Monday, December 31, 2012

The Chicken Year in Review

Our girls are enjoying a quiet New Year's Eve huddled together on the roost. I closed them up just a little while ago and could hear their little coos as they nestled in for the evening. 

My husband and Beast, before he left for his new home
Our year in chickens has gone pretty well. We got our Marans eggs and hatched two beautiful healthy babies, one rooster and one hen. We've bid farewell to the Roo, Beast. He went off to live in a coop full of Marans and Ameraucanas. He's going to be a handsome boy. The hen, Belle, is figuring out her place in our flock. She's a bit of a loner, but she makes out just fine doing her own thing. She has beautiful feathering and she's turning into a fat biddy like her "mama." Her comb is starting to redden up, so we're on the lookout for a chocolate-colored egg. I'm so excited that I can't stop eyeballing her. She thinks I'm a crazy stalker. I kind of am. 
The pretty Belle
Everyone has had a fine year. Ocho seems to feel secure with her place in the pecking order, so she's stopped being so evil to Belle. She spent most of the fall chasing Belle around and making mean clucking noises. Pouncey still doesn't like people to touch her. She's not very trusting, but she's still my favorite. I love her beard (How many women can you say that about?). Bossy continues with the perpetual stink eye and Erickson's as fat and juicy-looking as ever. So all is well in the flock. 

For Christmas they got a head of lettuce - chickens are a pretty cheap bunch to buy gifts for. Maybe they'll get some scratch on New Year's Day. We've gotta keep those girls happy. We've been in an egg drought for the past two months, so every little bit of happiness helps. They've only been laying a few eggs each week. It's sad and pathetic. But I refuse to buy eggs, so we spread those babies as far as we can. They seem to be picking back up though because we've gotten a solid two eggs every day for the past few days. Hopefully, that chocolate egg will be added into the mix pretty soon. 

I'm betting 2013 will be just as good for the girls as this past year. I'm already thinking about eggs for Erickson's annual broodiness. More Marans? Silkies? Easter Eggers? Maybe something in an olive egg? There are so many choices! It just can't be something I love so much that I can't get rid of them. That's the problem. I want to keep them all and I'm pretty sure my hubby won't build any more additions to the coop. Maybe the answer is a second coop. Hmm. Now there's an idea.

From our flock to yours, Happy New Year! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ghosts, Goblins, and Naked Neck Chickens

It's November 1st and we're full on into what I'll call "winter production." By "winter production" I mean one egg a day. It looks like we only have one of four eligible hens laying (number five is still a pullet and too young to be laying yet). Erickson's pulling her weight by laying an egg a day, but that's only because she molted quite a bit after hatching eggs in July, so she isn't using all of her energy right now growing new feathers. Not to mention, we're a few days away from clocks falling back an hour and we're having such short days. Shorter daylight, fewer eggs. Oh, well. That's chicken keeping for you. 

They're in serious molt mode right now too. One of our chickens, Ocho, is looking like a Naked Neck. If you haven't seen these scary chickens, please do a quick Google search. They freak me out. She has almost no neck feathers right now. She looks like we've prepared her to be culled or something. It's pretty sad looking. Then there's Pouncey who likes like she has a mean case of the mange. She's a hot mess. This picture is from two weeks ago, so you can imagine what she looks like now. She's usually much more robust and fluffy.

Besides the diminishing eggs supply, now is also a bummer of a time to be a chicken keeper because it is freaking cold outside at night. When the temp drops we start closing the door to the actual coop at night to try help keep the chickens a little warmer. I know what you're thinking. Chickens have been living outside for a thousand years. They won't freeze to death when it's not even below freezing. You are a crazy woman. I'm well aware. But they're my chickies and I can't help myself. They're spoiled babies. If my two years of chicken keeping have taught me anything, it's that a happy chicken is normally a more productive chicken, so I try to keep them happy. Even when they aren't all laying me delicious eggs. I've been cursing them a little bit while walking out to the coop in the dark at 6:15 am, but I still love them. They'll make it up to me later.

They're currently all nestled together in a pack on top of the nesting boxes. All six of them. Not a single chicken is on the roost. I wouldn't be on the roost either if I was molting and my ass was naked. Can you imagine the draft? 

Happy Halloween, everyone! 
Love, my pumpkin-devouring mangy chickens. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Here a Bath, There a Bath...

Here are two of our girls taking a dust bath this afternoon. They are quite happy to have access to the former Maternity Ward.

Happy Day in the Coop

The chicks are seven and a half weeks old, so today the Walls of Jericho have been taken down eliminating The Maternity Ward. They're one big, happy family now. 
The littles seem to like the new digs because they have more area to roam and new things to explore (i.e. the coop). The big girls are happy because they regain access to the prime dust bath spot. Bossy and Pouncey didn't waste any time digging right in. See above.

Space and the recent torrential downpours are why I took down the hardware cloth separator between the two areas. The babies are getting big. They're not too little to be around the big girls and because they're getting bigger, the little area provided by The Maternity Ward is sufficient, but doesn't seem like a fair amount for them to be stuck in for most of the day. Then, there's the rain. Over the last few weeks it has rained a lot. As soon as the ground dries it seems to rain again, making the main coop too wet and muddy for the bug girls to be able to get a good dust bath. The Maternity Ward side is completely covered by a wooden roof and due to positioning the ground on that side is barely ever wet. Remove the barrier between the two sections and the problem is solved. The littles get roam of three times the space they had before and the big girls get dirt that is always dry and good for dusting.

