Category Archives: Producing Our Own Food

Whether it’s planting a garden, gathering eggs, or butchering our humanely raised animals, we strive to produce it ourselves

Chicken news – in pictures

I wanted to share with you all the excitement that’s been going on here on the homestead regarding our chickens. Our flock(s) have multiplied significantly recently ( we are apparently the victims of #chickenmath šŸ˜ƒ). So here’s a bunch of pictures of all things chickens.

1st of all, here’s how we keep food and water reserved for the chicks in with the rest of the flock (otherwise the adults eat it all and the chicks don’t get any). The handle holes in the crates are just big enough for the chicks, but keep the adults out.

Our new flock of Rhode Island Reds that we inherited (and one Barred Rock). They are all pretty old, but we’re still getting about a dozen eggs a day out of 20 hens. We’ll keep them for the summer.

Our new rooster, “Cogburn”. He’s a real sweetheart.

Yes, as in Rooster Cogburn šŸ˜ƒ

We re-homed our mean rooster, Mr Darcy, back to his original owner.


We impulsively brought home 5 Asian Black chicks…


…and 7 miscellaneous bantams. And, yes, most of the bantams will not be kept. I have no use for “ornamental” breeds


Except for possibly this one. She’s soooo adorable! She might get to stay.

And this one, the smallest of the lot, who’sā€‹ feathers are just starting to curl up. It’s a Frizzle! Even though I have a suspicion it’s a boy, I still wanna keep him!

We are letting the Asian chicks free-range during the day since we don’t really have another place set up for them yet. They are doing great and starting to get braver. Before they start ranging too far, we will put them in the new coop we were given.

Speaking of the new coop, here it is, just getting off the trailer. We have the most amazing friends!

We’ve started bringing the brooder chicks out to get some sun. This means that we don’t have to run their warming plate all day and our batteries have a better chance of charging during the day.

Here’s the coop and run we made out of pallets

The cute sign my mom my made for our coop.

That’s it for now. Tons going on. Life is full.

Fostering chicks

So. We live in an off-grid tiny home (ie a 280 square foot camping trailer) and we’re busy building a house. Just the situation and time to bring home 17 baby chicks from the feed store, right?

No? You don’t think so?

I think you’re probably right. But we brought them home anyway. 

You see, we had a plan!

We had two hens go broody, and while we eventually decided that we didn’t want them to hatch any of our own eggs (we don’t want our rooster procreating), the idea of baby chicks had taken hold.

So, we put one of the hens in her own penthouse suite (ie, and old dog crate), and let the other sit in one of the egg laying nests in the main coop.

Broody hen in her kennel

Both hens were sitting on a few golf balls. These make excellent, cheap imitation eggs. 

Our plan was to let them sit on their “eggs” for a few weeks, then buy chicks from the feed store and do a little switcheroo and the hen will think her “eggs” hatched.

Or so the theory goes. 

And I’m here to tell you that it works! 

Kinda.

Here’s our story.

On Wednesday, April 19 we bought 9 chicks (4 Gold Sexlinks, 4 Ameracaunas, and 1 Golden Laced Wyandotte). We gave the chicks to our broody Austra White, “Bluebell” (so named because she has a blue band on her leg) at about 4pm. 

Bluebell and a couple of her new chicks

She was a bit confused at first, and the chicks didn’t know what she was, but within about 10 minutes, all the babies were snuggled up under their new mamma and she was happily clucking away to them.
The next morning, they were all out in the enclosure I set up inside the coop so that they had a bit of space to move around, but would be separated from the rest of the flock. They hung out in this space for a couple days. I figured by using crates, the other hens would be able to get used to the chicks so that by the time I started letting them out into the larger area and even out into the run, there shouldn’t be any problems.

Inside their enclosure inside the coop.

At this point, everything was going so well. I was exstatic that it was working out just as I’d read about. Bluebell was a good mamma. She kept the babies warm when needed, and was even careful how she stepped around them.

Good mamma, keeping her babies warm!

I was excited for Phase 2: more chicks to give to “Roadie”, our other broody hen.
On Friday, April 21, we bought another 8 chicks (4 Welsummers, 2 Barred Rocks, and 2 Delawares.)

We attempted to repeat our success.

And that’s where everything went to pot.

Roadie rejected the chicks! šŸ˜ž She kept pecking them away. More on that later.

So now we had 17 chicks and only one mamma hen. I have heard stories of a hen hatching out and caring for a large brood, so I figured we’d try giving the other chicks to Bluebell and hope she could raise them. At least for the night until we got a brooder of some sort set up for some of them.

It worked. Kinda. 

On Saturday morning, I found a chick dead in the nest box. It had been crushed. šŸ˜¢ Seems 17 was just too many. Go figure.

And a weird thing that morning is that Bluebell was pecking at two of the new chicks. Just the two Barred Rocks. None of the others. So we rescued those two and set up a brooder box for them. And we figured that since we had to do it for two of them, we’d pick out several others and lighten Bluebell’s load. 

So, besides the two Barred Rocks, we grabbed a Welsummer, a Sexlink, the Wyandotte, and one of the Ameracaunas. The Wyandotte and that particular Ameracauna are special to Flower Girl and Princess Girl. 

That left 10 chicks with Bluebell. Five of them are from the older group, and 5 are from the younger group. Two days age difference doesn’t make hardly any difference at all.

And she has been a great mamma. They are just over a week old now and have started roaming outside and even free-ranging with the flock. 

Mamma in the chicken run, babies small enough to free range through the fence. (But they never get too far from mamma!)

The other hens and the rooster leave the chicks alone, even Roadie who is back in with the flock. I have seen Bluebell run off the other hens if she doesn’t want them around, and she gets antsy if the chicks wander too far away from her, especially if they are on the other side of the fence from her!

It is great to have all those little chickies running around! 

I feel kinda bad for the ones in the brood box in our mudroom. They don’t get to run and scratch and play outside like Bluebell’s brood. Maybe I’ll have Flower Girl take them outside tomorrow and set up a little space where they can get some of the same experience. šŸ˜ƒ

Chicks in the brooder box

So, remember when I mentioned that Roadie was pecking at the chicks and Bluebell pecked at only certain ones? I have a theory why that happened.

In Roadie’s kennel crate, I had noticed that mice were getting in to eat her food. Annoying, but I didn’t think to much of it till she started pecking at the chicks. I betcha that she didn’t know the difference between her babies and the pesky mice that would come to eat her out of house and home. And the Barred Rock chicks are black, so maybe Bluebell also thought they were mice since I see evidence of them in the coop from time to time. I dunno. I could be crazy. Roadie could just be a bad mom. And Bluebell could just not like the color black. Either way, I think before I try the kennel again for a broody hen, I’ll have to find a way to solve the mouse problem.

So that is our success story, and our failure. I learned a lot and hope you did, too. 

I’ll write up another post about how we have the brooder set up, and what we did until we got a heat source that would work on our off-grid solar system.

The BEST backyard chicken breeds?

I realized the other day that in our 4+ years of raising chickens, I have never actually researched and chosen specific breeds of chickens for our flock. Mostly this is because we have almost always been given free chickens over the years, and when they are free, you don’t really get to choose. 

I have only bought chicks once, and I basically just got whatever the feed store had that particular day. Back then, I had no idea about chicken breed temperments or egg laying capabilities or anything. The chicks were cute balls of fluff and I didn’t care what they were.

