Countdown to Operation Chicken Rescue

Bought the storage cans… check. Bought the chicken feed, check… Bought the heater for the waterer, check…Coop ready, check…We are nearing the count down to our big chicken rescue adventure!


Today I made the trip to Holland, a 45 minute drive from our home to stock up on chicken feed. I had a number of errands to run as well so I combined the trip as we always do to save time and gas. I shop for feed at Pier’s Feed and Country Store, an animal feed store to get the best price and product. We purchase our dog food, songbird thistle and now chicken feed there as well.

Coop in run in setting USE

Our new chicken coop in its fenced in run.

My plan is to feed our chickens organic, non GMO, feed only. I was very surprised and pleased to find organic chicken fee (with 16 percent protein) at my feed store. In addition to this bag of mixed grains and proteins, I will supplement with kitchen scraps, bugs/meal worms/crickets, and crab apples from our tree, home-grown sunflowers seeds and green fodder and ground acorns from our White Oak trees which are high in protein and will be saved for the cold winter months.


Selling Kent, horse and livestock feed.

I’m told that this small flock of hens is just being fed cracked corn, so I suspect they will think they are taking a vacation at the chicken B & B!

Our flock will be somewhat confined in their run due to our trained bird-dog so they will depend on me to provide them with healthy and nutritious feed.


Lots of products and choice.

I’ve been doing quite a lot of research on feeding your chickens and this is what I know to be true:

DO NOT Feed Your Chickens This:

  • Don’t feed your chickens anything you would not feed your family
  • Do not give chicken leftover cooked dry/baked beans
  • Raw potato peels
  • All soy product contain GMO’s soy so if you wish to be GMO free, skip the soy
  • A lot of bread as bread breaks down to sugar and make your birds nervous or aggressive
  • Cat food
  • If you feed flowers make sure they have not been treated with pesticides.
  • Anything too salty, spoiled, or anything moldy

DO Feed Your Chickens This:

  • Raw potato peels
  • Watch your protein levels and aim for a minimum of 16%-20% protein
  • Keep grit available at all times, grit can include; Oyster shells, sand grit, ground egg shells
  • Calcium is also important; Oyster shells, organic milk ensure that chickens are getting enough calcium to produce eggs.
  • Apple cider vinegar added to the water will help to keep the chickens healthier and free from disease.


If you do need, or want, to make your own organic chicken feed mix here are two recipes you might like to try.

Ingredients for Making Homemade Organic Chicken Feed

Recipe 1

7 to 8 parts organic whole corn 3 parts organic soft white wheat 3 parts organic hard red winter wheat 2 parts organic oat groats 1 to 2 parts organic dried milk 1 to 2 parts fish or organic soybean meal 1/2 part ground oyster shell 1/10 part salt

Recipe 2

3 to 4 parts organic whole corn 2 to 3 parts whole organic wheat 1 part dried organic milk 1 part fish meal 1 part oyster shell 1 part grit 1/2 part salt 1/2 part cod liver oil

Read more:

If you would like more sources for on-line organic chicken feed, try any of these options below:

Small House Homesteader and now Chicken Keeper, Donna

The Homesteads Chicken Coop Unveiled

In about two weeks we are adopting five hens who need a new home. This means we are now building a mostly recycled chicken coop, run and dusting box. Our goal for our chicken coop, run and dusting box project is to spend as little out-of-pocket cash as possible while building a safe and sturdy home for our new chicken friends.

Coop walking into run USE THIS as ONE

I’ve been scrounging materials for a chicken coup for the past few years. Of course I perused Craig’s List (where I found some rusted chicken wire for $20.00) talked to friends and then I hit the jackpot one day while taking a drive along nearby scenic Lakeshore Drive between South Haven and Saugatuck. That bonanza included two large heavy pieces of exterior paneling someone had put alongside the road.

Sealed inside exterior plywood

If I had known in advance how beautiful the exterior grade paneling would turn out after being sealed, I might have put it on the outside not the inside of the coop!

