The Broody Hen Versus the Incubator

The Broody Hen vs. the IncubatorInterested in hatching your own chicks from eggs? This can be a challenging project, but one that is extremely rewarding.

The first thing to consider is whether you will let an obliging broody hen tend the eggs, or whether you will need to purchase an incubator machine. There are advantages to both options, so you will need to determine what promises the best results in your situation.

The Broody Hen

Advantages of the broody hen include:

  • No special equipment required. All the hen needs is a nesting box where she can brood undisturbed and then a safe place to rear her chicks away from predators and hostile chickens. No incubator, no brooder. No additional cost.
  • Hands-off incubating. Incubating chicks requires constant attention to temperature, humidity, and egg turning. A hen will attend to all of these details with precision, and she will not be nonplussed if the power goes out.
  • Happy chicks. Newly hatched chicks are extremely calm when safely under the wing of their mother. Compare this to the incubator, where the new chick often thrashes around cheeping wildly in search of companions. Even if there is only one chick, it will still be quite content if it has a hen with it.
  • Chick training. New chicks have to be taught to eat and drink. A good broody hen will teach her chicks these skills herself.

The Incubator

Advantages of the incubator include:

  • Always ready. Whenever you’re in the mood to hatch some eggs, the incubator awaits. Broody hens go broody on their own timetable.
  • Large broods. An incubator makes it easier to hatch more chicks at once. Broody hens will often reject their nests if burdened with too many eggs.
  • Reliability. As long as you keep the temperature and humidity at the correct levels and turn eggs appropriately, the incubator is pretty much sure-fire. Many modern hens are too scatter-brained to stay on the nest.
  • Spectators welcome. Incubators typically have clear windows that allow onlookers to watch the progress of the hatch, great for science projects or just for the curious.
  • Chick safety. Unfortunately, some hens will brood the egg and attack the chick. An incubator does not have to be supervised to prevent bullying.

Which is Best?

There are decided advantages to hatching chicks the natural way—under a hen. Whenever possible, this is probably the best option from the chick’s point of view. The temperature and humidity levels will always be kept optimal for health and proper development when the broody hen is in charge, and she will also get the chick off to a good start with minimal stress and plenty of TLC.

However, there are times when an incubator will come in handy, particularly if you have a lot of eggs to hatch or if you do not have a trustworthy broody hen. The latter is a particularly common problem, because broodiness has been deliberately bred out of most modern chicken breeds to boost egg production numbers. The most reliable broody breed left may be the Cochin, followed closely by the Buff Orpington.

What many chicken lovers do these days is allow a hen to set the eggs but keep an incubator handy as an insurance policy. If the hen proves unreliable, the situation can be quickly redeemed with minimal loss of life. All-natural and high-tech can sometimes work together quite nicely.

Helpful Resources

Murray McMurray Chick Selector
Find out which chicken breeds are most likely to brood with this handy tool.

Chicken BreedsChicken Breeds
Our online guide to popular chicken breeds includes assessments of each breed’s abilities in brooding and mothering chicks. Check out the section on uses and the list of pros and cons for the breeds you are interested in.

Milk Substitutes: Lactose-Free, Soy, Almond, and Rice

Milk Substitutes: Lactose-Free, Soy, Almond, and RiceFinding a lactose-free replacement for dairy milk can be somewhat baffling. There are so many substitutes already on the market, and it seems as though more are appearing all the time.

What are the pros and cons of each option? Let’s find out.


Lactose-Free Dairy Milk

People with lactose intolerance cannot digest the sugars in milk because they lack the enzyme lactase in their digestive systems. “Lactose-free” milk actually still contains lactose—it’s just that much of the sugar has been filtered out. The rest is rendered digestible by the addition of lactase, sometimes derived from dairy yeasts. The lactase is given some time to break down the lactose into the simple sugars glucose and galactose. After about 24 hours, the process is complete and the milk is ultrapasteurized to deactivate the enzyme.

The major benefit of lactose-free milk is a nutrient profile similar to that of regular milk. This includes complete proteins and plenty of calcium.

The major known drawback of lactose-free milk is that it will not help someone with a milk allergy.

Other characteristics of lactose-free milk include:

  • Slightly sweet but highly processed taste. This is because the added lactase breaks down the lactose into glucose. Unfortunately, ultrapasteurization adds a “cooked” flavor that is unappealing to many. This is the primary reason that lactose-free milk is not particularly popular.
  • Long shelf life. Lactose-free milk is ultrapasteurized, which means it may be able to sit on the shelf for up to two months if kept at an optimal temperature. Note, however, that lactose-free milk is less stable than regular milk if exposed to temperature variations.


Milk Substitutes: Lactose-Free, Soy, Almond, and RiceSoy Milk

Soy milk is one of the most popular substitutes for regular milk. It is made of a soybean extract derived either from whole soybeans or soy protein isolate and is typically doctored with thickeners such as guar gum to make it palatable to former milk drinkers. It may be sweetened or unsweetened. To make it nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk, it is typically fortified with calcium, vitamin A, riboflavin, and vitamin D.

But even without fortification, soy milk has benefits:

  • Protein content comparable to dairy milk.
  • Essential amino acids—in fact, soy milk is one of the few plant-based milks that contain a complete array of these important nutrients.
  • Phytoestrogens, compounds that mimic estrogen in the body. Associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, hot flashes, and breast cancer recurrence.

There are a few risks associated with soy milk:

  • Some soy milk is made with genetically engineered soya. This problem can easily be avoided by looking for a certified non-GMO product.
  • After long-term consumption, phytoestrogens tend to interfere with normal hormone function.

Other characteristics of soy milk include:

  • A slightly beige color (this varies by brand).
  • A slightly thicker consistency than cow’s milk.
  • Flavor that varies considerably by brand. If you don’t like the taste of your current soy milk, you may be quite satisfied with a different product. Note, however, that most soy milk varieties taste a little off in cooking and baking.


Milk Substitutes: Lactose-Free, Soy, Almond, and RiceAlmond Milk

Almond milk starts with blanched almonds with their skins removed. The almonds are then ground up and mixed with water. The pulp is strained out, and the result is almond milk. It is sometimes sweetened.

Advantages of almond milk include:

  • Low glycemic index if unsweetened. Be aware that most brands of sweetened almond milk can be problematic for those watching their blood sugar.
  • High levels of Vitamin E, an important antioxidant.

Almond milk does have some drawbacks:

  • Few nutrients. Almond milk is much lower in protein than either cow’s milk or soy milk. Unless fortified, it also is largely lacking in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids because it contains much more water than almond.
  • Phytic acid, a naturally occurring substance that can have some serious side effects if consumed in quantity. Phytic acid binds with calcium, iron, and zinc and prevents their absorption in the body.
  • High calcium oxalate content, which can lead to the development of kidney stones if consumed in large quantities.

Other characteristics of almond milk include:

  • A sightly beige color.
  • A creamy consistency similar to cow’s milk.
  • A slightly nutty flavor. When cooking, this flavor will best complement desserts. Almond milk is also a common choice for adding to coffee, smoothies, and other beverages.


Rice Milk

Rice milk is made out of boiled, milled rice (either white or brown), brown rice syrup, and brown rice starch. It may be fortified with calcium and some vitamins to make it more comparable to dairy milk. Thickeners are also added.

The primary benefit of rice milk is that it contains few allergens—no dairy, soy, nuts, or gluten. (But always check the label to be sure it was processed in an allergen-free facility.)

There are a few downsides:

  • Low protein content.
  • High glycemic index. Rice milk is absorbed quickly, causing blood sugar levels to spike.
  • High levels of inorganic arsenic. This is because rice is frequently grown on arsenic-contaminated soils and spends much of its time in a waterlogged state, making any arsenic present readily available in the form of a solution. This situation is further compounded by the fact that rice seems to have an exceptional ability to absorb more arsenic than most crops. Long-term consumption of arsenic is associated with an increased risk of cancer and heart disease. The levels of arsenic present in rice milk are not considered to be problematic for most people, but those who also eat large quantities of rice may find it advisable to consider different grains and milk substitutes.

Other characteristics of rice milk include:

  • A thinner consistency than cow’s milk. Some rice milk can even be watery.
  • A mildly sweet flavor that can be used in most recipes, but especially desserts. Children typically prefer the taste of rice milk to that of any other milk substitute.


A Few Notes

This is just a small sampling of the milk substitutes available today. More will be covered in a future post.

Note that people who are truly lactose-intolerant will not benefit from drinking goat’s milk or A2 cow’s milk. While these options are often beneficial to those suffering from a milk allergy, they still contain lactose and cannot be digested without the enzyme lactase. It is true that goat’s milk does contain less lactose than cow’s milk and thus can typically be consumed in small quantities by someone with lactose intolerance, but increased consumption will result in a return of symptoms.

Pros and Cons of Selling Direct On the Farm

Pros and Cons of Selling Direct on the FarmRather than bringing fresh produce and meat to the customer, such as at a farmers’ market, some agripreneurs opt to have the customer come to the produce, perhaps picking it up at a stand or perhaps by participating in a CSA program. While there are definitely advantages to this style of marketing food, such as transparency, it is also definitely not for every farm.

Deciding to sell food directly from the farm is a step that requires extensive research and preparation. Here are a few of the most important pros and cons to get you started.



  • Transparency. Selling direct from the farm adds transparency to the food supply. Customers have an opportunity to see the farm for themselves, and this builds trust, which in turn builds loyalty. A truly dedicated agripreneur will take it a step further and use the opportunity to share information on sustainable practices with his customers.
  • No travel required. Selling at a farmers’ market generally requires farmers to hit the road early in the morning so they can set up shop at the venue and spend the day away from the farm. If this sounds burdensome to you, you might prefer to sell directly from home.
  • Seasonal production. When selling produce wholesale or to a restaurant or similar business, small farmers are frequently pressured to provide the same goods in large quantities all year long. Selling directly from the farm reduces this pressure.
  • No middleman. And no middleman means that you have an opportunity to reap the full profits of your harvest.
  • Opportunities to pair up streams. Already have customers coming out to the farm? Add new streams of income! For instance, many agripreneurs find it quite easy to add handcrafted gifts or their own books to the product lineup. Others add agritourism elements.



  • Location, location. Where your farm is located makes a big difference in the feasibility of this option. Farms in remote areas can rarely pull this one off.
  • Mishaps. Inviting people to your farm means that accidents could happen. A self-pay system is prone to theft. A U-pick farm is prone to plant damage due to inexperienced hands wrestling with the berries.
  • Legal liabilities. If a personal injury occurs on your premises, you could be a prime target for a lawsuit.
  • Regulations. Are there regulations and codes that apply to your proposed business venture? Do zoning restrictions preclude this option in your area? Will inspections be required? It is essential to know this up front!
  • Potential for increased costs. What type of structure will you be using to sell your produce? Do you need to build a shed or stand? Will you be able to serve all the customers who come to this facility, or will you need employees?
  • Marketing and advertising. Selling food at a farmers’ market reduces your marketing workload to some degree because the market will pick up some of that responsibility. Customers who have been attracted to the farmers’ market will have the opportunity to discover you just by walking by your table.
  • Lower sales volume. There is a certain degree of security farmers feel in being able to sell large quantities of produce. How much volume a small-farm direct marketing situation can achieve will vary based on many factors. U-pick operations are notoriously low-volume. On the other hand, a CSA can achieve high volumes if marketed well. Of course, a lower volume may be ideal for a small farm.



Selling fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, and more directly from the farm is a tried-and-true method of cultivating a healthy relationship between farmer and customer. Under the right circumstances, it can also be quite profitable.

Before leaping into this sales option, however, it is crucial to examine the pitfalls. In particular, make sure that you have a sound marketing plan and that you are prepared to meet any and all legal requirements. Also be prepared for the potential downsides that come with inviting people out to the farm, such as unsavory characters and the risk of lawsuits.

If this sounds daunting to you, perhaps you would be better off looking into another marketing possibility, such selling at farmers’ markets, marketing to other businesses, or even offering your products online, depending on what you are raising. But if you are prepared for the challenge, this option just might be for you. Good luck!


Helpful Resources

Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm BusinessStarting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business
This helpful book nutshells the pros and cons of a variety of venues quite nicely. Read our full review.

Kansas Department of Agriculture Licensing Guides
Good starting point for research on legalities.

Variations on the Harmonica

Variations on the HarmonicaWhen you think of a harmonica, you probably think of the standard 10-hole harmonica tuned to one key, known as the diatonic harmonica. Did you know that there are other varieties with different applications?



The chromatic harmonica features a button that redirects the airflow to allow the player to switch between the regular major scale and the semi-tones. These are notes only accessible to the diatonic player through bending.

The standard 12-hole chromatic harmonica allows the musician to play in any desired key. Some models include additional holes to provide extra octaves. There is also a 10-hole chromatic that only allows for playing in one key (plus the semi-tones); its main advantage is its compact size.

The two main disadvantages of the chromatic harmonica are its heftier size and the fact that techniques such as note bending are difficult. While bending is no longer a necessity for picking up semi-tones on this instrument, bending does give unique tonal color to a song. It’s a trade-off that will boil down to your personal preference. There is also a learning curve to this instrument—most musicians find it far easier to master the diatonic first.

The chromatic harmonica can be found in blues and jazz. However, its increased note-playing capabilities make it useful for playing melodies in any genre.



The standard diatonic harmonica is tuned to a major key. One variation is a 10-hole harmonica tuned to a minor key.

While this sounds good in theory, tuning the harmonica to a minor scale by necessity creates limitations on the songs that can be played. Furthermore, playing a minor-key song is quite doable on the standard diatonic, anyway—it just takes a little know-how. So unless you enjoy the tone of the harmonica, there is no reason to buy an extra just to play in a minor key.

The minor harmonica can be found in either folk or blues.



The tremolo, or echo, harmonica is a rather unusual instrument. Instead of having one reed for every note, it has two reeds per note. Out of each pair of reeds, one is tuned slightly sharp and the other slightly flat. The result is a wavering sound.

The main reason a musician might choose a tremolo harmonica is to play with that unique tone. However, in American music, it is more of a novelty item than a staple instrument. Nice vibrato effects can be produced on a standard diatonic harmonica with various hand and breath techniques and offer a much more personalized touch than the consistent tremolo produced by this harp.

The tremolo harmonica is more common in Asian music than American. Again, it makes a nice novelty instrument, and it has some potential for special effects. One area in which it is underutilized is in adding shimmer to a simple folk melody.


Variations on the HarmonicaOctave

The octave harmonica is rather similar to the tremolo harmonica in construction, except for one important difference—the paired reeds are tuned to precisely the same note, just one octave apart.

The primary advantage of the octave harp is its full-bodied tone. Its primary disadvantages are its technical limitations. Bent notes are practically impossible on an octave harmonica.

The octave harmonica is typically used in folk music.



The miniature harmonica only has four holes, but it does offer a complete scale in one octave. This type of harmonica is typically regarded as a children’s toy and is sometimes made into necklaces. Still, you never know what sort of an interest it may spark when placed in the hands of a youngster.


Pitch Pipe

You probably don’t think of a pitch pipe as a harmonica, but technically there’s not that much difference. In fact, the main difference is its application—the pitch pipe is used to provide reference tones for singers or instrumentalists, while the harmonica is a musical instrument in its own right.



There really is no substitute for the standard 10-hole diatonic harmonica. However, there may be occasions when adding another harmonica to your arsenal will give you some new and intriguing tonal options or, in the case of a chromatic harmonica, access to a few hard-to-reach notes.

The best way to determine if any of these instruments is right for you? Try one!

The Attack of the Squash Bugs

The Attack of the Squash BugsSquash bugs can devastate garden cucurbits in an amazingly short amount of time. While they typically leave the melons and cucumbers alone (unless they’re really hungry), the pumpkins and squash of all varieties collapse and die as massive amounts of squash bugs suck their juices. As they feed, the bugs also release bacteria that further weaken the plant. Squash bugs may even ruin squash fruits by poking them full of holes with their needle-like mouths.

One female squash bug can lay up to 40 eggs at a time. Multiply that by the number of female squash bugs in your garden—or not. Crushing the squash bug causes it to release a disagreeably pungent odor. Picking one up will stain your hands an orange-ish color.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, some gardeners report that the squash bugs continue to make themselves a nuisance during the winter months by moving into the house.


Where Did They Come From?

The squash bug’s native range extends from the Atlantic to the Rockies and from Canada to South America. For reasons that remain unclear, squash bugs are becoming increasingly prevalent across the entire United States. They can occur anywhere a garden can be found and are now considered a real threat to squash in most states.


Preventing Squash Bugs

Garden sanitation is an essential line of defense against squash bugs. Any dead or diseased plant matter left lying around the garden will attract them, so prune and compost anything that is not green and healthy. Keep the weeds cleaned up, as well. At the end of the season, destroy the old squash plants and let the chickens pick through the soil.

Row covers will physically block squash bugs from plants. However, they must be secured well to prevent access. They will be ineffective if placed on the plants later in the season, as the chances are pretty good that there will be bugs hiding in the soil or mulch.

Growing your squash vines vertically on a trellis helps to some degree, as it provides fewer hiding places for the squash bugs to lurk.

And, of course, remember that bugs are far less likely to infest healthy plants than weak ones. Maintain plant health in your garden through proper watering and soil nutrition.


Controlling Squash Bugs

The most effective method of control on an existing squash bug population is to hand-pick and destroy as many bugs and eggs as possible—every single day. Washing the soil around the plants first will drive the bugs up off the ground into the open where they are more easily discovered.

You can increase your chances of success by combining this technique with the use of diatomaceous earth (DE). A generous coating of DE will kill squash bugs. Sprinkle it liberally on all of the plants and also across the surface of the ground to deter new bugs from moving in. A solution of dishwashing liquid will also work, but has the potential to severely damage the plants if not completely rinsed off the foliage after the bugs have died.

Unfortunately, once an invasion begins, it is very difficult to control, so prevention is the best solution. As long as the cause of the recent national squash bug invasion remains unidentified and unaddressed, however, American gardeners will likely be doing battle every summer.


Helpful Resource

A useful tool for applying diatomaceous earth in the garden.

Heritage Livestock Breeds Comparison Charts

Heritage Livestock Breed Comparison ChartsWe recently linked to the Pick-a-Chick chart from the Livestock Conservancy, allowing prospective chicken keepers to compare the characteristics of heritage breeds at a glance. The Livestock Conservancy has many other useful charts for other types of livestock, as well:

Depending on the type of livestock under consideration, these charts offer basic information on important factors to evaluate when choosing a breed:

  • Purpose.
  • Size.
  • Temperament.
  • Preferred climate.
  • Foraging ability.
  • Litter size.
  • Mothering ability.
  • Production level.
  • Recommended experience level.
  • And much more!

The charts offer a very easy way to compare and contrast breeds, as well as a way to discover some of the rarer breeds:

  • Florida Cracker cattle.
  • American Cream Draft horses.
  • Poitou donkeys.
  • Mulefoot hogs.
  • San Clemente goats.
  • Gulf Coast sheep.
  • American Chinchilla rabbits.
  • Midget White turkeys.
  • Cotton Patch geese.
  • Dutch Hookbill ducks.

Highly recommended free resource!