Second Hatch

Back in my August post, I mentioned that I isolated Molasses and the Dominique and Dominique cross hens in the stationary coop because I wanted to hatch eggs from that group. So, for about a month, I carefully gathered eggs from this grouping and set them aside in a “hatching eggs” box. Once I see how many eggs I got from the girls, I would remove the same number of eggs from the back of the carton, move them to the eating eggs, move all the eggs left towards the back, and put the new eggs in the front.BC-Dom hatching eggs

For a little while, I noticed one of the hens was giving me thin shelled eggs. One spot was always “off”. It would sometimes have a raised bump.

Thin egg 1

And other times that side of the shell would be so thin you could see the yolk through the shell in that one spot.

Thin egg 2

I started making sure that the chickens had oyster shell 100% of the time and that seemed to help with the shell thicknest a good deal.

In August, we decided to move the previous batch of chicks into the chickshaw with the Delaware and New Hampshire pullets. After a couple of weeks, all the chicks decided they wanted to sleep in the chickshaw with the older hens. This left the broody tote available as a nesting box.Tote closed

The hens loved using this box, much more than the milk crates in the chickshaw. Towards the end of August, I was noticing that every day, when I would go out to collect eggs, that there was always this one buff pullet in the nesting box. She acted and sounded broody but would run away when I would reach in to gather the eggs. So I tried an experiment. I set up the pullet with the broody tote inside my 5’x 5′ PVC run with food and water and gave her 6 fake eggs to sit on and watched her for several days. This way, she wouldn’t be disturbed by other hens coming in to lay eggs and I could see how often she would get off the eggs. I work from home and the chickens were set up around the garden area between the two houses and there is a window behind my desk that overlooks that area. Over the course of a few days, she mainly stayed on the eggs but would get off every few hours to eat, drink and pace the fence for a little while. The one thing that was perplexing me is that she was still laying eggs, pretty much one every day. A hen that is truly broody will stop laying. So, after 5 days of watching her, I decided to go ahead and give her a dozen of the hatching eggs to sit on. The next day, I noticed that she hardly left the nest at all, and she stopped laying all together. She seemed to know that these were real eggs and decided to set on them. She was actually so tied to the nest that I had to go out once a day, and lift her off the nest and set her down next to a plate of food to so she would eat and not lose condition as rapidly. When I would take her off the nest, I would check and count the eggs. The day after I gave her the eggs, I noticed that she only had 11 eggs in the nest. I found some yolk covered wood chips and a shell remnant that was really thin. A few days later, I found another egg was missing and there was signs of fresh yolk and thin shell remnants. Apparently, the calcium supplementation wasn’t enough to make the thin shell problems for the one hen go away enough that the eggs could handle being hatched by a broody. When I candled the eggs at day 9, all 10 of the eggs had wiggly little embryos in them. When I candled on day 17, I saw all 10 eggs had wiggly babies. I was excited, but didn’t want to count the eggs before they hatched. On the morning of day 20 of incubation, we had some friends from our previous church in the city come visit us. They are farmers in earnest, and enjoy looking at other peoples’ animals. When they arrived, I decided to check on the eggs and saw at least 2 eggs had cracks in them! We visited and had a great time. When they were getting ready to leave, I checked on the eggs again and there were 3 chicks already fluffed out and 2 that had just hatched. It was fun being able to show the tiny babies to our friends.

Cochin-dom chicks 1 day

By the end of the day, all 10 eggs had hatched, with no help. From the beginning, this hen was a really good mama. The next day, she had all her babies outside and was showing them how to scratch and peck for food.

IMG_6132

Because of the parents I selected, all these chicks are Black Sex Links (BSL) and I could tell gender at hatch.

According to this article on Sexing Day-Old Chicks on Small and Backyard Flocks, unlike mammals, where the male genetics determines sex, in birds, the Female determines the sex of offspring.

Sex-determination-geneticallly

Barring is a dominant trait, linked to the sex chromosome of the chicken. The article goes on to say:

“The sex-linked trait of barring has been used in such sex-linked crosses. When a non-barred male is crossed with a barred female, the resulting females will be non-barred like their father, while the resulting males will be barred like their mothers (see Figure 3). At hatch, both sexes have dark-colored down, but the males have a white spot on the top of their head. It is this specific cross that must be used. Crossing a barred male with a non-barred female will not work. Common breeds used as the non-barred male include Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire.”

sex-linked-crossings-Figure3-BSL

This sex linking works with any barred breed hen and most solid colored breed males. The main exception is that you can’t put a dominant white male (like a Leghorn) over a barred female and get sex linked chicks.

