I am a senior writer for Wirecutter, and every morning I milk my cow.
I also have a flock of sheep, two bee hives and over 30 chickens.
We have several mature apple trees, a berry orchard, and a 3,000 square foot orchard. In the summer months I raise a few pigs and about 50 broilers, and in late winter we cut down some maple trees.
All of this provides us with abundant meat, vegetables, eggs, herbs, honey, cider, vinegar, maple syrup, and dairy products.
The rural lifestyle requires a lot of work, but much of the work is manageable and can mostly be confined to weekends, if I’m using the right tools.
These are just a few of the things that help me ensure our lifestyle is as smooth as possible. Although not all of these will work for every home, most of them can be adopted into any working life with positive results.
Leatherman Skeletool CX
Barely bigger than a Sharpie when folded, this little Leatherman Skeletool CX (our multi-tool pick) allows me to instantly solve problems, or at least make a quick fix, so I can hold off on the actual work until a better time. He helps me with everything from opening packages to tightening a loose door handle to retrieving a Lego stuck between two floorboards. I’ve carried other multi-tools over the years, but the Skeletool CX is a stripped-down gem, with nothing more than pliers, a blade, a four-prong screwdriver, and a bottle opener. It’s light in the pocket, and the blade can be opened with one hand, a rarity among multi-tools, so I can cut through something I’m already holding (which seems to always be the case).
Masontops Pickle Packer
Basic plant starters are simple, delicious, and don’t require any specialized equipment. I’ve been making sauerkraut for years, and the Masontops Pickle Packer Tamper helps a lot. It has a ridiculous name and I don’t like the embossed logo, but it’s the perfect tool for shoving savory cabbage (or salsa, pickled red onions, or ginger carrots) all the way to the bottom of a Mason jar. The Pickle Packer Tamper has a small end for use with regular Mason jars and a larger end for wide-mouth jars, and it has sharp edges that help scrape down the sides of the jar. I keep thinking I’ll make my own kraut shredder, but this one does such a good job, I’ll probably never replace it.
32oz ball. Wide Mouth Mason Jars
When it comes to the essentials, wide-mouth Mason jars are right behind my Leatherman multi-tool. These conveniently sized sealable glass containers are used on a virtual assembly line in my house. The larger opening makes it easier to pack a really full jar and holds a funnel better, which is important if you’re pouring ketchup from a vat on the stove. I have many different sizes, but I find the best ones are the quart jars. I also prefer the two-part metal lids to the plastic ones, because you can slide a paper towel under the metal ring to let air in but keep flies and dust out, which is handy for countertop fermentation. .
Carhartt Washed Duck Work Overalls
I have been wearing Carhartt Washed Duck overalls for over 20 years. They’re tough enough to remove minor nail tears and rose thorns, and the extra pockets are discreet enough that they don’t look too “work wear.” I get at least a year of daily wear out of each pair before my knees give out and they retire as paint pants (Carhartt has a version with added knee protection, but they’re too stiff and bulky for me). In the past, I’ve also used the thinner Carhartt Canvas Work bib overalls, but they don’t last as long.
Vitchelo V800 Headlamp
*At the time of publication, the price was $27.
In the evenings, I use a headlamp to operate the gate latches and navigate the ever-changing minefield of cows, but you can also use one for late-night dog walks or early-morning jogs. Flashlights are fine, but I need both hands to be free. My pick is the Vitchelo V800 headlamp, which has been a Wirecutter pick for years. The two-button interface requires no thinking and allows me to ignore the red light (which I never use). It has three brightness settings. I keep it on the lowest setting, which gives off a lot of light and extends the battery. I have tried many other headlamps, but always come back to the Vitchelo for its simplicity and low price.
