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The Chicken Codex: Breeding a Better Bird, Chapter 3: Hatching Season is Here!

Chicken codex logo Copyright Resized jpg

It’s finally spring and time for hatching. We spent the past few months having the flock on a good breeding diet and they have been separated in their breeding groups to ensure the right roosters are in with the right hens. Know that if your hens were previously mixed with other roosters not intended for breeding, you need to wait at least two weeks after you have separated them to know for sure that the rooster they are now housed with now will be the sire of the intended chicks.

As part of our spring activities, our NPIP inspector came to the farm and tested the whole flock for Salmonella Pullorum Typhoid (P-T) and for Avian Influenza. Everyone got brand spanking new numbered leg bands as they all passed the P-T testing. Normally we should get a report on the Avian Influenza findings in a week or two. As mentioned in the previous chapter you need these tests as a breeder wanting to sell or ship stock.

Lisa banding Creve roo

Egg production has been high this year so we’ve really been fussy about the eggs we collect for hatching. When we only had a few birds to work with, we could not afford to be too choosy but now that the flock has grown, we can pass up many more eggs than we were able to before. The eggs should be good sized and not misshapen. Of course anything with cracks will not be kept. The cleaner the eggs, the better. Lots of folks talk about whether or not to wash eggs because it will damage or remove the protective coating of the egg known as the “bloom”. Ideally leave the eggs be if they are clean. In the case of rare breeds if you have only a few eggs to work with, you may have to clean some slightly soiled eggs because that’s all you have to work with. I go the warm soapy water route with cleaning and rarely have bacterial growth issues that affect the hatch. Some other producers go to the length of using Tek-Trol disinfectant for egg sanitizing, especially for eggs that are from outside farms. I produce all my own hatching eggs so I am comfortable without it but, it is a personal preference. In all cases never use cool water because that will cause the pores of the eggs to draw in bacteria and the problems that go with.

You want your hatching eggs as fresh as possible but you can collect eggs up to two weeks of age and still expect a decent hatch if the flock was on a good diet and the eggs were handled and stored properly. For our needs I like to hatch eggs that are 10 days old or less. If I ship eggs, they are no older than one week.

I store my hatching eggs pointy side down in egg cartons which are kept in a dark cool room. The cartons are slightly elevated on one side so that they are resting at an angle. Every day I switch which side of the carton is elevated like the action of an automatic egg turner in an incubator. This elevating of the carton from side to side helps to keep the yolk from sticking to the inner shell of the egg as it might just sitting in the same position for a week or so. Some folks don’t do this side to side rotation of eggs until they are in the incubator but it just happens to be another case of my personal preference for pre-incubation egg care.

I’ve polled a number of breeders about storage temperature and wondered at one point if I should purchase a cooler or refrigerator that can store my eggs at an ideal temp of about 55 degrees. I got loads of opinions but by far the general consensus is that if you are a commercial hatchery then the storage temp will affect your bottom line. So, refrigeration certainly makes more sense for large scale production. In the case of my farm, storage in the coolest room or closet in the house will suffice as it does for most hobby farmers. The big thing is to make sure the temp doesn’t fluctuate much. If the sun was pouring into the room at noon and elevating the ambient temperature by ten degrees or more, then find another room or closet that has a more stable temp throughout the day and night. Basements are great for that if you have one.

We like to have our first hatches at a time when it’s not terribly cold out because we brood the chicks outside in the chicken barn. They have good protection from the elements and predators out there but temperature can be an issue. I figure if there’s a power out and it’s really cold, their chances will not be good if it happens when we are not home or asleep at night. As a result our first batches of chicks for our own use usually hatch around the end of March.

Early spring hatches are advantageous because fertility will be very good when the weather is not too cold or too hot. We see a decline in breeding activity as the weather gets hot so we like to finish up the breeding season around mid-May to the beginning of June here in the Carolinas.

New Large-Batch Brooder

This year we are constructing a new brooder in anticipation for large batches of chicks. Our Crevecoeur project is coming into year four and now that we have larger numbers of hens to work with, we are ramping up the number of chicks and I think we need a bigger brooder. We’ve decided on an elevated hanging brooder about 8 feet long and attached along the length of one of the room walls. This is to optimize the space it takes up in the room and incorporating a wire mesh floor, it will simplify cleaning. The brooder is being painted with a tough oil based paint that will hold up to scrubbing. Non-painted surfaces are covered with white fiberglass FRP sheets like you would find on the walls of a commercial kitchen. They are easy to clean and hold up for a long time. The new brooder should be finished up by the next blog installment so I’ll talk more about it then.

new brooder under construction

Common-Sense Incubation

Incubation is a fine art but not rocket science. The key to success is keeping good records so you can pinpoint what went wrong if you have a bad hatch. It’s essential to make sure you have the incubator in a room that does not have much temperature fluctuation throughout the day and in a spot that will not be hit by the sun at any time. We use a GQF cabinet model with all the bells and whistles including digital readouts for temperature and humidity and an automatic turner. It makes life easy, especially when I’m on the road a lot and have to depend on others to maintain the unit. The unit has its ups and downs, the biggest one is regulating humidity. Through some tweaking in the form of partially covering the water pan, we are able to manage that a bit better. Normally we have the temp set at 99.5 degrees with a relative humidity of ~45-55% for the first 18 days and then transfer the eggs to the hatcher (another GQF cabinet but it’s a base model with nothing fancy) and finish at 98.5 degrees and ~65-70% for the last three days. During the final weekend before the transfer to the brooder, based on our hatching problems of the past and on the suggestion of a long time breeder, we let the humidity drop to 30-40% to help improve the air cells in the eggs. This technique is what works for us to get about an 80-85% hatch rate. Depending on your particular incubator’s quirks, the room where it is placed, and time of year, there may be slight differences to improve your own hatch. Not all incubators are the same. The point here is to track what’s going on with your eggs so you can refine incubation technique over time and figure out what works best for you.

