Thursday, December 1, 2016

Where do I begin?!

 Tessa around 8 months. Beginning to almost crawl.

I am acutely aware that I have not written a blog post since June!! So, where do I begin? I have been wanting to share our day to day with you. The main reason I have not been doing so, is that it requires  me having free time to do so, of which I have very little. I don't like to be looking at a computer screen while Tessa is awake. I spend her nap time either in one on one school time with the kids or bustling around in a frenzy trying to clean up from the last meal and prep the next one. By evening when she has gone to sleep, I have no motivation left and I usually follow her to bed fairly quickly. 

So, quick recap: We had a wonderful summer. Tessa went from being a helpless baby who found it too bright outdoors to open her eyes all the way, to a rolling, grass pulling, leaf eating baby by the end of it. We had perfect gardening weather and an early start to the season followed by a very rainy middle and a decent finish. The heat lovers needed the heat during the rainy time so they didn't do great, but everything else did well. A surprise to no one; I ended up planting the whole garden. Thanks to Dustin watching the baby on the weekends of May, I got a decent start to the season and managed to stay on top of the weeds early at least. 

The kids and I spent our mornings relaxing and doing house chores, afternoons in the garden and later afternoons and evenings enjoying our back porch while we shelled peas, sorted blueberries, read Harry Potter, grilled dinner and watched a bare bottom baby get filtered sun. My mother-in-law visited us from Florida. My grandparents visited us from Maine! We spent as much time enjoying our family as we could. 

This fall we celebrated Avery's 8th Birthday! We wrapped up the garden in record time as I did not want to be digging or pulling crops in the late fall cold with a baby. We dove into our school year head first. Both kids decided that they would like to learn an instrument this year. So Noah began guitar lessons and Avery began taking piano lessons. She loves her piano lessons! We are currently borrowing a keyboard. If anyone has a piano to sell for cheap, and you are in the Interior, let us know!! Our house has literally been filled with the sound of music all fall and it has been lovely. 

Noah has been taking blacksmithing classes at a nearby farm. He is also taking an ongoing woodworking class with the folk school. These are great opportunities but it has been a lot of driving and sitting around for the girls and I, so we will be taking the holidays off classes so we can stay home and do some fun things here! I am looking forward to having time for baking and crafting.

Well, I had better wrap up before this babe wakes up and I never get around to posting. The only reason I'm sitting on my duff on a Thursday afternoon is because Avery had the stomach flu yesterday and is recovering. Noah said he is feeling out of sorts. So we are taking our first full school sick day today to rest and hopefully the rest of us don't get the flu!! I hope to start posting regularly again. And gosh I'd like to find time to check out some of your blogs as well for those of you who keep them. Here a few recap pictures of our last several months. Enjoy!

 Recent Tessa picture. This is her nose wrinkle face that she does when she is proud of herself.

 Green Garden!

 The kids are such a huge help. They love to walk with her in the Ergo carrier.

 My blue eyed girls and the biggest wild blueberries!

 Happy me and my baby!

 Avery riding her first real horse and not just a pony at the fair!
(my daughter is horse crazy just like her mom was)

And my birthday girl on her 8th birthday, standing next to her garden. 


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Tessa in May into June

It is June in Fairbanks Alaska, and I have a baby, and we are all in good health and therefore; all is right in my world.

 Avery multi-tasking; making dinner and entertaining the baby.

Having a baby with two older children in the house has been one of the most rewarding experiences. There is always someone eager to hold her if I need a break as long as she is not overly tired and fussy. They do fight over her now and then so we have to allocate turns for who gets to entertain her when.

The garden was in by mid May - record early for me. I let the house get cluttered, cooked the most basic of meals and Dustin watched Tessa on weekend mornings for four weekends in a row. Now it is time to thin the carrots and start weeding and cutting the grass. The kid's garden's went in last as usual. Noah spontaneously decided he wanted a bean teepee and he built one on his own and it hasn't blown over yet so I think it may last the season.

 Noah built this bean teepee all on his own.

I'm not sure what is sweeter than a ten year old boy with his baby sister.  She just brings out all the sweetness in him.
Tessa in her happy place.

I love this picture of Tessa. It epitomizes her first twelve weeks of life; a thriving, chubby, happy baby surrounded by love, light and beauty. The fairy mobile was made by several moms at my blessingway. To me it represents all of the guardian angels in her life, her grandma, her auntie and my close friends who will be there to look out for her as she grows and blossoms into the girl and woman that she will become.

I don't have a lot of time to write these days but I'll try to share some more soon. Miss you guys!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Tessa Brynn arrives

 Triumphant baby and mom by candlelight.

Triumph at last! Our baby entered the world Saturday at 7a.m. at home and in our tub as was hoped for. I've been thinking that I might get around to sharing her birth story but I'll try and give the condensed version for now. Friday night Avery went for a sleepover at her grandparents and Dustin and Noah stayed up playing Dungeons and Dragons. So I also stayed up past my normal bedtime knitting and re-watching the first season of Downton Abbey. I finally got into bed at 11p.m and was noticing the familiar contractions that I've been experiencing for the past few weeks. However, as I lay there trying to fall asleep they began to take on a slightly deeper and stronger tone. Thinking that this may be it, I got up and walked around and sure enough the contractions progressed. After another hour to make sure it wasn't another case of pre-labor, I had Dustin call the midwives to give them a heads up.

