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

Chicken Condo Complex Update

Most summers in addition to our weekly gardening, mowing and general upkeep, we work on one large project on the homestead.

Chicken complex w tree slight mist

The early morning mist rising over the Small House’s Chicken Condo Complex

This summer we have been working on chicken coop number two and its enclosed run as well as created a netted run area to prevent the Cochins from flying out of the run a half-dozen times (or more!) a day.

Comlex from tree surve and house interesting

A second view of the complex; 2 coops, 2 runs and a netted run area.

This has ultimately developed into a rather advanced two-coop/two run project, so I have taken to calling it the Chicken Condo Complex when I describe it!

Entire complex shot from east side

We sited the covered run area under the shade of a large White Oak tree.

We are not contractors or even carpenters so projects like this are done slowly. We do a lot of Internet searching, we work step at a time and almost every day and often we are figuring things out as we go along. Gene and I work together as a team and usually I design, research options, source materials and paint while Gene does the actual building.

Cochin run not yet chicken wire but nice

Off the ground coop in covered run frame not yet covered with chicken wire.

Booth coops are built high off the ground in deference to our 2009-2012 high ground water flooding years. Our home was surrounded by a moat of 20″ deep water for months at a time and the lowest part of our property is where our vegetable garden and coops are located so we planned accordingly.


High ground water sitting just outside the fenced in run area.

Hopefully with the expensive new ditch project and county drain extension we will never have to go through that kind of flooding again, but we decided to be safe rather than sorry.

Cochin run door north

The Rhodies coop and newly chicken wired door to their run.

The second coop design was nearly the same design as our first chicken coop, just bigger, so it was bit easier to build this time around. It had double doors that open on both sides for ease of cleaning and daily airing out and it has two chicken ladders; one the opened into the original covered run as well as into the soon-to-be-covered run number area.

Cochin coop photo from west side

The Rhodies coop nest box, door, ladder and screens for ventilation

Our first flock, four Cochin/Phoenix mix are just one year old. The second flock consists of four Rhode Island Reds that are about 4 months old now. Originally we had hoped that the two flocks would integrate well and share the same covered run area during our 6-month-long Michigan winters. But the flocks have not really gelled as one, so Gene decided to build a second covered run for the Rhodies.

3 Rhodies on roost bar one down USE

The Rhodies use their coop, roost bar and chicken ladder as a jungle gym!

Both flocks move in and out of both coops and the laying hens used their own laying boxes as well as the Rhodies boxes. So, I suspect that both flocks will eventually be able to live together and will move freely between both runs at some point; sleeping apart in their own coop. As with most fickle chickens….time will tell.

2 chickens at sandbox shared run

The Cochin and Phoenix layers coming out of their covered run after dusting.

In hindsight it probably would have been cheaper to build one large coop instead of two coops but at the time, we simply did not know we would be keeping 8 chickens. We were somewhat new to chicken keeping and had not yet developed a well-thought out plan for growth ahead of time. Live and learn, as they say.

Inside shared run east wall shows well

The view inside the shared chicken run. Both coops funnel into this area.

We have been working hard on these two projects all summer. The overall goal is to get them completed before the snow arrives.

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna


Super Serious about our Predator Safe Chicken Coop

Gene on ladder looking and sunflowers

Hubby has finally begun the Rhodies coop addition roof.

We are super serious about building a completely “safe from predators” chicken coop. That’s why coop number two is taking us so long to complete. This is the 4 ft. X 8 ft. permanent coop home for our Rhode Island Red pullets.

Our chickens coop is definitely secure enough for them to sleep in right now but it still needs its corrugated plastic roof, hardware cloth on the bottom for winter dusting, two chicken ladders, window shutters and nest box. We are getting a bit closer every day.

These remaining parts are built and painted but await installation. We are focusing now on getting the roof done next because we have plenty of time before autumn when we will need the window shutters. Likewise we have a few months yet until the pullets begin to lay and we will need the nest box attached.

