Friday, March 10, 2017

So much social media, so little time...

Boy, have things changed for me in the past few years. I am now working on my third book, and spending more of my time traveling to various speaking events around the country. Back home in the foothills of northwest Washington, gardening season is fast approaching, and I am at long last putting together my little blacksmith shop.

As you know, I love learning new skills, particularly traditional homesteading skills. This spring I am focused on learning the art of sharpening; not just kitchen knives, but all sorts of tools. Seems to me that this is a very handy skill to have around the homestead. All sorts of cutting tools are used frequently here: chainsaws, axes and mauls, lawn mowers and scythes, adzes and froes, chisels, planes, hand and power saws... you get the idea. All of these tools are at their best and most useful when they are good and sharp. So, much of my spare time at the moment is being devoted to studying and practicing my sharpening and honing skills.

Who knows, this might even turn into a farm enterprise one of these days.

With so much of my time these days spent focused on writing and speaking, I find I have less time to spare for Internet activities. It's a bit of a dilemma, since writers are constantly being told we need a presence on a variety of social media in order to build and maintain our "platform." We don't have high-speed Internet at home, so I typically spend a couple of hours, two or three times a week, at a coffee shop down the hill in Sequim, catching up on Facebook and whatever else I have time for.

I will continue to post on this blog when I can, but realistically, I have to prioritize my time and energy. I love living off the grid, and honestly I believe that not having high-speed Internet and a TV at home greatly increases my daily productivity. Social media definitely has a place in my life. But it simply doesn't work for me to be on social media sites every day.

So... thank you all for your interest in my homesteading life here in Washington. Please take a look at my website,, for information about upcoming speaking events, my current writing projects, and blog posts on homestead life and my thoughts about all sorts of subjects. Feel free to comment or post questions, or use my contact form to get hold of me. I always love to hear from you!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Keeping those turkeys warm in the wintertime

 The farm after a typical winter snowfall.

We live in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains in northwest Washington state. At our elevation of about 1000', we typically get a fair amount of snow between November and February. An average winter would include a lot of nights with temperatures in the 20s, some nights in the teens and often a week or so in single digits in December. We have been raising free-range chickens here since 2007, and turkeys and ducks since 2008.

We are also off the grid, so we don't use things like heat lamps in the coops. In fact, none of our coops are heated or insulated. So how do we keep our birds warm and comfortable during freezing weather?

One important consideration is breed selection. Some turkeys (as well as other poultry) are more cold-hardy than others. If you live in an area with harsh winters, do try to find a breed known to be cold-hardy. It's also a good idea to talk to others in the area who have some experience raising turkeys, and get their advice.

Old Tom, the patriarch of our Midget White turkey flock.

With chickens, usually a main concern is frostbitten combs. I wondered myself, with their bare heads and large wattles, about how our Midget White turkeys would manage when we had days with the temperature staying below freezing. At the time I could not find anything in books or blogs about this, so we just had to learn from experience. Turns out, the turkeys were just fine. We didn't do anything special to help prevent frostbite. However, there are a few tips I can give you that have proven consistently useful.

First, turkeys, when given the choice, will opt to spend the night roosting outdoors, usually in a tree. Unlike our chickens, they don't seem to mind being out in the rain or snow; the toms especially seem disinclined to get out of the weather. The first couple of years we had turkeys, we were chasing them out of the trees every night. At this point, almost all the turkeys we have were hatched on our farm, by broody hens, so they learned from their mamas to go into a coop to roost at night. This not only keeps them out of the bad weather, it also helps minimize predator problems.

The important thing about turkeys roosting in a coop is to make sure the roosts are big enough. Even smallish turkeys like the Midget White have large feet. Like chickens, when turkeys roost, they settle down on their feet and their feathers keep their feet warm. It's critical to use a roost large enough so their toes can't go all the way around it; otherwise the tips of their toes won't be covered by the feathers, so they are vulnerable to frostbite.

What's worked well for us is to use cedar 2x4s for roosts. If you have another kind of heritage turkey (most of which are larger than the Midget White) you may need to try something even larger. We turn the 2x4s so the wide side is turned up. This seems to be just fine for all ages of turkeys. Our turkey roosts are about 6 feet long; depending on the size of your turkeys, if you use roosts longer than this, they may need extra support in the middle.

Another thing we do in cold weather is to bump up the birds' carbohydrate intake. The easiest way we've found to do this is to feed out some cracked corn an hour or two before they go into their coops for the night. This gives them a carbo boost to help regulate their body heat during the long cold winter night.

