Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


How to Pick the Right Chicken Coop

 chicken
Photo by Unsplash/NIFTYART

Picture this:  you’ve decided to add chickens to your backyard or homestead.  You’re up to speed on basic healthcare and anatomy, and you think you know what chickens need to be happy.  Now comes the big job – deciding how you’re going to house them.

Once you start down the road of choosing a style of coop for your new flock, you quickly discover there are as many plans and opinions about plans as there are chickens in the world.  OK, I exaggerate, but honestly, it feels like it at first.

There’s the traditional coop and run, chicken tractors, pastured poultry pens, and paddock systems.  And each one of those has countless different styles and systems to choose from.  It’s exhausting work to figure out what’s going to work for your ‘girls’ (and maybe boys too), especially if you’ve never raised chickens before.

So how do you figure out the best plan for your new flock?  It’s actually quite simple when you use a system.  So I thought I'd share with you the process I went through to help me evaluate the best housing choice for our flock of 15.

Questions to Ask

Not every chicken coop plan is going to be suitable for your specific situation, so you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions before you even start looking at plans (trust me – this will save you a ton of time later):

  1. How many birds will I have eventually?  You might start out with only 5 hens, but what if you want to expand your flock in a year or two, or add a rooster?  You don’t want to have to start over or be renovating a coop with a flock living in it.  At the very minimum, the 'average' full grown chicken needs 7.5 square feet (each) between outdoor and indoor space its if it's penned all the time, and 3 square feet each if free ranging regularly.  Larger breeds need a minimum of 10 square feet penned and 4 square feet if normally free ranging, and bantams 5 square feet penned and 2 square feet free range.  They need less space in their secure sleeping area than their 'day space', but this would be an average.  Keep in mind this is the minimum.  Overcrowding of birds can cause not only social problems (pecking and fighting, and the resultant injuries you’ll then have to deal with), but creates a situation ripe for disease transmission as well.  Make sure your birds have enough space!
  2. What breed will be living in your coop/run?  Different species do well in different conditions, so birds that require more space for optimum health are not going to do well in more confined spaces.  Be sure to look into the requirements for the birds you'll be adding to your flock.  Most books and many of the top websites on the topic will have all this information for you.  Try backyardchickens.com for all sorts of info about breeds and coops.
  3. What’s the topography of your property?  Our 6+ acres are hilly and mostly forested – not so good for portable rolling pens.  If you’ve got a flat property, it definitely increases your options.
  4. Do you have room near the house to create your chicken housing?  Well, not right beside your house, but if you live in an area with predators (and many of us do), you’ll want to be within earshot of the chickens so you’ll be awake and aware should something with teeth go marauding in the dead of night.  Some people claim you can leave chickens for days if they have the right housing, but that's just not something I'd advise if you're surrounded by big, opportunistic predators (yes, even if you've got a livestock dog).
  5. What sorts of predators live in your area?  This will dictate how secure your housing will have to be.  We have weasels, raccoons, fishers, coyotes, bears and cougars to be concerned about, not to mention flying predators like red tailed hawks and ravens.  Lots of coop plans have external doors for accessing the nest boxes – in our case, we decided against that style, as it would have made it easier pickin’s for the resident black bears (they’re weirdly dexterous with their mouths and paws).  You’ll also see a lot of plans with open flooring so the poop falls through into some sort of collection space – apparently this reduces cleaning requirements, but it would not be at all safe in our neck of the woods, as any gauge of wire mesh that would be big enough to let feces fall through would also allow the resident weasels an open door to our hens and rooster.  I don’t think so…  Plus the idea of the birds having to walk on wire just seems wrong to me.
  6. What’s your budget?  You can spend $2000 on a fancy coop with all the bells and whistles, or you can convert an existing building for $100 or less.  We built a sturdy, predator-proof coop for around $200, plus another $100 for water founts, feeders and a rubber trough.  But we had our own lumber and shingles and used many re-purposed building materials (concrete board, trailer trusses, roosts, windows).  The only thing we had to buy was some of the hardware cloth and chicken wire, and all the hinges and locks, as well as the linoleum for the floor.  Be sure to make note of all the costs so there are no surprises part way through the project.
  7. Do you have access to reused materials?  This will save you a lot of money, but will potentially add a lot of time to your project.  Plus you'll want to make sure the re-used materials are clean and that they'll keep your birds safe from predators.  Free materials aren't a very good deal if you lose your birds, but they can make your coop unique and will pull some materials out of the waste stream that might otherwise have gone to landfill (or languished in someone's shed for decades).
  8. Do you want a pre-designed plan, to customize a plan according to your own needs, or buy a pre-built coop?  This will obviously depend on your budget, how much time you have available, and how good your constructions skills are.  The fastest option is to buy a pre-built unit, but that may not suit your specific situation, nor your budget.  If you choose to build your own, be sure to assess (realistically) how much time it will take and if you have that available to build an adquate shelter for your birds.  If not, consider getting some help.  Especially if your birds are on their way... ;)

Answering these questions honestly will provide a solid base for you to evaluate all those funky, stylin' coop plans you've bookmarked.

