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The Most Important Safety Basics for Small Farmers

Unsplash/Nam Hoang

Farm safety may seem trivial, especially if you've worked on a ranch for several years. You may feel you already know everything there is to know. However, everyone can benefit from learning about or refreshing their knowledge of farm safety. If you are already aware of the following precautions and laws, share them with a friend, employee or family member. Doing so could prevent accidents and injuries to those you hold most dear. 

Purchase a Tractor With ROPS

Tractors are one of the most common types of machinery on farms. They're also a major cause of death due to lack of rollover safety. Each year, five people die for every 100,000 tractors in operation. Therefore, it's incredibly important you purchase a tractor with rollover protective structures. Nearly all rollovers in tractors without this safety mechanism end in fatalities. 

If your current tractor doesn't have ROPS, contact your local farm equipment dealer. They may be able to point you to someone who can design, manufacture and install ROPS. 

Maintain Machinery 

Regardless of whether your tractor has ROPS or not, you should still perform regular maintenance on it to ensure it is functioning correctly. This will reduce the risk of a malfunction due to missing or broken parts. Inspect brakes, hitches, tires, safety chains and springs for wear and tear, and check hydraulics and airlines for cracks. 

You likely spent a pretty penny on that tractor or rotary tiller, and the last thing you want to do is purchase another one before you have to. Performing regular maintenance will prolong the life of your machinery and save you money in the long run. Even if there's nothing wrong with your equipment, replacing old parts before they break can protect both you and your wallet.  

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

As you know, farms can be full of wandering animals, curious children, uneven terrain and other equipment. For this reason, you must always be aware of your surroundings. If you aren't paying attention 24/7 or choose to operate machinery under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you're being careless. This could result in a serious and regrettable accident.

You can also minimize your risk of accidents by limiting the amount of time you spend within animal enclosures. Livestock crush injuries are incredibly common and can occur when you get pinned between an animal and a fence or wall. Often, this involves farmers' hands, which are the leading body part injured at work and treated at hospitals. It's best to stay out of enclosures with lots of animals, as it's difficult to know where each one is at all times. 

Read the Manual

The first thing many owners of shiny new farm equipment do is toss aside the owner's manual. What better way to understand a machine than to figure it out on your own, right? This line of thinking may explain accidents due to user error. Avoid life-threatening mistakes by reading the manual and completely understanding how your machines work before using them. 

Pay particular attention to the safety instructions and follow them closely to prevent injury to you, others or your machine. Flipping through the manual will also help you better understand the mechanics behind your equipment. This will help you know what to look for during maintenance inspections. 

Obey Traffic Laws

Sometimes, you must drive your tractor or other farm machinery on roadways to transport goods. You'll likely be navigating narrow country roads with higher speed limits. Both of these factors — as well as high traffic volume — contribute to a greater risk of an equipment crash. However, there are measures you can take to minimize your chances of colliding with another vehicle. 

For example, the law requires you to mount a slow-moving vehicle sign on your equipment if it cannot maintain speeds over 40 kilometers per hour. This alerts other vehicles to your slower pace, thereby preventing collisions. You should also try to avoid using major roads or traveling during high-traffic times to reduce your risk of a crash. 

Prepare for Emergencies

Regardless of how closely you follow all rules and precautions, accidents still happen. Therefore, it's important to understand safety basics for small farmers. Have a first-aid kit on hand for easy access and train at least one employee in basic care. Keep a working phone or radio on you at all times in case you must contact someone for immediate help. Have a plan in place and make sure everyone on the farm understands it. 

Of course, you never hope to actually use this plan. However, preparing in advance and expecting emergencies may save a life.

DIY Guide to Building a New Shed

Depending on the status of the current infrastructure on your farm, the time will probably come when you need to build a new shed. Before reaching for your toolbox, there are a few things you may want to consider. How much space do you need? Where is the ideal location? What is the primary function of the new shed?
Whether you are in need of more space for garden tool storage, cold storage for produce or office space, here are some simple guidelines for building your own shed. 

Steps to Building a New Shed

1. Define your purpose and goals

Before building a new shed for your farm or homestead, identify what purpose the shed will serve, as well as your main goals for the project. This will help you determine what features you need and how complicated your DIY shed project will be.

