Category Archives: Life

Beefing Up Security (Part 2)

In researching how to construct, or reconstruct, a safer coop for our next flock of birds, I discovered that we were (perhaps) not as good to our birds as I thought.

We fulfilled and provided almost all of their basic needs.

They had fresh air, clean water, a dust bathing area, lots of fresh grass and insects to forage and enough space. But they didn’t really have a place to flee from predators…or (apparently) much protection against them.

Their coop and run were completely enclosed, but that just meant that if something got in (ie a fox or an opossum), there was no escape for the chickens.

They would have been way to frantic, not to mention way too clueless, to escape the way the predator gained entry.

So where were they to go?

While pondering these concerns and researching what other chicken keepers have done, The Grow Network, a blog where I’ve been a guest contributor, published an article that addresses most, if not ALL of our concerns.

Raising Chickens: Coop Considerations

One of the top concerns we have is (for obvious reasons) protecting our flock from predators.

There are many things the article mentioned the things we are already doing.

The coop is enclosed and raised off the ground and the run and ramp are completely covered with chicken wire.

But, there are also a few things we could be doing to better.

Chicken wire, while fine for keeping the chickens contained, would not protect against a determined dog, fox or raccoon.

Apparently, raccoons as well as small dogs and weasels, could easily tear through the wire.

Using wire mesh or hardware cloth instead of or in addition to chicken wire may be an affordable option.

Another suggestion was to bury wire around the run.

This is not an option for us. We want to have the freedom to move the chickens around the property to help us weed, fertilize and prep for planting.

But, if we cover our chicken wire with the mesh, and also cover the bottom of the run, we would still be able to move the coop around and the chickens would still be able to peck and forage.

This added protection would further deter predators by making it that much more difficult to breach the coop.

We could also cover the ramp with the mesh, which is one of the most vulnerable spots in our set-up.

The use of electric fencing, motion-sensing lights, or even a well-trained livestock guardian dog (LGD) is also an option.

We already use a solar motion detecting light that seems to be doing a pretty good job…at least at night.

While I’m not sure we are ready to get another dog yet, installing an electric fence around the coop and run is one of the precautions we have been considering to beef up security.

Electric fencing sounds so scary, especially to an amateur homesteader and chicken lady with two little boys running around touching everything they see like crazed monkeys.

But…with the proper precautions and training of said crazed monkeys, it would be another layer of protection for the hens.

A simple measure we can take will be to lock the hens in at night. While there are daytime predators like hawks and the occasional confused fox, locking the hens in at night will put the odds in our favor.

We should have been doing this all along. It wouldn’t have stopped the daytime fox from getting the big flock, but it may have protected our last three girls…something I will always wonder about.

Beefing up the coop
Security our main goal
Protecting our hens

The Meow

A mournful meow, so loud
Is coming from the garage
It sounds a little proud
This eery meow

I stop and take a breath
My fingers on the door
I know I will see death
What is it now?

Once she brought a mouse
A mole, and then a bird
She brings them to the house
And then she’ll chow

And when this time she meowed
And brought me to the door
There she stood so proud
And I said, “Wow”

A rabbit, limp and dead
Was lying on our rug
(At least it had its head)
Boots sweetly meowed

The Massacre

“There was a different looking cat under the chicken coop.”

This may seem like an innocent enough comment, but coming from my 5-year-old as he held an empty egg carton…it sounded ominous.

“A different looking cat?” I asked.

“Yeah, it was under the coop playing with a chicken. That’s why I didn’t get eggs.”

Uh oh.

“I’ll go check,” I said as I went out in the bright, noon sunshine and headed toward the coop.

“Mommy, be careful!” called my oldest, worry in his eyes.

I was halfway to the coop when I saw movement. A few more steps and the “different kind of cat” shot out from under the coop, a chicken in its jaws.

A fox had been in the henhouse. 

Surely, I thought, he had just captured PJ, our one free-range hen. There was no way a fox could actually get in the henhouse. Right?