From 1 to 2 a.m. my labor continued to progress and I had Dustin call the midwives back to have them come over. I think they showed up around 2:30 or so. By then I was having strong contractions but they were 4 or 5 minutes apart and I wanted to speed things up and be done with it all already so I asked Vanessa if she could pop my water. As I was already about 8 cm dilated, she was willing to do so and sure enough my contractions picked up the pace to just a minute or two apart. I continued to labor, mostly hanging on Dustin until around 6 a.m. I hopped in the tub once for quick relief and then got back out and cooled off. I started having the urge to push, so I got back in to the tub and was very relieved to feel her head crowning soon after. I took my time and let my body do the work, doing very little intentional pushing myself until I actually thought I could get the whole head out in one push, upon which I exclaimed, "Yes! That's the best feeling ever!" and flipping over to my back revealed her head to all, who hadn't realized I was that close. From there, all was fairly easy and I was able to finally hold our baby in my arms for the first time, which actually is the best feeling ever and one of the most precious moments in my life.

She was alert and calm. She hardly uttered a squawk, but just looked around at all of us for several minutes. We were surprised by her size and her abundance of dark hair. We woke up Noah as soon as I was holding her in my arms. He got to see his dad cut the cord. We called my folks to let them know to bring Avery home. Then we all hopped into bed together.

 Noah, taking a cue from mom and dad and having some skin to skin time shortly after birth.

Avery holding her sister.

Smiling and cooing at four days old.

 Tessa Brynn; 9 lbs. !! 21 in. head circumference 14 1/2 cm. !!
and look at all those rolls and all that hair!!

In my pouch.

So it has been one of the very best weeks of my life; laying around holding my baby, nursing, changing lots of diapers, experiencing explosive poo-cidents, and staying off my feet as much as possible. Dustin stayed home and has been taking care of all of us and feeding us well. 

I feel too well rested to have a one week old. Last night we fell asleep by 9p.m., nursed briefly at midnight, nursed briefly at 2 or 3 a.m. were up for an hour from 4-5 nursing and diaper changing and then back to sleep until 8 something this morning. 

Despite giving birth to a nine pound baby six days ago, I am feeling remarkably well. I attribute a significant portion of how quickly I've recovered to some of the essential and herbal preparations I made as well as taking the homeopathic remedy arnica, during labor and after. I'll review some of the things I made and took in another post.

Avery has picked up her knitting. She and Noah are each knitting a square for a baby quilt for Tessa. So, I've got to pay close attention to make sure she doesn't drop any stitches or do anything weird. So for now, goodbye.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Trying for patience

I am four days past my due date and I can not say that I am feeling content and patient. I can say that the kids and I have enjoyed most of these quiet pre-baby bubble days. We have relaxed our school schedule, with my goal being for us all to read together, for the kids to have reading time, to play educational games together like Quiddler, and we have just been starting a typing curriculum that I hope to do for a short period a few times a week. My favorite part of our day has been first thing in the morning when we sit on the couch and read together. We just finished The Little Princess, which we all enjoyed immensely. Tomorrow morning we start The Secret Garden.

We have had unseasonably warm weather so we've been able to get out daily. The kids have been sledding on our driveway while I just hike back and forth until I feel the need to come in and lay down. I've been enjoying a small amount of yoga followed by daily afternoon naps which are just lovely and another highlight of these late winter afternoons. For the most part we have been enjoying and trying to make the most of this pre-baby calm. The sun is returning and filling our house with light.

The last couple days we've been getting a little restless. I'm ready for baby. The rest of the family is ready for baby. We have had a break from commitments and get togethers but the kids are starting to miss their friends. It has been nice not to be battling any new colds since our outside contact has been limited. Today we found ourselves looking for reasons to go to town and at the same time eyeing every door knob with suspicion - it is just that time of year where everyone has either been traveling and bringing back bugs or they are low on vitamin D and everyone is getting anything that is going around. So while we are getting restless and the kids would like to see their friends, we are simultaneously wanting to keep our distance so that we remain in good health for this special time.

I am trying to be patient but am only having mixed success. I had a night of pre-labor a couple weeks ago that was hard to bounce back from as it got me all excited and ready for labor and baby. Ever since then I have been having contractions off and on again which are quite a tease. I prefer to tackle challenges head on and waiting for them to come to me is not a strength of mine. So, these days I am very distracted, always half paying attention to the babe stirring in my belly and what she is or is not doing. I have no interest in distracting myself with books which is quite unusual for me. I can't seem to really get into this latest knitting project that I've started but I don't want to start something else. I know we should be getting in as much crafting and school as possible but I'm so over trying to have productive days. I want the baby to come so I have a good excuse to just lay around and not have to think about what I should be doing.

Last week Noah brought in a Willow tree that is budding out and we decorated it with past year's decorated blown out eggs. We planted rye grass around the base, as that is what I had in the pantry- not keeping wheat berries around anymore and never having used up all the rye berries. The cat thinks the new soil and indoor grass is for him, so we'll see if we can keep it looking nice. Avery and I wet felted some plastic eggs with plans to possibly embroider on some. A couple of them I cut open and hung from the tree. They aren't quite how I envisioned and need some more work, but one has two Amanita mushrooms inside and the other has a bird nest with eggs. We've decided for our hard boiled eggs this year we are going to try pressing fresh flowers on them and wrapping them with onion peels. The kids also want to paint some blown out eggs, which we could do sooner than later. I've been trying to get motivated to snip some willows and make a few woven baskets for decoration.

 I have to say that I am at war with myself, knowing that I need to relax and enjoy these final days of pregnancy and at the same time put an end to this waiting with some Cohosh blend tincture. It is not even that I am terribly uncomfortable or anything. I love being pregnant and with few exceptions feel pretty good still. I'm just not good at waiting for things I'm really excited about. I know that really I just need to distract myself and allow this baby to come when she is ready. I've been trying to think of what I could get excited about and today I realized that it is time to buy some seedling mix. It's a little early for here but I could start some herbs and flowers which would occupy me for one afternoon and making nests would occupy my hands and mind for another. I've been wrapping my belly for support but I can't stand in the kitchen as long as I'd like to make all the foods I'm inspired to make. So, I'm having to budget my kitchen time to make sure I have enough energy for dinner at the end of the day.

