Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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If you attend a beekeeping conference, class, or workshop, you may hear beekeepers referring to a “hot hive”.  What, exactly, is a “hot hive”?   In beekeeping talk, a hot hive is one where the bees have become aggressive, unfriendly, and just plain mean.  In our experience, it can usually be traced back to some sort of issue with the queen. The hive might be queenless, or have a failing queen, or it could just be the genetics of the queen.  The queen sets the mood of the entire hive, and if she isn’t happy, nobody is happy!  For example – one spring my husband and I were inspecting a hive that the previous fall had been gentle and productive.  When we opened them up, however, about 50 bees flew straight up from the hive and started bouncing off of our veils, attempting to sting us.  We could distinctly smell the honey bee alarm pheromone (which smells like overripe bananas). 

Now, I am used to bees who are gentle, and who pretty much ignore me when I am working the hives.  I want to be able to relax and enjoy my bees when I am in the beeyard.  Dealing with aggressive bees who seem intent on driving me away from the hive is not my idea of fun. So, what to do?

First, try to find out if something could be disturbing an otherwise calm hive.  Was the weather not good that day?  Strong winds, approaching storms, or other changes in the weather can cause a hive to become grouchier than they normally would be.  Being harassed by animals can also cause a hive to be more aggressive than usual. Check around the hive – are there scratch marks at the entrance?  This could mean that skunks or other marauders have been harassing the hive.  Observe the hive during the day- are they under attack by hornets, yellow jackets, or other insects?  Finally, could you have accidently squished any bees when opening the hive?  If a number of bees are killed or injured, it could trigger a defensive response in the hive.

In our case, we could not find any sign that the hive was being harassed in any way.  The weather was fine, and we could find no external cause for the hives behavior.  We decided to wait a week, and open up the hive again, to see if there was any change.  When we again opened up the hive, we were greeted with the same response. The ripe banana alarm smell, and bees aggressively circling, bouncing off of our veils, and attempting to sting us. We closed up the hive, and decided to think about what to do next.

At this point, we decided that the issue was probably with the queen.  One option would have been to simply replace the queen.  You can do this by ordering a queen, and a few days before she is due to arrive, go into the hive and destroy the old queen. After a few days without a queen, the hive should be ready to accept a new queen.   However, since this was a very large hive, and we wanted to expand the size of our apiary, we decided to split up the hive to make several new hives.  We got set up to begin three new hives – hive stands, bottom boards, hive bodies, inner and outer covers.  After getting all of our protective gear on (we even wore gloves for this one), we smoked the grouchy hive, and opened them up.

We went through the hive, frame by frame, dividing the frames up among the three new and one original hives.    We made sure that each hive had eggs, larvae, capped brood, honey, pollen, and empty cells to expand into.   When we found the queen on one of the frames, we dispatched her with a hive tool.  I might have felt bad about doing that, except that the bees were being there usual grouchy selves from the moment we opened them – bombarding us, stinging, and bouncing off of our veils.  Once we had the frames evenly divided among the four hives, we closed them up, and added entrance reducers.  As expected, many of the field bees returned to the original hive.  However, because we were sure to include open brood in each hive, the nurse bees stayed in each hive they were placed in.  After a few days, we picked up four mated queens from a local beekeeper.  We introduced the new queens to the four hives in a queen cage with a candy plug in one end.  Hopefully, by the time the worker bees chewed through the candy, they would be ready to accept a new queen. 

When three days had passed, we did a quick check to make sure all of the queens had been released – and they had.  After another week we checked to make sure the queen was alive and laying eggs.  In each hive we were able to find the queen, and also found many eggs in the previously empty cells.  After a few weeks, we noticed an extreme difference in the temperament of all four hives.  They bees were gentle, docile, and easy to work with.  All four hives ended up doing very well, and made it through the following winter.

“Hot” hives are definitely not a fun part of beekeeping.  However, there is usually a solution to the problem.   It could even lead to an improvement in the apiary – such as being able to expand the number of hives.

Happy Beekeeping!

Jennifer Ford owns and operates Bees of the Woods Apiary with her husband Keith Freeman.  You can visit them at

Photo by Keith Freeman

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All those little inspirations you see on Facebook and read in those ‘don’t worry, be happy’ books always talk about how you need to enjoy every day. Every day is a new beginning. You could be struck by lightning tomorrow so live every day like it’s your last. It all sounds so easy.

This works until you realize that if it was your last day you’d eat about 5,000 calories of really unhealthy food, and if you ate like this every day and compound this over a period of time … say … every day … well, you would definitely increase the likelihood of each day being your last!

