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!

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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!

We’ve got a broody girl!

If you’re not familiar with chicken type stuff, you may not know what broodiness is…

Here’s a decent explanation: http://www.animalloversweb.com/article_chicken_broody.html

In short, what it means is that a chicken has decided she wants to be a mommy! Many modern breeds of chickens have had that tendancy actually bred out of them. Most chicks are hatched after being incubated in a mechanical incubator – not under a Mommy Chicken! (Although our Welsumers were hatched under a Mom – and had decidedly different behavior patterns as baby chicks compared to their incubated peers!)

Typically, broodiness comes on in the spring of a chick’s 2nd year of life. So imagine our surprise to find that Shelly is broody! She’s only 8 months old, and it’s as wintery as wintery comes! (We’ve got about a foot of snow on the ground! The wind chill is below freezing!)

The first couple of days I thought it was just a coincidence that every time I went to collect eggs that she was on a nest – I figured she was just taking her time laying. But it soon became obvious that she was more than just taking her time. She actually started to hoard eggs! Then she started to fight back if you went to collect the eggs she was hoarding!

The problem, of course, with Shelly’s broodiness being that we have no rooster – so obviously, we have no fertilized eggs – which means – no babies possible! Bummer!

To be honest, William has been talking about wanting to start an egg business in the Spring. He really wants some Americauna’s to round out the flock so that we’ve got some really colorful eggs to offer. We’ve debated buying chicks in the fall, or hoping for a broody hen to be able to try and hatch some eggs. We just didn’t know to think that we’d have a girl go broody this soon!

So… tonight – after checking on the girls as they were getting tucked in for the night, we realized that right in the nest box – next to the door that is certainly not weather tight – poor Shelly was covered with a dusting of snow. (There are 50 mph winds tonight – I guess it makes sense that some would get blown in!) So we decided we had to get her moved.

John and I rigged up a temporary home for Shelly in the pantry and moved her in. We’ll see what the plan will evolve to be. If we can get our hands on some fertilized Americauna eggs, then we may well be trying to hatch some chicks way sooner than anticipated!

Now that’s a BIG egg!

Yesterday BB laid her first egg…


That’s BB on the left. Her name stands for big black – yeah, I know, not very inventive – but we were trying to keep a LOT of chicks straight – and she was just consistently bigger than the other chicks! She (and the rest of the “middle” girls) was 18 weeks old on the 1st of September. So we’ve been watching for her first egg.

Yesterday was the day! It was exciting – but a rather average, albeit a bit smaller than average (compared to the big girls, anyway).

THIS is today’s egg from BB:


Yep – that says 2 7/8ths ounces.

DANG! That’s a BIG egg!

Compared to Rooth’s eggs…And in with the other eggs from the big girls – who routinely lay about 2.25 oz eggs…

By the way… Aren’t they pretty eggs? I love the color variations. The kids are getting expert at being able to identify who laid what egg. Wild!

We live in an old house – and sometime shortly after the house was built (in 1946) someone planted a hydrangea right under the kitchen window. It’s a very large bush! It is kind of wierd, though – the colors on it tend to wash out to almost white in late summer and early fall, and then it seems to shut down production, as I assume other hydrangeas, do. I was walking past the bush – as I do many times each day – and was shocked to see one cluster of flowers on the back to a truly stunning blue. Isn’t it pretty?

Here are a few of the girls out sunbathing the other day… So much for cleaning the carpet and letting it dry in the sun!

It didn’t take us very long along the road of chicken ownership to figure out that chickens make the funniest noises. Henrietta makes the funniest little chirping sound when she’s on the nest box and you dare to disturb her. Here’s a tiny little video clip that Jessica took of her the other day.

And here (the lightest brown egg) is the egg she laid shortly thereafter!

Interestingly enough – Henrietta is still the most consistent egg layer. We get an egg a day from her – pretty much without fail. Rooth is right behind her in consistency. Interesting, huh?

25 hours later…

Can you see her in there? There’s our Henrietta – who for the better part of an hour hung out in “her” nest box (bottom right) – arranging the pine shavings, moving the wooden egg here or there, squking now and then, and as William observed, “looking kinda angry!”

Yesterday we retrieved egg number 1 at 1:08 p.m. Today, egg number 2 was retrieved at 2:08 p.m. According to Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow, “Approximately ever 25 hours, one ovum acquires enough layers of yolk to be released into the oviduct…”

So, makes sense, huh?

And not only did she prove to be consistent in terms of timing – the next quote from Damerow, “As a hen gets older, her eggs get bigger.”

Yep! Yesterday’s egg was 1.5 ounces. Today a whopping 2.25 ounces.

WOW!

That means egg number 2 is just shy of the jumbo eggs that we purchase, and nearly double of yesterday’s egg!

Wow!

