Winter Care for the Family Milk Cow

Winter Care for the Family Cow

The green pastures of summer are but a memory and winter has taken it’s hold. Caring for a dairy cow in the winter has its own set of unique challenges. If you want to keep the milk flowing you need to meet these challenges head on and take a proactive approach.

Feed and Nutrition

When the pasture is lush and green and there is plenty of it, it is easy to produce large volumes of milk from the family cow. Once the grass is gone, every year without fail, I get emails from people whose cows have almost quit giving milk. My first question for them is about forage quality. When dairy cows are primarily eating hay, it needs to be high quality hay. High quality hay is hay that is cut early and is palatable. Often, I find out that the problem is related to the cattle eating poor quality hay, late cut grasses that were harvested well past their prime. If you are stuck feeding this kind of forage, you need to supplement their diet if you want them to keep producing milk. You will have to feed some grain or sprouted fodder to make up the difference. Always watch your cattle’s body condition and be ready to adjust your feeding plan to address any problems.

Make sure your cow gets all she wants to eat. The average Jersey cow will eat about 50lbs of dry matter a day. Cattle that stay outdoors in subfreezing weather will consume even more. The best way to keep a cow milking is to make sure she has all the forage she can eat. If there is nothing left in her feeder at the next feeding, you haven’t fed her enough.

It is also important to make sure that you feed supplemental minerals during the winter season. Many minerals, vitamins, and trace elements that cattle get from fresh green grass are not readily available in hay. The best way to meet these needs is by feeding Redmond salt and kelp.

Shelter and Bedding

Dairy cattle need a dry place out of the wind to rest. When a cow is laying down and chewing her cud, she is making milk. You want to encourage such activity! Having a dry, well bedded stall also prevents mastitis (which can be easily contracted in wet/dirty environments). At the very minimum, your milk cow should have a windbreak of some kind. Cold winds really take their toll on a cow. If you don’t provide enough shelter you had better make sure that her energy requirements are met, which will mean feeding some corn meal. Cows make the most milk when they are comfortable and the wise husbandman strives to keep them that way.


Since milk is 94% water it is important to make sure your cow has enough water. In the winter, freezing temperatures make it challenging to keep fresh, clean water available. If you water your cow with a stock tank, be sure to keep the ice chopped open or better yet install a stock tank heater. Without a heater, the ice keeps building up on the sides of the tank and your capacity is diminished. It is also important to make sure the water source is reliable. All water pipes that have the potential to freeze should be insulated and have heat tape installed. This will keep you from the drudgery of hauling water from the house 3 times a day!


When cows are on pasture, they keep themselves relatively clean. In the winter, not so much. One thing you can do to help keep your cow clean is to “stable clip” her. Stable clipping a cow means clipping her flanks and udder hair with a set of cattle clippers. Shorter hair on the flanks makes manure less likely to stick. Manure that does stick can be removed with a curry comb. Cattle should be brushed every day, it keeps them clean and they enjoy it.

Hopefully, some of these ideas will help you make it through the winter with your sanity and jug of milk. Spring will return again and life will get easier. Until then…

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Plant Profile ~ Bayberry


Myrica Bayberry, Candleberry, Sweet Gale, Wax-myrtle

The genus Myrica contains between 35-50 species of plants that range from shrubs to small trees. The generic name was derived from the Greek word μυρικη (myrike), meaning “fragrance.” It is native to Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America. The height varies from 2 to 12 ft, depending on variety and location. It prefers acid soil and has roots that fix nitrogen, allowing it to grow in poor soil. The bayberry, or candleberry, has long been an important plant in the new world. It has many uses, from medicine to candle making and was an important plant to the American colonists.

One of the most interesting uses of bayberry is that of candle making. In England, they were known as the “tallow shrub” and in the new world, the bayberry was very important to early Americans. Eric Sloane, in his book Seasons of America Past, mentions the process of rendering wax from the bayberry fruit.

