Thursday, June 18, 2015

A New Beginning.

Sometimes you go away and take a little break and don't come back for a year and a half.

It's kinda like going to the garden to bring out the compost after breakfast and not coming back in till you're starving for lunch. That's just what happens to me sometimes.  My short break from blogging went a little longer than I thought it would...time just slipped by and I was busy doing lots of fun things and then the more time went by the harder it was to get started again.

So here I am.  Some dear friends have been nagging...I mean... gently encouraging me to get back to work and I thought today was as good a day as any other.

This building is the newest addition to our farm buildings built by our SIL.  It's a10x10 - the largest we could legally build without a permit and it's right next door to my garden.  It's a peaceful spot for tea with a friend or a place to sit and sort seeds and it held my vegetable plants for a few weeks when the house was overflowing in early spring.  It has a tin roof so it's also a great place to sit and listen to the rain. We found the old windows and the French door in the garage when we moved here.  As much as possible was recycled but I did want a leak proof roof so that was new.

It's filled with tools and gardening bits and bobs plus an old wooden table and chairs dragged off the side of the road and brought home by my loving husband who knew I would find a spot  and a use for it.   The Sweets & Treats sign was repurposed from my daughters wedding last year.

I still look around myself every day and am filled with gratitude for this life we've made here out in the country.  Next week we will have been here 5's as good as I imagined and better!

I'm looking forward to sharing some of the things I've learned...I've just got to run out to the garden with the compost - be right back!

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Cozy Barn in the Wintertime - doing chores

Winter showed up early this year with a snow fall last week.  I'm not a fan of winter and do all I can to stay warm and cozy IN-side but there is one thing I love about a fresh snow fall - spending time in the barn.  That might not sound like it makes sense but we have a lovely old bank barn that is snuggled down into a hillside which protects it from the worst of the wind and blowing snow.  Inside there's a quiet that's hard to describe.  The snow deadens sounds and even the wind blowing past the open doors sounds different.  It's a peaceful surreal experience to stand at the back doors and look out over the snow covered hills - I always sigh with contentment and say to myself (and anyone who will listen) - wow - we live here.

Maybe-the-Donkey and the sheep seem content to be left to decide for themselves if they want to go outside.  They check out the weather and usually decide that warm and dry in the run-in is much more appealing.   Although they are noisy while waiting for their morning hay as soon as I throw it down they settle in to munching quietly.  They seem to have a little conversation each morning to decide who's day it is to eat beside Maybe who can be a bear when she's hungry!  Meanwhile the barn cats peek out from the bottom of the feeder warm and lazy from spending the night in a kitty pile under the leftover hay.  Once the watering trough is refilled and augmented with a stock tank heater to keep it from freezing chores are done for a few hours on that side of the barn.

The other side of the barn holds all our poultry. Right now we have chickens at various stages.  One pen holds mama and 11 late season hatchlings - these are the babies we heard peeping as we walked up to the house after being away for the Thanksgiving weekend.  Mama had hatched them out somewhere in the garden.  The chicks are feathered out now and sitting high up on the perch with mama.  I love listening to their contented sounds and how excited they get when mama wants to show they something - they all come running and peck and scratch just where she tells them.

Pen two is a feather-footed banty Cochin Mama with 4 teenagers.  Even after adding our last batch of 75 store-bought meat birds chicks to the pen for mama to take care of in late August these 4 original chicks are bonded to her.  They go everywhere together and since we had an extra pen we decided to let them stay together instead of being thrown in with the general population.

Our ducks stay together in a pen throughout the winter but in the spring time we have to separate them when spring-fever hits because the males tend to fight.  Rain or shine, snow or howling winds the ducks want to be outside.  They don't seem to mind even the worst weather - although huge snow drifts are a challenge.  They drink out of the potholes in the driveway when the snow melts and beg when I'm pumping water out of the cistern to water the other animals.  They particularly like to hang out around the back door in the winter because it's sheltered from the wind and on the south side so it catches lots of sun.

Our main pen holds our layer flock.  Brave and industrious they travel to the far reaches of the farm in the summer but when the snow flies they lose all ambition and are happy to stay inside where's it's warm and dry.  Entertainment comes in the form of pumpkins to peck - oh happy day!

One great blessing recently came from an unexpected source - Hydro One.  Our local electricity provider called and asked if we would like to be part of a new program for farms designed to help reduce our energy consumption.  They offered to install up to $3000.00 in LED light bulbs in the barn at no cost to us.  After double-checking the details - which seemed too good to be true - we said yes.  They sent out a nice young lady to make a count of how many bulbs we needed and several weeks later an electrician arrived to install them. 

