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Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Jackie Clay

We just installed our next batch of kitchen cabinets

Monday, January 19th, 2015


After many months of cabinets being on the back burner, we saved up and bought three more kitchen cabinets. (They’re cheaper because they’re not as deep as the base cabinets, so that helped.) This weekend, Will and I put them up. They proved a bit difficult as they didn’t want to fit square in the corner or go up tight to the log wall. And the corner cabinet was HEAVY. But with some props made out of 2x4s and a few one-inch wood blocks, Will finally got them to hang well. We’ve got one more to the right of the right hand upper cabinet, one 18-inch cabinet in the corner by the sink, and two narrow ones above the propane stove. Then, other than the island, the cabinet work will be done! Wow. I think they’re turning out beautiful and will sure de-clutter my kitchen a whole lot.

I have to laugh at Mittens. She goes with us everywhere. She even goes with Will out to the woods to cut firewood. But she was pretty miffed when Will went into the bathroom to shave and shower. AND shut the bathroom door! She sat right by the door all the while until he came back out. Then she wanted to go to bed and announced it by saying “NOW!” I swear it’s true.

I’m packing for my trip to Aberdeen, South Dakota, as I have to leave home at 5:00 Wednesday (that’s a.m.!) to catch a flight to Minneapolis where I have a 5-hour layover. Now why couldn’t I have that 5 hours at home? (I’m doing several workshops at the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Conference on canning and growing fruit in cold zones.) If any of you can come, I’d love to visit with you there! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’re babysitting Buddy

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

My oldest son, Bill, and his family were going to take a mini-vacation at a Wisconsin Dells Waterpark so they needed someone to dog-sit. As Buddy, an 8 month old chocolate Lab, had been up to visit us ever since he was a puppy, we volunteered. He and Hondo are buddies and play with each other to exhaustion.

We brought Buddy home with us after attending our granddaughter, Ava’s, third birthday party. Hondo thought it was GREAT! It took them 36 hours before they would just sit down quietly! Now they’ve settled into a routine: go outside to play and chew bones, then come in to rest. At night, Buddy goes into Hondo’s “house” (dog crate) and sleeps all night like a champ. Spencer just rolls his eyes at him.

Our big Bourbon Red tom turkey does NOT like Hondo. Hondo tries to play with him and he runs right after him, all around the yard. Buddy had never seen a turkey and when he went over to sniff him, Big Red pecked him hard on the nose. Buddy does NOT sniff turkeys anymore! I had to laugh; I came home from town and two dogs and the turkey came running up to the car. Will says the turkey wasn’t greeting me but chasing Hondo. He’s real serious about running Hondo around!



We’ve been busy packing seeds. Will is doing the stamping of the envelopes (we’re not a BIG enough company to be able to afford “real” printing), while I fill the orders and package them to mail. Our “office” is two tables. Mine is, by far, the messiest! But we’re having a ball. A lot of folks write a short letter and even send photos. That’s wonderful! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: training a heifer to milk, powdery mildew, and ordering seeds

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Training a heifer to milk

We have a Jersey heifer that calved about three weeks ago. I am having a terrible time milking her. She was so gentle that I free milk her, with only grain put in the manger and a little hay. Suddenly she is kicking every time I try to milk her, which usually ends up with a dirty foot in the milk pail. I have looked at her teats, they are not cracked. I keep my nails short and try to make sure my hands aren’t to rough. I pen the calf away from her at night and after milking her let him back out. I receive about ½ gallon of milk from her, but once he is let out she lets down a lot more milk, so I try to milk a teat while he is eating from the others. I have tried to tie her back leg to the stall, and she went crazy. She kicked and kicked until it came loose then she went up the wall and got stuck between the boards with her hooves. My husband had to loosen boards so we could get her out. I worked with her the whole time she was expecting, by pretend milking, brushing and consistent hands on training. I am a first time milker, as she is a first time being milked but I don’t think I am milking her wrong, as at first she was fine. She never kicks when I clean her udder before milking, but when she runs out of grain, that tail begins switching and she starts to kick. I am at wits end. My questions are: Do you know of anything I can do to prevent the kicking? Am I getting the normal amount of milk, or should I be getting more? What could be going wrong with her?

