Thursday, March 17, 2016

Backyard Chicken Basics

When I first got the chicken bug, I browsed about a million “what you need to know” articles discussing details such as space requirements and feed.  We studied and made plans for a year or two before even building our backyard chicken coop.  I really did my homework, or so I thought.  It turned out that there were several things I didn’t think about that were truly important.  So without further ado, here are a few backyard chicken basics to keep In mind.  


What is the chicken without the egg?  In the beginning I must confess I just wanted “cute” chickens, but down the road my mind turned towards a full and colorful egg basket.  So make sure to research what chickens work best in your climate, their egg productivity, and egg color.  Now go ahead and pick whatever chickens your heart desires.     

Living High And Dry:

Last spring most of the entire country suffered from heavy rains and flooding.  When we built our coop I didn’t really think about keeping the girls out of the muck.  Luckily, and without much planning, we placed our coop and run in a high, angled area of our backyard.  We also built up the run, which was simply to combat the angle of the hill.  Now I am happy to report that it was just lucky that we did – it was never truly mucky even with all the rain. 


Due to our limited space we happened to build our coop right under a large Russian olive tree.  I cursed it at the time because its angle prevented us from building the coop on stilts, which would have given the girls a bit more room.  But now I thank my lucky stars, because that tree provides protection from the sun and other elements.  This is so important for a backyard chicken keeper like me.  It just makes sense if you have an enclosed backyard coop and run, and you happen to work a full-time job.  Fried chickens don’t lay eggs.


In the beginning we did not have a covered roof on our run.  As soon as winter hit I found a real need.   My chickens frown on snow, believe me.  We ended up covering about ¾ of our run with a corrugated roofing material from the hardware store in zero degree weather; yeah, that day was a lot of fun.  That roofing also helped with the overly heavy rain last year.  One last and very important winter pearl of wisdom:   Get yourself a heated poultry fountain, and get it before you need it.   I will guarantee you from experience that if you wait until the first cold snap to discover the need, you and everyone else will be hunting the farm stores for that water heater and you will ALL be out of luck.

Chicken Keeping B.I. (Before The Internet)

My mother, grandmother and great grandmother didn’t have to think of these things - their girls had acres at their disposal, they had it all day long, and they could go anywhere they wanted for shade, bugs or otherwise.  They also didn’t have to think of coop size requirements - they just housed them in a barn or shed where there seemed to be enough room.  They also didn’t fret much about what to feed them – some cracked corn, some table scraps, some garden scraps, and all the bugs they could eat.  In fact, I really doubt they did any chicken research at all and would have a good chuckle at today’s concept of caring for backyard chickens.  Oh, how times have changed.

Another great post for first time chicken keepers:
What To Plan For
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Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Vintage Tablescape

I have been floating around Instagram for awhile now, but just recently became addicted (with a capital A) to following home styling pages.  There are so many creative ingenious decor posts – it really makes me want to go on one heck of a shopping spree.  I can’t believe that my husband would mind, I mean I’m pretty darn sure a super purrty home is high on his priority list.  Okay, okay fine, since I can’t go on a shopping spree and since I know I already have good things, especially good vintage things, I will just have to content myself with a bit of rearranging. 
I always drool over a nice looking table, they say we eat with our eyes first and I believe it.  So when one of the pages I follow posted a #countyhouse challenge, focused on table settings, I just had to take part.  I am not as fancy or as crafty as I would like - but give me an iron and dusting mitt and I'll make something happen.  By the way, I think fresh flowers make just about anything look good and especially when you put them in something out of the ordinary and vintage! 



After I lovingly set up my pretty little table and cleaned up my messes, I sent a quick photo to my mom who then said, “Oh dear, I have been lax in teaching you proper table etiquette.”  She went on to say that the fork and the napkin go to the left of the plate, while the knife and spoon go to the right.  Who would have guessed that I was a table etiquette loser?  We had a good giggle about it and then I took a few more photos. 

My table setting is all vintage except for the tall candleholders, and it all came from either a garage sale or a secondhand or antique store.  That's how I roll.   Hold the horses!  Those white plates on the very bottom were my mother's.  She acquired them from Albertson's grocery store piece by piece, and at some point I stole them from her fair and square. 