I checked on the smaller flock first. The three ladies looked a little shaken up, but aside from a few loose feathers, they were unharmed.

I could see a lifeless chicken under the coop. I could only assume it was PJ. On closer inspection, her head and body were all intact. She looked almost peaceful.

But wait…if PJ was in one piece without a leg, thigh or head missing…what did the fox have in its mouth?

It was then I heard it.

The eerie sound of silence.

Not a whisper or a rustle came from the coop. Not a hen wandered in the pen.

I slowly opened the laying box and peeked inside. All I could see were feathers.

I opened the big door and saw bodies everywhere.

It was a feathery massacre.

Not one of the Pearl White Leghorns had survived. All bodies, save one, were accounted for. The missing body, I could only assume, was in the belly of the fox.

I don’t know if I truly interrupted his theft, or if he was only going to take one bird all along. I’ve read that the fox can get in a “killing frenzy” when cooped up with a bunch of hens, but usually will only leave with one. Creepy.

As I started to remove the dead, I noticed something strange. Only two hens were headless.

The rest were just…dead. There was no outward sign of fowl play. 

As I picked the bodies up with my three-layer-gloved hands, I saw what had happened. The fox, had broken all their necks, but only taken one as a prize.

The guilt set in as I realized what had really happened. The words I had spoken only the night before echoed in my mind.

“We need to butcher the hens before winter. All of them except the new ones.”

The wily fox had heard me and granted my wish.

History on the Homestead

History is fascinating. The boys are always asking me questions about their past, my past, their dad’s past.

“Were you a kid once Mommy?”

“Did Daddy eat broccoli when he was little?”

They are starting to become more curious about what happened…before.

Before they were born and before they could remember.

I wanted to start introducing them to, not just their own history, but their grandparent’s, great-grandparent’s and great-great-grandparent’s history.

We are using Story of the World (SOTW) Year One: Ancient Times as our history curriculum this year. I chose SOTW because it is a great, hands-on, take-your-time-and-have-fun curriculum.

We read the introduction “What is History?” the first week in September and started our timelines. (above)

We started Chapter 1 the second week in September. We talked about nomads, the Fertile Crescent and the first farmers.

We made our own cave paintings with a paper grocery sack and acrylic paint and watched The Croods for fun.

We started Chapter 2 recently. Chapter 2 is about the Ancient Egyptians. Our first craft in Chapter 2 was building papyrus boats out of straws, duct tape and string.

We floated them in the bathtub and the boys had their little Lego figures sailing along and, I think, fishing.

The activity book in Chapter 2 had instructions to make a model of the Nile with dirt and grass seed in a tin casserole pan.

What a cool project! We were all ready to make our model when my husband said, “Why don’t you make it out in the swales?”

Of course we should make it out in the swales! It’s a bigger model and the boys get to get muddy and play in the dirt.

We trekked out to the pond (which is really just a large puddle now) with shovels and spades and a map of the Nile and got started.

Joe directed traffic for a bit as he consulted the map. There were a few tense moments where they argued over who got to dig the “split part” aka the Delta, but in the end they worked it out.

Joe worked from the top, Jake from the bottom and I helped in the middle with instruction on the depth and shape from both of them.

After about an hour of hard work digging in thick, goopy clay, we had a miniature Nile on our homestead.

Now it was time to test it out. We had a slight problem deciding out to flood the Nile, our hose wasn’t long enough and it was a clear, sunny day so we couldn’t count on heavy rains. In the end, Joe suggested we use a bucket of water.

We got the papyrus boats we had made the previous week and proceeded to flood our mini Nile.

It worked! Our papyrus boats floated down the river after getting stuck only once or twice and out into the Mediterranean Pond/puddle.


We did it a few more times before the river started filling in and everyone got hungry for lunch.

It was fun, engaging, messy and exciting. We will likely also make the model in the tin pan, but the boys will have the memory of playing in the mud to create the Nile with them for a long time.

It’s now part of their history.

 

Death by Milky Spore

This week, I walked through the property with a giant bag of St. Gabriel Organics Milky Spore.

