amazing abeego

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I think that a great majority of us moms are constantly on the look out for environmentally friendly lunchbox storage items and accessories.  There are so many more products on the market these days.  And, just like parenthood, you kind of have to find what works for your family through trial and error.  For example, I can’t tell you how many eco-friendly water bottles we have tried out through the years!

For the past three years. I’ve packed our three Sprouts’ lunches using lunchskins sandwich bags.  I’ve been incredibly pleased with how they’ve held up and they seem to retain freshness well.  At least, the kids always eat their sandwiches and never complain about dry bread.  Which is huge seeing that we live in the high desert.

One member of our family, however (ahem), is a bit more particular about his sandwich freshness!  He has the right to be, though, since he bakes our sandwich bread from scratch every weekend.  (All of the wives on my husband’s side of the family are so fortunate and we count our lucky stars for marrying into a family where my father-in-law baked bread for his boys and then taught them to bake bread as well!  His recipe rocks our world.)  Anyways, since the lunchskins don’t float my hubby’s boat, I did some research and found abeego.  This stuff is amazing!  They’ve been around for a while, so maybe you’ve already heard of them.  It keeps food incredibly fresh.  We’ve used it several times and even my hubby admits that it works.  It does take some getting used to as the beeswax is a bit stiff until its been broken in by several uses.  The large size works well for a regular sammie and can also be used for other food items or to cover a bowl.   If you’re concerned about cutting down or completely eliminating your family’s sandwich bag usage, go check them out!

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P.S. this blog does not feature affiliate partners, so any products mentioned are mentioned because I find them useful, well designed, or both!

on keeping backyard chickens and the lessons we’ve learned

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Its been a bittersweet month here as I’ve worked through mixed emotions over finding our chickens and ducks suitable homes.  I am grateful that they all went to wonderful new owners who value them and who will care for them well.  Ping and Jemima in particular got an upgrade in their lodgings as they were adopted by a lovely couple who have other duck varieties and who have a six acre pond on their property.  They even feed their ducks watermelon every night!  Its duck heaven for sure.

Our decision was not an easy one.  Owning backyard poultry has been a pleasure.  Our feathered friends were constant entertainment and will always hold a sweet spot in my heart.  They also provided valuable lessons to our Sprouts with respect to responsibility and caring for animals.   However, as our kiddos are getting older and more involved in activities that require out of town travel,  we found that we were spending way too much dinero paying for animal care.  If we lived near family, perhaps it wouldn’t be an issue.  Or perhaps it would.  Who knows.  But, unfortunately in our case,  the neighborhood kids we found to care for our flock were irresponsible and the wonderful college student too expensive.  So, if you are weighing the pros and cons of backyard flock ownership, I’d strongly suggest taking into consideration how you’ll care for your flock if you travel often.

Over all, I think we did a lot of things right. We allowed the girls to free range often, but we had an adequately sized chicken yard in which to contain them.  This was especially important during the spring months when they could easily demolish tender plants in one afternoon.  Also, the chicken yard was fenced with no climb horse fencing buried six inches in the ground.  I think that is why we never had problems with predators despite the skunks and raccoons nearby.  We  also locked the ladies up at night for extra security.   Our converted rabbit hutches worked extremely well as a chicken coop for ten hens.  And, allowing them to partially free range, eat veggie scraps, munch on insects and feast on organic feed resulted in yummy fresh eggs that are hard to beat.  Who knows.  Maybe there will come a day when we can have another flock.  I wouldn’t think twice about it before making the leap!

Here is a quick check list to consider if you’re just starting out on your own poultry adventures:

  • build a chicken yard with a coop inside the chicken yard: this helps tremendously with general poultry management even if you are going to free range your flock. If you’re using wire fencing, go for no climb horse fencing and bury it at least 6 inches below ground to deter any digging predators.  Our yard was in the corner of our suburban backyard and had two walls of wooden fencing as well as a huge portion being the no-climb horse fencing.
  • research your coop options:  why settle for the factory made coop when you can really get creative and build an amazingly cool, one-of-a-kind abode?  Some great books that guided us along the way are:
    • Reinventing the Chicken Coop by Kevin McElroy and Matthew Wolpe
    • The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals by Gail Damerow
    • How to Build Animal Housing by Carol Ekarius
    • Barnyard in Your Backyard also by Gail Damerow
  • if you’re free ranging your gals and have accessible vegetable gardens, flower beds, or nice landscaping that you don’t want demolished then come up with a plan on how and when you are going to let them free range (this is where that chicken yard is indispensable).  One book I loved when planning out how to allow our suburban yard and gardens exist in harmony with our flock was Free Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom. Besides being extremely insightful and chock full of knowledge only a landscape architect can dispense, its just a gorgeous book!
  • educate yourself: a great book for novices, especially if you’re doing this as a project with kiddos, is Chick Days: Raising Chickens From Hatchlings to Laying Hens by Jenna Woginrich.  She covers various breeds, housing ideas, and what to expect from week to week.  We could not have done without this one when we first started out.

What are your tips for backyard poultry care?

 

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Ping and Jemima quickly adapted to their new six acre pond….duck heaven!

“nice to meet you”: integrating your backyard chicken flocks

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Last year, after taking almost a year to settle into our new digs, we finally got a small flock of chickens.  We’d missed our girls (and their eggs!)  back in Montana and we were thrilled to have a great spot for a {sub}urban chicken yard.  (Check out the back posts on this blog for more details).  I must admit, though, that I was a bit nervous back in the Spring about introducing our newbies to the hens we acquired last year.  Chickens can be brutal and if one is pecked so hard that blood is drawn, those ladies will go cannibalistic and actually kill the bleeding bird.

Thankfully, none of this happened!  One key factor was that we selected friendly breeds.  Our older girls are a Buff Orphington and Wyandottes.  Our newbies are sweet Easter Eggers and Rhode Island Reds.  The second factor is that we slowly introduced the new chickens to the older ones by keeping the newbies in cages outside of the chicken yard (but close by) so that the older ones could check them out from a distance.  We did this for about two days for brief periods of time.  The final step was releasing the younger girls into the chicken yard at dusk.  Chickens are less likely to be aggressive at dusk and our older gals were no exception (much to my relief).  Also, they modeled for the younger ones the proper way to enter the coop.  And, yes, there was some squawking and light pecking but nothing too dramatic.  After a few days, they all figured out the new “pecking order” and have gotten along harmoniously since!

preparing for the grand introduction at dusk
preparing for the grand introduction at dusk

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it took the new girls a while to go in that night, but they eventually did
it took the new girls a while to go in that night, but they eventually did

 

 

 

 

 

fowl friends

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Last week, I was washing something at the kitchen sink and gazing out our window towards the chicken yard.  At first glance, I thought I saw Ping, one of our Blue Swedish ducks, at her feeding trough in the backyard.  (For newbies here, we named our birds which we obtained last year based on a children’s literature theme and Ping is named after the classic by Marjorie Flack).  I did a double take, though, when I realized that the head was too small!  And it was green, not black.  Sure enough, a closer look confirmed that a foreign fowl was in the yard.  And not one, but two.  A pair of Mallards had landed and were helping themselves to free food.  We honestly thought it was a passing phase.  Since we live near the Colorado River and the Connected Lakes, we have the amazing privilege of seeing a lot of birds around here.  We figured they were passing through and had made a pit stop.  Well, the pair probably decided that free food and a safe, though relatively tiny, pond were hard to beat.  Since Monday, they have showed up in the mornings and hang out with Ping and Jemima until dusk when they take flight towards the Connected Lakes.  By Tuesday afternoon, our girls decided that it just might be alright to let these foreign fowl swim in their pond.  And, finally, this morning they were all quacking together.  Favorite fowl friends indeed.

yarn along

 

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Today, I’m finally jumping back on the wagon and joining Ginny’s Yarn Along after a lengthy hiatus.  Those who are acquainted with my slow knitting know that this project in particular has taken way too long to complete.  In fact, I started it originally a few years ago when we were living in Montana!  The pattern, from a magazine no longer published (ahem, maybe there is a reason for that!), stated that this was an “easy” pattern and so I naively assumed it would be a great jump from hats and scarves.  Nope, nope, nope.  I ripped out the rows so many times that I lost count and then really got down to business last winter in hopes of the sweater being done by Spring.  I finally finished it in August of this year, but modified it drastically as I saw towards the end that I’d misinterpreted the directions.  Again.  Sigh.  At the point of just wanting to get it done, no matter what the final form, I improvised and it morphed into a dress/tunic instead.  I just couldn’t justify not completing it.  The Blue Sky Alpaca yarn is just too wonderful to abandon.  Our wee Sprout will fit into it quite well next year and she loves the buttons, thanks to her wonderful great auntie!  And, me? Well, I’m just happy its done and I’ve moved back to working on a hat.  Maybe, just maybe I’ll sign up for a sweater class this winter at our local yarn shop.

As far as reading is concerned, I just finished Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  Its been on my list of books to read for a while now.  As someone who grew up being constantly told that she’s too sensitive, a lot of what Cain researched resonated and reassured me.  As a designer, mom, and someone who is fascinated by alternative education, I found the following two quotes especially intriguing:

“….excessive stimulation seems to impede learning: a recent study found that people learn better after a quiet stroll through the woods than after a noisy walk down the street.”

“Our schools should teach children the skills to work with others – cooperative learning can be effective when practiced well and in moderation – but also the time and training they need to deliberately practice on their own.”

Reading Cain’s book has been quite timely.  If you haven’t read it, please do so and then check out the articles in this month’s Harvard Business Review where you’ll see that a lot of her work is being implemented as corporate America reconsiders the whole open office concept.

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homestead happenings: the duck house

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I thought I’d share some detailed shots of our duck house for those of you who are contemplating backyard ducks and for those who are simply curious!  As I mentioned yesterday, we found a cedar dog house kit at Home Depot recently and decided this was the easiest solution, especially since we also need to build a permanent abode for the chicks as well.  We stained the exterior to protect the wood from the elements as we have snow and ice in the winters, hot dry desert heat in the summers, and some rain during the spring and fall.  To protect the ducks, we need to lock them up at night.  So, a door hinged at the floorboard of the house was constructed.  It doubles as a short ramp when opened.  We also have two different types of security latches on the door to impede those clever racoons.  Its really important to know who your local predators are and to be as prepared as possible.

Unlike chickens, ducks are not pestered by the tiny mites that can hide in untreated wood (for those of you without chickens, these mites are known for infesting and biting chickens).  That means that staining or painting their home interior isn’t really necessary.  However, ducks do still poop and pee (from my observation it comes out in one package!) which means the flooring of a duck house needs to be somewhat waterproof in order to keep it as clean as possible.  The easiest and most economical way to solve this problem is to purchase cheap vinyl tiles that already have an adhesive.  We bought our tile at Home Depot for 79 cents a square foot.  They were easily cut with a utility knife to fit inside the house.  Not every inch is covered, but its good enough in my book!  And, it was great to have our tiniest Sprout to install them.  If I had it to do over again, I’d adhere the tiles before building the house!

Since our girls are free ranging on grass, dandelions, and bugs during the day there is really no need to keep food and water in the house during the night.  They would probably knock everything over anyways as they can be quite clumsy.  They are not really even eating the chicken layer feed (always use pellets as the mash can choke them) we leave out during the day right now.  I’m sure their needs will change with the seasons, though, and we will make adjustments as needed.  They will, however, snack on the wheat berries right now.  We cover the bottom of a terracotta planter plate with the berries and then cover them with water.  Ducks always need water with their food to aid with digestion.  Never give them food without a water source nearby!

Once your house is ready, how do you get the ducks in there?  Thankfully, a pair isn’t as difficult to herd as an entire badelynge.   You need to have a vocal signal that they will come to recognize over time and use that only when putting them to bed at night.  Sticking with our children’s literature theme for our feathered friends, we decided that the call used in Marjorie Flack’s The Story About Ping :” La-la-la-la-lei”.  As we are calling them we “herd” them by walking behind them and sometimes waving our arms until they head in the right direction.  They are getting the hang of it, but sometimes we still have to corner them and just pick them up, hold them football style, and take them to the house.  As with most animals, the main objective is to train them by sticking to a routine they will learn to expect!

with respect to the tile installation, a tiny helper is an advantage if your house is already constructed
with respect to the tile installation, a tiny helper is an advantage if your house is already constructed
cheap vinyl tile will help protect the floor
cheap vinyl tile will help protect the floor
viola!
viola!