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.

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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

Grass Fed Chicks

My son (who is almost 11 months old) was really happy when I would take him out to the porch to see Mama while she was sitting on her eggs. He loved it even more when the chicks hatched. He was mesmerized by them.

G-mama and babies

On Thursday, two days after the chicks hatched, I noticed that Mama hen was beginning to industriously rearrange her environment in the brooding box. She started scratching and kicking the shavings all over the place. This would knock over the food and water dishes and the bedding would get soaked. Not an ideal environment for baby chicks.

So yesterday, Matthew rehabilitated that 5 ft by 5 ft PVC run that we build to put the Buffs out on pasture (one of the elbow joints on the lid had broken) and we put Mama and her chicks in it.

mama and chick run

We weighted the corners down with the paving stone in one corner (which makes a great feed and water stand) and the brooder tote in the opposite corner to keep it from blowing away. We also tie the lid shut because it blew up when a big gust of wind came later that day. We want the lid to stay down so a hawk or crow isn’t able to swoop down and take any of the chicks.

mama and chicks on grass2

Matthew also made some changes to the brooding tote. He cut a hole in the side and added a door, which also makes a good ramp for the chicks to get up and down. This door is shut at night to help keep predators out. Although I’m thinking we may want to move the tote into the storage shed or inside the house at night, as the tote isn’t particularly predator proof.

Tote closed

He also drilled some air holes around the top of the tote for some ventilation.

tote air holes

Mama is enjoying showing her babies how to scratch and forage in the grass. It is nice not to have to worry so much about these chicks since their Mama takes such good care of them.

mama and chicks on grass3

Since we live in a hollow (a valley cut between tall hills) the sun disappears behind the hills around 7 pm, this time of year, even though it doesn’t get to full dark until after 9pm. When the sun went behind the hills and it started getting cooler last night, I found Mama inside the brooder tote with her babies snuggled up underneath of her. We shut and latched the tote door when we put the other chickens to bed last night. Mama and her babies were just fine this morning and the babies are more energetic than ever.

Hen in tote

Also on Thursday, we got our order of another 100 ft length of electric poultry netting. This allows us to expand the area of the chicken paddock by up to 4 times, However, sine we have to maneuver around the garden and my parents’ satellite dish. This paddock is only about 3 times the size it was with only 100 ft of fencing. The red line in the picture is where the fencing was before we added the extra fencing. The chickens are much happier with the extra room to roam.

expanded chicken run - line.jpg

Yesterday morning, before releasing the chickens, I dropped a section of the fence and moved the hens’ coop and run into the Buffs’ paddock. Next week, we will be trying to integrate these two flocks. For now, this gives them a chance to get used to one another. It will be really nice not to have to  care for 2 different groups of chickens. However, if there is a problem between the Buff roosters and the Leghorn rooster, we will be moving the grow out coop with the Buff roosters for slaughter out of the paddock with the PVC pen to keep the peace.

Matthew also worked to put up a 3 strand electric fence around the garden (it can be seen in the lower half of the picture. This is to keep the deer away from our herbs and kale.

 

Chicken run

We’ve still been getting plenty of rain recently, but each day has usually been at least half sunny. On Thursday afternoon, we had a break after a heavy shower and we saw this brilliant double rainbow. It was an amazing sight.

double rainbow

 

Poultry Paddock

Yesterday I worked on finishing the grow-out coop. I put siding on the back and the other side of the coop. I decided to leave the front of the coop open for the summer for extra air flow. In the fall, we may decide to cover it in more siding.

For the roofing, I used a 22 ft long piece of scrap green steel roofing/siding that my dad had on hand that couldn’t be used on a more permanent structure because it had little holes in it. It isn’t crucial to keep the interior of this type of coop completely dry because of the open bottom Also the chickens just need to be kept mostly dry and out of the wind. An occasional drip of water won’t hurt them. for the door, I used a piece of scrap composite wood siding which we used as the siding on the stationary coop. I took the hook and eye latch and the hinges that were on the old rooster tractor door (which I used on the brooding box) used them to mount the door and hold it shut. Total extra money spent on this coop thus far…. $0. It has been made entirely with scraps and items we already had on hand. I would like to buy wheels to put on it one day and make it a chickshaw, but that can wait. I put two handles on each side and it is light enough to be lifted by two people. However, we have yet to try moving it while loaded with chickens.

finished coop front

We received our 100′ PoultryNet Plus fencing (the posts are 6ish feet apart instead of 10 feet and the stakes have a double spike at the bottom so it is more stable) on Thursday. Matthew and I worked to get it set up yesterday afternoon and moved the grow-out coop inside the fencing. I enclosed an old wood pile inside the fencing because it is a royal pain to weed around and I want the chickens to clean it up. This is also a great way to supplement their protein as there are plenty of bugs, worms, spiders, mice, salamanders that live in that type of environment.

coop in run

I put two of the roosters inside the fence (the largest rooster and the smallest rooster) as we were working on getting the electric hooked up to see how they would handle the fence. They were enjoying running around and eating the grass. However, they kept trying to get back to the stationary run where the rest of their flock was. Once we got the electric hooked up, we were trying to get the battery in the fence tester. We heard a loud indignant squawk. The largest rooster had been trying to get through the fence and got shocked. He got really mad and started attacking the fence because it bit him. That only got him shocked again. He didn’t know what to make of it.

fence exploring

After dark we moved the buffs from the broody house, into the grow-out coop. When Matthew fed them this morning, one of the pullets flew over the fence, but she was easy to catch and put back. We were away from the house most of the morning, but they were all there when we got back. They’ve already done a pretty good job of taking the weeds and grass down around the wood pile.

Buff in run

I’m really glad I was able to get this much done yesterday. However, my fair complexion betrayed me and I got a nasty sunburn. Thank goodness for homeopathic remedies and cold showers.

sunburn

In other news, the run-in shed my mom got for her horses was finally installed. It looks really nice. They are hoping to bring the horses in the next week or two.

run-in

 

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.

Spring Chickens

I got a call a week ago today from the breeder from whom I had ordered Delaware chicks for June (as discussed in the this post). Well, he had a larger hatch percentage than he anticipated so our smaller order of 16 chicks jumped the line and they are ready now. *AAAHHHHH* We were not ready at all. I thought we had another month AT LEAST to get ready for them. So we had to do some rushing. I told the breeder that we would pick them up on Saturday. We wanted to order New Hampshire chicks to raise with the Delawares. Even though this means more chicks at once, it is a WHOLE lot less work than raising two separate batches of chicks and trying to introduce them later. So, Cackle hatchery has what they call their Free Range New Hampshires. These birds are kept on pasture and fed only Organic, non-GMO grain. So I ordered a straight run of 16 of these chicks to be delivered ASAP. I got a call from Cackle the next morning and they said they could send the chicks that day and they would arrive on Friday. PERFECT! So they sent them. The post office called Friday morning and said the chicks had arrived in town. Our postman offered to bring them to us. Because it wasn’t cold, David had already left for the chiropractor, and I had to work that morning. I took the postman up on his offer. When I got a break from work and the baby was asleep I scrounged up a box and lined it with trash bags. I then realized that I didn’t have wood chips or starter feed for the chicks. So I had David run to the nearest Tractor Supply for Organic starter feed and wood chips. I don’t normally like giving the chicks this feed as it has soy in it (soy is a cheap way to up the protein content of feed but it ads little other nutritional value), but we can only get a supply of the whole grain feed once a month from our Azure Standard order. So, the best we can get (for now) will just have to do. So, the New Hampshires arrived and they were much more lively and very willing to be held. They seem to be more people friendly than the buffs were at this age. We ordered 16 of them, but received 18. Yay for free chickens!

New Hampshire - Parcel

I wing sexed the New Hampshires and they all looked like they were pullets (females) which is fine by us, though I would like at least one rooster so I can keep the pure bred New Hampshire strain going.

New Hampshire - box

On Saturday, we went to the breeder farm to pick up the Delaware chicks. It was a 4 hour drive each way, but well worth it. These chicks were 5 days at this point and VERY lively. Since we were the last people to come and pick up Delawares, the breeder threw the extras for free. Again we ordered 16 and received 18 birds. Yay! Because of concerns of crowding, we moved the chicks out of the box and into our bath tub which doesn’t work properly at the moment. The two batches of chicks integrated seamlessly, no fighting, no fussing, despite the cramped quarters.

Chicks - tub

I was worried when I first saw the Delaware chicks that we wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from the New Hampshires until they feathered out (Delawares will be white with black neck, tail and wing markings and the New Hampshires will be red with roosters having a green tail). However, the New Hamshires are a red-ish yellow, and the Delawares are a lemon yellow.

(NH on the left, Delaware on the right)

The Delawares also can have spots on their heads, which the New Hampshires do not have.

