Bought Lessons

Wow, has it really been almost 3 months since I posted last? Where has the time gone? There has been a lot that has gone on in the past 3 months that I’ll catch you up on in future posts. Today, I’ll highlight 3 lessons I’ve learned in the past 3 months.

Lesson 1: Design Matters

I was getting tired of the hens sleeping and pooping in the chickshaw nest boxes. This lead to poop covered eggs and chickens who started laying in other places because of the poop. The chickens LOVE laying in the broody tote. So, when one of our buff pullets went broody and we gave her the tote to hatch eggs (another post) we needed another solution for the nest boxes. So, we bought two 18 gallon totes and cut holes in the long side of them. The hens love them, they keep the hay dry, and the eggs clean. However, there is a problem with the design that I didn’t foresee. One afternoon, when I was out collecting eggs, I saw that one of the totes was flipped on its side with the hole facing the ground. When I lifted the tote, it was heavier than it should have been with just hay inside. I popped off the lid and I found one of our Leghorn cross hens in there, dead. She hadn’t been dead long either. It was only a moderately warm day and the tote had been in the sun all morning. That was enough to cause the hen to die from over heating. To remedy the problem, I put heavy stone pavers in the bottom of the totes to keep them from flipping. In future, I plan to turn these totes into chicken transport bins with a wire window for ventilation. When I replace them, I’ll be putting the access holes in one of the short ends of the tote as they are highly unlikely to tip onto that side with the hole down. Sorry, for the bad picture. I wanted to get this post out today and it was getting dark so I took the picture through the upstairs window. You can see the nest box tote behind the chickshawbad nest box

Lesson 2: Ask a Lot of Questions

Over the past month, I’ve stumbled upon the idea of getting heritage breed meat birds to eat rather than raising dual purpose birds primarily for meat. We will still be eating some of our dual purpose culls, but one bird barely has enough meat on it for one dinner, never mind leftovers. Plus, some of the family prefers white meat to dark meat and the dual purpose birds have very little dark meat. The Large Fowl Cornish chicken grows out to similar proportions as a Cornish Cross hybrid does, but they take about twice as long to get to a good slaughter size. However, they are a sustainable heritage breed that doesn’t die from leg or heart problems before the reach maturity and can live a long, healthy life. I wanted to get my hands on White Cornish, but there are very few breeders of Large Fowl Whites and they are pretty far away and/or their breeding trios are VERY expensive. However, I found a show breeder of Large Fowl Dark Cornish for a reasonable price that was about 5 and a half hours from us. I was able to cut the travel time to them a good bit because we went to the city for a business trip to visit with my new manager and swinging by the breeder on the way home only added 3 hours to our homeward trip as opposed to making a special 11 hour round trip for the birds. When I arrived I found 3 absolutely beautiful birds that were exactly what I was looking for. While I was talking to the breeder’s wife, she mentioned that they used Frontline on the birds to keep mites away. I didn’t think much of it in the moment so I brought the birds home. After I recovered from the trip a bit, I did some research on Frontline in birds. I found this well researched article about using Frontline on chickens. Apparently, even CAFOs aren’t allowed to use the stuff. It is a carcinogen that remains in the system for 8 weeks or so and can be found in a chicken’s fat for up to 8 months.  So, the current plan is to wait at least 8 weeks before trying to incubate any eggs from these girls and we won’t be eating anything directly (meat or eggs) from these birds. This will also give the birds a chance to get used to being on grass and eating organic feed. If I could go back, and do it all again, I would have asked more questions about what products and medicines were used on the birds before I bought them and I wouldn’t have bought these particular birds since I want to keep this operation as organic as possible. That being said, they are beautiful, well bred birds.

IMG_6212IMG_6214

Lesson 3: Scout Auctions Before Selling at Them

I head from someone online that they had great success selling their chickens at auction. At the auction she scouted, roosters were going for $10-50 depending on breed and looks and young trios of birds were going for $75-150 depending on breed and looks. That got me very excited. I had two roosters (one Delaware, one New Hampshire) that were both royal pains in the butt. They weren’t human aggressive, but one of them wasn’t very nice in a flock situation and caused problems and the other started mercilessly beating up on another rooster. I also had 2 hens of each breed I had decided not to use as breeders but I was keeping them for layers. I decided I would bundle them up as trios and sell them at auction. The night before, Matthew and I put together temporary cages out of one of our potato cages cut in half, 1/4″ plywood that had been left out to be put in the burn pile, and a few zip ties. I originally tried to use boxes with wire windows but the Delaware hens busted through them in almost no time flat. The reason we decided to go with containers made of leftover scrap material is because the container goes with the birds at this auction and I didn’t want to buy a crate only to have it taken. Again, sorry for the photo. This was taken before I left for the auction and I only had the outdoor flood lights on.

Auction Cages
After driving two hours on little sleep and waiting 5 hours for the auction to start, I discovered that this auction was a buyers’ auction. All the animals were going for lower prices than I thought they should. I was aghast when I thought my Delaware trio brought only $9 and my New Hampshire Trio brought $8. At those prices, after the auction took their cut, I would have only received $10.75. That would be less than what I paid for two of the Delawares as day old chicks. However, yesterday I received a letter from the auction with a check and a seller’s receipt. Imagine my surprise when the check was made out for $36.25. Huh?!?! I look at the seller’s receipt, apparently the bid price was PER Head, not per box. Whew. So my birds sold for $27 and $24 and $36.25 is what was left over after the auction fees. It wasn’t as much as what I was hoping for but at least I’ll be able to buy almost 1.5 bags of feed with that money.

 

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August 2017 Update

Hello Everyone!

Wow, I wasn’t really intending to take a month long break from blogging, but life happens. I’m now back to work after having two and a half weeks off from work. On the first day of vacation, we separated the Delaware and New Hampshire cockerels from the pullets. We counted out 7 New Hampshire and 8 Delaware Cockerels. We moved the cockerels into their own coop and run.

