Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Egg Anomalies

 

Grocery stores only carry smooth uniform eggs most of the time, so this is what customers see, but backyard flock owners get to discover all kinds of curiosities in the laying box - eggs of unusual shape, size and texture. These glitches in the chicken reproductive system are especially common in young pullets and older hens and are usually benign. Let's get into some specifics of the surprises your chickens may leave for you:

Tiny eggs - these 'oopsie eggs' are just a fraction of a size of a full-grown egg and normally contain no yolks. Usually they only turn up once in a while and are nothing to worry about, despite the various superstitions surrounding them in folklore (they are also known as "witch eggs").

Shell-less eggs - weak shells or soft eggs that feel almost as if they are made of rubber can be an indicator of not enough calcium in your chickens' diet. We don't often see those, as the land and water in our area are very mineral-rich, but they do turn up once in a while. Adding crushed eggshells to the chicken feed is helpful in replenishing calcium stores.

Uneven eggs - eggs covered with all sorts of bumps, spots, various irregularities, or misshapen eggs can just be something that happens to older hens or very flighty hens (I expect those forming eggs get all shaken up in there!) No reason to worry and not much you can do about it.

Double yolks - double-yolk eggs come up sporadically and are usually extra large. It's a cool surprise in your daily egg collection routine, but I always feel sorry for the poor hen.

Twin eggs - when two eggs don't quite separate inside the chicken's reproductive tract, you get this sort of "siamese twins" (as you can see in the photo); two eggs that are stuck together. Naturally, there will be two yolks.

Blood or meat spots in eggs - this is something you don't notice until you crack the egg open. A red spot inside an egg is unsightly, but if the egg is fresh, you have no reason to worry - just pick it out carefully and use the egg as you normally would. Red spots also depend on breed and weight - heavy hens and layers of brown eggs are especially prone to them.

Remember, while using curiously shaped eggs for food is just fine, only choose normal, uniform eggs for hatching to increase your success rates. If a hen is prone to laying misshapen eggs, you might want not to choose her regular-looking eggs for hatching either, as these traits tend to be hereditary.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here


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Tanning Rabbit Hides

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We started raising meat rabbits on our small acre homestead, and wanted to honor the animals that feed us by using as much of the rabbit as possible. The innards are buried, and turned to compost. The ears and feet are dehydrated, and used as dog treats. Also the hides are saved, and preserved the best we can. The process we use takes around 3 weeks to complete, so I save up hides until I have about a dozen before processing a batch.

To obtain the hide we cut around each foot, and between the leg, and pull the entire hide off in a tube. I rinse in cold water to remove as much blood from the neck area, and roll them skin side out. Each hide is placed in the freezer in a large bag until I have enough to process. They will keep about a year in the freezer.

Once I am ready to process I remove my hides from the freezer, and let thaw about 6 hours. I fill a clean 5 gallon pail (or Rubbermaid tub if you have more than 10) half way with hot water. Add 1 cup non iodized sale, and 1 cup aluminum sulfate (alum) to water. Stir until fully dissolved. I add fresh or thawed pelts to the solution. This will tan 10-12. If needed I top off with a little more water, and weigh down with a plate, and something heavy to make sure that all pelts are fully submerged.

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My pail is stored at room temp for 5-7 days, and stirred twice a day to make sure that all areas are soaked in brine. It is important to keep this out of reach from animals and children. 5-7 days after the first brine I pull my pelts, and squeeze out as much brine as possible back into the bucket. Do not wring them out, just squeeze. The brine is saved for the next step.

To flesh each hide I start at the back tail section, and gently start peeling the flesh layer from the back. The edges are thinner, and can tear easily if you are not careful. I peel all around the edge, and gently but firmly pull down. Sometimes I can get it off in one piece, and other times it comes off in strips. The younger the rabbit the more fragile the pelt.

