Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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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.


As we slip into August, we see that the elder blossoms have turned into berries. With the elderberry’s ripening, we acknowledge that colder seasons are coming, for now is the time to harvest our winter medicine. To ward off colds and to boost the immune system, the dark purple elderberries can be made into a potent decoction (simmering them in a little water for an hour, mixing with honey and kept in the fridge; or made into elderberry syrup, a shelf-stable elixir which mixes elderberry tincture, elderberry honey, and elderberry decoction see recipe below). Elderberries can also be mixed into meads or homemade wines, baked into pies, dried or preserved in jams.

Though the heat of summer rides upon our backs, August’s Elder Moon asks that we make preparations for the inevitable change of season. As we welcome August, we harvest summer’s bounty, and we plan for the year ahead by saving seeds for next year’s garden, and preserving the sweetness of late summer’s abundance. In the wheel of time August asks us to savor what we have, while planning for the turning of the tide.

To help make the most of this season, Natalie Bowalker, the founder and director of Wild Abundance, a permaculture and primitive skills school in Barnardsville, North Carolina, and the founder of North Carolina’s Firefly Gathering, has created this guide to living in harmony with the cycle of life, one month at a time. This guide includes contributions from Chloe Lieberman and Zev Friedman, and was created with the Southern Appalachian bioregion in mind (but can be translated, with some time shifts, to many parts of the country).

Elder Queen

Wild and Woodland Harvest

1. Harvest elderberries, peaches, wild blueberries

2. Look for and collect wild mushrooms, including  chanterelles and oyster and lobster mushrooms

3. Harvest Kudzu leaves and black locust leaves, and dry for protein-rich winter fodder for livestock

Wild Mushrooms from WA

Annual Garden

Remember to save seeds of the best tomatoes

Plant fall and winter crops: Turnips, Cabbage, Daikon, Carrots, Kale, Winter Spinach

Start seed for fall crops; transplant fall crops into gardens

Start planting winter cover crops (Austrian Winter Peas, Turnips, Rape, Winter Rye, etc)

Harvest last of onions during a sunny spell and cure

Pull out plants that are finished, tidy up garden, move into winterizing mode


Prune raspberries

Propagate brambles by layering or tip layering (depending on the variety, put a rock and some dirt over the middle of the cane or over the tip of the cane)

Feed fruit trees with diluted urine or manure

Food Preservation

Make elderberry syrup, mead/wine (see recipe below)

Can peaches, and/or make peach mead

Dry, freeze, make jam, make mead with wild blueberries

Press apple cider to drink, freeze and/or ferment

Dry apples

More pickling & fermenting of all the bounty

Process tomatoes: dry, freeze, can salsa, Italian tomato sauce, and enchilada sauce

Make and freeze gazpacho

Saving the Fruits

For the Homestead

Make sure insulation is functional for water systems

Clean out, build, find, rodent-proof storage facility for winter crops

>Good time to wean babies of dairy animals

Be sure to fill your belly with fresh peaches, to bite into a fresh tomato like it’s a tomato, and make time to feast and share with those you love!

Making Elderberry Syrup

Written by Natalie Bogwalker

I learned this recipe from my friend and mentor, Juliet Blankespoor, who runs The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. I have made gallons of it for years, and used to sell quite a bit of it. Even though I no longer advertise my medicines, there are several folks who seek me out for their yearly supply of elderberry syrup each year.

What I like about this recipe is that it tastes phenomenal, like the finest port wine you might fine, is shelf stable because of the alcohol content, and that more of the medicinal constituents are extracted from the elderberries because of the three menstrums. I often add complementary herbal extractions for the similar part in the following syrup. For example,I might substitute osha honey, which is good for the lungs, for part or all of the elderberry honey: or echinacea tincture for enhanced immunity for some or all of the elderberry tincture or additional alcohol.

• 1 quart high quality honey
• 3 cups organic grain alcohol, grape alcohol, or everclear (use at least 90% alcohol)
• 1 quart water
• 10 cups fresh elderberries

>Elderberry syrup contains:

1 part elderberry honey

1 part elderberry tincture

1 part elderberry decoction

The first step in making this medicine is to make elderberry tincture, as it takes at least 2 weeks for alcohol to effectively extract medicinal constituents of an herb. I tend to do an early and a late elderberry harvest. With my first harvest, early in the season, if it is small, I just make tincture, if it is large, I make tincture and wine.

In order to make the tincture, I use the folkloric method. In order to create shelf stability, the alcoholic content of a given liquid must be 22%. Making elderberry tincture for syrup is a little tricky because the berries contain a large amount of juice, and therefore water. The final tincture must be at least 66% alcohol if it is to preserve the syrup as a whole, because the tincture is only 1/3 of the total content of the syrup. If making elderberry tincture that will not be the preservant component of a syrup this doesn't matter. If making such a tincture for use on its own, I fill a quart jar with berries, and pour 95% alcohol atop, seal the jar, and shake occasionally, then strain. When making tincture for syrup, I put just 1 ½ cups berries to a jar, and fill to the top with 95% alcohol. I let it sit for a couple weeks, shaking every other day or so. At the end of this time, I pour off the liquid, then run solids through my tincture press (aka, potato ricer or cheesecloth). This is what I use as my tincture. Dried herbs, including dried elderberries, Oregon grape root, elencampagne, or what have you can also be added to the above mixture. The liquid in the elderberries will facilitate the extraction of medicinal constituents from dry matter.

Learn more about Natalie Bogwalker and her permaculture classes at Wild Upcoming weekend classes include


Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt is a student of the earth, a writer, beekeeper and mead maker. Read her other articles for Mother Earth News..

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.



In the past few years, the popularity of and interest in beekeeping has soared. Whether it is due to the rise in homesteading or concern for the alarming decline in the bee population, more and more people are raising bees. So where do you start?

First of all, you need a home for your bees, and there are three types to choose from: the top-bar, Warre, and Langstroth beehive. Each hive has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the one you choose depends on your needs and preferences.

Top-Bar Beehives

The top-bar hive has been around for centuries. It is a simple concept, taking a wooden trench or tub and lining the top opening with wooden slats or bars. Once the bees take residence, they begin building their combs from the underside of those bars, working their way down into the tub. (Image)


• Top-bar hives have a simple design. You can build them yourself out of any materials you like using whatever dimensions you need, cutting down on the cost. Here are some beehive plans if you're interested.
• As with some hives, you won't require hundreds of dollars worth of equipment and accessories to maintain a top-bar hive. All you essentially need is the hive itself and a sharp knife.
• Top-bar hives are foundation-less, so the combs you end up with are completely natural, devoid of the pesticides or chemicals that may come in a purchased wax or plastic foundations.
• Because of its horizontal design, top-bar hives don’t require any heavy lifting save for the lid and the combs themselves. Also, the height can be adjusted to the beekeeper's preference, adding convenience and ease-of-use all around.
• Your bees will be less agitated. Lifting one slat at a time to harvest allows the rest of the hive to remain undisturbed, keeping the bees' stress level down and reducing your risk of being stung.


• The only way to harvest honey is to crush and strain the combs, meaning that the bees will have to rebuild new combs from scratch. As a result, top-bars are said to produce less honey than other hives.
• More inspections are required to make sure that bees have plenty of space for honey storage.
• Top-bar hives are not standardized, so if you’re looking for accessories, chances are you’ll have to build them yourself.

Warre Beehives

The Warre hive was designed by a French monk named Abbé Émile Warré. He wanted a hive that closely resembled what nature intended, requiring minimal interference from beekeepers. It has wooden slats similar to that of the top-bar hive, but it stacks vertically much like a Langstroth hive. However, you add new boxes to the bottom of the hive rather than the top. The idea here is to allow bees to work and build from the top down as they do in nature.


• The Warre hive is extremely low maintenance, aside from harvesting. It requires minimal inspection, leaving the bees to their work and, as a result, keeping them undisturbed and happy.
• This hive has a layer of insulation in a small box just under the roof. It is lined with cloth and filled with sawdust to keep condensation down, resulting in a much healthier hive. In addition, this extra layer makes the Warre hive much more suitable to colder climates.
• If you have the tools and know-how, you can build this hive yourself and cut back on costs.


• You’ll have to do a bit of heavy lifting with the Warre hive. When it comes time to add a new box, the top ones need to be lifted. Given the smaller size, they aren’t nearly as heavy as their Langstroth counterparts, but you can expect to hoist anywhere from 30-50 pounds.
• With the “minimal interference” concept that comes with a Warre hive, it can be difficult to assess hive activity or add desired accessories such as bee feeders.
• Extra, unused boxes will take up storage space.

Langstroth Beehives

Even if you’re new to beekeeping, chances are you’ve seen a Langstroth hive. These are the most common hives used in the United States, especially for commercial purposes. Langstroth hives are vertically stacked wooden boxes filled with frames upon which the bees build their combs. When a new box, otherwise known as a super, is needed, it is added to the top of the hive.


• Langstroth hives are standardized, so you will find that any replacement parts or accessories are readily available. Also, there's an insurmountable amount of resources for beginner beekeepers.
• These hives have a high production rate. When harvesting, only a portion of the comb is cut as the honey is spun out. Bees don’t have to start building new combs from scratch, resulting in more honey.
• You can choose whether or not to use a foundation.
• You have a choice between an eight frame Langstroth (which will prove to be much lighter) or the more traditional ten frame hive.


• Langstroth hives require accessories such as extractors and smokers, and costs like that can add up.
• Expect to do some very heavy lifting. Some supers can weigh up to 100 pounds which just may not be an option for some people.
• The Langstroth hive causes the most stress for bees. You’ll have to open the main box to harvest or inspect, exposing the bees’ home and riling them up. Not only that, but when you go to stack the boxes again, it can be difficult not to crush some of your bees.
• Most Langstroth users opt for foundations, and these can contain pesticides or chemicals. Also, they offer unnatural comb shapes which could result in an unhealthy hive. For these reasons, going foundationless is growing in popularity.
• Parts for the eight frame and ten frame hives are not interchangeable.

There is a lot to consider before acquiring a hive and raising bees. There’s no wrong choice, really, you just to think about what your goals are and which hive will serve your purposes best. If you’ve had any experience with any of these hives, do you have some tips for beginners? Would you mind sharing your successes and/or setbacks? Good luck!

Jennifer Poindexter and her husband raise most of their food and a variety of animals in the foothills of North Carolina, where they built a small homestead on very little money. She writes about all of her adventures at Morning Chores, where she shares the knowledge she has gained with others that might want to take the full plunge into homesteading. 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.



To read the entire ABCs of Homesteading series, click here.

Goats might make sense for your homestead if you have two hours a day to spend on care, money to burn, plenty of pasture, and a yearning to have them. (Otherwise, consider raw milk shares or trading for dairy with other homesteaders.)

After reading Goat Song by Brad Kessler, I fell into the had-to-have-them category. Plus, I am a cheese fiend, so our homestead wouldn't be complete without dairy animals. Given our mountainous, forested terrain, and limited acreage, goats made more sense than cows. I am stubborn as a goat, too. So, I kept at it even when it was more work and expense than expected.

Getting Started with Goats

There is a ton of great information available on raising goats on sites like Fias Co Farm, extension office publications, MOTHER EARTH NEWS blogs, and in Deborah Niemann's must-read book Raising Goats Naturally (available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store). There are also big differences in care requirements depending on breed, purpose in keeping goats, and your homestead setting. And it's easy to get information overload and lose sight of important things. So, as you begin your research, keep these elements in mind.

Determine your purpose for keeping goats. Do you want to raise meat, dairy, fiber, brush- clearing, or multi-purpose goats?

Identify your conditions, requirements, and available resources for keeping goats. What infrastructure do you have or can you build to house goats? Do your goats need to be family-friendly or predator resistant? Is climate a concern (e.g cold winters, hot summers)? How much land do you have for pasture? How will you confine your escape artists?

Plan your budget. Goats need housing suitable to their purpose (e.g. minimal shelter for meat, plush shelter for milking), fencing, minerals, clean straw, and nutritious food. Bucks need separate housing and pasture or you need to factor in stud-related costs. Pasture development is costly and is labor intensive. Goat prices varies by breed and pedigree. Common breeds are easier to find, cost less to transport, and may already be well-adapted for your area so they save you on vet bills. Goat registration and showing goats may be necessary for selling speciality breeds. And stuff happens, so build in a fudge factor.

Choose the right breed(s). Your local agricultural or extension office should be able to direct you to breeders in your area. Wikepdia has a table of goat breeds with utility noted. Goat societies, breed clubs, and owner forums are also good sources for breed info. Typing “goats and homesteading” in your search engine can give you information on the breeds other homesteaders keep. Dig deep and get the dirt on potential breeds so you are fully prepared to meet the challenges of goat ownership.

