Herbs for Chicken Nesting Boxes

herbs for chicken nesting boxes

I think my chickens might be spoiled…

I don’t make sweaters for them or anything, but they do have a completely-remodeled chicken coop…

And GMO-free, organic feed…

And all the kitchen scraps they could ever want…

And homemade essential oil coop spray

And herbs in their nesting boxes…

I realize I just sounded like a crazy-chicken-lady, but I do have reasons for doing all of those things.

A-hem.

Let’s talk about nesting box herbs in particular.

A while back, I mentioned putting herbs in my nesting boxes on my Instagram account and got a ton of questions, so I figured I’d dive into the topic a little deeper.

And there really is some reasoning behind putting herbs in nesting boxes, other than being a crazy chicken lady. Promise.

herbs for chicken nesting boxes

Four Reasons to put Herbs Your Nesting Boxes

  1. Wild birds use herbs as they build their nests to possibly shield the baby birds from bacteria.
  2. Many herbs act as safe, natural insect repellents and may help drive away flies, mites, or other pests in your coop
  3. Some chickens like to munch on certain herbs, and certain plants may even act as laying stimulants
  4. Herbs make your coop smell awesome and provide a little “chicken aromatherapy,” which is kinda fun…

herbs for chicken nesting boxes

What Herbs to Use?

Man oh man, the sky’s the limit! There are so many options, it all depends on what you have available to you in your local area. Here’s a partial list, taken from my Natural Homestead eBook:

  • Basil
  • Borage
  • Calendula
  • Catnip
  • Cilantro
  • Chickweed
  • Comfrey
  • Dandelion
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Lambs Quarters
  • Lavender
  • Lemongrass
  • Lemon Balm
  • Marigolds
  • Marjoram
  • Marshmallow Root
  • Mint (all varieties)
  • Nasturtium
  • Nettle
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Plantain
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Yarrow

This is by no-means an exhaustive list of all the possible herbs you can use, but hopefully it will give you some ideas to get started.

herbs for chicken nesting boxes

Fresh Herbs vs. Dried Herbs

If I have access to fresh herbs, I’ll almost always opt for them, whether I’m in the kitchen or playing around in my chicken coop.

I’ve found that nesting boxes are a fantastic way to use up homegrown herbs slightly past their prime, or if you’re feeling overrun with a certain variety at the end of the year. (After you’re done making your homemade herb salt, of course!)

Honestly though, if I don’t have fresh herbs growing in my garden, I wouldn’t spend the money to buy herbs at the store just for my flock. The ones at the store are too expensive. (Sorry chickens, I love ya, but…)

herbs for chicken nesting boxes

How I Use Herbs in my Nesting Boxes:

If I’m using fresh herbs, I simply pick a handful and put several sprigs in each box. Depending on what I have growing, sometimes I just use one variety, while other times I’ll mix-n-match. Usually by the time I’m ready to clean out the boxes, the herbs are ready to be replaced/refreshed.

And yes, I have noticed my hens seem to prefer laying in the boxes with the herbs.

If I’m using dried herbs, I first mix them up in a small container, then sprinkle a bit in each box on top of the bedding.

I don’t have an exact recipe for my dried herb mix because it changes every time I make it, depending on what I have available. Usually it’s equal parts of three to four different varities of dried herbs, all mixed together.

Are Nesting Box Herbs a Miracle Fix?

Nope. If you’re expecting them to make up for a poorly managed coop, cure all your insect problems, or bring world peace, you’ll be sorely disappointed. You still need to be wise in how you take care of your birds and their living space, and I still clean my coop regularly and have a full fly management protocol. I feed high-quality feed, and my hens are allowed to free-range as well. However, adding herbs to my coop management has been a natural (and kinda fun) way to boost my other efforts.

Other Natural Chicken Keeping Posts:

herbs for chicken nesting boxes

Breeding Your Cow with Artificial Insemination

artificial insemination for cows

It always sneaks up on me…

Breeding season, that is.

Compared to all the big ranches around us who have hundreds of cows to breed each year, I feel like pretty small potatoes with our two measly mama cows.

But still, if our cows don’t get bred, then we don’t have milk. Or meat. So yeah, it’s an important deal.

