Thursday, December 30, 2010

Home at Last, New Plans

OK, my Odyssey is complete. I am home. In the process, I experienced long distance driving, family fun, and loss.

My trusted friend, Doctor Dolittle, found my dead hen on Christmas morning and hastily improved the chicken coop. Doc tells me the chickens are agitating for some more coop improvements.

  • The pen gets really soggy when it rains. 
  • The roosts need a drop ceiling.
  • The door catches on the bird net. (might be a human requirement)
  • The nest boxes need external access. (um, ditto?)

*sigh* Back to the drawing board.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Re-winterizing the coop

While I was away, we had a cold snap hard on the heels of horizontal rain. This tragically exposed another design flaw and my friend Dr. Dolittle found one of the hens dead on Christmas morning.

Thankfully, Doc rounded up an assistant and the two of them blocked more of the vents with plastic. They inspected each chicken for dry feathers and feet. They even provided big towels to help the chickens think about sunny beaches.

It was a lifesaving improvement. The temps dropped close to 20F. In the morning Doc had to chip out all the water bowls and make arrangements to replace split pipes and hoses.

All the chickens made it. And fresh eggs too!

If this weather keeps up I may have to order a water heater:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sad Christmas

Today, Christmas Day, I lost my first chicken.

My big australorp alpha hen, Shadow, was dead on the floor of the coop this morning. She apparently died from exposure.

It rained yesterday and all the birds got wet. By the time they went to roost, she was the only one still wet and the others excluded her.

I have to ask, did she really die from exposure, or was something else wrong that kept her body heat from drying her like the others? Have I really done everything I can to protect my birds? Should I have toweled her off? Would that even have made a difference?

One thing for sure, I am going to put a roof over that part of the pen so water does not get into the coop when we have horizontal rain.

On a day where most of us are thinking about family and gifts, this certainly puts things in perspective.
Shadow, in happier times

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Clever Little "Helper"

As I get ready to go on my Odyssey I am making some last-minute improvements to my chickeny world.

The fenced pen around the coop is 40x20. It has no top so the birds, of their own accord, have become free-range chickens. So I bought one of these doodads:

Putting my engineering background to good use, I zip tied flimsy PVC pipe to the coop roof and the fence top for structural integrity. Then I balanced on one leg atop a ladder sturdily planted in randomly placed dust baths and fluffed the bird net over the coop and supports.

My smartest chicken helped with the project. She walked under the net laying on the ground and tried to walk out through the net. Have to commend her for her determination to fit her head, tail, left wing, right wing, left leg, and right leg into a net hole. Her judgement, not so much.

So when I called the chickens in for the night with their evening BOSS bribe, she stubbornly remained out in the yard. I found her patiently sitting on the ground, waiting for me to do my superior-3D geometry thing that us primates seem to be good at. After much wiggling and jiggling and pushing and colorful vocalizations (from both of us), she was free. She casually walked waaaaaay around the net to get to the gate and then into the coop.

Maybe IQ was a good name after all.

Supporting net with PVC

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vacation: Out of Control

How do you take a vacation when you have a flock of chickens? OK, this applies to dogs, cats, horses, and other critters. But the question remains the same....

My flock of seven, six laying hens and the big guy, has been my little friends since I got them in May. In that time, we have learned together about what foods are chickeny-delicious, how to recover from a chickeny virus, how to deal with weak eggshells, proper coop construction, puberty, and choking hazards.

Through all these adventures I have become quite close to my little feathery friends and they have learned to (mostly) tolerate my presence.

But now I need to travel from Texas to the frosty wasteland known as "Up North". I have at least 40 hours of driving ahead of me before I am home again.

I have enlisted my most trusted friend to take care of my fluffy babies. Now I have the delicate task of respectfully communicating every single detail of caring for my cherished cockerel and prized pullets.

While I am away I will worry about the flock. Will there be predator problems as they free range? Will they gain a lot of weight from gourmet cooking?

I don't know what to expect. I am afraid of the unknown. Guess I need some perspective.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Weather Outside Is Frightful

Here in Texas we are having what is locally known as cold weather at 27F degrees. (I'm not from around here).

I had to take special precautions for my chickens. They already let me know they do not approve of exposed roosts during cool weather. I corrected that once I realized the entire flock had spent the night crammed into one nest box.

The coop is a masterpiece of opportunistic construction from salvaged materials. It is half plywood and half farm fence. This is great for the Texas summer, but it is as useless as something colorful on a bull when it is cold enough to freeze something colorful off a brass monkey.