Mary Ann Nelson
Franklin, West Virginia

I hate to tell you but your heifer is training you. She wants all her milk to go to her calf and has figured out that if she kicks and creates a fuss, you’ll let her calf eat. It isn’t rough hands or nails or your milking technique. To stop this behavior, you’re going to have to take charge. To do this, take the calf away and bottle feed it from the mom’s milk after you’ve milked her. First of all, put her in a stanchion to milk her to contain her movements. This can be a regular dairy stanchion or one you build out of 2×4 lumber. To get her to stand still, here are a few things you can do: You can first try giving her more grain, even if it’s just oats, so she is eating while you milk. If that doesn’t do it, you can try hobbling her. I’ve stopped a lot of cows from kicking by making a lariat out of a length of soft nylon or poly ½-inch rope then slipping it in a figure 8 around her legs, just above her hocks. Either tie the end of the rope to a post behind her with a slip knot or, better yet, have your husband wrap it around the post and hold the end tightly. She may kick and swing around a little, getting used to the hobble but when she gets used to it, you will be able to milk without having her kick in the bucket. Then you can switch to just tying a shorter rope in a figure 8 around her hocks while you milk.

Another variation is to use the “Kick-Stop,” ( ) which is a lightweight pipe frame that slips down over her back, along her sides, right in front of the hind legs. It puts pressure on the nerves in the upper back, making kicking nearly impossible. It does not hurt the cow a bit.

Once she learns that you are going to milk her, no matter what she does, she’ll learn to stand like a pro. I had a goat named Fawn who was a first freshener and the absolute worst milking goat in history. She kicked like a mule. She threw herself off the stanchion and tried to hang herself. She laid down when I tried to milk her. It took both Will and me to even catch her and lift her onto the milk stand. But I kept on milking. When she laid down, I milked her into a pop bottle, lying down. When she kicked, I deflected her kicks with my arm and kept milking. When she threw herself off the stand, I lifted her back up and returned to milking. She was like this for nearly a month. Then she suddenly quit. No more bad behavior. She turned out to be the best milker I ever owned! Who’d have thought? We called her our Rodeo Queen. The key is not to stop milking, no matter what. Hang in there and you’ll get her trained yet. — Jackie

Powdery mildew

My pumpkins, squash and cucumbers all took a hit from powdery mildew this summer. Any tips on how to combat this for my 2015 garden?

Katie Gilbert
Milo, Iowa

Powdery mildew is impossible to totally prevent but there’s a lot you can do to avoid taking a hit because of it. First off, if you remove all infected plants and vines from your garden and burn them, you’ll do a lot to head it off the next year. The spores are wintered over in dead plants and vines, spreading the infection in the next growing season. Do not compost the vines — if your compost pile is not hot enough, the spores will spread. Plant your vines where they get full sun and lots of air circulation, even if it means planting them farther apart. Water from drip lines or soaker hoses so the roots get moisture but not the leaves as dampness helps increase the fungus. You can try spraying your vines with a mixture of one part milk to 8 parts water. Many folks swear by this. Or spray with a mixture of 4 tsp. baking soda to a gallon of water, which raises the pH which weakens the spores. These sprays must be repeated after each rain. If you see the typical dusty white leaves of powdery mildew, cut them off right away and burn them. This won’t cure the disease but it will help retard the development and strength of the infection. Good luck this year. — Jackie

Ordering seeds

Can you send me the website to order your seeds. I thought I saved it, but, no … Also, I plant organic, so are there seed companies that you recommend, other than your seeds?

Melody from New York

Our website is Some of our favorite seed companies are: Sand Hill Preservation Center, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and Fedco Seeds.

Jackie Clay

Mittens not only kills mice and rabbits, but weasels too

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Our little half-pint kitty, Mittens, has turned out to be a very efficient homestead varmint catcher. She’s caught hundreds of mice, voles and shrews, several full-sized rabbits and lately, she’s caught three weasels! Now weasels are pretty tough customers, being able to kill full-sized rabbits even though they only weigh a few ounces. We really do like weasels as they are not only pretty but very good mousers in their own right. Unfortunately, they also eat eggs and kill chickens. (Long ago one weasel wiped out my fancy pheasants and six purebred rabbits in one night.)

So when Mittens brings in weasels as well as voles, mice, and shrews, we’re pleased and pretty surprised too.

It’s been cold these past few days with wind chill temperatures down to -50, so we do chores, tuck in our critters and find plenty to do inside! We’re already starting to order a few fruit trees. St. Lawrence Nurseries carries an Ely pear, which is grafted from a pear in nearby Ely that has been standing there for more than 100 years. We really want one for ourselves! But the owners of St. Lawrence Nurseries are retiring and we don’t know if we’ll ever get a chance to get it again, so we’re ordering early.

Although it may seem strange, we’re starting to “think spring.” I’ve got a speaking engagement down in Aberdeen, SD, at the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Conference from Jan 22rd to 24th. So if you’re in the area, I’d love for you to stop by and say hi! I have an all afternoon, pre-conference workshop on the 22nd and others the following two days so I’ll be busy. But there’ll be plenty of time to visit between and after workshops.

Then in February, it’s time to start some peppers and petunias. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Boy, do we go through the firewood when there’s a -50 windchill

Monday, January 5th, 2015

The last two days, we’ve stuffed firewood in both the kitchen range and living room stoves all day and several times during the night.

Our HIGH yesterday was -13 and this morning there was a wind with -21, giving us a -50 windchill. Brrrrr. We haul our dry firewood into the house with a wheelbarrow. It takes two wheelbarrows full to last 24 hours when it’s so cold. But Mittens LOVES to ride outside in the empty wheelbarrow. As soon as Will heads for the door, she hops in and rides all the way out to the wood shed. We sure have strange animals!

We made sure all the animals and poultry were warm. The goats and chickens weren’t let outside at all, being fed and watered inside the building. I added a doubled up old quilt on the goats’ door to the outside so there wouldn’t be any drafts and gave them an extra bale of bedding. Will brought all the cattle into the training ring where we had been keeping our beef steers so they could get extra grain prior to butchering. But the other cattle only had a small walk-out shelter and the steers have a barn to go in. So he let all of them come to the training ring and barn for wind protection.

We found plenty to do inside. I packed and filled seed orders all afternoon. It was fun to see our seeds go to so many different states. (Don’t forget we have a new seed listing; check the box at the top of the blog.)

On Friday, we bought a new tractor. We had been making payments on our Oliver and were able to pay it off early by saving some of our meat sales money. Unfortunately, the Oliver was just a little too small to run our big round baler without overworking it. Will was afraid he’d “kill” the tractor by baling. So he started looking for a larger tractor. Luckily, we found a Farmall just several miles from our homestead — at a reasonable price. The guy even offered to deliver it to the end of our driveway! Done deal! The day we went to look at it, it was cold and the tractor started right up. Great! And it has a loader and bale spear so that’ll sure help. We feel like farmers with three tractors! But we haven’t had to buy any hay yet and still have quite a few big round bales rowed up. That’s a great feeling.

I’ve heard that this cold is going all over the country, so stay warm and make your animals cozy. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning green beans with bacon and pig eating dirt, etc.

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Canning green beans with bacon

I have 2 questions concerning canning green beans. I just finished putting up 2 qts. and 4 pint and half jars. I processed them per Blue Book instructions for qts. of green beans. BUT I also had added 1/2 slice of pre-cooked, crumbled bacon for flavor to each. Should I have timed this according to the bit of meat — which would have been 90 min.?

Secondly, if I add beef, chicken broth to veggies for flavor do I then have to process at the “meat” timetable? My goodness, the devil is in the little details.
Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

It’s really not a good idea to put bacon bits in jars of canned green beans. I know it’s been done for generations but there’s a possibility that botulism could be introduced and not killed by sufficient processing. I wouldn’t worry about it at this point but I would be sure to boil those beans for 10-15 minutes before serving them — just to be safe. In the future, I’d suggest leaving out the bacon and substituting a few bacon-flavored TVPs instead. They’ll give the flavor but not the possible danger.

If you add beef or chicken broth (broth only!) to veggies, you will need to process for the broth time, which is 20 minutes for pints of either beef or chicken broth so you won’t have to process for the “meat” time of 75 minutes for pints or 90 minutes for quarts.

You’re right! It’s all in the details! And you’re not afraid to ask questions. Good for you! — Jackie

Pig eating dirt, etc.

Does it mean anything that my pig is eating dirt, sticks, pine cones, and eating bark off the trees. He is two and a half months old. If so, does he need a salt or mineral block?

Zac Mitchell
Grand Island, Florida

Pigs eat just about everything, including dirt, sticks, tree bark, worms, roots, grass, snakes, and much more. Pigs do need salt, but if you’re feeding a mixed pig feed, it contains salt. My guess is that he is just being a normal pig, experimenting by tasting everything around him. If he is growing well and fat, I wouldn’t worry a bit. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We count our blessings as Christmas nears

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

We’re really grateful for so many different things. We are grateful for each other and for this wonderful homestead that just keeps getting better every day.

When I think of moving here in 2003, in February, when there was nothing but small trees, old logs and stumps with big woods all around and all we’ve accomplished it doesn’t seem possible: the log house, huge storage building, big gardens, berry patch, orchard, tons of fencing, fenced pig pastures or extra garden (whichever is needed), a training ring and adjacent barn, clearing two pastures, then the third huge one on the new forty acres we bought three years ago, plowing and planting many acres, buying haying equipment, and building the new barn.

Stocking up the pantry after nearly depleting it after our move here is beyond belief. We’re eating our own home-raised pork, chicken, eggs, milk, and beef along with some canned venison from last year as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables from our homestead.

The bread we bake is from flour we grind and after that bout with diverticulitis, I’m SO happy to be able to eat whole wheat bread again! It’s like a celebration, pulling a loaf out of the oven. We never take things for granted but appreciate every single day. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ll have a white Christmas

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014


After a day without snow and rain, which is unheard of here in northern Minnesota this time of the year, we got a two-inch snowfall. Luckily, today the sun’s out and it’s pretty and not too cold. Our critters are happy and fat and seem to enjoy the fresh snow. The horses are running around bucking and playing and even the cows are joining them. (It’s pretty funny to see a big cow with her bag swinging back and forth, bucking and jumping with her tail kinked up in the air!)

We knew the snow was coming so we carried in extra wood and while I ran to town for feed, Will brought in the Christmas tree and got it set up. It seems like every year we have a prettier tree! This year, it’s a locally grown pine. Our own Christmas tree selection is dim; some nice trees are too big and others, too small. Maybe next year we can go out and cut our own again. But we’re happy to have a neighbor to the North that has a small Christmas tree farm. We get a nice fresh tree and keep the bucks local!

I’m excited; we’ll be picking up our beef from the processing plant on Friday! We’ve sold seven quarters of our natural beef, saving a quarter for ourselves. So I’ll be delivering beef Friday and Saturday as well as bringing ours home. Yum, I can’t wait! (We’ve also started selling quarters and halves from the next two butcher steers. Many are repeat customers, so that makes us feel good.)

Keep watching the box at the top of the blog as our new seed business, which we’ve named SEED TREASURES (we believe seeds are more valuable than gold), is up and running with many more selections this year! Click on the link. But if you can’t open it, just e-mail us at and I’ll see you get a listing. — Jackie



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