Hoop Coops

Be warned – this is not a city slicker contraption. This is a real life get-er-done, yes I live in the hills project.

In the Summer of ’14 I moved to my first farm with 31 chickens. And no “real” coop. Instead, I made hoop coops. I don’t make just ANY hoop coop. I made steel and wire hoop fortresses wrapped up in blue tarps. Be warned – this is not a city slicker contraption. This is a real life get-er-done, yes I live in the hills project.

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The coop before the “I saw a bear” renovation. At this point they had survived dogs, raccoons, skunks, and a hawk. Eventually fifty adult birds slept in this coop nightly and free ranged during the day

Ingredients:

Four cattle panels

Five mile high tensile metal electric fencing wire

Bolt cutter

Wire cutters

Baling twine – the orange kind, not grass string (For new homesteaders or farmers – just go ahead and buy a roll – you will need it.)

Hardware cloth or carbon steel expanded sheets (in masonry)

HEAVY gloves

Washers

Two inch dry wall screws – yes I know it’s wood and outside, but you want dry wall screws if you expect this thing to last more than one winter and a bear

Three eight foot pieces of 2×6 pressure treated lumber – look for the yellow tag. This is splurge, but again – if you expect this thing to last more than one winter and a four bobcats get the good stuff

At least two blue tarps, maybe three. I like the 10×16’s from Walmart.

Scrap lumber – short pieces

Some boards for roosts – chickens like to roost on FLAT surfaces.

BIG “L” braces – 8 – If you want this thing to last more than five winters, a pack of dogs, a bear, bobcats, multiple foxes, skunks, raccoons, mainline winds of 60 plus miles per hour, two moves, a devil horse, a demon cow, and being dragged around three farms, get eight braces.

A pinch of insanity for good measure

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I’ve heard hens don’t lay well in these coops. Mine obviously didn’t know better.

Method

The base is eight feet by four feet made from 2×6’s and “l” braces. One L brace inner and outer on the corners. This allows two cattle panels to sit side by side and then be wired together with five mile metal wire along the long end. Forget the hog rings. They’re too much work and you can’t clamp everything as close together. I wired them at every cross. And I mead WIRED them. Make sure your pointy ends are down. You don’t want them catching the tarps. Use the scrap lumber and washers to secure the panels to the base.

Once you have your foundation match your other cattle panels to your open ends. You’ll need to stuff these inside and then wire them to the rest of the frame. Pick an end for your opening and cut out a hole. Remember – YOU need to fit through this opening.

Now the fun begins. Using your hardware cloth or carbon steel sheets cover your master piece making sure all your wire ends are pointed inside. (If you’re from the South you know why I call it a master piece, and not a masterpiece – big difference!) Wire it on along all the cut ends and across the middle in several places. Make a foot wide skirt that extends out along the ground, too, so nothing can dig in. That skirt really is the difference between life and death for your darlings.

Now, cut a piece of cattle panel slightly larger than your door opening and cover it, too. Use plenty of wire to hold it to the coop on one side of your opening. Secure it tight enough that it does not hang loose, but loose enough to swing. Go ahead and wrap it a good five or six times – you don’t want a bear taking it off!

To secure your door you can use a chain and clip, or in my case a chain or two and clip and a big rope tied around the entire coop. Did I mention the bear? After your chickens are wired for sound (the best cell reception on the farm was in the coop) it’s time for the tarps. Get out the baling twine and attach the tarp as only a farmer can. Or use the five mile wire. Either one will work. When you think it’s secure, add some more twine for good measure. In the winter I actually had a second tarp tied up under the first one in front and used a rope around the entire thing to keep the wind from blowing the tarps loose.

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There’s the door. The ropes eventually wrapped around the ENTIRE coop several times.  I use bricks to hold down the edges of the skirt. We eventually expanded into two hoop coops. This coop is still in use. I started with zip ties. They were replaced with wire.

And there you have it – A chicken coop that will hold up to just about anything, including me and the hens.

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Captain Crazy Pants laying an egg on the coop… at least it wasn’t the roof of the house that time

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

The Kind Fibers Family

 

Reason I Preserve Food

I’m currently in the middle of moving half the farm, half a house, a bakery, and still canning the few last fall items before winter sets in here at Serenity. So, today I thought I’d share a few reasons why I take the time to can and preserve food for the winter.

Know Thy Ingredients

I like knowing what I’m eating, where it came from, and how it was grown. Some items I even grow myself. Most years the pear trees produce an abundant amount of fruit. Not the past two years. We’ve had frosts at the wrong time and we’ve lost 100% of our pear, apple, plum, and cherry crops. It’s added to the food costs, and I’m out my cherry cordial. Tomatoes, zucchini, apples, peaches, plums, corn, and lots of other produce arrive from neighboring farms. I know the people who grow my food, what methods they use, their families, and often their hardships and joys. Nothing replaces knowing your food is well grown, and supporting your local economy.

I know everything that goes into my food – sodium, spices, and lack of industrial strength preservatives. In addition to canning much of our fruits and veggies we also dehydrate a few bushels of food. I enjoy carrots, squash, peppers, onions, strawberries, and a whole host of other items. I also do copious amounts of herbs – both medicinal and culinary – that are often foraged or home grown.

It Really Does Cost Less

Canning jars are cheap and easy to come by if you know where to look. Once you make the initial investment they are used repeatedly for years. I have several retired jars that hold my salt, pepper, and other cooking ingredients. Why did I retire those jars? They’re over one hundred years old and still being used. I don’t know of any other more cost effective packaging than a glass jar that’s held up since the late 1800’s.

I’ve traded home grown produce for jars, picked them up at yard sales, and had dozens given to me. I also purchase them from our local jam house for $5 a dozen for quart jars.

Even with purchasing a few dozen replacement lids each year it still costs less than purchasing grocery store canned food. Here is the run down of my costs this year – food included.

5 dozen quart jars – $25

30 pounds of pears – $20

70 pounds of pumpkin – $5

160 pounds of tomatoes – free

12 dozen lids – $16

50 pounds of peaches – $12

40 pounds of apples – $22

20 pounds of zucchini – free

12 dozen ears of corn – free

20 pounds of okra – free

3 pounds of blackberries – free

And I made three gallons of wine with the fruit trimmings.

Grand total for 375 pounds of organic fruits and veggies plus a gross dozen ears of corn – $100. That’s $0.26 a pound. Yes. Twenty six cents per pound of food. The average adult eats between three and five pounds of food a day. I eat closer to three. Even with trimming losses (and I’m stingy) that’s nearly six months of fruits and veggies for $100, or $16.67 monthly. Not weekly, monthly. Add that to the $15 a month average for dry staples and you can see how a $50 – $75 monthly food budget is doable.

Living Seasonally and Rural Heritage

Preserving the harvest in season is part of Rural Heritage no matter what part of the world you or your ancestors hale from originally. Here in the Cove spring signals the beginning of the work year as the entire place comes back to life.

We work the soil, gather early edibles, and have our first green salad around February even as the local pond is still solid enough for a skating party. March brings maple syrup season and a rain. April is the month of wait and see as a few brave souls venture out to market stands in search of early produce and the few home canned goods ladies are willing to sell.

Then suddenly in late April or early May the weather heats up and the work year is on – tending crops, canning, baking, birthing, milking, mending for customers, hoeing, haying, fishing, selling, more canning, and working up to eighteen hours a day. Then August rolls around and things begin to slow down. Most of the year’s income happens between May and August – four intense months.

About September the itch for October starts to creep in as the light changes and the Sorghum mill churns out its sweetness. Then suddenly one day in early October the first yellow leaf appears. It’s followed shortly by more leaves, packing up the farm stand, cooler rainy days and saying goodbye to summer friends as the hillside show their splendor.

As the year slides into winter a still settles over the entire village. We sew, relax, read, play outside, and I set my hands to spinning wool and writing my stories. Somewhere in the frozen stillness our bodies and souls are renewed for yet another round of summer work. We open a can of tomatoes laced with spring onions and Uncle Enos’s garlic and taste sunshine. We are nurtured, and we continue along with the rhythms of the year.

