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From Scratch-Home Made chicken food- an easy, healthy alternative to commercial feed

Since moving to the farm three years ago, I’ve completely changed the way my family eats.  Gone are packaged, processed foods, chips, and anything junk like.  We eat a lot more fruits and vegetables, whole foods, only local and in season, raise our own eggs, chickens, turkeys and pig for meat.   So why is it that it was only a few months ago that I noticed the long list of ingredients on the bag of processed chicken food that I’ve been using?? Lots of recognizable ingredients, and many not, all crunched up and magically glued together into pellet form. I started wondering if that was really the best I could do for my poultry, and decided it probably wasn’t.  I set about researching poultry dietary needs, looking for recipes and trying to find information on home made vs. commercial feed. I only found bits and pieces, not solid pros or cons, and many recipes, each one different from the next, and none of them very clear or easy to follow.  Feeling overwhelmed and unsure, I spent months reading everything I could find.  When I was down to my last bag of commercial feed, I set my self doubt aside and just jumped right into choosing ingredients, measuring and mixing, watching what the chickens liked and how they reacted (quality of poop, egg production, general appearance, signs of hunger or health issues).  We’ve been using this new whole feed for 5 weeks now and I am finally confident enough to share the results and the recipe with you!

The first thing I considered is that back in the day, there weren’t feed stores all over town for people to buy their “complete” feed.  These were people who depended on their chickens for food, not just as backyard pets, so clearly there are alternatives to feed pellets, that have been around forever.  I was really disappointed in the scholarly literature that I read. Almost always, they cautioned against experimenting with feed and just sticking to the “complete and tested” commercial feeds.

My best, first break came in Carla Emery’s The Encyclopedia Of Country Living.  She encouraged readers to grow their own animal feed and poo pooed the idea that commercial feed is the only way to go!  She didn’t provide a recipe, so much as a blue print of what chickens need. For proper growth and egg production, a chicken’s diet needs to be 17-20% protein. Traditional feed contains corn and soy, which have their own issues (GMO) and corn is high fat and low protein. So why feed it to the chickens at all? I decided to eliminate both corn and soy from the mix. This way, I can buy conventionally grown ingredients and not have to worry about Franken foods. (I choose not to go organic because it’s cost prohibitive for my operation. I don’t want to sell $8 a dozen eggs, I want to offer affordable, fresh and healthy eggs.)

Protein comes in SO many forms and ideally you can offer the chickens a variety of sources. Wheat, Oats, Barley, rye, sunflower seeds, milk products (expired milk or yogurt), eggs, meat, worms and bugs all offer good protein.  Another source is fish meal. Hard to come by and very expensive, I decided against this. I really wanted the fish meal used for gardening to be the same thing, and from what I learned, it is, except that the way they process it isn’t fit for chickens AND they risk exposure to heavy metals. If you know a fisherman, getting their cuttings would be a score!  I’ve read that chickens need animal protein and that they don’t. I know how mine love to go after little mice and frogs, which leads me to believe that they’re into it, but I think they can be healthy without adding animal protein to their feed. (ps- bugs and worms count as meat) Because my chickens don’t get out into fresh pasture, often, I do think they would benefit from more bugs, so I’ll soon be breeding Black Soldier Fly larvae as a supplement for them. Yup, maggot farming. Mmmm.  We also give the chickens everything left over when we eat crab, as well as the entire chicken carcass after we make stock. THEY EAT THE ENTIRE THING!  Legumes, if you can find them in bulk, are a great source of protein. It’s not cost effective for me with 50 chickens, but if you have just a few in your backyard, it’s totally worthwhile to feed them dried lentils or peas (fresh peas, and their leaves and pods, too). You can cook them first, but it isn’t needed.

Greens need to be a part of the chickens daily diet. This is a hard one to mix into the dry formula, but if they are ranging around, or you give them plenty of weeds or kitchen scraps, they should be ok. I also put a flake of alfalfa into their coops every few days.

