Archive for February, 2009

Homesteading and Puppies

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

I think you would get as many definitions of homesteading as people who were asked. I’ve participated in several forum conversations about the definition of homesteading and it always ends the same – it depends on who you ask. Originally, homesteading was the act of claiming public land and farming it. After a certain period of time, the person occupying that land could legally become the owner of it. This is no longer the case in the United States. As a result, I don’t think there really are any “official” homesteaders left in this country – at least not in the sense of claiming public land for farming. But homesteading does exists in the spirit, heart, and daily lives of many in this country.

If a single definition of homesteading can not be agreed upon, I think everyone would agree, at the very least, that homesteading involves claiming your small section of this earth and using it to provide a level of self-sufficiency. Whether that small section is an apartment, a home in town, or acreage in a rural area. Self-sufficiency is key to homesteading. It’s the comfort of knowing that no matter what happens in this world, a person can take care of and provide for her/him self.

I don’t mean to go all “Websters” on you. I’ve gotten several emails lately from people wanting to know how they can get started in homesteading. That’s a really tough question – it very much depends on a person’s individual situation and circumstances. So I thought I’d just throw out there that I believe anyone can homestead, anywhere. Learn to be as self-sufficient as possible. Spend some time considering those things you can not live without, and then figure out how you can provide them for yourself. I don’t mean to over simplify this. This is simply the best advice I can give.

And speaking of homesteading…. what homestead is complete without a dog or two to protect it? Just look at this vicious puppy:

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And how about this one?

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They are even well trained, and wait by the gate to go on their daily walk through the woods

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And when mommy lags behind, this ferocious pup will wait until she catches up

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And then he’ll zip across the log and blaze a trail

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But everyone deserves a break now and then – even if it involves taking a moment to just look too darn pretty

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But then it’s back to business and making sure daddy knows he’s being well protected

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Ahhhhh. Homesteading. It helps not to take yourself too seriously.

Bee free,
Penny

Big Dogs and Sneaky Chickens

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

It’s been a while since I posted. I’ve been wanting to get pictures of the pups to show how big they are getting, but for some reason the only time I think about the camera is when they are sleeping. I’ll work on that this week. In the meantime, I’ve heard from enough of you to know that I should bring you up to date on what’s been happening on the homestead.

We took the pups to the vet for booster shots this afternoon. Dolly is now 20 pounds, and Diesel is 18! Not bad for a little runt. He’s really catching up with Dolly. These little puppies are a source of constant joy to us. It’s hard to be in a bad mood around them. Diesel and Dolly can make everything all better.

And I really needed Diesel and Dolly last night. I went out to candle the eggs under my second broody and I dropped one and cracked it. And it bled. And I cried. I am so upset with myself. I just can’t tell you how badly I feel. I’m not touching those eggs again. But on an up-note, I do believe the three eggs I candled before that were all fertile and filled with baby chick beginnings. They were mostly dark as I peered through them. I guess we’ll know in about two more weeks…..

Bernie found a nest in the far corner of the garage with fifteen eggs in it. Sneaky little hens. Most of the eggs had frozen and cracked. I’m pretty sure they’ve got another nest somewhere. Ten eggs a day just doesn’t add up when I’ve got 20 hens. I guess I’m going to have to do a little chicken stalking and find their secret hiding place.

Bernie somehow managed to hurt his shoulder. He actually injured it several months ago, but it’s gotten worse over time and it’s now to the point where he can hardly sleep through the night. I believe I can count on one hand the number of times he’s been to the doctor in the past 10 years for any type of illness or injury, but he actually agreed to go to one about his shoulder. And he was referred to an orthopedic specialist. His appointment is next week. In the meantime, he hasn’t really been able to do a whole lot, and he’s actually doing more than he probably should. He’s still chopping, splitting, and stacking wood several times a week. We kind of underestimated how much wood it was going to take to get us through the winter. This is the first winter we’ve had our wood burning stove and heated exclusively with it. The good news is that the wood is free. The bad news is that it takes A LOT of wood to get through a winter! Especially when the weather has been so unusually cold for so incredibly long. But have no fear. My man can handle it. With one arm tied behind his back – or flopping uselessly by his side.