To protect the birds from drafts I put 6 mil plastic sheets up with roofing nails. That, and a bit of clear duct tape, sealed things up on two sides. The narrow end with the pop door has no coverage. The long side with the people door has a three foot stretch of uncovered wire as well. All told, the coop has 35 square feet of ventilation. The rest is covered. Especially around the roost.

There is no insulation. The litter is not very deep. There is no water heater. There is no heat source.

The chickens are heated internally! They have a warm blooded metabolism. They have feathers. They have a roost that lets them keep their feet flat and settle their fluffy feathery bodies on them. And they get a double ration of insanely delicious Black Oil Sunflower Seeds at night.

Now there may be an issue with ice in the waterer by morning, but they really do not drink much water while they sleep. The big risk is that the moisture they emit while sleeping (and pooing) will build up in the coop and in their little chicken lungs.

So there is the strategy. Keep the chickens out of the wind. Keep them dry. Give them a little extra food.

Meanwhile, I am wearing a down jacket.

I lost a chicken to the cold because I failed to follow my plan. I failed to cover part of the coop where a horizontal rain could soak the birds and bedding, foiling my "keep them dry" concept. I have since put more effort into making sure the coop is dry and non-drafty. The chickens have been fine through multiple colder rainier weather events with no problems.

Update2: member patandchickens has an excellent winter coop discussion posted there.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Predators and Pests

The availability of delicious fresh chickens and delicious fresh eggs and delicious fresh chicken feed and my disastrous leftovers makes my yard a predator magnet.

So far I have encountered the following:

  • raccoons
  • hawks
  • opossums
  • squirrels
  • foxes
  • sparrows
  • moles
  • rats
  • my neighbor's cat

Some of these varmints have had a close encounter with my Havahart trap. Some others got blasted by my automatic scarecrow. My neighbor suggested that a pellet  rifle would be handy for some of the critters.

I noticed that his cat was not on the suggested target list.

NEW! Havahart Easy Set Animal Trap - The Most Innovative & Easy to Use Trap in The Market!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Amazing Male Performance of "Mr. Big"

My rooster, "Mr. Big", had problems with sexual performance. He tried everything he could think of. He provided delicious food, but they were ungrateful. He tried his "Hey Baby" dance, but they were unimpressed. He even tried to surprise them as they were bending over to pick up some spilled sunflower seeds. The ladies turned him down again and again.

But now "Mr. Big" is a big hit with the ladies. He has turned into a sexual tyrannosaurus. Just today he had sex with three different ladies, one right after the other. What is his secret to amazing male performance?

In a word, nutrition.

The flock had been eating 16% Layer Pellets. I switched them to M-G 20 Layer Crumbles and a week later -- look out ladies!

Hmmmm, I think I'll pick up some vitamins....

Update 1: Mr. Big is not shooting blanks....

Update 2: Mr. Big starts a family

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Too Many Eggs

I love scrambled eggs. So do the chickens.

If I miss breakfast, then the eggs pile up at a rate of 4 to 6 a day. When I get a big backlog, and I don't burn my breakfast, I boil up a batch of eggs.

I have used hard boiled eggs

I need more ways to use my eggs!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wrong Roost!

I am really mad at myself right now.

I have been working on my coop, making useful improvements. Until today, that is.

I changed the roost. CHICKEN DISASTER!

The chickens were OK until it was time to sleep. They could not see the old roost, no matter how hard they looked. Eventually they got on the new roost and I left them. When I checked on them a few minutes ago there were no chickens on the roost!

I could not see the chickens no matter how hard I looked. Then it dawned on me, the familiar old elevated nest box is about a half inch higher that the new alien horrible fattening immoral roosting planks.

Every single chicken was piled into the nest box. *sigh*

Update: They were all on the roost this morning once it warmed up. Gave them better weather protection today and tonight they are roosting in style.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lytle "Screw Ups": Coop Design

My chicken coop is a "masterpiece". As in master piece of scrap. It was cobbled together from recycled building materials before I had any experience with keeping chickens in a coop.

My daily chicken chores have given me an education via frustration. One thing I did right was to build it with screws instead of nails. (I love my DEWALT battery tools). My hammer drill and screwdriver bits got a workout.

First error: Not enough floor space. I took apart the storage "room" with the hammer drill and a crowbar. After the first day of hesitation the chickens were scratching around the "new" section like it had always been there, yay!

