Our Move To The Country
I think it really depends on who you ask, but to me, "the country" consists of land, animals, and slower-than-usual internet.
Back up to 2008, when I moved from NYC to Washington DC. That was a big step down for me because lots of things weren't open 24-7. In New York City, I could find nearly everything at any time of day! It might take a subway ride to get to it, but I could get it. I grew to love Washington DC, but in 2014, we moved to a suburb of Atlanta Georgia. This was a sort of in-between. It wasn't a big city because we weren't IN Atlanta. If we had been in the city, it would have been more exciting. As it stood, the suburbs were quiet. There wasn't much to do, much to eat, much to see. A drive toward the city (or the other direction) offered some interesting food and attractions. We were stuck in the middle. For me and Cameron (and Alexander and Annabelle) it wasn't quite fitting.
In the spring of 2017, tragedy struck when Cameron's dad passed unexpectedly. He lived in rural northwest Louisiana. We attended services and started considering how to move forward with his dad's land and home. It was vacant at the time. But it was half ours. Cameron and his brother inherited the land and home. We never thought to move in ourselves. But after a little while, we did start to consider the possibility. The suburbs were an in-between. Big city was GREAT. But maybe the other end of the spectrum - big country? - would be great too. The in-between wasn't working, not for us. We found things we loved, but we always missed the city life.
We prayed and chatted with folks, and ultimately we decided to move into the inherited house on the inherited land. The land was 5 acres. The house was smaller (1200 square feet compared to 1400 square feet.... compared to our previous house at 2500!). And everything was "in town".
I talked about the house in a different post. This post is about the transition to this lifestyle. We currently have a chicken coop with 6 chickens, a puppy, and are planning to start a garden. There are lots we haven't done yet, but we've started or researched them. I want to share my experiences for anyone in the in-between, for folks who want to make this transition but have questions or concerns.
The internet out here is NOT great. We thought there were 2 providers out here, a bad one and a not-as-bad one. We got the not-as-bad one, but it can take an hour or more to load a movie from our Apple TV. Sometimes Netflix streams nicely, and sometimes we just have to call it; "we'll try again tomorrow."
We recently found out about a 3rd option that may be a bit faster. The problem? They need to ground the line or something like that. I don't know what it means except that we need an electrician to come out and do something before they'll set it up. Anyway, for now we are settling for decent internet and I'm sure, in the near future, it'll get better. At least we have it out here! Before we moved, we weren't sure that we would!
GOING TO TOWN
Where we live, the closest place to get anything at all is about a 15-minute drive. That's what we call "the corner". It's a 4-way stop. One of the corners has a gas station, convenience store that has basic food items, a small restaurant (fried chicken, pizza, sandwiches, some breakfast items), the dump (more on that in a second), a Dollar General, and a bar/casino.
For actual groceries (fresh produce or good quality meat or eggs), it's an additional 15 minutes to "town". That's where there are Kroger and Brookshire's grocery stores, a bowling alley, the library, Wal-Mart, a car wash, Dunkin Donuts, Tractor Supply (for chicken and dog stuff), and a plethora of fast food restaurants.
But the real TOWN is about 10 minutes further. That's where there's a decent sized town (Shreveport Louisiana). Shreveport has a children's museum, recently opened aquarium, boardwalk (outlet mall), a few movie theaters, Whole Foods, Target, Barnes & Noble, Starbucks (plus 2 other local coffee shops that are pretty great), and plenty of other stuff. Basically if we need to go to the bank, pick up some organic chicken, get some new clothes, and go to a playground, we'd go to Shreveport, 40 minutes away.
This is highly personal; I'm sure there are some rural communities that are just minutes from a big town. And on the flip side, there are communities that are hours from anything resembling Shreveport. When we lived in Georgia, there was a corner store (gas station plus convenience grocery items) about 1 mile from our house. And in DC and New York? Just a few minutes walk to nearly anything we needed. So while this isn't that bad, it's much further than we've been used to in the past!
RECYCLING AND TRASH PICK UP
I didn't anticipate this when we moved here! But there's no trash pick up where we live in the country. It's pretty spread out out here, not a lot of neighborhoods in the suburban sense of the word. That means, of course, no recycling pickup either.
We do have THE DUMP. It's at the corner, 15 minutes from us. They have a giant trash compactor for regular ole trash. If you ask the person working at the dump on any given day, "What do I do with my plastic bottles?" they'll say to toss it in the trash and someone will probably go through it later. If your cardboard and paper materials aren't broken down, they'll tell you to just throw it in the trash and someone may go back and flatten them to recycle them later.
