Tag Archives: backyard chickens

Gardening with Chickens

Now that the weather is finally Spring-ish (we hit 60+ degrees yesterday!) I’ve been weeding/pruning the garden.  The Girls – my six gorgeous hens – could see me from their coop, and wanted VERY MUCH to come out and help.  They know that my trowel turns up more worms and bugs than their feet can.  Ellie, my Welsummer hen, was particularly demanding because she knows she is “my baby” and she’s spoiled rotten.  She kept running back and forth in front of her door, yelling for me to come and get her.  She’s so spoiled that she knows her name, comes when called, and has a favorite place to sun-bathe – my lap.

So finally, I let her out to garden with me.  I’d tried having all six Girls out in the garden at once last summer, when they were very young hens.  It hadn’t worked out too well, since they promptly scattered in six directions.  This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that I didn’t want them in certain parts of the garden, digging up my more fragile plants, and I can’t watch six hens AND garden at the same time.  Molly (my Rhode Island Red) had a particular knack for going exactly where she shouldn’t be.  But I’d taken one hen out at a time, and that was perfect.  Ellie, Antoinette (my Delaware), and Josie (my Barnevelder) were great at sticking right beside me, and providing conversation and spider control for their arachnophobic owner.

So Ellie was allowed out.  But then, of course, the other Girls could not only see me, but they could see her.  And they didn’t approve of such special treatment.  Sophie (my Silver Cuckoo Maran) was especially vocal, standing high on her perch and delivering a constant stream of arguments for why this wasn’t fair.  So then Sophie was allowed out too, and then Molly, and then Josie (to distract her from being broody), and then….before I knew it, all six were out.

But they were good!  They stayed close to me, working industriously, and it was only after they’d been out several hours that Molly started doing her disappearing act.  When I put them back in their yard (except for Ellie and Antoinette) they were contented.  And Ellie and Antoinette were soon tired too, and mostly wanted to sit on my lap while I weeded.  They love to squeeze in tight against my chest. and reach their heads up under my hair so that their beaks are against my neck.  We call this a “chicken hug”, and sometimes they are so happy while hugging and being petted that they actually purr.  Antoinette has a very growl-y rasping purr – it can be startling when she puts her beak close to my ear and purrs without warning!

One benefit of the chickens helping to garden is that almost all of our slug population seems to have vanished.  My friends who live nearby are complaining about having to put out slug bait, and I’ve barely seen a slug since we got the hens.  For the first time EVER, my violas are blooming without being eaten!  I love my chickens for so many reasons!

What Happened With the Chickens…or a Sad Tale of Woe and No Sleep.

The chickens will be 5 weeks old on Monday, and I finally have the energy to type out the story of their arrival.

We had ordered 11 chicks, all different breeds, except for 3 Silkies.  Shortly before they were shipped we were informed that one of the breeds, the Easter Egger, wouldn’t be coming.  There was some sort of horrible happening at the hatchery, and they lost all their hatching babies.  So we were down to 10.

They were supposed to ship on Monday or Tuesday, and arrive on Wednesday.  The post office was supposed to call around 6:30am when the express mail came in.  Wednesday morning, we waited for the call.  It didn’t come.  We called them, and the post office said the chicks hadn’t been on that express shipment, but there was another shipment coming in that afternoon, and they would call if the chicks came then.  Then didn’t call.  So to be sure, we called them, and were informed the last shipment had arrived, and the chicks hadn’t.  We were told there was definitely NO WAY the chicks were coming until Thursday morning.

So we stopped obsessively staying beside the phone and didn’t worry about it.  Around 6pm, someone called the cell phone, and I said: “You’d better get that; it’s the chicks”.  Ha ha.  (I really need to start listening when I say things, more often than not, I’m right.)  But we were busy, and didn’t pick up the phone, and the caller didn’t leave a message.  About 4 minutes before 7pm, someone called again, and this time they did leave a message – which we didn’t get until around 8pm.  “This is the post office.  Your chicks are still here and we don’t know what to do with them. We’re closing at 7pm.”

Still here? When did they come?  And they had our cell phone numbers, and our land line, all of which have voice mail – why didn’t they leave a message earlier than four minutes before closing????

