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Mosquito Mountain Montana Homestead

Preparing for Winter

Mosquito Mountain Montana HomesteadFall is my favorite time of the year. I love the cool nights and the bright colors as the days grow shorter. I like feeling the heat from the wood stove as it radiates throughout the cabin. I like listening for the tea-kettle's whistle as it heats up on the stove's surface and I enjoy cooking breakfast utilizing a renewable resource.

A little artwork by Jack Frost.

A little artwork by Jack Frost.

Fall is our final chance to prepare for the long winter months. In the next couple of months we will hunt and preserve most of our meat for the coming year, fill the woodshed, and prepare the garden and equipment for their winter rest (and spring revival!).

My wife and I enjoy hunting and always look forward to hunting season. Our big game bow hunting season begins in early September and ends in mid-October. While I enjoy bow hunting I'm not wildly successful at it so I usually have tags remaining for the gun season that starts in late October and ends the Sunday after Thanksgiving Day.

I enjoy shooting about anything that throws a projectile so during the summer I've spent time shooting my bow, crossbow, traditional and inline muzzle-loaders, and my centerfire and rimfire rifles. That way there's no rush to ensure that my firearms are sighted in because I haven't shot them since the last hunting season. They've been in use all year.

My wife also hunts and is an excellent shot. She likes to get her tags filled early before it gets too cold.

My wife also hunts and is an excellent shot. She likes to get her tags filled early before it gets too cold.

Our seasons are liberal and residents can still buy over-the-counter tags (no drawings) for one deer, one elk, and one bear. With my wife and both hunting we get most of our year's meat supply during the fall season. We can also enter drawings for limited tags on other big game animals. The upland game bird season runs about the same times as the bow and gun seasons for large game so I usually get grouse while hunting during the bow season. (I do pretty well hitting grouse with an arrow!) We have wild turkeys near the cabin so I usually get one in those years I purchase a tag for them.

We can all of our meat (except birds, which we eat right away) so we spend time getting more canning jars out of storage and ready for use. Our canners are never really in storage because they're in use all year but we have thousands of jars that are in constant rotation from being emptied to being re-used. It takes quite a few jars to can a deer, elk or bear.

I use a hand-powered grinder for grinding our meat.

I use a hand-powered grinder for grinding our meat. If it's not too cold I use it outside. Otherwise I'll grind the meat indoors.

I do all of the butchering so this time of year is when we get the meat grinder out of storage and I hone the blades of my favorite knives to a shaving sharp edge. In the meantime my wife, who does all of the canning, is readying jars and canners (we have four pressure canners).

We have four pressure canners.

We have four pressure canners. When we have a lot to can we'll retrieve our propane "outfitter stove" from storage. It holds two more canners.

If the wood shed isn't full by fall I'll be cutting, splitting and stacking firewood. I try to get my wood early most years. If a person gets their permit from the Forest Service and cruises the back roads in spring you can often get wood that's fallen across or near the road during the winter. Unfortunately it's usually green and will need time to season before use. I throw green wood in a separate pile then load it in to the back of the wood shed so it won't get used until late winter or early spring. That way it has plenty of time to season (dry).

If you don't get your wood until later in the summer you'll have to go for the stuff that's farther from the road. It's normally good, seasoned wood but it's more work to get it to the truck.

In a bad fire year it makes sense to wait until fall to do your wood cutting. Mainly because if a fire rolls through the firefighters will usually try to save your home but they'll let your wood shed go up in smoke. If that happens all of your previous work has been wasted.

This year all of our cutting will be on our own property and since it's been a bad year for fires I still have a few cords to cut, split and stack.

A full truck load of wood brings its own reward on those long winter nights.

A full truck load of wood brings its own reward on those long winter nights.

As I finish up cutting firewood I'll put my chainsaws away for winter. This includes draining the fuel and running the carburetor dry, draining the chain oil from the reservoir and relaxing the chain on the bar. I used to remove the chains and store them in a bucket of oil but there are so many times that I have to get them out during the winter to clear downed trees from the road that I just loosen the chain tension instead. That way it's a lot easier and less messy to get them going again when I need them.

Our gardening season is officially over by mid-September. At this time we till up everything and let the remains compost over the winter. Soon the leaves will fall from the aspen in the yard and those will be raked up, scattered in the garden and tilled under. At least that's what happens if the weather cooperates. Many years we just rake up and pile the leaves because the ground is frozen in the garden.

Fall is also when I put to bed all of the gasoline-powered tools we have. String trimmers and the power mower will be drained of fuel and stored in the shed. The push mowers will also be stored inside until next spring.

It's also the time of year to inspect the snow rake (for pulling snow off the roof of buildings) and make sure all of the handle extensions are easy to get to. Likewise the chimney brush and handles will also be made readily available. If we are here all winter I normally clean the chimney about three times. We don't get a lot of creosote build up because I run a hot fire first thing every morning but it's better to be safe than sorry. Especially when the issue is a chimney fire!

