Posts Tagged Life Style

Getting Started With Chickens

Chickens are, as I like to put it, the gateway animal.  You start out with chickens and then all a sudden you have your eye on a few goals, a couple pigs and maybe even a mini Dexter cow.  I have had chickens several times through out my life and always loved having them around. Even years ago when I got my first chickens I made a lot of success very quickly and the entire process was a lot of fun.

starting with chickens

The nice thing about keeping chickens is they are quite easy to take care of, requires a few minutes a day to tend, in a pinch can be left for a long weekend and if you travel you can teach someone to take care of them quickly.  Of course as with any animal, owning chickens you need to take it seriously and make sure you understand that their welfare is your responsibility, so make sure to consider it carefully.

Know Your Local Laws

The first thing you need to do before you do anything is make sure that keeping chickens is allowed.  You’ll need to check with the local authorities, see if you have any rules in your home owners association or deed restrictions and then also consider your neighbors.

golden comet chicken In my city I’m allowed to have up to 50 birds per acre, the coop must be offset from any property line by 15 feet and obtain a permit for $10 a year.  Your city or town may be different, so make sure you do your homework!

Learn All You Can

Obviously if you’re reading this post, you want to learn about starting a chicken farm and it may even be because you’re thinking about getting chickens of your own (go for it!).  Use this post as a jumping off point to learn as much as you can about the various aspects of chickens.  You’re going to make mistakes and that is okay, we are learning, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re doing your best to care for these animals.

Get Setup Ahead Of Time

Once you’ve researched your local laws you want to get setup with some basic infrastructure.  You’re going to need a few things so you can be ready for your chickens.  You should consider the following

Brooder

If you’re going to raise chickens from freshly hatched babies (chicks) you will need what is called a brooder.  A brooder is like a nursery for the chicks where we protect them a little bit more, give them some added heat and let them grow a bit before you let them out into the real world.  I typically do this in a large Rubbermaid tub with a heat lamp and some bedding.

We have a whole post on how to set up a brooder and raise chicks. Below is a video I have of some baby quail I raised a few years ago from eggs. Their setup was a bit simpler, but you get the idea.

Build A Coop

A coop is just what we call the house we keep our chickens in at night.  During the day we will let them free range (go were ever they want) or let them into a run (a fenced area that provides some protection).  The coop needs to be about 2 square feet for each chicken you have.  Much more than 2-3 feet per bird assuming they have more room to range during the day doesn’t do much because they all like to pile on a roost and cuddle up with each other anyway.

chicken on roost in coopA roost is just a bar that chickens like to sit on, usually about a foot or so off the floor of the coop or ground.  I’ve had chickens that all piled onto a single bar leaving several empty and then I’ve had others that didn’t use them at all.  I usually add them because it seems like most chickens like to roost because it makes them feel a little safer.  The top most roost is often taken up by the alpha hen and the rooster if you have one, but some flocks don’t get too tied up in pecking order.

You want to make sure that there is at least some ventilation, but make sure it hardware cloth over it so predators can’t get in. The rule of thumb is around 1 square foot of ventilation per 10 square feet of coop.

The last parts of a coop are your nesting boxes for the chickens to lay their eggs in (usually one box per 3-4 birds) and some sort of bedding to catch droppings from.  Chickens put out a lot of droppings and they tend to concentrate under the roost bars.  However you plan to handle droppings, make it bomb proof because it can get messy quickly and if you build your coop to easily clean out, you can make your life a lot easier.  More on coops coming soon.

Chicken Tractors And Chicken Runs

Many people who want to get into raising chickens want to try a mobile chicken tractor, which is basically a coop with no bottom that you move to fresh grass every few days.  I’ve done both a fixed coop and chicken tractors and I think chicken tractors are my favorite because it cuts down on the cleaning (no floors, the chickens just poop on the grass) and it reduces the amount of feed I need to buy.

Here is my old chicken tractor:

chicken tractor

There are a few things you need to consider if you decide to go the chicken tractor.  Whatever coop you design it should be able to be moved easily by the smallest person in your household, it makes it difficult if only some of the people can actually move it each day.

Finally make sure you have enough room, if you have more than a few chickens you’ll need to move that coop most days so that the chickens do remove all the vegetation in that one spot to the point that it can’t bounce back.  You want the grass to get roughed up a bit, but no more.  This will let the grass bounce back and grow stronger.  Having enough space is easier in the summer months because things grow so quickly, but in the winter you may find that a spot where the chickens were takes 30-60 days to heal.

Life And Death On The Farmstead

With any animals it’s great to have animals around your yard, it can bring a lot of good energy, fun and happiness.  The other side of the coin is that with life comes the end of if.  Sometimes chickens get sick, sometimes a predator circumvents our fences, or they might just grow old and die.

hens and a rooster

For good caretakers these days are few and far between, but it is a reality of this lifestyle.  When I bought my first chicks I ended up with several roosters despite me trying to avoid it.  As they grew they began to struggle for dominance as the alpha rooster.  It was at that point I had tried giving them away, but couldn’t find anyone that would take them even for free.  As they fought I knew the only outcome was that there would be only one alpha and the rest would suffer injuries or death from the skirmishes that were taking place.

It was then I realized they would end up being pecked to death by the alpha rooster.  I wasn’t comfortable with a prolonged and painful death, so I made the decision to process them for meat.  It was a difficult and somber affair as I did the deed, and while I was resolved in my mind, it didn’t make it any easier as I placed them in the kill cone and nicked their artery with a knife.

Just understand that it’s mostly good, but there are a few bad days too.

Self Sufficiency

Not only is keeping chickens pretty easy and a lot of fun, but the eggs and potentially meat are a solid first step into self sufficiency.  If you think about it, we grow a lot of things in out garden and while they are loaded with nutrients, vitamins and minerals, they are often very low in calories or protein.  It’s great to eat healthy, but if we want to make our way to self sufficiency, we need to figure a way to cover our caloric and protein needs too and eggs help in that goal.

nutrition in a farm eggAs you can see an egg has some good calories and a fair bit of protein and you get an egg per chicken each day in many cases.  Compare that to a tomato which can take 90 days to grow and only has 22 calories.

Having a few eggs a day for breakfast or a quiche for lunch or dinner is a great way to start making up some of the calories that we need, which means we don’t have to rely on the grocery store as much.  Eggs can even be a way to make a few bucks to cover the cost of feed and if you ever need a chicken sitter, them keeping the eggs is often compensation enough.

Letting Chickens Work For You

my chickens in my gardenNot only are chickens a great source of food, but they can be helpful in reducing your work load.  Chickens by their nature scratch at the dirt, root for bugs and grubs, and till up the first inch of soil.  We can utilizing their natural tendencies to get things done in our gardens. Setting chickens loose on compost piles will be like letting a child loose in a candy shop.  They’ll turn the compost, peck out any grubs and bugs (breaking the pest life cycle) and add their manure to the pile all in one fell swoop.

I’ll often move my chickens to my garden area before I begin to prep the garden for a new season.  Since my garden area is fenced in for deer, I set them up there for a month and let them take everything to bare dirt.  If there are any perennial plants or plants I want to keep, I’ll just fence them off so the chickens can get to them.  After a few weeks the ground is often removed of weeds, bugs and a fair bit of manure has been scratched into the soil.

Chickens are a really great first step into bringing animals into the mix on your land and they have a lot of upsides.   So if you are thinking about chickens, check out some of the other post here on the site and let us know in the comments what your plans are!

Your Turn!

  • What seems like the biggest challenge for you when it comes to chickens?
  • What are your chicken plans?

 

Evaluating Your Time, The Trick To A Happier Life

They say that when people start to track what they eat they generally start eating less, just because they’re being conscious of what they are eating.  The same rings true when you look at how you’re spending your life, what time you dedicate to different things.  Over the past month or so I’ve been taking a look at how am I spending my life, where is my time going and how do I feel about it all.

I wanted to map what my life is actually like and compare it to what I want it to be.  The difference between what it is and what I want it to be signals where I need to make changes.  To do this, I’ve found a few tools that I’ve really liked and thought I’d share some of them here.

Track your life with Life Cycle

This is a pretty neat app that automates the tracking of your entire day and it does it pretty well.  It uses your GPS to figure out what you do where and then tracks how long you’re doing it.  You tell it where you work, it tracks time spent at work.  You tell it where you work out, grocery shop, get dinner, do errands and it tracks it all.  At the end of the day you get a snapshot of what your day was.

So here you can see I spent 7 hours and 23 minutes sleeping, 6 hours 28 minutes working, and so on.  The app interfaces with the iPhone’s health app, tracking your steps and it also connect to their other app, Sleep Cycle (more on that in a minute).

Track your sleep with Sleep Cycle

This is from the makers of the Life Cycle app and interfaces with it, its basically required to use.  Basically it analyzes how you sleep by detecting movement on your bed and breathing patterns.  It operates on the premise that when you are in deep REM sleep (the kind that really gets you rested up) your body actually prevents itself from moving so we don’t act out our dreams and many other reasons.  This means when we are in deep sleep, we don’t really move.  The app tracks this and measures your sleep patterns.

Understand better how you work with Rescue Time

If you’re like me, when it comes to work, it’s almost all done on a computer.  Rescue time puts a little program on your computer to track exactly what you’re doing and for how long.  It can spit out reports to show you exactly what you’ve been up to, it can categorize those into “productive” or “non productive” activities.

rescue time tracking

This is really good for those who get distracted easily on the web or on their computers.  We know that just because you’re on your computer, doesn’t mean you’re actually working.  Since using this app (over two years for me now) I’ve found that I get on my computer, do only work, then shut down and move on with life.  In short, I don’t waste time, get my work done quickly and get on with more important things.

Dig into emails with Gmail Meter

One of the lessons I learned from using Rescue Time (above) was that I spend a lot of time in email.  Email is often a terrible use of time.  The saying goes: “an email inbox is a convenient way to organize other people’s priorities.”  I use an add-on to Gmail called Gmail Meter which analyzes your email.  I’ve taken some drastic steps to help reduce the number of emails I receive.  For example I used to receive around 400 emails a day, now 170 email per day.  I still have a very long way to go.

It also shows your top people who email you.  This helps me identify people who I need to break it off with if they are endless emailers or validate that the emails I do get and send are productive.

So What Does This All Mean?

After sitting with this data, I break out my life into three main categories:  Recreational, Sleeping and Business Activities. Having objective data is a very important step because we can get down to specifics and reality, not guesses and gut feelings.

I then can ask myself, what do I want my life to be like?  What do I want a day to look like?  Then after that I can delve into things more specifically: what do I want my free time (recreational) to look like?  When I run my business, what should that look and feel like?  How much sleep do I want to make sure I have?

The important part here is defining what will make you happy and then comparing it to reality.  The gap is where I need to focus and make intentional changes.

For me, email is a huge issue.  I also spend more time driving that I like.  My average sleep time is around 8 hours, which is good, but I need to work out more.

You can use fancy tools like I have here or simply jot down in a notebook.  The point is, how often do you take inventory on your goals and your life?  Most people don’t.  Most people do nothing or at best, work of guesses.

Your Turn!

  • How do you track your time spent?
  • How do you keep on track to your goals?

Happy Thanksgiving from The Tiny Life

The_Tiny_Life_ThanksgivingIt’s Thanksgiving once again, and we wanted to wish a happy holiday from us here at The Tiny Life to those who celebrate. How can you celebrate the tiny way?

  • Tell your loved ones how grateful you are that they are in your life, and what it is about them that you’re thankful for.
  • Avoid the Black Friday crowds if you can! Put the money you’d otherwise spend tomorrow toward a goal (your future tiny house, perhaps), or spend it on a fun adventure with family and friends.
  • Donate to one of your favorite charities to show them how much you appreciate the work they do.
  • Put down the phone and enjoy a face to face conversation with someone.
  • Start a daily gratitude journal – write down three things you’re thankful for every day.
  • Take a moment to appreciate how far you’ve come toward reaching your goals, rather than constantly focusing on how much needs to be done.

“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” -Lao Tzu

Your turn!

  • What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?
  • How are you planning to spend the holiday?

Keepin’ It Tiny

I just can’t hide from tiny houses. They seem to just fall in to my life in random ways. For example, I came home from work the other night and found this lovely house sitting by the entrance to the drive-way. It belongs to a local artist who lived with my friends up the road from my current location.

tiny-houses

A few weeks ago this awesome house rolled in to the parking lot of a contra dance I attended in Southern Vermont. Just another amazing tiny house from North Carolina!

The best tiny house coincidence occurred when I was looking for a placeto live this past spring. I was led to my current tiny life experience through friends and while my ideal was to once again find a tiny space to habitat I wasn’t banking on it. Lo and behold this adorable space was offered to me by lovely people who I am now privileged to call friends as well as neighbors.

photo 5Thus, I now live in a revamped chicken coop! The Coop, as it is adorably referred to, is a 6′ x 8′ space on one of the most beautiful properties I have ever lived on. My friend and neighbor who runs Carpenter Brook Artisans replaced the siding, ripped out the old carpet and re-painted the plaster walls. It is a beautiful space. I have the joy of a shared garden space, I get to enjoy the clucking of their adorable chickens and just a short walk away is an amazing private beach on a gorgeous river. Could it get any better? Believe it or not the answer is yes.

When I lived the tiny life previously in La Casita it was hard to find photo 2community to live in. Just when I thought it was within reach, one thing or another would keep that dream from coming true. Now, without having planned for it, I live by people who enjoy a similar lifestyle and wish to create community in the ways that matter most, such as growing food together, sharing meals, splitting chores and hosting communal gatherings. I am so grateful to have found this tiny home in Vermont and feel so lucky to be living with people who are caring and supportive. It’s an incredible opportunity and for it to have fallen in to my lap the way it did is pretty remarkable. I suppose it just goes to show that I am destined to live a tiny life.

 

Your Turn!

  • How has the tiny life style found you?

Back in the World of the Big Houses

Tiny houses are hard, but so is everything that is worthwhile.” -Ryan Mitchell

Hello tiny life readers! It has been some time since I last wrote an article and I am so excited to be back writing articles for one of my favorite blogs! Last year I left The Tiny Life while trying to reconfigure my everyday life in what I refer to as the world of the big houses. It has been quite the journey!

reinvent businessI had to start this article with the title of a post Ryan made at the beginning of the year. It’s pretty much my motto at present. At an organized retreat I recently attended in Vermont we started the weekend by stepping in to a ring of river stones and visualizing ourselves leaving behind our daily realities. We called it the rabbit hole, a term borrowed from Alice in Wonderland. It is a psychological exercise, or ritual if you prefer, aimed at letting go. It allows an individual to fully immerse oneself in the present and provides temporary release from ones daily grind. I found this experience to be a symbolic reoccurrence in my existence, the most recent being my experience living the tiny life.

I can certainly compare my time living in a tiny house to jumping down a rabbit hole. Besides being of relatively small dimensions, the rabbit hole and a tiny house share traits that I find incredibly appealing including whimsy, excitement and a general disregard for the limiting options provided by our present day world. Living the tiny life requires an ability to accept a different reality than that currently proposed by society at large and an embracing of the alternatives that come with the lifestyle. These aspects make living in a tiny house wonderful but also extremely difficult.

futureWhen I moved in to my first tiny house I escaped many realities that I did not care to face, primarily a mortgage but that wasn’t all. There is a certain flexibility and unpredictability in mobility that a tiny house provides which I enjoyed. Most of all, living outside the norm was thrilling to me. There was less distraction from the present moment in such a small space! For me, smaller spaces are conducive to my own creative processes in terms of mental focus although physically they are limiting. It’s these contradictions, however, that keeps such a life interesting and allows for expansion in ways you may never have imagined (think biscuits that make you as big as a house or as small as a mouse a la Alice’s experience). Sometimes though, it reveals to you challenges you are not sure you can handle.

I bring this up because for nearly 2 years I lived in a tiny house and then about six months ago I had to leave due tonext-step an unsafe situation in my life. It was devastating to leave behind my home and try to figure out how I fit in to the world of big houses again. It didn’t take long for me to find a house, but a home I have yet to find. I am currently homeless and wandering, wondering and trying to figure out where the tiny life exists for me now. It’s disconcerting but there is excitement in the new and unknown. The tiny life continues to be an alluring alternative to me and even after all the turmoil I hope to again have a tiny house of my own.

Ultimately, the change means recreating my reality all over again. For awhile it was okay living back in the world of big houses. Who am I kidding? It was awesome! Having a regular bathroom and renting a house that held the most amazing tub I have ever had the pleasure of using was fantastic but after a few months the retreat started to get old. I miss my compact life and the feeling of safety small spaces provide me. I miss the independence and pursuit of sustainability within my home space. I miss talking to people about the merits of living such a life and having a beautiful example to invite them in to. I miss my cheap rent! After leaving La Casita, I felt completely disconnected from the movement and it took me a long time to feel as  though I still belonged. Just because I no longer live in a tiny house does not mean I’ve lost dedication to the movement and its ideals. I just had to figure that out for myself and reinstate a commitment to the tiny life. It has been a very vulnerable time for me and it has helped me realize that living the tiny life is still in my plans and I am excited to discover new opportunities within the movement.

whats-next

Your Turn!

  • Can you relate to jumping down the rabbit hole of the tiny life?
  • What keeps the tiny life alive and exciting  for you?