Self-Sufficiency Superstars – Pickin’ A Chicken

7 Aug

Written by Guest Contributor on The Prepper Journal.

Editors Note: Another article from R. Ann Parris to The Prepper Journal. Think you know everything there is to know about preppers preferred livestock to raise, maybe, but you will know much more by the end of the week. As always, if you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and be entered into the Prepper Writing Contest with a chance to win one of three Amazon Gift Cards with the top prize being a $300 card to purchase your own prepping supplies!

I should say right now that chickens are at or near the bottom of the list of my favorite self-reliance animals, right there with horses. I just don’t like chickens (they started it). However, as a homestead animal, they’re absolutely indispensable.

(As opposed to horses, which I love but don’t find efficient and thus stick in the “pet” category.)

Chickens’ feed efficiency, are multi-functional, and able to perform labor tasksthat make them fantastic livestock for backyards and big-acreage homesteads. They eat things my preferred game birds can’t and perform functions the non-diggers, non-grazers won’t or can’t.

There are pro’s and con’s to any animals, and birds are no different. As a permaculturist and a prepper with a mind towards long-term sustainability, I have a specific list of considerations when it comes to pickin’ my chickens. Those list items are why a few of the commonly recommended breeds don’t make my “superstar” list.

For example, I like buckeye hens, but the roos are commonly way more space aggressive than I want. Others drop off the list due to production when expected to free-range – 70% of their feed, heat stress, or low tolerance to confinement/penning.

Some breeds are bullies that don’t share mixed barnyards well. Some drop because their feathers are tougher to pull than ducks’.  Some are way too hair-triggered and panicky for me.

Alternately, some are oblivious to threats. Some pile up in a corner of a pen where a raccoon can reach through. Some stand stupidly staring at the sky while the ducks, doves, guineas, and smart chickens are bobbing in “I’m up, they see me, I’m down” sprints for cover or low-crawling under edges toward the dogs or Mr. Mother Goose.

Poultry are very situation-ally dependent, and there are always exceptions. I’ll go into the factors that affect my choices after my pick-chicken short list. Any prepper can use the traits as a checklist, even if my preferences aren’t as important or completely oppose their priorities.

Superstar Breeds

Wellies/Welsummers – 6-7 pounds, foragers but comfortable with confinement, 2-4 eggs/week (green graze to buggy lots, seed-grain lots, or bag feeds), medium eggs, heat & cold hardy, savvy, friendly & curious personalities, medium-average broodiness – A European breed as popular in Australia for ease & production as RIRs, Orps, Plymouth Rocks, and Wyandottes are here (U.S.); keen surrogates for hatching & raising guineafowl, turkey, or quail

Dominique – 6-7 pounds, foragers but comfortable with confinement, 2-4 eggs/week, small-medium eggs mostly, cold and humid-heat hardy, savvy, calm and curious personalities, average broodiness, super mothers – Popular from colonial & pioneer times through the Great Depression due to ease and efficiency in keeping, then almost lost as modern production breeds started taking over; cold-weather layers, seldom over-eaters, self-coop if coop-raised, shrewd stranger-friend-foe discrimination, chill with kids and known dogs but not pecking-order pushovers.

Images: Buff & Speckled Sussex

Sussex –7-9 pounds, foragers but comfortable with confinement, 3-5 eggs/week, medium-large eggs, cold tolerant, okay-decent heat tolerance, savvy roosters*, confident but calm personalities, average broodiness – Very old breed, once the standard English table bird (dethroned by the Cornish); prone to tender flesh & fattiness (fats are a good thing for self-sufficiency & survival), very non-flight prone, incredibly efficient & low-waste eaters, early- and late-season layers with year-round laying possible

*Sussex hens respond to roo, flock, keeper, & LGD warnings, but are typically juuuust a little less “stranger danger” and foot-traffic observant on their own than my other picks.

Sussex hens are surprisingly human-oriented tagalongs (not always a good thing).

*Wellie and Sussex hens are so chill, they’re likely to be low-bird on the totem pole. Introduce them to mixed flocks with a handful of other birds, not as individuals.

Reds, Woman, Reds!

Yeah, I skipped the Rhode Island Reds/RIRs (and the less-common Rhode Island Whites & Blacks) and New Hampshire Reds. They are hugely popular backyard and homestead birds.

However, they’re “excellent” 5/week layers (with extra-large eggs that further tax feed and calcium needs). All roos are rough lovers, but RIRs and NHRs seem excessively so, especially in small-flock situations. I also find Rhode Island’s excessively destructive and messy compared to other breeds.

Both also tend to classify all dogs, cats, and humans in the same categories – either all good or all bad – and aren’t keen at individual recognition. That’s a problem here.

Top Priorities

The first thing I want out of my birds is the ability to reproduce them, which means a purebred (and a rooster I can stand long enough to breed).

I typically trial heritage and dual-purpose breeds. They’re more likely to both lay and “eat” well, and to be forager-willing and predator-savvy than the production breeds and dedicated laying or meat breeds.

They’re also a smidge more likely to have retained the ability to sit their own broods, politely, without me fighting constant broodiness, which lets me skip electric incubators and brooder boxes.

I also want mothers to be able to raise clutches within the flock so I don’t have to segregate, then introduce flock members. Mothering hens need to be canny to chick threats (including foot and equipment/tool traffic), but not over-defensive.

Breed Traits

Flighty v. Docile – Docile birds are less likely to have excellent risk awareness (water, predators, egg care), but flighty birds are commonly pen and tree hoppers, harder to handle, and noisier. The calm-savvy line is a tough one to walk, which is one reason my short list of breeds is actually short.

Images: Buff Sussex

Broody balance – willingness and ability to sit eggs (theirs and other poultry’s), keep a clean nest (relatively) while eating and drinking well, but not constantly fighting to keep hens from hiding, stealing chicks/eggs from other birds, and sitting eggs (and rocks, tennis balls, etc.)

Mothering – able to care for 10-16 chicks – protecting them from predators and the flock, teaching them hunting and foraging, keeping them warm and out of thick, wet grass, but not smothering them or excessively guarding

Rooster behavior – good flock provider, accurate predator savviness, but relatively quiet and easy handling (relatively = “for a roo”)

Rooster weight – All but one rooster every 2-6 years is going to hit a pot, so I want a breed that gains relatively well in the 3-9-month harvest-age window, as opposed to being excessively lean teens.

Breast meat – Many dual-purpose & layer breeds birds lack significant breast portions. It’s not a must-have but it is a big check mark for me if pullets & roos develop decent breast meat.

Camouflage – I like breeds with colors that blend into the terrain. (I don’t mind the skin color undulations or darker skins on meat from colorful birds versus the uniform white-pink of most market birds.)

Images: Speckled Sussex flock, Blue-Laced Red Wyandotte hen, & Dominque flock

Barred, laced, and speckled plumage – even the stark white-black zebra-type – camo sometimes surprisingly well in pasture, bare runs, snow, and dappled edges. They do better against predators, especially when they typically cluster elbow-to-elbow to forage, run, and roost.


Forage efficiency – I want birds to free-range from pasture, compost, garden-orchard spaces, scrub and woods. We’ve bred both the inclination and ability out of many breeds.

I also want breeds with the least production loss on green-grazing and green-protein forages (versus seed-nut and bug-heavy seasons/areas).

Flight – Pasturing, penning, and evening re-cooping is easier with breeds that are just disinclined to leaving the earth, versus “normal” tree-roosting and flight-happy breeds.

Laying balance – I typically look for breeds listed with mediocre to middling laying rates. (Somebody just fell out of their chair.)

Thing is, egg production is one of the tweaks we’ve made along the way, like our leaner pigs, faster-growing meat animals, and dairy production. It’s based on cheap, easily accessible grain feeds. Even heritage breeds listed as both excellent foragers and layers aren’t reaching their 200-275 eggs/year on just pasture.

Humans are hand-delivering 50-75% of their nutrients.

*Nice article: Modern chicken timeline, 1900-present –

Without that feeding (and without heating or cooling and 12+ hours of light) most of those “better” breeds rapidly lose productivity, hitting 100-150 egg/year ceilings.

I want birds free-ranging 70+% of their soft-seasons feed. The middling-production breeds typically retain more of their optimum laying (and weight gain) in those conditions, ending up with larger total yields in side-by-side comparisons with a “better” bird.

Two, hens need a lot of calcium to maintain successful laying and bone density. High-yield layers need more, and faster-absorbing sources, and can get less of their total-need percentage from forage and free-choice ground eggshells.

Tons of fragile eggs that crack in the boxes or basket do me less good than a smaller number of hardy eggs, before we even get to layer-breeder losses from deficiency injuries.

Condition & age-production resilience – resistance to production drop in lowering light & low temperatures; reduced slumps in 2nd, 3rd, & 4th-year laying (my goal: average decreases of 8-10% per year v. 12-15%)

Range-space versatility – willingness to wander for forage but also comfortable being penned/barned for 8-16 hours a day, & for days & weeks at a time (bird & produce harvest safety, pasture regrowth, evacuation crates/trailer, weather, theft/predator risks, injury/disease quarantine, flooding, assessments)

Mid-Size – best-fit for my predator load, efficiency desires, & climate (wet winters with ‘teen-20s lows, then 95-100+ with 80-95% humidity come July-August)

Feathering – This is really climate specific, but I prefer clean legs and short, light feathering on thighs, heads and spouts. The smoother they are, the less dirty they get. (You still have to provide leaves, straw, and mulch to soak up seasonal mud and wastes.)

Rule of Thumb: For cool to frigid climates, you want a rounder medium to heavy breed with tight, dense feathering, fluffy “undercoat”, and small combs (lessens frostbite). Some want feathered legs and feet; some of us feel that just collects snow and cold spring mud, then chills birds. If you have warm to hot climates, you typically want lighter-built birds with naked/clean feet and larger combs (heat transfer).

Images: Gold-laced & Buff Orpingtons, & laced Wyandottes

Pickin’ A Chicken

Many of my checkpoints don’t apply to people with less interest in long-term sustainability and self-reliance, or who only deliver bagged feed to a permanent coop with less movement. Climate, interaction, and individual needs and abilities factor hugely in appointing superstar status.

Marans and Legbars max out at 120-180 eggs/year, but they can near that max on trash-grass and pine/fir woods forage. For some preppers, that might outweigh the low ceiling and other traits. Others might choose high-yield layers or prefer fast-turn meat birds for a variety of reasons.

Images: Barred Plymouth Rocks, Legbars, & Australorps

Bantams or ornamentals that will only reach quail-level meat and egg yields but are smaller or quieter may suit others best.

Varying preferences are how we got all these choices in the first place. Most homesteaders and backyard keepers run multiple breeds (and types of poultry) even when we’ve settled on a primary because of the diversity.

Do your research (multiple-source research), don’t ignore breed and experience-needed warnings, but experiment. It’s easy to trial multiple breeds even with just a handful of starter birds. At most it’ll cost an extra $0.25-$3.00/chick to mix-and-match breeds when ordering them.

*DO pay extra for sexed hens and limit your roo populations if you’re just getting started.

For some general pointers, there are chicken-specific sections in and

You might also want to check out and your local-area chicken-keeper forums.

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The post Self-Sufficiency Superstars – Pickin’ A Chicken appeared first on The Prepper Journal.

Tree Fruits from Seed

12 Dec

Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

When we turn to sustainability, a lot of preppers consider tree fruits for part of our long-term food supply. They can be expensive to buy, so it’s tempting to just plant a seed from the tasty apple we ate for lunch or the fruits of a nearby tree that’s thriving. Johnny Appleseed did it after all.

It’s not quite that easy these days, though. Our most common tree fruits need a little help in the seed-to-plant stage. Then what we get from our 5-20 year investment may be … pretty disappointing.

Rampant Hybrids

The modern era has changed our fruit trees. They are about as far away from Johnny Appleseed’s as our modes of transportation.

Most of our common domestic tree fruits are not self-fertile. They require another tree, usually of a different variety, to pollinate their flowers. This results in a fruit that is carrying a hybrid seed within it.

Call it a Labrador and a poodle, and your seed is a labradoodle … except, it’s not as predictable in results as those labradoodles are.

That’s because many of the fruit trees purchased in the last 50-70 years are already a hybrid. So now you’re planting the equivalent of a puppy bred from a labradoodle and a bagel (beagle-basset).

That’s a lot of potential color, coat, size, health and temperament combinations. Same goes for fruit trees.

