Welcome to the Farm

My Farmhouse | Life In Beta

Last Friday, I closed on my dream home: an 1801 farm house on just over three and a half acres.

For the last month and a half during the buying process, I’ve been dreaming up how I would write this blog post. I’ve written and re-written it at least a half dozen times. Past versions of this post were lengthy and emotional, but in the end, I decided to keep things simple. Maybe someday I’ll write the emotional part too, but for now, I just want to share the happy news in photos. I’ll tell the story another day.

New back yard | Life In Beta

Note the belongings in these photos are from the previous owners. I took most of these photos during our home inspection, before they had moved out.

Dining Room | Life In Beta

Kitchen | Life In Beta

Living room an entry | Life In Beta

Stairs | Life In Beta

Family room | Life In Beta

We have lots of room here to grow as a family. There are four bedrooms and two full baths. There’s an enormous walk-up attic, and a basement perfect for storing preserves. There’s a two car garage, a work shop, and a barn with three stalls and room to expand. There’s even a little former-milk house that will become our chicken coop, and a tree house for Ben!

There’s also lots to keep us busy. Everything is certainly functional, but our wishlist of upgrades and modifications is lengthy too. The first will be the upstairs bath, which has the strangest toilet/vanity configuration I’ve ever seen in my life:

Bathroom WTF | Life In Beta

After that, I’m hoping to make a few changes in the kitchen to gain some more storage and counter space. Then there’s the outdoors: a pasture to fence, gardens to till, and compost bins to build. There will be plenty to keep us busy!

Our barn | Life In Beta

Workshop | Life In Beta

I’m sure many of you are wondering what happened to my grand remodel plans for the house we’re in now. That’s the sad part of the story, so I’ll give you the short version. Once we started working with a builder on our remodel, we found out the township wouldn’t grant us permits for what we wanted to do without extensive work to the existing structure. It was going to cost us thousands and thousands of dollars BEFORE the addition even got started. Much as I didn’t want to accept it, the numbers just didn’t make sense so I started exploring other options, and that’s how we stumbled upon the property that I ultimately bought.

It was a hard decision, but I think the right one for us. We own a piece of history, and get to start our own story here. I couldn’t be happier!

Barnyard In Our Backyard

Buff Orpington close up | Life In Beta

Buff Orpington | Life In Beta

Production Red and farmer Mike | Life In Beta

Buff Orpington | Life In Beta

Watching the girls free range in the yard never gets old. While watching them tonight, I told Mike I can’t wait to expand our flock next year. I love all the different colors and personalities!

In a few more weeks, they’re going to have a bigger, safer yard to free range in and a much bigger coop too. I couldn’t be more excited.

Happy First Egg Day!

First egg from our chickens! | Life In Beta

That’s the face of a happy [crazy] chicken lady right there!

My chickens turned 18 weeks old this week. I just switched them over to layer feed and put a couple ceramic eggs in their nest boxes, but I wasn’t anticipating any results for several more weeks. (But — wishful thinking, you know?)

I usually check in on the hens in the morning and again in the afternoon after work, just to see if they need their food topped off or fresh cool water on a hot day. Today, I thought I’d tidy up their nest boxes a little because they had been kicking the ceramic eggs around. That’s when I noticed there was an extra “fake” egg … that wasn’t fake at all!

I have a hunch this egg belongs to the bigger Production Red hen. I moved their coop recently and when I bent to pick her up, she squatted down flat to the ground instead of running away. (Ironically, I just read earlier today that maneuver is a sign that a hen is sexually mature and may start laying eggs soon.)

I am ridiculously proud considering it wasn’t me that did any egg-laying. I’m sure long-time farmers will laugh at me, but this is the first time an animal I raised provided food for my family (albeit one tiny egg so far). I think that’s pretty exciting! (Egg-citing?)

I think I’ll share some leftover summer squash with the feathered ladies tonight as a treat for a job well done!

Currently

Myles at Waldameer | Life In Beta

READING

Last night, I started Cold Antler Farm: A Memoir of Growing Food and Celebrating Life on a Scrappy 6-Acre Homestead. It’s the third book by Jenna Woginrich that I’ve devoured in the last few months. Needless to say, I’m a big fan.

WATCHING

Summer TV is a little “meh”. I’ve been watching Pretty Little Liars and Stitchers, and got hooked on a marathon of Rehab Addict on HGTV the other night, but that’s about it.

LISTENING TO

Podcasts! My two most recent favorites are Homesteady and the Chicken Thistle Farm Coop-cast. Also, oldies.

Myles at Waldameer | Life In Beta

Projects

You know me — busy, busy! I’m wrapping up one large freelance project and have several others in the queue to start. I pretty much have at least 2-3 hours of work every night after I get home from my day-job. It’s exhausting, but gratifying.

Looking Forward To

There’s big news (hopefully) on the horizon concerning our home remodel/living arrangements, and I can’t wait to share it with you all! SOON, I hope!