I know I’ll get this question, so I’ll answer it right off the bat: Yes, if you want the best quantity of milk and a new calf to sell (or eat) each year, you’ll want to plan on breeding your milk cow every year.

Once a milk cow (or goat or whatever) has a baby, they can continue on with their lactation cycle for years if they are continually milked (think supply & demand), but most folks prefer to breed each year, as it is generally the most economical way to manage a home dairy animal.

Although a cow can come into heat (aka start ovulating) very soon after calving, we prefer to wait at least 60 days (usually even a bit longer) before we breed her again, just to give her body a bit more time to rest and recover.

milk-cow-twins

Oakley had her calves mid-May this year, and we just bred her last week, so that was about a three-month wait period.

We used artificial insemination (AI) to breed Oakley and our beef cow this year. I’ve received a number of questions about this, so I decided to dive in with a little more detail and pictures.

What is Artificial Insemination?

Artificial insemination is a very common practice in the agriculture world. It involves using collected semen to breed an animal, versus using a live bull (or stallion or buck or ram or whatever) to provide the breeding services. The semen is kept frozen in “straws” and then a vet or AI tech deposits it in the animal at the proper time, depending on their heat (ovulation) cycle.

Why We Used Artificial Insemination This Year

We’ve used bulls in the past and they are definitely a very viable option for homesteaders looking to breed their family milk cows each year. However, here are the main reasons we personally opted for AI this year:

  • There are no local Brown Swiss bulls in our area. In the past, we’ve borrowed whatever bull we could find. Although this can work, we have decided if we are going to breed our animals, we want to produce the best stock possible. This means we are opting for a proven Brown Swiss bull to get high-quality Brown Swiss calves, rather ending up with a bunch of calves that are half Brown Swiss/half Angus/half Hereford, or whatever. Mixed-breed animals are fine for eating, but we’d like to have some nice heifers to sell to other families as quality family cows in the future.
  • We don’t have the room or facilities to own our own bull right now, and that’d be kinda silly anyway, considering we don’t have a huge herd. We only have 67 acres with minimal cross-fencing, so trying to keep a big (sometimes aggressive) bull separate from the herd during certain times of the year could be interesting.
  • Artificial insemination allows us to keep our bloodlines fresh. For example, Oakley had two heifers (girls) this year, and we will breed them next year. Even if we did find or buy a local Brown Swiss bull, we wouldn’t want to breed him to his daughters, so we’d be stuck in the same boat again next year.
  • Artificial insemination is cost-effective and we have a number of very qualified AI technicians as neighbors. Someday I’ll learn how to do our own AIing, but for the time being, it’s pretty darn awesome to have such handy neighbors.

How to Detect Heat in Your Cow

The first step in the artificial insemination process is to determine when your cow(s) are in heat. Obviously, if you’re using a bull for breeding, he takes care of the detection. But since AIing removes him from the picture, figuring out when your cow is in heat is all on you. Timing is crucial, and if you miss this short window of time, you’re outta luck. Detecting heat can be super easy, or super hard, depending on your cow…

artificial-insemination-cow

Cows come into heat on a roughly 21-day cycle, and can show some (or none!) of the following signs:

  • Restlessness, agitation, or out-of-character behavior
  • Calling (mooing) to other cows more than usual
  • Clear mucous or discharge from her back end (if you see blood-tinged discharge, it probably means you’re too late and have missed the window)
  • Swollen vulva
  • Decrease in milk production (not always, but sometimes)
  • Trying to mount other cows, and/or allowing other cows to mount her.

If you catch your cow standing still and allowing other cows (whether they be male or female) to mount or “ride” her, that’s usually the best indication. This is called “standing heat” and can be one of the most reliable signs your cow is in proper heat and ready for AI.

Ovulation usually happens towards the end of standing heat (approximately 12 hours). So, if we see a cow in standing heat in the morning, we usually won’t AI until later than afternoon or evening, and vice versa.

The tricky part? Some cows exhibit standing heat readily, while others do not… Also, if you only have one cow, it won’t work to watch for standing heat, since there will be no other animals to be interested in her. If that’s the case, you’ll want to watch closely for the other signs. Our steers (castrated male calves) work wonderfully for detecting standing heat. Obviously they cannot breed the cow, but have enough hormones to still be interested.

artificial insemination for cows
This patch will be way more pink once other cows have started mounting her. Right now, the small pink portion is just where her swishing tail rubbed it.

