Mother Earth News Blogs >

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

Root Cellar In a Box

Our root-cellar-in-a-box overflows with potatoes

Our root-cellar-in-a-box overflows with potatoes. Photo by Rory Groves

Spring starts with a bang around here—planting seeds, preparing beds, mulching and weeding. Throughout the summer we enjoy fresh greens, ripe strawberries, and the incomparable BLT (with our own bacon and tomatoes). But by harvest time in Fall, we are ready to whimper. We often find ourselves too tired to preserve the harvest we worked so hard to cultivate all summer long.

Spring's inspiration to "build a root cellar this year!" has faded along with our energy levels, which are focused by this time on splitting wood and settling in for winter. The root cellar will have to wait, yet again.

But what to do with the Yukon Golds, the Red Norlands, the Danvers Carrots? Over the years, we've tried many approaches to storing root vegetables with varying results. But our spuds kept sprouting within a few months and the carrots would dry out, leaving us without homegrown roots for most of the winter.

all hands on deck for the potato harvest

All hands on deck for the potato harvest. Photo by Rory Groves

All of that changed when we discovered this easy method for preserving our root crops. The idea is simple and anyone can do it, regardless of space (or energy levels). All you need is a sturdy box and a generous supply of peat moss. It works especially well for potatoes and carrots. We call it a root-cellar-in-a-box. It has worked very well for us and preserves the harvest well into spring, as long as we do our part to maintain it.

Step 1: Build your box

Root-cellar box

 Root-cellar box. Photo by Rory Groves

We built our boxes out of ¾-inch plywood. The dimensions were approx. 3-ft long by 1-ft wide by 1-ft deep. A small box can hold a lot of potatoes! These were built to fit easily into the coldest corner of our basement. We also built a divider in the box for sturdiness and to group breeds together.

Step 2: Layer your roots

first layer of potatoes

 First layer of potatoes. Photo by Rory Groves

After building a box to suit your space, place a 3-inch layer of peat moss on the bottom. You can buy a bag of peat moss from the garden store for about $10 that will likely supply far more than you need for this project. Peat moss keeps pretty well, so you can store the leftovers or share with neighbors.

Next, place a layer of potatoes or carrots in the box and cover with another inch or so of peat moss. Try to space the root vegetables so the peat moss can fall in between. This will help with distribution of moisture and minimize rotting.

Potatoes covered with peat moss

Potatoes covered with peat moss. Photo by Rory Groves

Continue layering the roots and peat moss until you fill up the box or run out of roots. Leave at least 3 inches at the top of the box to cover with peat moss.

Finally, cover your box with a sturdy lid that light will not penetrate.

Step 3: Keep moist and enjoy

The key to preserving a root crop harvest is keeping the environment dark, cool and humid. Peat moss is a perfect medium for this because it holds moisture so well. And the layering approach prevents light from sneaking into the box.

Over the course of the winter, open the lid and add water to the peat moss. You can either spray or gently dribble water from a jar. The amount of water needed depends on the size of your box, it's construction (wood holds water better than cardboard, which wicks water away), and the vegetables being stored (carrots need more water than potatoes).

You will have to experiment with this, but a good rule of thumb is to water about once a week. The peat moss does an excellent job absorbing the moisture and distributing it around the box. You don't want the moss to be soggy (too wet), but you don't want it to be dusty either (too dry).

This small and simple "root-cellar-in-a-box" will help us preserve the harvest each winter until that day when our energy levels catch up with Spring's inspiration and we can build a proper root cellar.

Until then, enjoy the harvest!

Enjoy the potato harvest

Enjoy the potato harvest. Photo by Rory Groves

Rory Groves is a technology consultant and family farmer who lives in southern Minnesota, with his wife, Becca, where they farm, raise livestock, host workshops, and homeschool their five children. He is author of the book Durable Trades: Family-Centered Economies That Have Stood the Test of Time (Front Porch Republic). Connect with Rory at The Grovestead, 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.