Our primary focus now is on building the roof truss support and then adding the corrugated white plastic roofing material. We intend to match the roofline of the covered run so this is a detailed endeavor.  After this roof is completed the temporary blue tarp will be removed. The tarp will eventually become just a rainy season cover.

VERT RIR Coop open doors USE

A coop this detailed take a long time to build right.

My husband is not a carpenter just a good guy trying to make his chicken keeper wife happy.

RIR New sand USE

I love using sand as coop litter. It clean up easily and stays cool.

Coop 2 window w hardware cloth USE

Hardware cloth and screwed-in frames makes these windows safe and secure.

Comple from west, coop barn, sunflower

The 2 X 4 wood frame lying on the ground is the east side wall of the new enclosed pen. This will be positioned against the existing fence and a roof truss will be fitted over it. The roof will hang over to make a narrow run area for outside winter activities. It will also funnel the rainwater off it to run into the grassy area and not into the run itself. This gives the pullets an option of their own small run since our Cochins have not taken well to the new pullets yet and continually chase them out of their coop and run area. They no longer peck them but just let them know that they are not welcome to hang out with the big girls.

Coop 2 ceiling hardware cloth

Hardware cloth on the ceiling of the coop also make for a secure from critter home and adds extra ventilation too. Once the white corrugated roofing material is in place this hardware cloth will allow for upper ventilation. This construction technique really made a huge difference in the coolness of coop one.

VERT RIR Coop open doors USE

In this photograph you can see that this coop can be cleaned out thru its double doors from either side of the coop, north or south. I will be able to access the coop inside from the outside run area during the spring/summer/fall months or from inside the covered run area during the 6-month-long Michigan winter. it is common to have 6 to 8 feet of snow here so we are thinking ahead.

We have learned a few important things from the last time we built a chicken coop and added those ideas to this one. And we are taking the time necessary to build this coop right. More to come!

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

P.S. The broody girls are starting to lay eggs again at last. We are now getting on to two eggs a day. it’s a good thing as we have been having to buy them!!

The Heat is On: Photo Diary week of July 6 – July 13

The heat is on in SW Michigan and on the Small House homestead too.

House and barn under the Oak Trees USE

I’ve been hauling hoses to water the garden beds and the vegetables. I put down another truck load of bark chips this week though I am not sure how many more loads I’ll be doing this summer due to the rising heat and humidity…perhaps more come fall.  The mosquitoes have been very thick here on the homestead this summer from all the spring rains which means gearing up in mosquitoes mask, long sleeves and pants.

Herb garden studio in distance USE

I am still working every morning painting the chicken coop pieces and parts though the bulk of it is now painted. I have been teaching the three-month old RIR chicks to go up the ramp into their new coop.

IBarn front-side close view

The garden is growing slow this year due to the cool nights though I’ve started harvesting more lettuce greens, a few cherry tomatoes and a single yellow pepper. I did fertilize the tomatoes this week with my bath of comfrey tea I made a few weeks ago.

Vegetable garden  7 11 15

Album holder flower pot for 2015

July and August are lighter outdoor work months for us because it’s just too hot to take on new large projects and we are also pretty fried by July as well. I have a long list of projects I want to accomplish in the house during the hot months anyway. I need to file, find a replacement door handle for the three season porch and research a new pole barn door as our old one is showing signs of failing. And at some point this summer we have to have the river rock floor in our porch cleaned, repaired and resealed but that project has been waiting for real hot weather and no rain.

Garden view out backporch slider

We are hoping for rain and cooler days ahead.

Working area


Gene holding snowball USE

Small House homesteader, Donna

New Chicken Coop Addition Update

We have made some real progress on the new chicken coop this week. I have started thinking of it as a chicken condo with attached sunroom, now that the complex has two freestanding coops with an adjoining covered run.

