Tag Archives: Sustainability

Broody Hen Saga: Day 14

I candled our hen-incubating eggs on day 7 like everyone says to do. But I just couldn’t tell. They all looked too similar. However, I had a feeling that only half of them were developing. So I figured I’d give it another week or so and try again.

And this time the differences were striking! The 5 eggs (I was right!) that have developing chicks in them, very obviously have something in them.

Day 15, rather obvious

The 5 eggs that never developed (or stopped early) still look like a regular, non-developing eggs when candled. I did notice that several of them had cracks in the shell like the picture below. No telling when that happened, but I’m sure it didn’t help.

Non-viable with cracks in shell

So, out of the 10 eggs that were originally under Summer, only 5 are viable. I sure hope those five actually hatch. One more week to go…

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Broody Hen Saga: Day 3

9/1/18

[If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook- @castlerockhomestead – you’ve probably already seen this info, but I put it here for posterity and for those few of you who missed it. 😉]

This is “Summer”. She is a broody hen. That means she wants to sit on eggs and hatch them out into cute little fluff balls. But she is a chicken. And chickens really are kinda dumb. It’s all hormones and instincts that tells her to sit there. Some breeds of hens have a very strong broodiness gene and will be very dedicated to sitting on those eggs. Silkies and Orpingtons come to mind. But Summer is a Welsummer. They are not known to be particularly boody, although all three of our Welsummers went broody this year, and this is the second time for this one.

So, we’re trying again. Summer went broody in the nest box of the main flock coop. So I put a cardboard box in the nest box with some golf balls in it and let her sit on those for a day or two (that way I could take all the real eggs away from her but she would stay broody). Then one night, I moved her, cardboard box and all, to our brooder coop.

Our brooder coop is a small coop that is perfect for raising chicks in, once they hatch, and the nest box works perfect for a broody hen as well.

By blocking it off from the main part of the coop, the hen has enough room to get up and stretch her legs and get a bite to eat or a drink, but nothing to distract her from going back to those eggs.

The other three times we’ve tried to get Welsummers to hatch a clutch of eggs, they tended to get distracted and leave the eggs long enough that the developing eggs got too cold and died. Actually, the last one was in this same setup and was doing great, until the door got left open and she abandoned her eggs.

So here we are, with another broody hen and a new clutch of eggs. I let her sit on the golf balls until I had collected enough of the right eggs from our smaller breeding flock, then one night, out came the golf balls and in went the fertile eggs.

I put 10 eggs under her and the hatch date should be on September 18th. I say “should” because we did have a hen successfully hatch 2 chicks earlier this year and they hatched a day early (both males…of course) .

Hopefully it will be uneventful smooth sailing from here on out. We will candle the eggs in a few days and see which ones are viable. Then we wait.

Homestead Update: still waiting, but being productive

I didn’t realize it had been so long since I last did an update on the house progress until I posted about Pajii’s new garden beds and saw the half-sided house in the background.

So yeah, this picture was taken on January 26th. We haven’t seen our contractor since that day. Our house sits there, half sided, getting snowed on. We finally gave up on being able to get ahold of him and have found a new contactor to finish the job. They will start as soon as they can fit us into their schedule.

In the mean time, we’ve been keeping pretty busy around the homestead with other projects that needed doing.

We were blessed with unseasonably warm and dry weather for most of January and February.

Picnic lunch in the February sunshine

School outside in February?

We decided to take a Saturday and finish the concrete patio outside our completed well shed (I’m putting together a post on that, I promise). The existing concrete was leftovers from when we poured our house footers. We were hoping we’d have enough left over from the house slab pour, but the calculations on that were perfect. Not short, but no leftovers either. So we had to go buy bags of concrete to finish the well shed slab job.

Prepping the 4’x7′ section

IT’S ALIVE!!! This concrete mixer was my dad’s and has been sitting on this piece of land, completely unprotected, for at least 12 years. And it still worked!

Concrete work is dirty work.

We mixed 3 bags of concrete at a time in the mixer, then poured it into a bucket to schlep it into place.