Evaluate the Plans

Now, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and go through all those websites and chicken-raising books using these worksheets I put together to help you evaluate your favorite plans:

The worksheet will help you evaluate all the various options - a 'winner' should become clear pretty quickly.  It may be that you have to tweak as you go.  It may be that you have to substitute some materials for others that you have available.  But if you've done the work, you'll end up with a housing system that will work for your property, your lifestyle, and your birds.  And that means you'll enjoy your chicken-raising adventure so much more than if you build a coop that's not right for your specific situation and you spend the next year cursing it.

And remember, you can always come over to the Facebook page and ask questions of all our chicken-raising experts there!

Do you have any advice to share on finding the right chicken coop plan?  Let us know in the comments below.  Your advice may just help someone keep their girls safe and sound - and happy!

Prepare Your Chicken Coop for Spring's Warmer Days

chickens at pasture
Busy chickens at pasture. Photo by Anna Twitto

Though we’re still in the deep of winter, days are beginning to lengthen and, at least around here, spring really seems to be just around the corner. The spring-like feeling is validated by the new grass – as winter is the green season here – and by the narcissuses and cyclamens that are beginning to pop up.

Our chickens pick up the cue of longer days and generally resume laying around February, even though it’s still cold. The young pullets hatched at the end of last season – say, September or October – are generally ready to start laying in February or March.

Late January generally finds me making an enthusiastic survey of the coop and the flock, planning all the things I must do in preparation for spring and the more productive season of egg-laying and chick hatching. So what should chicken owners do at the end of winter?

Nesting Boxes 

Nesting boxes are the most obvious accommodation for your layers. Make sure you have an adequate number of boxes (one per 3-4 chickens). Nesting boxes should be comfortable-sized and sheltered from wind and rain. Pad them with straw, dry grass, dry leaves or wood shavings; you might also want to invest in dummy eggs to encourage your hens to lay there. Plastic dummy eggs can be bought very cheaply in a toy store or ordered via eBay, but ceramic eggs will last much longer and be a lot less easy to throw out.

Cleaning

chicken
Photo by Unsplash/Tina Xinia

During the winter, many of us (me included) are somewhat neglectful of cleaning out the chicken coop. Cold, rain, wind, frost and snow simply aren’t very conductive of spending time out of doors. Warmer weather and longer days are just the thing to prompt one to give that chicken coop a thorough airing and spring cleaning. The chicken manure, rotten straw or shavings and other scraps can go in the compost pile; this year I made the experiment of spreading a thin layer of my chicken coop clean-out pile around fruit trees, to let that valuable organic matter gradually sink into the soil with rains. We’ll see the results once our apricots, peaches and pears awaken from their winter slumber.

New Chicks

Once your hens get into the stride of laying, you’re very likely to get a broody or two pretty soon. Make sure you have comfortable accommodations for broodies and new chicks – a sheltered corner in the coop or, in case you are hand-rearing the chicks, an indoor brooder with a heating lamp. If you use an incubator, you might also want to dust it off and check that it’s in working order before spring.

Spring is an exciting season for the backyard flock owner; I always look forward to it throughout the winter, eagerly awaiting the surprises in the form of fresh eggs, new layers and new chicks, and anticipating the growth of our flock over the season. I wish all the chicken keepers in the northern hemisphere a great and productive spring, with plenty of happy hens and delicious eggs.


Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Let's Make Some Soap: A Simple Recipe for Lye Soap

soap

Photo by Unsplash/Aurélia Dubois

Making a batch of homemade lye soap doesn't have to be complicated. I like making a simple lard-based soap to keep on hand. Homemade soap is reliably rich and full of natural glycerin that is stripped from commercial soaps. It is a good cleanser and gentle on your skin. I have friends who like to use it on skin affected by poison ivy and bug bites. Another friend likes to soap up before hunting to clear his skin of colognes or body odors that can be smelled by deer.