Wishing and trying for patience here. Thanks to everyone for all the good wishes and kind words.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Preparing for Birth

Is there anything so awe inspiring, so amazing and yet so common?
I'll never forget the empowering feeling I had after my first child's birth. I felt like I was just amazing, that I had created and gave birth to such a perfect being. I felt like if I could do that, I could do anything I set my mind to. In the weeks following his birth I started noticing all the moms and babies everywhere, especially at the store, babies and toddlers and kids everywhere. I had an epiphany realizing that almost half our population experiences this phenomenon at least once in their lives at that every person I see comes into the world in this manner.

My two children's births were like night and day. Noah's birth was long and hard. It was a good thing that I wasn't at a hospital or I probably wouldn't have been given the chance to have him naturally. He was large, two weeks overdue, not in the right position and he came out hand first, trying to claw his way out. I tore and needed stitches in three places, and I crawled around the house for a couple weeks, unable to stand upright due to the pressure on my stitches. Despite how beat up my body was, I was triumphant.

By the time I gave birth to Avery, I had learned not to have expectations. With her birth I was smiling all the way up until it came time to push her out. She was two weeks early, smaller and my body had already been through the process once. I thought that labor probably couldn't get much easier than Avery's. Having said that, labor is named aptly. It is hard work. It can be intense and painful and can seem never-ending. It is easy to want to just skip past all the work and wish we could wake up with a new baby in our arms.

At my blessing way, a mom wished that I would have beautiful moments during my labor. I have been dwelling on this wish. How many women in our society have or look forward to beautiful moments during labor? What a foreign concept? Doesn't that almost sound like an oxymoron? Well, I had beautiful moments during Avery's birth. There were the moments that Dustin and I stood, embraced in front of the crackling wood stove after he had built up the morning fire. I remember him lighting candles in the bathroom window as I looked out at the fully golden Birch trees. I sat in our bathroom stall and moved back and forth moving my body however seemed natural. When the second midwife showed up I had the satisfaction of hearing the first midwife tell her it wasn't going to be long. And all through that time I smiled and glowed, knowing that my body knew what it was doing and that everything was happening as it should. 

I pulled out a private photograph album that Dustin and I have with the gorier pictures of both our children's birth. We looked at it last night even though I wasn't sure that I wanted to. The pictures are hard to look at, but they are testimony of my strength and the inner power and inherent ability that all women have; to give birth naturally using the power of their bodies and without the interference of drugs and surgery.

I have been physically preparing with cleaning and cooking. I have raspberry tea frozen in chips in the freezer for sucking on and frozen perineum pads frozen and read for soothing application. The diaper bag is full of cleaned diapers and rags. Baby clothes, hats and slippers are cleaned and stored away where the cat can't lay on them and dust can't settle. 

Even more importantly, I am feeling mentally prepared. Less prone to panicking then I was a week ago. I have been mentally preparing for weeks as I think of what is to come. One of the things I really wanted to do was this chalkboard drawing I'd been envisioning. The verse is the beginning of the song, "We are one"; "For each child that's born, a morning star rises and sings to the universe who we are."

I am surrounding myself with beautiful words and images for a beautiful birth. When it comes to birth, it is hard to have pre-conceived notions or plans set in stone. But one can set positive intentions and visualize the birth and outcome they desire.

My wish for myself today as well as all other mamas getting ready to give birth is that we may all have beautiful moments as we labor to bring our babies into this world.

My Blessingway

I was blessed this weekend with my first Blessingway; traditionally a Navajo ceremony to prepare and bless a mother and her baby before birth. As with many traditions and ceremonies, I'm sure this one has evolved and become vastly different from what it once was. I had never heard of a Blessingway until I had the honor to attend my friend Sami's a couple years ago. When I was pregnant with Noah I hadn't had a Baby shower because I couldn't get over the stereotypical baby shower with streamers, pink cake and obligated gifts; it just so wasn't me. With Avery a small group of friends hosted a baby shower for me and at the time I needed a special afternoon with girlfriends and it was much appreciated. A Blessingway goes beyond a baby shower in that it takes on a more spiritual and sacred aspect. There are soul searched words spoken and heart felt tears shed. Here are some pictures from my first and most likely last Blessingway.

 My birth dream catcher with a bead holding intentions and dreams for me and the babe, from each thoughtful mama.

Hand knit baby blanket, made by the mama's and young girls in my family community.

My sister-in-law, and her daughter Petra; who will be just nine months older than this baby girl.

 Everyone made a wool Fairy/Angel for a mobile to hang above the cradle.
Avery and I each made one together the next day.

Birth Alter with stones, plants and birth statues brought for loan by friends.

One of my midwives happens to be an artist. So, I got my first Henna Belly tattoo!

 I have never had a henna tattoo. But I was told to leave on the paste until just before going to bed and then scratch or rub it off with coconut oil. This lighter brown design is left behind to last a week or two.

 Visiting and eating, crafting and singing, sharing birth stories and blessing this birth to come, gifting and receiving; I have been floating on a cloud for the last couple days. I feel so thankful to be bringing a baby into this world with so much love and support to welcome her.

Knits for baby and crafting with Avery

 Avery, proudly hanging her Mandala sun catcher in the window.

We have been so focused on math and language arts for school, that we haven't made as much time for the fun stuff this winter. Avery loves to craft and I love crafting with her. So one of my goals for the beginning of this month was to start saving some energy for crafting in the afternoons. Often by the time we've finished our school day and cleaned up from a late lunch, it is time to start dinner and there is no time or energy left for crafting. We finally got a few fun projects in though.

