Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Finding and Buying Your Place in the Country

As mentioned before I'd touch on all facets of migrating to a rural setting but this book is so well done I thought I'd put it out there first. I'm sure I'll be rehashing things already discussed in the book as we move along but if you're only going to read one book related to buying property in the country make Finding & Buying Your Place in Countryby Scher. The book can either be a reference book or you can read through it although I would highly recommend that you read through it once and then reference back to it when doing your search.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Employee or Entrepreneur Mindset

When writing the Try Before You Buy post I realized that one item I didn't discuss in detail was what your business/income mindset is. Are you a person who enjoys the day-to-day consistency of going to an office or are you more of a dynamic entrepreneur type who prefers varied hours, seasons of longer work and a little more varied income possibilities?

If you're more of the type of person who would prefer the consistent paycheck provided by someone else then you need to make sure you've moving to an area that offers those types of opportunities and offers them in more than one company. The news of the major employer in a town shutting down or significantly reducing its workforce and causing the unemployment to skyrocket is, sadly, not surprising anymore and appears it will continue. Also, make absolutely sure your spouse is in sync with the decision and is of the same mindset or things could go bad, in some cases very bad.

If you're more entrepreneurial minded and can figure out ways of generating more income then you'll do just fine and I'm guessing you didn't need me to tell you that. With the availability of the internet the opportunity to generate a primary or secondary income without leaving your house just keeps getting better. Currently I can do far better financially by doing I.T. contracting work to support our farm life than using farm income to support our household. This could change in the future but that is the joy of living in a great country like the U.S., I can change my approach at any time I want...my only limitation is me.

One final note to those of you struggling with making the change, too often men and women either continue on a path that they think their spouse wants or is "necessary for the family" without having a serious conversation with their significant other. Either I'm the luckiest man on earth (OK, I am) but my wife has usually supported things I'd like to try sometimes to serious detriment to our family (most of those were bad financial decisions). However due to her wonderful support and not rubbing it in my face I have become a much better man. That is just one of many reasons I give for renting instead of buying initially, if you decide it isn't for you and your family you can wait until your rental period is up and return to your city life with a few more life lessons under your belt.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Selecting the Right Breed of Chicken

Since we're somewhat new to this those of you who are pros with chickens will probably say, well yea...duh, but it is amazing how some breeds are just nicer than others. As you might recall we bought 25 chickens of various breeds and then bought 10 newborn pullets and after watching them for awhile some breeds have unique personality traits. I've read about this over and over and that is why some breeds are more popular than others.

For example the Partridge Rock roosters we had seemed to be mean to the other roosters and hens that we had. They are now in our freezer and causing no trouble, we'll see if they digest okay. Here's a funny little excerpt from a thread I was reading:
Beware dogs and chickens!

Our dog likes to flake out on the lawn in the summer sun. Hens, on the loose, still thinking they are 400 pound dinosaur thingys, stalk the sleeping dog! Silently they close in, acting as if they are browsing for bugs. It is a lie. They are drawn irresistibly to his black, rubbery dog lips. They grab! Dog, who weighs over 100 pounds, screeches, leaps up and RUNS AWAY FROM THE HENS!!!

I have seen dog go toe to toe with bears that wander into the yard. But he runs from the chickens. If I throw scraps outside and the chickens get there first, dog will NOT challenge them. We are ashamed. Either our dog needs therapy or we have really mean hens.
source: Poultry Discussions - The-Coop.org
Anyway humor aside here is a good chart for selecting the right breed of chicken, it goes through most of the breeds you'll find available and covers rarity, variety, egg color and size, origins, brooding, hardiness, maturing, etc.

The ICYouSee Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart

Relaxation and the Circle of Life

An interesting activity transpired today that I don't usually do, I spent almost an hour out of my day relaxing. My beautiful wife also joined me part of the time to just hang out and talk. This is one of those things that you can do in the city as well but for some reason it just seems easier with less distractions out here.

We sat and watched the chickens go about their daily business of being let out of the coop in the morning and attacking the grass, clover and insects running around in the grass. It is a pretty basic thing but for some reason I just enjoy watching them. The older kids wander in and out during this time as well and we talk a little about how things are going in their day. That was about 30 minutes of the time, the other 30 minutes was spent watching the new baby pullets we picked up last week. They currently occupy the spot at the dining room table that I usually sit at so we've had to cram a little closer together when eating but no one seems to mind as we get to watch the baby chicks as we eat, it is like a free movie (well maybe not totally free with what we spend on feed).

My wife and I discussed how we both feel more relaxed then we used to feel and she has noticed a difference in me. Now that we've stepped away from the hustle and bussel of the city it is interesting to see my wonderful bride laughing so much and our kids get a new perspective on where things come from. At lunch today our 10 year old thanked the Lord for the animals that provided our food, a first. When kids are able to be exposed to the entire chain of life/death that brings food to their table I think they appreciate it more than just having chicken and red meat 'appear' in their freezer.

