Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We've Moved!

We've decided to move our blog to the server space where our website is located. I have honestly enjoyed using Blogger as my blogging tool, but there are a few advantages to moving the Back to Basic Living Blog up to our server.

Although the look of the new blog is different, the content remains the same and I'll continue to post to it regularly. In fact, all the posts on this blog have been migrated over to our new blog. And you are no longer required to login to post a comment! Much more convenient.

You can still sign up to receive new blog posts automatically to your email on the new blog. In fact, if you are currently signed up subscribed to receive emails when I post, I've taken the liberty of adding you to the new blog email subscription service. You'll need to respond to the email you receive to confirm. (Be sure to check your Spam folder if you don't see the email in your inbox). If you do not confirm, you will not receive automatic emails from my blog. Look for an email from "confirmations@emailenfuego.net" with the subject line "Activate your Email Subscription to: Back to Basic Living", open it, and then click the link provided to activate your service. That's all there is to it!

If you have not signed up for automatic emails when the blog is updated, you can do that right now by clicking here and then entering your email address in the subscription box on the right hand side of the screen.

Please update your bookmarks and stop by. I think you'll like what you see!

Bee Free,

Monday, September 15, 2008

Egg On My Face

I've always heard that placing a golf ball, or some type of fake egg, in a nest box will encourage chickens to lay their eggs in the nest boxes, rather than on the floor or other places. I was reminded of that this weekend when I read a post on a chicken forum from someone who was having trouble getting her chickens to lay eggs in their nest boxes. I remembered that I had some fake plastic eggs that came with an egg basket I inherited from someone a little while ago. I got to thinking that my hens are just about at the laying age, so I grabbed the plastic eggs and set one in each nest box last night. And then I completely forgot all about them.

This morning I opened the chicken door to let the chickens out and, as I do each morning, I opened the "human" door to walk inside the coop and make sure there was plenty of food and water. I looked over at the hen boxes and almost screamed for joy. Eggs! Perfectly beautiful eggs! My heart was beating uncontrollably. I thought I would cry. I kept thinking "They are so white, so perfectly formed, so clean, so large, and there is one in each box! One in each box? Wait a minute.... those..... are...... plastic." I was looking at the plastic eggs I had placed in those boxes just the night before.

I'm sure I turned every shade of red. But it does give me hope. If my chickens are half as stupid as I am, they may just really believe those are real eggs in those nest boxes and lay theirs right beside them.

Lordy, I sure hope they fall for it. If they don't, you'll never know. I promise.

Bee Free,

Monday, September 08, 2008

Chicken Hawk - What the........

Well, wouldn't you know, the very day I posted bragging about how well it's been going as our chickens free range, we had an experience that made my hiney tingle.

As I mentioned yesterday, for the past week we've been allowing the chickens outside of their chicken run each evening for an hour or two before bedtime so that they could free range a little. As the week went on, I began to feel very comfortable with the whole situation and had begun to let them free range pretty much unsupervised. By "unsupervised", I mean that we did not pull up lawn chairs and sit with them while they were outside. Instead, I watched them from the window of the house.

Yesterday evening was particularly lovely, with cool temperatures and relatively no humidity. When I let the chickens out, we decided to pull up some lawn chairs and sit with them to enjoy the nice weather. The chickens had been outside for about two hours and I was just beginning to think it was about time for them to start heading into the coop when suddenly they began squawking and screaming and running about. I will mention that they did this once before earlier in the week when they spotted a deer peering at them at the fence. So initially, I thought they had once again seen a deer and I glanced over at the fence line. At the same time, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a chicken hawk swooping down towards a couple of chickens that were pinned against the outside of the fence in their panic. These chickens, and the chicken hawk, were within 10 feet of us. I immediately jumped up and ran full speed toward the chicken hawk, clapping my hands and screaming like a wild woman. I apparently startled the hawk so bad it changed course at the last second before reaching the chickens and flew rapidly in the opposite direction toward the wood line. Bernie did have a pistol with him, but he could not risk shooting while the hawk was so close to the chickens. But as the hawk retreated, Bernie fired a few shots into the ground near the woods to make sure he scared it off for good - at least for the evening. He did not fire at the hawk because he was not sure what else would be in the path past the hawk and it would have been difficult to insure a direct hit using a pistol on a hawk flying erratically, especially given the conditions. His goal was to make enough noise to scare off the chicken hawk and discourage him from perching in a nearby tree to re-access his tactics. Bernie was successful as that hawk flew straight up and over the trees and the last we saw him, he was flapping his wings wildly in an attempt to get the heck out of there.

Needless to say, we were all quite shaken by the event. A few of the chickens had made it back inside the chicken run, but most were scattered throughout the woods. Duke was every kind of upset and he was clucking loudly and fiercely. I finally calmed him down and got him to come out of the woods and into the chicken run. It took quite a bit of coaxing, but Bernie and I finally managed to get everyone safely into the chicken run. The chickens seemed to recover quickly, but I can not say the same for myself.

I am simply amazed that the chicken hawk attempted to get one of our chickens while we were sitting right there and within a few feet of his intended prey. I was so upset that I loudly declared the chickens would never be allowed out of the chicken run again. But even as I said it, I knew it wasn't very fair to remove all freedom from my chickens based solely on my fears.

It's my understanding that as the chickens get bigger and the roosters become mature enough to be more protective, the threat of chicken hawks is not as great. I'm going to discuss this with my cousin who has had chickens for many years and has a great deal of knowledge on the subject. But for those of you that have had chickens for a while, what has been your experience with chicken hawks? Are they less of a worry as the chickens get older?

Chicken hawks are awesome creatures, but I can't have them picking off my chickens. We haven't even gotten the first egg from them yet! Besides, I've grown a little found of those little buggers.

Bee Free,

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Chicken Mushrooms - Yum!

Since we've moved onto the homestead, Bernie and I have spent a little time roaming around in the woods looking for wild mushrooms. Specifically morels and chicken mushrooms. We didn't have much luck finding either - until yesterday. And we weren't even searching for them. I went out to the coop to let the chickens into the run and a bright orange blob from the trunk of a dead oak caught my eye. Chicken mushrooms! Take a look:


I took this close up so you could see them, but the truth is the chicken mushrooms are all over that dead tree. I bet I gathered about 10 pounds worth. Then I cleaned them up, cut off the tougher pieces, cooked up about a pound of them, and froze the rest. For those of you that are foragers, I'll include how I cooked the chicken mushrooms.

First I should note that I made this using what I had on hand and what we like. The mushrooms tend to take on the taste of whatever they are cooked in, so you can add or subtract to match your taste. I used herbs from my garden and am just guessing at the amount, but if you grow and use your own herbs, you'll know how much to use. The texture is similar to chicken:

1 pound chicken mushrooms - cleaned and cut into medallion size pieces
3 fresh tomatoes - diced
1 clove garlic - minced
1/2 medium onion - diced
6 - 8 fresh basil leaves
1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon fresh marjoram
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese - added at the end

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil. Add remaining ingredients except cheese , stir well and bring to a boil. Cut down the heat and let it simmer on low heat for about 30 - 45 minutes, or until the liquid reaches a thick consistency. Put the whole thing in a baking dish and cover with mozzarella cheese. Bake for 10 minutes on 375 or until the cheese begins to bubble a little. Enjoy!

If you've never eaten chicken mushrooms and are interested in foraging for them, please be sure to do a little research on them. Although not many mushrooms resemble a chicken mushroom, it's always wise to be certain you know what you are looking for. If you have allergies to any type of mushrooms, you should definitely consider this before eating chicken mushrooms. It may be wise to try a very small amount the first time you eat them, just to be sure.

My father gave us an old wood stove and Bernie and I spent this morning cleaning it up with the angle grinder with a wire brush on it. Then we painted it black with some stove paint. It looks almost new! Our furnace is electric and it costs us a mint to keep this house heated in the winter. We have a fire place we use faithfully in the evenings, but we won't leave it burning when we go to bed or are not around to tend it, so we let the furnace kick in. After last winter and all the ridiculously high electric bills we paid, we've decided to heat exclusively with wood. We should have the wood stove installed shortly. It's on the list - and being as it's already September, it's moved up on the list considerably.