Fall is definitely one of our busier times of year but it's also one of the most enjoyable. The days are getting shorter so we actually have time to sit and maybe watch a movie on the television, read or play our musical instruments. Our most recent acquisitions are Indian Flutes. We both enjoy the soothing sound they make. They just seem to be the perfect ending to a busy fall day.

If you've enjoyed what you've read so far you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead (available in the GRIT Bookstore). It's filled with homesteading advice you won't find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious.

You may also view my blog, Off-Grid, Self-Sufficient Montana Homestead Life.

Looking Back 7, Part 2: Nuisance Animals We've Dealt With Over the Years

Mosquito Mountain Montana HomesteadAside from pack rats our biggest animal problems have been ground squirrels, rabbits and deer.

Ground squirrels inhabit most of our area, leaving unsightly (and dangerous to livestock) mounds of earth around holes they've burrowed into the ground. They'll literally consume everything you've planted in the garden in a short time if you don't keep them out of your garden and flower beds. Our dog kills them outside of the garden fence but inside the fence we have to use guns, traps, and sometimes poison.

Looking Back 7 - Nuisance Animals, Part 2

An air rifle is an efficient and economical replacement for a conventional firearm for eliminating small garden pests and predators. I prefer .22 caliber over .177.

This summer we returned late from our snowbird location then immediately had to go to Kansas for a few weeks after my stepfather died. When we got back home it was too late to plant a garden. The ground squirrels had pretty much taken it over anyway since the dog was with us. They'd had their litters for the spring so they were everywhere. My record was 23 shot and trapped in one day. About two-thirds were the youngsters. Even now, weeks later, I'm still averaging two per day in my traps in the garden. Next year I'll come home early and try to get them under control right away.

Looking Back 7 - Nuisance Animals, Part 2

That cute little bunny rabbit can do a lot of damage to your garden in a very short time.

I once thought the little rabbit hopping about in the garden and playing with the kitten was cute. I let it go all summer long. It was still around when we headed south in the winter. When we returned the next spring I found out that the cute little bunny had girdled all but one of our apple trees. It was gone by the time we got home and I can only hope it died a painful death in the teeth or talons of a predator.

I shoot them on sight now. We have snowshoe hares around here and they are edible if you pressure can or cook them. Otherwise they're tough to chew. (Cottontail rabbits are tastier table fare.)

Looking Back 7 - Nuisance Animals, Part 2

An alternative to an air rifle or firearm is this Crosman model 1322 pump-type pellet pistol. It has enough power for small pests and predators. The optional shoulder stock makes hitting the target easier.

Deer can cause a lot of damage and the only way to reliably keep them out of your garden is a good fence. Ours are about 6 feet high. We had a spare patch of ground we planted corn, peas and beans in one year. We put up a temporary fence out of plastic drift fencing but the deer discovered that they could tear it with their hooves. They entered the garden area and ate all of the peas and most of the bean plants down to bare ground the first night. My wife had some old bear (pepper) spray and applied it liberally to the corn and remaining beans. When we went out the next day everything was tramped down. Apparently the deer ate some of the sprayed plants then stomped around either in pain, anger, or confusion before leaving. They never came back but then there was nothing left for them to eat either. We called that encounter a "draw." No real winners but at least we got a little revenge on the hoofed vandals!

The other nuisance animals are mostly predators after our chickens. Chicken seems to be high on the preferred food list of about every predator in existence. In our experience this means skunks, badgers, weasels, raccoons, owls, hawks, eagles, bobcats, mountain lions, grizzly bears, and the neighbor's dogs.

We protect our chickens with chicken wire fencing under around and over their "run" and I shut them inside the coop every night. I'm not worried that the chickens will escape ... I worry that the predators will get them if I don't. Weasels in particular can squeeze through very small openings and they'll kill every chicken they can find just for the joy of killing. We also have an electric fence around the coop and run to keep the bears out.

Some will be offended by what I've written. Many people do not want to see animals killed but if you're growing food for your family you see things differently. You also have a duty to protect domestic animals in your care. That means you keep them safe from both disease and predators.

One of the saddest stories I ever heard was of a couple who moved out into a rural area of Montana with their horses. They spent one evening clutching their pocket pooch and huddled in fear in their living room listening to the dying screams of their horses penned up in the barn as a mountain lion shredded their skin off in giants ribbons with its claws. It had to be a relief when it got a grip on the neck of one horse with its teeth and bit through the arteries. The horse quickly bled to death at that point. The other horse, a yearling colt, had to be shot the next day. Its injuries were too great for it to recover.

When I talked to them later they just shrugged their shoulders and said that they didn't believe in owning guns and their dog was too small to fight a lion. Besides, they quipped, the lion was there first.

I sincerely hope no one ever sold them another horse again.

They moved back to California a couple of years later. Seems they couldn't get along with their backwards "gun-toting" neighbors. Their neighbors were glad to see them go.