Rely heavily on experienced goat owner information. Newbies like me are so thrilled about having goats that we want to share our joy with the world, but problems like parasite build-up in pastures, identifying and treating illnesses, and caring for or culling older or weaker goats are still distant concerns for us. Spend time on the less-polished websites and forum posts from long-time goat keepers.

Along with all that prep-work, make sure you know goat math

Goat Math

I knew goats had to make babies to make milk, but I hadn't realized they would need to have babies every 8-12 months to keep producing milk or that there was a 145- to 150-day gestation period. Goats also need a two month milk-free period to recuperate before giving birth. After kidding (goat lingo for having babies), depending on number of kids (often twins or triplets), you may have to wait two months for useful amounts of milk from your does. This means up to four months per year with no milk from your main squeezes.

But wait...there's more! Doelings should not be bred until they are 80% of mature weight, or around 1 year of age. And some goats only come into heat once a year.

So, now for that math I mentioned:

Doe bought on September 1, 2016

+Comes into heat and is bred in October 2016

+Kids in March 2017

+Kids nursing until May 2017

= 8 months of care and feeding before you get milk

If you are going for meat, wait 11+ months for your first taste of goat chorizo. Alternatively, if you buy an adorable 8 week-old, just-weaned doeling born in March 2017 you may have to wait until May 2019 for milk.

Say what!? If your goat is only in heat in the fall and hasn't hit the 80% size-criteria in time, you may have to wait to breed until the following year. Breeding too early can put the doe and/or kids at risk for death or long-term health consequences and isn't recommended.

If this exercise in goat math hasn't scared you off, then read on for some tips that will hopefully make goat keeping easier for you.

Doe and Kid

Buy a Bred Doe

My herd began with two mature Nigerian Dwarf does who had already kidded. I picked one of them up on “weaning day” and immediately began milking her. She gave me just enough milk to make fresh cheese twice a week and add some to my morning tea. Way better than waiting 8 months!

Sometimes breeders struggle to find buyers for mature does since most new owners favor cuddly doelings. This means breeders may be willing to hold and breed a mature doe for you to ensure a good owner (and good price). If they make profit on selling kids, they may even be willing to let you pick-up at weaning like I did. Also, be on the lookout for farms that are down-sizing or getting out of keeping goats due to life-changes as they may have bred or milking does for sale. The worst a breeder can say is “no” so just ask.

When buying mature does, also ask why the owners are selling to make sure you aren't buying someone else's behavioral or health problem.

Have a Strategy

There are a lot of considerations that go into breed selection. I chose Nigerian Dwarfs because I can stuff them in my Honda Fit for vet visits and wrestle them onto the milkstand. Also, I wanted a breed that would be easy to sell as pets on Craigslist. Since they have twins or triplets, I can even sell kids in pairs to make sure kids will have companions in their new homes. Also, their milk is great for cheese-making.

But the primary reason I chose this breed is to have milk year round. My does can be bred every 3-4 weeks all year long. So, I set the kidding schedule to ensure milk production. The downside of smaller goats is that you need more of them. And that means work on the milk stand. They also seem like pets. So, their small size and the pet-factor make them a bad choice for meat.

As a good homesteading strategy, even if you choose a large breed as your mainstay, you could keep miniature goats to augment your milk supply. If you aren't comfortable dispatching pet-like goats, but can't afford to keep all unsold offspring, consider outsourcing. Under U.S. regulations, goats must be slaughtered at a USDA or state-inspected processing facility if you want to sell the meat. Since these are the rules anyhow, why not turn a problem into a product to help support your homestead activities?

Goat Management 101

If you have ever worked in an office environment, then you know what it's like to work with goats. Does are wonderful workers, with great personalities, and they sure know how to schmooze up the boss (see this recent study to find out how).

Competitive Eaters

They can also be moody and try to gore the guts from the doe in the next cubicle over. They are competitive eaters, are always in cliques, and are a.) lazy unless motivated or b.) high-strung and irritating if not sufficiently challenged. They are prissy when it comes to rain and wind and they poop everywhere – even in their food and water.

As far as I know there are no “drama-free” offices or goat herds. But as any good manager knows, you can make an environment more amiable and your workers more productive by considering needs, appreciating strengths, and encouraging collegiality and good health. Towards that end, consider these tricks.

The Bully-Bowl and Kiddie-Cup

Give your bully her own bucket of feed away from the rest of the herd. All herds have a queen, and they attain that role by being stronger or smarter and a bit meaner than the rest. If your queen has her head buried in a bucket of food, she's less likely crowd the feed trough and head butt competitors.

Feed your kids separately too or they will stand in everyone else's food or get pushed out by the bigger goats.

Kid in Trough

Goat Litter Box

Goats may poop everywhere, but they are conscientious about where they pee. This means you can use a goat litter box. The box (or designated area) needs to be wider and longer than your goats because they will want to stand in it to go.

Start with about 3-4 inches of straw to trap the urine. Add 1 inch of straw as needed to control odors. Every two weeks, pitchfork out your litter pile and start over. Leave a little pee-straw behind so goats know where to go. Goats will occasionally miss or go somewhere else if the box is occupied. Just spread wood ash over the wet area to discourage repeated use and sweep it up when dry.

Goat Litter Box

Note: If you spread straw on the rest of the floor, goats will assume the entire floor is a litter box, so this method requires that you don't spread straw. Instead leave straw bales out as goat chaise lounges. When the bales break down from normal goat activity, use them to line your litter box .

Manure Master Plan

Wood floors make manure collection easy. Just sweep the floor twice a day and scoop the good stuff directly into a container for composting, like a 32 gallon trash can. Between the manure, goat hair, random straw from the litter box, and food scraps, this stuff seems to be the perfect composition of greens and browns for hot composting.

Add a little water to activate and cover. After your container heats up and then cools down (couple of days in warm weather), use it as mulch for new garden beds. Or, spread it over your red wriggler worm bed. Some of the manure may not fully compost by this method, so apply no more than four inches of manure at a time to avoid accidental hot composting and wormicide. Add kitchen scraps and weeds to give the worms variety. Then, put a thin layer of the used goat litter as cover to create a moist, dark worm paradise.

Space Planning

If you plan to milk goats, three separate spaces are recommended. You need: 1) a Milk Parlor, 2) a Kid Pen, and 3) a Goat Living Room. If you have resources for a goat mansion, then two others spaces are useful: 4) Birthing Rooms and 5) Bonding Chambers.

The Milk Parlor

Unless you enjoy having guest goats eat your hair and nip your knees while you are squeezing the teets of a (possibly) uncooperative milker, then a private milking stall is a “must-have”.

If space requirements or circumstances necessitate more than one goat in the milk parlor at a time, give your guest goat a treat bowl at the foot of the milkstand. If you milk from side to side, you'll be able to see when your non-milker makes a move (e.g. a run on the feed bucket) and can take preventative action such reminding them they already have a bowl. If your guest goat bothers you, you can blow on her face to simulate wind. Two or three lung-fulls usually does it. If these tools fail, opt for a strong tether and a quick milk-hand.

The Kid Pen

It's standard practice to begin milking does while their kids are still nursing. To do this, you need to separate the moms from the kids for several hours a day to build-up surplus milk. Generally this occurs overnight since most goats are busy browsing in pasture during the day. For details on how and when to begin separation read Raising Goats Naturally.

Kid Pen

If you only have one goat nursing a time, you can put the doe in the milk area overnight and milk her first in the morning. But if you have multiple mom's nursing, it takes less space to create a small sleeping area for the kids with a kid-sized litter box, fresh water, and room to twirl and jump, than it does to make a room to hold several full-sized does.

Goat Living Room

Of course you also need a place to keep the rest of the goats. Wind and rain protection are critical. But also make sure your goat house is well-ventilated because goats are gassy and sensitive to the smell of urine. Goats also like things to sit on like straw bales or pallets. Goats tend to be homebodies when not in pasture, so give them room to lounge as a group.

In extremely cold weather, you can insulate your goat living room with stacked straw bales and create straw bale seating areas to get goats off the cold ground. I usually buy about 20 bales at the start of winter for this and then use that straw in spring as cover for seeding pasture, garden bed development, kidding clean-up, and goat litter.