Vitamins and supplements. A really important thing to remember is that chickens don’t have teeth. They have a hard gizzard, against which they grind their food to digest it. For this to work, they need to be eating little pebbles, sand, or other grit.  If you’re feeding whole grains, you should assume that they can’t get enough grit in their foraging, and should give them some. Because they also need selenium and minerals, I chose a grit with minerals that’s readily available at the feed store. I started out mixing it into the feed, but it was heavy and didn’t mix in well. Now I just throw handfuls of it into the run every other day or so. Same goes for Oyster Shells, which act as grit and also give them the calcium that they need to produce hard egg shells. I put some in the feed, too. You can mix these 2 together and have a dish always available for them, but my chickens always spill it, so I just avoid the middle man.  I also use Flax seed. It has lots of Omega 3 and makes their feathers gloriously shiny!  Kelp is another one. Super expensive ($84 for a 50# bag) but used sparingly, so it’s ok. Kelp is full of minerals. I use just a little to top dress their food. They go nuts for it! Oh, and don’t forget vitamin D (which is added to feed!). Chickens need a little sun every day.

Here’s the recipe that I came up with. Note that it changes and flexibility is good. If, for example, one grain price suddenly goes sky high, just drop it until it comes down. Variety is the spice of life, anyway, right? All ingredients should be purchased whole, not cracked, crimped  or rolled. Once the shell is broken, they start to go rancid and lose nutritional value.

-3 pounds Rye (this is grass seed to normal folks-but get it at the feed store, for quality assurance)

9 pound Barley

9 pounds Oats

9 pounds Wheat (winter red is best, if available)

4 pounds black oiled sunflower seeds (sold as bird seed)

3 pounds Flax

2 pounds Oyster Shell

mix everything together in a plastic bin or feed sack, until well distributed.

Prices vary from area to area, so I’m not including very detailed costs here. 50 pound grain bags are about $15-20 here, 20 pounds of Flax is $22, 50# rye is $36, 30# sunflower seeds are $25, oyster shell is $10 for 50#, grits about the same.  I believe I’m paying slightly more than I was for the commercial pellets, plus I get to eliminate corn and soy, and all the other ingredients I don’t want. My egg production DOUBLED in these 5 weeks, even during a bitter cold snap that lasted a week. Before some hens were missing feathers and looking ragged. Now they have full, bright and shiny coats! Also, I’m using less feed than I used to. Consider the difference in humans, between eating processed food, and whole food that our bodies have to work on for a while…same goes for chickens. Where I was going through three 50 pound bags a week, I now use about 5o pounds of whole food per week. I’m using this food for the chickens, turkeys and geese, all with great results!

As I mentioned, I’m going to be farming BSF larvae to supplement their diets. I’ve also started making fodder, which is a genius way to increase their nutrition and reduce your feed bill. All you do is sprout some of the grains (takes about a week for them to become a solid mass of roots, seed and grass), then feed them.  The conversion is crazy, something like 2 pounds of grain becomes 13 pounds of fodder. This method is literally saving some cow farms in the midwest!  I’ll have more info and pictures on this soon… For more information on alternative, natural chicken keeping, I highly recommend THIS BOOK.

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“Live Simply So Others May Simply Live”~ Mother Theresa

I think of this quote all the time. I ain’t no Mother Theresa, but I sure did admire her work and her good heart. The words that she left behind are inspiring every time I read them.

Today I was talking to a store owner. She used her iPhone to scan something and I commented on how cool it is to be able to carry your business in your pocket like that. I totally reject upgrading my phone or paying for a data plan. I’m really not that kind of business. I don’t want to be on call, reachable at every minute of the day. It’s sort of like answering the phone on the first ring when that cute boy calls. Not my M.O.

We started talking and she said, “I don’t know how people ran businesses in the old days…” She says she carries her business in her pocket, checks emails while doing errands, is constantly on the run, working her ass off and barely keeping her head above water.

“How” she asks, “did they do it without technology?”

Hmmmm, how indeed. I’m not one to preach and never give my opinion unless it’s asked for. On the way to the car I told John, “DUH!”. In the “Old days” our “needs” were much smaller. We knew the difference between needing and wanting and were willing to sacrifice and save for the things we wanted. We NEEDED food, family, shelter, something to wear. We didn’t NEED the newest edition of the iPhone, or cable tv with 100’s of channels, a closet loaded with clothes and shoes, or a new car every time we got bored with the old one. In the old days, we weren’t worrying about keeping up with our friends (or the Kardashians), or making our business number one above the rest, or who Emily will choose on the Bachelorette tonight.

We were too busy growing food, hanging laundry, teaching our children manners, conversing with our neighbors and making the things we needed to live a comfortable life. We got up with the sun and worked without state mandated breaks and lunches because we had strong work ethics. We needed them in order to take care of our families.

Of course, the cost of living was much lower then, but so was the pay. I consider all things equal there.

My family (ok, me, but my family has gone along) has pared down to the bare minimum of living expenses. We cut the cable over a year ago, use things until the die (and take care of them so that’s a long time), shop second hand almost exclusively, and never hire people to do things that we can do ourselves.

My wonderful, shiny new husband unexpectedly lost his job last week, so I’m the rainmaker until he finds another one. That’s scary, but because we have been frugal we have some reserves to hold us over. Even then, I think this is a good time to simplify even more and focus on living a good life with what we have.

This week, I’ll be sharing lots of inexpensive recipes that can be made with food you may have in your own backyard (or farmer’s market). Recipes that won’t make you feel poor. In fact, they’ll make you feel happy and healthy! (no Top Ramen!)

Ready, set, GO!

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Easter Eggs Au Natural-recipes for natural color

Today, we dyed eggs with natural, food based colors and had some really great results. I will admit, that some of them were woefully slow and not too eggciting in the color department, so I added a few drops of food coloring to take them up a notch. This is what we got, using Blackberries, red Cabbage, Spirulina, Paprika, and beets. Fill a 1/2 pint jar (or equivalent size cup) with the food stuffs, chopped up, pour boiling water over it, and let sit about 1/2 hour. Add 2 tbsp of vinegar. For Paprika (which was my fave color) used 2 TBSP Paprika, to 1/2 pint water + vinegar. For the Blackberry colors, smoosh them up.

Au natural takes longer, but the colors (especially on our already multi colored eggs) are beautiful!

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Little House, Big Life?

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” – E.F. Schumacker

The house in which we live isn’t very big, about 1100 square feet. There isn’t any private space outside of the bedrooms and baths, just one big open room. It’s worked well for us and I actually prefer a small space for a number of reasons. The first, most obvious, is that it’s easier to keep clean. If I lived in a 2 story home with a couple thousand square feet, it would be a hot mess!
Another reason is that when I have lived in a large home, my family members tend to go off into their own world. As we live now, I get to enjoy the music that they listen to, be involved in conversation with them, and just be closer, in general. And that’s a good thing!

When my kids were ages 0-6 we lived in a house that was about 800 square feet. There was 1 bedroom that fit a queen sized bed (with just enough room to walk around and get in it) and a dresser. The other room was 10×12 and had an old-fashioned small closet. We were 4 kids, plus 1 that visited on the weekend, and 2 adults. It not only worked, but was cozy, happy and tidy. In a small house, organization is critical! I had the kids in bunk beds with a trundle for the weekend kid. My 14 month old was in her crib and my newborn slept in a basket on my dresser. Each of the kids had 2 small storage boxes, one for toys and one for sock, undies, hair ties, etc… It sounds crazy, but we had everything we needed and it was a very sweet time in my life.

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” – Henry David Thoreau

Recently, my family had the “opportunity” to move out of our home for 3 days while it was tented for termites. Always wanting to be a glass half full kinda chick, I took this opportunity to pretend we were going on vacation, which John and I have never done!

Three minutes from our farm sits a KOA campground (which they spell with a K, but I just can’t do it!) and they have cabins. This would make it easy to do the twice daily animal tending and give me a chance to work on the farm without tech distractions.  So in we moved!

John and I were in love with as soon as the door opened!

Talk about efficient living spaces!

All of this (and a bathroom with tub and shower) in a 400 square foot package!! The only thing that would have made it better is an actual room for the girls, but for short-term living, the bunks built into the hallway were fine. (The company that makes these has a version with a loft bedroom and extra bath, that is gorgeous)

I looked up the manufacturer, Cavco, and found that they are an RV company. Yuppers, these puppies are on wheels, mobile, registration fees vs building permits and extra property taxes!  And they are available with upgrades, like bamboo floors and slate counters.       My mind was blown!

The only pricing I was able to find was on a Tiny House Blog post. In 2008 the solar models had a starting price of $47k and were about $70k for the maxed out version.

“We don’t need to increase our goods nearly as much as we need to scale down our wants. Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.” – Donald Horban

If you think about how much space you actually use for living, and how much stuff you (and your kids) actually NEED to be happy, I think you’ll realize that living in a tiny house like this is totally doable! Having less house to clean, and fewer distractions means you have more time to spend with the people and projects that make you happy.  John and I were able to take leisurely walk & talks with our dog, sit in the hot tub, and generally enjoy each others company. The girls (who moaned and groaned the whole way to the cabin) also took the dog for walks. They read, they played ping-pong in the game room, they went to bed early and got up well before noon.

