Homestead Redhead

Life Lessons in an Unlikely Place

Homestead RedheadLife seems to be a constant journey of twists and turns, not that I would have it any other way. Currently I am going through a challenging season of change in my personal life. I firmly believe that each and every moment, each and every interaction has a distinct purpose in your life.

Driving home through the usual back country roads the other day, I made a turn and passed the same old abandoned factory I pass every day. On this particular afternoon though, the abandoned factory had a multitude of visitors.

Big, ugly, smiling buzzards. There were nearly a hundred buzzards gathered around.  I had never seen so many in one place. I turned the truck around and pulled into the factory. The buzzards made some room for my truck and continued their morbid dinner party of a deceased deer carcass.


I was struck by several things. It never ceases to amaze me that everything in this world serves a specific destiny and purpose. No matter how small or how big, everyone and everything is here for a reason. Although the buzzards are an awkward, unattractive element of the animal kingdom, they serve a function that is irreplaceable.

The buzzards weren’t spending their day wishing that they were more majestic or their feathers were more colorful, they were fulfilling their purpose and having a grand old time doing so. The buzzards accepted their function in the world, and were making the most of their situation.

As I sat in the abandoned factory for a few minutes, I soaked up the unique scene. I actually found an element of beauty in the looming darkness of these death birds. The buzzards taught me another important lesson, there is beauty in all things, no matter how dark they may seem.


As I left the buzzards to their feast, I drove away with an attitude of thankfulness for the continued lessons the natural world provides.

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Crib to Chicken Coop

For those of you that have ever raised chickens, you are well aware of just how fast chicks grow.  It seems that in a matter of just a few short weeks those fuzzy little balls of “cheeps” are a squawking, ground scratching, bug loving chicken.

The last batch of chicks we bought were Black Copper Marans.  These beautiful black hens produce a lovely dark chocolate egg.  These girls quickly outgrew their mini-coop and I knew it was time to figure out their permanent residence.

Chicken coops and tractors can be ridiculously expensive (see more about this HERE).  I knew building one myself would be less expensive, but I lack extensive carpentry skills.  I figured that starting with some type of basic framework for a chicken tractor would be easier for me than to start from scratch.  I saw a picture online of someone who turned a crib into a chicken coop and the Crib to Coop Repurposing project was born.

I began my hunt for cribs at thrift stores and searching Craigslist, but most were priced higher than I wanted to spend.  I was then blessed with two donated cribs from two very generous women (thank you!!).

The basics I wanted to stick to throughout this project were to stay simple and inexpensive.  I looked around the homestead and utilized what materials we had available.  Paint was my most expensive cost.  This project was moderately challenging and overall cost roughly $100.  I am very pleased with the cost of this project.  It took me about 3 full days to complete.

I began by removing all plastic parts off of the crib and stabilizing the framework.


(By the way, when you build a crib, do it from outside the framework, or else you will be trapped on the inside. Lesson learned!) 

Next, I strategically placed cattle wire on 3 sides to prevent predators from entering.  Since I was planning on making this a tractor (mobile coop) I didn’t go all the way to the ground with the cattle wire.  I didn’t want to inhibit moving the coop around or damage the grass in the process.  Instead, I left very sharp edges (insert evil laugh here) a hair off the ground so that all predators will encounter an unexpected surprise if they try and sneak under.


I wanted to provide extra support for the frame so that when I am rolling it around the homestead, it is very sturdy.  I painted four boards (which I cut to exactly the same length as the crib without messing up or cutting a finger off-major accomplishment) and secured them to the crib. 

I removed the wheels that came with the crib and wood glued in a more sturdy set.  I let this sit overnight to ensure a strong bond. 