To celebrate the return of the sun (literally) to our home, we made window crafts that would look special in our south facing windows. First we made folded paper flowers, butterflies, dragonflies and a sun, that were inspired by another blog link we found on pinterest. In the second window we made three mandala type sun catchers using embroidery hoops and dried and pressed flowers and leaves - also inspired by another blogger. Avery and I each made one and then we made one together, which we both agree is the prettiest. Both of these crafts I would readily do again, or expand on. But for now, I am happy to have some pretty things in our south facing windows. And here are the links in case you are interested in some similar crafts;

Then Avery had two birthday parties to go to in the last couple weeks and we came up with crowns and wands. I came across a genius idea that I wish someone had shared with me two or three years ago when my kids first started needle felting; which is to fill cookie cutters with the wool and felt them inside the cookie cutter. It made it a lot easier for Avery to do most of the work and all I did was clean up the edges a bit when she was almost done. I also braided the band part using wool roving. Dustin cut a drift wood branch for the wand and he and Avery attached the wool felted star and beads to the end using wire. It was a fairly simple and easy project for all of us. For the second gift Avery felted flowers and leaves for the crown and a flower for the end of the wand. Here is the link to the blog that gave us this great idea; she posts more detailed instructions and a lot more pictures;

Here is a baby cardigan I finished. It is called "In Three's baby Cardigan" I believe. It is one of the few patterns I've bought on Revelry. Here I made it in a Malabrigo wool blend. I've almost finished a second one using a coral pink silk wool blend from String Theory that I bought on vacation in Blue Hill Maine.

Sartje's booties - free on ravelry

Here is my most recent pair of baby booties I made, after the first pair seemed like they might be too small to even fit a newborn's feet. I wanted to have a matching pair of pink slippers and hat for first baby pictures. Still need to take pictures of the two pink hats I made. I'm coming to the end of my knitting frenzy. I'm not lacking in ideas for things I'd like to make my family, only the motivation and initiation to accomplish anything more.

What crafts are you making on these late winter days?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Does your cold weather chicken coop need a heat lamp?

Picture of our chickens today, outside at about ten degrees above zero.

"Do we need a heat lamp for our chicken coop?" I get asked this question often, and there isn't an easy "yes" or "no" answer, as there are a lot of variables to take into consideration, most importantly; your climate, how well insulated your coop is, how big it is, and how many chickens you have.

First, the Fairbanks area ranges from zone 1 to 3, due to micro climates and a weather inversion that traps colder air in the low land. On our hill I believe we are in zone 3 territory. This winter we are experiencing warmer temperatures than normal, mostly 0-20 above zero Fahrenheit. But some winters we see a good deal of 0-20 below zero as well. We usually only get a few days colder than that here on the hills. We do not use a heat lamp for our chickens, although at times in the past we have used one on a timer when we had a more spacious and less insulated coop. For the last two years (out of 8 total winters with layers), we have noticed that our chickens are happier in our smaller coop that is dug into the side of a hill, framed out and well insulated with one narrow door in the front. The ceiling is probably around 7 feet from dirt to ceiling in the summer, but we let the deep pack bedding build up and currently there is probably only five and a half feet from floor to ceiling. The dimensions of our coop are 7x9 feet, giving us 63 square feet of floor space. We have twenty layers and a rooster, which is the limit for this small coop. It works out to only three square feet per bird which is less than the recommended four square feet per bird. Having lots of places to roost and a covered and sheltered outside area with straw on the ground, helps make the most of our small indoor space. We run a forty watt bulb around the clock because I haven't gotten around to putting it on a timer, and the chickens seem to do fine. We also use an electric heater for the metal galvanized water container. The low watt bulb and electric water heater combined are just a fraction of what we use to pay when we had a heat lamp on a timer. 

The biggest question I would ask you is "How cold does your coop get without a heat lamp?" If your answer is below 20 degrees F,  on a regular basis, you will want to consider some different options, which need not be exclusive to buying and running a heat lamp on a regular basis. Our coop stays above freezing without a heat lamp and our chickens are fairly happy considering that they've put up with several months of a dark cold winter and limited indoor space already. I do believe that your layers will do the best for you if their coop temperatures are higher than the number I've given. I think low forties is an ideal coop temperature for our climate. That way they don't get so climatized to warm temperatures that they don't want to go outside when it is 20F. Nor is their coop so warm that it is humid and real stinky, which can cause respiratory problems. So, wherever you are, think about the difference in your coop and outdoor temperature. Obviously you don't want it so extreme that your chickens don't want to get outside for fresh air. Our chickens go outside daily for at least a few hours, unless it is below zero, in which case I leave them closed in with extra kitchen scraps.

As far as coop temperature goes, chickens can tolerate lower temperatures than this. However, our priority as livestock owners is to see that our animals have their basic needs met; clean water, proper food resulting in good weight and health, and the correct living quarters - which encompasses coop size/chicken numbers, artificial or natural light, indoor air temperature, access to the outdoors and fresh bedding. If all of these conditions are met, than your chickens, whether they live in a zone 1 or zone 5 climate, should be happy. I consider my chickens happy this time of year if they are all upright and alert, eating well, rushing outside to get their daily scraps, they all have good plumage without any (or much) pecking and are laying well. If you have older birds, it may be hard to tell if they are laying well, as their production starts to drop off. If I have a mix of young and old birds I'd like to see half as many eggs as there are chickens a day. Right now a quarter of our flock are two year olds. We are getting 12-16 eggs a day from twenty hens. Your hens may be able to survive some pretty cold temperatures, but they will lay better and be healthier looking birds, less prone to sickness if you can keep their coop above freezing.