I do strive for this state of mind but it’s difficult. I find myself increasingly turning my thoughts to people in my life who have passed away and thinking “Mom/Brian/Ian/Ted (fill in the blank with someone from your life who has passed away) doesn’t have the option of doing what I’m doing, whether it’s weeding/cutting firewood/unloading manure … so I should enjoy it. It sounds somewhat morbid but it usually works. You focus on the individual and you become really grateful for doing what you’re doing.

I have been very light on blogs of late because the CSA is an enormous amount of work … all of the good kind. I’m pretty exhausted at the end of a day and don’t usually have the energy to even sit at my computer and type. But tonight I do. Today was a red-letter day. Tonight I am absolutely energized.

First off, it rained last night. We had gone a long time without rain and my sandy soil was starting to dry out. I wasn’t in the freaking out stage yet, and I had been staying ahead on watering, but nothing beats a rain. And the rain came when a front moved through which made today sunny but without the humidity, so it was marvelous.

Our friends John and Denice let me into their blueberry patch today. It isn’t officially open yet for the “you-pickers” since there aren’t a lot of ripe berries yet. But if I kept moving I was able to pick some for our members. It was sunny. It was comfortable. They don’t have bugs there. They have an osprey nest because they’re beside Stocco Lake and the birds call to each other all day long and I saw a parent land with a fish for a baby. And the blueberries were amazing.

I am no longer a “Type A," accumulation-focused individual when it comes to money … hence … why I am able to run a CSA, but I do love filling up a basket of blueberries and then dumping them into the pint containers that we give to our members. It’s delightful. I kept thinking of the alternatives. Driving to a city for work. Working in an industrial park. Sitting in a cubicle. Working on a computer. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities, I am just grateful that some divine force in the universe diverged me from that path and onto one in which I spend my days growing food. And I continue to focus on the fact that if I have to do something to earn an income, what could be lower impact than providing people with food? Locally grown, organically grown food. People have to eat. This is simply the best way to do it. It’s really quite outstanding.

Once I got the blueberries done I zipped home and jumped right in to our raspberry patch. The raspberries are at their peak and I was able to pick a little clamshell package for everyone. This might not seem like a lot but when you realize how much work is involved with the picking, and growing things like raspberries, you are truly left to marvel at the produce sections of grocery stores. How there can be so much food, so cheap, is a truly wondrous thing.

I am never happier though than when I’ve produced something like this myself. I remember planting every section of the two main berry patches. I remember that fall I transplanted all those raspberry canes into the back section to boost it up and fill it in some more. I remember the many times I have slung horse manure onto the raspberry rows during the fall and winter. And the straw from the chicken coop. The soil in the raspberry patches that started out as pretty much sand gets better every year. Once in a while I’ll hit a cluster of berries and one will fall and I’ll crouch down to try and retrieve it. I keep another container near where I’m picking for these casualty berries that we feed to the chickens. OMG they love raspberries! They must be so good for them! And how great that must make their eggs!

When I’m down at the soil level of our raspberry patch I love how dark and cool it seems. And what a unique little ecosystem it is with bugs and microorganisms working to decompose material that falls into it. I know where the energy from raspberries comes from and it’s kind of a big deal. It’s the sun that also powers my house, and the soil.

By dinnertime I was bagged and we had all the blueberries and raspberries ready to go for tomorrow’s member pick up. Tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. I’ll start picking spinach. Michelle will start with lettuce and green onions. Tomorrow our members will also get radishes and snow peas and kale. Next week beans should be ready.

In all the ways I have earned a living since I started working part-time in high school 40+ years ago, which includes about a ba-zillion jobs and careers and businesses that I’ve started and run, nothing compares to what I do now. Even after publishing some amazing books about sustainable living, there can simply be no greater satisfaction that loading up all our boxes with an enormous amount of healthy, organic, sustaining, earth friendly, body building, soul enriching produce that I’ve grown and picked.

I love what I do. My food is grown and picked with love. I’m not sure you can assume that about the grocery store stuff.

I think it’s time to raise the price.

Or lower it.

I don’t think that will change my job satisfaction.

For more information about Cam Mather or his books, visit Cam's website.

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.


Sustainable Poultry Network 

Dear Poultry Enthusiasts! It is with great excitement that I am inviting you to the 2015 Sustainable Poultry Network–USA National Conference! I believe this conference will be the most complete, comprehensive conference for sustainable poultry production in North America. This conference features some of the very best instructors to teach on the current critical subjects of sustainable poultry production.

Within the last few days we have finalized our elective topics for our two day conference. There will be eighteen different sessions presented by some of the leading poultry experts in the country. Click here to check out these exciting sustainable poultry education electives on our website.