Then, pick out a specific design and blueprint. You can browse different shed plans for specific features or look elsewhere online for more basic setups. Your shed will hopefully become a permanent fixture, so now's your chance to customize the project to your liking.

2. Choose a site

Once you have determined what kind of shed you want to build, you'll need to figure out where to put it. 

The placement of your shed will depend on a number of factors. Is the new location easily accessible? Is it close to the areas you will be working in? Is the surface level? Are there any special circumstances that play into your decision? 

3. Check for permits

Before you bring out the nails and hammer, you will want to check and see whether you need a building permit. Permits will vary based on location, and most sheds under 6x8 feet do not require a permit.
However, it only takes a moment to do some preliminary research and save a headache down the road.

4. Lay a foundation

Like any permanent structure, your shed's foundation is extremely important. Regardless of the type of flooring, you are investing in, be sure to pay close attention to laying an even foundation.
A concrete base works in most places, though be sure to check for any special circumstances your site may require. While pouring your own concrete may sound intimidating at first, there are tons of online resources to help you through the whole process.

5. Raise the frame

Whether you are constructing a shed from scratch or following a plan, you will want to make sure your frame is square before continuing on to the next step.

Building a frame requires a diverse set of tools, so make sure you have everything ready to go before you begin!

6. Add the roof

The type of roof you choose in your shed's design is probably equal parts style and function. Depending on your environment, be sure to consider the slope, both the grade and direction. Ventilation and precipitation are two important considerations when adding the roof. 

7. Install windows and doors

There are many options to consider when choosing the right windows and doors for your shed. There are four general styles of doors for sheds: hinged, sliding, bi-fold and roll-up. For windows, the installation will vary widely based on the main function of your shed.
If the space will mostly be utilized for storage, you may find that your shed does not require any windows. However, if you are including windows, be sure to use either aluminum or vinyl frames for weather-resistance and overall longevity. 

8. Assemble additional features

When you choose a design for your shed, you probably have a couple special circumstances or features that you would like to personalize.
Some of these may require professional help, such as installing electricity or heat. Other DIY features may involve installing shelving or a rampway entrance. Whatever the feature, make sure that your shed is set structurally before assembling.

9. Use it!

With your new shed ready to go, it's time to get started on filling it with whatever materials you want. Whether it is going to function as a farm office or simply for storage, the possibilities for your new shed are endless.

Clearing Your Land for a New Project

clearing land for homesteaders

You have a new project in mind — a garden, a pasture for livestock, an addition to your home — but your land is awash with trees, shrubbery and brush. To accomplish your goals, you'll need to clear everything away affordably and efficiently. 

Don't get stuck with a drawn-out plan that lasts years. Instead, follow the guide below to create the space of your dreams.

Step 1: Choose an Area

Before you start chopping down trees or digging up the earth, you should section off the territory you plan to work on with stakes and bright tape. If you hire a professional crew for any part of the process, these markers will reduce the chance of mistake.

With a section in mind, you should also research your local zoning and building ordinances. The guidelines you must follow will depend on the size and scope of your chosen project. In some cases, you may need an inspector to visit the site and ensure everything is code compliant.

Step 2: Amass Your Equipment

You'll need a variety of tools to complete your project, depending on the number of trees, brush and other debris on the property. If you merely have saplings and bushes to remove, you can get away with a shovel and hand saw. Towering trees and denser brush, on the other hand, may require chainsaws, tractors or even backhoes. 

Gather all the right equipment before you start to save time and complete the project efficiently. If you need to rent a particular tool, shop around to find the best deal. Some companies offer discounts if you can return the equipment within a specified timeframe, such as before the end of the day.  

Step 3: Sell Your Timber

To get the most value out of your land, you'll want to cut down trees yourself. If you hire a professional, however, don't let them haul everything away. Timber is a high-priced commodity that can put cash in your wallet. Instead, mark the trees that are valuable and get bids from brokers.

The value of your timber can vary significantly based on the size, quality and species. Top-quality black cherry, for instance, will command a higher price tag than scraggly sweetgum. Plus, the more timber available, the higher the price per unit companies will offer.