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Once I get off the main pieces I go back through, and look for little bits that were left. If some is missed it's okay, because I can scrape it after it dries out.

When all pelts are fleshed I leave them inside out. I add another cup of non iodized salt, and another cup of alum to the remaining brine, stir well, and return all pelts. The pelts are weighed down, and topped off with a little extra water if needed. Pelts are covered, and left to sit 7-14 days. If pelts are not stirred twice daily there is a risk that folded areas will not get well brined, and this causes hair slip, and bald patches.

After the second brine each hide is pulled, and rinsed in cool water twice. I then cut up the belly to make each hide open. I use a bodywash or shampoo to clean fur. Each hide is rinsed in cool water twice. I then fill the tub with cool water to let them soak. I drain and refill 2 times to make sure all pelts are fully rinsed. I squeezed as much excess water out of each hide, but never wring them.

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Once clean, and rinsed each hide is hung in the garage to drip dry on a line. They can also be tacked to a board to encourage them to dry flat, but I tan 12 or more at a time, and space is an issue. Hides are checked twice daily to test them for drying. The trick is to stretch the hides when they are "mostly dry," but not stiff. Catching them at that point makes the stretching process much easier. If they become to dry and stiff I simply rewet using a damp cloth and cool water, and begin stretching again. The edges are most susceptible to this.

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Once stretched I return them to the line to dry fully. Once totally dry I shake out loose hair, and work over the back of a chair or wood post.  When they are all soft and completely dry I coat the back with mink oil. This preserved, seals, and softens the leather. It also smells pretty good, and makes the hides smell less like a rabbit.

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Once the skins are well oiled I store them skin to skin, hair to hair, so I don’t get mink oil on the fur sides. Where the fur meets the fur from another hide I place a scented dryer sheet to make the hair smell sweet. I keep my hides in a cardboard box rather than a sealed plastic tote so the hides can breath, and slip 2 bars of soap in the box for scent, and to keep any bugs away. They are then ready for whatever project I decide.

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Many folks will take this a step further, and smoke each hide over an outdoor smoldering fire. I only make pet toys with my current hides however, so I don’t smoke my hides. If you plan to store for a very long time, or make clothing or blankets from your hides, then I would recommend smoking them as well.

This video shows my step-by-step process of how I personally preserve our rabbit hides at home.

Melissa Souza lives on a 1-acre, organically managed homestead property in rural Washington State where she raises backyard chickens and meat rabbits and grows plums, apples, pears, a variety of berries, and all the produce her family needs. She loves to inspire other families to save money, be together, and take steps toward self-reliance no matter where they live. Connect with her on Facebook.


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Managing Your Pig Pastures in Really Wet Weather


Here's a tricky riddle someone asked me the other day..."How do you keep the pigs from wrecking your pasture in really wet weather?”

Turns out you can successfully graze pigs on pasture, even when it won't stop raining!  Here's what we did at Singing Prairie Farm during the last 11 day stretch with nary a sunbeam in sight.

1. Pay attention to your microclimates. There will be some places on your farm that are more resilient in wet weather than others. The longer you observe your land, the more you will notice the subtleties and nuances of each different corner and location. It's almost like each spot has its own personality. With this in mind, when the real rain set in, we moved our breeding herd (the highest impact group) to an east facing hillside that had not been grazed in 12 months. The slope helps by not allowing water to pool. If you have water pooling somewhere, that place will be very, very sensitive, so long as it is flooded. If the animals tramp around the puddles with their sharp hooves it will no doubt disturb and compact the soil so that it will be unlikely that good perennial grass will grow there next year.

Much like the guys I went to high school with, you might also describe pigs as having a "path of least resistance" mindset. This means they may drink from standing water in puddles rather than the good, clean water of their waterers. This could be a potential vector for disease and parasitism if left for long enough.