Safety First! 

Caution should be taken through the entire process, because lye is a strong, caustic chemical that can quickly eat through skin and many other materials. I don't want to scare you, but please be careful whenever you handle lye! Everything that you choose to use in making lye soap must be labeled as such, and from that point on ONLY used for lye soap. Anything that has contained lye must never be used for food purposes ever again.

There are several things that must be on hand to make a batch of lye soap. You should have a glass jar for dissolving the lye in, a kitchen thermometer, a 2-quart (or bigger) bowl for mixing the soap, a scale for measuring the ingredients in ounces, a plastic or wooden stirrer for stirring the soap, and a mold for pouring the soap into. The mold can be any plastic container big enough for the batch; I like to use a plastic Velveeta storage container, it is a long rectangle that when unmolded the soap can be sliced into nice size bars. Lard, lye and vinegar are also necessary. Lye can sometimes be hard to find, I have been able to buy it at a local hardware store. Vinegar should be kept close through the entire process, as it is an acid that can quickly neutralize the alkaline lye.

soap equipment

Photo by Sherry Leverich Tucker

For this recipe, you will simply need exactly 2 lbs of lard, 4.4 oz of lye, and 7 fluid oz water. The first step would be to accurately weigh the lard and lye using the scale, and the water using a liquid measuring cup. Then the lye must be mixed with the water. Dissolving the lye into the water requires some special preparation. You should do this outside if possible, or in a very well ventilated area inside. The lye should always be poured into the water, not vice-versa. Once the lye is poured into the water it heats the water quickly and intensely, so the jar should be placed on a solid surface where it can be left as it cools to the proper temperature. Care should also be taken that animals or children cannot get near the lye solution. While mixing the lye and water, wear a simple pair of safety glasses to protect your eyes. So, with all those precautions in mind, pour the lye crystals into the water while stirring with either a wooden or plastic spoon. Once completely dissolved you can leave it to cool.

soap into mold

Photo by Sherry Leverich Tucker

While the lye is cooling, you can heat up the lard and get it to the proper temperature as well. When the lye solution is about 85 degrees Fahrenheit and you have your fat at about 90 degrees, mixing can take place. These temperatures are a general rule, if the fat is a bit warmer and the lye a tad cooler, it will still work out. While stirring the fat in your plastic bowl with a plastic or wooden spoon, slowly stream in the lye solution. Stir constantly until it is thick like a Slurpee. This will take from 30 minutes to one hour. Now you can add any essential oils for fragrance or leave it plain. Pour it into your mold scraping the sides of the bowl.

The emulsion created by combining the lye water and fat creates a chemical reaction called saponification. During this process of saponification the lye and fat create soap. After several days in the mold, the soap should be hard enough to pop out of it. This is when I go ahead and cut it into bars (with a knife or bench scraper) and lay them in a cardboard box lined with brown paper. The soap now must age for at least 4 weeks to complete the saponification process. To test the soap, try washing your hands with it, if it leaves a slimy film on your hands, rinse your hands with vinegar and let the soap cure another couple of weeks. A well-mixed, completely saponified soap has a long shelf life.

finished soap

 Photo by Sherry Leverich Tucker

After you are through with your soap making equipment, wash everything thoroughly with hot soapy water and also rinse with a little vinegar to neutralize any traces of lye.

Endless Possibilities 

While this is a pure and simple soap, there are a multitude of options and some wonderful soap making resources available online if you are interested in trying other combinations. Almost any fat can be used, and each kind will add different characteristics to the soap. One I enjoy adding is coconut oil, which creates wonderful bubbles and suds. There are also great recipes for vegetarian soap made without any animal fats. Learning how to render your own fats is helpful for soap making (tallow from beef fat makes a beautiful white soap). Let me know if you enjoy soap making and share any tips or websites you find helpful!

Why Raise Silkie Chickens?

 

At Olsen Farm we know all chickens are special, but there is something particularly magical about the silkie breed. We were gifted a few silkie eggs to incubate when we first started raising chickens and once those tiny fluff balls hatched we fell instantly in love.

So, what makes these mini fluffy muppet-look-alike birds so special? Here are some unique traits of these sweet little birds:

Silkies are fibromelanistic, which means they have black skin, black meat and black bones (it is truly a deep purple/ grey color). They were originally bred in Asia and some believe eating their black meat will cure what ails you. While silkies are bred to be both show birds and meat birds, we have yet to eat a silkie because they are just so cute!

