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I’ve always wanted a livestock guardian dog, but it also needed to be an incredible family dog that could be with us at all times. Unheard of, right? Everything I have read has continuously said LGDs must remain with the herd at all times. I thought a livestock guardian was outside of our near future, because honestly, we only live on a half-acre homestead, and I just simply didn’t want to pour $1,000 into a pup that wouldn’t have much space to patrol.

However, we were still in the market for a new puppy this summer. My son’s birthday is the end of August, and the one thing he continued to ask for was a puppy, even though we already have a 2-year-old black lab. Do you know how hard it is to find a puppy that’s ready for a new home in a certain month? Very hard, when you’re looking for a specific breed.

I, myself, wasn’t really interested in a new dog. In fact, I tried to talk my husband and son out of it. Because the reality is, guess who’s going to take care of that puppy? Me, yes, that’s right. We already have Samson, our lazy lab. In fact, whenever I post photos of him on Instagram I often hashtag him #notafarmdog. It’s true. He’s nothing but a cuddle bug, but I’m ok with that.

So, I thought to myself, if we’re going to get another dog, then it’s going to be a dog that can do a job around here. Our stipulations were that it had to be a natural guardian of our family and property, it had to be family friendly and not easily aggressive, it had to be fearless and eager to please, and it had to be strong and courageous while remaining gentle and soft towards its pack members. In other words, it had to be strong and fearless enough to go up against our neighboring bear friends, and yet gentle enough to want to sleep in the bed at night. Sounds like the perfect dog, doesn’t it? In no way did I think we would ever find it…I assumed it was a myth in my own mind.

We tossed around the idea of Dobermans, German Shepherds, German Short Haired Pointers, and mixed breeds. But it wasn’t until one morning, when I came across a breed in our local Valley Trader newspaper, that I realized I had found a pup that I could really enjoy here on our homestead.

Enter, the Black Mouth Cur mountain dog—also simply known as, the Black Mouth Cur

As I read through the extensive history of this breed, and the fact that the breeding lineage has been kept fairly narrow over the past century, I was sold. The Black Mouth Cur is a herding, hunting, and guardian dog that has been traced back all the way to 347 BC. The Celts are widely attributed to the development of the Cur breed, and by 1000 to 600 BC, they had already developed several different lines of Curs. Each lineage had a certain job, but each one also excelled in any job you gave it—be it herding, guarding, or hunting. When the Irish and Celts came to settle in the United States, they brought their beloved dogs with them, and so began the Black Mouth Cur generations here in the U.S.A.


Today, we have several different lines of Curs, and many that are mingled in between the few. These lines are the Southern Black Mouth Cur from Alabama, the Foundation Black Mouth Cur from Texas, the Ladner Yellow Black Mouth Cur from Mississippi, and the Florida Black Mouth Cur. With many breeds, dogs are bred for color and standard of perfection, but with Cur breeders, the standard of perfection is how well the dog can perform on demand. If the dog has exceptional abilities, then it doesn’t really matter how black its mouth is or how yellow its body is—it’s a good dog.

Typically, a Black Mouth Cur can be between 40 lbs and 90 lbs. Again, this is all dependent upon the line that you purchase from. Our pup, Delilah, comes from the Ladner background from her Sire’s side, and a mixture from her Dam’s side. This has created a nice in between color of red and yellow, a black muzzle with a touch of white, and a white chest. Her body will be slender and her legs long, much like a hound.

Curs are typically used for hunting wild boar, treeing coons and squirrels, herding livestock and protecting livestock, and are also greatly used for protecting their own family. Some Curs are even used in search and rescue groups because of their exceptional skill of tracking and their fearless nature. They can take down a bear or coyote quickly, should you come across one. And will even fight until death if it means protecting what is its own.

So, we traveled over an hour and a half into West Virginia, from our home in Virginia, to meet Delilah and her eight puppy siblings. We were instantly in love. She chose us. She instantly clicked with our son and would follow him everywhere…and she still does.

Delilah is almost 10 weeks old, but already shows great promise in her ambitions. She is curious and smart. One of the smartest dogs we’ve ever had. You can see her working problems out in her head as she watches. She was house trained the first week we had her, and she continues to learn her perimeter of our property. She sits with the chickens and pays them no mind—she knows they are “hers” and there is no need to think otherwise. Though, we will continue to monitor her closely.

