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

Pygmy Goats: A Perfect Goat Breed for Small Farms


A great general-purpose goat for small farms, a pygmy goat is a small, friendly breed that can be a great pet — and only a few of them are needed for a constant supply of fresh milk to the table. Despite their small size, pygmies can give 1 or 2 quarts of milk per day. Their milk is of exceptional quality and value. Being not bigger than a small dog, these goats require minimum shelter and care.

Their small size and good nature make them attractive dairy goats; and they require less space and feed than ordinary goats, and are suitable for smaller farms in urban and suburban settings. They are also often kept as pets just for the pleasure of companionship. They are good foragers which makes their milk very nutritious and tasty. Their milk has a very high butterfat content, which makes them preferred for the production of soaps, creams and other high-fat goat milk products.

Pygmy goats are quite tame and very friendly so they can be let out of their pen for eating: grass, shrubs, weeds, herbs, and leaves. They are an easy goat to raise and have a tame and pleasant character. Pygmy goats are active and entertaining and if they are constructed some obstacles in their pen, they could provide hours of entertainment.

History and Origin of Pygmy Goats

The pygmy goats are an American breed of achondroplastic goats. It is small, compact and stockily built. Like the Nigerian dwarf, it comes from the West African dwarf group of West Africa. Around 1930 to 1960, this type of animals was imported into the United States for zoos and researches; some were later kept as companion animals and established as a breed in 1975. It can also be known as a pygmy or an African pygmy. This is a completely different and separate breed from the British Pygmy breed.


If you're looking for pets for your garden or want more animals for your farm, pygmy goats are a good idea. Of course, they need special care, but once you know what they need, it's not difficult to look after them. If you provide a suitable shelter, they can actually live in most climatic conditions.

How many pygmy goats to keep. Like all goats, pygmies are herd animals and will not be happy if kept alone. If you keep a pygmy goat as a pet, they will be very bored. So, I very recommend to buy at least two goats. Keeping them with other goats or even with dogs will help to satisfy social needs.

Determine how big the shelter you need. To do this, you need to consider the weather in your area. If you live in an area with a moderate climate, your goats will not need as permanent shelter as in other areas. If you live in an area with severe winters, you need a proper barn to protect your animals, but it doesn't have to be very large. You just have to protect your animals from the elements.

The size of your plot depends on how many goats you have. First of all, you must provide 15 to 20 square feet for each goat and preferably more if you have the opportunity because pygmy goats love running and jumping. However, the best fence for pygmies is a wire fence. To keep your pygmy goats from jumping over, the fence needs to be at least 5 feet high since pygmy goats can't jump higher than that. Remember that fences not only keep goats, but also prevent harmful predators, and pygmies are especially prone to predation, depending on the local wildlife.

Provide them with climbing areas. Pygmy goats are active and entertaining and if they are constructed with some obstacles in their pen, they could provide hours of entertainment. Any picnic table is suitable for this, for example. You can also just make mounds out of soil. Goats have fun with that too. They also like to jump on and off such spots. Old tires are also great toys for your goats.


Pygmies are agile and prepared jumpers, and they need enough space for wandering and exercise to avoid unnecessary wear on fencing. However, their small size limits how high they can jump and reduces the chance of damage to your fences. Pygmy goats will bend, stand, and rub, on the fence, especially if there seems to be attractive food on the other side, so the braided wire should be strong enough to withstand. So, it is desirable that the posts should be no more than 8 feet apart. To secure your dwarf goats, this is a wire fence with 2-by-4-inch holes that should be small for the goats to lay their heads.

As all goat owners know, goats are professors at escaping. Goats can, get through holes, open latches, climb, jump, or crawl under fences. And pygmy goats are not the exception, moreover they are even more active and sometimes require higher fences.

Goat fences should be at least 4 feet for most goats and 5 feet for pygmy goats. A wire run as tightly as possible on the top of the fence between the posts at eye level can prevent jumping and climbing. Some prefer to have it barbed or electrified but ordinary wire also works great. Goats are more likely to crawl than climb or jump a fence so the bottom wire should be kept close to the ground. Despite the difficulty in fencing goats there are many fence options to choose.

Woven wire fences are an effective and commonly used fencing option. But it is important to pay attention to the openings. Horned goats can easily get caught in woven wire fences with 6 by 6-inch openings. A good idea is to put an electrified wire about a foot from the ground and 9 inches from the fence but it will only reduce the number of goats caught in the fence. Woven wire fences with 6-by-9-inch and 6-by-12-inch spaces are cheaper and the goats can free themselves if caught.

A safer but more expensive option that many recommend is woven wire with 4-by-4-inch openings this is also a better option if there are predators in the area. A general tip is to have the wire face the interior of the pen or the goats so that if they will push or rub against the wire the force would be directed to the posts rather than the staples.

Electric fencing is cheaper and also effective but only if the goats are trained to respect the fence. This could be done by enclosing them in small paddock with an electric fence so that they would try to test it but won't have the space to charge it at full speed. Electric fences for goats should have a high electric charge, 4,500 to 9,000 volts.

It is not recommended in using electric plastic net fencing as goats can get entangled in the fencing. Barbed wire, rail, and panel, fences are also good options. But generally, with any types of fencing for goats remember the saying "what doesn't hold water won't hold a goat".

Food and Water

Everyone has probably heard that goats can eat everything. But unfortunately, this is not so. Though they can eat almost everything, but it’s harmful for them, and it spoils the quality of their milk. A variety of human foods are good to feed your Pygmy goats. More than that, fruits and vegetables should be added to their diet.

Allow your goats to graze. Grass, shrubs, herbs, leaves, and weeds such as dandelions and clovers, are the natural food of the goat and will be welcomed as a great treat. Giving them freedom of pasture also gives them the exercises necessary to maintain health and prevent health problems. In summer, goats can feed themselves by grazing in pastures, but of course if you have enough land. If you have a herd of pygmy goats, you will need multiple pastures to accommodate your goats' needs. In addition, the place where your goats graze should be changed so that the grass and plants can grow back.

Try alfalfa hay. If you don't have enough space for your pygmy goats, you can feed them alfalfa hay when they can't graze. Alfalfa is the best that can and should be offered for free feeding. Buy very high-quality hay for the healthiest goats and the highest quality milk. High calcium alfalfa hay, which is important when goats produce milk. Every goat needs 0.5 to 1 kilo of hay a day. But if they get additional grain, they need less.

Supplement their food with cereals. Goats need more feed in winter. In addition, goats that give a lot of milk and young goats need cereal additives even in summer. Suitable grains are corn, barley, and oats.

Provide them with plenty of water. Like all animals, goats need water to survive. But water is especially important for goats because they are ruminants and need more water than other animals to process their feed. Make sure they always have access to fresh, cool, clean water. Especially in hot summers. Remember to clean the water tank regularly and change the water often.

Maintaining the Goats' Health

Brush your goats. I recommend brushing your pygmy goats once every several days. I use a simple brush for that, carefully clean the obvious dirt on your goats. Then use the soft brush to brush your goat's fur. Note: watch for bumps on your goat as this could indicate an infection, cut, or scratch.

Bathe your goats. Generally, bathe your goats is not necessary, it is mostly done if one of your goats have parasites. Most of the time, brushing is enough for your goats. To bathe your goat, you need to warm the water slightly so that it is not so cold. Soap the goat with an animal or goat shampoo. Use a wash mitt for this. Then, rinse the soap off. It will be easier if your goat is wearing a collar as it will make it easier for you to hold onto it.

Give them vitamin A. Pygmy goats need vitamin A to keep them healthy. Most of the time, they get this vitamin from green hay or from grazing. If you don't give them any of this, you should give them corn.

Give them vitamin D. Like we humans, vitamin D helps goats absorb calcium, which is important for bone health. If your goats are outside most of the time, they will take in vitamin D from the sun. However, if they don't spend a lot of time in the sun, you will need to give them sun-dried hay.

Give minerals to goats that graze in pastures. If your goats are only grazing in pastures (and not getting any alfalfa or grain), you should give them a mixture of iodized salt, limestone (grated), and animal bones (steamed and grated). You can provide this mixture in a bucket and the goats will eat it when they want.

Inject selenium. Selenium is an essential nutrient, but it is especially important if your area has white muscle disease as selenium protects against it. When kids are born, you should inject this nutrient with a needle. The disease causes the bones to calcify, making them whitish. Hence the name of the disease.

Give vaccinations annually. Your goat must at least be vaccinated against enterotoxemia and tetanus. You can usually buy the vaccines from a feed store and give them yourself. You should also talk to your veterinarian about getting a rabies vaccine. You should also consider vaccinating against Clostridium DC.

Have them checked out every year. To keep your goats healthy, you should have them checked once a year. This is how you know that your goat has the necessary vaccinations and is healthy.

Take care of your goats' hooves. Your goats' hooves will grow over time and if you don't trim them, the goats will not be able to walk properly. Use gloves, hoof shears, and a hoof knife to trim them. Tie up or have the goat restrained. You need to have someone hold the goat while you trim the hooves. Notice the growth rings. You should be able to see where the hooves grew. Trim the hooves until they are level with the last growth ring.

By following and remembering this short guide which mentioned various important goat care topics and explain its good qualities and characteristics, you can easily be able to care for your pygmy goats, choose the perfect shelter, build a safe and secure fence, feed and water properly, take care of your goats' health and finally have fun with your goats.

Michael Feldmann is a farmer and writer in Oklahoma, who studies agriculture and has worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers around the country. His writing has been published in Acres USA, Rural Heritage, Farming magazine, Farmers Weekly, Permaculture magazine, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and as a column in Poultry World. Read all of Michael’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.

