Blog Feed

Featured

My First Blog Post

Humble Beginnings

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

— Chinese Proverb

Starting anything is just awful.

There’s the time before you start “it” – that’s great! The hopeful anticipation, the motivated daydreams – the general self-satisfaction that comes from a great idea, and now all that’s left to do is…doing it.

Of course, you know yourself. You know that you are capable of doing “it”. Its not too complicated, its not too hard – sure, it might take time, but you have plenty of that, plus you’re smart, so it’ll probably be even quicker for you than the average clown. And, if you need it, the internet is in your back pocket showing you exactly what you need to do for success. “It” couldn’t be easier.

And then, the day arrives that you promised yourself you would start “it”. You wake up, get yourself together, and plow away. Except…well, maybe its a little more complicated. You take a few minutes (hours) to calibrate, watch a few more “How To” videos, maybe grab some lunch – and now you’re ready.

But now when you look at “it” – you’re getting kind of frustrated. You know that this isn’t hard. All of your planning indicated that this part should have been done hours ago – you’re still in the design phase. What crucial element are you missing? This was supposed to be simple enough. Others have done this, and you just know you’re smarter than them.

Maybe “it” is actually pretty dumb. Honestly, “it” isn’t really much better than any other number of things you could be doing. So, as we are all want to do – we find a new “it”.

I have an example from my personal life that illustrates the above scenario pretty well. Picture this: a 23 year old American man who has worked with any kind of tool a grand total of zero times in his life up to this point. I was working at a dead-end job having just graduated college, and decided that, “Hey, maybe I can do something with wood. I like wood things – they look classy and elegant. Maybe I can make a wood thing and sell it for a lot of money – might need a little practice, but people do stuff with wood all the time.”

The above led me and a few of my friends (who were similarly disenchanted with their working lives) to go out and buy some tools, buy some wood, and plop down in a backyard and get to sawing. We decided our ambitions should be pretty small to start – let’s make a sawhorse.

We spent hours on this thing. We only had hand tools (which none of us had ever used before with any real expertise) and some random article online with detailed instructions to guide our cuts.

Folks; we made the most lopsided, ugliest, tacked on and glued up contraption I had ever seen. It was an eyesore, and it wobbled. The sawhorse, upon which we would make our balanced and accurate cuts for future projects wobbled. I was so disenchanted with that project that I didn’t pick up woodworking again until about five years later.

I think there’s an important lesson in there, with a more important lesson tucked inside of it – but the lesson is really for me, the author, less than for you, the reader.

First, do not let something seem so simple that you don’t prepare for failure.

Yes, that seems rather negative, but its really not – its very easy to phrase these kinds of ideas poorly in our minds. We like to hype ourselves up for the work ahead by minimizing it – this leads to poor outcomes at every angle, and is just a crutch to get to the starting line. Instead of saying “This should be fine”, make the effort to identify your own blind spots and pace your beginning. Keep it humble.

The second (and more important) lesson I drew from my own experience was this: the hardest part of starting anything is actually doing it.

I just spent 30 minutes writing about how hard it can be to actually start things, so I know that seems a little counterproductive. Let me explain: I failed miserably making that sawhorse. But the reality of the whole experience was that the sawhorse was the beginning of a new endeavor, not the sum total. Completing the sawhorse was where I began – not picking up the saw blade and making the first cut. See, if I had made a few cuts, felt dissatisfied, and returned the tools – then I would have failed to start. But instead, I made an awful, ugly, beginning.

My hope as I write future posts on this blog is to provide folks with a slice of experience where I have it pertaining to matters of the homesteading life, or failing that, some wisdom I found in my failings, so that you can learn from and better prepare in your own attempts.

I’m just trying to get out there and get my failing out of the way so I can start.

Chickens – Part 1: The Gateway Animal

There are a myriad of animals that comprise the concept of animal-based homesteading: pigs, goats, cattle (beef and dairy), sheep, and for a select few individuals, even more exotic creatures, such as alpacas, buffalo, and emu.

