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Declutter

Long winter days that have us trapped inside is the perfect time to start going through those closets and cabinets, decluttering what we haven’t used in a while. But, don’t just donate the discards. See if they can be sold on craigslist, ebay, at a garage sale or local consignment store for cash. The cheapskate in you will love making money before donating the items, and you never know what people are looking for. If that puts a bit of green in your wallet, move on to the garage and earn even more.

To make the process less overwhelming start small, one closet, one cabinet at a time. I go through my house one drawer, cabinet, closet at a time throughout the year. Over time you will create a routine that keeps your house and mind clutter free.

There is nothing worse than a bored, unhappy chicken. When chickens are bored they tend to peck at each other, pulling feathers and drawing blood, causing stress and damage. The sight of blood can even turn a normally calm flock into a crazy flock that can literally peck other chickens to death. Bored chickens can also become egg eaters, breaking into your daily egg harvest, all because they were bored and had nothing to do.

During the long winter months it’s important to give your girls something to do, inside the coop and out, to prevent bad habits from forming. Just like humans who can develop “cabin fever” and resort to bad habits, chickens can develop “coop fever” with equally bad habits. Fortunately, these habits are not normal and can be prevented with a few simple flock management tricks.

Chickens get bored mostly in winter when green things growing, bugs to chase and dust to bathe in are in short supply. Pecking from boredom is also more likely to happen when coops and outside runs are too small for the number of chickens in the flock or when they are kept cooped up, unable to free-range. Chickens are hardy and can be outside in most weather, but should be kept in the coop during blizzards and frigid weather.

Treats can also help entertain chickens and keep them occupied, but too much of a good thing is not good for them. Below are a few alternatives to keeping your chickens occupied during the winter months.

 

Perches & Pedestals

018Chickens love to perch, whether they are watching the world go by or sleeping. It’s the “official” poultry pastime. Perching not only gets them out of the mud or snow, but it gives them a better view of what’s going on in the barnyard.

They love to hop onto ladders leaning up against a wall, low hanging branches of a nearby tree, swings, boards or dowel sticks attached to the corners of an outside run. Any creative, multi-level poultry playground will keep your flock busy the whole winter.

Pedestals, like garden statues, urns, tree stumps, even fences give chickens a good view of the world below. While statues and fences are stationary, tree stumps can be moved around the farm to give chickens different vantage points. So, the next time you fell a tree or cut up a fallen branch think about your chickens before splitting all of it into firewood.

 

Mounds of Organic Matter

Chicken on Compost Fall foliage is not only beautiful it is also free entertainment for your flock. When doing fall clean-up rake piles of leaves, pine needles, straw, hay and so on, into the outside chicken run. This precursor to dirt won’t last long in its pile as the girls work feverishly to flatten it out! What a great afternoon of fun!

 

 

Let Them Play Peek-a-Boo

Vintage Mirror Chickens love reflective surfaces. Anything shiny, that glints in the sun, where they can see themselves preening and fluffing their feathers. A thrift store mirror or a piece of stainless steel screwed to the coop wall or fence boards where it won’t topple over as the girls push and shove to get a better view will provide endless hours distraction from gloomy winter weather.

 

 

Odd Playthings

Chickens&Tarp Anything out of the ordinary…for a chicken, at least, can make a wonderfully entertaining plaything to investigate. Garden tools, not sharp ones, though, buckets, boxes, old feed bags (anything, really) will attract a curious chicken.

 

 

Protected Dust Bath Area

chickens in city Chickens use dust baths to keep parasites like lice and mites from taking hold on their feathers and affecting their overall health. But, in winter, where mud and snow may prevent a suitable dust bath area one can be created in a sheltered area. Old plywood, windows or bales of straw can be set up to form a bathing area protected from the cold. Dry dirt from inside the barn can be used to fill the bathing area and provide endless hours for fluffing.

 

Free Ranging

023 Chickens are hardy creatures even when there’s snow on the ground. They won’t mind cold feet if it means time to run free and see what’s going on. A few bare patches where they can scratch and dig and get off the cold white stuff would be appreciated, too. A pile of hay or straw can also be used to give them a dry place and something to scratch in. But, keep a close eye on your chickens, predators searching for food in winter will find barnyard chickens easy pickings.

