Spring on the Homestead

It’s spring on the homestead! Well, according to the calendar it’s Spring anyhow. I am not sure I’m buying it though. There are still piles of snow in places, I still have to wear four layers in the house to stay warm, and we are still getting freezing temperatures.

Spring on the homestead means new chicks

Oh well, I guess that’s Spring in Wisconsin.

On the other hand, I can see the grass, even if it is still brown. And, one of the first signs of Spring on the homestead for me – we have chicks!

We have had them for a couple of weeks now and they are growing fast! This year, we bought 30 chicks and 3 ducklings. I’m not sure why we got the ducklings other than the cuteness factor since we had already decided that ducks are pretty messy to have around, but we have them.

For the record, ducks grow much faster than chickens. So now the ducklings look ginormous and the chicks still look, well, like chicks. You can see the difference in the image below…

The ducklings are now WAY bigger than the chicks in only 2 weeks!
The ducklings are now WAY bigger than the chicks in only 2 weeks!

Homestead chickens

The chicks are Barred Rocks and some sort of red pullets. Barred Rocks are a dual purpose breed of chicken. They are good egg layers, which is great because I will sell eggs as well as hatch our own chicks. Barred Rocks are also a good meat breed.

Yes, you can eat any kind of chicken. They all taste like chicken. Meat breeds tend to have more meat in less time. Meaning, you don’t have to feed them as much as an egg laying breed to get the same amount of meat. For this reason, it is more practical to have dual purpose chickens on our homestead.

That said, it is even more practical to get some Cornish Cross chicks to raise strictly for meat. They will reach butchering weight by 7 to 8 weeks as opposed to other breeds that take several months. My Barred Rocks, for example, would be about half the size of a 7-8 week Cornish Cross at 12 to 16 weeks old. Obviously, I will need lots more feed to raise the Barred Rocks to butchering size. Fortunately, I only plan to butcher roosters, so the Barred Rocks will primarily be egg layers.

About Feed

Our chickens are offered chicken scratch or cracked corn as well as some commercial feed and hay. This is all essential in the winter months, but during the rest of the year, we don’t need nearly as much. Our chickens free-range. They roam around the farm and forage for food that is natural for them – bugs, worms, seeds, weeds, grass. This makes for happy, healthy chickens.

I would love to buy organic feed, and maybe some day I will, but the cost is just too much to justify right now. A bag of feed at our local farm store is around $15 for 50 pounds. I have not seen organic feed there, which means I would have to order it. The cheapest I have found is around $20 for a 25 pound bag, plus $17 for shipping. So, you do the math.

Spring on the homestead – starting your garden

Spring on the homestead is also the time to get your garden started. Most likely the ground is not ready for planting were you live. It’s still got a blanket of snow where I live, but it is time to get seeds started indoors.

Starting seeds will be the topic of another article because there is a lot of information about how and when to do this task, but for now, figure out your last frost date. There are several online calculators that will give you this information, but I like The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Just put in your zip code and you’l get first and last frost dates as well as the length of your growing season. Write this down.

Now look at your seed packages. Most of them will tell you when to plant in relation to your frost dates. Start tomato seeds about 8 weeks before your last frost date. Start them indoors and by the time the ground is warm enough for tomato plants, yours will be ready to plant outside.

Go through all of your seed packets and sort them out according to when they should be planted. Then get out your calendar and write what to start on the dates you need to start them. This seed starting date calculator might be helpful.

It’s a good idea to keep a garden journal and write what and when you plant each year along with the results of your planting. This will help you decide what to plant and what to skip in subsequent years and will also help you get to know you your garden better.

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