Category Archives: The Farm

Diatomaceous Earth and Parasite Control

Diatomaceous Earth and Parasite ControlBoth internal and external parasites can be the bane of a livestock owner’s existence. They make your animals’ lives miserable, increase the risk of disease, reduce performance, and just look nasty.

Unfortunately, drugs are proving to be increasingly ineffective as parasites adapt to modern chemicals. Isn’t there some natural remedy out there that will consistently work to eliminate parasites?

There is! This natural marvel is called diatomaceous earth. It is simply the fossilized remains of diatoms, algae that encase themselves in protective silica shells. Diatomaceous earth (DE) works on both external and internal parasites, and is not a poison. Instead, it is an abrasive substance that lacerates the vulnerable parts of the parasites and kills by dehydrating. Not something that is easy to adapt to!


A Few Words of Warning

Yes, diatomaceous earth is a very safe pesticide…if it is food-grade. Please be aware that pool-grade DE is chemically treated and therefore poisonous to both animals and humans. Only food-grade DE is safe to use for parasite control.

The other caution is to avoid inhaling diatomaceous earth. The fine particles that kill parasites can also damage your lungs.

With this in mind, how do we use diatomaceous earth?


External Parasites

A dusting of diatomaceous earth over the coats of your livestock and pets can kill any ticks and other nasty bugs that may be plaguing them. There’s no need to measure diatomaceous earth used externally. Just sprinkle it onto the animal in question and rub it into the coat.

One thing you should be aware of when applying DE to livestock is that excessive use can dry out and damage the coat. Limit the applications to once a month except in extreme cases. (These cases likely need some extra care to boost their immune systems.)

Chickens suffering from external parasites can be allowed to dust-bathe in DE. If the nesting boxes are harboring unwanted insects, sprinkle some diatomaceous earth there, too.


Internal Parasites

To use diatomaceous earth to kill worms and other internal parasites, sprinkle the appropriate amount over the animal’s food. Various sources (and some personal experience) suggest the following dosages:

  • Cattle: 1 ounce daily.
  • Horses: 5 ounces daily.
  • Hogs: 2% of feed ration.
  • Goats and sheep: 1 teaspoon per 150 pounds of body weight.
  • Llamas and alpacas: 1 teaspoon per 150 pounds of body weight.
  • Chickens: 5% of feed ration.
  • Dogs: 1 teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight.
  • Cats: 1/2 teaspoon daily for kittens, 1 teaspoon daily for adult cats.

However, it is always a good idea to check the bag before using DE. If the manufacturer offers specific recommended doses, use those.

Many animals will also eat diatomaceous earth free-choice if it is protected from wind and rain.

As you can see, diatomaceous earth is extremely easy to use, and it is both safe and effective. Give it a try!


Helpful Resource

Diatomaceous Earth
A microscope image of diatomaceous earth, just in case you were wondering what it looks like up close.

Knowledge-Based Farming

Knowledge-Based Farming

Have you ever thought about all of the different skill areas and branches of knowledge that are related to agriculture? Biology is an obvious one, but dig a little deeper. There is far more involved in farming than just plants and animals.

A Sampling of Skills

A farm can sharpen the math skills of the bookkeeper, provide an outlet for the carpenter, and inspire the artist or author of the family. A simple adjustment of soil pH brings one into contact with many different areas of science. Hunting for solutions to problems can lead to an investigation of history.

But this is still not all. Consider this brief and extremely incomplete sampling of knowledge and skills that can come in handy on a farm:

  • Meteorology.
  • Marketing.
  • Photography.
  • Geology.
  • Economics.
  • Geography.
  • Automotive repairs.

There are a staggering number of opportunities that a farm can provide to someone who has a way with people, animals, plants, or machines. Obviously, then, any skills or knowledge that you can bring to the table will be amply repaid.

So by all means build your knowledge base, knowing that you will reap the rewards. And while you are searching for information, be sure to seek it from a variety of sources.

Knowledge-Based Farming

Sources of Knowledge

There is no excuse for being poorly informed in today’s world. Besides the usual array of farm books and magazines, the Internet has made a wealth of free information available to everyone. Probably every viewpoint on agriculture is represented out there somewhere. The USDA, extension centers, sustainable agriculture organizations, and innumerable private blogs and websites offer their services. A simple search will take you to exactly what you need.

Furthermore, there is a seemingly endless supply of digitized free or public domain books available for download. Most of these were written in the 1800s and early 1900s and are being released as their copyrights expire, placing invaluable old-fashioned wisdom at our fingertips. Some organizations, however, give away cutting-edge works in sustainable agriculture as part of their services.

We all should make use of this wealth of knowledge and experience. But probably the best source of knowledge that we can tap into is our own experience, simply because it is already tailored to our unique circumstances. The best way to learn what the land is trying to tell us is to keep good records. What form these records will take will vary from person to person, of course. But the point is to note for future reference things we have learned, solutions we have discovered, problems we need to solve, and things we want to remember for later on. Our records don’t have to be elaborate. Sometimes just a few lines in a composition notebook will suffice. This type of research is irreplaceable.

Finally, we should also make it a point to consider what is probably the most neglected authority on agriculture—the Scriptures. Research has consistently borne out the accuracy and value of the principles found in the pages of the Bible. For example, some of the Old Testament marriage restrictions in Leviticus 20:17–21, if applied to livestock, would prevent inbreeding disasters. Some sustainable agriculture experts are also advocating field and pasture rests similar to the seventh-year fallow spell outlined in Leviticus 25:1–7. We probably would have a better understanding of how farming works if we would seek to discover the broader principles contained in the Word.

Always More to Learn

Farming becomes an especially fascinating adventure if we allow it to sharpen and interact with all our skills and interests. We’ll never run out of things we can learn. There will always be a new challenge to tackle every day.

Helpful Resources

The Homestead Bookshelf
Our own collection of books and downloads to keep you thinking. We add new titles frequently, so check back often or subscribe to On the Range, our free monthly newsletter, to receive notice of the latest additions.

Top 10 Books for Beginning Farmers
Looking for a starting point in your reading? Try these 10 essential titles.

The Family Garden Journal

The Family Garden Journal
This Homestead on the Range book will help you learn from your own gardening experience! Includes a 366-page journal and reference pages for keeping notes on plant varieties, insect pests, beneficial insects, and plant diseases. Learn more.

What is Endophyte-Free Fescue?

What is Endophyte-Free Fescue?
Close-up view of endophytes in tall fescue

Reading up on pasture forages tends to give one the distinct impression that having a field full of endophyte-infected fescue is not a good thing…but what is an endophyte? Why is it bad?

Endophyte-Infected Fescue

Simply put, an endophyte is a fungus that lives inside tall fescue. The fescue itself is in no way harmed by having a fungus between its cells. Quite the contrary. As far as the fescue and the endophyte are concerned, the arrangement is mutually beneficial. The endophyte could not survive in nature outside of a proper grass plant, so the fescue is a much-needed ally, providing the fungus with shelter and seed storage. In return for these services, the fescue receives chemical compounds called alkaloids, which provide the plant with resistance to insects, disease, and drought.

So far so good. Why, then, all the negative press about endophytes?

Another service that the endophyte provides the fescue with is protection from grazing animals. Not only are the alkaloids produced by endophytes something of a deterrent to mammals, they can also be harmful—even lethal—to livestock, most notably cattle and horses. Endophyte alkaloids constrict the blood vessels and reduce the circulation of animals that have ingested them, leading to serious complications. Affected cattle often show rough coats, intolerance to heat, poor weight gains, and reduced pregnancy rates. In winter, they may develop gangrene of the hooves, ears, and tail. Mares can experience life-threatening foaling difficulties, and any foals that do survive after being born may have weakened immune systems.

Endophyte-Free Fescue

Once the effects of fescue on grazing animals were understood, scientists and plant breeders set to work removing the endophyte from the fescue. A number of methods are used to achieve this, including heat, humidity, and various chemicals. Because endophytes are transmitted through seed, a fescue plant that has had its endophytes killed in this manner can be used to produce subsequent generations of endophyte-free fescue. Over the years, different varieties of endophyte-free fescue have found their place in the offerings of companies selling pasture seed. Studies have proven that animals do indeed perform better on endophyte-free fescue pastures.

Unfortunately, removing the endophyte from the fescue has not been without consequences. By removing the fungus, plant breeders have also removed the fescue’s defense against insects and drought. It can be difficult to establish and maintain a good stand of endophyte-free fescue. However, careful pasture management and avoidance of overgrazing can prolong the stand’s lifespan to about nine years.

Novel-Endophyte Fescue

But since many ranchers do not want to deal with the establishment, maintenance, and reseeding of endophyte-free fescue pastures, scientists have since produced several strains of fescue containing only “novel” endophytes, fungi which increase the hardiness of fescue without producing toxic alkaloids. These new fescue strains are produced by inserting novel endophytes into endophyte-free fescue seedlings.

Research on the pros and cons of these varieties is still in the early stages. At this point, it appears that novel-endophyte fescue persists nearly as well as normal fescue while offering the improved animal performance of endophyte-free fescue. However, particular care may be required when storing seeds, as the novel endophyte can easily be killed by heat and humidity prior to planting.

Looking at the Bigger Picture

Looking at the Bigger PictureIn nature, everything is part of everything else.  Cycles and systems are all inextricably linked together to form a whole environment.  Microscopic organisms are just as important in their place as larger living creatures.  The solar cycle and the water cycle interact, and both plants and animals are necessary to the food chain.

The rest of life is no different.  Our hours and days and weeks and years are bound together by an inextricable web of events, circumstances, and relationships.  Remove one piece, and suddenly the whole puzzle falls apart.

Should it come as a surprise, then, that many of those who succeed in the country lifestyle tend to view their farms as a whole?  If we change one aspect of what we do, we change the entire picture.  What we do to the soil, for example, affects the nutrients available to our gardens, which in turn affects the size and quality of the harvest, which in turn affects our diet for the rest of the year, which in turn affects our health.  And if we sell some of our vegetables, we will still further increase the impact of what originally started with the soil, because the effects of our actions will spread to each and every one of our customers.

Nothing takes place in a vacuum.  Whatever we do to a part will affect the whole.  Every decision we make will have an impact, not just on this one corner of this one property, but on our whole lives from that moment on.  It will affect every single person around us, too, whether directly or indirectly—family, customers, friends, acquaintances, guests.  It will even affect our relationship with God.  Makes you stop to think, doesn’t it?

Neglect of this principle is a big part of what’s wrong with the status quo today.  How many of us:

  • Consider long-term impacts?
  • Wonder about unintended consequences?
  • Stop to ask what caused the problem in the first place?

Veterinarians treat symptoms instead of the underlying diseases, farmers pour chemicals on their crops instead of trying to heal the land, livestock owners rely on drugs instead of working to eliminate the need for routine medication, and so on.

Of course, a caveat we should keep in mind when analyzing the bigger picture is that our finite minds cannot grasp it all.  There will always be something out of focus, something left out.  But there is grace in nature, as in all other areas of life.  If this concept of the bigger picture colors our approach, encouraging us to pull in loose ends and consider the consequences of our actions, our decisions will be much more sound.

Choosing a Breed of Chicken

Choosing a Breed of ChickenThe number of breeds available to the homesteader or chicken enthusiast can be astounding. Just flip through a hatchery catalog. Who would have thought there were so many different kinds of chickens?

To whittle down the options and select a breed or breeds you are going to be satisfied with, you need to have at least a general idea of what you expect from your flock. Here are some things to consider.


Why are you buying chickens? Do you want eggs, meat, pets, or maybe some of each? If eggs are your goal, you aren’t likely to be satisfied with ornamental breeds such as Cochins. If you are raising chickens primarily for meat, a flock of Leghorns may not be the best choice. If your chickens are mostly pets, appearance and personality are going to be key factors in your selection.

However, some breeds do fit fairly well into more than one category. These are the dual-purpose breeds, and if you’re just looking for an all-around good chicken, they can’t be beat. True, they’ll never become either egg-laying or meat-producing factories like some of the commercial breeds, but there’s a reason why early Americans kept mostly dual-purpose chickens, such as Plymouth Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. They can perform well in either arena. Some dual-purpose breeds will also brood their own eggs, which may be a plus if you’d like to raise your own chicks.

But if you plan to specialize, you’ll need to know precisely what you want and then choose your breed accordingly. Light breeds, such as Leghorns, are generally better layers, and heavy breeds, such as Cornish crosses, are generally better meat birds.


Your chickens will be more likely to meet your expectations if you take climate into consideration. As a general rule, light breeds prefer warm temperatures, and heavy breeds prefer cool temperatures.

Choosing a Breed of Chicken

It can sometimes be difficult to decide how to choose breeds adapted to the climate of Kansas. The summers can be scorching, and the winters can be bitingly cold. How do you select a breed suitable for the climate of a state where variability is the norm?

Bear in mind that just about any breed can adapt to a wide variety of conditions if sheltered from the summer sun and winter winds. You will also need to provide your flock with plenty of cool water in hot weather, and plenty to eat in cold weather.

If these requirements are met, most breeds seem to be able to adapt readily to Kansas conditions, particularly the light breeds. Many heavy breeds will also do well, although some of the larger and more densely feathered chickens may have a hard time in the summer. Breeds with enormous combs will be prone to frostbite in the winter. A few breeds, such as Silkies, cannot tolerate any temperature extremes. Unless you are prepared to provide special housing that will meet their needs, it is best to avoid these altogether.


Temperament is generally more of a concern with roosters than with hens. Unfortunately, there seems to be no hard and fast rule to determine which breeds are docile and which breeds are aggressive when it comes to the males. Any rooster of any breed may attack if provoked, and no rooster can be completely trusted around very small children.

Hens are a little easier to predict. In general, light breeds tend to be flighty. It can be rather difficult to make friends with them, so they may not be the best choice if your hens are also your children’s companions. Heavy breeds are typically calm and docile…unless they go broody. Broody hens are often a little on the grumpy side.

Keep in mind, however, that there is more variation within breeds than between breeds when it comes to temperament. This applies to both roosters and hens. Roosters of docile breeds can be bad-tempered, and light-breed hens can be quite tame. Still, breeds have a way of earning their reputations for being calm, nervous, or aggressive, and you will do well to take this into consideration when making your choice. Just remember that every individual chicken will have its own personality.

A Few Final Thoughts

Choosing a Breed of Chicken
Rhode Island Red

In the end, you must choose a breed that appeals strongly to you. It will have to meet your performance requirements, whatever they may be. If top-notch egg production is your goal, you will want to choose a laying breed, or you will not be satisfied. If meat is your aim, you will need to select a breed designed for that purpose. If you want both meat and eggs, you will probably be happier with a dual-purpose breed. If you just want a family flock for fun and maybe a little food into the bargain, aesthetic appeal is going to be a key factor.

Temperament and adaptation to climate aren’t really things you are going to know for sure until you try the breed. For that reason, be prepared to experiment a little. Buy more than one breed the first time around; a mixed flock is more interesting, anyway. Some hatcheries offer assortments of ornamentals, outstanding layers, crested breeds, dual-purpose hens, or just a little bit of everything. If you can’t decide, this may be the best way to get a feel for which breeds you prefer.

Happy chicken-keeping!

Helpful Resources

Chicken BreedsChicken Breeds
Our own online guide to chickens for all purposes, covering the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of each breed.

Chick Selector
Handy way to sort through the options from Murray McMurray Hatchery. Choose the right breed for you based on size, egg production, meat production, and more.

Useful and very accurate comparison of key characteristics of a wide range of heritage chicken breeds, including purpose, temperament, recommended experience level, climate preference, and considerably more.

Free eBook: Sheep Production in Kansas

Sheep Production in KansasIf you are looking for a basic guide to purchasing and caring for a flock of sheep, try Sheep Production in Kansas. This 76-page bulletin was originally published by the Kansas State Agricultural College in 1927.

The bulletin covers a variety of topics, including sheep selection, pasturing, feeding, and housing. Want to know:

  • Which breed is right for you?
  • How to prevent internal parasites in your flock?
  • Which forages to plant in your pastures?

Sheep Production in Kansas has the answers, all tailored specifically for use in the Sunflower State.

Old, but by no means outdated, this bulletin is available for free download as a PDF.

Free eBook: Growing Corn Successfully

Growing Corn SuccessfullyHere’s some old-time wisdom we can benefit from today!

Growing Corn Successfully: A Treatise on Corn Culture From Plowing and Planting to Harvesting and Marketing by E. S. Teagarden was originally published in 1895 as a protest against a problem all too prevalent in the author’s time—farmers were trying to grow more corn than they could properly manage.  As quantity increased, quality suffered.  Sound familiar?

While this brief work starts as a guide to raising field corn from start to finish, as the subtitle claims, most of the book expounds on Teagarden’s basic philosophy:

Do well whatever is attempted and best results will always follow, whether it is growing corn for the general crop, or for seed, or any other work to be done on the farm, whether in connection with growing crops or raising stock, or in any other of the many departments of farm work.

Teagarden believed that by working on sound business principles farmers could increase their yields and avoid problems like soil depletion.  Accordingly, the methods of seed selection, plowing, cultivation, and even using corn for fodder are explained from the point of view of one who broke with the conventions of his day and made quality his aim.  Throughout the book we find a philosophy we would do well to heed: it is better to do a little well than to do much poorly.

Growing Corn Successfully is a must for those who plan to raise corn, but we all can benefit from Teagarden’s thoughts on quality of work as well.

This book is in the public domain and available for free download.

Free eBook: Beans as a Field Crop in Kansas

Beans as a Field Crop in KansasHere’s a book that can help you grow something a little different in your field or food plot: Beans as a Field Crop in Kansas, issued by the Kansas State Horticultural Society in 1918.

This brief publication starts with a look at the history and benefits of bean-raising in Kansas.  Then follows a guide to growing pinto beans, beginning with the preparation of the soil and continuing all the way through the harvest.  Other subjects examined include pests, crop rotations, and the uses of bean straw.

The rest of the book consists of testimonials from all over the state, but do not skip over this part.  There are some useful nuggets of advice to be mined here.

Short and sweet, Beans as a Field Crop in Kansas is in the public domain and available for free download.

When the Hens Stop Laying

When the Hens Stop LayingOh, no!  The hens have stopped laying!

Few chicken-keeping problems are as bewildering as this one.  So many variables affect egg production.  How do you sort through them all?

The quickest way to solve a laying problem is to keep good records well before the problem arises.  Every day write down:

  • The number of eggs you gathered.
  • The outdoor temperature.
  • The amount of feed, scratch, and kitchen scraps you put out.
  • Any anomalies that you might want to remember later on.

You should also keep track of the age, breed, and number of your hens.  These records may seem tedious or superfluous at first, but they are invaluable when you are trying to solve a laying problem.  The more information you have at hand, the faster you will be able to sort through the possibilities and arrive at a solution.

But now that you have an egg shortage, it’s time to figure out what caused it.



Optimal egg production requires the right balance of nutrients.  Many layer rations have been concocted to try to achieve this balance, but in the end the chickens know best.  Provide them with access to plenty of fresh grass and bugs, and supplement their diet with layer feed, scratch grains, and kitchen scraps.

No formula can precisely calculate how much you should feed your chickens.  The best way to balance the feed and the scratch is to simply watch what the hens are eating.  If they are just picking at their feed or leaving pieces of grain on the ground, give them less.   If they are devouring one or the other, or maybe even both in the winter, give them more.

After you change the hens’ diet, they should gradually lay more eggs starting in three to four days.  If there is no improvement, you’ll have to seek another solution.



Chickens usually don’t lay well in extremes of either heat or cold.  If your laying problem coincides with a summer heat wave, there isn’t much you can do except to provide your flock with shade and cool water, and ride it out.  In the winter, give the hens windproof housing and plenty to eat.  The scratch in particular gives them the energy they need to stay warm.  Periodically give them an additional boost with a high-protein treat like beef liver or a ham bone with meat scraps still attached.



The age of your hens plays a significant role in how many eggs they will lay.  If your whole flock is more than two or three years old, you will probably notice a sharp drop in production.  In that case, consider buying or hatching some new hens.



Be aware that breed can affect the hen’s laying rate drastically.  Heavy breeds typically lay better in cooler weather, while light breeds prefer warmer weather.  Also keep in mind that some of the ornamental breeds will never be stellar layers even under ideal conditions.

To keep egg production reasonably steady all year long, either buy a mix of hot- and cold-weather layers or choose breeds that can tolerate a wide range of conditions, such as Australorps or Plymouth Rocks.


If All Else Fails…

If none of these variables seem to account for your production problem, thoroughly inspect your flock and their living quarters.  Are the chickens in poor health?  Do you see signs of parasites?  Are the hens hiding their eggs in some bizarre, out-of-the-way location?  Is something eating the eggs?

If you see chickens with yolk on their heads, you’ve got a real problem.  The egg-eating habit is difficult to stop, so take pains not to let it start.  Make sure your hens have enough fresh range to keep them entertained and enough feed and scratch to keep them full.  Pad the nesting boxes with plenty of straw to avoid accidental breakages.  Setting out a pan of oyster shell as a calcium supplement will also help to keep eggshells from cracking.

If you break an egg in the chicken pen, don’t let the hens clean it up.  Bury it with dirt or hay before they can eat it and get any not-so-funny ideas.  Sometimes a hen will acquire a taste for fresh egg and become an inveterate offender.  When this happens, your only choice is to remove it from the flock.

Again, the best way to solve an egg production problem is to keep good records well before the problem starts.  That way if laying rates suddenly start on a downward spiral, you’ll have a much better chance of identifying the difficulty and solving it quickly.