According to the handwrittten words on the outside of these panels they once covered the porch windows of an old cottage. I knew immediately this wood could be the outside walls of a cozy chicken coop. My husband believes the wood is redwood, though I vote for cedar, and its dryness definitely indicates it is very old. These pieces were difficult to cut and the edges tended to split, but we managed to make the siding work in spite of that snag. A few pieces had to be repaired with exterior clear caulk or shims.

Another friend recently removed an old rotting deck and happily gave us as many 2′ X 4’s as we could remove and carry away before she burned the rest of the wood. We salvaged 38, 2′ X 4’s and several other wood pieces of various sizes.

Coop frames from 2 X 4's

The 2′ X 4″ frame being built. In the left of the photo is our vegetable garden and in the rear/left  of this photo is our future chicken run.

What we wanted; We needed a coop that was sturdy enough to not blow over in the heavy winds that blow in off of nearby Lake Michigan, sound enough to protect the poultry from the heavy Michigan snow and to be secure enough to keep the critters out. Cute would be a bonus!

Our Chicken Coop Siteing:

Location: We choose to locate the coop in the back side of our fenced in vegetable garden under the shade of a large White Oak tree.  I wanted the chickens to have shade in the summer and sun in the winter. This location was perfect for that. The prevailing winds blow in here from the west so if we have a breeze blowing through our property it will help to keep the girls cool.

Tree and coop USE

Sitting under the White Oak tree nestled against the 15-acre forest will be a cool and shady place for the coop.

This site will also be somewhat protected from sun, wind and rain as it is nestled up near our pole barn and a distance from the house in case of odors and allowed us to use one end of our existing vegetable garden fencing as our primary run. We added the Craig’s List smaller-holed chicken wire over our exiting garden fence to make it even safer from predators.

Coop Size: This was built 48” X 48” because that is how the pieces of available paneling worked out.

An Off-the-Ground Raised Coop: We built a raised coop for airflow and safety. Also because we had some severe ground water flooding in 2009 and having the coop on “stilts” might make for more comfort and less feet issues should we ever face that water problem again. In addition being on  legs keep the floor of the coop away from the frozen ground.

Free 2” X 4’s: We got 24 2” X 4’s free from our friend; all we had to do was make an hour’s drive and pull the decking apart. Of course this repurposing works takes more time and effort than buying new but costs less, a real plus.

Latches: We took great care to buy secure latches and other hardware to keep the raccoons out.

Big latch close

Sturdy latches will help to keep the coop secure.

Our Chicken Coop Construction:

Using Repurposed Wood: Be aware that working with reclaimed wood does have its challenges. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth the extra effort and labor costs. Hidden nails need to be remove sometimes the boards need to be re-planed. Often the pieces are not square and have flaw that need to be either be fixed or revered. on the other hand there can be one-of-a-kind interesting aspects about old wood as well.

Our Process: We used the 2 X 4’s to make a frame and then built and added the sides one at a time. Then added holes for laying box, hole for door and walkway and so on.

Holes from inside

An early view of then inside of the coop showing nest box holes, door to come in and out and window.

Paint Color: I painted and sealed the boards before the coop was assembled as it was much easier on the painter (me!) that way. I choose to paint the outside of the coop a medium brown color called “Rich Earth” using a gallon of Dutch Boy Grand Distinctions (paint and primer in one) in a color that we had on hand. This was originally a $6.00 “Opps” paint. This is also the color of the trim on our house and happened to be quite near the color of my friend’s brown deck. We had almost an entire gallon on hand and it took every bit of that gallon by the time the coop was completed.

Sealing: I choose to polyurethane the inside of the coop for help in keeping it clean. I figure that no liquids will seeps into the wood and scraping or washing will be easier with sealed wood and any parasites will be less likely to drill themselves into the wood.

Hinged Access Doors: My husband designed this coop to have two sets of double access doors, with openings; one on both sides. Both doors open outward and have some serious iron barn-door-like raccoon-proof hardware on them. These doors are for my daily feeding access and for ease in feeding, cleaning and airing the coop out.


The hinged access doors are open. This will give me a easy and complete access to the coop for cleaning out.

Windows: Airflow is very important to chickens so Gene made windows on all four sides using hardware cloth and pine pieces as a window frame. More painted pine pieces will be used as “winter coverings” to keep out the cold and wind. We are painting those coverings now.

hardware cloth window in frame

Hardware cloth over the windows for spring, summer and fall airflow.