I’m not in a rush to move, but as we look to buy a home, we are definitely looking at the upside of living a simpler, more sustainable life in a smaller home.

If you’re interested in the possibilities, check out these links:

Tiny House Blog

The Not So Big House Book Series

Sustainable living in small homes

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Dalai Lama’s 18 Rules Of Living

Issued by the Dalai Lama at the turn of the century, 12 years ago. Timeless rules, they are!

1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson

3. Follow the three Rs: 1. Respect for self 2. Respect for others 3. Responsibility for all your actions.

4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

8. Spend some time alone every day.

9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.

10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

11. Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.

12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.

14. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.

15. Be gentle with the earth.

16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

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An analogy, of sorts

I have roosters. A bunch of roosters.

Near the end of winter, I started up a teeny, tiny micro hatchery (me, 2 styrofoam incubators and about 90 eggs at a time; MICRO).  I have some really nice laying hens and a beautiful French Blue Marans rooster.

I was especially interested in turning out some Olive Eggers
by mixing Sir (the rooster) with my Ameraucanas.
Sooo cool! The eggs are beautiful!

On average half of what I hatch will be roosters. I am not a fan of the cruel and wasteful grind and dump method used by commercial hatcheries, but one can only have so many roosters!  And, since I sell my chicks straight run, people who support my small farm will end up with roosters, which I feel kinda bad about.  So I hatched (pardon the pun) the plan that buyers should take 1 or 2 more that they want, then when the roosters begin to show themselves. I will take them back. It’s working out well.  Except for all these roosters!

Part of my homesteading plan is to stop buying commercial meat (and anything else that I can grow myself).  I don’t really eat much meat, mostly chicken and I know how bad it is (thanks, Food Inc. For real) but I keep buying it because the good, local and humanely raised birds are out of my budget. Lame.

But wait…what about all those beautiful roosters I have? My feed bill is INSANE. They move too fast to be counted, but I probably have 20 roos. Some I hatched, some were unusual breeds bought straight run (Dorkings and Black Copper Marans), all are wolfing down the feed and taking up coop space that I need for hens.  So I should eat them. I will eat them. I don’t doubt that I can do the deed and know they will be delish. As Joel Salatin says, “They have had a great life on my farm and just one bad day…”

My bigger problem is that…well…they’re so pretty! And not aggressive (yet). I hate to “waste” them.  So I keep placing ads to see if someone wants them for their beauty and mating potential, but no takers. So, having exhausted that possibility, and since the first batch has started crowing, I think it’s time to make use of them.

In the 4+ years I ran my organizing business, I stressed to clients that if they didn’t use something, no matter how pretty or valuable it was, it was really worthless, filling up precious space and often costing them money (by paying for storage). And now, look at me. Over roosters for crying out loud!

 I realized that it’s like my favorite shoes…
 I LOVE these shoes! I have danced my ass off in them, strutted into a room with them, feeling like Cat Woman. They’re cute and not torturously uncomfortable and….ahhhhhh.  But they have been sitting in a box in my too small closet for the past 2 years. I barely even go out anymore, much less get dressed up like a hooker to do so! So I put them in the get-rid-of box with all the other shoes that don’t fit into my farm life. It’s a big pile.  It leaves me with Converse, Crocs and Sloggers.  Not sexy.  I keep taking them out of the box! I just like to look at them. Try them on once in a while and feel sexy!  I bet Fred would like me in them.

Like the roosters, they are so pretty that I hate to waste them, just sitting in a box, hidden away, when someone should be using them.  I have pulled the shoes out of the Goodwill box one last time. I know I won’t wear them, but They don’t live in the closet anymore. 

The roosters time is near. Like my shoes, they will be much appreciated and admired.

William Morris said it best,

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”

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A Little Sunday Morning Religion

I think about luck a lot. Every day, really. I am in awe of and inspired by luck in the same way I am blown away by birth and growth and the whole cycle constantly going on around us.

Luck is defined as:

1. The chance happening of fortunate or adverse events; fortune
2. Good fortune or prosperity; success

3. One’s personal fate or lot

My mom has always instilled in me how lucky we are. More lucky, she says, than most people. When she got divorced and was earning minimum wage with 3 kids to feed, we were lucky to live in the “Valley of the Hearts Delight” (aka Silicon Valley) where we could forage fruit and wild greens to eat.  When I got divorced, I was lucky to “get rid of that one” and lucky that my uncle’s church had a food bank to help me feed my 4 kids until I got on my feet.  Mom insists that there is a finite amount of luck in store for each of us, so we have to look for it (like silver linings in clouds), never squander it, and always, always be grateful for our luck.  She never gambles because that would qualify as squandering her luck. 🙂

I am not a religious person, at all (like my friend Cassie, my garden is my church), but I believe in miracles and think that they coexist with luck. I was lucky that Heidi chose me to be Farm Mama to Fred and Ginger. It was a miracle to be there AND have an excited audience for Ginger’s birth.  The way she climbed into my lap to have the second kid still gives me chills. 

Ok, here’s where I may start to sound a little crazy (unless that train has already left the station)…The third part of this is wishes. I really, truly believe that when I wish for things to be, my luck kicks in, a miracle happens and *POOF* my wish comes true.  Now, that’s not to say that if I wish for a million dollars, the luck deities are going to drop it on me.  First of all, I wouldn’t waste a wish like that. It’s greedy and unrealistic. More like, after being single for 5 years, I wish for a kind hearted, honest, fun companion, then stop trying to find one. *POOF* John comes into my life.  With a willing partner (for the first time ever) I wish for a place that I could make my own and have the homesteading life I have always dreamed of.  *POOF* We find and create Peaceful Valley Farm, where little miracles happen every day! 

Most recently, I decided to become a full time Homesteader. As you can guess, there is no income scale for this, so I have been working to make this an educational farm which will support the work I love. Miracles and luck also require sacrifice, belief and hard work. You can’t just sit back and wait for it.  I have been blessed by a group of people who come into my life in random ways. The landowner that trusted my vision for his property.  My former clients and friends who gave my farm camp a chance and told their friends about it. The sweet owners of SantaCruzParent.com, SantaCruzKids.com, and my brother, Jimmy who have been so supportive of this venture and help me to get the word out.  The man who buys eggs from me and decided to donate his farming books and equipment to me when he no longer needed them. The couple that sold us a pig and gave us the best dog ever.  The list goes on…. All of these people crossed my path in a stroke of luck.
 
This morning I am prompted to blurt this all out because I am in the process of getting a daycare license so that I can continue my program as an after school option in the Fall.  I woke up this morning after a restless night filled with anxiety ridden dreams.  I don’t know if the licensing process will be done in time for the start of school. This is my only source of income. What if no one signs up…Oh anxiety!

Then I got an email from a kindergarten teacher at my kids elementary school.  I have long admired her work (she implemented the school garden and puts so much of her own time and money into making that experience happen for the kids) who I just found my program and is interested in collaborating. And, get this, she wonders if I have considered an after school program and she would like to help me get that out there if I want.

I am speechless.  Awed by my luck, once again!

Luck? Miracle? Good marketing? A wish come true? Yes.

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So many ways to garden, so little time!

There are a million excuses for not gardening.  Lack of space, time, energy, knowledge. Living in an apartment or having a tiny yard. Lack of money to buy seeds, planters, etc…
Gardening has become very popular, even trendy, so lots of crafty people are finding ways to make it new, cheap, easy. Which means you are out of excuses!  Here are a few of my favorites, some I’ve tried, some I’ve only seen or heard about. I think they are all worth a shot!

Straw bale gardening– I have done this and really liked it. Especially because I was enormously preggers so bending and stooping for long periods were not my friend. I like this for shorter crops, lettuce, squash, vines that can fall out and climb up behind. It’s super easy and cheap. A bale of hay costs around 10 bucks and the soil, about $5.  This is great for elderly (or pregnant) gardeners, or those with physical limitations. The site above has great pictures and directions.

Planters from recycled materials.  As you know, I love recycling (or, upcycling as it is now called) as much as I love free stuff. These ideas cover all the bases!  Look in the FREE section on Craigslist in your area. It’s crazy the things people will give away!

                                                         

 suitcases

dressers
wagons

drawers

anything that can hold a little soil will work.  Check out these photos for more ideas.  All you have to do is make drainage holes, fill with soil and plants and BAM!

 This guy is making magic with $6. storage containers and he offers his plans for free!

Life on the Balcony has lots of really simple and attractive ideas, like this  pallet planter!

 The Cheap Vegetable Gardener built himself this upside down planter using a 2 liter bottle! He’s got lots of great, cheap ideas to share.

It can even be as simple as buying a bag of soil, cutting it open and planting right into it!
I have heard of these lasting for a few seasons. Cha-ching!

See, gardening doesn’t have to be expensive or ugly!  Now, no more excuses, get out there and DIG!