Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Chicken Whisperer.

Someday, that one person comes along that you thought you could never live without.
Lila thought so too!
Our little chicken keeper is doing a great job.  Genevieve has really gone above and beyond to help out with the flock.  She'll change their water, give them treats and fill their food.  She has such a beautiful, gentle way about her.  It's fun to watch her interact with the flock.  This morning, it dawned on me that something was very different in the way Lila treated her vs me or any other human.  While most of us are ready for the sneak attack, Genevieve was able to slowly and gently slink into the flock and stood right by Lila.  Instead of his usual puff out his neck feathers, give the hairy eyeball and start flapping and attacking.....I watched him circle around holding his wings up and one dragging towards the ground.  Then he took his legs and did a little stomp right at Genny's feet, continued with one single peck of the beak at her leg and then he backed off only to come back and do it all over again.  It was very sweet and not malicious, like it appears when he's in all out attack mode.  Genny stood still and spoke softly to him as he went through his dance. 
The key word here is DANCE.  He WAS dancing!  He was courting my 8 year old!!!  Facinating as it was, I have to admit it was a bit creepy.  I am very relieved that he wasn't being aggressive towards her, but WOW!!!  When I told her what I thought was happening, she smiled a big ol' jack o lantern smile.  She loves that she is adored by her rooster. 
I was able to confirm my suspicions by posting a thread on my favorite chicken board.  Yep, he indeed was courting Genevieve.  We witnessed him doing the same thing with the hens later. 
You never know where you will find always seems to sneak up on you!

Another tidbit about the bird's names.  Our kids had been taking an after school German Enrichment Class put on by their school district's high school German teacher.  They decided to name the chicks German colors.    Lila (LEE la) is purple, Grun (GROON) is green, Weiss (Veiss) is white, Rosa is pink,  I insisted one be named Prissy thanks to Foghorn Leghorn and Flower came from a wild turkey we found hanging in our yard afew years ago.  The kids called it Flower and they decided to reuse the name.  :)


Last night, I forgot to lock the coop door, so by the time I went down to lock them up for the night it was well past dark.  Our neighbors have gotten a new kitten and he lives outside.  He was out on the steps earlier and I assumed he went home since I didn't hear him crying anymore.  This morning, the girls were being pretty squawky and I'm not usually home at 10am, so I thought there might be an egg in the box and what I was hearing was happy mommy noises.  I check the box...nothing.  As I turn the corner I see what all the squawking was about.....

Pumpkin Pie as he is called quickly ran out the door and under our shed.  It appears that the chickens knew he didn't belong there, but they didn't give him a hard time about being there.  Hope he wasn't too traumatized!

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Egg Report

We are officially at the one week mark of laying.  For the last 7 days, we have gotten 1 egg per day, light brown (from one of the Barred Plymouth Rocks).  I suspect it is from Weiss, as she is slightly larger and seemed to be growing faster than Rosa.  I can not be 100% sure as I have not caught the layer in the act.  The first 6 eggs were probably 'medium' in size.  I tend to buy large eggs and they were definitely smaller than that.  Today (day 7), the egg I found was significantly larger in my hand.  When I put it in the carton with the other few from the last couple of days it was indeed larger.  I did have chicken rearing friends tell me that it is not uncommon for new layers to lay an egg a day to start.  Also read that eggs could be smaller, deformed, missing the shell, etc.  All 7 eggs have been perfect.  The 3 I cracked were nice and strong and insides looked great.  Hoping at least one more starts laying in the next week!  Everyday is an adventure and we have so much excitement for our little hens. 

A few websites I like for your perusal.  Loads of info and forums to discuss all things poultry. Check out the FarmRaised channel on You Tube starring P. Allen Smith!  Not just chickens and lots of good info. Another good website.  I think you can order chicks from them as well.

If you are a researcher like will want to check out these books.  A lovely book with nice photos documenting one woman's 3 chicks from hatching to laying.  I am still referencing it!  Great book with detailed info on what chickens can and can't eat and what plants have medicinal properties and can help out your flock.  I didn't buy this book, but found it in the library.  Good info and authors are from the most chicken friendly city in the country (and my favorite place ever), Portland OR.  Lots of chicken coop designs and plans.  Our coop came from this book with some modifications.  I will try to document more on that later.

It's 11:15 pm, pitch black outside and nothing but crickets chirping.....and Lila just crowed. What the heck!  The chicken adventure never ends!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dieting is for the birds...

Dieting is for the birds.....

Every mother-to-be wants the best for their babies.  You start off with all the best intentions.  Breast pumps, cloth diapers, making your own baby food.  Yeah, it sounds good in theory!  I didn't have luck in the lactation department (or maybe I am too high strung to relax enough for nature to work on it's own?) and I certainly didn't have time for cloth diapers or making my own baby food thanks to a full time job.  BUT, I understand that feeling of wanting to do all the right things.  I felt the same way with our baby chicks!  We did much research on how to make a suitable brooder and how to make a sturdy nice coop that would keep our babies safe. (more on that in a future discussion)  Now we are faced with what to feed and nourish our girls and boy with.  There is so much out there it can make your head swoon.  I think I've been swooning over the feed issue since May.  We started the chicks on the medicated chick starter from Purina (red bag).  Medicated does NOT mean antibiotics.  The medicine actually helps give the chicks a good start and helps prevent a nasty disease that will kill them called Coccidiosis.  I didn't want to mess with mother nature, so decided this was the best option to guarantee healthy chicks.  When you only start with 6, there is no room to lose 1 or 2.  They stayed on this feed until about 8 weeks.  Then they continued on with the unmedicated chick starter feed in the yellow bag. 

Knowing they were getting ready to lay at about 18 weeks.  I went to the feed store to purchase their 'adult' rations.  Chick feed has higher protein for growth and the layer feed has higher calcium needed to make eggs.  After talking with the clerk (the employees are all college graduates educated in animal management), she convinced me that I should stick with the standard Purina Layena.  The Layena is about $17/ 50 lb bag.  Going with an organic feed would cost twice as much and didn't seem worth the added expense.  So I left with the Layena.  I am currently mixing what is left of the chick crumbles with the adult pellets until the chick feed is all used up.  Also, only 1 chick is laying so far, so this way the others are still getting some extra protein.  I still can't rest over this decision to use commercially made food.  I mean, if you are going to the hassle to 'grow your own', you should know what is going into your animals and in turn, into you.  But I couldn't see spending double on feed for 'organic'.  After hanging out on some boards, I have found a local amish farm that mixes their own feed.  They make organic feed (but it isn't certified) and also use NO SOY.  They use fish meals which is good since chickens are omnivores.  The Purina feeds boast that there is no animal proteins in them, which means it's all soy based proteins.  Soy has been on the chopping blocks lately and I tend to agree that it is just not the best way to go.  Also, GMO's are most definitely used in commercially mixed feeds.  I talked to a rep from a local feed mill and he confirmed that GMO's are in everything.  The amish man sells an 80 lb bag of his special organic, soy free feed for about $30.  So it's not that much more.  I'm going to seek him out when I am ready for the next bag. 

Polly want a cracker?  Snacks and Treats.

Other things to think about regarding the birds diets.  The birds are living compost bins!  I love (and they in turn love me!) giving them treats from my kitchen.  Any organic scrap....strawberry tops, celery trimmings.  Anything you can think of minus afew toxic items (like my avocado skins).  It certainly is making me choose healthier foods for us with the benefit of surprising our feathered friends with some yummy treats!  When I clean their litter, I dump it all in our compost bin.  Hoping that in a year we will be ready to start a small garden and will have some nice compost to get started.  You cannot use chicken poop for about a year because of the ammonia will burn your plants.  But once it composts for about a year, you are good to go.  The other snack the birds love is 'Scratch'.  It's a great treat to lure them and now they know where I keep it and they follow me to the shed.  I also coax them down to their coop and throw a handful in and they run right in.  Much better than chasing them around to catch them!  They are quite squirrely now that they are full grown!  Scratch is kind of like crack for them and there isn't much nutrients in it, so I use it sparingly.  Don't want them to fill up on the scratch! 

The other important item in the bird's diet....GRIT.  If you've ever had a pet bird, you will understand.  Birds have gizzards and they need literally stones in their gizzards to grind up their food.  Birds that free range all the time should have ample opportunity to find stones to fill their gizzards up, but supplementing with grit is the best way.  I usually throw some in the pen so they can pick it free choice.  It literally is ground up granite!  Crazy! 

Thanks for stopping by and hope you learned something!  I definitely have learned to really look into what is in your food and what is in the food your food is eating!  YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT...AND WHAT THEY EAT!

Cockadoodle doo!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What the Cluck? 

                                                           Chicks a day or 2 old when we picked them up.  They don't stay little long!

Greetings and thanks for stopping by!  I want to start by saying that after afew years of begging and pleading to get chickens, I finally swayed my other half on the project.  We are now 5 months into this and enjoying every minute of it.  I will try to reflect on how we got to where we are and current progress in the flock.  I wish I would have started this months ago, but here we are now!

Our milestone for the this week was major.  After 5 months of nuturing our 6 chicks, we have finally seen the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel!  We returned from a weekend away camping in our VW Van (probably our biggest thrill in life!) to find 2 light brown eggs in our nest boxes!  Since we did not bear witness to this epic event, we can only assume what is going on.  The egg came from 1 of our 2 Barred Plymouth Rocks.  I am convinced that only one of them is laying at this point as we've been getting 1 egg a day since.  They are a medium size and I do expect them to end up at a large size as the hen matures.  They are perfect inside and out!  I fried 3 up for breakfast yesterday and everyone enjoyed them. 

The flock:  Barred Plymouth Rocks:  Rosa and Weiss
                  Ameraucanas aka Easter Eggers:  Prissy and Flower
                  Welsummers:  Grun and the WHOOPS rooster, Lila

The black and white chickens are our Barred Plymouth Rocks, Rosa and Weiss.
The lay light brown eggs and should be our most frequent producers.

                                                                 Here is Prissy, one of the Easter Eggers...fine purveyors of green, blue or pink eggs!
                                                                    Notice her 'beard'.

Grun, our only female Welsummer who will lay lovely terra cotta/chocolate eggs.

                                                                   Flower, the other Easter Egger.

                                                              Lila, the lucky boy who gets his own harem.

Don't Get Cocky!

Our chicks arrived the first week of May.  I ordered all pullets, but alas, afew weeks later and some internet research revealed our little Lila was going to end up a Roo.  The kids adored Lila, so I had to make some promises since we are doing this under the radar.  Nothing like a freakin' Rooster to blow your cover!  About 10 weeks old, the little bugger started crowing.  At first, he was almost quiet and squawking (think teenage boy voice here) but now he's developed a bright and loud chant.  The coop is right outside my bedroom window and when my alarm goes off about 5:30 does Lila.  Needless to say, I don't keep my window open much, but he is nice to hear....just makes you feel like you are on the farm.  He actually reacts to noise similarly to my pet of 19 years, Picasso.  Picasso, my cockatiel RIP always used to go through his whole repertoire in the morning and also would perform when there was lots of noise in the house.  The chickens have rekindled my love of birds...they are just alot larger than my little buddy who sat on my shoulder and picked food from my mouth.  Lila reminds me of him.  Along with a 'teenage' rooster comes a mess of activity.  My 6 and 8 year olds adore the chickens.  Lila has gotten to the point where he is becomming aggressive.  He hasn't hurt anyone, but he is definitely a larger bird than the hens.  He has broad shoulders.  He'll stare at you and then his long neck feathers start to stick out....then he'll assume a position and whammo....he's coming at your legs many times in a row!  He's quite intimidating and so far, I haven't been able to really stand up to him.  I pretty much knock him out of my way by pushing him with my foot.  You can't trust him.  He even will get you from behind when you aren't even looking.  He has gone after me, Kenny and the kids at different times.  I keep telling him not to push me....or I WILL eat him!  I don't think he really cares.  I'm hoping he calms down once he starts mating.  I have not seen him at this point on any of the girls.  Life is sure interesting these days and it is relaxing to sit with the birds and call them back when they roam into the neighbor's yard when they are out free ranging.  I will attempt to recreate the last 5 months of life with the chicks little by little.  Hope you enjoy our story!

Clucks and Crows