Tag Archives: Homestead Produce

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.

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! ๐Ÿ˜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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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) ๐Ÿ˜

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. ๐Ÿ˜)

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.

Eggs!!!

Soooo, we recently inherited a flock of chickens. And even though at least 5 or 6 of the hens are of laying age, with the stress of the move, the short daylight hours, the fact that they free-range right now, and the fact that we didn’t really have any nest boxes built for them meant that we had yet to see an egg.

Until today!

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Two eggs!

We recently built the nest boxes and stuffed them with straw.

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The nest box is a triple-decker that hangs on the outside of the coop. Pajii was the one to suggest the high rise to save some space and still be able to access the eggs without having to enter the eventual run or the main coop. That man sure has his genius moments. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Each box has an opening accessed from inside the coop for the chickens, and a door for the humans to look for eggs.

So I think just adding the boxes and the straw helped the mature hens to get the right idea, but I also think our other idea helped.

We put a couple of golf balls in each nest!

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Golf balls to encourage laying.

I learned in Justin Rhodes’ย Permaculture Chickensย e-course that to encourage a hen to go broody, you can leave a couple ceramic or wooden eggs, or better yet, golf balls, in the nest. Golf balls are cheap and easily obtained compared to ceramic or wooden eggs. Especially since we already had some! I figure if it helps them go broody, then it should encourage them to start laying in the nests.

We finished the nest boxes and put the golf balls in two days ago. Yesterday I saw one of the mature hens checking out the new accommodations. And today, there were two eggs!

I’ll take them!

How about you? Do you have chickens? How many eggs are you getting right now?