Call Me The Chicken Keeper Renegade

I’ve been researching broody hen pros and cons, and white it might be the “common” thing to do I have found no scientific studies that have proven to me why a broody hen must be broken of her broodieness.

Three Amigoes in nest box

I am interested on this topic because I have three Cochins bantams all gone “serial broody”all at once. (From what I read broodiness is genetic and some breed i.e. Cochins are known for being a broody breed.) After weeks of having my hens penned up in the dog kennel nothing has changed in their broodiness. Even the hens that “appeared” to be broken were back to being broody again in a week or so.

Goldie in pen  Dog kennel used as pen to break a broody hen.

The current practice is to take a broody hen and play her in a dog kennel or a chicken wire box for a week or two until she is “broken” of her hormones. Some also advocate plunging the hen in a pan of cool water to cool her down to end the hormonal cycle. The goal, I am told is to make them uncomfortable enough to want to go back to the and or to cool the off enough that they also head back to a normal schedule. Quite frankly both of those “options” sound inhumane to me.

Goldie closer USE

Goldy was broody when I was in Oregon for two weeks. My husband was in charge.

We do have one dog kennel that is being use right now as the temporary nighttime sleeping quarters of our newest four RIR pullets until their new coop in completed.

Crate on dest bath sandbox USE

The current sleeping pen of our four Rhode Island Red pullets.

I keep wondering just why everyone is so intent on breaking a broody hen? I can understand the chicken keeper whose livelihood depends on selling eggs wanting their chickens to lay (and of course we know that a broody hen does are not laying.) But really why is going broody such a terrible thing for a chicken? I find no scientific studies describing any ill effects in health for a broody hen except losing weight.

I remove my broody hens from the nest box three times a day to eat, dust, poop and drink. Knowing they are physically okay, why is it that I am “commanded” to break them from their broodiness?

I am a natural chicken keeper. This means I let nature take its course when ever possible , boost my hens immunity with herbs and garlic and it does not feel right to me to force the from being broody by breaking them in the manner described above. I feel the same way about training my dog with love rather than through the pain of a shock collar. It may be the common course of action to “break a broody,” but my instincts are telling me that it is not humane.

My one Cochin momma went broody, laid her eggs and brooded them. She mothered those chicks for over 5 months without suffering any ill effects. Yes, she lost weight, but I fed her well and she rebounded well.

I know what it is like to be a victim on ones hormones and to have one’s life not be in one’s own control Maybe I am a softy. But as a healer this breaking process does not feel like the best course of action to take as long as my hens are not in a life-threatening position.

Goldy side view on star use

Goldy taking some sun on a warm day.

Some say that they get out of condition when they brood? Out of condition for what? Yes, they lose some weight when brooding, I get that. But it’s June and my hens have five months to get back into shape before winter arrives.

My broody hens are around nine months old and are in very healthy shape having received organic feed, fresh crushed garlic and immune system building herbs since they were two weeks old. They have never had mites or any other illness. They are young and healthy with natural hormones.

Freckles and Sweet pea in the nesting box

How many chickens does it take to heat up a nest box?

Maybe the breakers just don’t want to feed a hen that is not producing. Again I can understand that position as my hens are also egg layers but they are also my pets. I don’t plan to cull them when they stop laying, I’ll let them live out their natural lives in a gentle retirement as a reward for a job well done.

After all isn’t that what all women (humans to chickens) want, need and deserve?

Stay tuned for the end of this story….as the song says, I could be wrong, but I could be right…

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna




Our Homestead’s Photo Diary – June 21-28

Monday is our day to go into town. Because I am committed to conserving the amount of gasoline we use during the month we coordinate all of our errands and shopping into one long day.

Herbs hanging on old rake USE

Bundles of mint and tansy help with fly control around the coop.

On Monday we start out with our beloved restorative yoga class. We meet friends for lunch, run errands and buy our groceries. Often I visit our local library to check out books or read current magazines. Once a month or so we stop at the health food store and pick up a load of bark chips from a friend’s blueberry field as well. So creating a blog post on a typical Monday is tricky for me.

