Tag Archives: chicks

June 6th Urban Farm Update

This time of year is crazy-busy-fun on the backyard farm. The garden is growing so fast it’s hard to keep up with everything, and nearly every spare pen/coop I have has babies in it. I love it.

In the bunny barn, I have three different ages of rabbits, all co-existing happily together. I have my original two breeding does, plus babies from two different litters – born about a month apart.

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My favorite one from the most recent litter is this blue otter kit.

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I was hoping to keep it, if it was a doe, but sadly…I’m nearly 100% sure it’s a buck. Maybe in the next litter I’ll get a keeper.

Ophelia’s foster chicks, the four black copper marans, are growing up. They still sit on her back like she’s a massive pillow…and who can blame them, really? She’s so soft and fluffy! I’ve gotten lucky here, because out of the four, only one is a rooster. I’ll be keeping one of the hens, and the other two girls will be going together to a friend of mine.

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Sansa’s foster chicks have been cast out of the nest. They are Red Rangers, a meat breed I’m testing out, and they are already as large as she is. In the below picture, they are the two closest to the camera.

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The bigger darker red hen is Charlotte, one of my layers. Beyond her, on the other side of fence are the four Freedom Rangers I’m also trying out as a meat bird. The Freedom Rangers are definitely proving the best. They are larger, easy to handle, and just really plumping out well.

The other chicks are the bantam Mottled Cochins, and the two Silkies.

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I’m really falling hard for the cochins. They are so adorable. I have two roosters that will have to be re-homed, plus three hens: Milly, Maisie, and Molly. In the back of the photo, you can see the two silkies. Lucie is the partridge one, in front. I love her coloring, and I hope she is an actual hen. It’s super hard to tell for sure with silkies.

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The other silkie, Lola, is a buff color.

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In the below picture, you can see how easy it is to sex the cochins, even at this young age. The two on the right are the roos…see how much larger and redder their combs and wattles are?

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And then there are the Muscovy ducklings. Taking the advice of the Fit Farmer, I made a screened box for underneath the water, to keep the shavings dry and clean(er). Ducklings are horrifically messy, and wet shavings stink. This helps so very much!

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Here’s a video of the ducklings:

That video was taken a week or so ago. They are now MUCH larger, and have outgrown both my indoor brooder, AND the two intermediate secure pens. Their ultimate duck house is not yet finished and predator-proof, so they are currently spending their days in the unfinished duck house, but I’m locking them up in the extra coop at night.

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I can’t believe how fast ducklings grow.

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In the garden, everything is growing and flowering, including my favorite kitchen flower, the calendula. These self-seed throughout the garden is such a charming way.

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A few weeks back, I made a bed in the front yard for more raspberries.

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I intended to get the traditional canes to plant, but when I went searching for the variety I wanted, I discovered you can also buy rootstock, which is how the commercial berry producers do it. For a fraction of the cost of bareroot canes, they send you a literal envelope with some thin, cobwebby raspberry roots. You stretch them out in a line, bury with 1/2″ to 1″ of soil, then keep them well-watered, never allowing them to dry out. Unbelievably, they are supposed to grow faster and produce berries sooner than if you’d planted canes!

Mine are starting to sprout little raspberry plants!

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Will I really get raspberries this summer? It’s hard to believe, but they are doing very well, and for $10 I got enough rootstock to make a 5 foot row.

One thing already fruiting is the berry I wait for every year: strawberries!

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Berries shipped in from CA taste like cardboard to me, and even locally-grown strawberries, while vastly better, still don’t have the full taste they should. Most commercial varieties aren’t grown for taste, but how well they last on the market shelves. These are Shuksan, one of the varieties that is considered one of the BEST tasting berries ever grown. I can personally attest that they taste fantastic!

 

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New Life Follows Death

It’s the way of life on this earth. One creature dies, another is born…or hatched. I lost one of my sweet hens, Tilda, a couple of weeks ago. She was fine, and then she wasn’t. I don’t know what happened; she was always an extremely busy girl, always foraging and running about, and I noticed pretty quickly that she wasn’t feeling well because she slowed way, way down. I checked her over, but nothing appeared to be wrong. But there was something, because shortly afterward, she developed sour crop. Problems with the crop are often a sign there is something seriously wrong inside the hen’s body. Since this particular hen was a golden sexlink, a variety bred specifically to pump out a huge amount of eggs, I suspect it was something amiss in her egg laying apparatus. These hens aren’t meant to last much longer than two years, and that’s about how long she lived. This is why I really prefer heritage breeds.

