It has been cold here lately, highs in the 30sF and lows in the teens and single digits. Winter is setting in and taking hold. These two know the best spot to be on the cold winter days…
We have continued to be productive around the homestead despite the cold.
We heat our home with two wood-burning stoves, one in the living room and one in the dining room that also heats the kitchen and school room. Most days from the late fall through to the early spring we light fires in each one twice a day because we let them go out midday when the sun is warming us through the windows. On the coldest days in winter the fires are kept going all throughout the day. So that adds up to a lot of starting fires. We love to have firestarters to help make it go quickly and easily.
We make two types of firestarters, one type is made with a pine cone placed in wax in a cupcake liner. You can read how we make those in this post from 5 years ago.
We also make them using egg cartons. People often give us their used egg cartons because they know we have chickens – and thus we end up with a lot of extras. To make them with egg cartons we simply pour the melted wax into each cavity and let cool.
Once hard we cut the carton apart and use each individual cavity. It is easy to light the parts of the carton that stick up on the edges and that gets it going nicely.
So this week Braveheart and I made a bunch of them and got ourselves stocked up for the next few months. It is so nice the have them available again! It makes it much easier.
Yesterday was the last flock cut-back day for this year. We cut back our flock to lower numbers in the winter for a few reasons.
First, they spend more time in the coop over the winter and thus it is more crowded. I am a stickler when it comes to over-crowded animal housing. It is not healthy for the animals and it causes more frequent cleaning and thus is more expensive.
Secondly, they aren’t as able to forage through the winter months so they eat more of the store-bought feed. Lower numbers saves us money because we aren’t feeding so many through the winter.
Lastly, it is good for our breeding program to cull regularly to keep our breeding stock cut down to only the best of what we are selecting for. It can be easy to just slowly begin collecting chickens and keeping “just this one” over and over until our breeding stock is peppered with birds that are not as good quality for what we are breeding for. Aggressive and frequent culling leads to good breeding stock, and thus great next generations.
So we gathered our nail clippers, scissors for clipping wings, lice dust, leg bands, and my flock tracking paperwork and headed to the coops. We handled every single bird on the farm. We trimmed their nails, made sure they still had one well-clipped wing, gave them a new leg band if they had lost theirs, and checked for lice – treating if necessary. They we evaluated them for the breeding program. There are certain characteristics we are selecting for in our chickens and we graded each bird based on those selective criteria. Then we sorted them out into keep, butcher, and sell.
Our final over-wintering numbers include 19 hens, 5 pullets, and 1 rooster in the big upper coop, and 5 silkies in the small lower coop. We also decided to keep one young cockerel in with the silkies temporarily because I think I want to do a mix breeding with the silkies and him this winter in the incubator just for the fun of it.
It feels good to have yet another thing taken care of as we close in on winter.
We had a chicken incident this week. When the chickens were closed into the coop for the night, somehow one of the hens was missed and stayed outside overnight in 15F temperatures. When the kids found her in the morning she was huddled in the corner by the coop door and not moving. They picked her and up and she didn’t fight or move, but was alive.
It was Young Man and Little Miss doing chores that morning and they immediately did exactly the right thing, without even coming to get help from Mtn Man or I. They took her into the barn and put her in the broody coop (a 3ftx3ft, 2ft-tall enclosed nesting area with a fully installed heat lamp in it that we use for setting hens), turned on the heat lamp in there, and gave her food, water, and some hot mash. She drank a bit, ate a little hot mash, and then cuddled up under the heat light and put her head under her wing. They finished the rest of the chores and then came in to tell us what had happened. I was so proud that they figured out what to do and did it immediately without help.
We have never had a hypothermic chicken before. They have never been told what to do with a hypothermic chicken. But our kids have been working beside us on the homestead since they could walk (and before that they were strapped to our backs) and they have seen many medical incidents with our animals and watched and helped us deal with them – learning right alongside us. And because of that, they are able to figure out a situation like this on their own and help an animal that needs medical attention.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to live life with your kids right next to you, watching and helping. It builds strong bonds, family unity, and teaches them so much. It gives them self-esteem that is rooted in actually doing something to be proud of. It gives them confidence to handle things on their own and make decisions. They find pleasure in their successes and learn from their failures – just like we do. I think too many kids these days are left to screens while the parents do the projects and jobs that interest them. And the results of this type of raising are seen in the news and research studies every day, and it’s not good at all.
We are so blessed that we were led to raise our kids this way early on, and now we are able to reap the beautiful benefits of it as they grow and mature and are so eager to help and be involved and continue to work alongside us, but also be able to do it on their own when necessary. Our kids may never have their own homestead or go into an industry that involves the specific skills they are learning, but the broader character traits they are building, the confidence, and the basic concepts and skills involved in keeping a homestead will serve them no matter what they do or where they go. If I could give one piece of advice to a new parent it would be to keep your kids by your side and involved in what you are doing-whether it is homesteading or something else completely doesn’t matter, what matters is doing it together.
As for the hen, she is still isolated and is improving, thanks to the quick action of the kids. We are hopeful to get her back with the flock once she recovers, and we are all being more careful to be sure all the birds get put away each night.
Indoor Winter Garden
We are trying something new this winter – we are planting lettuce and spinach under the grow-lights in the basement in hopes of having fresh salad through the winter. We have been very disappointed with the greens at the store the last year or so, and we have the grow-light shelving unit that we use to start our seedlings each spring, so we thought – why not? I planted the first round of seeds this week. I plan to succession plant one tray each week for 4 weeks in a row and see how it goes.
I have focused all my knitting attention on three Christmas presents. I can’t show two of them because the receivers read the blog. But I can show you the progress on what I am making for Little Miss. Three years ago I made her this dress and she wore it at least once a week (usually more) for the last three years until it was so ridiculously small I had to tell her it was time for it to go.
But since she loved it so very much I agreed to make her another one for Christmas this year. I love this pattern and the dress turns out beautifully. But it is knit with fingering weight yarn and when you knit an item this large with such small yarn it is A LOT of stitches and takes a lot of work. So I am doing my best to finish it in time, but I know she will happily accept it on the needles if I can’t get it done. So here is my progress so far…
I am in the super-boring thousands of stockinette stitches part, so I have committed to knitting 7 rows on it a day, which takes almost an hour because each row has over 200 stitches, in hopes that by doing that I will get it done in time. It helps me when I give myself set daily amounts like that. I know she will love it, so it makes it easier to put in all the work. 🙂