Our Chicken Setup

We have had chickens for a little over a year now, so I thought it would be a good time to share our setup – how and why we do our chickens the way we do. I didn’t want to get too far into the details before we were happy with everything, and for our current situation, we seem to have found a great setup.

Our Chickens

Owl Moon Farms Chickens

Our Happy Hens

We purchased our mixed brood from MyPetChicken.com as day-old chicks. 4 Buff Orpingtons, 4 Dominiques, 4 Plymouth Barred Rocks, and 4 Rhode Island Reds. Initially, I was hoping to receive one male and three females of each. It turned out we received 4 female Rhode Island Reds and because the Barred Rocks and Dominiques look exactly the same until their combs start to grow, we had trouble telling them apart for the longest time. One of our black and white chicks passed away early on, though we’re not sure of what, so we ended up with twelve hens and three roosters. We anticipated choosing one rooster to keep, and since I really wanted the keeper to be a Buff for future use in a possible breeding program, I was discouraged when we discovered he had a badly deformed foot, and was not a good candidate for breeding. We were gearing up to cull one or two of the roosters, when a fox mama visited and killed the Buff rooster, 2 buff hens and 1 Rhody hen. It was a very sad day on our farm, and we are still trying to recover, having searched for weeks for replacement hens.

If I were going to do it again, I would purchase straight runs of just Buff Orpingtons. We wanted heritage breeds, and all of the birds have been wonderful, but if we plan to get serious about a breeding program, Buffs tend to be very good mothers and would make a better choice.

We were able to hatch 2 babies this spring, and one is still growing strong. She is about 4 weeks old now, and I’m still not sure how to introduce her to the main flock. Currently, she’s living in solitude and I am concerned about her ability to adapt to living with other birds.

Homemade chicken brooder

Homemade Chicken Brooder

The Brooder

I found a photo online and showed it to dear hubby. I said, “Please make me this!” and he did. It is heavy so we installed some trunk-style handles on the ends to make it easier to lift. We also installed a small hook & eye loop on the roof/front door so it can be safely opened without worrying about the door smashing our little ones’ fingers. After a few days it was clear the chicks needed somewhere to roost, so we put two roosting bars inside across the back two corners. We are using it again right now as we brood our home-hatched chick, and this time I put a 1’x1′ stool/bench/table inside which helps keep the food and water clear of pine shavings.

Homemade mobile chicken coop

Owl Moon Farms Chicken Coop

The coop

My very handy husband worked evenings for 3 straight weeks, getting our “eggmobile” up and running in time for our first brood in August of 2012. We started with a standard 4’x8′ utility trailer that we purchased from CraigsList. He framed it out, added siding, a roof, 2 5-opening nesting boxes, and 4 functional windows. We put rubber stall mats on the floor, three straight-from-the-woods nesting bars, an AC vent in each end and suspended a galvanized feeder from the roof supports. We put lots and lots of shavings in the coop – on the floor an in the nesting boxes. Even in the 95+ heat this summer, the coop does not have an overpowering odor – the birds seem to do most of their…eh hem…business out of doors. Last year I left most of the shavings inside the coop and used them to help generate heat during the cold weather this winter.

I plan to update with some pricing very soon.

PoultryNet from Premeir1Supplies.com

We elected to purchase one, 140-foot section of electrified poultry netting for our birds, to give them the freedom to roam while also offering them safety from most ground predators. We would prefer to allow them to range more freely but we are currently “leasing” our land in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. In the future, we hope to give them a much larger area.

Premier PRS 50 Solar Energizer 

Premier PRS 50

Premier PRS 50

Because we wanted our chicken coop to remain completely mobile, we chose a solar energizer which has worked extremely well for us over the past year. The charge seems noticeably weaker after a few days of cloudy weather, but generally it seems to hold a good strong charge.

