Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 82

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 82
Jackie Clay

To Ask Jackie a question, please Click Here to visit her blog.

Castrating cattle, moving to a cabin, propane refrigeration, cleaning the grease out of range hoods, tipi living, using a pressure cooker as a canner, “recanning,” and low-yield tomato plants

We raise a few livestock, mainly for home use. We have a bull calf that we are keeping for beef. We were told to wait to castrate him when he was about 500 pounds, which he is now. I don’t know whether that was a wise decision. I need your advice. What is the best method to castrate and since we don’t have a chute, how is the best way to restrain the animal? I was told you had written a book on home vet work. If so, please let me know how to get it and how to castrate our bull.

Larry Estep
Gate City, VA

Whew! I’d get the guy who advised you to wait till your calf weighed 500 pounds to come over and hold him while you castrate him. (I mean the bull, now!) I usually castrate our bull calves, meant for beef, at about 150 pounds, where I can handle them nearly single-handed without a chute or cowboy.

I revised A Veterinary Guide for Animal Owners, which my late husband and I wrote 20 years ago. You can get this book from any bookstore. In it are described several methods of castration. The one I much prefer is the use of a “clamp” which pinches the blood vessels and effectively castrates the calf with no blood or cutting involved. It is not the “band” method, where a strong rubber band is slipped up over the scrotum, cutting off all circulation. This can be dangerous, as tetanus and infections following this method of castration are all too common.

What I would recommend is that you have a veterinarian who has a portable chute come out and do the deed. These chutes tow behind a truck like a trailer. The bull calf is corralled, roped, or herded into the chute where he can be safely handled and castrated.

If this is impossible, I’m afraid I’d make young beef out of your bull before he gets too big for his britches, escaping from home and causing neighbor trouble, as they will often do. Next time, “pinch” that bull calf when he is much smaller and easier handled.

I have castrated such large bulls by roping them, haltering the animal with a stout halter, tying him to a fence post of a plank or pipe corral, then closing a strong gate up on his free side. With several helpers, one to hold the gate tight against the bull’s side by using a rope behind his butt tied to the center of the gate, then run to a fence post on the other side for leverage, and another strong, fearless helper to hold the base of the bull’s tail straight up over his back with as much power as he can muster. This immobilizes his hind legs to a great extent. Then he may be castrated with the Burdizzo clamps. Never clamp both testicles at once. You must never clamp across the center division between the testicles. Do one at a time instead.

Again, this is not a safe procedure, and carries risk of injury. But I have done it several times when there was no other alternative available. I’d call the vet, myself. Good luck.


My husband and I would like to know how to move to a cabin and is this a pipe dream or can it be done?

Judy Cheney

You’re darned right you can move to that cabin. While it is a dream, it certainly is not a pipe dream. I don’t usually “sell” things, but I would suggest buying the Jackie Clay CD from BHM. On it are dozens of articles I’ve written, many of which pertain to moving to a backwoods home and living skills necessary to make your life there comfortable and enjoyable. It’s $12.95.

As you know, telling you the complete how-tos of moving to a cabin would take more than this whole magazine, but I can offer some useful suggestions:

  • Work together, forming a realistic goal for your family.
  • Pay off as many debts as possible, and contract for even fewer in the future.
  • Rip up your credit cards.
  • Plan well, considering the fact that everything takes longer and costs more than you expect it to.
  • Of course constructive, creative thinking can certainly cut costs for everything.
  • Buy what you can afford, rather than what you “want.” You can usually remodel your less than perfect piece of heaven into a wonderland"with work.
  • Consider that anywhere you go, you will need at least a modest form of income and plan for it.
  • Keep an open mind to the suggestions and help offered by locals who have lived in the area for some time; some are truly helpful and some are “know it alls.” What is their place like? Would you like your place to look or work like theirs?
  • Plan on working hard for your dream; harder than you would work for others. It takes commitment. And endurance. And patience.
  • Know that it can be done, and that hundreds of common folks are out there doing it. Right now. You are not “weird” or “nuts.”
  • Pick up a copy of Countryside Magazine at the newsstand. It’s full of letters from just such people every month, telling what they’re doing, mistakes they made, and success stories of their triumphs.

