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Ask Jackie headline

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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

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Archive for November, 2012

Jackie Clay

Q and A: traumatized hens and raising poultry and pigs

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Traumatized hens

Our Easter egg chickens were traumatized about 2 months ago when stray dogs attacked the free ranging flock and killed 3 hens. They had just started to lay normal sized eggs so they are not too old to lay and we have not had an egg of any size since. The barred rocks recovered quickly but the count is down. Is there any hope for these poor hens?

Joyce Baum
Pattonsburg, Missouri

Sorry to hear of your trouble. That’s one negative aspect of free ranging your chickens. We free range ours, but do it in our fenced orchard so predators have a very hard time getting in. (It’s always possible…) Your pullets will start to lay again. Try feeding them a couple handfuls of cheap dry cat food a day along with their regular feed. It’s high in protein and amino acids and often helps hens recover quickly from stress and molting so they begin laying again. — Jackie

Raising poultry and pigs

Do you have any suggestions for books on raising turkeys, chickens, or feeder pigs? I know there are the BHM books that I plan on ordering, but I like to get a couple of viewpoints before I dive into a new project.

I would like to get 3-4 feeder hogs for my extended family, 10 or so layers, 10-15 meat birds, and maybe 10-15 turkeys for meat.

Matt Hountz
Sunman, Indiana

The Backwoods Home Magazine’s handbook on raising chickens is inexpensive and quite good. But for more information on chickens, I’d recommend Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. They also publish Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs and Storey’s Guide to Raising Turkeys, all quite thorough. I’d recommend starting slowly with maybe your layers and meat chickens and a couple of turkeys and perhaps one or two feeder pigs so you get some hands-on experience while you’re learning. Then the next year, you can do more with confidence and experience behind you. Good luck! You’ll love it. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A:canning steak and roasts and breeding goats

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Canning steak and roasts

I have a huge supply of steak and roasts in my freezer from last year and was thinking of canning them. Would you just cut them up in pieces like stew meat and can them that way?

Canyon City, Oregon

Lucky you! You can do a lot with your meat. You can cut the bones from your steaks and can them whole in wide mouth canning jars, cut large chunks from your roasts to later roast with veggies and can the chunks or you could dice the meat into stewing meat which I find very handy for a variety of recipes from pasties and chili to barbecue and pot pies. And scrap meat can either be ground for hamburger, then browned and canned or boiled to make soup stock from. Then can that! All are canned with broth and processed for 75 minutes for pints or 90 minutes for quarts at 10 pounds pressure. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for instructions on increasing your pressure to suit your altitude. — Jackie

Breeding goats

Do you ever pregnancy check your goats (or cow)? Last year my two dairy does were sent away for breeding. Neither had kids this spring (both were first time moms the year before). I didn’t test them and was very disappointed. This year I am breeding four does to my own two boer bucks for crossbred kids. Its so hard to tell if they are pregnant from just looking at them. I took the does to the bucks for breeding and now that everyone is bred they are all turned out together. I figure if one comes back into season the boys will let us know!

Lancaster, Kentucky

We do pregnancy check our cows, but with our goats, we just pen them next to a buck and if they come back in heat, we sure know about it soon. Sometimes when you send does to a buck, it takes them a little while to get over the stress of moving. It doesn’t bother some does at all where others kind of freak out emotionally and this affects the results of breeding. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning bacon and sausage and storing banana squash

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Canning bacon and sausage and storing banana squash

I tried canning bacon and sausage for the first time a few weeks ago, both in half pint jars. The bacon did well, pint jars would have been too much to eat in a week. My question is about the sausage. I put 3 patties in each jar, then added broth to about 1/3-1/2 up the jar. The patty sitting in the broth tasted “funny.” What is the least amount of liquid I can use? The patties were browned and only about half cooked. I just bought another 6 lbs as it was on sale Thursday.

My banana squash actually grew this year for the first time. I planted the last seed in the packet that was left outside for at least a year in late June with the third replanting of squash plants. It and one other survived due to our very odd weather again this year. Can it be stored on the floor of the garage or does it need to be off the concrete floor? Once it is cut, can it be cooked and dried or how is it stored? We won’t eat that amount of squash before it spoils.

Julia Crow
Gardnerville, Nevada

If you wish, sausage patties can be lightly browned and stacked in the jar with no broth; processing times are the same.