(NH on the left, Delaware on the right)

We also have had no problems except for one chick. Sunday night, I was refilling their feed and water before going to bed and I found a New Hampshire chick on it’s back breathing in a labored manner. I picked it up, put water into my palm and dipped it’s beak in. The chick immediately perked up and started drinking. When the chick seemed more steady, I put it back in the box near the food and water, expecting to find it dead the next morning. Yesterday morning, I didn’t find any chick bodies and all the chicks seemed alert and perky. I was only able to tell which chick I had revived the night before because of where it had been pooped on  while lying on it’s back. It had a mild case of pasty butt, so it got a bath and a blow dry and was put back. I now cannot tell which chick it was and none of the other chicks have gotten ill or died either.

I was not able to wing sex the Delawares because they were too old and their wing feathers had grown too much to tell. I’ll try sexing them by tail feathers later this week.

We know the temporary tub brooder will not work for long. In reality, they are too cramped already. We are working to get the Buffs out of the broody house and into a grow-out pen. We purchased the electric poultry netting and it should be arriving within a week. Yesterday, I had a slow day at work and Grace had off. So we worked on constructing a mobile coop with the materials we had on hand. For the bottom frame of the coop, we used some 2x4s that my dad had salvaged when he dismantled the gas shack. For the roosting bars, we used the slats from a busted full sized bed frame. We already had the 1 inch galvanized wire on hand for the bottom and sides. and we used scrap wood from the siding job and more bed slats for the top and the feet to keep it off the ground. We are planning on using left over vinyl siding to keep out the wind, and some leftover green roofing to keep out the rain. We may turn this into a “chickshaw” later, but for now, we are hoping not to spend any extra money on this coop.

Grow out coop

I was hoping to get further into building the coop yesterday, but I stood up from a crouch and “grayed out” and fell over. I believe I may have even lost consciousness for a moment because I had no idea why I was falling. In the past, if my knees gave out because of a “gray out” I have always been aware in the moment that it happened because of the “gray out”. I also went over like a tree and landed flat on my back rather than having my knees buckle. Luckily, the ground was soft and wet and I didn’t land on a stone or concrete. Still, it was not a fun experience. I feel like I was in a car accident. The consensus is that, the heat, dehydration, and nursing a baby (which can contribute to dehydration) were all working against me. Hopefully we can finish the project before the fencing comes, without any more mishaps.

I also came to the realization yesterday that we have 78 chickens on the farm. We will definitely be eating a good number of them. But until we start breeding the buffs and the chicks, no more chickens!

April Showers

The rain has really been rolling in recently and the grass has been coming up like crazy. The view from our front porch is amazing. It is so nice to sit out there an look around. You can practically see the green things growing.Front yard

The Buffs love being outside. So much so, that when a nasty storm rolled in, they all decided to shelter underneath the coop instead of inside.

Shelter

See, no body home in here.

Inside

They have done a very thorough job of clearing the grass from the run. Sometime soon, I need to cover the ground with wood chips. The reason why I want to do this is to keep the run from smelling and being an unhealthy environment for the buffs and any future chicks we have in the area. It is also a great way to create compost.

Inside-oustide run

One neat feature of the run that I am going to miss is the Buffs are current able to do their own “edging” around the run. They reach their heads through the chain link and eat the grass on the other side.  When I put up the 1/2″ hexagonal mesh along the inside for when we have smaller chicks in here next, they will not be able to do this. You can really see the difference in the grass where I already have the mesh on the inside of the gate.

Grass eaten

To supplement their diet, David and I raked up some of the grass that we mowed and whacked down on the property. The Buffs got a little startled when I started pitch forking it into their run, but they soon discovered it was full of spiders, crickets, and other bugs and they went to town on it.

grass pile

We also recently got another undersized egg. Because we didn’t eat the last one, I decided to break this one open and see what was going on with it. It was about half the size of a normal egg, and the shell was very thin and the membrane was very thick. the shell came off when I cracked it leaving an intact membrane. When I tore the membrane, full sized yolk with very little egg white came out. I mixed the egg with some grain and fed it to the buffs.

In other news, the hay field across the lane has been fenced in and turned into a paddock for the horses my mom will be bringing up in a week and a half. The fencing is just electric for now, but my parents will be putting up more permanent fencing in the near future. Currently, Bobby is grazing it down with some of his cows and calves. If it wasn’t grazed down, the horses could eat themselves sick (and possibly to death) on too much fresh grass. For now, it is nice to be able to look out on the field and watch the calves frolicking about.

cows

Ten Weeks – Pullets vs. Cockerels

Our buffs are now 10 weeks old. They are now half way to “maturity” for this breed, which is considered to be 20 weeks. However, now is a great time to check up on how many of my chickens are pullets (young females, not yet laying) and how many are cockerels (young males). You can tell this pretty well at this age because of the secondary sex characteristics. This still isn’t an exact science at this age, but you can get a pretty good guess. If a chicken is a pullet, at this age, she will generally have a smaller, paler comb and wattles. You can see this very well on the picture of this little cutie.
Pullet

You will also see well defined tail feathers on a pullet as well.

