Ten essential gear items for homesteading

 

Homesteading is gear/tool intensive. Below are some items we feel are indispensable to our homesteading operation. These are in no particular order, except the first.

1. Tractor

It was a couple years into homesteading before we were able to get a tractor. Now, we can’t imagine homesteading without one. A tractor saves our bacon on a routine basis. They are amazingly labor-saving. We use a tractor for everything from moving material, digging holes, plowing snow, driveway maintenance, moving heavy items, etc, etc. There are few jobs that a tractor cannot make better. If you don’t own one, get one sooner than later.

2. Chains

This often overlooked tool is essential at our homestead. Combined with a tractor or ATV, the right chains can accomplish many tasks. Useful for securing and lifting loads with a tractor, dragging tree and logs, ripping brush and trees out of the ground… the list goes on and on. Chains are expensive but worth their weight in silver!

3. Muck boots (a.k.a. “homesteading flip-flops”)

One doesn’t necessarily need Muck Boot brand boots, but these sorts of boots are indispensable to our homestead. They are great to slip on for chores and piddling about the property. They hold up well – about two years of daily use for us. We like the Muck Boot Chore ST (steel toe) for our purposes. Steel toe is worth it, especially if you’re going to deal with firewood or hauling around heavy materials.

4. Impact Driver

This basic tool gets used almost daily on our homestead. Weekly at a minimum. Drivers are ultra useful for building and fixing. We’ve come to enjoy the DeWalt 20v Max Drivers commonly available at big box stores or Amazon.

5. Headlamp or belt lamp

When we know we have work to do in the dark, which is often, especially in winter – a headlamp is essential. Because we use them a lot, we’ve found it best to just get something of average quality. Petzl and Pelican and Princeton Tec all make a good headlamp. Recently we kickstarted the ONE80 Trek and headlamp project. The belt lamps are entirely awesome for homesteading and are amazingly bright. The batteries don’t last very long (1.5-2h) but are quickly rechargeable. We just keep a spare with us.

6. Small flashlight

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t reach for my pocket flashlight. Dusk and dawn animal chores, finding small parts that get dropped, peering in dark places… it is used all the time! We’ve really come to love the Streamlight Stylus ProStreamlight Stylus Pro. It’s an affordable pen light that comfortably fits in a pants pocket, runs on two AAA batteries, and seems to run forever without battery replacement. We particularly like its durability and how it feels in our hands, even with gloves on.

7. 5-Gallon buckets with Gamma Seal lids

The five-gallon bucket is perhaps one of the best inventions ever. Gamma Seal Lids make a great thing even better! These lids make five-gallon buckets air and water tight. They’re very useful for keeping critters out of feed, chickens out the bucket waterers, hauling water without spilling, and on and on. The lids are slightly expensive but well worth the investment.

8. 30 and 55-gallon drums

We store a LOT of feed. We also store lots of garden amendments, forage crop seed, etc. Used 30 and 55-gallon (usually plastic for us) drums with clamping lids have been a great and affordable solution for such. A new trash can from a big box store can be $25-$40. These barrels (used and rinsed) are often sold below $10 in our area and accomplish the same thing, but with even better durability.

Used drums without lids also make a great way to store long materials such a scrap metal, PVC, pipe, or other longer upright odds and ends.

9. Chainsaw

Unless your land is entirely free of trees (which doesn’t sound like the nicest of homesteading environments), you are going to want a chainsaw and appropriate chainsaw-related safety gear. Clearing land, cleaning up deadfalls, processing firewood… all things a chainsaw handles with ease. If you haven’t bought one yet, consider buying a top-quality chainsaw, an extra bar, chain files, and several extra chains.

10. First aid kits

This one is intentionally last. Homesteading involves lots of blood, sweat, and tears. Minor injuries, sprains, scrapes and bruises are common. Several good first aid kits, strategically positioned in the best places can provide quick relief when injured.

Tractors, ATV or UTV vehicles are often used for mildly dangerous work and at a distance from your home and can themselves be sources of injury. Consider it essential to have a first-aid kit on board such vehicles. They could save your life. Stock your homestead vehicle first aid kits with a few extra items such as Quick Clot, an Israeli Battle Dressing, and perhaps a military tourniquet.

Of course, without the proper understanding of how to use these items, they won’t do much good! Therefore, gain the proper training to respond to field emergencies that you may encounter.

Have essentials of your own to recommend? Share with us in the comments. Like this post? Please click the Like button.

Reconsider your food budget

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We don’t budget for food. Gasp!

We are of the belief that “we are (quite literally), what we eat”. Why then would we want to be frugal or even worse – stingy – with what we place into our bodies?