Try Before You Buy

This post was an idea that my wife threw at me for the blog and I thought it was a great idea. In case you haven't read the welcome message it briefly discusses that we're renting in different areas before buying. In an urban environment when people move many look for houses in the new city they're looking at moving to. They find one they like in a decent area and buy it. Aside from the recent real estate market downturn in many cities that was a decent plan but carried a few risks, for example: may buy in an area that is not the best, the area they purchase in may be hard to sell. In a rural environment a piece of property can take a long time to tell, even real estate that is in the best of shape. The reason is there are fewer people wanting to migrate to that environment and the ones that do are often rich buyers looking for vacation property (IOW upscale property or the wonderful 'cabin in the woods') or they're in the lower income ranges so if you price your property too high you price it out of reach for people that might want to upgrade in that area.

Here is a comparison of two cities in my area:
Elgin Texas: Year 2000 median household income: $38,750
Austin Texas: Year 2000 median household income: $42,689

Although the ~$330/month in income difference may not seem like that big of a deal when looking at the higher property taxes of Austin keep a few other items in mind.

Elgin Texas: Year 2000 median house value: $75,200
Austin Texas: Year 2000 median house value: $124,700

So if a person in Elgin wants to move up they're probably not going to have as much cash to put down so if there income hasn't kept pace with 'city folk.' Also the unemployment in smaller cities is higher.

Elgin Texas: Year 2000 unemployed: 5.3%
Austin Texas: Year 2000 unemployed: 4.4%

Source: City-Data.com

Plus the fact that people in smaller towns (where they commute to larger cities) are probably spending 50% or more on their monthly gas, higher prices for local items due to less competition and the list goes on and on.

These are just a few things to keep in mind but living in the area will give you a much better perspective if the changes in lifestyle are something you are interested in. We also are getting much more for our money renting in the country than in the city. Currently we're living on 5 acres with the approval of the landlord to keep chickens, sheep, rabbits, etc. where getting that same approval in the city (if it is even legal) is much more challenging. So for $750/month we get all of that where finding a house rental for $750/month in Austin would usually involve an area that has at a minimum occasional gunfire.

Are we trying to discourage you, no, however if you rent and decide you don't like it you can easily go back to the larger metro area without the bondage of a country property mortgage or your cash tied up in a place you're not living at.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Small Town Drivers

One of the unexpected things that didn't hit me right away was how much nicer most people drive in small towns. Granted in the large city just a few bad drivers can seem like there are many more out there. In the 7 months we've been outside of a major city and just outside of smaller cities (5K+ people) we've noticed there are a lot of courteous drivers.

Usually people will stop to let you in and it seems they're paying attention to more than just where they want to go. Although I can't say for sure what the cause is I'm guessing it has to do with the high probability you'll see these people quite a bit when you're out and about so it has a way of naturally controlling rude behavior. Also I'm ashamed to say my safety inspection is 8 months past due and I've been pulled over three times, each time with just a warning. Going to figure out where the wiring problem is so I can get new stickers but I don't usually get warnings for any infraction in the high revenue requirements of the larger city governments.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Pullets Heating Issue

Well it appears that we've got our pullet heating situation closer to being resolved. The temperature has settled in the 90-92 degree range and they seem to be under the light some times but more importantly they seem to be laying down and spreading their feathers out and taking longer naps. We'll see what tomorrow holds but for now here are a few good pointers to keep in mind on figuring out if your baby chicks are too hot, too cold or just right.

The 1st week, keep the temperature at the level of the chicks at 90-95° F. Reduce the temperature about 5 degrees per week until room temperature is reached. It is best to use a thermometer to measure the temperature, but the actions of the chicks can also be a guide. When the chicks are cold, they bunch up and give a distressed "cheep." When they are too warm, they stand apart with their beaks open, and their throats may have a pulsating or panting motion. In most rooms, a light bulb placed over the box will provide enough heat. A gooseneck study lamp with a 60- or 75-watt bulb works well. The neck of the lamp can be adjusted to provide more or less heat. If necessary, cut a slit in the side of the box so the base of the lamp can remain outside the box, with the gooseneck of the lamp fitting in the slit and the lampshade placed inside the box.
source: University of Minnesota Extension

Basic Poultry Vocabulary

As we learn more about poultry we keep this link updated to teach people basic vocabulary and get started in their poultry endevours.