They have feathered feet, and their feet have five toes- rather than the usual three of standard chickens. Silkie feathers remain light and fluffy into adulthood, because of this trait they can become sick or die if they get wet during cold weather. Be sure to keep your silkies dry and warm- they LOVE baths and getting their feathers blow dried! These little fluffs do amazingly well at staying warm during cold weather if their feathers remain dry. They are a winter-hearty breed.

Silkie feathers come in many color variations including black, white, buff (brown/tan), splash (light grey/ black and white mix), blue (dark grey) and partridge (brown mix).

Pure bred silkies have vaulted skulls, meaning the top of their skull has what looks like a bubble, or air pocket on top. This can make them more susceptible to head injury but we have not had any injury issues with our flock. (We do sometimes need to trim the feather head puffs away from their eyes to make it easier for our silkies to see).

Silkie hens lay three to four eggs a week. Their eggs are about half the size of a standard chicken egg, but equally as delicious! Roosters, like most roosters, have larger combs and wattles than hens. They develop these later than standard breeds, and it can be difficult to distinguish a hen from a rooster by looks until they are over six months old and start either laying or crowing. 

Silkies have a wonderfully gentle temperament and are great for first time chicken keepers. They are calm, tame and very fun to observe. A perfect breed for those with children, or anyone looking for a great 'pet' chicken. Silkies are also great mothers and will hatch and raise ducks, turkeys, standard chickens- you name it! Silkie hens go ‘broody’- meaning they want to sit on and hatch eggs- very frequently. Our silkie hens have hatched about a dozen clutches of chicks in the five years we have been raising them.

We have been bringing Maple, our sweetest black silkie hen, to the local farmer’s market for a few seasons. Our original thought was that children would love to pet a cute chicken, and it would be a great educational experience for them. What we did not expect was the intense joy and peace meeting a silkie had on the adults at the market. Many residents came to visit Maple each week, bringing her treats, taking photos and snuggling her. Maple became a therapy chicken simply by being her adorable fluffy, magical self.

We are so glad to have been able to share our sweet birds with people who needed a little nature medicine. If you have the chance, introduce some silkies to your flock- I guarantee they will bring joy and entertainment.


Kristen Tool is co-owner of Olsen Farm in Lanesborough, Mass., where she works with her husband to revive 28 acres of a four-generation family farm by keeping bees, growing fruit, vegetables and herbs without the use of pesticides, raising poultry, cultivating mushrooms, leading workshops, and preparing plant remedies. She is the Secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association and manages a crew of incredible teens who run the local farmers market through a nonprofit program, Roots Rising. Connect with Kristen at Olsen Farm on Facebook, on Instagram @olsen_farm, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Use Dry Leaves as Chicken Coop Bedding

dry leaves 

I'll tell you a dirty little secret - I haven't used bedding in most of the chicken coops we had built every time we moved house. 

Sacrilege? It sure goes against what most chicken authorities teach. Our coops would always stand either on concrete or straight on the ground (by the way, I don't recommend this option due to burrowing predators), which would soon become hard and compacted. From time to time, we'd pick a dry day, scoop the poop out, and haul it off. 
 
That's a pretty feasible system if you only have a few chickens and they free range most of the day.
 
However, things have changed for us. After moving to town, we've encountered some, shall we say, neighbor troubles. While we're waiting on a budget for a permanent and watertight fencing solution, we're keeping our chickens cooped up. 
 
We aren't happy about it. Letting chickens roam free makes up about half of the joys of backyard poultry, IMHO. The birds provide a natural weeding and de-bugging solution, which also enriches their diet and makes for tastier, healthier eggs. Oh, and it saves money on feed, too. 
 
Anyway, once the hens were under lock and key, I knew I had to provide some sort of bedding for them. I thought of wood shavings or sand, but eventually settled for a simpler solution - dry leaves, a resource I have in abundance thanks to a heavily shedding hedge next to our property.
 
Using dry leaves for chicken coop bedding has numerous advantages:

1. It's free: just grab a bag and haul all the leaves you want.

2. Leaves are plentiful and readily available

3. It will entertain your chickens: a bag of leaves will always contain tidbits like seeds, grass stalks, bugs, and other edibles your chickens will enjoy unearthing. This will help prevent boredom - a major problem that could result in fights and pecking among your chickens if they are cooped up.

