Early Spring on the Small House Homestead

I think early spring has finally arrived in the Oak Savannah forest of SW Michigan. We still have small piles of snow in places because the woods holds in the cold and snow long past the warmer land in the city but we have more ground showing than snow now. Our days are warming up into the 50’s and the daffodils and day lilies are peeking their heads through the soil.

Bench and woods USE first

A bench in the woods offers a bit of solitude behind our homestead.

March came in and went out like a lion in my part of the country this year! How about yours? The clocks tick on, the seasons change and another Michigan spring begins.

Studio - low raised gardens USE

Raised beds and a path next to the native flower meadow lead to my art studio.

Today Sassy and I took a walk through our property and through the neighbor’s 20 acre wood behind us. We are blessed to be able to walk in those woods and in return we try to give back by picking up sticks that fall on the pathway and put our massive amounts of oak leaves on the trails to keep down some of the briars and to keep the paths walkable.

Pole barn entrance garden uSE

The flower bed sidewalk side entrance to our ranch-style bungalow home.

The birds in the tree top are singing all day now. And Mr. Blue, after two weeks of constant “advertising,” has found his mate. I saw two flashes of blue yesterday as they flew by and lit on the pool shack, one of their favorite perches. We have three bluebird houses out for them and inevitably they choose the one behind the pool shack in the meadow for their early, first nesting. The meadow flowers have not yet grown tall and apparently that nest box is in the full sun, which they like for cold spring rains and sudden cold snaps.

garden-coop-barn USE

Shallow raised beds in the vegetable garden alongside our metal pole barn.

The woods are almost quiet now; no hunters, no snowmobiles and no hikers. Just the migrating birds on their way to their nesting grounds looking for a territory. We hear the Sandhill Cranes whooping as they fly over us way above the tree tops and sometimes in the marshes around us. After fourteen years of prowling these woods around us we know the special places the Sandhill Cranes like to feed, veg and nest and some days we scout them to quietly observe their behavior.


Our pole barn sits under the white pines and oaks next to the wooded portion of our land.

It’s almost time for us to start our waterfowl and woodcock watching too. We like to drive into the woods at dusk to some special marshes we have found in the Allegan Forest. We like to watch and listen to the waterfowl come in for the night. We hear Geese, Sandhill Cranes, Wood Ducks, blue and green wing Teal and more, whistling, chortling and clucking.

HOR porch bed with studio USE

The garden bed alongside and behind out three seasons porch is not yet awake for the 2015 season.

Gene’s years of waterfowl hunting has taught him to identify hundreds of birds by sight and sound and he in turn has taught me. We are now teaching our almost six-year-old granddaughter Brenna about the birds we find here. Gene has given her part of his collection of bird calls for Owls, Ducks and Geese and I gave her a bird identification book and she is learning to love the birds as much as we do. When she visits she helps us put feed into the feeders and we identify them from our dining room window. The birds are finding her way into her coloring and birthday cards, much to our delight. We have found that birding is a lifelong hobby that brings such pleasure over the years no matter the physical capabilities of a person or not.

Diaganol pool shack-fence USE

The pool shack garden is also asleep and waiting for the sunshine.

It was almost anticlimactic after weeks of work on fencing and gates but today I turned the chickens out into the raspberry pasture this morning. I was happy to be able to walk away and not worry (well mostly not worry) about them. They are busy scratching and pecking in the leaves finding worms. I’ll be keeping my eyes on them through our windows but they no longer have to have constant physical supervision freeing me up for other chores and activities. Yea!

Bluebird house USE

The bluebird house sits in the meadow awaiting the first bluebird family.

Screendoor USE

The painted screen door on the back of the pool shack.

Small House Homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

New Chicken Theme Header

I like to change the photographs at the top of my blog to reflect the current season and what is happening here on the homestead. While customizing a blog is beyond my limited abilities (with the exception if setting my basic blog up in WordPress) I CAN make a custom header in PicMonkey.

Eggs in blue bowl USE

Beautiful brown Cochin eggs are what I find in my nest box every morning.

