Choosing chicks for your flock can be exciting whether it is the first time you are raising chicks, or whether you are a seasoned chicken owner. Baby chicks are cute and it’s hard not to be tempted to take some home when you see them for sale at your local feed store. Before you do, there are a few things to think about.
Laying Hens vs. Meat Birds
Why do you want chickens? Do you want egg layers? Meat birds? If you slaughter and try to eat your laying hens, you will be in for a big disappointment. Chickens bred to be layers and chickens bred to be meat birds are very different. If you want to raise chickens for meat, you will choose either a pure breed or a hybrid breed. Some breeds have been altered so that these birds can be slaughtered for meat in only 44 days. We are skeptical of any type of “enhanced” anything around our homestead, so when we choose meat birds, they will be pure breeds.
Some good breed choices for meat birds include:
Leghorn (think of the white chicken “Foghorn J. Leghorn” from the Looney Tunes cartoons)
Do your research because these breeds vary in “hatch to table” time.
Practicality vs. Aesthetics
Do you want birds to add to your food source on your homestead? If so, you will choose breeds for your flock that are “good layers” versus breeds that look fancy. There are so many different breeds out there that it can become quite addicting purchasing, raising, and getting to know the personalities and characteristics of each breed.
When looking to choose the best breeds for your flock that will be consistent laying eggs over time, you will want to look into the following breeds:
Rhode Island Reds
Personality vs. Practicality
Annika with our two newest Americauna birds, Earl the Pearl and Clara
This sounds funny but it’s true: we have noticed over the last decade that the different breeds have different personalities. Americaunas generally are very intelligent, personable and inquisitive birds. Our bird, Clory (named by our daughters) was the hen that was always by my side as I worked on fencing, coop upgrades, or other homestead maintenance projects. She would inspect my work and “talk” to us with her approval. Our other Americaunas have been, and are, the most intelligent birds in our flock. A bonus for owing Americaunas is that they lay the “Easter egg” colored eggs, which many people are amazed by.
Our Speckled Sussex birds are very similar to the Americaunas and they, too, lay about four to five light brown eggs a week. Our hen, Stella (pictured above) is the most intelligent, bravest bird we have. She is the last to roost at night and is the matriarch of the flock.
Rhode Island Reds are very good laying hens and are fairly intelligent birds, however, our Rhode Island Reds seem to be the most prone to broody behavior. We once had a hen go missing and we thought she had been taken by a predator. Weeks later we saw her emerge from underneath my workshop. After a check with a flashlight, we noticed that she had built a little nest of sorts and had laid almost 30 eggs before we noticed that she was there. Apparently she only came out to eat and drink when no one was around, and went right back to sitting on her “nest.” Sometimes broody hens don’t understand that those eggs won’t hatch!
If you are only looking for hens to produce eggs for you, and you aren’t really interested in having a chicken who will supervise your work or hang out with your children, we have found that these breeds are a a good choice:
Quiet vs. Noisy
It is amazing how some breeds can be quite vocal, whereas other breeds are very quiet and hardly make a sound. When we had our first flock, we technically lived inside the city limits although it was quite rural, and were not really supposed to have hens. Our neighbors had hens and no one minded, so we went ahead with the purchasing of our chicks, promising not to get any roosters. We wish knew then what we know now!
While we love our Buff Orpingtons because they are very beautiful and friendly, they seem to want to shout from the rooftops whenever they lay an egg. When you get a chorus of them going at once, it can be heard for miles around!
If you are interested in getting your first flock of backyard chickens and don’t want your neighbors to be bothered by the noise, then Black Australorps are the hens for you. While not the smartest hens in the coop, they are quiet birds and very consistent layers.
You can get into all kinds of fancy breeds, and even create breeds of your own, given the right rooster and hen. We will discuss roosters at another time. For now, you can learn more about the pros and cons of many of the more popular breeds here.
Here’s Kate with her first Rhode Island Red named “Red, Red, Red”
What are your favorite breeds, and why? If you don’t have chickens yet, what breeds would you like to start with?
Calling All Cat Lovers – Here’s the Ultimate Gift!
When I saw this adorable hoodie on Amazon, I knew that it would be the ultimate gift for Leo, our cat, and Kate, our cat-lover. Leo is actually still a kitten at about seven months old, but he is getting close to full-grown. There is no doubt that he considers Kate his “mommy” because she has carried him around like a baby since he was the size of her muck boot, and he follows after her (and the rest of us) like a faithful dog.
Today, our weather was cool again, by Florida standards, and since it is quite possible for us to be wearing sleeveless shirts and shorts on Christmas Day, we decided to take advantage of the weather and gift Kate and Leo with this hoodie today. If you, too, have a cat who loves to snuggle and be held, or if you know someone who does, look no further. This is the gift you need!
This hoodie is extremely cute. The hood comes complete with little cat ears, paw prints on the front pocket, and pom pom tassels for your cat to play with. The sweatshirt itself is soft cotton material, not too thick, and the pocket is fleece-lined, which can be taken out in case your cat gets too hot. Kate immediately loved this when she opened it and put it on because the material is very soft and not too thick.
Here’s Leo’s first reaction to his new ultimate cat carrier/sweatshirt/kangaroo pocket.
The True Test
Leo seemed to like being carried around in this pocket while Kate walked around outside; in fact, he did not want to get out out of the pouch even after about an hour of riding around in it. Now it was time to really put this carrier to the test, or was she putting her easy-going cat to the test? Either way, Kate discovered that she could also do her outdoor chores while Leo watched and played from the pocket.
I suppose there isn’t much more to hear except the sound of purring. Listen closely after the buzzing of the bee goes away, and you will hear Leo’s purr of approval.
Kate’s Final Review
For over an hour Kate walked around outside with Leo in the pocket, she mucked Biscuit’s stall while Leo stayed in the pocket, and she rode around with me while we spread the mucked poop on one of our pastures. Leo will generally ride along with us anyway, but we think he enjoyed riding in the pocket even more than just sitting on the seat next to us in his cat-dog style. After this initial test, Leo had fun playing in this pocket on and off throughout the day, and I am just guessing that first thing tomorrow morning, when Kate goes out to feed her horse, that Leo will be purring loudly from his fleece-lined womb again.
Kate and Leo both love this hoodie so much, that Kate decided to give you her thoughts on this awesome, adorable, ultimate gift for cats and the owners who love them.
Kate is twelve-years-old and is a typical sized kid for her age. Meaning, that she wears size 12 pants and isn’t quite big enough for a ladies’ size small shirt or hoodie yet. The one we ordered her was a size small (they are only adult sizes) and after reading the reviews on Amazon, you’ll see that most people suggested buying a size up. I did notice that there are a few different sellers on Amazon selling these hoodies, but I am not sure if they are all from the same manufacturer. This one is perfect! It is called the Petgaroo Women’s Sweatshirt. I hope that information helps you!
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Every homestead will generally have a great deal of fencing. Fencing types range from four-board horse fencing to woven wire fencing for livestock, to poultry fencing for chickens and fowl. Whether it is designed to keep animals in or predators out, maintaining fencing is an important task that should be on every homesteader’s to-do list. One thing is for certain; a broken fence will not mend itself! Let’s take a look at the different fence types, what they are used for, and what you should keep on hand to make repairs.
Four-Board or Board Fencing
Four board or board fencing is typically used in pastures for horses and ponies. When first erected, this type of fence is pleasing to the eye and very safe for the animals. Board fencing is usually erected using four to six-inch round, treated wooden fence posts or treated 4×4 or 6×6 timbers and 1x6x16-foot fence boards nailed to the posts.
Due to the nature of the material, it is very common for the posts and timbers to twist over time and for the fence boards to warp, sag and buckle. As the fence begins to age, nails may pop out of the posts and the boards may become weak and broken. Nail pops can be a hazard to the animals in the field, especially horses that enjoy scratching themselves on the posts. Broken boards are an invitation for your animals to get out and do a bit of exploring to see if the grass really is greener on the other side.
Paint the top of the wooden fence posts or timbers with a good heavy barn paint or roofing tar to keep water from wicking into the post and rotting prematurely.
Now, pop in a CD of Desperado by the Eagles and get out there and ride (or walk) your fences to inspect for wear and damage. Bring along a good hammer and some nails just in case you find a board that needs some help getting reattached to its post. A spool of baling wire is also helpful to make expedient repairs to any broken boards you may come across until you can get back and replace it.
Woven Wire Field Fencing
Wire field fencing is probably the most common type of fence used on the homestead. There are many different types with varying spacing between the wires and thickness of the wire itself. Let me just say this, buy the best fence you can afford. Cheaply made fencing will become brittle and rust quickly . You will spend more time and money in the long run repairing and replacing it than if you had bought the good stuff in the beginning.
Wire fence is typically nailed to wooden posts or timbers using galvanized metal staples. These are great fun to install, especially if you like to smash your fingers. One of the problems with wire fencing is that it loses the tension and becomes loose. This usually happens when horses or cattle lean against the fence or push on it trying to get to beautiful green grass in your neighbors field. Once a wire fence becomes loose, it is now a potential hazard for horses to get their hooves entangled in, and it is much easier for coyotes or foxes to dig under a loose fence.
Walk your fence at least once a month with a good fencing tool. and a pocket full of staples. We use a Channellock 10.5 inch fencing tool. Inspect the fence for breaks in the wire and tie some surveyor’s flagging around those spots as a marker for future replacement. Make sure there are not any loose wires sticking errantly out of the fence as you can be certain a horse will find it and scratch itself on it. Or worse yet, poke it in the eye. You don’t want to be putting your vet’s kid through college. Ask us how we know.
Poultry Wire Fencing
Chicken wire or poultry fencing is without a doubt the most aggravating type of fence to work with In addition to being hard to work with, it is generally very thin wire and does not last for decades as do the other types of woven wire fences. But let’ s face it, it’s cheap and it does the trick to keep our beloved chickens corralled. This is what we use.
Inspect your chicken wire daily and very carefully. Chickens and fowl are a tremendous asset to any homestead and they are also on the menu for many predators. Coyote, fox, raccoon, possum, snakes and hawks will all be more than happy to dine on your hens if given easy access to the chicken yard.
Keep a roll of wire and a wire cutter at the chicken coop so you can make repairs while you are there collecting eggs. We can’t tell you how many times we have noticed a rip in the fence and tell ourselves that we’ll get to it later, and later finds us repairing something else on the homestead we forgot to repair before!
Your homestead fencing represents a huge investment in money and time. Protect your investment by taking time today to gather the supplies you’ll need so you’ll have them on hand when it’s time to do your maintenance checks.