Panicked, we got in the car and drove to the post office, but of course they had closed an hour ago, and no one was there.  We called everyone we could think of who might have a connection to a postal worker, but no one knew a worker in our city.  So we called 911 and asked if the police had a number to reach the post office after hours.  The dispatcher was very concerned for our chicks, and sent a police officer, but they couldn’t find anyone to help either. The best they could say was that the night crew came into the post office around 1am, and if we showed up then, we could talk to them.

So we went home, waited until 1am, and went back to the post office. No one was there. We waited a half hour, and a delivery guy showed up.  He couldn’t help us either, but he did confirm that the chicks had been inside earlier, and the postal workers had been very concerned about their health.  He said the night crew didn’t show up until 3 or 3:30am.

So we went home, went to bed for an hour, then came back to the post office at 3am.  No one was there.  We waited an hour, and at 4am, two workers finally came – including the lady who had called us.  She was glad to see us, but warned us that some of the chicks had died.  She had opened the box before she’d left work to give them water.

She brought us inside, opened the box, and it was one of the saddest sights I’ve ever seen.  Out of the 10 chicks, 3 were obviously dead – one of the them having drowned in the bowl of water she’d put inside the box.  I know she was only trying to help, and she was horrified when she saw what had happened, but you just don’t put full bowls of water in with just-born creatures.   Out of the seven still alive, three more were crumpled up, just barely clinging to life, and the other four were shaky but standing and peeping weakly.

Mom put the three that were the worst off inside her shirt to help warm them, and I drove us home as fast as I could.  Sophie (our Silver Cuckoo Maran) was so nearly dead, that probably the only thing that saved her was holding her up to the car heater on the way.

Once home, we put them under the heat lamp, and taught them how to drink water.  It took us another two hours to get them stablized enough that we thought we wouldn’t lose any more.  I finally went to bed around 7am, and got a few hours of sleep.  Everything that could have gone wrong with this shipment, did go wrong. We discovered the hatchery had forgotten to put the heat packs in their box, so it’s no surprise these poor little things were so cold.  We were so glad we had cared enough to spend all those hours waiting at the post office – if we hadn’t, I think by morning they ALL would have been dead.

As it was, we had lost our Speckled Sussex, and two of the Silkies.  The remaining Silkie seemed like she was going to survive, but the next day she got really lethargic and died.  So we are down to just six, but these girls are survivors.

They are already devoted insect hunters, weed eaters, compost makers, and of course, sweet little lap chickens.  They love to be held and snuggled.  My garden is going to pot because I don’t want to do anything but play with the chickens!

If you want more about them, including video of their exploits, check out their facebook page. (You don’t have to have a facebook account in order to see any of it!)

The next day, we got a phone call from Animal Control. The police had given them our number, and they wanted to know if we had gotten the chicks, and how they were doing.  When we told the whole sad tale, Animal Control was appalled and said they were going to get some sort of emergency number from the post office, so they would be prepared to handle this sort of thing in the future.

Royal Proclamation

Their Royal Majesties

Queen Sophie (Silver Cuckoo Maran)
Queen Eleanor (Welsummer)
Queen Mary (Rhode Island Red)
Queen Leda (Silver Laced Wyandotte)
Queen Josephine (Barnevelder)
Queen Elizabeth (Silkie)
Queen Antoinette (Delaware)
(Otherwise known as Sophie, Ellie, Molly, Leda, Josie, Bess,  and Antoinette)
Would like to hereby proclaim
that they have safely reached Their new home
in the Coop Mahal – though not without great adventure
and no little tragedy.
(The full recounting of the adventures will occur at a latter date,
when their foster-mother is not so exhausted from getting literally only about four hours of sleep last night.  And that not in a solid block.)
Also, if you should wish, they invite you to “like” them on facebook, and get updates and photos of their on-going adventures.
(Bess the Bantam Silkie)

Sad News

I know I said no more updates until the chicks came, but while they are still on schedule for delivery tomorrow, there has been a sad development.

My Pet Chicken contacted us today about one of the chicks we had ordered, the Easter Egger.  It seems that the hatchery had something terrible happen, and they lost 17,000 of their hatching Easter Egger chicks.

So we will not be getting Frederica (or “Freddie”) as we had already named her.

The weird thing is, last night I dreamed we had been contacted because something had gone wrong, and they were no longer able to send one of the chicks. I woke up worried about which one it was, and hoping it wasn’t one of the rare and difficult to get ones (we can get Easter Egger chicks locally).

Everyone cross their fingers that everything goes ok with the shipment – we don’t want any more tragedies….

Last Post Before the Chicks Arrive

Lots of work was done on the coop today, and blood was shed. My brother got scrunched by a man-tall roll of sharp-edged wire (scratches over his back), and my mom punctured her head with a piece of equally sharp wire.  Just now, as I’m writing this, she said “I suppose you’re going to tell them about the ice bag!”  Well, yes, now that she reminded me! So after she punctured her head and doctored it up, it was still hurting.  She thought she should have put cold water on it, but because she didn’t want to take more time from building the coop, she put an ice bag on her head and continued to work; balancing it while climbing ladders and nailing.  Is that the chicken-coop way of building grace – similar to how girls walk around with books balanced on their heads?

But here’s the coop, nearly all wired in:

Pretty much all the wiring that’s left is a bit on the run’s door.  Also, the door on the coop itself was installed, as well as the chicken “pop door”.

The human-sized door is obviously the door on the right. The mini door on the left is the pop door.  This will be the exit/entrance for the chickens (there will be a ramp leading down to the ground).

Below is a “chicken” demonstrating it….

The final breed of chicken we’re getting is the Rhode Island Red. These are the chickens we used to have, years ago.  They were so sweet; we’d go out in the pen and they would circle us, waiting for us to sit down so they could sit on our laps and be petted.

My Pet Chicken says:

Rhode Island Reds are held in such high esteem that they’re the official Rhode Island state bird. They were once hugely popular in America, though they declined right along with the small farmer. Today they’re making a comeback due to small flock owners (like us!). They’re the do-everything bird: they lay exceptionally well, they’re valued for their meat, they’re extremely cold hardy, and hardy in general.

The eggs are your standard brown:

But marvelous things can be made from ordinary eggs!  I found this website of incredible eggs:

The next post will have actual, live chicken babies in it!!!!!

Ready for Baby Chicks!

No, the coop is not yet finished, but as the chicks will be spending their first weeks inside the house, we’re well on track for finishing by the time they need it.  We did add a decorative feature to the coop: curtains!

Pretty much all the major stuff that’s left to do on the coop is attach the doors and wire in the run.

Since it’s *possible* that the chicks could come as early as tomorrow (though most likely not until Weds), we set up their indoor quarters.  It’s an appliance box of some kind, with a lining of plastic, paper towels, and pine shavings.  We’re working on getting the temperature right, using the heat lamp.

The penultimate chicken breed we are getting is the Barnevelder.

Here’s what My Pet Chicken has to say:

The Barnevelder originates from the Barneveld region of Holland where it is so well-known that, according to the Barnevelder Club of North America, the Barnevelder name is synonymous with the word chicken. It is sought after there for its dark “chocolate” brown eggs, and while Barnevelder eggs in this country have lost some of that dark pigment, breeders here are working hard to change that. This beautiful bird is hardy and quiet and doesn’t mind being confined. In short, it makes a wonderful pet!

It seems to be quite rare and quite loved in North America; every chicken breeder we speak to is delighted that we’re getting one. We’ve had a couple of people say it is their favorite chicken!  This is the one breed that we almost didn’t get.  There is only a limited number available, and at first we were told they were all sold out.

Here’s two little Barnevelder chicks:

And here’s an egg:

Hopefully we’ll get even luckier and get a hen that lays the really dark eggs.

The Roof is On….

Well, most of the roof is, anyway!  It turned out my brother overlapped the Suntuf panels too far, thus making our calculations come out wrong.  We’re one panel shy, but no worries.  We’ll have it up soon!

You can see, above on the far right, the missing panel.  Below are a few in-progress pictures:

We’re getting there…and good thing too – our chicks are coming on June 30th! The Post Office will call us when they arrive, and we have get to go pick them up at 6:30 in the morning.  Even though I will be severely sleep-deprived, I hope to remember to take my camera and record the momentous occasion!

I have only three more breeds of chicken left to describe, and today’s is the Delaware.

Here’s what My Pet Chicken has to say:

The Delaware is a relatively new breed of chicken, having only been developed in 1940. They’re a cross between New Hampshire Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks with the goal of maintaing the prolific egg production of these two breeds but increased meat value. They’re a lovely, calm white breed with black feathers around the neck and the tip of the tail, and with some black striations also working their way into the back. They perform well in the cold and will fare even better if their combs are protected from frostbite with the help of some petroleum jelly.

Here’s some Delaware chicks:

And here are their eggs:

And lastly, just because it’s so freakin’ cute, here’s a youtube video for you!

Chicken Nests

During a time the weather was not coordinating with our chicken coop building, my mom moved the operation indoors – to the kitchen.  The kitchen is fairly frequently made over into a workshop of one kind or another…perhaps this is why I don’t bake all that often?

When she was done, we had three nestboxes ready for the coop,  Two full-sized ones, and one half-sized, for the Silkies.  I hope the Silkies realize they’re half-sized chickens!  *

*Demonstration egg supplied by Safeway.

Our sixth variety of chicken is the Speckled Sussex.

Here’s what My Pet Chicken has to say:

The Sussex have everything: they are great layers of tinted or light brown eggs–and they lay right through the coldest weather.  They forage well and are economical eaters that are friendly and easily handled. Their curious nature means they will often follow you around the yard if they think they can beg a treat from you. The “speckled” variety offered here has plumage that gives them some camouflage from predators, too. Many tend to get more speckles after each successive molt, so they just get prettier with age. Seriously, what more could you ask for in a chicken?

Here’s a chick:

And here’s what the eggs look like:

We just had the coop’s roofing materials delivered, so hopefully there will be major progress soon!  (There better be; the chicks are coming in a couple of weeks!!!!)

Chicken Coop Update

The weather here has been all over the map.  We’ve had torrential rain, and gorgeous sunshine.  And the way it’s been working out, is that the gorgeous sun happens on the days we’re either working, sick, or have something else that has to be done.  So progress on the coop has not been as rapid as expected.

Yup, not a great deal has changed since the last picture I posted.  However, I’ve been informed that the rest “won’t take long” to finish, so fingers crossed that the coop gets done before the chickens arrive.  There has been some work done, though:

While the attached run and roof are not done, the inside coop is looking really good.  It has walls, windows, and a window frame.

Now on to the chickens!  The fifth kind of chicken we are getting is the Welsummer.

Here’s the description from My Pet Chicken:

The Welsummer (sometimes spelled Welsumer) is named after the village of Welsum, Holland, and was first imported into this country in 1928. Welsummers are friendly, intelligent and easily handled birds that love to free range and forage for food but can also be kept in runs quite happily. Hens lay large, dark brown eggs that are often speckled, making them very lovely, indeed!  The coloring on the eggs is so thick that if you catch it while the egg is still wet, you can wipe off some of the brown with a clean cloth!

Don’t those eggs just look yummy?

A Little More Progress

Rafters up, one wall started.  Hopefully this Saturday we’ll get the roof completed!

The fourth variety chicken we have ordered is the Silver Laced Wyandotte.  This, I think, is one of the most beautifully feathered chickens I’ve ever seen.

Here’s a close up of the feather detail:

And the chicks (as always) are adorable too!

Here’s what My Pet Chicken has to say about the breed:

Silver Laced Wyandottes are the original Wyandotte variety, and a wonderful example of American breeding. They are beautiful and productive.

Wyandottes are a favorite amongst backyard flock owners for their dependable egg laying, easy going nature and cold hardiness. Each feather is silvery white edged in beetle black, similar to Silver Sebrights. The hens look as if they’re ladies dressed for a fancy ball! The Wyandotte roosters have the same laced feathers, but their hackles and capes are composed of glimmering silver, like a suit of armor. (We think roosters should be named after the Knights of the Round Table!)

Wyandottes have a heavy body and small rose comb which makes this breed perfect for cold climates because they are not prone to frostbite. The hens are hardy, energetic and faithful layers.

The eggs are a light brown.