Raising Sheep for Excellent Quality Wool, Part 1

Lincoln Longwool Lambs 

Lincoln Longwool lambs
Photo by Kat Ludlam

Raising sheep for wool is a fun and satisfying experience. The market for wool and wool-products continues to grow as people are eager to learn skills such as felting, spinning, rug-making, weaving, knitting, crochet, and many others. We have had thousands of fleece come through our mill and the difference in quality is immense. Breeding, feeding, and care make a huge difference in the quality of fleece and thus, the quality of the finished products. With some careful planning and special care, you can raise sheep with excellent quality wool, setting your fleece apart from the rest, making them more desirable, and increasing your profits.

Wool Breeds

Producing great wool starts with choosing the right breed of sheep. While all sheep grow wool, not all wool is created equal. Even among wool-specific breeds the variation is immense. Before you go purchase your breeding stock you need to research the different wool breeds and find the one that matches with what you are wanting with your finished product. Long-wool breeds, such as Lincoln Longwool and Wensleydale, have a coarser wool that grows faster. It is strong and doesn’t have as much memory, so is more drape-y. It is excellent for rugs and items that won’t be close to your skin.

Fine-wool breeds, such as Merino and CVM, grow slower and thus have a shorter staple length. They generally have a lot of crimp and memory to the fiber. They are much softer and wonderful for making items that will be used against the skin. Dual-coated breeds, such as Navajo Churro, have a coarser outer coat, and then a softer under coat. Cross-breeding is also an option. Oftentimes the best fleece come from a cross of two breeds, bringing excellent qualities from each. What does your market want?  What will sell well?  Or what do you want for your personal use? You need to consider all of these things as you choose your breed or breeds.

This is also a great time to consider whether you plan to hand-process your fiber, or have a custom mill do it. If you would like a mill to do it, you should contact some mills and get an idea of what they can and cannot process. Some mills cannot process the very short fleece, such as Southdown Babydoll. Some cannot process the very long wools, such as Cotswold (if only sheared once a year). If you want your fiber to be mill-processed, taking into consideration whether or not there is a mill that can process what you are hoping for, and where it is located is important before you buy your stock and start breeding them.

There are so many options for wool breeds and it can sometimes feel overwhelming to decide. A great resource for studying different wool breeds is the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Carol Ekarius. Take your time to do your research before settling on a breed or breeds.

Once you have chosen a breed (or breeds) you need to find a breeder to buy your stock from. Again, the variation in fleece can be immense, even within a specific breed. One Bluefaced Leicester fleece can be a lot softer and finer, while another is coarser. You need to find a breeder that has been selectively breeding for the attributes you want in your wool. Visit the farm, get your hands on the wool and see if it is really what you want. If you can’t visit the farm, buy a raw fleece from them, or have them send you a sample of wool (or several samples from different sheep) to give you an idea of exactly what they have been breeding for and what their sheep produce.

It is important to note that you cannot just focus on the fleece. The animal needs to have good conformation, no defects in its physical form, and be healthy and hearty. If selective breeding focuses solely on the fleece, you can end up with all sorts of genetic defects in the body because you are not paying attention to the conformation. Both need to be taken into consideration when choosing breeding stock.

Selective Breeding

Once you start breeding your stock it is important to select your breeding groups with purpose. It can be easy to fall into just breeding every sheep you have, or breeding a sheep because they are friendly or your “favorite.”  But if you aim to create a high-quality fleece you need to purposefully breed the rams and ewes that give you lambs with that excellent fleece. Again, don’t forget to keep conformation, health, and hardiness in mind when selective breeding.

