Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Get Rid Of Scaly Leg Mites on Chickens


Above: scaly leg mites can be more difficult to spot in feather-legged breeds like Brahmas.

Scaly leg mites are parasites that lodge and reproduce underneath the scales on chickens' legs. This results in a typical look of uneven, crusty, deformed scales, and can lead to impaired walking, infection, loss of toes and, in extreme cases, even death.

Some of our chickens are Brahmas or Brahma crosses, which means they have feathered legs, and so an infestation of scaly leg mites is less easily visible. When I noticed that our alpha rooster, a handsome and docile Black Brahma, is afflicted, his condition was already pretty advanced, and I knew I have to begin treatment immediately.
Most home treatment options for scaly leg mites suggest dipping the bird's legs in mineral oil or petroleum, and then slathering them in Vaseline. The goal of this is to smother the mites. The treatment is then repeated after an interval of a week or two, to take care of the nits that might have hatched in the meantime.
It struck me, while reading this, that this kind of treatment is similar to combating head lice (which, after all, are a lot like mites in many ways). I have gone through purgatory two years ago, when my daughters had a persistent infestation of lice, and I still had a bottle and a half of anti-lice spray sitting under my bathroom sink. The active ingredient of it is dimethicone. In a stroke of inspiration, I decided to try it on my Black Brahma, figuring that if it's safe to use on children's scalps, it should be alright for chicken feet.
Unlike dipping, which involves capturing the chicken (not very convenient with a large rooster - Brahmas are among the heavier breeds), spraying can be done quickly and efficiently once the flock has gone up to roost. I sprayed my Brahma at twilight, carefully covering every spot of his feet and legs.
A few days later, I was happy to see that the awful dead grey scales are beginning to fall off. I've noticed another chicken who is suffering from this condition, and I'm going to treat her in the same way. I'm really pleased to have discovered this simple, quick, no-mess way of treating scaly leg mites, and will keep it in my arsenal of chicken home remedies. 

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. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna'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.

Outside the Little Black Bag

Thinking outside of the "Medical" Box has been a challenge for me. I could not imagine natural foods and herbal concoctions of any kind could truly reduce your blood sugar levels, heal a cold or infection let alone make your body healthier. I, like most men, am a “by the book” type of person. I figure if you had the guts to put yourself through school, you must know more than I do about what goes on in the human body.  We make certain we provide our families with income and insurance and then go to the doctor when you get sick. At least, that’s the way I used to believe.  Working, coming home, eating a meal, talking with the family etc…had all become a way of the past for us at Stony Kreek Farm.

      When one nearly dies, a perspective on life changes as well.  In 2014, I nearly died of blood poisoning brought on by infection and allergy to black mold.

After emergency surgery, recovery began. So did the evolution of my beliefs on holistic medicines and natural treating methods. My wife Diana, is the one in our family who started treating me with alternatives to standard medicines.  She had been researching and dabbling in natural healing through essential oils, herbs and naturally grown non-GMO foods for about 8 years.  Needless to say, I was the last in the family to grasp the reality of natural medicines.

     However, one discovery we both made was apricots. They have many health benefits and can be used to reduce blood sugar counts for those with diabetes.  They are rich in laetrile, a reported agent for treating cancer. ( As early as the 1600’s, the apricot has been used to treat tumors and much earlier than that. Apricots are also useful with heart disease, arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), and hypertension.  Their healing properties are useful with stomach disorders, ulcers, gastritis,  and constipation. (

Apricots are excellent as an energy food and are rich in vitamins. Other vitamins common to this fruit are Vitamin A, Ribloflavin, Niacin,  and others. Some minerals included are Calcium, Iron,  Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus,  Potassium, Sodium, and Zinc.  They are useful in the treatment of the common cold. They are high in beta carotene, which some say the body transforms into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is good for the skin and the formation of mucous membranes in the body. Vitamin A strengthens the immune system.

Apricots are good in the treatment and prevention of Osteoperosis. It has been noted to be one of the highest fruits in calcium. An average apricot contains 73-100 miligrams of Calcium. It has also been proven useful in increasing brain function and keeping the neurons functioning more clearly.  It has been used in the treatment of asthma, and even infertility.(

Other vitamins in Apricots are B1 and B5. Apricots have proven useful in the treatment of Macular Degeneration, a disorder of the eye known to cause loss of vision to older adults. Eating apricots has been proven to strengthen the optic nerves in the eye. It also strengthens one’s peripheral vision. (

      We believe the best apricots are grown and processed at the peak of ripeness. Most stores obtain their produce green or it has been picked green and gassed prior to

distribution. Therefore, we believe the best way to purchase apricots is from the grower themselves. One of the best providers of these is BR Farms in Holland,

California. In business since 1929, They grow and sell to the public in different ways. (

    The Apricot makes excellent preservatives.  The Rossi family sells many different packages for the consumer.

  • Dried Apricot Chutney
  • Dried Apricot-Cinnamon Spread
  • Dried Apricot Red Pepper Topping
  • Dried Apricot Topping
  • Dried Apricot Chili Preserves
  • Dried Apricot Honey Spread

    BR Farms has all types of recipes and ideas for the cooking and gowing plus processing of apricots.

   Check out the Apricot. It is a great source of nutrition and vitamins.  Take it from a Shagadilly farmer!! “Try it you’ll like it!!



Learning While Living Off-Grid


When I was growing up, I did not go to school aside from a semester of 9th Grade at an alternative school. Because I spent so little time in formal learning, I have never lost the joy a child has about learning something new. I consider it a poor day when I haven’t learned something new. I think the difference between what I do (learn for long-term knowledge) and what standard school does (study to take a test, or to produce short-term knowledge) is important to notice.

Although I didn’t have nearly any formal schooling, I did take the SATs (Standard Achievement Test) and the CATs (California Achievement Test) at 5th, 7th, and 9th Grades to see if there was any gaps in my knowledge. At 5th and 7th grades, I was behind in some categories (mostly math). At 9th Grade, I started going to a private alternative school in order to get my high school diploma, but then took the CAT, which showed me at a 12.9 on everything except for a 12.7 on one category — 12.9 is the equivalent level knowledge of a high-school graduate and since I, at 9th grade, had the same knowledge level as high school students who took the test, I didn’t feel I needed to continue on my diploma journey.

I had taken a Spanish class, which did help when our whole family took a trip as part of the Peace & Dignity Journey (commemorating 500 years of survival of the indigenous peoples) to Mexico for 3 months. I do remember how, about once a year, I would go to the library and borrow a math textbook and for a few weeks go through it until I was sick of it. That was one of the few things I did, not because I was interested in it but because I felt, due to past test scores, that I was lacking in knowledge. I did grow to love geometry as I could use it for real-life situations.


Free-Range Children, Unschooling, and Homeschooling

I remember reading a book about an alternative, "free" school, Summerhill, a last resort for troubled youth in England that had no formalized set schooling program and the youth could take whichever classes they wanted or take no classes, as they so desired. The book followed an extreme case of a student who would get up every morning, grab some food, and go out on a boat fishing every day. He actually “graduated” with next to no formal schooling. We wouldn’t think of this as learning but he got very good at fishing and later used the focus, dedication, and perseverance that he learned fishing to get a college degree.

When I was growing up, not going to school just meant truancy, but now with the large pressure of the Christian homeschooling lobby, not going to school is becoming more common and accepted. In Tennessee back in the day, the only requirement that I know of was one of your teachers — usually your parent — had to have gone to college. I don’t think back then they even had to have graduated from college.

It wasn’t until I was in my early teens that I realized that my way of learning through doing was unique and so I started reading about free-range children, unschooling, and homeschooling through authors, such as John Holt, and the Alternative Schooling movement.

Cultural Learning and Self-Education

To be a good student, all that I needed was to be able to read well. I was actually a late bloomer and didn’t learn to read until I think was almost 6 years old. Part of that was my parents regularly read to us (later, the older ones read to the younger ones) and our family spent 7 months in Israel, where I had to learn to interact in a whole new culture and language. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.

The downside to learning later in life is I did not learn to read phonetically (sounding out words) but rather memorizing words, which can make it difficult if I come across a word I don’t how to pronounce. After doing a radio talk show now for 17-plus years, I have covered up this defect by either skipping the word or trying to read it wrongly or replacing it with a synonym.

Usually when I am reading out loud, I realize as soon as I have mispronounced the word and correct myself. The upside of this type of reading is I can speed read. When I read to myself, I don’t see letters but rather words, and so I can glance at a sentence (like you would at a word) and I have read the whole sentence. When it describes a scene, I can glance at the paragraph and usually the scene is visual in my mind.

My siblings and I learned by doing — by “interning” at the feet of our elders — by learning from the makers. I read and studied whatever I was interested in and decided when I was 15 that renewable energy is my calling.

 My sister loves horses, so she would read about them, educate herself to treat them medically, and write about them, which lead to a farrier degree, a vet tech degre,e and then an RN degree. All of my siblings have graduated college: my brother with his PhD, in spite of having no formal education — we all took a college entrance exam. Myself, I am double NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioner)-certified, which I am told by my friends who are engineers and NABCEP that the NABCEP test was as hard to take as their engineering test. My proudest moment was when, after I was an emergency adjunct professor teaching solar at a college for a semester, I was asked to apply to be a full-time teacher there.


I still read two or three books a week and watch no TV (as I consider it a time waster, although I watch one show a month on the internet). My love of reading has distilled in me high levels of knowledge on a myriad of subjects. I still love reading and learning.

Books are readily accessible, and kids will study and read about their interests. It is even easier now to read and learn with internet access.

Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!?Facebook page, and read all of Aur's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Choosing the Right Rooster

Red Dorking Rooster Medium

Raising heritage breed chickens becomes more fun if we don’t buy chicks annually but instead hatch their eggs to develop a distinct flock of our own. Our attempt to improve each generation is a challenge that includes some knowledge of genetics, the characteristics of the breed and the personality traits we value. I tend to focus on choosing the right rooster because one male can fertilize 10 to 15 hens; choosing the right rooster makes the biggest impact on the quality of the flock.

Ten years ago, I began with a handful of Colored Dorking chicks and now have a flock of 15 hens and their rooster, “Buddy.” I was pretty proud of my flock until this spring’s egg-incubation was a big failure. The problem lies with Buddy, so let me tell you where I went wrong so you can avoid the same pitfall.

Choosing the Right Rooster for What?

When discussing how to choose the right rooster, we first need to ask the question, choosing the right rooster for what? There are two factors that are most important to get the flock we want:

1: Phenotype refers to how the bird looks — as opposed to the genotype, or what other characteristics its genes carry. If we want to help preserve heritage breed poultry, such as the Dorking chickens or the Narragansett turkeys at our farm, we want to help preserve the characteristic appearance of each breed.

The American Poultry Association (APA) Standards of Perfection book is best place to find the specific phenotype for each breed. It can be purchased here, but is expensive. Our library carries it, so I just borrow it for an occasional perusal. The information for your particular breed can also be found online.

The APA Standards of Perfection describes the Dorking chicken as: “having a rectangular body carried horizontally which is rather long, deep and moderately wide…The cock weighs about 9 pounds.” The description continues by describing the ratio of head-to-body, the tail and the appearance of the comb. I choose a replacement cockerel when they’re about 18 weeks of age. Although I can’t see them as mature roosters at that time, I can at least choose the best looking (phenotype) of the lot.

IMG0442 Medium

2: Personality of the rooster is probably as much of a factor to us homesteaders and breeders as is the appearance of the rooster. Most personality traits are based on how much vigor a particular male has. “Vigor” can be defined as “physical strength and good health,” but most of us would instead define vigor as how we want the male to act. Therefore, when choosing the desired personality, our decision is based on the amount of vigor a rooster has.

Some of us give priority to a male that will protect our hens. This requires a male with dominance and courage. Let’s call that a “high-vigor” rooster. Most of us also want a “nice” rooster that won’t spur us or hurt children. Let’s call that personality a “low-vigor” rooster. And for those of us wanting offspring, we need a male that will get his hens fertile. Let’s call that a “medium-vigor” rooster. High, medium, low--no wonder it’s tough to choose which rooster is best!

I’m focusing on rooster vigor this year, because I believe this is where Buddy falls short. His great-granddad spurred me at every opportunity and I vowed to breed a nicer rooster. I intentionally bred lower-vigor roosters with each successive generation, until I got Buddy. He doesn’t spur people, but unfortunately, he seldom bothers to mount his hens.

Colored Dorking Rooster Medium

Other Traits of a Good Rooster

So, where do I go from here and what will I do differently? Buddy does rarely hop on a hen and did actually get three of 24 incubator eggs fertile this past spring. Unfortunately, they didn't produce a cockerel. Therefore, I will attempt to incubate eggs again this summer with hopes of getting one or two cockerels from which to choose Buddy’s successor.

I will then attempt to go back up the scale of vigor in choosing roosters. I’ve learned that a cockerel can be lower on the pecking-order with other young cockerels, but still develop into a rooster with high vigor. Therefore, I can give some priority to phenotype, and don’t necessarily have to choose the cockerel that appears most “aggressive.” But I will also give priority to vigor. This year has taught me that I want fertile eggs and not a pet rooster!

Finally, I’ll be watchful next year to see how “vigorous” the new rooster is acting. If I have any doubts about his ability to get the hens fertile, I’ll go ahead and hatch more eggs even while still evaluating his vigor. The survival of heritage breeds is dependent on us choosing the right rooster with the correct amount of vigor.

Mary Lou Shaw and her husband grow most of their own food on their homestead with a large garden, orchard, bees, and rare-breed animals. These animals include Dutch Belted cows, Dorking chickens and Narragansett turkeys. Learn how to grow your own food with Mary Lou’s book, Growing Local Food, through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482. Read all of Mary Lou’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.

The Therapy of the Clothesline


It's a bright Monday afternoon, and I am standing outside with a basket full of washclothes and towels ready to be dried. As I begin to hang everything up, a big smile spreads across my face, and you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at me that this past week was one of the most stressful times I have ever faced. At this one particular moment, all of the problems seem to simply fade away, and good memories flood my mind and bring me therapy while I hang my laundry on the clothesline.

As I have mentioned in past articles, I grew up in a large city, and even with all the modern comforts I found myself constantly worried or sad at every turn. The most relaxing place in the whole world in my mind, however, was being by my Grandmother's side on her farm. My place of peace didn't have city water, central heat/air, or even a grocery store for at least thirty miles. On this farm, I drank water from a well, enjoyed a box fan pulling air through a screen door, and bringing in logs with every trip for the wood stove in Winter. I loved being there and harvesting veggies from the garden,  drinking goat's milk, and most of all helping my Grandma hang clothes on the line.

Today, when I find myself in a troublesome moment of worry or depression, I pray for God to bring a sunny day so I can take my basket outside and feel as close as I possibly can to the woman that inspired my whole way of living today. As I hang the laundry, I think of the massive remains of an Oak tree that part of her line connected to. When I return later in the day to collect it all and go back inside, I remember the delicate race my cousin and I would have to gather the laundry and return it to our Grandma.

My Grandmother has been gone for five years now, and it was one of the most painful moments of my life. I miss her every moment, but I am so grateful for the lessons she taught me along the way. One of the things that she taught through a wordless example was just what I wanted to share- simplicity can be therapeutic. All I can do is paint a picture of these days for you, to show that life is about the simple moments with the ones you love. You don't have to be rich or have everything going great for you in order to be able to smile and just enjoy life! It's all about having the right attitude, and keeping your head up while you focus on the good times and remember the folks who influenced you in a positive way.

The world is becoming more and more confusing, and it's hard to go a day without a bit of bad news or stress. When those moments come my way, I find great therapy outdoors at that clothesline. Maybe you prefer the dryer, but it's all about finding a moment that brings you peace. When you find something good that brings a smile to your face and makes you happy, hold tight to that.

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. This year, they have raised a large crop of heirloom Hastings' Prolific corn that they are selling seed from, along with making their own cornmeal. They have just finished building a small cabin from lumber they have milled themselves. Along with breeding Khaki Campbell ducks, they are going to be trapping for furs this Winter. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Pork Jerky from Happy Pigs

In a recent Mother Earth News magazine I was pleasantly surprised to see a blurb article about Roam Sticks – pork jerky products from John and Holly Arbuckle's of LaPlata, MO.  We became friends with John and Holly during our time at the Possibility Alliance which is just a couple miles down the road from their Singing Prairie Farm.  Back then, they were both working hard to grow their businesses – Holly as an acupuncturist and John as a farmer.

When we first started raising pigs on our urban homestead in Reno, John was an important mentor who happily answered all my newbie questions about raising, shooting, and butchering hogs. John’s knowledge and self-deprecating humor were super helpful as we navigated hog heaven on our homestead.   


I called John after reading the article to catch up and hear more about Roam Sticks: They’d come a long way with them since their crowdfunding campaign of a few years back.  And, like with any small farmer following a dream, I wanted to learn how it all came together and where they were heading with them.  What he shared was inspiring and fascinating and seemed like good fodder for a blog post.

However, before I get to the Roam Sticks, I want to share a few stories about John (after all, this is my blog post).

One of my fondest memories of John is from a Halloween evening we shared with our children.  All of the parents had been dreading the toxic candy our kids would soon be collecting but there was no way we weren’t going to trick or treat.  With our youngins all dressed up and raring to go, John showed up with a bag of grapes, apples, pencils and the like. As our group toddled towards each house John would dash ahead and give the goodies to the homeowner before our kids reached the door.  The wee ones were none the wiser and thrilled with what they were given.   

John also used to be a river guide.  One picture I saw had him in the back a raft loaded with people decked out in helmets and life jackets.  The water was huge and through the spray in the picture I could tell that the rafters were intensely focused on getting through alive – paddles pulling, faces intent, bodies straining to keep the boat on line.  And there’s John in the back with the rudder, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, emanating calmness.   

Lastly, years back, well before we knew him, John traveled across the Mexican desert on a donkey he called Milagro (“miracle”).  His trip began by crossing through the Rio Grande onto Mexican soil at what wound up being a military base.  Weeks of travel followed that included finding crystal caverns and nearly dying of thirst (Holly shared that most of John’s tales involve him running out of food and water).    

So aside from just wanting to give some color to readers about John the farmer (and here’s where I tie it all back together), his attention to what’s important and his willingness to put himself out there shows through with his Roam Sticks. 

Pork 2.0 

The vast majority of pork raised in the US is controlled by large corporations and is of low quality.  Pigs raised indoors on crummy food is bad for the pigs, bad for the land, and bad for the consumer.  Roam sticks are a way, John says, for the small pork farmer to be profitable while raising hogs in a way that is humane, regenerative to the land, and results in healthy, nutrient-dense meat.  According to John, over 80% of farmers selling pork at farmer’s markets are breaking even or loosing money.  Obviously, that is unsustainable.   

John raises his hogs on a mix of pasture, vegetables like pumpkins, kale, turnips, pea-vines (both planted specifically for the pigs and locally-sourced) and varying amounts of grain. The pigs are also “mob grazed" meaning they are rotated through pasture in tight groups mimicking how prey would normally eat if predators were on the loose. Rotational grazing has been promoted by Allan Savory for decades and has been shown to improve pasture, sequester carbon, decrease feed costs, and result in well-rounded diets, happy animals and superior meat.  Commonly done with cows, Joel Salatin has called his rotated, pasture-raised meat, “Salad Bar Beef”.  John’s adopted that, with Joel’s blessings, for his operation with “Salad Bar Pork”.   

Roam Sticks have been so successful that John cannot meet demand from his hogs alone.  As a result he now works with small-scale farmers throughout his region who raise hogs to his high standards.  With regular and frequent lab-testing of this pork he is confident it is the most nutritious pork in the country.  In addition to the success of Roam Sticks (they now “pay all the bills on the farm”) John and Holly are aiming to influence the national discussion around how pigs are raised while offering more small-scale farmers an opportunity to flourish.     

John the happy pig farmer

When we talked on the phone John was on his way to a Paleo food conference in Texas.  That demographic is going hog-wild (yuk-yuk) over the sticks.  He says their customers tend to be active types who munch them for a protein hit on hikes, while skiing, or working out.  Also, kids love them as healthy and tasty snacks.   They sell for $2 a stick (1 oz size) and can be found online at and

Oh, and they are delicious!  John was kind enough to send us some samples which were quickly devoured by our growing boys.  So here’s to John and Holly for developing a multifaceted, visionary, and creative solution for small-scale pig farmers!

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen runs the Be the Change Project with his wife in Reno, Nevada. They are dedicated to creating a just and life-sustaining world while having fun doing it. They were one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Homesteads of the Year in 2013. Shoot him an email.

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.

Breeding with Broodies


Hatching chicks by letting broody hens do the job is easy, satisfying and rewarding, if a little unpredictable – you don’t really have a way of knowing when a hen will go broody, and there is only so much you can do to encourage it. Here is what we do in our coop.

Provide enough nesting boxes – hens tend to sit where they are used to laying, and when one goes broody, you don’t want other competing with her for space. I know some people remove the broody and her eggs and place her in a different location (such as a secure enclosed section of the coop), but from our experience, this might make the broody abandon the eggs, so we just let our hens sit in the nesting box. Since we have plenty of boxes, this usually isn’t a problem.

We used to let hens accumulate a clutch of eggs in the hopes they would begin sitting, but it only resulted in a lot of mess and many spoiled or broken eggs. Now we collect every egg as soon as it is laid and, to encourage broodiness, provide a clutch of plastic dummy eggs (can be bought cheaply at a toy store or on e-bay). Note: we’ve had some hens begin sitting even without a clutch. Once the broody instinct kicks in, they’ll just do their thing.

Keep your fresh eggs in a cool, dry place (not in the fridge!), turning once a day, so you’ll always have some to give a broody when you have one. We don’t recommend using eggs that are over a week old.

Once a hen displays characteristic signs of broodiness (sitting over a chosen spot with puffed-up feathers, overnight as well as during the day, clucking in a characteristic manner and pecking anyone who gets too near), choose some of your freshest eggs to give her, or get some from another breeder. Your broody won’t know or care whether she’s sitting on her own eggs, eggs from another hen, or even duck or turkey eggs.

The number of eggs a hen can comfortably cover will depend on her size. On average, we give 6-7 eggs to a small to medium sized hen, and 8-10 to larger hens. I know many people let their hens sit on much larger clutches, but we have found this may result in uneven coverage and low hatching rates, as well as some chicks getting squashed during or shortly after hatching. We personally prefer to have fewer chicks with a higher survival rate.

Number your chosen eggs with a permanent marker, such as used on CDs. Don’t worry; this doesn’t damage the eggs in any way. This is important to keep track on the eggs – if any new ones happen to be added to the clutch (such as, if the broody steps down to eat and drink and another hen lays an egg in the same spot at the time), you’ll know to tell them apart easily.

Carefully slip the eggs under the broody, preferably after dark when she’s sleepy and less alert to any disturbances. You might wish to wear protective gloves if the hen pecks. Make sure she is settled and covers the eggs well. Mark the date on the calendar to avoid confusion; chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. Don’t trust your memory because things happen and you might forget and plan a weekend trip just when the chicks are due to hatch.

Step back and let the broody hen do the job. Don’t worry if she doesn’t step down to eat and drink very often, but do allow her access to food and fresh water at all times.

The Chicks are Developing

Sixdays after the hen begins sitting, it is possible to see a developing chick’s heartbeat by illuminating the egg with a flashlight in the dark. This is called candling. It’s possible to do this easily by going into the coop at night, gently taking the eggs from under the broody one by one, and observing them against a flashlight. Discard any eggs that hadn’t developed.

Near day 21 (the day when the chicks are supposed to hatch), keep a close eye on your broody and soon-to-hatch eggs. It is possible to briefly peek under the broody to see if the hatching process has started. Do it really quickly to avoid loss of heat and moisture. If the eggs have begun hatching, carefully remove the hen to a safe location where she can remain with her chicks for the next few days (at this point, the hen is highly unlikely to abandon her eggs, even when moved). We use a large cardboard newspaper-lined box inside the house for that purpose. Don’t forget to provide food and water in a shallow tray. You don’t need to provide heating or teach the chicks to eat or drink – the mother hen will take care of that.

If the majority of the eggs have hatched and one or two show no signs of progress, candle them. If you see no sign of life, remove them to encourage the hen to get up and dedicate herself to caring for her new chicks.

Once the chicks are a couple of days old, we introduce them to the flock – under their mother’s protection and our supervision, of course. If we see no one is picking on them and all is fine, we let the mother hen and her brood out in the yard during the day. If other chickens display aggressive behavior, we lock them up and make sure they stay away from the chicks.

This post was an excerpt from my book, Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living.

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. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna'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.