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

Hatching and Raising Peafowl


A day-old peachick. Notice that the flight feathers are already present. 

Not long ago, we embarked on the adventure of raising peafowl, having obtained some fertile eggs to put in our incubator. This is the beginning of a project we have dreamed of for some time. 

While peafowl - unlike chickens, ducks or geese - might not seem like the obvious choice for a small homestead, raising ornamental poultry of any kind might actually be a wise move from an economic standpoint. Peafowl, pheasants, quail and ornamental chicken breeds such as Silkies can fetch a very handsome price, if you have good breeding stock. And the expense and effort of raising them are not much more than of the usual feathered homestead companions. 

Peafowl, however, do need to have enough room to roam and exercise, so that the males can strut and spread their tails - a magnificent sight. Those beautiful feathers can also be collected whenever they are dropped, and used or sold for crafts. And, of course, if you let your birds free range, they will provide pest control on your property by consuming bugs, spiders, grasshoppers, etc. 

Now to hatching. Obtain peafowl eggs from a conscientious breeder with good, healthy stock, and be sure to get the freshest eggs possible to maximize hatching rate. Set your incubator to 99-100 F and 60% humidity and, if you don't have an automatic turner, turn manually 4-6 times a day. The peachicks should hatch on day 28 or 29, and you can stop turning the eggs around 3 days before that. You will probably be able to hear cheeping from inside the eggs a day or two before hatching. 

Once your peachicks have hatched and dried off a little, transfer them to the brooder - which can be a simple cardboard box with a heating lamp, a dish of water, and a dish of food. Briefly dip each peachick's beak in the water to teach them to drink, and tap your finger in the food tray until they begin pecking - this might take a day or so. I've heard that professional breeders keep their peachicks on game bird starter, but we just give them regular chicken crumble with high-protein supplements such as hard-boiled eggs (which they go crazy for), cheese and sardines. They also get fruit and vegetable scraps for a diverse diet. 

Unfortunately, we have experienced some power shortages during the final days of hatching, which left our precious peafowl eggs without heating for hours on end. It is one possible reason why many of our peachicks were hatched with leg problems - both splayed legs and curled toes. We put the toes in a cast of cello-tape, and stabilized the legs with the help of soft wool thread, and the chicks were completely fine in a couple of days.

Our hand-raised peachicks are very friendly, and love to be handled, snuggle up to us, and sit on our shoulder. I find them to be less independent than chickens of the same age, which might have to do with how long young peafowl stay with their mothers in nature - up to one year. 

Peachicks are hatched with flight feathers and start flying pretty soon, so you will want to cover your brooder with a net to make sure they don't fly out. Once they grow and you move them outside, provide them with a tall roost, the taller the better. In nature, peafowl like to roost in trees, but I wouldn't let my birds sleep outside on account of predators. 

Raising and breeding peafowl is a long-term venture - while chickens may start laying and setting at 6 months, peafowl take a lot longer, and it may take them two years to reach reproductive maturity. The male's train of feathers does not reach its full growth until three years of age. 

Two more things to take into account: peafowl are loud, especially males during breeding season, so if you have near neighbors you might want to consider them as well; and they poop a lot, considerably more so than chickens, which makes cleaning up after them somewhat labor-intensive. 

There are several breeds of peafowl, the most common, as well as, in my opinion, the most striking, being the Indian Blue. Our young peafowl belong to this breed, and I am looking forward to seeing the deep blue of the males' chests, and the iridescent green of their tails, once they grow up. 

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 Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead 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.


Experimenting with Forage Options for Pastured Pigs

Heritage Pigs In Pasture

Everybody has (or should have) something that really makes them feel alive — some topic or calling that gets them unreasonably excited. At Singing Prairie Farm, that topic is “How much grass can a pig eat?”

I use the term “grass” loosely. By grass, I generally mean forages. (Many people do not realize it, but this loose definition is also applied to grassfed cows that are fed all manner of forages, including, but not limited to, clover, alfalfa, and broad-leaf forages.)

