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Baling hay is a staple of livestock farming. The very act of harvesting hay has been the lifeblood of farmers for centuries, which is why it’s become the most iconic farm chore right next to milking the cows or collecting eggs.

Modern day technology has undoubtedly made baling hay less of a romanticized, fit for cinema event, but the tractor-driven tools we use today have made the process a much more manageable affair. Despite these new tools we have at our disposal, it still might not be economical to take on the chore of baling hay yourself. Let’s look at a few considerations that should help you decide if baling hay on your farm is for you.

Bailing Hay

If you have feed-intensive livestock, it may be more economical for you to bail your hay. Buying hay from a local farmer, or even worse, importing from another region or state, can be cost prohibitive. After all, how much hay does a cow eat every year? Quite a bit, and it’s not cheap!

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Hay For Bedding

If you plan to be baling hay for bedding, consider straw vs. hay for bedding with large animals. If you’re raising poultry, don’t make the mistake of using either of these in the chicken coop! Hay and straw hold moisture and harbor bacteria in a chicken coop, which is not good. For poultry, I always recommend using a thick bedding of pine shavings instead of hay or straw, even in the nesting boxes! Hay and straw may work as bedding for larger animals, but it’s far from ideal in poultry coops.

The Cost

Baling hay is far from an inexpensive venture. When looking at the price of retail or even wholesale hay prices, there are a few costs that add up to that price. Despite our best efforts to replace labor hours with equipment,  human labor is still a big part of the equation. Time spent operating equipment, repairing equipment, driving from field to storage, and stacking hay is time-intensive. Just as we don’t report to work for free, we can’t expect the farmer not to get paid. Nor can we expect the farmer’s helpers to work for free.

Cost Of Land

Many farmers don’t have enough acreage to harvest enough hay to meet demand, which means they’re forced to rent or lease land around them. That rent has to be figured into the per bale cost to the farmer. Also, the cost of the mortgage and property tax on the fields they do own needs to be a part of the equation.

Fuel And Equipment

Even the best tractor for small farms eats fuel when it’s working hard, so the cost of feeding the tractor needs to be considered. Farm equipment isn’t cheap, nor is it inexpensive to fix, so that’s also a part of the retail price of hay. And after all these expenses, there’s good old profit that still needs to be made when baling hay!

Power Demand

Before you commit yourself and buy all the tools and baling hay on your own, do you have enough tractor? Most hay baling equipment requires a tractor of at least 40HP, so is your tractor powerful enough to run these new tools, or will you need to buy another tractor?

Using a kicker on your baler eliminates some labor requirements on the field, but it makes a jumbled mess in the wagons.

Mowing The Field

Mowing a hay field is not like mowing a lawn; you need a mower deck designed to cut hay. Sharp blades are critical here since dull or rough cutting edges will bog down your tractor and may give you a poor cut, leaving valuable grass standing in your way. Be sure to get a field mower that fits the track width of your tractor (the measurement from outer tire to outer tire). Buying a smaller deck to save money will only waste time, which is expensive enough in its own right.

Tedding Hay

Before you can get down to the chore of baling hay, you need to let your hay dry in the field. While your cut hay dries, it helps to fluff it up in the field so you can bale it up sooner. Hay tedders are a spinning rake of sorts, designed to do just that; fluff cut hay in the field. Using hay tedders allows your grass to dry better and more thoroughly.

Rake Hay

Before you start baling hay, you need to rake it into windrows for your baler. Hay rakes, unlike a landscape rake, is a rotary implement similar to hay tedders, but instead of fluffing the hay, the hay rake piles it into rows for you.

Baling

Finally, you can bale your hay! But wait, what kind of bale do you want? Do you want the standard hay bale you can toss by hand? Do you want the monster square bales you need a tractor to move? Do you want a large round bale you can move with a bale spike? It all depends on how you want to move your hay, where you want to store it, and how you plan to feed it to your animals.

Picking Up

If you’ve decided that baling hay in round bales or big squares works for you, then you’ll probably be using your tractor’s loader to pick these up. But what about standard bales? Will you pick them up and stack them on a trailer by hand, or will you use a kicker? Using a kicker at the back of your standard baler launches your bales into the hay wagon you’re towing.

It is convenient for timing your labor needs, but when you get back to the barn, your stackers will have a big teetering puzzle of haphazardly stacked hay bales to deal with. It’s still convenient to bale all day into wagons with a kicker; then when the kids get out of school or your help clocks out of their nine to five, you have jumbled trailers full of hay waiting for them.

Round balers eliminate the physical labor of stacking bales, but moving them is equipment intensive.

Is It Worth It?

Do you have the open fields worthy of bailing hay in? Do you have the tractor for the job? Can you find good used hay baling equipment locally? Do you have the time and schedule flexibility to “make hay while the sun shines?” These are all important questions you need to answer for yourself because only you know your situation.

Is baling your own hay a cost-effective solution for you? Have you done it on your homestead? If so, please share some of your learning experiences with the rest of us in the comments below!

The post Baling Hay On The Homestead appeared first on Countryside Network.

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Several years ago, we added a solar cooker to our homestead tools. We have long, hot summers and cook from scratch every day, which was taxing our air conditioning unit each afternoon. The day it arrived we started experimenting with what to cook in a solar oven.

We’ve learned that pretty much anything you can bake or cook in an indoor oven, you can bake or cook in a solar oven. You might need to prepare it a little differently or cook it longer, but it will still cook and taste great.

The best time to cook in a solar oven is on a sunny day between 10 am and 4 pm. You can cook on a partly sunny day but the oven won’t heat up as much and it will take longer. You can also use fire pellets in some solar ovens so you can cook on cloudy or rainy days. This isn’t ideal but we do keep a few on hand in our preparedness box, just in case we need them.

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Food will cook better in a solar oven if it’s cooked in dark pots and pans. I mainly use granite ware and cast iron. However, you can paint the outside of glass dishes black with spray paint. I don’t spray paint my glass dishes but I do wrap them in a dark towel before putting them in the solar cooker.

Many people use canning jars that have been painted black since canning jars are tempered and can withstand high heat. If you use a lid on the jar make sure that steam can still escape, either use a two-piece canning lid that is not tight or use a one-piece lid that has a hole drilled in the top.

The solar oven will get hot, just like a regular oven, so be sure to use oven mitts whenever you remove the dishes from the solar oven.
You’ll get the best results if you’re able to keep the oven temperature consistent. If you’re cooking for several hours you can track the sun and adjust the solar oven every 30 minutes or so. My solar oven has a small hole as a guide so you can see if you have the solar oven in its optimal position for catching the sunlight. I just set a timer on my phone and go about my other work.

If it’s sunny and the oven temperature reaches the temperature you normally cook at, the cooking time will be the same as it is in an indoor oven. However, if the recipe is normally baked at 350 degrees F and the solar cooker will only get up to 300 degrees F you can still cook the recipe, it will just take longer.

Most recipes will take two to four hours to cook. The nice thing about a solar oven is that rarely does anything burn in it, even when left for several hours.

What to Cook in a Solar Oven

While you can cook anything in a solar cooker, some things are easier than others. Smaller items such as cookies, biscuits, and things in smaller baking dishes will cook faster than loaves of bread, whole chickens, and dried beans. The longer the recipe is in the solar cooker the more times you’ll need to adjust it to catch the sunlight.