Last year we had a few little tiffs when the two mini flocks were joined, but today I haven't seen any major issues. I don't know if it's because these babies are bigger than last year's or because they're calmer and seem less nervous, which makes the big girls calmer, or if it's because the big girls have had plenty of time to put the littles in their place while everyone has been out free ranging in the yard. Whatever it is, we've had a happy day in the coop. They're like the Brady Bunch out there. Er, The Chicken Bunch.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Time Flies When You're Growing Chicks

Our babies are growing fast. They're not chicks anymore. They're little fluffy chickens. Well, presumably, one fluffy pullet and one fluffy cockerel. Here's a few August pictures of our babies.

They're doing well and are so grown up. Right now they're still in a separate coop with Mama, but we'll be merging them with the flock soon. It's strange having such big chicks at seven weeks. Last year's bantams have given us no frame of reference for development when it comes to average-sized chicks. To us, these two are huge. If you love your chickens, but have never raised chicks, I suggest you give it a go. It's an amazing experience. Watching Mama incubate them, seeing them hatch, and watching them grow into adults is remarkable. This is our second batch of chicks, but it is just as amazing as our first. You provide the broody Mama or the brooder to keep them safe and warm, and they'll pretty much take care of the rest.

I'm sure we'll have another batch of chicks next year too. Erickson seems to get broody almost on cue. I'll tell you though. Raising these chicks is not helping with my want of a chicken farm. All they make me think of is how fun it would be to have a yard full of the little fluff balls and then a coop full of free-range eggs, which would lead to a wallet full of money.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Molting Falls in Autumn

September is knocking on the door as the feathers start dropping all over the coop. It's time for cooler air, crispy leaves, and half-naked chickens who are falling down on their laying duties. I know what you're thinking: It's the last day of August. Chill out with the fall talk. Tell that to my chickens that have decided it's time to take a break from laying.

One of our girls is starting in hard on her molting. Her feathers are everywhere. I suppose I shouldn't get into a tizzy because she does deserve the break. She's a champion egg layer any other time of year. But one or two of the other girls are trying to follow her lead. I haven't seen huge piles of anyone else's feathers, but I am seeing only one egg a day when we have three girls who should be laying (#4 is still playing Mama to her babies). Sigh.

The other reason I shouldn't be freaking out is the fact that they need to molt. All chickens molt and either stop laying or slow down to a near stop. They need a break. And if I had to regrow an entire body full of feathers, I'd probably stop laying eggs too. The shorter days of fall usually trigger the molting response. I'm sure there's also some internal clock thing going on too. It's like birds migrating for winter or salmon swimming upstream to lay eggs. They just know what to do and when to do it. Since we're not a crazy factory farm or anything, we don't keep the lights blazing on them all year long, which is the only way to force chickens to keep on keepin' on instead of molting and being (in money making terms) "useless" for any number of weeks. Hey. They look mangy for a month or so; they take an egg hiatus; and, they take advantage of the fact that my five-year-old son doesn't completely like pizza or sandwich crusts yet. I owe them that much for making delicious, practically free food the rest of the year.

Truth be told, I went out to the coop the other day and told them I knew what they were up to and they'd better get to laying. But, that was before I thought about what time of year it was. Maybe I should be glad that our chickens just like to get their molting done nice and early. All except one that is. Last year we were entering into literally freezing temperatures while Ocho was halfway into her molt and still sporting a bald backside. More power to her. I just hope they hurry up and get back to laying. I've got some quiche to make.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Birds and The Bees...of Chickens

We're three and a half weeks into chickdom. And you and I both know the most anxiety producing part of this entire venture is whether you're growing hens or roosters.

Because of our city zip code, I've been wishing for two hens, but it's hard to tell anything in the first weeks. You can read all over the internet about sexing chicks. Some methods are based on trends and biology. Some are based on old wives tales. And some are based on good ole old-timer knowledge.  There's the feathering method - hens are supposed to feather faster on the wings and tails than their rooster counterparts. I've read that darker combs in certain breeds mean hen. I've also read that redder combs sooner mean roosters. Some people think that if you pick up a chick the hens will keep kicking their legs while the roosters will not. Apparently, there's a way to tell the sex of day-old chicks by checking their vents. I've also read that chicks who are more timid are hens and the bolder ones are roosters. That last one isn't sexist at all is it? All I've learned is there are just as many methods and theories of telling the sex of a chick as there are breeds of chicken.

Personally, I'm a horrible chicken sex guesser. I don't see what all these other people see. There are hundreds of posts online from people wondering the sex of their chickens. Looking at these posts, you'll usually see fourteen different comments with half of the answers saying the chicks in question are males and half saying they're females. I usually have nothing. Maybe twice I've been able to tell, but that was only because they were super obvious and the owners were in denial (i.e. the rooster already had saddle feathers and were twice the size of the hens). One time I commented on a picture of a buff Brahma that was obviously a rooster. I could tell of it's roosteriness because one of our first four chickens was a buff Brahma that was so obviously a rooster because he was the size of a Thanksgiving turkey. I knew so little about chickens that I had told my husband, "She has feathers like a rooster," about two days before The Chicken Man nicely told us that she was indeed a rooster. Talk about oblivious.