Lighting has always been an issue in the barn.  Perhaps it's because I am getting older but I like to see what I'm doing!  In the past we tried to reduce our expenses by purchasing what we call curly-fry light bulbs.  We never had any success with them.  In cold weather they don't work well and we have had a few break which was a hazard to the animals. The new lights are rather strange looking specimens and don't look like any light bulbs l have ever seen before but I can tell you this - wow - they light up the barn in a way that no incandescent bulb ever did.  I was pleasantly surprised and they make doing chores even nicer.

Winter chores consist of refilling feeders, keeping pens tidy and trying to find ways to keep the water containers from freezing.  We've tried just about everything over the past years and have an assortment of waterers to rival TSC.  The east side of the barn has two windows which I replaced with hardware cloth for the summer but that side of the barn gets it's share of wind and snow blowing in so last year I covered the hardware cloth with plastic.  It didn't work as well as I had hoped.  This fall I had an epiphany - I have a collection of old windows (we drag all kinds of useful stuff off the side of the road)  and wouldn't you know - I had windows that fit perfectly.  I screwed the wooden frames right in and will be able to unscrew them in the spring in less than a minute (why didn't I think of that before??)  The pens are much warmer and even though we had a couple of nights at minus 16 the waterers didn't freeze.  We also have more chickens this year so their combined body heat also helps to keep the coop warmer.  Our other trick is heated dog bowls - it's a mixed blessing for birds.  It keeps the water defrosted but it makes a great perch and when birds perch they poop.  Eww.  I have plans and all the parts for a super-doper new heated watering system for the chickens but since my plumbing skills are nil I will need to watch some videos first and it probably won't get finished until next year.

Every year things get easier - or maybe we just get smarter!  Through trial and error that you can't learn in a book we have changed and adapted our routines and found what works best for us.  When I'm having a bad day I remember the first winter and having to climb over a fence with pails of water in the blowing snow to get into the barn - things are so much easier now!

I never look forward to winter but once it's here I remember it's not that bad.  Spending time with my son in that peaceful stillness beats living in the city ANY day!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Eight is NOT enough

I was out shopping the other day at one of my favorite stores.  If you know me at all you might guess that it wasn't a high-end clothing store or an expensive boutique but instead the lowly local thrift store.  Thrift stores fascinate me on several levels.  It's fun to laugh at the horrible/awful clothing choices that someone decided to finally get rid of after actually PAYING for it in the first place.  It's a treasure trove of useful household goods, a bizarre assortment of home decorating items, a graveyard for countertop appliances, plus the  leftover flotsam and jetsam of someone's life and occasionally a wondrously-amazing-find.

I spent all of 50c on my find this week and of all the things I bought it wasn't the 2 wide mouth pint canning jars, or the 50c gardening magazines (for the bathroom magazine rack) or the really cute vintage bridal shower invitations and napkins or the vintage wedding congratulations card (that my soon-to-be-married daughter requested that I buy to give her on her wedding day) that was on my mind at 4am - it was a cute little package of cards.

I had to dig for them.  They were buried in a basket and had obviously been there for awhile already after languishing in someone's drawer for the last 20 years. Still wrapped in the original cellophane they look brand new except you know they aren't simply because the art of paper letter writing is almost lost to our generation.  Why write and mail a letter when you can send a quick message via email or instant messaging...

Don't get me wrong I love email as much or more than the average person but these cards are from a different time.  Remember those days when you had to pick up the phone and actually catch them at HOME in order to talk to them?? or when you wrote a quick note and had to find a stamp to mail it...I remember getting a computer and having email for the very first time and swearing I wouldn't stop writing hand written cards and was with good intentions but I failed to keep my vow.

So what is it about these little 3x4" cards with mini envelopes that has me so intrigued?? 
The message on the front of the card reads:  I Treasure your Friendship.

That's it.  That is what is keeping me awake.

I've written before about the struggle of moving here and all the changes that have come of leaving some of my friends behind.  Perhaps it would have happened anyway but some friendships came to an end all at the same time which just happened to be when we moved here.  In all that time I have been pondering and perhaps grieving that loss while wondering what the future of my social life would look like. Crazy Cat Lady-like? Hillbilly Princess wearing a skirt and poopy boots or maybe Minnie Pearl-esque with the price tags hanging on the outside of my clothes...although that might not be too far a stretch since I went out to lunch today with my sweater on in-side-out...

