Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Operation flock restore part 2

Meet zip zipity!

Zip-Zipity is my first ever chick successfully hatched in an incubator.  Cute as a button isn't she?  I've never had so much interaction with a baby chick before.  Not sure how THAT will play...attachment to a chicken probably won't end well.  After all a chicken is a chicken right?

She (at least I hope she's a she) was the result of my attempt to "salvage" eggs from under three different broody hens. Let me explain....

So three of my chickens just up and decided one day that they were going to stay and sit on their eggs.  When chickens sit on their eggs like this...they do periodically get up and drink and eat and then go back to their nest to continue sitting.  Yet, when they are away from their nest, other chickens will come in and lay THEIR eggs on top of the eggs already there...and before you know it there's like 24 eggs in the sitter's nest.

The problem with this is... it takes 21 days to hatch a chicken egg (so long as it's been fertilized by a rooster of course...and kept at the right temperature...with the right humidity....and turned every-so-often, etc).  And now this nest of 24 eggs has a variation of "start" days (because of the other chickens sneakin in laying their eggs on the pile).  Therefore they won't all hatch at the same time.  Additionally, not all these eggs layed here are in fact fertilized.  So after a while...the unfertilized eggs will rot and explode.  Making a big mess on top of the other eggs.  Flies then come on the scene and lay their eggs.  Maggots arrive shortly thereafter...and now, NOW you have a really big stinky mess!

So after watching this process unfold multiple times over a week or two. And add in also that one of the hens did in fact hatch two chicks successfully...but abandoned the other eggs on her nest.  I decided to purchase an incubator and intervene. 

I started with the abandoned eggs.  Plus the eggs I removed from the other two hens with exploded rot and maggots on them. ugh.  So after cleaning those off and placing all in the incubator...I started with like 30 eggs.  Only 1 hatched so far.  (not very good odds I know...but most of the eggs turns out were rotted or the embryo didn't develop fully inside the egg).

I'm continually learning how this whole chicken raising thing works.  And my oh my what chickens have taught me...but that's a whole other post.

Meanwhile...zipity zip is growing up in a tupperware container in the garage patiently waiting for hopefully at least one other lil chick to hatch and join her.  I have 4 eggs left in the incubator and today is day 19.

You may be wondering why zipity zip isn't being raised by one of the successful momma hens? Well, ironically I did try to introduce zip to momma hen and after making a HUGE fuss and flapping and pecking and basically the equivalent of chicken yelling it was apparent to me that momma wanted NOTHING to do with little zip.  If I would have left zip in the pen with momma hen, no doubt momma would have killed zip.  No adoption here.  So zip is growing up solo for the moment.  Until she's big enough to defend herself from chicken haters.

And I don't normally name my chickens...but this one...this one's a little different situation.  She needed a name.  Welcome to our world zip-zipity-do!




fresh herbs...are they really that big a deal?

YES!!!  I used to think that fresh herbs were dumb.  Why not just used the dried ones from the store?

I'll tell you why...because the taste is IMPECCABLE! and not even comparable to the dried version.  Just like anything else...the fresher...the tastier.  Whether it's vegetables, eggs, fruit, meat...all the same...fresh means best!

It's really not hard to have fresh herbs either.  You can either purchase plants from any store that sells garden plants, or you can also plant your herbs from seeds via seed packets from any garden store.

For myself, I try from seed first and if that doesn't work out...I'll purchase the plants.  I guess I just like to challenge myself on the success of it all.

Just like anything else...you will be challenged.  Because bugs like fresh herbs too.  Especially bugs that like to eat up all the leaves of your herbs.  So yes, vigilance and patience is required.  A little bit of effort can go a long way!

Nothing tastier than fresh herbs sprinkled onto your scrambled eggs, into your stir fry or to garnish your homemade dinner dishes.

My favorites?  Basil, oregano, mint and parsley. 

Onward to learning new skills!!


...the best things, like rhubarb, are worth the wait

YES! Phase 1 is finally completed in my "why can't we have our OWN rhubarb patch?" quandary.

I love rhubarb pie and so does my family...so every year I make at least two of these YUMMY pies but I always have had to buy rhubarb from the store or beg, borrow or plead rhubarb from a friend or neighbor who has their own rhubarb patch.

Well, in an attempt to have my very own rhubarb patch, I ordered some rhubarb roots which arrived by mail in the spring.  After much love and nurturing they have now grown into beautiful plants each approximately a foot tall at present. (still very very young in rhubarb plant years, hah.)  I'm told that you aren't supposed to take any cuttings from your plants for two years.  (this is a big bummer...but you know what they say though..."good things come to those that wait").  So, here we are in year one...and I'm going to do everything I can to keep these rhubarb plants happy and healthy and hopefully they'll grow big and strong and bountiful...and maybe they will gift me with their yummy stalks in the near future.

And maybe...just maybe...I'll have so MUCH fresh rhubarb that I'll have to give it away to my friends to make their own rhubarb pies too!

So be watchful...fresh from my own patch, rhubarb pie in 2020!!!

Gosh, that sounds like forever away.

Excited to make pies from my very own rhubarb patch... should like just like this...















Friday, August 3, 2018

Bees!

My beekeeping adventures are unfolding well.  I've had to invest in some more "bee stuff" as time goes on.  Besides just the hive parts and frames I've also got things now like honey processing tools and such. 

Real soon I'll be extracting honey from the second-to-the-top layer shown here.  Excited to taste this honey.  It's pretty cool to invest time/money/and effort into things that give back.

I've opened the hive now 4 times and hadn't gotten stung during that process.  Until today...I was innocently working in my garden and BAM! bee sting.  Guess she felt threatened or nailed me as she flew by...or both.  Ow though.

More soon!


Operation flock restore


I have to laugh at myself sometimes.  You can have the greatest of intentions and turns out...what you think is going to happen...doesn't happen anywhere close to how you thought it would!  Let me explain...

So last year I purchased "mail-order-chicks".  That is...baby chicks from a poultry hatchery...where you can select specific breeds of chickens.  Just so happened...I picked Black Australorps and Buff Orpingtons for three reasons.  One...they are known to be friendly birds...ie they play well with others.  Two both these breeds are known to be good egg layers.  And three...because they are both breeds that are known to be broody (meaning that at some point during the season they will sit on their eggs with the intent to hatch them).  Which by the way takes approximately 21 days of sitting to accomplish this...so long as the egg has also been fertilized by a rooster.

Sure enough...this summer I've had three hens attempt this.  Yet here's the reality of how this plays out.  Chicken up and decides...ooop...I'm gonna hatch some eggs.  So she sits on her nest (sometimes they pick good safe spots to do so and other times not so much)....well...she doesn't get up off the nest much....but when she does...another chicken will come along and "sneak" laying her egg onto the pile.  And before you know it...there's an array of eggs of various dates...some fertilized...some not.  Now eventually one or more of these eggs will rot...for various reasons...and then burst.  Then flies scope out the rot...lay their little fly eggs...maggots then enter the seen...and now you have a big mess on your hands.  A chicken sitting on maybe now 15 or so eggs covered in egg rot and maggots and well you get the picture...isn't at ALL what I was going for.

Two of the three hens did in fact successfully each hatch one chick.  The third just didn't seem to have the same accidental success as the others.  So after watching and dealing with egg rot and flies in the coop and so many unsucessful hatches...it dawned on me.  Why don't I get an incubator and hatch these eggs myself?

"ahahha...easier said than done." said the grasshopper.

I cleaned off the remaining eggs from chicken-sitter-number-three and placed them in my incubator.  I started with about 25 eggs.  I'm down to 4.  The others basically rotted or didn't develop.  But I did finally reach some success just the other day! I finally hatched my first chick just two days ago!!!

And...I now also have a very long list of "lessons learned" or maybe I should call this list the "well I didn't see that coming" list.

For instance...I thought for sure that by introducing my newly hatched chicken to my chicken momma who was already attune to raising her own little couple-day-old chick that she would just adopt it as her own and chicky-daycare-problem solved.  Uh no.  Momma chicken would have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with this newly hatched chick. In fact...she was quite intent on killing it if I would have let her.  Didn't see that coming.  There went my "after-I-hatch-a-chick-raise-it-up-plan."

So now...what do I do with just ONE chick?  I've never just had one chick before.  No company to keep...no other lil chicks to snuggle into.  So far my lil chick is doing ok...And I'm hoping that of the 4 other eggs I have in the incubator that at least 1 of them will hatch into a lil buddy for her.

She is growing up on her own currently in the tupperware-storage-container-nursery that I'd raised up last year's mail-order group in.  She just is currently solo.  Not ideal for a newborn/hatched anything...but I don't have a choice at the moment.

The saga continues...oh and meanwhile...the count for fox is 12...the count for me...newly hatched chicks is 4 (3 hatched via adult chickens and 1 hatched in my incubator so far)

Oh the things that life on the farm teaches you!!!  Humbling indeed.





Operation flock defenses

This summer has hands down been one of THE most challenging summers dealing with the local wildlife and their increasing interest in my chickens to be the main breakfast lunch and/or dinner course.  Apparently the word has gotten out...although I realized that chickens sort of tell on themselves.  Chickens are talkers.  I'm not really sure what all it is they talk about...but if you sit outside and listen it's very obvious that chickens live here.  And I'm not talking about the rooster.  Everyone seems to think that just roosters are loud and obnoxious but no.  Hens are chatty cathies too.  They apparently have much to say to one another...so between the obvious smell of chickens living here and the sounds of their cackling and cabitzing there's also the visually obvious.  My chickens enjoy wandering about the yard hunting for bugs and eating grass. This is where the snatch and grab comes in.  Mainly the fox.

Yes...a fox.  First time in my life I've had to deal with a fox prowling around.  I've seen this fox a couple times now...mostly after she has already killed one or two of my chickens.  For a fox it's easy pickins jumping a chicken in the yard.  And is extremely discouraging to lose your chickens two at a time to a fox.

So after much a do...I've finally decided to build a fortress around the barn.  Nature has spoken...it's time to protect the birds.  We've lost nearly a dozen hens this summer to the fox...so as they say...if you can't beat em...or defeat em....join em (or in this case...build a better protective fencing system around your birds).

Between the redtail hawks/ great-horned owl/ raccoons/ possums/ skunk and fox...nature has spoken.  Obviously.  The battle is futile.  So time to shore up the defenses.

Gonna take me some time/ effort/ and a nice chunk of change but between now and Spring....the matrix is going to be changing around here.

Go pick on someone else's chickens ye ole wild meat eaters.

These photos below were all taken by my hunting camera approximately 80-100 ft from the back of the barn where the chickens roost at night.  Yep it's wild kingdom out here.













Sunday, March 25, 2018

Function vs cost...the chicken feeder quandry.

There are a number of things to consider when addressing feeding your chickens.  Besides the obvious, such as what to feed them, whether your chickens are layers or broilers, how old they are, etc....there are also various other details to consider.  Cost, effectiveness, and mice infiltration to name just a few.

The simple solution is to just buy hanging feeders, pour in your feed, hang in your coop and poof quandry solved.  However, when I started this adventure cost was a bit of a deal breaker.  We had upwards to 50 chickens...didn't have a lot of extra spending money and hanging feeders cost around $20 piece.  Might not seem like a lot...but if I could make my own feeders for say...$5 each...I could accomplish my goal for a quarter of the cost.

So I tried two different styles of feeders.  The first was a five gallon bucket screwed into a wooded base.  While this works quite well...I didn't realize a few important details.  One...food waste for what would end up on the floor (I can't really explain why this happens...but it does) and two...mice.

Food waste:
My suspicions about how waste gets scraped onto the floor is to do with the depth of the tray shown here on the bottom of the bucket...that...or the distance between the edge of the bucket and the edge of the wood tray.  Whatever the reason...I've scooped up no less that 30 pounds of feed off the floor over the months that I've used this feeder.  Definitely a debby-downer...and yes...defeats the purpose of saving money.

Mice:
The mice issue comes from the size of the holes in the bottom of the bucket.  If you look closely you can see the golf-ball sized holes that allows the feed inside the bucket to gravity-pour out in the tray as food is consumed.  When the bucket is empty...the holes are wide open...therefore mice just jump right in and walk around in the bottom of your bucket contaminating your feed with mice droppings everywhere....which I believe is a real health-hazard for your chickens.

The next "feeder-on-the-cheap" I tried was the ye ole plastic pipe method.  I'd seen these types of feeders over the years at our local county fair in the pens of various farm animals and thought it rather creative. Yet...on day one...LOTS of food waste on the floor.  My first version of this feeder style didn't include the plastic tray on the bottom...that came as an attempt to illuminate the waste.  It helped...but it didn't solve the problem all together.  While this feeder style can hold quite a bit of feed and last a couple of days..the fuller it is...the more waste on the floor...even with the trays.

Both of these feeders I found the design discussed on Youtube with much praise...no one talked about or updated the info found there about the pitfalls of these feeders.  Figures...functional reality is not always authentically represented.

So after struggling with the shortcomings of my homemade feeders...I finally decided...enough is enough.

Let's review the issues:
  1. I need a feeder style that I can fill and will hold my chickens over for a minimum of two days without going empty.
  2. It also needs to be mice deterrent.  No mice able to access the feeder, therefore no mice droppings in my feed. (If your feeder sits on the ground...easy peazy mice access. If your feeder hangs...mice can still jump up into it...hence the quandry with mice).
  3. The chickens have to understand...this is for them. Easy for them to access feed...no learning curve. Chickens are by their very nature curious beings...so new things usually aren't a problem. They figure most new things out within a few minutes.
  4. It also must be able to be protected from above...my chickens perch very high up in the barn...so things below are at risk of getting poop bombed.
So here's what I found...the $20 feeder will do the trick and then some!  I had an extra $40 dollars to spend so I bought two hanging metal feeders and so far...they're doing the trick!

No mouse droppings. YEAH! These feeders hold 30 pounds of feed so lasts two days easy before needing to be refilled. The feed sack topper I put on here seems to do the trick for keeping the chickens from bombing the feeder from above at night...and still allows easy access to refill it when needed.

In conclusion...while sometimes you can get by with creative more affordable solutions to farming dilemmas...sometimes the tried-and-true designs just work better.

Onward to happier and healthier chickens!