Tuesday 31 October 2017

Rasing Children Without Rules

Bringing up children without rules seems to be a trend at the moment. 
What are your thoughts on this? I think mine would be fairly obvious....

Sunday 29 October 2017

Building A Free Chicken Coop!

My pasture chicken coops are working our great, fresh grass each day, helps to keep the chickens healthy.
My chicken plans change day by day though. At the moment I'm thinking that as well as having my two regular egg laying pens (for sales and for ourselves) and one mobile pen for meat birds (doing a few batches throughout the year to keep us supplied in meat) I also want to set up some breeding birds, so I can sell fertile eggs and point of lay pullets from a breed we'll pick as a family. 
My new coop built for free
For this I want to create some permanent pens, maybe a short row of them, each with a coop and a pair of runs off each that can be seeded and rotated. The idea being to keep a breeding trio or four in each pen, keep blood lines pure and chickens happy. 
I've already got one coop spare:
Spare coop - not the easiest to move! Houses a 10 birds though! 
And my mobile coop that I built a few years ago has been converted into my chick brooder now:
Chicken coop converted into a chick brooder - It might gain a extension yet as I'd like to do 30 bird batches rather than 20 (day old chicks are cheaper if you buy over 25 birds).
 I've learnt a lot from building lots of chicken coops over the years (I've built some at mum and dad's farm in the past as well as one for our old house that got covered in red mites - so I left it there). 
But one thing never changes - they're not cheap to build; wood, cladding and roofing material is always expensive and adds up quickly no matter how small it is. 
So the other day when dad offered me one of these pallet boxes for free I jumped at the chance. In fact he's offered me 20 as he will only burn them otherwise (If you're Herefordshire or Shropshire based drop me a line and I'm sure you can have one or two of them).
Some of what he orders comes in on them but the courier he uses makes it too expensive for him to use for shipping things on in them and many people collect anyway (he's a machinery dealer). 
They're 32" square and about 2ft high. Not a massive coop but ideal for around 3 or 4 birds. 
I took one home and started working on it. Got my eldest practicing her hammer skills one night, knocking nails over, she loved that!

First thing I did was to remove one side. 
It would have been easier to just cut a door way in and build a removable roof but I wanted it easier to clean and get into. Being able to sweep or scrape the droppings out is much easier than having to scoop it up and out. 
I then did what I consider essential for any chicken coop - I lifted it up off the ground. 
I lifted this up around 16 inches, this does two things: Removes anywhere for rats and mice to hide under the coop and give the chickens somewhere to shelter out of the rain without having to go in. 
The kids were helping, honest...
I then made the front removable. As I'm trying to keep cost to a minimum I used a french cleat type system, a piece of wood cut on 45 degrees means it slots nicely back into place.
This picture below shows the stop add at the bottom (one at the top as well) to make sure the front won't push in. 
The boy to show scale
The door was just a bit of scrap ply, I did use two old hinges there as well, a scrap of wood as a catch. 

  I then added the top of the pallet as a roof, adding in a 100mm (4inch) piece of timber to give it a bit of fall. The two open diagonal sides were then meshed to prevent predators entering the coop but maintaining good ventilation. 
 I had some old clear sheet material up the field a friend dropped off for me years ago, I added this on top of the wood on the roof as a waterproof layer. 
Not pretty but practical, much like myself...

 A perch at the back and a divide just in from the door, means a dark nest area. I'd like to make some roll away nest boxes in the future, that could work well in here.
French cleat in action  - saves on ironmongery! 
Nest area
This coop can be easily moved with a sack truck so at the moment it's down in the orchard, to be the cockerels new house - he's feeling a little down after being denied access to his ladies. 
A pin for Pinterest if you're into that type of thing...
Normally I hate when someone says something is built for free because of all the stuff they've got kicking around! But this time it's a waste material (the pallet box) and loads of bits I've got kicking around, I'm sure most could come up with some of these materials - maybe a bit of skip diving! 
I now need to treat the woodwork, but it should last a few years easily

The great thing is that with my eldest and youngest we built this coop within about an hour or so, it's well ventilated, big enough for 3 to 4 good sized chickens, is high enough off the ground from pests but also provides a bit of shelter under it, has a perch, nest area and can be locked up at night to keep foxes and badgers out. All it cost me a handful of screws! 