I've been busy so I haven't thought about my "friend-dilemma" much lately - that is until I found the cards the other day.  There's 8 cards in the package and that's what excited me!  Eight was NOT enough.  Without realizing it over time new friends have slipped into my life and taken over a piece of my heart.  Family are of course the best friends I have and who have always been there, some others are old friends I'd lost touch and reconnected with, some have just moved around from the fringes  of my life to the center and some are brand-spanking new...I feel so blessed and loved.  Here's just a few examples:

Two weeks ago my DH and I went away for a weekend.  We had such a wonderful time.  We were treated to Bed and Breakfast like accommodations and wonderful company.  We canned and chit chatted and laughed and had a few serious conversations as well.  What a great weekend.  Everything was going so well until our vehicle broke down on the way home in the middle of nowhere.  DH and I sat and looked at each other and decided we were not going to be upset - we were just going to relax and try to find the humor in our situation.  We texted our friends who got back to us with phone numbers and concern, called CAA, texted our mechanic friend 3 hours away and asked if he could fix our vehicle and put us up for the night (and then cracked open the still-hot-chili we had canned that day and had supper).  What really struck us was how wonderfully supported we felt.  Since then I have become more aware of what was right in front of me - all those lovely old and new friends (and my dad who rescued us and drove us the rest of the way home - thanks Dad!)

Last weekend we attended the funeral of a much-loved uncle and there surrounded by family and friends I was struck again by how many loving connections I have in my life, how I often take it all for granted and how incredibly blessed I am.

...but then of course there's the friend I went out for lunch with yesterday who didn't mention my wardrobe malfunction until AFTERwards!  ha!

I wish I could send each and everyone of you one of these sweet little cards.  Whether I know you in "real life" or "the net" -
I Treasure your Friendship

Thanks for being there!

Monday, September 9, 2013

What DID get accomplished at Shalom Engedi Farm this summer?

Summer is drawing to a close and honestly I always feel a little sad when September rolls around.  Cooler fall weather will soon be here and the lazy days (cough cough) of summer will soon be behind us.  As life changes gears once again into more activities away from home I have the sense that I need to cram as much into the next few weeks as possible.

My To-Do-List-That-Never-Ends has a few items that if not done soon will need to wait till next year.  I find myself re-prioritizing to bump up some painting projects and bump down some gardening plans like setting up the hoop house. I'm making some trade-offs when I wish I didn't have to.

  • I didn't get as much outdoor painting done as I wanted to.
  • My gardens around the house are a mess - especially by the back door where the 8 kittens and three cats like to play. They sit in my flower planters and squish all the flowers, they have knocked my window box over so many times it looks like it's been through the war, they play hide-and-seek amongst the plants - which I have to admit is really cute...however!
  • My basement has exploded as I try to find places for all my canning plus the leftover jars and equipment.
  • I lost a whole box of cucumbers that a friend gave me because I couldn't keep up and I fed a half bushel of going-going-almost-gone apples to the animals (who loved them) for the same reason.
  • My garden scheme has far too much ragweed in it!
  • I didn't hang as much laundry outside as I wanted to.
Several friends have mentioned lately their frustration in not being to keep up with everything on their list of things to do and all of them have incredibly busy and complicated lives - what ever gave us the idea that we had to do it all - right now?  Send some love to Mrs. T if you have a minute - she just moved to her homestead this spring and has some great stories to share about how things are going.

I am guilty of this as well.  My mother has told me many times:  Rome wasn't built in a day!

So I decided to look back and celebrate what DID get accomplished this summer.

  • We got the barn repaired - everything is nice and tight and the eaves troughs are doing their job.
  • We cleaned up an old burn pile/garbage pit that contained years of old metal and junk. 
  • We built a chicken coop that has functioned wonderfully!
  • We will have raised three batches of meat chickens this year - the most ever so far - and increased our layer hen flock to 100 birds.
  • I painted the garage and besides a little piece I can't reach - it's done.
  • I painted some outdoor furniture.
  • I fenced the front garden and expanded it greatly.
  • We added more fruit bushes and learned how to prune others for better production.
  • We cut and hauled firewood from some trees we had cut down.
  • I got more total canning done this year than any year ever before and I am still in full canning mode.
  • I learned how to make soap and my first solo batch is drying and looking wonderful!
  • We got the driveway fixed - more parking area and less bumps.
  • We are almost finished fencing the back paddock - my fencing guy has gone AWOL - it will hopefully be done this week.
  • I survived a fridge meltdown in mid summer!
  • I've become better organized in some areas. I'm still figuring out what works best in terms of where to put stuff for ease of access on the farm.  It's getting better.
  • We're getting to know our 80+ year old neighbour who used to live in our home and is full of great stories and information about our community and how things were way-back-when.
  • We've taken time for family and friends and FUN.

In between all this there's all the regular stuff - like some of our kids getting married and another sweet couple engaged and then every day chores and just life chaos in general.

Regardless of where you live and what is going on in your life are you taking time out to ENJOY it?  There's always lots to do and the list never seems to end - time for a cup of tea and a walk around the garden.  How do you manage your To-Do List?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Dozen No Cost Ways to become more prepared

Often becoming more prepared for life's curve balls has a lot to do with getting better organized and less to do with spending a ton of money. I've come up with 12 simple FREE ways to help us all to head down the road of preparedness while getting better organized.  Maybe you've already got some of these covered - check it off the list and move on.  If not why not add some of these to your to-do list.

Step by step to getting prepared for emergencies.

1. Make a contact list with phone numbers and ICE (In Case of Emergency) numbers.  When the power goes out and your cellphone dies with all your phone numbers in it you will thank me. Years ago we were stuck on a highway in northern Ontario because an accident had closed the road. A woman was walking from car to car asking if anyone had a charger for her specific type of phone - not so she could make a phone call but so she could look up the phone number she needed that was only located in her dead phone.  Keeping the lines of communication open in any situation is important.  Post the list in a handy place - the side of the fridge for example and also keep a copy in your purse of wallet.  Add an ICE contact to the main screen of your cell phone so emergency personal can find it quickly.

2. Put away some water. When you're getting started you don't need fancy water storage containers - you can find all you need in your own recycle bin or the neighbours perhaps.  Wash and fill juice or pop containers with tap water and put them in an out of the way spot.  You can also place almost full jugs in the freezer to make it more efficient and to extend the freeze if the power goes out.  If you re-use empty bleach bottles or vinegar bottles mark them clearly - FOR CLEANING or flushing PURPOSES ONLY.

3. Create a starter BOB/GHB with things you already own. BOB is an acronym for a Bug Out Bag and GHB is a Get Home Bag.  It basically a bag full of helpful items that you might need if you ever had to leave home in a hurry or you wanted to get home in less than ideal circumstances.  I wonder if the most common reason for not having a BOB is that you can't make a perfect one so you don't make one at all?  Grab an old knapsack and look around the house.  Throw in an extra blanket, some granola bars and a flashlight and you have a start. I recommend going beyond that but the key is to get started and to use what you already have.  Keep the BOB in your vehicle or close to the back door so you can grab it if you need to leave in a hurry. 

4. Make a binder with super simple recipes. I'm all for gourmet meals but when life gets complicated I just want to eat things I am used to and the simpler the better.  I know how to make many things without a recipe but no one else can make it like mom if it's not written down some where!  Start a recipe box or a binder and write out explicit instructions for making your family favorites.

5. Search the house for all those random candles and put them together with some matches in a closet or drawer where you can find them if you need them.  Look for flashlights while you're at it and check the batteries.  Leave a little LED flashlight beside every bed or hang them on the back side of the door on the handle.

6. Find time to do the most important things.  We all have an idea about the things we would like to accomplish but often we end up doing things every day that waste time - too much Facebook or surfing the net maybe?? - cut down on the time wasters and put your plans into action.  Find ways to incorporate more good things like exercise and healthy eating into your routine.

7. Find money to purchase the most important things by checking your spending - look for money-wasters as ways to save so you can use the money for stocking up or taking a First Aid course.  Eating out or fast food - count the cost of what your meal would cost you at home - take note however because somehow it doesn't taste as good then!

8. Use what you have!  You know you have that certain item somewhere but you can't remember where it is so you buy another one.  Get organized so you can find it and then get creative using up what you already have.  Need bathtub cleaner?  Why not use that horrible shampoo that's been languishing in the back of the closet. It's still soap!  Use the random cleaners up (and then switch to vinegar for cleaning and make your own homemade laundry detergent to save even more!) Eat to the bottom of the freezer or the pantry and use up the little bits and the leftovers - it may save you a week or more worth of grocery money.

