Learning to Be Human

Goat Lessons Served Daily

Brandon DinsmoreGoats are a wonderful animal to keep around the property, and they serve many functions, including brush maintenance, destruction of poisonous plants and weeds, fertilization for your lawn, and good-hearted company while you're hard at work outside, just to name a few. Since I raise goats, I've had to learn several goat lessons the hard way.

goat lessons/doing what they love

There's no other way to learn, no amount of hand-me-down knowledge from the older farmers concise enough, no book informative enough, than simply trying hard, struggling, and learning through a constant series of mistakes that give way to glorious success.

The first lesson I learned was how important it is to have as much contact as possible with your goats from birth. This includes bottle feeding them and showing them affection. Oftentimes, we assume that simply throwing some bulk feed on the ground is enough to satisfy all of their various needs, but feeding is just one critical part of a larger whole in goat care.

If you want your goats to be people-friendly and to actually heed your beckoning, you must exercise a level of interaction similar to that with the family dog. Bottle feeding is the easiest and best way to make this happen. When you put a goat's nutrition into your hands, you teach it that you are its source of food and drink. This allows them to bond to you. It's also true animal husbandry.

I learned quickly that even being away from my goats for a few days was long enough for them to assume that I might never come back. They took a couple of days to warm back up to me. Since then, I've maintained plenty of contact with them just to be safe. The last thing you want to deal with is a two-hour-long nightmare of chasing your goats down throughout your property, one by one, wrestling with them to get them back into their fence or their pen.

I tend to overdo things at times and shelter is no exception. My first chicken coop was a 500-pound beast that denied predators and kept the chickens safe, but served very little in ease of use and functionality. So your next lesson might just be in accommodating your herd.

You want to give them proper quarters for shelter and this means not just a safe place to stand around when it rains, but a comfortable place to sleep at night. Think of the seasons in your area, how hot and cold the temperature extremes can be, and how little or how much precipitation you are likely to receive. This translates into their water supply so that they can quench their thirst.

Your goats will appreciate a nice bed of straw or even pine shavings to sleep on at night. Consider throwing a feed block or a mineral block inside so they can have something to occupy them during those long days of nonstop rain or snow, or heat and humidity. Ventilation is also a good thing to think about. You don't want to put them inside a clapboard structure that denies them the basic comforts that every animal needs.

When you've got the sleeping and loafing quarters established (loafing shed) and you've figured out the feeding situation, let's say a small square bale of good hay once per week, depending on your herd size, you need to start considering containment. This is where you're likely to run into countless variations on a theme: fencing.

Fencing has been the biggest lesson of all. It's never-ending and that's likely because I tried to utilize all the information available out there at once, instead of working with and learning from my own goats.

Don't overthink fencing and don't assume it will take care of itself. You don't have to go the route of simply leaving them to their own devices if you're on a small bit of acreage, but you don't have to go all out and spend tens of thousands on an 8-foot-high, electrified high-tensile steel, nation-crushing abomination either. Goats need protection, plain and simple. Think of their fence the same as you think of the chicken run. You don't want predators getting in, although you won't have as much to worry about with goat predators as you will with chickens. You simply need to ensure their fence will keep dogs, coyotes, things of that size, out. It goes without saying that if a dog can't get into your goat pen, then the goats can't get out of it. Of course, this excludes the babies. That's a whole different article.

Consider simple electric wire, maybe poly-wire or poly-tape, on some T-posts if you're working with a limited budget. If you have materials laying around you can easily adapt them into a working fence, too.

I chose to go with a wooden fence because it was simple, since I made it from leftover lumber after demolishing an old unused shed, and because I like the look of a nice rustic wooden fence. The rails are close enough to keep the goats in and no other predators can squeeze through them. I decided to put a single strand of electric wire about 3 inches above the top rail in order to double the fence as part of the chicken's yard. That kills two birds with one stone, leaving my birds alive and eager to help clean up any messes the goats make. The chickens also help eliminate some of the insects that seem to accumulate on the goats.

Once you've got your fencing in place you're pretty much set. Your goats have food, water, shelter and protection. Those are the real necessities and, as long as you provide at least those things, your goats will appreciate your efforts.

Harder lessons sometimes come with new experiences. I like to free-range my chickens, and one of the primary purposes I started raising goats was to help control overgrowth and brush, so it goes without saying that I want to free-range my goats as well.

When it comes to life outside of the pen, remember that you can't simply keep your goats locked into a tiny pen their entire lives. It defeats their many purposes. You want to let them out as often as possible so that they can browse, that is to say, "graze, but like a goat, which chooses to go UP for its food rather than going DOWN and eating off the ground."

goat lessons/this is 'browsing'

I learned that goats browse by word-of-mouth and observation. Sure, you can put them into a small yard without any tall vegetation and they'll eat it down to the dirt, but if you let them have a chance at your overgrowth and thick brush along a tree line, you'll notice very quickly just how good of a job they can do in tackling that thick mess of nastiness. Within two weeks my small herd cleared a line of sight along my tree line that allows me to easily walk through it and see much of what I never knew was there!