The SPN-USA National Conference includes:

• Conference Training Sessions
• On-Farm Coaching
• Complete Training Manual*
• Several Poultry Resources/Books from Sessions*
• MEALS for both days
• Tuesday Night Heritage Poultry Dinner

The on-farm training will include, egg candling, toe punching with day old chicks for breeder identification and “breeder selection” with various breeds of live birds. During the two-day conference, you will have the opportunity to network with like-minded farmers from all over the United States.

The 2015 Sustainable Poultry Network–USA National Conference will be in two locations, Wilmot, Ohio and Petaluma, California. I guarantee you, it will change how you view your poultry.

Two Locations to Serve Your Needs

Wilmot, Ohio, October 5 – 7. We are especially excited to be in Wilmot, Ohio! This year, we will be in the middle of Amish country at the Amish Door Village. We are partnering with Wholesome Valley Farm.

Petaluma, Calif., October 26 – 28. Our western location is Petaluma, California. Petaluma has some very rich poultry history. Our hotel headquarters will be at the Sheraton Sonoma County Petaluma. We will be partnering with our local SPN–USA member, Open Field Farm.

Pre-Conference Seminars and Workshops

On Monday, in both locations — there will be additional training opportunities! We are planning strategically for the needs of our Sustainable Poultry Network–USA certified flock owners along with those who are new to the SPN-USA movement. Click here for more details about the pre-conference sessions.

Visit us online at SPN–USA website for all the conference details! If you have any questions, needs or requests, please email me.

Remember, EARLY BIRD registration ends July 31. It is going to be an awesome event!

Jim Adkins, President/Founder SPN-USA

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.


Catch a glimpse of what farming looked like in Palouse, Washington during the mid-1940s. Farming has never been easy work, but back in the day there wasn’t the convenience of modern machinery. Kudos to those who still employ some of these techniques!

Video originally posted on YouTube by: seattletimesdotcom


Homestead dairy goats need shelter. These are high-value animals that you’ll be working with on a daily basis, so it’s reasonable to provide infrastructure that’s convenient and comfortable for you and your herd. If you’re new to managing goats, you may want a shelter that is temporary and adaptable; chances are you’ll want to change your approach down the road. Experienced goat managers may still find use for flexible and portable designs as pasture shelters. Proper goat shelters don’t need to be fancy, but they do need to serve a variety of purposes. Even a basic dairy goat shelter could or should

• Protect goats from weather conditions
• Allow you to work with goats out of the weather (i.e. milking, hoof-trimming)
• Be located near a convenient source of water
• Include (or be near) a protected milking area that excludes goats (to keep it clean)
• Have (or be near) an area to store hay, straw, and/or grain separate from goats
• Have the ability to separate kids from adults, or individuals if necessary
• Be able to stand up to goat behavior, including rubbing, climbing, and jumping
• Be moveable to allow for rotational grazing

My wife and I have experimented with a variety of basic goat shelters for our homestead dairy goat herd. We generally kept our goats on pasture spring through fall, changing their grazing areas once a day to once a week, using overnight shelters that could be moved once a month to completely new ground to help break the parasite cycle. After moving the shelter, we collected the month’s worth of bedding and composted it, providing a regular supply of fertility for our vegetables. Kids were left on does during the day, and separated at night, which allowed us to milk every morning. We used several forms of winter shelter before building a permanent winter barn; we still used pasture shelters spring through fall. The permanent barn’s design will be a future blog post; here we discuss our experience with various non-permanent shelters.

Cattle-Panel Hoops with Tarps 

Goat Sheds Hoops

A line of 4’x16’ cattle panels bent into hoops, held in place with rebar pounded into ground, makes an easy shelter with tarps or plastic lashed on top. While panels can be expensive, we sourced most of ours used from auctions and elsewhere. These are easy to set up and take down, and all the constituent parts can be repurposed if you change shelter plans later on. The ends can be blocked off with more panels or wooden walls as desired. The shelter above left housed the herd, while the shelter above right housed our milking stand. These can be winterized by stacking straw bales along the open ends for insulation, and keeping heavy snow knocked off the tarps.


Goat Sheds Bend

When using these hoops, it’s important to keep the goats OFF. They’re wonderfully flexible with weather, but do not hold up to goats climbing and playing. The sequence above shows what happens if you don’t prevent this behavior: ruined hoops bent double by the herd climbing the hoop to reach an overhanging oak branch, and just to play. Preventing this is simple; just install a line of panels along the edge of the hoops, attached to T-posts, as shown in the first set of photos. These only take a few extra minutes to set up or take down (if moving the shelter) and will save your structure.