I love that free blog program to edit my photographs and create photo collages and if I can teach myself how to use it, anyone can.

I knew I wanted to make a new header image that reflects our chicken keeping practice here on the homestead but I lacked a picture of our girls beautiful and petite brown eggs. They only started laying eggs two weeks ago and I had to wait until I had a couple of dozen eggs, enough to make a respectable setting in some kind of a container.

I finally got a chance to work on my photo still life this weekend. I started out using old linens under a fancy Phoenix Bird bowl but did not like the way that translated, just too busy. After several linen changes I tried a piece of yard goods I bought at a thrift ship for a few bucks, thinking it would look really pretty a seat cushion on a painted chair.  Bingo! This one looked wonderful and played up the blue of the old antique crockery bowl and the creamy brown of the brown eggs.

Now that I had a jpg that I liked I needed to put them with two more photographs that also helped to tell the story of our Cochin chickens.

This is what I ended up with..

Chickens 3 panel no text jpeg

Our coop, our eggs and our chickens-without text!

Chicken Keeping Collage 3 panel w text jpeg

With text…

Whether you keep chickens for eggs, meat or as pets these birds are a blessing in my life and I for one am thankful for what they offer me. They are complex social creatures and we are privileged to give them a good home. Their unique personalities and amusing antics make me laugh and help to give me a grounded perspective.

Small House Homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Our Weekend in Photography

Eggs in blue bowl USE

Brown Cochin eggs from our four chickens.

On Saturday Gene worked on the raspberry bed fence project and put up a second gate.

Stapling the fencing USE

Gene stapling the chicken fencing to the bottom of the post.

I experimented with photographing some of our brown Cochin eggs in an antique bowl. I used a piece of fabric I bought at the thrift store when I thought might make a nice seat cover. I feel like I am a bit rusty with my “product photography” and it felt good to practice it again.

Two  Gates

Double fencing on the south end of garden allows for two entry points; one in the vegetable garden and one in the raspberry patch. 

Then our adult daughter Lisa arrived from North Carolina in the afternoon. She is a special education teacher and works in the high school near Charlotte, NC. It is her spring break so she took advantage of that time off of work to come back home to Michigan. We spent our day watching the chickens scratch and peck and chatting and catching up.

On Sunday we did our usual every two weeks trip to the recycle station and then ran Sassy at the SW Michigan’s land Conservancy’s Wau-kee-nau north. We keep a small recycle bin set up in our pole barn and take our recyclable papers, cans, glass to the townships recycle station about every two to three weeks.

Sassy overlooking lake

Sassy overlooks gray and ice filled Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan is still partially frozen and dark gray in color. We did see a large flock of Goldeneye ducks in the water  – these birds are very hardy and on their migration south for breeding. This is always a thrill for my husband the waterfowl hunter.

Three Birches USE

The three sisters, birch trees in a meadow.

It’s still pretty cold here in SW Michigan, some nights have been 10 some 30 degrees and day around 40 degrees. During the day we let the chickens out to free range in the almost completed raspberry bed. We are still supervising them as one end remains to be completed.


A wooden bench for resting overlooking the Lake Michigan.

I’ve also been working on and off on stick picking up and lawn raking. I’ve already raked up much of the pine cones from our pine trees. I am just getting a tiny head start on our massive spring clean-up work on the days the weather cooperates.

I’ve been reading a fun new book this week, Chickens in the Garden. I am really enjoying this book not only for its chicken information and its amazing photographs. I know how hard it is to get high quality photographs of moving objects.

Chickens 3 panel no text jpeg

Small House Homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Unwrapping the Arborvitae


Today my big outdoor project was to remove the burlap from the arborvitae. We put in these three evergreens last fall as part of our ongoing attempt to replace the 100-year-old White Oak Trees that had to come down as part of the flood extension ditch digging project.

Drying the burlap nthe fence USE

The giant roll of burlap drying on the garden fence.

I’m always trying to find a way to gain more privacy in front of our home and to create more of a sound barrier from the traffic that flies by in the summer months. Beauty wind break come into play here as well. Trees and evergreen are one way to do just that.

