Early Bloomer (Year Two) and More Chickens

I was looking over last year’s posts and saw Grace’s post about the early blooming fruit tree in our back yard. We found out that it is a peach tree and once bore very tasty fruit that the older folk in the hollow remember. It has once again started blooming too early in the season. The blooms came in earlier this week when the temperature was in the high 50’s. It is now in the high 20’s and it is snowing. We are hoping to get a couple of pieces of fruit off the tree this year so we can grow new tree(s) from them.

Early bloomer

We also hard boiled that small egg. It didn’t turn out very nice. The whites were grey and green and it had a very small yolk in it . It looks like the chicken might have had a broken yolk in her system and it encapsulated it  with the shell to get rid of it. We decided not to eat it just in case there was something else wrong with it.

hard boiled

In other news, we put in an order for 16 Delaware chicks yesterday. They are set to hatch in June once our current flock of chicks are 5 months old and the broody house is free. We decided to go with this breed, because the offspring of Delaware roosters crossed with New Hampshire hens, were highly prized as broilers (known as Indian River Cross Broilers) in early 20th century before the Cornish cross chicken (the fast growing hybrid bird that you can find in any grocery store) was developed in the 1950’s. However this breed are great for dual purpose birds. They are also supposed to be very good tempered birds. They may also be better in the meat and egg department than the Buff Orpingtons, since they are faster growing and have a greater annual total of eggs. However, they lack the broody characteristic we were looking for in our mainstay breed. We will probably get a small flock of New Hampshire birds next year so we can breed sustainable broilers moving forward. The New Hampshire breed is also a decent meat bird, but they are almost as good as Rhode Island Reds in the egg department, but are much better tempered. We would try breeding Cornish crosses, but those are a 4 way hybrid bird that is very hard to replicate on a small scale, never mind that it is a BIG trade secret. Also, some of the parent stock used to breed the Cornish crosses are not good tempered or tamable birds.

We may also get a chance to buy mature breeding stock as well. I went looking for a breeding farm that would be close enough to drive to so we wouldn’t have to put the chicks through the stress of being mailed to us. I also wanted chicks whose bloodlines were well managed. I found a farm through The Livestock Conservancy that is about 3.5 hours away and I liked their description of how they selected their breeding stock. When I inquired with the farmer about the availability of chicks, they told me that this will be their last season and they will be selling their farm. We won’t know what stock will be available until June, but they are selling the adult birds at a very reasonable price, especially for organic fed, pasture raised birds that are their pick of the flock. It will be nice to get a head start on our breeding program.

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Chicken Update

Things have been going well since we moved our lone adult rooster into the pen with the hens. The hens seem to be friendlier with each other and this rooster is much nicer to the hens than General Tso ever was. For example, when food was involved, General Tso was out for all he could get. He would rake any hens that were in his way aside so he could get at it. This rooster (who we have yet to name) stays at alert while the hens dive for the food and he will look around and peck at any food he finds, but “chuckle” at the hens as if to say “Ooo, here’s a tasty morsel!” and then then backs off when the hens come to find the food. The flock is also much more cohesive. The wind has been brutal these last few weeks, and the run blew away from the chicksaw and they all got out. Until we started trying to corral them back in the pen, all the hens and the rooster were sticking together in one group, unlike what would happen if General Tso and the hens got out. He also has yet to show any aggression towards humans. He did get a bit upset and vocal yesterday when I was trying to capture two hens  who broke out of a hole in the run fencing, but he didn’t attack me.