Predators and pests are a fact of life for homesteaders so its best to have plans in place to protect your property, livestock, and crops.

I'll continue our story in future posts.

If you've enjoyed what you've read so far you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead, (Available in the Grit bookstore: http://www.grit.com/shopping/detail.aspx?itemnumber=6510). It's filled with homesteading advice you won't find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious.

You may also view my blog, Off-Grid, Self-Sufficient, Montana Homestead Life

Looking Back 7, Part One:Nuisance Animals We've Had to Deal With Over the Years

Mosquito Mountain Montana HomesteadOur homestead adventure began with a war on pack rats and expanded from there. The property we purchased had a couple of existing buildings and after humans had abandoned them they became home for local wildlife. The most tenacious of these were the pack rats.

photo three

We used standard .22 cal. cartridges (on the right) when shooting outside but switched to .22 cal. shot-shells for indoor shooting (on the left with crimped tops).

photo two

I'd seen pack rats and knew their propensity to defile everything that they came into contact with. We had no traps at the time so we used .22 caliber, rim fire shot-shells. The shot shells are loaded with a small amount of number 12 shot. The good things about them are that they have very little penetration and a very low chance of ricocheting so we felt safe firing them inside sheds and other places. The bad things about them are that they are close range only and they do not extract well from most 22 rifles. Thus we had to do some creative planning to hunt them.

I already mentioned a couple of the pack rats in the first installment of this series. Now I want to tell of our continuing efforts to eradicate these pests.

photo oneFirst we pulled all of the drywall and insulation from the shack on our property. This denied the pack rats places to hide and build nests. We had a few "shootouts" while working at the shack involving moving pack rats and handguns. One time a rat began running along the upper wall of the shack. Every time it got to a rafter it would duck under and around it then run over the wall's top plate to the next rafter. Each time it ran across a top plate my wife would fire at it with her .357 Magnum. After five shots she was out of ammo so I began shooting at it with my .44 Magnum. It made the mistake of stopping, and I got it with my second shot. Of course the sound was deafening inside the building and it took three days for the ringing to subside in my ears, but the rat was dead.

Our real pack rat problem was across the road. It too was an abandoned property that had two old mobile homes on it. We called them pack rat hotels. No matter how many we killed on our property the rats from across the road just moved in to take their place. Our nightly entertainment became pack rat hunting across the road.

Because the shot shells would not extract easily after being shot we went out by threes. One held the flashlight and looked for the pack rats. One shooter was stationed on each side of the light holder. When a rat was spotted the right shooter took the first shot. It was fast shooting and often the rat was just knocked off its perch. It would them scamper to safety. So the second shooter's job was to shoot it while it was momentarily stunned on the floor. Then we had to dig the empty shell casings out of the rifles so that we could reload and continue the hunt.

We lost count of the number of rats we killed that way but eventually we diminished their numbers enough that they were no longer a problem at our cabin. The best thing was when the property was sold and the new owner removed the old mobile homes.

photo four

In my experience, live traps work best for pack rats. They seem to have no fear of them. Of course you still have to get rid of the rat. I kill them by shooting them with shot shells, drowning them or I let the dog have it. It sounds harsh but if you've ever had one move in you'll know how much damage they can cause.

photo five

Another option is to purchase rat traps from your local hardware or farm supply store. You'll want to fasten them to a heavy board or tie them to something solid (drill a hole in the wood base and wire the trap to an anchor of some sort). If you don't they'll take off with the trap.

Once we finished the roof and had sealed up the cabin there were times we shot the pack rats off the roof. We'd hear them scurrying along and load up a rifle, grab a flashlight and go looking for them. It was usually a short hunt, a single shot and then disposing of the body. One, however, had become quite a challenge.

I worked nights in our early days on the homestead, and my wife and the children had been plagued by one rat that made it a point to be on the opposite side of the roof from the shooter. This required precision shooting at night and none of the youngsters could do it. Finally my "weekend" arrived and the rat showed up on schedule. My wife went around one side of the cabin and I waited on the opposite corner. Sure enough the rat came scampering over to my side. One shot ended his nightly excursions forever.

In Part Two we'll look at some of the other pests we've had to deal with. I'll continue our story in future posts.

If you've enjoyed what you've read so far you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead (available in the GRIT Bookstore). It's filled with homesteading advice you won't find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious.

You may also view my blog, Off-Grid, Self-Sufficient Montana Homestead Life.

Looking Back 6: Homestead Predators - Lions and Wolves and Bears, Oh, My

Mosquito Mountain Montana HomesteadOur situation is unusual when it comes to large predators we have to deal with. The majority of homesteaders don't have grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, wolves, bobcats, lynx, and coyotes for neighbors. In reality, few of them actually give us problems although we still take precautions to protect ourselves and our animals.

The best homestead defense against most large predators is a good dog. You don't necessarily need a large dog, but it must be one of at least moderate size (to keep from being food for mountain lions); it needs to be smart enough to know when rousing the household is better than engaging the "enemy"; and it needs to be able to run loose and yet stay home.