She is a family dog, but she is a farm dog as well. Our very first farm dog. She runs along behind me when doing chores, and sits and waits patiently for me until I’m done, keeping guard. She already knows basic commands and is becoming more and more trustworthy inside the home as she gains knowledge of what is “no”, what is “leave it”, and what is “good girl."

The other evening you could hear a pack of coyotes off in the distance, across the river. She stopped and listened intently until they disappeared. She wasn’t leaving her post until they were gone. My heart gleaned with delight as I sat and listened with her. Once gone, she jumped in my lap and gave lots of kisses. What a fine pup she is.

I am excited to see how Delilah grows and learns on our homestead, and I am so happy I didn’t talk these boys out of getting her. She is teaching me as much as I teach her. And if nothing more, she has the sweetest, most spunky spirit a homesteader could ever ask for. This homesteader certainly is honored to train her and guide her into the warrior she will become for our family.

In the meantime, she sleeps at the foot of our bed, and curls up in between our heads when she catches a chill. And in the mornings, she smothers us in kisses. And you know what, that’s ok with me too. This breed in exceptionally versatile and goes against everything I’ve ever learned about LGDs. I’m hopeful this bond will continue through the remainder of her life here in our homestead, and beyond.

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.



I read this question almost every day on the various online livestock guardian dog forums. First, congratulations! Second, I hope you’ve done some basic groundwork and preparation. If not, you need to get busy.

Hopefully you located a healthy pup from a good breeder who chooses her breeding dogs carefully for their working behaviors, temperament, and soundness. Most importantly, if you want a good working LGD, you need to buy a pup from a recognized LGD breed or crossbred of recognized LGD breeds – and nothing else. Two previous posts can help folks still looking for a LGD pup: Before You Buy a Livestock Guardian Dog or Puppy and Selecting a Working LGD Puppy.

What Comes Next?

People are happy to give you advice; unfortunately, much of it is contradictory. Myths and misconceptions abound. If you bought your pup from a breeder with good working dogs, their advice will be enormously helpful.

Much of what you do is determined by the role you have in mind for your dog. LGD breeds can function in their traditional role as a full time, outdoor living livestock guardian; as a farm and family guardian who may live in areas right around the house and occasionally visit inside; or as a family companion dog who lives indoors.

For a more complete description of these roles and how to raise a pup for these different jobs see: What is the Difference Between a Livestock Guardian, Farm and Family Guardian, or Family Companion. For our purposes here, I’m going to assume your new pup will be living and working outside full-time with stock.


Where to keep the new addition? In the house? With livestock or poultry?

If he is to be a full time LGD he needs to be housed in a secure and safe area with a good shelter outside or inside a barn. Yes, even in the winter. As long as he is a minimum of 8 weeks old, healthy, and in suitable housing he will be fine outside even in winter, unless it is drastically and unusually frigid. LGD pups and dogs live outside across the northern US and in Canada.

It is better, for several reasons, if he is 12 weeks old, but in either case if you bring the pup inside the house you are setting his expectations of where he will be living and the eventual separation will be even harder later.

An area about 16 by 16 feet square is a suitable size for a very young pup’s pen. Some folks construct a larger, permanent kennel that can be used when the adult dog needs to be confined. Livestock panels or chain link is often used. If you are worried about large predators and your LGD pup, make sure his pen is secure at night with a solid cover of stock panels, chain link, or a roof. Tarps are not sufficient protection from a larger predator.

Yes, he may cry at first – just like a new puppy in a crate in the house. But constantly responding to his cries or taking him to the house will make the eventual separation worse or condition him to escape to the house. Give him lots of attention in his place but don’t reward constant cries. Sometimes it is helpful to place his pen out of sight of your comings and goings around the house. Don’t let him live in your yard or hang out on your porch unless that is where you want him to work later.

Bonding to Stock or Poultry

If your pup is destined to protect stock or poultry, he needs to be within sight and sound of them from the very beginning, if at all possible. Pups from working parents usually have excellent early socialization to stock.

Some folks have very reliable older animals that can serve as companions to a pup, but you also have to be careful of the larger animal bullying or injuring the puppy. It’s never advisable to leave a pup completely alone with baby animals, new mothers, poultry, or stock that is not used to LGDs. Many folks keep their young dog near to stock or birds but without access to them unless they are being actively supervised. Puppy pens can be located right next to or inside your stock enclosure.

