Tag Archives: winter

The DIY Life: Homemade Lotion Bars

25 Feb

I know I’m not the only one suffering from dry winter skin. Between the constant hand washing, hot showers, and the furnace sapping the moisture out of the air, my skin is THIRSTY!  I always apply lotion when I get out of the shower, and in the winter I will use coconut or body oil since it seems so much more in need of the additional moisture! I’ve been seeing lotion bars popping up everywhere – at beauty stores, online shops, and make your own recipes floating around on the internet. Since I’m more of a DIY girl, I figured I would just make my own! These were so simple to make. I did a total of 6 bars with shea butter and olive oil on the first batch, adding a little bit of lavender essential oil to half of the batch as a nice little bonus since I was gifting them. For my 2nd batch, I did a combo of shea & cocoa butter mixed with coconut oil. They smell lovely! I love these lotion bars. Rubbed directly onto the skin, they offer soothing, much needed moisture. They are all natural, so it’s nice knowing there are no weird additives or chemicals in them that can give my sensitive skin a reaction. I hope that you enjoy these as much as I do!

lotion bars unmolded

Homemade Hard Lotion Bars

The formula for these is very simple – equal parts beeswax, a carrier oil such as olive oil or coconut, and shea or cocoa butter. When using shea butter, be sure to add this last since if you add it with the beeswax and carrier oil it can turn grainy, which would be gross.

Here’s the process.

I made a double boiler out of a pot and glass bowl, filling the pot up about halfway with tap water.

Add in your beeswax and carrier oil. It took about 20 minutes for the beeswax to melt for mine, but I was using chunks of it and did 12 oz of each item for this batch so I could have 1/2 dozen 2oz bars.

Once your oil and beeswax are combined, add in your shea or cocoa butter, stirring until dissolved. Once all the ingredients are combined, immediately put the mixture into molds. I used square silicone muffin molds which made them easy to pop out and gave them a cute little shape. If you want to add any essential oil, you will need to do it at this stage – add a few drops of the oil of your choice, using a toothpick to incorporate. Don’t wait too long since the mixture cools rather quickly and this could affect the look of your lotion bars.

Once the bars are totally set, pop them out of the molds and store them in a container for easy use. I packaged up a few as a gift in a clear bag with a cute little tag and bakers twine. The ones that were left for myself I stored in a wide-mouthed deco mason jar so they were easy to get to.

lotion bars packaged

The Shea and Cocoa butter as well as the beeswax I used were raw and unrefined, purchased through some great sellers on Etsy. I have a tub of organic unrefined coconut oil on hand at all times for all kinds of uses which I purchased at a local health store. The olive oil I use is purchased right from the grocery store! Links listed below if you need somewhere to get the ingredients that you can’t just walk into the grocery store and purchase!

raw, organice unrefined shea butter

raw, unrefined beeswax

raw cocoa butter

essential oils

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens – The Winter Months

8 Jan

December came in like a lamb but went out like a lion. We had mild temps and a whole lot of rain for the first couple weeks. The last couple weeks of December, the temps went down (you do get a little spoiled when you are having 50 degree days in December in Western Pa!) and the snow came right after Christmas. We got over 12 inches of snow. What that meant for me was diligence about keeping the birds with water and feed, as well as making sure their run stayed dry. AND let’s not forget shoveling a path AROUND the outside of their fenced in run. Partly for me to make it easy when caring for them, mostly for the birds so that they could venture out of the run and get a little more exercise. Did you know chickens are snow blind? They also don’t like how the snow feels on their feet. I can’t say I blame them.

Hmm....I guess the driveway ends here. I have no idea how to get back!

Hmm….I guess the driveway ends here. I have no idea how to get back!

I had preplanned what I was going to do to keep the birds comfortable, well fed, exercised and happy. The true test for me, I feel, was when we got that first 8 degree morning, with temps at zero with the wind chill. I got up and went out to check on the ladies. They were all alive, and came out of the coop to have their morning feeding. Yay! I felt like a super hero.

Now, what follows is how I prepped for the birds in the winter months. I’m no expert – I have read, researched, and tested out some things and this is what works for ME. Use it as a guideline. Find what works for you. Don’t take everything you read as law. You want to research and do what’s best for your flock. The main goal is to keep them well fed, watered, and able to go somewhere dry and draft free.

Late Fall – I did a  total coop/run cleansing

Run: I start by raking out any debris in the fenced in run. This gets the run cleared of all the poop, fallen litter, poop, old dropped feed, poop, corn cobs and random buildup – wait, did I say poop? – that comes from chickens. This all gets dumped straight onto our garden patch, where it can continue to break down. The chickens help me out working it in by scratching at it for bugs and tomato seeds left behind from that years garden. I then fill in any holes the birds made while they take dust baths. They’ll take a dust bath anywhere – we have trenches dug from them right up against the house in the front yard flower bed. They dug a hole alongside the shed ramp big enough to bury two of them. They dug holes in the run, right up against the foot deep chicken wire like they want to make it easier for a predator to get in and eat them. Those in the run holes need filled. Especially before the ground freezes. Once that is done, I toss in half a bale of hay and let the hens spread it around. I try not to have too much in the run since if it sits on the wood and gets wet, it will rot the wood. No good.

