It’s full fledged autumn here. The leaves are falling, the temperatures are dropping, and we’re getting ready for winter. Are you ready for a “dark winter?”
I was excited to have four eggs for breakfast today. They were smaller than usual because they are pullet eggs and came from our young hens. Yes, the chicks we got the first week in June are now beginning to lay eggs. Now they can earn their keep and pay me back for their feed by feeding me.
(In the photo above, the larger egg on the right is a commercial egg. The other four smaller eggs are our home grown eggs.)
I look at it as being one step closer to being food independent. Are we going to live on eggs and honey? Of course not. But the price of eggs had increased by 12 percent in the past year, so producing them on-site will help our grocery bill. As I have stated before, having eggs will allow us to help neighbors and give us something to barter with. As the chickens get older, the eggs will get bigger. I expect our daily harvest will increase as well.
Sometimes things go bump in the night. Sometimes the dog barks and we don’t know why. Then I saw a pair of glowing eyes in the distance.
Frequent readers may recall that I patrol my property late at night. OK, I am actually just walking the dog, but I think of it as a de facto patrol. We walk down the drive way to the road, scout the perimeter, and check the chickens and their enclosure. I hope our presence and smell motivates any predators to think twice about paying a nocturnal visit to the chicken coop.
Each night, I don my headlamp, and I am always armed because, well, I am always armed. Some nights, especially of the dog has been acting like something might be out there, I strap on a 1911 with a Streamlight TLR-2 light/laser combo mounted on it.
I bought the TLR-2 relatively cheap years ago for use on a Smith & Wesson M&P with an extended magazine that was my bedroom self-defense gun. How long ago was this? Let’s just say that the light has only 135 lumens. Yeah, that’s old. Still, it is enough light to identify your target at pistol-engagement distances.
Autumn is bringing us rain, but also apples, hunting, and before long, fires in the wood stove to keep us warm.
If there was any doubt, nighttime temperatures in the 40s have announced the arrival of fall, which officially took place on Wednesday the 22nd. We have been experiencing rain and cooler temperatures much of this week.
I moved some firewood into the basement, but we are planning to hold off using the wood stove as long as possible. For now, I am wearing a fleece. Yesterday, I put on my wool socks for the first time since early spring.
This is the time of year when your electric bill drops. The AC doesn’t run, the heat doesn’t kick in. With any luck, our dehumidifiers will stop. (If not, they certainly will when we fire up the wood stove.)
Another sign of fall is trees filled with ripe apples. I’m looking forward to cider.
The tree in our main image is less than half a mile from our house and is growing at an old homestead. There’s nothing let of the homestead except the chimney, the spring, and five apple trees (the sixth one died) in drastic need of pruning. The neighbor who owns that land, which is on a bigger parcel, said half the apples are for eating, half for baking. We spotted at least three varieties.
We face our second hurricane in two weeks, prepare for cooler temperatures and ready our bees to get through the winter.
We survived the aftermath of Hurricane Ida unscathed. It must have brushed by us, saving its anger for folks in New York and New Jersey. We got less rain and less wind than we did with Fred. The power was out for less than two hours.
There was a period of wind when there was a tremendous banging outside. I had to put on my muck boots and my poncho and head out there to batten down the hatches. The big gate to the garden and had blown open. It was slamming against the pole with every gust of wind. I latched it and added a couple of bungee cords to minimize bounce.
I am not sure whether our chickens are brave or stupid. Most of them would rather hang around outside in the rain than in their coop. As a result, I delay letting them out when it is pouring. Our four roosters are all crowing now, but have not been loud enough to wake me up. Still, the day is coming where we have to eliminate at least two of them before they kill each other.
Our first experience at raising chickens continues to go well. These ladies are about halfway to early adulthood and should be laying in a couple months.
Our chickens are now eight weeks old and still growing rapidly. They were fuzzy balls with legs and beaks when we got them, they grew to look like badly feathered miniature dinosaurs, and finally became recognizable as birds when they were about the size of a pigeon. Today, they are obviously chickens. Half size, yes, but clearly identifiable as chickens. They are also developing distinct personalities. Happily, all 17 have survived.
At this stage, they have little red nubs where their combs will be, and the nubs are more prominent on the bird we assume are the males. One roosters goes around chest bumping other birds. I don’t think they are celebrating touchdowns, so I have to assume he is trying to establish his dominance and position in the “pecking order.”
