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Backyard Baers

Three is Becoming Four

Benjamin BaerThere is much to report at the Backyard Baers camp.

We spent the summer working, working and more working. The contractors we hired finished up the major projects in late summer. That includes the siding, the roof, the kitchen, and the half bath. Pretty big projects that I didn’t have the time or know-how to take on. Meanwhile, I have pressed on with the many projects on my to-do list. At this point, I have removed wallpaper in three rooms and patched/painted each room, patched/painted the living room, replaced all electric sockets and switches, replaced several light fixtures, installed a garage door opener, chopped and split a ton of firewood, and built a bedroom.Yup, I’ve built a bedroom. We needed another bedroom, and the basement is totally unfinished, so I constructed a bedroom near a future bathroom (that's a future project). We put up the studs, insulated, put up the drywall, boxed out the window, and right now I am working on painting it. Once I have it painted, I will add the trim and install the drop ceiling. It has been a lot of work, and a huge learning experience, but I have enjoyed it and we were able to save a lot of money. I have to admit, I think the best part is the sense of accomplishment I get from the feeling that I built a bedroom. It was literally just a large open area, but we have added the walls complete with electrical outlets and even a light with a switch. I am quite proud of the way it has turned out. We’re not done yet, like I said, I still need to add another coat of paint, install the baseboards, and then put in the drop ceiling. The drop ceiling may be a challenge, but at this point I feel confident it is all going to come together and look pretty good.

So, why did we need a fourth bedroom so badly that we dropped what we were doing and started building one? Because in mid-December, three will become four … that’s right, we are due our second child, a boy this time! So, that has really dictated the order of some of our projects. Priority No.1 was getting the baby room ready, and then we had to have a room where our guests could stay. As you can probably imagine, we will have quite a few people coming to visit once he’s born, and I didn’t want to just stick them on the couch in our living room. And long-term, we were going to need a spare bedroom anyways, as we do have a lot of family and friends visit.

PKB had mixed feelings about her coming brother at first, but has gotten more excited as time has progressed. At first, she was just very disappointed she wasn’t going to have a baby sister.

So, to say times have been hectic is an understatement … more so for some than others. Pretty sure my wife was never thrilled about being pregnant and living in a construction zone … one without a kitchen and only one bathroom, which was on the second floor. Apparently, waking up three or four times a night and having to climb a flight of stairs to use the bathroom got old pretty quick.

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We even put PKB to work. Like I always say, "If you live here, you work here!"

Yellow Jackets, Poison Ivy, and a Rooster - Oh My!

Benjamin BaerWell, we are well into July and the summer projects are piling up.

I haven’t done as much work on the chicken coop as I hoped, but I plan to tackle most of those projects later in the year — I need to add two nesting boxes and adjust the roosting bar in the coop. I did build a new water dispenser, which went from two bottles to three and added a shelter. I was out near the coop one sunny day and realized there wasn’t much shade in the run. So, I took the old roof panels from the old coop and built a structure just to provide some shade and cover their food from the rain. This is when I realized our rooster is kinda overly protective of the ladies. I was in the middle of trying to get the panels up in the air, and all of a sudden the rooster comes out of nowhere, tearing up my exposed legs with his talons. I have since learned that anytime I get near the hens, he comes after me. Which is a problem, because literally every time I go in the run the ladies want to be right under my feet. Remember, the ladies were with me a year before he ever came into the picture. I was their first main squeeze and the rooster is clearly not okay with that. So, what am I doing to not get tore up every time I go in the run? Well, for starters, I wear tall boots into the run, which I probably should have been doing all along (flip flops probably aren’t the best choice for the run). But I give him his space while still keeping an eye on him (as he does me), and I keep eye-contact and don’t back down. He will come up to me with his feathers fluffed out, spreading his wings, and I just stand tall and stare him down. I give him the respect I expect him to give me, and so far we have managed to coexist. I have to say, it amazes me the little fear he has toward me. I’m over 6 feet tall and just tower over him, but it doesn’t faze him a bit. He has no problem trying to put me in my place, albeit unsuccessfully, but he doesn’t back down. Which I appreciate; it’s good to know if an intruder comes into the coop or run, the rooster is ready for battle.

When I’m not defending myself against a jealous rooster, you can probably find me painting, cutting down trees, or removing brush. I have probably spent the most time painting, which I absolutely hate. A lot of progress has been made, but it’s difficult to feel any sense of accomplishment when you look around to see how much you still have left. And, unfortunately, that is going to be the feeling for a while, as there is still a ton left. And once I finish painting the walls of the main living areas, I get to paint drylock on our basement walls. 

I can’t begin to count how many trees I’ve cut down, and I like trees. I don’t like to cut them down, but I can’t have trees towering over the house. So, we have removed every tree near the house (which our new roof and siding will appreciate), and I’ve been working on cutting them up to be firewood.

Over the July Fourth weekend, I managed to get caught up in a yellow jacket nest and got stung several times (this is the second time this has happened). I hope there wasn't anyone watching me with a camera, because I never want to see the sight that is my tall, lanky self taking off running with my arms flaring about and expletives flying as I try to escape the angry yellow jackets. I really hope no one ever has to see that spectacle.

I’ve also been removing brush. I’ve been tearing it off fence lines, getting it away from the house, and clearing out areas to eventually have some type of an open backyard for maybe a playset or tire swing. A lot of progress has been made with this; but, unfortunately, it has also exposed me to more poison ivy than is usual.

I’m no stranger to poison ivy. I typically have it every year from about April through September, as I’m extremely allergic. I recall once getting it as a kid on my arm to the point that my arm swelled up to be about double the size as what was normal — it was the first and only time I ever had massive biceps and triceps — and it resulted in excruciating pain. My grandfather was never the type to think someone NEEDED to go to a doctor, but I recall him taking one look at my arm and saying “We might need to get you to a doctor pretty quickly.” I know what you’re thinking: Hey moron, don’t touch the ivy! Well, I have looked at pictures to learn to distinguish the poisonous plant, read articles, applied preventative medicines,and wore enough clothing that you’d think I was preparing for the Iditarod; it doesn’t matter what I do, I cannot avoid the ivy. So, it has just turned into something I learn to live with. 

It hasn’t all been projects and hardships; there has to be a little bit of fun mixed in with the work. So we made a trip to enjoy some sun and water at the fabulous Smith Mountain Lake for a few days. Here is PKB learning the feel of a jet ski.

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New Leadership in the Flock

Benjamin BaerI have wanted a rooster for quite a while. But it wasn’t an option at our previous place, and we really couldn’t have handle all that comes with a rooster, anyways. However, at our new place, not only do we already hear roosters crowing every morning, but a rooster is almost a must.

Our setup at the previous house was really simple: we had a coop and a run, totally fenced top and bottom, and every now and then I would let the ladies out on a nice afternoon to roam around. At the new place, their coop is a section in the barn — which is quite secure — but their run is really just a fenced-in pasture. I have been hesitant to let them free range when I’m not there, just because I’m afraid of a cat or hawk taking one out. So extra protection has been a must. Well, I don’t think I’m worried anymore. This past Sunday, we added a six-month-old Jersey Giant to the flock. Emphases on the giant! He seems fairly well behaved and is very protective. They were all out grazing yesterday afternoon, and he had an eye to the sky the whole time, making sure there was nothing watching from above. He actually crowed in the vehicle as we were driving him home, and PKB, sitting in her car seat, just looked around in surprise, and then said, “What a silly boy!”

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Here he is introducing himself to the ladies.

I do kinda feel badly for one of the ladies. There is one hen that has always been the alpha, and she has been a great leader. She is always the first to come out of the coop and is always watching over the others when they are free-ranging. One day a few months ago, they were all out free-ranging, and I guess she decided she needed to go back to the coop to lay. All three girls actually went back to the coop, and while the one was laying the other two literally waited outside the entire time. Once she was done she came out, and they all went back to free-ranging. It was pretty interesting.

Well, the ladies have a new alpha, and once this guy was added to the flock those two hens immediately got in line behind him. And the one hen has been a little reluctant to give up her leadership role. In this short amount of time you can already see a clear divide between her and the rest of the flock. This morning when I opened the coop she tried to come out first, and he immediately jumped out in front of her as if to say, “Whoa now, get back, I need to exit first!” Which is exactly what I want; this rooster’s only purpose is to provide some protection for the girls. I want him checking things out and making sure it’s safe before the ladies come strolling out to start the day. I hope tensions ease and she falls in line like the other two, as it will certainly make things easier on her. The interactions of an established flock truly fascinate me.

In other news, renovations continue on the house. There is a lot going on, and it’s a little frustrating, but we’re taking it one day at a time. I’ll save those stories for future blog posts.

Taking Things Up a Notch

Benjamin BaerWell, here we go. More changes are in order — we are moving. Not across the country this time, fortunately, but about 15 minutes from where we currently live. We’re moving off the mountain to the rolling hills.

I won’t bore you with the specifics of our reasoning for the move; it is bittersweet, and leaving the mountain is difficult, but our new place will provide plenty of new adventures. It’s on 15 acres, has a barn, fenced-in pastures, and a creek running through it. It’s pretty fantastic. The house itself is a work in progress. It’s definitely a nice place but has been left vacant for about the last six years, so a little love and care is overdue. We are replacing the roof, the siding, completely renovating the kitchen and two bathrooms, and completing plenty of various DIY projects around the place.

We took possession on 3/20, but we won’t spend our first night there until 4/16. We have spent plenty of time at the new place, though, doing different projects. So far, we have ...

1. Replaced a toilet.
2. Replaced all electrical outlets.
3. Replaced a ceiling fan.
4. Fixed the garage door.
5. Replaced an overhead light.
6. Installed a filter system to the well.
7. Replaced several light/fan switches.
8. Patched drywall  .
9. Painted our daughter’s bedroom (pink, of course).

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PKB doing her fair share.

I can’t say we’ve done it alone; we’ve had help from a bunch of great people. And while I appreciate their time and effort helping, I think more than anything I appreciate the education. A month ago I had no clue how to replace a toilet or switch out an electric socket. Now I feel like I can replace a toilet with ease, and as for electric sockets, I can replace those in my sleep!

And now, for the third time in the last four years, I am building a chicken coop. I never imagined I would get to a point where I would have built three chicken coops, but here I am. This one will be a little different from the previous two as I am going to use a stable in the barn as the coop rather than build one.

This new house is really going to allow us to take our goals up a notch ... more chickens, more pets, honeybees, goats? Should be plenty to blog about in the near future.

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Current stable, but soon to be chicken coop.

Reflecting On The Year

Benjamin BaerI hope everyone had a merry Christmas, is enjoying a festive Chanukkah, and is gearing up for a happy New Year!

There are exactly three things I do at the end of every single year:

1. Review my current budget and plan the budget for the coming year.
2. Prepare a list of goals, both personal and professional, to accomplish during the coming year.
3. Take a minute to reflect on the past year and wonder about the coming year.

I’d like to focus on the third item — thinking about the past year’s highs and lows and wondering what the new year has in store.

Compared to the last few years, 2016 has been one of the more ordinary years for us. We didn’t start any new jobs, didn’t introduce any new family members, and didn’t move anywhere. All of which I’m happy about; we weren’t planning to change careers, weren’t trying for another child, and weren’t hoping to move. So I guess 2016 pretty much went as expected. We did start our flock and built a chicken coop, as documented here, and the ladies are thriving, producing a daily stream of eggs. I couldn’t be more proud of them. And I did quite a bit of traveling, visiting the Southwest and camping in Yosemite. It was an awesome experience, one I daydream about quite often, and I can’t wait to go back. We introduced our daughter to the beach and she loved it, as you can see from her face below.

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I feel like my daughter did more growing up this year than she did in the previous two years combined. I’m sure I’ll think that each subsequent year as well, but this year has really been a game-changer. She’s potty-trained, she can feed and clothe herself, you can actually have conversations with her and tell her to do something, and she’ll do it ... most of the time. She tells stories and has opinions; she will talk your ear off sometimes. And some of the things she says have me just cracking up!

Recently, I put on some funky sunglasses, so I pointed to my face and said, “Hey PKB, check it out!” And she looked at me and said, “What? Your big nose?” I guess she didn’t think the sunglasses where as cool as I did, and yes, I do have a pretty large nose.

Christmas night we were all eating dinner and, out of the blue, she said, “Excuse me, excuse me, I just want to thank you all for making this dinner.” I think our hearts instantly melted. We were definitely touched by the moment, and surprised by it.

Overall, it was a good year. No big surprises or major life events, but that’s okay. I don’t think I could handle those every year, and we had plenty of them from about 2010-2015. I expect 2017 to have a few significant changes up its sleeve for us. Nothing to report at this time, but I’m anticipating 2017 being a pretty big year for us. Time will tell ...

Why I Don't Heat My Coop

Benjamin BaerThere is a never-ending debate over whether you should provide heat for your chickens during the winter. You could probably read ten very legitimate sources, and five would say you should heat while five would say you shouldn’t. And that’s okay! I support everyone raising their chickens the way they see fit. Personally, I choose not to heat, and here’s why:

1. First and foremost, for me, it’s unnatural. My philosophy is to raise my chickens in the most natural way possible, free from any outside intervention. A lot of people might want to call me a hippie, and so be it — that’s my choice, and I try to abide by it. For this reason, I think it would be a little hypocritical if I put a giant heat lamp in their coop so that they'll lay eggs all winter. The way I see it, the ladies work hard all year each providing about an egg a day; they deserve a little time off in the winter.

2. Someone once told me that if you start heating them and then you stop for some reason — such as your power goes out — the girls will freeze to death. I don’t know if that’s totally true, and it probably doesn’t happen as quickly as that sounds, but it’s a risk I’d rather not run. It makes sense, though, because you’re teaching them to be dependent on the lamp for heat. So if that lamp suddenly goes out, and it’s a bitter cold night, they may not immediately know to start snuggling up together, which could definitely make them more likely to freeze. We live in an area that is susceptible to power outages ... and I’m not about to hook up the generator to the chicken coop.

3. It’s dangerous. A friend of mine provided a heat lamp in the coop for her seven birds. A few days ago, the heat lamp fell in the middle of the night, caught fire, and burnt the entire coop to the ground. She walked out the next morning to literally find everything was gone; there was a ten-foot circle of charred ground remaining. It was as if the coop and birds were never there. How crazy is that? I am already paranoid, worrying about bears and the wind blowing my structure over. I do not need another thing to worry about! If something like that happened in our coop then there’s a strong possibility it could start a forest fire, which would not only be devastating for myself, obviously, but a lot of other people.

4. They don’t need it. I don’t know if my girls think, “Oh man, winter is coming, going to be a lot of uncomfortable nights,” but I do know that their coop is structured for them to survive those nights without a supplemental heat source. I can’t guarantee perfect comfort, but I can guarantee they’ll survive. And that’s what’s most important.

I’m fortunate that I live in an area where it gets cold, but it’s pretty rare for us to see subzero temperatures or anything crazy. I depend on what I believe is a pretty well-built coop and the ladies knowing to huddle up on those cold nights to survive the winter. We’ve had a few nights below freezing so far, and each night when I’ve gone out to close up the coop the ladies are huddled together on their perch; it seems they know what to do. We shall see how it goes once winter officially gets here.

My biggest issue with the cold temperatures so far has been their water freezing up. I utilize the bottle system, which I love, but the little nozzles where the water comes out are the first things to freeze. Not sure what I’m going to do when the high for the day is 25 F and I have to go to work. Obviously I’ll put fresh water out in the morning, but that is going to freeze rather quickly in those temperatures ...

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The girls were enjoying some free-range time and wandered up onto the porch. Hope they were thinking of coming inside for some warmth ...

Case of the Mistaken Hens

Benjamin BaerAs previously blogged, I started off with three Rhode Island Reds; the chicks were about a week old when we got them. About a month later, I saw an ad for some Barred Plymouth Rock pullets. That’s my favorite breed, and while I was only aiming for four, I figured we could handle a flock of five. So I went ahead and pulled the trigger. I kept them separated from the Reds for about the first month. I knew I was going to have to finesse the introductions, and wanted to wait until the BPRs were old enough to hold their own versus the older — and already established — flock of Reds.

I introduced them slowly and only left them together for short periods of time. There was the initial, “Who the heck are these two?” from my Reds, but for the most part they seemed fine. I was surprised to see the BPRs weren’t backing down. As a matter of fact, it almost seemed like the BPRs strolled into the coop ready to own the place.

“Okay,” I thought, “I guess these BPRs are some alpha ladies and the Reds aren’t so much. That’s okay.” Over time, stark differences presented themselves between the Reds and the BPRs. The Reds were outgoing and social, liked to be petted and held, and greeted me at the coop door. Meanwhile, the BPRs wanted nothing to do with me and always seemed bothered by my presence in the coop. They also weren’t exactly friendly with the three Reds. In addition, I started to notice that, despite being a few weeks younger than the Reds, the BPRs were taller, and each of their combs and waddles were noticeably larger and darker than the Reds. At this point, I started to become concerned that a couple of cockerels had infiltrated my flock.

Then one morning when I had just fed them and was walking back to the house, I heard a soft “cock-a-doodle-dooooo.” At that point, my fears were realized: I’ve got at least one rooster. I did go into a state of denial for about a week or so, thinking, “Maybe this is just a hen acting like a rooster? That happens, right?” And I’ve read it actually does happen, but it doesn’t happen often. The crowing continued, however, so I decided to take pictures of the BPRs and get the opinions of some folks who know far more than I about chickens. And much to my surprise, I didn’t have one rooster ... I actually had two roosters.

Now let me say, I would love to have one rooster — not so much two, but one rooster would be a great addition to the flock. However, my neighbors would kill me. As much as I wanted to keep at least one of them, I knew it wasn’t an option. So came decision time: what to do with them. I didn’t want to butcher them; I plan to get to a point where I can safely and humanely butcher a chicken, but I’m not there yet. And my biggest fears were not killing it correctly, where it suffered, or not butchering it correctly, where I ended up spoiling the meat and it went to waste. Expecting the worst, I immediately started researching butchering chickens. I watched videos on YouTube (it’s amazing how you can learn anything through the internet) and started contacting local farms, asking if I could come watch them butcher some chickens.

But, before I put on my apron on and started sharpening my knives, I decided to contact the person I bought them from and see if she could take them back. I reached out via email, and within a few days she responded apologizing for mistaking their gender and said she was happy to take them back. I breathed a giant sigh of relief — I don’t have to learn to and successfully butcher two roosters. Not yet at least.

I drove out to her farm early on a Saturday morning to find she was running a bird paradise. She had peacocks, turkeys, roosters, hens, you name it. Those two boys probably felt like they were moving from a trailer in the woods to the Biltmore on nice, green, rolling pastures. I told her, “Be careful, these guys are a little feisty.” And she gave me a look as if to say, “I know just the thing.” She had several chicken coops and took me to one behind her house that included several birds, one of which was the largest rooster I have ever seen. She said, “This guy will teach these two boys how to behave.” I let the two BPRs in, and they immediately went up to test the big guy. They probably won’t be doing that again for a while, as he was quick to put them in their place.

It turned out to be quite the learning experience for me. It was my first dealing with roosters, and I had great conversations with the woman that owned the farm. She definitely knew her stuff, and gave me some free education.

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The two roosters before their departure ... probably plotting to take-over the coop from me ...