Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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For those that don't live off-grid, it can be hard to understand what our life is like on a daily basis. When they picture us living on our land in our rustically-accommodated trailer, they may envision big, dirty mountain men living in the middle of nowhere, completely detached from normal society and all that is civilized. They may think we wear nothing but camo.

The truth is a whole lot more boring. Just because we are living in the mountains, we haven't turned our backs on our civilized ways forever, and we almost never wear camo!

Actually we have found that people's conception of living off grid as being dirty and gross is a complete misconception. Adopting an off-grid lifestyle doesn't mean giving up all the comforts of home, it simply means you will have to be more creative to provide for them.

For us, being able to get clean at the end of a work day is always a priority. Even while living off-grid, our lifestyle can provide that.

homesteading couple

Staying Comfortable While Living Off-Grid

We won't pretend otherwise - sometimes living off grid is down right unsexy. Our cramped 19-foot trailer can definitely get old. We've changed just about every aspect of our lives since moving to our land in Idaho, and spending each day in significantly less living space can make everyday task challenging.

Even seemingly simple projects like storing propane, getting drinking water, and even curling my hair take lots more planning than before. We work hard to structure our days so that these tasks don't become overwhelming and so we don't have to live with too much discomfort.

off grid homesteader fetching propane

This is especially important for the health of our relationship. Being uncomfortable for long periods of time can create a lot of tension in a relationship and could certainly be enough to make someone quit the off grid journey all together.

Dealing with Periods as a Female Homesteader

Since I moved off the grid, lots of women have asked me about how homesteaders can stay sanitary during their periods. There is a lot of misinformation on the web about subjects like this, and I want to clear some things up about what my experience has personally been like. 

Personally, I am a big proponent of the menstrual cup, a cup made from medical-grade silicone that is used like a reusable tampon. One brand I have is the Lily Cup because it's small, is completely safe to use before you get your period, and fits in a cute travel case when you aren't using it. Best of all, menstrual cups carry absolutely no risk of toxic shock syndrome.

Most menstrual cups will last over 10 years and cost less than $40. When you think about how much money the average woman spends on period products in 10 years, that's a fantastic investment.  

menstrual cups

Homestead Work as a Female

Some women may struggle with the more physical side of homesteading. My partner, Jesse, is bigger and stronger than me and can do lots of jobs faster and more efficiently than I ever could. It's been necessary for him to adapt projects around the homestead to make them more manageable for me in case I would ever have to do them by myself.

Taking precautions like this is absolutely necessary for us, because life is unpredictable and it isn’t wise to assume that we will be together 100% of the time. If something were to happen to Jesse, I want to be able to pull my own weight and take care of our home.

carrying slabs

The last advice we want to leave with you all is to be flexible with your expectations and always be open to trying new things. Five years ago I never imagined I would be living off grid and I never would have thought I would love it this much.

I know there are many women out there that are interested in living a more simple lifestyle and you may find that if you try it out, you just may like it. Don't be afraid to experiment with different ways to be more self-sufficient, and have fun while you do so!

Alyssa Craft moved to Idaho after purchasing 5 acres of land where she will build an off-grid homestead from scratch. 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 an off-grid hot tub, milling lumber with an Alaskan chainsaw mill and starting an organic garden. Keep up on the journey by following her blog Pure Living for Life, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube channel. View Alyssa’s other MOTHER EARTH NEWS articles 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.


Chickens have always been a trademark of farm life and recently have gained popularity with backyard farmers looking to take out the middleman between themselves and fresh eggs. They’re funny looking feathered friends with distinct personalities and some unusual antics you might not know about if you are just getting into poultry.

Facts About Chicken Eggs

People often get chickens to provide them with their own eggs. The average hen will lay about 300 eggs a year, but their laying is seasonal and will decrease as your chicken ages. You might be overrun with more eggs than your family can eat during Spring and Summer, but find yourself having to supplement with store bought eggs in the Winter months.