I don’t want to live on grains an greens alone. I am a omnivore unless given the opportunity to be a carnivore. But that’s difficult to accommodate when prepping.
I priced rabbits today at Rural King and they were about $42 each. Yikes! After buying chicks for just a few dollars each, I was shocked at the higher cost. Of course, rabbit pens would be cheaper and easier to construct than the chicken coop and run. I think three does and a buck should generate enough bunnies to butcher eat at least one per week. I figure my start-up costs would maybe $300 plus food.
I’m not ready to take that step yet. I want to get the chickens laying and butcher and eat a few birds first. They are my proof of concept, so to speak. Can we breed and raise enough chickens to help feed us during a collapse or food crisis? Will my chickens survive the weather and the predators long enough to lay eggs? Will they become broody enough to hatch their own eggs and raise their own chicks? Can we feed them if there is no commercial feed available?
Maybe I will consider rabbits next year. In the meantime, a dog is probably ahead of them on the list. (Don’t worry, the dog is not for eating. If I want to eat dog meat, I’ll just kill a coyote.)
After a month, the garage had started to smell, well, like chickens. Or maybe chicken poop. The time had come to move them into their permanent home.
We moved the chickens from their brooder into the coop yesterday. We did this by carrying the brooder (a large dog crate) out to the coop and trying to coax the chickens to move from the brooder into the coop. The change of scenery scared them, and they cowered at the back of the brooder, refusing to go into the coop.
You’d think they would want more room, but perhaps that much space was intimidating. We had to drive them from the back of the box until they ran into the coop in a panic. Once there, they quickly adapted to their new environment and immediately started scratching and searching for edibles in the straw we use as bedding.
One of the nice things about the move is that we can now give them larger food and water containers. I was filling the old food container three times per day and the waterer twice per day. The chicks found the food right away. Because it is larger, there are more feeding stations, so less crowding.
We also gave the pieces of zucchini, along with plenty of grass and clover. They like their greens.
We got off to a slow start back in mid-March and the weather wasn’t the most cooperative, but we’ve finally finished building the chicken coop.
The chicken coop is complete! All the doors are in place; I trimmed and screened all the windows with hardware cloth; the locks are installed; the door has tested just fine; and I built the roosts.
Now all we have to do is wait for our chickens to get at least another 10 days older.
I am continuing to improve the fencing as well. I have used 6-inch landscaping staples to anchor the welded wire fencing to the ground. Then I started to install the half-inch hardware cloth on the fence that goes around the coop. This is four feet high and I am installing 18 to 24-inches on the ground to keep predators from digging in and the balance above to keep small rodents out. We also installed the garden gate.
We may have small stock, but its keeping us busy! From feeding the bees to cleaning chicks with pasty butt, it’s all part of a day in the life of a homseteader.
Five or six days after transferring my bees from their nucs into a full-size hive, I inspected the three beehives. All of them were doing well. Plenty of yellow and orange pollen is being brought in by the foragers and I could see the bees storing it away.
I switched hive bodies in the first hive, which came on medium frames, putting a medium box on the bottom and adding a new deep hive on top of it. The bees had built comb below one of the medium frames, so I moved it to the larger box, along with a full-size frame on which they had drawn comb. I hope the queen will gradually move to top box and lay her eggs there. I prefer to use my large hive bodies for brood and the mediums for honey, but sometimes things don’t always go as planned. I’ll remain flexible and will wait and see what the bees do.
There were three or four frames with brood which had pollen and wet, uncapped nectar around it with some capped honey at the top. There was also a frame full of bee bread and honey. These bees were in the midst of drawing out a couple frames and are in good shape. I expect the hive to keep growing.
With spring giving way to summer and summer storms rolling through, we have to plan our work around the weather. There always seems to be more to be done.
We tackled multiple projects this week, some inside and some outside as we received more than 2.5 inches of rain and plenty of mountain fog over the past few days.
I built a new desktop computer for my wife, after ordering all the components online, moving her from her creaky Windows 7 box to a new Windows 10 computer. Transition was pretty seamless and all her old peripherals and her wireless network card worked just fine, which was a relief. That filled a rainy day and then it took part of the night for Windows to update repeatedly.