In the past few years, thousands of Americans have begun tending small flocks of chickens in their backyards. For most folks, it’s a new hobby, but we’ve been at it far longer. Rich began raising chickens in his suburban backyard when he was eight or nine years old – over 60 years ago. Marion’s family raised chickens at their New Hampshire home.
This spring many chicken newcomers will install a coop, raise chicks, and produce delicious food in their yards. It can be complicated, so this blog is designed to explain chicken husbandry in its very simplest form. Many books in most libraries and websites on chicken culture give detailed chicken care information and are outstanding resources. We recommend checking Hoover’s Hatchery. It offers a printed catalog, an online catalog, and website blogs. We also do a Facebook Live program each month for Hoover’s about different aspects of chicken care. Also see Scoop from the Coop for detailed information.
Baby chicks can be purchased on line.
Baby chicks can be purchased online. Most hatcheries require a minimum order of 15 or 25 babies, usually more than most families want. Smaller quantities can be purchased at farm stores, such as Tractor Supply. Many cities have ordinances allowing chickens but usually limit the flock size to six or fewer birds. Check your local ordinance before buying.
Chicks come in dozens of different breeds, but we suggest choosing those that lay brown eggs. These breeds are fairly large bodied, calm birds. Our long-term favorites are New Englanders like the Rhode Island or New Hampshire Reds, or the Barred Plymouth Rock. Other great breeds are Wyandottes, Orpingtons, and Australorps. White egg breeds, like Leghorns, lay like crazy but are more nervous and noisier than brown eggers.
Often, it’s possible to buy a variety of breeds. Having a six hen flock composed of six different breeds is colorful and fun.
Chicks need to be warm until their insulating feather grow.
Baby chicks need to be warm until their insulating feathers grow. They are reared in a device called a brooder. A simple one can be made with items most people have around the house. See the blog on building a brooder on Hoover’s Hatchery Website for detail.
By the time the babies are six weeks, or so, old they need to move into permanent quarters, the chicken coop. The easiest way for a family to start is to buy a pre-made coop online or at a farm store. These range in size from tiny ones that will fit just a couple of hens to those that might fit up to a dozen. It’s a good idea to have an attached outside fenced in area, called a run, so the hens can enjoy fresh air and sunshine. Building a coop isn’t difficult and plans are printed in most basic chicken books or can be downloaded from websites.
Chicken houses need fluffy bedding, called litter, covering the floor. Pine chips work great. Bales of chips can be bought at farm stores. Every coop should have a nest for hens to lay their eggs in and a pole installed parallel to the floor for them to roost on. Yup, chickens sleep standing up.
The house should have windows that can be closed to prevent cold winter drafts but open to welcome fresh summer air. Cover windows with mosquito mesh and heavy wire to discourage both bugs and raccoons. Neighborhood raccoons would love a chicken dinner, so keep them out of the coop!
Food and Drink
Stores that sell baby chicks almost always sell feed. Babies need a high protein mash called Chick Starter from the time they hatch until they lay their first egg. Then switch to Layer feed. Simple inexpensive feeders are sold in farm stores. Chickens love drinking fresh water so invest in a water fount and keep it full. Hens enjoy a handful of corn every once in a while, as a treat. They also love table scraps. We give ours bits of rice, squash seeds and hulls, meat scraps and a few other things. As with all treats, we keep portions small.
Raising chickens helps kids learn care and responsibility.
This is chicken husbandry in a nutshell. There’s lots more to it, so be sure to read websites and books on chicken care before buying your first batch of chicks. If you are lucky you can take a backyard chicken basic class at a nearby nature or garden center.
While subzero cold enveloped Winding Pathways we discovered delightful seed and nursery catalogs in our mailbox. Leafing through their photos of rosy ripe tomatoes, peaches, and sweet corn made us dream of warm days as the frigid wind whistled around the house. Catalogs also made us think of our upcoming cherry tree crop.
We love our cherry trees and are happy to have two types growing at Winding Pathways. Most are the wild native Black Cherry, a member of the Rose family and common throughout the Eastern half of the United States.
Black cherry juice was mixed with brandy or rum to make “Cherry Bounce.”
Early pioneers sometimes called this tree the Cherry Bear because bruins would walk for miles to feast on its juicy fruit. Bear cubs learned how to climb trees by following their mother up the trunk to reach ripe fruit.
Birds love wild cherries. They’ve helped spread this tree far and wide by feasting on a cherry dinner here and then flying there to poop out the seeds. In many areas, the American Black cherry is almost an invasive species, but one with many attributes.
Thomas Jefferson’s Cherry Tree Wood
People today rarely bother eating the bitter small fruits, but pioneers made Cherry Bounce by mixing the juice with brandy or rum to make a bitter, but flavorful, cordial. Most people today enjoy this tree for its beautiful cabinet wood. When newly cut it is goldish in color, often with an intricate grain pattern. The wood darkens with age. Visitors to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia, often wonder why our third president loved such dark paneling. They don’t realize that when he lived there the newly installed wood glowed with cherry’s warm texture. Two centuries of aging have darkened it.