If you're going to give some acreage to your goats on a permanent basis, which is probably best, try using paddocks, which are basically just a cluster of small lots that you can control traffic in and out of. For instance, you divide a large square into four smaller squares with fencing and you rotate your goats. Maybe you keep them in one small square for a week then move them to the next, and so on until they come back to the first square after a month. This allows for new growth to occur rather than having a large bare patch of earth that serves no nutritional value to your goats.

When creating your paddocks or simply fencing off a large plot for your goats, think about the type of fencing or containment methods you'll need to use. A permanent fence is best because you only have to put it out one time. Use welded-wire fencing or "no-climb" goat fencing, which is slightly cheaper at the farm and ranch stores. Essentially, you want fencing that prevents anyone squeezing through or climbing over. If you have the electricity budget to spare you can use simple electric fencing.

The crucial thing to learn from your goats is how they react to being zapped by a fence. They are unlike most other animals, as when other animals hit on a hot-wire they jump back and never dare to approach it again. Goats don't work like that, and it will be a constant source of frustration for you as you try to figure out what works best for you and your goats.

Goats will jump THROUGH the fence when they are zapped. Instead of jumping back they just run the rest of the way through the fence. So electric fencing can seem downright pointless at times, unless it's strong enough, the wires are close enough, and maybe even tight enough if you're using high-tensile wire.

You want a wire as close to the ground as you can stand, then several more strands about 4 to 6 inches apart. Above 4 feet you won't need to worry about. Proper grounding of your fence is also crucial. The grounding rods you put into place work by making contact with water deep in the soil. This creates the connection that, when touched by your goat, gives them a hearty zap.

One thing to try is two rows of wire, one about 6 inches to 1 foot behind the other.  This creates two walls of zapping power that will help contain your goats. When they get the urge to bolt through the first fence after being zapped, there's a second row waiting to stop them ... hopefully.

Of course, this whole fencing subject is a big one, and there are many options and variations out there to try. I say that you should assess your setup, your goals, your goats, and start with the simplest option you can come up with, always striving to create something that you only have to put up once. I can't count how many times I've put up, taken down, put up again, taken back down my fences to finally arrive at the solution that worked for me, which was a solid welded-wire fence stapled to posts and boards to have a nice rustic look, with a few strands of hot-wire on top and bottom to add a little extra flavor in keeping my goats in and the bad guys out.

With some patience and luck you'll soon find that your herd takes care of itself, enjoys seeing you carry the same old feed container each day to them, and gives you plenty of laughs as they jump around to play and get their heads stuck in coffee cans. It's a never-ending laugh riot and well worth the time and effort you put into it.

Just remember, you have to observe your goats and tweak your setup to your herd. You'll learn all the lessons the right way and reap the rewards over time.

goat lessons/amazing animals

Stages of a Homesteader

Brandon DinsmoreMaking the decision to live off the land, become self-sufficient, get off the grid, or simply live a little bit better is monumental in the lives of those who do it and there seems to be a typical rhythm to how we all go about doing it.

From the first moment our brains start formulating the affinity for raising chickens or growing veggies in the backyard, we're locked in, and the following years end up changing everything we do and the very way we think, act, and carry ourselves. I think we can easily sum it all up into a few stages, which I call the stages of a homesteader.

1. Research

This one never really goes away. But in those beginning months and years, the typical homesteader will invest time and money into books, magazines, websites, and any other information they can find all in hopes of learning more and more. Usually, the aim is to learn "how to live" on a homestead. We search for magical advice and wisdom that will change us and make the transition easier and easier. Most of us can spout off more advice about homesteading than we have ever actually practiced in our lives, and rarely do we realize how often our own knowledge conflicts with itself. Take snake bites, for example. Remember that point when you identified all of the venomous snakes in your area? And then you researched how to take care of the bite and what to do to get rid of the snakes (turns out there's no getting rid of them). The first bit of advice was, "Suck the venom out with your mouth." and you memorized that. A year or two later that new edition of your favorite homesteading book said, "DO NOT suck the venom out with your mouth!" and you had to make that adjustment, update that bit of your personal knowledge base.

Eventually, you realized that all of the books and websites had the same basic information, and you slowed down on buying so many of them. You learned that gardening truly is planting seeds in the dirt and applying some water when there isn't enough rain. You learned not to visit those poultry forums too often because it was a den of worry about every moment of a chicken's life being the possible end. Lots of disease and death were the only thing people seemed to talk about when you asked, "What's wrong with my chicken?" only to realize it was a hurt leg from jumping off a high perch.

There are countless forums we all get started in, but after some time we fade out and away from them because they truly are places for beginners, which is great, but after awhile you start to learn with real world experience. This is because you've more than likely started to implement your homesteading lifestyle which brings us to the next stage.


Photo: Fotolia/badmanproduction

2. Implementation

Now that we're armed with a never-ending amount of information, we start to actually do things. Usually, this means getting our first chickens, starting that first really big garden, and possibly buying some land upon which to do it all.

There are things that all of us experience during this stage, one of which is the first dead bird. It's heartbreaking, and we toil over how to handle it. "Should we bury it? Throw it into the burn pile? Cook it?"

It's tough but it happens again ... and again ... and eventually it's nothing to sweat about anymore. We aren't so hung up on emoting and lamenting the death. This makes us feel resilient and strong. We've probably already had our interactions with hidden snakes in the garden, scorpions under rocks or lumber, and maybe even that one fire that spread a little faster than we had planned. All in all, we're doing OK, and we're getting the hang of things.

