Rookie Mistakes We Made As Beginning Homesteaders

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I’ll be the first to admit that when we first started our homesteading journey, we made a lot of rookie mistakes. We spent to much on things we didn’t need. Then we turned around and didn’t buy things we really should have. We skipped around when adding animals, buildings and tools. That is, until we learned to prioritize better. We have learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Starting a homestead from scratch, and building all our own infrastructure, is much harder than I had ever imagined it could be. Hopefully writing this all down will help you avoid a few of the mistakes we made!

Rookie Mistakes We Made As Beginning Homesteaders - Sled Dog Slow

Our biggest rookie mistake was not planning anything.

Sure we had ideas for what we wanted to do, and we wrote things down, but we never really had a set plan. There was no “house goes here, chickens go here, garden goes here” kind of plan. Not until we had already put the chickens too close to the house. So as we expanded we just threw things where it was convenient right then, rather than were we knew we wanted them permanently. If we had planned better we could have saved ourselves from a lot of the other mistakes. A homestead planning binder is necessary to keep everything organized.

Another mistake we made was jumping in to new things without preparing.

We’d get an idea and go for it. More chickens? Heck yeah. Pigs? Lets do it! Greenhouse and garden? Check! And then the inevitable fail. We wanted everything to work and be productive right away. Kyle was so disappointed to find out our chickens wouldn’t lay until the spring after we purchased them. At least we were able to push our pig order back to this summer, and have learned enough to hold off on beehives and other animals until next year.

We didn’t understand the weather in our new area well either.

Personally, coming from a desert area, I didn’t truly understand what living in a rainforest meant until we were hit by our first rainy season here. A little drowned garden and a lot of mud later, know I know how wet it can be! It also helps to know where the low spots collect so we can avoid building there. We also thought we were prepared for long winters, but they are much longer and darker than I could have imagined!

Also, we made the mistake of not budgeting from the beginning.

We have spent so much money on materials for our homestead, when we should have just invested in a saw mill from the beginning. Small purchases can add up really quickly. We should have figured out sooner that just because something is new doesn’t make it better. At least we have a few places we know to go for cheap homestead goods now!

The biggest lesson we’ve learned in starting our homestead from scratch is that it’s okay to go slow.

There is no reason to push to the point of injury to get everything done in one day. Pacing yourself in the endless work (it is endless) of beginning a homestead is extremely important. There should always be a realistic timeline for goals to be completed. This will save so much frustration down the line.

All things aside, we are still learning on our homestead journey. I’m sure there will be many more mistakes and lessons for us in the future!

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How To Hack A Chicken Killing Dog

 

How To Hack A Chicken Killing Dog - SledDogSlow.com

 

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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 her first time around them. 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. My best theory is that dogs associate killing chickens with being ostracized from their “pack”. 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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Why Dog Is (Wo)Man’s Best Friend

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The other day I had the worst experience of my life, and I really think the only reason I made it out okay was our dog, Ronan.

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As anyone following our adventures here or on Facebook knows, I was in a 4 wheeler wreck not to long ago. I immediately went to the ER and checked out fine, I didn’t get knocked out or have a concussion. I even got in to a dentist and had my fractured teeth fixed that same week. Well a few days ago we had made a trip into town to do some shopping and pick up some more chickens. We couldn’t fit everything on the 4 wheeler for the trip home so we left some of our groceries in the truck. The next morning I volunteered to drive the 15 miles by myself to the truck and bring everything else back.

Well a trip that should have taken 2 hours ended up taking me 9 hours. And I never made it to the truck. It seems I suffered an episode of some kind of amnesia (most likely transient global amnesia). I can only remember bits and pieces of Friday morning, and almost none of the rest of the day. I was basically Dory from Finding Nemo, but without being able to remember that I couldn’t remember. I can recall telling Kyle I was taking Ronan with me since I’d be going slow on the beach (we still need to replace a piece on the 4 wheeler from my wreck, so it pulls to the right a bit). I remember being scared and not knowing where I was going or how I got there or why I was alone. There is another access up the bluff between ours and the park where we keep the truck, and I know I stopped there because there were trucks parked at the bottom. I know I walked up that access at least twice, and knocked on the door to at least one cabin. I know I walked inland, away from the beach for a ways and couldn’t recall deciding to go that way, so I followed Ronan back to the beach. I also sat in the trucks and honked the horn in case anyone could hear. Morse code SOS, cause, ya know, the me that knew nothing still remembered that, thank you high school history class. I waited there for a bit, and at another cabin at some point in time because it was familiar to me. At one point I turned on the truck because I couldn’t remember the date and was listening to the radio to know when the tide was. And when they announced the date I immediately forgot, even though I knew they had just said it.

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The whole time I was back and forth on the beach and up and down to the bluff Ronan was with me. In all of my “awake” times I can remember him being with me and just thinking over and over again that I was okay as long as he was there. The only reason I even went home is because I saw Ronan heading that way, so I followed. And he wasn’t even home when I got there! Kyle had to go find him the next day at our friends cabin (where I’d spent some time sitting because it was familiar even though I couldn’t remember why. I was just to scared to move from there for a while).

Of course this would have been scary enough had it happened in town, but having it happen where there was no guarantee of being found was really terrifying. Ronan was the only thing keeping me calm most of the time.