We are all about wisely using the resources we have available to us. However, we often scratch our heads at the concept of trying to feed a family for as little as possible. That can be somewhat self-defeating. Americans have one of the lowest ratios of food cost to income in the entire world. We spend less on food that nearly every other country on planet earth! Yet, we still often want to spend even less!

Consider this… if someone can go through all the trouble to feed you and make a profit and you only spend $.99, how good can the quality be? What value can a “value meal” have in such a case? The only “value” is to the producer. The consumer may feel full but is not consuming quality.

We raise (among other things) pigs. We feed them non-GMO feed produced by a local small producer.They can’t produce feed for the cost of feed from the local mills typically. Because it costs us more, we couldn’t sell a pig for what others who feed less-premium feeds could. We simply couldn’t sell a pig fed on premium quality feed and beat $.99/lb prices found in the grocery store. Fortunately, we don’t aim to!

So as both producers (for ourselves) and consumers, we want the best quality foods possible. If those cannot be obtained inexpensively, we will spend more for food before we will eat lesser-quality food.

We once heard it said “You make your healthcare decisions at the grocery store. You make your sick care decisions at the doctor’s office.” We couldn’t agree more. We live in a culture that is conservative on food spending but liberal with “health” spending.  We’ll think nothing of spending $500-$1000 per month on health “insurance” but half that or less to feed our family. Folks, good food nourishes far beyond the best medicines.

Food and nutrition should be a high priority in the budget – perhaps the highest. For some, all that is needed is a shift – spend less on sick care and more on quality nutrition. Raise your insurance deductible and use the extra funds on a bigger grocery budget. When we did so, we found our doctors visits dramatically declined.

We get it – some folks have little to no choice with their budgets. Nevertheless, most of us, with a change in our thinking, can find resources for the things we value. Place yourself and your family at the top of your list, not your insurance company or Physician.

 

Homestead uses for Thermacore panels

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Thermacore panels (these are 8′ x 24″)

Thermacore panels are the technical/trade name for insulated garage door panels. They have many valuable uses on a homestead or farm. At $.70/sqft (in our area), they are among the least expensive options for most cases where they can be used.

Thermacore panels are painted steel panels filled with about 1 – 1.5″ of solid foam. They have an Insulation value of about R-9 and because they’re steel, have the possible added benefit of being compatible with magnets. Because they’re metal, they cannot easily decay and are easily cleaned with a power washer, etc. Remember… these are made for garage doors.

The panels are easily cut with standard power tools. We use a circular saw with an old blade installed in reverse. We make finer cuts for fixtures and such with a jigsaw with a long metal blade.

Walls

One of our favorite uses for Thermacore panels is for finishing walls in outbuildings, basements, etc. Compared to installing (and more importantly, finishing) drywall  (“sheet rock”) which takes several cycles, Thermacore panels go up very, very fast by screwing them to the framing.

With some forethought in framing, they are very structurally sound and stiffen up walls much more than drywall does. If one is okay with the white-colored finish, the attached panels provide a surface that needs no other finishing aside from a wipe down with a damp rag.

We prefer to install the panels vertically because of the paneled appearance of the panels. When doing so, we have found it adequate to fasten with self-tapping hex screws (3″) at the top and bottom and if possible, the middle of the panels. Usually this requires about a dozen screws per panel. This also sometimes requires horizontal blocking in wall framing About half way up the wall.

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Thermacore panels used as wall sheeting

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These panels are about 1.25″ thick. There is a .25″ gap between the panel and lumber above because it has not yet been fastened tightly.

If  installed horizontally, just fasten to the wall studs as you would with drywall. The panels are designed with edges that slightly overlap the next panel creating a nice fit.

Thermacore panels make great wall sheeting for barns, mudrooms, root cellars, rabbitries, some animal stalls (and with great care to handle sharp edges!) and more.

Shelves

Thermacore panels are very strong. We’ve seen them used for canning shelves, with vertical supports about every four feet. We use them ourselves for barn shelving that hold the largest of plastic tubs filled with all manner of supplies. They are very quick to put up and much less expensive per square foot than a comparable lumber solution. Further, since they’re metal, they’re more forgiving to spills and such.

Raised Garden Beds

Thermacore panels make for very quick and easy garden beds. We’re able to secure them locally in 21″ and 24″ widths and just about any length. Married with 4″ x 4″ corner posts and decorative caps and you have some very nice (and deep) raised garden beds. These panels are metal, and as such could potentially rust if areas without paint are exposed to ground moisture for long durations, but we feel that is less likely to happen compared to wooden beds that would likewise rot.

See an example here: http://yourhouseandgarden.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Garage-doors-into-raised-garden-bed.jpg

Cold frames

Thermacore panels would also make great (though opaque) walls for cold frames. Since these panels have an insulation value of R-9, they provide a very easy means for insulating the sides of a cold frame. Too tall for your liking? Just bury them a few inches into the ground.

Ceilings & Ceiling Sheeting

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Thermacore workshop ceiling

As with wall sheeting, Thermacore panels make for a very fast ceiling solution. Our bank barn has a lower level that is exposed the elements. Thermacore panels attached to the underside of the floor above not only insulate the floor above, but also prevent bees, birds, snakes, and mice from utilizing the space between the rafters.

Inexpensive plant edging

We were growing tired of trying to keep the grass encroaching on our blueberries, so we decided we needed to surround them with some sort of barrier. Unfortunately, most of the barriers sold at big box stores were over-priced and not the most fun to install.

In our neck of the woods, barrels like the one below can be purchased for about $8 used.

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Photo from bascousa.com 

We had the idea of taking a barrel, cutting off the top and bottom, and then cutting the barrel into slices horizontally. Doing so, we were able to get about 6-8  slices, leaving us planting rings that were roughly 3-4″ tall and about 24″ in diameter. The size was just right for surrounding our blueberries.

We then lightly tapped these into the ground and mulched only within the planter ring. The rest of the patch we filled with left-over decorative gravel from our kitchen garden bed project.

The results looked like this:

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Here is a slightly better angle:

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Potential pitfalls of hyper-frugality

Frugality often seems to go hand-in-hand with the homesteading crowd. People naturally inclined to do things for themselves that others rely upon others to do results in such, or maybe it’s the other way around?

Frugality is great… but can one get carried away with it? This is what I would call “hyper-frugality” – being frugal to the point of working against yourself.

Has anyone ever said on their deathbed “it’s been a good life…I’ve saved all sorts of money!”? I doubt it. Saving money for saving it sake is kinda pointless. Frugality should lead to freedom from need, not delaying real needs to “save”. The latter doesn’t really accomplish anything and just robs from the present with some hope of future benefit that may or may not ever come.

So consider this, even if it feels controversial to do so:  Some things should not be waited upon until they are, or feel affordable. If you do so, oftentimes you’re not taking advantage of that thing when you need it the most! Here are a few examples:

The kitchen:

On our homestead, the kitchen is command central. Like many, we’ve used odds and ends for kitchen gear. Frugality has prevented us from investing in the nicer things we’ve really enjoyed. That is, until recently it occurred to us… if ever there were a time to have the best kitchen stuff, it would be now, at the time in life when we use it the most! When the kids are grown and on their own, we might be more able to afford those things but will have far less occasion for their use. That just doesn’t make sense! So, we’ve been investing in higher-quality kitchen items that hopefully will make the next twenty years of meal preparation, canning, and freezing much much better. That isn’t to say that quality cannot be obtained inexpensively, it sure can, but that is the exception more than the rule in our experience.

The workshop:

I grew up in a home we always had what I’d call “Big Lots tools” – the kind of tools that one finds in the checkout line at the drugstore. You know, ratchets that freely spin no matter what direction you attempt and hammers with handles the size of your pinky. We never had good tools!

While I’m on that subject… As a newlywed back in the day, it bugged me that people threw wedding showers for the ladies and showed them with every manner of implement for their new home, yet few men did this for the fellas. It would have been awesome to have a tool shower as a newlywed man. A time and place to give a guy the stuff he’ll need to look after some of the DIY needs he’ll encounter. Let’s start a new tradition of showering new families with all sorts of stuff they’ll need!

A while back, it also occurred to us… homesteading is a very tool-intensive, and resource-intensive endeavor. There is almost always something to fix or build. What sense does it make to choose frugality over quality when it comes to equipping your homestead with the best tools for those jobs? This is one of those cases, where hyper-frugality can work against your homestead. If you aim to be homesteading a long time, buy the absolute best tools you can manage and as many of the tools you’ll need as you can manage. Same goes for a good work area. We regretfully didn’t build a good workshop until four plus years into our endeavor. I’ve since kicked myself for making those four years exceedingly cumbersome when a work area would have really made that time much more efficient.

In summary, don’t be afraid to invest, even heavily, into the core operations of your home and homestead. It might feel really scary to plunk down some serious money on such things, but it will reap dividends.

Ten Reflections of a seasoned chicken wrangler

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We’ve been keeping chickens for nearly a decade (9 years actually) – certainly a lot less than some, but enough to be ‘seasoned’ in the same sense that a cast iron skillet could be considered so after as much time.

We’ve had a lot of failures and frustrations along the way, but enough enjoyment, fresh eggs, pasture-raised meat, and joy to offset the negative times.