The last word in this blog on incubation is “necropsy.” In order for you to find out “what went wrong” you need to crack open the unhatched eggs to see how the egg developed and at what stage did it become unviable. It’s not the most palatable thing to do but it can really pinpoint problems that will make or break your hatching success. There’s a really great resource for troubleshooting your hatch, from the University of Illinois.

egg necropsy

Hatching can be one of the most rewarding or frustrating experience of your poultry endeavors. Make sure you do all you can to set yourself up for success and if at first you don’t succeed, document and learn from the mistakes and you are certain to improve over time.

Creve chick

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First Time Goat Owner? Be Prepared: Get the Facts, Part 2


When thinking about housing/shelter for the goats it doesn't have to be fancy. They just want to have some place dry and draft-free.

Housing/Shelter: They need some type of enclosed shelter that can be a barn, enclosed lean-to added to another building or barn. They don't need elaborate housing just shelter to keep them from the weather and severe drafts. Be creative and re-use/re-purpose old materials.

Fencing: Electrical fencing is probably the most effective and cost-efficient. Usually 2 strands will suffice. There is solar fencing available for out-of-the-way pastures.

Health/Maintenance: When feeding look the goats over to see if there are any wounds/injuries they may have sustained while roaming pasture if so, take care of those immediately. Check to make sure there is no diarrhea, if there is attend to that. Sometimes you may need to separate the goat from others to keep them from harming it and so you can administer help.

If unsure what to do call vet. Sometimes they may get their horns hung in their hay racks, on another goats collar, in fences or in trees/shrubbery. If they are bleeding use blood-stop powder.

If you don't see a goat when it's time to feed go look for it...sometimes they do get trapped in fencing or shrubbery and have to be helped. Look them over to see if their hooves are growing out and need trimming. You can either do this now or if you have several that need trimming set up a specific time to trim all the ones that need it. If you don't know how to do this there are DVD's available to train and also video online. Make sure their bedding area stays dry.

Increasing Your Goat Population: If you decide to increase your goat population and decide to breed your goats there are things to consider.

1. Breeding season is usually sometime in September through January. When does come into estrus they will exhibit tail twitching and/or become verbal. If there is a buck near they will stand near where they can see the buck. The does can stay in estrus anywhere from 24-48 hours...some may go a little longer. At this point you may want to breed the doe or wait until her next cycle. Most people plan the breeding around the estimated gestation time so the babies won't be born in extreme weather.

2. Goats can have, most often, 1-3 kids. If you're just wanting the milk and don't want to feed/house or take care of the kids prepare ahead of time. Contact someone to either sell or give the babies to. Sometimes people will sell these offspring for meat. Sometimes if the stock is good you can raise the kids until old enough to wean and then try to sell them. Either way prepare ahead of time for what you will do.

3. Does will go usually 145-155 days before giving birth. Start watching at about 130 days in case there are complications. You may want to have someone with you when your goat has her kids if you've not experienced it before in case there are complications or this is the does first kidding. Most does do fine and there is no problem. One of the biggest problems is not enough room in the stall and the doe steps on a kid or she lays down on one. Make sure there is enough room in her stall and it is draft-free or the kid/kids could chill.


You will need to decide if you want to leave the kid/kids with the mother or you want to take them away and bottle feed. If you leave with the mother it usually takes around 3 months to wean the kids.

Other decisions you will need to make are: Do you plan to leave the horns? If not, will you disbud (burn the hornbud with an iron) or use bands to remove horns? It is always a tricky situation when trying to disbud. The iron must be hot enough and you must burn it long enough for it to keep the horn from growing...sometimes there will still be a small growth called a scur. If the iron is left too long it can cause encephalitis to the brain and cause complications for the kid. Some suggest that a goat needs to keep the horns because this is their "cooling" system If you keep their horns watch your herd often because when scuffling the goats can get their horns hung in each others collars and this can cause injury or death.

You may opt not to use is easier to "catch" one if necessary. There are also bridle-type harnesses for when you need to lead a goat.

If your kids are male do you want to keep them a buck...take into consideration what this will mean. Bucks do have a certain "aroma" that some people find very offensive. This is especially during breeding season. They will urinate on their face/beard, front legs and anything standing nearby! They will also need to be kept separately from the females. This decision needs to be made before the kid is 14 days or sooner. If you keep the kid a buck make sure you remove him from the herd between 2-3 months old because he can produce offspring by this age.

If you want to make the male kid a wether you must decide how this will be done.  The options are to surgically (with blade) remove the testicles as soon as they have developed enough or to band. There are really strong feelings on both these methods. If banding is used a band is slipped over the scrotum above the testes with an elastrator. The testicles will atrophy and the sac will fall off usually with 1-2 weeks. Either way the goat will need a tetanus vaccine. If you are selling your male goats at a young age for "meat" you wont have to worry about castration.

Milking  If you are milking the goats. The milk will be rich and lemony yellow for about 3-7 days. This is Colostrum and contains the nutrients that the young kid needs to develop a healthy immune system. You must make sure the kid is nursing within the first few hours of birth or that you are feeding this to the kid.

You need to decide what hours are best for you to do your milking because it needs to be on a schedule. There should be at least 10-12 hours between milking. This needs to be done early morning and evening. Watch the doe after kidding for a few days to make sure she looks healthy and is eating. She may need extra electrolytes/nutrients after kidding to get her energy back. If she appears very listless or doesn't want the kid to nurse, examine her udder to make sure it doesn't feel hot to the touch or have hard lumps. If there is ever a doubt call the vet. Goats get sick quickly so you must react quickly.

When milking care should be taken with the goat. Make sure long hair  around the udder is clipped. At each milking clean the udder. Again you need to decide what to use for this. There are wipes out there just for this
purpose but, make sure you don't have contact dermatitis or eczema because these could cause rash to you. These can also chaff the udder.

