The Story of Sweet Little Snowball Laying Again at Last

Snowball puzzled look

Snowball the white Cochin Bantam today.

Snowball the snow-white Cochin Bantam came to us in the fall of 2014 as a two- week-old rescued chick. She came from a farm where she and her fours siblings and their mother were only being fed cracked corn.

Clover and Snowball

Snowball flying out of the coop, not able to navigate the chicken ladder.

As a result Snowball had some obvious neurological problems. Snowball had a wry neck and when under stress or upset she turned in circles around and around. All of her toes were crooked so she waddles as she walks. I was pretty sure she was suffering from nutritional deficiencies, poor thing.

Clover and four babies

Snowball first fall out in the chicken run. Clover stands close by guarding.

I immediately put the flock on a high quality growers feed and supplemented that with herbs, greens and chicken vitamin drops to try to improve upon their obvious nutritional deficiency. Snowballs body grew but she was never all ‘quite there.’ In fact, I thought she was bit handicapped.

Three on stump heads up jpeg

Snowball and two of her Cochin/Phoenix mix sisters posing on a stump.

Snowball was extremely connected to her mother, Clover, often removing specks of dirt from her Clover’s feathers, grooming her and even when she was almost full sized she wanted to sleep under her Clover’s wings at night. She was very reluctant to grow up.

Snowball looking u coop door Good

Growing, growing, growing….

In fact, Snowball was the last chicken to leave her mother’s side and only because after 5 ½ month her mother turned on her and pecked her in the neck (until blood appeared) to say, “I’m done raising babies and I really mean it this time!”

Funny snowball on stump USE  Quirky Snowball on the stump. The mealworms are how I got her up there!

Snowball has continuously been a quirky little thing, a bit odd and unusually funny. But above all those character traits she has always been sweet like most Cochin Bantams are. It took several months but she began to circle less and less and her wry neck eventually went away. She developed her own personality which is a bit “top chicken” where she pecks away the much larger Rhodies from the food and perches even though she is the lowest chicken in the Cochin flock, she just doesn’t know it! She alerts everyone when crows come around and is kind of the block queen. All the other chickens just kind of melt away and let her have her way. It’s almost like they know she is not all there and have compassion for her and do not raise a fuss. She began to lay, a bit later than her sisters and never laid every day. When she did lay her egg she laid the most petite, creamy white eggEating and posing USETHIS ONE                                                       Not quite full grown.

Last fall when the Cochin’s went through their molt it was almost winter time. Snowball molted with the others but never came back in quite the same way. It took her longer to grow her feathers and she never started laying eggs again. I soon accepted that she was going to be a free loader instead of a layer and because she is such a sweetheart, I never really minded.

Snowball cute on stump USE

Playtime on the stump in the chicken run.

Unlike her serial brooding sisters, Snowball has never gone broody either.

2016bfbcalendarad biosecurity calendar 2015 USDA

Snowball is the bird who photograph was chosen for the USDA 2016 Biosecurity Calendar.

One day out of the blue we found a fairy egg. I was pretty sure this meant that someone was beginning to lay again after a long absence, but who could it be? I was puzzled.

Snowball stretchingneck

That funny girl at play..Look at that neck in proportion to her body!

Last week we began to see a new and slightly different egg in the nest box. With two Cochin broodies we couldn’t figure out who was laying this new oblong egg. It was definitely a Cochin egg but whose could it be? After the fourth egg it dawned on me that Snowball was finally laying again She was actually laying after almost a year’s off! Oh happy day!

Brennas hands with eggs 2015

A light-colored petite Cochin Bantam egg.

It is funny to me how very one of these chickens develop their own personalities and how we get so attached to them. I’ve had readers write and comment on how sweet she is. I know we are not supposed to have favorites, but Snowball seems to be every reader’s favorite too.

Two misfires and a Cochin egg USE

Snowball’s two misfires and her normal egg.

Small House homesteader, Donna

Spring Snowstorm on the Homestead

Yesterday the US experienced a strong mix of heavy rain, wet snow and tornadoes through the north-east. Time magazine said in a weather issue that came out last year that this is the ‘new normal’; meaning intense hard rain storms, tornadoes, snow storms and more.

