If you learned to cook with recipes primarily using chicken breast meat, knowing what to do with an entire chicken (probably frozen) can be intimidating. Thankfully, it’s not all that bad.
Days with Zero Time for Food Prep
To say that I have a lot on my plate would be an understatement. (Sound familiar?) So most of the time when I know I want to cook chicken for supper I grab one out of the freezer and throw it into the Instant Pot. I add a few cups of water, a couple of tablespoons of salt, a teaspoon of paper, a fresh onion (or 1T dried), and a tablespoon of herbs de’ provence or dried oregano. (I don’t actually measure these things, but I did it once to tell you what I do.)
On of my favorite things about this method is that I don’t have to carefully time when I start cooking the chicken. I will put it in the Instant Pot whenever it is convenient during the day (at least a couple of hours before we plan to eat) and the pot will automatically switch to “keep warm” after it’s done pressure cooking. Most frozen chickens will be done after 60-90 minutes on high pressure, however I often cook mine for two hours to make sure my home grown pastured meat is falling-off-the-bone tender.
Thawing and Roasting
If you want to pull a gorgeous golden roast chicken out of the oven or grill/smoker, you’ll have to plan ahead to thaw the chicken. Easiest, and probably best, method is to put it in your refrigerator the day before you want to cook it. (Plan on at least 24 hours for a six-pound chicken.)
You can also thaw a chicken in a waterproof bag by submerging it in cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes. (The USDA also says you can microwave it, but that doesn’t exactly sound appealing.)
To roast it, but the chicken in an oven-safe pan. I usually sprinkle it with a combination of herbs mentioned above and toss an onion into the cavity. (I don’t eat it later, it’s there to add flavor and fragrance. Sometimes a chicken doesn’t smell particularly good while it’s cooking without seasoning.)
Most chickens will take a couple of hours to cook at 350 degrees (F). Use a meat thermometer to determine when it’s done.
Using the Whole Chicken
Once you remove most of the meat for your meal (including leftovers for future meals) put the bones and remaining meat that’s difficult to remove back into the Instant Pot or a slow cooker. Cover it with water and, if you have it, add about 1/4 of apple cider vinegar. Cook for 6-12 hours to make a delicious broth for chicken soup.
Once the broth is done, place a colander into a large bowl and pour the contents of your pot into it. I usually have a large dinner plate nearby so I can put the colander of chicken on it after holding it up several seconds to allow the broth to drain off. Now it’s easy to separate the remaining chicken from the bones. I also like to remove any skin and other soft tissues to feed our dog.
Now you can make chicken soup or save the chicken and broth separately for use in other dishes.
If you want to make an even more highly nutritious bone broth, let the broth cook for 24-48 hours. Then simply safe the broth and discard the chickens and bones. After cooking that long the chicken will have lost almost all flavor and nutritional value. However, the broth will be a highly digestible form of calcium and other nutrients.
Selecting the right chicken coop plans can make owning your flock an enjoyable experience. But fail to plan and you will regret it. (First-hand experience speaking here—I’ve made almost every mistake in the book!)
Thankfully, there are some simple calculations you can use to make sure your hens have the room they need to be happy—and even include a little room for your flock to grow.
Dimensions for Your Ideal Chicken Coop Plan
It’s important to make sure you have enough space, but not too much. Your hens need adequate ventilation and enough space to keep them from getting overheated in the summer.
Poultry industry experts typically recommend 1.5 to two square feet of floor space per chicken. However, for a small home flock, I prefer about four square feet per hen. This additional space provides extra space to walk through the coop and allows more time to pass before you need to clean the coop.
At the same time, you don’t want the coop too roomy if you live in a cold climate. If the coop is small enough, the chickens’ body heat will help keep it warm during cold winter nights.
Adequate Nesting Space
In a Penn State Extension article, Phillip Clauer recommends providing two nest boxes for the first two hens and one more box for every additional four hens.
The nest boxes should be about 12″ x 12″ with a lip at the front of the box so nesting material and eggs won’t get pushed out.
A Place to Perch
Chickens love to sleep on a perch well off the ground. You’ll also want to give your chickens a place to perch with 6″ of space for each bird.