Plain water will suffice but, make sure the udder is dried before milking. You can use a strip cup...just a container to squirt the first squirts of milk into because the first squirts usually contain any bacteria if there
is bacteria. Watch your goat when you start to milk sometimes you will have kickers and they will turn the pail over. While your goat is on the "milk stand" or stanchion you can be feeding your goat her ration of feed to keep her occupied while you milk. Sometimes they will even "talk" to you as if you are one of their kids while you are milking. Make sure you get the milk to a cool place as soon as possible because this does affect the taste of the milk. Make sure the milk is strained and then, placed in the refrigerator. You can
store the milk in glass mason jars. Plastic can be used but, may cause a "taste". Milk into a stainless steel pail, never use aluminum or other is ok. Don't leave in direct sunlight.


NOTE: See our blog Starting a Rotational Grazing Goat-Rental Service, Part 1 and 2

Deworming has been overused to the point where it is hard to find anything that is effective against them anymore. The best way to fight parasites is Rotational grazing. Switch out pastures...leave the goats on new pasture for about 3-4 weeks (life cycle of most parasites) and then, turn them back into their Home pasture. Try to feed hay in hay racks (off the ground). Check the inner lid of the goats' eye. This should be pink in color...if white, this is a sign of anemia most often caused by parasites. If internal you will need to get a wormer from your vet. They will usually ask you to bring in a sample of feces to be checked to make sure it is internal parasites and not coccidia or lice/mites. The wormer can also affect your milk you consume so, make sure you find out about "hold" time for milk.

Poisonous Plants When deciding to own a goat make sure it willl be a safe place for your goat to live. Goats can die from laurel/rhododendro, azalea, poke can make them very sick and cause diarrhea.
Also watch out for: dock, hemlock,some milkweed, cherry, too much oak leaves (tannins), rhubarb, etc. Keep your goats safe from possible predators such as coyotes and neighbors dogs.

Whatever your reason for wanting to own goats...good luck and enjoy!

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

 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 ABCs of Homesteading: L is for Legal Considerations


This is the tenth post in the ABCs of Homesteading series. Click here to read the rest of the series.

When I first started homesteading, I lived in a master planned city just outside Washington DC. It had many environmental and community well-being programs such as being walkable, maintaining a large nature preserve, re-wilding wetlands, lots of parks and community spaces, and free electric car charging stations. But, as a former farming community, turned upscale suburb of DC, the city also had many regulations intended to make it difficult for home-owners to become self-sufficient homesteaders.

Bee friendly lawns were prohibited as part of city lawn maintenance requirements. Extensive permitting and aesthetic requirements existed for building structures and fences. Although cats and dogs were allowed, chickens and mini-goats were not. Home butchery was prohibited. Edible gardens were limited to backyards. Hanging laundry to dry on outdoor lines was a fineable offense.

Now that I live in rural North Carolina, there are fewer aesthetic regulations and most people around here farm or homestead. Yet, there are still a lot of regulations to contend with at the county, state, and federal level that impact our choices as homesteaders.

I am not a lawyer and am by no means an expert on laws relating to homesteading. And unfortunately there are so many laws and regulations and different enforcement agencies, that even when you do your “due diligence” there is still no guarantee that you'll uncover all the potential legal hurdles. But, the following is a summary of some of the legal concerns I have encountered with a few ideas for how to navigate them.

Outbuildings and Fences

Many homesteaders need outbuildings such as animal shelters, storage sheds, greenhouses or hoop-houses, or other structures. We also need fences to keep livestock in or deer, rabbit, and other critters out. To live without refrigeration, you may also want a root cellar or a spring house.

Garden Fence

Before you make plans for any kind of permanent structure, you may want to check your property deed for any right of access provisions that may limit the location of your structures. For example, if your property neighbors a land-locked property, you may have an obligation to allow your neighbors to install a road in a certain location on your land. If you bought property that had previously deeded rights to minerals or natural gas, you may be obligated to give access and allow installation of extraction equipment in specific areas. Utility companies usually have right of access to any lines they've installed, or plan to install, so calling 811 to have utilities marked before construction or digging or building is a must. There are also usually areas of easement between properties or along public sidewalks and roads.

After you've ruled out unsuitable locations, make a trip, or a call, to your city or county building inspector's office. Where I live, there is almost no information online, but inspectors are happy to answer questions by phone or in person. Although there are written regulations, individual inspectors tend to worry more about some things and less about others, so starting with a conversation can save you hassles down the road.

Property tax values may also be impacted by the addition of outbuildings. For example, we installed a shipping container to hold our solar panels and batteries. The entire cost of that installation was added to our property value and increased our property tax rate. We live in a rural area without public services, so our tax base is low, but over the life of that installation, we will have to pay thousands of dollars in additional property taxes. Checking with your property tax assessment office prior to building is a good idea if you are trying to keep your tax base low.


Towns, cities, counties, and home owners associations (HOA) often have regulations on the kind and quantity of animals you are allowed to keep on your property. Check with your local legislatures and HOA agreement before ordering your batch of chicks or ducklings. Even if you can keep animals, there may be laws relating to slaughtering on site, aesthetic and orderliness ordinances, waste management requirements, and other concerns. Make sure your plan for using animals on your homestead meshes with local livestock ordinances. (Or, be willing to face the consequences if you choose to ignore them as many backyard chicken keepers are now doing.)


If you can work with (or around) your local requirements, any “livestock” (regardless of whether you see them as pets) are subject to state and federal regulations. The USDA maintains a list of state agricultural departments for your reference. Some state websites offer useful resources, but many regulations are so obscure (to the layperson) that it's hard to know what search terms to use. In my experience, by explaining your livestock plans and goals to your agricultural agent, they will direct you to the applicable regulations and permitting processes.

In my case, I wanted to process ducks on my homestead and sell them at the farmer's market. North Carolina is pretty lenient on this, but does require twice annual inspections, water tests, and certain levels of care to meet animal welfare requirements. I found the basic requirements online. But, there were no specifics on what kind of water testing was required. By talking to a state agricultural agent, I learned that a $40 pass/fail test for E. Coli and Coliform by a certified vendor was sufficient, in lieu of the $400-$700 tests offered by the state laboratory.

