Reducing the Chicken Population

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

rooster purgatory

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

shut coop door

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

rooster run w tarp

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

Feather mess

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

broken screen

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

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

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

Hummingbird1

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

Hummingbird2

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

Hummingbird3

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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

Bagging Groceries

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

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

celery bag

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

Sore finger

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

celery scraps

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

cabbage box

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

bagged tomatoes

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

Broody 10 days

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

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

buffs around house

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

New Dels 3 weeks

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

crawdad

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

 

New Digs for the Chicks

The chicks are still all very well and are growing quickly. Most of them have grown in a nice set of primary flight feathers.

chick-wing-3

They are looking more like little chickens now than balls of fluff.

resting-chick

Since they are now at least twice the size they were when we got them, it was time to give them some new digs since the box was getting crowded. They had started pecking and fighting with each other a bit. Once when startled we saw one of the chicks fly over the level of the top of the box.

2-week-chicks

For the middle of February, Friday was a wonderfully warm  day. So set up the leftover roll of 1″ wire mesh as a temporary run for the chicks. I covered it with the blue tarp because we have crows in the area and they would love to fly over and snatch up a few of our little chicks

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They were a bit afraid and huddled together at first, but they enjoyed getting out on the grass and scratching around.

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Matthew (David and Grace’s dad) and I blocked off the bottom of the inner wire door of the coop with a thin sheet of plywood, put new linoleum on the floor and added wood chips. I then dumped the wood chips from the chick’s box into the coop as well. The old manure will start a deep bedding composting system that will help warm keep the chicks warm.

coop-prep

I added their feed, water and a brooder heating plate. The heating plate allows the chicks to get up underneath, like they would with a mama hen and it keeps them at the temp that the hen would keep them. On the first night, the chicks had no idea what to do. They all huddled in a lump up against the wall of the coop to keep each other warm. I had to go into the coop and insert them each under the brooder. The first time I did this, they all popped right back out and back into the pile. I went out later and they were all back against the wall. So I put them underneath the brooder again. This time only a few popped back out.

brooder-day-time

I went out to check them well after dark and they had all clustered up next to, and under the brooder. I grabbed a couple chicks who were on the outside, towards the edges and put them under the plate.

brooder-night-time

The next morning, I checked on them, and a few of the chicks were up and moving. I move the brooder and they were all alive. They now all automatically go under the brooder at night to keep warm.

brooder-morning

I am moving them from the coop to a an updated pen in the yard every nice day we have. This past weekend and so far this week have been beautiful. The only day they were kept in the entire day was Sunday as it was cooler and raining on and off. Moving the chicks every day also helps ensure that they are used to being handled.  With my system, each chick gets handled at least 4 times each day they are moved. They are moved from the coop into a box, from the box into the pen in the yard, from the pen to a box, from the box back into the coop for the night. I updated their pen in the yard by driving 5 t-posts into the ground and setting the wire up around the post. This helped me make the wire circle a little bigger for the chicks. After I removed the chicks from the wire pen on the first day, the wind came up and blew the wire over, not something I want to have happen when the chicks are inside. When our order for 2 ft high 1 inch wire mesh comes in, we will make a PVC run for them, that can be moved more easily.

new-run

It is lovely seeing them now acting more like little chickens. They love being outside, scratching the grass, and exploring. Some of the chicks have even started play fighting with each other. I think those ones are roosters. I gave them a treat of old potato flakes and a mashed up hard boiled egg. They went crazy for it.

chick-feed

I was happy that we were able to keep them in the house during that cold spell and while we were dealing with pasty butt. However, I am happy to have no more chickens in my house. However, there is always the next batch of chicks.

Farm Activity

Seems to come in two levels; not much or way too much. This is a way too much week. As I mentioned earlier, the garden is ready for dirt and we have a huge pile of it from previous project to use. The problem is that the dirt it about 300 ft away and it is very rocky. Now I don’t mind small rocks in the garden. In fact I like them as they will decay and add minerals. But rocks above about and inch and a half just get in the way of digging.

So the dirt gets sifted before moving.  Dad was the one that suggested the wire shelves and sawhorses for our DIY sifter. It is just a little muddy so the dirt often has to be pressed through the mesh. I’m saving the bigger rock as you never know when you need a bit of gravel. Given that each barrow covers about 3ft, I have about 45 of the 51 left to do this week.

sift.jpg

On the plus side progress is highly visible. Not like dishes or laundry where you never seem to make any headway. Really hoping to get the beds all covered this week so we can start planting next week. Our neighbor kept saying mid May as the right time to start to avoid the worst of the frosts. So I want to try to keep to that deadline.

gardenbed.jpg

Dryer Part 6

I knew I shouldn’t have dared it not to continue to provide interest. Perhaps predictably, the duct fell off.  So I had to scoot the dryer closer to the wall and re-tape it in back. Also Daddy had the idea to use a plastic strap to suspend the pipe.

dryer.JPG

You would think that the dryer would be happy now. She is nicely situated and has a very attentive family with light needs, if you don’t count the cat hair removal. But no, last night she decided not to start so Daddy was tinkering with it this morning. I couldn’t tell wether or not he was enjoying himself. But he at least has the comfort of useful activity.

Dryer: Part 5 & Last (I Hope)

dryer.jpg

I almost feel like I deserve a spot on There I Fixed It. Although mine is neither dangerous nor hideous. So I guess I don’t qualify after all. However, we now have a working temporary solution for the dryer until we decide how to arrange our more permanent solution.

Also I am pleased to report that the dryer handles the removal of cat hair marvelously. It is also very good at generating static electricity. I had forgotten that feature of dryers.

Dryer: Part 4

So after about 30 minutes in Lowes, I found what I needed. I confess I always feel vindicated when the helpful people can’t fine what I need either. On the plus side I had a lovely phone call with a friend. I’ve taken to calling her almost every time I go shopping and it makes it much more fun.

I came home with the new vent piping and set to work right after dinner. After removing the duck tape and replacing it with the foil tape, which shouldn’t melt during the first load. I set my vent piping in place.

I am learning. I set it up without thing anything to make sure it would work. I’ve noticed that our projects tend to have kittens. And this project had an adorable little kitten called “The vent pipes are too long.”

One of the ongoing trends on the farm is the resurrection of forgotten skills. Way back in the day, Daddy worked in sheet metal. So he dug through his tools for his ‘clippers’ not finding them he told me what to do with the box cutter.

sheetmetal.jpg

Can I add sheetmetal cutter to my resume? Ironically it reminded me of art school. Scoring the metal with the blade repeatedly to get a clean cut was very similar to cutting mat board or the covers for book binding.

Pipe in hand, back to the dryer. I only killed one box cutter to do it and it was rusty.

 

 

Dryer: Part 1

So my brother and his wife were kind enough to bring a dryer with them this visit. 

  
Since they still live in the D.C. area they have access to all kinds of wonderful sevond hand stores. Utility trift shops work better when there are a lot of people getting rid of things. Also around here people fix and jerry rig things until they disintegrate so they would never make it to the thrift shop.

This beauty represents the hope of life without cat hair on my clothes. Now the trick is installing it. It is a gas dryer and none of us have done this before. An interesting afternoon forthcoming.