A Hard Lesson

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

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

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

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

coon

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

Wood Ash

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

Run uphill view

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

Brooding pen in run

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

Mama vs Red

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

Meanie Roo

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

Butterscotch N Molasses

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

 

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Spring has Arrived

Spring is finally here to stay, or so it seems.  The weather has been gorgeous the last two days. The chicks are eager to be put out on grass every morning. The normal greeting committee has increased from 3 to 8 chicks, with more jostling for position on the wall (see the chick trying to fly up on the left of the photo). I’m now having to shut the interior door of the coop now because they were roosting on the feed bin and pooping that up.

GCS

It has also been confirmed that Rambo, our bonus rare chick,  is not a Silkie. Black Silkie Bantams start growing a puff of feathers on top of their head well before this time and he has no sign of having a puffed head. The consensus on the Backyard Chickens form post, where I asked what he was, is that he is a Black Cochin. Since Murray McMurray doesn’t have Black Cochin Bantams, and he doesn’t look like he has frizzled feathers. I believe he is a full sized Black Cochin. This is better for us if he is a Cochin. The regular sized Cochins are fairly large, cold hardy birds, that have a good disposition. From what I’ve seen, he doesn’t have as good of a disposition as the buffs though. We will have to wait an see if the guess is correct.

side2

Be cause it was so nice today, David and I decided to go on a hike up one of the hills on the property (with baby in tow). The farm is looking better all the time. The siding is almost done (slow contractor) and I have to say the matching color scheme is really appealing. We want to add an addition on top of the on the stone shed (to the right of the chicken coop), we still have to dismantle the old gas shack that blew away (to the right of my parents’ house and garage on the right), and the contractor needs to clean up, but it is starting to come together.

Farm

We had a picnic lunch on the pasture at the top of the hill. It was a lovely time, despite having to constantly wrangle our nine month old so he didn’t eat grass, bugs, or desiccated cow pies.

Hilltop pasture

Upon returning to the house, we decided to walk up to the pond beyond my parents’ house. In the overflow stream, I found a bunch of Red-spotted Newts. They are so cute! I would have been in heaven catching them as a kid. It is lovely to see these little guys. It is a sign that the land hasn’t been chemically contaminated or polluted when they fracked for gas.

newt2newt1

Things are moving forward and I am looking forward to learning more about this property.

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.

One Isn’t the Loneliest Number

Well folks, we are down to one rooster. Yesterday we slaughtered 2 of our remaining 3 roosters. We banded the rooster (put a zip tie on his leg) who didn’t want to be caught after the wind storm earlier this week to make sure he would end up on the chopping block. After he was gone, I looked at the two remaining and selected the bigger of the two as the next candidate for slaughter. I was considering waiting until after dark to put the remaining rooster in with the hens, but he was clucking in a distressed way and pacing around in the pen in a dither. So I caught him, with a great deal of squawking, and dumped him in with the hens. He immediately jumped on one the leghorn hens and then tried to mount one of the Dom crosses. She wasn’t having any of that and chased him off. The leghorn hens were more accepting of his attentions but none of the Dom/Dom crosses wanted him to mount them. Things finally settled down and no one looked the worse for wear. 


From the get go, we knew we would be culling our extra roosters and turning them into dinner. Why let all that feed that we’ve put into them go to waste! What we were lacking was some know how and the stomach to proceed. The final decision that we needed to start whittling down our pack of roosters came while we were free ranging them. A group of the leghorn roosters were continually going about 1/8th of a mile down the lane to the neighbors’ house and were raiding their bird feeder. Since then, all the leghorn roosters had been confined and fed a little extra to fatten them up.

I started to look forward to learning how to process our roosters. Before pulling a knife out of the butcher block and going to work, I looked around for resources to study and people who could possibly help. I talked to Bobby (the neighbor who keeps his cows on our pasture) and he usually has another neighbor help him with processing his chickens. That neighbor also skins his chickens rather than plucking them. We prefer to have the skin, since it adds flavor to the broth we make, so I didn’t want to learn how to process them using that method. So I looked up several online resources. I watched maybe half a dozen videos of how to process a chicken on YouTube, and read many more descriptive blogs.