This is also when we make some of our worst decisions. It turns out that we probably didn't need to spend $3,000 on a riding lawn mower or $500 on decorations for a chicken coop. We learn that laziness truly does have consequences, as we've seen when we thought the garden could wait a few more days "when we had the time and energy," but the animals beat us to it, giving us little bounty at harvest and costing us more to grow than it was worth. These are all just lessons, though, and we learn from them and move on.

3. Sharing

I believe this is probably the worst stage for everyone else even though, at the time, it's the best thing ever for us while we're experiencing it.

This is when we share with the world everything about homesteading, as if we've discovered a new way of life that has truly never been thought of before by human beings. We take photographs of plants, chickens, trees, you name it. We post them on the Internet, and we seek out others doing the same so we can comment upon their achievements, spout off with some sort of unique advice we picked up from a new book (it's been a few years since we bought one of those!). Everything is precious to us. That's my point. And we want everyone to feel the same way.

This stage can last a long time because it's like the peak of your homesteading knowledge and passion culminating into a fine wine. You're getting better at things, more confident, and you can even tell that you're blending in with the local farmers or ranchers in conversation. No more feeling awkward with real country folk!

I found that this stage was obnoxious for everyone around me who wasn't going through it at the same time. I couldn't understand why family and friends weren't interested in the 700 photographs I had of one chicken, or of "this really great organic, heirloom, eco-friendly, green-certified, etc." tomato seed package with old-time lettering on it, or of the many examples of other homesteaders who made me jealous. "Look at this! Only five acres, and they have all of this stuff! Why don't I have that yet?"

Over time it dies down and you prattle less and less. You become more proud and silent than your previous "loud with braggadocio."

4. Smooth and Fluid

It's been several years, and now things have taken a different turn. You don't realize it so much anymore because you don't pay attention to things that don't matter. But it turns out that you are now a picture-perfect replica of the exact kind of person you wanted to be. You are a homesteader! You wear the ugliest boots and overalls outside to tend to the chickens, and you don't notice anymore that their coop is just a basic necessity of design. No longer do you go out and put silly decorations on the doors or decorative stones on the ground. You go feed them in the morning and gather eggs once a day. You don't mind the poop on the shells, and you don't care that they've been sitting in the nesting box for a day or two already. You'll still cook them and eat them after you kick off your muddy boots. The garden looks a little messy, but that's only because you've stopped spending so much time trying to make it look like a golf course or computer program.

This is the time when you truly are in harmony with your little piece of paradise. You don't realize it, but now, when people drive by, they talk about how they want to live like you, "that homesteader right there with the really cool house and property." You have become the very thing you looked up to years earlier.

The books and magazines sit on your bookshelf because you don't need them anymore. The over-priced tools from the local farm store or the big-city super-center have been retired and replaced with things that actually work, typically made from leftover pieces of whatever was lying around at the time. In short, you've made it work for your personal needs. No more of that overkill that you used to think possible. Now it's all functional, purposeful.

5. Renewed Interest

Once you've found your rhythm and become used to your new way of life, you will find that you stick to it. There's no need to bother changing things if they're working. But there's a point we reach – maybe when we pick up one of those old books and see a great idea we never thought we could have pulled off in the past, or maybe it's during a conversation with someone when you find out that you could have been raising goats all along, and maybe it's one day when you drive by a farm and realize the fence of your dreams can be built that very same day, out of materials you had all along – and at this point, for whatever reason, we gain renewed interest in our homesteading lifestyle, and we venture into new territory and discover many things that increase the yield of our experience and our years.

It's during this stage when we are likely to decide to raise a larger animal. We might graduate from chickens to rabbits, or even goats or cattle. By this time we've learned that chickens don't need much help living and can get by on their own pretty easily. So we're not as scared about the new, bigger, smarter livestock we intend to raise.

We might notice every so often that our bones and muscles don't ache as quickly and easily as they used to. We can spend a solid few hours in the garden with a hoe and be fine, whereas a couple of years ago 10 minutes of that kind of work would have warranted a half-hour break. Our hands are calloused and our toes aren't as dainty as they used to be. Our alarm clocks are set for 4 a.m. now for some odd reason, if we even use them. And we tend to go to bed before the sunlight has truly left the sky.

By this point, we've even had people start to ask us questions that we used to have to ask other people with more experience. People will point at one of your animals and call it by some awful name while they ask what breed it is, and you will know exactly what breed plus a few tips that you've learned from raising them. You've probably had several animals you didn't care for, maybe even hated, like that rooster that insists on crowing at you the entire time you're outside. The one you frequently have screaming contests with that only end when you give up, frustrated, and go inside the barn.

With all of this comfort and knowledge accumulated your renewed interest allows you to pursue so many things you wouldn't, or couldn't, before. This is when your homestead transforms, goes up a few notches, and produces more than ever before. You've put up that big fence, let all the animals have free range of the place, and you've got the skill and the means to do whatever needs to be done in order to start that next project.