Types of Forage for Pastured Pigs

So, how about pigs? What can they eat? Here are some of the things on the menu: broadleaf forages, like lamb’s quarter and pigweed. Brassicas, such as kale and turnips. Legumes, such as clovers and the vegetative bodies of pea and bean plants. And of course, grasses themselves, whether they are perennial, cool-season grasses like timothy, orchardgrass and fescue, or the common annual crop grasses, like oats or sorghum-sudangrass.

At Singing Prairie Farm, we strive to make these the foundation of our pork production. To be sure there always has to be more involved than just forage, but these forages represent the most heavily utilized resource option in our research on pigs.


Forage Mixture Peak Grazing Form

The Pig Forage Experiment

We set out this summer (2017) to document the nuts and bolts of feeding forages to pigs. Thanks to a grant from Sustainable Agriculuture and Reaseach Education (SARE) and our friends at Practical Farmers of Iowa, we are going to be able to offer the results of our research by the end of the year. We are recording data on three separate groups this summer.

The control group: Pasture rasied pigs on a full grain ration. These pigs receive a standard ration of 100% non-GMO grain, based on weight and age. This grain is a balanced ration of 16% protein from our local feed mill. They are kept in paddocks of about an acre and moved at least twice a month, sometimes more. They eat some grass and clover and benefit from it.  However, it is not contributing tremendously to their rate of weight gain. These pigs were born on our farm and are Red Wattle, Hereford, Hampshire crosses.

Experiment group #1: Pasture-raised pigs on a 50% reduced non-GMO grain ration. Because the growth curve for young, growing pigs rises so steeply relative to grain intake during the first 10 weeks of life, we elected to keep them on the fully prescribed ration until that time. This will put the pigs at about 3pounds of grain per pig per day by 10 weeks. Rather than increase their ration as they continue to grow, we maintain 3 pounds per pig per day for the rest of their life. In this, they should  receive roughly 50% the total amount of grain usually required by the time of their harvest date (around 7 months of age).

It should also be noted that 40% of a pig's allotted ration is required for maintenance. This means that 40% of their feed is used just for basic body functions, like maintaining body temperature, respiration, heartbeat and movement. So, when you reduce a pig's grain ration by some amount, you must increase the availability of some other resource to the same extent.  Failing to do this will increase the days to maturity as it will take the pigs significantly longer to reach their target weight. That prolonged days to maturity may increase the total quantity of grain consumed so much that it surpasses that of a pig on a full grain ration for fewer days!

We offer our 50%-grain group oceanic quantities of our spring annual mix (forage peas, dwarf essex rapeseed and forage oats.) These pigs are also from our farm and are are Red Wattle, Hereford, Hampshire crosses.

Experiment Groups #2: Pasture raised pigs that are grain free. This is our most radical experiment in alternative pork production. This group has never tasted grain and consumes tremendous quantities of our spring annual mix. They are supplemented with acorns, which we gathered last fall and a small quantity of organic milk powder. This batch of pigs was purchased at about 10 weeks of age from a farm in Nebraska. Their ancestry is of mixed parentage including Hereford and Large Black.

Experiment Group #3: Pasture raised pigs that are grain free. This is a second group of grain-free pigs, with the same management plan as the previous experiment group, but of a different heritage. These pigs are from Sugar Mountain Farm in West Topsharm, VT. (We will be writing a follow-up blog about Walter Jeffries and Sugar Mountain Farm next month.)


Grazed Forage Crops Comparison

There is something special about our no-grain groups that makes these experiment groups possible. Both of our no-grain groups are from farms that have selected breeding stock for a high fiber diet for upwards of 15 years. They are able to consume large quantities of forage and gain in body mass as a result.

My homegrown, pasture raised pigs that we are using for the full grain and 50% reduced grain groups, do not have this quality to same extent. I mention this as a cautionary statement: Don’t go out and buy 12 heritage-breed pigs, put them out on stemmy fescue and expect them to grow without some grain. It won’t work. Just like in grassfed beef, genetics matter.