It really was like being completely blacked out and not knowing where I was, how I’d gotten there, or why I was there. I kept thinking even if I found someone I didn’t know how to ask for help, the only thing I could remember was my mom’s cell phone number (which she is NEVER allowed to change now). I didn’t even remember my name or why I needed help at one point, just that I knew I did and that I needed to stay with the dog. All of my memories of the day come from being “awake”, which seemed to happen more often as the day went on. I have almost no memories during daylight but have more and more at dusk and after dark.

Once I got home I knew exactly that that was where I needed to be to be safe, and I recognized Kyle and our daughter (though I refused to hold her because I still wasn’t “me” for a while after). By the next morning I felt fine, and have had no memory lapses since. Hopefully this was a one time thing, potentially caused by stress from the wreck, and never happens again. Luckily Kyle will be home to keep an eye on me until his job starts next month (did I mention he got a job? Yay!).

I did make some strange decisions while I was out of it. For some reason I thought maybe I was out searching for spirit stones so I came home with one in my pocket, and had left another 3 on the beach, which Kyle retrieved the next day. But my boots weren’t muddy so I must have found them on shore somehow. I also came home with a bear spray and tide book that I hadn’t left with, but I must have known it was a good idea to have them so I took them. I’d love to return them, if only I could remember where I had borrowed them from! (Update, figured this out and returned them!) I also came home with an empty tank in the 4 wheeler. It was full when I left, and can go at least 40 miles before it runs out, so I probably drove up and down the beach a lot. And I can remember unbuttoning all my layers down to a tank top multiple times to make sure I wasn’t wearing my boba and I hadn’t lost my daughter. I wasn’t sure if I had really checked all the times I thought I had before!

Amnesia is no joke, and not something I would wish on my worst enemy. Apologies if this post is somewhat jumbled and jumps around. My memories and emotions from that day are still off as well, so this is the best record of my impressions from that day that I can write.

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Anyway, Ronan got lots of petting and treats the next day. If he didn’t directly save my life, he kept me from putting myself in more danger than I already was by keeping me calm and oriented toward the beach and home! Good dog!

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The Great Chicken Massacre

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Unfortunately we arrived home from visiting friends yesterday to find proof of a chicken massacre all over camp. And we knew exactly who the culprit was…

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Have you ever come home to your dog and known he did something wrong while you were gone? They get that look and watch you until you figure out why they look so guilty. Well Link definitely had that look. It’s the “I know I was bad” look. The “I’m sorry I pooped on the kitchen floor” look. Only this time it was the “I’m sorry I killed half your chickens for fun” look.

Link is just one of those dogs that you can’t seem to keep tied up. He has broken out of two heavy duty harnesses, backs out of collars and simple harnesses, and breaks metal leads meant for dogs twice his size! He has also never paid any attention to the chicks except to try and eat their feed. After being introduced to the chicks and told they weren’t his he left them alone. Even when they walked right by him he never looked up. He’s been left unsupervised with them for short periods of time and been fine. So when Kyle and I had to leave yesterday we thought we’d tie up Ronan and leave Link free. That is the most costly mistake we’ve made out here, and we wont be doing it again.

When we came home we found several injured birds, a few slobbered ones, and half of our flock spread around camp deceased. It really was a giant chicken massacre. I was so sad and angry yesterday that I couldn’t even write about it.

And even more bad news is that chick orders are done for the year here. So what we’ve got is what we’ve got for now (except for my roosters which are on back order). I’ll be keeping an eye on craigslist in case anyone is getting rid of any chickens, but I’m not holding my breath that we’ll get more this year.

And as for Link? Now he’s going to have to be kenneled any time we leave, as well as over night. I hate leaving the dogs in kennels for extended periods, but the chickens are our food. And since Link is more predator than protector where they are concerned, he’s failed miserably in his homestead job. So he’ll just have to deal with the kennel until I’ve worked with him enough to trust him with them. Unfortunately that may be never since he flipped from ‘not interested’ to ‘chase and kill’ in one unsupervised day. (Update: We used this training method on Link with the birds he killed and he hasn’t gone near them since!)

Poor chickens. We’re gonna miss you.

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Dogs And Outhouses

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After much online searching I have been able to come up with nothing on how to solve an interesting problem we’ve encountered out here.

Someone….

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is much to interested in the outhouse! So far Ronan has been caught trying to dig under it three times. That really is bad dog behavior. Luckily Link seems to have no interest in the outhouse at all.

We seemed to have weaned him away from doing it for now, but here is what I’d do in the future to keep a dog from getting into an outhouse:

  • Whether building one or moving somewhere that has an outhouse, teach the dog from the start that area is off limits.
  • Discipline as necessary if you catch them digging.
  • Use a product like No Dig in the area directly around the outhouse.
  • Fence off the area if possible.
  • Chain the dog if you have to leave him unsupervised and he’s still interested in the outhouse.
  • Use a deodorizer in the outhouse so there isn’t that much temptation for the dog.
  • Set the outhouse foundation at least a half foot in the ground if able to when building. That way dogs can’t get to the actual hole itself.

And last but not least:

If your dog just will not stay away, or if it seems to be eating a lot of poop (some poop eating is normal dog behavior!), take it to a vet. Sometimes vitamin deficiencies or parasites can cause dogs to seek out excrement to eat.

Good luck!

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