My new winter love…

IMG_8875The snowflakes are flying here in southwest Missouri, which makes me want to introduce you to one of my favorite possessions – my Bogs McKennas. I am absolutely in love with them. They go from chicken house in the snow to work at the office seamlessly. In fact, I wear them to work almost every day it is raining or snowing outside.
I first got acquainted with these beauties right after Christmas. The 2013-2014 winter has proven to be quite fierce, and my early-morning trips to the chicken house ended up in soggy, wet tennis shoes. When that got old, I choose to slip on Drew’s Muck Boots. That worked great until the clunky men’s size 11 boots contributed to some nasty bumps and bruises after I took a fall down the flight of stairs on the back porch. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.
When I received a few monetary gifts for Christmas, I decided I’d make a trip to Bass Pro Shop and buy a pair of Muck Boots for myself.
Side note: I’m such a cheapskate when it comes to buying clothes or shoes. I almost always buy things used. I am pretty good at finding good quality clothing second hand, and I just usually can’t bring myself to buy clothing for full price at retail store. However, I felt that these boots were worth buying new, because they would be worn on a regular basis, and their performance was something I would need to rely on during snowy, icy, raining and mucky weather.
Before making my way into the main store, I always run in the outlet store where returned catalog items are sold for a discounted price (you definitely should do this!). That is where I spotted these boots. I actually thought they were leather boots that would go well some of my work outfits (we have a casual dress code at work), but when I looked closer I saw the Bogs logo on the metal clips.

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Then I noticed the neoprene inner layer, and the rubber soles. Because the boots were a size 10 and I usually wear a size 8, I almost didn’t try them on, but I decided that it might be a good fit with thick winter socks. They were a tad bit roomy, but because of the narrow ankle in the boot the size 10 actually worked perfectly. I tried on a size 8 and 9 in the regular Bass Pro store before coming back to the outlet and buying the discounted size 10s. I couldn’t even get the smaller sizes on my feet. The price was right too, just under $100 at the discounted store. They retailed in the main Bass Pro store for around $170.

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Rubber soles

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Waterproof neoprene interior layer

They are completely waterproof and the leather outer shell is synthetic, so it’s easy to just spray them off with the water hose if they get muddy or dirty. Perfect!

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Bogs McKenna

What boots do you use for your daily chores?

This post is featured on the Homestead Barn Hop #149: http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2014/03/homestead-barn-hop-149.html

A beekeeper’s bargain?

I have been dreaming of bees for awhile now. I can just hear thousands of sweet little buzzing bodies fluttering around the blooms in our garden, stealing nectar here and there to take back to the hive. Just as I dreamed of having beautiful bright orange yolks in our eggs from our own healthy backyard chickens, I now dream of having jars of golden honey lined up in the pantry. There is just something about having a hand in raising my food that makes me feel content and happy.
Just this week, I’ve taken a big step forward in my beekeeping plans. First, I connected with our local Ozark County Missouri University Extension Office in an attempt to see what resources might be available to new beekeepers.  The contact there referred me to the Howell County office, located about 45 minutes away in West Plains. It turns out they had a beekeeping class scheduled for Feb. 11 and 13, so I signed up!
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We originally had plans of adding a hive or two this spring, but those plans almost were put on hold when we lost our first chicken and decided we really needed to funnel our funds into building a new permanent coop and run. See my last blog post here for our ideas on that. The upfront cost of having bees seemed expensive, and I just didn’t think we’d have enough green to stretch for the new coop and run and a few hives.
BUT… just as I was about to give up on the idea for this year, a co-worker let me know that a relative of his who had passed away several years ago left a shed full of beekeeping equipment, and the family was in the process of cleaning out the shed and would be willing to sell it. Score!

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So, he brought it all in this week for me to look at. Since I really don’t know much about bees yet, I didn’t really know what I was looking at, or whether if it would be able to be used again. Neither one of us had a good idea of a price point, so he threw out a $40 figure, and I agreed. I figured if it works, we got a bargain, and if it doesn’t, well we’re not out much money.
So, fellow beekeepers out there… tell me what will work and tell me what won’t.

Beekeeping suit

The suit looks like it’s in good shape. It’s size XXL, and I usually wear a medium. There are few small stains, but it looks as if it’s in really good shape.

suit

Veil/Hat

I don’t see any holes or damage. There is a hat sewn into the top of the veil. I’m not sure if that is how it was made or it was an adjustment from the previous owner.

