Tag Archives: Homesteading

House update – footers poured!

I haven’t written much lately because I feel like there’s not much to update you on. We’ve been working a lot the last several weeks to get our forms ready for concrete, but you couldn’t​ really see the progress. Besides that, I’ve been exhausted working all day in the heat. On top of that, I’ve had to work my regular summer job here and there, and have had a couple of migraines. All that together, and nothing got written here on the blog (though I do a better job updating Instagram and Facebook). However, we did pass our first inspection no problem (yay!) And then had to wait a week for schedules to line up. But we finally got a permanent part of the house built today! We got our footers poured!

It was an exciting day, let me tell you! This is the first thing we’ve done so far that is actually a part of the house. 

And I feel rather validated, because not only did the inspector not have a single issue with the work we had done building the forms, he said it looked good, and several of the concrete guys we’ve had out lately to give us bids have said that the forms looked amazing. 

And they performed marvelously today as we pumped the concrete into them.

And it’s all due to this guys right here:

Gary is a family friend who is a retired contractor and has volunteered hours and hours to help us get this far on the house. He is generous, loving, knowledgeable, and helpful. We could not have done nearly as well or as quickly as we have without his expertise and willingness to help us out.

And he’s not just a supervisor type guy either. He is right there in the mix, getting his hands dirty with the rest of us.

Today we had a large crew here helping. Not only was it Gary and the Hubs and I, but we had Princess Girl, our highered hand (a young friend who’s working for us for the summer), a brother-in-law of sorts, and a couple the dads. In fact, the Dads put together the forms for the patio we poured out of the left over concrete.

Everyone had a job and did it well. There were times of rushed activity, and times of standing around not doing much.

All told, it took about 4 hours to do both the footers and the little patio.

Its been amazing hour much help our hired hand has been. And Princess Girl is learning fast and is able to help with more and more.

At the end of the day, it was amazing to just sit and take it all in. To reminisce about all the work that’s gone into the project thus far. To be proud of what our hard work has accomplished. And to realize that this is just the beginning.

Actually that last part scares me a bit. 

Ok. A lot.

We’ve worked so hard already. And we are just getting started. We have so far to go.

But I know we’ll get there. In God’s timing, and in His will.

And when it’s all built, and we are sitting there of an evening, admiring the work of our hands, we’ll know it was all worth it.

And in the mean time, we just do the next step. Which tonight is wetting down the ground inside the footers so that it will settle and compact.

And now we’re off to bed. Its been a big day.

Raising chicks while living off-grid

So yeah. I’m a sucker for chicks. That is a fully established fact.

Yup. That’s two MORE chicks to add to our menagerie.

I was not planning on buying more chicks. But the feed store I was in had these 5 week old Ameraucanas for sale for only $2 more than they were selling brand new chicks.

And two of our four Ameraucana chicks had died (being crushed) within the first week. I really wanted more Ameraucanas. So when I saw these 5 week old chicks, who are almost the same age as our original chicks, and at a reasonable price?

Well, how could I resist?

[Did I mention that I went to that feed store, miles out of my way,  because I heard they had 5 week old Ameraucanas? No? Oh, well, that will be our little secret, k?]

So as Flower Girl sat in the parking strip grass next to the laundromat today, cuddling one of the new chickies, I figured it was high time to detail out how we have raised our chicks while living off-grid in a camping trailer.

She’s the chicken whisperer for sure!

On April 19, we brought our first chicks home and fostered them to a broody hen who had been sitting on golf balls for about 6 weeks. It worked great. You can read that post HERE

A few days later we tried again with another broody hen. It didn’t work at all. So we had to implement our backup plan.

We knew we needed to raise these chicks in a brooder. We had just emptied a large plastic tote, so that would work perfect. But there was no way that our solar power system could run a traditional heat lamp.

As the weather warmed up, we were able to use the warmth of the sun during the day. 

Solar powered warmth for the chicks – at least on sunny days 😊 (PS, this pic was take  after we got our bantams – the original chicks were about 10 days old, and the bantams ranged from less than a week old to about 2ish weeks old)

But what about at night? Or when it was overcast or cold? Sure, their brooder box would be in the mud room, out of the elements, but April in Northern Nevada is still pretty chilly. Too chilly for newly hatched chicks.