It was actually really easy to move the concrete around such a small area with the bucket.

You can see the chicken wire we put down as an added strengthener. Every so often, we’d reach down and pull the wire up so it was floating in the slab rather than pressed down to the ground.

While Hubs mixed up another batch of concrete in the mixer, Pajii and I would scree the freshly poured stuff so it stayed level with our existing slab and the forms we built out of 2×4’s.

The finished slab. It makes getting into the well shed so much easier!

Another project we worked on was some driveway maintenance. We had put in a culvert last fall and it needed a bit of upkeep.

Adding and compacting more dirt over top of the culvert.

Hubby cleaning out some collected sediment inside the culvert.

There were a few gardening type things to do as well. Since I don’t plan to start a garden this year for myself, it was great to get some dirt under my fingernails, so to speak.

Spreading pine needles collected from our church’s landscaping. This area will eventually be our fenced in garden with raised beds, but right now it is a parking area. We thought it best to use decomposable material rather than gravel to combat the mud in this area. Besides, the pine needles were free and we were saving our church some money since they didn’t have to haul it all to the dump.

I had some flower bulbs I needed to get in the ground. So I made a couple new areas for flowers along the pathway going from the upper level down to the house pad.

This area eventually became a perennial flower bed. Once the spring bulbs come up, we’ll plant some more summer type perennials in this bed, too.

And, since I had gone a little crazy buying flower bulbs last fall, we had plenty left over to plant in other places as well, such as around our cherry trees.

Oh, and we finally finished the stairway that leads from the upper level down to the house pad.

These stairs are made from railroad ties that have been sitting on this property for over a decade.

And, if you’ll remember the panels that blew off the side of the hill?

We finally got them back up to the pad. All 29 of them.

Even Flower Girl was able to help once the panels were at the top of the hill. The panels are heavy for a 5 year old, but she’s strong and has a will to help.

This girl, even with a gimpy knee, was amazing in getting all those panels back to the top.

So even though we haven’t been able to work on the house, we have not been idle this winter. January and February we’re filled with a lot of time outside.

And then March blew in and winter finally settled in.

So, we’re back to being stuck inside and working on other projects.

But Spring is just around the corner. And our new contractor said it shouldn’t take much more than a week to finish the siding and roofing once they get started. Rest assured we’ll be shouting from the mountainside when that blessed event finally happens.

In the meantime, keep warm and busy friends.

Garden beds

In February, we had a run of really nice weather and it got us itching for spring. Pajii in particular is really missing being able to garden. His garden up in Oregon, though small, was prolific and beautiful.

Pajii’s garden in Oregon – 2014

So, since we couldn’t work on the house (still waiting on our contractor to finish the walls and roof), and we had such nice weather, I decided to knock together some raised garden beds for Pajii to work in come spring.

I decided to use our wood left overs from the concrete forms for the house foundation.

This is only some of the wood we reclaimed from our forms for the foundation.

I measured and cut and organized and got all the pieces sized and ready to assemble.

A lot of the 3/4″ scrap plywood was 8 or 16 inches wide. This made it easy to figure out how tall I wanted the beds to be.

I started by attaching my side panels to the corner 2×4 posts which I cut to be twice the height of the panel. Since I wanted to use as much of the smaller wood scraps as possible and leave larger pieces for future projects, I had to make a couple 16″ panels out of two 8″ panels as you can see in the following pictures.

Attaching a panel to the corner post

I used 1⅝” deck screws to attach the 3/4” plywood to the 2×4 posts.

Joining two 8″ panels together to make a 16″ panel.

One side ready for assembly

Once I had all four sides ready for assembly, I started screwing them together.

Clamps are your friend when working solo.

One box almost finished.

This box is almost finished. Just needs some strengthening 2×4’s around the top edge.

One of the boxes we made a trapezoid (an isosceles trapezoid to be precise 😉) to work in with the shape of the garden a bit better. You can see in the pic below where Princess Girl is helping me put on the strengthening rim boards around the top of the box. I used 3″ deck screws too attach these boards to the corner posts.

Finally got some human help. 😁

We also attached the plywood to the rim boards with 1⅝” deck screws.

Princess Girl gets some more screw gun practice.

Pajii and the Princess with a finished box.

Time to move.

Once we got the boxes put into place, Flower Girl’s chicken, Leilani, had to come check them out.

All 4 boxes in position.

We made 4 boxes total. Three of them are 3ft by 6ft and the fourth one is a trapezoid that is 5ft x 3ft x 2ft, if that makes sense. All of the boxes are 16 inches tall with 32 inch corner posts. The corner posts are taller in order to easily attach clear plastic to make a cold frame in early spring, or more likely, netting to keep the squirrels and other pests out.

I really like how these boxes turned out. I love that everything used to make them, including the screws, is reclaimed materials that were used to make the foundation of our house.

We have not filled them with soil yet since winter returned just a couple of days after we finished them. Soon, though, we’ll go get some soil and not too long after that, Pajii will be able to keep busy growing us some fresh veggies. I can’t wait!

Do yo own thang

Weird title for me, I know, but I’ve really been thinking about this subject lately.

Do what works best for you.

You see, I posted this picture on my Instagram recently.

I was nearly instantly criticised (*ahem* Mom) for not hanging my clothes properly.

“Your grandmother would have made you rehang all those clothes properly.”

(To be fair to my mom, she was only joking. Not that grandma wouldn’t have had me change it. She would have. Oh, she most certainly would have. But my mom doesn’t actually care how I hang my clothes.)

But the conversation with my mom got me thinking.

I know how to properly hang clothes on the line. But I don’t for several very good reasons.

First of all, we don’t have space on our clothes line for each article of clothing to be spread out single file. In that picture above, every clothespin is holding two articles of clothing and they are hung in such a way that they take up as little space as possible. You see, I am not very good horrible at doing a load of laundry every couple of days to stay on top of it. And that’s when we’re not busy building a house. So before I know it, the laundry basket is piling up and I’ve got 4 loads of laundry to do.

And while clothesline drying is the only sensible option living off-grid as we do, we don’t have a good place for a long enough line to accommodate 4 loads of laundry. I know, I know, we live on 40 acres. How can we not have space?

Well, partly it’s because we don’t have good trees to tie a line to. The space we have our 25′ long line at is the only space between two suitable trees that was within a feasible distance from the space we are living. And now that the washroom is in our well shed (pictures to come soon!), the clothes line is actually kinda far away from where the clothes are being washed.

And partly, we just haven’t gotten around to putting up a new/additional one near the well shed because, you know, building a house.

And partly because we don’t want to put a lot of time and effort into something that’s temporary. Once the house is built, we will put up a (larger) clothes line near it. So for now, I am stuck with the one line I have.

Another reason that I don’t hang clothes “properly” is that living here in the windy, arid high desert, clothes dry a lot faster than they would have in my grandmother’s home of humid Ohio. Especially on a hot summer day, but even on a mild fall day like today, I am constantly amazed at how fast those clothes dry.

And the last reason I don’t hang clothes the way my grandmother would have is because I don’t have to worry about ironing like she did. I mean, seriously, I don’t think I own more than three articles of clothing that need to be ironed. And those are dresses that don’t get worn or dirtied very often. And when I do wash them, you can bet that they get hung on the line “correctly” so they don’t get so wrinkled.

So what’s the point of all of this? This post isn’t really about doing laundry. It’s about the fact that I do laundry the way that works for us in our current situation.

And that’s the great thing about homesteading. There is no single “right” way to do it. We all have the freedom to do this homesteading thing in such a way that it fits our family. And as our situations change, we can do things differently. If we want to, that is.

I’m reminded once again of a quote that is usually attributed to Theodore Roosevelt,

“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” -Bill Widener. Source)

While I do believe there is a set of moral rules we Christians should follow, when it comes to homesteading, you are free to do yo own thang. Even if it’s not how others would do it.

And that is a beautiful thing.

Just like my jumbled up clothes drying on the line.

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.

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. 😃

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.