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Our Garden In 2015

I am pretty sure I get my love of gardening from my mother who has one heck of a green thumb.  Her flower beds are always striking and one of these years I hope to match her talent around here. This year I am pretty darn satisfied with how it all turned out.  Here is a look at my garden in 2015.  

This year I decided to get a little crazy and grow some unique goodies.  I ordered birdhouse gourd seeds as well as Jarrahdal and Red Warty Thing pumpkin seeds.  I can’t tell you how much fun it has been watching them grow, and am already wondering what I should try next year.  Please feel free to share your suggestions - I am all ears!

While my oddball items turned out well, I had some failures in my regular garden - you know, the one that actually matters.  Odd how that works.  Even though I have complained and fretted all summer about not getting tomatoes, we finally have some.  I have been picking and canning away - not as much as I would like, but enough to put some away for the winter.


When I think garden I typically think about vegetables, but we just can’t leave out the flowers.  I’m pretty sure my front flower bed would make my mother proud; it just has to be the best year yet.  Zinnias, daisies and cone flowers, oh my!

Every garden needs a bit of garden art so this spring I managed to get a bit crafty with a friend.  We are both addicted to Pinterest where it’s pretty easy to find a million and one ideas; the hard part is picking one or two to do.  We ended up crafting celling fan dragonflies and barn wood American flags, because every yard needs them.   

And that is my spring and summer in a nutshell.  I wonder what next year will bring.  How were your gardening adventures this year?
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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Walking In The Shoes Of The Women Who Came Before Me

I am proud to come from a long line of pioneer women.  Canning, butchering, gardening, sewing and caring for livestock was their day to day way of life.  Nowadays, with everything available at the click of a button or at a store near our home, our lives have changed.   Of course that’s not all bad – goodness, I’m sure the coming of store-bought sliced bread was like heaven to our overworked grandmothers.

My interest in my ancestors began several years ago when I started researching my family tree, which led me to thinking about their lives.  I wanted to learn how to do what they did.

My mother always had a huge garden and a canning shelf filled with good food.  My father talks of growing up in the thirties, eating their own canned food, eggs, butter, and home baked bread, along with a lot of wild game and fish.  I think it is fascinating that his mother stored meat in a crock.   She covered it with grease and stored it in the root cellar.  Can you imagine no electricity?  No refrigeration other than the ice chunks cut out of the river?  Cooking on a wood stove?  Scrubbing laundry in a tub?

Gardening and canning were my first adventures.  Gardening and I took right off – I can’t help it, it’s in my gene pool.  Canning was a bit sketchier.  My first canning attempt was grape jelly.  Easy, right?   I think I called my mom about a hundred hand wringing times.  Her advice was to get the Ball Blue Book – READ IT and follow it, along with additional motherly wisdom on the importance of cleanliness and following directions (great advice for any beginning canner).  One day I finally jumped in.  Let’s just say it wasn’t a complete success - in fact I threw my little batch away because I was too afraid to kill my husband and myself in the trying of it. Oy!  Knowing what I know now, I am sure that jelly was just fine but so it goes.  Come to think of it, I also threw out my first batch of canned tomatoes because they didn’t look pretty enough so I thought there was something wrong with them; wrong again.  Anyway, now I am much more comfortable canning.  The more you try the easier it is and the more confidence you will gain.  Promise.    

A few canning facts.  Did you know that processing times vary for different altitudes?  You shouldn’t store your home canned goods with the band on, otherwise you might not realize you have a bad seal.  The best way to open a home canned jar according to my mother- in-law is by placing your thumb on the top and using a butter knife to life the lid.  If you ask my mother, the best way is a church key can opener.  Whatever method you use just don’t go chipping your jar, but if you do, do not use it to process in future because it won’t form a seal.
Even though I live in the city, I decided I wanted chickens.  My husband wisely put up with me and built my wonderful chicken house in our back yard.  I know a great many people think of their chickens as pets.  I am one of those chicken lovers.  I don’t raise my chickens to butcher, but rather for their eggs.  I am, however, pragmatic.  I know chickens are for food as well as for eggs and for cute.  My great-grandmother could wield a chicken killing ax like no other and I am determined to master that skill.  While ax swinging itself isn’t for me, a steady hand and a sharp knife work just as well.  My mom tells me she always preferred letting her chickens die of old age.  I tend to be on her side, kinda.
I suspect that our grandmothers would roll over in their graves to think that anyone would want to go back to the hard work and drudgery they endured every single day.  I am not advocating giving up my very nice life with a Safeway just down the road.  However, I love learning to do what they did.  I have a very great respect for them.  Thank you, ladies.

Originally posted on Countryside Magazine.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

My Pa

Most people would describe my dad as one heck of a character.  I think that’s probably putting it nicely.   Although I personally wouldn’t trade him for any other model, I acknowledge that he was always a stern father, and I am fairly certain a stern husband (right, Mom?)  He was and is always right and he always gets the last word.  This is so true of him that when he placed his own gravestone in our local cemetery (several years ago now) he really took it to heart.  I have always gotten a kick out of it. 

Dad is fond of saying he was born the last day of 1935. The year his mother discovered she was pregnant they were living out of a wagon working a ranch hand job.  Later that year they moved into a homestead shack.  This was not a city guy living the soft life.  I hear tales that his father wasn’t the nicest guy, which also probably affected Pa’s life.   I can tell that his mother doted on him from the many photos of his childhood, and from the way he talks about her.  My mother only knew her for a few years, but she really loved her too.  She describes her as a nice, soft-spoken, kind woman.  Granny died the year I was born.
Dad was what I would call a rootin tootin cowboy.  He broke horses, rode rodeo stock, boxed in the Golden Gloves, and flew a personal plane (at times to a bar somewhere).  He doesn’t eat wild game because that is what they grew up on - it was very often all they had.  He called eggs “chicken eggs,” simply because when he was growing up they also ate guinea eggs and duck eggs, and a chicken egg comes from a chicken.  What he and my mother gave to me was a childhood that just can’t be beat.  Dad was a farmer rancher, and I was a daddy’s girl.  I remember having my blanket on the floor of the combine looking out the glass, spending the day farming with him with packed lunches in the field and an ice cold yellow and white water jug.  Memories include chickens and gardening with my mom, a one room school house, an outhouse, canning, a baby deer, baby lambs, and so much more.
He sure gets a kick out of that gravestone of his and I say job well done, Pa.  I might also mention that he built his own pine coffin to cut down on expenses, but that particular fact doesn’t always impress folks.  Did I say he has a whole lot of “character”?  Love you Dad.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cast Iron Meatloaf

I just love cooking good old fashioned stick-to-your-ribs kinds of meals.  I call it farm cooking.  Who doesn’t have memories of mom’s meatloaf, good or bad.  This is my favorite way to cook a meatloaf.

Grab two pounds of hamburger; add in a small diced onion, some crunched up soda crackers, two eggs, salt and pepper, and whatever other seasonings you like.  Mix it all up - not too much you don’t want your meatloaf to be thick like a brick.  Form it into a loaf.  Now let’s have some fun.  Using your big cast iron frying pan (or you could use a baking dish but it’s not as much fun), place your loaf in the middle and add some goodies around it.  Today I added carrots, potatoes and onions.  Season your veggies and lightly drizzle with olive oil.  Smear some ketchup over the top of the meat.  Cover and bake at 350 for about one hour.  Uncover and bake until done. Yum.  My grandmother also added strips of bacon on top.  She was a health food nut.

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Year in Keeping Chickens - What to Plan For

We are fast approaching the end of our first year of being official backyard chicken farmers.  There are probably a gazillion lists out there of what to expect, but I think I’ll add my own two cents.   

First Things First – Complete Your Coop 
Baby chicks are fun balls of fluff, but let’s be real, you really don’t want them in the house any longer than necessary.  Trust me.

Coop Bedding   
Everyone should research this topic, however, if you want my advice, straw is hands down the way to go.  Shavings are messy and I can’t understand sand at all.  In the end it is all up to personal preference. 
Bedding Down for the Night
Your chickens need a safe environment at night.  You may have to usher them into the coop a few times, and a few times more, but once they catch on you will be golden.  Eventually they will take to roosting too.  Just give it some time. 