Gene stapling lono in new coop USE

We opened up the south side of the covered run and slid the new coop 2 X 4 frame into place. late this week Gene started adding the completed side panels, hardware cloth and one set of double doors. We really like double doors design that open out on our coops so I can get in them to clean out the poop, add sand, change the sand out or hose the coop out in mid-summer.

Lino edge caulked USE

The lInoleum a friend gave us is down and the corners are caulked.

Most of the coops painting is complete. Though we did run into a snag with our chosen paint color.  We found out last week that the dark base of our Pittsburg Paint  brand (that we use as house trim/barn trim/coop paint) has been discontinued.  UG! this necessitated many phone calls to locate more, a long drive to another town to buy up the last four remaining quarts of dark base to have on hand and a $90.00 expenditure we had not planned on.

Sand and cart of sand USE

Early this morning I shovel sand and hauled to the coop and filled it.

Because both coops are within a few feet of one another, we planned to paint both the same brown tone.  Granted, dark brown is not a “pretty” color choice, but we have discovered that browns, tans and gray are the most practical colors for the country between chicken-made dust and gravel road dirt floating around.

Rhodies in sand USE

Within five minutes of the sand being down the Rhodies were in it, exploring.

Yesterday we put the floor board in and Gene stapled the linoleum into place. This morning I hauled over 12 half buckets of sand and spread the sand out on the coops floor. The Rhodies were in the sand within five minutes cooing, scratching and eating it. These birds absolutely adore a pile of fresh sand. Nothing makes them happier!

Chicken scratch close USE

They left their chicken scratch foot prints too!

One of the chicken ladders is made, on went both coop sides as well. After weeks of daily construction and painting and the feeling that the project is never going to end, progress is finally being made.

These birds are now three months old and very ready to be out of the dog kennel sleeping quarters into their own coop. Soon babies soon!

Gene just popped into the house and told me that thinks he the coop will be just completed enough or them to sleep in tonight. Horray!

Barn side flag in center nice

Our pole barn. Freshly laid bark chips and field stones make a garden.

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, 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

We Begin to Build Chicken Coop Number 2

Pullets on the ground DJ painting

The pullets are very curious about what I am doing on the ground with them.

Everyone says when you build your chicken coop build it bigger than you think you might need and let me tell you that is so true. We built too small of a coop the first time around and now we need to build a second coop. We started our second chicken coop today.  Our Rhode Island red pullets are developing so quickly that at 9 weeks they are all ready to be put out in the coop at night.  But the coop is not even built yet! Yikes!

Earlier this week we agreed upon a design and picked up some free wood from our neighbor. Yesterday Gene bought the rest wood for the project while I bought groceries.

Close pullets on frame USE

The four RIR pullets resting on the newly primed frame of their future coop.

Today Gene got built the frame and I ran to Menard’s and picked up the BIM 123 primer that we both forgot at Menard’s yesterday.

My intent is to start painting the frame and have that completed by the time he returns home from his two-day fishing trip later on this week.

Donna smiling chicks on frame USE

I’m just about ready to begin painting the coop in the brown second coat. The pullets are jumping from board to board.

We are using the basic same design as we used on Coop  #01 but are making it longer as the Rhode Island Red pullets are going to be BIG!  They are now ranging in their own pasture area though eventually they will pasture right with the layers.

We plan to incorporate the new coop connect  into the existing covered “playpen” so all the girls can move around in the covered area during our long Michigan winter. But we do have to figure out exactly how to make that happen with the existing layout. That will take a more time to figure out.

After more than three-weeks of looking at each other through the fencing I have been letting the two flocks intermingle on and off this week. While there have been some glitches when the Cochin’s have definitely let the pullets know who came first though it has gone smoother than I expected.

Pullets in big girl coop

I  go out to check on the pullets and find them roosting in the big girls coop!

These pullets have been curious about everything; the runs, the playpen and the coop. Today I found all four of the chicks in the layers coop on their roost bar while two of the hen was in their next box laying.  Opps!

And when I was painting the frame in the primer paint they came right up to me carefully watched my brush strokes, pecking at the marks on the wood and walking across the wooden bars and leaving their little chicken prints in the wet paint.

Sigh….Chicken Scratch tracks!

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Upgrading the Chicks Playpen

Chicks and dog kennel USE

  The chicks in their new hang-out!

Our Rhode Island Red chicks are 6 weeks old now and I can’t get over just how fast they chicks are growing. I blink my eyes and they have outgrown their brooder. I go to sleep and when I wake up the need a bigger area to run it. It happens just that fast.

So today we increased the size of their day pen area. I was up by 6 a.m. and moving them out of their too small area into a much bigger one.

Checking out the new hangout

The chicks check out the new larger dog kennel in their play area.

I turned the inside layer of the dog crate and sat it up against the fence. I thought this way it would mimic the small plastic tote the chicks are used to. It sure didn’t take them long to adapt to their new one. After this photograph was taken I added a thick layer of sand to the bottom of both totes. This gives them a cooler place to veg and sand to eat as grit.

New pen area6-4-15 USE

Give these chicks a pile of sand and they are in chick heaven!

A friend gave us her old plastic dog crate which I hosed out and washed up as a hangout space for them. I filled the base with cool sand as a place for them to lie on and dust. They have been hanging out in a small blue plastic bin turned on its side but they have really outgrown it. They seem to like to their tiny bin; running in and out and act like they feel safe having that space to run into and under. I like the idea that they can scoot into a covered box like this if a large bird flies overhead or it begins to suddenly rain before I can get out there to bring them back inside. They like it and use it and that is what really matters.

6 weeks old

Our Rhode Island Red chicks at six-week-old.

We also moved them into the penned off space at the far north end of our vegetable garden so they have more running around space.  I moved in a log for jumping up and down on, a long tree trunk for waking along and several water containers, feeders and a pile of sand. My  chicks are just plain enamored with a simple pile of sand.

Girls on the run

 Girls on the run!

We also created a large triangle of shade using wood stakes to drape the old red bedspread over to make a shady corner for them. I could use a tarp but think the plastic will transfer even more heat than this old red cotton bedspread that use to cover my sons twin bed when he was a child.

Corner hangout with blanket USE

Making a make-shift shady cabana for our chicks.

We do have shade in that corner for the largest part of the day, but not the entire day, so the bedspread covering gives them shade during the sunniest  part of the day. I watch them carefully to see that they do not overheat watching for signs of panting, wings spread out etc.

On the cement block

The old blue tote, their water pan and a cement block to raise the pan when the grow a bit taller.

At this stage the chicks are outside almost all day that it is not raining and go back inside the laundry room at night. We are making plans for second coop now. I do not think that 8 birds are going to fit into the little chicken coop we currently have. Nighttime sleeping may not be a problem, but 6 months in the winter? Not going to happen.

Walking the plant!

Ahoy matie…I walk the plank!

Of course this means the big girl hens no longer can use this pasture which is going to be interesting, to say the least. I wonder just how long it is going to take them to fly over the fence to get into this pasture once I shut off the gate?

But it is really good that they are continuing to observe and smell each other day after day. Although my husband the upland  bird hunter feels that chickens do not smell, current research suggests that chickens do have a sense of small and do respond to smells. To read more about a chicken’s sense of smell, visit The HenCam blog V

I am hoping that this extended time scratching and pecking next to one another will help with the flock integration process that will take place in a few more weeks.

And yes, I am still working everyday on planning the vegetable garden. This is the way it goes here; weed, plant, put on the horse manure soil and go make a meal. Back to the garden to plant and get interrupted again….Seed planting is an s-l-o-w- process at the Small House. But I will get it done eventually!

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Greenhouse Hoops Repurposed as Chicken Run Frame

Our Cochins hens love to fly!

Tie wrapping USE

The open chicken run is now covered with deer netting to keep the girls in.

When I look out the kitchen or dining room window to check on our hens, inevitably I find them out of their pen scratching in the mulch around our oak trees or heading across the yard to heaven knows where. These girls are always on the move.

Not only do I worry about stray dogs as day-time predator (or even our own Lab Sassy forgetting her lessons.) An avid gardener, I have nicely mulched garden beds that need protecting too. So I really want to keep the girls in their pen areas.

Sassy looking

Sassy is being trained to “leave it.”

Our chickens have a series of three “pastures” each with a mix of leaves, grass and weeds to wander around in of their own free will so they really are not hurting for places to scratch and peck. They have shade and sun and a covered coop so no matter the weather they can be contained and protected.

But they also have a kind of wanderlust and like to fly over our 4 ft. tall chicken wire fence for evidently what they think are “greener pastures!”

Hoop run step 2 from Noth view

Stage two of the covered chicken run project. Our Cochins are in the lower right hand corner of this photo.

After months of rounding up and collecting birds five, seven or nine times a day I began to think about covering the open run permanently or clipping their wings. I made the decision early on to not clip their wings because I do want them to be able to fly away in case a predator should come to dinner.

Instead I scoured the Internet and then Pinterest for low-cost covered coop and run ideas until I found one that incorporated metal greenhouse hoops as a frame covered with netting. Bingo!

It turns out that we already have 7 metal greenhouse hoops stacked behind our pole barn that we purchased from a garden club a few years ago for just a $20.00 donation. At that time I had hoped we might build a small hoop-house here. But there was always so many projects waiting that this greenhouse just never got built.

There was my answer…using the greenhouse hoops as a frame for a covered chicken run.

Pool shack side

An east facing shows the block with the hoops inserted into the holes.

This was really simple to achieve. We bought 10 cement blocks, each one weighing 36 lbs., at just about $1.00 each and inserted the hoops into them. We plan to add pea gravel to help to hold the hoops in the block but they already seems to be quite sturdy to me.

Initially we thought we would use bird netting as the cover but then we had a tip on a shade cloth from a local garden center.  Unfortunately that shade cloth was too large for our hoops so it was back to plan A; Using deer netting  secured to the hoops using plastic tie wraps.

Hoop Dimensions:

Our hoops are 8 ft. in length from pole end to pole end.

Our Covered Run Is:

  1. 18 ft. length
  2. 14 ft. 2” width
  3. Hoops are 86” tall

Deer Netting:

100 ft. long.

Today Gene used a $20.00 bag of deer netting and cut and fit the netting around the hoops using tie wraps to connect the netting to the metal hoops. Covering the three gates was a bit trickier to figure out but eventually he just cut panels and weighted them with a repurposed wooden and metal poles that I will lift and open when I go in and out of the gate.

Less than one days work and only $50.00 in cost. What a happy day this is!

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna


Our coop in the Backyard Poultry Magazines Photo Contest

Our Chicken Chalet chicken coop is among the top 40 coop submissions in the Backyard Poultry Magazines “Coolest Coops Contest 2015.”

BPM issued a call for “Creative Ways to House Poultry” this winter so I submitted our mostly repurposed chicken coop that we built last summer.

Coop walking into run USE THIS as ONE

Our mostly repurposed Chicken Chalet chicken coop.

Then the wait began…

Today, Backyard Poultry Magazine put the coops and the place to vote on their on-line website.

Backyard Poultry Cover

Backyard Poultry Cover

It’s a photo contest and if we could win we could win $100.00 gift card. So PLEASE go on their site and vote!!

Coop-galnanized-duster-flagjpeg USE gate slightly open interesting jpeg Run fence and coop USE Flag and galvanized watererrtjpeg

We are coop number 34, so if you feel so inspired please vote for us and our coop.

If you want a source for more information on raising urban or rural backyard chickens you can subscribe at

Website at:

If you wish to “like” their Facebook page you can do it here:

Thank you!

Small House Homesteader, Donna