Please note: the resources I reference in this paragraph have graphic pictures of processing chickens. Please do not open them if you have a problem with such images. Two resources that I found particularly helpful were Justin Rhodes’, from Abundant Permaculture, instructions on How to Humanely Butcher Your Own Chicken Dinner and a post from Backyard Chickens on Killing, Plucking, Eviscerating, & Cutting Up Your Chicken – Graphic!

I also consulted a friend from our old church in the city on for any tips she may have on butchering chickens and what tools she favors for the task. She recommended a killing cone (as the two resources I mentioned above do) and having a straight bladed killing knife and a round tipped evisceration knife. She also recommended I buy the tools from Cornerstone Farm and answered several questions I had after reading the resources above. Thanks Diane! I bought a killing cone, a killing knife and an evisceration knife and I was in business.

I started with doing one leghorn rooster one week, one the next, and I stepped up to two roosters the next week. Originally the plan was to keep General Tso, our Rhode Island Red/Dominiker rooster, and slaughter all eight of our more flighty leghorn roosters. However, General Tso started to become aggressive, not only to strangers (he jumped on the contractor who has been doing our roof and siding back several times while we were free ranging the chickens) but to the people who where caring for him and his hens. He developed a particular hatred for my mom, Georga. The first time she saw him full grown he was already in a high dither because we were cleaning up the yard and moving things around. He pranced up to my mom and challenged her and she flapped her jacket at him and chased him a bit. He never forgot that. A little while after that, we had to go away for a pre-Christmas gathering and my parents said they would care for the chickens. My mom went into the coop to care for the chickens and gather eggs. When she was bending over to get an egg, General Tso went for her face and kept attacking. She wasn’t able to get away until she got ahold of his neck and nearly choked him unconscious. After he attacked other family members a few more times we decided he had to go. On the fifth week, I killed one Leghorn rooster while I instructed my mom on slaughtering and processing a chicken on General Tso. She enthusiastically helped. She even made up a new verse to “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” for the occasion. 

🎶And we’ll kill the old red rooster when she comes🎶

Between this, that, and the other, that was the last time, before yesterday, that we slaughtered any roosters. We’ve decided to keep the last rooster as protection for the hens, but if he loses his fear of people and starts attcking, or is hurting the hens, into the stew pot he’ll go. 

We are glad to finally have only two groups of chickens again, and hopefully no more slaughtering until our current batch of chicks grow up enough to gauge their personalities, and they reach slaughtering weight. Now our original tractor stands empty. We will be dismantling it to make something that won’t be so easily flipped by a strong gust of wind. 

Seeing the open pen gave David a bit of a start this morning. He momentarily thought the roosters had all escaped. 

Chickens on the Move

We all know the traditional method of keeping backyard chickens. Build a coop with an enclosed run and fill it with birds. However there are many problems with this method of keeping chickens. The biggest one is cleanliness. In order to keep everything clean enough for the chickens, you have to use a lot of carbon bedding material (wood chips, straw, leaves, etc.) to keep everything from becoming a muck of chicken droppings and mud. Case in point, I had the chicks on one patch of grass for 4 days. I didn’t think they could do much damage to the grass. Yesterday, we completed the mobile run for the chicks, which I will show later, so I started dismantling their temporary run. As you can see in the picture below, they ate away most of the grass and excavated quite a large hole in the dirt.

chick-run-grass

In order to keep the living environment of the chickens clean in a static living situation requires a LOT of work. So, we’ve come to the conclusion that mobile chicken containment solutions are the way to go moving forward.

So to replace the temporary run for the chicks, we built a 5′ by 5′ PVC frame and wrapped it in half inch wire poultry netting on the sides, 2 inch wire poultry netting and a tarp on the lid.

chick-run

The lid is held in place with 3 zip ties and can be easily propped up for access to the entire run.

chick-run-open

We intentionally chose this method of construction so the run would be light and easily movable by one person. The downside of this is that the run is vunerable to being blown away with a strong wind because of the tarp used as a rain shelter. To weigh the run down, we tied wire across opposing corners and paving stones are laid across the wire.

chick-run-wire

Within the next week or so, this run will become too small for all 26 chicks. At that time, we will build a second run. However, because we need to move them from the brooding coop to the run by hand, we need access to the entire run to catch the chicks. In the future, I hope that the Buffs will be able to be contained by an electric poultry fence.