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I’ll miss her. She was one of the sweet girls, always jumping up on my lap for a snuggle. I made sure she had one last snuggle before she went.

But following close on the heels of this loss is new life. Just a few days afterward, the one solitary silkie egg in my incubator hatched.

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Meet Lucie.

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She is a miracle chick. In a previous post, I talked about how I got seven silkie eggs in the mail, and the box hadn’t been separated out of the normal non-fragile mail. My mail carrier told me she was very upset that she found the box tossed in the bottom of a mail bag, underneath all the other boxes. I wasn’t sure if anything could survive that! But candling the eggs, one of them was developing. I prayed for that egg. So many things can go wrong. Once, even, we lost power and had to put the silkie egg outside under a broody hen for a few hours.

Since she was the only silkie egg to hatch, I didn’t want to raise her alone, without a mother hen or siblings. I had Mottled Cochin Bantam eggs hatching the same day, underneath my smallest hen, Sansa. I checked on her, and she had two adorable little black and yellow chicks that had hatched so far, with more to come. That night, I put little Lucie out underneath her, praying she’d be ok.

In the morning, I went to check, and found the two hatched cochin chicks dead. Sansa had accidentally stepped on them. Even though she should have been small enough to mother them – I know people put bantam eggs under full-sized hens – she wasn’t gentle enough for such tiny babies. There were three other eggs with pips under her, and one other that had been stepped on while trying to hatch. It was still alive and peeping, but I couldn’t immediately tell if it was ok. There was no sign of Lucie.

I thought she was dead, and being a dark colored chick, was in a corner somewhere. Heartsick, I gathered up the hatching eggs and brought them inside to the incubator. The one that had been stepped on inside the shell needed help getting out the shell, but once out, it was perfectly fine! The rest weren’t ready to come out, so I left them and went to find out what happened to Lucie.

I lifted Sansa up to check underneath her better, and there was little Lucie, right between Sansa’s feet, alive, untouched, and looking up at me like “What?”

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Isn’t she sweet? The breeder I bought the eggs from had a mix of all colors of silkies, so there was no way to know what color would hatch from my eggs: black, white, buff, partridge, or splash. I was particularly wanting a partridge. Guess what color Lucie is? Yep, she’s partridge!

I brought her in the house and put her in the incubator too, until I could get a brooder set up. Sansa, meanwhile, was freaking out. She knew she’d had babies, and she knew I’d stolen them. She was so upset, and of course it wasn’t her fault I couldn’t let her keep them. Mom called around to the local farm store, and they had some Red Ranger chicks left…and one solitary silkie. She bought two of the Red Rangers for Sansa, and the silkie to be Lucie’s friend.

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Meet Lola. She is, I believe, a buff colored silkie.

From the Mottled Cochin eggs, I ended up with five chicks.

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They are such tiny, perfect little creatures.

Sansa, meanwhile, went from being a calm friendly bird, to being a velociraptor. If I go anywhere near those two Red Ranger chicks of hers, if I reach for a nearby water bottle to refill it, she goes berserk. She has not forgotten or forgiven the fact that I stole her previous babies, and she will murder me if I try to take these two! Last year, she raised two chicks for me, and had no problem whatsoever with me holding her babies. This year, wow. I had to move her and the chicks into a different coop, and the only way I could was pick the babies up (one in each hand) and carry them, knowing she’d follow. She not only followed, she flew repeatedly at me, as high as my chest, screaming the curses of her people, and biting me. If she weren’t such a small hen, she’d be terrifying! I hope she settles down, once she realizes I’m not going to steal these chicks.

In addition to the chicks already mentioned, I also have four Freedom Rangers. I’ve heard really good things about these as meat birds. So far, I’m impressed. They are calm, contented birds, that are curious and very easy to keep.