 
Choose a dry day to collect fallen leaves from your yard or local park. Often, your neighbors would be happy to let you pick up their leaves too - they might even bag them for you. 
 
Using the deep litter method, put a goodly amount of leaves and just add a bit more every week. Overhaul the bedding once in a few months. No need to bother spreading the leaves evenly - the birds will take care of it as they scratch.
 
Image: Pixabay
 
Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband, and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens, and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

The ABCs of Homesteading: U is for Uncertainty (with 3 Steps for Managing It)

potato harvest 

Potato harvest

From A to T, in this homesteading series so far, we’ve covered all sorts of homesteading activities including raising ducks and goats, growing mushrooms, learning about horticulture, kitchen skills, growing spices and storing food, an A-Z list of useful tools, and more.

Now, I want to cover a topic that gets to the heart of why I homestead:

Uncertainty

We live in uncertain times. That sounds ominous, I know. But the fact is every person who has ever lived, in this time or any other time, has lived in uncertain times.

Living with uncertainty is nothing new. What’s new, though, is that so many people feel uncomfortable dealing with it. That’s one of the reasons why 2020 has been so difficult. But I have to tell you, homesteading can help.  

Get Comfortable with Uncertainty

When something like a new virus hits the world stage, we have no idea how it will behave. How will it spread? Will animals get sick too? How fast will it mutate? How many people will get sick at once and how will that impact the availability of goods?

As we know from COVID-19, we’re still answering these questions a year after the virus began. And there is absolutely nothing you can do about that kind uncertainty. But doesn’t mean you can’t take effective action to deal with it.

Let’s look at a few basic principles and examples for effectively dealing with uncertainty:

Step 1: Take Broad Action

Say your house is on fire. There’s a lot of uncertainty there. Like…how did the fire start? How much damage will it cause? Will insurance pay for it? But do you need to wait to find the answers to those questions before you act?

Of course not! You’ll call 911. Then you’ll make calculations about whether you can try to fight the fire or if you should evacuate.

Maybe it’s a small fire. So, you turn on your garden hose and put it out before the fire department even arrives. Does the fact that you put the fire out mean you were wrong to call the fire department? Again, of course not!  

You couldn’t know in advance if you’d be able to put the fire out. So, instead you acted on multiple fronts to get the best results in an uncertain situation. This is the best way to respond to uncertainty.

Take the broadest set of actions possible until you get more information.

An isolated fire is a simple example. But what if fires are an ongoing risk where you live? Then, you really want to cast your net of solutions as broadly as possible.

  • You’ll want to be ready with escape plans and gear for evacuations.
  • Fire prevention for your landscape such as clearing debris, installing ponds, and using fire resistant plants will be part of your action plan.
  • Your home exterior may need a fire-resistant upgrade or installation of a sprinkler system targeted to soak your house.
  • Alternatively, you may decide to move or opt for a trailered tiny house that you move to safety when fire risks are high.

When you live in a high-risk fire area, you never know if or when a fire will strike. But living with that uncertainty can be stressful. By acknowledging it and then taking broad reaching precautions to reduce your risks, you manage the likelihood for a negative outcome.

Step 2: Keep an Open Mind

Responding to a fire or taking steps to improve your fire safety are only the beginning of this process. In uncertain situations, you can’t just make one final decision and stick to it. You need to keep making new calculations and adjusting your behavior as you learn new information.

Even in high fire risk areas, some years are worse than others. So, in a low-risk year you may be able to relax your guard a bit. In a high-risk year, be extra vigilant about maintaining a burn-resistant yard. As new fire prevention tools, techniques, and prevention methods emerge (and your budget allows) -- you may want to make further changes to your home for added security.

In short-term situations like a small house fire, your powers of observation tend to be all that you need to work with.  But when dealing with uncertainty in long-term situations, you need to make a commitment to keep evaluating your responses.

You must be willing to let go of outdated information, throw out failed ideas, and change your mind.

Climate Change Example

When we moved to our homestead, I put a permaculture type water plan in place. It worked for a while, then we had a year with double our usually rain totals – from 42 to 84 inches of rain.

Initially, I treated that rain total as an outlier. Then, two years later, we had 30 extra inches of rain and some erosion damage. My state also started releasing granular data on what climate change would mean for my region. For us – it meant more rain hitting our property and running down the mountain slope behind our garden.  

When I combined my experience with the new climate science data, I knew I had to revise my water management plan. It’s no fun to completely re-design an established landscape. But the alternative of living in fear of every heavy storm -- and wondering what it would do to our garden and livestock areas -- was out of the question.

