Tag Archive | chickens

Still Learning

I wanted to set the record straight, right here and right now.  I know nothing about Homesteading! My husband and I have a dream.  We want to be food indepenant.  We want to live simplier lives and be good stewards of the gifts that we have been given.  This dream has grown and changed over the years leading us to where we are now, a small homestead.  Our dream has been fueled by fellow bloggers, Mother Earth News, YouTube, food sensitivities and a general love for dirt among other things. After growing food, composting, raising chickens, rabbits and fish for the past 3-5 years, I think it is still safe to say we have no idea what we are doing. 
I watched a documentory about Market Gardening and the woman said “how do you become an expert at something you only every do, maybe 50 times”.  That really resinated with me. Think about it, we are in our 30’s right now, if I grow potatoes for the next 50 years I will have only grown potatoes 50 times.  It is said that it takes doing something 30 times for it to become a habit.  How many times do you have to do something to become an expert? I am certain that I will never stop learning and I will never be an expert.
Now that we own our dream homestead, everything we are doing is new.  Even silly things like planting in the ground… I have never done that.  The only successfull gardening I have ever done has been in raised beds.  I do not know how to plant seeds in the ground!  This year is a perfect example of that inexperience.  All of our plants died.  I did not know to ask the previous farmer how much fertilizer he put on the field this Spring.  Who would know to ask that, it was just field grass. Well, weeks before we took over the property, he put the strongest fertilizer you can buy on the land and killed all my seedlings.  I just thought, “wow, you are really bad at this planting in the ground stuff”.

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Currently, we have 46 chickens and 7 ducks.  I have never owned this many chickens.  I honestly have no idea what I am doing.  We have read all the books, gone to workshops, researched online, but when it comes down to it, we have never done this before.  At this point I am just praying we do not get the bird flu and lose all our birds.
Within 3 weeks of closing on the farm, I decided it was the perfect time to get baby goats.  We have never owned baby goats, we had no structure to keep them in and no fences, we obviously needed goats.  I know nothing about goats, this is a fly by the seat of your pants, learn as you go operation.  With a lot of hard work from my husband, I can now say the goats have a great run in building and a fenced in yard. Currently are doing very well, but I have no idea what winter will bring.
Before closing on the farm, I contacted a pig breeder, because what you really need when you move to a farm with no buildings and no fences and no idea what you are doing, is pigs.  The pigs arrived a month after the goats and here it is 1120 at night and I am up researching how to raise pigs.  They are currently 5 months old, some people would have tried to figure things old before they bought them, but I am a fly by the seat of your pants kind of girl.

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So consider this your warning.  If you are coming here for experience and absolute education, this is not the site for you.  If you would like to come along side my family as we learn, please take my hand and we can jump in together. 

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An Eggstavagansa

We are having egg issues!  We currently own 17 laying hens.  Let me repeat that… we own 17 egg laying hens and yesterday when we collected eggs, there was 1.  How do 17 chickens who are only a year or two old only produce one egg? 

Our numbers normally drop in the winter, but they have never dropped this bad, over the last week we have collected just over two dozen eggs.  That is 24 eggs in a week.  We should be getting at least a dozen a day!  I am perplexed.  Normally, we sell at least 5 dozen eggs a week. That is really helpful in covering the cost of the addition chickens, that we raise specifically for egg sales. It would be really great to get egg production back.

During the winter chickens do not produce as many eggs because their bodies are using those calories to stay warm.  We have been increasing their feed and supplementing feed with extra compost and pumpkins that we have collected.  They are enjoying the extra treats but they are still not producing.  They are running low on crushed shells so I will get more of that today.  I also have been occasionally giving them sunflower seeds as scratch grains, I will increase that as well as add some cracked corn to their diet. 

We will be also adding lights to our chicken coop.  I will put a light in the night coop where they sleep and in the covered area where they can get out of the rain.  We have had some really rainy, over cast day and I am wondering if they are not getting the light that they need. 