Our dump does accept paper and cardboard materials if they're flattened. They will accept some metals (aluminum and steel). They'll accept plastics, #1 and #2 only. That's about 75% of what we use, but it's crazy how many items are 3-7. We recycle what we can but for now, we either reuse or throw away the other plastics. There may be a place in Shreveport where we can drop off the other plastic numbers; that's on my list of things to find out. Additionally, our dump does NOT accept any glass recycling! We reuse most of our glass jars, and we haven't yet accumulated enough other glass to need to find a place for it. I've done some digging, and within our entire parish (in Louisiana we have parishes, not counties), there's not a single place that will recycle glass. I could drive to a new parish or possibly drive to Texas (we're 15-20 minutes away) to recycle the glass. That's also on my list of things to find out!
COMPOSTING AND BURN PILES
Out here in the country, a lot of folks burn some of their trash. Certain things can be burned and unless there's a burn ban (due to a lack of rain), we occasionally burn some of our trash. That's something you'd have to find out more about on your own; Cameron knows a lot more about it, and he handles it himself. I only know it's happening because I can see and smell fire in the yard.
Did you know that something like 50% of the trash in the USA is food waste? And 99% of food waste could be composted. Additionally, I think stuff like dryer lint, coffee grounds, some paper materials, dog waste, and more can be composted. I haven't dived into it yet. From what I've read, composting can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. I'm sure I'm overthinking it. I just need to get a doggone barrel and some soil and just do it. Some folks do something called vermicomposting, which is like composting except that you add worms to the mix.
This'll be quick, but one thing I'd never experienced before is getting my water from a well. It's not a well in the old-timey sense. We don't have to lean over and use a bucket attached to a rope. But our water comes from under the ground, and there's a pump system that pulls the water from under the ground. When we first moved here, we had to buy a new pump since the last one had crapped out. It was around $300 for that. Then, more recently, the water pressure was nearly non existent. When we tried fixing it, the pressure switch broke, so we had to replace that. Either way, this well is out in the open. To prevent rust, it's covered by some cloth and again by a big tarp. That's the white thing behind me in the picture. You'll see a bunch of these out here; the big white thing in someone's yard is probably where they get their water.
PESTS AND PREDATORS
One thing that is just part of living out in the country is that you'll come across a lot more critters. When you're surrounded by trees, the animals that like to live around trees will come into your yard. If you live in a suburban neighborhood you might see some animals sometimes, but they traveled a little further to get there. We regularly see raccoons, foxes, possums, hawks, and vultures (buzzards). There are dogs, cats, chickens, cows, goats, and/or horses in nearly every yard between our house and the corner.
On one hand, it's become habit to watch for snakes when we walk through our yard (to be fair, we've only seen one, and it was already dead). On the other hand, I love when I go outside at night and hear owls. In the evenings, before it's totally dark, we hear the neighbor's cows mooing. Some mornings, we hear roosters cock-a-doodle-doing. It's pretty cool, for lack of a better word.
It means we have to be extra careful about food scraps in the house. Next to nothing stays out overnight because we don't want to welcome any little rodents. When we first moved in to this house, it had been unoccupied (yet full of stuff) for 4+ months. So a few mice had found shelter here. Once we cleaned up and set a few traps (we caught only one), we haven't had any more issues.
Cameron keeps the yard mowed, which also contributes to being pest-free. Field mice need a field, and when the grass is super short, I think they become a more obvious target for birds of prey. So they move on, away from us. I could be wrong about that; maybe we've just gotten lucky. Another issue we had when we first moved in was ticks and fleas. The ticks took over the overgrown yard. A quick walk through the grass, and you literally had half a dozen ticks on you. Yuck! By keeping the grass short (and having a professional spray the area with something that was pretty toxic, I'm sure) we haven't had any more ticks in the yard.
Full disclosure, we do not have a garden yet! But I have learned a little bit about it and want to share. Here are a few quick tips I've gotten in the last few months.
Find a gardening club. There are a few around here, and I happen to be Facebook friends with someone who's in one of the groups. She shared an event one day, and I went. She wasn't even there, but I did meet some of the people in charge, people who know A LOT about Louisiana plants and just gardening in general.
Get a soil sample. Each parish (and I imagine each county, in other states) has an agriculture organization. I contacted them, and one of the guys in charge volunteered to come out to our house and take the soil sample for us, so we'd do it right. The other option is that they'll send you a soil sample kit, and you send the soil back. They analyze it at their lab and send you back the results. You'll find out if your soil needs nitrogen or phosphorus or potassium or salt or whatever. I don't remember all of them. And different plants need different soils. MOST soils are not garden-ready. You have to add something to them.
The other option is raised beds. You can find loads of tutorials about how to build raised garden beds, but it's something I want to jump into. I think it will be easier and prettier than trying to plant directly into the ground. I like things organized so rows and columns and boxes sounds like more my style.
Find a planting calendar for your state or region. Louisiana has a planting guide online that tells me the best times to plant which fruits and vegetables. You can find out which ones to plant in the same bed; like, you may plant potatoes for a few months and once they're done, you'd put spinach in that same bed because they help each other out. I MADE THAT UP. I can't remember any actual examples! I've got a whole book of this info too. I'd recommend it actually. It's called The Backyard Homestead.
Finally look into a rain barrel watering system. You set rain barrels up at the ends of your beds (or rows) and let the rain water slowly water your garden. It accumulates and then waters them slowly. Here's more about that.
This is a big jump from the last section, but I want to talk about chickens. We have 6 chickens. They are Iso Browns. The tag at the Tractor Supply store said ISO Brown, so maybe the ISO stands for something. I usually just refer to them as Browns. I've learned A LOT about chickens, but I still consider myself a newbie. If you're reading this as your beginner guide to chickens, I think you'll learn a little something, but for more info, I'd highly recommend one of three groups on Facebook: Chickens Chickens Chickens, Backyard Chickens, or Chicken Butts and Crazy Clucks. I haven't asked many questions, but I've learned from other people's questions.
I'm going to start from the beginning. There are two main types of chickens: those that lay a bunch of eggs and those that grow quickly and are used for their meat. Some breeds can do both; they can be layers OR meat birds. But if you're raising a bird to lay eggs, when it finishes laying, it won't make for good chicken meat. It will be tough. They call it a soup chicken. Meat birds are typically culled (that's what it's called when you kill a chicken) at just a few months old, some as young as about 8 weeks.
Egg layers grow more slowly and won't start laying eggs until 15-24 weeks, depending on breed, climate, diet, and so on. In the colder months, they'll lay fewer eggs. An egg laying chicken does not need a rooster to lay eggs. A rooster will fertilize the eggs if you plan to hatch and raise more babies. But if you just want eggs for food, you can get girls only. The babies we got (called pullets) had a 99% chance of being girls. You can't tell gender when they're a few days old, so you just have to hope for the best. I didn't want to bring in a rooster because of a few reasons. I'll get to that in a second.
You can buy pullets for $1-2 each. A larger bird that's about to lay eggs (I believe that's called adolescent) will cost you more money. We decided to get babies because (a) why not jump right in? and (b) I wanted them to be around our kids from a young age so they wouldn't try to peck our kids to death. You see, hens have something called a pecking order. They need a leader among them, and nature decides. One of them will peck the others, and that is the one the others will respect. When food comes, the hen at the top of the order will eat first. If you open the door to the coop to let them go outside, the top hen will go first. It's just how things run. Because of that, if you try to add more birds to your existing flock, the hens will often try to peck the newbies, sometimes to death. You have to keep them separate a while and slowly get them used to each other. We haven't had to do this but maybe one day.
When you get the birds, you can ask for help at the store. But generally, you need a place for them to sleep (a big plastic box is what we used, with at least 1 square foot per baby bird), a heat lamp (that's debatable), pine shavings or just shredded newspaper, grower food, electrolytes and probiotics (to add to their water, for energy and digestion), and something to put the food and water in. Not everyone uses a heat lamp. I mean, you figure, chickens have been raised for centuries and heat lamps are a new thing. Of course, mama hens would sit on their babies to keep them warm, so the heat lamp takes the place of that, I guess. Either way, I am a beginner and put up a heat lamp.
For the first 8 weeks, we kept them in our house. After a while, their plastic box got to be a little small for them. We decided to move them to their coop.
If you buy babies, that means you have about 8 weeks to build your coop. You don't have to have a coop already built when you buy them. A coop is never going to be 100% secure, but you can do every little thing possible to protect your flock by building a very secure coop. If you can afford it, find some plans online from a reputable chicken website and do it right. We already had a coop on our land when we moved here. It was 20+ years old, so it needed a lot of fixing up. But it was here. As a rule, you want to give your birds about 2 square feet per bird. Ours is 150 square feet for 6 birds, but that's what we had to work with. And it gives us room to grow.
Your coop can be built off the ground, on stilts. If you build it on the ground (like ours), you want to reinforce the sides with hardware cloth buried at least 18 inches deep. Bury it all the way around to keep digging predators from digging all the way in. We had something attempt to dig into the coop one time. It tried all along one whole side of the coop; it dug about 6 inches down in several places but gave up. The deepest holes were right on the other side of the spot where the chickens sleep!
You need nesting boxes as well that are off the ground so they don't get extra dirty. You can look up DIY nesting boxes and, chances are, you've got "nesting boxes" already. You also want roosting poles/sticks, some places for the birds to perch. They sleep up on poles/perches usually. As far as flooring, you can use pine shavings, sand (construction sand, not playground sand), or straw. Apparently cedar shavings are not good for chickens.
Some people put artificial light or heat in their coops. We've opted out of those. It doesn't get THAT cold in Louisiana. In places where it's very cold, some people put warm poles for their girls to roost on. Chickens are very good at maintaining their body temps, so you don't have to worry too much. Another possible problem with artificial heat is that if the electricity goes out, the coop temp will drop quickly, and that can cause the chickens to go into shock. Some people like to expose their birds to a set number of "daylight" hours each day. The reason is so the birds can lay a consistent number of eggs throughout the year. We're just getting eggs for ourselves, so we don't have to meet any sort of demand from customers. We're letting our girls lay when they want.
As far as maintaining the coop, you can clean out the poop pretty regularly (weekly or so), or you can try what we're trying: the deep litter method. Basically you use a LOT of pine shavings or sand, and you rotate the flooring regularly instead of replacing it. It somehow creates some natural warmth, fertilizer, and it doesn't smell bad even though it may seem like it would.
Moving onto the run! The run is the outside part. If you want your birds to free range, you wouldn't really have a run. You'd just let them wander your yard. I think people who free range do also have a run for when they'd like to keep their birds safely "locked up" outside. We have a run since we have a lot of birds of prey out here. A hawk would love a chicken for lunch.
The run should be as big as you can make it, but I think the rule is 10 square feet per bird. Ours is about 150 square feet. You want to create a fence tall enough for you to walk through comfortably. We used chicken wire for most of it but with a double layer of hardware cloth around the bottom edges, also buried about 18 inches. NOTE: Chicken wire is made to keep chickens IN, not to keep other animals out!! A raccoon can apparently tear straight through chicken wire like it is no big deal. So that shouldn't be your only sort of protection against predators. For the top of the run, most folks opt for some sort of bird netting draped across. If you want, you can use sheet metal (the sort with grooves) or a plastic version of sheet metal so that light can come in. If you put that up, be sure to slant it so that water runs off and doesn't come pouring in the sides of the run.
You should put some sort of flooring there too so that it's easier to keep clean. From what I have heard, you want to keep your birds' food in the run part, not in the coop. And you can put water in both places or just the coop. The food and water should be hanging so they don't make a big mess of them. If the food is on the ground, they'll just walk through it. There are a lot of hacks and DIY options for this if you want to make your own chicken feeder and waterer!
The last thing I'll mention is that you want a door that connects the coop to the run. The coop should be the most secure thing. The run should be secure but it's not AS big of a deal. Predators are more likely to try to break in at night when the birds are asleep, and they'll sleep in their coop, not the run. Make sure the doors to the coop (the one you use and the one the birds use) are totally secure. You can't bury the bottom of the door like you do the walls of the coop; what we did was dig a big hole along the bottom of both doors and fill them with cement. A digging predator would not be able to dig through or even around the amount of cement we buried. Any holes that are on the coop can be covered with chicken wire or hardware cloth. Better safe than sorry. And don't worry if it doesn't look cute. Safety is number one!
I won't talk much about roosters since I don't have any. They are more aggressive and do need girls around. Many roosters don't like having another rooster in his flock. Roosters will protect their hens and warn them of predators. If a rooster finds and kills a mouse, he'll bring it to his girls instead of eating it himself. Because they are so protective they can sometimes be aggressive with people, especially little people and people they don't know. Like with most animals, if you raise him with firm boundaries and with love, he'll be less likely to be aggressive. That said, I think it's just in their biology a lot of the time, and you have to show your dominance. Like I said, I don't know much! Just what I've read in some of those Facebook groups!
We're still learning. And I'm sure I've gotten some info wrong. But for now, this is what I know and where we are. I'll pass along more info as we live out here longer!
I really enjoy it. I wasn't sure that I would. I mean, my nearest latte is 30 minutes away, and that's just a Starbucks one! For a decent one, we're talking 40 minutes. WHOA. But that's a non issue. I have my little espresso machine, and I've gotten used to using it 1-2 times a day.
I like the long walk to check the mail. I like that I can go outside without shoes. I like that I can sit on the back porch and laugh loud without worrying that someone will be bothered. I like that I can run far, in my own yard, and when I get tired, I'll still be in my yard. I like that it's SO dark out here at night. It's dark and quiet. I like that we are sort of living really close to a bunch of animals, even though we don't see them that much. And even though it does take a while to get to places, it's a bit simpler here, and that's sort of nice.
Oh and get yourself some rubber boots! I've heard Muck is a great brand. They were too pricey for us, so we got some cheaper ones at the Tractor Supply store. Either way they're great for walking around the yard and checking on the chickens!
The biggest plus to this new life is that Cameron is home all the time. Because of everything that led to this big move, he's able to work totally from home. EVEN with slow internet. Sometimes he has to go into town to upload a big file. But usually he can get it all done here. And he gets to eat breakfast with us. And lunch. And dinner.
If you have other questions or want me to share more about something, add it in a comment or email me - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!