I like to “boil” eggs in the solar oven by placing a dozen eggs in a paper (not Styrofoam or plastic) egg carton that has the lid removed. Put them in the oven and let them cook at about 200 degrees F for an hour. You can take an egg out and spin it on its side and if it wobbles all over the table, they aren’t fully cooked and need more time. Be forewarned, they are HOT after being in the oven for an hour, so use oven mitts. When the eggs are fully cooked, I cool them off in ice water and then peel — even very fresh eggs can be peeled easily after cooking in a solar oven. When you cook the eggs, they need to not touch each other or you’ll end up with brown spots in the white of the egg which is why we use the egg carton. Eggs cooked in a solar oven will end up with brown spots on the shell and that’s perfectly fine.

Cookies are another favorite the solar oven. I like to keep homemade cookie dough in the freezer and cook just what we need for a small treat. When I pull the main dish out of the solar oven, I’ll put in a small baking sheet of cookie dough to bake. I use a small, dark jelly roll pan but any baking sheet or flat cast iron skillet with work. Cookies take under an hour to bake.

Cooking pizza is a fun, but tricky, thing to do in a solar oven because everyone has their own opinion of what makes a good pizza. I’ve found that using a thin crust and par baking the crust for about 20 minutes before putting on the toppings works best for us. Some people will preheat the solar oven and then put the pizza (with toppings) in to bake and that seems to cook the crust without over-cooking the toppings.

I love making zucchini lasagna in the solar oven. I just use my regular lasagna recipe but instead of pasta, I use thinly sliced strips of zucchini and a thicker sauce. After slicing the zucchini, I salt it and let it sit so it will release its moisture. After about 30 minutes, I pat it dry and then layer in the lasagna just like pasta. There are many easy zucchini recipes that will work great in a solar cooker.

Zucchini Lasagna in the Solar Oven

Lasagna is a great casserole to make in the solar oven. Unfortunately, sometimes the long cook time makes the noodles fall mushy. That’s not the case with zucchini lasagna.
The quantities in this recipe are guidelines as there are a few variables. It will depend on how big the overgrown zucchinis are and how big of a pan you can get in your solar oven. Please keep this in mind when your making the zucchini lasagna. My family is large so I use the double stacked 9.73” pots that came with my solar oven, each one holds 3 quarts.

Ingredients
1-2 Large, overgrown zucchinis
salt
32 oz Ricotta cheese
4 eggs -beaten
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
24 oz spaghetti sauce
14 oz diced tomatoes
12 oz tomato paste
1 lb ground beef
medium onion

For noodles

Cut zucchini into strips about 1/4″ thick or less. Salt the strips and lay them in a colander for about 30 minutes to remove excess water. Put a bowl underneath the colander to catch the water.

For meat sauce

Dice the onion and cook it with the ground beef in medium or large sauce pan. Once cooked, strain excess oil if needed. Add to spaghetti sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste to cooked meat. The meat sauce will be very thick, this is what you want so the lasagna isn’t watery.

For cheese mix

In a medium size bowl mix ricotta cheese, four eggs, Parmesan and 1 cup mozzarella cheese together.

To assemble lasagna

Set up solar oven and let it preheat while you’re assembling the zucchini lasagna, 350°F is an ideal temperature.
1. Put a small amount of sauce on bottom of the cooking pans.
2. Dry the zucchini noodles with a clean towel before using, removing as much water as possible.
4. Cover bottom of pan with zucchini strips.
5. Add a layer of the ricotta mixture and a layer of the meat sauce.
6. Repeat the zucchini, ricotta mixture and meat sauce layers until you run out of ingredients or are within an inch of the top of the pot. I try to get two complete layers. There will be zucchini left over for the top.
7. Top with a last layer of zucchini and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. If you’re pans don’t have lids, cover them with aluminum foil (shiny side down).
8. Put pans of zucchini lasagna in the solar oven and realign the oven to the sun.
9. Bake at 350°F for about 45 minutes to an hour, until the zucchini is soft. If the oven temperature is less than 350°F, it will take longer to cook and can take as long as two hours.
10. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
11. Enjoy!

Other Ways to Reduce Your Energy Costs

There quite a few ways to reduce your energy costs besides cooking in a solar cooker. Several years ago, we added radiant barrier to our attic and saw a drop in our summer electricity bill.

A diy solar shower can be installed very inexpensively. Water heaters are one of the most expensive appliances to run each year and a solar shower would greatly reduce its usage.

To reduce energy costs during the winter consider installing a wood burning stove to heat your home and to cook on. There are many newer models that are safe and effective.

Saving on energy costs and preparing for electricity outages is something we should all be working towards. Knowing what to cook in a solar oven can help you do both.

What are your favorite things to cook in a solar oven?

The post What to Cook in a Solar Oven appeared first on Countryside Network.

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Knowing how to build a foundation for a shed is the all-important first step of adding barn space to your farm or homestead. Laying a strong foundation for any project is key to the longevity of the structure, regardless of construction type. Not all structures require the same kind of foundation, nor does every foundation type work for every terrain. Let’s look at the more common foundation types, when to use them and how to set them up.

How to Lay a Foundation for a Shed

First and foremost; can you build (or place) a shed where you want it? Do you have space? Will your local building codes allow you? Is your insurance company willing to cover it, and at what cost? All these questions need to be answered before you commit to spending your time and money on a project like this. After all, who likes an unwelcome surprise like a cease and desist letter from your town office?

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Topography

Do you have a flat space to work from or do you need to do some site work first? Even if the area looks level, you need to verify that it is. Sometimes the area you thought was level has a grade to it, which could equate into a lot of height for your foundation to make up for.

To check the level of your area, I suggest using the cheap string method. Measure out where you want the shed and stick a wooden stake or steel fence post at each corner. Run a string and string level around those posts and see what you get. Doing this also helps you visualize the space you need and the space your future structure will occupy.

Be prepared to do some sight work to level out the uneven terrain. If you need to move lots of dirt, a scraper box and a good tractor will make quick work of the job.

Gravel Pads

If you’re looking into how to build a chicken coop from a garden shed, especially a prefab garden shed; start here. Gravel pads allow you to build up the ground with a permeable material that levels easily. Gravel allows water to seep down and away from your shed and resists puddling, which will extend the life of your investment. Many local governments will be happy with gravel because it’s a “semi-permeable” surface, and it’s not as permanent as concrete. It also makes for a nice aesthetic touch, since there usually will be a border of at least a yard all the way around your shed.

The downside to gravel pads includes the cost. If you need to make up for a lot of elevation change, such as a two-foot or higher difference in level, gravel can quickly add cost to your build. Not everyone has a tractor to spread this material either, or even if you do, do you have the confidence to level and compact it yourself? Don’t forget that if your gravel pad sinks, the shed manufacturer may not re-level it for free.

Block Piers

If you’re researching how to build a foundation for a shed you’re building yourself, then you’ve probably already seen concrete patio blocks used as piers. Concrete block piers are simple, effective, easy, and cheap to make. Block piers are exceptionally simple to work with when your shed is being built on site and can accommodate some significantly unlevel ground.

When I built my 10 by 16-foot brooder barn, I used this method instead of going wild with site prep. Call it lazy, but the patio block foundation was the quickest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to counteract the unlevel terrain. This is why all the online instructions on how to build a chicken coop include block piers as their desired foundation.

Concrete block piers are a simple and effective way to set a foundation for a barn you’re building on-site.

Height Matters

Concrete block piers are great for building sheds on location, but they have limits. Standard patio block piers can only go so high until they pose a risk of shifting and collapsing. Also, concrete patio blocks can be difficult to place once a prefab shed has been delivered, so I’d avoid this type of foundation for prefab structures.

