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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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

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

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.

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.

Mud

Is a constant this time of year. One which has a few moments of entertainment. The hill I climb to collect the Black Walnut sap is extremely muddy. So much so that even the deer have trouble getting good footing. Perhaps my favorite moment yet on the farm was watching a doe slide down the hill. I probably shouldn’t have laughed so much but the poor thing was so discomposed by her ride down a natural slip’n slide. She was entirely unhurt as was evident by how fast she ran away from me once she managed to pick herself up.

mud.JPG

Thus far I have managed to stay clean and have not lost my boots in the mud. Although it has been close a few times. I have found the mud up to 8 inches deep in spots.

Whiplash Weather

So today we are having highs near 70. Tomorrow we are having snow. This is the 3rd major seasonal reversal since I started watching the temperatures for my sap. I have no idea what kind of impact this is going to have on the trees. I hope it will lengthen the season as the trees have to continue to draw up more nutrition the longer the buds get delayed.

However I could easily be wrong. I’m pretty sure I was about 3 weeks late on the tapping season. But we shall see. If nothing else I am learning a good deal and should produce enough to taste test. Besides I found a useful supplier in Leader Evaporators which will probably save a ton of effort next year.

IMG_0312 copy.jpg

 

 

One of the mixed blessing on the farm is the wildlife. On the one hand I have wasps and flies in my room until the bats in the attic get served an eviction notice. On the other we have lots of deer and some beautiful birds. This morning I spotted this red and blue bird on the phone wires outside my window. After nearly stepping on a wasp. That would have been leaping into action. I’m so happy I missed him.

The Ice Man Cometh

So I mentioned snow in the last post. We had rather a lot of it in my opinion. Even the neighbors acknowledged that it was significant because they canceled church on Sunday. We had three feet of snow and I got to shovel it. At first it was quite pretty. I am from D.C. and they do not typically get that much snow, although this year seems to be an exception. So I did enjoy seeing this:snow1.JPG

However the allure had worn off quite a bit by the time I got to this:

snow2.JPG

There were some bonuses. I got to provide live action entertainment for a variety of wildlife. Most particularly a couple deer. One of whom parked about twenty feet away and watched me work in evident confusion. I bet he is still wondering what that strange creature was doing.