As William reported today, “Henrietta rocks!”

I think he’s absolutely correct!

It’s an egg!

Today – a full week after the first (sort of) egg was laid we heard Henrietta squaking like there was no tomorrow. We were eating lunch and could hear her all the way into the house – pretty unusual – but we’ve heard her loud before. This time, it was pretty sustained.

After lunch William went out to investigate, and came back yelling, “It’s an EGG!” To which we dropped everything, grabbed the camera and raced out to the coop – where Henrietta was smart enough to lay her egg – in an actual nest box. Good chicken!

Isn’t it cute? The wooden egg on the left is pretty good sized, but this is decidedly a petite egg.

But pretty, huh?

Compared to the Jumbo sized eggs we buy (which weighs in at 2.75 oz) I don’t think our 1.5 oz egg looks too bad, do you?

Here she is – the woman of the hour – Henrietta! I’m so proud of her!

Here’s hoping it doesn’t take a whole week for the next egg!

Finishing Touches

Today was a busy day! John got to work on the nest boxes. Below, a couple of inspectors checking out the progress…

Ducky had to get in on the action, too… Literally in!
Henrietta was actually inspector general – she stayed up on the table while John was hammering, sawing, etc. She’d squack at him pretty regularly, just like she had something really important to say. She’s such a riot!
Ta daaaa…. Four nest boxes – installed in the coop. Woo Hoo!
Here’s the view from outside – the egg collection hatch.
And today, John got the solar fan installed, too. We were really surprised at how little sunlight it takes for the fan to turn itself on. Wild!
And here’s the inside view of the new solar fan.

That, folks is one finished chicken coop! Yay!!! It was a good day.

Rooster Report and more!

This is El Pollo Loco – as the kids have named him. This is the guy – not even alpha roo – who is taking the lead in the crowing arena. He’s gone from being a morning crower to being a most of the day all day long crower. We are not amused. Okay – well, that’s not entirely true. He sounds hilarious – very much like a young pubescent boy in the throes of voice change. Loco is definitely dealing with some vocal challenges. Even so, he manages to communicate with the roo who lives a couple of blocks over. He’s an interesting little chicken this one – kind of a quirky personality. He does have good Roo qualities, though – he watches out for his ladies and he is quick to sound the alarm.

This is our little Welsumer rooster. He’s 5 weeks old now and boy – is he all boy! We’re so happy that he will be rehomed to a wonderful farm where he’ll be encouraged to crow for all he’s worth! I feel confident he will be a stunning grown up.

Our rooster crowing intervention of last evening had an interesting result. First – let me just interject here that letting the boys go into the coop and roost and get a little drowsy first is a real key toward success in this enterprise. Next key to success is having teenagers on hand who are quite skilled at the art of chicken handling. That being said, we went ahead and placed our four roos in the cage/kennel type dog crate on the back porch. They had a bed of pine shavings and the crate was draped for the most part to keep it dark – and protected. (Remembering that we have regular racoon visitors.) John typically is up and getting ready for the day at about 4:30 or 4:45 each morning. Once he’s gotten ready to leave for work he goes out to the coop and lets the chicks out of the coop and off he goes. So this morning he went out and let the girls out. The roos, up until that time, had remained perfectly silent! (This is all the way to 5:45 a.m.!) Once the girls were out and about they began to crow, however.

So, the modified experiment for the coming morning is to NOT let anyone out and about until the hour we feel is appropriate. (I’m thinking 8:00 a.m.) I’ll report how it goes. 🙂
I say this every year – but I just can’t help saying it again. I just can’t believe how much the green beans grow in each 24 hour period of time! WOW! I just found a great green bean salad recipe that I want to try out… I wish they’d hurry up and give me some beans! (At this rate, it shouldn’t be long!)

We have three different types of pear trees on the property. All of the trees are very loaded with fruit this year. We do next to nothing with the trees – other than to prune them. I think we’re supposed to thin the fruit out or something – but obviously, I’m no expert on it at all! A couple of years I made a pear jelly that had cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and a hint of cloves in it. People loved it – so I’m thinking it will have to be on the list of things to can this year!

I realized today that it had been a while since I’d posted any photos of the big girls. They tend to forage a little further afield than the middle girls, so they are not often around for photos.Henrietta is on the left and Hallie is on the right. They’re so funny. Henrietta is definitely at the top of the pecking order. She is large and in charge! Well, actually Millie is the largest of the three girls – and the darkest now – she’s so pretty! The big girls are now 16 weeks old by all accounts that we can figure out anyway. Gosh, shouldn’t be long before they start laying!

We’ve got plenty of projects to keep us busy over the holiday weekend – building nest boxes will be high on the priority list. I’m dying to know what people think the best nest box medium is, too. Let me know if you have a favorite and why, okay? Thanks!