Top 5 Questions About Backyard Chickens

Chicken FAQ | Life In Beta

Since getting chickens four months ago, I’ve been surprised how many people ask the same questions over and over. I love talking about my chickens, but I’m by no means a chicken-expert. I can only share what I’ve read and experienced so far, and point you in the right direction to learn more. Here are a few of the questions I get asked most often:

1. Don’t you need a rooster to have eggs?

This has to be the number one question I am asked when people find out I have chickens. I regularly get the are you stupid-stare when I tell people I have six hens and am expecting eggs.

I promise you: hens will lay eggs without a rooster. Of course, the eggs won’t be fertilized, but unless you’re trying to propagate your own flock, that part doesn’t matter!

Here are some more interesting facts about eggs.

Chicken Eggs | Life In Beta

2. Isn’t it cheaper to just buy eggs?

The short answer is: very likely. The price of eggs is going up right now due to an outbreak of avian flu, and if you compare your costs versus the cost of organic, free range eggs and don’t count the cost of your time invested, you might break even.

Chickens don’t have to be terribly expensive, but they’re not cheap either. There are lots of ways to cut your costs: Make your own brooder from a cardboard box or Rubbermaid container. Build your coop from wood pallets or other upcycled materials. (Pssst, here’s a secret — chickens don’t care if their coop is a Pinterest-perfect cottage. They just want to be protected from the elements and predators.) Offset feed costs by letting your chickens free range and supplementing their diet with chicken-safe kitchen scraps. (Find more ideas for cutting feed costs from Abundant Permaculture, here and here.)

Ultimately you have to decide if the little bit of extra money and your time are worth it to know where your food comes from. Buying organic/cage-free/free-range eggs from the store is great, but walking out to your back yard and getting eggs from your happy, healthy chickens is even better.

3. Don’t chickens smell AWFUL?

I heard this a lot before I got chickens. People told me their manure was horrible. I’ve noticed, as my chickens have gotten older, that it has a stronger odor and that the extremely rainy weather we’ve been having makes it worse. But in my experience so far, it’s really not any worse than any other manure I’ve been around. Poop is poop. Our current coop is near our house, not far from our fire pit and picnic table, and the smell isn’t noticeable at all. Having a good cleaning routine certainly helps, and doesn’t take a lot of time (see the next question).

At least chicken poo has an upside: really great compost. You can learn more about that here.

Cleaning up chicken poo | Life In Beta

4. How much time does it take to care for backyard chickens?

Chickens are not time consuming livestock at all. Most days, I spend 15 minutes or less tending to them.

On a typical day, caring for six chickens looks like this…

  • Morning: Stumble out to the coop half-awake. Open chicken door and say hello. Do a head count to make sure everyone is there and looks healthy and happy. Put out their food. Check their water (if it’s low or dirty, hose it out and re-fill it).  (= 5 minutes or less?)
  • Late afternoon (after work): Check chickens. Make sure food and water are full/clean. (= 2 to 5 minutes) Optional: spend time being entertained watching the chickens peck around the yard. (They’re pretty amazing to watch.)
  • Evening (sun down): Make sure all six hens are in the coop. Close chicken door. Carry feeder indoors. (= 3 minutes or less)

Once or twice a week (depending on how muddy and mucky things have been), add maybe 10-15 minutes to clean out the coop:

  • Scrape chicken manure off the board under the roosts into the compost.
  • Rake up dirty straw in the run and put it in the compost. Spread fresh straw.
  • Hose off roosts and scrub with a brush.
  • Do a “deep clean” of the water container (hose out and scrub).

I think that’s a more than fair time commitment for all the fresh eggs your chickens will repay you with!

5. Aren’t you worried about attracting predators/getting salmonella/[insert other fear]?

It’s true that chickens are pretty much the bottom of the food chain and a favorite of predators like weasels, raccoons, possums, birds of prey, fox, coyote, and about any other critter that eats meat. It’s also true that you should take some precautions when handling chickens to prevent salmonella infections.

But does that scare me? No. While I can be a hyper-protective mama at times, I also personally believe as a culture we go way overboard rubberizing and sanitizing and generally shielding ourselves and our children. I believe in using common sense, like thoroughly washing your hands any time you handle your chickens or work in the coop. I certainly recommend predator-proofing your coop and run. Use your head.

Humans domesticated chickens as early as 8,000 BCE. Families in this country have raised chickens for generations. In the past, humans didn’t have nearly the knowledge of sanitation that we do today. We have antibacterial soap to wash our hands and bodies. We have washing machines to clean our work clothes, and the wealth and utilities to wash them regularly. To help protect us from predators, we have electric fences, trail cams, elaborate traps and firearms if necessary. No one is sitting outside in the dark protecting their flock with a spear.

I feel pretty confident with a little common sense and work, chicken keeping is a worthwhile and safe endeavor.

More good advice

Number one: get yourself a copy of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. It is pretty much THE guide to chicken keeping. Join the forums at BackyardChickens.com and start participating in the discussion there. Then check out a few of my favorite blogs:

Did I miss something? What have you always wondered about chicken-keeping?