For me, it was goats. I wanted to raise them from the first moment we found our little homestead, but the idea was too much, too big, full of requirements that I could not meet. It wasn't until I reached this stage of experience and renewed my interest in goats that I just went for it. Getting them took a little bit of time, but everything else was easy enough. "Build a fence. Give them feed and water. Check on them when you check on the chickens." That was pretty much it. I didn't have that gut-wrenching fear of them all dying like I did when we got our first flock of chickens. I didn't worry about how I would dispose of a dead goat. I simply opened up our land to them and let them decide what to do next. And it worked out fine.


Photo: Fotolia/jojjik

6. Stability (might as well call it Confidence while you're at it)

Most of these stages will repeat themselves at some point, but even that repetition will be a form of stability in itself over time. We will get into a slump where the homestead is doing its job, providing for the family, and maybe even a little boring, but then we will perk up one morning and decide that today will be the day we go for it and turn that pasture into a new barn area or a field of alfalfa. The fence might need some repairs in a spot, but we'll realize that we've got plenty of old pipe we can use and end up having a taller, stronger, longer-lasting fence. Our chickens have raised their own chicks, and they've raised their own chicks, so that we have some truly beautiful specimens to be proud of. The sound of all the animals is no longer as loud to us as we've grown used to it, but rather it's the sound of security and home life. Without that sound we'd feel truly lost on our homestead.

Over the years our homestead will change its appearance and its function; people will come and go as the family changes in various way; the animals will cycle in and out, change varieties and breeds, but we will always be a part of it, shaping it through time in our own little ways.

This is the stability that we will appreciate as a result of our hard work, which was the result of our interest in homesteading all those years ago. It's the big payoff.

After enough time passes, we don't even think of homesteading the same way that we used to. Instead, we're living proof of it. The idea no longer carries that odd fascination that made us so eager to get up and buy stuff in the early years. Everything we need is outside of the kitchen door and a short walk away. No need for vacations or fancy trappings because we have plenty and it is exactly what we've wanted. It's simple and quaint, familiar and ours.

When we run into new homesteaders, or people just beginning to form the idea of that kind of life for themselves, we have a bit of nostalgia because we know just what kind of road lies ahead of them and it's going to be a great ride.

The Many Uses of Burlap

Brandon DinsmoreAs odd as it might seem I've found a measurable amount of happiness in a burlap sack  as it has proven over and over again to be sturdy, reliable, and countlessly useful. Seeing as such a thing has provided so thoroughly for our small farm I thought it only courteous to share this story (of a large rough bag, no less).

My wife and I are constantly looking for good bargains wherever we go, as I assume most of us are acquainted with doing, and one of the best deals we've come across in recent years are bins of once-used burlap sacks which tend to come from regions of the world where coffee beans are a primary import/export. Our usual shop is the local Atwoods farm and ranch store. I'll admit that I don't quite agree with the high prices they charge for a lot of their items but in a rural area they've realized people have little choice and, given the nature of these kinds of stores and the quality that is frequently associated with the goods and wares they sell, sometimes they shine with this multi-fucntional 'tool' which we've come to rely upon for so many things. Usually they sell each bag for a dollar. That's just cheap enough for me to get carried away and buy a dozen or so bags. After all, each bag is comprised of enough material to be dutifully converted into several useful items.

Uses for burlap sacks

Photo: iStockphoto.com/khouwes

When we first brought home a bounty of these things we didn't really know what we were going to do with them and had only a small inclination to use them as my mother had suggested, filling them with soil and growing potatoes inside of them. Perfect! That's one use that literally pays for the bags before the first year of use is over.

So we filled them with dirt, tied some jute twine around them to shape them like barrels, and filled them to the top so we could have some fine tubers growing to eventually fill out the cold storage drawers.

When we still had several bags lying around without a use the idea came to me to use them as mats for the dogs so that they could sun on the back porch in a little more comfort. They worked well enough but the wind would blow them around every now and again so I ended up dropping them over the tops of wooden posts that supported the porch. This is where I had an epiphany.

After having the fire scared out of us several times when we'd walk outside, seeing the bags blowing in the breeze and looking like a human being running at us from just a few feet away I thought it would be nice to try them out as cheap and effective scarecrows. Use No. 3 was a success! You can simply drop the bag over a fence post out near the garden, tie the top or bottom with some twine and you've got a verifiable bird scare-er off-er thing-y.

Now that we had Spring covered and the first snow settled on the ground it was no use keeping the makeshift scarecrows out in the garden or pasture. It was time to throw them out or find yet another use for them. In comes my wife's fantastic craft-making abilities. She managed to convert just one of those bags into a couple dozen coasters that had a nice rustic look to them, and enough material leftover to fashion a small pillow or two for the sofa and chair in our parlor room. This was great stuff!

We've managed to stretch less than twenty dollars' worth of burlap sacks into garden helpers, table savers, and butt protectors. What else could we do? Turns out there was no end to the usage of these things.

Here's a short list of some of the things we've been able to create:

Chicken coop liner – we used a couple of them to line the coop and even made little hammocks that collected the poultry crud that tended to build up at night in the coop. This saved lots of time when it came to cleaning out the coop or removing the old bedding material.

Rugs – that one is self-explanatory but we also used them in the work truck to sit on during the really dirty days when mud on our boots was too thick to properly knock off. We even sit on them when the rain is coming down too hard for us to keep the seats, and our butts, dry from working the fields.

