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Archive for the 'Chickens' Category

Late August Days

August 27th, 2010

Where has the time gone this week!? Between back to school and priorities at home, I have not written a single word… I think it’s time to start a few of those “wordless” photograph days :)

It has been a beautiful, dry week with cooler temperatures. To provide a little emphasis to his “back to school” week, the boy was stung by a wasp last Monday. Yeeouch! It was a doozy… and after a couple of days of itchy red swelling, his foot is nearly back to normal but very bruised and purple-red looking. Wasp stings can be very unpleasant, moreso than a bee sting. When I am stung it’s usually just a little red and itchy and some swelling for a day or so.

But wasp stings last longer and seem to bruise more. I’m trying never to take the bees for granted either… I found myself running out in a t-shirt and shorts “just to check” on the hives a time or two this year.   Big mistake… although I was never stung severely, the bees let me know that a good veil, protective suit and a smoker can really help keep things under control.   Sometimes however, the bees go crazy for no apparent reason…  I’m glad Warren is okay, and hopefully I will never have that experience!

Speaking of going crazy, I let the chickens have the run of the garden this afternoon and they were simply nuts! They ran everywhere chomping veggies and weeds, chasing bugs and diggling little holes to wiggle into and squirm all around. I never knew chickens liked to lay on their backs! This one was too funny…  a red hybrid upside down next to a Barred Rock.

After a while she leaped up like she had forgotten herself and shook all her feathers.  We can’t complain about their oddities… they’re laying about 6 eggs per day now, either in or near the nest boxes.    

Of course the boy had to go around petting and picking them up.    He managed to pick up none other than Captain Jack all dressed in black.   Jack is five months old now.  Funny, the kiddo has that pirate wink thing going on because of the sunlight.

The good ‘ole Captain runs the show around here… even the New Hampshire Red rooster takes second fiddle to the Captain. I’ll have to get a good picture of him, but when he puffs out all his feathers he puts on quite a sight! He’s got quite the crowing call as well. He put up with the boy’s attentions and I fed him a little scratch while he held him. Jack ate the scratch grudgingly, pecking my hand with a little extra fervor.

Saw this critter cruising along the shoreline of the pond the other day.  I’ve only seen the non-poisonous variety of snakes around here, but it’s enough to give you pause if you were thinking about swimming!

*******

I also took a day this week to drive down to Arkansas and attend a memorial for the father of a family friend.   His son is a good friend of my brother who is serving in Afghanistan right now, and the gentleman was a navy veteran.  So it was a privilege to put on the uniform and attend, and especially to meet his family and friends.   They hail from south of a  small town, back in the rugged Ozark mountains.  

It was a beautiful afternoon.    There was a small military contingent presenting a flag, and a bugle player.  Driving home late that night promoted much reflection, and as events of that nature tend to do, put many things in perspective.  This good man’s sons and grandsons helped to bury his remains, completing a circle that we often don’t consider until later in our own lives.   

I’ll write a bit more later…  summer is quickly winding down and the garden is a mess.  I should think about planting some peas or something, but my jar of garden motivation seems to be missing right now :)   I hope you have a great weekend.



Home and Checking on the Critters

August 22nd, 2010

Oh my… home again! It was a nice journey around the upper midwest, and after the Iowa State Fair we made our way to Missouri, stopping over one night near Mark Twain Lake to clean things up a bit. It wasn’t all fun on the way home… I picked something up at the fair and spent a few nights with a fever and cough.

I’m getting there but it really knocked me out for a few days. Salmonella anyone? Who knows… I had several eggs at the fair, and a couple of egg breakfasts in Wisconsin and Iowa. It wasn’t a fun way to finish the trip, but hey that’s the price you pay for having fun, huh?  Home again and school starts this week for the boy.

That last night at the fair was really nice, and we rode the Skyride up the hill to the campground.  

On the way home the boy learned how to play dominoes.  He found an old dominoe set at an antique shop at the fair for a reasonable price… nice little wooden pieces.   After playing a game or two he would build things that didn’t stay up very well while driving along.