Fresh chicken eggs have deeper orange yolks than store bought ones and often contain more important vitamins and nutrients. They are also easy to collect and comparably inexpensive. If you have too many eggs, you can help cover your costs in keeping chickens by selling them. Farm fresh eggs can fetch up to $5 a dozen and in most states it is legal to sell eggs from your backyard coop.

While it is hard to make a large enough profit to cover the costs of keeping chickens, selling eggs can be educational for young farmers and a fun way to not waste your excess.

Facts About Chicken Behavior

Chickens have plenty of fascinating behavioral quirks that will have you scratching your head. Most of these idiosyncrasies stem from wild behavior. You might notice that your hens start squawking and making a ruckus after laying their eggs. The egg song is a natural instinct because hens will nest away from the flock for privacy, and need to call out to find their group again. Staying in the flock is crucial to a wild chicken’s survival, so their calls are enthusiastic music to intended to locate their friends.

looking at red

You might also notice that if you approach a friendly hen to pick her up, she will squat down and push her wings out, freezing in place. Her squatting position is how hens will stand when being mated by a rooster. It is a sign of submission, because in a wild flock the rooster will be the dominant chicken. A hen squatting down is her way of accepting you as the leader of the flock.

Someday you might look out to the chicken coop and see your chickens laying on their sides with their wings spread open on their sides and their legs stretched out. This might alarm you, but your hens are just catching some rays. They love soaking up the vitamin D from the sun.

If you notice them rolling in the dirt and using their feet to throw sand into their wings, then your chickens are dust bathing. Dust bathing is what chickens will do instead of taking a water bath. The dirt they’re spreading around their bodies will help keep parasites away, and keep their feathers neat and shiny.

Facts About Roosters

Roosters also have some unique characteristics. For starters, roosters have larger wattles and combs, as well as more colorful feathers than their hens. Like many other wild birds, the rooster’s plumage is meant to attract females to his flock and intimidate other males. Rooster’s also have pronounced spurs on their legs just above their toes, sharp growths that are used to fight other roosters. Spurs should be kept trimmed so they cannot accidentally harm other members of their flock.

silkie rooster

You might find your rooster scratching at treats but not eating them, picking them up and placing them in front of his hens while making guttural clucking noises. This behavior is very natural and a charming way that a male chicken will try to impress his females with his skills as a provider. Called tidbitting, this display is a crucial part of a rooster’s repertoire in attracting hens.

Chickens are fascinating and entertaining creatures that provide you with fresh eggs right from your own backyard. Their amusing antics means you’ll never tire of watching your flock, and they are sometimes called the “gateway animal” of farming. Many people’s mental image of a farmyard is not complete without a flock of chickens, and they are a fun way to expand your home’s self sufficiency.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200 year old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog 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.


Firewood method as a senior

More than 25 years ago, we started with raw, undeveloped land and established a cabin homestead with plenty of very hard work. We finally moved in full-time 20 years ago. We heat our cabin with a Jotul wood stove and grow some of our vegetables.

At the time, we started to develop our property we were both healthy and far more agile. Now that I’m in my mid 70s, all that hard work has done its damage on joints and muscles. We are still able to do the hard physical work but it is done at a much slower pace.

One of the physical attributes I sorely miss is the flexibility and agility that I had before. The natural progression of aging has made homesteading more difficult but far from impossible.

Aging Joints

I had started to work when I was 12 years old as a newspaper boy and carrying those heavy newspapers in a sack several blocks to my customers was my initial indoctrination into heavy work.

When I stop to consider all I have put my body through over the years, I realize that only being impaired by having to slow down is actually quite remarkable. By going slower, the job still gets accomplished — it just takes longer, and I now pay closer attention to working smarter. Homesteading on a mountain side at high elevation is about as hard as it gets, and particular care is needed to avoid tripping over rocks or falling since I am never on flat, uncluttered ground.

My focus goes from performing the task at hand to doing it more safely.

Homesteading in Senior Years

Homesteading when you are almost 75 years old is hard and takes a toll on your body, but I wouldn’t change a thing. In my mind, I’m still 40 years old, but at the end of the day after cutting/splitting firewood, shoveling snow, or just working around our property, my joints and body tell me I’m clearly not 40 years old anymore and neither is my body.