Step 4: Remove Ugly Stumps

You've cleared away brush and cut down trees, but now you're left with ugly stumps. To remove them from the ground and make the land pristine, you'll need to break out the stump cutter. This tool uses high-powered bladed disks to saw through trunks and turn them into wood chips. 

Instead of getting rid of these chips, save them for later. They make excellent organic material for flowerbeds, walkways and play areas. You can also use them to line your garden. If you compost, wood chips will break down and enrich the soil, making it more nutritious for plant life. 

Step 5: Prepare the Soil

If you plan to start a garden or create a beautiful landscape, your work isn't yet complete. After you've removed the debris and tree stumps, you'll want to prepare the soil. A lawn tiller and aerator will break up the dirt and create small pockets on the surface. These holes allow water and nutrients to soak through, creating fertile soil beds. 

To plant healthy swaths of natural grass, experts recommend you invest in a lawn overseeder. This tool disperses seeds and fertilizer at timed intervals, ideal for areas disrupted by construction. The adjustable blades cut into the earth and ensure you aren't seeding too shallow or too deep. 

Step 6: Appreciate Your Hard Work

Once you've cleared your land and made way for new growth, take a step back and appreciate your hard work. While the process may not have been easy, the reward is worth the effort. You can now use your newly cleared land as you see fit.

If you want to plant a garden, consider what types of crops will work best in your climate. If you're going to raise livestock, introduce a few species at a time. Start with smaller animals, such as chickens or ducks. Then, you can slowly add goats, cows, cattle or horses. 

Clearing the Way

Clearing your land may seem like a lot of work. However, when you finish your project, you can stand back and admire your efforts. 

To clear land affordably and efficiently, amass all the right equipment before you begin. Sell timber to earn extra cash and use a stump cutter to remove unsightly bulges. Once clear, prepare your soil with an aerator and seeder. With the right piece of land, you can complete any project your heart desires.



Ever wonder why some gardens and landscapes look dazzling year after year, while others decline? Or why does a planting look great at one location while the same plant looks skimpy and unattractive nearby? The characteristics of the site determine whether a plant will thrive. Site Assessment for Better Gardens and Landscapes describes how to evaluate site characteristics that are important to plants.

Intended for novice gardeners, experienced gardeners, and landscape professionals, the 81-page spiral-bound book includes 50+ color photos, a glossary, an index, and references and web sites for further information. Through 30+ hands-on activities, soil type, drainage, sunlight, compaction, slopes, minimum and maximum temperatures, wind, existing plants, wildlife and more are evaluated. This title is available at our store or by calling 866-803-7096.

Could You Benefit From the Rural Development Program?

rural development program

Living on a homestead is an adventure. You experience countless good times, but downfalls and issues can come up occasionally.

One common problem centers on how to pay for updates and property renovations. You might've put off repairs in the past because they were too expensive to pay for. Because of this issue, you may feel stuck on how to take your homestead to the next level without spending thousands of dollars.

Fortunately, practical solutions are available, and you don't have to search far to find them. Learn about Rural Development and see what it can do to help you as a homeowner.

What Is State-Based Rural Development?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture runs the Rural Development program for helping low-income homeowners. This initiative offers loans and grants to rural residents who can't afford to make home repairs or add accessible structures to their dwellings. Grants are open to elderly, low-income individuals, while loans are for all other applicants below the poverty line.

The Rural Development program encompasses several types of property ownership, including multi- and single-family housing and businesses. Applying for single-family benefits could be helpful for you if your homestead falls into the eligible income bracket.

Many people may think the program serves only farmers since it's a part of the USDA, but it's open to anyone living in a rural community.

Explore Your Options

Maybe you want to perform repairs on your homestead or build a new structure on your land. Updating your property can be challenging without the necessary funds, but Rural Development can remedy this situation.

The Single-Family Housing Repair program provides loans at a maximum of $20,000 and grants up to $7,000, according to the USDA. Your family must have an income below 50% of the area's median level to apply.

