Homesteading 101: Backyard Chickens

One of the best ways to become self-sufficient and to get back to basics is to start up a flock of backyard chickens. While maintaining a backyard flock isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, it’s certainly one of the most rewarding.

About a year ago, I was 7.5 months pregnant and surfing the net for information about backyard chickens. We had a terrible problem with ticks and my husband assured me that chickens would eat the little buggers up. Plus, they lay eggs. So, I started researching backyard chickens to find out if it’s something we could do.

It turns out, it WAS something we could do! Our town allows us to keep a small flock in our yard, and according to the internet, all I needed was a coop, some feed, a water dish, and of course – chickens. Perfect.

As if by magic, someone posted a coop on the local yard sale site for FREE. It needed a little TLC, but I felt confident that we could handle it.

We brought the coop home, painted it red, added stilts to get it off the ground and put a floor in the middle portion along with a trap door and a little set of stairs to the bottom. We added the entrance ramp and put shingles on it to keep rain water from getting in (the shingles aren’t shown in this picture).

coop

Next, we started looking for places to buy chicks. We knew we wanted a mixed flock, so that ruled out most of the big stores like Agway or Feed ‘N Needs since they required you to get 5 or 6 chicks of the same breed. We found a little chicken supplier nearby that offers chicks in the spring and set out to pick our favorites.

We wound up getting 2 Buff Orpingtons, 2 Easter Eggers and 2 Barred Rocks. After several weeks in our homemade brooder (made from a heat lamp, the door to the coop and the plastic tote shown under the ramp), they were ready to go to the coop. One chicken, a Buff Orpington, wound up being a male, so our little flock was complete with a rooster. The first hens to lay were the barred rocks. We got our chicks in the beginning of May and the barred rocks began laying in late October. Next up was the Buff Orpington in November, followed by an Easter Egger in December. The last Easter Egger started laying in early January.

Then tragedy struck. In February, we returned home from running errands to find a hawk on the fence. There was 4 feet of snow on the ground and the hawk apparently thought our hens would make a tasty meal. It killed, but did not eat, my favorite bird. An Easter Egger that looked like it was part salmon favorelle.

So now we are down to 4 hens and 2 of them are not laying due to the cold (the barred rocks). We still get 1 to 2 eggs a day, which is enough for us if we don’t bake and don’t use them for cooking during the week.

To prevent further deaths, we are setting up owl decoys on the fence near the coop. That should help deter hawks and keep our flock safe. Keeping chickens is a learning experience, but it’s certainly a lot of fun.

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Winter Woes: Ice Dams, Round 2

This has been the worst winter. I know people say that every year, but this has truly been the worst one that I’ve experienced in the 12 years I’ve lived in New England.

The ice dams just won’t quit. We had bad ice dams in January after the 3-foot blizzard. We chipped them out, added insulation, said a few prayers and we thought we were good.

We thought wrong.

The ice dams are back and man are they back with a vengeance. I know everyone has ice dams this year. I know that everyone has water coming in their house. That doesn’t make me feel better.

In preparation for the ice storm followed by a random 40-ish degree day, we removed snow from our roof and set to work trying to melt the latest round of ice dams. Our ice dams happen on one side of our house – the one that gets the morning sun. The sun melts the snow on the front edge of the roof, allowing snow from farther up to sort of slide down on top of the half melted stuff. We have a fairly steep roof, so this happens pretty easily and you can hear it happening in the house. The snow that slides down then freezes on top of the half melted stuff once the sun moves. The sun is only on the front of our house for a few hours. After several days of this, we wind up with ice that goes over the gutters and out about half a foot in sort of a frozen waterfall looking sculpture. Somehow, the ice gets behind the gutter and enters the house.

It’s not coming through the roof, like with a traditional ice dam. Our roof is 100 percent dry. It’s coming in behind the gutter and entering the space between our roof and the floor of the attic. It follows the beams and finds creative places to drip down, like near recessed lights.

