chickens

10 Ways to Make Money on Your Homestead

Homesteaders want to stay on their farm, and they can accomplish that by finding ways to make money on their homestead. From selling eggs to offering services, here are 10 ways to make money on your homestead.

Man, I love this farming lifestyle. If it were up to me, I’d have some huge ranch and make money and live happily ever after…doing what I love. But then reality slaps me upside the head like a wet fish out of water, and I remember that homesteading and farming aren’t cheap, and it’s certainly not free. There is no endless supply of feed and “dolla-dolla bills, ya’ll” rolling into my hands. Don’t think too hard about that dolla bill reference.
So, we must find ways to make money to feed our homesteading habit.
Mind blown, I know. The entire romanticism around farmsteading is just crazy. While it truly is a romantic lifestyle (really, it is!), it’s not always easy on the pocket.
For this very reason, homesteaders try to find ways to offset costs and make money off of their lifestyle. In fact, there are many homesteaders who actually farm and homestead for a living, and it’s absolutely possible.
But how? Let’s go through some of the top 10 ways that you can make money, efficiently, off of your homestead, all while doing the things you love to do.

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A Guide to Buying Baby Chicks

Buying baby chicks—it’s one of the greatest things to do as a chicken keeper. It’s officially that time of year—early spring. You see the signs all over the place, “Chick Days Are Here,” but you cringe because you know you don’t have room for any more chicks. Or, maybe you don’t have any chicks at all, and this is the day you want to add them to your backyard or farmstead.

Here we go. Deep breaths. Try not to buy all the chicks, you tell yourself. And somehow, some way, you’re absolutely going to fail . . . and you’ll buy more chicks than you should’ve. It’s called chicken addiction, OK? It’s a disease, I tell you!

All kidding aside, purchased chicks are, in many ways, a lot easier for the chicken keeper to start or maintain a flock. Hatching eggs can present challenges, and the wait isn’t ideal for people who lack patience. So, we often opt to purchase chicks, either at our local farm store, from a hatchery, or through a breeder.

There are pros and cons to each, and they are all very valid and important. Choosing your breed may be your first step, but choosing where to purchase your chicks is equally as important. Use this guide for buying baby chicks this spring!

Buying Baby Chicks From the Farm Store

Your local farm store will most likely carry chicks every single spring and fall. Most homesteaders replenish their flocks during these times of the year. These chicks normally come from hatcheries, though some farm stores carry locally hatched and raised chicks.

Pros: Many times the farm store will have straight-run chicks or pullet chicks. This is especially convenient if you are just looking for pullets (females). They generally carry the most common breeds, including heritage breeds, sexlinks, and bantams.

Cons: The trip from the hatchery to the farm store and then to your home can be a bit stressful on chicks. This is where “pasty butt” in chicks begins to cause issues. Oftentimes the stress from constant transportation can cause a higher death rate than if you were ordering from the hatchery straight to your home, or directly from a breeder. The farm store doesn’t always have all of the breeds you may want, either, as they generally only carry main breeds that are the most popular that year.

Another con: You don’t have the option to look over the chicks. The farm store will normally just put chicks in a box without allowing you to touch them, according to state law, and for good reason. Most people don’t know how to handle chicks properly. While farm stores won’t allow you to pick up chicks and look them over when you purchase them, you can certainly request for them to choose chicks that are naturally alert, plump, and without pasty butt. Final con: You normally have to purchase four to six chicks minimum, depending on the store. So if you’re just wanting two chicks, you might be out of luck. However, the laws have recently changed, and now there is no minimum number of chicks you must buy unless they are for pets only.

Check with your local extension office first, and keep in mind that stores can designate what the minimum amount to purchase is even if there legally is no minimum.

Buying Baby Chicks From the Hatchery

Hatcheries are a great option if you’re looking to purchase chicks in bulk, are interested in a certain breed, or you want the convenience of shopping online. You can order straight-run or pullet, and different hatcheries offer different breeds. Most generic hatcheries offer the same types of breeds, but there are also some high-quality hatcheries that breed imported birds that are more highly sought after.

Pros: You can shop at home in your pajamas, and you don’t have to worry about transporting the chicks from a different location except from the post office. You’ll find more breeds, including rarer breeds.

Cons: Typically the box will come to you unharmed, but other times the box might turn up damaged with injured chicks. This isn’t common, but it can happen. Due to transportation, you also run the risk of opening up the box to find dead chicks. While this isn’t typically a traumatic event for an adult, it may be something to consider with children around. This is a step that the farm store does eliminate when they receive hatchery chicks.

Another con: You won’t have a chance to look over the chicks. You’re simply at the mercy of whatever they send you. And the last con: Some hatcheries require you purchase ten or more chicks per order.

Buying Baby Chicks From the Trusted Breeder

My favorite way to purchase chicks is from a trusted and reliable breeder. I say this both as a chicken keeper and as a chicken breeder. It may take a bit longer, and may cost a bit more, but if you’re searching for a certain breed or egg color, finding a reliable breeder is best. They can ship the eggs or chicks to you just as a hatchery would, and they are just a phone call away if you have any questions. You can also find extremely rare chicken breeds that are top quality.

Pros: Breeder chicks are typically of higher quality than hatchery chicks, both in conformation and egg shape and color quality. Many breeders keep track of their breeding lines, and this is a great way to learn where your chicken flock came from. A great pro is that you typically get to look over the chicks you’re purchasing from a local breeder (unless they are mailing them). This isn’t the case, though, if you’re purchasing from a distant breeder.

Cons: It’s extremely hard, and time-consuming, to find a trusted and reliable breeder. As with any backyard animal breeder, sometimes chickens can be over-bred with bad quality, or bred too closely in relation to one another. Start by finding a breeder through the American Poultry Association, or through the specific breed associations that you are part of.

No matter where you decide to get your chicks, you’ll always want to check them over as thoroughly as possible when you receive them. You can learn all about that, common chick illnesses, and more in my new book. The Homesteader’s Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook!

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Are Pumpkin Seeds a Natural Dewormer for Chickens?

Are pumpkin seeds a natural dewormer for chickens? Let's talk about the truth!

Fall is upon us, and just like with anything that’s in season, we have to weed through the truths and myths when it comes to our health and our chicken’s health. One of the constant things you’ll see floating around the interwebs is about pumpkin seeds as a natural dewormer for your chickens and other livestock. It’s not a myth, but it’s only a partial truth, unfortunately. These claims happen when bloggers do a quick google search for something, or they hear about something that might work, and then claim it as gospel. That’s not really my style, thankfully. And so I’m all about bringing you the truth with all the facts, not just a few of them. Trust me, it will save you a lot of time and heartache in the long run.

While it is popular to suggest pumpkin and pumpkin seeds as a natural antiparasitic, it is actually the extraction of the medicinal properties in the pumpkin seeds that is a natural anti-parasitic and dewormer. You can continue to give your chickens pumpkin and pumpkin seeds, but you probably won’t get rid of a worm infestation with them, and at the very least, it’s only slightly a preventative. Your best bet is to make a tincture out of the seeds to keep on hand when you need it, or add pumpkin seeds to your homemade anti-parasitic tincture. Let’s break it down a bit more.

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Naturally Keeping Chickens Cool | They Don’t Need Your Help (with Video)

Your chickens don't need ice cubes and frozen treats, but they do need a few basics. Find out how to naturally keep chickens cool here.

You see it all over the place—there’s at least 85 blogs talking about keeping chickens cool. Give them ice cubes. Hose them down (please don’t). Give them electrolytes and frozen water jugs. I’ve seen it all and heard it all. But here’s the reality—chickens don’t need your help to keep cool. Period. And yet, they kind of do. Check it out . . .

While there are certainly instances where your chickens need assistance, keeping chickens cool or warm isn’t one of them. It’s like the whole dilemma with heat lamps in the winter—the bottom line is, chickens don’t need them. If given the proper tools, not only can you keep chickens cool without giving them icey treats and fans, but your flock will be healthier because of it.

Keeping Chickens Cool — Disclaimer (sick chickens)

Let me first start this post by telling you that if your chickens already have a health issue, it can and will be amplified by the heat. These are taken on as a case-by-case basis. For example, if you have a chicken that is completely stressed out from the heat because they are already sick or injured, you should make an exception and either separate them in a cooler area with a fan, or bring them indoors to treat them.

Generally, healthy chickens will not need anything but the basics to keep them cool. But it’s best to prepare for emergencies when necessary.

The Homesteader's Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook

Keeping Chickens Cool (Dont’s)

There are a lot of ways you can help with keeping chickens cool in the summer, but there are a few ways you should reconsider.

Ice cubes and Icy treats

As with any animal, when you give them ice or excessively cold treats, their bodies begin to cool down. The issue is that after a temporary cool-down (normally about 10-15 minutes), their bodies begin heating back up again. But this time, not naturally. Their bodies have already acclimated to the heat slowly with the rising of the sun, but now their bodies are forced to cool down naturally on their own while the temperatures are already hot and heavy. This can lead to heat stroke and heat exhaustion, especially if you are doing this multiple times a day. This causes the chicken’s body to heat up and cool down over and over again until their systems simply fail and become ultimately stressed.

Instead of allowing them to pick at ice cubes and frozen treats, you can stick a regular ice cube (just one) in their waterer to help keep the waterer at a normal, cooler temperature for longer in the mornings. However, do not add ice water to their waterer on a regular basis, especially once it has gotten extremely hot. Regular well water temperature will be just fine. 

Getting Your Chickens Wet (with a sprinkler or hose)

Chickens have feathers, not gills. They weren’t meant to be wet as a means to cool off. This is why chickens take dust baths, not wet bird baths. Trying to cool  your chickens down with water is the worst way to do it. Their body’s natural way to cool is to allow air to flow through their feathers. If their feathers are matted down with water, you’ll actually hold in more heat than release it. Never, ever, do this.

Frozen Water Jugs

This is a big trend for all livestock, and I really wish we’d stop doing it. Years ago someone told me to put frozen water bottles in with my rabbits to keep them cool in the summer. Guess what, my rabbits started dying. As soon as I took out the frozen water bottles, they stopped dying. This happened to a friend as well. Why? Same issue as the frozen treats.

When you offer your livestock or chickens frozen water jugs to sit beside, once again, it is a temporary cool down. Chickens naturally know how to cool their bodies down if given the proper tools (which we’ll go over shortly). But when we try to intervene with frozen items for a temporary fix to a long term issue, we do more harm than good. Chickens regulate their own body temperature through the genetic abilities that they were blessed with. They don’t need frozen any thing in order to survive.

Electrolytes

Guys, on my lands. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with people. Please do your research, PLEASE.