Looking down three eating best

Our Rhode Island Red pullets gather around for their breakfast of fermented feed.

Instead I have taken to an idea I saw on another blog and sharing a weeks-worth of photographs on that day. That is manageable for me and since I typically take photographs throughout the week that do not end up in a themed blog post anyway, it works to make Monday our Photo Diary day.

Gretas hostas and bird bath

The shade garden behind our three season porch this week.

Last week was another busy week for us. Gene worked almost all week on building the second chicken coop and I painted the sections; primed and top coated side pieces and doors. Since this is his second coop project he now has coop building down to an art and will assemble all the parts after I have them painted.

Gene fitting box USE

Gene is fitting the nest box on the new chicken coop.

My week also consisted of weeding and hauling pea gravel and bark chips, taking care of chickens, dead-heading flowers, cleaning and cooking and hanging my wash on the clothesline to dry. We also took an afternoon drive one day to the Amish feed store to purchase a 50 lb. bag of rolled oats for the chickens. I pre-tested my chickens with a small bag of human oats and they loved them.

Goldy side view on star use

Broody Goldy took a break from the nest box to eat, drink and poop.

In addition to my chores, I took my daily garden “vegetable garden walk” and was pleasantly surprised to find only an odd bug or two in among the vegetables. I am certain that having the chickens grazing in the vegetable gadren off-season has really helped control our bug population.

Pole barn after weeded USE

 I weeded the side of the pole barn this week. Next comes a layer of bark chip mulch.

Gldie in front of covered runUSE

Freckles and plastic water close

 Freckles, the Phoenix Bantam resting in the run.

frame painted Gene on backside USE

 The coop frame before the side panels or double doors have been attached.

HORZ painting the coop sides USE

 The side panels to the new coop are freshly painted and drying.

Asiactic Lilys USE

My Asiatic lilies are quite lush and lovely this year.

Staked the tomaotes USE

I staked the tomatoes in the grow bags this week.

This is our life on the homestead!

Small House homesteader, Donna

Why I Love My Rhode Island Reds

I LOVE my sister! blue green cup USE One of my favorite chicken breeds is the Rhode Island Red. It’s the chicken of choice for those who want consistent, quality egg-layers of large brown eggs. While I don’t eat my chicken friends; they make good fryers for those who do.

Bud Wood, who owns a hatchery and says Rhode Island Reds are one of the earliest breeds developed in the United States and are among his best sellers because of their production qualities. This makes them a Heritage breed and is a quality that also attracted me to them.

Rhode Island chicken from the side

‘They’re a fairly gentle breed and they lay a nice big, dark brown egg,” Wood says. “They’re a hardy breed, and easy to raise. Rhode Island Red is probably the beginning genetics of all of the commercial brown egg layers today.”

Three in a row nice soft focus

At peak production, these hens are egg-laying machines. Just one hen will give you five to six eggs a week. I’m told they do not often go broody which after my Cochins who are broody for weeks at a time, this will be a blessing!

I'm a little teacup short and stout USE

The Reds have a larger body type than other breeds. Wood recommends feeding them a commercial layer mix, which gives them all the nutrition they need. You can also provide a place to forage. It cuts their consumption of commercial feed way down, maybe even in half. Grubbing around the yard for plants and bugs makes their yolks a brighter yellow color.

Ivy cup cute

I picked up my Rhodies from Town Line hatchery in Zeeland, MI on the day they were born. By afternoon they were in their brooder eating, drinking and doing well. I choose sexed birds because I wanted all hens.

Donna with Rhode Island reds day one 4-20-15

They were not even a week old and they were already modeling for me and standing still so I could take their photo as seen by the photographs I am sharing in this blog today. By the fourth week I was carrying them outside on sunny days where they spent several house in a temporary pen running, jumping, scratching, pecking and eating whatever they could catch. By eight weeks they were free ranging all day long and sleeping in the coop overnight. They are very fast developers.

