Sunday, March 29, 2009

Our Chicken Coops New and Old

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We've had chickens for forever. It feels that way at least. They've lived in all sorts of places. We've built a number of chicken tractors. They still sit around the homestead. Occasionally a duck or chicken decides they're a good place to raise a bunch of babies. Right now in fact we have a Mommy duck sitting on eggs in one. No one actually lives in them, just random chickens and ducks decide to lay in them now and then. Having a few chicken tractors around is always a good thing though. Whether it's having a good place to quarantine new poultry, a temporary holding place for all sorts of animals, somewhere to raise a new batch of chicks from the feed store or a place for Mommies to hatch babies, everyone should have one around. They're a "Good Thing". In fact here's a happy Duckie Mama working on hatching some baby duckies as we speak.

She's in this old HEAVY chicken tractor. I need it moved for a garden there but man, the last time we tried to move it it tried to just break into a million pieces. :)
We also have the chicken trailer which just an old rickety trailer that we gutted and put roosts and nesting boxes in. The chickens lived in there for the last year. And we moved it more than once. Chicken coops on wheels are convenient for a number of reasons. But the chickens decided on their own to move out. Now the new chicks live in there.
Here's our happy little chickies in their trailer. I am a firm believer in the trailer coop. Cheap. Most people will almost want to pay you to take their old ugly one away. It can move. And easy to gut.

Why the chickens decided to move in with the ducks I'll never know but they did. We needed a new place for the ducks so what we did was run chicken wire all around the bottom of our back porch which is fairly high. I can't stand underneath it but still fairly high. We put a gate on it and presto! In 30 minutes or less we had a complete pen for the ducks.
*note that Adric sprayed the orange marking paint for marking the garden post holes all over the back porch. Dad's yet to see that one. He will soon. Uh oh Adric.

Yet of course, the ducks have decided to just free range in the yard all night. Whatever. I can't tell these things what to do. We used to round them up every night but after months we had enough of that nonsense. Hopefully they fly away when a predator comes. They've survived all winter so who knows. Stubborn creatures.

So the chickens moved in under the porch. The only problem with that is that they stopped laying in regular places. And it's not so safe with the gate open and ducks free. So this weekend we finished up the chicken coop. Note to mom - you'll probably be annoyed we didn't turn this into a playhouse like you wanted but really, even after we cleaned it out, it never would have been clean enough to be a playhouse. It was a mice house for way too long. Yeah it just couldn't get un-icky enough to be a playhouse. Here it is: Forget the stuff out front. We have yet to haul all the stuff we gutted out from it to the dump.
*note since writing this Clay has taken all that stuff to the dump. Hooray!*

We ran roosts on the framing beams.

We had leftover cabinets that work perfectly for nesting boxes and a feeding center. LOVE reusing things for free!
The cabinets worked great for nesting boxes! Clay ran 2x4s across the front not only to keep the straw and eggs in the boxes, but to give the girls a place to easily jump onto from the ground. They're loving the higher boxes. Us women like to make things as difficult as possible. Go figure.

And everyone is happy! They've been laying us eggs everyday in there and things are hunky dory.
And I'm really happy to have one more permanent part of our homestead finished. With so much to do and with the fact it feels like it will be years before anything is really done, as each thing gets ticked off the list, it feels like a huge victory.

The girls should be really happy now. I hope one day to run a small run around it so they can be outside in the morning before we let them out. Hmm... but then that would mean we'd have to have a chicken door open all night so it's open in the morning for them to get out and critters could get in. Well I still want a run so that they can be outside when we go out of town.....someday. We never go anywhere and like it that way.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Birthday to Top All Birthdays

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Tuesday was my birthday. I'm still awaiting packages from all of you. So often our birthdays around here are pretty low key. We rarely do anything. Just a day to relax. My amazing grandmother always sends me package filled with perfect goodies. This year though.... Was just over the top. Honestly how can a day go wrong that starts with these on the table:
Then I go outside and find out that these little cutie pies are the newest additions to our homestead. Born on my birthday. I awoke to 3 hatched. By the end of the day, 9. And that Mama doesn't look too happy that we're taking her picture does she. Be afraid. Be VERY afraid. I'll expect you sometime next week Katie to take some home.
And this boy who fell yesterday comes downstairs looking cute but still looking like this:

And a box with this on the side awaits opening (yeah you're drooling now)
And your mom brings over not only Mexican food but a cake from Whole Foods that says this on top:
*note that we were far too distracted actually eating the cake to take pictures before it was almost gone* And a special thanks to my friend Nancy for sending her to get this cake and paying for it.

Boy oh boy.