I had seen some warming plates online that advertised that they only use 15watts, but even with Amazon’s 2-day shipping, it would still be several nights before we could get one and set it up. 

So, to keep our little chickies warm, we built a little hut out of some reflectix we had laying around. (Reflectix is a insulative mylar and bubble wrap material, basically what a lot of car windshield shades are made from.)

Reflectix hut inside the brooder box

We cut a hole just big enough for the chicks to get in and out.

So we had the hut made, but we still needed a heat source. So, we heated some water and put it in a quart size canning jar and placed it in the warming hut, making sure that the door was not blocked so the chicks could get in and out.

The hut was sized just right so that a quart size jar and 6 chicks could all fit in the hut together.

This worked great, except that the water needed to be reheated every 4 hours. Even in the middle of the night. Which meant that for three nights, I was getting up at 2am to reheat the water for the chicks. 

It reminded me of middle of the night feedings of the girls when they were babies. πŸ˜„

So after three nights of getting up at 2am, I was very glad to see this come in the mail. (This is not an affiliate link. I am not being paid or reimbursed or compensated by Amazon or Premier. I’m just giving an honest review of a product I actually bought.)

Warming plate for chicks

The under side gets to be about 110Β°F, just a bit warmer than a mamma hen. It’s easily adjustable in height to accommodate growing chicks, and advertised that it only takes 15 watts to run. 

Considering we are set up on solar power, and this would be running all night, a minimal power draw was essential. But we were skeptical, especially seeing that it was designed for a 220volt system (maybe because it’s made in Germany?) and we are running 110 through our inverter.

But we plugged it in and gave it a go. 

And it worked as advertised. Actually, the power consumption was even less. We hooked it up to our power meter, and it never drew more than 12watts. It and the refergerator could run all night long on our battery bank no problem. Providing the batteries were fully charged, of course.

When the chicks were about 3 weeks old, we got a new (to us) little coop and decided to put the chicks out there. The warming plate went with them, of course.

See the orange extension cord going through the closed window? That’s for the warming plate​ inside.

(Edited to add this photo since I finally found it.)


When they were between 4 and 5 weeks old, I noticed that they were no longer sleeping under the plate at right, rather preferring to cuddle up in a corner. After several nights of that, and with overnight lows expected to hold steady for a while, I turned off the warming plate. They haven’t needed it since. Even our smallest chick, our bantam frizzle, who is still so very tiny, would snuggle her way into the middle of the pile to stay warm. I thought for sure she’d be crushed. But she’s a tough little thing. (As a side note, at 4 weeks was also about the time our mamma hen stopped mothering the chicks in the other flock. Seems 4-5 weeks is the magic age for chicks to be mature enough to “be on their own”.)

The chicks are now between 6 and 7 weeks old (except for our newest ones who are 5ish weeks). They recently got a small run to roam around in outside.

New small run on the Brooder Coop

Soon we’ll start letting them free range in the afternoons with all the other hens and chicks (and Cogburn the Rooster). And this week, the bantams are going to their new home at my parents’ house (that’s been the plan all along), so there will be more room for everyone as they continue to grow. 

So there you have it. How we raised chicks in a brooder while living in a camping trailer off-grid. 

And now the question begs to be asked. Which way do I prefer – letting a mamma hen raise the chicks or raising them in a brooder? Honestly, I can’t decide. There are pros and cons to both systems, especially the way we have things set up here. Let me think on it and get back to you, k? πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜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 πŸ˜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’s​ 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! 😞 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. 😒 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. πŸ˜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.

Building update – and a great wood cutting tip!

For those of you who do not follow us on Facebook or Instagram, you probably don’t know that we actually started building our house! 

Finally!

After months and months of permit delays. And more and more months of weather delays, we finally “broke ground” on Easter weekend.

Bringing in “DG” (decomposed granite) to level out the house pad.

The perimeter of the house outlined in compacted and leveled DG

Once the pad was leveled, it was time to build the footing forms. We decided to build the forms up and backfill rather than try to dig down into our very bouldery ground. 

Yes. “Bouldery.” See all those huge boulders in the above pictures? That’s what lies just below the surface up here!

The first day’s progress.

Yup, that’s me, putting one of the pier footing forms together.

We have a family friend who is a licensed contractor who is helping us get all this right (that’s him in the red plaid shirt). We couldn’t do it nearly so well or as easily without his help. As with many things in life, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And we are so very glad to know him (and that he is so generous with his time) ’cause we don’t know much!

Princess Girl, “Mom, I need ‘more cowbell’!” So proud of my girl. Not only was she a huge help putting all those “cowbells” on the forms, but she also quoted a Saturday Night Live skit. Yep, we’re raising her right! πŸ˜ƒ

Building: a family affair

The perimeter of the house footings – almost completely built. Now to do all the leveling and put in rebar, etc.

It’s so wonderful to see the progress after waiting for so long. 

And today I learned something new. Something that makes me say, “No way!” A new way to use a skill saw!

I’ve used a skill saw for 20+ years and just today learned something new. I’ve seen the pros (building contractors, etc) use a skill saw in a certain way but never knew why. Today, I tried it and was blown away with the results!

The old way: you lay the 2×4 flat on the sawhorse(s) and hold it with one hand while pushing the saw across the wood. All the while, the force of the saw pushes against the board and it is hard to hold it still. 

The old way.

Close up – old way

In order to hold the wood still, you can use a clamp, but that takes a while to put in place and remove, and when you’re making a bunch of cuts as I was today, they are too cumbersome to use.

I’m not sure what made me think to try something new, but I figured, what could it hurt?

The new way: So, I turned the 2×4 up on it’s long edge at about a 45 degree angle and the saw cut through so easily, I was shocked. I had no trouble keeping the saw on the cutting line, and the weight of the saw pushed it’s own way though the wood. 

The new way: turn that wood up on it’s edge!

Close up – the new way

The wood rests on the sawhorse and the force of the saw is pushing downward rather than across, so the board doesn’t move around.
So easy!

This technique will make the thousands of cuts I’ll be making over the coming months that much easier. 

Just goes to prove that it’s never too late to learn something new.

Change of plans

First, we had to delay starting our house because we had to move to Portland for almost 2 years to help care for the Hubby’s mom. 

We ended up needing to plan a bigger house than we originally thought in order to accommodate Hubby’s folks moving in with us.

Then we had to completely move the location of the house from one side of our 40 acre property to the other because the original site didn’t have a good spot for septic.

We planned to get more work done over the winter, but the weather did not cooperate.

And here we are, having to change some of our house plans. 

Yet again.

Plotting the original corner of the house

It wasn’t a major change, we just changed the directional orientation of the house a few degrees. It amounted to moving the house about 15ft. Not that big of a deal, except that it really cuts down on the amount of driveway and parking area we’ll have. It was just feeling…Well, cramped. 
And yes, we do have 40 acres, but only about 3 of those are not on the side of a steep hill. And the house pad is carved out of the side of one of those hills. So we are kinda limited on space in some ways. 

But I digress. Since we changed the angle of the house, we had to look at where the detached garage is going to be built and how to get more space.

Which made us consider doing some earth moving in a area where we planned to put our orchard.

Which would give us much more space on the house pad, but where to put the orchard instead? 

Which made us look around and decide that the other logical place for the orchard is actually better. 

Which made us realize once again that when plans have to change for one reason or another, there’s usually a silver lining. I could go down the list at the beginning of this post and show how  because we had to do it differently than originally planned, we’re actually better off now than we would have been had our original plans gone through. 

In the Bible, James tells us that when we make our plans we need to realize that God is the one who is ultimately in control and we can only follow through with our plans if it is his will (James 4;13-15). Similarly, Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

We try to remember these truths when making our plans, and realizing that when plans change, it’s all for the best, in one way or another.

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! 😊)

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. πŸ™‚

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) 😁

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. 😁)

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