Tag Archives: chicken

Never ending changes…

Sweet little oneThis is our life now: the constant changes that the cycle of life brings.

This is the third chick we’ve lost this year; all three were white rocks. On came in DAO, one passed only two days later, and then this little one at roughly two weeks old. It’s hard to see their little bodies so lifeless. Even knowing that they will be meat birds, we still love them with all our hearts until judgement day comes for them.

It’s not just animals, either. Even the gardens have a cycle. Seeding, tending, weeding, watching, and enjoying the growth of the plants makes you grounded, connected to each little sprout. Losing them to heat, water, predators of the herbivore variety, and then the eventful harvest tugs at your heart strings.

Isn’t that life, though? The happiness, sadness, pain, and loss all intertwined. I would rather we live with this mixture of emotions while tending our own gardens, flocks, and land than walking through the automaton world of grocery stores any day.

The New Pecking Order and Running

Pecking Order 2014For anyone who has a flock of layers, this is the most nail biting time of the year: integration. The mixing of the young and the old. Normally we would have let them all run lose around the property, pecking at things and each other as they established their new chain of command. Things are a bit different this year and a lot of the integration will happen in the run. The four Young Ones (three Rhode Island Reds and a Barred Rock) are still sleeping in their chicken tractors at night, but they are all mingling during the day. The crazy thing is that the Young Ones are only 14 weeks old. The other five are much older. It’s amazing the size difference between medium and heavy birds.

Edith has made herself the “Big Momma” and is keeping everyone in check. Raptor – the nickname we’re giving the Barred Rock – is challenging everything that moves. She was a runt and seems to have the need to prove herself. All the rest seem indifferent. Well, except for Snowbird, the white and black Easter Egger: she took the chance to jump from the chicken tractor inside the run to the top of the fencing, a good 6 feet above her. Needless to say, we finished the roof last night. Unfortunately she hopped down before I could snap a photo.

I have to admit, it’s been nerve wracking having the flock stuck in a run. Almost as nerve wracking as having them run around with the fox out there. I’m not used to seeing the different attitudes during heat and humidity, the changes in poop, the squabbles to be “hen of the hill.” All this was normally done in thickets and behind fence posts, buildings, and around the corner. It’s been a bit stressful, for everyone I think, as I am constantly second guessing and wondering about…well, everything. I’m not saying the change won’t be good, but it will be a hard one to work through. Now that the run’s done we can let them out while we’re gone and not have to worry about them. The hawks (who came by to visit last night) can’t get in and the only true worry would be a fox digging under. We tried to dig down as far as we could, but the run is on top of a leech field that’s pretty shallow. I could only drop the fence four inches in some areas due to the gravel bed, so here’s hoping the cribbing placed along the outside will hope to deter him/her. There’s been no sign on the buggah since the other day: he came by and watched them from the tracks, but wandered off when he decided there was no way to get in. I doubt this is the last we’ll see of the critter, but I’m trying to stay hopeful.

Fox Trap

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We lost another. Between the fox now having taken three chickens and us having to deal with the rooster (who according to the butcher had spurs much larger than a normal yearlings), we’re now down to our five laying girls. Needless to say, we called the animal control officer (ACO) last Saturday and are renting a trap from him.

It wasn’t touched for the first three days, but we didn’t have any coverage on it or anything. We decided to amp up our attempts by camouflaging it a bit and adding a few eggs in there. The past two nights something has come and eaten the bait – without setting off the trap. We’ve fought with the trap and I think we finally have it so it will trigger very easily. We’ll be reloading it tonight. Here’s hoping it works.

In the meanwhile, the poor ladies have been coop bound with some supervised out time. If it’s not raining when hubster gets home, I’ll be letting them out some. On the plus side, they’re doing really awesome with letting me usher them in a la rooster style and with the help of a big stick. Small victories, right?

We’re down to eight.

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This is a photo from the back stairs this morning around 10ish. That blinding light is what I had to fight through to see an unknown critter run off with one our layers. You’ll notice that the coop is closed now. The remaining seven layers and their man are tucked in for the day. They were all dazed enough to let me put them back in.

I wish I could say I knew exactly what took them. I’m not sure. Any time an animal has come on to the property after the chickens the ladies have sounded the alarm when the critter is on the boundaries. Not today. Apparently, when they sounded the alarm whatever it was had sneaked from around the bulkhead (to the right side of this photo) and almost grabbed Beardie (so nicknamed because of her lovely beard). Apparently I scared it when I tried to open the door. Unfortunately I also scared Minski off the stair as well. She took to the air and before I knew what was happening, had been caught and carried down past the coop, out beyond the two smaller willows. I still couldn’t tell what had her. All I could do was watch until it snapped her neck and went off through the woods. I had to watch. I had to make sure whatever it was had been the only attacker.

The “chicks” as we still lovingly call them, had no idea what to do. The rooster was out front with the older girls, from the best I can tell. Our older ladies – who are definitely pets for us – have survived a raccoon chasing them, a dog attacking them in the back yard, and a fox charging over the tracks at them. They knew what to do. I hope these young girls catch on. They stood there and watched with me. They’ll miss Minski…we all will, but there’s a lesson for all of us in this.

Our little flock of layers are staying warm in the coop for today. I gave them all a thorough look over. Beadie’s missing a patch of feathers the size of the bottom of a coffee cup, but is already back to pecking me when I try to grab the eggs, so I think she’ll be fine.

In the three years that we’ve had chickens, this is the third bird we lost. The other two were last fall, and we’re not entirely sure what happened.

While it’s sad to see this happen, and I’m still trying to process it, I know that the first thing that came to mind was this: I cannot stop free ranging our flock. Even if we lost each and everyone this year to an attack, I feel allowing them to explore and get the best out of their lives is by far better than them living in a coop for their entire lives. (As far as runs go, I tend to think they’re more dangerous as the chickens have no where to go if a predator gets in. At least in this case – and in previous cases – they were able to run.)

Now it’s time to think and see if there is anything that we can do to help protect our flock better. A couple options….

1. A dog that barks. (Diamond, who hasn’t even been with us a year, slept through the whole thing. Even though she’s a rescue and we don’t know her past, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts she’s a city dog who’s used to noise and that’s why it didn’t phase her.)

2. A gander. (We can’t trust Diamond out by herself with the chickens even if she did bark. She likes to play with anything that moves and we’re working really hard with her not “death shake” toys.)

Any other ideas, PLEASE add in the comments!

Meat Birds – Take 2

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Last year we tried our luck at doing meat birds. Things didn’t go so well. We’re at it for take two. If things go well, we’ll be raising 24 birds for ourselves over the course of the season, along with birds of a few friends and family.

We’re currently attempting to find a butcher to use. Once we get the numbers for the cost of butchering, we’ll be able to figure out roughly the cost per bird. This will be a flat rate cost, not per pound. We’re hoping to have final details – including if this is definitely a go or not – and a limit to how many birds out homestead can take by the middle of March.

We can’t call these birds “organic” as the feed we’re using isn’t technically organic. But they will be FREE RANGE, NO HORMONES, HUMANELY treated animals.

Right now it looks like we’ll be going with Murray McMurray for our chicks as they have a great heavy birds assortment that includes Black Australorps; Lt. Brahmas; Dark Cornish; Black and White Giants; Buff and White Orpingtons; New Hampshire, Rhode Island Reds, Barred, White, Partridge, Buff Rocks; Sussex, Turkens; White, Silver Laced, & Columbian Wyandottes, Red Star and Black Stars. We could go with the Cornish X mixes, but the idea of raising an overly breed hybrid doesn’t really strike me as necessary.

If all goes well, we’ll be up to our ears in roasters for the winter!