There are no time limits or deadlines for when to send an application — your local Rural Development office should accept them year-round. If you decide to apply for a loan, you'll have three options within the USDA's home loan arrangement:

  1. Loan guarantees: These guarantees will enable you to receive low interest rates for your mortgage without making a down payment. If you can't pay your mortgage, the government will cover the rest of the cost. Keep in mind that if you don't make a down payment, you'll need to pay mortgage insurance.
  2. Home improvement loans: This type of funding falls under Rural Development, allowing you to improve your abode with less financial risk. You can also use this money to remove safety and health hazards. If you need a new wheelchair ramp or a stair-climber-compatible staircase, you may be able to obtain them with this loan.
  3. Direct loans: The USDA issues this money to extremely low-income homeowners. Interest rates fall around 3.5%, and the repayment term can last up to 38 years. You may have to take homeownership education classes to be eligible. This money — along with loan guarantees — will go toward buying a new home rather than fixing an old one.

The Advantages of Rural Development

The USDA has helped numerous communities with this program. In Utah alone, 830 families became homeowners, while 88 more made upgrades to their rural residences. If you want to leave your current homestead for one with more space, you can obtain the money to do so. And you don't have to spend all your savings on expensive mortgages. Spending so much money in the beginning often leaves new homeowners without funds for other necessities, but that doesn't have to happen to you.

Start on a maintenance project you've meant to complete without worrying about the costs. You can use your loan to pay for various home improvements, including electrical work, plumbing and the installation of storm windows. Your homestead will be safe and clean after the renovations, which is the USDA's goal. Every family deserves a comfortable place to live without risk to their safety or health.

Improving Your Homestead Affordably

Applying for one of the USDA's rural initiatives can transform your homestead. What would you do with more money — repair your roof, build a new barn or modernize your interior? Whichever steps you take will make your house a better place to live for everyone involved.

Which Roof Repairs Are Safe to Tackle on Your Own?

diy roofing for homesteaders

If you've got a leak in your roof or a couple of shingles have come loose, you might be worried that you're looking at an expensive call to your local roofing company to fix the problem. Depending on the severity of the problem, this might not be the case. 

Which roof repairs are safe for you to tackle on your own, and how can you stay safe while you're working above the ground?

Fixing Small Leaks

A small leak — a single droplet now and then winding its way through your ceiling into the rooms below — doesn't always necessitate a call to your local roofing company. 

There are a few variables here that you need to consider. These include the location of the leak, how much water is leaking through your shingles, what's causing it, and whether you caught it early enough to prevent additional water damage.

You may be able to fix it yourself. Look for the usual villains, like missing shingles, vent flashing, holes, and other similar problems.  If you can get into the attic of your home, you can often figure out exactly where the leak is by where the water is pooling. 

Fixing Broken Shingles

A stormy night or a broken branch can easily pull a shingle or two from your roof — not enough to merit a full replacement but enough that leaving it unfixed could result in a leaky roof.  If the shingles are new enough, replacing one or two missing or broken ones shouldn't take you more than an afternoon.

Take your time. Rushing through it could result in additional broken shingles which will just make your job harder than it needs to be. 

Staying Safe While You DIY

Whether you're repairing a shingle, searching for a leak or debating a full replacement, it's important to stay safe when you're attempting your DIY repairs.

You should wear work boots with adequate traction and find personal protective equipment, or PPE, if necessary. At the very least, make sure the weather is cooperating. Extreme heat, cold or precipitation can make DIY roofing dangerous even for experienced homesteaders.

Serious work requires more thought towards your safety. Instead of using a ladder to get up and down from the ground to the roof, consider setting up some scaffolding. It's more stable, easy to assemble on your own, and will keep you safe when you're repairing the problems that would otherwise require a professional. 

When To Call a Roofer

Not every repair job is something that can or should be attempted by the average DIYer.  If you can't find the leak, or it's been leaking long enough that there is extensive mold or water damage, or you're going to need to replace more than a few shingles because of the overall age of the roof, it's time to call a roofer. 

Don't be ashamed to ask for help — calling a professional is sometimes the best option when a project is too large to manage on your own. 

Don't try to tackle a project that you don't have the experience or tools to handle.  You could make the problem worse and you'll end up calling a roofer anyway — and many charge more if you've already made the problem worse. 

Roofing Tips for Homesteaders

You don't have to call a professional for every little leak and broken shingle. If you're comfortable getting up on your roof or into your attic, these little hassles can be easy to fix.

Just make sure you're not biting off more than you can chew and make sure you're staying safe by working on calm days and setting up some scaffolding instead of a ladder to make it easier to get up and down to finish your project. 

If there's a lot of damage — especially if the wood in your roof is rotting or is home to mold colonies — or your roof is due for a replacement anyway, it might be best to leave it to the professionals.

Clever Snow Removal Tactics You Might've Missed

snow removal techniques

Shoveling snow for hours isn't the most exciting activity, but it's necessary for keeping your walkways safe and clear.

You don't have to dread snow removal, though, if you practice some new techniques this season. Turn it into a quick and easy exercise by using some tactics that might've slipped past your radar.

With the snow cleared, you can spend your time relaxing with a hot drink instead of struggling with a snow shovel.

1. Kitty Litter

Don't have any salt lying around to put on your driveway? That's no problem — use kitty litter instead. Kitty litter is a known substitute for salt, and it works with similar effectiveness. Lay it down in an icy area and let it work its magic.

Because it's darker than salt, it absorbs the sun's heat faster, melting the ice in a shorter time. You can also pour some litter into a sock and use it to defog your car windows before work.

Kitty litter also works well if your car is stuck and needs traction. Throw it around your tires to absorb the ice's moisture. Always use the non-clumping kind — for both snow removal and traction. Keeping a container of it in your trunk also weighs down the vehicle, which can prevent you from getting stuck in the first place.

2. Snow Tarp

Laying down a tarp is a quick and easy way to remove snow from your car if you're running late for work. Who has time to spend scraping at ice and snow? Pull the tarp off your vehicle in one fell swoop, and you'll instantly have a clean ride.

You can use any tarp you already own, though some brands have created car covers for this specific purpose. The cover accumulates all the snow that would otherwise end up caked on your car's exterior, and it's sturdy enough to not slip off under the weight of it.

3. Telehandler

You might already have some farm machinery on hand, so why not use it for this purpose, too? Consider employing a telehandler for difficult and dangerous spots, such as the roof.

Working so high up always poses a falling risk, even if you're familiar with roof work. This hazard becomes more prominent when you're surrounded by snow and ice — one slip can spell injury. 

A telehandler can push snow off your roof using a push or plow attachment, reducing the time you would've taken with manual methods. In no time, you'll have a clean roof, which removes the risk of a cave-in from the snow's weight. Those falling snowflakes are festive, but not when they're in the middle of your living room.

4. Rubbing Alcohol

Fill a bottle with rubbing alcohol — or any other spirits you have on hand — and spray it on icy areas like windows. This substance works surprisingly well as a de-icer, and many people already have it in their cabinets.

Wipe it dry after spraying, and you should have a smudge-free, sparkling clean window after. Try this tip on your walkways by mixing alcohol and water in a bucket and pouring it over the iced-up areas.

5. Leaf Blower

A leaf blower can be a life-saver if you don't have a snowblower handy. Because it's handheld, you can use it to get into the tricky crevices and corners that collect snow. It's best to use it after a light snowfall when the snow isn't too heavy — otherwise, you might need a plow or shovel.

Always use ear protectors when operating a leaf blower, and use caution with electric models. Leaf blowers don't work as well on wet snow, and moisture could get inside the unit. Use a GFCI outlet if you plan to operate your machine in wet conditions — this will safeguard you against electrical shock.

6. Wet/Dry Vacuum

A wet/dry vacuum might be what you need to blow away or suck up snow. It's made for wet conditions, meaning there's less chance of any electrical incidents happening — though GFCI outlets are always recommended.

Ideally, you'd use it like you would a leaf blower, but you might also use it to suck up small sections of snow. It can be an excellent solution if you don't feel like bringing out the shovel to clear the porch or patio.

Beat the Cold With Smarter Snow Removal

The holiday season is hectic for many, but you can cross snow removal off your list of things to do. These methods can help you clear your walkways quicker than usual, leaving more time to deck the halls with your loved ones.

See which techniques work best for you and make them a part of your holiday tradition.

Is Landscaping a Smart Side Hustle for Your Homestead?

Holly WellesMany homesteaders are looking for ways to diversify their income and make the most of the tools and skills they possess.

