Pressure canning

Your book says to use 13 pounds on the gauge for my altitude. I have been canning at 15 pounds on the gauge. I also have a weight and it makes the same amount of noise at 13 as at 15 pounds. Which is correct to use, 13 or 15 on the gauge? I did have my gauge tested before using it.

Erica Kardelis
Helper, Utah

If the instructions for your altitude say 13 pounds, this is correct. But if you can at two pounds more pressure, that’s just fine, too. — Jackie

Raising chickens

So far we have our house, garden, berry bushes, and small orchard. I was excited about getting chickens this Spring. I started researching. I am overwhelmed. Everyone thinks their way is the best. Special bedding, separate shoes to wear to prevent disease, the list goes on. Please help me with the following:
1) Our winters are as cold as yours, just not for as long. Last summer we had 3 weeks of over 100 degrees (real temp). Which breed could handle these fluctuations the best? The lists of cold weather chickens are just names to me, sorry, I have no idea what to get.
2) One never sees the insides of coops. There has to be form or function to the insides.
3) How far away from the house should the coop be?
4) What do you use for bedding? And how do you replenish it?
5) What is the best flooring material? Wood or cement?
6) How do you clean out the coop? We do not have any machinery yet. Do you just scoop with a shovel? Is there an easier way? (I’m getting older.)
7) I have seen the idea of a movable coop. What would the downside be of making one of those?
8) How important is it to spend time with the chickens to tame them?

J from Missouri

The very good news is that it is very easy to successfully raise chickens! For a whole lot of help on the cheap, pick up the BHM’s handbook, Chickens: A Beginners handbook. It answers a lot of your questions, plus a whole lot more that I can’t cover on the blog. But to answer some of your concerns: the inside of the coop is basically a room with roosts on one end (usually away from the door, as they do take up quite a bit of roof). Roosts are simply rounded poles nailed up, ladder fashion, about 18 inches apart, with the “ladder” being tilted toward the wall. This lets all the birds roost, yet not poop on each other. On one side of the coop, there should be nest boxes. I made mine from scrap lumber. They are 12×12 inches. The front is open so the hens can go in to lay. Mine is a bank of nests, five in all. You should have one box for about every 5-7 hens so everyone has a box when they want to lay. Too few boxes and the hens try to crowd in with another hen and then some eggs often break, leading to egg eating. There should be a pole or board along the front so the hens can fly up and walk along it to choose a box. The nests should be just below eye level, so you can easily bend to look in the boxes and remove eggs. A coop should have at least one window for sunlight.

It doesn’t matter where the coop is. They don’t smell and chickens aren’t noisy unless you choose to have a rooster. I use wood shavings for bedding and just add more all summer. I clean the coop each spring and fall and add all fresh bedding, letting it build up in the meantime.

Either wood or cement will work; mine has a dirt floor, which also works. (See, I told you chickens were easy.) I clean the coop with a scoop shovel. The shavings and dry chicken manure is very light and easy to handle.

Movable coops, or chicken tractors, are really meant to be a temporary — usually summer — arrangement. Usually the coops are not warm enough for winter and are often not large enough.

You can spend as much time with the chickens as you want. We’ve had pet chickens we could pick up and enjoyed petting. But most of ours now are not that tame and that’s okay, too. They still are easy to work around, even though we can’t pick them up easily.

Oh, J, your winters are far from as cold as ours! Here in northern Minnesota, we have weather far below zero for weeks on end, usually reaching -35 or -40, and we also get some hot weather in the summer. The good news for you is that you can raise any breed(s) of chickens that appeal to you! Do take into consideration just what you want chickens for (meat, eggs, pets, or a combination). Pick up a couple chicken hatchery catalogs and take a look. Of course, all sound perfect, but it’ll give you something to look at and lots of information.

Chickens are like most other homestead animals and livestock/poultry; give them a warm, ventilated building with good food, water, and reasonable care and they’ll do just fine. No need for special shoes or disinfecting! And remember that I’m here to answer any of your questions as you go along! — Jackie


  1. My half a dozen hens live in a chicken tractor (moveable pen). My nest box is a Rubbermaid tote with a side cut out and straw in the wintertime. I keep a tarp on the north and west sides for winter protection. A third of the pen has a tarp cover to protect from rain and snow. Roast is a 1 x 2. I move my hens around the yard to keep the hens on fresh grass and to keep them from smelling.

    I live in zone 6a. Lows to -10, highs 100+. I don’t provide any more protection than described. I buy dual-purpose hens also called heavy breeds because my hens don’t get pampered. The dual-purpose hens aren’t as delicate as the hens that are bred to be laying machines.

    Unless you are wanting chicks I wouldn’t buy a rooster. With a small group of hens in a confined area the rooster will tear up the backs of the hens breeding and then you have to deal with the hens pecking at the wounds. Also roosters tend to be aggressive, not fun when they are trying to spur you while you are try to feed, water and gather eggs.

  2. We live in Texas and have temperatures over 100 degrees for months in the summer, mild springs and autumns, and winters that fluctuate from 70 degrees to as low as zero on occasion. Buffs, Black Astrolorpes, Barred Rocks, and Red Sex-links all continue to lay for us. They do slow down in winter and when molting. We like these breeds because they lay big brown eggs. Americaunas are pretty and lay blue-green eggs. Look at Ideal Poultry’s website. They are also on FB. Their chicks are very healthy and arrive in super good condition. Their literature will help you decide on which breed is best for you. I like an assortment, because they are so pretty. I agree that poultry raising is not nearly as complicated as some would have you to believe.

  3. This was our first year raising chickens. Half were layers & half meat birds. One problem we had was gnats causing so much stress on our young birds they piled up on each other and half of our flock died. One day they were fine, the next day was warm and the spring gnats were bad. I went to the coop to feed them in the afternoon ( they were still young and were fed twice a day)and discovered about a third of them piled in a corner dead. The live ones were running around & shaking their heads like crazy. Several days later had the same problem and lost some more. Finally found out what the problem was when I called my local feed store. They had lost some of their also. We purchased some dairy spray and sprayed down the coop every day or so till the gnats subsided and that took care of the problem. Hope this helps.

  4. J,

    I have raised poultry for years. We raise birds for meat and birds for eggs. Let me tell you from experience, it’s not nearly as hard as some books want to make it out to be. Chickens seem to be pretty forgiving, easy to get along with creatures. Give them food water and shelter and they will do just fine. The first few years, we didn’t even have nesting boxes (I was going to get around to it!) and just put a box on the ground with straw in it. The girls filled it with eggs everyday with no complaints! They lived in a coverted dog run until I built a better coop.

    We have over 200+ birds at our house right now, about 50 – 50 layer and meat. If we can do it, anyone can! Get a few layers, put them in a pen and you’ll be an “expert” in no time at all.

    If you are worried about noise – don’t keep a rooster. The hens make a little sqwack now and again, but mostly just a little clucking. Roosters are noise machines with feathers. I have one rooster and he makes more noise than the other 200 birds combined!

    Layers are not smelly. But I have to disagree a bit with Jackie. All the meat birds I have ever raised, and I have raised hundreds, stink. They just eat so much food that the natural consquence is lots of waste product. No matter how much you clean, they still seem to smell. I think it’s because hens are pretty clean and broilers tend to poop where they sit. But, if you don’t raise meat birds, I don’t think you will have a problem.

    I generally don’t handle my layers. I don’t show and don’t have time. But, as Jackie wrote, some are just naturally friendly. The Buff Orpingtons and Delawares seem to be so. The Leghorns and sex linked are kind of flighty. But, as adults, I can usually pick up all my birds (they don’t always like it, but I just hold them long enough to give a once over).

    If you are not worried about “max eqq” production, I would recomend the Buff Orpingtons as a first chicken. They are nice layers and nice birds and stunning to look at. We are in AZ. It’s 100 – 110 all summer long. Down into the 20’s in the winter. No bird likes the really hot weather, but the Buffs we have had seem to handle the heat just fine. Shade and water when it’s hot. Don’t let the water get hot – they won’t drink it.

    I do want to give you one warning. Chickens are addictive. You think you are just going to buy 5 or 10. But you wake up one day and have 100 layers! I know, it happend to us.

    Good luck.

    Ralph in Marana, AZ

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