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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

I am Being Published in The New Pioneer magazine

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Two 275 gallon food grade totes repurposed into a water containment system.

I received word from The New Pioneer magazine recently. They are buying a written piece and three of my photographs with plans to publish them sometime during 2015.

This magazine, if you are not familiar with it, is a homesteaders to self-reliant living. It is published quarterly with a subscription cost of $24.97. More information about this magazine, its articles and columns can be found on its site, http://www.//newpioneering.com

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An example of a front cover of The New Pioneer magazine.

 

Brown downspout and brown tubThe tote is connected to the pole barn roof using a flexible hose and downspout.

They are buying a piece I wrote about our homesteads rain water collection system along with at least three photographs! Isn’t this great news? We have two 275 gallon food grade totes that captures the rainwater that pours off of our pole barn and collects it during the rainy season for use during the drought times. This article outlines how we created this system, found our wood base along side of the roadway and just how this system works for us.

We have sandy soil on our Small House Homestead property which perks through our soil and runs to the ditch drainage system.  I have always felt that this water was simply being wasted and could be used more effectively for our vegetable and perennial gardens, animals and shrubbery. Now that we have captured water we use every bit in our watering using a simple hose and gravity feed system.

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A PVC pipe and turn on/turn off valve allows me to use a hose or a bucket.

In years past I wrote and published a lot of newspaper and magazine feature articles, photographs, essays, book reviews and more and it’s been fun to get back into the writing gig again this winter. I have missed it.

I sent along three digital photographs with my 900 word piece which apparently they felt fit their market and audience.

I’ve filled out the paperwork and am waiting to hear when it is going to be published. I’ll keep you posted when it is published. Even though over the years I’ve probably sold hundreds of freelance pieces, each new one is still a thrill.

Small House homesteader and freelance writer, Donna

 

 

 

Winter is Back with a Vengeance!

The arctic blast is back on our homestead – brutally cold waters are blowing inland over the waters of unfrozen Lake Michigan. We are expecting wind chills of 5 to 15 below 0 all this week.

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I am eternally grateful this week for my cozy and warm home and our snow blower!

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Without a heated workshop, it looks like progress on the covered chicken run will be screeching to a halt. We did manage to get the runs two doors built and covered in chicken wire and hung this past week.

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I guess there will be time to get our freezer defrosted and cleaned and the bathroom closet reorganized after all!

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Stay warm and thanks for following!

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Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

A Time for Gratefulness on our Homestead

When I think of what was here and how far we have come since we move to the Small House property in 2000 I shake my head in wonderment and say a prayer of thanks at all we have accomplished in the past 14 years.

2013 Xmas Card WITH  text

I remember no driveways, no sidewalks, no fenced-in vegetable garden, no clothesline, no landscaping of any kind just grass and trees and lean, sandy and non-fertile oak savannah soil. The house trim was chipped and needed painting, this house had no eves troughs and an old roof.

There was no electricity to the pole barn and we added the blacksmith forge to the north end of the pole barn. And the inside of the house…oh my, it was definitely depressing. The inside of this Ranch home looked like the 1960’s with old crummy dark brown dog-hair-filled carpeting, harvest gold painted walls AND ceilings and old wallpaper everywhere. I didn’t have a digital camera then so I have few photographs of the homestead in those days.

Our home had previously been owned by a 70+-year-old couple in ill health and rooms were half done. Our laundry room had an ancient square water heater in it, harvest gold “place and press” tiles on the floor and wall-to-wall gray steel shelving filled with old cans of paint and household cleaners. This open is what I saw when I walked through our kitchen. UG!

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Then when the couple passed away, the property was left to their five children and sat empty for way to long. I always said we bought this place for the land knowing with time and energy I could make the house into about whatever I wanted and could afford.

Fourteen years later I am grateful to have a snug one-story house that I now love. It won’t make headlines with its 1970’s-1980’s decorating style and feel but its practical and pretty and I can live in it.

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Our snug little homestead home early on.

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As our garden beds mature.

Above all I am grateful to have the body and the health to make these many improvements and make our dream come true.

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Our back yard sidewalk and garden in the pre-flood years.

Then when I remember the high ground water year flooding it’s a miracle that we did not bail and sellout. Four consecutive springs of rain, rain and more rain and living in a marsh complete with mosquitoes and mud. Losing all of our garden soil we had worked hard to build up, losing many thousands of dollars of shrubs and trees and everything on the pole barn floor to the water and basically having to start all over yet again.

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The beauty and bounty of the garden as ecosystem for bugs and butterfly’s.

And the tole on my health…sigh. As a result of the longstanding water and mildew I had more than three years of upper repertory distress, necessitating my using inhalers and medicine for asthma and on major skin infection… one right after the other…It was a very rough few years.

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The bad years on our homestead. Flooded from 2008-2012.

What I am focusing on now it that its 2014 we have our new roof and it’s paid for in full. The driveway is newly resealed and the flowers gardens are on their way back. The vegetable gardens have newly built raise beds and the soil is fertile again thanks to the gifts of well-composted horse manure and bark chips shared with us by friends.

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The meadow garden in the fall when the ornamental grasses are in flower.

We’ve added the water totes that capture and contain water from the pole barn roof, we’ve redesigned and rebuilt the chicken coop and are now working on building the covered chicken run. More egg layers to arrive in the spring.

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The newly built chicken coop and dusting bed in the chicken run.

We have two freezers that are full of the bounty of our garden. Our home is now mold and mildew free and warm, the ditch system has been built to take the flow of water away from our property should the high water ever happen again. I certainly do not take the basics of life for granted here.

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Two views of our remodeled laundry room. My now gone Labrador, “Spirit” checks in with me. I miss her everyday!

We’ve had a few health blips that have challenged us but we are mostly in good health for our age. We still have a ways to go on the homestead to get it to where we want because a homestead, like a garden, is always a work in process. We need to plant more Heritage fruit trees but we have made some real headway on our property here. Rome was not built in a day and neither is an American homestead!

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Hubby and I at a special anniversary dinner a few years ago.

Happy Holidays everyone. Sieze the moment!

Small House homesteader, Donna

Homesteading as a Lifestyle Choice

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Our homestead under a November blizzard.

My day starts early on the homestead, somewhere around 5 or 6 a.m. There are animals to be fed, chores to be done and snow shoveling…always snow shoveling. Gene is off working at Menard’s so I am in charge of the homestead today.

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Not fancy, but dry, our old pole barn shelters our vehicles, chicken feed, lawn tractors and my canning gear.

While many farm folks call their a.m. and p.m. work their chores, I’ve taken to calling my chores my rounds. This is like an animal that checks its territory every day to make sure no invaders have been around. Have you noticed that kind of behavior in your farm dogs?

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Sassy with her ball. Snow dog!

I start first by throwing a load of laundry in the washer and then dress in my warm clothing to check in on and feed the chicken babies. I figure they are the most vulnerable and the hungriest after a long cold night. I learned recently that chickens do not eat at night because it is dark and they can’t see well enough to find their food. Being used to hunting dogs, who located everything with their noses, this comes as a surprise to me.

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This is the road in front of our home during the blizzard. No traffic!

The chickens go first; fed, watered and their coop cleaned out. I’ve been worried about the high humidity in our coop but have been hesitant to keep a window open especially with babies not fully feathered in this subzero temperatures. Today I cracked a window using a paint stick on the window under the tarp that I hope is getting the least amount of wind in the coop today. Baby chickens need to be kept out of drafts too. The coop humidity has been running at 85% and it needs to be closer to 50%.  I have to figure out a way to make this happen. I’ll keep you posted on this issue.

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An inside view of our coop when the chicken babies came to us at about 2 weeks old.

I did not see Snowball eating today and she seemed to be breathing a bit harder while resting on the roost bar the rest of the babies so I am keeping a close eye on her today. I am worrying about mold growing in the coop from the high humidity. I am looking for a used small dehumidifier to help with that situation.

Then I walk back to the house to get Sassy for her long block a.m. walk. We have two paths in the woods that we walk every day and often several times a day; the long block and the short block. There are many more trails in the woods leading back to other property owners land but these two are where Sassy is allowed to go. Even though it is against out township ordinance, we have many lose dogs here in our rural area, sometime running packs, and I don’t want her wandering off into the wood unattended. With deer hunting going on she wears a bright orange collar with a bell. I like that I can hear where she is even if I cannot see her for a moment or two.

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My faithful sidekick, helper and protector, Sassy loves to help me “feed the birds.”

Then together Sassy and I check the songbird garden bed giving the birds their seeds and water. Sassy is always hunting for dead or injured birds…a hunting dog is always a hunting dog.

If there is mail to go out it gets put into the mailbox and if there are other outside chores we do them while I am dressed warmly. Shovel the sidewalks, scrape away the snow at the chicken run gate, and dump the kitchen scraps into the compost and so on.

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The sidewalk between our porch and driveway is our main entry point for family and friends.

Today I also changed out the Halloween flag and décor at our front door. Even though we haven’t even celebrated Thanksgiving yet, winter came upon us so quickly this year that I had not yet made the switch over. Usually I leave up the Thanksgiving items up and don’t do Christmas things until a few weeks later but this year we are in winter lockdown and I feel like I might as well get them out before the snow gets too deep. Fourteen years of living in the snow belt, has taught me that 93” in of snow in a month is not unusual here. Last year we had the bitter cold AND 6 ft. of snow by the end of winter. Homesteading is definitely not for the faint of heart!

This is homesteading as a lifestyle choice. My job is not a difficult one but this home centered life brings me great joy and satisfaction in a job well done. I really like knowing I am keeping this place running smoothly and contributing not in cash but in comfort. I am happy that I can have a hot homemade meal on the stove when my husband comes home from work. I can greet him at the door and let him know in words and in smiles that I am happy that he had come home to me again.

This is radical homemaking at its finest!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

The Final Push for Winterizing the Homestead

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Trying to block the west blowing winds from the coop.

Snow! We barely made it by the skin of our teeth!

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Our three season porch and backyard in the first snow of the 2014 season.

Homesteaders everywhere are in the final thrust of getting land and buildings ready for the wind and snow of winter. We are no different on the Small House Homestead.

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The first snow of 2014 fell on SW Michigan last night.

I have found that no matter how much time we spend preparing our land and outbuildings for winter (and we spend a lot of time getting ready here in the snow belt of Michigan) there is always more to do. Now that the leaves are mostly picked up our primary efforts turn to the rest of the chores we must do before the snow begins.

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Snow on the pumpkin!

And the rub is that the Upper Peninsula of Michigan received a foot or more of snow yesterday so we know that snowfall in our own county is not far behind.

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Gene is lifting a bale of straw from the barn of the local farmers we purchase them from.

Yesterday the main push was to get the two cement and mosaic garden bench tops wrapped with plastic, to put up the stakes and board protection pieces at our mailbox to protect it from the force of the plow, to find and push in the reflectors along our sidewalk and driveway as a guide for the snow blower, and staking and wrapping the bird netting around the hydrangeas to protect them from the deer eating every single bud.

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The chicken coop in the cold and white landscape.

Late in the afternoon we drove to a local farm to pick up 16 bales of straw to protect the chicken coop from the winter winds. Then we built a protected “play pen” around the coop itself. I was hoping we could make a plastic run over and around the coop like the Chicken Chick does for her coops but the idea of creating a roof has stymied us and Gene is balking about any more expense related to the coop. I also hate the idea of using plastic that will eventually enter the waste stream but I’m just not sure how much the straw bales really protect the coop….I will need to do more research on this issue.

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While the chickens certainly did not want to come out of their coop today, Sassy loves running in the snow! 

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How would we run a homestead without our truck! Notice the vanity plate…”Heat & Beat” refers to Gene’s blacksmith forge!

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna 

 

A Few of our Favorite Things

One of our favorite things to do on our homestead is to share our home and land as well as our rich, down-to-earth and humble lifestyle with friends and family.

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Our 5-year-old granddaughter drawing on the sidewalk with chalk.

On this Sunday our granddaughter came to visit us for the day and to enjoy a few of the county-style activities that help to make our simple life here so special.

We had lessons in the garden; picking some vegetables for dinner, followed by a home-cooked, from-scratch meal that is always the centerpiece of our day. Brenna at coop with stick USE jpeg

Brenna at the chicken coop and run.

And of course, a day at grandpa’s would not be complete without a ride on the lawn tractor.

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Driving the lawn tractor with Grandpa!

We visit grandma’s chickens, feed them and then drew with colored chalk on the sidewalk. Then we took a hike into the forest behind our home with our pack baskets.

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Enjoying the crunch of autumn leaves under our feet.

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Brenna and grandpa Gene with their matching pack baskets for collecting treasures.

Simple yet memorable things.

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Getting measured on the growth chart. This girl grew an inch in the last three months!

I like to think that these are memories that Brenna will cherish and remember for a long time. I know that I will.

Small House Homestead, Donna