Outdoor Space for Happy Hens
While they need a safe place from extreme weather and nighttime predators, your hens will be happiest if they have plenty of space to scratch, peck, and chase bugs.
If you need to keep your chickens in a closed run, plan on 8 to 10 square feet per hen. However, the ground in your run will quickly become dry dirt (or a muddy mess if it rains). Aged chicken manure is an excellent fertilizer, but needs to be used sparingly.
If you want to raise pastured chickens, you’ll need to make sure they have plenty of space. That means you need to limit your flock to about 80 chickens per acre. That means you’ll need to allocate 544 square feet of yard or pasture space per chicken.
If you’re in the market for chicken coop plans, be sure to check out the Homestead Larder Shop.
When my husband and I decided it was time to shop for a tractor, we started by looking at Kubota tractors, but ultimately ended up going with an LS Tractor.
We believe Kubota offers excellent quality. (My Mom’s Bobcat Skidsteer with a Kubota engine has been working reliably since I was a toddler.) However, we heard the LS Tractor line is made by the manufacturer for New Holland tractors and should prove reliable.
For us, the deciding factor was being able to get a 35 horsepower (hp) tractor with a cab (LS Tractor model XR3135HC-35HP) and no def fluid. The Kubota model we were considering was about 10 hp smaller and would not be able to handle moving 1,000 hay bales.
When purchasing new diesel-powered equipment these days it is important to keep the impact of environmental regulations in mind. Some large equipment requires the use to def fluid– which needs to be used up relatively quickly. We were not prepared to use and maintain our equipment as intensely as that type of system would require, but we also wanted a tractor larger than those with no emission regulations at all. Choosing a model with exhaust regen cycles made a lot of sense for us. So far we haven’t had any problem with the exhaust system on this LS Tractor model.
Looking back, we’re also thankful we got the bigger model since our land is filled with gopher and badger tunnels. Smaller tractor wheels would be even worse about falling into those holes.
The attachments we got for our tractor include a bucket, tiller, mower, hay fork, and box blade. There is a learning curve to figuring out how to attach and use each piece of equipment, but it’s fairly simple once we figure out how it’s supposed to work.
As novice tractor users we’ve had a few unpleasant surprises along the way like discovering what a sheer bolt is, knocking the bucket joystick out of adjustment by hitting something in a patch of dense weeds, and being unable to open the hood after something bent the front bumper. But overall out tractor has made trying to manage 20+ acres seem almost possible.
Do you have a small tractor for your acreage? Favorite attachments? We’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below.
We experienced a mild winter here in Southwest Idaho. The kind where you get a skiff of snow one day and a downpour the next day. Sometimes the weather was cool enough I could walk across our future garden (a sizable patch of tilled up clay) easily. But when the weather warmed up a few degrees my muck boots sunk in several inches.
That messy time of year is my least favorite– yet it’s also the ideal time of year to make plans for future buildings, fences, and ground amendments.
Thankfully the Old Hickory shed that serves as our milking parlor has proven to be in the perfect location. Excess water is draining under it and we’re not seeing any pooling in the attached three-sided cow shelter.
We’ve learned that wood chip mulch may not be a completely effective week barrier, but it’s an excellent ground covering during the winter and spring. It’s actually more effective than gravel when it comes to providing a covering over the mud in areas where we don’t drive often. We’ll likely bring in more woodchips this summer and cover the new garden area with rotten hay and straw to amend the clay soil in our garden area.
Speaking of moldy hay, we’ve discovered that keeping tarps over a haystack is a losing battle. With the amount of wind we get around here, building some version of The Simple Shelter for hay is probably our best bet. We also want to focus on dryland range management to reduce the amount of hay needed each year. As long as we don’t have heavy snowfall, winter pasture is a great option for animals. I think it’s especially beneficial for horses prone to colic under unnatural feed conditions.
Getting feed in the right places is also in the plan for next year. (Do you suppose I can talk my husband into two hay shelters?) I knew I should get more hay bales to the horse pasture at the bottom of a hill last fall, but my desire to haul numerous 1,250 lb. down a hill with a tractor that can just barely make it was waning during the end of a difficult pregnancy. However, hauling it down one pitchforkful at a time is excellent postpartum excercise. My only real complaint is that my pitchfork broke. Seriously. Who makes a pitchfork that breaks after only a couple years of use? (I’m still trying to convince myself that I should go pitchfork shopping with five young children in tow.)