We planted them 8 to 10 feet apart because the plan is to eventually build a lattice type panel to fit in between each of the evergreens to create even more privacy.

Unwrapped in front of house USE

Arborvitae at the Small House Homestead on a cold March day.

The nursery we bought them from recommended that we wrap them in burlap for the winter months because we can at times get quite a bit of wind roaring down 109th right off of Lake Michigan. So between the heavy snow fall here, deer and the winds, we decided to protect our investment by wrapping them.

Wrapped close USE

Looking a little like ghosts the evergreens wrapped in burlap.

In case you are not familiar with arborvitae, they are a North American and eastern Asian evergreen coniferous tree of the cypress family. They are native to the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. They are hardy, require little maintenance, prefer a cool climate and alkaline soil.

An evergreen with scale-like leaves, arborvitae (Thuja) is a popular choice for hedges because of its tall, narrow growth habit. It can also be used as a focal point in a mixed border of shrubs and flowers and is frequently used in foundation plantings. They can range as high as 20 to 30 ft. tall and have a 12 ft. spread depending on the species.

Trees close unwrapped USE

Unwrapped and ready to face the spring.

I did my standard soil prep two years in advance using 6″ to 8″ of bark chips to break down the sod and to begin to amend the soil. I’ll dog out any weeds that may have come back and add more bark chips this June as well.

I actually preferred planting the larger White Pines which will get very large in size and provide an even great screening from the roadway but I have to be careful about planting easy-to-catch fire plants too close to my home. So this was a compromise.

Burlap in a bag

Stored in soccer mom Ziplock bags for the summer.

Today while Gene worked on the fencing project, I unwrapped the evergreens, dried the burlap on the fence and then rolled the burlap up for summer storage. I used two of a giant-size Ziplock bag meant to use with my large handmade paper canvas artwork because the size was just right. I think they were meant for soccer moms to hold balls in the back of the trunk of the minivan but they work great for large canvas’ of artwork too.

One more project checked off the busy spring to do list!

Small House Homestead and native gardener, Donna

Easy to Make High Protein Chicken Feed Medley

I believe that healthy food is our best medicine and in using garden herbs for chicken health. So when I discovered this easy to make infused oil mixture for extra winter protein and nutrition for my chickens, I was thrilled.

Close up

A healthy and happy chicken has bright eyes, glossy feathers and ample energy.

While I can’t grow everything in my garden I do have a number of herbs that I grow and feed directly to our chickens. But winter feeding of herbs is so much harder.

Drinking out of red waterer

Lots of fresh water daily is also important to a chickens good health.

PLEASE NOTE: The credit for this original infused oil mixture goes solely to Susan Burek of Mile High Herbs, This came as a result of a post she made on the Poultry natural Living found on Facebook. This is my favorite chicken group of all time. https://www.facebook.com/groups/herbalpoultrycare/

Snoozle time

Mid afternoon snuggle down time.

While some of you are in states that are getting warmer, some of us “lucky ones” in the Midwest still have 3 to 5 ft. of snow on the ground!! And while our 10 degree below temperature have waned, it is running around 30 degrees at night. I’ve discovered that our woods holds in the snow and cold longer after it is melted in other more open spaces.


Snow on the coop and covered run.

 So this means we are still feeding our chickens high caloric and protein feed for a few more weeks to help to keep them warm at night. I’ve tried all kind of feed type and combinations and this is the one I have the best luck with. It is versatile and can be adapted in many ways. I make the infused oil up ahead of time and then add that oil to whatever I am feeding that day.

Freckles close

This is Freckles, a Phoenix/Cochin mix and the top bird of our group.

This also kills two birds with one stone (likely a BAD analogy for chicken lovers!) but it gets the oils of the crushed garlic into the chicken as well as giving them the fuel that they need for cold nights. I feed garlic as a preventative measure to keep my birds as healthy as possible and basil for mucus membrane health and for its antibacterial properties.

Cloves of fresh garlic goes into my chickens food and their water. Some times they ignore it but some of them, like Freckles picks it out tosses it on the ground and then eats it. Freckles is the top chicken in our small flock.