Cockerels

The reason we did this is so that we could integrate the pullets in with the laying hens with the least fuss and bother possible. The integration went smoothly and we were even able to start releasing the mutt chicks from their run in the afternoon to start integrating with the flock.you can see some of the small white chicks on the left side near the gut bucket.

Hens

At first, the chicks respected the fence, but after a while they got bolder and started roaming and foraging more freely. You can see the little white birds clearly roaming outside the electric fence.

Free roaming chicks

The first half week of vacation, we spent in Pennsylvania for a family wedding. The next week, I took off as a stay-cation to do some chores on the farm. Sad to say, I didn’t get as much accomplished as I intended. I thought I would have oodles of time to do farm projects if I didn’t have to work. Nope! It turns out that taking care of a 13 month old little guy while working on the computer is VERY different from doing farm projects while caring for him. I did manage to get one very important task completed. Over the course of 3 days, I whittled our 15 cockerels down to 3 of each breed. I will go over our process for selecting our top 3 from each breed that we will be assessing for temperament in another blog post. For that last week of vacation, David, Mr. G and I, along with Grace, spent the week with some friends in a state park about 5 hours away. It was a very relaxing week, which we all needed.

DENH six

Today I made a surprising discovery. I saw one of the Delaware “pullets” doing something very… un-pullet like… to one the other pullets. I cornered the bird for a closer inspection and, lo-and-behold, we missed a rooster. Thinking back, when I separated the cockerels from the pullets, there was one bird I wasn’t sure about, so I left it with the pullets. We caught, banded and put this cockerel with the 6 others. We aren’t even considering weighing it against the other cockerels for several reasons. One, we want to select for fast maturing birds. If the rooster was still ambiguous at 13 weeks when we separated them, he didn’t mature fast enough. Two, while I was trying to catch a Delaware pullet to show Grace the feather differences between a pullet and a cockerel, this guy deliberately bit Grace. People aggression is a trait we don’t want to encourage in our birds. So we gave him a red band to make it obvious he is going in the freezer. Sadly, it means that we had one more cockerel than pullets in the Delawares, but if you look at our Animal Tally, we are now down to 59 chickens! That is a big difference from our high of 83.

ambiguous rooster.jpg

Another thing we did when we rearranged the chickens, was to move Molasses (who was in with the Delaware and New Hampshire chicks) in with the Dominique cross hens. The two Buff Orpington roosters we had put in with them had been slaughtered and we didn’t think he would get along well with Inca and Mellow. Also, just in case we have another hen go broody, we want the Dominique eggs to be fertilized by Molasses so we can hatch them out for mutts that should be broody as well. At first, Molasses wasn’t too sure about the full grown hens, but they warmed up to each other and he now watches over them like a good rooster should.

Molasses with Doms

We do have a slight problem that we do need to keep an eye on, though. Molasses, has a favorite girl. Blondie, one of our Dom/Buff cross hens, is definitely showing the wear and tear of being constantly loved on. She was a little ragged looking before this because she was Alfredo’s (our now frozen Leghorn rooster) favorite as well.

With summer in high swing, we are now rolling in tomatoes, eggs, and basil. Our hens are dependably laying 20+ eggs a day and the 18 Delaware and New Hampshire pullets are only 16 weeks and haven’t started laying yet. They should start laying in 2 weeks or a month. On an average day, we eat between 10 and 14 eggs. So, to use up the leftovers, we’ve been giving some to my parents as well as making dinners with them. This is great because we are using a lot less meat in our diets. We are actually almost able to make dinner completely off the farm. Except for seasonings (salt, garlic powder, pepper) and some cheese, our favorite summer dinner comes straight from the farm. We slice up a few tomatoes and lay them in a baking dish, chop up some basil and spread it over top, beat and season some eggs and pour it over the tomatoes and basil and top the dish with some shredded cheese. It makes a DELICIOUS dinner. Also, between the eggs we are currently getting and the 18 roosters we have in the freezer, we figure that we are breaking even on our feed bill every month now.

Dinner from land

One interesting thing I found before we left for the vacation with friends was these tomato plants growing out from under our house. At first I couldn’t figure out how these volunteer tomatoes got there and then it dawned on me. Earlier this year we had a “sewage pipe incident” with our back bathroom toilet. Apparently, humans can spread seeds as well has birds can. I found that notion to be quite funny. As much as I like using volunteer plants, we had to mow them down. One, we are going to have our plumbing system inspected and possibly upgraded and we needed them out of the way. Two, this side of the house is shaded until well after noon, and the plants got a late start so we probably wouldn’t get any fruit from them. And three, since they were growing straight out of fresh poo, it wouldn’t be sanitary to harvest anything that did grow from them.

Volunteer Tomatoes

It has now been nearly a year since we moved to the farm. So much has changed! There are a few things I miss from the big city (our former church, cell phone reception, having internet that doesn’t have data limits) but I love my life out here. Each day is a new adventure and I love being in such beautiful country.

Rainbow over house

Culling Named Roosters

So we came to the decision this week that we needed to cull two of our named roosters. While Alfredo – our Leghorn cross rooster – was really good at guarding and taking care of the hens, we do not want to use him for breeding purposes and he isn’t accepting of ANY other roosters around his ladies. Because of this, we decided it was time for him to go. We also decided to cull Butterball, the Buff rooster we removed from the rooster pen because he was getting beat up and had become VERY skinny. He had a couple of weeks to fatten back up and “spread his wings”, however, he was scared witless of people. This made the night-time routine difficult because he wanted to roost outside of the coop rather than inside. This lead to me, Matthew, and sometimes Grace chasing him around until he went inside the coop. He was also neurotic and not very interested in mating with the hens, two marks against having him as a breeding rooster. It was definitely harder to cull two roosters that we had named, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Alfredo was a year old and was much tougher to process than Butterball, who was 22 weeks old. They were both decent sized birds, note how they fill up the 9 X 13 dish we use for chilling in the fridge. Alfredo had the most fat in him that I’ve seen in any bird I’ve processed to date.  I think it is interesting how different the two birds look. Alfredo had yellow skin and Butterball had white skin.

