Small House Homesteads Week in Photo’s-Photo Diary

Balmy warm weather, sunshine and spending time outdoors was the best thing about our week on the homestead.Curious chicken USE                     Look at the shiny hackles on this Heritage Rhode Island Red.

The temperature got up to the 60’s for a few days and we spotted the first Phoebe, Rufus Sided Towee and Robin of the season.

HORZ shrub and cart USE

The weather warmed up enough I could remove the protective burlap from the yewsSister Rhdoes in leaves cute USE  Sisters, sisters / There were never such devoted sisters /

VERT close target and chicks

A Rhodie is drawf-ed by the oak logs target for hatcket practice.

Totes barn chickensThe chickens are interested in our water totes containment center.

Sister Rhdoes in leaves cute USE

Hey baby…what’s happening?
Burlap frying on fenceDrying the burlap on the vegetable garden fencing.

Chickens in front of the run USE

Our chickens enjoying the sunshine in the open run near the enclosed Rhodies run.

Pecking at my pants

Newest bluebird house inmeadow USE

We put up two more bluebird boxes this week.

Small House homesteader, Donna

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

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.

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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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

 

The Small House Homestead Winter – Photo Diary

Pole barn crystal gene USE

Crystal the Rhode Island Red likes to follow us around the homestead.

Our winter thus far has been spent, cooking new gluten-free recipes, doing some deep cleaning inside our home, letting the chickens out to free range with supervision and shoveling snow. Welcome to winter in Michigan!!

This is our week of January 15, 2016. I hope you enjoy the view!

Rhodies and Cochins in dirt USE

Rhodies and Cochin’s alike want to get out of the run no matter the weather.

We shoveled snow away from the door to the covered run so the chicks could scratch and peck. Our girls love their dirt!

Rhodie at pole barn USE

Elsa found a tiny bit of open ground in front of the pole barn door.

We are challenged to find open areas of dirt or leaves to keep the chickens occupied during the long, cold days and out of trouble. Too much time in the coop means chicken squabbles and the lowest chickens in the pecking order seem to be the one who suffer, especially poor Freckles.

If there is a tiny patch of dirt USE

The wondering buddies, Crystal and Elsa.

This was a tiny melted area about the size of a plate near the front of the pole and the girls found it and scratched around satisfying the Rhodies intense drive to dig, scratch and peck.

Crystal and Elsa are wondering buddies. Even when no one else will venture outside in the snow and cold these two avian friends find a way to occupy themselves.

Rhodie at pole barn USE

Posing at the pole barn!

Gene and two chickens USE

Gene and his girls!

Unless there is a terrible snowstorm, we try to get the chickens outside every day, if even for just an hour. Sunlight, fresh air and exercise are good for the girls and helps to keep them busy and occupied too.

Rhoide under forge at buckets USE

When the chicken run gate is open for our morning chores they invariably find their way to the overhand of the forge where there is open dirt and leaves. THIs winter we have stored buckets of bark chips under the forge overhang that we use from time in the chicken coop.

Chicken tracks use

Chickens tracks lead the way to where the girls have been traveling.

I hope you have been having some enjoyable travels too!

Small House homesteader, Donna

Elsa’s First Egg – A Red Letter Day!

It’s always a red-letter day when your chicken lays her fist egg. It doesn’t matter how many flocks you have had in the past but the flocks first egg is always a treasure – a golden egg so to speak. Especially when you have waited five months (five month and one day) for it to happen.

RIR are known for being great egg layers and each bird lays up to 300 lovely, large brown eggs per year. That and their easy-going, hardy natures are the reason I chose them this time around.

Egg alone in a bowl USE

Elsa’s first egg. Big, brown, beautiful and organic!

Elsa is the most mature of our four Rhode Island Red chickens. Elsa is a beautiful Rhodie with a deeply burnished dark neck ruff and black tail feathers. She is the one whose comb got red first, who squatted in submission first and now she is the first of the flock to lay her egg. I also think she is the head chicken of that small Rhode Island Red flock.

RIR circling the food dish

Yesterday she started a kind of “I’m uncomfortable” squawking and I suspected her egg was coming soon. Coincidentally the nest boxes were all full of empty jugs and jars to make it uncomfortable for the three Cochin broodies who has been brooding in the next box for almost 6 weeks. It was time for them to rejoin the flock and while I didn’t want to punish them for their own natural hormones, I wanted to make their time in the box uncomfortable. So I piled on the old Kiefer jugs, lemonade jars and milk cartons I had saved for this purpose.

This morning while I was opening and cleaning out the coop Elsa looked into the nest box (which was full) and started to squawk again loudly so I quickly removed the jugs. Within two hours she had laid. Her egg song was joyous and loud! Good girl Elsa!

And yes she is named Elsa after the character in Frozen. Our North Carolina granddaughter named her that.

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

 

Permaculture Mixer September, 2015

It was a very interesting and rewarding day yesterday at the Permaculture Mixer in Kalamazoo, MI. The daylong event that took place on Saturday, September 26th and was an opportunity to hear presenters and to meet others from the Michigan Permaculture Community.

Perma Activities collage 4 9 2015 jpeg

The event was held at the historic 160 year old Gibbs House on Western Michigan Universities campus. This site serves as a living laboratory where students are creating a developing permaculture landscape, a food forest, vegetable and herbs gardens and using composting and verimiculture to make the garden soil more productive. This large demonstration garden complete with two 30 X 80 ft. hoop houses shows others what can be done on an urban plot and how to do it sustainably.

many walking dwon rows

Tours of the garden and hoop house were popular.

There were sites tours, demonstrations of low energy use equipment, information booths, book sales and plenty of opportunity to mingle with and talk to other attendees of “like mind.” There were also a potluck and panel discussions of individuals who are farming, gardening and homesteading and personally making the permaculture system work for them.

Flowers close

Layers of plants are part of a permaculture system.

The day began with keynote speaker, Peter Bane, author, teacher and permaculture activist who presented a short history of how permaculture came about and a positive and hopeful path for how using permaculture systems will be part of the global answer to a more sustainable future for us all. Bane is known for his book; Permaculture Handbook, Garden Farming for Town and Country (www.permaculturehandbook.com) and as the long-time publisher of Permaculture Activist Magazine. Bane also offered a Sunday workshop on designing resilient homesteads as well.

Gibbs House collage 4 jpeg

In addition there were several other speakers who shared their journey and their stories about how they came to permaculture and how permaculture is working for them.

Other speaker so so

Presentations are an integral part of the diversity of permaculture options.

It was an rewarding opportunity and one I thoroughly enjoyed. If you have a permaculture community near you, I really encourage you to join and explore new ideas and make some of them your own.

Group tur through food forest

Verticl porch posts

Small House homesteader, Donna

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