Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Raising Chickens

Skill Level: Beginner
Skills Attained: Poultry Farming
  • Baby Chicks
  • Big Box
  • Bedding Material
  • Heat Lamp
  • Chick Feed
  • Plastic or Metal Feeder (to hold food)
  • Drinker (for water)
  • Chicken Coop 
  • Nesting Boxes (one per four to five hens)

Jessie & I in the summer of 2011
Jessie & I before
Sophomore Year Homecoming Dance (1997)
My dear and long time friend, Jessica Stank, is guest blogging this post. As Jessie mentions below, we have been friends for a very, very long time. She is extremely creative in both homemaking and writing. In addition, she is the most resourceful person I know. I asked her to write on a subject that I have absolutely no experience in: raising chickens. We have talked about her chicken adventures over the years, and I have always been intrigued. I would love to raise chickens, but I think my neighbors (and husband) would have issues with that. Perhaps someday...until then, I will live vicariously through Jessie!

Check out more of Jessie's writing on her blogs:

Jessie has also written two young-adult superhero e-books, which can be purchased on Amazon. They are wonderful! Check them out!
My name is Jessie and I have been a long time BFF of Leslie’s. We’re talking since the sixth grade! I am a writer and blogger, among other things, and it is my pleasure to be a guest blogger on “Things My Mother Taught Me.”  I will do my best to do it justice. I normally write sci-fi stuff, but today I am channeling my inner domestic-goddess. I am happy to bring you a post about one of my hobbies: raising chickens. I hope you enjoy it!

What is cuter than a fuzzy yellow chick? At our house, it is one of the signs of spring. It is a tradition that sometime in March a cardboard box full of peeping chicks and wood shavings sit in the corner of the kitchen. I love my chickens. My birds are free range, and they wander around the yard, pecking at things and being all cute. I love it. I’ve been raising birds for about five years, and I will keep right on doing it until I am no longer physically able. Chickens are great for so many reasons.

Perhaps you have been into a farm store in the spring and you’ve seen those oval water tanks full of  chicks and baby ducks. Perhaps you’ve entertained the idea of bringing some of those little guys home with you. And, why not? Baby chicks are totally adorable and grown chickens provide you with eggs and meat. Besides, they are just plain fun to watch, pecking and scratching around the yard.

So, you want to raise chickens.

As farm animals go, chickens are by far the easiest and most low maintenance option. They don’t require a ton of space, don’t need to be groomed, and don't require a big startup cost, relatively speaking. The only things you need when bringing home baby chicks are: a big box, bedding material, a heat lamp, chick feed, a plastic or metal feeder to hold their food, and a little drinker for their water. All of these items can be purchased in the same place you buy the chicks. Day old chicks generally only cost a dollar or two a piece. It is best to buy more than you expect to keep as it is rare that all of them survive to adulthood. 

What’s with the heat lamp?

Baby chicks cannot control their body temperature until their adult feathers come in. They like to be kept right around 90 degrees. If they get too cold, their little bodies shut down and they die. They need a heat lamp available so that they can stand under it when they need to warm up. If you live in a cold climate area like I do, then you will want to keep the chicks inside until it stops freezing at night. If you live in a warmer climate, feel free to keep that box of peeping babies out in the garage or barn. Make sure food and clean water are available to them at all times. You will want to change that bedding frequently too, as chicks can be a little messy.

Straight Run vs. Pullets

If you buy your chicks as straight run, you will not know the gender of the chicks until they begin to  grow. The easiest way to tell which ones are roosters is to watch the growth of the red comb on the top of their heads. Roosters have large combs; they are much larger than a hen’s comb. Roosters also sprout very long tail feathers, whereas hens’ tail feathers are short. Crowing is also a dead giveaway. Buying straight run is cheaper, but it is a total crap shoot. If you don’t want a rooster, I would avoid the straight run.  

If you buy pullets, it means you will have hens only. Pullets cost a bit more, but you know what you’re getting.

Look at them grow!

You will quickly discover that baby chicks aren’t cute for very long. It only takes a couple of weeks for them to get awkward looking and start to sprout real feathers. You will begin to get a sense of what they will look like as their feathers start to come in. Once their little bodies are covered in real feathers and all of that baby fuzz is gone, you can discontinue use of the heat lamp.

When you are ready to move those noisy little birds outside, you will need a shelter of some sort for them. You can build a coop or buy one readymade. Chickens aren’t picky; they just want to be inside at night and want to roost while they sleep. Your coop doesn’t have to be anything special. My very first chicken coop was made from an old ice fishing shanty. Be creative!

Your hens will want nesting boxes. These can be as simple as old milk crates or five gallon pails. You can go all out and build fancy nesting boxes if you’re crafty. Or, you can do what I did and have your grandpa build them for you! You will need a box for every 4-5 hens. Your chickens will be fully grown in four months, and you will start to see small eggs at around six months of age. Yay for eggs! 

If you have close neighbors, you may not want to let your chickens run loose. Some neighbors are not understanding of free range chickens roaming around. If this is true for you, fencing in an area for them is a good idea. Make the fence pretty tall, because even though chickens can’t fly, they can take off and land. Chickens are also very disrespectful of vegetable gardens. Keep that in mind!

Don’t I need a rooster if I want eggs?

Dave the Rooster
Oddly enough, you don’t. Do you see that guy up there? His name was Dave. He was a magnificent looking rooster and took his job very seriously. We ended up eating him for dinner because he was uber-aggressive, and he kept attacking the children.

You do not need a rooster to get fresh eggs. You only need a rooster if you want more chicks. Hens will lay eggs regardless of whether or not they have been fertilized. The eggs you buy from the store are not fertilized.

There are some positive things about having a rooster. Roosters protect their hens from predators. They are very pretty. They also taste good. If you bought straight run and ended up with too many roosters, (you really only need one), you can butcher the rest and put them in the freezer for Sunday dinner.

There are also negatives aspects to having a rooster. There’s the crowing. The five in the morning on Saturday when your bedroom window is open in late spring wake up call. The crowing is loud! Those neighbors I mentioned earlier might not appreciate the crowing.

Roosters can be jerks. Some are very protective and will tear into you every chance they get. Not all of them are like that, but some are over the top (like Dave). I like to keep one rooster to be on guard. We tend to have trouble with predators in our area.

What else do I need to know?

Once you get started, chickens are super easy. They are great for teaching kids responsibility. Fresh eggs are a healthy choice because you know exactly what the chickens’ diet is. The same is true of the meat. There are certain breeds that are considered meat birds and others that are egg layers. You can find a few dual-purpose birds too, if you are looking for both meat and eggs. There are certain breeds that can tolerate hot temperatures or cold temperatures better than others. It is best to do some research beforehand so that you know what birds will work best for you and where you live.

If you are interested in a little hobby farming, I would recommend chickens as the place to start. Raising chickens is super easy and very rewarding. It’s okay to start small. Begin with four or five chicks and then go from there if you find it is something you enjoy.

Yay for chickens!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Modern-Striped Twin Quilt - Session #4 of 4

Skill Level: Intermediate
Skills Attained: piecing a quiltbindingtying-off a quiltslip stitch
For a list of supplies and materials, refer to Modern-Striped Twin Quilt - Session #1 of 4
As a refresher, here is the project design and its dimensions. The finished, twin-size quilt is 68" x 87".

As I mentioned in the previous posts, the instructions for this project are broken down into four sessions. The four sessions are as follows:

Session #4: Finishing the Quilt: Tying and Binding

Tying the Quilt

In Session #3, you prepared the quilt for finishing by laying the fabric backing (wrong side up), batting, and quilt top (right side up) on top of one another. Then, you secured the layers together using safety pins. Now, you are ready to tie the quilt. 

There are three different ways you can finish a quilt:
  1. Tying: This is the most basic and least labor intensive option. All you need is embroidery floss (or yarn) and a needle. 
  2. Hand-Quilting: This method is not difficult but it is extremely time and labor intensive. You will need a needle, thread, quilter's hoop, and thimble. 
  3. Machine-Quilting: You will need to practice machine-quilting before you master this skill. This method is probably the most difficult, but it takes more time than tying and less time than hand-quilting. 
Since this a "beginner" quilt, I will instruct you on how to tie the quilt. However, you are more than welcome to use another method if you have some experience or feel comfortable trying them out. 

You may use embroidery thread, DMC floss (the type of thread used in cross-stitching), or yarn for tying the quilt. Use any color you would like.  

Thread your needle with the embroidery floss; do not tie the end of the thread. Taking the needle, go through the three layers of your quilt (backing, batting, and quilt top); make your stitch approximately 1/2". 

Leave about a 2" tail, and snip the thread so you have two 2" tails to tie a knot. 

Tie the thread in a double or triple knot to ensure the thread is secure. 

Once the thread is knotted, snip the thread so you have approximately 1/2" tails. 

Continue making ties approximately every 6" - 8" over the entire quilt top. You may choose to place ties in a pattern. For example, at every corner or in the center of your quilt blocks. Just make sure you place ties every 6" - 8" so that the quilt layers are secure. This is especially important so the layers stay in place when you wash your quilt.

Here is a video of how to tie-off a quilt: 

Now that you have tied your quilt, you will begin the final step: binding. 

There are a few different ways to "bind" a quilt. The method described below is a a double-fold french binding. You will use your sewing machine to sew the raw of the binding to the raw edge of your quilt, then you will finish by hand sewing. 

You should have 3/4 yard of fabric for the binding, so your fabric piece should be approximately 27" x 45". Cut the fabric you purchased for the binding into 2 1/4" strips; cut the strips so that they are 45" long. You will need 8 strips this length. As a reminder, you will only see about 1/2 inch wide of this fabric, so I wouldn't choose anything with a big print. These strips do NOT need to be cut on the bias. 

Eight (8) binding strips cut into 2 1/4" strips
Next, the strips need to be sewn together so that you will have one continuous strip that will go around all four sides of the quilt. The strips will be sewn together using a 45 degree angled seam so that the seams are not as bunchy. It is helpful to use a mat with gridlines for this process. The following instructions explain how to sew the strips together:
Place the first strip right-side up horizontally on the mat along one of the gridlines. Then, place the second strip right-side down (so that the right sides are facing one another) vertically and at a 90 degree angle to the first strip. The second strip should be towards the right side of the first strip.

The strips will be sewn together using a 45 degree angle. Using chalk or a pencil, draw a 45 degree angle from the upper left corner to the lower right corner of the two intersecting strips. Pin the strips together and sew along the line. 

 After the seam is sewn, trim away the access fabric by cutting 1/4" from the stitched line. Iron the seam open. 

Continue this process until all of your strips are sewn together.
On an ironing board, lay the binding wrong-side up. Beginning with the right end of the long strip, fold the binding in half lengthwise so that the edges align. Iron the entire strip until the last 6". 

You will be creating a "V" fold on the left end of the long strip. This type of fold creates a pocket to hide the starting/stopping point of the binding when you sew it to the quilt. Fold the bottom left corner of the strip to form a 45 degree angle and press. (Refer to the picture on the left below.) Then, continue folding the binding in half and iron the last few inches as you did in the previous step. You will notice that the end is in a "V". (Refer to the picture on the right below.)

Now the binding is ready to be sewn onto the quilt top. You can begin the binding at any point around the edge of the quilt, but start at least a few inches away from any of the corners. Pin the binding to the quilt top so that the raw edge (as opposed to the folded edge) is even with the quilt top edge. (In the picture below, the folded edge is at the top and the raw edge of the fabric is at the bottom.) Start with the "V" end of the binding. You want to make sure the "V" fold is positioned as the picture shows below so that you can feed the fabric through your sewing machine properly. If the "V" end was on the left, you would not be able to feed all the quilt material through your sewing machines. If this doesn't make sense, just trust me. This is one of those mysterious quilting instructions that doesn't always make sense until you do it. :)
Continue pinning the binding every 4" - 6" until you reach the first corner. 


When you begin sewing, start about 4" down from the "V" fold so that you can tuck the other end of the binding into the fold when you reach the end. Sew the binding using a 1/4" seam allowance. Sew the first edge until you are approximately 1/4" from the corner; sew a back-stitch 


You need to create a couple folds at the corner before continuing to sew. First, bring the unsewn portion of the binding straight up to creat a 45 degree fold at the corner. Pin the fold in place as the picture below shows. 

Bring the binding straight down so that the raw edge of the binding aligns with the quilt top edge of the next side to be sewn.

Pin the entire second side and sew using a 1/4" seam allowance. Continue around all four sides of the quilt until you are about 3" from the "V" fold.

As you approach the "V" fold, measure enough binding to tuck the end into the fold. Cut the binding at a 45 degree angle parallel to the "V" fold before tucking it in. Pin and finish sewing as depicted in the pictures below.

Now that the raw edge of the binding is sewn onto the quilt, finish sewing by hand using a slip stitch. Take the folded edge of the binding and wrap it over top of the raw edge of the quilt so that the folded edge of the binding is on the quilt back. Sew the binding by hand using a slip stitch. (I also explained how to sew a slip stitch on my "Taggie Blanket" post if you want to see step-by-step pictures.)
Here is a video of how to slip stitch the binding onto the quilt: (Sorry in advance for the poor video quality.)

If this was your first attempt at making a quilt, congratulations! I hope you enjoyed it and that this is the first of many quilts to come.