backyard chickens, chickens, duck eggs, ducks, farming, gardening, raising ducks, raising turkeys, turkeys

Beginning Homesteading Its All About The Birds

When we first moved to our first and only home 23 years ago the first thing we did was plant a garden. We always loved to grow things and as time went by the garden expanded, but something was still missing.  One day while visiting a friend, we realized what was missing.  He had a beautiful flock of laying hens free ranging in his yard.  As we talked with him they scratched and ate, he even gave us a few eggs to take home and try.  When we cracked them open for breakfast the next morning,and saw the beautiful yolks, we knew it was time for us to take the leap into chickens and homesteading. img_1077

Laying hens are an inexpensive and easy way to raise your own food, even in a small space.  We converted part of our shed into a coop, and built a run made of wire that we salvaged from a friends junk pile. The inside of the coop was 4’x8′ which was plenty of room for 6 birds, nesting boxes and a roost.  The run was 8’x8′. Predators are always an issue so we were sure to bury a few boards along the edge of the run.  Now comes the fun part, ordering chicks!!!  We chose various breeds that were all good brown egg layers.  We ordered them through our local feed store, this limited our variety, but saved us on shipping, which can run as high as 35 dollars.  Ordering straight run chicks is like playing craps so be sure to order chicks that are already sexed, so you do not end up with roosters. When the chicks arrive they will need to be put in a brooder, which is really just an enclosed space with a heat lamp.  When you pick up your chicks the bonding will begin immediately.

 

We found ourselves spending lots of time with them.  Sometimes we would even hold them while we watched T.V. We put our first set of chicks in a brooder in our sons room to keep them safe.  This was a huge mistake, although they were safe they began to smell, and made a lot of dust .  This was not our best parenting moment, we knew when our son started sleeping on the couch that it was time for them to go to the garage.  After about 8 weeks, we moved them to the coop with a heat lamp.  It takes 20 weeks for most hens to start laying eggs, which is an eternity when you are a new homesteader.  We would run out and check for eggs every morning like kids on Easter morning. Finally we were rewarded with one tiny egg, and then another, and another.   Soon our whole flock was laying and we were now raising our own protein for the first time.

 

In the beginning we ate egg after egg, but over time we couldn’t keep up with our girls .  So we started giving eggs to family and friends.  Our chickens provided us with so many lessons and adventures.  One sunny summer afternoon we finally let the ladies out to free range under our watchful eyes, and with a glass or two of wine we watched them scratch and eat bugs just as we had always wanted.  As the sun set the girls put themselves to bed. IMG_9777 I remember Tracy calling me at work to say the chickens were in the garden.  I came home to her in a pair of welding gloves trying to pick up chickens.  Or when we decided to have a rooster and she was fighting it off with a rake. (if you read her previous blog, “Adventures in Homesteading, a not-so-country girl’s perspective, you learned that she is not a bird person!) IMG_6183 (1)

From this simple beginning our homestead grew and we eventually built the girls a new coop, that was a beautiful addition to our yard.

They say chickens are a gateway animal, and they are right.  Most birds are similar to raise and soon after the chickens we ventured into ducks.  If watching chickens is like reading a good book, then watching ducks is like tuning into a NASCAR race.  They are so full of sounds and energy.  They lay more eggs than a chicken.  We love to herd the ducks back into the coop at night, its as if they share one brain and move more like a school of fish than a flock of ducks. Plus who doesn’t love a “duckface” selfie.

 

After ducks the next logical step was turkeys.  How could we resist raising our own thanksgiving dinner?  We raised the turkeys separate from the chicken, but it wasn’t long before we realized that even the fattest turkey can fly.

 

The turkeys loved to escape and feed with the chickens.  Seeing a 20 lb bird walking in your yard can only make you smile.  Tucking a turkey under your arm is a little different than doing the same with a chicken, whether you have welding gloves on or not.  Raising birds has so many benefits eggs, meat,  entertainment, tick control, and don’t forget all that manure for the garden.  We couldn’t imagine our homestead without the birds and their noises.  Our homestead adventure started with a simple visit to a friends house.  Who knows where yours will start, but when it does don’t forget the birds.

 

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backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading, pigs

Adventures in Homesteading, a not-so-country girl’s perspective

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Often when we blog, it’s a joint effort, we both share our thoughts collectively. But, in this particular blog, I am going to give you the perspective of some of the adventures in homesteading from a girl who in no way, shape or form, grew up country or as a farm girl. In fact, I am a product of suburbia. I grew up in a nice house with a neatly manicured lawn on a tree-lined street, everything you might envision a suburb to be.

Fast-forward almost 27 years and here I am, on a small homestead helping to grow and raise our own food. I use the word “help” because I am definitely not the brains of the operation, I can’t even keep a house plant alive. However, I can blanch, freeze, preserve, can and cook just about anything you can imagine, often with rave reviews. Any good employer would tell you that the work team is only as good as its weakest link. And, until last week, I really felt like a pretty weak link. Then I had one of those “adventures in homesteading”.

If you follow us regularly, you know that here on our homestead we raise chickens and pigs. I have certainly experienced the occasional “chicken in the garden”, and anyone who knows me, knows I absolutely hate birds. My way of corralling them is usually with a gentle push from a plastic garden rake and if I have to, and only if I have to, I have been known to use oven mitts or my husband’s welding gloves to pick up a chicken and relocate it to where it belongs. (Just envision Ace Ventura in “When Nature Calls” returning that disgusting bat to its cave.) But, last week’s adventure was way beyond an escapee chicken.IMG_0301

I was pulling in the driveway after a long day, (these things always happen when you are maxed out!), talking to my husband on the phone when I said to him, “Oh my gosh, there is a bear in the yard!”. Now this is not really an unusual occurrence because we have seen bears on many occasions in our yard and on trail cameras not far from our home. But on second look, I quickly realized that it was not a black bear but our almost 300 lb black pig, Olive (named so because of her resemblance to a black olive as a piglet) in the yard, out of her pen! Then suddenly, her co- conspirators, “Pinky and Spot”, came to greet me at the car. Now what? Remember I told you that I was speaking to my husband, the brains of this homestead, on the phone? He was on his way home from work, but still nearly an hour away and instructed me to go get some food to try and lure them back into the pen.

So, time to dig deep. I am certainly not afraid of the pigs. They are sweet, loving, smart animals. But all three at nearly 300 lbs scared me a little because I am no match for a pig that size. If one them leaned on my legs, I would be knocked over in a second. Here is the ironic part, and you just can’t make this stuff up, all three were scheduled to go to the butcher the following morning. Somehow, I feel like they must have known and decided to escape.

Back to the luring. I quickly ran to get the food, and of course, as things happen, I needed to open a new feed bag. I opened the first one I saw and filled about half of a 5 lb bucket, ran back to the front yard and fortunately, we do sell a bit of what we grow, and the rascals, I mean pigs, found a pile of ornamental corn that we had for sale. Ok, this is good, they are all in one place.

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We live on a pretty quiet street that a lot of people walk, run and bike on. A lovely couple passed by as the pigs were annihilating the ornamental corn, and just like it was perfectly normal to see 1000 lbs of pigs in someone’s front yard, they commented on how beautiful they are. I tried my best to smile and thanked them, but you can only imagine what was going through my mind. Back to the wrangling. I grabbed some of the corn and put it in the feed bucket. I made a “trail of corn cobs” towards the pig pen. At one point, “Pinky” desperately wanted the corn in the bucket and she went whole head in. I finally lured Pinky into the pen, and knowing their eating habits, I poured out the contents of the bucket and the other two slowly followed.

Keep in mind, my husband is still on the phone, I am sure feeling helpless and laughing quietly at the same time. (I don’t frequently use foul language, but I needed to wash my mouth out with soap later that night.) He instructed me to try and find how the pigs got out. I surveyed the fence but could not find anything on first glance. After my 45 minute adventure to get them back in, there was no way in you-know-what, that I was leaving them un-attended until the brains got home. So I watched, and waited until….

Pinky bolted, and I mean bolted, for a lower part of the fence. I truly had no idea that pigs could run that fast. (not a country girl, remember?) Fortunately, I followed her and got there first. She lead me right to where they got under the fence. I was able to hold the fence down with my foot and when she realized she was not going to win, she went and laid down for a nap, which I also needed. This was about the time that my better-late-than-never husband arrived. The first thing he said when he saw the food pile, “you gave them chicken food!” We laughed and at the same time, I was exhausted from yet another “adventure in homesteading”.

When I lay my head down every night, I often survey my day and I always hope that I accomplished something. On this particular day, I went to sleep pretty proud of myself for being able to get those pigs back in their pen on my own. I still don’t consider myself a farm or country girl, and I am not ashamed to admit that I paint my nails and get my hair done every month. But on this day, I definitely graduated to a “Homestead Momma”. And oddly, I smiled a bit knowing that not only did I have another “adventure in homesteading”, but I was able to share it with those pigs who were off to freezer camp the next morning. Thank you, girls.

backyard chickens, carpentry, chickens, farming, homemade, homesteading, turkeys

Building a Turkey Coop

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So many times on the homestead projects are born from necessity.  When we want to plant a new crop, or raise a new animal, there is always an investment to make.  Sometimes its as simple as a trellis for beans, other times its an 8’x8′ turkey coop.  This project was born several months ago when we were at the feed store. There were chick order forms laying on the checkout counter.  We took a quick look and to our surprise they also offered turkey poults. (baby turkeys)

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We had been interested in trying to raise our own turkeys for the the holidays, but shipping was always an issue, so this was a golden opportunity for us.  We did some research after placing the order and found out that the turkeys would need a separate area because disease can be passed from chickens to turkeys.

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When we began designing our turkey’s coop,  we decided to make it a more generic structure that could also be used for other purposes, just in case the turkey rearing didn’t work out.  We also wanted it to fit our homestead and look good.  We designed it to match our chicken coop.

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We finally decided on an 8’x8′ structure, which would allow us to use it as storage in the off season, or maybe a small barn for a couple of sheep.  Since we chose the same roof design and materials as the chicken coop, our next stop was Porosky Lumber.  img_2978

My good friend Scott is a purveyor of both fine hardwood and beautiful rough cut hemlock.  He also makes beautiful cutting boards, wood art, and is one of the best conversationalists you will ever meet.

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Scott loaded us up with some of the most gorgeous 12″ boards and 3″ battens you have ever seen.  These will be used for the exterior of our coop.  It also has some natural rot resistance which was a bonus.

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We began by framing the floor from 2″x4″s and used some pressure treated for runners that would contact the ground and would also allow us to move the coop if necessary.  After squaring the frame up by measuring diagonally from corner to corner we added 3/4 inch cdx plywood for the floor.

We framed the walls adding openings for doors and windows.  After this we mocked up our rafters.

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We then cut all of our rafters and made the frame for the roof.  We installed the corner boards on the frame to stiffen the structure before we climbed onto the roof, which we covered in 1/2″ cdx plywood.  We also framed in the gable ends and added framing for vents on both sides.

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We then covered the structure with those beautiful 12″ boards

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Next we installed the soffits and capped the fascia, and installed the metal roofing. We also had an unexpected guest. (Take a look at the upper window/vent)

The next step was to cap and trim the windows, and install 1/2 inch hardware cloth into the windows and vents to keep out predators.  Finally, we installed the battens ripped them down to 2″ for aesthetic purposes.

The last thing to do was build the doors.  We used the same hemlock boards so that everything matched nicely.

img_3103We now had a great looking addition to the homestead.  This building is versatile, and is built with quality materials that should last for decades.  We can’t wait for our little turkeys to move in.  They say that “necessity is the mother of invention”, and that is certainly the case on the homestead.  Over and over we take on new projects that not only make us use our bodies, but also challenge our mind.  Innovation is still alive and well on the homestead, and every time we take on a new challenge, we are rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction that we can’t find on a screen.

backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading

The Reality of Life on the Homestead

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Homesteading shows on television give you a glimpse into the reality of life on the homestead.  There are trials and tribulations along the way and the don’t always work themselves out.  The reality of living this life style is that animals and plants must give their lives to allow us to live.  Nature can be cruel and everything does not go as planned all the time.  When our pigs go to the butcher we are thankful but a little sad. When we come out in the morning to do chores and a predator has taken one of our flock we are angry and sad. And when we have to cull an injured animal we are just plain sad.  It is not a lifestyle for the faint of heart. Things die and that’s the way it is. So last week when we had a chick born with what looked to be a birth defect we knew what the outcome could be.  Its leg was twisted and he couldn’t walk.  It flopped around and couldn’t stand at all. IMG_2585

We searched the internet for answers.  Chick leg problems are common, but this was not the typical problem.  We decided to put it in a separate incubator to stay warm while we made a plan.  This was a normal homestead situation, often you have to come up with a remedy to a problem that is unique.  Whether it is fitting plants into a garden or building that pasture fence in your special location, you have to make the decision because you are your own boss.  So we decided to set the chick up in the incubator with a towel on the bottom so it was soft and it wouldn’t hurt itself, and could also get footing if it tried to walk.  We gave it a very shallow water dish so it wouldn’t drown, and a bit of food. The poor thing would just flop all over the incubator.  Tracy decided it would need food and her motherly instincts took over.  She mixed some food with water and fed it with a medicine dropper.  She would hold it to make it comfortable and feed it several times a day.  Just like a newborn baby,  the chick would let us know when it was hungry or needed something. Things did not look good so we tried to splint the bad leg but that made it worse.  At one point, we even found the chick soaking wet and cold from falling in its water and used a hair dryer to warm it up and dry its feathers.  Every morning we would check on it, expecting the inevitable.  After a few days we looked into the incubator and noticed it was standing braced up against the wall.  We were so happy to see this progress.  The problem was as soon as it was away from the wall it would tumble over.  We kept up with the feeding and watering, we even named it little foot.  The next day we were holding it and noticed it was using the injured leg to push down.  We saw this as a great sign.  The chick was also eating and drinking so we became optimistic.  The next day it ran across the incubator and stood up on its own.  It was still wobbly, but was actually standing.  By the next day it was running around in its space and chirping. The chick wanted out.  We moved it to a small brooder and it seemed to be doing well.  It could hear the other chickens, and would call to them. So finally we put it with the other birds.

The other chicks were a little bigger, but it began nipping tails and pushing his way into the food.  We hope that the little one will continue to improve but we know that life is very fragile.  We love to see it running with the big boys and girls and can’t wait to see what a pretty bird it will become.  Life on the homestead or anywhere else is never guaranteed.  Living this life style brings that fact home to us time and again.  It makes us appreciate our life and it makes us  appreciate where our food comes from and the animals that provide it for us.  You can never take things for granted and it really makes us understand how delicate the original homesteader life was.  One bad crop or a sickness going through their animals could also spell death for the original homesteaders.  We learn so many lessons from our homestead life style and we even come out on top once in a while.  Little foot is a great reminder that sometimes prayers are answered, and there never is a good time to give up.

backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading

From Rooster to Baby Chicks, New Life on the Homestead

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Although it is still cold, spring has been in the air on the homestead.  We have been starting seeds, making maple syrup, and our rooster has been active making baby chickens.  We keep a small flock of chickens for egg production.  Usually we have enough eggs to avoid buying any from the store.  Last year one of our hens went broody (sitting on eggs to hatch them)  so we bartered for a few fertile eggs from our good friend and put some under her.  Only one of the eggs hatched and as luck would have it, the little chick was a rooster.

We really didn’t want a rooster, but we kept him anyway.  He grew into a beautiful bird and we decided that this year we would hatch some of our own eggs.  We try to keep our hens about three years or so and then rotate them out.  Three of our hens are due to go to new homes, so this was a great way to replace them free of charge.  It also allowed us to learn a valuable skill that could keep our flock self sustaining, and we would no longer be slaves to mail order hatcheries or the over-crowded chick confines of Tractor Supply.  We started by looking for a used incubator on Facebook’s marketplace. Immediately we were offered free incubators to either borrow or have.  We were so grateful. It is wonderful how homesteaders always come together when one of us has a need.  We tried to set up the incubator in our partially heated garage, but we could not get it up to the accurate temperature of 99.5 degrees F.  After some thinking we set it up in our mud room, because it was out of harm’s way, and has heat.  We let it run for a few days and adjusted the heat to 99.5 degrees and added water to the bottom tray for humidity.  We then collected eggs as soon as they were laid so that they were still warm. Which, by the way, if you live in the Northeast like us, is not always an easy to find a warm, just laid egg. They sometimes get cold very quickly with our ever fluctuating temperatures. We placed the eggs in the incubator and wrote the date on them in pencil.  Eggshells are porous and ink can bleed into the egg killing the chick.  We turned the eggs three times a day by hand, rolling them a quarter turn each time.  Some incubators come with a fancy, automatic “turner”, but our experience is that turning them by hand works the best. Chicken eggs take about 21 days to hatch and on day 18 we stop turning them.  Knowing that the big day was coming soon,  we got our brooder ready for the upcoming births.  We took an old plastic pond and put some bedding in the bottom.  We then hung a heat lamp about 18″ above the bedding.

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It is important to be sure the lamp is secure and not just depend on the clamp.  We had a friend who nearly burned down his house when his lamp fell into the dry bedding.  We give the chicks enough space to move away from the lamp if they are too hot.  It is easy to tell if your lamp is in the right place once you put the chicks in.  If they move away its too low, if they huddle together it is too high.  We also get their food and water ready.  Finally day 21 came and we could hear peeping in our incubator.

We looked in the incubator, there were no chicks, but we could see some of the eggs wiggling a bit.  After a few hours  we could see a tiny beak pecking a hole in the egg.

A few hours after that we had our baby chicks.  We left them in the incubator until they were dry, and then we moved them to the brooder.  They seemed much healthier and livelier than the chicks that we have had mail ordered and we have not noticed any pasting up (poop getting bound up).  Our homestead was now a little closer to being self sufficient, and we went to bed that night of the first, and hopefully many more births-to- come, feeling very grateful to be able to continue our homesteading lifestyle.

Just like most things we do in homesteading, it is a learning process. We always ask ourselves, “how can we improve?” ” what can we do differently?”, but with raising our own chicks, the answers to both of these questions are clearly evident when we witness the hatching and birth, and then hold a baby chick in our hands for the first time. It never gets old and you realize that you have done exactly what Mother Nature intended, with a little help of an incubator, of course. And that early morning crowing from the rooster that you once loved, then hated, you suddenly love again. Thank you, Mr. Wing!