Good luck in your dream. If you have specific questions regarding this move, please feel free to write.


I would like to know when you make your move to the wilderness, how are you going to use your propane refrigerator? Are you going to use small tanks that you can bring in yourself? Do you plan for not using the gas refrigerator, and if so, what is it? I use a propane refrigerator and I do love it. But I would like to phase it out and be more self sufficient in the future. Any ideas?

Kathy Lupole

Yes, we do plan on using our propane refrigerator, at least during the summer months, when we make our move to the wilderness. We use it, and love it, right here in our almost-wilderness, here in Montana. We will use 100-gallon tanks, which can be hauled in via snowmobile or whatever transportation mode we are using at the time. But you’re right, using any fuel of this sort is not completely self-reliant. We could use an efficient electric fridge, powered by solar panels, but we are trying to be as economical as we can as well. The propane fridge and lights use about two 100-gallon tanks worth of propane a year.

In the winter in the north, a simple, insulated wooden cupboard fastened in a window will provide pretty dependable cooling until it gets warm outside. We’ve had pretty good luck sinking a large barrel in the ground, cooling it from a black plastic water line wrapped around it, which led from our spring to the house; the water was usually at about 40° or less, and kept food in the covered barrel nicely cold"sort of a poor person’s spring house. We did worry about a bear finding our outdoor fridge, however.

One seldom-thought-of idea is not to have a fridge at all. I know of people who have done this and been very happy with the arrangement. Cook only fresh food, and cook only enough to eat up or keep till supper in a cold cellar. Use only fresh milk, held briefly in that cold cellar, making butter every few days so it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Pick salad vegetables in the cool of the morning, and hold them until dinner in the cold cellar, then rinse well with ice water from the well or spring to “crisp” up. Only have home canned meats or small carcass meats during the warmer months so no meat must be held cold in the fridge. Chickens, rabbits, and fish are easy. Butcher larger animals in the cold fall and early winter months, when natural cooling is simple. It was the old way, and makes a lot of sense.


I have a question that maybe you can help me with. What can be done about that miserable greasy junk that builds up on the range hood. I HATE the range hood, but it is needed. Nothing short of pure acid seems to clean the inside of the hood. Any environmentally safe suggestions? I have been at this hood for days with everything I have in the house. I am afraid I am now a toxic site!

Used one of your bread recipes from a back issue and it was the best. I added sunflower and pumpkin seeds to it!

Kelley Jane

You can try this. It works quite well for range hoods and is a more natural approach. First of all, heat a big kettle of water on the stove. A canning kettle with the lid off is good. Really steam up the place, with the vent fan on to suck that steam upward. Then, with good ventilation, use straight ammonia and a steel wool pad without chlorine to scrub the hood. (Ammonia mixed with chlorine creates a poisonous gas.) If you still need help, mix a heavy ammonia concentrate with water that is as hot as you can stand working with. The hot water will help soften the grease crud. But this is never an easy, fun job. Make sure you change those filter pads regularly, as much grease will collect on them and plug them up, making more grease collect on the hood itself. Also try to use a spatter screen while frying, as it will trap a large amount of grease before it drifts up into your hood.


Have you ever heard of anyone selling everything to go live in a tipi on a piece of property while they build a cabin. We are considering doing exactly that.

When we were building our house here in Kentucky we lived in tents for four months. We survived ticks crawling all over the tents trying to get at us, a downburst (small tornado) right over us (destroyed our cook tent & popped open all our coolers) and an abnormal heat wave starting in June. I said I’d never do it again but… It’s that homesteaders’ adventure itch!

