Category Archives: Critters

Things that are living on our homestead

My Great Coop Coup

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about getting stuck in the chicken coop for an hour.  I came to a lot of conclusions, one conclusion I didn’t include in that post was how I escaped.

While I came had some powerful realizations about my life while in the coop at the end of the hour, I was ready to get out.  So I was relieved when I heard my mom letting the dogs out of the house.  They came to the edge of their fenced in yard and started barking.  They were just within sight from the window of the coop.  I was so happy.  They were my Lassie’s.  I started banging on the metal roof of the coop.  But I didn’t start making a racket soon enough to catch my mom’s attention before she went back in.  That’s fine, I knew I could get her attention to release me from my impromptu meditation chamber once she came out to let the dogs in.  At least I hoped so.

So I strained and I watched the dogs’s movements, hoping I would see them scurry to the door when my mom came to the door let them back inside.  When my mom came out to let the dogs in, she noticed that one of the dogs refused to move away from the fence.  That dog was Tuxy.  Our old Border Collie/Collie mix.  (He looks like a black Lassie.) 20141215_142907While she was goading him to come inside she heard the ruckus I was making in the coop.  She rushed outside to release me.

I was free.  I got a big hug from my mom, and then went on to give a big hug to my son.

Since then Chris has added a safety release string on the inside of the coop which he tested.  20141215_145514

It consists of a long string and a drilled hole.  Simple and Effective.

The Chickens Are Working

While we are currently not getting any eggs from our hens, we are still making them work to earn their living.  One way they earn their keep is by making us laugh.  Another way they earn their keep is by turning down our garden for us for the winter.

There are two main ways I like to put my garden to bed for the winter:

  1. use a cover crop
  2. mulch it

I usually mulch mine, although I find a cover crop to be highly beneficial.  This year I mulched my garden down, and released the chickens to knock help break up the soil and fertilize everything.  They cleaned up the dropped veggies, and are helping to aerate the soil.

The area we fenced for them is slightly larger than my old garden, so they helped me to expand my garden.  We simply place a bale of straw over the grass and the chickens get to work.   They spread the straw and break up the sod.

The amount of feed we were giving the chickens decreased dramatically when we first gave the chickens the run of the garden. As the days get colder, and the garden is more picked over, we are seeing our feed bill increase again.

This is our way to do as Mike, the Gentleman Homesteader says, ” have our systems work harder than we do.”

Here’s a little un-editted video to show of some of the work our feathered (and semi-unfeathered) friends are doing for us.



Our First Great Molt

So it’s here!  I’ve been thinking about it, and concerned about it starting last year this time.  It’s that time in a chicken’s life when they lose all their feathers.  It’s a time when they molt.  During this time a hen will stop laying eggs.  The chicken’s first molt will occur at about 18 months of age, and again about a year after that.

Chickens, like all birds, molt.  Humans constantly lose hair and replace it with new strands.  Dogs constantly shed with a bigger hair loss around seasonal changes.  The dog’s lost hair is then replaced with hair more appropriate for the coming season.  Birds lose all of their feathers at one time and replace them with beautiful new plumage.  Before the arrival of her new feathers, the hen is quite odd looking with bald patches over her body.  She will also be very tender and quite grumpy towards her other chicken friends.

Right now two of our original five girls are molting.  I’ve noticed that the girls that are molting are territorial with their food.  I believe this is due to an increased need of protein for their bodies to make these new feathers.  The other three will probably start their molt in the next few days.  We can expect the molt to last anywhere between 3 to 4 weeks all the way to 12 to 16, depending on the molt.

One of our Easter Eggers mid-molt

One of our Easter Eggers mid-molt

This is causing my husband to have rather sad mornings.   He’s had to supplement his normal over easy egg breakfast with oatmeal, muffins, or other foods that aren’t quite as good as eggs.  With the reduced sunlight, molting non-laying hens and our young chickens too young to lay, we are left with 0 to 2 eggs a day from our flock of over twenty.  Compared this to our summer egg numbers where we were collected between six and ten eggs daily from 10 hens.

After the molt, the chickens will lay fewer eggs in number, but the eggs they do lay will be larger.  I believe the young hens will begin laying about the same time our older hens are out of their molt.

What the inside of our nesting boxes have looked like lately - EMPTY.

What the inside of our nesting boxes have looked like lately – EMPTY.

So right now, we feed them, watch them, and enjoy their antics but not their eggs.  They are also fenced into my garden and working hard to create lots of fertility for our veggies next spring.  Their feathers will return as will their eggs.  And we will be ready.

More Hawk News

Since my last post, we have had another chicken meet her demise by the talons of a hawk. A hawk swooped through the one opening in our netting and killed another one of the chickens.  This time it was a fully grown chicken.  Though the hawk didn’t get a chance to enjoy his pilfered meal, due to a panic that set over him.  Once he killed our chicken, he realized he couldn’t simply fly away.  He spent all of his energy trying to find the exit of the run where he came in.  He left the carcass of the chicken on the ground.


After this we added security to our run.  We strung old fishing line over the openings.  This seems to have worked.  We have had no more hawk attacks.  Although we still have hawks which come in our yard, and eye up our chickens, we have been hawk-attack-free for 5 days.


