Farming on a Shoestring Budget.

If you follow me often, you know that this year I’ve started a small suburban farm, Collingwood Farm. I love it. I tell people I am more content than I have ever been. And I am. But this year, things are a little slow going, as expected. I’m still working my “real” job, so I can afford to run the farm. Time is a little tight, and so is money. But, we expected the first year to be the investment year. Next year will be better.

But how are you making it work?” you ask. The answer is simple. RECYCLING!

One of the unspoken mission statements of the farm is to reduce waste, and utilize as much “trash” as we can. In turn, we end up saving on expenses. So, I wanted to share some of our more recent projects, because I think they’re pretty darn cool. ūüôā

THE $50-ish CHICKEN COOP

My husband and I made this coop kind of on the fly, back in February. We inherited some chickens, (and then bought 3 more), but really didn’t have adequate housing for the poor girls. It houses the 6 girls comfortably, and they have plenty of space in the pen while we’re at work. And it all cost about $50 bucks!

The base of the coop is some shipping pallets I got free from craigslist. The frame and pen were made from lumbar we got free from a local business that just threw it away after using it for shipping materials. The inside was lined with pressed board that came free from craigslist, and given a good coat of paint from left-overs from painting some rooms in our house. The roof is pieces of plastic awning that shaded the windows on our house when we first moved in. We took them down when we replaced the windows, and my brilliant husband saved them! The fencing and other doo-dads were all things we already had acquired somewhere along the way.

The main investments were:

  1. (2) Plywood for the outside and roof- $16
  2. Hardware (screw, nails, brackets, hinges)- $25 **We got these from the Habitat for Humanity Restore, so they were also recycled!
  3. Red paint- $15 (The guy at the paint counter liked what we were doing so much, he gave us a discount!)

GRAND TOTAL: $56.00

 

There you have it! Check back soon for a “Part 2”!

Chicken Catastrophe—>divided?

Nettie on the left. Birdie on the right.

You may remember, when I first introduced “the girls,” I said that Nettie was brooding when we got her, but was starting to peck the other two at feeding time.¬† Well, I noticed this morning, she was a little more aggressive. Then, this evening she was being really mean. Like, making the other two squeal, and not letting them eat. I took a close look, and saw both Birdie and Dolly were bleeding from their combs. Now, I don’t know much about chickens, but I do know if you see blood, it’s not a good thing.¬† So a quick google search, and an after hours phone call to “our chicken guy” confirmed, Nettie had to be isolated. Thus, the picture above. We did some fancy footwork, and divided the pen part of our coop into 2, with the old Net-ster on the left, and Birdie and Dolly on the right. ( Birdie is pecking around like nothing happened and Dolly is hiding the in coop growling at me.)

I made sure all the bleeding was done, applied some vaseline, gave both sides water and shut off the lights. Hopefully in a few days Nettie will be calm enough that we can let her back in with the other girls. I think she’s starting to molt, though, so we may have to come up with other arrangements for her.

Any of my more experienced chicken-owning friends out there have any suggestions?

Things I’ve Learned from My Chickens, Week 1

Lesson 1: Jersey giants are big. REALLY big. They have beady eyes, huge claws, and beaks, reeeally big beaks.

Lesson 2: They move fast. And, oh yeah, they fly.

We got our chickens on Sunday. Henrietta (aka Nettie), Dolly and Birdie, also called “The Girls.”¬† I haven’t blogged about the girls yet, because mostly we’re all still adjusting. Day one started off…interesting. We had to transfer the girls from the cardboard box we picked them up in, into the coop. Now, I read that chickens need time to adapt to their new homes, or they’ll attempt to fly home. So, I was extremely focused on keeping them contained. That is, until we took the box lid off. Within the first 10 minutes of arriving home, the girls had me screaming and laughing hysterically, all while flapping my arms and jumping around like I was doing a really bad dance. My husband saved the day by running after them down the driveway.¬† I was still flapping, and laughing even harder.

Lesson 3: Chickens have distinct personalities.

Nettie was broody when we got her. So she didn’t do much besides sit in the coop. She still hides when we come out to see them. She’s not broody anymore, and yesterday she started pecking at her sisters during dinner. She’s letting them know she’s back in action, I think.

Dolly was mild, and sweet the first few days. Now all she does is growl at me and runaway. If first impressions stick with chickens, after my shrieking and dancing on the first day, I don’t believe she’ll ever stop growling. I’m attempting to overcome my intimidation of these huge girls, so I tried to pet Birdie today. Dolly tried to peck me. Yikes!

Birdie. Oh, Birdie.¬† She is my favorite.¬† She never missed a beat. She’s inquisitive, outgoing, and doesn’t growl, runaway or peck at me. She let me pet her, twice. She just started making this sweet clucking sound when she sees me. It warms a chicken mothers heart. ‚̧

The inquisitive Birdie in the forefront, and timid Nellie in the coop. Dolly is too busy growling at me to get in the picture.

Lesson 4: Whoever said chickens don’t lay for awhile after their environment has changed has never met my chickens.

