Category Archives: Chickens

January At Living Land

January is one of the quieter months on a New England homestead. Let’s take a look.

Snowy day, viewed from our kitchen window

Our Work in January

The ground is frozen, the gardens and orchards at rest. Nothing for us to do there. I kept an eye on our tree guards after some heavy snows to make sure no drifts had covered them, allowing vole access.

The bee hives were wrapped up in November and there’s not much I can do for them in the winter. However, we maybe should have tried. The deep freeze that started on December 27th and lasted until January 8th was deadly for my smaller nucleus hives. When it’s that cold the cluster of bees is unable to move around to get to their next meal. Sadly, I found several lovely clusters of bees had starved just an inch away from more honey. My big, strong hive did great – I guess they could generate enough heat to move the cluster. On the first 50F day that came along – our January thaw – there were so many bees in the air I first thought all the hives must have survived, but most returned to that one as it sun lowered.

At least I was left with a few supers worth of honey to start off the new bees I ordered for the spring with some good nutrition. We are researching hive warmers. We figure that if after a week we’d given each hive just a couple of hours of extra heat they could have re-positioned themselves and survived. Who knows if this will happen regularly in the future or not – now that the climate is becoming more variable it’s impossible to predict and plan. It’s stressful on us agriculturists.

Our goats just need some shelter from the wind and their thick coats even in extended freezing temps.

The other animals did great in the cold. We chose breeds that were known to be winter-hardy, and they have lived up to their reputations. We still needed to do basic care – keep feed and water stations stocked for them, open and close doors, milk the goats in the morning and collect eggs when there were any.

Inside, however, there was work to do.

We used Fedco for our seed order this year, including seed potatoes which will arrive in the spring. It was a good sized order for us since some of our seeds were a few years old and not germinating well anymore.

The winter is time for education – both for learning ourselves and teaching. I have Bee Culture magazines and a stack of books to catch up on. Through Seacoast Permaculture I’ll get a chance to watch some documentaries I’ve been excited about, discuss social permaculture with a small group book study, and take a few classes. I am teaching about beekeeping right now, and will give workshops on gardening later in the winter. I’m also teaching frame drum classes and cirlce dances, working on a writing project, and active in our local storytelling community.

This is also a good time for us to be civically active. The NH state house still goes by an agricultural schedule, doing most of its work in the winter. Works great for us! Steve has a lot of planning board meetings, and our town deliberative session is in early February. I’m catching up on some national issues I care about as well, and contacting my reps about those. So, while the weather drives us in on the homestead, it also gives us a chance to look at a bigger picture and try to have a say in the larger world.

Our Harvest in January

The chickens are laying!

The work is minimal and so are the rewards this time of year. A few things did come in.

A hen in the nest box

Our chickens began laying again after we added supplemental light in their coop at the end of the year. In January we collected 48 eggs.


Our milk supply is very low at the moment. We make some choices that mean less (but healthier, we think) milk in general. But, we also had a breeding failure in Fall 2016 so none of our girls had kids this past season. We are milking 2 goats who gave birth in Spring 2015 and 2 who did so in Spring 2016. We find that breeding every other year works well, but once we get beyond that, they don’t produce very much.

Winter forage for the goats – hemlock boughs

Also, 2 of those goats were first fresheners, thus not going to be big producers yet. All that said, we still brought in 6.6 gallons of milk in January, which I made into plenty of yogurt and soft cheese for us.


We harvested no new veggies, but continue to eat from last year’s excess. Potatoes, garlic, carrots, beets, parsnips, squash from our makeshift root cellar; dried kale, summer squash, peaches and grapes (raisins); canned

Garlic in storage

blueberries, strawberries and peaches; frozen eggplant, salsa, pesto, berries and meat; honey, dry beans, popcorn, and cornmeal. Nothing has run out completely yet! Steve has also enjoyed a few fresh lemons and herb cuttings growing indoors in pots and the aquaponic systems.


The woodstove needed feeding a lot this cold January so we were glad for all our stacked wood. Our solar panels didn’t do well for us between the low amount of sun and the coatings of icy snow that wouldn’t budge for days on end. We’re thrilled they are clear by now and heading back into a productive time as the sun returns to us.

That’s our January update… February should see an increase in animal products and possibly the end of the supply of some of our stored foods. I’ll tell you about it in a month!


Filed under Chickens, Gardens, Goats, Honey Bees, Uncategorized, Weather

A New Year Starts at Living Land

This has been a good week for reflection and planning. We’ve gotten out the new calendars, are noticing the growing light, and we’ve been driven inside by storms and bitter cold!

First, a look back to consider accomplishments on the homestead in 2017. I tend to push forward and move on to what’s next, but I know it’s good for me to take time to learn from successes and problems we had, and to allow for a sense of satisfaction and gratitude for what worked. I will make better, smarter plans coming from this place.

One of my bean plants produced this seed. I have no idea what it is – anyone know?

In the plant realm: we expanded our growing areas using swales, sheet mulching and hugelkultur. We planted 5 new trees, 10 new berry bushes, many new perennials, and a big garden of annuals. I tried some new crops: various heritage dried beans, a heritage variety popcorn, and 3 new types of potatoes. My records show that the Bora Valley and Nicola potatoes were my biggest producers this year. Yay for record keeping!

Beautiful Bug-free Broccoli

We had very few insect pest problems this year, other than some early squash vine borers. I had almost no colorado potato beetles, and the cabbage worms didn’t become an issue until much later in the season than usual. I planted both of those crops late this year possibly missing the first reproductive cycle for the pests. That was purposeful for the beetles, but accidental for the cabbage worms.

In our animal endeavors: We raised new chickens using 2 broody hens and 1 incubator hatch. None of our ducks succeeded in brooding, so we just had a few new ones from the incubator. We kept milking the goats, although the previous

Steve Building a Hay Shelter

fall’s breeding failure meant less of it. I built my apiary back up after a lot of winter hive losses. I did have one hive that overwintered well and had an amazing season.  Steve built a new shelter for hay and animals which I anticipate will help us get much more organized thus saving us quite a bit of work in the future.

This year I also taught classes in beekeeping, soil building, animal care and permaculture. I accepted the 2017 NOFA-NH Gardener of the Year Award. I wrote new blog posts to share here on our website.

Successful Bee Hive – Hope to Have More Like These in 2018!

In the new year, I look forward to more plants and animals and continued good work with the earth. Our seed, potato and tree catalogues are spread out to choose next season’s varieties. We did save more of our own seed this year, but not for all crops. We’ve identified where we want to expand to next and even got that started in the long, warm fall we had. I have learned not to order trees or bushes for the areas we didn’t finish yet! We have some unhappy plants overgrowing their nursery beds from the years I was too optimistic about how fast the work would go.

For my blogging this year, I am going to try something new. Often I am asked: “what do you do at your farm?” and “how much do you grow?” I never have great answers. Each season and every day is so different, in terms of what we do and what we harvest. In 2018 I am going to try to give a monthly update, summarizing what we did and what we harvested in the previous month. It won’t be a quick answer to those questions, but it should be informative.

I hope you’ll follow us and join me in charting the next year as we experience it!


Filed under Chickens, Ducks, Gardens, Goats, Honey Bees, Poultry, Uncategorized

Spring Brooding on Brooding

Brood: verb, gerund or present participle: brooding

  1. (of a bird) sit on (eggs) to hatch them.
  2. to think or worry persistently or moodily about; ponder

I have been brooding (“pondering” but not really moodily!) on brooding (“sitting upon eggs to be hatched”) this spring since it has been our poultry’s most broody year yet!

When we first started chickening in 2008, we loved the idea of letting them raise their own next generations. It seemed more natural and more energy efficient, both electricity and human energy-wise. Also, we had misgivings about some of the big hatchery practices and wanted to move away from that model [note: I tried to find an article for you that would give some details on hatchery practices in a way I thought was fair and reasonable and didn’t demonize chicken-keeping in general, but haven’t found one yet.  Here is a good discussion of some of the issues. The one exception I know of and do recommend, because it isn’t truly a big hatchery although it is mail-order, is Sand Hill Preservation Center].

Our first flock was a mix of Dominique and Speckled Sussex chickens, IMGA0197which we did as a joint project with our good friends, Steve and Rhoda. At the time they had land, which we did not, and we were available to help chicken-sit when they traveled, which they needed. So, it was a great collaboration!

We started with straight-run, which means you get whatever gender you get. Again, this seemed most natural to us. We would later eat all the males but one, who would take over as the protector of the hens and fertilizer of the eggs thus making it possible for the flock to raise more birds from their own eggs. Both of these breeds were considered sometimes broody so we thought we had a chance.

For a couple of years we did have a Speckled Sussex go broody. IMGA0233We called her “Broody,” I’m a bit embarrassed to say! We didn’t take great notes back then, but the first year she raised 3 or 4 and the next year was about the same. Some were males, of course, so we ended up with a few new hens this way. This was clearly not going to be enough to keep the numbers up in the flock as we planned on a turnover of 2-3 years for the hens.

Research gave us ideas for how to encourage brooding and how to get more chicks out of each hatch. Leaving eggs was the main advice in terms of getting them to sit. Then being sure the eggs all started incubating under her at the same time would help with getting more to hatch. If the eggs hatch over too long a time period she will have to abandon the unhatched ones to take care of the new chicks.

We still weren’t having much success. We had a few hens start to brood, but not see it through. We went back to ordering chicks to keep our Chicks-4numbers up.

Around 2012 we had a really bad experience with a lot of sickly chicks. Most had been shipped to us, but a few were from a local store. For weeks, every few days there would be another dead chick, and we learned about all sorts of nasty chicken diseases. It was so depressing and pushed us to take the plunge and – buy an incubator! We’d had it with shipped chicks from questionable conditions and wanted to start getting more serious about breeding our own, for ourselves and hopefully offering some for sale so others could also get more local with their stock. If the hens wouldn’t cooperate and do it for us, then an incubator would do the job!