Considerations for Setting Up A Goat-Rental Business

   goats laying around     

The goat rental business is one of the most flexible businesses in agriculture one can find as it can be set up in different ways as far as the type of animals the business utilizes. For many businesses, they use their breeding does, others will purchase animals each spring, feed them all summer, then sell them at the end of the season, so there isn’t as large of a feed bill over the winter. Some businesses lease goats from other producers to fill their need per job and some businesses may join two separate herds to fill a job site. Then there are businesses that just rent the goats and let the renter manage the animals.

There are advantages and disadvantages for these options and each operation is different, so it is up to the individual business to make those decisions and since the industry is still growing, other ideas may come up with the creativity of a new business owner. Let’s take a look at some of the options.

Doe-Only Herds

Advantages: You own the goats, know their animals and their personalities, making it easy to spot any physical or herd issues.

Disadvantages: You need to kid out in January, February and March to be able to wean kids off before the season starts or you will have to consider hauling kids with their mothers.  Some businesses do haul kids and does but special care when loading onto trailers and ensuring the kids are all accounted for and they need to be trained to the electric netting. And kidding on job site has its own issues; keeping track of newborns and their mothers can be a nightmare.

Purchasing Goats Annually

Advantages: Purchasing the goats prior to the season, you can select animals that are on the thin side and fatten them up so you will have not only an income from the weed and brush control but also from selling a fattened animal. Also, you don’t have that expensive winter or off season feed bill.  If you are wanting to build a herd of does, this is a way to purchase animals, watch them grow and develop before you decide which animals you want to keep or sell. The animals earn their keep by working for you. In addition, if you purchase all wethers, you don’t have to worry about heat cycles disturbing the herd when they should be grazing.

Disadvantages: You need to find quality animals to purchase and you won’t find that at a sale barn. You will need to find herds that are liquidating wethers, young does that are culled from the herd or older animals that have aged out of a breeding program. You also need to train the animals to the electric netting and loading and unloading from your transport. You may need to retain some animals over the winter as ‘trainer goats.’ Other considerations are the worm load these animals may or may not have. They will all need to be pre-conditioned prior to the grazing season. Some animals may die in accidents or illness, which cuts into the re-sale profits.

Leasing Goats

Advantages: Like purchasing goats every year, leasing goats can be a way to keep initial costs down, by leasing a herd from a producer means you don’t have to feed animals over the winter.

Disadvantages: This is a legal agreement, and you are responsible for animals lost or injured. The goat owner can become difficult to deal with or may require certain guarantees or a fee for leasing the animals. You may have to deal with mismanagement issues of the owner, such as heavy worm loads, lack of veterinarian care or you may have to vaccinate the animals.

Joining Two Herds

Advantages: When you need extra animals for larger jobs, you have a partner who can share some of their animals. You work with someone you know and can rely on.

Disadvantage: Biosecurity measures will have to be taken to ensure cross contamination does not occur. You may have to keep animals in separated paddocks on the same job site if you don’t have easy identification tags or collars.

There is a lot of flexibility setting up a goat rental business.  You can try the various ways to manage your goats and find the one that works for you.  For the past five seasons, I have used a herd of goats that was co-owned with my landlord.  After changing some management strategies, the 2021 grazing season, I will purchase part of my work crew and lease the rest of the crew from a friend for a small fee.  This may add to my expenses, but it will give me the freedom to work with my friend who has some great breeding plan ideas as well a more modern-day approach to managing goats.

If you have questions about setting up a goat rental business, please do not hesitate to email me. I would be more than happy to advise you and share my experiences. Here is my email address.

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 website.  If you have questions for her about her goats or Border Collies, email Mary at 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.

The Khaki Campbell Breed: An Ideal Duck for Small Farms

Several Khaki Campbell Breed Ducks With Child Pool

The Khaki Campbell is a great general-purpose duck for small farms as only a few of them are needed for a constant supply of eggs and meat to the table. They are excellent layers, providing an average of 300 eggs a year, more than the average chicken, and having reliably great-tasting meat.

This breed is known for being a good forager, which makes its eggs very nutritious and tasty. Despite their wild ancestry, Khaki Campbells are quite tame and can be let out of their pen to forage on slugs, worms, ticks, and snails in the garden or pond. Khaki Campbells are an attractive breed, resembling one of its close ancestors the wild mallard. They are an easy duck to raise and have a tame and pleasant character. And, unlike chickens that lay eggs at any time of the day or night, ducks lay eggs at the morning time (my experience is usually around 9:00 in the morning). The reliability makes collecting eggs easier.

Like all ducks, Khaki Campbells love and need to have access to water, so it is best to build a small pond. A little plastic baby pool or a used bathtub also works well to make a swimming place for them. They are energetic ducks and need plenty of space to move around and to forage.

History of the Khaki Campbell

The Khaki Campbell was bred in England in the 1800s by Mrs. Adele Campbell, who wanted an attractive duck breed to supply both eggs and meat for her small farm. They were bred by crossing an Indian Runner that was an exceptional layer with a Rouen of good size. The resulting duck was then bred with a wild Mallard to develop hardiness and a good foraging and brooding instinct for her breed.