Chickens don’t sweat. Therefore, chickens don’t need electrolytes unless they are sick. Please stop giving your chickens electrolytes unless they are physically ailed, mineral deficient, or in distress.

Electrolytes are SALT. If you give too much salt to chickens, you’re going to kill them. Literally.In fact, the only reason large scale companies give chickens and poultry electrolytes in the summer is so that they will continue to eat and drink more so that they don’t lose weight before butchering. They are literally giving it to them so that they don’t lose money on meat production during hot seasons. That’s it.

Electrolytes have two jobs—regulating the flow of water in and out of cells, and sparking nerve impulses. You lose electrolytes when your body sweats, or when you’re sick.

Chickens don’t sweat. So unless your chickens are extremely stressed out or sick, please, please, stop giving them electrolytes.

Keeping Chickens Cool (Do’s)

This might seem basic, but keeping chickens cool isn’t rocket science. Here are what your chickens actually and naturally need in order to stay cool during the hot months.

  • Shade: and lots of it. If your coop isn’t in a shady area, create one, and make sure it has a open spaces for a breeze. This is your first line of defense with keeping chickens cool. No, the coop doesn’t count as a shady area.
  • Fresh cool water: just straight from the well or hose. Offer it to them twice a day if possible in their waterers. Make sure you leave the waterer in a shady place, not in the coop.
  • Regular feed and scraps: a normal ration of homemade chicken feed is perfectly fine. You can certainly offer them veggie and fruit scraps, and in fact we encourage it. However, frozen treats aren’t necessary.
  • Ventilation: after the day is done, sometimes the coop is the worst place to be. Make sure your coop has proper ventilation. We do this in the summer by switching out our solid coop door with a screened or wired door (above). This allows the breeze to move through the coop freely, and gives proper and constant ventilation.
  • Cooling Herbs: a great and natural way to help chickens keep cool is by offering them cooling herbs that help their bodies naturally acclimate to heat. Sage, lemon balm, peppermint, lemon grass, and red clover are fabulous herbs to help with naturally keeping chickens cool. Place these herbs in their feed or waterer so that they can eat or drink them freely.

The Homesteader's Herbal Companion

Keeping Chickens Cool the Natural Way!

By offering your chickens shade, fresh water, regular feed and treats, and cooling herbs, your chickens will deal with heat and stress much better than if you were to give them the alternative modern amenities. Remember, nature knows how to take care of itself best, and when given the most natural tools, they will astound us at their abilities.

I hope this blog helped shed some light on modern day chicken keeping issues, and gives you the confidence to supply natural cooling techniques for your chickens that don’t require you to spend a lot of time doing them!

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Your chickens don't need ice cubes and frozen treats, but they do need a few basics. Find out how to naturally keep chickens cool here.

Naturally Treating Bumblefoot with Essential Oils and Herbs

Naturally Treating Bumblefoot with Herbs and Essential oils is absolutely attainable! Here's how.

Bumblefoot (also known as Pododermatitis). It’s one of those things that most chicken keepers will have to deal with at some point or another during their chicken keeping adventure. Naturally treating bumblefoot with herbs and essential oils is more than likely the easiest and more successful route to take. As a chicken herbalist, I’ve seen plenty of bumblefoot cases, and the treatment always remains the same for me. We’ve had great success with it, and so today, I share it with you!

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How to Make and Pressure Can Chicken Bone Broth (with video)

Chicken bone broth is one of the first lines of defense when it comes to total health and wellness on the homestead. It’s so incredibly easy to make bone broth, and chicken bone broth is one of my favorites. You can create other bone broths as well, like beef, lamb, or venison—but chicken is one of the most versatile that you’ll create. We use chicken bone broth in soups, stews, and even just to drink as a meal replacement, especially in the winter months. If your body needs a little extra joint help, adding bone broth to your daily diet is essential to help rebuild collagen in your body.

It’s even better when you know where the chicken came from that you’re using for the bone broth. We raise our own birds, make our own homemade chicken feed, and raise our chickens on pasture. It makes all the difference!

In this blog post and video, I’m going to walk you through the easy steps of how to make chicken bone broth, and how to pressure can it as well. We’ll also talk about the benefits and why it’s so important to learn this skill on your homestead.

The Benefits of Bone Broth

There are so many different benefits of bone broth, not only for your body and health, but for your homestead as well. Let’s walk through some of those benefits.

  • High in minerals and electrolytes
  • Can help improve joint health
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Help soothe and heal the digestive tract
  • Helps restore and strengthen the gut lining
  • Is full of beneficial collagen that helps maintain healthy skin, joints, cellulite
  • Aids the metabolism
  • Packed full of amino acids
  • Increases bone strength
  • A great way to put culled birds to good use

The benefits to bone broth are endless, as you can see. There are so many subcategories to the main categories, that it proves just how much of a powerhouse this liquid is on your homestead.

Making Bone Broth From Your Chickens

Whenever I need to make a new batch of bone broth, I normally like to make it from my own chickens. If you have chickens that need to be culled because they are old or you have too many roosters, they tend to make the best bone broth. However, you can also use the chickens that you raise for meat, or a chicken from the store. Never let a chicken carcass go to waste! Always save those bones and feet to make this liquid gold. You can pressure can it and store it for later use.

How to Clean Chicken Feet

In a large pot of hot water, bring the water right under a boil and add the pre-washed chicken feet to the water. Stirring constantly, allow the feet to set in the water for about 3-5 minutes. Do not allow the water to come to a complete boil. After 3-5 mins of blanching, remove from heat and allow to cool until you’re able to handle them. You can run them under cold water if you’d like. Once they have cooled off enough to touch, start peeling the skin and scales off of the chicken feet. Scrub the feet thoroughly after all of the skin and scales have been removed, then store in the fridge or freezer until ready to use.

Putting Your Broth Together

Now that you’ve gotten your carcass and chicken feet prepared, you’ll need to consider veggies and herbs to put into your bone broth. Here are the herbs and veggies I choose.

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Bay Leaves
  • Thyme
  • Oregano

Now it’s time to put your bone broth together!

  1. In a large stock pot or in your slow cooker, add the chicken carcass (picked clean), rough cut veggies, and at least 2 handfuls of various herbs. Cover the carcass, veggies, and herbs completely with water, place the lid on the pot, and cook on low heat for 24-48 hours.
  2. After the desired time of cooking, strain out all of the carcass, veggies, and herbs. The liquid you have left is your bone broth.
  3. Store your bone broth in canning jars in the fridge for up to 48 hours until you’re ready to use or pressure can.

Pressure Canning Your Bone Broth

Pressure canning your bone broth is the easiest (and cheapest) way to preserve your harvest. Please note that your elevation and location will play a major role in how you can your bone broth, so check your pressure canning manual first.

  1. Fill your canning jars with your bone broth, leaving a 1-inch head space. Cap finger tip tightness.
  2. Place your cans into your prepare pressure canner (typically filled with 3 quarts water and the canning rack). Place cans on the canning rack and close the lid.
  3. On your stove top or camp stove, bring your canner to a boil and allow a steady and fast stream of steam to escape from the vent for 10 minutes.
  4. After 10 minutes of venting, place your pressure gauge on the vent and bring the canner to pressure (at my elevation I can it at 11 lbs of pressure). Once your canner is to pressure, can for 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts.
  5. After the processing time, allow your canner to release naturally. Place your cans on a towel on the counter until completely cooled, then transfer to the pantry.

And that’s it! That’s how easy it is to make your own bone broth and can it!

Use your harvest for all kinds of meals, or save it for winter time when bone broth is the best comfort food in the world!

 

Watch the Video Here!

 

 

Herbal Oatmeal for Chickens (with video)

Giving herbs to your chickens isn’t a new concept, and neither is giving oatmeal. But what about offering herbal oatmeal to your chickens? No that, my friends, is something worth writing about! Combining both of these wonderful treats into an herbal oatmeal is a sure way to get those beneficial and medicinal herbs into your favorite chooks. Whether it’s maintenance herbs as a preventative, or treating an entire flock for internal issues, you’ll want to keep this versatile recipe on hand.

A Word on Oatmeal

Oatmeal should never be given to chickens on a regular (daily) basis. If you are mixing up your own chicken feed, you can certainly add dried oats to it, but as a meal replacement, oatmeal shouldn’t be your top choice. Oatmeal can cause diarrhea in chickens, and if given too long, can start to create vitamin and mineral deficiencies. We only offer this oatmeal to our chickens once a week or once every other week as a herbal maintenance and a treat. Otherwise, our chickens are happily eating scraps, grass, bugs, rodents, and their homemade layer feed (which you can find in my new book coming in Spring 2019!)

What to Put in Your Herbal Oatmeal

Start by choosing items that you might need to get rid of already, like blackened or imperfect fruit and vegetables. This will allow you to get rid of some waste while still offering your chickens a healthy treat. After that, consider adding some of the following:

  • Blackstrap Molasses: Molasses has been used in livestock feed for centuries. It is a great source of calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, iron, phosphorus, chromium, cobalt, and sodium. It’s also full of vitamins like vitamin B-3, vitamin B-6, thiamine, and riboflavin.
  • Chia SeedsThese little seeds are full of vitamins A, B, E and D, and minerals, including sulphur, iron, iodine, magnesium, manganese, niacin and thiamine. They are a great source of antioxdants! They are also more easily digestible once they become wet, so make sure you mix them thoroughly in the oatmeal. They are a fabulous source of protein, fiber, and calcium.
  • Whole Flax SeedsThese little seeds are part of the “super foods” family for us humans, but they are also super food for chickens, too! And incredible source of Omega 3 fatty acids, these will not only benefit your chickens and enhance their egg yolk, but it will benefit your health through the eggs that you eat as well. Flax seeds are high in fiber and antioxidants, help the digestive tract, and will promote the overall good health of your chickens.
  • Herbs: That’s right, now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty of things. Adding herbs to this mix will help maintain good health with your chickens, and you can pick and choose herbs for whatever you’re trying to accomplish with your flock. Let’s go over some of my favorite herbs to add in the next section.

 

Some of My Favorite Herbs

There are hundreds of herbs that you can choose from, and I would encourage you to grab a copy of my books to read more in depth about herbs and have more herbal options, but here are some of my favorite herbs to use with my chickens.

  • Thyme: a natural antiparasitic
  • Oregano: a natural antibiotic
  • Astragalus: naturally boosts the immune system, adaptogen, antiviral, antibacterial
  • Calendulafull of Omega-3s, vitamins E, K, and B-complex vitamins
  • Chamomileaids in digestion, helps heal mucous membranes, is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and can act as a mild sedative
  • Comfreyhigh in vitamins A, C, and B-12, and is also high in protein. Comfrey leaves contain calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and some iron. Is a natural anti-inflammatory and boosts the immune system.
  • Echinacea: boosts the immune system, is a natural antibacterial and antiviral
  • Nasturtium: may be helpful during the dewormer or preventative worming of your chickens

How to Make Herbal Oatmeal

It’s really quite simple. Once you’ve decided what you’d like to put into your oatmeal, now it’s time to mix it all up. Here’s what I normally do, though I just eyeball it. Depending on your flock size, make sure you aren’t giving them so much that they won’t eat it all within 30 minutes. Adjust oatmeal amount as needed. The molasses, seed, and herb amounts can stay the same!

