We’ve enjoyed the chickens and everything they have been doing for the homestead and of course all the fresh eggs. We knew that the first hens we got should be slowing down their egg laying so we made moves to go ahead and pick out the next layers for us.
We were pretty pleased with the last batch of meat birds we got from McMurray Hatchery and decided to use them again for the new round of hens. We love having the variety of colors and sizes of our current flock but ultimately went with a variety of brown egg layers with large/extra large eggs. We figure that will be the most bang for our buck.
We used our tried and true method of keeping them in a big plastic tote. They are on wood chips and we have a cover with a heat lamp or 2. They have plenty of room while they are bitty and we can keep them close by.
Once they get bigger and older, they go into the brooder box, on the porch, with a heat lamp for a little bit. The brooder got an upgrade this year with a fancy, bright green paint job. We needed to protect the wood and get some more use out of the box and this paint was the right price for the job.
We got them ordered just in time too. During the winter, the flock was down to laying just a few eggs a day. Once spring hit, they all started up again but then we noticed our oldest hens had slowed down a lot. They had been awesome layers for us but we wanted to keep up the higher level of egg production.
Once they outgrow the brooder box, they take a turn in the pen addition to the barn. They get more room to grow and can take advantage of garden scraps, just like the big hens.
We’re looking forward to them being good layers for us and having egg production high again.
The layout of our property has two really good garden spots that are about 25ftx50ft. They are near the bottom of the property. We have a third one that is on a hillside that is the same size and it is ok. The sweet potatoes loved it and we got a few watermelons. We are hoping a year or two with chickens on it will improve it .
We tried a spot on top of the little hill next to the orchard, for about 2 years but both years it failed or the wind got too bad up there and it destroyed everything that grew.
So we planted more fruit trees in that area so we would not be tempted to use it again. It works out well, because the very top of the hill doesn’t seem to like the orchard trees lots and this gave us lots more room to expand.
With the three garden spots, we are rotating our chickens to a new spot each year. So we really only have two a year we can plant on.
There is a spot between where the grapes start and the herb bed that could work. It is on a slight hill , and will be shaded the first hours of the day. So while it isn’t ideal, it’s what we have at the moment. Maybe it can be for lettuces or a long term bed for asparagus.
Eventually after the house is built and we know where all the water lines will we can have more options on where to put garden spots.
We’re still very happy with our process of using the chickens to improve the soil. It’s about as natural as you can get and while it does take some time, we love getting the eggs and just enjoy the chickens.
We got the new spot tilled up. Going to plant it this year. Will be interesting to see this year compared to the next when the chickens have had time on it.
2019 was a good year for the blackberries. Unfortunately, we lost 2 plants so blackberries will be in very limited supply in 2020. We also lost 2 blueberry bushes. The ones remaining look pretty healthy and do have some fruit on them. Hopefully we can get a few before the deer or other critters eat them.
2020 saw the first time the peaches really started to bloom. It almost seemed like too many for their first year so we made sure to pinch off at least every other fruit, before they got too big. Sadly, this was a year of a late frost, right before Mother’s Day. It really wrecked the peaches. They all split and seemed like they were oozing their sugars. They basically stopped growing and stayed rotting slowly on the branch. We’ve been giving them to the chickens though and they seem to like the treat.
One of the pear trees did great! We got so many pears! They are not the prettiest pears but they tasted good.
We had a few little apples on one tree. We had several turn red but stay the size of a golf ball. We also have some issues with cedar rust on the apple trees. We’re still holding out for the apples to start producing. They could do with another year or two of growing before they really start producing.
It seems like were losing a different pear tree. We had another apple tree there the first year and had to replace it.
We’re figuring the highest part of the property maybe just isn’t a good location for the fruit trees. We’re not sure if it’s too windy or maybe all the nutrients in the soil run downhill and nothing good stays at the top. Also, a power line runs along the back edge and the county periodically comes out to spray under the lines to keep the plants down. Of course, we can’t tell the herbicide to skip over our trees so they certainly get some of that exposure.
The net moves quickly which with the rotational chicken grazing plan. That is why we bought it .
The chickens enjoyed the move, at least we didn’t hear anyone complain, and within an hour the net and charger was set up and the chickens were in their new home.
With three 25ft by 50ft beds they have plenty of work to do . The plan again is to let them stay on one garden bed and plant on the other 2. With only doing this on one plot so far, we are already seeing improvement in our plants.
As you can see the chickens are already fast at work . Only a month in and they have already picked everything they wanted.
The only thing left for us to do is go in and knock down the things they did not want and then to start giving scraps, wood chips, and give them a compost pile to work .
The garden results this year were fantastic. We planted two sections – one that had the chickens on it for 6 months and one that only had compost spread by us on it. The chicken prepped garden grew over twice as fast and produced ten times the vegetables. We knew it would help, but the level of success was even more than expected.
With the limited land we have getting ten times more out of the same space just makes sense.
As you can see, it is time for the chickens to move again, to till this plot up and let us get to planting!
Once the barn expansion was done we started plans to do our first batch of Meat Chickens.
We ordered Cornish Cross, online from Murray McMurray Hatchery.
Chicks showed up happy and healthy with zero losses.
We ended up with 27 and did have one loss as an adult , and the rest went to the freezer.
It was an enjoyable process. They go from hatched to freezer in about 60 days so that is a lot of growing to do in a short time. We would like to add a way for them to be on grass to help the feed bill, but that will come in the future.
There were not as easy to process as rabbits, but pretty close. It is nice to have variety in the freezer.
As we said we ended up putting 26 in the freezer, with an average weight of 6lbs and a total weight of over 150lbs processed. The smallest was 3lbs 14 oz and the largest was just over 8 lbs!
After we have been eating these , it will be hard to every go back to store bought chicken again.
Almost as soon as we nailed the last board on the barn redo, we started planning a barn expansion .
We had talked about doing a round of meat chickens and needed a place to put them. We talked about putting them in the electric netting set up like our egg layers, but the place we like to purchase from were out of stock.
So because it is never a bad thing to have another pen area to lock stuff up in, we decided to build one.
The left hand side of the barn had enough space for what we were after.
The barn made it easier by already having one wall up, so we just dug the holes and made it semi level.
We went with the metal around the bottom just like the rest of the barn. We like the look and it helps with splash up form the rain stopping eventually rotting boards. Around the top was easy with some fencing wrapped around. The roof we put up the same clear panels as the green house and used some tin we had taken off the barn to give more light in the rabbit area.
Lined the inside of the bottom with rocks, to make it harder for anything to scratch out or dig in. Finished the floor with wood chips, added a door big enough for a wheelbarrow and it was ready for chickens.
We raised out 25 Cornish cross in the pen without much trouble. Only had one loss towards the end , not sure what happened. After processing we had over 150 lbs of meat in the freezer.
In the future we might do a round of ducks or maybe turkeys in the addition, we prefer to raise them on grass which will be the plan, but its nice to have a place to lock them up if need be.
The bonus is the deep bedding that is being broken down by having the animals in there, all the plants on the homestead will benefit from it.
We originally got chickens for the eggs and improvement of our garden plots with rotational grazing. We also knew we would end up with some roosters in the mix for the freezer. We had no idea how many , which we covered in a previous post.
The chickens were doing so good, we even got a second batch to replace the roosters and build the ranks. We are loving the eggs ( so are our friends and family) and how easy they are to take care of.
We also loved that where we kept them for the past year is now a beautiful garden. Years prior to the chickens we couldn’t get anything to grow there. Now it is our best looking garden so far this year.
With all the benefits, it was an easy decision to get more this year .
So we got 10 Ameraucana chicks locally. Trying to add some color to the egg basket. They did great moving from our brooder, to our chicken/ rabbit tractor. Moved in with the additional flock with little trouble (once we removed the 4 roosters out of new batch.
We have absolutely enjoyed the chickens and their role on the homestead. Watching them peck and scratch is a great way to spend some time. Their benefits to the soil can’t be denied. If you can do only one thing a year around your place, we highly recommend chickens.
The first year we grew potatoes, they were in stacked tires. To be more precise, we TRIED to grow them. Sweet potatoes did pretty good, but everything else just turned into marble size things that would not soften even if boiled an hour.
Last year we tried to plant them traditionally in rows and had even less success. Now we are realizing that our soil needs more work than we thought, the chickens and rabbits are helping with that, but was still the overall issue we believe. The plants did great, but nothing happened underground.
This year we decided to try a different approach . Talking to friends who had had some success, we just tilled a plot. Put the potatoes on the ground and covered in hay.
Super easy , our concerns were are all the heavy storms matting down the hay as fast as we put it on there, and ants. We have all the ants, so if you are missing any, we have them. They are some of our best producers, unfortunately.
We ended up getting about a wheel barrow full. Excited to try this method again. The only thing we would change is make sure the ground under is tilled better. Even though they are planted “on top” of the ground , we found they stopped shallow because of the lack of tilling.
We saw a local park offering a class on mushroom logs and the idea really took hold. We figured it ought to be easy enough and we really like eating them. Mushrooms would be a good addition to the homestead.
The class was good, gave us some good information and then we got our own logs to inoculate with mushroom spore. We learned that hard woods are the best. You drill a hole in and pack the sawdust mushroom spore mixture in it and seal with wax. Then let it sit and grow!
The class gave us shiitake mushrooms for our demo log and we got some oyster mushrooms to try at home.
We ended up using some Bradford Pear logs from a tree that came down in a storm. This isn’t a hard wood tree but the timing was too good to ignore it.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get mushrooms from any of these logs. We’re not sure if it’s the wrong wood that was used, the wrong wax or maybe even too much wax.
Our demo logs finally did make mushrooms but they were not shiitake. They maybe got too hot or too dried out. I think we’ll try it again eventually but we’ll need to try and really set up an ideal location. Maybe we can try one of the box kits before trying logs again.
Let us know if you’ve had any success growing your own mushrooms, in the comments below. We’d love to hear about what worked or didn’t work for you.