Archive for the ‘chicken coop’ Category

Hug a Chicken!

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

I think life would be better if we could all hug a chicken once a day. Really, I do! I know J.P. would agree.

J.P. asked for some chicken pictures

Some chicken pictures is exactly what I intend to post today.

But first, I’m gonna post some chicken related pictures…….

There are three screened windows in the chicken coop, and they sure come in handy on hot, summer nights. The problem is I am always worried that a hungry raccoon will find a way to get up to an open window at night and easily make it through the screen. Bernie and I discussed it and came up with what I think is a great solution……. galvanized cage wire. And I had a roll or two in the garden shed that I bought last year when I had planned to rebuild the brooder boxes.

We cut it to fit the windows, and then Bernie used small galvanized fencing staples to secure it to the window frames.

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And now all three windows are much more secure from sneaky raccoons.

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And I can sleep better at night.

And speaking of sleeping….. the mamas and new babies are sleeping up on the roosts at night now.

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This mama likes the highest roost….. and one of her babies likes the window vent for snoozing.

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And the little baby that likes the window vent for sleeping? It’s a little cockerel.

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So far, I’m pretty sure it’s the only cockerel we’ve got….. which would be a welcome respite from the cockerel filled summers we typically have!

Everyone was settling in for the evening when I was taking these pictures.

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And Pretty Boy Floyd was getting a little preening before lights out.

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I am down to two broodies right now – one I gave some eggs to set on, and the other I am working on breaking. She’s a mean little heifer, and I’m not going to let a mean hen hatch out babies when I have way too many nice broodies to do that for me. Mean broodies get pretty nasty when I have to change the feed/water in the brooder boxes….. I’m pretty much done with mean chickens…..

Anywho, here is my sweet broody and the eggs she’s setting on.

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There are two reasons I love my broodies – I can very easily increase the size of my flock and the broody will integrate the chicks into the flock without me having to stress over it too much!

OK I admit….. it’s always a little bit stressful, but a lot LESS stressful when they’ve got a mama to fight their battles.

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As soon as the mamas start bringing the babies out of the coop, I lower the feeder so they can reach it. And in short order, the babies are eating right along side the big kids.

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And speaking of eating….. these Black Spanish girls jump out of the coop first thing in the morning and follow me to the goat barn. They like to share the goats’ breakfast.

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I could keep you here all day with chicken pictures….. maybe even all week…… but it’s thundering and I’m praying we’re gonna get a much needed rain tonight.

So I’m going to post this now, before we lose electricity, and say a little prayer that 2013 is being gentle with you, and hopefully even kind to you.

I think we could all use a good year right about now.

Maybe I’ll go hug a chicken before the rain gets here 🙂

A Queen is Born and Hussy Hen

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

With this very early spring we’ve been blessed with, our honeybee hives sprung to life early this year. Really early. And our first hive inspections were late.  Really late.

Because that’s just the way we roll on this homestead.

By the time we did our first hive we found multiple swarm cells, and a couple of supersedure cells.  Fortunately, our neighbor from up the road, Si, came up to help with that first hive inspection. And Si knows bees. He also happens to raise queen bees.

So, naturally, when we discovered the swarm and supersedure cells,  we calmly looked at Si and screamed “WHAT THE HECK DO WE DO????????”

And, naturally, Si offered some solutions.

We could split our hives to give the girls more room, but that would leave us with four hives.

We don’t want four hives.

We want two hives.

Or we could remove all the swarm and supersedure cells and go back into the hives every two weeks or so and continue to remove them. Because once a hive decides to swarm, there is really nothing that can be done to stop them from trying to raise a new queen.

Our weather is a little kooky now and we stay pretty danged busy, so we worried we wouldn’t be able to keep up the constant removing of cells.

Finally Si offered a solution that we agreed was a good approach. Si would take our queens with him, allowing the hives to hatch out new queens and most likely to swarm with one of them.

We would lose bees to a swarm, no doubt. But, with the original queen gone, the number of bees that would leave with a new queen would be small in comparison.

So that’s what we did. Si took our queens.

And our beehives did, indeed, swarm. I saw them.

But when we went back into the hives last weekend, the number of bees left was astonishing.

