Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lines of Defense

I've read way too many horror stories online of chickens being killed by predators, so I knew once we moved out to the middle of the woods that extra protection would be imperative. First, for nighttime protection, we have a very secure coop.

The above picture was actually taken at our old house! We got this coop even before we had plans of moving. I thought it was the cutest thing ever, but more importantly, it's predator-proof. There is a tiny little door, also known as a "pop door," that you can see in the photo below on the bottom left of the back wall. This is the door the chickens use to go in and out of the coop. At nighttime, they all go in on their own when the sun starts to set, so I just close and latch the pop door and they are safe.

Of course they need protection during the day as well, and I've read too many stories about raccoons ripping apart chicken wire that I knew to go for 1/2" hardware cloth. It is more expensive than chicken wire, but we've never had an issue so I know it has been worth it.

It's also important to fend off the predators that like to dig and get to the chickens that way, so to combat that we sort of splayed out the hardware cloth on top of the dirt around the run. Most predators will try to dig right up next to the run, so just having a sheet of hardware cloth on top of the ground about a foot away from the run on all sides is effective.

Now that we had a predator-proof coop and run, we were all set. However, I was a nervous wreck most of the time, so I thought we needed even more protection. First order of business was to get a rooster!

One of David's students gave us this rooster a few weeks after we moved out here. He was hatched in April so he was still small, but now he's a giant! I've read numerous accounts of roosters fighting off predators and even sacrificing themselves and standing in front of the hens if a predator attacks. They will give a warning call if they sense a potential threat and the hens will stop what they are doing and pay attention to the rooster for further instructions. And of course, what's a farm without a crowing rooster? :)

Once we had Cam I felt a little more safe, but I knew we needed to bring out the big guns. Enter Duchess!

A livestock guardian dog (LGD) is the ultimate protection against predators. Duchess has been amazing in scaring off anything that doesn't belong. Case in point - a couple of weeks ago I came home to find a huge indentation in the fencing on the door to the chicken area. I quickly counted all the chickens and inspected Duchess to make sure they were all fine. We told our neighbor about what we saw, and she said that a stray dog had killed a couple of her chickens on the same day that I saw the fencing pushed in. Duchess saved our chickens that day!

In addition to Cam and Duchess, we also have guineas that are great "watchdogs" as well.

A few days ago I was outside with the chickens and noticed how effective our system of protection actually is. Cam gave his warning call and the hens froze and watched him to see what to do. The guineas began screaming, then Duchess started barking without actually looking to see what the threat was. She knew that when Cam gives his call and the guineas start screaming that something is awry. I was so happy and proud in that moment knowing that our system works! We have a triple threat when it comes to protection. Come to find out, they were only freaking out about a stray cat that was on our porch. Probably not much of a threat at all, but it shows that they know to be on guard when anything out of the ordinary happens which is exactly what we need.

Last night David pointed out that Baby, our outside cat, is another line of defense. She gets rid of all the rodents! Not much of a threat to the chickens (I have seen them tear apart a live mouse and believe me, it wasn't pretty) but she does her part, too.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Evening Rush

When the weather is so nice in the evenings, I rush home as fast as I can and change into my dirty clothes so I can go outside with David and enjoy what little daylight is left.

One of our favorite activities - kicking down dead trees!  

Just a weed but looks like a flower so I got excited :) Spring Fever!

I don't even want to know what is in there...

It's so relaxing to walk around the property and I love it when the sun starts to go down.

Of course I had to get in a little chicken cuddle time before it got dark! Chickabod seemed more than happy to oblige :)

Caught one of the guineas taking a little nap!

On a side note, I went to Buchheit's today to get some chicken supplies, and saw this! They had so many chicks and even had little ducks and big turkeys! So cute. We are getting eight new baby chicks next month and I'm getting excited.

Also, the guineas are now laying eggs! We've only found a few so far and haven't cracked them open yet to see what's inside, but this is what they look like (chicken egg on the far right for size comparison).

The weatherman is saying that it's going to be 73 degrees tomorrow. 73 degrees in February?! I'll take it!


Friday, February 17, 2012

Clearing the Camera

I have my camera with me pretty much all the time, and I take a lot of pictures around here. Many don't warrant a whole blog post, but I wanted to share some of them. Enjoy!

Caught Fitzer with his leg behind his head!

For the first time in our lives, we have a garage! David leaves before me in the morning, so I let him park his car in the garage so it's nice and toasty for his drive. The cats love to play on his car!

He gets his blue eyes from his dad :)

This is an oldie but a goodie taken last fall. I saw this mug at Barnes & Noble right after we moved out here and had to have it. This is probably my all-time favorite quote and one that kept us going when we had our house on the market for a year, took it off after no offers, then decided to put it back up for sale again. We knew our dream was living in the country and working towards becoming self-sufficient with our chickens back where they belong. It was the life we had imagined for ourselves. With all the setbacks, we had to keep going in that direction and knew it would happen someday. And here we are! 