Headingout the door of the enclosed run to the outside

Our girls heading outdoors for a little bit of sunbathing!

STEP 1: Garlic Infused Oil:

  1. Pour about 1 cup to cup and a half of a high-grade of virgin olive oil into clean a canning jar.
  2. Peel, crush and chop up 7 garlic cloves and add the garlic to the jar of oil
  3. I like to add dried oregano leaves but you can add almost any of your chicken healthy herbs that you might have on hand.
  4. Cover with lid and let this mix infuse several days to a week before using. The longer it infused the more it smells of the wonderful wholesome and healthy garlic.

STEP 2: Add Oil Mixture to Your Feed of Choice

I’ve been experimenting with many different combinations this winter but the one my chickens seem to like the best and the one they leave the least amount of waste behind.

Making the Oil and Protein Medley:

  1. I toss two handfuls of black oiled sunflower seeds in an ice cream bucket.
  2. Toss in a half a handful of dried meal worms.
  3. I add a large scoop of fermented organic chicken grower feed
  4. Add a chunk of cut up wheat grass
  5. A splash of apple cider vinegar
  6. Stir and feed

Add this mixture in your feeding bowl or pie plate and watch your girls rush in, cluck, cluck, and go to town!

Sitting pretty

Sitting pretty!  The girls today on their roost in the covered run.

You would never know today that these chickens were rescued chickens from a flock that was fed nothing but cracked corn. It’s taken me 7 to 8 months of providing fresh water and carefully selected food but they are now 8 months old and beginning to lay the mostly beautiful brown eggs.

The results of my feeding regime? Happy, healthy and well fed chickens. It is worth the effort!

Small House Chicken Keeper, Donna

March Madness Chicken Chalet Litter Cleaned Out

Chicken Challet written in sand It’s March 24th and we have been having an unusually dry spring in Michigan this year. Normally we have a lot of spring rain by now and rain is what is predicted for the rest of this week. Today it is now or never for the coop litter refresh!

Coop before litter cleaned out USE

The litter situation “before.”

I did what I call a “lick and a dab” clean out of the deep litter in our chicken coop. This litter has been building up layer by layer throughout the winter and consists of sand, pine shavings, leaves, chicken food and small bits of poop.  I do scoop it out everyday to keep it as poop free as possible, but with teenage poultry there are always small bits left. The deep litter method is one way to help keep the coop a bit warmer during the coldest and snowiest months of a rural SW Michigan winter.

Bucket diaganol nice

A few easy scoops out followed by a whisk broom clean out.

Sand filled plain USE

The litter situation after the clean out; fresh and clean.

Early this morning I scooped out the coop using a small camping shovel and then I brushed it carefully out. I let it air out for several hours and then replaced the soiled sand with clean sand. I still plan to do a very thorough clean out this summer when it is warm enough that I can really hose the coop out top to bottom and spray and scrub using the natural orange cleaner I made this winter.

But it was still below zero this morning then I did this project and not only are our outside pumps not turned on yet, I did not want to risk washing out a coop that might not have time to thoroughly dry. Rain is predicted tomorrow and throughout the rest of this week so putting the chickens back into a damp coop was certainly not a good idea.

Sandpile covered USE

Our pile of chicken coop sand after the winter. Covered up it stayed fairly dry.


Sand pile uncovered USEI tossed the old litter into the end of the vegetable garden where the grass and weeds live and where I want the chickens to dig up and aerate the soil.

Now that I have fresh sand as litter again in the “Chicken Chalet” I will go back to using the daily plastic, kitty litter scoop clean out process each morning. And all will be well until the weather turns warm enough for a hose and a scrub.

Small House Homestead, chicken keeper, Donna

P.S. When I put them to bed for the night they freaked. They do not like the sand only/all one color tone coop bottom. I think that maybe the all one color sand looks likes like a bottomless coop and they were definitely afraid to jump in. I had to put some leaves back in to give them the confidence that all was well. Chickens do not like change!


Fencing in the Raspberry Patch

Gene and polehole digger

Posthole digging!