Because our laying hens have proven themselves to be excellent at jumping fences and they were causing problems while free ranging (pooping EVERYWHERE, raiding the neighbors bird feeder, eating the styrofoam insulation on the house) as well as being in danger of being gobbled by predators, we built a 10′ by 8′ PVC run for them. Why 8′ and not 10′? it simply boiled down to the width of wire we had on hand. We previously bought 4′ wide 2 inch wire mesh that we intended to use as an open top chicken fence. As that idea proved to be ineffective it was lying around, waiting to be used.

chicken-run-closed

We built it with 1/4th of the top as a lid, so we can access their feed trays, water and the chickens themselves if necessary. We hung their water from the PVC frame to keep it clean and so we could put their run on a slope if needed. The plastic bucket you see in the center of the run is full of water to prevent the run from blowing away. When we initially cobbled the run together a VERY strong gust blew through the hollow and sent the run tumbling into a stream 50 yards from where it started.We haven’t had a similar gust since, but we hope this would help prevent such a occurrence from happening again.

chicken-run-open

Because the run needs to have some shelter , we added a 1′ upright bar to suspend the tarp over. Unintentionally, this design leaves part of the frame exposed and allows the hens to perch on it to get their feet out of the mud on rainy days. As you can tell, it is a popular hangout spot.

chicken-run-perch

We initially were moving the hens between the stationary coop (now the brooding house) and the PVC run by luring them with food. However, the further away from the house we placed the run, the harder it was to lure the chickens into it. It became and exercise in frustration to move them twice daily. So we build a mobile chickshaw to attach to the run. We made a downsized version (5′ by 5′, instead of 6′ by 6′) of Justin Rhodes’ chickshaw.  We made it so the coop door acts as a ramp into the PVC run. To keep the hens from escaping, we slide a piece of scrap siding under the ramp as there is a little gap between the ground and the bottom of the chickshaw.

img_4931

To save money, we ordered 16″ wheels instead of the 26″ wheels recommended in the plans. It takes a little more muscling, but it still rolls well over uneven ground and is lower to the ground, making it easier to but up against the run. We also put the handles on the nest box side of the chickshaw instead of the door side. The reason we did this is because it would make butting the chickshaw up to the run impossible if the handle were on the other side. We also used a large dowel rod for the handle as suggested in the plans.

img_4932

We did make one change to the plans for the dowel, because  it takes more muscle to move the chickshaw around with the smaller wheels, we found the that dowel was slipping through the holes so we drilled holes in the dowels on the outside of the handle arms and put a spring catch pin through the hole.

img_4933

Another thing that is nice about the removable dowel handle, is it can be used as a lid prop so you can work inside the chickshaw without having to worry about dropping it on your head.

coop-open

Another nice feature of the chickshaw is the milk crate nest boxes. With the lid shut, the chickens can’t perch on top of them and poop all over them. Also note, that the bottom of the coop is made up of one 1′ hardware cloth and  2’x 2’s. This gives the chickens a place to perch at night while allowing their droppings to fall to the ground. No cleanup necessary!!!

nestbox-inside

The nest boxes are accessible from the back of the coop. We added a PVC pipe threaded through eye bolts to keep the boxes from being pushed out the back from the inside or pulled out by a predator.

nestbox-closed

After you move the PVC pipe, the nest boxes can be pulled out easily for access to the eggs

nestbox-open

The chicks are now 3.5 weeks old and they are getting really big. Some of them are now showing  definite signs of being roosters. It was a shame they couldn’t test out their new run on the fresh grass, but it was so cold and rainy today. So they stayed inside with their brooder heating plate to keep them warm and dry. It appears as though the 60-70 degree weather is not here to stay, but if we get another sunny day, but it is cold, I will move the heating plate out to the run with them so they get sunshine and grass, but are able to keep themselves warm.

chicks-3_5-weeks

 