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Gloves

The gloves have a little wear on them, but they don’t have any holes. They come up to just under my elbows.

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Smokers

There were two smokers with the bundle. One looks old and rusty, and the other one looks a little newer. If I only need to use one, I might use the older one for home decor in our rustic style home.
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Hive components

This is where I get a little clueless. From what I’ve read, I believe this is a 10 frame hive body and super? Is that right? Someone please correct me if not.
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The one box is larger and has frames with four wires connecting the top and bottom. However, most of the wires are broken, and about half of the frames still have comb on them.

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The other box was slightly smaller and in better condition. It was wrapped in plastic. It also has frames, but these frames have a plastic comb-like plate in each of them. The plastic seems brittle, and several are warped or broken.
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Miscellaneous tools?

I have no idea what these are, but they were in the bin with the beekeeping suit, gloves and veil. Anyone know what they are? Are they bee related?
hive tools

…and that about sums it up. So what do you think? Did I get a beekeepers bargain, or is it a bust?

This post is part of the frugal ways sustainable ways blog hop. Check out other great posts here.

Planning the new chicken coop and run

This winter has been a strange one for us, and I’m sure a few of you can relate.
It’s been bitterly cold with abnormal amounts of wintry precipitation, a mixture that is tough for those caring for animals. I have a lot of respect for you folks up north who deal with more extreme conditions regularly.
While I do love winter with it’s cozy fires, warm hearty meals and quality time spent indoors, I have found myself lately wishing it would pass and spring would hurry up and get here. With all the added work and worry of keeping water unfrozen, Vaseline on combs and wattles and trying (unsuccessfully) to ward off frostbite, I’m just down right tired.
Then yesterday, with more manageable temperatures upon us, I took a step back and realized how wonderful winter can be. Winter allows us the extra time to dream and plan for spring. Without a little down time, I think we’d be running on all cylinders with weekly tasks and never have the time or energy to sit back and contemplate what we want in life.
When I took a step back, I realized that I have been doing a lot of planning this winter. So, I thought it might be helpful to lay some of those ideas and dreams out in one blog post to see how productive this winter actually has been.

Chicken Coop

For those of you who have been following along, you probably know that we lost one of our sweet hens to a raccoon a couple weeks ago. We had previously allowed our flock complete range of the several hundred acres near our house. The attack happened while we were at work in a densely wooded area about 70 yards from our house.
It was a very tough loss on us emotionally and served as the realization that we probably cannot fully free ranging our flock without sustaining several more losses. That wasn’t something Drew or I wanted to endure over and over again, but after free ranging for their entire lives, our little flock becomes easily bored and discontent being confined to our (Awesome) 8 foot by 8 foot chicken tractor run. Here is a photo of our chicken tractor:

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So, we decided that the best option was to build a large run and a permanent coop, then sell our beauty of a chicken tractor after the new coop is finished. Neither Drew or I are very skilled in building, so after we decided this, I went on Craigslist to try to find an old storage shed. There were  no storage sheds for sale in our price range, but instead I found this playhouse for sale about an hour and half from our home, priced at $500. playhouse

It is 8.5 foot square with the tallest peak of the roof measuring in at 6 foot 10 inches. Perfect! I quickly contacted the seller and negotiated the price down to $450. Drew and his friend BJ were so sweet to drive up and pick it up and deliver it back for me. It is now sitting at the end of my driveway, awaiting us to have enough time to move it.

Drew and I decided the best spot to put it is next to our garage. There is the perfect little spot to sit the playhouse between two trees, and the run can attach to the garage. It’s within easy reach of the garage door if we ever need to run an extension cord outside for electric, and it’s still close enough that predators will be detered (I hope).
Here is the spot we’ve picked out:

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And we’ve decided to add a 27 foot by 36 foot run around it. In this area:

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In an attempt to save money, we plan on using 8 foot tall natural cedar tree posts for the run framing. The posts, not wire, will look something like this, just taller. We wanted the run to be at least 6 foot tall, that way we can easily stand up and walk around inside it.

cedar posts

Source: We love Texas

We used a lot of half-inch hardware cloth on our current chicken tractor. It’s amazing stuff for keeping our predators, but it’s hard to work with and so expensive. We will use it to secure any openings on the coop, but there was no way we could afford to wire our entire 27 by 36 foot run with hardware cloth. It would take us broke. So in compromise, we decided we are going to run 2″ x4″ inch welded wire with a layer of chicken wire on the inside. It’ll look something like this, but the chicken wire will be ran all the way to the top:

