Fall to Winter Chicken Nutrition

Fall is upon us here on the homestead and in Michigan this means that winter is not far behind. Some years we get four weeks of fall weather and some years we only get two. So we are quickly getting prepared!

Rhodies pecking on top of leg

Two Rhodies pecking bit of leaves and seeds from my legs.

This is a transition time for us and our chickens. As the seasons change here in Michigan, so do the nutrition needs of my chickens. I have been focusing on adding more protein into their diets and giving them more free range time in the woods to scoop up the last of the worms and bugs that reside in the fall leaves.

In compst bin heads up best USE

Free ranging in the “black gold” soil of compost bins.

Fall to Winter Nutrition Starts for us in the Coop;

I have started giving my girls what I call the “High Test” each morning and each night. This is a mix of high protein feeds to give them more internal heat and to help them warm-up for the day ahead. These food choice also boost their protein after the brooding and molting time of year.

Chives and barley for chickens

Laundry rack sprouting station.

You may recall that our Cochin’s spent almost six weeks brooding and that was followed by a severe molting process. They looked pretty tattered and torn. Poor girls!

Waters and Chrystal

Crystal vegging in the Cochin’s coop prior to laying her egg.

I’ve experimented with various feeding trays; from rubber foot wipe mats to deep rubber bowls (which I now use fill with water in the non-freezing season) and old plates. What I have found to work the best, and what I prefer are clay pot trays that you can buy in various sizes or find at garage sales. They are heavy-duty enough to not get kicked over, with a short lip they hold the food while keeping dirt and leaves out and can easy be easily washed in soap and water every night. I periodically sanitize them using vinegar and a day baking in the sunshine.

Close up

Cochin/Phoenix mix bantam.

Honestly my chickens still prefer to eat their food right off the ground, but I offer it to them first in the clay pot trays stacked on pieces of 2 X 4’s or blocks to lift them higher off the ground. Raising them higher can keep the dirt and leave s from being scratched into them. In the winter months it’s a constant battle between human and naturally scratching chickens, but I do try to keep the poop and the food separate.

Rhodies in front of bins best

My Rhodies love to scratch for tasty treats in and around the compost bins.

High Test Chicken Feed in Olive Oil w/ Fresh Chopped Garlic

I use a wide mouth canning jar to mix the “High Test” feed in. After each use, I pop the jar into the dish washer for a very good wash. I don’t measure the feed, I just eyeball the mixture and that has worked fine for us. Each ingredient measures about 1/3 of a cup. The chickens receive half of this mixture in the a.m. and the last half of it in the p.m., just before they roost for the night.

Small House Homesteads High Test Mix:

1/3 organic layers feed (for their vitamins and minerals)

1/3 meal worms (their favorite food)

1/3 BOSS (black oiled sunflower seeds for protein and heat)

I toss these three items above into the jar, add my pre-mixed olive oil mixture and give it a quick stir.  For my olive oil mixture recipe see those details below.

Small House Homesteads Olive Oil Infusion Mixture:

Using a second quart-size, wide mouth canning jar I mix up the following items; chopped fresh garlic, dried herbs and fill the quart  jar to ¾ full of olive oil. Like an infusion, I let this mixture steep throughout the winter changing out the jar from time to time.  My herbs vary between chopped up dandelion roots and culinary herbs like oregano, basil and always chopped raw garlic for my girls good heath.

Coop walking into run USE THIS as ONE

The Cochin’s coop just after it was completed.

Each day I let my chickens out to free range for between 30 and 60 minutes. Mine must be human supervised so some days their free range time is short and some days I might be able to manage and hour and a half. Generally this is enough time to fill their crops with tasty worms, bugs and seeds and satisfy their deep need to scratch and peck. Often times they are content to be called back into the coop for a nice long drink of fresh water after that. On a beautiful sunny fall day I might even be able to let them out twice in one day.

Raspberry barlet frame with cross board through fence

The outdoor bare seed area. Those pieces of wood on top keep the birds out.

This fall I have been taking them to the leave strewn path in the woods where the worms are hiding under the many layers of leaves. The chickens have really enjoyed this activity and have been very busy scratching and pecking. The also discovered the old dirt pile this fall. This pile has been where we threw any extra dirt or weeds we did not want in the compost bins. This fresh compost pile has never been turned or worked in any way so the chickens have delighted in that dirt this fall.

HORZ Rhodies run very close up USE

The Rhodies coop inside of their secure run.

We also removed the boards from the back of our 6-part compost bin and let them jump up and in and work that soil as well. All of these food centers are located at the back of our property under the wood lots edge located behind the blacksmith forge and are protected from the wind. And now that the trees have lost their leaves the sun shines down on this area throughout the day. It is the perfect place for chickens to free range right now.

Rhodie close in leaves USE

Happily pecking and scratching in our deep White Oak leaves.

Around 4 or 5 p.m. in the afternoon I toss out sprouted barley greens to make sure that they have eaten enough live greens each day and the last of their high-test feed. In the early fall before the snow comes they eat their barley greens that are growing right in the soil of their run where I have planted three large patches. When those greens are gone or the frost has arrived, then I begin to sprout indoors. I make and give them sprouts because will have many times more nutrition than the adult plant of the seed to begin with.

Barley green and frame USE

Of course they have water with garlic, their chicken layers feed and dried egg shells to free feed throughout the day.

Single Rhodies on straw bale USE

Bales of hay to block the wind and for a chicken jungle gym!

As you can see nutrition for humans, dogs and chickens is serious business on our homestead!

Small House homesteader, Donna

Picking and Processing Peaches

One of the best things about living in SW Michigan is the wonderful fruit grown here. We have orchards filled with fruit and in every direction you look. Blueberries, cherries, sweet and tart, luscious peaches, apples of every variety – yum!

Peaches low in orchard USE FIRST

Sweet tasting peaches are the real reward of today’s peach picking event.

Since our peach trees are not producing yet we go to a local orchard and pick peaches nearly every year. Today we drove to and picked a bushel of Red Havens. Red Haven peaches were developed by Liberty Hyde Bailey just 17 miles from where we live in nearby South Haven, MI. They are the perfect peach for our weather, soil and USDA Zone.

Two trees in the orchard

Autumn clouds and a brisk wind made the picking perfect!

In less than 20 minutes we picked a bushel and headed home to process the first half of them that were ripe s and ready. Because pantry space is limited for us, I always freeze our peaches. Hubby and I tag team; I peel and cut and he adds the coconut sugar, lemon juice and seals the bags using our Food Saver.

Peaches in trees USE

Red Haven peaches are perfect!

Freezing Peaches:

4 cups peaches

1 Tablespoons lemon juice

½ to ¾ cup sugar

Ziplock bag or Food Saver after squeezing out excess air

Zip and freeze

Gene peches USE

Hubby picking in the orchard.

We are going to eat like kings this winter!

Small House homesteader, Donna





We Picked Tomatoes Today

It is a sad truth that our tomatoes did not do well on the homestead this year. The plants I bought from our local nursery just did not produce. The organic plants I purchased from my old CSA did well but are a variety of mini tomatoes; crab apple fruit size; great for eating fresh or in a tossed salad but not suitable for sauce.

Sills field and barn USE

The Sills Brothers Farm, South Haven, MI.

But luckily we live in what is known as the fruit belt of Michigan in the largest agricultural county in the state and we have many farms near us to choose among.

Bucket and pant diaganol USEOur 5-gallon bucket of tomatoes in the field.

So Gene and I drove to a local farm this morning and picked a bushel of tomatoes. It was only an hour from leaving home, to picking and returning home again. We then spent the morning together processing them and freezing them into 24 oz. cooking bag size in our Food Saver. We popped them into the freezer.

Veg in barn USE

Yes, I could have bought them from the grocery store but I wanted to avoid the salt in canned tomatoes as well as the BPA’s found in many aluminum cans. I also take an opportunity to support a local farmer or grower when I can.

Barn close blue sky use

Isn’t this a great old barn?

These tomatoes will help to make many hardy meals this winter!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Provider Snap Beans Truly Provide!

I love these Provider bush beans; they have really done well for me this season.

Snapbeans diaganol USE

The first batch of Provider beans picked this season.

I experimented this summer with seeding them not only in the ground but also in five, 5.34 size nursery pots I had left over from plants I bought years ago. I filled the pots with well composted 2-year-old horse manure and planted the seeds and watered. Like Jack and his beanstalk they grew and grew.

Pea andbean sprouts early on

The garden early on.

Today I picked my first batch of beans and filled a large Tupperware bowl from just those five containers. This afternoon I cleaned, cut off the ends blanched and frozen them using our Food Saver system.

Beans close

More beans.

I bought these particular seeds from Jackie and Will at Seed Treasurers, seedtreasures.com/ Some of you may recognize Jackie Clay-Atkinson as a columnist for Mother Earth News magazine.

Vegetable garden  7 11 15

Beans in the vegetable garden.

They are Minnesota homesteaders who have a small farm-based seed business on the side. Perhaps the smallest seed company in the US, this couple dry the Provider beans seeds, package and label them themselves as a winter business and sell them all over the planet.

Watering vegetable garden USE

The Provide beans in pots on the day I planted them.

They are open-pollinated, non-GMO seeds, non-hybrid, non-patented, untreated heirloom garden seeds. These are what I prefer for the healthiest garden I can grow. I feel strongly that if I am going to eat organic and non-GMO foods, I had better buy seeds that have been guaranteed to be both.

These providers beans are priced very fairly and they only charge the amount needed to ship them, without adding the all too often $9.95 “handling costs “that so many mail-order business add-on. This is just the kind of small business I like to support – fair and high quality.

With my current foot issue I’ll be sitting on the kitchen stool today and preparing them.

These beans are gorgeous and tasty and I will be definitely be buying Provider seeds from Jackie and Will again next year!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Kicking off July 4th Week on the Homestead

Today marks the beginning of our July 4th holiday weekend.

Some of our dear friends are in town from Chicago and Gene took their house guests fishing on a small inland lake near us. One guest is a 15-year-old grandson from the city and the other a man who emigrated from Cuba to New York three years ago. They are fishing for pan fish; bluegills, small mouth bass and the like. Gene is a catch and release kind of man due to his environmental belief’s that tells him to put them back in for another days fishing.

Gene is probably the only man in the state, beside an actual licensed fishing guide, that can outfit four men on a moment’s notice but he did.

Fishing Expedition 4 some

 The motley crew fishermen dressed.

I stayed home to finish todays chicken coop painting and then I started cooking our main meal for the day. My actual big project for the day is to finally do a deep clean on our three season porch. Because this room is unheated it acts like a magnet for cobwebs, buds and dirt, especially living off of a gravel road. Even the heavy-duty fabric chairs are thick with road dust so everything from the ceiling down to the floor gets a good solid vacuum. Even the vinyl vertical blinds have to be washed of dirt and mold spots. It’s been a cold and wet spring and summer thus far in SW Michigan so the mold has grown in this unheated room. Then later on this week Gene will wash the floor to ceiling windows.

Threesome fishermen

No fish….but muscles galore.

We have been working really hard for months to get our garden planted, our big yard in shape and house cleanup because July is the beginning of our guest arriving for the summer. A girlfriend will be coming out later on this weekend to pick herbs for drying and making tinctures. Our granddaughter arrives on Sunday for a few days stay. Another friend arrives from Oregon and I promised to help her pack up her home here and lift furniture and pack it in a U-Haul. Then the third week of this month our grown daughter from NC comes for an extended stay. So everything we have been trying to accomplish since the snow melted in March has been leading up to this month.

I also began to soak the beans for the big crock pot of “Blacksmith Baked Beans” I am taking to our family reunion on Sunday. I will cook them tomorrow; put the mixed into the crock pot to cook on low so that the molasses and BBQ sauces gets soaked clear through. Yum! I have included the recipe below.

Cast Iron pan with rice USE

The rice casserole with sweet potatoes in our cast iron dutch oven.

Today I am cooking the following for dinner;

  • Baking organic sweet potatoes
  • Baking my favorite baked brown and wild rice with kale casserole
  • Steamed green beans
  • And of course a big tossed salad using some of the early greens from the garden
  • Compare equal portions of brown and white rice and you’ll find that brown rice has fewer calories and more nutrition. I use all organic ingredients.
  • Ingredients:
  • 4 tsp. extra virgin olive oil 2 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 1 cup cabbage, minced and saluted 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced 1½ cups long grain brown rice 1 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth 2¼ cups water
  • 2 cups chopped kale or spinach
  • 1 green pepper (or pepper color of choice)
  • 1 cup cooked butternut squash or sweet potato
  • 1 cup (or 4 medium sized) sliced organic Bella mushrooms
  • Cooking Method:
  • 1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375° F.
  • 2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until browned. Then add the minced garlic, chopped cabbage, green peppers and cook while stirring for about 30 seconds.
  • 3. Add the rice and cook stirring occasionally until the grains turn translucent around the edges.
  • 4. Add the broth and water and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir the rice so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pot. If you are using a 10-inch Dutch oven or smaller, cover the rice, place it in the oven, and cook until the rice is tender. This should take about 45 to 50 minutes. If you are using a larger pot, transfer the rice mixture to a suitable-size casserole and cover tightly before placing it in the oven. (Larger Dutch ovens will cook the rice too fast and create too many problems.)
  • I like to add my 4 mushrooms to the top of the casserole for looks.
  • 5. When the rice is fully cooked, remove it from the oven. Gently fluff the rice with a fork, and set it aside for about five minutes before serving
  • Casserole with top USE

The kale rice casserole in its baking dish on its way into the oven.

Blacksmith Baked Beans:

  • The original recipe called for any 5, 15 ½ oz. cans of beans, drained. I used 4 to 5 cups of these dry beans; pinto, navy, black beans and great northern beans; soaked, rinsed and cooked.
  • Put beans in a crock pot and mix in the following ingredients;
  • ¾ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 TBS prepared mustard
  • 6 slices crumbled bacon (I use ¾ cup of soy bacon bits)
  • 1 large onion chopped and sautéed
  • 1 clove garlic minced (I use 3 TBS of crushed garlic from Sam’s’ Club)
  • ¾ cup KC’s BBQ sauce (my secret ingredient!) (Look for a sauce with catsup as the first ingredient not corn syrup- as that syrup is a bad, bad thing for your health.)
  • 1 ½ lb. smoked kibassa or sausage
  • Mix up and cook until done. This recipe has a bit of zing to it due to the garlic and the BBQ sauce
  • Pan of sweet poatoes USE

Oven baked organic sweet potatoes…so simple, so delicious!

I hope you enjoy a great holiday weekend too!

Small house homesteader, and cook Donna