But things are quite a bit different now. I’ve learned a lot more, and we are finally ready to branch out into selling eggs and possibly even breeding our own chickens and eventually raising them for meat (once we’re no longer so focused on building a house, of course). And so even though we have more chickens than we have ever had before (17), we decided it was time to get more! (In case you’ve never been told, chickens are addictive and are a “gateway livestock” animal, or so says this YouTube video I saw years ago. She’s right! šŸ˜Š)

Of course, this decision was helped by the fact that two of our hens are broody at the moment. We don’t want them to hatch any of our eggs because we don’t want our Silver Phoenix rooster’s genetics. So they are sitting on golf balls. When the time is right, I will get some day-old chicks from the local feed store(s) and that night will switch out the golf balls with chicks and the hens will think the “eggs” hatched and will raise the chicks as her own. 

So the question becomes, “Which breeds should I get?”

I’ve been doing a lot of research and here’s what I’ve come up with.

First of all, when deciding which breeds you want, you need to know what it is you want out of the hens.

For us, it’s primarily eggs. Therefore, any breed that lays less than 200 eggs a year on average are not even being considered.

Also, we like dual purpose breeds. While we don’t have a plan to raise the birds for meat yet we like knowing that our birds will have enough meat on them to make a decent meal if it comes to that. We’re trying to make it our practice here on the homestead that everything serves more than one purpose if possible.

We also like the idea of the heritage breeds, especially the older, established ones. That connection to history is cool. And also, if it’s a true breed and not a hybrid, then when we want to start breeding our own, we can.

They have to be cold hardy. This winter was fairly mild in temps but we can dip down to negative numbers (Fahrenheit) for a few weeks at a time, and I want to make sure our girls can weather the weather just fine. We have a bunch of Leghorns and Leghorn crosses right now, and their large combs did not like even the mild winter we had.

And last but certainly not least, I have to like the breed. There’s gotta be something extra about them to make me consider them. Thus why Rhode Island Reds did not make my list. When I read all over the place that they are an extremely popular bird and “everyone” has them, it immediately makes me not want them. Besides, I think they are kinda boring looking. šŸ™‚

So here’s my list of chickens breeds that I think will be the best ones for us.

Ameraucana hen (image source)

Ameraucana – I have heard varying reports on the number of eggs they lay, but most websites say it is over 200. They are cold hardy, not prone to broodiness, are interesting to look at, and of course, they lay the coolest eggs ever! We have one hen now who has some Ameraucana or Araucana blood in her and I love her blue-green eggs! So while they may not be the most prolific layers, the Ameraucana made it to my list because they are just so darn cool!

Barred Rock hen (image source)

Barred Rock – the Plymouth Barred Rock is an American dual purpose breed that is cold hardy and lays a ton of eggs (up to 300 in ideal conditions!). It is also a beautiful bird. ‘Nuff said.

Speckled Sussex hen

Speckled Sussex – see Barred Rock description (Only they are from England) šŸ˜

Delaware hen (image source)

Delaware – they are good layers (200-250), an American dual purpose breed, cold hardy, and beautiful.

Welsummer hen (image source)

Welsummer – again, a breed I want specifically for the egg color as they lay dark brown eggs. Not quite as dark as the Copper Marans lays, but the Welsummer is cold hardy, where the Marans are not. And the Welsummer is still a decent layer at 200+ eggs per year. They also have the added benefits of being a dual purpose breed that rarely goes broody.

Australorp hens (image source)

Australorp – these “Australian Orpington” chickens are almost last on my list because there’s not a whole lot to recommend them to me other than the fact that they meet nearly all the requirements. They lay 250+ eggs a year, are cold hardy, and a dual purpose heritage breed. But there’s nothing there that makes them “pop” for me. But if that’s all the store had, I’d take ’em! (Heck, if all I could find were Rhodes Island Reds, I’d take them, too, I guess. šŸ˜)

Sexlink hens (image source)

Sexlink – so, if you’re a long time follower of ours, you might remember that in the fall of 2014, just a few months into our Portland Interlude, we were given  6 chicks. Three ended up being roosters and went bye-bye (some with larger consequenses than others). One of the remaining hens was killed by a neighborhood cat (we think). The other two matured into egg laying machines! Those two hens were the offspring of one of two roosters and any number of hens in a mixed flock. But the savy farmer who wanted more egg laying machines would try to figure out which rooster and hen combo produced these two hens. And then reproduce it. And hey, if you could tell at hatching which chicks were boys and which were girls, all the better, right? That right there is what a Sexlink chicken is. Roosters and hens of different breeds are selectively bred together to get an egg laying machine of a hen. And the cool thing about it is that the chicks are colored in such a way that there is a 100% accuracy rate in telling the boys and the girls apart. And that’s what makes the Sexlink hybrids at least somewhat appealing to me. You know  youre getting hens. No surprises. (Most hatcheries have a 90% accuracy rate at sexing the non-sexlink chicks correctly) But, they are not a heritage breed, meaning if you hatch one of their eggs, the chick will not necessarily have any of the good characteristics you are looking for. But the high volume of eggs, and the fact that you know what gender you’re getting means that I won’t discount them outright.

So that’s our plans. We’re looking to get about a dozen chicks for ourselves and about 4 for my parents. I’ll let you know which breeds we actually end up with when we get them.

Do you have chickens? What breeds do you have? Which are your favorites?

Maridy

Now is the time… Again

The Hubs and I went round and round discussing if we should do it.

On one hand, it’s a great deal.

On the other hand, it represents more work for us.

And yet, could we really pass it up?

Or should we wait till the opportunity rolls around again?

Who’s to say that we’d be any more ready then?

And really, by doing it right now rather than waiting, some parts will actually be easier.

But, ugh, the extra work. And all while trying to build!

And the whole time, this blog post’s message was running through my head. Now is the time!

So what did we do?

We bought the trees.

A local nursery was running a killer deal on fruit trees. We got 5 trees for the price of 2!

Eventually, we want to plant even more fruit trees, but we want to start with root stock and do some grafting, etc. Hubs has been learning all about that stuff. But THAT is definitely a project for later down the road.

For right now? Let’s get some trees in the ground, man! Yes, it means more work, just one more thing (or rather, 5 more things) to take care of. On the other hand, we’re going to have equipment up here soon that will easily and quickly dig the holes for planting, so that will actually make it easier. And we’ve brainstormed a way to make watering a simple task. When we get it set up, we’ll let you know how it works.

When you’re developing property from the ground up and want to end up with a bona fide orchard, you gotta get started ASAP. Fruit trees take a couple years to mature and start producing. As I said in the article I linked to above, if we had actually planted trees when we first started talking about it many years ago, we would have gotten to enjoy those trees for several years before we moved. As it was, we never planted. There was always some excuse. 

And the opportunity was wasted.

And when we finally DID plant a couple trees on our homestead? We up and moved away for two years. But even then, buying and planting those two trees was worth it. We have since moved our house location away from where they are planted, but they are still there and doing well. And they have now had two years in the ground. Two years head start on everything else we plant now.

So when we learned about the sale, we debated and hemmed and hawed, and then we remembered the lessons from three years ago. 

And we bought the trees.

Now is the time. 

Maybe not the perfect time. But it is THE time. 

Because it is never going to be perfect. There will always be some excuse. 

You just gotta make it happen.

So for now, our five little trees (three apple and two cherry) huddle together near the house pad, waiting for us to decide where is the best place to plant them. 

These, the beginning of our orchard.

Oh, the hopes and dreams wrapped up in those few sticks growing out of the dirt in some buckets.

Maridy

Baby Bunny Watch – April 2017

Updated Tuesday, April 4 @ 4:50pm (updates below the original post)

March 30 – So, our last litter of bunnies never happened. Not sure if April and Switch miscarried, or if they never were preggo to begin with, but either way, we were disappointed to see gestation day 31 come and go with no bunnies.

So, after a couple of days to be absolutely certain they just weren’t “late”, we scheduled them to have a date with the boys once again. 

And once again, they are both due in a couple days – providing they are actually pregnant, of course!

Today I put their nest boxes back in with some fresh straw.

April (seen above) immediately jumped in the box and started nesting. Good sign!

Switch was more interested in chewing on the straw. I sat nearby to observe them for a while, and she had yet to get in the box by the time I left. So, I’m not real hopeful there, but I’m not giving up all hope yet. She’s an inexperienced breeder. Could be she just doesn’t know what’s going on with her body yet. We can be optimistic, right?
Signs a rabbit is nearing labor:

-Holding straw in her mouth (not eating it) -maybe because she instinctively wants to build a nest?

-Creating a nest out of bedding and lining it with fur

-Anxiousness, scratching at cage, etc
So far, Switch is showing ZERO signs of being close to the end of pregnancy. April is rather busily building a nest. But then, she built a nest last time and even lined it with fur, and then nuthin’.

So, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll update this post as we go along.

Maridy

Update #1 – Sunday, April 2 @ 10:10pm – it’s now the end of day 30. No kits and no signs of labor from either doe. As a reminder, rabbits have a gestation of 30-31 days. When we had her before, April always kindled on day 30. Maybe, just maybe we’ll have kits in the morning or some time tomorrow. 

Update #2 – Tuesday, April 4 @ 4:50pm – it’s now just about evening on gestational day 32 and absolutely nuthin’. This is rather frustrating. I can understand what’s up with April. She’s old. But according to the friend we got the rabbits from, the other three are only a couple years old.There should be no reason why Switch has not gotten pregnant. This homesteader is thinking it may be time for rabbit stew. Or maybe I’ll sell them as pets on Craigslist. I can usually find someone who wants to save them from the stewpot. That would put a bit of extra money in our pocket, and save us the trouble of butchering 4 rabbits. Don’t think the process of setting everything up, doing the butchering, processing the meat, and then cleaning everything up is worth it for only 4 rabbits. Especially since we’d have to can most of the meat as we don’t have space in our freezer. And that takes quite a lot of time. The Hubs may disagree, though, so I guess we’ll see. But at any rate, there are no baby bunnies, and I’m rather disappointed.

Baby bunny watch, Feb/Mar 2017

February 28, 2017 (UPDATED (for the final time) March 31 @ 2:40pm (updates below original post)

In light of April the Giraffe gaining so much popularity as she approaches the birth of her baby, I thought I’d do a little baby watch myself.

We bred our two female rabbits 30 days ago, which means they are due to kindle (have their babies) today or tomorrow. Rabbits are quick like that (whereas giraffes are pregnant for 15 months!)

April (yes, same name as the giraffe) is our oldest rabbit at almost 6 years old. We bred her to our white and black male, Ollie, in the hopes of producing a solid white bunny or two. We weren’t expecting much, since she’s so ancient (in rabbit breeding years), but she seems to be preparing for birth by lining her nest box with fur.

Rabbits do this since the kits (baby rabbits) are born hairless. Mamma’s fur insulates them and keeps them warm. Mamma rabbits do not set on the nest to keep the kits warm as chickens do, so it is essential that there is plenty of fur in the box. April is an experienced mamma, so I’m hoping this means that her kits are going to make an appearance today or tomorrow.

Switch is our other, younger, doe (female rabbit). We bred her to our solid black male, Vader, in the hopes of getting a solid black bunny or two. She has not stripped her fur yet, but some rabbits don’t prepare for birth until just before it happens, so we’re still hopeful that she is indeed pregnant. 

Some of our regular followers might remember that we were expecting bunnies at Christmas since the boys and girls got to play together for several days. I put in the nest boxes a couple days before their due date, but nothing ever happened. Not even any fur lining. It’s disappointing when you are so eager for something like the birth of baby bunnies only to find out it’s not gonna happen.

And as a homesteader, who wants to depend on the breeding program for food as part of our ever increasing sustaniable lifestyle, it can also be downright frustrating. And hard to wait a full month just to know if it even worked or not.

On the other hand, at least they are not cows or sheep or giraffe who all take nearly a year or more to have a baby! I guess waiting 30 days is not all that bad in the grand scheme of things.

I will keep you updated over the next day or two. Hopefully we’ll have some good news to tell soon!

UPDATES:

9:45PM – Heading toward bed and shutting down the animals for the night and still nothing. Actually there is something.

Poop.

That’s what there is.

Poop.

I have never known a mamma to foul up her nest box and then have babies in it. Usually they keep it very clean if they are going to kindle in it. I’m beginning to think we have two non-pregnant rabbits on our hands. Grrrr…

March 1, 5:15pm – Still nothing…. really beginning to doubt… šŸ˜¦

Much later update: March 31, 2:40pm – much like April the Giraffe, our rabbits never did have babies. UNLIKE the giraffe, who may still give birth at any moment, once a rabbit passes about day 34 gestation, you can be assured that she will not give birth (either never was pregnant or miscarried). So, once we were sure they were not indeed pregnant, we had the girls visit their boyfriends again. “April” and “Switch” are due in a couple days, so if you want to follow along, here’s Baby Bunny Watch, April 2017 

A time for everything

A friend of ours was looking to re-home his chickens and rabbits.

So, who did he call to see if we wanted to take them? Why, us, of course! And it just so happened that THIS week is the week we needed to take them.

Despite the fact that we did not have a chicken coop. At. All.

And our rabbit hutch is in disrepair.

But did we let that deter us? Not a chance!

If you follow us on Facebook, you’ve probably seen the progress we made on a chicken coop.

First we gathered materials.

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We’re pretty excited that so far, we have not had to buy a single thing to put together our chicken coop. Most of the wood is reclaimed wood from a friend’s old play house and some shelves we demolished which we found on freecycle. A few 2×4’s are “new”, as in, never been used, but we’ve had them hanging around for a while. We’ll eventually need to put a bit of money into it for roofing and paint, but it won’t cost us very much. We feel so blessed.

Over the course of a few days, I worked to get a coop up enough that the chickens would at least have a place to sleep.

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My “office” for a few days. How blessed am I?!

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Making sure things are level and plumb.

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Putting on the floor.

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My co-workers for the day. Lot of help they are!

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Getting closer. This is what the coop looked like when we brought the chickens home on Tuesday at 2pm.

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Nailing on the roof.

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It took everyone to work to finish the coop before sundown.

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It’s not finished, but it will work for a few days to get us through till we have time to work some more on it.

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Time to bring in the chickens.

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Flower girl wanted to help, of course.

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Happy in their new home.

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Happy in their new home.

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They’ll free-range till we can get a run built for them.

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And the rabbits are living in a little box trailer we have till we can get their hutch repaired.

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This is April. She actually belonged to us several years ago till we gave her to our friend, who gave her back to us. She is the most docile of the group. The other 4 are her offspring, several generations removed. She is no longer a breeder since she’s so old, but she’s so sweet we’re not sure if we want to cull her or not.

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Sharing their meal.

And that’s our new adventure. I’ve had fun over the last couple of days trying to figure out what breeds of chickens we have. Eventually we want to get into breeding them, and doing so selectively. But for now, it’s enough that we have chickens again.

And the rabbits. Yes. That is three females and two males all running around in a box trailer together. Yes, that means babies in about a month. But the deed was done before we got home. They had all gotten out of their cages and were running around in the trailer with the chickens. Figured that since the deed was already done, it wouldn’t hurt for them to live in colony until we can get their hutch repaired. That’s our project for this weekend. And in just a month, we’re gonna have babies. Lots of cute, cuddly, fluffy baby bunnies. Just in time for Christmas.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!