Spring Chicks – In Season

The rooster may crow but the hen delivers the goods.
Walk in to your local feed store this week and you will hear the chirps of baby chicks from every corner of the store.  They are so cute and for some of us it’s hard not to walk out without taking a few home.  And, why not!?
For those that think chickens are better in the country – think again.  There are many great reasons why you should consider a small backyard flock.  But what surprises people the most is how much fun these ladies are to have around.  The urban farm and backyard movement has really taken off. Take a walk around your neighborhood – I bet you would be surprised by the number of people who have a coop hidden somewhere in their yard.
But, before you take the leap, there are a few things to consider.  There is a lot of information out there.  It can be a bit overwhelming sorting out the good advice from the bad.  When we brought home our first backyard flock I did a ton of research.  What I found was a massive amount of bad information, conflicting experts and confusion. Still, doing your due-diligence will prevent disappointment and frustration.
First, check your local city ordinances but chances are this will not be a problem.  Most cities will allow a small flock with few restrictions.  In fact, not only will most cities allow backyard chickens – they encourage it. The most common restriction within city limits is the no rooster rule.  Poor guys get a bad wrap.
It’s not a good idea to walk into your local feed store and make a impulse buy during chick season.  I think another big surprise to raising chickens is how expensive it is.  Shelter, food and supplies can be a bit of sticker shock. Especially when you can by a dozen eggs in the store for less than $1.  Still, it’s worth every penny.
Do you want to raise chicks or are you wanting older pullets (female chicken under 1 year old) that are closer to the age to lay eggs?  Raising chicks is rewarding but a big commitment.  Sure they’re cute.  But if you don’t have the time, space or a proper brooder set up this option may not be for you.  If you want a chicken for eggs you may want to check local listings for “started pullets” from a reputable breeder.  Pullets will be around 12 -15 weeks or older and ready to go in the outside coop.  They will be much less time consuming and require minimal daily care.  Typically, a started pullet will cost about $15 each depending on the age and breed.
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Proper shelter and space are another factor in your decision.  How much room do you have (how many do you have the proper space for)?  Is your area predator proof?  Is your back yard fenced?  Neighborhood dogs are the number one killer of backyard chickens.  Planning for good care and protection is vital before you bring home your girls.
Do you know what your getting yourself into?  There are tons of great books for new backyard chicken keepers.  I am adding a list of my favorites below.  Before you commit financially and before you buy chickens make sure you know what to expect.  Chickens are not a lot of work.  But, they do require life-long specific and consistent care that you should commit to ahead of time or forget it.
What breed is best for you?  There are a lot of really pretty chicken breeds out there but they are not all created equal. Do your research.  There are some breeds that are better for laying, some that are known to be more docile, some that are better in cold climates – what specific needs do you have?  For a good idea of which breed fits you check out The Livestock Conservancy.
There is a lot to think about.  But a  small flock can give you so much in return – fresh local eggs, hours of entertainment, teach your kids responsibility, aerate your yard, natural fertilizer and pest control, and on and on.  It’s also a big step towards sustainability, self-reliance and talk about local eats!  Do your homework first and you will reap the rewards.
Looking for answers to some of your questions? For more information on all things backyard chickens check out these great books and blogs:
Recommended Blogs:
Recommended Books:
The Chicken Health Handbook; Gail Damerow
Backyard Homesteaders Guide To Raising Farm Animals; Gail Damerow
A Chicken In Every Yard; Robert Litt

The Farm – update

Sharing anything personal has never been my strong point. So I’m a bit surprised that I feel that I need to share the experiences that we have been going through over the last several months. Maybe because I think there are some genuinely interested in what we are doing, or maybe just because as hard as it has been the adventure is still a good story and I want to remember it. Maybe the kids will get a kick out of my notes one day.

Short rambling timeline of events– just the highlights.

The Farm

October 2015: Rented the house in town to move 40 miles out of town to 11 acres. Living the dream – finally just taking the huge leap of faith to do what is important to us. The local food, sustainable living, homesteading, non-GMO and global food crisis is really important to us. Ready to work. There will be sacrifices and we are ok with that. The house is not what we expected. Cleaning is all we can think about now – we removed the carpet in the house to find wood floors. They need work but it could have been worse. It’s getting colder and the baseboard aren’t sealed – the wind is just blowing through the house. There also seems to be a large area of the floor that isn’t insulated. Not sure. The 2 hens and 2 roosters that were left behind have been penned in the aviary (yep) with the 8 doves. I have affectionately named the hens Marianne and Ginger while the roosters are Big Red and Lucky Boy. I hate having them in these small pens – they own the place. But, I don’t need baby chicks running all over. We have 5 hens that have yet to make the move and 31 chicks in the breezeway.

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November 2015: The house is a wreck and a lot more work than we had thought. Not to mention the insulation, heating, whatever isn’t keeping the house warm and the move in ready house is not move in ready – and we are hosting Thanksgiving. We are in the process of desperately building a chick run since what we thought would be the chicken coop/run is not workable (putting it nicely).   It will be less time and money to start over. Marianne and Ginger remain in the pen – it’s a good place for them. I have released Lucky Boy and Big Red. They need to be free range. There is a small pond in the yard – starting to freeze – we will need to watch that as it’s full of fish. Sunsets are pretty here.

December 2015: First chicken coop and run is complete – hens moved here end of November. We finally got the wallpaper stripped off the living room walls and painted – big improvement. The other rooms of will have to wait – just not on the priority list. We have not unpacked most of the household items – things are everywhere and we can’t find anything. I am feeling isolated and the short days are depressing. The truck broke down on my way to the store – apparently something significant… will have to wait. So, the car broke down too. Both car and truck going to the shop – borrowing a car.

