Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lazy Summer Days

Things are summer lazy and slow around here, so I thought I would just post a few pics of the happenings over the last week.

First, a chick update! The Babies are growing like crazy! They are about 6 weeks old now and have graduated to sleeping with Georgia in the big coop. They sleep in a nest box...a "no-no", I know...but it is easier than dealing with caging the little family separately every night and they are safer. Which is a good thing, since we have smelled (and seen) a few skunks nosing around!

The chick on the left is Natasha. Darling Daughter wanted to call her Black Widow, because DD is obsessed with all things Avengers right now, but I talked her into something not so evil sounding. Front and center is little Captain. Still the most adventurous and wide ranging of all the chicks. Still can't quite tell if this one is a boy or a girl...

And then there is this little sweetie, Flossie, by name, who has gotten herself in some trouble that I don't know if she can survive. I went out one morning to discover that her bottom beak was twisted off to the side. She is still managing to eat and drink ok, but I am wondering how she will preen herself and free range with her beak in such bad shape. Right now, we are keeping an eye on her.  If you have any thoughts on how we might help her, please, do share!

And now, for breaking news...did you know that the Earth has a huge dent on one side?!?  At least it would appear so, based on the shadow on the moon in the image seen here. Who knew?

These two fellas are really growing up! It seems like just yesterday, they were getting up in the am to make a gun and tinkle (in that order) before breakfast! Now look at them! Guarding their gardens from pesky crows and tending their plants with great care. What fine young men they are becoming!

I am so very thankful, this week, for all of the herb training that I received at the Dawson/Forsyth chapter of LHG.  Last year we had an Apothecary Swap and I got a good start on my own apothecary. We put it all to good use this week, with three kids with summer colds. I have to say, I love me some Usnea tincture and Thieves salve! To find a chapter near you, check out the events tab at

Here's hoping your summer is winding down nicely! What are you doing to get ready for fall?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Beautiful Misty Morning

A few sights from around the farm on this misty morning.

It's amazing what you can see when you add a little water!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer Showers

If April showers bring May flowers...then what do summer thunderstorms bring? Take a look!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Planting by the Light of the Moon

We are new gardeners, over here at we are trying out some different things, to see what works the best in our climate, soil and within the time we have available to work in the garden and process the produce.

One of our new neighbors came over just before July 4th and turned a large garden plot for us. It is roughly 50' by 80' and honestly, the sight of it scares me to death!!  I am now responsible to plant, tend and harvest all of this space! So, I did what any self-respecting homesteader would do. I gave each of the three kids a large plot to plant! Whew! That takes a little off my plate :-)

Getting a new garden space!

And then I followed the advice of my sweet friend DeLynn over at Gibson Farm...know what she said? "Put the seeds in the ground. They know what to do from there." Why didn't I ever think of that?!

So, while poking around on the Farmers' Almanac site I discovered Gardening by the Moon...the theory is that the pull of the moon during its different cycles has an effect on the seeds, much as the moon pulls the tides in and out. It sounds good, so we are giving it a try. Here is the link: Gardening by the Moon Calendar

Little bean plants...after only 3 1/2 days!

We made up a calendar, and the kids just check it every day, to see what they can plant. It is fun, watching them make plans for their spaces, and seeing how each plot takes on the character of its owner.

Sweet Potato tending her plot

Time will tell how our "moon planting" will work out...stay tuned for more photos!

A tiny pepper...this was a transplant, so it is farther along

Look!! A tiny little squash!
Now, if I could just get Chipero to deliver a few loads of wood chips out here, I could try some Back to Eden Gardening, too!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

To Coop, or not to Coop...that is the Question!

So you want chickens. Yay!  I am truly happy for you because I know first hand the joy of owning chickens. My birds make me smile with their antics and puzzle over their 'interpersonal relationships,' and sometimes, they bring me to the brink of using bad words...but wait! This post is supposed to be about let's save the drama for another day!

If you followed a similar path to me, once you decided to actually go for it, and buy some chickens, you have spent countless hours scouring the internet and any available library book for information on how to house your feathered flocks. You have probably bent the ear of any and everyone you know who actually has chickens and now, when they see you coming, they suddenly remember an appointment for a root canal, that they just cannot miss!

Have no fear, relentless researcher!  I am here to save you any more grief. That is, if you take the path that I have walked and dive into Open Air Housing (OAH) for your flocks. I first heard of OAH from a fellow lady homesteader at a Ladies Homestead Gathering meeting. She referred me to an awesome book called The Small Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery. I checked it out at the library (am I the only one who does that? Get it free first and make sure I like it before I spend cashola on it?!) and immediately knew that I had found a book that would help me define my Chicken Philosophy.

Initially, it seems that most new chicken folk think that they have to lock up their birds in tight houses during the winter or risk losing them all to death by cold air and bad weather. I know that is what I thought! So our first chicken coop was a sight to behold! It was made over from a play house that had crashed in the woods, and my husband did a masterful job turning this wrecked structure into a safe place for our first flock.

Our first chicken coop and run...we called it Fort Knox, as it was built to resist all local predators...and it did!
We covered the windows with 1/2" hardware cloth, and built the run of the same material, with a 12" apron of wire coming out horizontally from the base. Over the two years we were at this farm, this house had many uses. Initially, it housed our layers, then later, we used it as a home for broody hens, new chicks (meat and layers) and even as our hospital for sick animals.

It was a great chicken coop, or so I thought until I started reading chapter 6 in The Small Scale Poultry Flock. Mr. Ussery writes about the benefits of OAH which are better air quality, less frost bite and fewer respiratory issues in the winter and healthier birds overall. And as I read what he wrote, I realized that he was right! In the hot summer months, I could not make this closed coop smell good. And I knew if I did not want to be in there, then it was not a good place for the Girls to be sleeping all night!

That first hot summer was followed by an unusually cold winter. Thankfully, I did not have to deal with any frost bite (most of my birds had rose combs), but knowing what could happen in such a moist, cold environment, made me think long and hard about how to change the housing situation for my Girls.

Enter Coop #2, our use-what-you-have coop.  Almost the entire structure was built with what we had on hand, though we did have to buy wire and a few 2 by 4's. Most of the wood was from an old playhouse structure we had from our last home, plus some barn wood from a friend and scraps we found buried in the leaves in the woods (the benefit of living in an older house where people just dumped excess building materials in the woods!)

Front view of new coop

Side and Rear View of new coop

Nest box detail on new Coop - the front dropped down for egg collection

I LOVE this coop!!  The Hillbilly and the Kids and I built this coop over a two week period in July of 2014. Don't ask me why we were outside building in July, in Georgia...I guess the heat addled our brains!  Things I love. It was a bright, open, sunny coop. Never hotter than the outside air, and tucked as it was in the woods, there was almost always and breeze and it was never nearly as hot as the closed coop! We tarped the top all year, to keep the Girls dry in the rain, and tarped the west facing side in the winter, to protect their backs from the wind. The bedding was a mix of composting leaves from the woods, with an occasional bale of pine shavings, when we did not have time to go bring in leaves.

The overall dimensions were 8 feet deep by 16 feet long. The roof was sloped..hmmm...I am thinking at the back it was a little over 5 feet and in the front, closer to six feet. The outside was covered in 1/2" hardware cloth again (including the 12" apron around the base). We had a divider of chicken wire down the center of the coop, so that we could separate flocks when needed. Each side had a five gallon water bucket with watering nipples and a large metal feed holder, both suspended from the ceiling. And finally, there was a nest box on each end. The roost was a flat 2 by 6 which ran the 16 foot length of the coop, that enabled the girls to keep their toes warm all winter long.

This coop was my interpretation of what I was reading about open air coops.  I have since read Fresh Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D., which is the book that got Mr. Ussery thinking about and using OAH. When I build my next winter housing for my birds, I will do a variation of the house above for them. The main change  I will make is to cover the sides better in the winter, so that there is more of a wind break. That said, I had zero frostbite, no frozen toes and no sickness in my birds for the winter they spent in this coop.

Then came our move to Virginia. By now, I am convinced that this OAH works, so I have the Hillbilly build our next iteration...the Eggmobile.  In Virginia, we are out of the woods and on to grass dotted with fruit trees, nut trees and some larger deciduous and pine trees. Our plan is to move the Eggmobile around the property, keeping the Girls on fresh grass and utilizing Electronet to keep them safe from predators (and to keep them from poopin' on the porch!).

Winter view of the Eggmobile

Summer view of the Eggmobile
The Eggmobile is basically a cube, built from 1 by 2's. It is wrapped in 1/2" hardware cloth and the Girls are locked up in here at night, to keep them safe from the skunks, possums and coyotes that roam the area. Every week or two, we hook this up to the lawn mower and tow it to a new site (hopefully it will soon have wheels to make this move a little easier). In between, we move the Electronet around the coop to give the girls fresh grass and bugs. The perches are all on the same level, so the girls can walk over them to get to their preferred spot. The nest box opens up into the coop, and the lid also lifts for easy egg collection.

During the winter, as you can see in the first pic, we wrap the top and two sides in tarps, leaving the remaining two sides and bottom open. We position the coop so that the prevailing winds hit the coop on the wrapped sides, protecting the birds from the cold winds. In the summer, we leave the top covered and raise the tarps up to allow the breeze to blow through the coop and to provide shade for the Girls. In addition there is a tarp off the side of the coop that covers the food and water buckets to keep them dry.

This winter, I plan on parking the Eggmobile in the middle of the garden and letting the girls eat the leftover gardens items and work the soil. I am hoping to sow some winter grasses on one end of the garden, knowing it will provide some food and warming exercise for them in the colder months. Ideally I will be able to build a hoop house from cattle panels, so that I can give the girls a more sheltered place to spend the cold winter days....we will have to see if we can actually pull that one off this year!

What have you found works best for you and your birds?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Introducing Lucas McCain!

