Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Border Collie puppies

With the increasing use of livestock guardian dogs, we are seeing more inappropriate breeds or crossbred dogs being offered for sale as livestock guardian dogs. If you are not familiar with the recognized breeds of LGDs, you can find the names of the breeds here. Choosing a pup or a dog from one of these breeds or a cross of these breeds, gives you the very best chance of success. LGD breeds were developed through centuries to be perfectly suited to this work and they inherit a set of genetic behaviors and traits. You cannot train another breed to be a LGD. It is important to remember that LGDs are a specific group of breeds, like herding or hunting breed groups, not a job. Other breeds do not possess the specific combination of inherited behaviors and traits that make a dog a LGD, including: a longer period of bonding; low prey drive; nurturing and protective instincts toward their charges; sufficient size to deal with large predators; a coat adapted to living outside; and the independence, self-thinking, and defensive aggression to respond to predators or threats.

Here are some guidelines to help you make a good selection of a LGD pup or adult.

Do not adopt a pup under the age of 8 weeks and preferably one closer to 12 weeks old. Research has proven that pups learn important lessons from their littermates on how to interact with other dogs and bite inhibition. Most experienced owners and breeders would advise you to only raise one LGD pup at a time. Working pups do not need a playmate. In fact, two pups can be overly focused on each other instead of you or your stock and will often encourage each other to get in trouble as they pass through their troublesome teens. Littermates are especially problematical. Most experts recommend staggering the ages of your LGDs if possible.

Do not select a pup that is small, fine-boned, or has a pointed muzzle. Most LGDs average 20 lbs at 8 weeks of age. At 16 weeks, they should weigh 35-40 pounds. A pup that is significantly smaller probably has some non-LGD in its parentage and will not grow large enough to deal with a predator. Although heartbreaking, do not buy a sickly or undersized puppy because you feel sorry for it. A LGD pup is an investment in protecting your valuable stock and farm. This is not the time for compromise.

If you are obtaining an adult LGD, he should weigh 80 to 120 lb or more, depending on the breed. However, also avoid oversized and massive dogs, which may result from crosses with other breeds. LGDs need to be large enough to deal with predator threats, but also fast and agile with great stamina. Some very large, imported dogs were bred for dog fighting or guard dog work, not as livestock guardians. Overly large dogs are also more prone to hip or joint injuries and a reduced lifespan.

Great Pyrenees  

Do not select an albino dog or a dog lacking dark coloring around the eyes or on the nose. Pink skin on the nose or around the eyes poses a serious risk of sunburn and skin cancers, especially for a full time working LGD. No LGD breeds have pink coloring in those areas. Several characteristics are likely a result of outside breeding.

Crossbred dogs with herding or hunting breeds generally possess high prey drive – exactly the opposite of a good LGD. Crosses with herding dogs are especially common, since both types of dogs often live together on farms or ranches, but the resultant pups will be too small and too likely to possess strong chasing behaviors. Crosses with other dogs like a Saint Bernard, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, and others will lack appropriate behaviors as well. Do not take a chance with your valuable stock.

Four month old Kangal Dog pup

Do not consider a pup or a dog with:

Blue eyes or red or blue merle coloring. No LGD breeds have blue eyes or merle coloring. Speckling and freckling of color in white areas is also suspect. These traits indicate another breed in the dog’s parentage – mostly likely a herding breed.

Ears that are semi erect, pricked, or set high on the skull like they want to stand up. All LGD breeds have low set, drop ears unless they have been cropped.

Straight, thick tails. LGD tails are typically long and often curved, sabre-like, curled, or have a crook at the end. Some breeds may have cropped tails.

Very short, single or smooth coats. All LGD breeds (except for the extremely rare Laboreiro) are double-coated.

Whether you are considering a purebred LGD or a LGD x LGD cross, take some time to research the expected appearance, coat, and coloring of the breed or breeds.

