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Despite my earlier protestations, and with much appreciated assistance, I not only planted what turned out to be an overfilled garden, I har...

November 13, 2016

Winterizing the Chicken Coop 2016 - Waterers

We've enjoyed a very warm and almost over-warm autumn so far which has afforded us an opportunity to be very lax in completing end of the year tasks such as putting the garden to bed and yard clean up. Another necessary *task* or chore has been to winterize our chicken coop.  There's been nothing like seeing the neighbors shake their heads at us while we're out hollering at each other to hold down the plastic tarp and grab the proper sized bits and screws to make you think twice about whether or not we've lost our ever loving minds with this venture.  Of course we pick the windiest days and the oddest hours....
They ask us "What are you doing now, we thought your were done building the coop". Our answer is "Yes, we're done building the coop, but we need to make sure their house is buttoned up and prepared for the winter just like ours." This assuredly garners much side eye and breathy OK's from the neighbors perspectives and ours too. I mean, these four ladies already have a deluxe piece of real-estate. And I really do have to say so myself [pats self on the back]... Yep, this was a labor of love and friendship which I've already spoken at length about. But more specifically in terms of us being prepared for our girls first winter when they enjoy a double walled and insulated luxury home, with a *fancy stairway leading to a large and distinguished arborvitae stump inside of their run that measures around 8x8x13 feet? I know we are ahead of the game! It only took us what, five years to plan for this?

Well, what they haven't had until today though despite all of our planning is a way to keep their water from freezing during the winter which could be solved in a multitude of ways. Which is also a project that I personally have been putting off since April. The hub and I have bored holes in buckets, the kids and I have picked up many lengths of 1/2" PVC pipe, couplings, 90's, and 45's for a heated gravity waterer complete with poultry nipples wrapped in heated tape, etc.etc... I mean we were dreaming and planning BIGTIME!  All of this in preparation for an automated system that would keep us from running in and out to chip away ice, carrying buckets of unfrozen H20 daily during the long winter months. Guess what, none of this was put together and installed because we were robbed... Well not really, but #TimeGotAwayFromUs

Seriously, this part has been the least exciting portion of our Chicken Farming Adventures. It surely hasn't been as fun as getting our first eggs, or watching them hunt in a pack capturing their first mouse.  Plus the family has been at odds about this issue because as I mentioned before there are so many varying opinions out there about how to keep fresh water fresh and unfrozen. Few without a hefty price tag mind you...  There are heated dog bowls (almost did this), big heated poultry waterers that are not designed with refilling them in mind, bird bath heaters and the like to consider. Honestly, I don't mean to beat this into the ground, but as with many families where there are more pressing issues and responsibilities this labor of love went by the wayside and that piggy bank started to squeal from too few meals and a forced diet. 

Barring this, it was more than time to get inventive! Not just to save some $$ but to save my nerves. I don't like to see animals suffer and I don't want to see my kids suffer as they'd be frozen more than me going back and forth to refill that water dish. So in the case of our preconceived mega poultry watering project, we put this aside. As in we literally shoved the parts of this from one location inside our home, backyard, and garage over several months into a safe location until next spring. However, my incessant obsessing over when we'd get our first "hard frost" of the season [which was yesterday], is what really stopped me dragging my feet around through the crunchy russet and orange fall leaves with my little ladies and my/our 4-legged friend. Panicking, I referred back to a post from a Facebook friend at the Twin Cities Chicken Group and called upon Grandpa Google to find a plan post haste that I'd been eying for quite some time. After pitching my final argument I decided to threaten, I mean convince my handsome assistant with the suffering sigh to help. TODAY! 

[NOTE: No teenagers were harmed in the making of this heated chicken waterer....Well, maybe their friends from CSGO were from lack of tactical blah blah blah...but I assure you only valuable family time was had with little to no curse words]

Here is a list of the supplies we used and pictures of the final design for our heated water base that cost us less than $5 bucks:

1 - Key-less Porcelain Lamp Holder $0.98
1 - Extension Cord $0.97
1 - 1/2 8x8x8 Cinder Block  $0.97
1 - Scrap Wood over 8x8x8 $0.00
1 - Light bulb 75W $0.25
2 - Wood Screws Free 99
You'll also need a screw driver, a hammer, a drill and drill bits, and wire cutters/strippers

Using Wire Cutters, cut off the plug in portion of the extension cord and strip 1/2 inch of coating off of the wire. Next seperate the wires and attach to the lamp holder base.

Here is what the lamp base looks like when wires are attached. Screw the lamp base to the scrap wood and make sure you it fits into the cinder-block without constriction. The smoothest side is generally the top which we labeled on ours.

Using an old screwdriver as a chisel we removed a tiny section at the base of the cinder-block so the cord would not rub against the electrical cord. 
Test your connections to make sure you have light.

It's time to install your heated base into the chicken run.

Our finished heated poultry water base
It feels so nice having this off of my mind, and today has been so sunny and beautiful. By consensus we decided that we'll be leaving this unit unplugged. At least until we really get bitterly cold for at least a few consecutive days. For now the girls seem to be happy about having their water higher up and they are all very particular with their likes and dislikes. (dirty water with floaties falls majorly into the latter) There is more to winterizing chickens besides frozen water for us Northerners which I will highlight in the days to come. The biggest pre-post tip I will give to you right now though is Save Those Leaves! Bag them, blow them into the run, toss some into the litter bed, but do not throw them out for the city until spring! They are valuable and they are FREE! You can't see in these photos, but some of our bagged leaves are lining the base of our run covered in tarp for a barrier from the wind. The girls loved exploring this and spent more time inside their run because of it...I could go on and on but need to stop and clean up from all of the days goings on.

Until next time, keep that water wet and clean, and keep the eggs a'coming!

Happy Farming,


September 13, 2016

Honey Crisp Harvest 2016

Here is my crappy apple pic. Why? Well it's the last apple on our tiny tree that made it this long protected by a plastic baggy and an exasperated but vigilant urban grower. Its sole partner for the last month and a half got bitten and dropped carelessly to the ground yesterday. (Yep, the only two fruit out of twenty)
Today this beauty of a Honey Crisp was on the ground. Only it wasn't as abused but still marred and obviously molested . Note that the dastardly squirrels have never shown any regard or respect for us or our produce. Tiny punctures and miniscule bite marks have been their hallmark this entire growing season. We have little to no eggplant, horribly chewed tomatoes, and mysteriously missing hot peppers. Honestly, the shock and rage I felt after no less than 9 of 10 mammoth sunflower plants were scaled and beheaded has yet to abate. I've indulged in foodie fantasies involving a family gathering southern style with platters full of freshly roasted squirrels over potatoes and covered with gravy. Sides would include biscuits, cheesy grits, turnip greens (because I'm still bitter), fried green tomatoes, and a masterfully made macaroni and cheese. But alas hunting squirrel in the city is frowned upon and illegal so I'll just wash and savor what's left. I've only waited 3 years for this one fruit....

Happy harvest!


July 6, 2016

Ummm, We Are Chicken Keepers Now...

As cliché as it may sound, I have been very busy....
I know I know, if someone is committed to something as inspiring as a blog on living a wholesome homesteading life and providing practical and tried and true DIY tips they should be better at time management. Well, apparently I am not that person of late. Why? Well, life really does take over sometimes, and then there were these four new little lives that have taken up residence in, and then directly outside of our home. In other words, Hurray for us, We Have Chickens!!!!!!! Soon to be laying hens to be specific.  Well, this journey into raising our own layers has been a true labor of love, a testament to friendship, and the realization of a very long six-year dream. It all started this spring, April to be exact; after the new Urban Ag laws for Minneapolis were amended and put into affect. A crew of three which included me, my daughter, and her close friend (he’s a carpenter) vigilantly researched every chicken coop design we could find that would fit into this vision I had for backyard chicken rearing. I say mine because the husband always gives me the side eye when I come up with a "new idea" for our family. Especially those involving landscaping and getting rid of his precious grass. [a guy thing maybe?] So some of my plans work and some we've had to leave by the wayside over the years but I assured him this was not some sketchy new fangled venture. We both have strong agrarian roots within our immediate and extended families. So the "country life" as our folks call it is literally in our blood. For instance, take my mom who orders meat birds and layers 40 in one whop! ... You get the idea, we've had some exposure a time or two...    
Well, somehow the kids and I pushed passed the scowls and the stank face after we got the call to come pick up our four new hatchlings a day or two earlier than expected. The hardest one to convince we hadn't lost our minds at this point was the dog, which is a whole post of it's own. I'm thinking of calling it How to introduce your dog to new chicks....
Well, after 6 to 8 weeks these ladies which I should mention are: a silver lace wyandotte, buff orpington, red star, and amaraucana (easter egger),  were rearing to go outdoors. We had been gathering supplies and assessing items to re-purpose for the build for some time and now it was go time. Quickly we realized that it would be just as much work and expense $$$ to modify a structure as it would be to build from scratch, so our carpenter friend designed it on paper and then we all got busy. When I say we all got busy, I had to recruit my husband (honestly by day 3 he was smitten with the crazy little cluckers), and our son for some heavy lifting and some polishing up when our carpenter couldn't be here. Not to mention the clean up…J
Over several weeks, and several trips to Menards, Home Depot, Ace, and Fleet Farm we finally finished our build, the permitting process, and most recently the cities requirement for a chicken keeping class. Our coop is roughly 6′ x 5′ (counting the nesting boxes) with additional 8′ x 8′ attached run. We currently have more nesting boxes than we need but have plans to add on more coop space at a later date for more birds. As I already mentioned, we have four curious and rambunctious chickens in residence who are all layers.
This project has left me with an appreciation for skilled laborers, including first our visionary carpenter friend, my husband for his plumbing expertise (chicken waterer and feeder), and those who work tirelessly to grow our food every day. Lastly, I have an immense pride in our one of a kind build (We all learned a ton), and I love the stylish yet rustic look that it has. Our neighbors thought we were building a play house which is exactly the look we were going for.

I'm hoping our journey encourages more city dwellers to take in a bird or two for their many benefits. So far I can tell you that these ladies go crazy for ripe raspberries, bugs that would usually eradicate my squash by this time any other year, fresh grass, weeds, and their poop is garden gold already! You can't beat your own organic fertilizer... and No I do not add it directly to the garden but they sometimes do (I just water it in). They do free-range for several hours during the day so we are vigilant about keeping an eagle eye on them lest a for real eagle or hawk come through for a chicken snack. There are also curious cats, raccoon, weasels and the like... Ayi-yi why did I want to do this again? jk... 
It has been beyond rewarding and eggs will be the icing and candle on top. Can't wait to show that off. I'm sure it will be just too pretty to eat... NOT!!!! Besides our future egg supply I truly enjoy their company when i'm working in the actual garden or on my laptop on the patio. Even when my side-chick Chip randomly jumps onto someones head..... long story.

My Side-Chick Chipmunk - Chip for short
Well, with everything I've shared, I can only hope you will forgive a very long break in between posts. I have found a new calling with these birds for the self-sufficiency and entertainment of my family. These birds really do serve a purpose and are a hallmark for things to come in more Metropolitan areas around the country. I am glad to be on the forefront with my family and look forward to hearing and seeing how more families are taking back control of their diets and what ends up on their plates. 

Diva & Eb
Black Raspberries - Chickens Favorite
Ladies enjoying some good city life