Food storage – we kind of took them back to their original purpose and stored food for the winter in them out in the cold storage area. Think of them like portable potato bins. They also work well to store dog food in when you buy that bag that's just a little too big for the containers you've already got.

Kiddie canvas – you can paint on these things like crazy and since they're so big you can even hang them on the wall if you want to let your kids have some practice at the art of making a mess with paints.

Ditch helpers – I found them to be quite helpful when irrigating a ditch or dry creek bed to help with excess water and drainage on the property.  Once I dig out the bed I lay down these sacks and they allow me to throw aggregate material on top of them, seal the bed a tiny bit, and generally ease the construction process for me.  Since they're biodegradable as far as I can tell, even if they rot I've still got the bed made and looking nice and proper.

Hamper – use the bag as a hamper itself or use it to place in your existing hamper.  They look nice and they certainly make it a little easier on the back, rather than bending over and over again to get that last sock from the bottom.

I hope these examples might inspire someone to try even more ideas with burlap sacks.  I feel like it's a great way to reuse, "up-use," recycle, and simply make use of something that doesn't come in a vacuum-packed plastic package and cost an arm and a leg.

Burlap gift sack

Photo: iStockphoto.com/TKphotography64

Baker Creek Seed Catalog

It’s official! Today when I went to check the mailbox, I found what I have been waiting for this past several weeks – the brand spanking new 400-page Baker Creek Heirloom seed catalog!

If you haven’t yet ordered your copy, I urge you to. It was only $5, and it has absolutely everything you could have ever hoped for in a seed catalog. It’s all non-GMO, heirloom, and beautiful!

I’ve only just cracked it open and so far I am amazed. They have included so much about what they do, who they are, and the lot. I assure you it will be well worth the money if you buy a copy.

For those of you who don’t take the opportunity to buy this catalog, they still offer their free catalog; but I must warn you, they only print 300,000 copies and they mail them quick, so be fast!

Here’s a link for those of you who would like to get the big catalog:


And for those of you wanting the free catalog, click here:


How to Work at Home

Brandon DinsmoreIt has been well over two years since I started working from home and I have to say that I love it, although there are some definite ups and downs, pros and cons, consequences and benefits, which I thought I'd lay out for anyone out there interested in doing the same.

First off, let me say that I did not find work through any of those devious and deceptive ads on Craigslist or any other job listing website. There is no such thing as stuffing envelopes from home and earning money.

Second of all, I do not perform the kind of work that one might perform at an office in a bricks-and-mortar building.

Third, no matter what anyone tells you, it's hard work! I probably invest more time working from home than I would if I were to have a normal "city job" although I certainly prefer the former.

Now, the nitty-gritty of it all.  How did I get started?  Simple - it was luck.  The biggest let down of finding work that you can do from home, in my opinion, is that there is no concrete method of locking down employment for yourself.  You must either perform a service or provide a product that people are willing to pay for, and pay enough that you can support yourself or at least pay your bills.

Here are some great examples of work you can do from home that can potentially earn you money:


Cabinet making, furniture building, antique restoration

Food production

Homemade jellies and jams, breads, dessert foods, eggs, and veggies from your garden

Repair work

Automobile repair, computer service and repair, small motor and appliance repair, etc.

Web design and development

Building websites for small businesses or neighbors for a profit, content development for local clubs, organizations, or even schools, ad revenue from publishing your own online newspaper, blogging, although this typically will never make you enough money to rely upon

I started out a long time ago working in an office for a company when, by chance, I happened into a unique opportunity to take my work home with me, where I struggled over time to develop the work into something that I can rely upon for my income at home without the stress of a commute or an office in the city.

Some of the most difficult things to manage didn't even occur to me until I was already working from home.  Things like how easy it is to get distracted, or how much coffee is too much coffee when the pot is only a few feet away, and how to properly budget my time.

When you're working at home you have to consider that you will be more tempted to dismiss things than if you were in an office working under a boss who's sole job is to encourage you by scaring you to death about the stability of your own job.  I found that I could easily start watching television and before I knew it I would have wasted a few hours.  Or, I'd get caught up playing on the internet, not really doing my job.

It took time and dedication but I finally nailed it and am happier for it.  The whole point was to get away from the office setting, which I did, and after that it was a matter of organizing myself so that I could do the same work without the same old headaches.  Once I nailed that the rest was great.  It's still full of headaches and since the source of income is literally closer to home, things can get hectic, but I feel like this was the right move for me and my family.  The tough decision is deciding whether or not it's a suitable and viable option for you.

For more about working from home visit my website at www.brandondinsmore.com

So Much to Fear - Snakes and Oil

Brandon DinsmoreIt wasn’t even our first day living out in the country here in Oklahoma, but it was certainly one of many eye opening experiences that taught us that there is no limit to the kinds of things that you’ll encounter, scream at, run from, and eventually get used to, living in the country.

For starters, we were contemplating moving to Southeastern Oklahoma for my wife’s new job, although we weren’t as familiar with the area as we were with the rest of the state. It was hot, dry, and unreasonably occupied by the oil and gas industries. We would come to learn that in greater detail over the next year.

Second, we were going to be living so far out away from everything we were used to and, even though this was exciting in our journey toward self-reliance, we didn’t know just how far away we were – 45 minutes from the closest anything, roughly 17 miles of the worst dirt roads imaginable separating us from the nearest paved road which was nothing more than large rocks cobbled together and potholes.

Finally, we had a plethora of new things to deal with. No more assuming that everything would be taken care of by a landlord or maintenance man. Instead, we had her vehicle for work and my old trusty farm truck for everything else. We knew that if it all hit the fan that our only hope was over an hour away riding in the oldest, roughest truck in the state.

So, we made the decision to move onto a nice piece of Earth, approximately 260 acres of solitude with nothing nearby aside from the cattle and wildlife with the occasional visit from relatives or the closest neighbor who lived about seven miles up the road.

We had just made the decision when we asked, “Is there anything we should worry about out here or know about? Like crack houses and meth labs, people to stay away from, etc.?”

“Nope. That’s it. We’re about twelve miles away if you need us.” Said the woman we would be paying in exchange for the new place. As we walked out the door happy of our next step in life she said, “Oh, Copperheads. Lots of Copperheads. They like to lie on the front porch, back porch, sometimes come inside, and they’re all over the tall grass out there. Might be some Rattlers, too. Just shoot ‘em.”

My wife and I shot a glance at each other. “Really? Copperheads? And enough of them that she could list at least three places she’d seen them out here recently?” we seemed to say to each other silently.

We left and talked it over with my wife’s mother who grew up in that area. She wasn’t worried although we were a little terrified due simply to the fact that all we heard growing up were horrific stories of injuries and death from snake bites. Her mother calmed us and said it was a good move so we stuck with it.

While we were moving boxes into the new house and unpacking them we found all sorts of massive spiders and my wife has a fear of Brown Recluse spiders, having suffered an awful bite when she was a child that put her in the hospital, so that was a little bit of a turn-off, although nothing we felt would alter our plans or cause us any worries.

Our two dogs were happy and loved playing outdoors. They had no more worries of annoying apartment dwellers in the city taunting them or potentially running over them in their hurry to get to work each morning. They could roam for hours and still not be much closer to another human being. Of course, we hadn’t yet had an encounter with anything that might hurt a dog.

Then, one night after I had finished tending to the garden and was doing my nightly check around the property, locking the chickens up in their coop, and so on, I heard a yelp. Moments later the smallest dog came limping up to me whining. He had been bitten by a Copperhead. The little guy had a rough night, shivering and shaking, with a fever and the chills. But he made it. The dog was tough. It was about a month of time before he was back up to full speed and he was stronger for it. We didn’t think we had anything else to worry about and we were kind of happy for the experience because we needn’t worry any longer about how to care for a bite like that. We had been through it and succeeded. No more obsessing over Internet forums for magic cures or freaking out because of some insane person’s ramblings in an anonymous forum. You know how it is. “How dare you waste your time on the Internet when you should be at the vet right now! Shame!” and all sorts of crazy like that. Because, let’s face it, when you’re over an hour from the nearest vet in the middle of the night with an animal that has a very common bite, the easiest and most sensible thing to do is to take the animal to the vet, right?

It was about two months later that we came to meet our other fear, coyotes. Our smallest dog was outside with us, completely recovered from his Copperhead encounter, as we went for a run up and down the hills and back roads for some evening exercise - we liked to stay active and healthy, just in case of the impending Zombie apocalypse. The sun started to set and in the distance of a large pasture we saw a farm truck. We thought it was nothing but just to be safe we called the dogs to come closer. Our memories of city life conjured images and stories of stolen dogs due to their breed. The smallest dog never showed. It wasn’t out of the ordinary but after about fifteen minutes we felt something wasn’t quite right.

We searched for him all night, taking shifts walking the pasture, driving the back roads, spot lighting any open area we could think of. There was no sign of him.

It took a while for us to come to terms with what had happened but the poor guy had been eaten by coyotes that hunted in the open pasture. They made a meal of him in seconds and we never saw him again. This is something we still can’t forget because he was a great dog. For us, it’s the thought of how it must have gone down, how he must have felt with one or more large dogs tearing down on him while he lay defenseless. This was a dog that seemed to think everyone was out to play with him and never assumed violence from another animal. Our attitude toward the wildlife changed overnight. No longer were we the loving, “show all animals compassion” type of people. We hated coyotes and swore to kill any that we saw from then on. Incidentally, we didn’t see many more after that, go figure.

We tried getting another dog so our big one would have a friend but after only a few days the two of them went off running toward what sounded like the only other dogs for miles. It turns out that what they heard were wild boars. The little dog was torn to pieces accompanied by the most horrific sound I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t bear to imagine the sight of it but I stupidly went searching with nothing but a dull machete, as if I could have accomplished anything more than being attacked by the very animals that destroyed the new puppy.

So, we left it at that. No more new dogs. We became more and more protective of our big dog. She was scared after that and has never been the same. I could see from a distance that she watched the entirety of the events marking the ends of those other two dogs. Something about seeing death did something to her. When the sun would set and twilight would come upon the land she would stand with her head as high as possible in the air barking and howling, as if she was shouting her anger and rage at the encroaching nightlife and violence of wild animals in the immediate distance. Then she’d see that darkness was setting in and would do everything but tear the door down to get inside to safety where she would stay until the sun was out and bright enough that it had completely destroyed the night’s darkness for another day.