One of my more raggedy looking, timid Welsummers above and our rooster behind, who ironically has been getting his tail feathers pecked out by the more dominant females.

If you have a well insulated chicken coop that is the right size for your birds you shouldn't need a heat lamp. You may need an electric heater for your galvanized metal waterer and this way your birds always have access to water. An electric heater, while more expensive initially, will be far less expensive to run than a heat lamp. All coops in areas where there is less than twelve hours of daylight need a source of artificial light in order for the hens to continue laying well in the winter. Fourteen hours of light is recommended, and this light can and usually does provide some heat, but does not have to be near as expensive as running a heat lamp. A 40 watt bulb for 14 hours a day makes way more sense than feeding chickens all winter and hardly getting any eggs. Running a low watt bulb will produce some heat as will your electric water heater. Another source of heat, not to be underestimated, is the body heat that the birds produce themselves. In addition, if you are able to let bedding build up and begin to compost, while weekly adding more fresh bedding to the top, the ground will stay thawed and will produce it's own heat. Now, I realize that if you have a traditional wood floored barn, this might not be the way to go. But this is a reason that I am a fan of dirt floors for goat housing and chicken coops. After spending many nights sitting on the floor of our goat barn waiting for goats to kid and soaking up the warmth coming from the composting bedding, I am sold on deep pack bedding practices.

I have a friend whose chicken coop is dug into the ground, and a fine example of a subterranean earth dwelling. Her chickens, goats and rabbits live in here together year round. If she has any problems, I would guess that it might have to do more with humidity issues than the temperatures ever running too cold for the animals. The chicken coop that we use in the winter is about 7x9 feet and is dug into a hillside. It is framed out with insulation and a narrow door on the front. My husband says that the insulation for the coop is R 38.  A well insulated coop is really the way to go. If your coop lacks in thickly insulated walls, you could try surrounding the inside walls with straw bales, or if you don't have room inside, you could build them up around the outside. Make sure you have enough chickens to heat your coop. A general rule of thumb is four square feet per chicken. I think that in cold climates, you want at least this many birds to heat your space. And hopefully you don't have really high ceilings in your coop, because a lot of heat is wasted this way. I'd consider building a drop ceiling in the coop and storing straw bales above, if I had a tall chicken coop. Electricity is expensive! So, if all else fails and your coop is still too cold, then and only then would I consider using a heat lamp and I would put it on at timer to come on during the coldest hours of the night. You can get a red bulb if you don't want to disturb their sleep/laying cycle. Buy a cheap timer and a thermostat so you can keep track of the temperature lows and highs. Have your lower watt light bulb still come on for fourteen hours of daylight. 

So there are a lot of other options to warming up your coop than a heat lamp. If you do use a heat lamp, put it on a timer and save yourself some money. We use a heat lamp for brooding chicks in the spring and that is about it. If you design your coop well and it is well insulated with appropriate numbers, you should not need to run a heat lamp throughout the winter even in the coldest climates.

Best wishes to you and your chickens. Please let me know if I've forgotten to touch on any key important details or if you have any questions regarding this post or my chickens. And as always, I enjoy hearing other's experiences and opinions and I will readily share them. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Chicken Breeds "Cold Hardy" vs. "Does well in Confinement"

I'll bet most of you who live in cold climates and raise chickens are familiar with the terms "Cold Hardy" and "Does well in Confinement".  What are the pros and cons of each of these? And which are the better breeds for your circumstances? "Cold Hardy" means that these birds can withstand colder temperatures. These birds usually have smaller combs and wattles that are less likely to get frost bit. They might have feathered feet to protect their feet from the cold. "Cold Hardy" has nothing to do with how well a bird does when it is cooped up all winter. I have seen some breeds listed as "Cold Hardy" but "does NOT do well in winter confinement" simultaneously. In these cases I think that the birds have been bred for hardiness and not temperament.

Some breeds are listed as "Does well in confinement" This means that they have better temperament when it comes to spending the winter cooped up. They have not been bred as much for cold hardiness and may be more reluctant to leave a warm coop for the cold outdoors. They are probably more prone to getting frost bit if forced to spend time outdoors when it is very cold out.

We live in a zone 3 climate and see some very cold winters, with temperatures regularly dropping below zero. Here in the hills we do not see thirty or forty below zero regularly, but it can happen. Just down the hill is considered zone 1. As far as I know we have not observed any of our chickens to ever have significant frost bite. Our chickens come outside most days of winter. I am usually home, so I am able to let them out during the warmest hours of the day. So they have access to the outdoors from roughly 1-5 or so. Their coop is cooler during the day hours when their door is open. But when we close them in we hang a blanket on the inside of the door and their coop stays fairly warm and draft free. I estimate their indoor temperature to be in the upper thirties and low forties. It feels comfortable on my skin when I check for eggs.

It is more important to me that our chickens not be aggressive or flighty and have a docile and mellow temperament, than that they be "Cold Hardy".  If I lived somewhere the temperatures were not as extreme and I was trying to keep them without building a well insulated shelter, perhaps then I would be trying "Cold Hardy" breeds.

Here is a list of the following breeds we have raised for at least one year and what I recall of our experiences with them. I tend to stay away from breeds that do not do well in winter confinement so I have little experience with "Cold Hardy breeds. When I hear people complaining about their chickens pecking each other, it is always hard to say what the cause is without seeing their set up. However, given that I keep a large number of birds in a small coop for long dark winter months, and after seven years have rarely had any pecking issues,  I think that breed selection is a significant factor in how well your chickens will winter over.

Ameracauna: I would not call this a calm or docile breed, not very cuddly. However as they are on the smaller side, I do not see them as instigators or bullies among the other chickens. They tend to be quick and stay out of the way of other breeds. Not my favorite breed personality wise, but they lay high numbers of eggs, and you gotta love those nice sized blue green shells.

Barred Rock: I haven't raised a lot of these. I am drawn to their flashy plumage, but I've had a couple just up and dye spontaneously without any obvious cause during the winter months, and so haven't been prone to trying them again. They don't seem to be as hardy for our conditions, nor do they lay as frequently as some of the other breeds. They do have a sweet mellow temperament.

Black Sexlinked: One of our favorites. In seven years, we have always had several of these. Hardy birds! Great layers of large eggs. They tend to be one of the larger birds in my coop and at the top of the pecking order, but I have had no serious aggression issues with them. Note, the Red and Gold Sexlinked birds do not seem to be as hardy. I've had a few just up and die randomly which I haven't ever had happen to a Black sex linked bird.

Brahma: We raised Dark Brahma's for a couple years. We had shipped them up from a small hatchery somewhere. They were probably the biggest and cold hardiest birds we ever raised. They would hang out outside when no one else would. They had thick down feathers, feathered feet and small combs. They were also docile and good natured and just about the sweetest birds that we've ever raised. We only kept them for a couple years as they just didn't lay near as frequently as we would have liked. They did lay very large light beige eggs. If I wasn't so focused on egg production I would raise these birds again. How often do you get cold hardiness and sweet docile birds all in one package. We had a couple Dark Brahma roosters and they never challenged anyone, not even when my kids were small and entering their territory.

Buff Orpington: This is my first year with Orpingtons. I never liked the picture of them, but find them more attractive in real life. They are some of the first girls out of the coop when I open the door in the morning. Not as wussy as some of the others. They look like they have thicker undercoats. They seem to be in the middle of the pecking order. I can't get a good feel for how well they are laying. Not as well as the Ameraucana's or Sexlinks, I don't think. But seem to have a mellow enough disposition.

Speckled Sussex: I once heard a man say that these Sussex were so friendly they were annoying because they were always underfoot. Less downy plumage than some of the others. Weren't great layers. They didn't seem to lay as well as most our other breeds and steeply declined after their first year. They were mellow and seemed to do fine cooped up. Very flashy and fairly vigorous.

Welsummer: We have had different batches of Welsummers from different sources. Our first batch had over the top aggressive roosters. The females laid a good quantity of beautiful dark brown eggs and did just fine over the winter cooped up. Not flighty. Not a lot of extra down on them but seemed fairly cold hardy. They would always come out for scraps. This last batch that we got locally lay pretty enough eggs but no where near as many as I would expect. They also seem less friendly than our previous batch and I don't see a lot of them. They seem to stay out from underfoot and haven't been coming out of the coop as much as the other birds for their daily scraps.

Wyandottes: We raised beautiful Blue Red Wyandottes that we'd special ordered. They were big, beautiful plumage, very downy and well padded. They were mellow and sweet doing well both indoors and outdoors. My only complaint was that they didn't meet my egg laying requirement. I think we got a couple kinda ugly misshapen light beige eggs a week out of each bird. Someday I won't care as much about production and I'll keep Wyandottes and Brahmas just for the pleasure of their company.

Other Breed Notes: My mother raised Rhode Island Reds when I was younger. We had enough problems with them pecking each other indoor in the winter, that she quit raising them. After which, she no longer had problems with winter pecking. I have heard other reports of this breed not doing well with winter confinement. They are said to be hardy.

Chanticlers are advertised as being a very cold hardy breed, but their breed description also says that they do not do well in winter confinement. So, I have stayed away from trying out this breed.

Well,  that's all I've got for now. As always, I am interested in hearing back from you! So, If you have experiences with breeds not listed, or have had different experiences than mine, please share!

By the way, if you want really hardy egg layers that withstand brutal outdoor winter temperatures, get ducks! They tuck those feet right into their downy sides. They are outside enjoying the snow every day of the winter no matter how cold. Now, dealing with their water is a whole other issue.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wrapping the Pregnant Belly and Postpartum Belly Binding

This is my third pregnancy, but the first pregnancy that I have felt any need for belly support. I was rolling along just fine, feeling great until about a week ago. At thirty-four weeks my midwife guesstimated that my baby was 4-4 1/2 lb. Now, in these final days they say that babies increase an average of a half pound per week. So, I'm thinking I've got it made, and even if she comes on her due date, she is still going to be under eight pounds. Well, yesterday at my thirty-six week checkup, my midwife thought that this baby has just had a serious growth spurt and she is guessing that she is 6- 6 1/2 lb. Basically, maybe she just grew two pounds in two weeks.

So hopefully my tummy is just sore from all that growing. But there is one spot that has been exceptionally achey. In fact I keep lifting my shirt to see if I've developed my first stretch marks or expecting to see a big bruise, but nada. A girlfriend recommended I rub arnica infused oil into the sore spot which has helped somewhat. Staying off my feet helps a ton, but how practical is that?! So, as I was doing some research I came across some posts and Youtube videos of wrapping the pregnant belly. So the last two days I've wrapped up my belly and that has made it possible for me to do all that I've been doing. Without wrapping my belly I surely would not have gotten my herbal birth kit together today which involved hours of standing on my feet in the kitchen. My favorite Youtube videos come from a woman from the U.K. who has a whole blog on baby wrapping and wearing. It can be a bit intimidating for myself and others who have used one wrap for babies and toddlers of all ages as she recommends different wraps for different ages and purposes. As tempting as shopping for more wraps is, I remind myself that I made do with one blue Storchenweige wrap every day, all day for Noah and Avery, from their newborn days to late toddler days without any problems. I did use an Ergo carrier as well when they were older and when it was rainy or muddy or more convenient. Anyways, here is a link with a video of one of the wrap positions that I like. I have figured out another wrap position as well that just covers my belly that is also nice.