The Birthing Room

Birthing rooms are nice, but not always necessary. If you have limited space, keep a calendar and plan your pregnancies so they are spaced out by a couple of weeks. The last few days before kidding, does get really moody. They may even act like bucks in ruts. If you have two goats kidding around the same time, separate them to keep the peace and avoid injuries. If you are short on rooms, you can use stacked straw bales to divide your main goat room into smaller holding cells. Usually as long as hormonal does can't see each other, they will chill out.

The Bonding Chamber

Some people also like to keep the doe and her kids separate from the herd for a few weeks so they can bond, grow, and recover. For me, this is a nice idea, but I just don't have the space. So I only wait until the little guys can jump (about 2 days) before I put them in with gen-pop. Until then I muddle through with the use the milk area and the kid pen.

Since I let them join the herd so young, I've created a few places for kids to hide under or squeeze into to get away from the big girls. I also keep a kid-sized feed bowl and water in these spots. And, I leave the milking room door open when not in use so new mom's and kids can rest/hide away from the herd.

Now that your totally spaced-out...on to a few more things you don't want to learn the hard way.

Buck Behavior

If you decide to keep bucks, and you probably will to ensure the health of your herd, you will need a separate buck pen. Wait until you need a buck to buy one to save on care and feeding. In fact, buy two so they keep each other company and increase genetic diversity.

And if you want well-behaved bucks, never visit your does before visiting your bucks if there is a chance your does might be in heat. Bucks can smell when a doe is in heat. So, if you see the girls first, then you end up smelling...well, like a doe in heat. To a penned-up/pent up hunk of burning love whose sole purpose in life is to impregnate your does, that can result in some pretty serious behavioral problems (and possible danger to you) if you skip this tip.

It's also a good idea to keep a few strategically-placed squirt bottles around the buck pen. You don't want to get close enough to a buck in a rut to use the simulated wind trick that works on milkers. But a high-powered water stream will simulate rain long enough for you to exit the pen.

Bucks are normally as easy to keep as does. But they have their moments and tend to be a bit more emphatic about having their way when they happen. As long as you understand their perspective, you'll get along just fine. P.S. The peeing on the face thing is really not a big deal. Buck urine is pungent, but harmless.

Feeding Goats

Goats are browsers and require a diverse diet for good health. As a new goat owner, I spent a lot of time studying up on goat feed. Initially, stories of malnutrition scared me into using “grain” as my main food supply. Grain, in the goat world, means something other than pasture or hay. I chose bagged pellets because they were convenient and formulated for goats. But I also took my goats on long walks and paid close attention to what they ate. I identified the plants and researched nutritional content.

Based on those observations, we fenced off an area that included all their favorites like black locust, red sumac, sourwood, maple, oak, and pine trees and lots of berry bushes and brambles. We then added pasture powerhouses like alfalfa, rye, mustard, lupines, cowpeas, hairy vetch and birdsfoot trefoil.

Goats in Pasture

Our pasture also came with mountain laurel, azaleas, and rhododendrons which can be poisonous to goats. My goats routinely eat the new leaf growth on these plants with no ill-effects. Occasionally a new kid will eat too much and end up sick. They get frothy at the mouth, spew their cud, and scream in agony.

A few hours later they are fine and they never do it again. When it happens, I squirt baking soda water in their mouths, keep them walking around the pasture, and periodically rub their rumens. I don't know if it helps, but it makes me feel better to be doing something. I've read that ingesting these poisonous plants can be lethal, but I suspect the fact that they are otherwise well fed keeps them from eating too much of a bad thing.

By accident, I discovered that if I seeded a part of the pasture with buckwheat the goats would avoid it. This effectively gives the pasture a chance to rest. When I am ready for them to graze in that area again, I scythe down the buckwheat and goats suddenly notice the other delicacies growing below. I can't swear this will work for others but since buckwheat is a good source of organic matter and a safe-edible (if your goats will eat it), it's probably worth a try.

In winter, my goats get more pellets. They also get evergreen ground cover, holly, pine needles, the fodder you water (see previous post, F is for 'Fodder'), and cold-hardy greens from our garden.

Disbudding and Wethering Kids

Disbudding refers to the burning off of horn buds on a two week old kid. Kids look terrible for about two months after disbudding, so if you plan to sell them, take pictures before they have giant scabs on their heads.

