Category Archives: Chickens!

And then there’s the garden…

Now that the holiday whirlwind has passed and the elves have returned to the North Pole, I’m feeling a little exhausted and just a tad uninspired.

But…then there’s the garden and all the planning and excitement of this new season.

There are seeds to buy and start.

There are beds to plan and plant.

There are strategies to determine and execute.

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I absolutely love this time of year. Sure, it’s frigid with temps below zero, but I can curl up with my favorite seed catalogs and dream of planting my Spring, Summer and Fall garden.

The seed catalogs are already starting to come in the mailbox bringing with them excitement and dreams of a lush and productive garden.

I’ll circle and plan to buy millions of seeds and come back down to reality when I see the price tag on said seeds.

Goals for this year:

  • Start and plant seeds early.
  • Prepare for the war with pests. Specifically, you guessed it, Japanese Beetles.
  • Really, really, REALLY create a strategy for keeping up with the weeds.
  • Get that greenhouse going for Spring crops.
  • Order replacement chickens.

First, I will determine what to plant and create my seed starting schedule.

Next, I’ll research battle strategies for dealing with pests and keeping up with the weeds using cardboard, weed block and good old-fashioned elbow grease.

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Third, we’ll make plans to get our greenhouse up and going as soon as possible in early Spring.

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Finally, we’ll research the best, kid-friendly, egg-laying replacements for our flock and find fox, raccoon and opossum repelling tricks to beef up coop security.

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The next two months will definitely not be tedious. We have a garden to plan.

Though winter is cold
Though winds blow and chill the land
We joyfully plan

 

 

 

Beefing Up Security (Part 2)

In researching how to construct, or reconstruct, a safer coop for our next flock of birds, I discovered that we were (perhaps) not as good to our birds as I thought.

We fulfilled and provided almost all of their basic needs.

They had fresh air, clean water, a dust bathing area, lots of fresh grass and insects to forage and enough space. But they didn’t really have a place to flee from predators…or (apparently) much protection against them.

Their coop and run were completely enclosed, but that just meant that if something got in (ie a fox or an opossum), there was no escape for the chickens.

They would have been way to frantic, not to mention way too clueless, to escape the way the predator gained entry.

So where were they to go?

While pondering these concerns and researching what other chicken keepers have done, The Grow Network, a blog where I’ve been a guest contributor, published an article that addresses most, if not ALL of our concerns.

Raising Chickens: Coop Considerations

One of the top concerns we have is (for obvious reasons) protecting our flock from predators.

There are many things the article mentioned the things we are already doing.

The coop is enclosed and raised off the ground and the run and ramp are completely covered with chicken wire.

But, there are also a few things we could be doing to better.

Chicken wire, while fine for keeping the chickens contained, would not protect against a determined dog, fox or raccoon.

Apparently, raccoons as well as small dogs and weasels, could easily tear through the wire.

Using wire mesh or hardware cloth instead of or in addition to chicken wire may be an affordable option.

Another suggestion was to bury wire around the run.

This is not an option for us. We want to have the freedom to move the chickens around the property to help us weed, fertilize and prep for planting.

But, if we cover our chicken wire with the mesh, and also cover the bottom of the run, we would still be able to move the coop around and the chickens would still be able to peck and forage.

This added protection would further deter predators by making it that much more difficult to breach the coop.

We could also cover the ramp with the mesh, which is one of the most vulnerable spots in our set-up.

The use of electric fencing, motion-sensing lights, or even a well-trained livestock guardian dog (LGD) is also an option.

We already use a solar motion detecting light that seems to be doing a pretty good job…at least at night.

While I’m not sure we are ready to get another dog yet, installing an electric fence around the coop and run is one of the precautions we have been considering to beef up security.

Electric fencing sounds so scary, especially to an amateur homesteader and chicken lady with two little boys running around touching everything they see like crazed monkeys.

But…with the proper precautions and training of said crazed monkeys, it would be another layer of protection for the hens.

A simple measure we can take will be to lock the hens in at night. While there are daytime predators like hawks and the occasional confused fox, locking the hens in at night will put the odds in our favor.

We should have been doing this all along. It wouldn’t have stopped the daytime fox from getting the big flock, but it may have protected our last three girls…something I will always wonder about.

Beefing up the coop
Security our main goal
Protecting our hens

Beefing Up Security (Part One)

Almost a week has passed and the loss of our 13 hens to a fox still smarts.

If I’m being completely honest, I am surprised it took this long.

We have been pretty lucky to only have lost one or two to a predator. It was really only a matter of time I suppose.

Still. Did he really have to kill them all?

It is getting to be too late in the year to start a new flock, so we will be taking time to re-evaluate our coop construction and re-think our defensive plan against unwanted visitors.

There are a few sad realizations we have come to as we get ready for winter:

We have no livestock to prepare the kitchen garden.

We relied on the chickens to weed, eat pests and prep the ground for Spring planting. Now we are forced to (gasp) do the work ourselves.

Kitchen garden before chickens have spent 4+ months prepping for the Spring planting.

Kitchen garden after chickens have spent 4+ months prepping for Spring planting.

We will have to buy eggs for at least the next 6 months.

In reality, by the time you factor in the cost of chicken feed, electricity to keep them warm and bedding, we will probably be spending a bit less.

Still…buying eggs.

We won’t only be losing fresh eggs, but also fresh fodder for stories and poems. A tragedy indeed.

So, what can we do to better protect our birds?

We are already doing a few necessary things to protect the flock.

  1. The coop and run are completely enclosed with chicken wire to protect from opportunists like hawks and raccoons.
  2. We keep the chickens highly visible and have a solar powered motion light to deter possible predators.
  3. We collect eggs daily so as not to attract any unwanted visitors

But, as with anything else, there is always room for improvement and there are several precautionary steps we need to step up.

For example, we could do a better job of picking up any food scraps the chickens didn’t eat before nightfall. It should have been obvious to us that food left out in the open can attract more than just chickens.

We could also start to shut the coop door at night to make it more difficult for intruders. The run and ramp to it is “secure” with chicken wire, but that (apparently) did not stop Mr. Fox.

Also, we need to pay more attention to and fix any holes in the fencing that could provide an easy entry into the coop and run.

Another recommendation was to get a rooster. This is not an option as we had several and the crowing got a bit out of control.

But…we could get a guard dog.

A guard dog would provide the same security as a rooster…only better.

A guard dog would scare off any predators…man or beast.

A guard dog would be an excellent addition to the homestead.

Just a Lady

Chickens on the homestead
Roaming in their pen
Clucking, pecking, roosting
Squawking now and then

I watered them and fed them
I cleaned their little coop
I made sure they were healthy
A happy little group

Their eggs became a staple
Fresh food to share and eat
We worked them in the garden
And butchered them for meat

I was “The Chicken Lady”
But now those days are done
A wily fox invaded
And killed them…every one

 

The Massacre

“There was a different looking cat under the chicken coop.”

This may seem like an innocent enough comment, but coming from my 5-year-old as he held an empty egg carton…it sounded ominous.

“A different looking cat?” I asked.

“Yeah, it was under the coop playing with a chicken. That’s why I didn’t get eggs.”

Uh oh.

“I’ll go check,” I said as I went out in the bright, noon sunshine and headed toward the coop.

“Mommy, be careful!” called my oldest, worry in his eyes.

I was halfway to the coop when I saw movement. A few more steps and the “different kind of cat” shot out from under the coop, a chicken in its jaws.

A fox had been in the henhouse. 

Surely, I thought, he had just captured PJ, our one free-range hen. There was no way a fox could actually get in the henhouse. Right?

I checked on the smaller flock first. The three ladies looked a little shaken up, but aside from a few loose feathers, they were unharmed.

I could see a lifeless chicken under the coop. I could only assume it was PJ. On closer inspection, her head and body were all intact. She looked almost peaceful.

But wait…if PJ was in one piece without a leg, thigh or head missing…what did the fox have in its mouth?

It was then I heard it.

The eerie sound of silence.

Not a whisper or a rustle came from the coop. Not a hen wandered in the pen.

I slowly opened the laying box and peeked inside. All I could see were feathers.

I opened the big door and saw bodies everywhere.

It was a feathery massacre.

Not one of the Pearl White Leghorns had survived. All bodies, save one, were accounted for. The missing body, I could only assume, was in the belly of the fox.

I don’t know if I truly interrupted his theft, or if he was only going to take one bird all along. I’ve read that the fox can get in a “killing frenzy” when cooped up with a bunch of hens, but usually will only leave with one. Creepy.

As I started to remove the dead, I noticed something strange. Only two hens were headless.

The rest were just…dead. There was no outward sign of fowl play. 

As I picked the bodies up with my three-layer-gloved hands, I saw what had happened. The fox, had broken all their necks, but only taken one as a prize.

The guilt set in as I realized what had really happened. The words I had spoken only the night before echoed in my mind.

“We need to butcher the hens before winter. All of them except the new ones.”

The wily fox had heard me and granted my wish.

Eggsperiments

We are a house obsessed with all things egg.

We like to eat them fried, scrambled, boiled or deviled.

We use them for baking, for breakfast and sometimes for lunch and dinner.

Yes, we are a house full of egg enthusiasts and, just when we thought we couldn’t find another way to enjoy the egg, DIY Sci came to Prime.

DIY Sci is a Fox series hosted by Steve Spangler and a recent Amazon Prime discovery for my boys. The show is fast paced and silly with fun experiments and scientific explanations.

Everything Spangler does can be done at home with (mostly) common household items.

Like vinegar…and plastic bottles…and eggs.

First, the boys used an empty bottle, paper plate and cracked egg to demonstrate how to use to suction to separate the yolk from the white without breaking it.

I was totally impressed with this. I always make a mess or break the yolk when I try separating eggs…even when I use those little egg separator tools. Who knew that all I needed was an empty water bottle?

Then, Joe wanted to show me how to squeeze and egg so it wouldn’t crack. He held it in his hand longways and squeezed. It didn’t break! Then I tried it, but didn’t hold it longways like he did…what a mess that was.

The latest experiment was an oldie but a goodie. The ol’ blow-the-egg-out-of-its-shell-through-a-pinhole trick.