Concrete Piers

If you can’t or don’t want to do major site prep to compensate for a significant grade, consider using a poured concrete pier. Concrete piers eliminate the concern of shifting blocks and give you the opportunity to dig below your frost line. Digging down and placing concrete footing forms (those cardboard or plastic concrete tubes) deep into the ground will help you avoid frost heaving, and give you a very stout foundation to build a shed on.

The downside to pouring concrete piers is that you need to work with concrete. On a big project like this, it can be very labor intensive to mix and pour your concrete and it’s not cheap to have a small load delivered by a cement company. You may be lucky and have a local company that does mixing on site from their truck, which would likely be more cost-effective, but be sure of this long before you start your project. Additionally, your local building code enforcement may or may not object to the permanent nature of the foundation, or having a concrete foundation may alter your tax liability in their favor.

Post And Beam

If getting a cement truck to your building location is not practical, but you still need to make up for significant height differences in the building site consider a post and beam foundation. Sinking poles in the ground, either pressure treated poles or repurposed telephone poles, is an economical and practical backup plan. Be sure you use substantial lumber, such as 8″ by 8″ nominal timbers and make sure you have a strong junction between your upright poles and your top cross beam(s). When you do drop these poles in the holes you’ve dug, I still suggest setting them with a bagged instant concrete mix for added security.

Concrete Pad

If you’re looking for how to build a goat barn, farm shop, or large shed that requires a hard, impermeable floor, then concrete is your best bet. Concrete pad construction does require some planning, site prep, and specialized tools, but it’s eminently doable. My father and I poured a simple concrete pad to set our 1,000-gallon skid tank on years ago, and it was a rather straightforward affair.

One word of caution; if you plan on pouring a pad bigger than six-foot square, I’d highly recommend ordering a load of concrete to be delivered by truck. Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, you’ll doubtfully enjoy mixing that much cement yourself. A concrete pad is costly compared to your other options, but if you want a shed with a concrete floor, then the investment will pay off. You can also expect a little more pushback from your local code enforcement since a concrete pad is a permanent foundation.

What experiences do you have with any of these foundations? How did they work out? Let us know in the comments below and start the conversation!

The post How to Lay a Foundation for a Shed appeared first on Countryside Network.

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My husband has designed his own firewood chopping block for the best way to split wood efficiently for us. If you split firewood, then you know the value of efficient wood splitting tools. My husband and I both enjoy splitting firewood. We find it kind of a relaxing chore. Of course, he would say it also provides great exercise.

My Papa said, “Chopping firewood will warm you twice, once when you split it and once when you burn it.” Even though we enjoy splitting firewood, we also want to do it efficiently. The right wood splitting tools can help make it safe, fast, and cause little or no wear on our bodies. I’ve (which really means we’ve) put together some tips over the years to hopefully provide your wood-burning cook stove or masonry stove with plenty of fuel, efficiently.

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First, you have to have the right set of tools for the job, which include a wood splitting axe, maul, wedge, sledgehammer, and a surface to split your wood on. Some people use hydraulic wood splitters, but we don’t. Since our move to northern Idaho, we’re splitting 16-inch rounds of Tamarack Pine instead of the oak we split down south. This wood splits so easily it doesn’t make sense to us to use the gasoline it would take to run a wood splitter. The best way to split wood for us is by hand. The way we do it is fast enough to stay on top of the wood stove’s hunger and we only have to split wood once a week. Did I mention we really do enjoy the exercise and relaxation that comes from splitting our own firewood?

Any time you split wood, you should make sure you wear the appropriate safety equipment. This includes safety glasses, earplugs, work boots, and gloves. By working safely, you save time in the long run by avoiding costly injuries easily avoided with the correct safety equipment.

Depending on what you’re cutting, you may have to sharpen your ax once every 3 months. We sharpen ours once every six months. Remember, every time you sharpen an ax you are removing a little bit of steel from the blade. It doesn’t need to be as sharp as a kitchen knife to do the job.

If you’re looking to buy a wood splitting axe or a maul, we would suggest a “wood splitters maul” because of the advantage of the wedged shape. We’ve found it’s much less inclined to stick in the wood when splitting. The steep slope of the maul creates more outward pressure on the wood splitting it better and more efficiently. Wood that splits easily or with little difficulty, can be split faster with the maul which avoids the necessity of using a sledgehammer. Keep your wedges on ready for the knotty and gnarly logs.

Depending on the size of your muscles (it’s hard to find mine), you can go with a six, eight or 10-pound model of the maul. Keep in mind, the velocity of the maul is more important than the mass in producing results. You want the maul head traveling as fast as safely possible when it strikes the wood to produce the biggest results. As you gain experience splitting, you’ll find you don’t have to use all your energy for the best way to split wood properly. If you have to use everything you’ve got to split every piece of wood, you’re either trying to split rounds which are too long for your muscle mass or you’re using a maul or ax that’s too heavy for you. It takes a very strong person to produce the right amount of velocity with a heavy maul to split for any real amount of time. This would be J, not me!

You want the round you’re about to split to be on reasonably hard ground. If the ground is soft, the force of your blow will be absorbed by it instead of the wood and your energy will be wasted. You also want your swing to be level when you make contact with the round.

J found the best way to split wood for him was to build his own chopping block. He took an old tire, eight screws, and four rounds to build his wood splitting platform at the right height. He chose rounds the correct height for him and screwed the tire to them. He then used a strap to keep the unit a little more secure.

The tire holds the round in place as you go around and split it into the desired size. This saves you time and effort since you don’t have to bend over to preposition the wood after almost every strike. The base also stores easy when not in use. He simply takes it apart, splits the base and stores the tire and screws for next season. You can see it in action on our YouTube channel.

When you’re ready to strike the round, examine it for existing cracks and align yourself with these as your targets. Also, avoid striking where there are any knots or gnarly parts on the round. The most effective strike is to hit near the edge of the round, instead of the center. The round is more likely to crack if you strike it at a 90-degree angle to the growth rings. Once you’ve got the split well started, strike on the opposite side of it to split the round in two. Once a round starts to split, the rest of it will split easier and faster.

Accuracy is something I still struggle a little with, but if you can strike within a quarter-inch of your intended spot, you should be good enough for effective wood splitting. I’ve learned part of my problem is I change my grip in mid strike and that changes the impact. Like I said, I’m still working on it.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and measure the distance to the round. Do this by placing the head of the ax or maul on the round where you want to strike. With your arms fully extended, take about a half a step back. This will give you room to lean forward a little and strike with your arms fully extended. I’m told this adds power to your swing. Make sure you flex your knees and bend slightly at the waist as you swing the maul overhead and keep your focus on your intended strike point. At the very last instant before the maul head strikes the wood, pull it back toward you slightly using your abdominal muscles and legs. This will increase accuracy and make the blow much more effective.

I know it sounds all complicated and likely you’ll find your own way, but we chop all of our wood without back injury or pain using these tips for the best way to split wood. As you can imagine, I’m an occasional wood splitter, J usually does the splitting and I help with the stacking. If you don’t have a wood stove there are many choices available to you from cast iron to soap stone, and even masonry stove plans are available on line now. We like using wood because it’s a renewable energy source. I think there’s just nothing as warm and cozy as a wood fire.

Do you have special tips on the best way to split wood? Please share them in the comments below.

Safe and Happy Journey,

Rhonda and The Pack

The post The Best Way to Split Wood Efficiently appeared first on Countryside Network.

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Buying older farm equipment can be an economical way to get started in the world of farming. Farmers and homesteaders have long been a thrifty bunch, either out of necessity or just on principle. Sometimes they decide to part ways with their farm tools and equipment, which offers others the opportunity to score a deal. The catch is; is it a deal?

Quality

Buying older farm equipment may represent an excellent deal for you, especially if you’re looking for robustly manufactured implements. Many farm stores sell category zero and category one sized implements, but not all of them are all they’re cracked up to be. Most of these implements are enthusiast grade, which is the new term for economy grade. If you’re looking for commercial grade farming implements, then buying older farm equipment is likely a good idea.

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Size

Many people fall into the trap of finding new, less expensive implements and not evaluating the size of the equipment. If your tractor can handle seven, eight or nine-foot wide implements, it’s best you buy that sized equipment.

Buying less expensive, new equipment that is not as wide may not work as well with your tractor’s track width (measurement of tire sidewall to tire sidewall), or make the job unnecessarily longer. There’s a time difference when you’re cutting a field with a six-foot-wide mower versus an eight-foot-wide mower. If you have acres to mow, those two feet add up in hours.

Buying older farm equipment that is appropriately sized to you instead of impulse buying a cheap, smaller new implement will serve you well in practical use. Purchasing the right sized implement at a used price will keep you in the budget, without sacrificing performance.

Older Farm Equipment

As with everything you intend to buy used, the circumstance in which the equipment is being sold will be a good indicator of how much of a deal is being offered. Is the seller upgrading? Why? Are they getting out of farming? Are they moving? Is it broken? Most farmers won’t part with their precious farm implements without good reason, so be sure you know why. Even in one of these circumstances, there are a few other things you should pay attention to when looking at older farm equipment.

Research

Is this product, or a comparable product still in production? How much does it cost brand new? I’m not a fan of buying used equipment for more than 50 percent of new unless it’s in stellar, like-new condition, or the new stuff is insanely expensive. For instance, if you’re looking at a mower deck that’s all beat up and the seller wants a hundred bucks less than a brand new one costs, it’s not a real deal. Knowing what these things cost brand new will give you a gauge to measure the deal against, and give you some information to leverage when bargaining with the seller.

Inspection

Every piece of older farm equipment has the potential to hide a severe flaw. It’s up to you to look for these significant faults before you hand over your cash. Finding problems may not be a deal breaker because lots of things can be replaced, repaired, welded or modified to suit your needs. Just make sure the estimated cost of those repairs is factored into the sale.

For example; if you buy a used field mower deck for $1,300, which usually costs $1,800, but you need to replace the gearbox for $500 because it ran without oil and seized up, you just paid for a brand new mower but got a beaten and abused one instead. Not such a good deal. Make sure you know what works and what doesn’t before you buy.

Rust

Older farm equipment tends to be neglected and left outside to fend for itself. Rust can be merely cosmetic, or it can be cancerous. Heavy implements like cultivation plows, especially older farm equipment from the 50s and earlier, are usually made of some thick, high-quality steel. A rusty patina on an old two-bottom plow is inconsequential, but rot holes in the sheet metal of a field mower are an entirely different story.

Missing Parts

Sometimes older farm equipment is missing parts. Things like tines, cutter blades, wheels, and sodbusters tend to disappear over years of use, either by breakage or removal for specific applications. Be sure you know what parts are supposed to be there because sometimes there’s no tell-tale empty spot or unused bolt hole to give you a hint.

Bearings

Rust and bearings are not friends, but they do know each other way too well. If the older farm equipment you’re looking at has moving parts, make sure they still move. If you need to soak these parts down with a penetrating lubricant to make them spin again, you will probably need to replace the bearings. Make sure you’re not taking on a challenge that’s too much effort to make it a worthy deal since bearings can be difficult to replace on really old implements.

Hoses

Hydraulic hoses are rubber, reinforced with steel cords. They don’t last forever, and they don’t like friction or sunlight. Make sure hydraulic lines haven’t rubbed through down to the steel cords, dry cracked from years in the sun, or been compromised any other way.

If the old farm equipment you’re looking at has bad lines, not all is lost! Many tractor part stores, heavy equipment repair shops, and even some automotive parts stores offer custom hydraulic lines made to order, even on the spot! Remove the lines you need to replace, as intact as possible, and bring them to the shop. Having the original lines to copy makes the process simpler, and lets you compare the new lines to the old. These lines aren’t free, so be sure to calculate the cost of new lines and connectors into your offer price.

Tires

Implement, and small farm tractors have tires that tend to dry crack and flatten when left in the field for years. Unless they are a foam-filled tire or a solid tire, the odds are that you’ll need to replace them if they dry crack enough to deflate, or at least put a tube in them. Tractor tires can be exceptionally expensive, unlike a car or light truck tire, so be sure to look up the cost of replacement before committing to buying the old farm equipment in question.

Rims

Tires that are loaded with calcium chloride usually rust the wheels of old farm equipment. The typical start point for wheel rot is around the tire stem, so be sure the wheels don’t look rusty around the stem hole. If a tractor you’re looking to purchase has wheel rot, be prepared to buy both rear wheels, or all four wheels if the front tires were loaded as well. If one wheel has rusted out, the others are likely not far behind.

Parts Availability

Older farm equipment, especially antique equipment, may not be in production anymore. Manufacturers have likely discontinued production of parts, or that manufacturer has since disappeared entirely. The scarcity of replacement parts for this equipment causes complications when trying to source new parts to repair or replace missing pieces of equipment. Sometimes you can get lucky and find parts from random sellers online, but not always. Before you buy, be sure you can still get the parts you need. Otherwise, you may be stuck reinventing the wheel so to speak.

Saving Money

Sometimes buying older farm equipment makes sense for farming on a shoestring, but you need to spend the time and effort to understand what you’re buying. For simple implements, such as plows, harrows, and some rotary equipment, buying used is a great option, but in my experience, the more complicated the machine is, the less of a deal it usually is. Be sure to fully understand what you’re buying, what repairs it needs before you can use it, and what the local market price is for said equipment.

Have you bought any used equipment that let you down? What pearls of wisdom can you offer a first-time used equipment buyer? Chime in below in the comments!

The post Does Buying Older Farm Equipment Save You Money? appeared first on Countryside Network.

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Some call it a 72-hour kit; others call it a get home bag. List what you need for three days, pack it in a portable container, and stash it in a safe place. If stuff hits the fan, grab it and go. Make your bug out bag list and assemble it before anything can hit the fan.

Really, what could happen? Under what situations would you need to grab a single bag and flee your home? It’s not an impossible scenario. Flooding could chase you to a downtown hotel room. Cars may break down on a long-distance trip. Power outages happen. It doesn’t take an impending apocalypse to make you glad you prepared for three days.

Bug out bag lists may cover different scenarios but they have a single focus: to cover one person’s needs for three days.

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Non-Perishable Food

You’re going to need to eat, and where you’re going may not provide food. Emergency shelters often offer soup, granola bars, or whatever a community provides. Donations don’t cover all dietary conditions. You may be camping or stuck in your vehicle, or may need all your cash to find shelter.

Focus on non-perishable food such as canned goods, protein bars, MREs, and freeze-dried food. Consider weight. Three days’ worth of canned food can get heavy. Also consider water requirements for cereals or freeze-dried food. Find a good balance of both. Also remember to pack what you will eat because you’ll want to replenish your packs, consuming foods before they expire and purchasing new products.

Water

Another obvious addition is the water you must drink. But many people don’t add water to their bug out bag list. Perhaps because it’s so commonplace we don’t think about it? Perhaps because it’s such a pain to carry. But the Department of Homeland Security recommends keeping a gallon of water per person per day. You’ll need it for consumption plus hygiene needs.

In addition to bottled water, have a way to get more. New water filtration systems are small and fit within backpacks or inside plastic bottles. Sawyer water filters are $20, will filter a million gallons, and filter to 0.1 microns because they have a syringe that back-flushes to filter again.

Clothing

Don’t just include clothes. Pack warm clothes that fit you and repack if you change sizes. An emergency is the worst time to wish you had kept a New Year’s Resolution. Fold clothing tightly and store in a zippered plastic bag to keep them dry. To save even more space, vacuum seal them with a Food Saver or similar appliance to remove all the air and make a tight, flat packet. Remember extra socks and underwear. Add shade protection such as a collapsible, wide-brim hat.

Medications

If you can, ask your doctor about purchasing more than a monthly supply so you can keep several days’ worth in your pack. Remember prescriptions, over-the-counter pain or fever-reducing medication, and treatments for upset stomachs. Pack them in a waterproof container.

First Aid Kit

First aid kits should be at the top of your bug out bag list. They’re one of the most important emergency essentials. If you don’t have time to assemble one yourself, purchase a previously made first aid kit that covers most emergencies. Include a bandana or a long strip of muslin to use as a bandage or to make a splint. Antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly can keep away infection and relieve windburn. Don’t forget hand warmers to avoid cold injuries.

Lighting

Whether you’re in the wilderness or a hurricane shelter when the power goes out, you need to be able to see. If you pack a flashlight, store the batteries in a separate waterproof container such as factory packaging, so the batteries don’t corrode. Glow sticks are small and lightweight. Mirrors signal for help. Candles can also produce heat for cooking and to battle hypothermia. A potent lighting source, emergency flares can warn other people away from danger, alert emergency personnel, and light a fire if your matches are wet.

Tools

FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security recommend wrenches to turn off gas lines during natural disasters. Scissors and knives perform functions as simple as opening a bag of food or can cut plastic and paracord to construct a shelter. And don’t forget the plastic and paracord themselves; a lot can fold up in a small space. Include a whistle to signal for help and foil emergency blankets to keep you warm until help arrives. Pair matches, lighters, or magnesium fire starters with combustible material to burn. Don’t forget a non-electric can opener for those cans of food.

If you’re worried about space, pack items with multiple uses. Or consider items that fold up into small spaces. A very basic survival gear list can include a black plastic garbage bag, a folding knife, paracord, waterproof matches, an emergency blanket, and cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly. This can all pack into a space of four inches by four inches.

Photo by Shelley DeDauw

Sanitation Items

No matter where you end up in an emergency, sanitation is an important and rarely considered factor. Until it happens. Bad sanitation can make you sick…or, at least, very uncomfortable.

Include moist towelettes, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, garbage bags and plastic ties for waste disposal. A washcloth can be used again and again. Remember feminine products and diapers, if you have women or small children in your family.

Entertainment

Boredom can be your downfall, especially when you’re stuck in a situation where you can’t go anywhere or do anything but keep warm. Pack a deck of cards or a good book. Perhaps a couple small travel games for the kids.

Ways to Communicate

Older bug out bag lists recommend hand-crank radios or small FM radios with extra batteries. Modern times may dictate extra cell phone batteries or solar chargers. And don’t just pack the necessary technology. Make a list of the names and addresses of your family members and friends, in case you seek help…or they do.

Money

Few emergency situations will be the result of economic collapse. The more possible scenarios are a quick retreat to a hotel. Or a stolen wallet on a family vacation, including all your credit cards. Try to anticipate your needs for three days: food, lodging, gasoline, automobile repairs, train tickets, and supplies you may not have packed. Prepaid credit cards or phone cards may help, but cash is accepted in most places you’ll go.

Important Documents

Birth certificates, social security cards, bank account information, medical information, and address books fit in portable containers. Fireproof, locking boxes add more security. Keep those valuable documents in the same area so you can grab it and go, with the key on your key ring, if a fire breaks out or your house floods.

A Bag for Each Family Member

One bag cares for one person. Pack a separate bag for each member of your household. Remember diapers and extra clothing for small children, medications and other special needs for older or disabled parents. Do you have an Epi-pen for the daughter with the bee allergy? A written list of medications or special needs for a non-verbal sibling, in case you get separated or can’t act as an advocate? Place all these bags in the same location so you don’t have to hunt for them if an emergency occurs.

Remember Your Pets

If you have to evacuate, where will your dog go? Pack a bag for him, too, including food, water, collapsible dishes, and ways to dispose of his waste. Here’s a good first aid kit list contents and their uses for animals.

Consider the Possibilities

Just what circumstances might require you to leave your home? It might not be a natural disaster at all. Perhaps you just learned that a family member is in a dangerous environment and you need to help her escape. Whether the situation may be winter weather, earthquake, car trouble, locations with no sewage facilities, or other unforeseen events, try to build your bug out bag list to accommodate as many as possible.

Maintaining Your Kit

A common error after building bug out bag lists is setting the bags in storage and forgetting about them. Food expires. Medications change. Children grow.

Cycle your food regularly, purchasing items you enjoy eating so they won’t go to waste when you replace them with fresh stock. Store food in secure containers to keep pests out. Throw out canned goods that are swollen, dented, or corroded. As you use your medications, replace old pills in your kit with new ones from a recently filled prescription. Check clothing sizes. A warm shirt you’re simply tired of wearing can easily replace a sweater that is now too small.

For more information on bug out bag lists and what to include for your family’s emergency needs, visit trusted sites like the Department of Homeland Security’s page Ready.gov.

The post A Complete Bug Out Bag List appeared first on Countryside Network.

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by Mike Kloster, President of Worksaver, Inc. – Farmer Tom Justison recently bought a Sweep Action Rock Grapple (SARG) from Worksaver, Inc. to use on his family farm in Montgomery County, Illinois. The Justison farm is several thousand acres with a production ratio of 60 percent corn, 30 percent beans and 10 percent wheat. They also raise a few head of cattle and several goats, primarily to support 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) activities. Truly a family farm, the land is worked by Justison, his wife Pam, and their son Tommy, along with Justison’s brother David, his wife Lana, and their son and two daughters.

Justison utilizes equipment on his farm from John Deere®, Case IH, Kubota, and New Holland. The SARG is the second Worksaver grapple he has purchased. It joins a model SSGR-262 grapple for his skid steers. Until this past year, Justison taught as part of an agricultural program at a small school in Illinois. He saw Worksaver’s new Sweep Action Rock Grapple while on a field trip with his agricultural students at the company’s manufacturing facility in Litchfield, Illinois.

Designed for skid steer loaders, the SARG handles rocks, brush, logs, stumps, debris, scraps, and other materials; it is three tools in one.

After seeing the SARG demonstration, Justison found further information about it on the company’s website which helped with his decision to purchase a 72” Sweep Action Rock Grapple for his farm. “I have a grapple from Worksaver,” said Justison, “but the SARG has a feature with the tines where you can sort out the soil or dirt from the rock and roots. And it has a flexible clamp system that allows you to pick up items of different size.”

There is not another grapple built like it on the market today. Designed for skid steer loaders, the SARG handles rocks, brush, logs, stumps, debris, scraps, and other materials; it is three tools in one. The grapples operate in a sweeping action to pull rocks or debris into the bucket much like a thumb, holding the rocks or debris in the bucket while the dirt and soil is left behind. The grapples work independently of each other, allowing the SARG to securely clamp loads that are uneven.

Since purchasing, Justison has used his SARG for several jobs including picking up limbs, brush, and trash. “It’s on our skid steer loader almost 60 percent of the time because it’s just so versatile,” he said. “And it has good visibility. Visibility is very important for safety and safety is a big thing.”

Since purchasing, Justison has used his SARG for several jobs including picking up limbs, brush, and trash.

Justison also found it is a time saver when picking up roots while they were cleaning out fence rows. Instead of picking up the roots by hand, the SARG can be moved along the ground to gather up the roots, while leaving the dirt behind. “This grapple works very, very well and it’s quite a labor-saver,” Justison said. “You can save your back and at the same time have a safe operation of the skid loader. It’s a well-designed piece of equipment.”

The Sweep Action Rock Grapple has consistently delivered high performance for Tom Justison and his family’s farm, providing an easy and efficient way to handle large and small debris with a single attachment. “It’s very user friendly. We’ve had no mechanical difficulties with it or any failures. It’s worked out very well,” Justison said.

Worksaver, Inc. is a manufacturer of agricultural, industrial, commercial, and construction equipment for a variety of applications for property owners, farmers, ranchers, contractors, and many others. A variety of equipment is able to fit skid steers and front loaders and tractors.

SARG - Sweep Action Rock Grapple from Worksaver - YouTube

The views expressed herein are those of the sponsor; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Countryside Publications.

The post Illinois Farmer Finds Labor Savings and Versatility with Skid Steer Grapple appeared first on Countryside Network.

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Is there a best way to loosen rusted parts on the farm? I’m sure there is, but I’m more inclined to say; there’s the best way for each situation. Farmers and homesteaders, out of sheer necessity, work on some old, rusty farm tools and equipment. Sometimes you want to restore an old implement, sometimes the device you want to buy is no longer available new from the factory, and sometimes you need to make due with what you’ve got. In any case, there’s an old mechanic’s trick that can help you.

Rusty Stuff

I’ve been fixing old rusty stuff since I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are of dad and me working on the old Oliver/White tractor he used to own. It was a definite learning experience and a test of patience, mostly for my father. I had no patience to test, but then again, I was just a kid.

Some days, it would look like there was a rusted bolt or nut at every turn. Every project seemed to take five times as long as it should have, but dad taught me a few tricks along the way.

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Best Way to Loosen Rusted Parts

Patience alone may be the best way to loosen rusted parts since no matter what method you want to use, you need to use some degree of patience with it. Moving too fast, trying too hard, or being impatient either resulted in bloody knuckles, broken bolts or tweaked back muscles. None of which were particularly useful.

Planning Ahead

Penetrating lubricants such as PB Blaster take time to work, and the more time you let it work, the better. When I started working on stuff myself, I broke plenty of bolts, sockets and, possibly, brain cells. I’ve since learned the fine art of soaking my rusty parts.

Let it Soak

After having a breaker bar knock me in the skull one too many times, I started letting the rusty stuff soak in penetrating lubricant. An hour made a difference, but on the real rusty bolts, I’d spray it down every day for a week. If the part was going to give up under the persistence of penetrating oil, it would after a week. If it didn’t after a week, then I deemed it acceptable to up the stakes.

Penetrating lubricants and rust eliminators work of some tough stuff, when given the time to work. Be sure to read the instructions carefully!

Leverage is King

Sometimes, even though you’ve soaked a bolt for a week, it just needs a little more convincing. If a socket and ratchet or wrench don’t budge the offending part, adding torque to the equation may be the solution you need.

Breaker bars are a long steel bar with a swivel attachment that fits a socket. These bars are meant to give you a greater mechanical advantage on a bolt or nut so you can “break” it loose. Hence the name “breaker bar.”

Cheater

Using a cheater bar is dangerous, but effective. I’m not about to say that cheater bars are the absolute best way to loosen rusted parts, but they’ve saved my bacon a few times.

Cheater bars can be any old tubular steel. I keep a few lengths of old pipe of varying length and diameter, which in a pinch, can be used to extend a breaker bar. The longer the bar, or the farther away from the socket you hold that pipe, the more leverage you can exert. Use it sparingly, because impossibly stuck bolts have been known to break loose with the slightest input when using a long cheater bar.

Downside of Cheating

Using a cheater bar can be dangerous, so be sure everyone is good and clear of the offending part. Wear your goggles too, because sometimes things don’t go as planned.

When you over torque a socket, it can shatter or crack when it fails. Doing this to a regular socket is asking for danger, so I suggest keeping a cheap set of impact grade sockets for dangerous duty. I say cheap because you’ll be angry if you break an expensive one.

Broken Bolts

The other risk you run while using a cheater bar is possibly snapping off the bolt or stud. If the bolt is in a blind hole (threaded into a tapped hole instead of a nut on the other side), cheater bars are a dangerous game. If you’re lucky, the threaded stub left behind after a bolt snaps won’t sit flush with the surface it was bolted.

Welder to the Rescue

If you do have a bit of stud sitting above the surface, screwing a new nut on and welding it to the stub from inside the nut gives you a new chance to win the fight. Even a beginner welder should be able to pull off this simple task. Be sure you give everything time to cool off before trying your luck again.

Drill and Tap

If the welded nut trick won’t work, and the broken bolt is in a blind hole, then you’re stuck. The last resort you have is usually drilling out the bolt and re-tapping the hole. If you’re lucky, you can drill out part of the bolt and use an easy-out device, but I’ve never had much luck with them.

Easy Outs

Easy outs are tools that either grip the inside of a drilled bolt or the outside of a broken bolt or stud. They are useful in rare circumstances, but as I said, I’ve not had good luck with them. Their theory is sound, but in practicality, I haven’t seen much success.

Heat is your friend but use it carefully.

Heat

The more I work on things, the less inclined I am to fiddle with less convincing methods of frozen bolt removal. For me, using an acetylene torch set is the best way to loosen rusted parts, at least most of the time. If a set of torches are not on your farm tools list yet, I suggest you invest in a good one.

Bad Ideas

I’ve never met a bolt, nut, or flange that hasn’t eventually yielded to the proper use of an acetylene torch, however, it’s not always a good idea. When working on truck parts that are close to fuel tanks, struts, or shocks, open flame and indiscriminate heat is a bad idea. Bad things can happen, so try another method.

Torch Theory

If you want to unbolt a stubborn part with heat, be aware that simply heating everything won’t give you the desired result. The nut or whatever metal has the threaded hole is what needs to heat up, not the threaded shaft of the bolt or stud.

Warming a nut or part that something is bolted into expands the hole in which the object is threaded. By expanding this metal, the hole gets ever so slightly larger. By opening this hole up, tolerances are opened and rusty threads will move.

Impact Tools

I’m a fan of impact wrenches, either pneumatic or heavy-duty electric. Many stiff bolts and nuts need a hit from one of these tools to come loose, but they come in handy when heating a nut or bolt. The rhythmic torque pulse has a way of breaking rusty bolts free of their threaded confines easily, especially when heat is applied.

Last Resort

If the rusted offender is just too stubborn, sometimes you need to destroy it to remove it, and then replace it. You could spend hours fighting some bolts, but in the end, if there’s no need to save the bolt or extract the bolt from a part, cutting it may be the most reasonable answer.

There are devices meant to split metal nuts, but I haven’t had great luck with them. Cutting wheels on a grinder, a reciprocating saw, or a good old torch set may be your best bet.

Do you have some other tricks up your sleeve? What do you think is the best way to loosen rusted parts? Let us know in the comments below!

The post The Best Way to Loosen Rusted Parts appeared first on Countryside Network.

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Are you thinking of moving to an off-the-grid home? Ever wonder what it would be like to live off grid? Come spend the day with me. Hopefully, you’ll get be able to decide if you want to be off grid and exactly how far off grid you want to go.

Yes, there are varying degrees off grid living. My husband and I are living in the cabin of our dearest friends. There’s no running water, no plumbing, and no electric. We lovingly call their solar-powered home “The Big House.” How many questions are running through your head? “How do they?” is how I bet they all start.

Like most other homesteaders we rise early. For us it’s 3:00 a.m. J leaves for work at 3:30, so I’m up getting the coffee warm and the fire started. Even though the daytime highs are in the 70s here in the Panhandle of Idaho in April (as I’m writing this article), the night temps are still in the 30s to 40s. This makes a fire to chase off the chill of the night necessary.

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We have a wood heater in the cabin. We use it for heat and in place of a wood-burning cook stove. In the winter, I keep the fire burning all day. My Southern blood has not acclimated, and I require a fire on days when my friends let theirs die! When there’s a fire in the heater, breakfast and supper are cooked on it.

Now that it’s warmer, I feed the flames until around 11 a.m. then let it die out. If beans or peas, anything that needs a while to cook, is on the menu that day, I put them on to cook when J leaves for work and let them cook as long as the stove is hot.

Back to my morning … after putting on warm socks, the first thing I do is light the lamp. The propane camping stove is lit to heat the coffee. Who wants to wait for their first cup? While the coffee heats, I build a fire in the stove. J rises early on the weekends and builds the fire for me. I use a battery-operated headlamp to see into the wood heater to build the fire. The Pack is looking at me wanting some morning pats and a blanket until the cabin is warm.

Since moist air heats faster and holds heat longer, we keep a cast iron kettle on the wood heater. Part of building the fire is checking to be sure there’s adequate water in the kettle. Once J leaves, I make the bed by lamplight and straighten that side of the cabin.

To conserve lamp oil, I turn on my headlamp and blow out the lamp. With a boiling cup of coffee, I like mine hot, I make my way to the couch. Not before tending the fire once more.

I check the weather, read emails and respond, check social media comments and take a look at my to-do list for the day. If you’ve read my articles then you know I’m a list maker and follower! Now, I’ve got an idea of what faces me later in the day. I enjoy coffee, watch a video or two and snuggle with the Pack until the cabin is warm. It’s usually around 5 a.m. by this time so the fire gets tended, again.

The lamp is relit and I sweep the cabin. Depending on what I’m having for breakfast, I start preparing it. Everything takes longer in this lifestyle…everything! The water to wash and rinse dishes is put on the wood stove for heating. I only wash dishes once a day. I don’t usually wash dishes at night, I put them in the pre-rinse water (the rinsing water from the day before) and let them sit overnight. This saves water.

After washing the dishes, stretching and breakfast it’s time to get to work. Working from the cabin is possible because of a small gasoline-powered generator my husband bought for me. With it, I’m able to charge my computer, phone and iPad.

We get internet signal from The Big House. Without this blessing, we’d be unable to communicate with the boys or anyone else. In the wilderness, there is no cell phone coverage. We use Google Hangouts as our phone service because it works over the internet. While it can be challenging, it is workable, most days.

Everything in life comes with pros and cons. We each have to decide what we want to be able to live the lifestyle we choose and go from there. We get our water from The Big House by filling 5-gallon buckets. We fill two or three buckets every 2-3 days depending on the weather.

If it’s going to be sunny or bright for a few days we’ll get a bucket every day. This keeps us in supply and doesn’t make for such a chore. If it’s going to be rainy or “gray” as we say, we fill up all three buckets on the brightest day before the clouds set in. This keeps us from placing a drain on the solar power at The Big House.

Going to the outhouse multiple times a day can be a little inconvenient, but it does give me pause to stretch when I’ve been sitting at the computer for too long. Now I know what you ladies are wondering what I do at night; I use a chamber pot. You can find them at antique stores, online, and flea markets, but I use a simple one … a bucket with a lid. Yes, it has to be emptied every morning, but it’s better than going to the outhouse when it’s -4 degrees outside or pitch black!

On cloudy or stormy days, the lamps are lit longer. This means the chimneys of the lamps must be cleaned at least every other day to every 3 days. I use vinegar water to do this with old newspaper or brown paper bags. Trimming the wicks is done whenever I clean the chimneys or fill the lamps with oil.

Since we only eat two meals a day, I don’t have to pause to fix lunch. Cooking in this off-grid setting requires forethought and planning. At the end of every day I plan the next day using Nozbe, my list keeper. I think about the meal for the following day and determine if anything needs soaking overnight and what time I should start each thing the next day. Depending on how long or if a fire will be going in the wood stove, I plan the evening meal.

We have enjoyed whole food cooking for years so this isn’t new to me. Whole food cooking requires planning and forethought, but the rewards are worth it. Of course being off grid doesn’t mean going without processed, easy-to-prepare items. Doing without these was a conscious choice we made when we removed GMOs and processed foods from our lives years ago. What would be the point of going off grid if you still wanted to hold on to all the conveniences of the on grid world.

On laundry days, I have three options. I’m offered the use of the washing machine at The Big House, but we opt to not use it unless necessary. Why? Because they run on solar, cloudy days cut in to what they need washed, not to mention the wear and tear on their machine. I can and do hand wash when I need to. On Saturdays, we carry our laundry to the laundry mat. This can be expensive, but we combine other errands and only take what I can’t get as clean with hand washing.

To wash clothes by hand, I pretty much do what I do for washing dishes. I heat the water on the stove, add the clothes and let them soak. Scrub-a-dub-dub while the rinse water is heating. Dunk, rinse and squeeze to hang on the line. The inside line is used on wet or cold days since the stove is going and the heat helps dry them. Sunny days, they get the outside line. Since spring is officially here, I leave the door and window open during the day to air out the cabin and let in more light.

Another question I get is about shopping out here. It is different. There’s no such thing as a quick trip for us. If we just run to the post office and back, it’s at least 40 minutes. To go in to the nearest town for other errands is a 35-minute trip one way. We combine our trips to save fuel and time.

Most of our shopping is done online. UPS delivers to the local merchandise store and FedEx delivers to the local post office. We check the tracking numbers and make a trip in to get them. We place our orders so they arrive within a day or two of each other. This allows us to make only one trip, if at all possible.

As the cabin is set back in the trees, the natural light fades fast in the evening so the lamps are lit for finishing up supper, preparing J’s food box for the next morning, and bathing. Bathing is another challenge when you live in an off the grid home like this one.

We use the shower at The Big House, but not every day. On the days we don’t shower, we take what we call a Granny Brown bath. We heat the water on the stove and take turns washing “all of our importants,” as Granny would say. Because we’ve charged the iPad during the day and we’re blessed to have access to the internet, we can watch something online before bed, if we choose to.

We set the wind up alarm clock along with the alarm on our phones, just in case the battery runs down. You never know about these phones sometimes. The lamps are blown out and we get to bed between 6:30-7:00 p.m. each night.

Now this isn’t a typical day for just any off gridder, this is a typical day for me. There are many people who live in an off the grid home who are so far off grid they have no power source, no generator, no computer, no phones. They’ve made a lifestyle choice, just as we all do.

There are many people who live off grid with solar, wind, hydro, generator and any combination of these power sources. The definition of off the grid is simply not being tied to any public works or utilities. That’s it. There are different degrees of living off grid as there are different degrees of homesteading. Life is relative to you and your journey, your choices.

Decide what you want, how far off grid you want to go and take steps to get there. You may want to take baby steps and adjust as you learn how to live off the grid. As someone who went from on grid life to an off the grid home over night, I can tell you, it’s a challenge.

The biggest challenge for me was learning to live without electric lights and running water. I hardly miss the lights at all now. Running water is still a challenge for me. Hauling water, keeping track of how much you use, how you use and when you use the water requires a total mindset change from simply turning on the tap with no thought to the sun, weather or how much is going down the drain.

Am I happy with this lifestyle? Yes, there’s a freedom attached to it which cannot be understood unless you experience it. When we’re on our own homesteading land will we be off grid? Yes. We will hopefully have running water. I will feel like a queen. We’ll have to decide between solar, wind, hydro, generator or the combo that’s right for our location. Being tied to the grid is something we just don’t want on our homestead.

Is there still an outhouse in my future? Who knows!

Do you live in an off-the-grid home? How far off grid are you? Please share your tips and experiences with us.

Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack

The post A Day in My Life in an Off-The-Grid Home appeared first on Countryside Network.

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Flammable materials are abundant on every farm and homestead. Barn and coop fires are an unfortunately common issue, but there are a few critical things we can do to avoid a catastrophe.

For more than 15 years I’ve been serving my community as a volunteer firefighter, and over those last 15 years, I’ve seen a few too many farm fires. Fire preparedness is something that I take seriously on my farm, and I’ve unconsciously formed a few basic ground rules for managing flammable materials and the risk of fire.

Flammable Materials

Let’s first identify the materials in question here. There are the obvious fuels such as gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and propane, but there’s more. Most paint products, such as paint thinner and mineral spirits are also highly flammable. Many automotive fluids are flammable, and so are many products used in wood finishing. Don’t forget those cans of brake cleaner, WD-40, or all those other cans of ethyl-methyl bad stuff. All these and more can be found at nearly every farm, yours included.

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Farming Specific Flammables

How about the more natural flammable materials? Grain dust is known to be dangerous in silos, and hay fires can spell disaster in so many ways. Staw, wood shavings, and other bedding material, albeit not as volatile as, say, gasoline, is still something that can contribute to a barn fire.

Tragedy

The most tragic fires I’ve seen include attached structures and livestock areas. Many old farms in New England have barns attached to the farm residence. The reasoning was, farmers could walk from house to barn and back while avoiding the snow and rain. It’s a solid theory, but when a fire takes the barn, it destroys the home too.

Additionally, most old livestock barns have haylofts above the livestock. This is quite convenient, but when that hay went up in flames, so did everything else. Most barn fires I’ve been to resulted in lost livestock, usually horses, lamas, sheep, and chickens. Barn cats are another unfortunate loss we usually see.

Flammable liquids and compressed fuel gas, such as propane, really complicate structure fires. If these materials become part of the fire, they accelerate the fire and present explosive hazards.

Isolation

If you’re building on your farm and are not already committed to specific structures, here are a few thoughts to consider. You can mitigate the risk of losing everything in a disastrous fire by isolating flammable materials, preferably in separate structures.

Hay

Having a hay barn separate from your livestock barn is desirable, instead of having hay storage inside your livestock barn. Dry hay will make a small fire into an uncontrollable blaze quickly.

Don’t forget that hay that has been put away while the core moisture content is too high can cause fires also. Just like how a compost pile will heat up, wet hay will do likewise. The heat these bales produce can slowly build up until it’s so hot that the hay auto-ignites.

Tools and Tractors

Having a separate workshop or shed to store your gas-fueled tools, tractors, and farm trucks is another way to isolate flammable materials from the rest of your farm. If you find yourself in need of a garage, don’t build it as an addition to an existing structure, make it a standalone garage with a distance between your other buildings.

Coop Fires

Are you considering building a chicken coop on the farm? Don’t add it onto an existing barn either. Chicken coop fires have been on the rise in New England, usually caused by electrical fires started by a chicken heat lamp. Either the heat lamp overloads an inadequate circuit, or the bulb heats some flammable materials, such as hay, straw, or shavings, which in turn combust.

Exposures

In firefighting speak, an exposure is a surface, usually of an adjacent structure, that runs the risk of catching fire during a structure fire. When responding to a structure fire in a close suburban area, it’s common to see firefighters wetting down the siding and roofs of neighboring homes. This is to prevent the spread of fire through radiation or flying embers. The closer the structures are to each other, the higher the risk of additional fires. If you’re building a new barn, consider giving yourself some distance between structures to lower the chance of fire spreading from one barn to the next, should the worst happen.

Access

Don’t forget that in the event of a fire, firefighters need to get some rather large trucks to the scene. The easier it is for us to drive up to your barns and other structures, the faster we can put a stop to the fire itself. A quick stop on a structure fire reduces the potential for extension (fire going from the point of origin to another section or structure) and the possibility of fire moving to another structure on your property. Maintaining a large farm road that’s clear of obstructions will help us get to where we need to go.

Containers

Flammable materials need to be treated with caution and adequately contained. Do your best to keep fluids in their original containers, or in approved and labeled containers that are meant to hold the fuel in question. Improper labeling can lead to dangerous mistakes and storage in incompatible containers can cause dangerous situations.

Actual fire cabinets are expensive, but any reasonably tight-closing steel cabinet will still work well to corral all your flammable materials.

Cabinets For Fluids

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires commercial facilities to store their flammable materials, specifically volatile flammable liquids, in specialized cabinets. These storage cabinets are designed to stop your containers of flammable materials from contributing to a fire. The theory being, if there is a fire or flame outside the closed cabinet, the cabinet will isolate your fuels and fluids from becoming part of the problem.

Fire cabinets per OSHA regulation need to seal tightly, have a three-point latch system, be built of a reasonably thick sheet metal, and be fully enclosed. Some cabinets feature an optional vent, meant to be vented outside the building, but OSHA says this is reserved for noxious or toxic fumes and typically not necessary for standard materials.

Practical Application

These flammable material cabinets can be prohibitively expensive, but applying the theory of containment isn’t. Any reasonably tight metal cabinet will give you a great place to store flammable materials safely, and guard these containers of volatile fluids from sparks or open flame. If you’re storing things like tool fuel, cleaners, painting solvents, and other such things in a shop or farm garage, consider the use of a steel storage cabinet to contain these volatile fluids.

Farmers and homesteaders have a tendency to overload electrical circuits. Welding equipment such as this MIG welder requires a lot of electricity, so be sure your system is up to the job before using it.

Electrical Fires

Farmers are very much a do-it-yourself sort of crowd. Farmers build their own tools, repair their broken stuff, and build their own barns. If you have the desire and ability to do so, then by all means, build your structures yourself, but hire or consult an electrician.

Faulty or old electrical systems have caused many barn fires in my area, and most were preventable. We tend to ask a lot of our barn’s receptacles, especially when we try to weld with 110-volt equipment, or supply heat to our barn with electricity. Be sure your electrical system is designed to support your intended uses.

Pre-Plan

Every farm, homestead, and home should have a pre-plan. What do you do should the worst happen?  Do you have any fire evacuation procedures for your livestock? Does everyone know how to get out of a building, or where the fire extinguisher is? Is there a fire extinguisher? A solid, written pre-plan is a valuable tool you should create.

Talk To Your Fire Department

Fire departments like to be proactive. We keep a binder of pre-plans in our command vehicles for specific properties which tells us where to pull in, where the closest water source is, and other pertinent things. Ask your local department if they’d like to look at your farm, draw a fire department pre-plan, and help you identify fire threats you may not have thought of. It’s an excellent conversation to have now before anything should happen.

Any of these tips hit home for you? Did I give you some food for thought? If so, tell us all about it in the comments below!

The post Flammable Materials on the Farm appeared first on Countryside Network.

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