Monday, January 31, 2011

What breed of eggs to hatch?

I want to hatch some eggs. Not just any eggs. Eggs that will contribute to my plan for food and financial security.

I want to be able to sell eggs at premium prices for eating or hatching. This means there must be some kind of substantial demand for them.

Organic-ish eggs carry premium prices. Blue eggs and dark brown eggs are cool looking. High quality strains of certain breeds are in demand. Is there some happy medium in all this?

I wonder if I can hatch out Ameraucana eggs from a well-regarded line. Or perhaps Cuckoo Marans. Or maybe Welsummers or Blue Laced Red Wyandottes.

I need to identify breeders with good lines who will sell me eggs.

I also need to acquire or build an incubator.

So much to learn....

What do you suggest? What would you buy from me if I had them?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sad day

Well it finally happened. In the back of my mind, I knew it would eventually happen. I told myself I accepted the risk, that it probably would not happen for a long time, that it was just the circle of life.

Well it happened and it sucks.

My chickens wanted to free range and I let them. Now they don't want to leave the coop.

Yesterday I let them out to forage before the rains came. I had some lunch and went out to check on the birds. They were nowhere to be seen.

Then Doctor Dolittle started shouting. A large brown hawk (or owl) flew up into a tree and then casually moved away a few trees at a time until the crows came.

I found my favorite chicken, IQ, in the place where it took off. The predator had bitten off her head and eaten both her breasts. There were feathers everywhere.

We started searching the yard for survivors. Doc found three birds under the woodpile. One was disemboweled and dying. We found another under cover on the front porch. And we found Mr. Big hiding under the chicken coop.

Doc put the survivors in the coop while I buried the dead chickens.

It was not a good day.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Off to the Races!

My little flock of six chickens was initially confined to a bugless 1/3 acre chicken run. During that time I dutifully collected crickets and grasshoppers for them. They loved those little protein packed pests so much they would jump at my hand to snatch the treat. Oh the chickeny joy!

In the fall they decided to become free range chickens and hunt their own bugs. But now that winter is here, and hawks are overhead, I have been keeping them confined in an enclosed pen with only brief trips to the yard.

On their most recent trip the smart chicken, IQ, kicked up one of the few surviving grasshoppers. In a heartbeat she transformed from a semi-contented little bird to a ravenous coelurosaur.

The whole flock noticed and it was off to the races! IQ! De! Vo! Robin! Shadow! Buffy! Aaaaaand Mr. Big bringing up the rear. The bug turned and flew, sending the field into disarray. De and Shadow collided and dropped out of the race. Then it was IQ, Vo, and Robin. IQ in the lead. Robin caught up to Vo. The bug turned. Bad hop! Robin won by a beak!

Then their Kentucky Derby race turned into a Benny Hill chase as IQ and Vo ran after Robin. Vo managed to steal away half a bug and IQ stopped to eat a fallen leg. Oh the chickeny joy!

I tried to persuade them to join me for an impromptu award ceremony, but they would have none of it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Upstaged by Doctor Dolittle

I have a gift for inserting my foot into my mouth.

I spent the morning bragging to Doctor Dolittle about my chicken-keeping prowess and grandiose plans. After a few gentle comments about "chicken math" I was too irritated to continue bragging.

Cranky, I went outside to put the chickens up from their late afternoon free range pasture crawl. They had worked over the whole yard and were waiting on the porch. That really chafes me because they leave poo where I do not want it.

The birds refused all suggestions, orders, commands, inducements, bribes and threats. They simply looked at me as if I were an interesting, but distasteful, insect. That really bugged me!

So I called the Doctor.

Doctor Dolittle listened patiently to the symptoms and then prescribed two slices of bread and advised I should call in the morning. Impervious to my eye roll, Doc serenely walked off the porch with the bread, calling the chickens.

They were spellbound! Every few feet Doc would drop a single small bread crumb and the five hens would simultaneously dive for the awesome delicious flying fleck of food. Oh the chickeny joy!

On Doc's command, Mr. Big performed his "crazy chicken head" and then marched into the coop like a conquering hero with his adoring harem close behind.

Meanwhile, I am consuming crow. *sigh*

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sprouts: how to provide fresh chicken food in winter

My chickens are bratty birds. Being confined, unable to free range the desolate yard, is making them crazy.

I gave them a hay bale, a flock block, a compost heap, a daily treat, and a 20x40 enclosure for their chickeny realm. But they are still mad about the seasonal transition from greenery to brownery. They fuss at me so much that Doctor Dolittle refuses to translate.

Recently I read about sprouting seeds. I jumped out of my bath, shouted "Eureka!" and ran to the kitchen like a soggy mad scientist.

In the kitchen I found an empty pickle jar and my bag of cheap birdseed. In the junk drawer I found the plastic mesh bag from an order of ladybugs.

Thus equipped, I began my experiment. I scooped into the jar a handful of cheap seeds: black oil sunflower seed, milo, millet, and wheat. Then I added water to the jar, let the seeds soak for a few hours, and put on some clothes.

Later, I clutched the fine mesh to the top of the jar and poured out the water. When the contents were "dry enough" I set the jar down and knocked the seeds off the mesh. Now the hard part -- waiting.

For two more days I soaked the seeds for a few minutes, drained the water, and put the jar up. Each day I could see more fine roots popping out of the seeds. Oh the chicken-owner anticipation!

Finally, I had a jar with a clump of roots at the bottom! One last rinse and out to the coop!!

I placed the plate of sprouts before the hens and stepped back.

They carefully approached the plate, as if they were concerned that Martians would pop out and disintegrate them. The smartest hen, IQ, took a tentative peck and immediately followed by another peck and another peck. Seeing her determined eating, the rest of the hens stepped in to taste the new treat.

They ate like little machines! Not the frenzied holiday-shopper insanity they have for familiar treats. More of a determined "This is weird. I'll have another. This is weird. I'll have another...."

They grimly consumed the entire plate of sprouts, leaving the rooster to circle the flock and steal seedlings from between their toes.

At last, they were getting fresh greenery. Oh the chickeny satisfaction!


  • After the first soak, the later wettings are just a few minutes. I drain off the water and just set the jar of seeds back on the counter. The experts say to tilt the jar to let the water drain through the mesh lid, but my mesh is not attached so I just let the seeds be a little more moist than an expert would. For the second round, I am rolling the jar around to stick the seeds to the side, like a cylinder of seed, and then leave the jar horizontal.
  • The experts say the seedlings are at peak nutrition when the root is about as long as the seed. Because my seeds were mixed, some of my little seeds had longer roots by the third day.
  • Seeds grow at different rates, some are ready to eat after two days. I read that some seeds take five days. My seeds were served after three days.
  • The seeds are super cheap Economy Bird Seed -- they were not steam cleaned so the seeds are vital. It is important that the seed mix not include cracked corn because it will grow fungus instead of roots.
Mr. Big eating leftover sprouts

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Royal" Chickens Insist on Dinnerware

My chickens are spoiled brats. I once incurred their wrath by forgetting to bring their daily bowl of oatmeal. Oh the chickeny fury!

I blame it all on Doctor Dolittle. In addition to speaking to animals, the Doctor is a gourmet chef. Naturally the chickens eat like royalty. Of course, they must dine on the finest dinnerware. Oh the chickeny elegance!

Today, I tried to deliver their morning treat by tossing their favorite Black Oil Sunflower Seed on the ground. They just stared at me expectantly, waiting for their real treat to materialize. No amount of logic would satisfy them. They just looked at me with their "we are not amused" look. Mr. Big raised one quizzical brow and then grumbled his complaint.

He then disdainfully walked to the compost heap and clucked to summon the ladies for delicious treats of muddy bugs. They hastened to the heap and set to kicking compost all over me. Thus dismissed, I left the pen.

Doctor Dolittle pointed out my error as a chicken waiter. I had failed to offer their treat in a bowl. I scornfully rejected the Doctor's theory and expounded my own theory about their behavior.

When Doc went back into the house I slipped into the chicken pen, scooped some Black Oil Sunflower Seed into a bowl, and placed the bowl on the ground. The flock raced to the bowl and greedily consumed the treat as if they had not eaten in days. Oh the chickeny joy!

Don't tell Doc.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Happy Chickens

My dusty feathery friends have recently been my angry dusty feathery friends. They have been displeased with being penned up, displeased with the weather, and displeased with my treat delivery (or lack thereof).

Today, in an attempt to repurchase their affection, I let the chickens free range. Oh the chickeny joy!

Mr. Big strutted out the pen gate and marched the flock to the nearest clover patch. De, Vo, IQ, Buffy, and Robin followed as if in a dream, seeming to float 6 inches above the ground. Then they set to work kicking dirt all over me.

While Doctor Dolittle grilled our lunch, the flock made the rounds of the yard. They worked over the back fence and clucked happily. They dug through the weeds by the back door and clucked happily. They made their way to the front fence eating bugs and slugs and grass and roots and unknowable things that made them cluck happily.

We had lunch on the porch and IQ joined us at the table. Doc gave her half a pierogi. Oh the chickeny joy! She greedily consumed the treat and wiped potato bits off her beak.

In the afternoon, Doc tried putting out a bowl of oats with a dollop of lemon pudding. Mr. Big called the flock over to sample the new treat. He watched as each hen took a mouthful, shook her head, and ran off to get away from the yucky awful horrible terrible lemony stuff. Then Mr. Big took a mouthful, shook his head.... Well, he is handsome more than smart.

Having exhausted the meager resources of the wintry yard, they allowed themselves to be guided back into the pen. They clucked their approval of the days excursion and made their way to the coop for a well-earned rest.

Ah, happy chickens!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Angry Chickens

My chickens were mad at me today. The rooster even fussed at me with his Martian voice -- "you are making me very angry".

What terrible thing did I do? I forgot to bring their morning oatmeal bowl. Oh chickeny distress! They were so flustered that for a minute I was worried they were going to explode like little feather bombs.

The followed me around the pen like they were expecting food to magically appear in my empty hands. The only one who was not upset about the missing treat was Robin.

Robin was on the nest when I went in the coop. I reached in for the eggs and she gave me the foulest look! She was absolutely furious. She gave me a peck and then huffed out of the nest box and stood there bawk-bawk-BAWKing at me. Then after one last application of the stink eye, she flounced out of the coop.

I came back later in the day and brought a hammer for self defense, but they graciously refrained from tearing me to bits. As I nailed more weather protection into place, my notorious helper came over to supervise. That touched off a flurry of rubberneckers, gawkers, and helpers -- all climbing on to the roll of wire I had laid down next to me. One moment a worksite, next a carnival.

When I went into the coop for evening egg collection, they all lined up inside the coop and stared at me expectantly. It was too early, but they were so sure I would make amends that they came inside anyway.

I took pity on them and tossed a bowl of Black Oil Sunflower Seed into the coop. Oh the chickeny joy! They were so happy they did not notice when I closed the pop door. They noticed as I tried to slip away though. So it was back to the stink eye for me.

Doctor Dolittle saved the day, sending a care package of oatmeal and scratch. I slipped the treats in through the pop door and stood back to watch. Oh the chickeny joy! They were so relieved to get their oatmeal that they forgave my terrible, terrible lapse in judgement.

Whew! Close call.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Dealing with the Yucky Mucky

My six chickens have a fully enclosed 800 square foot patch of Texas to roam about and enjoy their chickeny pleasures. It sure pleases them to scratch the local soil, known as gumbo!

Everything was fine during the dry season. But then the rains came. What was once 800 square feet of pasture turf became a yucky mucky mire of chicken poo, uneaten things, and composting organic matter.

Oh the smell. It was like being "downwind of a compost heap on fire". (Thank P.D.Q. Bach for that image). The compost heap in the chicken pen might have had something to do with it....

Between Doctor Doolittle's super sniffer and my delicate sensibilities, it was getting difficult to justify fresh eggs. After a few moments reminiscing about the fragrant breezes of springtime, we sprang into action. Ever graceful, I narrowly escaped a particularly disgusting slip-and-fall.

After setting the chickens out to free range,  we raked out half of the rich old organic material. We used this to establish a new compost heap outside the chicken pen. We cleaned out the litter in the coop and placed it on the new compost heap. Then we finished the new heap with some more of the mucky old compost. Back in the coop, I shook out a bunch of diatomaceous earth on the floor and then covered it with fresh pine shavings. We raked dry leaves and pine needles onto the chicken's compost pile. Finally we put fresh hay in the pen, ready for the chickens to turn it into the next batch of stinky rich organic compost.

The chickens came back to a fresh pen and coop. Oh the chickeny joy! They scratched in the fresh compost. They climbed up on the hay bale. They carefully examined every corner of the coop. They topped off their tummies with Black Oil Sunflower Seed and got on the roost for a good night.

Of course, their gratitude was gone by morning.

BYC member patandchickens has a great page about fixing muddy runs at

Note to self: roof and sand, roof and sand.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Handling Rooster Aggression

I have a wonderful rooster. He protects the flock from predators. He guides the hens to tasty food. He provides them with all the chicken whoopie they can handle.

However, he sometimes challenges me for dominance. This seems silly since he is so overmatched, but it is what roosters do.

Since I don't want to make him into a delicious meal, I need to assert my rank when he gets feisty. His "about to attack" signals are:

  • rush for the food
  • crazy chicken eye
  • stretch and flap wings
  • fluff up his neck feathers
  • crow at me
  • move toward me quickly
  • flog with wings
  • kick with spurs
  • mount a hen in front of me (another form of dominance display)

Most of the time I haze him using these techniques:

  • point, call his name, and warn him not to try anything
  • speed walk, following him around for a while
  • step toward him
  • wiggle my fingers
  • raise my arms over my head
  • stand between him and the food
  • stand between him and the hens
  • follow him around with a big green pole used for guiding the flock
  • point and yell "Get a room"

Usually this puts him in his place. Once, he flogged and kicked so I isolated him in the tractor out of sight from the flock. They were briefly perturbed, but he was seriously distressed. The poor boy cried all night. Next morning I let him back with the flock, to everybody's relief. Especially mine.

Since then he only makes token challenges and backs down at any response. Even so, I never turn my back on him.

Update: Here is a link to Mother Earth News with another viewpoint & technique, posted by Sorin174 on

Update: Here is a post (#45) from where member Beekissed quotes another member's summary of an animal imprinting study.

Update: BYC user KlaHaYa Gardens advocates stalking an aggressive bird at a quick pace. This idea came from observing how peacocks stalk aggressive birds in a mixed flock. Seems like a great idea, and may be why the "step toward him" mini-chases I did were fairly effective. I plan to add this to my bag of tricks.

Update: Since the deaths of two hens upset the pecking order the other day, he has been testing me. I maintain the status quo by calmly stepping toward him until he steps back, or pointing at him. When he crows by me I wave and say "I hear you Mr. Big" and he backs down.

Update: Many people suggest letting him attack my foot or letting him attack a broom as an alternative approach. The problem is that this is no solution at all, just a passive defense. Unless aggressive behavior is prevented, you risk getting hurt if you let your guard down and you risk getting other people or children hurt. It is much better, in my opinion, to train the rooster to be Beta rooster instead of Alpha rooster. Likewise, everybody that comes near the flock should behave as Alpha.

Update: Mr. Big attacked me yesterday after I let them out of the coop later than usual. I had just let them out and turned my back. Doh! I chased him into the coop and stuck him in chicken jail for a while. That only got the chickens riled up, so I took him out and held him under my arm, stroking his neck, and pushing his head down. I did this for 10 minutes in front of the hens, who clucked their disapproval. He looked so humiliated, I thought he was going to cry.

Update: Mr. Big did not approve of my carrying a broody hen off the nest and tried to jump me. One day of quickly stalking him followed by preemptive admonitions when handling the broody kept him in line. By the time a chick hatched he was more interested in breakfast than defending her virtue.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chickens Going Stir-Crazy

Recently there have been too many hawks in the unfriendly skies above. My formerly free range flock has been confined to their fully enclosed 800 sq. ft. pen, much to their annoyance.

The pen has been turned into a giant litter box as well as a giant dust bath. The recent rain made the whole thing into a mucky yucky place.

I put an entire bale of hay in there for them. They dutifully dismantled the bale and distributed the hay, but that barely kept them occupied for an afternoon. They are now so bored that they are no longer interested in the formerly delicious Black Oil Sunflower Seed.

When I go outside they pace back and forth along whichever fence is closest to me. They grumble and cuss in their chickeny way and generally give me the stink eye -- even my secret favorite, the smart one.

I need some ideas to keep them entertained while I keep them safe. I tried 99 bottles of beer on the wall, but they do not seem to like my beautiful "singing" voice.

Chicken Products

Here are some products you may find helpful.

Handy books on building chicken coops and raising chickens:

Incubators for hatching eggs:

Winterize the water supply for chickens:

Poultry Nets to keep hens in and keep wild birds out:

Varmint traps to thin out the predator population near the flock:

Motion-activated scarecrow to spray intruders with water:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Holiday Fireworks

Happy New Year. Where I live, every major public holiday or minor personal event is celebrated with alcohol and explosives. There is always somebody that springs for the expensive missiles that light up the sky and entertain drunks people all over the area.

Humans are amused, but what of the animals?

Horses? Freaked out for first five years, but calm as can be now.

Dogs? Freaked out for first holiday, but calm as can be now.

Chickens? How could such flighty fiends survive the night without having their heads explode from terror? Calm and relaxed. The little beggars were more upset that I came into the coop to look at them than they were about the racket.

Chickens. Will I ever understand them?