Canning is simply a part of the year for us – like the appearance of the first chickadee or catching the first snowflake. And that is totally worth my time.

Until next time,

Craft no Harm

The KindFibers Family

Friday’s Farm: Muscovy Ducks

A few years ago I was gifted with six adorable ducklings. They stayed in the house for weeks. I was sure a rat or snake would kill them in the barn or that a mink would drain them to death as one had done several of my geese. Finally, one summer day when they were up good sized I finally put them in the barn.

My little ducks turned out to be muscovys. I was thrilled. I first met muscovys in South America as a teenager. They were first domesticated by Native Americans during pre-Columbian times and I consider them an important part of true American history. Unlike many domesticated ducks these guys will actually roost on low tree branch or on roosts like chickens. They’re also bigger than European ducks, and much quieter.

In the wild muscovy ducks eat plants, little fish, frogs, and small reptiles. I’ve also found they enjoy eating ticks, mosquito larve, gnats, and will happily chase flies. While the farm does not allow the ducks access to a creek, it does have several low lying wet areas they love.

In addition to their foraged diet the resident ducks eat a whole grain ration. I’ve tried commercially milled crumbles and they simply don’t do well on it. The hatchlings tend to grow slower, pick up diseases easier and are generally not thrifty. Instead I feed a sweet grain mixture from the local Mennonite mill intended for cattle. They love it, thrive on it, and it’s only $6.50 for a fifty pound bag. I feed about a quart per five birds in the evening during the summer and fall. During the winter and early spring I provide an all you can eat buffet. Typically they double their consumption. I use an old goat trough to feed the adults and a shallow pan for ducklings. Overall, there is little waste.

All ducks need fresh water. They are called water fowl for a reason. These none quacking quackers are water hogs. Twenty birds can easily use 100 gallons a day between drinking, splashing, playing, and bathing. I’ve found that keeping a dry pen is impossible. Hay is my bedding choice and it needs to be changed often with the ducks. I use several waterers throughout the barn lot and one thirty gallon through for the adults to bathe in.

So far every single female has been broody and a successful broody momma. The clutches are usually between nine and fifteen live ducklings.

The three ducks I kept became forty within a year. They nest in places that are impossible to reach. So far every hen wants to be a new momma every three to four months. I sat down and did the math one day. I came up with seven thousand ducks in five years starting with one drake and one hen. They are prolific layers and breeders.

The drakes are territorial. Drake (yes, I’m super creative with names) killed every half grown male duckling housed with him one night. I was heart broken. He also killed a grown gander that attacked one of his females. Does that make him a bad drake? No. It makes him a muscovy drake. They fight and will kill rivals. Unless you plan to have multiple houses, plan on one drake. Drake has since been rehomed to goose and kill free home. His Sam has taken his place. Sam is slightly smaller and I need a break in the fertility department until next spring.

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Sam is the white one. I kept him and the little tiny black one. The rest were rehomed to a lovely home. This hatch was unplanned. Black ducky hides her nests…

I love my muscovy ducks. Why? Good question. They are quiet, friendly, and funny. In the two years I’ve had them my flea, mosquito, and tick problem has disappeared. And the eggs. I make part of my living baking. They are awesome layer and cost much less to keep than chickens. Duck eggs make better baked goods. I also find them to be more predator savvy. And there’s just something about watching them dance in excitement every morning that takes me back to my first adventure as a young woman. They remind me to keep those fresh eyes experiencing the wonders of a greater world for the first time.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah and the flock

Monday’s Musings : I Can’t Do EVERYTHING

I was raised in a time of shifting ideology in this country. Traditional gender roles and second wave Feminism clashed in the media and stereotypes clashed around me as the child of a single mother in a male dominated industry. A male teacher told my mother he was shocked at how “well adjusted” I am considering I was from a “broken home”. Mom’s reply “children are only broken if you tell them they are broken”. Feel free to use that line.

I was fortunate enough to have my Papa. As a ninth generation Florida Cracker Native he believed a woman can do anything, but that doesn’t mean women should do everything. My grandmother and mom worked the fields alongside him. My grandmother was a better shot overall. We came from an older society where men and women had to be equals to survive. Women had to know how to shoe a horse and brand calves, and men had to know how to make dinner and clean house. There was never a doubt in my mind I could do or be in any occupation. My gender has nothing to do with my ability for accomplishments.

