a good harvest
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Friday, 8 February 2013
Check out my Rooster!
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

It's February, right? And we've just had a "wintry mix" yesterday and a frozen path today--except...a bit of sun and a reminder to us that Spring is lurking out there in the future.

The other reminder of that reality is the curiosity of my barnyard flock when they get enough sun and calmness in the weather to go exploring for a little while.

I thought I'd post a couple snapshots of my beautiful rooster who was snooping around the horse barn when I walked outside to toss some scratch out and pick up eggs from the nesting boxes.


I hadn't intended to keep a rooster--but then, my flock is not typical either.


I have some Sussex, Ameracauna, and Rhode Island red hens mixed with Guinea hens--and this Ameracauna rooster gets along and keeps the peace--so he's staying.


And--you've got to admit...he does look like he's in control!

Posted by Karen at 13:51 CST
Updated: Friday, 8 February 2013 13:52 CST
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Sunday, 4 November 2012
Horses on the Farm
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity


Thought you might like to see a photo of the horse who was our first born horse on the farm. Lucky Sun Commander is a three year old National Show Horse and is quite contended with his barnyard friends and fellow horses in the herd. Mother Molly, a bay Arabian horse, is part of the herd. His daddy is a palomino American Saddlebred of Wing Commander lineage (hence his name). The "Sun" part comes from the fact he was born out in the pasture on a beautiful sunny afternoon. (The "lucky" is another story...)

We follow the concepts that horses prefer to be with other horses in a herd setting as opposed to stables, so the horses have large fenced areas for socializing and grazing. They also have community style feeders for winter hay so munching is always available to them, regardless of the time of year.

Lucky and his buddies also receive winter feed for additional energy and that is fed in individual pans—for the most part, they don't share that--though a couple of the horses will try to eat out of the same pan. We just place two portions next to each other.

The horses have run-in shelters for inclement weather. We were thinking about putting infrared heat lamps in them with solar panels for energy—but the horses grow these incredibly wooly thick winter coats, they don't seem to mind the temperature. And there's plenty of room under shelter to protect them from wind and rain.

We just graded an area for a riding arena and a large pasture surrounding it had to be planted this year with a cover crop—we chose winter wheat to blend with the pasture grass mixture, in order to avoid soil erosion from now until the intended pasture grasses emerge next spring. If they're lucky, the horses may get a chance to nosh on wheat and rye grasses before the snow flies!

Posted by Karen at 06:48 CDT
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Sunday, 28 October 2012
The Saga continues...
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

She left again...

My Golden hen--the buff Orpington--came home yesterday and spent the whole afternoon with her sister hens and guineas...

There was no animosity in the flock, no apparent hurt feelings. I made them a fresh fruit salad. They laid around in the sun. That's Goldie by the rock.


I didn't see it coming--I had no clue--but when it was time to shut up the hen house, she was nowhere to be found.


I looked everywhere for her today after church, hoping she'd make an afternoon comeback like yesterday's appearance.

Well, I know she was healthy, though the outside is a cruel place where predators lurk day and night. I want her home with her sisters.

I sound like a parent, don't I?

Well, she's one smart chick. I'll do my best to trust her and hope she'll come home to roost again when the snow flies at least.

Posted by Karen at 16:41 CDT
Updated: Friday, 2 November 2012 12:56 CDT
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Saturday, 27 October 2012
Guess who came back home?
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

My favorite hen, my "golden" hen--aka buff Orpington went missing a couple of weeks ago--two days before our "Harvest Party" to be precise. She simply didn't come in at the end of the day.

Our chickens are truly "free range" and have the ability to roam around the outdoors. And they commonly cruise the backyard, horse pens, barn and barnyard areas.


However, they always come back at dusk to their roosts in the hen house where we close them up until the morning to protect them from predators.

They also have their nesting boxes in the hen house so they know it's "home."

But, they also live with guineas. The guineas think and behave like domestic laying hens. They sleep together, scratch together, cruise together. They just don't lay eggs in the nesting boxes.

That is, most of them behave like that. When we got our first group of guineas, there was one male who immediately "flew the coop" and heading for our woods, where he still hangs out to this day--we can hear him, but he has no interest in coming back to the flock.

I think that's where my golden hen went off to...

Then, today--she just reappeared.


I was so excited I ran into the house and chopped some bananas and kiwi fruit (the equivalent of slaying the fatted calf) and treated the whole flock to fresh fruit.

We'll see how long she stays--that wild child of mine. I have outfitted the hen house with a great full spectrum light on a timer to go on between 4AM and 8AM to extend their light hours. The other ones seem to like it--we'll see if it's enough to keep Goldie back with her flock.