Things to consider:

  • Be sure your nesting boxes open up, not down if you have a choice. While our henny was sitting on her eggs, she and the eggs were living in a small, borrowed chicken coop with a down-opening back door. Every time I opened the door, shavings and poop would fall into the crack, making it impossible to close without clearing it – and spilling shavings all over the ground.
  • We feed our grit and oyster shell in a raised dog bowl set from Target. It holds two average-sized dog bowls and when placed under the coop, allows the birds free-access. If it were to be kept in a place where it might collect rain, I would have drilled holes in the bottom for drainage.
  • Make sure there is a way to secure all of the doors open so that when you’re inside, or gathering eggs, the door will not accidentally close. We have a heavy-duty hook & eye loop on the eggmobile door which prevents it from blowing closed in the wind.

Did I miss anything? Feel free to ask any questions you might have!

Ladies Homestead Gathering

I have been leading the Doylestown, PA chapter of the National Ladies Homestead Gathering for a year and we have outgrown my house! A few weeks ago we did a canning demonstration at the Doylestown Farmer’s Market which was a great success. We used an induction burner to boil water for canning and prepared a fresh-fruit + simple syrup recipe for the market shoppers, which we sold for a fundraiser. Blueberries & Bay is one of the easiest canning recipes I’ve ever done, and the result is simple and yummy (see recipe below).

We talked to lots of people about our group, but the luckiest moment of the (very hot!) day came when we met Shawn Touhill of Sandy Ridge Farm and Market. He and his wife are the newest full-time farmers in Doylestown, and have generously offered to host our monthly Gatherings in the Community Room of their Farm Market! The market is a great fit for our group, and will give us the space we need to meet comfortably and to grow our Gathering. You can read more about the Touhill Family and Sandy Ridge Market here.

In addition to hosting our monthly Gatherings and any workshops we decide to do this year, Shawn is a great resource for farm-to-consumer marketing and I hope to learn much more about his business as a potential model for our own farm.

In other news: We are back on realtor.com every day searching for potential properties. We are feeling a new sense of urgency that has us buckling down on the small house renovations, and hoping to sell within the next year. We’ve looked all over, and currently our search is centered around Madison County, Virginia because it’s halfway between Gramma’s house and Grampa’s house, and because it borders the Shennandoah National Park and other preserved land. I’ve been doing some asking around and it seems like Madison County (or neighboring Rappahanock County) would be a good fit for our farmy family, so we’ll see!

Blueberries & Bay

Blueberries & Bay Canning RecipeIngredients
Approximately 3 quarts fresh or frozen blueberries
5 cups water
2 cups sugar
Bay leaves

Equipment
Waterbath canner
Jar lifter
Lid lifter
Ladle
Canning jars, sterilized
Unused canning lids
Canning jar rings

Directions

  1. Place canning lids in heat-safe pot or bowl and cover with boiling water to sanitize and soften the gum. Fill the waterbath canner and bring to a rolling boil.
  2. Heat water to boiling and add sugar, stirring to dissolve. Boil for 5 minutes and set aside. Place blueberries and one bay leaf into jars, leaving ½” headspace. Ladle hot syrup into jars, maintaining ½” headspace. Remove any air bubbles from jars before wiping the rims with a warm, damp dishcloth.
  3. Add lids and attach rings – tighten just until you feel resistance.
  4. Place jars into canner, insuring they are covered by at least 1” of water. Bring to a rolling boil and begin timing: 15 Minutes for ½ Pints and Pints; 20 Minutes for Quarts
  5. Carefully remove jars from canner and allow to cool on a towel-lined countertop.

Now, with your canned blueberries, you can make muffins, syrup, or just eat them on top of cereal, ice cream or yogurt. Enjoy!

What’s in Season in July? Zucchini!

growing-zucchini-how-to-grow-zucchini-summer-squash2Someone I know said “We’re not even growing any zucchini in our garden this year!” because it is so very prolific and some members of her family aren’t big fans. Zucchini definitely grows well, but it is also incredibly versatile in the kitchen, playing the lead role in savory dishes as well as sweet ones. It can be cut and roasted or sautéed, baked into breads, used as a pizza topping or even made into noodles and eaten like spaghetti!

Even the blossoms of this large plant are edible! If you decide to harvest them, make sure you grab only the male blossoms, saving the females to grow the fruit!

zucchini blossoms male female

Thinking about growing zucchini in your garden?