Kathy Baker
Breeding, KY

Sure, Kathy, I’ve heard of many people doing just that. Some of them made a great success of their adventure, and a few failed. But, because you have already had a taste of such an adventure, I’ll bet your chances of succeeding are high. A tipi is actually quite an efficient means of housing year-round. But it does require picking a good tipi pattern and material. And you definitely will want an ozan, or liner, which keeps condensation from dripping, and improves circulation and heat in the winter. A very good book on tipi living is The Indian Tipi, Its History, Construction and Use by Reginald and Gladys Laubin. It gives hundreds of tips on how-tos and problems some people have encountered (usually due to defects in the tipi manufacturing or the lack of experience of the tipi dwellers).

After all, generations of Native Americans lived comfortably in tipis. But a tipi is not a house and you must adapt your lifestyle to the tipi while living in one. (Not much room for the TV, VCR, and Game Boy.) But tipi living is a grand adventure, and the first time you come in from the dark, after seeing your tipi glowing like a huge lantern in the dark, still woods, you will know you are home.


My wife and I bought an 8-quart pressure cooker/canner from Presto. The regulator weight has one setting: for 15 pounds. Of course the unit comes with an instruction booklet, but it is not terribly detailed. All the recipes in the Ball Blue Book and Putting Food By use 10 pounds as a reference for most foods. Is there a way to adjust the time to process, or do you know of any way we can adjust the cooker to 10 pounds? Using a different regulator weight?

My next question concerns recanning foods. I know that you can’t refreeze food, but are there any health risks of re-canning? I have recently used tomatoes that we canned earlier this summer to make a batch of spaghetti sauce and then I canned about 15 quarts of that.

We had some huge tomato plants, over 8 feet high. There was a lot of foliage, but I think the yield was relatively small. We had 5 containers of tomatoes, one pepper and one cucumber. Should I have pruned the plants? How do you do this? I did pinch off the suckers all season. The soil was quite a bit of manure and good dirt. We also took vegetable waste that we pureed up in a blender to feed the tomatoes about once a week. We had a ton of green tomatoes at the end of the season and made 15 pints of chow chow (a relish condiment made with green tromatoes).

But I really would have liked more ripe tomatoes.

Chuck and Denise Cline

You know, I think I would call the Presto Customer Service Department (number on your instruction booklet). The pressure cooker/canner that I think you bought is meant to be used primarily for a pressure cooker, but they advertise it as a canner, also. A larger unit is primarily a canner, meant for that purpose. Perhaps you could use a 10-pound weight, sold with the larger canner. But I wouldn’t do it until talking to the Presto folks. Just in case.

No problem in recanning food other than a slight loss of nutrients. And I think that home canning fresh foods quickly and then recanning them would be about equal to the store cans of foods that have been picked over or underripe, hauled and mauled, stored for lengthy times, then canned. I recan foods all the time, as time allows. I, too, can tomato sauce, then later recan it, adding meat, making spaghetti sauce, soups, stews, chili, etc. I even have bought #10 cans very cheaply and recanned smaller jars of the store canned food. For instance, I bought #10 cans of pie cherries at a discount grocery for 99¢ a can, and recanned them into pint jars. They turned out just fine. As for the tomatoes from Jack and the Beanstalk-land, I’d guess that you might have a combination of a fairly late variety of tomato and a heavily fertilized plot. Using a very fertile, manured garden plot, heavy with nitrogen will make for huge plants, lots of leaves, but little fruit. I’d wager a guess that by the time your plant used up the excess nitrogen and “got down to business,” the season was just about over. Ditto for the one cucumber and single pepper. Sounds awfully suspicious, to me.

This year, I’d work the soil up well, and not fertilize it at all until you have tomatoes beginning to set well. Then as they grow, fertilize accordingly. And you might try a less tall, earlier variety, such as Goliath, Oregon Spring, or Early Cascade.


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