Other than the gentle slope, the other factor that helped us out a lot was the fact that the paddock hadn't been grazed for 12 months. All that grass on the surface eventually got laid down flat and acted like a small layer of armor between the sky and the earth. And as we all know, keeping soil covered and protected is one of the hallmarks of increasing those magical and omnipresent micro-organisms that make the whole world keep spinning...

Location can be described as the "broad brush strokes" of management. It's the big picture or Macro element which empowers your smaller, finer brush strokes to yield good fruit in time.

After location comes:

Duration: How long will the animals stay within a given paddock. We try to not leave our animals on longer than 10 days at the very most.

Stocking Rate: How many animals do you have in a paddock? Many beef grazers measure in estimated pounds per acre. I measure mostly by animal per square foot.  Our paddocks generally allow about 1,350 square feet per animal.  As a point of reference, CAFO's use 10.8 square feet per finishing animal.

Use of nose rings: We ring every weaned pig on the farm with a humane certified nose ring. Much like an electric fence, the nose ring provides a short term negative experience if the animal tries to venture where you don't want it to go. We want our pigs to graze, and not till, the pasture. We manage our pasture to keep grass in its vegetative stage. That is, about 4 to 8 inches in length after grazing. The longer you leave the grass, the quicker it will rebound.

Some farmers seem to be able to get by without nose rings. I don't know how. Every time I try to go without, I end up with a temporarily ruined pasture that looks like it's going to require the Army Corp of Engineers to get grass to grow there again. It is my experience that to be a carbon sequestering pig farmer, I need to ring noses.  Heck, I would ring my own nose if I thought it would help sequester carbon!

And lastly, the rotation of feeders and shelters within the paddock. I have found this last detail to be invaluable to the restorative effects of pigs on pasture if the weather is wet or dry. Rotating the feeders and hutches is particularly important during wet weather so the impact is spread evenly throughout the paddock. Without this added labor you end up with mud wallows in the hutches where you don't want them and ruined ground leading up to the door where they walk to the feeders or hutches. For example, in the last 11 days of rain I have moved the feeders and the hutches 22 times. This is not as hard as it sounds. My feeders are Pepsi Cola barrels, sawed in half  length wise. I keep these feeders in a long line spaced out about 20 feet apart. Each time I chore the pigs, I nudge the feeders about 5 feet forward with my boots.  You can do this with a bucket in each hand fairly easily. The hutches are 8 feet by 6 feet metal sheds built out of what looks like grain bin material. I move these to a patch of fresh grass each chore time when its wet.  Every 36 hours when its dry. Our waterers are the least mobile element in our design. They stay in the same place for the entire time that the paddock is being utilized.  For that reason, we armor the ground around the drinker with a half sheet of plywood or a few metal barrel lids. Nothing is too fine for pigs you know!

If this seems like a lot of work, don't worry. This little bit of work creates systematic improvement of your farms ability to produce even more grass next year. It will pay dividends in the long run. As early as 4-5 months later you'll have noticeably more grass as a result of your efforts and attention to detail.  And what more your pastures will keep getting lusher and greener.  You will be sequestering tons of carbon in every acre in the form of organic matter.  And as the years tick by, the more you pay attention to those details, the more resilient and self sufficient your farm will become!

 John & Holly Arbuckle
Co-Founders, Roam Sticks, LLC


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How Homesteaders Can Vacation

If people who have only houseplants or a dog find it difficult to get away because of those responsibilities, then it’s no wonder that we homesteaders may consider vacations near-impossible. Because vacations are important for our mental health and the health of our relationships, I’d like to share how my husband and I arrange worry-free time away from our farm and animals.

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Community is key: Our homestead consists of a large garden, orchard, bees, chickens, turkeys, miniature donkeys and milk cows. This probably explains why we went several years without a vacation! It’s true that we haven’t found the “perfect match” for one person to handle our farm. If someone had that expertise, they would probably be too busy with their own farm. On the other hand, we haven’t found it necessary to be part of a commune in order to have people help us out so we can get away.

Currently, there are two friends who handle different aspects of our homestead so we can vacation. The one, who is four miles away from us, also has chickens. This allows us to care for her animals twice-a-day when she is gone, and she returns the favor by caring for our smaller animals. The other is a close-by neighbor who has beef cows. We’re in the habit of helping each other out when a pregnant cow needs watching or it’s time to make hay. Therefore, we find it easy to keep an eye on each others’ cows when one family is gone on vacation.

Timing is important: Fortunately for us, we prefer taking vacation off-season when hiking trails are less crowded. That schedule is perfect for having our homestead easier to manage. By mid-October in Ohio, the garden harvest is complete and the bees tucked in for winter. Baby chicks and turkey poults have matured enough to live in the poultry houses.

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Keep things simple: It seems wisest to ask care-takers to do minimal work because we want this to be an enjoyable experience for them. Selfishly speaking, we want them to be willing to cover for us for future vacations!

Not having others responsible for milking cows seems essential. Our cows do need milking when their calves are first born in springtime, but because their calves stay with them, the calves are capable of taking all the milk after they are about four months old. If we want any milk after that, we separate the calf and its mother overnight until after we milk in the morning. It is therefore totally unnecessary to milk cows when we’re gone—and we can leave contented cows caring for their calves.

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The chickens and turkeys have large yards, but they also free-range when we’re home. For vacations, we keep things simpler by having the poultry confined to their yards during the day. This reassures us that the caretaker won’t be hunting for birds or eggs when it’s time to put them back indoors each evening.

Narragansett turkeys

There are other small things we do to minimize the caretakers’ work. The cows’ and donkeys’ barns and the poultry houses are cleaned just before we leave and sufficient food is stored right where the animals are fed. Also, we don’t expect anyone to operate the windmill which usually provides water for the cows. Instead, water tanks are set up by the more convenient water hydrants.

Some of the other time-consuming things we routinely do can be omitted at vacation time. For example, we usually put several supplements in the cows’ organic oats, but the cows will easily survive one week without them. I also alert the egg customers that their eggs will still be in the barn’s refrigerator for pick-up when we’re gone, but they won’t be cleaned!

Be clear about directions: Cell phones make it easier to be in-touch, but friends appreciate not wondering about details. If the caretakers have time, it’s reassuring to do the chores together one time before we leave. I also leave printed directions, specific for each animal, close to where they are fed. Taking care of other people’s animals makes it easier for me to know what’s helpful to have in print.

I hear the phrase “self-sufficiency” closely linked to homesteading, but homesteaders also need community for many reasons. Some chores are made easier and more fun with extra hands. We also often appreciate others homesteaders’ knowledge and opinions. Finally, vacations may sometimes seem like a luxury, but if we want to maintain our farms and our close relationships long-term, taking breaks with vacations is important—and for that, we need community.

Mary Lou Shaw and her husband grow most of their own food on their homestead with a large garden, orchard, bees, and rare-breed animals. These animals include Dutch Belted cows, Dorking chickens and Narragansett turkeys. Learn how to grow your own food with Mary Lou’s book, Growing Local Food, through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482. Read all of Mary Lou’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Learn To Make Soap, Part 2: The Terms and Tools

Hopefully, after reading Soap Making, Part 1: 7 Myths and One Truth about Soap Making, you either got curious about soap making or found your passion again. But, as with any skill, there is a little base knowledge you need to successfully follow a recipe.

saanens and soaps

First we will begin with some of the most commonly used soaping terms found in recipes. After that, I have compiled a list of the more essential tools and ingredients you will need. This way, when I guide you through the recipe in the next blog, you will have everything on hand.

I have listed the soaping terms in alphabetical order for easy look-up. If you are interested in delving deeper into this subject you can find more information at brambleberry.com and soap-making-essentials.com among others.