26 Chicks in the Box

After the chicks had settled in, we noticed that there were 4-5 chicks that were “deep sleepers”. They would rest their head out on the shavings and wouldn’t rouse easily, even if other chicks were stepping on them or we poked at them. The first  morning after receiving our chicks, one chick was dead. We noticed the night before that it looked like this chick had diarrhea and was peeping in a distressed manner. I looked at the rest of the chicks and found that 10 of them had pasty butt. Pasty butt is a condition where a chick’s vent (the hole where they eliminate waste) becomes pasted shut with droppings. Normally, a chick’s droppings are semi-solid and don’t stick to their down. However, when the chicks get stressed, their droppings tend to become more liquid and stick to their down. Once the droppings dry, they can cover the vent, preventing the chick from pooping, which will eventually kill the chick. So, following the instructions on this website and washed the butts of all these chicks. We didn’t have a hair dryer at the time, but we put them all back in the brooder box, and they took a while to dry off. I gave them some yogurt, mixed with hard boiled egg and their feed to they went crazy over it. One chick ended up needing a bath because she took a belly flop into the bowl of food and all her down was pasted to her body, and she was shivering. That evening, two more passed, and Saturday morning, two more had passed. I emailed the hatchery and they refunded the price of the birds that died during their 48 hour “arrive alive” guarantee window. The remaining chicks seemed very lively, but one more passed yesterday morning. I’ve had to only wash a few chicks in the last couple days, so they seem to be doing better. We now have 25 Buff Orpington chicks and the one black chick left. I’ve also ordered a brooder heating plate (like recommended in the resource above) to prevent the chicks from over heating, which can also cause pasty butt.

26-chicks

Monday and Tuesday we spent time cleaning out our coop and making it more suitable for chicks. We finally got around to putting the roofing panels on (up til now we’ve only had a tarp over the sub-roof), and putting wire mesh over the ventilation hole over the door. I’m very pleased at how the coop will match the house when it is finished. The siding panels on the coop are very close to the color of the new house siding, and the roof panels are left over from the roofing job.

coop-front

On the back of the coop, we had to do a little more work. There were originally three flaps on the back of the coop. On the bottom there is a flap that hinges down so we can place a wheel barrow behind the coop and shovel the soiled bedding right out he back. In the middle, there was a nest box door that opened to a shelf. The top flap was to provide ventilation. However, we never got around to finishing the nest boxes, and the shelf got covered in chicken droppings. Also, since we are turning this into a brooding house, we don’t need nest boxes.So we removed both the middle and top flaps, removed the nest box shelf, covered to top section with wire mesh and nailed the middle flap below. A problem we had before was that rain had been blowing in the seams around the flaps in the back of the coop. So, I used three pieces of scrap siding to cover the seam above the lower flap and the seams to either side of what was the middle door. We will be adding a flap back to the top section to keep out weather. For now, we are letting the coop dry out before we give it a more thorough sweep and clean to ready it for the chicks once they are a little older. We still have to make some modifications to the inside of the coop as well to make it ready for chicks.

coop-back

 

January Update

Hello all!

This is Grace C.’s sister-in-law, Amanda C.

Grace’s job is eating up a lot of her time and energy and my husband, David C., and I have taken over many of the farm tasks that used to be her job. Because of this, she has asked us to take over the authoring posts that relate to farm chores/improvements/etc that we have our hands in.

First, an update on our egg situation. Our 15 hens are now providing us with 10-14 eggs a day! The color variation is amazing. Our six Dom/Dom cross hens lay standard brown eggs with little variation. Our nine leghorns (actually leghorn crosses) are turning out to be a mixed bag of surprises. A few lay standard white eggs, at least two lay nice pinkish/brown eggs, a couple more lay standard brown eggs (one that routinely has darker brown spots on them). But the prize of the lot is the green egg! Apparently, our hen Big Head has that head shape for a reason, her mother was an Easter Egger hen. If you look up an image of an Easter Egger hen, Big Head has that exact head shape, just covered in white feathers. She lays eggs the color of mint chocolate ice cream, half diluted with vanilla. We aren’t even in spring yet and they are almost laying too many eggs for us to eat. Which I guess is better than having too few eggs.

Second, my husband, has now become a full time farmer. This means that a lot more around the farm is now getting done. The moving boxes that had been inhabiting the living room have now been whittled down by half, if not more, and there is a fairly wide walking path through that room. Getting this room emptied is vital for starting improvements on the house. I’ll be writing more on those projects as they happen.

Third, our rooster population has been cut from nine (eight leghorn roosters, and General Tso) to three (all leghorns). I have been teaching myself how to kill, pluck and dress our own chickens. General Tso was not originally on the cull list, but he volunteered for the chopping block – well in our case it is actually a killing cone – by becoming very aggressive. I will write a more detailed post about learning to process our roosters later.

