Category Archives: chickens

The Little Meats

These guys have been such a pleasure to have around. I don’t know whether it’s the breed (Naked Necks) or just because there are ten of them (plus one future layer) but they are FUN.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve shown you pictures, so I’m putting them in chronological order, so you can see them grow. They still have a ways to go before they have their ‘one bad day’ as Joel Salatin puts it, but until then, they are having a ball.

They are experimenting with the Big Girls’ perch – much to the dismay of the Ellie, my Welsummer who likes to go to bed early.  It’s simply impossible, she says, for a civilized hen to share a perch with such an uncivilized gang of youngsters.

And just look at their necks! Are we sure they aren’t diseased???

The babies love their kefir.

Even the new future egg-layer, our Golden Sexlink. We have named her Matilda, Tilda for short.

She is the sweetest little bird. I have to be very careful not to step on her, because she’s always right at my ankles. I haven’t socialized these meat birds much, because…well, they ARE meat birds. They aren’t scared of me (because I bring the food) but they don’t really want to be touched. Tilda does. Even though she was raised exactly the same, she started approaching me, and wanting affection – or at least extra treats!

They love to sunbathe – they spend more time stretched out in the sun than any chickens I’ve ever raised.

And when they are in the way back part of their yard, and they hear me coming with the fermented grain, it’s like having a little flock of velociraptors. They are fierce, when they run!  Sometimes, it startles me…but always, it makes me laugh. I need to try and get a video of it.  I did get a video of them drinking kefir.

I just took this pic today. Relaxed, happy babies, just hanging out.

And Ellie peeking at them through the grape vines, still convinced there’s something wrong with them…

I have been working on planting the chicken areas with lots of future fruit sources: grapes, mulberry, blackberries, herbs, wolfberry, roses, apples, and many others. It’s really starting to look pretty nice, and the girls appreciate the greenery, even if it’s too soon for fruit.

I have also spread a thick layer of wood chips out here. The chickens are not very fond of them when they are fresh – I don’t know if they don’t like the smell, or the prickliness of all the pine needles and twigs, but it prevents the ground from turning to mud in winter, and bare, dry, cracked earth in summer. Once the chips age a few months, they will be in here, constantly digging through it and finding tons of worms and bugs.

April Garden Improvements

In between building the future rabbit colony housing, I’ve found time to make a few decorative improvements to the garden.  Over the last year, I’ve been adding more and more food-producing trees, shrubs, and plants to the chicken’s yard. And finally, it’s beginning to green out.

They will have blackberries, jostaberries, seaberries, mulberries, apples, currants, grapes, roses, oregon grape, and various other plants and herbs. I’m also working on building them grazing beds, with edible greens underneath.

These two are planted with red clover. once the greens grow up high enough to reach up to the wire, the chickens will be able to pick at them – without being able to kill them by either digging or over-grazing. I need to get more finished, with kale and wheatgrass, and other tasty things.

The south facing stone patio next to our house, while wonderfully warm in early spring, is way too hot at the height of summer. To cool it down a little, I’ve built trellises, and plan to grow green beans up them to provide food and a little shade.

And my personal favorite, that makes me happy every time I see it: a mirror, at the end of one of the garden paths!

It adds the illusion of more space, and more life to the garden. I wish these pictures could fully capture it.

Spring is such a wonderful time of year. Green is such a lovely color, after all that winter….

Chicks!

First time foster mother Ophelia, my frizzle cochin hen, has been doing an excellent job with her new family. Eleven babies would be a handful for anyone, however experienced, and I think she’s sometimes a little frazzled by them…but she hasn’t lost one yet (permanently, at least!)

Ten of her babies are the “little meats” as my mom calls them…our future dinners. They are Naked Necks, a traditional meat breed.

The other is a Golden Sexlink, and we’ll be keeping her as an egg-layer.

We might keep just one of the Naked Necks, too. I’m considering keeping my own breeding flock, and I’d like to test the breed and see how I like them as adults.

I love raising chicks with a broody hen; there is no fussing over temperature and heaters – the chicks just run free whenever they want, ducking in under mama whenever they get chilly. And they spend a surprising amount of time out in the world, even when they are just a few days old. It makes for stronger, healthier hens, I think. Plus, they eat whatever mama eats, which means lots of greens, bugs, and worms.

The other adult hens do not bother them, other than a warning peck if they get into trouble.  But as they grow up, they gradually grow into the flock, without any of the trauma and difficulty of introducing “stranger birds” into an established flock.

And there is nothing more amusing than watching chicks get into mischief. Here they are invading the hens’ food bucket. I came out to do a head count and make sure everyone was ok, and came up missing a few. Here’s where I found them!

New Chicks!

Life on this fallen earth being what it is, for every joyful event, there’s a sad one. Today, we brought home a box of baby chicks…last week one of our original old hens died. Antoinette, our Delaware, who lived up to her French name by loving to eat snails.