Two roosters

Next week we want to integrate the Delaware and New Hampshire chicks – now almost 11 weeks old – into the layer flock. Most of the Delawares are now larger than our smaller Leghorn hens. To reduce tension while integrating the younger birds we’ve decided to do two different things. First, our Dominique hens and Dom/RIR hen like to bully smaller birds. So we decided to move all of our Dom and Dom cross hens (even the more laid back Dom/Buff hens) into the Love Nest. I was originally planning to cull 4 roosters yesterday, but all of us were really tired and it was much easier on me to only cull Alfredo and Butterball. This means that we have 2 Buff roosters left on the cull list. So, to simplify feeding and watering, we decided to let them have one last hurrah and moved them into the Love Nest with the Dom hens for the week. This is going well and everyone seems to be pretty happy. However, moving them in with the hens has reinforced their status on the cull list. Both roosters, one in particular, have become more people aggressive and possessive of the hens since we moved them.

love nest doms-buff roos

On Saturday, after we pull the two Buff roosters out of the Love Nest we will be moving our Black Cochin rooster, Molasses, into the Love Nest with the Dom cross hens. Since we currently have the two Buff roosters we’ve selected as our breeding roosters in with the laying hens, we figured adding a third rooster to the mix while integrating the chicks would be too much. This move also allows us to accomplish another plan, next time we have a good hen go broody we will have fertile eggs for her to hatch that we have pre-screened by isolating a particular breeding group. When we found out that Molasses was a Black Cochin and his disposition turned out to be fairly good we knew we wanted to breed him with our mutt flock to add new genetics, particularly the broodiness of the Black Cochin breed.

Molasses crowing

Since removing the Dominique cross hens from the layer flock, the Buff and Leghorn cross hens have seemed to integrate much better and there is less pecking and squabbling going on. The Buff hens even seem to be teaching the Leghorns that approaching people isn’t a bad thing. They have taken to crowding up to me whenever I come out to check on them or collect eggs. I think it is because I like bringing little tidbits for them (bugs from the garden, food scraps, an extra handful of grain). Another nice thing about having the Dom cross hens out, no body flew over the fence today. Usually, a couple of the Leghorn hens end up on the wrong side of the fence. Today, that didn’t happen. It was lovely. I’m guessing they had been jumping the fence when they are getting picked on.

We are also rolling in eggs now. Today, all 15 of our fully mature hens laid an egg and 8 of our 9 Buff hens laid tiny little pullet eggs. We mainly eat our normal sized eggs hard boiled, so the pullet eggs would get overcooked if we hard boiled them. We have been able to give my parents 2 dozen of the pullet eggs and we will be using another 2 dozen for dinner tomorrow. The little pullet eggs are so tiny and cute. The pullet egg in the picture below is actually one of the larger pullet eggs we’ve had next to one of our smaller Leghorn eggs.

Since they get along so well and we have enough hens to keep them happy we have decided it won’t be too much trouble to keep two Buffs for breeding roosters, for genetic variety as well as redundancy. The first Buff we are keeping we have called Inca (as in Inca Kola, a yellow soft drink). He is the last of the 4 roosters that were heaviest at 16 weeks old. He has a very calm personality and loves the hens and looks after them. He isn’t overly afraid of people and will come up looking for treats.

Inca

Our second breeding rooster we decided to call Mellow (as in Mellow Yellow). He isn’t as large as Inca is or Butterball was but, as his name implies, he is an extremely calm and chill bird. He doesn’t particularly want to be handled, but when we have to handle him he calms down quickly and is non-aggressive and very curious about what is going on around him. He also loves the hens, particularly the Buff hens, and is constantly watching over them and finding treats for them.

Mellow

The chicks are now officially on their own. We were letting Mama out with the rest of the flock during the day and putting her back with the chicks at night because she was hanging out next to the cage to be let back in. About a week ago, she stopped “asking” to be put back in with them and doesn’t seem to care about them any more than any of the other hens do. They are now almost 7 weeks old and are growing great and are completely feathered out. They are still too small to release inside the electric fence, so we will be keeping them in their run until they are a little older.

mutt chicks 7w

Gleaning in the Hay Field

Earlier this week, Bobby got around to cutting our hay. On Thursday he bailed it. After bailing, I noticed there was a LOT of hay left over in the field. It was all over the edges of the field and randomly strewn around the field and in the lane.

So, that afternoon, my mom took the riding mower with the blade positioned high and used it to blow the hay in the middle of the field into windrows and I raked the hay from the edges of the field and the lane into piles. Mr. G really enjoyed riding on the mower with Mom-mom for 2 hours. David drove the truck around the field next to me and I pitched the hay into the bed. After I ran out of steam, 2.5 hours into the process and a dime sized blister on my palm, we pitched half the hay into the run of the brooding house. We have since re-christened the brooding house as the love nest. Since our broody hen solution has worked SO well, we decided that we won’t use the stationary house and coop for brooding unless we have another large batch of chicks. For now, we will be using it for breeding groups or as a holding area for extra roosters. We currently are housing Alfredo, the Dom hen whom we have dubbed Broody, and 3 Buff hens. We are currently testing different Buff roosters in the laying flock to see if they are good flock roosters. As far as Broody goes, we added her into the run to see if removing her from her favorite nesting box would help break her of being broody. Since moving her, we haven’t seen any signs of broodiness and she started laying again today. The chickens LOVE digging down through the hay to get at bugs living in the hay and scratching at the ground.

hay in run

We also covered the patch of dirt that was hidden under the log pile with hay. The soil is so loamy and will make a great garden in the future. However, it is very late in the growing season, so we covered it to prevent weeds from growing.

hay on dirt

When I was finished in the field, the Hay was as high as the top of the cab. We plan to weed the garden tomorrow and put the rest of the hay down around the plants to discourage weeds.

Hay in truck

The chicks are doing amazingly well. We haven’t lost any of them since the first week. The Delaware and New Hampshire chicks are now 10 weeks old. Some of the roosters are now as large as our leghorn hens.

