The Chicken Garden Project – Phase One – Getting Started


Like many gardener’s we have a new garden project going almost every year. This is how I manage to accomplish new garden projects with my current homestead work load. My working formula is that I work on this project an hour or two each morning and then I accomplish a little bit everyday!

Cement blocks withgreenhouse hoops and garden USE

Soil, straw and bark chips make up the base of my boarder garden. 

This year’s project is what I am calling the chicken garden. I plan to add some color and form on the North-end entry gate to our chicken coop and runs.  I also want to add some pizzazz and visual interest. I plan to only plant easy-care perennials so I don’t have more than the basic seasonal work to maintain them. These perennials have proven themselves to be low water and easy-care plant here already.

Two step stones in bark chips chicken garden

Just a simple stone and chip pathway lead to the chicken run.

In this case, I am going to transplant some of my standard “nothing will kill them” hardy plants from other parts of our property. I’ll be using the tried and true plants that I know can stand up to whatever weather Mother Nature Give’s us;  from drought to flooding. These are the perennials that have proven their merit over and over during the past 15 years we have lived and gardened here on our SW Michigan homestead.Rhodies close puzzld cute

The eventual recipient of the chicken garden.

Small House Homesteads Top Ten Hardy and Easy-Care Perennials:

  1. Day lilies
  2. Iris
  3. Catmint
  4. Black eyed Susan’s
  5. Brown eyed Susan’s
  6. Shasta Daisy’s
  7. Butterfly Bush
  8. Comfrey
  9. Sedum (spreading and low growing)
  10. Autumn Sedum Joy

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The herb comfrey in full bloom.

My overall goal is to brighten the place up a bit when we walk out to the coop a half-dozen times a day. I also want to play down the ugly, gray cement blocks that hold down the greenhouse hoops. The blocks are super practical and make the low-cost side of this design work just fine, but I would like to pretty them up a bit.

Metal stake in cement block

I hope to soften down the hard lines of these gray cement blocks with green plants.

I started by amending the soil with good composted dirt from our compost bins and then added spent straw and topped with bark chips from the recent roadside clean up crew. Then I added six flat stepping-stones to a simple bark chip pathway that I put down to deal with the spring mud. The step-tones were once used in another garden location at once point. These stones resided for a few years in the bed behind our three-season porch but the shrubs there grew big enough to fill that open space and I was not longer using those step stones to get into and out of that bed.

Boarder at coop before just chips USE

Bark chips help to keep the weeds down as well as the moisture in the soil.

Before I could plant any flowers on our homestead I have learned I must seriously amend the soil and kill the grass that was growing there. Because our soil is super lean, sandy oak savanna soil that is also devoid of most necessary nutrients, so my garden prep process typically takes me a year or two to amend the soil before planting.  This small garden border is no different.

2016 pine pile USE

This great mound of bark chips will soon disappear.

My formula is quite simple; I add soil from the compost bins mixed with old soil from within the fire pit. Then I added some bark chips and mulch left for us by the local tree trimmers.  This tree trimming mulch includes pine needles and other greenery that will also help to amend our soil and add nitrogen to make a nutrition base for the flowers I plan to add in a year or two.


Chickens shack, hoops and garen USE

Another view of the “back forty.”The chicken run, the pool shack and of course, our girls!

While the amendments were doing their thing, I consulted a great book called Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard. By Jessi Bloom. This book is full of practical and beautiful solution for any gardener who wants to invite a flock into their backyard. It’s a great resource and give good tips and used many lovely color photographs for ideas and interest.

Chicken Garden foront cover book

If you are considering landscaping in or around your coop or run here are a few relevant posts you might also enjoy.

Enjoy!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

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

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

Cochins vs. Rhodies: A Breed Comparison

I’ve been observing the differences between my two flocks of chickens now for almost a year. This is what I have observed about their dispositions, their personalities and their applicable place in the homestead or backyard chicken coop.

Snowball puzzled look

It’s really quite important to pick the right breed for your weather conditions and land characteristics. I also recommend picking a breed that is suitable for your energy and time constraints too. You will be happier and so will your birds.

Goldy side view on star use

COCHINS BANTUMS: Suitable for an urban backyard coop.

  • Smaller in stature
  • Calm and contented personalities
  • Suitable for younger children to raise
  • Content to be in their coop and run, modestly demanding
  • Very attached to and protective of their flock members
  • Serial brooders
  • For egg laying not meat birds
  • Reliable egg layers laying light brown, almost pink shelled eggs
  • Put themselves in the coop on their own in the early evening
  • Small combs and wattles so suitable for cold weather geography
  • Rhodie in leaves nice light USE

RHODE ISLAND REDS: A heritage breed, suitable for farm or homestead where they can free range.

  • Larger in stature, sturdy birds weighing up to 7 to 8 lbs.
  • Wired personalities, very serious scratch and peck birds, a rather demanding breed
  • Most suitable for older children to raise
  • Every bird for themselves personalities
  • Need to free range and not content to be in their coop and run all day long
  • A duel breed, egg laying and meat producers
  • Reliable layers, laying large brown eggs
  • Want to be out in the woods up well past dusk so need to be put to bed at night.
  • Mediums sized combs and wattles so suitable for cold weather geography

Elsa look good

Whatever your situation and whichever breed you choose, enjoy your chickens and the adventures they bring to your homestead or family. They each have their own personalities, most are quirky, fun and interesting to raise and own. I do recommend keeping chickens!!

Small House homesteader, Donna

 

 

Home From Florida and Back to Reality

It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that just a few days ago I was sitting in sunny and warm Florida, lodged right on the bright blue Atlantic Ocean. It was a wonderful and relaxing few days in a place and a lifestyle that is frankly, foreign to me.

Ocean shows at townhouse

The townhouse my brother rented and graciously allowed me to stay in.

However the reality of winter and real life came crashing back to me when I came home to a storm front of 55 mph winds roaring in off of Lake Michigan.

A stunning bride

  My stunning niece Carrie, on her wedding day.

It was a whirlwind trip to Florida for my niece’s wedding – just four days total and two of them were travel days. I would have loved to have spent a week or more there on the beach in the sun but I had to keep my expenses as low as possible.

HORZ heart of shells lighter

Shells I found on the beach and fashioned into a heart.

This destination wedding was held at the Victorian Florida House Inn on Amelia Island. This quaint and colorful 1857 vintage inn is located in the heart of the historic district of Fernandina Beach, Florida.

Entry to Inn NICE

The front door of the Florida House Inn is a taste of what is to come inside.

My niece is an events planner for the Hilton group so creating memorable experiences is what she does for a living and it showed. The charming wedding and wonderful reception were held out-of-doors under the Florida sky in the inns courtyard and garden. Having everything, from wedding to reception, lodging all happening in one location made it easy on everyone who attended. http://www.floridahouseinn.com/

Florida House Inn

Today it was spitting sleet so Gene and I spent the morning reworking the chicken runs to protect the chickens from the high winds. Their corner lazing area needed serious reinforcement as its tarp cover was loose and blowing around and the 2″ X 4″ frame had blown down to the ground.

Gene tarping gate USE

Tarping the gate and the run fencing.

I added more dirt and leaves to the slippery base of outdoor dog kennel hang out spot that serves as a wind break and protection from the rain. I also added two long logs and a wooden pallet to give the chickens a place to stand-off of the ground. Gene added another tarp to the metal fencing to provide even more wind protection, especially from the brisk west blowing winds.

Outside vegging area tarp USE

This outdoor vegging corner gives chickens shelter, food and a place to dust.

I chopped open a pumpkin for the chickens to peck at and divided it between the indoor and outdoor runs. I added additional wood ashes to the dusting areas and the under coop areas and generally tried to make the covered and open runs a bit more comfortable and secure for the girls.

VERT feeding corner close

Hay bales make a good wind break and a sheltered feeding area in high winds.

I moved the chicken feeding areas into a sheltered corner behind the hay bales to give them more protection from wind and snow when eating. Their eating areas have been out in the open, sunny run but with the changing seasons that has all changed during the last week.

Rhodies on new log USE

The girls love jumping up and off an old log I found in the woods.

I also rolled an old log into the Rhodies covered run to use as a jungle gym and perching place. I also moved chunks of barley grass into the covered run that I grown in the open run areas. My goal is to keep live greens available and help to keep boredom at bay as boredom leads to infighting.

Rhodies grass USE

A chunk of barley grass helps to keep the busy on a boring inside the run day.

I am trying in particular to give our Cochin/Phoenix mix, Freckles, more options to eat and rest out of the wind. Freckles as you may recall has been under the weather in her post-brooding and molting months.

Close up

Freckles, the Phoenix/Cochin mix in better health. 

We have been giving Freckles a small amount of cat food each morning in a special efforts to get more protein into her. We have been separating her for feeding from the others who quickly gobble up her food. This lowers her stress that arises from pecking and marauding from the other birds and has been a strategy this is working. This week her very pale comb has slowly pinking up on tis way to a normal red color. Her eyes have brightened a bit as well. She is still nervous around the Rhodies and avoids eating with the others in fear of being pecked but she is doing a bit better each week. My goal is to have her well as soon as possible because winter is coming very soon.

It is 32 degree today and spitting snow…..goodbye fall. Hello winter.

Small House homesteader, Donna