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!

carpentry, farming, gardening, homesteading, low tunnel

How To Build a Low Tunnel and Save Your Sanity


Our homestead is located in upstate New York, where the winter can drag on.  By the time mid-March rolls around, we are getting the urge to start gardening.  Like most people, we start seeds under grow lights.  Seeing the seedlings emerge is wonderful, but it still does not allow us to get our hands in the ground.  A great way to get your hands dirty earlier, and extend your gardening season, is to build a low tunnel.  A low tunnel can give you several more weeks of growing in spring and fall.  We often construct a low tunnel when the snow is still on the ground and plant kale, lettuce, and carrots.  We also experiment with different seeds to see which will grow best in the tunnel, we often use left over seeds from last season.  This way if we lose the plants it is not too big of a big loss.  We have come up with a very inexpensive and easy way to build one, so if you are like us and can’t wait for spring, keep reading.


The first step is to choose a location in your garden and clear the snow off.  By the time March rolls around, the ground is often thawed under the snow.  We then construct a frame of 2″ x 4″ s approximately 4′ x 8′.  Then we secure the corners with screws.  Because these inexpensive tunnels only have a life span of a few seasons, we do not bother using expensive pressure treated lumber.

The next step is to drill holes in the corners to hold the 5/8″ rebar pegs.   We use a 5/8″ drill bit for this task being careful not to drill directly into the corner where our screws are located.  We drill down 3″ and then drive the pegs in.  The pegs are cut to 6″ in length.  We also drill holes along the long side of the frame 30″ apart for additional supports.

We then use 3/4″ plastic electrical conduit to make the arches to hold the plastic.  The length of these supports can vary depending on how high you want your tunnel to be.  They are easy to bend and slide over the rebar pegs.  At this point we can turn over the soil and plant our seeds.  This is where we finally get our hands dirty.  Putting your hands in the soil no matter how cold seems eases our winter blues.

The last step is to stretch the clear plastic over the structure and fasten it with staples along the edge.  We use a minimum of 4mil poly, but 6mil will definitely hold up better.

img_2416Our low tunnel is now complete.  To check on our seeds progress we simply flip it over backward, or pick it up and move it.  It does take a lot longer for seeds to germinate in it, but checking on them makes us happy.  One of the things we love about what we do is learning, and every failure is a learning experience.  On the homestead we sometimes do things just for fun, or sometimes to experiment.  So if the winter blues have you down, try a low tunnel, even if your seeds don’t grow, you still got to play in the dirt.


We made a short video covering construction,  Don’t mind the rooster crowing !!!

carpentry, gardening, homesteading, wood working

How To Build a Greenhouse Bench For Under 20 Dollars

On our homestead, we are always looking for ways to save time and money. This project did both.  Last fall I received the best gift a gardener could ever hope for, a green house.  It was a 6’x8′ un-heated greenhouse from Harbor Freight.  Before the snow began to fly, we built a base and assembled the greenhouse.  We even made a short youtube video covering the construction.

Once it was assembled, we realized that we would need to build benches for our plants.  The benches needed to be sturdy and inexpensive.  We looked at many designs on the internet, but they were either made with expensive materials or looked cheaply made.  We put the bench idea on the back burner for the winter.

Most homesteaders know that when a project needs to be done, you look around your property, in your sheds, garages and barns to see what materials you have. An idea struck me when I saw a pile of used 2″ x 4″s just waiting to be re-purposed for a project like this.  I picked them up and brought them over to the area where I was boiling down sap to make maple syrup.  Now I could kill two birds with one stone.  Boiling sap can be boring, so this project was a perfect distraction.  I quickly sketched up some plans and began to make sawdust.img_2284

There were only 7 of the 2″ x 4″s  so to make them go further I ripped 3 of them in half to make the center slats and spacers.  I made the spacers the same size as the top of the legs 1-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ so that the bench had symmetry.

I also cut the long outside boards on a 45 degree angle at the corners to give the bench a more finished look.  I started putting the table together by screwing one long side and two of  the short sides together at the corners using 2-1/2″ construction screws.

The next step was to begin screwing and stacking in the slats and spacers.  We secured them with the same type of screw we used for the corners.  We were careful to use temporary spacers in the corners where the legs would eventually go.

 When all of the slats were stacked we added the last outside board to the bench.


It was then time to put the legs on.  We attached each leg using 4 large lag screws.  We also used a square before screwing them down to make sure they were positioned properly.  These screws were also re-purposed from a prior project.


Once the legs were secured we added a small stretcher between them made out of a ripped piece of 2″ x 4″.

Finally our project was finished and we now had a nice sturdy bench to put our plants on.

The bench was made so that it would fit perfectly inside the base of the green house.  We designed it this way so that we could secure it to the walls with screws to avoid tipping.  It was a tight fit but it made it, just as planned!


The whole project took less than 2 hours to complete.  And because we had re-purposed all of the materials, the only cost was our time and effort.  The maple sap wasn’t even done boiling by the time we finished.  This greenhouse bench was the perfect homestead project.  It was low cost and will pay us back with all of the vegetables that it will help start.  On the homestead you never know where your next inspiration will come from.  Often it’s an article in a magazine, or something we see on the internet, but sometimes it’s just a simple pile of 2″ X 4″ s.

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.