Molasses is now king of the flock. We have put him and the Delaware and New Hampshire chicks out on grass in a paddock next to the laying hens. It is really nice to be able to introduce the two flocks to each other without anyone getting hurt, a few of the chicks have even gone over the wire into the other paddock and the hens and rooster didn’t seem to mind at all.

2 paddocks

The mutt chicks are also getting bigger. 4 of them are a nondescript  white, but three have shown some interesting characteristics. Our grey chick is looking very pretty now that he is feathering out.

There is another little rooster that is pure white, except for the end of one feather on his back which is barred. It looks like he had a Dom or a Dom/cross mother.

onefeather 6w

Two days ago, I was looking at the chicks and noticed that one of them wasn’t as white as the others. I picked her up and I noticed she has gold lacing on the edges of her feathers. Very pretty. I wish I knew which hen was her mother and what parentage she had.

GL close 6w

GL full 6w

GL right side 6w

On a brighter note, we have been getting pullet eggs! Yesterday, I found 2 similarly undersized eggs in the paddock where 6 of the buff hens are residing. Today, I found 2 more in the paddock, and 3 in the love nest (there are 3 buffs in with Alfredo). It is great the the buffs have started laying since they are almost 22 weeks old. Our original layers have slacked off a bit with the heat we’ve had recently. Hopefully the buffs will help make up the lack.

A Hard Lesson

This week, we learned a very important lesson of farming and animal care. Our animals are dependent on us to keep them secure and safe from predators. Last time I posted, I showed a picture of the makeshift pens we used to separate roosters to fatten them up for slaughter. The base cage was made out of 3 of our left over potato cages made with 1″ by 2″ welded wire. We kept the roosters in by covering the cages in snow fencing. While the welded wire would keep the roosters in, it isn’t predator proof. To make it more predator proof, we would encircle the three cages with 1/4″ hardware cloth. However, there were a couple of times that we forgot to keep the cages encircled in the hardware cloth.

Sunday morning, Grace saw the roosters moving around in their cages before she left for church. After we returned from church, Matthew found one of the roosters missing entirely (except for some feathers next to the cage) and a second rooster has been 3/4ths eaten.  I felt sick. It was my fault that the birds were exposed and vulnerable. I felt even worse because we had plenty of warning. Over the previous week, we had seen multiple signs of raccoon incursion on our property. As seen in the previous post, a raccoon broke my feather drying rack. The raccoon also got into the cat litter and food bags we were keeping on the porch (not a good idea, I know) and the electrolyte supplements my mom has for her horses. Needless to say, this raccoon had gotten way too habituated to ransacking human habitations and had figured out we had a tasty source of live meat. So we set up a live trap and baited it with the what remained of the second rooster.

We also planned to get up extra early the next day and move the electric poultry netting for the hens. The ditch behind my parents’ place was really good  as far as forage for the chickens, but it was out of the way and the wire was grounded out from going up and down multiple hills. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get the fence well charged in that terrain.

I woke up around 5:45 am Monday morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. It was light enough, so I went outside to start moving the hen’s paddock and I found the live trap was tripped. Inside, was a raccoon. It had returned for seconds. We had to euthanize the animal for several reasons. 1) Relocating the raccoon often leads to the raccoon dying of starvation because it doesn’t know where to find food. 2) We couldn’t just release it back onto our property because it was a danger to our birds and could eventually pose a risk to humans and other animals on the property (rabies, biting, etc.). Since we took care of this one animal, we haven’t had any issues. We will probably be setting up several traps around the property so we can remove any other predators that make a habit of coming in too close.

coon

Even though we caught the raccoon, we still moved the chickens to a “flatter” area. By flatter, I mean a hill side that is close to being a similarly graded slope the whole length. The hens LOVE that I included an ash pit where my parents had burned some brush. Anytime it dries out, you can find the hens scratching and bathing in it.

Wood Ash

Earlier this week, we also added a new addition into the hen’s run. We moved Mama and her babies up into the run. The babies are still too small to be contained by the electric poultry netting so we still have them and Mama in the 5′ x 5′ run.

Run uphill view

Since the chicks were about 3 weeks old, Mama had been regularly pacing the fence, and clucking at us any time we walked past, she also has gotten really easy to handle and downright friendly with people. She had also started laying eggs again. On the morning the chicks turned 4 weeks old, I went to open the run to check on their feed situation and Mama tried to make an escape from the run. I figured that she was done with the chicks and wanted to get back with the other hens. A bit sad, I tested my theory. I picked her up and put her inside the run with the other hens. Within 10 seconds, Alfredo jumped on and mated with her. She got up and pranced off to explore the run. I thought “Well, that’s it, she’s done with her babies.” However, about 15 min later I came back outside to see Mama pacing the side of the fence closest to her babies and making her “come here” call to them. Then it dawned on me, she wanted to take her babies back to the flock. So I put all her babies in the tote and brought them up to her. On my way up, I slipped on the hill and jostled them, which made them cheep. Mama tried to come see what was wrong and shocked herself on the fence. She hadn’t had to deal with the electric fence before she was already sitting on the eggs when the fence arrived. Once I got her pen set back up and let her babies back out she was quite content to take her motherly duties back over and started showing them how to scratch around in the taller grass and weeds.

Brooding pen in run

Besides keeping the tiny chicks from slipping through the fence, this is also a good way to introduce the chicks to the flock while keeping them safe from predators, which includes the other chickens. Within an hour of moving them, I looked outside and saw Red (our RIR/Dom cross) challenging Mama through the fence. As I watched, Red kept trying to peck at the chicks through the wire and Mama would push herself between Red and the chick while trying to attack Red through the wire. Alfredo didn’t quite know what to do and stood by watching two of his hens duke it out. In the end, Red back off and I haven’t seen her go after the chicks since.

Mama vs Red

We also definitely need to slaughter a few Roosters this week. Because of the all the reworking of the chicken living arrangements, and the shock of loosing two of the birds we were going to slaughter, we decided to put the surviving rooster back with the other roosters. We banded him with a red zip-tie so we would know who should be on the next “cull” list. He has definitely proved to be up to his old tricks again. He has been guarding the food and terrorizing the other roosters so that they stay in the coop all the time. He is definitely on the list for tomorrow.