We have plenty of scrap metal roofing that was taken off our shop when the roof was replaced.  I decided to utilize these leftovers as the roof.  I placed a support bar across the top of the two vertical sides (thank you for the idea hubby) and nailed the roof to the support bar.  I also added some decoration to make it a bit more cute.  Black Copper Marans lay a dark chocolate colored egg, so I decided to use this fact as inspiration. choceggs  

I then screwed in several natural roosts and got the hubs to help me put in a nesting box and access door.  I didn’t want to push my luck and operate the jig saw!  I added a bit more decoration and voila, the crib is now officially a chicken coop! 
What do you think?
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A Sad Day on the Homestead

Arriving back to the homestead from a fun girls' out evening, I did not anticipate the choices the coming hours would bring.

As you all know, we have been anxiously anticipating and working to prepare for Lady-Bug's farrowing event.  With her belly ever swelling, we knew our wait was drawing to a close.  I have been checking on her more frequently over the last few days so I would not miss the blessed event.  I pulled in and immediately changed out of my cute shoes and into my muck boots to spend time making sure Lady-Bug was settled in for the night.

As I entered the pen, I immediately heard an odd grunting from her side that I had not heard before.  I quickened my steps through the sucking mud underfoot and rounded the corner.  There in her house Lady-Bug stood; panting, grunting and anxious.  Below her lay a beautiful black faced and cream kissed nose piglet, noisily rooting around.  My immediate response of excitement was quickly snuffed out when I realized the piglet had mangled back legs.  From mid-back forward the piglet looked perfectly healthy, but the hind legs were in the shape of a pretzel.

As my husband was away this weekend, it was just me at the homestead.  After 20 minutes went by and Lady-Bug produced no additional piglets, I knew I needed reinforcements.  I called my mom who quickly came out to assist.  As the rain steadily fell, Lady-Bug panted, pushed and paced.  As the minutes ticked by with no other piglets making their way into the world, my gut began to sense something was going very wrong.  With only 1% of all pig births running into a problem, I tried to reassure myself.

With my mom and I both praying for safe delivery of the remaining piglets and for comfort for Lady-Bug, we stood with flashlights and worried faces as the rain steadily soaked us.

Knowing the likelihood of having to put down the deformed piglet, I called Gabe and he began his journey back home.  Although I know if I had to put the piglet down I could, at that moment, I wanted to have my full attention on the distressed Lady-Bug.

My dad came as well to provide back up help and offered to put the piglet down in Gabe's absence.  Although I was grateful for the offer, I did not want to be the sole decider of this little one's fate.

The minutes turned into hours and Lady-Bug's distress increased.  With Gabe on the way, my parents headed home.  As I sat in the dark pen with the rain pouring all around me, I soothed Lady-Bug and told her to have strength and listen to her instincts.  The lone piglet was surprisingly agile and scooted itself all around their shelter while Lady-Bug labored.

The evening faded into early morning and no progress had been made.  I knew that the coming hours would hold tough decisions.  As Gabe arrived home, the decision was made to let her be for a bit and see how she was doing after some quiet time.

After a bit, I headed back out in the rain to check on the laboring mama.  I was so disappointed to still see only the lone piglet and an exhausted Lady-Bug.  I used a gloved hand to check her to make sure no piglets were stuck in her birth canal and felt none.  I offered Lady-Bug water which she refused, but she would take some feed.  I was encouraged that she at least could eat some to keep her strength up.

As the early morning faded into late morning, I began to hurriedly call vets capable of caring for pigs and making house calls.  After multiple attempts, messages and redials to various vets, we got in touch with a local swine vet whose expertise is pot bellied pigs.  She hurried over to our homestead.

As she arrived, she immediately went in to examine Lady-Bug.  As I explained the night's events, I knew by her face we were not looking at a situation that could possibly have a good outcome.  As my heart began to sink, I tried hard to stay positive.

The vet administered Oxytocin which assisted Lady-Bug's uterus in contracting, while the vet tried to pull the remaining piglets out via her birth canal.  Lady-Bug pushed and fought to work with the vet in helping her farrow.  I knew the longer this went on the more Lady-Bug would suffer.  As the vet thoroughly examined the lone piglet, she encouraged us that putting the deformed piglet down would be the most humane thing to do.  With a heavy heart, I agreed and held the little one as the medication ceased her breathing.  With the piglet put down, all our efforts turned to Lady-Bug.

The vet stated we had several options, take her somewhere to have an emergency c-section or put her down and try and remove any remaining piglets-although there was only a slim chance they would survive.  Knowing that the stress of moving and surgery would be too much for Lady-Bug, I made the final decision to sacrifice Lady-Bug in the hopes of saving her piglets.  I figured this was the decision any mama would make given the chance.

Lady-Bug was absolutely exhausted and I knew she was suffering.  The vet explained that she would first sedate Lady-Bug and then euthanize her as she hurriedly removed the piglets.  She handed me several towels and told me to be ready to catch the piglets and stimulate them to breath.  As the vet administered the sedative, I watched Lady-Bug's breathing slow.  I stood with the towels in my open arms, praying for the health of her piglets.  The vet then stated "I am going to euthanize her now." I nodded my head in place of answering because I knew my voice would be heavy with emotion.  With me, Gabe, my mom and my sister by her side, Lady-Bug took her last breath surrounded by family.

The vet made the initial cuts into Lady-Bug's belly and searched quickly for piglets.  I stood with open arms waiting for a piglet to be handed off to me.  As the seconds ticked by, no piglets appeared.  I sent up prayer after prayer that at least one healthy piglet would be found.  A puzzled look spread over the vet's face an she stated "there are no other piglets."  I knew at this point, the farrowing journey had ended in a way I never expected.

The vet reported that in all of her year's of practice, she had never seen a case like this.  She concluded that Lady-Bug had genetic defects and was likely impregnated by her litter mate before we adopted her.  She reported that Lady-Bug would have likely passed away due to these genetic defects in the future, but with the stress of such a hard labor, her body was not able to pull through.

We buried Lady-Bug and her piglet together deep in the earth.  We are so saddened by these unexpected events, but know this is the reality of farm life.  Despite having buried two piggy beauties that day, the chickens still needed to be fed, the eggs still needed to be gathered.

Paul Harvey said it best, "And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, "I need a caretaker."  So God made a farmer...God said, "I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt.  And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, 'Maybe next year.'...God said, "I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark.  It had to be somebody who'd plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week's work with a five-mile drive to church, so God made a farmer."


 In loving memory of Lady-Bug and her lone piglet daughter. 

It has been a challenging few months with personal struggles and homestead events.  I am looking forward to our mini vacation this week to step away and recharge.

Until next time...


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Peace & Muck Boots


Where as most women have a favorite pair of heels (which of course I do too), I would have to say that my muck boots are one of my most favorite items I own.

Of course I don’t just have plain old black muck boots.  Mine are black with cute little colored hearts all over-and a buckle at the top (accessories are important even where muck boots are concerned).

It may sound silly, but when I slip my bare feet into their cool, slick insides, I feel a sense of calm and comfort.  I know that for at least the next few minutes, I will be outside in the fresh air doing what I love the most; tending to my little homestead.

My mind shifts directions and settles.  With my muck boots on, the bills that need to be paid float away, the multitude of responsibilities of adult life subside temporarily.  I walk with peace and purpose.

The peace that washes over me with my muck boots on is much different than the emotions I feel when I slip my knee-high compression socked feet (no varicose veins for this girl) into my Dansko clogs.  With my Danskos on, I am focused and serious.  I am all business-mixed with exhaustion and prayers that the next 12 hours won’t be totally brutal.

Although muck boots are a bit of a spiritual experience in themselves, they are also super practical.  They protect my legs from the itchy, wet grass.  They are also great for walking through the ridiculous mud that accumulates in our pig pen.  When Houidini is feeling less than pleased at his isloation from his woman, it protects my calves from his grumpy nips.  When I dash out to the pig pen in the wee hours of the night to check on Lady-Bug for the millionth time, hoping she is having those darn piglets, they are easy to slip on.