8.  Get prepared for being prepared by cleaning out a closet or an area in the basement/garage/laundry room where you can keep some shelf stable food or keep some camping gear a little more handy.  Being organized will spur you on to do even more!

9. Search your home for containers and organizers to stash your preparedness supplies.  Got baskets, fancy boxes, leftover shoe boxes, Dutchman's Tupperware (aka yogurt containers)? Keep them all together to help you keep your purchases organized when finances allow.

10. While you're cleaning out your closets take a hard look at what you have and what you actually need.  Donate the good stuff to a thrift store and dump the rest.  Make room for things that really matter.

11. Clean and organize your vehicle and add basics supplies.  A clean vehicle is one less stressor in the day.  Keep it tidy.  Do you have a set of booster cables in the garage - they won't help you if your battery dies in the Costco parking lot!  Put a plastic bin in the trunk and fill it with windshield wiper fluid, oil, fix-a-flat etc.  Look around for what you already have and make a list if you still need some things. Think about what else you might like to have if you're stuck on the side of the road with hungry and bored kids. Hand sanitizer, water bottles, snacks, a few books to read.  Keep them corralled so they don't end up under the seat with the squished up cheerios!

12. Start a change jar and keep your quarters and toonies and loonies.(or $1/$2 if you aren't Canadian)  OK this last one will cost money but starting the jar with the change under the couch cushions will hopefully start a good habit.

What your favorite no-cost way to prep?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Canning in full swing 2013

It's summertime and canning in full swing!  I am grateful that this past week has not been as hot as earlier this summer - it certainly makes canning and gardening a little more pleasant.  My garden is coming along but it is in a multiple-year process of going from a weed-tree-plastic pot-garbage filled total disaster to a lovely-mulchy-productive patch of vegetables, herbs and flowers.  In other words - I'm still working on it!  This year we've been dumping loads and loads of mulch and spent hay and straw on it.  For it's size it's still not nearly as productive as it could be but that's because there's only so many hours in a day.  Oh but next year...

In the meantime I am preserving much of the bounty but I obviously don't grow pineapples in Ontario Canada.  WE do however love pineapple.  So why don't I buy it in a can at the grocery store and save myself all the trouble?  I could wax poetic about canning jars again but I'll restrain myself and just say Bisphenol A.  BPA is  found in resins that coat the interior of food cans to prevent corrosion, has been shown to mimic the hormone estrogen and does not occur naturally in the environment.  It's nasty stuff that has been linked to breast cancer, fertility issues and behavior problems in children (maybe adults too??)  Almost all canned food has the lining and we are working hard to get rid of cans but we have a way to go. Although Canada has labeled BPA as a toxic substance it is still allowed in certain instances. I buy as much as possible in glass jars - like tomato sauce when I run out of homemade - but what to do about pineapples?? 

I decided to can it myself!  I waited for a sale - No Frills this week was $1.77. The fruit was on the small side but I was still able to get 18 pints out of ten pineapples so when the cost is broken down it was either the same as on sale in a can from the grocery store or slightly cheaper to can them myself.  Not eating BPA and seeing the golden yellow jars sealing on the counter was the bonus!

The process was simple.  I prepared the pineapple by cutting the top and bottom off the fruit and sliced down the sides to remove the peel.  Using a pairing knife I sliced off as many of the eyes as I could - there were still some little black flecks but it didn't seem to matter.  I sliced off the good stuff and chopped it into chunks that were added to a large pot.  I threw in the whole cores as well and added enough apple juice to just barely cover the bits and heated it through.  I pulled the cores out before I filled the jars - they were just in there to draw out as much juice as possible. Everything was water bath canned following proper canning techniques for 15 minutes for pints.  It would be 20 minutes for quarts but that's a lot of pineapple to use in one day.

My goal with canning anything is to put away enough for a whole year but I have discovered a problem with my math.  If we would normally eat 1 can of grocery store pineapple a week on average it seems we eat twice as much as soon as I home can anything.  I'm starting with 20 pineapples this year and we'll see how it goes.  Homemade Hawaiian  pizza is on the menu for this week!

It's green bean season as well.  Momma Mia there's lots of beans this year.  I have to admit I am not a big fan of canned beans but I did do some - the rest are frozen and some will be used to make canned soup later in the summer when more vegetables are ready.  I bribed the guys with  ice cream to get them to help prepare the beans and they happily obliged. Well actually I told them they couldn't have dessert until the beans were done - ha!

