Category Archives: chickens

1,100 New Livestock Critters!

I’m adding several new animals to the urban farm this spring. Muscovy ducks, King pigeons (my first pair is arriving this week in the mail!) and I just put myself on the waitlist for a satin angora rabbit.

And then there was this, which came in the mail last week:

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I didn’t count them, but the seller said there was 1,100 critters in this cloth bag!

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Yep. Mealworms. Not the cutest or cuddliest thing I’ve ever added to the farm, but if it works out, definitely practical. Almost everything I own likes to eat mealworms…chickens, ducks, quail…pigeons? Do pigeons eat mealworms? I need to google that. Mealworms are an excellent protein source.

They are supposedly easy to raise, as well – especially if you do the no-sort method I am trying. Basically you just put them in a plastic bin, add several inches of wheat bran (bedding AND food for the worms) and a few cut slices of raw potato or apples for moisture. The worms eventually turn into flightless beetles, which lay eggs, which hatch into a larger number of worms. If it works, I’ll have a sustainable protein source for the birds, and a fertilizer for the garden (worm poop).

 

Gotta say, I’m a LOT more excited about getting the pigeons! (But I have a feeling the chickens will prefer the worms….)

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Snomageddon 2019

So the Pacific Northwest is having snow like I remember when I was a kid. This used to be normal. Now, it’s a “snomageddon’ and the authorities have declared a state of emergency. Seriously? It’s just a little bit of snow.

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And granted, some areas of the state are hit a lot harder than me. But still, look at what’s happening in grocery stores:

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As one person in Seattle put it, it’s “combat shopping“.

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Even in my much smaller city, the grocery stores were cleaned out of some items. Thursday night, ALL the shopping carts were in use, and there was a line out the door. And this is just a tiny event as far as natural disasters go.  People weren’t even prepared enough to go for a long weekend without shopping. Look how quickly everything went.

Now imagine it was a serious storm. Or an earthquake. Something that would keep the grocery stores from being able to restock the next day.

Now no fault to you if you’re in serious financial difficulties, or something else that keeps you from being prepared, but if you’re an average human with a decent job, and you’re NOT prepared for at least a two weeks without having to hit the grocery stores in panicked combat-mode, than you are an idiot. I’m sorry for being blunt, but you are. Natural disasters are picking up in frequency and severity all over the globe, and the odds are that someday you will be affected by something. It could even be something personal to you: a job layoff or an injury. Whatever it is, when it is so simple to just start buying a few extra canned goods every time you shop, make sure you always have toilet paper and other necessities on hand, and stick a few bottles of water underneath your bed – why wouldn’t you? Seriously, why not?

I wrote a post a short time ago with suggestions on how to get started, but really, looking at these grocery store pictures, if you at least have enough food to get you through a weekend without having to go to the store, you’ll be ahead of so many people. Thursday night, one of my co-workers was worried about having to drive on the snow to go shopping after work because she ‘didn’t have anything to eat’ in her house. Seriously? Being prepared is not some sort of fringe wacko conspiracy nut thing…it’s just common sense. It used to be the ordinary, common thing for everyone. People just always had food in their houses. Often, they had fresh food sources in their city backyards. It’s sad, and it’s insane how things have changed.

The only thing I bought since this snow started was a gallon of milk. Not because it was a necessity, but only because I wanted to make a new batch of yogurt. I could easily have gone without, and been perfectly fine. There is food in my pantry, and the freezers are stocked.

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The only reason I want this snow to go away is because the chickens and I hate cold weather. I want to start work on the new Muscovy duck coop, and finish prepping my garden for planting!

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Oh – and I have ordered my first pair of Utility King pigeons! They should arrive in the mail within a week or two.

Ducks, Again?

I tried having ducks in the urban farm – was it three years ago? Four? Five? – and it didn’t work out. They were the cutest thing ever:

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Even after they grew up. I love Indian Runners.

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But there were three major reasons why, after a year and a half, I ended up rehoming them on a farm with a pond and a garden that needed a slug patrol. They were a bit too noisy (especially before I added the drake – girl ducks are sex-crazy beasts!), way too messy, and hard to protect from predators.

The last two reasons were really the same issue. Their coop needed to be completely rat and raccoon proof, but such a coop means that it is stationary. Which means either you are out there cleaning it out all the time, or it very quickly gets stinky and messy. Ducks have very wet poop, and they are into water all the time. Stinky messy coops are not how I keep animals. I tried a few different methods (gravel, shavings, wood chips) and finally gave up and said ducks just aren’t for me, in this particular place.

But I miss having ducks. And I miss duck eggs, which are the best eggs in the world. Seriously. So good.  So I started looking into other kinds of duck-like critters, including having a single goose in with the chickens as a livestock guardian and producer of eggs.

But then I started coming back to Muscovy ducks. I had explored having them before, but I wasn’t sure how I’d keep them along with the chickens. People have different experiences, but I have heard a number of people say the Muscovy drake (which is a very large, goose-sized bird at 15lbs) killed or harmed their hens. I can’t risk that. I love my hens.

But the good points of Muscovy ducks balance out exactly the problems I had with regular ducks. Muscovies are nearly silent. The males hiss and females make a low whistling, trilling sound. They are much larger than other ducks, and although I’d still want to protect them from raccoons, they apparently actively look for rodents to eat. Yes, eat. I won’t have to worry about rats!

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Not worrying about rats means I won’t have to wire in the bottom of the pen with hardware cloth. Not wiring in the bottom means that I can build a light-weight moveable pen, similar to a chicken tractor. Being able to move the pen means that before it gets stinky, I can move it to different ground, and won’t have to clean it out.

My chicken run area is large, and I already have it divided off into different areas with fences and gates. To protect the hens from the Muscovy drake (at least until I know if he’s going to behave or not) I will let the Muscovies have the south end in the summer, and the north end in winter, the opposite of where the chickens are. Switching them back and forth will keep the chickens happy, because they’ll have new area to scratch around in every few months, and still the ducks plenty of room.

Plus, Muscovy ducks are famous for being fly-eaters. If you have these ducks on your farm, you’ll have around 80-90% less flies.

They are also a very sustainable source of backyard meat. Muscovy breast meat tastes very similar to a sirloin steak, and the females are wonderful and prolific mothers, willing to hatch and raise more than one clutch a year, if you let them.

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The biggest con with Muscovies is that they fly. Very well. They like to perch on house roofs. As I live in a urban area, I can’t have my ducks flying into my neighbors’ yards and perching on their roofs. But I found one mail order place that will ship day-old duckling with pinioned wings (the very tip of their wing clipped off, so that they will never be able to fly well as adults). Some people think this is cruel, but actually many states in the USA demand that domestic Muscovy ducks be pinioned, so they can’t escape into the wild and cause problems. Just-hatched ducklings have wings that are mostly cartilage, not bone, and the part they snip off is very tiny. I watched a video of it being done, and the ducklings didn’t even seem to notice. The wings didn’t bleed, and as soon as the man put them down, they ran right back to eating and drinking as if nothing had happened.

The minimum order is 15 ducklings, so if all 15 survive, I’ll either sell a few or stock the freezer. I plan to keep just three: a drake and two hens. If I like them, and don’t mind the process of butchering them, I’ll let them raise a clutch of ducklings every year for the freezer. I’ve never had Muscovy, but duck is my favorite meat, and I’m very intrigued by the idea that the breasts resemble steak in taste and texture.  I love the idea of adding more sustainable sources of meat and eggs to the farm, particularly when they come with advantages of fly and rodent control.

Frosty Garden/Planning for Next Spring

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I went for a walk through my garden before Christmas. This time of year is when I dream. It’s easy to make grandiose schemes when the ground is too frosty to actually do any work.

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The meat rabbits have worked out extremely well (they are definitely the easiest critters I’ve ever kept and from the last batch of fifteen grow-outs, I harvested enough meat to make 36 meals, plus I had three gallon bags of bones to make stock). Last year was all about building their housing and getting them settled, and figuring out how to manage them. Now, though, I’m ready to add some new critters.

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I think this is the year for Muscovy ducks. I’ve considered them before, but wasn’t quite sure how to wrangle them with the chickens. Some people keep a mixed flock quite happily, but I’ve also heard horror stories of the Muscovy drake killing chickens. I value my hens; I don’t want to risk their lives. But my hens have a much larger area than they actually need, so I’ve worked out a way of dividing the chicken runs, so that they will rotate through different areas with the ducks. We’ll see how it works. The ducks, being non-diggers, will also get access a lot of the time to the garden. I miss having a devoted slug patrol!

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The things that are awesome about Muscovy ducks is their extreme quietness (always valued in an urban farm) their fly and rodent catching abilities, their devotion to motherhood, and the fact that their meat is more like red meat than regular poultry. It’s said by top chefs that their breast meat in particular tastes like sirloin steak! Since there is zero chance I will ever be able to raise sirloin steak in my backyard, I’m all about this. The downside is that I have to order a minimum of 15 chicks from my hatchery of choice.

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So I’ll keep the trio of ducks I want (1 male, 2 females) and either butcher the rest, or possibly sell a few ducklings. Ducklings! I’m so excited to be getting ducklings again. They are seriously my favorite kind of babies.

I’m also making plans for the new trees and plants I’ll be ordering. Not so many trees this year, but there are at least a couple I want. It’s weird, though, making plans this far ahead, because I know I won’t be remaining on this world much longer. Literally any moment now, Christ is going to return and take his children away. It’s 100% going to happen, and happen soon. But just in case I have to wait a couple more years (rather than the weeks or months I think it will be) I have to keep doing what God wants me to do. The Bible says to garden, and provide for my family, and live a quiet life while working with my hands, and that’s exactly the life I desire…while I’m here on earth.

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But I cannot wait for the moment when I finally get to fly away and meet my Savior in the air!

Broken Beaks and Beauty

A broken beak can be a serious thing for a chicken. Beaks are their tools, their hands, their major way of interacting with the world.  Sometimes the bird needs to be euthanized, if the break is so bad that it can’t regrow. (I’ve seen some truly dreadful pictures of hens with their beaks broken entirely off. Shudder.)

Fortunately for Booty, her break, while serious, wasn’t quite that desperate.

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This picture was taken yesterday, after it had healed for almost a week. It is a lot less bloody and oozy. You can’t truly tell in the picture, but it looks like she snapped the entire top layer off, including the tip.  The below pic, for reference, is what a beak is supposed to look like.img_6826_zpsekzn5ajf

For a couple of days after it happened, poor Booty was clearly in a lot of pain, and although she clearly wanted to eat, she wouldn’t. Or couldn’t. The internet said that a snapped beak has nerves in it that makes the pain equivalent to a broken tooth. I kept dabbing some chicken-safe medicinal ointment on it, and kept offering her all her favorite soft foods. She wouldn’t eat. I seriously was considering putting her down, because I didn’t want her to starve to death, and I was afraid she must be in terrible pain. But then mom took her out some bread, and came back in with the wonderful news that she’d eaten some. It still took a few more days, but finally she is able to eat her regular food again, and is clearly going to be ok. Beaks can regrow if enough of the beak is left, and in her case I think it will. But that will be quite a few months down the road. Poor girl. I wish I knew how she did this to herself!

Except for Booty’s trauma, things have been great on the urban farm. The sunflowers are blooming.

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The skies are glorious.

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And I have a bunny barn FULL of bunnies. Two does, and their two litters, born one week apart. I think I have thirteen or fourteen baby rabbits in there. I’m not sure. I was busy, and put off getting an accurate count, and then…they were suddenly out of the nest and hopping everywhere…and getting an accurate count right now is impossible. I went out to the barn last night and watched them playing for awhile, and it is the cutest thing ever. At one point, they tired themselves out and just collapsed into this massive soft wiggly pile of sleepy bunnies! I did get a video of some of it – not the bunny pile, though, the light was too far gone at that point.

Colony rabbit raising is absolutely the best way to go. I feel so sorry for rabbits stuck in small wire cages, either all by themselves, or crowded in a bunch of babies, with no room to express their natural social behaviors. These two does are sisters, and have been together from birth. While they did get a little ornery and testy with each other (and me!) during their very first pregnancies, by this second litter, they have figured everything out, and are perfectly sweet with each other, and I can pet them without fearing a bite.

And the babies! They are so sweet with their babies – with all the babies. I am not sure if they nurse only their own, or if they just feed whichever babies are hungry. I know I have seen babies that belong to Thistle come up to Blackberry and attempt to nurse…but these does don’t believe in nursing when the human is watching, so I don’t know if they hop away because of me or because they are holding out for their own children. I suspect the former, though, by the way the babies are acting.

I should have gotten rabbits on the farm ten years ago!

 

The Wisdom of Chickens

Hesitant…so hesitant to believe it’s real. They never imagined anything like this. Their whole lives, up until now, lived in darkness and pain and misery – not even truly aware of how miserable they were, because they couldn’t conceive of their being anything better.

And then someone loving lifts them up and away from all that evil, and brings them into a world of sunshine, green grass, soft nests, and treats.

Watching the above video, I couldn’t help but compare it to we humans. All of us were born into a dark, evil world – but because it is the only place we’re ever known, we don’t understand there is anything better. A lot of us don’t even realize how horrible this world is. We try to ‘look on the bright side’ and ‘think positive’ and ‘be the change we want to see in the world’, but all the time this world is wearing away at us, stripping us of our beauty until we are raw and naked.