Poultry: Poultry is the class of domesticated fowl (birds) used for food or for their eggs. These most typically are members of the orders Galliformes (such as chickens and turkeys), and Anseriformes (waterfowl such as ducks and geese).
source: Wikipedia

Rooster: the male of domestic fowl and certain game birds; cock.
A.K.A.: cock, man chicken, male chicken
source: Dictionary.com

Hen: the female of the domestic fowl.
A.K.A.: female chicken, good lookin' (just kidding)
source: Dictionary.com

Pullet: A female chicken under one year of age.
source: University of Illinois Extension

Cockerel: A young rooster.
source: TheFreeDictionary.com

Processing Chickens

It appears ~10 of our roosters are ready to be "processed" which is just another word for slaughter or butchering but I've found a place that will do it about 45 minutes from here. They charge $2.25/bird which is a little high from the research I've done but not too bad. There is an additional charge if they are over 4 lbs once processed but I doubt any meet that criteria. So I gathered up 9 today which went pretty well, the way of catching them that I tried today is I didn't chase them around, I would slowly walk until I was standing over one then move quickly. My ratio was about 3 caught to 1 that got away inside a 12' x 16' coop. I've seen more experience people do it that spend a lot of time chasing them around but I'm guessing it also depends on the breed and stubbornness of the particular bird. During transport my perspective on birds is that they are a gift from God and I need to be a good steward with them, I try to not pack too many into a cage to take to the processor.

Tomorrow this guy and some of his friends will be in our freezer.

If you would prefer to process them yourself here are some links to get you started. WARNING: These links demonstrate and discuss the process of butchering a chicken so be sure you're ready to see them killed and split open before you click any of these.

Buying Pullets (Baby Female Chickens)

We decided that we wanted to up our hen population and there is no time like the present to get started. So we picked up 10 pullets of differing breeds at Callahan's General Store in Austin while we were doing our usual Sam's Club bulk purchasing. Our oldest daughter has been tasked with learning everything she can about the birds and so we picked out 4 breeds we thought would be a good starting point: Americana Bantams, Cuckoo Maran, Welsummer and one New Hampshire Red.

We had done our usual web reading and thought we were in pretty good shape. We had built a nice, simple brooder for the chicks but I realized that they might not being staying warm enough. However I didn't act on it that night and during the morning hours why the children were homeschooling one of them died. Sometime you do not know why this happens but again I followed my instinct and did a quick reading with my wife's candy thermometer and it read 82 degrees. When doing my initial research I remembered 90 degrees however a quick web search was rewarded with multiple sites indicating that between 90-95 degrees should be kept their first week of life. So we went a bought a 250W bulb instead of the 80W that was above their current brooder. However now they're staying away from the lit area like it is too warm so we'll see.

So, as I stated we did lose one (picture above prior to burial) which the kids were sad about and especially the daughter that had picked it out as 'hers', a hard lesson but you just appreciate how much God is in control.

Buying Roosters and Hens

We're trying to catch up this new blog with where our life is at currently so forgive the rush of information and we'll work better and keeping it in proper chronological order in the future.

Approx. two weeks ago we took delivery of 25 chickens that were born in early November 2006, so they were approx. 4 months old. The thing we realized (and I don't think the people who sold them to use realized) is that there were a lot more roosters than we originally thought but since we only paid $5/bird is was a low cost initial investment. To give a little background you want to have a ratio of roosters to hens of somewhere between 6-10 hens / rooster. Six, IMHO, is a little low but there are people doing it and have been for years. So now we have a dilemma, what to do...build a small coop for the roosters which contradicts our wanting to free range during the day and pen them at night or something else.

Just remember that you can buy more pullets (a.k.a. young hens) to offset the ratio but you must do something in the interim to not stress the birds out too much. If you're curious what to look for in buying hens and roosters and what to look for to know if they're healthy I honestly can't help a whole lot. We bought them from some people we knew that are good to their birds (we've been to their property) and they looked healthy. I just checked the eyes (crystal clear), general feather coverage (thick and healthy looking) and their combs looked good and healthy along with no noticeable wounds.


First we would like to welcome everyone that is on the wonderful place we call the world wide web. Our intent with this blog is to cover our transition from city living to rural/country living. We will address everything we think is relevant like searching for land, getting and raising animals, impact to quality of life for family. Our plan is to skip the misleading, "life is easy" type tutorials and instead offer it up as real and gritty as it might get.

As a brief background except for some early years where my wife lived on a hobby farm both my wife and I (and obviously all of our children) have grown up in the city. Until July of 2006 when we sold the first home we'd owned in Austin, Texas and are now looking for property. As part of our plan we are renting in a few different towns which we'd recommend to anyone on a similar journey until we find a place we'd like to call home.

Currently I work from home and my wife is a full time homeschool teacher, mother, wife, etc. To say she is an amazing woman would be one of the understatements of the 21st century. We ask that anyone who wishes to post comments here keep their posts clean and family appropriate, we do moderate. Be warned however that we will show death (not bloody and something that will scare kids) but will include real life situations so if you want to let your children read here make sure they can deal with those situations.

Thank you for your time,