Wensleydale Fleece

Wensleydale fleece
Photo by Kat Ludlam

Feed Them Well

It goes without saying that a well-fed sheep will produce a better-quality fleece. Feed your rams and non-pregnant sheep with high-quality pasture or grass hay. Pregnant (after 90 days) and lactating ewes will need alfalfa and potentially grain to help keep their body condition up and their fleece healthy and growing well while they are gestating and feeding their lambs. Dr. Nancy Irlbeck, renowned animal nutritionist and shepherdess, taught us that properly feeding the pregnant ewe from 90 days of pregnancy on will even affect the secondary hair follicle development in the lamb(s) she is carrying, and thus can lead to lambs with more hair follicles per inch. Once a lamb is ready to start eating solids, they will need good alfalfa, in addition to their mother’s milk, so their bodies can grow and mature properly while also growing an excellent fleece. And don’t forget good mineral supplements and, of course, fresh, clean water available at all times to all sheep.

What you feed can also affect your fleece because of what it physically puts on the fleece as they are eating. If the hay you buy contains a lot of seeds you will find your fleece to be full of seeds, some of which will not come out and thus will affect your wool and finished product. The same is true with grazing them in seedy pastures, or pastures that have plants that contain burrs. Many a fleece has been ruined by the VM (vegetable matter) that got into it while it was on the sheep. The time and effort to remove it ends up de-valuing the fleece and makes it not worth it. And if you sell your fleece raw, having a lot of VM in it will definitely cause the value to plummet.


One option to help keep your fleece cleaner and free of VM is to jacket the sheep. Jacketing is not right for every situation, but when it is, it can really improve the quality and value of the fleece. Jacketing prevents sun-bleaching of dark fleece, staining of light fleece, and keeps out the majority of VM.

If you choose to jacket your sheep you will need to invest in 2-3 sizes for each sheep as their wool grows through the season. You cannot leave the same jacket on the whole year. You must change the jacket as the wool grows or it can cause felting of the wool or even injure the sheep. You will also need different sizes to change out on your lambs as they are growing to their full size. The jackets will wear out over time and need to be patched or replaced. Jacketing is definitely a financial investment, but with the right market it can pay itself off with the quality of the wool you will be producing.

Jacketed CVM/Merino Ewe

Jacketed CVM/Merino Ewe
Photo by Kat Ludlam

Jacket Removed from CVM/Merino Ewe

Same CVM/Merino Ewe with the jacket removed
Photo Kat Ludlam

If you jacket your sheep you need to check them twice a day. Jackets can get tangled, torn, or caught up in fencing or the sheep’s legs. It is not safe to jacket your sheep if you are unable to check on the entire flock at least twice a day.

Choosing the right breed, and the right individual breeding sheep, selectively breeding them carefully, and feeding them well has a large impact on the quality of fleece they produce. In Part II of this series, I will discuss breaks in the fleece, and the best methods for shearing and skirting to produce excellent quality wool.

Kat Ludlam has been homesteading in Colorado for 15 years now. She and her husband, Daniel, are the owners of Willow Creek Farm, where they breed specialty wool sheep, milk sheep, chickens, and crops that thrive in their location. They also own and run a custom fiber processing mill, Willow Creek Fiber Mill . Kat loves to feed her family from their land, and teach others to homestead as well. Read all of Kat’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.

Putting Pigs and Chickens to Work Clearing Land


Pinky, Red, and the unfinished pig cabana with a comfy mattress. Photo by Jo deVries

In an article in the Ottawa Citizen on October 31, 2020, titled “Vineyard Menagerie”, I read about the various animals used to help out in vineyards around the world. It tells of a winery in California where sheep munch the weeds, while donkeys and Spanish mastiffs ward off coyotes and mountain lions. Owls deal with the destructive gophers, and chickens scratch the earth and devour bugs.

In Patagonia, some growers keep armadillos to eat the aggressive ants that damage the vines and leaves. Some winegrowers are experimenting with non-venomous serpents to help restrain the population of rodents. In South Africa, ducks forage through the rows of vines looking for the invasive white dune snails. Napa wineries use falcons to ward off hungry birds, especially aggressive starlings.