The resulting breed was presented to the public in 1898 and proved to be an excellent duck for both eggs and meat. And probably the best duck for small farms.

Khaki Campbell Duckling Fuzzy

Caring for Ducklings

When you first bring your new Khaki Campbell ducklings from the store, your house is full of happiness. The Khaki Campbell duckling is a small, good-natured animal; a gentle and responsive pet. Be prepared to purchase a few; Khaki Campbell ducklings need the company of their own kind and should not be kept alone.

Find a suitable incubator. After you get acquainted with your new ducklings, you should find a suitable incubator for them. Plastic containers, cardboard boxes or a large glass aquarium are suitable for this purpose. The box should have good insulation as the ducklings need to be kept warm. Don't choose a box with too many holes in the sides or bottom. Line the bottom of your incubator with wood shavings or clean towels. Avoid newspapers or slippery materials. The chicks are still very unsteady on their feet in the first few weeks and can easily slip and injure themselves quickly on surfaces such as plastic or even newspaper.

Heat source. Ducklings need to be kept very warm for the first few weeks of life. So, you need to buy an incubator lamp from a pet store and clip it over your incubator. Use a 100-watt lightbulb to start with. For very young ducklings, this should generate the right amount of heat. Make sure that part of the incubator is further away from the heat so the ducklings can retreat and cool off. Make sure the light bulb isn't too close to your ducklings. Otherwise, you could suffer from the high temperatures or even burn yourself if you touch the light bulb. If your incubator is very shallow, you should use a piece of wood or other sturdy support to hang the lamp a little higher.

Water. Make sure you have plenty of water. Place a drinking bowl in your incubator. Choose a very shallow bowl in which your ducklings can hold their beaks but not their entire head. Ducks prefer to be able to keep their nostrils free while drinking. If you give them access to deep water, they could climb in and drown. Change the water every day so your ducklings don't get sick from contaminated water.

Feed. Feed your ducklings with duck starter. The ducklings will not eat anything for the first 24 hours after hatching as they are still absorbing nutrients from the egg yolk. Then they eat duck starter, a food made up of tiny grains specially designed for rearing chicks; you can buy it at the pet store. Buy a plastic food bowl, fill it, and place it in your incubator. If the ducklings eat very slowly, add some water to the food to make it easier for them to swallow. You can add a small amount of sugar to their water for the first few days to get them off to a good start with lots of energy.

It is also recommended to feed weak ducklings with egg yolks. Very weak ducklings may need a few extra egg yolk nutrients before they are ready for a duck starter feeding. Feed them the egg yolks made from mashed duck eggs until they're more interested in grain foods.

Diagram Of A Small Duck Coop

Housing Khaki Campbell Ducks 

The space required per duck in the barn is between half a square meter and one square meter. A duck coop must be light and dry. In addition, the coop should be protected from drafts and at a comfortable temperature.

To prevent predators such as racoons from breaking in, you have to make the ducks' coop safe. The best way to defend ducks from predators is to lock the duck coop at night. An eye hook is a good choice for it. You can also build a wire fence around the duck coop. And it's also a good idea to build a duck coop off the ground on stilts. This both will greatly prevent predators from entering.

The duck coop must include the following:

Size. The duck coop should be 4 square feet of floorspace per duck. Since ducks usually sleep on piles of bedding on the floor, they need enough space to be able to get comfortable. The coop should also be at least 3 feet tall, with vents along the top near the roof to allow for good air flow.

Flooring. A piece of inexpensive vinyl covering above the floor will make cleaning easier and also prevent water from spilling onto the floor. So, you can leave water in the coop overnight.

Entrance and exit. The opening door of your duck coop should be enough for two ducks to enter and exit at the same time. Because ducks often like to be pushed and shoved, and can get stuck if the door is too small.

Sleeping area. Ducks, unlike chickens, do not need roosting to sleep and rarely use nesting boxes, they preferring instead to nest in the corner on the floor. So, you need to put bedding on the floor of the duck coop. Pine shavings work fine for bedding, but I very recommend using straw instead. Straw has excellent insulation properties during the cold winters, warming ducks; it also holds its shape better so they don't go to sleep on cold floor. The straw also does not get wet like wood shavings when wet, and does not contain mold like hay.

Food and water area. The ducks must be provided with food and water at all times. It is best to offer the ducks fresh food and water every day in a certain area of the duck coop. You should always clean the containers daily to keep pathogens away.

Duck Egg From Khaki Campbell Breed

Water and Feed for Ducks on a Small Farm

Ducklings can be fed regular chick feed. (Make sure this is not a drug, because the ducklings eat more than the chickens and there is a risk that they may overuse the drug.) However, ducklings have higher niacin needs than chickens, so add some brewer's yeast to the feed. to help them digest food. building strong bones.

Raw oats can also be slowly added to their feed for added protein and nutrients until a 25% oats to 75% feed ratio is achieved. You should also use grit in the form of commercial chick grit or coarse dirt to help the ducklings digest their food.

Treats. Healthy treats like dandelion greens, chopped grass and weeds, worms, Swiss chard, cabbage, kale, peas, and moistened oatmeal are all favorite for ducks. Ducks don't like to eat wilted or trampled greens, so I treat them directly to their bowl of water, where they happily scoop them up with their bills.

When they eat, the ducklings grab a pile of food, then dip it in water to moisten and swallow. Their food will get wet and should be replaced away daily. Wet and moist food can contain mold and bacteria, especially in a warm brooder environment.

I use and very recommend using simple chicken feeder that can be bought at pet store or tractor supply. Chicken feeders ensure less spillage, regulate feeding and they restrict food fights. Now, if you have a bully in your duck coop then we suggest you get more than one chicken feeder so that everyone gets their share. It's also a good idea to place their food under a heating lamp, where the heat will dry them out a bit.

A very small duckling will drink about half a gallon of water a week. By seven weeks, ducklings are drinking half a gallon of water a day, so make sure their water is always full. Handle your ducks as often as often as possible. Bring them treats and soon they will literally be eating out of your hands! 

Water is Essential for Our Ducks

Ducks and water are inseparable friends. One of the most important things you can do to keep your ducks healthy is to provide them with an unlimited supply of clean fresh water. They need water to digest their food, to dip their head in water to clear their nostrils and keep their eyes clean, and they need to be able to preen in the water.

Each duck will drink about 4 cups of water every day. So, if you have a just four ducks, that's one gallon of water to drink every day.

If you have space to give them for swimming, they will absolutely very love it. You don’t have to dig a huge pond; a little plastic baby pool or a used bathtub also works great to make a swimming place for your ducks. They will dirty this water, and they will do it faster than you think! When holding the ducks, they cannot be prevented from getting into a pool of water and swimming. They toss sand and dirt into the water and drop food into it while eating. The small pool works great because it is easy to drain and quickly filled with a hose.

About once a week, I prefer to clean the pool with a dishwashing brush and a little vinegar to keep algae out.

Health Issues

Ducks generally are susceptible to fewer diseases than any other poultry. And this is a great advantage when raising Khaki Campbell ducks, although the health of ducks largely depends on the proper care and management system. If you manage a healthy rearing method and provide them nutritious food and fresh water, they don't get sick at all.

Keeping these various points in mind, you can easily be able to care for your small ducklings, build a safe and secure duck coop, feed and water properly, and finally have fun with your ducks.

Michael Feldmann is a farmer and writer in Oklahoma, who studies agriculture and has worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers around the country. His writing has been published in Acres USA, Rural Heritage, Farming magazine, Farmers Weekly, Permaculture magazine, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and as a column in Poultry World. Read all of Michael’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.

Find Hygge on the Homestead

Country Fireplace With Homestead Magazines

Do you hygge on your homestead? See how embracing just a few aspects of this simple way of life can bring more contentment to your days.

Homesteading is a way of life and, as such, it elicits its own set of pressures, stresses, and well, work! It’s easy to forget that it’s a labor of love and that you’ve chosen this lifestyle for a reason — and some very rewarding reasons at that. Those reasons, those choices, that led to what is often a sense of overwhelming un-accomplishment are exactly what can bring you back to a less-stressed, more contented homestead existence. All you need is a little hygge on your homestead.

Hygge: It’s a noun. It’s a verb. It’s an adjective! It’s a…

…it’s a thing that is felt; a way of life; a way to describe that feeling or way of life; an active way of living. (Not really unlike another “H” word we know and love, eh, Homesteaders?)

Hygge is considered a concept that hails from the happiest places in the world, namely Denmark and the Scandinavian countries. (Forbes, 2020) defines hygge (pronounced hoo-ga or hew-gah, depending who you ask) as: (noun) “the feeling of coziness and contentment evoked by simple comforts, as being wrapped in a blanket, having good conversations, enjoying food, etc.”

It also defines it as an adjective, as something “cozy and comforting.” It is also defined and described in many other similar, but different, ways. Google it. You’ll see.

Vintage Butter Churn With Yellow Butter

Finding Your Brand of Homestead Hygge

Hygge defies definition because it is a concept, a lifestyle, a way of being. The beauty of hygge is that there are no hard and fast rules; and if there were to be one rule, it would be that no one can tell you what your hygge should be.

When we talk of hygge, we can suggest a mindfulness of living, a mindset mingled with activities or pastimes that might get you there. But no one person can tell another exactly what to do in order to “achieve” hygge. You just can’t “do” hygge wrong.

Examples of Hygge on the Homestead

Who has time for hygge? The simple answer: We all do. Because hygge-ing doesn’t have to mean that you drop everything to sit there with your lighted candle, concentrating on how great your hygge is, or that you accomplish nothing while you hygge (though certainly it could, if you want it to). There are many ways and opportunities to hygge on the homestead, if you just put your mind to it. Here are a few examples (some of them are even quite productive):

  • Add music or an audiobook to any task or chore.
  • Enjoy a quiet evening of bean snapping or vegetable prep for preserving on the porch. Maybe with your audiobook.
  • Take note of a good job done; large or small ,they’re all progress and if we take just a few moments to smile and breathe at the end of our accomplishments, they have a way of feeling more like accomplishments than tedious tasks.
  • Invite in the pretty parts and pieces. What does that mean? It means treat yourself to a handmade dishtowel, or a quality wooden set of salad tongs that feel great in the hand and dress up your table setting.
  • Crochet a set of new holiday ornaments, or everyday pretty little wash cloths.
  • Use your scents: Add your favorite scented candles, potpourri, or flowers to your home office, kitchen workspace, or farm table.
  • Read that overdue stack of trade magazines, “how-to” books, or your favorite back-to-basics blog (ahem) by the fire…inside or out.
  • Find moments (take moments) to enjoy the simple gratitude of appreciating your gifts and abundance.
  • Share your meals and abundance with friends and family in low-stress, informal get togethers.
  • Be mindful in the moments. Even the moments spent weeding, raking, or hoeing have hygge in them, if you make a point to find it. Smell the air. Feel the sun. Drink in the quiet or sounds of nature (because if there is one place you’re almost guaranteed to be left to your own, it’s in the weeds!).
  • Take comfort in your foods. Hygge is very inclusive of good, wholesome, soul-filling foods. We probably all know what it means when a fellow homesteader or gardener talks about how fulfilling it is to see a spread of homegrown foods and favorite dishes spread before them. In fact, that level of understanding and appreciation is one probably limited to those of us who grow and produce our own. That feeling? It’s hygge.
  • Be purely impractical. Play with your (still living) food. Pet the beef. Plant the cut flower row in the middle of the harvest garden, and harvest at will to bring hygge into your home. Plan and be practical but plan to be less-than-practical, too — to get just that much more enjoyment from your efforts.

Finding hygge on the homestead is a way of controlling stress and getting a little more out of life — that homesteading life that you love, but that (let’s admit it) can sometimes feel like one big ball of overwhelm.

You don’t have to change your life drastically to accomplish hygge or to rekindle the enjoyment in the life that you love(d). You just have to look for the little ways to bring yourself back into your present and to work spoiling yourself just a little bit, back into the equation.

Hand Picked Dahlia Flowers

Mary Ellen Ward is a how-to author, New England homesteader, and family dairy farmer. Connect with her at The Homemade Homestead, Elderberry Tea Co. on her author website, her Amazon author page, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Read all of Mary Ellen’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.

Snow Removal Tips for Off-Grid Living

Plowing Away

Some people living off-grid never see any snow. Others, like us, get a fair amount. We live about 3 miles from the nearest paved road and that means we have to take care of our own snow removal, not only on our immediate property but also the 3 miles to pavement. From that point on the local county or state handles the snow removal quite well.

We did a lot of research on a lot of new things before we went off grid. We mostly got it right but we did have a few regrets. One of those is not keeping a clear distance all the way around the house for snow removal equipment. I have solar panels, cisterns, and satellite dishes on one end of the house that are too close to the house to get my tractor and plow in for snow removal so it all has to be done by hand. I have a metal roof on my house so usually on the first sunny day after a snowfall we are going to have the snow come off the roof and pile up just below the eave.

I could leave it there but if you do, it will melt in the sun and then freeze at night and eventually become solid ice. At that point it is a lot of hard work to get it out. I believe it is best to keep the immediate area around the house clear of snow.  I have gutters on my roof, footing drains below grade, and the ground is all sloped away from the house but even with that you can acquire water problems if you allow the snow to build up under the eaves.

In a fast thaw that built up pile of snow will melt and you can accumulate water between it and the house and if the ground is frozen that water has no place to go. It can eventually pond up against your siding or enter the crawl space or even become higher than your concrete slab (floor) if you have one. All in all it is just a good idea to keep the snow from accumulating at the house.


That one end of the house is all I have to do by hand. The rest is accessible with my tractor and plow. I use it to keep the snow away from the house and all of the roads on the property. I usually plow when it gets 5 inches deep or more. If the snow is dry it doesn’t matter how deep it is. It is easy to remove or “plow to the side”. If the snow is wet and heavy, it becomes much more difficult. Any more than 5 inches in depth and the snow will pile up on the side of the road so high that it can overwhelm the plow by putting too much pressure on the heavy (snow piled) end of the plow. I broke my plow the first year and had to have it reinforced and welded. Wet snow can produce a lot of force against the plow so that is why I don’t let it get too deep before I start clearing snow.

I would love to have a snow blower but the three miles of road I have to keep clear is called Big Boulder Lane for a reason and I just don’t have the confidence that I could plow my road without damaging a snow blower on a rock. It would only be a matter of time.


