Self Sustaining Living -Reusing Chicken Coop Trash


self sustaining livingSelf Sustaining Living on our farm means I try to reduce the amount of waste that the farm sends to the landfill. It’s not always easy and I try to think creatively in order to reduce the waste. 

Every week our chicken coop residents eat through two fifty pound bags of feed. Every week that is two poly bags that end up in the refuse pile waiting for trash pickup. The longer we farm, the more conscious I am of how much waste we produce. I doubt I will ever get it down to zero, but if I can continually reduce the amount of stuff that comes from our homestead and goes to a landfill, I will be satisfied that I tried my best.

Some things we naturally have always used at least twice before it heads to it’s final destiny. Although newspapers are recyclable, I normally use them again to line the rabbit hutch floor, or the chick brooder in the spring. Cardboard boxes usually are recycled through the chicken coop as a nest box or hiding spot for smaller chickens. And then there is the issue of all those poly bags that are now the way chicken feed is sold. Two bags a week, fifty two weeks per year, 104 feed bags total and that is just from the chicken feed!

Extra tidbit > there are over 19 billion chickens in the world! For more fun facts on chickens check this post.  That’s a lot of chickens and waste from chickens!

I see the pile of feed bags accumulate every week on our farm and it bothers me to send them to the landfill.

Coming up with some additional uses was fun and creative. Basically, many of the uses you  have for a purchased vinyl tarp can be replaced by using an empty poly vinyl feedbag. 

self sustaining living

Here are some ways you can reuse empty feed bags and increase your level of Self Sustaining Living

Tote bags and reusable shopping bags – Take these to the grocery store, library, any place that uses those tiny annoying plastic shopping bags that only hold three items. 

Reuse the  empty feed bags as trash bags,  instead of  garbage bags. We always have an empty feed bag propped up in our feed room. We use it to collect the tops from the feed bags, and any other trash.

Use the poly fabric feed sack as you would any wipe clean fabric. Make place mats, coasters,  stadium seats, covers for patio furniture cushions.

self sustaining living

self sustaining living

Around the farm or barnyard, reuse the feed sacks to line the nest boxes for ease of cleaning. I also use the bags to cover open windows for storm protection, or to cover the duck house open space at the top during the coldest part of winter. We do the same with the top parts of the rabbit house too. The large wire covered “windows” are great for summer ventilation but leave too much space for cold winds during winter.

Self sustaining living

Using Poly Feed Bags for other Animal Housing.

In our rabbit hutch with runs we use the feed bags under a few inches of dirt and mulch or bedding. The poly vinyl bags help protect the wooden floor in the hutch. In the run, having the old chicken feed  sacks under the dirt, keeps the rabbits from digging out under the fencing. 

I haven’t thought of any ways to reuse the poly vinyl feed sack with any activities for the sheep and goats, but give me some time to think about it!

At the end of the day, the important thought is that we should be aware of what we use and throw away. Even if you are being careful about how much you consume and throw away, there is waste. Thinking about the waste products and coming up with a way to replace another item with something recycled from the poly vinyl feed bags will help keep some trash out of the landfills.


self sustaining living


Compost, the Ultimate Reusable Product from the Coop

Making sure we are responsibly caring for the coop manure and used bedding is very important. Not only cleaning the coop out regularly, but turning the waste into dark healthy compost is the healthy way to control the waste. After a year, the compost added to soil will provide nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil in your garden.

What products do you reuse from the coop, to help control the amount of waste that heads to our landfills? Share you experiences with farm style, self sustaining living in the comments.

Self sustaining living

This post first appeared on Backyard Poultry Mag.com

self sustaining living


Needle Felt Easter Eggs – Simple and Quick

needle felt easter eggsNeedle felt Easter eggs are quick and easy additions to your spring decorations. The materials for needle felt Easter eggs are few and the results are quick! Soon you will have a full basket of colorful needle felt Easter eggs to bring out year after year.

Here are the materials you will need

Wool felting needle. These often look like the ones pictured below. A felting needle is very sharp so take care when handling it. Also, the shaft of a needle felt tool has barbs on the shaft to further pull the wool fiber together into felt. Be cautious and do not handle the lower part of the needle shaft.

needle felt easter eggs

Styrofoam egg (If you avoid Styrofoam, you can use a thicker wool to make an egg shaped core. Then proceed to decorate your 100% wool egg, as follows. Directions on sculpting with wool can be found in this post.

needle felt easter eggs

Small amounts of dyed wool roving. This is the way it is often packaged for sale. If you have access to your own wool locks or roving, you could make your own naturally dyed roving using the process described here.

needle felt easter eggs

Needle Felt Easter Eggs Procedure 

Take a small piece of wool in the base color you want your needle felt Easter egg to be. Use one color or mix the roving pieces for a variegated effect.

Using the felting needle, stab up and down repeatedly , in a shallow method. Doing this repeatedly begins to lock the wool fiber together tightly, forming a felted covering over the Styrofoam egg. Add more roving as needed to completely cover the surface of the egg. 


Adding Needle Felt Easter Egg Decorations 

After you cover the egg in the base color of fiber, begin to decorate the egg using any design you prefer.

You can easily make vines and leaves by pulling off a small strand of roving. Twist the fiber into a thinner cord and apply it to the egg using the felting needle. Work in small sections at a time, twist further, and proceed until the vine is how you like it.

needle felt Easter eggs

Using small bits of wool as opposed to larger chunks, will be much easier. You can always add more if the shape isn’t as large as you wanted it to be. Other simple decorations are polka dots, squiggles, stars, petal flowers, carrots, and simple butterflies. Take a look at the butterfly shown in the examples. The butterfly Easter egg was made by a new needle felter, in a class I recently taught. The detail is amazing! It really is that quick to learn this craft! 

needle felt Easter eggs needle felt easter eggs

You can try other methods of needle felting too. Use needle felting to create felt decorative accents on clothing, purses, and wall hangings. Sculptures can be created by needle felting, also. Take a look at a few free form sculptures I have created.

needle felt easter eggs

Free Printable! Instructions for Needle Felt Easter Eggs

Click on the following documents to print the directions for needle felt Easter eggs. Please help me share this post so others can also learn this fun, easy and enjoyable craft. Thank you!

Easter Egg Needle Felting (1)

needle felt Easter eggs

needle felt Easter eggs



needle felt easter eggs


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needle felt easter eggs using small bits of dyed wool roving or fiber. A quick craft that lasts for years.


Make a Chicken Dust Bath for the Run

chicken dust bathThe flock missed their chicken dust bath and it was all my fault. As soon as the weather cleared and the chickens could go out to free range, they headed right for their favorite chicken dust bath spot. Apparently, I had forgotten this past fall to bring a chicken dust bath into the run or coop. Our fall was warm and the chickens had plenty of opportunity to dust bath their cares away while they free ranged and I did chores. Recently the weather took a turn and we had snow and ice for a few days. Rather than be ingenious, as they have in the past, the flock just waited. In the past I have seen them claim a corner under the nest boxes or some other out of the way spot, and stir up a personal dust bath. This time they just waited. 

And, then the day arrived. I opened the gate to the run and let them free! At last, they had a chance to get away from each other. To run to the farthest fence line and have some personal space. Yet, they all headed for the local construction zone next door to their coop. The latest coop being built will have a slight overhanging porch area. For now it is the perfect spot to find dry dusty soil for a chicken dust bath. All 23 chickens from this coop huddled together in the same area, flipping dirt and flapping wings. It was a sight to see. 

A few seconds into the video the barn kitty walked up. Three of the hens went on full alert. Then two returned to bathing, leaving Maggie to keep watch.

What kind of enclosure works for a chicken dust bath?

I realized that I better set up a chicken dust bath  in the run or have the risk of mites,and lice on feathers, feet, and dirty looking chickens. I looked around the farm for a large enough container. Since our chickens apparently like the communal, Roman style bath set up, I didn’t want to choose anything small.

I had a child’s wadding pool which works well, but not in the space I wanted it, under a covered corner of the run. I have seen people use scrap wood, small logs, and old tires to make a dust bath. A cat litter pan is a good choice for one chicken to use at a time. It needs to be deep enough that the soil mixture won’t be easily scattered out of the box every time it is used. I would suggest at least an 8 to 10 inch depth. Some people suggest a 12 inch depth

chicken dust bath

My Ready to Use Options 

Last summer I used the child’s wading pool for the chicken dust bath. The drawback was, I never set up an easy to maintain way to cover the dust bath. And then storms happened, the dust bath was soaked, and muddy and unpleasant. It didn’t dry out well, being in plastic container, and I tossed the dust bath mixture out to get it to dry. Way too much effort! I was determined that I would find a way to build a chicken dust bath under one of the covers in the run.

The wading pool is now being used in the other chicken coop run, where I have more room to keep it covered. For this run, I chose an empty, shallow feeding trough. Fits perfectly where I need it and there’s plenty of room for multiple chickens to dust bathe together. I like that I did not need to go shopping for something to use for the chicken dust bath. Reusing what is already on the farm is my go – to method whenever possible.

chicken dust bath

What to Put in the Dust Bath Mixture 

The recommended ingredients for the dust mixture are:

Dry dirt

Builders Sand

Wood Ash (from a fire pit or fireplace) I add a small bucket,  1 gallon approximately, to the large dust bath.

Diatomaceous Earth – For the large bath I am building here, I added 4 cups of DE powder and mixed it in thoroughly.

The dirt here is very sandy already so I choose to not add more sand to our mixture. The important factors are coming up with a light fluffy soil but not so light that it will harm the chickens respiratory tract!

chicken dust bath

The chickens were in the bath before I even finished adding the wood ash and DE powder!


Add dried herbs to the dust bath if you have them. The extra snack while bathing will be appreciated and beneficial.


Don’t add chemicals! Make sure anything added to the dust bath is fertilizer free, chemical free, and pesticide free. Just like our skin, rubbing chemicals into the chickens’ skin is not going to be healthy. If your dirt has had fertilizer added to it, consider purchasing a bag of organic soil instead. 


You can use any container you like when building a dust bath. Some ideas for covers, to keep out rain, snow, cats, etc might be a small piece of scrap plywood, an inexpensive tarp, a piece of plexiglass, empty feed bags, or whatever you find! Have you built a chicken dust bath already? Tell us in the comments about your project. 

chicken dust bath




DIY S’Mores Gift Basket is Perfect for Families

s'moresHow can S’mores be the perfect gift idea for the the active family on your gift list? I had this idea a few years back, and have gifted a few of these since. I am sure you have families on your gift list and spend time thinking of just the right thing that they can enjoy as a family. If your friends are like mine, they have plenty of stuff already. Trying to find a gift that the whole family can enjoy is difficult. Different ages like different types of activities. But one activity that almost every age can enjoy is a family campfire. Sometimes the campfire has been taken over by the backyard fire pit, or the indoor fire place. All of these will work as a starting place for the DIY S’mores Gift Basket. 

S’mores Gift Basket Ingredients

While making the S’mores gift basket, keep in mind the recipients dietary limits. Adapt the ingredients for the children’s ages. I shop for the ingredients such as the traditional chocolate bars, marshmallows, and graham crackers. Then I try to think of the unexpected add ins. A bottle of wine for the parents, hot cocoa mix for the younger set, maybe root beer in classic bottles. The creative parts are up to you. Make the gift basket as elaborate or simple as you choose. If you want to take it upscale, maybe add these marshmallow skewers or a pound of gourmet coffee. If you really want to take it to the next level a cuddly lap robe would be appreciated as the family sits around the fire on a chilly evening. 

Now that you have the ingredients pulled together, grab the firewood pieces. I choose pieces of varying size that will fit into a fire pit. Many convenience stores now sell small bundles of firewood if you don’t have a stack in your yard to pick from. Don’t forget a few pieces for kindling tied together with a string. Add some pine cones if you have them in your yard. 


Pulling the S’mores Gift Basket Together

Begin to build the basket by arranging the firewood so the basket is balanced. If you don’t have a basket or don’t want to spend money on the container here are some other items you could use to put the gift in.

Decorate a cardboard box or wrap in seasonal paper

A reusable tote bag

A small wooden crate

Reusable shopping bags

Next, start arranging the other items around the firewood.

Once you are happy with the arrangement, add a large ribbon or bow to the gift.

I am sure the families on your gift list that enjoy the outdoors will appreciate this useful gift that gives them a chance to come together for some valuable special family time. And it won’t add any clutter to their life. 




5 Easy Extracts for Flavoring Baking and Cooking

easy extractsSimple to make at home, easy extracts are a welcome gift during the holidays. The extracts take time to steep and deepen with flavor. Even though easy extracts take minutes to pull together, start them at least eight weeks before you need them for gifting or cooking. This will give you the best result and flavor in your flavorings!

Vanilla Bean Extract 

How to Make 

Most culinary extracts are simple to make. Gather the needed ingredients and jars. The jars should be clean, not dusty, but I don’t sterilize them. I figure the 80 proof vodka can do that job for me. 

You will need –

Vanilla beans – about 10 to 12 fresh vanilla beans  

80 proof or higher vodka (ask for the least expensive bottle, the extract be the same result)

You can use rum or bourbon if that is your preference. 

Pint mason jar or a decorative bottle and lids

Small extract bottles for gifting or storage

easy extracts

For a pint jar of vanilla extract, use at least 2 ounces of fresh vanilla beans. These should be slightly sticky and moist. Before putting the beans in the jar, either slice lengthwise down each bean, or cut the bean into smaller, one inch pieces. This will let the goodness from inside the bean to seep out into the vodka. 

Pour vodka over the beans leaving two inches of space at the top of the jar. This gives room for shaking the extract as it is steeping. Cap the jar tightly, give it a shake, and set it in a dark corner or cupboard. Remember to take it out and shake it gently everyday. After a few weeks, you will have vanilla bean extract ready to filter and bottle. 

I use a coffee filter and small funnel to strain the vanilla bean extract. Using a small funnel for bottling the extract, makes that task so much easier! I use Boston brown bottles for the vanilla extract. You can get them here. You can use these fancy clear bottles in the picture, too. If using the clear glass bottles, store the vanilla extract away from light sources when not being used. 

Vanilla is one of the easy extracts to make for gift giving. Add a cute label to the bottle and you have a homemade gift! 

What to do with it – Gift giving, cooking, baking, adding to coffee, milkshakes, and hot chocolate.

Almond Extract

You will need – 

raw almonds with out skin about ( 15 almonds chopped up)

Buying tip – Buy from the bulk foods section of a natural foods grocery store. This way you can buy only the amount you need.

Vodka – 80 proof or higher

glass jar or bottle and cap

easy extracts

Chop the almonds and put into the jar or bottle. Pour the vodka over the almonds leaving some room for shaking. 

Cap tightly and place in a dark corner or cupboard for steeping. Shake daily.

Filter the extract after two months or more of time. Bottle in brown bottles for gifting or storage. If using clear glass, store in a dark spot to preserve quality.

Use in recipes calling for almond extract.

Lemon Extract 

Another easy extract that is often used in baked goods is lemon extract. It makes up in no time. The most difficult part is zesting the lemon. (not hard at all!) I used a vegetable peeler to get the skin off the lemon while leaving the pith or white layer, behind. There is actually a kitchen tool for zesting lemons. Either way, take the zest off the clean lemon and place it in the jar or the bottle. 

easy extracts

Add vodka as described above. This post from Common Sense Homestead, mentions using a teaspoon of sugar in the lemon extract. Add  a teaspoon of sugar. Shake to mix and place in a dark area to steep. Shake daily. Steep for at least 6 to 8 weeks. Strain and bottle as described above.

Make Other Easy Extracts from Common Plants and Spices

Chocolate Mint Extract 

Many other easy extracts can be made from common ingredients. Look at your herb garden. Do you have a plant that is doing particularly well this year? Extracts and tinctures are a great way to preserve some of that goodness.

easy extracts

One year I had an extremely large hardy chocolate mint harvest. I collected the mint leaves and made a few bottles of this easy extract. Chocolate mint extract was used in coffee for extra flavor, ice cream, and baking. Think mint chocolate chip cookies! The instructions for chocolate mint extract can be found here.

How to Make My Favorite Easy Extract!

I saved the best for last. Those of you who know me, recognize that coffee is a food group for me. I love the flavor and aroma of coffee. I love coffee ice cream and that subtle hint of mocha in brownies and other chocolate baked goods. So having a Coffee Extract is the perfect way for me to have coffee flavor even when I am not drinking coffee.

Making Coffee Extract 

You will need, coffee beans or ground coffee, 2 cups of vodka, and a glass jar for steeping. 

Use either coffee beans that are coursely ground or already ground coffee. 

Add the vodka as in the other easy extract recipes. Cap the jar and shake. Give it a daily shake. Coffee extract takes the least amount of time to steep. It is ready for use in as little as ten days. I recently came across this recipe for Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies !

Try These Other Ideas for Easy Extracts

Orange, Lime, and other citrus can be made the same way the Lemon Extract is made. Cinnamon extract using dried cinnamon sticks might be an interesting extract. Other nuts such as walnut could be the makings of an extract too. What ideas do you have for easy extracts to flavor baked goods and drinks?

easy extracts

Parting Words

Remember that these easy extracts are made with alcohol. Keep them stored out of the reach of children. Always take personal allergies into consideration because extracts are potent versions of the original flavoring. Most extracts should be used sparingly for flavoring. Glycerin is commonly used to make non-alcohol extracts.

If you want to pin this for later….

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easy extracts