Back in Business: Chickens and Front Yard Gardening

Hello my long lost friends! Oh how I have missed you! I took a bit of a breather after the homesteading deflation that is (1) losing one’s flock of chickens to predators, (2) selling one’s cows because one never makes time to milk them, and (3) getting ones rear end kicked by the colossal failure that was the summer garden (my first gardening attempt alone with two kids- Farmer Dickie was too busy with work this summer, it was all on me, and despite hours and hours of prep and work, it just went to phooey).

Without my garden and my animals, I whined. And I soul searched. And I brainstormed with Farmer Dickie for ways to make our homesteading adventure a little more efficient and user friendly. Here’s what we’ve come up with:

Front yard gardening.

For the past five years at Whistle Pig Hollow we’ve been gardening in our lovely fenced garden plot that’s pretty far from the house. We also expanded to several other large garden locations over the years. Long story short, as time marched on Farmer Dickie’s job changed (he can no longer help with gardening in the summer) and we had a second child, and suddenly the whole large/far away garden thing is just not do-able for me.

And so, as you’ve probably seen on Instagram, Farmer Dickie built me raised beds smack dab in our front yard. I am trying out my first fall/winter garden in these beds and am very excited to be able to check on, maintain, harvest, etc. right in our front yard. (Although I must say, these beds aren’t fenced, and I have caught the baby in them several times. Whether or not animals dine on my crops remains to be seen…).

He used log end cuts from a local saw mill, filled them with composted manure and hay from the cow days, and I tossed in some seeds and crossed my fingers.

raised bed

raised beds

And- get this- I actually recorded what I planted and where! Nothing like a smackdown to make you get your act together.

garden map

I’m really excited to try fall and even winter gardening. Mother of a Hubbard is my go-to resource for winter gardening, so I’ve been reading everything I can from her and I finally ordered Eliot Coleman’s Winter Handbook, which has been on my reading list forever.

Replacement laying flock.

For five years our chicken program has been to let the chickens free range all day over the entire property and then lock them safely in their hoopty coop each night. It worked reasonably well for a while, with the occasional losses to hawks and foxes. But this past spring when the girls were under attack from a fox family, we locked them in the coop all day and a racoon dug in and killed them all. This was the first breech we’d ever experienced in the hoopty coop, but it’s obviously forcing a design change.

From now on, the laying chickens shall live in the Chicken Fortress, aka, our previous fenced garden plot which is being reinforced with chicken wire, poultry netting, a few strands of electric perimeter, and a netting top to keep hawks away. Their hoopty coop is safely within the confines of the Fortress, and they will be let out daily to “free range” within said Fortress.

hoop coop

By this point I had no patience to wait for baby chicks to start laying, so last weekend we purchased a flock of hens from a fellow homesteader who had to downsize their flock due to a move. Look at these beauties! There are 25 laying hens and a (nice!) rooster. chicken Collage

An entire flock of laying hens already laying. I have eggs again, people. Blissful, glorious, Whistle Pig Hollow eggs!

Meat birds- Take 3.

We’re in the process of deciding when we’ll raise our next batch of meat chickens- either now (this fall) or next spring. We’ve raised Freedom Rangers before, but have decided to go with Cornish Cross again this time and let them free range within the confines of an electric poultry netting, just like we did last year. They’ll be dining on an organic, soy-free mix as always. We’re leaning toward a fall batch, and I’m pretty excited to have some more baby chicks around here, it’s been a while.

This is the life for me.

My little homesteading break really drove home how much I enjoy the homesteading pace of life, which is simultaneously slow yet really busy. Apparently I just like to be at home. A lot. With my kiddos. And chickens.


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  1. I want chickens so bad. Honestly, I just want good eggs I don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen anytime soon! I’ll just pack up the family and come homestead with y’all!

    • Get backyard chickens! Do it!

      • I’m not sure how that would work if the golf course opens back up.
        Also, will they get hit by cars?
        Now you’ve got my wheels turning.

        • You can build a little fenced chicken yard for them, and then they’ll need a coop inside their yard to sleep in at night and lay eggs in during the day. If you want to you can let them out of the chicken yard to free range, but you’d always have the option of keeping them in the chicken yard too. We’ve had a couple get hit by cars, but mostly they’re fine.

  2. I’m so excited and happy for you, Ashley! Sometimes we just need a little breather to heal and gain some perspective! I can’t wait to see how it all evolves and am so happy for you that it will be so much less stressful for you to maintain 🙂

  3. I’m curious why you decided to go with the Cornish cross in stead of the freedom Rangers….we have now done both and I can’t imagine going back to the Cornish after the Heath and flavor of the Rangers. Just curious what you see the benefits to be. Thanks!

    • Carolyn,
      I loved the Freedom Rangers. The reason we’re going with Cornish Cross again is because we’ve dismantled our chicken tractor, but we still have everything to raise them in the electric poultry netting. I fear the Freedom Rangers would fly over the top of the electric netting, whereas I know the Cornish Cross won’t. Or at least most of them won’t. Next spring if we get a chance to build another tractor, I’d love to raise more Freedom Rangers. I will say I like the flavor of both, and we didn’t have too many Cornish Cross with health issues, so since our experience with them was good overall, I think that’s why I don’t have a problem going back to them. I suppose we could clip the wings of the Freedom Rangers and that could keep them in the electric netting. We have too many predators around here to risk letting them completely free range, unfortunately.

  4. Great to hear you are back to living (and loving) the dream!

    I am still sorry about the cows. I’m sure you will have cows again someday when the season is right.

    Enjoy your chickens & gardens!

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