Understanding Breeding

When a plant flowers, it already knows what kind of fruit it’s going to produce. That fruit production is coded into its genetic material. It doesn’t matter what pollinates it, the fruit it bears will be the same.

The pollen carries the additional DNA from a different tree for most of our fruits. That new genetic material affects the seeds (offspring) inside that fruit, and in turn the fruit that offspring will produce. Like any other mutt or hybrid, it’s a BINGO pull for which parent’s genes end up in each of the offspring.

Then, there are the ways those genes interact with each other.

With some genes, there’s a straight on-off switch. In many cases, however, multiple sets of genes impact the same trait(s). Labrador coloring is one fairly simple example of gene expression.

Plants – to include our fruit trees – can inherit the same mixes of traits, which will affect our future trees. You can also get the same throwback results and the same potential of mutation, with some mutations positive for the species, some waiting hidden for years and eons, and some pretty negative.

Resulting trees and their fruits may be lacking in flavor or texture, produce very small amounts instead of bushels, be unable to support the weight of its fruit so they all snap off and drop before they ripen, or might create a throwback to a medlar. It might be two feet tall, ten feet tall, or twenty feet tall, spindly or shrub-like or lollypop-umbrella “tree” shaped. Its roots might be polite or might run along the surface.

Takeaway: Just because you like the fruit, the fruits from the seed inside are most likely going to be different.

That’s assuming the seed is actually capable of developing into a mature tree, and a fruit-bearing tree. Non-fruiting ornamental varieties of trees are also the result of hybridization. Disease and pest resistance may vary greatly from the parents.

Plus, the new hybrid may or may not make a good pollination partner with the existing trees or its newly sprouted hybrid-hybrid brothers and sisters. Fruits usually come in several prime pollination and flowering “seasons”, and sometimes have only a handful of other varieties that will work well as a pollinator for them.

Grafting’s Influence

On top of the high likelihood that your parent trees were both hybrids and your seed is likely to conceal all kinds of throwback and combination genetics, it’s very likely that if a tree was purchased in the last 20 years, it’s grafted.

Grafting is when you take a root from one tree, and glue a stick from a different tree on top of it. (Every botanist and arborist just twitched at that oversimplification. You’re welcome.)

Mostly, grafting is done to control size or to place a favorable fruiting variety on a root stock that can handle soil conditions better than that fruiting species. Sometimes it’s done to create the “tree of many fruits” combinations, or to make “self” fertile apples and peaches.

The root stock in no way affects the genetic material that’s carried by either the hybrid pollen donor or the hybrid female flower that will turn that pollen into a seed. However, it does create an additional set of issues due to the introduction of that fifth (and potentially sixth if it, too, is a hybrid) set of genetics into the “successful tree” gamble.

The problem for home growers who want to propagate their own trees is that the root stock defines a lot of the tree’s success, while the scion that will grow into the trunk and limbs determines the actual fruits you’ll harvest. Without the root stock, that scion may not even survive long-term.

Identifying Grafted Trees

First off, if you bought an apple, cherry, peach, plum, or pear tree in the last 20 years, I’m pretty comfortable saying it’s grafted. But maybe not. If not, you probably hunted hard to get your pure-bred, non-grafted, standard-sized heirloom, and know it’s not grafted.

If you want to check, look at the base of your tree. If you’re into mulch volcanos (many Americans are), you may want to move some of the material away from the base of the tree.

You’re looking for a ring or bulge somewhere right above where the roots start spreading out horizontally, sometimes up to 1-2’ above that point. That’s the scar tissue from where your tree was grafted onto its root stock.

Some trees are sneaky (by which I mean they heal flawlessly), and some botanists and arborists are artistic masters who should be working in cosmetic surgery, so it’s not 100% that you’ll find the scar. To further complicate it, there’s chip budding that is sometimes done, and grafting not the trunk, but limbs, which requires looking higher on the tree.

For the most part, though, look for that bulge or scar, in a circle or a series of them within 1-2’ of the soil and root levels. That’s your clue that you aren’t dealing with just one hybrid, but have an additional set of genetics contributing to the tree’s success.

Cold Stratification

Still want to try that seed for future apples? Or, want to try to breed some successful root stock crops for your area? Sometimes just tossing an apple core as-is works. It’s how we get apples growing in the woods around school campuses all over the world.

However, there are more reliable methods that can increase your chances of getting a tree to actually grow from that seed.

You can separate the seeds and plant clusters of 3-8 spaced 2-4” apart, with clusters separated by 4-8” in a row or mound. Top it with sand for the least-compaction potentials.

If you have problems with rodents, cover the seeds with some screen or wire mesh, similar to planting bulbs in “cages” but with the ability to cut it free and bend it up as the seedling grows to avoid girdling it.

At that stage, you may be digging them to graft and transplant, or you might be thinning to 6-25’ with the intention to graft in-situ, or just wing it and let them grow up. Whichever the goal, you want to go ahead and thin before their roots become too entangled.

Spring planted seeds are less likely to sprout the same year, and can be susceptible to late frosts and heavy rains or rotting in saturated soils. Autumn-planted sprouts may need mulched over – similar to strawberries – to protect them over winter.

A 6-to-24-hour lukewarm water soak ahead of planting out in spring will increase germination rates – which are typically pretty low for fruit trees.


Another method is to keep seeds cool and dry until 60 days before spring planting. At the -60 mark, the seeds are moved to damp (not soaking wet) straw, sawdust, peat moss, sphagnum moss, or sand and kept in the fridge.

You can also do the fridge stratification, and transplant into bags or cells. I prefer bags, because you slit or untie them, and transplant a full plug without ever disturbing the roots. A tree with a healthy tap root will be more successful and need less help later on in life.

For fruits like peaches and plums with their thick pits, you can help them out by gently cracking that tough armor when you get to the damp stratification, pre-soak, or are directly sowing them. There’s a tiny tree embryo in there, so be gentle. Nut crackers, a thin hand saw, and gentle taps with a hammer are all ways to open up that pit.

It’s Not All Bad News

Personally, I’m not much of a gambler. Especially when it comes to months, years and decades of time and space investment, I’m more comfortable with a sure thing. So how do I plan to continue propagating fruit trees?

I do it the same way the pro’s do to put those apples in the supermarket and all those baby trees in newspaper tubes for sale at Tractor Supply – grafting.

Those trees that are so hard to predict and so hard to sprout are pretty incredibly easy to graft. Not only do they form fast bonds, they’re pretty adaptable to “whose” roots you stick them on.

There are copious YouTube and web instructions for various types of root grafting and scion propagation. Some of the county and state extension offices, Master Gardener programs, and co-ops put out region-specific information that can help, too.

Air Layering

When I said I’m not much into gambling, and that I propagate root-scion combinations to replace trees and expand my orchards, I lied a little bit. I don’t like gambling on 10% germination, 50% survival rates from that 10%, and waiting 5-20 years to see if my lottery numbers get called.

Instead, I air layer limbs. Usually air layering is done with pencil-thick woody stems. If I can support the weight, I’ll use milk jugs and do limbs even 1-1.5” across.

By propagating a limb, I make a 2-8’ “sapling” in 3-6 months. It cuts years off the wait time and increases my survival rates from <5% to better than 70% (remember, that new tree is lacking the root stock that made my first tree successful).

Instead of 5-20 years, I know if I have a tree that can produce on its own in as little as 3-8 years. That’s a gamble I’m willing to take, with about 30-40% of my propagation.

Too, because it’s a clone of the tree limb that’s already giving me fruit, I already know that if it does survive, I have pollination partners that work for it on the property, which I can also propagate, and I know it produces a yield I actually want.

Yeah, I’m never going to discover the next Fuji or Methley, but I’m comfortable with that.


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How We Set Up “Our” Outdoor Shed!

7 Sep

Written by Guest Contributor on The Prepper Journal.

Editors Note: A guest contribution from Kate and Zac to The Prepper Journal.  As always, if you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly receive a $25 cash award as well as be entered into the Prepper Writing Contest with a chance to win one of three Amazon Gift Cards  with the top prize being a $300 card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.

Our family just moved into a new home. It’s in a great neighborhood but is rather small in size with only two bedrooms. In addition to updating the paint and replacing windows, we’ve added an outdoor shed that will serve a number of purposes. My husband works from home, which is awesome. However, it can get a little stressful when he’s taking an important call and our precocious two-year-old is running around and screaming like a crazy person. So, we started looking for some cost-effective solutions.


Our first reason for the outdoor shed was a way to create a home office space for him to work. When we really got to thinking about it though, we realized the shed could offer so much more.  In addition to building an awesome work station for my husband, we ended up adding a lofted bed, small bathroom, and kitchenette and lots of room for storage. So basically, when SHTF we’ll be jumping on the tiny home wagon.

This is how we designed our perfect prepper outdoor shed.

What are we storing?

When TEOTWAWKI hits, our plan is to hunker down. So, you better believe our hidden-in-plain-sight home office turned prepper shed is stocked full of food, medical supplies, water and ammunition.

Stockpiling too much can leave you susceptible to looters. So, we chose to store our goods in an unassuming spot – a home office shed. We built a bookcase into the wall with hidden storage and placed our canned and dry goods there. The space is cool, dry and dark and perfect for our food. We’re also storing important medical supplies and ammunition in the built-in storage space.


Solar Panels

We are millennials so when SHTF we’re still gonna really want power. That’s why we installed solar panels on the roof of our outdoor shed. If the power grid collapses, we’ll be ready. Well…at least I’ll still be able to check my news feeds.


Many see solar energy as cost prohibitive and I did too at first. I was hesitant to believe that purchasing and installing solar panels would fit into our budget. But, in the glorious age of the internet and YouTube, we quickly realized a DIY effort is not impossible and building our own solar panels was really quite doable.

A little research, a trip to your local home center and some sweat equity is all that’s required. You’ll be on your way to harnessing the power of the sun in no time and you’ll take your self-sufficiency and disaster readiness to the next level.


We live in a hurricane prone area, so in addition to building the solar panels ourselves and therefore understanding how they work in their entirety, we’ve stocked extra supplies for repairs in the event a destructive storm comes our way.

When building our outdoor shed / home office / prepper paradise we asked ourselves: why not utilize the all-powerful sun when things take a turn for the worse? In the meantime, these solar panels are helping reduce our electric bill. It’s truly a win, win.

Hideaway Storage Unit in Roof

We were able to control every aspect of building this shed and therefore we opted to add important stealthy storage spaces that would be challenging for the average Joe to locate. For example, we built a hideaway storage unit in the roof of the shed. This is an inconspicuous spot where we can keep important documents and stash away extra cash.

Shed Security Measures

This shed is so important to us on many levels. First off, it’s my husband’s space to get his work done and provide for our family in peace and quiet (SUPER IMPORTANT). Second, it’s our family’s contingency plan for TEOTWAWKI. If disaster strikes, or we can no longer check social media every 2 minutes (which is a disaster if you ask me), our home remains a great spot for us to hunker down.

We’ll have access to food, water, medical supplies, ammunition, our important documents and power. You can’t really place a value on this. And that’s why it’s important to us that our shed remains secure.

There are a ton of ways to secure your outdoor shed and we did our fair share of research (also here) to determine the best method for us.

In addition to installing upgraded locks on our shed, we also opted for an alarm system with video surveillance that immediately notifies us if there has been a break in. We also fixed our shed to the concrete foundation. This helps to protect it against natural disaster like the tropical storms and hurricanes that tend to plague our area.

One of the final security measures we took was to reinforce the entry door with metal bars. This essentially turns the shed into a vault and would allow us to truly hunker down.

Key Cache

This leads to me to the final feature I want to highlight in our prepper paradise (okay, it’s a shed I know!). We all know about survival caches. This is a smaller version of just that. A key to the shed, a pill bottle and a decorative rock are all you need accomplish this final tip for securing your outdoor shed. Glue the rock to the pill bottle lid, slip the key in, dig a hole and voila! Hardly a chance your snoopy neighbor will be able to locate that key hidden in plain sight.

We have found that our outdoor shed has increased our quality of life in the here and now tenfold. Converting an outdoor shed into livable space and a prepper station was both cost effective and an interesting, fun and educational adventure for us.

We also feel confident that this space will continue to provide for our family, especially in this current age of extreme uncertainty. Securing our outdoor shed has given us a significant increase in peace of mind. We know that we are prepped for what lies ahead and that our goods and materials are safe. And thanks to those solar panels, I’ll be able to charge my iPhone to live tweet TEOTWAWKI.


The post How We Set Up “Our” Outdoor Shed! appeared first on The Prepper Journal.