Pardon Our Mess

junkyard1My homestead dreams included images of tidy outbuildings and manicured fields, populated by well-behaved livestock, with a snug little house heated by worm farts and sustainable wood that was harvested on-site. Nothing could be further from the truth. Homesteads and working farms are cluttered places. Turns out that I was a combination of deluded and snookered into believing the Homesteader’s Dream.

Buildings have a tendency to age and dilapidate. Everything, with the exception of the rocks in the ground, breaks in the middle of a project. And, oddly enough, livestock does not line up for slaughter.

“Everything here has been burnt or broke, at least, once before.” – Bobby Bare

There are some specific reasons my farm occasionally resembles a junkyard. Let’s play a game where you see how many apply to your homestead and whether you have some of your own that I missed. Leave your additions in the comments section.

Emergencies and forced delays

My farm may not have been hit by hurricane Irma, but she did push wind and rain up our way. Neither of which are conducive to working outdoors. All manner of weather can slow down projects, and often bring them to a dead stop. Even a simple change in the rain prediction will throw the next several days of planning into disarray and necessitate re-prioritization, based upon what would most likely be ruined, if it was rained on. That’s usually hay laying in the field.

I’m getting too old to work on non-mission critical projects in knee deep mud or freezing cold. Plus, the wife makes me come indoors when she sees lightning. So, work is often a stop-and-start affair.

Elements of nature aren’t the only reason we are surrounded by half-finished projects. Kids and livestock have a habit of coming down sick or injuring themselves at the worst possible time. Mrs. Cunha and I have been known to soldier on with broken bones and bleeding wounds, but the phrase “rub some dirt on it” doesn’t go over well with the Millennials. I don’t know what they will do, when adversity eventually comes their way.

Stocking up on supplies for future projects

Aside from cash, the go-to gift for a hard-to-shop-for man, such as myself, is fence posts. Specifically, five-foot metal T-posts. These knobby metal rods do more than hold up fence. They serve as boundary markers, tree supports, tie-down stakes, and any other purpose the imagination can conjure. When we moved from a rental into the house we now own, I pulled up every post I had sunk into the the rented land over the previous three years and had fantasies of never buying another in my lifetime.

I blew through them in a couple of weeks.

junkyard4T-posts are in such demand around the Cunha farm that we’re saving our pennies to buy a pallet of the bastards, much like we did with a purchase of 2x4s last summer. They take up a bit of space in the garage, but just having them on hand when needed cuts down on time-stealing extra trips to town.

Not only is precious covered space dedicated to keeping bulkier items dry. The shelves of my garage are packed with little whose-its, what-thems, and doohickeys, partly because I can never find a specific item when I need it. I stopped counting the number of half-used rolls of electrical tape and cans of WD-40 I have. And God help me if I don’t squirrel away a couple of wedge blocks before the first cut because the Co-Op sure as hell won’t have any when the hay tedder throws a fork.

Error, mistakes, and inexperience

Homesteading is a continual learning process. No two endeavors go exactly the same, and often, the evidence of my ignorance is on display for all to see.

This past spring, I had one of my most brilliant ideas every. It struck me walking by the outdoor display at Tractor Supply. There, before my eyes and on sale, was a ten by ten dog run that could be quickly and easily converted to a sorely needed duck pen. We dragged it home, jury rigged a center pole with an eight-foot fence post, and zip-tied a tarp on as a roof. Not being engineers, neither Mrs. Cunha nor I realize that we had just created a giant kite.

IMG_20170322_145043947_HDRIn one of life’s bittersweet moments, we happened to be outside a couple days later, when an afternoon wind picked up our newest animal abode and crashed it down into the hayfield about sixty feet from where it started the day. The ducks looked surprised at the sudden disappearance of their shelter. Just before impact, I remember thinking their reaction reminded me of a Benny Hill skit, but not as funny because there were no women in underwear. Just confused ducks.

I was left so brokenhearted, both at the waste of money and general failure, I didn’t bother retrieving the wreckage until the day before I mowed the hay. Mrs. Cunha, understanding soul that she is, did not ask once when I planned to face my failure.

Deferred maintenance makes for ugly buildings

The barn on my farm is fairly young for a wooden barn. The house is about fifty years old, according to the property records the county keeps. I haven’t found evidence of the barn’s exact age, so I’ll just peg it as the same as the house, for the sake of example.

^DE2C3DD736DB8E5A8CCCB0AABE3AF983E8F7355479CED4D49D^pimgpsh_fullsize_distrThe house was clearly kept up with more diligence than the barn. It doesn’t lean near as much as the barn, but that might be attributable to the house being single story. Impending collapse aside, the barn is still much more of an eyesore than the house. Dulled galvanized roof, faded and peeling paint, and rotted siding that make me cringe every trip out there speak to God knows how many years the previous owners didn’t nail in a replacement board or pick up a paint brush. Maybe they didn’t have the cash for materials or just never got around to it. Valid and excusable reasons or not, the chores were not accomplished. The result is a building that passes for an abandoned crack house for drug addicted livestock.