Mothers day grphic for Facebook jpeg


While the Reds are roaming, in order to keep them safe be sure they have a place to go for protection.

Two facing nice

“They need some place to get in and out of the weather,” Wood says. “A tight building is preferable so that there isn’t a draft in the winter. And some way that either the building’s heated, or the water needs to be heated, so they always have fresh, clean, unfrozen water. They would love to go out and forage if you have a way of protecting them from critters during the day. They’ll naturally come in and roost at night.”

RIR circling the food dish

Above photograph they are one week old and today at 10 weeks old.

If your goal is to raise Rhode Island Reds as fryers, Wood says it takes a chick about 14 weeks to reach six pounds.

Chicks will cost about $1.00 for males and $2.25 for females. A straight run or non-sexed batch of chicks is the most economical.

If  you are looking for great chickens, give the Rhode Island Red breed a try.

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Our Homesteads Reaction to the Avian Flu

Pullets in big girl coop

The pullets like to sneak into the big girls coop to perch.

We have had to chance our habits and activities in the wake of the avian bird flu outbreak throughout the US and it been a bit rough. Not as hard as losing our entire flock of course, but sometimes even the smallest daily change is hard to remember when your plate is as full as ours is.

RIR circling the food dish

The Rhode Island Red pullets circling the chuck wagon!

I am not normally a worrying person as I am scrupulous about cleanliness and healthy living here on the homestead. I fed my chicks herbs, fresh crushed garlic and apple cider vinegar from day one. I wash out their feeders and waterers with hot soapy water every other day and clean up chicken poop in their runs to discourage the fly’s. We wash our hands every time we touch the chickens and I don’t mix dishes, feeders or the laundry room sink with anything we are eating out of and the chickens stuff.

Running RIR

Girls on the run.

And yet, I have increased my chicken biosecurity measures and that is reflected in visitors coming into my coop or run and in no longer going to friends farms that keep chickens. Avian flu strains have been found in my state in geese and in swans and our county fair has cancelled all chicken competitions this summer…

Three Amigoes in nest box

Three broody hens with crazed hormones in one nest box.

The hardest decision I have made is that I have stopped volunteering at the horse ranch where I have been giving my horse friends, Equine Reiki. I’ve even stopped going to the monthly Happy Horse Hour event held at the same ranch as a precaution. These two changes has been the hardest of all for me.

Yes, I could change my boots and clothing.  Yes I can wash my boots in bleach but I would still be concerned about my girls. So I am taking the course of a serious lock-down action instead. I am very good at nutrition and herbs but I know that I am not so good about the actual act of diagnosing and doctoring chickens. I don’t give them shots, I don’t have antibiotics on hand. We just don’t have the necessary experience and there are no avian vets within an hours drive of us. I’ve heard of chicken keepers spending $500.00 on a sick bird with an avian vet and we just don’t have that kinds of means.

This is a tough love kind of decision which is never easy but I know in my gut it is the right decision. What are you doing on your farm to prevent this flu?

For more details about this flu and steps to prevent it please visit the Chicken Chicks blog and read her recommendation about the avian flu. See it at

Small House homesteaders and chicken keeper, Donna

My Piece in The New Pioneer Magazine Is Published

My article and three photographs about our rainwater catchments system has been published in The New Pioneer magazine, Summer issue 2015. I wrote about it first on my blog here…

New Pioneer Cover Summer 2015

Although I have known about this since last winter when I received my acceptance, is always a thrill to open the magazine and find something you have created in it.

I like how they titled it Raincatcher System. Pretty cleaver huh?

This guide to self-reliant living is now available on newsstands everywhere. Since this is a niche market, I’d try Tractor Supply for a copy first. Or order it on-line at This is a quarterly publication and sells for $24.97 for one years subscription.

Small House homesteader and freelance writer, Donna


A Perfect Early Summer Day

Today dawned sunny and cool and without the awful humidity of the past two weeks. What a blessing! I opened up the windows and turned on the window fan. It was lovely to have fresh air soaring through the homestead today.

