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


Clearing Land with Pig-Headed Determination

Jordan takes time to give Raspberry a scratch.

The move to a piece of rough and rugged bush land to develop a homestead for myself and my son was a big undertaking.  (Read my first installment for how we came about finding our land.) I had no money to speak of, and no experience to depend on, but I fully believed that this was the right thing to do. I asked God how I should live and was given the word “simply”. That is how this journey began.

When we look at how long humans have been on this planet and compare it to how long electricity and gas engines have been around, we are forced to recognize that the majority of humans have gotten along just fine without them.

I have now been living without electricity for 20 years, and the most popular response is, “I don’t think I could do it.” But I’m hardly a pioneer. When I need something, I jump in my vehicle and drive to the hardware store — and in a moment of weakness, I might grab a coffee and a cheeseburger along the way. I am a far cry from living off the land, but that is my destination. I want to not only learn how to survive, but how to live well. I am getting there by taking one small step at a time.

Clearing the Land with Pigs

The first step was clearing the land. This was accomplished by a combination of me with a set of brush-cutters, men with chainsaws, and pigs. Pigs are natural roto-tillers. Unlike cows or goats that compress the land under their feet, pigs will dig up and loosen the top foot of soil and remove tough roots.

I remember our first pig, whom my four-year-old son Jordan, named Raspberry. I put Raspberry in her new pen and brought her a big pan of clean water. She walked a couple of feet away, picked up a piece of dirty old root, dropped it in the pan, and looked up at me as if to say, “I am a pig. Thanks for the clean water, but I enjoy mine with a bit of mud.”

To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with pigs. At feeding time, they make a heck of a lot of noise. Pigs also require solid fencing. Failure to do so will end in mayhem. Pigs are smart and useful, but they are always busy looking for more food and, if possible, adventure. They are perfect for digging up tough root systems and undesirable plants. They will also tear apart your lovely flower gardens or turn over the neighbour’s front yard, if given the opportunity.

Fencing Challenges with Pigs

I have used a variety of types of fencing to contain my pigs: log fencing, page-wire fencing, and solar-electric lines. Their long, fat, sausage-shaped bodies limit their agility, so they don’t tend to climb fences but they will certainly attempt to borough underneath.

I learned the hard way (as usual) that electric fencing cannot be used along a stone ridge. The pigs must be grounded in order to experience the electric shock that keeps them within the boundaries. If they are standing on rock, the fence line is nothing more than a bit of string. Once they know they can run through it, it will be a challenge keeping them in.

Our pigs cleared tough land enabling us to establish gardens.

Transporting Pigs to Slaughter

The many pigs we have had over the years resulted in some great stories, many hours of fun for Jordan (who attempted to ride a few of them), nice, loose, rich soil, and pork chops for friends with freezers. Some of my pigs have been harvested on my property and some have been driven to slaughter houses.

I once drove three pigs that were 150 to 225 pounds each to my buddy’s butcher shop in the back of my small pick-up truck. I didn’t have a ramp, so I walked them down the road where a small hill had been cut into. I counted on them being hungry to make this plan work. I forgot about the neighbour’s dog, chained to a tree, along the way. After eating his dog food, they happily followed me with their food bowl into the back of the truck.

I had put together a simple barricade with 2-by-2s to keep them in.  The simple frame-work was just a visual boundary line. I wasn’t attempting to keep them in with solid construction; I was depending on prayer and trust. It would be fun. Why on earth would they want to jump out?

They had plenty of food and straw in the truck bed, and I continually shouted encouraging words through the open window. They seemed to enjoy the 45-minute ride. The scene in my rear-view mirror changed every 15 minutes.  First it was three happy faces, then the broad-side of a fat pink body, then three wagging, curly tails.

As I pulled into the yard, my buddy came out, shaking his head in disbelief. He recounted a story of a customer attempting to deliver pigs under the canopy of a fibreglass truck box cover. Upset pigs are a nightmare.They bolted right through the fibreglass, and he was left trying to round up his injured and extremely distraught animals. Served him right. He had forgotten about the love part of the equation.

My pigs had considered their country drive as an exciting outing; they never felt threatened. The butcher shop building I parked beside was clean and empty, so taking them off the truck was without incident.

Raise Meat Animals with Love and Gratitude

On other occasions, when my pigs were processed on my property properly, they never felt fear. They even lined up for the baited food trough. If you are going to raise or hunt animals for food, do it with love and gratitude, and get the ugly part over with quickly; for you and for them. My pigs had a great life. The pigs that provide the pork in the grocery stores have a completely different story to tell.

Living off the land isn’t all roses and whippoorwills. If you raise animals for meat, you can at least make sure they have a great life while it lasts. I raise my animals in surroundings they enjoy and thank them for their lives upon the ending of it. The result from raising my own meat is that I eat much less meat. I know what’s involved — this is a good thing.

Life here in the back woods is an ongoing educational experience. I am always looking for ways to do things better. I look back to our forerunners, the natives and the pioneers. I am grateful to be able to combine their knowledge and skills with our many tools and conveniences. I thank my lucky stars for the era I am living in. For me, learning to live simply is a choice. Thank God, I have that choice.

Jo deVries (Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is? and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Jo of the Woods and read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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When Homesteading Hurts

Taking a break
The prime summer heat was blazing outside and the garden was calling to me. Elderberry branches bent under the weight of heavy ripe berries that the birds were eyeing. Bush beans were growing larger and larger, soon to be too big to enjoy.  The table downstairs was full of garlic that had completed its drying process and was ready to trim and store for the winter.

My husband had taken the kids for a hike, so I had some alone time that I could have spent doing any one of these chores. Instead, I lay down on my bed with a book and felt my tired body sink into the mattress like it had been waiting all week to do so. Truth is, it had been waiting all week for this moment.

You see, I have a chronic disease, maybe a combination of diseases. It is not life-threatening, but will impact the rest of my life. Test results have varied, pain has come and gone, but there is always something making me tired and sore somewhere in my body. There are days when every muscle in my body aches, like I ran a marathon the day before and somehow forgot about it. There are days when migraines hit for no apparent reason, or when I am inexplicably tired.

I don’t think I’m the only homesteader driven to this lifestyle by a need to manage a chronic disease, and I know of many other homesteaders who struggle (I’m thinking of you all today). Many of us, I think, have chosen this lifestyle not despite our ailments, but because of them.

Part of the reason I choose to homestead is because I know that I need and crave movement most of the time. I fully believe that spending time doing a variety of tasks on my homestead that have me standing, bending, pulling, pushing, and lifting is a much better option than sitting at a desk all day.

Homesteading gets me outside into the fresh clean air and offers access to healthier food that we grow ourselves. It offers the chance to experiment with natural solutions to my ailments like honey, elderberry tonic, and homemade salves.

But I also know that there are going to be days when my body can’t deliver on the promises I have made on its behalf. There are going to be days when I can’t pick the elderberries, can’t carry the big harvest basket full of veggies to the house, can’t drum up the energy to make a batch of salve. Those days, I need to listen to my body and find the time to rest.

These are the days that make me realize that homesteading will probably always be a part-time gig for me. I won’t be able to make a living as a farmer or to spend all day doing manual labor to supply all of the resources that our family needs. That’s why I also appreciate my educational credentials and professional experience. These things allow me to choose what I can do on my homestead and what I can earn money to cover by working outside the homestead. The balance is not always easy to achieve, but its an equilibrium with which I am constantly exploring.

I’ve heard people say that you can’t call yourself a homesteader if you’re not completely self-sufficient, if you’re not living off-grid, or if you aren’t raising animals. But I think that homesteading is a lifestyle that comes in a million varieties. On my blog, Homestead How-To, I collaborate with other homesteaders whose talents and skills complement mine. Together, we fill in the blanks, but none of us have to do it all.

Even if I go to an office a few days a week so that I can buy my meat and eggs from someone else or pay for heat to supplement the wood stove, I still have the spirit of a homesteader. As Rockefeller so aptly put it, I live by the mantra: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

I may not always have my health, so I do what I can with what I have at the present moment, and it gives me the joy and satisfaction that so many seek from a self-reliant life. Isn’t that all one can really ask for?

Carrie Williams Howe is a blogger aThe Happy Hive Homestead.  She is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston,Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about learning collaboratively. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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3 Supplemental Income Streams for a Homestead

Remember when your friends all thought your garden and backyard chickens were just your elaborate hobby? As the landscape continues to shift in the wake of the current pandemic more and more, I find this homestead is not and has never been a “just a hobby”. This homestead has been my classroom, my laboratory, and my research site, where I learned how to do what is now absolutely necessary for the food security and financial stability of my family.

With the stay-at-home orders in my area, I have had to press pause on my learning lab to keep my students and my farm safe. But with pausing comes a loss of income for my family. “Homestead Engineer” remains an a job description that is considered essential where I live (especially being a farm equipment machinist), but my income has gone from a few hundred dollars a week to — zero! Yet, over the years I have read, toiled, and researched the “how to” for days such as this when I would need to find a way to use my skills to provide for my family in innovative ways.

Supplemental Income Streams for the Homestead

Selling home-canned goods. As an avid home canner, I reached out to the local cooperative extension and Health Department to learn the guidelines for selling home-canned goods. Under cottage law in Maryland, I am able to sell jams, preserves, breads, and cakes at my family’s existing farm store by following through with some simple guidelines and USDA standards of best practice without any additional licensing. Given the recent explosion of the Buy Local movement as more people try to avoid the commercial grocer, I am processing and selling at least a case of homemade preserves each week!

Understanding cottage food laws. With what I’ve learned in these years about thrifty shopping and food preservation, I am able to turn a profit with just three jars from each case covering my cost and the other nine jars being pure profit. A great place to learn more about cottage law and how you can get started can be found at the National Agricultural Law Center.

Selling useful plants. Last fall, I decided to try my hand at making some elderberry cuttings off of my favorite bush. They overwintered beautifully in my small greenhouse and, not needing all 20 of the cuttings, I reached out to a neighboring farm I saw putting in a berry patch and offered them up for sale. The money I made selling those bushes started on a whim in recycled coffee cups provided the quick cash I needed to buy a feeder hog off my sister that we will be able to raise and harvest this fall to fill our freezer.

Bartering. Let us not forget that although the exchange of cash has its place in certain transactions, in this lifestyle, cash is not always king. Last week, I exchanged hauling a load of compost for a family member in exchange for a week’s worth of fresh bread. We loaned the farm truck out for a few hours to someone to haul a mower and it arrived home with a FULL tank; of gas a feat that farm truck rarely obtains!

It would be easy to lament about the state of the world, but as my sisters and I have mused in these past few weeks, this is our Super Bowl. Friends, let this be your Peyton Manning moment and use your homesteading skills to score (my husband is going to be so proud of this football reference from his non-sporty wife!). This is the time we have been given to shine in our abilities to be charismatic and self-reliant and to provide for our communities. We will rise to the occasion and flex our muscles of creativity, connectivity, and engagement with our neighbors.

Amy Vaughan-Roland is a Maryland homesteader who sells farmstead cheese and butter at Daily Crisis Farm. She is an educator with The Annetta G. Wright Learning Lab, a learning space for diverse learners promoting courses in the lost arts and hands-on learning. She is an avid canner, gardener, thrifting expert, and monarch butterfly enthusiast. Connect with Amy on The Annetta G. Wright Learning Lab on Facebook and on Instagram @agwlearninglab, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Purchasing Land for Self-Sufficiency? Here are a Few Considerations

Backyard Garden Central Florida 

If you're considering purchasing land which supports a self-sufficient lifestyle, there are many details which can make the process seem very overwhelming. But slowing down and doing the necessary homework up-front can land you closer to homestead happiness a lot sooner. Obviously, location should be considered when purchasing a homestead property, but here's a few points which may not be so obvious.

 

Zoning. For better self-sustainability, search for land that is zoned agricultural, rather than residential. Agricultural property permits you to grow plants & maintain livestock. Check local zoning regulations for additional restrictions which may affect your self-sustainable goals and plans.

 

Planning. Check the county’s and municipalities’ proposed plans for not only your property’s immediate area but for a radius around it. Think about how the Master Plan or other long-range planning document may affect your property and your own long-term vision for it.

 

Building codes. Before building structures, check the local building and planning commission requirements to determine which permits are needed. If you build without a required permit, your  future homestead may include fines or be forced to tear down unpermitted structures. Some structures do not require a permit. Know which ones are required. If you build anything, make sure to follow your local building codes. Building codes protect you and those around you, now and in the future.

 

Utilities. Check zoning. Utility restrictions may apply. Some areas restrict owner supplied utilities.

 

Easements. Often a 25-foot access clearance (easement) is needed along property sides to allow emergency vehicle access in emergencies. Check zoning for any easements required.

 

Access to property. Make sure there's year-round road access. Some properties are accessible in good to fair weather, but inaccessible in poor or snowy conditions.

Survey. Get a survey to determine true property lines. Without this vital information, you'll start and end with planning or layout inaccuracies. You may even cheat yourself out of valuable land space. You won't know where setback clearances start (how far to "set back" the house from the road) for placing structures. Some zoning requires leaving a 100-foot "structure-free" set-back clearance across the front of property.

Soil testing. Soil tests determine acid or alkaline levels of soil and whether soil amendments are needed for plants.

 

Wind effects. Windy conditions of certain areas can contribute to soil erosion. When top layers of soil are dry and loose, soil erosion can occur by the strong winds removing the top layers, adversely affecting plants. Water, trees, and structures can help address this problem by keeping the soil moist, weighted and protected, leaving plants intact. Container gardens, raised beds, potted plants and trees may be an alternative in poor soil conditions. Know the prevailing wind directions over the property for best placement of wind turbines or structures for cross ventilation.

 

Crops and animals. Determine primary, secondary and tertiary goals for self-sustainability. Consider the maintenance needs of each. Rotational crops will need more water, compost, tilling, harvesting and planting than single crops. For animals, will you keep pets or livestock or both? Check your areas local zoning for possible restrictions.


 

Yellow Chicken In Wood Shed

Feed and supplies for animals. Know the feed, water, supplement and supply needs of each animal and their monthly cost. Establish multiple sources of reliable feed suppliers and write down the distance in time to each source. Determine if you can supply some or all of the feed yourself with the property and how important that prospect will be for your operation.

Shelter for animals. Safe, protective "predator-proof" shelter is the goal. Many animals can be easily preyed upon without adequate fortification. This also include adequate space for animals. Is there enough land space for animals to roam and graze? Experts recommend a minimum 1 acre per cow. Chicken and rabbits require less space, leaving more usable land. Also, consider fishing in nearby waters on and off property or a fish farm on premises.

Trees come with pros and cons. They can provide benefits to a self-sustainable homestead. Shaded areas help with energy efficiency in warmer areas. But too many trees require more maintenance, can pose as storm and fire hazards, create obstructions, and potentially pest increase insect and vermin populations. If your sights are set on woodlot management, forestry experts recommend a healthy mix of old and young trees.

Land features. Learn the topography; the grades, pitches and angles of the land. Know the high- and low-lying areas of the property and whether each is sunny or shaded. High areas can be drier and provide drainage. Low areas retain soil moisture and may collect natural water runoff. All of which may be beneficial or detrimental to certain plants. Know the areas that best support each crop. Note each area's approximate square footage for potential crop yield. Planning and working with the land's topography may also save on fill dirt for leveling, drainage, etc.

Additional Notes for Would-Be Landowners


Note any adverse land feature's effect on livestock with respect to terrain, vegetation and obstructions to space needed. Work with the land and its features, so that you don't spend a fortune & a lifetime working against it.

Note average weather conditions for the area. Average rainfall, temperatures & any drought conditions for the location, is vital in planning for crop success. Note any forecasts or seasonal weather extremes that may adversely affect crops. Plan accordingly.

Observe natural lighting in both day and night conditions. The information provides valuable insight for placing & orienting structures, solar panels, landscaping and other features on the property. For general landscaping, try using existing plants, where possible. Observe what's growing best in shaded, partial or full sun locations. Low- maintenance or drought tolerant plants can help reduce cost, labor, and reduce plant & animal ecosystem disruption.

Lastly, do not rush! Resist the urge to come in and start clearing everything away. Take time to learn how you interact with the property and its many features, some of which may not be obvious in your first year. The time investment up-front, prevents costly mistakes, making for a happier, self-sustained homestead well into the future.

Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she's growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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I Used to Be a Beekeeper

For I knew she was telling the bees of one / Gone on the journey we all must go!

From the poem Telling the Bees by John Greenleaf Whittier

I used to be a beekeeper.

I still look at my world through a beekeeper's eyes. It's late winter and the elm and maple tree buds are plump with the pollen that used to feed newly hatching larvae. Dead nettle and other cool-weather wildflowers that once lured out the first foragers of the year are beginning to bloom. Now their efforts, as mine, have grown useless in the lifecycle of the honeybee.

I had just hit my stride as a beekeeper when the end started. After years of learning and building up my apiaries, I had almost more hives than I could handle. The spring air hummed with the sound of bees coming and going from their hives. It took me all summer and fall to market all of the extra honey the bees produced. The rest of the year was filled with repairing woodenware, cleaning out old frames, and driving to, mowing around, and caring for hives in the apiaries maintained away from my farm.

In the early years, it seems all I did was look for mites. I did sugar rolls to count Varroa mites. I dissected bee trachea and counted tracheal mites under my microscope. I spent years, choosing mite-resistant queens to make new hives from and built my bee yards slowly and without chemicals. I was rewarded with healthy hives that produced strong nucleus hives that were in demand by other beekeepers trying to build mite-resistant stock.

The bees were strong and were good foragers, needing no help from me. Without being fed sugar syrup, they foraged on the abundance of wildflowers and produced pure honey that reminded my customers of "what honey used to taste like."

And then after years of very few hive losses, I began to lose 30 to 50 percent of my hives each year. Even with making new hives from the survivors, this level of loss becomes unsustainable in a few years. What happened?

The "experts" spout whatever opinion they get paid to spout, but I know what changed for me: Big Ag. Before the losses started, all of the land around my farm was in pasture and none in row crops. Within one year's time, three farms around me sold, and the new owners all rented out part of their land to row cropping and exposure to all the chemicals that come with it: pre-emergent spraying, chemical burn downs and desiccants, pesticides, and even the crops themselves that have to be regulated as pesticides and antibiotics because of the way they are genetically engineered.

So springtime is a little quieter without the honeybees, and I turn my attention to what I can control — planting and caring for an organic garden, watching this year's goat kids play king on the mountain as their mothers clean up my fence rows, and learning to appreciate the insects that still live around me and their importance to our welfare.

Part of me still listens for the bees, hopes to see them again. Part of me hopes that humans will do what they have never done before: stop themselves before they do the irreparable damage, stop making poison and calling it food, stop destroying all that is here to nourish us.

When I think of the honeybees, I recall how they are one of the very few creatures that I know of that feeds itself without harming anyone or anything. On the contrary, in the act of harvesting pollen and nectar for their food, the bees cause the plants to fruit and to produce even more! I am thankful that I got to know something of these amazing creatures before they were gone.

Betty Taylor is a gardener and former beekeeper who keeps chickens, guinea fowl, and myotonic “fainting” goats on her 12-acre Tennessee farm. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Considerations for Electric Goat Fencing, Part 2

 

In Part 1, we learned that there are two things a goat rental professional must have, to contain the goats on a work site: fencing and a working energizer. Depending upon the size of your goat rental business, you may need more than four fences. The Barnyard Weed Warriors haul 75 goats that will eat about 1/2 acre a day. Generally, you want the animals in the smallest area, to get the best clearing. Still, moving fences daily can be tiring, especially if it is rough terrain or thick brush.

How much fencing do you need?  

 Premier1Supplies.com has an excellent catalog with a diagram that shows you how to figure the number of fences you will need. But you still need to make a decision on how much you should have on hand. One square acre is 208.71 feet per side. The different lengths of fencing available varies from 80 up to 164 feet in length. So, for one square acre, you will need about five 164-foot-long fences. (208.71 X 4=834.84 feet,  Divide 834.84 by 164'= 5.09 fences).  

 

Solar electric fence charger

I usually put up 5 to 6 fences and let my 75 goats work on the area for two days. While they are getting near the end of the foliage to eat, I start setting up another section of fencing, if we have more than an acre to manage. Since I have 15 fences (I do up to 5 to 10 acres at some sites), I simply put up another section of fence and then when the goats are done, I open up a corner and let them into the new area, close the fence and take up 3/4 of the first set of fencing, basically leap-frogging the fences as we move along.

Fence clips on pigtails.

Fencing along creeks can be a challenge. If there is a wide and deep enough stream of water and no trees lying across the creek, I fence directly to the water, using the water as one side of the fencing. I don't have any goats that are into swimming, so I don't worry as long as the water is deep and wide. I did make a mistake one time and didn't get clear to the water and one of my problem goats found it and led the rest down along the edge of the river. 

Fencing in areas where there are people can be a liability. You really need to have warning signs up along the fence and if there is a way to keep the area taped off, I recommend setting up warning tape at least five feet outside of the fence. Believe it or not, there is always that one person who has to challenge the fence and will grab it, just to see if it is hot. With the warning signs up, you shouldn't have to warn them yourself.  

The fencing is for controlling both the goats, people, predators and people with yappy dogs that 'won't hurt a fly'. If you have guardian dogs or herding dogs, make sure you put warnings up along the fence stating the working dogs are on duty and to keep other dogs and pets away. That fence is protection, make it a boundary that no one can cross.

The only time the fence is not hot is when I am doing an educational talk, so people can line up along the fence, to hear me. They will always touch the fence, so I make sure that it is off only during those times.

Mary Powell is a goat rental business owner and agricultural educator with 30 years’ experience working on ranches, farms and feedyards. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Kansas State University with an emphasis in Livestock Production Management. Follow Mary and her many misadventures with the goats on Facebook at Barnyard Weed Warriors and Ash Grove Goat Ranch or on her BarnyardWeedWarriors.com website.  If you have questions for her about her goats or Border Collies, email Mary at barnyardweedwarriors@yahoo.com. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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5 Rare Chicken Breeds You Need in Your Backyard

Chicken 

Brahma chicken. Photo by Achim Bongard

Keeping chickens can be a fun and rewarding experience. An important part of beginning your chicken-keeping hobby is choosing which breed of bird to house in your backyard coop.

Important factors to consider when choosing a chicken breed include the bird’s size, temperament, noise level, and egg-laying capabilities. While you may be inclined to begin your chicken-keeping hobby with a more common bird, such as an Australorp or Rhode Island Red, there are many more rare and unique breeds that make equally wonderful or even better birds for your backyard chicken coop.

Here are five of the most uncommon and distinctive chicken breeds you need in your backyard.

#1: The Brahma Chicken

The Brahma chicken (photo above) is a rare breed that originated in China and is named after the Brahmaputra River that flows through China, Bangladesh, and India.

These birds are often referred to as the “gentle giants of the poultry world,” according to Chickens and More because of their large size and friendly disposition. Aside from their size, this breed is best recognized by its feathered legs and toes, and can come in a variety of colorations such as light, dark, or buff.

Part of what makes the Brahma chicken unique is its friendly temperament. These chickens are easy to handle and extremely gentle, making them a great backyard breed for families with young children—although their size may intimidate children at first. The Brahma chicken typically lays three to four eggs a week and oftentimes lays eggs throughout the winter, while most chickens do not do.

#2: The Dominique Chicken

The Dominique chicken is a bird with a long and rich history. This breed originated in the South of England, specifically the county of Sussex, and arrived in America along with the pilgrims in the 18th century. Until recently, this breed of chicken was in danger of going extinct, but breeders have managed to bring the Dominique chicken back from the brink; however, this breed is still quite rare today.

This bird is medium in size and is best known for the unique black and white barring pattern of its feathers. The Dominique chicken can tolerate a variety of climates, deals well with confinement, and is known for being extremely friendly. This particular breed is also quite tolerant of being held and cuddled.

This chicken lays around three eggs per week and is a great breed of chicken for the backyard because it is very quiet.

#3: The Faverolles Chicken

The Faverolles chicken is a rare breed that originated in France during the 19th century. It is named after the French town of Faverolles located near Paris. Interestingly, the exact origins of this breed of chicken are highly speculated, as it was developed from crossing a variety of different breeds of chickens.

These birds are medium in size, have fluffy feathers including a beard, muff, and feathered legs, and have five toes instead of the standard four. They can come in two color varieties—white and brown, or the more uncommon salmon and brown.

Faverolles chickens are very curious, friendly, and enjoy being held. They also are known for being talkative but are quiet enough that they will not disturb neighbors if they are kept in the backyard. This breed is accustomed to a variety of temperatures and climates and is used to confinement, laying around four eggs per week and oftentimes laying eggs throughout the winter as well.

#4: The Silkie Chicken

The Silkie chicken is a unique breed that originated in Asia. While it’s exact country of origin is contested, Oklahoma State University notes that the famous Italian explorer Marco Polo had cited encountering a furry chicken while he was in China during the 13th century.

The Silkie chicken is medium in size and is best recognized by its unusual fur-like feathers, which can come in several different color varieties, as well as its black skin and organs—the result of a melanotic gene called Fibromelanosis. Additionally, this breed has five toes instead of the typical four.

These birds are especially friendly and cuddly, serving as a popular bird for families. They do well with confinement, but do not fare well with cold climates. In fact, many Silkie chicken owners will bring their birds indoors during the winter, as they make wonderful indoor pets as well as outdoor ones.

Although the Silkie chicken can lay up to three eggs a week, they are more so used for decorative purposes or as pets.

#5: The Barnevelders Chicken

The Barnevelders chicken originated in Holland between the 12th and the 13th centuries, making it one of the most ancient chicken breeds. These birds are quite rare and therefore not as widely available as more common breeds, meaning locating a breeder may require a bit more effort.

The Barnevelders chicken is medium in size and comes in two color varieties—dark brown or black. Females, however, have feathers that are light brown and often exhibit a red laced pattern on their feathers.

This bird is extremely mellow, has a friendly disposition, and is quite talkative; however, like the Faverolles breed, they are quiet enough that they will not bother neighbors. Barnevelders chickens tolerate confinement well but enjoy free ranging when possible and will lay around four brown eggs per week.

Summary

Hens

Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels 

Keeping a rare breed of chicken in your backyard can enrich your chicken-keeping experience. While at first it may seem more appealing to purchase a more common breed of chicken for your backyard coop, these rare breeds undoubtedly have richer and more unique histories, more eye-catching appearances, and distinctive personalities and temperaments.

If you choose to purchase a rare breed of chicken such as those listed above, you may have to dedicate more time to locating a breeder and you may even need to make special arrangements for your backyard coop in order to accommodate for these birds’ needs.

However, despite requiring perhaps a bit more effort, these rare and remarkable chickens will transform your standard and typical backyard coop into a personal collection of both history and eye-candy.

David Woods is a carpenter, outdoorsman, and author with more than 30 years of professional woodworking experience. He is the author of best-seller How to Build a Log Home and has educated more than half a million people on how to build a log cabin via his blog, Log Cabin Hub. Connect with him on Facebook.


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