I also discovered that first year that weight would be a factor in plowing. I have a 4-by-4, 55-horsepower tractor which is pretty good size. I even filled the rear tires with liquid to give it more weight and stability on the hillside we live on. It weighs about 7,000 pounds. That wasn’t good enough. I was sliding all over the place with an 8-foot-wide plow. I had to get chains and they were expensive but when you are the only source to get back and forth from the house to the highway, you need to make sure you have a really good snow removal machine and so I got the chains.

What a difference they made! Without them I was having trouble keeping the blade where I wanted and even getting back up some of the steeper hills. Now I go exactly wherever I point the plow and can even plow uphill so nothing is wasted. I plow to the left going down the hill and plow to the left again going back up. I’ve cut my time down to where I can plow the 3 miles of road in just 2.5 hours!

I know what you are thinking – why doesn’t he get a plow for his truck and stay nice and warm? Well, it is a good question. I don’t have any experience with a truck type plow but I can’t believe it would do as good a job as a 6-way tractor mounted blade that I can control instantly up or down, tilted or angled, all on a road that is rough and full of rocks. Visibility was the biggest reason I went this route. With a truck plow on pavement or a nice graveled road, you can just drop it down and go. You can’t do that on this road. It’s just too rough and bumpy for a plow that you can‘t really see the bottom of the blade and what is going on. Anyway, right or wrong I made my decision and so far we are doing well with it. I can still handle a few hours outside however I do reserve the right to change my mind as I get older!

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State, where they operate Good Ideas for Life. Read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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How to Keep Your Chickens Safe This Winter

 Chicken In The Winter

Winter brings a new set of challenges to chicken keeping. Cold weather not only comes with a new set of precautions to keep your chickens safe, but it will also require you to adapt existing precautions and habits. Fortunately, becoming acclimated to a winter regime is not too challenging with these five simple tips!

Control Water Temperatures

Chickens need fresh water year-round, but sub-zero temperatures will frequently transform their water supply into one big block of ice. This problem needs to be prevented for your chickens’ survival, so you will need to check the water tank several times per day, and replace it as needed if it’s below freezing outside. However, just like manual coop doors, this is a challenging commitment when you’re busy. A solution to this problem is to use a heater. Many heaters can be placed directly under the water tank and powered by a standard outlet. Or, if you do not want to invest in a heater, you can hang a brooder lamp above the water tank. Either solution works wonderfully, but if you use a brooder lamp you must secure it tightly so that it will not be accidentally dropped into the water tank.

Use An Automatic Coop Door

Installing an automatic coop door is one of the best things you can do to prepare for the cold winter months. Automatic coop doors simplify your routine by letting the chickens out in the morning, and putting them to bed at night for you. For those with families or busy schedules, it can be hard to wake up early and go to bed late in order to trudge through the snow to let the chickens out. Not only that, there may be mornings where you simply forget to close the door because of everything going on around you.

For the chickens, forgetting one time can be a matter of life and death. Not only can leaving the coop door open let in the cold winter drafts, it can let in predators looking for somewhere warm to sleep and a meal to fill their bellies. With an automated door, there’s no need to trudge through snow, and there’s no forgetting to open or close the door. The best coop doors to get for winter climates will use mains electric, and are made of thick material. The one caveat with automatic doors is that you will need to check the grooves for snow and ice intermittently, which fortunately won’t require much work!

Replace Litter Regularly

Replacing litter is necessary year-round to prevent illness. Soiled litter is a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, and can cause disease to spread more quickly. Additionally, damp litter can produce ammonia, which is harmful for either you or your chickens to breathe in. In the winter, it’s easier for these things to fester because the coop is more insulated, and the chickens tend to spend more time inside, in close proximity. The simple solution is to frequently remove the dirty litter and replace it with clean, dry litter.

It is also a good idea to change the litter at the start of the new season, but not just to prevent disease. When you add this fresh layer, you can make it several inches thicker than normal. This is an inexpensive and effective way to insulate the coop. Not only will your chickens be protected from illness, but they will be protected from the cold too.

Observe Birds’ Appearance

The way that your chickens look and behave is a good indicator of their health. It is always wise to observe your birds as they nest, feed, roost, and interact with each other. It can also be helpful to select a few random chickens and look for any abnormalities on their eyes, feet, toes, combs, legs, and vents. In the winter, there are two areas that you need to pay extra attention to:

  • A chicken’s weight will usually vary depending on their egg production. Birds that are gaining weight may be gaining fat, which will limit their production. However, birds that lay heavily tend to lose weight in the winter. Keep track of how much the birds weigh, compare it to how much they lay, and make sure they aren’t gaining or losing an unhealthy amount.
  • Frostbitten extremities. Chickens are most likely to get frostbite on their combs, waddles, and feet. To check for frostbite, look for discoloration: the combs and waddles may become pale or develop black spots, and the feet may become red. The best way to prevent them from getting frostbite is to keep them in the warm coop on extremely cold days, and apply petroleum jelly to their combs and wattles.

Adjust Feeding Habits

Feeding a Chicken

Winter weather tends to lead in decreased energy directed towards egg production. Instead, the energy that the chickens get from their food is directed towards maintaining their body heat. These changes in needs require a corresponding change in diet. While protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals must be high during production, the amounts contained in the flock’s feed can be lowered during the winter, without having a significant effect on their overall egg production.

You should also be mindful of the amount of feed your flock is consuming. If there is consistently a surplus of food leftover or strewn on the ground, you may want to decrease the amount you are supplying. Leftover feed can attract pests, and no one wants a pest in the coop!

Adjusting your care habits during winter will make caring for your flock easier, and will protect them at the same time. Many winter recommendations, like automatic coop doors and regular litter replacement, are also applicable year-round, so the transition into the new season will be more smooth.

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 David on Facebook, and read all of his Mother Earth News posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Here Kitty, Kitty: Considerations for Taking in Stray Cats

pumpkin the cat

Kara’s housecat Pumpkin has been decidedly more photogenic than the newcomers.  They may yet come around.  Photo by Kara Berlage.

Over the years, we have become the forever home to a variety of animals.  Pumpkin, Kara’s tortoise shell house cat came from the Northwoods Humane Society, and Belle our original guard donkey (now 30 years old) was looking for a good home via a note at the Feed Mill when the original owners had to move to smaller acreage.

Every year, there are the phone calls, “Could you take my goose?”--or duck or chickens or horse or…you get the idea.  While my heart goes out to the animals needing a home, I also have to be cognizant of the health and maintenance of well over 1,000 animals already in our care.  When you take on someone else’s flock of poultry, with them you can also inherit disease, parasites, and incompatibility issues with current flock members.  The same is true for mammalian livestock as well.

Consequently, we have turned away most all of these “please take my animal” inquiries, instead putting a shout out on social media to our hobbyist friends or contacts who may know the best place to rehome the critter(s) in question.  Ours is a working farm, not an animal sanctuary, and I could be completely overrun if every two to four-legged creature looking for a home was taken in.  It’s a noble undertaking, but it’s not the underlying purpose of our homestead.

But then there was Saturday morning.  Kara and I were in the garden, madly harvesting those frozen zucchini plants before they wilted in the morning sun for the pig’s breakfast, when we heard a car pull up near Farmstead.  It was still before opening hours, so we heard it pull away after a few moments.  It’s not unusual—sometimes folks stop by to pick up literature or check the hours.  But what happened next was unusual.

Mom and Steve were heading down to the Creamery, when they saw on our lane a gray Tabby momma cat with kittens.  At first, Steve wondered, “Are those mink or otters or what are they?”  It was such a surprise to see these small, dark animals on the road.  Skittish at the sight of people, they scurried off into the brush.

While we do have the one house cat, Pumpkin, we have never had barn cats on our farm.  There’s good motivation too, considering that the same reason pregnant women are counseled not to clean the litter box also affects the health of pregnant sheep. Toxoplasmosis runs rampant in mice populations.  However, it is not transferable to sheep (or people) without the cat as a vector.  So if you have sheep and mice (and who doesn’t have mice up here!), then keeping clear of barn cats prevents this aborting disease from spreading to the flock.

We are too far from neighbors to inherit cats by wandering, so the feline-free environment has persisted for as long as I can remember coming up to the farm.  But here were these new, unannounced arrivals.  They must have been left by whomever had been in the car we overheard and wandered down the lane looking for shelter and food.  The momma cat (who Kara named Gypsy) soon took up residence under a pile of scrap lumber in the wood shed, leaving the three kittens there while she hunted mice amidst the round bales nearby.

I’ve heard some pretty crazy animal dumping stories from other farmers, including one shepherd finding a ram had been tossed over a fence in with the rest of her flock!  So much for your work at sheepy planned parenting!  But while a ram can be herded and caught, this has not applied to new cats.  Since their arrival, it has been little else but cold, damp weather.  While Kara has set up a cozy, blanket-festooned kennel in the wood shed and brought food daily, the illusive cat and her little trio have remained mostly hidden.  There are no collars or identification, of course, and no neighbors we called said they were missing cats. 

I’m certain there is a story behind their arrival—couldn’t keep them, couldn’t take care of them, someone got upset, someone died, someone had to move away, etc.  And of all the animals on a farm, the two that can turn feral the quickest are hogs and cats.  Just let them off, someone thought, they’ll figure it out.

But here we are, with all our ewes pregnant, preparing for an October-November lambing.  And now there are feral cats on the farm. Have they been vaccinated? Do they need fixing so we can avoid having a whole army of cats in short order?  All these issues will have to be addressed.

So yes, we love animals, and yes, every day we take care of them, but please respect that we are not a place to leave former pets on the driveway for us to tend to.  If you need help rehoming your animals, let’s talk.  Let’s respect the lives of the animals enough to plan for them in our lives. Thank you. See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. Connect with her on Facebook, and read all of Laura's Mother Earth News blogs here.

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

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