It appeared to work!

Only, we didn’t find the new queen in one of the hives.

We looked and looked, and there was no queen.

Fortunately, as I mentioned, Si raises queen bees, and he brought three tubes with those little beauties on the verge of hatching.

So our plan was to put one of those new cells into the hive with the missing queen so she could hatch there and reign supremely.

But…… before we did that, Si decided we should take a look at those supersedure cells that had failed to hatch out. Maybe they weren’t viable, because surely they should have hatched the day or two before…….

And when he removed it from the frame and started to gently pick at it, he was greeted by a queen bee chewing her way out!

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Holy Bee Hive!

And Si birthed a new Queen Bee!

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I apologize for the blurriness of that picture – I was shaking with excitement!

And here she is, joining her hive.

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I almost peed my pants.

There is more to this story. Remember I told you there were a couple of supersedure cells? Well, I was holding the other supersedure cell, and it had a queen chewing her way out, too. But I gave her to Si to birth.

Cause I don’t know nothing about birthing no babies – let alone Queen Bees.

So we left two queen bees in that hive. And, sadly, there will be only one next time we check.

There can only be one Queen Bee in a hive, under normal circumstances.

Although, nothing we do around here is very normal so……. we’ll see.

And speaking of “not normal” things, today I looked out the window at the chicken coop and noticed something just wasn’t quite right.

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No, it wasn’t that the new addition that Bernie painted is TOTALLY brighter than the old side that is dusty and faded – but thanks for noticing that I need to paint the old side. Seriously. Bernie needed someone to take his back when he declared “I painted the addition – the other side is YOUR responsibility”.

But back to what I was saying….. do you see anything unusual here?

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How about from this angle?

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I don’t even have a clue how she managed to get tangled up in that mess.

I got a step stool, which was woefully short, and managed to get her into this predicament.

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And then Bernie came to the rescue with his he-man ladder so I could free her.

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She was totally unappreciative.

I won’t even begin to tell you the words that came out of her mouth.

But she was free as the breeze, complete with attitude.

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Hussy Hen.

The Chickens Move into the Addition – and Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

You remember I was supposed to get baby chicks this month right? Well….. that didn’t happen.

The chicks were due to arrive on April 4th. But they were shipped to Michigan.

Which would have been great! If I was in Michigan.

But I’m in Virginia.

So….. needless to say, I didn’t get those chicks. And it is a VERY long story, but after many hours on the phone I was promised chicks on April 11.

Only I got an email on April 10 telling me that 4 of the 5 breeds I had selected weren’t available. And the story is even longer, but suffice it to say, I’m not getting chicks.

I’m getting my money back.

And I learned a very important lesson.

DON’T DEAL WITH THE MIDDLE MAN.

Deal with the hatchery.

They may not get it right the first time, but I would have stood a better chance of them getting it right the second time.

Lesson learned.

Anywho…… since we had the new coop addition and there weren’t any baby chicks to raise in it before integration, we went ahead and rearranged the coop to make more room for the chickens, and to make it easier on me for collecting eggs and cleaning.

Before I continue and post pictures, I want to apologize for the crazy big white blobs in some of them. I was having problems with big black blobs showing up in pictures with my camera, so I got a new one. But…… I wanted to stick my camera in my back pocket so I would remember to get pictures today, and I decided to use that old one so I didn’t mess up the new one. And NOW the old camera not only has big black blobs in some pictures, it now has big white blobs in some pictures.

Sigh.

It really is time to retire that camera.

So…… this is how the coop looked before we added on and rearranged it:

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See the nest boxes on the left? Right. Now notice the long roost above and right in front of them.

Do I need to tell you what a pain it was to check eggs in those nest boxes? There was ALWAYS a fresh layer of poop in front of the nest boxes. And, even though that roost has been there for a few years, I bonked my head on that thing at least three times a week while checking eggs.

Before I show you how we rearranged things, let me show you this.

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That little thing is Bernie’s idea. We bought it for just over a dollar at Lowe’s. In fact, we bought eight of them.

And when we hung the roosts we just slid the 2 X 4’s right into those little things.