Meet Lucas McCain, the resident Roo at HoW!  He is a handsome fellow, don't you think? He was bred and hatched on our farm in Georgia. He is half Rhode Island Red and half Easter Egger...have you ever seen a RIR with a beard?!  Lucas is named for the TV character, the Virginian. We name all of our roos after old Western cowboys, and when I asked the Hillbilly for the name of a huge, but mild mannered cowboy, Lucas McCain is the name that immediately came to mind.

Thankfully for Lucas, he got his mother Duckie's temperament, and not his father's. His father, Jasper, ended up making a hasty trip to Freezer Camp when he decided to pen me in a corner, and all I could lay my hands on was a five foot long log. But that is another story for another day.

All in all, Lucas is a good Roo. He watches out for his Girls, calls them when he finds treats and is great at warning them when he spots a hawk. His only problem is, he is huge! He is about twice as big as all the hens!

Our giant of a rooster

I believe that this size differential is leading to some breeding issues with our hens. A few months ago, when one of our Rhode Island Red hens, Georgia, went broody, we had high hopes of her hatching out a good baker's dozen of chicks for us. Sadly, only three hatched, and I have to wonder, is it because we are not getting good fertilization because of how big Lucas is?

Anyway, Georgia did hatch out three chicks, and she is a very good Momma.  Today, Georgia got to take her babies out of the brooder pen, to explore the big, wide world, or at least as much of it as they will see inside the Electronet! They also got to meet their Daddy, Lucas for the first time, and everything seemed to go just fine!

Captain saying hi to Dad while Georgia keeps an eye on things

The interesting thing about breeding your own chicks is watching to see what you get when you mix different breeds. For example, Lucas is half RIR and half Egger. The chicks' Mommas are most likely Eggers, which makes them 3/4 Egger and 1/4 RIR...still with me? All the chicks have Egger coloring, but two have the classic "green" legs of EEs and one, a light colored chick called Captain, has yellow legs like dear old Dad. Only time will tell what color eggs we get out of our newest flock members!

Hey, I just had a thought! Maybe I should order a few of the 'heavy breeds' of chickens to get some girls that can handle our big Roo...hmmm...Think the Hillbilly will go for that? I am always looking for a reason to get more chickens!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

When Pigs Fly

"I'll move to Virginia when pigs fly!"

Well, I never actually said those words, but that is kinda how it felt...that moving to the old family home place was not something that would ever happen for us. I wonder if God saw that as a never. Hmmm... you know that "never" that you say, to which God replies, "Oh, really?" with a raised eyebrow. Yeah, that never.

So here we are parked in a 31' travel trailer behind the Outlaws garage. This is the story of how we got here.

A few years ago, we lived in Colorado...big blue skies, the towering Rocky Mountains to the west, three squirrely kiddos and a square foot garden. This is where our homesteading journey began, with our little square foot garden and lots of reading. No chickens yet, though I desperately wanted some...but the coyotes were just a little too good at climbing fences and my husband, the Hillbilly was not ready for that step.

Fast forward through a ruptured disk and a cross-country move to Georgia. We lived in my very patient sister's bonus room for six months, then in a subdivision with tons of poison ivy and some rude skater kids next door. When our landlord played games with the courts and lost the house we were living in, we moved to some place I never thought I would live...the middle of the woods in the north Georgia mountains!

Heirloom Daffies...they smell soooo good!
By this time, I was making the monthly 3 hour trek to Statham for a meeting that was feeding my hunger for all things homesteading. I was attending the founding chapter of the Ladies Homestead Gathering. Herb talks, salve making and bartering, oh, my! I just could not get enough. Oh, and a dear friend gave us a great housewarming gift...some banty Buff Orpington chicks!

One of our 8 new chicks!

Of course, you know how chickens leads to two, leads to 20! Chicken math never works out in favor of the chicken owner!  And this cute little ball of fluff (one of eight) came with "packing peanuts" in the form of a dozen cute little barred rock boyos...which ultimately lead to me needing to learn to process chickens!

Two years later, our flock had grown to 75 birds (+/- 25), both meat birds and layers. In the intervening time I had learned to use a pressure canner, a dehydrator and how to send a chicken (or 25) to Freezer Camp. I was also learning about herbs, essential oils, and, oh...I started a local Chapter of the Ladies Homestead Gathering...because I was having too much fun and wanted to share what I was learning with fellow lady homesteaders!

Our first meeting!

Finally, around Christmas 2014, it became apparent that the Hillbilly's parents (the Outlaws) were in need of some on-site care. So we sold all our furniture, had a huge sale and packed the remainder into a truck and headed for the hills. That is how we ended up in a 31' Rambler behind the garage. Oh, the chickens! Don't forget my chickens. They were all loaded into dog crates, packed into the truck and relocated to their new open air coop.

The Girls (and Lucas) settling in to their new digs.

Wow, it really is hard to condense four and a half years into a few paragraphs! But that is the condensed version. If you want the long version, you will have to come on up. We will set out some chairs by the chicken yard and watch the chicks chase bugs and I can tell you all about it!