They are obviously a very stocky build, with huge feet and legs, and are already much heavier than the two heritage meat breeds we tried in previous years.

The garden is doing well this year. The fruit trees are loaded with blossoms! Below is a little columnar apple I planted just last year!

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This year I finally followed through and planted comfrey starts throughout my garden, and they are all doing great.

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The dandelions are springing up everywhere, and I love them. I used to try to keep them contained, and grow lots of kale, cabbage, and other greens for the chickens. I’ve since wised up. Dandelions are much easier to grow, and MUCH healthier to eat. They are packed with nutrition! They are one of the best greens for humans as well. And the chickens, rabbits, and other critters love them. Plus, the flowers are gorgeous. Definitely as pretty as domesticated flowers. So I’m letting them go, wherever they want. And this year, I harvested about two cups of dandelion flower petals, and made Dandelion Honey.

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It’s supposed to taste exactly like bee honey. I don’t think it does, but it is very good. Sunshine in a jar!

Spring Babies

You know it’s Spring when all the critters are reproducing!  Before we get to the new babies, here’s an update on the pigeons.

Guys, we have genuine feathers! Below is the one I’m calling Mordecai (they were hatched on Purim).  Although these Kings are supposed to be all-white, this little one has black around his eyes. It would definitely disqualify him as a show bird, but as I don’t show, I don’t care. It makes him interesting. Notice I’m calling him ‘him’.  I don’t have any experience in sexing pigeons, but this one is much more dominate and feisty than the other. He acts just like his father, so I’m guessing it’s a male?

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And here is Esther.  Just like her mother, she is very calm and gentle. I’m guessing female, which is perfect!

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Look how much their wings have grown!

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Emerson and Peabody (the parents) are expressing considerable interest in the second nest I put in the dovecote for them, so I’m hoping another pair of eggs will be laid soon. When the first batch of babies reach a certain age, the male pigeon takes over feeding them, and the female starts sitting on a new clutch of eggs. Ultimately, I want a total of three pairs of adult birds, and then I’ll start eating eggs and/or squabs.

Now…onto to the new babies! I don’t have a picture yet, but one of my Rex rabbits (Thistle) gave birth to her first litter this year. A litter of exactly…ONE kit! Sigh. Rabbits have litters between 1-10 babies, and last time she had 8. So I was hoping for more. One kit can be dangerous, because baby rabbits can’t properly regulate their temperature and use the body heat of their siblings to keep warm. The mother rabbit only goes into the nest to nurse once or twice a day. She doesn’t keep them warm. I was worried, but Thistle made a massive nest this time with LOTS of hay and pulled hair, and the baby has been toasty warm. It’s going to survive. But it does put my breeding schedule off. I have gone ahead and bred my other doe, Blackberry, so hopefully she’ll come through with a large litter to make up for this one…though I’m not entirely sure she’s even pregnant. She was in a MOOD when I put her in with Sorrel, and I don’t know for one hundred percent he were successful in wooing her. I’ll have to re-breed Thistle in a week or two.

My cream legbar chicken, Sansa, went broody right on cue – it only took me a couple of weeks of asking “Do you want babies????” for her to answer “YES!!!!” I ordered a baker’s dozen of bantam mottled cochin eggs for her, and they should hatch sometime around the end of April. The adults should look something like this:

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And just for fun I also ordered seven silkie eggs for my incubator. I’ve only ever used the incubator for quail eggs, which are so small and often so darkly colored that you can’t really shine a light into the eggs and watch them develop inside the shell. Silkie eggs are white and considerably larger than quail eggs. The person I bought the eggs from has a jumbled flock of many colors, so my chicks could be almost any color, not just white.

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The problem is, he packed them in such a small box that despite the “live hatching eggs – handle with care” sticker on it, the post office didn’t see it, and threw the box in with the general mail. Which means it got thrown around a lot more than it should have. Which means my mail delivery person was very angry on my behalf (she has chickens herself) because she knows my chances of hatching chicks from these eggs went way, way down. Normal hatch rates on shipped eggs vary, but generally you get about 50%.