The hens are also giving us 12-14 eggs a day now. There have been a few days with 10 eggs and a couple where we got one from each hen (15 total). So it evens out. The eggs are a pretty mix. We usually get eggs varying in color from plain white to mid range brown. We have one hen who routinely gives us spotted brown eggs and another who gives us light green eggs (probably Big Head because she has the easter egger muff on her face).

egg variation

It can sometimes be hard to see the difference between the green egg and the white eggs on camera, so here is a comparison of the two on a white background.

egg color

While it doesn’t happen often, we will sometimes get an undersized egg. The larger egg in the picture below is one of our smaller white eggs, the other is the smallest egg I’ve seen to date from our chickens size they stopped laying pullet eggs. When held up to the light, the smaller egg looks like it is almost completely filled with yolk. It will be interesting to see how that egg looks when hard boiled.

egg size

There can also be a difference in the texture of our eggs. It may be hard to see in the photo, but the egg on the left had a flat look to it and a sandpaper texture to the shell. The egg on the right had a more glossy finish and a smooth texture. It is amazing to me how different the eggs can be.

egg texture

The chicks have been doing great. They are now 6 weeks old and are thriving. Whenever I open the coop, there are always a few chicks that fly up to perch on the dividing wall to greet me. The one in the middle is the friendliest rooster, the ones on either side are the friendliest hens. All three of them love to perch on my hand and let me pet them.

There is a pretty wide range between the largest and the smallest birds. Both are showing signs of being roosters. The largest one, on the left, probably weighs over pound right now. The smallest one, on the right, weighs less than half what the largest does. I will be weighing them all at 12 weeks to see who grows the fastest and makes the breeder cut.

To give yo an idea of how friendly the buffs are, neither the biggest, nor the smallest were eager to be handled, but once I had them in my hand they were content to perch on me and have their photo taken. Not so with Rambo. This little black chick is very rammy, hence the name, and actively protests being handled. He is definitely a rooster, based on comb and wattle development. He will not stay perched on my hand any longer than it takes for him to jump off. This is why I’m holding his body to take pictures. I’m not so sure that he is a silkie any more since he isn’t developing a “puffed” head. I don’t think we will be keeping him around long term. He is a good deal smaller than any of the buffs and the doesn’t have a good disposition.

rambo

With the shift in weather, the chicks have only been outside one day in the last week as it has been too cold for them. It was on the verge of being warm enough today, but the wind was brutal. They love being outside and eating grass. They even managed to pull some worms out of the ground. There is usually a big fight over the worms.

Chicks outside

On days when they can’t go outside, I usually pull several large handfuls of fresh grass for them to enjoy. It is usually gone in less than an hour.

 

One Isn’t the Loneliest Number

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cat Food Stashes

Over the weekend, Grace was cleaning up and doing laundry to prepare to go out of town this week. She was going through her things and reorganizing when she found a large pile (maybe a cup or more) of dry cat food in her sock bin. She and I were both befuddled as to how the cat food ended up in her socks. We both shrugged, she dumped the cat food and we both moved on with our day. Later, Grace showed me a purse, that had been clasped shut and put on a shelf, that had another large amount of cat food in it. It was then we realized it might be a mouse’s food stash. Earlier this winter, we had a very bad mouse problem in the farm house. For some reason, it was worst in Grace’s room. We had been trapping and thought we had the problem under control. So, therefore, they must be old stashes.

The next morning, Grace woke to see the fattest mouse she had ever seen climb up her shelves to one stash site. Finding the stash gone, the mouse frantically ran to the next stash site. Squeaking in some distress, Grace saw the mouse run out of the room and return a short while later with a piece of cat food in it’s mouth and put it in one of the stash sites. Needless to say, we started another round of mouse trapping. David commented “Oh, you’re trying to kill Gus-Gus.” Yesterday morning, Matthew found a very fat mouse in one of the traps. We aren’t sure if Gus is dead or just an obese family member, only time will tell. All I know is, my cats are very bad mousers.

Chickens on the Move

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

chick-run-grass

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

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

chick-run

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

chick-run-open

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

chick-run-wire

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

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

chicken-run-closed

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

chicken-run-open

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

chicken-run-perch

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

img_4931

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

img_4932

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

img_4933

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

coop-open

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

nestbox-inside

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

nestbox-closed

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

nestbox-open

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

chicks-3_5-weeks

 

New Digs for the Chicks

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

chick-wing-3

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

resting-chick

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

2-week-chicks

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

img_4890

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

img_4891

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

coop-prep

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

brooder-day-time

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

brooder-night-time

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

brooder-morning

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

new-run

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

chick-feed

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

26 Chicks in the Box

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

26-chicks

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

coop-front

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

coop-back

 

The Buffingtons have Arrived!

Or to be more accurate, the Buff Orpingtons have arrived. Buffingtons is what Grace keeps accidentally calling them, but I kind of like it, so I think it will end up sticking.

This morning at 7:30 I got a call from the post office saying our chicks have arrived. The mail carrier said he could bring them, but they wouldn’t arrive until the afternoon. So, Grace and I drove down to the post office to get them. They came in a cardboard box and were peeping madly – or so I’m told (I’m high pitch deaf and can only hear them if I’m very close to them).

chick-box

In the box, we had 31 Buff Orpington chicks (Yay free chick! We ordered 30) as well as a free “rare exotic chick” who is mostly black and has feathered feet. All the chicks arrived alive.

chick-in-box

Because the hens have not been ousted from the coop yet, and the next several nights will be very cold we decided to set them up in a box in the living room until it warms a bit and we’ve had time to clean out the chicken coop and turn it into a brooder. Yesterday, some of our Amazon Subscribe and Save order came in a 2ft by 4ft box. Perfect for a temporary chick brooder!

chicks-in-brooder

We gave them some feed, grit, and some of what is called “miracle water”. This water has a spoonful of honey, some powdered garlic (the recipe called for a crushed, fresh clove but powdered was all we have on hand), and a little big of apple cider vinegar. It is supposed to help them recover from the stress of their journey across country via the postal system.

miracle-water

Since I’m an impatient person, I did some research on how to sex day old chicks by looking at their primary flight feathers. According to my best guess as an amateur, internet-trained chicken sexer,  we have 17 pullets (hens) and 14 cockerels (roosters) Buff Orpingtons. The free chick also looks like a rooster, and I think he is a Black Silkie Bantam. We’ll just have to see how well my guesses turn out. Hopefully, they all survive. We have one little rooster who is looking rather droopy and we’ve been giving him water and a little bit of yogurt to help brighten him up. Otherwise, the chicks seem to be rather spunky and lively.

So, you may be asking why we chose Buff Orpingtons. When we went looking for the type of chicken we would keep and breed on our farm, we were looking at several different characteristics that would make a good all around homestead bird.

  • Dual purpose – good for eggs and meat
  • Heat Tolerant
  • Cold Tolerant
  • Good Disposition
  • Likely to Sit on Eggs
  • Good at Foraging

One tool that was an enormous help to us was Murray McMurray’s Chick Selector. It allowed you to enter the criteria you are looking for in a chicken breed and narrow your list down to a few breeds. The each of the characteristics the selector allows you to input has five options; Poor, Good, Better, Excellent, Best. In order to find a breed that makes a good mother hen, we had to select for a slightly less efficient forager than we originally wanted. The selector narrowed it down to three breeds; Buff Orpington, Buff Rocks, and Turken. We then did a lot of research on these three breeds and decided that Buff Rocks were out because they were less likely to stay contained in an open top paddock. Turkens and Buff Orpingtons were coming out pretty even on almost every characteristic. We ended up choosing the Buff Orpington for two main reasons. One, they are a more popular breed and there is a larger gene pool to pull from. Two, they are just prettier birds. Turkens may be good heritage breed birds, but their naked necks just make them look hideous. However, if it turns out that we don’t like the Buffingtons much either, one person suggested you keep trying different breeds of chickens and culling them until you find a breed(s) you like. It sounds like a good plan to me.

 

January Update

Hello all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Years

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

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

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