King Arthur Dough Mixer
The King Arthur Dough Whisk is nothing short of magical. I’m a no-knead bread devotee because it’s simple, always looks great, and tastes delicious, but mixing can be tricky. Then I got this whisk and my bread life improved dramatically. I don’t know if it calculates the exact shape of the whisk end, or if it’s just a random flourish, but it cuts through a sloppy, cement-like blob of dough and incorporates the flour at least two to three times faster than a wooden spoon. It’s sturdy enough to scrape up the sides of the bowl, and cleaning it isn’t too bad, although batter can get stuck to the top of the handle and sometimes needs to be scraped off with a knife.
Continental Commercial Grade Rubber Hose
One of the odder items that make me happy on a daily basis is the Continental Commercial Grade Rubber Hose (our top pick for garden hoses). I used to think that the classic green hose was the only option, so I struggled with kinks, stiffness, and terrible couplings. The first time I used a black rubber hose it was a eureka moment and since then it’s pretty much everything I’ve ever bought. The Continental is durable and designed to be wrench-tight, but the real glory is its flexibility. It’s so easy to wrap and almost refuses to twist. But rubber hoses can get heavy, so I also use Eley’s 5/8-inch Polyurethane Garden Hose (another of our garden hose picks), especially in the winter. This hose is much lighter and even more flexible than Continental and stays that way even in freezing temperatures.
Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Insect Repellent
I am outside a lot, and so are the children. Unfortunately, we also live in tick country, and I know people who have had Lyme disease. So I like to treat everyone’s shoes with Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Insect Repellent (one of our insect repellent picks) at least two to three times each summer. Unlike most repellents, permethrin is applied to clothing, not skin, and lasts up to six washes, or (on items like shoes and backpacks) about six weeks. A study published in The Journal of Medical Entomology found that wearing permethrin-treated shoes reduced the chances of being bitten by a tick by nearly 75 percent. We also use a regular spray repellent that contains 20 percent picaridin (Wirecutter’s Top Pick, Sawyer Products’ premium insect repellent), and we also check the kids for ticks every night during the summer. .
Pleasant Hill Grain MacIntosh Fruit Press
Making cider is really satisfying. I have tried building several home presses, and they have all been barely effective or incredibly dangerous, so I did my research and invested in the Pleasant Hill Grain MacIntosh Fruit Press. Since getting the real deal four years ago, my yield has increased from a few gallons of cider each fall to almost 35 gallons a year. It might be a slow process, but there’s no hurdle when it comes to operating the cider press (and the kids love it). Thanks to MacIntosh, we can make and then freeze a lot of cider and enjoy it all year long.
Nesco American Harvest VS-12 Vacuum Sealer
Before anything goes into our freezers, it is vacuum sealed to maximize its shelf life. For this I use the Nesco American Harvest VS-12 Vacuum Sealer (Wirecutter’s pick of vacuum sealer). I like that I can customize the size of the bag so I can portion things out however I want and not feel wasteful. I like to freeze most chickens whole for roasting (in special shrink bags), but you can also shred and vacuum-seal separate bags of legs, thighs, and breasts; learning to chop a chicken is very easy (video).
The only thing I don’t like is that the VS-12 can be tricky to clean. The little drip tray inside will sometimes collect a small amount of liquid from the bags, so with raw meat, it’s important to keep it sanitized, and the design makes this a bit tricky. Some models have removable drip trays, but the VS-12 stands out as being affordable and customizable.
Frigidaire Chest Freezer
We store enough food to justify having three extra freezers in our basement (and an extra fridge). The chest freezer I have now is discontinued, but the Frigidaire FFCL1542AW is an updated model of the Frigidaire FFFC15M4TW we bought (Wirecutter’s largest chest freezer), which is big enough to hold the meat of two 275-pound pigs, with room to spare The new model has the same beautiful slide-out baskets on top for more organized storage, which I pulled out so I could fill the freezer with more pork, ham, and bacon. Hmm. It’s easy for chest freezers to get disorganized, but I sort the cuts into labeled cardboard boxes and load the freezer like a game of Tetris. The only drawback to both models is that the temperature control is a large dial on the side, at floor level, just where a 3-year-old might discover it and turn it off. (Ask me how I know this…)