Our “little” calves that we raised a year and a half ago now weigh a thousand pounds, plus! And they’re not so “cute.” One of them, a black Jersey-Holstein or Angus cross was pretty sick as a calf from the scours. The calves were all bought at an auction barn, and all suffered from scours, but the little black calf was the worst and weakest. Will wanted to wait to castrate him until he recovered strength and started growing well. And you all know how THAT goes…we never got around to it and he got pretty big. Then he got bigger.

So we had this dairy cross bull on our hands. Both Will and I have worked around cattle all our lives, so we never played with him, petted him or let him get away with aggressive behavior. But lately, he started doing the bull testosterone thing — pushing his head against the gate so Will couldn’t get in to dump the feed, not backing away when slapped, putting his head down at us. Bulls like Blackie get to the dominance age and can be very dangerous. This is why we wholeheartedly advise homesteaders NOT to have a bull on the place. Too many people can, and do, get injured by nice, friendly, pet bulls…especially if they’ve never handled cattle before.

We followed our own advice for once. Even though one of our other Holstein steers was bigger, we decided it was time for Blackie to become meat. So two days ago, Will took a bucket of feed and led the two big guys from the pasture below the garden, up over the hill and down to the training ring where our stock trailer was parked. (First he had to use Old Yeller to bulldoze the two feet of snow in the ring out of our way so we could get to the trailer!)

The bull and steer were playful and Will had to run to keep ahead of them and keep them heading in the right direction! I puffed and panted behind, and finally closed the gate behind them. In half an hour, Will coaxed Blackie into the trailer and we were headed to the packing plant. Both of us felt a little bad taking him there, but it was definitely time. And we’re very happy thinking of all of that meat we’ll be bringing home in two weeks! My friend, Jeri and her husband, Jim, are letting us keep our meat in one of their freezers and I’ll begin canning up stew meat, ground beef and roasts right away. But we’ll sure enjoy eating those nice steaks right after they’re thawed! (My son, Bill, and his wife, Kelly Jo, are getting half the meat, so we won’t have SO much meat to deal with.)

And we have another 1,200 pound Holstein steer waiting in the wings when we get that meat gone, too. Besides that one, we also have three younger steers (NO bulls this time…or ever again!) at various sizes. It sure feels good to be another step toward self-reliance. No more store bought beef! We’ll be buying a pig in the spring to feed out…we also raise our own meat chickens and turkeys. Isn’t that great?

Readers’ Questions:

Dog manure in strawberry bed

Jackie, I planted strawberries last year in a 4 x 12 foot above ground container. We have recently found that this is where our dog is doing his business. We are thinking probably the last couple of months. Has he contaminated the soil and made the strawberries harmful to my family? Thanks for any help on this.

Cindy Adams
Florence, Alabama

I’m afraid I’d recommend taking some of the runners off of the plants, digging up the dirt in the container (a foot or so), replace the top foot of soil with fresh, discarding the contaminated soil in an out-of-the way location…not on the compost pile, and re-planting your strawberries. Then fence off the bed so your dog won’t do it again. Dog and cat feces can carry intestinal parasites that can be harmful to humans, as well as a couple of nasty transmissible diseases, so to be safe it’s best to re-do the bed. — Jackie

Butchering chickens

So, after paying for my organic layer pellets, I looked at my flock and saw that about 1/3 of it was roosters. I have started to butcher the boys, one at a time. They are from 6 months to about 20 months old. I can do one at a time quickly and if I pluck them right away, I don’t need to dunk them in hot water. My question is why does rigor mortis set in so quickly? The chicken I buy at the store is quite pliable so that I can move the wings and legs around. I can hardly fit my roos in the pot to stew because they are so stiff. Am I doing something wrong in the butchering process? Why is commercial chicken so pliable?

Shirley Wikstrom
Stevenson, Washington

Because they have been chilled and held refrigerated, for some time before you buy them. If you will immediately chill your plucked, eviscerated bird in ice water, then in the refrigerator for 48 hours, before trying to cook it, you’ll find that the carcass is not stiff anymore. If you do need (or want) to cook a freshly killed, barely chilled bird, disjoint the carcass and it will neatly fit into your stew pot. I do this when I’m canning several birds that are freshly butchered and it works just fine. At least you know they’re fresh! — Jackie

Homesteading school

As a family we would love to learn more about self-reliance. I have looked and searched everywhere for classes on dutch oven cooking, etc. Is there any summer camps or week-long camps that women and girls can take to learn these and other skills first hand?

Kiki Reid
Port Angeles, Washington

Yes there are several places, nationwide, where homesteading skills are taught during week long periods or weekend seminars. I think this is a very good way to hone your skills. In fact, Will and I have been talking about doing just that at our homestead in some point in the future…after we get the BIG jobs wrapped up so we have the time and energy. If you will get a copy of Countryside Magazine, usually you’ll find several advertisements for homesteading schools and seminars on learning various homesteading skills. If they simply are too far away, why don’t you pick up good books on the skills you want to learn and give it a try at home. I can’t tell you how many homesteading skills I’ve learned at home by reading books and magazine articles. Any skill takes practice to get good at, but if you keep at it, you will soon be a seasoned expert! Enjoy. — Jackie


  1. She could also try her Department of Conservation. The Nature Center near us hosts survival/hunter/cooking classes periodically.

    So, you only had to move two FEET of snow to get to the trailer. Here I am throwing a hissy fit over 3 inches. Don’t suppose you have a video of Will and the dash to the field?

    Stay safe. Blessings.

  2. Hi Jackie,

    I notice that Kiki is asking about homestead schools. Well, we are just about an hour from her and have summer camps as well as year-round apprenticeships here.

    http://www.songcroft.com will give her all the information she needs.
    We are located outside of Snohomish, WA.

    Thanks for all you do and for sharing it with the world!

  3. Hi Jackie, Enjoy your blog and advice as always! Another source Kiki might check on is any sportsmans’ clubs in her area. Ours has a seminar weekend (Fri-Sat) each year where many self reliance skills are taught (including cooking with dutch ovens). We sure enjoy it!

  4. That is a lot of beef! You are going to be busy until gardening time!!!!!

    Nice to have all that meat on hand.
    You are amazing.

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