DIY cracked corn for chickens

Most of us will do anything for our pets. With the help of a local farmer, Sarah in Illinois is giving her hens a special treat this fall. Although I’m not sure how helpful this farmer has actually been.

My chickens are fed layer feed every day, but once in a while I buy a bag of cracked corn for them as a treat. I throw it around in the run for them to peck and scratch at during the day. It gives them something to do and they seem to love it.

So imagine my surprise when my farmer neighbor knocked on my door a few weeks back and told me that he had spilled some corn in the field while he was filling his bins. All I had to do was go out behind my barn and scoop it up before it rained. Well, heck yes. Free corn!

I went out in the field with a wheelbarrow and a scoop shovel, and I got corn. Lots of it.

While the chickens will occasionally eat whole kernels of corn, they much prefer when it is cracked, and I think it is also easier for them to digest.

My dad, whom I have mentioned before doesn’t throw anything away, said that he thought he had an old corn mill stashed somewhere. And it turns out that he did.

The mill is a simple machine. You fill the hopper on top with whole corn. It holds about 4 cups.

Then there is a wheel to crank and it turns a cylinder inside. It has a few slots that the corn falls down into and as it turns it crushes the kernel.

There is a knob on the side that you can turn and adjust the clearance inside the mill. The tighter it is turned, the finer the corn is milled.

We adjusted it to a point where the corn comes out just slightly cracked so that it is a good size for the chickens to handle.

All that is left is to crank away.

And crank.

And crank.

Steve asked me when I wanted him to mount an old motor to the crank.

I am getting closer to giving him the go-ahead!

I am making my way through this corn… 4 cups at a time.

Wheelbarrows of corn, 4 cups at a time. You’re a woman dedicated to her chickens, Sarah. When I was growing up and we had ducks and geese, they would get a ration of corn mixed into their winter feed. I think my Dad’s rationale was that the corn was higher fat and would help the birds in the cold weather. So the timing may be right for this influx of corn. Whether a treat or a bit of extra warmth, I hope your girls appreciate your work.

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Monarchs fly again

Look who showed up again this year.

Monarch butterfly in a glass bowl

That’s right, once again we raised some monarch caterpillars into butterflies. We did this for the first time last year (well, it was my first time and our first time together. Matt did this lots as a kid.)

We hadn’t planned on doing it again this year, but then I found three fat caterpillars crawling on the milkweed in the meadow. Since mowing the meadow, the milkweed has popped back up, but nothing else has grown as tall. I was worried that the caterpillars were very exposed and would be tempting for a passing bird, so I brought them inside.

Three monarch caterpillars

They crawled around in a bowl on our island for a week or so (except for the one who made a dramatic escape and was apprehended marching across the kitchen floor–he had a broader worldview than his two bowlmates), and then they shed their outer skins for the chrysalis. I got to watch this happen this year and it was so cool.

Monarch caterpillar about to change into a chrysalis

Three monarch chrysalis

After another week or so, they shed their chrysalis and became butterflies.

Monarch chrysalis about to hatch

Two monarch butterflies hanging from a mesh screen

Newly hatched monarch butterfly

It was as exciting and special as it was last year.

I’ve seen more monarchs this year than I’ve ever seen in a summer. I’m hopeful that the population is healthy and growing. And hopefully our three are now part of that.

Lots of eggs in Illinois

The flavour of a fresh, home grown egg can’t be beat in my opinion, so an over-abundance of eggs would be welcome around here. Abundance is exactly what Sarah in Illinois has. Add a few chickens to your household, and the eggs quickly pile up. Sarah is here today sharing some of her favourite egg recipes. She’s also seeking suggestions on other ways to use up her bounty.

We still have 7 healthy chickens so that means we have 6-7 eggs to collect every day. Those eggs add up quickly. I really hate to have any waste, so after I have given eggs to our immediate family, I try to use everything that is left.

The most obvious use for eggs is breakfast. I like to scramble a few and add fresh chives and dill from my herb garden before I leave for work. On the weekends, Steve fries them or makes his favorite: omelets. His specialty is filling the omelets with green peppers, onions, tomatoes, cheese, sausage and fried potatoes.

Probably the most common way we prepare our eggs is hard boiling them to have for breakfasts or an easy to grab, high protein snack.

