Easy as C.H.I.C.K.E.N.S

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I adore chickens.  I don’t think folks really understand what there is to like about chickens until you have some of your very own.  From holding a tiny, fuzzy peeping chick to celebrating their success of laying their first egg or their first cock-a-doodle-doo, chickens have a way of pecking and scratching into your heart.

Chickens are typically very easy and low maintenance animals, with big rewards.  They offer entertainment-it is quite a show when one chicken finds a juicy bug the others all want- and delish, fresh eggs most every day.  Keeping chickens is as easy as C.H.I.C.K.E.N.S.

C: Chicks/Chickens.  To start a flock, you need to either purchase chicks or chickens.  I typically prefer to purchase chicks because they tend to be more bonded to you and it is such a fun experience to hand raise them.  “Sexed” chicks refer to looking at their chicken parts under a microscope to determine gender.  Places like Tractor Supply and certified hatcheries sex their chicks, “straight run” means they are unsexed and you won’t know what gender you purchased until you hear a cock-a-doodle-do or see an egg!

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H:  Heat.  This is only important if you start your flock with chicks.  Chicks need a heat lamp for the first few weeks of life.  There are many complicated ways out there of weaning the chicks off the heat lamp, but in a moderate climate, as long as they have access to a heat lamp until they are mostly fully feathered (around 3-4 weeks), I have never had a problem just taking the heat lamp away at once.  Particularly if you have more than a few chicks, they will all huddle together to stay warm and cozy.

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If you purchase full size hens, you do not need heat lamps as long as there are a few chickens to cuddle together.  Chickens do just fine in very cold weather, as long as they have an enclosed, dry coop.  On occasion they can get frostbite on the waddles, but this is a rare occurrence.

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I: Integrate slowly.  This comes into play when you expand your flock.  Chickens are more brutal than middle school girls, so make introductions gradually and make sure there is plenty of distraction.  It is normal for chickens to fight and pick on the newbies, but keep an eye on them for a few days so it doesn’t result in blood shed!

C: Coop.  This is one of the most costly elements to being a chicken keeper.  Since backyard chickens are the new “in” thing these days, coops range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.  Whichever choice is right for you, make sure it has the basics, or you add the basics, roosts, nesting boxes and room.  Chickens need room to roam and if you are going to keep them in the run they will need entertainment to stay happy, healthy, hens.  There are some creative alternatives to buying a traditional chicken coop.  I repurposed an old crib to be a chicken tractor (mobile coop) and it worked out great.  It was also much more cost efficient.  Check it out HERE.  Make sure the coop you choose to house your chickens is super secure.  Chickens are pray animals and will attract predators you didn’t even know you had in your area.

K:  Keep fresh water and plenty of food available for your chicks/chickens.  Chicks and chickens eat like a pack of hungry wolves.  I prefer unmedicated chick feed and I keep the flock on this until they are of laying age.  I then switch them to a natural layer feed formula.  I also supplement with food scraps to save on feed costs.  There are many alternative feeders than the traditional red and white ones you buy at your local feed store.  Here is an option I have done in the past with PVC pipe, it is very easy and completely customizable.  Check it out HERE.  Whichever feeder choice you chose, make sure it keeps the feed dry, as rotten feed will make your chickens ill.

E:  Eggs.  Hens begin to lay eggs at around 6 months old.  Those first 6 months seem to drag by as the anticipation of when your girls will lay their first egg heightens.  The moment you see that brown, white, green, blue or pink egg, is a moment to celebrate-you’re chick has officially become a hen!  Most eggs are clean right from the nesting box, but if they have some chicken remnants on it, wash carefully with warm water.  Be aware that washing the egg removes a thin layer (bloom) that prolongs the freshness of eggs, but should still be fine to eat for weeks to come.  Most other countries do not keep fresh eggs in the refrigerator since the bloom keeps them fresh.

N:  Nest boxes.  The main reason most people want chickens is for those tasty, fresh from the chicken’s behind, eggs.  Hens need a dry, quiet place to lay their eggs and if not provided with one, will establish their own, typically very inconvenient nest box. There are hundreds of creative, inexpensive options out there.  Don’t waste too much time or money putting out numerous boxes, hens will typically pick one out of the many choices and all fight to cram in the same one or stand there and wait their turn, even though there are open boxes available!

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S: Sick.  Chickens are traditionally fairly hardy, but they can fall prey to respiratory illness, fowl pox, have a prolapsed vent, become egg bound, develop bumblefoot, or a few other chicken ailments.  Your local vet, or google which is free, is your best friend in these situations.  Look up your symptoms and you will find numerous resources on what the condition is and what to do.  Epsom salt water (small dose) or Epsom salt soaks are a farmer’s “cure all” for most chicken ailments.