Pararamic studio curved tree USE

The heavy snow has doubled over the river birch tree.

In SW Michigan we received about 8 -10″ inches of heavy, wet snow. It is beautiful to look at be sure however it is really physically hard to remove on an aging body like ours. On our homestead the chore of snow removal falls totally on us and this is with using a snow blower and hand shovels.

Playhouse thick snow USE

The playhouse looks adorable under the overnight snowfall.

We do get asked sometimes, why don’t you just hire someone? Once when our snow blower was broken and we received 12″-15″ of wet snow dumped overnight we paid a local guy to come and plow our two driveways. Unfortunately he knew he has us over a barrel and charged us $90.00. I almost flipped out as Gene was making a little over $7.00 an hour at Menard’s at that time and that represented a weeks worth of income for us. Our retirees budget can’t sustain that on a regular basis so we must handle the snow removal ourselves.

Coop roof and tarp under snow USE

Snow on the roof of the covered run. I am thankful for having a covered run for the long winter months.

The hard plastic roofing panels on the covered coop run hold the snow and the three side tarps keep out snow but allow for good ventilation.

Chicken complex USE

The heavy snow pulled down our netting so repairs will be needed.

I was really getting used to the unexpected patch of spring-like weather we have had here these past two weeks. I must admit I am disappointed that winter weather has returned.

109th roadway under snow

The main road in front of our home is deserted.

We hustled and took advantage of the warmer weather to get some maintenance chores done. Gene washed, vacuumed and waxed my Subaru as well as vacuumed out his truck. We drove to the car wash and washed his truck and sandy undercarriage, as well as the dirty winter boot tray and dog kennel after the sick chicken was in it.

Snoopy close USE

The snoopy yardstick says 6″ of snow on the hot tub cover.

Diaganol hottub USE                           Our snow-covered hot tub and deer fencing.

I also picked up load after load of sticks and twigs from the yard and spent hours outside with the chickens giving them a chance to free range as much as possible during the lull in the snowfall. I personally would have loved more time without snow but that was not meant to be.

Pool fence and woods USE

Thick snow has covered the chain link fencing surrounding our pool.

Snow is now a mixed blessing here. Yes, it is very beautiful to look at and we do need the water in the water table but…this thick wet snow coating every surface means a lot of hard physical work head for us.

VERT coop under big oak USE

Todays path to the chicken coop to do our morning chores.

This lifestyle IS our priority…but it is also one of the most difficult realities of homesteading and aging bodies…

VERT oak and house front USE

The giant White Oak at the front of our property is like a sentinel showing the way.

Small house homesteader Donna

Teaching Sassy About the Chickens

We get many questions about how we deal with a trained bird dog and retrievers and free ranging chickens.

Rhodies Gene Sassy

Sassy and Gene practice “leave it” while the chickens free ranged today.

Readers often wonder if they need to buy a certain breed of dog to guard their livestock and how t0 train them?

I was worried about this very issue when we decided to get our chickens. Sassy is a very high energy Labrador Retriever and certain birds are her prey. Her job is to find them and bring them home.

Sassy sleeping on gun

Sleeping on the gun case after a good long hunt.

As a trained hunting dog she has been taught to capture and retrieve birds as part of the hunting process. Of course I was nervous that she would want to do that with my baby chicks who were then just about the size of a woodcock, one of the birds species she has been taught to retrieve.

Sassy love

Good girl Sassy! Getting a lot of love and praise for such good behavior!

When the chicken were very tiny and in the laundry room in their brooder, we initially introduced them to her quite early. We let Sassy smell the chicks  liberally while telling her to”leave it,” our cue to teach her when we want her to not touch, mouth or pick up a particular thing. Pretty soon she learned their cheeps and when they cheeped, “I am hungry,” Sassy would come and get me and alert me that they needed me,

VERT Sassy snow beard USE

Sassy, the wonderdog!

Sassy Gene coop USE 11-2-14

Standing at the chicken run on her lead was part of her training process.

I took her outside with me when I had chicken chores to do. I always keep a close watch on her and her behavior. She has always behaved very well around my chickens but no matter what, I have always been mindful she is a trained bird dog and keep my eyes on her and my ears open.

