Moving Chicks to the Coop and Safe Introductions

All seven of our rescued factory farm chicks are doing great.  Little Dixie is still half the size of everyone else and the others take turns keeping her under their wing (literally) to keep her warm and comfort her.  She sings all the time and is very happy.  One of the chickens that we deemed Burn Victim Barbie, because of how messed up her neck was, looks a bit more like a Ken.  His comb is larger than the others.  Still too early to tell sexes though.  Their feathers are mostly in, even though most of their stomachs are still bare from being plucked and sleeping on deep layers of waste before their rescue.

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My farmhouse is beginning to smell like a barn and I decided that two weeks in the guest room was long enough.  The chicks are no longer sick and they are growing well.  They moved out to the coop with the big girls yesterday.

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Dixie

Every year different acquaintances on social media show off their cute baby chicks.  When they move them to the coop with the other chickens, the same devastating tale is told.  One story in particular stays with me.  A gal I know put the chicks out into the chicken yard and when she returned they were all dead.  One was almost decapitated.  Bloody, little bodies strewn about.  What happened? she thought.

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One would not bring home a shelter dog and just throw him into a room with the present house dog and leave, would they?  Or cats that don’t know each other?  Chickens are smart, they have hierarchy, and protect their own spaces just the same as any animal.  They need a getting-to-know-each-other stage.

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In the past we would have gotten our chicks in the spring so that at six weeks old it would already be fairly warm outside.  These chicks are ten weeks old today but outdoors they still need a heat lamp.  It’s just too cold, particularly at night.

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Note: to know what temperature your chicks can handle, count backwards 5 degrees from 95 degrees per week.  So my chickens can handle 45 degrees.

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I set up the portable fencing that was in the guest room (a portable fence is invaluable on a farmstead) and set up a folding table inside as a top to keep the big girls out.  I put their food and water inside the square.  We attached the heat lamp and kept it low over the fence.  Nothing touches the lamp!  I am a little fearful of fire.  I used an old piece of pallet, some wood, and this and that to cover holes and make the space secure.  If it is too hot, they will move to the other side of the sectioned off area, if they are huddled under the lamp, they are cold.  You want them comfortably wandering.  I can remove the pallet to reach in and water and feed.

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Eloise checking out the new tenants.

In one or two weeks as the weather warms and the other chickens get used to the babies, I will let them out, keeping the pen up so they have a safe space to run to.  Eloise can be quite a bitc….ahem…difficult.

It won’t be long though before they are all scratching and bathing in the dirt, soaking up the sun, and scrambling for treats all together.  Just use precautions and slowly introduce for a happy chicken household.  Now…to get the smell out of the guest room…

Backyard Chicken Tips and Homesteading School

20180605_085348Gandalf the Great Pyrenees had a new toy.  The story goes (according to him anyway) that Buttercup the chicken got out of the pen and he was simply attempting to corral her back in.  Three quarters of her was stuck in his mouth as I screamed at him.

Forget hawks, eagles, raccoons, skunks, bears, coyotes, or any other predator you may have heard about.  Dogs are the most common predator chickens face.

20180710_161045My friend, Addie- aka Superwoman…if war breaks out, we are heading to her house- brought us three chickens to make up for Buttercup.  Buttercup, was of course, our best layer.  These three have some work to do.  They were in a large coop hanging out in the front yard when we got home.  A lovely surprise!  We quietly put them in the coop in the night so that the chickens would all be fooled and think that they were always there come morning and there would be no blood baths.  It always works.  Except when it doesn’t.

We used the portable coop she loaned us that the chickens had been delivered in to lock up the chickens.  “Should I put the three new girls in the pen?”

“No,” she replied, “you lock up the bullies!”

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This is Hei hei because she acts like the leghorn in the movie Moana.

She further explained (if y’all knew how many homesteading lessons I have had from this gal over the years you would think she should have written a book!) that if you put the new girls in the pen it only tells the old girls that they are indeed below them.  If you lock up the mean girls then they come to understand that they are not the bosses.  It worked like a charm.

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Then the egg eating started.  Oh, those three rascals.  One of them was eating eggs like she was sitting in an IHOP.  Addie suggested we raise their protein intake in their food because they were all molting and they needed more nutrients to get through it.  We also laid golf balls around the coop so the culprit would peck those once and would stop pecking eggs.  That worked but no one is laying eggs right now!

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I have been a subscriber since I was twelve years old to a magazine about country living.  I am afraid its gotten a little high falutin and ridiculous.  Very pretty pictures but really geared for rich people who have no idea what farming is about.  Photographs of chicken coops with pea gravel and curtains with lush, landscaped yards and chickens crossing the kitchen without any poo in sight.  I love it, but it is a little deceiving.

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We have a noxious tree that I love called Tree of Heaven here, or Chinese Sumac.  It’s poisonous so the chickens don’t eat it.  It has popped up all over the chicken yard creating a jungle atmosphere and shade.  When they first moved in they had two foot high grasses to jump through.  They will eat any plant that is edible, y’all.  Do not landscape your chicken yard!