Joints take a lot of punishment in working a mountain homestead like ours, but we are enjoying the benefits of all our hard work in spite of the persistent pain and soreness. To all those prospective readers who may just be getting the glimmer of a thought of doing the same, I would encourage you to go for it. I do not have one single regret, plus the journey is amazing and completely fulfilling.

Gardening Challenges

Perhaps the easiest task I perform is gardening, which is in itself a unique challenge at this elevation since we have voles, moles, chipmunks, ground squirrels, and other critters that want to eat much of what we plant. Through the use of enclosed garden boxes, we do manage to provide some vegetables on our table.

Growing anything in the mountains is a constant challenge. This year, I started seed potatoes in a potato bin and before I could fully protect the potatoes, a chipmunk found his way into the circular container and consumed my sprouting potatoes. Leaving them unprotected one day was all it took for the varmints to destroy them.

I have heard that rhubarb is poisonous to animals and, sure enough, a ground squirrel was eating my rhubarb as soon as it emerged. I found him lying dead a few feet from his ill-gotten passion.

Firewood is Especially Hard but Possible

Perhaps our biggest task each year is the cutting 9-12 cords of firewood. Initially it was all cut and split by hand, but in recent years, Carol has convinced me to use a log splitter, which is a time saver and far easier than splitting it all by hand.

Getting our firewood in for next winter is much harder than it used to be, since we have gotten older so we take frequent breaks and work slower. We have also designed a more efficient method of doing the task: I will cut a little at a time to store behind the woodshed for the winter following winter. Next spring, I will make sure all the firewood is cut to length and then split it and resupply the woodshed.

By working that far ahead, we only have to process what is right at hand and hence be ready for the following winter. We usually cut the firewood in place and carry it to a trail where it is loaded onto our tractor and unloaded conveniently right behind the woodshed until it is needed.

Would I Change Anything?

I wouldn’t change a thing to keep up this lifestyle — physical limitations or not. I am very fortunate to have a wife/partner who is willing to help, and together, we manage to get the jobs done — albeit a little slower than we used to.

Constantly seeking to be self-sustaining is tough regardless of age or physical ability, but as in many things in life, it is the hard, never-ending work that actually serves to keep us more fit and able to continue to do it.

Mother Earth News Provides Inspiration

I have been an avid reader of MOTHER EARTH NEWS since its very first edition all those years ago. With all the reader contributions and articles over the years, I attribute much of our current lifestyle to the magazine and its contributors by providing encouragement. It has given me the inspiration to work toward our current lifestyle and provided techniques to actually make this a reality.

It has been a long journey to get to our present status, but it started when I purchased the first copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. I was fully hooked and decided then that a more self-sustaining lifestyle was what I wanted for myself and, step by step over the years, we slowly moved toward that type of life. I do not have any regrets in doing so.

The real satisfaction has been slowly working toward homesteading and self-sufficiency and not instant gratification. When we are no longer able to maintain our lifestyle, the person who purchases our homestead will have the instant gratification but will not have the pleasure of taking the homestead from raw land to what we have presently.

Seniors like myself are coping today on many levels of homesteading and life is good for us, even if a little more difficult. In today's world with all the turmoil surrounding us, I think MOTHER EARTH NEWS is more relevant than ever, because it allows the reader to temporarily escape the numerous daily conflicts and be inspired to a far more pleasant and healthy lifestyle. I am so grateful to be allowed to contribute my very small part to a really great magazine.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lifestyle go to Read all of Bruce'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.


In last week's post, Off Grid and Free: The Terror of Forest Fires, Part 1, I portrayed the horror of forest fires both with pictures and a written first-hand account via an excerpt from my book, Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness. We've survived multiple fire threats over the last 16 years and I'd like to pass on some information on how we did that.

 When we moved out here, we bought a water pump, fire hoses, garden sprinklers and garden hoses (which serve as sprinkler supply lines). Higher quality sprinklers and supply hoses are available and if I had to do it over again I would opt for those. Our spring ritual is to set up all our equipment long before the first thunder and lightning appear. By doing so, at the first sign of trouble, we're ready.

