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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Blue sky and white fluffy clouds overlooking the chicken complex.

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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.

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Elsa taking a dust bath.

In spite of the recorded 50+ mile an hour winds our afternoon was spent outside enjoying the chickens.

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Dirt flies when a chicken takes a dust bath.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring so gotta make hay today!

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Doors open and the sun shines in the covered run.

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Chickens follow the snow blown path around the homestead.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

A Week in Photos Small House Homestead

We had a bit of the January thaw this week. Our weather rose to around 40’s degrees and the sun shone brightly for a few days. We were happy to be able to get our snowbound chickens out of the chicken run for a stroll and a munch on patches of grass that popped up as the snow melted.

Hey lady where are my worms

Crystal says, ‘Hey lady where is the food?’

Our winter has been relatively mild this year with small amounts of snow interspersed with a warmish week in-between. This week the animals certainly enjoyed enjoy our old-fashioned January thaw.

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A beautiful winter sunrise one day this week on the Small House homestead.

And, I enjoyed a rare opportunity to photographs very pretty sunrise on Saturday morning. I am usually up and at em’ early as our retriever Sassy gets up very early to go outside to the bathroom. My day often begins with the sound of her nails clicking on our linoleum floor and her head pressing down on my arm as her signal, ‘Okay mom its time!’

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Miss Sassy the snow dog.

Everyday the sun rises but most days I am preoccupied with animals needs or cooking breakfast to actually walk out and concentrate on taking a good a photograph. But luck was with me that day.

Sunrise tree in half interesting for textGreeting The Dawn.

Elsa the fluffy butt

Do these feathers make my butt look big?

After the animals are fed and our breakfast eaten we do our yoga stretches. On this day Sassy was determined to get into the act.

Sassy doing yoga stretches

Sassy and Gene do their yoga stretches.

Circling the fire

The Rhodies circle the wagons.

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Crystal scratching for sunflower seeds under the bird bath

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Sassy gets a good walk everyday.

The chicken monitor

The chicken monitor.

I hope your week was a good one too.

Small House homesteader, Donna

The Small House Homestead Winter – Photo Diary

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Posing at the pole barn!

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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.

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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.

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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

A January Thaw Holiday for Chickens

Today our weather was a bit warmer here on the homestead. We invited our chickens to come out of their coop for a reprieve and they headed right to the burn pile we had been working on this week. It was like the chickens were enjoying the thaw!

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Crystal on the left, Elsa on the right. Yes, the names are from Frozen…granddaughter named!!

With so many White Oak trees here, we have a lot of fallen branches. I pick them up through the year and toss them into a huge burn pile. The goal is once a year to burn that pile down during the winter. The truth is we don’t get to it but every few years.

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Winter in the coop and covered run.

Earlier this week Gene tried burning this pile down but found the pile was so compactly packed the center would not burn. He then began to rake the pile out a bit in order to make the burning process easier.

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The Rhodies were in heaven in the dirt again today.

The plan is to gather the wood ash when fully cooled and use it in the girls dust bath.

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These fluffy butts are just so cute!

The chickens were thrilled to have some bare soil again to scratch and peck in. They went crazy scratching and eating the soil. They seemed to not get enough of it. With the forecast for rain tomorrow followed by snow we took them out both morning and in the afternoon.

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Raking out the burn pile left a ring of soil for the chickens to enjoy.

January thaw or chicken spring break?

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.

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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
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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

 

 

News from the Coop-Eggs as Reward for a Job Well Done

Brenna 2 eggs Thanksgiving

My granddaughter loves to help collect eggs from the nest box.

I have been accused lately of pampering my chickens and I suppose that is true. If pampering them means feeding them, loving them and taking care of them as well as I feed my family… then I am definitely guilty.

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Herbs and mash are a tasty chicken treat.

I do feel strongly that their health comes through in their egg production numbers as well as in the quality and taste of their eggs. And I want the healthiest chickens and eggs possible. So I feel my efforts are worth it. I want eggs with the highest quality of healthy fat, Omega 3’s possible.

My girls get fed layers feed, greens, herbs, “high-test” (a special high protein concoction I make that is intended to fill them up and keep them warm at night in colder temperatures) and some kitchen scraps. Their live greens includes sprouted barley greens and mung beans.

Herbs and mash

Wet feed and fresh greens are a hit in the coop.

Currently when many flocks have stopped laying an egg production is down my flocks egg production is going up-up-up. This tells me I must be doing something right!!Eggs in blue bowl USE

Beautiful brown eggs!

This week our 8 girls are now laying seven eggs most days. I am thrilled! After months of planning, building, growing, teaching and feeding; these eggs are our reward for a job well done.

The four-year-old Cochin/Phoenix mix’s are good layers and quite winter hardy in spite of their petite and delicate look. Fluffy Snowball, Sweet Pea, Freckles and Goldie, had a 6-week long broody this fall followed by a hard molt. At the same time we thought we might lose Freckles as her comb went gray and she acted as if she was not feeling at all well but some extra TLC and lots of extra protein brought her back around. Her comb is red again and while she is still the lowest chicken in the Cochin flock, she is happily eating, ranging and laying eggs again. She and Snowball are best buds.

Chicken conversation

The Cochin/Phoenix mixes are have quite the conversation.

The four Rhode Island Reds are teenagers now at 7-months-old and full of piss and vinegar. Named by our North Carolina granddaughters they are; Elsa, Crystal, Anna and Alice they are names of course come from the Frozen movie phenomena. What do I expect with granddaughters ages 6 and 4!!

Totally spoiled, they see me and come running and begging for food and asking to get out of the coop for supervised free range time. I try to accommodate them as often as possible. All the Rhodies are finally all laying and clamoring for scratch and peck time in the woods. These Rhodies are sturdy birds that are very serious about their free ranging….they live to dig and hunt!

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Fully grown Rhode Island Reds are masterful egg layers.

All kidding aside;  I am happy to see our chickens healthy and prospering. They have glossy feathers, bright red combs and healthy bodies. They lay delicious eggs and make great fertilizer for our garden. They work the soil and keep the bugs at bay.

Working chickens on the homestead are part of our path to sustainability.

Small House homesteader, Donna