As you can see in this picture, this chick, dubbed with the name penguin, is clearly a male because of the white spot on his head.

IMG_6143

This is another little male, his dot is more defuse but it is definitely there.

IMG_6148

This is a little girl and she has no dot on her head.

IMG_6145

At first glance, I definitely had 4 females and 5 males, but one chick perplexed me. It’s down was a dark grey, rather than black, and rather than a spot, it had a slightly lighter patch on its head. You can see it compared to a darker female chick in the pictures below.

IMG_6150IMG_6152

At that point, it was a toss up whether this chick was male or female. The only option was to wait.

Two days before the chicks were two weeks old, I got my answer, the dark grey chick was developing barring on his wing feathers. Because of the sex linking, it was clear it was a boy. At this point you could also see that the spot on the chick’s head is more visible as well.

barring of doom

Bay the time the chicks were a month old, you could really start to see the difference between the males and the females. Even though they still looked rather raggedy, they were starting to feather out nicely.

IMG_6198

This is penguin.

IMG_6199

Despite the feathers, they still needed Mama to keep them warm.

IMG_6194

She also does a great job of teaching them how to forage for food.

IMG_6191

The chicks are now 7 weeks old and they are looking like proper little fluff ball chickens.

BC-Dom chicks 6 weeks

BC-Dom chicks 6 weeks with mama

They still need their Mama as well.

Mama warming 7w babies

This little chick is rather interesting. All her sisters are pure black, but she has some red/buff feathers on her chest. I think her little bib is so cute.

Red breasted 7 weeks

I’ll post more pictures of the chicks as they grow up.

Advertisements

Flock Record Keeping

Now that we have 61 chickens, I definitely need a system to be able to differentiate individual birds. I was originally intending to use color coded zip-ties to tell birds apart. However, with as many birds as we have, it just isn’t possible. So, I had to come up with a better system. I also want to keep track of which birds were bred to each other so I can do controlled breeding within the flock. To accomplish this, I needed two things. One, I needed a way to individually mark each bird. Two, I need paper/electronic records to keep everything straight.

Marking the Birds

Earlier this year, I started implementing a plan where I marked the year a bird was hatched by banding them with a color zip tie (Orange for 2016, Purple for 2017) and other attributes by other band colors. We decided to use Pink band for hens who have gone broody; Blue for friendly birds; Black for escape artists; and Red, Green and Blue for weight classes of growing birds with the heaviest birds getting a Blue band, the lightest ones getting a Red band, and the ones in the middle getting a Green band. However, after doing some research on how best to keep records of a flock, I decided that I needed a way to individually number each bird that grows to maturity. I started looking at all the options for leg bands and they were either too expensive or not sturdy enough. I posted a question on backyardchickens.com about how best to band birds and someone suggested numbered zip ties. Intrigued, I looked into the brand they mentioned. The biggest problem was I intended to use a color for each year of chickens. This brand only had 4 colors. I wanted the option to keep colors around for longer than 4 years if necessary. After more searching, I found  ZBands from the Chicken Hill. The bands come packs of 25 consecutive numbers (available numbers are 001-300) in 10 different colors with the 7 unique first letters of color names (there are two different shades of Blue and Green and Purple and Pink have the same first letter). The reason why having so many unique first letters in the color names is because I use the first letter of the color as the first character in a bird’s identification number. For example. I use Orange bands on my 2016 birds. So, a bird wearing an orange band with the number 101 will be O101 in my records. Having 7 colors to roll through will most likely provide me with enough years to keep from reusing a color and number while I still have birds with that color band. When you place the order, you can request certain numbers, if those numbers aren’t in stock, the company will email you with the options you have. For example, I ordered purple bands with numbers 001-050 earlier this year for all my 2017 hatched birds. I recently realized that 50 bands won’t be enough to tag all my 2017 birds, especially if I buy adult birds from someone else or if I hatch any more babies before the end of the year. So I ordered another bag of Purple bands. In the requests, I asked for numbers 051-075 and if that wasn’t available to give me any numbers other than 001-050. They came through with a bag with numbers 076-100.

ZBands

I decided to stay with the year colors I picked out earlier this year for plain bands, plus I selected Green to be the band color for 2018.

img_6236.jpg

I am very happy with these bands. I haven’t had a single one fall off or become damaged so far. I am marking the birds by putting their numbered band on their right leg and any attribute bands on their left leg. Here are my Dark Cornish sporting their new leg jewelry.