The shell was still intact after this one so Joe wanted to use it for one more eggsperiment: The Rubber Egg.

He put the empty egg in a glass, covered it with vinegar and weighed it down so it would stay completely submerged.

After a few days, he checked on it and sure enough, some of the outer shell had dissolved.

DIY Sci has inspired may experiments around the house, but so far the eggs have been the most fun. It is probably not a coincidence that they are also the messiest.

 

PJ the Hen

The boys have named our free-range hen Pecky Jr.

We call her PJ for short.

We pulled her out because the other hens had decided she was the weakest link. They attacked her, bloodied her and I was sure they would soon kill her.

Picture of PJ from August 16, 2017.

She now looks better than all of the other hens of her flock and she is much friendlier.

PJs vicious sisters

No hand pecking. No angry squawks. No vicious glares.

PJ on September 20, 2017

We haven’t done much to ‘domesticate’ her, but she comes running when we come outside and follows at my heels when I check for eggs.

She even eats right out of our hands if we approach her slowly and calmly whisper words of encouragement.

She has her own container of water, and we throw down a cup chicken feed when we are refilling the others.

That may sound mean, but she finds so much to eat in the pasture, yard and garden that we don’t feel the need to leave a dish of food out for her. The other hens eat less feed when they have new ground to peck and PJ’s diet is probably more diverse and nutrient-rich.

The only problem is…we don’t know where she is laying her eggs.

There have been times I thought she was gone. Taken by a coyote or raccoon. But when I head out to the coop to feed and water the chickens she suddenly appears.

I’ve started watching to see where she comes from but the moment I turn my back, she’s at my heels, waiting for scraps. She’s definitely coming from the pasture, so I am sure her eggs are somewhere in the wild grass.

Hopefully, a raccoon or other predator is eating them because I sure don’t want to find them by smell.

That is an experience I hope never to repeat.

Pecky Junior roams
Hoping for a tasty scrap
Circling our heels

 

 

 

A Boy and his Chicken

A boy and his chicken
Had a little chat
They pondered on the weather
And talked of this and that

To hear their conversation
You’d never even know
That only one was talking
A constant, steady flow

The chicken clucked and shuffled
The boy yakked on and on
While feeding Queenie bits of grass
He’d pulled out of the lawn

She stood and seemed to listen
She clucked and moved her head
But when the boy stopped talking
She quickly turned and fled

 

Spoiled Eggs

Skulking and sneaking
I thought she was dead
But here she is peeking
Now I’m filled with dread

She’s laying eggs somewhere
I watch her and wonder
Will I find them out there?
Which bush are they under?

I’ve looked in the tall grass
I’ve searched under sheds
I’ve peaked when I pass
All of my garden beds

But still I can’t find them
And I greatly fear
My sniffer will smell ’em
If I ever draw near

Guess What? Chicken…

Warning! This post is informational, but kind of icky. If you are grossed out by chicken butt problems, beware!

Something strange is going on with the hen’s butts.

Sure, they’ve molted and are now pecking at each other.

Sure, their butts are bound to be dirty with the constant pooping.

Sure, they’ve been dust bathing with their poop crusted bare bottoms in a dirt and diatomaceous earth (DE) mix.

So what the heck is it?

Now, I’m not a big fan of this breed. They are mean and horrible to each other and they have tried to peck my hands too many times to count.

That, however, does not mean I want them to suffer. Afterall, they do provide us with fresh, delicious eggs, entertainment and learning experiences for the boys (and us).

I went to my favorite chicken blog, Backyard Chickens to try and figure out what is going on.

Their symptoms, and the appearance of the disgusting, white/yellow foamish coating on their rear, is consistent with vent gleet aka “Nasty Chicken Butt”.

Blech.

Vent gleet or “Sticky Vent” is basically a yeast infection affecting female birds and, less commonly, males.

There are TONS of chicken websites out there describing this type of infection, so I’m just going to detail my plan of attack.

Treatment

First, I’m going to bathe the affected bottoms in a mix of water and dish soap.

Then, I’m going to put a molasses/water mix (1/2 C. molasses per gallon) out along with their plain water so they have their choice of beverage for at least a few hours.

Next, I’ll add 2-4 TB of vinegar/gallon of water and keep doing this for several days to, hopefully, kick out the nasty and prevent re-growth.

Finally, and this one is iffy given the temperament of these hens, I’ll feed them each 1TB of plain yogurt per day, also until symptoms are gone. Yogurt has probiotics and live cultures…good bacteria.

There is no way they will let me do this. It’s going to be difficult enough to get them in a bath, let alone get them to calmly take their tablespoon of yogurt.

I will likely just set out a dish of it and see what they do.

Prevention

In order to prevent another onslaught, I will make sure they always have fresh, clean water and dry feed.

I’ll continue to add apple cider vinegar to their water, backing off from 2-4TB to 1TB/gallon. I may also get some probiotic powder to add to their feed.

Yogurt, if the feeding plan works out, will be an occasional treat. 

Did I mention how gross this is? Just in case…

Ew! Gross chicken butts
White, yellow and foamy pus
Ick! There goes breakfast!