With a little time and cost, chickens are an entertaining bunch that are truly a delightful addition to your homestead and family.  With the popularity of backyard chickens growing, many cities and towns are allowing chickens inside neighborhoods and city limits.  Hens are typically more accepted than roosters, due to the obvious noise difference, but some products are now on the market to help quiet roosters, Rooster Bowtie.

Purchasing backyard chickens also has a positive effect on lessening the need for inhumane, disease ridden factory farms.

Entertainment and fresh eggs, what’s not to love?

Until next time…

FINALSIGNOFF

Spring Fever Big Time

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I am suffering from an awful case of Spring Fever, and I mean awful.  I am not sure if it is the fact that I am used to working nights, so I never missed out on all this beautiful spring weather, or if it is just because I have an ongoing list of homestead projects I really want to be doing-whatever the case may be I have got it bad.

Sitting in my office, I can feel the warm sunshine and watch the breeze dance with the branches of the trees outside my window.  During my lunch break, I can be found wandering the aisles of a local nursery, my head becoming even more full of project ideas.

This weekend was slammed full of projects, and Neil and I are both grateful to be coming to the end of two very big projects-the garden and the chicken run.

We finally got the garden fenced in and planted and we even have a little room to spare for some more tasty veggies.  Here in the heart of North Carolina, there is pretty much no point in planting without a fence.  We are over-run by deer around here and they will devour most anything that is green.

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This year we planted a few kinds of lettuce, broccoli, onions, cucumbers, strawberries, habaneros, jalapenos, and a few varieties of tomatoes.  We are looking forward to some home grown, organic veggies in a few months (as well as saving some money on our grocery bill!).

The chicken run is coming together and I am so pleased.  It looks better than I could have pictured, and Neil has done an amazing job.  We roofed in one section of the coop this weekend and I also stained the door frame.

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I bought two gorgeous rustic pots which will house Rosemary bushes to go on either side of the door.  Not only do they look nice, but they will help disguise the sometimes very fragrant chickens who will be living behind the door!

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The breeder with the possible frizzles has emailed me confirmation that 3 of the nearly 20 chicks he has hatched are in fact frizzles.  I am thrilled.  Frizzles are super rare and I feel so lucky to have tracked some down.  We are hoping to bring them home in the next few weeks.  Let’s hope my current flock of girls takes them in without too much cluckin’ and fussin’.

Until next time…

FINALSIGNOFF

70 Years Together

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Happy Easter everyone!  Today is not only an important day because it is Easter, but also because today marks the 70th wedding anniversary of my grandparents.

They are truly an inspiration of what it means to be committed for life, being together even when it seems easier not too, and showing unconditional love even when the other probably doesn’t deserve it.

I am re-posting a blog I wrote last year to celebrate this major milestone and let you in on what an amazing couple they are.

Happy Easter everyone!

For those of you that have been on the homestead for awhile and read my articles in Carolina Country (catch up HERE), I love spending time with my Papa and Grandma. Papa and Grandma are my daddy’s parents.

They owned and worked on the big dairy farm, along with my great grandparents, in Chapel Hill.  My Papa is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and this has been extremely hard on the family, especially Grandma.  Papa recently made a move to an assisted living facility, while my grandma remained at their house.

My grandparents have been married for 69 (now 70!) years.  That’s nearly 5,000 days spent together.  That’s literally a lifetime of living, learning and growing together.

The story of how they met is one of my very favorites of all time.  I can’t do this story justice because when either my Papa or Grandma tell this story the tinkle they get in their eyes is one that floods the room with warmth and memories of long ago.

After a long week’s work, my grandma and her friends went out to a local bar to get a drink.  As she chatted and relaxed with her friends, a flying cigarette landed right in her beer.  Outraged at this, she looked around and demanded to know whose cigarette landed in her beer.

And who should make his way over, but a young, enlisted army soldier who came right over to apologize.  That soldier was my Papa.  As he charmingly fibbed that he was born in the same place my grandma was to impress her, neither one knew what this moment in time would bring.  As they parted ways that day, only to be brought together again a week later by circumstance, the wheels of destiny were set into motion.

That act of fate brought four children into this world, four grandchildren and seven great grand children.  That flying cigarette forever altered the universe in so many ways.

I spent the day with my grandma last week and we had a lovely lunch, cooked dinner together and visited Papa.  He showed me all around his new place and excitedly told me all about his new friends.  We looked at a scrapbook of all his accomplishments and just enjoyed simple conversation.  As Grandma and I got ready to leave Papa, who is in his nineties, jumped up to walk us out.  Grandma asked him for a kiss and he excitedly pulled her to him.  They kissed so hard it nearly knocked them both to the ground.