January 2016: Truck and car out of the shop. Starting on the second chicken coop and run. Chicks are growing fast and adding pressure to get them out of the breezeway/chicken tractor. Roosters too – they are really pretty but need their own space. It’s stupid cold and the heating bill is over $500. There are now 7 doves – did I mention we have 13+ barn cats that came with the house. They like to hunt and got a dove. We have to work on the aviary wire. We mostly have kittens but several adults too so I am feeding them to get them through the winter. One I have named Mamma (she has kittens) and she follows us around. I feel bad for them. We finished the second shed and are working on the run – starting to move the pullets out with the hens. They hate each other. Big Red and Lucky Boy are our buddies. Really fun to have around and they run after us to see what we are doing – they are getting spoiled. image

February 2016: I think the days are getting longer. Heating bill going down – only $300 this time. Thinking about alternative energy. Garden seeds are ordered. Feeling a little more hopeful. Plotting out the 6 acres of bare ground that are getting imagetransformed into our market garden area. Very ambitious but why not. Live once – leave a legacy. Finally getting some clean up done around the place – trees are pruned. Old run down arbor came down and berries trimmed. Fish in the pond died. Not sure why. We are burning some of the pasture off – lots of weeds around the ditch. Oops – the whole pasture. Going to an Ag symposium – kind of looking forward to it. That was a waste of time and money – not relevant to anything we are doing. No one knows what the heck a CSA or market garden is. Started the onion seeds and artichokes. Really feel the clock ticking. Started plotting out the gardens – this is fun. Can start to see the outlines coming together. Digging the walkways in the gardens – not so fun. Ordering pasture seed for our small animal/chicken pasture and areas we are ready to deal with this year… expensive but mandatory. Sorting seeds packets for early indoor starts. I’m not sure where these are going – but it’s happening. Found a grant to have barn cats fixed – they sent me vouchers for free services. Just have to trap the cats – appointment in April.   Looking for live traps to borrow – not looking forward to that.

 

March 2016: All about starting seeds. Snow geese coming through by the thousands- amazing as they take over the surrounding fields.

Well, that should get you all caught up. We have a very busy spring planned. Going to market end of April. We have a lot to do . I am really wanting to get back to making bread and yogurt, etc. and hopefully have more to talk about there. Eventually, I think, we will get some of the building done and the work will level out leaving time for more balance. We’ll see.

I really feel this is important and it’s hard work – we appreciate those that have given us encouragement.

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Big Red

Relk’s mini farm

Our mini farm continues to grow. I am learning a lot this year. Specifically, more than ever we are really trying to max out our space by intercropping and succession planting. I am also squeezing our planting distances. Probably more so than anyone would recommend but so far so good.

We doubled our garden size this year – who needs that much grass anyway. I also moved away from row planting which goes against everything I know and saw growing up. I also disregarded the recommendations for raised beds. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice this valuable space for clear defined walking paths – just ask my husband who wasn’t allowed in this space until all plants were fully visible.

So far we have been very happy with the results. We got a jump on planting due to a ridiculously mild winter so we have already harvest our Yukon Gold potatoes, cabbage and onions. All of which have already been replaced with their successor. Beans and peas are on and we have an amazing tomato crop ripening. Of course, the spring crops are done and I am setting up for our Fall planting now. Crop rotation is fascinating and I am learning how important this is.

We did everything from non-GMO heirloom seeds (organic too when possible). It’s been so rewarding and I hope to have enough starts next year to share- even more than this year.

I have found some amazing books and websites. I am compiling my list and will add them soon. One of the hardest things we have found is sourcing our homesteading supplies, feeds, seeds, etc. We support local as much as possible but also don’t wanted to be limited by the local retailers. This has been a big problem with our bee supplies – finally settling with two suppliers that I’m happy with but shipping is a problem.

Finally, as the harvest comes on I am learning to store food. We bought a food dehydrator and some freezer bags. Canning scares me the most but I will give it a shot!

Here’s some of what we’ve been doing. Hope you enjoy!

Starting seeds

Starting seeds

Organic non-GMO

The girls got an upgrade

The girls got an upgrade

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New this year!!

New this year!!

What can one person do?… Share

In May I had an opportunity to attend a seminar focused on the global food crises. This was a short, intense, informative and motivating time. There are too many important points for me to to justice to here. Topics includes soil conditions, water crises, global food shortage, call for non-GMO labeling, nutrition, community gardens, locally sourcing food and more. I am thankful to have the main session videos to recap.

Hopefully, someone else will get as much out of this as I did.

For more information on the seminar host visit i61 Ministries.

Spring brings new life…

The Girls

It’s been a very long time since my last post.  I have missed journaling and sharing, but, a job change, house purchase and move, dead computer, new business, wedding and whatever else life has thrown our way has kept us preoccupied.

Busyness has kept us from not just sharing but actively participating in the things that are so important to us.  We have been doing the minimal cooking, planning and learning – just getting by but not enjoying it.

No more.

Getting back into cooking and exploring ways to broaden our vegetarian diet/health is not only out of enjoyment, but necessity.  And, we have taken it one step further jumping on the urban farm movement.  Yep, even backyard chickens.

It has been a busy and exciting spring.  Transforming lawns into vegetable gardens, building a chicken coop/run, and setting up a rain barrel just skims the surface of my long chore list.  Hard work that is full of purpose and life- and I love it.

Look forward to sharing this journey – lots to learn.