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

Keep your Baby Goats Safe with These 11 Practical & Easy Tips

Love those Baby Goats!

Now that kidding season is behind us here at Serenity Acres Farm (www.serenitygoats.com) and our last goat kidded on June 22nd, it’s time to review that wonderfully exciting and scary time and evaluate what we’ve done or what we could do better to keep our kids (and their moms) safe and healthy. Nothing is scarier than the “baby siren” going off, the bone chilling yell of a kid in trouble. We always tell our newbies “when you hear the baby siren, just drop everything and sprint towards the source, you may only have seconds to save a kid’s life”. Their prompt response: “what is a baby siren”? “oh, you will know when you hear it”.  Most of the time, it’s a drama queen moment, but there are those times when you do only have a short time to make a difference between life and death.

The Size of Water Buckets Matters

If you have to use water buckets around kids instead of automatic waterers, use several smaller 1 gallon feed buckets rather than five gallon water buckets to minimize a kid climbing into a five gallon water bucket and getting stuck upside down and drowning, or being dropped into the water bucket during birth and drown or best case just getting wet and chilled. The little water buckets are not big enough to hold a kid and are light enough that they will tip and dump water and kid if something happens. Worst case with the little buckets, the kid will be wet or will have a bucket stuck on its head. The loudness of the siren will not be diminished by a bucket on the kids head.

good size of bucket for kids

Lay the Water Bucket Handles Flat.

Every bucket has a handle. Every kid is curious and will stick its head into the bucket. If the handle lies flat, the head will come back out and nothing happens. If the handle is propped up somehow, leaning against a wall, the kids head will come up and get stuck under the handle. The bucket will tip, the kid will get scared and will activate the baby siren and end up with a dangling bucket on its neck or over its head until you come and take it off.

bucket handle bad

bucket handle good

Latch all Gates Tightly to the nearest Wall or Fence

Kids are curious and adventurous. Small spaces magically attract them. The gap between the gate and the stall wall or the gate and the fence will be seen as a challenge to explore and get stuck in the small space. Goat kids seem to know only one gear, fast forward. Reverse has not been developed yet. To avoid the resulting baby siren, latch all gates tightly to the wall or fence so that they can only move a little, create no gaps and can’t lock anyone in or out accidentally.

Plug All Small Gaps Anywhere

Small gaps attract little goats and they will attempt (and most often succeed) in squeezing through small gaps once into the wild beyond. Then panic will set in because mom cannot follow and they will forget how they got there. Kid proof your pasture and your pen to avoid small gaps to the maximum extent feasible. If you have gaps under stall walls, fences or gates, kids will crawl under and get stuck, or will get stuck on the other side exposed to dogs, maybe even traffic, have no access to water, or be exposed to other hazards such as poisonous plants or chicken feed.

Keep your Kidding Pen and Surrounding Areas Litter Free

Goat kids are like human kids. Everything they see has to go into their mouth and be eaten. This is not so tragic if it’s just a dry leaf. This can have bad consequences if the kid eats a piece of plastic, or swallows a nail or eats a length of bailing twine. Plastic can’t be digested and can cause damage in the intestines; same the bailing twine, a nail can cause damage by piercing something vital. Glass bottles are a no. While you are picking up the litter, keep an eye out for nails that are sticking out or other sharp edges. Trust me, your goat kid will find them.

Keep your Kidding and Kid Pen Free of Unnecessary Items

Kids will mess with everything you leave in their pen. They will step onto a pitchfork and push on it until it falls over. They will climb into or under a wheel barrow and push on it until the wheelbarrow falls over, and dumps the kid or falls on the kid. Don’t leave anything with sharp edges unsupervised in a kid pen. The same goes for your coffee cup, expensive liquids, paper towels, baby wipes, your straw hat and the house dog.

Clean your Kid Pens at Least Twice Daily

Kids are especially susceptible to coccidia which are of course continuously shed by their moms. Coccidia most often are transferred by fecal matter = goat pellets, which of course kids have to taste. You will not completely avoid coccidia by keeping your kidding and kid pens clean of pellets, but you will substantially reduce the incidence of coccidian in your kids.

No Metal Wire Hanging Hay Racks in your Kid Area.

Those metal wire hanging racks seem innocent to be sure, but you realize that they are not the first time you have to extract a kid from one of those with the head and neck threaded through the wires of the hay rack.  This is a result of their desire to explore small and windy spaces. This is one of the more dangerous ones as a kid can break a neck or leg very easily by trying to get out, or hang itself if they hayrack is hanging just high enough. Know those long black feed troughs for goats with the little wire rack on top? Yep, we are taking those tops off as well ever since we had a goat kid stuck in one of those with the head and neck threaded through one of those.

hay feeder to avoid with kids

feeder without metal

No Hanging Wire Hooks, Bungee Cords, Latches and Snaps

Anything that hangs down will be chewed on with the attempt to swallow. That attempt will get the hook stuck in or through the cheek, esophagus, lips or other important body part. Always make sure that any hooks, snaps, cords, and latches are out of reach or securely tightened.

bad hook hanging

Watch your Heat Lamps

Heat lamps are great for cooler and cold weather to keep newborn and very young kids warm. Do not use metal heat lamps with exposed bulbs. They get very hot and can burn a kid, and when (they will) a goat chews through the cord and the heat lamp falls into the hay or straw, it will cause a fire. The best heat lamps we have found are the red plastic ones with protective dome from Premier 1. Yes that is a plug and I’m not getting paid for it, but they are as safe as heat lamps can be. The only bad thing about them: to pry the white protective grate off requires more squeezing power in my fingers than I can ever muster. But, they withstand bumping and jostling and do not get hot.

heat lamp

Last but not least, fencing wire

It is important to have a strong fence to keep unwanted visitors out and the kids in. But, remember to check those tension wires and wire braces for gaps big enough for a goat kid to fit under, up and through.  Once the head is stuck, it is guaranteed that a kid will move into the narrow end of it, cutting off its airflow and suffocating. In this case you don’t have much time if the baby siren sounds. We’ve rescued a couple of kids and sadly, lost one this way. Since then we have been replacing all twisted wire braces with single wire strands.

I’m sure there are many more words of wisdom on how to kid proof your baby goat area. In addition to the 11 practical preventative tips, we also check on all our animals four times a day: morning and evening feeding, noon check and bed check. We do have a camera system with sound to monitor the baby goat pen (which includes the moms since we dam raise) and we always, always keep an ear out for the baby siren, and we sprint as fast as we can when we hear it.  

More bendy kids

Happy Goating and Good Luck for the next (or your current) kidding season. Julia

If you are curious to find out more about our farm and Serenity Goats Soaps & Skincare at, here is a great little video shot by film students from West Palm Beach in Florida.

Julia Shewchuk owns and operates Serenity Acres Farm on 80 acres in Florida. Serenity Acres runs on solar, is Animal Welfare Approved-certified, host to  WWOOFers, and is the home to  dairy goats, 12 Black Angus cattle, 100 laying hens, 3 horses, 2 cats, 5 house dogs, 8 livestock guardian dogs, and 2 ducks. Read all of Julia’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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How to Handle Cow-Calving Difficulties

Matilda at 48 hours

We chose to raise Dutch Belted cows on our homestead because heritage breed cows are good at taking care of themselves. They survive well on grass without grain supplements, they instinctively care for their young, and for the most part, they have easy births. Calving difficulties do happen though, and we want to be prepared when that happens.

How to Check for Calving Difficulties

How to recognize when your cow is in labor: Keep track of your cow’s due date and begin watching her about a week before. Labor could be underway if she goes off by herself, gives repeated low-pitch moo’s, and alternately stands and lies down. There’s no need for us humans to do a thing if calving progresses well.

When to call the veterinarian: We once lost a heifer when waiting too long to call the vet. Therefore, I want to share two calving situations where our intervention may be necessary. If you have watched a cow in labor for an hour, and there is no progress, call the vet. If you see the bag of waters break and the calf is not born within 20 minutes, call the vet. In these situations, the cow and calf need assistance.

Learn to feel for calf position: There may indeed be times when we don’t know how long the cow has been in labor. There are other times, especially in the middle of the night, when five minutes seem like an hour. If you’re not sure what’s going on, and if your cow will allow it, go ahead and check for the calf’s position.

To check for the calf’s position before a hoof has even peeked out, halter the cow or put her in a head-gate or stanchion. Next gently put a gloved hand up the cow’s vagina no higher than your wrist. This gentleness is important because we don’t want to break the bag of waters. You should be able to feel a foot—hopefully two—with a nose just above and slightly behind the hoofs. If you feel two hoofs and a nose, stand way back and allow the cow the peace she needs to deliver the calf herself.

calf in birth canal

How to feel a breech presentation: We were watching our Dutch Belted cow, Rosie, because she was nine days late in delivering her calf. She finally went into labor early one morning but then didn’t seem to progress. I gently felt about six inches up her vagina and found one hoof—with the curved side down.

Look at your cow’s hoofs in the calm of daylight to see the curved side up and the flat side down. Sounds silly, but when the adrenaline is running high and we homesteaders aren’t experienced in feeling up the birth canal, it’s confusing! When the curved side of the hoof is down, the calf is coming out back-legs-first. Call your veterinarian.

Be Prepared for Calving Difficulties Ahead of Time

Have a good relationship with a caring vet: If we’re raising heritage breed animals, we shouldn’t need an armamentarium of birthing equipment—that’s for the vet to bring. But we do need a vet who is caring, relatively close-by and willing to come at inconvenient hours. If you don’t have a vet yet, ask around and establish a relationship before any emergency arrives.

Basic tools for pulling calf: Calving difficulties come in degrees and not all require a vet. For example, some calves are a tight fit through the birth canal and disappear back up the canal between contractions. We keep clean hand towels in the barn which we can wrap around the calf’s ankles when they emerge. Even handier are chains designed to wrap around the calf’s ankles that have handles for you to grip.

calf-pulling-chains-and-handles

Pull on the calf’s ankles when the cow is having a contraction, but keep enough tension between contractions to prevent the calf from being pulled back up into the birth canal. Your force should be steady and downward, at about a 45 degree angle. Once the calf's head and shoulders arrive, the calf may make a rapid entrance onto the ground. Don't worry--it will be okay.

Build and Maintain a Community

It wasn’t only the vet that helped us with that breech birth. We have a neighbor with whom we often exchange favors. Because he says he’s always awake at 5 a.m., he was the one doing the early morning checks. He was the one who found Rosie in labor on the ninth morning and he was the one who waited to see if her labor was progressing (it wasn’t). After an up-side-down hoof was found in the birth canal and the vet was called, he then drove his Kubota back up the country road and came back with his $800 calf-puller and suction equipment for the calf. The vet arrived within 20 minutes and brought his brother along for good measure.

It truly took a team to get this large, breech heifer out and breathing well. Although everyone’s adrenaline was probably as high as mine, each person cared enough to wait and see that both mother and calf were okay. This dedication could not have been purchased. It came from having a community of caring people.

In this time of contention, we often hear that differences of opinions, ethnicity or religion are barriers between us. I repeatedly find that is not true. Basically, we humans are compassionate and go out of our way to help each other.

As essential as knowledge and equipment are in handling cow calving difficulties, we also need a community of neighbors. The time to build a community is now—before calving difficulties arrive.


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Hatching and Raising Peafowl

peafowlchick

A day-old peachick. Notice that the flight feathers are already present. 

Not long ago, we embarked on the adventure of raising peafowl, having obtained some fertile eggs to put in our incubator. This is the beginning of a project we have dreamed of for some time. 

While peafowl - unlike chickens, ducks or geese - might not seem like the obvious choice for a small homestead, raising ornamental poultry of any kind might actually be a wise move from an economic standpoint. Peafowl, pheasants, quail and ornamental chicken breeds such as Silkies can fetch a very handsome price, if you have good breeding stock. And the expense and effort of raising them are not much more than of the usual feathered homestead companions. 

Peafowl, however, do need to have enough room to roam and exercise, so that the males can strut and spread their tails - a magnificent sight. Those beautiful feathers can also be collected whenever they are dropped, and used or sold for crafts. And, of course, if you let your birds free range, they will provide pest control on your property by consuming bugs, spiders, grasshoppers, etc. 

Now to hatching. Obtain peafowl eggs from a conscientious breeder with good, healthy stock, and be sure to get the freshest eggs possible to maximize hatching rate. Set your incubator to 99-100 F and 60% humidity and, if you don't have an automatic turner, turn manually 4-6 times a day. The peachicks should hatch on day 28 or 29, and you can stop turning the eggs around 3 days before that. You will probably be able to hear cheeping from inside the eggs a day or two before hatching. 

Once your peachicks have hatched and dried off a little, transfer them to the brooder - which can be a simple cardboard box with a heating lamp, a dish of water, and a dish of food. Briefly dip each peachick's beak in the water to teach them to drink, and tap your finger in the food tray until they begin pecking - this might take a day or so. I've heard that professional breeders keep their peachicks on game bird starter, but we just give them regular chicken crumble with high-protein supplements such as hard-boiled eggs (which they go crazy for), cheese and sardines. They also get fruit and vegetable scraps for a diverse diet. 

Unfortunately, we have experienced some power shortages during the final days of hatching, which left our precious peafowl eggs without heating for hours on end. It is one possible reason why many of our peachicks were hatched with leg problems - both splayed legs and curled toes. We put the toes in a cast of cello-tape, and stabilized the legs with the help of soft wool thread, and the chicks were completely fine in a couple of days.

Our hand-raised peachicks are very friendly, and love to be handled, snuggle up to us, and sit on our shoulder. I find them to be less independent than chickens of the same age, which might have to do with how long young peafowl stay with their mothers in nature - up to one year. 

Peachicks are hatched with flight feathers and start flying pretty soon, so you will want to cover your brooder with a net to make sure they don't fly out. Once they grow and you move them outside, provide them with a tall roost, the taller the better. In nature, peafowl like to roost in trees, but I wouldn't let my birds sleep outside on account of predators. 

Raising and breeding peafowl is a long-term venture - while chickens may start laying and setting at 6 months, peafowl take a lot longer, and it may take them two years to reach reproductive maturity. The male's train of feathers does not reach its full growth until three years of age. 

Two more things to take into account: peafowl are loud, especially males during breeding season, so if you have near neighbors you might want to consider them as well; and they poop a lot, considerably more so than chickens, which makes cleaning up after them somewhat labor-intensive. 

There are several breeds of peafowl, the most common, as well as, in my opinion, the most striking, being the Indian Blue. Our young peafowl belong to this breed, and I am looking forward to seeing the deep blue of the males' chests, and the iridescent green of their tails, once they grow up. 

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.


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Experimenting with Forage Options for Pastured Pigs

Heritage Pigs In Pasture

Everybody has (or should have) something that really makes them feel alive — some topic or calling that gets them unreasonably excited. At Singing Prairie Farm, that topic is “How much grass can a pig eat?”

I use the term “grass” loosely. By grass, I generally mean forages. (Many people do not realize it, but this loose definition is also applied to grassfed cows that are fed all manner of forages, including, but not limited to, clover, alfalfa, and broad-leaf forages.)

Types of Forage for Pastured Pigs

So, how about pigs? What can they eat? Here are some of the things on the menu: broadleaf forages, like lamb’s quarter and pigweed. Brassicas, such as kale and turnips. Legumes, such as clovers and the vegetative bodies of pea and bean plants. And of course, grasses themselves, whether they are perennial, cool-season grasses like timothy, orchardgrass and fescue, or the common annual crop grasses, like oats or sorghum-sudangrass.

At Singing Prairie Farm, we strive to make these the foundation of our pork production. To be sure there always has to be more involved than just forage, but these forages represent the most heavily utilized resource option in our research on pigs.

 

Forage Mixture Peak Grazing Form

The Pig Forage Experiment

We set out this summer (2017) to document the nuts and bolts of feeding forages to pigs. Thanks to a grant from Sustainable Agriculuture and Reaseach Education (SARE) and our friends at Practical Farmers of Iowa, we are going to be able to offer the results of our research by the end of the year. We are recording data on three separate groups this summer.

The control group: Pasture rasied pigs on a full grain ration. These pigs receive a standard ration of 100% non-GMO grain, based on weight and age. This grain is a balanced ration of 16% protein from our local feed mill. They are kept in paddocks of about an acre and moved at least twice a month, sometimes more. They eat some grass and clover and benefit from it.  However, it is not contributing tremendously to their rate of weight gain. These pigs were born on our farm and are Red Wattle, Hereford, Hampshire crosses.

Experiment group #1: Pasture-raised pigs on a 50% reduced non-GMO grain ration. Because the growth curve for young, growing pigs rises so steeply relative to grain intake during the first 10 weeks of life, we elected to keep them on the fully prescribed ration until that time. This will put the pigs at about 3pounds of grain per pig per day by 10 weeks. Rather than increase their ration as they continue to grow, we maintain 3 pounds per pig per day for the rest of their life. In this, they should  receive roughly 50% the total amount of grain usually required by the time of their harvest date (around 7 months of age).

It should also be noted that 40% of a pig's allotted ration is required for maintenance. This means that 40% of their feed is used just for basic body functions, like maintaining body temperature, respiration, heartbeat and movement. So, when you reduce a pig's grain ration by some amount, you must increase the availability of some other resource to the same extent.  Failing to do this will increase the days to maturity as it will take the pigs significantly longer to reach their target weight. That prolonged days to maturity may increase the total quantity of grain consumed so much that it surpasses that of a pig on a full grain ration for fewer days!

We offer our 50%-grain group oceanic quantities of our spring annual mix (forage peas, dwarf essex rapeseed and forage oats.) These pigs are also from our farm and are are Red Wattle, Hereford, Hampshire crosses.

Experiment Groups #2: Pasture raised pigs that are grain free. This is our most radical experiment in alternative pork production. This group has never tasted grain and consumes tremendous quantities of our spring annual mix. They are supplemented with acorns, which we gathered last fall and a small quantity of organic milk powder. This batch of pigs was purchased at about 10 weeks of age from a farm in Nebraska. Their ancestry is of mixed parentage including Hereford and Large Black.

Experiment Group #3: Pasture raised pigs that are grain free. This is a second group of grain-free pigs, with the same management plan as the previous experiment group, but of a different heritage. These pigs are from Sugar Mountain Farm in West Topsharm, VT. (We will be writing a follow-up blog about Walter Jeffries and Sugar Mountain Farm next month.)

 

Grazed Forage Crops Comparison

There is something special about our no-grain groups that makes these experiment groups possible. Both of our no-grain groups are from farms that have selected breeding stock for a high fiber diet for upwards of 15 years. They are able to consume large quantities of forage and gain in body mass as a result.

My homegrown, pasture raised pigs that we are using for the full grain and 50% reduced grain groups, do not have this quality to same extent. I mention this as a cautionary statement: Don’t go out and buy 12 heritage-breed pigs, put them out on stemmy fescue and expect them to grow without some grain. It won’t work. Just like in grassfed beef, genetics matter.

The chief difference here is that in pigs, those genetic qualities are exceedingly rare. Finding a farmer with the time and motivation to manage pigs for grass finishing are equally so. Currently I am only familiar with three farms nationwide that do this with pigs. Bear in mind that feeding grain to pigs is not a bad thing in many systems. If your local farmer feeds grain to his pigs, AWESOME! Be glad you have a farmer raising pigs!

There are a million and one ways to raise a pig. Your local farmer needs to take into account his or her local resources and time constraints.

As the summer progresses, we will be recording data on forage quality and quantity, pig growth and if the opportunity pops up to offer some other resource (pumpkins, apples, unsalable farmers market tomatoes etc). We hope that we can shed some light on the techniques that make grass finishing a pig timely, profitable and humane. That is part of our calling here at Singing Prairie Farm. We hope that you also pursue your calling, whatever it is, in a precise and passionate way.

John Arbuckle aims to change the trajectory of modern pig farming by demonstrating that a thinly wooded pasture, when managed well, can sequester tons of carbon, support lots of family farmers, create the most nutritionally dense pork and nurture an army of coyotes, owls, frogs, worms, bobcats and happy children. Find him at Roamsticks and Singing Prairie Farm, and follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. Read all of John’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Utilize Your Homestead Community

Eggs And Lettuce In A Bowl

It’s easy to seclude yourself in the great self-sufficiency movement, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves that there is constantly room for growth and community. It may look like trading with other homesteaders for soaps or produce, or maybe it looks like traveling across the country to a homesteading conference, like Mother Earth News or Homesteaders of America. Whatever it is, utilizing your homestead community is essential to every homesteader.

When we first began our homesteading journey, I had so many questions that I probably got on everyone’s nerves. Even though I’d grown up around the farm life, I was oblivious to many things. Just in the last 5 years have I really begun to master gardening. And during that 5-year time frame, I felt guilty for buying produce at the store or farmer’s market.

Why? I have no idea. But I suspect that it was because I felt like a failure. I felt like all of these other people knew what they were doing and were successful at it, but I hadn’t been successful at homesteading…yet.

Learn Through Experience on the Homestead

The reality is that we’re not going to know everything there is to know about homesteading when we first get started. It take experiences — it takes doing it for a while. Heck, I’m not sure I’ll know everything there is to know about this 20 years from now. But the difference is that there certainly is a community ready and waiting to help educate you with open arms. And if you seek it out, you’ll most certainly find it.

Besides the fact that there are conferences across the United States that can help you gain experience and knowledge (we’ll get to those in a second), there are also people right in your own community that are ready and willing to help you.

In fact, most homesteaders share more information than humanly necessary, but it’s only because we are passionately in love with this lifestyle.

I can remember the very first chicken woman that I approached. I think I messaged her online every single night before bed to ask her about this chicken breed or that chicken breed. She probably got so darn tired of seeing my face pop up on her phone. But she was helpful, and she was willing to help me learn and gain knowledge about keeping chickens.

She didn’t just show up on my doorstep though. I had to seek her out. Often times, as a new homesteader, you’ll have to seek out those who really have hardcore experience and knowledge in your local community. Connect with someone at the Farmer’s Market. Ask them how they do it all. I know they would love to help you.

But more than anything, I had to get over the guilt trip. And here’s the cold honest truth…

We really need to learn to lean on our fellow homesteaders, and we really have to stop guilting ourselves for that.

If you don’t have enough space for tomatoes in your garden, it’s ok to connect with another local homesteader who has an abundance. You aren’t a failure because your crop failed, you didn’t have time to put them into the ground, or you simply aren’t ready to take on one more thing this year.

Hands Holding Three Brown Eggs

Build a Homestead Community Based on Mutual Support

Supporting your local farmer or homestead is the next best thing you can do. You’re supporting a person or family who is doing this because they love offering their goods and services to us. Where’s the harm in that!? You might even find that you learn a thing or two from them along the way.

Building a homestead community is important to me. Extremely important to me. In the age of cellphones and social media, many people socialize online and forget about the homesteaders that are right in their own region.

I absolutely love my online homesteading community. I wouldn’t have the information and education that I have today without them. But I want to meet them. I want to hug their necks and sing Kumbaya around a campfire. Ok, maybe not the best song choice, but you get it.

So how do we do that? How do we connect and utilize our homesteading community that we love so much online, while learning and growing? Well, we find a conference or event in our area that we can do exactly that, of course!

Community is extremely important to a whole lot of other people too, and that’s why there are conferences and workshops all across the United States for homesteaders like you and I. Not only does it give us a chance to learn and grow our skills and abilities, it also gives us the chance to meet people face to face, and tangibly learn right alongside them. The very same people we talk to on a regular basis in online forums, Facebook, and YouTube.

Attend a Homesteading Conference

It’s why I started the Homesteaders of America organization and conference in September 2016. And our very first annual conference will be held on October 14, in Warrenton, Virginia. You’ll hear speakers like Joel Salatin, Esther Emery, Lisa Steele, Darryl Patton, Off Grid with Doug and Stacy, and so many more. You’ll learn about raising chickens, hot butchery, dying your own wool and yarn, cheesemaking, how to successfully run a homestead business, and more.

It’s why Mother Earth News started and maintains all of the Mother Earth News Fairs throughout the United States every year.

It’s why Appalachia’s Homestead with Patara started The Great Appalachian Homesteading Conference in Tennessee, bringing together YouTubers from across the country.

There’s the Lifestyle Farming Conference, the Redeeming the Dirt Conference, and so many more.

It’s why we’re seeing so many people start pop up conferences all across the USA and beyond. It’s why we see homesteads, like Hand Hewn Farm, creating workshops where people can come to their property to learn alongside them. We long for education and knowledge, but more than anything, we long for education together in a community setting. We were created for community — homesteaders, we love to be together!

I encourage you to lean on your community this year and attend one of these amazing upcoming events throughout the country. I encourage you to seek out the expert at the farmer’s market or in that little cottage in the woods where she raises chickens.

I encourage you to stop feeling guilty that you can’t do it all right then and there, and instead, take that time to support your local farmer or homesteader, all while making a personal connection and building relationships and community in your own way.

I hope to see you at the Homesteaders of America conference, or at one of these other amazing events, and within our online homesteading community. We sure do have a lot of fun learning and growing together, and we know you will, too!

Rinsing Farm Fresh Greens

Amy Fewell is a writer, photographer, blogger, and homesteader based in Virginia. Along with her husband and son, she raises heritage breed chickens, quail, rabbits, and more! She believes in all natural holistic living for both her family and her animals. And she is currently working on a cookbook of traditional family Farmstead recipes. Check out more from Amy at The Fewell Homstead and www.AmyFewell.com. 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.

Interesting Duck Breeds for the Farm: Cayugas, Fawn Runners, and Mallards

Cayuga_drake_2012-05-02_001

It is now four weeks into the new term at Stony Kreek Farm Medical School session. The class of 2017 has arrived and is actively attending class. The class of 2016 doctors are teaching them and preparing them to assist in the growing animal menagerie at the farm

We recently purchased another eight ducks of different breeds to add to our flock on the farm. Among those are Fawn Runner Ducks, Cayugas,and Mallards.

 

Cayuga Breed Ducks

 

The first breed we introduced in 2017 is the Cayuga. This is the first breed bred in the continental United States and dates back 180-plus years. The duck originated in the Cayuga Lake region of New York state. Breeders produced stock from crossing a Black Wild Duck with Mallards. The first recorded date of the duck is 1848.

 

The breed was officially recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1874. It is a classified as a medium-sized duck and is known for its meat and egg laying. It is less aggressive and loud than the more famed Pekin, but has a much desired appearance. The males will weigh up to 8 pounds and the females 7 pounds. The males inherited the green head from the mallard with a black bill, dark brown eyes, black feathers, and black legs. The females have a black bill and feathers with dark brown eyes and green laced feathers. They are good free rangers and lay between 150 and 200 eggs per year. They have a large breast and are excellent in taste, according to Wikipedia. We were so taken with the appearance of the Cayugas we purchased four of them. Thus far, we have seen two drakes and two hens.

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Fawn Runner Breed Ducks

The second breed purchased is the Fawn Runner duck. This unusual bird walks upright and looks almost human in its walking. They are best known for their laying. Some sources say they lay between 200 to 300 eggs per year. The eggs are blue-green in color.

The males can reach up to 30 inches in height and the females 20 inches. Their upright posture is the result of a pelvic girdle that forces them to stand upright. The breed originated in the East Indies and is brown and white in appearance. They have also been called Indian Runner Ducks from their islands of origin. They are excellent foragers and are great for free-ranging on a farm, which is what we propose to have them do.

They were used in the breeding of the Khaki Campbell and passed on their egg-laying ability to that breed. It looks like we have a drake and a hen.

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Mallard Breed Ducks

The third breed of duck we purchased was the oldest and best known of all wild ducks, the Mallard. It is indigenous to the United States and is found as far south as Mexico. It is one of the most social of all species and tends to congregate in flocks. It takes the males up to 14 months to fully mature. It is a very social bird and likes to talk amongst themselves quite a bit.

 

We were fortunate to adopt two hens as they are now getting their adult plumage. The Mallard, as with other breeds, is flexible in its choice of foods. It eats a variety of insects and plants. It also consumes a great deal of worms and roots of plants.

 

Mallards choose a mate in the fall between September and October. They will stay together through the mating season in early spring when the female is laying. As with other ducks, Mallards will lay between eight and 13 eggs before sitting.

 

Females can become testy along with the males during the brooding season. They can be aggressive toward other ducks and other animals. When domesticated, Mallards are monogamous and stay with one mate throughout their lifetime. The Mallard did not begin as a domesticated duck, and its laying may be less than the other domestic breeds with counts being as low as 60 eggs annually.

 

Medical School has been in session for a month now, and the older doctors are taking an active interest in their new pupils, watching them carefully to see no malpractice occurs in class session. We hope to have our new students practicing medicine by the early Fall. It is encouraging to have the new ducks eating out of your hand and taming down to where they can be handled better than ducks a year older. As in the comic strip Peanuts, “THE DOCTOR IS IN!!”

Tom Hemme and his wife, Diana, work to raise crops and animals on Hemme Farm in Missouri. Born and raised in Nashville, Tenn., Tom taught agricultural history and Native American heritage for many years. Follow Tom on his website, Shagadillies.com. Read all of Tom’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Get Rid Of Scaly Leg Mites on Chickens

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Above: scaly leg mites can be more difficult to spot in feather-legged breeds like Brahmas.

Scaly leg mites are parasites that lodge and reproduce underneath the scales on chickens' legs. This results in a typical look of uneven, crusty, deformed scales, and can lead to impaired walking, infection, loss of toes and, in extreme cases, even death.

Some of our chickens are Brahmas or Brahma crosses, which means they have feathered legs, and so an infestation of scaly leg mites is less easily visible. When I noticed that our alpha rooster, a handsome and docile Black Brahma, is afflicted, his condition was already pretty advanced, and I knew I have to begin treatment immediately.
 
Most home treatment options for scaly leg mites suggest dipping the bird's legs in mineral oil or petroleum, and then slathering them in Vaseline. The goal of this is to smother the mites. The treatment is then repeated after an interval of a week or two, to take care of the nits that might have hatched in the meantime.
 
It struck me, while reading this, that this kind of treatment is similar to combating head lice (which, after all, are a lot like mites in many ways). I have gone through purgatory two years ago, when my daughters had a persistent infestation of lice, and I still had a bottle and a half of anti-lice spray sitting under my bathroom sink. The active ingredient of it is dimethicone. In a stroke of inspiration, I decided to try it on my Black Brahma, figuring that if it's safe to use on children's scalps, it should be alright for chicken feet.
 
Unlike dipping, which involves capturing the chicken (not very convenient with a large rooster - Brahmas are among the heavier breeds), spraying can be done quickly and efficiently once the flock has gone up to roost. I sprayed my Brahma at twilight, carefully covering every spot of his feet and legs.
 
A few days later, I was happy to see that the awful dead grey scales are beginning to fall off. I've noticed another chicken who is suffering from this condition, and I'm going to treat her in the same way. I'm really pleased to have discovered this simple, quick, no-mess way of treating scaly leg mites, and will keep it in my arsenal of chicken home remedies. 

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna'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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.