The chief difference here is that in pigs, those genetic qualities are exceedingly rare. Finding a farmer with the time and motivation to manage pigs for grass finishing are equally so. Currently I am only familiar with three farms nationwide that do this with pigs. Bear in mind that feeding grain to pigs is not a bad thing in many systems. If your local farmer feeds grain to his pigs, AWESOME! Be glad you have a farmer raising pigs!

There are a million and one ways to raise a pig. Your local farmer needs to take into account his or her local resources and time constraints.

As the summer progresses, we will be recording data on forage quality and quantity, pig growth and if the opportunity pops up to offer some other resource (pumpkins, apples, unsalable farmers market tomatoes etc). We hope that we can shed some light on the techniques that make grass finishing a pig timely, profitable and humane. That is part of our calling here at Singing Prairie Farm. We hope that you also pursue your calling, whatever it is, in a precise and passionate way.

John Arbuckle aims to change the trajectory of modern pig farming by demonstrating that a thinly wooded pasture, when managed well, can sequester tons of carbon, support lots of family farmers, create the most nutritionally dense pork and nurture an army of coyotes, owls, frogs, worms, bobcats and happy children. Find him at Roamsticks and Singing Prairie Farm, and follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. Read all of John’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.

Utilize Your Homestead Community

Eggs And Lettuce In A Bowl

It’s easy to seclude yourself in the great self-sufficiency movement, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves that there is constantly room for growth and community. It may look like trading with other homesteaders for soaps or produce, or maybe it looks like traveling across the country to a homesteading conference, like Mother Earth News or Homesteaders of America. Whatever it is, utilizing your homestead community is essential to every homesteader.

When we first began our homesteading journey, I had so many questions that I probably got on everyone’s nerves. Even though I’d grown up around the farm life, I was oblivious to many things. Just in the last 5 years have I really begun to master gardening. And during that 5-year time frame, I felt guilty for buying produce at the store or farmer’s market.

Why? I have no idea. But I suspect that it was because I felt like a failure. I felt like all of these other people knew what they were doing and were successful at it, but I hadn’t been successful at homesteading…yet.

Learn Through Experience on the Homestead

The reality is that we’re not going to know everything there is to know about homesteading when we first get started. It take experiences — it takes doing it for a while. Heck, I’m not sure I’ll know everything there is to know about this 20 years from now. But the difference is that there certainly is a community ready and waiting to help educate you with open arms. And if you seek it out, you’ll most certainly find it.

Besides the fact that there are conferences across the United States that can help you gain experience and knowledge (we’ll get to those in a second), there are also people right in your own community that are ready and willing to help you.

In fact, most homesteaders share more information than humanly necessary, but it’s only because we are passionately in love with this lifestyle.

I can remember the very first chicken woman that I approached. I think I messaged her online every single night before bed to ask her about this chicken breed or that chicken breed. She probably got so darn tired of seeing my face pop up on her phone. But she was helpful, and she was willing to help me learn and gain knowledge about keeping chickens.

She didn’t just show up on my doorstep though. I had to seek her out. Often times, as a new homesteader, you’ll have to seek out those who really have hardcore experience and knowledge in your local community. Connect with someone at the Farmer’s Market. Ask them how they do it all. I know they would love to help you.

But more than anything, I had to get over the guilt trip. And here’s the cold honest truth…

We really need to learn to lean on our fellow homesteaders, and we really have to stop guilting ourselves for that.

If you don’t have enough space for tomatoes in your garden, it’s ok to connect with another local homesteader who has an abundance. You aren’t a failure because your crop failed, you didn’t have time to put them into the ground, or you simply aren’t ready to take on one more thing this year.

Hands Holding Three Brown Eggs

Build a Homestead Community Based on Mutual Support

Supporting your local farmer or homestead is the next best thing you can do. You’re supporting a person or family who is doing this because they love offering their goods and services to us. Where’s the harm in that!? You might even find that you learn a thing or two from them along the way.

Building a homestead community is important to me. Extremely important to me. In the age of cellphones and social media, many people socialize online and forget about the homesteaders that are right in their own region.