I've been using up the leftover layer hen chicken in the freezer by making layered soup.  I found the recipe on Canning Granny's site.  Here's a link: Layered Soup  I added salt, pepper and garlic to her recipe.  It's pretty flexible on how much and which vegetables to use - I ran out of beans at one point as you can see in the picture and used peas instead - it's our favorite soup.

I tried something new this year -  red currant syrup.  We have lots of red currants and they are a fruit I don't always know what to do with.  There's only so much jam a family can eat.  It's not exactly smoothie material because it's tart and the seeds and the skins just spoil it for me so I made syrup instead.    I washed the berries and added 1 cup of sugar for every two cups of berries.  I brought it to a simmer for a few minutes and then put it through a manual food mill to push out the juice and separate it from the seeds and the peels.  It was canned in 1/4 pints and will be used for some special desserts I am planning for the future.

What are you canning right now??

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Preppers Meet

This is a busy time of the year - when isn't it busy! -but last weekend my husband and I took off and traveled quite a distance to meet with some like-minded-soon-to-be-friends.  You might wonder why that would deserve a blog post all it's own but it was such a great event and I want to share some of the highlights.

We weren't a big group - a bakers dozen in all - who had "met" on the internet through a website called the International Preppers Network - we were the Canadian contingent of course.  Each of us came with different skills and abilities, lots of questions and admittedly some fear of the unknown as well.  This is the internet age and cross-country or cross-continent communication is all the rage but meeting someone face-to-face has more risk to it.  I could comment and say - how sad that we've sunk so low that meeting with a stranger has to be such a big deal.  However - we all braved the unknown and what we discovered was beautiful.

We met at a conservation area and were thankful to have the use of a picnic shelter for the day as it did rain off and on.  The weather was warm and muggy and the mosquitoes were in their happy-place eating us alive until one very smart prepper pulled out the new OFF Powerpad Mosquito Lamp    - It worked really well and reduced the bugs to almost nothing.  They are definitely on my list!

With so much in common from our shared interests we started the chit chatting right away - in fact we had to rein in the conversations long enough to eat the wonderful potluck meal.  Lots of laughter and fun and great conversations about building a chicken coop without giving up the man-cave, how to raise rabbits for meat and ear muffs, the basic needs of being prepared for an emergency, life in your community, how to grow garlic and how not to grow garlic and what mylar bags are used for.  Later we shared what we wanted to learn next on our prepping journey and opened the conversation for others more knowledgeable to give us some advice.

We talked about canning and did a canning swap - I can't wait to try out some of the new jars of  food I brought home. We brought some things to barter and had some good-natured conversations about whether some homemade  buns were worth 3 or 4 mylar bags?  or who wanted the homemade salve the most and what they were willing to trade for it.  We traded for cookbooks, sewing needles, an Esbet stove, homemade soap, homemade buns and of course toilet paper!

There was a demonstration on how to make home made deodorant and we talked at length about how to make homemade laundry soap.  The tips flew as new friendships were made and old ones more deeply established.

Later in the day a nature walk was organized to look for plants that could be used as food or medicine.  I admit to staying back and huddling around the mosquito lamp as the bugs LOVE me but in the meantime I had some really great conversations with some others who stayed behind.

If you've ever thought of going to a meet but chicken'd out I want to encourage you to give it a try.  Please do be wise and meet in a public place and use common sense but don't let your fear stop you from attending.  You may find what I did -  a great learning opportunity  and a group of new like-minded friends.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Chicken Feeders, Nesting Boxes and Outdoor Runs

I thought I would take some pictures of my red-neck/simple set-ups for the animals.  Below you can see a portable outdoor run made from a dog kennel we found on kijiji.  I wanted  a safe place for the chicks to go outside without being bothered by the other chickens and ducks.  Their mothers were very protective and weren't letting them out at all through the main door.  I can't say I blame them it's like rush hour in there when all the animals are being let out.

 It was cheaper than building anything out of wood and hardware cloth.  I added a small tarp for shade and some chicken wire to the bottom around most of it to keep the chicks contained to some extent.  They are still able to sneak out through some holes but they can also get back in when no one else can - a very handy place to run if they feel threatened.  It looks a little messy so it won't stay there permanently. 

This is the inside of the same pen.  The chicks were too small to fly up to the window sill so I built them a ladder out of an old piece of barn board and some shims for the "steps".  It works pretty well.  

