August 2017 Update

Hello Everyone!

Wow, I wasn’t really intending to take a month long break from blogging, but life happens. I’m now back to work after having two and a half weeks off from work. On the first day of vacation, we separated the Delaware and New Hampshire cockerels from the pullets. We counted out 7 New Hampshire and 8 Delaware Cockerels. We moved the cockerels into their own coop and run.

Cockerels

The reason we did this is so that we could integrate the pullets in with the laying hens with the least fuss and bother possible. The integration went smoothly and we were even able to start releasing the mutt chicks from their run in the afternoon to start integrating with the flock.you can see some of the small white chicks on the left side near the gut bucket.

Hens

At first, the chicks respected the fence, but after a while they got bolder and started roaming and foraging more freely. You can see the little white birds clearly roaming outside the electric fence.

Free roaming chicks

The first half week of vacation, we spent in Pennsylvania for a family wedding. The next week, I took off as a stay-cation to do some chores on the farm. Sad to say, I didn’t get as much accomplished as I intended. I thought I would have oodles of time to do farm projects if I didn’t have to work. Nope! It turns out that taking care of a 13 month old little guy while working on the computer is VERY different from doing farm projects while caring for him. I did manage to get one very important task completed. Over the course of 3 days, I whittled our 15 cockerels down to 3 of each breed. I will go over our process for selecting our top 3 from each breed that we will be assessing for temperament in another blog post. For that last week of vacation, David, Mr. G and I, along with Grace, spent the week with some friends in a state park about 5 hours away. It was a very relaxing week, which we all needed.

DENH six

Today I made a surprising discovery. I saw one of the Delaware “pullets” doing something very… un-pullet like… to one the other pullets. I cornered the bird for a closer inspection and, lo-and-behold, we missed a rooster. Thinking back, when I separated the cockerels from the pullets, there was one bird I wasn’t sure about, so I left it with the pullets. We caught, banded and put this cockerel with the 6 others. We aren’t even considering weighing it against the other cockerels for several reasons. One, we want to select for fast maturing birds. If the rooster was still ambiguous at 13 weeks when we separated them, he didn’t mature fast enough. Two, while I was trying to catch a Delaware pullet to show Grace the feather differences between a pullet and a cockerel, this guy deliberately bit Grace. People aggression is a trait we don’t want to encourage in our birds. So we gave him a red band to make it obvious he is going in the freezer. Sadly, it means that we had one more cockerel than pullets in the Delawares, but if you look at our Animal Tally, we are now down to 59 chickens! That is a big difference from our high of 83.

ambiguous rooster.jpg

Another thing we did when we rearranged the chickens, was to move Molasses (who was in with the Delaware and New Hampshire chicks) in with the Dominique cross hens. The two Buff Orpington roosters we had put in with them had been slaughtered and we didn’t think he would get along well with Inca and Mellow. Also, just in case we have another hen go broody, we want the Dominique eggs to be fertilized by Molasses so we can hatch them out for mutts that should be broody as well. At first, Molasses wasn’t too sure about the full grown hens, but they warmed up to each other and he now watches over them like a good rooster should.

Molasses with Doms

We do have a slight problem that we do need to keep an eye on, though. Molasses, has a favorite girl. Blondie, one of our Dom/Buff cross hens, is definitely showing the wear and tear of being constantly loved on. She was a little ragged looking before this because she was Alfredo’s (our now frozen Leghorn rooster) favorite as well.

With summer in high swing, we are now rolling in tomatoes, eggs, and basil. Our hens are dependably laying 20+ eggs a day and the 18 Delaware and New Hampshire pullets are only 16 weeks and haven’t started laying yet. They should start laying in 2 weeks or a month. On an average day, we eat between 10 and 14 eggs. So, to use up the leftovers, we’ve been giving some to my parents as well as making dinners with them. This is great because we are using a lot less meat in our diets. We are actually almost able to make dinner completely off the farm. Except for seasonings (salt, garlic powder, pepper) and some cheese, our favorite summer dinner comes straight from the farm. We slice up a few tomatoes and lay them in a baking dish, chop up some basil and spread it over top, beat and season some eggs and pour it over the tomatoes and basil and top the dish with some shredded cheese. It makes a DELICIOUS dinner. Also, between the eggs we are currently getting and the 18 roosters we have in the freezer, we figure that we are breaking even on our feed bill every month now.

Dinner from land

One interesting thing I found before we left for the vacation with friends was these tomato plants growing out from under our house. At first I couldn’t figure out how these volunteer tomatoes got there and then it dawned on me. Earlier this year we had a “sewage pipe incident” with our back bathroom toilet. Apparently, humans can spread seeds as well has birds can. I found that notion to be quite funny. As much as I like using volunteer plants, we had to mow them down. One, we are going to have our plumbing system inspected and possibly upgraded and we needed them out of the way. Two, this side of the house is shaded until well after noon, and the plants got a late start so we probably wouldn’t get any fruit from them. And three, since they were growing straight out of fresh poo, it wouldn’t be sanitary to harvest anything that did grow from them.

Volunteer Tomatoes

It has now been nearly a year since we moved to the farm. So much has changed! There are a few things I miss from the big city (our former church, cell phone reception, having internet that doesn’t have data limits) but I love my life out here. Each day is a new adventure and I love being in such beautiful country.

Rainbow over house

Culling Named Roosters

So we came to the decision this week that we needed to cull two of our named roosters. While Alfredo – our Leghorn cross rooster – was really good at guarding and taking care of the hens, we do not want to use him for breeding purposes and he isn’t accepting of ANY other roosters around his ladies. Because of this, we decided it was time for him to go. We also decided to cull Butterball, the Buff rooster we removed from the rooster pen because he was getting beat up and had become VERY skinny. He had a couple of weeks to fatten back up and “spread his wings”, however, he was scared witless of people. This made the night-time routine difficult because he wanted to roost outside of the coop rather than inside. This lead to me, Matthew, and sometimes Grace chasing him around until he went inside the coop. He was also neurotic and not very interested in mating with the hens, two marks against having him as a breeding rooster. It was definitely harder to cull two roosters that we had named, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Alfredo was a year old and was much tougher to process than Butterball, who was 22 weeks old. They were both decent sized birds, note how they fill up the 9 X 13 dish we use for chilling in the fridge. Alfredo had the most fat in him that I’ve seen in any bird I’ve processed to date.  I think it is interesting how different the two birds look. Alfredo had yellow skin and Butterball had white skin.

Two roosters

Next week we want to integrate the Delaware and New Hampshire chicks – now almost 11 weeks old – into the layer flock. Most of the Delawares are now larger than our smaller Leghorn hens. To reduce tension while integrating the younger birds we’ve decided to do two different things. First, our Dominique hens and Dom/RIR hen like to bully smaller birds. So we decided to move all of our Dom and Dom cross hens (even the more laid back Dom/Buff hens) into the Love Nest. I was originally planning to cull 4 roosters yesterday, but all of us were really tired and it was much easier on me to only cull Alfredo and Butterball. This means that we have 2 Buff roosters left on the cull list. So, to simplify feeding and watering, we decided to let them have one last hurrah and moved them into the Love Nest with the Dom hens for the week. This is going well and everyone seems to be pretty happy. However, moving them in with the hens has reinforced their status on the cull list. Both roosters, one in particular, have become more people aggressive and possessive of the hens since we moved them.

love nest doms-buff roos

On Saturday, after we pull the two Buff roosters out of the Love Nest we will be moving our Black Cochin rooster, Molasses, into the Love Nest with the Dom cross hens. Since we currently have the two Buff roosters we’ve selected as our breeding roosters in with the laying hens, we figured adding a third rooster to the mix while integrating the chicks would be too much. This move also allows us to accomplish another plan, next time we have a good hen go broody we will have fertile eggs for her to hatch that we have pre-screened by isolating a particular breeding group. When we found out that Molasses was a Black Cochin and his disposition turned out to be fairly good we knew we wanted to breed him with our mutt flock to add new genetics, particularly the broodiness of the Black Cochin breed.

Molasses crowing

Since removing the Dominique cross hens from the layer flock, the Buff and Leghorn cross hens have seemed to integrate much better and there is less pecking and squabbling going on. The Buff hens even seem to be teaching the Leghorns that approaching people isn’t a bad thing. They have taken to crowding up to me whenever I come out to check on them or collect eggs. I think it is because I like bringing little tidbits for them (bugs from the garden, food scraps, an extra handful of grain). Another nice thing about having the Dom cross hens out, no body flew over the fence today. Usually, a couple of the Leghorn hens end up on the wrong side of the fence. Today, that didn’t happen. It was lovely. I’m guessing they had been jumping the fence when they are getting picked on.

We are also rolling in eggs now. Today, all 15 of our fully mature hens laid an egg and 8 of our 9 Buff hens laid tiny little pullet eggs. We mainly eat our normal sized eggs hard boiled, so the pullet eggs would get overcooked if we hard boiled them. We have been able to give my parents 2 dozen of the pullet eggs and we will be using another 2 dozen for dinner tomorrow. The little pullet eggs are so tiny and cute. The pullet egg in the picture below is actually one of the larger pullet eggs we’ve had next to one of our smaller Leghorn eggs.

Since they get along so well and we have enough hens to keep them happy we have decided it won’t be too much trouble to keep two Buffs for breeding roosters, for genetic variety as well as redundancy. The first Buff we are keeping we have called Inca (as in Inca Kola, a yellow soft drink). He is the last of the 4 roosters that were heaviest at 16 weeks old. He has a very calm personality and loves the hens and looks after them. He isn’t overly afraid of people and will come up looking for treats.

Inca

Our second breeding rooster we decided to call Mellow (as in Mellow Yellow). He isn’t as large as Inca is or Butterball was but, as his name implies, he is an extremely calm and chill bird. He doesn’t particularly want to be handled, but when we have to handle him he calms down quickly and is non-aggressive and very curious about what is going on around him. He also loves the hens, particularly the Buff hens, and is constantly watching over them and finding treats for them.

Mellow

The chicks are now officially on their own. We were letting Mama out with the rest of the flock during the day and putting her back with the chicks at night because she was hanging out next to the cage to be let back in. About a week ago, she stopped “asking” to be put back in with them and doesn’t seem to care about them any more than any of the other hens do. They are now almost 7 weeks old and are growing great and are completely feathered out. They are still too small to release inside the electric fence, so we will be keeping them in their run until they are a little older.

mutt chicks 7w

Gleaning in the Hay Field

Earlier this week, Bobby got around to cutting our hay. On Thursday he bailed it. After bailing, I noticed there was a LOT of hay left over in the field. It was all over the edges of the field and randomly strewn around the field and in the lane.

So, that afternoon, my mom took the riding mower with the blade positioned high and used it to blow the hay in the middle of the field into windrows and I raked the hay from the edges of the field and the lane into piles. Mr. G really enjoyed riding on the mower with Mom-mom for 2 hours. David drove the truck around the field next to me and I pitched the hay into the bed. After I ran out of steam, 2.5 hours into the process and a dime sized blister on my palm, we pitched half the hay into the run of the brooding house. We have since re-christened the brooding house as the love nest. Since our broody hen solution has worked SO well, we decided that we won’t use the stationary house and coop for brooding unless we have another large batch of chicks. For now, we will be using it for breeding groups or as a holding area for extra roosters. We currently are housing Alfredo, the Dom hen whom we have dubbed Broody, and 3 Buff hens. We are currently testing different Buff roosters in the laying flock to see if they are good flock roosters. As far as Broody goes, we added her into the run to see if removing her from her favorite nesting box would help break her of being broody. Since moving her, we haven’t seen any signs of broodiness and she started laying again today. The chickens LOVE digging down through the hay to get at bugs living in the hay and scratching at the ground.

hay in run

We also covered the patch of dirt that was hidden under the log pile with hay. The soil is so loamy and will make a great garden in the future. However, it is very late in the growing season, so we covered it to prevent weeds from growing.

hay on dirt

When I was finished in the field, the Hay was as high as the top of the cab. We plan to weed the garden tomorrow and put the rest of the hay down around the plants to discourage weeds.

Hay in truck

The chicks are doing amazingly well. We haven’t lost any of them since the first week. The Delaware and New Hampshire chicks are now 10 weeks old. Some of the roosters are now as large as our leghorn hens.

Molasses is now king of the flock. We have put him and the Delaware and New Hampshire chicks out on grass in a paddock next to the laying hens. It is really nice to be able to introduce the two flocks to each other without anyone getting hurt, a few of the chicks have even gone over the wire into the other paddock and the hens and rooster didn’t seem to mind at all.

2 paddocks

The mutt chicks are also getting bigger. 4 of them are a nondescript  white, but three have shown some interesting characteristics. Our grey chick is looking very pretty now that he is feathering out.

There is another little rooster that is pure white, except for the end of one feather on his back which is barred. It looks like he had a Dom or a Dom/cross mother.

onefeather 6w

Two days ago, I was looking at the chicks and noticed that one of them wasn’t as white as the others. I picked her up and I noticed she has gold lacing on the edges of her feathers. Very pretty. I wish I knew which hen was her mother and what parentage she had.

GL close 6w

GL full 6w

GL right side 6w

On a brighter note, we have been getting pullet eggs! Yesterday, I found 2 similarly undersized eggs in the paddock where 6 of the buff hens are residing. Today, I found 2 more in the paddock, and 3 in the love nest (there are 3 buffs in with Alfredo). It is great the the buffs have started laying since they are almost 22 weeks old. Our original layers have slacked off a bit with the heat we’ve had recently. Hopefully the buffs will help make up the lack.

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.

 

Minor Rainstorm

And then a major one left us rather damp.

We did not get flooded, because the guy who built our house did not construct a basemen probably knew that we get rains like this.

hayfield.jpeg

That is the hay field which got cut last week.

pond.jpeg

And our pond did not blow out. But it did overflow in the lower areas.

road.jpeg

This is the driveway, drainage creek, road, and another stream in the hayfield.

Fortunately we had taken the chickens in fairly early as they were looking quite draggled. They were so miserable when they were wet that I turned their heat lamp back on so that they could dry out their feathers faster. So they were extremely fluffy by the time we got to this stage.