Tag 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.

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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.

Beginning the New Rabbit Colony Pen

Today was a lovely sunshiny day – very Spring-like. I’m betting that we are going to have an early Spring in the Pacific Northwest this year.  Although we will likely have a few more frosts, I think we’re past the hard freezes. I certainly hope so! But whether we are or not, these lovely days are giving me a chance to do a lot of yard work – including build the new meat rabbit colony house.

I think in my previous post, I shared a pic of the site where I’ll be building it, all full of pruned apple branches and various other messes. Today, I cleaned all of that out, and started preparing the site. Since it tends to be lower ground, and thus wetter, the first job was to raise it level. Since I have a former duck pen full of pea gravel that I want cleaned out, that’s what I did today. Shoveled gravel from here:

To here:

Since a very old apple tree is also here, I am working around it.  The pen dimensions are roughly laid out by the boards. The narrow end of the pen (closest to the camera), will have a gate, so I can divide off the buck if I decide he’s causing problems – or just doing his bunny-making job too well! The wide end, shown in the below picture, will be the doe’s quarters.

Over the gravel, I will lay hardware cloth to keep out rats, and then build the pen up from there. To increase the space, there will be various levels inside the pen, and I hope to allow the rabbits access to the rest of the east yard on a regular basis…especially when there are young rabbits in the colony. I will also have a “rabbit tractor”, to allow them lawn grazing privileges.

Speaking of rats… You know, guys, I do try to look on rats as ‘squirrels without fluff’ and allow them a little respect. Like everything else, they have their place in the world. But their place is not chewing holes in my studio wall, so they can get underneath the floor and and nest in the insulation.

I just found this yesterday, and needless to say, I am not pleased. Time to reduce the rat numbers! Last night I set out the Snap Trap, and bagged one extremely pregnant female. I’ll keep putting out the trap until I stop catching them, and then I’ll fix this hole…and perhaps add a bit of hardware cloth along this wall.

Yesterday, I also planted out a bunch of seeds. Brassicas, mostly…kale and cabbage…but also some early lettuce, in the cold frames.

And in the greenhouse, too!

I also started onions, which normally don’t do well for me. I never get large bulbs. But this is the year I will succeed, right? I’m trying Green Mountain Multiplyer onions, because you can leave any bulbs you don’t harvest in the ground, and they will reproduce naturally.

Last year, I started doing the Back to Eden gardening method, using wood chips as a deep mulch. Now the ground has unfrozen, I can see that the chips are already starting to improve the soil. So many earthworms! The chickens, granted access to the east yard “vineyard” are thrilled! You never saw such happy chickens.

Before I had the wood chips, I had to really restrict their access to this yard, because they would busily dig immense holes in the dirt, usually right at some poor plant’s roots. With the wood chips, the layers are so deep that they dig and dig, and before they reach the dirt, they have lost interest in that particular hole and moved on.  And like I said, tons of earthworms! Over the last couple days, they’ve been digging and eating…and then curling up together in a sunny corner to nap and purr with contentment. Yes – chickens do purr! If you search on YouTube, you’ll find quite a few videos. (Mine are too shy of the camera to purr on cue.)

As a result of this happiness, we are going to cover all parts of the chicken’s outside runs with wood chips. It looks much nicer than straw, and I won’t have to:

A) Buy the straw.

B) Run the risk of the straw being contaminated with pesticides, thereby contaminating my garden.

It’s good that the chickens have a new source of forage, because they are running out of the veggies from last summer. The kales are finally eaten completely, the bags of tomatoes I froze for them are almost gone, and the kohlrabi are down to the last few. And looking pretty nasty – though still tasty to the girls!

Thankfully, signs of Spring are everywhere!

New Rabbit House, Quail, and Parakeets

Daisy and Dandelion, our two pet rabbits and poop producers, have officially moved – out of the old duck coop, and into a smaller coop. Smaller, because they will now also have access to an outdoor run on a regular basis.

