Tag Archives: homesteading

Try Chicken Keeping. . . But Put Away the Blankets and Towels

by Laura Parker Roerden

Best Investments in Sustainability

Many of us have seen movies like Food, Inc or others and learned  horror stories about the antibiotic and hormone laden poulty coming out factory farms. Yet buying chicken and pastured-eggs at Whole Foods can be quite expensive. If you care about your food and where it comes from, consider raising your own–even if you only have a small backyard in which to do it. Not only will you be able to benefit of controlling how your food is raised, you’ll be embarking on one of the greatest adventures of your lifetime.

Even though our fifth generation farm was once a poultry farm, I did not come to chicken keeping easily. A famous story in our family is of the littlest grandchild (ME) collecting eggs in our double-decker chicken barn. My father always laughed whenever he told the story of me chucking eggs from a distance into the wire frame basket, breaking a couple dozen eggs in a few particularly hard flung tosses. But I recall him being pretty angry at the time. I myself think I just had a brilliant sense for conserving energy when farming, or perhaps an even better sense for how to get out of farm duties.

My nephew and our fifth-generation farmer Ed was the one who reintroduced chickens to our farm. At the outset we purchased twenty-five Rhode Island Red chicks from our local feed store because it was the breed my grandparents had kept. Rhode Island Reds are good layers and bred for the long New England winters.

My grandfather free-ranging his Rhode Island Reds (RIR) and Leghorns. He preferred the RIRs, which lay brown eggs, but kept the Leghorns because some of his customers insisted on white eggs.

The first year, we kept our young chickens inside our farm’s big red barn with a small concrete-based chicken wire enclosure to qualify as outdoor space. Despite the fact that our farm had once supplied eggs and poultry to the entire Blackstone Valley, we were hopeless novices.

I remember that first fall noticing that a lone hen had gotten out and was roaming my vegetable garden. I panicked. I could imagine hawks circling and was pretty sure that with dusk setting in our young chicken would not make it through the night. (I had watched enough Looney Tunes cartoons as a child to know the dangers.)

I enlisted our babysitter and children to help. There was utter pandemonium as all five of us ran around our yard and hayfields with towels and sheets, flinging them at the terrified bird as she ran for cover under brush.

It was almost dark when I announced that we were giving up. The hen could not be caught. We all went back in to the farmhouse where I poured myself a glass of red wine and pondered the fox or hawk that would soon also be having dinner. I was sautéing onions  when I glanced out the kitchen window to see the escapee Rhode Island Red casually cross the street to the red barn. She was putting herself back in for the night.

I laughed out load. In that moment I learned that it’s true: chickens do actually literally come home to roost. From then on we allowed our chickens to roam our pastures and yard freely, knowing that they would always come back at dark.

But I had also learned an even more important lesson:

You can take expensive chicken keeping workshops and order fancy chicken coops online. But the best way to learn about chickens is by keeping them.

So if you have been thinking about having some backyard chickens, just do it!


Here are some very simple guidelines I can offer:

Build your own coop Chicken coops need not be expensive; they simply need to provide shelter from the elements and a place to roost and lay eggs. So build your own. Here are some inspired ideas for upcycling and to get your creativity flowing.

Buy Sexlinks or have a plan for re-homing roosters You can buy baby chicks through your local feed store such as Tractor Supply or online in the spring. You will receive the chicks when they are only a day old, which means that your supplier will be sorting the chickens by sex when they first born. Even though you can order all females; it’s likely that your supplier will make some mistakes and you will receive at least one or two roosters with your run. Many towns have ordinances that forbid roosters because they might be considered a nuisance to your neighbors, so consider ordering Sexlinks (a breed of chickens in which females and males are entirely different colors, thereby virtually guaranteeing females) and as a backup have a plan on how to re-home your roosters. Or if you can keep roosters in your community, consider doing so! There are many benefits to having a few roos in your flock.

Free-range or provide an enclosed yard with both dirt and grass access Pasture-raised eggs are so much healthier for us, because of the diet the chickens are eating outdoors. You’ll want to provide your hens with a habitat that has worms, insects, and sufficient dirt for the birds to take “dirt baths”— an important part of their hygiene. For a complete discussion on the benefits of pasture-raised eggs, see Pass the Pastured-Eggs, Please.

If you sell your eggs, sell them at competitive prices THIS might be the most important advice I can offer. Chance are if you’re thinking about keeping backyard chickens, you’re a friend of the local-vore movement. So don’t undercut professional farmers in your area by offering your eggs at a lower price just because you “only need to cover your expenses.” You’ll be doing more harm than good by out competing the local food providers, who are likely struggling to keep in the game.

And lastly: Put away the blankets and towels. Your chickens will thank you for it.

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Laura Parker Roerden

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth,





Beeswax Food Cloth

Best Investments in Sustainability

by Guest Blogger Bonnie Combs

“Plastic is Drastic,” said a local fourth-grader working on a poster to promote plastic bag recycling at her school. Along with startling images of sea turtles negatively impacted by plastic pollution and plastic bags caught in tree branches blowing in the wind, those words could not be truer. I got to meet this inspiring girl while giving a presentation on recycling at her school and they have stuck with me.

My commitment to plastic recycling (truthfully it’s more more like plastic avoidance), kicked up a few notches a couple of years ago when I attended a Keep America Beautiful conference and crossed paths with a representative from Trex, who was promoting their recycling program for plastic bags and plastic film. It was a watershed moment for me when I learned that those recycling bins at the entrance to your local supermarket accepted not only the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag, but all kinds of plastic film, known as stretchy plastic and includes products such as bubble wrap, newspaper bags, product overwrap (from things like paper towels and bottled water), food storage bags, bread bags and similar products. Trex works with many retailers in collecting this plastic and makes lumber products with it.

It should be noted that these plastic bags and film must be clean and dry in order to come into contact with food and to be recycled. The next best step is to find something reusable, so that it does not end up in the trash bin. Using a food-safe plastic storage container is one good idea, but did you know that you can call on the bees to help you cover certain dishes that do not have lids?

Beeswax food cloth is trending now among people concerned about their environmental impact and also the effect that plastic has on our own health. It takes just two ingredients: cotton cloth and beeswax to create an all-natural food wrap that can be used over and over again.

Image from Bee Kind Wraps. Follow on FB at https://www.facebook.com/beekindwraps/

In my travels this summer, I purchased a beautiful package of beeswax food cloth at an artisan fair and decided I was going to learn how to make it myself. I clipped it to my fridge for inspiration and when the holidays started rolling around, I decided it was time. After watching several videos and reading tutorials on the subject, I settled on a no-fuss version of baking it in the oven.

On Thanksgiving morning, while everyone was baking holiday pies and posting pictures of their delicious creations, I posted my pictures of baking cotton cloth with beeswax. Along with sweet potato rolls that I baked and wrapped in a linen towel and an apple torte that I packed in cake carrier, I had made some delicious cranberry apple chutney and purchased a beautiful bowl that sat on a pedestal at a local consignment shop with the intention of leaving it for the host where we were going for a Friendsgiving dinner. The bowl didn’t have a lid and I knew I wasn’t going to show up with plastic wrap over the bowl, so the night before I put my 100% cotton fabric through the wash to prepare for the making of the beeswax wrap.

How to Make Beeswax Wrap

The process is simple.

  1. Warm an oven up to no more than 195 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. Cut your prewashed 100% cotton fabric into desired size and shape and lay it onto the baking pan.
  3. For the beeswax, you can purchase a block and shave it with a cheese grater or you can buy beeswax pellets. I settled on the pellets for ease of use and sprinkled them on, being mindful to evenly distribute them overthe cloth. You don’t need to cover the entire cloth as the beeswax melts and is quickly absorbed by the cloth.
  4. It’s almost magical to watch through the oven door. Within 10 minutes, the cloth is wet with the melted beeswax and you can remove the pan from the oven. Inspect to make sure all the edges and areas of the cloth are covered. Carefully pick up the cloth from the edges and hang from a makeshift clothesline until dry, which is just about two minutes.

The new beeswax coated cloth responds to the heat in your hands and will gently encapsulate what you are try to cover, be it a round bowl, or a piece of cranberry nut bread that you want to share with a friend.


To care for your food cloth, gently rinse in cool water (never hot as the wax will melt). You can use a mild soap if needed and hang to try. I should point out that you can also reuse the parchment paper. You will have droplets of melted beeswax on your parchment-lined pan and they will quickly harden. Just save the paper until your next use and place the cloth over them. They will melt again into your next piece of fabric!

Sharing food has become even more fun now that I have made my own beeswax food cloth! And now you can too!


Just in time for the holidays, Bonnie is offering beeswax food wraps for just $5.00 (plus shipping). “Bee the Change” and order yours today! 

Bonnie Combs lives in Blackstone, MA, and is the Marketing Director at Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc., where she also manages the non-profit’s Trash Responsibly™ program. Bonnie works with the 25 communities within the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor on litter cleanups and provide recycling education and events. When she’s not working, she is usually sewing up reusable shopping bags made from seed, feed and grain bags. She also gives workshops on how to make them. Most recently she has started making zippered storage pouches made from upholstery samples that were destined for the landfill by a major retailer. You can follow her journey on Facebook at Bird Brain Designs by Bonnie.


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