Meanie Roo

Earlier today, I pulled all the roosters out of the coop so they would have a chance to get some food and water. One of them was so terrified that he jumped off my back and escaped from the run. When we caught him and put him back, the other roosters started attacking him 2 and 3 at a time. So I pulled him out again. He is one of the two remaining birds that I marked as the 4 heaviest. However, he has since gotten very thin. So I moved him in with Molasses and his little buddies to see how they would do. Molasses was not happy to see him, but after making sure his position as head honcho of this run wouldn’t be challenged, they came to an uneasy truce. This rooster also seemed to be ignoring the chicks and the chicks were just staying out of his way. Since things seemed to be going well, we decided to call this rooster Butterscotch.

Butterscotch N Molasses

However, when Matthew went to refill their feed for the night, a Delaware chick came into the coop where Butterscotch was hanging out by himself and Butterscotch viciously attacked the chick. Matthew went in to try to break up the fight and Butterscotch flew out the door that Matthew left open in his haste to save the chick. We were able to trap him inside the grow-out coop that we are currently not using and decided to leave him there for the night. We have now decided to change his name to Butterball. Our current plan is to move Molasses and the chicks out on pasture in the new length of PoultryNet that we received earlier this week and we will move Butterball and 1-2 hens into the stationary coop to assess how he treats hens. Until he attacked the chick, we were seriously considering him as a nominee for our Buff breeding rooster because he seemed to be conflict adverse, but we are now going to watch him closely and see how he does with the hens as we fatten him back up.

 

Reducing the Chicken Population

The separation of the buff roosters from the flock has been successful. On Saturday afternoon, we separated the three most aggressive roosters for processing on Sunday. We had 3 left over potato towers made of 2″ by 1″ welded wire. We staked them down with plastic step in posts, covered the top with snow fencing to keep the roosters in and a tarp to keep the sun off them. Overnight, we wrapped the entire setup with 1/4″, 4 ft high hardware cloth to keep predators away from the roosters. I also pushed a perch through the wire so the roosters were more comfortable during the night. On Sunday, I successfully processed the three roosters with help from Grace and Matthew. From first cut, to putting the birds in the fridge, was about 2 hours. Setup and cleanup took a bit longer. Since the last time I processed some birds, it has become easier, I thought it would be harder since I raised these birds from chicks myself. But starting with the meanies definitely made it simpler.

rooster purgatory

The setup of having the grow-out coop attached to the PVC run works very well for assessing which roosters are the most aggressive. What ends up happening is that one to 3 of the most aggressive roosters will guard the food and water in the run and rotate hopping inside to make sure the rest of the roosters don’t come out. However, this situation doesn’t work for the long term. To prevent the more timid roosters (the ones we want to keep from being kept away from the food and water too long, we need to make sure all the roosters are kept out of the coop for a good portion of the day. To accomplish this, I use a poultry hook to pull them all out and shut the door and put a wire screen in front of the opening in the run to keep the roosters from escaping under the coop.

shut coop door

The run has plenty of shade and with so many roosters out, it is impossible for the most aggressive few to guard the food and water because they don’t have a choke point to patrol.

rooster run w tarp

After butchering, I place the wet feathers between two screens to dry. One of my sisters wants to use them for her art. However, last night, it looks as though we had a visitor who thought the feathers smelled like dead chicken.

Feather mess

We think it was a raccoon. We’ll just have to replace the screen before finishing the drying process. Fortunately, all the live feather bearers were left alone.

broken screen

When we were doing the switcheroo, we discovered that removing the buff roosters didn’t help Molasses with Alfredo at all. When we moved the buff hens and Molasses into the run with the laying hens and Alfredo, Molasses was so nervous he wouldn’t eat. When we released the laying hens and Alfredo, Molasses immediately tried to dive through the fence to get away, getting tangled.  Fortunately, the fence was off, but he started squawking and that caught Alfredo’s attention. He and two of the laying hens raced over and started viciously attacking Molasses. At that point, we decided to let Molasses feed unmolested and then move him into the run with the Delaware and New Hampshire chicks. When we first put Molasses in the run, all of the chicks ran away from him, except one New Hampshire cockerel. This little guy puffed up, squawked at him and attacked with both feet and beak. Molasses wasn’t having any of that. He puffed up squawked back and took a hunk of feathers off the little cockerel’s neck. The cockerel had the good sense to back off and Molasses didn’t pursue him. Over the next couple of hours, as long as the chicks respected his space, Molasses left them alone. By the end of the day, Molasses was laying in the dirt, having a nice dust bath, while 4 chicks groomed him. The chicks now crowd around him and look to him if anything is amiss. I’ve also seen him call to them if he finds food. He is really happy with the chicks and is enjoying himself more than I’ve ever seen.

The Chicks are growing up very quickly. Some of the cockerels have started play battling with each other.

Over the weekend, I spotted a humming bird flitting around in the rafters of my parents’ garage. It seemed like it couldn’t find its way out. On Monday morning, my dad heard a little cheep when he went out into the garage, he looked up and saw the humming bird hanging onto a nail in one of the support beams.

Hummingbird1

My mom fed this little female Ruby Throated Hummingbird with an eyedropper of nectar for hummingbird feeders. She fed it for about 2-3 hours until it could stand and perch dependably  on its own.

Hummingbird2

I helped her rig a perch around the feeder under some shade. She fed the bird every hour or so until dark, It didn’t seem to want to eat from the feeder. The bird was still there, expectantly waiting for a feeding this morning. While she was feeding it, another hummingbird kept buzzing past. When time came around for the next feeding, the hummingbird was gone. Hopefully she has the strength to survive now.