I’ve come to the conclusion that its not the breed of the dog but rather the consistent training that is most important.

Apparently Sassy understands that being on the field is where she hunts and retrieves birds and only when instructed to do so. Apparently she instinctively views these birds on our land as “different” and not birds she is supposed to go after.

Good girl Sassy!!

Small House homesteader, Donna

Small Houses’ Tiny Role in Preserving the Savanna Forest

We spent as much time outside as possible during our recent February thaw. The sunshine felt wonderful on my skin and the warm weather made a partial clean-up of the yard possible.

Oak tree close with chickens USE

Our small parcel of the Oak Savannas forest with compost bins in the distance.

When you live under the shelter of forty-seven White Oak trees you end up with a lot of sticks blown down in the yard that need to be picked up come spring. One record spring I collected twelve garden carts full of sticks and twigs!

Rhoide close comb backlit USE

One of our Rhodies enjoying her time in the forest edge.

So I am always happy to have the opportunity to get outside during the winter months and do a bit of pre-spring yard clean up.

Snowball close

Snowball the Bantam Cochin like all chickens loves to scratch in the leaves.

Have I recently  mentioned that our land was once part of the Oak Savanna Forest?

This italics piece below was written by the author of the Lillie House Blog. Lillie House is an urban permaculture garden in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You can see the post about the history of the savannah in its entirety at Lillie House : How We Save the Savannas

And most magnificent of all the ecosystems in the new Americas was the savannas. These large parcels of land were once common across the region where the Eastern Woodland receded into western prairie.Chickens in wood compost in background

Our chickens free ranging along the path into the forest.

Just as we call the prairies “grasslands,” these savannas were “flowerlands,” glorious with a great bounty of broadleaf plants that provide medicine, food and forage. These special ecosystems are the preferred environment of many species, the only place where some can thrive. No doubt it was also home to undiscovered, lost soil communities that we had not yet begun to understand when we brought with us a vast, yet tiny army of invisible conquistadors to colonize the kingdom under foot. 

Oak Savvanah with flowers underneath
 Photo credit: Lillie House Blog Spot.
Within ten years of “settlement” by Europeans, these ecosystems were transformed. The open woodlands filled in to thick forest, prairies and savannas turned to cane thickets and old field, and eventually forest. This once open, park-like continent transformed to just another dense European thicket, and the North American miracle was never to be seen again.


One of the remaining stands of native lupines in the State Game Area.

One large 50,000 acre parcel the Allegan State game Area was preserved by officials for its recreational use for campers, snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, horse trail riders and hunters and due to the prevalent native lupines that grow there. These beautiful lupines are the host plant for the protected Karner blue butterflies.


Spring in the forest with native Lupines providing the color.

The chickens had a blast being out of their run. They walked, scratch and pecked for hours every day.  We feel most comfortable supervising the chickens when they free range outside of their fenced in runs.

Rhodie head up studio in rear USE

The forest edge creates a lovely back-drop to our property as well as wind break.

I have tried to preserve the trees on our land and to plant native plantings as well as the many native Lupines as I could plant. I have maintained and played steward on this property as best that I can in the fifteen years we have lived here. We have work hard to preserve and protect this unique ecosystem and add to it as we can.

The weather report indicated that a big storm is headed our way later this week and predicting 5″ to 8″ of fresh snow. So I have been picking up as many sticks as I could and letting the chicken out for several hours a day. Apparently this lovely thaw is about to end!

Oh and the bluebird are coming back…we saw two males looking for their breeding territories earlier this week! I’ll keep you posted!

Small House homesteader, Donna

62 Degrees Sunny and Windy – Photo Diary

  Wow, what a great day on the homestead.

Chickens outside comples and bkue sky USE

Blue sky and white fluffy clouds overlooking the chicken complex.

Gene Rhodies Forge 2-19-16

Gene by the blacksmith forge while the Rhodies scratch in the bark chips.

We enjoyed a lovely sunny and warm day for our mid-winter February thaw. The morning was full of chores; washing clothes, cleaning the stove, making bone broth and more.

Elsaside viewgreat USE

Elsa taking a dust bath.

In spite of the recorded 50+ mile an hour winds our afternoon was spent outside enjoying the chickens.