Last week we let the chickens free range for a couple of hours before bedtime each evening when the chicken hawks are less likely to come around. Monday through Thursday we sat outside with them. The did a pretty good job of getting into the coop by themselves when it started getting dark, so Friday and Saturday evening I let them in the yard by themselves. I opened all the windows so we could hear them, but that was silly because I ended up spending almost the entire time standing at the window so I could watch them and make sure they were OK. With the exception of a Black Spanish that insists on getting in trees to roost, everyone did very well. And I can assure you the bug population in our yard has decreased already. The chickens just love flying, pecking, scratching, and playing without the confines of the chicken run. I really love watching them. I wish I could let them free range all day, but it really is too dangerous around here for that. We have every chicken-loving-predator on the planet around here. I worry enough just letting them out for two hours in the evening.

My meal worm population is booming - which is a good thing because those chickens can put a serious hurtin' on meal worms.

Things are going well on the homestead. Bernie is busy taking care of things around here. I'm busy making sure Bernie knows what to take care of around here. The cats are busy watching the chickens out the window and sleeping in any chair I plan to sit in. And the chickens are busy not laying eggs and eating us out of house and home. Whew. Makes me tired just writing that.

Bee Free,

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bobby Lee's Debut

After following Bobby Lee around the chicken yard with a video recorder for the past several days, I've finally decided he's not going to cooperate and crow for the camera. So this morning, when I went to open the coop, I took the recorder with me and I managed to catch the sound of Bobby Lee crowing. What you'll see is the coop and the run as I walk toward it, and what you'll hear is Duke crowing, followed by Bobby Lee crowing, ending with a duet:

How cute is that??? Waking up to those sounds each morning starts each day with a smile for us. It almost seems that Bobby Lee tries to emulate Duke's crow. I'm not so sure that's a good idea, but I am really proud of his efforts. Bobby Lee is a Phoenix, by the way.

You may be able to hear the roosters from the top of the ridge in the background. There are two that live up there and it seems that they call back and forth with Duke, especially in the mornings. I'm certain they spend a lot of time laughing at the noises coming from our homestead, but I hope they keep in mind that both Duke and Bobby Lee are not quite four months old yet. I am a little defensive about my boys.

Now that we've got both roosters crowing, I'm ready for the girls to kick it up a notch and start laying those eggs. They seem to have different thoughts on that subject though.

Bee Free,

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Independence Day on the Homestead

It is Independence Day on the Homestead. Today marks exactly one year ago that Bernie quit his job and we moved out to our homestead. I have to tell you, it was a very scary time for me. We had planned to pay off all debt before making that move, and the day we moved here we were not very close to meeting that goal. In the end, concern for our health and sanity sped our decision and, although it has been a little tight for us financially, we are both extremely happy we went ahead and did it.

You may have noticed I typically sign my post with "Bee Free". Certainly the "Bee" part of that comes from our venture into raising honey bees, something we began before ever moving to the homestead permanently. Although we ended up losing all six of our hives, getting those bees marked the beginning of homesteading to me. It was our first small step towards gaining a little self sufficiency. I miss those little bees something fierce and I am really looking forward to starting again with them in the spring.

The "Free" part of my sign off means exactly what you probably think it means. I suppose none of us is truly free. We all have laws or rules that govern our lives to one extent or another. But being free is really much more than that to me. To my way of thinking, being free has more to do with the freedom gained in self sufficiency and self reliance. Bernie and I have not achieved that type of freedom yet, but we are working towards it on a daily basis, one small step at a time. And, if you've been keeping up with current events, you know that depending on others to provide safe food, or anything else of that nature, isn't a very good bet right now.

To celebrate our Independence Day, we went out early this morning and began chipping wood with the wood chipper. Do we know how to celebrate on the homestead or what? We spent about four hours doing that and then I cleaned in the chicken coop and added a fresh layer of pine chips.

By the way, Duke really seems to have learned a little lesson from being forcibly carried around last week after his little temper tantrum. I was scraping poop off of roosts and hen boxes with a putty knife when he got so wound up last week. Today while I was scraping with the putty knife, Duke stood in the yard instead of at my feet clucking wildly like he did last week. And he didn't make a peep. Bernie was watching and said Duke danced around a little and was obviously annoyed at the sound and at me being in the coop making it, but Duke never entered the coop and he never uttered a sound. I finished up and strutted out like the true QUEEN OF THE COOP that I am.

After we finished up our chores for the day, we got cleaned up and opened a bottle of very nice wine a friend gave me a little while ago. We toasted our Independence Day and sipped our wine while nibbling cheese, salami, crackers, and slices of apples we picked from the apple tree at the edge of the back yard. What a nice way to celebrate the anniversary of our independence!

In closing, allow me to share with you the latest in Duke's evolving crow. I think it sounds like he's crowing the beginning to the music of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:

Is that not just adorable?

I thought I was going to capture Bobby Lee's crow yesterday morning. He and Duke were both crowing up a storm around 10AM, so I grabbed the video camera and Bernie and I took off to catch it. But when we got out to the chicken run, we realized they were carrying on because a Black Spanish had escaped and was frantically trying to get back inside the run. Everyone was pretty worked up over the whole thing. I caught the Spanish and put her back in the coop and it seemed to calm everyone down - so much so that Bobby Lee didn't make a peep the rest of the day.

As we celebrate the anniversary of one year on the homestead, I would like to thank each of you for sharing this adventure with us. We are thankful for the friends we've made through this blog, the long lost friends that have found us through it, and the emails we've received because of it. We are truly blessed.

Bee Free,

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Raising Meal Worms 101

I am no expert on raising meal worms, but I've gotten enough personal emails asking about it that I thought I'd post about the method I have chosen - and include pictures.

NOTE: I suppose I should post a warning right about now, so here it goes ..... If you are not interested in learning about raising meal worms OR you are squeamish about looking at pictures of worms or bugs, this is NOT the post for you! Slowly back away from your computer monitor, close this page, and no one will get hurt.

I decided to raise meal worms to feed to my chickens for two reasons:

1) Chickens love meal worms and when I feed my chickens meal worms, they love me - or at least they pretend to love me, and that's good enough for me.
2) Meal worms are a nutritious snack for chickens and when they eat nice, nutritious snacks, it cuts back a little on the amount of feed I must provide.

Chickens are also a hoot to watch as they scramble, scream, and fight over meal worms, but that's kind of covered in #1 above.

A simple search of the internet will reveal countless pages on the subject of raising meal worms, and I've looked at most of them. In the end, I chose a method that I felt would be least expensive and cause the least amount of work.

If you are fortunate, you will find someone locally that sells meal worms (such as a bait shop or a shop that sells live critters to feed snakes, birds, etc.), or perhaps you may be able to sprinkle some corn meal on wet concrete and the meal worm beetles will come to you. If you're like me, you'll need to order them. You can do an internet search and find a dealer fairly easily, with one small note of importance - at the time of this posting, there appears to be a world wide shortage of meal worms. I am not making this up. I have noticed a few dealers seem to be getting more meal worms in their inventory, so maybe things are looking up for the meal worm industry.

I bought my meal worms from the Worm Guy. Yes, there really is a guy that sells worms - lots and lots of just about every kind of worm a person could desire. I have no affiliation with the Worm Guy, other than visiting his website and making a purchase from him, but I will provide this link to his website for those of you who are interested. I also recommend reading his page on breeding meal worms. Lots of good info there.

So now that you've got a line on getting your meal worms, let me tell you how I got set up for mine.

I had an old, very large, plastic bin with a lid laying around that I decided to use. I don't know what you call these things. The label on the side says it's a tote, but I've never called those plastic bins a tote. At any rate, I took this plastic bin/tote and cleaned it up with some warm, soapy water. Then I drilled holes in the lid of it so that I could place the lid on it and keep the cats out without suffocating all those little worms. I used a 1 inch fly bit to drill the holes. The whole thing looks like this:


It's sitting in the tub of our spare bathroom, so you can't see the bottom of it in that picture, but you get the idea.

Then I filled the bottom of the plastic bin with about six inches of chicken feed. The chicken feed is the medium that is used for bedding, and for food. I ordered 1000 meal worms and at the rate they reproduce, I figured I'd need a fairly large container and a fair amount of bedding.

Next, I put a couple of potatoes (quartered) and a few wedges of cabbage on TOP of the feed. These will be the source of water for the worms and beetles:


You may notice there are already worms and beetles in the above picture, and that the potatoes look a little old. I didn't take a picture before I added the worms, so it's the best I can do right now. Just pretend there aren't any worms or beetles in that picture and that the potatoes are fresh. And, by the way, you don't need to use both potato and cabbage. One or the other will suffice. I just happened to have both in the kitchen when it came time to throwing a water source in the bin. It may be worth mentioning, though, that my meal worms seem to prefer the cabbage.