Soil preparation: Zucchini likes well-drained, fertile soil that’s been amended with lots of compost.

Planting: Plant seed outdoors when the soil temperature has reached 60°F—about a week after the last frost.

Spacing: You want to give your squash a lot of room to spread out and grow. Plant them about 3 to 4 feet apart in rows 8 to 12 feet apart.

Watering: Zucchini like consistently moist soil. To prevent problems with disease, always water from below.

Fertilizing: Spray plants with compost tea two weeks after seedlings come up. Spray again in three weeks or when the first flowers appear.

Special hint: If space is limited, put up a trellis for vertical support.

Pest Watch 
Pale to brown blotches on leaves are the work of squash bugs. Squash vine borers cause plants to wilt suddenly.

Disease Alert 
Powdery mildew may strike the plants, leaving whitish powdery spots on leaves that turn brown and dry. Plants that wilt and ooze a sticky sap when cut may be infected with bacterial wilt, which is spread by cucumber beetles.

Harvesting 
Harvest zucchini when the fruits are still small—about 3 to 4 inches across or 4 to 6 inches long. You can store zucchini in the refrigerator for about a week.

Source: http://www.organicgarding.com

Need a recipe?

This recipe came from a member of the CSA for which I work. It comes with such a high recommendation it’s the first recipe I’m sharing that I haven’t prepared myself yet!

Zucchini Cobbler

photo credit: dazzledish.com

photo credit: dazzledish.com

Ingredients

Fruit
8-10 cups zucchini, peeled, cubed and seeded
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup lemon juice
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. fresh nutmeg

Cobbler
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1½ cups chilled butter
2 +/- tsp. cinnamon
1 cup granola or oats (optional)

Directions

1) Place the prepared zucchini in a bowl with 1 cup of sugar, stir frequently and let sit until the water is drawn out of the zucchini and a syrup has formed (this process can take a few hours or it can sit over night).

2) Add lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. (If you’re in a hurry, you can expedite by cooking the zucchini, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg.)

3) In a separate bowl: mix flour, the remaining 2 cups of sugar, and butter. Blend together using a pastry knife (or butter knife).

4) Mix 1/2 cup of the pastry mixture in with the zucchini as a thickener and place 1/2 of the remaining mixture in the bottom of a greased baking dish. Use your hands to press it into the dish to form a crust.

5) Pour the zucchini mixture on top of the crust. Add to the remaining pastry mixture and your ‘finishing touches’ (cinnamon, granola, oats, etc.). Pour this mixture on top of the zucchini. Place in the oven and bake at 375 for 30-45 minutes.

Recipe: Zuccanoes

This is a yummy, vegetarian dish featuring a prolific summer vegetable we always seem to have too much of… I love this recipe just the way it is though I usually add the cheese halfway through the baking time to minimize burning. Any leftover “filling” is perfect for lunch the next day!

Stay tuned throughout July for some more great zucchini recipes!

Moosewood Zuccanoes

photo credit: thesuechef.blogspot.com

Zuccanoes
from The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen

Ingredients

4 medium zucchini (about 2 lbs)
1-2 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 cups minced onion
1 tsp salt
1/2 lb minced mushrooms
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 1/2 cups minced almonds or pecans (lightly toasted)
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
Black pepper and cayenne pepper, to taste
A few pinches of freshly minced (or dried) herbs (any combination of parsley, basil, dill, thyme, or marjoram)
1 cup (packed) grated Swiss or cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. Cut the zucchini lengthwise down the middle. Use a smallish spoon to scoop out the insides, leaving a canoe with a 1/4-inch shell. Mince the insides, and set everything aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add the onion and salt, and saute over medium heat until the onion is soft (5-8 minutes).
  3. Add the minced zucchini innards and the mushrooms. Turn up the heat and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring, letting the liquid evaporate. Stir in the garlic and remove from heat.
  4. Stir in the rice and nuts, along with the lemon juice, and season to taste with black pepper, cayenne, and the herbs of your choice.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill the zucchini shells, top with cheese, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until heated through.