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We didn’t nail the roosts into them, we just slid them right in. They won’t move. AND when it’s time for me to clean that part of the coop, I can just lift the roosts out and then shovel out the litter.

Isn’t that great? I’m tickled pink.

Oh, and just a quick note, we sanded the 2 X 4s – if you’ve ever dealt with bumblefoot, you will understand. If you haven’t dealt with bumblefoot, please sand your chickens’ roosts.

So now, the original 8 X 8 coop that had the roosts and nest boxes just has roosts.

And the new 8 X 8 addition just has nest boxes.

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We raised the big nest box thingy five inches. So now the brooder box doors are up off the ground – and above the litter line – which makes my life a whole lot easier when I’m using the brooder boxes.

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Oh, and did you notice the girls got new curtains? They did – and they really seem to like them. I pleated them and everything.

Nothing is too good for my girls 🙂

So, there you have it. We don’t have new chicks (yet) but the chickens have officially moved into the new addition of their coop.

They seem to like it.

I know I do!

Oh, and if you don’t have chickens and are thinking of getting some, do yourself a BIG favor. Build your coop at least twice as big as you think you need.

Because you’re gonna need that space.

Seriously.

You are.

Trust me.

Chickens are a little addicting.

Or maybe even a lot addicting.

Don’t say I didn’t warn ya 🙂

Chicken Coop Addition Update – and Making Cheddar Cheese

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

We’ve had snow, rain, sleet, wind, and cold weather sprinkled in here and there for the past couple of weeks, but, when the weather cooperated, we’ve (mostly Bernie) been working on the chicken coop addition.

This is what it looked like about 2 weeks ago.

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Bernie’s been working on it as time and weather allows, and this is what it looked like last weekend.

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Yesterday he ran electricity over to it from the existing side, and we’re planning to insulate it and wall up the inside this weekend, and put the steps back in front of the door. Then it will be ready for the baby chicks that should arrive here on April 2nd. Later Bernie will finish the soffets, and I will have to paint it.

A couple of weekends ago my friend, Susan, visited us from South Carolina. And she brought some farm fresh whole milk with her.

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She brought 4 gallons of whole milk, and 1 gallon of buttermilk. I’ve used the buttermilk for buttermilk biscuits (and they were ooooow-la-la) and I plan to freeze some of it for use in fermenting vegetables. The whole milk was delicious with my breakfasts, and with 2 gallons of it, we made some cheddar cheese. We made our first cheddar cheese a little over 4 years ago, from a kit we bought from the New England Cheese Making Supply Company. I had to order new cultures and rennet, but we used the same mold that came with the kit.

So I have 2 things to say about making cheese…… 1) it’s really tasty and 2) it takes a lot of time……

We decided to make Farmhouse Cheddar because, even though it’s better when aged several months, you can eat it in about one month.

Making Farmhouse Cheddar requires 4 things – whole milk, cultures, rennet, and time. OK, maybe 5 things – it also requires the necessary equipment. Which isn’t very difficult, really.

We started by pouring 2 gallons of whole milk into a stainless steel pot, and adding mesophilic culture.

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When it reached 90 degrees, we added the rennet, covered it, and kept it at 90 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Then we cut the curds.

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Next we put the pot into the sink that was filled with hot water and slowly raised the temp to about 100 degrees.

Then we strained the curds through a cheese cloth lined colander.

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We tied the cheese cloth, and hung it over the bath tub spigot to drain.

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We let the curds drain for about an hour and a half while we made and ate our pizza.

Then we put the curds in a cheese cloth lined mold.

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We folded the cheese cloth around the curds and added about 10 pounds of pressure – in this case it’s foil covered bricks.

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After about 15 minutes, we increased the weight to about 20 pounds of pressure – again, foil covered bricks.

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After 12 hours we flipped the cheese and continued with 20 pounds of pressure for 12 more hours.

Then we carefully removed the cheesecloth and let the cheese air for about 3 days or so to form a rind.

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After the rind formed, we waxed it.

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And in about a month we’ll remove the wax and eat it all up 🙂

Oh, and with the whey, I made some ricotta cheese that was really tasty.

The farm fresh milk Susan brought us was delicious, and I’m sure it’s going to result in some wonderful tasting cheddar cheese. To thank her for her kindness I sent her home with a box of meal worms to raise for her chickens.

