Off The Shelf: Homemade Alternatives to the Condiments and Snacks you Love.

Coming to you from some of the top real-food bloggers on the web! Off The Shelf is a brand new e-book loaded with easy to make recipes for condiments, toppings and snacks you love. Included is my own Asian Plum Sauce recipe!  Save your health and your money by making your own!

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Note: You do not need an e-reader to download this e-book!  Save it and access it on your computer.

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Off The Shelf Contributors:

Christy of Completely Nourished, Colleen of Five Little Homesteaders, Joelle of jarOhoney, Karon of Larder Love, Kris of Attainable Sustainable, Leona of My Healthy Green Family, Libby of…more, Melanie of Frugal Kiwi, Pam of Brown Thumb Mama, Susan of Learning and Yearning, Tracy of Oh, The Things We’ll Make!, Vanessa of They Call Me Oystergirl, and Vivian of The Real Food Guide.


How to Make Whole Grain Pancake Mix From Scratch

Pancakes are a treat in my household, and also a go-to meal when I am on the run. I make them for breakfast on school mornings, and I make them when I am late arriving home for the evening, and I need a quick meal on the table. I am not a fan of any kind of store-bought mix, partly because many of them contain unhealthy preservatives and GMO ingredients, and partly because they are ridiculously easy to make from scratch, especially with a homemade mix. I took my favorite pancake recipe, one I have altered over the years to fit my family’s needs and likes, and turned it into a “quick-mix” type pancake mix. All you need to do is add an egg, milk and oil and you have batter ready for the pan! Freeze the left overs and they make even quicker breakfasts for the toaster.

How to Make Pancake Mix From Scratch
Recipe type: Baking Mix
Cuisine: Breakfast
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
From scratch pancake mix recipe. Easy and healthy!
  • 1 cup flour (whole wheat, spelt, white, or a combination)
  • 1 tbsp. Demerara sugar
  • 1 tbsp. ground flax
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  1. Combine the ingredients and mix well.
  2. Store in an air-tight jar.
  3. Double, quadruple or more the recipe!
When making pancakes, to 1 cup of mix add: 1 egg, beaten. 1 c. milk (goat, cow or non-dairy). 2 tbsp. melted butter or coconut oil. To make a double batch, simply add 2 cups mix and double the wet ingredients.


The Best Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce Ever!

Nothing beats a hot fudge sundae… unless it is a hot fudge sundae made with homemade ice cream and homemade hot fudge sauce. Most hot fudge sauces contain artificial flavor and color, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup and thickeners, making it a treat not worthy of it’s calling. Thankfully it is easy to make with all natural ingredients, and tastes far better than any product you could buy. This recipe is coming to you just in time for Valentine’s Day! Bring on the sundaes!  This recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Hot Fudge Sundae Cake recipe.


5.0 from 1 reviews
The Best Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce Ever!
Recipe type: Condiment
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 cups
All Natural Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce. Can we -almost- say healthy?
  • ⅔ cup heavy or whipping cream
  • ½ cup honey
  • ⅓ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips, divided
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  1. In a heavy saucepan, bring cream, honey, sugar, cocoa, salt and half the chocolate to a boil.
  2. Reduce to a low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in remaining chocolate, butter and extract.
  4. Stir until smooth.
  5. Cool to room temperature to thicken, then serve on homemade ice cream and fresh or canned sour cherries. Mmmm!


How to Make Apple Cider Vinegar from Apple Peelings.

Apple cider vinegar has become a buzz word amongst the health-conscious crowd lately, and rightfully so. It is not only a culinary necessity, but it can cure skin conditions, detangle hair, stop heartburn, play a roll in weight loss and detox the body. Click here for more information on apple cider vinegar. Real apple cider vinegar, with the mother, may be easy to find in the grocery store now, but it isn't cheap. In fact, you can expect to pay around $9.99 for 1 L (quart) at many grocery stores. This doesn't go over very well with the budget, but the good news is, it can be made for almost nothing, from apple scraps you would normally compost or feed to your chickens. AND it is easy to make. Sound good? Yes! Here is how. And start collecting your glass ACV or maple syrup bottles now! Make apple sauce/apple pies/apple fruit leather/apple WHATEVER, where peeling and coring the apples is involved. Enjoy your whatever, and keep your apple peelings. If you don't have enough for the first go round, store it in a zip lock or a jar in the freezer and add to it until you have enough. You can use apple cores too, if you aren't concerned about the minimal amount of cyanide that is in the apple seeds. If this is a concern for you, then just use the peels.Directions:
  1. Collect your apple peelings and put them in a gallon glass jar/container. Those large pickle jars from Costco, or from the thrift store, work perfectly. Even a large glass cookie jar will work.
  2. Once your jar is filled with peelings, cover it with a water/sugar syrup made from 1 gallon of boiling water with 1 cup of white sugar dissolved in it. Your peels might float a bit. Some people weight it down with something so they don't float. I don't bother.
  3. Set your jar in a cool, dark-ish location (I used my laundry room) and cover the jar with cheese cloth and an elastic, making sure it is thick enough that fruit flies won't get in. Because they will try!
  4. Stir once a day for 1 week.
  5. After a week, strain the apple peels through cheese cloth and allow to drain over a bowl overnight, to collect the juice. Then give the cheese cloth a good squeeze, and feed the apple peels to the chickens/pigs.
  6. Pour the strained juice back into the jar and cover with cheese cloth again.
  7. Stir once a day.
  8. Store in a cool location out of direct light for 6 weeks or until it tastes as strong as you'd like it.
  9. Bottle and store in your pantry or fridge indefinitely. Enjoy!
  • If you notice mold on your apple cider vinegar at any stage, skim it off and keep going. I have never experienced mold growth but have read that it can happen.
  • Some people weight their apple peels down during the first week so no apple peels are exposed to air. They have a tendency to float. You can do this if you like, but as long as you stir it once a day I don't think it is necessary, and I never bother.
How to Make Apple Cider Vinegar from Apple Peelings.
Recipe type: Condiment
Make your own apple cider vinegar from scrap apples!
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 gallon water (4 litres)
  • Apple peels and cores
  1. Collect your apple peelings and put them in a gallon glass jar/container. Those large pickle jars from Costco, or from the thrift store, work perfectly. Even a large glass cookie jar will work.
  2. Once your jar is filled with peelings, cover it with a water/sugar syrup made from 1 quart of boiling water with 1 cup of white sugar dissolved in it. Your peels might float a bit. Some people weight it down with something so they don’t float. I don’t bother.
  3. Set your jar in a cool, dark-ish location (I used my laundry room) and cover the jar with cheese cloth and an elastic, making sure it is thick enough that fruit flies won’t get in. Because they will try!
  4. Stir once a day for 1 week.
  5. After a week, strain the apple peels through cheese cloth and allow to drain over a bowl overnight, to collect the juice. Then give the cheese cloth a good squeeze, and feed the apple peels to the chickens/pigs.
  6. Pour the strained juice back into the jar and cover with cheese cloth again.
  7. Stir once a day.
  8. Store in a cool location out of direct light for 6 weeks or until it tastes as strong as you’d like it.
  9. Bottle and store in your pantry or fridge indefinitely. Enjoy!
◾If you notice mold on your apple cider vinegar at any stage, skim it off and keep going. I have never experienced mold growth but have read that it can happen. ◾Some people weight their apple peels down during the first week so no apple peels are exposed to air. They have a tendency to float. You can do this if you like, but as long as you stir it once a day I don’t think it is necessary, and I never bother.



Dear Kathie Lee and Hoda (but Mostly Kathie Lee) – Bullying is NOT OK!

This one is for everyone, since we are all affected by bullying.  My blogger friend Jacquelyn from Little Owl Crunchy Mama was verbally attacked on national television by two well-known hosts of Today Show: Kathie Lee and Hoda.  What for?  Because she has chosen to not use shampoo to wash her hair with for the last 5 years.  So what, right?  But she doesn’t fit the norm!  The disgusting display of bullying is a great example of why our public school systems have yet to get control of bullying.  And the comments that anonymous readers made afterwards were equally appalling, making me wonder, once again, about humanity.  If this is the example we are giving our children then there is no hope of reducing bullying in our society.  Once again, someone who has done something that is different than the norm, is being ridiculed by two unkind, unhappy people.  Bullying is done by people who are not happy with themselves, and feel it necessary to lash out at others in order to feel better about themselves.  Thankfully I know that not everyone is like these two women, and that there are a lot of kind, non-judgemental people out there.  Jacquelyn has had an overwhelming response from readers who are equally horrified and disgusted with the display of unkindness.  And I hope you are one of them.  Please take a moment to head over and give her some support! And in case you are wondering whyI am taking this so seriously?  Well, I don’t wash my hair with shampoo and I haven’t for over 2 years.  And it  doesn’t stink.  To read more about my experiences click here.  -From Leona at My Healthy Green Family.

The following letter was written by Leslie Erin of Crunchy Betty, in response to Kathie Lee and Hoda regarding the “No Poo” post on LittleOwlCrunchyMomma’s “no poo” by Jacquelyn Byers. In support of our dear blogging friend Jacquelyn many bloggers are showing our support by posting this article (with permission).

You can view their video here at 6:30 minutes into the video.

Jacquelyn Byers from LittleOwlCrunchyMama

used with permission

Dear Kathie Lee and Hoda (but mostly Kathie Lee),


Just … shh.

For a minute. Let me talk. Let someone else talk. Please.


Yesterday, with the exceptional display of journalistic prowess only the two of you can pull off, you publicly shamed a woman. You know, just a little good-natured name calling of a commoner, in between Kathie Lee’s cringe-worthy lyric-forgetting and the best hair evah (EVAH) popular girls circle jerk. No harm, no foul, right?

I get it, girlfriends. I really do get it. You live in a world where you’re plied with products and serums and perfumes and creams made of extracts of baby albino tiger tears mixed with space-aged polymers coated in 200 karat gold. You don’t really know what’s going on *out here* unless your producers shove a bottle of wine and a paper covered in words in front of your face and say, “Don’t think. Just talk.”

I know there’s an in-touch part of you somewhere, it just happens to focus on things like the latest stiletto-wedge-ballet-pump from Jimmy Choo or what Lady Gaga ate for breakfast yesterday morning (extracts of baby albino tiger tears, no doubt).

But out here, ladies, something else is going on. And it’s something your producers won’t hand you a script for (something that would never please the overlord advertisers).

So even though you’re not in touch with it, it does exist. And the beautiful women you made fun of yesterday is a part of it. You can call it “crunchy” (cue Kathie Lee eye roll) or natural or alternative or big bang boopsie. I don’t care. Call it whatever you want, but to look down on it any longer doesn’t fly.

You see, there are thousands of women who have learned one very important thing in the last few years:

We’ve been lied to. We’ve been bamboozled. We’ve been hoodwinked. We’ve been hypnotized by a billion synthetic fragrances slowly stripping us, from the day we’re born, of every shred of the true *natural* humanity we’re a part of.

And because hundreds of women as brave as Jaquelyn Byers of LittleOwlCrunchyMama have spoken out about their no ‘poo lifestyle, we know something you don’t:

Not washing your hair with shampoo doesn’t make you stink. Oh, maybe the first few days are rough, and then any whiff of off-putting smell is gone. It’s gone, and you know why? Because human bodies are designed to work in concert with nature, not battle with it.

We’ve also learned that the stink you cop to having after not washing your hair, Kathie Lee, has more to do with the things that you put IN your body than the things that you put ON your body. A clean diet, more often than not, equals a cleaner smell. And that cleaner smell is quite easy to remove (and be free of), even if you only wash with water.

You can still bathe regularly, Kathie Lee, so you don’t have to worry about smelling like the people “back in the day before shampoo” who only bathed once every few weeks, at most. You can still enjoy other comforts of modern day life. Like, you know, razors and toothbrushes and those little family stick figures you put on your car’s back window. Except not the last part. Please, not those.

I don’t know why I expect more of you, but I do. I expect women in the media to be conscientious about the way they talk about new ideas and, even more so, the way they talk about people. About other women. And, for heaven’s sake, about other women and their relationship with their children.

The disrespect you showed Jacquelyn, simply because she does something you’re not brave enough to learn about, much less try, was nothing short of schoolyard bullying.

I have a friend, you know, who has two girls: ages 5 and 7. And when she caught her children making fun of another kid for having curly hair, do you know what she did? She curled their hair. For a week straight, the girls had curly hair, just so they understood what another person was feeling.

So I know that one of you – I’m guessing Hoda, because she seems to be the bravest of the gang – is going to swallow your pill and do the right thing now. If a 5-year-old and 7-year-old can do it, you can muster up the emotionally responsible fortitude to do it, too.

Don’t wash your hair.

For six weeks.

Do not wash your hair with shampoo. Heck, you could even go the no ‘poo with baking soda and apple cider vinegar route. But either way, no shampoo. For six weeks.

And then come back and talk to us about how awful it is. Then you can talk from an experienced point of view. Then, perhaps, you won’t sit up there on your ultra loud thrones and set the tone for other people to feel like it’s okay to be mean. And many of your viewers were mean. Nasty. Bleh.

Until then, it would be ever so kind if one of you would have a sit down with your producers and schedule a few interviews with women who don’t use shampoo. Get them in your studio. Right next to you. In your face.

So you can smell them. And eat crow.

(I hear it’s delicious this time of year.)

And goodness knows I’m not saying it will work for you. It may not! I mean, let’s be honest, it won’t, because it takes exquisitely detailed spritzing and teasing and coiffing to get you camera ready all the time. But what’s six weeks going to hurt, right? Time flies when you’re a celebrity.

Try it. It’s not like you’ll lose your job – unlike the way you do when you anger the masses by being heartless and snarky.

The worst that can happen is that you’ll stink. The best that can happen is that you’ll gain our respect – and a naturally beautiful head of hair in the process.

~Leslie – Crunchy Betty 

DIY Sweater Pillow Tutorial: Cheap, Cozy Style!

You’ve seen them in upper end decorating stores, or in display windows. Sweater pillows. They are slightly boho, cute, cozy and… EXPENSIVE!!  They usually start at about $30. I have been decorating a new guest room that will be used by my teenaged niece for a while, and the budget is low. I really loved those sweater pillows though, and decided to make one out of an old sweater. All you need is an old sweater in good shape, some scissors, a pillow form, and a sewing machine.

Lay your sweater flat on the ground. Place the pillow form on top.

Cut off the arms of the sweater, and the neck and bottom as necessary to make a square the size of your pillow form.

Turn the sweater inside out and sew up the sides that are not already sewn.

Unbutton the sweater and put the pillow in the pillow case.

Adjust buttons as necessary.  I added a bit of Velcro in between two of the button holes to keep the sweater from having that “bulging button hole” look but you may not have to.

It is that easy! Now you have your own cozy sweater pillow, buttons, pockets and all, for a great accent piece.

My Journey Towards Learning Homesteading Life Skills: Carding Wool

Wool. Carding. Spinning. Weaving. These words are all a part of our heritage from many years ago, that lasted for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The common people knew how to make their own fibre from what they had available, and most areas had wool available, from a variety of sources. Today, in first world countries, many people wouldn’t know the difference between spinning and weaving, and most certainly wouldn’t know how to turn a sheep into a sweater or a rug. We have lost the need to know this. We are the “rich”; we have people who do this for us. And we don’t use wool much anymore either. Synthetic fibres and overseas factory production have taken over the homestead spinning wheel and the loom. Production time and cost is so much improved that we have all but lost the need and the know-how to produce fibre in our own house. Only those with extra money can afford to purchase locally-spun or woven products. Unless you do it yourself.

I have always been interested in creating things. I am a potter; I make my own dishes. I know how to crochet, knit and sew. And over the last few years I have developed a real drive within me to go further, and to learn the skills the average woman would have known 100 years ago. My husband has been listening to me, and he found me a beautiful, second hand spinning wheel for Christmas this year. I am now the proud new owner of an Ashford Classic! And I don’t know how to spin :). Thankfully YouTube has it all.

Before you can spin, however, you need carded wool. Wool that has been sheered off a sheep (or other fibre animal), has been washed to remove the natural oils (or not, depending on what you desire), tagged (picked through to remove undesirable bits), dyed (if desired, and not necessarily in this order) and carded (brushed, so that all the wool goes in the same direction and can be spun). You can buy wool already prepared, or you can get a fleece from a sheep, and do it all yourself. Naturally, I wanted to do it myself. (Naturally, because I always seem to choose to do things the hardest way!)

My friend Jenn gave me a fleece from one of her Romney sheep. It is a medium grey, and was ready to be washed. My friend Monika told me how to wash the fleece. Friends are awesome! For more information on washing your wool check out this video.

You can hand card the wool or you can use a drum carder. Hand carding take a lot longer than a drum carder. My friend Monika had a drum carder so I invited a few friends over with wool and/or an extra set of hands, and we carded wool! I now have a huge stack of carded wool, ready to be dyed (if I want) or spun, or felted. For more information on carding wool check out this helpful video.

The next step is going to be dying the wool. I have found a local supply store that carries a beginner set of a variety of all natural dyes. I am purchasing this, and will be set to dye the wool. The fun has only begun!

There is so much to learn, and so little time. Between raising my children, preparing meals, taking care of my farm animals, keeping the house in some sense of order, and learning new skills, life is busy! I’d love to hear from other people who are also interested in learning a sustainable skill. What are you interested in? How are you learning? What has been the biggest help in your journey? The most challenging obstacle?

Check back in a week or two for my next Life Skill lesson learned: Dyeing Wool.

Top 10 Last Minute DIY Christmas Gift Ideas From My Healthy Green Family

Ahhhh! Christmas has snuck up again! Here are some basic last minute Christmas gifts that can be made up hours before Christmas, rather than days or weeks.

2 Ingredient Whipped Body Butter: Decadent, smooth and rich.
Also works as a fantastic shaving cream!


Lip Balm Recipes: Honey Vanilla, Chocolate Chip Mint, and Sweet Almond.


Chai Spice Sugar Scrub


Chamomile-Infused Fresh Body Lotion

 Anti-Aging Daily Facial Moisturizer

DIY Solid Perfume: Sweet and Sensual

Oil-Cleansing Facial Bar

Plastic Wrap Alternative: Beeswax Cotton Wrap

DIY Laundry Detergent

DIY Dishwasher Detergent

And if all else fails, give them homemade jam, salsa, or red pepper jelly, :)  Merry Christmas!

Oil Cleansing Facial Bar Tutorial: Soap-Free!

The premise behind oil cleansing is that, rather than washing your face with soap or detergent and removing all of the natural oils, you wash your face with a clean oil, which not only removes the old, dirty oils, but replaces them with a clean oil thereby cleansing your skin and moisturizing it at the same time. A daily moisturizer is not needed when you cleanse with oil.

Does it work? Yes! I was sure it would clog my pores when I first read about it, but it stayed on my mind, since a lot of my readers use this method, and so when I finally ran out of my commercial facial cleanser, I gave it a go. Quite simply, you apply a small amount of your oil of choice to your face as you would a cleanser. Rub it in well. You can wash it off immediately with warm water or you can wait 15 minutes while you… tidy your bedroom or brush your teeth… and then wash it off. I was immediately pleased with how well it cleaned, while at the same time leaving my skin feeling moisturized. I stopped using my daily moisturizer as a result, which saves me some money.

A friend and I played around with cleansing bars recently. We found some recipes to try, and I substituted ingredients that were known for their anti-aging properties like green tea, mango and kokum butter. Now I have a cleansing bar that is loaded with anti-oxidants and can be used every day to exfoliate, cleanse, and moisturize all at the same time.

How To Get Started!

1. Choose your liquid oils: Start with half castor oil and then add the other half from the list below, or try a different one.

Safflower (for dry, sensitive skin)
Sweet Almond (for normal to oily skin)
Apricot Kernel (for dry, aging skin)
Grapeseed (for normal skin)
Avocado (dry, aging skin)

2. Add your choice of the following ingredients or you can simply use the oils above.

Cocoa Butter (for dry skin)
Shea Butter (for dry skin)
Kokum Butter (for normal to oily skin)
Mango Butter (for aging skin)

3. Add some optional additives:
Clay for exfoliation (let the world of clays open up to you! I chose a local glacial clay)
Oatmeal flour (for exfoliation)
Green tea extract (anti-oxidant)

4. Add Essential Oils of your choice

5. Then follow my directions below, subbing whatever oil or additive you have chosen:

5.0 from 2 reviews
Oil Cleansing Facial Bar: Soap-Free!
Recipe type: Body Product
An all-natural facial cleanser that cleanses and moisturizes at the same time without clogging pores.
  • 28 grams kokum butter
  • 26 grams mango butter
  • 30 grams almond oil
  • 22 grams castor oil
  • 39 grams glacial clay
  • 1 tsp. green tea extract (powder)
  • 20 drops bergamot essential oil (or oil of your choice)
  1. Combine solid oils in a thick-bottomed pot and heat on low until melted.
  2. Remove from heat.
  3. Add almond oil and castor oil
  4. Add clay, essential oils and additives (if desired) and stir well.
  5. Pour into molds (or into a small jar)
  6. Cool in fridge for several hours.
  7. Remove and store in fridge until needed.
Put the molds into the freezer to speed setting and help it solidify.

This post has been linked to From The Farm Blog Hop and The Homesteader’s Hop #21.

Inside Our Chicken Coop: Lessons learned, Key Features and Tips

Our homesteading adventure began 4 years ago with 5 hens and an old shed-turned-chicken coop. We now have over 50 hens and we sell our extra eggs. We have learned a great deal from experience, from other’s experiences, and from information shared online. Our newest coop is a combination of lessons learned, advice given, and experimentation. So far, this coop has been a big success.

Our biggest issues we have had to face to date have been predators, mites, food spillage (and waste), production and cleanliness. This new coop takes each issue we have had to deal with into consideration, and, as with all homesteading experiences, attempts to keep us one step ahead of the problem!

Raise Your Coop!
Our most destructive predator to date has been mink. A cousin to weasels, they are small, smart, and exceptionally destructive. Once they have made their way into the coop they can wipe out an entire henhouse, one bird at a time, overnight. They are small enough to get into even rat or mice holes, and vicious enough to keep even you away. They attack, generally at night when the hens’ vision is practically nil, suck the blood out of their prey, and then often sever the head. One good way to tell if it is a mink attacking your hens is that the hens’ combs will be almost white, for lack of blood. Our first coop was an old shed, and full of rat holes. The only way to deal with a mink in a coop like this is to trap them or kill them, and this will be AFTER they have already killed, since you won’t know they are there, otherwise. Prevention is best, and the key to keeping them out is to have your coop raised above the ground, with no holes for entry. Our latest coop is 5 feet off the ground and very secure. While you don’t need to have it this high, higher is better. This will prevent a number of predators from getting in. It will also help keep mice, rats and other pests out.

Your bedding will remain drier if the coop has air flow underneath. This will help prevent mold, ammonia issues, and pests like mites and ticks.

Water Drip System
The best way to keep your hen’s water sanitary is to use a drip system, also known as a nipple system. The chickens peck at and drink the drips that hang from the nipple once it has been nudged by the chicken. This method is what commercial chicken producers use because once it is installed it is virtually maintanence-free, and pretty much the only truly sanitary watering method. I highly recommend investing in this kind of system. Contact a local commercial poultry supply warehouse or check online. if you only have a few chickens, you can even buy the nipples individually and install them in the bottom of a hanging bucket.

Our water system is fed via a large food-grade barrel purchased from a barrel company. At present the drip system is fed from this large barrel, and we need to fill the barrel about once a month from a hose. Our future plans is to convert this system into one that would collect rain water from the roof to full the barrel, and then supply water to the nipple system. One of our older coops functions well this way.

Large, Deep Feeder
We feed our hens certified organic layer mash. The convenience of pellets is lost when you switch to organic since the product they use to bind the feed into pellets is not organic, so the organic feed is all mash. We had a great deal of trouble with our original feeders because the hens would peck out what they liked to eat, leaving the parts they didn’t like, and scattering it all over the coop. Eventually the bedding seemed to be nothing but old feed. Our final solution was turkey feeders, because they are large, and much deeper. The hens are able to peck the feed, but unable to pull it out of the feeder and scatter it around. This results in the birds eating ALL of their food before we fill it, which results is better quality eggs, since their feed is “a complete meal”. (Of course they free range all day as well). These feeders hold a 50lb bag of feed and last 30 hens 3 days or so before we have to refill the feeder. Hang your feeders to keep them off the ground. This helps keep them from filling up with bedding as the chickens scratch.

Oyster Shell feeder
We provide all of our hens with free choice oyster shells to help promote strong, healthy shells.

Poop deck

“Fondly” referred to by us as a poop deck, all of our coops now have a deck beneath the roosts that are lined with old feed sacks, which we roll up and compost in the manure pile every week or so. This keeps the bedding MUCH cleaner since they sit and poop on their roosts all night. It also provides a rich manure for the compost pile! Whatever you do, make sure you change the papers once a week or as needed, because the poop will eventually breed flies and other pests. This poop deck method has saved us a lot of time and keeps the coop so much cleaner and nicer smelling, especially using the deep litter method.

Deep Litter Method
To save time, to keep the coop warm in the winter, and to make a rich compost, you can add a foot or so of white wood shavings to the bottom of the coop. The chickens turn it over by scratching in it, they use it for dust baths, and the manure that starts to compost in the wood chips keeps the coop warmer in the winter. If used properly, this method is good for months without cleaning, and is an accepted, safe method of maintaining your coop. We do a complete cleaning of the coops once every 4 months or so.

Lights On!

In the long Canadian winter months our chickens will come to a complete production stop, will molt, and will not start laying again until mid spring. This can mean up to 6 months of almost zero production, and since we are raising chickens to sell their eggs, this will not allow us to meet our costs. By keeping one single lightbulb lit in our coop for 12 hours we will be allowing our chickens 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness to sleep. This is enough to keep our chickens producing, and while they will molt and stop producing for 6 weeks or so, they will start up again and continue as before. Chickens are native to Central America, and are not meant to be in the dark for 16 hours a day, sitting on roosts for 16 long hours, which is what we would be putting them through in the middle of our Canadian winters. While I don’t advocate 24 hour lighting, I do recommend 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness in the winter months. There is a minimal daily

Dust Bath!
One of the worst pests chickens can come up against are mites. They can destroy a chicken’s health in a short period of time. Chickens’ natural defense against mites is to dust bath. Dust will cut up mites and smoother them. You will notice free-ranging chickens finding the most perfect (to them) locations to dust bath… namely, in your flower garden, in the sand box, or at the base of trees. Providing your hens with a box 3/4 full of diatomaceous earth will give them an opportunity to dust bath and keep the mites in control while they are locked in their coop. Keep it free of manure and wood shavings.

Nesting Boxes
It is recommended that a coop has at least 1 nesting box per 5 hens. We use old milk crates, turned on their sides, and filled with clean hay. Make sure you change the hay regularly to keep the bedding and eggs clean. We cover our boxes with a “roof” now, simply a board on an angle, to prevent any hens from roosting on top of the boxes where they will poop into the nesting boxes.

We have a large window in the front of our coop that we found free on craigslist. It allows daylight in which makes electric lighting unnecessary in the spring/summer/fall months.

Keep your trap door for the chickens up above the ground. Chickens can fly, and some predators can’t. The chickens will quickly learn to fly back up into the coop if your trap door is a few feet above the ground. One of our coops’ doors is about 5 feet up, and while most of the birds can fly in and out, the heavier ones can’t, so I recommend 4 feet above ground. This helps keep pests like mice, mink and rats out (although they may eventually find a way up) and predators like dogs and coyotes out. We use a simple trap door that hinges at the bottom, and provides a “landing spot” for the hens when they fly up to the roost. Once the trap door is closed, we simply latch it shut with a piece of wood.

Free Ranging
Our chickens free range all day, every day. We have lost a few occasionally to coyotes, but for the most part, our dog keeps the coyotes away, as well as bears, mink, raccoons, and stray dogs. Free ranging gives chickens access to a more natural environment including scratching, dust bathing, and fresh greens and bugs which enhances the nutritional value of the eggs, and keeps the chickens healthy.

An Extra Tip:
One thing we should have done when we first built the coop was to paint the walls and floor. Paint helps keep mites down since mites will burrow in the walls and come out at night, attacking the chickens. Paint seals the walls, and also makes the walls easier to clean off when you are spring cleaning the coop.

Our coop is by no means perfect, but we have been working on improving our coops for years now, and have come up with certain things that work, and others that don’t. Learning from others’ experiences has been highly beneficial to us, and I hope that sharing this information will help you on your homesteading journey. Please take a moment to comment and let me know what has worked for you in the past, and what hasn’t. Online information through sharing with others has been a valuable resource for us. Thanks!

This article has been linked to From The Farm Blog Hop and The Homesteader’s Hop #19.