Turkey footprints in the snow. I used to worry about their feet 
getting cold, but snow and ice don't seem to bother them much.

One other bit of advice I'd like to share: In the winter it's even more important to keep up with cleaning your coops out regularly. The birds are spending more time in those coops than they do outdoors when the days are short, and most of their poop is in there with them. Birds are quite vulnerable to respiratory problems, so please keep those coops clean and dry.

This is also a good time to make sure that there is adequate ventilation in your coops. It's easy to think that your birds will be warmer and more comfortable if you close up the windows, but air circulation is critical. I promise, it won't hurt your birds.

To sum up: Select cold-hardy breeds if you live where winters are cold. Make sure your roosts are large and sturdy enough for your turkeys. Help keep them warm at night with extra carbohydrate before you tuck them in. Keep those coops clean, dry, and well-ventilated. Your turkeys –and other poultry-- will be happier and healthier.

I'm always interested in hearing about your experiences, especially in different parts of the country. If you raise turkeys, let me know what you do to get them through the winter.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Just when we thought it was safe to go into the turkey coop...

 TJ, the broody Midget White tom turkey.

I really thought I'd seen everything. With the advent of Old Tom's shoe fetish (there's really no other word for it) a few years ago, it never occurred to me that things could get any weirder in the poultry world up here.

We've seen tiny Nankin bantam roosters attempting to mate with the much larger New Hampshire hens. A Blue Swedish duck who innocently incubated two chicken eggs along with her own clutch of eggs, only to be somewhat bewildered when the chicks hatched a week before her ducklings. Oh and there was the New Hampshire rooster who shamelessly mounted a Khaki Campbell duck right in front of us. And those are just the first ones that come to mind.

So the other day David came in and reported that TJ, the year-old son of Old Tom (who's 6 years old now), was sitting on some chicken eggs that were laid in a corner of the turkey coop. Not only was he sitting on them (TJ, I mean, not David), but he apparently fluffed up indignantly and actually hissed at David when he came near the nest.

This is going to be a short blog post. I mean, what the heck is there to say about this?

I confirmed with David that TJ was, in fact, on the nest that very moment, so I did the only thing possible. Got my camera and went to see for myself. I have to admit that I wasn't all that surprised. I won't be surprised, either, if Old Tom feels a bit jealous of the attention TJ is getting. Dancing on David's shoes and getting all, ahem, worked up in the process might be funny to look at, but we see that practically every day. A broody tom turkey, now that's something new and different!

What did surprise me was that I didn't have dreams last night of TJ swimming on the Big Pond with his little brood of ducklings. But then, there's still time.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Mother Earth News Fair: It's that time of year already... again

Well, it's happened again. The Mother Earth News Fair at the Puyallup Fairgrounds is always scheduled for the first weekend in June, but somehow it's managed to sneak up on me again. Kind of like Christmas... Anyway, it's happening on the weekend of May 31-June 1. Take a look at their website for more information, to check out the list of 200+ workshops, or to order tickets. Here's a link:

I will be doing two new presentations this time. The first is The True American Spirit: Distilling liquor at home, safely and legally. This one will cover the basics of distilling liquor, plus I will be discussing the history of liquor licensing laws in this country and why I think they need to be changed. In a way it's a preview of my next book, so I will be looking forward to talking about it and meeting others who are interested in distilling.

This presentation is scheduled for 1:00-2:00 on Saturday, May 31.

The second talk is Poultry Unplugged: Free-Ranging poultry off the grid or anywhere else. Here I will be discussing the pros and cons of free-ranging poultry, and what I've discovered to be the "secret" to success even when you have lots of predator issues. We'll talk about how free-ranging affects feeding, housing and breeding, and how to plan ahead for best results. As always, I will be speaking from our own experience raising chickens, turkeys and ducks on our off-grid farm for the past seven years.

This talk will be from 2:30-3:30 on Sunday, June 1. I will be signing copies of my first book, Pure Poultry, right after this workshop at 3:30 in the Bookstore.

I know I say this every time the Fair comes up again, but honestly, if you're at all interested in living more sustainably, this is the event you won't want to miss. For a very reasonable cost, you can come for the day or the whole weekend and attend as many workshops as you want! Plus you can browse the Mother Earth News bookstore (one of my favorite parts of the Fair) and lots and lots of exhibitors' booths with information and products to help you on your way toward your goals, whether it's to grow more of your own food, install solar electric power or contribute to the well-being of the earth and its inhabitants in your own personal way.