“Farmers Market” Pop-Up Tents with Cattle Panel Walls

Goat Sheds Tents Panel

You can also use cattle panels to enclose basic pop-up tents of the kind used at farmers markets and festivals. Set up the tents, and use T-posts to support a frame of panels around the tents. Gates are simply a shorter section of panel wired or tied to a post or neighboring panel. The panels are lashed together using baling twine, and the tents are lashed to the panels or the T-posts to hold them down in strong weather. These are especially fast to set up and take down, especially if you have a T-post puller (a simple leverage device that makes it easy to remove posts).

This design is only appropriate for warm weather, but does a good job of providing basic protection for a goat herd. Two tents provide an obvious division for kids and adults. It’s helpful to have the kid side open only into the adult side, which then opens to the outdoors. This way, you can easily draw the entire herd in at night, close the outer gate, then separate goats at your leisure. During the day, just leave all gates open to give free access to the entire shelter as needed.

The biggest potential barrier here is cost; new tents can be expensive. We were able to source some used from other farmers, and in the long run, the cost for even a new one may be worthwhile given how sturdy and easy-to-use such tents are. They’re also easy to repurpose or resell if your situation changes.

Chain-Link Walls with Tarp Roof

Goat Sheds Chainlink

Standard 10’ chain-link panels, of the kind often used for dogs, work very well for goat shelters. With their own special brackets to hold panels to together, they’re a breeze to set up and take down, and the built-in doors in some panels make access and security easy. These can be expensive new, but we bought ours used. We lashed tarps onto the panels for additional weather-proofing, using separate tarps for each panel to facilitate disassembly.

In an early version (above left), we kept the milking stand on one side (where the adults also slept), and put the kids on the other side. Thus, we could milk each morning before letting the animals out to graze. In later versions (above right), once we’d built a permanent barn for milking and winter housing, the shelters only housed the goats, and we took the adults to the milking barn each morning before returning them to pasture. In this latter version, the divider panel down the middle has an internal door, to make separating kids easier (as described in the previous section). Each section also has its own external door to facilitate general access.

The most difficult part of this design is a suitable roof. At first, we bought a roof kit with pipes and tarp especially designed for this kind of shelter, but found we didn’t like it. The roof, with its open ends, allowed too much rain in, and was quite susceptible to wind. It was also tricky to set up and take down. We also experimented with winterizing a shelter like this, building a wood and metal roof overhead and insulating the walls with straw bales lashed to the panels. This worked okay, but was a real hassle to take down in spring when it was time to move the shed to new pasture.

Chainlink Shed Winter

Chain-Link Walls with Pop-Up Tent

Final Goat Shed

This is our favorite shelter. Both components have a 10’x10’ footprint; simply set up the tent, and enclose it with chain-link panels. The panels hold tightly to the tent’s legs and provide security, while the tent fits perfectly on top. Both are quite easy to set up and take down; we found that a single person could dismantle, move, and reassemble this system in a different pasture in about an hour. That’s pretty good for a once-a-month task. The rest of the setup is similar to shelters described above. A hay rack may be lashed inside the panels if desired, and bedding collects naturally in place, to be composted once the shelter moves on. A couple T-posts can be driven in at the corners and lashed to the panels and tent, if additional security against strong weather is desired.

Final Considerations

Any of these designs could be expensive if everything is purchased new, but creative sourcing can bring down the cost significantly. In addition, most of the constituent pieces can be reused for other purposes if your plans or needs change; there is little waste or permanent loss involved. These structures can be the true home for your homestead herd, or simply pasture shelters complementing a more permanent barn. The herd health benefits of living on pasture are significant, and it’s worth exploring whether such shelters could work for your goats.

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.



Becoming More Familiar with the Polyface Eggmobile

Having grown up in the Sacramento region of California, fireflies were not a regular part of my childhood. They were never part of my “every day” bug exposure, if you will. Sure, there are many beetles, Praying Mantises and Jerusalem Crickets that might be odd to other people and are common place to me. But fireflies have always been the coolest thing.

I have relatives that live in Pennsylvania, and trips that took my family out that direction were welcomed because they brought me to firefly country. In my mind, fireflies are synonymous with cool summer evenings that find me and my siblings running through my grandparent’s lawn on a dewy evening, laughing while the winged marvels twinkle around me.

Fireflies also make me think of romanticized scenes from many a film, where they are often used to set a deep and often serene ambiance. When I was working with the Walt Disney Company at The Walt Disney Resort, The Pirates of the Caribbean ride was my favorite. The first segment of the ride is set in a swamp where (via use of a small fan and a gently pulsating LED) fireflies glow off and on to set the mood.