There are also regulations on safe transport, cooling and storage to point of sale, and to whom you can sell your poultry meat. For non-poultry animals, processing at a State or USDA inspected facility is required and in many states a meat handlers certification is needed. For homestead and USDA processing, there are very strict Federal, and sometimes State, laws on labeling. If you want to sell live animals, then there are entirely different regulations such as ear-tagging, transportation rules, and permit requirements.

State laws tend to either echo Federal requirements or be more stringent, so State law is a good place to start your research. But Federal laws cover things like interstate transport and requirements for special claims (e.g. organic, pasture-raised, and even “local”), and the kinds of feed and medications you can legally administer to your livestock. Depending on your tax status and location, federal, state, county, and city taxes may apply to the sale of meat and animals as well.


For those living in, or familiar with, places that do not allow rain water collection, you already know how tricky water laws can be. But, there are also laws that relate to pond building and the use of water that passes through your land to other areas. As an example, our property came with a spring fed pond. But the water that feeds it actually belongs to the state. If I wanted to enlarge the pond or make a series of smaller ponds linking up the larger one, I would need to get the state's permission to use their water that is running on our land. Also, you generally need permits to install wells, septic systems, and sometimes gray water systems.

Particularly if you are applying permaculture water management principles (catch it, slow it down, sink it in, etc.), you may have to be concerned about drainage laws. If you make modifications to your property to either divert or sink water and inadvertently negatively impact a neighboring property, your neighbor my have recourse to make you pay for damages or reverse your changes. Paying attention to how your water choices might impact your neighbors and letting them know your plans in advance can help you avoid drainage law issues.


You would think that growing the food on your own land would be a basic right. Yet in many places it is not. Many cities prohibit the growth of food on your front lawn. These kind of regulations are often directed to things like fields of corn or obvious vegetable beds, but can usually be navigated by growing edible landscapes that mimic traditional landscaping techniques. In drought areas, water restrictions may limit what you can grow to drought-tolerant varieties and using work around like catching used water from your kitchen drains for garden watering.

There are also laws about what you can grow and where you can import from. For example, I dreamed of growing lots of currants in our edible landscapes. However, some varieties of currants are hosts for White Pine Blister Rust. Since white pine is a significant crop in North Carolina purchasing, planting, or even leaving pre-existing currants on your property are against the law. I had to replace my dreams of currants with Aronia berries, which are tasty, but not a perfect substitute.

Wildlife restrictions may also impact your ability to grow a garden or edible landscape. Nearly every day, a group of nine deer run across our property and eat some of the food we originally intended to grow for ourselves. We are able to get depredation permits to hunt deer out of season here, if the problems are serious enough, but this is not the case in all areas. Also, many species of birds are protected, including crows that are capable of devastating a garden. Wildlife protection is important, so knowing the restrictions in your area, and planning accordingly, will save you hassles later.

If you plan to sell your produce, tax laws and food safety laws come into play. The USDA has finalized its Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Rules. Growers selling less than $25,000 in produce over the last three years are currently exempt. However, if you intend to sell raw produce down the road, you may want to design your food growing systems with these regulations in mind. If you sell CSA shares for $500 per year, you would only have to sell 50 shares over a three year period for these regulations to apply.

Farmer's markets may also have their own regulations on produce practices. For example, my market requires we apply GAP – Good Agricultural Practices – to our growing areas. These practices include water testing of irrigation water, sets aging requirements on manure based compost, and mandates hand-washing practices.

Foraged, Hunted, and Prepared Foods

In general, if you plan to make homestead income from foraged, hunted, or prepared foods, you will face a lot of regulations. Selling of hunted, or foraged foods and by-products, is frequently illegal. Additionally, there are many regulations on what and when you can hunt and forage. Many public lands specifically forbid foraging for certain items for ecological reasons. Prepared foods often require permits and may have specific training requirements such as acidified foods training or use of pet-free inspected kitchens.

Bartering and Gifting

Bartering is taxable at “market value” according to the IRS. Under current regulations, it could be argued that if a lawyer with a billing rate of $350 per hour accepts a basket of produce with a farmer's market value of $100 as payment in full for an hour of advice, the farmer has to report and pay applicable taxes on $350 in income. There are certainly people who don't treat barter like income and do not report it as such. A lack of record-keeping by all parties makes it difficult to enforce this tax regulation.

Personally though, rather than engage in a barter economy, I prefer to participate in a what I call the economy of gifting. If I have something I no longer need or harvest more than we can use or sell, I give it away to friends, strangers, anyone I come across who can put those things to good use. I don't keep track of what I give and don't expect anything in return. A gift is simply that. And gifts of up to $13,000 are not taxable according to the IRS.

The reason I call this the “economy of gifting” is that I inevitably both gain and save so much by using this method. For starters, it feels good to give and lighten your own burden of having more than you need. Next, the person that receives gets the joy and excitement of a surprise gift and having a need or want met which just compounds my joy at giving. And then even though I never intended to receive as a result of giving freely, so much free stuff has shown up in our live that it's kind of incredible.

I gave a friend some extra eggs and forgot all about it. A year later, he gave me 80 pounds of plums! This happened to be a year when we had a late frost after an early spring and lost every bit of tree fruit we had growing. This gift was not only incredibly generous and much appreciated, but it came at the perfect time.

Unlike bartering, there's no accounting in gifting. My friend wasn't trying to pay back the eggs, he was just looking for a good home for his extra plums and knew I could benefit from them. Certainly 80 pounds of plums is more valuable than a dozen eggs, and in a barter system, I'd owe my friend big time. But when you participate in a true economy of gifting, you can't use the scales of commerce to qualify gifts and figure out whether you owe someone. You must give freely and receive freely as well, with no calculations, and nothing in return except appreciation and honoring the gift by putting it to good use.

Food for thought. Some of our laws are crazy, outdated, and dangerous. Quite a few are so clearly directed at making it tough on the little guys that there's big temptations to become an outlaw. I certainly feel that way at times. Instead, I try to channel my energy into finding ways around them.

For example, there's a permitting process for growing perennial plants in my state. It's not a big deal, but it's another $20 and another inspection to deal with annually. However, there's no regulation on growing plants intended as annuals. So, a way around this law is to make plant arrangements in ornamental pots that are intended for annual use. I may ultimately opt for the permit, but I like to know the laws, my options, and make informed decisions.

When there is no work-around, you can try to change the laws. This takes effort and legal savvy. You can start with your local and state representatives to initiate the process. And if you are successful at changing the laws and also make it easier for the rest of us to homestead and make related income, then like giving gifts your joy is compounded by knowing you have helped make it easier for others to make a living as a homesteader.

Next stop on our alphabetical introduction to homesteading...M is for Meat!  Stay tuned for tips on processing, butchering, and cured meat preparations.

Tasha Greer spent several years “practicing” homesteading in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina. She currently raises goats, poultry, pigs, herbs, worms, and maintains an extensive edible landscape at the reLuxe Ranch. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. Tasha also is also a contributing author for The Grow Network. Find Tasha at The Way Back , reLuxe Renderings, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Homesteader's Dilemma: "Don't Have Time"

two lambs

I hear the phone double ring.  That means someone is paging from another building on the farm.  This time of year it usually means that Kara is paging from the barn.  And that usually means that another ewe is about to give birth—or has already started well into the process, with the first lamb presenting.  Ready the towels, the crew may be up all night…again.

It comes every year.  Most folks are happy to see spring, and I am too…most of the time.  That is, when I have time to think about it.  Most of spring I don’t have time for much of anything outside of the demands of the season.  Relaxing, laid-back, and springtime just don’t end up in the same sentence around here…ever.

Time.  It’s our most valuable commodity.  Time and attention.  Spring can be tough that way.  Just when you’ve really gotten to stretch out into winter, to find that still, quiet space inside (away from the frenzied noise of the high season of summer), then spring comes knocking on the door.

Taxes, lambing…did you order the seeds?  Did you send in the water sample?  Did you book the Summer Music Series yet?  Did you get the high tunnel planted yet?  Did you clean out the chicken coop again?  Did you pay the bills—and how are you going to pay the bills with the tiny trickle that comes in the door this time of year?

Spring is incessantly demanding, like a baby.  It can’t do it on its own—you have to be all-in, all-available, up all night lambing or hatching chicks.  Up to your elbows in mud in the garden, planting peas in soil still so cold the bones in your hands ache for hours afterwards.

Spring is finicky, like a fourth-grader.  Sometimes hot, sometimes cold, but never satisfied any one way for long.  It’s full of questions with no answers.  Where is that leak in the barn roof coming from?  What happened to all the pitch forks?  Do I have enough oil for the utility golf cart for its spring maintenance?  When will the weight restrictions come off the roads?  Does our supplier have enough straw for us to get a load to bed down the ewes with their lambs?  Will the clouds clear enough to help dry out the mud?  When will we see the red-winged blackbirds again?

At least it’s a little better than an incessant string of “Why?  Why?  Why?”

Spring is moody like a teenager—wanting to tempt the apple blossoms from their buds, only to freeze them off in a fit of spite.  Begging you to bring out the seedlings on a sunny day, then blowing fiercely from the north or west, threatening to break off the tender stems.  It’s icy early in the morning, then sluggish and muddy mid-day, then full of freckled stars at night before the moon rises.

It can be a rude interruption to the peaceful rhythms of winter.  Yes, the days are lengthening, but I feel that time is shortening, encroached upon by yet a longer and longer to-do list.  Chores take longer as the number of animals on the farm steadily increases.  Now the garden is thawing, and soon all those slumbering tasks will awaken and demand attention.  I’ve been at this long enough to know that it won’t be slowing down until late November—watching the growing season coming on like an unstoppable freight train. 

I love it and I hate it, knowing it’s invigorating and exhausting at the same time.

So Many Choices and Decisions

There are so many projects I want to tackle yet—art, music, writing, sewing.  Part of me needs to find a way to keep that winter internal peace long enough to make them happen, bring fruition.  I can’t allow myself to cut my wintry dreams off at the knees, promising myself (like I do most years) that they’ll grow again next cold season, like bulbs.

They can, but it’s painful getting chopped off, and the regrow process is agonizingly slow and yields less than could be hoped.  Pruning is one thing—choosing which to nourish and which to let go to make room for the nourishing.  Mowing it all off it yet another.

An example of this on our farm is mirrored in Grandma wanting to have a stand of pompous grass near the roadside.  Every spring, she’d dig up a clump and they’d stuff it into the trunk of their Buick, and Grandpa would dutifully dig a hole in the yard and plant them, marking them with a steak.  But by mid-summer, with a million other tasks having come and gone, there he’d be out mowing.  And when Grandpa’s mowing, his German meticulousness comes out in force.  What’s that steak for?  Well, who knows, better mow right up to it, then come back with the trimmer and get it all.  That poor pompous grass never did make it.  And, after a while, Grandma gave up trying to bring up any new transplant clusters with her.  Wintry dreams of waving pompous grass gave way to summer’s reality of too many irons in the fire to keep track of each initiative.

And I’m honest with myself about spring.  If I linger too long in winter’s time luxuries, I’ll miss it.  And then summer will be on in full swing, and I’ll be woefully behind and unprepared.  I can’t abandon or deny spring’s right to be, but I don’t want to lay my passions on its pyre and watch them be consumed into the vortex of “I don’t have time.”

Time is really 100% about priority.  It’s where your attention goes that your time goes.  Attention is the food we give to what happens in our life.  What we do not give attention starves.  When you’re raising livestock, this can be quite literal.  I don’t think any of the animals are happy when someone is down with a cold and chores happen a bit on the late side or another member of the crew gets to be the substitute chore-meister.  They like everything to stay regular, and they loudly let you know if you’ve not given them the attention in feeding they feel they deserve.

