Dual-Purpose Dairy Farms Diversify with Beef Genetics

Wagon Creek Creamery is a 50-head seasonal dairy near Helena, Oklahoma; the cows are milked once a day during the growing season, and the milk is made into yogurt, butter and cheese. During the winter, the cows graze standing forage as part of an intensive rotational grazing system.

By Candace Krebs

Wagon Creek Creamery has always seemed just a little bit ahead of its time. Originally settled by Ron Crain’s family during the famous Oklahoma Land Run of 1893, he and his wife Barbara in more recent years transformed it from “worn out wheat ground” into a 50-head grass-only dairy managed with a cell-based rotational grazing system. They also set up a creamery on their farm and started making and selling “labneh,” or yogurt cheese, a lower fat version of soft-style cream cheese, before pivoting to a slightly creamier version to capitalize on the Greek yogurt craze.

Now the Crains are pioneering another genius offering: pastured veal, which is already selling well at farmers markets.

“It’s very simple, but it’s turning out the best thing we do, dollar-for-dollar, so we’ll probably do more of that,” Ron Crain says.

As his wife Barbara puts it, “the cow does all the work.” The beef-cross calves are left on the first calf heifers for around five months, and then processed at a local custom plant, resulting in young tender meat.


The Crains are not alone in making use of beef genetics to diversify their dairy operation. In a movement across the industry known of as “beef-on-dairy,” dairies of all sizes are using artificial insemination and sexed semen to concentrate on getting female replacements from the top two-thirds of their herds, while breeding the bottom third to beef bulls.

Clay Fredericks grew up on a 100-head dairy in New York State and currently runs the beef-on-dairy program for United Producers Inc., a producer-owned livestock marketing company that operates 30 auctions across the Central U.S. He said in an interview that many dairies are looking to diversify by using beef genetics on their lower-end cows. Popular breed choices include Angus, Simmental-Angus and Sim-Flex.

One 80-cow dairy in his area started up a custom meat company featuring Wagyu-cross calves.

“Customers can order from them directly, but they also have a couple of local restaurants lined up to use the beef as a Friday night special type of thing,” Fredericks said.

Many small dairies are adding beef to their operations as a way to accommodate the younger generation returning to the business, he adds.

“They are looking at, what can I do on the beef side to diversify things?” he said.

UPI’s program buys calves from dairies at a pre-contracted price and sells them to feeders looking for unique attributes such as grass-fed.

Size and location can pose constraints, but overall, Fredericks says, “there are lots of opportunities right now.”


For a dairy as small as Wagon Creek, it makes sense financially to buy semen straws rather than keep a bull around, Ron Crain explains, and this also presents opportunities to experiment with different genetics.

In addition to dairy products, the Crains started direct-marketing grass-fed beef early on, after Ron asked himself why he was selling older cows at the auction for very little value. In recent years, that same thinking led to ventures like California’s Mindful Meats, which buys old dairy cows from surrounding farms and adds value to the beef through a pastured organic brand.

Founder Claire Herminjard said having an additional marketing outlet enables smaller dairy operations — her partner farms are usually around 200 cows or less — to diversify their revenue streams.

“We were the first beef company in the U.S. to proactively and transparently work with organic dairies to up-cycle retired milking cows into beef and to focus on promoting beef from mature cows,” she said. Eating older animals is already popular in Europe, but beyond that, it’s also the traditional way beef has been consumed throughout the world for centuries.

“Basically the United States has pushed cheap food in order to create abundance, so there’s enough to feed our population, and there’s nothing wrong with that goal, or that intention, but it’s created a problem on farms, because you have to produce a lot of something to create enough value to earn a living,” she notes. “That has put farms in the position of get big or get out. And that’s not a new thing. It’s been happening for a long time.”

Diversification and premium markets, she adds, are the bread-and-butter of small family farms.

Although Mindful Meats suffered a downturn during the pandemic, due to many high-end food service customers temporarily shutting down, the model has exciting long-term potential and is generating interest from others around the country.

“We’ve been approached by a fair number of folks who are trying to do something similar with a handful dairies in their own area, and I think it’s great,” she says.

Last year when the pandemic hit, the Crains were fortunate to have an online store already set up, and their beef sales were brisk, helping to keep revenues equal with the previous year and their operating budget intact.

That outcome is now a factor influencing their long-term planning. With the couple both in their early 60s, they are undergoing a thorough business analysis in conjunction with their estate planning and thinking about how they want to position the business going forward.

“I still like dairying,” Ron said on a recent afternoon while taking a coffee break before preparing for the once-a-day milking. “But it looks to us like the future is in grass-fed beef. In Oklahoma, I think that’s a better direction moving forward.”

For a direct marketing operation doing more shipping than ever before, beef products have proven easier to handle than dairy products.

Availability of labor is another factor. So far none of the Crains’ children have chosen to remain involved with the farm on a daily basis (their youngest is still at home but they joke that the other three have been “lost to the coasts.”)

“We hope that eventually there will be a person who comes along with an interest in what we’re doing,” Ron said. “The beef, the eggs, we could probably interest somebody in that.”

Dairying, he believes, is a tougher sell.

“One of the problems with a dairy is you have to own a lot of equipment,” he says, listing off the tanks, processors and specialized packaging machines they rely on to make butter, yogurt and cheese.

“We would prefer to be working with the animals, in a simpler context, and hopefully make more money while we’re at it,” he says.


Nothing is more of a driving factor for Crain than his obsession with grass management.

He’s been a dedicated grass farmer since he got the call from his dad 25 years ago urging him to come back home from Japan, where he was teaching English as a second language, and take over the family farm.

Now, after more than two decades, Crain’s enthusiasm for intensive grazing management and its ability to rehabilitate marginal land in a semi-arid climate is as strong as ever.

These days he moves his cows three, four and sometimes five times, modeling his approach on Johann Zietsman’s ultra high-density grazing management. Zietsman is a scientist and livestock producer from South Africa and author of the book Man, Cattle and Veld, in which he explains the art and science of mob-style, or nonselective, grazing.

“It’s a style of grazing that is fascinating, because of what it’s doing,” Crain says. “It’s fertilizing the ground, but it’s helping plant diversity too, and when you do that, you have more spears of grass and more leaf mass as a result and just basically a better plant.”

Seeing the forage gains that result from harnessing the natural benefits of photosynthesis motivated him to bring new genetics into his herd.

“A dairy animal is built to milk,” he notes. “The idea is that all of her energy is going to the udder. That’s why dairy cows are bony angular things; they don’t have the physical resources a beef animal has. We’ve designed them that way, but we also left behind some of the fertility and functionality in the name of milk production.”

On the other hand, the key to optimal grazing is what Zietsman refers to as “inherent body condition,” or the ability of a ruminant animal to maintain body condition on grass.

“The South Poll is an animal that can do that,” Crain says.


Red-haired cattle, such as the South Poll, are also more heat tolerant, which fits a warming climate.

Crain is now artificially inseminating all of his cows with South Poll semen.

“I love the calves. They are no more than 60 pounds at birth, but man, they grow like weeds after they hit the ground. They are hardy and great keepers,” he said.

The semen is $10 a straw, compared with around $20 for dairy semen.

“We primarily plan to use the males for meat, but eventually I could actually sell bulls. There is a need for them; if you’re a breeder they go fast,” he says. 

He’s keeping the females as replacement heifers and would like to try milking a few, although he expects them to produce less milk for a shorter duration than his dairy cows. But his main focus is on finding genetics that fit his grass program best.

“I’ve looked at a French breed or two I thought I might be interested in,” he adds. “You can order Tuli semen from right here in the U.S., and that’s something I’ve been considering.”

He believes cattle producers in general will be forced to look for ways to minimize feed costs in the years to come. The cow to do that, in his view, is moderate framed, docile and can make it through the winter on standing forage, thereby eliminating the need to buy high priced hay.

“The question is, do you want to be committed to machines (tractors, balers, etc.), or to keeping animals that are easy keepers?” he says.

Neither of the Crains had business backgrounds when they took over the farm. In recent months, however, Barbara has immersed herself in online businesses classes and taken pointers from one of their sons who works as a financial analyst in the Seattle area.

“Farmers aren’t marketers typically, and figuring out return-on-investment is foreign to us,” she says. “A lot of our enterprises overlap and so it gets very complicated sorting all of that out. Even my son said he can understand why I’m pulling my hair out; the business analysis is not the same as it is for someone who’s just making a widget.”

Still, the Crains are trying to get a better handle on what’s working — and what isn’t.

Of dairying, Ron says, “the movement is toward big, and robots, and I’m not interested in doing any of that.”

Over the last several years, the state has lost hundreds of small dairies, part of a nationwide trend. As the Crains gradually build up the beef portion of the herd, they expect to milk fewer cows.

While Ron is sad about the financial strain imperiling small dairies, he also notes that adapting and evolving is a constant for small farms.

“If you want to be a small farmer, you have to learn to market, whether you like it not. You have to be able to market something — meat, milk, breeding cattle. We’re even looking at the idea of putting in a pond to grow fresh water prawns,” he says. “If you’re a small farmer, you’re going to have to jump off and try some different enterprises.”

Feeding Honeybees, Your Mini-Livestock

Pussy willow, pollen rich.

By Leah Smith

Management is very important with farm animals. How they are raised effects the end products they produce, as well as the benefits they can provide on the homestead. Honeybees are no different. Here are some aspects to consider with your mini-livestock, the honeybees.

Hive Placement

There are requirements when you set up your beehives or bee yard. It shouldn’t be in a low spot in the landscape, and there should be protection from the winter wind and summer sun. But there are other important things to keep in mind when placing your hives. Though honey bees can easily cover a two-mile radius surrounding their hive (or more) to visit a nectar source, it only makes sense that the closer their food sources and the less time spent in travel, the more time the hive will have for performing other important duties; and though it depends on distance traveled and the sugar concentration of the nectar, easily half the energy obtained from gathering nectar can be expended in its collection. Close forage is therefore important for maintaining a healthy, ever-increasing bee yard. Plus, making use the pollination services of your honey bees means keeping them on the homestead and providing them with as diverse forage as you can. Many healthy bees will be willing to pollinate both what you want them to and what they want to.

Placement in an orchard setting is very advantageous, putting the honey bees right on the spot to provide pollination for you and also to take advantage of some early food sources. It is also helpful to plant common orchard companion plants, such as comfrey (Symphytum spp.), mints (Mentha spp.), chicory (Cichorium intybus), and hyssops (Agastache spp.); not only are they wonderful for the biodynamic/organic management of your orchard due to the benefits they provide (olfactory confusion of pests, soil aeration, weed suppression, mineral mining, and fostering beneficial insects, etc.), but they are another source of food for your honey bees. If you build a full-fledged fruit guild in your orchard, it will both produce more food for you and provide even greater opportunities to include bee-friendly plants, including blackberries (Rubus fruticosus), raspberries (Rubus spp.), currants (Ribes spp.), and gooseberries (Ribes hirtellum). Further, if it is necessary to plant a windbreak (which is beneficial to both orchard and honey bee), why not make it a nectar- or pollen-rich one? Plants such as pussy willow (Salix discolor, S. caprea, and S. cinerea), Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa), dogwoods (Cornus spp.), and Siberian pea shrub (Caragana arborescens) will fit the bill nicely.

Another tact to get bees where you want them is to plant flowers they love near flowers you want them to love; in other words, if you want them to pollinate garden crops that may not be their favorite forage, plant flowers nearby that will bring them into the right area. This is one of the many jobs performed by insectary strips (more about them below).

Also, though focusing on what to plant for your honey bees you must also remember that they require water as well as nectar and pollen. Bees will travel far to find the water they require just as they will for flowering plants, so it is important (especially in dry periods with little occurring naturally) to employ waterers to fulfill your bees’ needs.

Season Extension

As with cattle, hone bees want to spend as much time as possible out and eating. But with less and less of the world being wild, whether due to the effects of urban sprawl or destruction of fencerows or diminishing parklands or degraded soils that don’t support plants or land management that dictates removing all manner of “weeds,” it is becoming more challenging for them to find nectar and pollen sources for an extended period of the year. Early spring, when food supplies in the hive are low after surviving the winter, and fall, when humans have taken their harvest off the hives and bees may be out looking for a bit more nectar, are two especially important times of need; be sure to plant accordingly.

Redbud (Cercis spp.), serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), and pussy willows are valuable for the spring. Redbud and pussy willow are both pollen-rich, and some willows can also produce nectar sugar concentrations as high as 60%. Additionally, redbud and serviceberry are both highly ornamental and suitable for landscaping, while pussy willow, as noted, can serve as a windbreak; so they can each fill a niche in the landscape. Fruit trees such as plums (Prunus spp.), cherries (Prunus spp.), and peaches (Prunus persica) are spring bloomers and prolifically covered with flowers. If you don’t raise an orchard for your own fruit, consider planting native varieties of these fruits, whose blossoms can support the honey bees and fruits can feed song birds and other wildlife. Ornamental landscaping or fencerows can provide appropriate locations for these.

To ensure that your honey bees’ foraging extends into the autumn as long as possible, supply them with goldenrod (Solidago spp.), asters (Symphyotrichum spp.), native thistles (Cirsium spp.), sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), and cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) to visit. And brambles deserve a re-mention here. Plant black raspberries (R. occidentalis), blackberries, and both summer- and fall-fruiting red raspberries (R. idaeus), and you will have nearly an entire season of favored foraging for the honey bees and fruits for you, as the fall berries will bloom right up to frost.

Dogwood, a useful windbreak.

Diversity and ‘Rotational Grazing’

According to the Xerces Society, an optimum environment for pollinators should have 12 to 20 species of blooming plants with at least three blooming at any one time and spanning as long as possible throughout the year; think of it as rotational grazing with the succession of blooms leading the honey bees to new pastures. Plant diversity is important because it increases the likelihood that your honey bees will get all of the nutrients they require. It is possible for bees to be surrounded by blooms, but if the blooms are of a single variety that lacks complete nutrition (as most do) than they can still starve to death. Diversity is also necessary to keep your farm ecosystem in balance. For example, while clovers (Trifolium spp.) are famous as honey plants, they can also host tarnished plant bugs. Other plants that feed the bees and attract beneficials, like lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) or Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum), will keep the tarnished plant bugs in check and thereby balance the ecosystem.

How you arrange plantings can affect their ability to attract honeybees. For example, planting into “clumps” occupying at least four foot square is often more attractive than thoroughly mixed plantings with each flower as an individual amongst other individuals, if you will. Plants that are attractive and beneficial to honey bees can serve many other purposes and be used in pastures; as green manures, cover crops, and living mulches; for erosion control, ground cover, or in filter strips; and in hedgerows and insectary strips. If you think of these various environments as distinct, it will naturally lead you to selecting a greater variety of plants, as many plants work better in some settings than others.

Pastures that support cattle and other animals can also provide an occasional treat for your honeybees. Management is key here. No flowering, or partial flowering, of pasture plants is often the preferred stage for grazing; fully flowering plants may be too mature and no longer lush enough to be desired by cattle. However, flowering is what the honeybees want (of course). But, as pastures are periodically left to partially or fully flower in order to allow self-reseeding or be baled for hay, there can be times during the year when this varied management means a pasture can provide something for everyone. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), red clover (T. pratense), and sweetclover (Melilotus spp.) are a few of the usual suspects when it comes to pastures.

Green manures (when defined as being planted during the summer season instead of cash crops as a source of fertility) will often be buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), or any of the many clovers.

Cover crops that protect the ground through the winter can be berseem clover (T. alexandrinum), crimson clover (T. incarnatum), mustards (Brassica spp.), and radish (Raphanus sativus). In place after winter, they will resume growth in the spring and provide spring flowers.

Living mulches provide many of the same benefits as green manures and cover crops (fertility and soil protection, etc.). Instead of being planted to replace a cash crop, however, they are planted with a cash crop and may well be in place over the winter period. Many plants can be used in any of these three situations, but as a living mulch they can be tightly fitted into a system that makes use of their weed suppression and honey bee-attracting qualities. For example, crimson clover is frequently planted between the rows in blueberry fields. White clover (T. repens) is a very short clover and a perennial, ideal for short crops in permanent bed situations. And cowpea is shade tolerant, working with row crops of any height.

Erosion control is a job often given to New Zealand white clover specifically. White clovers develop a fibrous root system once established, making them unexpectedly ideal for erosion control, and New Zealand white clover it is more vigorous and tolerant of differing soil types than other varieties. Heather (Calluna vulgaris), with its mass of small flowers, is great at both keeping soil in place and keeping honeybees happy.

For plants that cling to the ground as well as cover it, many low-growing herbs like lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) and mother of thyme (Thymus praecox), and other plants like creeping potentilla (Potentilla neumanianna) are easily managed plantings that provide a flood of flowers.

Filter strips that act to prevent the loss of sediment, nutrients and other materials from the soil need not be simply grass. Planted either along various bodies of water or on extreme slopes, plants like beebalm (Monarda spp.), aster, black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.), milkweed (Asclepias spp.), wingstem (Verbesina spp.), and blue vervain (Verbena hastata) make effective filter strips as well as ornamental and honey bee-friendly ones. As filter strip management allows for properly timed grazing, a planting of sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia), purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea), and selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) would please both honey bees and cattle (the seasonal potential for runoff is highest from September through March, when plants should be at least three inches high and “fresh fertilizer” should not be deposited in a filter strip; outside this period, the land can be safely grazed and the fertilization will be appreciated).

Hedgerow plantings can make use of shrubs and trees that will not work in most other situations (in addition to their understory plants), and they can also be constructed to provide food sources for an entire season. Examples include flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), and winter honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.); a variety of small-fruited cherries, hollies (Ilex spp.), and viburnums (Viburnum opulus and V. lantana, for example); common privet (Ligustrum vulgare), panicled hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), and hypericum trees and shrubs (Hypericum spp.); and Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) would provide forage from spring through winter, respectively, to create a truly heterogenous hedgerow.

Insectary strips can either edge or enter into plots, and be composed of annual or perennial plants (and thus are temporary or permanent). As well as promoting natural pest control by predator insects, they promote pollination of cash crops (and feed the honey bees). An annual insectary strip is likely to include cosmos, cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus), dill (Anethum graveolens), coriander/cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia), and dwarf sunflowers. Perennial strips might have goldenrod, penstemon (Penstemon spp.), and lobelia (Lobelia spp.).

And Honey Bee Pastures

And finally, these pastures are plots of land of various sizes constructed with the foraging needs of honeybees foremost in the mind. They can include nectar- and pollen-rich herbaceous plants (including legumes) and wildflowers, and even shrubs and trees depending on the type of pasture. When planting a pasture, you can use a mixture of native and nonnative species, depending on conditions and your requirements. The plants may be perennials, biennials, annuals, or self-seeding annuals. You may create single-year, multi-year, or permanent productive pastures. As always, variety is key. Though any of the many plants previously mentioned would be welcome additions to a honeybee pasture, a few commonly used plants that I have yet to mention are phacelia (Phacelia spp.), purple coneflower (Echinacea spp.), wild lilac (Ceanothus spp.), or any of the native roses (Rosa spp.), such as R. rugosa.

Creating a Buzz

So if all of this care has gone into your honeybee diet, what is going to come out? When you have honeybees that have a rich and diverse diet, you have an exceptional product for sale — and lots of it. Honey is not meant to be a corn syrup stand-in; it can possess endless variations in color and taste. And even when you provide your bees with a variety of plants, a heavy nectar flow and well-timed harvesting can get you a single-source honey of great sellable value (though “blended” honeys are quite nice, too). We harvest white clover honey, which has a light, sweetly mild taste that is very appealing to many customers. Other notable single-source honeys include buckwheat, hyssop, meadowfoam (Limnanthes spp.), wingstem, and sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum).

Pollen can command high prices even as an “ordinary” product; add a novel aspect to it and you really have something. One morning when I was rhapsodizing about pollen on my breakfast yogurt, a co-vendor at the farmers’ market responded with a confused expression; he had tried pollen before and said it had no flavor, tasting like hay at best. I gave him some of our pollen, which based on the color and time of harvesting was largely from some of our many varieties of German bearded iris (Iris germanica). Though its grey color might not have seemed appetizing, it was sweet like candy. Next week he said he couldn’t believe the difference between the two pollens. In addition to flavor, pollen color can add something special to your product. Many preferred honeybee food source plants offer some unique shades, such as the greens of buckwheat, meadowsweet (Spiraea spp.), and rosebay willow herb (Chamerion angustifolium); the oranges of pussy willow, wild cherry, and asparagus (Asparagus officinalis); the burgundy hues of red and white clover; phacelia’s purple color; and gray borage pollen.

As with grass-fed beef and free-range chicken eggs, the quality of what goes into your honeybee hive is reflected in the products that come out. A homestead beekeeper is well positioned to produce superior products, whether they are cut-comb honey, extracted honey, or pollen, that will be worth the effort of producing and well worth the price they command.

Note: Many of the plant species in this article come in “horticultural hybrid” varieties. They may be pollen-less or lack other rewards for pollinators. Use native, those for naturalizing, or long-established varieties.

Leah Smith is a freelance writer and home and market gardener. She works on her family’s farm in mid-Michigan called Nodding Thistle (certified organic 1984-2009, principally by Organic Growers of Michigan). A graduate of Michigan State University, she can be reached at noddingthistle@gmail.com.

Grass-fed Bison Returns to South Dakota Prairie

A bison stands alone in a grassy meadow in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Getty Images.

By Jill Henderson

Another spring day begins on the Great Plains of northwestern South Dakota. The short-grass prairie at 777 Bison Ranch bristles with colorful wildflowers and native grasses. From the view of a drone flying high above, the bulky mass of 1,600 American bison stream like a watercourse across the ridges and shallow valleys as they move towards fresh grazing grounds. Seeing so many bison together in one place is not only breathtaking but an incredibly rare opportunity for most people. For a brief moment, it is easy to forget the long and uncertain history of these icons of the American West and to lose oneself in the beauty of the renaturalized prairie on which they and their plant and animal allies once again thrive. For Mimi Hillenbrand, owner and manager of the 777 Bison Ranch, this amazing landscape has been forged in a labor of love for bison and the Northern Plains from which they originated.

American Bison

Before the arrival of Europeans, more than 60 million American bison roamed the prairies and plains of North America. From the Alaskan wilderness to the rich grasslands of northern Mexico, and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Great Basin of Nevada, the annual migration of bison across the continent in massive herds not only shaped the richly diverse grasslands upon which they thrived but were also an integral part of the culture and survival of indigenous peoples of North America for hundreds of thousands of years.

As Europeans made their way into the interior of the continent they too found the bison useful. Everywhere they went, bison were killed by the thousands to fill a growing demand for leather and fur back east and across the Atlantic.

Between 1871 and 1889, in an inexcusable act of terrorism, bison were ruthlessly slaughtered and at times left to rot for the sole purpose of demoralizing and denying Native Americans one of their most sacred spiritual icons and their primary source of food, clothing, tools and shelter. Without the bison, the western tribes were defeated and relocated to make way for western expansion.

In 1883, a young Teddy Roosevelt traveled to the Dakotas to hunt the last of the largest mammals on the continent. He stalked a lone buffalo bull for the better part of a week and then danced around the carcass in celebration. Later he would lament the condition and demise of the once-mighty bison and rally fellow conservationists to the cause of their preservation. By the early 1900s, roughly 1,000 American bison were left alive on the continent, most of which had been corralled into confinement. A mere twenty-three lived free in the protective central valley of Yellowstone National Park. It is from these surviving remnants that all genetically pure American bison alive today originate.

A Bison Ranch is Born

In 1972, Ray Hillenbrand and his brothers purchased the 777 Ranch located in a remote area southeast of Rapid City. The family lived in Batesville, Indiana, where Ray managed his family’s businesses. The ranch was stocked with beef cattle and the land was worse for wear. After nine years of spending summers at the ranch, the Hillenbrand family permanently relocated there in 1980.

From the very beginning, conservation was at the heart of what the Hillenbrand family wanted for their growing ranch and in 1983, Ray introduced the first 100 head of bison. Mimi, then in high school, recalls the moment they decided they were done with beef cattle.

“It was a really bad winter and early spring and the cattle were calving right in the middle of a blizzard. It was a lot of work getting them into the barn and keeping them warm and all that mess. And as soon as the blizzard was over and the sun came out, all the bison calved and we reevaluated everything,” she said. “We made the switch entirely to bison in 1984-85 because part of our farm goal was to bring back the prairie. And since the bison evolved here and utilized the land in the right way and had great instincts, why not use them to help us?”

“About the same time we decided to go all-in on the bison in the late ’80s,” she continued, “Allan Savory was going around and talking to different ranching communities in the area. I can still remember sitting in a freezing barn listening to Allan speak and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, that makes so much sense!’ That was 30 years ago and we’ve been using holistic grazing ever since.”

Better All the Time

From the very beginning, Mimi loved being on the ranch and working with the bison and after high school, she earned a bachelor’s in wildlife biology with an emphasis on range management from the University of Montana. She followed that up with a master’s degree in agricultural sciences from Colorado State University. She returned to the ranch and worked alongside her father for several years before he handed the reins over to Mimi in 2004. “I’m living my dream from childhood, doing conservation work and making a living out of it,” she said.

The 777 Bison Ranch is comprised of 26,000 acres broken into 26 pastures. Because the bison are not given any supplemental feed of any kind, the ranch’s annual grazing plan must take into account not just the growing season, but the dormant season as well. “We plan for plant recovery and our recovery time ranges from 60 days, which is our minimum, to 120 days, depending on the weather,” said Mimi. “We’re moving the bison every two days to three weeks depending on pasture size and how the grass is growing.”

Because South Dakota is a semi-arid prairie that receives only 14 inches of precipitation annually, most of which comes in the winter and spring, keeping the size of their bison herd in proportion is crucial to what Mimi calls their “caring capacity.” In 2020, the ranch was stocked with 1,800 head of bison, but because of the recent drought, she and her management team decided to take that number down to 1,650. “The way most people stock out here is 23-25 acres per animal unit, but the way we’ve been managing our land, we’re down to 18 acres per animal unit, so we’ve increased our production substantially over the years,” she said.

Healthy Soil, Healthy Planet

A large part of any conservation-minded land management includes introducing or encouraging a wide array of native and naturalized plants for livestock as well as wild animals, birds and insects. For Mimi, having a good array of native plants and useful forage is a top priority. “There’s nothing especially wrong with introduced species. They were introduced because they are good protein for livestock. But as much as I don’t want them, they serve a purpose and they are still converting sunlight and that’s good. But just by the way we’ve been managing we have increased our diversity by 3-4 times.”

Non-native plants on the ranch include Kentucky Bluegrass, Smooth Brome, Cheatgrass, and Crested Wheat.

“One of our big successes is on some of the pastures that had been planted with Crested Wheat,” she said. “Just the way we’ve been grazing them has knocked that back and allowed Green Needle Grass, Western Wheat, and sods like Buffalo Grass and Blue Gramma to emerge. Even Big Bluestem makes its appearance when moisture is just right. But it’s like ‘Hey, now we’re really doing it!’”

Mimi explains that their desire for diversity, soil building and sequestering carbon is what got her to bring in Applied Ecological Services to do a year-long study to see if what they were doing with holistic management was actually achieving those goals.

“In some places, we’ve built inches of topsoil over the 30 years we’ve been doing HM,” she said. “And compared to some of the traditional grazers, our diversity is three times better and our water infiltration is off the map. Some of the springs that used to be seasonal now run year-round. It’s really super-cool.”

Mimi says that HM works, but it takes time.

“You’re not going to see these kinds of results in the first five years,” she said. “Our success is something that’s been going on since we made the switch to bison. When we were running cows in the ’70s and ’80s, we were doing traditional grazing and our soils were tied up in blue gramma and buffalo grass. Of course there is nothing wrong with those as good forage, but they can choke out other native species. We’re just working with it and now we have a really great mix of species. Back in the ’80s, we needed more cool-season plants and now we need more warm-season plants. It’s kinda cool to watch how everything just works itself out.”

Diversity is Key

Diversity is not only good for the environment and wildlife like dung beetles, birds, prairie dogs, and even coyotes — it’s good for bison, too. Because all pure American bison today originated from those remnant herds of the 1900s, Mimi is determined to have the most genetically diverse pure-bred American bison herd anywhere in the world and keeps track of her progress with genetic testing. “There were only 1,000 head of bison at the turn of the century and now we’re almost to half a million, which is a wonderful success story for this animal,” she explains.

“There are all these satellite herds like Wind Cave, Badlands, the Buffalo Range of Montana, Elk Island, Yellowstone, and Teddy Roosevelt (all of which are state and national parks) that have what I call ‘heritage genetics’ and that’s what I want in my herd,” she said. “I started with bison from Elk Island and Cap Rock Canyons State Park in Texas, which was the original Goodnight herd from 1878. I don’t like a closed herd and bison don’t usually inbreed, so I’ve been acquiring animals from all these really cool places.”

Handle With Care

Among the various aspects of running a grassfed holistic management operation, attaining certifications to prove to buyers and consumers that you are doing a good job can be the icing on an already sweet cake.

“I think consumers want to know where their food comes from and how the animals are treated, Mimi said. “And I can tell you where each one of our animals has been from conception to the moment it left the ranch. I can tell you what that bison was eating and where it was eating it and I can give you his whole life history and what pasture he was in on a certain day and I think that’s pretty cool.”

In addition to partnering with organizations dedicated to education on the nuances of raising of bison and the benefits and implementation of holistic and regenerative practices, the 777 Bison Ranch is a Savory Partner and is Land to Market Certified through the Savory Ecological Outcome Verification (E.O.V.) program, which helps connect regenerative producers with buyers. The ranch is also an American Grassfed Association (AGA) Certified Producer, which guarantees that their bison are always raised on pasture with no confinement and never treated with hormones or antibiotics. The Triple 7 was also awarded the Audubon Certified label, which is awarded for meat that is sustainably raised in a way that benefits wildlife habitat, particularly for native bird species.

In addition to these prestigious certifications, 777 was the very first bison ranch in the nation to receive the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) certification. They did this, in part, by having Dr. Temple Grandin come to the ranch and help design safe, animal-friendly handling facilities specifically for their herd. Mimi also took classes from the late Bud Williams, who was famous for teaching ranchers how to train their cattle to stay together and move as a natural herd, which helps reduce stress during rotational grazing moves. “I took several classes from Bud and even went to Canada to learn from him. We still practice his techniques every day and I think our round-ups are truly amazing because of it.”

Another of Mimi’s passions is teaching, coaching and encouraging others to learn more about raising bison, implementing holistic management practices, and increasing biodiversity on their farms and ranches. In 2019, the 777 was presented with the Area IV Excellence in Range Management Award from the South Dakota Section of the Society for Range Management. In addition to the Triple 7 being featured in the films Dances With Wolves and Wyatt Earp, it also made it into the 2019 South Dakota Grassland Coalition Planner and video series, Voices for Soil Health, which was produced by the USDA NRCS South Dakota to promote healthy soils, grasslands and ecosystems.

Mimi is also board member of several prestigious organizations working for the promotion and preservation of the American Bison, including the National Buffalo Foundation and the National Buffalo Association, where she works on the science and research committee and the conservation committee. She is also a board member of South Dakota State University’s Center of Excellence for Bison Studies.

Women in Eco-Ag

When asked what it has been like to be a woman in charge a 26,000-acre bison ranch in what is inarguably a field dominated by men, Mimi laughed and said, “I get asked this all the time and I know a lot of people want me to say it was so hard being a woman and this and that, but I never let that bother me because I’m doing what I want to do. I’m a very fortunate person and I’m living my dream and my passion and nobody is going to stop you if you believe in what you do.”

“My biggest challenge was finding the right team, the right people who embraced my passion and vision for the ranch. I’ve worked with my ranch manager, Moritz Espy, for a long time now, but when he first came on he thought I was some tree-hugging hippy chick with all these crazy ideas. It took him a few years before he got what I was doing, but Justin Selke and Cody Smith, the other two gentlemen on my team, got it right away. But we’re all on the same page now and we joke about it all the time,” she said.

“I would say to any woman who has a dream to ranch or farm to remember that everybody has challenges, male and female. But if you feel it in your heart and soul, if it’s your dream and your passion, you can accomplish anything and nobody can stop you.”

Mangalitsa Pigs: A Beginner’s Guide

Mangalitsa pigs are prized for their flavor.

By Mary Ann Lieser

Small-scale farmers looking to diversify their livestock should consider mangalitsa pigs, a heritage breed prized for flavor. Mangalitsas aren’t suited for large operations or industrial farms. They seldom produce more than eight piglets when they farrow, and it takes over a year for them to reach market size. But gourmet chefs and devoted gastronomes are willing to pay more for the meat, which many believe is the best-tasting pork in the world.

The breed was developed in the nineteenth century by Austrian emperor Franz Josef, who crossbred wild boars with several Hungarian and Serbian breeds. “Mangalitsa” means “hog with a lot of lard” in the Hungarian language, and the breed was popular in Hungary until the middle of the twentieth century, when larger farms and a demand for leaner meat led to dwindling numbers of mangalitsas. Hungary had fewer than 200 in the early 1990s, when animal geneticist Peter Toth began a breeding program and encouraged farmers to raise mangalitsas in order to preserve the breed’s gene pool. The motto “Eat them to save them” helped Hungary rediscover delicious mangalitsa sausage seasoned with paprika, and there are now thousands of mangalitsa sows in Hungary. Many have been exported as well. The first arrived in the US in 2007, and they’ve gained a devoted North American following.

For the last fifty or so years commercial pigs have been bred to have less fat and to reach market size quickly. But less fat also means less flavor. And more subtle scientific analysis is now demonstrating that the nutritional profile of lard-type pigs like the mangalitsa is not necessarily the health disaster it was previously assumed to be. Foodies have helped rehabilitate lard’s image. For example, lard has less saturated fat than butter does. And mangalitsa meat, especially when the pigs have spent time foraging outdoors, contains impressive levels of omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

Jacobs Heritage is a fourth generation family farm in northeast Ohio focused on heritage breeds of livestock, including poultry and lamb. Jennifer Jacobs has been keeping at least a couple of mangalitsas around the farm for the past seven years. She was first drawn to the breed because of her own Hungarian ethnic heritage, and because of the claims that foodies made, touting the meat’s juiciness, tenderness and flavor. She ordered some pork online and was impressed with the product — “Yes, it really is that good” — and acquired her first stock.

Ideally, mangalitsas spend most of their time outdoors and derive a portion of their nutrition from what they forage, whether in forest, pasture or meadow. They thrive in a wooded area that contains acorns, chestnuts, horse chestnuts or black walnuts, but can do well in almost any vegetative environment when supplemented with barley or wheat. Alfalfa, sunflower seeds, wheat bran, pumpkins and potatoes can provide additional supplementation; corn and soy aren’t recommended, as the resulting fat will be of lower quality.

At Jacobs Heritage Farm, the pigs forage less than twenty percent of their diet, as the bulk of what they eat in the summer is excess produce from another local farm. They get hay in the winter, and barley to finish on when they are close to processing time.

The distinctive fat is one of the mangalitsa’s prime selling points. Most modern breeds are over fifty percent lean, but mangalitsa meat — reddish flesh strikingly marbled with creamy white — is sixty-five to seventy percent fat. That high fat content means the meat can spend a longer time curing and developing flavor, because it can retain moisture during a long drying process, resulting in superior bacon and ham. Slow Food USA added the mangalitsa to its Ark of Taste, a “living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction,” for that reason.

Mangalitsas are also the only remaining wooly breed of pig. There were others that are now extinct. Covered with a sheep-like fleece that can be black, red or blond, mangalitsas have a distinctive appearance. Their wool is coarse and doesn’t have a practical use beyond keeping the pigs warm in cold weather. The wool makes them hardy in cold climates, but mangalitsas are currently being raised as far south as Florida. In warmer areas they shed more. And even in colder climates where they can thrive during extreme winters, the pigs need access to shelter where they can escape the elements when they choose.

Beyond that shelter, some electric fencing to define their boundaries and some supplements to their forage, mangalitsas don’t require much. They’re a hardy, low-maintenance breed. They are known for having calm and easygoing dispositions, being good mothers when they farrow, and being relatively problem-free. They are rooters, though, and they can tear up an area when foraging. When mangalitsas are rotated through pastures, replanting might be necessary.

Jacobs Heritage Farm keeps their mangalitsas in a pasture, with shelter available, and they haven’t had to do any replanting. “The pasture does manage to regrow naturally in the summer in spite of the pig damage. A section of their pasture floods too, when there is a lot of rain, and the pigs love that, especially when it’s warm out. They forage in the water too.”

Most farmers new to the breed start with two gilts and a boar; mangalitsas are social and do well in larger groupings too. Some breeders are experimenting by crossing the breed with Hampshires or Berkshires to shorten the time to market. Purebred mangalitsas should not be processed until fifteen months old, since it takes them about twice as long as other breeds to reach 280 to 300 pounds. When they are butchered, seam cutting is recommended in order to preserve the meat’s marbling. And be prepared for lots of lard, which can be whipped, braised or smoked with excellent results.

Most of Jacobs Heritage Farm’s pork customers find them via the farm’s website or through word-of-mouth. Once a potential customer samples the product they usually want more. As Jennifer says, “Red, deep, flavorful mangalitsa pork is quite different from tough, commercial, fast-growing ‘other white meat’ pork that is typical in the USA. It takes time and work to develop a market for this unique meat. But it is worth it.”

The Principles of Regenerative Agriculture

By Spencer Smith

Cattle graze a diverse field at Springs Ranch near Fort Bidwell, California. Photo by Abbey Smith.

Regenerative agriculture is a hot topic. Presidential candidates discuss it, there are several documentaries released recently about it, universities across the world hold space for conversations about the potential for regenerative ag to reverse climate change, undo the global biodiversity crisis, as well as bring nutrient density back to our food supply. I certainly want to be among those farmers who are increasing profitability while building a farming business, and helping to create a landscape that is healthier and more resilient. 

Regenerative ag, recently defined by Terra Genesis International as,“ a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services. It aims to capture carbon in the soil and above-ground biomass (plants), reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation and climate change. At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming and ranching communities.”

To boil this definition down to its most basic elements, we must farm in a way that not only protects our soil, but also enhances it. Five simple soil health principles will transform your farm into a regenerative business regardless of the production model you are in, from large scale livestock running across thousands of acres to the market gardeners producing fresh food for their local farmers market to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation. Using these core principles will enhance your soil, while storing carbon, and increasing health and productivity.

Principle 1: Soil Armor

The first step to improving soil health is keeping litter on the soil. The benefits of this are so grand it is hard to capture them all. Covered soil increases habitat for soil biology that will cycle nutrients better, builds aggregate structure that will accept and hold greater quantities of water, as well as mitigates soil temps, and protects against erosion.

Principle 2: Diversity  

Manage for maximum diversity in your fields, pastures, fencelines or wherever you can increase diversity on your farm. Nature abhors a monoculture. Plants have the capacity to mineralize nutrients.  In order to see the true benefits of this, you must have as much diversity as possible because different plants mineralize different nutrients.  Like a diverse diet for yourself, where diversity in foods increases your health and well being,  he more diversity of plants and rooting structures in the soil, the healthier the farm, and everything that you harvest from it, will be. 

Principle 3: Continual Live Plant/Root

As long as you have green, photosynthesizing plants in your fields, you are capturing carbon from the atmosphere, and using it to grow your products, and feed the soil. A principle of every regenerative farmer is to maximize the amount of time in a year that you can have a living root interacting with the rhizosphere, building soil aggregates, and mobilizing nutrients for the current, and subsequent crops. The benefits to the soil that you bank this year will be there to use in years to come. Every year it gets better and easier.

Principle 4: Livestock Integration

Managing for covered soil, diversity and green growing plants long into the year will get you on your way to regenerating soils, but the real benefits start to appear when you add livestock. For several reasons, livestock create compounding and cascading benefits. For example, you can use your livestock to break capped soils and lay armor on top of the soil. This increases gaseous exchange in the soil, and allows for the soil biology to flourish. Livestock function as a walking composter; dispersing seeds, bringing biology and fertility back to soils that are otherwise poorly functioning. Research published in 2012 titled “Plants Can Benefit from Herbivory: Stimulatory Effects of Sheep Saliva on Growth of Leymus chinensisfound health and growth benefits in plants are achieved when enzymes in saliva are left on the plants. 

Principle 5: Minimizing Soil Disturbance

To maintain the benefits to the land from the work of photosynthesizing plants, animals and your management efforts outlined above, do not till. If you are working to shift your farm to regenerative, all the efforts you do to get there can be undone with heavy tillage, combined with a fallow period. Disturbance comes in more ways than just tilling, disturbances caused by synthetic fertilizers are also devastating to soil biology.  

Regenerative agriculture is about outcomes and farmers asking the question: “is my land improving in ecosystem function as a result of my management? And can that improvement be measured and quantified?” Measuring and quantifying the improved functionality of the ecosystem process is important when assessing landscape health. As a manager we need to track the effects of our management associated with decisions that we make. The Savory Institute offers holistic ecological monitoring training, as well as monitoring services that will track the outcomes of your management decisions in terms of creating a regenerating landscape, and open up marketing channels for your farm products. Keeping the feedback loop as short as possible is key when using monitoring information to inform future management decisions. Monitoring makes sure that our farms continue to improve.

Where do I begin?  What are the five simplest steps to shift my production system to regenerative?  The most common methods to move toward regenerative agriculture are:

Holistic Planned Grazing of Livestock

I have been using livestock to improve ecosystem processes for more than a decade, the first method for moving toward regenerative ag is using livestock within the Holistic Planned Grazing framework. Holistic Planned Grazing gets livestock to the right place, at the right time with the correct behavior to stimulate soils and plants to improve ecosystem function. Whether it is using cattle to terminate a cover crop in a farming system, or using large herds across arid landscapes to spread and plant seeds while stimulating perennial growth. Properly planned livestock grazing selections will increase effectiveness of rainfall and irrigation by creating a soil profile that can more quickly infiltrate water, and hold that water in the rhizosphere. It removes old vegetation, and stimulates regrowth while stimulating plant root exudation and the soil microbiology. Once you integrate properly managed livestock into your system, you will see the landscape improve rapidly, and in a way that brings back more revenue and profit. If you would like help integrating livestock or monitoring the outcomes of your management, I suggest that you reach out to the Savory Institute at Savory.global. The Savory Institute has people all over the world who can assist you with integrating livestock in your farming operation.

Moving to a no-till farming system

For many conventional tillage producers one way to go from an eroded simplified system to a more complex regenerative system, is selling off the old tillage equipment and using no-till practices instead. Benefits of shifting to a no till method are:

 1. No-till farming requires less passes over the field with the tractor, which results in lowered input expenses.

2. By stopping the tillage, you are slowing down erosion exponentially, and contributing to a more complex soil microbiome. 

3. Year after year of no-till farming increases water infiltration rates, and builds soil structure. This contributes to better crop performance every year on you farm.

Planting cover crops or interseeding more diverse grasses and forbs

This is a frequently used first step for many farmers who want to move in a regenerative direction.  Typically this is a go-to for commodity tillage crop producers who already have the equipment needed to incorporate plant species diversity that add nutrients instead of using synthetics. An example is a farmer who plants a legume cover crop for nitrogen fixation prior to the planting of the cash crop. I have seen this work for farmers who historically used a fallow season between cropping to “bank water,” and for weed control. By planting a cover crop that is complementary to the subsequent crop, you increase the length of time during the year when you have a green and growing crop, which feeds the soil, and adds armor. It increases the amount of water captured for the next crop, while mineralizing nutrients for the cash crops. For help looking into cover crops, or beginning with no-till farming, the Soil Health Academy and Green Cover Seed Company are helpful resources.

Feeding underground livestock

Compost applications or other organic inoculants used to stimulate soil biology are some of the first tools that farmers reach for when transitioning. Careful with this action, though, as it can be extremely expensive, and only gives mediocre results back to you, if you are not combining this action with the previous three methods listed above. Incorporating biological inoculants when planting cover crops, and cash crops, can be a good way to incorporate new biology that will increase mineralized nutrients to your current and subsequent crops. This method falls short, however, when you still incorporate tillage into your protocol. If you are disturbing the soil following the use of an inoculant, you will likely see little benefit to your system. In market gardens, or high value crops, compost can be an effective way to increase soil fertility or health. Carbon accumulation in the soil is increased with the addition of compost, but at a high price to the producer. Many people suggest that compost be added to rangeland. It does increase fertility, but it will typically not do so in a cost effective way, unless you get a grant to pay for it. 

Silvopasture or other woody vegetation

A hot trend in regenerative ag is planting trees and shrubs in your fields, or along the field borders. Incorporating trees and shrubs is a good way to attract pollinators, and create habitat for birds, and other diversity while adding intermittent shade to your fields. Any diversity is good diversity, and many farmers are benefitting from incorporating tree crops, or shelterbelts, in cropping or grazing areas. The benefit here is several fold as well, it adds:


Most plants that we produce will benefit from some shade during the day. In fact, the most productive and biologically active state for our fields is a savanna, where the trees and bushes contribute to 25 percent scattered shade on the understory. This shade will contribute to longer and more robust growth of understory crops. 


The trees and shrubs create habitat for all sorts of pollinators and birds. This includes birds of prey that will help in rodent control. 

Carbon sequestration

Fast growing tree crops sequester a lot of carbon in their structural material, i.e. the wood. The diversity that the rooting structure adds to soil building, as well as the decomposition of the leaves in the fall and winter, can increase fertility and tilth. Potentially, the trees provide another cash crop. Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm is a great resource for learning about the addition of trees and shrubs to your farm.

All biological systems, including agricultural ones, want to flourish. Mother Nature will incorporate weeds in a monoculture to increase benefits from diversity, or to cover exposed soils. She will incorporate animals in all landscapes to spread seeds, stimulate plants and soil, while bringing biology and fertility in the manure. And Mother Nature will always move toward more complexity. Regenerative agriculture works because it mimics nature, and works to increase the speed at which a natural system can improve itself. Remember, when selecting or adding these techniques to your farm, that first and foremost your farm must stay profitable. Enhancing ecosystem function to the detriment of the bottom line is not sustainable, and if you cannot stay or become profitable, whatever improvements that you make will be short lived if you cannot stay in business. Be creative. As we discussed here, are many ways to improve ecosystem function that can stay within your farm’s financial plan.

Spencer Smith is a Savory Field Professional. He lives in Fort Bidwell, California on Springs Ranch where he produces grass-fed beef, provides Holistic Management training, consulting, and holistically manages the ranch.

Tips on Breeding Backyard Poultry


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You may want to breed just for the sheer pleasure of observing those tiny balls of fluff scampering about, shepherded by their adoring, watchful parents. Or you might find that there is a buoyant market for selling purebred chicks or ducklings.

You may also find that you want to replace your good but old layers with their younger progeny. If so, don’t expect much in the way of breeding true to type from crossbred birds because, like hybrid plants, their characteristics have not been fixed. You’ll have more luck with purebred birds.

Alternatively, you may not “decide” to breed at all. If you leave it all up to nature you may get a nice surprise one evening when a missing hen returns from wild parts with a bright-eyed new brood, begging for dinner.

group of chicks

Breeding Fowl

Hens begin to lay eggs at about 6 months of age, at which stage they are known as “point-of-lay” birds. The first year’s eggs are usually rather small. The hens will continue to lay eggs for several years, but after the second year, productivity drops off. If you want to maintain levels of egg production, you’ll need to breed replacement birds regularly. Every second year is a good idea.

Always provide nests that are cosy and attractive, or eggs will be laid elsewhere. The nest materials should be soft, as hens actually “lay” when standing up, so eggs can break if laid onto a hard surface. Why not line the nest with dried aromatic and insecticidal herbs?

As you gather eggs, never totally empty the nest or the hen will seek out another, more private location. Always leave a dummy egg in the nest (don’t worry–she won’t miss the others). You can buy plastic or concrete eggs for this purpose, or you could save money and simply use boiled eggs or avocado seeds.

The breeding season usually begins in late winter or spring (depending on when the hen was hatched) and continues through into summer.

When breeding heavy breeds of fowl, you will need a small rooster-to-hen ratio, about 12 hens maximum for each rooster. A lighter breed of rooster can maintain fertility with as many as 15 hens. After the second year, rooster fertility is much reduced and they are best replaced after three years. Alternatively, as roosters age, keep them with fewer hens to ensure fertile eggs.

The Mating Game

The mating game is a colorful spectacle. A vigorous cock dances, struts, and circles around hens in his flock, chortling and displaying his feathering. A young cockerel will mate 30 to 40 times a day on the range and in good weather.

The hen will also become amorous when she starts to lay, crouching down to invite the cock to mount her, her wings and tail fluttering seductively.

Some roosters cause damage to the hen when mating, as their toes and spurs gouge her back. After this, hens may end up bare-backed and much less keen, avoiding the rooster like the plague. In this situation, it’s kinder to separate the rooster and the hen to give the hen some rest and recuperation.

You can also reduce the problem by snipping, filing, or grinding off the ends of the sharp spurs and by trimming the rooster’s toenails occasionally.

The Broody

When her hormones dictate it and conditions are right, a hen will go broody, sitting tight on the nest to incubate her eggs. This is usually after she has laid a good clutch of eggs, whether they are fertile or not. If you have already eaten the eggs, leaving her with just a dummy egg, sh’ll sit anyway. If it happens in springtime, all the better–the new generation of hens will be winter layers.

You can leave nature to do its work with a hen’s own eggs, or you can switch her eggs for others. If you decide to switch the eggs, check the hen’s seriousness before placing a good egg setting under her. If she stays tight on the nest and makes angry protests when approached, and if her breast is bare (because she has been plucking out her down to line the nest), she is probably well and truly clucky.

If the hen is clucky, make sure she is free of lice, which will become intolerable for her over time as she won’t have a chance to dustbathe. You could also line nest boxes with some aromatic herbs such as pine needles, dried tansy, lavender, pennyroyal and the like. These herbs deter insects.

If necessary, take the hen to a better nest site, but only ever move her at night. If possible, keep other hens from laying in the nest by isolating her. Putting a cage over the nest may be the answer. This is also a good idea if her nest is in a wild spot and vulnerable to predators.

The Unwanted Broody

The natural tendency to broodlines ensures a rest from egg laying and thus makes a healthier hen. Uninterrupted laying, as is bred for in modern laying hybrids, can lead to laying fatigue, cancer, leucosis, and increased mortality.

However, a hen sitting for long spells while trying to hatch a concrete egg can also get out of condition. If you don’t want her to hatch eggs, you will have to convince the hen to forget her broodiness. Put her in a bare wire cage in a sunny spot. As this position is neither private nor comfortable, she will not feel like nesting for long. But it may take as many days as she was broody before she gives up, so try and discover unwanted broodiness as early as possible and do something about it quickly. Feed and water as usual.

Learn more about Backyard Poultry Naturally here.

About the Author:

Alanna Moore is an Australian eco-journalist, organic farmer, master dowser, author of the books Stone Age Farming and Divining Earth Spirit, and editor of the online magazine Geomantica. 

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Kelly Klober: An Introduction to Ducks


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From Chapter 3: Waterfowl

The breeds of domestic duck familiar to most are the White Pekin and the Rouen. The latter is the large, deep-sided bird with the color pattern similar to that of the wild Mallard. The wild Mallard, or gray, pattern in varying forms is seen on many breeds and reflects the Mallard ancestry of nearly all of the domestic duck breeds.

The main exception to this genetic fact is the Muscovy, the roosting duck from South America. They are a truly interesting breed, and one subject to a great deal of conflict and misinformation. The conflict begins with its very name. Instead of “Mus-co-vee,” the correct pronunciation is “Mus-cah-vay.” And while a Muscovite hails from Russia, the Muscovy is a native of the southernmost climes.

In this breed the mature males are much larger than the females. They are a duck that doesn’t quack, but they do have a serpentine hiss. The face of a good show specimen is heavily encrusted with caruncles, giving it a face only a liquored-up mother could love. The females lay fairly well and are good broodies (several hens may share a nest), and the eggs have a thirty-five-day incubation period. While Muscovies will mate with other breeds, the offspring are often sterile (though fast growing) and are considered to be true mules.

Muscovy Duck
Muscovy Duck

The breed is propagated in a variety of colors including white, black (with white points), blue, and chocolate. A breed feature is the red, fleshy growths—caruncles—on the head and around the beak. These are especially notable on the males as they age. They are growing in value as a meat bird, often harvested primarily for the breast, which many liken to roast beef. The darker feathered birds are the ones that seem to be the most sought after in the ethnic meat bird trade. Though the White Pekin and the Rouen are perhaps the most familiar of the domestic duck breeds, they are generally seen only in the “industrial” forms rather than those birds that are bred most exactingly to breed standards. The White Pekin was the breed on which the market-leading Long Island duckling was based, and many hatcheries once boasted heavily of the size and dressing qualities of their strain of White Pekin. Wellbred Rouens are also large ducks and are on par with the Aylesbury breed as to being deep sided. It is held that some of the very best of this breed are so deep sided that they can only breed on swimmable water.

Some years ago I interviewed noted midwestern waterfowl breeder Mr. Bill Amundson of Hartford, Michigan. His duck breeds of choice were the Khaki Campbell, Black and White Magpie, and the Chocolate Indian Runner. These three breeds are noted for their vivid coloring, and all three are exceptional egg producers with the Magpie being more of a multi-use bird. With good care, they may lay nearly year-round, and in some earlier flocks Khaki and Runner hens laid up to three hundred eggs per hen per year. The Runner was often likened to the Leghorn, and their
unique, upright stance also had them dubbed the “bowling pin” duck by many.

I interviewed another noted waterfowl breeder, Mrs. Frances Grieve of Waco, Texas, at the same time. She noted that the White Pekin breed lays mostly in the spring though early-hatched and some older birds may lay for a short period in the fall as well. The Rouen and Muscovy, she added, follow a similar pattern of lay. I have seen some Muscovy hens produce three clutches of young in a season if the hatchlings are taken away from the hen for artificial brooding.

Rouen Duck

Among the heavy breeds Mr. Amundson favored the Pekin, the Aylesbury (a very large, white, English breed, with very deep sides and a pink bill and feet), and the Rouen. With a great many of the large breeds there is a seasonal aspect to their egg production, but up and down the United States most should be in or approaching egg production by March first of each year. Mr. Amundson favored the egg-laying breeds for the small farm and holding and gave his Khakis the nod over his Magpies. They produced the eggs that he and his family used and that they sold to others
for table use and baking.

The American Poultry Association recognizes seventeen breeds of domestic duck and divides them into four different categories. Included in the heavy breed class are the White Pekin, Aylesbury, Rouen, Muscovy, Saxony, and Silver Appleyard. To catalog and fully describe each breed here would simply take up too much time and space, but we will list a few talking points about some of the newer or less commonly seen varieties.

The Saxony and Silver Appleyard were recognized by the American Poultry Association in 2000 and 1998. The Saxony is a colorful German breed developed in the twentieth century and lays large white-shelled eggs. The male, or drake, has a claret breast, oatmeal-colored body, and a soft blue-gray head. The hen has fawn or buff plumage with white points to the face and neck. They are a quite good-sized duck with mature weights of nine pounds for drakes and eight pounds for hens.

The Silver Appleyard is a breed developed in Great Britain that also lays a large white-shelled egg. They have a color pattern reminiscent of the Mallard. At the end of the mating season the males will molt into “eclipse” plumage that is darker, more mottled, and with grayer tones. They have the same mature weights as the Saxony breed.

A lot of duck breeds were developed to be what are termed “dual-purpose” fowl, which perform as both meat and egg producers. They won’t lay as well as the breeds developed as egg layers nor grow and dress as well as birds developed for early harvest as meat birds. A better term, I believe, would be one borrowed from the British: “multi-use fowl.” Such birds will do a fair job of both meat and egg production; the species that does not lay and grow does not survive. Still, if your market is for eggs then opt for an egg-laying breed; if your market is for duck meat then breed and produce birds developed to be strong in the traits that contribute to economic duck meat production.

The medium-weight class of duck breeds includes the Cayuga, Crested, Swedish, and Buff. The Crested is bred in Black and White varieties, and a crest is being bred onto other breeds, including the Blue Swedish. There can be real problems with the positioning of the crest, which is to be large, well-formed, and centered on the crown of the head. I have seen ducks with crests all over the head and even on the back and sides of the neck. There is also some evidence of health or genetic problems with this trait, and great care must be taken when selecting foundation stock for this breed.

Cayuga Duck

The Swedish breed is now bred in Blue and Black varieties. Blue, or Slate, is always a challenging color to work with in poultry, and this may be one of the reasons for the growing interest in the Black Swedish variety. Either variety must have a white bib that is four to five inches wide at its widest point and tapering in as it moves up toward the mandible. Mature weights are eight pounds for drakes and seven pounds for hen ducks.

There has been a lot of interest in elaborately colored and feathered birds of many different poultry species. They can certainly be eye-catching, and many are bought from artist-recreated pictures in catalogs or on the Internet. Alas, all birds of a breed do not hatch with the potential to be showroom winners; many mismarks can be used to produce later winners, and most will have some practical values. The British will call these garden birds, very suitable for hobbyists or those wanting a few birds to produce for the family table.

Learn more about Beyond the Chicken here

About the Author: 

Kelly Klober was raised on a small farm in Middletown, Missouri, where he began a lifetime of experience with various livestock species, including heritage poultry. Klober has been active in poultry and livestock breed preservation for more than 35 years. He holds a State Farmer Degree from the Missouri FFA. Klober has written on agriculture, especially the small farm field, for over 20 years. He and his wife continue to farm with much love and attention to his heritage poultry flock.

Also by the Author:

Find a complete listing of all of Kelly Klober’s titles here.

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Finding the Right Heritage Chicken for your Farm

By Leah Smith

Heritage breeds, like the Barred Plymouth Rock above, each have their own unique strengths.

Someone outside the world of chickens might think their only differences are in the color of their feathers and egg shells.  But over the last few decades, with the explosion of pastured poultry, homesteading and backyard chicken raising, more people are discovering the truth as general interest in chickens has grown.  Not only are there differences amongst the chickens themselves but also how best to manage them. Your location, the resources you have at hand, and the other activities that are part of your setup, no matter its size, all impact just how to best manage your flock, and just what kind of flock it should be.

Ancestral Avians?

Our chicken flock always consists of a combination of heritage hens.  First things first — what does it mean to be a heritage chicken?  Heirloom or heritage breeds have been defined by the American Poultry Association (APA) as having been developed before 1950, possessing a slow growth rate, and having the ability to mate naturally and live a long out-of-doors life.

Beyond this definition, what does it mean to be a heritage chicken? It helps to compare them to the industrial/commercial chicken breeds; they are “specialized,” though perhaps limited would be a better description. Commercial breeds produce a meaty carcass (this is the Cornish Cross) or a high volume of eggs (the White Leghorn hybrid); one or the other, and they do it very well. But that is it. Heritage breeds possess other traits (bred out of the commercial clucker lines) that you may find desirable. These include hardiness, adaptability, foraging skills, broodiness and mellow dispositions. Additionally, many of them have the ability to produce a quantity of eggs and a carcass suitable for the table. Every heritage breed does not possess each trait to an equal extent; part of the delight of having breeds is you get to pick the ones that will work best for you. You get to choose!

The Usual Suspects

There are right around 50 breeds of heritage chickens — that is standards not bantams, and breeds not varieties. Most breeds have more than one color, sometimes several. Some you have probably heard of before, like the New Hampshire or Black Australorp. Others might sound less familiar; ever heard of a Speckled Sussex or a Maran? We purchase our hens yearly, and track their ages in our commingled flock by rotating the breed received (thus commingled). Our all-time favorites are the Rhode Island Red, Light Brahma, Barred Plymouth Rock and Buff Orpington.  You can readily source information about any breed you wish, but just to illustrate their diversity, I have listed some of the more disparate breeds and their characteristics in Table 1.  Note that four of them are specified to variety.


AnconaWhite eggs, Winter layer, Hardy, Active
Black MinorcaLarge white eggs, Forager, For warmer climates
Buff OrpingtonDual-purpose, Winter layer, Delicious meat, Broodiness, Mellow
Jersey GiantDual-purpose, LARGE carcass, SLOW growth, Winter layer
Rhode Island RedDual-purpose, Adaptable, Great all-around
Speckled SussexDual-purpose, Broodiness, Mellow, Beautiful!

Homestead Hens

Heritage chickens have something of the “Jack of all trades” about them. They can lay eggs and provide meat; hatch chicks and defend/hide themselves from predators up to a point (whether by evasion, aggression or camouflage); beat the heat of summer and keep their wattles warm in winter; remove insects from your orchard or your freshly turned garden plots; produce fertilizer and turn your compost pile; turn overproduction from your garden into the aforementioned eggs and meat; pick up the fallen grain after harvest in your fields and “clean up” after the cows on pasture; and delight your family with their attractive appearances, genial personalities, and colorful egg shells.  Basically, they can thrive in a multi-faceted way.

There is no need to question if heritage breeds deserve a place on your homestead; homesteads are what they were bred for.  But farmers that raise chickens in larger quantities will question if they can raise heritage breeds and make money doing so because of the additional costs of raising them.  These additional costs tend to derive from the fact that they have to be kept longer before their carcasses are up to weight for meat production and in order to have laid their full potential in eggs; this means more feed, more watering, and, depending on your setup, items like bedding, supplemental light, and time spent in management.

When questioning whether to raise heritage breeds on a larger scale, research available markets.  You will produce a superior product, but your customer base may need to be educated about more assertive flavors or special kitchen preparation techniques.  Are there customers and are you willing to educate them?  But much more important, is there a gap they can fill in your farm ecosystem? 

Heritage chickens may need to be kept longer than commercial breeds, but compare the differences of having chickens out on pasture as opposed to having them maintained in a controlled environment.  Commercial breeds often require antibiotics and other treatments to maintain their health, even for their short lives; that’s a cost.  Heritage breeds can be out and foraging, finding a part of their own rations; that’s a savings. As interest in permaculture and regenerative agriculture grows and is taking place on larger scales, it will be discovered that they have a role to play in these situations. They truly pay off when allowed to take part in a whole farm ecosystem, where they can mitigate if not remove their additional costs.

On our homestead, we keep each “generation” of laying hens for four years. Their principle feed is not laying mash; in fact, they rarely receive it.  With field crops on the property, they receive our grain plus the trimmings from our garden plus appropriate scraps from the house plus any insect they care to gather from the property (they eliminated our rhubarb curculio problem) plus surplus milk from the cows when available. I offer them straight milk, milk mixed with feed, or yogurt, depending.  I have read that chickens enjoy goat milk just the same, and have even seen one man estimate that his feed bills were cut in half by giving a milk/feed mixture to his flock.  In the past, spent laying hens were regularly fed milk to put on weight and sent to slaughter as prime table meat.  Believe me, milk-fed chickens do taste exceptional and could be a treat for your family or for select customers.

I sprout grain for them, which they consider a true delight. We grow large-variety sunflowers in the garden for the benefit of the honey bees and other pollinators, and the harvest of protein-rich seeds also keeps the chickens happy.  We also have hay fields, and feeding clover hay is a good way to busy chickens on a winter day.

If you have your mind on further DIY projects to diversify feed and save money, remember chickens require less of a nutritionally dense grain like spelt than wheat or oats.  Camelina, on the other hand, is a member of the Brassica family that is rich in protein and possesses high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as being a very drought tolerant plant; another interesting crop option.  And nutrients are also more bioavailable if you ferment feed (again, they require less).   

When Life Gives You Lemons…

You ask what is wrong with lemons! Do heritage chicken drawbacks have to be drawbacks?  They produce eggs more slowly, but with the ability to live longer lives they can produce eggs for a longer time while producing manure, disturbing fly life cycles in the cow pasture, turning compost, you name it.  And they produce tastier eggs and meat, which you may be able to charge more for; our eggs aren’t cheap and our customers say they are worth it. 

To be honest, we don’t find our “limited” egg supply a problem.  As primarily vegetable producers, our eggs have acted as an addition to our sales stream; we wouldn’t want them to become such that we have to seek new markets for more eggs, as that just isn’t what we want to do.  When you have to start spending more time in finding new markets, or selling in larger quantities at wholesale prices, you may find there is more than one way to loose money on eggs!

Heritage chicken breeds offer you options. You don’t have to follow a formula, as there is no formula. Consider your goals, pick breeds based on their unique characteristics, and see if you can produce some synergy in your operation amongst your flock and your other pursuits. And while you’re at it, check in with the Livestock Conservancy to see where each breed is categorized as facing extinction, as most of them are. You never know when those genetics will come in handy.

Leah Smith works on her family’s farm in mid-Michigan, called Nodding Thistle (certified organic 1984-2009). She has been involved in home and market gardening since she was very young. After graduating from Michigan State University, Leah returned home to continue farming and writing.

Fighting Flock Infection: A IBN Primer for Those New to Poultry

Infectious Bursal Disease, or IBD, can be a serious problem for small-flock operations.

By Mary Ann Lieser

Small-scale farmers who are thinking about diversifying by adding poultry should know about Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD). Sometimes called Gumboro Disease because it was first identified in Gumboro, Delaware in the 1960s, IBD is now present throughout the U.S., as well as many other parts of the world.

“There are hundreds of thousands of cases in this country every year. It’s present in nearly every large commercial poultry operation,” says Dr. Daral Jackwood, of The Ohio State University, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio. Dr. Jackwood is at the helm of the Jackwood Laboratory, which is dedicated to the control and prevention of IBD.

Those large-scale producers are prepared to manage the disease and they consider the price of vaccinations a part of their operation’s overhead costs. But IBD has shown up in backyard flocks as well, and most of those cases could have been prevented had the owners known the best practices for establishing a small flock and acquiring stock.

 IBD is caused by a virus, and there are lots of strains, some more virulent than others. Very virulent strains are currently a bigger problem in Europe than in the U.S., but there is a reservoir of highly virulent IBD in the western U.S., especially in California and Washington.

The virus is extremely easy to transmit, and difficult to eliminate once a site has been contaminated. So prevention is vitally important. And the biggest element in prevention is taking care when acquiring stock. It’s best not to accept chicks from a friend, or purchase chicks from a facility that hasn’t kept good records. Rather, purchase from hatcheries that will share their vaccination records. Once you have chicks, don’t sell or trade birds under eighteen weeks of age, and don’t transport young birds to fairs, shows or auctions. Minimize traffic to and from areas where the chicks are housed.

“A small, isolated flock with no exposure to other poultry or equipment should be fine, but if your neighbor works at a commercial poultry farm your birds will eventually be exposed to IBD,” says Dr. Jackwood. And then a vaccine regimen, which inoculates breeding hens and follows up with the chicks, will become necessary.

Chicks are most susceptible to IBD between three and six weeks after hatching, when any maternal-derived immunity will have waned. Depending on the strain of virus, a chick that age with IBD may not show any signs of disease while other strains of the disease can cause birds to be unmistakably sick. Symptoms may include ruffled feathers, watery diarrhea, soiled vents, dehydration, unsteady gait, listlessness and a bedraggled appearance. There is no treatment for sick birds, but supportive care, a clean environment and easy access to food and water can help to reduce mortality. If a chick is cold or stressed, it’s more likely to succumb; mortality rates range widely depending on the virulence of the strain and the breed of poultry, but can be over 50 percent for the very virulent strains of the virus. More layers than broilers die, and white leghorns and Araucana chickens are particularly susceptible.

The birds that recover can go on to do fine, with no lingering effects, but the facility where the birds are housed will be contaminated. Large amounts of the virus are excreted in fecal material for anywhere from one to three weeks when birds are sick. The virus is stable, resistant to disinfectants, and easily spread via surfaces, insects and rodents. There are cases of IBD infections traced to contaminated  manure that was spread on fields adjoining a chicken owner’s property, or traced to the bottom of a shoe belonging to a visitor who spent only a brief time on a chicken owner’s property. Even wild birds can spread IBD, which does infect other birds although it only causes disease in poultry. Researchers aren’t certain how long the virus can remain viable, and advise that it’s best to store poultry manure at least six months, if possible, before spreading, and to protect manure heaps from wildlife.

“It’s nearly impossible to get rid of IBD virus,” says Dr. Jackwood, and once a site is contaminated it can cause increasing problems in subsequent generations of chicks. Chickens infected prior to three weeks of age will have subclinical cases of IBD. While they show no symptoms, those birds can go on to suffer from immunosuppression for the rest of their lives, making them predisposed to other infections — Newcastle disease, Marek’s disease, E. coli, infectious bronchitis, coccidiosis, inclusion body hepatitis (IBH), gangrenous dermatitis or Chronic Respiratory Disease (CRD). And the immunosuppressed chickens don’t respond well to any vaccines. Owners will see economic impacts because those immunosuppressed birds will take longer to reach market size and will not perform well.

When a chick is first infected, the virus lodges in cells in the bird’s bursa of Fabricius, located near the cloaca, which is the single posterior opening for the digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems. The bursa of Fabricius is the location for B lymphocyte production; when B cell production is hampered before three weeks of age, that chick won’t have adequate immune function even after it recovers from the disease.

IBD can be diagnosed by having a veterinarian examine the bird’s cloaca and bursa. In addition, many vets will send tissue samples to a laboratory for genetic sequencing so that mutated strains of the virus can be tracked. Dr. Jackwood’s lab routinely sequences the virus’ RNA from poultry all over the world, which helps pharmaceutical companies develop vaccines. Much like the influenza vaccine that U.S. residents are encouraged to receive annually, and which changes from year to year in response to the evolving flu strains that are in circulation, multiple IBD vaccines are available.

“There are a number of variant vaccines,” says Dr. Jackwood. “A vaccine that’s used in Georgia won’t necessarily be effective in Ohio. And it’s something researchers and pharmaceutical companies have to stay on top of, because mutations in the variant viruses cause enormous challenges to sustain the effectiveness of vaccines.”

Because the virus is so easy to spread, and so difficult to eradicate once present in a location, maternal immunity through vaccination is the central component of nationwide efforts to control IBD. For a small-scale producer, awareness and prevention are critical. By acquiring chicks only from facilities with vaccination records, being aware of the movements of people and machinery on the property, and being willing to partner with a veterinarian for a vaccination program should that become necessary, we can all benefit by keeping the damage caused by IBD to a minimum.

Talking Chicken: Starting Your Flock


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If you opt to start your heirloom flock with day-old baby chicks, you will have to allow time for them to develop and purchase them in the numbers that will allow for full and proper culling as they grow and develop.

The old rule of thumb has been to order at least thirty percent more chicks than you ultimately wish to place in the breeding flock or laying house. Thus, you can be comfortable in culling the expected three to five percent of the birds at each point in their development prior to their entering the flock.

A good baby chick now may cost you two to three dollars and some of the rarer ones from private sources are twice that and more. Also, if they are shipped from any distance, mailing and handling can add another one dollar per chick. One of the big five hatcheries offers its very top end baby chicks for one hundred twenty-five dollars per box of twenty-five and that box may contain no more than five or ten chicks of the rarest varieties.

A number of caveats often go with baby chick purchases and especially those bought in very small lots. From most hatcheries you should assume that all chicks of the same breed are either full or half-siblings. The minor breeds are also more likely to be sold as hatched, that is they are unsexed. Most private breeders sell their chicks on a strictly as hatched basis and often can supply no more that five or six of certain breeds per shipment. Thus in very small lots you may receive all of one sex or insufficient numbers of one gender to create any sort of breeding group. Small lots are a way to add to a flock, but seldom will one or even two small lot shipments produce enough birds from which to successfully launch a new flock.

From a shipping lot of twenty-five as hatched chicks of the same breed perhaps the best that can be hoped for is one good breeding trio and one or two additional breeding pairs. Those extra males can prove invaluable in the event of unexpected loss because of death. Also, a couple of extra males should always be held back as insurance for the next breeding season.

It is probably best to begin with the staggered purchases of two or three lots of twenty-five from different sources or a single line, whichever is your flock raising strategy.

Twenty-five chick lots now seem to naturally fit today’s trend toward smaller poultry flocks. They can be raised in small, inexpensive facilities and are not a bank account busting venture to start. For a great many days a set of chicks this small can be held in a brooder made from a large plastic storage box.

Order chicks as early in the year as possible. Late-hatched chicks tend to grow more slowly as the hours of available daylight decrease. They may not develop as fully and will reach productivity later in the year. In fact some bantam breeds were developed in part from late-hatched chicks of their standard sized counterparts. To get a fair number of the very rarest you may have to order as many as four or five small lot groups in a season and tap into more than one source.

Most hatcheries and breeders will ship no fewer than twenty-five chicks at a time (some will send fifteen in very warm weather) to assure comfort and warmth in transit. That means that you must sometimes contend with what have come to be called “filler” chicks. Often from the larger sources of supply they are little more than throw-ins, cost very little, and can range from sex-link cockerels to surplus chicks from orders for more mainstream varieties. Whenever possible pay the price to get something better and more useful than surplus sex-link or Leghorn cockerels.

From individual breeders and smaller hatcheries this can be a bit more of a challenge. They do not have the surplus cockerel chicks to fill in with and their other breeds may be every bit as rare and pricey as the ones in your primary order. There are a fair number of larger breeders who can ship in great variety although quite often from very small mating groups for certain breeds. Look upon these situations as an opportunity to check out a second rare or heirloom breed or to build a second flock of a traditional standard breed.

At today’s prices, when shopping for baby chicks, don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. Especially with the minor breeds — you have to know as much about their breeding and background as is possible. Steer clear of any birds tabbed “not for show” or “not for project work.”

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About the Author: 

Kelly Klober was raised on a small farm in Middletown, Missouri, where he began a lifetime of experience with various livestock species, including heritage poultry. Klober has been active in poultry and livestock breed preservation for more than 35 years. He holds a State Farmer Degree from the Missouri FFA. Klober has written on agriculture, especially the small farm field, for over 20 years. He and his wife continue to farm with much love and attention to his heritage poultry flock.

Also by the Author:

Find a complete listing of all of Kelly Klober’s titles here.

Titles of Similar Interest: