A lot of people – especially those smart enough to even consider prepping – will ask from time-to-time “What’s it like to really get out and do it – you know…conquer some land?”

We recently turned off our RuralPioneer.com project, but there were a whole slew of great articles on the site about how to “get ‘er done…” when comes to land-taming.

Here’s a report from 2005 that explains a LOT about what goes into changing a hunk of raw land into something useful and park-like….

This was on our first piece of land – 13 acres and since, we added the 16-additional adjoining acres.  I may be too stupid to know when to quit.

Wait a minute, where’s the fun??

This is an article about trail-blazing property.

First, we need to define what is trail blazing and why would we go there and do that in the first place?

The answer is that it’s a matter of good stewardship of your land to be able to get to any part of it in a reasonable amount of time.  For example, if a space shuttle blew up on reentry into the earth’s atmosphere, there was difficulty, depending on area, getting to where debris had fallen because some places in our area were relatively open while others were not.  Another fine reason to get to all parts of your land? Sure!  Making sure your fences are in place and your property lines aren’t being subjected to periodic “drift”.

Now, if you own a home which sits on a regular lot, in a regular neighborhood, in a regular city, this may sound far-fetched, but out here in the boonies (where we don’t have DSL yet despite 4-years of promises from the local telco – Sprint (now CenturyLate) we really worry about such things.

When Elaine and I recently moved back to our homestead after contract work in the Los Angeles area, my brother in law, an ex-Special Forces man, was perfectly comfortable going anywhere on the land he might desire.  A few ticks here, a snake there, well, those were no concern of his.  If the snake was big enough, it might look like dinner to him.  But not to Elaine and me.  We’d like to have something to really enjoy walking.

tb10The best time of the year to do your trail blazing is when the leaves are either falling or fallen. Even better is when the temperature is fairly low.

You need to be aware of when deer hunting season is.  No matter how many signs you put up, they don’t stop bullets.  You need to wear orange in the woods because if you don’t, you may be mistaken for game.  Triple-true in bow hunting season.

On the day when I was doing the trail blazing you’ll see as we go, it was sort of warmish for November, but not in the record books.  More important, we had several days of cooler and wetter weather ahead of our trail blazing, so there was somewhat less risk of fire being accidentally started.  Less dust by a long-shot and that’s important.

In order to go blazing trails in the fashion we like to see on our property, we set up a mental picture of what the finished project should look like.  At a minimum, we want to have a trail that is wide enough for our riding lawnmower (42 inches worth) to ride around the property on a year round basis and then be able to keep it trimmed up and walkable.  To do the actual work we enlisted the help of our neighbor with a tractor and a 5? brush hog.

For those not familiar with life in the outback, the Brush Hog is a very hefty version of the rotary lawn mower.  Sort of like a Toro on steroids.  There’s a big blade which weights a lot (upwards of 60-70 pounds I reckon) and it’s powered directly by the power take off  (PTO) shaft on the rear of the neighbor’s tractor.  We crossed the neighbor’s palm with a couple of bucks for his trouble – Federal Reserve Note bucks – not the deer kind.

The tools for the day were:

  • 25 HP diesel tractor with front end loader, brush hog and driver
  • 18 HP riding mower with special equipment (Kevlar belts and blades that could get hurt without my whining)
  • Chainsaws
  • Bar oil, gas, chainsaw wrench, screwdriver for chain adjusting
  • Shotgun and shells for wild thingies that bite and slither
  • Cold water – working in the woods you need to stay hydrated.
  • Respirator (dust?  Oh yeah, this is dusty damn work even after the rains…)
  • Pointy toed boots – this is Texas, fer cryin’ out loud
  • And Beers and BBQ at the end of the trail work

tb4As it turned out, the first day of the Trail Blazing was done on the same day that the local volunteer fire department was holding a fund raising BBQ.  What perfect timing.  ‘Bout then it was time to “gear up.”

This is what a properly outfitted trail blazer looks like.  Notice that the hat is orange because the trail was blazer in deer season.  Now, how could a hunter miss the sound of a wildly driver garden tractor and a diesel with a brush hog, not to mention the sound of a chain saw going off every now and then, is beyond me, but I take no chances unless I have to, so orange hat it was.

Then there’s the gloves.  You want to wear a long sleeve shirt with the gloves because even though the ticks are mostly bedded down by late November, they’re still around.  Rumors are that wearing fabric softener sheets keeps ’em off, again are just that, so we take no chances.

Another fine point is that I don’t use those flimsy little sissy paper respirator things that are paper and cost 99-cents for a package of 300.  No sir.  Down here, we want to get as much of the crap out of the air as we can, so we get a proper paint respirator which helps the asthma from being too bad. Suspended plant oils in the air are bad-and-a-half.

Although there are warnings on my Benedryl saying do not operate heavy machinery, I was having enough of a tough time with the lungs that I took half a pill (12.5 mg) and a hit off the inhaler (Albuterol) before heading to the deep woods.  Hey!  I was only operating a chainsaw – not a self feeding chipper.  No, not wise, but considering the option was no trail, or turning, blue, I chose the drugs and went to work.