So, I went to South America. I rode horses, earned degrees, called out a few Vice Presidents at major companies, and was even a professional ballroom dancer for a while. I hike, train oxen, tramp through the woods on my own, work on my vehicles, shear, shoot, and I’ve even been known to wrangle a few orphaned calves. I can do anything.

And this, ladies, is the part some of you will dislike. Just because I can do it, doesn’t mean I should. In addition to my accomplishments I have broken my ribs numerous times, broken four vertebrae and fractured a hip. I have bone spurs, arthritis, tendon damage. I have a permanent brain injury from one too many concussions. My left shoulder has dislocated three times and my right ankle twice. I’m missing bones in that foot, too. Everyday is pain. Sitting is painful. Walking is painful. Breathing is painful. Laying down is painful. Attitudes have consequences, especially for adventurous girls.

Am I equal in value to a man? OF COURSE! But as I’ve aged I’ve realized just because I can do anything doesn’t mean I should do everything. I simply lack the physicality to do things that men can do, and I’m a pretty robust gal. As Paul pointed out in the Christian Bible “all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial”.

At some point, overdoing physically becomes self harm. The “I can do anything” idea is dangerous without the tempering “but that doesn’t mean I should”. That holds true for everyone regardless of gender, because even in caring for ourselves physically we are all equal.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah and the flock

Friday’s Farm: Barn Cats

 

 

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Cloe hiding a mouse from me… “Nothing to see. Move along.”

 

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love my cats. I’ve had a pet cat or two continually since I was a baby. However, I’ve learned that keeping pet cats and keeping barn cats are two different things.

Barn cats have one job – organic pest control. These felines work hard and nap harder. But what is it really like keeping a healthy working cat? Glad you asked!

My old house cat Sophianne is a good mouser. She’s also convinced her job in life is to be my cuddle bug. While she does enjoy catching mice and playing with them, she’s not a great barn cat. She does kill and eat some, but she also brings some to the house still alive before letting them go. That’s not exactly helpful even though it’s adorable.

 

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Sophianne proving that not all cats are born to be wild

 

Cloe and Clive on the other hand, both kill and eat several rodents a day each. They are a brother and sister duo and the offspring of a long line of Mennonite barn cats. They sleep in the barn in cages. I know some people let their cats roam at night. However, we have owls and coyotes. Cats are the perfect meal on the run for those predators.

I know many people who do not feed their barn cats. I know a few who wonder why their cats are skinny and die off every winter, too. Other folks will put down a pile of food every three or four days. They wonder why they have so many mice and possums and raccoons in their barns. Well, because there’s a buffet. We feed out cats on a table on the porch in the afternoons. They have fresh water there all day. The food is taken up at night. Feeding them enough calories daily to survive doesn’t hinder their hunting. Often, if they kill and eat enough rodents they don’t eat as much food. Last night Clive caught a squirrel. He skipped dinner and was waiting to go in his cage at sunset. Feeding them keeps them in top hunting condition. Taking up the food keeps the mice from having a free meal.

 

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Clive enjoys hanging with the sheep

 

Cloe and Clive were both from an unwanted litter of kittens. To keep from contributing to the over population of none native introduced animals we spay and neuter our animals. We use a local Spay and Neuter program that assists rural areas with pet sterilization. The vets are top notched and care about their charges.

I do my own vaccines with the cats. I pick the kits up at TSC in the summer. It takes about 5 minutes to do both Cloe and Clive. Sophianne doesn’t get vaccines. She’s a wild hybrid someone tossed out and she nearly died from her first and only vaccine. She’s under vet orders to NOT be vaccinated.

Ticks are a major issue in our area. I’ve had STAR twice and we occasionally have a young animal contract Tick Paralysis (scary, scary, scary times!). I choose to use breakaway flea and tick collars. In addition to the collars I do a physical tick check every evening. They think they’re just being loved on. Even with the collars Cloe will pick up ticks when she goes into the woods. Clive and Sophianne rarely have ticks or fleas. I don’t know why, they just don’t. Fortunately, fleas are only an issue in August and early September. The collars seem to work for fleas on the cats. Having ducks and chickens also helps.

All three are wormed in the fall. If I see any signs of worms earlier I’ll worm then, too. However, tape worms in the summer and early fall are the typical parasites we deal with here in the Cove.

I’ve been blessed to not have injuries or major illnesses with my cats. I’m also blessed with an awesome team of vets who work with both large and small animals should my crew ever need professional care.

Cats are like most other working animals on the farm. If you give them a solid foundation they will happily work for an entire lifetime as your partner in pest control. And if they’re happy, you’ll even get some head bumps and purrs.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

 

 

Friday’s Farm: Making Bamboo Trellises

Enter the humble River Cane or Arundinaria. In the native Ani-Yunwiya (Cherokee) language it’s known as “i-hi”. In my personal language it’s known as “blessing cane”. Not only is it a viable material for weaving baskets, feed for the cattle and sheep in lean times, bedding for the chickens, erosion control on the creek bank, and fishing poles, it’s also a wonderful building material for small portable structures.

It’s no secret that Southerners love their peas, pole beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes. It’s also no secret to anyone who gardens or farms that keeping these veggies off the ground is important to a good harvest and your back. Another local gardener whose garden I’ve had the privilege of seeing uses hog panels set on long upright poles to hold up his plants. On a good year the plants reach ten feet into the air. His method is bountiful. However, when you’re strapped for cash and growing a year’s worth of food his mighty steel frame is just out of reach.

Enter the humble River Cane or Arundinaria. In the native Ani-Yunwiya (Cherokee) language it’s known as “i-hi”. In my personal language it’s known as “blessing cane”. Not only is it a viable material for weaving baskets, feed for the cattle and sheep in lean times, bedding for the chickens, erosion control on the creek bank, and fishing poles, it’s also a wonderful building material for small portable structures.

One afternoon earlier this month Momma and I walked down to the creek and cut fifty canes. We could have cut one hundred and only made a small dent in our patch. Some of the canes are nearly ten feet long, and all still had last year’s leaves on them. We then hauled it up to the garden, stripped off the leaves (which the sheep loved), and I began to weave.

Making trellises is not an easy task. It’s a life-sized puzzle that will fall over on you if you’re not careful. It took about two hours to make my pea trellis. First, I made a three poled teepee for the end, lashed those together so they would stand, and then made another and set it next to the first. Once I had enough three legged sets I joined them at the top with a “cap” piece. Then I began the actual weaving. Fortunately canes are pliable when green. If you soak them for a few days they are even easier to work with. I began at the bottom and did a simple over and under. If my weaving pole wasn’t long enough to span the entire length I’d add another pole.

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One important note is to have your thick ends at both ends of the structure. In other words, you don’t want all your skinny tops on one side. That makes a weak side.

My structure got a bit wonky and wobbly. Two old metal garden steaks pounded into the ground fixed this problem. After all, no one like their peas in the mud after a wind storm. Speaking of wind storms, my little creations are still standing after two big storms.

When harvesting cane it’s important to be a good steward and only harvest a quarter to third of a stand. If the stand is small or sparse it needs to be left alone. While cane does grow quickly it’s not as abundant as it use to be. Also, be mindful if you decide to forage the local country side. If someone knocks on my door and asks to collect a natural resource I’m apt to say yes. If I find someone just out taking without asking… I’m not so free with my yes. That’s a pretty typical country attitude.

I’ve made other trellises from willow, young tree limbs, and other found material, including old fencing propped up on broken tobacco sticks. Use what you have. The point is to grow good food. Your food doesn’t care if you have the prettiest trellis in the world. It only cares to reach forth to the sky and His blessings while reaching into the Earth for her blessings.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

Friday’s Farm: Death on the Farm

My sweet, blind Henny passed away this past week from what I believe was congestive heart failure. She was older, and I knew the inevitable was coming. As much as we celebrate life on the homestead, death, too, is our sober companion. If you are sensitive to reading about this subject I understand if you want to skip this post and I strongly advise it. I’m going to be very frank and open about how we handle the more practical aspects of an animal’s passing. It’s not pretty, but it is the reality of life.

 

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Lambi was just a month old when this was taken. We celebrate life daily, but we are still mindful how fleeting it can be.

 

Burial

Those of you who live in the country know that there are cemeteries tucked here and there down almost every road or behind most every old farmhouse. In fact, there’s one on our property so old that all the headstones have worn down to nothing and we aren’t sure exactly where it is. For small animals like cats, hens, geese, most dogs, and even smaller sheep burial is an option. We keep a small critter grave yard fenced off from the rest of the farm. Our gentle Dagny is buried at the center.

If your ground is like ours it’s full of rocks and clay. Frankly, I can’t dig more than three or four feet down. We also sit down in a valley and our water table is usually closer to the surface than two feet. Shallow graves are pretty much the norm. I usually wrap the body at time of death in a plain muslin cloth before riggamortus sets in to hold a sleeping pose. In short, I use this process as a method of compacting the body’s shape to better fit into the grave. I then wrap the entire bundle in an outer cloth, tuck in herbs, tie with string, and then place it in the grave. The outer cloths and herbs help to cut down on the smells that attract scavengers. To help further the grave being left alone I place large rocks over the grave for several months.

I dislike using plastic bags to wrap. It slows the decomposition process and puts toxins into the ground. We also make sure that any burial is down stream of our water source and out of grazing and growing areas. If an animal dies during the winter when the ground is frozen we store the bundled body in our freezer. It’s macabre, but effective.

I know some people with the right land type that use a back hoe to bury large animals such as horses and cattle. Unfortunately we don’t have that option. But, I think it’s preferable personally.

Cremation

When Lambi died I chose to have her cremated. It was a tough decision. I really wanted her buried next to Dagny. However, Lambi was over two hundred pounds. Not only could I not dig a grave, I had no way to move her body. Two vet techs came out from our vet’s office and retrieved her body. They were as caring and kind as if they were removing a human body. It cost almost $300 total. Lambi now resides in a box next to the front door. However, she was my first lamb and slept next to me. It was the best option available at the time.

Death Pits and Scavengers

This is my least favorite method of dealing with death on the farm, but it is effective. Those who have room can have a pit dug in an unused corner of the farm. When an animal passes you simply remove the body to the pit and allow nature to take its course. At the old farm we had a another tenant’s ewe die. So, Kate and I dragged her nearly a mile to the pit in the dark. When a cow died after an animal attack up in the wood line it was left. There simply was no way to move it. Sometimes the most dignified thing to do is simply to leave an animal’s remains alone. When this is a pet it’s difficult.

Preemptive Slaughter

Some people find this controversial. However, there is some practicality to this method of dealing with impending death on the farm. My cow Bossy has many years left in her. Daisy our matriarch ewe has less than five. I check their teeth yearly. When they can no longer eat hay over the winter they will face a long suffering death from starvation. Let me be clear: starvation in an animal is painful. They bleed internally. It can take weeks. It’s cruel. So, instead of allowing them to suffer I personally will attend to their slaughter to ensure it’s quick and as painless as possible. It’s one of the few situations when we kill and eat our animals. However, it is the kindest option. It’s not pleasant, nor easy, nor done lightly. I will process out my old friends and use every part of their bodies to feed and cloth our household. I guess it’s the Blackfoot and Apache in me that comes out in those instances, or maybe the practical Welsh. I simply find it more honoring than leaving them to starve and become food for the vultures and coyotes.

 

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Even when she has me running through the woods I want her to live forever. She’s the sweetest onery old boss cow ever.

 

In Closing

I know this topic has been anything but pleasant. But I hope you found it informative, especially if you’re new to homesteading and farming. We do our best to treat our animals with respect and dignity during life. We also do our best to extend that respect and dignity into death. As caretakers of the land and her inhabitants we have the incredible privilege of witnessing the grandeur of life and lesson of the ending. Each one of us will in turn face our own ending and return to the earth to nourish her and become nourishment. Nourish life, and celebrate the lesson our companion offers.

Until Next time,

Craft No Harm,

Moriah