IMG_6242

Keeping Flock Records

The next step, was to create a record keeping system for my flock. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I needed a good template to start from. While doing research I found Poultry Show Central’s Record Keeping page. This page has examples of many different types of records a chicken breeder may want to keep. In the end, I decided to use only four of their charts as templates for my record sheets. I thought this page had a really good starting point, but I wanted to include more information in my records (and be more efficient in paper usage).

Flock Inventory

I made the most changes to this record sheet. This sheet doesn’t contain a place for a lot of the information I wanted to include.Flock Inventory Original

I separated out some of the fields that were lumped together; added “Sex”, “Name”, “Attributes”, and “Breeding Group” fields; and refined “Sold to” and “Details of Death” field into “Details of Removal from Flock”. You can see that some of the information on the page is printed and some is written. I did this because it was easier to print out a lot of the repeated information than writing it by hand.

IMG_6233

Once my records have had a lot of handwritten updates, I go back into my electronic copy of the records and update it with the new information and reprint the pages I updated. This way I have the information in multiple places. Also, in case you were wondering what the Bs, Gs, and Rs are after the Legband #, that is the bird’s weight class band which I am still utilizing. I will explain my “weight classing” process in another post.

Flock Inventory Updated

Breeding Records

I didn’t edit this chart much at all except to add a Hatch # to the records.

Breeding Records Original

This hatch number will be used in the “Acquired From” field in the Flock Inventory for all home-grown chickens. As you can see, I made some changes between Hatch 1 and Hatch 2. I started Hatch 1 and sent my Leghorn X rooster, Alfredo, to freezer camp before I started this records project so I don’t have a number for him and the eggs for this hatch were not from any specific hens, so I couldn’t put down the Legbands for the hens either. But I needed Hatch 1 in my records because I still have 6 chickens from that hatch in my flock. For Hatch 2, I used band numbers for the parent birds and did a controlled pen breeding so I can be sure of who the parents of my chicks are.

Breeding Records Updated

Hatch Records

I kept this record sheet pretty much the same as well. I initially just added the “Hatch Number” to the new sheet.

Hatch Records Original

However, after I had printed the sheet out, I added and “Incubate Method” column.

hatch-records-hand-updated.jpg

The “Incubate Method” field allows me to record if the chicks were hatched by a hen (H) or by and incubator (I). This way I am able to analyze if there is something wrong with my mechanical incubation method or if I shouldn’t allow a certain hen to hatch eggs again. I actually think I will add the setting hen’s “Legband #” to the “Incubate Method” column in future so I have a record of who hatched who and who is a better setter.

Hatch Records Updated

Egg Collection Chart

I thought this chart was useful, but very wasteful in paper.

Egg Collection Chart Original

So I compressed the chart so that I can fit 6 months of egg collection records onto one page. I like that I will be able to see 6 months of records in one place. I also added a place for you to record the number of hens you have laying for the month. I put the number of verified layers over the number of pullets who should be laying soon so, right now. I have 22 verified layers and 18 up and coming pullets. So, I put 22/18 in the “Hens” box.

Egg Collection Chart

Here are links to download my files. I’ve provided PDF links for people who want to use paper only and I’ve provided excel for people who want to have electronic and paper copies and for those who want to modify what I’ve provided. I know not everyone has the same wants and needs when it comes to record keeping. All the excel files are set up to print out with the first two rows at the to of the page. If you need any help editing any of the files or have any ideas on how to make the files better, feel free to contact me.

BreedingRecords pdf

BreedingRecords excel

EggCollectionChart pdf

EggCollectionChart excel

FlockInventory pdf

FlockInventory excel

HatchRecords pdf

HatchRecords excel

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.

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.

 

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.

