Thursday, September 30

Thursday Dose of Cute: Thinking Outside the Box

Thinking Outside the Box 1
The short version: We've started a free ranging chicken experiment, and so far it's going pretty well.

Thinking Outside the Box 2

Thinking Outside the Box 3

Thinking Outside the Box 4

Stock dog Lucky Buddy Bear, who is half English Shepherd, half Australian Shepherd and lives to herd, has been VERY busy doing surveillance—which is a lot more difficult than it used to be.These photos were taken on the first day; he did eventually let the chickens all come out.

The longer version—including the story of our first prototype chicken tractor, pictured above—will hopefully be coming soon. (We've been doing lots of experimenting lately!) In the meantime, if you'd like to see more chick pics, you'll find all sorts of them here.

And if you're a recovering perfectionist, a wannabe recovering perfectionist (hello!), or if you simply need more than today's dose of cute to make you smile, I urge you to check out this fabulous two minute dance video (be sure to turn your speakers on), which was inspired by this fabulous sounding new book, which I am off to order now!

©, the free as a bird foodie farm blog where those of you looking a little too closely at the junky background in these pictures are probably wondering if that really is a chest freezer in the upper left corner of the bottom photo, and if that really is an open freezer door hanging above it. Yep. Joe used to store his chainsaws and some other stuff in them because they sealed up tightly and were packrat proof. Over five years of blogging and I finally slipped up and let them sneak into a shot. (Hey, maybe I am a recovering perfectionist!).

But now the chest freezer leaks because the rubber seal has worn away, and the upright fridge and freezer doors don't stay shut anymore (I think due to late night donkey damage). The packrats are still a very real threat (I really have to tell you more about them one of these days), and in fact just the other day I found, thanks to an anonymous cat or dog, a very large dead one laying under the clothesline.

Fortunately we now have
a real building to keep the chainsaws in—which we are finally going to be keeping ourselves in very soon!—that is regularly patrolled by our ever alert Shop Cat, aka Topaz. Of course the abandoned fridge and freezer will probably still be sitting in the farmyard years from now, and I'll be artfully trying to keep them out of my photos. And yeah, this copyright notice was not supposed to be anywhere near this long.


  1. The chickens look ... obedient. They may not be happy, but they do look obedient to Bear's demands. Smart chickens.

    BTW - I have 2 pears that are going soft and I am SO hopeful that DH won't eat them so I can make those pear-ginger muffins again. I hate mushy pears (except in the muffins) but he likes them sometimes.

  2. I know all about shooting around the junk. I have become a wiz at cropping and blurring a picture's background.

  3. BEEAARR!!! Oh how I love that overly-responsible stock dog.

    Now. About this chicken tractor. I was considering something similar to make a temporary home for the chickens in the garden this fall, so they can eat some nasty insect larvae (Japanese beetles begone!) and slugs. How long did it take your chickens to figure out this was their new home? Were they trying to escape to their permanent coop for awhile?

  4. How do you keep them out of your garden? Do they dig around where they're not wanted? They are awfully cute!

  5. Adorable! I can't tell you how much I love your Dose's of Cute, not to mention all of your recipes... Thank you for sharing!

    I also have a bread question for you. I was wondering if you have ever substituted molasses for honey?

    Thank you!

  6. When we had chickens (before my parents had to abandon their house in the country for health reasons and move into town) we just opened the door to the coop and let them roam.
    Evenings they'd usually come back for food and shelter for the night and we'd close the door on them.

    Over time it did get hard to figure out how many chickens we had, as the loss due to predators (We had hawks grabbing them just yards from us while having a barbequeue in the garden sometimes) was not always perfectly offset by the increase due to breeding (missing a chicken for a few weeks only to discover one evening a chicken and 10 chicks in the coop was always a nice thing), but overall the population stayed fairly stable for about a decade.

  7. I can't wait to see how your "experiment" goes. We are currently building our dream home on 40 acres. I am so hoping to have free range chickens and guineas but it all depends on predators, including our dogs and the neighbors. But I am hopeful!!

  8. LOL...I didn't even see it until you pointed it out.

    Have a great weekend.

  9. Are you raising the chickens for the eggs of for eating or both? I don't know much of anything about raising chickens, but I think I read once that they like to be moved frequently for 'fresh grass' to eat. Is that true? (Let's be honest, I don't know much of anything about farming, but I wish I did! I do know it's very hard work - so thanks for sharing a bit of your life with the rest of us!)

  10. Hey Everybody,
    Thanks for all the comments. I'll be back tomorrow to finally answer your questions. Thanks for your patience! :)

  11. Hi Shadow,
    Ha, your comment cracked me up. The chickens aren't 100% obedient yet, but they do know that Bear is in charge. ;)

    There's just life,
    Glad to know I'm not the only one shooting around the junk. I'm too lazy to crop my photos (mostly because I get way too overwhelmed by all the cropping possibilities), but I love the idea of blurring a picture's background to hide stuff. I'll have to see if I can figure that one out!

    Our whole chicken tractor experiment began because we wanted to use one in the garden to both clear out weed filled beds and prepare new beds for planting. Since my garden is currently made up of 22 4'x8' raised beds with four foot walkways between them, we would have to have one that somehow fit on top of the beds. After this current experiment, though, I'm not sure exactly what we're going to do with that plan.

    This first little chicken tractor was created on a whim (out of a cage Joe had built to transport sheep and Marta Beast in the back of the pickup) because we needed a place to put a hen and her two chicks - and then a second hen and her three chicks. We just took them out of their regular coop and locked them in it, so there was no way for them to escape. And they didn't seem to want to, though they were busy with their chicks.

    I'm planning to write some more posts about this whole chicken tractor and free ranging chicken experiment, and will include all the pros and cons associated with this first small design. In some ways it's great, but there are many flaws, at least in our situation.

    Hi Robin Marie,
    Chickens can definitely do major damage in a garden, especially if you have newly turned or seeded soil, because they find food by scratching in the dirt. They can also do things like peck into all your tomatoes.

    Of course every situation - and every garden - is different, and I'm sure there are people whose chickens have wandered freely in their gardens and never ruined anything.

    But one of the many reasons we've never tried having chickens out loose before was because I didn't want them digging around in my kitchen garden - which doesn't have chicken proof fencing around it. And the garden is adjacent to the farmyard where the chickens are right now (which also is home to our two chicken houses, our hay pole barn, and our new living quarters.)

    This is where stock dog Lucky Buddy Bear's instincts come in. He quickly understood that the chickens are to stay in the farmyard. They've escaped out front a few times, and he's quickly herded them back in. This has happened enough that the chickens know they're where they shouldn't be.

    So far they haven't even come near the fence that borders the garden, but if they do wander over there, I think Bear will quickly teach them that it's a No Chicken Zone. It really is amazing watching him work. And he LOVES to do it. :)

    Okay, Blogger doesn't like really long comments, so I'm going to end this and continue in a new one. . .

  12. Hi Elizabeth,
    Thanks for your kind words. I'm so glad you're enjoying your visits here, and I really appreciate the feedback.

    As for using molasses instead of honey in bread recipes - you can certainly do that, though the flavor of the bread will change because molasses is so strong. I would substitute 1:1 honey:molasses, but if there's a fair amount called for, you might want to start by using some honey and some molasses and see if you like the results. The color of the dough may also darken slightly, depending again on how much molasses you use.

    I know when I was first experimenting with my Oatmeal Toasting Bread, either the original version that my recipe is (heavily) adapted from, or another bread I made at the time (this was like 14 years ago, so the details are fuzzy) was made with molasses - and it was really tasty. :)

    Anonymous Former Chicken Owner,
    It's great to hear how other people keep chickens. Thanks for the input!

    Hi Shannon,
    Congratulations on moving to your dream farm! Predators can definitely be a major problem when keeping chickens or other birds like guineas (which are great because they eat ticks!), even if you're living in suburbia. And there are all sorts of creatures who love to kill chickens - raccoons, coyotes, wolves, dogs, and even snakes and large birds, to name a few. The comment above yours mentioned hawks killing chickens. One of our neighbors lost several dozen of their chickens to a particularly hungry owl - and that was while they were penned in electric fence netting, but they weren't protected from above.

    Putting up your birds into some sort of coop at night can definitely help keep them safe.

    I think you'll really enjoy having chickens and guineas, despite the worries and precautions necessary. :)

    Hi Barb,
    We just keep our chickens for eggs. Right now we have 16 hens and 2 roosters, who fertilize the eggs so that if a hen goes broody (starts sitting on a nest of eggs to hatch them out), we get baby chicks!

    You're right - if chickens are in a confined pasture (grassy) area and their food is coming from the plants and bugs they scratch from the ground, then they need to be frequently moved to fresh ground. Our three chickens in that little chicken 'tractor' were moved every day onto fresh grass.

    If you're using your chicken tractor to 'plow' up new ground for a garden, etc. (as Kristin and I mentioned above), then you can leave them on the same area for a while and they will eventually eat and/or kill all the plant growth while turning (and fertilizing) the soil. Once you've got your prepped bare ground, they can be moved to a new place.

    Thanks again everybody for all your comments. My apologies for taking so long to answer your questions! :)

  13. Packrats can cause so much damage! We have had problems with them in the past. It is expensive to replace machinery and tools because they eat anything!!!


December 2015 update: Hi! For some reason I can't figure out, Blogger hasn't been letting me leave comments on my own blog (!) for the last several months, so I've been unable to respond to your comments and questions. My apologies for any inconvenience! You're always welcome to email me: farmgirlfare AT gmail DOT com.

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