Bawk, Bawk, Bawka-razzi!!

Bekah doesn’t want any pictures taken… what a celebrity.

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The Ides of August – The bees are restless…

This might be normal activity for your hives – for mine – they are typically quite a bit more subdued than this.

3 or 4 in and out at a time, quickly followed by 3 or 4 more… just continuously. This… not so much.

Interesting – and I’m taking it as a sign of good health as the population climbs.

No More Rock….

Nope, I’m not switching over to only country music, or R&B, I just don’t want to mess with rock anymore. Rocks in the post holes, Rocks when we dug the paths, rocks when we replaced the paths, rocks when we lined the paths… NO MORE ROCKS!!

Let me back up. If you remember – the wife and I have embarked on the quintessential Urban homesteading project – removing the front lawn to grow food. We started it back in March/April… you can see the beginning here:

https://littlehouseon17thstreet.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/what-is-that-glowing-orb-in-the-sky-why-isnt-it-raining/

As with all of our projects – we do it by the littles – as we have money, as we have time… as we have energy…

…So you can understand why it’s taken so long. There is quite the draw on these 3 resources in my life lately.

However – the primary pathways are in. The river rock to divide pathway from bark dusted garden paths is mostly in – I’ll need another load before it’s all done. The garden boxes in the center are built… some dirt is in place in the boxes as I level out the outer beds… believe it or not, it’s beginning to look like a garden and less like Chernobyl.

The lawn gets its edge stones, just needs a bit more work and it's ready for plants.

The lawn gets its edge stones, just needs a bit more work and it’s ready for plants.

Shut the Door!

An unusual thing happened this morning. I got out of bed before 6 am.

Thing 3 had just gone back to sleep in her crib, and Ben had the coffee on so I figured I might as well stay up and take a cup out back to enjoy a rare moment of peace and quiet.

The opossum peeking at me from the back corner of the garden, however, was enough to throw off that thought process.  Little pointy head. All teeth. Little waddling “run”.  Ugh.  So that’s what is chewing on my little pumpkins and pooping all over the garden. I had strongly suspected raccoon, but that little guy indicated otherwise.

Ben joined me and we got to talking about opossums and what strategies we might try to convince them to head elsewhere. I pointed out a gap in our bamboo “fencing” rigged up around the garden where it looked like something possibly climbed it and caused the cross-pieces to pull downward.  While we were looking at that, the girls started getting stirred up inside the coop and clucking. A rat came tearing out from the eave of the coop roof, scrambled down the siding and dove out of sight. So much for a quiet and relaxing morning in the garden.

I spent the rest off the morning inside researching how to identify opossum and raccoon poop and reading Internet horror stories of opossums getting inside people’s houses.

The neighbor kid came over later that to play with Thing 1 and Thing 2.  I promptly kicked the three boys outside and decided to try and throw together a batch of granola bars despite Thing 3’s insistence at attaching herself to both my legs and crying (brothers woke her from both nap attempts this morning–might seriously be time to get Project Third Bedroom started. . .).

Thing 3 finally contented herself emptying my cupboards, the granola bars were mixed and in process of  getting smoothed out into the pans when next thing I know, three boys come bursting through the kitchen door from outside, all yelling and hollering something that sounds like, “GET IT! IT’S IN THE HOUSE, GET IT!!”

Something big, sleek and black streaked past the corner of my eye, toenails scrabbling to keep traction as it hit the hardwood floor.  Three boot clad boys pounded the floor right behind it.  It rounded the corner and fled into my bedroom.

My first thought after the morning I had: “WHAT kind of rodent did THOSE BOYS just chase into my house?!?”

As the boys and I collided around the corner–Thing 3 scooting on her butt right behind us–the animal began to squawk and bock and flop and flap back and forth across my unmade bed, three sets of grubby little hands reaching and diving after it.  Chicken Nugget, you stupid chicken, don’t you dare poop on my bed!!  (And yes, of all the chickens, it would be Chicken Nugget to end up in the house.)

Thing 3 thought the whole fiasco pretty entertaining until Chicken Nugget found the bedroom window and started flapping her wings in a desperate attempt to escape.  The flapping wings hitting the window freaked her out and she began shrieking.  The boys continued trying to corner the chicken which only resulted in more flapping against the window and more shrieking baby on the floor.

“EVERYBODY OUTSIDE–NOW!!” I yelled.

The boys vanished.  Three faces soon appeared at the outside of my bedroom window (though the  look on those faces when the chicken hit the window again gave me something to laugh about later).  Chicken Nugget tried to squeeze under a chair in the bedroom.  At that point I easily grabbed her and tucked her under my arm.  (“Yay!  My Mom got her!” I could hear through the window.)  Out went the chicken.  Baby got scooped up and snuggled until she had calmed enough to stop trembling.  Granola Bars went into the oven.