Fence

Source: Backyard Chickens: Gsim’s Chicken Coop

To keep predators from digging under the run, we plan on extending the run into an 18″ skirt around the ground. I then hope to cover the skirt up with gravel, mulch or sand to make it more aesthetically pleasing.

skirting

Source: Backyard Chickens: Geekgurl’s coop

To deter predators from the air, we decided we’d like to use poultry netting. However, we wanted it to look nice in our yard, and poultry netting is not the most eye appealing stuff. So, we hope to implement using one large 6×6 post in the middle of the run, and then using cables to help support it similar to this:

close cable net

Source: Backyard Chickens: Dr. Longhorn’s Coop

full view

Source: Backyard Chickens: Dr. Longhorn’s Coop

One reason why we liked the idea of the chicken tractor is that it keeps the chicken’s living area clean of a muddy, poop-filled mess. So, to combat those issues, we think we’re going to get a dump truck of sand to fill the run and the coop. It will serve as natural grit for them, and a perfect place for dust bathing. It’ll drain readily, and keep the bedding nice and dry. Then we can make a large kitty litter scoop to scoop out any droppings a few times a month.
If you would like to know more about using sand in the coop and run, this article by the Chicken Chick is a great resource.

Sand

Source: The Chicken Chick

We’re also planning on using poop boards, or dropping boards, inside the coop with sand or stall powder inside. Then you can just use a kitty litter scoop to clean out all the droppings from roost time. Something like this:

dropping board

Source: Backyard Chickens

We’ll have to build a custom door and windows in the coop since there are none now, and they are not standard sizes. I’m leaning toward a pretty red door and some bright, sunny window boxes. I also want to create an artistic mosaic walkway from the coop to the driveway. These are my favorite inspirations so far:

garden path

Source: English Garden

Lotus Path

Source: Jeffrey Bale’s Blog

stepping stone

Source: Jeffrey Bale’s Blog

We also hope to add some natural branch roosts in the run. I think they chickens will enjoy them:

Branch roosts

Source: Backyard chickens

We’re also considering this neat idea to help keep the feed and water clean:

Waterer

Source: Sunset

feedingstation

Source: Sunset

There are all sorts of other ideas flying around in this brain of mine, but just jotting these down reassures me that my winter planning has not been wasted time. What have you been planning this winter?
I’m very open to suggestions on our new coop. I love hearing ideas and first-hand experience from you guys. So don’t be shy to tell me what you think about all these ideas or share your brilliant idea with me. 🙂

Remembering Sweet Pea

For those of you who have not “liked” the Hens and Honey Facebook page, you probably don’t know that we sustained a very hard loss on Thursday. One that is still hard for me to write about.
After free ranging our chickens for the last ten months with no issues, we lost Sweet Pea to a predator attack this week. The attack happened about 70 yards from our house in a densely wooded area, and we’ve determined the culprit to be a raccoon by the type of kill and the remains left behind. We have now decided to only free range under supervision, so the remaining flock is being housed in our chicken tractor, and we are in the process of building a larger run and permanent coop.
I can’t begin to tell you how heartbreaking this is for Drew and I. Sweet Pea held a very special place in our hearts. She has been our friendliest chicken from the very beginning. When she was a chick, she would fly from the bottom of the brooder and perch on your shoulder. She loved being held and pet. She was our first chicken to ever lay an egg, and she had consistently laid one egg almost every day since that time. She was our first chicken to go broody, and subsequently the first chicken to go into the broody breaker. However, when she looked sad and lonely in the broody breaker, she was the first (and only) chicken to come inside the house and snuggle on the couch with me. She was always happy to let anyone pick her up, her sweet little eyes fluttering with every stroke of her feathers.
Drew and I buried her at the foot of a white flowering cherry tree near our garden beds. When the weather warms, we will remember her fondly by the snowy blooms that resemble her beautiful feathers so much. It is a very happy place for all of us.
Here are a few photos of our sweet journey with my favorite little girl. I’ll miss her terribly.

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Sweet Pea

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Sweet Pea

Sweet Pea

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dust bath

Facebook pic

Chicken surgery; sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself

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Sweet Pea

 

I’m a worrier by default. Plain and simple.