My secret weapon in detecting heat in our cows are these cool little patches. They stick onto your cows back and work the same way as a scratch-off lottery ticket. If another animal rides the cow, the silver part rubs off exposing the color underneath. This prevents me from having to sit out in the corral all day watching for standing heat. Although, I do still end up spending quite a bit of time out there checking patches anyway…

The AI Process

Once we detect the cow as being in heat, the clock starts ticking and it’s time to roll.

artificial insemination for cows

Our neighbor arrives with all his gear and the semen tank containing the straws we ordered ahead of time. Liquid nitrogen keeps it nice and cold.

artificial insemination for cows

He gets to work thawing the semen and preparing his equipment while we load the cows into our small log alley.

artificial insemination for cows

This is “Red Cow”. She doesn’t have a name because she isn’t super nice and I only like naming animals who are polite. See her shooting me death glares? She’s up first.

artificial insemination for cows

Up the alley she goes, and we secure her head into the head catch. It doesn’t hurt her in the slightest, but makes sure everyone (including her) stays safe during the super-short procedure.

artificial insemination for cows

You can see from the hot pink patch she was definitely in standing heat earlier. All the silver part has been rubbed off by the steers who were mounting her.

artificial insemination for cows

The semen is ready. Our neighbor puts one sleeved arm into the rectum. This will help him manipulate the cervix and guide the rod in.

artificial insemination for cows

He wipes off the vulva to keep things clean, then carefully inserts the insemination rod (containing the semen straw) and guides it through the vagina into the cervix where the semen is finally deposited.

The cow doesn’t mind the procedure in the slightest. And it’s over so quickly, they usually hardly even wiggle.

And that’s it. Kinda anti-climatic, huh? Now the waiting game starts again.

I’ve marked my calendars to start watching for heat again in another 21-ish days. I’ll put another patch on her when the time comes. If she comes back into heat, it means the AI didn’t take, and we’ll have to try again.

If I *don’t* see any signs of heat (fingers crossed), I’ll draw some blood around the 28-day mark and send it into the lab to see if she is indeed pregnant. We also often use our local vet to manually check for pregnancy, but I’m opting for the blood test this year so I can get the results a bit faster and adjust my plans as needed. (You have to wait a little longer before a pregnancy can be manually detected.)

And of course, I’ll keep y’all posted as the breeding excitement continues…

artificial insemination for cows

Deep Mulch Garden Video Update

deep mulch garden video update

Here she goes again…

…talking about that deep mulch garden stuff. 😉

If you’re a regular reader, you know how in-love I am with this method. I also promised to keep you updated with the progress of the garden this year, considering it’s my second year of implementing hay mulch.

Soooooo… I decided to show you today, instead of just write about it.

In this short video, you’ll learn:

  • The #1 MISTAKE I made this year with my mulching
  • How a mulched garden fares after being neglected after two weeks…
  • And why this crazy method is still working, even with my mistakes and neglect. :)

Deep Mulch Gardening Update Video (Second Year)

Video Notes:

Garden Snapshots

I purposely am including these pics, weeds and all, so you can see what things look like after two weeks of neglect in a mulch garden. Just keepin’ it real folks…

But before anyone declares this method “doesn’t work,” keep in mind the following things:

  • As mentioned in the video, my layer was too thin this year. A thicker layer would have helped a bunch.
  • If I hadn’t had the deep mulch in place, leaving for two weeks would have resulted in a garden completely lost to the weeds. There would have been no salvaging it.
  • Ten minutes of upkeep/weeding each day in my mulched garden is more than enough to keep the small number of weeds at bay. However, I’m thankful I have the option of leaving for a couple weeks and still having a garden when I get back.

July 2015:

early-summer-deep-mulch-1

early-summer-deep-mulch-2

August 2015:

august-deep-mulch-update

august-deep-mulch-3

My cukes got a late start... Hoping we don't get an early frost!
My cukes got a late start… Hoping we don’t get an early frost!
My little roma tomatoes are coming along... Hoping for some more time to grow before frost.
My little roma tomatoes are coming along… Hoping for some more time to grow before frost.