However – none of those animals quite engage newcomers to this lifestyle like the noble chicken. These precious pullets are found within the idyllic fantasies of every would-be homesteader, scratching through the grass for bugs, seeds, and whatever leavings your larger animals leave behind. You input grain, and you receive bright, orange yolked eggs every morning. And if the eggs stop coming? Baby, you got a stew going.

It’s absolutely no surprise that this is the thought process, because frankly, my above scenario is not far from the truth. Chickens are a great introduction to the concept of livestock. Low maintenance, low entry cost, incredible adaptability, and prodigious reproduction make them an excellent starting point for anybody trying to be even a midge more self-sufficient.

But, if you’re anything like me, you want to do as much research as possible on any given thing before you make a purchase (more so when the thing in question lives, eats, and poops) – so I’m putting together a series of posts dedicated to tackling each piece of chicken ownership from beginning to end.

Two of my first chickens when they were first at the point of lay – a Barred Rock (left) and a Rhode Island White (right)

What can chickens do for me?

Chickens, as with most livestock, have dozens upon dozens of breeds to choose from, and none of these breeds happened by accident. Before you can dive into what kind of chicken you want to buy, you need to figure out why you want them.

Eggs
Probably the most common response to this question – eggs provide a source of almost effortless protein that can be used to enliven any meal (or as a meal all their own). High egg production breeds of chickens can produce anywhere from 250 – 300 eggs per year (some claim higher, but those numbers are typically seen in hen batteries).

Meat
Chicken is an incredibly popular form of protein, eaten in nearly every corner in the world due to the animal’s low space requirements, prolific feed conversion ratios, and their rapid processing turnaround time (pending the breed). An excellent way to stock your freezer with quality protein, or to jump start a small farm business.

Pest Control
Chickens can be a boon to a bug infested backyard – all the scratching they do is designed to find the various creepy crawlies you want gone. Plus, they pay you for the privilege with delicious eggs (or meat)!

Compost
Chicken poop is among the highest nitrogen content composts you could hope for. People sell this stuff by the 50 lb bag – you could make your own at home!

Decoration
Some people just like to see some pretty birds acting like birds. There are plenty of ornamental breeds to choose from – and they do all of the normal chicken activities. Turn your yard into graceful ballet of the poultry persuasion (or a rooster ruckus, depending on whether you opt in for really beautiful roosters that almost every breed offers).

Alright, I’m convinced – time for some chickens

Okay – I’ve made a convincing argument. You were pretty sure before, but now you’re sold. Where do you start?

Well, as I mentioned above, chickens can do a lot. But, as with most things, there are trade offs with specialization. For example – the best laying birds are not going to make great meat birds. And in exchange, don’t expect a ton of eggs from your Cornish Cross. Additionally, most of your “ornamental” breeds aren’t particularly great for eggs or meat.

You can straddle the line, and find some dual purpose birds (think Barred Rock or Rhode Island Red) but the term “dual purpose” is kind of a misnomer – these are primarily laying birds (Rhode Island Reds being some of the best out there, actually) that just happen to be large enough that you could process them and end up with more than a little meat on the bones. They do not boast the rapid growth necessary to make them a “viable” alternative to the dedicated meat birds in terms of cost and feed efficiency.

Here are some example breeds for Layers, Meat birds, and Ornamental birds:

Laying Hens
Australorps
Barred Rocks
Delawares
Dominiques (referred to as domineckers for those of us with class)
Rhode Island Reds
Leghorns (pronounced leg-ern in more sophisticated circles)
Ameraucanas

Meat Birds
Cornish Cross
Cornish Game Hens
Big Red Broilers (these go by many names depending on the hatchery)

Ornamental
Polish
Silkies
Frizzles
Phoenix
Sumatras

The above is by no means an exhaustive list. I highly recommend checking out Murray McMurray (my preferred online hatchery, more on those later) for information on other breeds.

Part 2 of this series (coming soon) will cover where, when, and how to buy these birds both as baby chicks and point of lay hens.

Thank you all for reading! Feel free to comment with any questions on the above information.