Category Archives: The Farm

Things I Have Learned About Raising Chickens – Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

Let me start by saying that I am no authority on chickens (or anything else for that matter). When writing these posts I am simply sharing what I have learned through experience.


All joking aside – Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?  I find the answer to this dilemma to be nearly as simple as the lame joke that’s been told over and over throughout the decades. The answer is the chicken crossed the road because it could. Chickens have absolutely no natural boundaries, left on their own they just wander aimlessly and tirelessly scratching and pecking. The world, as much as they can access, is their playground and their dinner table. Chickens are not trainable, they are not obedient, and they have seemingly short attention spans so giving them something to entice them to stay where you want them will only work for a short time.

If there is somewhere you don’t want the chickens to go you must set up a boundary.


In our case crossing the road is not the worst case scenario. Our neighbors haven’t complained about the chickens foraging in their yard, and drivers who encounter the chickens crossing tend to yield the right of way to our girls. There are, however, some things the chickens find especially enticing, such as freshly worked soil, wood mulch, and straw, and these things can become a problem. Chickens are quick to wander into the freshly planted garden and scratch up all of our hard work. They will dine on the grass seed we just planted, and rearranging the flower bed while digging through a fresh layer of mulch is something a chicken can not resist. It doesn’t take long at all for chickens to destroy all of that hard work.


In 2012 when we began planning to raise chickens on our farm we first built the chicken yard. Our chicken yard is what I consider prime real-estate as it is built in a grove of beautiful mature Shagbark Hickory trees. The dimensions are 90 ft. by 45 ft. so the chickens have plenty of room to roam. The four foot high welded wire fence is generally sufficient to keep the chickens  in, although we do have an occasional escapee. In addition to the shade provided by the Hickory trees the chicken yard also had a wide swath of shrubs that not only offers shade from the sun and protection from the wind, it helps to protect them from overhead predators.  Even with all these amenities our chicken yard is not perfect. It does not have the assortment of grasses, clover, plantain and other plants that are found elsewhere on our farm. Thus as much as possible we allow our chickens to roam the farm and forage for their food. We have fence around all of our garden areas that keeps the chickens out but to be fair the fence serves to keep deer out as well.

We have accepted the fact that the mulch in the prayer garden may not always stay pretty and neat, and that we will inevitably find ourselves herding chickens back to our side of the road, but the lower feed costs, the delicious and nutritious eggs, and the insect control provided by our free range chickens  are certainly worth it.

Thanks for reading and follow along so you don’t miss future posts is this series – “Don’t Put All Of You Eggs In One Basket” and “Chickens Come Home To Roost”.



What I Have Learned About Raising Chickens – The Toughest Lesson

I have been planning to write a series of posts about what I have learned from our experience with raising chickens over the last 5 years. A heartbreaking incident this week has prompted me to start with the toughest lesson of them all.

We use a natural approach to farming and with raising chickens that means allowing our flock to free range. When I say “free range” I mean that the chickens roam the farm, and at times the neighboring properties, and even cross the road (that’s a topic for a future post) scratching,  pecking and foraging for their food. We are aware of the inherent danger of predators when raising free range chickens, but we feel the benefits of healthier chickens, healthier eggs and stress free birds far outweigh the risks. Over the years we have lost a chicken now and then to a hawk, or found a chicken body with no head that left us wondering what kind of predator does that, and occasionally we have one or two come up missing, apparently carried off to become dinner for one of God’s creatures.

This week was different. It was bright and sunny Monday afternoon and my husband had been to the farm around 4:00 P.M. to check on the chickens, give them fresh water and take Scout and Trooper for their afternoon walk. He left the gate to the chicken yard open as some of the chickens were happily scratching and pecking in a pile of straw near the chicken yard.

He came home for dinner and then waited until 6:00 P.M. to return to close up the coop for the night. He called from the farm, “Something Bad has happened” he said, his voice quivering. “A fox got to the chickens, I’m going to be here awhile,” he explained.  Quite awhile later he returned to the house telling me that as he pulled in the driveway he witnessed the attacker (our neighbors claims it was a coyote) running off. There were dead chickens scattered around the area. He found 9 dead chickens. He only counted 17 chickens who had returned to the coop for the night so there were still 5 missing. He needed to put new batteries in his flashlight before returning to search for the missing birds. I offered to go along but he refused my help, as he wanted to protect me from the horrific  scene. Upon searching the area he discover two more dead and the other three were completely gone, apparently carried off by their assassin(s).

Last Spring we became aware that there were fox living in the area when we got a call from a neighbor telling us that a fox had tried to get some of our chickens as they were foraging in her yard. She witnessed the attack and scared off the predator by banging on the window. We ended up with one injured chicken who we nursed back to health. We took further measures to protect our flock. We began leaving them penned inside the chicken yard when we were not at the farm. Several times a day we, along with Scout and Trooper, would walk the farm, especially areas that do not have open sightlines, and make our presence know. My husband mowed the overgrown ditch that runs along side the chicken yard including about a 20 foot strip into the neighboring field to open up the sightlines. He also mowed a series of paths through the field so that we were able to walk/patrol that field as well. As we continued these practices through the summer and fall we heard stories of several neighbors who had lost large portions of their unprotected flocks to violent fox or coyote attacks.

With the snow and cold of winter the chickens have spent much of their time either in the coop or at least in the chicken yard. We were recently discussing how happy we were that our flock was thriving in spite of the bitter cold temperatures that we have had this winter and that egg production was increasing due to the longer hours of daylight. There were many days that my husband spent at the farm this winter  mostly cutting wood or riding the snowmobile and during these times he maintained our routine opening the gate so the chickens had access to the farm and making his (human) presence known. With no recent predator incidents he grew comfortable that he could leave the farm for short periods of time to retrieve things he needed at home or bring the boys (dogs) back to the house. Our lack of vigilance proved to be a fatal error.

I am not looking for your sympathy as I tell this story but hope that you might learn a lesson from our mistake. I think we have gained a better understanding of the predator’s MO. He is sly, sneaky, and cunning. He is an opportunist and will cause much damage (death) quickly. He may run from confrontation but will likely return to the scene of the crime when no one is around. With this in mind we realize that we will have to maintain constant vigilance in order to protect our flock.

We are also reminded that (as my husband likes to say), “Nobody ever told us that farming would be easy” and (my reply), “If it was easy everyone would be doing it.”

Now that I’ve got the tough stuff out of the way be sure to follow along as  I will soon be answering the age old question of “Which Came First?”




Making Maple Syrup

It doesn’t seem like a whole year has gone by since we last tapped maple trees and made our maple syrup. Maybe that’s because it hasn’t really been a whole year. While I didn’t remember the exact date that we tapped trees last year I was able to review the post I wrote about it, and I discovered that last year we tapped the trees on February 13th. Last year’s sap flow was considered early and we read that some syrup producers actually missed the season because the were not expecting the season to come so soon.

It was only January 20th according to the calendar but nature doesn’t necessarily go by the calendar. Despite the brutal cold we have had this winter we had been watching the forecast and preparing for the sap season to start. This is only our third year making syrup, so we don’t have much experience to go by, but since temperatures were forecast to be in the high 30’s and low 40’s Fahrenheit (between 3 and 7 degrees Celsius) 7 out of the next 10 days we thought this might be the right time. My husband thought that it would be a good idea to do a few test taps to see if the sap was flowing. So we took supplies for four taps to the farm.

January 20, 2017


The day was very reminiscent of the day we tapped last year. The sun was shining, there was still a thin layer of snow on the ground, and the pond was mostly still frozen.

Happy Hens


The chickens were happy to be out scratching , pecking and even dusting themselves.


My husband and I worked together, taking turns drilling the holes and setting the taps.

First Drop Of Sap


When the sap began running within seconds of being tapped we knew we were on the right track. After setting the first four, we went home, gathered the supplies and returned to set the remaining 13.

A couple days after tapping the trees the high temperatures again stayed below freezing so no sap was flowing. Then we had a couple more day where temperatures reached into the 40’s F so the sap began to flow again. By Friday my husband determined that he had collected enough sap to make syrup. We would cook it Saturday.

My husband had the cooking station set up in the driveway. Because cooking sap produces so much steam cooking it the house would be a horrible mistake, and we are not equipped with a sugar shack so we do it much the way we imagine our ancestors  would have – outdoors over a wood fire.

The fire pit is simple – made of two layers of concrete blocks on three side


He spaces the concrete blocks so that the shallow stainless steel pan sits on the edges of the blocks. We build the fire within the blocks and continually feed wood into it from the open side.



We used a mixture of hardwood limbs and logs that we had cut on the farm and some scrap lumber my husband had picked up from the local sawmill. We began cooking the sap around 11:30 A.M. and by 4:30 P.M. we had reduced the estimated 23 gallons of sap  to the point that we could finish it on our kitchen stove.

Before cooking it on the stove we poured it through a sieve to remove some of the ash that was floating in it. I then brought it back to a boil and continued cooking it until it reached 7 degrees above the boiling point on the candy thermometer 219 degrees F.

Filtering the sugar sand out of the syrup is something that we have struggled with the past two years, so I decided to pay close attention to the temperatures while doing this. I let the syrup cool to between 180 and 190 F. For a filter I used one layer cheese cloth with one layer of felt placed on top of it. I placed the two layers together in my canning funnel then poured the syrup through the fabric lined funnel directly into the jar.

After pouring each jar I needed to change the filter, so I put the pan of syrup back on the stove over a low flame so I could maintain the proper temperature. The syrup flowed easily through the filters. I sealed each jar as soon as it was poured. We ended up with just a very small amount of sugar sand in the bottom of the jars. There is no harm in eating sugar sand as it is said to be made up of calcium salts and malic acid, so filtering out this sand is purely for aesthetic reasons (it does look like muck in the bottom of the jar).


Even though once sealed the syrup should not spoil, I like to bottle the syrup in wide mouth mason jars, because as long as I leave the proper amount of head space the syrup can be stored in the freezer.  We ended up with nearly four pints of beautiful, sweet maple syrup.

What the rest of the maple syrup season will bring is anyone’s guess. Our weather forecast for the next 10 days shows daytime temperatures below freezing for all but one day, so we are not expecting the sap to run again for a while. When the temperatures do warm again, if the trees bud out quickly the sap will turn milky and is not good for making syrup, so we are grateful that we tapped the trees early and at least have some syrup this year.

I also made an interesting observation as I looked back at my post from last year, “The Sap is Flowing and the Hens are Laying”.   Again this year, as we tapped the maple trees we noticed that the hens have began laying more eggs. For five or six weeks we were getting an average of four eggs a day, this was enough to keep us in fresh eggs through the winter. On January 20, the day we tapped trees, we collected six eggs, then over the next week the amount increased so that we have collected 12 eggs each of the last two days. I honestly expected that the increase in egg production was more related to the number of hours of daylight and similarly to last year would occur in the middle of February. Perhaps it is more about the warmer temperatures we have been enjoying, I’m really not sure, but I do think I will attempt to track these two events in future years to see if they continue to coincide.

Until next time be well. 🙂




IMG_3674 (2)

Welcome Friends!

I have to start with a huge THANK YOU to everyone reading this. When I first started writing this blog, about two and a half years ago, I never imagined it would be what it has become. I figured I might have a few people who would read it regularly – friends and family that know and love me. For quite a while that was the case. Occasionally I would look at my stats and see that no one had viewed my blog for several days and I wondered if it was worth writing, then a friend or family member would mention how much they enjoyed reading it. That was all I needed to inspire me to keep writing.

Today I am amazed as I look at my blog stats and see that people from all over the world, 67 countries at last count, have visited my little piece of the internet. Since visiting my blog is often much like a visit to our home or our farm it occurred to me that many visitors probably have no idea where in the world we are at, so if you are curious I will give you some direction. I will start by saying that we are in Michigan which is a state in the USA.


If you are not familiar with Michigan you can find it easily on the map above. Michigan is the state that is shaped like a mitten, well at least part of Michigan is. Our state is unique in that it is made up of two peninsula’s. The lower peninsula is shaped like a mitten and the upper peninsula, you can see on the above map, is the piece of land to the North that extends Westward or to the left (its upper border is outlined in red). Interestingly, while lower Michigan is bordered by the U.S. States of Indiana and Ohio to the South and Upper Michigan is bordered by the U.S. State of Wisconsin to the West, Michigan’s two peninsulas do not share a common border. They are separated by the Straits of Mackinac, which are a series of narrow water ways that connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. To travel from one peninsula to the other, by car, you must cross the Mackinac Bridge, which is nearly 5 miles long and said to be the forth longest suspension bridge in the world. Because Michigan is surrounded by the Great Lakes and adjoining waterways there are also many islands that are part of our state.

To give you a better idea of where we are in Michigan I would hold up my right hand with the palm facing you and my fingers held tightly together (like a mitten) and point to an area near the bottom of my thumb. Michiganders are known for using their hand as a map. Our little piece of the earth is 7.6 acres of farm land in a rural area North East of  Detroit and South West of Port Huron. Some of it is wooded and some of it is open field. We put in a pond as a source of fresh water in 2012, but have yet to build a house on the property.

Like much of the U.S. this winter has been brutally cold here in Michigan, but I thought today I would invite you to take a walk with me. Don’t worry we won’t have to put on an extra 10 lbs. of gear to survive the freezing temperatures and trudge through the snow, because this part of the post I actually started writing last summer.

During the warm seasons, spring after the snow melts, summer, and fall until the snow gets too deep, I like to walk our back field. We keep a path cut around the outside of the field and two paths that cut across the middle. We allow the rest of the field to grow wild during the summer and we mow it each fall. It’s interesting that each year different plants seem to dominate the field. This field, which many people would view as a field full of weeds, we see as a field full of wild flowers. Not only does it provide habitat and food for countless bunnies, birds, rodents, toads and insects, the deer graze it regularly, and it is home to many plants that our bees love to forage.

I usually start my walks on the East side of the property, heading North and off to our left you will notice a large fenced in area. This is our main garden, where we grow much of our own produce in the summer. We also have 5 apple trees growing within this area and we moved our entire blueberry patch in here as well. It didn’t take us long to learn that fencing is the best way to protect our vegetation from deer.

As we walk toward the field I will look for deer grazing. This will be our best chance to see deer because Scout and Trooper will undoubtedly be with us and will frighten off any deer. The boys have been taught that they can only chase the deer as far as our property line and it has become a game for Trooper. I suspect if the deer ever decided to stay and play he would have a ball with them…but they don’t.

We may see one or two, we may see a mother with her baby(s) or we may see 20 or more deer grazing in the field. On a rare occasion we might witness a scene that feels like something out of a Disney movie. Like this red winged black bird that rides on the back or head of this deer.


One day when Trooper was walking with me he scared the deer off. The blackbird that had been sitting on the back of the deer began diving at Troopers back, obvious angry at him. The bird never touched Trooper and because the bird was diving at his back he was oblivious to it and bird eventually flew off.


While the deer are beautiful to watch, are seemingly harmless and our guests get very excited to see them, we have come to see them as a nuisance.  We have invested much money, time and energy to protect our crops against deer. It seems that deer will eat or at least taste anything … except garlic.

When we first bought the farm and we asked a neighbor how he kept the deer from eating his garden he said “plant enough for you and plant enough for the deer.” While his advice sounded good in theory, we quickly learned that it doesn’t work. The deer apparently did not understand the concept; they would walk through the pumpkin patch and rather than eat just one or two whole pumpkins they would take a few bites out of many pumpkins. Thus we concluded that the best way to protect our plants, including young trees, is adequate fencing.


Beyond the main garden the rest of our property is open fieled. The bright yellow flowers that are blanketing the field at this time are Bird’s Foot Trefoil. The first year we had the farm I notice one small patch of this plant growing in the field. It’s brilliant flowers caught my attention so I did some research to find what it was. Each year I have noticed more and more Trefoil. I suspect that as we cut the field in the fall we are scattering it’s seeds throughout the field. Trefoil is a legume that is used for animal forage, cut for hay, or planted to prevent soil erosion. One thing we have discovered, that is not mentioned in this USDA fact sheet, is that honey bees like it. This in itself is enough for me to appreciate this plant.

The small white flowers tinged with pink are White Clover.  This is another plant that we highly value as the honey bees feed heavily on the blossoms. While we did not plant the clover in the back field, we have planted a mix of clover and grass seed in areas that we have landscaped. Clover is a nice addition to lawn areas as it can be mowed and it will grow back, and even blossom, repeatedly throughout the summer. It is also nice to walk on barefoot, and we have noticed that it seems to crowd out other unwanted plants like thistle.


Young Spruce trees line the East and North sides of our property. We began planting these in our second year here. We purchase the 12″ to 15″ seedlings and keep them in a nursery area for one or more seasons to give them time to grow and develop roots and branches, then we transplant them around the farm. Most of these were planted in 2012.


Canadian Thistle grows sporadically throughout the field and other places on the farm. We mostly consider this plant a menace despite the pretty purple flowers that also have a lovely fragrance, their only saving grace is in the fact that the honey bees like them.


This white flower with feathery leaves is Yarrow . I have noticed Yarrow growing in various areas on the farm over the past few years but this past year was the first time I noticed it in the back field. According to the above article yarrow is both a culinary and medicinal plant. I not sure why I have not harvested any yet.

IMG_2937In the photo above the Timothy Hay is somewhat camouflaged amongst the other greenery, but if you look toward the top of the photo just left of center you can see Timothy’s long thin seed heads that are a lighter green. Small patches of Timothy are scattered throughout  the field and each year I notice a little more. As we walk past the Timothy I will likely pull on one of the seed heads and as I do the seed head along with the top portion of the stem will slide out of the lower part of the stem. I will put the stem in my mouth and you will no doubt think the I am a hick. I will then pull a second one and offer it to you explaining that Timothy is the best weed for chewing. The end of the inner stem is soft and juicy and even a bit sweet. I lightly chew the end for a while before discarding it later along the way.


Along the West side of the field is a line of trees that runs the full length of the property and separates our property from the neighbors next to us. The tree line is composed of mature trees, mostly Oak, Maple, Ash, and Hickory, along with various bushes and shrubs and vines that makeup the undergrowth. Unfortunately, the Ash trees in Michigan have fallen prey to, and are being killed off by the Emerald Ash Borer, thus we have cut down nearly all of the dead Ash trees to use for firewood.  As we cut trees down we are also planting new trees. In the above photo you can see the large dead Ash tree to the right and the young Maple that we planted a couple years back in the center foreground. You may also spot some Timothy growing there. Yep, it’s okay to pull one to chew. I knew you would find them as irresistible as I do. 😉


As we circle back around we are now at the West end of the main garden. This is where we moved our Blue Berry Patch to. Having been in a different location for several years we weren’t sure how well the bushes would adapt to this new environment. They have seemed to do well and while we no longer worry about the deer eating them since they are in the fenced area, we still have to protect the fruit from birds, thus the netting over them.

Well, my friend, thank you for spending this time with me. I hope you enjoyed our walk in the field. If you aren’t ready to leave feel free to hang around and enjoy some more of our farm. You can do so by clicking on the following links.

and if you would like to return you can always do so by following my blog. Please feel free to leave your questions and comments below as two sided conversations are much more fun.





Our Christmas Tree

For the second year in a row we decided to cut our own Christmas tree. Last year, and again this year, we cut spruce trees from the farm. When we purchased the farm in 2011 there were many deciduous trees growing on the property but there were absolutely no evergreens. The following spring we placed an order with our local conservation district spring tree sale and amongst the things we ordered were 50 spruce trees, 25 Blue Spruce and 25 Norway Spruce. When the 12-15 inch seedlings arrived we had no idea where we were going to plant them, so we made a nursery area for them within our fenced garden area where they were well tended through the summer. It was a hot and dry summer, and the garden required much watering. It was the summer before we had the pond or the windmill so we carted many barrels of water in the back of the truck, from our house to the farm, in order to keep our garden alive. Having these seedlings in the garden area, where it was convenient to water them, proved to be a blessing and allowed them to flourish. By the fall of that year we were ready to plant them in their permanent places. We decided to line the North and East sides of the back field with some of them, as they would eventually provide privacy and wind breaks.

Over the last five years these trees have received much TLC, they have been fenced during the winters to protect them from the deer, they have been weeded and mulched, and during the droughts of summer we have driven the truck around the outskirts of the field delivering water to each of these trees in attempts to keep them alive. Not all of the trees have survived, but most have with some doing better than others.

We have continued to order Norway Spruce and Blue Spruce seedlings each spring and place them in a temporary nursery area until we decided where we want to plant them. Some of them have replaced spruce trees that we lost, we use some to replace dead Ash and Elm trees that we cut down, and we will also replace the trees that we cut for Christmas trees.

Spruce Trees Line The East Side Of Our Field

It was about 10 days before Christmas, and we had gotten our first decent snow fall, when we went out to cut our tree. My husband and I walked the path along the East and North of the property and examined each tree before we decided which one to cut.


Scout and Trooper were happy to be with us.


We selected this Norway Spruce. We didn’t measure it but I’m sure it was close to 5 feet tall. It took my husband less than a minute to saw through the trunk.


As we walked back from the field we spotted this hen who had made her way through the snow out to the field. We were really surprised to see her there because chickens do not like to walk in snow. My husband picked her up and we gave her a lift back to the coop.


We opted not to trim the longer, upper branches to achieve the “prefect” Christmas Tree shape, but left the tree in it’s natural God-given shape. The short needles and less than crowded branches made adding lights and hanging ornaments easy. And we have been enjoying the simplicity and beauty of our homegrown Christmas tree.


On Christmas Day we added one final ornament after opening the gift from Tina and Ken. We hung the new “Ciani Family” ornament next to the “God Bless the Farmer” ornament they gifted to us last year. I think I am seeing a theme here to complement our new tradition. 🙂