Read the standard and look at pictures. Breeds have typical coats, colors, and color patterns. An unusual color, like black or black and tan, can be an good indication of outcrossing in some breeds. The Big White Dogs or BWDs - Great Pyrenees, Akbash, Maremma, Polish Tatra, Kuvasz, Komondor, and crosses of these breeds - are all white colored dogs that may have some lightly colored patches of cream, tan, red, or gray which typically fade as the dog ages. Badger markings or black edging on ears on a Pyrenees are acceptable. A BWD dog should not be colored black and white or resemble a Border Collie.

Concern about LGD color is not just relevant to dog showing or purebred breeding – it is a very helpful tool in determining a dog’s appropriate ancestry. Unusual colors or patterns should always raise a red flag because they suggest that the pup has another breed in its background. Even in breeds that appear in many colors, some colors are not very likely at all. If you have any doubt, seek a second opinion from a breed authority or LGD expert.

When shopping online, remember the good advice – buyer beware. Be especially cautious if the breeder cannot produce any registration, pedigree, or breeder information for a dog that is labeled as a purebred. You should not be asked to pay a purebred price for a dog without documentation.

Keeping these guidelines in mind will help you avoid the pitfalls or potential problems of LGD shopping, and will greatly increase your chances of success.

Thanks to the LGD experts at the Facebook group Learning About LGDs, who are dedicated to provided correct information for both new and experienced owners of livestock guardian dogs.

Photo credits: Great Pyrenees – David R Tribble (labeled for reuse Wiki commons); Border Collie puppies (labeled for reuse Wiki commons); Kangal Dog pup – Jan Dohner

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Goats need to be held still in various contexts, including slaughtering, hoof-trimming, and milking. Ideally, the method of restraint should be comfortable/humane, strong, portable, easy to use, and affordable. We’ve developed a homemade goat restraint that fits these categories and has worked for many years.

The restraint consists of a wooden frame, with a rotatable curved head-lock. We simply lash the restraint to two T-posts with a few turns of baling twine, at a height appropriate for the intended animal’s size, and it’s ready to use. Food (like hay or grain) placed in front of the restraint entices the goat in the first place, and provides entertainment and preoccupation during whatever comes next. The goat puts its head through the frame, then the head-lock turns on a bolt and latches into place across the goat’s neck, holding the animal securely in place.

The drawing gives a few basic dimensions, but most of these do not need to be absolute; the design can be adapted to fit the wood and goats on-hand. We initially designed this restraint for use in fall slaughter of first-year kids, though we quickly found other uses as well. The neck hole as shown is slightly small for full-size adult goats (though still workable), while it’s too large for young kids, who can slip their heads back through. The latter problem is easily prevented by slipping a thin slab of wood across the bottom of the neck hole, thus raising its base enough to narrow the opening.



If you do your own slaughter, as we do, a proper restraint is key to a quick and humane death. Holding the goat steady, with its head slightly down, gives us the perfect angle for a .22 bullet to the back of the skull, a location which drops a goat instantly. A bit of attractive food keeps the goat happily occupied until the shot. Then the arm is opened and the animal is quickly dragged away for further processing. The restraint can also be easily repositioned after each kill if you’re concerned about the smell of blood, though we’ve done multiple animals in a row without any demonstrated concern. As in other cases above, this setup allows slaughter to happen anywhere you like; we prefer working in the open near a good tree for hanging the carcass.

Animal health           

Restraining an animal may be necessary for various health reasons, such as regular hoof trimming. On rare occasions when we’ve needed to give injections, a practice we’re not accustomed to, having the animal restrained helped greatly. Other times we’ve wanted to dust the goats with diatomaceous earth for lice control, or otherwise work with or examine their bodies. This flexible, portable restraint is especially useful for such work, as it can be quickly set up in pasture or anywhere else, allowing you to work with the herd without moving individual goats to a permanent location.



A basic restraint allows for milking a small herd on pasture, without lugging around a heavy milking stand, if you incorporate milking space into whatever moveable shelter you use. One downside, compared to a full milking stand, is the lack of solid floor and the lower angle of work (having the bucket on the ground rather than set up on a stand). But depending on situation, this setup can also save a lot of work and hassle, particularly for small or mobile herds.