Last year, as many of you who regularly tune in know, we hatched five beautiful Japanese bantams. Three were obvious roosters from early on. They had bigger combs; they got saddle feathers; they had curled shimmering tail feathers. The other two looked like hens. They were smaller and had the straight up pointing tail feathers of the Japanese breed. We were sure they were hens and I was all ready for some tiny bantam eggs to make tiny fried eggs for breakfast. They were beautiful chickens. Until they turned into roosters! They were still beautiful, but it was like over night they sprouted curving tail feathers and the saddle feathers. I was sad. So now, I've decided not to rely on anything until I have an egg laid or I see some serious saddle feathers and tail feathers. That doesn't mean I don't speculate and drive myself crazy thinking about it.

I've already changed my mind twice about our two three-week-old babies. When they were born I figured they'd both be roosters because that was our fate last year. They were maybe a day old when I told my husband that if they indeed turn out to be roosters this year, we are going sex-link all the way next year. That way I'll know from day one what they are and won't get too attached since we can't keep roosters where we live. I also won't sit here and drive myself to drink for two months trying to figure it out! But after the first week I decided maybe we did have a couple of pullets growing up out there. If you believe the old wives tales, we could have two hens. They're pretty skittish and they feathered out on the wings and tails quickly. Both "signs" that you have hens. Well, from what I've seen online, chicks feather so differently from breed to breed and even sometimes from chicken to chicken that it's hard to place your bet on that piece of evidence alone. As for the shyness, well, last year we had five chicks. They weren't too scared of us. But we had a larger flock. They had more buddies to hang with and to help them feel protected . Five is a much larger number than two when you are talking about tiny chicks. No matter how many other chicks I had running around with me, if I were a three-day-old baby chick, I'd freak out and run away too if some giant tried to pick me up. So I'm not hanging my hat on the fact that they're petrified of us at this point.

Today, though, I have a new theory. One pullet. One rooster. The beautiful little bluer-colored Marans, Belle, now has a larger comb than the yellow-turning-to-white one, Rapunzel. So is Belle turning into Beast? Their legs seem to be the same size (Yet another indicator is the girth of the chick's legs: the bigger the legs, the more likely you've got a rooster), so we'll see. Only time will tell. But I seriously want some chocolate brown eggs, so somebody better be growing some ovaries out there.

That's Rapunzel in the back and Belle/Beast in the front.
What do you think? 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

They Must Peep in their Sleep

We've got three-week-old chicks in the backyard and they peep incessantly. If I didn't know better, I'd think they peep in their sleep. The peeping is actually pretty endearing. It make me want to pick them up and squeeze them. In the nicest way possible.

They're super shy. When you get in the Maternity Ward part of the coop where they are living with Mama for now, they start frantically running back and forth in the far corner while peeping. It's a bit unnerving. I keep thinking one of them is going to fall over from a heart attack whenever I go in there to give them fresh water or check their food. Our first batch of chicks last year were nervous about me being in their coop, but only starting the frantic running/peeping if I tried to pick them up. I read online in my never-ending chicken research that an unscientific way to tell if chicks are hens or roosters is by their temperament: skittish chicks mean hens and bold, confident chicks mean roosters. I can only hope. 

Besides the crippling fear of humans, the chicks seem to be doing great. They're still following Mama around. In all respects they're little versions of chickens. They're tiny and fluffy, but they act like the big girls. They scratch for food; they recently started exploring the low roost in their coop; they preen; and, they peck around all day. The preening is my favorite. There's something cute about a tiny chicken preening her wings.

The funny part of three-week-old chicks is the Frankenbird thing they have going on. They're half newborn chick fluff and half feathers. Belle is still darker than Rapunzel. She's a light gray color with small black spots while Rapunzel is turning white with big black splotches. They're wings are fully feathered. They have the cutest tiny tail feathers sprouting. And, since they're feather-footed Marans, they have cute little curled feathers sprouting from their legs. They can look a little scraggly at times, but they're cute none the less. Maybe it's "a face only a mother can love" kind of thing.

Monday, July 30, 2012

What? She Lost the Chicks!

Over the weekend, I had all of the chickens out in the yard while I cleaned the coops - the main coop, where the big girls stay, and The Maternity Ward, where Mama and babies are living for now. Everyone was out and about clucking, chirping, and foraging when I heard Mama make a strage sound I'd never heard before. I can't even describe it. I was elbow deep in litter and chicken poop, but I paused and thought, That was weird, but I went about my business until a few moments later when I thought, What if that was the danger sound and there's a hawk or a giant owl sitting out there (We once had a hawk swoop down and perch on my son's swing set in the backyard while the chickens were loose in the yard. My husband had to shoo it away). I stuck my head out of the coop and looked around to where Mama had been foraging with the chicks. There was Mama standing tall and straight and still, but I didn't see her chicks anywhere.

I went from zero to one hundred in two seconds. My exact thought was, She lost the chicks! I thought they'd wandered away and were God knows where. I came out of the coop and looked around again until I finally saw one of the babies crouched down in the overgrown grass close to where Mama was standing still. Phew! I walked over to them and nearly stepped on chick #2, who was also hiding in the grass. Then it clicked. She did make the danger sound either because something startled her or just so she could teaching her babies. Mama was probably thinking Calm it down, Food Lady. I mean, if she didn't lose any of the five chicks she had last year, why would I think she'd lose one of two chicks this year? I can't help it. I'm a worrier.
Amazingly, they knew what the sound meant and they listened right away and kept still. I didn't give her the chance to tell them everything was okay and they could stop hiding because of my irrationality. She's teaching these chicks all the time just like she did with her last chicks. She finds food while foraging and makes a specific sound to let them know she has food. Of course, they come running and check it out right away. She shows them how to dust bathe and where to go when it's bedtime. They're always following right along. It's the best part of having a hen raise chicks rather than hatching them or buying day-old chicks to raise yourself. Does it work? Yes. Do the chicks grow up just fine and become perfectly fine chickens? Yes. But do you get to see them being tiny copies of their mamas? No.

I can tell you. Watching Mama and babies is too cute for words.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Nuthin' But A Broody Mama

If you've never had a broody hen or you find them as hilariously insane as I do, you'll enjoy this short clip of Erickson, our residential brooder, being strange and quite vocal about it while she was off her eggs during one of her daily incubation breaks.

She would make those clucking noises almost the entire time she was off the nest. It's like she was telling the eggs, "Hey! I'm close by and coming right back." The only time she didn't make noise during this particular break was during her preening. Of course, she wasn't dust bathing daily as she was too busy turning eggs all day, so she would shake her feathers and preen her wings for a majority of the time she was off the eggs. After five or so minutes, she'd head right back to her nest. What a good Mama.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Official Chick Count

Our final number is two chicks. Both chicks and Mama are doing well and are happy. They'd like to enjoy some privacy, but we won't let them. How can you leave new chicks alone? You can go ahead and trust me when I say it's impossible.

I removed the rest of the unhatched eggs a little over 24 hours after the last chick hatched. Most of them were full of liquid when I shook them, which means no chick inside. Two were questionable, so I candled them in order to find the air sack and then I pipped them (I poked a small hole in the end where I'd seen the air sack. Essentially, I was doing what a baby chick would do when it starts to hatch.). One exploded as soon as I'd broken through from the pressure that had built up inside. There was a stinky yolk inside. The other was just a rotten egg. So into a ziplock bag they all went and into the garbage can. I didn't want the guilt of worrying about whether or not I'd thrown away an unhatched chick.

The best thing about removing the unhatched eggs is that Mama and babies were out and about in their portion of the coop the next morning. These chicks are much more worried about humans at this age than last year's batch. Last year's chicks didn't pay us much attention inthe first few weeks and we could scoop them up pretty easily with only a few worried peeps. I'm not sure if it's completely temperment or if it's the fact that there are only two of them, but they scurry into the corner when we get into the coop. Because they're on edge, Mama is much more on edge. Last year she couldn't care less, probably because she had four other chicks crawling all over her if we were handling one. I've already been pecked by her twice and they're less than a week old. I'm trying to be more accompdating because of all the commotion I cause when I go out there. I haven't spent as much time in the coop and playing with the chicks as last year. I'm not trying to give some poor little baby chick a heart attack.

Cross your fingers that we get a couple of hens this time. We're doing our part to tip the balance. As I've said, last year's name's were heavily manly with the Star Wars theme, so this year we went with Disney princesses. Please let me introduce you to Rapunzel and Belle.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

And We Have Chicks

This morning I checked on the chickens to find one baby hatching out of its egg. What a great way to start the day. We've had three eggs hatch, but one didn't survive, poor little guy. Hopefully, we'll have a few more tonight and tomorrow so Mama has a nice little brood.
The two babies we have so far are peeping away underneath their Mama. They sure are cute.  One is mostly yellow, with some gray spots and the other is nearly all gray. They both have feathered feet, which is a super cute chicken quality. I'm seriously crossing my fingers that we don't get another flock of roosters out of this hatch because I want a chocolate egg layer. Big time.

Aren't they cute? The yellow chick hatched earlier today and is ready to get going. She's already getting curious and is quite the peeper. The gray chick hatched this afternoon. She's still a little shy, but she's interested in her sister (wishful thinking).

We're still coming up with names. After everyone's hatched we'll decide. I'm still thinking about Captain America as a possibility, but think we need some super girly names. Last time the Star Wars theme, male dominated, didn't bode well for hens. So maybe we need a Lola or a Lucy or maybe even a Cindy Lou.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Almost to Chicks

Day 17 of Broody Watch 2012. Erickson is being a great incubator. I couldn't ask for a better broody hen.

Unfortunately, we're down to 11 eggs. Around Day 13 we had a rotten egg explosion. My husband found it and says it was pretty gross. Mama must have dragged it out of the nest box onto the ground because my husband found it a foot or so outside of the box. It was a stinky sack of yuck, so I don't blame her for getting it out of there. We had an egg go missing last year and can only assume the same type of explosion happened. Our best guess is one of the chickens ate it because we never found a trace of it. If you didn't think chickens were gross, thinking about one eating a busted rotten egg will change your mind.
We tried candling the eggs early on around Day 8 and saw a little something in a handful, so hopes are we'll have a handful of little bits running around soon. I haven't had a chance to check them with good results since because Mama normally gets off the eggs in the mornings when I'm at work. With the eggs being such a dark brown, the only way we can candle them is with a pretty powerful light, so my one quick attempt with a flashlight was feeble (the flashlight method worked well last year with the tiny white bantam eggs). So, it'll be a complete surprise how many hatch unless I can steal them this weekend while she's taking a break at the water cooler.
At the start of this brooding, I said I was going to be relaxed this time around and I am proud to say I have been. I only check on her once a day. When it was 100 degrees, I brought her cold ice water every morning. And, that's it. It's easy to be calm when you're prepared. We were smart this time and blocked off the Maternity Ward so we could go ahead and move her into her own section of the coop on Day 8. Last year the eggs started hatching earlier than expected and we already had one chick hatched when I was out there at 6:30 one evening stapling chicken wire to divide the main run from the newly build section. We had to move Mama, newborn baby, and the rest of the eggs in a scramble. This year, experience has led to Mama being comfy and cozy in her own space, my not worrying about her doing her job, and my husband becoming the worrywart. This time he's the one who is checking on her three times a day. Oh, the difference a year makes.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Brooding Sure is Hard to Do

Day 4 of brooding. Our fluffy mama is doing a great job. If not also a weird job.
Erickson spends most of her day sitting on her clutch, of course. She has been fairly smart this time around. When we let the chickens out to forage and give them treats, she takes a break from her eggs, gets something to drink, scratches around, stretches and grooms a bit before heading back in to the coop to take up her post as incubator. She makes some crazy clucking sounds the entire time she's off the eggs as if to call to them so they know she's right outside and not to worry. That or she's warning any lunatics who might try to steal her eggs that she'll peck their eyes out if they even think about touching them.
Now, she's still a chicken. And chickens' brains are only so big. Erickson has proven to be a good brooder and a good mama, so I won't judge her too much, but yesterday we had an incident. Another chicken laid an egg in one of the empty nest boxes next to Erickson's clutch while Erickson was out and about on her daily incubator break. When she went back into the coop she decided to sit on the lonely unfertilized egg rather than on the dozen eggs she has been sitting on for the past three days. I never said chickens were the smartest animals on the planet. She must have taken one look at that single egg and thought, "What do you think I am? A sucker? Why spend my time warming, turning, and rotating all those eggs when I could take care of this one little egg?" My husband checked on her and seeing that she had not made the best choice, at least in hatching terms, he stole the one egg from under her fluff-butt. She hopped up and ended up settling herself back on the correct nest. Maybe I should take back my judgment of stupidity and say that maybe chickens are geniuses. Erickson's no sucker.
Hers can't be the most glorious job in the flock. I'd much rather be Pouncey, who since Erickson's departure from normal flock activities, has taken up the post of frantically pacing back and forth in front of the door to the run whenever she sees human activity. See, it's been ridiculously hot the last two days and I feel bad that Erickson's stuck in that coop keeping a dozen eggs warm. It's like she's sitting next to a space heater and it's 105 degrees outside. Literally. This has to be the worst week for a chicken to be broody. If it we're me, I'd do my egg hatching in the early spring when it isn't so hot. But I guess you can't time these things out like that. She seems to like June-July for hatching chicks. If they hatch right on time, my husband and I might get chicks as our 8th wedding anniversary present. That wouldn't be too shabby. But, how can I top that next year? Maybe a goat or pig will be in order. Hmm...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Eggs are in the Coop. I Repeat. The Eggs are in the Coop!

They arrived today! Erickson's dozen Marans eggs are here and under her fluffy butt. She's in crazy broody chicken heaven. It's amazing what a dozen eggs can do to a girl. She's been nurturing one (unfertilized) egg that we've been changing out every day for the past four days or so; not wanting a stinky rotten egg sitting around, we'd switch the egg every day with one of the freshly laid eggs from one of our other girls. She seemed fine with the one egg, but if a girl's going to sit in a nest box for three weeks, she ought to make it count.

Now, she has so many eggs she hardly knows what to do! I went out to check on her about twenty minutes ago and she has this crazed serial killer look to her. It's like she was daring me to mess with her eggs so she had a reason to tear out my eyes. Seriously. I wouldn't mess with her right now if I were you.

The countdown is on. Day 1 and counting! I'll keep you updated on this set of chicks just like I did last Spring. Every chicken is so different, I'm sure these little guys will surprise me. Let me start thinking of awesome chicken names now… Lola…Grover…Captain America…

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's a Waiting Game

It's June and we're three days into summer. It's ridiculously hot outside. Twice this week it hit ninety degrees. Today it's supposed to be around eighty-six degrees, but according to the weatherman it feels like ninety-one. Super awesome, huh? The chickens are weathering the heat with their usual indifference. They're keeping a low profile, lying in their giant dirt holes and trying to keep cool with dust baths. All except one that is. One fat Mama is currently trying for a second round at motherhood.
All Spring we waited patiently. Okay. We waited impatiently for one of our girls to go broody. Early in the season we had one girl taking her time to lay eggs and got our hopes up that she was getting ready to go broody. I got my hopes up enough that I picked out what type of fertile eggs I wanted to get and did a price comparison online. But, since I did all that research, she went right back to normal after a day or two and didn't think twice about setting on anything. I'm pretty sure I've said it before, but that's how chickens roll.

Erickson, our Brahma, is trying her hardest to hatch our girls' eggs right now. It makes me a little sad. I tilt my head to one side and make the "bless her heart" face when I go out there and see her sitting on those three unfertilized eggs. Once I walk away though, I forget about the hopelessness of her current situation and think about the exciting possibility of more baby chicks! They're ordered and getting ready to be shipped. I'm ready and raring to go. This time around, I'll be able to wait with excited anticipation instead of furiously scouring the internet for all the hatching-by-broody-hen information I can find. Trust me. There isn't much out there, but that's because you don't need to do anything more than have the hen sit on the eggs. That's it. Last year I was constantly checking on her and worrying and reading about hatching and what I needed to know about chicks when I should have been sitting back with my legs kicked up waiting to hear the little peeps of baby chicks.