The first step is to set up the fire pump on our beach. By means of a quick coupler, a 2.5-inch PVC suction line is connected to the pump and extends about 12 feet out into the lake. On the end of the pipe that is in the water, I have a foot valve which allows water to flow one way to the pump but prevents water from draining back into the lake. That's important, because you don't want the water pump to drain of water and thereby lose its prime. The foot valve rests on a rock about 8 inches off the lake bottom so that sand and other debris isn't sucked into the system.

Water Pump Setup

On the output side of the water pump there is a threaded coupler which ultimately connects to standard 1.5-inch firehose. Several 100-foot sections of hose are connected together to make the run up the hill to the house. Mounted on a porch post is a manifold which takes the high pressure water from the pump and redirects it out to smaller feed lines, the garden hoses I mentioned earlier.

We have 5 outlets on this manifold which we can control via individual valves. We can shut off or engage each sprinkler with the turn of a valve. Sprinklers can be mounted singly or in series, so there are some instances where one valve may control two sprinkler heads.

Manifold Setup

Our manifold also has an adapter and valve that allows us to continue a run of standard firehose out to our homestead's perimeter to tackle any smoldering areas and hot spots. We have two nozzles that can be attached to the end of this fire hose.

The first is an adjustable spray nozzle capable of spraying water in a short, wide pattern or a jet of water that can shoot out one hundred feet if need be. Our second nozzle has a narrow opening that delivers a high pressure jet of water capable of pulverizing the ground to reach fire that is smoldering in roots and moss.

Our home and outbuildings are top priority to protect so I head up to the roof of our two story home and mount a sprinkler on a short pole at each end of the roof. A short hose connects them in series and then the feed line drops from the roof to the nearby manifold. Our house and outbuildings are now protected.

1 of 2 Sprinklers on the House

I can also protect the perimeter of our homestead by erecting more sprinklers nearby. The following is an excerpt from my book Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness and has more specific information.

What has saved our home twice?

Sprinklers! Both our own system and those of the provincial fire crews. Part of my spring ritual is to head to the house roof and install two sprinklers, one at each end. I also have full-length trees cut, approximately 20- to 25 feet long, and have a sprinkler head attached to the top of each of those trees. We pick locations around our house site where we can stand these trees back up, like big flag poles, and either wire each one to another smaller tree or attach a set of tripod legs to the pole, so that it can be free-standing. The higher these "flag poles," the more coverage and the better the protection. The Honda water pump with a 1 1⁄2 " firehose delivers pressurized water from our lake to the input side of a manifold, and all the sprinkler feed hoses come off the output of the manifold.

When our property is being defended from a fire, the ground is criss-crossed with various hoses and water lines. The steady drone of the water pump, and the rhythmic "tick, tick, tick" of the sprinkler heads as they sweep through their circular pattern, offer reassurance, a feeling that maybe, just maybe, this will all end well. Water running off the roof, much like it does during a rain storm, reinforces the notion.

Once a fire gets into the crown of the trees, it’s hard to stop. So how do sprinklers prevent property from being incinerated?

The basic premise of sprinklers is to bring up the humidity in the protected area as high as possible, before a fire arrives. The dome of humidity has a tendency to bounce the fire around it, allowing the fire to bypass the protected areas. They most certainly will not extinguish a wildfire!

For anyone living in fire-prone areas, this concept will work for you as long as you have a reliable water source. A swimming pool, pond, stream, or even household tap gives you a chance at saving your home. At a minimum, a couple of sprinklers, proper water lines, and a water pump are all that are needed for some cheap insurance.

Sprinkler in the Perimeter

When a fire threatens, we each have our prearranged assigned duties. Johanna runs through the house closing windows and throwing some clothes and documents in a suitcase. My job is to get the fire pump running. One pull is all it takes to get water flowing from the lake up to the sprinklers.

Donning our survival suits, which have been prepositioned next to the door at the start of fire season, is also a priority. Neither one of us is a strong swimmer so with our survival suits on, we can confidently run into the lake if there isn't time to get to our boat. Taking off in the boat is the ideal plan of escape for us.