We don't want to come out!

We don’t want to come out!

Coop: This is a little more in-depth task. I start by removing all of the pine shavings – and poop – all while wearing a bandana over my mouth and nose since there can be a lot of dust created. Sometimes a quick spray with the hose helps keep the dust at a minimum.

Once all the litter is removed, I wipe down the flooring with a wet rag that is dipped in a bucket of warm water with a splash of apple cider vinegar. Once that is all wiped, I spray down the roosts, floor, walls and nesting boxes with a homemade citrus vinegar cleaner and wipe everything down again with a fresh rag. (Chickens respiratory systems are very sensitive, so I use vinegar instead of bleach or other household cleaners since it doesn’t leave behind any chemical smell) I leave the back of the coop open to let the breeze in and dry it out. Once the coop is completely dry, I sprinkle some Diatomaceous Earth (DE) on the flooring, in the nesting boxes and focus on the corners. This helps keep lice and mites out of the coop. On top of this goes 2 bags of fine pine shavings, and another sprinkling of the DE. It’s ready for the birds now!

I follow the deep litter method for my coop because it works for me. The deep litter method is 6 inches of shavings, stirred daily (I do every other day, sometimes every 2 days depending on how much poop is sitting on top of the litter). I add fresh pine shavings and a sprinkling of DE as well as some Sweet PDZ – a horse stall freshener that cuts down ammonia and keeps the coop smelling fresh(those sensitive chicken respiratory systems again!). Click the link for directions on using it for chickens. I chose the deep litter method because it’s essentially a working compost pile. When I clean out the litter, it’s broken down and I can either add it to the garden, or toss it on the big compost pile. In the winter, because it IS composting, it helps to create additional heat in the coop without hurting the birds.

Diet & Exercise: Once the snow hits, the birds are pretty much cut off from free ranging. The grass is dormant and covered in snow & the bugs are nowhere to be found. They have the fenced in run, which is spacious and roomy, but it’s not the same as having free run of a whole acre of land. To help substitute the greens, I fill a chicken treat toy with greens – lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, kale, spinach and carrot shavings. I will also give them a head of cabbage once per week where they basically play cabbage tether ball until nothing but a nub of the cabbage stem is left. To secure it I use a threaded eye hook, screwing it directly into the cabbage and hang it from a rope secured to the roof support. They love it. Sometimes it takes them a few days to finish it. Other times the cabbage is gone the same day.

For protein, I give them leftover roast chicken, fish, or beans (don’t cringe. they don’t know they are eating their kin!). There are chicken treats – dried mealworms – that I’ll toss around the coop for a special treat. On the cold mornings, which it seems that ALL of them are any more, I give them a bowl of hot oats, grains or plain cereal. This seems to get them going and active, and it’s amazing how quickly they’ve adapted to getting this morning time treat. All it is about 2 cups of quick cooking oatmeal, and enough hot tap water to cover it. I let it sit for a few minutes to soften and expand and then take it out to them to devour. The first time I gave it to them they stared at if for about 5 minutes before digging in. For water, I purchased a heated dog bowl to keep it from freezing. It kicks on only when temps reach a certain level, and I can set their waterer directly on it. It has worked wonderfully so far. Only had one day where there was a thin layer of ice, and that was the 8 degree day. The hens poked right through with no problem.

Enjoying some hot oats on a chilly morning

Enjoying some hot oats on a chilly morning

Additional light/heat lamps: I opted to go the first year of chicken keeping without adding any light to extend my ladies egg laying period. We get 1-3 eggs per day still, with a couple days of no eggs, and that is fine for me and the hubs. I have read too much information on how heat lamps are bad for birds because it causes too much of a temp change when they go away from it and could kill them. I have larger, cold hardy birds – Golden Laced Wyandotte & Barred Plymouth Rocks – so I’m not too worried about them being cold. The Barred Rocks are all in various stages of molt, so I know they are not currently laying because they are focusing their protein reserves on replacing those lost feathers.

Grazing on some scratch grains

Grazing on some scratch grains

The main things you want to remember for your back yard chicken keeping is that your birds should be able to access food, fresh unfrozen water, and have space to move around. They should have a dry coop to go to for warmth and to get out of the wind. Give them greens (lettuce, cabbage, kale, cucumbers) to supplement their diets from lack of free range availability. If you are an awesome pet parent like me, you’ll give them a cabbage tether ball. And you’ll give them some hot grains to get them moving in the mornings. I think we are doing

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens November Update!