In closing, I’m going to include a recipe for a Chicken Potato Bake that is super fast and super good. I found it one evening when I just could not think of what to fix for supper and I decided to search for something quick and easy. This one fit the bill. The original recipe wasn’t quite creamy enough for us, so I modified it a bit. I’m sure a lot of you I-Always-Make-Everything-from-Scratch people will get the shivers reading this, but hey – sometimes a person just feels a little lazy and wants a calorie laden meal for comfort. This is the meal for that person. And it only takes about ten minutes to assemble.

Chicken Potato Bake

Ingredients:
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste

1 egg, beaten

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts halved

1/2 package frozen potatoes O’Brian, thawed (about 12 ounces)
10 ounce can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cup grated Pepper Jack cheese

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper on plate.

Place egg in small shallow bowl; beat well.

In a medium sized bowl, combine potatoes, soup, milk, sour cream, and Pepper Jack cheese; mix well. Pour into a 13×9″ glass baking dish or something similar.

One at a time, dip the smooth side of a chicken breast in egg, then in bread crumb mixture to coat. Place, coated side up, on the potato mixture. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked and potato mixture is bubbling and brown around the edges.

Bee Free,

Penny

Broodiness Around the Homestead

Monday, February 16th, 2009

About a month ago I noticed a little Phoenix hen spending a lot of time in one of the nest boxes. She would leave for two or three hours at a time, but she slept in the nest box at night and spent a great deal of time there during the day. And then suddenly, a few days later, she stopped leaving the nest at all. Ever. It got to the point that I had to pick her up and put her by food and water, just to make sure she was eating and drinking. She had gone broody.

A broody hen is one that is ready to incubate eggs. Actually, a better description is a hen that is determined to incubate eggs. A broody hen desperately wants to hatch eggs and have little baby chicks to care for. I’ve read about hens that will sit on rocks for weeks at a time while broody. My little Phoenix had no eggs in her nest – thanks to the jerk that collects eggs so many times a day she often grabs them as they are popping out of a hen’s butt. (Note to self: Give the girls a break). She was sitting on one of the fake eggs. So, even though the last thing I need is another chicken in this yard, I decided to put an egg underneath her. It wasn’t her egg, but it was an egg – and she seemed extremely grateful. Doesn’t she look grateful?

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OK, maybe she looks a little annoyed at the camera shoved in her face, but the point is she’s been sitting in that nest for over three weeks. And she’s been sitting on that egg for over two weeks. It takes around 21 days for a fertile egg to hatch and since we are going on about 16 days with that egg, I candled it last night. I’m new to this, so I’m just going to give you the about.com definition of candling: “Candling” is a term used to describe a method by which bird breeders check to see if eggs are fertile or not. When an egg is candled, a bright light is held behind it, to illuminate the shape of the contents of the shell. The breeder will then determine whether or not the egg is fertile based on the color, shape, and opacity of the contents.

It seems my little broody is sitting on a dud. When I candled the egg with Bernie’s ultra-blinding mag light, I saw no shape whatsoever. Like I said, I’m new to this, but I’m pretty sure a bouncing baby chick is not in this hen’s immediate future. So now I need to ask Cousin Julie how to get this hen off the nest and back into egg laying. Broody hens do not lay eggs. And egg laying is a big attraction around here for having hens. Besides, this little Phoenix is looking pretty run down. Her comb has withered and is a very pale pink.

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It’s time for this girl to get back into the swing of things. Cousin Julie – expect a phone call.

So, just when I was thinking our broody little spell was about over, yet another little Phoenix hen began spending a great deal of time in a nest box. I tried to ignore it, but two days ago she stopped leaving the nest at all. *sigh* And, you guessed it, even though I do not need even one more chicken in our yard, I put six eggs underneath her this morning. I just can’t help myself. And I’m not even going to pretend she’s looking happy in this picture.

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But look at that cute little saddle she’s sporting! She’s got it all discombobulated, but you can see it’s quite stylish.

And if you think she looks thrilled in that picture, just look at how happy she is to have me lifting her up so you can see some of the eggs she’s sitting on.

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The red X’s on the eggs are how I marked them so I know what she’s supposed to be incubating. Those sneaky little hens will climb right up there and lay other eggs for her to sit on. I collect all the eggs each day, and just leave her the ones that are marked.

I would love for her to hatch some of these eggs, but I have no idea if that’s going to happen. I’ll let y’all know.