Hummingbird3

Returning Home

Saturday morning, David C., our son Mr. G and I left to make a 6 day visit to the big city we left. The main goal was to spend 3 days visiting the ball of my “golden chain”, but we also left early so we could have Sunday to visit with friends and go to our old church. Some of you may be wondering what the “golden chain” I’m talking about is. It is a term that a famous permaculture farmer, Joel Salatin, used to describe a job that keeps you tied to a suburban or urban life. Fortunately, my golden chain is long enough to reach almost 300 miles and flexible enough that I can still easily do farm work, care for my son, and not feel too confined by it (usually). The trip went well, work wise, but dealing with a baby who got sick on the trip (which caused major sleep deprivation), sleeping in a strange bed, driving in city traffic, and being away from home really took a toll on us all. Thursday morning, we were just ready to get home. Once we arrived home, the first thing I did, after unloading the baby, was catch a rooster who had gotten loose and collect the eggs. It was so good to be home.

Later that evening, I found a great way to catch a hormonal, teenage rooster. We had accidentally left the poultry netting off so I came outside to find 2 buff roosters and a buff hen circling the run where Molasses and a few of the buff hens were being kept. I tried to catch a rooster first, but he was too quick. So I went after the hen. She cornered herself between the coop and the PVC run and she was easy to grab. The rooster, was still nearby so I thought I would try to grab him as well. He was wary, but the hen started squawking and he forgot I was there and jumped on her. That made it easy to grab him and toss him back into the pen. I kept the hen in my other hand and tried it again on the second rooster. When I would get her close to the ground, she would start squawking and trying to get away. That caught the rooster’s attention and he jumped her only to be nabbed by my free hand. To catch a rooster, you only need the right bait. However, our most frequent flyer rooster has figured out the bait and grab method and is very wary of us now. Fortunately we have a plan to fix that problem.

The laying hens and the majority of the buff s have been on the same grass we put them on a little bit over a week ago. While we were gone, Matthew and Grace had been wondering why the egg count seemed to be light. The chickens did almost too good of a job on the ground near the coop, but the tall weeds in the ditch hadn’t been touched much at all. So today, I went out with a weed whacker and knocked down all the tall stuff. In the process, I found six eggs hidden in several different places in the weeds. 4 of the eggs looked to be from the same hen. The run looks much better now and we will move them further down the ditch, onto more tall weeds, tomorrow.

Run weed wacked

The run isn’t the only thing we will be moving tomorrow. We will be swapping Molasses and his girls for all the buff roosters. Today, one of the buff girls got loose from the big run and came over to visit with Molasses and the other girls. Matthew couldn’t remember how many girls we had in with Molasses, so he caught her and dropped her in with them. We have been talking about trying to confine all the buff rooster into the PVC run so they will be easier to assess for temperament and easier to catch when butchering time comes. However, the logistics of catching 16 roosters was a little daunting. But I had an idea. Since most of the buff hens were in with Molasses, we decided that it we would capture the other 4 hens, and stash them with Molasses. The theory is that tomorrow, we will take the grow out coop with the roosters, out of the paddock and to the PVC run and move the small isolation coop with the hens into the paddock. The hope is that once the pressure of having so many roosters in the pen is off, Alfredo won’t mind having Molasses back in with the flock. Our current backup plan for Molasses, if Alfredo still goes after him, is moving him in with the New Hampshire and Delaware chicks and see how that goes.

Molasses and hens

Molasses has been much happier recently and we want to make sure he doesn’t get beat up because he really is a nice, docile bird. Pretty too!

Molasses

While we were away, the Kale grew like crazy. Today, I harvested a very large stainless steel bowl full of it.

Kale harvest

We have 5 different types of Kale; red russian, two types of curly, a variety of dino kale and I can’t remember what the last one is.

5 kale leaves

After removing the stems I had three gallon sized ziplock bags of kale to freeze (we add it to soups and sauces as we don’t like the taste of fresh kale that much). The New Hampshire and Delaware chicks really enjoyed the stems.

ND kale stems

The New Hampshire and Delaware chicks are getting really grown up now. They are 6.5 weeks old and they are the busiest chicks I’ve ever seen. The New Hampshires are looking nice. I really like the darker markings in their tails and hackles.

New Hampshire 6weeks

The Delawares have feathered out much faster, more completely and are generally bigger than the New Hampshires. I like their darker markings as well.

Delaware 6weeks

While we were gone, Matthew has been working on getting rid of the wood pile that was near the brooding house run. the logs were riddled with ants and other bugs, so he threw some of them into the run so the chicks could clean them off. They were wary at first, but then got excited about logs appearing. After he moved the whole pile (except the stump) Matthew made a temporary run with 2′ high, 1/2″ chicken wire, step in stakes, zip ties, and a tarp to keep off flying predators.

ND temp run

The chicks have enjoyed scratching up the ground and eating the bugs. The run is by no means secure. We have been checking on them every half hour to an hour and putting any escapees back. I did several head counts today and they are all still there.

ND temp run ut

Mama and babies are doing very well too. She is still a great protector of her chicks, but tolerant of human interference. She puffs up and makes noises when we get close or try handling the chicks, but she doesn’t attack us, just keeps and eye and ear open to see what we are doing. I did a check for tail feathers on the chicks before we left last weekend on the theory that the first chicks to get tail feathers are pullets and we supposedly have 4 pullets out of 7 chicks. This method marks the grey chick as a pullet as well. I was concerned she may be a rooster because of the dot on her head (potentially a sex linked trait) but that doesn’t appear to be true.

Mama and 2.5 week chicks

It is so nice to be home. However, I am not particularly looking forward to the chicken chores I will have to start doing soon to whittle down the number of roosters.

 

Yard Hay

I made a very neat discovery this week. After I mow the lawn, I usually rake up the grass clippings and throw them into the brooding house run for the Delaware and New Hampshire chicks. However, when I mowed the lawn on Monday, I was too tired to rake up the clippings. By time I got around to raking up the grass clippings on Wednesday, the grass had dried out.

dried grass

It was so much easier to rake up, move around, and throw to the chicks without all that excess water weight.

yard hay

It also makes great filler for our nest boxes. It isn’t slippery like the straw we had been using and sticks around in the box much longer.

Yard hay in nest box

Our garden is also doing very well, I was able to harvest about a pound of kale on Saturday, but the weeds where starting to take over. I’m very glad we got started plants because that is the only way they were able to stay ahead of the weeds.