Horse, mule and oxen driven farm equipment is found around the globe. In some countries, donkeys and camels are depended on, to carry heavy loads over difficult terrain. Many times, the decision to use animals to work on the farm is a financial one. Sometimes there is simply no other option. Occasionally, it is a firm ecological choice.

Putting Chickens to Work Preparing their Coop Area

In some cases, the animal is being raised for another purpose — the fact that they can be put to work, is a bonus. I am wanting to add an outdoor addition to my chicken coop. The area behind my coop needs to be excavated down to the solid rock. I decided to put up a temporary fence of chicken wire around the area, and let my chickens have a go.

They are getting the job started, scratching up the earth, exposing rocks and digging up small roots, while eating the greens and insects. These chickens are beneficial for many reasons. They provide offspring to sell as chicks, a beautiful selection of colourful eggs, and quality meat.  They eat insects, and now they’re working the land. I’m all for getting them to work for their keep; raising chickens isn’t cheap these days. I can buy a cooked chicken from the grocery store for less than half the price it takes to raise one.  nd besides, many feet make light work.

Pigs Put to Work Digging Roots

In some cases, an animal will do a far better job than any piece of equipment.  The soft nose of a pig is the best option for cleaning off a beautiful rock face, that might otherwise be permanently scarred by the scraping of metal instruments. At present, my pigs are doing a job that can’t be done with machinery.

They are digging up the earth and leaving only the Elderberry, Joe Pye Weed, Goldenrod, and Cow Parsnip. I will relocate the Joe Pye Weed and Goldenrod to the natural perennial flower garden I’m making. After just discovering that Cow Parsnip is edible, I’ve now got plans for it too.  The seeds are presently ready for harvest, to use as a spice, and I’ll have a healthy crop of young greens next spring. No piece of machinery could dig up all the other roots and only leave certain plants; plants that are all beneficial to me. Pigs are best suited for this job, by far.

Over the years, I’ve bought two or three pigs in a season, to clear an area of land. Any more than three pigs, is a gang. Pigs require very strong fencing, especially if confined to a small area. They will try to go over, under, or through most fencing, and are often successful, if their desire is strong enough. I’ve heard of pigs bolting right through a fibreglass cap of a pick-up truck on their way to the slaughterhouse.

In contrast, I’ve had three pigs thoroughly enjoy their 45-minute back-road excursion in a flimsy enclosure I built in the back of my truck out of 2-by-2s. I’m sure it never crossed their minds to escape. They had food in their bellies, and the wind in their face. That’s the key: keep your pigs happy. And pray before doing stuff like that.

My pigs have recently acquired superb sleeping accommodations. They are enjoying the luxury of sleeping on a mattress. This idea occurred to me when I saw a large selection of mattresses at the dump. They were being collected for their steel. I picked up a fine-looking single mattress, after being assured I could simply return it in the fall; regardless of condition.

For two weeks, the pigs seemed truly grateful. Then they started tearing it, and the springs started pocking out. When I turned the mattress over, it looked as good as new. Later that day, I gave Pinky heck when she attempted to bite it. She stopped, and so far, the mattress is fine. Perhaps she realized the consequences of her actions; people keep telling me how smart they are. I just wish they could behave when food is served. They totally lose control of themselves at feeding time. Hence the saying “He eats like a pig.”

Clearing Land with Pigs

Raising pigs has proven to be another incredibly practical and financially responsible decision for me. Pigs will clear land (even eating poison ivy), and provide pork in as short as six months. My pigs will pay for themselves when I sell them in the fall. Grass-fed pork is hard to find and will fetch a higher price than strictly feed-raised pigs. Each year, I raise pigs, the grass and weeds will be kept down in the elderberry grove, and their selling price will help pay-down the fencing expenses.