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We looked around this place and saw the chickens, the infant orchard, the vegetables growing tall, and the pumpkins jumping out of their beds, and we have realized that we live on a perfect urban farm.  A lot of people cannot afford to live out in the country and I have decided to reopen my Homesteading School.  I will be teaching canning, preserving, baking, cooking, gardening, and much more as our little-farm-that-could gets more organized and utilized.

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Check out my Facebook page for events here! I will also be putting a link on this blog.  Happy Homesteading!

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 Cliques

IMG_0453 (Peep wants in, Ethel the white girl, Daffodil, Laverne the black girl, and Mahalia in back)

My mother said that her chickens hung out together based on which breed they were.  I found that really interesting.  I couldn’t tell if mine did that because there are three Golden Buffs that hang together and Ethel, the California White girl, is usually with them.  Laverne, the Jersey Giant, when not broody, hangs out nearby too.

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Then the babies came along.  The five girls went from being our the only beloved chickens in the yard to the five popular witches from high school.  They pick incessantly on the babies, even though some of the babies are getting bigger than they are!  They want the food first, they want the best perch to sleep, they want the babies to get out of the way or they get pushed against the wall, or worse, pecked.  Hen pecked, indeed.

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The babies started with the two Polish girls, Aretha and Ginger.  Ten days later the rest of the babies came to stay.  Aretha, being the largest, was rather bossy.  She is now rather small, and is now one of the outcasts.  Ginger, who was beat up dreadfully in a story I highlighted about Comfrey in, is the smallest of the chickens.  A wee six inches off the ground and adorable.  Looks like a roadrunner with a crazy hat running about.  She hangs out with the popular kids in the new chicken group.  Liesel (a Marans), Yetta, Nala, Sophia (Aracaunas), Ginger, Marta, Gretel (Buff Orpingtons), and Henry Higgins if he is allowed, run around the yard in a pack.  Acting very cool and grown up until the big girls send them screaming beneath the lilac bush.

IMG_0644 (Henry the rooster, Yetta the white Aracauna, Sophia the leopard Aracauna)

Meanwhile, in the chicken coop, Laverne sits on eggs that don’t belong to her (until I take them away) and glares at Brigitta and Aretha.  Henry up until recently was banned to the chicken coop as well by the other chickens.  Not just the coop, but the dog kennel within.  He runs around the yard poofed up like a good looking peacock, only more like a teenaged chicken, bossing the girls who just look at him like, ppleeassse!  They will not mind him a bit.

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Why the cliques?  Don’t you always imagine chickens running in a pack pecking the ground all together?  Not these seemingly high school adventure cliques where the big kids pick on the little kids, the cool kids pick on the uncool kids, and the depressed dark one sits in a corner all day hoping for a baby. (Okay, well that doesn’t happen in high school that much.)

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I never imagined so many different personalities in a bunch of chickens.

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Meanwhile, Back In Chickville…

Ginger was getting increasingly bored in her new digs (the bathroom) and was not impressed with the  television anymore and was flying around so we thought it might be time to reintroduce her to the chickies outside.  I had attempted to do so a few days prior and stood out there worried and watching.  The chicks were not mean to her but they were curious, and when chicks are curious they peck.  They pecked at the tender new skin and scab on her neck.  In a minute she was blocked into a corner.  Back in the house she went.

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So this time we fastened a fashionable neck brace to her.  A cotton pad and sports tape would protect her from pecking and still allow her to be outdoors.  With her big hat of feathers and her new cuff she looked like one of my pilgrim ancestors.  We took her outside and set her down.  For a second she stood there then started dancing around.  She looked like she had been slain in the spirit!  She was flapping her wings, and bobbing her head, and bouncing around.  I thought she had come to Jesus.  We were laughing until we started worrying she might break her little neck with the violent do-si-do she was acting out.  I took the brace off and set her back down.  It was like we just placed her in a sea of warm water.  She buried herself in the pine shavings, flapping her wings, back stroking, doing the chicken bath, spraying her siblings with hay and shavings.  She was so happy.  This little incident has left her half the size of the other chicks.  She is a little bugger.  But the others seemed happy to have her back and I let her play with them.  I think they will be fine.  I kept checking on them throughout the day and early this morning to make sure one of the big, bossy chickens hadn’t rediscovered her neck.  All is peaceful in chickenville.

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The chicks have been afraid of the great outdoors beyond the dark coop.  Only a few have ventured out the small chicken door and only for a few inches.  I have propped the large door open the past few days and locked the big girls out to inspire the chickies to explore their new surroundings.  They would bask in the sun in the doorway but no real exploring outdoors.  Yesterday evening I passed by and there were all ten chicks playing and singing around the pen.  Happy as Christmas morning.  They were enjoying the dusk and the warm air.  When I went out later to close everyone up, the big chicks had already gone in and were on their roosts ready for bed.  Ginger and her new friend, Sophia, were up on their own perch cuddling and three other babies had made it back to the dog kennel that is their shelter from grown chicken tyrants.  The other five were in a cooing bundle, piled together in a warm ball outside, behind the propped open door.  Apparently we had gotten lost behind the giant door and could not find our way back into the coop!

The grown chickens are still a little hostile to the babies but the babies seem a little less petrified of them and it seems that we will have peace in the coop.  Amen.