Free Ranging
Let those girls out to range as often as you can, it is good for them and good for the soul.   Just not so good for your flowers.
Grit and Oyster Shell
Provide both free choice.  Oyster shell gives the girls extra calcium for those beautiful egg shells.  Grit aids in digestion.  Hopefully your girls will be out foraging enough that they won't really need either but why not provide it just in case?  It’s kinda like having toast without real butter.  No thank you.

  *Heated Water Dish*
Get yourself a heated poultry fountain, and get it before you need it.  We tried a DIY heater and it just did not work out here in the Midwest winter time.  I can guarantee you this much:  if you wait until the first cold snap to discover your DIY heater cannot keep up, you and everyone else will be hunting the farm stores for that elusive water heater and you will ALL be out of luck!
(been there done that)

      As Grandma would say, “They will come when they are ready, and not a minute before.”

 Last but not Least: Don’t Stress!
Kick back and enjoy them. Don’t over worry about this plant or that food item.  Listen, we humans were made with the ability to choose french fries or a salad.  Chickens have another kind of intuition, and it’s all built in.  So unless you have them confined in a small space filled with toxic plants, they will be just fine. 

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

An Apron fit for a Gardening Queen

My mother is a true-blue obsessively crazed gardener, and has been for years.  There is never a time during the summer that she doesn’t have dirt under her nails or garden tools wearing holes through her pockets.  It all pays off because she always has the best flowers in town.

For Mother’s Day I decided she needed a gardening apron.  Maybe it will cut down on her jeans bill?  Here is what I came up with from an old pair of carpenter style jeans.
In case she finds the apron cumbersome, I added an additional button at the perfect width to make it fit the rim of a five gallon bucket.  If she uses it this way, she will have a place for her weeds and her gardening tools.

I really enjoyed this project.  It reminded me of my grade school days when my mom made me a jeans bag to hang on the side of my desk.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Finding the right Spring Chicks

‘Tis the season for spring chicks and I have been on the hunt.  I visited two local feed stores. The first had beautiful baby chicks, just not the right ones for me.  The second made my heart twitterpate.
If you follow the chicken community you will understand the differences between: Ameraucana and “Americana” (ahem) i.e. Easter Eggers.  I asked the very young man at the counter if he knew which breed these beautiful girls were, he said they are Americans... and they lay blue eggs.   I said sold.   In reality, the actual egg is the only thing that truly matters to me, no matter the color.  These girls are without a doubt Easter Eggers, and we shall enjoy them.
Here is a lovely post by Fresh Eggs Daily about the differences in blue/green egg laying chickens:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Our Coop Build

We really appreciate the requests for our coop plans. I cannot express how exciting it has been to receive so many “job well done” comments as well as Facebook shares and Pinterest pins.
What we can try to give you is a pictorial plan.
My husband is not a carpenter but he is an “if my wife can dream it I can build it” kinda handy man.
When we began talking coop, he said draw your vision and we will see what we can do.  Next he said, “You know I’ve never built a dog house, let alone a palace for chickens.” 
All you need is a bit of time and a few tools and you can do anything you put your mind to.
These are my original drawings.  Such an artist.

Let's get down to business:
We began our build in the garage last winter. The floor here is 5' x 4'.
 To get this outside we took down the four wall "panels" and reassembled in our backyard.
 Originally we began by covering the outside with inexpensive cedar fencing, but soon we realized the need for a good backing so it was off to the hardware store for plywood. Then we applied the fencing over the plywood and added cedar shake accent pieces.
As a side note - that hinged door caused us more irritation than any other part of our build.
Now comes the girly part. 
Frames from Hobby Lobby make great windows, doors and nesting box entrances.  We pre-drilled and used small screws to attach the frames to our coop. 

Additional details:
Our nesting boxes slide open at the back.  We used two eye bolts and a carabineer to secure each side. 
I just had to have something different as the entrance to our run area - can you believe that?  We made over an old farmhouse screen door. Sanded, shortened, applied polyurethane and backed with hardware cloth which also added strength.  
Our 24 hour chicken buffet:
Three baby pig feeders mounted at neck height to our smallest girl.
 Della Doolittle says "every run should have a swing," and I agree.