To fence an area approximately half-an-acre in size, cost me about $2,000.00 Canadian. 80% of that was for materials: steel fencing and posts. Due to finances, I had to get the job done in two stages.  A fourth-generation fencer answered my ad. Glen did an amazing job with surprising speed, making both me and the pigs very happy!

This was a good investment in sustainable living, which should pay for itself in less than ten years. After that, I’ll be making a profit while harvesting an abundance of incredibly healthy, native fruit, each year.

The materials for phase-two of the steel fencing job were purchased sooner than expected, when I discovered that retailers were running short of stock.  Suppliers were also not able to guarantee future delivery dates; I panicked and bought what I needed; thankful for my credit card.

Trying to keep up with Mother Nature’s growth rate on this property is tougher than I originally thought. The clay-based lowland is heavy with nutrients and water, and plants and trees grow incredibly fast. Having the pigs is a huge benefit for me and offers them a great quality of life.  They have sun and shade, and endless greens and roots to eat.  They can roll in the dust or lay in the mud; whatever their heart desires.

And at the end of the day, their hard work is rewarded with a second high protein meal and a comfortable bed. They won’t have a long life, but they sure have a good one. And isn’t that what’s most important?

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

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

How to Buy a Homestead for Cash

Pay off Homestead

 Photo by

Six years ago, my wife Jen and I purchased our 20-acre homestead for cash. We worked hard for many years and saved and used our own money. We are average people, neither of us went to college. We both started out at minimum wage jobs and we didn’t inherit any money. If we could pay of our homestead (by age 35) we think that anybody could do it.  And this is how we’d do it if we had to start over again today. 

The last six years with ZERO mortgage have been amazing. We have more freedom to do what we want and instead of paying a huge chunk of money each month for that mortgage we’ve been able to reinvest that money in ourselves, our homestead business ventures and improving our property which is a great long term investment.  We’ve also been able to make decisions we couldn’t have if we were stuck at a job we hated because we were scared to quit because of a mortgage hanging over our heads. 

WHAT if we started out today? How would we buy a homestead for cash if we started over? Here is what we came up with as our plan. We also did a video version here-  

Write Down Your Frugal-Living Goal

The first thing we’d do is write down a specific goal. Then we would both work very hard, take all the overtime we could and we would be frugal like you’ve never seen. This is what we did in order to save for our current homestead.  When we say frugal we mean it. No fancy smartphones, no Starbucks or out to each and absolutely NO car payments. The last three cars we purchased were all for under $1400 cash (we did a video on it) in the 10 years leading up to buying our homestead we’ve saved over $70,000 by purchasing used vehicles instead of new!

We’ve never owned a new car and we never used credit cards. Even six years later we have plenty of disposable income to afford a car payment and I still won’t do it. A $500 (or more plus higher insurance) payment is the last thing I want. Instead we take that $500 and put it to work for us. For example we put it towards our homestead dog kennel OR our homestead AirBnB rental or our YouTube channel and that $500 will continue to grow. That new car smell fades fast and the amount of freedom traded for it is just not worth it to us.

Patience Pays

We would be patient. Right now real estate prices are crazy-high and that bubble will burst. Real estate is a great investment and it will always trend up, but while it tends up there are many peaks and valleys. We saw this in 2008 and then the prices dropped. I believe that the current boom will bust and prices will come back down. I would patiently wait to purchase while frugal saving and working overtime. 

Some Options Make More Sense than Others

When the market comes back to reality we would go one of two routes:

  • Buy land and build or 
  • Buy a foreclosure or major fixer-upper.

More on this below. We would look for an opportunity that could also lead to future business revenue. For example our current homestead is a 2 family. So we’d look for something with rental potential that could be a large basement or attic that could be converted or a two family/duplex. I’d also look for something maybe near a busy road so that we could potentially sell firewood or have a produce cart. I would look for something with room for an orchard. I would strongly consider the potential business revenue my future homestead could generate.

