In case you missed this post, click here to read it on red feather smooth stone.
Following my recent posts on the building and setting up of our chicken coop and yard, I wanted to add a few pictures of the coop in winter. The coop is insulated and ventilated—and we have a heat lamp in there that operates on a thermostat—so the chickens are quite comfortable even on the coldest days here in Alberta.
To extend some level of comfort to the outdoors, Brian wraps the entire small yard in plastic, creating a greenhouse, which keeps the chickens reasonably warm when they venture out. The plastic traps the heat, keeps the snow and moisture out of the yard, and blocks the bitter winds. For example, on days when it is -21 degrees celsius outside, it can be as warm as -14 degrees celsius in the yard, depending on whether the sun is shining. This helps keep the coop warm day and night as the window and south- and west-facing walls are against the warmed yard.
Brian hangs the plastic in autumn and takes it down again in spring. He staples the sheets to a wooden frame, then staples thin wooden strips on top of the plastic to hold everything tightly in place. It can get quite hot in there once the weather warms up in spring so we often take the plastic down in stages so that the chickens don’t overheat but can still be out of the wind until it warms up enough to take it all down for the rest of the season.
We carefully roll up the plastic and reuse it year after year (we are on our third year and have only had to replace the door piece once as well as part of the back piece where the goats rubbed through it on the other side of the fence). So far there has been very little waste.
Here is Chayton feeding the girls their evening scratch. It’s nice for us to have a warm place to hang out with the chickens even on the coldest days.
On September 20, 2015, we installed a new window in one of the bedrooms of the cabin. The old window was put in by the previous owners and it wasn’t a very good one. The panes didn’t fit together properly and it let in a lot of cold air in the winter.
Pictured above is the old window. Brian sourced a new window on Kijiji (he is amazing at finding things on that site) and bought it. It was brand new and beautiful in its wooden frame. We stored it until Brian was ready to install it. As it was larger than the old window Brian and his dad, Dale, cut a larger hole in the cedar logs. (Dale is outside standing in the loader bucket of his backhoe.)
Once the hole was measured and cut, Dale and Brian brought the window over in the backhoe and installed it. They were quick and efficient as they had installed windows many times before. Chayton stayed in the room the entire time despite the cold and performed the important task of handing tools to daddy and grandpa. He was very interested in the whole process.
The backhoe made the job a lot easier as it provided a platform to stand on and did all of the heavy lifting.
This new window has really added to the quality of our lives: it is more attractive both inside and out, it is larger so we can now view the chicken coop from up there, and the bedroom is a lot warmer now in winter.
This project was a small step (among many) that we have been taking over the years toward maintaining the cabin and making it more energy efficient.
We are blind to the beauty of the stars
if not for the black of the night sky.Darkness moves in harmony with the lightand out of that dance, all life is born.~Glynnis Osher
We celebrate Winter Solstice here at cabinorganic. During the darkest, shortest day of the year it seems that there is nothing more important to do than celebrate. It’s been over a month of doing morning and evening chores outside in the dark, as well as spending more time indoors—a strange shift in our daily rhythm after spending most of our time outside in the spring, summer and fall.
On this day we use minimal electric lighting and instead light candles and a fire. We spend the day baking cookies with a winter theme (star and moons, or snowflakes), read books about the Winter Solstice, make music, play outside, then we have a feast.
Buttery ‘Sun Bread’ is often involved.
Afterward dinner, we open a few Solstice presents and spend the rest of the evening visiting, playing more music, and enjoying our time together.
For us, Winter Solstice is about welcoming the return of the sun and longer days. It is also an appreciation and celebration of the dark. We do not fear the dark but welcome its gifts. Winter Solstice marks the turning of the wheel- a new year—a new cycle— beginning again. So we honour this day as our own New Year’s and end the night with bubbly and toasts. We also spend some quiet time during the day and evening, reflecting on the past year and making plans for the coming year.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a Happy Winter Solstice, Happy Holidays, and all of the best in the coming year!
I mentioned in the previous post that Chayton was smitten with the new baby chicks. It was love at first sight for him and there was no turning back. To wrap up these ‘catch-up’ posts on chickens and the coop, I thought I’d add a few pictures that show just how much this little boy loves—and enjoys spending time with—his chickens.
Chayton is now four-and-a-half and has had chickens in his life for two-and-a-half years. He seems to have a way with them, perhaps it’s just the fact that he is not afraid of them. He’s been pecked only a few times (when the chicks were still young and curious) and he just laughed. If they get too close to his face he just calmly pushes them away with his arm. We now have Henriette living in the house with us and he is getting hours of time each day playing with her and observing her closely. I am so happy that Chayton shares my love for our girls and for our simple life out here in the country.
We ordered our chicks a month before they arrived. Chicks are sent via Canada Post on the day they hatch and they arrive the following day. There were 27 tiny chicks in this box—all happy and hungry and ready to start their lives with us.
Chayton, 2-years old at the time, was enthralled. He loved the chicks from the first moment he set eyes on them.
As we took each chick out of the box, we dipped their beaks in water and then placed them in the pre-warmed brooder box near the food. They were to spend the next few weeks in this spacious home that Brian had made. We spent hours each day with them, talking quietly and handling them very gently. Chayton loved to feed them one kernel of feed at a time. We had a small parade of visitors come through—neighbours, friends, and family—they all came to see these adorable chicks.
This is the brooder box that we used. Brian used an extra-large rubbermaid bin that we already owned, cut two square openings in the top and then made simple wooden frames and covered them with hardware cloth. We put a layer of coarse sand on the bottom (about 1-1/2 inch). We prefer sand over other bedding materials, mainly because we have a lot of it, but I also love how it holds the heat (keeping the chicks warm) and is so easy to clean (I use a kitty litter scoop to sift the sand twice daily). The first few days, we place paper towering over the sand to give the chicks time to learn to distinguish food from sand.
We hang a heat lamp over one side and keep the brooder box in the cabin (basement) where we can spend lots of the time observing and enjoying the chicks.
Brian also built a tiny roost for them to play on.
They outgrew the brooder box fairly quickly. Within weeks we had them in the prepared coop. The low beam that Chayton is holding onto is their lowest roost. There are two more levels above this. After a few months, Grandpa changed this and made the three level roosts (pictured in the previous post), which lift on a hinge for easy cleaning.
The chicks grew so quickly and soon looked like miniature adult chickens. As you can see, we had three types of chickens: Columbian Whites, Rhode Island Reds, and Barred Plymouth Rocks. These are common dual-purpose birds (good for eggs and meat) and we love the different colours. We’ve had good success with all three breeds but found that the friendliest and most tame are the Rhode Island Reds (we have one living in the cabin with us right now—she’s a darling—I’ll tell that story in another post).
We love having chickens in our lives, and after three years of having chickens I could not imagine life without them. Yes, it means daily chores but it also means the freshest, tastiest (and healthiest) eggs I have ever tasted. They also add such fun to our lives with their different personalities and behaviours. We sell eggs to our friends and neighbours, which helps builds community relationships, and we take pride in having a clean coop with healthy, happy chickens.
On November 26, 2014, I left you hanging with an unfinished chicken coop. It’s time to fill you in on the details of how we got from there (below)… to our beautiful coop here (above).
Winter came and we had to put the project on hold. Once spring arrived we were ready to keep working on the project, and with chicks booked for April, we were motivated to finish setting up their home. We started with the interior: Brian painted the walls, installed eight nesting boxes (using recycled lumber), and Grandpa made the roosts (using an old metal bed frame, recycled metal and lumber).
I put up curtains to keep the chickens from roosting in the nesting boxes. It really works.
Our roosts are all at the same level and the entire unit swings upwards and can be held by the metal hook (top right) for easy cleaning. The droppings board slides in an out like a drawer and can be removed easily for spring cleaning. Each morning, I scrape the manure off of the board and into a bucket with a paint scraper. I also pick up manure off of the sand (and out of the yard sand) with a kitty litter scoop.
Then Brian and our then-three-year old son, Chayton, got to work painting the exterior.
I love the red colour and how it adds such vibrancy to the coop.
Brian used parts of an old jungle gym to create roosting spaces for the chickens out in the small yard.
Another major project was setting up the larger yard (accessed from a pop hole in the small yard) to give the chickens much more space to roam. As our property backs onto 150 acres of protected land, we need to protect our chickens from the fox and coyotes that frequently pass through. Grandpa used his backhoe to dig a trench, 18-inch deep, all around the larger yard’s perimeter. Then we constructed a fence using stucco wire and T-posts, and tied everything together with wire. Grandpa welded a main gate using an old metal bed frame and there is a provision for a larger gate (to accommodate a tractor) in the back area.
Grandpa Dale located another shed and put it beside the coop. Then the Lake family (remember Erin and Mitch?) gave us a metal outhouse (“Burton’s Pooper”), which was placed next to the new shed. They also gave us the metal skeleton of a canvas carport. Grandpa reinforced this with metal rods and put the whole structure on skids. Then he and Brian covered it with tin. All that is left to do now is to put some doors on it.
Jenna, Chayton’s sister, helped me paint the middle shed. By the end of summer I also had the pooper painted.
Later, Brian added shelves to the pooper and we now use it as rodent-free storage for feed and equipment. The teal shed (middle) has been used for chickens, goats, and even an injured duck (more on these later).
This is what the entire set up looks like today. We’ll add doors to the tin shed this coming summer.
We are loving the the colours, especially now in the winter. I’ll do another post focusing on the winter set-up as Brian covers the yard in plastic, turning it into a warm greenhouse for the chickens during the coldest months.
I hope you enjoyed the story of our coop. There will be many more posts featuring these buildings along with the interesting animals that live in them.
Take care and have a great day!
Back in December, while preparing for a book-making date with my friend, Sarah, I came across Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s website www.makingbooks.com. Susan is an artist and sometimes works with children in book-making workshops. You can find many patterns for handmade books on her website and she has a number of YouTube videos available with instructions on how to make some of these children’s books. In her own work, The Spirit Books, Susan uses a wide variety of natural materials as she explores “connections between nature, aesthetics and spiritual transcendence”. It is this use of raw, natural materials that drew me deeply to her work. When I first saw The Spirit Books I felt an immediate sense of wonder and curiosity. I wanted to touch and cradle each book carefully in my own hands, inhale the exotic, earthy scent and allow my heart to open (just like one of the Spirit Books) to the secrets and ancient teachings that lie within.
The Spirit Books bring together my love of the book and my response to the natural world that we see and the invisible one that lies behind it.~Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
I feel a deep connection to older powers as I gather twigs, branches, vines and roots…~Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
“Reading” the book is meant to be a contemplative experience that takes the reader out of the everyday world and into a state of gratitude and reverence.~Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
Susan has published a catalogue featuring this collection and I promptly ordered it for myself. Now that I had found The Spirit Books, I could not live without them. She also has a pdf version of the catalog on her website, so you don’t have to buy the catalogue in order to view and appreciate Susan’s work.
Beautifully photographed, I wanted to share The Spirit Books with you in case you, or someone you know- might also find Susan’s work to be both inspirational and spiritually nourishing. You may even want to try your hand at making a Spirit Book of your own. I know I want to! Many of The Spirit Books are available for purchase with a price range of $650-$1500. See Susan’s website for more details.
This recipe comes from my Chocolate Lover’s Cookies & Brownies cookbook. I’ve had this book for at least two decades and have only tried a few recipes in it so far. Now with the holiday season over, I needed a ‘healthier’ cookie to ease me through Christmas cookie withdrawal symptoms. Of course, eating five of these in one sitting doesn’t count as ‘healthy behaviour’ no matter how many raw seeds they contain!
Whole Grain Chippers
1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar (I used raw cane sugar)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1 cup whole wheat flour (I used spelt flour)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups uncooked rolled oats
1 package (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup sunflower seeds (I used raw, untoasted seeds)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper or silicone mat.
Cream butter with sugars and eggs in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in baking soda, vanilla and salt. Blend in flours and oats to make a stiff dough. Stir in chocolate chips. Shape rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls; roll in sunflower seeds.
Place 2 inches apart on cookie prepared sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until firm and golden brown on the bottom. Do not over bake. Cool a few minutes on cookie sheet then transfer to wire racks to cook completely. Enjoy!
One thing I like about ‘rolled in a ball cookie recipes’ is that you can refrigerate (or freeze) half the recipe and bake them a few days (or weeks) later. This is perfect for when you have a lot of baking to do all at once or as a stash in the freezer for unexpected company. I wold freeze the cookie dough balls on a sheet. Once frozen they could be put in a plastic container or large ziplock bag.
Weber, L. (1990). Chocolate lovers cookies and brownies. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International Ltd.
As you may know, Brian, Chayton and I are currently planning for, and preparing to get chickens this coming spring. We set up the coop last fall and are now spending the winter reading up on heritage breeds and sourcing out local breeders.
Last November, we headed to Red Deer, Alberta to attend the 2014 Annual Canadian Heritage Breeds Urban Farm Show. This is an annual three-day show and we were excited to attend and do a little hands-on research on chickens. The event included a heritage livestock display, a Fancy Pigeon and Racing Homer show, a trade show area, competitions, silent auction, children’s activities, Chicken John’s petting zoo, and a banquet and awards ceremony for those participating.
What is a heritage breed? According to the CHB website:
Giving a concrete definition of the term ‘heritage’ can be a difficult task. The broadest definition of a heritage breed of livestock is: a breed that was developed and used on farms, ranches and homesteads before the advent of modern industrial agriculture. With a few exceptions, they are breeds that thrive in outdoor situations, are able to forage for some of their own food and have a long reproductive lifespan. Our heritage breeds range in age from mere decades to several centuries of history, but common among them all is a unique adaptation to both the farms they come from and the farmers who keep them.
We ended up going on Sunday afternoon when things were starting to wind down but we were still able to view most of the chickens. We are just learning about heritage chickens and are amazed at the incredible diversity of the breeds. It was even more exciting seeing the birds ‘in real life’ rather than just in books. They were all so beautiful (some were quite comical) and I can see how collecting and raising heritage breeds can be both fun and addictive!
I took a lot of pictures and decided not worry about trying to document the names of each breed this time around (there were so many) but rather just enjoyed their beauty in the moment knowing that there would be plenty of time later to learn each of their breeds/names.
Sadly, the pictures are taken through the cages but I hope they are enough to give you a taste of the wide variety of heritage breeds. At the show, the chickens were grouped by their size (small, medium and large) and then further grouped according to their breed.
We also saw ducks, geese and pigeons.
There was also an area at the back with birds for sale.
We really enjoyed attending the show and look forward to attending more shows in the future. We are now in the process of making the final choices and ordering our chicks for the spring. In just a few months, a matter of weeks, really, we will be starting our coop! In the meantime, these pictures are enough to enrich our research and learning about heritage breeds of chickens. I hope you enjoyed them, too.