I recently saw an interesting TED talk on time management.  The speaker stressed that it’s not about shaving off a little time from this task, then a little time from that task, and bundling that saved up time together to do something you care about later.  It’s about what you feel is worth your time.  Often “I don’t have time” really means “it’s not a priority for me right now.”  She encouraged listeners to really look at how their time gets spent in a week and redirect that towards what really matters to them.

Attention is the currency of life, spent on time.

I need to continue to be mindful this spring so that “I don’t have time” isn’t misplaced on the important things or upsets balance.  I need to keep my vigilance so that “I don’t have time” means that things like happiness, creativity, sleep, and dreaming towards the future don’t get squeezed and crowded out—leaving grumpiness, futility, and the day-to-day endless treadmill of tasks in their wake.  It’s a difficult balance to make, especially when the lives of animals are in the middle of it all.

That’s why it’s so important, as an interdisciplinary homestead, to get your placement of attention right.  Time to check the barn cams again and see if another ewe is in labor.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Twin baby lambs, newly born.  They may be incredibly cute, but they also herald the onslaught of springtime’s workload.  Photo by Kara Berlage.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

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The Challenges of Operating a Micro Dairy and Producing Safe and Delicious Milk and Dairy Products for your Friends Family and Community


Small herd or Micro Dairies can present serious challenges to their owners and operators despite and partly due to their small size.  Personally I have found that a few of the challenges only increase as the herd size decreases.  I have milked Jersey herds from 20 to 90 to 4 cows. The common wisdom of years past was that having one cow was a difficult as having 100 cows.  In reality I found that not to be true today due to advances in technology and improved management practices but managing a small herd of ten or fewer milk cows does present unique challenges.  Most are due to the impracticality of grouping cows according to their breeding and lactation status. 

With my larger farms I found it to be much easier to keep my dry cows in a separate group so I could feed them differently than I fed my milking cows.  I also kept my bred heifers as a separate group in a different barn or in a different pasture.  On of my favorite things to do 25 years ago was to visit my bred heifers in their pasture during a nice summer’s day or evening.  They were glad to see me because I was kind to them and fed them. And when they saw me in their pasture they assumed something good or exciting was about to happen.

Here is a funny little trick for getting cows to come to you in a pasture.  If you go out into a pasture where there is a group of cows or heifers and lie down in the grass they will all come over to smell and look at you.  It can be a bit intimidating if they come running, which they often do. I think they wonder why you aren't up on two feet and need to investigate. My heifers would surround me when I was lying on my back in the pasture like petals of a big flower and sniff my head and clothes and boots for half an hour before moving on.

Now my bred heifers (I usually have only one at the most) stay with my milk cows in the barn or on pasture.  I have found the best solution to grouping dry cows is to have a seasonal herd so they can be all dry and in need of the same ration at the same time rather than trying to keep separate groups for dry cows and milking cows.

I have also found it to be difficult to detect cows in heat if I have less than three cows.  There is no competition among the cows to stimulate the cow that isn’t in heat to mount the cow that is.  If there are two cows or more they will compete to mount a cow that has come into heat.  One cow just yawns, especially during colder or hot weather.  No one really knows why cows will mount another cow in heat.  It is thought by some cow behaviorists that the instinct might be an indicator for the bull in charge of the heard that there is a cow in heat for him that he might otherwise miss. I have even had heifers in heat try to mount me when my back was turned, an alarming experience. The arrival of spring and green grass will make the cows more active and more likely to mount one another.   It makes it handy for synchronized breeding but it also leads to mid winter calving. 

Mid winter calving in Vermont also creates the necessity for a warm maternity pen or box stall.  That isn’t tough to do in a 50 or 100 cow barn but the space is dearer in a four-cow barn.  I don’t have a warm box stall or maternity pen in my barn and I have often wished that I did and do but that would require me to add on to my barn which wouldn’t be worth it for me right now.  I have found ways to manage without one but it is a challenge.

I have also found that it is more difficult to do rotational grazing with a small herd of cows.  Moving the fence every day for three or four cows hardly seems worth it.  It is much easier to simply give them larger sections of pasture for longer periods of time and mow after they move on.  I have found that approach (under stocked and over grazed) to work very well with Silvo-pasture or wooded pastures.  It gives the cows time to browse and open up the understory beneath the trees where I can’t mow.  The advantage is that small groups of cows do a lot less collateral damage to the trees especially root crowns, than larger groups do. 

Small cow numbers also make vet visits more expensive on a per cow basis, especially for herd checks, vaccinations etc.  As a result I am much less likely to call my vet for non-emergency situations and slower to call for emergency situations.  In an emergency I first try to resolve the situation myself rather than call the vet and pay $100 or more for him or her to come to the barn.  Unfortunately that cost me a cow a few years back, which still bothers me.

Throughout the past fifty plus years that I have worked on dairy farms I have usually worked with someone else - be it a boss, a hired man or my wife and kids.  In my opinion there is no better way for a person to allow their personality defects to reach their full potential than by trying to manage a large or small dairy farm alone.  It seems to bring out all the demons.  But, in contrast, operating a micro dairy or a small herd dairy farm is the perfect activity for a family or couple.  The labor involved is not a crushing burden.  Every family member has chores to do and everyone has a purpose and is a valuable member of the management team.  I built my current four-cow Micro Dairy eleven years ago.  At the time my wife, Wendy, made it clear that after helping me farm for years she was not going to be routinely involved in managing the farm or milking the cows.  I was going to be on my own.  My four kids are all grown and are doctors and lawyers and such who live far away and have their own lives. I was surprised at how little I enjoyed doing the chore twice a day after day alone.  I do enjoy having company in the barn.  When my kids were small our dairy barns were full of life and laughter, these days it is usually just me and the radio and my cows. 

