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.

Orchard / berry update

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.

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!

What happened in early 2020?

For GreenJournalHomestead? Nothing much new or different, really. We had our gardens, we added to the flock and really just kept doing what we already were doing.

Things were off to a very good start!

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.

Barn Expansion

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.

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 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?

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!