While we used a full-size milking stand for our own herd, having the portable restraint around was quite handy. The photo above shows us using it to milk a neighbor’s family herd, which we were boarding during their vacation, a favor made easier by setting up the portable restraint within the animals’ temporary shelter so that we didn’t have to move the animals around on unfamiliar terrain and paths.

We’ve been very pleased with this portable and sturdy design, which stores easily on a shelf when not in use. The ability to quickly set up and take down a restraint, for whatever situation or needs a goat herd demands, has been an excellent improvement to our goat management.

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If you’re looking for a template for creating a sustainable food system, Hawley Hamlet in Lincoln, Nebraska, is a great place to start. Six years ago, a group of neighbors started talking about creating a community homestead ― a group of like-minded people choosing to live in proximity to each other to share resources and work together in gardens.

At that time, the only garden on the block was a 10-by-15-foot patch of tomatoes. Now, the garden is 6/10 of an acre and the project of creating community food security is shared by 20 families. We first covered this project in our April/May 2014 issue (Homestead Hamlets: Neighborhood Gardens that Create Community food Security). Here’s a video our Editor in Chief, Cheryl Long, shot in July 2015 featuring the article’s author Tim Rinne as he reports on the project’s remarkable progress, plus some plans for the future.

If you have a similar project in the works, please let us know via email. And look for our Homestead Hamlets article spotlighting seven great communities in our October/November 2015 issue.

K.C. Compton is senior editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publications, The Herb Companion and GRIT. A huge fan of the food chain, from molecules to meals on the table, K.C. is passionate about the idea that most of what we need to be healthy can be found in the garden.



It seems like every twenty years or so the subject of dehorning dairy cattle catches the eye of the non-farming public. This year I have seen several Facebook posts and read several articles that condemn dehorning as animal cruelty - no exceptions.  It is a fairly complicated subject but on the other hand it is also pretty simple.

I am old enough to remember the days when not all commercial farmers dehorned their cows and stories of people and cows being gored were not that uncommon.  Horns on dairy cattle can be very dangerous for the humans caring for them as well as other cows.  In nature, the horns on the wild ancestors of cows were weapons used for both defensive and offensive purposes. In a well-managed dairy farm horns are completely unnecessary.

I don't believe horns strengthen the spirit of cows. My farm is not a wildlife sanctuary.  I want my cows to be domesticated, easily handled and relaxed around me and other people.  The cows that I raise from calves will follow me around the pasture and scratch heads on my back and legs.  I'd be a dead man today if my cows had horns.

But there is a catch. Dehorning calves can be a brutal experience that I agree can be called animal cruelty. But remember our attitudes towards farm animals and pets have changed dramatically in the past quarter century.  It used to be that pain wasn't a factor with farm animals.  You did what you had to do and it didn't matter if it caused the animal pain or not.  If and when anesthesia was used, it was for the safety of the farmer not the comfort of the animal.  My father used to shoot our cats if they got sick.  Today I bring my cats and dogs to the "animal hospital" and paying a $500 bill when I leave is not unusual.  It's a different world.

Up until the 1990s I had my calves dehorned with a big old red hot electric iron that burned the horn bud off the calves' skulls along with a nearly 2 inch circle of flesh that surrounded the horn bud.  Smoke poured off the calves’ head during the procedure and the stench of burning hair and flesh filled the air.  I didn't use anesthesia so we had to forcefully restrain the calf as it writhed in pain.  What bothered me most was that dehorned calves would never fully trust me again.  Not that I blamed them. I tried other methods such as gouging out the horn buds but that was bloody and equally gruesome.

Finally one day when the vet arrived to dehorn a few of my calves I asked him if we could please use a local anesthesia.  He said "sure, but it is going to cost more." I didn't care. The difference was remarkable, even though we still used the big old electric burner.  The calves didn't struggle and the trauma of the procedure was eliminated.  The calves would basically just stand there not feeling a thing; though I am sure their heads were sore after the anesthesia wore off. 