But I’m not sure the worms will bring her as much as enjoyment as the milk brought us!

Sometimes Persistance Pays Off

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

I ordered my original chicken flock from McMurray’s Hatchery. I remember getting the phone call from the post office that they had a peeping box for me as if it were yesterday. I also remember excitedly claiming my box at the post office while everyone in the there ooooooowed and awwwwwwed over the sounds coming from it.

But what I remember most of all was getting to my car, opening the box, and taking my first look at the 27 precious little fuzzy faces that looked up at me. They took my breath away. And they stole my heart.

I do believe it was precisely at that specific moment, when I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I could never have too many chickens.

Unfortunately, it was also, precisely at that specific moment, that Bernie was busily finishing up the chicken coop he was building for them.

I say “unfortunately” because I knew it wasn’t big enough for all the chickens I had planned in our future.

I also knew he would not agree with my plans.

But I am nothing if not persistent……….

Before my pullets were one year old, a few went broody.And I let them hatch out babies. It didn’t take long before it became obvious that the 8 X 8 coop that Bernie built was simply too small.

I approached Bernie with confidence. “Bernie I need a bigger dad gum coop!”

“No, you need fewer dad gum chickens!”

Ugh. He was going to be a tough nut to crack.

Over the course of the following years, I dropped hints about a bigger coop on a regular basis. And Bernie regularly rolled his eyes and then proceeded to completely ignore me.

But I never gave up.

Then, for reasons still completely unknown to me, I one day mentioned a bigger coop and Bernie said “Well, how do you want to add on to it?”

I’m not sure of how I responded, but I think I had the vapors.

And with the additional coop space, I’ve ordered 16 more baby peeps – which are scheduled to arrive here on April 2nd.

I need to pinch myself right about now……..

So, yesterday, this is how our coop and chicken run looked:

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And this morning, after the steps were disassembled and the netting was pulled back, this is how it looked:

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And this afternoon, after several hours of leveling and building the coop floor, this is how it looked:

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And this is how Jake looked all stinkin’ day long:

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Turns out Jake doesn’t like change very much…….

And the chickens weren’t too crazy about it at first. But after we finished up, a few brave souls made their way into the chicken run to eat a little supper.

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I think I can honestly say that no one on this homestead is happy about the chicken coop addition.

Except me.

I’m happy.

I am pretty danged happy.

Sometimes persistence pays off.

One Lucky Boy

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

If you keep up with me on Facebook, you may recall that last week I posted that I was looking for a home for a cute little Phoenix cockerel.

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This guy narrowly escaped freezer camp a few weeks ago. He was spared for two reasons 1) He was really too little to eat and 2) he’s a full bred Phoenix. I really love my Phoenix hens and roosters. Not only are they pretty, they have very nice dispositions. I was really hoping we could find him a nice home. And that is exactly what we did.

When my friend, Charlotte, read my post on Facebook, she immediately wrote to tell me if I couldn’t find a home for the Phoenix cockerel, she would take him. Charlotte has wanted chickens for a very long time, and she somehow convinced Tex to agree to this cockerel. I wrote Charlotte back right away and said “Consider him yours.” She named him Feathers.

Bernie and I went over to deliver Feathers, and help work on the new coop and chicken yard that would be Feathers’ new home. When we got there, everything was well under way.

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Within no time, Charlotte and I had the chicken walking plank ready to go, and Tex had constructed the sliding chicken door.

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Charlotte tiled the floor of the coop. I am not kidding.

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Tex went in to install the roost. But there was a slight problem. Tex is a little bigger than a chicken.

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But he figured out a way to make it work.

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Just look at these new digs!

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Charlotte put the litter down, and we installed Feathers. He immediately showed his approval by scratching around happily.

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The guys quickly closed in the chicken run.

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And Feathers was allowed outside to check out his new yard.

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He looks pretty darn happy in his new home, doesn’t he?

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I can’t tell you how happy I am that Charlotte took this little cockerel. I had hoped to find him a good home and I am just tickled that I found him the perfect one.