If I am not careful to regulate my mindset and remind myself to be calm and happy, I’m a nervous wreck. It’s one of my least favorite traits about myself, and I’ve realized it is inherited. My mother is the same, and my grandmother was too. Give us a child lying on a big pile of fluffy pillows, and we can tell you 1,000 ways tragedy could ensue.

My worrying mind was no more apparent then on one bright sunny day last summer. My chickens had finally reached the age that they completely feathered out and had been living happily in their outdoor coop for a few months. I was sitting on the concrete slab near our garage where we feed our flock.

Sweet Pea, one of our Wyandotte hens, was happily pecking the ground at a few remaining kernels of cracked corn while the others looked on. I leaned back, without a care in the world, listening to her soft hen song. Life was good.

After enjoying a few moments of happy sunshine, I opened my eyes and glanced back at the flock as they were walking away from the bare earth and onto greener pastures. That’s when I noticed it.

Something was wrong with Sweet Pea.

As she walked away, I could see the right side of her breast nearly dragging the ground.  Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding. Que immediate panic. I ran over to her, and sure enough, her right breast area was swollen nearly four times the size of her left. I picked her up and felt a brick hard, grainy ball, sized between a softball and volleyball, on her chest. My heart sank. I immediately thought back to a few days before, when I noticed how big one side of her chest looked, but I didn’t think much about it. It had gotten significantly worse.

I ran inside and did the only thing I knew to do. Google.

“Why would a chicken have an enlarged right breast?”

I read dozens and dozens of articles, blog posts and forums, and there was only one reoccurring answer – impacted crop.

For those who may not know, a crop is the first stop in a chicken’s digestive system. Food that the chicken eats is collected and stored in the crop organ throughout the day, and at night while they are resting, it empties into the stomach. When a chicken eats long strands of grass or hay, it can clog the exit hole of the crop causing impaction. When this happens, food backs up in the crop, never continuing on to the stomach. So, the chicken will continue to eat and eat in an attempt to subdue the hunger pains, but the food will never reach her stomach, and she will eventually starve to death.

I ran to my husband, in tears, and told him what I had found. He initially told me I was crazy, but always worried about our animals, he quickly grabbed the laptop and started his own research. After a few minutes, he was also convinced that Sweet Pea had an impacted crop. Article after article after article all described what we were seeing with Sweet Pea.
We sat for hours, me on my cell phone and Drew on the laptop, looking up stories of chickens with impacted crops. We searched for remedies, which included feeding oil, which we tried, but her crop remained the same.

The only last resort solution listed in all the articles? Surgery. Surgery on a live, awake chicken, with no pain medication, on a kitchen table, preformed by a red-headed man who can’t stand the sight of blood and a blonde-haired girl who can’t stand the thought of her sweet chicken suffering.
Since we are in such a rural area, there is no nearby avian veterinarian. So it was just up to Drew and me. It made me sick to think about it, but I knew if it came down to either doing surgery on our sweet little chicken or letting her starve to death, I’d bite my lip, fight back the tears and do what I had to do. I was confident Drew would do the same.
So, we read articles on how to perform the surgery. Then we watched YouTube videos, dozens of videos on how to perform surgery on an impacted crop. In each of the videos a chicken owner cut through the skin, then esophagus to reach the crop. Once they had access to the crop, they pulled out a dozens of handfuls of rotten straw and grass before the exit of the crop was cleared.

We learned the best place to order a scalpel and surgery kit and exactly how long it would take to receive it. We learned that super gluing the wounds back together was more successful than stitching. We learned that numerous people had attempted the surgery, in their own kitchens, with no more medical knowledge than we had, and saved their birds.
By the time we felt confident in the amount of research, it was 3 a.m. The plan was to try to rest through the morning, and then we’d order our supplies. Drew would also call his mom, who is a R.N., to see if she might be willing to oversee our little project.
Drew caught a few hours of sleep that morning, but I didn’t sleep a wink. I kept thinking about how painful it must be for Sweet Pea to be starving to death. I thought about how painful it would be to be cut without any pain medication. By the time I saw the first glints of sunlight, I was sick to my stomach and more tired than ever.
I pulled on my boots and went to see my sweet girl out in the coop. Sweet Pea sat on the roost with the rest of the flock. I pulled her down to give her a loving embrace. I stroked her feathers for a few minutes before I noticed it.
A completely flat crop!
I almost started crying with joy and ran inside to tell Drew, who immediately burst out laughing. It turns out Sweet Pea gorged herself the day before, and the huge enlarged crop was just holding the food from that big buffet. She did the same thing for two more days, before she started her first spell of broodiness.
So, I’ve learned to try to remain calm, despite my worrying ways, and that I should probably try to at least sleep on it before I start ordering surgical supplies.

