Mother Nature’s way of increasing our flock.

March started out more like April this year, with warmer temps and a nice snow melt.  We wondered if that was why our flock went through a mild molt.  We’ve experienced the fall molt, which is why it’s nice to brood chicks in early May since they pick up the slack in egg production while the older girls regrow their feathers.  Having pullets start laying in the fall is why we were debating adding more chicks this year.

Mother Nature stepped in twice to help increase the number of RindyBerry layers.  The first was the most interesting . . . a freak snow storm on the 22nd of March that left us with 11.6″ of snow!!March 22nd snow storm 2 YEAH just short of a foot when areas 20 miles north of us got a couple of inches!!  You’re probably wondering what this has to do with increasing our flock.  Well I need to go back a bit to when we first started with our seven laying hens.

The neighbor also had seven hens about the same age ours and both flocks would periodically range together.  Because they had lost some of their old girls (predators and age) they added eight new chicks to their flock last year too.  By this spring they were down to just one of the old girls and sure enough once the winter snow had melted there she was each morning grandmawaiting at the gate for our little bantam wyandottes to be released.  And so it was every morning she came over to hang with her little flock of three “dottes” and at the end of the day went home to her new young flock.

All this changed with the March 22nd snow storm.  The morning started out with a light snow fall which didn’t stop “Miss Kimball” from her daily visit.  When the snow started to come down heavy she joined our “dottes” under their coop for cover.

"dottes" coop in the background

“dottes” coop in the background

As the snow continued on in earnest it became apparent she was here for the night.  The neighbor tried to collect her the next day and twice after – she DID NOT want to go and pecked at him!  Perhaps she just didn’t want to hang with the “young-uns” over in her old coop any longer and decided to retire next door with the “dottes”.grandma and dottes1

She pays rent by laying darned near every day and is such a sweet little bird.  The neighbors called her “grandma” and we do now too. 😉grandma and dottes2

 

 

 

 

 

Mother Nature’s second assist in increasing our flock came by way of a broody hen, which was one of last year’s spring chicks.  We set a dozen eggs under her and she hatched out seven, but one didn’t make it.  Out of the six remaining we are hopeful that four are hens.mama Ausie and babes It’s too early to tell the sex of the chicks. We’ll just have to wait for the crow!

In pursuit of many interests.

We’ve had a busy couple of months.  In January I took on the role of Vice-Chair of the Green County Democratic Party, and have LOTS to learn.  I’m enjoying the challenge but it has taken some of my time from things like perusing Facebook and posting to our blog.

It hasn’t been all politics these last few months.  We recently attended a model train show for information regarding a garden train set up.  Rod would like to run one around the perennial bed in front of the house.  We picked up lots of ideas and a new toy.Train Set 1  He’s starting small and indoors.  The plan is to purchase enough track to eventually put my trunk back where it belongs and snake his “Broadway Express” around items that reside under our stairway.  In fact he has decided it would be fun to paint a sky complete with clouds and sun under the steps.Train Set 2

I had intended to share ideas on how to combat winter boredom in the chicken coop, but as I mentioned time got away from me.  One thing that helped our birds this winter was their sun room, which may not have been pretty but it sure did the trick.  On those bitter cold days (that were sunny) it was almost 40 degrees in that outdoor run.Once the snow was gone we were able to start pulling off the plastic walls and happy chickens began to venture.

  The girls also had a dirt box inside the coop this winter and LOVED it Bathing Box . . . after all who wants to go three or four months without a bath!!  To top off their spa like accommodations they are treated to a regular supply of fodder which is grown in our solarium.Growing fodder 1

Rod starts with a small amount of organic potting soilGrowing fodder 3 then sprinkles a liberal amount of pasture mix.Growing fodder 5

After about five days the trays on the heated mats have sproutedGrowing fodder 9, Growing fodder 10the ones without heat took another four to five days.