Our current homestead makes money from Airbnb (over 20k per year) our new Dog Kennel, our Youtube channel, we’ve sold eggs and we have enough forest that we could sustainably sell firewood. Those are some ideas worth considering.

Consider Options for Working Without an Agent

Personally, I would NOT buy from a real estate agent. I would buy for sale by owner or foreclosed. A real estate agent can in many cases increase the price by 6-9+% and any chance of getting a good deal is often lost.  I know this because I was a licensed real estate agent for six years. Real estate agents almost all work for the seller and its their job to get the most money for the seller. 

Temporary Living While You Prepare

If we found land, we would dig an outhouse and put up our 10-by-12 all-weather wall tent. It has a wood stove and it can be cozy year round. We’d dig a well by hand and we’d live in the wall tent while we built our permanent house. Depending on the situation we’d maybe build a tiny house on wheels to live in while we saved up more for our permanent house. We’d live frugal and minimal while we build our permanent homestead house. Then we’d sell the tiny house or rent it out.

Another options is we’d search for a property with just a metal building on it. Not as common but they are out there. In fact three miles from here we drive by one all the time. Someone bought the metal building on a 20-acre parcel and they live in an RV outside it. We’d do the same but instead build an insulated apartment inside the metal building for a reasonable cost. Then we’d save and slowly work to build our main homestead home. Once the main home is done we could move into it and rent out the apartment! Another option is we could live in the wall tent and build a log cabin on our homestead.

Search Tax Records

When it comes to searching for property there are tons of websites like or but another option for land is to search tax records. Most states have online tax record parcel maps. One tactic I would consider is searching these maps in an area I am interested in. In my area, I have countless 20- and 40-acre parcels surrounding my home. Most of this is hunting land. I suspect much of it is rarely used some of it may have been inherited. We’d  search the online tax record parcel maps and look for properties that way.

If the mailing address on file didn’t match the parcel itself then we’d know the owner likely doesn’t live on the parcel. We’d write up a bunch of letters and mail them to these folks to see if any want to sell or perhaps subdivide a 40-acre parcel into two, 20-acre parcels. It would not be easy but I am sure with enough work we could find a seller and NOT have to compete with the hundreds of buyers finding properties on In a similar way, we’d search local papers and Craigslist for for sale by owner properties that are not listed on MLS/Zillow. 

While it wouldn’t be easy and it could take many years, we are confident we could purchase another homestead for cash.

Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube page, Instructables, Pinterest,  Facebook, and at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’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.

Why We Use Reusable Canning Lids

Canning jars with reusable lids 

Canned tomatoes. Photo by Kat Ludlam

As canning supply shortages cause troubles for canners across the nation, the idea of having reusable lids becomes even more appealing. Surprisingly, many people who preserve their food with canning don’t even know the reusable lids exist. We first found out about Tattler Reusable Canning Lids 8 years ago, after we had already been canning for a decade. We were surprised that we had never heard of them before then, but were excited about the possibility of using them. We bought a few boxes, tried them out, and have never gone back to the metal lids.


One of the reasons we decided to make the switch to reusable lids was “just in case there comes a time we can’t buy canning lids.”  At the time it seemed like such a remote possibility, and yet, here we are, 8 years later, and it is a reality. The pandemic caused shortages in many products, including canning lids.

Whenever we use a product on our homesteads that we are required to constantly re-purchase we are making ourselves dependent on the stores to keep going. We will never be able to be completely self-sustaining, but choosing to replace what items we can with reusable is a good step towards being less dependent on others and less effected when shortages occur.

Environmental Impact

Another reason to make the switch is that it creates less garbage, which is better for the environment. The amount of garbage we humans create and bury every day is immense, and any cut-backs we can make to that pile of garbage are helpful.