Bayberry candles were made during late autumn, when the berries were ripest. The bayberries were thrown into a pot of boiling water, and their fat rose to the top and became a superior candle wax. Bayberry candles burned slowly and didn’t bend or melt during summer heat, and yielded a fine incense, particularly when the candle was snuffed. So prized were bayberry candles that the gathering of berries before autumn in America once brought a fifteen shilling fine.

Here is a great tutorial on how to render wax from the bayberries and make candles…

Bayberry fruit produces about 1 lb of wax for every 15 lbs of berries, so if you are interested in planting them for wax production it would be a good idea to plant a number of them. The southern varieties produce the most wax but this family gathered fruit from Myrica pensylvanica (found in the north) and made some very nice candles.

In addition to wax production, the bayberry has long been known as a useful medicinal plant. The Rodale Herb Book mentions that bayberry roots and bark are used as an astringent, tonic, and stimulant. The leaves (listed as poisonous in some references) are aromatic and a stimulant, it is said that a tea can be brewed and used as a gargle for sore throats, catarrh, and jaundice. The bark is used for diarrhea and dysentery; a decoction can be made and injected as an enema and can also be used as wash or poultice on sores and boils. Powdered root can be applied to wounds. It should also be noted that the foliage from one variety ( Myrica gale) has traditionally been used by campers as an insect repellent. Please note: The plant has been listed as an abortifacient and therefore should not be consumed by women who are, or might be, pregnant.

The wax coating on baybery fruit is indigestible for most birds but the Yellow-rumped Warbler is one North American bird that can utilize the energy-rich wax. The seeds are then dispersed in the Warbler’s droppings. Myrica species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species. The Brown-tail, Emperor Moth, and Winter Moth are notable examples.

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Joel Salatin at the ICSA

Joel Salatin recently spoke at The Idaho Center for Sustainable Agriculture. This stuff is pure gold. Take a few minutes and listen to Joel’s wisdom. You won’t be sorry.


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Wild Fur As Resource For Permaculture Systems


One thing that I appreciate about permaculture is how it takes into account the many symbiotic relationships on the farm, including those of wild things and woodlots, and how they effect the farm as a whole. While I have seen much written about timber harvesting, mushrooms, and the like; I haven’t seen much written about the potential of wild fur as a renewable and managed resource in zones 3 and 4.

Wild fur-bearers play an important role in the ecosystem on any farm or homestead. Many of these animals are also predators that keep rodents and other pests in check. These same predators also kill and eat livestock when given the chance and can cut into the bottom line, sometimes in devastating ways. When we start adding livestock to our properties we run the risk of causing predator populations to increase. Some fur bearers, such as raccoons, foxes and coyotes can develop mange and rabies if their populations get too large for the given area. These diseases are a threat to both people and livestock. Beavers, if left to their own, can flood large portions of land that you may not want underwater. The point of this is simple, wild fur bearing animals need to be managed the same as trees, plants and other living things on our farms and homesteads.

These animals also represent some added income potential. Harvested animal’s pelts can be sold raw to traveling fur buyers, fleshed-dried-stretched hides can be shipped to auction houses and sold, or you can tan your own hides and craft them into gloves, hats and other garments that can be used or sold. Harvesting fur and crafting it into warm winter clothing is a very satisfying experience that draws one even closer to the land that sustains them, as well as removing one more thing from the “have to buy” list. In recent years the price of wild North American fur has made a come back, making fur harvesting profitable again. Properly managed, a homestead trapline will produce a regular supplemental income and a healthy ecosystem.

What animals can be harvested for their fur? North America has been blessed with a large number of fur bearing animals. The following animals have useable/salable hides, muskrats, beavers, nutria, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, fishers, marten, mink, weasel, lynx, bobcat, skunk, possum and wolves.

Here is a list of resources that may be helpful if you’re interested in tapping into the potential of wild fur

Trapping North American Furbearers by Stanley Hawbaker
Guide to Trapping
NTA Trappers Handbook
Tan Your Hide!
The Ultimate Guide to Skinning and Tanning: A Complete Guide to Working with Pelts, Fur, and Leather
Minnesota Trapline Products

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Plant Profiles ~ Goldenrod

Solidago Goldenrod

In late August and into early fall, the Goldenrod plant brightens the countryside with its wonderful golden flowers. Commonly thought of as a “weed”, Goldenrod grows in many parts of North America and has many uses. The plants grow to be 4-5 ft tall on average with the largest, a sub-tropical Florida species, growing to a mighty 18ft. There are at least 80 species of Goldenrod with all but one being native to North America. Goldenrod plants have a deep tap root that can reach 11ft into the ground, drawing up valuable minerals and nutrients from the subsoil. It is mentioned in the book Up North Again that Goldenrod has been planted with poplar, arrowroot and duckweed in polluted habitats because it has enzymes that can breakdown some organic toxins that contaminate soil and water. Goldenrod is also an attractor of aphids and can be used in pest management plantings.

Goldenrod has traditionally been used as medicine by North American Indians. Most herbal medicine references (such as The Rodale Herb Book) list some Goldenrod species. It can be used as a phlegm reducer, an anti-inflammatory, a sedative, a blood pressure reducer and even has antiseptic properties. According to the Rodale Book, The Zunis chewed the blossoms and swallowed the juice for sore throats, the Alabamans made a poultice from the roots for tooth aches, several tribes made infusions from the flowers and leaves for fevers and chest pains and the Meskwakis used blossoms in a lotion to for bee stings and other painful swellings. It is worth noting that the Ojibway included Goldenrod flowers in one of the pipe smoking blends.

Another important use for Goldenrod is that of a dye plant. Goldenrod flowers produce a wonderful yellow dye that can be used to dye yarns. We have done this on our farm and been thrilled with the results. For more information on dying with Goldenrod see This Post.


Herrick Kimball, in his Idea Book for Gardeners, dedicates a whole page to the Goldenrod plant. Herrick, like myself, harvests dead Goldenrod “sticks” every year and uses them as garden row markers. He also mentions that Goldenrod was once used to make rubber for tires. It is a little know fact that Henry Ford enlisted the help of George Washington Carver to come up with a way to make Goldenrod into tires. They did this in the 1940s until the time that synthetic rubbers became a cheaper choice. Mr. Kimball also mentions that Goldenrod was once a contender for the “national flower”, at least as far as E.B. White’s wife was concerned.

006One cannot talk about the importance of Goldenrod without mentioning honey. Goldenrod honey is one of the most important fall honey crops in the northeast. There are large amounts of Goldenrod honey produced every year, and it is crucial not only for human consumption but also for overwintering hives. Goldenrod honey has a tendency to crystallize and has a rich, sometimes spicy flavor. Raw goldenrod honey is used by allergy sufferers to lessen their sensitivity to pollen. Even though we try to keep Goldenrod out of the pastures (by clipping) we keep swaths of land along the woods and lanes open for it to grow. It is always a pleasure to watch the bees working the flowers as I bring the cows back to the barn at milking time.

I hope that if you are one of the many who view Goldenrod as a “weed”, I have given you enough information to see this wonderful wildflower as something much more important. Goldenrod is a valuable native plant that deserves our respect and admiration.

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Husqvarna Carpenter’s Axe for Trapline and Camp, Review

Ax Collage(2)

We had been looking for a good axe to use around camp and on the trapline. We wanted something that was of good quality but not super expensive. Something that had a short hardwood handle that would be easy to carry on the belt, in the pack basket or backpack, and was light enough to carry long distances, yet heavy enough to get the job done. We wanted an axe with knife’s edge, made of quality steel, that could be used for bushcrafting projects around the camp as well as the basic tasks that need to be done on a trapline. To be honest, that’s a lot to ask for.

While searching on-line I stumbled upon the Husqvarna Carpenter’s Axe. Right away it caught my eye because it is styled in the tradition of the old “Hudson Bay Axe”. The Carpenter’s Axe might be designed and marketed primary for woodworking, but it meets all the specifications for a north country trapping and camp axe. The hickory handle is 17.5″ long, just the right size for carrying on your belt or carrying in the pack basket. The overall weight is 2.2 lbs and that suits me to a tee. The Swedish steel head is hand forged and crafted in such a way that you can get your hand extremely close for maximum control for the finer bushcraft work. This axe has an excellent, straight, knife’s edge that sharpens easily and is very well suited for whittling and carving. Even so, it chops down small trees efficiently, can drive trap stacks, and do any job that comes up on the trail. This axe is well balanced and simply a pleasure to use.