But, all is not lost.  I now have grandchildren, the oldest being four, who visit me and love to visit the barn when I am doing my chores.  And every once in a while I can convince my wife to come give me a hand during evening chores.   She’ll throw down hay from the mow or feed the calves while I milk. I appreciate the help and company, even though milking and doing chores only take about 30 minutes when I do them alone.

Just a word of caution, if you are getting into the dairy business and plan on operating a micro dairy or a small herd dairy see if you can line up regular help with the chores anyway.  Otherwise it can be a lonely and somewhat grinding experience.  Milking my cows and doing my chores alone for the previous10 years was just about enough for me.  I am now in my late 60s and my outlook and stamina are not the same as they were even five or ten or twenty years ago.  However I can’t emphasize what a great experience having a dairy farm, large or small can be for a family, if the finances work. But that is a big if.  Find some help. You don’t and shouldn’t need to be a hero to manage a micro dairy

Have fun and enjoy your cows!

Bob-White Systems, Inc., located in central Vermont, serves the rapidly emerging Micro-Dairy market in addition to more traditional dairy farms. We offer equipment, supplies, technology, and resources to enable community based dairy farmers and individuals to produce and market safe and delicious farm-fresh milk and dairy products.

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First Time Goat Owner? Be Prepared: Get the Facts, Part 1

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We've had a lot of interest and questions, about our goats, from our farm visitors. We developed a workshop we called "Goats 101" to help answer some of those questions.

Here are some questions AND answers from our workshop:

Where Do I Start?

First, you want to decide WHY you would like a goat. There are several different reasons and you may have more than one reason for wanting one. So, there are different things to consider.

1. Do you just want a pet?

2. Would you like to start some business...if so, what type of business?

3. Would you like to just have fresh milk for the home and maybe be able to make your own butter, cheese, etc.

4. Do you want "meat" goats? Either for food for yourself or to sell?

5. Are you interested in "fiber" goats?

6. Do you just want to clear land?

After you think about the WHY you can start focusing on what breed or breeds would be best suited to those needs. Some people just go on "I like the look of that one so, I'll get it" sort of like how you choose a dog or cat. That's ok too after all this is your decision.


There are many different breeds of goats and there are people who are cross-breeding for dual purpose goats or just for a unique look. Sometimes this can be good and sometimes not so good.

Some of the most common breeds for our area are:

Nubian or Nubian mix:

These goats are originally from a hot climate (Africa/India) so, they really don't like cold weather and need sufficient shelter for winter. They have long ears and a characteristic Roman face. These goats are considered "Dairy" goats. They produce good quantities of milk and it's high in butterfat making it good for making cheese. For the most part these are gentle goats. When Nubians are crossed with a Boer goat the offspring will most often be more "stocky" or "meaty" and may be pushy towards their pasture mates. When mixed the ears may still be pendulus like the Nubian but, also have tendencies to "airplane" out which can give them a "cute" appearance. Nubian/Nubian mix make good pets and are good "weedeaters". Most any breed of goat is a good "weedeater"!

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These are considered mostly "meat" goats but, are also being used in clearing land. These goats are very stocky or meaty. If being raised as a food product they are usually sold at a young age. Boers have a tendency to be more susceptible to parasites.


These are considered a "Dairy" goat. The butterfat is just a little less than the Nubian but, they produce larger quantities. These are very loving and gentle goats. These goats are from the Alps so, the cold weather doesn't bother them as much but, they still need sufficient winter shelter. All goats dislike rain!!/p> IMG1403 800x600

French Alpine:

These are medium sized goats. These are good milk producers with good butterfat. These goats tend to need less maintenance and be healthier. They don't tend to need hoof trimming as much. The main drawback with these is, if you plan on milking, these goats are very low to the ground and milking is not easy if done by hand. Milkers are fine.

Swiss Alpine now known as Oberhassli: These are a larger version of the French Alpine.

Toggenburg or Toggs: Similar in looks to Oberhassli. Milk production good a little less than Alpine.

La Mancha: These are the goats with no ears. Good milk producer.

Small or Dwarf Breeds:

Nigerian Dwarf are becoming a well liked goat among dairies and creameries. These goats are small but tend to be large milk producers. So you could feed/house 3 where it would take the same for 1 of the larger goats. Drawback...very hard to milk unless you have a milker set-up.

Pygmy: Good for pets. Make sure fencing is sufficient because they are notorious for finding a way out!

Another new name on the market is Kiko...these were first considered a "meat" goat and now more people are using them as dual purpose.

For Fiber: The most well-known is the Mohair goat. These have to be well-maintained and groomed because of their fiber use.

Know Your Goat

**Note** Never stake a goat! This is cruel. Goats are "Browsers" not grazers although they will eat green grass, weeds and herbs. They much prefer shrubs and trees. They amble along eating and then, stopping to rest and chew their "cud". Goats are Caprine whereas Cattle are Bovine and Horses are Equine. Goats are considered Ruminants because of their digestive habits...they have four stomach chambers. This is why they chew their "cud"...this is regurgitation of foods eaten, chewed again and then, swallowed back down to travel into the third stomach. The goat needs good roughage to keep the rumen working correctly. If a goat gets very sick and stops eating there is a chance that they loose this "cud" and imbalances their digestion and they can die if something is not done. Sometimes if they have no "cud" (this is needed to help keep fermentation and digestion stable in the rumen) you can actually remove some of the cud from another goat to help the sick goat. But if a goat is this sick a vet needs to be notified so that you can make sure there are no other illnesses affecting the goat.

Goat Needs

Goats need pasture to roam and browse. They can be kept in small areas if all their needs are met. They must have a grain ration (12-16%) and hay. There needs to be a mineral supplement where the goats can access it when they need it. Keep from the rain because they will "melt" away. They need fresh water daily or access to running water from a natural stream. You need
to have the number to a vet for easy access if your goat gets sick or is injured. You need to keep blood-stop on hand. If the goat gets diarrhea, which they often do in Spring just because of eating too much green foliage, you will need to supplement with an electrolyte. If a goat goes more that 2 days with diarrhea and stops eating contact a vet.

