Experiments in Flock Management

Each year there are decisions to be made about how to manage the flock of hens.

Said decisions typically include choosing whether or not we’re adding to the flock in the Spring (or Fall); if we are adding to the flock, how many and what breeds we’ll bring in; when to bring them in; and how long they’ll stay sequestered before integrating them into the flock at large. Part of the whole decision making process is deciding which of the hens will be retired. Another part is when transitions will be made – and how. It’s important to not make too many changes or to stress the flock out – it can really affect their health.


February 21, 2014

A number of years ago it occurred to us – that while it’s fun to get a smattering of this breed and that breed (one year I think we added something like 10 different breeds) – it sure gets to be a challenge in the coming years what breed came what year. That’s when we decided that when we add to the flock, we typically add half a dozen or a dozen chicks of a particular breed at a time. It sure makes it easier to keep things straight.

This year we brought in 13 black Cuckoo Marans and 12 California Whites.

It was about 4 or 5 weeks into observing chicks that we realized we had a couple roosters.

Both roos, unfortunately, are black Cuckoo Marans. I really wanted MORE of those incredibly dark brown eggs, not less. But oh well.

As you can see in the picture above, the roos grow at a substantially faster rate than the pullets. At 8 weeks old last weekend it was becoming obvious that we were going to need to pull the roos out of the enclosure for the chicks and integrate them with the big girls.

Let’s just say they weren’t amused – and catching them was a little bit comical. But catch them I did and they were sent out to make it in the wider world.

They tried and tried to get back to their little girls, but to no avail.

Over the course of the last week we debated whether or not we’d open the baby enclosure up to allow the rest of the babies out into the rest of the flock.

The Cuckoo Marans are certainly big enough.

The California Whites – not so much.

So – we decided to separate them out – bringing the Cuckoo Marans out and leaving the California Whites in.


Before….


During


…and….


After.

It took the Cuckoo Marans a whole day to leave the inside of the coop and venture out to get food and water – they wanted their sisters!

Just in case you weren’t aware – chickens are NOT solitary creatures. They bond to one another – and they mourn when they are separated.

The goal in this flock management experiment is to let the California Whites grow a bit bigger over the next few weeks, and THEN integrate them into the rest of the flock.

The great thing about the way that we keep our babies sequestered (the separation allows them to see one another as the babies grow), means a very smooth integration to the flock at large. Without that opportunity to become visually comfortable with one another, it can spell disaster (and sometimes death) for the babies that are being integrated. That simply hasn’t been a problem for us with the method we use.

So we wait… for the California Whites to grow. And the roos to start crowing…

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Spring Cleaning, 2011

Yep, it’s that time of year again. As in years past, we try to find a day when it’s not too wet to muck out the coop.

Amazing how much poo can accumulate in the course of a year.

This past year we actually layered the litter in the coop between wood shavings and straw. Between getting the coop mucked out too late (I was so sick when we ought to have done it – John was too busy going between the hospital, getting kids places, and handling work, etc.), the excessive rains of last year, and the wacky pH of the soil – we felt strongly we had to mix things up a bit. We just can’t handle another dismal garden year on the equivalent of Garden 2010!

It was interesting to note how much more it seemed that the litter had already started to compost down some!

We also decided to switch which garden plot the contents would be added to. This year, it’s to the new garden plot. (Well – it’s not so new any more, but that’s what we call it!)

Always exciting – yeah, not! – to find a surprise egg. Only two this year, thankfully!

The girls always love it when the nest boxes get spiffed up. They have to come right away and give them a spin to see how they feel.

Empty! At last!

The broody mama part of the coop all ready for new chicks.

Nice!

Funny how the girls are thrilled to have the contents of the coop to dig through out in the garden plot.

It’s always nice to get this chore done, and look forward to chicks, Spring, and the garden to come!

Spring Cleaning 2010

Today was our annual muck out the coop day.

Ducky was very interested in knowing what these bales of wood shavings were for.

I’m not sure exactly how many loads of shavings were ferried to the old garden site to be tilled in – but we had close supervision provided by one of the Blue Andalusians – in the top middle nest box.

The baby chicks were not much interested in the goings on on the other side of the coop.

Between John and I, mucking didn’t take all that long! We were surprised. We were also surprised that we found NO surprise eggs buried in the litter. Last year there were something like a dozen found!

This Blue was not going to move for anything! No amount of noise that we made phased her.

Impressive, huh?

Four bales of wood shavings later…

…she’s still not impressed.

But I think it looks lovely!