Then, I dumped 1000 meal worms on the top of it all, covered them with newspaper, placed the lid on, set the whole rig in the DRY tub, turned off the light, and went about checking my email and surfing the internet:


Meal worms do best when the temperature is between 75 and 80 degrees. They also do not like light. So keep them in a place where the temperature agrees with them and keep newspaper layered on top of them, and they should be happy. The newspaper also works well for collecting the worms to feed to your chickens. The worms like to crawl up between the newspaper layers, so you can just carefully pick up the newspaper and funnel it into a container when you're ready to feed the chickens.

That really is all there is to it. You'll need to check the potato or cabbage every week or so and make sure it hasn't dried out too much, or gotten moldy. And over time you may need to add a little more chicken feed, but other than that, you are now raising meal worms!

One of the most common questions I've received is "How do you keep the beetles that emerge from flying out of the bin?". Well, it's really very simple. You just clip their little wings. OK - I'm just kidding. The truth is, the beetles don't fly. And they can't climb up the slick sides of the plastic bin, so your little beetles will be stay-at-home beetles and focus only on the job of procreation.

If you are still with me at this point, you may be interested in looking at the following pictures of the life cycle of the meal worm. The first step in the life cycle is the egg, of course, but I don't have any pictures of the eggs yet because I haven't taken the time to dig around and find them, but other than that minor detail, I do have the following to offer:

When you first get your meal worms, they will most likely be in the larvae stage and look like little...well....worms. These are the meal worms. They crawl around at this stage and stay busy doing worm things like wiggling and sucking moisture from a potato. They also shed their skin and you'll start noticing the shed skin laying around in the bin.

After a short while, you'll start seeing little white/tan looking blobs laying around. Congratulations! You now have pupae. Pupae don't do much and aren't very much fun, but they are interesting to look at and watch as they change. Here's a picture of a meal worm laying next to a pupae:


The meal worm is the darker worm in the bottom of the picture, and the pupae is the white/tan blog just above the meal worm. This particular pupae is a little older, as you can tell by noticing the wings are already beginning to develop.

The little white pupae will continue to mutate and one day you'll look in your bin and notice little beetles crawling around. When they first emerge, they are solid white. Very shortly, they begin turning a light brown. Eventually, your beetles will be black.

This picture has a younger beetle (light brown), an older beetle (black) a meal worm (brown worm), a pupae (white/tan blob), and a bunch of shed skin:


So, to recap, it starts with an egg, goes to a meal worm, turns into a pupae, and ends up a beetle.

As I understand it, a single female beetle can lay up to 500 eggs in her very short life. That's a LOT of eggs! So if you start with 1000 meal worms and let them go through their life cycle, be prepared to feed your chickens lots of delicious meal worms on a regular basis.

As I said, I'm no expert on raising meal worms, but it really doesn't take one to do this successfully. Get a bin, throw in some chicken feed, add a few potatoes, and toss in some worms. Keep them in a place between 75 - 80 degrees, make sure they have moist potatoes and/or cabbage at all times, scoop out a few meal worms daily to feed to your chickens, and then stand back and bask in the love your chickens will bestow upon you - or pretend to bestow upon you.

Bee Free,

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rain, Roosters, and Getting Sideways

The entire Shenandoah County can thank Bernie for the recent lack of rain. He ensured a drought by building his rain barrel a few months ago. But it seems Mother Nature has forgiven him, or started feeling bad for punishing the entire county for Bernie's actions, and as I write this, we are getting rain. Lots and lots of rain. The rain barrel is now more than half way full, taking it to just over 150 gallons of water. Woo hoo! If this keeps up much longer, we may have a completely full rain barrel - and that will come in handy when Bernie does something else to irritate Mother Nature.

Bernie's been busy taking care of things around here. Since we've taken a couple of vacations in the past couple of months, discretionary funds are a little low right now, so he hasn't started any new projects. Instead he's welding fencing on the driveway gates, using the backhoe to remove ugly stumps in the back yard, working on keeping the cabin roof from leaking, and any number of things on his never ending list of stuff to do.

We were greeted Monday morning with several little crows from Bobby Lee. They were the cutest little crows - very raspy and strained sounding. He's currently pausing on each syllable and it makes me laugh every time. It kind of sounds like "ER....ER....ER....EEEEERRRRRRR". For some reason, he will only crow in the morning while sitting on the roost. Once he comes outside into the chicken yard, no amount of begging or coaxing will convince him to crow. I want to get a video of it, but it's so dark in the coop when I let them out that it doesn't video very well. I'm not giving up though. I may just have to video the outside of the coop and hope you can hear him crowing inside of it. You will definitely hear Duke crowing inside of it. That boy has turned into a crowing machine. He crows all day, every day. And Bernie can get Duke to crow by asking him if he's a turkey. Duke really seems to take exception to that.

Speaking of Duke, we had our first little "rumble" last weekend. I was cleaning out the coop and raking the coop yard and Duke did not appreciate it at all. He was following me around and clucking up a storm and nothing I said would calm him. I turned in his direction to do something, and he fluffed up and came at me side ways. Well, I saw red! I snatched him up before he even knew what was happening. I tucked him under my arm and continued cleaning and working. He struggled and fussed for a while, but finally settled down. After about five minutes or so, I stopped and petted his chest and told him in no uncertain terms that while I appreciated him watching over the girls and taking his duties so seriously, I am in charge in the chicken yard and aggression toward me will not be tolerated. I also took the opportunity to remind him that there's not much we enjoy better than a pot of chicken noodle soup. When I finally put him down, he was quite calm and much nicer. I finished cleaning up the coop and run with no more interference from the boy. When it comes to getting sideways with someone, Duke will learn he's met his match with me.

Bernie took a picture of the chickens outside playing in the rain:


I've always heard the saying "madder than a wet hen", but I can tell you my hens love playing outside in the rain and getting wet. It makes them happy. The huge lump on the stairs to the left is Duke. Duke likes to get a lot of rest. The chicken running towards the camera in front of Duke is Bobby Lee. Bobby Lee likes to run and we seldom see him standing still.

My meal worms are multiplying like crazy. I've been waiting to make sure we had a little life cycle going before feeding the chickens many of the worms. With plenty of beetles, pupa, and larvae in the container, I think it's about time the worms can become a daily treat for the chickens. Meal worms are their favorite snack - and they are so easy to raise.

Things are going well on the homestead. Bernie and I are staying busy and wondering how it got to be the end of August already. Soon we'll be eating fresh eggs the chickens lay for us. Now THAT will be something to crow about!

Bee Free,

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's the Little Things in Life.....

It's easy to feel overwhelmed with life sometimes and to become completely preoccupied by things beyond your control or influence. When that happens to me, I tend to turn inward and draw up around myself, as if forming a cocoon that can shield me from pain and hurt. And then something so comforting will happen that I actually snap out of it, if only for a few wonderful moments. Elvis or Priscilla will crawl up in my lap, I'll notice my flowers blooming, the sound of the wind in the trees, tomatoes turning red, beans ready to pick, hens clucking and calling to me, or Duke the Roo serenading me.

Because it brings me so much joy, I decided to video Duke's crow again today. I am certain this will bring a smile to your face, too. Just listen to the progress that boy has made!

That's a long shot from his first crow - and even his second crow. That boy is a constant source of joy to me. How can anyone listen to that and not smile?

It's the little things in life that bring joy. Something small that just brings a smile to your face can lift your spirits when you are certain they are grounded for the foreseeable future.

Live each day to the fullest. Search for joy in everything you do. And don't forget to smile when you hear crowing - even if it comes from some jerk you work with ;-)

Bee Free,

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Just a Little of This and a Little of That

As a couple of you have seen fit to remind me in emails, I haven't been very good at updating the blog lately. We've been busy as ever on the homestead, but it seems the past few weeks have been filled with not much more than simply the day-to-day business of keeping on top of things around here. That doesn't make for very interesting blog fodder. But that has never stopped me before, so I decided to go ahead and post a blog entry anyway.

Since our return from a week in the Great Plains, Bernie has stayed occupied welding fencing on the gates, chipping pine for the chicken coop, mowing, and taking vehicles to the shop for recall repairs and things of that nature. My in-laws sent us home with a bunch of zucchini from their garden, and I've been busy shredding it and making Zucchini Bread, Zucchini Cake, Zucchini Soup, and anything else Zucchini I can think of. We managed to put up 5 quarts and 7 pints of dill pickles from our cucumbers and have been eating tomatoes and peppers at every meal. I got a late start putting beans in this year, but they'll be ready to pick and can in the coming week or so.

Big news - at least for me...... my mother is now on-line! She got a fancy schmancy computer and hooked it up with high speed internet. The reason this is important to me is that it means I am no longer the sole blogger on the planet whose own mother doesn't read her breath taking, riveting drivel. It also means I now have to watch what I say about her.

My mealy worms are becoming pupals! I'm pretty sure that excites me more than it excites you. It means that soon I will have little beetles that will breed and lay eggs that will become larva and start the whole process over again - providing my chickens with tasty little snacks and making them love me, or at least pretend to love me so that I'll bring them more snacks. And yes, it really is this easy to make me happy.

The chickens will be five months old in October. That's roughly the magic number for expecting eggs. It's also roughly the magic number for some romantic tendencies on the part of chickens. I do have some concerns about this milestone. Duke is clearly twice the size of the hens. If you've ever seen chickens mate, you may understand my concern. If you haven't, well let's just say that roosters tend to be very aggressive during the process and it's not uncommon for hens to get a little battered. I'm hoping Duke's gentle side comes through with his romantic tendencies.

I've been a little surprised at the number of people who have written to tell me they think I am a little crazy for loving my chickens as pets. Seriously. So, in an effort to make myself appear less crazy by comparison, I offer you this set of videos on YouTube. It's called "The Natural History of the Chicken" and was originally a PBS film, but someone (posting as Ghostmonters) was kind enough to upload it to YouTube in six parts. I actually found it to be very interesting and fun. And after watching some of the people featured in it, I feel certain you will rethink your position on my craziness - at least with regard to my chickens.

We're all fine on the homestead and staying busy. We've got a few projects planned for the following weeks, and I'll be sure to keep you updated on them. I've been remiss in boring you with chicken pictures and videos as promised, so I'll get on top of that too - along with the updates to the website. I hope that will make you love me, or at least pretend to love me. We've established how happy that makes me.

Bee Free,

Monday, August 04, 2008

Go West, Young Man - and Raise Some Mealy Worms

We're back from visiting Bernie's parents out in the Great Plains. I have to tell you, I am honestly one blessed individual. I have the best in-laws a person could possibly wish for. Not only are they kind, sweet, and wonderful, they are honestly some of the most fun people I have ever met. We had a great time and it was really hard to leave them, knowing that they are so far away. We don't get to see them near as often as we'd like.

The week away was no where near as difficult as I had feared. We had such a great time visiting Bernie's parents I really didn't have a lot of time to dwell on missing our homestead - although I must admit, it creeped into my mind and heart on occasion. We got to see his sisters and a couple of nieces and nephews, and we also did a fair amount of sight seeing. The Great Plains is such a contrast to the area where we live. Both are beautiful in very different ways. We have very hilly terrain, and lots and lots of trees. In certain areas of the Plains, it really seems that you can see as far as the end of the earth - and at night the skies are filled with more stars than I ever knew existed. Every where we went, I spent the entire time with my nose pressed to the car windows, just staring at the beautiful landscape, and admiring the homesteads in a part of our great country that was founded by homesteaders with more grit than I probably possess. Awesome. Absolutely awesome.

I took a lot of pictures, and it was very difficult to choose only a few to post in this blog because they are all so pretty. Below, is a picture that proves the earth is indeed flat:


Isn't that just an awesome place? You can also see the end of the earth in this picture, and a glimpse of the Missouri River:


With such a wet spring and early summer in that part of the country, the wildflowers were spectacular. This looks like a sea of flowers to me:


And the Black Eyed Susans were everywhere:


We got to take a little road trip to Le Mars, Iowa. It's the Ice Cream Capitol of the World and home to Blue Bunny ice cream, which just so happens to be my absolutely very most favorite wonderfully delicious ice cream on the entire planet. It may have been the highlight of the trip for me. That would be a tough call though....

Pictures could never do justice to the beauty of the Great Plains. And words could never adequately explain how awesome my in-laws are.

As wonderful as our visit was, it was also wonderful to get home at the end of the trip. I am very proud to report that Bernie's fence did the trick. The chickens were safe and so was the garden.

The chickens grew in the week we were gone - a lot! And Duke is perfecting his crow. He's also practicing it a lot more often and has been crowing just about every time he sees us outside. Our rain barrel has over 50 gallons in it now, and the garden is providing a fair amount of fresh vegetables. The cats weren't very happy with us the first day after we returned, but they've finally decided to forgive us and allow us to pet and love on them.

Before we left on our trip, I ordered 1,000 Mealy Worms so I can raise them for the chickens to eat. They arrived the day we returned. I'm going to take the word of the invoice and trust there were 1,000 worms in the box when it arrived as I really have no interest in counting them.

I did vermi-composting with Red Wigglers for a few years with great success, so when I read about raising Mealy Worms for the chickens I decided to go for it. It really seems relatively simple and inexpensive. Some people choose corn meal, wheat bran, or other mediums, but I decided to use chicken feed because it's easy for me to find and only cost about $15 for 50 pounds of it, which should last quite a while. I simply filled the bottom of a very large plastic tub with about six inches of chicken feed, placed a few cut up potatoes and cabbage on top, dumped the worms in with it all, and then covered it with newspaper. I also put the plastic tub lid on to keep the cats out of it. Apparently the best temperature for the worms to breed well is between 70 - 80 degrees, so I put the whole rig in the tub in the spare bath room. And then I closed the shower curtain so unsuspecting visitors to the powder room won't be as likely to leave it running and shrieking. So far, so good.

The past week has been a lot of fun. It was great to see Bernie's family, and great to get back home. Not surprisingly, the long to-do list I left was here when I got back. There's always something to do here on the homestead - but I wouldn't have it any other way. And I might actually accomplish something if I didn't have to stop and play with the chickens, listen to Duke crow, pet Elvis, hold Priscilla, and listen to the wind blowing through the trees. I'm telling you, it's hard work around here.

Bee Free,

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bernie is a Fence Spoolin' Fool

Today is a big day on the homestead. Bernie officially finished fencing in the yard around the house. When we decided to move here, we cleared a chunk of land in the middle of our property, and since we never had it officially measured, I'm really not sure how large it is. I would guess maybe an acre or an acre and a half. I do know that we bought over 1200 feet of field fencing, and Bernie used most of it.

I don't know if you've ever worked with field fencing, but I have to tell you that stuff is heavy. Really heavy. In fact, when we bought it, they loaded each bale of it in the back of our pick up truck using a fork lift. It didn't take Bernie long to figure out he was going to have a heck of a time running that wire alone - especially because the vast majority of it would be in the woods. He thought about having a fence stringing party, but couldn't think of anyone he disliked enough to invite. He really didn't want to do that to a friend. He checked with several stores to see if they make something that will help spool wire, and the only thing they suggested was a piece of equipment that requires a three point hitch. Not only do we not have a three point hitch, there is no way a vehicle sporting a three point hitch would fit through the woods where he needed it.

So, as he usually does when he's in need of a home made tool, Bernie went to Tex. He told Tex he would like to build a fence spooler. Something inexpensive, strong, and disposable, since it would only be used to run wire for this fence and then likely never be needed again. Most importantly, it had to spool by having a spinning bottom to rest the bail of wire on. And, as he always does, Tex designed and built the perfect tool.

And here it is:


And here's how it works - see the big piece poking up in the middle in the above picture? Well, Bernie lays that down towards the ground and "threads" in the bale of wire. Like this:


Then he stands up the whole thing, with the longest leg of the spooler pointed toward the direction he will pull:


Then he grabs the end of the wire and begins to pull. The wire bale rests on steel plates that actually rotate, while the base remains firmly in place:


And he pulls, and pulls, and pulls:


I'm not sure Bernie could have fenced in the yard without the Tex-O-Matic spooler. While it was still a great deal of work, the spooler helped immensely. Especially in places like this - which is typical of where he ran the fence other than the short piece beside the drive way:


So, thanks to Tex's creativity and Bernie's hard work and Incredible Hulk muscles, we now have a fenced in yard! I really love the way Bernie ran the fence through the woods. I know it was a lot of difficult work for him, but there are very few places we can actually see the fence when we look around the yard. It feels a little less confining. It will also allow the dogs we get shortly to have plenty of woods to run around in, while being restricted to the yard area of our property.