We feel completely helpless to stop this. Our heat ducts are on top of the attic floor, so if we add insulation on top of all that, we will still have heat from the main living area getting into the 6-inch gap between the ceiling of the house and the floor of the attic. It will still escape. We will still get ice dams. We will still have issues.

I can’t find any answers on how to fix this. I’m thinking blown insulation will help, but it will get destroyed if the water comes in and touches it. There has to be a way to block the water from being able to get from behind the gutter to the inside of the house, but I don’t know what that is.

Hopefully, a couple hours of Googling and internet research will give me the answers I need. Wish me luck!

And P.S. – If you’re battling never-ending ice dams, you’re not alone!! Sling those useless pantyhose onto your roof with pride and when I drive past your house, I’ll be like hey – there’s someone I can be friends with. They would totally get what I’m going through.

Savings Opportunity: Cloth Diapers

While I was trying to think of something to blog about today, I took a brief moment to check in with the mob online and see if anyone was speculating about what the next print would be.

Confused? Then you must not be into cloth diapering.

What’s that you say? Cloth diapering is gross? Wash the poop in the WASHING MACHINE! Nasty?

If that was your initial reaction, you’re wrong. So, so, so wrong. I was worried at first about scraping off poop and touching poop and poop touching my washer, but I decided to try it anyway. I had the opportunity to procure some used diapers (WHAT!? USED DIAPERS!?) cheap and decided to jump right in.

First of all, yes, people sell used diapers. In fact, some diapers that are hard to find or in a limited edition print appreciate, even after use. Most mamas that cloth diaper their babies sell the diapers when they’re done with them to other mamas, making back as much as 70% of their investments for a mixed lot of regular diapers and prints. Those with more prints make more back, it’s that simple.

So what is cloth diapering really like? It’s a lot like regular diapering, but with an added load of laundry every few days and a whole lot more money in my pocket. Lets just compare costs for a minute here:

Cloth diapers:
24 well-loved pre-owned diapers:  $50 (this is really super low, most people spend a lot more. This lot would likely be closer to $200 for most people)

2 brand new diapers in prints that will gain value, even after use: $42

Total: 26 diapers for $92. These will last me the entire time that I am diapering my baby, though I’ll likely keep adding prints and I want to snap-convert the older diapers which will cost me maybe $40 in supplies.

Disposable diapers:

$30 for a case. 1 case lasts almost a month. $92 would get me a little less than 3 months worth of diapers. 1 year of diapering would be about $400.

Now lets take into account that kids potty train around 2.5 years old. By that time, disposables will have cost $1000. Cloth? I’m still at $92 (or $132 if I snap-convert them).

When I’m all done with my cloth diapers, I can easily make my $132 back. Good luck selling used disposables to anyone.

Does cloth diapering look a little more attractive now? Sure, you have to pay for water and electricity to wash the cloth ones, but you have to pay for trash and trash bags to get rid of the disposable ones too. Not to mention disposable diapers don’t really biodegrade and cloth diapers don’t need to.

So, if you’re looking for a great way to save some money while diapering your kids, look into cloth diapers. If you’re just beginning your family and plan on having more kids in the future, you can use the same cloth diapers for multiple children (the ones I have are one-size and can be “let out” for kids as they grow) to save even more.

Take a look at cloth diapers and see what kind of savings you’ve been missing out on!

Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?

Do you wanna build a snowman?…

No.

There is a pretty good chance that I will go crazy if we get any more snow here. For those that don’t know, I live near Boston… aka, Siberia. Seriously folks, it’s getting hairy out here. There. Is. Just. So. Much. Snow.

Snowpocalypse.

I kid you not, there are roofs caving in all over the place. Heck, even Lowes has a caved roof. Ice dams are like par for the course at this point. I’m currently listening to water dripping into buckets in 2 separate locations in my house and there’s nothing I can do about it! Clear an ice dam, add fresh insulation and repeat. Every time the sun shines on the roof, we get water in the house. I don’t even know what to do with that.

This is insanity.

Then I looked at the weather report and guess what? More snow for this weekend. *face palm* Please God, no more! It would be great if whoever ticked off Elsa could just go and apologize already.

Homesteading 101: Plant a Vegetable Garden

I am SICK of winter. As I look out at the back deck, all i can see is snow. No, really – the snow banks are like 8 feet high at this point and there’s more snow coming. It’s a constant struggle to remind myself that the snow will stop at some point and that warmer weather is on its way to melt all of this.

In the spirit of Spring – which will eventually come… right? – I thought it would be a good time to start thinking about planting a vegetable garden. We have a large garden area and every year we plant a huge crop of veggies to share with friends and family and to can. There’s something very rewarding about having a vegetable garden and after the first few years when you’re spending a lot on materials, it starts paying for itself and can even save you money!

For our garden, we started with a border to create a raised bed. The ground here is not awesome, so a raised bed was a must. We also have deer and a dog that loves to eat vegetables, so we had to fence the entire thing with chicken wire. At first, we had a sturdy wire fence with a top board and all that jazz, but we had a woodchuck visit and long story short, the wobbly fence will work BETTER to keep pests out of your garden than the sturdy one. Be sure to either bury the bottom of the fence or staple it to the frame of the garden so critters can’t go under it.

Once the frame was in place, we needed dirt. I got a load of loam and a load of compost. We mixed the two with our rototiller and it worked great. The loam held the moisture and the compost provided nutrients. Every couple years, we add compost – either home made from our compost bin or store bought. Compost is cheap.

After that, it’s just a matter of planting the seeds and waiting. Over the years, we’ve learned that certain plants do better as starts than seeds. Tomatoes are a good example of that. We’ve also figured out where things do well in our garden. Snap peas seem to like partial shade, as does dill. The tomatoes and eggplant do well together. Zucchini and cucumbers aren’t friends. Corn and pumpkins are a natural combo. We’ve also found that our beans like to climb the fence around the garden, which is made of chicken wire. It makes the perfect trellis and is easy to harvest beans from.

The whole thing is a learning process and every year we discover something new. Are there any other home gardeners out there that have some tips to share? Leave a comment!

Being a Better Mom: Scheduling Time for Me

There are times when I feel like the worst mom in the world. I’m short tempered, the house is a mess and the kids sing a constant chorus of, “Mom, mommy, mama, ma” until my head is ready to explode. My husband comes home and sees my stress-out state, automatically telling me I should get out of the house and do something, like go grocery shopping.

Um. What? Go grocery shopping? I must have heard him wrong because it sounded a lot like he just suggested I run out in the cold and the dark to do a household chore as a way to unwind.
It’s not that he’s trying to be a jerk. I’m sure there are plenty of husbands out there that really think their wives love mopping, folding laundry and cooking. They think their wives get some kind of euphoric experience from battling the grocery store, meal planning and trying to get enough food to feed everyone in the house without going over budget.

I’m going to be really clear here in hopes that my husband reads this or that anyone’s husband reads this:

Cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids, doing laundry, food shopping and clipping coupons are part of a mom’s “job”. It’s no different than when you go to work and sit through meetings, listen to criticism from your boss, commute into work or deal with unreasonable customers. It’s a job. It’s something you do because it has to be done, but regardless of how much you like your job, it’s not relaxing in any way.

Now imagine, dear husbands, if you could NEVER LEAVE YOUR JOB. Ever. You woke up and you were at work. You went to sleep and you were at work. Your boss calls you in the middle of the night to do tasks that really should be able to wait until the morning.

You’d go crazy, wouldn’t you? Now imagine if on top of being at work every hour of every day, you couldn’t even escape for lunch. No, your lunch hour consisted of doing more work and meeting with your coworkers while they shot down your proposals.

I have to stop there and take a deep breath. Thinking about the chaos that awaits me for the rest of the day is a bit much.

Instead of letting the situation overcome me, I’m trying to plan some “mommy time” for myself so I can get away from the chaos. I’m not talking like a trip to Vegas or a weekend at the beach with the girls, I’m talking about an hour, a bubble bath, a book and a good pair of ear plugs. I’m talking about a locked bedroom door in the summer so I can steal a nap while the husband takes the kids outside to play. Little breaks. Just an hour, once a week would be so helpful.

I used to take time for myself, before Baby #3 came along. I had a ritual where I’d soak in a hot bath and read a book every Tuesday night. Then the baby was born and he started flipping out whenever he couldn’t see me. My ritual mommy time was no more. Now that baby boy is getting older, I think it’s important to bring that back for my own sanity. For me at least, the key to being a better mom is taking care of myself so I can take care of the littles.

Earning Opportunity: Fiverr

For February, I’d like to review another earning opportunity for anyone looking to earn some cash from the comfort of their own home. This time, we’ll be taking a look at a site called Fiverr. If you’re not familiar, Fiverr is sort of a freelance haven where anyone can offer anything for $5. I should clarify – they can offer anything LEGAL for $5. No hooking allowed unless it’s crochet!

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, like with any site, Fiverr has some downfalls and some really great points. Overall, I think it’s a good opportunity for people who want to make a little more money than they can through surveys, but you have to have time to dedicate to it. Fiverr is not going to be passive income for most people.

Pros:
-Everyone can do SOMETHING for $5, so everyone can earn on Fiverr. Can you write? can you draw? Can you stand in front of a camera and say your name correctly? Good – you can post a gig on Fiverr and odds are, someone will buy it. Not sure what to try selling? Take a look at the buyer requests to see what’s in demand.
-You can buy gigs with money you earn on Fiverr. This is great for people that work outside of FIverr as well and can use some of the other gigs that are available. Perhaps you are an SEO specialist, but you also have your own website and need some graphic design work done. You can sell a couple SEO gigs and use your proceeds to buy some graphic design gigs.
-Funds are deposited to Paypal. After you’ve earned some money on Fiverr, you can initiate a Paypal deposit. Your money will appear in Paypal in a few days, giving you access to your funds quickly.

Cons:
-Fiverr takes 20%. When you first sign up, you may think they just take $1 of every gig, but they don’t – it’s a full 20%. But wait, $1 is 20% of $5, right? It is, but after you sell a few gigs, you’ll be able to offer multiples of whatever you’re selling. That means a customer can spend $20 for example and order 4 gigs at once. Instead of Fiverr taking $1 and you getting $19 from the order, Fiverr is going to take $4. That’s 20%.
-Customers can be demanding. Some people that use Fiver regularly don’t seem to realize that they’re only paying $5. I offer a writing gig on Fiverr and I’m constantly getting customers that want me to do hours of research, cite my sources, etc. etc. Then, no matter what I do, they reject the work and ask for revisions. I’m stuck re-writing articles in order to get my lousy $4 and avoid a negative review. I had a customer do this to me once, claiming my completely original article couldn’t pass Copy scape. At the time, I wasn’t a subscriber so I took their word for it and re-wrote the article completely using some helpful suggestions from the customer. I then found the original article posted to the customer’s website later, along with the re-write that I had done. They basically used the dispute feature to get 2 articles fro the price of 1.
-Can be difficult to develope a customer-base. When you first start out on Fiverr, you’re going to get close to zero orders. There’s a million sellers out there that you’ll be competing with and if your gig has no reviews, people may not want to order it. Fear not, you’ll get an order eventually. The best way to get an order is to look at the customer requests and start submitting proposals.
-People are constantly undercutting you. Because Fiverr is open to the world, you get people in foreign countries that are willing to do an entire day’s worth of work for $5. For example, there are foreigners willing to write 3 articles for $5 and new customers tell me all the time they can get a better value elsewhere. I tell them to go ahead and order from the other seller then. Usually they wind up coming back, telling me that the other seller wasn’t very good and had trouble writing in English because they’re from _______ (insert name of third world country here).

So, if you have some type of talent and are willing to put yourself out there, come join the Fiverr community and see if you can make some extra money on the side selling your wares. You may be surprised how much you can make.