I thought the long commute would start to wear on me after a while, but I actually enjoy it. When I'm driving home towards the sunset and catch the sun just on the horizon, I'm so struck by the beauty and overwhelmed with gratitude.

I love my neighbors :)

Arrrrr, mateys!

My grandma's tiny dog, Roxy.

Not sure who was more curious here!

Four of our hens are laying again after their winter molt!

That's all folks!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine's Day Tradition

A few years ago, we decided to make sushi for the first time on Valentine's Day. It was a fun way to cook together and it actually turned out halfway decent. So we made it the following year, and again this year to keep up the tradition.

Gotta set the mood right. ;)

We made avocado, cucumber and California rolls. A partially successful attempt was even made at shrimp tempura and tempura avocado rolls! We are by no means professionals, and it's not surprising for a roll to turn out a little wonky. Even if the rolls aren't perfect they always taste awesome. We are still working on our technique, and next time we make a good batch we will put up a short tutorial in case you'd like to try making sushi at home. It really is pretty simple, fun and rewarding to do with someone you love.

And you can't beat seeing your man working in the kitchen!

~Tammy & David (Editor-in-Chief)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cleo's Frittata

Since it's nearing the end of the month for us (our next "fiscal month" starts on the 10th), I've been trying to use up all the groceries in the house so I don't have to spend any more of our grocery budget. Good thing, because I'm over $7!

On the way home I was brainstorming ideas for dinner, and decided to cook something with eggs in it because three of our hens are laying again (woohoo)! It's been a while since we had fresh eggs and they are such a luxury. My grandma says I've spoiled her and she can't eat store bought eggs anymore because eggs from our chickens taste so good.

I thought a frittata would be good, and I got started by caramelizing some onions. Now, if you've never had caramelized onions, you have no idea what you're missing. If you say, "Eww, I don't like onions," you've probably never had caramelized onions. Basically all you do is thinly slice a couple of onions (they cook way down so you need more than you think) and cook them in some olive oil/butter with lots of salt & pepper for about 45 minutes to an hour on low heat. Cooking brings out the natural sugars and turns the onions into something amazing.

This is what you start with...

And this is what you end with!
These onions are good on anything. Literally. I can eat them just like this!

Once I had the onions ready, I added some chopped mushrooms and a handful of spinach and let that cook down for a while. Then I grabbed the eggs.

 These were all laid within the past two days. You can't really tell from this picture, 
but the top right egg is green! It's from our Easter Egger named Cleo, hence Cleo's Frittata. :)

I scrambled up the eggs with about 4T of unsweetened soy milk (and lots of salt & pepper) and poured them in the pan over the onion, mushroom and spinach mixture. I let it cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat until it was set on the bottom, then put the pan under the broiler on low for about 2 minutes (watch it VERY carefully!). It's ready when the top is golden brown and bubbly, and the eggs are set all the way through. I plopped the frittata out upside down onto a plate so the bottom would be on top (looks a little nicer that way). Cut into little slices, and voila!

I've made frittatas before and wasn't very impressed, but I'm glad I tried again because this one was amazing. I think the key was adding the caramelized onions and cooking the eggs in the same pan the onions cooked in. The frittata had such great flavor.

Made a quick little potato hash to go on the side.

Good thing I had a plan for dinner because David was hungry after playing with his new toy...


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Forestry Management and Big Plans

We've been thinking a lot lately about what we want to do with the land out here. Of course the woods are beautiful and we love all the trees, but the fact is, we can't do what we want with all the trees out there. So, we are getting the property logged.

Sometime this week we are getting an estimate for what one company will pay us for the timber. After that if we give them the go ahead, it should only take another couple weeks for the job to be done. Before getting the estimate, we had to mark the trees we do not want them to take.

We want to save most of the bigger trees around the house to keep a cozy, woodsy feel. But just about everything else is fair game. Eventually we want to dig a pond in the back yard so we figure they can take all those trees since they'll have to be gone anyway.

These trees are keepers, but some of the other trees we had wood stacked in between will be cut down, so we had to move a BUNCH of wood.

 We made about 4 or 5 trips after marking all the trees, so we were pretty worn out by that point!

It was really good to get some work done outside. It had been a while, so it was fun and a good reminder of why we bought this property in the first place.

Our ultimate goal is to be self-sufficient and be able to grow ourselves most of what we eat. We moved out here towards the end of summer last year, so we didn't get a chance to plant a garden. But this year, we're going all out! As it is now, there's really no good place to have a garden because the trees won't let the sunlight through. But after we get the property logged, we'll have plenty of places for vegetable gardens.

Our long-term plans include a big pond, fruit orchards, vineyards, corn fields, Christmas tree farms, wheat fields, and places for more animals like goats and ducks. Of course it will take us a while to get there, but logging is the first step towards making all that happen. So excited we're getting the ball rolling!