Terms

Alkali Sodium Hydroxide a/k/a Lye is an alkali. It is a substance (in soap making it is also called a base) with a PH greater than 7.

Base Oils Oils or fats such as olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, lard and others which are used to mix with your lye solution and which react with the lye to make soap.

Cold Process Method A simple method of soap making that only requires heat to melt the base oils unless they already are liquid at room temperature such as Olive Oil.  You do not have to cook anything or put anything into the oven. The only heat generated is that during the saponification process when the lye reacts with the base oils. This reaction generating heat is also called an exothermic reaction.

Curing After the milk soap has saponified and has been cut into loaves and bars, it needs to rest (cure) for a minimum of 4 weeks. Water based soaps don’t need quite as long. This resting time allows the soap to dry and harden for a longer lasting soap.

Essential Oil A fragrant oil that has been obtained from a plant for its scent, flavor or therapeutic properties.

Fragrance Oil These are synthetic imitations of essential oils and other scents. Look for phthalate free and paraben free fragrance oils. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl. Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in personal care products; however there is growing concern that they might be linked to breast cancer incidents.

Gelling Once the base oils have started to react and combine with the lye (saponified), the soap batter will begin to heat up. This happens as it reaches trace, continues while the batter is poured into the mold, and for up to 48 hours afterwards. When the soap reaches a temperature hot enough, it will undergo a change, it will gel. It will become translucent and very soft. At this point the soap batter is still very caustic so do not touch it under any circumstances without gloves. Most water based soaps are supposed to gel, many soap makers do not like their milk soaps to gel as the soaps stay a lighter color if they do not gel, but either way the soap is fine and perfectly useable. I for one do not mind if my milk soap gels.

Glycerin Glycerin is a byproduct of the saponification (turning into soap) process. When the lye and oil/fat molecules grab onto each other to create soap, a glycerin molecule is released. Handcrafted soap contains the glycerin, commercial bars do not. In commercial bars the glycerin has been removed to be used as a valuable moisturizing element in cosmetics. The presence of glycerin in handcrafted soap is what makes those soaps so much more moisturizing and less drying.

Lye Discount Lye discount means that you are using less lye in the soap recipe than is needed to turn all of your base oils into soap. Most soap recipes recommend using about 5 to 8% less lye than oils. This is done for safety so that a small error in measurement does not create soap with too much lye (lye heavy). This would be very drying to your skin. Way too much lye could have some unintended chemical reactions including something that is called a volcano. A volcano is fascinating to watch, but a horrendous mess to clean up. Lye discount usually also means that there is extra oil left over in each soap bar (not visible as it is such a small amount), which adds to the moisturizing effect of the soap. The term “to super fat” means something very similar, only it refers to the extra amount of oil compared to the amount of lye, and in many cases the terms of lye discount and super fat are exchangeable.

Lye Calculator A soap making calculator is often called lye calculator, since the main purpose is to calculate the amount of lye needed to achieve full saponification. It calculates the amount of base oils, fragrances, liquid and gives you lots of other valuable information about your soap. Always test a new recipe with a soap calculator. Don’t just take the author’s word for it.

M & P Melt & Pour refers to the soap kits that I mentioned earlier in the blog. These are pre-made soaps (originally using lye), which just need to be melted and repoured into molds. This is a good soap making starter for kids since the lye has already reacted with the oils and is no longer caustic. Adult supervision is still strongly suggested due to the melting process.

Melting Point This is the temperature at which the base oils become liquid. Olive oil for example is always liquid, 76 degree Coconut Oil starts melting at 76 degrees Fahrenheit and Palm Oil starts melting at about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Each oil has its own melting point. Palm Oil also has the unique characteristic that it must be stirred well after melting since its components separate and if not stirred you will have Palm Oil misbehaving and it will bomb your soap.

pH This is a really important term for soap making. pH is the measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. A substance with a pH value greater than 7.0 (alkaline) is a base; with less than 7.0 (acidic) is an acid; and a pH of 7.0 is neutral. Your skin has a pH of around 7.0. Goats Milk has a pH of around 7.0, which makes it such a favorite and gentle ingredient in handcrafted soaps and why so many people with sensitive skin are able to tolerate goats’ milk soap even if they have trouble with other soaps including other handcrafted ones.