I have a feeling I'll be building a few more of these if my plans for creating some breeding pens for chickens takes shape, if not it's always handy to have spare pens for sick birds or if some need separating due to bullying or hatching out too many chicks, etc! 

What do you think to the coop? 

Would you use it or do you prefer something a little more pleasing to the eye?

Friday 27 October 2017

Roofing Farmer Style

Spent a day on my parents farm on Wednesday. 
A room I've been doing up for mum (over the last two years - don't ask! Time is not my friend!) has some issues with a leaking roof. 
Mum and dads place is old, in some places it's as old as 600 year but most is just 400 - it even has a priest hole. The roof is big, has many valleys and lots of detail. 

 Dad lifted me up to look at the leak using the 4wd forklift and a cage on the front. Feels pretty high when you're 8m in the air! 
Still theres some nice views up there! And I love looking at the house I grew up in from a different angle. 

Non of the fixes I did were brilliant, as unfortunately I couldn't see anywhere obvious where water was getting in. I did fix a slipped slate on the main roof and sealed up some of the render where I think the wet was blowing in during driving rain.
Although not what everyone would like to be doing it certainly beat doing it all off a ladder and was a fun day spent with my dad!  

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Three Homesteading Mistakes I Made

The other day someone asked me what I'd do differently if I had the time here over again.

We've been here nearly six years now so it's easy to look back with hindsight at the things I've done or haven't.

I've learnt a lot in that time but here are three things I'd approach differently!

Thinking I need to make everything permanent

I've always looked at this place as my "forever home" so everything I've built has been made to last. I feel this is a mistake, temporary things are really useful as well.
I remember in the first few weeks of being here dad telling me to put some fire wood in an old shed that was on the drive. Being stubborn I said that the shed was coming down so I didn't want to use it.

Well guess what! The shed is still up and it holds my fire wood each year. It's coming down one day but it's certainly slipped down my list of proprieties, in the meantime I'd rather have dry firewood and an ugly shed!

The way I look at it now is that if I do a temporary job that might save me some time each day or make my life easier, even for just a few weeks, then often it's worth doing.

Putting slabs down on soil might not be a very long lasting option but if it saves a month of muddy boots in the house then it's worth it. Same goes for a quick knocked up chicken run or sheep race, doesn't have to be in the right place for ever, just for when you need it. Yes I'd love a proper farm yard and sheds but until then I'm happy to make do.

Leaving Land Bare

How I wish I'd learnt this one earlier! This is has been my biggest mistake really.
The soil doesn't want to be exposed, it wants to be covered by plants, if you leave any area bare it will grow weeds.
I planted up a huge garden when I got here but I left areas bare and knew I should hoe regularly to keep it clean. I underestimated how much work that would be, coupled with starting a family, working full time and working on the house things soon slipped.

The fruit garden soon looked like this:

Now I keep my garden looking much better. I use green manures, weed membrane and quick crop rotations to make sure the veg beds are free from weeds. I'm still struggling to bring the fruit garden back under control and to be honest things have gone that far I'm considering starting again, covering it with plastic and planting a new soft fruit garden in the orchard.

My dad is still convinced that I farm nettles...

Get ready before you get livestock
I took it slow getting stock on our little farm, but when I did I went quite big quite quick.
The sheep were a constant source of problems for the first two years that I had them and only now in year three have things leveled out. I'm guessing that as the animals have got older and more experienced and I have as well things have just got easier.
It was a new flock with it's fair share of teething problems (CODD being one I remember all to well) and then followed by a rubbish lambing it left me feeling pretty down about the whole venture.
Luckily this year has been much better, lambing was actually fun (I guess not having a two month old baby helps with that one), the kids got involved and I felt prepared for it, the right equipment in the right place. Gates to make pens, harnesses when I needed (not having to run off to the store to buy them), sprays, lube, gloves, etc was all there! Read my post on lambing tips if you're doing it next year. 

