Chickens!

We got chickens a few weeks ago from someone who was giving them away. We were supposed to take their coop as well, but it was decided that the coop was too difficult to move. I guess it would have had to have been completely torn down to move (it was a refurbished playhouse). So, we spent the Sunday we got them building a little coop in Grampop’s garage. By “we” I mean Hubby and Grampop. It took them about 5 hours to finish.

The coop looks small, but it serves as a hotel for our two chickens (who have been named Neville and Eville). All they do is sleep and lay eggs in there, the rest of the time is spent outside looking for bugs.

We let them free-range our yard unless no one is going to be home, and they seem to be pretty happy. So long as the dog isn’t chasing them, ha.

Chickens are not hard to care for. I thought they were going to be difficult, but they really aren’t any more difficult than a dog or a cat. You open up the coop in the morning, scoop out the poop and any soiled pine shavings, feed and water them. It gets more complicated if they spend their whole day inside of a large coop because there is more cleaning involved, but the system we’ve got is pretty nice.

We started out with an egg eating problem, however. That is a special kind of disappointing: go to reach for a freshly laid egg and the hen turns around and pecks it open! The little chicken ate two eggs total, but has stopped now. I blew out two eggs and filled them with mustard and we put a golf ball inside the coop for her to bruise her beak on. I’m not sure if either of those things were what made her stop, but she hasn’t eaten any more since the second egg.
Who knew chickens ate their own eggs? Apparently it’s a common problem, although it still doesn’t make any sense to me on a basic survival level.

The dog ate one of our eggs, so we lost a total of three to the animals. Now we know to keep the eggs where the dog can’t get them when we bring them inside. I wasn’t expecting it because I have fed our princess dog raw egg before and she wouldn’t touch the shells. It didn’t occur to me that a fresh egg smells different because it hasn’t been washed.

Now it’s time for math!

The feed we buy is $27 for 50# (organic, soy free mash).
Poultry grit is $10 for 5#. You have to mix 1# into 40# of feed or free feed. I’m going with the former method in the interests of making math easier.
Pine shavings are $13 for a huge bag. I haven’t gone through a third of it yet and it’s been 3 weeks.

So feed is $.57 per pound making 40# cost $21.6. Feeding expense per pound including grit runs at about $23.6 (or $.59 per pound). Each chicken eats 1/4 to 1/3 pound a day. Again, in the interest of easier math I’m going with the former number. We have two birds, so that’s 1/2 pound per day, 3.5 pounds per week. Weekly feed costs are $2.07 (rounding up). Assuming we use about 1/3 bag of shavings every 6 weeks we can add  $.72 a week making the total cost $2.79 per week.

We get a dozen eggs a week (each hen takes a day off of laying). A comparable carton of eggs from the store runs $4.99 and up. That saves us $2.2 per dozen, so about $9 a month.

It doesn’t seem like that much  on paper, but it’s more than worth it. We’re getting nutritionally superior eggs for $.20 less than what I normally pay for eggs from the store.

Not only that, but chickens are good workers! They till your soil, fertilize your garden (or grass) and keep pests in check.

I’m looking into ways of growing your own chicken feed to cut costs even more, so I’ll keep you updated!

In the End…

I had a ton of ideas for what to write about this week. Time ran away from me and I didn’t have time to really sit down and write something that wasn’t rushed. Recipe posts are pretty easy, but I don’t have any pictures to accompany them yet, so that’s out. I was going to write about Hamlette’s birth, but that’s going to take a little bit of time.

I was productive though. I made an art for a good friend of mine, who is also Hamlette’s god-mother, to celebrate her birthday and the book she just published:

I learned that those La Croix sparkling waters make excellent mixers for kombucha. It works really well if your kombucha has fermented a bit too long: you can’t taste the sourness at all!

I also learned that going on a picnic is an excellent way to spend an afternoon thanks to my best friend. I will be going on more picnics this summer for sure!

