Just Duckie

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I think I will just keep the farm animal ball rolling this week.  While we’re at it, let’s talk ducks.

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Last year I posted some pretty darn cute photos of our ducklings.  They were so soft and added quite a lot of smiles at the Easter dinner table when I let one run across.  Three inch high ducklings are a force to be reckoned with in the ridiculously adorable animal category.

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They were a mess.  They love to splash.  They love to get their water everywhere, in the food, in the straw, all over themselves and the patient chicks they were housed with in the bathroom. (I think those chicks thought themselves to be ducks.)  Finally at five weeks old, the whole crew was placed in the chicken coop in a portable fence so that they could get to know their roommates before running for their life from the older hens.

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Doug placed a kiddie swimming pool outside and they spent hours and hours delighting in the water and splashing enthusiastically.  Not always swimming, sometimes they would stand outside the pool with their head in the water.  As they got older we noted that three were female and we had one male.  One drake out of four straight run fowl isn’t bad.  I could have as easily had three drakes and one sole girl!  He was their protector and would only allow the three chickens that they had been raised with to be near them.

We would come home from a farmer’s market and our intern, Ethan, would casually say, “Ira had Yetta’s head in his mouth again.”

“Ira had Sophia’s head in his mouth again.”  He didn’t hurt them but we weren’t sure what the future would bring.

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Well, what it brought was a move.  A move we had been praying for and that I had been writing about for two solid years.  The move to our homestead.  More land, more opportunity.  Lots of room for animals, right?  We moved in the fall during our peak of garden production, farmer’s markets, then transplanting herbs to the new farm, and then a strenuous move.  There wasn’t time to build a separate coop for the ducks and we still didn’t know if we were going to let the chickens free range outside their enclosure due to the significant large bird population that lived nearby (owls and hawks don’t mind free chicken).  And the coyotes singing in the fields (they like a bit of chicken as well).  And Ira with a chicken in his mouth.  No, no, that would never do.  We couldn’t keep them all cooped up together any longer.  So, I sold them for a very low price (as I am so prone to do).  They went to live next door to my friend, Lisa.  I mourned their absence immediately.  I did love the ducks.

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So now spring is approaching (oh wait, it’s only January) and I have BIG plans.  Do I plan any other way?  So we (when I say we, I mean Doug) is going to build a jaunty fenced in run along the west side of the garden where the majority of grasshoppers seemed to be last fall.  The ducks will have a job!  West border bug patrol, duck manure for the compost, and fresh eggs for the cast iron skillet.  They will have their own digs, their own kiddie pool, and their own small coop.  Now, I sure hope I don’t get three drakes and one duck egg layer.  Let’s go for all four girls!

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I miss their quacking on an early summer morning.  Their humorous waddles across the grass.  The sound of water splashing and raucous playing.  A farm without farm animals is simply a garden.  I love my gardens and the farm we are creating here and I need my Noah’s Arc menagerie to make it complete.

How Much Do You Feed Chickens?

I think I was starving my chickens.  I am not proud of this.  Further reason that this blog serves as a place to educate folks on exactly how-to because I can never find the answers on these things until it hits me in the face!

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So, when we first got our chickens, we had eight.  Three or so scoops two or three times a day to spoil them, lots of scraps, running around the yard, they were all set.  We lost some, got some more, now at fifteen, upped the food ration some, everything seemed good.  Lost some, gained some, now we are at twenty-four as of last August.  Upped it a little (now at nine scoops a day, probably the equivalent to a cup and a half a scoop) and that is when I noticed as the girls (and rooster) got bigger over this autumn that they seemed more desperate.  We blamed it on our move, then their molting.  We noticed that the gate kept being opened to the chicken yard.  We asked the neighbors, no one had touched it.  We put a cinder block in front of the gate, they moved it.  They meaning twenty-four hysterical birds.  They did indeed descend from dinosaurs.  Velociraptors, I think!

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I began to ask around how much should we be giving the chickens.  They stopped laying eggs all together.  They didn’t look emaciated, but they certainly weren’t happy.  Sandy and Lisa both just fill up the feeders in their coops.  Doug said the chickens will go through it in one day!

“Then they were hungry!” was Sandy’s smart reply!

