Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Wintertime Chicken Update

As temps plummet into the negatives around here, a lot of people have inquired about how our chickens are doing.  We currently have 11 laying hens, housed in a structure attached to the barn.  When deciding on breeds for our laying hens, we factored in temperament, tolerance to cold-weather and laying ability.  After doing a bit of research, we settled on Black Australorps and Barred Rocks.  Both breeds are known for being friendly, tolerant of cold weather and phenomenal layers.  As a bonus, their dark feathering helps camouflage them from predators.  This has especially come in handy a few times when one chicken has missed curfew and ended up outside the coop after dark.  Searching has always been futile at night but in the end the missing chicken has always shown up in the morning, ready to be fed!

We first got our chickens about 8 months ago.  You can read about our early chicken adventures here, here and here.  They started laying eggs in October.  
E with our very first egg
We didn’t really know what to expect as far as their laying habits.  The first few weeks, the eggs were very irregular.  We would get one here or there at different times throughout the day.  The first eggs were VERY little but delicious.  We enjoyed frying our very first egg and splitting it four ways to each get one, very small bite!  

Cooking our first egg
Within a month, the laying became more regular, usually happening between 10 am and 1 pm and the eggs were a more typical medium to large size.  Because this is their first season of laying, we are lucky to enjoy eggs all winter.  Usually during the wintertime, egg production slows (a neighbor’s layers have only produced 1 egg total in the last 3 weeks!).  On average, we are getting about 6 eggs a day at this point.  

Since they are usually done laying by lunchtime, I open the coop around 1, feed and water the chickens and collect eggs.  Our 11 chickens eat 6 2-cup scoops of feed a day (comes out to 12 cups a day) during the winter.  Feeding them isn’t like in Cinderella when she happily throws feed out to the gracious chickens.  It is more like feeding 11 angry teenage boys who haven’t eaten in a week.  They swarm around the feed bucket and try to fly in and have even knocked my scoop out of my hands a few times. 

Since it is so cold right now, I often will go down a couple of times a day because the eggs will freeze and crack really fast.  It is pretty funny because you can tell how recently an egg was laid by it’s warmth.  Just "pooped" (E's term for it) eggs are surprisingly super warm.  
Eggs ready to be collected from the box
All of the eggs are brown, though we are surprised by the slight variations in color from light tan to dark brown.  

Brown eggs do not indicate that they are fresher or better (so stop spending your money on brown eggs at the store)- they are brown because of the breed of chicken.  Some chickens lay white eggs, some brown and some even green.  It has nothing to do with farm-raised or feed and everything to do with breed!  The biggest difference we have noticed in our eggs compared to store eggs is taste.  The yolks in our fresh eggs are very yellow and usually larger than what I find in store eggs.  When cooked, they have a great taste that require no extra seasoning.  

So far, we have been keeping our eggs in the fridge, though this is not necessary.  Eggs come out of the chicken with a natural, protective coating.  When we get the eggs from the coop, we bring them right inside and don’t wash them off.  (Sometimes there is a little poop or feathers stuck on that I knock off with my glove).  The coating keeps them fresh longer- as long as 8 weeks even if they are left in a cool basement!  We have noticed when we crack the eggs that the shells are much tougher than eggs from the store.  I don’t know if this is the breed or the fact that they are farm-raised but it was a surprise to us.  So far we haven’t had any “bad” eggs but it is always a good idea to crack your farm eggs into a separate bowl to check them before putting them straight into your cake batter.  

The chickens seem to be surviving fine in our arctic vortex.  Their coop feels a good 10 degrees warmer at all times because it is out of the wind and we have at least 7 inches of bedding on the floor at this point.  
Floor of the chicken coop with bedding and lots of poop.  They are not clean creatures.
The chickens will still come out of the coop during the day, even with snow on the ground to wander and peek but they don’t like coming out when it is windy.  The one modification we have made in the winter is getting a water heater to set their metal water bucket on.  

Andy hooked it up to a switch so when the temperatures are below freezing, we just turn the switch on and keep the water from freezing.  So far, even on the negative 30 degree days, it has kept their water from freezing. 

The chickens all (typically) find their way back to the coop by dark and Andy locks them up again at night to protect them from predators.  8 months in and we still are loving the chicken experience.  They are so incredibly low maintenance and it is enjoyable to see them around the yard in the snow.  On really cold days, draw straws or rock/paper/scissors who has to feed or close up the chickens but even then, we are still loving them!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Dresser Designs

As Andy is feverishly trying to finish mudding, taping and sanding the drywall so we can get to painting the walls, I am working on some of the furnishing in the room.  Our hope is to get E and F moved back into the room before baby #3 makes his appearance… which could really happen any day at this point.
Just baby bumping it while I blog at the kitchen table
A little sneak peak- the room currently looks like this.  

Admittedly, kind of a disaster but really exciting considering we started with this 2 1/2 years ago.

And have been living with this for 2 years.

Which looks a hell of a lot better than what we started with but considering the paneled walls could be easily pulled at the seams and there was little to no insulation in the walls, the room still needed some serious work.

Our original plan for the room was to do a built-in dresser and bookcase on the same wall as the door.  Right now, time/budget concerns have put this off so I came up with a plan to use the existing dresser in the room and add some pizzaz to it plus a custom bookcase built on top.  I am not skilled at coming up with ideas completely on my own so I hit the internet- mostly Pinterest to bring my idea to fruition.  I found two perfect pictures that sparked the lightbulb.
From the blog Life Outside the Box
From the blog Howdy Honey

Step one of the dresser redo is adding some pizzaz with a custom paint job.  This dresser is a hand-me-down antique dresser.  

It is still in great shape- very study and well built but has several scratches and worn areas after living a long and fruitful life.  

I have been experimenting in furniture painting after discovering an amazing store in Chatfield, Mn, Adourn.  I am not a large-item impulse shopper in general but it seems that every time I walk into the shop, I leave with an unexpected furniture piece such as my recent buy of F’s bed.  I went to a basic painting class a year ago at the store and was bitten by the furniture painting bug.

The color scheme of the kid’s room is inspired by a piece of fabric that I will be using as the background of two twin quilts I’m making for the kid’s beds.  

Out of the fabric, I chose a great spring green to paint the dresser with.  The color really complements the dresser’s stain and is pretty gender neutral (which is good since the room will be shared by our 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son).  The green is “Ryegrass” by Behr which I got a quart of satin in color-match Glidden paint + primer.

I started by sanding the top of the dresser with 100 grit sandpaper, sanding by hand in the direction of the grain of the wood.  

After wiping all the dust off, I taped the edge of the top lip with FrogTape.  

Painting with the grain in long stokes, I used an angle brush to paint the top of the dresser.  
One coat of paint
I kept my paint pretty thin knowing I would be using a few coats to prevent any drips.  Waiting for dry time in between coats, I painted the top with three light coats of paint.

In between coats of the top of the dresser, I worked on the drawers.  I wanted to create a chevron design on the top and bottom drawers.  First step was taking off the original hardware which you wouldn’t think would be challenging but after slitting my finger open on a piece of metal that sheared off the screw, I called in my expert to give me a tip.  Put the flathead screwdriver in the screw, tap it down a bit with a hammer and presto, screw will actually turn.

To create the chevron design, I used FrogTape to cover the areas of the drawer that would remain bare wood.  First, I measured the height of the drawer, divided it by two and drew a pencil line straight down the middle of the drawer (length-wise).  This line would be where my triangle points met.  Setting my first line was the hardest, but I used a triangle ruler from my quilting kit to determine my angle (60 degrees) and make sure it lined up with the center line I drew.  

I used a pencil to mark the two sides of the triangle.  Using 1.41” FrogTape, I followed my triangle lines to lay my first triangle.  At the peak of the triangle, I used a straight edge and box cutter to cut the tape into a peak (which lined up with my original center pencil line).  
Cutting excess to get a crisp peak
Now that my first triangle was set, I placed a piece of FrogTape on my clear straight edge to use as my measuring device for the rest of the angles.  For each triangle, I placed my flat edge along the previous piece of tape, using the tape on the flat edge as my guide.  
The top tape is what I stuck to the ruler; right below it you can see through the ruler the tape line that is stuck to the drawer.  Pencil mark was drawn on drawer following ruler above top tape line.
I then traced the new edge with a pencil to my middle line creating perfectly spaced angles along the whole dresser.

Tape ready to go with my dresser model

Once the entire design was laid out, I sanded the areas showing bare wood so the paint would stick better.  

I painted three light coats, waiting for the paint to dry in between coats.  
1-2 coats of paint
The instructions on the FrogTape recommend removing the tape before the paint is completely dry.  I followed these directions with pretty mixed results.  I think I need to work with Andy on inventing a painters tape that actually does everything it says it will.  I had to remove the tape VERY slowly, making sure I took it up evenly to prevent any paint from peeling with it.  The places I had the most difficult time with peeling paint were at the triangle peaks.  Overall, this tape bled less than blue painters tape I have used in the past, but I still had issues with bleeding where the drawer lip cut into the design.
Looking at the edges, you can see a bit where the paint bled past the tape

Once the tape was removed, I used my box cutter to carefully scrape any places that the paint bled through the tape.
Bleeding removed
I also went through with one of E’s paintbrushes to fix any places that had peeled when the tape was removed.
You can see a spot at the peak that peeled with the tape
Paint totally dry, I decided to give the whole piece a distressed looked by hand sanding.  I first used a 220 grit sandpaper but then upped to a 100 grit when the 220 wasn’t making a big difference.  I sanded down to bare wood in places that would normally see wear-and-tear like the edges and corners, trying to give a natural, worn look.
Distressing on edges of dresser top
Some distressing on the drawers

This is definitely the step that I am most uncomfortable with and still experimenting.  I keep telling myself that if I take off too much or don’t like the look, I can always repaint but it is hard to sand off work that you just did!

After I was happy with the distressed look, I decided to try a wax product- Creme Wax by Americana.  

Finished pieces should be sealed somehow either with a wax or varnish.  Varnishes usually give a harder finish that is good for something that will get a lot of wear and tear or get wet (such as a vanity).  Wax is a little less durable but gives a nice sheen look, rather than gloss.  It can be buffed to desired sheen and reapplied at any time.  I have used furniture wax on pieces before but found this Creme Wax when I was picking up Chalk paint for E’s new bed.  

The directions on the container are pretty vague but the website gives a few more tips and a video that was helpful.  The consistency of the Creme is almost like lotion as opposed to a harder wax.  I did not have a special wax brush, nor the inclination to purchase one so I used the second option, a dry, lint free rag to apply.  

I applied with the grain of the wood in light layers, wiping off any excess that gooped in corners.  
Looking to the right of the Creme Wax container, you can kind of see where I have applied wax and where I haven't.  Definitely adds some richness to the paint.
It dried very quickly so I applied two thin coats.  After the second coat dried (again, this took 30 minutes or less), I used a white, smooth cotton rag to buff the piece.  Buffing is not required; no buff leave a very matte looking piece.  I decided to buff a bit in hopes of smoothing out any sanding and waxing lines.  

In the light, it is a pretty noticeable difference between buffed and non-buffed areas.  I tried buffing with the grain as well as in circles and preferred the with-the-grain look since you can kind of see stroke marks in the wood/paint.

Finally, I screwed the original hardware back onto the drawers, with new non skin cutting screws and Viola!  Updated dresser perfect for a kids room!

Once Andy is done with the room and we get the dresser moved back in, "we" will work on building a bookcase on the top creating one, cohesive unit.  I can't wait!