I hate to force them to lay, I know that their bodies need a break, but this is a little extreme.  The decrease in egg production as been going on for about 2 1/2 months.  We have still been able to get at least 5 dozen to be able to sell.  This week I had to tell my last regular egg customer that I did not have any eggs for them.  I do not want to lose them, if they think that they are not going to be able to get eggs from me they will go somewhere else. 

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Since we have been talking about chickens and eggs so much around here the last couple of weeks, we have been trying to figure out what the plan is for our flock in the New Year.   We know that over the course of the year we will be raising 48 chickens for meat.  We are going to do it in two batches, the first in yearly March and the second in July.  We have learned in the past that is not a good idea to raise chickens near hunting season, there is no one to help process them.  We are also going to be at least adding an addition 6 to our flock.  I would love to get 2 dozen eggs a day.  That would cover what I want to sell as well as I want to make our own mayo from now on. 

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you and your family a Happy New Year.

Sunday Success

I am very happy to announce that I have finally tattooed a rabbit. If you have been following my blog you will see that I have really struggled with tattoos.  I mean that it has become something that has haunted me.  I sell rabbits never knowing if the tattoo was actually going to work.  I am very grateful that everyone I have sold to has been very understanding of my deficiencies.  I have purchased multiple tattooing tools, still no luck.  Finally, I changed ink and eureka I have a tattoo.  I purchased Speed Ball India Ink Super Black from amazon.  Another rabbit breeder suggested it to me.  I am so thankful that it worked.  I know it seems like a simple task but is was really frustrating.

Now that we successfully tattooed this little buck we were able to separate him from his Momma and sisters.  We have several rabbits that are for sale and whenever I worry about running out of cages, buyers show up, so I am patiently waiting for that to happen again.

Today is the shortest day of the year, winter solstice, time to plant garlic.  I keep garlic cloves in my refrigerator, I know that they will last in the pantry as well, but in the refrigerator they last for a year or more.  These are cloves are from 2013 so I am really hoping they grow well, they had started to sprout in the frig.  I planted them in a deep bed of straw and rabbit manure.  I hope this will give them the protection they need from the hard freezes but still allow them to grow large bulbs.  wpid-img_20141221_154243.jpg

We are continuing to work like elves on our homemade Christmas gifts.  Our family is really simplifying our Christmas traditions and the one thing that we all agreed on, is that we do not need as many gifts.  My kids are truly amazing, but that is a book for a different day.  Anyway, we decided to have two gifts, one store bought and one homemade.  All of the gifts I am giving this year are sewn.  Below there are pictures of one of the puppets I am making for my son and the felt pretend pie I made for my daughter.  I hope they enjoy them.  I am unable to post what I am making for my husband because he occasionally reads my blog and I do not want to give it away.

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On a sad note we lost another chicken to a hawk. We are hoping that early in Spring when the ground thaws we will build a new chicken yard.  We need one that has wire on the top, we found bird netting is horrible to work with.  We would like to have a chicken yard and rabbit grow out pen together.  I have heard that the rabbits and the chickens enjoy each others company.  When the rabbits where in with the chickens in the past we did have larger litters, we will have to see if there is truly any connection between the two.

On a happy note, we are looking for some land to rent so that next year we can not only grow more of our food, but also food for our friends that really would like more of our veggies.  A couple of CSA families is my dream for the future.  I would like to eventually have a larger property and support my love of farming with a handful of CSA subscriptions.

That is all for now.    Merry Christmas to you all from Our Family to Yours.

Winter aquaponics

Like most of the country we woke up to very cold temps. We prepared the chickens, the rabbits, cut firewood, sealed up the house and checked on the garden but we were not prepared in the greenhouse. We had a grow light on thinking that would put off enough heat to keep everything above freezing, well we were wrong. Our main fish tank was fine, the sump and the grow bed was fine, it was the small pvc pipes in the system that froze. 
One of the pvc pipes that froze is the pvc under the bell siphon. This caused the water to back up in the upper grow bed. Luckily my husband caught it in enough time that we did not have any over flow.  He disconnected all the small pvc and brought them inside to defrost. He also used the grill as a temporary great source. We know this is not ideal but it works. In Baltimore we do not have many days with weather like this so I think a temporary solution will work for now. I think some recycled pool noodles will help insulate the small pvc pipes and more grow lights and a small heat source with a thermostat will help. We also have a part of the green house that faces south and does not get much sun. Adding ridged foam insulation for the winter would help as well. There is even insulation that has a foil backing that can reflect the light and heat from the North.
We are glad we have not lost any fish and that the broccoli that is in the system seems perfectly happy. These are lessons learned that will help us improve the system and more forward.

Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Winter in Baltimore is always interesting to say the least.  Five years ago we had something crazy like 50+ inches of snow.  Three years ago it was so warm I could have continued to garden all winter.  Most years we have a nice mix of warm days (50’s) and cold days (20 is the low).  This year we have temps that are all over the place.  Tomorrow the high is going to 4 degrees F.  I don’t mind the cold, but it does make taking care of the “farm” a little more difficult.  I am so glad that we do not have to deal with this for months at a time.  To all my family in the mid-west, I just can’t hang, I am an east coast girl.

Our poor chickens.  Year round we have problems with hawks, so our chicken yard has bird netting over it.  I have to say, I personally HATE bird netting.  It comes un-stapled and falls down and then on mornings when I go out there before my coffee I get clothes lined by the sagging bird netting.  The bird netting is horrible.  This last snow finally defeated the dreadful  bird netting. The problem is that the netting was put up in such a way that I can not clean it up by myself. There is way to many supporting ropes and boards that we used to try and hold this horrible stuff up.  It took the chickens all of 3 minutes to get tangled up in it.  Very frustrating…  So I let the chickens out the roam the yard.  Our whole backyard is fenced in with privacy fence, and if it was not for the hawks I would let them roam everyday.  Today the danger of the netting was worse than the danger of the hawks. Well, at least at the time I thought so.  Their feet were turning white from the wet ground and the cold temps.  I ended up locking them up in their covered area, which is not very big.  They are some mad hens. I hope that when my husband gets home we can remove the netting so that tomorrow they stay in the chicken yard, where there is not as much standing water.

I need to get one more cold weather chicken frustration off my chest, I HATE our heated waterer… this thing in horrible.  My advice is to buy a heated disk that you can set a metal waterer on top of, DO NOT buy the plastic white and red heated waterer. The base never stays on, the chickens trip over the cord and unplug it.  When you fill it water gets spilled everywhere and you end up cold, wet and pissed off.  I would love to save everyone that frustration. That is just my two cents, I would love to hear what you use in freezing temps.  OK rant over!

Chickens in the Snow

Chickens in the Snow you can even see the bird netting hanging down!  Horrible stuff!!

As unprepared as we were with the chickens and cold weather, the bunnies are doing fantastic.  The bunny barn is insulated and has heat lamps over the baby kits on nights when it is below freezing.  The waterers are not freezing and everyone seems happy and warm.

I enjoy having the four seasons in Baltimore. It is nice to look at the snow from the window, while sitting in front of the fire place crocheting.  But I really enjoy being in the garden in the spring, summer and early fall.  I enjoy my chores and harvesting the veggies.  I do not mind the heat and I love being in the garden in the still of the morning as the sun first comes up.  Now that we have taken control of the mosquito problem it is even more enjoyable. I do not like doing chores in the freezing rain and really cold temps.

As winter continues I will continue to dream of warmer days and plan out my garden.  Some days I just sit and look at my seeds, it makes me all warm inside.  The nice thing about living in Baltimore is I know winter is only for a season.  Some places have a much longer winter or constant winter, no thank you hon, I will keep my crazy Baltimore weather, it is not predictable, but I know it is always changing.

The first weekend in August, Love it!

The weather has been amazing for August, which has been wonderful and has allowed us to be very productive.  

Our bunnies are getting big and it is time to wean them off their mommies. We have turned our unused chicken coop into a bunny nursery.  There is enough room for all 15 of the babies to be able to run and play until they are full grown.  We will be removing the bunnies from their mothers gradually over the next week.  So far it is going great and everyone is enjoying the extra space and room at the water bowl.

The kids picked the rabbits that they are going to be showing for 4H.  These rabbits will get a lot more one on one time than the other rabbits.  We want them to be used to being handled as well as used to noises and other animals.  Everyone in the family is enjoying the extra cuddle time.

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This weekend we also worked on the aquaponics system.  Building it is taking longer than we really wanted it to, we were hoping to have it up and running over a year ago, but the supplies was more expensive than we thought.  We are also struggling with getting ideas from our heads, to paper, and than to final product.  We are learning communication skills that are beneficial to our marriage.  I think the important part is we are still married and still making progress on the system, both wins in my book.  We are now at the plumbing stage, very frustrating, but hoping to take small steps everyday and keep moving closer to our goal.  I will be starting seeds indoors this week for the system, so it needs to be up and running in less than two weeks.  I have confidence that we are that close!

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This weekend I also experimented with making gluten-free pop tarts.  I used the pie crust recipe from my last post and filled them with the jams that I have made this spring and summer.  I baked them at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, until golden. They are amazing.  I can’t wait to bake some cinnamon ones!  It was crazy easy and super tasty.  We have already eaten them all and I need to make another batch.  

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As far as harvesting veggies goes, we are still going strong with peppers.  The tomatoes have slowed down quite a bit and so have the cucumbers.  We had our first ever cantaloup today, it was wonderful.  We should have let it sit on the counter a day to soften even more, but we ate it in one sitting so it must not have been that bad.  

Time for me to go have my tea and relax for the night.  I hope everyone has a great week.

 

Spa Day

Oh blogging how I have missed you.  I am not even going to try and explain where I have been for the past year, just know I am happy to be back!

So summer is in full swing. Our garden is growing wonderfully.  We get a basket of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers every day.  We have already harvested one planting of potatoes, our spring peas, green beans, soy beans, and blue berries.  We have more peas, carrots, cantaloupes, butternut squash, pumpkins, garlic and beets that are still growing.

We started with a new batch of a dozen chickens this spring and they have started laying.  We get about 10 eggs a day. We have three new rabbits, American Chinchillas to be specific,  that we added to the farm this winter and they have 15 very cute baby bunnies that are 4 weeks old now.  We will be selling them in 2 weeks.

OK now that everyone is up to date… On to Spa Day at our small farm.  We had a mamma rabbit that had some fur matting that need to be cleaned.  It was very warm this weekend so we thought that a bath would help clean her fur as well as cool her down.  Not ever having given a rabbit a bath, I was not really sure how this would go.  I expected clawing, biting and that it would look more like bathing a cat.  I however, was greatly surprised.  The rabbit seemed to enjoy the bath.  She did not try and get out of the utility sink, she did not try to climb my arm.  She was just happy to just sit there.  At first I just assumed it was because this was my very easy going rabbit, but when I then bathed the “jumpy”  rabbit she was quit content to just be bathed as well.

I think that this is something we will do after all their litters are old enough for us to be messing with mamas.  The reason we had to bath mama in the first place was left over afterbirth.   She was having some hair matting and skin breakdown.  We bathed her using mild soap, clipped the mats and applied A and D ointment to the skin.  We did not use soap on the rabbit that did not have any matting, we just used the water to clean her up and cool her down.  Since this did not seem stressful to the rabbits, I think that we will do it again to help keep those hard to reach places nice and clean.

Since it was deemed a “Spa Day” we did not want to leave anyone out, we also bathed a chicken.  We have two chicken coops that share the same outside area.  The coops are made to fit 6 chickens a piece very comfortably.  Our chickens are “special”  and they have decided to cram all together in one small coop.  There is just not the roosting space that they need, so there is one chicken that has taken to roasting right under the other chickens.  I noticed that she was “dirtier” than the others, especially on her belly, since she spent all night sitting in other chickens poop!  So we brought her inside and rinsed her off as well.  Again I would have expected a very upset chicken.  She was totally O.K. with it.  She seemed to enjoy the one-on-one attention and the wash down.  Who knew?

So, now everyone is clean, toe nails clipped, bottoms washed and cages cleaned.  It was a wonderful day on the farm!  Here are some pictures of the bath experience!

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