love your column and blog! My family and I would like to wish you and yours a very happy holiday season and a safe and prosperous New Year.

Dave Leland
Whitmore Lake, Michigan

What you are referring to is hominy making.  (I use lime, instead of lye.  It’s safer for the maker, that way!)  You can grind flour corns just as you do others to make corn meal.  This is the kind of gritty meal you are familiar with from the store, that you make cornbread from.  Now corn FLOUR is a different product.  This is “masa harina”, often sold at stores for tamale and tortilla making.  Masa is made by first making hominy, then drying it and grinding it.  This grinds up very fine, making corn flour, because you’ve removed the hull or skin of the corn kernel.  This is what gives cornmeal it’s gritty texture.  You can grind cornmeal very fine, but it is never as silky smooth as is corn flour.  Also masa harina has it’s own nutty, earthy, distinct taste that lots of us enjoy!

And a happy holiday season to you and yours, too!! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Reader’s Question: Cake-in-a-jar

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

I have heard that canning “cake in a jar” can be unsafe…I have been canning cake in a jar for several years and have not had a problem. The cake is moist and delicious (we have had it up to a year after canning)…and have not had any problems. Can you give me any information on the safety hazards of “cake in a jar”? Thanks!
Candi Legursky
Mabscott, WV

I, too, have canned cake-in-a-jars for years. Unfortunately, the experts now tell us that there is a danger of botulism from this practice as the cake is not pressure canned. And of course, they won’t tell us how to do that! I’m really skeptical about this, but as a writer I can not ignore the experts’ advice and warnings here in the magazine. (Can you say “lawsuit”???)

I mean you can leave a cake or banana bread out on the counter for days and you don’t get botulism from that…… Oh well, I’m not an “expert.” — Jackie


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