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

Treat Hardware Disease in Cows Using Rumen Magnets

Photo by John Klar 

"Miro", the Hereford bull. Photos by John Klar

One great benefit of cows is their resilience — rugged, and uncomplaining. But even cows have their Achilles heels; or, in this case, an Achilles rumen. It is easy for such big eaters to ingest rusted metal or old tacks in feed or just milling around munching on old shingles or whatever they find to sample.

This is called “Hardware Disease” (or, traumatic reticuloperitonitis) and can become very serious in both beef and dairy cows. Some farmers routinely deposit one or two “cow magnets” in all their cows, where they will remain their entire lives as precautionary prophylactics,  More often, a farmer will see the signs -- kicking the belly, an arched back or uneasy gait,  laying down and getting up in discomfort, a drop in feed consumption or milk production. 

The damage to a cow can become severe:

Swallowed metallic objects, such as nails or pieces of wire, fall directly into the reticulum or pass into the rumen and are subsequently carried over the ruminoreticular fold into the cranioventral part of the reticulum by ruminal contractions. The reticulo-omasal orifice is elevated above the floor, which tends to retain heavy objects in the reticulum, and the honeycomb-like reticular mucosa traps sharp objects. Contractions of the reticulum promote penetration of the wall by the foreign object…. Perforation of the wall of the reticulum allows leakage of ingesta and bacteria, which contaminates the peritoneal cavity…. The object can penetrate the diaphragm and enter the thoracic cavity (causing pleuritis and sometimes pulmonary abscessation) and the pericardial sac (causing pericarditis, sometimes followed by myocarditis). Occasionally, the liver or spleen may be pierced and become infected, resulting in abscessation, or septicemia can develop.

Funny thought, to simply make the cow gulp down a magnet, which pulls the offending object away from those important areas and restores health — for life. Farmers have always been resourceful, and the simple solution is best!

John with Herd

The author with his herd

If you own a cow exhibiting symptoms of abdominal stress or discomfort, consultation with your veterinarian is advised. But perhaps your bovine has hardware disease, and simply needs a $3 magnet!

John Klar raises grass-fed beef and sheep, and seeks to educate people about where their food comes from and how large corporate interests wish to dominate food production. He moved to Vermont and began farming in 1998. John and his wife, Jacqueline, built and operated an artisanal raw-milk cheese house, and have raised pigs, chickens, sheep, horses, cows, and goats, and grown many varieties of vegetables and herbs. Connect with John on Facebook, and watch his farming videos on YouTube. Read all of John'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.

Homemade Bread and a Woodstove

Old fashioned wood stove

Photo credit Elmira Stove Works    

“Every lost ship can find a way back home.
A man travels the world in search of his dream
only to return home to find it.”

I know of nothing in life more wonderful than the gentle aroma of a home with bread baking in the kitchen. A morning fireplace, a hot cup of coffee and artisan bread filling the air with the scent of winter. It makes a home permanently embedded in your memory as the most wonderful, loving place to be.

Homemade bread comes out better when baked in an old-fashioned kitchen wood stove. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the way the wood flame distribute heat, or the scent of oakwood as it permeates the bread crust, but it is absolutely different. And delightful. And there is something is incessantly rewarding about firing up a wood stove and cooking a meal for your family.

I have a log cabin that sits on a hill on 7 acres in Kentucky. I do not have an old-fashioned wood stove in my kitchen. But I will. Someday. And then I will gain 30 pounds from all the homemade bread I make.

Michael Johnathon is a folk singer, songwriter, and homesteader based in Kentucky. He is the founder, producer and host of WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, a radio and television program featuring Americana, folk and other American roots music. In 2007, he wrote the play Walden: The Ballad of Thoreau, which has been performed in more than 7,400 colleges, community theaters and schools in nine countries. Connect with Michael on his website 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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

You Can Home School: Leave Online Schooling Behind

Little ones learn in nature 

Little ones learn in nature. Photo by Lena Helfinger on Pixabay

Help, my kids are struggling with online learning during the pandemic! I need options. But how can I home school my child?  I don’t know where to start.

I’m not a trained teacher, and they’ll have gaps in their learning. Don’t you have to be super creative, organized, and patient to home school? What about social interaction? Plus I’m so busy just trying to run the farm, work from home, and make sure we’re prepared with food during this crazy time. How can I take this on?

Do you recognize yourself yet, or your fears? There is good news. With God’s gracious help, you can indeed joyfully homeschool your children. And you’ll find it easier than you think and more rewarding than you imagine.

Let’s look at each phase of a child’s growth and where schooling at home fits in. I know you’re worried about your kids who are already in school and struggling with our current forced online learning options, but let’s start at the beginning so you’ll see the full picture and realize how much you already know about home schooling.

In the Beginning

Your first baby comes along and, to be honest, you aren’t even thinking about teaching them. You just wish you could get a little more sleep. Yet your infant is learning all the time. They are learning who loves them, who feeds them and keeps them dry, and who smiles at them. Soon they are learning that some things are hot, that cat’s scratch when you pull their tails, that naps are non-negotiable, and that food can be chewed instead of flung.

Sooner or later your toddler puts names to people and objects. They copy the words you say and figure out that words bring them what they want while random sounds confuse grownups. Through imaginative play, they begin to manipulate their world. Splashing in puddles and squishing mud between their toes brings them into contact with nature. They count the ants that file across a log:  “1...2...3...4”.

The Early Years

This has to be the most difficult age to be stuck in online learning. Elementary aged children need to be active and to be in touch with nature rather than stuck behind a computer screen. So what’s a budding home school parent to do? Start with their interest-of-the-moment:

assign real life jobs 

Assign real-life jobs. Photo by Phicht Wongsunthi on Pixabay

Do they enjoy nature?

  • Take lots of exploratory walks
  • Teach them how to press flowers – yes, there are flowers out even in the winter
  • Visit zoos and aquariums, whether in person or online
  • Plant a garden together – start now by planning one and ordering seeds
  • Order baby chicks, learn about raising them, and start having farm-fresh eggs

Do they tear things apart and try to reinvent them? 

  • Set up a work area for them with real tools sized down for their hands
  • Give them broken appliances to take apart or scrap wood to build things
  • Work beside them on the farm or in your house and solicit their ideas for improvements

Do they like to work with you?

  • Incorporate math and language arts into your conversation as you do things together
  • Find real work for them to do with your animals, train them in safety, and give them both responsibility and your trust
  • Give them daily and weekly farm and house chores
  • Give them a love of learning by showing them its practical application in your daily work

Snuggle up together and read lots of books! Have them draw pictures and then dictate their stories to you. Have them keep a journal. Spend lots of time singing, dancing, cooking, cleaning, planting, harvesting, raising animals, and exploring.

The Middle Years

Ease you children slowly into more self-directed learning. When possible, stay nearby as you work around the house so they sense your presence even though you aren’t working directly with them all the time.

learning together

Learning together. Photo by Andrea Piacquillio on Pexels

During the middle school years you’ll need to be more intentional about the subjects you are covering as you prepare your child for high school and, possibly, college.  Keep talking with them about what they enjoy and what talents God has given them. Begin thinking about how to tailor their high school curriculum to their interests. Consider helping them to start a small business or to spend time interviewing people from various careers.

Let your child pursue their interests with outside classes or tutors in music, art, foreign language, or sports. Many private tutors and sports groups have figured out how to safely navigate meetings during this uncertain time. However, don’t fill up every minute of their day with activities. All children need alone time to dream, think, and engage with nature on their own.

The Teen Years

These are the years during which your child can explore business endeavors, creative abilities, and begin to exercise leadership skills with friends. Consider involving them with debate team, political volunteering, or compassion ministries.

starting a market garden 

Start a market garden together. Photo by Zen Ching on Pexels

Most teens are ready to do a lot of self-directed learning. Buy curriculum written for home schoolers as it is adapted to this approach. Now is the time you might add a limited amount of online or video learning for any subjects you aren’t comfortable teaching yourself.

Don’t let curriculum rule your child’s life. Remember that it is a tool and part of the joy of home schooling is that you can take things at your own pace and in your own order. These are important years to continue discussions about God and how he is at work in your child’s life. Have your child seek out mentors within your child’s fields of interest. Help them to be discerning in who they ask to mentor them.

you really can home school your children

You really can home school your children. Photo by White77 on Pixabay

Let your child take more responsibility for their learning, and give them room to have things not work out. Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." According to the Edison Innovation Foundation, he operated on four simple principles, taught to him by his loving mother:

  1. Never get discouraged if you fail. Learn from it. Keep trying.
  2. Learn with both your head and hands.
  3. Not everything of value in life comes from books- experience the world.
  4. Never stop learning. Read the entire panorama of literature.


Know the laws about home schooling in your state. Find your state laws here. Research curriculum choices through one of the most widely recognized curriculum reviewers in the home school world

There are immense benefits to be found in home schooling. You are intimately involved in your children’s education and daily activities filling the roles of parent and companion. Foster an environment of open communication and be willing to listen and discuss what your children are learning and thinking about. With God’s abundant grace you can home school your children and, in the process, gain their friendship as they reach early adulthood.

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth Gardener and Grit 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.

Making Beeswax Candles with Molds


Photo by Unsplash/Carolyn V

Winter is the time for craft-type projects in our home because summer is too full of garden, orchard and animal projects to have extra energy for crafts. After several yearsof bee-keeping and accumulating beeswax, I wanted to make beeswax candles, and I wanted to make them in time for Christmas gifts.

I already had a sputtering start with candle-making last winter when I thought I could just pour wax into jelly jars and have instant candles. I bought the correct sized wicks and the metal tabs to hold the wicks to the bottom of the jars. Unfortunately, the candles burned for only a short time before the flames smothered in the melted wax. It was then too close to springtime projects to investigate further, so I put candle-making aside until this winter.

Choosing Candle-Making Equipment

This time I was better prepared; I had spoken to a couple vendors who sell beeswax candles at the local Farmers Market. There seemed to be a consensus to use candle-making equipment from Mann Lake including their candle molds and wicks. I was surprised that the molds cost about $25 each, but I really wanted Christmas presents that worked, so I splurged.

finished candles

Photo by Mary Lou Shaw

Mann Lake has many molds to choose from, and importantly, they tell which size wick to order for which mold. As a "best-buy" mold, I ordered one that included three small skep-style votive candles. I also bought one 10" taper, a 7.5" spiral taper and a 3"cylinder mold along with their respective wicks and a can of "mold release." Beeswax requires all-cotton, braided wick and that's what's offered at this company whose products are for bee-keepers. The mold-release was my assurance that I could get the candle out of the mold once the wax had cooled, though the vendors had told me that vegetable oil works well too. The over-all investment seemed expensive, but the consolation prize for the large bill was free shipping.

Melting the Wax

I had started to gather wax-melting equipment last year, but improved on it this year by getting a one-quart Pyrex measuring cup. It allowed me to both melt wax and easily pour into the molds. The Pyrex cup became the top part of a "double boiler" by setting it on a cookie-cutter in an old pan that contained water.


Photo by Mary Lou Shaw

The wax had already been washed and filtered. I read that wax that isn't cleaned well could prevent a candle from burning brightly, and You-Tube vieeos show many different ways of cleaning wax. The simplest cleaning method is to melt wax directly from the hive and just take the wax off the top as both the water and debris settle below. I wasn't taking any chances this year though, and so I re-melted and strained my stored wax through precious butter muslin that I use for cheese making. Then I was ready to begin.

Threading Beeswax Molds

Threading the molds was challenging the first time, but we (my husband was called in for this step) were able to straighten a wire hanger and, by folding the wick over the end of the wire, shove the wick through the small hole in the bottom of the candle mold. The wick is then pulled up through the mold and both centered and anchored at the top of the mold with a long bobby-pin. A mold doesn't need to be "threaded" each time if a long tail of wick is left under the mold. As the cooled candle is removed, the wick is pulled through the mold, anchored with the bobby-pin at the top, and cut from the finished candle.

The spiral taper candle cannot be pulled out of the mold as the smooth candles can. Instead, the mold is cut longitudinally and held together with sturdy rubber bands. The candles from this mold are attractive and professional looking and a pleasure to give as gifts. Even though relatively expensive, the molds are sturdy and should last as long as I can gather wax from our hives.

This first year of candle-making makes me feel like a grade-schooler bringing home a handmade project for family and friends. I really love turning all the work and precious wax from the  bees into these pretty candles. However, that doesn't mean I met with total success.

Candle-Making Problems and Solutions

My definition of a "perfect candle" would be one that keeps a good flame and consumes its wax so it doesn't drip. I quickly discovered that the flame of small, votive candles still tend to "drown" as wax pools in the candle. The taper candles burn well at the slender end--but then a pool of wax accumulates as its diameter increases and the flame becomes small. By the bottom two or three inches, it tends to drip quite heavily--not good on tablecloths!

spiral candle

Photo by Mary Lou Shaw

Solutions I've been offered are: pull the wick taut in the mold, but not overly taut; make sure there's no residual water in the wax; strain the wax three times through nylon paint-strainers and finally, don't burn a candle longer than two hours.

I do think a partial solution might be to use some paraffin in the beeswax because when I made a parrafin candle it burned well. To call a candle a "beeswax candle" requires that it be at least 51 percent beeswax. Perhaps even a small percent of paraffin would help these candles burn better.

I do know that beeswax candles, with either a rolled or perforated design, do not collect wax which can smoother a flame. Those candles burn well. That's the result I want when using these molds for solid candles! Perhaps some of the readers will share their experiences so we can figure this out together?

Mary Lou Shaw and her husband grow most of the food they eat on their homestead. Mary Lou is the author of Growing Local Foodavailable at MOTHER EARTH NEWS.


Managing the Loss of a Homestead Dog

yellow lab of family 

The family Labrador in his older age, who is mentioned in the beginning of this article, shown enjoying a day of sunshine during his time. (Photo: Fala Burnette, Wolf Branch Homestead)

In 2020, my in-laws put to rest a yellow Labrador who was an essential part of everyone's lives after a long illness. A simple stray, given a forever home already as an aged adult dog, with somewhere around 10 long years left to give. He was special enough that even I myself will remember him as the best dog I have ever known, my husband and I spending a great deal of time with his four-legged friend. Countless times he was by our side for some of the most fun memories.

I can never forget having to hold him while my husband practiced with his recurve bow, the lab doing his best to try and be helpful by fetching arrows after they were shot. There were times he would stop in the woods and look at us, marking out some long-lost arrow half-buried in the dirt. He was a great hunting partner as well, guiding me for my very first squirrel hunt and licking my face because he was equally as proud as I was. Just when you think the squirrels had hopped trees, he would be completely still under the same tree because he knew they were hiding in some crevice. He was always right. We've had a few sighs and laughs from a tree stand as well because he always knew we were out there somehow. He would walk underneath us and look straight up at us — he was a smart old fella.

Managing Loss of a Homestead Dog

Months after the Labrador's passing, I lost my elderly adopted dog suddenly, and experienced this sadness myself. She was adopted from the animal shelter at only a year old, returned due to behavioral issues and facing the end of her stay because she was dog aggressive and barked defensively at those who toured the kennels. In an ironic twist of fate, we just so happened to have her twin brother, who was adopted months prior, and the rest is history. Her quirky behavior and goofy nature cemented her into the memories of my heart, and a happy reunion with her brother was never again broken.

She was never fond of going for a swim in the creek, but well-minded at bath time. She really enjoyed helping the Australian Cattle Dog hunt down mice, and always excited to get a catch as the three of us teamed up. She became a best friend to the dog owned by my grandfather-in-law, and they would bounce around together like silly youngsters every time they met. She enjoyed many days in the sun relaxing with her twin, and though he misses her, I walk him to her grave site every so often to pay respects to the bouncy sister he had many long years with.

These memories are my own in regard to the dogs I've known and loved, but my situation is not unique. I'm sure the reader can recall a dog who has impacted their live fondly- whether that be a bird dog who was sharp as a tack, a show pup that you earned awards with, or simply a household companion that brought you friendship and joy. I personally think that it is okay to feel a twinge of sadness when you've lost a pet you're close to, and even marking their grave and leaving some flowers for them seems to also help ease the heart, even if it is not a dog but instead a horse, cat, pig, cow, chicken, duck, lizard, or any other creature. These feelings make us human, and it is important to remember that we are able to carry on and channel our feelings into something positive afterwards.

Ways to Turn Grief into Positive Action

Maybe you've recently lost a beloved elderly dog and aren't ready to adopt again. Consider becoming a foster for your local animal shelter, being the important in-between that helps an animal through a period before becoming adoptable. Perhaps you are young, and the family cat you have grown with has passed. Talk with your parents about volunteering together at a humane society and help clean for kitties in need and socialize them, or even gather some of the items on their wish list (such as kitten food and litter) with your family and drop it off. Even those who have lost a barnyard pal may be able to find a farm rescue nearby to help out with.

Remember that while you may mourn the loss of a beloved pet, reflecting on memories of them and the impact they had on your life can be a special part of the healing process. I hope that by opening up and sharing my reflections on two special dogs in my life and providing ideas for positively channeling your love for animals afterwards, you may find comfort if you're faced with a tough moment like this. Do you have a fond memory of a particular animal that's crossed your path, and if so, what is it? I hope you'll think about that with a smile and remember them lovingly today.

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. 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.

Finding Thrifty Homesteading Success through Creative Problem-Solving


I see a lot of posing on Instagram and other places on the web, which I think is indicative of our time. This is the era of crafting a lovely persona on the web, when in real life things are very different. I think that we all want to be perfect and look just right, that's understandable. But as a homesteader, I don't want to give others the impression that homesteading is easy, romantic, uncomplicated, or that anyone can just pick it up like a new hobby. It takes real work. I feel that it's my obligation to communicate the reality so that others contemplating this lifestyle can get a truthful picture.

Homesteading Challenges

Maybe it is just my personal experience and there are none others that have gone through this. Zach with An American Homestead on Youtube referred to the first 3 to 5 years as just Survival Mode, which really resonates with me. I think it depends on your personal situation, of course. I have twins that were babies when we moved to our land, and a 7 year old. We homeschool and cook from scratch, so all of those things factor into making things more challenging. You're just juggling a lot of balls with our situation. This past year in particular we made a lot of mistakes but we've learned a lot.

Many people have physical limitations, health issues, or tight finances which can make things just as hard as it has been for us (if not more so!).

Farm Equipment

We started off with no equipment (tractor, brush cutters, skidsteer, four-wheeler, etc). We just had a chainsaw and an electric hedge trimmer. It was very tough to get anything done, and we are remote, so we couldn't rent equipment.

We had to clear 12,000 feet of extremely thick brush (up over a person's head) to put up a new 9 wire electric fence to keep out bears, deer, wolves, and cougars. The largest Grizzly bears in the world and 500lb black bears regularly walk through our area. We started small and just put a fence around our house (using a tulip bulb auger for 2" posts!), then in year two we tackled the 12,000 feet. Overall we cleared around 100,000 fq ft of brush for the fence (we measured our property on Googlemaps). It was still hard, felt hopeless at times, and took a lot out of us. But we accomplished it, so the victory was pretty sweet. If we had chosen to hire someone, the cost would have been astronomical."

We did end up buying an old 1967 tractor, which had a new engine and many other replaced parts. That is now our mower, snow plow, and all-purpose machine. We steered away from buying an expensive fancy tractor, as we don't like to have debt of any kind. My favorite tools are our brush cutter (made by Stihl) and weed wacker, now that we've cleared small trees and thick brush. We have 20 acres, so anyone with less land will find it easier to get by without lots of equipment. Most homesteaders with our acreage would have bought a $15k 4-wheeler and a $30k skidsteer or tractor, but we choose to live cheaper and not have a debt hanging over our heads.

DIY Challenges

We have consciously chosen to do many things ourselves, from figuring out how an electric fence works, experimenting with how many wires would work to keep predators out, and of course, doing the dirty work of clearing brush and digging holes. We also do our own plumbing and construction on our home. Our situation is pretty unique, we live 6 hours away from a medium sized city. I think most new homesteaders pick a location near a big city, which is really wise for anyone who thinks they might need help and assistance with building projects or fencing.

However, I still think that DIY is smart, within a person's capabilities. We build our own bed frames, kitchen countertops, tables, make our own bread and yogurt, and are always coming up with ways to reuse items in our house. Yogurt containers become mixing bowls, pots for plants, and toy boxes. Coffee cans are always reused (and fought over!), as are salad clamshells (when we're not growing our own lettuce outdoors). My handy husband is planning on building our own sawmill, solar dehydrator, and poly tunnels this spring!

Is Homesteading Still Fun?

Maybe you think I've soured on homesteading? Far from it. I love the wide open spaces, the freedom to tackle whatever farm project suits my fancy, the absence of close neighbors, and the wild and free life for my children.

Nothing beats eating food you've grown yourself, or putting in a sweaty day at "the office."

Thrifty and Uncertain Times

These are volatile and uncertain times. I believe that we are far from entering a better year with 2021. Financially everyone will be hit. We all need to tighten our belts and forgo financing  and debt. It's time to buy very cheaply or do things yourself. Stop yourself from wanting to hire someone to fix a problem. Push yourself to learn new skills. Those with pensions coming in every month may see their payments cease at some point soon. Maybe we can all go without that $50k kitchen remodel or over-buying on tree seedlings. We focused on having the basic tools for getting one or two major projects done per year.

If you are remote, there are difficulties with getting deals. Shipping is more expensive, local stores charge more because of extra transport costs, and some online shops don't even ship to remote locations (like Amazon). We've had to learn by trial and error. We also tried to trade with locals for used equipment or parts for broken machinery (although we still haven't succeeded with that - just too small of a population).

Stress Can Overwhelm a Homestead

You will make mistakes, lots of them. You will lose animals and waste time on projects that don't come to fruition. With homesteading, no one is coming to bail you out. Especially during this pandemic, stress almost crippled us. I've found it's best to spend time being grateful for what I currently have: family, good health, comfortable home, nourishing home-grown foods, skills, experience, and relationships. I look around and imagine being alone, without a home, without support of friends and family, and without money or employment. In our cushy Western lifestyle, it's hard to imagine being uncomfortable or without conveniences. Savor and enjoy simple things. I appreciate electricity (as we have long power outages at times), hot coffee, a warm house, good friends, and even good memories. I remind myself to see the big picture:

  • What are our goals for the homestead?
  • What are our big goals for the family?
  • How is that going, and what can I change or improve?

What Will Prepare You for Successful Homesteading?

Both you and your partner (if applicable), must love homesteading and "embracing the suck". If you're not willing to be sweaty, dirty, chase animals through mud, or dig potatoes in the rain, you shouldn't be homesteading. If your partner isn't interested in this, it probably won't work. It won't always be hard, but at the beginning you will have a big learning curve.

I have to break it to you - documenting every step of your fledgling homestead, sharing it on social media, and getting paid for it with big sponsorships is a thing of the past. Editing videos and photos takes a lot of time and you never get paid for it. Youtube doesn't pay you ad money until you get 10k subscribers and even then it is a fraction of what they used to pay "content creators". That model was successful in 2010, not 2021.

What will make you successful is the mindset of:  

  • Save money
  • Do it yourself or scale back
  • Give up visions of grandeur and luxury
  • Listen to experience not rumors, heresay or blogger opinions (ha!)

Some projects just require you to start, and your experience will teach far more than articles or youtube videos. But with highly technical stuff like plumbing or fixing machinery, read manuals and ask someone who actually has boots on the ground doing it.

Homesteading is a mindset of saving everything, buying cheaply, avoiding buying unnecessary junk, and being creative in solving problems.

Having just written a fairly pessimistic article about homesteading, I still believe in the lifestyle. And I still believe it is the only way to save the world. Growing your own food and designing systems that allow a family to grow together and sustain themselves over hundreds of years — this is the way.


Rosemary Hansen is an author, homesteading Mama, and a chef. She has spent the last 10 years “homesteading” in the city. She and her family have just started their perennial plants homestead in rural British Columbia, Canada. Her books, Grow a Salad In Your City Apartment and Rosemary’s Natural Cosmetic Guide are a great way to ease into a healthy, pure lifestyle. You can connect with Rosemary at her website or on Instagram (@rosemarypureliving). Read all of Rosemary'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 Pick the Right Chicken Coop

Photo by Unsplash/NIFTYART

Picture this:  you’ve decided to add chickens to your backyard or homestead.  You’re up to speed on basic healthcare and anatomy, and you think you know what chickens need to be happy.  Now comes the big job – deciding how you’re going to house them.

Once you start down the road of choosing a style of coop for your new flock, you quickly discover there are as many plans and opinions about plans as there are chickens in the world.  OK, I exaggerate, but honestly, it feels like it at first.

There’s the traditional coop and run, chicken tractors, pastured poultry pens, and paddock systems.  And each one of those has countless different styles and systems to choose from.  It’s exhausting work to figure out what’s going to work for your ‘girls’ (and maybe boys too), especially if you’ve never raised chickens before.

So how do you figure out the best plan for your new flock?  It’s actually quite simple when you use a system.  So I thought I'd share with you the process I went through to help me evaluate the best housing choice for our flock of 15.

Questions to Ask

Not every chicken coop plan is going to be suitable for your specific situation, so you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions before you even start looking at plans (trust me – this will save you a ton of time later):

  1. How many birds will I have eventually?  You might start out with only 5 hens, but what if you want to expand your flock in a year or two, or add a rooster?  You don’t want to have to start over or be renovating a coop with a flock living in it.  At the very minimum, the 'average' full grown chicken needs 7.5 square feet (each) between outdoor and indoor space its if it's penned all the time, and 3 square feet each if free ranging regularly.  Larger breeds need a minimum of 10 square feet penned and 4 square feet if normally free ranging, and bantams 5 square feet penned and 2 square feet free range.  They need less space in their secure sleeping area than their 'day space', but this would be an average.  Keep in mind this is the minimum.  Overcrowding of birds can cause not only social problems (pecking and fighting, and the resultant injuries you’ll then have to deal with), but creates a situation ripe for disease transmission as well.  Make sure your birds have enough space!
  2. What breed will be living in your coop/run?  Different species do well in different conditions, so birds that require more space for optimum health are not going to do well in more confined spaces.  Be sure to look into the requirements for the birds you'll be adding to your flock.  Most books and many of the top websites on the topic will have all this information for you.  Try for all sorts of info about breeds and coops.
  3. What’s the topography of your property?  Our 6+ acres are hilly and mostly forested – not so good for portable rolling pens.  If you’ve got a flat property, it definitely increases your options.
  4. Do you have room near the house to create your chicken housing?  Well, not right beside your house, but if you live in an area with predators (and many of us do), you’ll want to be within earshot of the chickens so you’ll be awake and aware should something with teeth go marauding in the dead of night.  Some people claim you can leave chickens for days if they have the right housing, but that's just not something I'd advise if you're surrounded by big, opportunistic predators (yes, even if you've got a livestock dog).
  5. What sorts of predators live in your area?  This will dictate how secure your housing will have to be.  We have weasels, raccoons, fishers, coyotes, bears and cougars to be concerned about, not to mention flying predators like red tailed hawks and ravens.  Lots of coop plans have external doors for accessing the nest boxes – in our case, we decided against that style, as it would have made it easier pickin’s for the resident black bears (they’re weirdly dexterous with their mouths and paws).  You’ll also see a lot of plans with open flooring so the poop falls through into some sort of collection space – apparently this reduces cleaning requirements, but it would not be at all safe in our neck of the woods, as any gauge of wire mesh that would be big enough to let feces fall through would also allow the resident weasels an open door to our hens and rooster.  I don’t think so…  Plus the idea of the birds having to walk on wire just seems wrong to me.
  6. What’s your budget?  You can spend $2000 on a fancy coop with all the bells and whistles, or you can convert an existing building for $100 or less.  We built a sturdy, predator-proof coop for around $200, plus another $100 for water founts, feeders and a rubber trough.  But we had our own lumber and shingles and used many re-purposed building materials (concrete board, trailer trusses, roosts, windows).  The only thing we had to buy was some of the hardware cloth and chicken wire, and all the hinges and locks, as well as the linoleum for the floor.  Be sure to make note of all the costs so there are no surprises part way through the project.
  7. Do you have access to reused materials?  This will save you a lot of money, but will potentially add a lot of time to your project.  Plus you'll want to make sure the re-used materials are clean and that they'll keep your birds safe from predators.  Free materials aren't a very good deal if you lose your birds, but they can make your coop unique and will pull some materials out of the waste stream that might otherwise have gone to landfill (or languished in someone's shed for decades).
  8. Do you want a pre-designed plan, to customize a plan according to your own needs, or buy a pre-built coop?  This will obviously depend on your budget, how much time you have available, and how good your constructions skills are.  The fastest option is to buy a pre-built unit, but that may not suit your specific situation, nor your budget.  If you choose to build your own, be sure to assess (realistically) how much time it will take and if you have that available to build an adquate shelter for your birds.  If not, consider getting some help.  Especially if your birds are on their way... ;)

Answering these questions honestly will provide a solid base for you to evaluate all those funky, stylin' coop plans you've bookmarked.

Evaluate the Plans

Now, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and go through all those websites and chicken-raising books using these worksheets I put together to help you evaluate your favorite plans:

The worksheet will help you evaluate all the various options - a 'winner' should become clear pretty quickly.  It may be that you have to tweak as you go.  It may be that you have to substitute some materials for others that you have available.  But if you've done the work, you'll end up with a housing system that will work for your property, your lifestyle, and your birds.  And that means you'll enjoy your chicken-raising adventure so much more than if you build a coop that's not right for your specific situation and you spend the next year cursing it.

And remember, you can always come over to the Facebook page and ask questions of all our chicken-raising experts there!

Do you have any advice to share on finding the right chicken coop plan?  Let us know in the comments below.  Your advice may just help someone keep their girls safe and sound - and happy!

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