In our mail recently came the newsletter of the National Arbor Day Foundation with an amazing story about today’s popular Bing Cherry. That’s the delicious fruit often sold in grocery stores to be eaten fresh. In 1847 Henderson Lewelling, of Salem, Iowa, loaded his eight children, pregnant wife, and 700 of his prized cherry tree shoots packed in dirt-filled boxes, into wagons for the long trek to Oregon. They endured freezing temperatures, scurvy, and dysentery but made it and established the Pacific Northwest’s cherry industry.
Today, two types of domestic cherry are readily eaten by people. They are distinct from the American Black Cherry and are native to Europe and Asia. One type is called Sweet Cherries with the Bing variety best known. They are delicious when eaten fresh. Sweet cherries thrive in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana but don’t like the upper Midwest’s harsh winters. Ironically, Bing cherries got their start in Iowa but don’t grow well in the state today. We don’t have any at Winding Pathways.
Tart cherries make great pies.
We love our sour cherries. They thrive here despite winter’s cold and summer’s inferno, yielding an abundant crop in June. Most commercial sour cherries are grown in Michigan, but they love Iowa. Our favorite variety is the Dwarf North Star. It resists bugs and diseases, and even the deer leave it alone. In some years our cherry crop is almost sweet enough to eat fresh. We love them best blended with mulberries in a pie or mixed into oatmeal. A handy cherry pitter removes some of the tedium of evicting the big seed from each fruit.
Tart cherries come ripe in June.
Planting a sour cherry in the yard yields delicious fruit for a family to enjoy. Dwarf varieties can be bought from many nurseries. They like full sun and don’t take much space. In contrast, plant an American Black Cherry and eventually, it will produce fruit savored by birds. The tree needs plenty of space. It can grow to 100 feet tall and likes full sun.
Two Great Sources to Learn About Trees
Elegant lodging awaits at the Lied Lodge.
The Arbor Day Foundation, arborday.org has a wealth of information about trees and sells dozens of species at low cost. A few years ago, we enjoyed a delightful visit to Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska. We overnighted in the Lied Lodge on the property and wandered trails while enjoying tree lure. Adjacent is the home of J. Sterling Morton, Arbor Days founder.
A wonderful old book on tree natural history is a two-volume series called A NATURAL HISTORY OF TREES OF (Eastern or Western) NORTH AMERICA. If you find one at a used book store…….buy it!
Most northern states honor Arbor Day on the Fourth Friday of April each year, but many southern states celebrate it at seasons more appropriate for planting in their climate. Arbor Day dates for all states are listed on this link.
At 2 a.m. one frigid February night we were startled awake by coyotes yipping and yapping right behind our house at Winding Pathways. The next morning, we discovered their tracks all around our snowy yard. It explains why we haven’t seen many cottontail rabbits in recent months.
The amazingly adaptable coyote has spread to many parts of the United States. Most Americans might not realize it, but they live close to these efficient predators. In towns and cities, coyotes are most active at night, stay out of sight and are usually quiet. In rural areas they’re more likely spotted in the daylight and often vocalize at night.
Coyotes are amazingly successful predators. Adaptable and intelligent, they are common in Los Angeles and have been spotted in New York’s Central Park. A pair successfully raised young in a culvert near Chicago’s Soldier Field. Once only found in the rural West they are now common all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and thrive in deserts, forests, farmland, towns, and cities.
Coyotes prefer dining on mammals and specialize in eating mice, voles, cottontails, and other small furry creatures. They’ll also eat carrion and sometimes scrounge food from dumpsters.
Although coyotes will eat birds, they don’t target them and consume few. Numerous studies have shown that when coyotes increase foxes and raccoons decrease. Since these two smaller animals are the major bird and egg predators, an increase in coyote density often means more birds in the area. Anyone who likes pheasants should appreciate coyotes.
Coyotes pose no threat to humans. They thrive on a continent where people have eradicated mountain lions and wolves from most places where they once lived.
After a newly fallen snow do some backyard tracking. Wherever someone lives there is a chance of finding the doglike tracks of coyotes that worked the neighborhood the previous night.
This blog is similar to one that Winding Pathways wrote for the Cedar Rapids GAZETTE.
Nancy Garberson shares these observations and photos with Winding Pathways.
This time of year, we call it “wild kingdom” in our backyard because we see deer every day. All kinds of birds and tracks in the snow from the nocturnal creatures dot the snow as well. Our dog is fascinated by the steady entertainment. It’s funny but she never chases them, she respects them as if they were family.
Watching deer roam in our yard can make us feel as if we are living in a natural paradise. Our neighbor has a pond and we have connecting woods. We think that’s what attracts the deer to our area. The deer feel safe and they have lots of water and natural food, as well as our feeder supply, to keep them happy. Another neighbor has an apple tree, which appears to be another draw for the deer. Even the bucks walk in nonchalantly to feed.
So, not only are we enjoying the winter wonderland, but we also have a steady showing of wildlife to enjoy on winter days.