I do find it funny that Erickson is the only hen who wants to hatch eggs. I'm not complaining. I love my fresh eggs and if we had a 50% or 75% broody hen rate, I would be tough out of luck on delicious scrambled eggs and quiche. Having three hens be perfect production girls is great. They lay eggs all the time, eat layer feed and treats, hunt for bugs and take dust baths. They are not interested in hanging around in the coop on a bunch of eggs they have to turn continuously for three weeks. It does sound pretty sucky doesn't it? If my butt was as fluffy and fat as Erickson's, maybe I wouldn't mind sitting in there either.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Someone Tell the Chickens It's Spring

If you have chickens, you know what spring brings: prolific egg laying. A happy hen is a laying hen and spring time makes happy girls. With warmer temperatures, sunnier days, and enough inch worms for a football field of hens, our four girls are happy as clams and laying eggs like crazy.

Just as spring began, all four girls would lay an egg every day. Rarely we got only two eggs, some times three, but for the most part we were in full scale production mode. We'd get a dozen eggs in three days time. That's a big difference from the customary one to two eggs a day we'd get through winter.  Who wouldn't be happy with endless beautiful days? Our grass started to grow uncontrollably and apparently there were bugs everywhere because when we let the girls out to forage they became scratching fools - more so than usual. That's one of the things I love about having chickens. Eat the heck out of those bugs, girls. They were hugs fans of the inch worms that took over our yard for about a month, but were never fans of the fuzzy caterpillars. I wouldn't want to eat something covered with fuzz either, so I don't blame them. All the sun and bugs began the most delicious egg season of the year.

Now that spring is fading into summer, the eggs have chilled out a little. We average three every day. With the decline of the inch worm came the decline of four eggs every day. I'm happy with a three-egg day though. We still have a stock pile in the fridge. Those eggs make us pretty popular with our friends and coworkers. They're golden yellow and delicious. Those spring eggs are the best of the season. There's something extra rich, golden and delicious about them. It's the inch worms.

Along with more eggs, we've been having a lot more noise coming from the coop this time around. They are the loudest they've ever been. We can hear them squawking in the house. With our windows and doors closed. At first I thought it was Bossy, our Barred Rock. She's always quite loud after she's laid an egg and she seems to love it best when she can trumpet to the world at 8 am that she's just made something. It can be pretty embarrassing. Lots of times I've found myself standing in the doorway to the backyard listening to her go on for three minutes at the top of her lungs while I think, This is why you need to have chickens in the country and not the middle of the city. We've been lucky though. We have great neighbors who don't mind the occasional BA KOCK! at the break of dawn.

Even though we've been fully launched into summer days of ninety degrees, I'm still waiting for the other thing that spring is supposed to bring: a broody hen. I want to try our hands at hatching some more cuties. But alas. Chickens do what they want.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bags of Chicken Feed: Instructions

As promised, here are instructions and pictures for making your own bag out of empty chicken feed bags. I have another version in the works, so I'll add an addendum to this post if it ends up working out.

What you'll need:
  • Empty chicken feed bag
  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors
  • Straight pins
  • Thread matching the color of your bag

Step 1: Empty out the last bits of chicken feed. Remove the bottom closure and any remnants of the top's closure (that papery strip with string that you rip off to open the bag).

Shake out the remaining chicken feed dust. There's more in there than you think.

If you're inclined, rinse out the bag with a hose or outside spigot. Dry bag and lie flat.

Step 2: Cut off a 6 to 8 inch strip from either the top or bottom section of the bag. This section will be used to make the bottom and the straps.
The determining factor for whether you cut off the top or bottom of the bag is what part of the bag's picture you want to save (A.K.A what do you want the front of your bag to look like?).

For this bag, I wanted it to look very much like a chicken feed bag. I wanted the feed name Layena to be on the top of the bag. So, I cut off the top of the bag just above the brand name, Purina.

Something to keep in mind: the width you cut will be the width of the bottom of the bag. Make sure not to skimp and cut a strip that's too thin. It should be at least 6 inches wide, preferably 8 inches. My cut was closer to 6 inches on this bag and it did make for a skinny bag.

For the sake of instructions, I will refer to this section as the 6-inch section from now on.

Set aside the 6-inch section you cut off. We will use it later.

Step 3: Turn the bag inside out.

Step 4: Fold over the top of the bag approximately an inch. Pin the section in place using your straight pins. This fold will give the opening of your bag a "finished" edge and reinforce it so you can add the straps.

Sew around the top of the bag. Just make sure not to sew your bag closed!

Remove the pins from this section when you are finished sewing.

Step 5: Get the 6-inch section you cut off in Step 2 and set aside. Right now it is a loop. Cut each side, so you now have two 6-inch sections rather than a loop.  Set one of these two pieces aside.

Step 6: Cut the other piece in half to make two 3-inch sections. These will be the straps. 

Step 7: To make the straps, fold each of the 3-inch 
sections in half and pin closed. 

After pining the two pieces closed, sew each piece to create the straps. Remove the pins. 

Step 8: Pin each strap to the inside top of the bag. Securely sew straps to bag. Remove pins. 

Step 9: Pin the 6-inch section to the inside bottom of the bag. See the picture below. 
Sew this section. Remove pins. Continue for all four sides of the bag's bottom. 
*Note: The corners are the hardest part. They are always the trickiest part to the entire bag assembly. 

Step 10: Make sure you've removed all pins and trim all the strings. Turn your bag inside right. Ta-dah!

Enjoy your homemade bag and Happy Shopping!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

YouTube is for Chickens Too

I'm going to keep this one short and sweet. I started a YouTube channel in hopes that I can put together a few videos about my chickies. When we got our new computer let summer, I made a movie out of some footage of our chickens. All of our girls make an appearance and so do Erikson's babies, the bantams, who have since gone on to new homes. As I make videos, I'll post links here.

To find my channel, you can search LovinChickinFarmin in YouTube. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bags of Chicken Feed

We only have four hens, so we don't go through chicken feed at a terribly fast rate. My husband probably goes to the hardware store once a month. I started thinking there has to be something I can do with these feed bags once they're empty. I hate throwing things away - in a I-hate-to-create-trash kind of way and not in a hoarder kind of way.
It may come as a surprise to you that I'm a borderline hippie. I mean, the fact that I have chickens in my backyard even though I live in the downtown area of a capital city didn't give it away. My hippie-ness is not only reflected in my chicken ownership. I try to eat things that are defined as food (refer to any book by Michael Pollen if you're unclear) and keep away from as much food-like product as I can; I recycle everything I possibly can and get angry at the city when its recycling center doesn't have the facilities to recycle things I think should be recycled; I donate everything we don't use anymore to charities like Goodwill rather than throw things away; and, I like to reuse or repurpose things when I can. I'm currently working on a quilt made out of a million of my husband's old t-shirts. So I started looking at these chicken feed bags thinking what can I do with these things. I thought they could be good for collecting yard waste or to use as trash bags because at least they'd have some use before throwing them in the trash bin. Neither of those ideas sounded all that great though, so I started looking online and reading about what other people did with their empty bags. I found a few good ideas in my searching:
- collect waste when cleaning out chicken coop
- liner for gardens (to kill weeds)
- turn into planters (fill with dirt, plant seeds = instant planter)
- turn into reusable bags
The last one "had me at hello" as they say. I love reusable shopping bags! I looked up some instructions, got out my sewing machine, and went to work. If you hadn't thought about it, that "fabric" is hard to manipulate. It's a plastic meshy canvas type of stuff. It took some furrowing of my eyebrows and a lot of sticking my tongue out of the corner of my mouth, but after about an hour I got it. The logo didn't come out totally straight, but I figured for a prototype it came out pretty well. Here it is.
My second one came out pretty swell and turned out as part of a birthday gift for one of my friends. Yes, I said "pretty swell." Now I'm stockpiling them so I can sit down and make three or four at once. I've got two of the same chicken feed bags and one bird seed bag from the bird seed we buy for our bird feeder. My husband's going to buy the bigger bag of chicken feed next time so I can make one out of that pretty pink bag. I'll add pictures of the different ones as I make them so you can check them out. When I make my next batch, I'll take pictures of each step and post them with instructions in case anyone is interested. They aren't hard. You only need basic sewing machine skills. Nothing fancy here. Cut off the top and bottom, fashion some straps, attach a square bag-like bottom, Boom! Done.
Do you use your empty feed bags for anything fun? I'm going to need some more ideas because I only need so many shopping bags.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Frozen Drumsticks

I don't know about anyone else, but I love eating chicken. I'm on a major chicken thigh kick right now. I find them to be delicious and juicy, not to mention you can cook them a number of ways. Scrumptious. Some people may find my love of chicken meat to be, let's say, indelicate. You see, we don't raise our chickens for meat. They are solely egg layers. And my love for chicken thighs aside, I'd (possibly) be willing to swear off chicken meat before I culled one of my own girls for the dinner table. That's just me though.
My girls are not just egg producers. They're pets too. Just as I wouldn't be cool with eating one of the family dogs, I wouldn't want to deep fry one of my fat biddies. My husband and I often talk in the "one day when we" sort of way about the farm we wish we had. We joke that we'll need two sets of chickens. We'll have a set of layers that I'll name and fawn over and who become my pets and then we'll have The Meat House birds who I won't name, tend to, or become too greatly involved with because they will be slated for our dinner table. I told my husband that I'd start sneaking birds into my layer flock while he'd be worrying about his dwindling numbers, saying things like, "I don't know what's going on. We've lost four birds in two weeks. Do you think a hawk's getting them? Hey, didn't we have twenty-five layers? There are twenty-nine out here." I might have an overactive imagination, but that's exactly what would happen.