Fourth, we built a mobile tractor for our hens and are building a mobile coop. We originally had the chickens fenced in, but they were not staying in the fence. So we decided to free range them, until we heard from a neighbor down the hollow that he has lost all but one of his chickens to either coyotes/coywolves, or another neighbor’s dogs. So, we built a PVC pipe chicken tractor. However, moving them from their stationary coop to their tractor and back can sometimes be an exercise in frustration since they have to be coaxed across open ground from one confinement to another. So, we are building a mobile coop that will be attached to the tractor. I will write more detailed posts about both of those projects as well. Now, you may be wondering what we plan to do with our stationary coop. We will be turning it into a broody house for….

CHICKS!!! In our final bit of news of the month, we got word this afternoon that the 30 Buff Orpington chicks we ordered have been shipped and should be arriving in a day or two. In yet another post, that I will also need to write, I will explain why we choose Buff Orpingtons, or (as Grace calls them) Buffingtons, for our main breeding flock.

I look forward to relaying  our experiences to you as we move forward.

New Years

This year marks the begining of the first year with all six of us in the old farm house. Hopefully by the end of this year the new farm house will be fully occupied by my sister-in-law’s family.

This year we moved in, got the chickens, learned how to treat chick illnesses, tapped multiple trees for syrup, learned about the seasonal flooding on the property, tried gardening round 1, moved my brother’s family into the farm house, built the chicken coop, built two chicken tractors, put a dent in the unpacking, got our first eggs, got some seeds from the garden for next year, learned how to slaughter chickens, and a lot more. It’s been a crazy busy year.

In a lot of ways next year’s goal can be simplified to ‘the same thing only better.’ Armed with the trial and errors of this year we are better prepared to ramp up our activities slightly. A better breed of chicken for our needs. A garden more focused on production for the most immediate needs (particularly chicken feed). And probably a whole lot of things that we didn’t plan on. After all three quarters of farm life is unexpected.

 

Eggs!

Almost as soon as we moved the chickens into their new coop we  started finding eggs. Of course none of the eggs were in our nesting boxes. That would be too normal for our chickens, they like to do their own thing.

So one insists of laying on the front porch. Another will only lay behind the coop door. And yesterday we found 20 hidden under a piece of sheeting that the roofing/siding guys left leaning against the shed. How long have been hidding them there? Who knows?

It is kinda like an Easter Egg hunt only the eggs are the same color as the dirt. So far all our eggs are brown. No jewel tones. But with Dominiques, you don’t really expect them. So far all of our eggs are brown.

Which is interesting because the Leghorns should be laying white. So either all of the eggs are from the Dominiques or our Leghorns are mutts that look like pure Leghorn. Time will tell.

Chicken Egg Colors

This was an interesting website I found while trying to figure out the ancestry of our eggs. If you are looking for the blue, green, or purple eggs it will help with breed selection.

Research Gems

Frequently, I find myself doing research online on topics that I have absolutely no experience with. For example cows. We aren’t going to be ready for one for a while. But getting an idea of what kind of cow might be useful will give us an idea of what kind of price range we are looking at. Not to mention the potential time spent on pickup.

Like many homesteaders we are looking at heritage breeds since they do better on forage. So finding a supplier of non-inbred cattle is an issue since the US switched to mass marketing Holstien milk in the 1970’s.

There are also all the things you want to consider.

Quantity of Milk: Is it enough for our needs and for a calf?

Fat Content in Milk: For butters and cheese.

Temperment of Cattle: Particularly Bulls: We would rather not deal with any gory details.

Size of Cattle: They aren’t exactly sping chickens.

Diet: Do we need to grain feed or can they forage or do they need both?

Locality of Supplier: How long would it take to pick one up?

Cost: Some of these breeds are on the endagered species list. Consequently they are quite expensive.

Inbreeding: Either from the late 70’s cull or intentional limitation, many have small supply and are as inbred as some dog species with the same damage to the animal’s health.

Cross Breeding: Expensive heirloom cow will probably be mixed with a local bull. What kinds of pros/cons is this likely to cause?

All in all, it has become quite the project. Thank God for the internet and blogger/homesteaders who have gone before and shared such useful information as this one Homestead On The Range.

Very useful genral overview of some of the most popular cattle in the US.