Brooding Season

Spring is in full swing. One clear sign is that two of our laying hens have gone broody. One of them is a full Dominique hen, the other is a Dominique/Buff Orpington cross. I first noticed this on Tuesday. I routinely go out and check for eggs 2-3 times a day. Every time I came out these two birds were in nest boxes. The Dom/Buff was always in one of them and the Dom kept switching boxes, but was still in a box (several times she was in the box with the Dom/Buff). They both would puff up and “growl” at me when I went for eggs. Puffing up and growling was all the Dom/Buff would do but she refused to be removed from the nest. The Dom, on the other hand, would get agitated, peck at me, and then leave the nest in a huff. Well, you know how I said “No more chickens!” for this year in my last post? Well, I wasn’t expecting to have any of our current batch of hens go broody because of their Dominique and Leghorn heritage. I have to admit, that the temptation was great and the family decided that we would try letting one or both of the hens hatch out some eggs. I was trying to decide if we would set eggs under one hen or both when Bobby came by after visiting to my dad. He said that the Dominiques will go broody, but they are not steady setters. This means that they will start incubating eggs, but they hop on and off the nest too much to have a good hatch rate. This made sense with the difference I was seeing in the demeanor of the hens. So I decided yesterday that I would pull the Dom/Buff from the coop, put her in a quiet brooder, and have her sit on some eggs for us. For eggs, I chose 5 of the largest, cleanest brown eggs (hoping that they would be from the Dom crosses) we had on hand as well as 3 of the cleanest green eggs (to hopefully get more green egg layers). I only set 8 eggs under her because the hatch rate goes down if you give a hen too many eggs to sit on.

Hatching eggs

For the brooding box, I got a large Rubbermaid tote which we previously used as a brooder for the leghorns and I added wood chips and a box with straw in it. I didn’t have a good, well ventilated lid for the box, so I removed the wire door from the old rooster tractor and used that as a lid. It worked perfectly. That in itself would be good enough to keep then hen from flying out, but my dad told me has seen fresh raccoon tracks and droppings around. So we will put two of the bags you see to the right of the brooder on top of the wire at night.

Brooder

After darkness had completely fallen last night, I went out and got the milk crate nest box that the Dom/Buff was sitting in and brought it over to the brooding box. I put the eggs into the nest box and quickly and carefully moved the hen on top of the eggs. She settled in on top of the eggs very quickly and, as far as I can tell, has stayed put since. I didn’t take any pictures during this process because I was hoping to minimize the stress on the hen by keeping her surroundings dark so she would stay sleepy and boody. Moving hens when they are awake can sometimes break them of being broody.

Broody Hen

I added a water bottle and a small dish of food to the brooder box in case she needs them. The reason why such a small space will work for a broody hen is her body stops producing eggs, she eats and drinks very little, and she spends most her time sitting still on the eggs. She only needs enough room outside of the nest box to eat, drink, and poop.

Brooder - food water

In other salvage efforts, yesterday,  I used the rest of the bed slats, an old door frame and some leftover construction lumber to make the vertical side supports and the roof rafters of the new coop.

Coop - roof rafters

Today, I took some scrap siding, left over from getting the house done and used it on one side of the coop. I think I might make a couple changes, but overall, I like how it looks. I’ll be trying to do the rest of the siding on it later today and tomorrow.

Coop - siding

Our electric poultry netting should be arriving today and I hope to have the coop finished by the end of the day on Saturday and have the chicks out of the bathtub by Sunday evening.

In other news on the chicks, we’ve had one Delaware and one New Hampshire chick die in the last two days. It’s sad, but we still have 17 of each breed left. The farm is now down to 76 chickens. However, I’m not going to count any of the eggs we just set until they hatch.

Early Bloomer (Year Two) and More Chickens

I was looking over last year’s posts and saw Grace’s post about the early blooming fruit tree in our back yard. We found out that it is a peach tree and once bore very tasty fruit that the older folk in the hollow remember. It has once again started blooming too early in the season. The blooms came in earlier this week when the temperature was in the high 50’s. It is now in the high 20’s and it is snowing. We are hoping to get a couple of pieces of fruit off the tree this year so we can grow new tree(s) from them.

Early bloomer

We also hard boiled that small egg. It didn’t turn out very nice. The whites were grey and green and it had a very small yolk in it . It looks like the chicken might have had a broken yolk in her system and it encapsulated it  with the shell to get rid of it. We decided not to eat it just in case there was something else wrong with it.

hard boiled

In other news, we put in an order for 16 Delaware chicks yesterday. They are set to hatch in June once our current flock of chicks are 5 months old and the broody house is free. We decided to go with this breed, because the offspring of Delaware roosters crossed with New Hampshire hens, were highly prized as broilers (known as Indian River Cross Broilers) in early 20th century before the Cornish cross chicken (the fast growing hybrid bird that you can find in any grocery store) was developed in the 1950’s. However this breed are great for dual purpose birds. They are also supposed to be very good tempered birds. They may also be better in the meat and egg department than the Buff Orpingtons, since they are faster growing and have a greater annual total of eggs. However, they lack the broody characteristic we were looking for in our mainstay breed. We will probably get a small flock of New Hampshire birds next year so we can breed sustainable broilers moving forward. The New Hampshire breed is also a decent meat bird, but they are almost as good as Rhode Island Reds in the egg department, but are much better tempered. We would try breeding Cornish crosses, but those are a 4 way hybrid bird that is very hard to replicate on a small scale, never mind that it is a BIG trade secret. Also, some of the parent stock used to breed the Cornish crosses are not good tempered or tamable birds.

We may also get a chance to buy mature breeding stock as well. I went looking for a breeding farm that would be close enough to drive to so we wouldn’t have to put the chicks through the stress of being mailed to us. I also wanted chicks whose bloodlines were well managed. I found a farm through The Livestock Conservancy that is about 3.5 hours away and I liked their description of how they selected their breeding stock. When I inquired with the farmer about the availability of chicks, they told me that this will be their last season and they will be selling their farm. We won’t know what stock will be available until June, but they are selling the adult birds at a very reasonable price, especially for organic fed, pasture raised birds that are their pick of the flock. It will be nice to get a head start on our breeding program.

Chicken Update

Things have been going well since we moved our lone adult rooster into the pen with the hens. The hens seem to be friendlier with each other and this rooster is much nicer to the hens than General Tso ever was. For example, when food was involved, General Tso was out for all he could get. He would rake any hens that were in his way aside so he could get at it. This rooster (who we have yet to name) stays at alert while the hens dive for the food and he will look around and peck at any food he finds, but “chuckle” at the hens as if to say “Ooo, here’s a tasty morsel!” and then then backs off when the hens come to find the food. The flock is also much more cohesive. The wind has been brutal these last few weeks, and the run blew away from the chicksaw and they all got out. Until we started trying to corral them back in the pen, all the hens and the rooster were sticking together in one group, unlike what would happen if General Tso and the hens got out. He also has yet to show any aggression towards humans. He did get a bit upset and vocal yesterday when I was trying to capture two hens  who broke out of a hole in the run fencing, but he didn’t attack me.

The hens are also giving us 12-14 eggs a day now. There have been a few days with 10 eggs and a couple where we got one from each hen (15 total). So it evens out. The eggs are a pretty mix. We usually get eggs varying in color from plain white to mid range brown. We have one hen who routinely gives us spotted brown eggs and another who gives us light green eggs (probably Big Head because she has the easter egger muff on her face).

egg variation

It can sometimes be hard to see the difference between the green egg and the white eggs on camera, so here is a comparison of the two on a white background.

egg color

While it doesn’t happen often, we will sometimes get an undersized egg. The larger egg in the picture below is one of our smaller white eggs, the other is the smallest egg I’ve seen to date from our chickens size they stopped laying pullet eggs. When held up to the light, the smaller egg looks like it is almost completely filled with yolk. It will be interesting to see how that egg looks when hard boiled.

egg size

There can also be a difference in the texture of our eggs. It may be hard to see in the photo, but the egg on the left had a flat look to it and a sandpaper texture to the shell. The egg on the right had a more glossy finish and a smooth texture. It is amazing to me how different the eggs can be.

egg texture

The chicks have been doing great. They are now 6 weeks old and are thriving. Whenever I open the coop, there are always a few chicks that fly up to perch on the dividing wall to greet me. The one in the middle is the friendliest rooster, the ones on either side are the friendliest hens. All three of them love to perch on my hand and let me pet them.

There is a pretty wide range between the largest and the smallest birds. Both are showing signs of being roosters. The largest one, on the left, probably weighs over pound right now. The smallest one, on the right, weighs less than half what the largest does. I will be weighing them all at 12 weeks to see who grows the fastest and makes the breeder cut.

To give yo an idea of how friendly the buffs are, neither the biggest, nor the smallest were eager to be handled, but once I had them in my hand they were content to perch on me and have their photo taken. Not so with Rambo. This little black chick is very rammy, hence the name, and actively protests being handled. He is definitely a rooster, based on comb and wattle development. He will not stay perched on my hand any longer than it takes for him to jump off. This is why I’m holding his body to take pictures. I’m not so sure that he is a silkie any more since he isn’t developing a “puffed” head. I don’t think we will be keeping him around long term. He is a good deal smaller than any of the buffs and the doesn’t have a good disposition.

rambo

With the shift in weather, the chicks have only been outside one day in the last week as it has been too cold for them. It was on the verge of being warm enough today, but the wind was brutal. They love being outside and eating grass. They even managed to pull some worms out of the ground. There is usually a big fight over the worms.

Chicks outside

On days when they can’t go outside, I usually pull several large handfuls of fresh grass for them to enjoy. It is usually gone in less than an hour.