My midwives offered to bind my belly after labor and at first I wasn't so sure. For one, I don't want to be pulled away or distracted from my new baby. I also, really love being skin to skin for at least our first couple days, or more likely weeks - for as much as possible and I am concerned that a cloth wrapped around my torso will totally get in the way of that precious contact. But, I started doing some research, and as I read about belly binding, I also read about a spiritual aspect of it that mom's today miss out on. We give birth and then all of our and everyone else's attention is on the baby. I know that I am so pre-occupied with baby that I really don't think or care about my own needs or discomforts. In some cultures belly binding is part of a larger ceremony; the mother has just given birth, experienced a loss from her body, all this heat has left, leaving behind an empty space that is now cool and loose. We are somewhat weakened and off balance, having to adjust to the loss. The Binding process is often part of a larger sealing or closing ceremony that can happen a day or two or more after giving birth. The midwives or family draw a warm bath with flowers for the mother. You exfoliate your belly and then then your midwives or women about you apply a warm paste of herbs over your belly and wrap up your torso to keep all that heat in. To me it sounds very nourishing and comforting.

The wrapping itself is supposed to help with healing muscle tears (like diastasis recti), help organs back into place, support the torso and help with nursing slouch and overall toning of the torso. I believe it is recommended to do the wrapping for forty days and up to twelve hours a day. Personally, I unless I thought I had some muscle tearing, I'm just planning on doing this for a couple days after birth and trying it out, but I don't think I'm going to become an avid torso wrapper. I just haven't felt that it was necessary before. My plan has been to wrap my baby onto my bare skin using my Storchenweige and newborn wrap holds. Then put some big baggy shirts over both me and the baby for as much skin to skin contact as possible.

However, if I thought I had some muscle tearing or a diastase recti, then I would start looking into both the binding for a longer period, as well as appropriate exercises to do.

The paste that you can apply under the wrap brings heat to the area, speeds healing, increases blood flow and circulation, might ease after birth pains and tones the area. I thought that this all sounded like a plus and while messy, might be worth a try for a day or two. Equally and possibly more appealing due to the lack of mess, would be an essential oil rub with some of the same essential oils - were that in my budget... Anyways, I thought this whole subject was new and interesting so here are some posts I came across this week on belly binding in case anyone else wants to read further on the subject.

Herbal preparations for Labor and Postpartum

Avery and I had some special time today. After days of sporadic researching here and there, in books and on blogs, I finally summed up the effort to gather together random jars of herbs, oils, tinctures, essential oils, remedies and spices to prepare a basket full of herbal preparations for my labor and post part time. 

I tend to be a minimalist in some ways. I feel like if our bodies are strong and in shape and we are well nourished with a healthy diet, we women are made and intended to give birth without intervention. My births with my two children were night and day in many ways, but I gave birth to each of them with out intervention. However, with Noah, who was my first, two weeks late and eight and a half pounds, I did tear and need stitches in three places. As a result from the long labor I was pretty beat up and I practically crawled around my house for a couple weeks. Avery was two weeks early, seven and a half pounds and I do not think her labor could be any smoother. Again, I did have a  small tear, but did not need stitches. I distinctly remember bouncing around the house sweeping a few hours after I gave birth to her, while she and Dustin slept together peacefully.

With both of these births I used some herbs. I did not use any essential oils or homeopathic remedies as at that time it didn't even occur to me. After midwifing for dairy goats for seven years, I have begun to look at birth a little differently.  Some preparedness such as having your supplies gathered and prepped and knowing what you are going to do with them, can make for a more soothing peaceful labor, as well as decreasing discomfort afterwards. 

Today we made two tea blends for myself. One was simple with wild red raspberry leaf and a little dried fruit tea blend to make it taste more flavorful. Red Raspberry leaf is a uterine toner and helps loosen the area before birth. It is recommended to drink raspberry tea throughout birth in addition to drinking it while in labor and right after labor and during post-partum time. I did not drink much of it with either of my first two pregnancies but am doing better this time around. I plan on drinking a cup early in labor as well as right after and in the following days. 

Next we made another herbal tea that also had about 2pt Raspberry leaf, but also had 1 pt Alfalfa (from our garden) and 1ptNettles (from our nettle patch) I also added in 1/2 pt chamomile (garden) and a little bit of dried fruit tea mix. I thought that I can drink this easier if it is all premixed. It is for times when I don't just want the results of the Raspberry. The chamomile is calming. The Alfalfa and Nettles are high in nutrients, calcium, vitamin K and can prevent jaundice in newborns by drinking during pregnancy. I made up nettle tea bags early in pregnancy and I've been putting raspberry leaf into a diffuser regularly. Today we (Avery) filled press and seal tea bags with the herbs and I ironed them closed. Much easier now for D or the midwives to make me tea.

Avery filling a jar with baby's first bath herbs; Wild Rose petals, lavender, German Chamomile) (Calendula would be nice too, but I didn't have any dried)

Then we made two bath mixes. One for the baby's first bath, ingredients above. The other was a perineum soak blend for an after labor bath for myself. After looking at several recipes, I just pulled out what I had, which were; yarrow leaf and flower, plantain leaf and red raspberry leaf; all harvested and dried from our land this summer in addition to a smaller amount of chamomile from the garden and lavender from the store. Comfrey and calendula are two of the other ingredients most often called for. I had huge bundle of comfrey stored to feed to the chickens but it didn't look worth of a bath. I had harvested and grated root to make an infused oil. And I have fresh root in the fridge which is sprouting, so I thought I might as well stick it into a big pot of soil and maybe I'll have fresh leaf in a week or two - cause that stuff grows like a weed! As far as calendula, I have fresh infused oil and tincture, but didn't save any dried flowers. So, I may add a little tincture to the bath. 

