These are my product, plant and animal recommendations. Things you can buy that I have found to be worth the money.

Coton De Tulear: Quarantine Puppy was the Highlight of 2020

We are so thankful this year for something we never thought we would have; a dog! We live in a ‘Lockdown State’ and after months of the kids not having school, sports or extended family I was becoming concerned. The kids created a PowerPoint presentation full of promises about how they would take care of the dog, and the benefits of dog ownership. I knew few of those promises would be kept, so I was shocked when my allergy-suffering husband said he would consider getting a dog. The kids began researching all different kinds of ‘hypo-allergenic’ dogs and then narrowed it down to smaller sized dogs that aren’t as prone to barking and that can love a whole family, not just one person.

There really weren’t many dogs that fit those criteria. The kids each presented 3 dog ideas and the Coton was on two lists. It also looks very similar to the West Highland Terrier that I had coveted in college. Marrying my dear husband meant giving up my plan to have a little Westie.

Picking the breed was time-consuming and when we finally settled on one we thought we were done. Apparently the rest of the nation wanted a Quarantine Puppy because dog kennels everywhere were sold out and taking deposits for puppies that hadn’t been conceived yet. Coton De Tulears are rather rare anyway, so when I contacted 39 kennels in 16 different states, a few of the owners were kind enough to not outright laugh at me. I finally located a kennel with only a phone number that had a mention in an out of date directory. It was a 12-hour round trip drive, which was much better than kennels I would have had to fly to (and still had no puppies and only a waiting list). The kennel owner said her last puppy was spoken for by one of her past clients, but the family hadn’t contacted her in a month. I said I would drive up that night with cash. She called me back the next morning and said her client wanted to wait for the next litter so they could go on vacation (lucky ducks). We named him King Louie.

Why do I tell you all this? So you will be prepared if you decide to buy this breed. Kennel owners are in love with their dogs. One kennel owner had a 15-page application to adopt a puppy. One owner required a phone call to be comfortable enough to sell me a dog. Almost all owners required some sort of written statement that I would care for the dog his entire natural life or return him to the selling kennel. My family raised and trained German Shepherds for Sheriffs, Police forces and personal protection my entire childhood, but we never had restrictions like this. I was willing to jump through any hoop, because this seemed to be the only breed that met all our needs.

All my experience with German Shepherds and a random Afghan Hound did not prepare me for a Coton though. All dogs are wonderful (juries out on the Afghan Hound, but all other dogs) and they can all help smooth the rough patches in childhood, I knew that first hand. A Coton is classified as a ‘companion’ dog though. A classification that doesn’t exist on the AKC registry. After several months I understood why there was a 15-page application and why one seller called herself a ‘full-time stay at home dog mom’!

Again, all dogs are wonderful, but this breed loves everybody! I’ve caught Mr. Allergy putting his face right into Louie’s baby soft fur right after his bath (as Mr. Allergy is on his way to his own shower). Louie doesn’t resort to barking to get his way, though he does chime in when we are singing “Happy Birthday”. And he uses the dog door knob bell to tell us when he wants to go out. When I hear his little nails tap the window I know he’s ready to come back in.

This breed is well-known for the ability to walk on their hind legs. It’s the one trick we try to improve on. Any dog can be trained to do tricks, so I’m not telling you this to toot our own horn about what a great job we’ve done training Louie. We haven’t. We’ve done a terrible job training Louie. There are five of us, no consistency in hand commands, no consistency in house rules, and no consistency in daily schedules. He will mess with anything left on the ground, so I had to get him these non-tipping food and water bowls.

I had to get a Kong version of this kennel mat because he dug holes into his first two then ate the stuffing. Louie doesn’t come when you call. With the weather turning cold he doesn’t like to walk into wet grass and has had a few accidents in the house even though we thought he was potty trained. Plus he drags you all over the road when you go for a walk! Louie’s good attributes are all natural tendencies ….. I’ve used none of my dog-training experience with him. We are just reaping the benefits of his good personality.

Some of these good attributes could be a problem if a Coton doesn’t fit your lifestyle. First off, that hair! Summer time means Louie comes straight inside and sits on the air conditioner vent. A Coton grows long hair, not fur. That is a major reason he creates less allergy issues. However, you have to decide if you are going to brush him EVERY SINGLE DAY or if you are going to pay in the neighborhood of $40 every few months to get it all trimmed down into a Puppy cut. We opt for the Puppy cut, but we weren’t paying attention and he had to have his ears shaved because of matting (which hubby said looked like a slice of baloney on his head). Better to keep even the ears trimmed down if you aren’t going to spend that time every day.

The second issue is that even a really good dog is still a dog. He will scratch things, he will destroy the occasional rug, he will need walks, and he will pee on your son’s bed if his whining goes ignored. You will still have to pick up his poo on walks and if you don’t pick up your lawn pretty often it will get tracked back into your house. The vet costs a couple hundred every time you go, and you will go there more often than you would think.

The third issue is that this little 14-17 pound ball of fluff isn’t going to go mountain climbing with you. This is good if you wanted a dog who could stand being inside all day and would just want one walk a day. He might enjoy a camping trip, but he really isn’t built for long hikes. If you really, really want to take him with you, you better get something like this because you will be carrying him at some point. All little dogs are this way, but his bursts of speed might deceive you about his abilities. Yes, he can easily out run you that last block on the way home, but he will also stop on a dime and collapse down into the grass if he suddenly smells something interesting. Depending on how young and agile you are that might send you for a tumble yourself.

The fourth issue is very much a Coton issue. This goes back to his ‘companion’ designation. The Coton loves everybody, but particularly he loves his people , he wants to be with his people all the time . Most dogs are like this in a way, but the Coton takes it to a co-dependent level. The reason the breeders were so picky about who they sell to is because this dog wants his people more than anything. Louie has not touched his food all day because he didn’t want to be away from his people . I have to remind him and sometimes call him in to his food while I do laundry so he won’t be alone while he eats. When he was a puppy my daughter would sit and wait with him so he would eat. Yes we’ve totally spoiled him because we had lost hope of ever having a dog, but he is also a total delight. For us, Louie is the family’s ‘Emotional Support Animal’. [With all due respect for those who have an officially designated animal.] The Coton has earned the nickname of the clown dog for many years. It recently was also dubbed the anti-depressant dog.

In my mind, having a dog is very much part of an abundant lifestyle. The concept of homesteading can range far and wide. Depending on your money, job and geographic situation you can range all the way from ‘off the grid water harvesting’ to ‘aquaponics in a high-rise apartment’. My particular flavor is to plan for my family’s future despite what the cost is today. So yes, my hen coop and fence costs more than I would spend on organic eggs for the next five years. Yes, my greenhouse costs more than I will ever spend on tomatoes and peppers. Yes, our forest land costs more than we have ever spent on vacations. And yes, Louie costs more than we spend on toys for the kids. However, a distraught child just scooped up Louie on the way to their room. That is the value of a dog to me. Tears are expensive, and by that count Louie is a bargain.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The Best Backyard Chicken Book

This is the best ‘chicken fancier’ book I’ve ever read. Harvey has written a book that reads like a life’s work. He hasn’t held anything back for a sequel, he hasn’t added fluff to stretch the content. Decades of experience come pouring out as he offers his experiments, failures and lucky discoveries. Even though Harvey gives detailed step-by-step instructions and photos on how to properly cull a chicken, he has a deep appreciation of his ‘choks’ and relays stories like a proud pet owner.

One of my favorite stories is when he talks about “Hope, Supermama Extraordinaire” p.267. I had never heard that hens were willing to be a ‘foster parent’. Harvey shows a kind-hearted practicality when he points out that broody hens may be just as valuable if not more if they are excellent mothers. By holding onto these matriarchs of the yard, we greatly reduce the amount of work involved in bringing home a box of baby chicks from the store. Having an actual mother there with them also increases their chances of survival…there is a reason ‘Mama Hen’ is a cliche. It is not advised to take bought baby chicks outside for even short playtimes until weeks down the road when they have some feathers, but chicks with a mom will be outside on the first or second day. A mother hen has a body temperature of over 100 degrees, so baby chicks can run out and explore and then back to mom to warm up. Besides keeping them alive, a mama hen is also teaching them valuable adult chicken skills like foraging on the expert level…not just OCD scratching at the ground.

My other favorite quip from the book concerns the unusual devotion of Old English Game cocks ( roosters) p.275. They display ‘Family Man’ tendencies more likely to show up in geese. His affection for the Old English Game breed is a recurring theme, but he is a practical man who realizes that most of us start our flocks at the local farm store. You can’t even get Old English Game fowl from most hatcheries, besides the expense of rare and exotic breeds. It is a delight to see all the different breeds in his book, but the big value he brings that area is his perspective of why you might want one breed over another. He explains what you should consider based on your needs, he doesn’t just tell you what to do.

Harvey’s property sports many different types of coops as he experiments and rotates his choks around to nourish the soil. I find myself drawn to his “Chicken Hilton” which is the rich benefactor of careful design, attention to detail and restrained use of color to show a splash ofstyle. The other structures in the book are not as much a delight to the eye, but he does include several photos of other options complete with building instructions. If you pull one of these out you will appreciate his practicality again because he has reduced the number of cuts and waste while standardizing the proportions to make it as easy as possible to build a innovative structure.

Harvey doesn’t just keep chickens. He includes information about turkeys, ducks and geese for the more advanced “Flockster” who wants to branch out. Having raised geese as a child, I don’t have any intention of dealing with water fowl again. It is a small portion of the book, mostly there to show how you can intermingle your flock…which is against the grain of most chicken keeping books. If we were to move to a homestead with numerous low-quality ponds I might change my mind and pull the book out to figure out how to make it work. Probably won’t find that content (intermingling) in any other book.

Saved the best for last! Harvey spends a great amount of time talking about how to raise your flock self-sufficiently. Can I take a break here and recommend that if you get the book to get a paper version, not a Kindle? If you are unable to get an Internet connection or your phone’s battery is dead and you need to harvest a rooster are you going to just guess? It doesn’t have to be this book, but this book is excellent in every regard.