RIR circling the food dish

We had a heavy rainstorm move thru our area last night dumping another 4.5” of rain on us. Our water containment totes are full to the brim for the second time this season, which is good, but my poor potted plants that decorate the front of my home and hide the ugly air conditioner are rotting. I pour out any standing water but I am still not successful in drying them out enough to really matter. Sigh. They were so pretty and doing so well.

Pole barn freshly mulched

It is a lovely day here in the homestead; breezy, sunny and warm with low humidity. A perfect early summer day.

Gene building coop 02 flag in background

What I accomplished today….

  1. Loaded and put down one truck load of bark chips. Weeded flower beds at the pole barn and added bark chip mulch to those beds.
  2. Picked-up and shoveled a truck load of well composted horse manure soil.
  3. I filled 15 grow bags and pots with soil and planted 15 heritage tomatoes. I have more tomatoes to plant but I am out of containers and ground.
  4. I did a large load of wash (including our water-bed sheets) and hung them on the line. By afternoon they were folded and put away.
  5. I washed a load of dishes and by afternoon emptied the dishwasher and put them away.
  6. I started searching for organic chicken feed that is not mash as the chickens seem to prefer pecking the seeds and so much mash is wasted.
  7. I also did some Internet research on Curcumin, recommended to us by an acupuncturist friend.
  8. Gene worked on the chicken coop extension completing the two sets of double doors, ran Sassy and helped me when asked.

Two grow bags aiwht tomatoes

Lots of projects getting done on the homestead this month as I know that the heat and humidity of July is coming, as well as my granddaughter!!

Load of wash on line

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Small House Homesteads Week in Photo’s

It was a very physical week for us last week on the homestead. There was lots of gardening, building, animal care taking, herb gathering and drying and cooking going on. Quite frankly this is a typical week at the Small House Homestead.

The days were hot, humid and rainy but the nights were still cool, thank goodness!

Babies stump dish of food

The RIR pullets  were integrated into the existing flock.

Pool shack with wagon of herbs in frontI gathered various herbs from the meadow to dry.

Freckles and Sweet pea in the nesting boxThree of the hens went broody…again. Here Freckles and Goldy in a nest box.

Buttercups under tree bedButtercups bloomed in the bed under a White Oak tree.

Album holder flower pot for 2015Flowers were planted in the vintage record stand.

Baptise studio-meadow USEBaptisia bloomed in the meadow.

Strawberries on pound cakeI baked hubby a lemon pound cake for Fathers Day with strawberries on top.

Studio bed after repaired

I weeded and replenished pea gravel in the art studio walkway and bed.

I hope your week was a great one!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

What We Did on Father’s Day

The days are heating up here in SW Michigan. I get up early and take care of the chickens and usually begin my big outdoor project for the day while it is still fairly cool outside.

Studio bed after repaired

The weeded and cleaned up pathway and garden bed at the art studio.

Today while it was not yet windy, we sprayed Neem Oil on some plants the bugs have been munching on and I continued weeding around the art studio pathway as I continue to replenish the pea gravel that seems to disappear going who know where!

Studio bed edge before

The weedy and overgrown studio pathway “before.”

I have been working on this walkway clean up project all this week and as the days heat up my work time gets shorter and shorter so it will take me many more days to complete this to my satisfaction.

Pea gravel has some definite benefits in the garden; it’s inexpensive, we can haul home a trailer load ourselves for under $20.00 and skip the $100.00 delivery fee. Rain perks easily through it but with a canopy of White Oak trees  here I am forever picking out acorns, twigs and leaves and pulling out weeds.

Yes, I know I could skip this chore, and many folks do, but eventually the pea gravel would be buried under organic materials and look pretty crummy in my opinion. So every spring I go through this process to keep the pathway and garden edge looking nice and tidy. Besides when else do I get to haul 5-gallon bucket of pea gavel? Lol!

