Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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We’ve always hatched our own eggs on our homestead. It has been an exciting adventure for us to watch, especially for my son, these past few years. We’ve also hatched out ducklings and chicks with a broody duck. It was a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, we never really got to see them grow up, however, because they were sold quickly after hatching.

But almost 2 weeks ago, one of our beautiful Delaware mama hens hatched out two of the most adorable chicks you’ve ever seen. She had gone broody quite some time ago, and I sat her on five of our own eggs. Unfortunately, I failed as a homesteader and didn’t realize her nest was to shallow. Therefore, since she was nesting in a nesting box, the eggs were eventually crushed from sitting on the hard bottom without enough straw.

Lesson learned.

I quickly added two new eggs under her after we spruced the nest up. In the meantime, I started up the incubator with chicken eggs that were gifted to us from a fellow homesteader, and some of our own quail eggs, just in case she gave up from being on the nest so long.

She didn’t give up. In fact, she was a pro! Just like clockwork, her babies hatched right on time.

Flock Integration

At first I was terrified that the other chickens would peck at the chicks. But because she nested in the coop the entire time, and because the flock went through the entire experience with her, they accepted the babies in no time. For the first 24 hours or so, she kept them in the coop with little exposure to the rest of the flock. But by day 2, she was quickly trying to integrate them. We had a few pecks here and there, but nothing brutal.

By day 3, the chicks were now roaming with mama hen without fear of rebuttal from the other chickens. And by day 4, they were completely part of our flock. In fact, now, a week later, we have another hen that helps babysit while mama hen is dust bathing or foraging and the babies don’t want to tag along.

Keeping Chicks Warm

My next observation came as no surprise to me. When we had ducks hatch out ducklings, the ducklings rarely stayed under mama duck. In fact, they were drenched in a rain storm once and they didn’t even care. Of course, I can never suggest you drench your ducklings and not give them heat. But it was an incredible learning experience.

The same happened with mama hen. Her brand new babies are never under her for warmth except in the evenings when time to roost. But even then, with these hot summer Virginia nights, they’ve been sleeping beside her rather than beneath her.

At the same time, we have an outdoor brooder for the chicks and quail we incubated at the same time she was setting on her eggs. We haven’t had to keep them under a heat lamp either. As I’ve been watching mama hen, I’ve been mimicking her natural instinct with the chicks I incubated. We do keep a 60 watt bulb in the insulated outdoor brooder for them, but they have not yet needed a heat lamp to survive while outside.

I say this now, but I urge you to use wisdom. When the temps go below 80 degrees, your chicks need a heat lamp until they have become accustomed to the temperatures, whether indoors or outdoors. Please keep in mind that chicks need a heat source to one side of their brooder until they are 6 weeks old or fully feathered. But I think we all know this!

Excellent Foragers

The next thing I observed is how incredible they are at foraging, even at such a young age. When I keep chicks in a brooder, I try to allow them to forage some. But the reality is that I just can’t stay outside with them to make sure they don’t get attack by a lurking predator, therefore they go back into the safe brooder. Mama hen takes care of that with her own babies, and she is teaching them well. At just two days old, these babies were eating bugs and grass. What an amazing testament to nature!

Not only are they great foragers, but they are great at being aware of their surroundings. When mama hen makes her call, they go running. But even more so, they’ve learned to scan the skies themselves.

At The End of the Day…

When it comes down to it, I couldn’t ask for a better teacher than nature itself. Because we believe in all natural living on our homestead, this mama hen experience has been one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced along this journey.

At the end of the day, Mother Nature knows best. She knows how to take care of her young, and maybe, if we stop and listen, we might learn a thing or two from nature as well.

Amy Fewell is a writer, photographer, blogger, and homesteader based in Virginia. Along with her husband and son, she raises heritage breed chickens, quail, rabbits, and more! She believes in all natural holistic living for both her family and her animals. And she is currently working on a cookbook of traditional family Farmstead recipes. Check out more from Amy at The Fewell Homstead and

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.