Provided that your garage doesn’t reach freezing temperatures, your squash can be stored on the floor just fine. But squash really likes warmer storing temperatures and will keep longer if stored at house-warmth temperatures (55-72 degrees). You can either dehydrate squash slices or can it up in 1×1-inch chunks, with boiling water added. Or you could cook the entire squash and then mash the meat and put it into freezer containers to store in your freezer. I prefer longer term storage via dehydration or canning, myself — just in case the power fails. I sure hate to lose food! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: stewing hens and canning at a higher altitude

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Stewing hens

Just got done putting my 6 hens in the freezer. What is your best recipe for a stewing hen? They were 3 years old and had stopped laying eggs. Also, where is the oil gland that needs to be removed? I wasn’t sure where to locate it.

Debra Basquez
Puyallup, Washington
What I usually do with stewing hens is cut the bird into convenient pieces then put them in either a crock pot, if you have one, or a covered heavy stew pot. Add water to cover, then add 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. black pepper, 2 whole bay leaves, and a couple of whole sage leaves or 1 tsp. rubbed sage. Chop a medium onion and add to the pot. Then bring to a boil (if using a pot). Simmer gently for three hours or until the meat falls off the bone easily. Remove the pieces, then debone and remove skin. Chop large pieces into dices and put into a bowl. Let broth cool and skim off as much fat as you wish (remember that the fat does add flavor, though). Heat up the broth and put dices into it and simmer for half an hour. You may add diced carrots, peas, or other vegetables or top with dumplings. You can also can up the chicken and broth for several meals later on. Very handy!

The oil gland is located on the tail, right at the end. I don’t eat tails, so I just cut the tail off. But you can also just cut out the oil gland and save the tail if you want. (It’s not too large.) — Jackie

Canning at a higher altitude

I am new to canning and where we live is in the Cascades but I thought we were still at the 1000 elevation but found out we are 12 to 14 in elevation. I processed turkey meatballs in tomato sauce at 10lbs for the 90 min and asparagus 10lbs at the 30 min before I realized we were above in the elevation. Its been a week now since I put the food up do I need to throw it away? If not could you please tell me the procedure for saving it? Also I did spinach at the same time but I packed it pretty tight and now I am also worried that the temperature may not have been able to get to the middle after reading some of your articles on thick stew.

Oakridge, Oregon

I, personally, wouldn’t throw away the food, but I would mark it and use it fairly soon and check each jar thoroughly before use. It should look fine, and smell good. Be sure to heat it to boiling temperature for 10 minutes before using (baking, boiling, or even frying). But when you can in the future, be sure to adjust your pressure to suit your altitude. (1,400 feet needs to be processed at 11 pounds with a dial gauge or 15 pounds if your canner only has a weight.)

Usually you can’t pack spinach tight enough to affect the processing without extreme force. And there’s still a lot of water in each jar to create steam throughout the food. I wouldn’t worry. But, again, I’d mark the batch you did at 10 pounds and use it first, and examine each jar before heating it to boiling for 10 minutes before use. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We had a nice, quiet Thanksgiving

Monday, November 26th, 2012

No matter that there was just the three of us eating Thanksgiving dinner, I cooked for three days before; I can’t seem to NOT cook so much. We ate a good meal and have been snacking afterwards for several days. And there’s still more pie to go! Tomorrow I start canning up the leftover turkey and today I’m working on canning up the last of the venison, which froze solid in the barn. Our nighttime temperatures dived to five below zero and the highs have been in the teens — barely!

Last week, Will got a lead on some ¼-inch plywood dunnage at a local wood mill, in 4×8 sheets. Cheap. As in $20 a bundle, which is about a cord. Now ¼-inch plywood is too thin for most building projects but if you double or even triple it, it sure IS thick enough. And with the price of plywood today, that is a steal. So today the man called and Will went to get it.

He got three bundles on our triple axle equipment trailer and when he went in to the office to pay, the nice man said there was no charge because they’d been sitting out in the weather for a while! I’m sure we’ll find plenty of uses for this treasure. Thank you, Mike!

Jackie Clay

Q and A: senior homesteading, leftover pickle brine, and canning cranberry sauce

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Senior homesteading

I’m 55, and my husband is 62. It’s just the two of us on five acres with garden beds, dogs, chickens, and the hope of more on our little homestead (a couple of cows, some pigs, and a small herd of goats). And there’s always work to do: food prep, canning, cleaning, repairs, the well, roof, etc. We are severely restricted by finances, and we do a lot by hand because we don’t have big equipment. Sometimes the amount of work overwhelms us, and we can’t seem to catch up with everything that needs to be done.

My questions for you: I know you’re an older couple like us, and I wonder how do you manage to get all the work done? Is it just you and Will on your homestead? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the amount of work? I’d just like to hear how you manage to do it all.


Of course we sometimes feel overwhelmed! Hey, we’re human, after all. Yes, it’s pretty much Will and I on our homestead. My son, David, is usually away at work or with his girlfriend, so we don’t see him much anymore. We, too, are quite restricted by finances, but we’ve learned to really suck it up so we can save for a piece of more expensive (to us!) equipment each year. We try to prioritize these as to which we really need most. And often, you can make one piece of equipment do the work of two or more. I started out with an older riding lawnmower and used that with a small trailer to haul rocks, hay, buckets of water, and feed. It also cut the grass. Then I bought a used four wheeler. It does everything but cut the grass and also discs our garden, harrows the garden and pastures, pulls in firewood, and cuts down on our walking a whole lot. The next big equipment was an older Ford tractor, complete with a three point wood splitter. Both the tractor and wood splitter sure save our backs and we can get so much more done in a day. Without the wood splitter, we split wood nearly every day, all summer, doing a little at a time so we didn’t have a tiring marathon come fall.

You need to realize that you’ll never get it all done and come to a certain peace in that. Every day we try to do the most important jobs after chores; sometimes we get them done and often they just get a little more done than they were in the morning. We just keep plugging away. And eventually it does get done. Another hint is not to assume that every single project must be done before starting another one. Often we work at one project until we either run out of money, our backs start hurting, or we run out of steam. Then we switch to another that needs no cash, needs no back straining work, or is easier, period.

Sometimes you can trade work with a friend or neighbor, like they did in the old days. You help them can and they come over and help you can. It’s more fun and the old saying “many hands make light work” is sure true. Or maybe a younger neighbor would like to learn to homestead and would be willing to come help you in exchange for learning. Or maybe a neighbor would trade some help for a cut of your garden produce, milk, cheese, chickens, or whatever. Sort of like a no-cash CSA (community supported agriculture).

I hope some of these hints will help you. Know you’re not alone and that the homestead life is worth every single aching muscle in your body! — Jackie

Leftover pickle brine

Last year I had some left over brine when I made pickles. I canned it along with the pickles. Can I now use that to make some refrigerator pickles?

Sheryl Napier
Newport News, Virginia

While you shouldn’t re-use pickle brine to make regular pickles, I don’t see why you couldn’t use it to make refrigerator pickles as they’re not processed for long-term storage. — Jackie

Canning cranberry sauce

Can I double/triple the recipe for canning cranberry sauce?

Sam Stevens
Aiken, South Carolina

No, I wouldn’t double/triple the recipe for canning cranberry sauce. Often when you do that with jellied type products, either the food scorches due to the longer boiling time required or the food doesn’t set up right. Better to make several smaller batches. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canned tomato juice and single homesteader

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Canned tomato juice

We always can tons of tomatoes in the summer (well it feels like it anyway). My question is I canned some tomato juice that was left over for the same amount of time the Ball Book recommended for the raw pack tomato time. So now it looks like water and tomatoes separated in the jar. I am worried that this did not process long enough and it is not good! I don’t want to use it obviously if its not…so I will await your answer. I am a self taught canner who became a homestead blogger but I am a huge fan of yours and you need to know that while I love to help people live more self sufficiently I am a life long learner and I have learned so much from you over the years! Thanks Jackie…if its no good I’ll dump them but if I can use them I hate to waste anything.

Karen Lynn @ Lil’ Suburban Homestead

Not to worry Karen. The reason tomato juice separates is that it was not heated before ladling into the jars. When it separates like that, just shake up the jar prior to using. To prevent it from doing this, just heat the juice to 190 degrees for 5 minutes before putting into jars and processing. Process your quarts of juice for 40 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Don’t forget to add 2 Tbsp of lemon juice to each quart if you are juicing low acid tomatoes. If you don’t know if your tomatoes are acidic or not, add the juice to be sure. It doesn’t affect the taste of the juice.

I, too, am a lifelong learner. I figure if I don’t learn a couple of things each day, something’s wrong! Glad to hear you’re enjoying the blog. It keeps me doing this. — Jackie

Single homesteader

I was widowed in August at the age of 60 so I know you know how I’m feeling. My husband was not into the homesteader lifestyle as much as me so I want to take this as an opportunity to really make my little farm a safe haven. I have no children left at home (I know you still have David) but my adult son and his wife live nearby on the farm on 2 acres. My question is, IF you and Will had not found each other, what would have been the number one problem you would have faced as a homesteader “without a man” on the place? I’m doing a master plan in a “used” notebook and my little farm store is going well so even though I’m older now I feel like I can still make it, tending my animals, gardening, etc. Are there one or two main things though that I need to be watchful of? Or specific things I should consider now that it’s just me? I heat solely with wood so am getting my “utilities” way down but am having to buy firewood when son and his wife aren’t able (because of their jobs) to cut it from here on the farm. Texas Annie has been an inspiration to me on the forum and OF COURSE I’ve read and re-read practically everything you’ve ever written!

Suzy Lowry Geno
Oneonta, Alabama

I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s death. The sadness and empty spot will lessen with time and I know homesteading helps a whole lot. Don’t let worries overwhelm you. We’re all there for you.

If Will and I hadn’t got together, I think my biggest problem would have been doing things so much slower than we are now. Obviously, having an enthusiastic, knowledgeable partner makes things go much faster so you progress at super speed. And at our age (I’m 66 now), getting things, especially bigger projects done sooner is a definite plus. But I’ve also learned to be happy with small steps. After I was widowed, I did have David at home and he was a tremendous help. But I was also doing chemo, surgery, and radiation that year and taking care of my elderly parents with very limited mobility. Those factors kind of adjusted how much we got done and how much help David was to me. We just had so much going on at once! But the important thing is that we made progress. We got the house built, got the garden up and running, and managed to stay sane.

I’ve learned that some good equipment helps a great deal. For instance, a good chainsaw, a wood splitter, and riding lawnmower (doubling as a garden tractor) or four wheeler to use to haul things around with a trailer, helps a whole lot with our aging backs and joints. I still cut wood, but I sure do love the wood splitter instead of using a splitting maul. After having two separate back injuries (fractures and compressed vertebrae), swinging the maul doesn’t go so well.

Breaking up all chores into smaller bites helps a whole lot as does making sure to take all appropriate short cuts such as having a barrel of water and self waterer for the chickens, a large tank for the goats, good gates and latches so the animals can’t get out, having feed located in a central location, and having a light in each building so you can see to do chores after dark.

You definitely CAN make it work. I promise! A neighbor lady was still living at home, heating with wood, with no one living with her, at age 92. If she hadn’t fallen, she’d still be there at age 97. She canned, gardened, and raised chickens. We aren’t old. We’re simply matured and hopefully smarter than we were at 30! Go girl! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our extended BHM family!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

I hope the holiday brings joy and plenty of good homestead eats. Thanksgiving should also inspire us to count our many blessings. And even those of you who are having a difficult time right now always have plenty of things to be thankful for. I’ve found that simply starting to count them up when I’m struggling sure cheers me up!

I’m sure some of you were wondering what Will was doing while Bill, David, and I were cutting up Bill’s deer and canning it. He was putting up the windcharger that his son, Don, had found curbside in Alaska. Don worked it over, electrically, and found it did, indeed, charge. So Will built a pipe tower, and got a set of new blades and $160 worth of wire to wire it to our charge controller in the basement. David helped him get the mast up through the brackets Will had made and through the roof. On Sunday, with some help, Will went up on the roof of the storage barn (with a safety harness on!) and wired the charger and bolted it onto the mast. Then later, David helped him raise the mast so it was 40 feet above ground. We all waited for it to turn in the 15 mph breeze. No turning! Then the wind blew harder. No turning! Can you hear us sigh?

So yesterday, the mast was lowered and Will went up on the roof again, disconnected the charger, and lowered it by rope to the ground. Last night he took it apart and found that the bearings did go around but bound when shifted downward as would happen when the blades tried to turn.

Today, I was in Virginia and ordered the two necessary bearings from Motion Industries. They’ll be here Monday or Tuesday, so we’ll again give it a whirl. (No pun intended!)

You see, things don’t always go perfectly for us, just like it doesn’t for you. But we keep on trying and usually we can make things work. We ARE trying to get more “free juice” to our battery bank so we can run our generator less and we don’t have the cash to buy the best — or new. So we make do with what we can get hold of.

Enjoy your family on Thanksgiving and be thankful we all have each other!


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