21 Vegetables for Your Fall Garden

vegetables to plant in fall garden

I’ve never planted a fall garden because…

I always forget.

OK… that’s really not the truth. Do you wanna know the REAL reason? You sure?

It’s because I’m usually am ready to be DONE with the whole garden-thing come October.

Yes… Jill-the-Homesteader-Girl just admitted she gets tired of gardening sometimes.

You can forgive me for saying that, right?

You see, I love living in a place where we have four seasons. By the end of summer, I’m craving homemade chai and crispy leaves. By the end of fall, I’m craving cozy crackling fires and nourishing soups. But the end of winter, I’m craving the smell of fresh green grass and new baby calves. And so on…

So yeah, I usually rather enjoy the down-shift from all the crazy summer chores as we transition into fall.

But considering how my gardening has become so much easier thanks to the deep mulch method, I am kinda excited to plan a bit of a fall garden this year… Providing my very pregnant self can still bend over to shove some seeds in the dirt.

I’ve been looking at which veggies I want to add to my fall garden rotation and which ones will hold up best with our erratic Wyoming winters.

I’ve collected this list of fall vegetable options, just in case you’re not quite ready to give up gardening season either.

21 Vegetables for Your Fall Garden

Happy Lettuce

Lettuce

When to Plant: Plant Lettuce 4-8 weeks before the first frost. It grows best within a temperature range from 45 to approx. 75 degrees. Full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: This is a half-hardy vegetable that you can keep growing all season long by planting one small crop at a time. Hot weather makes it bitter and extreme cold freezes it.

Other Notes: If you use a cold frame or row cover, you can grow lettuce through the winter in most garden zones.

Kale

When to Plant: Begin planting Kale 6-8 weeks before the first frost. You can continue planting them throughout the fall in garden zones 8-10. Full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: Kale is a hardy vegetable. Their leaves are actually sweeter when they can mature in cooler weather. Frost enhances their flavor, and they are super tasty if harvested under a foot of snow.

Other Notes: If your fall season has a random hot spell, your kale might sulk a bit, however, when it gets cool again, those kale plants will revitalize quickly.

Helpful Links: 9 Green You Can Grow All Winter

Collards

When to Plant: Plant Collards 6-8 weeks before the first frost. In zones 8-10, you can grow them through the entire winter. Full sun to partial shade, though you should give them 4 hours of sun for the best flavor.

Cold Hardiness: Collards are one of the most cold-hardy vegetables. Like Kale, the flavor of the leaves improves after a frost.

Other Notes: Collards are heavy feeders since they produce so many harvestable leaves. Make sure to give them a rich soil in the beginning and regular feedings throughout the season.

Mustard Greens

When to Plant: Plant Mustard Greens 3-6 weeks before the first frost. Consider planting seeds every 2-3 weeks for a continual harvest. Full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: Mustard Greens are hardy, but not as hardy as collards and kale. They will tolerate a light frost, which makes their leaves sweeter. If you do not have killing freezes in your area, you can enjoy them all winter long.

Other Notes: Like Collards, Mustard grows very fast and produces many leaves for harvest. You must give them a rich and continually moist soil for optimal growth.

homemade herb salt recipe

Parsley

When to Plant: Parsley takes about 70-90 days to grow before you can begin harvesting. Full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: It is a hardy biennial: in mild climates, you can harvest parsley all year round and in the second year, it will send up a flower stalk and become too bitter to eat. It can survive the cold, but unless you protect it from snows and hard frosts, it might die back in the winter.

Other Notes: Parsley is fussy with germination. Soak the seeds 24 hours before planting for a higher success rate for germination.

Helpful Links: How to preserve your herbs (including parsley) in salt.

Arugula

When to Plant: Arugula is ready to harvest 30-40 days after planting. Consider planting Arugula every 2 weeks for a continual harvest. Full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: This peppery leaf is a tender annual. Arugula hates heat, which makes it bolt, and it also gets heavy damage with hard frosts and snow. Row covers can help your Arugula last longer in the season. They can survive winters in zone 7 or even zone 6 if under a row cover and thick mulch.