So, he filled up the two foot high feeder.  And it was half gone the first day.  But since then it has leveled off and we were indeed starving our chickies and we feel terrible about that.  Sandy also mentioned that throwing out a bowl full of scratch daily is added protein and food.

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We read several articles and books.  None of them ever mentioned just filling the feeders up.  In fact, I have read that you don’t free feed because they will just eat and eat and eat.  I also read that you don’t keep a heat lamp on or they get “weak” and that if the power went out on a cold night they wouldn’t be used to it and would die.  I have read all sorts of things, but here is the conclusion that this farmer has come up with.

Henry Higgin's replacement.  Meet Christopher Robin.  Let's hope he's nicer than Henry!

Free feed.  Particularly in the winter, without being able to run around and find bugs and such.  They need more food in the winter to keep warm.  They produce eggs for me which is food to me.  They deserve fresh water, treats, and plenty of food.  They deserve a red light in the coop.  It was negative twenty-two degrees last night.  We turned on the lamp!  They may not be pets in the sense that the cats are, but they are still in my care and on my farm and should receive the exact same care and treatment as the indoor animals.  I free feed the cats and dogs, why not the chickens.

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I hate learning farming lessons the hard way but then at least I can help out a new chicken person when they ask the internet, “How much do I feed my chickens?”

 

Chicks and Ducks (the first six weeks and joining the flock)

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The mini-quacking from the chicken coop cannot help but bring a smile to my face.  The ducklings are so amazingly adorable.  The chicks are cute running about in hysteria.  Yes, the babies have been moved to the coop with just a little worry on my part.  Last year we were absolutely paranoid when we transferred the new chicks to the coop.  The hens look larger than life when you compare them to six week old chicks!  They also seem pissier.  But we have found a way to do this successfully each time.

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1 day old through four weeks old we destroy the bathroom.  The bathtub is safe, weather free, continuously warm, and dry (except for the ducks).  We set up a plastic tub in the bathtub with a little straw, their feeder and a cup of water.  We attach the heat lamp rather low, just above the box.  We dip each chick’s beak into the water to get them drinking. We check for poopy bottoms that need to be cleaned (just yank it off) the first couple of weeks.  We see if the chicks are huddled under the light (too cold) or in the far corner (too hot) and adjust the lamp from there.  The chicks should be running around.  Raise the lamp a little each week.

There are only two adversaries of bathtub chick.  Cats that can get through the door (thankfully no issues here), and an open toilet seat.  I am afraid Decaf could not swim.  She hadn’t even flown out of the box yet when Emily found her.  How did she get over there?!  Conspiracy theories fill our heads.

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On their fourth week birthday the bathtub is again available for use.  The chicks move to the garage.  We bought a large metal portable fence rather inexpensively at the farm store.  It folds up or out and becomes whatever size you need.  A folding table covered the top with about a foot open on one end to allow the heat lamp to shine through.  Same procedure, see if they are running around, make sure they are comfortable and loud.  Sure sign of happy chicks.

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On their fifth week birthday the whole contraption moves inside the chicken coop.  The chicks (and ducks) stay in the cage for another week while the ladies get used to them being there and all the ruckus.

On their sixth week birthday night we prop the door open a few inches.  That way they can come out and run in but the big girls cannot get into the cage.  The next morning at the crack of dawn I am out there checking to make sure there were no massacres.  No one seems the wiser and the interest is in food and freedom.  While the hens are out running around enjoying the lawn and the day, the chicks and ducklings wander the coop.  They will at some point discover their way out only to have to be corralled back in when they cannot figure out reentry.  It is one of our jobs here, rounding up chicks.  Not a bad gig.  They will eventually grow even bigger and be a part of the flock before we know it.  Look who else is trying to join the flock!

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Walking The Plank

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The water was still and unmoved.  No life or death disturbed its surface.  I had ordered them all to walk the plank yesterday after setting up buckets with a few inches of water and a plank.  Doug threw in a little sweet feed for enticement.  I peered over the edge sadistically, with trepidation, and found that no one had taken the bait.

Our friend at the feed store had told us about this method of mice extermination.  Her friend simply sets up a bucket in the chicken coop with a plank and everyone falls in and drowns.  The vision of piles of dead mice in their watery grave did not sound enticing.  But neither does poison.  Or traps.  I will inevitably poison the neighborhood cat and snap my toe.  Guaranteed.

