Why We're Getting Chickens

Did you hear? We're getting chickens. Real 'cluck cluck', scratch at the dirt, poop everywhere chickens. The response from friends and family have been a mix of "So cool" to a reserved and quiet "hmm, neat?". If you didn't already know, we live 3 minutes from downtown Dallas...pretty urban. But we do live in the Chicken Owning Hipster section of Dallas according to this map so I guess it's okay. ;) (By the way, I need to grab coffee with some of those artisanal yarn bombers. I've always wanted to learn how to do that.)

But, seriously, we have our reasons for wanting to get chickens and some are valid and some are just for fun. So here goes:

1. Homesteading Training - Now, we're not about to move off onto 500 acres somewhere and live off the grid (although some days I'm totally tempted). But we are wanting to lean less on others and more on ourselves...and not in a circle-the-wagons kind of way but in a why-not-provide-rather-consume kind of way. I'm almost finished with Joel Salatin's Folks, This Ain't Normal (get.it.right.now.and.read.it.tomorrow). It is SO good. It beautifully illustrates how, yes, we've come so far as a culture in the last 100 years but is that really a good thing? Have we gone too far in some ways? I think so. Did you know that the food shelves at your local store is only 72 hours (prob 24-48 in an emergency situation) away from being totally emptied. 

"Long distance distribution now defines the modern food system, and yet as recently as 1946 the average food-miles in America was less than one hundred....Today, in Canada and the United States, only 5% of the food consumed in a bioregion is actually grown there. In other words, when you go to the supermarket, 95% of what's for sale came from some other state."

So when a natural disaster or weather storm (or God forbid something more serious) stops transportation, your food supply gravy train is halted. Another great reason to shop local, yes, but even more of a great reason for us to have a consistent food source right out in the back yard. Some nice garden beds are soon to follow (my poor husband is not excited about all this building in this Texas heat). It may just be a few hens but they will provide our family enough eggs (and then some) and we help 'free up' if you will eggs for another family. It also encourages our children to learn about responsibility in the chores that they can help with and a sense of pride and accomplishment when they see what their contribution has brought (eggs). 

2. Money - There is an initial investment when you're getting hens but it really does come down to how creative and resourceful you are. We set a budget of $500 for building the coop, buying feed, supplies and of course the chickens. You can go way lower than this or you can WAY higher.

Coop - We actually found a LOT of free scrap lumber and metal from family and friends so the main cost of what we spent was on the hardware cloth and hinges/locks. The other bit of money went to new metal feeders and waterers. I did see feeders and waterers on craigslist but they were all plastic and with our summer heat, I really wanted to go with metal. With feed and grit, our supplies cost came to $264.

Chickens - We opted to start with pullets (i.e. - teenager chickens). They're not laying quite yet but they're not babies who need a ton of care. Sure, we'll have to deal with late night curfews but it'll be worth it. jk ;-) Getting pullets are definitely more expensive than just starting out with baby chicks but we really wanted to get eggs coming soon and didn't want the time and stress of babysitting the chicks (although I think it will be great fun once my own little human chicks are a smidge older). We got some breeds that are well-suited for our north Texas heat and that have been fed non-GMO feed and fully free ranged (something that is important to us) so that put them at more of a premium price point than others that may be out there. For 5 pullets, we spent $150. 

So, we stayed under budget (yay!) and they should start laying within the month. We spend between $56 and $70 on eggs every month (we buy local, free range ones) so it should take about 6 months to start seeing a return on investment. Like I said, we could've taken an even cheaper approach and got chicks or bought used feeders/waterers but we had our reasons for going the route we did and believe the investment to be worth it. Plus, our reasons for getting them were for more than just money. Which leads me to...

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3. They're fun! - We don't have any pets due to allergies (and sanity). We're not opposed to a future pup or cat but, for now, the hens will fill that void. What I like is that they will encourage my kids to be outside more. We limit their TV/iPad time as much as we can and, although they have fun things outside to do, the chickens provide a whole different level of entertainment. Watching the chickens in their element fosters learning about God's creation, nature and the circle of life more than any re-run of The Lion King ever can. 

 

I'm sure over time we will find even more reasons that having our own chickens was a good idea for our family (and, yes, I'm sure we'll find other reasons that make us second guess the whole thing!) But, all you can do is go for it, right? That's what makes life fun.

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A Tasty Healthy Treat for Kids

Click on image to pin this.

Click on image to pin this.