Other Notes: If you pick only the outer leaves, the plant will keep growing, which means each arugula plant will yield a large harvest for you.

Spinach

When to Plant: Plant Spinach 4-8 weeks before your first hard frost. Full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: Spinach is a hardy winter vegetable; it can survive temperatures below freezing IF the plant is grown to its’ mature size beforehand. They will have a higher success rate in colder garden zones with a cold frame or row cover.

Other Notes: Harvest the outer leaves only and your spinach plants will continue to give you harvests throughout the fall and winter.

Helpful Links: One of our favorite ways to eat spinach (and other greens): Cheesy Spinach Quesadilla Recipe

Swiss Chard

When to Plant: Swiss Chard should be started 10 weeks before your first frost date. It’s best to start them indoors and set the seedlings out when they are 4 weeks old. Full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: It is a hardy vegetable since Swiss Chard can tolerate light frosts, however, it cannot tolerate deep freezes like collards and kale.

Other Notes: You can harvest anytime the leaves are large enough to eat. The young small leaves are the most flavorful.

deep mulch garden method

Broccoli

When to Plant: Broccoli should be started indoors 85-100 days before your first frost date. Transplant to your garden when your plants are 3 weeks old. They prefer full sun.

Cold Hardiness: Broccoli is a hardy vegetable. It is very tolerant of cold temperatures and will survive many hard frosts. In mild climates, Broccoli might survive all winter. It does not like temperatures over 70 degrees.

Other Notes: Make sure to give your Broccoli plenty of constant water, they need steady moisture for optimal growth.

Helpful Links: A post all about the details of growing broccoli and other cole crops in your fall garden

Brussels Sprouts

When to Plant: Brussels Sprouts should be planted 85-100 days before your first frost. You can either directly sow the seeds into the garden (cooler climates) or start them indoors and transplant (warmer climates). They need full sun.

Cold Hardiness: These are some of the hardiest vegetables from the Cole Crop family. Brussels Sprouts can survive freezing temperatures and even some snow.

Other Notes: Wait until after your first frost to start harvesting your Brussels Sprouts because frost improves the flavor of your Sprouts.

Cauliflower

When to Plant: Start your Cauliflower seeds indoors 12 weeks before your first frost. Transplant them outdoors 6-8 weeks before the first frost. They need at least 6 hours of sun a day, however, some shade during the heat of the day is good too.

Cold Hardiness: Cauliflower are a challenging half-hardy vegetable. They are more sensitive to both cold and heat than most cole crops. They are only frost-tolerant if the heads are mature before a deep freeze. You should harvest them after a deep freeze so you don’t risk losing your crop.

Other Notes: Make sure your Cauliflower gets steady moisture: not too much or too little in order to get the best crop. You might find it beneficial to plant a few plants each week to get the best possibility of a good harvest.

how to use deep mulch in your garden for better moisture retention and fewer weeds!

Kohlrabi

When to Plant: Kohlrabi should be started 6-10 weeks before your first frost. If you sow your seeds directly, sow them 8-10 weeks before the frost date; if you start them indoors, start them 6-8 weeks before the frost date. They need full sun.

Cold Hardiness: These are a hardy vegetable. Kohlrabi is more hardy to hot weather than many Cole crops and they will survive light frosts.

Other Notes: Kohlrabi is a great vegetable for most fall gardens because they are mature very quickly: in 65 days, you can harvest them.

Bunching Onions

When to Plant: Plant your bunching onions 8 weeks before the first frost date. It is best to start them indoors and then transplant, however, you can try direct sowing as well. Full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: These are a very hardy plant: if given some protection from severe winters, they can survive below freezing temperatures, frosts, and snow just fine.

Leeks

When to Plant: Start your Leek seeds indoors 8-12 weeks before your first frost date. Make sure you get a variety that works for fall and winter harvests. They need full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: Leeks are a very cold-hardy plant. In places with mild winters (zone 7-10), you can harvest leeks all winter long. In colder areas, you need to mulch deeply around the Leeks (around 1 foot deep) because you do not want your leeks to become frozen in the ground.