Tattler Canning Lids

Tattler reusable canning lids. Photo by Kat Ludlam 

Financial Savings

If you are planning to can food year after year then the reusable lids will not only pay themselves off, but save you money over and over again. Back when I purchased my first reusable lids, I calculated it out and found that if each lid was used 3 times it would pay itself off. That was over 8 years ago, and since I reuse the jars and rings each year as well, I have paid absolutely nothing for canning supplies for almost 6 years running now. Surprisingly, the prices on canning lids have barely increased over the last 8 years, so the savings are likely quite similar now as they were when I did my calculations. The lids are guaranteed to last a lifetime. But, over time, the rubber rings will lose their flexibility and will need to be replaced. Customers have reported them lasting ten years or more. I have not had to replace mine yet. For someone who cans regularly year after year, the savings on lids when you switch to reusable are well worth the transition.

No matter which reasons appeal to you the most, consider trying out reusable lids this canning season. If you are like us, you will find them to be an excellent addition to your homestead kitchen.

Kat Ludlam has been homesteading in Colorado for 15 years now. She and her husband, Daniel, are the owners of Willow Creek Farm, where they breed specialty wool sheep, milk sheep, chickens, and crops that thrive in their location. They also own and run a custom fiber processing mill, Willow Creek Fiber Mill . Kat loves to feed her family from their land, and teach others to homestead as well. Read all of Kat’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.

Building An Emergency Poultry Kit


Poultry emergency kit, photo by Fala Burnette

Have you ever heard the line about “prior proper planning”? The basis of the phrase, regardless of the way you may have heard it told, is that preparation ahead of time can help prevent a negative outcome. The same can be said for those who have a backyard flock or are considering adding poultry to their residence. I speak from experience when I say that having an emergency kit for your animals can sometimes be a lifesaver, and that there are moments when you do not have the ability to drive 30+ minutes away living rurally to the nearest store in hopes they have what you need in stock. At times, there will be things your store may not carry, and waiting on something to be delivered in the mail could be pushing the clock on potentially helping your animal.          

I recently reached out to the community of BackYard Chickens, a massive online forum of dedicated poultry enthusiasts that I’ve been a member of for over 6 years, and asked users to provide input for basic supplies that can benefit poultry keepers. There were many great suggestions, and I have compiled some of those basic and suggested items below. Many of these are products we have used ourselves over the years to help our own chickens and ducks. You will find helpful, clickable links that lead you to product listings for some of these items. Please keep in mind, seek the care and advice of an avian veterinarian if you have one (try and find a name and number BEFORE you need it), but here are some poultry emergency kit suggestions to have on hand. (Disclosure: the following are Amazon Affiliate links, meaning if a product is purchased directly via the link it provides a little support to the Homestead here, thank you!)-

Other supplies can include things such as cotton swabs, cotton balls, other poultry vitamins, heating pad, heat lamp, small extra waterer and feeder for isolation, a closed container to put your supplies in, and cleaning supplies for the workspace around your bird(s) such as bleach. Again, please consult an avian veterinarian if at all possible, and thoroughly read instructions and research before using any product. Hopefully this list will provide you with the incentive and basics to create your own poultry emergency kit. Let us know what you have in YOUR kit!

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. They have a small flock of rescued chickens and Khaki Campbell ducks. Read all of Fala'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.

Using a Broody Hen to Raise Hatchery Chicks

mother hen teaching her chicks to eat 

Mother hen teaching her chicks to eat. Photo by Kat Ludlam

Is it possible for a broody hen to raise chicks purchased from the store and/or hatched in an incubator? Yes! Using a hen to brood chicks means less work for you and a more natural experience for the chicks. We find that the chicks that we let our hens raise learn to eat and drink sooner and have a lower chick mortality rate. It also helps when it is time to integrate them with the flock, as the mama hen will protect them and help them integrate into the group.

There are a few things to keep in mind before trying to get your hen to adopt chicks.

Be Willing to Brood the Chicks Yourself

Before you undertake this process, you need to be willing and able to brood the chicks in case it doesn’t work. You can’t count 100% on the hen. So be sure you have what you need and are able to brood the chicks yourself if things don’t go well.