Oh, by the way, I added a page that has a couple of dog food and dog treats recipes. I’ll add to it over time.

Bee Free,

Penny

It’s Actually Warm on the Homestead

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Diesel and Dolly are really enjoying the warm weather we’ve had the past few days. They really love their daily walk through the woods when it’s so nice outside.

 

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And they really love the leaves!

 

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Digging in leaves is their favorite thing to do.

 

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You just never know what you might find in those leaves.

 

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Sometimes you don’t even have to dig too much to find that golden leaf.

 

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This weather is just too good to last. But we’re going to enjoy it while it’s here.

 

Bee Free,

Penny

Chicken Saddle

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

I mentioned in my last post that I was making a chicken saddle for one of my over-mated White Faced Black Spanish hens. This is a picture of her back – I’m holding her on her side so Bernie could get a picture of it:

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She not only has a bald spot, but her usually beautiful black feathers are rather battered.

And here she is wearing her new saddle:

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She really strutted around, showing it off

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Just look how proud and pretty she is in that new saddle

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I wrote a little page on how I made the saddle, if you are interested in viewing it. The saddle has stayed on very well for going on 24 hours now. I’m quite pleased. So pleased, in fact, that I am making six more for my other battered hens.

By the way, I cracked the Small Fry egg this morning. It had no yolk. Frugalmom asked if I weighed it. Yes I did! It didn’t even register on the scale at all – and anything that doesn’t register is considered a Pee Wee. But it sure was cute!

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Small Fry eggs and Chicken Saddles – they both make me smile.

Bee Free,
Penny

All Shapes and Sizes

Monday, February 9th, 2009

I had a little surprise waiting for me when I went to check for eggs today.

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Just look at that cute little thing! I have no idea who laid it. I’ve heard that new layers will sometimes lay itty bitty eggs, but this is the first one I’ve ever found that small. Many people call them wind eggs – and a few other adjectives for passing gas. I think that’s just way too crude for such a cute little thing. I’m just calling it a Small Fry. I understand these tiny eggs typically have no yolk. I’ll let y’all know about that when we crack it open.

We’ve also started getting large eggs.

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We don’t get them very often, but it’s always a nice surprise. We usually get small to medium eggs, and I’ve got no complaints about that – it’s just fun to find something different every now and again.

A couple of the hens now have completely bald patches on their backs from Duke’s affections. I’ve read about chicken saddles, but never really gave them much thought. After seeing all the damage Duke is inflicting, I’ve changed my mind and decided to make one and see if it works. A chicken saddle is simply something that fits over the hen’s back to protect it from the rooster’s spurs. To start, I’ve decided to make one for the White Faced Black Spanish that Duke is particularly fond of. Her back is pretty bad. I’m almost finished with it and plan to put it on her tonight. She’s my test case to see if this will really help. If it does, we are going to have a bunch of stylin’ chics around here.

In the next couple of days, I’ll post instructions for making the chicken saddle, pictures of a hen wearing it, and the results. If all goes well, we’ll just have a little Chicken Saddle Fashion Show. Keep your fingers crossed……

Bee Free,
Penny

You Can Still Have Fun When it’s Cold Outside

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Even when it’s 27 degrees and the wind is blowing, you can still have fun.

You can run around through the woods and sniff through some leaves

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You can find a stick and tear through the woods with it

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You can take a break and chew on a twig

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You can wrestle in the leaves with your best buddy

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And when you start losing, you can run off and play Tag

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You can play Follow the Leader

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And then you can come inside where it’s warm and snuggle up to your other best buddy

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You can still have fun when it’s cold outside. Your owner may not agree with that, but if you run around acting cute, she’ll let you stay outside anyway.

Of Dogs and Chickens

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

I had planned to take the pups out to romp in the woods this afternoon and take a few pictures of them. But it’s snowing and cold right now, so I settled for snapping a few shots of them in the house. I have to tell you, that was not easy. Getting on the floor around here results in being bombarded in puppies. I did manage to get a few shots of them when they didn’t have their faces right in the camera.

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Everything is a chew toy to them – especially to Dolly.

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Diesel likes to chew on Dolly best of all.

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And I included this last picture so you can see Diesel’s eyes – they are really pretty, and depending on the lighting they can be blue, green, or hazel. Mostly their just adorable though and this picture doesn’t do them justice.

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Last night the pups slept all night long. Unfortunately, we didn’t sleep much at all because we woke up every hour on the hour thinking “They’re going to want to go out any moment now.” When we got up at 5:30AM we had to wake them up to go outside and potty. They are really doing great with the potty training. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that sleeping through the night wasn’t just a fluke.

Just a quick update on Duke’s frostbitten comb – the smaller back points have fallen off and that portion looks extremely healthy right now. He still has three larger points that are black, and they look to me as if they will fall off very shortly. But don’t feel bad for Duke. He has a heaping pile of self confidence and isn’t even slightly fazed that his comb is messed up, or that he has black backhoe grease all down his neck, or that his tail feathers look funky. Duke is nothing, if not self confident.

You may remember that I’ve mentioned I thought six of my hens were in molt. Well, I talked to my cousin Julie (who has had chickens forever) and then emailed her some pictures of them, and she informed me that my hens are not molting. They have “rooster tracks”. In other words, my roosters are pulling/ripping their feathers out during mating. It really breaks my heart. My little Phoenix hens are bald as apples right now. They all look just awful. After talking with Julie and reading her email, it doesn’t sound like there’s much I can do about. I can trim the roosters’ spurs so they are not so rough on the girls’ backs, and I probably will, but it won’t help with the bald heads. If chickens are in your future and you plan to get roosters, you may be interested in learning with me. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

It’s snowing like crazy right now. The chickens are in their coop, the puppies are sleeping like babies, the cats are still pouting, the woodstove is pumping out heat like crazy, and Bernie and I are happy to be living here on our homestead.

Bee Free,
Penny

Egg-cessive Obsession and Puppy Treats

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

I really love collecting eggs from my hens. It makes me smile. Every single time. From the smallest, to the largest, I just love finding those little gems in the nest boxes.

I keep a daily count of the eggs I’ve collected. In January, I collected a total of 274 eggs. Not bad for a bunch of new layers, with six of them in the middle of molt. Especially considering it’s winter, when most hens decrease production, or do not lay at all. That’s an average of 8.84 eggs a day. I need to work on that one laying the .84 egg.

Not only do I count my eggs, I weigh them. I don’t weigh every single one of them, but I take a sample of each day’s collection and put them on my nifty egg scale, just for the fun of it:

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I keep that baby on the counter, right next to the refrigerator.

Here are the minimum for egg weights as defined by the USDA:

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Fascinating, isn’t it? OK, not really, but it does help you understand the terminology on my nifty egg scale.

Most of the eggs around here weigh in at almost medium

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Some of them weigh in at small

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And I still get the occassional peewee

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Every one of them just tickles me. Just absolutely tickles me to death.

Today Bernie is chopping wood and I have puppy duty. These little buggers are growing like crazy. And they keep us hopping. They are doing great on their potty training and we’ve had no accidents in the house for two days. They’re even learning to walk to the door when they have to go potty.

And for those of you with pups of any age, I’m including a recipe for some tail-wagging, puppy pleasing cookie treats. I used to make these for our other dogs and they just loved them. I wish I could remember where I got this recipe so I could give the appropriate attribution. I think I got it out of a dog food recipe book I can no longer find – I’m sure it’s packed in one of those boxes somewhere….

Peanut Butter Doggie Biscuits

Ingredients:
3 tbsp. peanut butter
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats (you can use oatmeal – but NOT the instant type)
1/2 cup fine cornmeal

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Beat together peanut butter and eggs. Gradually beat in oil and water until well mixed.
3. In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine flour, oats, and cornmeal.
4. Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and blend well to form a dough.
5. Roll out the dough to approximately 1/4″ thickness and cut into shapes, or just slice them into squares if you don’t have cookie cutters.
6. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet, leaving about 1/2 between biscuits. Bake for 20 minutes until browned. Turn off the oven, but leave the biscuits inside to “crisp”. (NOTE: If you are using a smaller cookie sheet and have several batches to cook, you can place the finished biscuits in a single layer on a plate and leave them on the counter to “crisp” as you bake the rest.) Once the biscuits have hardened, treat your dogs! Store the remianing biscuits in an airtight container.

This recipe makes a fair amount of doggie biscuits, so I keep a few in a cookie jar, and freeze the remaining in a freezer bag.

Bon Appetite, Fido!

Bee Free,
Penny