She was feisty, and bossy, and the first one into everything new. For the last three years or so, she’d been having trouble with a bit of lameness that I was never able to discover a cause for. It didn’t slow her down much…other than being unable to jump up onto her roost at night.  Her last day, she seemed fine, and it was a perfect day for a hen. She got to help me plant new trees in her yard – lots of tasty bugs and worms! – and later, she sunbathed with her sister. When it started to rain, I waited it out with her in the coop, so she had a lovely long snuggle…one of her favorite things in the world.

And then, in the morning, she was just…gone. Dead, I think, of a heart attack or stroke. She was quite an old girl. She’ll be missed.

But chicks! There is nothing like the happiness of bringing home a box full of babies!

There are ten Naked Neck chicks in there, and one Golden Sexlink. The Sexlink (name still to be chosen) will be joining the flock as a new egglayer. I’ve never had a Sexlink before, preferring the heritage breeds, but I’ve heard they are terrific winter layers – something my heritage breeds are not. This is a test. If she does well, I might keep a couple Sexlinks permanently in the flock.

The Naked Necks are for meat. If I like this breed, I might try keeping a rooster and a few hens so I can produce my own chicks of this breed every year.

The new chicks are being foster-mothered by my grey Cochin, Ophelia.

She was kind enough to go broody for the first time nearly EXACTLY two weeks before the store was stocking Naked Necks.  We just put the babies underneath her, and she took to them instantly. I think she’s going to be a great mother – fingers crossed! It’s good she’s so big and soft and fluffy, since she has eleven babies to care for. The most we’ve ever given a broody before was four. It’s going to be so cute, when she starts taking them out and teaching them how to be chickens!

Mostly Birds, Wild and Tame.

Mom made the fabulous discovery that our local food co-op no longer demands that you sign up to get vegetable scraps from them. Now, they just put whatever they have out in bags, and it’s first-come, first-serve. So far, we’ve gotten three bags. They went through the first bag in a shot, but still have a ways to go on the recent bags!

They even had a bunch of apples and nectarines in there!

Soon, hopefully, there will be lots of veggies to eat in their own run. Last year – and this Spring – I’ve made a point of planting all kinds of fruit bearing trees and bushes in their yard. Today, I put out several wood frames that I will staple wire over, then plant underneath. They’ll be able to eat the wheat grass, clover, kale, etc that I plant, but not get to the roots to dig them up.

They are happy, spoiled chickens. Someone needs to tell them that, so they stop whining at me!

The most exciting news in the chicken world, though, is this:

My frizzle cochin Ophelia has gone broody! This is exactly what I wanted when I chose this breed: a hen that would raise chicks for me early in the year. I have two other girls that are hit-or-miss broodies, but they always go broody late, when all the chicks I want are already gone from the stores.

This year, I’m getting 8-10 Naked Necks to raise for meat, and I really, really, wanted a broody to do all the work for me. Broodies are amazing. And Ophelia is timing it perfectly – almost two weeks to the DAY after she took to her nest and became a hissing, growling fluff of hormones, is the one day when the store is going to stock Naked Neck chicks.

Speaking of hormones, puberty finally struck my sweet little Bobwhite quail, and literally, in one single day, they went from all snuggling together to chasing each other around and trying to commit murder. I’m not even exaggerating on the murder thing – I’ve found quail pecked to death overnight with previous groups. I don’t want it to happen again. So I since I have one pair of snowflake bobwhite quail, I separated those out first into the empty “Display Coop”.

That solved the issue for about an hour. Then one white male started bullying all the others. I separated him out. Peace for almost a day. Then a second male started in with the bullying, so I took him out. I say ‘bullying’ but it was absolute terrorizing! The other quail, which mostly prefer to stay on the ground, were flying up to the very top of the cage and cowering behind the parakeet nest boxes, afraid to move.  It was so sad to see that it made it alot easier on me to butcher the troublemakers. The final two whites (which I suspect are both girls) are finally at peace. They are so happy. They get to stay, although I plan to move them into one of the small coops later this summer, and hatch out some California Valley Quail – you know, the ones with the topknots? I’ve always wanted some of those.

Every batch of quail I hatch all have a single theme for their names – it makes it easier to remember which clutch they came from. The bobwhites are Harry Potter themed. The Snowflake pair are “Buckbeak” and “Bellatrix”. One of the whites is “Luna”. But I’m stuck on a good girl name for the other white.  And suggestions?

The wild birds are checking out my nest boxes (I need to get lots more of those built before next year), the bumblebee queens are out looking for homes, and look! Someone very special moved into my honeysuckle tree! I haven’t caught sight of the resident yet, but I think it’s a positive sign.

This is going to be a very good year.

Spring is almost here.

The sorrel is up, and boy do I love this stuff! It’s the earliest edible green for me, and it just sprouts up all on its own. It has a lovely lemon bite to it!

After a long winter hiatus, the chickens have begun to lay eggs again. They have been solely missed. Ophelia the frizzle cochin laid her first egg a few days ago. I knew it was coming, because she had started “crouching” whenever I walked near her. It’s a sure sign when you see that; she’ll be laying in about a week! Ophelia’s eggs are a pretty brown, almost a pink. They are currently spotted with white, but that will stop once she uses up some of the extra calcium she has inside her right now.

I went out to feed the bobwhite quail the other day, and noticed something cute: they are getting on super well with the parakeets. When I threw seed on the ground, the green parakeet came right down with them – she was so unafraid that she actually was walking underneath the quail! Sadly, though I did get a video, I didn’t manage to capture any of the walking underneath action. But it’s still cute.

In other bird news, I purchased a ‘Lovey Dovey’ dove nest from Amazon, and hung it with a little grass stuffed inside. I’m hoping I’ll get a pair of mourning doves to nest.

The weather has been fairly decent the last few days, and I’ve got a lot of cleaning up in the garden accomplished. The summer kitchen area is ready to build in, and I’ve finished the raised beds in front and planted a few plants around. The summer kitchen will be roofed, and I’ll catch rainwater off it, to water the raised beds.

The area where the old duck coop used to be will now become an edible food forest. In the picture below, the first section of rough boards is where I plan to build a raised hot bed for winter growing. In behind, the two boards mark off the site of the future serama chicken coop.

I’ve got a bunch of trees and shrubs coming; the first batch is being delivered Monday. I’m so excited!

I’m so impatient for spring. Every time I go outside, I see more signs of life.

The violets are up.

The moss is growing.

And the roses are alive.

It’s still hard to believe that in about a month, everything will be green and I’ll have baby chicks out in the coop!

Raising My Own Meat

I can’t do it, guys.

And what I mean is, I can’t bear to continue buying contaminated, unhealthy meat from horrifically inhumanely raised and slaughtered animals. And going vegetarian is not an option for me – I believe, absolutely, that a strict vegetarian/vegan diet is not the most healthy option.  And I’m not ashamed to admit that I love the taste of meat.  I used to think I could never slaughter animals myself, but it turns out that most of that fear was a fear of not doing it right, of screwing it up and causing the animals distress or pain. But with every animal I’ve killed, I’ve gotten more and more confident. I truly believe that the last two roosters I killed knew absolutely nothing was happening: one moment they were alive, the next moment, they were dead.

I would love to be in a place where I could raise larger animals like cows and pigs, but until that happens, I’m stuck in the city where “hooved animals” are not allowed. (Strangely enough, all other animals are fine…as long as they aren’t too noisy or stinky. Perhaps I should get ostriches??? 😉 ) These regulations mean I can have chickens, and I can have rabbits. This year, I’m getting 8 – 10 Naked Neck chicks to raise up.

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They are a heritage breed, bred for flavor rather than unnaturally fast growth. These birds won’t keel over of heart attacks at a few weeks old, or shatter their legs when they try to walk, as the industry Cornish Cross breed does.  If it goes well, I’m think of adding a small breeding trio of Naked Neck adults to my urban farm, so I’m not dependant on (or patronizing) the commercial hatcheries. I’m not technically allowed to have a rooster – but only because roosters crow. If I try keeping a rooster, I’d have to use one of the No Crow Collars. They have mixed reviews, but after reading tons of them, one of the major difficulties seems to be getting them tight enough without choking the bird. And the reason why they can’t get them tight enough, seems to be the problem of shifting neck feathers. Naked Necks don’t have neck feathers. Possibly problem solved? I think it’s worth a try. I can’t find anyone who has written about using a collar on a Naked Neck. Do you know of anyone?

They certainly cut out the noise, while still allowing the rooster all other normal sounds and activities.

And rabbits, of course, are going to be my other meat animals. Not my mom’s pet rabbits, that I’ve been writing about recently. These will be a breed that is almost exclusively used for meat production: the New Zealand.

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The adults are not especially cute. They will, however, have an excellent life with me, as I will not raise anything in tiny little wire cages. These rabbits will have a large space to run and play in, and lots of fresh food.

Although killing animals is not easy (and should not ever be), it is entirely natural and far more moral than supporting the cruel practice of factory farming.  It’s incredibly recently that all of us have lost the skill. It’s actually shocking to realize that having a flock of chickens, rabbits, or even a cow in the backyard was absolutely normal within living history.

The summer kitchen area (which will also be my meat processing area) is finally cleaned out and ready to build on.  (Well – ready except for digging out a few stray t-posts.) As you saw in the last post, I left a horrific mess of rotten fence boards and other junk laying about until I had time to finish it. While I was at my day job, mom came out and cleared almost all of it away for me! It was an awesome surprise, letting me jump directly to the more fun bits of re-attaching the bamboo privacy fence. It’s starting to look nice now.

And the old potting bench fits! It just needs a new counter. And where the potting bench used to be, is now prime seating area. It’s really warm and sunny in winter (Ellie the chicken and I sunbathed together there just yesterday) and in summer, it’s cool and shady.

I’m going to build an awesome arbor here, with fluffy cushions, and fairy lights. Stay tuned.