The next big development in dehorning came when I was introduced to a new type of dehorner in the late 1990s. It was a small propane burner that simply removes the horn bud. All the collateral damage to the surrounding flesh is eliminated.  The procedure should be performed before the calf is a month old while the horn buds are still tiny, about the size of a dime or less. After a couple of weeks there is virtually no sign of the procedure. And the calves' attitude toward me never changes. They still trust me.

Dehorning (also known as debudding) a calf is not animal cruelty when it is done properly at the right age. The danger to people and other cows associated with leaving the horns on the cow eliminated. A cow with horns doesn't have to attack a person or another cow to seriously injure themselves. Cows swing their heads when they groom themselves, chase off flies, or scratch themselves, etc.  If you are in the way of a cows’ horns you'll get gored. 

Cows with horns tend to understand they have weapons on their heads and are not afraid to use them offensively against other cows.  As a result you shouldn't mix cows with horns with dehorned cows because the cows with horns will terrorize dehorned ones.  It is an all or nothing proposition.

The reason to dehorn cows far outweighs how cool cows with horns look.  Of course there are exceptions.  There are dairy farmers who grew up with horned cows who feel comfortable and have experience handling them. For example Devon cows are naturally horned and must be horned to be shown.  Dexter cows are also horned but they are rarely dehorned because their horns are relatively short and don't represent as much of a threat to people or other cows.

Hopefully further advancements will be made with the dehorning process.  The ideal solution would be breeding cows to bulls that are naturally dehorned. Or maybe the hornless or polled gene can be introduced so all cows that would otherwise be dehorned will be born polled.  Even though dehorning is not animal cruelty when it is done properly it still costs dairy farmers time and money.  Being able to eliminate the need to dehorn calves would represent a big savings for dairy farmers.  

Watch a video on dehorning.

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Have you ever sat down and asked yourself “what’s my unfair advantage?”

If you haven’t, stop reading this and think about it. It is potentially life changing.

Realizing what your unfair advantage is can set you on a course to success, but being blind to your advantage might leave you wrestling with unnecessary frustrations or struggles. The beauty of Unfair Advantages is that everyone has one. It might be hiding within your personal talents and gifts. Perhaps you are a salesman with the natural “gift of the gab.”

Maybe your advantage has something to do with the land that you are homesteading/farming. Do you have especially fertile fields that will grow more grass (or a variety of grasses) than someone else? Are there creeks or maybe rivers that feed onto your land? Are you close in proximity to a population-dense area that could potentially host a mass of customers?

Maybe your advantage hides within a skill set that belongs to one of your employees, or one of your children, or one of your friends. Someone that you could recruit to help you out while YOU focus on your strengths. Now you enable them to hone their gifts and further your efforts along the way. That’s a win-win situation, my friend.

Working at Polyface Farm has opened my eyes to the many Unfair Advantages that Polyface benefits from. Joel Salatin, Polyface's founder, was quick to recognize the advantages that his farm possessed, and we should all take that same action and swiftness to strive and do the same. I mean, really, once you have the know-how and understand the implications of a gravity-fed system, harnessing that potential and having it work to your advantage is huge. Polyface has many ponds, all stair stepped up the mountain, which gives the water system on the farm 75 PSI — exclusively from gravity. If Polyface was located somewhere that was flat as a pancake, than we start talking pumps and power drops and so on. Buuuuuut if it's flat, we don’t need a lot of power or pressure to move water.

You see what I’m getting at? It's perspective and knowledge and how we apply each to our own lives.

One of Polyface Farm's advantages is the standing timber that grows on the farm. Through hard work and management, standing timber becomes rough cut lumber via the on farm sawmill. Talk about freedom! Not having to be leashed to Home Depot or Lowes or a local lumber yard. Need a 2x4? Use the tractor to grab a log off of the pile, pop it on the mill and ten minutes later you have your 2x4.

Need to build a shop? A pole barn? A sugar shack for your winter maple sugar making? Spend a week cutting logs, transporting them to the mill, cutting them to the needed dimensions, and there ya go. It is lots of work, but I have seen Polyface save thousand upon thousands of dollars by milling lumber instead of purchasing it.