The chickens haven't been too much trouble during this time. I've made multiple pens and tried many methods of keeping them, I really like what I'm doing at the moment and the whole pastured chickens thing would have been great to do from the start, but having the fixed pens like I did was certainly easier - especially when I had to be at work an hour away by 7.30!

I've still got the coops I made and they still get used. Handy for housing sick chickens or breeding pairs, I plan to set up some different areas next year to have some for breeding.

I think livestock only becomes easier over time as you gain the experience and the equipment you need. I think it would feel that you're going from 0 - 60 no matter what but I probably should have invested in some new hurdles sooner!

So what were your major mistakes when you started your smallholding/homestead? 

What would you advice people to do differently to how you did it?

Monday 23 October 2017

First Meat Bird Butchered - Children Helped

Chicken and chips for tea last night.

I've had one chicken start to walk a little funny and I was worried it was "going off its legs" a problem with these meat breeds that can get too big too fast. 

So I decided that we'd cull that one early, Save the bird any discomfort and I'd got nothing out of the freezer for tea. I was planning on butchering some this week anyway to see what they weighed out at anyway. 
My eldest daughter was very keen to help. I've always been careful around the butchery and slaughter of animals around them. I don't want to put them off or scare them, but I also don't want to shelter them from it either. She was keen to understand the whole process and wanted to be involved, they've helped me feed them and move them so I think it's great they want to know the whole process. 
I let her carry the axe and open and shut the pen for me. 

I told her she didn't have to watch me do the killing but she was adamant that she wanted to see. Nothing morbid from her, just sheer curiosity. 

She then helped me pluck it. I took it up to the house to gut as I wanted a clean chopping board. My other daughter was interested to see this bit as well. They were fascinated as I pull out the different parts and told them what each one did. Neither were disgusted or even thought to be, to them this was a natural part of the cycle, something they'd only heard of before but his time they got to see it. 

This is something that would happen all round the world and children would be involved with the process as well. 

Only in the western world do we think it's odd to have children involved in something like this. I hope my children stay interested and want to be involved for a long time to come. 

The bird weighed 1.2kg dressed out, ideal for our dinner. There are bigger birds in the pen but I might wait a few more weeks until I butcher anymore so we get bigger birds from them to go in the freezer, good to get at least a couple of meals from each one if we can. 

What do you think? 

Is four and five to young to be involved with this aspect of keeping animals?

Saturday 21 October 2017

Tools You Can't Do Without

A Facebook page I follow posts a weekly question for it's members to answer.  The page is called celebrating smallholdings uk if you search for it.

This weeks question was what equipment, tools or machinery can you not do without? What are your must haves to run a smallholding?

Tough question to answer I feel - depends on what you do and how you do it and even the time of year! 

Here on my smallholding there are many things that are essential to me to keep things running smoothly so I thought I'd list five things that I think are pretty important to me. I'll leave hand tools off this as otherwise we'd be here all day! 

The wheelbarrow is pretty essential to me. I've got three kicking around here. I think all except one have had their tyres replaced with solid rubber ones.

I use them in the garden to move muck and compost onto the beds and weeds back to the compost pile. Every building project has used them in some way, fire wood gets moved by them and children get a ride if they're lucky.  

Now where would I be without one of these? I can go for months without touching it but when I need it the machine saves me hours of back breaking work. 
It can be used for rough construction and fencing work, firewood and tree maintenance, as well as clearing any trees or branches that fall after a storm. 

Couldn't round up the sheep without the "bike". It's not because its fun or anything....

Since getting the sheep there has been a few things that have made my life easier and one of them was some good gates. Last year I brought 10 hurdles and they've made a huge difference, they lock together and make it easy to make a pen or a funnel. At lambing time they made it easier to catch and lamb ewes.
It's a purchase I haven't regretted for a second!

Weed Membrane
Not to over sell it but this has changed my life. I reuse it year on year, it cuts my weed pressure by a stupid amount and without it I wouldn't grow anywhere near the amount of veg that I do!