My grandma went above and beyond this year. Honestly it will knock your socks off. Inside the Lehman's box from her was this:
Notice the nice big tank so forgetful people like myself aren't having to fill it every night. Woohoo. I'm so inspired now and want to buy a few more lanterns! Another big one like this. A little one to hang on the post that we can take room to room easily. A rockin hurricane one that can go outside and never blow out. One for my bedroom. You rock grandma.
Also in the box was this:
Galvanized clothesline. Drool.

Oh and that wasn't the only box she sent!! There was an assortment of amazing books that I can guarantee will keep me up at night obsessively for days to come. Click the images and go straight to Amazon to buy them.
The Apple Grower. The best organic apple growing book. We weren't able to get our fruit trees in the ground in early Spring like we should have. We'll probably put them in late fall instead. Which is great. It means I have all Summer to read this book, prepare the soil, till and put a nice ground cover. Then trees.
Seed to Seed. Even just skimming this book I am impressed. No frills. Vegetable and herb species by species it breaks it down . How to plant the seeds, how far to separate each plant to not cross pollinate, how to hand pollinate, etc. etc. How to plant, fertilize and save seeds from almost every garden plant out there. I'm almost scared of how much information is in this book.
And the Encyclopedia of Country Living. If I thought I was afraid of the info in Seed to Seed this book terrifies me. Okay it doesn't. I love this book. And you know who loves this book? Frankie! It's his new bathroom book. And if you're not careful the child will spend 15 minutes in the bathroom now. 10 times a day I hear "Mom did you know that all other ducks take 28 days to hatch their eggs but our muscovies take 35 days?" " Mom did you know that you can just cut the head off a rabbit and just peel the skin back like a sweater?" I LOVE that he loves this book. He can read it cover to cover 100 times for all I care. Please do Frankie dear.
And if that wasn't enough, there was this:
The picture doesn't do the color of this justice. It's a big gorgeous sewing basket. I don't even have enough to fill it right now. When we got our German Shepherd, Chief, one of the first things he did was chew up the sewing basket I got when I was a kid. So everything I had had to fit in this little space underneath my sewing machine. I've been wanting to get into sewing for so long. Now I really have to.
There aren't enough words Grandma really. I love you.
And Gary and Mary Pat, thanks for always helping out Grandma by picking up the packages and taking them to be shipped. This is always such a huge blessing to her.

So one would think that this break from our normal low-key birthday would be over. Nope. Hubby gives me this. It's a terabyte harddrive for all my pictures and scrapbook stuff. Here soon I'm going to do some basic digital scrapbooking posts and maybe a recycling around the house to scrapbook posts. AND he's started transferring all my stuff onto it because he loves me so. Now I can sit and scrapbook on the laptop. I miss it and am so behind. Funny on one hand to be working towards less electricity and the other getting terabyte harddrives. The perfect example of the paradox of our lives.
And the harddrive was special because on things like this I know we don't have that money just sitting in the budget so my darling husband had to plan, save and make it work to get it. I love you Clay honey.

Remember me telling you the Moms brought Mexican food and cake? Well the Moms is moving here to TN from CA and has started bringing some of her stuff. So she brought me these rockin rockin pots. She's already found me a immersion blender for my soon-to-be soap making project. Now I not only have some big new pots for our family but a new stainless one for soap making. Yay! And the orange La Cruset? I'm shocked she gave it to me. I love love love it.

And the Lord is so good and thoughtful. I'd been asking on a couple message boards for some ideas for making over our bedroom for my hubby (forget you read that part husband who secretly reads my blog). The favorite one I had been shown had a gorgeous aqua coverlet over it. I knew I'd never be able to afford something like that but it gave me something to look for at garage sales or Goodwill. I never told Moms that I was looking for that. I only started looking last week. Turns out that when she was in CA she found this marked down from $130 to $30!! EXACTLY what I wanted.
See? Told you it was a birthday to top all birthdays. Now back to reality LOL.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Making Home

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Over the last month I have really felt this overwhelming need to deal with my home. Call it Spring Fever, call it whatever you will. To be honest, homekeeping does not come naturally to me. At this point I'm way too old and way too responsible for my own actions to blame it on childhood, parents, personality, or anything else. It's lack so self-control, poor time management skills, laziness, and a million other words I cringe to hear in regards to myself.

I've tried this before. More times than I can count. In many ways I'm a perfectionist. It's all or nothing for me. If I want change I want everything changed at once or I just throw my hands up in the air. I've discussed this in length before. Dealing with the homestead this last year more than any other year has taught me a lot. I've had to accept that we won't be able to get everything all at once. We just don't have the money. Never will. Or the time. And that is okay. Gasp. I want it all. I want it all now. But having to slowly plug away at projects and I think I may slowly be getting it. Each step along the journey gets you there. When it comes to making changes in my home, I always try and just take a plane flight to the end and then I find I'm not strong enough to stay there.

So I'm determined to take small steps around my home to make it look and run the way I want it to. We've all read those blogs. Where women have detailed pantry lists, knowing exactly what their family uses each year. They have clean homes and clean children. They sew clothes and make all their own bread. They homeschool in ways that inspire their children to learn. They grow large gardens and can enough for their whole family for each year. Their homes have nice curtains. Heck, they have curtains at all! They never run out of toilet paper or anything else for that matter. I know that I dream of all these things and more. And while part of me wants to say "Oh that's just a dream. Those women don't truly exist. Why set up unrealistic expectations for yourself?" But in truth, I don't believe that. I do believe it possible to have a home that inspires my family to be better people. I do believe it possible to manage my time where I can get it all done. Women used to get it done. They HAD to. No stopping for BBQ when you didn't menu plan and it's 5:00 and have no idea what's for dinner. If they could build a fire for the oven to make all the bread for a family of 12, I can find time to turn the switch on my oven, and make bread for our family of 6. If they could heat water on their stove they just had to add wood to, to heat water to wash the laundry by hand, I can keep on top of my piles of laundry.

BUT I've made a commitment to myself that I won't take on too much at once. I won't.

And amazingly, taking it a baby step at a time has been working!

One of the first steps we've taken is to change up the way we do chores. We used to do chores where I just told people what I wanted them to do. It worked okay but took too long and never stayed clean. Now they have Jurisdictions. Thanks Duggars. They have areas they are responsible for. We just started that change a few weeks ago and it's made a difference for sure. At chore time I can just tell them to clean their jurisdictions. A few times a day I have them do a quick pickup of their jurisdictions. Here soon I'm going to start doing "checks" during the day to get them used to KEEPING their jurisdictions clean. Maybe a reward system (though in all honesty I hate reward systems so we'll see about that). Nothing like watching a child (or a Mom ACK) step over a sock on the floor as they walk by. As the house has stayed cleaner downstairs, miraculously we have more time for bigger cleaning jobs (slowly but surely Clay. Be patient), gardening, school, etc. A cleaner house for some reason has given us more time for everything!

In the next few weeks I'll post all the little changes I've made or will make. Little changes. I need to keep telling myself that.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Weekends are for rest?

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Not around here! Weekends are for work. The evenings of weekends are for resting. Last weekend the weather was amazing. In the low 70s, slight breeze and SO much to do. Like SO many others it seems, we're a tad behind on getting our garden finished up. Not anymore! Hooray! So my super sweet husband woke up Frankie at 5 am, and they drove the truck and trailer to a farm a ways away and picked up two big loads of that great composted manure I wrote about earlier. When they got back, the work day really began.

First, we shoveled out all that compost and spread it across the whole garden. What a beautiful site to see all that black out there instead of brown. Ah for the day my soil is naturally just black and has great structure and yum.... So Clay rented a tiller and him and Frankie went to work. Frank was so proud his Daddy let him run the tiller. Look at that face. Love that dude.

While we hope to get to where we have great soil structure and never have to till it, there is nothing quite like amazing fluffy dirt. Love it.

Everyone pitched in. The ducks did their part picking out bugs and seeds. The chickens did too but you know those chickens, they're camera shy.

Adric was the resident rock picker alongside his Mama, following behind the tiller picking out any big rocks. Mom just threw the rocks in the woods but Adric was proud of showing off his spoils whenever his bucket got too heavy.

Then we made our wide rows. We are doing intensive planting via this amazing book:
I'll talk more about this as the gardening season goes forward and I can take good pictures and really show it. I did link the book picture to the great seed site partnered with this book. I love their philosophy not just their seeds. And I love that their seed catalog instead of having great color pictures to promote their seeds, they have fabulous descriptions (I use their catalog as a planting and growing guide!) they use their color pictures to show the places around the world they are teaching people how to grow food in a way that is bountiful and self-sustaining. Love it.

You know while it would seem that you could just rake that fluffy soil into rows, soil is heavy. HEAVY. It took us forever shoveling to make these rows. By the time this day was done it seemed like I shoveled dirt for 6 hours. You can see everyone working together, even the baby, putting straw over everything to help avoid erosion. We made some grand mistakes this year not knowing better. We left our soil without mulch or groundcover and suffered some horrible erosion. Our dirt was almost ruined and void of any organic matter or living organisms. It was sad. Never again. Cover crops and mulch are my friends.

We also cleared most of the rest of the orchard area. Remember when Clay started cutting trees here? It's hard work to clear all the limbs and move them out. Rewarding work though. We're closer. Hopefully soon a friend will be bringing his tractor and getting those stumps out for us. And hopefully help us clear the last few big trees that are too close for comfort to the power lines.

Okay I said all we did was work but that's not true. Can't have work without play. Saturday Clay went out and put up a swing on a tree for the littles. They LOVE it.

We started our new family activity. Knife throwing. We all suck. :)

And finally Sunday when we were all done, we had a nice relaxing evening. The sky looked like this,
accompanied with a nice wind, so the new kite came out. For his birthday Frankie got $10 from his awesome aunt. It was the most he's gotten at once yet and was SO excited. He's agonized over how to spend that $10 for months. Then he saw the kite. It was $18 and begged me to loan him the money to buy it. How could I resist after all the times he wanted to spend it and didn't? So Clay set out on building it. The new family rule? No more complicated kites allowed LOL!

And then flying it. We had so much fun. The wind was erratic and kept switching so it wasn't great kite weather but it was fun nonetheless and allowed everyone time to just unwind and enjoy themselves.

And when people are happy they let me take their picture. Cassie laughs and is silly so much yet whenever I take her picture she gets all serious.

And look at THIS guy. SO OLD. So grown up. Where's my baby?

Sigh. I feel like I just lived a whole weekend just typing this. And the idea that anyone would read this far? You deserve a prize. Here take some brownies.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Who needs flowers?

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When you have compost? See this:?

Aged. Over a year aged manure. My amazing husband agreed to go get me TWO loads of this aged manure for the garden. I'm so excited! To think women want jewelry when they can have aged manure. What's wrong with people these days? :o) I can't wait to finish this garden up!! The weather's going from snow Sunday to in the 70s by this Saturday. So this weekend is garden finishing time. Woohoo!

Welcome our new additions :)

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It's a busy time around here. All sorts of fun things going on around here. It makes me always wonder how all these homesteaders with loads of littles have time to blog everyday. Onto our new arrivals.

Meet the Rhode Island Reds. There are more of those guys. 10 in total but these are their spokespeople. Note I said spokesPEOPLE. That guys who got a little out of control with the green marker is the rooster. He better be a good one. We miss our other RIR rooster, Max. Our mean rooster Prince (who's in the freezer now) ran him off and we miss him. Rhode Island Reds aren't usually the kind of chicken to want to be close to humans, but they're not skiddish either and are great egg layers. They have always performed incredibly well for us so we got 10 of them.

Next, meet the Buffs. Buff Orpingtons. We've always had those. Always. They're fluffy and gorgeous and are fairly good egg layers but they are Mommies most of all. They love to set and make us little babies. And Buffs are one of the friendliest chickens out there. We don't really handle our chickens a lot but if we did they'd love for us to pick them up and whatnot. Just sweet chickens. With ONE exception. This doesn't hold true for their roosters. Our mean rooster that attacked kids and babies and adults and other chickens and ducks and was just mean was a Buff Orpington. So glad to be rid of Prince.
Those yellow Buffs are classic little chickies eh?
Here's a grown Buff Orpington:

Onto the Barred Rocks. I only got 4 of them but should have gotten more. They're my favorite "looking" chicken and ours laid all winter this year. Even when everyone else slowed a little she laid and laid. I should have gotten 10 of them!

Their markings look like this. Don't know why it's just a Barred Rock rear end but whatever.
I love Barred markings.

Next onto the Black Sex Links. Here's another one that are egg laying machines and I regret not having more. But honestly. How many eggs a day do we REALLY need? We'll be getting a couple dozen a day during peak season with all these girls. 2 dozen. Black Sex Links are my least favorite looking chickens but definitely the best layers
Here's a little Black Sex Link pullet (a young girl chicken) so you can see the markings
Last but not least the Ameracauanas or "Easter Eggers". They'll be all sorts of different colors and they lay all sorts of different color eggs. Okay well mostly green but all sorts of shades of green. We always get some of these each year because the kids can pick one for "their" chicken that is a totally different color than anyone else's. Last year we had "Fluffy, Cocoa, and Isabella". This year we have "Nana" (Mom bought em for us and so we bought one that's for her and named after her), and the kids have yet to name theirs. Well they've named them a few times but nothing has sticked yet
The first one is Adric's. You can't see it but it has a cool looking cheetah face. The next is Frankie's. It looks just like his one from last year. The striped head one is Cassie's. It's a cool looking chick for sure. And last but not least. Nana :)

They lived a few days in a box in the house but now live in the trailer that was in the tour thread. They have two heat lamps in there and are healthy and thriving despite it being down in the teens at night. They'll be in there for quite a while. Right now they're only allowed in about a third of the trailer and it's more than big enough. So they should be fairly big before they outgrow it. The hens are mad though because they started laying eggs in there. They walk around it mad and squawking. So I guess I will be finishing up the chicken coop ASAP. Our black australorp has taken to laying on Clay's work bench on the back porch for some odd reason.

Alright off to real life.