So do you have standing timber waiting to be milled, but don’t have a tractor? Maybe pay someone to come in, do some clearing, mill it up, and now you have lumber for potentially a fraction of the cost that you would have paid elsewhere. On top of that, you have also opened up additional pasture area or a spot for that pig pasture that you have been wanting. Or maybe build a guest cabin in that new clearing with your new lumber and charge people to come stay in it while they check out your farm.

Sure there are lots of ins and outs to it that I’m not even hitting on, but are you getting it? Are you following what I’m saying? (Or, as my brother says, “you smelling what I’m stepping in?”)

I ask you to do some self-searching. Figure out what you have, I don’t care if you are farming, mowing lawns, homesteading, canning, baking, or working aquaponics. You have an Unfair Advantage and I encourage you to take that and run with it. You can do it. Life isn’t fair. We don’t all have the same thing. We don’t all have the speaking prowess of Joel Salatin or the gravity fed potential and standing timber of Polyface Farm — but that’s the best part. You have something all your own. And that’s what makes your life so valuable.

Cheers to Unfair Advantages.

Interested in seeing more of what Tim does? Follow along through the lens of his camera on Instagram, username MyPolyfacePerspective.

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



Mother Ann Lee and eight of her followers established the Shaker Church in America in 1774. Over the years, more than thirty Shaker communities that focused on an agrarian and self-sufficient lifestyle were established in the United States. The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine, is the only active Shaker community that exists in the world today. It is a peaceful community which has lived in harmony with the land since it was founded in 1783.*

Situated on 1800 acres of land, the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village remains a working farm. It is home to an apple orchard, tree farm, vegetable gardens, a commercial herb garden, hay fields, and pastures. Some of the traditional Shaker pastimes are still carried out at the Village, such as basket making, weaving, printing, and various handcrafts. At the present time, a flock of sheep, four Scottish Highland cattle, pigs, and several cats are being raised by the Sabbathday Lake Shakers.

Traditional Shaker Farming Practices Live On

Long ago the Shakers developed a reputation for their efficient and productive farming practices. They were founded as a peace-loving community based on common religious beliefs. Surprising to some is the fact that they were progressive in many ways with their assertion of the equality of the sexes, their communal lifestyle, their openness in welcoming those in need, and their embracing of inventions and technology.

The Sabbathday Lake Shakers cared for a dairy herd, sheep, chickens, pigs, turkeys, and draft horses when their thriving community was home to approximately two hundred individuals in the 1800’s. A gristmill, sawmill, several barns, spinhouse, herb house and a hothouse, where seedlings and flowers were raised, were all located on the property. Extensive gardens and an orchard abundant with a variety of apples graced the landscape. The Community was recognized for its knowledge of medicinal and culinary herbs and its collection of seeds. Plum, peach, and cherry trees were grown, as well as asparagus and strawberries.

Draft horses were utilized on the Shaker farm through the 1950’s. According to Leonard Brooks, the former Director of the Shaker Library, the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake are credited with advancing the efficiency of the horse-drawn Maine mower and also in improving the design of a heavy-duty collar for the draft horses.The Shakers that lived in the various rural communities in our country have always been innovative in regard to farm developments. They have been credited with improving the air-tight heating stove, spring clothes pins, an apple peeler, the butter churn, the flat broom, washing machine, circular saw blade, and metal-nibbed pens.

Keeping up with all the farm chores translated into busy days for the Shakers. The Brethren, the hired men, and the Shakers’ adopted boys worked in the fields and mills.Various crops such as potatoes, corn, grains, and squash were planted, weeded, and harvested. Apples, pears, grapes, and small fruits were grown. Wood needed to be harvested and milled. Farm tools and equipment required maintenance and the eighteen buildings needed upkeep. From the beginning of their history, men were hired to help with the logging and the sawmill and the field work.

The Sisters at Sabbathday Lake focused on spinning, weaving, cooking, cleaning, washing, canning, and baking. They helped with the apple production and harvested herbs. Some of the fancy goods that they made included poplarware boxes, oval sewing carriers, cloaks, dusters, and fans made from turkey feathers.

Food Production and Livestock on a Shaker Farm

When the village was heavily populated, a variety of farm animals provided food for various markets and for the Shaker Community. Tending to the livestock was time consuming. Cows needed to be milked twice a day. Eggs needed to be collected. The cattle, pigs, horses, turkeys, chickens, and sheep needed to be fed. A flock of sheep still can be viewed on the grounds of the Shaker Village in New Gloucester. Brother Arnold Hadd, one of the three remaining Shakers, explained that many of the sheep that they presently care for were dropped off at the farm over the years because the animals were in need of a home.

Back in the 1780‘s, sheep grazed in the same Shaker pastures that they do today in New Gloucester. Each spring, the sheep were sheared and their raw fleeces were brought to the Spin House where twigs and grass were removed from the wool in a process called “skirting.” The wool was then sorted according to its quality, length, or color, before it was washed.


Apples have always figured predominantly in the Shaker Community. Fresh apples were in demand for the market and the Shakers processed the apples to make and sell applesauce and cider. Apple bees were held in the evenings at which apples were cut and dried for winter storage. The apple orchard is still flourishing at Sabbathday Lake. An arrangement has been made with the Maine Apple Company to maintain the orchard. The Shakers still sell Cortland, Macintosh, and Honey Crisp apples during the fall. There is free cider pressing with a hand press. Visitors can bring their own apples to be pressed or they can buy Shaker apples at the Shaker Store.

While the Shakers used to harvest wood from the 1800-acre property, woodlot management is now in the hands of a forester. Growing herbs at Sabbathday Lake has long been a tradition and the Shakers have received national recognition for the herbs that they grow and the workshops that they conduct such as Herb Garden Design for the Everyday Cook; Shaker Verse and Pressed Botanical Design; Lavender in the Kitchen; and Heirloom Herbal Wreath and Ornaments. A Sabbathday Lake Herb Garden Internship program is available for those interested in learning more about herb gardening, herb lore, and creative herb uses.

Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village Tours and Products

Individuals interested in purchasing some of the Shakers’ herbal products should check out their extensive online catalog on their website. The Sabbathday Lake Shakers sell specialty spice mixes such as mulled cider mix, apple pie spice, and pumpkin pie spice. The Shakers also carry thirty-seven varieties of culinary herbs and herbal blends in addition to an assortment of seventeen simple herbal teas and herbal tea blends. Shaker Rose Water, Shaker Mint Water, and Shaker Peach Water are three of their unique herbal products that are often used in cooking as a vanilla substitute. Their Shaker herbal teas include a choice of catnip, chamomile, herbal blend, horehound, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, mint blend, minty balm, rose hips, peppermint, and spearmint. They also offer an 1858 recipe of Eldress Hester Ann Adams' potpourri that can be used as a room or drawer freshener. Their balsam fir pillows have proven to be a popular item.

Nature hikes are offered on the Shaker grounds by trained naturalists. On these hikes, visitors can enjoy exploring the Shaker fields and forests. Some of the other special events offered at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village each year include the Maine Festival of American Music, Maine State Open Farm Day, the Maine Native American Summer Market and Demonstration; the Harvest Festival; and the Shaker Christmas Fair.

Besides being located in an idyllic setting, the farm that is operated by the Sabbathday Lake Shakers provides some very special aspects. For visitors who schedule a tour or attend one of the workshops there is a wealth of knowledge that can be acquired. Various exhibits provide interesting stories and photos. History buffs will relish in viewing various artifacts in the Shaker Museum and research opportunities afforded by the Shaker Library. Music lovers are treated to special classes and concerts. The gift shop abounds with a selection of unique and one-of-a-kind items.

For those interested in experiencing a view of the spiritual essence of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community, Sunday Meetings at 10 a.m. are open to the public and visitors are welcome to participate in song or testimony, however the Spirit moves them. According to Brother Arnold Hadd, "The Shakers’ founder Mother Ann said that 'A strange gift never came from God,' and visitors are urged to not feel strange or a stranger."


Become a Friend of the Shakers

The Friends of the Shakers, a membership-based support organization of more than 450 households nationwide, offers ongoing opportunities to become involved in helping out. Their efforts have aided in protecting the Shaker land from development. Members of their group help with historic renovations; raise funds for preservation and educational development; conduct work days in the spring and fall; and foster general interest in the Shakers and Shakerism.

Farm enthusiasts should be sure to include a visit to Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village on their farm touring agenda. Farming is still alive and well at this last active Shaker Community. It is a place that is permeated by a sense of history and serenity. In a world often full of distractions and haste, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village offers some strikingly beautiful surroundings that invite visitors to slow down and enjoy a sense of quiet, reflection, and respect.

* A special thank you is extended to Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village Museum Director, Michael Graham, for verifying all the information presented in this story.

Caption: Sister Frances Carr, one of the last remaining Shakers, is shown enjoying the slideshow that took place at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village at the recent Open Farm Day.

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As the beekeeping season comes to a close and my hives need less of my time, I’m confronted with the jars and bags and racks and bowls of beeswax all over my house patiently awaiting my attention. There are a million methods for all things beekeeping out there but I’d like to share this very simple method of rendering beeswax that will take you from sticky mess to wonderfully fragrant disks of clean beeswax ready for your crafts and beauty products while costing very little of your time and precious energy. And best of all, there’s no waste and your bees will actually benefit from it!

Equipment You Will Need

1. Some type of plastic or metal grate that will fit inside of an empty super. It should have spaces big enough for a bee to crawl through but not big enough for chunks of wax to fall through.

2. A cheap double boiler (I found two pots for $2.00 at the thrift store that worked perfectly)

3. A small plastic, metal or glass container (that you don’t need for anything else) to pour the melted wax into

4. A cheesecloth and rubber band

Note: All of this equipment should be things you don’t care about or use for anything else as beeswax is pretty much impossible to clean off. You’re going to want this equipment to be used exclusively for wax processing (hence the thrift store recommendation).


Part One

1. Grab all of your wax capping and other still sticky wax, your grate and your empty super, take them outside to your beehive (I like to suit up for this) and remove the outer cover on your hive.

2. Make sure that your inner cover is the kind that has a hole in the top. Place empty super on top of inner cover and then place the grate on top of inner cover inside the empty super. Now spread your sticky wax out on top of the grate. Place your outer cover back on top to close up and if you have a bee escape hole in your inner cover it’s probably a good idea to plug it up with grass cork or something else to discourage robbers.

If you don’t have an inner cover with a hole in it, you can simply remove it as well and set the grate and super directly on top of the frames and then place your inner cover on top of the empty super followed by your outer cover.

Congratulations, you’re half way done. When you come back in a day or two, you will find that the bees have completely cleaned every scrap of honey off of the wax and left you with a beeswax sculpture that’s pretty amazing. The absolute best part though is that the bees have saved you a lot of time cleaning all of that honey and instead of it going down the drain, they get to add it back to their winter stores.


Part Two

1. In a double boiler on low heat add first about an inch of water and then start adding your wax. As the wax melts down you will be able to add more. You might be able to get it all in there or you may have to do more than one batch. You don’t want it more than 3/4 full of hot wax. DO NOT WALK AWAY! Wax is extremely flammable and it also makes a very difficult mess to clean if it boils over.

2. When the wax is completely melted you will see that there is still quite a bit of debris that you want to get rid of so just remove it from the heat and let it cool a bit but not to the point that it starts to solidify again.

3. Fold your cheesecloth a couple of times so that it's about 4 layers thick and place it over the top of whatever container you’re going to let the wax solidify in. You can even use one of those round, plastic yogurt containers. Secure the cheesecloth with a rubber band making sure it’s sagging just a bit in the middle.

4. Pour your slightly cooled wax through the cheesecloth into the container, water and all and leave it until the wax is solid and cool.


5. Use a butter knife or something similar to get your wax disk or block out of its container leaving the water behind. When it’s completely dry, store in an airtight container or plastic bag.

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

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MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

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