Mary Combs

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since Jan 11, 2015
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North Idaho
Northern Rockies,
Elevation 2500' to 2700'
Zone 6b, Koppen Zones Csb, Dsb
Rainfall ave 32", range 15"-50"
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Recent posts by Mary Combs

Hi John

Here are some additional things to think about.

We are in resilience mode at the farm and in this region of North Idaho generally. The region has become a homesteader destination with many people preparing to survive whatever comes next in the current crazy situation the US finds itself in. We are in about as safe a location and community setting as is likely to be available over the next few years, and that should be an equally attractive feature as the actual business opportunity itself.

Anyone taking up this opportunity needs to come prepared to work at being self-sufficient rather than thinking there will be 'training' available. We are about 3.5 hours drive from Wheaton Labs for anyone wanting to top up on their training. The residents on the farm are all learning together - albeit, I have 2 PDCs and have been developing permaculture features on this farm for 10 years. Applicants need to already have the right to live and work in the US and must not be legally precluded from exercising their 2nd amendment rights (rural area = predators).

Raw Milk dairying does carry risks and liabilities that can be mitigated through scrupulous hygiene. The business opportunity would favor someone who is already well familiar with dairy cows - even if that is conventional rather than raw milk production. I operate a 'closed herd', albeit I would consider buying in a calf to obtain fresh genetics - but never an adult. We already have a biosecurity program in place that periodically tests for cattle diseases.

For anyone contemplating making the change from conventional to Raw Milk in Idaho state, some key references to read up on would include:


  • 1 month ago
    Thank you Karen. So far no one has come forward to talk about doing this micro-dairy business.

    Hopefully someone will find this to be of interest to them!
    1 month ago
    It must have been tree kale - the description sounds about right. I'm trying to start patches of perennials that I can cut for fodder for the cattle if we get into another drought scenario where hay becomes unobtainable. Thanks for your suggestions!
    2 months ago
    Hi All

    A few years back I saw reference to an uncommon tall green leafy plant that could be used for livestock fodder. I wanted to look it up again now to see if it would fit a niche area I've got. All I can remember about it is that it grew over head high and had a double barreled name. Can anyone suggest the name of what I had been looking at? Thank! Mary
    2 months ago
    My farm just built its first hugelbed and the plan is to spend a lot of time on building more rather than on burn piles.

    How about asking everyone for a picture(s) of their hugelbeds and a list of the plants they have grown on them. 'The March of the Hugels'.....

    Edit - we have our farm garden laid out conventionally - and it looks like a vegetable garden. We may use some hugels for conventional plantings, but mostly I plan to plant perennials that might not be recognizable as food patches.

    University of Michigan just published a paper internationally concluding "Fruits and vegetables grown in urban farms and gardens have a carbon footprint that is, on average, six times greater than conventionally grown produce." If people start believing the regulators could start looking at home grown produce with 'climate change' in mind, having access to a pictorial on hugel techniques and associated perennial edible, might be appealing.
    Background - I breed and raise a rare breed of dual purpose cattle - the Native Milking Shorthorn. This breed has a special section within the American Milking Shorthorn herdbook. It was set up in the 1990's by a group of Shorthorn breeders who were concern at the amount of outcrossing that had taken place over the years - beef breeders outcrossing to other beef breeds and dairy breeders outcrossing to other dairy breeds with the goal of 'improving' the Shorthorn breed. Meanwhile, the original breed type was being diluted to the point that type was on the verge of extinction. The breed is still classified by the Livestock Conservancy as 'threatened'. The specification for the Native Milking Shorthorn is that all points of its pedigree must trace back to the original 1822 Coates herdbook - essentially stock originally imported from England and early generations from that stock.

    The Native breed is highly grass efficient, compliant, low key and friendly. I have been breeding for several years and this year will have enough lactating cows to establish as a certified raw milk dairy. I am looking for someone who might want to come live on my farm and make a business of selling raw milk and raw milk products. This would essentially be an agricultural tenancy. You wouldn't own the land or the animals - which lowers the business risk for someone keen on dairying.