For those of us living with the threat of wildfire, it's not a question of if, but when. It's only a matter of time before the woods and grasslands burn. Fire is a natural process that allows forests to rejuvenate. We've accepted that fact and have adapted by taking some common sense precautions. We make sure all combustible debris (leaves, needles, twigs, dead grass) is raked up from the house perimeter every spring.

Over time, we have removed many of the lower hanging branches from trees in the immediate vicinity. Those branches are called “ladder fuels” since if left in place, they have the potential to provide any ground fire a means of climbing up into the crown of the trees. We've encapsulated our home in metal, have sprinklers set up and we have an escape plan should the unexpected show up.

The pump is always fully fueled and the boat is ready to launch at a moments notice. We will never beat a forest fire, but we will survive and we've done everything possible to make sure our homestead remains intact. Two big fires got to within 90 feet of the house, but we are proof sprinklers can do the job. We're still standing proud!

Thanks for reading and I'll be back again shortly.

Ron Melchiore and his wife Johanna currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published by Moon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and on Facebook and Pinterest. Read all of his 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.


You've heard of a one-horse town? Well, we are a one-goat micro-dairy. That doesn't mean we only have one goat to milk but that our milking parlor is set up to take only one goat in at a time for feeding and milking.

We have a small herd of dairy goats. At present time we have 8 does and 3 bucks. This season we've had 3 does to kid — increasing the herd with 4 additional doelings and 1 buck (that is soon to become a wether). We have 2 more does to kid soon.

Offspring of Alby

Among our dairy goats, we have 2 Nubian does, a mix of Nubian/Saanen does, a registered Saanen doe, a registered Saanen buck, a pure Saanen buck and a pure Sable Saanen buck. This is where "Alby" comes in.

We had decided to go from selling state-registered "Animal Feed" milk to getting licensed to sell farmstead aged cheeses. We decided to breed all the does to have enough milk to make our cheeses and to increase, hopefully, our doe herd. The kids we don't keep as replacement for our farm we try to sell as dairy replacements to other farms. The males we keep as bucks we sell as breeding bucks. We don't use or sell as meat. (We are a natural and sustainable farm. No chemical, hormone and/or anti-biotics.)

Our Sable Saanen doe, Black Mist, was bred to our pure Saanen buck, One-More Bubba. We had hoped for at least one doe from this kidding. What we got was the most beautiful Sable Saanen buck...he was just adorable! My sisters saw him and said you should call him "Prince Albert". So, he went from Prince Albert to just "Alby"!

Alby a few days old
When we breed our does, we keep a record of when they're bred and to which buck...this really helps later because it can get really confusing if you have several does. I write this on my calendar then, I also count 145 days from breeding time to see when to start watching the does for kidding. The actual time can be 145-155 days. We like to watch the does and when it is near kidding time to try to separate them out. We also like to try to be there when the doe kids, just in case there is trouble. We have run into problems before with first time kidding. Sometimes the doe will only have one baby and it will be large and she needs help delivering.
This was the first kidding for Black Mist but she did a wonderful job! The baby was perfect and she did really well afterwards...she was a good "Momma"!

Black Mist and Alby together

Alby was about 7 days old when we came to feed one morning and couldn't find him. We called to him and heard him. We found him lying against the barn. He was unable to get up. We tried getting him up but, he couldn't stand. Finally, we worked with him and he was able to "hobble" around. He was having problems with one of his front legs and one of his back — but nothing appeared broken. He and his mother were separated from the herd again.

Now, we had a dilemma. Alby would not get up on his own. He waited for someone to help him up. So, now we had to go at least every 3-4 hours to get him up and hold him while he nursed his mother. We did this for at least 2 weeks. In the meantime, we had another dilemma. Alby was meant to become a whether. But, since he was having problems with his legs we were afraid any more stress (we band to castrate) would cause him more harm. So, we left him a buck and this farm really does not need that many bucks!

