Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 2012 in Review, Part I: Chickens and a Lost Toddler

My goodness, March has been a crazy month! In the midst of even more than the usual chaos (and a whole lot of basketball watching - we are a family of rabid college basketball fans) we managed to get quite a lot accomplished. In fact, I have so much to talk about that my usual monthly review post grew outrageously long. I realized that no one would read a blog post the size of War and Peace so I decided to split it up in parts. Here's part one. 


We had a few misadventures along the way, but our chicks arrived in mid-March and we've settled into an easy rhythm. We completed the final bit of the chicken moat before the little buggers even arrived. Hopefully it will keep our chickens secure because a coyote has been sighted around our place recently. 

The north end of the chicken moat finished and attached to the coop

Of course it will be a little while yet before the chicks leave the security of their brooder and are allowed to roam the moat. At two weeks of age, I moved their brooder out of one of our bathrooms and into the coop. I really enjoyed having them in the house - it was so delightful to hear their antics while I was doing school with my children - but they were starting to produce quite a bit of dust. Thankfully the unusually warm temperatures we've had this year meant that the coop was plenty warm for the little chooks. I even turn off their brooder lamp during the day because it has been getting upwards of 90 degrees in the coop. 

Brooder set up in the coop. 

Unfortunately, the little runt chick we named Ora (short for "Ora et Labora", which means "Pray and work" in Latin) ended up dying three days after the chicks arrived. I think she never fully absorbed her yolk sack and was doomed from the start. Ora's death combined with Meyer Hatchery shorting me a chick meant that we were two chicks down, so I went to Tractor Supply Co. and bought two replacements. Apparently TSC has a policy of selling a minimum of six chicks. I managed to browbeat  persuade the lady in charge of the chicks to let me buy only two chicks by swearing that I had 15 more at home in my brooder. I came home with one straight-run Silver Laced Wyandotte and this little girl who I selected from the "Red Pullet" bin.

"Little Red" on the day we got her. She is probably a Rhode Island Red or Production Red 

Despite the fact that we have chickens of fancier breeds, it is Little Red who has become our favorite chicken. Little Red isn't so little any more. I can't believe how much she and all the other chicks have grown already.

Little Red and her flockmates 

They are quickly losing their chick down and feathers are growing in. They aren't as cute as they were two weeks ago, but they are starting to look edible, so that's some consolation!

"Eek! There's a human trying to pet us!"

They aren't so sure about me and run to the farthest corner of the brooder whenever I approach. I think they are trying to help me not get attached! 

The remainder of their "Baby Cake" and dandelions

We are feeding the hungry little birds chopped hard-boiled egg, dandelions, and forage cake as supplements. They quickly polish off everything I bring them. They are such fascinating little creatures. I could spend all day with them if I didn't have children who require food, education and attention. Pesky things, children! ;) 

And then there's this little fact

My new official chicken farmer boots and my baggy, saggy pants

I have to roll up my pants when I go out to visit the chickens. That's because there's less of me holding them up off the ground and as a consequence they drag a bit. If I don't roll them up, I come back with all sorts of fun surprises stuck to them. 

Why are they so saggy you ask? Because I've lost over 30 lb. That's a whole toddler! Just had to share. 

Coming soon:

Part II, Bug Out Bag Upgrade

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chicks! (Finally)

This chicken keeping business has been a series of misadventures and I've only had chicks in my possession for 24 hours!

You might remember that my order of chickens was scheduled to arrive between March 6-8. Despite the shipping notice I received from Meyer Hatchery on March 6th, they never shipped my birds. A couple of phone calls and an angry message or two later, they finally admitted their mistake and agreed to ship my birds the following week.

The next week came and I got a phone call early Monday morning from Meyer. They were packing my order for shipment but two of the breeds I ordered were not available (Silver Laced Wyandotte and Columbian Wyandotte). They offered me a list of breeds as substitutes - which would I prefer? None of the breeds they offered were on my list of breeds of survival chickens. I hadn't researched any of them. I probably should have just taken a refund for those chicks, but I randomly chose two interesting sounding breeds: Silver Lakenvelder and Salmon Faverolle. They sounded exotic and expensive, just like myself. Ha ha.

After I got off the phone, I was able to take a look at the catalog and learn about the breeds I had chosen. The Salmon Faverolle should be OK, but the Silver Lakenvelder isn't a breed I would have chosen if I had been given more time to think about it. Oh well.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. The post office called just after 6 AM to inform me that my chickens had arrived. I hurried into town, grabbed the very loudly peeping box, and headed back home.

When we opened the box, this is the sight that greeted us.

Chicks huddle together when they are cold

Aw, the poor little things were so cold! I gently took each chick out individually and introduced them to their new home.

Dip each chick's beak in the water as you put them in the brooder

It is really important that the chicks learn where the water is when they enter the brooder. I dipped each one's beak in the water and watched them swallow before putting them under the heat lamp. The marbles in the water dish are a bit of insurance that the wee beasties won't drown.

Home sweet home

It wasn't long before the whole crew was exploring their new home. But wait a second. Count the chicks.

There are only 16 chicks here. I ordered 17. Yep, Meyer Hatchery shorted me a chick. Needless to say, they have permanently lost my business. That's really too bad because they are one of the few hatcheries that require only three chicks as their minimum order. All but one of the chicks arrived very healthy.

Do you see the chick in the lower right corner of the above photo with the dark thing on its rear? That is the remains of its umbilical cord. It is not unusual for chicks to have a bit of the umbilical cord remaining, but this is a very large umbilical stump. A couple of hours later, this chick was lying motionless on the floor of the brooder. The other chicks piled on top off her and picked at her sore bottom. We had noticed before that she was smaller than the other chicks and her posture was a bit different than theirs. She seemed weak and fragile. By this point, we thought that she was a goner for sure. I started thinking through the elements of the funeral service that my children would surely demand. "Dearly beloved, we gather here today to lay Runt to rest...."

Hubby Dear, however, can apparently doctor chickens as well as he can humans. He separated Runt from the rest of the flock and managed to get her to eat a bit of scrambled egg (it sounds wrong, but it is a good food for chicks). He stayed up late last night working on his NCAA tournament brackets and by the time he finally came to bed, she was back up and running around again.

Several of the chicks have experienced pasty butt. When chicks are stressed or cold, their droppings can accumulate over their vent. If you don't remove the droppings, it will actually seal their vent shut and kill the chicks. A gentle wipe with a warm, wet washcloth takes care of the problem.

Now the chicks run when they see me coming because they know I'm going to pick them up and look at their butts.

The chick with the feathered legs and toes is the Salmon Faverolle. 

Their feathers are already starting to come in. They won't be babies for very long, so we're enjoying this stage while it lasts. Come August, these girls will hopefully be laying oodles of eggs. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bug-Out Bag Redux

One of the tasks I aim to complete over the next several months is an overhaul of our bug-out bags. Bug-out bags (also known as G.O.O.D. bags and 72 hour kits, among other names) have the essentials you need for survival in the event you need to evacuate quickly or simply hunker down in place for a few days.

Our bug-out bags were the first preps I completed back when I was a wee baby prepper. I based them around these kits from Emergency Essentials.

The Trekker II Emergency Kits from Emergency Essentials 

The Trekker II kits have supplies for two people; we are a family of six with several small children. I bought extra sets of certain supplies (ration bars, emergency blankets, etc.) and added in things like diapers and formula. Then I created an emergency binder with vital information such as phone numbers, photos of each family member (in case we get separated), insurance information, and so on.

And that was that. Our BOBs have sat in the floor of our closet for a year and half. I have added a few odds and ends but I haven't truly updated them. The clothing I packed for my children is now two sizes too small, the family photos show an infant Baby Dear who doesn't much resemble the ornery man-child he is today, and I never replaced the flimsy multi-tools included in the kits with proper cutting instruments. Oops. Naughty prepper.

It's time to update and upgrade our BOBs and emergency binder. Here's the plan:

Bug-Out Bag Update Checklist:
  1. Emergency binder - Check all information for accuracy. Update with new photos, financial information, etc. as necessary. 
  2. Double-check to make sure all components (ie. flashlights, headlamps) are still functional. Make sure those darn Aqua Blox aren't leaking and consider a switch to the water packets mentioned by Bitsy
  3. Update clothing and shoes included in bags. Make sure they are appropriate for the season. Add extra pairs of socks for Hubby Dear and I. 
  4. Make a few upgrades. See below. 

  1. Backpacks - The bags included in the Emergency Essentials kit are inadequate. Not only are they on the small size, but they are also very uncomfortable to wear when fully loaded. I want to try out some new backpacks that will better distribute a heavy load. 
  2. A better knife - The kits came with two generic multi-tools. I am far from knowledgeable when it comes to topics like a proper survival knife, but even I know that I wouldn't want to depend on the flimsy blades that came with my kit. 
  3. Another way to purify water - The kit came with a few water purification tablets and some of the notorious Aqua Blox. I'd like to get a hiking filter so that we could drink whatever water we come across on the go. 
  4. Some cordage - Our kit currently doesn't have much rope or other cordage. Cordage is just too handy not to include in a BOB. 
  5. Upgraded electronics - The flashlight, headlamp, and radio included in the Emergency Essentials kits are pretty cheap quality. I'm looking for more sturdy replacements. I'm also considering getting a solar battery charger.
  6. Sleeping arrangements - Our BOBs currently include plastic tube tents and mylar "sleeping bags". If we ever really had to use these, we would be less than comfortable. I'd like to find light, compact, and warm sleeping bags. If we have room in our bags, I'd like to get a better tent as well. 

I still think kits like the one pictured above are a wonderful beginning for those newly-converted to preparedness. If lack of time and zero know-how are obstacles, these kits are great. Buy them and you're set. Just don't forget about updating them like I did and you might consider upgrading a few of the crucial components.

If you have not checked your bug-out bags recently, why not take this opportunity to make sure they are ready to go? Are you set for an emergency or are you overdue for an update?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Latest Impulse Buy

I am a woman who is prone to large impulse buys. I have bought two houses and several vehicles without even so much as a night to sleep on such momentous decisions. Hubby Dear knows better than to let me loose in certain stores without supervision because I am liable to come home with extra items I just couldn't pass up.

So I guess it is not much of a surprise that I came home from my latest trip to a certain discount store with something that most definitely was not on my shopping list. At least this impulse buy cost all of $4.50!

I bought a seed starting kit.

Jiffy Pot "Professional" Greenhouse

Hubby Dear and I have discussed starting our own transplants from seed but decided to put that off for future growing seasons. For 2012, the plan was to use a combination of bought transplants and directly sowing other seeds into the garden. Then I came across an enticing display of several different kinds of seed starting kits.

The good thing about this kit is that it contained everything I needed to start 36 plants. All I had to provide was the seeds.

This kit was contains Jiffy Pots. Jiffy Pots are little compressed peat pellets that expand when hydrated.

A Jiffy Pot before hydration 

After hydration

Ready to go

It took a little over 5 cups of warm water poured into the tray to hydrate all the pots. Then we pulled the netting back from the top of the pots, fluffed up the peat a little bit, and got ready to plant our seeds.

Cauliflower, Broccoli, Cabbage and Lettuce Seed Packets

If I had been smart, I would have bought this kit a couple of weeks earlier. The cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce we planted should have been sowed then. Oh well. I figure this will still give them a head start over being directly sowed into the garden.

We placed three seeds in each pot, lightly covered them up with peat, and placed the clear plastic "greenhouse" lid over the top. The directions stated to keep the greenhouse out of direct sunlight but to leave it in a warm place until the plants germinate.


Sixty hours later they were beginning to sprout! Since our house isn't super warm, I wasn't expecting the seeds to germinate so quickly.

Baby cabbages

I have to leave the greenhouse lid propped open now. Once all of the seeds have sprouted, the lid will come off for good and I'll place the seedlings where they can get some sun. This is challenging because our house doesn't really have any good south-facing windows. I figure I'll put them in an east-facing window where they can get morning sun and then try using my florescent under-the-cabinet lighting in the kitchen. After the seedlings have grown a bit, I'll select the best one in each pot and thin out the rest.

If you're like many preppers and have one of those cans of survival seeds, you should think about how you would grow your plants. You'll definitely want to grow your peppers and tomatoes from transplants because they take too long to mature when directly seeded outside. Take a look at the contents of your survival seed can and think about it now.

This is one impulse buy of mine that even Hubby Dear agrees is useful!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

February in Review and March 2012 Preps

I know I think about TEOTWAWKI more than your average citizen, but hasn't the weather over the past year just been crazy? Last summer much of country experienced record heat and drought and now this?

These daffodils are at least two weeks ahead of schedule.

Our extremely mild winter has led these daffodils to believe it is mid-March. It makes me paranoid about further weather weirdness. Just what is in store for us this summer?

Darn paranoia.

What did I manage to accomplish during this strange February?

February Preps:

1) I mastered the art of making delicious homemade pizza in five minutes with common ingredients from my food storage. A little practice (and the purchase of an amazing peel that really makes the process foolproof) was all it took.

2) Did you know how expensive quality outdoor extension cords are? I didn't, but I sure do now! I bought an 100 footer to power up my chicken coop. I comforted myself with the thought that an extension cord is a very good general prep, assuming that we have power!

3) I bought and am in the process of reading through an interesting gardening book, Gaia's Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture. I still don't like the title, but I am getting a lot of ideas for our survival orchard. The good news is that many of the plants that are beneficial to include in orchard setups also have medicinal properties. One of my long-term goals was to plant a medicinal herb garden, so the orchard will end up being a two-for-one special.

4) Speaking of the orchard-to-be, I put in several orders for the more exotic items I need for our big planting day in March. You just can't find mycorrhizal inoculant and humic acids at the local farm supply store!

Behold, the fungus! This pricey mycorrhizal inoculant is the key
to growing fruit organically.

Unfortunately those orchard purchases used up all my budget, so I wasn't able to make any headway in the areas of first aid or food storage (unless you count our potential fruit harvests as future food storage!) Well, there's always next month.

The new boxes are yellow ones on the right. They will weather to the same color as the old boxes. 

Hubby Dear and I took advantage of our cuckoo weather and worked out in the garden quite a bit. We constructed the new garden boxes for part one of our expansion, laid down landscaping cloth, and put the boxes in place. The next step will be to make Mel's Mix and fill all the boxes. We'll be planting outside very soon.

My chicks will be arriving even before that.  The kids and I are practically giddy with excitement so we went ahead and set up their home.

For the first month or so, I want to keep the chicks indoors. I might regret that in a few weeks, but for now, I think I'll want to keep a close eye on the little buggers. We chose to set up their brooder in a bathroom since I can pretty much hose down the entire area if necessary. The amount of dust that chicks raise is supposed to be prodigious.

I put down several layers of cardboard, set up the plastic brooder guard to contain the wee beasties, and then put down a couple of inches of pine shavings.

Have a brooder, just need the chicks!

Then I covered up the shavings with a layer of paper towels. These towels will be replaced as necessary for the first week or so. This will encourage the chicks to eat their food, not the shavings. I tested the  heat lamp and adjusted its height so that the temperature at chick height will be around 95 degrees. All that's left to do is fill up the feeder and water fount and we're set.

March Preps: 

1) Chickens!  
-The little buggers will finally get here sometime between March 6-8.

2) Finish chicken moat
-The north end of the chicken moat still needs to be fenced in.

3) Buy a compost bin
-It's strange that we've never ventured into composting despite our interest in organic gardening. I guess I have been too focused on all the other aspects of gardening. Since we're about to have a flock of 17 chickens in addition to our two rabbits, waste management necessitates a venture into composting.

4) Plant orchard and cold-hardy garden vegetables
-March is the first really busy garden month. Our apples, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberry plants are due to arrive and we'll be planting peas, potatoes, and other spring vegetables soon.

5) Buy a few more odds and ends for the orchard 
-I still need to get items for the holistic sprays I'll be using on our fruit - neem oil, effective microbes, and molasses. I'll talk more about these things in future posts.

6) Begin upgrade of our bug out bags (BOBs)
-I know I've been pushing the homesteading aspect quite heavily recently; here's something for you hardcore survivalists. :) I bought our BOBs quite early on in my prepping career and I have learned a few things that I should do differently. I plan to make some changes and upgrade the quality of the equipment over the next few months.

7) First aid
-I'll work on this, I promise! I say that every month, but I really mean it this time. ;)

That's me. How did you prepare during the month of February and/or what do you have in store for March?