Have you ever idealized the dream of a flock being somewhat self-sufficient in feeding? Harvey’s grandmother allowed her layers to roam her entire 100-acre farm and they foraged for nearly all their own food. I won’t be doing that, but that idea of ‘closing the loop’ is a big motivator for wanting chickens. My in-sink food disposal never gets used anymore. I grab every carrot peel, apple core (pop out the arsenic seeds), crushed egg shell and leftover glob of oatmeal. They all go to the coop as ‘chicken snacks’. My feed bill is less than $6/month but Harvey could take it to $0 even if I had a bigger flock. I’m inspired.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Protecting Hens From Hawks With (Some) Style

This is the system we now use to keep the hens safe. I hope to find something even more pleasing to the eye, but this is a big upgrade. I bought the most attractive budget greenhouse that I believe could hold up to the Northern snows we get, set up just the FRAME, and spread bird netting over it. As the winter really sets in and the wind gets brutal the plan is to put the green house cover on and provide our hens a nice sunny play area…but best laid plans sometimes collapse. We’ll see what happens.

I’ve been obsessed with greenhouses for decades and own several portable versions in my basement that have never been out of the box (don’t tell my long-suffering hubby). I finally came across some designs that are scalable, portable and can stand up to the harsh winds and heavy snows we get here. I bought the building tools to make my own, but with a broken leg and approaching winter I had to compromise quickly for something that was a full kit complete with plastic cover and light enough I could move by myself. I was lucky to find a smaller and lighter version that kept the basic design that I have fallen in love with.

I made a change to the kit that was an important element of the more robust design I hope to build in the future….putting the “Ridge Board” (the long bar that goes along the roof peak) on TOP of the sidewall/rafters instead of under them. The idea is to give that extra little lift to the plastic so the snow will slide off. Again, I’ll let you know how that pans out this winter. This also gives an instant boost to the look of the frame. Instead of the ‘fast food sunroom’ look, it nudges the appearance a tiny bit closer to ‘Victorian Arch’.

This isn’t the first incarnation of this idea though. I had no idea I would even have to worry about this. When we moved the chickens from the garage to back yard they were fully feathered but still rather small and skittish. They were afraid of their own shadow the first day and wouldn’t come out of the coop to enjoy the yard unless a human stood out there with them. It was quite endearing. After two days of the young chickens being in the backyard we started hearing a hawk nearby. Even without a mother hen to teach them, the chickens instinctively went silent and scampered inside the coop. I quickly ordered some hawk netting and just spread it over the coop and tacked down the edges.

Just throwing the net over everything worked, but it was really hard to navigate. The kids found it to be a huge hassle to wrestle when they wanted to get eggs or hang out with the chickens. Then I built this ugly thing in my backyard. It’s an eyesore, but I’m not ashamed because I was just desperately trying to find something to keep them safe. You can see how much excess netting I have gathered at the edges of the play area. I wanted to figure out what would work for us and then make/get a good looking version later.

We like to be able to move the structure around so the scratching hens don’t kill hubby’s grass…but I really don’t know if that’s avoidable. With the little chunnel (chicken tunnel) made of chicken wire we are able to get the chicken yard away from the coop so netting isn’t catching on everything. That was a pain in the neck before, and didn’t allow me to move the chicken yard very far from the coop so that chickens could get fresh grass.

The chunnel was crazy easy too…just chicken wire stapled to the coop door and the greenhouse stakes that came with my greenhouse kit holding the edges down. I’m going to test all this out this winter. I’ll let you know how it turns out. I think there could be an even more attractive option out there. But if I have to choose between something looking good and something working right, I will always choose what works right and spray paint it black!

Just a note if you want to get some netting….I found choosing very confusing. There is a wide range of quality out there. You can pick up some ultra cheap ‘garden netting’ that might get you through a year depending on what kind of weather and predators you face, by the time you get just two of these small nets, you could have purchased much larger and more robust’ bird netting‘. The ‘hawk netting’ I originally purchased is much heavier than the ‘bird netting’ I’m now using in the subdivision. It was much more expensive than the ‘bird netting’ or ‘garden netting’ and should last many, many years. The bird netting I’m using already has several holes torn in it but mostly disappears from sight to create a more pleasing view. I like both and will continue to use the hawk netting out at the farm and the bird netting here in the suburbs. The Hawk Netting I bought is back in stock at the time of this writing and you can get that version here. Each opening is knotted…it’s kind of impressively heavy because it is 50’x 50′. Way bigger than what I really need here in the Suburbs, but should be perfect at the farm. There is a poultry farm seller selling a more expensive version than I got, but it looks exactly like the quality that I purchased. The much lighter weight Bird Netting I bought for this winter is not available from the same seller, but you can get what appears to be the same thing here . At 10M x 10M (about 30 feet by 30 feet) it is still a little more than I need, but maybe I’ll be glad for the extra bit later on. It calls itself heavyweight which is hilarious compared to the Hawk net which shows huge knots tied at each connection point. Holes have formed where the net caught on the greenhouse frame or where it was kicked by a snow boot at below freezing temperatures. By the way, neither of these will stop a racoon or opossum, this is just for discouraging a hawk.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.