After four days in the incubator I candled mine, and only ONE is developing! So many things can go wrong with eggs, that I might not end up with any. But assuming this little chick manages to beat the odds, I’ll put her out underneath Sansa with the mottled cochins. They will all hatch out at the same time, and that way she won’t be lonely.

And that was supposed to be it for the chicks this year. But then I went to Tractor Supply to pick up some bedding, and they had a sale on Freedom Ranger chicks – $1 each.

I came home with four.

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These are a meat chicken breed, meant to be similar to the Cornish Cross grocery store chicken, only minus the health issues that breed has. We’ve been wanting to experiment with these guys, to see how healthy they are, and how fast they really grow. So far, I’ve had them a couple of days, and they are super strong and stocky. I think three of them are roosters, because they just act like teenaged boys. The fourth is slightly more delicate and I’m sure she’s a hen. Hopefully they reach butcher weight before they all start to crow!

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I’m still waiting on the Muscovy ducks. The person I want to get them from had a problem with her hatch, I think – but she’s got more in the incubator, so hopefully within a month I’ll have ducklings.

I love spring.

New Babies – Rabbits!

Last month I bred my two Rex does for the first time. About five days ago, one or both of them gave birth.

There are six of them, and I’m not entirely sure whether both does gave birth in the same nestbox (entirely possible in a colony situation like mine) or only one of the does was actually pregnant. Either way, all six kits are extremely fat and healthy, and squeak and try to suck on my fingers when I pick them up.

I’ll get good pictures once they are older – I’m trying not to bother them too much at this stage. One is solid grey.

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Two are black otters, and three more are white and black spotted.

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The does, which got EXTREMELY hormonal and feisty during the pregnancy (both of them!) are now calming down. I can actually pet Blackberry again without risking losing a chunk of skin. (I have a nice healing mark on the back of my hand where she managed to nail me while I was trying to put food in her bowl.) I kept hearing from people who said you can’t breed rabbits in a colony situation because the does will kill each other’s kits – or fight each other. I confess I got a bit worried when they turned so crazy-mean to me, but other than a bit of chasing around at feeding time, they continued to enjoy each other’s company. I’d see them snuggling together and grooming each other.  I think it helps that they are sisters, and have never known life apart from each other. They also don’t seem to mind me handling the babies!

At the end of April, I’ll have new chickens in the family, too. Sansa, my Cream Legbar hatched last Spring, has gone broody for me.

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I plan on giving her a couple of chicks from our local feed store. Probably a Speckled Sussex, and maybe a black sexlink.

And just last night, my proven broody mama, Ophelia, my frizzle cochin, decided she wants in on the action. As she never really cares about her children once they reach the age of self-sufficiency, I’m giving her the meat chicks this year. We’re trying three Dark Cornish as an experiment this year, and about 5-6 Freedom Rangers. She’s a big girl, so these larger clutches work out really well with her.

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Spring is busting out all over here…for the first time, my young pear trees are covered in buds!

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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!

Frizzle Cochin Chicks!

Guys. GUYS. These chicks. I can’t even…they are just so fluffy and funny and cute.

When they first hatched, they were fairly standard chicks in appearance…other than their fuzzy hobbit feet.

Amerauca mom Booty did a great job with her hatch. I put fertile eggs under her, and in 21 days, out popped four fluffy chicks, like magic.

Despite the psycho side-eye she’s giving me here (all my adult hens hate my camera) she’s super sweet, and doesn’t mind me snuggling her chicks at all. Which is good for both of us, because you just gotta snuggle chicks this fluffy. The babies weren’t always sure about all these snuggles, but if one objected, all I had to do was hold her out to her mama, who would peck her on the head and tell her in no uncertain language that I was a trusted friend.  After that, the chick would settle down in my hand, perfectly happy (and often go straight to sleep!)

You can’t really tell in the pictures, but cochin chicks have THE SOFTEST fluff ever in the history of soft fluff. I was amazed.

Booty taught them how to dust bathe. And nap in the sunlight.

As they grew older, their wing feathers came in, proving they were frizzle cochins. See how the feathers curl out? This created the greatest look in chick feather-styling EVER, as they grew out the feathers on their feet and legs.

It also led to jealousy and hurt feelings from Ellie, my soulmate hen. WHY are you always in THERE playing with those little fluffy butts? I’m molting, I’ve got a fluffy butt too – nothing special to look at in THERE.

It’s okay. Ellie always gets snuggles too. She’s a total lap chicken.

We just finished (mostly finished) remodeling the chicken coop, and the mama and chicks have moved into the coop with the big girls…in their own private apartment. I’ll film a video tour soon.  I decided this in-the-coop-apartment will work better for future broodies, and so I moved the pet rabbits (Daisy and Dandelion) into the former duck coop/broody coop.

They have lots more room, plus they and the chickens can see each other, which both species seem to enjoy.

And what, you may ask, is going into the old rabbit hutch? Well, since it was originally made as a chicken coop, it’s going back to that purpose. It’s just the right size for a trio of tiny serama hens! Next Spring I’ll get hatching eggs! I’m so excited; I’ve wanted these mini chooks forever. I plan to let them out for regular free-ranging in the garden. They are so small, I don’t think they will destroy the garden like full-sized hens. We’ll see.

And a brief update on the Bobwhite Quail – I still love them. They are my favorite quail for sure. They are so personable and friendly.

 

Garden Update

This will be a quick one, folks, because I’m exhausted.  I spent a good share of today shoveling pea gravel, mostly for underneath the ducks’ kiddie pool.  After it’s done, I’ll show you pics.

The ducks are almost entirely gown up now.  They still have a bit of baby fluff on their necks, and their voices are still in the process of changing to quacks.  Maisie has her quack down pat, and she can really sound demanding!  Millie is either a little more laid-back, or just hasn’t figured out her Human-Do-My-Bidding-Now voice.

They are having free-range time in the backyard garden now, and are so enjoying themselves!

So far they haven’t caused any real damage, just slightly squashed one lettuce.

Oh, and they are making an inventory of all the ornamental pools of water in my garden.  Including dog bowls.

The new chicks are doing great.

Freddie.

Charlotte.

And Edith.

Who I am 85% sure is a rooster.  Sigh.  Her comb is bigger, her feet are HUGE, and she’s much more aggressive.  Remember I said I can never get an Ameraucana in my flock because I always choose the one rooster among the bunch of supposedly sexed female chicks?  I said I wasn’t going to pick one out because of this unfortunate penchant, but when I got to the feed store, I saw this one and just fell in love.  Such puffy cheeks!  Such an owl-like face!  I told the clerk I wanted this chick…oh, and one of the others, a lighter colored one.

So at least the lighter-colored one (Freddie) that the clerk picked out is looking like a girl.  I should hire myself out as a rooster-finder, for folks that actually want one!

I finally got the sign I designed and free-hand painted up.

I  have one more sign for the chicken coop mostly done, and then I need to make two more: one for the ducks (Duckingham Palace) and another Out of Eden sign for the backyard.

My veggies are coming along well.  This is my cabbage/runner bean bed.  The picture is about a week old; the beans are almost as tall as I am now.

And the snap peas are even taller than me.  They must be close to 6′, and producing peas like crazy.

I don’t seem to have a picture, but the tomatoes in the greenhouse are a couple feet tall, and setting teeny tiny little fruit.  Outside, I have a few tomatoes that actually ripening cherry tomatoes!  I think I’ll be eating my first tomato this weekend.  So exciting.

The roses are blooming like mad right now.  This is one of my current favorites.  Belle Isis.

And the bees are out foraging.

The Big Spring Projects are (thankfully) winding down now.  Which is good, because I’ll be leaving for Iceland, England, and Egypt in about three months.  I’ve been too busy to even really think about it, and of course, once I get back, it’ll be time to start seriously planning the Big Spring Projects of 2016.  Right now, it looks like we’ll be adding meat rabbits, and possibly a stock tank of Tilapia!  I keep getting drawn to books on aquaponics, and finally I realized I don’t really want to raise plants with fish, but I do want the fish!  Fresh fish, right from the backyard!  How awesome would that be?

And even cooler, it turns out that species of Tilapia that is best suited for my area is also the same fish from the Sea of Galilea – which means I’d be raising the same fish that Jesus and the disciples fished and ate.  I love connections to history like this.