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I have learned to never say “never” on the homestead. I never thought I’d let my hens hatch out babies. I never thought I’d cull one of my chickens. I never thought I’d eat one of my chickens. And I never thought I’d give one of my chickens away.

Hmmmmm. Following that logic, I never thought I’d win the lottery either. So maybe, just maybe, Feathers won’t be the only lucky one around here!

PS – Thank you Tex and Charlotte for bringing Feathers into your lives and providing such a wonderful home for him. Oh, and thanks for letting me use your camera and sending me all the pictures.

I Am So Dad-gum Easy to Please

Monday, August 31st, 2009

When my hens started going broody back in March, it caught me by surprise. I really did not expect to have broody hens because I intentionally bought what I believed were non-broody breeds. I quickly built a couple of brooders in the coop out of hardware wire. I disliked those brooders immensely. They had sharp wires poking up everywhere and, as a result, I have had scratches and torn clothing all summer. And I always worried that the chickens would get hurt on that wire. I actually suspect that may be where Duke got the foot injury that resulted in the Battle-of-the-Bumblefoot we’ve been going through around here.

So this past Friday, I took the day off work and Bernie and I rebuilt the brooders. I’m much happier with them.

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We also put a much steeper slope on the top of the nest boxes to keep the chickens off of it. And we moved one of the roosts to keep the poop away from the brooder area.

While I had the camera out, I remembered to take a picture of a volunteer flower that came up in the strawberry bed. That area had previously been a wildflower bed and this flower is apparently the result of a seed that was left in there:

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I honestly don’t remember seeing a flower like that in the wildflower bed. I’m sure I would have remembered such a beautiful bloom! OK, all you flower-name-knowing people, any idea what kind of flower that is? I plan to keep the seeds. That’s one of the prettiest flowers I’ve ever seen! It’s like a bouquet of flowers in one bloom.

I’m not very good at remembering to take pictures so, since I had my camera handy, I took it along when the pups and I went on the mail run this afternoon.

Diesel is obsessed with tall grass and weeds. He absolutely loves laying in it and playing in it. Can you see him in this picture?

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Look right slap, dab in the middle. Here’s a closer view:

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He finally poked his head out

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Which is just what Dolly was waiting for. She immediately pounced on him

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And then she ran around with reckless abandon

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Until she spotted a bug on the driveway

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Hey good lookin’

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Dang, I never even knew the boy could move this fast!

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Lordy, I do love these pups. And my flower. And my new brooders.

I am so dad-gum easy to please.

Broodies, Mamas, Roosters and The Big Top

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

I let the two broody moms out of their brooder pens with their babies today. I really need to get them out of the brooders so I can put the next two new mamas in them. They are due to hatch their babies out Wednesday.

As usual, these two broody moms just can not get along. They immediately launched into a brawl. I sat out there with them for a while and separated them several times, and eventually Broody1 took her chicks into the chicken run and things seemed to settle. Before too long, Broody2 had her chicks in the run as well. Everyone seems to be getting along just fine now – even if the two broody moms both now have bruised eyes.

Against my wishes, Broody1 has already taken her chicks into the woods, next to the coop. I really worry about them being out there, but they don’t pay any attention to what I want.

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They are still all in the woods as I type this. Broody2 has her chicks in the chicken run.

Even though the chicken coop is right next to the woods, the sun shines on it all day long. I normally don’t worry too much about that. In the winter, the sun heats the coop nicely. And in the summer, the chickens spend most of their time in the woods – or under Bernie’s pole barn next to his barn shed. That’s a constant source of annoyance for Bernie, by the way. But it makes the chickens happy, and happy chickens makes me happy, so Bernie doesn’t complain too much. Even if they have scratched out holes the size of the grand canyon under his boat, behind his tractors, and around each support pole to dust bathe in.

At any rate, with broodies living in the coop right now, and new babies staying in there as well, I started getting a little concerned about the sun beating right on the coop all day and raising the temperature inside the chicken coop. I decided to tarp over the shrimp net I have covering the chicken run. Not only would that shade the coop a great deal, but it would keep the chicken run from getting so muddy in the rain. So this morning, Bernie helped me secure the tarp over the shrimp net. It now looks like the Big Top Circus resides in our yard.

Tarp over chicken coop

I know it looks awful – but the coop and chicken yard are mostly shaded all day long now. The chickens seem to like it. Bernie seems to hate it. And I can overlook it since it makes my chickens more comfortable. We’ll take it down in late fall so that the coop will get sun in colder weather and the weight of the ice and snow doesn’t pull the shrimp net and tarp down.

Something I meant to mention earlier about this last hatch is that four of the eggs I put under the broodies were eggs I had stored in the refrigerator from 1 – 3 days before hand. I had heard that refrigerated, fertile eggs will hatch out just fine, and I wanted to experiment with it myself. So I opened one of the egg cartons in the refrigerator, randomly pulled out four eggs, marked them with a different colored pen than the other eggs I gave the broodies, and then put the refrigerated eggs under those broodies. And guess what? All four of those refrigerated eggs hatched just fine. I share this with you in case you have chickens and happen to lose a favorite hen. If you recognize her eggs and have some in the refrigerator, you can take them from the refrigerator and put them under a broody or in an incubator and hatch out her offspring. Be sure to bring the eggs to room temperature before placing them under a broody or in the bator. Otherwise moisture can collect on the inside of the egg and possibly mess up the hatch.

Bobby Lee is still enjoying his Reign of Terror. He really torments Duke something fierce. In all fairness, Duke used to really torment Bobby Lee though. I guess Bobby Lee figures turn about is fair play. None the less, Duke still participates in keeping the flock in line, much to Bobby Lee’s consternation. Pico regularly tries to get frisky with the older hens, and Duke just will not stand by and watch that happen. Neither will Duke allow the hens to fight. While Bobby Lee does seem to be extremely alert and watchful over the girls, he can not, quite frankly, hold a candle to Duke. Maybe he’ll grow into the role.

Bobby Lee is such a good looking boy.

Bobby Lee

And Duke still has his rugged handsomeness.

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It occurs to me that it is a bit like a circus around here with all these crazy chickens. Maybe naming the tarped over chicken run The Big Top isn’t such a bad idea.

Bee Free

Coop Poop Boogie and Love Those Shoes

Monday, April 20th, 2009

For each person that keeps chickens, there is probably just as many variations in chicken coop designs and management techniques. When we built our coop, we based the design on one that would be as predator proof as possible from the many predators in this area and one that would provide adequate protection from the elements that are typical for our area. Our coop sits above the ground, with about a foot or so between the floor of it and the earth underneath. The coop flooring is treated OSB, and I chose the “Deep Litter Method” (DLM from here on out) for coop poop management.

The idea behind the DLM is really quite simple. You start with a clean coop floor, cover it with about four to six inches of litter, and then about once a week or so, sprinkle litter over the top of that to cover the poop as it accumulates. I use pine chips that Bernie chips up for me from fallen pine trees around here. Once a month or so I use a garden rake and stir all that litter around in the coop, just to keep the poop from clumping. On days when we have snow or a lot of rain and the chickens hang out inside the coop, I sprinkle some scratch all through the litter on the coop floor and the chickens stir it for me.  If done correctly, there will be virtually no offensive smell in the coop, and  the litter only needs to be completely removed once a year. If the coop is kept dry, the litter remains dry, as does the flooring beneath it.

I really like using the DLM for several reasons, the least of which is not the fact that it only takes me about 10 minutes each day to clean the coop and replenish feed and water containers. The daily coop cleaning duty is referred to as the “Coop Poop Boogie” here on the homestead, and consists of scraping all poop off the top of nest boxes, nest porches, and roosts, sprinkling new litter on the coop floor as required, filling feeders and changing out water. By the way, the Coop Poop Boogie is not to be confused with the Poop Scoot Boogie, which is performed after stepping in a fresh little pile of chicken poop in the yard on the homestead. Everyday’s a party around here.

Yep, the Coop Poop Boogie is fast and easy, thanks to the DLM. The coop spring cleaning, however, is not. It’s not fast. And it’s not easy. I spent about 4 1/2 hours yesterday spring cleaning the coop, which, among other things, involved shoveling out about two feet of poop encrusted litter. But, with each shovel load, I reminded myself that this one day of pain is what makes the daily Poop Scoop Boogie so tolerable the other 364 days of the year. And I was quite pleased that once all the litter was out of the coop, the floor beneath it and the nest boxes were perfectly dry.