July means lots of honey coming in from the beeyard, but it can also mean dealing with a lot of heat and humidity. Here are some tips to help keep you and your bees more comfortable.

Provide Water for Bees

Just like every other living thing, bees need water!  It’s a good ideas to make sure they have a clean source of water nearby for a number of reasons. First, they won’t have to travel as far to find water. Secondly, providing the bees with a known source of water can help keep them out of places you don’t want them – such as a neighbor’s pool.


Any shallow container can hold water, but you need to make sure that the bees have something to land on, so they don’t fall in and drown. I’ve heard of people using marbles, rocks, sticks, and whatever else will work.

We found a very easy way to provide our bees with water – we use a chicken waterer. We fill it up, hang it from a shepherds hook, and fill the water tray with gravel and rocks. The water doesn’t evaporate as fast as with an open container of water, and the bees don’t fall in and drown because of the gravel.

Someone once told me that adding a little bit of bleach to the water helps attract the bees to it, so we usually add about half a cap full whenever we refill it. This method seems to work well. We still get a few bees at our birdbath, but most seem to prefer the water we put out for them.


Protecting Bees from Summer Heat


Bees do a great job of regulating the temperature inside the hive – fanning at the entrance and “bearding” on the front of the hive are just a few ways they reduce the heat and humidity in the hive. However, there are a few things that beekeepers can do to help them deal with the heat.

We use screened bottom boards, and always have an open upper entrance in addition to the regular front entrance. This helps with air flow, allowing excess heat and moisture to exit the hive.

When the weather is going to be extra hot, we use popsicle sticks to slightly lift the outer cover. We place them horizontally on the back of the inner cover, or even diagonally across the corners. Again, this helps with ventilation.

Another thing you can do to help is to make sure the bees have plenty of room.  n addition to swarm prevention, making sure the bees have plenty of space allows the heat to disperse more easily. We always make sure they have a super that is at least half empty to work on, and plenty of brood space as well.

For the Humans

My husband and I are not big fans of hot, humid weather, so we always take steps to try and stay as cool as possible when working the bees.

First, clothing. On a hot, humid day, we don’t reach for denim jeans – they are much too heavy and hot. Instead we wear baggy, light, pants. Hiking pants are a good choice — they are generally made of light, breathable material.

Under our bee jackets and veils, we wear a light shirt or tank top made out of a material that will wick moisture away. If I am just doing something quick in the beeyard, like removing a super, I may even skip the jacket and just wear a light, long sleeve shirt with a separate veil on.

It’s also important to have some kind of sweatband or headband. There is nothing more annoying than sweat running into your eyes, when you can’t wipe it a way because of the veil. A sweatband takes care of that. You could also try wearing one of those new cooling towels around your neck to help stay cool.

We also plan when we will work on certain hives. On a hot humid day, we try to get out in the beeyard as early as possible, while it’s still cool. But, we also try to work on hives when they are in the shade as opposed to full sun. It makes a huge difference.

And finally - think about what really needs to be done in the beeyard. If it is over 90 degrees and humid, we tend to prioritize — what needs to be done now, and what can wait a few days until it cools down?

This is also the time of year when we start doing a lot of honey extraction. If we plan ahead, we can have honey supers pulled from the hives and in the house when the hot weather hits. When it is too hot to work outside, I can always work on extracting honey inside!

For more details on honey extraction, please check out my previous blogs: Honey Harvest, Part 1Honey Harvest, Part 2, and The Hows and Whys of Producing Comb Honey. And, of course, take lots of breaks to cool off, and drink a lot of water. Have fun and stay cool!

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.


Calvin Picks a Strawberry

Growing up on 1800 acres of farmland in Rural Kentucky meant that when summer came, I was on a hiatus from people for 3 solid months. While my older brother typically worked alongside my dad during any off time, as a clumsy young female, I was often left to my own devices. Since I had no one to complain to about being bored, I found ways to keep myself busy.

The ability to entertain yourself is a crucial skill for children of any background. The key to self-driven summer fun is setting acceptable boundaries of when and where your children may go, how long they can stay out, a communication plan to get in touch with them if needed, and to provide them easy access to tools and supplies that will enrich their experience.

1. Explore It never gets old. Adventuring was, and still is, one of my favorite lazy day activities. And I never got lost, even once. Why? Because I knew that no one knew where I was, and it was up to me to get myself back out of there. This made me more cautious and more aware of my surroundings, and ultimately lead to a greater sense of confidence in my abilities to manage the world on my own.

Farm Girl Tip: Create a survival backpack for your child to take if you are concerned about them being out on their own. This should include things like a bottle of water or two, a healthy snack, and a long-range walkie-talkie for communication.

2. Make A Wreath. A wreath is a classic homesteading craft that can add beauty to your home or be given as a gift, and is relatively simple for a child to construct.

Wreaths can be created from most vines. While grape is one of the most common materials for wreath making, honeysuckle is one of the easiest vines to work with and is one of the most prolific (at least in my area) so this is a great place to start. Be careful, however, as poison ivy grows enjoys in many of the same areas as honeysuckle, so be aware of what you are selecting!

The great thing about wreaths is that you can create them entirely from supplies available to you in nature, which makes them completely free to create, enjoy, and give as gifts.

How to Make a Wreath

Tools Required: Knife or Snippers for cutting lengths of vines, wire for holding vines in place (if needed), Ribbon or Decorative Elements

1. Start by collecting several long lengths of vines and stripping their leaves. While the leaves look pretty now, they will get crumbly and make a huge mess as the wreath dries.

2. Form one vine into a circle about the size you want your completed wreath to be. Remember as you add more vines it will increase in size as well as close the hole in the middle a bit. Once you have the size that you want, take the ends of the vine and twist them around the vine to help hold it in place.

3. Continue wrapping and weaving vines around your original vine until you have the thickness that you desire. Make sure to start your new vines in different places, and to wrap in different directions to help strengthen your wreath.

4. Decorate your wreath with items you find around you, leave it as is, or decorate with ribbons and other craft items. Make sure to pick items that will dry well, or treat them with lacquer or another spray to maintain their beauty.

Farm Girl Tip: There are tons of natural crafts that you can create beyond wreaths that may be of more interest to your child. They can create their own paints, carve a walking stick, make a picture frame, create mixed media art, totems, dream catchers, and more! The only limit is their creativity and imagination. Your local 4-H is a great resource for finding more craft activities that may be able to be entered in the county/state fair, earning you some extra cash!

3. Farm Animal Photography. Kids love to take pictures, and farm animals make the perfect subject! It is easiest to focus on one animal at a time and work to capture that perfect shot. Allow them to take as many pictures as they would like, and afterward, they can print their pictures out and use them to create their own farm storybook or scrapbook.

Farm Girl Tip: Try to get pictures from different angles. A picture of a cow snout and of a cow hoof or tail are very different pictures, and can make for some unique shots. There are photography categories in most county/state fairs, so this could be another great opportunity to earn some extra spending money.

4. Rubber Eggs. If your kids enjoy science, then this is a very cool project. Did you know that you can melt the shell off an egg using only white vinegar? Simply place the egg in a cup, fill with white vinegar until the egg is covered, then wait.

Within a few days, you will notice that the outer, calcium shell has completely disintegrated in the vinegar, leaving you with an egg dressed only in the inner membrane. Test with eggs from different chickens, or against different types of birds to see which ones take the longest.

Farm Girl Tip: This activity is best enjoyed outside. Once the egg shell has disintegrated, the eggs are fragile and the membrane may split at any time, leaving a mess that you will be glad isn’t in your kitchen.  

5. Farm Projects. While your child may not be able to manage a lot of farm responsibilities, giving them specific, short-term projects can help them feel like they are contributing. Growing up, I was responsible for things like bottle-feeding calves, assisting with sheep shearing, administering inoculations, and other tasks that got me involved without requiring a huge amount of effort or knowledge.

Many kids who grow up in rural areas enjoy farm activities, but their level of involvement should be reflective of their ability to complete the task. While it would be perfectly reasonable to expect a child to use an egg incubator to hatch chicken eggs, or to plant and maintain a small garden, it may be less realistic to expect them to plow a field or assist a cow during labor.

Farm Girl Tip: Choose farm activities that meet your child’s ability and skill level. You want to set them up for success and build a love for the outdoors and farm life. Assigning them a responsibility that is too challenging, or too complex, will only work against your efforts to get them engaged.

6. Pokemon Go! Take advantage of the craze to get your kids oustide! It's taking over the world, and with good reason. It is a fun and exciting way to get kids outside, exploring their natural environment, while still being able to play a video game. Encourage them to explore different landscapes to try to capture different Pokemon. The Pokemon that are hiding near bodies of water are different from those in fields and green areas, so the more exploring they do, the wider variety of Pokemon they will find!

Farm Girl Tip: Make sure that your children understand safety and boundaries. It is not ok to wander onto other people's property to obtain Pokemon, and being alert of their surroundings is crucial. If adventuring in a wooded area, make sure that they stay on a path that they are familiar with, or are able to navigate their way back out on their own. Since it is a mobile game, if they do get into a sticky situation, they can easily call you for assistance.

Feel free to share your summer fun suggestions and stories in the comments, we would love to hear your ideas!

Emily Baker launched the website in 2010 with her husband, Christopher. The site offers a complete incubation and poultry supply business. Emily has personally assisted thousands of hobbyists and breeders in selecting appropriate incubation equipment and supplies, proper use of that equipment, and providing general incubation support. She has also had multiple articles published regarding incubator selection and technique. Read all of Emily'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.


For beginning homesteaders (or even those more established), raising meat rabbits it the perfect first step to take toward raising your own livestock. As natural herbivores, rabbits eat low on the food chain and pack on the pounds six times faster per pound of food than cows do. In fact, within a year, two does and one buck are capable of producing 200 pounds of meat!

And nothing goes to waste, because rabbit droppings are great for the garden and can be sown directly in. Raising rabbits is a positive step towards a more natural, sustainable lifestyle, and they are cheap and easy to take care of.

cage outdoors

Easy to raise just about anywhere, rabbits are a healthy, low-fat meat source that require minimal special equipment. And at 6 to 8 pounds at butchering weight, they are a great size for a single meal!

When my husband and I moved to our Appalachian homestead last year, we knew we wanted to have livestock. Chickens were the obvious choice, but we knew we wanted something else. We settled on getting our own meat rabbits because we wanted easy to care for livestock that would provide food for two people.

Though we've gotten quite a bit of backlash from people that are offended by the idea that we would be willing to eat these cute critters, we are confident that we've made the right choice for our situation.

Just a few weeks ago, our two females gave birth! We now have eleven baby bunnies and are right on our way to becoming environmentally conscious carnivores.

Best Ways to Raise Meat Rabbits


Get the Right Breed

There are dozens of rabbit breeds, but only a few are suitable for meat production. The most common meat breeds are the New Zealand White, the Californian, and the Flemish Cross. We chose to raise New Zealands primarily because they were readily available in our area, but also because they have a thin skin that makes them extremely easy to butcher.

Set Up a Proper Cage System

For our system, we wanted two does and a buck, meaning that we needed four cages (three for the adults and one for the weaned-babies.) All of our rabbits are outside, although it's perfectly fine to keep rabbits indoors so long as their space is well-ventilated and not too hot. Rabbits overheat quickly, and in the summertime, your bunnies may need plenty of shade and icy treats to stay cool.

Rabbits can live comfortably in a hutch, or wire cage. Just be sure that the bottom bars aren't spaced an uncomfortable distance apart.

Keep your rabbits happy (and your yard trimmed!) by building your rabbit a portable cage like this rabbit lawn mower that will allow them to graze on the grass.


Feed Them a Well Balanced Diet

Don't scrimp on food for your bunnies — you are what your bunny eats! Rabbits are herbivores and will appreciate some fresh produce along with the pellets in their diet. Root crops like radishes and carrots truly are their favorites, so be sure to keep some stocked up for special treats.

Breeding Rabbits

You can start breeding your rabbits when they are 6 months old. Bring the doe into the bucks cage and leave them together for at least an hour. No longer is necessary, lest the female gets provoked enough to try to castrate her mate!

Repeat this process two or three times to ensure your bunny is impregnated. Then, wait about 31 days for the bunnies to pop out! You will know the time is coming close when the doe starts to pull her from her neck to line the nesting box.

Keep a close eye on the new mom after birth because stressed rabbits are known to eat their young. The babies need to stay with mom for the first few weeks but can move to their own cage after that. Make sure to let your doe rest for at least a month after giving weaning her babies before trying to mate her again. You don't want to wear her out!

Safely and Humanely Prepare Your Rabbits

You can butcher your rabbits after they are close to 3e months old. Don't wait any longer unless you want to risk your babies producing some babies of their own!

Don't feed your bunnies for 24 hours before you butcher them to keep the process less messy. Be sure to prepare a work station with a butchering knife, refuse bucket, ice water and some Ziploc bags.

There is a variety of opinions on the best ways to kill your rabbits, but acceptable humane methods are to snap the neck, slit the throat or quickly bludgeon the head. Try to watch a few Youtube videos first so you have an idea of what to do the first time around.

After your rabbit is dead, you can suspend it from its hind legs and slit the skin on the back legs, cutting around the tail, until you can peel it off in one piece.

Next, gut the carcass by opening the body cavity in a single slit, being careful not to cut any organs in the process. Remove the entrails into your bucket and carefully wash the body with ice water. Now you can store it in the Ziploc bag and put it in the freezer until you are ready to eat it.

Whether you are a homesteader already or just trying to be a little more connected to the foods you eat, raising your own meat rabbits is a great step to take. My husband and I have truly enjoyed the process so far and think that you will, too!


Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer and Appalachian homesteader with her husband in West Virginia at the Big Laurel Learning Center. There, they are caretakers of a historic Appalachian homestead that resides on a 500-acre land trust. There they help to run a mountain-ridge retreat and ecology center. You can find her at her personal blog and Instagram. 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.


Just beyond the threshold of the summer solstice, the Appalachian Mountains burst forth with life, with abundant wild foods, sweet berries and meadow medicinals. The seedlings we planted in the spring are now giants in their garden beds, offering their fruits beneath broad and fanning leaves. This is truly the season of abundance and a potent time for wild-food foraging and food preservation. As we stand in the season of sun, however, we must also prepare ourselves for the seasons of cold to come.

Below is a guide and "to-do" list to help you make the most of this robust season. This field and homestead guide comes from the life experiences of Natalie Bogwalker, founder of Wild Abundance and the Firefly Gathering, with contributions by Chloe Lieberman and Zev Friedman.

Wild Food Foraging Beneath the Swimming Moon

• Harvest milkweed blossoms. These broccoli-like flowers can be sautéed, steamed, boiled or stirred into casseroles for a magnificent and nutritious meal.  Make sure to inhale their intoxicating aroma before harvesting.  Make sure to correctly identify edible varieties (there are poisonous look alikes, like dogbane), and cook them before eating, as milkweed is toxic unless fully cooked.

Milkweed Goddess

• Harvest Elderberry flowers and berries. Elderberry's lace-like fairy-kissed white flowers can be harvested and dried for tea (and used as a powerful remedy to reduce fevers). The fruit of the elderberry can be harvested when ripe (look for plump purple berries), and is a potent immune-boosting anti-viral fruit that is delicious in pies, jams, meads and medicinal syrups.

• Harvest Wineberries! These non-native and non-invasive berries are some of our favorites, and miraculously produce a healthy harvest even in the shade of the forest.

• Harvest black-cap raspberries.

Annual Garden Preparations for July

• Eat of the bounty!  Enjoy fresh tomatoes, summer squash, peppers, green beans, chard, kale!

Kale Abundance!

• Choose a few healthy summer squash plants that make particularly tasty squashes, and allow a few fruits to mature to produce seeds. These seeds will be saved for next year's garden, and for generations to come.

• Harvest and cure onions.

• Harvest garlic! (If you haven’t already.)

• Start seeds for fall crops, like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and winter spinach.

• Cultivate and weed, weed, weed!

In the Orchard

• Harvest saucing apples.

• Harvest more wineberries, raspberries, blueberries, and ever-bearing strawberries.

Food Preservation

• Two words: Pickle and Ferment! Green beans, carrots, beets, zucchinis, cucumbers, milkweed buds!! Make sauce with yellow mealy apples (aka, “sauce apples”) that start ripening at the end of month.

• Make jam, dry herbs and flowers for tea (mint, red clover, yarrow blossoms, elder blossoms and lavender).

Don't forget to swim, to nap in the shade of a oak tree, and eat fresh berries by the fistful!

Beauty Squash Blossom

Photography provided by Wild Abundance

For more information about Wild Abundance, or to check out upcoming weekend workshops including a Tiny House and Natural Building Intensive, Permaculture Design Certification, or Hide Tanning, go to

Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt is a writer, beekeeper, and student with Wild Abundance. To read all of her contributions to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, click 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.


A man and his bees

What is Bee Swarming?

Beekeepers today try to control their hives and not let them swarm. Some may ask, "What is swarming?"

Very simply: Swarming occurs when a new colony of bees have been formed. Most often the old queen will leave with her worker bees and search out a new "home." There is never room enough in any house for two queen bees! So, one has to go.

Observation Hive

If there has been enough food stores over winter and then early on in spring, a new brood will hatch and the old hive becomes too small for all the bees.

When the bees are almost ready to leave the old hive, they will send out "scouts" to look for a new home before they all leave out. These scouts will lead the new swarm to their new home.

This can be a sign to watch for if you want to "catch" your swarm. Another sign they are wanting to leave may be bees hanging out on the front of the hive (this also happens when the weather is very hot).

When Do Bees Swarm?

You can look for swarms in early spring. We have them usually beginning in early May (we have had them to swarm as early as the last of April). We are located in western North Carolina. You can look for them to swarm on hot and muggy days. Most of ours start swarming anywhere from 11:00am to 3:00pm.

The bees will fill up on honey for their travels and can survive for up to 3 days on these stores. This means the swarm if it is to survive needs to find a place on their own or needs to be "caught" by the beekeeper. The bees are usually calm and pretty harmless when they are filled up on honey stores

How to Catch a Bee Swarm

To "catch" a swarm may not be easy in the beginning to someone who has not tried it before or seen someone else catch one.

When you realize the bees are coming out to swarm and not just "working" hard, you can try to "settle" them. Now, I know there will be beekeepers that will read this and say, "No, that is just an old wives' tale."

Well, I say, this is something we have always done and it works for us! When the air becomes thick with bees, you can get a metal pan and spoon and start banging on it — this helps to "settle" the swarm into one place instead of them leaving. If they leave your sight, it will be harder to follow them and try to collect them when they do settle somewhere else.

You can also have another empty hive set up somewhere near the old hive and sometimes they will put themselves in the hive. You can rub peach or apple leaves inside the empty hive to entice the scouts.

When the bees have all settled into a ball now, is a time to collect them into a hive box. Hopefully the swarm will have settled low enough to get the box under it where you can brush them into the box. Sometimes, if they settle on a limb, you will have to cut that off and then shake that over the hive box (make sure the top is removed and you can take a few frames out as well when you are brushing or shaking the bees). You can replace the lid when the bees start going in.

You can tell if the queen has gone in, the other bees will start "bowing" to her as they're going in. If you did not get the queen to go in, the other bees will not stay long. We have had them settle on vines on the ground, on fence posts, in berry bushes and brambles!

Bee Swarm in Wild Azalea

My husband, Alan, and I come from beekeeping families. So, we tend to stick to the "old-fashioned" ways. We don't medicate or use chemicals on our farm. We use herbs that the bees can get to and "work" and medicate themselves.

We also don't use artificial foundation in the frames. We let the bees make their own comb. We don't use an extractor — we use a "straining" method and the honey is not heated. We leave a full super of honey on each hive for winter and we don't feed sugar water.

honey taken out of hive

Unheated honey

Swarming is a natural process and we try to make our "beekeeping" as natural as possible!

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.


Jethro harnessed to travel

We had thrown the idea around for years of raising pigs. We first talked about raising them for meat production but didn’t know if we would be able to complete the process start-to-finish. Alan didn’t like the idea of taking the animals to a slaughter house to kill and be packaged. He likes to do his own butchering — then he knows how the meat is handled and how sanitary the slaughter is.

We learned all the rules and regulations — in North Carolina, you have to take the animal to a certified slaughterhouse because it cannot be done on-farm — and decided this approach was not for us. But we still wanted to do something with pigs. We just loved everything about the Berkshire. They’re so cute! So we decided we would raise a breeding pair and produce heritage-breed piglets.

The planning is usually the easiest part. Actually putting it into motion is another thing. We finally found a pure-breed female that was produced from AI (artificial insemination), but the owner did not have the paperwork. We were just glad we found a pure female, because we had looked for a long time.

Sourcing a Pure-Bred Berkshire Male

We also wanted a pure, intact male, but these owners didn’t have any stock that were not related. We went ahead and bought a little male that was a brother to our female. He had been castrated, so we would be able to keep them together. Pigs do better with a companion, otherwise they get easily stressed. They do really well with other animals, including goats and chickens.

Berkshire pastured with goats

When our female was of breeding age — we like to wait at least until they’re over a year old — we started looking for a male to breed her to. We made all kinds of contacts from pig directories and classifieds. We could not find an intact, pure Berkshire male!

We kept looking, because we also know the older the pig gets, the harder on her to have her first litter. In the meantime, Mr. Wiggles, the male companion for our Miss Piggy, was getting too large and we needed to do something with him. Even though a male is castrated, some will still run after the female and aggravate her. So, we decided we would kill him and this would be our winters’ meat.

We finally found an intact male at a farm about 3 hours drive from our farm. He was just weaned, so this meant another wait until he was old enough to breed with our female. We brought him home and kept him separated from our female. We named him Jethro.

Since the pigs were in different pastures we decided we would train Jethro to harness and lead so we could lead him to “Miss Piggy's” pasture when he was old enough. This is another reason I say Berkshires are the best all-around pig. They are so easy to work with, train and they adapt quickly. Jethro just outgrew his harness too often and they don’t come cheap!

Jethro also loves to get out in the field and help move dirt and rocks, as seen in the photo below.

Berkshire Berkie Babies

Finally, Jethro was old enough (at least 8 months old) and big enough to breed Miss Piggy.

Breeding Berkshire Pigs

We had to wait until the female was in estrus (heat) before taking Jethro to her. You have to be careful about the timing, because the gilt female (meaning she has not been bred before) will not accept the male if she is not in full estrus, and she will not stay in estrus for very long. A gilt may stay in estrus 24-28 hours, and a sow (has had at least 1 litter) may stay in estrus up to 3 days.

So, Alan harnessed up Jethro and took him to see Miss Piggy. We left him in the pasture for awhile and she didn’t accept his attention, so we took him back to his pasture. We took him back to her the next day and she was bred. We left them together in the same pasture afterwards, so she would be less stressed having a companion.

When Miss Piggy became heavy with babies and didn’t like company anymore, we moved Jethro again. He didn’t mind — he likes traveling.

We were able to put that date down. Gestation time in the Berkshire can depend on whether she has had a litter before. You can start watching the female at 113 days. Our Miss Piggy went 115 days both times she delivered.

Now, if you want to be sure of the breeding date, you need to leave the boar with the female while being supervised so, you will know if she has been bred. If she doesn’t accept his attention take the boar back to his pasture until the next day.

miss piggy with goats

Berkie Babies

We try to place our piglets in good homes. That means we ask if they will be pastured. Even if we know they will be meat for someone's table we want to know that they will be well taken care of up to that time.

Note: Miss Piggy and Jethro are available as a breeding pair. If interested, contact us at The Mushroom Hut@Fox Farms 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. 

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