Other Notes: Leeks taste better if grown in cooler weather. Make sure you blanch your plants as they grow by covering up their stalks.

cabbage in fall garden

Cabbage

When to Plant: Start your Cabbage plants indoors anywhere from 6-12 weeks before your first frost. You can narrow this time down depending on the early/late Cabbage variety you have chosen. Transplant to the garden when they are 3-4 weeks old. They prefer full sun.

Cold Hardiness: Cabbage is a hardy vegetable that can tolerate frost very well. They will keep thriving through frosts and temperatures as low as 20 degrees.

Other Notes: Cool temperatures and constant water will give you deliciously sweet Cabbage. Uneven watering might result in stunted growth or cracked heads.

Helpful Links: How to make sauerkraut with your homegrown cabbage

Garlic (for harvest next year)

When to Plant: You can plant next year’s garlic harvest anytime in late fall when your soil is around 50 degrees F. The trick is to plant it before your ground freezes over. An approximate time is 1-3 weeks before your first frost date through 2-3 weeks after your first frost date. Full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: Garlic is a very hardy and easy plant to grow. Make sure you plant the best garlic for your garden zone: Hardneck varieties are best for zones 3-6; softneck varieties are best for zones 5-9.

Other Notes: Garlic takes almost 1 year to grow, but the long growing season needs very little work from you: plant in the fall, eat or cut the garlic scapes in the spring, harvest next fall when the leaves turn brown, cure for 2-3 weeks. Then enjoy!

Turnips

When to Plant: For a fall harvest, plant Turnips about 2 months before your first frost date. Full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: Turnips are a hardy vegetable; they can tolerate light frosts and can continue through early winter if you cover them with a thick mulch.

Other Notes: Since Turnips are a root vegetable, you need to harvest them before the ground becomes frozen. Of course, a thick mulch will help slow down the ground becoming too frozen.

Beets

When to Plant: Beets should be started 10-12 weeks before your first frost date. Full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: Beets are a hardy vegetable. They can handle light frosts and can survive winter with some row cover protection and heavy mulch in garden zones 6 and higher.

Other Notes: You can eat the beet greens anytime while they are growing. They taste best when they are still small, around 4-5 inches long. Only pick a few leaves from each Beet plant so that you don’t stress the plants.

Helpful Links: How to Can Pickled Beets

radish in fall garden

Radishes

When to Plant: Plant your radishes 4 weeks before your first frost in the fall.

Cold Hardiness: Radishes are a cold hardy veggie and can tolerate a decent amount of frost. Many winter varieties are also early maturing, so you’ll probably be able to harvest even before the temps really drop.

Other Notes: Radishes are easy to grow and mature quickly, so be sure to check them frequently and don’t leave them in the ground too long.

Peas

When to Plant: Peas can be a challenge for fall gardens because you have to take a bit of a gamble on the weather. You might get an unexpected heat wave or an early hard frost, both of which can damage your fall Pea harvest. You can to plant your peas so that the first flowers appear before the first frost of the fall season. Depending on the variety, you should start your fall Peas 70-90 days before your first frost date. They prefer full sun to partial shade.

Cold Hardiness: Peas are a half-hardy vegetable: heat will damage them, but they will tolerate light frosts (if they are at least somewhat mature plants at the time of the frost).

Other Notes: For a good fall crop, you need to give extra care to your Peas during the late summer heat by giving them some shade and lots of water.

how to freeze green beans without blanching

Bush Beans

When to Plant: For a fall crop of Bush Beans, start planting them 10-12 weeks before your first frost date. Try planting in small batches every 10 days for a steady crop of beans. Make sure to grow a variety of beans that grows quickly, around 45 days to maturity.

Cold Hardiness: Bush Beans are a tender annual vegetable. They will be finished producing beans with the first frost. They can also be damaged by cold temperatures. You can often prolong your harvest season with row covers and heavy mulch.

Other Notes: Many people say that the flavor of bush beans is tastier in fall beans rather than those grown in spring. The soil temperatures will probably be hotter than your bean seeds prefer when you try to plant them. Regular watering and heavy mulch can help keep that soil cooler for better germination rates. Most people will agree that the flavor of the fall-grown green beans far exceeds that of those produced in the spring.

Helpful Links: How to freeze green beans (the easy way)

vegetables to plant in fall garden