Look What We Found…

…our first egg

Chickens from Scratch (part 3)

To follow our chicken journey, here are part 1 and part 2.

I haven’t updated on the chickens lately. My chicken raising has had some heartbreaking setbacks. But I guess this is the life of farming and homesteading. First, our Jack Russell dug out of our fence and squeezed her way into the chicken coop. My son arrived right after she got in, but it was too late. She had already wounded one chicken and killed another (actually, she wasn’t completely dead, so my husband had to finish the job–I think this is the hardest part of owning animals). The worst part of it was that our six year old was there when it happened and came running into the house screaming that the dog was killing her chickens.

She recovered from the incident. We brought our chickens with us to Texas. The five that were left fit nicely in a large pet carrier and rode all the way from Kansas in the back of the van. We stop to give them some water and left over buns from our burgers. I think they enjoyed the air conditioning cause they didn’t make a peep the entire trip.

Once we got here, my husband set up their coop. There are lots of critters here, so he made sure to put a ply board under it so that nothing could dig into the coop at night. He took our dogs back to Kansas with him, so I haven’t been quite as worried about them. During the day, I have been letting them loose in the corral (it is fenced in), then at night I cage them up.

We have only been here a little over a week. Two days ago we went to town to buy groceries. When we returned, I noticed something was in the road in front of our house. When we drove closer, I realized it was a dead chicken. I left the kids in the van and walked out to the corral. The gate had been pushed open and there were feathers everywhere. Three of our chickens were torn to pieces. It just made me sick. The neighbors dog had gotten them. She came over and offered to pay for them. I tried to be friendly, after all, we just moved here and I didn’t want to start things off badly. I just kept thinking, though, how much more our chickens mean to us than the few dollars we paid for them three months ago.

So, we are down to two chickens, I *think* a hen and a rooster. I am debating our next homesteading move. I thought about buying some grown layers from a nearby farm, but I really want ours to be gentle. I had read that the more you handle them the more gentle they become. Ours were definitely friendly fellers. If I bought some from another flock I don’t know if they would be as used to people, especially kids.

We may be back at square one. If so, I think I will mail order some chicks next time. If I do that I am also going to order some guineas. I read that they are good at keeping the fire ants at bay (as well as ticks).

Here are some pictures of our “coop”. We had an old playhouse that we set up on a frame. We bolted a Rubbermaid tub to one of the windows. We covered all doors and windows with wire netting (using screws and fender washers to hold it down).

Will keep you posted when we decide where to go from here…

Chickens from Scratch (part 2)

If you missed our humble beginnings, make sure and check out Chickens from Scratch (part 1).

It seems to be getting harder to blog about homesteading as we begin to practice homesteading.  It does additional time during our days to learn about and care for our flock.  I get impatient sometimes, wanting to have a complete homestead right now.  This has been a great lesson on taking it one step at a time.  There is a learning curve, and by growing our homestead slowly we can learn without getting overwhelmed and burnt out.

Housing

The chickens have been growing fast and quickly out grew their rubbermaid tub home.  We had a large wooden crate/box from our move, so I turned it into a chick box.  Because it wasn’t very tall, I put chicken wire over the top to keep them from jumping out (I didn’t realize how high they could jump!).

We kept the heating lamp on them until they were about 1 month old and had plenty of real feathers.  Our nights have been pretty mild lately and they are now kept in the garage, so it has been warm enough to remove the lamp.

We continue to change out the shavings/bedding as needed, making sure it stays dry.

Feeding

We are continuing to feed the chicks the same growth feed that we bought when we got the chicks.  We have also began to feed them scraps such as veggie peelings, left over cornbread, etc.  The girls have been so excited to find grasshoppers to bring to the chicks.  All the chicks flutter and fight for the little critters.

We had to nail a small piece of wood across the box to hang up the water.  The chicks are scratching more, kicking up the shavings into the water container.  Keeping it off the floor has helped it stay cleaner, longer.

Training

We have been taking them out for a bit each day, letting them peck and scratch and look for bugs.  They seem to enjoy it, but I now know where the term “chicken” comes from.  They get scared at the slightest things and all huddle up together.  If one of them gets separated from the group, you can hear her calling out to the other chicks with a “crying” chirp.  She frantically looks for the group and they look for her.  Once they are reunited, all is well.

Up Next

We have been working on a real chicken coop, so I will keep you posted on how we did it!

 

Chickens from Scratch (part 1)


We have been planning on getting chickens for a while now, but for some reason I just kept holding out.  I guess I was a bit nervous.  It is one thing to have a dream and a plan, but actually putting the plan in motion is a different story.

It all started with a harmless trip to the Tractor Supply store.  It was a rainy day and I thought it would be fun to just take a look at what they had.  We were doing good as we stop at the chicken supply aisle.  We checked out the different items and I looked at the different feeders.  Then I heard one of the girls squeal, “Look at the baby chickens!”

That was it.  I was struck with chicken fever.  They were all so fuzzy and yellow and you just wanted to squeeze them they were so cute.

I have never had chickens before (although our landlord did have them in Spain..they weren’t my responsibility though, I just reaped the benefits of them).  And even though I have several “homesteading” books and have read through them many times, when the time came to actually  get the chickens my brain started going fuzzy.

What do we need?  What types of chickens to we want?  Layers?  Pullets?  Sexed?  Too much information, too quickly!  I really needed a checklist!

Here is the crash course on buying baby chickens.  Please note that this information will only take you through the first few weeks of owning baby chicks (we haven’t gotten any further than that).

What You Will Need to Buy (or make or get from craigslist)

  • a box (or something to put the chicks in) – We chose a rubbermaid tub, but it wasn’t the best choice for 2 reasons: 1) We had to be very careful and make sure the heating lamp didn’t melt the tub, and 2) The chicks quickly outgrew it.  We then found a wooden box outside that is working much better.
  • chicken wire – Depending on the depth of the box, you may need some chicken wire to keep the little guys in.
  • bedding – We are using pine shavings for our bedding, but I have read that you can also use newspapers.
  • food and water dispensers – Make sure you have ones that are meant for chicks.  They can drown in larger water containers.
  • heating lamp – Little chicks need to be kept very warm (95 degrees the first week).  We still have our lamp on around the clock at 3 weeks old.  Their box is large enough that they can get under the lamp if they need to, or move to a cooler part of the box if they get too warm.
  • thermometer – Like I said before, young chicks need to be kept at 95 degrees the first week.  Each week of their lives they heat can be reduced by 5 degrees.  I just set the thermometer inside the box near the heating lamp, since this is the warmest area.
  • chicken feed – So far just bought a bag of chick feed specifically for chicks.  At some point I know we should change feed, but I haven’t gotten that far ahead yet.

Care Routine

  • change bedding daily – If the bedding gets wet or very yucky, you can change it more often.  You want to make sure the chickens have plenty of dry bedding to scratch around in.
  • change water daily – Wash out the water container with soap and hot water each day to help prevent bacterial growth and sickness.  Also, check the water throughout the day.  Our little guys kick up the pine shavings into the water.  I have to take a stick and clean it out so that the water will be available to them.
  • feed – We have self feeders, so I just make sure there is plenty available.

Our chicks are now 3 weeks old and we are starting to see their color change a bit.  We have taken them out in the grass some, but watch over them carefully (I feel like a mother hen).  The girls have caught several small grasshoppers and the chicks go crazy over them.  I can’t tell you how much fun we have had with them.  What a wonder is God’s creation!

Here is a quick video to chronicle our learning.  I am hoping to post more as we learn.

Homestead Living

On Saturday we arrived here in Wichita…all of us…together!  We were hoping to buy a home here.  We even had a contract to buy a house with 5 acres, but it fell through after the inspection.  I will be honest and tell you that I was devastated.  I knew in my heart that the Lord had a plan for us and that the house wasn’t in it.  I was just overwhelmed by the fact that we it would be even longer until our family could all be together again.

It was definitely a walk through the valley. 

But then the morning came and there was joy once again.  My God is bigger and better than anything I could ever dream up.  My husband had gone to look for rentals in town.  The few that he looked at were awful.  They were dirty, too small, too pricey, and all of them were in town. The situation seemed hopeless.

It has been our dream for so long, to buy a house in the country.  My oldest daughter is a senior this year we had really hoped that she would be able to experience a bit of farm life with us before she grows up completely.  We were hopeful that this move to Kansas would allow us to see our dream come to fruition.

Then in a moment, our hopes were dashed, or so it seemed.  Crushed dreams always seem hopeless in the eyes of man.  Not with God.

For with God, nothing shall be impossible.
Luke 1:37

After explaining to the property manager our desire to live in the country, he told my husband he did have one property in the country that he had been trying to rent for over 6 months. It was close to the base where my husband works, it had 5 acres of land, the house was just the right size, and because the owner had been waiting so long to rent it, he was willing to cut the price down to meet our budget.

Thank you Lord!

AND

if we really like the house, we can buy it.

So, we are busy unpacking and enjoying our little patch of land. My kids have come in covered in dirt every day. I don’t know if you remember the episode of Little House on the Prairie where Nellie tells Laura and Mary they can’t come to her party because they are “country girls”…well we are proud to call ourselves “country”!

Several weeks ago as we were planning to buy the other house, I ordered two books on homesteading.

The Backyard Homestead
and
The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals

Having not grown up on a farm, I feel like there is sooo much to learn.  We are hoping to start off our homesteading endeavors with a handful of chickens, a few Nigerian dwarf goats, some Angora rabbits, and as I mentioned before, a garden (complete with fruit and nut trees).

The Backyard Homestead’s subtitle is “Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre”.    This book touches on raising chickens and farm animals, but mostly covers gardening, planting trees, and raising bees. 

What I have enjoyed about this book is that it covers related homesteading topics.  For instance, in the section on growing your own garden, it discusses preserving those foods (canning, freezing, storing).  You also find various directions for “other” things you can do, like make cider or vinegar.

There are many books out there that cover these topics in greater detail, but this book seems to tie it all together.  It reminds me of a brainstorming section in a book…lets think of all the ways we could “homestead”.  I enjoy this because it helps me think about things I might not have thought about before.  It sparks new interest and points me in the right direction to get started. 

The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals focuses more on, well, farm animals.  It covers them in much more detail– chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, bees, goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle.

As with the other book, it is a menagerie of information that is great to get started with.  I will have to dig much deeper when we are planning to actually get the animals, but for now these books give me enough to get started and plan with.

Will keep you posted on what I am learning!  I am so excited!!!

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Check out what the other moms are reading!

Kerimae @ The Happy Home

Brandy @ The Marathon Mom

Andie @ Happy Andersons

Stacy @ A Delightful Home

 

*Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links.  If you click on them and purchase a product from the company, I will receive monetary compensation.

Wordless Wednesday

Tutorial: Peppermint Lip Balm

I love Burt’s Bees Lip Balm. What I don’t love is paying several dollars for each tube! I am always on the lookout for ways to “make your own” version of commercial products. It is usually cheaper, healthier, and brings such satisfaction.

In today’s tutorial, I will teach you how to make your own Peppermint Lip Balm. The peppermint and rosemary essential oils give the lip balm it’s refreshing, tingly feel, while the sweet almond oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter keep your lips moist and soft. You are going to love this lip balm!

*This post is linked up at Raising Homemakers and

Homemade Laundry Soap

If I had written this post a year ago, I would not have had anything nice to say about laundry.  Just the word overwhelmed me.  It was a constant reminder of the fact that I could not keep up.  There was forever a huge mound of laundry, overflowing out of the laundry hampers.  There is something about that huge pile that made me feel inadequate about my homemaking capabilities. 

We had a small (teeny tiny) Spanish washer that held maybe 4 towels at the most.  It took over 2 hours to wash a load and another 1 1/2 to dry (unless I hung them out on the line).  For our family of 7 (at the time), I had to keep the washer going all day, every day.  On Sundays I didn’t wash, leaving an even larger pile to start my week off.

Needless to say, I am feeling sooo blessed these days.  I get up and wash a couple of loads in the morning and I am all caught up with laundry.  It is such a great feeling! 

Only one piece of the pie is missing…I miss using my own homemade laundry soap.  There is just something about making your own soap and being self-sufficient that just makes me smile. 

Homemade Laundry Soap

1 bar “real” Soap (You can use Fels Naptha if you can find it or Ivory, but I prefer my own handmade soap.  Don’t use Dove or any of the other store bought brands as they are not real soap, but detergent.  They don’t work well for laundry soap.)
1 cup 20 Mule Team Borax (You can find this in the laundry section of the store.  It is a naturally occurring mineral called sodium borate.)
1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (Again, you can find this in the laundry section or you can even order this online.  Make sure you buy washing soda and not baking soda, same company, different products.  Washing soda is sodium carbonate, while baking soda is sodium bicarbonate.)
2 gallons Water
(Opt.) 1/2 to 1 oz. Essential or Fragrance Oil

Directions:
1) Grate the soap into a large pot.  Add 1/2 a gallon of water and heat until soap melts. 
2) Add in the Borax and Washing Soda, stirring until dissolved.
3) Pour into 2 gallon bucket.
4) Add remaining 1 1/2 gallons of water.  Mix thoroughly.
5) Add in essential or fragrance oils.
6)Let sit for 24 hours.  Depending on the weather and location, the soap will range from a solid gel to an “eggdrop soup” consistency.

I use about 1/2 cup per large load of laundry.  This soap doesn’t lather up like commercial detergents, but remember, it’s not the bubbles that do the cleaning!

I would love to hear back from some of you.  If you make your own soap, please do tell!

Beauty Secrets: Soft Skin

From the time I was a teenager, until just a few years ago, I had a really bad complexion. My skin has always been oily, and broke out frequently. When I was 21, I was convinced that a certain cosmetic line (initials MK) was the cure-all. I used the expensive skin care and make-up for at least 10 years. I continued to have poor skin, and was convinced that I always would.

In my early 30s, I started making my own soap. As I learned more about how good real, natural soap was for your skin, I decided to try it on my face. I was a bit nervous at first, because I thought the soap might make my skin break out worse. I was pleasantly surprised by how clean and soft my skin was after washing with my soap. It didn’t take long until I decided I needed to find alternatives to my toner and moisturizer. Here is what I came up with. My skin has never been the same.

My Beauty Secret Regimen

  • CLEANSER:  I wash my face morning and night with soap and warm water. Once a week or so, I like to use an exfoliating cloth to remove dead skin and oil build up.
  • TONER:  Next, I spray my face with a homemade skin toner.  I make it myself and it is so EASY!  I buy a 4 oz. bottle of rose hydrosol from Mountain Rose Herbs.  You could choose any hydrosol based on what you like.  I chose rose because I really like the scent.  I pour half of the hydrosol into a container and save for the next batch.  I add 2 oz. of witch hazel into the hydrosol and mix well.  The hydrosol comes in a glass spray bottle, so it is perfect for misting your face after washing.  Super easy and so refreshing.
  • MOISTURIZER:  Last, I use a moisturing cream that I also make myself.  I was even more nervous to use my homemade moisturizer on my skin, because I have always had oily skin.  I had been conditioned to believe that using oils on my skin would clog my pores and cause me to break out even more.  What I found was just the opposite.  The oils were actually very nourishing.  What was great too, was that I could make custom blends and pick oils that would benefit my skin.  The cream I make does seem a bit heavy at first, but it just takes a bit of time for your skin to soak up the richness of the oils.  Because I was use to the wateryness of the commercial moisturizer, it took some time to get use to.  If I am in a hurry, I sometimes take a towel and dab my face.  Once my skin has absorbed the cream, it is super soft. 

What I really love about my new “skincare” is that it really just seems to balance everything out.  Before, it seemed that most of the cleansers I used would strip my skin.  Now my skin feels soft and clean and, well, normal.