Eggmobile Sunset 

With this as my background, one of the small yet very enjoyable perks of working here at Polyface is when, during the late spring/summer evenings, I get to witness the fireflies come to life in the evening twilight.

It is evenings just like tonight, right after the sun has set behind the ridgeline to the west, when I will walk, run, or ride one of the farm four-wheelers to the Eggmobile to close it up in preparation of Joel moving it in the morning. This short trip to the Eggmobile is the perfect opportunity to just soak the fireflies in. I often get distracted by them, but I don’t mind. And it makes the task of closing the Eggmobile something to look forward to.

If you have ever had the opportunity to visit Polyface, it is a safe bet that Joel’s Eggmobile was somewhere on your list of things to see. If you didn’t know it existed before your visit, I’m guessing you were familiar with it by the time you left. From what I’ve seen, it is one of the most duplicated structures on the farm, and I have heard about and seen many variations.

Our Eggmobile is a two-section version, with each section boasting a single axle. It is constructed from rough-cut lumber (milled from the farm), sheet metal for the sides and roof, and chicken wire on the ends to prevent early and unwanted departure by the birds. Each section holds four hundred birds comfortably, and has nest boxes and bulk-feeders that we fill as needed.

The concept is simple. The chickens return to the Eggmobile at dusk to sleep. We close the Eggmobile the evenings before we move it. The Eggmobile follows the cows; hence, the chickens follow the cows. We let the chickens out in the morning. Boom. Done.

Chickens on Run 

It is simple in practice, but there is much more going on here than first meets the eye. The Eggmobile follows the cows, leaving roughly a three day time period between when the cows are in a specific section and when the birds get on it. What this means is that the chickens are having their pick of delicious fly larva that are (at three days old) perfectly plump for the pecking. Moving the Eggmobile like this helps to keep the fly population down, keeps the pasture more sanitized, helps the cow’s manure to build the soil more efficiently (via the birds distributing and spreading it while tearing it apart looking for food), and provides the chickens with a continues supply of fresh “salad-bar”, as Joel likes to say.

As an apprentice, it falls on me and my fellow apprentices to close the Eggmobile. We take week long rotations, and this week it is my turn to complete the task. This entails me making my way to wherever the Eggmobile might be. Upon arrival, I first verify that all the birds are inside. I then disconnect the water line which is connected to the black poly-pipe that we have around the fields, and begin to roll it up with the crank-handle spool that’s attached to the end of the Eggmobile. It is important to note that it is VERY easy to lose the rubber washer that’s on the end of the hose. I make sure I don’t lose it. Losing it can cost other people extra time, which never makes them happy. I then empty the small water pan that the chickens drink from, and place it on the front tongue that the tractor connects to.

After the water line is properly stowed, I then stash the ramps leading to the small doors that the chickens travel in and out of. There are four doors, two on each section. Two of the ramps are laid between the two sections on the connecting rod, and two ramps are slid into custom slots directly below the doors. All of the doors are fastened with bungie-cords.

Now it is closed up for the night, and I’m done. It’s that simple. The procedure takes me maybe ten minutes tops. The journey to the Eggmobile consumes more of my time than the task itself. Come tomorrow morning, Joel and one of the interns will ride out on one of the tractors to move this sucker. After hooking up, they will make the journey to its new temporary resting place. Sometimes this journey is only a hundred feet and sometimes it is clear across the farm.

Moving the Eggmobile is officially Joel’s job, but I have done it several times while he is traveling and speaking across the world. Moving the Polyface Eggmobile is an adventure. It is wide, long, heavy, and has the turning radius of a ‘64 Buick. It is hard to hazard a guess as to the amount of fence posts that have fallen prey to its sluggish maneuvering and blunt sides. Once it begins moving forward, it is hard to convince it to do anything else. And heaven forbid you have to back it up. Oh my.

It is not the prettiest structure by any stretch of the imagination…but that’s the trick. The beauty isn’t in the aesthetics of the Eggmobile…it is in the innovation, imagination, and effectiveness that is all bundled together and morphed into the rambling chicken totter that makes its constant pilgrimage around the farm. Once you can see it for what it is, it is hard to view it as anything but ingenious.

So here I go. It is time to head out and shut the ol’ girl up for the evening.

I can already see the fireflies twinkling in the dusk, lighting the way to the Eggmobile that’s tucked away somewhere in the shadows.

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.


This hands-free approach to using a chainsaw could speed up your wood cutting process. As with anytime you choose to work with a saw, please use caution and be careful if you try this method yourself.

Video originally posted by : Ajem Endziner

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