The Fair is definitely family-friendly, with workshops designed just for kids. And, kids age 17 and under get in free!

It's only 9 days away now, so mark your calendars and plan to come. I hope to see you there!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Our ducks are still laying... what's going on here?

One of our Khaki Campbell laying ducks

Okay, so it's now December 15, and we are still collecting between 6 and 10 eggs per day from our laying ducks. What's the big deal about that, you ask? Well, normally at this time of year we expect anywhere from very few to zero eggs.

Laying hens and ducks do, in fact, have an off-season; typically by mid-November, our duck egg production has slowed way down or even stopped, and starts up again round about mid-January. Why the drop in production? Well, hens and ducks go through their annual moult in the fall, and this is always accompanied by a drop in egg production. I suspect it is related to nutrition; the birds' feathers are approximately 85% protein, and they need a boost in their protein intake when they are growing new feathers during the moult. Egg production also requires adequate protein, so it's not surprising that egg-laying is affected.

Also, we're fast approaching the shortest day of the year. Egg production at our farm is highest in the spring, when days are getting longer heading into May and June. Again, nutrition is a factor; in the spring the pasture is growing fast, and the birds are naturally out on the pasture for more hours every day than they are at this time of year. Spring is when mating happens, too, so it works out well that the egg production is so strong. We don't see much mating action this time of year, so it seems to me to be a natural time for the hens and ducks to have a break from laying eggs.

A lot has been said and written about prolonging the laying season for chickens by putting artificial lighting in their coops. The theory is that somehow the birds are tricked into thinking the days are longer than they actually are, so they will keep laying. In this country we're so used to being able to buy eggs year-round that people most often don't get it when I tell them that eggs are a seasonal product. (Granted, the season lasts for 9 or 10 months, but still.) I think the birds not only deserve this annual break, I also believe that it's better for them in the long run to allow this natural rhythm to play out.

So... what's the explanation for the continued egg production this late in the year? I don't think it's the weather; we've already had more days down in the teens than we had last winter. None of our laying birds are in their first year (they don't moult their first year) so I assume they've all been moulting as usual. Since the pasture growth slows down in cold weather, and the birds aren't out there for all that long each day, I can only guess that a higher percentage of their nutrition is coming from the organic grain mash we feed every day, so possibly their protein intake is actually a bit higher than usual, which might account for the eggs.

If it sounds like I'm obsessing on minor details, I promise I'm not actually staying up nights wondering about it. It's just one of many interesting things that occur when you have animals, and I'm the kind of person who likes to understand why and how things happen.

If you have laying ducks, are you still getting eggs? I'd like to hear about your experiences, and if you have any ideas about why the egg "season" has been expended this year, please share them.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Start your Christmas shopping early this year: Pure Poultry is here!

 Check out the Pure Poultry video trailer!

I bet you had forgotten you pre-ordered my new book Pure Poultry, didn't you? For quite some time now, the page for Pure Poultry showed a release date of November 5, 2013. I was totally taken by surprise last Sunday when someone e-mailed me to say congratulate me on my book that was coming out on October 23!

So, on our blazingly slow dial-up connection, I raced to get on the page to see for myself. Sure enough, October 23 was the new release date. Aack! I had been right in the thick of a big project for Kitsap Children's Musical Theatre, and wasn't expecting to have to kick into high book-promotion gear for another two weeks or so. Plus I was just coming down with a cold (swell timing, not that there's a good time to have a cold); I suspect the sniffling, sneezing baby held on his papa's lap next to me on the flight home from Kansas City the week before. This baby was attired from head to toe in Oakland Raiders gear. How I wished I was wearing a shirt and cap that said, roughly, "Oakland Sucks!" But I digress.

I'm not quite over that cold, so I expect I'm even less subtle than usual today (and, you will be glad to note, more brief than usual too). May I just suggest that you all now have an extra 10 days or so to decide how many people on your Christmas list are going to get Pure Poultry this year. If that isn't serendipity I don't know what is.

Those of you who have already received Pure Poultry, thank you so much for your support and for posting photos and such lovely comments on Facebook. This is a very exciting time for me, and I look forward to getting more feedback from you all.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Pure Poultry is going to press!

"Part memoir and part roadmap to success, Pure Poultry tells a compelling story full of grit, passion and discovery as the author and her husband embrace a sustainable, off grid life in the woods – with chickens, turkeys and ducks. Whether you are a seasoned fowl keeper or a passionate dreamer, you will find yourself nodding, laughing, commiserating,  learning and simply enjoying the author’s knack for weaving her experiences, observations and lessons into a page-turner of a narrative. Once I started reading, it was next to impossible to put Pure Poultry down, even when I heard my own geese honking for their supper. And when I finally closed the book, for the last time, I knew exactly why I keep the fowl that I do, I learned some tricks I’d not discovered in the past 35 years and I felt happy!"

-Endorsement from Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief, Grit magazine 

Big news, Pure Poultry fans! I just this morning sent the last few minor manuscript corrections to the publisher, who is poised to send it to press. I've been thinking a lot about all that's happened throughout this process. It's still hard to believe that it's been less than a year since I first met Ingrid Witvoet (managing editor of New Society Publishers) at the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania last September. You don't mind of I indulge in a bit of a nostalgia trip, do you?

I had first come up with the idea of a book about our experiences with heritage poultry back in 2009. I pulled a book off my shelf that was on a roughly similar topic, found the name of the publisher, and thought, what the heck, I'll call. (This was before, I may say LONG before, I heard the rule that you're not supposed to cold-call publishers. Ooops.) The publisher, I learned, published about 300 new titles a year, so it made sense to me to call and ask for the name and contact information for the editor who handled livestock-related projects.

So I called and left a voicemail. About 15 minutes later (I'm not kidding) I got a call back, spoke to the editor for 20 minutes, and she invited me to send her my proposal. (Another harsh lesson: Don't pitch a book project without a proposal package ready to send.) I agreed, not that I knew anything at the time about what was even in a proposal package.

It took me several months to get it done. Partly this was because I had periodic spells of completely losing confidence in myself. Eventually I did send it in, though, complete with sample photos.

Then I waited. And waited. Every so often I sent a note to the editor, asking for a status update. No response. Seven months later, I finally heard back from her. Unfortunately, by that time, she was working in a different department and no longer dealt with books like mine. So that was that, at least for the moment.

Right around the same time, I got a call from James Duft at Mother Earth News, asking if I'd be interested in doing a presentation on raising turkeys at the Mother Earth News Fair. My first reaction was to decline, having pretty much zero experience in public speaking. My husband David, though, said I ought to do it because it might help with my book project somehow. So I did, repeating to myself right up until I went on stage my favorite mantra: "I only have to do this for the first time ONCE."

Shortly after my first presentation I met Pamela Art, the president of Storey Publishing. She let me pitch my idea to her and then asked me to send her my proposal. I did, and got a note back from another Storey editor saying that it would be a "long shot" for them as they rarely published memoirs.

I was totally taken aback. I know this sounds silly, but at the time I had no idea that what I was writing was a memoir. Sure, I was writing it in first person, and it is entirely based on our own experiences, but I honestly thought it was more of a how-to book.

At that point I felt discouraged, and didn't really know what I was doing with the book. So I put it aside and did nothing with it for about a year. In the meantime, I continued to do presentations at Mother Earth News Fairs.

The third time I went to the Fair, last September in Seven Springs, PA, I did two presentations. After the second one, late in the day on Sunday, I was approached by a woman who introduced herself as an editor from New Society Publishers. She asked me if I had ever thought about writing a book about poultry.

After I got home, I updated my proposal and sent it to her. This was in October 2012. On December 19, after not hearing back from her for about two months, I got an e-mail with a draft contract attached. New Society Publishers wanted to publish my book!

The contract set a date of February 1, 2013, as the deadline to submit the manuscript. I asked for it to be extended to February 15, which they agreed to. I still didn't know if I could do it, mostly because I had no clear idea of how much of the book was already written. I went at it, though, ultimately sending in the manuscript a day ahead of the deadline.

Since then it's been an amazing learning experience. I read somewhere that writers need to know that writing is an art, but publishing is a business. Of course I still have a lot to learn, but the people at New Society Publishers have been so helpful, and patient with my constant questions. I've been included in just about every part of the process, from cover design to proofreading. When all is said and done, it will have been barely a year from when I first met Ingrid to when Pure Poultry comes off the press.

Looking back, I am so grateful that the first publisher I contacted didn't accept my project. I honestly believe it is a much better book now, thanks to another couple of years of experience, a supportive husband and friends, and a publisher who somehow picked me out of a crowd.

I'm 52 now, and although I've had ideas in the past about writing, I never tried seriously to get anything published. Now my first real publishing credit is a book! And the publisher and I have been talking about additional book projects, too.

How much has happened in just a year? For one thing, I now know I'm a writer.