How to make luxurious body butter with just three ingredients

Body butter blog

My biggest advice for someone who is trying to switch over to a more natural, healthy lifestyle is to just do a little at a time, and I follow my own advice. I think it is the key to sustaining changes in the future.

Now that it doesn’t feel like such a struggle to buy, cook and eat naturally, I’m starting to take aim at other areas in my life. My new goals? Switching over the health and beauty products I’m using to more natural alternatives. Our skin is our largest organ, right? So, why would we want to gunk it up with a bunch of junk? I’ll admit my cabinets have been filled with Bath and Body Works lotion. It’s my weakness, but after I checked out the ingredient list (and realized I didn’t know what nearly anything was), I decided to end the love affair. Seriously, check this out:

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That’s why this rich and creamy body butter was one of my first projects, and I have to say I AM IN LOVE with this stuff! It is light, fluffy and leaves my chapped winter skin feeling silky, smooth and moisturized. I don’t think I will ever buy lotion again.

This body butter is made from just three ingredients: coconut oil, cocoa butter and essential oil. That’s it. No chemicals or unpronounceable, unidentifiable ingredients.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve surely heard by now how great coconut oil is for just about everything in the world. At the top of the list of beneficial uses is skincare. It seeps in through your skin to provide a deep, soothing moisture, great for dry winter skin.

Cocoa butter, which is full of antioxidants and provides deep hydration, is also a great for the skin and provides a chocolate scent.
The sssential oil gives the body butter a great scent, and depending on which oil you use, it can contain some beneficial properties as well. If you use peppermint essential oil, it leaves your skin with a cooling sensation and mixed with the cocoa butter smells amazingly like mint chocolate chip ice cream or peppermint patties. If you use orange essential oil, you get an amazing chocolate citrus scent. They both smell SO good!

Here’s how it’s made:

Ingredients

1 cup organic coconut oil

1 cup organic cocoa butter

essential oil of you choice

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Note: I bought my organic coconut oil and organic cocoa butter at Amazon.com. Coconut oil is readily available at many grocery stores, but I haven’t found cocoa butter anywhere locally. If you are in a larger city, you may be able to track some down.

1. Measure out one cup of coconut oil and one cup of cocoa butter. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, the coconut oil will probably be in a soft solid state similar to the consistency of Crisco. The cocoa butter on the other hand is more solid. I usually take a butter knife and hack at the cocoa butter container until I get enough chunks to fill the measuring cup. It’s a great way to take out your frustrations from the week!

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2. Put the coconut oil and cocoa butter into a small to medium saucepan on medium heat. Melt the contents until completely liquid, and there are no longer any chunks. It usually takes 4-5 minutes.

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3. Transfer to a mixing bowl and refrigerate until the liquid becomes a soft solid again. This took about a few hours for me, but I’m sure all refrigerators are different.

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4. Add your essential oil to your liking. For this batch,  I used two cap-fulls of peppermint, first distill, from my essential oil sampler pack I ordered from Brambleberry.com.

5. Mix until light and fluffy, similar to whipped cream consistency. This took me about 10 minutes on a high setting on my Kitchenaid stand mixer.

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6. Transfer to a jar, and enjoy. That’s it!

Note: Because the body butter is made partially from coconut oil, you’ll want to store it at a comfortable room temperature. If it’s too cold, it’ll become pretty solid, and if it’s too warm it’ll turn to liquid. If it happens,  no problem, just transfer it to a more temperate area.

I made a few jars up for Christmas gifts for friends and family, the last of which finally was finally delivered yesterday to the wonderful foreign exchange students I oversee throughout the year. Our scheduled December sleepover and German Christmas party had to be cancelled because of ice and snow, so we met back up on Saturday and had a late Christmas party. We exchanged gifts  and Henrie, our German girl, cooked up a huge German feast. It was a blast!
For their gifts, I transferred the body butter to a couple of jelly jars and just added some scrapbook paper, puffy letters for their initials and some leather string with a pine cone attached. I think they turned out really cute!