One of the best ways to feed the goats their ration is by using "over the fence" feeders. You can pre-measure their feed and take it to them and then, collect the pan after they have eaten. This keeps their feeders cleaner and the plastic is easier to wash. If you have several young goats you can purchase a multi-feeder that has separations that will feed about 5 young goats at a time. Feeding amounts should be determined by the needs of the particular goat. Anywhere from 1/2lb. per feeding for younger to 1lb. per feeding for pregnant/lactating doe. Breeder bucks also need more feed during the breeding season. Feeding should be done 2x daily...morning and evening.

Watch for Part II where we will discuss Housing, Health/Maintenance, Milking and much more!

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

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.

Setting Up an Off-the-Grid Homestead in a Hay Field


A barren field. Finding our land was actually pretty easy. Not when we first started looking on the computer but when we went out to the area we were interested in and started looking. You would be very surprised at how many properties are for sale that are not listed in any magazine or with any realtor.  In these very rural areas, bulletin boards host many FOR SALE properties from local folks. They have the same hope of cutting out the guy in the middle and reaping pure profit. However, some think that their $15,000 property is worth $30,000.

How We Found Land for a Homestead Property

In the end, we asked an old fella (93 at the time) if he knew of any land for sale,  that we could rent for a calendar year. I knew that if we were not here, we would have a hard time finding land to buy. Getting a good deal on land takes effort. I needed a year to do it. In the end, the old fella just happened to own 20,000 acres all around the area and letting us "use" 3 acres for a year wasn't an issue.

Setting Up a Homesteading Property in an Overgrown Field

We were home, for now. We set up our camper, just like at a camp ground. I opened a couple fold-out chairs for my wife and me, and we sat down to a nice hot cup of coffee. I even opened up the awning.  We looked around at the majestic forest landscapes. I'll tell you what, the air is different out here.  When you are surrounded by huge, healthy forest, the aromas are amazing. Peace. Peace and quiet. We took a few days to soak it all in.

Now. We have things to do. We need water. We need a place to use the toilet. We need hot showers. We need to be comfortable. But first, we need to cut down this hay field to a more respectable grass length. Taming this field took two days, and we did it with a standard 14 horsepower Honda riding lawn mower — six inches of travel at a time as not to bog down the little mower.

Water. With the grass cut, we needed water. A 500-gallon plastic tote will take care of that. And I had just happened to have one that I had sourced at work and was a freebie from my boss.  But that won't work in the winter here. It falls to sometimes -40 below zero here.

I needed to build a small structure to enclose the water tank, and install a woodstove in the same room. That would keep our water unfrozen and give a place for us to sit, as well, to take refuge from the cold.  I also built the roof to cover the camper, leaving a tapered 3-foot gap above it to allow for air circulation. also helping to keep out little 17-foot camper warm in the winter and minimizing how many times the trailer's furnace would come on.  I wanted to burn wood, not propane, all winter.

Bathroom facilities. Now the toilet. The camper had a nice one. But I had nowhere to dump the tanks. No septic system here. I wanted to stay legal, get off to the right start in this new community. So,  we installed a 200-gallon holding tank. When I say install, I mean dug a hole and threw a tank in it. Once full, we could call a truck and have it removed. That's what we did.

Funny to note that when the septic truck came the first time I asked the driver where he unloads. He said they own a field and dump it over 200 yards of grass! What? You just dump it? WOW. Why can't I just do this? Oh tha'ts right: You need a license to dump fertilizer in Canada. What a world.

Ok. Water. Check. Toilet. Check. Hot showers. Check. The camper has an OK shower. It will do for now. OK, now we had basic services.  And my wife and daughter can continue to be girls - not forest people from the great white north. 

Electricity. What about electricity? This one is easy.  I always tell folks, "If you can install a car stereo, you can install solar."  Well, we had 1,000 watts of solar panels and a small 2,600 watt generator. I did my homework on solar energy before we took off from the city. We were able to power things in the summer during the day — but night time would require big batteries. We just happened to have four of those, too, that we had bought beforehand. They were re-conditioned and didn't work for long - but they were cheap and fit our budget at the time.  I do not recommend this strategy.  Buy your batteries new (very important).  Re-conditioned batteries just don't last.  What a waste of money.

With everything functioning well in our little field, we took the summer and unwound from all the action that spring. I wanted a break. A rest from our life.  I was 39 years old.  I had been working away at life - treading water since I was 18.  We needed the break — and we took it.

Lessons Learned for Beginning Homesteaders

The heaviest work we did was haul water from the township office to fill our tank. This sounds easy, but to fill a 250-gallon tank in the middle of winter with 5-gallon jugs is not easy. We also constructed a little cabin on the back of our camper. This held the tank. But I knew, as a crane operator, how heavy that tank would be full. The beams under the floor where the tank went had to be beefed right up. I did this by using 4x4 beams and made six footings under the more than 2,200 pounds of water going right to the bedrock. This tank was now solid and wouldn't rip the trailer in half if the weight shifted.

Things like this are super important. When loading up a structure with weight,  one needs to know how to calculate the weight of it. That much water is dangerous. It can crush floor beams and destroy a building in seconds in structural failure. Don't go at this part without some help of someone with experience dealing with heavy weights. Keep in mind, our plastic tank now weighed as much as a car.

That summer was full of quiet times, good conversations with my wife, and God. Hard work,  good eating and exercise. I even had the elusive "6 pack" stomach muscles for a couple months. A first for me. Amazing what can happen when you eat real food.

Now we had to start thinking about winter. It was September first and we still didn't have a wood stove. But that's another story. To be continued.

Kirk Winter homesteads near Bancroft, Ontario, with his wife, Amanda. They enjoy life 100-percent off the grid and live in a trailer while they build a new self-powered home. They are doing this as they earn the money and are committed to not getting a mortgage check out their progress as they document their entire journey on their YouTube Channel, 46 Degrees North Off-Grid.

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.