Use an Experienced Hen

Next, you need to make sure the hen you choose to use has successfully hatched and raised chicks on her own before. This ensures that she knows how to raise chicks and decreases the chance that she will abandon or reject the chicks.

Also, the hen needs to be in the mood to set and brood. You can’t just bring chicks to a hen that has raised them before and expect her to take them. She needs to want to set. Since you are using a hen that has set before, you should be able to tell when she is getting serious about setting. Some typical behaviors include spending most of the day, day after day, on the nest, and puffing up her body and being aggressive when you try to mess with the nest. Watch her for a few days to be sure that she is really serious about setting - you don’t want her to quit halfway through. Also, be sure that she is set up in a nest that is safe for chicks. It needs to be at ground level and there needs to be space around it for her and the chicks to move around together.

Mother hen with chicks 

Mother hen with chicks. Photo by Kat Ludlam

Fake Eggs

Once you are sure that your hen is going to set, give her fake eggs (you can buy ceramic or wood ones at most feed stores). Let her set on them for about 2-3 weeks so that her body can go through the process of an incubation, even if it is a “fake” incubation. An actual incubation of chicken eggs takes about 21 days. Meanwhile, order your chicks, or get the incubator going – lining everything up to have the chicks ready after the 2–3-week period of fake setting.

You need to give her newly-hatched chicks. You can’t give her older ones or she is likely to reject them. Over about 3 days old is probably not going to work as well.

Adoption Day

Be sure her living quarters are safe and set up for chicks. The nest needs to be on ground level. Set up food and water dishes that are designed for chicks, and put chick starter feed in the food dish.

Once the chicks are ready you can carefully remove her eggs and gently put all the chicks under her at the same time. Some people say to do this at night so that she is sleepy, but I have not found that to be best. It is important to keep an eye on things until you are confident that it will work. I prefer to give the chicks to her in the morning or midday so I can watch closely until they are bonded, and so they will be bonded before night comes.

It should be clear pretty quickly whether she plans to adopt them or not. If she is going to adopt them, she should be in the “broody hen” body posture, which is kind of squatting with her wings slightly out from her body so the babies can go under her and under her wings. She will start talking to them in a voice that is specific to a mama hen clucking to her babies. If she becomes at all aggressive with them you should remove them immediately and brood them yourself.

Hen in broody posture, squatted down with wings out slightly

Hen in broody posture, squatted down with wings out slightly. Photo by Kat Ludlam

If she seems wishy-washy about the situation, then just stay close by and give her time to decide.

At first the chicks will be confused because they didn’t hatch under her and aren’t exactly sure what a Mama is yet. We watch them, and if the chicks are wandering around, we gently put them back under her every so often and encourage them to stay near her. If it is cold out, we stay with them until we are confident that the chicks know to go to her for heat - we don’t want any wandering off and getting chilled. If it is hot out, we stay long enough to be sure that Mama hen wants them, and then we check back often to be sure everything is going well.  

By the end of the first day, they should be bonded and at this point the hardest part is done! Let her raise them just like she would raise chicks she hatched on her own.

Using your broody hen to raise chicks from your incubator or chicks that you buy at the store will make raising the chicks much less work for you, help integrate them with the rest of your flock, and give both the hen and the chicks a more natural experience.

Kat Ludlam spent 14 years homesteading at high-altitude in the Rockies and now is building a new homestead in the high plains of Colorado. She and her husband, Daniel, are the owners of Willow Creek Farm, where they breed both long-wool and fine-wool sheep, milk sheep, Nubian goats, chickens, ducks, and crops that thrive in their location. Kat loves to feed her family from their land, and teach others to homestead as well. Check out Kat and Daniel’s custom fiber-processing business, Willow Creek Fiber Mill, and read all of Kat’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.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters