9 Rules For Prioritizing On The Homestead

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Let me tell you, when it comes to creating a daily To Do list on the homestead, well…. Don’t. Personally, I’m a list maker. I make them for everything. Chores, books to read, groceries, ideas for blog posts. Even on down to things that made me happy that day. But when it comes to prioritizing on a homestead, keeping to a list is like trying to get ice water in Hell.

A working homestead is like a living, breathing entity. Weekly goals change daily, and daily goals change by the minute. I might get up in the morning thinking I’ll spend sometime chopping wood, only to find that the rabbits poo needs scooped and the compost needs turned and the chickens need watered and a water run needs made and… To survive on a homestead requires a lot flexibility in the day to day. Because of this, prioritizing tasks means a lot of shuffling things around as the day goes on!

Here are 9 rules to help decide what takes priority on the homestead today:

1. If there is any likelihood you could die because this chore isn’t done today, do it!

We just came across an issue that fits into this category today. Went to go outside to do morning rounds, as per usual. Then the door knob fell off! It’s bear season, and they are curious so having a door that shuts and locks is a must, especially when you need a little time to get to a gun.  These are things that need to happen N-O-W.

2. If there is a good possibility of being hurt by putting off a task, don’t put that task off.

If there is a tree leaning towards your house and a windstorm blowing in tomorrow, the tree better come down today for everyone’s safety. Also, sharp points on a gate? Don’t wait until you (or your wife) get cut on it to file them down. We need to be healthy to keep up with all this work!

3. If animals might die if the chore isn’t done asap, do the damn chore.

Making sure everyone has food and water is an every day, if not twice (or thrice), a day chore. Same goes for checking in on sick critters. Another chore that keeps animals alive is cleaning up anything they could seriously harm themselves with. For example, things like spilled chemicals or left out project tools could easily turn into a tragedy.

4. Will animals be hurt if the project isn’t completed right away? Better do it.

It doesn’t matter how much you hate fixing fencing, protecting animals that provide for you should be pretty high up on on that non-existent To Do list.

5. If your future food security will be effected by not completing a chore quickly, then it better get done.

If the garden will die because the irrigation didn’t get fixed today, then the irrigation had better get fixed!

6. If the food security of your livestock could be at risk, do a rain check on another task and hop to.

Because we have a very short window for growing crops here in Alaska, we need to make sure pastures and animal gardens get planted in time. We want those fat, happy animals (and fat, happy wallets from not purchasing our feed).

7. Is your quality of life affected by not completing the task? Just do it.

Sure, water pooled around the front door isn’t going to kill you, but wet feet and muddy floors are a nuisance. Better find that leaky pipe or dig a new drainage ditch or haul in gravel for a porch pad.

8. Will your livestock’s quality of life be affected by putting off this chore? Don’t put it off!

This falls under “Is there poop right next to the food dish, or in the water bucket?” a lot here. Especially with chickens. In fact, part of homesteading for us is knowing our food comes from happy, healthy animals. Making sure they have clean pens is a must for that.

9. If you’ll be in a bad mood for the rest of the day because you didn’t get to this project, make sure you have time for it!

Yes, homesteading is hard work, but we are out here because we love it. Kyle and I are pretty good at accepting when tasks don’t get finished the day we plan on it. At the same time, there are only so many times a chore can be pushed before I’m grumpy about it! Luckily our project season has 20 hours of sunlight a day, which makes for plenty of time to get things done.

I hope this list is as helpful to you as it is to me! (See, what’d I tell you about my penchant for list making?!)

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How To Hack A Chicken Killing Dog

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Anyone who has chickens and dogs at the same time knows the anxiety that goes with introducing the two. Our dog, Link, killed 15 of our birds the first time he was ever trusted alone around them. Now he is left alone with them regularly and hasn’t touched one since. How did we manage this? By hacking Link! So no more chicken killing from him. Now we have a new rescue husky, Laska, and unfortunately she killed a chicken the first time she managed to catch one. We used the same trick on her, and two days later she ignores the chickens when they walk up to her.

How did we manage this?

We used an old farmers trick for dealing with dogs that are chicken killers. I’m not sure where I first heard about this, but I’ve used is successfully on three dogs now.  And each of the dogs I’ve used it on has been a breed with a high prey drive. That leaves me fairly confidant that it will work on most dogs.

There are a few important details about how this dog hack works to get the fastest results. The biggest downside is that the dog in question has to kill a chicken. I would never suggest giving a dog an animal to kill as part of training it. However, if a dog kills a chicken and I want to prevent it from happening again, this is the training method I use. I suppose you could use a bird killed by another animal or that’d died of old age, but I can’t be sure it would be as effective. I’ve also never tried this method with any animal besides a chicken, but I assume it would work for other small farm game.

For best results, be sure to use this method the first time the dog kills a chicken.

When the dog is caught having killed a chicken, immediately scold the dog. This can be done in whatever training manner you apply to other training. Then take the dog and separate it from other dogs, placing it on a lead or in a kennel. Now comes important part number one: Make it so the dog can’t escape the dead chicken. I’ve done this on a lead by attaching the chicken to the dogs collar, or by placing the carcass inside the kennel with the dog. I’ve never had a dog attempt to eat the dead chicken after being scolded for killing it. Afterwards, leave the dog and dead bird in close proximity for at least 24 hours, and up to three days.

I’ve had dogs that have learned after a day, and others I wouldn’t trust to learn in less than 3 days. Use your best judgement with your dog on how long it needs.

Important part number 2: The only attention the dog should be given during this time is receiving food and water (and potty breaks if they are kenneled). Any whining, crying or puppy dog eyes should be thoroughly ignored. The less you can interact with the dog during this time, the better. Once the time is up, remove and dispose of the dead bird. Give the dog lots of praise for not eating the bird, and a bath. Then he should be ready for supervised interaction with chickens. A corrective training collar can help with piece of mind during the reintroduction process, though I haven’t found it necessary. After a week of supervision, I usually feel confidant about leaving the dog alone with the chickens.

Ronan and #agentj hanging out.

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I’m not entirely sure why this works, but I’ve never had more than an ear perk in the direction of noisy chickens after using this method. One dog would even get up and move if the chickens came near him! This is the only method I’ve ever found that works for retraining chicken killing dogs. I have no doubt that using this hack on my dogs has saved me a lot of heartache and flock losses. I hope you never need to use this technique!

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Dealing With Isolation And Alaskan Winters

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One thing about living off grid and off road is the isolation factor. I never thought of this as a problem before, in fact I considered it a benefit in our move! When we lived in town, our door was never answered if Kyle wasn’t home. Part of our moving this far was to get away from the noise and distraction of city life. It is completely different out here though. With so little human noise, we are always glad to have guests. There are also only two reasons for people to knock on our door; either they own a cabin in the area and know (or want to know) us, or they have an emergency. In either case I am happy to answer the door here.

It probably helps that there is no pretending you aren’t home in 300 square feet with smoke pouring out of the chimney!


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That time neighbors gifted us salmon so we could have a real meal at home.

I think Kyle and I are a lot more excited to see people with so much time between visits. There have been times where a month has passed without seeing anyone. I personally run more introvert than extrovert, so I definitely need space to recharge after hanging out. It also makes a difference that we live in a cabin community here. Everyone is always looking out for each other, so there is a need to know who the neighbors are. People help each other when stuck on the trail, or by dropping off groceries, or hauling loads back here. Everyone has been in a pinch a time or two, so it helps knowing there are people around that can be depended upon. Helping people out is a good way to meet the neighborhood too.

Most cabin owners in this area are seasonal, so we haven’t had much company this winter. We do have a few friends we see in town, and a few others who stop by every time they are out this way. What we are really missing though is our families. We just recently found the show Alaska: The Last Frontier and are really enjoying it. They have several generations of family homesteading, and it’s obvious how much they lean on each other. The also live on the peninsula and live by the tides. Its fun watching people so similar to us, but it does drive home how alone we are. It would be really nice to have full time neighbors, or family or friends that lived out here.

Our closest full time neighbors are 11 miles away, off road. That makes it a little hard to run over and borrow some sugar!


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That time neighbors gifted us a beach fire when they moved on by 4 wheeler and we had to wait out the tide to take our truck.

The long, dark days of Alaskan winters only add to the feeling of isolation. On our shortest days we only got 5 hours of light. This means a lot of time spent inside, which is probably why everyone is asking us if we have cabin fever. Luckily we have the internet, and winter gave us time to catch up on all our shows that we missed while working on our homestead this summer. Along with video games, we also have been doing a lot of research to prepare for summer. Especially research regarding raising pigs and dealing with bears. Hungry bears around the homestead is not something I’m excited for. We also have our daughter to hang out with. Watching her learn new things is endlessly entertaining!

Spending that much time in the dark has been quite the change for us. Not only did we have more light in Washington winters, but the summer days are so long it makes the winter seem worse. Now I under stand why things like Happy Lamps exist. It’s also hard to make any progress on our homestead when there is so little day light. Outdoor chores are slow to be done this time of year. Sometimes the constant darkness does wear a little bit, so we take “family days” as often as we need.

There was no rush once we had shelter, firewood, food  and water needs met. Although sometimes it’s a chore in itself convincing Kyle he doesn’t need to push himself so hard. Come spring there will be plenty of time for rushing around to finish projects. It feels like winter is spent waiting for spring and outdoor chores again! Indoor projects are something I want to prepare more for next winter. This year we didn’t really have time to harvest any materials for crafting over winter. We spent all our time in a mad dash to finish our home before snow fell.


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That time when a neighbor towed us out of quicksand and saved our truck from the tide (the second time!).

The good news is the snow is melting and the birds are back and singing. Pretty soon all our summer friends and neighbors will be back. And with the return of long days there will be lots of homestead projects happening!

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Cooking On A Wood Stove

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Before we moved to Alaska, I had cooked on a wood stove once, for practice. And it wasn’t even good practice either! Our wood stove in Washington was more decorative than for heating or cooking. Coming to Alaska was a huge change, as nearly everything we cook out here is done on the wood stove. We do have a propane stove that gets used occasionally, but I’m not particularly keen on cooking outside in negative temperatures. I’m also a relatively lazy cook. I used to be the queen of ‘lets go out!’ rather than cooking dinner. Because of that I love any fast and easy recipes and love one pot meals. I cook quite a few things in just a 10″ cast iron skillet. I thought I’d throw together some tips and tricks for cooking on a wood stove, as well as a few recipes we use often.

Tips For Cooking On A Wood Stove

  1. Use small pieces of wood when building a fire for cooking. It’s easier to control the temperature that way. Small pieces will light faster, raising the temperature.
  2. Adjust the dampener to quickly change the temperature. Close it down to cool the stove, and open up fully for quick heat.
  3. Keep the fire evenly spread through the stove. That way there won’t be hot and cold spots in the skillet.
  4. Speaking of skillets, use cast iron! Cast iron transfers heat really well, so the food will cook evenly.
  5. Start cooking before hunger sets in. Cooking meals on a wood stove is not a 5 minute task. Waiting until hungry usually means being hungry for another half hour to hour. There is always the possibility of eating while cooking, but that doesn’t work for every meal.

“Quick” Easy Wood Stove Meals

I like fast food, and I’m not really a fan of cooking. Baking on the other hand I love, so I try to throw some baking into most meals. Some of our favorite meals on the homestead include cottage pie, biscuits and gravy, chicken enchiladas and hamburger chili. I’ve included estimated cooking times, but every fire is different. What may take 20 minutes one day could take an hour the next!

Cottage Pie – 30 minutes

This meal includes hamburger, vegetables, brown gravy, garlic, mashed potatoes, shredded cheese, and Italian seasoning. Measurements depend on how many people are being fed (and their appetites!). If I want left overs for two, I use 2 lbs of hamburger, cooked and drained. I then add cooked/canned vegetables. Usually I use corn, carrots, onion, diced potatoes and peas. To this I add one packet of brown gravy (someday I’ll use homemade gravy), garlic and Italian seasoning to taste. After mixing this all together and simmering for a bit, I’ll top the skillet with mashed potatoes and shredded cheese. This is Kyle’s favorite meal out here!

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Biscuits and Gravy – 1 hour

This meal time can be cut if the biscuits are baked ahead of time. I usually make them the morning of, and cook them in our Coleman Camp Oven for soft biscuits, or a cast iron pan for crunchy biscuits. My biscuit recipe calls for 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 stick butter, 3/4 cup milk and a dash of salt. It makes 6 small buscuits and is perfect for 2 people. I mix everything together, then add milk. After baking the biscuits I smother them in country sausage gravy. Add bacon and eggs on the side and breakfast is served!

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Chicken Enchiladas – 20 minutes, make ahead meal

Because Kyle and I don’t have refrigeration most of the year I use canned chicken to make enchiladas. One large can of chicken usually makes 2-3 enchiladas, depending on how full they are stuffed. Added to the chicken is diced onion, cheese and enchilada sauce. I usually make a 10 minute enchilada sauce of chili powder, tomato paste, salt, cumin, onion powder, garlic, oregano, chicken stock and flour. I don’t have any measurements for it, just taste as I go. Store bought enchilada sauce works great too! I place the enchiladas in a heat safe dish and cover them with more enchilada sauce. They can be eaten as soon as they are heated, or left near the wood stove to slowly soak in the flavor. I usually make them right after breakfast so lunch is just serve and eat.

Hamburger Chili – 30 minutes

Another easy favorite of ours is hamburger chili. This is a “one pot” meal. I usually use 2 lbs of hamburger, cooked and drained. Then I throw in diced tomato, corn and black beans. Added to that is garlic, onion, oregano, salt, chili powder and this fiery 5 pepper seasoning. I often bake cornbread for this meal as well.

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Tada! 5 tips, 4 recipes, 3 days of cooking, 2 burns and one perfect meal later and you will be an expert at cooking on a wood stove!

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Living The Off Grid Life As New Parents

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As many of you know, Kyle and I found out I was pregnant before we gave up everything to move to Alaska. Starting a homestead from scratch while pregnant was not easy (post here). We didn’t want to try starting from scratch with a toddler though. Luckily for us, our daughter Bellamy is what I would call an easy baby. She slept through the night nearly from day one, doesn’t have many fussy spells and is easy to comfort. That’s not to say life with a newborn baby on the homestead hasn’t been challenging, especially as new parents.

When you homestead with a baby, everything changes. Good luck getting two person projects done in a timely manner! Especially if the project involves anything loud. By the time you don’t feel the need to nap every time they do, baby will be sleeping less. Babies like attention and distraction, so having both Kyle and I out of the house often leads to yelling to figure out where we are and “why aren’t you playing with me right now!?” from Bellamy. And of course I hate leaving her to cry while working on projects, even if they are necessary.

Speaking of getting things done, sometimes baby needs so much time nothing else happens. Sometimes you need time just for yourself so the dishes pile up and the floor doesn’t get swept. Personally, I was hit pretty hard with postpartum anxiety and was almost completely non-functional for a little while. Let me tell you, spending all day stressing everything is not fun, and there is no way to progress on a homestead like that. Thankfully Kyle is understanding and has been amazing at picking up slack, and giving me slack when I need it. Figuring out what I needed from him took a lot of honest communication and airing of frustrations. Luckily we have always had an amazing relationship when it comes to being open about our wants and needs. Having that foundation has made it a lot easier to ask for space, even living in a tiny house!

(read more about living together in small spaces here)

Learning to be new parents while learning to homestead has thrown some real curve balls, especially since it’s winter. I might be okay outside for an hour at 10 in just a jacket but the baby is not! And since we live off road our access isn’t always reliable, like when we were snowed in for a month. It takes us an hour to get from our homestead to the road in good conditions. And in bad conditions it can take over 2 hours. Bellamy doesn’t go to town unless we can bring the truck back because it’s just to cold! That means one of us (cough cough, me) is nearly always stuck at home. We do live close to an oil connex with a helipad in the event of an emergency though, so that is a little bit reassuring.

That said, there are all kinds of things to worry about with a newborn living where emergency services are delayed. A fever after vaccinations, a bump from rolling off the couch, throwing up an entire jar of banana baby food after having it for the first time….. The list goes on and on. Bellamy is our first child, so we get the extra apprehension that comes from not having experience. Then throw in no running water and dogs dragging home bones from dead things. Sometimes I wish we were doing this back in town where things at least feel safer.

Town would also have one other vital thing that living out here doesn’t: a support system. Living off road means it’s hard to come by a baby sitter on short notice. Or a homestead sitter for that matter! If we get stuck in town (it has been known to happen, like here when I wrecked the 4 wheeler) there’s no one to ask to check on our animals. And if we get stuck on the trail (like we did this time, and this time, and this time), there’s no waiting to flag down help or calling AAA. Luckily we have quite a few numbers for cabin owners here, so if we get stuck on the trail we can call for help. And people out here have been nice enough to come help us when we needed it.

On the plus side:

Homesteading with a newborn has given us some opportunities that we otherwise wouldn’t have. While we are both looking for work, having both of us here in the meantime has been important for our developing relationship as parents. Having a baby has changed our dynamic, and spending time together has given us more time to understand those changes. We are also both enjoying Bellamy experiencing firsts. First times with new foods, toys, and exploring things. There is so much wonder in watching a child discover the world, even if a lot of that discovery involves shoving things in her mouth!

We are so excited to watch Bellamy grow, and we hope she loves living out here as she gets older!

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