Alby started doing much better. He started running and playing. He became an inspiration. We have workshops on the farm and he was a favorite for everyone to make over and pet. We decided to put them back with the rest of the herd and just keep a close watch on little Alby. We were so thankful that he was doing so good! But as everyone knows that lives on a farm things can go very wrong very quickly.

The next day we caught one of the other does head butting little "Alby" and just caught it in time. She too was a mother and she was telling him to "get away." He was re-injured and this time we didn't know if the leg was broken. He just wouldn't get up! We called the vet. We were told the vet we were using no longer treated large farm animals. So, we called the "mobile vet" and had to leave a message. It was the weekend so we didn't hear back until Monday. We didn't know what to do except just try to work with him like before. We finally got him up and walking again even though he was limping.

We just assumed we would have a "special needs" little buck on the farm. But there was a miracle for us and for little Alby! He regained full use of his legs and wasn't stunted at all.

Little Alby is now a Sire. He lays claim to this season's new offspring on the farm.

NOTE: For anyone looking for a pure Sable Saanen buck, Alby, is now ready to be head Sire for his forever herd! We are located in Western North Carolina. 828-682-1405

Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that had been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Find Susan on Facebook, 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.


May at Bees of the Woods Apiary seems to be all about trying something new! Read the full year's posts in this series here.

Raising Queens

queen cups blog

This year, we are trying to raise our own queens for the first time. I took a queen rearing class last summer, did a lot of reading, and finally got around to trying out what I learned.

We started out by choosing a hive to graft queens from. We have one hive that we just love. It overwintered well, and built up quickly in the spring. It is gentle, and had good honey production. We knew that we would like to have those traits in more hives, and decided to graft larvae from that hive.

But, before we started grafting, we needed to think about setting up a “starting” and “finishing” hive. This is exactly what it sounds like – hives that are used to start the queen cells, and hives that are used to finish the queen cells.  We decided to go with the Oliver “foolproof method” of queen rearing. We liked this method because you can use just one hive to both start and finish the queen cells.

The grafting takes some practice, but it isn’t as hard as it sounds. You can read about the entire process of setting up the starter/finisher colony (and small-scale queen rearing in general at the Scientific Beekeeping website, a really great resource. Just click here.

Once we had our starter/finisher colony set up, we selected a frame that had a lot of small larvae on it. Ideally, the larvae would be 4 days old when you graft them. At the beekeeping class we went to, they showed us what 4-day-old larvae look like, so we just estimated which larvae would be a good size for grafting. It’s a little tricky, and you definitely will want a good jeweler’s light/magnifier to see the larvae. But after a while, you get the hang of it.

After grafting the larvae, we put the frame into the starter colony. At the beginning of this section you can see a picture of the frame with queen cups that the bees have begun to draw out.

queen cell blog

Two days later, we checked the cells, and found that the bees had starting drawing out about half of them – not bad for our first try!

Four days later we set up nuc boxes. For each nuc box we placed a frame of mostly open brood, one frame of honey and pollen, a “mixed” frame that included some capped brood, and an empty, drawn frame. The next day, we took out our now capped and finished queen cells, and carefully pushed them into the empty frame, and put them back in the nuc.

Now we just had to wait and see if the queen hatches, has a successful mating flight, and returns to the nuc. The successful mating flight part can be trickier than it sounds. The queen has to avoid birds, cars, bad weather, etc., in order to mate and make it back to the hive.

A few weeks later we checked our nucs. All of the queens appeared to have hatched from the queen cells, and while we found the queens in some of the nucs, others appeared to be queenless.

We can now use the queen-right nucs to re-queen a hive with an older queen, sell the nucs to other beekeepers, or keep the nucs to build up our own apiary. The queenless nucs will be combined with the nucs that do have queens to help give them a boost in population.

Raising queens can give you a lot more options for your apiary – I highly recommend giving it a try.

Pollen Trapping

 Pollen pile blog

Our other new venture involved collecting pollen. We had never done this before, but every once in a while someone would ask us if we sell pollen. So we decided it might  be worth giving it a try.