The chickens must have known we would be home… they gave us five presents for the first time with that many eggs. I was really hungry this morning and had four poached eggs on toast! Of course they were half-size eggs anyway :)

We have one or two chickens that don’t know where to lay their eggs… well, maybe they do, but one likes to put an egg in the corner of the coop. I found four eggs in the nest boxes this morning however, so maybe they’ll adapt.    They’re a cute bunch, and race out to see you whenver you come near the coop and run.  Of course they’re motivated by food… they go crazy for scratch mixings of corn and other seeds.

Hello Chickens!  We’re Home!!!

It was very dry while we were gone and all the grass was going to seed and nearly two feet tall. Weeds everywhere… I can’t believe how much things grow up in such a short time. We missed our Concord grape harvest! They were just ripening when we left and I thought our timing would work out… but the dry weather wilted the vines and all the grapes dropped off.

While cutting the grass I nearly ran over a little turtle scooting through the field. He was heading toward the pond a good hundred yards away. I believe it’s a Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta belli).

Colorful little fellow, and he kept paddling in the air as we looked at him. I took him for a free ride to the pond, and let him go… he swam quickly for the depths.

A quick check of the bees and they’re working away like crazy. There goldenrod is blooming! I watched dozens of bees at one hive bringing bright packs of pollen into the entrance. Three of the four hives appears to be doing well, but I may need to order a new queen for the other.

It’s good to see the bees doing well.  Still not a lot of honey this year, but their populations have increased dramatically.

The garden is surely winding down… the squash bugs got most of the pumpkin and squash vines, and cucumbers too.  But the corn is still growing taller and the carrots are growing bigger.  The tomatoes, not so much… between wilt and hornworms they’ve had a pretty tough summer.  But we probably took more than 30 pounds of tomatoes from the garden this year so we can’t complain. The elderberries have half dropped their fruit as well, so we hope to run around and cut some berry clusters before they’re gone.  Soon it will be time for jelly!

We may have some cooler weather ahead and I need to make the rounds and catch up on all the writings in the blogosphere.    

Sometimes I think of my grandmother on my father’s side.   I last saw her in 1999 when she was in a nursing home and when I asked how she was, she laughed and said “I’m here…” and then, “Time waits for no man…”    She passed away a few months later.   Somehow I’ve been thinking about life in the context of time lately… but (with luck and a little time!) those thoughts will await another day.   Stay well…

Here’s someone who really loves little Brownie the chicken!




Small Wonders and Big Smiles

August 4th, 2010

The other morning I awoke to a light fog… beautiful and mysterious. My hope soared that it would be a cool, cloudy day… but then I saw the blue sky through the mist- I knew the sun would be blazing.

It was very warm outside, and the humidity has reached so high that you start sweating as you stroll around the yard. Yesterday the temperature pushed a bit over 100 F… but there were cooler refuges in the house or basement thankfully.

Yesterday I finally finished the chicken nest boxes! I was mulling over various options- buying some online, or maybe using milk crates or something. I had this nagging feeling that I really needed to finish them because in a few weeks the chickens would be ready to lay eggs.

So with morning gusto and three cups of coffee I just dove in to what I’d been putting off, and started building something…. anything… boards flying everywhere, the circular saw zipping through wood (carefully!), and hammers sending nails flinging across the garage floor.

The boy helped hold things in place and gave his opinions… He doesn’t think he helps, but he does! He even put a few nails and screws in. I was on a roll, and scraps of osb (along with a few muttering sob’s), pieces of siding and 2×4’s came in handy.   Before lunch rolled around we came up with this:

I kind of like how it came out, at least I hope so for a chicken!  I’m not sure they’re deep enough, but it stands on four legs and we went out to put it in the coop.   Fit pretty well at the height I wanted for the outer door.  I fiddled around, moving the feeder to the middle of the coop and tweaking it a bit.   Ok… tweaking a lot!  That’s what happens when you’re going on instinct.  Maybe some plans would’ve been easier.   When I first started, I didn’t know there were sites like this one.  I would have used it to help with planning.
 

Build Your Own Chicken Coop

 
And back to our story, wouldn’t you know that after putting some pine-shaving bedding material in the next box, our little Brownie hen jumped right in there!  She seemed to like it…  I was surprised, because they say it’s a “learned experience” by the hens, but they also like private, dark little places.