Why does your homestead look like the set of Sanford and Son?

Leave a comment below with your favorite reason. I promise not to judge.


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Homestead First Aid

IMG_0130Homesteading requires significant time spent outdoors, and that entails assumption of risk of injury. Sooner or later, your farm will hurt you, regardless of how careful you are going about life. You ain’t got time to stand there and bleed, so here are some tips on first aid.

Scrapes, bruises, and minor cuts happen all the time, but they should be given a bit of attention to stave off more serious problems later. We spend a lot of time around poop and things floating through the air, so a minute to keep germs out saves you trouble down the line.

I’m no doctor and haven’t stayed in a Holiday Inn Express for some time, so I highly discourage anyone from listening to me. Don’t try any of the dumb-ass things I do because you will die. I’ve just been lucky, so far.

As a general rule, if you think you need to see a doctor, you probably do. This article is not talking about a compound fracture or Ebola. If you’ve got one of those things going on, you should definitely seek immediate medical attention. Seeing bone and bleeding from the ears definitely rate a trip to the Emergency Room.

And do your pocketbook a favor by avoiding an ambulance. Even if you don’t live out in the sticks, it’s still debatable whether you will arrive at the hospital any sooner. Ambulances are not a Speedy Delivery service for your injured ass. Their primary purpose is to begin delivering basic life support that will keep you alive until they can get you to a proper hospital. That don’t come cheap.

My rule of thumb is that short of a gunshot to the torso, unconsciousness, or amputation, the only people better off by me taking an ambulance will be the ambulance company stockholders.

I tend to divide injuries into three categories; dumb-ass things you do to yourself, things that happen to you because you’re a dumb-ass, and “Damn. Who would have seen that coming?” The first two are preventable, but the categories are fluid and often debatable.

Being attacked by an escaped tiger at the zoo is probably not your fault, since the tiger remaining secure in his enclosure is a reasonable expectation. Being attacked by a tiger after you climbed into his enclosure is definitely a dumb-ass thing you did to yourself.

Don’t expect people to be too enthusiastic to give you first aid, if it’s something really stupid you did to yourself. Goodwill only goes so far.

Since you’re reading this, it’s a safe bet you’re on the internet. So, while you’re here, do a quick search to find a first aid class that fits your schedule, learning style, and budget. I’ll wait.

Now, that you have some basic knowledge, get yourself the best first aid kit you can afford. By best, I mean comprehensive. It doesn’t need to have a whole bunch of the same stuff unless you plan to be dealing with some sort mass casualty event. What you want is a variety of stuff for different situations. Even if you don’t how to use every piece of kit in the bag, you might get lucky and have someone around who does. One of the biggest shames in life is having immediate access to someone with necessary lifesaving knowledge, but not the three dollar piece of plastic to put that skill to use.

A close second never getting to use that super tacticool emergency room in a bag.

1firstaid2Last summer, I was helping a buddy cross-fence his field with hot-wire. Since Mrs. Carlos and I reckon forced child labor builds character, I pressed the two boys still living at home into service. They seemed thrilled to not only be performing manual labor on a farm they don’t own, but also on one they don’t stand to inherit.

Well, the joke is on my boys. I’ve already disinherited them.

Having seen me seat U-shaped fence posts by stepping on the flange, my youngest boy must have figured that’s the way things are done. It’s not an unreasonable way to approach life, as long as you aren’t missing crucial details, such as these were solid, triangular fence posts with points on the flange, he was wearing rubber boots, and I never once jumped on the damn things like a pogo stick.

I continually harp on my children about broad ranging concepts like attention to detail, but they insist on learning the hard way. The best you can do sometimes is make sure they are current on their tetanus booster. The last thing I want to deal with is a case of lockjaw along with a gashed open foot.

You should have seen the look on my buddy Steve’s face when he realized this was a situation for “The Bag.” He ran back to the truck giggling like a Japanese anime school girl and returned with a blue, plasticized canvas bag about the size of a hay bale.

Steve had every reason to be proud of the first aid kit. It’s not often I see a medical kit with stuff I don’t even recognize, and I’ve had a fair amount of medical training. I was particularly happy to see a suture kit because I was on the fence (pardon the pun) as to whether the gash on Carlos, Jr’s foot would need a stitch or two to keep it closed.

IMG_0136You see, my wife is an absolute bad-ass when it comes to homestead medicine. Actually, she’s an all-around bad-ass chick. She’s sheet-rocking, taping, and texturing the house at this very moment.

She can do amazing things with butterfly bandages and salve with varying, mysterious ingredients. She can stitch up a wound as good as any doctor. Short of an injury that pierces the torso or needs a cast, I have little need of a doctor to put me back together.