I’m determined–no, I’m desperate to stop the Japanese beetles from completely decimating my trees, vines and shrubs next year. This year was hard enough.

What is this ‘milky spore’? 

Milky spore is a soil-dwelling bacterium responsible for infecting any white grub with ‘milky disease’.

The grubs ingest the tiny pellets and the bacterium slowly kills the beetle grub from the inside out. The silent torture lasts for 7-21 days before the grub succombs to the poison.

As the dead grub decomposes, more of this wonderful elixir is released into the soil bringing death to even more grubs.

Is it safe?

For the grubs? Absolutely not.

For our beneficial insect friends? Of course!

We wouldn’t be spreading it if it had any chance of harming our pollinators. It is not harmful to birds, pets or people…just don’t eat it by the handful or fill the dog’s food dish with it.

It’s a natural occurring bacterium in many soils, but the Japanese beetle is not native to this country and the problem has become so bad that our soil may need a little boost to have a chance.

Does it work?

Here is where my confidence in the bacterium takes a hit. The results are so mixed, so different and so debated that it is nearly impossible to know if this treatment will truly work.

Some say not to bother spreading it because if your neighbor doesn’t, the beetles will just fly in from their yard to your plants. It has absolutely NO effect on adult beetles so must be ingested at the grub stage.

Other people are just plain impatient*. It can take 2-5 years to see results and who is to say the results are due to the milky spore application? It could be any number of environmental factors that reduced the beetle population.

(*I fear I will fall into this category. My track record with positive results in gardening and pest control is not great.)

Should I do it anyway?

Yes, yes…a thousand times yes! I’m willing to try anything to combat these beetles. Even if I don’t see results until 5 years later, my wrath will be calmed just knowing that somewhere, deep under the ground, Japanese beetle grubs are meeting their end.

 

Eggsperiments

We are a house obsessed with all things egg.

We like to eat them fried, scrambled, boiled or deviled.

We use them for baking, for breakfast and sometimes for lunch and dinner.

Yes, we are a house full of egg enthusiasts and, just when we thought we couldn’t find another way to enjoy the egg, DIY Sci came to Prime.

DIY Sci is a Fox series hosted by Steve Spangler and a recent Amazon Prime discovery for my boys. The show is fast paced and silly with fun experiments and scientific explanations.

Everything Spangler does can be done at home with (mostly) common household items.

Like vinegar…and plastic bottles…and eggs.

First, the boys used an empty bottle, paper plate and cracked egg to demonstrate how to use to suction to separate the yolk from the white without breaking it.

I was totally impressed with this. I always make a mess or break the yolk when I try separating eggs…even when I use those little egg separator tools. Who knew that all I needed was an empty water bottle?

Then, Joe wanted to show me how to squeeze and egg so it wouldn’t crack. He held it in his hand longways and squeezed. It didn’t break! Then I tried it, but didn’t hold it longways like he did…what a mess that was.

The latest experiment was an oldie but a goodie. The ol’ blow-the-egg-out-of-its-shell-through-a-pinhole trick.

The shell was still intact after this one so Joe wanted to use it for one more eggsperiment: The Rubber Egg.

He put the empty egg in a glass, covered it with vinegar and weighed it down so it would stay completely submerged.

After a few days, he checked on it and sure enough, some of the outer shell had dissolved.

DIY Sci has inspired may experiments around the house, but so far the eggs have been the most fun. It is probably not a coincidence that they are also the messiest.

 

Flexibility

Homeschool on our Homestead has gone through several drastic changes.

When we first started, I thought I’d create a schedule that we would follow every day of the week.

We’d start in the morning at 9AM and be done by noon with each subject having a specific time and day. We’d play and do chores everyday.

The first day was a huge success. We were all excited and ready to get going. It felt great to check the boxes and cross out completed tasks…one of my favorite things.

The second day was less exciting. The third day I had to push to keep the boys on task and by the end of the first week we were all frustrated and in tears.

The strict schedule was not for us.

I was trying too hard to mimic public school with the strict schedule. I’d forgotten that one of the things we really loved about homeschooling was the flexibility.

So we tried no schedule next. I would observe them daily and whatever caught their interest would be turned into a lesson.

I’d try to cram English and Science into everything we did. I randomly bombarded them with questions and ended up pushing them, and myself, too hard to try and fit everything in.

We did a lesson on opaque, translucent and transparent materials.

I worried that we weren’t doing enough and that they’d fall behind their peers. After two weeks of struggling, I was in tears and felt like I was failing.

‘No schedule’ was not for us. 

We tried a loop schedule, then a block schedule and neither worked. Everything we tried made all of us more stressed.

Then, as I was planning this year’s goals, I decided to write a mission statement to help me get back to our reasons for homeschooling in the first place.

“Our goal as a homeschooling family is to create a love of learning in our children. We want them to remain curious knowledge-seekers and problem-solvers. We want them to be self-directed learners and be able to, each year, work more independently. We want them to become stronger and smarter every day.”

Writing this mission statement made me realize that we didn’t need a schedule. We needed a routine that would allow for my need to check boxes and the boys need for breathing room…and choice.

A routine doesn’t have to be done at a specific time. We may not start at 9 every day. We may have doctor appointments, grocery shopping, last minute field trips or any number of things pop up.

In history, we are studying Ancient Times. The boys simulated cave drawings using paint rather than charcoal and ochre.

Our routine changes, but the basics stay the same.

  • English at least three days a week
  • History at least two days a week
  • Science at least one day a week
  • Field trips and classes at least one day a week
  • Math and reading everyday
  • Chores everyday
  • Learning everyday

Nothing has a specific day assigned, everything is flexible. The only requirement is for the boys–all of us–to become stronger and smarter everyday.

Look for magic in the daily routine. – Lou Barlow

 

Softly

Happiness and joy abound
On quiet days like this
Sun sets softly on the ground
A bright and glowing kiss

The blue-sky changes orange then pink
The kids laugh, run and play
I walk around and ponder, think
How beautiful the day

All life’s sorrows, woes and fears
Are scattered in the breeze
No more crying, no more tears
On Summer days like these

Autumn’s coming, winter too
But I don’t mind at all
Plants will wither, die it’s true
As Summer turns to Fall

Until then, I’ll soak it in
I’ll hear the Summer sounds
Warm sunlight upon my skin
Wind rustling all around

Swallowtails

Four black swallowtail caterpillars found their way into Joe’s bughouse a few weeks ago. We fed them from the plant we found them on and watched them grow and grow…and grow!

The biggest one made a chrysalis first followed by two more a few days later. Our teeny tiny guy ate his way steadily through the dill we’d stuffed the house with until, tired from all his munching, he joined the others and made a chrysalis.

A few days ago, the first chrysalis started to wiggle and wobble.

We’ve been watching it off and on, hoping to watch the beautiful swallowtail emerge. We never did get to see them make their chrysalis. We turned our back and poof! it was made.

The chrysalis went from bright green to a faded dull pea green as it shook and twitched.

And then…

Wibble, wobble, twitch
A butterfly breaking free
Emerges and flys

Regrowth

We came home from a long weekend and discovered something miraculous.

The kiwi had started to heal and regrow.

It had been ravaged by angry beetles for weeks, but it was coming back. Leaves were sprouting out, healing vines and kicking out the crunchy brown leaves.

The Japanese beetle’s 8-week reign of terror ended. Finally.

We were relieved that the pests had not done any lasting damage to the roots of the kiwi. It would have been depressing to have to cut out all that dead kiwi and start over again.

The grapes and hops are coming back as well, but it is the kiwi I am most impressed with. It had truly suffered and I had my doubts as to whether or not it would survive into next season.

I’ve never been more happy to be wrong.

The kiwi is coming back and we have a plan of attack for next year. A plan that will, with any luck, insure that the Japanese beetles lose the war.

The kiwi returns
To the homestead so bright, green
Leaves dance in the breeze