Take your pup with you when you do chores so you can supervise him and provide guidance. Some folks keep a young pup leashed to their belt while others let him drag a long line so that he can be caught if he starts chasing or other inappropriate behavior. Good behavior should be praised and bad behavior needs to be caught right in the act. Some folks sit out with the pup and their birds or animals to foster calm acceptance by both stock and dog.

In the homelands of these breeds, pups were never left alone with their sheep or goats but were always supervised by shepherds or older, reliable dogs. Many experienced owners do not believe LGDs are reliable until maturity at age 2 or so – especially in the absence of a good adult mentor dog or active supervision. Be especially careful with adolescent dogs during breeding or birthing times. This is especially unsettling to many dogs, which need to be closely supervised through their first season with birthing animals.

Livestock Guardian Puppy With Goat

Poultry are the most challenging and non-traditional animals for LGDs to work with. A very young pup is often good with birds in the beginning but without careful supervision, as the pup gets older there will often be chasing or playing that may result in tragic consequences.

Be prepared that this particular role will take lots of time before the dog is reliable. And yes, many great adult LGDs have accidentally played with or licked a bird to death before they became reliable at age 2 or so.

Training and Socializing

Even if your new pup is to be a full time LGD, he needs plenty of basic handling and training as well – just do it where he lives and works. Take your children with you when you do chores and work with the dog, so that he comes to know them as well. It’s another myth that you should not give your LGD pup attention. LGDs always worked with shepherds. You want him to bond to you as well as his animals.

Even a working LGD should behave on a leash and have experiences being tethered and kenneled so he will cooperate in an emergency. And if he will need to visit the vet’s office, practice some car trips. Lots of walks in pastures or fields will help burn off some of that puppy energy before it becomes destructive. Meaty bones are also good to occupy time.

If your dog will live in or around the house, you may want to take him to puppy classes and socialize him to people and places, although LGD breeds are not a good fit for places like dog parks. Most folks don’t take full-time working dogs off the farm except to a vet.

Other Family or Farm Dogs

Don’t rush these introductions. Give everyone lots of time to settle and get used to each other through fences. Typically an older LGD will be kind to a young pup, but may need significant time to adjust to another adolescent or adult dog.

If your dog’s job is to protect your stock, many experienced folks recommend that you don’t allow him to play with your family dogs or other herding or hunting dogs. Yes he needs to know who they are and that they belong to you, but you don’t want your pup picking up chasing or other bad habits from these dogs. You don’t want him playing in your yard either. You also want him to protect your animals from dogs that threaten their stock. Definitely don’t allow your pup to play with neighbor or strange dogs. Don’t tolerate them on your property and make a show of chasing them away.


LGDs need to be securely fenced unless you live on a very large property without neighbors or graze on open range. Barbwire or weak fencing is escapable, and boundary training is not usually successful with these breeds, which were developed over centuries to work on very large, open spaces. These dogs seek to patrol and they can easily extend their zone of protection against predators two miles or more.

Pups should learn to respect fences right from the beginning so they don’t establish habits of wandering and roaming as they mature – especially if they are intact. It’s much harder to break a bad habit than to prevent it from being formed in the first place. Some folks find electric scare wires (top and bottom) or an invisible or radio fence system to be a good backup to physical fences when dogs are determined to escape.

Invisible fence alone is not recommended as many dogs will “take a hit” in pursuit of a threat or a female in heat. Invisible or poor fencing also allows predators inside your pastures, making your dog’s job that much harder.

Problem-Solving Resources

After a good start with your pup, there are excellent resources for help with solving specific problems or dealing with different situations as they develop.


Facebook group Learning About LGDs – reliable advice and a files section with articles from experienced members
Blog - Predator Friendly Ranching by Louise Liebenberg - online library of articles by experienced LGD users


Jan Dohner. Livestock Guardians: Using Dogs, Donkeys, and Llamas to Protect Your Herd
Farm Dogs: 93 Guardians, Herders, Terriers, and other Canine Working Partners

Orysia Dawyiak. Livestock Protection Dogs; Care, Selection, and Training

Photos by:

Akbash Dog pup by Cindy Wilber, Crescent Akbash Dogs, Missouri
Sarplaniac pup by Louise Liebenberg,
Grazerie, Alberta
Kangal Dog pup by Stuart Richens,
Banks Mountain Farm, North Carolina
Maremma pup by Deborah Reid,
Black Alder Ranch, Idaho 

With more than 35 years of hands-on LGD experience, Jan Dohner writes about the use of livestock guardians and predator control for Mother Earth News and Storey Publishing. For more information visit Read all of Jan'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.