I don’t know what black magic she puts in those salves, but each of them does exactly what she says it does.

Counter-intuitively, don’t let anybody use your new high-speed, first aid operator bag. Once your kids get the idea they can get into that bag they will play with everything, lose bits of the kit, and waste all your Band-Aids on stupid things.

1firstaid1Save your sanity. Spend a couple extra dollars and get yourself a Bitch Kit. They are stuffed full of boo-boo covers, antibiotic cream packets, splinter and tick removal forceps, bug bite swabs, etc. The kids can dig though that crap all they like because there is nothing remotely lifesaving in there. Any emergency that can be helped with magic from that particular mojo bag isn’t really an emergency.

In addition to what is normally imagined in a first aid kit, there are few things you might want to consider adding that don’t usually come in a pre-made kit.

Electrical tape

IMG_0129When the kids have rummaged through the Bitch Kid and used up all the Band-Aids playing “paramedic” with their stuffed animals, you will still need something to keep the dirt off that fresh cut. A couple of wraps with electrical tape does the job nicely. With my huge bugger pickers, I’ll often put a couple of wraps over top of a Band-Aid because they usually aren’t big enough for one end to lap over the other. Duct tape will work, too. However, electrical tape pays out easier and doesn’t yank out as much body hair on removal.

Super Glue

This is one of life’s best kept secrets, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. It seals cuts and avulsions like nobody’s business. It even serves as a replacement for stitches on non-flexing parts of the body like the scalp or forehead. I found out about the use as a suture replacement nearly two decades ago when I saw glue tubes being used in the emergency room of the hospital I worked at. It’s literally the same compound inside, except in a sterile, single-use vial with an applicator swab built in.

Sanitary napkins

KudzuBelieve it or not, cellucotton, the material first used to make a woman’s monthly mattress, was initially developed during World War One for use as field bandages. When the gauze pads in your first aid kits aren’t enough, one of those big, old fashioned sanitary pads works pretty well. That lesson was learned staunching the bleeding from my knuckles after a fistfight and rolling around in shattered windshield glass on the hood of a 1974 Chevy Impala.


This trick was brought to my attention by guys who get shot at for a living. They carry them to plug bullet wounds. I didn’t think there was a place for them in my first aid kit until I realized bullet wounds are essentially puncture wounds, and anything pointy with enough force to overcome the resistance offered by flesh will poke a hole in you.

I have a scar on the inside of my forearm from about wrist to elbow from falling on a cut-back hydrangea bush. I’m fairly certain a few inches over would have created an inch wide hole in my forearm that would need the bleeding stopped.


In a pinch, a dab of petroleum jelly can be applied on cuts or abrasions the same way as Neosporin. It doesn’t have the antibiotic properties, but creates a barrier from the outside world. It also works in removing ticks by smearing a blob over the offending creature that makes him choose between eating and suffocating. They usually decide they would rather live and back themselves out. It’s not as fast as the old grab-and-twist-out method, but less likely to break of its head. Then you’ve got a whole other problem.

Animal Care Items

1firstaid4I wouldn’t recommend anyone try medicating themselves from the Tractor Supply Company healthcare section, but I can read a label. There doesn’t seem to be any real differences between first aid items for livestock and for people. Many of the veterinary care items available at your local co-op can be pressed into service for people; Wound Kote, Udder Balm, and Mane & Tail come to mind as products that regularly cross over into human use.

Injectables are probably where I would draw the line, since I figure they are divided up by different types of animals for a reason, but I often wonder about the packets of broad-spectrum antibiotics offered at the feed store. If I had a medical emergency that required immediate action and possessed the skill to keep the patient kicking until the cavalry arrived, you bet I would press whatever items I had available into service to preserve a life.

But that’s just me. I’ve spent long stretches of time in dangerous places with help a long way off, so improvising and making what’s available work becomes a habit. The solution might not be elegant, but it will work long enough to fix it right.

“If you insist on waiting for the perfect horse, you’re going to be walking for a long time.” – Grandma Cunha

1firstaid5As in much of life, the “perfect tool” isn’t always available on the farm. Sometimes, you have to be satisfied with “good enough for now.” Even the most comprehensive first aid kit will not always have what is needed. A little creativity is sometimes necessary to make the bag of generic stuff work in a specific situation.

Lacking a proper splint, tape one finger to its neighbor to improvise one. A buddy once jury-rigged folded up newspapers around my ankle, so I could hike back to the truck. When I was a kid, my dad cut open his hand way back in the boonies, and, lacking any better choices, we packed the cut with dirt.

The point is that regardless of how much or little you prepare, injuries don’t make an appointment. Sometimes, you just have to think on your feet and use whatever is on hand. Keep the goals in mind; keep breathing happening, stop the bleeding, and get the appropriate level of medical attention.

These things are easier with a good first aid kit. You should probably get one, just in case.



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