Herbal Oatmeal for Chickens

4 cups steel cut oatmeal
5 cups water
1 large handful each flax seeds, chia seeds, and herbs of choice
4-5 tbps blackstrap molasses

  1. Bring water to a boil on stovetop, add oatmeal.
  2. Cook for 5 minutes on medium heat until water is absorbed.
  3. Remove from heat and place oatmeal into a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
  4. Allow to cool to room temperature before offering to your chickens.
  5. Give once a week or every few weeks for herbal maintenance!
Watch how to make the oatmeal here!

The Importance of Culling on the Homestead

Sometimes talking about sustainable farming means you have to talk about the hard stuff. The real stuff. The stuff that makes people look at you weird or think you’re a horrible person. One of those things is the process of a type of “natural selection”. And not in the evolution type of theory.

It’s the big “C” word that we don’t like to say, but that is absolutely necessary on the homestead, and that word is “cull”.

We can talk about herbs and natural preventatives all we want, all day long. And while I am a huge advocate of them, I understand that, in a sustainable farming set-up, I must cull if I want the best livestock I’ve ever had. It’s not just for my own sanity, it’s the necessary responsibility of a good farmer or homesteader.

There are many landrace breeds in livestock that you can own. Owning Icelandic chickens was one of the more interesting experiences for us (when we had them), because they truly were a landrace. They were different than our other chickens. They foraged differently. They slept differently. They interacted differently. Because for the last few centuries, they’ve had to. They’ve had to adapt to their surroundings. Not just when it comes to predators, but when it comes to diseases, parasites, breeding, and more.
People will often ask someone like Joel Salatin, “how do you worm your animals?” And he’ll chuckle and say, “well, we don’t.”

 

Most often, he doesn’t have to worm his animals due to the rotation of pasture and the method of allowing chickens to clean up the mess once the cows rotate. But if we want to get real here, we also know that if an animal is susceptible to getting worms—or any illness for that matter—then they aren’t worth keeping in a sustainable homesteading or farming lifestyle. And thus, the method of selecting or “holding back” the hearty livestock, and culling the rest. You then breed the hearty livestock that is not susceptible to issues, and you get a better group of livestock with each generation of selecting and holding back.

Let me just remind you that we’re talking about sustainable farming here, not just having a few chickens in the backyard. You’re perfectly fine purchasing a few chicks from the store every year if you’re just using egg layers. But in a sustainable farming business or practice, the game changes, drastically.

What Does “Cull” Mean?

We hear the word “cull” in the homesteading community, and we immediately think “kill”, but that’s just not true. Culling is the process of “getting rid of” something. By your own choice, that can mean to kill or process, reaping the benefits of meat for your family. Or it could mean to sell or give away. When you see people selling livestock at auctions or farm sales, this is an act of “culling” your extras or non-desirable livestock. It doesn’t mean the stock is bad, it just means you don’t need it, or it’s of no further use to you in your breeding program.

Your Stock’s Offspring is Stronger

It’s the same with chickens, cows, pigs . . . any livestock. If you have a chicken that gets away from predators like nobodies business, hatch her eggs. She’ll pass on those traits to her offspring. If you have a cow that’s exceptionally healthy when others in your herd haven’t been, breed her. She’ll pass those desirable genetics onto her offspring. All within reason, of course. 

 

We find, more often than not, that when we began hatching our own chicks from our own flock, our flocks became increasingly more healthy, alert, and sustainable. When we purchase hatchery birds, while still being extremely useful, they aren’t as sustainable as the birds we hatch.

Here’s an example—a few months ago my flock had mites. This is a first for us, we’ve never had them before in all the years of chicken keeping and using herbal preventatives. Our flock consists of several hatchery birds that we had purchased previously that summer (White Leghorns, to be exact). The remainder of the flock consists of about four birds that we hatched from our own previous stock, years ago.

As I inspected each chicken that was in my flock, I noticed that the bulk of the mites were on the leghorns, while there were very few on the chickens we had hatched in previous years. In fact, two of the chickens we hatched most recently from our own stock didn’t have mites at all.

This was not coincidental, and my experience in genetics and breeding allowed me to realize this. This was the act of breeding livestock that had been hearty and not susceptible to parasites.

Another example—one year I purchase chicks from the farm store after I had hatched chicks of my own stock from the day before. They all housed together. Several of the hatchery chicks died, none of the chicks we hatched from our own stock died. As they grew, we found the hatchery juvenile chicks to be more susceptible to becoming egg-bound, not foraging as much as the chicks we hatched, and other issues that could arise.

Whether it’s a chick or a cow, these things continue to remain in genetics, and it’s why many sustainable farmers choose not to bring outside livestock onto their property unless they absolutely have to for better genetic lineage.

Culling is Good Animal Husbandry

I can remember the first time I mentioned culling in a local chicken group—I got mobbed. For starters, they didn’t realize that in the farming world, culling doesn’t just mean to “kill” (see above). And secondly, we apparently live in a generation where everything should live for 1,000 years on a farm whether it’s useful or not. And while I get that (and I have many of those myself!), when push comes to shove, sometimes you have to do nature a favor and cull.

If you aren’t actively breeding your livestock, this doesn’t pertain to you. But if you are actively breeding your livestock, then it is your responsibility to not breed whatever animals you can throw together.

In order to maintain a sustainable environment, to keep good and healthy livestock, and to be a good livestock keeper, you must cull out the livestock that isn’t beneficial to your breeding program. Otherwise, you’ll run into genetic issues, animals that are more susceptible to diseases and parasites, or worse. Let’s not forget that eventually, you’re going to want to sell some of that offspring. Are you going to start putting out bad stock into the breeding pool for others?

Consider this before and after breeding before things get “worse”.

While we don’t like to talk about it, all of us that are on the road to sustainability know that it’s necessary. As you begin to breed and plan out your breeding programs, you’ll come to enjoy the process of connecting with your livestock and pulling out the desirable traits that you wish to see. It’s an incredible experience to be able to tailor your livestock herds and flocks to what you need on your own homestead.

So whether you’re breeding for sustainability, conformation, egg color and production, meat production, foraging ability, or just pretty livestock—consider all of these things before your next breeding adventure. And you just may like what nature has in store for you next time around!

 

 

Using Astragalus to Boost Your Chicken’s Immune System

When you first begin your homesteading adventure, you typically begin with the gateway animal—chickens. Chickens are some of the most entertaining of livestock that you can have. They offer eggs each day (or almost each day), a cute egg song, and a beautiful scene across your landscape when, and if, they free range. There’s nothing quite as beautiful as chickens in their free ranging element.
But what happens when you start realizing that chickens can also be the most complex animal on the homestead, especially when it comes to their health?
Joel Salatin often says that he’s not in the business of treating animals because his animals typically don’t get sick. Through the efficiency of rotational grazing, including his chickens, it leaves little room for bacteria and diseases to take hold of his animals. We believe in this method as well.
But there can be times when you simply can’t help the situation. It can be due to genetics, compromised immune systems, or migrating birds that carry diseases….sometimes you might not be able to avoid a situation completely.
This is where the world of herbalism comes into play on the holistic homestead.
We use herbs as a way to prevent, not just treat. In fact, using herbs to prevent can be much more effective for livestock than the act of treating with herbs. Anyone can prevent illnesses with herbs, but it takes education and knowledge to treat livestock properly with herbs. You can learn about that in my new book, The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion
 
Thankfully, through good genetics and herbal prevention, we haven’t had a sick chicken on this homestead in years. We believe this is due to good immune system and immune stimulating herbs. The chicken’s immune system is much like any other immune system, and therefore, we confidently know that it can be stimulated just like a human’s immune system.
A good herbalist knows that it isn’t just folk methods that create good remedies and prevention. Confidently preventing and treating with herbs begins with scientific knowledge and proven clinical studies in the modern world.
Let’s begin with the herb of choice when it comes to immunity boosting, and then we’ll dive into the scientific specifics of it.
 

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is a fairly new herb to many people. It’s widely popular in Chinese and Eastern medicine. Much like their love for ginseng, eastern herblists simply adore Astragalus root. It has been traditionally used for over 5,000 years to help boost the immune system and cure many common ailments. But did you know we can use this herb for our livestock too?

Uses of Astragalus: immune support, adaptogenic, helps body adapt to stress, antibacterial, antiviral, reduces the common cold and flu, increases white blood cell count, anti-inflammatory, protects cardiovascular system

 

So we know that Astragalus not only supports the immune system, but it also helps the body adapt to stress, which plays a major role in a healthy immune system. Boosting the white blood cell count is also a highly effective way to fight off illness and diseases. It is also antibacterial, and we all know bacteria are the worst when it comes to the wonderful world of chickens.

In a clinical study done by the South China Agricultural University, hundreds of chicks were infected with Avian Flu, both in the egg (in vitro) and once hatched (in vivo). Scientists studied the effects of several different treatments, including astragalus root, in a controlled environment. This is the only way to properly study treatments as there are so many factors that play a role.

 

From this study, the following conclusions were derived:

1. At an appropriate concentration (231.25μg/mL) APS (astragalus root) can drastically reduce the proliferation of H9N2 virus (avian influenza).
2. APS enhanced the proliferation of CEF cells when used at concentrations > 9.766μg/mL. The exception, the simultaneous addition of APS and virus at APS concentrations of 2,500μg/mL and 1,250μg/mL.
3. APS effectively increases the expression of IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-10, LITAF and IL-12, promotes cell growth, and enhances anti-H9N2 activity.
4. APS promoted a rapid humoral response following H9N2 vaccine immunization or H9N2 AIV infection.
5. The appropriate dose of APS (5 and 10mg/kg) significantly enhanced the specific immune response in chickens, and improved vaccine effectiveness; promoting an earlier peak that increased rapidly and was sustained for a longer period of time.
6. The CD4+, CD8+ T lymphocyte content and CD4+/CD8+ values for all the APS treatment groups were higher than those for the untreated (no APS) control group. The values for the 5 and 20mg/kg APS dose groups were significantly higher than the control group, which indicated that the appropriate dose of polysaccharide can promote the production of peripheral CD4+ and CD8+ lymphocytes in chickens, thereby enhancing cellular immunity.
7. APS inhibited H9N2 both in vitro and in vivo.

The precise mechanisms responsible for the response to APS require further examination. On the whole, APS has the potential to diminish disease progression in H9N2 infected chickens, and its use could provide alternative strategies for the control of H9N2 AIV infection. [NCBI]

 

I know, it’s a lot of information, but I think for those of you who aren’t proficient in scientific talk, you can read enough in between the lines to know that astragalus root was a win. A major win.While the study concludes that more trials need to be run, it was very confident in the findings that astragalus has the potential to diminish disease progression in avian influenza infected chickens, and could provide alternative strategies for the control of avian influenza as a whole.The most surprising part, however, is that this clinical trial was done in 2013. And here we are in 2017 (at the writing of this blog), and we’ve yet to hear anything about this in the United States. Unless, of course, you’re a researching and studying herbalist like myself.All we’ve heard are the detrimental effects of avian flu on our chickens—in backyards, in poultry warehouses, on farms large and small. But we’ve not been informed that there can be a better way. That avian flu can be beat.My friends, that starts with you, and me, and all of the mini, full time, and hardcore farmers and homesteaders across the globe.

 
 

So how to we use astragalus to prevent bacterial outbreaks and viruses?

It’s simple, really.

Make an Astragalus Tincture

First things first. If you go and read this study, and I encourage you to do so, you’ll find that the way they administered the astragalus root was typically by an extraction. Scientists do this much more efficiently than we can do at home. They literally pin point the exact medicinal qualities that they want to extract, and do exactly that on fancy machines. But we can mimic this very well by creating a tincture at home.
 

A typical tincture of dried herbs is used with a 1:5 or (up to) 1:10 ratio (herb:liquid) and 80-100 proof vodka, or glycerin. It is best to use dried astragalus root for this tincture.

—————————
Tincture measurement examples:

1 ounce of dried herb to 5 ounces of liquid (1:5).
3 ounces of dried herb to 15 ounces of liquid (because 3×5 [1:5] is 15 — therefore 1:5 = 3:15)
3 ounces of fresh herb to 6 ounces of liquid (because 3×2 [1:2] is 6 — 1:2 = 3:6)
—————————-

Begin by measuring out your dried root and vodka in separate containers. Next, add your dried root to a mason or glass jar, then cover completely with your pre-measured vodka.

Cap tightly and shake well. Don’t forget to label your tincture!

Leave your mason jar in a temperature controlled area, like a cabinet or pantry, out of direct sunlight. Shake once or twice each day to keep the tincture mixed and the herbs saturated.
Your tincture will be ready after 4-6 weeks, depending on the time period you wish to allow it to extract.
When your tincture is ready, strain the herbs out, bottle the remaining liquid into a brown glass eyedropper bottle, and store it in your medicine cabinet (dark place) or refrigerator for 18-24 months or more. If kept in your fridge, it can last much longer. It all depends on the environment around you. Some tinctures can last 5+ years in a medicine cabinet.
Administer 2-3 drops directly into the bird’s mouth every 6-12 hours once symptoms occur. Or add 3-5 drops to chicken waterer every few days to help boost the immune system as a preventative.
You can read why I use this method of making a tincture instead of the folk method here.

 

Offer Astragalus as a Decoction

One of my favorite ways to offer astragalus to my chickens as a preventative is to offer it as a decoction. A decoction is much like a tea, but different. An infusion is the way we make a tea, by putting our herbs into a cup and pouring boiling water over them. But a decoction is actually the process of boiling the herb, mostly roots and berries, for an extended period of time in order to extract the medicinal benefits of it.
 
Do this by placing your dried herbs into a pot on your stovetop, and cover the herbs with water.
 
Bring your water to a boil, then turn down to a medium heat rolling simmer and cover your pot. Maintain this level of simmer until your mixture has reduced by half, or for about 30-40 minutes.
 
Once complete, strain your mixture into a glass jar for future use, and store in the refridgerator. Keep in mind that the medicinal benefits in the decoction only last for about 12-24 hours, so it’s best to make smaller batches as needed. Sometimes I push it to 48 hours if I’m feeling confident.
 
As you offer new water to your chicken’s waterer, offer 1-2 tablespoons of decoction per gallon of water. I often do this once in the morning and once in the evening. If I stretch the decoction for two days, this means they’ll be treated 4 times.
 
Doing this once a week is really all that’s needed. If an outbreak should occur, or you are feeling suspicious of symptoms, offer it daily for 14 days.
 
 
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) comes with no safety warnings, which means, within reason, there are no known side effects on your livestock. The only time astragalus should be avoided is when grow in the wild and is available for livestock to graze off of. The root of the plant is perfectly fine.
 
Astragalus can also be used with your other livestock to help boost the immune system, treat viruses and bacterial issues, and as a natural anti-parasitic.
 
This herb can especially be used in your home for your family. You can find out how to make an elderberry and astragalus syrup here, which helps boost the immune system and rid the body of the flu.
 
Want to learn more about herbs on the homestead? Order my new book, The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion, now, and look for future books coming soon!
 
 

Purchase the products mentioned in this blog:

 
 
 
 

8 Common Chicken Illnesses & How to Treat Them

 

It happens to everyone at some point or another. You go and start your flock with a few chickens—everything in life is happy and grand. And then one day, you walk outside to a dead bird, a sick bird, or a “what the heck is wrong with it” bird. That’s when the death emotion sinks in and you think you’re a failure at chicken keeping.

The reality is that sick or hurt chickens can happen to just about anyone. Of course, there are certainly things you can do to prevent illness and mishaps. Today we’ll talk about some of the common chicken illnesses and hurts, and also, how to treat them effectively.

 

First thing’s first—you need to understand that chickens are prey animals. Meaning, they can be sick and hurt long before ever showing symptoms of being so. This is why monthly (and even weekly) animal checks are important. Look over each and every chicken as often as possible for you on your homestead. For us, at one point, we had a lot of chickens. It wasn’t possible to check them all over in one week. So we did monthly checks.
Next, you’ll need to figure out how you want to treat animals on your homestead—chemically or holistically? Or both, when it comes right down to it.
We are not strictly “holistic” here. If holistic methods don’t work, I certainly go for the chemical method, or cull. However, all of the methods in today’s blog are about holistic treatment. I always try hard to use my herbs and essential oils first.
We are a working homestead. Therefore, sometimes it’s better to cut our losses than throw $50+ into a $10-$25 chicken. It just doesn’t add up for us to do that. We certainly keep things on hand if something goes wrong, but for a single incident? Absolutely not. Culling is our choice when all else fails within reason.
Prevention Is Key

If you take nothing else away from this blog, please take away this. Prevention on your homestead is essential. The bulk of things that go wrong with your chickens could have been prevented or at least counteracted.

So, how do you prevent illnesses in your chickens?
 
 
Give Them A Healthy Diet
Make sure they have all the nutrients they need. Skip the GMO feed if you can. Organic is certainly best, but not possible for some incomes.
Add Supplements to Their Feed
This is a really ideal way to help prevent disease and illness in your flock. I highly suggest adding things such as dried/powdered garlic, Diatomaceous Earth (DE), Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (BOSS), Oregano, and Turmeric into their feed and diet as much as possible. Oregano is a natural antibiotic. Garlic aids in immune health and is antibacterial. DE is a natural wormer. BOSS adds extra protein to your chickens diet, and also aids in digestion. Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory and also aids in aches and pains, purifies blood, aids respiratory health, and strengthens the immune system. I would say out of everything, garlic, turmeric, and oregano are my top picks to put into their feed on a regular basis.
Add Apple Cider Vinegar to their Water
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) helps alkalize the body in any living being. It’s also great for gut and crop health in chickens because it’s filled with wonderful probiotics and has anti-fungal properties. I do not suggest adding ACV to water during the hot months, as it can actually cause them to over heat more in the summer time.
Fresh Herbs and Snacks

Growing your own chicken garden isn’t always the easiest, but when you can set aside time to dry herbs (or order them online), and add it into their feed, you’ll see your chickens health improve dramatically. Herbs and snacks such as garlic, oregano, thyme, marigolds, dandelions, violets, chickweed, red raspberry leaf, elderberry (dried), and autumn olive berry are great, wild grown options for your flock. Some of these things you can find right in your own backyard. Others you can forage for. And still, others, you can grow yourself or order large bags of online here.
Pumpkin seeds and DE in their feed are also great options, and help prevent worms in your chickens digestive tract.

Keep Essential Oils On Hand
Essential oils are a very quick alternative to harsh chemicals. We’ve healed many a chicken strictly with Oregano and Melaleuca! You can find out more about EOs HERE.

Make Sure Their Forage Area and Coop is Safe
Ultimately, some things happen because of unsafe living areas. Whether it’s a predator attack, or a hen getting her leg caught in some contraption—do a check on your barn, coop, and foraging areas often. Rid these areas of any potential safety hazards for your flock and yourself.
Illnesses and Treatment

Now that we have the prevention part of this equation down, lets get right down to the nitty gritty. You’re probably reading this blog because you need help right here and now. You now know how to help prevent illness, but that doesn’t help you right in this moment if your chicken is ill or in pain. Here are some common ailments and the the treatments for them.

Lice and Mites —

We had our first run in with lice about 6 months into our chicken journey when we bought lice infested chickens from someone we thought we knew well, but in fact, were stuck with sick chickens. I made the mistake of treating them chemically, and almost ended up in the hospital myself. After their first treatment, I learned of a much better way to continue treating them (as they need to be treated for an entire month).

Lice and mites transmit from other birds. However, if left long enough, can become an epidemic and kill your chickens by feeding on their blood supply. It takes awhile to get to that point, which is how we knew the chickens had lice before they arrived here (and none of my other flock had them, but had to be treated still). Should you find yourself with an anemic chicken, raw red meat in his/her diet is essential to get their iron levels back up.

The safest and best treatment: Dusting your chickens (very carefully) with wood ash and/or DE will rid them of any parasites that are currently on them. You’ll need to make sure you are dusting them right down to the skin, where these parasites live. You can add DE and wood ash to a special dust bathing area for the remainder of the month, so that they can dust themselves after the first initial  dusting. Or you can continue dusting them individually once a week. In fact, you should do this as a preventative at all times (the regular dust bath). Treating for one month ensures that you catch all of the eggs that have hatched since the first initial treatment. You’ll also need to clean out the entire coop and dust with DE.

Scaly Leg Mites —

Scaly leg mites are very similar in transmittal as lice and mites for chickens. However, I have read some pretty crazy “treatments” online for it. Someone even suggested you douse the legs in gasoline or kerosene. Please, do not do that.

The safest and best treatment: Soak your chickens legs in a warm water bath with dish liquid. Scrub their legs with a toothbrush to help loosen any dying scales. Dry and slather both legs and feet with a thick oil such as coconut oil, neem oil, or olive oil. This will help smoother the mites and allow for quicker growth of new scales. Add this oil to the legs of the chickens for at least 4 weeks, once or twice a week. Offering the same DE and wood ash dust bath to your chickens is also essential. You’ll also need to clean out the entire coop, dust with DE (without the chickens inside the coop) and make sure you’ve gotten all of the old bedding out. Don’t forget to dust the roosts as well!

Coccidiosis —

Cocci can be a vicious parasite in your flock’s digestive tract. While it mostly attacks younger digestive tracts, such as with chicks, it can also attack your adult flock as well, causing diarrhea, unusual feces, blood in feces, and even death if left long enough.

The safest and best treatment: Kocci free is a very effective treatment. We use many of the Vibactra plus products on our homestead. They are an incredible source for herbal remedies. In fact, you can use Kocci free as a preventative as well once a month. Simply add it to their water.


Respiratory Irritation —

Many new chicken owners freak out when they notice their chickens sneezing or wheezing. But it’s not always the “worst”. No, chickens do not get “colds”, however, their respiratory tracts are extremely sensitive. A little more dust than normal in the coop can cause sneezing and wheezing.

The safest and best treatment: Clean the coop out and lay down a less dusty bedding, especially in the summer months. We prefer cardboard bedding in the summer months. Make sure you air out your coop before putting in new bedding, and make sure your coop has good ventilation so that dust can escape easily. Many times, respiratory issues arise because of dust, too much ammonia in the coop, or pollen.

Mycoplasma Gallisepticum and Mycoplasma Synoviae Infection (MG/MS)  —

Mycoplasma is a completely different issue that we really need to talk about in the chicken world. We experienced what I believe was a case of MG here the very first month we started with chickens. The chicken, thank goodness, was on our property for less than 48 hours and was quarantined (and immediately culled), but it was scary, to say the least.

Number one — ALWAYS QUARANTINE NEW CHICKENS. We learned our lesson and are thankful we did.

MG and MS are respiratory bacteria that can seriously sicken and kill your entire flock. It is extremely contagious, and can even be spread by clothing and shoes. Many chicken experts will tell you that MG and MS are not curable, but I  have to respectfully disagree. If preventatives are used, and if caught in time at the first symptoms, I absolutely believe that MG and MS can be cured. It is, after all, simply a bacteria. 

Symptoms of MG/MS: Wheezing, gasping for air, puffy face and swollen eyes, sneezing, sinus drainage, swollen joints, lethargy.

The safest and best treatment: You’ll need to be aggressive with this one. Oregano (antibiotic) in their feed and water at all times during treatment until symptoms have completely passed for ALL chickens. Add turmeric (immune support and anti-inflammatory) and garlic (antibacterial) to their feed as well. Separate any infected birds as much as possible, but treat ALL birds the same. Chickens can have MG/MS and not show symptoms until stressed or weak, which is what happened to us when we brought in a new chicken. Within 24 hours, she was literally on her death bed when she was fine the day we bought her.

Your chickens will need to be treated until ALL symptoms are gone. You should also not visit other farms unless you plan to change your clothing when you get there. And do NOT sell chickens or hatching eggs from your property for at least 4 weeks after symptoms are gone.

Infectious Coryza —

I don’t have any experience with IC, but I’ve read enough, and experienced enough through others, to know that IC is extremely detrimental to any flock. Once contracted, it is extremely hard to get rid of. And can live in your soil for awhile. The fatality rate is extremely high and depressing even with treatment. I have no advice to offer you on IC except that you can treat the same way you would treat MG/MS, however, if it spreads to your entire flock viciously, you may very well consider culling and starting all over again after a 4 week waiting period.

Sour Crop —

Sour Crop is probably one of the most common issues on a homestead when it comes to chickens. At least, it seems to be. We’ve actually never had the issue here, but have had friends with sour crop. Sour crop happens when chickens ingest something that is too big for them to pass through the crop. It can also be fungal, as things can begin to ferment in the crop and cause more issues if not passed properly.

The safest and best treatment: Giving your chicken ACV and olive oil in the crop will help tremendously. ACV has anti-fungal properties, and therefore can help tone down that yeastiness in the crop. You can add oil to your chickens crop and massage her crop, holding her upside down, to help expel anything that may be lodged or compacted.

Bumble Foot —

Bumble foot is another very common issue on the homestead. This happens when your chicken has stepped on something, such as a thorn or has gotten a cut on their foot. The thorn or cut then becomes infected, causing a sore type lesion to pop up on the botton of their foot or in between toes. It can affect their walking, and if left long enough, the infection can spread to their entire body.

The safest and best treatment: You can pick the scab off of the bottom of the foot and expel any infection that way, and also release the core of the issue (if it’s something lodged inside the foot). Or you can wrap the foot with a bandage soaked in tea tree and oregano essential oils. This has proven to be extremely successful for us, as the tea tree oil is antiseptic, and the oregano oil is a natural fighter of infection. You’ll need to do this, daily (direct skin contact with a swab soak in the oil under the bandage) for at least a week or until symptoms begin to subside. This also allows your chicken to walk better with the bandage and extra padding so that it can heal quicker.

When all else fails, you may choose to take a chemical route. However, we have not had to do that in over two years with preventative methods and herbal treatments. Go with your gut, because most of the time it never steers you wrong. And remember that if you lose a chicken, you’re not a bad chicken keeper or homesteader. Sometimes, these things just happen and they are out of our control. But remember, prevention is key!

 

 

 

Why Does My Hen Have a Bare Back? And how to prevent it

It’s something that a lot of new and experienced chicken keepers experience every now and then. Chickens with bare backs. Why are they missing feathers on their backs? What can I do to fix it? It’s a pretty simple fix, actually. Though, to be honest, we’ve only dealt with it once ourselves.
The only time my hens have had bare backs were when our rooster to hen ratio was uneven. As a typical rule of thumb, you should have 6 to 8 hens per rooster. Otherwise, your hens will be mounted over and over again, and hence, the bare back.
So, let’s go over a few reasons “why” this happens, and how you can fix it.

Too Many Roosters, Not Enough Hens

On farms and homesteads, we like to have an abundance of things. But as with anything, we must have the proper methods so that all animals live in harmony. Again, as a general rule, you should have 6-8 hens (or MORE) per rooster. And if we want to get even more technical, you should only have one rooster with those 6-8 hens. However, on a homestead, we like to free range. Therefore we may have multiple roosters living together. There are multiple different issues with that, but for now we’ll concentrate on this one issue.
If you have too few hens for your rooster, he will continuously mount the same hens over and over, causing irritation and loss of feathers on your hens backs. Some more than others. Broken feathers can be painful to your hen, as can raw bare skin.
If you have enough hens but have multiple roosters (again, 6-8 hens PER ROOSTER), then your issue is that your roosters have favorites, or they are fighting for dominance. Whenever an alpha rooster mounts a hen, the other roosters want to mount her as well. This is one of the down falls of allowing multiple roosters to manage your one large flock.

Parasites and Bad Animal Husbandry

Parasites can happen to even the most experienced of homesteaders in the most cleanest of situations. Trust me, I receive messages daily from people seeking advice on ridding their chickens of external parasites.
If your hens have lice or mites, or if your coop is simply filthy, this could be another cause for bare backs and ruffled feathers. Because your hens are constantly preening themselves to try and rid of the parasites, feathers become weak, ruffled, and even begin to fall out. Though this isn’t often the case with bare backs, it can certainly happen.

Picking and Pecking

If your chickens are bored or dirty, they will pick and peck at each other. This isn’t uncommon on any homestead, however, you could have a bully in the group, or your chickens could need some extra free ranging time. If your chickens don’t free range, try giving them feed wreaths, heads of lettuce, and things they can peck at to pass the time.

Annual Molting

Chickens (roosters and hens) molt their feathers every year. Usually in the late Summer or Fall, you’ll begin to see feathers laying about your homestead and your chickens will start looking unusually “thinner” and less fluffy. Chickens molt their feathers every single year as a way to prepare for the coming Winter season and as a way to keep themselves clean and in good health. While bare backs aren’t necessarily common with molting, they can happen if you have a rooster, and if your hen has a hard molt on a certain area of her body.

So, how do I fix it?

Good question.
You have a few options.

Alter Your Flock Keeping Methods

This means section out your roosters and hens into mini-flocks. Add more hens. Or even just get rid of your extra roosters.

Rid Your Flock of Parasites and/or Filth

Clean your coop out and choose a different bedding such as cardboard or wood shavings if you can’t keep up with straw. Check your flock over for parasites, such as lice and mites, once a month. Treat them if they have it, and add preventative measures to your homestead. Adding wood ash and DE to their dust bathing areas helps prevent lice and other external parasites.

Free Range More Often Or Add Boredom Remedies

I understand that not everyone can free range, nor do they want to. However, boredom in chickens can lead to cannibalism. And you don’t want to walk in on that one day. Try supervised free ranging in the evenings. Or hang a head of lettuce in the chicken run so that they can peck at that all day instead of each other.

Up their Vitamin and Nutrient Intake When Molting

This is such an important thing for all homesteaders to do when their chickens are molting. Add extra vitamins, black oil sun flower seeds, and natural feed to your chicken’s daily rations. Extra love during molting seasons is essential to a healthy flock.

When All Else Fails, Buy a Hen Saddle

I’ve never used a hen saddle, ever. Because I’ve just never had to. However, there are a lot of amazing people in the homesteading community who either make them, or have created tutorials on how to make them. You can also purchase them in sets of 5 on Amazon. Hen saddles allow your hens to still remain in the flock without losing anymore feathers or becoming irritated. However, that doesn’t necessarily fix the issue. Hen saddles can also be very hot in the Summer months, so make sure your hens aren’t over heating should you decide to use them.

Ultimately, do what is best for you and your homestead, but remember that there could be an issue that needs to be fixed, not just masked with a band aid.
As homesteaders, it is our utmost responsibility to make sure our animals are not only working out for us, but working out for themselves. They need attention, proper housing and ranging, and good husbandry skills in order to flourish and be at their greatest potential.

How to Make Homemade Mayo

So, I have failed miserably on my recent Whole30 journey. But I am bound and determined to finish it with strength and dignity. This week, that included making homemade mayonnaise. I don’t use a lot of mayo for myself, but when I need it, I need it.
I must say, I don’t think I’ll ever buy store bought mayo ever again. This mayo turned out incredibly thick and creamy. I used a duck egg instead of a chicken egg, and I think that helped. It’s just a few simple ingredients — an egg, oil (a light tasting oil, like avocado, light EVOO, etc), salt, and lemon juice!
Once I am off of the Whole30, I’m going to try to add Apple Cider Vinegar and some organic evaporated cane juice (sugar). I used a food processor, because that’s what I had, and it worked amazingly well!!!
This recipe came from the Whole30 website.
_________________________

HOMEMADE MAYO

Ingredients:
1-1/4 cup of light olive oil, divided
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 lemon, juiced

Instructions:

•Place the egg, 1/4 cup of olive oil, mustard powder, and salt in a mixing bowl, blender, or food processor. Mix thoroughly.
•While the food processor or blender is running (or while mixing in a bowl with a stick blender), slowly (very slowly!) drizzle in the remaining cup of olive oil.
•After you’ve added all the oil and the mixture has emulsified, add lemon juice to taste, stirring gently with a spoon to incorporate.

 

Small Livestock Predators: To kill, or not to kill?

*photo below may be graphic for some*
It is absolutely inevitable. At some point on your homesteading journey, you are most likely going to encounter a predator. But we’re often tasked with that age old question — do you kill the predator, or “let nature take its course” and just try to perfect your security? 
Maybe you’ve never asked that question, and simply go on the “kill it” war path because that’s just what seems most common and advised. Or maybe you haven’t yet had to deal with predators and your farm is built like Fort Knox (good for you!). Either way, there’s really no right or wrong answer (unless it’s against the law). But here are a few things to consider before grabbing that gun without second guessing.

I want to stress that this blog post is about small livestock (chickens, rabbits, etc), not larger livestock. Though it could be applied to both. Clearly, the larger the livestock, the more your livelihood depends on the safety of your animals. This may mean that you have to encounter larger predators in larger quantities (coyotes, for example), in which case, it is extremely understandable that you must take matters into your own hands when necessary.

When we first got chickens, I was extremely protective. Anything that even remotely looked the wrong way while passing by the coop was automatically labeled as a potential predator. I remember watching a raccoon trying to climb over the chicken run last Summer, and I immediately grabbed the gun and headed out the door. She scampered off before I ever got a shot in. I came to learn, weeks later, that she had a very hungry litter of babies she was trying to feed, and then it hit me…
Why am I trying to kill an animal that is simply doing its job — feeding its family and providing for itself?
 
It didn’t seem fair or logical to me. But at the same time, I didn’t want this predator getting my chickens either.
 
Fast forwarding to this Winter. We had such a rough winter here. Snow upon snow upon ice and rain. It was wet and nasty. We lost a lot of chickens this year. During our chicken adventure, we had only ever lost one chicken…the entire time we’ve had chickens. This Winter was horrendous. I was shocked and devastated. I was angry and felt entitled to kill the hawks, falcons and eagles that were picking off our chickens. But fortunately for them, it is illegal in the state of Virginia to shoot, trap or kill a bird of prey. This meant that I was forced to find alternative routes to ensure my small livestock’s safety.

 

A photo from one of our hawk/falcon attacks this Winter.

 

I had fellow chicken keepers mad at me because we free range.
I had fellow homesteaders telling me that it was “just nature doing its thing”.

I had other people telling me I was a horrible person for sitting there and not shooting it — they “didn’t care whether it was illegal or not”.

But sadly, the very same people that were screaming at me because I allow my chickens to free range are the very same people who would shoot shoot shoot if a predator came their way. But they wouldn’t shoot a hawk…because it’s illegal.

If that’s the case, shouldn’t that tell you something about our ecosystem?
It is fragile. Animals are on the verge of extinction because of our selfish ambitions, as good as they may seem at the time.
 

I remember a video of some sweet farmers (Heritage Hollow Farms) that live right up the road from me. Farming is their livelihood. They 100% depend on their income from their farm to live. And what I witnessed was an incredible act of humankind — compassion, grace and realizing the fact that they (predators) were here long before we ever were. And while that doesn’t give us the excuse to throw our livestock into their mouths, it does give us a reason to stop and think about their lives.


HeritageHollowFarms 9689 Jan2014 from Molly Peterson on Vimeo.

And here is what Molly wrote to go along with the video:

“This morning Mike came across a sight no farmer wants to see: a very large & healthy coyote stuck in your fence with your sheep on the other side. All sheep accounted for. Returned to the farm and came back with a rifle and wire cutters. This is a tough choice for one who knows this very same coyote could come back and have one’s sheep for dinner. The other concern is the quality of life for the animal if the wire has caused bodily harm if he does get loose – would he be ok or have a slow, in-humane death? We fully realized the safety issue and farmers & ranchers have been battling predators for hundreds of years. Our border collie was loose all last night in those fields after fleeing a kick to the head from a steer – that coyote could have gotten to him.  

With this situation in particular we assessed the wire best we could and deemed it likely he could get it off himself once loose (he was choking with each thrash) – It was not barbed wire. I was armed with the rifle and we agreed we would give cutting the wire one chance. If it didn’t work or if he showed any signs of aggression we would use the rifle.  

You see, yes, the easy solution and some will say the best, was to just finish him off. To me, that is the fear talking over grace and heart-based. The Earth needs predators of the animal kingdom to maintain balance – to maintain harmony of the cycles of life. This coyote knew our intentions. There were no growls, no biting – once he was loose we stepped away and he laid there watching us for a couple of minutes before running off and pausing twice to look back at us.  

Adrenaline was present, sure, but so was a feeling of peace. A mutual respect for each other: predator & prey. He may not be so lucky, we may not be so lucky if there is a next time. The decision wasn’t made by past interactions with his species, it wasn’t made by possible future interactions (yes, we have lost sheep to them before – perhaps even this same coyote). The decision was made in the present. Perhaps we earned some coyote karma at the farm with this one.”

Molly wanted me to tell you all that they have not lost a single one of their livestock to a coyote since this encounter. She would like to think it’s the good coyote-karma working!

She says it the best, though — we allow fear and annoyance to make our decisions for us more often than grace and heart. Sure, I don’t have a lot of love for animals that kill my small livestock, but I do have a lot of love for all-natural living and homesteading. And I would be a complete hypocrite if I sat here and told you to kill an animal that is part of a system that has been perfected for thousands of years and could survive without man in it — nature.

You see, I realized something profound. I am not an advocate for sustainability if I cannot even support the world of sustainability as a whole. If I am trying to get back to a simpler way of living and being completely self-sufficient, then why is it fair for me to have to kill a predator, who has been doing this a lot longer than I have, just so I can live the life I want?

Let’s not be confused here — there is a difference in killing animals for sustenance. When humanely killing an animal to provide for your family (or in self-defense), there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is a sacredness about it that is unexplained unless you’ve lived it.

Resource: CBC

I say all of this, but I want you to understand that I understand when there is a need to kill a predator. 

In many cases, it is just a fact of being a homesteader. Sometimes, you just have to do the hard stuff. But not all of the time, and not as your first option.

Here are the things we do first, before pondering the “kill the predator” option.

Re-enforce fencing, runs and cages.  Bury your chicken run wire. Put an extra layer of hardware cloth. Switch to chain link fencing. Add bird netting to your run if possible. Whatever it is you do, make sure predators can’t get in (from top to bottom).

Invest in nite-guard or automatic lighting options that come on when a predator is lurking (motion sensitive).

Invest in an automatic door opener/closer for your coops and runs. It can either be time sensitive or closed at the push of a button.

Deter birds of prey. We have found it easy to deter birds of prey by hanging CDs or reflective aluminum foil pie pans near the chicken run and coop (or the areas where they free range, in the trees). Ever since making these changes, we have had zero hawk/eagle attacks.

Invest in a Livestock Guardian Dog. We do not currently have the space for a LGD, but we will one day! There are many LGD rescues or farmers willing to adopt out their unexpected LGD litters. Do your research first!

Humanely trap the predator and take it to a wildlife conservation area.

As a last resort, when all else fails, killing the predator is certainly an option, and you won’t be judged for it here by any means. Sometimes, no matter what you do, nature truly does show you just how incredible its food chain can be. But we try our hardest to do whatever we can to help keep our livestock safe without altering the course of nature.

We must remember, as homesteaders, it is our job to care for the land — and whether we like it or not, that means the creatures that were here long before we ever decided to call this piece of property our “home”. In most cases, it is not the predators fault that it has gotten to our small livestock — it is our own fault for assuming that we can fool nature into keeping its nose out of our business.

In Genesis God tells us to serve and preserve the land that He has placed into our care. And we have decided to do that here — whether it’s a chicken, a rabbit, gardening, planting, or yes…even giving that predator a second or third chance.

 

{Product Review} Brinsea Ecoglow 50

Nothing ever goes as planned, that is inevitable. We have established that multiple times on this blog. I think you’ve gotten the point, but I just thought I would reiterate, once again.

We had planned to have several large batches of Icelandic chicks this Spring and Summer, but between predator attacks and everything else going on here, we had to take a step back from breeding Icelandics this year. In the meantime, I had been dying to try the Brinsea Products Inc. Ecoglow. We brood inside during the Winter months, and I did have a small batch of Icies due. Brinsea was kind enough to send us not one, but TWO of their Ecoglow50 brooders. Little did I know, I wouldn’t be able to use both of them this year, but maybe next. I hope!

Things were crazy around here and the last thing I wanted to do was deal with chicks. But more so, I had absolutely no desire to mess with a heat lamp in the middle of Winter while we were out and about. I had enough on my plate worrying about the woodstove, add a heat lamp to it? No thanks.

The Brinsea brooders came just in time — 2 days before hatch day. There was an instant sigh of relief and out of the box the brooder came.

It. was. huge.

Brinsea listened to my request and sent me their largest brooders, which would completely come in handy for 40+ chicks. Unfortunately, I only had a dozen chicks in my incubator at the time. The big hatches were not due until this Summer. But, none-the-less, I was going to try this baby out! I couldn’t wait.

So now, it’s time for the Pros and Cons. Yes, there are both. As with any product, nothing is perfect. But that doesn’t mean we don’t love the product. We LOVE this product. But I offered to give an honest review of the product, and I will do just that (as with any product review).

The Pros:

  • I didn’t have to worry about a heat lamp catching my house on fire. With that said, we have never even had a “close call”. We have always screwed the heat lamp to a secure area in our basement. At the same time, there was always that “fear”.
  • It was easy to assemble. I really didn’t even have to read the directions, but I did anyway. It was easy and painless. My style!
  • The chicks loved it. It gave them that feeling of security that they needed, and they only had a heat source when necessary. It didn’t “fry” them with harsh heat, and they weren’t bothered by being under a light all day every day. This was really important to me, and I felt much better about it!
  • It is easy to clean. Really really easy to clean. With a warm cloth and some white vinegar, I was able to clean it up and sterilize it in a jiffy.
  • It is adjustable, making the heat adjustments less stressful on the chicks. As the chicks grew, the brooder grew. Whenever I would clean their tub out, I would slightly adjust the brooder so that it was raised a bit more. The process of taking them off of the heat lamp was more stressful than raising the brooder over the course of a couple of weeks.
  • The power cord is really long. YES, thank the Lord. Honestly, as simple as this seems, it was my favorite feature. We all know that our chick brooding tubs and containers are never conveniently located near a plug. That’s always how it seems to go! I was able to plug the Brinsea brooder in a plug no where near their brooding tub. I was doing a little happy dance, because I absolutely loathe extension cords.
  • It can easily fit 50 or more chicks. It was way too big for my mere 12, but it would definitely be a life saver with large hatches that we had planned this year.

The Cons:

  • I couldn’t see the chicks. And that’s just a personal preference. I like to be able to see the chicks, and for my chicks to see me when I am walking around and doing chores near them. However, the first 48 hrs of a chicks life are extremely fragile. If I wanted to make sure they were all healthy and happy, I had to pull the brooder up off of them, which sent them into crazy mode, which they eventually got over.
  • I couldn’t tell if they were warm enough. While I rid myself of the worry that the heat lamp would burn my house down, I gained the new fear that my chicks weren’t warm enough. Clearly, they all survived, which means they were warm enough. Their behavior ensured that they were happy. But it is hard to measure temperatures with the EcoGlow because the temp needs to be taken at the closest level to the brooder (top). The concept is that the chicks feel some heat off of the brooder, but the bulk of the heat comes from direct contact, which is also known as radiant heat. Therefore….my next issue….
  • I couldn’t tell if the brooder was low or high enough. I know, now I just sound like a ditz. But I didn’t want them to be uncomfortable. After a few days, I got the hang of it. So this isn’t really a “con”, but just something to not stress about. You’ll get it!
  • It can’t be used in cold temperatures. The EcoGlow is not sufficient if the room you are brooding them in gets below 50 degrees. It cannot be used in temps below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that it also cannot be used outdoors in unpredictable weather — be it Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter. In VA, our Spring days might be in the 80’s, but we’ve had Spring nights (and some Summer nights) get well into the 40’s. This also means that it can’t be used in our basement during the Summer months, because our basement gets quite cold (close to 50 at ground level on concrete) when the woodstove is not going. This is a big issue, and honestly the only deal breaker for us, because many times we brood outdoors with large batches of chicks, or indoors in the Summer. This is simply user specific, because of the way we run things here. I will be extremely excited and the first on the list should Brinsea come out with an outdoor brooder.
Ultimately, I love the product. I would love it even more if I would have thought about getting the EcoGlow20 instead of the 50s, but no one can predict the future!
The Brinsea EcoGlow (whether the 20 or the 50) is perfect for the backyard chicken keeper and homesteader. It’s the perfect addition (and a must have) for those who keep those precious babies in bathtubs, their laundry room, or even in their bedroom (don’t laugh, I know some of you do it!) as they grow.
For those of us who run things differently or prefer outdoor brooders, this might not be the product for us. I will continue to use my brooder in the Winter and Spring months — that is a given! But when hatching in the Summer and Fall, or when brooding outdoors, this just isn’t an option for us to use.
I hope that you will consider using the product, however, if it suits your lifestyle. Brinsea truly has created something spectacular here, and I highly recommend it! The chicks seemed happier, overall. And I was much happier that I didn’t have to worry about my house burning down from a heat lamp this Winter.
Want to add the EcoGlow to your list of things to buy? 
Make sure you use code FEWELLHATCH to get 10% off of your order on the Brinsea Website!!

The Art of Good Husbandry

When we started our homesteading adventure, I knew that “just having a few farm animals” wasn’t going to necessarily be an easy task. But I also didn’t realize how much observation and cleanliness was involved. If you know me, then you know I suck at house cleaning. It’s partially because I live with a dog and two boys, we’re home all day every day, and life is extremely busy. But it’s also partially because, I just suck at cleaning house and have about 10 million other “better” things I could think of doing.
With that said, my coop is normally pretty darn clean. The rabbit cages never smell. And while there might be trash in my yard from my husband being a landscaping and estate maintenance man (and brings everything home!!), my animals are healthy, clean and well taken care of. Just like my boys…..

 

There’s an art to good husbandry. You can’t just have animals and assume “nature” takes care of that for you. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been any need for the original farmer….Adam. You know, that guy who ran around naked in the garden of Eden for awhile and was told to “tend” to all of the animals.
Husbandry isn’t just ‘cleanliness’, however. It’s a lot more than that.


Good husbandry means: 

– Your animals are taken care of. You get the job done — feeding and watering come heck or high water.

– You do not take on more than you can handle. You realize that if something is too much for you (physically,emotionally or monetarily) that you are not a failure. However, you do need to find a way to “let it go”. This might mean finding new homes for your animals, not buying anymore animals (this is so hard for those of us who love them!), or simply hiring a helper so that all the animals can be tended to properly. This is a really big issue for some of us. But please realize that you are doing more harm than good, and it is not practicing good husbandry at all.

– Your coops, hutches, barns and sheds are kept up, both with mucking and fixing what needs fixing.

– Your animals are typically in good health, and when they aren’t, you notice it long before it gets “bad”. Yes, things happen, we all know this. This is not a “judgement” listing but a general statement. In other words, you shouldn’t constantly have sick or dying animals on your homestead. This isn’t an animal issue, this is a YOU issue.

-You take careful consideration when it comes to breeding, labor/delivery, and the raising of the young animals.

– If you butcher your own meat on the homestead, then this means your tools are clean before, during, and after processing. You take pride in your skill and humanely process these animals that have served a great purpose on your farm.

– Your animals, no matter where they are or what is going on in your life, are always a priority. Their health, their safety and their offspring aren’t something to take for granted. Fifty percent of the time, it is not the animals fault that it got hurt, it is lack of good husbandry skills.

– You’re diligent in all of the above, and whatever other tasks arise. Because those of us who practice the art certainly know just how often that art has to be put to good use….

It completely hurts my heart when I see animals suffering at the hands of others because they simply either do not or refuse not to see what good husbandry really is.
Please understand that as a human-being, you have the opportunity to make a different in the lives of your livestock — be it for the good or the bad. And ultimately, it boils down to you.
Cleaning out hutches and coops in the hottest of summers!
At all times, we reserve the right on our own homestead to not sell to individuals who we believe don’t practice good husbandry skills. This is not an issue with your character or your personality, however, our livestock is well loved and tended to. And we wish to keep it that way long after they leave our property.
As a fellow homesteader, I want to encourage you to make sure you know where your animals are going. I also want to encourage you to take an extra step each week to make sure your own animals are receiving the best care possible. Do a heart search, understanding that you aren’t a failure, but that ultimately there might be some things you could do “better” or maybe even things you need to move onto or off of your homestead. It helps to do a weekly or monthly walk about, as well as a soul search, to ensure that you aren’t slacking on certain areas of the homestead or doing more in one area that could be switched up to another area.
Good husbandry starts in your heart: your passion and love for what you do and what you care for. You have been entrusted with precious animals that need you and depend on you more than you may know. Make sure you’re making the right decisions, making cleanliness a priority, and practicing the art of husbandry at all times.

Hatching Chicken Eggs 101

I have some friends that are absolutely terrified of hatching eggs. And rightfully so. I hear the horror stories all the time on farm forums and facebook pages. The best hatchers have their own horror stories — and they are the best because they have learned from their own mistakes and made sure they didn’t make them again. The best hatchers also understand that just because they’ve done this 100 times, it doesn’t mean everything is always going to go perfect in the end. That’s just the risk you take when trying to play “God”.

First and foremost, don’t freak out. Take a really deep breath before starting.

Next, do your research. If you don’t already have an incubator, don’t just take the cheap route. I took the cheap route, and thankfully it has turned out fine with some tweaking. However, might I suggest the Hovabator Genesis, as it automatically measures temp and humidity for you.

Otherwise, we, personally, have a Little Giant still air incubator. I’ve grown to love it. We do not use an egg turner and we do not use a fan.


There are two different types of incubators — still air and forced air. 

A Still Air Incubator (SAI) is normally a styrofoam incubator that does not have a fan to circulate air inside of it. This means that there can be uneven temperature readings throughout the incubator when hatching. It’s the same concept as a regular oven and a convection oven. One has a fan, the other doesn’t. The fan helps circulate the warm air so that the temps are even through out the entire incubator. A still air incubator does not have a fan.

A Forced Air Incubator (FAI) has a fan. It can also be a styrofoam or other form of incubator. You can also buy fans for your still air incubators. The fan allows the air to move about so that temps are even, thus heightening your chances of all chicks growing at the same rate and all eggs pipping simultaneously. Cold and hot spots in your incubator will not be a problem.

With that said, there have been many times when we’ve had 95%-100% hatch rates with our still air incubator. So it’s all in preference and what helps ease your mind.

Here are the steps you should take when beginning an egg hatch:

www.backyardchickens.com

1. Select quality eggs. 

If you are using your own eggs, make sure you choose the larger, more rounded eggs for incubation. Avoid eggs with extra pointy tops or eggs that are porous. Porous eggs can be found by candling before incubating. You’ll see little spots on the eggs during candling. If they are extremely porous, do not use them (photo to left). Porous eggs allow bacteria into the shell and can cause the chick not to grow, or worse, kill it after it has started growing. With that said, I’ve had plenty of porous eggs hatch just fine.

If you are purchasing your eggs from a breeder or hatchery, you’ll need to let them rest (fat end up) for 8-12 hours before placing them in the incubator. You will also need to candle them beforehand so that you can make sure the air sac at the fat end of the egg is still attached. If it is not, the chick will not hatch.

Whether your own or purchased, eggs can sit on the counter for up to one week (fat end up). After that week, fertility begins to diminish.

2. Invest in a digital Temp/Hygrometer gauge. 
The temp and humidity gauges that come with incubators are generally never dependable unless you have a digital measuring incubator. Therefore, we use a reptile gauge that determines temperature and humidity at the same time within the incubator. The best part is that I can set the screen on top of the incubator and see it from across the room rather than having to look inside the window whenever I need to check temp/humidity (the sensors go inside the incubator). We use this one. If you are using a SAI, you need to place the sensors on top of the eggs in the center of the incubator. If you are using a FAI, you can place them anywhere in the incubator, but preferably the center.
3. Determine the type of incubator system you want. 
Do you want a turner, or will you manually turn? Do you want a SAI or a FAI? Either way, your eggs will need to be rotated 2-3 times a day. If you have a turner, you simply need to make sure the turner is working (daily). If you don’t have a turner, I generally flip the eggs over twice a day (morning and evening), and sometimes 3 times a day (morning, afternoon, evening).
4. Pre-heat your incubator.
 
Set your incubator up 24-48 hrs before placing eggs inside of it. Please keep in mind that whenever you adjust the temperature dial on a non-digital incubator, it can make a very large adjustment. Even the smallest adjustment can be detrimental to your eggs. Make sure your temp is set and has remained set for at least 12 hours before placing the eggs inside. When you place your eggs inside, it will take at least 1-2 hours for the temps to rise where they should be once again. Make sure you are home during this time so that you can make sure the temps don’t rise too much.
5. Mark your eggs and place them in the incubator. 

Now that your incubator is set up and your eggs are ready, you need to place them in the incubator. Place an X on one side of the egg and an O on the other. This will assure you that your turner is turning properly, or will remind you which eggs you have turned manually and which eggs you have not.

If you are not using a turner then make sure your eggs are either laying naturally in the incubator, or that they are setting in an egg carton (so that they don’t roll around). I like to set my eggs on their sides in an egg carton (6 per carton) with fat end slightly raised. You will need to take the eggs out of the carton (or turner) on lock-down day (day 18) so that they do not get stuck or trapped when trying to hatch.

Once the eggs are set, allow 1-2 hours for the temps and humidity to regulate. If your humidity is too low after placing the eggs in (1-2 hrs later), then add just a tiny bit of water to the water wells in the bottom of your incubator at a time until the humidity rises.
Temperature for hatching chicken eggs is 99.5. It will fluctuate 1-2 degrees at a time. Don’t freak out or over adjust the dial. Once your eggs are set, and temp is set, you shouldn’t have to touch the dial again unless the temperature in your house changes dramatically (for example, you use a woodstove in the winter, or don’t have AC in the Summer). Do not let your incubator rise above 101 or below 97 degrees. We have had this happen and they have been fine, but lower temps will cause a stunt in growth at times, and higher temps can cause death.
Humidity levels for hatching chicken eggs is 45-50% on days 1-18, and bumped up to 65% on lock-down day (19 to hatch day). Humidity levels will also fluctuate, but just make sure they aren’t 10% above or below what they should be.
6. Take a deep breath and relax.
 
Chances are you’re going to open that lid and freak out more often than not. Don’t do that. The number one mistake people make when hatching the first few times is bothering the eggs, opening the lid, and moving their temp dial too often. If you ever think something isn’t as it should be, wait a little while to see if it sorts itself out. Then change it yourself if it doesn’t.
7. Candling on days 7, 14 and 18.
Many people choose to candle their eggs to make sure they are viable. Most candlings are on day 7, 14, and 18. I, personally, candle on day 3 (because I can’t help myself), 14, and 18. If I don’t see anything on day 3, I will do day 7 as well.
On day 14 if there is no growth, toss that particular egg out. Otherwise, you could risk the chance of it bursting in your incubator and contaminating your other eggs.

Here is a video of a day 10 candling of our Icelandic Chicken Eggs. I had forgotten to video day 7 candling on these eggs. Forgive the quality!

8. Lock-down day.
The day has come. On day 18 of incubation, remove the eggs from the turner or egg carton and place them laying naturally in the incubator on top of the grate. Place a thin (breathable) dish towel or rubber kitchen shelf liner on top of your incubator grate and set your eggs on top of the towel/liner so that the eggs don’t roll around when hatching. I actually prefer paper towels. Close the lid and do not touch the incubator again until the chicks begin hatching. Do not turn the eggs anymore. Make sure you remember to bump the humidity up to 65%,.
9. Hatch Day.
 
It’s finally hatch day — FINALLY! You’ll begin seeing little pips in the eggs. Eggs can pip 24 hrs before ever hatching. DO NOT OPEN THE LID. Typically, you should allow the chicks to hatch and completely dry off before taking them out of the incubator. Many people allow all of the chicks to hatch before taking any of them out, however, we don’t do that. We always leave at least 2 chicks in and take the rest out after they have dried off if there are still more eggs to hatch.

You may find that the humidity rises as the chicks hatch. If absolutely necessary (especially if condensation begins appearing on the window of your incubator) then you can take some of the water out of the bottom of the incubator. However, it should not rise too much if you have been consistently only adding little bits of water at a time. If you prefer, you can just use a wet sponge during incubation so that you don’t have to worry about putting water in and out of the wells.

A chick has hatched and several have pipped in this photo above.

 


10. Clean up time.
 
Your first hatch is finally done. After all the chicks have hatched, you need to make sure you have a brooder set up for them with either an Ecoglow or a heat lamp. I highly suggest the ecoglow, especially if you are using them indoors. However, we often use a secured heat lamp, especially if we are using the outdoor brooder.

You can clean out your incubator with a white vinegar/water solution, or a simple bleach/water solution. Either works well. Sometimes bleach just seems “better” because it is completely sterile. It is your preference!

In the end, it’s actually pretty simple and easy. The key is not to over check your eggs or open the lid often. The next key is not to mess with your temp dial constantly, otherwise you’ll never have a steady temp. Your incubator temps will fluctuate, and that’s ok. You have to remember that momma hen gets off the nest at least twice a day to eat, drink, and expel feces. In the hottest parts of summer, momma hen can even leave the nest for more than an hour if the temperature is hot enough. Temps fluctuate often, but keeping a steady temp (only fluctuating 2 or so degrees at a time) with a median temp of 99.5 is perfect.

Most of all, have fun with it! Go in with the idea that bad things can happen, but so can good things!!

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Homesteader

 

When we first started our homesteading journey, I was constantly amazed by some of the things people said. Not just from those who don’t understand self-sufficiency, but also from those who are just like us. We are in competition with no one. We love this lifestyle, because it suits us. And we never want to be judgmental to those who don’t enjoy the same lifestyle that we do. If you truly knew me personally, then you would see the beautiful array of colors and religions and lifestyles of friends that I have, and I love them all the same!

It’s always a good thing to taste your words before spitting them out. And other times, it’s nice to put yourself in someone else’s shoes before thinking their life is a walk in the park. The moral of the story? Think before you speak, and show more grace than necessary…because ultimately, none of us “have it all together”


Here are 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Homesteader…..

(there are a ton more, but these are some of the ones I could think of today!)

If You’re a Non-Homesteader:

1. “You mean, you eat that?”
Yes, because I’ve seen where that chicken from the grocery store that is sitting on your plate comes from, and I would rather lick my backyard than eat what you’re eating. Oh, and my kid helps me process my food, too!

The sad reality is that if you truly knew where your food came from, what was inside of it, and how it was processed, you probably wouldn’t eat it either. Fermenting, curing, and butchering your own food is a lost art — we simply want to revive it and teach others just how simple and rewarding it is. And in the long run, it’s much healthier for you.

2. “Don’t you think you have enough animals?”

No. Enough said. Don’t you think you have a boring life without farm animals?

3. “You don’t own a farm, you just have a bunch of backyard animals.”
Well, that depends on who you’re talking to. But no one who owns farm animals “just” has a bunch of farm animals in their backyard. Believe it or not, we do have to take care of them properly…whether we live on a 1/4 acre or 100 acres.
4. “I don’t understand why you can’t just be normal.”
Yes, I’ve actually had this said to me, multiple times, when it comes to homesteading. Tell me, where on earth is the definition of “normal”? Who got to define what “normal” was? Because if you put 10 people in a room and ask them what a “normal” person is, you’d probably get 10 different answers. Let’s stop being so judgmental, please. Because my “normal” is living off the land just like my “normal” ancestors did. If anything, the modern world is completely abnormal.
5. “Don’t you need a rooster for your chickens to lay eggs?”
*face palm*
If You’re a Fellow Homesteader:
1. “I don’t get to stay home during the day and homestead. I have to work a real job too, so it’s harder for me.”

No, it’s not harder for you. It’s the same exact thing that we are doing but on a different time schedule. The reality is that we’re all in this together, and if we’re simply going to pick and choose who has the “harder” job, then we’re completely missing the whole reason as to why we do what we do.

With that said, I completely understand. If I were just homesteading with a few animals and had a full time job, I wouldn’t think much of it. But we homestead, homeschool, and I work from home during the week. There are not enough hours in the day to do everything that I want to do. However, I make it work. Why? Because I love this lifestyle, whether it’s at 9 a.m. or 11 p.m..

 
 
2. “Will you take $20 for this $100 animal?”
 
When I first started my photography business, I literally gave my talent away. And I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t realistic. So I learned early on in our homestead adventure that I just couldn’t give things away (with some exceptions), and I needed to put a quality price on my time and our animals. Otherwise, I’d “give” myself right out of homesteading…it’s not something we would be able to support with just giving things away. However, we do give many things away when we feel led to.
It is insulting when someone offers less than 75% of what you’re asking. If I were to say “make me an offer, any offer will do”, then certainly. But if I’m saying “let’s see what we can work out”…absolutely not. I work just as hard as you do — would you take that from someone else? I doubt it. Wheel and deal by all means (and barter, even!), but try your hardest not to make an offer that is a complete waste of my time and effort.
 
 
3. “Why doesn’t your husband just do that?”
 

This is woman specific, because I hear it ALL of the time.

My answer? Because I have a husband who was caring enough to tell me a long time ago to learn how to do things on my own in case something ever happened to him and I had to take care of our family all by myself. Yes, he helps. But the uprising of women farmers is inspiring, and rightfully so. The average age of the Virginian farmer is 60 years old, who is going to take his or her place when they are gone? We (women) care about farming, homesteading, raising healthy families and our food system just as much as, if not more than, most men. I take joy in taking care of, breeding, and processing our animals. And he takes joy in the building of hutches, garden beds, and other handyman things that need done. And yes, he does sneak some cuddles in with the ducks every now and then….don’t let his burly manhood fool you!

 
 
4. “Why don’t you make EVERYTHING from scratch?”

Because there is not enough time in the day to make everything from scratch…let’s be honest here. And whether you realize it or not, you don’t make everything from scratch either. I do not have enough time during the week to make soap, laundry detergent, dish liquid, homemade meals from scratch every single day (bfast, lunch and dinner), my own clothing, blah blah blah. However, I try my hardest to do what I can in the time frame that I have. And the stuff that doesn’t get done….I absolutely love supporting my fellow homestead friends and crunchy momma’s who do these things!! We’re all on this journey together, and that means we get to support each others businesses and talents as well!


5. “I don’t know how you do it all.”

I don’t. I don’t do it all. I have days when I fail, big time. I have days when I just want to give up. I have days when I realize I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I have days when I feel alone in this journey and like I’m the only one who cares (and then my husband goes out and buys organic ketchup and I remember he is just as committed as I am). I have days when I compare myself to other moms or homesteaders. I have days when I sit on real estate websites and day dream of what we “could” have, but then I realize I am so blessed to have what we DO have. I’m just like everyone else, I just package it differently…..

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