Ricing This is a dreaded word and experience, however I’ve only ever experienced it once and that was with a water-based soaps and it was a fragrance oil. The soap batter will resemble rice pudding and looks like it has little rice grains in it.  It was a small batch and it still looked presentable at the end.

Saponification This is a term you will hear and use often. Saponification is the exothermic (creates heat) chemical reaction between the alkali (lye) and your base oils or fat (lard) to create soap and lasts about 24 – 48 hours. In simple terms: one lye molecule combines with one fat/oil molecule and turns into one soap molecule while generating one extra glycerin molecule.

Seizing When this happens, it usually means that you bombed your soap. When your soap batter seizes, it has solidified so quickly that it is stuck in the pot or on your stick blender (hence the term “soap on a stick”). It can have different causes, but usually it means there was too much lye or too little base oils due to an error in measurement. Sometimes it can also be caused by a misbehaving fragrance oil, although here soap usually goes to a very heavy trace very quickly and is still salvageable by “globbing” it into the mold.

Soap You have soap at the end of the saponification process, about 24 – 48 hours after pouring the batter into the mold. Most commercial bars are no longer soaps; they are detergents because they are not created with an alkali or lye. The definition for soap is the reaction of a fat or oils with an alkali. If it was not made with lye, it cannot call itself soap.

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Soda Ash This is a powdery white residue that sometimes forms on the surface of soap. It is just aesthetic and can be wiped off with a damp cloth. It is a sign of a handmade soap and I don’t worry about it if it occurs. I found it happens more on small batches than on larger batches.

Sodium Hydroxide This is just another word for lye, the alkali or base in the soap making recipe.

Super-fatting The excess oils left in the finished soap which have not reacted with the lye during the saponification process. This extra amount is intentional for safety reasons and contributes to the moisturizing qualities of soap. Exchangeable term with lye discount in most cases.

Trace Trace is everything in making soap. It is the point in soap making where the lye and oil molecules are reacting with each other so they won’t let go again. The temperature rises and the batter begins to thicken so that your stick blender will leave a trace behind when stirring or will leave little indents when drizzling drops onto the surface. There is thin trace, medium trace and heavy trace and each has its place in soap making. The soap is fine to pour at thin trace, this is good for large batches; at medium trace, good for smaller batches or mixing in colors; and at heavy trace, good for layering soap colors for example.

Water Discount This term means using less liquid (in most cases water, but can be beer, wine, milk, tea or any combination) than the generally recommended safe amount. Any soap/lye calculator will automatically put in 38% as the amount of liquid used as a percentage of the amount of oils used. Less water can be used to create a harder bar, which can be desirable in soaps with a lot of olive oil or soaps that contain clay. Using less liquid is a bit of a gamble because it will speed up the chemical reaction and will not give you quite as much time to mix everything together. Experience will help you here until then it’s probably a good idea to stay with the standard 38%. I have made bars with 30% water just for experimentation and I really didn’t like the feel of them.