Here's a close up view of the chicken feeder I was writing about the other day.  It's so simple and I am more than pleased with it.  We ended up building an extra one for outside because getting into the coop and filling it up was risking your life some days!  The chickens were so hungry they would peck and scratch your feet trying to get at the feed bucket.  Adding another feeder outside means we can fill it up before we let them out and refill the inside one while they're busy eating we fill the inside one and shut the door.

One 10 foot eaves trough and two ends plus 4 feet of 2x4 and a few screws: total cost brand new is under $20.00 and it's better and more efficient than any plastic or metal feeder I've ever bought!

One other great idea is using these storage buckets as nesting boxes.  We already have almost 20 nesting boxes in their coops but as soon as we let them out there are a few chickens that just gotta do it THEIR WAY!  They want to lay in the hallway so I beat them at their game and left nesting boxes there for them too.  It's better than searching high and low for missing eggs.

Since there's always room in a post for a picture of a kitten here's my favorite one this week. She's sleeping on the window sill.  We have 8 little fur-balls growing up right in front of the kitchen window this year.  There were two litters about three weeks apart.  All of them are black with little white hairs.  

Sleep well little kitty!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Our homemade chicken coop

We've been raising meat chickens for a few years now and each year we've learned a few  things to add to our list of disasters and a few to add to our triumphs.  

Let me explain how we started.  A few years ago when we lived in the city we built the worlds most expensive chicken coop.  You can read about it here.  In many ways it was fabulous - for 6 chickens.  When you get a few more - like 50 meat birds - it won't do at all.

Every summer that we've had chickens at the farm they've been in different pens.  We would solve one problem by making a change the next year only to create more problems we didn't anticipate.  The first year we used the only pen we had available in the barn but it was a little small for the 60 chickens that lived in it.  We figured they would be outside most of the time anyway and it WOULD BE FINE.  Leaving the feed in their pen at all times was also a mistake as it caused them to grow too fast.  We didn't get the chicks until September which meant they needed 8 weeks to grow to full size which also meant we were getting into wintery weather by the time they left.  Oh dear - can you say chicken poop?  They were the laziest chickens you ever saw. They hated going outside even though we chased them outside every day.  They just sat and got fat and pooped.  End of story.  By the time they were ready for the butcher we were REALLY happy to get rid of them because the coop was impossible to keep clean. Without enough exercise and with too much food they got so big they had leg problems too so we lost a few birds in the process.

Fast forward to the next spring when we had the great idea to build them a huge pen.  You can read about that here.  It was such a good idea except now we couldn't get them to gain weight because they got TOO MUCH exercise.  They didn't have any leg problems though!.  After a few extra weeks of feed before we brought them to the butcher we ended up with really yummy but rather scrawny birds.  Sigh*  I don't think we got close to breaking even when we sold them that year.

So - lets try that again!!!  We recently purchased an old dog kennel through Kijiji - it's 5x15 feet and made of chain link with a good sturdy door.  We know from our past coops that Overkilled Fort Knox is the way to go. There can be NO WAY for animals to get in or reach in.  

We started by wiring the chain link fencing on far more securely than it was originally - we wanted to keep a dog (and others) OUT!   We used two 4 foot pieces of hardware cloth on the ground and zip ties to connect them together - slightly overlapping the pieces.  This provides a strong bottom so predator animals can't dig under the coop.

Then we wrapped the top edge of the kennel with 3 foot wide hardware cloth - attaching it with zip ties as well.  The bottom section is a full sheet of lattice.  It covers the hardware cloth on the top and is connected with zip ties again to the frame and the hardware cloth that makes up the floor.  The roof is plywood sheets cut to fit so there is a 6 inch overhang ( 4 sheets cut to 6 feet each - the roof is 6 feet wide and 16 feet long)  We cut an old tarp to size and stapled it on top.  We were going to have the tarp overhang and peg it to the ground but it made the interior too dark.  It took some creative cutting to fill in all the little spaces around the door to create a tight fit but with enough space that we could still open the door.

After adding shavings and a waterer we had to solve the problem of feeding 50 starving chickens at once without them killing each other in the process.  They get pretty excited when they're hungry.  We have multiple feeders but they never seemed enough.  I solved the problem by purchasing a new 10 foot eaves trough with ends and screwed some 1 foot pieces of an old 2x4 across the bottom to act as feet - I used four pieces.  When it's situated in the middle of the coop the chickens can access it from both sides and finally there is room for everyone to eat.

The coop is bright and airy and doesn't smell bad at all...of course I am not really an expert on that subject! There is great air flow, plenty of space but not too much space and it's a safe place for them to spend the night.  We also built the coop within sight of the kitchen window so I can keep an eye on them.

In past years we let them free range as far as they wanted to - but sometimes they didn't come back.  Our losses were just too great so this year they are kept in a large fenced area.  They still have access to plants and bugs and sunshine but they don't disappear as someones lunch!  So far this year we haven't lost any birds to predators.

We also situated the coop in the shade of several large trees.  Meatie birds are not that smart and sometimes when it's really hot they will lay in the sun and die of dehydration before they get up and get a drink.

The rake in the picture is my Chicken Encourager - I use it to gently encourage the chickens to leave the coop!

The fencing we used is something we've also used to fence our vegetable garden.  The material is a plastic mesh that comes in 50 foot rolls for less than $15.00.  The posts are a little pricey but since they can be easily moved and re-used we thought it was worth it.  You may be wondering why the fence is so short - it's only two feet tall. The fencing comes in three foot height as well but the due to a problem in the pricing for the fence posts it was more economical to buy the two foot fencing instead.  We've found that our meat birds grow so fast that they don't fly very well.  Occasionally one gets out but they never go far and the fence is more to contain them than to keep them safe from predators. 

This coop is not going to be used in the winter - it's a little too airy for subzero temperatures but it could be modified in a pinch.  Necessity is the Mother of Invention they say!  If you can get a good deal on a kennel and shop around or use what you have already have you can make a similar coop and have the fencing like this for under $450.00.  If all goes well it should pay for itself this summer and last for many years.

The chickens seem to like their new digs and are growing well!  Three tries and I think we got it right!!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

100 year old barn and cistern repairs

Our 100 year old barn has long been in need of repair.  The eaves troughs were falling off, the soffit and facia were rusted right through in some places, hanging crooked in most places and the roof leaked like the proverbial aluminum sieve.  This summer is all about barn repair!

The barn has a great history to go with it.  There was another barn in it's place when the house was originally built - a large "L- shaped" wooden barn.  Sometime around the turn of the century they were using a steam powered thresher and the barn full of hay caught fire.  It burned to the ground leaving only the foundation.  The metal barn was built in it's place - I guess the fear of fire had it's impact - no more wooden barn!  It doesn't look too bad from the front since the two sides that show the most were painted at some point in the past 10 years.  The other two sides look pretty that I've tackled painting the garage and the potting shed maybe someday I'll get to the barn too.

So back to repairs.  There was no way sane and "normal" people would climb around on the roof 50 feet in the air!  We hired some Mennonite men because they said they would!.  They were a pleasure to have around and we are really pleased with the work they did.  They fixed things that they noticed were wrong that we didn't even know about.  The sliding doors for instance have never hung straight or slid properly - we just assumed that that's the way it was going to be - they fixed them and they now close perfectly.  They also cleaned many years worth of raccoon poop out of the area where the soffit and fascia meet - gross.

Leonard on the roof - 50 feet from the ground!

The fact that they are Mennonite-of-the-type-that-doesn't-drive-cars meant we had to pick them up and drop them off after work.  It was an hour drive one way so it added up but we took turns driving and somehow it worked out.  The ride was usually pretty quiet on the way home as the men took the time to sleep in between their days work and the farm chores yet to come.

While they were working on the barn they nearly fell into an old cistern.  A cistern is a large holding tank that collects water off the roof of a building so it can be stored and used - like a rain barrel but much better. I had heard that there was one around that area so I was excited - after I made sure everyone was OK of course!   I asked a neighbour who is a member of the original family if he knew about the cistern and he said it had never been used in his memory.  I am about to change that!  

I crawled in to have a look around.  It was obviously dark and damp but it looked in reasonable repair except for a few large cracks.  I checked with a waterproofing friend of ours and he told me what I needed to do in order to get it ready for use.  With an electric pump we can pump the water right into the barn into a large-water-cube-in-a-cage-thing and not need to use the house well for the animals - a real boon in times of drought.  In the winter time: no more lugging buckets from the house cistern when the pipes in the barn freeze!  It will only mean a small change in our original plans for how to direct the water with the eaves troughs.  I'll write a detailed post on how we do it when we get it finished.

I'm looking forward to completing the whole project and having a dry barn.  We have lots of work to do inside but knowing that the everything will stay dry in a down pour will make the rest of the work required make more sense.

Don't ya think the sliding doors need to be painted RED??  me too...