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The Chicken Chick

The absolute best way to make a whole chicken (and stock) in a slow cooker

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The freezing temps and snowy weather have left me wanting to cook warm, hearty meals every night, and this slow cooker chicken hits the spot. It’s super easy, delicious and juicy. When we cook a whole chicken, we are usually able to make at least four dinners out of the one bird. If I don’t think we can finish the meat within three to four days, I vacuum seal the remaining meat (LOVE our FoodSaver!) and freeze it for later use.

To begin, I try to only buy local, humanely raised meat. I hope to do a blog post at some time in the future about the reasons why, but until then, just take my word that factory farmed meat in the grocery store is gross.

Back in the spring, I ordered $150 worth of whole chickens from our friends Rachel and Matt Klessig over at the Jersey Knoll Farm (check them out on Facebook!). They are located about 15 miles from our house, and they just so happen to have great, fresh chicken. Although the chickens aren’t free-ranged completely, they are raised in moveable chicken tractors that are transfered to fresh ground a couple times a day. I think we ended up with about ten chickens for our $150 investment. After bringing them home, we cut all but three into pieces and froze the pieces separately. I even whipped up some marinades and froze some pieces in marinades, so all I have to do is leave them out in the sink in the morning and by the evening, they are ready to go in the pan. I love having meat frozen in the freezer. It coupled with my frozen garden leftovers and weekly fruit and veggie box (more on that later!), leave me rarely going to the grocery store.

So, back to making the chicken. For those of you who are curious about pricing of local meat like this, this chicken was just over 5 pounds and cost about $16. It may sound steep if you’re used to buying meat at the grocery store (I haven’t bought meat in a store in almost two years, so I don’t know what a whole chicken costs there), but it’s not bad when you consider that you will be able to feed your family multiple meals from the bird.

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Ingredients

One 4-5 pound chicken

Three onions

Seasoning of your choice, to taste

One lemon

Directions

1. To begin line a slow cooker with diced onions. I had two small sweet white onions and one red onion on hand, so that’s what went into the cooker.

2. Wash your chicken and remove the giblets if they are left in the body cavity. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with your favorite spices. I used a generous dousing of salt, pepper, paprika and parsley.

3. Sit your chicken on top of the onions. Cut a lemon in half, and squeeze the juice over the meat. Leave the remnants of the fruit in the cooker. (No, you don’t need any extra liquid – don’t worry, the chicken juices will keep the meat tender and juicy).

4. Cook on high for 4-6 hours or on low for 8-10 hours. Enjoy!

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Now that you’ve made your easy-peasy, yummy-in-my-tummy chicken, you can’t just throw the bones out. They are one of the biggest perks about making a whole chicken, because you can make beautiful silky smooth chicken stock with little effort.

1. So first, cut the meat from the bones. Some people probably pick their chickens a little cleaner than I do, but I don’t mind to leave little bits of the more chewy meat on the bones. I think it just adds additional flavor to the stock.

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2. Don’t forget your furry friends, who actually become your best friends when you have chicken meat in your hands (and can’t even sit still for the camera.)

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3. Put all the remnants besides the meat (bones, skin, juices) back into the crockpot with the chicken juice and onions.

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4. Roughly chop some celery and carrots and add to the pot.

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5. Add water to fill the pot.

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6. Throw in whatever herbs and spices you’d like. I try to use whatever fresh herbs I am growing, which currently only consists of Rosemary (in its cracked, identity-confused window planter). I also added a little extra salt and pepper.

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7. Cook again for 8-10 hours on low, and enjoy your stock! I used mine to make homemade chicken noodle soup by chopping up the cooked carrots and celery from the crock pot and adding roughly chopped chicken and cooked whole wheat noodles.

If I don’t have an immediate use, I like to freeze the extras in ice cube containers and them combine them in one big zipper freezer bag. That way I can just pull out as many chicken stock cubes as I need for a wide variety of different dishes.

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 Check out this post and many other great ones on the Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways blog hop. Just click the link above.
It’s also a part of the Clever Chicks blog hop located here. Check it out.

Dreaming of a green winter: growing sprouts for your chickens (or yourself!)

Blog title post

We’re in the belly of winter here in southwest Missouri, and there isn’t a dab of green anywhere on the ground. While I’ve always thought that winter brings it’s own beauty, stark, quiet and distant, the chickens and I are longing for the fresh homegrown garden greens (or lawn greens in the case of the chickens.) I’d say there are probably a few gals and feathered friends who can relate.

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So, what’s a girl and her feathered flock to do when there is no garden or pasture in sight? Take things into our own hands…er, beaks I mean.

Growing sprouts is such an easy, fun way to supplement our winter weather blues with a little green pick me up. For chicken owners sprouting is especially helpful as it can help cut feed costs drastically, and your chickens will be getting extra nutrients which means more big, beautiful eggs. And well, if you don’t have any chickens, you can feel good about growing your own food and enjoy the sprouts on sandwiches, salads and baking (think Ezekiel bread.)

I’ve been growing sprouts for the chickens for couple of months now, and they go wild every morning when I bring them out. Before I started sprouting, I was feeding my hens one cereal bowl of laying feed and one cereal bowl of cracked corn. Now, I feed them a half-bowl of corn, a half-bowl of layer feed and a jar of sprouts. There is usually even a few bits left over for the cardinals and blue jays after the chickens have left to go scratch up creepy crawlies in the woods.

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I chose to sprout winter wheat for the chickens because it’s easy, cheap and healthy, but you can sprout a magnitude of different seeds. Alfalfa is probably the most common for human meals, but just about any bean or seed can be sprouted (as long as it hasn’t been heat-treated.)  Check out your local health food store for options available to you. I bought a 50 pound bag of winter wheat (usually sold for planting or feeding animals) at our local feed store for just under 10 bucks. There are approximately 100 cups of wheat berries in the bag, and considering I use 2/3 cup of berries per daily jar, that means I can provide half of my chicken feed for five months for under 10 dollars!

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I’m a big believer in the non-GMO movement, and considering the eggs we eat come from the chickens we feed, I am careful to only feed non-GMO rations. The good thing about wheat is that the evils-to-be haven’t gotten their hands on it yet, so there is no GMO wheat out there as of now. Yay!

Materials

5 canning jars with one lid and ring

Winter wheat berries or sprouting seeds of your choice

Roll of screen or any other surface that will allow water to drain but will keep the sprouts in the jar. You can use cheese cloth, plastic needlepoint sheets or ready-made sprouting jar lids.

Heavy-duty rubber bands (mine say #84 on the bag)

Directions

1. Gather your supplies. You’ll want to make sure you’re jars get a quick wipe out with some soap and water if they are from your dusty basement like mine.

2. Fill one jar with 2/3 cup of wheat berries. I use pint-sized jars with this amount of wheat, but if you are adding more seeds you’ll want to use a larger jar. Fill jar with water about half way, making sure all the seeds are submerged, and put a clean lid and ring on top. Sit away in a dark place. I sit my starter jar in our kitchen pantry cabinets to begin.

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3. Allow jar to soak overnight. This is the only time you will actually allow the seeds to sit and soak in water.

4. The next morning, take the lid off the jar and place your piece of screen on top. Secure the screen to the top with a rubber bad. Once the lid is on securely, pour the water out of the jar and into a sink. Then rinse the seeds with running water, and drain out all the water. Sit the new jar in a sunny windowsill and start a new jar to put in the pantry. Rinse jars twice daily.

5. Continue this process until you have a total of five jars, one starter jar and four in the windowsill. Usually by this time, the sprouts have gotten large enough to provide a meal for the chickens.

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Day 1

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Day 2

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Day 3

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Day 4

Day 5 - ready to feed!

Day 5 – ready to feed!

6. Take the screen lid off the top of the jar and empty the sprouts into a strainer. Don’t be afraid to use a fork to help pull them all out. After you empty the jar, be sure to scrub it out with a bit of dish soap to discourage bacteria from growing in your next round.

7. Take the sprouts outside to your chicken feed pile and watch them go wild!

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A basket full of sprouts, ready for feeding!

And the chickens sure do love them. Here they are enjoying the morning buffet.

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The flock devouring the sprouts when I first brought them out.

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One little red digging in.

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Sweet Pea couldn’t eat them fast enough!

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop. So hop on over to http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2014/01/homestead-barn-hop-141.html to see other neat homesteading ideas!

It’s also a part of the Clever Chicks blog hop located here. Check it out.

Happy New Year! Meet the family.

Don’t you just love the New Year? The fresh, cool breath of January is such a contrast to the richness and warmth of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons; I can’t help but be inspired and excited for what’s to come.

After reflecting on our wonderful life in 2013, I have made a few resolutions for the upcoming year. At the top of the list? Doing more of what I love: living sustainably, gardening, caring for chickens, writing and finding homemade alternatives to anything and everything. I hope you’ll join in and follow this journey of getting back to our roots and living a simple natural life.

Let’s start by meeting the Dreckman family!

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Jessi Dreckman

Hi. I’m Jessi, and I’m the voice behind the blog (and the big dreamer on the little homestead). I am a 26-year-old lover of all things natural and self-sufficient. I have a great respect for Mother Nature and all living creatures. I appreciate anything handmade, homemade or full of old-fashioned charm.

Roles at the homestead: raising chickens, growing vegetables, cooking and being the dreamer of the family

Occupation: reporter for our small-town, weekly newspaper

Hobbies: camping, getting dirt under my nails, reading, anything artistic and handmade

Drew blog photo

Drew Dreckman

Drew is my red-headed, light-hearted, goofy counterpart. He’s been there since our first date, 10 years ago, when I was just a 16-year-old cheerleader and his life centered mostly on beer and trucks. It makes me laugh to think back to those two gangly kids, falling in love. As we’ve grown up, we’ve grown together. Our ambitions, dreams and fears have intertwined, and we are so happy to be living the life we are.

Roles at the homestead: hunting, fishing, building chicken coops and being a realist when my dreams are too ambitious

Occupation: body shop foreman

Hobbies: hunting, fishing, hunting and more fishing

Jack

Jack

Pete

Pete

Chelsea

Chelsea

The Pups

All three of our dogs were strays that found a way into our homes and our hearts. Pete and Chelsea came to us as puppies, both just a few weeks old. Chelsea was found starving and shivering on a snowy dirt road. Pete was left abandoned in the parking lot of a gas station. My bleeding-heart couldn’t just leave them behind.

Jack, on the other hand, came to us as an adult dog. At the time my sweet rat terrier, Skip, and our long-time family pet, Puglsey, both went missing. I was devastated. I put up lost dog posters with hefty rewards for both, but we never found them. After seven months, we received a call from a woman who said she thought she had found Skip. I was ecstatic. We brought him home with hope in our hearts, but after comparing photos we determined the markings on the new dog were different than Skip’s. We decided the new stray dog needed a home too, and the rest is history!

Today they are all a little older and hold a very special place in our hearts. Jack is my right-hand man. If I am home, he is with me… trailing at my feet as I walk, laying on my lap when I sit, even sleeping outside of the shower until I am finished. Pete, our largest dog, dreams of being the size of a chihuahua. He longs to curl up on your lap and lick your face. He is full of energy and very much a puppy in many ways. Chelsea is just as sweet as she can be, unless she is near a food bowl. Then she guards it with her life, baring teeth and snarling all the way. It’s something we’re working on (and have been for the last nine years).

Bonnie

Bonnie

Sweet Pea

Sweet Pea

Clyde

Clyde

The Reds

The Reds

The Flock

We currently have a flock of five including three blue-laced-red Wyandottes (including a “splash-colored”) and two Rhode Island Reds. We raised the Wyandottes from chicks last Spring, along with three others. Sweet Pea, the “splash” colored BLR is by far the most friendly and at the top of the pecking order after the rooster. As a chick, when we would come down to the brooder, she would fly from her newspaper-lined brooder to perch on your shoulder. Today, when she lets us hold and pet her, she cozies up under an arm, her eyes fluttering shut with each stroke. Bonnie is more interested in scratching up a snack than being held, but she’s still a beauty. We’ve kept our distance from the rooster, Clyde, in an attempt to gain a mutual respect for one another. He’s a very good flock leader and protects his hens. So far no one has been flogged.

After four of our six chicks turned out to be cockerels, we had to butcher three roosters. It was a difficult process, but it was the best thing for the roosters and the flock. We added two Rhode Island Red pullets in August, after buying them from the local farmers’ market. There was a long and stressful integration process, as our three home-grown chickens didn’t take too well to the newbies, but they have finally become one big family. At one point, “the reds” had individual names (Big Rhonda and Little Red), and we could tell them apart because one had most of her tail-feathers plucked and the other had a crooked toe. Now, their tail-feathers have grown in thick, they are inseparable and indistinguishable, so we just refereed to them as “the reds.” They are still a bit skittish, but I hope they warm up to us more the longer they are here.

So, that’s the family. We’re happy to be here and happy you are reading along. Until next time…