Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chicks Demand the Spice

The spice must flow! As worms threatened production, Doc suggested worming the chickens with red pepper flakes. It was such a big hit that we used up the entire bottle of pepper flakes in just a couple days.

To make sure the chicks got their fair share, I have started keeping Buffy outside the chick tractor during the day. She orbits the tractor, eating adult food. They stay inside consuming chick starter and treats.
To each their own
Ever frugal, I noticed that I could get a lot of fresh jalapeƱos for only a few cents. I gleefully purchased a bag of jalapeƱos and Doc chopped some up for the chicks. Naturally, they ran in abject terror upon first sighting the horrible invading veggie. But soon, they were demanding their daily delicious green treat. Oh the chickeny joy!
Stalking the wild pepper
Texas chicks demand hot stuff
They demand their chick starter also.
Crunchy starter is crunchy
It must taste better in the middle
Actually, they are just demanding.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Stinky Compost Surprise

There was a really bad smell in the coop. For a couple weeks it just got worse and worse. I would open the coop door and my eyes would begin to water.

At first I blamed Buffy, then I blamed the other hens. I looked underneath the coop for a spoiled egg or a sewage treatment plant. I searched every corner of the coop for a rotten egg.

Finally I gave up and just accepted that I could do nothing about the stench. Then I stepped out of the coop and tripped over a bucket next to the door. For a moment I thought an unwashed genie had just been released from a 1000 year old lamp. As my vision cleared I realized I was sprawled in the chicken pen with something truly stinkerrific next to me.
Compost in all the wrong places
As Doctor Dolittle gagged, I picked myself up and moved the bucket downwind. Inside I found a foul-smelling ecosystem of horse supplement and hay transformed by bacteria and water into a festering nursery for some kind of insect. After snapping a picture for science, I foolishly knocked the recalcitrant unidentifiable gunk out with a couple sharp taps. The pungent stuff caused Doc and I to flee the area.
Might have been horse vitamins once
I forced my way back through the foul fog. As I brought a shovel to bear, I realized I was not alone in my battle against the stinky compost. The flock was digging and scratching and clucking and eating maggots. Oh the chickeny joy!
Maggots are yummy?
As I watched in amazement, De sifted through the maggoty muck, mixing it with clean dirt and eating every one of the baby bugs. Seeing that the situation was under control, I bravely ran away.

While I felt a little strange about the source, the next day's egg was really delicious.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Feasting Chickens

My chickens are spoiled. They get treats every day. Insanely delicious treats. And they know it.

Because of this, I must only bring treats to the chicken pen before I let the chickens out for the day. If not, I risk getting torn to bits in the ensuing chaos.

The adults need calcium, so they get yogurt for their treat.
Calcium-rich yogurt treat
Certain foods are so highly desired for their awesome deliciousness that Mr. Big will preempt the girls and run to the head of the line. At risk of life and limb, I was able to shoo him away so the girls could get a morsel.
Mr. Big with guilt written all over his face (and wattles)
Doctor Dolittle suggested worming the chickens for spring. The chicks spend their days in the pen with the flock. So worms could be a problem for the little fuzzballs. We decided to feed everybody red pepper flakes.

As usual, the adults ran away in terror from the new food. We got them acclimated with a blend of oatmeal and pepper flakes until we could feed them straight pepper flakes and they would eat every one. We knew they were eating the peppers from the bright red poo.

The chicks needed no persuasion and took to the flakes after only one day of abject terror. Now they look forward to the bright red bits of deliciousness, especially when mixed with leftover cornbread.
Red pepper flakes and cornbread treat
We are careful to make sure they get a complete chick diet. They have access to dirt, hay, wood chips, more dirt, chick starter, chick starter with dirt, and various kinds of treats like red pepper flakes, cornbread leftovers, and yogurt with dirt.
Complete chick diet of dirt, starter, pepper flakes, and yogurt
The chicks are growing fast on their super diet. I fear that one day a chick will put on a blue leotard with a red cape and bend the bars off the brooder cage.

As it is, I have to deal with a jailbreak every day.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chick Jailbreak and Improvised Nest Box

My chicks have been living in brooder cage splendor for nearly two weeks. Every day Doctor Dolittle helps me collect chicks and deposit them in their chick tractor for exercise and treats. Today they had other plans....

Maybe they were inspired by last night's rearrangement of the coop interior. Maybe they were invigorated by the glorious weather. Maybe they watched Shawshank Redemption last night.

Since Doc was busy, I was on my own collecting chicks. I got the first one and went out to the chick tractor. Sensing the opportunity, they sprang into action.

*thud* *pop*pop*pop*pop*pop*pop*

Buffy and the chicks executed their mass jailbreak plan. I returned to the coop to find it occupied by the riotous mob. Buffy was excitedly scratching and clucking and pecking and eating delicious bits of dropped food overlooked by her sisters. The chicks were blissfully scratching and peeping and pecking and eating delicious bits of dropped food overlooked by the adults. Oh the chickeny joy!
Feathery mob escapes chick jail
I hastily collected a chick and put it in the tractor.
Following her lead
I got four chicks confined to the tractor. When I collected the fifth, Buffy took note and gave chase. The angry hen and two little accomplices chased me out of the coop and around the tractor as I hastily deposited their little sister.
Buffy and chick at large
We furiously circled the tractor until I could improvise a barricade for the chicks and distract Buffy with treats. Mr. Big and De and Vo came to watch, eating their own treats like popcorn-munching moviegoers. I caught Buffy, placing her in with the chicks, and peace reigned in the chicken pen. Oh the chickeny joy!

Remembering the bucket on the coop floor, I returned to the coop to collect eggs. Yesterday, De and Vo had words over nest box rights. So I improvised a nest box using a 5 gallon bucket and a little hay. De proudly deposited her daily egg in the newfangled nest box, relegating Vo to the dusty old one.
New nest box
Ah, chicken politics.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Peep Races

Doc and I have been taking Buffy and the chicks out of the brooder and placing them in a tractor we moved inside the pen. This gives everybody a chance to stretch out.
Oreo demonstrates flexibility
I use this time to clean the brooder cage. The sand is great at drying out the poo. All I have to do is sift it with a wire sieve. Doc changes their feed and water.

De and the other watch these proceedings with great interest. Especially since they can score some chick crumbles every so often.

Passing through the yard, I maimed a big grasshopper. I raced to the tractor and handed it to Buffy.

She made sure the grasshopper was sufficiently dead and dropped it among the chicks. Oh the chickeny joy! One took off with the bug peeping furiously, followed by the other six. A chick managed to pick off a morsel and took off in another direction. She consumed it under Buffy's watchful gaze while the rest ran around.

The chick with the bug wore out the others and hid in a corner trying to figure out how to eat it. She eventually picked it apart. Buffy supervised and clucked her approval.

Doc and I rounded up Buffy and the chicks, placing them in the brooder cage. Well, mostly. One independent chick made a run for it. She ran out through the 2x4 farm fence into the yard, then perplexed, circled back and returned to the pen. She ran between my legs and bypassed Doc. The chick triumphantly raced up the chicken ladder and hopped into the coop through the pop door.

Nine days old! Can you imagine what they will be like next week?
Quick Chick

Friday, May 6, 2011

Chicken Lytle and the Prisoner of the Nest Box

I went to collect eggs today and found Mr. Big standing watch by the nest box. Suspicious, I shooed out the chickens and peeked inside.

The nest box was occupied by my scaly nemesis. Calmly I squeaked, "Get the camera" to Doctor Dolittle. Thus armed, I collected evidence.
Snake, caught red-somethinged
See the bulge in the middle? That was my other ceramic egg. Last time it came to visit, it took a ceramic egg and left behind a snakeskin. Apparently this snake has a veeeeeery elastic digestive exit.

The snake seemed a little drowsy after eating De's and Vo's eggs along with my second ceramic egg. It started paying a little more attention when the flash went off. 
Face to face with creepiness
It tried to make a break for it by going out the back of the nest box through a narrow gap, but was foiled by the ceramic egg bulge. Then it tried to escape by charging toward me, making my digestive exit pucker. The snake, intimidated by my standing hair and bulging eyes, turned away and headed for the pop door.

Doc and I persuaded the snake to relax with gentle application of blunt opinions. I got the dubious honor of carrying off the limp critter on the end of a shovel.

We inspected the rest of the coop, flock, and chicks. Everybody was OK and we retired to the house for a victory meal.

Later, while Doc was watching Voldemort and his scaly friend, I slipped out to retrieve the ceramic egg. I washed it about a bazillion times and then put it back in the nest box.

Mayhem managed.

Update: A local codger gave me a couple tips on how he manages snakes around his coop. He got a 7' x 100' roll of deer netting. Then he strung up spirals of the deer netting around the chicken run, sort of like the concertina wire you see in Hollywood prison camp movies. He said the snakes get caught in the netting all the time.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fancy Brooder Cage

My broody hen hatched one of her eggs. I was so excited I raced over to Tractor Supply and got chick supplies as well as six more chicks. Last night I stuck the new pullets in the cooler that was going to be an incubator, except for one aggressive chick that I stuck out with broody Buffy and the newly hatched chick.

Today I went to check on the broody hen and her little brood. The smell was awful. Time to clean the coop!

Doctor Dolittle came out and we cleaned the coop, the nest box, and the broody nest cage. Coughing together in a big cloud of dust, Doc and I hatched a new plan. We decided to transform the broody nest cage into a brooder cage.

We cut up soda can boxes and taped them to the sides of the cage, along the bottom. Then we filled the cage with sand and took a few pictures.
Fancy Brooder Cage Work in Progress
We added another band of cardboard to keep chicks from falling out and rearranged the furniture. Well, we actually rearranged the furniture a few dozen times. Finally we added Buffy and the all chicks.
Buffy & Chicks in Brooder Cage
Oh the chickeny joy! Buffy's attitude changed from grumpy human-biter to gentle clucking mother hen.

Oh the chicken farmer relief!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Broody Hatching -- First Chick and Chicken Math Disaster

My broody hen Buffy is trying to hatch out some eggs. I tried to candle the eggs nine days ago and decided to hope for the best.

Two days ago we discovered an amazing smell in the coop. I tearfully checked under the hen and found three eggs. The fourth egg was nowhere to be seen. Choking, I retreated upwind and sat down to think like a stuffed bear with very little brain. Oh bother! But the sensible Doctor Dolittle suggested that Buffy had consumed one of the eggs because it was rotten, setting my overworked brain at ease.

Today Buffy was particularly violent in her objection to being forced off the nest. I pulled away my hand, with her beak firmly attached, and saw a glimpse of black. I squawked. Buffy squawked in response, falling back onto the nest.

I got my camera and came back for more opportunities to lose fingers.
Two eggs left
First chick to hatch
Chick from Mr. Big and De
Realizing that I was out of time to prepare for chicks, I raced to Tractor Supply. My list included chick starter, chick feeder, chick waterer, and chick electrolytes. It would have been so easy to just run in and run out with my purchases, right? But nooooooooo.

Doctor Dolittle saw it first. There was a tub with a brooder lamp over it. "What is that?" Doc asked. Foolishly, I turned to look. TSC had one last batch of healthy-looking Production Red pullets.
Production Red Pullets from TSC
Now, by the power of Chicken Math I have six more chicks.

Update: One of the Production Reds is very aggressive and keeps pecking her sisters. I think she just volunteered to become the first foreigner placed under Buffy tomorrow. If she is agreeable, then I will put the rest under her. If she attacks the chick, the little bugger could probably hold her own.