Comfrey is an amazing healer, plantain is great for relieving itching, burning and general irritation. I am guessing that the red raspberry leaf is good for getting up into any nooks and crannies and maybe can tone externally as well as internally. Yarrow is an antiseptic that prevents infection. Chamomile and Lavender are both soothing, calming herbs. The Calendula is soothing and promotes healing.

My herbal guides recommended pouring two quarts of boiling water over two cups of dried herbal blend to steep for twenty minutes or longer. Then strain herbs and add infused water to bath. Another great thing to do ahead of time is to soak cloth or disposable menstrual pads in tea and freeze. Then pull out and apply after labor. Amazingly enough I did this before my birth with Noah and it is the one thing I did that stands out, now, ten years later, that was just amazing. I was so thankful that I did this. You can also put the infusion into a Peri or spray bottle and apply to bottom area regularly to sooth. You can also add lavender essential oil - just a few drops, and, or St John's wort tincture to the infusion for extra pain relief.

Today, we only had enough perineum soak herbs for one bath. So I put the herbs into a half gallon jar so the midwives can just pour the water right into that jar for steeping. Since I didn't have extra for soaking pads or for a peri bottle, we made a peri solution in a 2 oz. spray bottle with 5 drops Lavender essential oil and 10 drops St. John's wort Tincture. I have the tincture and essential oil in my birth basket, so I can make more easily. I have heard that witch hazel is also very soothing but this will be my first try. I have had amazing results with St John's Wort as a topical pain reliever, but for some reason it had never occurred to me to use it on myself. So, I am excited to try it.

I just recently heard about postpartum belly binding, in which you wrap up your belly for support and to speed healing. Sometimes "hot" herbal pastes are applied directly to the belly before being wrapped. These herbal pastes increase circulation and blood flow to the area, thereby toning and healing and restoring your tummy and your inards to their rightful places more quickly. I think this subject may be deserving of it's own post. So I will just say that I followed a recipe for the dried herbs and included those in my basket as my midwives have offered to bind my belly after birth if I should be inclined - and I think it sounds pretty nice; warming herbs and support and comfort right after losing my little furnace and feeling all empty and mushy inside.

Here are the main ingredients and preparations I thought I should have all in one place. I never took Arnica with my first two births, but it has become an indispensable part of our home remedy kit and I dole it out to anyone else with any bruising that needs soothed. I plan to take it right after birth, and probably three times a day for my first day or two after labor. My pregnancy tinctures are at the far right. I am trying to take red raspberry leaf tincture and Partridge berry tincture twice a day to prepare my body for labor - I'm a little hit or miss. 

So without buying anything specifically for this purpose, here is what I've come up with so far:

1. Herbal teas for before, during and after labor. (Red raspberry leaf alone and mixed with nettles, alfalfa and chamomile)

2. Herbal bath mixes. (Yarrow, plantain, red raspberry, lavender and chamomile for me - possibly add comfrey and calendula if it works out) (rose petals, chamomile and lavender for me and baby as a special treat - day or two after)

3. Perineum spray for spray bottle. Witch hazel with 5 d. Lavender essential oil and 10 d. St. John's wort Tincture.

4. Arnica homeopathic remedy for after birth swelling and bruising, to take right after labor and three times a day while feeling bruised. 

5. Other ingredients in case I want to add to baths, perineum bottle or gently massage onto sore areas include; lavender essential oil, St. John's wort tincture and oil, Yarrow tincture and oil, Calendula tincture and oil.

6. Belly binding paste made up of "hot spices/herbs" Equal parts; turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. Add to two Tb. of herbal mix, 2-4 TB warm sesame or coconut oil and a little less than a tsp. of fresh lime juice. Apply to belly, cover with cloth and bind.

And it's all in one place. Doesn't that feel good!

There may be a few items I'm adding to my birth kit. I have been researching Helichrysum and Frankincense essential oils off and on for some time, always discouraged from buying them by their high cost. However, the more I read about them, the more I feel I have to have them. I have been trying to budget for more essential oils to add to my kit for six months now, without much luck. But there is a chance that we might be about to make the final splurge and if so I'll try and share my usage of them.

What I have heard in regards to birth and labor, is that Frankincense is a wonderful topical pain reliever and that a drop or two can be rubbed directly onto the skin - even on sensitive skin - unlike many essential oils which should be diluted. The combination of Frankincense and Lavender can be used on hot wet rags, applied to the tummy or anywhere that aches, during labor, after labor to ease after birth pains etc. 

Helichrysum is one of the best wound healers, healing muscle tears and any injuries. It is often added to perineum rinses, baths and frozen pads to relieve sore places. 

Peppermint essential oil also comes up as an oil to have on hand for birth, but as it can affect breathing in newborns, I don't feel the need to even mess with it. However, I have read that if you have a hard time peeing, to add a drop to the toilet and it is suppose to help with that.

I was speaking with a friend today who is also expecting her third. We both feel somewhat unprepared for the after birth pains. I think that if I am able to get the Frankincense essential oil - that might help. I have also read about some herbal blends that can help, two of the ingredients being Motherwort and Crampbark (I know it as high bush cranberry bark) which I have around here somewhere and may try to find should my after birth pains really bother me.

Avery wanted to take my picture the other day. So here I am at 36 weeks, in my normal house away; no bra, hair not combed etc.

If anyone has any more tips for using herbs, essential oils or homeopathic remedies, I'd love to hear them.

Here are some posts I came across over my last few days of research that I found helpful. Enjoy!