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Tough Grit Hints From Hank Will

Grilling With Wood Chunks

Editor in Chief Hank Will, in his International.When it comes to grilling, using ready-made charcoal is convenient, but nothing beats the mouth-watering campfire flavor created when you use chunked wood as your fuel instead. And the best part of all is that the wood chunks are free for the taking from windfall branches or prunings from around your place.

Here’s how it works. First you need to collect branches, limbs and/or trunks from species such as pear, apple, cherry, hickory, maple or any other wood that has a pleasant smoky flavor.

Cut the branches into 4- to 5-inch lengths and split and saw heavier material into chunks about 3 to 4 inches across. Let your grilling wood cure in a well-ventilated, dry place until it is easy to ignite and doesn’t steam and hiss while burning.

I’ve had good luck storing the wood chunks in burlap sacks hanging from the wall in my barn. When you are ready to grill, load the chunks into a chimney-style charcoal lighter and light as usual. When the chunks are well lit, spread them on the charcoal grate in the grill, reduce the airflow by closing the lid until the flames snuff but the wood chunks still smolder.

The rest is as easy as adding the food, adjusting the airflow to maintain sufficient heat and digging into the best grilled steaks and chops you’ve ever experienced. Give it a try and discover for yourself that the little bit of added effort is well worth the reward.

Watch the full episode! Hanks shares hints like these in each episode of Tough Grit. Visit Tough Grit online to view this episode and many more. The tips on grilling with wood chunks above appeared in Episode 26, “Do-Si-Do.”

Benefits of Shelterbelts

Editor in Chief Hank Will, in his International.Hedges of various forms have been used for hundreds of years as a means to enclose gardens and mark landownership boundaries. And in the vast cultivated fields of the world’s agricultural lands, hedgerows surrounding the fields offer sanctuary to the constructed, multi-row hedges called shelterbelts. Shelterbelts offer sufficient benefits to the landowner so that there’s really no reason not to plant them.

Benefits of Shelterbelts 

1. Shelterbelts can cut your winter heating bill by up to 30 percent by protecting barns and dwellings from winter’s cold winds.

2. Shelterbelts trap moisture in the form of snow that will help recharge soil moisture.

3. Mature shelterbelts supply firewood in the form of thinnings and windfall limbs.

4. Shelterbelt plantings significantly reduce your cooling bill in the summer when situated to shade dwellings from the late afternoon sun.

5. Properly-placed shelterbelts reduce your need to shovel or plow snow.

6. Shelterbelts provide shade for your livestock in summer and protection from the wind in winter.

7. Shelterbelts can supply nuts and fruit depending on the species you plant.

8. Shelterbelts help keep your topsoil from blowing away.

9. Shelterbelts filter dust-laden air as it wafts over your place.

My ancestors planted shelterbelts on the windswept Dakota Territory plains for survival. I plant them because that’s what Will people do. Either way, the results are compelling.

Watch the full episode! Hanks shares hints like these in each episode of Tough Grit. Visit Tough Grit online to view this episode and many more. The benefits of shelterbelts list above appeared in Episode 25, “Hedging Your Bets.”


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Editor in Chief Hank Will, in his International.Good fences surely make good neighbors, and they make even the most experienced folks into better animal husbands. Good fences will keep the flock safe and the herd out of the garden or your neighbor’s alfalfa. With good fences, you and the critters will experience the joys of low stress management. But what makes a good fence, you might wonder.

Since the role of most farm fences is to act as barriers, different types of fences will work best for different classes of livestock and poultry. Fences are also fundamentally vulnerable to malfunction because determined (or panic-driven) animals will regularly test them.

Fences carry out their barrier-mission in two fundamental ways: physical and psychological. The 12-foot tall stone wall in good repair will keep most animals in or out no matter how much they rub, scratch or try to climb it — it’s a formidable physical barrier.

Conversely, the fence created with a single strand of lightweight polywire conductor, offers little in the way of a physical barrier, but when that conductor is appropriately energized with electrical pulses, it will serve as a psychological barrier once animals have been shocked by it.

With few exceptions, the most effective fence designs integrate both physical and psychological components. Spend a little time learning about the animals you wish to fence in — or out — and you just might become a good neighbor yourself.

Watch the full episode! Hanks shares hints like these in each episode of Tough Grit. Visit Tough Grit online to view this episode and many more. The tips on good fences above appeared in Episode 24, “Suits You to a ‘T’.”


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

What to Do with Grass Clippings

Editor in Chief Hank Will, in his International.Many folks like a nicely manicured lawn, but with all that mowing comes tons of grass clippings. What can you do with all those clippings?

1. A lot of people simply bag them and send them off to the landfill or municipal recycling center. If you apply lots of pesticides to your lawn, this might be an optimal solution but if it costs you, then you might consider a mulching attachment for your mower.

2. The mulching attachment keeps the grass clippings in the mower blades’ path long enough that they get chopped to bits, literally. Once the bits fall evenly on the lawn, they quickly break down, which adds organic matter and fertilizer to the soil that supports the lawn itself. You can take this even further if you don’t spray pesticides of any kind on the grass.

3. When your clippings are pesticide free they make a great nitrogen fertilizer for the garden. Collect them and spread them in thin layers or lightly bury them around hungry vegetables. When applied to the surface they will also act as mulch. Don’t pile them too deep or they may begin to smell.