Tools and Ingredients

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soap mold with a lid. This can be a wooden box, a silicone mold, a (clean!) milk carton, a pvc pipe. For our recipe, the mold should hold 4 pounds of soap batter.
freezer paper. This is the liner for the mold. Shiny side out.
gallon freezer bags. These are to store 16 oz of frozen goat milk.
disposable or long plastic gloves to protect your hands when mixing lye.
safety glasses to protect your eyes from lye splashes.
immersion stick blender to stir the lye into the base oils and to bring it to trace. Hand stirring will take hours.
scissors. Scissors are always handy and used to cut the freezer paper to fit the mold.
accurate scale to measure the ingredients exactly.
silicone spatulas (2), one for the oil and one for the lye. I don’t use wooden spoons because the lye eats the wood.
small glass measuring cup for the essential oils. Easy to clean and some essential oils eat right through the plastic.
medium to large measuring cups for the lye/milk mixture.
stainless steel pot for the soap batter (no aluminum). A large glass container such as Pyrex would also work.
thermometer to measure the temperature of oils, milk and soap batter. I use a laser thermometer, but a glass or stainless steel candy thermometer will also work.
sour cream or similar plastic container to measure out the lye.
old cookie tray or something similar to store the soaps after cutting them into bars
large knife for cutting the soap into loaves and bars.
newspaper to cover your work area and the floor J (you never know).
recipe to follow and a pen to write notes.
tape to tape the liner to the mold.
towels to wrap the molds.
an apron and old clothes.

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Ingredients

frozen goat’s milk in a freezer bag.
food grade lye powder
pure or grade-A olive oil
coconut oil 76 Degrees
palm oil (organic sustainable)
essential or fragrance oil suitable for cold process soap making (not candle making)

Note: Running water to neutralize lye burns. And here is another semi myth: to use a small splash of Vinegar to neutralize a lye burn. While vinegar does that if used in sufficient quantities, you would need to rinse the lye burn for 15 minutes with vinegar to get enough of the vinegar liquid to neutralize the burn and get the lye off your skin. If you don’t use enough vinegar, the vinegar will react with the lye and add a heat burn to your lye burn. Sufficient quantities of running water are much more readily available: just flush your skin for 15 minutes under the faucet. This is easier and much more realistic and accomplishes the same thing, removing the lye from your skin. If a lye burn is more extensive or in the eyes - call 911 immediately, and keep rinsing the lye burn with water if possible, until professional medical help arrives.

 Looking forward to continuing this journey with you. If you are curious to find out more about our farm, here is a great little video shot by film students from West Palm Beach in Florida. Julia

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Julia Shewchuk owns and operates Serenity Acres Farm on 80 acres in Florida. Serenity Acres runs on solar, is Animal Welfare Approved-certified, host to  WWOOFers, and is the home to  dairy goats, 12 Black Angus cattle, 100 laying hens, 3 horses, 2 cats, 5 house dogs, 8 livestock guardian dogs, and 2 ducks. Read all of Julia’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Backyard Chickens: A Website for Poultry Lovers

BackyardChickens.com (BYC as it is more frequently referred to) is a large website that is filled with information for anyone who is interested in poultry! What began under inspiration from a child’s class project in 1999, the site is now owned and managed by a man named Rob Ludlow. Mr. Ludlow is the co-author of many books, including Raising Chickens For Dummies, and, Building Chicken Coops For Dummies. 

According to Ludlow, “There is definitely a huge growing trend towards owning backyard chickens, and www.BackYardChickens.com is on the forefront of this movement. Hundreds of thousands of people are realizing the wonderful benefits of raising a small flock of backyard chickens-  the pets that make you breakfast!”

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The website is quite successful, and you can see a healthy growth and level of participation by all members through some basic statistics.

Over 2 million unique visitors (people) monthly.
An active site with over 450,000 current members.
Members are posting about 7,000 times daily (on average there are more than 5 posts every minute, of every day, 24/7).
Over 3,000 user-submitted coop designs and 274 breed information/review pages.

There are many different areas of the website that make it perfect for beginner and expert poultry lovers alike. There is a learning center, forums, coop designs/plans, and breed review pages that all provide not only the chance to learn, but the chance to share your own experiences as well. These different features rely on submissions from the great members of BYC!

The Learning Center is a place where people can learn the basics of chicken care, along with more advanced topics such as incubating and hatching eggs. Here you can find information on the costs of raising chickens, rare breeds, or even articles on other fowl such as turkeys and quail. There is even a special section here for recipes, with over 500 yummy ideas to choose from.