 

Enlarge the Outside Run

Chicken RunExperienced chicken owners allocate about 4-square feet of living space per bird. But, in areas where chickens can’t routinely free-range, especially in winter, more space should be considered. When laying out your coop and run, give as much space as you can spare, giving your chickens room to roam and space where they can hide out for some alone time.

 

You and Me Together

Week 3: We're half way there.

Long winter days can be hard on both chickens and their owners. Days of gloomy skies, wind, rain or snow can make time move so slowly. Getting outside during breaks in the weather, even if the weather is not optimal, will help not only you, but your flock as well. It’s a kind of chicken therapy. You will get to hang out with them and they will get more comfortable with you being close by, a definite plus if you ever have to catch one to treat an injury or illness.

 

Treats

Chicken TreatChickens love treats! In summer or winter treats can be a great way to add fresh produce and seeds to your flock’s diet. Seed blocks and suet cakes are easy to make and can provide extra nutrition and energy.

Vegetable trimmings, overripe fall fruits and winter veggies like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and collards can be laid in baskets and hung in low branches or by supports in the outside run where chickens will have easy access to them. The flock will have loads of fun while getting extra nutrition. Whether homemade or commercial or fresh, treats can help stave off winter boredom on a gloomy day as chickens peck and scratch and play with them.

 

Every homesteader is counting down the days till spring shines through, when gardens are turned, babies are born and chickens run free. But, with these tips we know our chickens will be too preoccupied to get bored while waiting for spring!

 

For homemade chicken treat ides, check out these posts.

Homemade Chicken Treats

Suet Cakes

Woodcutter Carrots (2)

Carrots are a staple in most gardens. Those bright orange cylinders are sweet and crunchy, packed with wholesome goodness. They are the perfect snack dipped into sour cream seasoned with garlic and herbs. They are a versatile addition to soups and stews, and stand up well to being sauteed, braised and covered in glaze. But, our favorite carrot dish is one that we discovered year’s ago in France.

Woodcutter Carrots is actually a French peasant dish. In days of old poor workers would eat this dish for lunch. The heartiness of the carrots, combined with the sweetness of the onions and crispness of the bacon made it a filling and nutritious mid-day meal. Not to mention inexpensive to make.

This has become our favorite carrot dish and graces the dinner table several times a month in the fall and winter months. The fact that it is easy and almost full proof to make is just an added bonus. Although the recipe calls for pancetta, we have been successful making it with maple cured and regular bacon. And, we have used a variety of carrots from baby to fresh picked with a bit of the tops still on for a more elegant presentation.

No matter how you chose to alter the recipe I’m sure it will end up being a favorite with your family, too.

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound of carrots, peeled and kept whole

1 onion, diced small

6 slices of pancetta or any other bacon, chopped small

15 ounces beef broth, canned or homemade

2 tbsp chopped parsley

DIRECTIONS:

Chop bacon into small pieces and place in a large skillet. Cook until almost crispy.

Add onions and cook until browned, almost caramelized.

Lay carrots in a single layer on top of the onions and bacon.

Pour beef broth over all.

Place lid on skillet and simmer over low-to-medium flame until carrots are tender but firm, not mushy, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove carrots to a serving plate. Increase flame and cook down broth until reduced by half. Spoon bacon and onion mix over carrots, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

 

The leftovers make a wonderful mid-day meal paired with a salad and crusty bread.

Gleaning

Not every homestead can have a huge orchard and vegetable garden, or even a small one for that matter. Lot size can make it difficult. But, did you know that many regional food banks have gleaning programs? That’s right! Food banks partner with local growers and backyard gardeners to glean excess fruit for low-income families.

Volunteers are used to pick fruit and vegetables from local growers and are sometimes rewarded with a portion of the harvest. Check with your local food bank to see if they have a gleaning program. You may just fill your house with produce while teaching your kids about giving back.

Ash Bucket

There’s nothing better on a cold winter’s day than a roaring fire. The warmth and ambiance fills the soul, not to mention warms it as well. I usually have a fire going from the time I get home from work until it’s time to turn in. The fire not only heats the house, but it also keeps the furnace from going on until it’s really needed. And, by that time I’m snug in a warm bed. So, the fireplace pulls double duty.

I get seasoned and split firewood from a local rancher who allows me to pick it up for free as long as I “pick it up”. No delivery service here. Not a bad deal and the exercise in the cool fall months is very energizing.

Our winters are not terribly cold here, so I only go through about 3-4 cords of wood. But, imagine 3 to 4 cords worth of fireplace ash! And, consider this…a cord of wood produces about 50 pounds of ash.

Yikes…what to do with all that ash???

Well—the good thing about natural wood and ash from the wood is that it’s considered a natural substance. When wood is burned it lets out nitrogen and sulfur as a gas, and what remains is magnesium, calcium, potassium and other trace elements. In fact, wood ash contains most of the 13 essential nutrients needed for soil to sustain plant growth.  That’s right. Wood ash can be used as a soil conditioner, insect repellent, and fertilizer. It can even be used to make soap.

So—before you toss that ash into the trash bin check out these 10 uses around the homestead.

In The Garden

  1. Enrich Compost – Mix in about a cup of ash to a 4’x4’x4’ compost bin to enhance its nutrients. Or, calculate a cup per 64-cubic feet of raw compost materials. Don’t overdo it though. Ash is very alkaline and will throw off the Ph balance of your compost if you use too much.
  2. Use as a Pre-emergent – Sprinkle ash on the soil in winter or early spring, before plants emerge. If you add ash to areas where seeds or transplants will be planted, hold off planting for a few weeks. Also wait a few weeks to sprinkle around newly planted areas. The shock of the sudden increase in Ph could be too much for young plantings.
  3. Repel Slugs & Snails –Spread evenly around garden beds, on dirt paths, around berry patches and fruit trees to ward off slugs and snails. It’s caustic, so the slimy bugs won’t like it.
  4. Terrific Tomatoes – Make an ash tea to boost the potassium level of potassium loving tomatoes. Put 5 pounds of ash into a permeable cloth, like a burlap bag or an old t-shirt made into a bag. Tie it closed and lower the bag into a 50-gallon trashcan filled with water. Let it sit for about 4 days, then pour about a cup full on your tomatoes once a week.
  5. Feed your Lawn – Before a storm, lightly sprinkle ash on your lawn to provide extra nutrients. The rain water will help push the nutrients down to the roots, where they are needed.

 

The secret to using wood ash in the garden is to “dust it”, don’t “dump it”.

Around The Homestead

  1. De-skunk the Dog – If man’s best friend has tangled with a skunk, simply rub a handful of ash all over his body. The ash will naturalize the smell.
  2. De-Ice the Driveway – Ash won’t hurt the soil or cement so it can be used to melt ice, snow or provide traction where needed.
  3. Clean Sooty Windows – Use a damp sponge and dip into a pail of ash. The ash dust scrubs away soot and residue.
  4. Absorb Paint – Sprinkle ash onto an area where paint has been splattered and scuff with your boot to absorb and blend it in with the cement.
  5. Make Soap – Ashes can be made into lye by soaking them in water. Immerse the ashes in water and let them settle then skim off the lye from the top. You can do this every day until you have enough lye to make soap. The lye can be mixed with animal fat and then boiled to make soap.

 

Notes of Caution:

Before you launch off and clean out that wood stove or firebox there are a few tips to handling ash safely. First off, find yourself a sturdy metal trashcan with a lid, one that will be dedicated to hold only ash. Secondly, wait for the ash to cool completely before putting it in the trashcan. No warm or hot stuff. When cleaning out the firebox or stove use caution to not breathe in the ash dust or get it in your eyes, nose or mouth, it’s caustic. It’s best to wear protective gear when doing this. You know…goggles, gloves and mask. Better safe than sorry. Keep it stored in a safe place with the lid tightly fastened so a brisk wind won’t send the ash flying around the homestead for animals and humans to breathe.

I use a thrift store ash bucket to transfer ash from the fireplace to the larger ash can outside. This way I’m not dragging the bigger can in and out of the house. Whatever is not used in the garden or compost is put in my yard waste can for the trash company to compost.

Beet Chips

Beets are one of the mainstay veggies in our garden. With names like Bull’s Blood, Boro, Merlin or Golden how can anyone not have them growing as long as weather will allow. They are full of vitamins and nutrients, and work well cooked in a variety of ways. It only takes a few beets to make a tasty filling side dish. We plant them in all seasons. There’s even a small bed of them growing right now.

Root veggies are a favorite at our house. They are roasted, braised, baked, smashed and now made into chips. Yes, that’s right…beet chips! Terra Chips are one of our favorite snacks, but at over $4.00 a bags they are a bit pricey to eat with any regularity, so we set out to create our own, and discovered how very easy they are to make.

Follow these simple steps and you’ll be eating the most delicious chips ever in just 30-minutes. They are our guilty pleasure because they don’t have the fat and calories of potato chips. Or…at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

INGREDIENTS:

6 small to medium beets, peeled and sliced thin

2 Tbsp olive oil

Fine sea salt

Black pepper (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Peel beets and thinly slice using a Mandoline

Place beet slices in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil, then toss to coat.

On a parchment lined cookie sheet, arrange beets in a single layer.

Bake in a 350 oven for 25-30 minutes.

Remove and blot any excess oil, then sprinkle with sea salt. Add pepper if desired.

 

For another great chip idea try the above recipe using sweet potatoes for a truly decadent snack that won’t leaving you feeling guilty.

Review Bills

January is the time when I get all my tax paperwork ready. It is also the time I reassess my bills, like utilities, water, trash, insurance, etc., to make sure I am getting the best possible deals. This can be different from region to region across the county. Find out if there are alternatives to utilities and review the costs. If you can get a better deal elsewhere, switch. If you have a landline, check to see if they have a bare bones price or cancel options you’re not using.

Check how many cell phone or internet data minutes you’re using. If you’re not using all of them switch to a cheaper plan. Review the channels you watch most often on cable and reduce your package to get rid of one’s you don’t watch or seldom watch.

Bundle your home and auto insurance, if it’s not already, and ask your agent how a higher deductable will effect your coverage and monthly bill.

Little changes made now can save you money all year long.

Suet Cake - Step 5

There’s nothing a chicken likes better than a little bit of fat during the long cold winter months to keep it healthy, happy and full of energy. Suet cakes provide all this and a few treats as well. But, commercially purchased suet cakes can be expensive and contain other chemical ingredients that you may not want your girls to have.

Making your own, homemade, suet cakes is easy. It’s even easier if you get in the habit of saving your fat or grease from cooking. I keep a container in the freezer to store grease from cooking bacon, sausage, meatloaf and hamburger (anything that produces fat, really).  I don’t worry too much about using bacon fat because I don’t use a lot of it and it is mixed with the other kinds of fat. I store my fat in the freezer because our hot summer and early fall weather makes me nervous about the fat spoiling, and I’d rather be safe than sorry.

When I’m ready to make suet I can make several at one time, saving me time. The spent grease, tallow or suet is a great binder to hold everything together, and it will only take a few minutes.

Ready to make your own suet cakes?

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A container to store fat in (remember…store all year long)
  • A plastic lidded freezer container
  • ½ cup chicken scratch or bird seed
  • ¼ cup chopped nuts (I use the flat side of a meat mallet and just give the nuts a few whacks)
  • ¼ cup dried fruit like raisins, apples, apricots, anything)
  • ¼ cup cracked corn (for energy and heat while they digest it)

Here’s how I did it:

  • Gather all ingredients
  • Layer dried sliced apples in the bottom of the freezer container
  • Pour the scratch or bird seed over the apples
  • Layer raisins on top of scratch
  • Sprinkle with chopped nuts
  • Slowly heat fat until it is liquefied, let cool, but not solidify
  • Pour fat over to cover everything by about ¼-inch
  • Gently poke a fork around or stir to make sure fat reaches the bottom (remember, the fat holds the whole thing together)
  • Cover and place in the freezer to harden.

When you’re ready to use, run a knife around the edge of the container to loosen the cake, then turn it upside down and whack it on the counter until the cake falls out. At this point you can cut it to fit a purchased suet cage or you can do like I did and make a hole in the middle, thread some twine through and hang the cake where the chickens can play and peck at it.

This is a basic recipe for making suet. You can change it up with any combination of seeds, nuts and dried fruit you want. Try oatmeal, squash seeds, or dried meal worms (yum) and send your girls wild. You can also use any type of container you have—from decorative molds to cupcake liners. When the cakes have set just remove them from the freezer container and store in a zipper bag until ready to use.

One more note:  Suet blocks are best used when the weather is cold, otherwise the grease will liquefy and your cake will fall to pieces.

 

Roast chicken

There’s nothing better than a kitchen filled with the savory, satisfying aroma of a roasting chicken; at least in my opinion. It’s an important cooking skill too – roasting a bird that can eventually be made into 4 or 5 different meals. With just a few bought or homegrown onions, carrots and potatoes or parsnips, and a home raised or store bought broiler you’ll be on your way to a heart-warming meal the whole family will love. It’s easy, cheap and turns out wonderfully every time. It takes just a few minutes to prep and everything you need you probably already have on hand. Follow these simple instructions and I promise you’ll want to roast a chicken every week. I was taught this method by my father-in-law; one of the best meat cooks I know.

Here’s what you’ll need to roast the bird:

Whole roasting chicken
3 to 4 tablespoons, room temperature butter
Rosemary, garlic, and sage, chopped if fresh, crumbled if dry (or commercial poultry rub)
Tin foil
Roasting pan, without rack
Meat thermometer
1 medium onion, chopped
2 or 3 medium baking potatoes, peeled & quartered (parsnips can be added or substituted)
3 to 4 medium carrots, cut into chunks

These are the basics, but any seasonal veggie will do. Shake things up a bit by using yams, winter squash or summer squash, Brussels sprouts, or beets. Make it your own!

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. I know that seems high, but you’ll see why in a minute.

Thaw frozen chickens in the fridge. Rinse thawed or fresh birds in cold water; making sure to rinse inside the cavity, under the wings and around the legs, then shake off excess water. Place your bird in a large bowl and take out your roasting pan. I use a 3-inch deep Calphon pan with high handles for easy lifting.

Chop the onions, carrots, potatoes or parsnips into chunks no large than 3- inches and spread them around the bottom of the pan. The veggies will act as a rack for the bird, letting air underneath so the bird cooks thoroughly as well as being cooked in the bird’s juices and fat. Drizzle the veggies with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper or poultry rub. Set the roasting pan aside and go back to your bird-in-a-bowl.

Shake the bird again to get off any excess water and set it on a cutting board. Smear the bird all over with butter, making sure to get under the wings and around the legs. Gently slip your fingers under the skin that is over the breast and smear butter under the skin as well.

Now, take your finely chopped rosemary, garlic, sage or commercial chicken rub, and sprinkle them all over your bird. For a nice presentation on a serving platter, tie the drumsticks together with some kitchen string, and place the bird on top of your cut veggies.

Your buttery herb-rubbed chicken is ready for the oven.

Place the roasting pan on the center rack of your 400 degree oven. The flash of a hot oven followed by a slow roast will give the bird a luscious, crispy, golden skin. Let it crackle and pop for about 20 or 30 minutes before lowering the temp to 350. At this point you can cover the bird with foil which will keep it from scoarching the skin, but will allow it get crispy. I let mine cook undisturbed for an hour before taking it out to check for “doneness”. The skin should be a nice rich brown color and the internal temperature should be about 170 at the thickest part of the breast. I usually make a slice near the thigh to see if the juices run clear and not red or pink. If this happens just pop it back into the oven and recheck it every 5 to 10 minutes until it is done.

When you’re confident it’s done, pull the pan out and let it stand for about 15 or 20 minutes (the meat will continue cooking as it cools). As the bird cools, spoon the pan juices into a fat separator, pour off the juices into a small saucepan, add a tablespoon of butter and boil until reduced by about half. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Now you’re ready to slice the meat and serve it with a side of savory roasted veggies and a fabulous rich, herb infused gravy. Enjoy!

The leftovers from this easy roasted chicken make a great chicken salad, chicken sandwich, or chicken and rice casserole. And — don’t forget to simmer down the carcass (bones, skin and all) and pull off any remaining bits of meat for the best chicken soup base ever!

 

Learn to raise your own homegrown chicken with these helpful posts.

Raising Meat Chickens in Suburbia

Why Raise Chickens on a Suburban Homestead?

The Great Chicken Debate

Winter Meat Birds

Freezer Meals

To reduce your grocery bill and save a few bucks after all that holiday spending, dedicate the next 10-days to eating out of your pantry. Take a day and prepare meals using what’s on-hand from your pantry and freezer. This is a great opportunity to use up freezer items you’ve had for a while and learn new recipes using just the ingredients you already have. Only shop for essential perishable items, like milk, eggs and produce (if you don’t already produce them yourself). You’ll not only save money, but also have a chance to inventory your pantry, creating a list of “to buy” items.

To extend your savings even more “eat-in” for another 10-days and watch the savings grow. You may even be inspired to not spend on other items, like clothing, toys, or entertainment.