Category Archives: Animals

Plant based diet

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I’m going to talk food for a bit… but not the foraging, home grown food of my dreams. I’m going to talk about plant based diets.

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Food Choices which examines the damage to our health and climate that modern diets are causing. It was really fascinating, I knew that vegetarian and vegan diets were better for the environment but I never knew they were better for our health. It is definitely worth a watch if this is something you are interested in or want to know more about!

I have been vegetarian for most of my life and used to raise two happily vegetarian kids, but guilt won over this last year and I allowed them to eat meat, even started buying and cooking it for them. After watching this documentary I started a conversation with them about healthy eating and we agreed as a family to adopt a more plant based diet.

The hardest shift towards veganism for me is dairy… I love dairy! I have cheese, butter and milk as part of most meals and I love it…. the girls were equally worried! So we agreed to transition slowly, but also accept that we would eat what we wanted at times but only as a treat.

So how are we going to structure this shift to keep us on track and focused but without pushing it too far or too quickly?

Our plan is structured over 4 weeks:

  • Week 1 – Breakfast
  • Week 2 – Breakfast and lunch
  • Week 3 – Breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Week 4 – Breakfast, lunch, dinner, pudding and snacks

The aim is to eat predominantly plant based foods, trying to cut out processed foods and sugar and generally eat more healthy. I strongly recommend watching that documentary to see what I mean by this. However I will allow the odd naughty treat once in a while, as eating it rarely is better than always in my opinion and we do love them naughties!

I will post my successes and challenges each week including my old diet and new diet and will welcome any feedback and tips along the way!

 

Our Pond Building Adventure

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On New Years Eve, me and my daughters had a wonderful day embracing and caring for nature. I had been reading up on permaculture principles, mostly in preparation for when we do manage to obtain our own land but also to try and use some in our current rented house.

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My research pointed out to pond building to provide a habitat for wildlife particularly frogs who would also eat garden pests such as slugs and bugs.

The total project cost £30 as I felt that it was better to invest in a good pond liner for this project and I see that as quite a long term investment. I’m not really sure how you would do it for free.

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Me and my kids set to work digging a hole, aiming for about 50cm deep but with sloping edges so frogs can get in and out of the pond easily. Then we removed any sharp objects like stones from the edges, lined the pond with something to prevent punctures. Old carpet is good but we didn’t have any so we used old bed sheets. Then put the pond liner down and anchor it with some stones whilst you fill it with some water. Simply edge it with stones and voila a pond.

WP_20151231_004We are going to try and get some water lillies from a friends pond and added our pet goldfish who enjoyed the freedom from the tank and is loving his new home!

All in all it was a great project and I think I will plan a pond in every future garden from now on! There’s just so many benefits! It’s like a beautiful, natural pesticide that protects rather than destroys wildlife.

Chicken Keeping: Routine

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So I have shared a few posts about looking after chickens over the last few weeks, but I think it’s about time I told you the day to day caring of chickens. Being frank they’re really easy to care for!

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Each morning I get up and let the chickens out, feed them, refill their water and collect any eggs. I also will have a quick look at them to make sure they seem well. They prefer to come out as soon as it is light so I alter the time I let them out as much as I can depending on the time of year.

If I am at home, I like to come out and give them treats in the middle of the day like scrap from the garden (weeds etc.) to munch on or a bit of corn, but if I’m at work I leave some of this for them in the morning.

In the evening, I simply shut them back up and I used to bring in any feeders for them. These days though, I tend to just scatter the food on the floor as mine used to knock their feeders over anyway.

Each week, I give them a good clean using Smite spray and renew their wood shavings. I give their containers a good clean and then refill their grit containers if needed. I tend to have a quick look around their run and coops as well to make sure there aren’t any holes or signs of digging anywhere too.

This is generally the maintenance that I follow with my chickens. As you can see it is very easy to do and doesn’t take much time for their general care, but as you come to love them you will find yourself lingering to have a bit of a chat with them too… or maybe that just my nutty self!

Backyard Chickens: What you need

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So getting started with keeping chickens is going to require some equipment. If you are looking to purchase all of this new (which I don’t recommend) you could be spending hundreds of pounds. Makes your first egg more costly than caviar I know! But it is worth it, because other than the initial investment, they are actually quite cheap to keep.