I absolutely love my online homesteading community. I wouldn’t have the information and education that I have today without them. But I want to meet them. I want to hug their necks and sing Kumbaya around a campfire. Ok, maybe not the best song choice, but you get it.

So how do we do that? How do we connect and utilize our homesteading community that we love so much online, while learning and growing? Well, we find a conference or event in our area that we can do exactly that, of course!

Community is extremely important to a whole lot of other people too, and that’s why there are conferences and workshops all across the United States for homesteaders like you and I. Not only does it give us a chance to learn and grow our skills and abilities, it also gives us the chance to meet people face to face, and tangibly learn right alongside them. The very same people we talk to on a regular basis in online forums, Facebook, and YouTube.

Attend a Homesteading Conference

It’s why I started the Homesteaders of America organization and conference in September 2016. And our very first annual conference will be held on October 14, in Warrenton, Virginia. You’ll hear speakers like Joel Salatin, Esther Emery, Lisa Steele, Darryl Patton, Off Grid with Doug and Stacy, and so many more. You’ll learn about raising chickens, hot butchery, dying your own wool and yarn, cheesemaking, how to successfully run a homestead business, and more.

It’s why Mother Earth News started and maintains all of the Mother Earth News Fairs throughout the United States every year.

It’s why Appalachia’s Homestead with Patara started The Great Appalachian Homesteading Conference in Tennessee, bringing together YouTubers from across the country.

There’s the Lifestyle Farming Conference, the Redeeming the Dirt Conference, and so many more.

It’s why we’re seeing so many people start pop up conferences all across the USA and beyond. It’s why we see homesteads, like Hand Hewn Farm, creating workshops where people can come to their property to learn alongside them. We long for education and knowledge, but more than anything, we long for education together in a community setting. We were created for community — homesteaders, we love to be together!

I encourage you to lean on your community this year and attend one of these amazing upcoming events throughout the country. I encourage you to seek out the expert at the farmer’s market or in that little cottage in the woods where she raises chickens.

I encourage you to stop feeling guilty that you can’t do it all right then and there, and instead, take that time to support your local farmer or homesteader, all while making a personal connection and building relationships and community in your own way.

I hope to see you at the Homesteaders of America conference, or at one of these other amazing events, and within our online homesteading community. We sure do have a lot of fun learning and growing together, and we know you will, too!

Rinsing Farm Fresh Greens

Amy Fewell is a writer, photographer, blogger, and homesteader based in Virginia. Along with her husband and son, she raises heritage breed chickens, quail, rabbits, and more! She believes in all natural holistic living for both her family and her animals. And she is currently working on a cookbook of traditional family Farmstead recipes. Check out more from Amy at The Fewell Homstead and Read all of her 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.

Interesting Duck Breeds for the Farm: Cayugas, Fawn Runners, and Mallards


It is now four weeks into the new term at Stony Kreek Farm Medical School session. The class of 2017 has arrived and is actively attending class. The class of 2016 doctors are teaching them and preparing them to assist in the growing animal menagerie at the farm

We recently purchased another eight ducks of different breeds to add to our flock on the farm. Among those are Fawn Runner Ducks, Cayugas,and Mallards.


Cayuga Breed Ducks


The first breed we introduced in 2017 is the Cayuga. This is the first breed bred in the continental United States and dates back 180-plus years. The duck originated in the Cayuga Lake region of New York state. Breeders produced stock from crossing a Black Wild Duck with Mallards. The first recorded date of the duck is 1848.


The breed was officially recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1874. It is a classified as a medium-sized duck and is known for its meat and egg laying. It is less aggressive and loud than the more famed Pekin, but has a much desired appearance. The males will weigh up to 8 pounds and the females 7 pounds. The males inherited the green head from the mallard with a black bill, dark brown eyes, black feathers, and black legs. The females have a black bill and feathers with dark brown eyes and green laced feathers. They are good free rangers and lay between 150 and 200 eggs per year. They have a large breast and are excellent in taste, according to Wikipedia. We were so taken with the appearance of the Cayugas we purchased four of them. Thus far, we have seen two drakes and two hens.