4. If you don’t want to use the clippings in the garden, and they are free of all poisonous chemicals, you can feed them to your chickens — just pile them in the coop and let the chickens do the rest. If there are more clippings than the chickens can eat, they will compost them for you.

Once you get the hang of looking at the grass clippings as a resource, your entire attitude toward mowing may just change — hopefully for the better.

Watch the full episode! Hanks shares hints like these in each episode of Tough Grit. Visit Tough Grit online to view this episode and many more. The grass clippings suggestions above appeared in Episode 23, “Cutting Corners.”


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

How to Keep Farm Dogs Safe

Editor in Chief Hank Will, in his International.It’s tough to imagine life out here without a dog or three around the place, but even in the country you’ll want to take care that your canine companions, whether working partners or pure pets, can live a relatively safe and happy life. The farm seems like an ideal location for dogs to live the good life, and thats mostly true. But there are still plenty of pitfalls and potential dangers that require diligence on your part, so that your partners and pets can experience the best that setting has to offer.

Farm dogs love to chase and chasing machinery with huge bar-lugged tires can convert your canine compadres to a furry pancake in a heartbeat. If they can’t be successfully trained to avoid chasing, then it might be best to keep them in a fenced yard when you are otherwise occupied.

Terriers love to hunt rodents and we all know that farms — especially grain and livestock farms — tend to attract them. Take care that your beloved Cairn doesn’t get poisoned by the same bait you use to control the rats. And no matter how well trained, most farm dogs will follow a rabbit right into the path of an oncoming vehicle’s tire.

I’ve had herding dogs, terriers and lovable mutts around my place and I simply cannot imagine life with out them. I’ve been privy to the kind of dog joy that comes from games of chase alternating with cooling dips in the pond. I’ve also felt the deep pain from losing a friend or working partner because I didn’t do all that I might have done.

Spend a little time training yourself to anticipate and prevent potential dog disasters — your entire family will be glad you did.

Watch the full episode! Hank shares hints like these in each episode of Tough Grit. Visit Tough Grit online to view this episode and many more. The how to keep farm dogs safe tips above appeared in Episode 22, “Red Rover, Red Rover.”


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

How to Make Hay Into Winter Feed

Editor in Chief Hank Will, in his International.If you have an acre or two of meadow but not the machinery or neighbors to hay it, you can easily put up sufficient provender to feed a small flock of ewes or goats through the winter. All you need is an Austrian-style scythe, hand hay rake and hay fork to get it all done.

Daunting as it may sound, our ancestors routinely made hay by hand and put away many tons of it for winter feeding. You can too if you’re ready to trade in that gym membership for some real work. In the past few years, I’ve put up close to 5 tons a season using this easy going approach.

In the mornings, when the dew is still on the grass, sharpen your scythe and mow as much as you can in about an hour. Once you get the hang of it, your efforts will yield lovely swaths of mowed forage. Let the swaths dry for a day or two in the sun. Turn them with a wooden hay rake if the hay isn’t drying evenly.

When dry, rake the hay into piles and pitch it into the back of your pickup or onto a wagon or tarp and haul or drag it back to the barn where you can pile it out of the weather.

Once you get the process going, you can scythe in the morning, rake and haul the hay that’s ready in the evening and turn any swaths that need turning. Keep at it for a month and you'll find that your stack is sufficiently large to keep the animals going through the winter months and you just might need a shorter belt.

Watch the full episode! Hanks shares hints like these in each episode of Tough Grit. Visit Tough Grit online to view this episode and many more. The how to make hay tips above appeared in Episode 21, “Hay Fever.”


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

Sheep Herding Tips

Editor in Chief Hank Will, in his International.In the early part of the last century, the job of shepherd was one of minimal status, but immense freedom. These often solitary souls would take a large flock from the winter ranch headquarters to the summer pastures — often at higher elevation — to spend the summer together.

The shepherd’s job was to keep the sheep grouped, safe and to lead them to greener pastures as necessary. In many respects, the shepherd was the flock leader.

Sheep Herding Tips 
Today we’ve concentrated on handling sheep by playing the role of predator and taking advantage of the flock’s flight zone to get the animals to go. But there is another, more shepherd-like way. It involves bottle feeding a small portion of each year’s replacement lambs and/or rewarding them with pellets when they approach.

Even if your bottle fed or treat trained animals that are low in the pecking-order, when you step into the pasture, they will recognize you as the flock boss and quite literally flock to you — temporarily upsetting the status levels of even the highest ranking individuals.

So, if you want to corral the flock, all you need to do is walk out to the flock’s edge, make your presence known and lead the group in. So distracting is this phenomenon that your partner can calmly and quietly rope or otherwise catch individuals for loading, doctoring, or just inspecting.

You’ve heard the expression “there are many ways to skin a cat.” I’m here to assure you that there are also several methods to move sheep — most require little in the way of whooping it up, which lowers stress levels all around.

Watch the full episode! Hanks shares hints like these in each episode of Tough Grit. Visit Tough Grit online to view this episode and many more. The soil contact tips above appeared in Episode 20, “Baa, Baa Black Sheep.”


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .