The Sexiest Chicken Coop Around

In between house building, blacksmith work, and all-around handyman activities, my husband Brian has been hard at work building our chickens a home. Back in Oregon, he envisioned a moveable chicken coop on wheels and created this:

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Nest boxes on both sides that were easy to access from the outside for egg collection, a large fold-down door at the rear for bedding changes, bike wheels for easy transport, and a front door that led into their run.  Functional, very practical, but not really sexy.

Building this new coop provided Brian with a chance to create what he always envisioned – a gypsy caravanesque structure that is as adorable as it is functional.ChickenCoop1

A trailer tongue sticks out from the base of the coop for easy transport.  Ella stands in front of the door to the nest boxes…

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…which folds down for easy access to eggs!

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The chickens enter and exit from this ramp, which folds up at night to keep predators out.  Feed is hung to minimize scratching and wasting. The hanger came from a barn tear-down, and while we do not know what it is, it’s mighty cool looking!ChickenCoop5

The front door opens wide to allow us entry for cleaning, repair, etc.  The first few nights, we noticed that all the chickens wanted to be on the upper roost, so Brian has since added a second high perch.

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Look how much they love their new home!

What I love about this coop is that it is really functional, super cute (with a blue roof that matches our house-in-the-making!), and was made almost entirely out of reclaimed barn wood.  The hardware and the roof were the only components that were purchased new.

Now we wait patiently for the not-soon-enough day when we’ll once again be collecting our own eggs, from this sexy little coop.

Chick Days

Chickens truly are the gateway animal on a homestead, and ours is no exception.  Last week we drove out to a small hatchery, operated in a local family’s backyard, kitchen, and garage. Day old chicks peeped and chirped in boxes, and pens of turkeys, hens and game fowl stood in the yard. We got a small box of chicks – three Ameracaunas, two Rhode Island Reds, three Buff Orphingtons, and two Black Australorps.  At the last minute, I decided to exchange out a Buff Orphington pullet for a rooster, knowing that they tend to be docile and good around children.  So there it is, the start of our laying flock – 9 hens and one rooster.

For now they are in a box in the kitchen, where they can remain warm under a heat lamp, and where we can all watch “Chick TV.”  The kids are enamored with the chicks, of course, and all sorts of chick shenanigans have ensued, from truck and train rides around the house, to outdoor field trips.

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As we drove home, Brian remarked, “I feel like a real homesteader again,”  and it is so true.  Not having animals or a garden to tend has just felt incomplete.  I’m so happy to jump back into the daily routine of caring for the animals and plants that provide us with food and joy.

* This post shared with The Backyard Farming Connection, Homestead Barn Hop, Monday Menagerie, and Natural Living Monday.

Homestead Honey Harvest

It’s homestead honey time!  Our bees have been hard at work this year, helping to create one of the most abundant fruiting seasons that I can recall. (After two years where we could literally count the number of apples on the old tree, it’s amazing to look up and see hundreds of ripe fruits!)  And now we are even more grateful for their work as we enjoy the sweet reward of their efforts – honey.

It has been a few years since I’ve donned a bee suit, and I was very excited to help with the harvest.  I have to admit that I’m a tiny little bit squeamish about the whole process.  Putting on a suit that is way too big for me and standing in the hot sun with smoke in my face, while hundred of angry bees dive bomb my head is not usually my idea of fun. But I breathed deeply and channeled my inner Waldorf teacher as I sang sweet, soft songs to the bees to keep them (okay, to keep me) calm.  It mostly worked, until Everett woke from his nap and cried for me. Then my mommy adrenaline kicked into gear, and I swear, they bees knew it.  They immediate went for me.  I dropped my tools and ran for the house, and my gracious father-in-law, Ron, kindly stepped in (many of these great photos are courtesy of Ron).

That’s me brushing off bees from the frame and Brian holding.

See the white caps on the frame? That’s capped honey.  Many of the top boxes were not full – probably because we had a huge swarm leave the hive in June.  The frames went into an empty box, and then into our house for the extraction process.

Removing the wax caps from the frame.  This year we used a cappings scratcher instead of a decapping knife.  It was a bit slower going, but quite simple.  I highly recommend it for hobby beekeepers.

Close up of the process.  The caps fell into a plastic tub, which we later rinsed with fresh water and created a delicious honey lemonade. The beeswax was then separated out from the rinse water for future projects (candles?).

Both sides need to be de-capped, and then the frames go into the extractor.

This extractor fits four frames at a time.

Ella got the spinning started, and then Brian gave it a strong finish. Centrifugal force causes the honey to eject from the frames, and it collects at the bottom of the stainless steel basket.

Then it’s time to filter the honey.  We keep our honey 100% raw.  No heat is ever used in the extraction process.

The judges sample the honey.  They both approved.

The whole process took about 5 hours, and in the end, we had collected about 8 gallons of honey from two hives.

The best part of this entire process – the bees do the cleaning up for you!  We leave the frames in a safe location, and let the bees come and collect any leftover honey bits.

Yesterday we finished the last of our honey from 2010!  So today we opened up the first jar of 2012’s honey harvest.  And I must say, it is darn good.

 

 

 

Goatpacking

We spent a lovely Labor Day weekend in the wilderness with good friends and goats, complete with great weather, a pristine alpine lake all to ourselves, and lovely views.  We were in the Diamond Peak Wilderness, in Oregon, and only a few miles away from the spot where we backpacked with goats for the very first time.

It was 2006, just a few weeks after our wedding, and we decided it was time to take our goats into the backcountry.  Inspired by the book The Pack Goat, by John Mionczynski, we had been training our goats to follow us on hikes around the property.  Being herd animals, our dairy goats followed us quite readily, and we found it was quite fun and easy to go on walks with them in line behind us.

So, on a warm late summer day, we loaded up three goats – our Alpine goat Rose, her kid Lupine, and a Nubian named Hazelnut – in the back of our friend’s VW van and drove into the wilderness.  With makeshift packs on the goats backs, it was an exciting first outing.  Did the goats try to eat our dinner? Sure!  Did they engage in mischief on the trail? You bet!!  But the udder (pun intended) bliss of spending time with goats in the backcountry was an experience that was completely unforgettable. We were hooked.

Rose and Hazelnut on the Divide Lake trail, September 2006.

Lupine and Hazelnut join us for a mid-day sun break.  Near Divide Lake, 2006.

Fast forward six years and over a dozen goat packing trips later, and we still love it.  While our first trips were primarily for the fun of bringing our goats camping, and the enjoyment of fresh milk, bringing goats on later trips became something of a necessity.  As our family grew, we relied more heavily on our goats to carry the bulk of our gear, as we carried small children on our backs.  On this trip, I carried Everett and a small day pack, Brian carried Ella in a kid carrier with gear strapped on to the outside of the pack, and the goats carried the remainder of our gear, approximately 20-30 lbs each.

Our packing gear has become more sophisticated over the years, as has our herd management.  While we allow them to walk freely on the trail, we keep them tethered in the campsite, to keep them out of our food and away from small children.  We allow them to forage for fresh browse, but also carry grain as a supplement.  And each morning, we milk fresh, sweet milk for our morning tea.  It doesn’t get much better than this.

Ella, with a fully loaded up Calyso behind.  Diamond Peak Wilderness, 2012.

Gilly takes the steep section slow and steady.

Me and Calypso at Marie Lake.

I always appreciate our farm animals, but I am especially grateful to our goats for making it possible for us to still enjoy the backcountry as a family.

Have a wonderful day!

Teri

Hay Day

This Saturday was Hay Day – the day we make the trek over to our favorite hay grower’s property to load the pickup with a few months’ worth of hay.  I bet it was a real nail-biter of a haying season for the growers, as intermittent rain storms made difficult to time the cutting with a few day stretch of sunshine to dry the hay before baling.

The hay grower’s property is just idyllic; to get there, you drive a few miles outside of town, pass a crystal clear creek, drive over a covered bridge, and around a bend.  Their ranch is nestled at the foot of a beautiful hill, with rolling pastures, stately oaks, big barns, and beautiful gardens.

Brian loaded up his trusty pickup (a 31 year old Toyota that runs on veggie oil!)

Ella and Everett helped.  For a few minutes.

Then Ev got distracted by heavy machinery.  This tractor “ride” about made his day.

He managed to load 28 bales on top of his truck!  When we get home, the real fun begins: rigging up a pulley system to transfer the bales from the truck to the hayloft.

Check out that stunt!

Into the hay loft, where it will be stored.  We figure this amount of hay will last about 3 summer months, when the goats are really only getting hay at night, but are browsing throughout the day.

Doesn’t Sable look appreciative?

Hurray for hay day!

May day

Ella and Snow Angel had been building quite the special relationship.  Even though the chicks had grown large enough to be moved into the main chicken run, she still insisted on daily visits to “her chicks” to hold them, coddle them, and feed them.  And Snow Angel seemed particularly open to her affection, letting Ella hold her and coo at her to her heart’s content.

Sadly, last night a raccoon got into the chicken run before we had closed the coop door, and Snow Angel and Tiny didn’t make it.  Brian found the carcasses when he went up to close the door.  My heart was so heavy – how was Ella going to take it?  When we gently broached the topic this morning, she did need a few moments under the covers by herself to process.  But after a minute or two, she popped up and asked, “Can we get some more baby chicks?”  Peck got an extra bunch of loving today, and I think she will become the new recipient of Ella’s unending love.  Just another reminder that children live in the moment, and that our expectation of their feelings is usually quite different than their reality.

On the baby goat front, we have been slowly introducing them to the rest of the herd, making sure that they don’t get hurt by the older does.  They are just so irresistible and soft and sproingy and sweet.  So capricious, if you will.  And just the perfect size for a goat photo shoot!

There has also been bed prepping and brassica planting, and mulching mulching mulching, and most exciting of all – tomato planting!  Yes – the first (15) tomatoes have gone in the ground, in the greenhouse!  I’m so eager to get the rest going. This year I have gone a bit overboard with 75 or so plants, but when I’m eating canned salsa next February, it will all be worth it!

It’s spring, my friends.  It is spring.