Garden before mulch

Over the long weekend, I was able to mulch 2/3rds of the garden and it looks much better. I didn’t put down cardboard between the plants, but we haven’t had much luck with the cardboard and mulch method. So this is intended to suppress the weeds enough that we can keep up with what weeds do get through.

Garden after mulch

Among the weeds, I did find, what I think is a volunteer sunflower. I decided to mulch around it as well and let it grow.

Volunteer Sunflower

Over the weekend, we also released our laying hens and the leghorn cross rooster (whom we have dubbed Alfredo) into the yard with the buff orpingtons. Several of the hens had escaped from the PVC run and they were pecking and scratching around the yard quite contentedly and were happy to ignore the buffs for the most part. So, we decided to free the hens and Alfredo and see what happened. Alfredo was quite dismayed at the change and took to guarding his hens very carefully. However, there is now less fighting between the buff roosters. When ever there is a tiff between them and they make a lot of noise, Alfredo chases them down and puts a stop to it.

Hens in ten

One change we did have to make because of adding Alfredo to the mix was we moved the Black Cochin rooster (dubbed Molasses, because he isn’t very fast and he is black) out into the PVC run with 4 of the buff pullets because Alfredo was beating up on him very badly. I noticed on Tuesday, that any time Alfredo spotted Molasses outside of the grow-out coop he would viciously chase down and attack him. I believe Alfredo would do the same with the buff roosters if he could, but the buffs are faster than he is and can lose him. Not so with poor Molasses. He is very slow and non-aggressive and Alfredo took advantage of that. Once, I saw Molasses dive underneath the grow-out coop and Alfredo followed him underneath and was pulling feathers out of his tail. On Wednesday, I didn’t see Molasses outside of the coop at all. When I pulled Molasses out of the coop, he had NOTHING in his crop. So, we moved the PVC run outside of the electric fence, put Molasses and the buff pullets in it. We added a large plastic dog kennel with straw bedding to the run to shut them in for the night to keep them safe from predators, but that wasn’t big enough for long-term. So, today, I built a 3ft by 3ft wire bottom coop with perches (like the chickshaw, or the grow-out coop) from left over building materials we had on hand. Most of the frame came from the old rooster tractor, which Matthew completely dismantled earlier this week. The siding and door was left over from building the original chicken coop (now the brooding house). We had the wire on hand from other projects and the roof also came from the old rooster tractor. I didn’t even have to cut the roofing at all. It was the perfect size. I made the middle roof rafter a foot longer than it needed to be. This leaves 6 inch handles on either side of the coop so that it can be easily moved.

small coop

Molasses and the pullets seem very happy wit their new setup. This setup will be incredibly handy for isolating sick or picked on birds and if I add nest boxes to the coop it will work very well for isolating a selected breeding group.

small coop and run

In other farm news, My mom has moved horses to the farm. She is very excited. It has been a life long dream of her’s to have horses on her own property. We had some excitement after they arrived. The fence is usually charged down by Bobby’s house, but for some reason it wasn’t working and Bobby was out of town for Memorial Day. We came up with a temporary solution of running a wire from the paddock fencing, across the driveway, and linking it to the electric fence around the garden. It worked very well until Bobby fixed the issue when he got back.

Just a note to anyone that might be concerned. What the horses have on their noses in the picture are grazing muzzles. The field had knee high grass in it, and horses that aren’t used to getting that much grass can eat themselves sick, even to death. This is only a temporary measure for the next few weeks until they get used to the grass. They get about 6 hours a day where they can graze without the muzzles, and they can drink just fine with the muzzles on.

horses

The horses have settled in very well, however, they still aren’t sure if they like that Bobby’s cows are in the field across the road.

Mama and her babies are also doing fine. We found out yesterday how good of a mama she actually is. My dad and mom were coming back from a walk with their dogs and I asked my dad if he wanted to see the chicks. He, my mom, and the dogs came around the house with me. Mama hen was in the brooder tote with her babies, so I lifted the lid of the run so I could access the tote to get a chick to show to my dad. While I wasn’t looking, my parents’ dog, Cricket (a cockapoo-dachshund with a fairly high prey drive) comes up to the run and starts sniffing. We then hear a piercing screech and I see Mama fly out of the tote and try to attack Cricket through the wire of the run. Cricket practically tumbles end over end to get away from Mama and hides behind my dad. It is nice to know that she is a mama that will attack a predator for her babies. More and more, I believe she will be a chicken that we keep around for a good, long time. She is so good with her babies. She even gives them “chicken back rides”.

riding mama

Tonight, we moved the electric netting paddock to a new area. They had been in the previous spot for a week and did a pretty good job of clearing it up. I had to use a weed wacker to knock down some of the taller weeds so they could finish eating them, but they did a good job. We moved them behind and to the side of my parents’ garage because there is a drainage ditch that is overgrown behind the garage and it is hard to get it cleared up. I just used a weed wacker to clear a path through the overgrown weeds on the ditch and we  encompassed about 1/4th of the ditch. The chickens were enjoying going through the tall weeds. Hopefully this lasts them until next week even though this is a slightly smaller area than last time.

Run behind garage

Heat Wave

The weather this week has been brutally hot for mid-May. It’s been in the 80’s and we humans and the chickens aren’t quite used to it. We’ve been moving the Buff Orpingtons around to keep them on fresh grass. On the first really hot day, Grace and Matthew noticed that where we had them penned up against the brooding house and yard, they had little to no shade during the middle portion of the day. A few of the buffs were taking shelter in the coop, but I it was too hot in there for all of them to crowd in out of the sun. They had taken to trying to dig underneath of the coop  and laying on their backs in whatever shade they could find and sticking their feet up in the air. Not a good sign. My solution was to grab a tarp, attach one side to the broody house run and stake the other side to the ground. It made a very effective sun shade for the chickens.

chicken shade

When we moved them around the peach tree in the back yard I took the step in plastic posts that we used with the snow fencing, turned two of them up side down to prop the tarp in the middle and used four more posts to hold down each corner. It makes a really nice pup tent for the chickens.

chicken tent

They seem to think so anyway.

chicken tent - close

I got a hanging scale so I could weigh and mark the buff roosters for either eating or keeping. I gave all the roosters a pretty anklet.  A thin green one if they are destined for the stewpot and a thicker puce green band if we are keeping them. I marked 12 roosters for the stew pot and the 4 heaviest roosters to keep. That’s right, the final tally of pullets (hens that aren’t laying yet) to cockerels (young roosters) is 9 pullets and 16 cockerels and one fluffy black cochin cockerel.