There are are different types of pollen traps, but we purchased a Sundance pollen trap that mounts underneath the hive. Bees go in the entrance of the trap, and through a maze that knocks some of the pollen off their legs as they go through it. I liked this style, because when you have collected as much pollen as you want, you can shut the pollen trap entrance, and the bees would just go in the front of the entrance as they normally would.

I was amazed at how much pollen we collected! It was also really neat to be able to see all of the different colors of pollen that had been collected.  After 4 days, we had over 1 pound of pollen. After we had collected about 5 lbs. of pollen, we closed the entrance to the pollen trap, allowing the bees to enter the hive as normal.

We put the pollen in baggies and froze it to kill any pests. Then we spread it out on white paper to pick out any debris such as bee parts, etc.  We packed it into jars, and stored it in the freezer to help keep it fresh.

This is one of the things I love about beekeeping – there is always something new to try and learn. 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.


Before we get into the article - so many of you have asked us to share a video of our farm, so here it is — Life By the Bucket. Many thanks to students from the G-Star Filmschool in West Palm Beach. Enjoy.

1. The Safe Way to Open Gates

Always open pasture and pen gates into the pasture or pen, not out! When you enter into a pasture or pen, opening any gate inwards turns the gate into a barrier between you and the animals. If they rush you to get to feed or hay you are carrying, or just to escape, the gate will shut instead of flying wide open and letting everything escape.

This can be quite funny if someone opens the gate the wrong way and all the just weaned babies run out and scatter into the alleyway, but that can also be dangerous if that gate leads to a highway or the escaping animal is an 1,800-pound bull.

Open Gates Safely

2. The Safe Way to Turn an Animal Out into Pasture

When you take an animal out to pasture, turn the animal to face you and the gate before letting it go! If the animal, be it a horse or a goat or a cow, is turned towards you and the gate before taking the halter off and releasing the animal, it has to do a 180 degree turn before it can speed up and kick out. This will give you time to step out of the way and avoid being kicked or run over.

This applies to all animals, even those you think would never do that. An older mare will just as likely kick up her heels and speed off in cooler weather as a 175 pound doe who wants to join her herd mates. It is no fun being run over either way. Those little goat feet are amazingly sharp and sitting down on your tail bone is not comfortable either.

3. Be Safe Around Farm Equipment

Turn It Off, When You Get Off! It’s so easy and saves so much time, on average about 3 seconds, when you leave the tractor or lawnmower running to quickly get off and just open a gate, preferably on an incline.

Tractors and other large farm equipment do not know “ouch” or that the human or the horse is standing right in front of it, and ooops, the gear slips or the break slips and the entire truck, tractor moves forward and right over the unsuspecting human or animal. If you are lucky, it’ll miss you or will just squash your iPhone. If you are not lucky, the tire may run over your leg, or the hay spear will pin you against the wall.

A friend of ours didn’t even leave his truck running, but parked it on an incline, the break gave way and it missed him, but ran downhill, through a few fences and came to a stop at a wall, totaled.

Safe Tractor Driving

4. Safe Riding in Your Golf Cart or Mule

Sit down, don’t stand when its moving! These wonderful time saving and load carrying vehicles might not look and feel so fast, but they can be fast and unstable enough for you to fall out unless you have your behind firmly grounded on a flat surface. These vehicles can take corners fast enough for you to lose balance  and fall out, and then it will run over your foot or your leg, best case leaving you with a bruise or painful road rash.

If you have a golf cart with a roof, which is fabulous in the rain, you can also take a corner too fast and tip it over, best case a dent in the cart. As a driver, it will be your responsibility to ensure that all passengers, those on the seats and in the back, are seated and ready to go.

Fun and Safe Cart Riding

5. Don’t Stick Your Fingers in the Back Of a Goat’s Mouth

Beware of any animal’s teeth! While goats have no teeth on their upper gum and really can’t bite you, the back teeth are razor sharp so goats can snap branches and browse. These molars can snap your finger or give you a mean cut.

Most goats will not bite on purpose, but there are incidences when I’ve had my finger down a goat’s throat, if a goat was choking or to steal cud. I don’t do it lightly and I have been harmed in the process every time. Unless you are sure what you are doing, don’t attempt it and definitely keep your children’s hand out of any animals’ mouth.

