Saturday, July 9, 2011

Striving for Sustainability

At the end of June, my husband and I celebrated our fifth anniversary as homeowners - which is hard as ever to believe!

Over the past five years, I have slowly acquired a passion for learning to take care of the Earth (and I daresay my husband has, as well ;)). It sounds silly, I know. But if you would have asked me about anything eco-friendly five years ago, I probably would have laughed. At that point in time I really didn't see the point in trying to live in harmony with this wonderful world God has blessed us with. There were just too many other more important things to worry about, and I figured we could always move to Mars or something once we had used up Earth. Today, I could probably talk your ear off about recycling, growing (at least some of) your own food, my upcoming cloth-diapering adventure, or (of course) our chickens!

And so, caring about the environment has become an important part of my life and something that my husband and I strive to pass on to our kids, as well. 

In our attempt to be more self-sustainable (and because it's fun to eat the food you've grown!) we planted three separate veggie gardens in the backyard this year, and they are all doing pretty well! I just snapped some pics of each one this past week as we were harvesting some of our first baby beets, broccoli, radishes and lettuce. It is so fun to see our daughters get so excited about veggies!

Here are a few pics...
Madeline holding spring mix lettuce and radishes, and Savannah holding baby lettuce
in front of Little Garden #1 (tomatoes, lettuce, spinach and basil)

The Big Garden - beets, broccoli, watermelon, peppers,
carrots (that have since been trampled by chickens),
and tomato plant forest!

Little Garden #2 - tomatoes, cukes, radishes, and lettuce (which
has mostly been eaten by chickens!)
About three days' worth of eggs from the ladies!

Do you have a story to share about your own journey to green living?

What do you have growing in your garden this year?

I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, July 1, 2011

The New Coop!

This post is long overdue...

We moved the ladies into the gorgeous coop a couple of months ago! My husband made this AWESOME coop with his own two hands (and a few tools ;)). I am sooo impressed with his mad skills and the chickies really seem to enjoy the bigger place! We really saved some $$ by making it ourselves (I did help screw in a few sides! :)) and we know the coop will hold up well throughout the seasons!

My hubby Chris hard at work! 
Our lovely daughters testing out the coop!

Now moving it from the garage to the chicken pen was quite a task! Well, I was just the photographer...

It was pretty heavy...

They hopped up on the spacious roost right away!

We still need to paint the outside, so it has been covered with a tarp to protect the wood since we moved it outside... but here is the finished (unpainted) product!

The back of the coop, complete with a chickie-sized door and window

Front view, with people-sized door
(there is an awesome nesting box on the other side that I'll have to get a better pic of soon!)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A new(ish) flock for the new season

As the warmer days of spring began to play with our emotions amongst the stubborn blustery days of March, our backyard flock went through a bit of a transformation.

Saying goodbye to Moo:
  Our beloved Golden Comet and champion egg-layer "Moo" was stricken with an unknown chicken illness mid-March. She stopped acting like her usual active and cheery self, and despite our futile efforts to nurse her back to health, she passed within a matter of days. Although we have our theories, we are still uncertain of the exact cause. We hope she had a lovely life free-ranging in our yard and we are thankful for all the yummy eggs she gave us. She will be missed! :*( 

Moo standing guard as Twink finishes her dust bath.
She sure did love those old tires! 

Finding friends for Twink:
  Generally, chickens don't thrive all that well without some buddies. After about a week of solitude Twink seemed tired of being alone (and we were tired of the egg shortage), so I began to look into buying adult hens. I found a guy on craigslist with lots of hens that had just started laying, so we went to check them out. We ended up with three different kinds. I think they are all beautiful and we've had a lot of fun watching the four ladies establish a new flock! 

"Twink" checking out the newcomers
Clockwise from Top: "Goldie" the Buff Orpington, "Moo II"
the Golden Comet, and "Peck" the Barred Rock

Friday, February 18, 2011

Surviving the Ohio Winter

First and foremost, apologies for taking so long to write the next entry! As anyone who knows me fairly well may already know, I tend to struggle with consistency. I'll try not to let it happen again!

For those of you who may have been wondering if I stopped blogging because our lovely girls didn't make it through the winter... I am thrilled to tell you that that has not been the case!

I decided to write about our housing method of choice for the delightful winters we tend to experience in Ohio, as it is one of the first things most people ask me about when they discover that I am a chicken-keeper. This is our first winter keeping chickens, and it hasn't been a mild winter by any means with plenty of chilling below-freezing nights and quiet snowy days, complete with an ice storm that caused power outages across the state! Our ladies have survived it all and continued to lay about ten eggs a week, too (collectively).

There are many schools of thought on how chickens ought to be kept throughout the winter in order to keep them safe and well-fed and to keep egg production relatively high. Many people board up their chicken houses and hang heat lamps to keep them warm and laying (some hens stop laying when temperatures get chilly).
Other people swear by open-air chicken coops with clean, dry "litter" (the stuff in the nest boxes and on the floor) to keep chickens disease-free and as healthy as possible throughout the winter, despite the fact that egg production sometimes slows down. This has become our method of choice, and seeing as how it is almost March and the girls have thrived and kept up egg production, I'd say it works!

We modified the "chicken tractor" slightly for the colder months by giving it a wooden floor and ceiling, but we left the two sides open to ensure good ventilation. To prevent drafts in the coop, we covered the sides and top with a heavy doubled-up tarp and surrounded the coop with big sheets of plywood. It is not the most beautiful chicken coop at this point (and we have a privacy fence so the neighbors don't complain), but it has served to keep Twink and Moo alive and well throughout the storms. I throw new pine chips (our "litter" of choice) over any wet spots or poo daily and replace the old chips every week or so.

(From left to right) Moo and Twink enjoying their cozy coop,
but perhaps not the flash on my camera! 
Aside from housing, it is also important to keep plenty of food and clean, non-frozen water available for the chickens. Like other animals, chickens need more food in the winter and will often not eat if they don't have fresh water available to them. We didn't buy a fancy water heater or anything this year, but Santa did bring the girls a metal dog food bowl that works perfectly for water. Now morning feedings are so simple that I just have to stumble outside, pour warm water over the frozen bowl to melt the ice, shake the feeder around a bit and scatter a handful of oats. This seems to quiet down the chickies and keeps them well-fed. Throughout the day, I check on the water bowl and unfreeze/replace the water as necessary. Simple and cheap, just how I like it. :)

We also let the chickens free range all day just as we did in the warmer months, always checking to make sure they make it back inside the coop before falling asleep! (We have had to move Moo a couple times when she's dozed off outside; she's not a very big fan but I'm sure she'd thank us if she could!)

Diligent egg-collecting is imperative during the winter months if you don't want to lose your eggs to the frost! Twink was in the habit of laying her eggs outside the coop at the start of winter, so a couple of her hidden eggs were frozen by the time we'd find them. Now, I'm happy to say that they both are back to laying in the coop... at least until the sun comes back out...

"What? This isn't where we're supposed to lay?"
DISCLAIMER: This method of chicken-keeping may not work for everyone. Our feathered females both come from strong egg-laying, and winter-hardy breeds.