We started creating another free ranging pasture for the chickens this week. This new piece for our black raspberry patch. This will give the girls another large place to scratch and peck for bugs. In certain years we have a lot of Japanese Beatles and the chickens can help to keep them under control. And I am willing to share some low growing fruit in the process.

Digging hole overview

Tamping the sand down to fill the hole.

Cane berries like these carry many upright branches (as well as berries and thorns) and is a wonderful shelter plant for poultry.

canes and green stake

Early in the season canes before the leaves begin to swell.

Our patch has always been prolific and I typically pick and freeze bag after bag of these plump deep black berries and many years we have so many that I am giving them away to friends as well.

Our black raspberries are the thorny kind which will help keep the girls safe as they free range under them. I read that the hawks and other predators do not like to risk going into thorny plants.

I also see this pasture as a place for the big girls to go to when I am acclimatize the new chicks to the out-of-doors. I figure that once the chicks have grown enough they will enjoy coming out of the brooder for “day trips” to the garden for a few hours of sunshine, fresh air and exposure to the out-of-doors.

Fencing step one looking north

 Overview of the beginning of the fencing project. Day 01.

One this patch is completely fenced in we will essentially have three “pastures”; A) the open pasture directly outside of their coop, B) the seasonal fenced in vegetable garden area where they can feed under supervision and soon C) to be fenced in the raspberry patch.

I paced off the fence using my size 9 1/2 size feet and the pasture is approximately 85 feet long by 24 ft. wide. This should provide the chickens with a lot of bugs, dirt as well as entertainment this summer.

Gene measuring

Gene’s is using this as a plumb line.

This pasture should be a very fruitful one because we have always blown small amounts of oak leaves into it in the fall to keep the weeds down and to oh so gradually improve the soil found there. I am guessing that those layers of leaves should in turn be layered with bugs, worms and beetles. And, scratching under leaves and of course finding and eating bugs, seems to be my chickens favorite activity right now.

Canes in leaves

Oak leaf mulch is the base for our Black raspberry bed.

Last fall we bought the pressure-treated posts rated for ground contact embedded directly into the ground and posts for the gates, a number of green metal “T” stakes when Menard’s had an 11% off sale. We also bought two large rolls of chicken wire at the same time.

With Gene’s 10% employee discount and this second sale this means we get 21% off of retail.  This week we hope to measure up the wood that we need for the small open run cover son to be adjoining the coop so that we can buy those materials before Gene retires from Menard’s on April 28. Every little bit helps!!

And right now it is still a month or two before the ground has warmed up enough so that the REAL gardening season can begin so it’s a great time to get a fencing project built. And off we go!

Even though it’s early yet in a Zone 5b garden, things are starting to gear up to a hustling and a bustling homestead!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Saturday Projects on the Homestead

This morning Gene and I cleaned the house and then headed outdoors to work.Rolling up with coop in rear USE

Rolling up the plastic tarp that we use to solarize the weeds in the garden bed.

And while we were cleaning I washed the various parts of Sassy’s dog bed. Normally I dismantle and wash this bed at lese once a month but it’s a lot harder in the winter so I have been behind.

Dog bed parts

This is Sassy’s dog bed parts dismantled minus the solid base cushion that is already in the dryer.

By the time spring arrives the dog bed is shall we say rather aromatic! It’s a very cushy and comfortable Orvis dog bed that has been through two dogs thus far and has a lifetime guarantee. But it’s a big, big chore to wash it since it has so many large parts and requires five wash loads one right after another even in our commercial size washing machine.

Black tarp drying on fence

The tarp dries on the fence before storing.

And thank goodness for the blessing of our commercial size front loading washing machine. Before I owned this washing machine, I used to have to drive 20 miles into town every month for a laundromat size washer and spent $10.00 in quarters to wash this, plus dryer costs. Once when I was crunching the numbers over “should I get the regular size or the commercial size washer” I realized I paid for the extra difference/cost in size in just one year’s laundromat costs. In ten years of use the difference paid for the entire washing machine. That was a no brainer!

Close up of galvanized waterer

 We put the galvanizes waterer in the garden for chicken thirst.