Tail - pullet

A cockerel, on the other have will have a more developed and red comb and wattle.

**Sorry for the poor picture, I didn’t get a good shot of a cockerel’s head, but this shows what I’m talking about.**

Cockerel - tail

Their tail feathers are less defined on their edges and more pointed and tend to be droopy.

tail - Cockerel

One thing I found interesting, a few of our cockerels have darker, secondary tail feathers. I’m sure that doesn’t meet the breed standard. You can see the droopy, primary tail feathers, that denote a cockerel, above the darker ones.

Tail - Dark

According to the current count, we have – drum roll please – 13 Buff Orpington Cockerels, 12 Buff Orpington Pullets and one Black Cochin Cockerel. These totals aren’t totally set in stone, yet, but it shows that the numbers are fairly well balanced. I believe that more of the 6 chicks that died initially were mostly pullets since we had a higher pullet count to start with.

As you may have noticed in the background of some of the pictures above, we now have a door for the Buffs to get out into the run. Hopefully this will make our morning and evening routines MUCH easier.

Door

The buffs are also starting to hit their more rebellious “teenage” phase. They did not appreciate having their pictures taken.

scratch1

Room to Spread Their Wings

Our chicks are not chicks any more. They are getting so big! Consequently, their current run just wasn’t cutting it. 26 half grown chicks in on 25 square feet of grass… not a recipe for happiness. We were talking about building a second 8 by 10 run, like the hens have to put the buffs out on grass. However, we were running into the same problem we had when we kept the main flock in the stationary coop, we had to move the buffs by hand. So, we had two options. One, we build another chickshaw and buy the electric poultry netting; or,  two, add a stationary run to the broody house. Option one would cost around $1000 to build and buy. We know we will have to do it eventually, but we had two issues with getting this setup right now. One, the buffs are still small enough to squeeze through the gaps of electric poultry netting and, two, it is money we don’t have to spend at the moment. Option 2 works out to only to be $315 when we utilize materials we already have on hand. Rather than building a fence from scratch, we went to Tractor Supply and bought a 10′ x 10′ x 6′ chain link dog run. We chose the run that came in pre-constructed fence panels so that we could use the run elsewhere in the future if needed. We set the run up on the more “level” (level being a relative term in the area where we reside) side of the run.

Coop-back

In order to make the run as large as possible, we utilized the underside of the coop and four fencing panels to make a run 193.3 square feet in size (50 under the coop, 143.3 in the run).

Coop-front

In order to enclose the bottom of the coop I stapled wire to the support beams and buried a loop of wire underground.

under-frontunder-side

To attach the run, I used metal straps to secure the top and bottom of the fence panels to the side of the coop.

run-bottom-strap

run-top-strap

To help keep chicks in, I put up wire mesh behind the gaps between the coop and the fencing.

Gap

In order to keep the birds in and flying predators out, I zip-tied some old snow-fencing to the top of the run. I wanted to use all green fencing, but we didn’t have enough and I had to add one section of orange fencing. It may not be pretty, but it works.

run-top

One really neat feature of the dog-run fence panels, is that one of the fence panels has a gate in it.

Gate

In order to keep the buffs from charging out the gate when it is open I put up a section of the 2 ft high wire mesh across the opening. This is low enough to step over, but high enough to keep the chickens from getting out too easily.

Gate-wire

Before we get smaller chicks, I intend to run the 2 ft high wire mesh along the bottom of the interior of the entire run (like we did in the gate opening. The openings in the chain link fencing are too big to keep chicks younger than 5-6 weeks contained.

Fence

Until we get an opening in the side of the coop and a ramp going to and from the opening, We’ll have to still move them by hand. However, this setup is much closer to ideal than the small run.  After they have eaten all the grass in the run, we will cover the ground in wood chips and use the chickens to create compost.

In other news, we are 95% sure that Rambo is a Black Cochin. His temperament is also mellowing out a bit, which is a good thing if he doesn’t want his name to become Stew.

R3

My dad and Matthew also managed to dismantle the gas shack (that was smashed during the wind storm) today. The timbers have been burned and all that is left is a couple piles of the siding and roofing.

shack

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.