We had unexpected new chickens. My oldest son, Bill, called to say that his father-in-law had 12 heavy laying hens that he was given in the spring and he didn’t want to winter them. And because they laid so well and were such pets, he wondered if I would give them a home. I already have a dozen hens, but decided to take Don up on his offer. Our old chicken coop is only 6’x8′ and not big enough for 12 more hens. So we hurriedly built a “this and that” chicken coop out of material from the dump and leftovers from our house. It “ain’t pretty” but it’s weather tight and today I put in the final door. Of course I was working alone and the door fell on me once, nearly getting the saw in the process. And the new tom turkey escaped and I spent an hour running him back and forth before I could catch him and return him to the coop. But I got her done. Puff pant, pant.

Yesterday I built an outside door and a big nest box that David (thank God!) helped me hang. It’s built out of 2″x12″ lumber, so it’s HEAVY.

So our new hens are singing and scratching around in the shavings. Now I’ve just got to catch our “old” hens and put them in there too. But those I’ll catch at night, off the roosts. Much better than the turkey! Now if I can just learn all their names. The only one I know now is “Cher”!

Readers’ Questions:

Stressed out hen

I’m having a bit of a problem with my first flock of chickens. I have 5 (1 rooster, 4 hens) Plymouth Rock Barred bantams. I got them in April when they were two days old. Oh, and by the way, I live in Northern California. One of the hens recently won’t come out of the house. She hasn’t been laying any eggs for a week now and seems physically okay, but she barely eats or drinks at the moment and has a “tentative” cluck, like she is worried, or something. I picked her up and brought her out and she seemed okay, but then she went back into the house after a 1/2 hour with the other chickens. There was a traumatic event around the time this started happening where some animals (possum) got some eggs one night – do you think it could be stress? And if not, do you have any other ideas as to what she is stressed about? She seems spooked, for lack of a better word.

Samay Israel
Novato, California

You could sure be right about the stress thing. Provided that whatever got into the coop to eat the eggs can not get in again, she should recover in a few weeks. You can tempt her to eat by giving her “goodies” such as bread crusts, whole corn, sunflower seeds, etc. Hopefully, she’ll find that the varmits won’t “get” her and she’ll have a complete recovery. — Jackie

Wringer washing machine

Do you know a source to purchase (Or easily make) an old style roller/wringer washing machine?
I’ve done a Google search and found some really wacky home made ones that would just not be practical at all. I am already drying outdoors and would love to have a way to reduce energy and water use even more. But I am not ready to totally tub and board it.

Lauren Paul
Magnolia , Texas

I wouldn’t really advise making a wringer washer; it’s too labor intensive when there are a lot of old, useable machines out there. I got mine from the dump. The only thing wrong with it was someone had cut the plug off it! That was four years ago, and I’m washing clothes with it tonight. Put up a few notices around town, in your local free shopping paper and tell everyone you know you are wanting one. I’m sure you’ll pick one up much cheaper than if you bought it off of e-bay. You also might try your nearest craigs list, as you never know what you’ll find there! Wringer washers are very water saving, which is one reason I use one. They also get clothes much cleaner. In Montana, I washed outdoors all summer and enjoyed it very much. — Jackie

Making sweetened condensed milk and canning pastrami

Two questions: I know you can make Sweetened Condensed Milk that tastes like “Eagle Brand Milk” but can you also can it? I have had good results in canning fresh milk and was wondering about the other. Also, I have purchase about 10#s of beef pastrami which is currently in the freezer but want to know if this also can be canned? If possible, How? Thank you very much for all you have done.

Joni Warren
Canyon City, Oregon

I’ve never canned homemade sweetened condensed milk. Yet. You can home can your pastrami. Just cut it into slices to suit you, pack them into wide mouth pint jars, with the top off. Then place the jars in a roasting pan full of water up to the shoulders of the jar and heat until a thermometer in a center jar, between the meat, reads 170 degrees. Then quickly put hot, previously simmered lids on the jars, tighten the rings down firmly tight and put them into a hot (not pressurized!) canner and process for 75 minutes. — Jackie

Heirloom pumpkins and sunflowers

First let me say that I recently received my copy of Starting Over and it is great. I’m usually not the type to re-read books but I can already tell that just like your magazine articles, I’ll be referring to the book often. (I’ve already tried the jerky recipe you give after telling about David’s first deer and even though I only got a couple small pieces I can say it was very tasty!)

