The Natural Living Site

Simple, Self-Reliant, Sustainable Living

Month: March 2011

How to Plan Your Garden Food Production for Self-Sufficiency

Food4Wealth

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©2011 Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)

When you are new to trying your hand at growing your own food, it can be daunting to know where to begin.  How do you plan a garden for food production?  Is it possible to become self-sufficient in a short time?  It’s understandable to want to grow everything your first year.  Experienced gardeners and homesteaders know, from trial and error, that it’s best to get into self-sufficiency one task at a time.

Take these steps to learning how to plan a garden for self-sufficiency and build on them each year.  Before you know it, you’ll be providing a year’s worth of food on your own land:

  • Grow High-Value Fruits and Veggies—What do you consider value?  Flavor?  Freshness?  Or savings on expensive varieties from the supermarket?  You can save money and enjoy flavors by growing varieties that can’t be found in grocery stores.
  • Get the most out of the seasons—Make use of late winter/early spring by using cold frames, tunnels, cloches and other devices to stretch the season and grow more food.  You can get a head start on spring salads by at least a month.  Extend your fall crops by using row covers to protect them from frost and deer.  Extend both seasons to grow more cold-tolerant greens and root crops for food production.
  • Grow early-bearing fruit and berries—Grow June-bearing strawberries and early raspberries.  You can put these up in your freezer before canning veggies take over the kitchen.  In the fall, there are late-ripening raspberries and apples that come after the hectic food preserving frenzy of summer.
  • Utilize what grows in your climate—Some crops will be easy to grow in your area while others can be a challenge.  Soil type also determines what will grow where you live.  If carrots don’t grow well in your area, but beets thrive, then grow a small patch of carrots and all the beets your family can eat.  This takes you in the direction of self-sufficiency.
  • Grow your beverages—Mints, sage, raspberry leaf and nettles make delicious and healthy teas.  Even rhubarb stalk makes a tea that tastes like lemonade.  Learn to make your own sodas, hard cider and wine from berries and fruits.Food4Wealth
  • Grow perennials—Perennials come back every year and this save you in time and maintenance.  Just weed, fertilize and mulch.  Asparagus, rhubarb, sorrel, Jerusalem artichokes, horseradish, bunching onions and bamboo shoots are just some of the possibilities.  Find out which ones do well in your area.
  • Choose varieties that grow in your area—Talk with gardeners around you to see what varieties grow well and produce high-yields.  It’s frustrating to spend all summer tending to a tomato plant and only harvest a few tomatoes at the end of the season when a different variety would have produced an abundant harvest.
  • Grow Herbs—Culinary herbs like dill, basil, rosemary, sage, parsley and mint add flavors to foods for canning and freezing.  They are easy and inexpensive to grow.
  • Don’t overplant one type—Yes, you can grow too much of a good thing!  It’s easy to overbuy at the greenhouse on too many tomato plants.  Don’t plant 50 when 10-15 plants will supply 2 people with a year’s worth of frozen, canned and dried tomatoes.  The only reason to grow more would be to sell at farmers markets.
  • Grow something new—You don’t have to grow it all your first year.  As you grow in knowledge and experience, add something new each year and keep learning.  If something failed to grow in spring, see if it grows better as a fall crop.

Growing enough food to preserve for a year or more is a fine goal and achievable, but there is a learning curve if you’ve never done it before.  Take one step at a time and build on your knowledge each year.  Before you know it, you will have a pantry and cellar full of shiny jars of food you grew and preserved yourself!

Food4Wealth






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5 Kitchen Staples You Can Make Yourself from Your Urban Homestead

A Chicken in Every Pot

 

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©2011 Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)

Every homestead kitchen needs the base ingredients for planning and rounding out meals.  You can learn to make 5 basic kitchen staples as a base for all your meal planning.

  • Chicken Stock—By raising your own backyard chickens, you can have extra meat for the stewpot, and stock for future soups and stews.  Chicken bones, especially from chickens raised outdoors on forage, make the richest, yellow stock that is beautiful in and of itself.  In a large stockpot, add water, onion, celery, carrot, parsley, thyme, peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, garlic and the chicken bones.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for several hours.  Skim off the foam that rises to the top.  After several hours, strain out the solids and use the rich stock for a delicious soup.  Freeze extra for future soups.
  • Tomato Sauce—What to do with all those tomatoes in your garden?  Make tomato sauce!  Tomato sauce adds richness to recipes, especially fresh tomatoes that are homegrown.  Cook fresh chopped tomatoes on low heat.  Add a bit of olive oil, garlic and basil to spice it up.  Slow-cook, then strain.  Use as a base for a variety of dishes.  Freeze extra sauce for your winter meals.  A great way to take advantage of an abundant harvest.Cuisinart Classic Stockpot
  • Freeze your Greens—Spinach, turnip greens, dandelions and lamb’s quarters are easy to grow, and easy to put up for meals all year round.  Add the frozen greens to soups or casseroles for extra nutrition and flavor.  Blanch fresh greens (stems removed), in boiling water for 2 minutes.  Transfer to ice water to chill, drain and freeze in baggies.
  • Mustard—Make your own mustard from the mustard seeds!  Crush the seeds with water, sea salt and apple cider vinegar.  You can experiment with flavors by adding lime juice, honey or stout beer.
  • Kale Chips—Replace the potato chip binge with kale chips.  Delicious and nutritious, kale chips are wonderful to snack on.  Remove the stems and rinse the leaves.  Dry the leaves either in a salad spinner or by rolling in a kitchen towel.  In a bowl, toss the leaves with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and ¼ teaspoon sea salt.  For extra flavor add ¼ red pepper flakes.  Adjust the ingredients to the amount of kale leaves, ensuring they leaves are all oiled.  Spread the leaves on a cookie sheet, giving space in between.  Bake about 8 minutes at 350° for a wispy thin chip that has a salty and earthy taste.  Kale chips are guaranteed to disappear fast, thus a great way to get your family to eat their leafy greens!

Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning

 

 

Ok, maybe the kale chips aren’t a necessary kitchen staple, but they do provide an excellent alternative snack instead of processed potato chips, which have become a staple in many kitchens.  Tomato sauce, chicken stock and mustard are all simple essentials you can make on your own without depending on a supermarket.  And, you will know they are the freshest and healthiest foods for your family, since you grew them yourself!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Best Chicken Breeds for Egg Production

 

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©2011 Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)

Hens of all breeds lay eggs, but given the same conditions such as care, shelter and food, the best chicken breeds for egg production are just better layers.  These chickens were bred for optimal production for eggs almost year-round.  They are hardy breeds, but some are better suited to farms and homesteads where others can readily adapt to the backyard coop.  Some are active and busy while others are docile and calm.  Read on to find out which breeds are suitable for your homestead or backyard situation.

  • Leghorns (pronounced “leggerns”)—This breed originated near Livorno (translated Leghorn) Italy.  They were brought to America in 1852.  Leghorns are active, hardy, know how to forage and are exceptional layers.  This breed is not suited for backyards, but rather forage-based systems and homesteads.  They are busy, active flyers and noisy.  They can be flighty around humans and generally don’t make good pets.  They lay 300 eggs per year.  Produce large white eggs.
  • Sex-Link Hybrids—These chickens are bred from crossing 2 different purebred breeds.  They are called sex-link because it’s easy to tell the difference between the male chicks and the female chicks by color.  The 2 categories of sex-link chickens are black sex-links and red sex-links.  They are hardy for both hot and cold climates, calm and quiet.  This friendly breed is suitable for city backyards they make great pets.  They lay 300 eggs per year and are active foragers that also do well in smaller spaces like chicken tractors.  Produce large brown eggs.
  • Rhode Island Reds—One of America’s oldest chicken breeds, Rhode Island Reds were developed in New England in the 19th century.  Excellent foragers, they are calm and do well in chicken tractors and movable coops.  These birds make great backyard chickens as well as for the homestead.  This is a dual-purpose breed, meaning they are meat-and-eggs birds.  They lay 250-300 eggs per year.  Produce large brown eggs.

    Incredible Chickens

    Incredible Chickens

  • New Hampshire Reds—Bred from many generations of Rhode Island Reds, the New Hampshire Reds are a strain within the breed that were the handpicked and carefully selected individuals for vigor and hardiness.  They mature early and produce 208-260 eggs per year.  They were called New Hampshire Reds for their rich, red plumage and they were meatier than the Rhode Island Reds.  A calm quiet breed for backyards and coops.  Produce large medium-brown eggs.
  • Rhode Island Whites—This is a separate breed from the Rhode Island Reds, and was developed by crossing rose-combed White Leghorns, White Wyandottes and Partridge Cochins back in 1888.  Laying 240-250 eggs per year, they are hardy and efficient foragers.  They are a meatier bird with well-rounded breasts.  Rhode Island Whites are well adapted to very cold climates.  Produce large brown eggs.
  • Australorps—Developed in Australia for harsh climate conditions, this dual-purpose breed lays 250 eggs per year.  Australorps are hardy, vigorous and efficient at foraging.  They are a meaty breed that is intelligent and has a docile and friendly personality.  They are also good for backyard pets in the city.  Produce light-brown eggs.

 

If you want a year-round supply of eggs, these are the best chicken breeds for egg production.  Be sure to learn more about these breeds to find out which ones will do best in your climate, confinement situation (pasture-based or backyard coop), personality type (calm and friendly or noisy and busy) and land-use regulations before buying.  By choosing the breed suitable to your situation, you and your chickens, and your neighbors will be happy.

Click here to read Choosing the Right Chicken Coop for Your Urban Backyard Chickens

Check out these books to learn more about chickens:

Incredible Chickens

Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds

Building a Chicken Coop

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Eat Your Weeds! Forage in Your Yard for Edible Wild Plants

Wild Salad

Eat Your Weeds !

 

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©2011 Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)

Every year we spend countless billions of dollars and hours of our time eradicating the healthiest foods on the planet.

We dowse these weeds with chemicals, shuddering at the thought of these invaders taking over our fields, pastures and gardens.  Or, we handpick them from between our fragile domesticated crops and toss them in the trash, bypassing the compost bin, chicken yard and goat pen.

Growing up, I watched my grandfather make sure that every bindweed plant was sprayed with chemicals so it wouldn’t choke out the wheat crop.  I watched a friend’s expression widen into horror, as I blew dandelion seeds into the wind, freeing them to glide on the currents and settle wherever they would.  He acted as if I had just unleashed the devil himself.  As a child, I wondered, why were people horrified of such a beautiful yellow flower?

Nature's Garden

Nature’s Garden

Weeds are nutritionally superior to our domesticated crops and better acclimated to growing conditions, making them hardy and resilient. Our ancestors all over the world revered these plants for food and medicinal properties.  Here are several edible wild plants—herbs—that you should learn how to identify so you can add these nutrient-dense foods to your diet.  Be sure to use a field guide for plant identification.

  • Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.)—high in iron, beta-carotene and potassium.  The blossoms can be made into a wine or fritters.  Dandelion roots, made into a tea or added to soups, relieve acne, eczema and water retention by strengthening the liver.
  • Lamb’s-quarters (Chenopodium album)—rich in iron, calcium, beta-carotene and vitamin C.  Throughout history, lamb’s-quarters were used as a nourishing food during times of famine and war.  It is more nutritious than spinach and requires no care in the garden.  It is also called goosefoot, because of the shape of the leaves.  Can be eaten raw or cooked.  The tea can relieve sunburns and headaches.
  • Nettles (Urtica dioica)—high in iron, beta-carotene and vitamin C.  Because of the stinging hairs on nettles, they should be cooked.  Use them in soups and as steamed greens.  Nettles are excellent for skin, hair and nails.
  • Chicory (Cichorium intybus)—Chicory flowers are used to garnish salads, main dishes and cakes.  Young leaves are picked before the plant flowers and added to salads.  The root is sautéed as a vegetable or it is dried, roasted and brewed as a coffee.  Make a poultice of the leaves for inflamed skin.
  • Chickweed (Stellaria media)—high in vitamin C.  Traditionally, chickweed was given to frail people to strengthen them.  Add the leaves, flowers and stems to soups, salads and stir-fry dishes.  Chickweed is also made into a salve for skin disorders for everything from diaper rash to psoriasis.
  • Knotweed (Polygonum aviculare, P. erectum)—high in silica.  Used to strengthen the connective tissue in the lungs and as a remedy for swollen arthritic joints.  Steam the young tender stems and add to stews or quiches.  Add the seeds with your other grains to make gruel and breads.  Always cook knotweed, eating it raw can cause intestinal discomfort.
  • Common Mallow (Malva neglecta)—rich in beta-carotene.  The leaves are soothing and anti-inflammatory.  Can be eaten raw or cooked, and is used to thicken soups.  Made into a tea or syrup, it relieves sore throats, coughs and ulcers.  Make a poultice from the fresh shredded leaves and water for skin rashes, burns and insect bites.  Garnish your salads with the delicate pink and white flowers.
  • Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)—high in omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, and vitamin C.  Purslane strengthens your immune system, liver and heart.   An excellent cooling herb, add to cold soups like gazpacho.  If you are pregnant or have digestive problems, avoid purslane.
  • Violet (Viola spp)—rich in vitamin C.  Who can resist the beautiful heart-shaped leaves of violet?  Or a springtime dessert made from the  crystallized purple, lavender, yellow or white flowers?   Violet tea is used for bronchitis, coughs and fevers.  Make violet honey and take as a remedy for heartache.
  • Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)—Young leaves are high in oxalic acid which inhibits calcium absorption, so eat in moderation and cook in 2 changes of water.  Grind the seeds into a nutrient-dense meal and add to breads.  It is recommended to remove the astringent papery flanges from the seeds before using.  Do this by rubbing the seeds between your hands.  Pour them into a clean container, tilt it slightly and sweep the seeds with a playing card, keeping the chaff near the top and letting the seeds roll to the bottom.  Make a poultice of the fresh leaves for skin rashes and nettle stings.  The root is astringent and antiseptic and used for acne, jaundice and constipation.
Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate

Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate

 

 

The Forager's Harvest

The Forager’s Harvest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whenever harvesting your edible weeds, be sure to collect them from areas that haven’t been sprayed.  Allow them to grow in your garden and collect them as you harvest your plants and combine them into nutrient packed meals for your family.

Read several books on identifying plants and talk to your county extension agent on identifying plants in your area if you are not sure how to identify them.  I’ve included some excellent books to get you started:

Edible Wild Plants:  Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate

The Forager’s Harvest 

Nature’s Garden

 

 






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Beekeeping—10 Reasons to Raise Your Own Bees

beehive

Beekeeping for Beginners

 

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©2011 Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)

Backyard beekeeping is shaping up to be the latest trend in urban areas in addition to gardening, chickens and rabbits.  Why should you raise bees?  Bees are essential for the pollination of plants and crops.  The last few years there has been an overwhelming disappearance of bees due to colony collapse disorder (CCD).  Without the bees, we will have fewer crops leading to increased food prices as well as food shortages.  But as an individual, you can change this, just by adding a beehive to your backyard.  Here are 10 reasons why raising bees is important for our urban backyards:

  • Beekeeping can be done by anyone—men, women, seniors, even children (under adult supervision) can enjoy beekeeping as a hobby that can grow into a small-farm business.  The only part of beekeeping that is physically demanding is lifting the supers full of honey.  These are the boxes that hold the frames full of honey and honeycomb.
  • Beekeeping can be done practically anywhere there are flowering plants, trees or shrubs.  Bees can be kept in the cold north, desert or humid southern areas.  Be sure to contact your local beekeeping group to learn how to keep bees in your area.  Beehives can be kept in the city as well as the country, just think of the gardens kept in backyards everywhere that can benefit from bees.  Be sure to check your city ordinances first before setting up your first hive.
  • Unlike livestock, bees don’t have to be fed and watered every day.  No twice-a-day milking, hauling hay or tromping through the snow to break ice.  Bees do need supplemental feeding in spring and fall, so you will need to check food reserves in their hives every few days.  During summer, just do a once-a-week check on their health and see how honey production is going.  Late summer, remove the surplus of honey from the hive.  If you have 1-2 hives, this can be done in a day.  In winter—no work for the beekeeper!  Use this time to plan the next year out for increasing honey production.  Read the latest on beekeeping and stay informed on what’s happening in your hobby.  Beekeeping can be another part of your farm chores or even done if you have a full-time career.
  • Bees benefit you and your neighbors by pollinating plants in gardens, orchards, vineyards or farm crops.  Bees increase fruit, vegetable and flower production.  Bees travel up to 3 miles away from their hive looking for food sources so they benefit everyone in your area.  You can also rent hives to farmers to pollinate their crops.

    DIY bee hive

    DIY Hive Construction

  • Your own honey will taste more delicious than any you buy.  Raw honey from your own hives can be added to a cup of hot tea, drizzled on warm biscuits or used to create moist baked goods.  Local raw honey alleviates allergy symptoms and it makes wonderful gifts for family and friends.
  • Bees produce more than honey!  Wax, propolis and royal jelly have all been used and enjoyed by beekeepers for personal use and to add additional products to sell.  Make candles from the beeswax, they burn cleaner and have a mild, sweet fragrance.  Add honey and beeswax into your soap, lotion and lip balm recipes.  Use the excess milk from your cows, goats or sheep to make milk and honey soap to sell.
  • Hummm along with your bees!  Working with bees requires you to be calm and to have smooth, deliberate movements and concentration.  By staying focused, relaxed and concentrated on the task at hand, your stress will melt away.  You can calm your mind and focus on observing the hive community and listen to the hum.
  • Startup costs are inexpensive, compared with other farming startups.  Beginner kits are in the $165-450 range and include a hive, basic tools, smoker, gloves, veiled hat and an introductory beekeeping book.  Bees are purchased as a package with workers, drones and a queen.
  • Beekeeping is a hobby that can easily turn a profit.  It can pay for itself after the first year, since the hive can produce about 100 pounds of surplus honey in a good year.  Many beginners start out with 2 hives and market value-added products like candles, soaps, lotions, lip balm or sell wax, pollen and propolis.  And don’t forget the added bonus of increased garden productivity.
  • Due to the devastating effects of colony collapse disorder (CCD), bees have been disappearing from our landscape.  By going back to small-scale beekeeping, we may be able to regenerate colonies and thus ensure our future food supply.

It goes without saying, if you or your family members have a severe allergic reaction to bee stings, then beekeeping is not for you.  A severe allergic reaction can result in anaphylactic shock and rapid death.  Immediate epinephrine treatment is needed.

Beekeeping for Beginners

Click here for The Barefoot Beekeeper

DIY Hive Construction Guide

DIY Hive Construction Guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOKS FOR BEEKEEPING:

For the beekeeper, the enjoyment of taking care of the bees and the multiple streams of income outweigh the occasional bee sting.  To learn more about beekeeping check out the

The Barefoot Beekeeper,

Beekeeping for Beginners,

or learn how to make your own beehives with DIY Beehive Construction Guide.

 

 






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Choosing the Right Chicken Coop for Your Urban Backyard Chickens

Building a Chicken Coop

Building a Chicken Coop

 

If you find this post useful, please take one second to like, share, or tweet it. Thanks!

 

©2011 Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)

As more people strive to be self-reliant, they are choosing to raise chickens in their backyards.  Choosing the right chicken coop is essential to keeping your flock healthy and happy.

Backyard chickens are becoming popular today in many cities, including Albuquerque, Seattle and New York.  Cities across the nation are revising their local zoning and land-use laws to include backyard chickens in the regulations.

Before bringing new chickens home to your backyard though, you need to carefully choose the right chicken coop for your situation.  Be sure to check your local city regulations before buying your chickens.

Tips for Choosing the Right Chicken Coop

  • Talk to city officials. How many chickens are you allowed in your yard?  What is the distance they need to be kept from dwellings?  Any other special regulations?
  • Choose the site best for your coop.  The site needs to be well drained—you don’t want your chickens standing in mud!  Expose the coop to the south to provide good sun.  Keep in mind the prevailing weather patterns in your area.  Face the door so the coop is protected from the rain and wind.
  • Complement your home and yard with the right chicken coop design.  Matching the design of the coop to your house or neighborhood makes it pleasing to look at and promotes backyard chickens to your neighbors.
  • Remodel an existing structure into a coop.  You can turn a garden shed, a playhouse the kids outgrew or another outdoor structure into a chicken coop with a little creativity, tools and materials.  You can even turn a corner of your garage into a chicken house and build a run outside.Building a Chicken Coop
  • Pre-fab coops are more expensive, but easier and quicker to get up and going with your chickens.  Just order and the coop will arrive ready to be moved into your yard.  You can also order “some-assembly required” kits.
  • Build it yourself.  If you love woodworking or want to learn, building your own chicken coop can be a great project to hone your skills. You can purchase chicken coop plans and blueprints online.  Once your neighbors see your hand-built coop, they may set you up with woodworking projects for them!
  • Chicken Tractor—No, you’re not hitching your chicken up to a plow, but the concept of working the soil is the same.  A chicken tractor is a movable coop that allows you to move your chickens over fresh grass in your yard every day.  They eat the bugs and weed seeds, scratch at the soil and fertilize it.  And they give you omega-3 rich eggs to boot.  It’s a win-win situation.
  • How big?  You need to plan ahead for the size of your coop.  Each hen needs a minimum of 4 square feet, inside and outside the coop.  If you get Bantams, figure about 3 square feet per hen, since they are smaller.  Overcrowded chickens tend to peck at each other, which can start a host of problems.  For cold weather, you want the spacing to be adequate so the chickens can stay warm.
  • Have a quarantine area.  A separate area to keep new birds for a week or two allows you to keep your flock healthy.  It’s also a good area to separate a hen if she becomes ill, until she recovers.  You can also separate the occasional over-aggressive hen that is pestering the other birds.
  • Make sure the coop is wind and water tight.  Your chickens need protection from the elements to stay healthy.  They like shade during the heat of the day, but also need protection from cold drafts.  Use closeable windows for ventilation or a line of screened vents built into the top of north and south facing walls.
  • Use appropriate building materials.  Wood on the bottom of the coop that is in contact with the soil will eventually rot.  Redwood and cedar are rot-resistant and excellent choices.  Pine is cheaper and may need replacing in the future or require treatment.  Be aware that preservatives put on wood might be poisonous to chickens.  Use metal, fiberglass or wood shingles for the roof.
  • Perches.  Chickens need to perch off the ground at night.  You can be creative making perches from broom handles, natural branches or 2×2’s rounded and sanded (1×2 for bantams).  Figure 6-10 inches of perching space per hen or 6-8 inches for bantams.

    Building a Chicken Coop

    Building a Chicken Coop

  • Nesting boxes.  Provide 1 nesting box for every 4-5 hens.  They will often share a nest.  Build the boxes where you can reach in through a hinged door for easy access to collect the eggs.
  • Predators.  Raccoons, dogs, skunks, owls and hawks—all love a good chicken dinner or a pre-dawn egg breakfast.  Dig a trench 1 foot around the perimeter of the coop, lay in chicken wire and cover with dirt to keep predators from digging under your coop.  Make latches secure from nimble raccoon fingers.  And protect chickens overhead with chicken wire, away from the hawks and owls.
  • Keep it clean.  Plan your coop for easy to clean maintenance.  Use the manure in your compost pile for valuable nutrients for your garden.  Clean your chicken coop frequently to keep smells, bugs and neighbor complaints to a minimum.
  • Pre-plan how you are going to get inside the coop.  If it’s hard to get into, you’ll avoid cleaning it, which will result in a buildup of manure.  Use leaf litter, pine shavings or chopped corn cobs for bedding.

Your chicken coop design can elaborate and grand, simple and plain or anything in between to complement your home and neighborhood.  The main point to remember is that the coop needs to protect your flock, keeping them dry, secure and comfortable.  Following the tips on choosing the right chicken coop will ensure that backyard chickens continue to be accepted in more cities, bringing self-reliance back to the individual.

Click here to learn about the Best Chicken Breeds for Egg Production

The following books can get you started in the right direction for raising chickens in your backyard:

Building a Chicken Coop

Incredible Chickens

 






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