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

House update: concrete slab pour

The post you’ve all been waiting for!

I know, I know, it’s been nearly a week since I said we’d get the slab poured, and here I am just now writing about it.

But really, it’s only been 3 days since it was poured. Yep, that’s right, it was done this past Monday, not last Friday.

Yeah, the overnight lows were forecasted to be down around freezing for Friday and Saturday night. Frozen concrete is not a good thing. And while there are steps you can take to make sure the slab does not freeze, waiting an extra couple of days for the temps to warm up is an easy fix.

On top of that, none of the concrete companies in town could do a Friday pour before noon. Doing a slab this size takes about 8 hours. It gets dark here around 7pm right now. I think you can see the problem there.

So, we decided that it was best to just wait till Monday.

It was chilly that morning before the sun hit the pad.

But the crew was there and the cement showed up right on time.

The interior footers were poured first.

Then they started on the slab.

Flower Girl didn’t want to miss a moment, even when she was so cold. But the sun came up and we all warmed up.

There wasn’t much for us to do other than watch.

But watch, we did!

And then spent a few minutes stabbing in the bolts for the walls.

Pajii gave it a go.

Princess Girl looked over the plans to make sure we were doing it right.

I had a moment of panic when I did some measuring and thought we were an entire inch and a half off. Till I realized I was measuring to the wrong side of the form boards. Whew!

Lots and lots of bolts.

The concrete crew we hired did an efficient job.

Looks like he is standing on the edge of a huge drop off. In reality, there’s enough space on the other side of the house for a cement truck to pull up there.

More finishing.

The last thing to do was cut the relief cuts to hopefully control some of the cracking. Our concrete contractor uses a big machine to do the cuts rather than a skill saw by hand.

Here it is with the concrete blankets on. My brother and my dad were each able to loan us enough blankets to cover half the pad. We decided that since we got them for free, it couldn’t hurt to use them. Better safe than sorry.

On Wednesday we started taking down the forms. We can’t take off all of then yet because that’s what the plastic is stapled to.

Since we are going to stain the slab and use it as our finished floor, the concrete guy didn’t want to put on a chemical seal/cure on it. So instead, we wetted everything down then covered it in 6mil black plastic to keep the water from evaporating. This will allow the slab to slowly cure over the course of a week or so without adding something to the top that will make the stain not work.

Pajii and Princess Girl took off all the blankets today. I stayed inside out of the pounding wind because I came down with a cold on Tuesday (great timing, right).

Instead of working on the house, I’ve been resting and recuperating and making chicken stock out of the carcasses of the chickens we processed over the weekend.

One of these pots of stock got canned into jars. The other became soup for dinner tonight. Hopefully it will help me feel better. This not being able to breath thing is getting old real quick.

The next stage of building the house is getting the metal frame up, but that may take a while. In the meantime, we need to finish up our septic system and fresh water cistern and get started on the garage. Still got a lot to do. But it’s moving forward. Slowly but surely.

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Culling old chickens

So, I know you’re anxious to know about the slab, but that’s for another post. Sorry, you’ll have to wait another day or two.

For now, I want to share with you a task that we had to take care of that had nothing to do with the house build.

You may remember that back in April, we acquired a flock of about 20 old hens from some friends of ours. We were told they were roughly 5 years old. We did not expect many eggs out of them, but for several months during the summer we got about 10-12 eggs out of them every day so we were happy. Then the end of summer came and between the diminished daylight and the molting and the fact that they were old and that they kept eating their eggs, we didn’t get very many eggs out of them. For the last month or two, we’ve only gotten an egg or so a week. Very frustrating. So, we decided it was time for them to go.

Warning: this is a Homesteading blog about homesteaderly things and one of the things we do on this homestead is produce our own meat. The following pictures may not be suitable for all viewers. While I will not be posting “how-to” pics, or ones that are too bloody, some people may not like seeing dead chickens. I respect your decision to click away if you’d rather not see anything objectionable.

For those of you who are ok with that sort of thing, read on.

As I said above, this is not a how-to type post. There are plenty of those out there, and I especially found the one by The Prairie Homestead and the video by Joel Salatin she linked to at the end of her post to be useful.

This is more of a “this is how we spent our day” post. Actually, how we spent a day and a half, even into this evening as the canner is busily boiling away as I type this.

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Hubs was the main chicken dispatcher.

He was also the main feather plucker.

My brother and sis-in-law joined is to help with the task.

Sis-in-law ended up doing most of the cleaning.

Flower Girl was rather eager to help with the whole process.

She thought that the tiny egg yolks we found inside some of the hens were really cool.

One of the hens was obviously still producing some eggs as we found different size yolks.

Nearly 12 year old Princess Girl was not nearly as interested in getting her hands dirty as her little sister, but she did process one chicken completely from catching it in the run to putting the cut-up meat into the jars.

I’m so proud of her. And when she wasn’t helping with the actual processing, she was a great gopher, as we all had dirty hands, she’d be the one to run and get stuff for us.

She also took a lot of these pictures since my hands were perpetually covered in ick or water.

This chicken wing looks like an octopus tentacle!

Since these chickens we’re so old, we knew that their meat would be pretty darn tough.

By canning the meat, it is pressure cooked as it is canned. This high pressure cooking/canning for over an hour makes the meat nice and tender.

And yes, I’m canning after dark.

These are great for use in soups or as chicken salad, etc. And I’m so excited that we were able to put these chickens to good use since they had become useless in the egg production category. It feels great to be able to produce some of our own food again. I’ve missed that since we moved back to Nevada and spent so much of our time building the homestead living systems.

We’ll, that’s it for the day. I’ll update in a day or two about our slab, I promise.

House update – MORE backfill! (And other stuff)

This was a very productive weekend.

We completed a bunch of the finish work on the well shed.

Including painting the shed floor.

While the paint was drying, we continued backfilling inside the house footers. Once we added another layer of dirt, we couldn’t do much else because the equipment rental shop was out of the compactor we needed, so we had to wait till Monday. So we found another project to work on.

This rather steep hillside is going to be terraced, but needs a set of stairs.

We have a large pile of 5ft railroad ties that were on the property when we bought it. So we set to work cutting them in half.

Princess Girl and I are standing on the tie to steady it while Hubs finishes the cut.

We stopped periodically throughout the weekend to put another coat of paint on the shed floor. Doesn’t it look good?

Then we went back to building the stairs.

Digging in Nevada requires the use of some heavy duty digging tools.

Today, the Hubs took the day off work to help out with the house. And we got all the preliminary backfill filled in and compacted!

The red chicken scratch marks on the ground is my code to see where we were still low. We string a line across the forms (which is slab level) and measured down from the line. Then if put a mark if it was on grade or low. It was not “real” grading marks, I’m sure. But it worked for us.

As my wonderful hubby stated on a Facebook post, it’s been great to be able to work such a productive few days with my best friend. Sad that he goes back to work tomorrow. Happy that he got the day off.

And then tonight as I was closing up the chickens, I found this.

Our first egg from our pullets that hatched this spring! Guess I need to put more bedding in that nest box, eh?

Yeah, it was a good weekend!

How was yours? Did you get lots of work done? Our maybe it was more about relaxation. I’d love to hear from you.

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