Thursday, May 28, 2015

Landscaping is Magic

Brett and I have been focusing our energy (and funds) on restoring the inside of the house. But the yard has gotten to the point where we just can't ignore it anymore! The amount of work that has to be done is pretty astronomical. And not only do we not have the right tools or expertise, but it would be probably be the only project we could tackle all summer. So we bit the bullet and hired some landscapers.

Ladies and gents, this is the before-and-after from ONE day of work. Just one.

In the morning: we're single-handedly bringing back the prairie.

Later that evening.

Holy freaking moly.

Hermione is already loving all the space to get up to maximum running speed, and all the newly uncovered corners she can sniff. Tonight I found my husband hitting a golf ball right down the middle of the yard, and getting her to chase and fetch it. (Sweet revenge: she promptly ran off and buried the ball somewhere, and now he can't find it.)

This is way, way outside our planned budget, but I don't care. We're going to try to make up for part of it by doing some fencing work we had planned to hire out. I will eat Ramen noodles for the rest of my life to get another week of this kind of treatment.

(Or actually, I will eat fresh, home-grown organic vegetables and eggs. Because I'm one step closer to a functional garden!)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Chickens Come Home to Roost

Today, the chickens moved into their forever home!


Close-up inside the coop.

They've been happy without the heat lamp for a week, and they were getting too big for the brooder. So we moved them into the coop! We're a little worried about their first exposure to outdoor nighttime temperatures, so we're going to use the heat lamp at night for a week or so.

Some of the sources we've read suggest "coop training" your birds. Basically, you keep them in the coop only - not the run - for the first few days to a week. That helps them learn that the coop is home, so they'll return to it on their own at dusk. This also seems like a good way to keep them warm while they grow for another week.

Here are the ladies, exploring their new home for the first time!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

When You Give an Architect a Project...

... he's bound to make a massively elaborate solution to go with it.

So Brett went outside to put the final touch on the coop. There's a door for the chickens to go from the coop to the run. It needs to close securely at night to keep out predators, but stay open during the day so the chickens can go back and forth.

Silly me, I assumed that Brett was going to just put a hook on the door and an eye on the wall. I realized something was up when he started looking around for "rope" and "counterweights."

And actually, his solution is brilliant and will make our lives a little easier in the mornings.

Behold this marvel of engineering!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Coat Closet Makeover

Our house has a weird coat closet.

It's annoyingly shallow, the hanging bar is practically touching the ceiling, and half of it is taken up with homemade shelves so there's no room to hang things. I have to assume that this was designed for a giant with extremely narrow shoulders who only owned two coats.

We left it alone for a while, because we had all kinds of stuff shoved in there and nowhere else to put it. But now that some of the mudroom storage is ready, we had room to empty out the shelves and do a little quick remodeling.

First, we took out the dowel rod. The brackets supporting it at either end were still good, so we saved those. Then we knocked down the shelves.

And the closet was without form, and void.

Once it was empty, we cut a dowel rod for the full length of the closet and installed it at a reasonable height. That left enough space at the top for a shelf, too!

We have space!


Tools and linens are now in the mudroom, coats are on adult-size hangers, boots fit on the closet floor, and there's even room for a wicker basket full of scarves. I've ordered a couple baskets to store hats and coats on the top shelf, and I'm thinking about adding shaker pegs to hang a few purses.

We'll replace the curtain with a door, eventually. Probably sometime in the next five years. Or maybe ten.

Don't rush me.

I'm just going to sit here for a while.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Care and Feeding of Chicks

So I've shown off our adorable little flufflballs (which are now somewhat larger featherballs), but I haven't really talked about the mechanics of taking care of them.

As new chicken parents, we had a lot of questions. And there are a lot of great books, blogs, and people out there as resources. We sifted through a lot of advice before heading to our local feed store to stock up, where they gave us the final guidance we needed.

Overall, caring for the chicks in their first few weeks has been pretty simple. It does take some time and planning, but it's not complicated.

So here's our setup:

This is a brooder. We're just using a cardboard box, which we replace about once a week for a slightly bigger (and less smelly) one.

The box is lined with pine shavings. I agonized a lot over what bedding to use - sand, straw, and a few different kinds of wood shavings all have their own advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, pine shavings had the right mix of affordability, availability, and suitability for the chicks. We'll use cedar shavings in the adult coop, but cedar isn't recommended for the babies. I add fresh bedding once a day, and replace all of it once a week.

Chicks need to be kept warm until they get their first feathers, so we have them under a heat lamp. Every week, we move the heat lamp a little further away to lower the temperature about 5 degrees. There's a thermometer taped to the inside of the brooder, which we're mostly just using to make sure we're in the right neighborhood. The chickens make it pretty clear how they feel about the heat; if it's too cold they all huddle together right under the light, and if it's too hot they scatter to the dark corners and fling their water around.

We keep a few things in the box with them all the time: a feeder (the round yellow thing with the mason jar), a waterer, and a few sticks and blocks for them to jump on.

We replace the water twice a day. They kick their bedding into the water trough, and it will get so clogged that they can't drink. (Chickens are not known for their brains.) To minimize this, we keep the waterer raised up to the level of their heads.

It also makes a very good throne.

We also refill the food at the same time.

Dinner bell!

We're using commercial chick feed to make sure they get just the right nutrition to develop. When they're adults, we'll supplement their feed with greens and vegan kitchen scraps.

The feed has to be mixed with grit. Grit is made up of small stones, which the chickens need in their digestive system. I pour a thin layer of grit into the mason jar first, then fill the rest of the jar with feed. Since the grit is heavy, it will trickle down into the feed for more even distribution.

The last element in the brooder is a perch. We have a few twigs and blocks so the chickens can learn to roost. And they just enjoy being up high! It's fun to watch them explore.

Everything the light touches is my kingdom.

You lookin' at me, punk?
Bow to my fluffiness.
To watch them be especially cute, we'll give them a little bit of scratch. That's a treat  - corn or mealworms that they adore, but that have no real nutritional value.

In a few weeks, the chicks will have their feathers and will be ready to move out to the coop. From what I read, at that point they'll actually be less work; they won't make such a huge mess and their larger, better feeder and waterer won't need to be refreshed as often. But I'll miss this sweet little chickie phase when it's gone!