This little tool far exceeded my expectations and I would never expect an axe of this quality to sell for under $60, but this one does. Are there better axes out there? You bet there are, but they also carry a hefty price tag. The bottom line is that this tool is an incredible value and really just about perfect for camp and trail.

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The Spindle. A Simple, Beautiful, Agrarian Tool


One of the most important tools of the historic agrarian family was, and continues to be, the spindle. It’s beauty is only surpassed by it’s usefulness. For centuries, this simple and classic tool has spun fiber for the domestic economy. The spindle when properly used can easily turn wool, hemp, flax and cotton fiber into yarns that can be used to make everything from socks to sweaters. Once a common tool found on every homestead, the hand spindle is making a comeback. More and more people are finding it an affordable and easy way to learn the art of spinning, without buying an expensive spinning wheel. In our household, even though we have a wheel, Leah still spins with her many hand spindles because they are lightweight, portable and fun to use.

There are two basic kinds of hand spindles, the drop spindle and the supported spindle.

Drop Spindles…

Drop spindles are a weighted spindle. The weighted portion of the spindle is called a “whorl” and drop spindles are classified by the position of the whorl. There are top whorl, bottom whorl and mid whorl spindles. We have several top whorl and bottom whorl spindles that are used in our home. (You can click on the images below to enlarge.)

Top Whorl4(2)
Above is an example of a Top Whorl Spindle. These spindles have the whorl located close to the top of the shaft, which causes the spindle to spin very fast. A hook at the top of the shaft secures the developing yarn. The spun yarn is wound around the shaft under the whorl in a conical shape called a cop. Top Whorl spindles are very common and popular among hand spinners and are easy to use. (The spindle pictured has a whorl made from Cocobolo and a Wenge shaft)

This is an example of a Bottom Whorl Spindle. These spindles have the whorl located at the bottom of the shaft and spin slower but longer and more consistently. This particular spindle is a Turkish Spindle that we had custom made out of spalted tamarind and east indian rosewood. The Turkish spindle is unique in that the whorl is not a solid round piece of wood. The whorl of these spindles are two wooden arms that the finished yarn is wrapped on as you spin. To remove the yarn in one convenient “turtle”, you simply disassemble the spindle. The fact that Turkish spindles can be broken down and stored flat, makes them a great tool to use when traveling.

Supported Spindles

Supported spindles work with the tip on one’s thigh, on the ground, on a table, or in a small bowl while rotating. These spindles are excellent for the elderly and folks who have limited mobility, because with this type one does not need to stand for long periods of time while spinning. Supported spindles come in a variety of sizes. The Navajo spindle is very large at 30″ long. There are small, extremely fast, tahkli spindles for spinning cotton, And the tiny Orenburg spindle, which is only 20cm, for spinning gossamer lace yarns. The spindle pictured below is a Russian-style spindle that was crafted from bird’s eye maple.


Helpful Resources

Here is a short You-Tube video on how to use a top whorl drop spindle

Here is a video on using a Turkish style spindle

Book Recommendations…

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Integrated Forest Gardening, a review


After reading several very good books on basic permaculture theory, I have been looking for something that goes a little more in-depth into the design and science of plant guilds; something with some examples and practical ideas. The creative use of planting guilds is one of the things that makes permaculture so fascinating. It is also something that is complex and hard to find information on, at least it was hard for me to find useful information on, without spending hours combing through internet forums and google searches. All I wanted was some basic “nuts and bolts” information (in one place) without spending lots of money on a permaculture course. When I saw that this book had 15 plant guild examples within its pages, I got excited. With Chelsea Green’s reputation for quality permaculture books, I sent off for a copy. I wasn’t disappointed.