Things calmed down for a bit. And then one night my wife jumped out of bed screaming. A scorpion had been crawling all over her thighs under the covers. Luckily, she wasn’t bitten, but that marked the beginning of what I can only call an infestation. We had scorpions in such high numbers that we couldn’t do much of anything without triple checking to ensure none of those bad boys were in hiding.

So, after only a few months we had come in contact with spiders, snakes, coyotes, and scorpions. We learned how to avoid them all, how to handle them if we came in contact, and how to kill and dispose of them when we needed. What else could we encounter that would scare us half to death?

Enter the oil and gas industry.

It was late one night and we were having some drinks and enjoying a rare weekend off to ourselves when suddenly we heard a loud knocking at the door, something unheard of out there and something that was cause for immediate alarm. When I spied through the peep hole what looked like a hideous Zombie from a movie thoughts of our evening jogs and exercise snapped into my brain as I contemplated an exit strategy, should this interaction go awry. I grabbed my knife and yanked the door open to find a bloody tanker driver. He had been driving recklessly around the curve in front of our house, something these tanker drivers did constantly, and he flipped his truck causing the nasty liquid to flood our property, the roads, and everything in sight. He needed help so, having been drinking, we had to drive him some fifteen miles to meet the ambulance.

This was an adventure in itself as we were doing something that could have endangered all of our lives, but we felt it was more important to get this man to safety and, more importantly to speed along the process for someone to clean up what looked like 3-Mile Island less than fifty yards from our front door.

We had problems with those tanker drivers from day one living out there. They would drive incredibly fast, ignoring the 15 mph speed limit signs, ignoring the rules of the road, forcing drivers into ditches, causing irreparable damage to vehicles and property, running over animals, and generally disrespecting the fact that land owners allowing for drilling on their property was the only reason they had their jobs. So, most of us, the neighbors and others out there, were angry at them. Never once had one of them stopped to help us out of a ditch that they forced us into by driving on the wrong side of the road, but when one of them flipped their truck nearby they wanted us to help pronto. And we obliged.

Over time we saw more damage and more oil wells, drilling stations, heavy machinery and equipment, and people flood into the area. None of them residents or land owners, all of them oil and gas industry employees.

The beautiful views were ruined, clouded with odd fumes and odors. The water changed in taste. The ground seemed to be less fertile near the wells. We couldn’t understand the necessity for that amount of desecration of land.

Then one day we got word that a tanker driver had sped by a neighbor’s house while the children were playing outside and he threw up so much dust and gravel that he peppered the kids’ eyes, knocked over their mailbox, and ran over their beloved family dog. Chasing the driver in his pickup truck, the neighbor finally confronted him as he tried to outrun him on those horrible back roads. When he spoke to the driver he was told, “You wouldn’t live here if it weren’t for me. This is my land.”

The neighbor was disheartened and it caused a great change in all of us.

Needless to say, we soon moved away and let the spiders, snakes, coyotes, and scorpions take over the house we were in, putting it back to its rightful way of being, and we let the oil and gas industries do what they desired with the land.

Our biggest fear became not insect or animal bites, but death by way of toxins in the air, ground, and water we relied upon for survival.

So it became that our first step into the adventure of self-reliance was fraught with the harsh stings of unavoidable things and it was exhausting, but we learned valuable lessons that we will keep forever. Lesson one being; don’t sweat the small stuff, like the bugs and snakes. We’ve coexisted for centuries without too many problems. Lesson number two is that you can’t wait for industry to clean up their act. When you get that awful gut feeling that something just isn’t quite right with the water and air, or you start to see a little too much development on the other side of your fence, it might just be time to get away. If not for your sake, do it for your health’s sake and the health of the rest of your family.

When it comes to snakes and oil I would choose the snakes every time.

Tuning Out and Turning Off

Brandon DinsmoreThere are things that we must all learn when it comes to living the country life, homesteading, getting off the grid, and so on. Many of us find that there are innumerable resources, from books to websites and everything in between, detailing the intricacies and how-to of daily life and we become overwhelmed. For a lot of us things don’t seem quite as simple as they eventually reveal themselves to be, whether it’s raising chickens or growing a garden. All of these things are easy enough but we are bogged down with information in our attempts to “get it right” and that’s where tuning out the noise comes in handy enough to be a literal lifesaver, if not for you, for your animals and plants.

When we first started out on our own the natural first step was to start raising chickens and plant a garden. It sounded fun and rewarding plus there was the added benefit of feeling like we were practicing a small bit of self-reliance. It wasn’t until we started doubting ourselves that we first ran into the trouble that plagues so many other like-minded people. This trouble all starts with the millions of questions we have about how to do things, do them right, and do them well.

Naturally, in this day and age, rather than seek out the advice of elders who know a thing or two and have done things themselves for ages, we sought out the helpful advice of the Internet and, specifically, random strangers in forums from various websites. Now, it isn’t all bad, so don’t get me wrong. If it wasn’t for the Internet I wouldn’t know a flipping thing about Paul Wheaton. Heck, if it wasn’t for the internet I wouldn’t have been able to purchase half of the baby chicks that are now a growing part of our flock.

Anyway, let’s get to the grit of the matter. We got our very first chicks at a local farm and ranch store. You know the kind; they have bins full of chicks of different varieties and you’re confronted with so much cuteness and your brain starts coming up with scenarios where you can have them all, so you naturally pick out what you feel in your gut are “simply the best” from among the bins. Then you pick up what will inevitably be the smallest and most expensive bag of starter feed, an over-priced plastic feeder and waterer, and maybe a heat lamp because, you never know, those small chicks might need something akin to the surface of the sun to keep themselves warm while you play with them inside of your heated house.

Once you have your basket full of chicks and goodies you get home and setup shop with your new family of feathered friends, but wait!One of them is moving a little slow so what do you do? You go straight to the computer and start hunting. It turns out that your chick might have Marek’s disease, worms, or some other parasite. Better isolate the little guy so he doesn’t contaminate the rest of the chicks because, as a member of the forum you are visiting mentioned, “One time I had a million chicks die instantaneously and it turned out that it was caused by ink on the cardboard box I had them in, combined with the wind direction from my ceiling fan, coupled with the negative vibrations I was putting into the environment because I drank coffee after 8pm!”

So you start researching more and more and you keep finding horrible things that might possibly be going on. You know that it has to have happened to someone else because these are chickens, after all, and humans have been raising them for years. Someone has to know the remedy!

This is the beginning of what I call “extreme Internet overload” and I think we’re all probably a little guilty of it. We mean no harm but we’re so afraid that we’re going to kill everything that we touch that we start to rely upon search results to guide us in our efforts to do this or do that.

Ultimately, we get through those first few weeks, having hypothesized that our chicks have every disease and disability on Earth, and they start to grow into adult birds. We go through the same thing as they mature, thinking hens might be roosters, or that there’s a magic cure for the annoying and loud crow of a rooster. “Is there any way to stop a rooster from crowing? How can I prevent my rooster from mounting the hens? What does it mean when a hen makes loud noises like a rooster? Are they all going to die? Can I eat an egg that’s been under a hen for a couple of hours?” And on and on we go, contemplating every action of our chickens until we reach a point, a really great point, when we realize that this whole chicken-raising business is the easiest thing on Earth to do and we never needed to worry to begin with. But how else would we have learned, right? Without going through the experience on our own we would be just as clueless as ever.

So, I say we just go with it. Stay away from the chat rooms and message boards because it’s like trying to diagnose your own medical issues online. Five minutes of browsing WebMD and you suddenly realize that you have cancer combined with Ebola and if you don’t do something soon you might also contract a rare African virus that only three people have ever had.

The same goes with gardening. I remember when I first went outside with a shovel and hoe to start working the soil. I made a great garden bed and felt it was going to produce a large volume of food for my wife and me. Boy was I wrong!When I visited a website asking what plants were suitable for my climate, I couldn’t just visit the agricultural extension office or their website (or even give them a quick phone call); I had to go to the most obscure website I could find only to see that everything I wanted to plant would either die immediately or wouldn’t produce at all unless I applied this technique or that chemical or said these magic words or sang that special song. I was doomed!

Needless to say, after fretting through the first growing season I realized that it really was as simple as throwing seeds on the ground, watering them, and waiting for nature to do what it does best. I stopped visiting the websites after that.

Now that it’s been a few years I find that I no longer rely upon those same websites or books; rather, I invest in manuals that have practical information in them, like design ideas for coops or trellis ideas for a garden. No more questioning what I’m doing. It has been a relief and it definitely builds confidence when you don’t have to worry constantly about the millions of things you’re potentially doing wrong and can focus on what you actually did right.

I always try to give out a few key pieces of advice when someone asks me about raising chickens or growing food.

1. It’s easy. No matter what you think might be going wrong, chances are the chickens or the plants have already dealt with it in their lives, or have at least evolved in such a way that they can handle it. If cold weather really endangered chickens, why, we wouldn’t have any left!

2. Don’t listen so much to what the worriers have to say.More than likely, those oddball examples of how everything went wrong were the exception to the rule. If every chicken ever hatched managed to burst into flames and explode when you looked at it, people probably wouldn’t waste their time raising them. And remember, most of what you end up reading is from people starting out just like yourself, so you’re essentially reading the panic and fear of others instead of getting good old-fashioned knowledge which you can easily find by interacting with the chore at hand, whether it’s your flock or your garden. There is much to be said for observation and patience.

3. Don’t overwhelm yourself. If you are just starting out, try only a few chickens or a few plants. It might yield more than you thought.

4. Water! Plants and animals need plenty of water. If there’s one rule you should remember it’s that you should always have plenty of water on hand.

5. Stay away from the Internet unless you truly have a unique situation. You’ll thank yourself in the end because you’ll save countless hours of hypochondria and worry on behalf of your time and efforts. 

In the end, nothing beats experience and I can attest to that. I have spent many hours of my time thinking the worst only to find out that nothing was really wrong in the first place. I thank the people in those forums who helped me out because in the end what I learned was the same thing that they had learned, over and over again, which is simple: “Everything’s fine. Don’t worry. It’s going to be all right.”


Photo by Fotolia/kharhan