Below are just some observations and reflections from our experiences.

Chickens don’t smell so nice.

I love Joel Salatin, but he must have some secret sauce up his sleeve, or just really dull olfactory senses. We’ve given our chickens premium food, premium space, good housing and more, and you know what? They wreak!  In fact, aside from their closest competitors for stink – rabbits, chickens are just about the smelliest of farm animals we’ve owned.

Meat chickens even more so and among meat chickens,  Cornish-X meat chickens are the worst for offensive odors. I am sure that some have figured out how to reduce this, but it must require entirely free-ranging chickens.

Roosters can be an enjoyable part of your flock.

Operative expression: “can be”. A rooster with a nice disposition will help create a pretty calm and healthy flock. Hens seem to enjoy having them around, and their ‘shepherding’ skills can be very helpful and healthy for the flock. We enjoy the crowing and quite honestly, don’t get why people don’t.

It is hard to have too many hens, but very easy to have too many roosters!

Though we enjoy roosters, you can have too many, and when you do – it’s like an MMA cage fight to the death – only over time. Roosters will edge out the weaker roosters after a protracted period of rooster gang wars. It can be brutal to behold.

Chickens die, get used to it.

I don’t mean that chickens die more often that other animals, but they aren’t immortal. While we like to keep healthy animals, sometimes a chicken just isn’t long for this world. As a homesteader, I don’t want weak chickens in my flock. If they survive illness, great – that’s a good trait to have, but if they don’t and perish, it’s best to just move on (assuming you’re not seeing huge mortality rates). Chickens are not the hardiest of creatures, though some more so than others. When a chicken appears to be on death’s door, it probably is. Decide if you’ll hasten the process, or spend your time trying to nurse it back to health.

Hens spend their lives providing you eggs, don’t turn them into soup.

Old hens are hardly tasty and in our opinion, not worth the effort to cull for food. They spend their lives providing eggs for our family, the least we could do is allow them to live out their days in peace. Yes, they will consume food. Yes, it might not be economical. For us, it feels like the right thing to do. They don’t generally stop laying eggs entirely, they just slow down some. They’re can still contribute, they’re just beyond their prime. We wouldn’t support killing the senior citizens among us because they stop working, why hens?

Low egg production is ok!

We don’t light our coops during the colder darker months. Give the chickens a break. Get more of them to increase production. Again, not economical, but also allows chickens to have the break their creator designed them to have.

Happy chickens = more eggs.

We notice that when we withhold table scraps to the chickens, we get less egg production, despite the layers have plenty of high-quality feed and water. They just enjoy table scraps! When we have pigs, they often get the bulk of table scraps, and the chickens protest by providing less eggs.

Meat chickens are worth the hassle.

Despite being a messy and stinky job, raising meat chickens has been worth. We’ve done from 50-100 a year for our family and the results have been great. It’s a very economical means to get high-quality meat for the freezer or canning.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small investment that yields big results.

Give chickens animal protein occasionally.

Chickens enjoy meat. If you can manage to give them some to eat, they’ll be happier. Don’t worry, they won’t turn into aggressive attack chickens. If you raise other meat, you probably have the opportunity to feed them some of the byproducts of doing so. Ofal (heart, lungs, livers, insides, etc) can be a real treat for chickens, and make use out of something many have few other uses for.

Chickens need air.

Duh, all animals need air, right? Yeah, but chickens need more flowing air than most animals and may seem counter-intuitive to new chicken owners. Chickens don’t have the most robust of respiratory systems (one reason they get sick relatively easy). Don’t build an airtight coop believing your little chickies are gonna be nice and snug – you’ll just be subjecting them to harsher conditions. Allow for some airflow, particularly at or above their head level where they’re roosting.

A simple, strong materials rack for the workshop

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I like to keep my materials up and outta the way, mostly because I am a procrastinator and don’t get to things right away (I’ve been thinking about changing, but…. I haven’t gotten to it yet).

I wanted something simple and durable. So I just picked up a few 3/4″ pipe flanges, a few sections of 3/4″ x 12″ pipe, and a few caps. I didn’t want to wait until I could get some pipe insulation because in addition to being a procrastinator, I’m also impatient (which means I can’t wait to stop procrastinating), so I opted to repurpose a pool noodle with a coordinating color for the purpose.

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I just cut this to lenght with my pocket knife, cut a slit down the middle, then secured each pipe flange to a stud using one 3-1/2″ exterior grade screw and one 4 1/2″ lag screws (that I already had). I wouldn’t try to hoist an engine off of these, but they seem plenty strong for holding misc materials.

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One note: I would recommend cleaning the pipes off with a good degreaser prior to use, it will make for much less mess and grime.