Door: Gene used a piece of matching exterior siding and pine strips to make the doors.

Roost: We choose a 2 X 4’ board for a roosting boards that I sealed with poly and Gene shaved down with his collection of old hand tools to make a more rounded piece for ease in holding on. We are hoping that all five chickens will be happy to roost on one long board.

Floor: We decided to use a piece of solid plywood for the coop floor and purchased that. I gave it three coats of poly to help to protect it. After pricing a piece of linoleum at Menard’s (around $79.00) we put out the call to our friends for linoleum and a co-worker gave us a piece left over from his house remodel. This vinyl flooring material also makes for easy clean-up and prevents mites and other parasites from burrowing into the wooden boards.

Linoluem before USE

Vinyl flooring remenent now covers the plywood floor. The sealed pine board edge strips will help hold in the sand litter.

Sand as Litter: Based on the recommendation of Kathy the Chicken Chick, we purchased sand to put on the coop floor as litter. We happen to have a gravel company a few miles from us so we stopped in one day to ask about prices and sand types. After recovering from the shock that having sand delivered was going to cost us $100.00 for the labor and the sand just $7.00 to $8.00 a yard, we decided to borrow a friend’s trailer and haul it ourselves. Kathy uses about 2 yards a year so I expect that we will too.

Gene standing in trailer USEjpeg

Sand was hauled home in a borrowed trailer.

Feeders: I have a vintage metal chicken waterer and feeder from when we had chickens about a decade ago (pre-flooding!) So we got those out, washed them out and plan to use them again. From my on-line research we decided to hang them from the ceiling to keep ground critters out of the feed and to lessen the amount of scratch that falls out of the feeder onto the floor. We will also buy two small plastic feeders/waterers so we have them both inside and outside of the coop.


Galvanized chicken feeder and waterer set the scene for our vintage coop set-up.

Roof: We had originally thought we would use roofing shingles on our roof, but the cost of new shingles on top of our other expenses was getting prohibitive. Again I put out a call for old shingles on Craig’s list and Facebook but then a friend offered us two pieces of white plastic corrugated plastic (two 2 ft. X 8 ft. pieces) for free. That what we decided to use and we decided we would do what we had to do to make those work. The freebie corrugated roofing material came up a bit short in width so we added white metal drip edge and some shims to make up the difference. The roof was topped with a long board that was pieced together to make a kind of ridge cap.

Roofing close USE

Looking like galvanized metal, this roof is actually made using corrugated plastic.

Chalet Décor: I found this cute metal sign at Word Market for $14.99-20% off. I added an old rake top I saved to hold chicken treats like hanging sunflower heads, corn cobs and so on.

Sign and rake

Run: We used one end of our existing vegetable garden so we did not have to put up run fencing around the coop.

Gate: We plan on eventually letting our chicken’s partially free range in our large raspberry bed after we get that fenced in.  This area will be for them to get some additional exercise, a place to scratch and for insect control.  We will eventually build a third gate for that extra run.

Metal gate alone

This metal came to as a gift.

The gate between the run and the vegetable garden is a nice metal farm garden gate a friend gave us when he dismantled a vegetable garden on his property. This way I will be able to let the chickens into the vegetable garden to scratch about late in the season.

Dusting Box: We built a simple dusting box using  pieces of wood from my girlfriend deck.  The wood was free and the sand was purchased from the sand and gravel business located about 2 miles from our home and hauled home in a trailer by us.

Nest box USE

A temporary dusting box. I am guessing with the year the chickens will have the coop area all dug up and then we will be adding sand and the base floor of the run.

Total of Materials Used & Material Costs:

Minwax Polycrylic Finish/Two Quarts @ $12.00 per quart =$24.00

BIM White Spray Paint: (to prime the pine boards) two @ $7.00 ea.= $14.00

Craig’s List Chicken Wire for the Run: $20.00

Large Roll of Chicken Wire Pen: $49.00

Hardware Cloth for Windows/Roof/Ceiling: $17.00

1 Piece of Plywood for Floor: $7.00

Heavy Duty Gate Hinges: $40.00

Hooks and Latch Hardware: $25.00

1 X 2” Pine Wood for use to Frame Windows/Floor/Shims: $17.00

Metal Drip Edge for Roof: $12.00

Decorative Sign $12.00

Sand as Litter:   $8.84

Kitty Litter Scoop: $4.00

Feed: To be determined….