Our current dog is great at all of the above. Those we had that weren't were taken to the animal shelter to be adopted by other owners.

Equally necessary are good fences designed to protect your animals from predators. Our chicken house and run is near the cabin and has wire over the top giving them protection on the sides, ends, and threats from above.

Photo 1 

We've never had many problems with coyotes, bobcats or lynx. I believe that is mainly because of our dog(s), past and present. I know they've been near the cabin because of the tracks and other sign that they leave. The only chicken we've lost to predators was "Houdini Hen." She was a true escape artist and we could never keep her inside the chicken run. Eventually I just quit trying. She had built a nest in the wood shed and laid her eggs there. I noticed though, that she had begun to wander farther from the cabin and figured that it wouldn't be long before she didn't come home. She particularly liked the compost piles at the back of the garden. One day I noticed she was not around and did a quick search. The feathers I found indicated that she'd been nabbed by a coyote or bobcat. She was a good layer and we missed her.

The coyotes and bobcats are hard on our house cats as well. Most of them eventually get wanderitus and never make it back home. Most likely they've fallen prey to a bobcat or mountain lion. Those can climb up the trees after them so they have nowhere to hide. I've been hunting at times and found our cats over a half-mile from our cabin. There's a lot of wilderness that far from our home and for a lot of the predators living there, cat is a delicacy.

Wolves have never caused us problems but that's mostly because our dog stays home. (If wolves are around, the dog stays on our front or back step.) Others in the area have lost dogs to wolves. Either it was due to the dogs defending the livestock or by the wolves enticing dogs away from the home. In both cases the dog has no chance of surviving. Dogs will fare better against a grizzly than a pack of wolves.

Photo 2

Mountain lions are prevalent in our area. The first year I trapped here, I set some coyote traps out in a marshy, heavily wooded area. We got a light snow that night and the next day when I checked my traps there were mountain lion tracks all over. I pulled my traps that day and moved them elsewhere. A neighbor who grew up here talked about exploring that area one summer day when he stumbled across a family unit of two half-grown cubs and one female. He quietly retreated and spent the rest of the day somewhere else.

Photo 3

We've never had a critter attacked by a mountain lion, but we did have a horse get excited and jump the corral fence once when one was in the neighborhood. Mountain lions are my main concern when our grandson is outside playing. They've been known to go after small children, women and occasionally men, and they're so stealthy you seldom know when they're around. A dog is good to have around. They have sharper ears and a keen sense of smell and most will go after the big cats. Beware though that small dogs are seen as delicacies to mountain lions. Lions have been known to snatch small dogs off front porches in broad daylight. You'll also notice that stray cats tend to disappear when lions are hanging around.

We also have a good supply of black bears in the neighborhood. Their sign is evident by the scat and shredded stumps they leave when searching for food. Again, they seldom cause problems for locals since they are extremely bashful. The exception is chickens, and they can get used to stealing pet food left outdoors. The last black bear I shot had a load of bird shot in his hindquarters. He'd probably been raiding the neighbor's cat's food. (He has a lot of cats and leaves feed for them outside.) They will also destroy barbecue grills and bird feeders.

Photo 4

Grizzly bears have caused us more damage than any other large predator. We had one get into our chicken feed one night, and it pretty much ruined the entire bag. We used to keep the chicken feed in a large steel trash can by the chicken house. I never gave it much thought since it was only about 30 feet from our back door and the dog had been a good deterrent so far.

One night the dog was barking her head off back by the chicken house. I loaded up a single barrel 12 gauge shotgun and investigated. I rounded the corner of my shop and came face-to-face with a grizzly. It ran about 10 feet to the path we used to go to the storage building at the back side of our property, then it just stood there looking at me. I had the shotgun pointed at him and we waited. Finally he turned and ambled off down the path. I went back to bed.

The next morning I cleaned up the spilled chicken feed the best I could, then let the chickens out to get what they could. There was still feed left on the ground at the end of the day but short of digging up the sod there wasn't much I could do about it. I set up a game camera expecting him to return. He did and I got some good photos of him.

Last summer another grizzly was causing problems. He'd broken into one chicken house and killed all the chickens. A couple of nights later he hit another neighbor's chicken house and killed most of their turkeys. He was ripping the siding off the chicken houses.

They began putting their chickens and the few remaining turkeys in a steel-sided livestock trailer at night. The bear was trying to tear the sides off of it a few nights later. He finally left for other places. We had just returned from our winter quarters down south (Nevada) and a neighbor warned us about the bear. We'd just bought 84 Cornish Cross chickens to raise for meat so I put electric wire around the chicken house to protect them. It must have worked since he never gave us any problems.

No one told us when we bought the place that the largest concentration of grizzly bears outside of a park lived right across the highway to the east of us. It wouldn't have mattered anyway!

Next will be accounts of the nuisance animals we've had to deal with over the years.