My awesome mother-in-law took measurements of our front lawn in preparation for terracing. I’ll be happy to have a front-yard garden. I’m busy researching landscaping ideas for edibles as well as what kind of bricks to use and ideas for where the yard meets the driveway. Our driveway is sloped with the yard right now, so it will be an interesting problem to fix. I’ll figure something out, though.

It’s supposed to snow a lot this weekend, so I guess I’ll get time to work on it while I’m stuck inside.

Do you have anything big planned for the summer?

Spring is in the Air.

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Spring is here! And with it, lots and lots of mud. Having a puppy is pretty great…

My in-laws and I started our seedlings a few weeks ago in preparation for this year’s garden. We started a ton of tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, purple cauliflower, tomatillos, moon and star watermelons. I think that’s it. There are several other seed packets waiting for the last frost to happen, and some carrots, beets and parsnips to plant before the last frost.

We’ve been getting lots of moisture, which is fantastic! Because it’s been so wet I’ve got some volunteer spinach, an onion I tried overwintering, and garlic already growing. And lots of bindweed. Lots and lots of bindweed. I don’t mind telling you that I hate bindweed, with a passion. Bindweed is the honey-badger of weeds. It will not stop.

My cover crop I started failed pretty spectacularly last year, even though I started it pretty early. I forgot to water it enough, I think. Live and learn.

What are you planning on planting this year?

Winter is Coming.

IMG_0708   I try to garden. I’m not very good at it yet, but I’m getting better each year that passes. Last year I tried out cover crops, and I liked the result. I had less of a weed problem in the bed I grew the cover crops in, so we’ll see if that holds true for the other bed I’m trying this year.

I picked Winter Rye and Austrian Snow Peas as my two cover crops because Colorado gets fairly cold, so I needed something hardy. I also wanted to mix crops, and I wanted one of them to be a nitrogen fixing crop. Next year I’m going to grow some variety of beans or peas for nitrogen, but since I haven’t been doing anything for it I figured getting a cover crop to do the work would be a good idea.

IMG_0709The bed I planted the cover crops in this year was my beet/onion bed. The onions never grew very big because I dropped the ball with weeding, so I figured I’d let them overwinter and see what happens. There’s also one baby beet I’m trying to overwinter, we’ll see how it goes. The reason it matters at all is because I harvested all of the beets last month and planted the cover crop seed and the rest of my beds are still planted because we haven’t had a hard frost yet (weirdly enough). I think September is the best time to plant the cover crop here, because I didn’t get to it until October or later last year and the snow peas didn’t grow very well. They lived, but they weren’t terribly happy plants.

Another benefit to growing cover crops is that you get green all winter long, rather than various shades of brown. Brown is nice and all, but green is even better.

IMG_0711I also had two of my carrots go to seed. I find this odd because everything I read about carrots said they’re biennial which supposedly means they only go to seed in their second year of life. So I’m not sure how it happened, but I’m not complaining: I have hundreds of heirloom carrot seeds for practically no cost ready for next year.

IMG_0710I never knew what carrots look like when they bloom until I got my volunteers this year. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Each carrot has multiple flower bunches. They start out in a dome shape with all of the blooms facing out for pollination. Bees and flies are the primary pollinators. Mine got mostly flies because I planted them in the back right next to our trash bin so the flies were already there. Once they’re pollinated they fold inward and start forming seeds. You can see in the picture on the right that the middle is green and the edges are brown: the heads are ready to cut when the middle has browned.

It takes about a month for this all to happen and the heads don’t all bloom or turn into seeds at once so you have two months or so of seed harvesting to look forward to. The harvesting itself is pretty easy: once you cut the seed head from the plant you wait a few days for it to dry out and then you turn it upside-down and rub the seeds. They just fall out. It’s best to do this into a white container so you can actually see the seeds. It doesn’t take long at all, and I actually sort of enjoyed it.