I couldn’t resist adding a few golf balls to the nests to help the chickens get the right idea… they seemed quite interested and made funny little clucking sounds.    I walked outside to check the fit…

Looked pretty good, if not a bit silly with golf balls!  I’m still not sure the inside opening for the hens to get into the box is big enough, or if the nest is “deep” enough for them.   Then I thought “What if they don’t even use the nest boxes!”   Oh well.  Which probably will be true… they’ll lay eggs anywhere at times I’m sure.

It was a busy day though- and after the boy and I weeded the garden for a bit he kept peeking in the nest box door to see what was going on.   He found one of the red hybrid hens sitting in a nest and giggled.   It looked like another chicken or two had been poking in the boxes but we weren’t sure.   Later that afternoon the boy wanted to “go check for eggs” again (for the umpteeth time)… so there we go.

Guess what we found?

The boy opened the nest box door… and his eyes grew wide and we both stared… he was speechless! I was speechless!  Then he said, “Daddy look! It’s an egg!”

Yep.  Would you believe that in a few hours after I put the nest boxes in that coop that a chicken laid a magical, beautiful, hard little egg right in that middle nest box?!?!?!    Our first egg! I couldn’t believe it.  And it was a “shack”… bombing lingo for a bullseye.   I  looked around to see if the Easter Bunny was hiding in the bushes.

We took it in the house and marveled with excitement… our first egg!  So then of course we thought we better look for more… he had to call his Memaw too, and while she was on the phone, lo and behold he found another egg inside the coop on the floor!  “Okay ladies, who missed the nest boxes!?”

Well, maybe a good omen that our first egg ended up in the nest box?  I hope so… I’d rather not rummage around the coop.  The boy loves it for now- and I hope it lasts.   I’d sure love to keep watching an automatic-egg-gatherer in action :)

Two eggs on the very day I put the nest boxes in.   I love it when a plan comes together, and maybe that nagging feeling paid off…  or those golf balls worked really well!  Or maybe the girls just humored me.   ‘Course we haven’t had any other eggs in the past day or so, but the chickens are only going on 17 weeks now. A few weeks more and they should really start laying.

They seem to enjoy their coop and run.   I haven’t let them out running around as much lately, but each day we throw in weeds, grass and a mix of scratch with corn and millet.  They seem to be just fine- even with the heat.  They seek the shade, and stay in the coop until the afternoon shades the front a bit more.   After they get in a strong routine of laying eggs, I’ll let them outside more often.   We still have that extra rooster if you’re looking for one… :)

Yesterday morning I had the cutest, tiny poached egg… and the boy had one scrambled. Pretty darn good. Not a very good fiscal return on the money invested, but hey it’s a lifetime of lessons, right?  I’d say that’s a better return than anything else.

That’s the big news around here…  small wonders and big smiles.   I need a few more of those in my life :)

*******

After this week’s heat, I’m going to take a blogging break and spend a week or two roaming with the boy, perhaps up north (that’s why we had to get those nest boxes finished!).   Maybe we’ll up towards Michigan where the nights are cool… I’ll check in a time or two and wrote a couple posts that will publish automatically, but I hope everyone can find a little cool refuge this month too!

Roosts and Berries

July 5th, 2010

It’s that time again where we could use some rain.  We received about 20 minutes worth yesterday which was really nice for a quick refresher.  The chickens hid out in their coop during the rain.   I had to laugh at them the other night.  At first I wondered if I would have to train them to go inside their coop.   Thus far it was a trick or treat affair of offering scratch, chasing them and catching them nearly by hand to get them back inside the other shed.   Now I’ve nearly got the run up and it was almost dark when I went out to close them up in the new coop… lo and behold they were inside on the roosts!

I just installed the roosts that day- removable 2×4’s, wide side up.   So there’s nine chickens on the top roost, and one lonely hen on that lower roost!   They’re packed side by side on a five foot roost… too funny.  I’ll probably put a third lower roost in there.  I imagine when they get even bigger they’ll need more room.

The one hen on that lower roost is Brownie… I think she’s at the very bottom of the chicken  pecking order.  I’ve noticed that not only the roosters, but all the other hens chase and peck at her, and she is a little smaller than the rest.  Probably gets pushed around at dinner time too.   But she’s also a smart one… when I let them out in the morning, she stays behind and finishes eating without being picked on.

The night after this picture, guess who was the first one inside the coop at dusk, and sitting right on that top roost?  Yep.  Brownie… she’s really thinking ahead of the rest :)    And yes, there were ten silly chickens on that top five foot roost, wedged together nice and cozy.

In hindsight, perhaps the coop is a little small for nine chickens.  Technically it has enough “square feet” of space, etc, etc.  But it should probably have been bigger, or used with fewer hens.  Once again- I am reminded about “The best laid plans…”  With that in mind, I recommend checking out some excellent chicken coop plans here because it might help you make better planning decisions than I did!

Looks like I may have to sink another post for the chicken run however.   For whatever reason, one of the end posts really warped over the past few weeks.  I tried to brace it, straighten it and think of how to use it effectively… but it’s supposed to be the hinge post for the gate.   I know it’s pretty common for posts to warp or twist slightly, but not enough to worry about.  This one went crazy and ended up bending about 4 inches from the bottom to the top.   We’ll see…   Heck, I may still use it if the hinges can reach.    If I do pull it out, I  should knock the cement off and take it back!

It’s also time to pick a few goodies, including the ripening blackberries.  We picked some of our own and the boy needed a container… so he borrowed my hat.  Now it has little purple stains inside :)

That morning we had blackberry pancakes! They were tasty… but these were mine.   Yes, that’s an egg in the middle!  I love my egg and pancakes together, even with a little hot sauce, maybe potatoes, sausage…   the boy thinks I’m gross.   Then again his preferred menu is basically white or yellow in color, without involving eggs… spaghetti, macaroni, pancakes, bagels, pizza.   Thankfully he does like a good salad and a few well-seasoned veggies.

Last week I cheated on the wild blackberries by taking the boy to a local farm whose berries are huge. A little sweeter too, and just the ticket for a pie. Don’t you just love summer?!

The Chicken Coop is Finished!

June 28th, 2010

Finally… the chickens are in their new home. Seven weeks… arrrgghhh! The coop is, for the most part, about finished. It’s been mostly done for a week or so now, but I’m still fiddling with the little things. Remind me not to custom build something ever again.   I’m still deciding where to put the roosts, and need to build nest boxes by the end of August.  Between the measuring, cutting little pieces,  painting and trimming out… it just takes time.   But it’s kind of cute…

I’m soooo glad it’s about done.    Except for the windows and the chicken door (and the roof), it’s totally insulated.  Yesterday I spent the entire day building the little chicken door!  I feel like such a klutz sometimes, because it takes so dang long.   For whatever reason I think I should just be able to zip through it.  But the simplest, smallest things seem to take forever sometimes.

If I had it to do over, I would research more thoroughly and investigate various plans and details a little more!  But I’ve enjoyed putting this one together.

That little door has nine small pieces of trim and wood all around it.  I thought about making this on the inside, but decided it would keep rain and critters out better if it was built on the outside.   It slides in a wooden track, with the horizontal trim pieces moving up and down.  The bottom has trim in front and behind… when you push on it, it hits a lip on the coop and is blocked from pushing in.

 The top has a trim piece and a cap… the door hangs from that top cap piece so it’s slightly raised and won’t sit on the outer trim and rot when it gets wet.   I’ll put a hook-eye scew in the top to attach the pull cable, which will run to the left and outside the fence.  We (the boy!) will be able to walk up and open and close the door with the cable.

Someday I’d love to install a battery operated, light-sensitive automatic chicken door with a solar charger… there are a few of those for sale on the web, but I’m not inclined to spend $200-$300 on them!   If I learn a little more about electronics maybe I could make one.  Big learning curve for me…  For now, I like the idea of personal involvement with the chickens in terms of responsibility, and helping the boy to learn the same.  Hope that lasts :)

I designed the outer nest box door to open down, and it has spring loaded hinges to help stay closed. But the door is double-wall insulated and weighs about thirty pounds, so it will need a chain to hold it flat after opening it.

 It’s cool though- because you can peek inside and say hello to the chickies.   Maybe even fill their feeder with a little reach.    I’m thinking about putting in 2-3 roosts going across from above and to the side of the big door, across to the back wall…  what do you think?  Any other ideas for roosts?  I’d like to make them removable… easier to clean and get around inside.

They should start laying by the end of August or September, so I’ve got a little time for nest boxes yet.  And I don’t want them roosting in them now.    The windows have 1/4 inch galvanized hardware cloth as screens, and are built open for ventilation. After that tremendous rainstorm last night the inside of the coop stayed dry, hooray! I’ll need to make hinged windows or something by October, so they can stay cozy in the winter.   Any ideas?

I didn’t run electrical wiring into the coop, which I may regret… but an extension cord will reach to the coop from the house if I need to put a light or heated water bowl in there. It wouldn’t be hard to place an outlet box and run some wiring out the bottom and underneath, but we’ll see how it goes this year first.

Overall it should be fine, ’cause it’s the only coop we’re going to have!  At least for keeping less than a dozen chickens. If we had more chickens like a lot of folks, I would definitely build it full size (taller), and a good ways back from the house. As it is, we’ll end up with about eight hens and a rooster- which should work fine to keep within a hose length from the back of the home.   After living in a smaller space in the shed next door, they don’t smell at all.  Just a little dusty normal chicken odor.  I’ve heard the key is keeping them dry, so we’ll see.  But we can easily crawl inside from the two doors, although that skinny one is kinda tight for you-know-who…  But it will make access for the nest boxes easier as well as helping with clean-up.

The doors are heavy… built with 2×4’s and insulated with two walls.  They weigh between 30-60 pounds (14-27 kg), so I used 2 -1/2 inch lag bolts for the hinges into the 2×4 frames, and they swing beautifully.  Again, if I did it over- that left door would be a little wider.  It provides decent access, but I have the laying boxes in there and it’s a tight fit.  The idea was right, but I ran out of room by putting the door in towards the left so far.   Lesson learned! You can get a better start than I did by reviewing some excellent plans online :)  But overall I think it turned out pretty well.

Build Your Own Chicken Coop

One of these days I’ll build the run… I’ve been letting the chickens have “the run” of the garden, which they love… but our plants are suffering a little from their stomping and pecking around.

I like watching them wander around, although the other day they came sauntering up beside our little Shiba dog while he was asleep… He was on a cable, but I didn’t expect them to come out to the front side of the house.   It seems and they wanted to see what I was doing… I froze and waited for them to get past the dog and come to me. Just as they moved out of reach, the dog woke up and stared, eyes wide, as if to say, “Oh man! I could have had one!”    He licked his lips and whined… he would grab one of those chickens in a second if he could.

So I locked the dog in the garage and went back out to herd the chickens into the garden/coop area. The yellow lab is definitely not a herd dog… he thinks it’s great fun to run around with the chickens which is probably why they weren’t afraid of the other dog. Here’s the motley crew…

Oh, and I figured out that Captain Jack the black rooster is an Australorp. He was in a bin mixed with other unknowns from the hatchery. Have to say he’s becoming a pretty decent fellow and is already crowing in the mornings at 12 weeks old. So is Little Red, the other rooster, but he sounds kind of sick when he tries to crow!  We’re going to give one of the roosters away, but haven’t decided which one for sure. They are both beautiful birds… but Jack seems a little more calm than the New Hampshire Red rooster.

It was great to have the boy helping yesterday… and at the end of the day we put the chickens in the coop for the first time. He stayed inside with a little scratch (corn, millet, mixed seeds) which is like candy to chickens. Most of them ran right inside, but I had to catch a few more. Just as we were cleaning up, we heard thunder in the distance… (something Ed has experienced too much of lately!). He said “Dad! Look at the clouds and take a picture!” And he wanted to put it up here to share…

No sooner had we gone inside than a huge storm came through. We really needed the rainfall and it helped cool things off a bit. Good for the chickens because they’re going to stay inside their new home for a couple of days!

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