There are many more things I could include but what would be in your list?

Friday 20 October 2017

Boy Helping

The kids always seem to want to help, no matter the job.
I know this will soon change so I'll make the most of it now!
Here's the boy helping me to cable tie some more wire round the bottom of one of my chicken coops. He loved it and although it took me five minutes to pick up all the ones he'd dropped it was lovely having him "help" me for this little job! he was so dexterous with his fingers, pushing it between the wire, concentrating the whole time. 
Afterward he walks with a spring in his step, knowing he's helped daddy and babbles about it to his mum when she comes home. 

Do (or did)  your children love to help?

What age does it stop?

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Veg Bag

Mum came over the other day, she always brings something for the kids to do whilst she's here. 
She knows that they love crafts, so it's normally something craft based she can bring with her.
She'd found these bags from a pound shop that came with a set of pens.
The one side you just colour in a picture of some fish but the other side is blank. I told my daugheter she could draw what ever she wanted, I said just draw whatever interests you.
She drew veggies!
On the bag now there's carrots, beetroots, tomatoes, lettuces, sweetcorn, the list goes on! It really made me smile when she did it.

This little girl sure does love her gardening! 

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Raspberry Slice

So many raspberries at the moment it's almost becoming hard to know what to do with them!
But I'm loving my latest recipe I've been messing around with - Raspberry slice! 
Our raspberry patch is about 25ft long and 6ft deep so as you can imagine it produces a fair few raspberries each day at this time of year. I can normally pick a couple of large punnets full every couple of days. I've frozen loads, dehydrated them, made jam, cooked crumbles and I wanted to bake with them more, but not just chucking them in a sponge, that's gets old fast.
So I decided to have a look around the internet and then alter a recipe to suit what I have to hand! 
This turned out really good, everyone loved it and it's got so many raspberries in it it almost has to be healthy!

70g of almond flour,
250g self raising flour,
280g of brown sugar,
200g of butterTwo eggs 500g of raspberries (I used fresh but I think it would work with frozen ones as well)

Mix the flour, almond flour, sugar and melted butter together (I melt the butter just to make it easier to mix together). 
Get about 100g of this mixture and keep to one side.
Then mix in the eggs and pour onto a tray.
Lay half the raspberries all over it and sprinkle on the mixture you held back.
Bake for 45 minutes at 180.
Then get out and add the other half of the raspberries and cook for another 15 minutes.

This tastes amazing!

Great cold or with custard whilst it's still warm. I imagine it would work well with other fruit as well.

Let me know if you give it a try.

Anyone else got a good baking recipe using raspberries?

Monday 16 October 2017

Four Today!

There's lots of moments where your life changes, and four years ago today was certainly one of them! 
I can hardly believe my middle child is now four! 
What can I say other than I love the girl she's turned into. 
She's brilliantly clever, with a wicked sense of humour and keeps me on my toes with interesting and thoughtful questions. She loves to help me when ever she can and is learning the whole time, her knowledge really does surprise me. 
Yes we argue and she is sometimes too head strong, she's always active and on the go but these are traits I've given her! I sometimes worry she's a little bit too much like me! 

Yes, it's another strawberry cake - this time with a stalk. She's been on about it since her sisters party in January! 
Just the other day I was being naughty and looking at Instagram as she ran in and jumped on top of me 
"What you looking at daddy?"
"Just this picture" 
I replied showing her a picture someone had put on of some raspberry leaves they were making tea from.
"Why are you looking at raspberry leaves?" 
And with that she ran off to do whatever she was doing. She knew they were raspberry leaves straight away without me saying anything!

She's great with the animals as well, I took her with me to catch a lamb the other day and said it had a poorly foot, she straight away knew what I was going to do to make it better! 
She can even remember places that we visited when she was only one, and as we drive past recount who we went there with! 
I'm so lucky to have spent so much time with my children as they grow up and I'll be forever thankful of that. I took over full time child care with her when she was 6 months old and although it not always been easy, it's always been fun! 

Happy 4 Birthday my mad little girl! 
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