There are some jobs that seniors probably should not do on a remote homestead. The reality, however, is that getting someone else to do them is not always possible. We heat our small cabin with a wood stove and burn approximately 9 to 12 cords of firewood throughout each fall, winter, and spring seasons.

Our home is an A-Frame construction, and hence the wind cap is over 30-plus feet from the ground. Any sensible person my age would have someone else go up and swap out the wind cap, but this senior homesteader still does it himself.

Dangerous Jobs

I can clean the chimney from inside the house but the windcap has to be done from the exterior. For many years, I would climb up to the top of the house, remove the wind cap, and climb down with it in one hand while holding onto the ladder with the other. Then, I would wire-brush the cap clean and climb back up to replace it.


My wife suggested that we purchase a second wind cap, so I would only have to make that trip once and I could swap them out each year. The process of replacing that wind cap is scary, even for this 75-year-old guy who has done it for many years.

I strap myself into a climbing harness and go up the ladder and tie off on the top rung of the ladder. Then, I have to turn and face out to be able to reach the wind cap (see photo). There is nothing in front of me but thin air, and it looks much higher from up there than the 30-plus feet it really is.

Physically Strenuous Work

Usually, positioning the ladder is the hard part as getting it up from the garage on a steep incline to its needed position is strenuous and awkward. Then, lifting the heavy ladder into position is equally difficult.

Once it is in position, it is only a matter of climbing almost straight up, holding the clean wind cap in one hand and the ladder with the other hand. I tie off my climbing harness on the top rung and turn around and take one wind cap out and put the other one in, then reverse, then go safely back on the ground.

Aging Infirmities

One year, I paid someone who installs chimneys to take the wind cap down. It was clear they were close to petrified when they had to turn around on the ladder and face out and then reach out to take the wind cap off.

I haven’t wanted to put anyone through that again, so even though I’m getting up in age, I still do it myself. With stiff joints, lack of agility and normal aging aches and pains, I can and still do it, but I go slower and use more caution.

I would sum up the experience by saying when you turn around and reach out for that wind cap, if you have any heart problems, they should be revealed at that point. It can be done but clearly is not for everyone or the faint of heart, nor anyone with balance problems or dizziness.

Felling Trees

With several acres of heavily wooded property on a near 45-degree slope, there are trees that need to be dealt with regularly. They die of disease or overcrowding.

Another fairly dangerous job is cutting them down for removal. With two very painful knees, resulting from prior surgeries necessitated by sports injuries, when a tree starts to fall off the mark, it can be pretty scary. You have a chainsaw running in your hands and a tree that may fall where you don’t want it to fall. In spite of all the precautions you may have employed, the tree may not always react as you had hoped.

Deceptive Trees

In the past, I have started to cut into trees that are rotten inside and start to fall almost immediately. When that happens, you need to move fast, which can be hard to do for us seniors. I have compensated for that contingency by always making sure I have an unfettered escape route before I even start the cut.

Once, I cut a wedge from a tree and had not cut more than 2 inches into the 15-inch tree when it suddenly gave way and came crashing down. I had an escape route planned and narrowly avoided injury. Thinking things through before acting is wise and safety conscious.

Planning Ahead

The other hazard is not only finding the right escape route but being able to back away fast. When the tree comes down, it often has the base bounce up, and if you are caught with the base under the chin, it is probably all over.

Trees also tend to hit and bounce either right or left, which can cause injury if you guess wrong. Another associated problem is bucking up trees on the ground. The log can roll and if you are downhill, you need to move fast to keep from being rolled over by a heavy log. While it is harder to buck up a log from the uphill side, sometimes that is the best course of action if you can’t move out of the way fast enough.

Two of Several Problems Faced by Senior Homesteaders

These are just two specific areas that can be dangerous to a senior homesteader and that should be planned for. By using good common sense and extreme caution, the job can be done even though we are slower, gimpy, and less agile.

Remote homesteading at any age is hard, but it is much harder when you are senior in age. The glamor of homesteading when younger is far different than when you must face the reality of exercising greater caution to compensate for stiffness and decreased agility when you are senior.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog They live in a small cabin with their four German Shepherd Dogs at 9,800 feet elevation. Read all of Bruce's remote-living blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS 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.