Look Ma - No Teeth

6. Don’t Put Your Head and Nose Directly Over Livestocks'

If they raise their head suddenly, they will knock you out (worst case) or on your butt (best case)! Most visitors to Serenity Acres love to pet the animals. There is nothing wrong with that, but there is right way to go about that. Goats head-butt, and cows and horses lift their heads out of harm’s way when they feel there is cause for concern. They do it fast and determined and if your head or nose is in the way, because you are leaning over the animals’ head, your nose will be broken or you will sport a black and blue eye for a couple of weeks.

When petting animals, keep your head off to the side, and as a bonus tip, also never wrap a lead rope around your hands when walking an animal that clearly outweighs you. If they run off, the rope will tighten around your hand or arm and leave a burn rash in the best case.

7. Don’t walk backwards without looking – Really Not Safe

Walk forward, you can see where you are going! Such a simple rule, but easily overlooked.  On the farm we have lots of reasons to walk backwards such as luring a goat into its pen with feed, scooping a pen, or sweeping a concrete floor.

This is the one rule that if not followed, most likely will just hurt your ego, but I’ve fallen over a dog too lazy to move while walking backwards and just my pride was hurt, and I’ve fallen backwards over a mower deck while trying to escape from some wayward wasps and came away with some serious bruises.

8. Know Which Way Livestock Kick and Your Safe Spot to Stand

Cows, horses and goats have different kicking zones. Know them! Horses mainly kick out to the back. If you are standing behind them, preferably about 3 feet away, you are standing in the prime kick zone and will receive the full strength of the kick. To avoid this, stay close to the horse, keep your hand on their body and speak to them so they know where you are. This minimizes the chance of a full force surprise kick.

Cows generally don’t kick backwards, but kick out sideways, as in cow kick. The same safe standing rule applies here, close by and no surprises. Goats, in my experience, can kick every which way and up and also jump on top of you, so here best be prepared and teach them from a young age: “no front feet on humans” and keep your face away from the legs while milking or trimming feet.

9. Wear Closed-Toed Shoes for Safe Toes

Sandals or flip flops don’t belong on a farm! If you’ve ever had a goat, let alone a horse, stand comfortably on your foot, you will appreciate the safety and cushion of a closed toe shoe, even if it is just a croc. All 200 pounds of the goat or 1,000 pound of the horse will miraculously be transferred to that one point on your foot especially if it’s a you’re your bones and skin are no match for a horse hoof, especially when wearing a horse shoe, or even a small, sharp goat hoof.

Closed-toed shoes will also protect you from stubbing your toes on wheel barrels and on steps into the chicken coop, and protect you from squishy chicken poo or dog poo between your toes.

10. Don’t Wear Headphones During Farm Chores

Many people just can’t live without their headphones, but on the farm during chores is the place to take them off! I get it. Scooping poop and doing other daily farm chores can be quite boring without the buds in your ear with a cool pod cast, TedTalk or your favorite tunes.

But here is the rub: when you have the buds in your ear, you are focused on the music and any other sound drowns out. You do not hear the baby alarm when a young goat is in trouble, you do not hear the dogs barking at the hawk stalking your chickens, you do not hear another human calling you to help with a goat, or a cow, or a heavy board. Only having a bud in one ear doesn’t work either, because your concentration and focus is still on the music/talk/podcast and not on your farm surroundings where they need to be.

Too much can go wrong too fast. Just leave the headphones in your pocket and use them on your break. If you want to listen to music, turn the speaker on and have the music in your pocket, in the background. That’s where it belongs on a farm during chores.

Use your common sense and you will be fine.

Julia Shewchuk owns and operates Serenity Acres Farm on 80 acres in Florida. Serenity Acres runs on solar, is Animal Welfare Approved-certified, houses anywhere from four to 10 WWOOFers and interns, and is the home to 58 dairy goats, 16 Black Angus cattle, 278 laying hens, 3 horses, 3 cats, 4 house dogs, 6 livestock guardian dogs, and 6 ducks. Read all of Julia’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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