The coop is up against the east side of the chicken coop, where they will get morning sun and afternoon/evening shade, which seems about perfect for rabbits. This passage is neatly between the “dirt yard” (the main 24/7 chicken yard) and the rest of the east yard, which will eventually be the meat rabbit area. I also want to allow the layers access to this yard regularly, because it’s also where many of the fruiting vines/shrubs are, and I want them to be able to scavenge the fallen fruit.

This is the view, looking from the east yard into the dirt yard.

The gate is standing open in this pic, as to allow the layers free access, but I can close that gate when I wish to either restrict the layers, or release the rabbits. Notice the stones placed against the fence. This is to discourage digging underneath the fence – and because I noticed that rabbits LOVE cool stones to lie on during summer.

And here is the view from the dirt yard, through into the east yard. Two gates, total, to control who goes where, and when. So far, the rabbits are thrilled. The chickens are somewhat less so…since they learned that fences and gates frequently keep them from the places they most want to go. Like my spring-planted garden beds.  They also don’t entirely approve of rabbits, in general.

I had two columnar apple trees in wine barrels inside this new bunny run, but I decided to replant those in the ground.  I’m much more confident in my ability to control fruit trees now – using the methods in Grow a Little Fruit Tree. The chickens have an additional run along the back south fence, and I moved the apple trees there.

In summer kitchen-making news, I did manage to situate and fill the new veggie bed. It’s going to be some time yet until I manage to get anything else done here, though. First up is the construction of the meat rabbit colony house.

Surprising me (as the coturnix quail are feeling full of Spring vim and vigor and mating instinct) the Bobwhites are still entirely calm and contented. They are the sweetest things.

The coop they share with the parakeets has some pine branches in it, which they adore.

And now that I’ve mentioned the parakeets, I should give you an update on those. Remember I was attempting an experiment to see if they could live happily outside year-around? It turns out, they can. They saw the camera and promptly fled into their nest boxes, so I don’t have any photographs, but despite temperatures dipping down to 13 degrees, they have been perfectly fine – fluttering around, chirping, and acting perfectly normally. Little goldie (the yellow one and my favorite) did die, but as it happened at the end of summer, before the temperatures cooled, I know it was unrelated. I have no idea what killed her; but sometimes these unexplained deaths do happen, sad as they are. I’m just happy that the other three are healthy and contented!

Spring Plans 2017

Every year…every year, I have a list of things to build and do as long as my arm. This year is no exception.  Although it is still below freezing here, I’ll be starting my cabbage and kale seeds very soon. I’ve got all my seeds purchased and waiting…even the ones I won’t be able to plant for months yet. Two mail order companies I particularly love are Baker  Creek and Seed Renaissance. Both stock rare and wonderful heirloom seeds – sometimes ones you can’t find anywhere else.

Besides the seeds, I am making plans for parts of the property that have been neglected for years.  The colony meat rabbits will finally be coming this year. It’s perfect timing, because their housing will be paid for by a Victorian costume I sold to a Los Angeles “stylist to stage and screen”! I’m going to build it here, in this shady bit of space behind the old apple tree.

Before I can build this, however, I’m moving the pet rabbits out of the former duck house and into a place of their own. Here, at the side of the chicken coop.

The idea is, they will have a bit of outdoor space to run in, and – if they and the chickens get on together – they will be able to have access to the entire chicken yard, too. We’ll see how that goes…Antoinette is not a great fan of critters in her yard.

She chases squirrels out the coop, and once, when the rabbits were a lot younger and smaller, she jumped on one and attempted to thoroughly thrash it. (I’m not sure the rabbit noticed…)

Once the pet rabbits are moved into their new quarters, I’ll have the former duck coop available again…and this year, I’m getting a few Naked Neck chickens to raise for meat.

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Naked Neck, or “Turken”

I have decided against raising the traditional “broilers”, those unnatural frankenchickens. Instead I chose this traditional meat breed, partly because they naturally have 40% less feathers (and not just on their necks). Less feathers mean less plucking!

Since I will be butchering both rabbits and meat chickens here next year, I decided I need a sort of summer kitchen, with an outdoor sink and a place to process animals. I selected this corner, which has always just been a place to store excess junk.

One bonus, once I put up a new solid fence at the back, it will be very private and out of the way of nosy neighbors.

The frizzle cochins roosters are gone…into my freezer. Probably because of the time of year, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to take them off my hands. It’s just as well, really. They were massive boys (I called them the “Turkeys”) and butchering them was good practice for what’s to come.  The larger one dressed out at just over 5lbs, and the smaller just under that.

I used my new Ballista bolt gun, and I highly, highly recommend it. Easy to use, and I loved how instant and humane the death was. I truly believe the roosters were dead without ever having any inkling anything was happening. Even mom helped with the plucking and gutting.  And one interesting thing I noticed while gutting them: they didn’t stink. It’s pretty commonly known that the insides of chickens smell pretty terrible – that was certainly the case with the one other rooster (belonging to a friend) that I butchered. Gah. Nasty. But because my chickens eat a natural diet of grains, bugs, and vegetables (plus some table scraps) their poop doesn’t stink…and so apparently…neither do their insides.

My hens were SO HAPPY to have the roosters gone. The girls generally would not put up with any roostery nonsense from the boys, but my shy little Barnvelder, Josie, was being terrorized by them. The last couple of days, she took to hiding all by herself in the back of the yard, and wouldn’t come to the coop even to eat or drink unless I was there.  Even after I saw this happening, and penned the roos up separately so they couldn’t get to the hens, she didn’t feel safe. Poor girl.  Today, the first full day the roos are gone, the hens are so relaxed. They are sleeping in the sun, stretched out and purring.

I am, of course, keeping their sister, the blue frizzle cochin Ophelia. She’s such a calm, pretty girl…and she loves having her picture taken. She’ll stand and wait, every time she sees the camera.

My little soulmate chicken, Ellie, hates the camera – but also gets extremely jealous of all the attention Ophelia is getting. She pulls on my pants legs, whining with increasing volume and anxiety, and if I still keep ignoring her, she stalks away and stands in the corner with her back to me until I apologize.

This is my life: fluffy frizzle divas and jealous Welsummers.

Daughter of Dinosaurs

The frizzle cochins are HUGE. And I think the two white ones are roosters.

Although they are full-grown, they have yet to either crow or lay eggs, so I can’t be 100% sure yet. Once I am, both the white ones will be rehomed, regardless of sex. I don’t have room for three massive cochins – all I ever wanted was one female, which I have in Ophelia, the grey frizzle.

I’d keep all three if I had room – and if they weren’t roos.  They are so funny, especially from the back view, when they take off running. I took a video for you. You can see a little running action right at the end.

In the Spring, I’m going to allow any girls that go broody to hatch out some more chicks for me. I want some more females that aren’t quite so large (and prone to broodiness.) Broodiness is a trait I have grown to appreciate, since it is SO much easier to raise chicks by letting a mother hen do the work, rather than setting up a brooder box, and then going through the trauma of introducing the young pullets to your older, grumpy hens – who see absolutely zero need for more mouths hogging the treats. So that’s why I wanted to add Ophelia to the mix – cochins are known for being reliable broodies.

But for myself, I need more egg layers. Three of my girls are fairly old, and don’t lay except for select months out of the year. I want to add some blue egg layers – I’m looking at Swedish Flower and Cream Legbars.  Both are extremely pretty birds, with bright eggs.

Right now in the dead of winter, none of my girls are laying…which means I’m buying eggs from the grocery store again. I utterly refuse to buy just any old eggs, though – the torture and abuse of chickens is no longer something I can morally support. Luckily, there are options these days, as people are becoming more aware of how animals are mistreated on factory farms.  You can buy cage-free and “free range” eggs, but unless you’re careful, you’re just buying eggs from hens still raised in unhealthy, unnatural situations.  “Cage-free” just means they aren’t in cages…but they are crammed into warehouses with barely any room to room, and no room at all for natural behaviors. “Free range” all too frequently means the same thing – with a tiny concrete outdoor pen.

I can’t support this. Not after experiencing first-hand the joy my chickens have in their lives. So even though it costs considerably more, until my girls start laying again, I’m buying eggs from a “pasture-raised” farm, Vital Farms.

These chickens are actually outside, in a field, eating grass and bugs.  And you can really tell the difference, once you crack those shells.

The yolks are orange and spritely, standing up proudly from the white.

“I am a daughter of dinosaurs!” Every free chicken absolutely believes that in her little chicken soul. Makes me smile every time.

Towhees, Quail, and Lost Chickens, Oh My

I meant to do a regular update on the Rufus-Sided Towee eggs that were laid in my clematis, but as usual, time got away from me. So here is the story of the eggs, all at once.

So ugly they are ADORABLE. Resisted the urge to cuddle them, but I do occasionally give them a pet on their little fluffy mohawks. At a few days old, their eyes are closed, and they can’t distinguish me from their parents. Anytime I approach the nest, they start begging for dinner.

A few days older still, and their eyes open. Now they know I’m not their mama, and they tend to give me the closed mouth stare of disgust.

Occasionally, when they’re really, really hungry, they still try to talk me into a little treat on the side. (There are still three in the nest, though – one is just hiding in this shot.)

And a surprisingly short time later, they were ready to leave the nest. I happened to go out and visit just in time to see it happen.

They still can’t properly fly – which freaked me out big time when I saw them fluttering and flapping around at the base of the clematis. I actually tried to put them back in the nest, thinking they’d jumped out prematurely. But they weren’t having any of that! After googling it, I discovered that several varieties of birds (Towhees among them) actually do leave the nest before they can fly. It certainly didn’t slow them down any. Just a few minutes after I took this last picture, all three were gone with their parents, over the back fence and into the field behind us. I hope they survived. It must be hard, to leave the nest before you can fly!

In other news, I had a great hatch rate from my last batch of shipped coturnix quail eggs – out of 12, 8 hatched.

They are mostly grown up now, and are outside in the newest coop.  This is a terrible picture, and I still need to put on the roofing material, but here’s a shot of it.

It is divided down the middle by a removable screen, so I can either have two cages, or one big one. At the time of this picture, I had my older pair (Loki and Sweetie) in one side, and their son in the other. He was a solitary hatch, so he’s really happy now that the new quails are big enough that they can all be together in one pen with him.

Here’s a close up of his side:

And here’s the pair in theirs.

Speaking of the cages, everyone asks why I spray paint the wire black. The reason is simple: it makes the visibility SO much clearer. I painted one side, then took a pic, just so you can see the difference.

Totally worth the couple minutes it takes to paint!

Bobwhite quail video (with surprise guest appearance by Goldie!)

I had a chicken go missing the other day. It was right before I had to leave for work, so I was running around the entire property (inside and outside of the chicken yard) calling her and offering treats. Nothing. Not so much as a single lost feather. I asked my favorite hen, Ellie, where Booty was, and Ellie marched into the coop and stood there, cackling.

But Booty wasn’t in the coop, was she? I checked behind all the storage bins and buckets, in case she got somehow stuck. No sign of her. I was sincerely thinking she was gone, but if a predator found her, I wanted to know, so I could take precautions for the rest of the girls. I took one last tour around the yard, and when I finished, Ellie was still standing inside the coop.

“She’s not in there, Ellie,” I said. “I looked.”

Ellie stared at me, with what can only be described as a ‘humans are soooo stupid’ kind of expression. Might I add, that while Ellie was standing in the coop, and I was running around the yard looking, the other chickens were busy eating all the treats I had thrown around trying to call Booty? It was really strange that Ellie was just standing there, and not eating the treats herself. Really, really strange.

Could Booty possibly be in here somewhere? Was there any possible place I hadn’t looked? There wasn’t…unless…yes. The crates we use as nest boxes are slightly raised off the ground, and Booty IS a little hen. Could she have crawled underneath? I lifted up one of the nest boxes, and there was Booty, caught in the process of laying a stealthy egg…or two…or six.

And obviously one of the other hens had managed to squeeze under there too.

Ellie gave me one last ‘took you long enough’ glance, then stalked out of the coop to see if any of the treats were left.

Booty, you bad, bad girl! You had me so worried~