Fawn Runner Breed Ducks

The second breed purchased is the Fawn Runner duck. This unusual bird walks upright and looks almost human in its walking. They are best known for their laying. Some sources say they lay between 200 to 300 eggs per year. The eggs are blue-green in color.

The males can reach up to 30 inches in height and the females 20 inches. Their upright posture is the result of a pelvic girdle that forces them to stand upright. The breed originated in the East Indies and is brown and white in appearance. They have also been called Indian Runner Ducks from their islands of origin. They are excellent foragers and are great for free-ranging on a farm, which is what we propose to have them do.

They were used in the breeding of the Khaki Campbell and passed on their egg-laying ability to that breed. It looks like we have a drake and a hen.


Mallard Breed Ducks

The third breed of duck we purchased was the oldest and best known of all wild ducks, the Mallard. It is indigenous to the United States and is found as far south as Mexico. It is one of the most social of all species and tends to congregate in flocks. It takes the males up to 14 months to fully mature. It is a very social bird and likes to talk amongst themselves quite a bit.


We were fortunate to adopt two hens as they are now getting their adult plumage. The Mallard, as with other breeds, is flexible in its choice of foods. It eats a variety of insects and plants. It also consumes a great deal of worms and roots of plants.


Mallards choose a mate in the fall between September and October. They will stay together through the mating season in early spring when the female is laying. As with other ducks, Mallards will lay between eight and 13 eggs before sitting.


Females can become testy along with the males during the brooding season. They can be aggressive toward other ducks and other animals. When domesticated, Mallards are monogamous and stay with one mate throughout their lifetime. The Mallard did not begin as a domesticated duck, and its laying may be less than the other domestic breeds with counts being as low as 60 eggs annually.


Medical School has been in session for a month now, and the older doctors are taking an active interest in their new pupils, watching them carefully to see no malpractice occurs in class session. We hope to have our new students practicing medicine by the early Fall. It is encouraging to have the new ducks eating out of your hand and taming down to where they can be handled better than ducks a year older. As in the comic strip Peanuts, “THE DOCTOR IS IN!!”

Tom Hemme and his wife, Diana, work to raise crops and animals on Hemme Farm in Missouri. Born and raised in Nashville, Tenn., Tom taught agricultural history and Native American heritage for many years. Follow Tom on his website, Read all of Tom’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.

Get Rid Of Scaly Leg Mites on Chickens


Above: scaly leg mites can be more difficult to spot in feather-legged breeds like Brahmas.

Scaly leg mites are parasites that lodge and reproduce underneath the scales on chickens' legs. This results in a typical look of uneven, crusty, deformed scales, and can lead to impaired walking, infection, loss of toes and, in extreme cases, even death.

Some of our chickens are Brahmas or Brahma crosses, which means they have feathered legs, and so an infestation of scaly leg mites is less easily visible. When I noticed that our alpha rooster, a handsome and docile Black Brahma, is afflicted, his condition was already pretty advanced, and I knew I have to begin treatment immediately.
Most home treatment options for scaly leg mites suggest dipping the bird's legs in mineral oil or petroleum, and then slathering them in Vaseline. The goal of this is to smother the mites. The treatment is then repeated after an interval of a week or two, to take care of the nits that might have hatched in the meantime.
It struck me, while reading this, that this kind of treatment is similar to combating head lice (which, after all, are a lot like mites in many ways). I have gone through purgatory two years ago, when my daughters had a persistent infestation of lice, and I still had a bottle and a half of anti-lice spray sitting under my bathroom sink. The active ingredient of it is dimethicone. In a stroke of inspiration, I decided to try it on my Black Brahma, figuring that if it's safe to use on children's scalps, it should be alright for chicken feet.
Unlike dipping, which involves capturing the chicken (not very convenient with a large rooster - Brahmas are among the heavier breeds), spraying can be done quickly and efficiently once the flock has gone up to roost. I sprayed my Brahma at twilight, carefully covering every spot of his feet and legs.
A few days later, I was happy to see that the awful dead grey scales are beginning to fall off. I've noticed another chicken who is suffering from this condition, and I'm going to treat her in the same way. I'm really pleased to have discovered this simple, quick, no-mess way of treating scaly leg mites, and will keep it in my arsenal of chicken home remedies. 