After 90 years of life, and 69 (now 70!) years of marriage, their love still nearly topples them over. True love is such a rare creature in this world, cleverly disguised and showing itself to only to a precious few.

Every day can bring a new adventure, a twist of fate that changes the universe forever.  I’ve learned to embrace the detours of life because they tend to set me on an adventure I would have completely missed otherwise.

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Until next time,

FINALSIGNOFF

The Chicken Palace Has a Door!

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It is a wet, chilly morning here in the heart of North Carolina.  This weekend we saw temperatures in the 20s which is quite unusual for us when it is almost April.

Neil and I worked ten hour days trying to get all our projects done around the homestead on our weekend.

We hauled dirt, shoveled dirt and hauled dirt some more.

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I am so thankful for my little Tacoma.  I have had that truck since I was 16, and it has been more useful than any other piece of equipment on the homestead.  We definitely made full use of that truck bed this weekend, between the dirt loads, trash loads and hauling lumber for our Chicken Palace run, we both were so thankful for that little green truck.

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I painted all of the outer poles of the chicken run, and we attached the remaining panels of chicken wire.  The best advice I can give when working with chicken wire is a good pair of gloves and a lot of patience!

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Neil and I headed to an awesome used building materials warehouse in Durham, The Reuse Warehouse on Geer Street, to find the perfect chicken run door.  We knew we wanted a rustic style door, and the Reuse Warehouse is a perfect place to go.  Although they can be a bit pricey, since rustic chic is in style right now, they have some really unique finds.  As we looked around the large building, there were 100 year old barn doors and old house doors galore.

I had been in the warehouse previously and seen a door I loved, but at the time we had no idea we were going to build such an extravagant chicken palace!  When I saw the door was still there, I knew that was the one.  A little rough around the edges, and nails sticking out from every angle, we saw the potential this 1930s door held.

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With a little restoration, the door was exactly what I had envisioned.

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Neil and I don’t have any construction experience, so we knew we would have to do some figuring to install this functioning chicken run door.  With a lot of measuring and concrete, we now have a fully functioning chicken run door.

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We still have to stain the door support beams and pour a slab of concrete under the door, but we were thankful our novice plans worked.

The Chicken Palace is certainly coming along, we just have the roofing to install and oh and one minor thing, the coop!  The company says there is a delay in shipping-you would think I would just learn to expect things like this-so we are unsure when the coop will actually get here.

Our girls are growing every day and I am beginning to expect “Gladiator,” as named by the sweetest blonde haired boy ever, might be an accurate name.  Neil and I have noticed some dominant behavior and when Lilly investigated the little flock, Gladiator jumped in between the girls and Lilly to protect them.  We will wait and see if we hear any cock a doodle-dos from this little chick.

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Until next time…

FINALSIGNOFF

Time Marches On

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This week has seemed to drag by.  I am not sure if it is just my Spring fever, but I would have definitely preferred to be working on the homestead this week instead of in an office!

The chicks have continued to grow and begin their transformation into hens, all but one fuzzy little girl.  One of our Polish is a tiny little runt and has not grown at all since we brought her home.  She is getting adult feathers, but her size has remained unchanged.  I was worried she might not make it, but she is active and feisty and besides being small, appears to be healthy.

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The girls got an upgrade on their brooder box this week.  They now have roosting poles to perch on.  It is amazing to me how intense animals’ instincts are.  They have been completely confined and have never seen adult chickens, yet they know to scratch at the ground for food, and roost in the evenings for safety.

These instincts are such an interesting phenomenon, it makes me wonder if humans didn’t have so much outer (and inner for that matter) noise, how much different this world would be; if we relied more on instincts, instead of what was presented to us via media or other sources.

On a trip to Ireland when I was a little girl, a gray haired, Irishman told me a story about a study done with a family of rabbits.  The mother rabbit was left in a room with a heart monitor on and her litter of kits (baby rabbits) were taken in a submarine deep down below the water.  At various intervals, the kits were killed, one by one, and the times documented.  When the submarine emerged, they compared the documented times the kits were killed, to the mother’s heart tracing.  They found that at each time one of her kits passed away, their was a noticeable jump in her heart rate.  Whether this a real study, or one made up by an old Irishman, it raises some interesting thoughts about the strength of instincts.

This weekend brings a mad dash to haul and unload several truck beds full of dirt, complete our garden, and finish the Chicken Palace run.  We still don’t have a delivery date for the coop yet, but I was promised by the company to know by the end of the day when our coop would arrive.

The breeder who could possibly have Polish Frizzle chicks says the chicks are too young to distinguish the frizzled from the smooth (they need to be at least a week old), so I am patiently waiting to see if he has any Frizzles we can bring home.  Frizzled chickens are the potential offspring of a frizzled and smooth feathered chicken, and they are a very rare occurrence.

Along with Spring brings several new arrivals to my family.  My sister and her husband will welcome their fifth child, and my good friend and her husband welcome their first child home.  I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of these precious new little ones.

Spring brings new projects, new hopes and new life-such an exciting time of year to be here on the homestead.

Until next time…

FINALSIGNOFF

The Chickens Have Arrived

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One major downside to working this regular Monday through Friday schedule, is the weekends seem to race by.  Two days does not seem like nearly enough time to get the projects done Neil and I have in mind.

This past weekend, we spent time with Neil’s family and Sunday was spent with a pair of some of my very favorite kiddos.

We all went up to a hatchery in Wake Forest and picked out 10 little chirpy chicks.  We chose several colors of the Polish breed, Golden Laced Wyandottes, and Dark Brahmas.

We got all the little chicks settled into their brooder box and they are adjusting well.  It is very important in the first few weeks to handle your chickens as much as possible so when they are big chickens, they are not hard to handle.  Every day we pick up each of our flock of ten and spend a little time getting to know them.

chicks2As the days go on, each of their personalities have started to emerge and it has been so much fun watching them grow.

chicksNeil and I have been hard at work on our run and are anxious to get our chicken coop delivered.  We have been on the lookout for a unique barn door to serve as the entrance into our Chicken Palace.  I can’t wait to have it all come together.

As soon as the Chicken Palace is completed, it is on to finishing our garden.  The raised bed is built, stained, and in place, but still needing some more dirt, compost and of course plants!

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Oliver also enjoyed sunbathing on his porch, he is one spoiled pig!

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This coming weekend is bringing one last spell of cold weather, so hopefully Spring weather is here to stay after that.

Spring is always such a busy time on the homestead, but a good kind of busy.  Days spent working beside Neil on the chicken run and the garden, our hands stained with dirt, our backs sore from heavy lifting, make me long for a different life where that was a staple of our every day.  Perhaps that life is wound into the coming journeys of the future, for that I am definitely hopeful.

Until next time…

FINALSIGNOFF

A Glorious Chicken Palace is Underway

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This beautiful, breezy weather has me daydreaming about laying around the homestead, watching my flock of ladies peck the ground in the warm sunshine.  Although this isn’t a reality yet, I am hoping it will be soon!

Neil and I have been hard at work on our chicken run, since our coop is set to be delivered in two weeks.  We both knew we wanted a practical, but cute (ok more me than him) chicken run.  With his police training in mind, he set to work on a Fort Knox idea for our run.  Since we are new to the Little Rock House, we were unsure of what predators were in the area.  Our neighbor has a large flock of chickens who free range most of the time, and besides the threat of the local dogs that roam around, seem to be doing well.

We wanted a large run to ensure that they had plenty of room, since free ranging will be limited-and they are definitely getting it.  After measuring, we figured out that the chicken run is larger than our bedroom-lucky chickens!

We shopped around at quite a few stores looking for options for the run.  With money being tight right now, we definitely wanted to build the run as frugally as we could.  I am so thankful we found a company that accepts a monthly payment for the chicken coop, so we didn’t have to put it on a credit card or pay up front.

We ended up in Home Depot and found landscape timbers that were only a few dollars a piece.  Despite the fact they state “not intended for structural support” we plan on using them anyway-rules are meant to be broken right?

After clearing away extra branches and debris, we could start to visualize the chicken palace.

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We then set up the landscape timbers by burying them a few feet for support.  We wanted to have a walk in run so we wouldn’t have to constantly crouch down if we needed to be in the run.

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Thankfully Neil did the digging-a post hole digger is an awesome tool- and I shoveled the dirt back in and hauled the timbers over. After only a few hours we had the outside structure laid out.

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Instead of digging the chicken wire into the ground, we went for a different approach.  We laid out 2 feet of chicken wire at the bottom of each wall and will cover it with dirt.  This helps protect the girls from predators that try to dig their way in.  I’ve always heard this is a threat, but have luckily never experienced this-has anyone else?

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After a few days work, we have the beginnings of our fabulous chicken palace.  We still have a ways to go, we are adding in a roof, decorations and an old farm door, but I am so excited for what we have done so far.

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What do ya’ll think? Have you started on your chicken coops yet?

Until next time…

FINALSIGNOFF