Posted by Karen at 17:07 CDT
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Sunday, 16 September 2012
Hens and a very QUICK Egg Frittata
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

It's Sunday morning and I thought I'd grab a couple of pictures to share...







These are our Guineas –natural bug control- the two larger are nearly full sized and come from a flock on a friend's farm. The four little ones were hatched from eggs by another friend of mine. They are both an early danger warning system with their very vocal “qua-QUACK, qua-QUACK” and also love to eat bugs. They roam all over (as you can see) around the house and barnyard and horse pens, but seem to take care of the laying hens as their purpose in life. They roost with the layers at night.


Below is my buff Orpington walking around the yard. I found the white Sussex in a horse stall and a couple of Rhode Island Reds laying in their nesting boxes. The other girls were camera-shy, but this pretty golden hen was all about posing.








Thought I'd include the quickest “gourmet” breakfast-for -one that everyone should know how to make... A Microwave Egg Frittata. This quick version can be "doctored" up to any level of sophistication.






2 fresh eggs

1 tbsp milk or cream

1 small plum tomato, seeded and chopped

1 oz. Goat cheese crumbles

(As always—use your imagination and what's in your refrigerator. You can add cooked and drained bacon, sausage, other vegetables, even smoked salmon--and of course, other cheeses.)



You'll need 2 bowls. 1 to whisk in, 1 to cook in.

Prep a microwave- and personal serving-sized bowl with spray oil.


In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and milk together. Pour into your prepped, microwave-able bowl.


Microwave for 1 minute on high power until eggs are set.


Remove, top with veggies and cheese. Return to microwave for 20 seconds on high until heated.


Sprinkle with a little fresh herbs and ground pepper. Enjoy!

Posted by Karen at 11:11 CDT
Updated: Sunday, 16 September 2012 11:12 CDT
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Friday, 4 May 2012
More on the Hen house
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

Hen House Project—Part Two

To bring you up to date...

The Hen house  which we made from a Rubbermaid 7 ft x 7 ft. garden shed, was outfitted with a roost, nesting boxes, a feeder and “waterer.” Wood shavings were used on the floor and straw in the nesting boxes. Mike put up a chicken run for their use and protection for the first 5 weeks or so, later they can run more “free-range”. We thought we were ready.


All we needed were some laying hens and my friend, Grace, supplied us with quite a few.


So, we moved them in only to find out within the first day...

So, Mike reconstructed the whole nesting box set up from some wire drawers. The new set-up has straw filled nests and a new top- a piece of board that is on an slant from the wall, covering the top so there's no chance to roost on top, preventing the competition (and hen-pecking).


Also, since they seemed to like a higher roost height, the dowel rod was raised on the back wall. Thinking about it some more, we decided to remove one of the drawers, having read that you need 1 nesting box for every 3 hens. After the roost fights on the accidental perch, we were afraid to make any more problems.

When I opened up the hen house to let them out this morning, I'm happy to say we had NO fights. They appear to have all slept together on the long dowel roost raised to the higher height,  as evidenced by the distributions of droppings below.

And, we got our first egg!


Posted by Karen at 13:58 CDT
Updated: Friday, 4 May 2012 14:34 CDT
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Sunday, 22 April 2012
Happy Earth Day
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

Happy Earth Day!  

It's truly the perfect day to reflect on Mother Earth, just take a look outside your window--or better yet, plan a hike in the park or woods today--see if you can find some hidden eggs--here are some Kildeer eggs on our driveway.


The Hen house is up, next will come outfitting it with nesting boxes and roost and laying hens. I am reminding you about this project today because it's the last day of the Menards sale on the 7 ft by 7 ft storage shed which happens to be a perfect structure for a backyard hen house. (See last week's post.)


The horses are enjoying a chow-down in the backyard pasture.


Posted by Karen at 07:47 CDT
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Friday, 13 April 2012
Start Building your own Hen House
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

Fresh Eggs Anyone??? 

My husband wants to raise chickens for eggs. He's really obsessed by the idea. And, while I LOVE fresh chicken eggs (that I can readily purchase in our farm “neighborhood”) when I think of chickens—I usually think of Salmonella, mites, bird droppings and all sorts of obnoxious bird behavior...

However, I DO agree with Mike when it comes to wanting to actualize your dreams. And his current dream is to have his own laying hens. You or your spouse may also have this whimsical idea about keeping hens for fresh eggs. It's legally possible to keep hens in urban and suburban environments as well as “the country” so it's not really far-fetched.

So, I have spent a lot of hours researching how to raise hens for eggs with the maximum sanitary considerations while still “keeping it natural” as far as the birds are concerned. The big problems concerning sanitation and health involve wood rot in wooden structures, general handling of bird droppings, hen house ventilation, bird “psychology” in how you plan for their needs so that there's no competitiveness, and how to get hens to lay eggs where/when they're supposed to.

I think it can be done. It starts with a sanitary, secure hen house or “chicken coop.” Then you will need an indoor nesting area (where we want hens to lay their eggs) and an indoor “roost” (where they sleep safely away from nocturnal predators). Hens also need natural light and ventilation, but protection from the harsh cold we have in northern climates.

I found a structure that seems to fit the bill for a hen house. It's rot-resistant because it's made from plastic resin. It's got natural light from built-in sky lights in the roof and two windows on the doors, It's got ventilation through vents at the gables. It's tall enough to walk into and big enough to hold up to 12 hens by my calculation (though we are planning for six.)

So I am posting the BEGINNING of our project today because you may want to take advantage of a sale going on at Menards now—if I wait to post until I have everything actually done—you will miss the best pricing!

We are building our hen house from the Rubbermaid 7ft x 7 ft weather-resistant resin “storage building” which is now on sale at Menards for $599.00. Their SKU is 193-2645.

While I will give you all the details and rationales in a later post—here's where we stand today:



Obviously, the structure isn't done yet, and we may need to shim a corner once we see how it's settled with the roof on.

I ALSO purchased other materials for the construction of the nesting boxes and the handling of droppings from under the dowel rod roost. Here's a photo of items that I actually bought at Walmart for about $40. total.


Since I am planning for 6 hens, I will need at least 1 nesting box for every 3 hens and 1 dowel rod to go between the two sides of the shed, about 2 ft off the ground. If you want to go for more hens, then you will need 2 dowels placed 18 inches apart but at the same height!

We purchased the Storage shed-turned-chicken coop listed above and started construction—limited by rain and other work duties, we are at a standstill until next week. I'll update you then! I will also tell you how to turn the storage drawers into nesting boxes that you can retrieve eggs from behind and where to place them in your coop.


Think about it...do you have a spouse that really, really, really wants his/her own hens too? If so, start building!

Posted by Karen at 17:39 CDT
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Friday, 23 March 2012
Can you find the new baby calf?
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

We checked the herd this morning to find three new births overnight. The farm is bursting with new life, we are blessed (I hope) with an early Spring and the cattle, horses and vegetation are all bursting with life.

I was at a Local Food Producers meeting at Clarke University in Dubuque last night and talked with a local orchard producer. He says worrying about this early budburst is fruitless (pun intended)--you can't do anything about it, just go with it.

So, I wonder...is this what cattle raising is like in Florida? Every morning when I walk outside, I feel like I'm in Disney World.

Can you find a baby calf in these pictures?

Posted by Karen at 17:22 CDT
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Friday, 16 March 2012
Misty Spring Morning at the Farm
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

You'll have to look closely to find the cattle on the ridge, hidden by the gray mist. The weather has been so warm, while the ground is still cold so clouds of misty fog have been scattered in the nooks of the farm every morning.

In winter, the cattle are fed large round bales of hay (organic, made from the cultivated fields maintained for the purpose of creating winter grass hay for our herd). They can't graze when the ground is snow-covered. But as soon as the snow cover is gone, their natural instinct is to roam freely and attempt to graze.  Although they have to return to the areas where their round bale feeders are located to get enough calories, you can still find them wandering around the center pasture 40 acres throughout the day.

Cattle are actually very smart, it's said that their brains have as many sulci as human brains. And we know they have retained knowledge (memories). Of course, it's common knowledge that cows and their calves identify and "know" each other. But they also know toxic from edible plants and remember their favorite grazing spots and watering sites.

They also form relationships and organizations within the herd. We love to watch the cows define an area of pasture to be the "nursery" and then "assign" each other to watch the babies while the rest go off to eat. They often enlist 1 year olds and sometimes we'll even see a bull supervising in the nursery when they join the herd for the Summer.

Right now at the farm, it's preparation for delivery. The calves should be born in April and May. We have later deliveries because USUALLY it's still quite cold in March in northwestern Illinois and our cows deliver outside. And, we want to prevent undue stress on our calves. But, it looks like this year, weather won't be an issue.

Though I suspect one year with an early Spring will not make us change our plans. We haven't had a problem yet and other farmers have lost calves to freezing, something we would never risk.

Meanwhile, we can all enjoy the early Spring and get other chores and garden prep done.

Just resist the urge to plant!



Posted by Karen at 11:27 CDT
Updated: Friday, 16 March 2012 11:31 CDT
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