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Tough Grit Hints From Hank Will

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 .

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 .

Prepare a Space for a Deer Feeder

Editor in Chief Hank Will, in his International.In your newly cleared woodland, one of the things you can do is install a deer feeder. In addition to clearing the brush off of the ground, you may also wish to clear some of the canopy so that sunlight will fall upon the clearing where your food plot will be. One way to accomplish this is with the use of a pole saw.

When using a pole saw, head, eye, face, and ear protection are recommended. Again, when working in the woods, sturdy shoes, a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and gloves are a good idea. If the pole saw is powered, adhere to all of the safety precautions you should take with a chainsaw. When you are considering cutting a branch with a pole saw, check and ensure that it cannot fall on you or anyone else. Understand that branches often rotate as they fall; try to predict how far it might be able to move, and plan to retreat when the cut is completed. Do not cut in windy or rainy conditions.

Again, common sense is crucial. Make sure that you are balanced and stable while using the saw; do not overreach or try to cut while on a ladder. If you cannot reach, get a longer saw or call a professional.

Begin your cut by cutting half of the branch diameter up from under the branch. Always finish the cut from above the branch, slightly further away from the trunk of the tree; if you cut through from below, the pressure of the falling branch will bind the saw. When pruning live trees, timing is important; it is ideal to prune live trees during the winter months, when sap flow is minimal, and insect activity is also minimal.

Double-check that you have completed all of the assembly instructions. Make sure that you place your deer feeder on level ground, or it might tip and spill the feed, injure you, incur damage, etc. Game cams can be installed nearby to allow you to monitor the local deer population and learn feeding habits.

Once the feeder is set up and level, you can insert the feed. One thing that it is important to note, is that deer, like cows, are ruminants, and need time to get used to any feed you give them. It is important to feed them the same thing consistently, or they are likely to get much less nutrition out of your deer feeder. If you want to feed them through the winter, it is a good idea to start feeding the deer several months before, so that their systems can digest the corn when they need it.

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 flight zone tips above appeared in Episode 19, “Over the River and Through the Woods.”


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 .

Adjusting the Temperature in Your Brooder

Editor in Chief Hank Will, in his International.Ground corncobs, wood shavings, or shredded paper work well as brooder bedding material. You want to be sure that the material is not so fine that the chicks will ingest it, nor so slippery that they can’t get traction on it. Chicks raised on slippery surfaces tend to develop splayfoot, which cripples them for life.

Turn on the heat lamp to warm up the brooder before installing the chicks. As you add chicks to the brooder, dip their beaks into the water trough and release them. If they huddle in a tight group beneath the lamp, they are cold. If they form a ring around the lamp, pant or lounge on their sides with legs stretched out, they are too warm. Adjust the temperature warmer by lowering the lamp and cooler by raising it.

Contented chicks will peep with a mesmerizing murmur and will be more or less evenly dispersed beneath the lamp, with individuals or small groups making frequent trips to the waterer and feeder.

You will want to lower the brooder temperature about 5 degrees each week by raising the lamp in small increments, and when your chicks are fully feathered it’s time to move them to a safe outdoor coop. Take a little care with brooding and in a few months, you'll be enjoying farm-fresh eggs every day.

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 brooder temperature tips above appeared in Episode 16, “Don’t Count Your Chickens.”


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 .

Starting Seeds Indoors

Editor in Chief Hank Will, in his International.Once your garden’s soil is in good shape you can think about planting. Actually, you should have been thinking about planting some crops like tomatoes about 6 weeks ago. And I don’t mean planting in the garden.

Warm season crops like tomatoes generally require several months to mature and produce fruit. Even if you live in Kansas and can expect seven or eight frost-free growing months, you will want to give those jalapeno peppers a jump start by starting seeds indoors. It’s really easy.

Four to 6 weeks before the last frost date for your area, you’ll collect some likely containers: peat pots, small plastic pots, fiber egg cartons and even plastic water bottle bottoms will work if you poke some holes in them for drainage. Once you have your containers in hand, source some quality potting soil or seed starting mix, fill your containers and plant a couple of seeds in each.

Water thoroughly and gently and place under a grow light, in a well-lit window or even in a temperature controlled greenhouse if you have access to one. In a week or so seedlings will start to appear — by the time the seedlings are well established you should thin each pot to a single robust plant by pinching off the stem of those you want to get rid of. As the seedlings outgrow their starter containers, you can transplant them into larger pots and grow them on until they are ready for the garden.

Planting starts in the garden is easy, but you need to harden them off before they can live outdoors. This is accomplished by moving the plants outdoors to a relatively protected area for an hour or two at a time initially. Avoid windy full-sun sites until the plants can withstand a day in their protected area without harm.

Once you get the hang of starting your garden from seed, you will reap the rewards offered by thousands of fruit and vegetable varieties instead of the score or so available as plants from your local nursery or garden center. Either way, you'll be able to eat the freshest, most delicious produce there is.

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 flight zone tips above appeared in Episode 15, “Green Thumb.”


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 .