30 Nov

So it seems like it’s been awhile since I talked about the chickens (and ducks) and given everyone an update. I mean hell, the last time I talked about them, I had a hen with a prolapse and it was warm outside and the plants were green. The hen healed up and is an egg laying machine, but the weather has changed and we’re now cold with sporadic bursts of snow, shit is dead or dormant, and the grass is getting a bit sad looking. It would appear that winter is upon us. Blech.

Where to start? Well Thor, that gorgeous rooster of ours decided he wanted to test his fighting skills…on me. While I had my arms full of bags and a weenie dog, that feathered rat bastard. It was a very enthusiastic jump up type of assault, complete with wing flapping and legs kicking. So I kicked at him to get him away from me. And made these really weird AAAAARRRRRGGGHHH gurgling noises in between screaming for the hubs. Hubs came out and they did their little chest puffing (hubs was trying to establish himself and the supreme being in the male population around here) and that seemed to get Thor to back off. I started carrying the broom around with me just in case and I did have to tap him on the ass another day when he puffed at me and got all “I’m gonna get you” on me. I told him that if he kept up that shit his pretty little feathered self was going to become dinner. Perhaps a nice Coq au Vin. I ate a piece of chicken in front of him as well, just to show him I meant business. It seems like he got his cock fight mentality out of his system, but I still carry the broom around when I’m in the yard. I bet that is a sight from the road.

Matilda, taking a dust bath

Matilda, taking a dust bath

Ever heard of feather pulling hens? Ya, I’ve got multiple ladies missing feather. Actually, only 1 hen and the rooster have feathers on their bums. At first I thought it was some weird reverse molt, but once the feathers started growing back in and were pin feathers, a couple of days later they were gone. My newest guess? They’ve resorted to being bored with their beauty routines and like having naked chicken butts. Because they don’t have any lice or mites, they get lots of scratch grains, are laying regularly, everyone takes dust baths and is otherwise healthy, and no one can possibly be considered bored since they are out all day long, foraging around the yard for tasty greens and bugs. Lucky me, I got weird birds. I’m at a loss at what else I can do since if there are feather pullers, there is certainly more than 1. And I have never actually caught anyone pulling out any feathers, except for the one hen occasionally pulling on Thor.

Speaking of letting them run free, the hens reminded me that they are not always the smartest animals. They are smart enough to avoid the highway, move out-of-the-way when we pull into the driveway, and come running when they see me because I have scratch or perhaps some other tasty treat – yet somehow, they are not smart enough to stay on OUR side of the fence. Matilda ended up on the business side of the fence once, and I easily lured her fat ass through the gap with some scratch and back to the safety of our yard.

Then one night I came home from work to lock up the ladies for the night and Francine was missing. My heart sank. I figured she either decided she wanted to see WHY a chicken decided to cross the road and met her maker, became a meal for a hawk, fought a cat, or was stuck on the other side of the fence like her sister and had to hang out for the night since it was dark. Hubs and I looked high and low for her and couldn’t see her. He then called me in the morning to tell me he saw her roosted up on the other side of the fence in some Aborvitae trees. Let me tell you, chasing a chicken for 20 minutes is some good cardio first thing in the morning. Francine came to me easily – ran right under the fence and high tailed it to me, but then stopped and wanted to go back in. Well then. I figured she had to be thirsty and hungry, so scratch should have easily lured her to my open arms. No dice. Finally she did what chickens tend to do and cornered herself, where I was able to lunge, almost fall on my face, and grab a strong hold on ONE SINGLE FEATHER to get her to stop so I could carry her back to the safety of the run. As I wiped the sweat from brow that chilly 35 degree morning, complete with snow flurries, I decided the birds were staying in their run for the day. One AWOL hen was enough, and I didn’t want to have to commit to the same chicken chasing cardio the following morning. Hubs thinks she wants to go off and be a wild chicken. I think she was just too dumb to find her way back home and got stuck so she hung out.

With the days being colder and the sun setting earlier, the girls have slowed down on their egg production. We are still getting 4 eggs per day from the chickens, 1 from the duck, so no substantial losses. I am still buried in eggs even after all of my holiday baking so we are not feeling the eggless pinch just yet. I decided I didn’t want to give the hens any artificial light to keep their egg production at it’s peak. I wanted to have my first year of chicken keeping be a complete test run. If they continue to lay with a decline but still give us a couple eggs per day so I don’t have to buy any, then we’ll keep them on natural lighting next year as well. That just means no eggs for anyone else but us. I mean, they are our chickens after all, so we should reap the rewards of our efforts!

And for those of you that have never seen a chicken take a dust bath, I bring you Matilda, the Barred Plymouth Rock hen who is by far the friendliest of my hens and one of the funniest. Till next time….