backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading

From Rooster to Baby Chicks, New Life on the Homestead


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.


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 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!

backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading

Building a chicken coop, the cornerstone of your homestead

IMG_6183 (1)

One of the most important buildings on any homestead is the chicken coop.  On our homestead we eat eggs every morning.  Pound for pound the chicken coop is the undisputed champion of providing meals.  Our coop is located where we can see it from our back door.  So when it came time to build it we knew it had to look good too.  We chose to make it look like a small rustic cabin, and were able to acquire rough cut hemlock for the exterior.  This also saved money in the end, as the lumber also has some natural resistance to rot.  The next challenges when building a coop are to maximize space and ease of use.  We chose to put the nesting boxes directly in front of the door, this made it easier to get breakfast in the morning.


The floor space behind the door can be used by the birds when the door is closed.  We also made a “chicken door” to the outside with a sliding piece of plywood to close it.  This is also located in close proximity to the entrance.


Next we put in the roosts, because we had left the whole right side open, we were able to stack the roosts.  This allowed us to have space for a few extra birds.  We also built a platform just to the right of the door to put food and water on.  A raised platform helps to keep bedding out of the food and water.

The entire design makes it very easy to tend to the chickens in the morning.  Cleaning is also easy, we just pull the bedding toward the door and scoop it into a wheel barrow.  We left space under the nesting boxes so we can scoop up bedding without knocking it into the boxes.


The next challenge was window placement, we decided to use two windows to increase ventilation in the summer, and light in the winter.  We used 1/2″ hardware cloth that was permanently affixed between two boards.  When winter rolls around we have Plexiglas panels that we screw in behind the cloth.  We also added a solar powered light.  It is very helpful in the winter when we are collecting eggs in the dark.  It was an inexpensive (thank you, Harbor Freight!) modification that we really can’t live without.

We really love our chickens, and we enjoy our homestead.  Our chicken coop is a focal point, so we have landscaped it, stained it, and we even built a nice rock walkway around it. We did not know it when it was built, but a year later, it became the welcoming entrance to our small vineyard. We often take pictures of it in different seasons.

No project on the homestead is ever perfect.  There is always something to learn.  The very first winter after we built the coop we realized our mistake. The first time we slammed the door with snow on the roof, we got an roof full of snow down the back of our neck.  Lesson learned, as far as lessons on the homestead go this one wasn’t bad, at least there was no trip to the doctors office.


Our chicken coop is now the cornerstone of our homestead, and we are so thankful for the meals it provides us.  So when it comes time to build or upgrade your coop, grab a glass of wine, sit back in a lawn chair, and envision the coop of your dreams.  You and the girls will be happy you did.




backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading, meat chickens

Raising Meat Chickens, you will never go back to store-bought again!


If raising chickens for eggs is the gateway to homesteading,  then raising them for meat is stepping through that gate with both rubber boots.  Once you have raised your own meat, and see the difference from what you buy in the store, you will never go back.  We finally decided to raise meat birds after a few years of raising laying hens.  We decided to raise Cornish Crosses because of their excellent feed conversion rate.  You get one pound of meat for every two pounds of food you feed them. We also wanted to start with a bird that we were used to eating, and these are the same birds that the U.S. poultry industry uses.  Cornish Crosses also only take eight weeks to raise.  This would enable us to raise more than one batch in a year.  We ordered 25 chicks from Meyers Hatchery,  as this was the minimum number to receive free shipping.  Every dollar counts when you are homesteading.  We set up an eight foot diameter brooder, and we chose to make it a circle to keep chicks from getting stuck in corners and accidentally killed.  Finally our long awaited chicks arrived by mail.

They were so cute and fuzzy, and we wondered how we would ever eat such cute animals. We immediately realized that these chicks were much different than laying hens.  They ate almost non stop, and pooped almost as much.  We gave them unlimited food for a few days but quickly cut back to two feedings a day.  We learned with our research that they will eat themselves to death if you don’t restrict their feed.  After only a week, they had more than doubled in size and became something less than cute .


In another week they were even larger and began to resemble a store bought chicken with legs.  They were a little stinky, so we were looking forward to getting them outside.


We constructed a run with a place for them to get out of the sun, and waited for them to get their feathers so we could move them outside.



They really didn’t move around much and were very happy to just eat and drink all day.  As they grew, we looked forward all the protein they would provide our family.


They were also eating a ton of feed.  They truly had a one track mind.

We checked their weight regularly and soon they were ready for their big day.


We read up on butchering, and watched videos.  It’s a really is a simple process.  The biggest issue is plucking, so we would recommend borrowing or buying a plucker.  We still don’t own one, but plucking 25 chickens takes two people most of a whole day, so we plan on purchasing one this year. Once the feathers are removed/plucked they begin to resemble the chicken we are all used to seeing in the store.  It only takes a few minutes to butcher and eviscerate (remove the innards) a chicken,  and then they are immediately cooled in ice water.

Once they are cooled, we wash them thoroughly and we place them in shrink bags which are inexpensive and easy to find online.  They are cheaper in bulk, so buy a few year’s worth at once to save a few dollars, again every dollar counts.

The first time we butchered chickens it was a few days before we felt like eating one.  We were nervous and unsure if we would enjoy them.  The first thing we noticed is that they took a little longer to cook.  They are not injected with broth like the ones in the store.  They also were not slimy and didn’t need a diaper like store bought.  When  you finally taste one you know that all of your hard work was worth it.  Guess what? They taste like chicken,  they are not bland and have a wonderful flavor, and they also do not taste like salt like the ones from the store.  The second time you butcher chickens you will have one for dinner that night, in fact I get hungry when I butcher them now.  So if you have ever thought about raising meat bird, pull up your rubber boots and jump in.  You will be rewarded for your effort in legs and breasts, it doesn’t get much better than that.


backyard chickens, chickens, farming, Uncategorized

Backyard chickens and fresh eggs


For as long as I can remember we grew a garden.  Over the years the garden grew and grew.  We now garden over 4000 square feet of land.  But we never really had a homestead until the day we decided to add chickens to our property.   They say that chickens are a gateway animal and that once you have chickens other animals are sure to follow.  They were right,  we now have pigs and ducks, and we also process meat birds.  Adding chickens to our homestead was scary at first, neither of us had experience with animals.  We researched and purchased our equipment.  The basic equipment included a heat lamp, feeders, waterers, and a big brooder box to get our chicks started.  One of the best parts of raising chickens is getting them in the mail.  To receive a box of peeping chicks from your post office is something everyone should do in their life.

Once you get them out of the box and settled in the brooder you take a deep breath and just watch them.  They are about the cutest things on earth.  We chose to order all female birds because we were just interested in egg production.  While these little birds were growing and learning how to roost (we added a little roost about 2″ high for them to learn on),  we began to build a coop for them.  Chickens require about 4′ of interior space each to be comfortable.  We set out to build a 4×8 coop for our small flock.  The coop included 4 nesting box for them to lay eggs in.

We also included a run that was 12×20 and totally enclosed to keep predators out.  We tried to make the coop aesthetically pleasing as its the first thing you see when you look off of our deck.  At this point we were about $700 into owning chickens.  The first batch of chicks that we raised started out in our living space but quickly went to the garage, the heat lamp was enough to keep them warm.  After 10 weeks we moved them out to the coop.  We ran a cord and heat lamp out to the coop so they would stay warm.  Let’s meet some of the girls.

They all seemed very happy and on days that we could watch them we would let them free range in the yard and vineyard.  We chose brown egg layers because to us it seemed like what you would get on a farm, plus they look great.


Then it was time to wait.  The hens we chose took about 20 weeks to start laying eggs.  Everyday we would check the coop for eggs, like a child on Easter morning.  Finally we were rewarded. We were even lucky enough to have one hen who laid double yoked eggs.  Our homestead was now producing more food.

We immediately noticed a huge difference between our eggs and the eggs from the store.  The difference was so stark that it is hard for us to eat store bought eggs anymore.  Our egg is on the right.  The yoke is vibrant and full,  I am afraid to think how old the store eggs are or what conditions the hens must live under.  Once you start raising and growing your own food, the store looks less and less appealing.  It makes you push to raise more of your own food.  Now we knew why chickens were gateway animals.


The last issue we had to deal with was an overabundance of eggs. 6 eggs a day doesn’t sound like a lot until two weeks have gone by and you have 84 eggs.  We gave some away, but ultimately we were able to sell some to offset our feed costs.  When we sold our first dozen we had such a great feeling of accomplishment.  We really enjoy our girls and have been able to also make use of their droppings for the garden and vineyard.  They also eat ticks which is a big concern in our area.


So if you are looking to make your garden into a homestead, go online and order some chicks today.  Before you know it you will be feeding fresh chicken eggs to your family, and your pigs.

backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading

Meet our rooster Little Wing


Little wing is our resident rooster.  For several years we have maintained a flock of laying hens.  We had no desire to have a rooster and were quite happy with our little flock.  But as is often the case in homesteading, opportunity knocks and an adventure begins. These are my favorite times. Research is done, plans are put in place, and then bam! everything goes haywire.  Little wing’s story starts with one broody hen.

IMG_9782 She is not Little wing’s mother but she liked to sit on eggs and wouldn’t move when we collected them, so we decided to try and take advantage of this.   We contacted a friend who had fertilized eggs and were able to trade some homemade pickles for a few eggs.  Next we marked the eggs so we knew which were the fertilized ones.  This way we could still collect the others for breakfast. We then placed the eggs under the broody hen.  Everything was going well and we waited the 21 days for the eggs to hatch.  By the time they were ready we had lost a few eggs (I’m still not sure where they went).  But one day I went to check the eggs and laying on the floor of the coop was a poor abandoned little chick with a wing that looked broken. Although the broody hen was good at sitting on eggs she was no “mother”. We quickly put the chick into a brood box with a heat lamp, food and water.


He would peep and seemed healthy but his wing still looked funny so we began to call him Little Wing.  After a few weeks of growing Little Wing began to stand tall and try to kick us when we brought fresh water, this was the first sign he was not a hen.  We never really wanted a rooster but we had become attached to him. (a huge danger in homesteading)  After 8 weeks we put him outside with the big girls.  This is usually a tough time as chickens have a pecking order and can be brutal to each other.  To keep the abuse at a minimum we have constructed two separate runs each with a coop. The runs share a fence and there is a door between them. Little wing spent the first few weeks in one run while the girls had the other.  They could see and smell each other and even peck through the fence a bit, but we find this keeps the new ones safe and allows the big girls to get used to new chickens. After a few weeks we opened the door between the runs.  This is when we were almost sure Little Wing was a rooster, instead of getting chased and pecked he stood right up to the girls.  They accepted him quickly and he became part of the flock.


One day while feeding the girls in the morning Little Wing approached me.  He looked at me and made the most pathetic noise.  He looked as if he was vomiting.  I then realized that he was trying to crow.  We finally had definitive evidence that Little Wing was a rooster.  After a few weeks he figured out how to crow and now wakes us up at dawn.  He is a good rooster and does not crow much.  He does crow when anyone goes out to feed him, which is music to our ears.  It finally sounds like a homestead around here thanks to Little Wing.  Sometime in the future we plan on hatching some of Little Wing’s and the broody hens eggs. We have tried it with our ducks and were successful, but that is for another day.