If you've enjoyed what you've read so far you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead (available in the GRIT bookstore). It's filled with homesteading advice you won't find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious. And please view my personal blog, Living Life Off the Grid.

Looking Back 4: Buffalo

Mosquito Mountain Montana HomesteadSome of our animal adventures originated from critters we didn't own. We had a neighbor who moved his buffalo onto the property adjacent to ours. He'd recently moved back to his home town and had purchased the land next to ours to pasture his buffalo. The problem was that he lived about 90 miles away so tending them in the winter was problematic. We offered to feed them from hay he purchased and stacked nearby. While we didn't ask for it, we also received some of the best meat imaginable whenever he butchered one of them.

Originally he stacked the hay inside the pasture with a wood fence around it. That turned into a buffalo all-you-can-eat buffet when they knocked the fence to the ground. After that he stacked it outside the pasture, and I threw it over the fence. It was normally just two or three bales per day, and we didn't mind doing it. We went for daily walks past there anyway, and it was kind of a novelty to have buffalo next door. Most of the time the feeding was uneventful but there were a couple of times it got interesting.

At first I went through the fence to scatter the hay so that the younger ones could get to it. Buffalo have a distinct hierarchy and the biggest and baddest of the group ate first, which left the calves and some of the cows standing on the fringe and looking with longing while the others feasted.

Photo 1 

One time I noticed the two calves playing. They'd drop their heads and charge each other in their mock battle for supremacy. Then one of them eyed me and dropped his head to include me in the game. The thought of being butted by a buffalo didn't thrill me. Even though they were calves, they probably still tripped the scales at 250 pounds each. I began to back toward a thick stand of lodge-pole pine. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of the mothers coming after me from the side. It was obvious that her intentions were not playful!

By then I was in my safe haven of trees and slowly working my way to the fence. She decided the threat was over, the calf went back to playing with his half-brother, and I vowed to just throw the hay over the fence if they were there at feeding time (they usually were).

The pasture fence is about 7 feet high and made from high tension electrified wire. It would probably stop a Boeing 747 without breaking. We nicknamed the place Jurassic Park the first time we saw the fence. I did a lot of haying as a teenager so I knew how to toss a bale of hay over obstructions, but it was still kind of an annoyance because it invariably rained dirt and stems down on me with each throw. If they weren't present, I'd just drag the bales inside the pasture.

We used to have a German Shepherd that had to be the Alpha dog with every animal he met. He didn't start fights normally, but he never turned one down. We usually kept him in the kennel because he liked to wander and fight with the neighbor's dogs. One day I had him with me when I fed the buffalo. For some reason I didn't think he'd fight with them. That was a huge error on my part. The herd of seven was waiting at the feeding area when I showed up. My dog ran over to sniff noses with the herd cow (there was no bull at that time). She gave him a quick sniff then tried to hook him with her horns. The fight was on!

If you've never seen a buffalo in action you'll never believe how fast they are. They can twist and turn at lightning speed. The dog was pretty quick too, and within seconds there was a big cloud of dust as the dog and cow each tried to do the other one in. The others just stood back and watched to see what happened. I was yelling at the dog trying to get him to break off the fight and was being completely ignored. Finally the old cow cornered the dog in the same stand of lodge-pole pine I'd retreated to at an earlier time. By then it was thicker than before and the dog had to worm his way backwards through the trees. At the same time the cow was still trying to hook him with her horns. I saw him bite once on her horn tip and break off one of his canine teeth. He was really mad then, and he came out of the trees trying his best to kill that cow. They made the previous battle look like a rehearsal as they went at it in earnest.

The fight probably only lasted about five minutes until I finally got the dog's attention and he came, panting to my side. I thought the old cow was going to come through the fence, but she decided against it and took her group back into the woods.

One other bright, sunshiny day, my wife and I decided to take our little S-10 pickup over to shovel in some buffalo manure to use as fertilizer. We thought it would be easy to just drive through the pasture to where we fed them and scoop the manure into the truck. The herd bull didn't like that idea.

We drove past a clump of trees about 50 yards into the pasture and the bull spotted us. I'd been in the pasture on foot and never had any problems, but that day was different. I don't know if he thought it was a territorial dispute or he just didn't like Chevy trucks, but he came charging across the pasture like he meant to stomp us, and the truck, into the ground.

I had my .338 Winchester Magnum with me but really didn't want to shoot him so we waited to see what would happen. About 30 yards out he did one of those crow-hopping, pogo stick stops. I swear that we could feel the ground shake! He blew some more snot and pawed the ground then ran back to his starting point. I put the truck in reverse to back out and he charged again. This time he stopped a little closer.

When he turned away, I backed up a little more. When we were close enough to the gate, my wife jumped out and raced back to the gate and dove under it. She unhooked the chain from the outside and waited to swing the gate open. When he turned away from the next charge, she opened the gate and I backed out onto the road. She shut the gate and chained it and we drove back home. We never did get that last load of manure for the garden.

Photo 2

Eventually the buffalo escaped their pasture. We didn't know it (there's a ridge between us) until we received a call from our son who is on the local fire department. It seems he heard a call from dispatch over his fire radio saying that there was a bull buffalo challenging cars on a local road. He asked for more details then said he knew how to contact the owner. He called us and we called the owner.

The owner came over the next day with a stock trailer, ATV complete with a winch, and some friends. We located the buffalo and he shot them and we all took part in butchering them. We got half of the smallest one.

One of people near where the buffalo had spent the night was upset about him killing them but there were no realistic alternatives. They were not like cattle that could be herded. They'd be more likely to charge the horses! They were also adjacent to millions of acres of national forest with no fence between them. Any attempt to herd them would have sent them miles into a virtual wilderness where finding them would be much more difficult. Luring them in with feed was also useless since they were already belly deep in grass plus there were no fences anywhere near that could keep them captive. These guys had traveled over five miles through thick forest and over a couple of mountain ridges to get where they were. There was no way to get them back into their pasture. So, they were shot, and we spent the afternoon skinning and quartering them.

We miss having them around, but that's the way things often happen in the country.

Next time I'll tell of some of our adventures with grizzly bears. I'll continue our story in future posts and some of them will be about animals we've had to deal with over the years and the sometimes good, sometimes bad experiences they've given us.

If you've enjoyed what you've read so far, you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead (available in the GRIT bookstore). It's filled with homesteading advice you won't find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious.

You may also view my blog, Living Life Off the Grid.

Looking Back 4: Homestead Critters: The Good the Bad and the Ugly

Mosquito Mountain Montana HomesteadHave you ever tried to bury a dead horse? Think about it. When you own an animal you are responsible for it from "cradle to grave." And while animals are sometimes a source of pleasure, other times they are a burden you end up enduring.

I believe it was Scott and Helen Nearing who said that anyone who owned an animal was a slave to it. There's a lot of truth to that statement! Most homesteaders simply assume that animals should be a part of the homestead when what they should be doing is analyzing if they'd be better off without them. Sometimes critters on the homestead are useful, sometimes they're entertaining and sometimes they're an unmitigated disaster! Here are some of our experiences.

Horses

Many homesteaders can't wait to get a horse (or horses!). My father raised and rode horses most of his life. Some of our children own horses. We've also owned horses. I'm telling you this just to verify that we speak from experience when it comes to owning horses.

We like horses. But we sold the last one several years ago and, while I liked that horse a lot, I was happy to see it leave. Horses make great companions, but they eat prodigious amounts of hay, drink gallons of water per day, need routine medical care, and must have a home of their own whether it's just a covered shed and corral or a pasture for grazing. If you keep them in a corral they must have a way to get exercise or you may create additional health problems for the horse.

Horses can also cause a lot of human damage as well. My stepmother had a hand badly broken by a horse she was tying up. My wife sustained a broken wrist and a lot of bruises when a horse spooked at an unfamiliar noise. Horses only have one means of defense and that's to run. It wouldn't be so bad except that a horse is afraid of anything new.

Nope, horses are not a part of our homestead anymore!

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This is Peaches, our Belgian mare. Even though I had hopes of using her as a draft animal, she was never more than a very large pet that ate large amounts of hay and drank 10 to 16 gallons of water per day. In the winter, we melted snow for her (and our) water supply. It was an endless task. If you live off grid where the winters are cold, you must also ensure that the water tank does not freeze or bring water to the horse several times daily. She did make lots of good fertilizer for the garden, but horse manure is usually available from other horse owners for free.

Pigs

We've owned pigs as well. The best things about pigs is that they are good eating. We are big fans of pork in all of its forms. Our biggest problem came at butchering time. While I generally research things carefully, I did not do a good job processing our hogs. We had some good eating and all of the meat was used, but it would have tasted much better had I taken them in to a professional or had at least learned proper methods for curing pork.

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These guys were named Hamlet and Lord Bacon. I've never had a problem killing pigs. By the time I've fed and housed them (pigs are notoriously difficult to keep penned in) and put up with the noises and smells that accompany them, putting a bullet in their brains is just frosting on the cake. The best things about pigs is eating them. In fact, the only thing good about pigs is eating them.

Cats

I like cats but we have a hard time keeping them. In our neighborhood resides grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, lynx, wolves and coyotes. All of them like cats too and eventually our cats range too far from the cabin and end up as the main course of other predators higher on the food chain.

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This little guy (we had him fixed ASAP) started out small and cute and did a good job keeping the mice population down. We eventually gave him a new home in a warmer climate, and we do not have a cat at this time. We've gone to traps to keep the mouse population in check. Traps are cheap and effective and they don't tie you down like pets do.

Dogs

What would a homestead be without a dog! We've had several. The dogs we moved to the homestead with died from old age. One pup we got had a bad case of wanderitus, and we took it back to the animal shelter.

But the biggest problem we've had with dogs came because of idiot neighbors. One family moved in with three dogs and insisted that they be allowed to run free. Unfortunately they also ran on everyone else's property and chased deer and other wild animals. One got in the habit of eating our dog's food. They moved from the area after a couple of months. Seems that they couldn't get along with the neighbors. It wasn't just their dogs that caused problems. They had some other traits that made them undesirable as well.

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This is Odie. We took this photo a few days ago while exploring the desert in Nevada. We had just taken a break from the wind and sun inside this shallow cave.

Odie is a Border Collie from the animal shelter. She's quick and attentive and has a strong protective instinct for my wife, our grandson, and our property. She loves to hunt and does a good job keeping the ground squirrel population in check. She's also smart enough to know when to chase a critter away and when to keep her distance and just sound the alarm. She's had encounters with everything from skunks to mountain lions and grizzly bears and has survived to tell about it. She's been a good dog. It's too bad they don't live as long as people do.

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This is Bear. I raised her from a puppy and if I could clone a dog, she would be it. In this photo we had just returned from running my trap line. It was about 10 degrees below zero that morning. Bear hated hot weather. In the summer she would walk from one shady spot to the next. She was happiest when the temperature was below freezing. She never liked being indoors at any time of the year. We worked hard to keep her from chasing deer and did a fine job. One crisp, fall morning, my wife looked out and Bear was sleeping in one raised flower bed and a white-tailed deer was resting in the one next to her. She died of cancer a few years ago.

Chickens

Chickens are our favorite homestead animal. We love fresh eggs. The yolks are deep yellow and flavorful, and the whites don't run all over the place when you crack them open. We've raised many from chicks but economically it's best to pay extra and buy young adult birds. In fact, most of our most economical birds were given to us by people who were moving. We do not artificially push them to produce eggs so our birds normally live to be 5 to 7 years old.

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The kitten would sneak up on the chickens until it got too close, then the chickens would chase the cat away. They never seemed to tire of this game.

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We've had two hens that would actually hatch eggs. In this photo, the eggs were duck eggs we got from a daughter. We also had this hen hatch some chicken eggs. She stopped sitting on the eggs after the first four chickens hatched. Two days later, we threw the rest of the eggs out believing that they had spoiled. Several were within hours of hatching, and we could have finished their incubation time artificially. It was a hard lesson learned!

If you have a good, steady supply of electricity, it's more efficient to use an electric incubator for hatching eggs. We've done it using the pilot light in our propane kitchen range's oven for heat. but it's labor intensive (constantly turning the eggs, etc.) and not real effective.

We've also grown meat chickens for homestead use. They are bred to grow large breasts. They also eat huge amounts of feed. Last summer we purchased 84 of the little buggers. It took me three days to butcher them and my wife spent several days more canning them and the chicken broth. We did end up with some mighty fine organic meat though.

We also had to put some electric fence wire around the chicken coop due to a grizzly bear in the neighborhood that had developed a taste for homegrown chicken. It would literally rip the siding off a chicken house to get the chickens. We received a "heads-up" from the neighbors and got the electric wire up before he visited our homestead.

Chickens are considered a delicacy by most predators and need safe quarters.

Goats

Yes, we've had them and, yes, we've milked them. I don't like goats. My dad had goats, and they were always climbing on things (like his truck and car), getting into places they shouldn't be, and being a pest. One even killed a dog of his. The dog and goat often played with the goat butting the dog. One time the dog wasn't expecting it and the goat butted him hard in the chest. The dog walked a few steps then fell over dead. The vet said the goat ruptured an artery to the dog's heart. Goats can be serious business if you aren't careful.

If you like goats they do have some redeeming features. They are smaller than cattle and can provide healthy meat and milk to those willing to put up with them. Good fences will keep them confined and out of your way as well.

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My wife is milking the neighbor's goat while they are on vacation. Goat milk has a different taste than cow's milk. Try to find some to sample before getting a goat for milk.

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Rabbits

Rabbits are our second choice for homestead livestock (after chickens). The meat is good and they are prolific producers. (They breed like, uhmm ... rabbits!) The furs can also be sold or used for projects.

My major problem with them comes at butchering time. I hate killing them. Overall they are easy to care for (requiring little space) and can be fed from foods easily grown on the homestead. We planted a small patch of alfalfa and harvested enough by hand for fresh rabbit food and for hay to feed them in the winter.

Of course there was also the time that cute little bunny girdled all but one of our apple trees. But that's another story for another time.

Overall we have gotten rid of all of our critters except the dog. We like to travel in the winter after the homestead work is finished. Animals tie us down.

Another thing most homesteaders should consider is the cost of raising animals. I read of one homestead family that was very self-sufficient in every area except one: they spent hundreds of dollars every month for animal food. We can tell you from experience that it's much easier to save money than to make money on the homestead.

I once had a dream of owning draft horses and using them for homestead tasks, then I figured up the work owning horses would add to our life and saw that I'd spend an extra two months a year of my time just growing, harvesting and putting up food for the horses. It just wasn't worth it to me.

Do the homework. If you can't grow your own livestock feed you'll have to buy it. Buying feed takes money and money has to be made. I've seen too many people work their entire lives supporting the animals that owned them. I'd rather do other things with my time.

We've owned or had experience with many more animals than those I've mentioned. These are just the most prominent in our minds. At present we hunt for the meat we eat and do some buying and battering for the meat and eggs we can't get by hunting. It's cheaper and easier in the long run for us to do it that way.

In no way is this advice for other homesteaders nor are we judging those who fill their property with critters. We have a policy of live and let live and if it's animals you want then have at it. If you live nearby, we'll even be happy to do some bartering or even pay cash for eggs and milk your critters produce. But, the Nearings were right about a lot of things and (even though we are not vegetarians as they were), one of the most important is that you don't really own an animal. The animal owns you!

I'll continue our story in future posts and some of them will be about animals we've had to deal with over the years and the sometimes good, sometimes bad experiences they've given us.

If you've enjoyed what you've read so far you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead, (available in the Grit bookstore). It's filled with homesteading advice you won't find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious.

You may also view my blog.

Looking Back 3: Nonelectric Entertainment

Mosquito Mountain Montana HomesteadWe get a lot of questions about the things we did for entertainment in those early years before we had electricity. Believe it or not, boredom was not a problem on our homestead. Even the long evenings of winter passed relatively quickly under the soft glow of kerosene lamps.

It helped that all of our children are avid readers. One major concern we had was the fire danger from the kerosene lamps we used throughout the cabin. Now to those who've never used kerosene lamps, it isn't like the movies. You will not light up a room with one lamp and the light is not that bright either. We do not use the Aladdin lamps with the mantles because we've found them prone to carbon build-up in the globe. In our experience, they take constant fiddling and attention and even though they give out a lot of light they aren't worth the hassle to us. We used the standard old wick-type kerosene lamps.

Our first experience with solar power was when we began using solar driveway and sidewalk lights for reading lights for the children. Those early lights were yellow, but they still worked as reading lamps. We had three times as many as we had people because it took two days to fully recharge them. We'd lay in bed with the light propped against our shoulder or neck when reading. That cut down the fire danger significantly and still allowed the children to read in the evenings.

We played board games and cards, drew pictures, wrote, made and decorated cookies and did school work (we home schooled our children). We even used a laptop computer by charging the battery up when we went to church.

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cookies

We also do some "homegrown" music. My wife can play about any musical instrument and has taught some of those skills to other family members.

photo 9 banjo

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A lot of our entertainment was outdoor activity.

We like hiking and backpacking and spent time camping in the mountains. Several times we rented USFS cabins in the wilderness and either hiked or cross-country skied to their locations.

One cabin we rented in winter required skiing eight miles to the cabin site. One time the snow was so deep we had to turn back. A blizzard had just dumped several feet of snow the night before and even our cross-country skis sank so deep it was impossible to make it in. (And that was after we'd just spent 20 minutes shoveling out a parking spot for our Cherokee!) We called the Forest Service and they gave us extra time to use the cabin.

We tried again the next day and someone on a snowmobile had blasted a path through. Following his trail we made it all the way to the cabin. That was a spring weekend when the temperature was well below zero on the ski in but when we left two days later the temperature had climbed into the 40s. The snow was wet and sticking to our skis making it one of the most physically taxing ski trips we'd ever taken on the way back to the trail head.

cabin rental

hiking

We often camped in the winter by skiing down old logging roads. We never used a tent but instead slept between one tarp thrown on the snow and another one over us. Many times we felt the snow lightly falling on our faces as we drifted off to sleep.

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We enjoyed ice skating on a small pond near the cabin. Occasionally there would be a neighborhood party at a local lake where we'd have a bonfire with the guys going ice fishing and the children skating on the lake.

skate

We have a couple of good sledding hills on our property. We live on a private road so traffic is never a problem.

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ski

Summer activities included hiking and backpacking into the high country. We have hundreds of mountain lakes within a 50-mile radius of our cabin. Some we'd drive to and others were walk-in only. The fishing was always good as was the view.

backpacking

high country

Hunting is superb where we live, and we always look forward to the big game season each fall. Hunting is not only a recreational activity but also provides our yearly meat supply.

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fishing

We also have a trampoline and playground equipment that is now being put to use by our grandson who lives with us.

trampolin

pool

Homestead life, even when lived primitively is never boring. There's always something to do either indoors or outdoors. In fact, one of the best things about our life is that it keeps us physically active all year long. It's a trait we still follow today even though I'm now 60 and my wife is .... (Oops! Almost messed up big time!)

horses

I'll continue our story in future posts.

If you've enjoyed what you've read so far you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead. (Available in the Grit bookstore.) It's filled with homesteading advice you won't find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious.

And visit my blog, Living Life Off Grid.