Our neighbor, who is an avid-ish bird-watcher stopped by, and the issue of the hawks came up.  He informed us that we are in the middle of a massive migration of the Broad-winged hawk.  Hawk Mountain, which is about 15 miles from our house, counted 888 hawks in JUST ONE DAY.  So, chances are that we are not getting the same hawk time and time again.  This explains why we had two chickens killed in one day.  Also, this gives me some relief that this is a seasonal problem.  I will still be able to have my chickens do my garden clean up for me.

If the hawks wouldn’t be eating my entertainment and egg-suppliers, I would actually be quite excited to be seeing them come through.  Perspective is a powerful lens.  Yet another lesson learned from our land.


Attack of the Hawk

Having chickens makes me look at wildlife a bit differently.  Two years ago, I would have been thrilled to have a hawk hanging out in my back yard.  It would have been a treat to get to see a bird of prey on a regular basis.  And if I got to watch a hawk pluck his breakfast from yard, it would have caused elation.  What a neat sight! What a powerful creature.


Here’s the monkey-wrench in my admiration of this powerful bird: we have chickens.  Hawks eat chickens.  This hawk made meals out of our chickens.  This first happened when I was on my way out the door.  I saw the hawk leaving our front yard with a chicken in it’s talons.  I was a little conflicted, it was neat to see the hawk, but I had a bit more negative emotions about the demise of one of our new 16 chicks.  It was one of the Easter Eggers.  One less blue egg laying bird.

Being that this was our first fatality with all of our new batch of 16, I took this loss in stride.  What I did not take in stride is coming out a few mornings later to see this hawk perched on the outside of the coop causing my girls to cackle in fear.  I was able to grab a picture as he flew away.

Hawk Flies from Chicken Coop


A few days later, he got another young Easter Egger, and that afternoon he picked off another Easter Egger, right in front of my husband.  Now we’d had it.

Before this point, we had the little girls free ranging and the big girls in the coop and run.  They shared the coop which was separated by a fence.  They were getting used to each other so that when they were fully integrated, the little girls would not be too bullied by the big girls.

We decided to integrate them fully.  This was a little earlier than we had first anticipated, but only by about a week.  So we took down the divider, and everything went fine.  The little girls would have more places to hide and not as much opportunity to be out in the open as they had when they were free ranging.  We thought this would make out hawk problem go away.  It did not.20140902_072244

Within a few days, this same old stupid stinky hawk (see how my view on the creature has changed) came down and killed my one and only Buff Orpington.  I was not happy (I’m still not fully over it).  So we covered the pen with netting.  There are a few spots that are open, but we have not seen the hawk since we made this enclosure.   I’m crossing my fingers that this works.  I’m also looking for a solution, so that we can move the girls into our portable fencing so they can do the fall clean up on my garden!  I will keep you updated.

How to Make a Cheap Brooder

Our 15 chicks are here!! And we’re ready for them.


We had our brooder all set up and ready to go.  We only bought a few special chicken things.  The majority of what we used to build the brooder was things that we hadd around the house.


The base of our brooder was a kiddie pool.  We found this along the side of the road.  Yay for free things!! Your base should not have any corners.  The baby chicks could get crowded in a corner and be smooshed to death.  As most prefer their chicks alive and unsmooshed, please use a brooder with rounded sides.

Our live birds will want to be warm.  After all, at the beginning of their lives, they are designed to live in the warm protection of a mother hen.  That’s why a good source of heat is super important.  We used old heat lamps my husband had for his snake.  We hung two up as we had so many chicks to keep warm.  The older the babies get, the less they need a heat source.  Therefore as the chicks age, we are slowly lifting the heat lamps higher.  This is essentially the same as turning the heat down.  A rule of thumb: if the chicks are all huddled together under the heat source, they are cold and need more heat.  If they are spread out away from the heat source, you have too much heat.

Being that the chicks are living beings, they need food and water.  I purchased the waterer and feeder.  No creative solutions here, but plenty exist.  I bought regular chick feed and use water from our faucet.  When you first get the chicks out of the box they come in, make sure you show them where their water is by gently dipping their beaks.


Finally, we bought pine shavings for their bedding.  Pine shavings are slightly acidic which helps keep the stinkiness factor to a minimum.  You can use almost any sort of bedding, but being that the chicks are living in my basement, I spring for the good stuff.  DO NOT lay newspaper down flat, it is too slippery and the babies will hurt their legs.  DO NOT use cedar shavings, this will hurt their lungs.  Make sure you change their bedding on a fairly regular basis.

As they get older, they start to get a bit flighty.  At that point, the sides of our baby pool are not high enough to keep the girls in.  We take some old fencing and place it around the perimeter of the pool.

This whole set up took us less than 15 minutes.  And the best part is that everything is reusable with the exception of the pine shavings.

We’ve Remodeled! (Our Chicken Coop, that is)

Chris and I have remodeled the inside of our coop.  First and foremost, its to make room for babies!! That’s right! We are expanding our flock from 10 ladies to 25.  We decided to make this addition due to a demand for our eggs.  Friends and family have been asking to buy eggs from us, and right now, we don’t have enough to supply ourselves and both Chris’s and my parents.

What did we do to remodel and make our coop so that it will happily house 1.5x more chickens?  We expanded the roosts up.  That way all of the girls can find a place to sleep at night.  Before we made this change the girls only had three perches.  This was perfect for our ten girls, but would not have been enough for our additions.  Also, the perches were made from bamboo, and needed to be replaced anyway as they were aging and becoming brittle.





This was made out of 2×4’s.  It only takes up half the coop, as the other half has the nesting boxes.  The nesting boxes used to be straight back from the door.


Our girls stopped laying in there, and all ten of them started laying in the southeast corner of the coop.


Ten girls laying in one spot is not ideal, so we decided to work with them.  After all, a chicken knows best what makes a chicken happy.  We moved the nesting boxes to this location.


So, did it work?  Let’s take a closer look at the photo above:


YES!! and they use all four of the boxes. So it’s not ten girls vying for one spot.

We will be adding an extra waterer and feeder later.  I hope the big girls are ready to add to their flocking family (pun intended).

It may take some time for everyone to adjust to their remodeled home, but we wanted everyone to be used to their new place before the little chicks were added.


Free and Easy Treats for Chickens

Chicken food can be expensive.  A 40 pound bag of organic feed (highlight being GMO-free) costs us about $30.  In the Spring time, our chickens supplement their own feed by eating the grass and bugs in their pen.  They also enjoy some of our kitchen scraps.   This time of year, I can give my girls a special treat of mulberries for FREE with almost no work.

Mulberries are growing all around our property and they are ripe for the picking.

Mulberry Tree

Mulberry Tree with ripe mulberries

I simply cut a branch off to throw into my chickens (like I said EASY, I don’t even have to pick them).

Cutting a Branch

Cutting a Branch

And since I’m a softy, I picked up some of the berries that fell to the ground for them:



You can eat them raw, or process them into jam, if you don’t have chickens or just don’t feel like sharing.  They have a mild taste, and are super easy to grow (as in some people consider them undesirable pain).  But these berries are for my little egg machines.

I throw the whole limb in the pen and scatter the ones I picked up from the ground around the limb.  The girls enjoy the treat, and they have fun picking through the leaves.  So they are enjoying a snack and some entertainment.

Chickens enjoying their summer treat of mulberries.

Chickens enjoying their summer treat of mulberries.

These mulberries came from a tree that is growing on the forest’s edge naturally.  I wanted to make my life even easier, and take myself out of the equation, so I took a cutting in May of this year and planted it by the chicken pen.  The idea is that when it gets large enough to fruit, the fruit will drop into their pen and give the girls a treat without me doing anything.  Right now, I’m planning so that I can be lazy in the future.

Future Chicken Treats

Future Chicken Treats

Daily Chicken Chores

Keeping chickens is a lot of fun.  I enjoy watching the girls run around.  I enjoy them searching for bugs.  And one of my favorites is when one of the girls finds a big juicy bug, and the others chase her around the pen.  After providing all this entertainment, they still provide eggs, pest control and fertilizer.  What a wonderful animal.

So what do I do on a daily basis to keep the coop running?  Quite frankly, not much.

  • I check their food and water daily.  If I know I’m going somewhere for an entire day, I make sure everything is topped off before I go.  If it is really hot out, I go out several times throughout the day to add ice cubes to their water.  If it is super cold, we add hot water to prevent freezing, so they have water to drink.
  • I use a deep-bedding method.  So every day  (or every other day) I add some fresh straw to the coop.  The straw (wood chips work even better, but I have more access to straw) soaks of the nitrogen of the chicken poop.  This become very yummy worm food, and gives you super healthy soil.  I clean this out every 3 to 6 months (this takes an hour or more)  As this composts down gives you girls some heat in the winter.
  • I collect yummy eggs.
  • In the winter, I shut the coop up at night to keep the heat in, and in the morning I open it back up.

These are the only things I do.  So maybe 15 minutes a day, at most.  But it is every day.  This is also after everything is built (which took a lot of time).  I also really enjoy my girls, so I will go out just to spend time with them and watch them be chickens.  When they see me coming they actually run to the fence to greet me (or maybe they are looking for some kitchen scraps I usually bring).

I have plans to move them to a shifting paddock system in the future.  (I will write more about this in the future). This will take a bit of time every week, but not much.

If you want to take a step toward simplicity, and you want to get closer to providing more for yourself, I recommend chickens.

Newspaper Article

I was interviewed by the Reading Eagle a couple weeks ago.

First I talked to the reporter on the phone for about 30 minutes.  Then, an awesome photographer came out and took pictures of my chickens.  It was a real treat to have him come out.

The overall process was pretty amazing, and it was super cool to go to the store to pick up the paper.  (well, a few papers, actually).  It was in the Sunday paper and the front page of the lifestyle section.  It was a very cool thing.

Check out the link here.

I would like to make two notes:

The egg quantity are daily amounts, not weekly.

The rooster attacking me was not a big deal.

Other than that, I am very happy with the job the reporter did.