Items that were free, given as gifts or that we had on hand in our barn:

Exterior Grade Tung and Groove Siding: (roadside rescue) $-free

Linoleum for Flooring: (a gift) $-free

Brown Paint/Primer: (We had this on hand)

Metal Garden Gate: A gift from another friend $-free

5 Hens: (a gift from a friend) $-free

Corrugated Plastic Roofing Material: (a gift from a friend) $-free

Old Plywood for Winter Windows Covers: (from our old coop) $-free

2” Pink Foam Insulation: (had this on hand) $-free

Total cash out of pocket for coop, pen and dusting box came in right around $250.00.

We know we may face the need for a closed or a covered run at some point. We have most of the roll of chicken wire left over we are prepared for that eventuality should we need it.

Next we buy three metal trash cans and chicken food. Then I can’t wait to pick up our chickens!

Small House Homesteader (and soon to be chicken keeper) Donna


Hauling Sand for our New and Improved Chicken Challet

Yesterday we picked up the sand for our new and improved chicken coop I am calling, “The Chicken Chalet.”

Truck in front of sand piles USE

A mountain of sand sits waiting behind a 16 wheeler truck for filling.

Our coop is so close to being completed it’s really hard for me to not post a picture of it yet (coming soon though, I promise.) We have to put on the final roof board on top, hang the horseshoe (for good egg laying luck of course) screw on the top to the egg laying box and attach the chicken “gangplank” and I think it’s a roll.

Pile and metalthings USE

A pile of washed sand for sale.

This has been a fun project to build together. I did the research, designed the coop, sourced the repurposed materials, and painted the pieces and parts. Gene was the main contractor. He has never built anything like this before so it was a mostly “trial and error” project that took him almost five months of on and off work. For me it was an exercise in patience, because I tend to want projects done now!

Aggregrate sign and plant USE

Aggregate Industries, The Pullman, Michigan branch.

But he did a great job overall and like I said more than once, ‘So a corner needs a shim…no problem, not to worry, it’s just a chicken house not our forever home!’

Gene standing in trailer USEjpeg

Gene standing in the trailer and shoveling sand into the pile.

We ended up hauling this sand ourselves, using a borrowed trailer, after we found out that to hire a dump truck would run $100.00 just for the delivery. And this is in spite of the sand and gravel company being less than two miles way from us. YOUCH!

Pile of snad on tarp USEjpeg

A bout a yard of sand sits on a tarp. This will be covered with another tarp to keep the cats out of it.

Our yard of washed sand cost us less than $9.00 and our hard labor, which is priceless!

Coop pictures of “The Chicken Chalet” and our adopted hens to follow soon, so stay tuned!

Soon to be chicken keeper Donna at The Small House Homestead



70 Degrees Outside/I’m Busy Collecting Acorns for the Chickens

We are having a bit of a warm up on our homestead weather this week; sunshine and 70 plus temperature days. So I’ve been out collecting acorns for the chickens as we are enjoying a banner year in acorns here in SW Michigan.
east Oak house planter shows air con
Our Small House home is nestled among the majestic White Oak trees, front view
You may recall we have 47 White Oak trees on our 5-acre property and many, many more trees in the 5-acre woods behind us.  They start falling here in early September and continue on throughout October. They fall with a loud ping onto the roof of our metal pole barn and three-seasons roof and even Sassy jumps when a falling acorn has a direct hit with a loud clang.
From back show porch-garden tree canopy NICE
The rear view of our home sitting among the Oaks. From these oaks we took our property and business names; White Oak Studio & Gallery, White Oak Blacksmith Forge and White Oak Acres. 