 Because Sassy is a canine athlete; a hunting retriever that runs every day in the woods and marshes AND sleeps in our bed, she gets a shower once every two weeks at a minimum. And I wash her bed out once a month at home and hang the parts out to dry on the clothesline. She is a sweet, sweet companion and I love her but I really don’t’ like dog stink in my home!


Our granddaughter playing in Sassy’s dog bed a few years ago.

It is always satisfying for me to hang clothes out on the clothesline as I know I am saving on electricity and sending fewer negative carbons into the Earth’s atmosphere while harnessing the power of the sun and the wind.

We also look at the chickens sand pile in the hope the sand was dry enough to change out the coops litter but it was too wet for my liking. It likely needs another month or so of spring winds to dry that big pile out, I guess.  So instead we removed the large piece of black plastic we had on the garden bed solarizing the weeds that came as a result of the big flood of 2009-2012. We removed and dried the plastic and then directed the chicken into the area so they could scratch up the remaining grass and weeds and turn the soil. They will be working on this spot the net month or so until I can actually plant that area.

And we staked out the large triangle bed that will eventually hold our newly grafted apple and pear trees that will be planting later on this spring. These trees will replace those we lost in the big flooding several years ago.

East side triangle

This will be the large triangle bed where we plant the apple and pear trees.

I also picked some leaves out of the stone landscaping beds near our house. With 47 White Oak trees this is just the beginning of a very long project that I will be working on all spring and perhaps into the summer months.

Another fun day on the homestead for sure!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Ready Now for Gardening and Chicks

It’s a rare day that we go to town and actually buy consumer goods. For us it’s mostly perusing Goodwill and resale stores for function clothing. But today we went to town and it was like Christmas in March!

Fancy Feet

Flower Power!

We picked up a few minor necessities we need for the soon to be arriving chicks; a metal feeder base, a thermometer for the brooder box as well as an extra package of electrolytes for travel-worn chicks.

But the really special acquisition today was some new gardening shoes.  I’ve usually gardened in worn out leather shoes or solid green muck boots but this year I splurged on a 1970’s “Flower Power” pattern of slip on Muck boots which will keep my feet dry and warm. I prefer the easy to slip on and off moccasin on style because I am in and out of the house on and off all day long and I need to get them on and off quickly.


Tools for the new chicks arriving in April.

I’m also testing some rye grass seeds to use as chicken green fodder. We stooped at our regular feed store to get dog food and organic layer pellets and I picked up a pound of fodder seeds to test out for chicken greens. At just 65 cents a pound, I’ll be planting these this week IF the ground warms up enough.

Oh, and I did pick up three pairs of $3.99 jeans for gardening and a couple of fleece tops. Now I can actually throw away the jeans that are so full of holes, they as my husband says, made going outside in public quite indecent. The news jeans made him happy and should make the neighbors happy too!

Now if the weather would just warm up enough to warm up the soil!

Small House Homestead and gardener, Donna

P.S. Just to set the record straight…I coined the term “Flower Power” for the boot pattern because I am old enough to remember the slogan from the Flower Children era in the 1970’s when I was in college at the time.  So many people on Facebook asked for the real data…here it is: BRAND: Muck Boots, PATTERN NAME: Breezy Low, bought at Family Farm & Home in Holland, Michigan.


Let Them Eat Cake…er Bugs

So few bugs are awake yet in SW Michigan…the ground is still frozen in most places. But I have a secret….the bird feeding bed has worms under it in the soil under the many inches of sunflower seeds hulls dropped there by the songbirds.

Bucket and shovel

Bucket of worms in the garden waiting to be eaten.

So today I gave the chickens a little treat…a 5-gallon bucket of soil and sunflower seed hulls with a few worms mixed in. I dumped them in the still dormant vegetable garden where I wanted them to turn the soil over. Let those little buggers work for their dinner!

Circle pile USE THIS ONE

Chickens circling the mound of dirt.

You should see them come a running when I bring the bucket into the run and turn it over…They just know what is in store!

Sweet Pea and pile


Small House chicken keeper, Donna