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And I never thought myself a worrisome person, but I have found that I do indeed worry about the moral implications of mass genocide on another living creature.  I do not want them to suffer, by means of drowning, decapitation, or poison.  Do I even have a right to decide?  If I look through a different lens, I can see that the mice playing gleefully in the front yard, dancing on the porch, and raiding the chicken coop could be deemed, by Disney or Beatrix Potter standards as, dare I say, cute.  However, on closer inspection of reality, I see them and hear them racing in the garage.  Hundreds of them.  They are not even scared of us anymore.  They run across my feet as we milk.  They burrow into the photographs I treasure, the Christmas boxes of memories, and Andrew’s things that he will take when Megan becomes his bride.  Hopefully they will not all be destroyed.  But that is what hundreds of mice do.  They infiltrate and destroy.

They are graciously not in the house, which is surprising since they are under the porch and swarming the outbuildings.  The occasional straggler makes it in.  Yesterday, Eliza brought us a deceased mouse which she had no moral dilemma with, and left it for me in the bathroom.  Thanks.  However, if they were to get into the walls and decide to storm the castle, eight indoor cats would have little effect.  We have experienced this before in prior houses.  Cleanliness has nothing to do with it.  Mice are persistent little buggers.  I had read in our last house to put out cotton balls doused in peppermint essential oil.  I did so, and I kid you not, I found a nest made of the cotton balls.  It was lovely and aromatic and the mouse practically flipped me off.  I am so done with mice.

So, I set up watery graves and ordered them in Captain Hook style to kindly walk the plank and be done with it.  They have refused.  I lean on you, my farming and fighting friends out there, how, pray, does one rid the farm of mice?

 

Keeping Chickens Safe From Predators

It looked like an Alfred Hitchcock movie in there.  I may have acted too quickly.  I saw that Ethel was bleeding from the top of her head and quickly put her in the bathroom.  The freshly painted bathroom.  Ethel shook her head.  Oh my, there was blood everywhere!  I then moved her to a kennel.  It looked like she may have snagged her comb on something, nothing life threatening but I didn’t want the crazy chicken dinosaurs to catch sight of it and come finish the job.  Those kids aren’t quite right.  She stayed in the bathroom (in a kennel) overnight until it scabbed over.  She spends most of her time in the driveway hiding from Henry the Perv anyway.  It is important though, that if you see a chicken that is bleeding that you separate them immediately.  Sometimes the other chickens are the predators!

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Now, everybody loves a good chicken dinner.  Raccoons, coyotes, and foxes love them some chicken.  Luckily, these guys work mostly at night, so that is an advantage.  The chickens will put themselves to bed at night at dusk without fail.  Close them up.  We never go to bed without closing their doors.  That is the number one way to keep chickens safe.  Close them up securely at night.

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I have seen more and more coyotes during the day.  They came in broad daylight and took out almost an entire flock from Jill’s house.  The more we move into their territory, and kill off rabbits, and mice, and prairie dogs, and everyone else, the hungrier these dogs get.  Chicken looks mighty good to them.  I have an advantage that even though I back to the fairgrounds, I live in town and don’t have as many predators walking down the sidewalk in the middle of the day.  Once we move out further in the country, we will not be able to let the chickens run buck wild around the yard unchecked.  They will have to have a larger, fenced in area to keep them safe.

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Larger animals can dissuade coyotes and other predators from entering the yard.  A large dog (even my old, tired greyhound), a donkey, a llama, even our ornery alpacas seem to keep outside animals out.

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A good fence, larger animals, and locking up the chickies at night is the best way to make sure you aren’t feeding the neighborhood and can keep all the missies safe and laying eggs!

What to Do With All that Poo (composting manure)

As Doug and I were shoveling alpaca poop onto the garden beds yesterday I said lightly, “You sure can’t be bothered by poop if you live on a farm, can you?!”  He laughed and agreed and we continued shoveling.  I did not know that I would be around it so much post baby diapers. But there it is, now what to do with it?

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The nice thing about Alpaca droppings is that it won’t burn plants.  It is adds nitrogen to the soil but does not have to be composted.  It can be added directly around plants and into garden beds.  From poop pile to garden bed.  Instant fertilizer.  If you know someone that has alpacas, they will likely share.  It is an added benefit to adopting alpacas, no more Miracle Grow!

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The chicken coop is full of future nutrition for the soil but it needs a bit more time.  Believe me, six months on a farm goes real fast though.  I have a compost bin that Doug easily made out of discarded pallets.  In the first one, the pile starts.  Coffee grounds from the coffee shop and the kitchen, tea bags, and other items I wouldn’t put in the chicken food go in the pile along with the soiled chicken bedding.

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When Nancy and I saw Joel Salatin two summers ago he mentioned that leaving the bedding in the coop all winter and just adding more as needed creates a warm space for the animals.  In the spring, we are to shovel out the foot high plus pile of bedding and move it to the compost pile.  Nancy didn’t like this idea when she tried it.  She has a lot more chickens than I do and for her the smell was overwhelming.  The floor of my coop is dirt and it works well for me.  Next month I will scoop out the soiled bedding and leftover scraps they didn’t want (orange peels and such) and throw them in the first open bin of compost.  He also mentioned that using straw is what creates the ammonia smell.  I stopped using it and started using the pine shavings he suggested.  The coop does not smell bad at all.  However, now I learn that ducks will eat pine shavings so we will be back using straw soon.  So, in this case, I may clean out the coop four times a year instead of two.

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Scooped into the wheel barrel and thrown into its requisite side, it will be topped with some dirt or finished compost and left to finish.  (Note: I constantly forget to turn my compost.  It never looks completely black and finished, but it still works.) In the fall when I go to add compost to cleaned out beds, it will be perfect.  Then the bedding from the summer coop pile will be cooking away in the second open area of the compost bin and will be ready to apply in spring.

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The goat poo is new to us this year.  It will not easily be picked up in their pasture as they drop small and many pellets.  I’d be raking for a  week.  However, their bedding will get changed out next month from their igloo and that will go into the cooking pile of compost.

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Dog and cat feces may not go into the pile.  It will decompose in the grass, true, but just like ours, one would need a composting toilet and high heat to kill the bacteria present.  Doug and I are planning on getting a composting toilet in the next house though!

Human urine kick starts the whole process.  However, raised in a home of decorum and higher society than most folks I know, Doug refuses to pee on the compost pile.  (Of course we are open to a major thoroughfare and close neighbors.)

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I used to think the chickens were going to give me too much compost to use.  But I find myself in constant lack.  The more I garden, the more I need.  The larger this farm gets, the more I need.  Even if one lived in a house smack dab in the middle of Denver one can use the compost from the allotted chickens and goats there.  It goes faster than you think!

Manure tea can also be made with droppings and poured on house plants or outdoor beds.  Just make sure the manure sat for six months if it isn’t from an alpaca.

I never thought in my life I would be writing about poop.  Just goes to show, never say never and having a farm changes you.

Journey To Our First Farm-A Love Story (Arrived)

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First things first, chickens.  A few short weeks after moving in Andy came to spend the weekend.  He went with me to the feed store a few blocks away and helped me pick out the cutest, fluffiest egg layers we could find.  We chose ten one day old chicks.  We had never held chicks before.  They are absolutely precious.  Their small, soft bodies cradle perfectly in the palm.  Their innocent chirping and small frames bring out the mama in anyone.  We brought them to our new farmhouse and set them carefully in a large plastic box with a heat lamp in the crooked chicken coop.  We kissed their heads.  We cheered them on.

Each child and adult in the household went out to the crooked chicken coop several times a day to give kisses on the head, and to see what the chicks were up to.  We held them close, we named them.  These were not going to be eatin’ chickens.

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We were sad when two passed away.  We were told that was normal.  Laverne and Shirley were our Jersey Giants (at two inches tall, this was hard to believe), Lucy and Ethel were our California Whites, and Mahalia, Peep, Violet, and Daffodil were our Golden Buffs.  Their personalities began to emerge.  Peep would stop in front of you to get picked up and loved.  Lucy and Ethel were, as their monikers suggest, always into mischief.  But, they were lovable little white chickens.  Violet kept pecking at my toe nails which quickly became unnerving.  Her antics made her stand out as the constantly in detention chicken.  She was ever protective of the flock.  The Buff girls were all sweet.  Laverne and Shirley with their blue-black feathers and lovey personalities won us over.  We saved Shirley’s life by applying a cotton ball neck brace around her tiny neck and letting her watch television with us.  She survived her injury and won our hearts.

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We ignored the boards falling down around the raised beds (we are still overlooking them) and added in compost.  We planted all of the beds and waited patiently for fresh greens, tomatoes, and farm fresh eggs.  Homegrown food was becoming an obsession and we wanted to be able to provide as much of it for our family as we could.

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The store was still busy and we were doing farmer’s markets as well with our herbal medicines so the garden was somewhat neglected but we did get some produce out of it and the eggs we were getting were the best we had ever had.

One warm autumn evening, the Broncos were playing so the game was turned up high.  I heard Bumble barking hysterically from outdoors.  Bumble doesn’t really bark.  I went to the back door and looked outside and what I saw seemed unreal.  A horror movie of sorts.  A medium sized dog was running around playfully, slightly mad, with Violet in his jaws.  Feathers were everywhere.  A dead bird lay in the doorway of the coop.  A small child, not more than four, stood in the fenced in area for the chickens, a scratch across his face, a blank look in his eyes, kicking a white chicken viciously as she struggled to get away, convulsing to her death.  I began screaming.  I’m not sure who was the more crazy.  Me, the dog, or the child.

I swung over the fence with ease in my delirium and approached the young mother.  She could say nothing but sorry and blamed the dog.  I continued to scream and cry for another two hours in my yard.  Into the night we searched for missing chickens.

Lucy died, after struggling.  Violet was already stiff with rigor mortis.  And little Shirley, who had survived an injury and won our hearts, lay dead as well.

We found Ethel running around desperate to get into the coop early the next morning.  The other chickens avoided the horrid fate.  I wondered if I was cut out for this.  I have such an intense love for animals.  Perhaps farming and animals was not right for me.  We have had no other predators since then, thankfully.

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I still wonder at times if we are cut out for this.  If Katrina delivers a baby that dies, Doug and I would be heartbroken.  We do not want to lose any of our animals.  But, that is what makes us cut out for having farm animals.  These animals live very good lives.  Spoiled, and well loved.  Well fed, and even if we sell the babies or lose chickens, we will have given them a great life until then.

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The next spring we got more chickens and dug up the entire yard to make a quarter acre of growing space.  These events I have written about.  Our farmer’s market folks started to taper off at the store.  No one wanted to drive that far and if you aren’t directly in front of people, they forget you.  New folks that walked the street looking for antique stores literally looked at our sign and hastened their pace by us.  One woman walked in the store, looked around and slowly backed out of the store.  I told Doug I was going to set up a giant cauldron with dry ice just for laughs our last day open.

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Turns out it was the best thing to close the retail shop.  We are more available to folks when they need us when there aren’t set store hours.  I have many herbs on hand growing in the yard.  The farm is taking shape with its alpacas, goats, chickens, a rooster, and whimsical pumpkin patch out front.  This year we will add many more medicinal herbs, plant more intensely, and hit the farmer’s markets as farmers and herbalists.  Our lease is up next year and at that point we may search for a bigger farm.  Baby steps.  We have about mastered this practice farm.

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We are farmers.  When a passion is so strong that you cannot stop talking about it, can’t stop dreaming about it, it is your calling.  Doug’s passion is people, animals, farming.  Mine is educating, children, animals, farming.  We want to not only bring people fresh food but teach them how to do it.  Not just heal people, but teach them how to do it.  We want to leave a lighter footprint.  Lead a simpler life.  Lead a happy, peaceful, sometimes difficult and heartbreaking, but rewarding life.

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I know I could farm on my own.  I could fulfill all of these dreams alone.  But, I am so thankful to have found the love of my life to farm with.  To follow this journey with.  Each day we turn the pages of our joint chapters together, the next book to come.  Fourteen years ago this Valentine’s Day I met my future.  Together, we are making a difference and falling in love each day with each other and with this farming life.

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This is a love story.  Not just a romantic one, but a love story about the smell of fresh soil, the taste of cherry tomatoes straight off the vine, the warm sun on your face, the smell of roses in bloom, the sight of chickens running through the back yard, of fresh food, friends, family, community, and following your passions.  I’m in love.

The Case of the Missing Eggs

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Doug came in from measuring the space around the porch.  “I am not sure about closing off under the porch.  That is the chickens’ safe place from predators.”

“We must!” I replied, “Do you want eggs, or what?!  Besides, Bumble keeps the predators away.”

Later that day- “Two eggs!”  Doug brought in two beautiful eggs recognized as our original Golden Buff’s eggs belonging to Peep and Daffodil. (Mahalia never did start laying- read highly embarrassing and hilarious post about it here.)  Later an Araucana egg came in.  The day before was one Golden Buff and one Orpington egg.  All in all, about three eggs a day is what we are averaging for fifteen hens.  With organic feed, these ladies are averaging sixteen-plus dollars a dozen for eggs.  Mama not happy.

I was certain that sixteen lovely ladies, most of them in their new sexy teens, ought to be laying regularly.  They must be laying under the porch.

Granted, Laverne looks like a half plucked, half sized version of herself, Ethel just seems pissed off, and the Italian girls are so tiny, I can’t imagine what they will lay.

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Still, Doug and I agreed that we would lock them in the coop for an entire day to see who is laying and how many eggs we are truly getting.  Yesterday we both kept looking out at the coop, saddened by not seeing the familiar bobbing of chickens around the yard, feeling a smidge guilty at locking them up (in their hundred square foot coop…spoiled much?), and wondering if any laying was going on.  We figured Henry was having a good time anyway.

Last night, we went out and brought in one Marans egg and one Arauncana egg.  Are you kidding me?  Maybe it is too chilly out there; they’re freezing their feathery bloomers off, don’t want to have kids in this!  So, tonight we will turn on their red light and see if that helps.  Enough chicken vacation.

The Quick Switch

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There they went galloping down the neighbor’s driveway when it dawned on me how they were getting out.  We set up boards to block the larger sections of chicken wire.  Apparently a five inch square is all they need to get out.  Smug, we grinned at the baby goats, blew them a kiss, and went back to our work in the house.

I looked out and saw them playing in the fairgrounds among moving trucks and horses!  The entire back fence is made up of those five inch chicken wire squares!  We knew we were in trouble.  After Jill read my post yesterday, she expected my call.  She had been considering keeping the little monsters herself but thought they would be perfect for us.  She said to bring them on over.  She only lives a few miles from us and we can go visit them if we would like.  They ran around her farm gleefully, kicking up their heels, and reacquainting themselves with their long lost siblings.  They did not even give us a second look as we left.  I cried.  They played.  Goats.  Already breaking my heart.  I doubt alpacas can fit through chicken wire.  Hmmm.

Jill had asked on the phone though for a favor in return.  Coyotes had wiped out eighteen of her chickens in a mere two eves.  Only one remained.  A docile Jersey Giant like our Laverne.  We said we would take her.  The coyotes, for some reason, gather chicken buffets from all around us, but have never ventured into our yard.  (Let me go find some wood to knock on real quick….)  Perhaps because we keep them locked up snug starting at dusk?  A loving guard greyhound?  Too much racket in the fairgrounds?  Whatever the reason, we seem to have a little chicken shield around our place.

Laverne used to be a pair.  Laverne and Shirley were a few of our first chickens but an accident involving a maniac four year old and his dog ended the life of Shirley.  So, Doug deemed the new girl Shirley, as she is smaller than Laverne, and he just likes having Laverne and Shirley in the back yard.  Now, how to get her in without anyone noticing?

We have failed at this before.  The first time we introduced too soon in the daylight…not good.  The second time we introduced ten chicks in a dog carrier over the course of three days.  That worked fairly well, but the bully big girls were still pretty snotty.  We had to think of a way to introduce a full grown chicken into the coop of fifteen residents without anyone being the wiser.

We have been told to introduce them overnight.  Simply sneak the new girl in come the middle of the night and everyone wakes up with complete amnesia.  Jill recommended that we rearrange their surroundings as well so they think they are in a new place all together.  I still had a nervous feeling that we would wake to full blown chicken fighting come dawn.  We had switched the dog kennel that was still in the coop with the one Shirley was in when we came home.  We gave her food and water but left her door closed.  After our movie ended late, we snuck out quietly into the coop, careful not to rouse the girls, as any time of day or night seems to be a good time to eat for them.  We moved their food over there, their water over here, this moved there, and that over here, and opened Shirley’s cage door, said a prayer, and went to bed!

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This morning I shot out of bed at dawn when I heard Henry announcing his waking up.  I went to the coop.  No one even noticed the petite brunette eating side by side or dust bathing.  She and Laverne have already become buddies and we now have another chicken instead of two goats.  We’ll try again on the next homestead (with extensive, sturdy, possibly electric fencing!).  I guess chickens are more our pace on this rurban farm….for now.

Chicken Roommates

The partying had been going on all night.  It was getting old.  The teenagers had spilled drinks everywhere, were screaming and laughing, and were destroying the place.  The human teenagers determined this had to stop.  It was time to put the chicks outside.

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Last year when we decided to get chicks, we had just moved and once settled decided upon getting wee babies to round out the mini-homestead. It was April.  By the time the girls had their full bloomers on, and were used to the world, they were eight weeks old and glorious warm weather awaited them from their front door.  This year, I jumped the gun and ordered eleven darling infants…a month earlier.  All the breeds of chickens that I wanted were arriving at the feed store on the same day  so it seemed like a very good idea to get them then.  In March…early March…before record cold and constant snow!  We were not even able to put them in the garage, it was so cold.  Next year’s girlies will be April babies again!

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The older girls are a little annoyed by the youth that has invaded their loft.  We were exceptionally worried about integrating them all because of last year’s fiasco.  We had nine beautiful, eight week old chicks.  Everyone in the family would take time each day to sneak out to the coop and fawn over them, holding their new feathered bodies, and cooing to them.  (Is it any wonder that they follow us everywhere now?)  My friend, Sandy, had a pair of Bantams that were being picked on at her place and would be instant eggs and charming crow for us.  I have always loved the pre-pubescent operatic crowing that goes on in barnyards everywhere thanks to the roosters.  They weren’t there for long, I fear.

Sandy and Bill came over for dinner bearing a hostess gift of a dog kennel with sleeping chickens in it.  We placed them gingerly into the coop and lights went out.  According to chicken sources, if we placed them in there at night, the next morning they would think they had always been together.  Not so.  Petunia was alright, not particularly fond of chicks and did chase them, but Colonel Sanders was a miniature monster to the helpless infants.  I recently saw him, and my is he small, but he looked big back then.  He cornered the girls and never let them near the food and water.  They led a secret brigade in single file along the coop walls, behind feed bags and crates to try and outsmart the old man, just to get a little food and a bit of drink (Please sir!), but would be banished in screaming fits back to a covered corner.  It was frustrating.  Nay, it got real irritating, real quick.  And then one morning one of the chicks was dead.  Daisy lay very close to a fallen board, so we do not know if it was murder or accident, but all the same, Doug yelled that late spring morning, “That’s it!  They are going back.”  He promptly loaded the couple back up and took them to Sandy and Bill’s house.  A few weeks ago I told Sandy I wondered which side he would take this year?  His beloved grown up girls or the darling new chickie girls?  Turns out they are all favored.

IMG_0585 (See Aretha on the ground under the light?  I love her hat!)

We didn’t want to make the same errors as last year so a slower integration was necessary.  Crammed into a large dog kennel, the ten girls went out.  They stayed in their kennel for nearly a week with the red light shining on them.  The big girls scarcely flinched at their racket and presence.  A few days a go I set up crates around the perimeter of the dog kennel (Everyone can fly over them; it just felt like a playpen.) and opened the door.  The girls left them alone.  Should a curious newcomer (Man, they look cute next to the towering adults!) come up to them, they promptly chase them back into the play area.  After Daffodil had chased Aretha Franklin back into her area, and Daffodil turned around, Aretha followed her, unbeknownst to the big chicken.  Daffodil stopped in front of the feed and Aretha ran into her leg.  Daffodil jumped straight up in the air, a good foot and a half, wings flapping and setting off the alarms of the other girls too.  Aretha high tailed it back to the playpen.

IMG_0584

No one is being overly aggressive.  I locked them in the dog kennel at night for a few nights after their release but now just leave it open so that they have a safe place where they like to hang out, they can come out into the playpen for food and water and bask in the heat lamp, or when the big girls are out scratching and rolling in the dirt, the babies take over the coop until the big girls come back and put them back in their pen.  No pecking, no problems.  We are so relieved!

Pretty soon the girls will be allowed out of the play pen (I hope!), will be frolicking outside with the big girls and we will repeat this next year!