If you visit the Forums of BYC, you will find that almost every sub-forum is posted in on a daily basis. There are so many knowledgeable, welcoming folks here that are more than willing to help new members get started. Here, you can socialize and have fun with other owners from all over the world! After introducing yourself, you can ask questions about breeds or even check out what poultry or equipment people have for sale. Currently, the 8th Annual BYC Easter Hatch-a-long is still taking place, and the forums are flooded with pictures of adorable baby chicks, ducklings, and more. If you've missed it this year, check back next Easter to join in on all the fun!

If you’re new to chickens or just looking for an upgrade, the Coops section is for you. Small, medium, and large designs are available here, as well as ideas for “chicken tractors” and handmade feeders. It’s interesting to know that these plans are user-submitted, and feature photographs of the building process along with information on the costs and time involved.

For honest reviews of different poultry varieties by site members, make sure to visit the Breeds page. Here you’ll find great photographs and information on each person’s experience with the breed (including the pros and cons). You have the ability to sort breed pages by categories such as egg productivity, breed purpose, size of the bird/egg, and even comb type.

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I’d like to point out that I have not been sponsored at all to write this article, however, I do have permission from the owner to share Backyard Chickens with the readers. I wanted to shine the light on this wonderful website, because I was introduced to it around 2008, and have found a great deal of help here myself. In my personal opinion, this is the #1 go-to place for all things related to chickens, ducks, turkey, guinea fowl, quail, geese , and so much more. Please visit Backyard Chickens for yourself, and see how this site can benefit you and your flock!

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Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They have recently completed building a small cabin using lumber they have milled themselves, with the help of their antique tractor. Along with raising chickens and ducks, they are making the switch to planting all heirlooms in their garden this year. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Dealing With Predators

Originally written as a letter to Mother Earth News

As long-time chicken keepers, we have had to deal with predators of all kinds - foxes, dogs, cats, birds of prey - you name it. It seems that anything would love a bite of juicy chicken.

We free range, which of course exacerbates the losses to predators, but the overall pros of free ranging are so evident that I truly believe it's the only practical way for us to keep chickens. Not only do we save a bundle on feed as our chickens forage and find their own food, but we get the benefit of a pest free yard and can get away with a smaller coop - it's OK for chickens to be a little crowded some of the time if they mostly have the whole yard to themselves. 

Having said that, however, we do need to balance our losses so that we still have a growing, self-sufficient flock, with enough replacement layers at the end of the season, and hopefully some extra birds to sell or trade. So what do we do about this? 

First off, one needs to know one's local predators. I know we have foxes in the area, generally speaking, but they don't all swarm to our coop at once. From my experience, usually a fox will come a few times to check out the terrain, and if I'm vigilant and listen to the alarm sounds our chickens make, and go and shoo the fox away, more often than not it will give up eventually. Foxes are clever animals, and if they see free dinner is not to be had around here, they will try for easier prey somewhere else. 

Chicks raised by broodies sleep on the coop floor during their first weeks of life, and are therefore especially vulnerable to snakes. Due to constraints of time and budget, our coop has a dirt floor, and therefore it's almost impossible to make it snake-proof. What I did last year was take the broody and chicks inside in a cardboard box for the night, every night, until the chicks were old enough to find their way up the perch. It was a hassle, but it dramatically improved our survival rates.

The funny thing about chickens is that when it comes to the garden, they turn from prey to predators. Chickens are well-known garden destroyers - even if it's something they won't eat, they will dig in the garden bed, dust bathe, throw the soil out of the bed and uproot the plants. So we saw two ways out: either we fence in the chickens or the plants. We chose to cultivate our herbs and vegetables in small, concentrated protected areas (as you can see in the photo). Fruit trees coexist with chickens quite well, from our experience.

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A patch of herbs fenced in against destructive chickens. 

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here


 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.