But they’re so cute…

I’ve admitted openly here before that I have a bit of an… :ahem:… soft spot, shall we say, for baby chicks, right?

Good – so no illusions going on here, right?

And honestly – it wasn’t like it was just an impulse buy or anything.

It was thought out!

It was strategic!

And – well, 5 of the girls (the Speckled Sussex) were re-homed yesterday, so I HAD to get new chicks, right?

I needed new chicks.

Really.

I did.

And who can blame me?

If they’d been looking at you at the feed store, you would have caved, too.

I’m just saying.

Who could leave the place without – oh, say – sixteen of the cutest little chicks ever?

Five Buff Oprington chicks….

Six Sicilian Buttercup chicks… I was only going to get five, but that wouldn’t have been very nice to leave the one there all by herself, would it have been?

And five Black Sex Links.

The what used to be middle babies – and are now the big babies (the two that Jezebel hatched a couple of months ago), and what used to be the baby babies (and are now the middle babies) were so intrigued by the new arrivals. So much so that they hung out in the coop to watch them for a while!

I don’t know that I’d call them the Welcome Wagon or anything.

Honestly, I think maybe they were showing off or something – you know – how cool they are hanging out on the big girl roosts.

So – it’s not like I have to admit I have a problem or anything… Cause I don’t have one. I needed chicks.

Really – I did!

Just NOT Okay

I can and will admit it.

I am cold intolerant.

I hate the cold.

I hate being cold.

I am happiest when it’s about 80 to 85 degrees out, with a slight breeze, and a lounge chair with a good hour in the sun!

Yes, I’m a weenie!

Not pretty, is it?

What makes it even more of a challenge for me is the fact that when it’s THIS cold, the girls’ water freezes up solid!

Requiring me to do stuff like this:

Shhh…. Don’t tell my husband I borrowed his hammer to do this!

As you can see – not terribly effective when you’ve got a good 5 inches thick of ice. So then I get out my gallon pitcher – fill it with boiling water, and trek it out to melt some of the water.

The girls get really happy when they see that blue gallon pitcher coming!

When it’s this cold out – I gotta go melt the water at least once an hour.

BRRRRR……….

I do feel sorta sorry for the girls, though. So I make them oatmeal – everyone should have a hot breakfast when it’s cold like this!

These are happy chickens!

And the really SMART girls are hanging out inside the coop – where the heat lamps went up last night!

The bottom number here – how warm it is INSIDE the coop WITH the heat lamps going:

Yes, that says 22 degrees.

Brrr….

Smart girls!

OH – and we had another first time egg from someone on Sunday…

It was so tiny and cute!

I guess I knew not all of the Cuckoo Marans were laying yet on some level or the other – but here’s proof that someone else has just come into lay! I gotta say – I adore the Cuckoo Maran eggs – they’re so beautiful. But more than that – you want to make chocolate chip cookies with them – they turn out so much richer and – well, almost toffee-ish. Totally yummy. Yes, that’s why I have SIX Cuckoo Marans!

That’s a teensy tiny egg! We decided to break it open and see if it was just egg white – as is sometimes the case with new egg layers. Nope – it had the cutest little perfect yolk AND white inside. Pepper thought it was a lovely little snack!

So – I’ll sit here, finish reading my email, sipping my hot cup of tea, and then will add a few more layers of clothes before I have to head out and deal with the chicken water again.

I’m ready for summer!

All done!

I hate to even say the words – but it’s true, I’m back in the hospital – again. I’ve actually been here for nearly a week – hence, the gross neglect of my blog.

I’ve been going through some fairly substantial chicken withdrawal. I miss my girls.

Of course, I miss my family more – but at least they can come and visit me when I’m in the hospital. The chickens – not so much.

I’m sad I’m missing so much of the tail end of summer. This hospital stay I’m in an old, dark, with no direct sunlight room. I have to admit, my prior stay was far more bearable with nearly full length floor to ceiling windows which gave a stunning view of NW Portland and glorious sunshine.

While I’ve been away John – as always – has been hard at work. The much talked of chicken coop expansion? It’s been mostly done for some time. But as of today it’s officially done. John just sent the pictures for me to see. I couldn’t help but share!

On this end of the coop from left to right you see the door that covers the screened section that we can set a box fan in when the temperatures get too high. Up and to the right, the little white round circle – a solar fan. The door to the right – the old nest box door. There are still four nest boxes there; it’s just the first set that was installed last year.

Pepper always wants to be a part of the action!

Okay – see that window on the left? Right below it is the double-door nest box opening. There are six nest boxes in there.

Here’s a peek looking past the nest boxes toward the fan door at the end.

There are actually three doors here. The one on the right – the cool door John built and hung. Then a little to the left near the ground – see the little door? That’s where we let the girls out in the morning. If I want to ventilate the coop, then I’ll open the big door, too. And then to the left, behind the willow trunk, is the original big door. John has converted that space for storage – and I think if we ever have another broody hen, we’ll likely keep her in there, too.

Voila!

Beautiful, huh?!

He’s such a smart guy, that husband of mine!

Home again!

One has only to spend 17 days in the hospital (two stays) over the course of a month (first admission 7/23/09 – second discharge 8/23/09) to really come to appreciate one simple fact:

Home is precious.

I’m so glad to be home.

I’m about a weak as a kitten, but I truly feel the beginnings of well. I haven’t been there for a while.

I have a lot of work ahead of me- remembering to eat (even though I don’t have much of an appetite), remembering to rest (probably the hardest thing), resigning myself to doing what I CAN, not what I feel I OUGHT to do. Can put a kink in a girl’s preconceived ideas of doing stuff!

And just in case you didn’t know.

I adore my husband.


(John holding William – Oregon Coast, 1997. William was just 6 months old.)

He’s so kind. Patient. Loving. Compassionate. Conscientious. You know – one of those guys who do the right thing – even when it’s not the easy thing to do. A guy who has the character of God deeply ingrained in his heart. His smile and laugh just make my heart glad. I’m just so thankful to God for the great honor of being John’s wife. Something I truly do not deserve. But God…

So – guess what I did when I got home from the hospital yesterday afternoon! (Okay, after I checked email.) I grabbed the camera, headed out to the yard, found a place to plant myself, and I took a few pictures.

Stuff happens when you’re away from home!

The babies stopped looking like babies and look more kinda like awkward teenagers now! At first we thought we had one Dominique and one Silver Laced Wyandotte. Now we don’t know. I’m hoping they are two different breeds – cause one of these might be a roo if not!

Note the differences:

Birdhouse gourds galore have grown!

And so exciting!

Someone has started to lay the cutest little white eggs!

They weigh in right at 1 ounce each.

Kinda piddly compared to BB’s 3 oz eggs!

Here’s my guess as to WHO the layer of said adorable eggs is:

One of the Blue Andalusians. Isn’t she pretty?

So – it’s good to be home.

Happy sigh.

I refuse to think about the fact that it’s only two short weeks before my kids head back to school again. I am SO not ready for that yet. Jessica comes home from camp tomorrow late afternoon – after a summer away. She will be a senior in High School this year. I want every moment with her possible.

Off I go to rest.

So Cool!

My husband – as I’ve mentioned before – is an awesome, amazing, godly, wonderful, brilliant, genius type of guy.

While I’ve been lying around my hospital room being lazy, he’s been home – doing everything. (I mean EVERYTHING! Have I mentioned before what a blessed woman I am to be his wife?)

Look what he did yesterday:

SIX new nest boxes! This after getting up at the crack of dawn, doing all sorts of household stuff, then bringing me my Zune and headphones – oh and my lipstick, gotta have your lipstick while you’re in the hospital! Then he drove out to TCBC to pick up our daughter – about a 75 mile round trip from our house. Then picked up the other kids, came and visited me, got everyone fed, did EVERYTHING, and then THIS!

Isn’t he the coolest?

The girls think so, too:

This is Henrietta. Whenever John is in the yard she follows him. She has a big crush on him. (Who can blame her?!) She loves to be close at hand whenever he’s building anything. She seems impressed, doesn’t she?

The view from outside the coop – cool double doors to gather eggs from.

Nah… chickens aren’t curious at all! LOL! Ducky, Henrietta, and two off the Speckled Sussex girls who should start laying any old day now!

Ducky – she’s so cute! She’s got to be the first to check it out up close and personal.

I think she likes it.

Good little Speckled Sussex! This is where you’re supposed to lay your eggs! Not out in the yard. Not on the floor of the coop – HERE. Pass the word, okay?

See that? One of the Delaware chicks on the right? Oh, I hope she figures it out fast, too!

One of the Blue Andalusians on the right – she’s so pretty. And… I kind of suspect she may have already laid an egg. I’m so glad she’s so interested in the nest boxes!

Good girls!

Now all we need is for everyone to KNOW that this is where they are to lay – and to start! J

I love this time of year…


I was laying down on the couch-y piece of lawn furniture in the yard this afternoon and looked up and saw this pretty cloud formation. It was about 85° F, there was a bit of a breeze, and it was lovely.

Here’s Crayon checking out the new digs. She – along with the rest of the girls – are trying to figure out the new set up. John built new roosts – so that everyone is at the same height when they sleep. It’s really throwing them for a loop – you should hear them squawk when it’s bed time.

See? It’s cool, huh?

Of course, at the end down there – right before the fan, you take a left into the old part of the coop, where the nest boxes are. There will be additional nest boxes soon – John’s working on them. They’ll be to the right – between the door frame closest to us in the picture and the beginning of that roost.

Are those not the cutest little feet? Isn’t it the cutest little butt? And look! Wing feathers! The chicks are going to be 2 weeks old on Monday. There seriously is nothing more precious than watching these three little adoptees follow their Mama Shelly all through the yard each and every day. She clucks when she finds something yummy for them to eat. She’s teaching them that I am the queen of the world because I bring fun snacks. I love it that they are excited to see me! We are SO doing the letting the broody hen set on fertilized eggs again thing!

There have been lots of visiting kids here the past couple of weeks. My neice and nephew have been visiting off and on over the summer thus far – although they’re returning home on Tuesday. I’m going to miss them so! And my best friend – who lives in Mexico with her husband and children – spends the summers here with her parents, who live right down the street from us and go to the same church that we do. So Pepper has been on recipient of oodles of love overload all week long. I think she’s had more kids throwing balls for her to chase the past two weeks than she has in the entirety of her life. She’s really been sleeping well at night!

 

Here’s one of the Blue Andalusians. I think they’re just beautiful. They are great foragers – and so GREAT for a backyard flock that gets to free range. They’re quiet, polite, and are reputed to be excellent layers – of white eggs! Go figure!

Here’s one of the Delawares in the garden – eating weeds. I love it when they eat weeds – and remember to leave my cucumbers alone! Isn’t she pretty? She’s got black tips on her tail feathers, too. Interestingly enough, the Delawares lay brown eggs!

John and I were lamenting tonight about the sad state of affairs the garden is in this year. Well, I did have a major orthopedic surgery – so I’m almost no help. I can weed some – but as you can see here – not nearly enough! Here a couple of the Speckled Sussex are helping me with weeding. Those are lima and bush beans behind them.

But when it comes right down to it – we’re doing the best we can – and were just so thankful that we have a garden to grow things in!

Look – lots of cucumber flowers – woo hoo!

When this cucumber grows up – it’s going to be in my next batch of Creamy Cucumber Salad!

Here’s Caleb – without a nose. When I was out weeding in the garden tonight he HAD to get close – and as I was trying to take his picture he turned away! Stinker!

OH! And look what we have! I actually ate one tonight – and it was perfectly ripe, sweet, luscious, and perfect. It was the ONLY ONE that was ripe, though. That’s okay – I need the week that it will take them to ripen up to get some projects done before I jump in and start canning jams and jellies.

This is our first year to do corn in AGES. We just really hadn’t had success previously. But with the expanded garden plot we decided to try again. It’s actually about as tall as John – and has put tassels on. I love that! That means there will be corn!

The green beans are coming along nicely. Thus far – no deer have obliterated them. I’ve got a couple of tomato plants that have bites out of them – but so far, they’re leaving the green beans alone.

And if this isn’t cause for rejoicing, then I just don’t know what is!

 

I love these tomatoes – even with the couple of little chicken peck marks in them. They’re a green stripey tomato. I think they’re going to be similar to the ones I eat in Spain – I sure hope so. If so – then it’ll be tomato mush for me!

This really has been the weirdest tomato year we’ve had in a long time. Some of the plants are thriving. Some have set fruit literally at the GROUND – what’s with that? Others are just looking like late bloomers – big time. Virtually every plant has some fruit on it – but man, not the bounty we had last year. Of course, it’s still early…

One of the blogs I’ve read in the past – The Shibaguyz – have constructed potato condos. John decided to give the design a go this year. You build this frame, put the soil in the bottom, add your seed potatoes, and then when the potatoes have come up about a foot or so, you add the next row of boards all around, adding more soil. Again, you wait until more growth, and repeat the process. They say you can harvest 100 pounds of potatoes from one Condo. When it’s time to harvest, you unscrew the bottom row of boards, pull the soil out, and there will be your potatoes! Cool, huh?

Here’s a good peek at the expanded garden plot. See all of the blank space? Yep – it’s the stuff we just haven’t gotten around to planting this year. It’s so bizarre. But, oh well!

Here are my sunflowers (three different varieties, if memory serves), nasturtiums, and poppies that are coming up in the little bed along the street. Please ignore all of the weeds that are coming up along side of them. One day I’ll make it there – just not today, or likely this week.

William was so proud of himself – he caught one of the Delawares!

The hammock my sister sent from Mexico back with Jonathan last year has gotten a real workout the past couple of weeks. The kids swing each other about halfway up the pear tree that it’s tied to. I just don’t watch. They have a great time, though!

So – that’s pretty much what’s going on in the yard!

We’re loving summer – and the beautiful evenings that we can sit out and enjoy the cool breezes and the company of friends and family.

We are blessed.

My Husband, The Genius

If no one has told you yet, let me be the first.

Chicken keeping is addictive.

When you first start making your plans to add chickens to your world, you might start by saying something like this: “Three, yes. Three chicks would be the perfect place to start.”

Of course, then you go to the local feed store in Springtime and see the beyond adorable chicks. On the way home you find yourself thinking thoughts like, “Eight is probably a better number… Wouldn’t be that much more room to house…”

How you get from eight to twenty-two (including roosters that had to go away) is anyone’s guess!

Sufficeit to say that by the time you settle down to fifteen hens and NO roosters, things seem, well, comfortable.

Here’s the thing, though. When you’re into chicken keeping, you’re pretty much sure everyone else ought to join you in this wonderful pursuit! So, when a friend happens to mention that she’s been dreaming of starting her own flock one day – all she wants is some started pullets… You help!

Over the course of time things happen. Five go to friends. One dies from some mystery malady. Two get eaten by neighbor dogs. One goes broody.

Before you know it, you’re down to just four or five eggs a day.

That, my friends, is just not enough!

Especially not when you’ve got BiL’s Farm Fresh Eggs to supply!

So – you might start saying things like, “Well… if William is really going to do an egg business this coming year, just how many chicks should we order?”

You, of course, temper those statements with things like, “We probably shouldn’t get chicks – at least not this year. I mean I’m going to have major orthopedic surgery!” (This would be why you’re up to midnight the night before said orthopedic surgery placing your chick order!)

So… somewhere along the line an assumption is made that yes, some chicks should be ordered. Someone might have said ten chicks. Someone else might have said, maybe 12 chicks. And somewhere along the line the order gets morphed into – oh, thirty chicks!

Thirty adorable chicks.

Five Blue Andalusians (one was a rooster).

Five Speckled Sussex.

Five Delawares (two went missing, one came back).

Five Cuckoo Marans.

Five Amaracaunas (one was a rooster).

Five Minorcas – three buff (one’s a rooster, one died), and two black.

See? I NEEDED thirty chicks! J

And, accordingly, we needed a larger coop and run! (Particularly in light of our new neighbor dogs! UGH!)

This is not a job for the faint of heart! It might even require some blood, sweat, and tears! Or at least a blister or two!

John, my genius husband, has designed and drafted plans for the expansion.

Have I mentioned recently what a genius he is? Cause if not – let me just be sure to keep you in the know – he IS! Seriously!

The coop was the first structure he ever built.

It’s been nothing short of amazing and phenomenal. Many people have stopped to remark how nicely it’s built, and what a great design it is.

Yes, like I said – genius!

So, my genius husband has drafted – as in AutoCAD drafted – the plans for the addition. They’re pretty cool looking. But I’m thinking the built-out model will be EVEN cooler still!

This new addition will more than double the space of the coop! This wall will have six new nest boxes.

The new big door will open into the expanded, new, and improved chicken run.

And my brilliant husband even thought to build in a spot for a fan – for the hot days of summer. Last thing we need is a chicken with heat stroke!

I love this door! He built this all by himself! Isn’t it cool?

And here you can see that the cattle fencing has been stretched to it’s new anchor on the corner of the addition. The girls are going to like this so much!

And here’s a peek at the new chicken yard addition – an actual area with grass for them to hang out in! They’ve already tried it out and seem to think it’s a great idea!

So – now we wait. We’ve got 25 chicks who will begin laying sometime around mid-August. John’s got a schedule all worked out to make sure everything is finished up and all of the new nest boxes are in place in plenty of time for that!

In the meantime – we’re on chick hatch watch:

Shelly is on day 20 on Sunday. It takes 21 days of a hen setting consistently on her eggs for them to start hatching out. I’ll be sure to report any signs of progress!

So that’s it from Hip Chick Chronicles central!