Integrated Forest Gardening is well laid out and full of information that I have not found in any other permaculture book. It is touted as “the first, and most comprehensive, book about plant guilds” and delivers on that promise. The book is 310 pages and includes chapters on plant guild structure, plant selection, trees, species integration and project management. The last chapter is 66 pages long and takes a fairly deep look 15 different plant guilds. For each guild there are diagrams and a detailed plant list that includes all pertinent information, such as ecological function and human uses. Guilds included are fruit and nut, pawpaw, four vines annual-perrenial, poisonous plants, asian pear polyculture, ginseng/sugar maple, boreal forest berry, salsa garden, dwarf cherry tree polyculture and ruddock guilds (cider, pawpaw floodplain, persimmon wood, wild rice pond and hedge wall).

I have been interested in permaculture for some time but have felt as though I was stuck in a rut. I had the basic theory, I had some rough idea of guild plantings, but I didn’t feel at all confident enough to try to implement any of it on our farm. This book has given me the tools and information I need to to actually try some of this stuff! Although I probably wouldn’t want to sit around the table discussing politics and religion with the authors, I am very glad that they got together and wrote this book. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants a better understanding of how plant guilds work and wants to understand polycultures in more meaningful way. Truly a treasure trove of useful information.

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The Campfire


I’d cleared away a spot and threw together a quick ring of stones from the immediate vicinity. The sun was setting a little faster than I’d anticipated. It wasn’t the best place in the world to set up camp but I’d spent the night in worse spots. I reached into my coat pocket and retrieved a handful pine needles, a pine comb and some dried up lichens that I’d found on a rock that I sat on to rest earlier in the day. Within arms reach there was a nice length twig of of dry white pine. I snapped it into smaller pieces and arranged them into a tee-pee. I reached into my breast pocket to grab my matches and found a piece of birch bark. I left it there for another day and took hold of the match case. It’s one of those plastic tubes with a rubber O-ring under the lid and a striker on the bottom. I’ve had it 15 years or more. I struck a match and gently touched it to the pine needles. Immediately, a wisp of smoke began to rise and as the flame touched the pine comb it flared up catching the twigs within seconds. I started adding fuel, little by little. A piece of maple twig, a little bigger piece of bur oak and then some bigger stuff I had gathered and piled up. As I rolled out my Hudson Bay wool blanket, the flames danced and jumped at the harvest moon. Crimson and yellow, blue and gold. As the flames leaped to the heavens, my mind began to drift to days since passed.

Standing outside the trapping cabin in Copper River country of Alaska
Watching the northern lights and listening to wolves
Clearing away the breakfast dishes, so we could skin some mink while we finished our coffee
Dead Man’s Cabin
Picking low bush cranberries
And moose

Then I remember the Bad lands
South Dakota in fall of the year
Drinking coffee and watching bison graze the prairie grass

The Black Hills in Wyoming
Waking up with an inch of snow over my sleeping bag
And warming up by the fire

I’m snapped out of my trance
A Whip-poor Will calls
An owl hoots
A coyote yips
And then howls

A man can’t live in the past but it is nice to take the memories out every so often and remember. I take the pistol out of the holster and lay it within arms reach. I take a deep breath and look around the camp. Nothing soothes the soul like a night in the woods. Campfires are great therapy for a weary mind. Politicians, the economy, the price of milk and cattle, cars and traffic….these things seem a world away. The lust of the madmen for power and control, the effects of a sinful generation multiplied by ten; all seem so far away. Just the night birds and coyotes to sing me to sleep and a sneaking suspicion that I was born a 100 years to late.

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A Strong Agriculture, the Foundation of a Free and Independent Nation

Currier and Ives, American Farm Scenes

It is no coincidence that the decline of our liberty, wealth and independence coincides with the decline of agriculture in the American republic. Those who ponder the loss of their freedom, the inability to make ends meet and growing influence of internationalism and creeping socialism would be wise to notice the crumbling barns and empty fields around them.

From the very beginning, America’s founders realized that a strong and decentralized agriculture was essential for the maintenance of a free and independent republic. The reasons being many.

Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. they are the most vigorous, the most independant, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to it’s liberty & interests by the most lasting bands. ~ Thomas Jefferson

Agriculture … is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals & happiness. ~ Thomas Jefferson in a letter to George Washington

First, the freeholder and small farmer was understood to be the guardian of liberty. Providing for his families most basic needs, the freeholder was not worried about “biting the hand that fed him”. He was his own man and guarded his precious rights of a free Englishmen, the birthright of the Magna Carta. His allegiance was first to God, second to his family and next to his country. The early American farmer had crossed an ocean and turned a wilderness into a garden, through blood, sweat and tears. He saw this, first and foremost, as a biblical mandate and the highest calling aside from being a minister of the Word. No one had stronger ties to the land, a stronger love for independence and civil liberty than the farmer. This of course is why collectivist tyrants throughout the ages, have first and foremost sought to destroy the independent farmer. Whether through regulation, taxation, economic warfare or simply murdering him…the freeholder must be eliminated before a free and independent people can be enslaved.

America’s founders understood that real wealth comes from the ground. The only real economic growth is that of agriculture. Without a strong agriculture, the national economy is built on lies, theft and fraud. Benjamin Franklin in his “Positions to be Examined” (April 4, 1769) made an very keen observation…

Finally, there seem to be but three Ways for a Nation to acquire Wealth. The first is by War as the Romans did in plundering their conquered Neighbours. This is Robbery. The second by Commerce which is generally Cheating. The third by Agriculture the only honest Way; wherein Man receives a real Increase of the Seed thrown into the Ground, in a kind of continual Miracle wrought by the Hand of God in his favour, as a Reward for his innocent Life, and virtuous Industry.

Today bankers create money (actually debt) out of thin air and then tell us it’s “wealth”. The moment that our people bought into this lie and ignored the real wealth creator, agriculture, was the moment that real wealth was sucked from their pockets and replaced with an IOU. When a cow eats grass and produces milk, this is economic growth. This is wealth creation. When a man plants a seed and it grows into a plant producing twenty seeds, this is wealth creation. When a banker creates money out of thin air, the value of your “wealth” decreases. You have been robbed and plundered. When market bubbles are inflated, the wealth is make believe. When the bubble pops, the loss is make believe. You either have an agrarian economy or one that is make believe.

Here is a fact that should be understood by all. Any nation that wishes to remain independent must be able to provide for itself, food and fiber. The strength of a nation, when the SHTF, comes down to the abilty of that nation to feed and cloth itself. In the age of “free trade” we are told that this is of no concern. We are told that agriculture is an old and dirty occupation. We are told that we should buy these things from other countries (even our enemies) and not worry about doing it ourselves. What could possibly go wrong??? Anyone that tells you these things, whether they claim to be “conservative” or “liberal” are your enemies. As America produces less from the earth, it becomes more dependent and beholden to outside interests. First our economies are gutted through “free trade” pacts and treaties. The economic bocs such as the proposed North American Union gradually become political blocs with the end goal of merging the regional blocs into a centralized global government. Countries that import their food and fiber can easily be forced into going along. Starvation is powerful persuader.

What shall we do?

While the political machine has been used to destroy agrarianism through regulations, property taxes and legal tender laws; it would be fool hearted to spend all of our efforts to correct our trajectory in the political realm. Now, this is not to say we should not seek reforms when possible, especially at the local and county level. But the great need at present is a return of the people to the land. Reversing the trend of urbanization is key to regaining our liberty. As Jefferson wisely predicted, the nation would only remain free and prosperous if it remained agricultural and would fall into corruption if the mass of the people populated cities. The first step toward an agrarian restoration primarily rests on individual families taking steps toward self-sufficiency and returning to the rural areas. These families lead by example and help others to transition back to the land. Communities are formed and localism begins to take root once more. We must build up a resilient agriculture that is family scaled and less dependent on inputs. One that feeds itself and fuels it’s own region’s economy with real wealth and growth. It is a long row to hoe, but it must be done.

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