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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Returning Home

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

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

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

Run weed wacked

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

Molasses and hens

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

Molasses

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

Kale harvest

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

5 kale leaves

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

ND kale stems

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

New Hampshire 6weeks

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

Delaware 6weeks

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

ND temp run

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

ND temp run ut

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

Mama and 2.5 week chicks

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

 

Yard Hay

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

dried grass

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

yard hay

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

Yard hay in nest box

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

Garden before mulch

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

Garden after mulch

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

Volunteer Sunflower

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

Hens in ten

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

small coop

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

small coop and run

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

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

horses

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

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

riding mama

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

Run behind garage

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

 

Counting Chickens

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been checking on the hen to see if any of the eggs had pips in them or they have hatched. I went out around lunch time today and I’m getting ready to move the hen off the nest and I see a little yellow head pop out from underneath her.

peeking chick

Because the sides of the nest box were too high for the chicks to get in and out easily I moved the box out and picked up the hen. In the box, there were 4 yellow chicks (one still wet from hatching) and a grey one. They are so tiny. It is amazing how little they are when freshly hatched. One of the green eggs showed obvious signs of hatching but one green egg and a brown egg had no signs at all.

5 chicks

Mama hen has been doing a great job. She huddled them up underneath of her like a champ. I also added a larger amount of chick starter (which mama hen attacked) and a water container that is lower.

Mama brooder

I looked underneath of her about 2 hours after discovering the first hatchlings and I found that the green egg that was intact before was now empty and the chick was half dried. At that point. I decided to help the chick who was struggling in it’s egg. The egg membrane was really thick and it had kicked off most of the shell on one side. I tore the membrane by its head and out it plopped. I tucked the chick up underneath of mama so it would stay warm and get dry quickly. The two newest chicks were also yellow. The last brown egg was still intact. If that egg hasn’t hatched by tomorrow, I’ll candle it to see if there are any signs of life.

For now, we have 7 chicks. 6 yellow chicks, who could be any color later in life. And one little grey chick. I think that little yellow spot on its head is SO cute!

grey chick1grey chick2

Now that they have hatched, these chicks can be counted. We have 15 hens, 1 rooster. 25 Buff Orpingtons, 1 Black Cochin, 17 Delaware chicks, 17 New Hampshire chicks, and 7 barnyard mutt chicks for a total of 83 chickens. I guess I really am becoming a crazy chicken lady.

Heat Wave

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

chicken shade

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

chicken tent

They seem to think so anyway.

chicken tent - close

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

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

Hens eat eggsNHDE eat eggs

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

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

NH roo

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

Bagging Groceries

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

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

celery bag

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

Sore finger

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

celery scraps

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

cabbage box

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

bagged tomatoes

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

Broody 10 days

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

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

buffs around house

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

New Dels 3 weeks

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

crawdad

Weekend Roundup

Saturday evening, Matthew and I worked to get the chicks out of the bathtub. For some reason, I suspect the highly processed feed, these chicks stink SOOO much worse than the buffs did. So, I was eager to get them out of my bathroom. They seemed to enjoy the extra space and spent their time running around, chasing each other, and trying to fly. I tried to tail sex the Delawares but that is best done at a week old, not 12 days.

Chicks new home

When I went to check on them later that night, about 45 minutes before dark, they were all piled up against the front wall by the feeder to keep warm, completely ignoring the brooder heating plate.

Chicks bunched

I climbed in and put them all, one by one, underneath the brooder heating plate to show them how to stay warm. About a third of the chicks freaked out, wouldn’t stay under the plate, and started cheeping their fool heads off. They have to be some of the LOUDEST 1.5 week old chicks I’ve ever heard. After I finished helping Matthew settle the buffs and the laying hens for the night, I went back and checked on the chicks. Using the glow of my cellphone screen, I saw that most of the chicks were happily tucked up under the heater plate, but there was a small pile of chicks crammed in the far back corner. I climbed in and moved 8 chicks from the corner, under the brooder. This time they didn’t start peeping or freaking out, but there were 1 or 2 that kept popping out to see what was going on. It was almost completely dark, so I decided that any chicks that didn’t stay under the brooder on a night that was going down in the 30’s and after all that work had to be too stupid to live. I checked this morning and all the chicks were alive and well. When I checked on them this evening, they were all tucked safely under the brooder.

chicks heater plate

It’s a good thing they’ve learned the lesson of how to stay warm. We have a frost warning in effect for tonight. I was worried about our tomato plants, because put them in the ground a couple weeks ago. They have more than doubled in size, but one frost would kill them off.

tomato plant

To prevent them from dying, I threw some tarps over the tomato cages. Hopefully this will keep them safe.

tarped tomatoes

The buffs are learning how to deal with cold weather as well. If the wind gets too strong and cold, they all pile into the grow-out coop for some protection. I think their juvenile feathers aren’t as warm as their adult feathers will be. One thing I find interesting is there is usually one or two roosters on watch outside the coop at all times. I watched and it isn’t always the same rooster.

Buffs in coop

The buffs also took to their new lodging place like ducks to water. They put themselves to bed well before dark now. When they were in the broody house with the run, they would be out until it was almost completely dark. I guess they feel more vulnerable in an open top run. In the two days they have been in the electric poultry net run, we’ve only had two pullets get out (or maybe one pullet twice).

Buffs on roosts

They are doing a really good job on cleaning the weeds around the brush pile. It looks much less disreputable now.

wood pile

The Cochin is growing up to be quite a handsome, good sized bird. His temperament has mellowed out a good deal.

Cochin left

The broody mama hen is still going strong. I can’t see that she has left the nest at all since she was moved there. She doesn’t like being messed with, but she is very good about not being mean.

Broody ruffled

The Dominique who went broody as well has been broody on and off ever since and is still being mean. I think I need to re-read some of the stuff I read before about how to “break” a hen of her broodiness. If she won’t sit steady on eggs. we want her laying them and she isn’t laying if she is broody.

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.