I’ve made a lot of improvements and will continue working at it as my time and budget allow. But I can tell you with certainty, I feel better tackling this potential problem than I would feeling helpless at every heavy rain.  

Step 3: Do Detailed Research

Of course, the other part of the equation is to keep learning new information about whatever has you feeling uncertain. To make the best decisions in an uncertain situation, it’s important to get your information from the most qualified sources possible.

Rely on High Quality Information

High quality information comes directly from people or organizations with particular expertise -- including professional, educational, and experience-based backgrounds -- to communicate authoritatively on a subject.

For example, I’m qualified to share information on vegetable gardening in North Carolina because I’m a North Carolina Extension Master Gardener Volunteer and I garden here year-round.

But don’t rely on me to be an expert on how to garden in Alaska! I’ve never gardened at that latitude.

Be Cautious about Personal Commentary

Likewise, when news programs talk to a general practice doctor about research an epidemiologist did on COVID-19, the general practice doctor certainly isn’t an expert information source on COVID-19. They might be a qualified general practice doctor, but they are still just sharing their personal commentary about someone else’s area of expertise when talking about COVID-19 research.

When you are trying to get the best quality information available to manage uncertainty, get as close to the direct source as you can.

Example: Do Masks Help Prevent COVID-19?

Here’s a practical example of what detailed research looks like. If you want to better understand whether there are benefits to wearing a mask, and why the CDC thinks there are, you can read their report on Scientific Brief: Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2.

After you finish that, then you’ll want to scroll to the bottom of the report to find the links to the research they relied on. From there, click out and read the abstracts written by the actual researchers who did the work. You can see how they designed their study, what their intent was, how reliable you think their methods were, and what the results were for yourself.

It takes a few minutes to do this. But once you get in the habit of using primary resources for your decision-making, rather than just reading someone else’s opinion on the work, you’ll be using better quality information. And that will help you make more accurate calculations on how to react in uncertain situations.

Use News as a Starting Point

News is another gray area when it comes to decision-making in uncertain situations. Every news organization is inherently biased because they have a target audience to keep interested. Real news organizations, though, uphold a standard of journalism that relies on using only high quality, primary source information to inform their stories.

Personally, I read the news because that helps me figure out what risks might be headed my way. But then I do deeper research similar to the mask example before I make decisions.

Putting it All Together

Now with that 3-step uncertainty management model in mind, let me talk about how this all fits in with homesteading.

Become a Homesteader

You can use those tools detailed above even if you aren’t a homesteader. But, frankly, homesteading provides a strong foundation that makes responding to any situation easier.

If you aren’t already working toward a homesteading lifestyle, then I encourage you to make that commitment.

You can start the process by making time, saving money, and improving your landscape, and securing your food supply with these posts.

Next, you can expand your skill set, create a more cohesive homestead lifestyle, and tackle bigger projects with these posts.

After that, you can begin to do some of the work related to building a better world and getting deeper into radical self-sufficiency through dependence on nature with these posts.

Of course, you’ll want to stay tuned for more posts to come. We’ve still got V-Z yet to go! As you journey toward less dependence on external supply chains with greater dependence on nature, local community, and your skills managing the uncertainty of something like a global pandemic is much easier.

COVID-19 Personal Example

COVID-19 and all the uncertainty around it has been a real challenge for most people this year. But I have to tell you the only hard part for me was watching other people suffer. That’s because I already had a plan for any pandemic – be it this one or any of the close calls such as Ebola.

What I know about any new virus is that I don’t want to get it in the early phases before treatment protocols are established. So, for COVID-19, I started preparing back in January when we became aware of the risk.

We always keep a 6 month supply of anything we need to live comfortably as a standard homesteading practice. So, I didn’t need to race out and buy food. But I did buy a few things, namely:

  • Extra seeds and bulk compost and mulch in case I needed to expand my garden
  • Dish soap, bleach, and a few extra first aid supplies
  • Luxury (sanity) goods like chocolate and my favorite cheap rye whiskey
  • Our normal bulk supply of flour, sugar, and salt (a few months earlier than normally)
  • Materials for planned homestead projects so we could stay occupied at home

Of course, I also encouraged anyone who would listen to me to stock up on things they might need to shelter in place.

By March, when the first COVID case was identified in our state, we were all set to stay home for most of the year if necessary. That’s just what we did. Quite frankly, because we didn’t have so many social commitments this year, I got a ton of stuff done.

I did all the intensive gardening, photography, writing, editing, etc. for my new book Grow Your Own Spices (available from book retailers everywhere). You can learn more about the creative process in my video on it.

I started an Instagram account @exploresimplestead to share slice of life stuff from the homestead. Plus, there was all the usual stuff to be done – like making a living, growing food, caring for livestock, etc.

Not everyone can homestead. Having the option to live this life is a luxury because for some people there are insurmountable economic and social barriers. But for many people, homesteading is not only a smarter lifestyle than just being a consumer, it’s also a less expensive way of living.    

Final Thoughts on Uncertainty

Uncertainty is a constant in our lives. Sometimes we’re more aware of it such as during a global pandemic. But homesteading as a foundation for comfort, self-provisioning, and personal security – you can control a lot more uncertainty than most people realize.


Tasha Greer is an Epicurean Homesteader, duck lover, and author of Grow Your Own Spices. You can find her at Simplestead. You can also find a list of all her Mother Earth News posts and more on her Other Works page.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Backyard Quail: An Ideal Poultry Bird for Small-Scale Farmers

 

Raising quail for meat and eggs in your backyard can easily become a fascinating hobby. Quail are friendly, inexpensive and tender, and their eggs are in many places considered a delicacy. It is also very convenient to have them in small backyards as quails take up very little space, and only a couple of them could provide fresh eggs and meat all year round.

Unlike chickens, which can take as long as six months to begin laying, quails will lay, at the earliest, at six weeks of age. Some farmers can even sell their quail eggs, and prices for quail eggs can bring in between $ 6 to $ 10 per dozen.

The quail is a bird from the pheasant family, although they look quite different. They originally come from North America; though today they can be found in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and South America. There are 32 species of quail, with each variety having slightly different characteristics, in terms of size, color, and type of habitat.

During the 11th Century in Japan, quails were kept as ornamental song birds. Quails can be domesticated and kept as a poultry birds that produce high quality eggs. Quail live in forest areas covered with shrubs. Destruction of their habitat and uncontrolled hunting negatively affect the number of quail in the wild. Because of these factors, some quail species are listed as endangered.

How to Care for Quail Chicks

Quail chicks are very small. So, it is advised to keep the quail chicks together with the mother quail in a brooder with soft bedding and plenty of food and water for the first five weeks after hatching. A brooder is a small space to raise your quail chicks, it should be a clean, warm, enclosed area. Provide them with a heating lamp while they grow to warm them, and feed them special, protein-rich quail food. It is best to give them some toys so that they are busy as they grow.

After they are a couple of weeks old, put a small shallow plate of sand for your quail chicks. Soon they will begin to bathe in dust, quails really love it. Dust bathing also prevents ticks, lice and other unpleasant parasites.

Quail Space, Bedding and Housing

There are various reasons for wanting to raise quails. They are small, friendly, and interesting-looking birds that don’t need to be kept in a large area. Giving them 1 square foot of area per quail is more than enough to keep them happy, healthy and calm. Due to their small size, quail can live in a variety of places, including cages for guinea pigs, rodents, chicken coops and aviaries.

Spruce chips, pine shavings, newspaper pellets, sand, grass pellets, and hay all can be used for bedding. The only important thing here is that the bedding does not contain too much fine dust. Because the quail are small and can get breathing problems due to the fine dust pollution. This information is important in closed rooms. Please pay attention for this! I very recommend using dust-free guinea pig bedding for your quails and I think this is perfect. It’s highly recommended to give your quails some straw or hay so they can make their nests. This will encourage them begin to lay eggs.

Make sure the housing is best suited for your quail. Quails can be kept in many places, but they need a few things to make it safe and suitable for them. Make sure that the distance between the cage wires is not more than 1/2 inch, as quails can squeeze their head through something larger. Because of their tiny legs, they cope poorly with wire floor grilles, as they can fall and slip through, causing discomfort and possible injury.

If you want to keep your quails outside, you should protect their shelter from rain, wind, hail, snow and sun. But still, they need a lot of fresh air and some sunshine. A suitable place for the quail coop is under a tree during summer or in a home during the winter.

Their coop must be safe and protected from predators such as raccoons, foxes, dogs, cats, snakes and more. A quail coop must not only be closed on the sides, but also on the top and bottom to prevent predators from entering. Quails should be kept in a calm, warm yet cool, quiet and undisturbed place. Make sure to clean your quail coop every week to keep them clean and healthy.

The quail coop also must include the following:

Hideouts to rest. In a species-appropriate quail coop, of course, hiding places should not be missing. Furthermore, there are no limits to the imagination. Firs and spruce branches are suitable for good hiding places; small deciduous trees or branches can also be used. Of course, you can also build a house out of cardboard. As I said there are no limits. Quail love everything that can be found in the forest, from roots to stones or moss. They enjoy everything. The various decorations and natural elements such as branches and twigs not only ensure more peace in the quail coop, but also offer a perfect shelter.

Sand bath are essential for quails. The term “sand bath” is actually misleading. “Dust bath” would be more appropriate, because it does not matter whether we offer your quails sand or dry soil. The main thing is that it is dry, nice and fine so that quails can get clean. Sand bath should be replaced at least every week. For quails who otherwise have no access to outdoor enclosures, a sand bath has the advantage that they look for fine stones, for example from the quartz sand, which helps them with digestion.

Feed and Water

Feed and water quails are tasks that must be done on a daily basis, as quails should be free to choose at all times. The water provided should be clean, and if you keep quails outdoors, you should regularly check the water in winter so that it does not freeze. Unlike other birds, quail cannot eat poor-quality food. This is especially important when it comes to raising quails for breeding and laying eggs. Around 90 percent of quail’s diet comes from plant-based materials. Wild quails eat a diet consisting mainly of grain, along with other foods. Farm quail foods include seeds, vegetables, insects, and commercially prepared feeds. Generally, it depends on the season, though.

Quail should be started on a crumb. A drug-free turkey starter is ideal because it contains more protein than chicken crumbs. The diet of adult quail consists of seeds and grains. Along with seeds and grains, they also eat other plant materials to provide the micronutrients and other nutrients they need for proper growth and regular production.

Green foods such as grass and other leafy greens should be provided. A variety of human foods are also good to feed your quails, and can be added to their diet. Also, fruits and vegetables, are the natural food of quails and will be welcomed as a great treat.

How to Keep Your Quails Healthy

Keep an eye on your quail's health. If your quail is behaving a little oddly or hasn't been eating lately, it may be because it is unwell. There was a very important way to keep quails from getting sick is to keep them away from other birds. You can also add supplements such as apple cider vinegar to improve feather conditions and help rid of worms and other parasites. While you can take the quail to the veterinarian, you can also cure some small problems yourself. Some problems that may occur are included:

  • Your quail is huddled in the corner of the cage. This is either because the quail is sick, or it is cold. If the quail is sick, you need to show it to the veterinarian. If the quail is cold, remove it from the cage and place it in a warm box or something similar. The box should be very warm. Add water and some food to the quail's box and wait for the quail to be alive enough until you return it to the cage. You should also observe the quail for several days after it returns to its cage.
  • Your quail has mites. If your quails have mites you need to remove all quails that live in the coop and put them together in a box of a suitable size. After all the quails have been removed from the coop, clean the cage thoroughly. Treat your quails by giving them a good dust-bath. Purchase them some mite powder, or any other safe method to get rid of quail mites.
  • Your quail is injured. This is not some kind of illness, but just as serious. You should remove the injured quail as soon as possible and keep it separate until it heals completely. If you intend to return the quail back to the flock after it recovers, observe the quail for a week to make sure it gets along with others.
  • Your quail is too hot. This can be easily dealt with by moving the quail to a cooler room, providing shade, or removing a heat source.

Have Fun with Your Quail

Keeping and watching quails is fun - so the quail house has been expanded bit by bit. This way the birds have enough exercise. It is always important that dogs, cats, and other predators cannot get into their coop and that the enclosure remains easily accessible for cleaning - and to get to the eggs without any effort.

Feeding and watering quails are also very important and both should be accessible at all times. You should always monitor the health of your quail. If your quail is behaving a little oddly, eats little, or huddled in the corner of the cage, it all maybe because it is unwell.

There are three basic ways to keep quails from getting sick: your quail should always be in a calm environment, you should keep your quails and their coop clean, and you need to keep your quails away from other birds. Keeping these various points in mind, you can easily be able to care for these small birds and enjoy their delicious eggs.


Michael Feldmann is a farmer and writer in Oklahoma, who studies agriculture and has worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers around the country. His writing has been published in Acres USA, Rural Heritage, Farming magazine, Farmers Weekly, Permaculture magazine, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and as a column in Poultry World. Read all of Michael’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.







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