This Week on the Homestead

31 March 2017

Look! They're all outside! Together! 

Can we call ourselves a homestead yet? What even makes a place a real homestead? Oh well, I'm calling us a homestead! Fake it till you make it!

Anyway just thought I'd do a little re-cap of what went on around here this week.

Iris let the chickens out. Ah! She was playing in the backyard and I was feeding Harvey inside when I hear, "Mooooooommy! The chickens are playing!" I pop Harvey in his bed and run outside to see Rosa and Michelle wandering around the backyard. GAH! I asked her why she let the chickens out (while trying in vain to corral them back into the coop) and she says, "Mommy, they needed some exercise.  It's ok! They just need some exercise!" Then, laughing like a maniac, Iris started chasing Rosa around the yard. Thankfully my dad was due to stop by any minute so he helped me get Michelle back in the coop. But wouldn't you know it, Rosa found the smallest opening in our back fence (through the cedar trees) and escaped to the neighbour's yard!!!! So then I had to run all the way around the block and figure out which house backed on to ours, knock on their door and pray they wouldn't be upset about a chicken in their yard. Thankfully the woman was more than kind and let me through to her backyard where I managed to scoop Rosa up. Success! Did I mention I had not held a chicken until this incident? I ended up chatting to our neighbour for a bit and she thinks what we're doing is really cool (yay!) and didn't even know we had chickens. Dave and I ended up going back later that day to give her some eggs and a thank you/sorry/nice to meet you card. Anyway holy drama! I think we might need to put some locks on the coop door now...

We have the materials for the chicken yard! My dad had the day off today so he offered to pick up all the materials for us so we can start building tomorrow. Thanks Pops!

Gus has been climbing into the compost and eating it. Ugh. We only have yard waste in the open compost system (we'll talk more about this later), but he somehow finds things to eat in there.

Started planting seeds in the front garden. We have a few types of pollinator seeds that need to be planted a few weeks before the last frost (or in the fall) so I planted some of those in the front. We have a landscape mat under mulch in the front garden so I had to cut through it and fold it under where I wanted seeds to go. Honestly, I'm not sure if this is our best course of action. Maybe I should just take the whole mat out?

The coop needed some TLC. With all the rain we had the wood expanded and made it difficult to open and close.  So we had to really force it, which caused a few damages. One of the latches came off as we yanked on it to try to open the door to the nesting box and a wooden latch popped off too.

Started looking at table plans. Hoping to start building the large square table for the patio/gazebo area soon. Still haven't totally committed to a building plan yet though. Not going to lie, this project is really intimidating me. But the thought of having a place where we can have the families and friends over and we can all sit at the same table is so inspiring.  It's spurring me on!

Now that we're all healthy again (knock on wood) things are moving along :)
Have a great weekend!

The First Week Or So With the Hens

25 March 2017

Michelle, one our Chanteclers

Well. What a week it has been! I should preface this post by saying that the day after we brought the hens home Iris came down with the dreaded barfing flu and then, of course, I got it a few days later. Bah! So it has definitely has not been an average week over here - let me tell you. Anyway, I thought I'd just share what it's been like having the hens from the perspective of complete amateurs.

Overall, I'd say once you have the coop and hens set up, the upkeep of chickens is fairly simple. Although, to be completely fair, Dave did most of the "chicken chores" this week as I was sick so I could be exaggerating.

Dave: Routine maintenance (feeding, cleaning out poop, giving treats, checking for eggs, disinfecting, etc.) is all good.  Enjoyable, even.  Buuut, we're still in the process of identifying areas of improvement for our current set-up.  So, I wouldn't say we've quite settled into a state of easy-maintenance for our chickens yet.  There are still a couple of big projects that we're intending to tackle over the coming weekends (i.e., the chicken "yard" - see below for more).

Cleaning out the coop. Frida jumped out onto the ledge while Dave was doing this, but we just gave her a little shove back inside

What daily chicken chores look like (for us): In the morning we let the ramp down and let the ladies out of the coop. Make sure the water isn't frozen and if it is, take it inside and melt it with some hot water and re-fill it. Check their food. Put another waterer down in the run. Maybe leave a treat out in the run. Scoop some poop out. Mid-morning we go out with the kids and check to see if there are any eggs. We find our ladies like to lay in the early afternoon so there's usually not any yet. Afternoon, check for eggs again. Just before the sun goes down we "tuck the ladies in," aka lift the ramp up and secure them in the upstairs part of the coop.

What We Didn't Expect: There are a few things. The first would be that some of the chickens wouldn't want to go in the coop and some would never want to leave the coop. Right now Michelle hardly ever goes into the coop and has only laid us about one or 2 eggs. She'll happily stay in the run all day pecking around for stuff to eat. Nellie on the other hand has only ventured out of the coop once (!) and prefers to cozy up to the feeder upstairs all day long.

When they peck food out of your hand it doesn't hurt at all! Nellie gave Iris a little peck when she tried to pet her while she was laying an egg and Iris wasn't even phased by it.

The coop roof leaks a bit when it rains. Dave had to make a bit of an eavestrough to fix this.

Chickens poop A LOT.

What We love Most So Far: This may be weird but the first thing that comes to mind is how much we're outside everyday! It's great! I love how Iris will ask to go outside just to check out the hens, or to see if there are any eggs. It's amazing to see this whole thing through her eyes. When we find an egg she'll hold it very gently and whisper, "Thank you Nellie."  Gah, it's the cutest! Also, the eggs are great, obviously. When we ate our first one I exclaimed how it looked like a Jamie Oliver egg! You know, he always seems to have eggs that have an almost orange yolk. Our eggs are like that!

The elusive Nellie and Rosa, the Bantam Orpintons

What We Like the Least So Far: I would have to say the thing I like the least right now is letting them figure out their "pecking order." I guess in any group of hens there will be a hierarchy that determines who is the head hen and then the others fall into line as well. Our chanteclers (the bigger white hens) are definitely at the top of the pecking order with Frida being the queen bee. We can tell because she's always the first to come out in the morning and when we bring treats out she eats first and the other hens wait behind her until she's done. If they try to take some, she'll give them a swift peck on the head.  Oh dear. Someone has to be at the bottom and it's definitely Nellie. Poor shy girl! We've heard it can take a few weeks for a new flock to figure out where they each stand so we're hoping eventually Nellie and Rosa will venture out of the coop more once they feel secure in their place.

Things We're Thinking About Next: How to get Rosa and especially Nellie out of the coop more. We're adding a chicken "yard" next to the run which will pretty much just be a gated and fenced off area where we can "free range" them a bit and give them more space to explore. Real free-ranging (where you let them wander the whole backyard) is off limits according to our municipal by-laws, so this is the next best thing we can do.

Other: Going on vacation. We're lucky to have some really great friends on our street who have offered to look after the hens when we go on a day trip or a vacation. But I think it's a lot to ask to have someone come by twice a day to look after them so it's definitely worth thinking about. It's not like you can just drop them off at the chicken kennel.

It's been a process but we're really enjoying having the ladies here!

Bringing Home the Hens

19 March 2017

You guys! We have chickens in our backyard! Man, it was not an easy week leading up to bringing them home - let me tell you. But first with the fun stuff!!  I want to share how we picked our chickens, where we got them, their hopes and dreams, etc...  Then... the not-so-fun: some of the issues that have come up for us so far. But first, wanna meet the ladies? We wanted to go with some sort of theme in naming them so we decided to give them all famous-bad-ass-feminists names, ha! So we have Frida, Nellie, Rosa, and Michelle.

Some of you may be wondering why got full sized hens and not chicks. While we would have loved to start our chickens from chicks (they become tame way easier, kids could see them grow, and come on, you know what a baby chick looks like, SO CUTE) we decided that having our own baby at home was probably enough work for us right now. Also keeping some chicks inside with Gus (the dog) around just sounded kinda stressful. So hens it was!

We actually have 2 small black hens as well, but they are super shy and hid out in the coop whenever I came around with my camera.

When we first started looking around locally for hens most people pointed us in the direction of commercial chicken sellers. While the hens from places like that were relatively cheap (around $12 a laying hen), we had heard a lot about how chickens from those places weren't necessarily raised with the TLC we were hoping for. After some research we were really drawn to the fancy pants heritage breed hens. These hens, while more expensive (we paid $30 a hen), are bred to be more winter hardy (they're not bred to live in a commercial chicken house with no windows or fresh air) and people who choose to raise heritage breed animals typically have more invested in the animals so you know they're more cared for.

Anyway it was really hard to find a place that sold heritage breed hens around here! But we ended up finding the coolest place, Happy Hens Heritage Farm. It was a bit of a drive but totally worth it. Marina who runs the show is so sweet and she raises a bunch of different heritage breeds. Plus if you peruse her website you can tell she is totally obsessed and in love with what she does. When we contacted her a few months back she gave us so much great information and answered all of our newbie questions. Since we didn't have a coop at the time (yes, we bought chickens before getting a coop...) she offered to "babysit" them for us and to put our four hens together a week or so before we would come get them so that could get used to each other. When we went to pick them up on Friday she and her husband made us tea while Iris immediately joined their four kids outside to play and we chatted about homesteading and the like. I think we hung out there for like two hours, it was great. We highly HIGHLY recommend them if you're looking for chickens! Here are a few photos from our visit...

Now the issues. Or rather, the main issue. Angry neighbours! Ah! Long story short (kinda), our neighbours (who we've always had a good relationship with) are very opposed to us having chickens. We've always had great relationships with the people in our community and this is the first time someone has had an issue with something we're doing and it totally surprised and stressed us out. They have many concerns (the noise, smell, that their property value will go down, that the birds will die in this weather, predators coming into the yard, etc.).  We've tried to reassure them but they pretty much didn't want to have any conversation with us at all and have told us they'd be calling By-Law Enforcement and the Humane Society if we brought the birds home. As someone who absolutely hates confrontation this has been really stressful and frustrating. Don't they know we are nice people?! Don't be mad at us please! It's gotten to the point where we have been in contact with bylaw to double and triple check we are doing everything by the book. Anyway, we've tried all that we can to be friendly and open but it's been disappointing that it's gotten us nowhere.  So, we're just going to move on and try not to let it bother us too much. I mean, who doesn't have a grumpy neighbour story right?  Our hope is that in a month or two this episode will end, and that these neighbours will have come to the realization that: the chickens have no impact on them at all (noise, odor, attracting pests, etc.), and that we are doing a FABULOUS job keeping our ladies happy and healthy.

We put a "decoy" egg in the nesting box so the ladies will know that's where they should lay their eggs. It worked! That egg is from Rosa or Nellie, the small bantam chickens.

We kept the hens in the coop all day yesterday so they figure out that it is their new home and will hopefully climb up into it at night. The first night we had noticed that none of the ladies were exploring the actual coop part and we had to physically put them in there at night. That sounds so easy when I write it.  Actually, it required me to nudge them to one end of the run with a broom while Dave tried to grab them and put them up top. Michelle escaped and then we had to corral and pounce on her.  You probably get the picture. We're newbies! But the ladies made it in there eventually! Dave went out to check on them before bed and heard them purring sleepily. Be still, my heart!

I'm hoping to do a coop tour next and give you an idea of all the stuff we had to get ($$). But I should probably just stop now. I can already tell we're going to be those annoying chicken obsessed people, ha!


We Have Chicken Coops + An Update!

4 March 2017


Today we rounded up a bunch of free things people had set aside for us including not one, but two chicken coops, some pallets, hay bales, and some chicken paraphernalia. This fall when we mentioned we wanted to raise a few chickens we had two families jump at the opportunity to pass off their used coops to us. (Should we have taken that as a warning sign? Hmmmm...) One of the families had had chickens for a few years but their kids lost interest in it, and the other family had a similar situation but with the added terror of having a rat problem with theirs (I know, signs! We choose to ignore these!).  Anyway, we traded coops for family photoshoots (I'm a photographer) just to say thanks and there you have it, practically free chicken coops! 

We plan on using the top pictured coop as of now. We have the roof off in the picture but you can probably get a general idea of how it works (I'll do a chicken coop tour post later once the ladies have moved in). The bottom photo coop is the one that had a rat problem with theirs (the mom added that her son would throw the chicken feed all over the backyard so we're thinking the problem stemmed from that, not from the actual chickens) but anyway it needs a bit more TLC than the other. We're going to see if we can repurpose it at all or pass it on to someone else. 

We also got a few hay bales (or is it straw? We're still figuring these kinds of things out) that we're likely to use as mulch between the garden beds and Dave plans on using the pallets for our composting system. 

 The current view of (part of) the backyard. Dave says it looks kinda junky, but I get butterflies seeing all this cool stuff coming together!

You know what this means?! We can have our hens move in soon! Like total dorks, we've already picked out their names and everything and they're currently living at Happy Hens Heritage Farm until we're ready to pick them up. And if the weather holds up this may be sooner than we expected, woot!


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