This redhead is full of muck boot love.  If you don’t have a pair of muck boots, I highly recommend you purchase a pair and stomp around in the mud for awhile-it just might change your life.


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Fulfillment and Purpose Through Homesteading

Homestead RedheadIf you are on the outside looking in, homesteading can feel like an overwhelming transition from the common way of life these days.  Speed and convenience are the catalysts for society and admittedly, this makes life a bit more manageable with our hectic schedules.  Who doesn’t love to jump in your car, head to a store, swipe a card and come home with everything you think you need and want?

However, the normal way of life is having severe consequences on us as a nation.  Our physical health is suffering significantly from the “go-go-go” lifestyles and the pre-packaged, artificially flavored “food”  this nation is consuming at ridiculous rates.  Our relationships are suffering from the lack of face to face contact, ease of legally dissolving marriages and utter physical and emotional exhaustion of all of our responsibilities.  Our mental health is suffering.  The majority of the population, including children, are using antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or utilizing alcohol or illegal drugs to self-medicate.

We are left feeling starved.  Starved for food that does not leave us feeling sick and empty, starved for emotional fulfillment and pride in our accomplishments.  Starved for a true connection to someone or something.  There is another way.  There is another life.  Homesteading is where I found my answer.

Homesteading is a general term for living off the land and being self-sufficient.  It is the basics of what our country was built on and it worked for decades.  It is filled with the clucks of contented chickens, the crisp taste of home-grown vegetables and the sound sleep of working hard and accomplishing a goal.  The beauty of homesteading is it can be individualized in every aspect.  You don’t have to sell your apartment or suburban home and move to the middle of nowhere.  You can start exactly where you are.


“All good things are wild and free.”  Henry David Thoreau

Do some research and find out what you are interested and passionate about.  There are so many causes for concern in the way our society functions that the options are endless.  One of my passions is the ridiculously poor quality of our nation’s food.

In 1970, the US spent 6 billion dollars on fast food.  In 2006, this expense increased to 142 billion dollars.  McDonalds alone feeds 52 million people daily (Reference).  52 million people, including lots of innocent, growing children, are eating food that is chemically enhanced from animals who are not given proper nutrients in the first place.

And we wonder why heart attacks, cancer, diabetes and obesity are killing us by the thousands?

In my opinion, food should be grown under a warm sunshine and out in the open air.  Cattle and chickens should be given proper nutrients and respectfully culled to nourish our families.  If you want fresh food, you don’t have to go buy a farm.  Look into organic markets, local farms and food co-ops.  Support those that are giving their time and efforts into growing and raising food as nature intended, if you are not able to yourself.

Whatever you find that you believe has a better way of being done, do it.  Talk to local farmers, other people who are currently homesteading and do plenty of research online.  The great thing about homesteading is there are many different ways to accomplish the same goals.  You get to decide and that’s one of the most important freedoms we have.

Getting Started 

Start small.  As you do more research, you will become inspired to get involved in many homesteading projects.  Focus on a few main changes or projects you would like to make, and start there.  You don’t want to become overwhelmed with too many projects, this is the opposite goal of homesteading.  Homesteading focuses on hard work and caring for your body, soul, mind and the land in a peaceful, natural way.

Some simple projects to get your feet wet:

  1. Grow a garden
  2. Raise chickens
  3. Start a compost pile
  4. Make your own laundry detergent
  5. Cook a meal with locally grown ingredients

Whatever you decide, remember it is about you working with your own two hands (and your family/friends) to accomplish a goal.  It is incredibly rewarding to use your own mind and body to do something productive for yourself and your family.  It is incredibly validating to know you didn’t have to pay someone to get a job done, but instead you did it with your own time and energy.