Abby takes in the scenery.
The deer come to the feeder in the late afternoon.
My daily labyrinth walk on Wednesday, January 30, 2019, in the middle of the Polar Vortex coughed up several lessons.
In spite of the bitterly cold morning, the snowshoes strap that slipped off and glasses that fogged up, it was a great walk! Nothing I want to repeat, though.
Here are some lessons:
(Think ahead.) Just like a little kid is reminded, it is better to use the bathroom before donning the multiple layers of clothes.
(Before starting out, make sure your equipment is ready and working. Think ahead number two.) Pulling the snowshoes down from the hooks in the unheated garage, I realized the straps were frozen. “Oh well, I can make this work.” Ha! At -25 degrees? Not. Gloves were too bulky to fix on the straps, so I took them off. Within seconds my fingers were numb.
(Be ready for consequences. Think ahead number three.) Not only were my fingers numb but also because I hurried putting the snowshoes on, one strap slipped off partway through the walk causing me to stumble. Additionally, when I wrapped my scarf around my nose and breathed out, my glasses fogged up. Between the two, I pitched off the packed trail into the deep snow. I regained balance and came back on the path. It was kind of scary even though I knew my husband was monitoring my adventure from the house.
(Have a back-up plan. Think ahead number four.) Oh, I could have done the finger labyrinth, or “walked” the outdoor labyrinth from the upstairs window. I also love a challenge. Yet, how much was just showing off for those who live in warmer climates and marvel at how the northerners survive?
(Turning back is OK!) A few times I thought about cutting off the path back to the beginning and just coming inside. That would have been OK.
(Persevering is also OK.) So, “keeping on keeping on” is valuable. Just be aware and safe in our pursuits. When a situation is hard, ask, “Why?” And, then make decisions from there. Move into a growth attitude of “I can do this.”
(Be of Growth Mindset) Learn from missteps. Just like my shortcut crossing on the industrial pipe above the dam and jagged rocks as a little kid, this adventure was good to do. Maybe not one to repeat. Get back on the path.
(Be grateful.) Always a valuable lesson. From small to large gratitudes express them many times each day. This changes everything.
When we bought our first home back in 1979, we soon installed a new wood stove. It was a Lange brand made in Denmark. The stove kept our home toasty warm the next 30 winters. When we moved to Winding Pathways, we had to leave our trusty Lange at the old place.
We enjoy wood heat and like cutting and curing wood, so shortly after we moved, we purchased a Heatilator wood stove. For seven winters it did the job of warming our home. On the first cool night in the fall of 2018, we fired up theHeatilator and were astonished to smell smoke in the house. Then, we discovered a large crack in the stove’s steel top. As smoke seeped into the room, we shoveled out the burning wood. Then, we contacted the store where we bought the stove.
We were told we were out of luck. The Heatilator had a five-year warranty and our stove was seven years old. It was frustrating to learn the warranty was so short and that the stove failed. The company offered us a discount on a new stove that was not a good discount. We were wary and decided to look elsewhere.
For about a month our only home heat came from our gas furnace. Although the thermometer read 70 degrees, we constantly felt chilled. Forced air heat feels different from that emitted from a wood or gas stove. The furnace forces out low humidity air that feels cool. A wood stove, in contrast, emits heat directly. It’s very warm near the stove, so when chilled we love huddling close to it. There is an indescribable pleasure in the comfort given us by our woodstove.
On Friday, December 14, Colony Heating in Cedar Rapids installed a new stove. It’s a Century Heating steel stove made in Quebec, Canada, and we’re already enjoying its cozy warmth. Here are some things we learned:
If a stove cracks or gives off smoke stop using it. Get it checked out. If it has failed the company that made or installed it might replace it. Or not. It’s a good idea to find this out before you purchase a stove.
Look for quality. A wood stove should last decades.
Check the guarantee. Most quality stoves have at least a ten-year warranty on the firebox.
Have a stove installed by a professional and connected to a safe chimney.
Notify your homeowner insurance company that you have a professionally installed wood stove. They mig add a slight premium, but then the home is covered should a stove cause a fire.
Burn clean dry wood accordingto the stove manufacturer’s directions.
Keep the stove clean and havethe chimney cleaned and inspected annually.
We had removed the fire bricks from the old stove’s interior, and the two guys from Colony Heating who installed the new stove loaded the cracked Heatilator onto our pickup truck. An hour later a giant machine with a steel claw plucked it from the ground and dropped it on a pile of other scrap metal. Marion Iron Company paid us $16 for it. Not only are wood stoves recyclable, and they can be sold for scrap.
We’re looking forward to our new stove’s gentle warmth as cold wintery Iowa air sweeps past our home at Winding Pathways.
WindingPathways LLC did not receive discounts or free services or merchandise from either Colony or SBI International, which makes and sells Century Heating stoves. We paid their normal fee. And, we’ve found their products and services to be outstanding. www.colonyheating.com and www.sbi-international.com. We purchased the stove at the Marion, Iowa, Menard’s store.