Despite the muddy conditions, I’m thankful we haven’t had to deal with messy winter like the winter of 2016/2017 when during my normal chore routine became an epic journey over a thick layer of snow with an ice crust my foot would slip through every few steps.
Are you dealing with weather related messes this year? If so, are you also finding opportunities to make this season easier next year? I’d love to hear from you— comment below or send an email.
Guest Post from Maria Graber of Don’t Clip My Wings:
I saved egg money, Christmas money, and whatever money I could to purchase an incubator. I sold a few chicks the first year (2017). I began to learn from every hatch. This journey continues with time I incubate eggs. I am super excited to share what I have learned with anyone wanting to learn how to hatch eggs for the first time. I am creating a course on how to do just that. (If you are interested in learning more be sure to join the FB group Hatching Eggs, Ideas, and Homesteading Practices or subscribe to the email list on Don’t Clip My Wings for when the course becomes available to purchase.)
Ever since I had been given a blog as a part of the 2015 TCA Thoroughbred Makeover, I wanted a blog of my own. The day I created the Farm’s FB page, I felt like I was settling. What I really wanted was a blog. But I didn’t have the knowledge or funds to take that step, yet. During a family vacation in August of 2017, sitting in the Irma (Cody, WY) I officially launched my website(www.dontclipmywings.com), publishing my first blog post. I had envisioned sharing this moment with my sisters, but as it turned out one was opening a store and the other immersed in caring for her beautiful family. I felt a bit of the same secret excitement that accompanied me and 13 chicks a year and a half before.
The winter of 2017-2018 was a struggle as the income from the chicken eggs did not cover the feed. This journey has not always been pretty. I did not want to continue pouring money into feeding a bunch of birds and never see a return. I had blogged consistently through the fall, but became discouraged. In the first quarter of 2018 I took a couple of courses, one on social media marketing and another on digital media marketing. It was all Greek to me and I was only getting my feet wet. The reason for the courses is that I knew to sell hatching eggs and chicks, I needed to reach farther than the local market. While the website serves as a place to tell my story, it also provides a base to send people to who are interested in the breeds I raise. In the spring of 2018, I still felt like I was hitting a wall. I had all these excess eggs and in 2017 I had even thrown some away. I took on the mindset that this would not be happening in the summer of 2018. If I could not find a way to earn money with these chickens, I would reduce the numbers to just what we would need to provide our own eggs.
Connecting with others has proven priceless as I travel this homesteading road, from the conversation that motivated me to look for chickens to the one that had me searching online for local farmers markets. I have found conversations to be one of the greatest assets in my forward movement. I learned of a local market in Bremen, Indiana the end of April 2018 and filled out the ap. I decided I would wait for the second market of the year to attend, the first one was in less than a week and I wanted to give myself time to prepare. But much to my surprise, I found myself attending my first farmers market on opening day in May 2018. I felt a bit like me that evening, more than I had in some time.
I have added attending farmer’s markets to my homesteading journey. There have been struggles along the way with the chickens, my health, how to earn an income, and the trial and error that comes with sticking your neck out. This leads me to present day where going into my third year I can look back and be happy with the progress I have made. I have 5 Concord grape plants planted outside and almost 20 starts potted in my house awaiting spring planting. I have black and red raspberries plants, garlic planted for a third year, my own sweet potatoes to eat and, of course, eggs.
My chicken sales have picked up with room to grow. Two of the breeds are proving a bit difficult to raise chicks with, but that can be a part of the challenge when working with rare breeds. I do not give up easy, with that and my desire to learn, I continue. Recently, I contacted a neighbor who will come plow up sod for me to increase my garden space in 2019. I am excited for the coming year, challenges and all!
About the author:
Maria Graber grew up in rural southern Michigan and now lives near Plymouth, Indiana with 5 horses, 2 dogs, 3 rare chicken breeds and farm cats. She enjoys music and has been known to pick up a fiddle every now and then. In 2013, the love of music found her singing lead on a Christmas CD titled Justified ~ Once In a Manger with her mother, Marian and friend, Sheila. She enjoys spending time with family when she can get away from the homestead, and meeting new people. She has been blogging over a year at www.dontclipmyswings.com. Maria would love to hear about how others are living a homestead lifestyle. You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has recently created a new Facebook group Hatching Eggs, Ideas and Homesteading Practices to teach others interested in the homesteading lifestyle ways to get started. This group is for people who desire to live a sustainable lifestyle and are looking for ways to begin. If this sounds like you, please click on Hatching Eggs, Ideas, and Homesteading Practices for tips, fun free challenges, a place to ask questions, and hopefully make the homesteading journey easier for someone else.
Guest Post from Maria Graber of Don’t Clip My Wings:
As I gather my thoughts to share about the beginning of this homesteading journey, I recall the feeling when I started a Facebook page called A Country Girl’s Heart ~ Beats that Matter. This was before I had chickens, back when everything that is now was a bunch of ideas bouncing around in my head.
If I think back farther to the fall of 2008, when we were buying and moving to this property, I remember wondering if these 11 acres could produce a farming income of some kind. I had recently started a job working at a breeding and foaling barn owned by veterinarians and I was immersed in my element: horses. Vet practices, and foaling out mares, two areas that I loved as much as barrel racing and team roping. For the next five years (2008 to 2013) I poured my energy, time and heart into caring for the horses that temporarily lived there.
While living out a dream at this barn, I happened to come off one of my own horses, sustaining a traumatic brain injury. While it was not the worst TBI ever, I struggled for a period of time where my brain function was not normal. One of my takeaways from the injury was that I did not want to die and all my devotion only ever focused on horses. I decided I wanted to experience life in other ways. Making these changes did not come easy for me, especially when a part of me did not want to let go. I have been reminded over and over that to move forward I need to stop clinging to the present. Knowing me, I will need to hear that again in my lifetime.
This time, beginning in 2013 was dark for me emotionally and physically. I tried a new job at a local factory. I came down with Mono and they “let me go.” I learned my adrenal glands were struggling on top of the fact I had been taking insulin for over 15 years and on a Thyroid hormone. One of my top assets, I thought, was my ability to work hard. I found I physically no longer had the strength to bring that part of Maria to a work place. It was once suggested I go on disability, but pride or the fighting side of me screamed, “No!” I did not want to be that person who settled for life in a chair. I mean no judgment to anyone who has physical limitations. Going on disability felt like giving up. Surely, I could find some other part of me that can earn an income.
In my search for what was next, I learned the importance of using what you had. I started looking around me at what I had, instead of what I did not have. One obvious asset was a 30′ by 60′ chicken barn that up until now I was bemoaning the fact it was not structured to house horses. I started thinking about chickens. I began searching online, both social media and Google. After a period of time I decided on Swedish Flower Hens. In May of 2016, I drove 3 hours one way to pick up 13 Swedish Flower Hen chicks. My thoughts wondered on my three-hour drive home. Was this perhaps the start of a new path? What would the future hold for these chicks and my life story? I felt a bit of excitement as when starting a new adventure, but a bit of secret one for few if any knew of all the ideas floating around in my head. I was not feeling extremely confident in this venture and wanting to keep my ideas to myself for fear of others opinions. The summer dragged on as I waited for them to grow up and begin laying eggs.
Before 2016 was over I purchased chicks of two additional breeds adding Lemon Cuckoo Niederrheiners and Silver Gray Dorking to my flock. It felt like I was pulling the teeth of my spouse asking him to build me yet another, and another pen in the chicken barn. After all, if I am going to breed chickens, all three breeds cannot be running together. The integrity of the individual breed’s gene pool would be destroyed.
Check back next week for part 2.