But just like these chickens, we have someone who cares, someone who wants to rescue us and lift us away into a place of brilliant light and happiness – a place we can’t imagine because we have no frame of reference for anything so good.

God wants to save us. He wants to save you. But I wonder, when these people visited the factory farm to take these chickens home, how many other chickens ran away from their outstretched hands instead of running to them? How many chickens reacted in doubt and confusion and fear instead of joy? How many chickens flinched away back into the familiar darkness of their lives instead of accepting the gift of freedom that was being held out to them?

Babies, More Babies, and Baking (not the babies!)

The critters around here think it’s Spring. I have eight (possibly more) bunnies born yesterday, with second doe due on Sunday. This, I will admit, is my doing, since I did enable the affair. They were certainly enthusiastic participants, however! I still have three from the previous litter – one of them I actually sold. This handsome little buck is going to be a pet – and possibly getting a girlfriend later on.

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The Snowflake Bobwhite quail have decided to try for a family too. I’m not overly optimistic about success, since Buckbeak (my male) suffered a leg injury as a chick and has never had perfect agility since. I’m not sure he’s able to properly balance on Bellatrix in order to fertilize those eggs. They are so sweet, though.

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Buckbeak has taken to sitting on the eggs with her, and when she leaves the nest to stretch and eat, he moves over to keep the eggs warm. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I’d love to see them manage to hatch out at least a couple of chicks!

I’ve also had two different chickens decide to go broody on me, too – despite me explaining over and over again that we have already had our allotted chicks for the year, and we really can’t have any more.

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So they are taking turns in the broody prison. I just released the last one this morning…I hope she’s actually changed her mind about babies and isn’t just going to sneak back onto a nest when I’m not looking.

I FINALLY got the girls’ musical instrument mounted in their coop, right above the oyster shell and grit where I know they can’t miss it.

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They are pretending it isn’t there. Not a single hen will touch it. I guess my girls just don’t have dreams of going on America’s Got Talent or the Kimmy Kimmel Show.

The guinea pigs have moved out into the large outdoor coop, and are loving all the space.

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Of course, their favorite activity is still coming up the wire to beg for treats. Both are especially fond of cherry tomatoes.

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It’s been too smoky from all the wildfires to do much work outside, so I’ve been doing lots of cooking and baking. You know how you tend to pin things on Pinterest but never actually do them? Well, I’m making a point of making the recipes I’ve pinned, and most of them are turning out! A pretty good percentage are actually keepers, and I’ve transferred them over to a new board “Recipes I’ve Made and Liked”.  Just yesterday, I made the Bacon-Wrapped Cornish Hens, and they were fantastic…and super easy. Besides the Cornish hens, I also made two apple pies with apples from my backyard tree (these apples make the most extraordinary pies…but I didn’t plant the tree, and have no idea what variety it is). One pie to bake immediately,

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and one to freeze for later.

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As you see in the background, I saved all the cores and peels to make three gallons of apple scrap vinegar. It’s so easy, and tastes just like store-bought apple cider vinegar. I use it for everything but canning. (Canning requires at least 5% acidity for safety, and I haven’t tested the acidity of mine.) Some apple scrap vinegar recipes tell you to start with yeast, or add sugar, or do all sorts of extra things. I do nothing but throw my apple scraps in a jar and add filtered water. Put some 90 grade cheesecloth over the top to keep out the fruit flies, and stir it vigorously at least a couple of time per day. You’ll notice it starts to bubble, and smell like hooch. Once the bubbles stop, and the apple scraps sink to the bottom after a few weeks, strain the scraps out, replace the cheesecloth and store the jars in a cool, dim place for up to six months. You’ll know it’s done when it smells and tastes like vinegar, and then you can bottle it up and use it like you would apple cider vinegar. When you make future batches, add a little of the dregs from your previous batch to kick-start the process.

In the same day, I also made Lemon Poppyseed Yellow Summer Squash Bread – you’ll find the recipe in my pinterest recipe link above. It’s a super way to use up those overgrown yellow summer squash, and you’d never know it has squash in it! I recommend cutting down the sugar by at least half a cup, though. Most comments on the recipe say it’s too sweet as-is, and I’m glad I followed their suggestion.

Dexter was glued to my side during all this baking frenzy, and boy was he ever exhausted by the end of it!

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It is hard work cleaning up all the scraps that accidently (and on purpose) fall to the floor. He didn’t even wake up during his close up.

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Finally, Amazon sent Bundy another cat bed in the mail, and this one, sadly, was slightly undersized.

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He did his best to make it work, though!