Elsa dust flying USE

Dirt flies when a chicken takes a dust bath.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring so gotta make hay today!

4 Rhodies in covered run USE

Doors open and the sun shines in the covered run.

HORZ chicken on path USE

Chickens follow the snow blown path around the homestead.

Small House Homesteader, Donna


How to Heal a Sick Chicken in a Laundry Room Infirmary

After a week or more of sub-zero temperatures I noticed about three days ago that Crystal, one of our Rhode Island Red chickens was not acting like herself.

In kennel US

Crystal spent a few days in the chicken infirmary in our laundry room.

She held back from eating when her sisters were mowing down my special “High Test Cold Weather Feed” (recipe below) both morning and night. Then I noticed that she was wheezing and keeping herself separate from the others hanging our under the chicken coop and dosing off. I knew then we had a problem.

As the lowest chicken in the four chicken Rhodie flock, Crystal has always been a bit of a loner, happy to free range off on her own. She has never cared to be caught, held or physically put back into the run after a free range time. She was always the last girl in the coop at bedtime.  A most independent chicken!

Gene and I jumped into motion…Out came the dog kennel, the baby gate, the chicken waterer and jar lids as feeders. I also moved the humidifier from the kitchen counter to the laundry room to increase the humidity in her body. This healing technique actually reminds me of the way I use to treat my young son’s croup – healing foods, rest and high humidity.


Boy would I like to crawl into that supersized nest box!

We have used the laundry room/mechanical room as an infirmary before and it works well because it is right off of our kitchen, is warm and I can keep close tabs on whoever is not feel well. We have water in the sink and the chicken food cupboard is there as well.

I filled the kennel with dry leaves while Gene brought Crystal inside. The first thing I did was look her over closely, feel her crop to make sure it was not hard, make sure she did not have any lice or mites on her and determine that this was indeed an upper repertory issue. Crystal was sneezing, couching, congested and shaking her head.

Otside of pen USE

After a couple of days of healing Crystal asked to come out of the dog kennel.

I gave her a bit of tincture of Echinacea by gently forcing her beak open and using an eye dropper I dropped a small dose of the tincture into her mouth. We then put her into the kennel and set up her food and water. I kept a close watch on her on and off most of the day. She was eating enormous amounts of food, water and pooping – all good signs. So I pretty much knew that means she was not getting enough food out in the coop as she was beginning to feel more and more ill.


On the road to healing…”Hey whose out there?”

On day one I gave her three servings of high protein cat food shreds which she devoured. She normally does not get cat food but I needed to fill her up quickly with a high protein food and boost her immune system in order for her to heal.

She was sneezing quite frequently and shaking her head to try to clear things out. Her voice sounded very croupy and horse so an upper repertory issue was confirmed. I kept her full of food, water and on day two switched to Elderberry Elixir made by herbalist Lisa Rose, of Burdock and Rose Herbals that is filled with many good herbs and organic plants. I could see her beginning to get better a little bit each day and she began to make a few soft and happy chicken “talking” sounds.


Curious Crystal loved walking around the laundry room, exploring.

In case you are not familiar with the healing properties of elderberry Lisa Rose writes this…

“Plant medicines like elderberry (Sambucus nigra) can help shorten the lifespan of a virus — If you know when and how to use them! If you listen to your body’s call, and try preparations of elderberry elixir within the first 48 hours of the start of a virus, medical research shows that symptoms that come from colds and flu can be lessened by as much as 4 days.

How does elderberry work?

Elderberry is not only filled with antioxidants and flavonoids useful for the body, but it stimulates the body’s inflammation response against the virus. By triggering the production of cytokines – the inflammatory and anti-inflammatory agents that regulate the body’s immune system – elderberry powers the immune system which then inhibits the virus’ ability to reproduce.

Elderberry is most commonly prepared as a syrup of the fresh or dry berries and it’s easy to make your own batch of Elderberry Elixir.” Thank you Lisa Rose for this great information!

Each night Crystal climbs up on her roost bar to go to bed for the night. Content to wait until morning when she jumped down and signaled me with little chirps and that she was ready for her breakfast.

