Monday, October 6, 2014

Thoughts on Chicken Keeping, Six Months In

Wow - I can't believe we've had our chickens for six months now!  Crazy!

Painting the lattice fence Seth built on one side of run.
If I never have to paint lattice again I will be happy.
Anyway, here are some thoughts on our experience so far:

1. A Chicken in Every Yard by Robert and Hannah Litt has been my go-to guide to keeping chickens.  I read another book that, while it did have a few helpful tips, mostly just seemed to talk about all the things that could go wrong, and how you have to know what you're doing to keep chickens.  That is NOT the kind of book you want to read!  A Chicken in Every Yard is easy to read, practical, and encouraging.  It makes chicken-keeping actually feel doable, and I appreciate that!  The authors of the book own a urban farm store, and I actually called the store when we had a question about our run, and that was helpful, too!
2. This blog post was very helpful as well - so nice to get information from a regular person who has chickens.
3. It was very fun and convenient to have our chicks in the house for the first several weeks, but next time we get chicks I'll be keeping them in the garage.  There was so much dust!  They are constantly scratching and digging in their litter, and dust flies everywhere.  After realizing this, we used sheets to cover stuff up, but I still spent a whole day cleaning the office once we got the chickens moved outside.

4.  Chicken keeping, like most things, can sound complicated and daunting when reading about it.  But once you do it, you discover that it's much simpler than it sounds.  I was a bit nervous about getting chickens, but really they just require the same care as any other living thing: food, water, and to be kept warm and dry.
5.  Gathering your own fresh eggs is the best!  Seriously, the best!  I love going outside and bringing in eggs from my backyard.  And I love knowing exactly everything that has gone into them!

6.  I am very happy with our coop design.  We designed it ourselves based on different ones we had seen, and it has proved to be a good decision.  My favorite design elements are the large door on the back, which makes cleaning out the coop a breeze, and the smaller built-in enclosed run.  The chickens are free to use their large run most of the time, but the smaller, more secure run has been great for the few times we went camping this summer.  We simply locked them in the small run, and left the coop door open, and then they were free to put themselves to bed and come out in the morning, and we didn't have to worry about something getting to them while we were gone.
7.  Chicken care is, really, very minimal.  I probably spend 10 minutes a day, tops, taking care of them.  I bring them their food and let them out of the coop in the morning.  Once a week or so, I also have to refill their water bucket.  Then in the evening, I close up their coop and gather eggs, if I didn't already gather them sometime earlier in the day, which I often do, just because it's fun!  A couple of weeks ago I spent half an hour or so cleaning out their coop, which was the first time I had done so since they moved out there a few months ago.  Once every couple of weeks I spend ten minutes spreading out some new pine shavings and hay to their coop and run.  That's it.  I'm sure there will be times now that a cold and rainy winter is coming up, when I really won't feel like having to go outside and take care of them.  So it's nice to know that I will be done in just a couple of minutes.

8.  Getting started was expensive.  We estimate we spent $500 - $600 all total, and that was even with building everything ourselves and using a few things we already had.  We could have saved some if we had skipped the the smaller run element, as the hardwire cloth we used is pricy, but as I've said, we have found that to be helpful, so it was worth it.  Some people get creative and reuse dog houses, or get things off of Craigslist.  Aesthetics was important to me, so overall I'm happy with what we did.  Still, I didn't realize we would have to spend quite so much money getting going.
9.  As much as I would love them to be more free-range, it really isn't practical.  Although we have let them out in the backyard a few times and it's fun to watch them wander around, the mess and destruction they leave behind means it won't happen a lot.  With a baby crawling around in the grass, I don't really want chicken poop everywhere, and since chickens eat everything and scratch everywhere, I pretty much have to keep them out of the yard when I have flowers and a garden growing.  Because of all that, I am thankful that we have a fairly large area that we have been able to dedicate to the chickens.

10.  The thought of clipping their wings makes me really nervous, even though I've heard over and over that it's no big deal.  So far we've avoided it, though.  When one of the chickens almost escaped, we bought some bird netting and strung it over the run, and that seems to be doing the trick, plus it helps keep them safe from any hawks or eagles that might be flying around (rare around here, but it happens occasionally, apparently).
11.  Chickens are fun.  The kids love to pet them and visit them.  Toby always wants to look out the window at them, and when we're outside, he'll crawl over to their run and sit nearby, just watching them.  Whenever we're near their fence, they run over to see us.  They really are fun to watch and they make great pets.

So, overall, my opinion is that it is so worth it to get chickens!  We absolutely love having them!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Homeschooling has "officially" started!

We enjoyed a bit of an extended summer, and so we finally started our "official" homeschooling this week!  I had to take the obligatory first-day-of-school pictures!  =)

I originally stated our homeschool plans several weeks ago, but I made a few tweaks and additions before we even started!

I decided to add in a daily "circle time" (or, morning time, as we'll be calling it) to our schedule.  After giving it a lot of thought, and going back and forth on whether or not it was too formal to fit in with my plans, I decided to give it a shot and see how it went.  I love that it gives me a bit of focused time with the kids, and it's a great way for me to introduce them to some things that otherwise would probably go by the wayside.  After all, a huge part of my role in our unschooling is for me to introduce them to new things, and this provides me with one more opportunity to do that.  Our morning time is pretty relaxed, and includes things like reading picture books, flannel board stories, songs and/or fingerplays, poetry reading, calendar, simple group games, Bible reading, and memorization.  I don't do all of those things every day, but instead pick and choose several, so we end up spending 20-30 minutes total.  Right now we are doing this in the morning, right after snack time, but I'm open to switching it to the afternoon if I find that the morning isn't working for some reason.

Another thing I added to our schedule is a Bible program - for us, this year, we're going through the "What's in the Bible" DVD series.  We've seen a few of them, and they're so good that we decided purchase and go through them all!  So far, we've been watching one DVD per week as a family, and then once we've watched one, the kids can watch it on their own as well.  There are 13 DVDs, so my plan is to watch them all a few of times throughout the year.  I'm amazed at how much I've learned about the Bible, and the history of the Bible and the church, and we've had some great discussions with the kids as well.  

With Seth's non-traditional work schedule (he has Wednesdays and Thursdays off), we're doing our school activities on a 3-4 days per week schedule right now.  "School" days are Mondays, Tuesdays, sometimes Thursdays, and Saturdays.  Wednesdays and some Thursdays we'll be taking off because it's Seth's weekend, Fridays will be off because we'll either be doing MOPs or some other activity (like going to the library), and Sundays are off for church.  A bit different from the usual M - F routine, but I think it will work for us!  =)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Celebrating 8 Years!

Seth and I celebrated our 8th anniversary a couple of weeks ago.  8 years!  I sabotaged his plan for a dinner date and surprised him with an overnight getaway instead.  In thinking about it, I realized that unless my memory fails me, we hadn't been on an overnight getaway without children since before we had children.  And the only time we'd ever been away from the kids overnight at all is when we're having another one, which, of course, isn't exactly a vacation.  And we weren't even totally kid-free; we took Toby with us, but having just a baby feels pretty kid-free!  =)  My parents agreed to watch the older three, so we dropped them off and headed south to Astoria, Oregon.  Neither of us had ever been there, so it was fun to be in a new place.  The Columbia River was beautiful and huge!   Our hotel was right downtown near the shops and restaurants, so it was easy to walk around.  After staying the night and browsing a few more shops in the morning, we drove down to Seaside to see the coast and have lunch on the beach.  After a quick stop back in Astoria for ice cream, we started on the long drive home.  A short trip, but definitely sweet; it was so nice to get away for a bit and relax and recharge!

We had to laugh because despite it being a trip to celebrate OUR anniversary, most of the pictures were of the baby!  =)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Camping Trip

We joined my sister and brother-in-law for a camping trip last week!  We hadn't gone camping in a couple of years, so we had been really looking forward to it!  We had so much fun!  The campground wasn't very busy, since we were there in the middle of the week, and we were right by the mountains and a beautiful lake!  We had lovely weather, and it was really almost perfect.  Almost perfect because of the mosquitoes.  Unfortunately, they were awful!  They were out all day long and they were vicious!  Despite making a store run for bug spray and candles, we all came home looking (and feeling!) like we had the chicken pox!  Not good.

Despite that, we had a wonderful time.  The kids did great, and it was so much fun spending time with my sister and her husband!  It's so fun to get away, and camping is a great and frugal way for us to do that!

 We can't wait to go camping again next month!

Tobias is One!

The first birthday is always a little bittersweet.  Bitter because those sweet baby days are behind us, but still sweet because I think one year olds are so much fun!

Our curious happy little man turned one last Friday, and we celebrated him with a few little gifts  and some yummy chocolate pudding cake with whip cream!  He heartily approved!

Something else that happens when you're the fourth child -
if I had remembered I was going to take pictures, I wouldn't
have put a pink bib on him!  =)

As a side note: first birthdays are also a little less bitter when there's another sweet baby to look forward to!  We should be meeting our new addition sometime around the first of February!  =)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Our First Egg!

We now officially have laying hens (or, one, as the case may be)!  We are so excited to be getting eggs!  Madeline (the tan buff orpington) has now laid five eggs in the past week, which is a typical amount for her breed.

Thankfully, Seth had just gotten the nesting boxes made a few days before the big day!

The other two hens have not started laying yet, but that should happen any day now!

This is what happens when you're the fourth child....

Toby loves to play in the kitchen cupboards.  Nobody else did that, and I can't quite remember if it was because they just didn't, or because I didn't let them, but I'm pretty sure it was the latter.  I guess I'm getting soft in my old age!  =)