In our quest for a more nourishing diet (initiated by this wonderful book), Jon and I learned about the importance of cod liver oil in the diet, especially fermented cod liver oil. Cod liver oil is the best source for omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and vitamin A and especially important to take during the winter months. But man, oh man, it does not taste good. Jon and I take the capsules from Green Pastures but I've wanted to find a way that my kids could take it....joyfully take it, that is.

Well, I am happy to report that I have had pretty good success so far with the following recipe. It's not a 100% success rate as my son is uber picky and has not wanted them every time I've offered but they are an absolute hit with my daughter.

I found this recipe for Butter Buttons and remembered that Green Pastures offers a gel version of their cod liver oil. I ordered the Cinnamon Tingle but I think I will order the non-flavored next time. This is a blend and taste as you go kind of recipe. I don't think there's any way to truly mask the cod liver oil but this does, I think, a pretty good job of making it yummier.

I hesitated even sharing my recipe because it's nothing exact but I think that's the beauty of it. You can incorporate different ingredients - coconut oil instead of butter, peppermint instead of cinnamon, maple syrup instead of honey, chocolate cream gel instead of cinnamon gel.

This is what we did this time but I'm excited to experiment more in the future. :)

Liv's FCO Butter Buttons

- 1/4 pound of real high quality butter (grass-fed is best)
- 2 to 3 tbsps raw honey or maple syrup (I did raw honey this first time)
-half a bottle of the Cinnamon Tingle Fermented Cod Liver Oil Gel
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder (I'd add this as needed by taste)

-Ziploc bag
-Parchment Paper

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I blended everything with a hand mixer and then took a taste and would add more honey or more butter to get a balanced flavor. Then I followed Shaye's same directions - poured everything into a ziploc bag, cut the corner and squeezed out dollops on to more ziploc bags (I was out of parchment paper but that's what you'd use) on a cookie sheet. Put them in the freezer until they set and then stored them in a little glass container in the fridge.

The usage directions on the FCO bottle say 1 tsp a day and I roughly figured (I'm no math pro) that 5 butter buttons should be about the right amount. Liv would have 10 if she could and it'd be fine if she did but I'm sticking with 5 a day for them. This modified recipe made two cookie sheets worth (I'd say about 250 buttons) so about a month's worth for 2 kids.

Let me know what combinations you try? I'd love to hear feedback!

 

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Easy Halloween Baby Beanie

Somehow, this itty bitty 3-month-old is now over 3 years old! <insert sobs> We are still deciding on this year's costume but I have been tickled every year since to see the buzz this tutorial generates online thanks to Pinterest. Just wanted to re-post it to my new blog since Halloween is around the corner! And, yes, I said tickled. That's what my Mammaw used to say. :)
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As some of you may know, I have an adorable almost three-month-old. As Halloween draws near, I have been debating between getting a store-bought costume or making one. I’ve only made a few things since having Jack so I didn’t want to undertake a huge, intricate project. Plus, I’m always trying (key word: trying) to be budget-conscious. Jack loves being in his Moby wrap so I looked for costume ideas with baby carriers. Lots of good ideas came up like momma and baby kangaroo, baby peacock, and monkey in a tree. I decided to modify the monkey one and have my little buddy be an owl (while I will be dressed as a tree). (My hubby is going to be a bird watcher with a vest and binoculars <-we’re dorks I know) I figured the obvious way to go was a knit hat so I scoured Etsy (a fave past-time) and although I saw adorable stuff, I couldn’t help but think, “Hey, I can make that!” Granted, I can’t knit (yet) but I figured I could sew my own version. I had all the scraps and thread already so I’ll just put him in a brown onesie and his hat and, voila, free costume! (Plus, it’ll make a great hat just because) So, there you have it. My first tutorial on my new blog! I’ll post pictures of the final costume after Halloween.

Baby Beanie Tutorial

This tutorial can also be used for lots of different animals. I’m making a friend a piggy hat over the weekend and will post pics of that too. There’s also a kitty cat, monkey, frog…the options are endless.

Materials/Supplies Needed:

  • 1/4 yard of main fabric (in this case, brown)
  • Scraps of fabric for beak (nose) and eyes
  • Scrap of interfacing (optional)
  • 2 buttons for eyes
  • Thread that matches your beanie, beak (or nose) and eye fabrics
  • Embroidery thread
  • Sewing Machine (optional) – this project could be hand stitched but a machine would obviously make it faster

Cutting the Pieces:

For the main part of the hat, you’ll need to do a little math to get the right fit. You’re looking to have a batman looking piece. Measure the circumference of your child’s head as well as from their brow line over the top of their head to the lower back part above their neck. Take the circumference and add 2 inch then divide by two. This gives you the width of fabric that you’ll need to cut. Do the same with the other measurement except just add 1.5″. That will give you the height to cut for the middle part of the hat. So, for example:

Jack’s circumference was 15.5″ ->  15.5″ + 2″ = 17.5″ / 2 = 8.75″

Brow to Back of Head was 10.5″ -> 10.5″ + 1.5″ = 12″/ 2 = 6″

But don’t forget your ears. I gave myself about another 5 inches on both sides for the ears. So fold your fabric in half and chalk your measurements on then cut. Here’s what Jack’s hat looked like before I cut it:

Main Beanie

Main Beanie

Then, cut the beak and eyes in whatever colors/sizes you’d like. I added interfacing to the fabric I used for the eyes and beak so that the brown would not show through.

Start assembling your pieces:

For my owl, I cut out two different circle shapes in which the button would be added to…you can do however many circles you want. Zig-zag stitch the smaller circle inside the bigger one.

Attach smaller circle to bigger circle with zigzag stitch

Attach smaller circle to bigger circle with zigzag stitch

Then, take the beak and place it in the lower center portion of one of your beanie pieces. Zig zag stitch it to the beanie.

Attach the beak

Attach the beak

Then put the eyes where you want them and zigzag stitch them in place. Next, thread your embroidery thread and attach your buttons to the eyes. Your owl face is done! Now you’re ready to attach the other beanie piece (or back) to the face side. Place the two pieces right side together and stitch a 1/2″ seam allowance along the sides, 1/4″ allowance around the ears, and then back to 1/2″ allowance down the other side backstitching at both ends. I recommend a 1/4″ at the ears so that it’s easier to turn them inside out.

Turn the beanie inside out. Tie each ear into a knot. For a more rounded ear (for say, a monkey or frog), tuck the end back into the knot.

Right ear is knotted - left ear still undone

Right ear is knotted - left ear still undone

You’re almost done! Fold and press the bottom under and then top-stitch along the edge, creating a hem.
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Voila! You’re done!

Here’s my sweet model with his Zoolander pose.

Hoo's the cutest?!

Hoo's the cutest?!

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My Fall Ritual

Sound the drums, blow the bugles...the time has come.
The annual task I do not take lightly. My own little Fall ritual.

It. is. time....................................to pick out my slippers for the winter.

And when I say 'pick out' I mean, hunt....like a wolf, we're talking hours of Pinterest-combing, web-browsing, day-dreaming for that *perfect* pair of slippers. I know, completely a first world problem. I think it's just my way of comforting myself from the harsh fact that the winter cold is coming (because I hate the cold).

Nope, loathe it. I hibernate like a bear in my giant brown Men's robe that my mom bought Jon for Christmas five years ago. If you know me, you know of 'the robe'. 

But, seriously, do I rough it again with some under $20 Target find or do I go all out and L.L. Bean my way to (albeit boring but) cha-ching cha-ching coziness? Help me decide. Here's the finalists for 'Bre's Slippers 2013'. (One of these years, I'm going to start earlier and actually knit me a pair (hahahahaha) but, until then, I shall continue my search.)

How cozy are these?!

How cozy are these?!

Very cute...but do I want a big bow on top...not so sure. 

Very cute...but do I want a big bow on top...not so sure. 

$80. I know! but they're handmade and the reviews are insanely great

$80. I know! but they're handmade and the reviews are insanely great

You see my dilemma. I like easy-to-slip-in-to kind, warm obviously and supporting small business is a plus in my books. What do you think? Got any suggestions?

How to Make Homemade Kefir

Whether you pronounce it kee-fur or keh-fir (I'm a fan of kee-fur), Kefir is one of the most probiotic-rich foods you can eat/drink. Having a healthy gut is so SO important. A cancer doctor once shared that out of all his patients, not a single one had come in with healthy gut bacteria. Researchers have also found a compelling link between gut bacteria and mental health. They say our gut is our second brain and keeping it populated with healthy probiotics is key.

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What exactly is Kefir?

Kefir is a cultured, creamy product with beneficial yeast and probiotic bacteria. The Greek meaning for kefir is "to feel good". And that is just what it does. I try to do a few good gulps of Kefir a day...whether I have been eating good or been more indulgent than usual (like the chicken and waffles from a local spot - trust me, they're worth it). 

Kefir Grains

Kefir Grains

We liken it to a drinkable yogurt...although you can make water kefir for a dairy-free alternative. Kefir originates from Russia and is still a very popular drink in Northern and Eastern Europe. We'll be showing how to make a dairy kefir today.  

How is Kefir made?

Kefir is made from gelatinous white or yellow particles called "grains". This is what makes kefir unique from other milk cultures. These grains are essentially a colony of bacteria and yeasts along with casein (milk proteins) and complex sugars that causes the milk to ferment, and creates a cultured product full of friendly organisms. The grains are then strained out and re-used in a new batch of milk. They kind of take on a cauliflower type appearance and grow bigger and bigger as they are used more. Oftentimes, you can get your initial grain, use it a while and then break apart and share with others to start their own culture.

Kefir can be found in a lot of grocery stores but they are, of course, pasteurized. They often tout about their "over 10 strains of probiotics" on the bottle, which, if that's all you can find, then it is definitely better than nothing! But I encourage you to make your own out of raw milk (cow, goat, sheep, coconut, rice) or even water kefir. Making your own provides you with over 40 probiotics! That translates to even better gut health. 

So, let's get started. 

What You'll Need

A Large Glass Jar and Lid - quart size is a good size to start with.
Kefir grains*
Milk, preferably raw (and, if cow's milk, then preferably skim - stay with me fellow Nourishing Traditions folks)
Bowl
Strainer
Spoon
Funnel

(*Check with your local milk farmer to see if they have any kefir grains to sell/give. If not, Cultures for Health sells them or, if you live local to us, we have some extra grains to give) 

When you first get your grains, you may need to re-hydrate them if they came in dehydrated form (usually takes 5-7 days). Follow the instructions that came with your grains to do that. If you received grains from a friend or farmer, you should be ready to start.

1. Place your grains into your glass jar and then pour the skim milk in. Depending on your jar size, the ratio is typically 1 cup of grains to 1 quart of milk. We have a larger glass now so we double that. Our process was passed on to us from our farmer, who uses much more kefir grain than many others say to use.

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(So, as an aside and to explain 'why skim?', we love whole milk...like gallon is almost half cream type of whole milk. But when you're wanting to make kefir, the fat in whole cow's milk actually slows down the fermentation process. You can certainly still use whole milk but you wouldn't want to follow the day out, day in schedule that I'm about to cover. So by using skim, you will end up with a more gelatinous and richer kefir in 2 days time.)

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2a. Once you've mixed your milk and grains, put the lid on and leave your Kefir sitting out for one day. After 12 hours loosen the lid to release any pressure, re-tighten, and tumble the jar a couple times to mix. Then release the pressure once more. Jon typically does the kefir at night once the kids are down so it sits out over night and through the next day and then....

2b. ....Release the pressure again and put it into the fridge around or after dinner the next night. It then stays in the fridge for another 24 hours. 

3. Once it's ready, get your strainer, spoon and bowl ready. You'll know it's ready when it has a tart, slightly yeasty smell to it. Pour the kefir into the strainer over your bowl. Using your spoon, push the kefir grains around the strainer so that you are pushing the kefir liquid through. Jon also taps the strainer on the bowl to help the liquid drop through.  Once all liquid is through, set your kefir grain into a second bowl for a moment. Once you've strained everything through, pour that liquid kefir into whatever container you want to use and enjoy.

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We are now able to drink the kefir straight although we do sometimes add some maple syrup if it is a particularly tart batch. If we happen to have  some strawberries, blueberries or other fruit laying around that our daughter hasn't inhaled, then we may blend those in the Vitamix with the Kefir for a flavorful batch. 

5. Now you're ready to start all over again with your grains. Scoop them back into the jar, add your milk and set it out. Voila, it really is that easy. (we usually wash the jar every 3rd or 4th batch)

Now, a word of warning. Don't wash your grains. It will probably feel weird at first to just throw something back in to the jar and not rinse everything down. Resist. The coating of milk around them is what protects them. Rinsing them can damage that protective bacteria that makes the kefir thrive in the first place which is what helps protect us and keeps us thriving and jiving. MmmmK? so no rinsing.

I hope this was a helpful post to those interested in making kefir. Jon is the real expert so if you have questions, let us know and I'll get the expert in here to answer. ;-) 

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We have truly found our immunity to be stronger by increasing our Kefir intake. We've both held our kids while they've thrown up and delivered some not pretty diapers and have yet to catch the stomach bugs they've brought home. They do drink Kefir as well but since they are so little, their bodies are more vulnerable to bugs out there while their immune system is being built up. We're certainly not entirely immune to sickness but wouldn't dream of not having Kefir in the house as part of our daily health regiment. We hope you'll consider adding it to your home too.

 

Happy Kefir-ing!