On day three she made signs of wanting to get out of the kennel so I let her out for a half hour or so. She walked around, looking the room over and actually came out for a small cuddle letting me touch her which is quite unusual for her self-contained nature.

Today she got a real good shot of Elderberry Elixir, her sprouted mung beans and barley grass in addition to her chicken food and mealworms which she devoured.  This elderberry makes me a tiny bit sleepy so I was not surprised to find her laying down in the leaves and resting later on this morning. She rested for perhaps an hour and was then backup and scratching for more food in the bottom of her kennel.

I think this poor girl was very, very hungry by the amount of food she has put down in the last three days. I have given her as much to eat as she as she wanted because my goal is to give her protein to help her recover as quickly as possible.

Crystal has not been in the house since she was a tiny, day-old chick and she surprised me at how calm she was throughout. Maybe one more day in the house and then we will put her back out on the roost at night to lessen the possibilities of re-entry pecking from the flock. Good job Crystal!!


For eight chickens I mix the dry portion of the feed into a quart Ball jar. If you have more chickens than I do you may wish to double this recipe and mix this in a bucket or bin.


1/3 jar organic layers pellets

1/3 jar black oiled sunflowers seeds (BOSS)

¼ cup rolled oatmeal (or soaked meal worms)

½ to 3/4 cup of sprouted mung beans


Fill another quart canning jar about ½ full of olive oil. (I buy organic olive oil from Sam’s Club.) This infusion steeps continuously inside the cupboard and is refilled as needed.

Add dried basil and oregano or basil, mint and sage

Add three cloves of fresh chopped garlic

I taught my chicks to eat fresh herbs as babies every day. As a result my chickens love their herbs so I add these liberally, fresh in season and dry in the wintertime. Add to taste,  probably ½ to ¾ cup of herbs to a small bucket of feed.

Each evening I mix up two jars, one for the morning feed and one for the evening feed. I pour just enough of the olive oil mixture to coat the dry materials. Stir. This sits over night to continues to soak into the dry ingredients.

My chickens get their coop lights turned on around 5 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. when our Lab Sassy has to go out to the bathroom. They then have from that early hour to daylight to eat their layers pellets and drink water. Around 8 a.m. we take out the “High Test Feed.” We then let them out of their two coops and into their covered runs, feed them, clean out the heated dog waterers and refill with fresh water and clean out the chicken coop for the day. Light go off after that so they have dark and quite for egg laying. At night the procedure is repeated.

Always an adventure when keeping chickens!

Small House Homesteader, Donna


A Week in Photos Small House Homestead

We had a bit of the January thaw this week. Our weather rose to around 40’s degrees and the sun shone brightly for a few days. We were happy to be able to get our snowbound chickens out of the chicken run for a stroll and a munch on patches of grass that popped up as the snow melted.

Hey lady where are my worms

Crystal says, ‘Hey lady where is the food?’

Our winter has been relatively mild this year with small amounts of snow interspersed with a warmish week in-between. This week the animals certainly enjoyed enjoy our old-fashioned January thaw.

Sunrise hprzontal most pink

A beautiful winter sunrise one day this week on the Small House homestead.

And, I enjoyed a rare opportunity to photographs very pretty sunrise on Saturday morning. I am usually up and at em’ early as our retriever Sassy gets up very early to go outside to the bathroom. My day often begins with the sound of her nails clicking on our linoleum floor and her head pressing down on my arm as her signal, ‘Okay mom its time!’

Sassy 11-18-14

Miss Sassy the snow dog.

Everyday the sun rises but most days I am preoccupied with animals needs or cooking breakfast to actually walk out and concentrate on taking a good a photograph. But luck was with me that day.

Sunrise tree in half interesting for textGreeting The Dawn.

Elsa the fluffy butt

Do these feathers make my butt look big?

After the animals are fed and our breakfast eaten we do our yoga stretches. On this day Sassy was determined to get into the act.

Sassy doing yoga stretches

Sassy and Gene do their yoga stretches.

Circling the fire

The Rhodies circle the wagons.

Crystal bithbat head up USE

Crystal scratching for sunflower seeds under the bird bath

Sassy run three

Sassy gets a good walk everyday.

The chicken monitor

The chicken monitor.

I hope your week was a good one too.

Small House homesteader, Donna