Blitz’s favorite breakfast? Boiled eggs mashed up with butter. No lie.

Our go-to carry-in dish is to make deviled eggs. This past weekend I made them to take to our family reunion and used a basic recipe of mixing the yolk with mayo, mustard and relish. Then I added ranch dressing to thin it out a little. This isn’t Steve’s favorite, but the kids and I like it.

However, even with all of these uses, we still have plenty of eggs left over. So I decided to search for more recipes.

Growing up mom often made a quiche. I think I am going to try this one by Paula Deen.
One dish that I have always been curious about is Eggs Benedict. I have never tried it before but I think this would be an easy recipe to try.

I keep telling myself to make a batch of these scrambled egg muffins and freeze for a quick breakfast on mornings we are running late.

One of our overachieving hens laid this double-yolker.

What would make your egg recipe list? How do you like your eggs for breakfast? What are your favorite ingredients in an omelet?

Mmmmm… eggs. I love eggs. (BTW, I love that spiral egg rack too.) I’m a poached egg person usually. I love dipping toast fingers in the yolk. We also make our own version of McMuffins some weekend mornings. Omelets, quiches and frittatas are a go-to for an easy dinner. If you’re looking for something a little fancier, a strata is a good go-to. I’ve made this one a few times and it’s good.

New chickens in Illinois

Sarah in Illinois has been chicken farming for about a year. And in case you haven’t guessed from her previous posts, she’s enjoying it. Now she’s expanding her flock, and she’s here today to tell us all about it.

I have mentioned a couple times that I would like to add to my flock of chickens. After a couple weeks of phone and email tag, I finally picked up 4 new hens last weekend. I bought them from a family farm and CSA that is not too far from where I live.

I had very few requirements when looking for new hens. I wanted chickens that were no longer chicks but still young, commonly called pullets. I was not particular on breed, I would have chosen a couple Leghorns if available, for their white eggs, but other than that I really didn’t care.

This farm had only Red Sex Link which meant that they were Rhode Island Red crossed with another breed. The person that I picked them up from was not sure what they were bred with but since I have no interest in breeding chickens of my own and purely wanted them for the eggs, I really didn’t care what breeds they were.

The chickens I picked up are 9 months old, which means they are already laying. And after a day off from all of the trauma of relocating and meeting my older hens, they started laying right away.

Speaking of meeting my older hens, I had done a little research and randomly had a conversation with one of my customers at work on the best way to integrate the new tenants.

It is a good idea to keep them segregated but within view of each other for a while so that they get to know each other without causing many battles. I have also read that it is a good idea to put the new hens on the roost at night when the older hens are resting for the night. Then when everyone wakes up in the morning they are more accepting of each other.

Basically, we did none of that.

I did keep them apart for a short time, but then Steve got in the run to be referee and told me to put them all in together. It was quite comical to watch him reprimanding chickens but honestly it worked pretty well.

Since I brought them home early on a Saturday morning we were able to work in the yard and keep an eye on them all day both Saturday and Sunday. That way if there was a serious injury, we were right there to be able to intercept.

Another distraction was Blitz. He was quite entertained by the new chickens and ran back and forth along the run. I think it was helpful. The chickens were more worried about the 80 pound dog than picking on each other.

I was prepared for more serious injuries. Chickens do have a pecking order and when they assert their position they are likely to peck and injure each other. However, once a chicken is bleeding it is more likely to be picked on by the other hens. So I purchased a lotion that not only helps heal injuries, it dyes the blood a different color so they are less likely to be drawn to the injury. I am very thankful so far I have not even opened the bottle.

As I write this, the chickens have been together one week, and I can say I think everyone is getting along very well. I still occasionally see an older hen dash across the run and peck a newbie for no reason whatsoever, but overall, I think things are going very well.

I am consistently collecting 5-7 eggs every day. It is also exciting that the new chickens’ eggs are much darker than the older hens. They are actually quite pretty. Hmmmmm…maybe I need to start looking into Easter Eggers…

I’m so glad that your new chickens have integrated well with your older ones, Sarah. I’ve heard it can be very challenging. Glad to see that Blitz is still helping out around the farm. I love the colour of the beautiful dark eggs. I think you definitely need to explore more colours.

Moments and happenings

Barn cat on a stump

Going into this past weekend, I was a bit anxious about what I was going to be posting on the blog this week. I had nothing written, and unusually I didn’t have any ideas either.

The thing about the farm though is that something always happens. We do something or see something and that becomes something to remember and share. Some moments are simple, some are bigger.

But together, they make up life here at the farm and are part of what makes living here so special.

Saturday morning started with Matt and Bax heading out for their walk, and Ralph sitting on her stump waiting for them to come back. She does this often. Last weekend she meowed after them the whole time they were gone.

But when I came out to snap her picture, she hopped off the stump and came to get attention from me instead. This weekend, I was more stealthy and managed to get a few shots of her. Queen of the farm on her throne.

Barn cat on a stump

After the photo session, I took my  book and went out and sat with her.

The quiet of a Saturday morning. The summer sunlight. Our amazing cat. This beautiful land. A simple moment that was a special start to the weekend.

Gotcha Day 4

Baxter hiking on a boardwalk through the marsh

I haven’t written as much about Baxter on this blog since I started writing for ThatMutt.com. But Mr. B is still our favourite dude and a huge part of life at the farm.

I love that he’s by my side as I work on projects or walk over the property. And I love that he’s opened up other opportunities for me, like writing for ThatMutt.com, or connecting with our off leash hiking group.

Baxter came to live with us July 7, 2013, so last week was his fourth gotcha anniversary.

I’m keeping up my annual tradition of writing a letter to Baxter (inspired by Tracey at love lives on). It’s posted at ThatMutt.com.

Here are my letters from year 1, year 2 , year 3 and Baxter’s adoption story.

Home Goals 2017 mid-year report

Hello July. Holy moly we’re already halfway through the year.

Halfway through the year means it’s time to take a look at how we’re doing on Home Goals 2017.

July also means summer vacation. I’m going to be taking a brief blogging break this week in favour of spending some time working on more of these Home Goals.

Office

The first room makeover of the year and the last bedroom to be redone. In case it’s not clear from all of the posts I’ve done about this room–including last week’s video tour–I’m loving this room.

China cabinet storage in the office

Pond shore

The pond shore was my one and only property clean-up goal this spring. However, between time, weather and then a broken arm, it didn’t happen. Argh. Expect to see this on the 2018 home goals list.

Instead of the pond shore, we tackled some other property clean-up. Matt and I burned an overgrown area behind the driveshed–but then I never cleared the rocks that we uncovered, so we haven’t been able to mow it, and it’s almost as overgrown as usual now. I’ve ever so slowly been tackling the jungle behind the house. So property clean-up hasn’t been a total skip this year. It just hasn’t been focused in the area I had hoped.

Cleaning up brush with fire

Vegetable Garden

The vegetable garden is off to a slow start, but a good one. The new blueberries, blackberries and grapes that I added are all doing well. The year-old grapes even seem to have recovered from their infestation.

I’m later than I would like on planting, so everything is pretty small still. Plus, so far I haven’t had any luck finding straw for our deep mulch experiment, so the battle against the weeds is being waged by hand. But between me and weeds, we’re even. I can’t say they’re winning yet, so I’m counting that as a win for me.

Weedy potatoes

Flower gardens

The flower gardens have been getting a bit more attention this year than they did last year. As a result, they’re–surprise, surprise–looking better than they did last year. The peonies were stunning, and we’re moving on to lily season.

I’ve added a couple of new plants–an astilbe and a white lilac–which will bring more blooms to our very green beds. Everything needs a good haircut–deadheading the spent blossoms and shaping up some of the very bushy bushes–so that’s the next to-do on the list.

Pink peony

Basement

I was really excited to share the basement TV area a little while ago. There are two more spaces in the basement that I’m hoping to show to you before the year’s out. They just need some art, some styling and a major tidy. Organizing the basement is tops on Matt’s list for the summer, so between the two of us, we may finish the rest of this space yet.

Basement TV area

New barn cat

We’ve decided that the best thing for Ralph for now is for her to continue to enjoy her days in peace and relative solitude. Our best girl is queen of the farm and doesn’t need a sidekick. So we will continue to be a one barncat farm for the foreseeable future.

Our barncat Ralph

Coop

This final task is a new addition for this year’s Home Goals courtesy of Matt. He is determined to have some hens to eat ticks next year, so that means we’re taking down the old coop and building a new one. I have lots of ideas about how to build the coop, but I haven’t entirely worked out all of the details of this project. I expect this one will take a little while. I guess I know what we’re doing this summer.

Old chicken coop

In fact, we’re getting a little start on the coop this week. With my few days off work, and Matt now on summer holidays, there will be gardening, weeding, organizing, cooping and cat scratching. Somewhere in there, there may be some relaxing too.

As part of my holiday, I’m taking the rest of the week off the blog too. I’ll be back next week with more news from the farm.

How are you doing on your projects so far this year?

How to feed hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are magical little birds. We see them occasionally around the farm, and the farm came with several hummingbird feeders that are tucked away in the driveshed, but we’ve never filled them. I feel like it may be time to change that given Sarah’s experience with her hummingbirds in Illinois.

Like Julia, I like to take care of the birds that stop by in our yard. However, I tend to cater to the hummingbirds. I am guessing I got my love of hummingbirds from my Grandma. She loves all kinds of birds especially hummingbirds and has all kinds of bird feeders in her yard.

She has always told me little facts about hummingbirds, such as did you know when a hummingbird travels south for the winter it flies across the Gulf of Mexico? That’s over 500 miles non-stop. It is also thought that a hummingbird may travel the same route each year. So the hummingbirds you see in your yard could very well be the same ones that visited last year.

The most common hummingbird I see at our house is the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.

The females are light greenish/grayish and white.

And the males are green with a bright red throat.

You can buy pre-made hummingbird nectar but I much rather make my own. It is easy to make and I know there are no chemicals in it.

Hummingbird Nectar

4 parts water
1 part white sugar

Boil water and sugar until just dissolved then let cool.

That it. It’s so simple. I usually make about two quarts (8 cups water and 2 cups sugar) at a time and put the extra in the refrigerator. Having it ready to go makes it really easy to refill when needed (which right now is daily).

It has been tradition for a long time to add red food colouring to the syrup. This is not needed and usually not recommended because there is some concern that the food colouring is unsafe for the hummingbirds. Most hummingbird feeders have red on them anyway, and I never have any problem with my hummingbirds finding my feeders with clear syrup.

I try to put my feeder out around the middle of April. I have kept track the past two years of when I spot my first hummingbird of the season. In 2016 it was April 25 and this year it was May 3. So I try to make sure I have food ready for them when they get here.

I leave the feeders out until the first chance of the syrup freezing. I have read that occasionally a bird will be injured or sick and stay behind a little longer than the others so it is a good idea to leave some food out for them.

That is all it takes to just sit back and enjoy them. They are really active around 7am at my house but by far the best time to watch them is from 7-8pm. They put on quite a show fighting over the feeder. Then just about dark they quiet down and head, I assume, back to their nests.

What type of birds do you feed? Do you have any hummingbirds at your house? Have you seen any other hummingbirds than the Ruby-Throated?

Those are amazing pictures, Sarah. We used to have a huge Rose of Sharon that attracted all kinds of hummingbirds. I think they were mostly Ruby-Throated, if I’m remembering accurately. It died a few winters ago, and we haven’t seen as many hummingbirds since. I feel like I should put up a few feeders, and they might come back.

Baby robins spreading their wings

Baby robins in a nest

A few weeks ago, a mama robin moved into one of the old nests on the driveshed. Last week, I noticed a few tiny mouths stretching up over the edge of the nest.

On Sunday, Mama and Daddy were trying to convince the babies it was time to leave the nest. One tried to tempt them with some food.

Robin with a worm in its mouth

But the babies did not agree it was time to fly on their own.

Baby robins

Every so often, the parents would discuss their problem children.

Pair of robins

One flew down to the ground to try a different angle. Of course, Ralph noticed. That led to a discussion between Ralph and me.

The babies stayed high on the rail at the driveshed–even though I convinced Ralph to move on.

Baby robins

I didn’t see the babies finally take flight. I hope that they found their way safely. I enjoy all of the different animals who call the farm home. New babies are extra special.