With this hot weather, the hens have been laying a lot better recently. We’ve been getting 12-14 eggs a day from our 14 hens that are laying at the moment (the broody hen is not laying). So, at the moment, we have a surplus of eggs. So today I fed a little over two dozen eggs, mixed with feed, to the different flocks of birds. They all really liked the treat.

Hens eat eggsNHDE eat eggs

As you can see in the picture above, we have put the New Hampshire and Delaware chicks out in the run. They seem to be enjoying themselves a lot, but they aren’t quite sure of what to make of it. I had to grab each one and put them out the door because they didn’t want to leave the coop at first. I wanted to get them outside because it is cooler in the shade outside than it is in the coop. Both groups of chicks are feathering out nicely. They aren’t even 4 weeks old yet and their bodies are mostly feathered. They feathered out more quickly than the buffs did that’s for sure.

One thing that makes me happy is we definitely have at least one New Hampshire rooster. At first I thought that we had all pullets, but there is no mistaking it with that big red comb and wattle development. This guy is a cockerel. This means we’ll be able to hatch purebred New Hampshires without buying any more chickens.

NH roo

I don’t have any pictures of the broody hen, as the pictures would look much like any of the other pictures I’ve taken of her. She is still sitting strong and she is now on day 17 of 21. We should have new chicks some time the middle of next week. I tried candling an egg today to see if I could detect if the chick has grown some more. I couldn’t see anything except the air sac in the egg. I think the chick has gotten too big to allow light through.

Bagging Groceries

As a family we have two unique ways we “bag” our groceries.

With this Azure order, we ordered a box of organic celery (30 bunches) and a box of whole green cabbages (40lbs). You may ask, what we do with all those veggies so they don’t go to waste? Well, we chop them up, put them in Ziplock bags, and freeze them. This way we have pre-chopped veggies to use in any recipe or amount we need. Celery and Cabbage are two of the easiest because you can bag and then freeze them. You can do this with many other veggies and fruit as well (peppers, berries, onion, etc) but you have to freeze them in a single layer before bagging them because the water in the veggies/fruit leach out and form all the cut food into a solid lump that isn’t easily broken down for meal prep.

celery bag

Today, I finished chopping up all the celery. We now have 13 bags of chopped celery in the freezer. I’m glad to have gotten this far, but my hand is not very happy.

Sore finger

The really nice thing about having chickens is I can turn all the scraps from the food we prepare to producing either eggs or meat. This bowl of scraps is what I got from only 7 bunches of celery.

celery scraps

I still have a whole box of cabbage to chop up, but I can work on that this week.

cabbage box

The other way of bagging our groceries, we came up with this year. In order to protect from frost, we put tomato cages over all our veggies and herbs (not just tomatoes) and we put contractor bags over the cages at night. Then it occurred that if we got clear bags, we could have individual mini hot houses for each of our plants that need it. Tomato plants sometimes have a hard time growing large enough to produce a respectable amount of tomatoes if they don’t get enough HOT summer days. While we do get some good, hot weather here, spring has a tendency to linger later and fall has a tendency to arrive early. This means we have to protect our plants from frost even in the middle of May. Even after the frost is no longer a problem, we can use them to give the plants an extra boost.

bagged tomatoes

In chicken news, on Saturday afternoon, I was out on the porch and heard the broody hen clucking. When I went to move the bags from the top of her box, I smelled something nasty. I looked and saw that she was off of the nest, having a snack and a drink, but she had done a really foul poo in the nest box with the eggs. I cleaned up the poo, but saw that the straw in the box was damp and nasty. I took out the eggs and wiped off as much of the poo as I could with a dry paper towel, removed the dirty straw, and added new straw. I was originally planning on candling the eggs on day 10 of incubation, today, but since I had the eggs out of the nest and the hen was off the eggs, I decided to candle them a day early. Candling eggs is the process of holding a light up to an egg that you are trying to hatch (either under a hen or in an incubator) to see if en embryo is developing. The reason I wanted to do this now, rather than wait until hatching, is that I wanted to remove any unfertilized eggs so they wouldn’t go bad, break, and make a stinky mess. You can buy specialized candling light sources, but I just used my husband’s mini-Maglight and sealed the cracks between the flashlight and the egg with my hand. To my amazement, I was able to see all 8 eggs I set under the broody hen had lively little embryos. I was able to see each chick move. It was really cool. Such a high fertilization ratio is REALLY good. I then carefully put the eggs back under the hen, who had taken her place back on the nest and was looking decidedly miffed, until she saw I was returning her eggs. I didn’t get any pictures of the process as I was trying to get the eggs back under the hen as soon as possible, but here she is, settled back on her nest.

Broody 10 days

We also finally “broke” the broody Dominique. What made the difference is that every time I saw her in the nest box, I would take her out carry her around for a minute and put her in the run. I haven’t seen her sitting in a nest box in 4 days.

The Buffs are really growing up now. They are almost 15 weeks old. Sadly, we need to start thinking about thinning out the roosters next week.

buffs around house

The New Hampshires and Delawares are almost 3 weeks old now and are feathering nicely.

New Dels 3 weeks

One interesting note, I filled our watering jug in the stream earlier this week and I was hearing a clunk in the jug when I got down to the last bit of water. I looked and found this little guy. Apparently, we have farm fresh shellfish on the property. Fortunately for this guy and his buddies, no one on the farm really likes crayfish (crawdad) very much and I’m even allergic to shellfish. I put him back in the stream so he can do his thing.

crawdad