For some, landscaping may seem like the natural choice, since you're already familiar with the great outdoors. Why not go for something you're skilled in?

Lawn care can be an excellent source of additional income, but like any business, it requires patience, motivation and financial smarts. 

Take your time and do your research before making a decision. Running a business is a fulfilling venture that also calls for a lot of hard work. If you're sure about taking it on, you'll need to know the elements that come along with it. Here are some points to consider about starting a landscaping side hustle.

Advantages of a Landscaping Business

Turning your current landscaping skills into a side hustle can be a successful way to supplement your income. Owning a business is a great feeling — you get to be the boss and manage operations as you see fit. Several more advantages exist beyond this new freedom.

Increased Income

One of the first advantages of a side gig is extra income. More money doesn't hurt, and it can help you perform upgrades around the homestead. There's likely no shortage of people near you who need work done on their lawns, meaning you'll have a steady flow of clients.

However, client retention also depends on what services you offer and what people need. Matching what you do to what they want will naturally bring in more money.

Trade Associations

Join a landscaping association, and you'll have tons of help from mentors and peers. You get to talk with others who know the field and can give you pointers you weren't aware of. Networking and advertising your services become more credible through word-of-mouth referrals.

You may also find contractors you can hire to help with your business. Industry associations are well worth the cost to join because they put you in contact with people you wouldn't have found otherwise.

Interpersonal Development

Excellent interpersonal skills are integral to this job — you'll deal with a range of clients who all have different preferences. You'll have to know how to communicate well with them and answer any lawn questions they have.

Working in landscaping and dealing with people from all walks of life can quickly make you a better communicator. Remember to stay up to date on your gardening knowledge — continual learning enables you to provide valuable help.

Preparing the Right Equipment

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Landscaping jobs require lots of equipment, some of which you may or may not already own. Having the right tools to start with puts you ahead of the game, and you get more use out of your household equipment.

Your tool collection will have to accommodate every season — each one calls for different landscaping needs. Snow shovels and plows become must-haves in winter, while leaf rakes are necessary for fall. Plenty of standard equipment is usable year-round — stock up on the basics before buying specialized gadgets.

The best way to start is to conduct research and either rent machinery or buy used tools. Both of these options cost less than splurging on brand-new, top-model equipment. You can purchase a used model for over 25 percent less than new equipment and avoid severe depreciation while receiving similar functionality.

New equipment looks impressive at first, but it depreciates fast, making the resale value much less than the initial investment. Plus, if you're not looking to scale your work into a full-time business, you're not likely to use this machinery enough to justify the higher price tag.

Potential Challenges

The advantages are looking great, but there are still a few more things to think about before taking the first step. Don't let these challenges discourage you. Instead, view them as the realities of how the job can impact your life as a homestead owner. Avoid taking on more work than you can handle if your home duties are overflowing. If you do try landscaping, here are some more factors to accommodate for.

Injury Risk

This field is comparable to construction work concerning injury risk. You'll work with dangerous tools like hedge clippers, chainsaws and lawnmowers, and long hours under the sun can dampen your focus.

There's an extra layer of liability due to working on someone else's property — if you damage anything, it'll be your responsibility to pay for it. Many landscapers invest in insurance for these reasons. Adequate breaks and proper equipment training don't hurt, either.

Offseason Work

Winter can bring work to a halt with less need for lawn maintenance. Planning for this in advance will save you the stress of losing part of your income for the year.

Offer services like snow plowing, tree care and ice removal to keep operations running even in the cold months. The cold season doesn't have to freeze your bank account if you know how to take advantage of the opportunities.

Startup Costs

Starting a business means hiring and paying contractors, marketing your brand and purchasing equipment. These expenses can add up fast if you don't properly budget for them. Many entrepreneurs get in over their heads because they don't save enough money to cover their business launch.

Start saving as soon as possible and investigate cost-effective ways to procure the tools and services you need.

Building a Landscaping Hustle From Scratch

Hopefully, these points will provide some insight into what direction you'll take with landscaping. Maintaining two livelihoods can be a valuable lesson in discipline and professionalism. There's no right or wrong answer to whichever you choose — it all depends on what's right for you and your homestead.

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

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