Homestead Mishaps

  • things that have gone wrong on the Homestead

Not everything about homesteading is beautiful and fun. Sometimes there are complications, or problems to deal with. Some of these are relatively mild, several are actually amusing stories, and one so far has been pretty scary. I think it’s important to share these stories, in the hopes that others can be better prepared for them if something similar happens. At the very least, hopefully a few of these stories will make you laugh!

We had a bit of a gross incident a couple months ago. One of our dogs, Loki, found a large, dead turtle that was decomposing and decided that the best course of action was to roll in the putrid goo. For some reason she loves to roll in the stinkiest grossness she can find. Not Thor, thankfully, so we only had to worry about catching and cleaning one dog instead of two. And of course, Loki is the one who hates baths, but she sure as hell was not going to get back into the cabin until the “turtle goo” was gone and she smelled better.

After bathing her, we had to figure out the best way to dispose of the corpse. It was too close to our house to just let nature take it course. It would certainly attract predators, breed flies, smell terrible, and just be plain unsanitary. Not to mention Loki would probably roll in the turtle sludge again the first chance she got. Gross dog. It was so far gone that we didn’t want to move it, even with a pitchfork. I’m sure it would have just fallen apart more. It was very close to the dirt road that borders our property, too. Its possible it was hit by a neighbor’s car or something, before it unfortunately crawled into the tall grass on our property to die. Since it was already too soft to move, we decided to burn it. We ringed it with rocks, like a mini-fire pit. Rocks are easy to come by in the Ozarks. We piled store-bought charcoal on the turtle, but built a little teepee with dried cedar and oak from our property. We took no chances about it burning well.

The fire did its job. It only took about an hour of burning white-hot to completely reduce the turtle corpse to ashes. Nothing was recognizable at all. It was easy to see why ancient peoples considered the element of fire to be a purifying force, not just materially, but spiritually. Living on the homestead is really cool in how it brings me closer to my ancestors and my religion without even trying. Its one thing to understand a concept intellectually, but it is something else entirely to see it in action. We had an unsanitary condition, and we used fire to cleanse it, and it worked wonderfully.

So, that was an “interesting” problem that we had to solve, one that you don’t think about having to deal with at all until you move out here to the boonies. It was something I had not prepared for at all, mentally or otherwise, but we adapted and took care of it. And that’s the most important skill needed for homesteading: adapting and problem-solving.

We recently acquired a Sawyers water filter. It’s this small filter that is screwed onto a 2 liter bottle, like an empty pop bottle. It can filter out anything as small as .2 microns, which means it’ll filter out 99.99999% of all bacteria. What’s really cool is that a red blood cell is .7 microns. You could actually filter the plasma out of blood, theoretically! Although I don’t recommend you drink it, obviously. You can filter 100,000 gallons before you ever need to replace it, too, it’s so pretty dang efficient.

We wanted to try it out, so we went down to the creek that surrounds Cedar Ridge Ranch. Alex parked the truck out of the way of the road, and I took some 2-liter water bottles down to fill up. The creek was only have filled, and it’s very rocky and rough around the edges, so I had to figure how to get down to the water. I carefully climbed down, but I walked out into what looked like solid ground poking out into the creek. I was wrong. The “ground” underneath me crumbled and I fell into the water I was attempting to bottle.

Well, that’s one way to cool off. Worse, one of my legs was up past the the knee in mud. Since I was already soaked, and I figured it might take a while to work my leg free, I just kind of sat down in the mud and continued to fill up the bottles. Luckily this distributed my weight more evenly so I was able to finish filling up the bottles. I then had to throw them to the shore before working my leg back and forth to pull it out of the sucking mud. By the way, the creek was very shallow at this time. I was never in any danger of drowning, although I might have been in danger in of losing my shoe in the mud. Thankfully, I didn’t.

And in case you are wondering, the Sawyer water filter is awesome. It should not be your only way of filtering water, preferably, because it does take a long time if you are doing anything other than drinking directly from the bottle, it takes a lot of squeezing and gets tiring on the hands. But if it is a backup, is great. Its meant for drinking out of that 2 liter bottle, so its a slow drizzle of water that comes out. But it really was the best tasting water I’ve ever had. At $20, I highly recommend it. Hell, I recommend several. Survival kits, hiking backpacks, medical bags and each car you own should have one. ESPECIALLY if you homestead.

One of the other lessons I’ve learned out here has to do with raccoons. Yes, nature’s bandits are not given that nickname just because it looks like they are wearing a mask around their eyes. I still haven’t actually seen them, but boy do I know they are here. I have to use a bungee cord to keep the lid on our trash cans, not to mention the actual trash. But several times they have broken into our truck as well, when we forgot to roll the windows completely up and they smelled something interesting. One time I left a backpack in the truck that had a bunch of granola bars in one of pockets. I’m sure you can tell where this is going. One of the windows was left halfway down. The next morning, the backpack was about 30 feet from the truck. The pocket that had stored the granola bars had a hole chewed through it. And a trail of plastic wrappers led off into the woods. I probably fed an entire raccoon family that night! LOL.

Well, now I should probably discuss the incident that was less of a lighthearted mishap and more of a dangerous emergency. We were lucky that everything turned out alright, but it could have easily gone the other way. It was serious enough that I remember the exact date it happened, which I don’t for the other events.

It happened on June 24th . Sometime around 11 pm or so, I took the dogs out to do their business. I can’t let them run wild anymore, not until we get fencing, because one of them was bothering the neighbor’s chickens. So I take them out on their leashes and put them on a 20foot tie-out. So I went to do this, and at one point Thor jumped into some bushes, going crazy. Not unusual. He did the same thing the day before chasing some frogs. I pulled him away and tied them out until they went potty and then took them back inside. He was acting completely normal. He never even whimpered or yelped. But I realize now that when he had jumped into the bushes had to have been when he was bitten by a snake. And I was only a few feet away, with only a flashlight to see.

It was at least an hour later when we noticed something was wrong. Thor was acting normally, just a little tired, but it was almost midnight and he is usually tired when its that late. But after an hour, his neck had swelled up hideously. It looked and felt like he had a tumor the size of a golf ball in his neck, and he didn’t want us to touch it. He had a weeping sore above his eye. He started to breathe heavily. This was the worst timing for us too, because we are usually broke at the end of the month. We didn’t even have the gas to make it to town because we were waiting to get paid.

We have a friend, someone close to us who we have known for years, who is like a godfather to our dogs. He actually paid the adoption fees for us to get Thor in the first place, as a Christmas gift, several years ago. I knew if we explained what was going on he’d let us borrow the money for the vet bills. And that he wouldn’t mind being called late. I called, and he agreed. If I could find a way to get to town, he’d pay the vet bill. But it was so late, now I had to wait till morning. I wasn’t comfortable waking the neighbors up so late. But I didn’t sleep. All night, I stay up by Thor’s bedside, making sure he could breathe. There was no way I was going to be able to sleep.

As soon as the sun was up, I walked to the neighbor’s house to tell them what had happened and to ask for help. They had a few gallons of gas in a canister, and a few dollars on them, which they lent me. It was community that helped me to get out of this, and community that saved my dog’s life.

At the vet I learned he had actually been bitten twice, first on the neck, and then above the eye. The neck was where all the swelling was, and so most of venom was discharged there. But above the eye was a pus ing sore and when the vet ran his thumb on it, the hide right came off – the second bite point, which I had thought was the only one. I learned that it was most likely a copperhead that had bitten him.

The vet gave him several shots, an anti-inflammatory, an antibiotic, and an anticoagulant. I also got 2 weeks of antibiotic pills to give him twice a day. The vet said that he should be okay as long most of the swelling went down in the next three to five days. Which it did. He was lucky enough not to need a follow up visit.

If you don’t know much about snakebite, you might wonder why Thor need the anticoagulant. The venom causes the blood cells to explode, and that dead blood needed to get out of his body or it would rot inside of him. He bled from his neck for the next several days, and it was black, not red like normal blood, and it smelled foul. I felt terrible for him. When the bleeding finally stopped, I threw away the blanket and pillow he had used because I knew there would just be no cleaning it.

He also needed to rebuild all the blood he had lost, so he had to be fed a lot of protein. He got boiled rice with eggs and hamburger for a while, because that is very easy and mild on a sick dog’s stomach, and it has a lot of protein, which he needed badly. At this time the blackberries were ripe, so I picked those and gave him a bunch too, because they had lots of vitamins and minerals and anti-oxidants.

All he did was sleep. And eat. And pee. He peed a lot. More than he drank, because his body was breaking down the extra fat and muscle he had stored to convert to blood. The side effect of that chemical process is heat and water, so he to go out to pee every hour or so now. He was weak for a long time, for about 2 weeks he didn’t seem like himself at all. If you asked him “Want to go for a ride?” he would still stand up and try to walk to the car, but he was so slow-moving, it looked like each step hurt. It was like he had aged 20 years.

But somehow he made it. I knew he was feeling better when he barked at the neighbor’s goats when we went to check our mail after a few weeks (our mailbox is .6 miles away from our actual house – its more than a mile round trip, so we load the dogs in the truck and they get a short ride every day, which makes them very, very happy). We discourage him barking at the neighbor’s livestock, we are trying to train him not to and to see them as normal. But goats, cows, and horses still get him so excited that he can’t help himself. In fact he’ll get excited and start looking around if you say “cow”.

As I write this, its July 25th, a full month later. The eye is completely healed. The neck just about there. It’s scabbed over several times, grown healthy pink flesh, tightened up, scabbed over again. There is one tiny hole in the very middle left. It was a massive wound, so I’m not surprised it took longer than the eye. You almost can’t tell, but there are going to be a couple places where he most likely isn’t going to grow fur again. Right about the eye, and where the fangs connected on the neck most likely.

So, this is clearly a much more serious note than the other stories I told in this post. But I don’t want you to take it as something depressing. Because it could have been worse. I don’t know what I would have done if he had died. I don’t know if I could have handled it right now. But he didn’t. Thor made it. He’s young and strong, only two and a half years old. I was willingly to humble myself and ask for help, because my dogs are my babies. I was willing to hitchhike to town pulling Thor in a wagon if I had to. But I didn’t have to. You might be half a mile from your neighbors out here, you might not talk to them very often, and only actually only go to a party at their place a couple times a year or something, but they will come through when you need them. Community is a real thing out here. It has to be.


P.S. And yes, snake-proofing our place just rocketed up the priority list for this year’s projects.

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