The general plan was to go around the perimeter of the property, and as you’ll see in this next picture, the trail came out pretty nice.  This is what it looks like along the south fence line:


A little further along, we ran into the part of the property which has a couple of washes, one of which has a small spring in it.  These we had to work around with the trail:


You can see some logs were put in along the fence line.  The idea of the logs was to slow down the erosion process a bit, give the critters somewhere to hang out, and afford the brave fence line maintenance persons to go along and work on that as need arose.

The general land we went through was a variation of this stuff –  and by the time we were done, it looked a lot more like a State Park:


Again, one of the things to do, even if you don’t have barbed wire on all sides of your land is to make sure that there are fence posts (white tops make them visible) so you don’t have to get the land surveyed.  Three years ago a survey was about $100 per acre, and it runs more than that most places today, with surveyors charging not only for their time, but also for the difficulty of the terrain.  If you’re going to get 40 acres of square level pasture surveyed, it’s not nearly the task that 13 acres of rugged woods is.  This is looking up a small part of the north fence line…Fence/survey stake is circled… takes good eyes to see ’em sometimes…


A lot of places that you’ll run into won’t need the horsepower of the big tractor and the Brush Hog, Those will be perfect with just the riding mower.

Now, again, this is not something that Huskee, Yard Machines, or anyone else will sanction.  But I can tell you from personal experience that I have beat the living bejezus  out of the lawn tractor, opening up trails like the one below (which is along the fence separating the garden and north field from the yard around the house).  One of my next projects will be to trim off all the lower limbs up to about 8 feet, or so, which will encourage more of the Bermuda grass to come in.  The grass likes more light. The deer seem to like that and the ryes and clovers that some with it.


Speaking of the deer, that area of trees in the upper left of the picture above is left pretty much untouched.  We can get to it from the road side if we have to, or from the power line right of way which is trimmed down now.  But we do leave a fair amount of the property in its natural state so the animals can come and go as they want.  Even with a fence as low as this one, which is more decorative than anything, we took out a section by the garden so the deer could get through.  The older does don’t have a problem jumping it, but the fawns still run halfway across the yard to take the “no jumping required” route.  Fine.


You can see more of the kind of “needle and scrub” clearing that was done coming down from the north side through the stand of pines in this shot.  But like I said, the one thing you better be ready to do is step up and buy a new set of blades for the lawn tractor once you get a trail punched in.   This set of blades was pretty well beat to hell and if we hadn’t stepped up to the Kevlar belts last year, we would have been replacing them too.


So that’s it – a couple of Saturdays, about $150 in materials and bribes – and oh, by the way, did I mention wear and tear on the chainsaw?  When you’re cutting briar patches down (which you’ll want to do because the vines will kill the “good trees” like the oaks and such, the chain will often get twisted one way or the other.  A half hour with the Dremel tool put the guides right…


If you ever get your own place out in the woods, here’s a dandy tip from he Voice of Experience.  Don’t ever let the trail get away from you. Keep it up no matter what!  It’s a 24-karat hunk of snot to get it put back in shape again. Even if you don’t use an inhaler.

This was all done in 2005.  And then, we sold off some of the timber on the land to open it up.

Developing a piece of land isn’t terribly hard, but you need to take the “long game” approach.  Ours sort of “just happened” as we waded it.  But the major steps ended up being:

Basic Trail Cutting.

This is what we covered in the 2005 article.

Basic Tree Clearing:

If you want open land in some area, get the trees harvested by a professional crew.  If you have timber cut, do it in the spring when the sap is running full so your logs will weigh heavier at the mill.  Also, take trees that might block future solar panel locations if you plan to put in solar later-on.  I screwed up on this, and as a result, we are not getting as much bang-for-our solar investment as we could.

Fence it for Goats

Everyone needs to run goats for a few years.  They will do a great job of eating everything up tyo 6-8 feet off the ground.  You might get a dog – there are some great herding dogs.  Our goats didn’t have one…since we had enough things to do.  As a result, the goats were only comfortable going out into “coyote country” when we were there “tending them” – which involves a lawn chair, shady spot, and a book to read.

Goats are the ultimate fitness trainers.  They break things, get up on equipment, get outside of almost any fence you can imagine… And, ever wrestle with a 200-pound male Boer goat with horns?  Yep, Dick Chinny, as we named him, was a great wrestling pal.

Goats over time will tend to over-graze and that opens the way for horney goat weed and that’s a noxious weed.  So then…

Fallow the Land as Fields

Just mow it a couple of times a year to keep the goat weed from going to seed so you get something that looks like pasture land.

Now, if you want, it can be a golf course, cow pasture, or you can turn it over and put in some basic crops.  Pasturing for a few years is best, though, because it ensures that things like old tree roots have time to decompose well and that means less problems with your ground-engaging equipment.

When comes time to work the land into some kind of crops, start with a subsoiler – a kind of pick that goes deep on the tractor.  Then a mass with a “middle-buster” and then a conventional plow. Harrow a bit and plant away.  However, where grass will bounce back from dry and drought conditions, most crops won’t, so plan your agricultural adventures carefully!

One of these days, I’ll take a drive around the property and show you some of the highlights of what worked – and what hasn’t.

But, if you think heading for the woods is a decision that leads to the Life of Riley, think that over…carefully.

Write when you get rich,