Because they are so prolific this season, I’ve been researching using acorns as chicken feed supplement and have discovered some amazing facts:

  • Acorn nutmeats are very high in fat
  • Acorns have 1700 calories per pound
  • Chickens love them

So, I’ve been collecting our White Oak acorns by the masses and putting them aside to crush and feed to the chickens this winter. I don’t intend to make crushed acorns their entire meal but rather will supplement their corn and grains with them as a treat and winter calorie boost.

Acorns in bowl

A sampling of our nutritious native acorns


I started by researching and as a result of what I  have read, I set them out on pans to dry for a couple of weeks. I picked carefully through them to make sure there were no worms involved and will store them in plastic buckets with a secure lid. I want ot be very careful that  the mice and other critters do not find their way into my stash. I had saved a few Epsom Salt buckets not knowing at that time how I would be using them. But now I know!

Turn around bed by sky

An early spring view before the White Oak trees have leafed out. Our White Oaks play a huge role in our life here


Acorns are apparently high in calories and that is just what my chicken’s need in Michigan’s cold winter months.

The kind of acorns I am collecting this year are falling hard onto our pole barn metal roof which is apparently knocking the little caps off of them. So when I pluck them out of the grass I am picking just the acorn with its shell. This makes my preparation job a bit simpler.


The carved wooden sign I had made for the side of Gene’s White Oak Blacksmith Forge


When it comes time to feed them to the girls, I’ll use an old hammer and crush them down to the nutmeats, and toss them into the coop or onto the ground. Over the course of the year I also hope to supplement their commercial feed with sunflowers, gleaned corn, kitchen scraps, dried and crushed egg shells, our crabapples and homegrown green fodder. Next season, I’ll be growing Amaranth, comfrey and wormwood too.

My goal is to give my girls excellent nutrition, with healthy treats and rely less on purchased Industrial foods whenever I can.

And isn’t the goal of  sustainability to grow or collect as much of your food as you can! Happy eating!

Donna, Small House Homestead

Granddaughter of a Farmer

People ask me all the time about how I ended up a homesteader. Many remember me best from my first marriage where I lived and worked in the city, wore business suits, nylons and heels. I founded and ran a marketing and advertising business and was a card-carrying member of Rotary International and the Chamber of Commerce. Looking good was part of the deal. So was the dieting, extreme exercising and playing at the beauty and youth thing. Associates tend to remember the long frosted hair, polished nails and makeup too.

Donna Minesota approx. age 22-23

Age 23, as a young mother and in my first marriage at a wedding in Minnesota.

That marriage, and that life, was all about the business of building a career complete with travel, making money and creating a persona of wealth and accomplishment. It many ways it was a plum of a life; complete with Club Med vacations and a lakeshore cottage. But there was something else burning inside me demanding my fulltime attention. While my outer-world looked great, my inner-world, where I do most of my living, felt depressed and ill at ease.

That lifestyle is what my first husband wanted and I lived it for twenty-seven years but never truly felt comfortable in that role. I was instead content to be a mother and a homemaker, not a dealmaker. I was a like a tropical fish in a trout stream.

After my divorce at age forty-five with no financial support, I took room renters into my home and cleaned houses to pay my bills and allowed myself a year of introspection to figure out how I wanted to live in my new life. I realize now that I needed to go to the lowest point in my life in order to advance to the next stage spiritually.

Ultimately I chose living a slower-paced, a more authentic, self-realized out-of-doors life working with my hands. I realized I was willing to trade status for right-livelihood and ready money for inner happiness. I feel like I was given a second chance, a “do over,” and I can see clearly now that that first marriage and divorce, however hard, was a gift and a blessing in my book.

IMy birthday 2013

My family today; two brothers, two sister in laws and a grand daughter.

That was the first step to getting to where we are today and homesteading. I am the great-granddaughter and granddaughter of  farmer and I now believe that this urge to grow is a gene that comes down the line of DNA.

50th wedding celebration Donald and Mildred Maile jpeg

A family portrait taken of my grandparents, Mildred and Donald Maile (center couple) the second generation of family farmers and their five children on their 50th wedding anniversary.

Isn’t it always that the most painful relationships become the best teachers?

Small House Homesteader, Donna



This Gem of a Garden Cart is Essential for us on the Homestead

This Cart Vermont (what they call their large garden cart) was THE first present Gene and I bought each other a few months after moving to the Small House. This was before I even knew that our spread was going to be called that.

This was our Christmas present to each other that year. Fourteen years later, I now I use it nearly every day and I can’t imagine life on the homestead without it. It is USA-made crafted of wood and metal, has superior craftsmanship, and the company offers replacement wheels and parts, making it a worthy and sustainable product in my book, and I’m tough on products as a consumer.


Source: Carts Vermont website

Our cart hauls buckets of soil, compost and manure as well as our heavy window air conditioners to and from the pole barn. With 47 White Oak trees (plus all the other types of trees we have) I use it to pick up twigs, branches and everything else blown down from our tree canopy after nearly every thunder or windstorm. It is not unusual for me to have 20+ carts full of twigs to haul to the burn pile after our typical 6 months of winter of deep snow, high wind and frequent ice.

We haul firewood in it, blankets when doing remodeling, fence pieces, evergreens, perennials, piles of leaves and much, much more. I have never been fond of wheel barrows as they tip over on me and this sturdy, stable and solid cart works like a charm.

Cart logo and wheel USE

The companies wood burned logo give you an idea of the quality of the wood and the bike wheels.

Our cart is already 14 years old and showing a bit of wear but it is as dependable as ever. We’ve had to repair the tires, buying new inner tubes a few times, resealed the wood with polyurethane and greased the axles but even with our heavy use this little gem of a cart is still going strong.

Large Garden Cart Dimensions:

Dimensions Inside: Length: 47.50″ Width: 31″ Depth: 16″ Capacity: 13.60 cubic feet

Dimensions Overall: Length: 67.25″ Width: 41.50″ Height: 30.25″

Max Weight Capacity: 400 lbs. with heavy-duty 26″ wheels (we recommend the solid tires when ordering)

The large garden carts are priced on their website today at $424.95 and although I did not pay that much fourteen years ago, I do feel it is worth the cost. Nothing irritates me more than buying a product that you cannot get replacement parts for and have to scrap it before its time.

Cart in front of barn

Our cart sits in front of The Small House Homestead pole barn waiting for the next project.

You can see more about them on their website at Please realize that I am not being paid anything for this “commercial.” I am just a homesteader, a real-life user and a true-test-of-time believer.

Gene trimming garden cart

Our cart really comes in handy when Gene is cutting back the ornamental grasses

Since I was snowed in our first winter here and without a vehicle, I did my shopping on-line. Gene, unfortunately had rolled my Subaru on the black ice our first winter in the country and I was without a vehicle for about 6 weeks. That was not a good winter, let me tell you. I did my cart shopping on-line and from all the options out there I selected the Carts Vermont brand. I have never been sorry!

cart angled

We often use 5-gallon buckets to haul soil and compost in our garden cart. The buckets are an easy haul and dump for me.

I can’t imagine life on the homestead without this workhorse of a cart!

Small House Homestead Donna

Sharing Reiki Healing with my Equine Friend Juniper

I haven’t shared on this blog yet that I am a Reiki master and use this ancient healing work in my own life and the life of my family, companion dog Sassy, granddaughter and friends.

My special interest in equine Reiki has brought me many opportunities to work with horse companions as well as the eight special horses who work with in conjunction with humans in psychological and emotional healing at The Sundance Center at Red Horse Ranch in Fennville, MI.

Two black horses use

Best buddies, BJ (on the left) and Juniper (On the right)

I am certified to work with humans by my teacher, Sharon Dee, of Spiritual Healing having certified for Reiki 1, 2, and 3. I am also certified to share equine Reiki after studying and certificating with horsewoman and Reiki master, Lisa Frey of Flying Horse Ranch Energyworks.

I believe that we are all spiritual beings, humans and animals alike. It has been my greatest discovery to connect with a horse’s spirit and encourage them in their life.

Reiki for those of you who are not familiar Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by a “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.

Red barn side, horse, blue sky nice

The barn at Red Horse Ranch

My friend Juniper had been sick with a very serious equine disease that almost took her life. She spent a week in Michigan States Equine Animal Hospital in isolation receiving antibiotics and fluids. It was touch and go and many in our community were all praying for her and sending her long distance healing energy.  I personally send her healing energy morning and night when I did my own daily Reiki practice. Luckily our dear Juniper survived and came home last weekend.