Wethering is goat-neutering and is performed at around 8 weeks of age. I “band” my wethers, as in put a band around their testicles to stop blood flow until they fall off. Some people find this practice controversial. Honestly, I find repeatedly putting does through pregnancy and labor so I can enjoy their milk controversial, but I try to make up for it by otherwise taking good care of my herd. Banding ranks below breeding on my list of things I feel guilty about related to keeping goats for personal use. And after a day or so, the wethers are as loving towards me as ever, so I don't think they harbor any bad feelings either.

Both procedures are generally considered necessary if you plan to sell kids as pets. They can be done on-farm with minimal investment and are fairly easy to do. But a livestock veterinarian performs these services in minutes and usually charges reasonable rates, so that is also worth considering. These are both subjects you should research and make your own informed decisions about.

Making a Goat Milking Stand

Having trained six goats to be milkers, I have discovered a few tricks to shortcut frustration and fast track milk production.

My first secret weapon is my milk stand. Like all milk stands, it has a place to attach a feed bucket. This is important because you can use a bucket of feed to lure the milker to the stand and coax their head into the medieval stock-like head trap. Then when done, you can remove the bucket and lure them off the stand to make room for next milker.

If you opt for an attached food container, you may want to give the milker an even better treat to tempt them off the stand (nicer than a wrestling them off). Bagged alfalfa pellets, intended for horses, work nearly as well as expensive goat treats at a quarter of the cost.

The Stand Bucket View

I added two rows of railing along 60% of the length of my stand, that I call “training bars”. I use the top rail to run a rope under the chest of new milkers who like to lay down on the job. I use the bottom rail to run a rope over the hind-end of goats who act like bucking broncos.

In extreme cases, I use two ropes and both rails. I have to reach around the rail to milk, but it's not actually in the way.

The Stand Rope and Clip View

I added a clip with soft ties at the back of stand to overcome the doe's natural instinct to kick me off when I've taken more than a normal share (like they do to their kids). I also added a slide-stop that keeps goats from stretching out too far (a variation on laying down).

To avoid spills, I milk with a handled cup and periodically empty this directly into my storage container. I use mason jars and pour the milk through cloth napkins to filter out debris. If a doe goes wild on me, I just move my hand, holding the cup, and give them a minute to calm down before I start milking again.

Start feeding does on the milk stand before they kid. Begin and end all milkings with praise and pets. And finally, remember that goats are mind-readers. If you aren't focused on milking, they'll exploit your weakness. Keep your head in the game!

Oh, and watch this video. This young lady's calm demeanor and excellent techniques gave me the wherewithal to train and milk my first doe. I don't know what I would have done without seeing it.

Say Cheese!: Making Cheese with Goat's Milk

Any new cheesemaker should check out the New England Cheesemaking Company  and get a copy of Gianaclis Caldwell's great book Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking: The Ultimate Guide for Home-Scale and Market Producers (available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store).

But for starters, try these simple techniques to make cheese and yogurt. For cheese, fill up a quart mason jar, cover it with a coffee filter and caning ring lid, and let it sit out on your counter until the curds separate from the whey, usually 1 to 3 days.

Curds and Whey

Strain out the liquid using a cloth napkin or flour sack towel. Tie up the towel like a hobo suitcase and hang it to dry for an hour or so.

When the consistency feels right to you, put the curds in a bowl, salt to taste, stir, and spread on fresh bread. Use the whey as a water substitute in baking, soups, or sauces.

Straining the Curds

For yogurt, add two tablespoons of your favorite store bought plain Greek yogurt to a quart jar of milk, cover, and keep at 80-90 degrees for two days. The inside of an unheated gas oven is a good place to develop yogurt culture. Or you can also use a water bath and occasionally add more warm water to keep the temperature up. I learned this trick from John Seymour's beautiful book, The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It (available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store).

If you stuck with me this long, then you've the makings of a great goat keeper. I give you my best wishes for a happy, healthy, and productive herd! Join me next time for The ABCs of Homesteading: H is for Horticulture. It's not just a big word, it's a super important skill every homesteader should have in their mental toolkit.

Tasha Greer spent several years “practicing” homesteading in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina where she currently raises pigs, goats, poultry, bees, worms, vegetables, herbs, trees, shrubs, and mushrooms. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. Find Tasha at The Way Back and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

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