By the way, as soon as we finished up the rain barrel, we went into a near drought. But we've finally gotten rain the past couple of days, and the rain barrel has about 25 - 35 gallons of water in it! It works like a charm.

The chickens are doing great. Duke is figuring out how to act like a rooster and spends the majority of his time looking out for his girls - and the girls just love him. He crows off and on all day now, making sure that everyone knows he's large and in charge. It has gotten extremely rare that any of the chickens challenge him these days. Even Lucy-fer has realized she doesn't stand much of a chance against Duke. She now focuses her aggression on poor little Bobby Lee. They are about the same size, but Lucy-fer beats Bobby Lee out in the ornery department. So far, she's nothing more than annoying. I've reminded her daily that we will not tolerate mean chickens on the homestead, and casually mentioned how much we love chicken noodle soup. She clucks and bawks at me, but I've noticed she's not pushing the envelope on it.

We leave in a couple of days to head out west and visit Bernie's family. I really can't wait to see them, but I'm very anxious about leaving the homestead. I shouldn't be. We have a wonderful woman who will look after the place and take care of the chickens and cats while we're gone. And Bernie's family is a hoot. I really love spending time with them. Besides, Bernie thinks I need to work on my social skills. I think he's concerned that my communication level is eroding to clucks, peeps, and occasional crows.

Bee Free,

Friday, July 18, 2008

Weird People, Chickens, Rain Barrels, and Me

I seriously don't know how time gets away from me so fast. I've got a ton of pictures to upload to the Back to Basic Living website, a new page on canning that is almost complete, and a page on putting together a rain barrel. All I need to do is make a little time and finish all these things up and get them uploaded. The problem is that I seem to have so many projects going on at the same time around here that I never finish one before I've started another. I'm sure I could use a lesson in organization. Or maybe a lesson in focusing. Probably both. Maybe I'll start an online course.....

I had to go into the D.C. area last week for work. I started working from home about a year ago, and I rarely have to go into the Big City, so I shouldn't complain. But I will.

I had to spend two days in that madhouse. A friend was kind enough to put me up for a night so I didn't have to get a hotel. That was the nicest part of the trip. The work days were long and it cost a fortune to eat breakfast and lunch there. And I don't mean to be ugly, but those city people can be just plain weird. Honestly. I worked in D.C. for several years, and I always knew the people could be a bit odd, but I guess in the interest of self preservation, I tended to ignore or overlook it. I suppose it is a matter of surviving in such a crowded area that makes some people become completely self absorbed and totally unaware of their surroundings. No eye contact. No acknowledgment of another's existence. Bumping into people without an apology. Talking on cell phones at the top of their lungs in the middle of a crowd of strangers. IPod ear buds fastened securely in their ears to remove them, if only mentally, away from all the people. Not everyone is like that in the Big City of course, but there are enough of them to send me high tailing it back to the homestead with more resolve than ever to never leave here again. And with a new appreciation for my chickens. Maybe I'm the weird one.

[NOTE: Because I know some of the people from my work read my blog, please let me say I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT YOU. I'm talking about the other people. You are wonderful. Seriously. Unless you happen to be one of the ones I don't like.]

Speaking of chickens, they are getting big! They will be eight weeks old tomorrow. They're learning to cluck, but they haven't given up peeping yet. So the chicken yard is routinely filled with noises of peeps, clucks, and an occasional crow. Very cute.

I have a bunch of pictures of the chickens to upload to the website and I'll try to get that done soon, but in the meantime I wanted you to see how big Duke and Bobby Lee are getting:


Look at that comb and those wattles! I swear that Duke just makes me swoon. Bobby Lee is a wiry little thing. I think he looks a bit like the Road Runner. He's handsome and I think he'll really be a sight when he fills in and matures. That's watermelon at their feet. Those chickens love watermelon. They get really excited when they see me coming with it. They even act like they love me when I show up with watermelon, so I make a point of giving them a few slices everyday. Of course they'd act like they love Atilla the Hun if she showed up with watermelon, but I don't like to think about that.

Bernie has been stringing the fencing wire. He's got about 1/4 of it finished. He and I worked on putting together our rain barrel last weekend. I was going to write that this is another project we have yet to finish - but Bernie went outside and finished it while I was typing. Yay! Here's a picture of it:


We had to install the rain gutters on the front and back of my garden shed (and yes, by "we", I mean Bernie) and then put together all the fittings for the barrel to make the intake portion, and the drain on the bottom of it. I have to tell you it was like a scavenger hunt at Lowe's to find all the fittings to concoct those things. But it was kinda fun. I'm working on a webpage to describe what we did, with pictures of each step, in case you are interested in a rain barrel for your place. Ours holds 305 gallons and we plan to use it for watering the garden.

I made some soap last night - Cucumber Melon. It smells heavenly. I haven't made soap in a little while, so I decided that since I'm swirl impaired even on a good day, I would just stick with something a little more basic and make it all one color. It's a light, refreshing pale shade of green.

We've been busy around here, and we're loving every minute of it. I suppose it would be nice to actually finish a few projects, but then I worry we'd miss something else that's fun and just waiting to get started. I think I'll go discuss my options with the chickens.

Come to think of it, maybe I really am the weird one.

Bee Free,

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rooster Adolescence and Lucy-fer

Yesterday our chicks turned exactly seven weeks old and it's been exactly one week since Duke figured out how to crow. I let the chickens out of their coop about 6:30AM and went into the house to make them some yogurt. As I was standing at the kitchen sink, I heard the distinct sound of a crow - but it was not the shrieking three syllable crow we've grown accustomed to hearing from Duke. It almost sounded like the honk of a goose in comparison - and it seemed to have an extra syllable. We listened to it several times and became convinced it could not be Duke. It sounded nothing like him. Perhaps Bobby Lee had learned to crow - or maybe we were mistaken about one of the hens?

As it turns out, Duke is going through adolescence and, quite literally, his voice changed overnight. Friday, he sounded like this. Saturday, he suddenly began sounding like this:

Don't you just love watching him gear up for his proud crow? And that crow now sounds a little more like "cock-a-doodle-do". It is music to my ears.

You may also notice that he no longer scares the other chickens with his crow. The hens actually seem quite enamoured with him now, and when he lets out his new sounding crow, several typically crowd around him.

Duke is such a handsome boy. I'm also very pleased to report that even though he is growing up and becoming quite the ladies man, he still remains a mama's boy and will sit on my lap and allow me to love on him for hours.

The chicks seem to change daily. They are feathering out and acting so grown up. Duke and the White Faced Black Spanish chicks have always been the tamest and most comfortable with me, but in the past week or so it seems that all the chicks have gotten a lot less skittish when I enter the coop or the chicken run.

Lucy is..... well, still Lucy. I now call her "Lucy-fer". She continues to challenge all the other chickens and bully them when they come to me for treats or to play. She has gotten very aggressive with her pecking and has managed to remove a mole from my leg and she attempts to remove my fingernails when I'm hand feeding the others. I lift her face up by putting a finger underneath her beak and make her look at me while I scold her, but as soon as I finish, she goes back to what she was originally doing that got her into trouble. I gently thump her chest with my hand when she gets aggressive towards me, but she seems to think that is a game. *sigh* Even though she can truly act like Lucy-fer, she can also be sweet and will always have a special place in my heart. My little runt is growing up - and she's doing it with a vengeance.

We've been busy, busy, busy on the homestead and I'll write more later in the week on that subject. I'll also get some new pictures of the chickens up on the Back to Basic Living website.

I hope you all had a wonderful 4th of July weekend!

Bee Free,

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

And Now.... The Moment We've All Been Waiting For......

I present to you...... Duke the Roo, performing his first public solo:

Is he not the cutest little thing you have ever laid your eyes on? He is so darn proud of himself. I'm proud of him, too. He let out about 15 of those little gems and I caught every one of them on video. But I decided to spare all of you and only show a three second clip for his big debut. By the way - you may notice he is standing all alone in this video. His crowing still scares all the other chicks half to death.

I'll admit, he needs to work on it a little, and he's been practicing his little heart out. Not bad for a little six week old cockerel!

I'm sure you are not nearly as impressed with Duke's new found talent as I am. It reminds me of my first solo in the third grade Glee Club. I sang "All Creatures Great and Small" in front of an auditorium of parents. Certainly the only reason I was chosen to sing a solo is not because of my lovely singing voice. I was the only third grader that would belt out any song I was asked to sing. I was loud. REALLY loud. Our music teacher used me as an example of how to make your voice "carry". And man, did my voice ever carry.

At any rate, when I finished my first solo, the audience wildly applauded. In hindsight, I'm not sure if they enjoyed the song, or were just so darn happy it was finally over. My mother was just beaming. Afterward, she gave me a huge hug and told me several people commented that they had no idea I could sing so well. She was incredibly proud. You would have thought the Angel Gabriel had just come down from heaven above and blessed her with a song from On High. In reality, I'm pretty sure I sounded very much like Duke does right now. But parents have special filters in their ears and eyes, and often don't hear and see things concerning their children quite the way others do.

I think Duke has quite a lovely little crow going on right now. And come to think of it, he does have a Gabriel type quality to his voice......

Bee Free,

Monday, June 30, 2008

Someone is Asking for a Good Old Fashioned Tail Whooping

Lucy, my little White Faced Black Spanish, is really turning into a bit of a bully. She is constantly pecking the snot out of me, dive bombing the other chickens, and lately she's been challenging Duke - a rooster who is easily twice her size. Duke stands up to her, but he doesn't seem to take her too seriously. I've told Lucy that Duke is going to kick her scrawny tail feathers across the chicken yard, but she pays no attention to me whatsoever.

Since Duke found his voice and started crowing, he has really been acting like the alpha rooster. It is really fascinating watching the pecking order take shape in our chicken yard. Interestingly enough, not only do the roosters have a pecking order, but there is a pecking order among the hens as well. As the chickens attempt to work out these social structures, you can imagine the chest bumping, puffing, and challenges that are now routinely occurring.

Bobby Lee is not quite developed enough to make much of an impression as a rooster so, at least for now, the title of alpha rooster belongs to Duke. Lucy is trying her hardest to make a bid for the alpha hen, and by the looks of it, she has a good chance. I haven't really seen any other hen challenge Duke. I suspect if Lucy weren't so darn cute, Duke would have already had her for breakfast.

Here's a short video of Lucy challenging Duke. It's interesting to me that Bobby Lee runs up to watch the whole thing from the side lines. Duke is the big one that takes off after a Silver Leghorn - and then gets challenged by Lucy, the mostly black one. Duke almost trips over those huge feet of his, but recovers in time to stare Lucy down:

I've been following Duke around with a video since Saturday morning when he first crowed. He is camera shy and will not make a peep when I have the camcorder rolling. He crowed this morning as I opened up the coop, but when I grabbed the camcorder he got completely silent. I'm determined to capture it, but it looks like it may take a little bit. While I still believe his first few crows were beautiful Saturday morning, I have to tell you that he seems to have forgotten what he did. He now sounds like he is getting over a bad case of laryngitis. His beautiful "cock-a-doodle" now sounds like "erk-er-ererererk". In his defense, it is still quite loud.

MissPrissy, from Backyard Chickens, posted a recipe for making home made yogurt. I made some yesterday, and I have to tell you this is the BEST yogurt I have ever eaten. I mixed in some of my Raspberry Jam Syrup, and it was wonderful. The recipe is simple and the ingredients are easy to find. If you're interested, check it out. This recipe makes plain, non-flavored yogurt. If you like flavored yogurt, just add a little jam, granola, honey, or whatever you desire.

Bernie is finished with all the fence posts for the front and back yard. Tomorrow he will start stringing the fencing wire. Those rolls of wire are really heavy and difficult to manage. He and Tex made a really cool "spool" for the wire today that should help Bernie a good bit. I'll take pictures of it and post them later this week.

I have a list a mile long of things I need to do this week. I might actually accomplish some of them if I weren't busy following Duke around with a camcorder. I sat with him for over an hour this afternoon before supper, and all he did was sleep on my lap. He is such a little sweetheart - I just wish he's crow for my camcorder dad gummit! I'm sure he sits up all night crowing. And laughing at me.

Bee Free,

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cock-a-Doodle - huh??????

Between four and five weeks old, Duke starting doing this weird thing where he would raise his head high and move his beak in a distinctively cock-a-doodle-do sort of way - but nothing would come out. He would move his beak, but not a sound would escape. Bernie swore he was practicing crowing. At that early age, I had my doubts.

This morning I went and picked some raspberries while Bernie finished putting in his last corner posts for the fence. We finished about the same time, and decided to sit on the front steps and cool off with some ice water. We were watching the chickens peck around, and Bernie said "Did you see that? Duke just tried to crow again." I rolled my eyes, and at exactly that moment, Duke stuck his head high in the air and let out a loud, distinct, and crystal clear "COCK-A-DOODLE...." - and scared the bird poop out of all the hens and himself. They all took off screaming, flying, and running to the other end of the coop. I'm not sure who looked more terrified - the hens or Duke.

I couldn't believe it. His crow was beautiful! It wasn't at all the scratchy, crackling, strangling noise I expected. It wasn't quite a full crow, but he sure nailed the first part of it. Within a just a few moments, he let out another. And then another. COCK-A-DOODLE......

I ran in to get the small camcorder I ordered and received this week. I followed Duke for at least 20 minutes, determined to capture the next crow for you. But he strutted around and pecked around and was as quiet as a church mouse the entire time.

We haven't heard him crow again today. But I have to tell you, those three little crows changed his life. He's been strutting around all day long. And he's been challenging the hens and Bobby Lee more than ever. He is really quite proud of himself. It seems to me the girls are paying a lot more attention to him as well.

As silly as it sounds, Bernie and I are really proud of Duke. The boy is crowing at six weeks old! And he's so dad gum handsome and sweet. He is honestly everything I could have hoped for in a rooster - at least at this young age.

I'll get some pictures of all the chicks posted in the next couple of days. I was going to wait to write about this until I had the pictures ready, but I am so excited, I just had to let y'all know.

By the way, I'm working on adding some canning information and pictures on the Back to Basic Living Website. I hope to have the pages up within the next week. I've water bath canned several jars of Raspberry Jam and Raspberry Syrup - and I took some pictures of the process to share on the website.

I'll write more in the next day or so. I hope to capture Duke crowing on the camcorder so I can share it with you. I'm just certain you'll be as impressed with the boy as I am.

Bee Free,

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jammin' - and Running Free

Our wild raspberries are really starting to come in. They've got a few more days before the majority ripen up, but seeing a handful of ripe raspberries was enough to make us risk the brambles we had to wade through to pick them. We only ended up with about 1/2 a pound, and I decided to make a jar of Raspberry Jam out of them. Bernie doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, but he can't resist many things made of fruit. He likes to put his jam over a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Yes, I know that sounds weird, but honestly, you should try it. It's wonderful!

So for those of you with berries that always wanted to know how to make jam, I'm going to share the recipe for the most simple jar of jam you will ever make.

1/2 pound Berries
1 cup of Sugar

Pour the sugar over the berries and gently stir the mixture. Let it sit for about 15 minutes or so. Then heat the whole thing on low heat until the sugar melts, stirring the entire time. Once it gets soupy, turn your heat up to high and stir as it boils for about 5 minutes - or until it gets thick. Turn the heat off and pour your jam into a clean, sterile jar.

Now you have berry jam. There are several ways to make jam, but this is probably the easiest. If you have a lot of berries, you may want to use a recipe that adds pectin to reduce the amount of time you spend over the stove. But for a small amount, it will only take you 5 minutes or so. 1/2 pound of berries makes less than 1 pint of jam, so I didn't mess around with canning it since that small amount won't last long around here. Several of you wrote that you would like to see a webpage on the Back to Basic Living website on the basics of canning, and I will start working on that in the next week or two, as more berries come in. I typically water bath can all of my fruit and sometimes tomatoes, and pressure can anything else.

Here's a picture of the jam over a bowl of ice cream:


I have to tell you, I almost didn't post that picture. It reminds me of bird poop over ice cream. I think it's all the seeds. If you are really turned off by seeds in your jam, you can smoosh the berries through a sieve first. But I'm going to warn you - it's going to take a lot more berries that way. There is very little fruit around each of those little seeds. But it's your choice. Personally, I can get past the bird poop looking jam.....

The chicks are doing great. They were five weeks old yesterday. Friday afternoon Bernie and I let them out in the chicken yard for the evening. They loved it. They ran around eating everything they could get their little beaks on. They flew and ran and played and challenged each other. It was really a hoot watching them. It took me a while to get them all inside as darkness was settling, but it was worth it.

This weekend I let them out in the chicken yard at 6:30 each morning. They are really loving being outside. We check on them every few minutes, and they are doing fine. They pretty much ignore me when I go into the chicken yard to sit with them, but I just chalk it up to the excitement of being outside. To compensate, I don't let them out in the mornings until they eat out of my hands, jump on me, and act like they still love me. Then I open their little chicken door and they go outside and act like I have cooties.

They are really getting big and starting to look like miniature chickens. Bernie says my chickens are way prettier than any five week old chickens he's ever seen. I absolutely agree with him. Duke is starting to cluck already. I love the little peep-peep noises they make, but the clucking is pretty exciting. Here's a picture of Duke - not a great one because I chopped off his beak in the picture, but it really shows off his comb and his developing waddles, and his size compared to the Silver Leghorn he's standing next to:


Dad gum, that's a good looking boy! Here's a picture of the only other rooster I think (*hope*) we have. His name is Bobby Lee. He's a Phoenix and, although not as developed as Duke, quite handsome in his own right:


Look at that boy strutting around. I sure am proud to have such good looking boys. I really hope they get along and stay sweet. I just can't bare to think of one of them ending up on the table. I've tried to be delicate and casually mention that to both of them on a couple of occasions. Let's hope they are listening.

Not only are the boys good looking, but the girls are so pretty now. They've filled out and feathered out and just fill me with pride. I put several new pictures of the chicks up on the Back to Basic Living website.

Oh - and I finally learned to tell the Phoenix's from the Silver Leghorn's! The Phoenix's have slate colored legs, and the Silver Leghorn's have yellow legs. It took an awful lot of googling to figure that out! I sure am relieved though. I don't know why, but it is, for some reason, important to me.

The chicks are great. Bernie and I are great. Elvis and Priscilla are tolerating all the greatness. Life is good on the homestead.

Bee Free,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Those Steaks Would Tempt a Bear

We've been busy on the homestead since I last wrote, and I honestly can't tell you what we've been doing. The past week has been a blur of activity. We spent the weekend moving stuff into and organizing our sheds. My garden shed now contains everything pertaining to gardening and caring for chickens, and Bernie's workshop barn shed now contains everything pertaining to... well.... workshop stuff. So now, when I need a hammer, rather than searching under the kitchen sink, the garage, the sea container, or any number of other places, I can go right into Bernie's barn shed and know I'll find a hammer. The truth is, when I need a hammer I typically grab a shoe. But it brings Bernie joy to envision me needing a hammer and going to his barn shed and finding it there - and then actually using the hammer instead of a shoe. So let's just pretend that's exactly what I'll do.

Yesterday was Bernie's birthday. Yay! Happy Birthday, Bernie! We decided to grill a couple of nice steaks to celebrate, and afterwards, being the wonderful wife that I am, I did the dishes all by myself while he relaxed and informed me how I wasn't doing them right.

A side note to the wives out there - Ladies, never relinquish your kitchen to your husband under the delusion that life will be grand with him cooking and doing dishes for you. Not if you ever plan to step foot into your kitchen again. He will take over and you will never be able to live up to his expectations in the kitchen again.

After we ate and relaxed a bit, I went in to brush my teeth around 8PM. In the middle of it, Bernie walked into the bathroom and said "There's a bear at the compost pile." I quickly wiped my face and ran into the living room to look out the window. Sure enough, there was a bear at the compost pile. He was sitting on his rear with his legs in front of him, just staring at the compost. I ran in to get my camera, and when I got back he was standing up sniffing at the compost:


He only stayed there a few seconds, and then started to walk off. Then he stopped and stared at us in the window:


And then he made a beeline for the grill we had left outside to cool off:


We've only left the grill outside overnight one time - and we awoke to the sound of bears knocking it over and getting into it in the middle of the night. We don't leave it outside overnight any more. So when we saw the bear heading towards the grill last night, Bernie decided enough was enough. He walked outside and clapped his hands and yelled something like "Hey Bear! Hey Bear!" and the bear quickly high tailed it right on out of the yard:


Bernie decided the grill was cool enough and promptly locked it inside the shed.

The chicks turned four weeks old last Saturday. I took pictures this afternoon so I can show you how big they are getting. Their feathers are coming in beautifully. Between four and six weeks, I understand that I should be able to identify the roosters. Their combs should be larger and pinker than the hens, among several other things. I put several pictures up on the Back to Basic Living website, and a few of them show the differences between hens and what I believe are my roosters. Even if I'm wrong, the pictures are darn cute, so check them out anyway.

Here's a picture of either a Phoenix or a Silver Leghorn. Although I can see difference in the two now, I still can not tell which is which. They are both good looking birds though!


This here is a picture of a Phoenix/Leghorn on the left, and a Penciled Hamburg on the right:


The Hamburgs are beautiful chicks and the picture does not do their feather colors any justice. While they remain the most skittish, they really are pretty and friendly, if I don't make any sudden movements.

And here's Duke the Big Roo:


That boy is huge. Just get a load of the size of those feet! He's the only one that I make certain I pick up each time I enter the coop. He is obviously a very large rooster and I am determined to establish that I have the upper hand with him. He protested a bit at first, but he's coming around and actually comes running to me when I sit down, even knowing that he will get picked up. You may also notice that his comb is quite large and quite pink. I'm sure I don't have to mention how incredibly good looking that boy is.

Lucy, Amelia, Echo, and the other Black Spanish are doing just fine. I tried to get pictures of them, but they spend most of their time on my shoulders or head, so that complicated matters a bit. I think I did manage to get one or two pictures of them and put them up on the website. I don't want to bog your computer down with many more pictures on this blog entry. Lucy is no longer the runt. She has really grown and is feathering out very nicely. She's still full of spunk and doesn't take anything off anyone. She's always been one tough little bird. I'm sure that's exactly what helped her survive. I often question how many of the other chicks will survive if they tick her off and face her wrath. She has quite a little temper.

We have lots of activity here on the homestead. Vegetables are coming in, chickens are growing, bears are visiting, and stuff is getting accomplished. There's never a dull moment around here. I kind of like it that way.

Bee Free,

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hot Time in Chicken Town

With the record breaking temperatures we've had around here lately, I've really been worried about the chicks getting hot in the coop. I tried putting a fan in one of the windows, but all that seemed to do was pull in piping hot air from outside and swirl it around a little. The coop temperature stayed near 100 degrees during the day. I finally decided to take a clean kitty litter box, fill it with pine chips, and pour cold water over it to moisten the chips and stick the whole thing on the floor of the coop to see if the chicks showed any interest. They loved it! They would wiggle their bodies into the chips and lay there with little smiles on their faces. Here's a picture of Lucy after her Wet Chip Spa treatment:


She was so pleased with herself that I didn't have the heart to tell her she looked like Phylis Diller. Look at Amelia checking out Lucy's wet and funky tail feathers. I'm pretty sure I heard her laughing. If you decide to try the wet chip box for your chickens, be sure to change it out every day. You don't even want to know what water, chips, and chicken poo smells like after about 24 hours......

We finally got the chicken yard completely finished. It now has a fence around it and a shrimp net over top of it. We also added chicken wire to the bottom of the coop so that they can't get under there and I don't have to spend countless hours retrieving ornery chickens from underneath of it.


Sunday afternoon we decided to open the chicken door and see if anyone wanted to come out into the new chicken yard. Several were intrigued with the idea, but for a good long while, we had no takers. This was about the extent of their curiosity:


After about an hour, we were just getting ready to close up and call it quits, when Big Roo Duke jumped down into the yard and starting eating ants like there was no tomorrow:


Encouraged that Duke was feeling adventurous, I was certain the others would soon be joining him and we'd have 23 chicks happily pecking and strutting about the chicken yard. I was certain, being flock animals, they would all stay together and not attempt to escape through the fence wire. At least this is what I had hoped and what I wanted the chickens to do. But chickens don't do what I want them to do. They have their own agenda, and it has precious little to do with mine. I live with cats, so you would think I'd be used to having my wishes ignored and expect it. But I didn't. And this is the part where everything went wrong.

In my excitement of seeing Duke happily eating ants in the yard, I decided to go inside and get a couple of adult beverages for Bernie and me to enjoy while watching our little balls of fluff. But when I left the chicken yard, Duke completely freaked out. He began running around emitting a high volume distress call. I didn't know this until Bernie told me upon my return - and I could hear Duke's screams and see him hiding underneath the steps. I squatted down to talk to Duke in a soothing voice and he bolted toward the fence and began throwing his body at the two inch spaces between the wires on the fence. Honestly, Duke is huge and there was no way I would have ever imagined he could possibly squish his fat body between those wires. But just as I reached for him, he sucked in his gut and jammed himself through the wires and popped out on the other side and headed for the woods. Just that fast.

Lordy. I don't think you need all the details to imagine how panicked I was - or how panicked Duke was. Bernie remained calm through the entire ordeal. He closed up the coop to keep the others inside as I tore around the woods trying to catch Duke. Duke may be fat, but he's short, and that worked in his favor while maneuvering through brambles and fallen trees and limbs. While I am short, it did not have the same effect for me. By the time I caught Duke my arms and legs were scratched and bleeding and I had as much of the Phylis Diller hair thing going on as little Lucy did, due to the branches that grabbed it as I plowed through the woods.

We returned Duke to the coop and I promptly informed everyone that one bad apple spoils the whole bunch and there would be no more outings for quite some time. As I left the coop, I saw several of the girls give Duke the High Five.

I ended up putting chicken wire over the coop door opening so I can open the door during the day to allow more air in the coop without allowing any chicks to go out in the yard. They are only three weeks old, so going outside unsupervised is not going to happen. Actually, thanks to Duke's shenanigans, going outside at all is not going to happen for a little while longer.

By the way, I put up several pictures on the Back to Basic Living website. At three weeks old, the chicks have entered their "teenage" years and, although still adorable, they are looking quite gangly. They are flying around the coop with great confidence, and can get up to roosts and windows with ease. They seem to enjoy using me as a launch pad and make quite a game of flying up to my shoulders or head and then dive bombing unsuspecting chicks on the ground.

We've been busy with other things on the homestead as well. The tomatoes are starting to form and other vegetable plants are blooming. Raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are in here in abundance this year. Even Peachy is loaded down with a fair amount of fruit. Hopefully Mother Nature won't have any surprises for us and we'll be canning a lot in a few months. If you would be interested in learning about canning, drop me a note. If there is enough interest, I will put a page on the Back to Basic Living website dedicated to the basics of canning.

I know I've spent a lot of time talking chickens with you for the past few weeks. The addition of the chickens, along with the vegetable gardens and other activities, brings us closer to our homesteading goals of achieving more self reliance. Although it is still a few months away, we will soon be eating fresh eggs and the chickens will be free-ranging for a large portion of their meals.

So, here we are - homesteading with our chickens. And I'm sure you could homestead without chickens. I'm just not sure why you would want to.

Bee Free,

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Cooped Up

The chicks have been in their coop for 5 full days, and they seem to have handled it quite well - in spite of the many thunderstorms and power outages we've had. I, on the other hand, have been a nervous wreck. I suppose I've gotten so used to waking up and checking on them through the night that I am now having difficulty sleeping without waking up and worrying about them. I went out at all hours of the night to check on them the first 4 nights, only to find them perfectly safe and sound - and maybe even a little annoyed that I awoke them. Last night I was determined to sleep through the night and NOT check on them - only to wake at 2AM and toss and turn for over an hour. *sigh* I am certain this should be harder on them than it is on me....

Honestly, I can see those chicks grow every day. They are getting so big. They are now entering their "teens" and looking a little gangly. Down is being replaced by feathers - and it's happening quite sporadically on their bodies. But they are still just as cute as little buttons, and I still love them to pieces.

The White Faced Black Spanish chicks remain the most friendly, in spite of everything I've read about them. They routinely meet me at the coop door and are always the first to eat out my hand when I sit down with them. Lucy was busy staring at herself in the mirror for this picture, but here are the other three:


Amelia figured out how to get to the roosts within a few hours of being in the coop. There are three tiers to the roosts, and I've seen her on the second tier several times already:


Several others have finally figured out the roosts, too - but they can only sit on it as long as Amelia allows. Once she figures out they are up there, she flies up and chases everyone else off. These two snuck up when she wasn't looking:


This is the one confirmed rooster so far. I've named him Duke. He's probably twice the size of all the others and incredibly calm and very friendly - and all the girls seem to like him. He's hot in this picture and spreading out his wings to cool a little:


That's a good lookin' boy right there!

I put a mirror in the brooder with them when I first got them, and they really seemed to like it, so I moved it out to coop for them to play with. I've got to be honest - I think Lucy has a problem. She is completely obsessed with her reflection in the mirror. It's down right embarrassing! I find her sleeping with her little face pressed against her reflection. I am not kidding. In this picture she is plum wore out from pecking at her reflection and fighting off the other chicks that tried to get to the mirror. She's the one in the front:


I should also mention that Lucy is developing quite nicely and has really grown a great deal. She's still very tiny, but she doesn't take any crap off anyone. The chicks are busy establishing dominance amongst themselves, and chest bumping is becoming quite frequent. Usually when chicks bump chests, they make eye contact until one of them backs down and walks away. Unless the whole chest bumping thing involves Lucy. When chicks bump Lucy's chest, she pecks the crap out of them and they take off running. She may be tiny, but she will jack them up in two seconds flat.

I'm including this last picture for those of you that have never had chicks and may plan to get them. When chicks get sleepy, they go to sleep. Not after they find a comfortable place to crash, and not when they curl up and settle down - I mean they go to sleep RIGHT NOW. I am used to it now, but when they were just a day or two old it would absolutely panic me. I was convinced they were dying and rush them to the CICU. I'm pretty sure every chick I have ended up in CICU at one time or another for looking sleepy. If you look at this picture I took this afternoon, you may understand why:


Notice how they sprawl out and lay all....well....dead looking?? That's how baby chicks sleep when they are plum tuckered. I wish someone had warned me about that. So do my chicks.

As you can see, the chicks are doing just fine. They are growing and changing and getting more sweet and tame each day. They are almost three weeks old, and I really can not imagine my life without them. Although a good night's sleep is something I dream about.

Bee Free,

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Empty Nest

Before the chicks even got here, I had decided that I would remove them from the brooder and put them inside their coop when they were two weeks old. At two weeks, chicks can regulate their own body temperature and wouldn't require the constant attention I knew I would have to lavish on them the first 14 days. After I got the chicks, I began to question whether or not I would be willing to tolerate the 50 foot distance between the coop and me. I've quickly grown extremely attached to these little peepers and find comfort in looking in on them at all hours of the day and night.

Well, the past few days sealed the deal. It had gotten to the point that I could not even open the lid on the brooder to play with them without one of them attempting to fly out - namely our First Woman in Flight around here, Amelia. I also noticed they were all trying to fly inside their tiny brooder and I came to realize they would be much happier with the additional space the coop would provide. So, with no small amount of sadness, we moved our little babies to the big coop today.

Before I post the pictures of the chicks, I should probably show you the coop. We finished up painting the trim and will get the chicken yard fenced in within the next week or so. The chicks won't be going outside until the fence is completed and covered with a shrimp net my uncle gave me to keep out chicken hawks and other predators from above:


As difficult as the thought of moving the chicks to the coop was, it was even more difficult to catch all of them and put them in the box for transport. Their discovery of flight did not help any at all. But I got 23 terrified chicks into a box and carried them out to the coop. I sat on the floor and removed each from the box and each one ran over to the furthest corner from me and huddled in absolute terror. Get a load of Amelia in this picture (upper left), Prairie Doggin' her head above all the others and staring at me:


That picture cracks me up. The White Faced Black Spanish are the most alert of the group. At any rate, they were acting so scared that I was just about to chalk the whole thing up to a terrible mistake, load them all back up in the box, and take them back in the house to the brooder when little Lucy broke away from the rest and headed right over to me. For the tiniest, she sure is the bravest. When the others saw her courage, they started moving towards me too. They began pecking at the ground and scratching and looking a lot more relaxed. Lucy found a little clump of grass mixed in with the pine chips:


Bernie and I left them to explore for a while. I went back out about 30 minutes later, and they were running around chasing each other, flapping their little wings and attempting flight, scratching like crazy, and just seemed to be having the time of their life. I've been out several times this afternoon to sit with them a while, and they are really enjoying that coop. Lucy found a little, tiny spider and nailed it on the second peck! They all seem much more happy with this arrangement than I am. I will really miss having them right under my nose 24 hours a day.

I put additional pictures up on the Chicken Coop Deville page of the website.

So we have an empty nest here, but the chicks seem to really love their new digs. The coop is built solid and is certainly safe from any predators. Their heat lamp is on and should keep them at the 80 degrees they're accustomed to.

I'm a little sad, but it really makes me happy watching them run and fly and play. I hope they'll miss me, just a little. I'd hate to think I'd raised a bunch of ungrateful little peeps.

Bee Free,