Second error: Not enough nest boxes. I added another nest box below the original elevated nest box. I screwed up (heh) walls around it, including a removable entry wall with a little chicken step. Knowing how much they love change, I walled off the original nest box so they would learn to use the new one. They gave me the stink eye and left five eggs in the new box, yay!

Third error: Litter falls out the doors. I cut corners off of short boards to make guide channels. Then I screwed up the guide channels to the door frames and placed baffle boards in the slots to keep litter in the coop and still allow human and chicken traffic. This was a real trial because I had to limbo under the roosts. The whole flock came in to help and it was chaotic for a while. I got mooned by a hen and collected the glare of death from the rooster, but we got everything sorted before it got too dark for me to find my way out of the coop. Now the chicken ladder and people step are both clean, yay!

Fourth error: Poor roost placement. This one was a huuuuuge mistake. The birds like it just fine, but I never want to be trapped behind the roost ever again. Ever! For now, I have removed the old roosts and put 2x4 roosts in the "new" section. This caused a great deal of consternation. They looked everywhere for the old roosts -- in the nest box, on the waterer, outside the window, and under the ladder. It was obviously hiding from them, so they eventually gave up and used the new roost. Well for a little while. When I checked on them again they were all piled into the upper nest box. Brilliant.

Fifth error: Food and water on the coop floor. This was another huuuuuge mistake. I bought a hanging feeder and installed it. Big improvement! The double walled waterer is still on the coop floor and they often poo in it. I plan to hang it up, or else buy a nipple waterer. Argh! Hanging it was a baaaaaad idea.

Sixth error: Poor access to fresh eggs in nest boxes. OK, I am about as good at carpentry as I am at cooking. It is one thing to play with the big boy toys and drill, cut, hammer, and screw things into more or less the right place. It is quite another to make a sturdy, level, square, hinged, safe, weatherproof nest box hanging out the side of the coop. Note to self: learn this soon. Future project.

I am only half way through my list and I have already run out the battery! Oh well, I need to recharge too.

Update: Added bird net to pen. It keeps the formerly-free-ranging chickens confined!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Pandora's Free Range Box

My flock has decided that they are free range chickens. This is not at all what I had planned!

My coop and run were designed to keep the chickens safe and happy. Unfortunately, my (relatively) smart chicken has had a taste of freedom.

Every day now she slips out the gate or flies over the fence. Then she roams the yard eating yummy bugs, seeds, lizards, and unidentifiable delicious things. Within a few minutes the rooster, a strong flier, joins her and together they promenade about near the house.

This enrages the rest of the flock! The little red hen is not such a good flier. She usually makes it up to an altitude of few inches below the chicken wire, which she smacks at full chicken velocity. The others race back and forth along the fence line and squawk as if I were eating ice cream in front of them.

To preserve my sanity, I let them out until early afternoon. Oh the chickeny joy! They strut and cluck and scratch and poo and run and have a great time.

Once they stretch their legs (and/or wings) a little, they chill out enough to come back to the run for a drink. About an hour before sunset I can tempt them into the coop and lock them up safely.

I was warned. But noooooo, I had to open Pandora's Box. *sigh*

Now I have free range chickens.
De, Vo, and Buffy

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Smartest Chicken

My flock is pretty clever when it comes to getting what they want.

They have figured out how to get out of the pen:

  • by flying up to the fence rail and hopping down the other side
  • by sneaking out the gate when it has a tiny gap
  • by wiggling under the run's chicken wire

They hit a new low for sneakiness today. The squash donut left over from the previous day had been moved into the raccoon trap. You know what comes next....

I saw the smartest of my hens, named IQ, who wanted a second helping walk right in to get it. Took her 10 minutes to place her foot on the trigger plate, but it was worth the wait.

I could not resist walking over there to gloat a little. The perplexed expression on her face was priceless.

OK, that was petty.
IQ, Super Genius

Coop "Expansion"

My ugly frugal chicken coop was improvised from a salvaged piece of porch deck and random construction leftovers. At 4 feet wide and 14 feet long, it is the chicken equivalent of a shotgun shack. With roosts on one end, an elevated nest box in the middle, and a storage room on the other end, it gives fresh appreciation for the word "cozy". All told, 7 chickens share 48 square feet of coop space.

As you can imagine, my daily chicken chores have been exercises in regret:

  • Not enough floor space
  • Storage door interferes with human inside coop
  • Clumsy to put feed in storage
  • Clumsy to get feed from can in storage
  • Really clumsy to access pine shavings

I give my birds an evening treat to lure them into the coop. I often end up with birds underfoot who are very interested in supervising every detail of my access to the storage can of delicious black oil sunflower seed. Between the birds and the storage door I have nearly fallen face-first in the coop several times. I think I would have to take a Lysol bath if that ever happened! *shudder*

Last night I got mobbed by spoiled greedy chickens and it was the last straw. That storage room had to go!

Today I sent the birds out to their run and demolished the storage room. Now they had an extra roost and 8 more square feet to scratch around for nightly treats. If they subdivide, then each chicken will own a princely 8 square foot piece of real estate.

Donald Trump better watch his back.

Master Piece Coop

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kitchen disaster, chickens to the rescue

I am a terrible cook! Luckily I have chickens to hide my errors.

I regularly make scrambled eggs. For some stupid reason I burn them pretty often too. Happily, my birds love to eat scrambled eggs -- even when I include the eggshells.

I tried my hand at pumpkin pie. I burned the crust, but I ate it all because I am greedy with my sweets.

For Thanksgiving I tried to make a simple and delicious dish from my childhood. I called my mother to learn how to make her famous acorn squash and hit the kitchen.

It was awful. I don't know what I did wrong. It was so terrible that I stuck it in the fridge out of embarrassment. After a while I could not stand the shame any longer and I gave it to the chickens.

Surprise! The chickens loved my infamous squash. I went to check on them later in the afternoon and saw the silly girls had kicked in a bunch of dirt filling in the center. That night I picked it up, looked at the center, and saw my feet. I realized they had eaten through to the ground.

Glad someone could eat it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Free Range Surprise

My flock normally spends their nights in a coop and their days in the fenced 1/3 acre wood lot I call the run. They have turned over every inch of the run and it is now composed of trees, brush, pine needles, dirt, and poo. I am planning to sow forage and extend the run next year.
Temporarily obedient hens foraging in the run
Today the smart hen and the rooster made a run for it. I discovered this while putting up holiday decorations on the porch.

The two wanderers were foraging in the yard acreage while the rest of the flock stressed out running back and forth along the fence. Knowing a lost cause when I see one I made the best of the inevitable. I locked the front gate and opened the gate to the chicken run. It took all of 28 seconds to haze the hens out to join the feasting pair.

They ranged over the acre nearest the house, including my secret grasshopper hunting ground. Oh the chickeny joy! The alpha hen jumped to eat the seed tops from the tallest unkempt grass. The others ranged across the driveway and around the back, eating bugs, seeds, and weeds while the rooster kept watch.

When the flock was ready to go back to the coop they cleverly piled up at the fence closest to the coop instead of walking around through the open gate. Guess they can't all be brilliant. I had to tempt them into the coop with a bowl of Black Oil Sunflower Seed.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Starting production: laying and making whoopie

I bought six pullets and one cockerel from a local farm at the end of May. The ladies are layers. The roo has one job: keep the girls alive.

From May to August they assiduously converted feed to poo. They also learned that when I approach with something in my hand that they will get a delicious treat like a grasshopper or cricket. Amazingly, I still have most of my fingers.

They filled out during late July and early August. The cockerel started to look like a rooster and began crowing. The pullets began to develop fluffy butt and red combs & wattles.

Mid-August the rooster started trying to mate. He first tried to subdue a hen by biting her comb. She shrieked and I chased him off. After several similar false starts he got the hang of neck biting and hen mounting. The hens were confused and just went along for the ride.

About a week later the first hen laid an egg next to the ceramic bait egg in the nest box. It was small, had a pale yolk, and tasted a little "thin". Within a week she was producing great eggs.

Two days after the first, a second hen started laying. She also made a "start up egg" and then settled into a laying routine.

The only hen to deviate from this pattern was the Buff Orpington who had a surprise egg while on the roost. She was the only hen to cackle when laying. The others were either silent of just clucked a little.

The rooster was not idle during this time. Every time a hen came off the nest he was right there for a quickie. At the same time the hens got pretty good at running away, so he has been hit-and-miss with the mating game since September.

Except a detour for illnessand another for a feistysneaky, broody hen, my hens have been producing four to six eggs a day since early September.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Did it again, Cannibal Chickens

I swore I was not going to feed chicken to my flock until I knew more about chicken first aid. I kept my promise, sort of.

Yesterday we roasted a Butterball turkey. For the first time in my life I ate so much food for Thanksgiving that I could not eat dessert.

We had so much food that we could not store the leftovers. The turkey drippings from the bag became soup stock. We decided to toss the stripped bones rather than render them for more soup.

Frugal fellow that I am, I just had to give some of it to the chickens. This time, I put out the smaller shreds of meat, the unpopular apple slices, organs, neck, thigh bones, and unidentifiable meatlike substances.

I had to drop the bowl over the fence to avoid death by pecking.

This time everything was very small, very soft, or very big. No choking hazards!

Also, I felt a little better that they were eating a turkey instead of a chicken. I wonder, someday when it is time to feed the flock leftovers from one of their own sisters, will I still feel weird about it or will I be all matter-of-fact?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Poor Impulse Control

I have tried talking to my chickens about their poor impulse control. They nod their heads like they understand, but then they go do it again. *sigh*

I gave them leftover roast beef, potato skins, and squash seeds. They absolutely stuffed themselves.

Then to put them up this evening, I spread Black Oil Sunflower Seed inside the coop. They hate going to bed early, but they cannot bear the thought of missing out on a treat. Good thing they don't understand delayed gratification.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Washing Stinky Eggs

I have tried to keep my chicken world as natural as is practical. I feed them layer pellets, table scraps, and black oil sunflower seed. I let them roam a quarter acre chicken run all day so they can do what comes naturally.

When they got ready to lay eggs I started researching egg handling methods. There are two basic approaches recommended by practitioners.

  • Wash, rinse, sanitize, and refrigerate the eggs. This is the practice of the big operations that sell eggs to the market. Small Texas farmers who sell eggs directly to consumers appear to be exempt.
  • Wash poo-crusted eggs, flick spotty eggs, otherwise leave the bloom intact. Do not refrigerate the eggs. This is the practice of many backyard chicken owners.
I went with the backyard method since it kept the natural antibacterial barrier intact. Truth be told, I have lots of important stuff to do am lazy and this is less work.

I noticed a funny smell in my kitchen near the eggs. I eliminated the kitchen chemicals, dirty dishes, and moldy leftovers other stuff. The weird "chemical" smell was coming from my eggs!

I searched around and found a handy site on egg quality. It described a number of causes and remedies. After a bit of introspection I had to reluctantly agree that I should wash my eggs.

I am going to start washing and refrigerating my eggs every day. Real soon now.

Update: I learned that the funny smell was coming from a hidden pool of gunk. I now keep my bloom-intact eggs on the counter for up to 10 days. After that, I take steps to use them.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Feathered Young Cannibals

My birds are less than a year old and have no elder hens to teach them things like table manners or proper decorum. I say hens because, face it, a male would teach them stupid poo tricks.

Due to predator threats I have started tempting my birds into the coop a few minutes before sunset. Usually I use Black Oil Sunflower Seed as the bait while calling "Chick! Chick! Chick!" from inside the coop. I close the people door to avoid being trampled. I throw seeds just inside the pop door so when they race up the chicken ladder they skid to a halt and concentrate on eating.

Today I had to dispose of some leftover home-cooked chicken (from the grocery store). I chopped it up into bite sized chunks and put it on a plate, nuked the plate, let it cool, and headed out with my bounty.

When I went into the coop I put the plate on the floor and started distributing BOSS and calling. They came running and started eating the seed. I made my escape while they were busy and closed the pop door.

From outside I watched them discover and eat the chicken. It was like the scene where Bill Cosby fed his children chocolate cake for breakfast. Such enthusiasm!

Some stole pieces to eat in private (on the floor of the coop). Others ate directly from the serving bowl. The rooster went for the biggest piece and tried to down it in one big gulp. No manners!

The rooster looked pretty worried when the chunk got halfway in and stopped. He managed to drop it, but genius that he is, he immediately tried again to swallow it whole. While I was wondering how to do a chicken Heimlich, he spat it out again and started pecking it apart.

The chicken meat was a big hit. It feels immoral to feed them their own kind, but I am probably going to do it again -- right after I learn how to do a Chicken Heimlich Maneuver.

Stupid Poo Tricks

My chickens seem to take perverse pleasure in making a mess with their poo. Here are some of their stupid poo tricks. No pictures, you freak.

  • In the water bowl
  • In the food trough
  • On the food board
  • Down the fence
  • At the entrance to the chicken run
  • In the middle of the path between the food can and the feeding area in the run
  • Down the chicken ladder
  • In the nest
  • On the eggs
  • Right inside the people door of the chicken coop
  • Blue poo (from purple lettuce)
  • Red poo (from pepper flakes)
Update: Pictures, for science!

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Cure for thin eggshells

    My hens all lay brown eggs. Well, except the non-laying one who just broke from broodiness, and the anonymous one who has started laying pale, thin-shelled, eggs. The shells are thin enough that a hen put her foot through it while on the nest.

    Why do hens lay eggs with thin shells? I suppose it is due to lack of calcium since eggshell is mostly calcium carbonate. My hens have access to oyster shell, but show no enthusiasm for it. My theory is that the hen who is currently low in the pecking order is the one laying thin eggs due to limited access to layer pellets.

    How to deal with this? I would feed them eggshells, but they refuse to eat eggshells. However they love scrambled eggs....

    I collected up all the eggs I did not want to eat and dropped them in the blender. Put it on liquefy and then poured the frothy mess in a frying pan. I took care to stir around the egg mixture since the eggshell was a sediment on the bottom and I wanted it mixed in to every delicious morsel of scrambled egg.

    I learned during my sick chicken ordeal to NEVER give them insanely delicious treats when they can trample me. So I put the plate of crunchy scrambled eggs in the chicken run before opening the coop.

    They raced to the plate and attacked the eggs with gusto. Oh the chickeny joy! The smart ones grabbed big bits and ran off to dine in relative peace. The less smart ones stood on the plate and pecked at the eggs.

    The rooster tried a clever trick. He took a big piece of egg away and stood over it clucking about how great it tasted. Within seconds he had two hens sharing his treat. He put on his "Hey baby" dance, but was rebuffed. *sigh*

    So does feeding eggshell correct the thin shell problem? Wait and see....

    Update: Feeding eggshell definitely cures the problem, if they eat it. And they sure do eat it when the eggshell is part of the scrambled egg platter! I have also starting adding dry crushed eggshell & oyster shell to all the feeders as well as placing oyster shell in the oyster shell station. If I am very careful to limit the treats, and load the treats with calcium sources & layer pellets, then the thin shell eggs and shell-less eggs disappear to be replaced by robust well-formed eggs.

    Update: BYC member Imp provided a list of foods that are high in calcium:

    • Spinach
    • Turnip greens
    • Mustard greens
    • Collard greens 
    • Blackstrap molasses (not recommended)
    • Swiss chard
    • Yogurt
    • Kale
    • Mozzarella cheese
    • Milk (goat's milk and cow's milk)
    • Basil, thyme, dill seed, cinnamon, and peppermint leaves
    • Romaine lettuce
    • Rhubarb (not recommended)
    • Broccoli
    • Sesame seeds
    • Fennel
    • Cabbage
    • Summer squash
    • Green beans
    • Garlic (not recommended)
    • Tofu
    • Brussel sprouts
    • Oranges (not recommended)
    • Asparagus
    • Crimini mushrooms 

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Earning his keep

    My rooster was acquired at the same time as my chickens. They are all just 8 months old.

    I do not care about eating fertilized eggs. I do not currently want little chicks.

    I allow him to pleasure the ladies. That is his reward, along with food and shelter, for doing his job. My rooster has one job and I have been waiting patiently for him to do it.

    I expect my rooster to keep the flock alive. He can fight predators, intimidate predators, warn me about predators, or be a target for predators. I am not too picky, so long as the girls keep laying delicious eggs.

    Today I was out in the chicken run when I heard a hawk overhead. I saw it land in a tree right over my chickens. I ran over and hassled the hawk away while the ignorant fowl continued to chow down. One more check in the "useless" box for the roo....

    Later that day, the rooster got up on the fence and started crowing. I was out in the yard and about as far from the chickens as I can be on my land. As I watched, he strutted up and down the fence line and crowed every few yards while the hens kept under cover. Next, he hopped down and took cover with them. Then I saw the hawk as it gave a cry and flew off.

    I was so proud of the cockerel that I gave him black oil sunflower seed for a treat. He graciously shared it with the girls.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Sexy hens, headaches, Viagra

    I have noticed that my rooster is pretty fond of hens fresh off the nest. When they cackle and come out after laying an egg, he is "Johnny on the spot" and does his "Hey Baby" dance. They generally let him on for a quickie.

    Some hens always seem to have a headache. The hen who was broody (but cured) totally refuses to have anything to do with him. Another hen runs away as soon as she gets off the nest (and runs faster than him).

    The thing that really bothers me is that the rooster does not seem to be so effective at roostering. I had him in a tractor with a broody hen, but he was easily dissuaded. It would be inappropriate in human terms, but why did the rooster not press his case? Does he need Viagra?

    Not sure how much I need a wimpy rooster....

    Broody hen break confirmed

    One of my hens went broody on October 28th. I tried a variety of solutions. Here are the results:
    • Kick hen off nest -- extremely ineffective
    • Put hen in tractor with alternate nest -- hen ignored new nest and went straight back to main nest as soon as possible
    • Confine hen with rooster -- she rebuffed the rooster's advances
    • Confine hen in elevated cage for a week -- eventually worked!
    The formerly broody hen is now sleeping on the roost, hanging with the hens, and dining with the flock. She is still ignoring the rooster though.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Light at the end of the tunnel -- less broody hen

    The broody hen has been a little more cooperative recently. Yesterday she was off the nest and waiting to exit the coop with the other hens. She went through her dust bathing and eating routine. She rejected the rooster's advances again.

    Last night she got on the nest for a while, but later perched on the roost. Yay!

    I wondered if she was pulling another sneaky trick, but today she was out with the hens again today.

    Tentative verdict: cooler cage works, but it takes a week or so.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Sneaky Broody Hen

    My broody hen was on the nest this morning, warming the eggs put there by all my other hens. I took advantage of the full production by putting her in the run and closing the coop.

    She acted like this was her fondest wish. She ate the black oil sunflower seeds and the scrambled eggs from my breakfast error. She lolled in the dust and generally gave every impression of sybaritic pleasure.

    At first she was careful to stay with the flock. But as the day wore on, she started trying to slip into the coop unnoticed. When she heard me nearby in the yard she would casually vacate the top of the chicken ladder by the closed coop door and casually walk as fast as she could back to the chicken run.

    Knowing the outcome in advance, I opened the coop and went to work on another part of my yard for about 5 minutes. When I returned she made no pretense of staying with the flock. Instead she boldly remained on the nest.

    I placed her back in the cooler cage. She seemed unsurprised and maybe a little smug that her subterfuge had worked once. Once.

    I am starting to consider some additions to my coop. I may build a shelf to hold the cooler cage by the roost. I am also thinking about building another nest box above or below the current nest box. I need to think about this some more as my carpentry skills are similar to my breakfast skills....

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    Broody, broody, broody

    The hen is still broody even though she gets put in the cooler cage every day. I think I need to keep this up for a while, certainly longer than I expected. At least she is not blocking the nest.

    The rooster is innocent in all this. I kicked her off the nest last night and the rooster did his "Hey Baby" dance. She growled at him and ran away. Guess she had a headache.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Broody hen in the cooler

    My earlier plan to break my broody hen by locking her up with the rooster failed. I guess she was not sexy enough for him and he did not rise to the occasion.

    My options were dunk the broody hen in cold water or to put her in a suspended cage to chill out. With the recent rain, I decided that the cage was a safer choice.

    Locked the broody hen in a wire cage sitting on top of the wire tractor. This gave her nothing to stand on but wire and let the cold wind blow up her bottom. She was stressed by flock separation until they started climbing on the tractor. Once she was the center of attention, she proudly consumed her private bowl of oatmeal.

    One hen that she had just kicked out of the nest got her revenge. She perched on the cage top and sat over the broody hen's head. Ah, the subtle pleasure of symbolic communication!

    The broody hen was still interested in the nest box when I let her join the flock in the coop. She decided to roost instead when I threatened to make ugly faces at her, but I suspect she will be the nest tyrant by morning.

    Try try again....

    Update: She was on the nest in the morning. I put her in the "cooler" and the weather cooperated. Unfortunately, she did not cooperate at nightfall. When I let her out she went right back to the nest. Sticking with the plan....

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Testing the "Rooster Cure" for Broody Hen

    One of my hens has gone broody. This is a nuisance since she is kicking the other hens out of the nest box.

    So far the following things were tried and failed:

    • Physically remove the broody hen from the nest. She simply returned when I was not looking.
    • Isolate her in the tractor. She just made a nest in the tractor. As soon as she was released, she dashed to the nest box in the coop.
    • Put her in the tractor with the rooster. Test in progress.

    Maybe she is not alluring enough or maybe the rooster needs Chicken Viagra. The rooster has not mounted the broody hen while I was watching, so I will give it one more day. If she is still broody, then there are two more ideas I read about.

    Both ideas are based on the theory that warm hens are broody or something. So if the hen is cool, then the broodiness will pass.

    • Dunk her in cold water. This ought to be comical in a Three Stooges kind of way. 
    • Put her in a suspended wire-bottomed cage so she gets a lot of air up her hind end. This should be less stressful than the cold water, but may take a lot longer.

    For now, just wait and see. Stay tuned for the outcome!

    Friday, October 29, 2010

    Still Broody

    This morning I evicted my broody hen, but by evening she was back on the nest trying to hatch her latest creation and the fake egg. So I have devised a clever plan....

    I moved the tractor into the chicken run. Tomorrow I will put her in the tractor by herself.

    Next step, observe her behavior. If she gets off the tractor nest, then let her out and observe her some more.

    If she stays on the tractor nest or camps out in the coop nest, then she spends another day in the tractor -- with the rooster.

    Update: The tractor was a big sensation. All the girls had to check it out and climb on top. The broody hen wanted desperately to get out. She eventually calmed down and ate her food, much to the consternation of the others who could not steal it. After a while she went to lay on the tractor nest.

    Update 2: Let her out this evening and she had a quick scratch through the treats and then zip! right to the nest. I found her trying to hatch the ceramic egg a few minutes ago.

    Tomorrow I will try out the rooster cure.

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Windy, Broody

    My birds are a little disturbed. We had a lot of wind today (and beans were not a factor). The sides of the coop were rattling in the breeze and the pop door was hard to open because of plastic sheet in the way.

    They eventually made their way out of the coop, except for Buffy. Buffy is my Buff Orpington and she decided to get broody today. She sat on the nest all day and fluffed up and growled whenever I got close. I think that she dropped an egg in the afternoon, though I did not retrieve it until the evening.

    I may need to lock her up in a cage with the rooster. That will change her behavior!

    Update: She was on the nest again, fending off all others. I picked her up and dropped her in the run. She decided to recover her dignity by dining on pellets. She has been giving me dirty looks all day.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Sick chickens

    My chickens developed Fowl Pox when they were about 4 months old. They had nasty looking sores on their wattles.

    I was sick with worry, but everything I read seemed to indicate it was not a big deal. "Endemic in Texas" or "full recovery" or "active virus for weeks after recovery" or "no useful vaccine after infection". Problem or not?

    Once I got my head around the idea that vaccines would not help me, I decided on supportive care. The idea behind supportive care is that you keep the bird healthy enough to let their immune system fight off the illness.

    I bought some liquid vitamins to put in the water. The chickens were not impressed. Besides, it was supposed to be dumped out every day . Rather than risk having the water go bad if it was not changed every 1440 minutes, I decided on supportive food.

    I bought a bag of Manna Pro "Gamebird/Showbird feed". This stuff had lots of protein and vitamins and did not go bad overnight. Plus, the chickens liked to eat it.

    This helped a bit, but I felt the need to turn it up to 11. Enter oatmeal.

    Feeding the flock uncooked oatmeal with plain yogurt and honey really turned things around. The birds loved the oats and slurped it down in mere minutes. (I also liked to watch them try to wipe the yogurt off their beaks).

    Yay oatmeal! This stuff was such a hit that the birds started treating me like a rock star. It got to be such a hassle to get in through the gate that I took to putting the oats out before opening the coop. The flock would calm down once they got their oat fix.

    Two months later there is no evidence of Fowl Pox.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Things my chickens like to eat

    • Grasshoppers!
    • Oatmeal with plain yogurt
    • Black Oil Sunflower Seed (BOSS)
    • Safflower seed
    • Bananas
    • Zucchini
    • Grapes
    • Persimmons
    • Apples
    • Pasta
    • Beans and rice
    • Scrambled eggs
    • Hard boiled eggs (blended, with shell)
    • Pureed steak trimmings
    • Acorn squash
    • Hot dogs
    • Purple Romaine Lettuce (warning: causes blue poo)
    • Pizza
    • Acorns
    • M-G 20 Layer Crumbles
    • Dumor 16% Layer Pellets

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    Getting started with Chickens? Helpful links to start: