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!

cooking, cooking venison, cooking wild game, homemade, homesteading, recipes

How to Make Corned Venison Move Over Corned Beef


Every Year when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around everyone thinks of corned beef, but here on the homestead we do it a little different.  We make corned venison and it has now become sort of a tradition, which we love.  We have no illusion that this is some sort of  long lost traditional Irish meal. Much like Rome was not built in a day, neither is corned venison.  Planning for this dish starts when we are butchering the deer in the fall.  We always set aside the roast that looks most like brisket for our corned beef and be sure to label it as such.  About a week before we defrost the roast, and then the magic happens.

Corned Venison 

1 venison brisket, about 3-4 lbs (feel free to substitute beef, also delicious!)

2 garlic cloves, cut in half

The Brine

1 quart of water

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup white vinegar

2 tbsp sugar

2 bay leaves

1/2 tsp whole peppercorns

1/4 tsp mustard seeds

In a sauce pot, combine all the brine ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Once dissolved, set aside to cool. I am kind of impatient, so I use a little trick I learned from my grandma, pour the hot brine into a heat proof glass measuring cup, then put the measuring cup in a metal bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally and your mix will be cool in no time.



Place your brisket and garlic in a large gallon size freezer bag and pour the brine over it. Seal the bag, place the bag in a baking dish and refrigerate for 6-7 days, turning once each day.



After those very long days, remove your brisket (don’t be alarmed by its color, the “cooking” process has already started from the vinegar and salt) and thoroughly wash off the brine under cold water.



Place the brisket in a large pot, add one beer and enough cold water to fully immerse the brisket and cover. Bring the liquid/brisket to a boil, turn down to a simmer and allow to cook, covered for about 2 hours, or until the brisket is cooked through. In the last 20 minutes or so, add cut up potatoes, cabbage and carrots.



Just for comparison, the sliced meat on the top of the plate (darker in color) on the left is the corned venison, the other is a flat cut store-bought corned beef. The venison is much leaner and you won’t believe how great it tastes, you may never go back to that store bought one!   Whenever we treat venison like other meats we are pleasantly surprised with the results.  Having so many delicious recipes for venison allows us to make full use of our yearly harvests, and having another versatile source of protein makes us more self sufficient, even on St. Patrick’s Day.


cooking, fishing, homemade, homesteading

How to make fishcakes and memories

If you have read our blog before, you know that we love to start new traditions.  Several years ago my sons and I started one of my favorite traditions.  Every year during the ice fishing season we try to catch enough fish to feed us through all of the Fridays during Lent.  We don’t eat meat on Fridays during lent, which I suppose is another tradition.  It brings a little extra meaning to our fishing trips.


As we haul fish through the holes in the ice, we are thankful for our future Lenten meals.  We never let any of the fish go to waste,  we even use the scraps from filleting for trapping bait, or we mix them into our compost.  We catch a variety of pan fish including crappie, perch and blue gill. And if we are lucky, we may even get a walleye.


Over the years one of our favorite dishes to have during lent is homemade fish cakes and marinara sauce.  The sound of them frying in the pan always makes us hungry, and there are never any leftovers.

Fish Cakes

2 lbs fish, we use a variety of crappie, perch, blue gill and walleye (feel free to substitute whatever you like or what is in your freezer!), season with a pinch of salt and pepper

1 jalapeno finely chopped, seeds and ribs removed if you don’t want it too spicy

1 small onion chopped

1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn

1 egg, beaten

1 tbsp dijon mustard

1 tbsp mayo

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp dried parsley

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp paprika

1 cup plus 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs

vegetable oil for frying

Marinara Sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place fish in 13×9 baking dish and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes easily. Remove from baking dish with a slotted spoon (as there may be some liquid in the dish) to a large bowl, allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Using a fork, or the best utensils, your clean hands, break the fish apart into small pieces.


After 10 minutes, add onion, jalapeno, mustard, corn, egg, lemon, the 1/3 cup of panko, and seasonings. Stir to combine. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes to allow flavors to combine.

After 20 minutes, put the 1 cup of panko on a plate and scoop about 1/2 cup of the mixture into your hands and form a “cake”. Coat with the panko and set aside. After all the cakes are formed, refrigerate the cakes for about 20 minutes to firm up.

Heat about 1/2 inch or so of vegetable oil in a shallow cast iron pan until the oil starts to “ripple”. After the cakes have set in the refrigerator for 20 minutes, slowly  add them to the hot oil in small batches. I usually do 4-5 per batch. Once you see brown edges about 1/2 way up the side, turn the cakes to brown the other side. once beautifully browned on both sides, remove to a paper towel lined plate and lightly sprinkle with salt. Serve with home made marinara, yum!


When we sit around the table and enjoy these fish cakes we are reminded of our fun times on the ice.  Inevitably the boys and I tell fishing stories, and argue over who caught the most fish.  When you harvest or raise your own food there is always a story behind it.  When you buy food from the store there is no story and there is no connection.  Many of the traditions that we start only last a year or two, but I believe this one has hung around for a long time because of that connection.  To us they are not just fish cakes they are hard work, fun times, and  memories with my sons I will never forget.

cooking, homemade, homemade pizza, pizza, recipes, sausage

Making the Perfect Italian Sausage

Often when things quiet down for a minute on the homestead, we take on a new challenge.  This usually happens in late winter, when we have had enough of the snow. We just want to stay by the wood stove drinking coffee all day.  A few years back we decided to try our hand at making our own sausage.  Because I am Italian we started with sweet and hot Italian sausage.


In our minds we could see sausages hanging everywhere, maybe we would even branch out into a sausage business.  We do love to dream big,  usually we are brought back to earth very quickly.  We did some research, and found that there was a large price range for the equipment needed.  We dream big but don’t spend big, so we chose a meat grinder that attached to our kitchen aid mixer.  After that we ordered our natural hog casing, picked up some pork shoulder and wine, then waited for the weekend.  As it turns out red wine is a must when making sausage, it makes the whole process feel more like a party rather than stuffing an animal back into its own intestine.  We make our own food because we like to know what goes into it, so instead of ordering a spice mix we came up with our own recipe.  We used as many  ingredients from our garden as we could.  Then we set out to make a sausage you could not buy from a store.  We set up the mixer, cut up the pork shoulder, and poured the wine.  It is definitely best to keep the meat very cold this makes it grind much easier.


We used two pork shoulders which gave us 15 lbs of ground pork .  The casing comes packed in salt, so while the pork was being ground we took the casing out of the salt, and soaked it in cool water.  Something we learned right away was that casing gets tangled. We found that if you put it in a big metal bowl, and untangle it before soaking you will save yourself a lot of trouble. Once the pork was ground, we mixed in the spices by hand wearing rubber gloves.  Pork is fatty, and its hard to wash all that fat off of your hands.  We then took the casing out of the water and put it in a strainer, next you have to run water in one end of the casing and push it through the entire length of the casing.  This helps get the salt out of the casing, we usually run the water through three times.  Then came the moment we were waiting for, it was time to do some stuffing.  We lubed the stuffing tube with oil, slid on the casing, tied the end, and poked a small hole with a knife in the casing to let the air escape.  I pushed the meat through the grinder with the stuffing tube attached, while Tracy caught it and twisted the sausage into links.  It is important to twist the links in the opposite directions each time you make a link, or they will come undone.  We then poured our second glass of wine.  Very quickly it became apparent that the stuffing was going to take a long time.  The stuffing tube on the grinder was not the best tool for the job, but this didn’t stop us from enjoying the time spent together.  If you can make sausage without making inappropriate jokes you are a better man than me.  We spent the next half hour laughing, sipping wine, and stuffing our first batch of sausage.


Finally when all of the sausage was stuffed, we placed it in the refrigerator to sit overnight.  This allows the flavors to come together.  The next day, we pulled some peppers out of the freezer and grilled up our first batch.  We were pleasantly surprised, it was good, but we wanted great.  Over the next several months we made sausage tweaking the recipe each time.  Finally we arrived at the perfect recipe.


Along the way we learned a few things.  The first was that a real sausage stuffer was a must.  It makes the whole process quicker and easier.  Second, the casing needs to be soaked for at least an hour to make it easier to work with.  Third, casing comes in packages that make 25lbs and 100lbs of sausage.  The 100lb is much more economical, but the 25lb is easier to work with because the lengths are shorter. Fourth, fresh ingredients matter, we always use fresh garlic, and as many fresh herbs as possible.  Finally, wine will make the whole process easier on you and your spouse.  There is no wrong recipe for sausage, everyone has different tastes.  But when you make it yourself it will always be just right.


Once we made one type of sausage we could not stop.  We now make kielbasa for Oktoberfest, breakfast sausage, venison pepperoni, and have even dabbled in andouille.




It is always fun to learn a new skill, especially one that involves eating delicious food.  So the next time the winter blues have you down.  Get some wine and pork and make your own perfect sausage.

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.