We really didn’t expect to get any eggs for awhile since the girls were uprooted from their home. They had a heat lamp and 16 hours of light there, and Nettie was broody anyway. We put them in their coop at 2pm on Sunday. By Monday at 7am, we had an egg. Now its Friday, and I have 7 eggs in my fridge. I’d call them pretty good numbers! And the eggs are biggin’s!

Lesson 5: You can tell who laid the egg by shape, color, and place, most of the time.

Birdie was the first to lay. It was obvious for a few reasons. One, she was oblivious to any change, and was happy from the start. Two, the egg was huge. HUGE! She’s the biggest of all 3, so I just assume it was her. She made a little nest in the straw, not in the nesting box, and laid the first day. Her eggs tend to be darker , and they’re all extra large.

Dolly laid the first day too, in the same spot as Birdie. Hers were slightly smaller, and lighter in color. I know it was her, because Nettie was still broody, and because I saw her lay one.

Nettie lays in the nesting box. She’s the only one. We’ve gotten two light brown, large sized eggs from her so far.

Dolly's on the left, and birdie's on the right.

Lesson 5: They tend to lay their eggs at the same time of day.

So far all the eggs seem to be found between noon and 2pm.

Lesson 6: They’ll eat mostly anything, but if it’s sweet, they’ll inhale it.

The previous owners told us that they had a sweet tooth. The first few days, I gave them apples. Then the left over kettle corn. They devoured it! Yesterday, I gave them a half a head of cabbage. It’s still sitting there.

Lesson 7: They are funny and really entertaining.

I catch myself standing in the cold watching them. They peck. They scratch. They Flap. It sounds ridiculous. But unless you have them in your backyard and get a chance to watch them, you won’t understand. They’re just comic relief at it’s finest.

Lesson 8: I’m scared of chickens.

Probably not the best lesson to learn after I’ve committed to caring for them, but it’s true. They are intimidating. They’re skiddish around me, probably because I’m skiddish around them. I haven’t picked one up yet (OH DEAR GOD!)¬† But I’ve attempted to pet them. Unsuccessfully. Dolly wants to kill me. But, everyday we warm up to each other a little more, so it’ll be fine. I’m confident of that.

Lesson 9: I love my chickens.

These ladies don’t require much. And although we aren’t particularly fond of each other yet, I still feed them, give them shelter, and worry about them, and they still give me eggs, fertilizer, compost and entertainment.¬† I think I got the better end of the bargain in this one.

We’re gettin’ Chickens!

Firstly, I’d like to say Happy New Year to all. I know I haven’t posted in some time, but 2012 started off with a real bang. I spent the first 4 days of the year in bed, sick. Then on the 8th day, I had surgery. BANG! But, all is well now, and as you may have guessed from the title…WE’RE GETTING CHICKENS!¬† And I may be just a hair excited about it.

I’ve been half-heartedly¬†pestering my husband for about a year to get some chickens. But, then we worked out a barter system with a fellow my husband works with. We gave him fresh veggies and home canned goods, and he gave us fresh eggs from his flock. So the desire for our own chickens kind of waned. Then, last week our egg supplier confided in my husband that he’d fallen on some hard times and had to sell his chickens because he was moving. Two immediate thoughts:

1. we gotta help this poor guy

2. our essentially free farm fresh egg supply will be no longer ¬†(selfish? Yes, but we’re being realistic here….)

Now, I just happened to be reading about chickens for a few weeks. (I got a few books on backyard chickens and poultry for Christmas.) So the idea of inheriting this guys 9 chickens sounded super awesome to me! When it comes to farming, I’m of the “Let’s do it, and see how it goes” mind-set. My husband on the other hand is the realist, devil’s advocate kind. So we talked about it, and slept on it, and craigslisted for cheap chicken coops, and after coming to the conclusion that my husband was not ready for the commitment, we dropped it….for about an hour.

It must have finally hit my husband that if we didn’t inherit some of the chickens, we’d have to go back to eating fat laden, bland,¬†watery, sad looking eggs from the grocery store. (If you haven’t had fresh farm eggs, there is a major difference in appearance and taste that you quickly look forward to…Maybe I’ll do a comparison post some day.) So, off we went! We bought a small coop, large enough to hold 3 chickens temporarily, that we found on craigslist.

We decided we weren’t ready for a whole flock of 9 chickens, because, well, we’re chicken. (HA! Had to…) So we’re getting 3 of “the best layers.” I haven’t seen them yet, but they are apparently of the Jersey Giant breed.

Pretty, don’t you think? I definitely would have picked these girls if I’d had an option. According¬†to my readings, they’re calm, decent layers, and good for meat (although I doubt I could stand that.)

We should be bringing our girls home in the next week or so, so I took advantage of this FANTASTIC January weather, and spent the morning raking pine needles for their bedding, breathing fresh air and getting some sun on my face.

I even made them a little roost out of sticks from the yard. Now I just have to give the coop a good cleaning, buy some feed, and make a nesting box and¬†run for them. The more I do, the more excited I am! We’re going to have fresh eggs, but even more exciting, I’m going to get the best composted fertilizer from their bedding for my garden. OH, I can’t wait.¬† I’ll be sure to keep you updated on how this little adventure goes.

Happy Nesting!