Farm & Garden Foraging Homesteading

Pick Plantain To Help Maintain Your Health & Comfort

Plantain is an excellent plant for a first herbal introduction. It has multiple virtues that we can share with beginners and kids. And it’s found almost everywhere people have stirred up the earth, walked and mowed frequently.

Of course as always we want to avoid anywhere that cars drive to avoid chemicals on the plant. But you’ll have no problem finding plantain in other places!


Plantago major or broadleaf plantain is quite common in temperate zones. Plantago lanceolata or narrowleaf or ribwort plantain is usually nearby as well but additionally thrives in coastal and riparian edges.

The parallel veins running along the leaf, from the base of the stem to the top of the leaf edges without intersecting, is one of plantain’s signatures for identification. Here we find plantain so abundantly that our biggest challenge will be to find the fresh green leaves.

We might notice broadleaf with its more widely spreading rosette of leaves. Narrowleaf plantain, conversely, has almost needle-like leaves. Plantain flowerheads are similar to one another. As always enlist an experienced botanist or herbalist to help you identify it in person for the first time. And the second!

A Digestive Aid

Plantago ovata is the desert Plantain known around the world as psyllium. Psyllium seed husk is sold in many forms as a digestive tonic, helping to add fiber to our diets. We need this fiber to cleanse intestinal linings by gently scrubbing like a toothbrush in your guts.

There’s a slimy quality imparted by a cold water soak of the seeds in your yard that can be incorporated to help loosen stuck pockets in the guts while also soothing them. The seed husk part of the plant used for these over-the-counter supplements can be found in our temperate plants, but the processing it would take to get enough seed husk from these tiny seed heads is daunting for most of us.

You can notice the seed husks this time of year, when you find those slender-stemmed seed heads standing taller than the basal rosette leaves.

narrowleaf plantain

In the Leaves

The leaves are what I celebrate most in plantain. I eat them in salads and praise their fresh juices. I dry them to make tea in winter and to infuse them into medicated ointments like salve and bathing washes. I freeze some strained tea for winter enjoyment as well.

Like jewelweed, plantain can be poulticed up in the field. But unlike jewelweed, plantain is best poulticed by chewing the leaves in your mouth.

I’ve introduced many people, including children, to herbal medicine for the first time this way. When a person gets a bee or wasp sting while playing in a soccer field or other open, frequently mowed spaces, we are able to quickly remove venom using nearby plantain that readily offers itself up for picking.

To work with the poultice, I will break off a fresh green leaf and chew it up so that it’s a wad in my mouth with saliva. I spit out the green saliva with plant bits and place the whole mess directly on the sting.

Feel the heat of the sting cooling as plantain’s drawing action pulls things out. Once the relief wears off and the pain or heat comes back, repeat with a fresh leaf at the ready to chew while gently wiping the first poultice away. Then add more plantain-spit-poultice immediately. Repeat and repeat over the next half hour, even after the heat of the sting has gone, to get the rest of that venom out and keep that sting from swelling and itching all day.

Note that this will definitely only work for those with mild swelling reactions, not dangerous allergic reactions.

A Healing Tea

Plantain’s been known to help my family pull foreign objects like splinters and even glass, as well as the venom of stinging insects, excess fluid from a blister or otherwise infected punctures. But of course don’t spit-poultice an open or serious wound!

A tea of boiled water, strained and added to herbs prepared by your local herbalist, will better serve than a poultice there.

During a course on gut health, jim mcdonald pointed out the virtues of chewing raw plantain leaf throughout the day to let the cooling juices run into the mouth and down the throat and esophageal linings. This can reduce irritation that comes from conditions such as acid reflux. I’m experimenting with this method for mouth complaints.

Drop me an email with me your plantain lovestories!

Animals Chickens 101 Farm & Garden Poultry

Poultry Profile: The Beloved Speckled Sussex Heritage Breed

Speckled Sussex chickens are gaining popularity in small backyard flocks across America. These speckled beauties are perfect for people desiring a cold- or heat-hardy chicken that excels at egg laying. With these traits, it’s easy to see why the speckled Sussex is gaining popularity.

But what else is making the speckled Sussex breed a popular choice for backyard flocks?


Bred in the mid-1800s in Sussex, England, the breed was initially developed as a meat bird. Before Cornish Rocks gained popularity, Sussex was the primary meat bird of England.

Even though the Sussex’s original purpose was to be a meat bird, they are not prone to the health issues often occurring with Cornish Rocks.


The Sussex comes in a variety of colors: speckled, red, light, Columbian buff and white. The striking speckled—a mahogany color with each feather ending in a black bar and white speckle—is the most popular color in the U.S. With each passing molt, the speckles become more numerous.

Speckled Sussex heritage chicken breed

Meat & Egg Production

Sussex chickens make an excellent choice for the table. They are known to have incredibly tender meat, especially when butchered at a young age. Each chicken should average a dressed weight of 6 to 7 pounds. However, speckled Sussex are slower to mature than Cornish Rock crosses (averaging 20 weeks to reach butchering age).

This trait puts them at a disadvantage to faster-growing breeds, who reach butchering age in 9 weeks.

Speckled Sussex are excellent egg producers who will lay eggs without declining for several years. Each hen averages four to five light brown eggs per week for the first four to five years of her life.


If you are looking for a pet chicken, you don’t have to look any further than the speckled Sussex. These hens crave human interaction and will do anything to get attention. Sussex are chatty, curious, friendly, intelligent and energetic.

They love being the center of attention. They also love to be held and will carry on animated conversations with their owners.

Hens of this breed are very energetic and benefit from directly supervised free-ranging. Even so, they still tolerate confinement well if allowed to stretch their legs. If bored, they often will find ways to entertain themselves. Sussex can bully other flock members when bored, so provide lots of mental stimulation.

Providing Entertainment

The Border Collies of the chicken world, Sussex are intelligent and energetic hens who require physical and mental stimulation. Providing your hens with fun activities will keep these chickens healthy and happy.

If you have a bored Sussex, try one of the ideas below.

Fresh Straw

Putting clean straw in your coop or run will provide chickens with endless entertainment. Even when your other breeds have tired of the game, your Sussex will continue to scratch happily through the straw.

Because if there is anything a Sussex likes to do, it’s scratch.

Chicken Swings & Perches

Speckled Sussex chickens like to know what is happening in the world around them. Having perches and swings for them to sit on and watch the world go by is another way to enrich their lives.

Teach Your Chickens Tricks

Speckled Sussex are intelligent chickens and can learn commands and tricks. You can teach your hen or rooster to come when called, follow you around, and hop up on your lap. Some Sussex will even stroll around their yard with their favorite human.

Speckled Sussex heritage chicken breed

Health Concerns & Lifespan

Speckled Sussex are very healthy and hardy chickens so long as they maintain a healthy weight. They are, however, prone to overeating and obesity.

To help prevent obesity in your chickens, feed them a proper diet and allow plenty of exercise.  Feed Sussex twice daily versus unlimited free choice feedings.  This practice will keep your girls from doing unnecessary “snacking” (yes, chickens do snack). Provide feed to chicks, growing pullets and cockerels at all times.

When allowed to become obese, Sussex hens are more prone to oviduct prolapse and egg binding.

Speckled Sussex lives an average of six to eight years, providing you with lots of fresh eggs, love and entertainment. So, what are you waiting for? Give these friendly, energetic chickens a try. You’ll be so glad you did.


Episode 62: Frank Hyman

Hobby Farms Presents Growing Good Frank Hyman

Chicken keeper, gardener and author Frank Hyman talks about his gardens, chickens, books and more.

Hear about Frank’s books, Hentopia: Create a Hassle-Free Habitat for Happy Chickens and How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide. Hear about the design of Frank’s chicken pagoda—not just a coop—and some of the time-saving chicken-keeping projects in Frank’s book and his backyard. Learn about the origins of How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying and how Frank is advocating for all of us to let loose of our fear of fungus.

Get to know Frank’s unconventional vegetable garden-ornamental garden-“lawnlet”-chicken area. He shares some garden-design tips, including what Frank calls his No. 1 horticultural technique. Hear about Durham, North Carolina’s, zoning ordinances for lawns and chickens, too.

Animals Chickens 101 Farm & Garden Homesteading Poultry

The Honest Truth About Marans, 3 More Chicken Breeds (Pt. 3) 

Looking to start or expand your backyard flock but not sure which chicken breeds to are the best? While I can’t tell you which chickens would be the perfect match for your particular situation more than a dozen factors affecting your decision come to mind off the top of my head—I can share which chicken breeds worked for my family and which ones crashed and burned.

The following foursome comprise part three of my series (here’s part 2) honestly recounting my experience rearing these breeds of chicken.  

Dutch Booted Bantam 

My experience with Dutch Booted Bantams (pictured above) came about unexpectedly. These were amongst the adorable “mixed bantams” that I brought home from our farm-supply store as a result of chicken math.

There were only three in the entire stock tank, and all three came home with me. Sadly, two didn’t survive the first week. To this day, I’m unsure why they perished. They’d been active; were eating, drinking; and pooping; never experienced pasty butt; and were the same size and age as the other baby bantams in the brooder. P

erhaps Dutch Booted Bantams are delicate by nature. Perhaps it was just those particular chicks from that particular hatchery. I’ll never know.  

The surviving chick, Clarice, befriended the only lavender chick I’d seen in the mixed-bantams tank (and of course brought home). Edward and Clarice became inseparable, even as fully grown birds … which was all the more astounding since we discovered that Edward was not a bantam at all but rather an Easter Egger—and female at that. Another name change became imminent when Clarice began crowing.

Edwina and Clarence were quite the pair. Clarence would ride on Edwina’s back, and the two would roost together at night, Clarence often tucked beneath one of Edwina’s wings.  

 I never saw another Dutch Booted Bantam chick amongst the bantams bin that year or in subsequent years, so I can only assume that the hatchery had issues with the breed. It’s hard to summarize an entire breed based on my experience with Clarence, but I will say he was a very gentle, affectionate and healthy little bird with beautiful feathering on his feet. Hopefully the rest of his breed follows suit.  

Japanese Bantam 

Japanese bantam
MarieXMartin/Adobe Stock

One advantage of getting to know the director of the local university’s poultry research farm is being alerted when hatching eggs and chicks were available for the many different chicken breeds being raised at the center. I carefully brought home one dozen of the tiniest bantam eggs I’d ever seen and watched them incubate with anticipation.

I was very disappointed when only one egg hatched. I learned soon after that Japanese Bantams, like Araucanas, carry a lethal gene that kills many of the embryos before they hatch.

The surviving chick, a gorgeous White Japanese Bantam I named Hanako, was an absolutely perfect specimen of the breed, with a full breast, upright tail and perfect single comb. Fully grown, he fit on the palm of my hand. I’d read that Japanese Bantams were trusting, friendly birds that made great pets. Hanako was exactly that.

I’d also read that Japanese Bantams are often picked on by other chicken breeds because of their relatively immense tail and very short legs. While none of my other bantams ever bothered Hanako, they also didn’t befriend him, leaving the little fellow alone and lonely. He became very attached to me and happily rode around on my shoulder. At night, he snuggled in his own brooder with a plush bunny I bought him for company. 

I also purchased a small chicken tractor so that Hanako could safely enjoy the outdoors during the warmer months. Those tiny legs of his would never outrun a bullying bird, much less a predator.

While he seemed to enjoy the sunshine and the grass, Hanako never appeared to be fully comfortable outdoors. Japanese Bantams are ornamental, bred to be pets, exhibition birds or fanciers’ fowl. Hanako was at his happiest whenever he was with or near me.

You need look no further than a Japanese Bantam if you’re looking for the perfect pet. Just be sure you buy yours as baby chicks to avoid the hatching heartache, and be prepared to offer your Japanese Bantams a clean, cozy brooder inside your home or basement, as the breed does poorly in the cold or intense heat. The Japanese Bantams at the university research facility lived in their own climate-controlled room indoors.  


chicken breeds Polish
Sarah Bent/Adobe Stock

These adorable moptops first caught my eye on a friend’s Facebook page. She had decided to focus her small-farm flock on Polish and was sharing photos of the different varieties of this striking crested bird. I had only ever seen Polish chicks once at our feed store. A special chick order had arrived and the owner had not yet picked up her trio of White-Crested Black babies.

With their fluffy poofs on top of their heads and their sweet little faces, the Polish chicks made my heart melt. My friend was only happy to oblige me. She sent me one dozen hatching eggs from her breeder stock. In three weeks’ time, my husband Jae and I were the proud parents of a dozen Golden Laced, White-Crested Black, White-Crested Blue, Buff and White Polish chicks.  

As the chicks grew, it became very easy to tell the boys from the girls. The girls’ crests were rounded pompoms while the boys resembled Andy Warhol with their eye-covering shag. I’d read that the crests tend to obscure these chickens’ eyesight, making them startle easily and prone to bullying and predation. Since they had their own coop, our Polish had no bullies to worry about.

Thanks to our network of roosters, the Polish were always alerted to the presence of any predators. The only thing I could therefore put to the test was the startle factor, and only once did I ever see any of the Polish jump—our White-Crested Black rooster, Stefanski, when a blue racer suddenly slithered across his path. Heck, I’d jump, too. 

Our Polish hens were decent layers, producing an average of three white eggs per week. They never went broody nor did they show any inclinations towards parenting younger members of the flock.

In addition to being our only white egg layers, the Polish were also the only breed never to display pecking-order squabbles. They were very mellow birds with sweet dispositions who got along well with each other and with us. Neither the males nor females minded being picked up. They just took it all in stride. Since many of our Polish became prizewinning exhibition birds, their mellow, agreeable nature was a definite bonus.

The one drawback I can think of is that the poor boys’ crests suffered during our frigid Michigan winters, becoming coated in thin layers of ice that I’d have to thaw. Even then, they’d stand patiently and let me wrap them in towels without complaint.

Polish chickens are truly pleasant in nature and beautiful to boot. Definitely one of my top five chicken breeds.  


Marans chicken breeds
DoraZett/Adobe Stock

Our quest for dark-brown egg layers eventually led us to the Marans, a French bird whose eggs range in color from milk chocolate to almost black. Marans breeders actually have an egg color ratings chart specific to the breed. Only those hens who consistently lay eggs a certain shade of brown or darker are considered to be true Marans.

Those girls unfortunate enough to lay paler eggs are never bred or, worse, are culled.

I located a breeder about an hour to the northwest who specialized in Blue Copper Marans and Black Copper Marans. I brought home four pullet chicks of each plus a Black Copper Marans cockerel. From the start, the Marans were inquisitive, active birds. They loved to range, traveling in a pack around our acreage, exploring and getting to know their territory.

Their coop had the largest run of all our henhouses, but the Marans were visibly unhappy confined. They always returned to their shelter to lay, the girls taking turns in the nest boxes while the rooster paced in the run like an expectant father. Once the day’s eggs were produced, they’d all head off again, returning before sunset to roost for the night. I could almost set my watch to our Marans’ routine. T

hey were very predictable birds, and I’m surprised none of the local predators ever caught onto this.  

Despite laying four to five eggs per week, the Marans hens never showed any interest in setting their eggs. They were much more interested in roaming the yard. Although they were always friendly in their interactions with me, it was easy to see they were impatient to be off on their own.

The Marans were similarly disinterested in our other flocks. In fact, they seemed almost standoffish towards the other birds. It was almost like they were the privileged high-school populars.

Given that every other breed we were raising practically craved human attention, the Marans’ independence was somewhat unsettling to me. After four years and multiple Marans generations, none of them producing those famously dark-chocolate eggs, I sold the entire flock to a neighboring farmer who was simply happy to have chickens that laid well and basically looked after themselves. 

Animals Equipment Farm & Garden Farm Management Foraging Poultry Poultry Equipment

4 Apps To Help Manage The Farm From Your Phone

If you grew up on a farm or, like me, spent time on a relatives’ farm when you were a kid, you probably saw them pull out a notebook and write down things like how many eggs they had that day, how many chickens they sold or how many gallons of milk the dairy cows were producing.

Back then, journals and notebooks were the best way to keep track of data over time. Some people, of course, still use them. But if you’d like a more reliable way to keep track of everything happening on your hobby farm, it’s time to take a look at the different farming apps you can find in the App store or Google Play.

Beyond complicated farm management software for your computer, there are apps that are easy to set up, easy to use and will lend a helping hand to anyone with livestock, gardens and more. If you’ve never used apps to manage your farm, here are a few you can try right now.


Many farms are passed down in the family from generation to generation. But if you’ve just bought or you own a generational farm, one of the first things you realize is that you now own a lot of different trees, shrubs and other plant life.

farm farming apps PictureThis
Shelly Wutke

Unless you’re a pro at identifying different greenery, you’ll need a bit of help figuring out how to take care of everything on your property.

That’s where the PictureThis app comes in. To use it you’ll just take a photo of what you’d like to identify, open the photo in the app, and it will tell you what the plant is. PictureThis identifies trees, fruit, leaf plants and flowers, and it can even identify weeds. The app will identify toxic plants and let you know if the plant is safe for your animals, and it can identify insects and birds, and tell you how old a tree is by identifying the rings.

You can use it with or without a yearly subscription, and it’s been an incredibly helpful app that I’ve used daily.


If you have chickens and you’d like to track how many eggs they are laying every day, week or over the course of a month or year, Flockstar is a good choice. It’s a productivity app for all types of poultry, and you can organize your flock based on breed, egg color or species.

One of the reasons I like Flockstar is that it tracks your egg count on a daily basis. You can also use it to track expenses incurred and find out your profit when selling eggs or chickens. There’s even an option to take photos of receipts so you have your expenses on hand when doing taxes.

Cattle Market Mobile

If you have cattle and you’re wondering what the sale price would be in your area, there’s an app for that. Cattle Market Mobile lets you monitor auction prices in different states, and you can view different reports by the USDA.

There are also other tools including a gestation calculator you can use for breeding.


A hobby farm can be more than just livestock and farm equipment. If you like to forage on your property and you often come across different mushrooms, the easiest way to identify them is by using PictureMushroom. It’s a lot like PictureThis but instead of identifying all types of plants, PictureMushroom identifies different mushrooms on your property.

farm farming apps PictureMushroom
Shelly Wutke

You can snap a photo of a mushroom and find it in the app, determine if it’s edible, and even search for deadly mushrooms so you know if what you’ve found is poisonous.

Which Farm Apps Are Your Favorites?

As you can see, there are a lot of unique farm apps you can use to track productivity, find out what types of trees and vegetables you have on your farm, or monitor your expenses and profit. They make your phone one of the most powerful tools you have on your farm.

Farm & Garden Farm Management

Recordkeeping Is A Useful Tool On The Hobby Farm

Sometimes, the most useful tool a farmer can have isn’t a powerful machine or a tried-and-true hand tool. It’s meticulous recordkeeping.

Whether you keep a journal, scrawl key details in a notebook, scribble must-remember data on scraps of paper, or punch notes into your computer or phone, keeping detailed farming records can be helpful on so many fronts.

Exactly what your recordkeeping might entail will depend on the type of farm you operate. But to give you an idea of the possibilities, let me share a few real-world examples of how meticulous recordkeeping helps me with my annual farm, garden and orchard harvests.

Planting Memory

I have a lot of garden beds, and though I have a good memory for details, I can’t trust myself to remember with 100 percent accuracy which beds contain which seeds and seedlings. One year, I planted two varieties of pumpkins and forgot which was which.

Fortunately, the resulting pumpkins were different enough to tell the plants apart once they fruited. But that might not always be the case. Ever since, I’ve taken more care to note the location of every planting.

Seed Planting Dates

When I plant garden beds each spring, I write down the date the seeds went in the ground and then take note when they sprout. I also keep track of the estimated days until maturity listed on the seed packets.

Later, when the plants are mature and harvest time is approaching, I check my notes to determine when I should harvest—not too early, and not too late.

Note Blossom Dates

Every year, I write down the dates when my fruit trees blossom in the spring, and then mark down when the fruits ripen in late summer and fall. These dates can vary a bit from year to year, but keeping notes across multiple years gives me a good ballpark of when to expect ripe fruit.

Recordkeeping Is Just Handy

Some folks might get along just fine without all this farm recordkeeping. After all, the ripeness of an apple can be gauged by appearance and tasting, assuming you know what to expect from any given variety. And I know my beloved sweet corn is ready when the silks have dried to brown and popping a sample kernel reveals milky liquid rather than clear.

Even still, there are benefits to recordkeeping. If you’re a hobby farmer trying to grow a little of everything, maybe there are only a dozen pieces of corn on your handful of corn plants. Knowing when you planted them (and when they sprouted) can help you nail down exactly when they’re ready pick. From experience, I know that peak taste and quality can fall in a very narrow window of time.

Here’s another example: I’ve purchased many fruit trees from a nursery about an hour south of where I live, and the ripening dates they list for each variety tend to be earlier than the dates I experience on my farm farther north. Yearly shopping trips have revealed that the trees at the nursery blossom a little earlier in the spring than the trees on my farm, so the nursery apples are ready earlier.

If I were to harvest fruit from my trees according to the dates provided by the nursery, I would be harvesting before they’re ripe. Instead, thanks to my recordkeeping, I know my trees consistently ripen a bit later and I can plan my harvests accordingly.

These are fairly simple examples, but you can take your recordkeeping to higher levels if you like. You could record the number of hours you spend on a given farming project, so you can divide the income generated by the hours worked to calculate your “hourly wage” and determine if the project is worth repeating. Or you could track the number of eggs laid by your chickens each year to figure out which breeds are most productive in your specific situation.

The takeaway? Recordkeeping makes farm life so much easier. Take good notes, and you’ll take good care of your farm.

Animals Breeds Farm & Garden Large Animals

The Mangalitsa Pig May Be The Perfect Porker

The Mangalitsa is a heritage pig breed, identifiable by its woolly coat. It seems to be the pig for small farmers who want to raise robust hogs for healthier and more succulent meat with a decent amount of fat. For Michigan homesteader and Mangalitsa pig farmer Mark Baker, the Mangalitsa stands out as one of his favorite animals to raise. Since 2008, he has been naturally raising Mangalitsa pigs and has come to love the curly haired pigs for their hardiness, foraging abilities, resistance to extreme temperatures and tasty pork. 

Mark was also at the forefront of the Mangalitsa’s growing popularity on U.S. farms and is one of the few people in the country who has a thorough and rounded knowledge in naturally raising Mangalitsa pigs for meat and profit. He believes that, as a homestead product, this pig is highly beneficial and easy to raise.

Pig Pointers

Mangalitsa pigs are a hardy breed, best shown off during harsh winters. “My pigs … prefer to burrow into straw or a hay bale,” Mark says. “Even on the coldest of nights, they don’t have any shelter. It’s even snowed on them a few times.” He has a video explaining how he raises pigs in the winter on his YouTube channel.

Mark does provide huts on the pasture, as you can see in the video linked above. Barbara Meyer zu Altenschildesche, breed advisor for Mangalitsa Breed Organization and Registry, recommends that farmers provide a simple shelter or pig hut where their livestock can stay dry. 

