Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Girls

So, you've followed along for Parts One, Two, and Three of the Poultry Palace's building.  

Now, you probably want to see who gets to live in such nice digs.  Right?

I was in such a hurry to have chickens that were laying eggs that I scoured the internet for options.  I thought I would buy birds from the local hatchery, but apparently they don't have any chicks after July.  Something about colder weather and little birds not mixing.  Go figure...

So then I searched on Craigs List.  And searched.  And talked to locals.  And posted on Facebook.  

And then I hit gold.  A guy had listed 300 (!) laying hens for sale.  I didn't want near that many, but after talking to the man, I found out that I could buy the 14 I was looking for.  He assured me they were all in good health and that they were all laying.  So, we packed up the car with the dog carrier and drove two hours to get our girls.

When we arrived, we could see why Animal Control was taking the birds.  The conditions were deplorable.  I did not see any feed or water.  It was a barren piece of land with an abandoned, old garage on the property.  And, 230 chickens were shoved into the garage.  It was crazy!!

We looked at the chickens, and though it wasn't the best circumstances, we knew we wanted some birds, and felt that we were rescuing some of them.

We packed up 14 of them and headed back home.  

After about a week, we noticed that the girls seemed to be doing a lot of preening (bird term for itching and taking care of their feathers).  After doing some internet research, and doing a few very personal checks of our chickens' skin,  we realized our girls were infested with lice.  Ewww!

Since we're going the natural route with our critters, we decided that we would try a Poultry Day Spa in order to get rid of the itchy wee beasties.  So, each chicken was treated to a luxurious 3 pool dip.  10 minutes in a vinegar/water bath, 10 minutes in a Dawn/water bath, then about 5 minutes in a rinse bath.  I would have some FABULOUS pictures, however I was elbow deep in dipping chickens and couldn't stop to take pictures.  Crazy thing?  The girls seemed to like the warm baths.  They'd make a low, deep purr while in the water.  After they were done being deloused, one of the kids would dry them and hold them close for a few minutes in the warmed coop.  The girls didn't like this part too much.  A chicken cannot regulate her own body temperature, and relies on her feathers to trap air to be warmed, and therefore warm her body.  
Wet feathers = cold, cranky hens! 

After dispensing with the wee beasties, we thought eggs would be pouring out of the coop.  We waited with baited breath for our first egg to appear.  It seemed to be taking forever.
So long, in fact, that we lovingly named the birds, "The Freeloaders."

After several different evolutions of nesting boxes, and trying several different things in terms of roost bar locations, etc. we realized that we may have bought old chickens who were past their laying days.  The girls were just not laying eggs.  We gave them grace due to the stress of being contained in an over crowded garage, and for the stress of being moved, and for the stress of the Poultry Spa, and for the Fall molt.  But, after a while, we became discouraged. 

The Freeloaders seemed pretty happy with their cushy digs, fresh water, breakfast in bed, and all the kitchen scraps they could scarf.  They didn't seem to be in any rush to give us an egg. 

Then, one day... An egg!!

While we are grateful for any eggs we receive, most of our girls still don't lay.  We get 1-4 eggs a day, usually only one.  That could be due to the age of some of the hens, time of year, short daylight length, etc.  We've decided to let them continue being Freeloaders through the winter.  We've culled a few from the flock, and will do so again after the days are long enough that everyone should be laying.  So far, culling is definitely the worst part of owning farm animals.  Feed and other costs are too high for us to raise chickens as pets.  To quote Dave Ramsey, "You don't work, you don't get paid." 

For now, we will enjoy the fresh (DELICIOUS!!) eggs we are receiving and watching the antics of silly birds. 

They are the cooky-est, funniest, most entertaining animals I have ever owned!

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Poultry Palace, Part Three: It. Is. Finished.

So, you're back for more?  Great!  Then let's carry on, shall we?

After finishing the hardware cloth flooring, Mr. Man began to measure boards to begin the roof.  The view on this particular day was spectacular.  The trees and clouds weren't too bad either!

I honestly don't know how he did it.  Not the nailing the boards part, but the figuring and measuring and making it all, well, roof-like.  I looked at the notes he'd made, and he explained it to me, but all I heard was, "Math, math, math.  Blah, blah, blah.  Nails."  There was only one thing I understood. 

Needless to say, once the day was out, he'd made the roof joists.  Or frames.  Or whatever it is called when you put up some boards, all at the same angle, and then lay the roofing materials on it.
We were able to salvage some metal roofing materials that were left on our property (sometimes it does pay to buy from, uh, less than organized or let's-not-clean-up-after-we're-done-with-a-project type people!) in order to make the roof.  Add to that some other metal bits that were around the house and property and we had a water tight roof!  

Then came the time to get all the boards onto the walls.  This was the most laborious part of the job (as if all the rest of it has been a cake walk!) as it entailed milling out each.  and.  every.  board.  for the entire stinkin' thing!  

So, Mr. Man milled as fast as his saw could go, and I measured, cut, and nailed the boards to the coop.  If I remember correctly, this process took over two days.  

Once the boards weathered on the coop, they shrunk a bit.  (First time homesteader note:  allow boards to dry after milling before using them in a project.)  The kids and the Mr. used a spray can of insulating foam to fill the holes.  Once dried, I used a small saw to trim off any extra gooshing bits.  

Then came the run.  Oh, the run!  Sounded pretty easy.  Put up some posts.  Wrap chicken wire around said posts.  Wah-lah!  Chicken run.  Um, nope.  First, we had to dig down into the hard packed soil.  AGAIN with the pick axe!!  Because we didn't want varmints to dig under the run fencing, we pick axed (shudder) down about 18 inches and sunk more hardware cloth down and out at a 90 degree angle to the fence.  

Then, we easy peasy lemon squeezy hung/wrapped/wrestled the chicken wire onto the posts.  Funny thing:  When you measure for the length of wire you'll need for your fence, it might be a good idea to take into account you'll need extra to go around the posts, or you'll find yourself "sewing" together scraps to finish said fence.  True story.

Mr. Man made a beautiful run gate out of wood scraps and chicken wire, complete with a gate latch and an "Oh, Stinker! I just locked myself in the run!" escape lever.  

And then, one day later, our chickens arrived at their new home.  But, you'll have to wait for another post to hear more about them!

P.S.  Know that if you come to visit, we will most likely put you to work.  No one is immune.  Shortly after we finished the coop, my mom came for a visit and spent the better part of two days helping me prime and paint the coop!  

Missed the first two parts of The Poultry Palace?  No worries!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Poultry Palace, Part Two: Varmint Precautions!

We knew that our chicken coop would need to be the Fort Knox of the chicken world.  We had read a lot of blogs and books to get some ideas about how to protect our chickens from varmints.  

I had been thinking we'd need to be wary of coyotes, and cougars, and bears.  Oh my!  And while those are all real threats living where we do, the bigger threats are skunks, foxes, and birds of prey.   Varmints!

Since our coop sits on the ground, we decided to run hardware cloth along the underside to keep any digging varmints from getting into the coop.  

Remember, it's July.  Not terribly hot, but the ground is terribly solid.  And, also remember that I Hate.  Hate.  LOATHE... the pick axe!

After Mr. Man and the kids helped me to dig down a bit (dratted pick axe again!) we stretched the cloth under the coop frame.  

So that they wouldn't form a breach in the high tech security system, the panels needed to be attached to one another. 

Somehow, this became my job...

I took the 3' wide panels of wire and "stitched" them together using wire and needle nose pliers.  I didn't like the lack of dexterity when I was using gloves, and so I did this bare handed.  After a couple hours, my fingertips were screaming!

I was certain that if I didn't get the panels snugged together and practically air tight that something would find the hole and eat my girls.   

 After the wire was secured, we piled all the dirt back on.  

The guys started piling before I was even fished "sewing" the pieces together!

 It was a big project, but one that we felt was essential. 

And, with everyone pitching in and doing their part (!), the job was a great accomplishment!

As you can see, the coop still had lots more work before we could get some hens in there.  
We'll get to that next...

The Poultry Palace, Part Three:  It.  Is.  Finished. 

And, if you missed Part One, you can catch up here:  Let It Begin!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

We Give Thanks

We are grateful for all God has provided for us. 

We are grateful for our family's health and well being.

We are thankful for the animals:  the dog, rabbit, and chickens.   And all the critters and varmints that roam our acres!

We are thankful that our freezer is filled with fruits, veggies, fish, venison, and elk.  And probably more bacon than is healthy or advisable.

We are thankful for a warm home, hard work, and soul-drenching contentment.

But most of all, we are grateful for our Savior.  For the One True God who offers forgiveness, and salvation as a free gift. 

Do you know my Jesus?  If not, I'd love to introduce you.  In Him is found compassion, joy, and life everlasting.  And that is something to be thankful for.

Today, and every day, we praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Poultry Palace, Part One: Let it Begin!

One of the first major projects we wanted to tackle when we arrived at Four Fruitcake Farm was to build a chicken coop and get some laying hens.

We began the project in late July.  When the ground was at its driest.  And hardest.  And most pick axe unfriendly.  Good times...

Mr. Farmer Man and The Farm Boy started out by leveling the area we'd designated as the premier spot for the coop.  Using an axe, hose, and shovel, they dug through the natural grasses to the hard packed earth below.  It was a slow, laborious process. 

Seeing the long grasses with their even longer roots made me have more respect for those brave, strong pioneers who "busted sod" in order to forge a new way of life for generations to come.  In fact, there have been many things we've done on our homestead that make me very grateful for the technologies we have today that those who came before us did not have.  Even if that technology comes in the form of a pick axe.  Dreaded, nasty thing!!

After leveling the ground, Mr. Man began to mill the wood he'd felled in the forest.  He was able to use the logs to make enough 2x4s to frame out the coop walls.  

There was also some scrap lumber around the property when we bought it, so we used some of that in the project too.  Have you ever tried to nail into weather beaten, old, decrepit boards that seem to have petrified?  No?  You should try it some time.  It's a true test in patience.  And perseverance.  And attention.  Take your eye off that nail for a millisecond, and that hammer will hit your fingers.  Every.  Single.  Time.  True story!

Everybody "helped" in some way.  Brother helped hold up the framework.  Sister took photos.  The dog... well, he checked our work frequently.

And at the end of the day, the building was beginning to take shape.  We had a building with wood that Husband had retrieved from the forest, milled, and hammered together into the frame.  We had a door and window that were given to us free of charge.  And we had sore muscles.  Oh, boy!  Did we have sore muscles! 

Coming up next:  The Poultry Palace, Part Two:  Varmint Precautions

P.S... Please do not gag at my choice of work clothing.  While they don't fit well any longer (hello, Clean eating!) and are so unshapely and lack any style whatsoever, these have been the clothes I've worn for any major house project for the last 10 years.  They have paint from two different South Carolina houses (babies' rooms!), cement from a Florida house, and they're just nostalgic.  Okay?  'Nuf said...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Catching Up

 As I type, it is blowing snow outside.  However, I am cozy in our home warmed by a fireplace stocked with wood my husband felled and chopped, and that was stacked by the Farm Kids.  The elk roast, harvested by said husband, and complimented by root veggies from several friends' gardens, smells delicious.  I'm sure it will taste divine.

There is just something about being able to enjoy the fruits of your labors.  There is a soul-drenching contentment in working hard and enjoying all that God has graciously provided. 
In our short time homesteading, it didn't take long to learn a few things:  The work is hard.  It is usually unending.  Just when you think you've finished projects or chores, something else pops up.  
The work is hard.  Much harder and more time consuming than I'd expected.    
But the rewards are limitless.
And my soul is drenched in contentment and my heart is happy.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

Now that the weather has turned cold, I find that, while the chores have not slowed down, I am spending more time indoors.  That's good news for you!  I will have time to get to all the posts and pictures and updates for this blog I've been planning to share for the last five months!

So, hold on to your cowboy hats.  Or your snow hats.
We're gonna get caught up, you and me!