During the summer I read a memoir called Chicken and Egg by Janice Cole. I've mentioned it before. She's a food writer and tests tons of recipes. In the course of raising chicks, she realizes her guilt at preparing chicken and has a major freak out moment as she thinks about the chickens in her backyard who she loves and who she's raised from baby chicks while she's supposed to roast chicken. She ponders whether she can continue to cook chicken and be okay with it. I don't know if I'm not as good of a person as she is, but I do not have such problems when it comes to supermarket chicken. I can be in my kitchen and look out the window at my girls pecking around in their run and be rubbing down a delicious chicken thigh with whatever concoction of spices I've come up with that day. I don't feel word about it. I don't have to see those grocery store chickens in their feathered glory strutting around my backyard and going crazy over a head of cabbage. I'm fine with them. Am I making exceptions. Uh, yeah. Who doesn't? Do I care that I probably sound deranged to someone not in my head? No. I'm good with it.  I can't feel guilt for every animal that becomes food. I'd go crazy. I make that statement knowing I'm already crazy. I do get quite jazzed up about the treatment of factory farm animals, but I've always been concerned with the ethical treatment of animals. And I make no secret of the fact that I speak to my chickens like they know what I'm saying, but I do that with my dogs too. All dog owners do. Right?

Let me make one point clear. I do not in any way take issue with people raising chickens for meat. If I did, I would be beyond crazy. Chicken is delicious. I hope I have made my feelings on that point clear. I don't think that I have it in me to make myself detached enough from my chickens to kill them. Would they make the most delicious chicken thighs I've ever had? I don't doubt it. Their eggs are so delicious that they must be just as delicious themselves. I'm too much of a "girl."

Now I'm off to find a good recipe for drumsticks. I have a pack in the fridge (from Trader Joe's - love that place!) that's set for dinner tomorrow night. Maybe I'll name them before I cook them. At some point I've got to stop stealing hypothetical birds from The Meat House.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Things

It should be pretty clear by now that I love my chickens. I'd love to have more chickens. Hell, I'd love to start a chicken farm. From hanging out watching them to caring for them and the coop, I've spent a fair amount of time with my girls since we got them a little over a year ago. I was thinking the other day about the things I use or the ways I take care of the girls and realized the things I do are a collection of ideas I've picked up from here and there from books I've read or websites I've perused. So, to start off 2012 I want to share the things that make my chicken-tending a little nicer.

Garden shoes. They are the best thing to happen to chicken mucking. That is, they are the best thing to happen to a person who gets the pleasure of scraping giant chicken droppings out of a chicken run and coop. I already had a pair of slip-on rubber garden shoes that I used, of course, for gardening. I started using them for convenience when I'd go out to shut the coop door at night. They were always by the coat rack, so I'd slip them on, get my coat, and head out to close in the girls. When I'd go out to open the coop in the morning, I initially wore the shoes I was going to wear to work that day. I changed over to the garden shoes after the day I got to work and realized I'd stepped in some poopy mud and it was stuck to my shoe and getting all over the break room floor. And that's all she wrote. Whenever I go out back and it has anything to do with the girls, I'm now wearing my green garden shoes. They're solid rubber without any fabric, so if they get too gross I can hose them down and leave them in the sun to dry. They're pretty sweet when it comes to chickening.

To make my shoe experience even more suited for a lazy person, I bought a medium-sized plastic dog food bin that has a hinged lid on top. I leave that sucker on our back step and drop my shoes in there before I head in the back door. No E. coli on my kitchen floor, thank you. See, we don't have a back porch. We only have a back step. I don't like to keep any of my shoes outside on the back step because I'm paranoid about a poisonous spider climbing into one of my shoes. I remember seeing a show on T.V. that reenacted the story of a woman who got bitten by a Black Widow that had crawled in one of her shoes she kept in the garage. I don't know why I watch these types of programs. They only make me more of a freak. Ever since then I've been scared that I'll be bitten by a Black Widow or some other horrible spider if I leave my shoes outside and I'll fall over and die. Though I just Googled it and read on the Mayo Clinic's website that apparently a Black Widow spider bite is rarely lethal. I'm not taking any chances. The practical use for the bin is that I can leave my shoes outside no matter the weather. Yes, the shoes can get wet, but I don't want to have to put my feet in soaking wet shoes to go out the coop. I also don't want to have to dry them off in the morning when I'm hauling it to get off to work. On the rare occasion we get snow, it's nice not to have to scoop snow out of my shoes either. So even if you're not a crazy freak like I am, the bin is not a bad idea.

Feeding the chickens takes up quite a deal of my chicken chores, so my last awesome chicken ideas have to do with food accessories. We keep our chicken food in a trash can in our shed. I keep the food in the bag, so I can put two or three different bags in the trash can. We usually have chicken food, scratch, and oyster shell bags all in the same trash can. It saves a lot of space. The trash can is necessetated by the fact that we get mice in the shed some times. To make filling our chicken feeder easier, my awesome idea was to cut the top off a milk jug at an angle, leaving the handle in tact. I fill the jug with food and only take that into the coop to fill the feeder. This way I'm not hauling the heavy food bag back and forth every time. I also cut off the bottom of a 2-liter soda bottle, drilled a few holes in it and attached it to the inside of the run with zip ties, so it's hanging off the hardware cloth where the girls can reach it. We put crushed oyster shell in it, so they'll have access to it whenever they feel like they need their calcium. The holes in the bottom are important! Without the holes, you'll have oyster paste the first time you get a good rain. I may or may not know this fact from experience. Next to the oyster shell feeder I hanged ("Hanged" is grammatically correct. Trust me. Hung is not a real word. It's slang.) a suet feeder that I use for treats, usually greens, so they can go to town on them. They tear at that thing like crazy little velociraptors. If you've ever doubted whether dinosaurs were related to birds, watch a flock attach a suet feeder full of cabbage.

I've got a few more good ideas, but I'll save those for later. There are twelve new months this year that I need to fill. Enjoy.