Summer is here and sunny days are plentiful which has only been feeding our itch to get our solar on! We’ve been delaying our solar installation for a few reasons I’ll explain later, but we’ve finally taken the plunge and we’re finally reaping the benefits of renewable energy.

Why Did We Wait So Long to Get Started with Solar?

Just shy of one year ago, we arrived on our off grid property which we chose for many reasons including the huge solar potential! However, there were some roadblocks to diving straight into capturing the sun straight away. Some of these roadblocks included:

• We were heading into winter, so solar potential was less
• We had a limited budget with many other expenses taking precedence

• We simply had no idea how much power we would need on a day-to-day basis

• We had no idea what our future power needs would be, so sizing would be guessing

• Running power tools, most of our power needs would be on-demand

• Solar panels aren’t much good without a proper battery bank, which a big expense

• A large outlay for solar wouldn’t yield a big return on investment for years to come

• We’ve never built a solar setup and sounded intimidating, confusing and frustrating

• Solar has come a long way but many components still can’t be easily upgraded

• Security is challenging as we’re just getting started and theft would be heartbreaking

solar power potential on off grid property

All that said, solar just wasn’t a huge priority. Until recently, we have been relying on a single RV battery and our generator for our power. This system was working well as we chose the happiest balance between efficiency and output on our Honda generator so fuel costs have been a modest $50-100/month which you can read about in our monthly expense reports.

A year down the road, we had a much better idea of our power needs and with summer upon us, our itch to stop burning fuel, cut the noise and start collecting sun was begging to be scratched! So we decided to take another look at solar to see if we could get to make sense or not.

Really? Solar Still Wasn't a Good Fit?

Starting our search again for solar quickly turned to disappointment. Once again, we found that many of the same issues we had identified earlier still couldn’t be ignored like the inability to upgrade components like inverters and charge controllers from starter setups to larger systems. Despite understanding our immediate power needs, we still couldn’t be certain of the future system we’d want so buying components was still a gamble.

generator for power needs

 As it is today, you simply have to replace many solar components  if you start with a budget system or pick wrong out of the gate.

One issue we did address was the upfront cost of a battery bank. We happened upon a small bank of eight second-hand L16 batteries on Craigslist for $750, which represents a 78% savings over buying new. For anyone who knows batteries this will make them cringe! Buying second hand batteries is not advisable unless you accept that you might be throwing money into the wind.

For us, it was worth the risk as we knew when we were ready for solar, we still wouldn’t be in a position to spend $8,000 to $10,000 on a battery bank. Just having a battery bank at all would be helpful to store any of the power we could collect. If we could get a couple years out of these batteries we’d be happy. Time will tell!

solar power l16 batteries

Discovering a Solution We Had Previously Overlooked

Not content to give up just yet, we stumbled on a social media post from a solar company whose products we had been researching. They were to be attending an RV convention a few hours away and we were way overdue for a drive through the mountains. We made last minute plans to attend the very next day.

There we ran into Stefan from Go Power! by Carmanah Technologies. He was super friendly and willing to give us a hand. We threw at him our scenario and our frustrations. He validated many of our concerns and agreed that going full solar right now might be unwise.

Go Power! presently works in the 12v mobile solar space with products for RVs and mobile work solutions. They don’t really offer anything big enough to meet our future needs yet, but Stefan shared with us a product we really hadn’t considered: portable solar power!

getting started with portable solar power

Because we had so little experience with our power needs, we really hadn’t considered portable solar as the systems at first glance seemed far too small. Not to mention the cost per watt was higher than most other setups once you penciled things out.

After doing some quick numbers, sort of quantifying our actual power needs presently, it looked something like this:

• Charge 2 MacBook Pros daily
• Charge 2 iPhones daily

• Charge 4 Nikon camera batteries daily

• Charge portable Walkie Talkies periodically

• Keep RV battery charged up (runs our pump, fans, lights, heater fan)

• Run 2000 watt inverter which powers our internet and router

• Keep our L16 battery bank topped off (no plans to draw off it, just don’t want it to discharge)

When it came right down to it, the numbers were in favor of a portable system. Going this route would solve nearly every problem we had!

How is Portable Solar Power Working for Us?

Our attitude changed from trying to go with a once-and-for-all solar setup to offsetting our generator use. We chose a 120-watt, 12-volt, portable kit from Go Power! which has a built-in charge controller, is easy to setup and connects easily to our RV battery via a 12-foot cord. It’s sturdy, the wire size is generous and it yields about 7.4 amps of current in full-sun, giving us a little over 1,000 watts of juice throughout the day.

portable solar panels

We’ve had our solar kit setup for about 7 weeks now and in that time we’ve had just five situations that required our generator including some power tools and pumping water 70 feet to up gravity-fed cistern. Otherwise, we’ve been generator-free for nearly two months now!

We no longer have to worry that we made the wrong decision or overspent on a system that won’t fit us in the future. Surely, we’ll always find a use for this portable 120 watt array. It’s easy to stow so we don’t have to fret over theft.

It’s meeting our needs today and for the near future and easily fits into our budget at just over $500. Being a ready-to-use system means we didn’t have to become backyard engineers to get everything right. It was hooked up in 5 minutes and has worked perfectly since!

Our estimated savings is around $90-100 per month with fuel prices increasing and wear on our generator. In just a few months, we’ll have recouped our investment. Meanwhile, our generator has been getting a much-needed break and we’re happy to finally reap the benefits of all this wonderful sun!

If you’ve been thinking about solar for boondocking, off grid tiny house or other projects give portable solar another look. You just may find it’s a perfect fit for you too!

Alyssa Craft moved to Idaho after purchasing 5 acres of land where she will build an off grid homestead from scratch with as little money as possible. She is blogging about the journey from start to finish in hopes of inspiring others that wish to take a similar path. Follow her many DIY projects, including building with reclaimed materials, building a wood-fired hot tub and milling lumber with an Alaskan chainsaw mill. Follow Alyssa on her blog Pure Living for Life, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. View Alyssa’s other 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.


Read the full year of adventures at Bees of the Woods Apiary here.

One of the challenges that beekeepers face is protecting hives from pests.  We find that in August the number of pests tends to really ramp up- probably due to the ongoing heat and humidity here in the Northeast.  Here are three of the most common pests/parasites we have encountered, and how we will be dealing with them.

Bee Yard August

Small Hive Beetles

When the weather gets hot and humid, we start to see an increase in the number of small hive beetles (SHB). These small, black beetles will lay eggs in beehives that then hatch into grub-like larvae. These larvae eat pollen, comb, and even young honeybee larvae. They destroy the frames of comb, and contaminate everything with their feces. 

The good news is that these beetles can usually be controlled by a strong, healthy hive, although I have heard secondhand stories of strong hives being overrun. If we see a few beetles on the inner cover, we aren’t too alarmed, and just smash them with our hive tool. However, if a hive is weak due to loss of the queen, swarming, or other factors, they can be overrun by SHB.

We deal with SHB by trying to keep our hives strong. For example, this year we had a hive that swarmed.  We were leaving on vacation anyway, and decided to check them after we returned to see if they had raised a queen.

When we finally inspected them, we noticed between 10 and 20 small hive beetles above the inner cover. Looking in the hive, we saw that the number of bees had dropped significantly, no signs of a queen, and we found one SHB larvae. Realizing they had failed to raise a queen, we combined the bees left in that hive with a strong hive.

We also froze the frames left from that hive to kill any SHB eggs or larvae, as SHB can be a problem in stored equipment as well. Many bee supply companies sell SHB traps as well.  We have never used them, but they might be worth a try.

Wax Moths

Wax moths are another pest that mostly seem to be a problem in weakened hives or stored equipment. These moths lay eggs on honeycomb. When the larvae hatch, they begin feeding on bee cocoons and pollen, destroying the honeycomb as they go. They also leave behind waste and “webbing” from the cocoons.

As with the small hive beetle, strong beehives are able to protect themselves against wax moths. So, it is important to maintain strong hives. Wax moths can be a problem in stored equipment, so we are careful to freeze all equipment and seal it up tightly before storing it. We also built a storage shed for our equipment that is unheated. The freezing temperatures in winter help keep pests at bay.

Again, with both small hive beetles and wax moths, it is important to maintain strong hives with a large population of bees, and to freeze and tightly seal all used equipment.

Varroa Mites

Varroa mites are another serious pest of honeybees. The adult female mites attach to adult honeybees, feeding off of the hemolymph (blood). The female mite lays eggs in brood cells, and the developing mite larvae feed on honeybee larvae. Besides weakening the honeybees, Varroa mites spread diseases and viruses, including deformed wing virus. Varroa mites and associated diseases can be a major cause of winter losses.

The first step in dealing with Varroa mites is to monitor the mite population in a hive. We prefer using “sticky boards” to monitor our Varroa levels (see picture). It is easy, and the bees are not harmed.

Mite Sticky Board 

You will need to have a screened bottom board on your hive for this method. The board itself is corrugated plastic, with a grid printed on one side. We coat the surface so the mites will stick to it – we use either petroleum jelly or Crisco.

We then slide the board into an opening in the back of the hive, underneath the screen in the bottom board. The mites that drop off the bees fall through the screen, and will get stuck on the sticky board. After 3 days we pull the board, count the number of mites, and divide by three for a 3-day average.

Our local bee club shared the following as a guideline for when treatment may be necessary:


Fall            Less than 20                                 Small

Summer     Less than 30                                 Medium

Spring        Less than 40                                 Large

Other sampling methods include brood sampling, sugar roll samples, and ether roll samples.  I have not used these methods personally, but for a good discussion of these methods you can visit the Scientific Beekeeping website here.

If you decide you do need to treat your hives, I suggest really doing some research. There are many methods – those that use no chemicals (such as freezing drone brood), those that use natural products such as essential oils, and finally, there are many stronger, synthetic chemicals that can be used.

We do not want to use harsh chemicals in our hive, so we have been using Apiguard. It is is a thymol-based product derived from thyme plants. We make sure to remove any honey supers first, and then apply the product exactly as directed.

Again, there are many methods out there — the method you choose will depend on your beekeeping philosophy, price, and ease of use. The important thing is to not let the mite population in your hives get too high, so you have a strong, healthy, population of bees going into winter.

These are a few of the more common honeybee pests that we have encountered – unfortunately, there are many more out there. A great book on the topic is A Field Guide to Honey Bees and Their Maladies from Penn State. I have frequently turned to this book to figure out what a particular pest is, and what to do about it.

Happy Beekeeping!

Jennifer Ford is a science teacher and co-owner of Bees of the Woods Apiary outside of Altamont, New York.  Over the past seven years, Jennifer and her husband have expanded the apiary from two to 18 beehives, and share what they have learned about beekeeping with others through mentoring programs and presentations. Learn more about Bees of the Woods Apiary and beekeeping in general at or on the Bees of the Woods Facebook page. Read all of Jennifer’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.


Three Chickens In A Backyard

Our chicken-keeping path started a little backwards: First, we dreamed and wished to start raising chickens for a long, long while. Then, my husband came home one day with a box of baby chicks in his arms; and then we figured out how to build a coop and make it safe and comfortable for our new feathered friends.

So perhaps you’re like us — you wish you had chickens and feel that your sustainable, self-reliant life wouldn’t be complete without some hens clucking and pecking around your back yard. However, you’re a little intimidated by actually jumping in. Here’s my two cents, after several years of raising chickens under our belts:

Figure out what you want. Do you want to grace your breakfast table with some fantastic home-grown eggs? Are you into keeping some birds for the prospect of humanely raised meats? Are you fascinated by heirloom chickens and would like to try your hand at breeding them and selling chicks? Or maybe a mixture of all?

Think about this as you select your breed. At first we thought of nothing but eggs, so we went for Leghorns. Later on, we developed a taste for fancy breeds, and have raised Brahmas, Cochins, Silkies and Polish.

Also, in the beginning we only wanted some laying hens and weren’t at all interested in keeping a rooster, but now we value our roosters as an important part of the flock and enjoy the excitement of baby chicks each spring.

Educate yourself. Read anything you can get your hands on about keeping and breeding chickens. Sign up on forums. Better yet, get some hands-on experience at the coops of veteran chicken keepers. There is a wealth of information out there — avail yourself of it!

Start small. We started out with only four chicks, which is a very small number — but it was just as well, since we had a lot to learn about keeping chickens. My advice to any new chicken owner would be to start small and gradually expand as your time, inclination, and abilities allow.

Build a coop. Of course, you need to figure out how big a coop you would need. This depends on the number of birds you intend to keep. For example, do you want just enough eggs for your family, or do you want to have some extra to sell?

Also, do you intend to free-range your birds or keep them cooped? If you free-range, like we do, you can get away with a smaller coop.

My suggestion would be to build with the idea of expanding — that is, make your coop so that you can easily add to it later, when your flock grows (which, in our experience, it almost invariably will).

Protect your garden. One morning, we planted two rows of strawberries. In the afternoon, I saw only shreds of the plants, and one chicken hardly able to breathe after having gorged on the fresh leaves. It taught us an important lesson: You want to keep your plants safe, you protect them by fencing either the plants or the chickens.

However, experience has shown us that there are some plants chickens don’t really care for, such as mint, lemongrass, and other herbs with a strong odor. Fruit trees are also generally safe, though chickens love to eat young grape leaves.

Prepare for setbacks. There are diseases, predators and various accidents that will threaten your chickens. There are disappointments in the form of a hen who abandons a clutch of eggs, or an incubator that stops working at a most crucial time for a hatch. It’s easy to become discouraged if you don’t mentally prepare for that sort of thing as part of a chicken-keeper’s life.

At first, I used to actually cry over every chicken that fell prey to a fox or a stray dog. Later, I learned to rally myself up with more constructive action, such as examining the coop to figure out how to make it make predator-safe or preparing emergency batteries for the incubator.

Take the plunge! It’s easy to delay a project thinking you’ll do it later, when you are better prepared, but there is really no such thing as being perfectly prepared.

Jump into chicken-keeping with both feet, knowing there will always be some things that you can only learn from experience (such as, for example, that chickens don’t like to share a coop with guinea pigs, or that watermelon rinds make their poops runny). Good luck with your new venture!

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. Connect with Anna on Facebook, find her as SmallFlocksMom on Earthineer, and read more about her current projects on her blog.

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.


Surrogate Hen Hatching Eggs

Nearly three weeks ago, we were blessed to be able to walk out and discover four newly hatched Khaki Campbell ducklings. They were not being watched over and kept warm by a mother duck- however, a big Olive Egger hen had them nestled safely under her wing.

We love our ducks dearly, but our two females have never offered to sit on a nest. When one of our hens went broody, we decided to slip duck eggs under her, as we knew they would be fertilized. She was very protective over the nest, and did an excellent job in “sorting” out her eggs (rolling the bad ones out from under her).

I let them out for supervised play after they were able to stand firmly, and the hen would stand right there and watch over them. She remained close to them at all times, and was concerned enough that no other chicken could get close to them. However, we noticed something quite interesting, as she would let the ducks come over and check them out without so much as a ruffled feather. The ducks and chickens were raised together in their pen, so they freely came up and investigated the new babies.

Khakis are very sociable ducks, as we have written about in the past, and it was no surprise that they would come up behind me and gently tug at my shirt while peeking around at the ducklings. They have not offered to be motherly to them, but they are genuinely curious about the babies. The male could care less, and walks away to play in the kiddie pool!

After a few days, we separated the ducklings from the hen so that they could be raised and handled often to ensure they were all the more socialized and accepting of humans like their parents are. They do not like being separated, but otherwise they are very easy to hold!

The hen still lingered nearby for about a week, and would be alarmed if one of the ducklings made a peep that seemed the slightest bit upset. After two weeks, she laid her first egg, and started back on a normal laying schedule. While she still approaches the ducklings when they’re out, she allows them to be independent and does not hover as protectively as she used to. They still recognize her, and though they do not follow her around, they still try to get crumbs of grain and veggies from around her beak.

This was the first time we have ever hatched out the eggs of a different bird under a hen, and we were quite nervous about it! After they successfully hatched, I started to notice just how many folks have hatched eggs that were different from the mom they were under. Whether its eggs from another hen, or eggs from a quail, surrogate broody hens can be beneficial! When one of our beautiful chickens gets ready to set again, we will be ready to put duck eggs up under her once more.

As with all farm animals, there are ups and downs to raising them and doing things like this, hatching eggs with a surrogate. You may encounter success, but be prepared for the chance that it will not work. Don’t feel discouraged, as the first time we attempted to put duck eggs under this hen, it yielded nothing. We tried again, and as mentioned, we were blessed with four healthy ducklings! I advise anyone who looks to put other eggs under a broody hen to do your research first, and keep record of how it works for future reference. If you have ever hatched eggs with a surrogate hen, please feel free to share with us and let us know how it turned out!

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. This year, they are raising a large crop of heirloom Hastings' Prolific corn that they will be selling seed from, along with making their own cornmeal. They are currently building a small cabin using lumber they have milled themselves, along with raising chickens, ducks, and goats. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

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