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But of course, I don’t recommend you go out and buy everything new as this can be very costly. Often people on freecycle are offering their old chicken coops, feeders, etc. for free so you may get lucky on there, but if not there are lots of second options to buy on places like Gumtree and Ebay if you can’t get it on freecycle.

But that is all well and good, but what do you need?

Housing

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Chicken Keeping: Raining It’s Pouring

The main thing you are going to need is somewhere to keep your chickens, whether they are to be completely free range or to be kept in a run, your chickens will need some form of housing.

The house needs to be ventilated, protect them from the weather, keep them safe from preditors, have perches for hens to sleep on and a nestbox for them to lay their eggs in.

You will need at least 1 sq ft per bird, but in my opinion the more space you can offer the better. Try and think about how easy it will be to clean, keep them safe from preditors and ease of egg collection when considering the ideal house for your chickens.

I went with a wooden coop as I’m reluctant to purchase plastic products and they wooden ones look better. But be warned the wooden coops are more prone to red mite where as the plastic coops are near enough resistant.

Run / Fencing

WP_20150828_015You need to keep  your chickens safe from preditors. An effective way to do this is to put up fencing or build a run. I made my run out of wooden sticks / posts, chicken wire and netting. When I get my land my chickens will be much more free range but my house is also by a busy road so I keep them in there for protection from that as I don’t agree with wing clipping.

Consider where you will place your run as chickens are good at creating mud pools. I know this from experience, but I gave them a patch of my garden that was full of sandy soil where nothing was growing to scratch about in.

Again the more space you can provide in my opinion the better for your chickens health.

Note in order to be fox proof fencing needs to be at least 6ft high and partially buried. I overcame this through using netting instead as a roof on our run.

If you haven’t got a dusty soil in their run, then provide them with a dust bath in their run as this helps keep mites away.

Feeders

You will also need somewhere to provide your food and water for your chickens.

chicken feedersI did get feeders, but a lot of the feeders on the market aren’t weather proof and the alternatives are really expensive. I’m yet to find the weatherproof options on freecycle. Now, I mostly just scatter the food on the ground during the winter and check every now and then to make sure they have enough.

As for water, I recommend the gravity water options, they’re easy to fill and my chickens like to knock bowls of water over. They don’t tend to do that with these.

Medicine, Cleaners, Food, etc.

I recommend you purchase the following:

  • Gentian Violet & Antiseptic Spray – This dyes and cleanses a wound. The dye prevents other chickens pecking the wound. (Looking for more natural alternatives)
  • Smite – This should be used to disinfect your coop as it prevents red mite. (Looking for more natural alternatives)
  • Pellets – I use organic pellets (80% of diet)
  • Corn – I use organic (20% of diet)
  • Garden scraps – I supplement their diet with scraps from my mums allotment and my garden.
  • Grit – This is small stones and oyster shells that they use for calcium and to grind down their food.
  • Woodshavings – to put in their coop

I think that’s the main bits really, other than the actual chicken of course! If you have any specific questions, feel free to get in touch or comment below.

The Joys of Chicken Keeping

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WP_20150828_015Back in the summer, me and my daughters welcomed a couple of chickens into the family. We got them to provide ourselves with a local source of protein.

I’m a vegetarian (my children are… mostly) and a lot of the protein sources I was using were heavily processed, packaged and shipped. I hadn’t been a huge egg eater until this point and then as part of my eco-friendly ideals I decided that eggs should really form one of our main sources of protein.

I hated the factory farming and the uncertainty about the conditions the chickens from shop bought eggs were living in and I thought well you can’t really get a more local source of protein than eggs from your own backyard can you?

So I attended a chicken keeping course (details below) and a few months later we went to collect our chickens. They are called Melody and Maisy. They are hybrid chickens so are really good layers. They were rescued from a family friend, who kindly donated them to us for free.

I was surprised by how great chickens are as pets let alone anything else!

They make some lovely noises when I go past them or come home and they’re not too noisy to annoy the neighbors thankfully. I don’t have a cockerel so that also reduces the noise.

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Chicken Keeping: Drying Melody After a Bath

Some of my family members were surprised to know that hens can still lay eggs without cockerels. In fact I personally prefer these eggs as a vegetarian as I know the egg will not create an actual chick.

But also, they are surprisingly tame and have brilliant personalities. Maisy is our naughty hen who likes to try and escape the run as often as she can and gets in the way whenever you try and clean her out. Melody on the other hand, is nice and laid back.
WP_20150828_017They both produce eggs nearly every day. Between the two of them I generally will come out with about 10-12 eggs a week. I give half to my parents and the other half I keep for us.

Maintenance and care is really easy, they’re fun to watch, they produce eggs and you know exactly where they come from and how the chickens have been treated. What more could you want?

I will write a little bit more about the general care and tips for chicken keeping in future posts but for now I just wanted to introduce our lovely pair of chickens and recommend that everyone should get some!

And don’t worry this lovely twosome have a very clear place in the FreEco Bus Plans!

The chicken keeping course I attended was at Bank View Farm

Where to start???

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So, I’ve decided to make my dream of creating the FreEco Bus Small Holding a reality… but where on earth do I start???

Honestly… I have no idea!

questionsAt the moment I have a rush of questions filling my head… How on earth do I convert an old double decker bus into a family home? Do I need planning permission to site the FreEco Bus on land? What about power, water, warmth, budget? What do I need to be self-sufficient?

But the most burning question of all is… Where do I start?

There is so much to sort out, so much planning, learning and preparation involved. I really just don’t know where to begin with it.

I’ve opened up a Twitter account in the hope that someone may have some useful suggestions on there and I sent an email to a bloke who played a large part in inspiring me to consider the FreEco Bus a legitimate possibility… I’ll post more on that later… If any of you have any tips then please let me know!

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For now though… here is a list of questions that I am considering:

  1. FreEco Bus Requirements – What do I want? Already converted/blank canvas/partly converted? How old? Driveable or not? Size? Design? Can I get one free? If not, can I get one for less than £2000?
  2. FreEco Bus Design – What living space do I need? How much storage do I need? Floor plan design? Retro/boho style (I know so practical right)?
  3. FreEco Bus Conversion – How do I convert a bus into a home? Electricals? Plumbing? Insulation? Walls? How will I install a bathroom and kitchen? How much time will it take? Can I learn the required skills to do most of this work myself? Do I know anyone who can help? How much would it cost if I need to hire laborers?
  4. Sourcing Materials – What do I need? How likely is it to source the required materials for free? Can I get the majority of things needed second hand? Where will I get them from?
  5. Land – Planning permission? How much land do I need? Where does it need to be? What facilities does it need on site or nearby? Type of land such as woodland / field? Should I buy or rent? How much will it cost? Can I make an arrangement with a local farmer/land owner?
  6. Budget / Time – How much is it all likely to cost in the worst case scenario? Can I afford to start this project? Have I got enough time to offer?
  7. Self-Sufficiency – What do I need to be self-sufficient? What level of sufficiency can I realistically manage? Fully self-sufficient / mostly / partly? What skills will I need? What equipment will I need? What can I grow? Planning a yearly crop? What about the food gap? Do I have the time to maintain the crops? What about livestock? Would I get more chickens? Would I get goats? What about their upkeep and requirements?
  8. Power, energy and water – What will my source of water, energy and power be? Can I get land with a nearby stream? Can I make good use of grey water and rain water? Would I want to be plugged in or collect water? Source of power and energy? What are the limits of solar panels? Storage of power? How much will they cost? What fuel source will I use for cooking and warmth? What are the environmental impacts of all of this and what can I do to improve this?
  9. Skills – Can I do this? How can I learn? Who can help?
  10. Downsizing and impact on family – What will the impact of downsizing our living space have on the children? Would we get on each others nerves? What about rainy and cold days? Will my children benefit and be happy with these changes?

There are probably much more than this scrabbling around my brain right now. But having a list like the above written down has made me feel like I’ve got a bit of a to do list going and I can gradually work my way through each question at a time.

I guess to begin with, the main priority with this project is to create a low cost eco home for my family… so I guess figuring out the land and the bus requirements would be a logical place to start… What do you think?

thinkingI don’t feel like this project should be rushed as I want to enjoy the journey and I think that if I take it slowly my family will adapt to this new way of life gradually rather than being thrown in at the deep end. I think it will also help us to learn and develop the skills needed to maintain this new way of life for us.

So here’s to taking one question at a time!