Lessons Learned 

Homesteading is forgiving.  There isn’t a hard line between the right way to do things and the wrong way to do things in homesteading.  Luckily, if your tomato plants develop blight, that doesn’t mean you have to go without tomatoes for a year, like it did in the time of our ancestors.  We are exponentially blessed with the option to live in the best of both worlds.  You can utilize your own efforts, but also if need be, use what is readily available to you.  One of the joys of homesteading is learning from the mistakes you make, as well as the mistakes others have made before you.


After a few homesteading projects, I can almost promise you will begin to view the world differently.  You will walk with a prouder stance, feel more respect for yourself and your ancestors and feel more physically and emotionally satisfied.

I work as an emergency room nurse in a busy, rural hospital.  I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a friend.  I got married, bought a house, began working as a nurse full time and graduated with my bachelors degree in a matter of a few years.  I was left feeling tired and frustrated at my endless to-do lists and responsibilities.  I was working so hard and yet felt like I had little to show.  Homesteading changed my life and my attitude.

Over the last year, as my homesteading practices have grown, I have developed an incredible sense of peace and pride.  I know that if something were to happen to society or government as we know it, I could provide for my family.  I know that if something breaks around my homestead, I can fix it or figure out how to fix it.  My homestead is my respite for the chaos of the emergency room and the duties of my personal responsibilities.  The work on the homestead is hard, but is more rewarding than I could have imagined.

While true 100% lifestyle change to homesteading may not be for everyone, there is a benefit in incorporating some homesteading principles.  You owe it to yourself and your family to change your perspective and spend a little more time together working toward a common goal.  Laugh, work hard, learn and grow.  Nourish your body, your mind and your family with a journey into homesteading.

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Critter Proofing Your Garden

This time of year, makes most of us full of outdoor project ideas and Spring delight.  We spend hours (and loads of money) on planning out our landscapes and garden designs.  We carefully select which veggies to plant and which flowers to grow.  Has the following scenario ever happened to you?

After back-breaking work in the warm sunshine, you stand up and stretch your sweat-soaked body.  You step back and enjoy the spoils of your work.  After a long day, it’s time for rest and you head to bed and dream of all the delicious vegetables growing steadily outside your window, and the handfuls of fresh cut flowers you will soon have.

As you awake to the streams of morning sunlight, you run to the window to take in an eyeful of beautiful landscaping and what do you see?

Half eaten flowers here, uprooted veggies there, trampled plants and crushed bushes.

While in your fury you may be brainstorming about deer torture devices-save yourself from an animal cruelty charge and keep reading.

This scenario happens all too often.  As we quickly invade the earth, the deer and other garden loving critters are running out of room.  They have quickly learned what delicious delights are left unattended in the gardens at night and make good use of  this all you can eat buffet.  Why not make this year, the year that the buffet closes down for good.

Short of wearing camo and stalking out the deer when they are mid-munch with your rifle (which is great when it’s hunting season!), there are few totally foolproof ways to keep critters (mostly focusing on deer) away, but join me as we explore some fantastic options.

Human Hair 

This is an age old remedy for keeping unwanted critters out of your gardens.  Take your shed hair out of your hair brush and spread it around in the trees and on the ground surrounding your garden.  The strong scent of humans is said to deter critters.  This is a free option-if you have hair to spare!


(Photo Credit) 

This is a store bought remedy.  This is harvested coyote urine that you spray around (not on) your garden.  The scent is supposed to deter deer.  I have not personally tried this one.


Store Bought 

There are endless sprays on the markets to deter unwanted critters.  Some of these are chemically created, but most are elements of garlic, putrescent eggs, and fish oils.  I would be very hesitant, despite the company’s claims of being safe for edible gardens, to spray on actual edibles.  I have tried the Liquid Fence and sprayed it on the ground surrounding the gardens.  These have been moderately successful.  I have found that most dogs love the scents that are supposed to repel deer.

The one product I have had great success with is Sweeney’s 6-Pack All Season Deer Repellent.  These are little cartridges you hang or stake into the ground.  They are filled with a scent powder that is spread throughout the air that supposedly makes deer flee. I used these religiously last year and had great success.  They are around $20 and last all season.  I have heard some not so great reports from other people’s experiences, but mine was positive.  One downside to this product is my dogs loved it.  They would find the cartridges, chew through the plastic and eat the scent powder.  Good at repelling deer-not good at repelling dogs!


Hot pepper spray is also a remedy some gardeners swear by.  You can purchase this, but I recommend making your own.  Here is one recipe I found: Homemade Pepper Deer Repellent Spray. 

Defensive Planting 

You can also plant in a way that hides the most delicious plants.  You can plant large bushes around the desired area, but the downside to this is it is not as aesthetically pleasing.

You can also utilize plants with strong odors to cover up the scents of the other plants the critters are after.  These include Rosemary, Parsley, Garlic, Basil, Chives, Chrysanthemum, Sage, and Elderberry-to name a few.


These are a good method for alerting you when deer are on your property.  Particularly if your dogs stay outside, their scent and bark will likely deter all critters.

Noise-makers and Movers 

This is a remedy I use in my gardens.  Stealthily and strategically place things that will rustle, bang, move or shake.  Last year, I put plastic bags tied to the fence posts to rustle in the evening breeze.  Many people use tin foil pie plates.  One of the reasons I have ribbon on my fence posts currently, is to create movement-and it looks very whimsical!  Deer are flight animals and will flee at any sign of danger or disturbance.


This is about the only nearly guaranteed method of keeping critters away from your beloved gardens.  This method is typically the most expensive, but a great investment.  Raised bed gardens are a good option for creating Fort Knox inspired areas.  The following is a picture of one of my raised beds-they have one section of the fencing that is on hooks for human access:


This has been totally critter proof in the years I have used it.  There is initial cost that can be pricey, but it lasts for a few years.  The area is small enough that deer won’t jump into the fenced area and secure enough rabbits can’t hop up and under.  Full instructions HERE. 

Along with fencing, is the use of netting.  I recommend using this in conjunction with your fencing, but some lower cost alternatives can be made.  For our blueberry bushes, we like to ensure that they are safe from our chickens, the local birds and deer.  We constructed a portable PVC pipe plant protector that is easily removed by a human, but safe from all critters.

We spent about $15 on each plant protector.  We measured to ensure the plant had growing room, cut the PVC pipe to make a box or rectangle shape, attached with pipe with PVC joint connectors, applied netting and secured with zip ties.  This was a fairly inexpensive and easy project.  You could even spray paint the PVC pipe to make it blend in better.



Just make sure the netting holes are big enough for bees to move in and out.

I hope some of these methods help protect your gardens and veggies this year! I would love to hear what methods you have tried in the past or are currently using.

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Free DIY Chicken Coop

With the chicks growing faster every day, we are in need of another coop.  Currently Solstice and Princess are living with the pigs and they typically bunker down in the pig houses for the night.  I wanted to make sure that when the chicks are moved to the pen, there is a coop that provides everything they need.

I definitely didn’t want to buy one, so I looked around at what we had available here on the homestead.  Luckily for us, we had plenty of pallets that were waiting patiently to be repurposed.

I used three pallets to make a three sided structure and secured with wood screws.


After the sides were secured, I found some sticks in the woods that would serve as their roosts.  I positioned them at different heights and secured in with a few wood screws.  

We had some scrap metal roofing laying around, so I decided to put it to good use and used a few pieces as a roof.  I secured to the pallets with roofing nails.


I also added our black nesting boxes from the girl’s coop and attached them with screws to the sides


Overall this project only took a few hours and I didn’t have to purchase anything.  If you don’t have any extra materials laying around, check on Craigslist in the free section for any materials you could put to use in this project.  I resisted decorating and making it cute so it would continue to not cost anything! 

This coop does not have any security features since it is behind a cattle fencing pen and electric fence.  Make sure to include security features if your coop is going to be out in the open.  Security is absolutely essential for the survival of your flock.

I am pleased at the results and had a lot of fun designing it and putting it together!

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