About the author:
Maria Graber grew up in rural southern Michigan and now lives near Plymouth, Indiana with five horses, two dogs, three rare chicken breeds, and farm cats. She enjoys music and has been known to pick up a fiddle every now and then. In 2013, the love of music found her singing lead on a Christmas CD titled Justified ~ Once In a Manger with her mother, Marian, and friend, Sheila. She enjoys spending time with family when she can get away from the homestead, and meeting new people. She has been blogging over a year at www.dontclipmywings.com. Maria would love to hear about how others are living a homestead lifestyle. You may email her at email@example.com. She has recently created a new Facebook group Hatching Eggs, Ideas and Homesteading Practices to teach others interested in the homesteading lifestyle ways to get started.
Here’s a great tip to keep your hens cool on hot days from email subscriber Jim Anderson:
“I will freeze a watermelon that I cut in half and then I’ll give them 1/2 of it a few hours apart throughout a really hot day, and boy do they like that! I use other types of fruits too like cantaloupes and such but they really love watermelons!”
Judy from North Texas, where some days it’s been 108 degrees Fahrenheit, also shares this idea:
“I’ve been making my girls popsicles in a 9×12 pan, 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick. It had chopped up strawberries and blueberries which they love. I’m leaving it in the container, so it stays frozen longer. They can see the fruit, so they keep working on it until they finally get to the good stuff. Some will even walk on it which also helps to cool them down.”
This summer I’ve been dealing with an issue I often get questions about from ChickenCoopGuides.com email subscribers: messy nests with chickens apparently eating their own eggs.
This can be incredibly frustrating not only because of the lost eggs but also because any additional eggs in the nest get coated with egg residue.
In my experience, the solution seems to be providing additional sources of calcium for the flock. An easy way to do that is to add a dish of oyster shells to the coop. Or, in our case, I have increased calcium available to my hens on a daily basis by keeping a pan of raw curdled milk from our Jersey cow available.
The tendency to lay fragile eggs is also more common among older hens. Since our flock includes several hens that are more than six years old, I also make sure all the nest boxes are constantly lined with a thick layer of hay.
This means that even if a hen lays a fragile egg when the next hen jumps into the nest the pressure from her feet is less likely to crush the egg in a well-padded nest.
Do you have any tips for dealing with fragile eggs or messy nests? We’d love to hear about it! Comment below.
Advantages of Drip Irrigation Systems
Drip irrigation systems can help get water exactly where your plants need it most. Combined with automatic timers they are a powerful way to manage your garden more precisely without having to remember when to water your garden.
In the past I have used a combination of automatic timers, soaker hoses, and sprinklers. But since all my soaker hoses have sprung at least one leak I’ve decided it’s time to upgrade to a full drip irrigation system.
Drip Irrigation System Resources
Since this is new ground for me to cover, I don’t have anything in the way of useful advice. However, in the process of researching this topic I have found some helpful information about drip irrigation systems:
PVC Pipe Irrigation System
I love this detailed video from Jeff Banks, a former Utah State University Extension agent. He provides detailed instructions for creating a drip irrigation system using PVC pipe.
This looks like a solid system likely to last for many years– especially attractive for my property since we have a supply of goat head burrs that can slice through almost anything soft (including commercial grade garden hoses). I also like that he addresses a problem I’ve heard people have with drip irrigation systems: plugged water outlet holes. Banks recommends using a small nail to ensure that each opening is free of debris at the beginning of the growing season.
In addition to the video, you can check out this printable pamphlet.
Versatility with Plenty of Components
I am also seriously considering Rain Bird drip irrigation systems. During my research this brand name popped up continually as a good option because so many components are readily available making it easy to make repairs and expand the system in the future. Although I love the PVC option above for my main garden, I like the idea of this more attractive system for decorative areas with herbs around my house.
Drip Systems for Big Gardens
Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a solid supplier for serious gardening so I almost always take a look at what they offer when researching new tools for the garden. They offer drip irrigation kits in several lengths up to 2,000′. Although I really like the PVC irrigation system above, I may consider purchasing one of these ready made kits to put in place quickly this spring.
Detailed Garden Planning
Finally, the garden planner from growveg.com is my new obsession! This software helps gardeners plan every little detail for their gardens, including complexities such as succession planting, crop rotation, and custom plan to install a drip irrigation system into the garden you design with the software.
It does have an annual fee of $25, but, you can try it out for free first to see if it will be worth the investment for your family.