We Got Chickens!

Chickens are a must have when homesteading. Heck, they’re great in the suburbs even! Chickens are very low maintenance, cheap to feed, and produce a lot of food. A healthy hen in her prime and with good conditions can produce an egg a day. An egg will provide you with 5 grams of healthy fat, 6 grams of protein, and about 80 calories. Eggs are some of the best fuel that you can put in your body, especially if you produce them yourself and don’t get them from the supermarket.

Due to reasons previously explained in Playhouse to Chicken House, we are starting with four chickens. This isn’t enough to feed us when you consider that I eat 3-4 eggs a day for breakfast. Like anything in life, it’s good to get your feet wet before jumping in the deep end. We will hone in our chicken raising skills with these four hens and when we are confident we can handle more, we’ll add more.

Our plan is to eventually have a couple dozen hens laying and maybe a couple of roosters. This would provide us with more than enough eggs and we’ll be able to sell or give away any extras. In order to do this we’ll have to build a bigger chicken coop, which is in the budget for next spring.

We’ve had the chickens for a few weeks now and other than an incident with one of our dogs they’ve been very easy and stress free. We free range them as often as possible, which makes feeding them even cheaper! I let them out in the morning and let the dogs in our house (they’re not trained to not eat chickens yet). The chickens will scavenge our woods all day long and as soon as the sun goes down they go back in their house. It’s really as simple as opening the door in the morning and shutting the door in the evening.

Free raning the chickens

Free ranging the chickens

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Front Gardens: A Work in Progress

This week has be unusually cool in our region so we thought this would be a great time to start prepping our gardening space in the front of the house.  Below is a picture of our house before we started clearing out the beds.

The front of the house before any projects had started.

The front of the house before any projects had started.

Our plan is to use the square foot gardening method. We will have gardens on either side of the covered porch and along the front of the porch as well. The first bed will be on the right side of the porch as this bed is already defined and has the most work to get ready.  We have a lot of shrubs, decorative grasses and weeds to clear out before we can get anything started.

My project was to clear out everything in the bed, leaving just the line of boxwood bushes in the back.  We are leaving these for now as they provide some protection from the afternoon sun.  The big bushes were cut down by my husband.  I started digging out the decorative grasses and pulling up the weed blocker that the weeds and grasses started growing on top of.  We are going to let the bushes dry out and the rest of the yard waste will be thrown into the compost bin.  Below are a few pictures of the progress on clearing the bed.

Pulling up the weed blocker.

Pulling up the weed blocker.

Clearing the bed and the extra bushes cut down.

Clearing the bed and the extra bushes cut down. The boxwoods are trimmed up and looking more uniform.

Here is what the front of the house looks like during the process.

Front of the house - during the clearing process.

Front of the house – during the clearing process.

Playhouse to Chicken House

Playhouse to Chicken House

Chickens were very high on our list of what to have on our homesteadso we really needed a chicken coop. We really wanted to build a proper, permanent and large enough house for a couple dozen chickens right away but the budget is a little tight for a while. Buying a house and paying taxes will do that! As we were sitting on the back deck the other night trying to figure out how we were going to build a chicken coop, a brilliant idea hit me (wife didn’t think so at the time). Why not use the playhouse that the old homeowners left?

The idea was really pretty simple; board up the windows that didn’t have shutters, put a latch on the window with shutters, attach a door and chicken run. That’s exactly what we did.

Step 1 – Secure the windows without the shutters. The playhouse had three windows on two different sides that we needed to secure. Some plywood and toggle bolts took care of those pretty well.

Chicken Coop

Joe is proud of our handy work

Step 2 – Cut and attach a door. We used plywood for the door which isn’t ideal but again, this is a temporary solution. We picked up some used door hinges and a latch at a local trading post (yes, just like in the old western movies). They worked great to hold the door in place and secure it shut at night.

Chicken Coop

Windows & Door Secured

Step 3 – Secure the shutters on the side of the house with a latch. We paid about $1 a piece for each latch from the trading post. We used carabiners as to keep the latch closed. These shuttered windows will be the outside access to the nesting boxes so we don’t have to go into the house to collect every day.

Shutters Secured

Shutters Secured

Step 4 – Build the chicken run. We plan to free range our chickens but wanted a run for them if we leave for a day or two. We used two 16′ livestock panels to make an 8′ x 10′ run. We secured the cow panels by hammering iron stakes in the ground and allowing friction to do the rest. We then overlaid the panels with chicken wire. We rigged a gate at the end of the run so we can access it when necessary. A couple of T-posts worked great for that. The chicken wire is secured to the house by wrapping one end of it around a 2×4 and screwing the 2×4 into the house.

Chicken Coop

Finishing touches on the run

Step 5 – Build a nesting box and put in some roosts. We were able to re-purpose the plastic fridge that came with the playhouse into two nesting boxes. We attached the nesting box to the window with the shutters so we can have access to the eggs from the outside.

Chicken Nesting Boxes

Nesting boxes with access from outside

There happened to be a couple of cabinet doors and a faucet in the house that should make pretty good roosts. We put in a couple of pieces of lumber for additional roosting space.

Chicken Roosts

Roosts

The whole process took under 6 hours and about 4 of it was spent on the run. The run wasn’t difficult or complicated, it’s just time consuming. If you’ve ever worked with chicken wire, you know what I mean.

The only part of this structure I’m not 100% sure is predator proof is the ground around the run. I have plenty of old 2×4 that I can attach to the bottom all the way around if necessary but I’m not too concerned about it. We have two outside dogs that patrol our property 24 hours a day so nothing is going to be able to get under it before my dogs run them off.

Chicken Coop

Finished chicken coop

The chicken coop is ready for it’s new residents!

Chicken Coop

Finished Coop!

Homesteading Plan of Attack

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” This quote really sums up a couple of points I’d like to make. 1) Begin preparing for a difficult future now. 2) Come up with a game plan for how you are going to prepare.

If you haven’t already begun preparing for a difficult future, you need to start. The history of the world is full of hardships and just because we’ve had it good for a really long time, doesn’t mean it will always be that way. The hardships could be brought on by nature or acts of man but there’s a 100% possibility of things getting hard in the future. It might not be in the near future or even in our lifetimes but my family’s livelihood and security are not worth the risk of not preparing. If you haven’t started preparing then at least start thinking about it!

Our plan for preparing for the inevitable hard times is to become as self-sufficient as possible. The best way we figured we could do that is by homesteading.

The second point of this post is to briefly touch on our plan of attack to make this home our homestead. As we’ve said before, we are 100% new to this so mistakes are going to happen but we can minimize mistakes by proper planning. Our first step was to layout the land and how each piece of it will be utilized. For this, we relied heavily on some very close friends that were almost 100% self-sustaining on their own 5 acres.

We had our list of things that we’d like to have on the land so our friends could help us lay it all out in an efficient manner. With their help, we now have our land laid out.

Here’s the list of future land usage:

  • Gardens – lots of them and with a variety of vegetation (vegetables, fruits, herbs)
  • Orchard – 1/2 being dwarf trees and 1/2 normal trees (apple, peach, pear, cherry)
  • Chickens – mostly for eggs (great source of protein and fat)
  • Livestock – probably sheep and goats (don’t have enough land for cattle)
  • Bees – honey is delicious and has great health benefits (bees also help pollinate trees and other vegetation)

One of the important things about a plan is that you have to be willing to make adjustments if it doesn’t worked out the way you envisioned. This is our current list but that might change as time goes on. We have the land laid out but that might change as we progress. Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” We have a plan but God might direct our steps down a different path.

In any case, our plan is set and we are ready to get to work!