2014 was the first incubator year. We did two rounds. On June 15th 12 out of 18 eggs hatched and 4 months later we had 12 healthy birds. On July 12th 17 out of 39 eggs hatched and 4 months later we had 15 healthy birds. We were much happier with this experience! ChicksHatch-June2015They really seemed so much stronger and happier having not endured the stress of 1-2 days in the mail.

In 2015 we did two more incubator chicken hatches. We again had good results, with the earlier hatch being the most successful – June 5: 33 out of 43 hatched; July 6: 21 out of 48 Ducklings-June2015-2hatched. Egg fertility went down for the later batches. We also tried duck eggs since we’d been keeping Indian Runner ducks for a few years and they are notoriously unbroody. The ducks were way less successful, but we did end up with 5 (out of 21 eggs, though) ducklings, better than nothing. This year, 2016, we went with one early hatch, setting 48 chicken eggs on April 16 which led to 30 chicks in the brooder by May 8!

However, as we are getting more adept at incubating, our chickens are suddenly taking an interest in doing it themselves after all. In spring 2015, we had 2 hens get that broody look – lots of time in the nest boxes with a trance-like look in their eyes. We tried to move both of them to their own areas, but that made both of them get up, shake themselves off, and tell us “never mind.” Not long after that, however, a chicken went missing. I searched their yards, the nearby woods – no sign. I figured, oh well, some other critter ate well that day, our contribution to the wild. But 21 days later – peep, peep, peep! She had made herself a BroodingHen-2015-3great nest in a pile of brush in the middle of their largest yard where no one – not me or any predators – found her, giving her the time to hatch out 8 babes. We scooped them all up and moved them to one of our chicken tractors so she could raise them with a bit more safety. Wow, she was skinny when we caught her!

We’d hoped this would be a trend, and it seems so – this spring gave us 4 broody hens out of our flock of 11 chickens. Each one we moved into their own smaller coop to brood in peace. One of them changed her ChickenWChicks-3mind when moved, but the other three stuck with it. The first hatched out 6. The second only hatched 3 – but this coincided with the incubator hatch so we gave her 3 more chicks to raise for us, which she happily adopted. The third hasn’t finished her 21 days yet, so we’ll see.

Still not enough to give up the incubator, but maybe we’ll get there yet!

So, here’s where MY brooding comes in: What are we doing differently that is finally giving us all these broody hens? The two differences I can note are changes I made because we had an egg-pecker this past winter. At least one of the hens was pecking eggs, and I didn’t want to encourage that or let her/them get into eating their own eggs. So, I bought a dozen ceramic eggs and I put up nest box curtains. The ceramic eggs are supposed to be frustrating and maybe a bit painful for them to peck at, and the curtains keep the eggs less visible and thus less of a temptation. Also, our chickens definitely preferred the farthest, darkest nest box, and we hoped the curtains would get them to spread out to the others and maybe they’d encounter fewer of each others eggs.

My theory is that having the constant presence of an egg or two in the boxes, and having the boxes darker, thus seeming safer and more private, gave them the push to brood.

One other factor is that we did get a new rooster from a more local source through the NH Poultry Fanciers back in 2013. It could be that he brought in a line that is more inclined to broodiness. Two people who bought chicks from us last year also had broody hens this spring, so this could definitely be a factor.

As a very unexpected bonus, our oldest Indian Runner duck also went broody! Runner ducks are considered “poor to fair” in their brooding and mothering abilities, so we’d never counted on this behavior from them.

We got our first ducks in the summer of 2012 in order to help me with a terrible slug problem in the garden. Any eggs or meat were a nice bonus, but just eating the slugs makes them welcome here! This grey DSCN5097Runner is from that original batch, so she is now 4 years old. She never showed any interest before, but about 6 weeks ago she started hanging out in the nest box and HISSING at us when we looked in on her. After a few days of this, I decided she really meant it, and started collecting eggs for her. I gave her 9 eggs, but definitely did not count these chicks before hatching as I remained skeptical.

To my amazement, on May 22 there were ducklings! DSCN5980It took until May 27 to finish up, but there are now 6 ducklings in there with her! The last one almost didn’t make it – she’d already gotten up from the nest to chase around her babes and get on with things so we took the last 3 eggs out of the nest. Steve left them by the compost for me. I always open up unhatched eggs to determine what went wrong – infertile or early death or almost made it. The first two eggs I whacked with a shovel to get through the super-hard duck egg shells – unfertilized. The third I whacked and the thing went crazy peeping back at me! I was quite horrified, but that shell had been too hard for it to peck out of and I was only trying to crack it so didn’t impale the little thing. I peeled it back a little to be sure it had a breathing hole and returned it to the nest where it finished up the work and got out and DSCN6009joined the little family. I was pretty terrified that it would be maimed or limping and I would have been the cause, but it really seems fine, just smaller than the older ones who had a few days of eating already! Ducklings grow crazy fast – a 5 day difference in age is absolutely noticeable.

Final numbers and gender are still not finalized, but we know it will be our most successful hatching year yet, thanks to all these fabulous mamas!

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Filed under Chickens, Ducks, Poultry, Uncategorized