I was invited to come and give her more healing Reiki energy the day after she returned home, which I happily accepted. I’ve worked with Juniper before and I have discovered that she is the kind of a horse who knows just where she wants and needs her Reiki. Most of the time she wants Reiki in her flank and left side belly section, though as she relaxes and goes into what I call “The Reiki Zone” she will allow me to touch her elsewhere too. I know this because she positions herself directly to my hand and presses her sides into me and pushes. She tells me where and how to send the energy in no uncertain terms, and I have learned to listen.

Farmhouse garage ad flowers

The farmhouse at Red Horse Ranch

As the Reiki flows through her system her eyes close, she relaxes and receives the healing energy. As she pushes her flanks towards me, her belly growls and churns in response. She receives my healing touch for as long as I will give it or until her buddy BJ leaves the stall next door. And BJ always come comes over close to Juniper and shares in the flow of energy as well.

I knew Junipers healing session was done when she yawned, chewed and released a huge breath, kind of like a dog sighing. We enjoyed our session for some 45 minutes and both left feeling energized, content and happy again.

Best looking down USE

A lovely fall vignette on the ranch…in the color red of course!

I feel blessed to be able to work with you Juniper and your herd on Red Horse Ranch. Be well my friend!

Donne, Reiki Master on The Small House Homestead


It’s Hard to Homestead When You are Old

Homesteading takes dedication, commitment and a deep desire for a life that is meaningful. Homesteading  is more about personal satisfaction than status or fun and games. It’s about taking nothing and making something out of it.

People sometimes ask me for advice on getting started as a homesteader. I tell them this, do what I say… not what I did – homestead when you are young. I know this first hand. Homesteading is hard work, day after day!

Donna & Gene at Chop House

Celebrating with a rare dinner out for our anniversary.

My husband and I started this adventure just 14 years ago when he was 50 and I was 45. Today we are 63 and 69. It takes a lot of hard, daily, physical work to homestead and long tiring workdays. Even when one is healthy and in good shape, it’s darn hard to be a homesteader at this age.

Walkway lined w grasses

This is my meadow habitat I created for the birds, butterflies and dragonflies.

So why are we living this way? It’s a way to live more frugally and a way to contribute meaningfully towards conserving the limited resources of our Earth. It’s a way to live that allows us to work with our hands and to spend long hours out-of-doors.

And, it’s one way to leave the world a better place than when we found it. In spite of its many challenges, hard choices and sore muscles, I can’t imagine living any other way.


Our crabapple tree surrounded by the sidewalk I designed. The bench tops have a mosaic design that I made. This is where we sit, together, almost everyday for a quick break and a cold drink.

Why? We homestead because…

  • We care about the Earth and want to preserve and protect our land.
  • I want to leave this property, our community in better shape then when we came here.
  • We want to have control over the food we eat.
  • We want to take charge of our health.
  • We want to show our granddaughter where food really comes from.
  • We choose to build living soil and habitat for all the creatures of the Earth.
  • We want to live a simpler lifestyle in a rural place with a slower pace of life.
  • We are independent thinkers who love the Earth and its soil and want to take care of it.
  • We chose to do the daily work of “living with a purpose.”
  • Standing at hydragneas and looing to deck
  • The back of our house and the row of native oak hydrangeas I planted under our dining room window.

It’s a physically and emotionally satisfying lifestyle choice. That pretty much sums it up for us.

Donna at the Small House Homestead

A Homesteader Can’t Plant too Many Trees

There is no one Arbor Day on our Homestead. We plant trees both spring and fall here.

This fall we planted five more 6 foot tall trees on our Small House property. Two are White Pines and three are Arborvitae. It seems like we are always planting one kind of tree or another. Mostly we plant them for screening from the busy roadway outside of our home but trees, as you know, give us so many more other benefits too.

East pines USE

These White Pines will help to screen noise, traffic and pollution from the roadway to our home.

It takes a White Pine approximately 75 years to grow to its mature height (75 ft.) and width (35-50 ft.).

Because we have lean, sandy, oak savanna forest soil here we work hard to amend our soil before we plant, sometimes as much as two years in advance. We typically add a lot of compost to the soil mix, either my own homemade compost or well-rotted horse manure compost we haul home from a friends horse farm. We top dress each tree with several inches of bark chips on top after it is planted and watered in.

Bark chips strip only USE

This is the strip of bark chips we readied over two years ago to help our soil along, pre-planting.

Evergreens Genes back USE

The row of arborvitae will help to screen the front of our home from the traffic on this two lane roadway.

I know that we won’t live to see these trees mature in our lifetime but this is one of the things we do on our homestead because we know in our hearts this action is the right thing to do. This is green living and right-action on behalf of our community.

 Four pines to east USE

Eventually these White Pines will grow to create a living screen.

Picket fence pines newly planted USE

This planting bed sits alongside of our gravel driveway and provides a barrier between out roadway and our home.

We plant trees for Mother Nature and the good of our earth community. Excuse me while I go out and water my new trees!

Blessings from The Small House Homestead.


Divide,Transplant, Broadcast – a Fall Chore

Fall is busy time here in my SW Michigan garden. This week I started my autumn dividing, transplanting and cutting back chores. From now on until the first snowfall I’ll be out in the garden cleaning up most everyday.

VERT sidewalk-catmints-flagjpge

These catmint are beautiful draping over the sidewalk but not practical for walking to and from our home from our gravel driveway.

I start with cutting back of old seeds heads, leaves and generally anything that is going to die back in the cold. Everything organic is tossed into the compost bin to be turned into “black gold.” Before the snowfall this compost will be placed around my perennials to give them a nutritional boost.

Bins from back open ended

Our compost bin system.

The seed heads of the Brown Eyed Susan’s and Black Eyed Susan’s will be tossed in the ditch and along the woods edge in order to encourage more plants to grow in selected areas. Some plants will be left standing to feed the birds throughout the fall and winter.

Turn around after cut back USE

In the early fall I cut back some of the tall spent perennials cleaning up the beds slightly. This is our turn-round bed which greets our visitors when they pull into our gravel driveway an walk under the lattice trellis and towards our three-season porch entrance. 

One specific chore I tackled this fall was the potting up of black raspberry babies that popped up all over my garden and yard. They will be fertilized, wat ered and nurtured and eventually be replanted back in the areas where I want them or given away to friends.

stone edge-birdbath-sign USE

In early September out comes the fall flags for a touch of autumn color.

To plant the black raspberry canes I recycled black, plastic, nursery pots that I had on hand. My soil mix is a base of well composted horse manure soil with a layer of bark chips on top to hold in the moisture. This is the soil combo that is time-tested to work best for me here in my Zone 5b garden with its lean, sandy oak savannah soil.

Ditch flowers pole barn USE

Brown Eyes Susan’s fill our ditch and meadow area in front of our pole barn. Last fall I just threw a bunch of cut down flowers into the ditch and hoped for the best. This worked even better than I had hope for! 

Some of these plants will end up in the ground before winter but some will be tucked up on the north side of my studio building to overwinter another system I have used previously that works well here. Everything will be well watered-in and will be carefully watched and watered throughout the next couple of months to give them a solid start.

House -ditch Black Eyed Susans

The foreground of this photograph shows the colorful wildflowers that grow along our property line. You can tell I like a loose, country garden style look! Our 60-year-old ranch-style home is in the rear of this photo.

My Strategy This Year:

  1. I dug up and potted black raspberry starts that popped up all over my vegetable garden.
  2. I dug up and replanted about a dozen or so catmint herbs from overgrown catmint plant that got so big that we were no longer able to walk down the sidewalk.
  3. I cut back the seed heads of the Brown Eyed Susan plants and broadcasted them (tossed them into!) our ditches and alongside of the road and the woods edge so the seeds will flowers in the spring. I had great success from this system last year.
  4. I’ll do the same with Black Eyed Susan seeds and the Cup Plants as well.

I get a big kick out of making more plants without spending any money.

Thanks for reading! Donna at The Small House Homestead