Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chicken Update

I've just been out visiting the chickens. We have six chickens that are about 3 1/2 years old. We hadn't been getting very many eggs for the last while, so I wondered if it was due to the heat of the summer. However, we also knew that at least one chicken has eaten eggs in the past, so we started paying closer attention to the girls. One chicken has been in a pen by herself for several weeks, mostly because I got tired of trying to herd her into the other pen when she kept going into this one. Okay, stay there, then. Anyhow, she was laying an egg almost every single day, but we weren't getting ANY eggs from the five hens in the other pen. The kid started noticing egg yolk on the beak & head of one of the chickens, so we started watching more closely. Finally, after he discovered that there were two hens who were determined guilty because they consistently had egg on their faces (is that where that saying comes from?), we put those two into the second pen and brought the lone chicken back to the first pen. Guess what? It wasn't the heat - we're now getting eggs from that first pen of four chickens! I'm very glad of this for two reasons: First, I like eggs. And now that I'm not working at a "job," eggs are a real blessing for our menu! Second, I prefer to butcher chickens in the fall or winter. For some reason, it just seems better than doing it in really hot weather. These chickens are our pets, they're fun to watch, and we love them, but we're working toward being self-sufficient, and we don't have a budget for just pets. That's why we have chickens - we get to have pets AND food. I'm happy that these girls get to stick around a bit longer.

The "little chickens," as I've taken to calling them, are now about eight weeks old, and these Buff Orpingtons are looking like full-grown chickens in miniature, rather than going through the awkward-looking "teenage" stage that our White Leghorns went though. The funny thing is that they look like full-grown chickens, but they still sound like babies. Adorable!

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Plan

I've had several people wanting to know my plan when they find out I'm working toward self-sufficiency. The thing is, I have ideas. I don't have a list of specific goals for production levels, and some things I haven't decided yet. I know I want to make better use of the space & resources available to me. Here's what I have in mind so far:

1 - Eat weeds! Why leave the weeds or rip them out only to leave them on the ground or in the compost pile when we can eat them?! I've been harvesting dandelion leaves & alfalfa and dehydrating them to make a nutitious herbal tea in the winter. These are plant foods that I haven't been using much, so it's a new step this year. I'll be adding mint & parsley from the garden for added nutrition & better flavor. I'll be harvesting rosehips for the first time this year, too. You can make jelly out of rosehips, but I'll probably just use them in tea.

2 - Chickens. This is one thing people typically think of when we want to become more self-sufficient. The problem is that we see pictures & blog posts talking about how wonderful it is to have backyard chickens & to eat fresh eggs...but we don't know what it costs. The chicks we bought cost $4.00 each. Then there's the cost of the feeding tray, the water dispenser or dish, the brooder box with a heat lamp (& sawdust to go in the box) when they're babies, a coop outside for when they're bigger...it's not cheap to raise chickens. There were other breeds that were only $3.50 each, but Buff Orpingtons are good for egg-laying AND for roasting, so we're getting a better deal for the money we spend to buy & raise them. We already had the brooder box, heat lamp, pine shavings, & the outdoor coop. Even with all that, and with all the grass & weeds & kitchen scraps they eat (which all help supplement the storebought feed but don't replace it), we've spent $74 so far on 10 chickens and we'll need to buy more chicken feed for them in a week or so...and they won't start laying eggs until November or December, so we'll be buying a lot more feed for them before we ever see any return on our investment. I'm hoping that we'll keep getting enough eggs from the older chickens to sell a few in order to help pay for the feed for all the girls. Another thing I want to start doing is to get new chicks every year so we'll have enough to eat and still have plenty to provide our eggs. We'll see. As part of this self-sufficiency journey, I'll be working on figuring out how much money we spend on the chickens & eggs, and I plan to continue exploring options for feeding the girls more economically.

3 - Plant fall crops. I have heard of this before but haven't done it. This year, I'm going to plant lots of peas as the main fall crop - partly because they didn't get planted in the spring & I can't stand a whole year without eating fresh peas (yum!), and partly because it will help with goal #4.

4 - Get more settled into biodynamic gardening practices. We've been using biodynamic principles for several years, but I haven't been diligent about the crop rotation schedule. This year, I'm making that more of a priority than it has been in the past.

5 - Expand the area we can use for gardening and/or raising animals. There is an unused area in the back of our property, and I plan to make it workable soil. We'll have more garden area, or an area for keeping goats, or both.

6 - Eat from the back yard first! In the past, I would use garden veggies as I felt like adding them to whatever I was making. I continued to buy most of our food from the grocery store, and I gave away a lot of the garden veggies. Now, I look at what we've harvested from the garden and plan my menu around that. I have still given away a couple of zucchini (if you've ever grown it, you'll know why!), but we're eating a lot more of the garden goodies than we have in past years.

7 - Preserve the harvest. This is something we've always done, but I'm doing more of it from now on. I already mentioned dehydrating weeds. Other things in progress or coming in the near future include making fruit leather, drying apples, fermenting veggies (i.e. traditional sauerkraut & other similar foods), storing root veggies for the winter, drying our own parsley, bottling grape juice...I don't plan to shop for much (if any) produce at grocery stores.

What do you think? Can we do it? Do you have dreams, plans, or practices of self-sufficiency you want to share with us? Tell us all about it!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stop the Madness - Learn to Grow Food!

"Most of us, for example, not only do not know how to produce the best food in the best way, we don't know how to produce any kind in any way. Our model citizen is a sophisticate, who before puberty, understands how to produce a baby, but who at the age of thirty, will not know how to produce a potato. And for this condition, we have a elaborate rationalization instructing us that dependence for everything on somebody else is efficient and economical and a scientific miracle. I say, instead, that it is madness mass-produced." - Wendell Berry

I agree - now, let's stop the madness! Grow our own food, I mean. If you've never done it, start. If you've done it, do it some more. If you don't have a clue, then take a gardening class or at least buy a book about gardening. Or read a book that will motivate you as to WHY growing your own food is a good idea before you actually care to go out & learn how to do it...

Have you ever grown any of your own food? What was/is your experience with it?

There is something amazing (& absolutely essential, in my view) about learning to cooperate with nature & figure out how to get food out of a seed (or egg, or tree, or vine, etc.) and onto our plates. Pure magic!

Friday, July 19, 2013

A New Beginning

I quit my job. I'm going to work on self-sufficiency. I'm not doing this because I'm good at it, ready for it, or anything else that would say it will be successful. I'm doing it because it drives me. I have an insatiable desire to work harder than I've ever worked at something that will likely be more difficult than anything I've ever done. I have some skills. I have some chickens. And I have no idea what I'm doing. Welcome aboard!