“Even when they sometimes will prefer to sleep outside when it’s cold but dry, they should have the possibility to go into their warm nest/hut when it is cold and raining,” she says. 

Mangalitsa pig breed pigs

The opening should be turned away from whatever direction the wind mostly comes and placed on a spot that will stay dry when a lot of rain falls. Provide straw in the colder months. “Pigs always leave the hut to do their toilet. Even 2-day-old piglets go out of their nest,” she says, “so cleaning the hut from dung won’t be needed.”

Mangalitsa pigs are already furry, and their fur increases in the winter, so they’re perfectly suited for extreme weather. Mark has more than once seen his pigs endure single-digit weather, with some sows even giving healthy births during Michigan snowstorms. A testament to the breed’s hardiness in cold climates, it’s not uncommon for sows to bundle their litters together and watch over the piglets as a team. This increases the piglets’ chances of survival, especially during winter months.

Barbara recommends that each sow be provided a hut in which to give birth. “[An A-frame] hut works well or a hut with a sidebar, which gives the piglets the ability to get away from mum when she rolls over to feed them,” she says. 

Mangalitsa piglets don’t need heat laps or such, but they can’t keep their body temperature up when it’s cold and raining. 

“You could lose the whole litter in cold, wet weather without a hut, something nobody wants to experience,” Barbara says. “Use straw in your huts when it’s cold. Don’t use hay, as the newborn wet piglets can get stuck in it.”

On top of their hardiness, Man­galitsas have the capacity to grow to 400 pounds. The big attraction to the pig as a meat animal is that their body weight is made up of 60 to 70 percent fat, a significant difference compared to the average pig’s 50 percent fat. This extra fat makes the meat exceptionally tender to the melt-in-your-mouth point, setting the Mangalitsa apart against the standard pig and even other naturally raised heritage pig breeds. “The big difference is the difference between standard pork and Mangalitsa pork,” Mark says. 

Though Mangalitsas usually take about 18 months to reach their full weight, they’re worth it because they have intermuscular fat, which means the meat is a deeper red and the fat is snow-white when cooked. The dark-red color indicates higher nutrition and signals a better taste. The marbling increases with age, same as the color.

Mangalitsa pig breed pigs

Mark even says that Mangalitsa meat has such an intense flavor that some cuts are comparable to the flavor of beef. “There’s still a stark difference between pork and beef,” he says, “but sometimes, when you have Mangalitsa, it has such a deep flavor you would think it was beef.”

Movable Enclosures

Farmers raising Mangalitsas can build movable enclosures and employ a pasture rotation system. This method cuts down on feed costs and gives pigs the most natural and healthy environment in which to grow. Mangalitsas are decently sized pigs, so their enclosure will need to be decently strong. Mark uses a 100-by-100-foot enclosure built with woven wire and sturdy posts. 

“We build enclosures with fence posts and stretch an [electric] wire really tight,” he says. The electric wire is placed 1 foot within the fence line, raised 1 foot off the ground and charged with a solar-powered energy source. Building these enclosures in close succession to each other makes it easy and efficient to rotate pigs into the next enclosure. Mark has a helpful video on fencing on his YouTube channel. 

If you’re on a budget, don’t worry. These enclosures are relatively inexpensive to start. Including wire and fenceposts, Mark’s enclosures can be built for around $500. “What’s nice about that is you can add on if you’re able to develop a market for [your pigs],” Mark says.

Pasturing a Pig

Once the enclosures are built, it’s time to consider how you’ll pasture your Mangalitsas. Most pigs aren’t well-known for thriving almost entirely on pasture rotation. However, Mark has developed a feeding system called “the grow system.” It creates a more natural environment for Mangalitsas to feed and grow in and lets him finish out a pig for only $200.

Average Mangalitsa farmers, not using Mark’s grow system, will spend around $500 to $600 from birth to finish. “These pigs might look like sheep, but they won’t grow by eating grass and hay alone,” Barbara says. “They need a balanced healthy diet that suits a pig’s needs with enough protein [16 percent], carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. The piglets you will buy need a daily basic ration of hog feed to grow.”

Mark enriches his rotation system’s foliage by planting fast-growing vegetables in each enclosure, vegetables his pigs will forage for or dig up over time. Over the course of the summer, he can plant and feed his pigs multiple times with a variety of crops, such as corn, pumpkins and radishes. 

Once the crops are planted and grown, he’ll move the pigs into the enclosure. When the pigs have finished eating that pasture, he’ll move the pigs to the next enclosure, which will be ripe with new vegetables. 

Mangalitsa pig breed pigs

“Say the pigs are on field two,” Mark says. “I could be growing on field three. Then I can move the pigs to field three and groom field one.”

With a “grow system,” farmers don’t have to worry about pesticides because the food isn’t for human consumption. The pigs go through each section and eat the vegetation. Mangalitsas will devour everything—the cob, the stalk, the roots. “It keeps them busy, and their bodies are able to process that forage,” he says. This system leaves behind a well-furrowed and fertilized plot that is ready to be replanted for the next time the pigs are rotated.

A 100-by-100-foot pasture also makes it easy to raise a hefty group of pigs at one time. “We run the group of pigs as a sounder, which is about up to 10 sows and one boar,” Mark says. “I have them on about 1⁄2 an acre, and if you’re familiar with 1⁄2 an acre, it’s pretty big. But it’s plenty of room for 10 mother pigs, each with eight babies.” 

Pasturing Mangalitsas in their natural herding state also gives the pigs beneficial social interactions. Mark has observed that when he keeps his pigs in a sounder, younger sows will learn from the older sows when raising their litters. “It would seem quite congested, but it actually isn’t,” he says. “And 10 sows are a really good facet on your homestead.”

Processing & Selling 

Mangalitsas can be made profitable in many ways. If you want to go the route of selling live pigs, the average piglet sells for about $150, and a feeder (gilt or castrated male) or breeder pig can sell for up to $500 each. “A person can get started for a reasonable amount of money, and if you’re selling 10 feeders a year, that’s pretty good money for a homestead,” Mark says. However, prices also depend a lot on location and the current market. 

The end product can be profitable for homesteaders who want good meat and fat for their own use. For Mangalitsa breeders and people that want to raise them to keep a bit for themselves and their family and be able to sell the meat to the public, they’ll need to build the market. That takes an average of 5 years, according to Barbara. 

“The secret sauce is if you can butcher it yourself,” Mark says. Homesteaders should learn to butcher their own meat because butchering costs have risen and because homesteaders can get more meat out of butchering their own pigs. When it comes to pigs, many commercial butchers will often discard usable meat such as organs or head meat. This happens because pig butchering standards are set according to the health of factory-raised pigs, which are often raised in indoor environments that taint the meat. 

For instance, the lungs of indoor-raised pigs are discarded because they have inhaled air pollutants from long-standing manure. Because the pollutants have settled into the lung meat, the meat is no longer edible for humans. However, Mark can use pig lungs as a soup meat because his pigs are raised outdoors and constantly rotated between different pastures to keep them in prime health. Because he naturally raises his pigs and does his own butchering, Mark also gets the most meat and profit out of his pigs, using the heart, liver, kidneys and caul fat. “There’s not very much of the animal we don’t use,” Mark says. “This is why homesteaders really need to look at being their own processors. It gives them a huge advantage.”

Check state regulations regarding home slaughter, as each state is different and regulations depend on what you’re doing with the meat (consuming it yourself, giving it away, selling it, etc.) 

In Indiana, for example, all meat from livestock and poultry intended for human food must be slaughtered and processed in an establishment inspected by the state board of animal health or the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. However, there is a home-raised exception.

“A person may slaughter and process his/her own livestock or poultry that he/she has raised. The owner of the animal must use the meat products exclusively in his/her household. The owner may use them for his/her nonpaying guests and employees but may not transfer (i.e., sell, donate, give) any product to another person.”

Fortunately, with the advent of the internet, it isn’t difficult for someone with any butchering experience to figure out how to butcher a full-sized hog and make their Mangalitsas more profitable. 

To help homesteaders wanting to become their own processors, Mark has started Home­stead Hog Harvest, his own hog-butchering classes. His course starts students out with a live hog and finishes off with a beautiful meat product that can be used to supplement a family’s food stores or sold. (Learn more here.) Another great butchering video is this one, from Bon Appetit. 

“Foster a can-do attitude,” Mark says. “It’s not brain surgery. It’s an art. But it’s good to be the best you can. You may not do so well, but you’ll still have a product at the end.”

The Mangalitsa can be a significantly profitable animal to have on the farm. “They’re unique and quite docile,” Mark says. “They’re not a threat to my children or other children that come to my farm. I’m not saying it’s a silver bullet, but it’s a pretty good bullet to have on your farm.” 

More Information


Barbara Meyer zu Altenschildesche, breed advisor for Mangalitsa Breed Organization and Registry, offers some financial advice for new Mangalitsa farmers. She says that basic costs—such as water/feeding system, fencing, housing and such—aren’t very different from those of raising other heritage pig breeds. However, this breed is slower growing, taking almost double the time to get to slaughter weight when you want the mature meat, which means more labor and more feed. 

“Also, costs depend on the amount of land someone has, the location, soil, climate, how far they would need to drive to buy feed, the local feed costs and how much time someone wants to put into caring for them,” she says. “It all adds up, and to be honest it’s mostly more than people calculate or think it would be.”

Getting Started

The Mangalitsa Breed Organization and Registry recommends to start small and grow slowly. Purchase two to three feeders, raise them out and write down your costs. Slaughter them and see if this is what you expected and if your locale has the market to sell this niche product. 

If you succeed, look into buying good breeding stock. “This is a beautiful pig breed with lots of amazing qualities, beautiful meat and healthy fat. But it must fit in your market when you want to make a little profit,” says Barbara Meyer zu Altenschildesche, the organization’s breed advisor. 

Make sure you know the breed characteristics. Not every pig with curly hair is a pure Mangalitsa. Even pure-looking ones can be crosses. 

“They’re still beautiful pigs and good to eat but not pure of breed,” she says. When you gather breeding stock, ask the history of the pigs to avoid inbreeding. “There was only a limited number of imports of this breed since they came into the country in 2007,” Barbara says. “Distance does not mean unrelated, as these pigs travel often from one farm to many different states.” 

Another very important thing for new Mangalitsa farmers to know is what body condition a pig should have. It’s not easy in the beginning with this breed, as it has so much fur that you need to examine each pig by feeling its condition with your hands. “We see way too heavy sows and boars, which can lead to infertility,” Barbara says. “Or we see way too skinny Mangalitsas and poor growing animals, as people just do not feed them enough.” 

Mangalitsa pigs should score 3 to 4 in a body conditioning test. When you want more fat with slaughter, feed more and a 5 score would be what you are looking for. To learn more about body conditioning, check out this video from UConn Extension. 

Online Resources

For more information about Mangalitsas, try these resources: 

Toxic Plants

Mangalitsa pigs have a long snout and root way more than pigs with a shorter snout. And while they’ll eat most anything, some weeds are highly toxic to pigs, including the following, which should be eliminated from your property. 

  • aburnum
  • bracken
  • cocklebur
  • deadly nightshade
  • elder
  • foxglove
  • hemlock
  • henbane
  •  ivy
  • jimsonweed
  • ragwort
  • rhododendron

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

Animals Farm & Garden Homesteading Large Animals

Cattle Feeding Basics: Evaluate Your Energy

Whether you’re feeding a couple of calves in a small trough or driving down a feeding lane with a dedicated feed truck, heathy, productive cattle all require a proper feed ration in order to meet the desired goals set before them. 

In my previous two articles, we’ve taken a closer look at two of the basic components of a feed ration: roughage and protein. Today, we’re covering energy in the ration. We’ll look not only at some of the sources for it, but also how our farm produces some of our own sources of energy. 

Energy in 3 Categories

My father-in-law, Todd Krispense, has been working with and feeding cattle for decades. Energy, as he points out, is measured in megacalories and has three basics categories:

  • Net Energy Maintenance: The amount of energy required for cattle to maintain their weight 
  • Energy Gain: The amount of energy needed from the “feed stuff” for cattle to gain weight
  • Net Energy Lactation: Relating to dairy cows, the amount of energy required in the feed to produce lactation and a certain amount of milk 

Examples of sources for energy can be found in distiller grains and corn silage and, as Todd points out, even grain itself. While he shared that distillers can be a good source of both protein and energy, if you’re looking for strictly a higher-level of energy, there are other sources that can offer a greater amount. 

Goals Determine Your Energy Needs

How much energy your cattle will need depends on what your goals are for them. A finishing ration for fat cattle would consist of a higher level of energy and a lower level of protein, Krispense shares. But a growing ration would have a higher level of protein and a lower level of energy. 

As Krispense notes, it’s best to consult a nutritionist that can help you plan out a balanced diet, which can help to avoid over-feeding certain components as well as wasting resources and money.   

While we don’t produce our own distiller grains on the farm, we do raise our own field corn to be later chopped and put up for ensilage or corn silage. Krispense notes that, although silage is technically considered roughage, corn silage possesses a higher level of energy in it due to the corn grain itself that is chopped along with the plant. 

Growing Corn for Energy

As for the production of the corn, we need to back up to mid/late April. When it comes time to plant, certain hybrids of field corn are chosen with the expectation they will grow taller than their counterparts and produce more tonnage of feed once chopped. How tall they reach depends mostly on the growing conditions, but with plenty of moisture and fertilizer, some varieties can reach 12 to 14 feet tall!

As the summer draws on and the plants grow, they will eventually reach the point that they need to be chopped. In good growing conditions, you’ll need to watch the grain on the plant as it can ripen before the plant dries up. However, with the dry conditions we’ve had recently, the stalks have begun to dry up quicker than normal, making farmers rush to chop the corn before plants have completely dried out.

When the corn is deemed ready to sample, it’s time to take the equipment to the field. A forage harvester (or silage chopper) is used to cut the stalks off near the ground. It drives through the field as large drums with blades spin around on the header, cutting the stalks off. They’re then processed inside the machine by a large rotating drum with knives that chop the corn up into very small pieces (10-11 mm long). The machine throws them into a large, high-velocity blower, which then spits them out the spout and into the waiting silage truck. The spout can be controlled and turned from inside the cab, as it is pointed toward the truck that drives alongside the chopper.

We also run a kernel processor on the chopper to help break up the kernels. This makes the feed more palatable for cattle.

Corn Storage

Once the truck is full of ensilage (chopped corn), it drives to the destination (in our case, a large trench silo) and dumps the ensilage on the ground near the pit. Packing tractors wait nearby to push the load of chopped feed into the pile and pack it in firmly. An inoculant can be applied to the ensilage as it is being chopped to help stabilize the quality of the feed when it is packed into the pit. 

After the fields of silage corn have been chopped and packed well into a pile, a tarp can be spread across the top of it to help keep the rain off of it and air from getting to the top of the pile, reducing spoilage. After the silage goes through the fermentation/ensiling process, it is ready to be mixed into feed rations and fed. 

There’s so much that we can learn when it comes to cattle feed rations that it can be helpful to do your research and find a good nutritionist to guide you toward the right ingredients and ratios to meet the goals you have for your cattle.

Happy feeding! 

Beginning Farmers Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden Permaculture

Putting Your Garden To Sleep For The Winter

You can find many reasons to put your garden to sleep for the winter. Remember that a natural ecosystem will necessarily have preparation in order to go into the long cold winters that we experience throughout most of North America.

There are many important ways that we can maximize ecosystem services when putting our garden to rest. These can be broken down into various strategies and can also paired with other typical market garden and landscape management techniques.

Let’s explore some of the top choices for preparing your garden for winter.

Cover Cropping

Cover cropping is your ally going into the winter because it protects the soil surface not only in the fall when you may have heavy rains, but also throughout the winter. Cover crops can keep soil life buffered from the extreme temperatures of the cold winter months.

It also protects the soil in the spring, when there is not only a lot of runoff from snow melt but also heavy rains, which will erode unprotected soil, causing you to lose not only the grains of your soil but also the nutrients.

Cover cropping has additional benefits, too, scavenging nutrients in the fall.  This means these crops take up various soluble nutrients, such as nitrogen available in the soil after your crop is finished, and holds them in an insoluble form in the form of organic matter that is living and growing.

Cover crops can also provide weed suppression benefits by preventing the germination of weeds by covering them over with a canopy—especially perennial weeds that may germinate in the fall and annual weeds that may germinate in the spring. This last benefit is best achieved by using an overwintered cover crop such as winter rye, which has the added effect of actually suppressing weed seed germination by an allele pathic chemical reaction in the soil.

The addition of cover crops in the spring through flail mowing and incorporation will serve as a green manure, only further adding to their overall ecosystem services for your garden. Cover cropping is one of the top choices for putting your garden to rest in the winter.

Cover cropping is easy to do, too. You can simply remove your crop debris and broadcast or re-prepare by lightly tilling the beds and seeding. Or you can undersow with cover crops like clover and allow them to germinate in the canopy of the crop, such as squash, just prior to harvest.

However you slice it, cover crops are a multi-faceted way of keeping your garden in good shape in the fall winter and spring.

Crop Cover Cropping

Another type of cover cropping that is often overlooked is crop cover cropping. This is the process of leaving crop debris in your garden fields or beds in order to benefit from their protective services over the fall and winter. In the spring this would mean allowing late crops of lettuce to bolt and go in flower, thus providing a lot of debris going into the colder months. This will protect the soil life from cold winter extremes.

The benefit of crop cover cropping include maximizing the yields of your crop by allowing the seed to yield both a harvestable product (ex: the leaf lettuce that was bagged and sold at market or eaten in your homestead) as well as the cover crop that’s protecting the soil surface over the winter.

On top of that, crop cover cropping can minimize soil disturbance going into the colder months. This will protect all that soil life from any sort of tillage activity, as you simply leave all that debris. However, crop cover crops can impact your crop rotation, as you need to be aware of any pests living within the crop, which could perpetuate over the winter months in undisturbed crop debris.

So consider whether or not any pests are at issue and whether or not you will need to have disturbances as part of your integrated pest management routine.

If you have a crop that doesn’t suffer from any major pest problems, and it’s a crop where the harvested part of the crop is not the whole plant, then it is likely a crop that has potential to be a crop cover crop—for instance, chard or arugula.

On the other hand, crops like head lettuce and cabbage have most of the debris removed through the final harvest. Often a combination of crop cover cropping and adding additional over seeding of cover crop seed is a good way to go.

Physical Barrier

The third method is to actually use a physical barrier over top of the soil to help protect it. This can take the form of mulch or tarps or weed barrier mulch, like straw or leaves. You could even use a thick, fresh compost applied to the soil surface to act as a protective barrier over the winter. This insulates the soil organisms against the harsh extremes of the cold and provides a buffer against erosion.

A mulch like straw or leaves will be much more resistant to erosion than using a compost type mulch, however, so this is preferable in areas with heavy rains and heavy snow melt.

These physical barriers can serve some of the same benefits of providing food sources and nutrition into the soil. Compost, leafy debris and stray mulch all release macro and micro nutrients when they start to decompose. However, it’s important to note that, unlike a cover crop, these materials provide much less nitrogen upon decomposition, so you’ll need to balance things with nitrogen amendments (such as fish fertilizer and other soluble, readily available nitrogen sources) in the spring to balance the heavy carbon of straw or leaf mulch debris.

On the other hand, a rich composted material will have more nitrogen in it. But, once again, such material is vulnerable to erosion unless it’s used alongside some kind of mulch.

The other type of mulching that can be used is either a plastic tarp or a weed barrier. This has the benefit of being very quick to apply. So if you’re growing a crop late into the year, it’s easy to pull a tarp or weed barrier over the garden before going into winter. A tarp also provides the benefit of protecting the soil over winter against erosion and extreme cold.

A tarp, however, doesn’t have any nutrient addition benefits at all.

Combining a synthetic mulch with a cover crop or a crop cover crop is another way to go, which sort of gets the best of both worlds. It will allow you to gain green manure benefits, really good insulation, and good erosion control. Your garden will also benefit from the synthetic mulch’s high heat, which destroys small germinating weed seeds in the early months of spring for a very clean bed.

Another benefit? All that heat speeds up the melt, allowing you to access your garden earlier. And we all know the early bird gets the worm when it comes to getting seeds in the ground!  you can get some crops (peas, arugulas, lettuces and radishes) planted a week or two before the usual planting dates to enjoy early season crops.

In conclusion, there are many ways to put your garden to sleep for the winter. But the goals always remain the same:

  • protecting the soil against erosion
  • feeding soil life with organic matter
  • protecting soil life by buffering against extreme temperatures
  • scavenging nutrients
  • adding nutrients to the soil (if possible)
  • going into spring earlier and weed-free for a productive growing year

Often, combining techniques and understanding where they fit into your crop rotation will be the best solution. So it’s always best to have some different tricks up your sleeves to make you an awesome garden magician when it’s time to perform.

Grow on,

Zach Loeks

Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden Food Homesteading Recipes

Recipe: Welcome Fall & Embrace Nature With Some Apple Tea

After five consecutive days above 90 degrees, temperatures (as I write this) have plummeted into the 60’s. It’s felt incredible. People joyfully pulled out their sweaters and jeans and opened their windows.

The cool temperatures get everyone in the mood for cooking and “soup season.” My daughter began pulling out our fall/Halloween decor, and we even baked a batch of apple crisp. Apples are as synonymous with fall in Minnesota as pumpkins.

Being that we are midway through September already, I thought it would be a great time to share a recipe from a new book that my publisher sent me called The Green Witch’s Guide to Magical Plants and Flowers, written by Chris Young and Susan Ottaviano.

Have you heard the term, “Green Witch” over the past few years? The definition of a green witch is someone that embraces nature and intentionally works toward living in harmony with the earth and humanity. Green witches believe that their “connection to the earth and the universe allows them to draw great power from creating love, health, peace, blessings and harmony in their world.”

Magical herbalism is the central practice of a green witch. The 2 Green Witches that authored this book seek to encourage readers to transform everyday flowers, fruits and plants from the garden into salts, herbal infusions, soaps, sachets, tinctures and more.

I tried one of the recipes in the book this week, as I was craving tea with these cooler temps. I’d say this apple tea definitely worth making again.

Serves: 2


  • 2 green tea bags
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 4 whole allspice berries
  • 1 cup unsweetened organic apple juice or apple cider
  • 1 green organic apple, sliced
  • Maple syrup or organic sugar, to taste


In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add tea bags, cinnamon, cloves and allspice to the pan. Remove from heat. Cover and let steep for 3 minutes.

Discard tea bags and spices. Stir in apple juice (or cider) and heat through.

Always remember that spoons are a kind of wand. You can use them while you cook to direct your energy and intentions to empower whatever you are preparing.

Serve tea with the green apple slices and sweetener of choice.

This recipe has been shared from The Green Witch’s Guide to Magical Plants and Flowers with permission from Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.