    We have over 100 acres and have been slowly implementing permaculture features and improving pasture. There is a large farm garden, shared with two other tenants. There is lots of opportunity for other homesteading type activities - poultry, rabbits, mushroom growing, etc. You would need to have your own RV, but a pad, water, and electric is available. Also available are two milking machines, barns and other equipment.

    My interest is in breeding, expanding and promoting the breed. But its a shame for these lovely cows to not be employed in producing clean, nutritious raw milk for the community. Raw milk in the Idaho Panhandle is selling for $15+ per gallon and there seems to be a good market for product. In Idaho, raw milk produced under an Idaho license can be sold retail as well as direct to the consumer.

    Applicants MUST be experienced in dairy production, love cows and have the desire to start up and run your own business. Might suit a small homeschooling family as there is a fantastic homeschooling network in this area.

    Located north of Saint Maries Idaho.

    If interested, send an email to
    4 months ago

    Carla Burke wrote:pour Mary - thank you for that! I didn't know that, about the bentonite (I tend to see the stuff primarily from the perspective of a herbalist & creator of hygiene and skin care products, lol).
    As far as the top of the dam, if we can stop this leak, my hope is to clear it, for use as a safe path to the other side. The dam side is much closer to the house, and it would be great to have easy access from the deck. Foraging on that side of the pond would be much better, if the hike to & from it wasn't so prohibitive to my painful knees.

    Hi Carla - a serious consideration - planners and the environment agency really do not like tall dams unless they are planned, permitted and built under the supervision of an engineer. Much as we want to be free of bureaucracy, there is a pretty good reason for that rule. The deeper your pond gets, the more water will pour downstream in the event of a failure of the dam. The fact that you have a seep already, argues for the dam not being perhaps as strong as you imagine. What is downhill of you? What is going to get damaged, killed or washed away if your dam fails? Regardless of someone before you having built it, when you bought the property, you inherited the liability for that pond, etc. My bet is that the previous owner just bulldozed a dyke and called it a dam, without having properly constructed it from the bottom up - track rolling every 6 inches and having a solid clay core. The more water pressure you put behind that structure, the more pressure will be exerted at all levels. if it should fail, not only could bad things happen downstream, but you will have lost all your dam construction material.

    My property has a 'cow pond' that I'm sure was constructed much as I describe above. At one point our seller owned a bull dozer and there is evidence all over the farm of where he just had to find a use for that tool. As for our cow pond - it is spring-fed, so I don't plan on messing with it at all (springs and seeps tend to go their own way if messed with). I would be surprised if he even scraped the grass off the future dam site before starting to throw up the dam / berm. It leaks at about the same rate that the spring supplies water - so our pond depth only varies by 12 - 18" over the year.  What it does do is leak from under the dam. We have taken advantage (permaculture style) of that leak by situating our main farm garden below that dam. We therefore get sub-irrigation for a couple months going into summer. I am now wanting to bury wood and biochar under the garden beds to try to capture water in the Spring and extend that sub-irrigation effect through the whole Summer.
    5 months ago
    I have a new pond that we need to seal at the bottom, so I did some research on bentonite. There are two types of bentonite - calcium bentonite (does not swell and can be easily found and is significantly cheaper than sodium bentonite, which does swell, is a specialist product (sold to landscapers and pond builders) and is significantly more expensive than calcium bentonite.

    If I had a seep and knew where it was on the inside, I’d be tempted to pin a couple of burlap feed sacks over the area and try to work with sodium bentonite to slow the flow. A slow seep will tend to heal itself with the silt and clay that gets pulled into the seep.

    Finally, from your pictures, you seem to have a lot of woody bushes or saplings started growing on your dam. Those will break down the integrity of your dam over time.

    I would plant shallow rooted plants and cut out the woody stems. Clumping bamboo does a good job of holding soil and stabilising a surface. I would plant it on the outside slope of the dam.
    5 months ago
    I'm not in the right temperature zone for the challenge, and this year isn't great for me either - but I WILL buy the movie and use the learnings in my own garden.

    Wonderful Idea!!
    5 months ago

    Kel Rock wrote:Thanks for posting your question. I too am looking into QH to build a home. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to insulate it without taking away from the simple and elegant arch. Most people use spray foam or batting and cover it with tons of lumber and Sheetrock. I’m a fan of the industrial look and wish insulation wasn’t needed so I could enjoy the beauty of the steel. Since that’s clearly not practical, let me know if you find a solution that enhances the arch instead of hiding it.
    Good luck with your build and let us know how it goes!

    Hi Kel
    I'm not sure how big you are planning to go with your QH. Our is 30' wide by 100' long and 16' tall standing on a 4' stem wall, making it actually 20' tall. They are not complicated to erect and there are several methods shown on YouTube. The team putting ours up consisted of 4 amateurs, aged 60 to 72 only one of whom had actual construction experience. We made one big mistake, which was annoyingly time consuming to correct - which was ignoring the written and emphasized instructions to erect the building with the bolts only hand tight during the initial build and then go back and tighten the bolts after. If you don't do that, the building will twist, and it will twist more the further you go, until bolting it together and bolting it down becomes impossible. Our guy with the construction expertise wanted to put the building up in one pass because of the heavy equipment we had to rent and because 20' up on a fairly slippery surface is no fun. With the size of our building, the cherry picker was useless coming at the building from the side - we could only use it from the front building face. The scissorlift was used to lift the partly build arches - which we partly constructed on the ground outside the building foot print, then lifted and rolled forward with the scissor lift and bolted on the bottom of each leg just before lifting in place. It was too awkward to fully construct outside the footprint due to the weight. The final step of tightening the bolts meant putting a man up top with less safety arrangements than any of us were comfortable with. It worked in the end, but think through how you will approach those issues before you order your building. Also, I would NEVER, NEVER, EVER put up one of these buildings without investing in the baseplates. The vendors will tell you those are optional - No, they are not optional in my view. They will add $1000s to the price, but are so worth it!

    A note about the scissorlift and cherry picker. Their safety mechanisms are VERY stubborn. If the machine is not on flat, stable ground, it may refuse to lift or to lift to full height, and will insist on a perfectly flat surface before they will roll forward. The cherrypicker was a bit more forgiving than the scissor lift. You'll note in the pictures, we ended up building a gravel platform outside the foundation footprint in order to satisfy the machines. I know, that sounds like I'm anthropomorphizing, but those machines certainly gave the strong impression of having minds of their own and a high degree of stubborness. When people say the first 10 arches can be tricky and liken it to working with a slinky - that's about right. Bracing is your friend. Working in a wind higher than 5 MPH is not feasible. Until bolted down, the arches are huge, heavy kites.

    As far as insulating - we haven't as ours is being used as a machine shed, but in some future, we may change its use. I will probably opt for the system that uses insulation that looks like thin mattresses, as I wouldn't want to permanently cover the joins between the metal arches and not be able to look at what is going on if there is water ingress. That system is really cool - it uses the excess threads from the bolts that connect the arches, to screw on the hardware that holds the mattresses.

    You've indicated you might want to build 2 QH, one inside the other and blow insulation in between. I guess that's possible, but will add significantly to the cost of the build. You won't be able to 'hang' anything from the superstructure - unless your vendor, architect and county planner are a lot more innovative than mine. The most that my vendor would supply to be bolted to the superstructure is the end structures, which are partly self supporting. Logistically, you would probably have to build both skins at the same time, building out from one end. Your architect would need to calculate the exact shape of the inner skin so that it would run more or less parallel to the outer skin in all dimensions. The two skins would need to be separated by enough space for someone to squeeze between for tightening bolts at the end. That probably leaves quite a gap for blow-in insulation - and I'm not sure how you'd keep the insulation spaced out and not settling / compacting down into the 'legs' of your paired structure. You'd want to convince your county planner that the inner skin is non-structural and only the outer skin needs to meet snow load requirements. You might also get away with much lighter steel for the inner skin.

    If you mooseage me your email address, I'll put you in touch with our team leader (the one with construction experience) and he might have some innovative ideas to help with your choices.

    5 months ago