Lesson learned?  Don’t get up before 6 am. Oh, and when baking Granola Bars, shut the back door.  One simple step to keep life that much more sane.

Curious about the recipe?  Like most of the recipes I use, I originally found it on allrecipes.com. . . but have changed it a bit since.

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This is the version I used today:

4 ½ cups rolled oats

¼ cup wheat germ

¾ cup flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup coconut oil

½ cup maple syrup

1 cup applesauce

2 cups assorted chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and unsweetened shredded coconut

First, make sure the back door if firmly shut.  Then go ahead and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease one 9 x 13-inch pan.  In a large mixing bowl combine oats, wheat germ, flour, coconut oil, maple syrup, and applesauce.  Stir in the chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and unsweetened coconut.  It takes a bit to mix and make sure all the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated into the liquid ingredients.

Lightly press mixture into the prepared pan.  Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cool for 10 minutes then cut into bars.  Let bars cool completely in pan before removing or serving.

My Life As a Country Song

I came home tonight from work to find Thing 2 curled up on the couch, his head nestled what appeared to be VERY uncomfortably on the rim of his puke bucket, the wife yelled from the kitchen which has lately began to look a lot like the Nalley factory that we were out of Mustard Seed – the tone in her voice told me it was serious, and on top of it all – Thing 1 informed me that yet another chicken had gone broody… I’m up to my ears in projects, there’s stuff all over the yard, in the house…

I didn’t realize that my life had become a country song.

Thing 2 is taken care of – the chicken had already been caged, and it’s a good thing the store is 5 minutes away.

That’s the interesting thing about ‘farming’ in the city. The country life follows you – the good and the bad. Living within city limits, we’re finding that we have to find creative solutions to the not-so-awesome-parts of keeping a large garden, chickens, bees, and complete green space overhauls. With these come tools, feed, equipment, and periodic headaches.

We’re having to now deal with the raccoon that is taking out our produce in the garden and investigating our chickens… We’ve had to figure out how to deal with broody chickens effectively (UPDATE: 5 days in the hole took care of Arugala – she’s all good.), finding ways to deal with the flies that come from having free range poultry… finding counter space to put a decent beet harvest, 25 pounds of pickling cucumbers, and all the canning supplies… then there’s weeding the garden, reclaiming the lumber in the driveway, ordering gravel… then there’s the projects…

…you see, country living in the city isn’t all roses like some of the hipster urban homestead blogs would have you believe. It can be gritty, chaos laden, smelly, dill pickle-y… it’s kind of like making things from Pinterest – the pictures look so sweet- but in reality… it doesn’t always work out as it should… (Speaking of this phenomenon.. you have to see this if you already haven’t… http://www.boredpanda.com/funny-pinterest-fails/) and there’s always some slight downsides to every endeavor…

Life itself is two-sided. You can’t have the good — you can’t reap the rewards without the challenges. The proverbial vegetables won’t grow unless it rains… Trials bring growth.

Would I trade it? Nope. Not at all.

Because in addition to all of the above… today I bought my lovely wife a pickle crock, the house smells like pickled beets, sweet pickles, dill pickles, and the beautiful jars full of color are beginning to fill up the counter. I spent part of my afternoon with my bees, I bought a pellet gun… *whistles*… I’m wearing overalls right now… (seriously.. I am – they’re fantastic – how often do you get to wear overalls!?!)

Life brings challenges and frustrations sometimes. It wouldn’t be life without them. You can’t have the good without the bad… to an extent – how could you know the good if it weren’t for the bad?

Yup, my life has become a country song – and I love it.

 

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“Pale Clucker”

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This is Arugula. She is an old bitty.

She’s always grumpy, pecking at the other chickens. Always whining about things. Constantly squinting. Seriously… she looks like Clint Eastwood.

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Today, Thing 1 came in from getting the eggs and said – “MOM! I can’t get any, Arugula is sitting in the box, and when I try to move her, she pecks me… she’s also barking at me or something.”

Those of you with chickens of your own are already nodding your head in recognition – but for us, we just came across our first broody hen. 

Chickens – like all women have an internal clock, and now and again – it gets the better of them and like ‘Loretta’ in the Life of Brian, they exclaim loudly and clearly to the world – “I WANT TO HAVE BABIES!”

So – the old bitty absconded all of the other chickens eggs, and laid on them as though she was going to hatch them. Blissfully unaware that they are unfertilized. In her mind, if she lays on them long enough – some sort of immaculate conception will occur, and the chicks will hatch out.

Silly Old Bitty.

The problem with broodiness in hens is it throws their system for a loop, slows down to feeding and watering, makes them susceptible to illness and mites, and basically takes them out of the laying chain for almost 9 weeks total.

It is therefore vitally important to break the broodiness as quickly as possible both for egg production, as well as ultimately the health of the bird and the other birds in the hen house, as broodiness begats broodiness. 

I read numerous methods of breaking a bird of broodiness, one of which involved dunking them in ice water. (no thanks) the science behind that is to cool off the bird since their body temperature increases while they incubate the eggs. Dunking them in ice water will reduce its overall body temperature as quickly as possible – however, this also sounded the most abrupt and unhealthy to me, and didn’t rank high on my list of fixes.

I needed however to get her off the nest, off of any of her eggs, and away from materials where should could stick herself down into and keep that temperature up. So the answer that seemed like it made the most sense to me was to get her up off the ground, on wire. 

I hit craigslist looking for free rabbit hutches. No deal. Posted a status on Facebook looking for rabbit hutches. No deal. Considered absconding a shopping cart from one of the many abandoned shopping carts in NE Salem for a moment – (fully intending on returning it… even though it might have been caked in manure…)

I finally settled on building a wire cage out of my 2×4 wire fence, and cable ties – kind of like how we built the hoophouse. Here’s the “Pale Clucker” in her new jail cell until she’s broken of her broodiness.

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She’s about 4 inches off the ground – gives her air circulation underneath as well as on top and all around. She’s got food and water – inside the coop so that she doesn’t get dismembered by raccoons… should be good to go. 

The judge was fairly lenient, her sentence is only a couple of days – we’ll let her out after that and monitor her behavior to see if she’s still acting up, and if so – back in solitary for a bit if not – back with the rest of the girls.

Maybe a little time in solitary will make her less like an old bitty. The odds aren’t good.

Our journey into the world of Chickens…

When my wife came to me and suggested that we get chickens… initially – I thought she had kind of lost it. We’re in the middle of the city, I hadn’t taken the red pill of Urban Homesteading just yet, but at that time, there was a massive push by a local citizens alliance, “Chickens in the Yard” or C.I.T.Y. for short to get backyard hens legalized in the City of Salem. Shannon became very interested, we even attended a couple of the city council meetings… it was quite the battle, and the citizen alliance won out, but unfortunately, in the all encompassing wisdom of the Salem City Council, the first iteration of the ordinance involved a significant permit fee ($150), a bunch of legal hoops, semi-yearly coop inspections… all for 3 backyard hens. Realistically – the conditions were too onerous for the average citizen. Your die hard chicken keepers would keep chickens for that kind of money, but the average citizen would say no thanks. (which I think was kind of what the City of Salem actually wanted…)

Thankfully cooler minds prevailed, and the Salem City Council relaxed many of their outrageous expectations, and adopted a far more balanced approach. $40 dollar application for permit, a structural Coop Inspection prior to getting the chickens, then 5 birds. No complaints, no problem. Potential of fines if there are valid complaints.

Being that this was far more reasonable, Shannon wanted birds. Bad. We finally bit the bullet and started the project this past November once we made the decision to stay put and make this place our home.

For those of you who have been reading this blog since we started it, I have mentioned numerous times that we were in the process of going through the beginning steps, and getting it built. Due to many things: Scheduling, Weather, Material Acquisition, other projects that popped up, etc… it took significantly longer than we expected.

… Not to mention, the coop itself quickly became the flagship of our homestead, and as such – it became more of a precision project than a “slap it together and let’s get chickens” sort of deal. My brother-in-law is an incredible carpenter, and very giving person. So he agreed to help us out – and we are very thankful for that.

I’m happy to say that we built the entire coop save a couple of items from reclaimed materials. The only items we purchased for the coop itself were the fasteners to hold it together, the glass in the windows, the ring on the door pull, and the poultry netting. Everything else is recycled materials from torn down buildings, old fences, salvage parts from various places… all either donated, or salvaged ourselves.

I’m very proud of the work that we put into it, and the final product is truly beautiful.

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The process it took us to get there was exhausting, and took quite some time – some of you will look at it and go, “Oh, that’s nice.” Others of you are like me, and will want to see the process we underwent.  This will be a long post, but in case you don’t want to read the whole thing to get to the finished product, the TL;DR is above “Hey look we got chickens, and here’s where they live.” If you want to see more, keep reading…

With no further ado – here is our journey into the world of Chickens.

Just like real estate, with chickens its all about location, location, location… but no. Really it is. At least with the regulations we have in Salem. The coop has to be a certain distance from all neighboring buildings, fence lines, etc.. but thankfully we had this large patch of grass and junk next to our shed that used to be the home of an old gnarly diseased plum tree that we removed the first year we moved in. We tried various things there, but nothing really did well. Except of course… Grass and kids toys. They multiplied plentifully… perfect place for chickens. Centrally located, easily accessible… perfecto.

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Once we had made the call to put the chickens there, we chewed up all the grass with the weedeater and laid down straw to choke out the grass, which worked remarkably well.  In future photos, that straw is what you will see piled in the middle of the lawn, in later photos, that is the reason for the large dead patch right smack dab in the middle of the back lawn. Ooops. 🙂

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I began the process by digging out and leveling the ground, and setting foundation blocks along the footprint of the coop (Yes the one closest to the camera is wonky… whoops). The initial design gave us a coop that was 6 feet wide and 10 feet long. We didn’t want an exterior “run” being that we’re in Salem and it rains buckets, frequently sideways. So we wanted to enclose everything, giving them an internal run with roost space, nestboxes, etc.. figured 60 square feet was modest digs for 5 birds. The problem was – we had no materials whatsoever to build from this point. I didn’t want to spend a fortune on the coop, and I desperately wanted to use recycled materials. (I’d love to tell you it was all because I wanted to save the planet, but its more that I’m a total cheapskate… saving the planet was a close second though…)

My brother-in-law Matt worked for a construction company here in town owned by another friend of ours, and I told him what we were doing, and asked if he could keep me in mind if they had any demo that needed to get done – I figured I’d go in at night and tear stuff out to save the studs and materials and save a little here, little there. He said – we’ve got a house down right now, and it hasn’t gone in the dumpster yet… lemme call my boss and see if we can go and get it. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…

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It was cold and wet, hence the fog on the camera lens, but we ended up with an entire truckload of old rough cut lumber…  (Which was CHOCK full of nails… there was much de-nailing to be done – but the coop building could commence!!)

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With the process just starting, our energy levels were high, (Of course we were downing energy drinks – so that may have helped), but we were excited, and worked HARD for a couple weeks to knock it out.

Walls went up.

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Beer was drank.

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IT GOT COLD!!!

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The roof went on – we cantilevered it out over the end closest to the house to shelter the nest box area from the driving rain of the Salem area.

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Old rustic looking cedar fence (complete with Sureno graffiti) became the exterior siding…

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At this point, there was a somewhat large break in time between the work, the weather got cold, rainy and nasty. Our schedules got busy, we ended up getting distracted with front yard projects and a bunch of other stuff. When we got back after it, much less pictures were taken – it was just focus and get things done. We trimmed out the windows and door, and cut in the chicken door, and built the 3 nestboxes. (Each nestbox is 12 inches high at the shortest point x 14 inches wide x 16 inches deep –plenty of space.)

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It came to the point it was time to get the windows done. We had some old windows – but they were covered in old flaky lead paint and kind of falling apart. I decided I didn’t want to mess with getting all the lead paint off of them, and shoring them up for use, so we built our own out of our leftover rough cut. I’m very pleased with how they turned out.

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For the floor, we have relatively unique flooring. Pergo. Yes. You read that correctly, we dumpster dove at a local business in Salem that chucked a bunch of boxes of Pergo flooring, and we salvaged it. We managed to get enough to cover the 60 square feet, so we had an easily cleanable floor in the coop. (We are using sand and spot clean as we go, like a big old litterbox)

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We framed in the door, and put the remainder of the windows in. We had to add the flowerboxes as well… only the absolute necessities. 🙂

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With the primary shell in place – we paid our fees and had the coop inspected – passing with no problems. Then it was time to finish outfitting the coop (feeder and waterer), add the ladder roost (which clips in place on the ceiling when you want to clean under it) and the poultry netting around the windows, sand substrate in – and of course getting our girls from their surrogate parents.

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The girls (Lady Gray, Java, Bekah, Arugala and Chicken Nugget) moved in during the first part of May. They’re total mutts, so it’s hard to nail down exactly what they are, but one or two look like they’re crossed with jungle fowl, the rest maybe English Game, one’s got some Ameracauna, the rest maybe Barnvelder, they might even have some Silkie in em… who knows. If it walks like a chicken, clucks like a chicken… it’s a chicken. 🙂

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… and of course the fruits of our labors.

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We’ll get into more on the chickens as time goes on, I’m sure – but for now – we’re happy with where we are. We’re learning a lot in the process, and it’s really too soon to do a ‘Here’s what I would have done differently” analysis. For now, we’re getting eggs, the chickens are happy, the kids are happy, most importantly my fabulous wife is happy… therefore I’m happy. 🙂