Today I also cleaned up the laundry room where the RIR babies have been living and sleeping. They made the transition to the outdoor coop and run this week. It was fun to have them in the house but I am thankful too to now have them and their mess all out-of-doors. Out went the brooder box to be burned, and various feeders, waters and large jars of feed were cleaned and stored.  I vacuumed the floor, thoroughly washed off and sterilized the top of the washer and dryer where everything chicken has been stacked. I have now regained control of my laundry room again! Yahoo!

Today being Father’s Day means I am cooking a fancy dinner for Gene. He requested BBQ spare ribs, peas and dessert. I baked his lemon pound cake yesterday and that is in the fridge waiting to be assembled at the last-minute with strawberries to go on top.

Lemon pound cake in pan

The pound cake hot right out of the oven.

Strawberries on pound cake

The pound cake plated with strawberries on it. Delish.

This afternoon we will enjoy sitting on the porch sipping some iced tea, reading and bird-watching and hopefully taking calls from children wishing Gene happiness on his day!

Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. Happy Father’s Day to all fathers out there!

Small House Homesteader Donna

Using Comfrey to Make Compost Tea

Herbs  in wagon against pool shack USE

Harvesting comfrey in a basket and an old wooden wagon.

This week I noticed that my comfrey plants were fully grown and in bloom. That’s my signal to make some comfrey compost tea.

Comfrey close USE

A close up of view of my comfrey in bloom in the meadow.

It’s really simple to do; I cut the plants down, chop up the stems and leaves and put them in a 5-gallon bucket half filled with water of water, put a pot on top to keep out leaves or twigs and set them aside for a few weeks. Rotting comfrey can get a bit stinky so I set ours on the back side of the pole barn where hardly anyone ever goes.

Compost tea buckets empty

Here is my recipe:  take a bucket, add water and chopped comfrey. Let it sit for few weeks until it turns brown. Add to your garden!

The leaves and stems rot and make a super healthy fertilizer or compost enhancer.

Wooden wagon against meadow bed USE

Wagon full of comfrey and mint at the meadow.

I typically use my comfrey tea to green up any tomato plants whose leaves have turned yellow but it can be used on any plant. Comfrey is a magic herb!

Small House Homesteader and gardener, Donna


I Signed Up for The Great Lakes Herb Faire

I did it. I made my commitment to the September Great Lakes Herb Faire today and I am now registered for this amazing event. Their website is

Festival Image

The first Great Lakes Herb Faire will be held on September 11-13 2015, at the Chelsea Outdoor Center which is located at 2500 Pierce Road in Chelsea, Michigan. This three-day event is dedicated to the sharing of herbal knowledge.

Many community-building activities, like  morning yoga and tai chi, and evening drumming and Contra dancing are planned as well. There is also a vendor opportunity for sellers and buyer alike.

Herb bed 6-2015

One of my herb beds planted in very old RR ties to contain them.

While I am nervous that I have may have over scheduled myself this fall (I have two trips planned in Sept.) I am very excited about this learning opportunity.

Artesemesia close

Artemisia/wormwood in my meadow; primarily used in aromatherapy and as a de-wormer for chickens. This has a sage like scent with mint undertones.

I can’t wait to meet others of like mind, to listen to what the many talented herbalists and teachers from throughout the Great Lakes bioregion have to share.

Comfrey close USE

Comfrey in my meadow; Used as a fertilizer, conditioner for soil and activator for compost. I use it to make compost tea for tomatoes. Also used as an herbal medicine for healing scrapes and bruises.

And what I am really “over the moon” about is that I will be able to meet and take a class with herbalist Susan Burek of Moonlight Mile Herb Farm

Moonlight Mile LOGO

I am a member of her Poultry Natural Living and Herbal Care blog, and quite frankly, I am in awe of her herbal knowledge and skills.

I am thrilled to finally meet her, purchase some of her special herbal avian tonics and tremendously interested in learning more about her experiences, natural chicken keeping tips and her unique way of using herbs in her chicken keeping.

I grow many herbs here at The Small House Homestead but I do not always feel confident about the best way to use them.

For additional details about the faire or to register go to the Facebook page; Great Lakes Herb FaireFestival ImageSmall House Homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna