New Chicks

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.

Chicken move timeline

With getting ready to garden, a large part of that was getting the chickens ready to move. With the easy coop we built. Read more about it, below.

Chicken Coop

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!

Meat Chickens

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.

More chickens

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.

Trying potatoes again

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.

 

Trying to grow mushrooms!

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.

Holes drilled for spore capsules
All filled
Sealed with wax
Stacked on pallets to get air circulation

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.

2020 Garden

I think we can all agree 2020 has been an interesting year so far. Lots going on around the world and around the homestead.

We started seeds in February like usual, but did not get them planted until nearly the middle of May. The weather here just stayed wet, and could not till up the garden in the mud.

Then the weekend after we planted, had two nights of historic frost for our area. Looks like we should have waited even longer to get them in the ground. We will certainly keep that in mind for next year.

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We ended up having around 125 plants to cover with pots. We got several of those from a last minute run to a dollar store. Cleaned them out of 31 pots! They’ll get put to use later for transplanting as seeds start to outgrow their starter block.

Our lettuce bed we covered in a tarp as the bed itself is a little set in the ground. Lots of the more tolerant plants just got some hay spread around them.

Most things made it, more than we would have thought. Some decisions had to be made, and some plants did not get the best cover. We have had a few die but that is part of gardening anyway. No one anticipated a frost right before Mother’s Day.

We did not change much in the garden this year. We worked on getting more proficient at what we are already doing. We invested into more of the black fabric we had so much success with last year. This year instead of skipping rows we decided to cover it all and torch holes on where we wanted to plant. Took more time upfront but is already proving to save us time weeding. We even did the corn plot the same way, but a storm the very next night ripped up all the paper. So now its just a wait to see where corn pops up so we can weed around it. No way we could have gotten the paper back down exactly lining the holes up to where we already planted.

One exciting difference this year is we have so much lettuce!

We are pretty sure we can thank the farm cats for that. They are doing a great job of keeping the rodent and rabbit population down.

The only real new things we added this year were some GIGANTIC pumpkins for fun, a new cucumber variety we wanted to try, and eggplant. Oh yeah, and a beet variety. We’re also trying potato and sweet potato again this year.

So far we have had plenty of rain and not enough sunshine but we will see. Hope all of your gardens are doing just as well or better!

Anyone planting anything new this year?

Favorite Dishes from the Garden: Squash

One of the fun things our first few years of growing our own food taught us was how to get creative with meal time.

When you’re looking at your 12th consecutive day of having yellow squash for dinner, you want to spice things up – literally and figuratively!

We’ve got the fried squash down perfectly. In fact, it’s usually requested by the June birthday girl since its the best thing.

Sadly though, we can’t live off fried squash so we started looking at other flavors we liked and tried them with squash.

One of the earliest attempts was squash pickles.

They were a start but not really a meal.

One of us got to craving pizza but this mound of produce kept staring at us. We then had the idea of taking some of the bigger squash and turning them into pizza boats!

This was a great way to use up the larger squash that weren’t as tender as the smaller ones but are still just as delicious. We also cooked these on the grill since it’s just too hot to run the oven in the house.

We took 2 good sized squash and cleaned and prepped them. They were washed, cut in half and the insides scooped out for either the compost pile or chickens.

They were seasoned with salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder, as well as since Italian seasoning, since we’re making pizzas, after all. We drizzled with olive oil and set cut side down on the pre-lit grill over medium heat for about 6 to 7 minutes. Try to avoid any burning at this step. It’s not a yummy taste.

After that, flip the squash over so the skin can cook and so that the pizza toppings can get started. We used some ready made pizza sauce but of course homemade will be just as good. Spoon 2 to 3 spoonfuls then start layering in toppings. Pre-cooked Italian sausage or ground beef , pepperoni slices, basically any protein that you like on a pizza goes great here. Then some veggies. We love mushrooms so those were a given. Peppers, onions, spinach would all be great too. Top with any kind of mild, easy melting cheese like provolone or mozzarella and a little more Italian seasoning. Return to the grill and finish off for about another 4 to 5 minutes or until the squash is fork tender and the toppings are melted and bubbling slightly.

Cool for a couple minutes and then dig in!

We also a squash hamburger bun and even squash “mac and cheese”.

We used our own frozen squash, cut into slices and then halved. They went right into a pot to cook in their own juices from frozen. A little salt and pepper to season.

After the squash had cooked through, we lightly drained it and added a can of cheese soup. Just a splash of milk was used to thin the soup. Not much was needed since there was so much liquid from the squash. From there, we seasoned to taste and were ready to dig in!

The squash mac was in pretty heavy rotation because it is so easy and tastes good too.

Do you have any squash recipes we need to try? Any other twists on a favorite that we missed? Share in the comments and let us know!

2019 wrap up

Little late with the wrap up post on 2019, which is about perfect because 2019 seemed to be the year of being a little late.

Just as with any place there was several successes and failures on the Homestead.

Greenhouse was finished and worked great for the head start on spring planting.

We also got to experiment with putting down black ground cover, which we liked and will be getting more for the future gardens.

Wild rabbits did eat at least 50% of what we planted, but the greenhouse worked.

We started breeding rabbits on the homestead, took it slowly but did successfully raise and process three litters.

Our first group of chicks had zero losses. We bought 3 different breeds and supposedly no roosters. Ended up with entirely different breeds and six roosters. So surprise for us we also got to do our first rooster harvest in 2019.

Bought 6 more chickens to replace the rooster fiasco this time they were all hens, but again not the breed we thought we were purchasing. They lay eggs though, so we are calling it a win.

Also, we started getting eggs!!

We were able to finish the barn and immediately started planning an expansion …. Might get to that this year.

Planted a few more trees and bushes, but to be completely honest we did not take care of the ones we already have. The blackberries were taken over by weeds, the blueberries were all eaten by something. Even had a plum tree that was real dead before we noticed. Strawberries grew, but they did not have much flavor, so they were mostly ignored for the rest of the year.

Berries and orchard have to be more of a priority this year.

Fall garden was non existent. We started some seeds, but it stayed into the high 90s all the way into October, then rained for what seemed like a month. We probably could have still planted, but just got disgusted by it and took the fall off garden wise. We did a small raised area for cabbage and another for carrots.

Land clearing we did not do much. Really just maintaining what we had already cleared. Bandit, the farm dog, uses the brush line as his boundary. We really dont want to get rid of that boundary without the fencing to keep him in. Money was not in the budget in 2019 for what we needed, so nothing additional got cleared.

House building we did a lot more planning, over planning, and then planning it to death. 2020 something tangible has to happen with the house. The trailer is slowly falling apart and still not worth putting any money into fixing.

We will do a future post on plans for 2020 as of now the top 5 are (we know this will probably change several times.)

  1. Start on a house – actually for real get started
  2. Raise more rabbits/ chickens for the freezer.
  3. Add to / take care of orchard.
  4. Barn expansion.
  5. Start nut trees

Hopefully in 2020 we can get more accomplished, which I think that is the goal every year. Still loving the adventure!

What’s something else we could work on for 2020? Let us know what you think! Drop us a comment!

Chicken Coop

For a more permanent house for the chickens, we needed a coop. Looking online there were of course thousands of options. We took parts of what we liked from each and got started.

Built it a little off the ground to help deter predators (the electric netting hopefully is the real defense). Made the floor with one inch hardware cloth to help keep it clean. Winters generally are not bad here in TN but if it gets a real cold snap, hay or even wood planks can easily be put on the bottom.

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The sides and the roof were easy. It is just a box. Made the back where it opens for a bigger cleaning when needed. Put a smaller box out on one side with roof that opens with 3 nesting boxes. As usual they only use one really, but they are there.

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The lid on the top and nesting box is some of the same sheets used for the green house , if you have not seen that post go check it out. This time we went with a darker sheeting but still lets in plenty of light during the day.

Had some paint left over from another project so the coop got painted purple. We like the color and it looks good on the green run area. Not that it stays green long with hungry chickens on it daily. The chickens have not complained about the color, as of yet.

The chickens have been using the coop for months now with no issues. The first group of 12 , 6 ended up as being roosters so it was freezer camp for 5 of them. We got 6 more as replacement. They ended up not being the breed we expected, but they are chickens and lay eggs so it works.

Going to be keeping a laying flock of no more than 12 at a time. They will only be using the coop at night and possibly bad weather, so there is plenty of space for them. They are all about a year old now and still the 12 do not take up even half the space at night.

Here are our first eggs!

We consider the coop a success but there are a few things we would have done different.

  1. The frame itself needs more support, on uneven ground it shifts to the point it is hard to open / close the big back panel
  2. Would build the nesting boxes without the seam at the top , which constantly leaks. Not an issue for effectiveness, but is going to cause an issue with longevity and have to be replaced soon.
  3. Make it more movable. This is something we still will do (open to suggestions!). Moving the coop around the property is not easy as it should be. Debating on wheels, possibly skis on the bottom, but something to make it less of a pain to move.

Any thoughts? Comments? Suggestions? We would love to hear from you!