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 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.

Outside the Little Black Bag

Thinking outside of the "Medical" Box has been a challenge for me. I could not imagine natural foods and herbal concoctions of any kind could truly reduce your blood sugar levels, heal a cold or infection let alone make your body healthier. I, like most men, am a “by the book” type of person. I figure if you had the guts to put yourself through school, you must know more than I do about what goes on in the human body.  We make certain we provide our families with income and insurance and then go to the doctor when you get sick. At least, that’s the way I used to believe.  Working, coming home, eating a meal, talking with the family etc…had all become a way of the past for us at Stony Kreek Farm.

      When one nearly dies, a perspective on life changes as well.  In 2014, I nearly died of blood poisoning brought on by infection and allergy to black mold.

After emergency surgery, recovery began. So did the evolution of my beliefs on holistic medicines and natural treating methods. My wife Diana, is the one in our family who started treating me with alternatives to standard medicines.  She had been researching and dabbling in natural healing through essential oils, herbs and naturally grown non-GMO foods for about 8 years.  Needless to say, I was the last in the family to grasp the reality of natural medicines.

     However, one discovery we both made was apricots. They have many health benefits and can be used to reduce blood sugar counts for those with diabetes.  They are rich in laetrile, a reported agent for treating cancer. ( As early as the 1600’s, the apricot has been used to treat tumors and much earlier than that. Apricots are also useful with heart disease, arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), and hypertension.  Their healing properties are useful with stomach disorders, ulcers, gastritis,  and constipation. (

Apricots are excellent as an energy food and are rich in vitamins. Other vitamins common to this fruit are Vitamin A, Ribloflavin, Niacin,  and others. Some minerals included are Calcium, Iron,  Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus,  Potassium, Sodium, and Zinc.  They are useful in the treatment of the common cold. They are high in beta carotene, which some say the body transforms into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is good for the skin and the formation of mucous membranes in the body. Vitamin A strengthens the immune system.

Apricots are good in the treatment and prevention of Osteoperosis. It has been noted to be one of the highest fruits in calcium. An average apricot contains 73-100 miligrams of Calcium. It has also been proven useful in increasing brain function and keeping the neurons functioning more clearly.  It has been used in the treatment of asthma, and even infertility.(

Other vitamins in Apricots are B1 and B5. Apricots have proven useful in the treatment of Macular Degeneration, a disorder of the eye known to cause loss of vision to older adults. Eating apricots has been proven to strengthen the optic nerves in the eye. It also strengthens one’s peripheral vision. (

      We believe the best apricots are grown and processed at the peak of ripeness. Most stores obtain their produce green or it has been picked green and gassed prior to

distribution. Therefore, we believe the best way to purchase apricots is from the grower themselves. One of the best providers of these is BR Farms in Holland,

California. In business since 1929, They grow and sell to the public in different ways. (

    The Apricot makes excellent preservatives.  The Rossi family sells many different packages for the consumer.

  • Dried Apricot Chutney
  • Dried Apricot-Cinnamon Spread
  • Dried Apricot Red Pepper Topping
  • Dried Apricot Topping
  • Dried Apricot Chili Preserves
  • Dried Apricot Honey Spread

    BR Farms has all types of recipes and ideas for the cooking and gowing plus processing of apricots.

   Check out the Apricot. It is a great source of nutrition and vitamins.  Take it from a Shagadilly farmer!! “Try it you’ll like it!!



Learning While Living Off-Grid


When I was growing up, I did not go to school aside from a semester of 9th Grade at an alternative school. Because I spent so little time in formal learning, I have never lost the joy a child has about learning something new. I consider it a poor day when I haven’t learned something new. I think the difference between what I do (learn for long-term knowledge) and what standard school does (study to take a test, or to produce short-term knowledge) is important to notice.

Although I didn’t have nearly any formal schooling, I did take the SATs (Standard Achievement Test) and the CATs (California Achievement Test) at 5th, 7th, and 9th Grades to see if there was any gaps in my knowledge. At 5th and 7th grades, I was behind in some categories (mostly math). At 9th Grade, I started going to a private alternative school in order to get my high school diploma, but then took the CAT, which showed me at a 12.9 on everything except for a 12.7 on one category — 12.9 is the equivalent level knowledge of a high-school graduate and since I, at 9th grade, had the same knowledge level as high school students who took the test, I didn’t feel I needed to continue on my diploma journey.

I had taken a Spanish class, which did help when our whole family took a trip as part of the Peace & Dignity Journey (commemorating 500 years of survival of the indigenous peoples) to Mexico for 3 months. I do remember how, about once a year, I would go to the library and borrow a math textbook and for a few weeks go through it until I was sick of it. That was one of the few things I did, not because I was interested in it but because I felt, due to past test scores, that I was lacking in knowledge. I did grow to love geometry as I could use it for real-life situations.


Free-Range Children, Unschooling, and Homeschooling

I remember reading a book about an alternative, "free" school, Summerhill, a last resort for troubled youth in England that had no formalized set schooling program and the youth could take whichever classes they wanted or take no classes, as they so desired. The book followed an extreme case of a student who would get up every morning, grab some food, and go out on a boat fishing every day. He actually “graduated” with next to no formal schooling. We wouldn’t think of this as learning but he got very good at fishing and later used the focus, dedication, and perseverance that he learned fishing to get a college degree.

When I was growing up, not going to school just meant truancy, but now with the large pressure of the Christian homeschooling lobby, not going to school is becoming more common and accepted. In Tennessee back in the day, the only requirement that I know of was one of your teachers — usually your parent — had to have gone to college. I don’t think back then they even had to have graduated from college.

It wasn’t until I was in my early teens that I realized that my way of learning through doing was unique and so I started reading about free-range children, unschooling, and homeschooling through authors, such as John Holt, and the Alternative Schooling movement.

Cultural Learning and Self-Education

To be a good student, all that I needed was to be able to read well. I was actually a late bloomer and didn’t learn to read until I think was almost 6 years old. Part of that was my parents regularly read to us (later, the older ones read to the younger ones) and our family spent 7 months in Israel, where I had to learn to interact in a whole new culture and language. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.

The downside to learning later in life is I did not learn to read phonetically (sounding out words) but rather memorizing words, which can make it difficult if I come across a word I don’t how to pronounce. After doing a radio talk show now for 17-plus years, I have covered up this defect by either skipping the word or trying to read it wrongly or replacing it with a synonym.

Usually when I am reading out loud, I realize as soon as I have mispronounced the word and correct myself. The upside of this type of reading is I can speed read. When I read to myself, I don’t see letters but rather words, and so I can glance at a sentence (like you would at a word) and I have read the whole sentence. When it describes a scene, I can glance at the paragraph and usually the scene is visual in my mind.

My siblings and I learned by doing — by “interning” at the feet of our elders — by learning from the makers. I read and studied whatever I was interested in and decided when I was 15 that renewable energy is my calling.

 My sister loves horses, so she would read about them, educate herself to treat them medically, and write about them, which lead to a farrier degree, a vet tech degre,e and then an RN degree. All of my siblings have graduated college: my brother with his PhD, in spite of having no formal education — we all took a college entrance exam. Myself, I am double NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioner)-certified, which I am told by my friends who are engineers and NABCEP that the NABCEP test was as hard to take as their engineering test. My proudest moment was when, after I was an emergency adjunct professor teaching solar at a college for a semester, I was asked to apply to be a full-time teacher there.


I still read two or three books a week and watch no TV (as I consider it a time waster, although I watch one show a month on the internet). My love of reading has distilled in me high levels of knowledge on a myriad of subjects. I still love reading and learning.

Books are readily accessible, and kids will study and read about their interests. It is even easier now to read and learn with internet access.

Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!?Facebook page, and read all of Aur's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.