I noticed that you said you had some of the Hopi Pale Gray seeds and would like to get just a few to start a seed crop for so I could grow some to harvest in a couple of years. I have started picking up small quantities of heirloom seeds so that I’m keeping costs down but will be growing my seed inventory so I can grow enough to harvest at the next season from the seeds I collect the first year. This is going to be a great test of my patience but I know it will be worth it.

A question I have is about heirloom pumpkins and sunflowers. I emailed Seed Dreams and received their seed list but I’m not familiar with the varieties and thought you may be able to suggest a pumpkin and sunflower variety that would be fun for my daughter to grow in her part of the garden.

Thank you for being a hero of mine.

Marlana Ward
Mountain City, Tennessee

Hero? Me? Wow, how humbling! While not exactly an heirloom variety, I’ll bet your daughter would LOVE Atlantic giant pumpkins! They’re huge! Just don’t grow them the same year you grow Hopi Pale Grey squash; they will cross. Or you might grow old-timey flat pumpkins. They are a C. pepo and won’t cross with your Hopi Pale Grey squash. I like Arikara and Hopi black dye sunflowers, although any sunflowers are great!!! Once you start saving your own seeds, you’ll be hooked. It is just so much fun. And look at all the money you’ll be saving, while preserving heritage at the same time. — Jackie

Cooking an old chicken

I have some older chickens and some younger ones. I want to thin the flock and take out some of the older less useful hens. What is the best way to cook an older hen. Some of the roosters that we have already eaten were very tough and almost inedible. I do not want to waste all of the meat that is tough. Is there a way to pressure cook the birds to make them tender?

Kathy Rayl
Concord, California

Yes, pressure cooking definitely tenderizes chickens. In fact, I can up all my tough old birds, including mixed bantam roosters that are older than sin. I skin them, cool down the carcass overnight, then quarter them and pop the meat into my stockpot to simmer until the meat is falling off the bone. I remove the pot from the stove and let it cool down to lukewarm and I can handle the meat without burning my hands. I debone the meat, then can up the broth and meat together in quart jars. This makes the BEST chicken and dumplings, chicken and noodles and other yummy chicken based meals. And no one knows they were old, tough birds! — Jackie

Kerosene heaters

With the economy and the election, I am somewhat fearful. I thought that you guys had some articles on emergency heaters (kerosene) in case the electricity goes out.

John E. Harper
Peninsula, Ohio

Where kerosene USED to be an economical fuel for heating, it sure isn’t anymore! Ouch! Boy has it gone up in price. Now I’d advise buying small propane heaters, instead. The Big Heater Buddy is UL approved for indoor use, and will keep you and your pipes from freezing. Or better yet, have a direct vent propane heater installed on a wall of your house. They aren’t “cheap” but will work without electricity and propane is MUCH cheaper than kerosene today. We have one in Mom’s room, along with my kitchen wood range and the new wood stove out in our new addition that I built mainly so we could add more wood heat in the house. I could see the writing on the wall. We have lots of wood! — Jackie

Buying corn to grind

Can you give me a good source to buy corn to grind for bread? We have a big deer problem this year no corn to grind. Also, where do you get your dehydrated cheese,butter, and eggs.

I just subscribed to Backwoods Home and really love it. I have been a real backwoods homesteader for over 20 years and love all the canning,preserving,and tips.

Eunice Harvey
Mouth of Wilson , Virginia

Do you have a Sam’s Club in the area? You can buy 50# sacks of popcorn there very reasonably. And popcorn grinds very nicely for cornbread! I just bought two sacks, myself to last until we can get up and growing dry corn, ourselves. You know…new garden thing! We’ve got the deer problem, too. But hunting season is right around the corner, so that’s a two edged sword! — Jackie

Homesteading in Alaska

I know from your articles that you did not recommend Alaska as a future homestead, but I don’t remember why. Could you enlighten me? We are desperate to get out of California and would appreciate any info you could pass along.

Kay Williams
Placerville, California

Alaska is a great place. But we decided against it for a couple of reasons. First, we like to be isolated from other people. In many parts of Alaska, most of the private land that is 4×4 accessible is right next to other private land, next to other private land, on a major highway. Even the fly-in only land is in remote State subdivisions, in most cases. And the price of accessible land is NOT cheap. Nor is it cheap to get to Alaska or live there. We would have done it if we could have found the right land at a price we could have afforded. — Jackie


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