When it was all said and done, I ended up with a mountain of poop encrusted pine shavings which I mixed with straw and leaves and covered in Chicken Poop Tea I’ve been brewing for the past couple of months.   This colossal pile of poop is now soaking in the 3/4 inch of rain we got last night. It’s supposed to rain all day and into tomorrow, and this soaking is just what the poop pile needs. I checked it this morning, and it’s already getting hot. For the next several months I will continue to add straw, grass cuttings, kitchen scraps, chicken poop, and water to this massive pile, and by next spring, I should have a beautiful pile of compost that my garden will enjoy.

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That’s the chicken poop pile on the right, and my straw pile on the left.

Composting pine shavings can take quite some time, but by regularly adding chicken poop, straw, and “green” material to it (grass, kitchen scraps, etc.)  and keeping the pile damp, you may be amazed at how much more quickly the composting process occurs. I’ve done this on a much smaller scale and it works beautifully and quickly. Every week or so, rather than wetting with water, I pour a bucket or two of Chicken Poop Tea on it to help keep this compost pile hot. I make this tea by filling a couple of buckets half full with water and then adding in the poop I scoop each day until the buckets are full. I also stir them daily, while holding my nose.  And I keep the buckets covered with a loosely fitting lid.

By the end of the year, I should have a nice, rich mountain of compost. I’ll stop adding chicken poop to the pile and let it “season” until next spring. Chicken poop is extremely strong and will kill plants if applied directly to them without allowing the poop to age and compost. The rule of thumb is: If you can recognized the shape of the poop, it’s probably too “hot” to apply to plants. Allow it to break down completely and NEVER apply Chicken Poop Tea directly on plants or the ground where they are planted. It’s just too strong – but it works great to speed composting in compost piles.

So that’s the scoop on the Coop Poop Boogie. Come to think of it, this all sums up my life beautifully – enriched with poop. Every dad gum day.

While I was out cleaning the coop, Bernie left the dogs in the house to bring me some tools for reconstructing the little chicken hospital in the coop. When I came in for a break he said “Good news! You get to do some shoe shopping!” I immediately looked at the puppies. Neither would make eye contact with me. “I left my sandals by the door when I changed into my rubber boots, didn’t I? How badly did they chew them up?” I asked. “Well, it wasn’t ‘they’, it was ‘him’ and it wasn’t ‘them’, it was ‘it’.” *sigh* “Well, how bad is IT?” Bernie said “You might be able to salvage it. I’m not sure, but I think Dolly stole it and gave it to Diesel. It was in Diesel’s mouth when I found it, but Dolly was looking kinda guilty.”

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That doesn’t look very salvageable to me. I realize it looks like something I dug out of the dump, but I LOVE those sandals. I’ve had them for years. They were broken in beautifully and had become the only sandals I wear in the summer on the homestead. Darnit. But it’s my fault for leaving them on the floor and providing a temptation little Dolly and/or Diesel just could not resist. The joy of puppies…….

Bee Free,

Penny

Who’d Have Thunk It?

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

We had quite a bit of excitement here on the homestead yesterday. As you know from my last post, we have two broody moms with five chicks between them. Well, yesterday afternoon I got to thinking that the nest boxes are up about two feet from the ground. It’s not unusual for mama hens to begin taking their babies out of the next within the first three or four days of their lives. I wasn’t concerned about the chicks getting out of the nest, I was concerned that once they did, they would not be able to get back into the nest. So I decided to move both broody moms and their chicks onto the floor of the coop, underneath the nest boxes. And move them, I did.

I sat with the broods for a while and everything went along just fine. Broody1 just sat in a corner with her two little little chicks cheeping happily beneath her. Broody2 brought her three chicks out into the middle of the coop and started teaching them to peck and eat. A couple of hens wandered in and checked out the chicks, and then moved on to the nest boxes. Everything was going better than I had hoped for. I went inside and over the next couple of hours I went back out to the coop about every 15 minutes to check on the situation. So far, so good.

After two hours, however, things changed. Swiftly and dramatically. I opened the front door to walk toward the coop and I immediately knew something was wrong. I could hear baby chicks peeping like crazy, and I could see a huge plume of dust and feathers flying out of the chicken door. I ran to the coop and opened door, and then stood there with my mouth open for a full minute. My two sweet, gentle, lovely little mama hens were in the middle of what looked like a bar room brawl. They were a screeching, screaming, clawing, pecking ball of feathers in the middle of the coop. I could not believe it. I quickly ran in and tried to separate them, and it wasn’t easy. Each time I would get them apart, they would fly back at each other and start fighting all over again. I finally managed to pick one up and as I stood, she had the other in her mouth by the neck. It was awful. I eventually got them apart and put each back in the nests they hatched their broods in. Then I looked around for the biddies. There were two. I grabbed them and put one in each nest box with a mama. I searched all over coop and there was not a sign of another biddy. I began to panic. I ran outside, laid on the ground and looked underneath the coop. The bottom of the coop is covered with chicken wire, but a one day old biddy could very easily fit between the wire. I laid there for a while, desperately searching for a sign of a biddy, but I could see nothing. And I could hear nothing. No peep, chirp, or scurrying. Nothing. I walked all through the woods by the coop searching for them. Nothing. I layed on the ground next to the garden shed and looked underneath it. Nothing.

Bernie was not home during all this. He had gone in to town to run some errands. By the time he returned, I was in the middle of a full blown nervous breakdown. I did my best to explain what had happened, but judging from the confused look on his face, I’m certain I was making no sense at all. I was standing there shaking like a leaf and mumbling something like “It’s hopeless. Hopeless! They’re gone. Gone forever.” when he said “Honey, they couldn’t have just disappeared. Let’s go outside and look together”.

We went into the coop and looked around. Nothing. We went outside and looked under the coop. Nothing. We walked through the woods searching everywhere. Nothing. And just when I began mumbling about the biddies being gone forever again, we heard a cheep. And then another. And it was coming from underneath the coop! I’m going to fore go the details on this. Suffice it to say that 15 minutes and a lot of running around chasing biddies later, we had the three escaped biddies safely tucked in with their mothers.

Two hours later I had built the pen that will house these mamas and babies for the next couple of weeks:

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This is actually two pens – separated by more wire between them. Each is about 4′ X 4′. As soon as it was finished, I placed the mamas and their babies in them. And they seem very happy.

Broody1 got the worst damage during the brawl with Broody2. But in Broody1’s defense, she had been sitting on a nest for six weeks and hadn’t been eating for several days. She was very weak. Just look at her poor bruised eye and damaged comb:

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Poor little thing. Today is the first day she has accepted food from me and eaten in many days. I’m really hoping she’ll start getting back to her old self soon. It was a little cool today, and she has kept the babies tucked up tightly underneath her.

Broody2 is doing just fine. She eats and drinks and calls the babies out to learn to peck and eat fairly regularly. I had a hard time getting pictures of her babies, but I managed to get this one (there’s one behind her, but you can’t see much of her):

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Awwww. That is just adorable. This is one of the two White Faced Black Spanish mixes that hatched. In fact, I’m fairly certain this one is mixed with Bobby Lee, the Phoenix – notice the darker legs. The other is obviously mixed with Duke, a Silver Gray Dorking. She has orange legs and five toes – another trait of the Dorking.

I was not there when the fight between these two mamas started, but I am certain it had something to do with the babies. I have a friend that says mama hens fight like ninjas over their babies. Well, until you see it, you can’t imagine how accurate that description really is. I hope to never see it again.

I’ve written way more about this than I had planned, or probably should have. If you’re still with me at this point, please allow me to offer you some advice. If you plan to have chickens, read everything you can read about raising them and issues that can occur while you’re doing it. Talk to everyone you know that has chickens and ask them what their experiences have been. And then get your chickens and know that you will be able to write your own book when it’s all said and done. No book and no one can prepare you for everything in your future with chickens. Everyone is different. Every flock is different. They will have a lot in common but trust me, those little chickens will throw you a curve ball more than once. And at the end of the day, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bee Free,

Penny