Even with all the nice sun and dome covers.Growing fodder 6

The chickens weren’t the only ones to receive fresh grown treats from winter gardening.  Rod potted a couple cherry tomato plants last fall and had success. wintered tomato 1wintered tomato 2 It may not have been a bumper crop, but we had enough for a nice salad and a few other mealswintered tomato 3

There was room in the pot of parsley that was brought in and we had lettuce seed left over.winter lettuce There isn’t much but it’s just right for sandwiches.  And just check out this snap dragon and pansy.wintered snaps wintered pansies

I’m so ready for SPRING!!

Sprouts; not just for salads anymore.

Winter months can be challenging for chicken keepers.  Fresh greenery and bugs are hard to come by.  Boredom sets in when our sweet little chickens begin feeling “all cooped up” and bad things can happen . . . 10822426_326970840821870_1429090211_n as shown in this Far Side cartoon.  In my next few posts I’ll share some ideas that may help your flock beat that winter boredom and ward off those “egg fights”.

Our chickens love their treats, so I welcomed a suggestion by Susan, owner of Cluck the Chicken Store, to sprout grains.  This really requires very little time and few supplies.Sprouts 1

To date I’ve only sprouted wheat, but have read that many types of grain work well for this process.  Regardless of the type of grain you sprout, be sure it is whole grain not cracked or ground.

With colander nested in the bowl, add your grain (about a third full).Sprouts 3

Pour in enough water to liberally cover the grain.  A Layer of grain will float on the surface, lift the colander in and out of the water a couple of times, all but a bit of the chaff settles to the bottom.Sprouts 5Sprouts 4Cover and let set about 24 hours.Sprouts 6The next day dump the water and rinse the grain.

grain slightly plumped after 24 hour soak

grain slightly plumped after 24 hour soak

  Place the colander of grain back into the bowl (without water), cover and allow to drain 24 hours.  Repeat the last step of rinsing and draining your grain 2-3 more times.

I find an easy way to keep mold from forming on my grain, is to dump the grain into my rinsed out bowl (filled with water)Sprouts 8 then strain it through the colander pouring a few more bowls of water over the grain to rinse it well.Sprouts 9  Place the colander of grain back in the bowl and cover.

My colander has a raised base which also helps to prevent mold.  If your colander rests on the bottom of the bowl use a canning jar ring or cookie cutter to lift it off of the bottom.

After a couple of days you will begin to see little white tails sproutingSprouts 11

This bowl of sprouts is now ready for chicken consumption.Sprouts 10 Sprouted grain is also a great addition to the buffet of offerings we feed our wild birds.  Toss some in your ground feeders, the Junco’s and Morning Doves will thank you!

Fall migration & flock integration.

When we lived in town we attracted a nice variety of birds with our various feeders, small pond, bird baths, and garden.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA East Ave pondEast Ave Garden

Once in a while during the fall migration a hawk would visit the feeders.  I remember looking out the kitchen window in awe of that beautiful bird and feeling badly for the prey . . . Mother Nature at work.

My appreciation of hawks has changed a bit with this year’s migration.  We lost our little Blue Wyandotte to one. 🙁  This was particularly sad since she’s the little hen that hatched a small clutch of eggs a couple of months ago for Susan, owner of Cluck the Chicken Store in Paoli.Blue's babes 2

Hawk migration wasn’t our only issue this fall.  We noticed something big fly by the window and imagine our surprise to see a Blue Heron perched on the bantam’s coop.  I manged to get a picture from inside the solarium before it took off.blue heron  Within a few minutes it returned to our pond, we then realized it had eaten the fish.  It’s too bad we lost the gold fish, but it sure was cool to see such a big and beautiful bird just outside the window.

With our move to the country we are attracting a much larger variety of birds than we would ever have seen in town.  So even with the losses it’s great being in the country!

Remember these little cuties?Fun on the jungle gym roost.

BA pulletWell their big girls now. . .

opps and one boy!

Lil' Red Roo

Lil’ Red Roo

This is only the second time we’ve integrated young chickens into our main flock, and as with last year’s spring hatch, it went incredibly well.

Lil' Red watching over his flock

Lil’ Red watching over his flock

Although, we definitely had a segregation issue when the Delawares realized the hardware cloth that divided the coop was gone.  They made it clear that the front roost was theirs!

Now when we do the evening head count before closing their run they are all intermingled into one big happy flock.roostingWell it can still be a little raucous at bed time, but that’s what it’s like in the chicken world. 😉

Growing grass in a well used chicken run.

 We like to free range our chickens, but once the gardens are planted they need to be corralled. The 16’x40′ run made of re-purposed dog kennel panels is attached to their coop and covered with a large pheasant net which keeps them safe from various predators.  We extend their run with poultry fencing so they can get to fresh grass and bugs, but there are times they need to be confined to just their run which no longer has grass.  I found an idea online for our well used run.

With tools gathered, I began the process of testing out this idea by attaching hardware cloth to a 4’x4′ frame.grass growing frames 1

The next step was to spread a pasture mix, cover it with straw and set my frame.  I placed this test frame in with the newbies since they are not yet able to join the big girls in the pasture.grass growing frames 2

I chose a location under their ladder roost, figuring the extra fertilizer should help it grow.  It wasn’t long and one of the Rohde Island Reds decided to hop up and do her part . . . lol.grass growing frames 3

Two weeks later we have grass!!grass growing frames 8

Since that was a success, I decided to get my equipment set up . . . grass growing frames 4bthen round up more scrap lumber used from re-roofing our house.grass growing frames 4a

With boards cut for three 4’x5′ framesgrass growing frames 4 and assembledgrass growing frames 5  I’m ready to attach the hardware cloth.

Rod’s experience and tools makes the task go smoothly.grass growing frames 6A pneumatic staple gun and larger wire cutter were easier on my hands than the tools I used for the test frame.

Three frames complete and ready for the run.  This time I will cover the seed with potting soil rather than straw.grass growing frames 7

We uncovered the two week old grass and repositioned the frame next to one of the new larger frames.grass growing frames 12Looks like the fresh grass is a hit!

The other two frames were set in the big girls side of the run and we even passed the inspection of our two older Delawares.grass growing frames 13  Mama approved of the job well done and her sister checked to see that her tomato plant was not harmed 😉

This task was completed late yesterday afternoon, so this morning I checked on the newbies to see how their grass held up . . . Frame grass next day 1well that didn’t take long.  Although they did leave a little green.Frame grass next day 2

We may try leaving the frame in place a bit longer, letting the grass grow through the hardware cloth allowing it to become thicker while the chickens graze on the tall growth.  Another thought is to only leave it uncovered for an hour or so, just long enough for the girls to give the grass a good trimming.  Either way, I like this concept.

The bigger they get, the more room they need.

The latest addition to the RindyBerry egg laying crew are getting big and as they grow so do their accommodations. They were a couple of weeks old when we determined the height of their brooder needed to be extended.  At the same time Rod added a custom built “jungle gym”, giving them room to roost.new jungle gym

This was a hit, but we knew it wouldn’t be long and they would need to leave the brooder for the “big house”.

The chicken coop, was originally built with the option of splitting the coop by hanging chicken wire and a screen door.  This is helpful when integrating new chickens into the flock.  It was now time to hang the screen door and wire, but the hens use both sets of nesting boxes so the screen door was re-framed and plywood installed to give them a quiet place away from the nosey big hens.moving day 2    This will be plenty of room for now.

With the adjustments complete, it was time to move the newbies.  It had only been two weeks since we extended the height of the brooder and as you can see they’d grown considerably.moving day 1

Poor things, they hit that ugly adolescent stage.

We set the dog crate (used for transport) in the corner of the coop and allow them to work their way out into their new digs.moving day 3

While we searched out more used kennel panels to divide the main run, Rod set up a small run on the other side of the coop so they could enjoy some fresh air and bugs.original pen   It was a warm day when we moved them, so decided to leave the door open.  The big door, rather than the hatch and ramp, seamed to be their preference.intro to the outside world 2  They are getting bigger after all. 😉

About a month after their move we found a good deal on a 6’x12′ kennel.  We had a 10′ section on hand but needed another 20′ to split the main chicken run.room to roam 1  With the panels in place the teenyboppers (as we refer to them) have room to play.

enjoying the new run

The next task will be to take the plywood enclosure out of the main coop and hang more chicken wire.  This will expand their coop space.  Integrating chicken flocks is a process for sure.

Cute little fuzz balls.

Today the newest addition to the RindyBerry laying flock is officially one week old and doing great!  Last Monday we took a drive to Abendroth Hatchery where we were greeted by the owner plus a couple of tables full of peeping boxes waiting for pick up.  Here is a picture of the box our 12 Black Australorp pullets road home in.chick transport box

The first few weeks are the most critical, so we decided to set the brooder up in our solarium.  This works out great in that it keeps the dusty mess out of the house, but yet they are close by for observation.Solarium Brooder 2

Shortly after we got them settled into their new home, our friend Kristi brought over the four Rohde Island Red chicks she hatched for us.2014 Spring Chicks 5 Both sets of chicks are the same age and new to the environment, so no major squabbles.

Since they won’t have a mama to keep them warm, we adjusted the brooder lamp so the temperature would be around 90 degrees for the first week.  Now that they are a week old, we will set it up to a temp of 80 degrees.

watching the tempThey keep a pretty close eye on that temperature. 😉

After about four days it was time to clean the brooder.  We moved their feed and water onto boards to help keep out some of the bedding they kick up while foraging.

Rod added a little roost.  It sure didn’t take long for them to figure that out and begin establishing the pecking order.2014 Day 4 clean brooder 1Clover is a hit

He also added some clover . . . that was a huge hit!

Baby chicks at this age are all fuzzy and cute, but it won’t last long.2014 Day 4 clean brooder 3  Already they’re wing and tail feathers are beginning to come in as they approach that adolescent stage.

 

 

Broody or not Broody . . . that is the question.

Several days after my last post it looked as though one of our young Delaware hens was going broody.  She would sit in the same nesting box all day often joined by one of her flock-mates.  I’ve read that it’s not uncommon for others in the flock to help fill the nest for a broody hen.Two in a nest

We had planned on increasing our flock with Rhode Island Reds (RIR) and were referred to someone that agreed to collect a dozen eggs from his show quality blood line.  The next step was to move the little brooder set up into the big coop.  Rod had expanded on last year’s broody box by adding a hardware cloth base, ramp, and wheels so it could be used as a small tractor. This worked great for portability, but it would not fit through the coop door so off came the wheels and it slid right in.Broody coop 3Broody coop 2

We soon had a hen in the brooder on a nice clutch of eggs.  She was tucking eggs, fussing with the bedding, and making little broody noises.  We couldn’t believe how well this was going, but come evening everyone was happily roosting including our “broody” little hen!  Since she’s one of the young hens, we figured we’d take her off the roost close her into the brooder where it’s quiet and cozy then check on her before we turning in to see if she settled into brooding.  The problem was . . . the hens all look alike!Blue Butt 3

The next day, after making sure it wouldn’t harm her, we placed two drops of blue food coloring on our broody’s back feathers.  This should help if we need to pluck her off the roost.  Later that day while I was working in the solarium my potentially broody “blue butt” went strolling by. Blue Butt 1  I decided it was a good time to see how many eggs she was sitting on.  Imagine my dismay when there on the nest was another hen tucking eggs, fussing with bedding, and making little broody noises (sigh. . .)

We did have a back up plan for hatching our fertilized RIR eggs.  A nearby friend with and incubator agreed to hatch them.  We sent along a dozen eggs from the collected clutch, hoping our Delaware rooster did his job.  It takes about 21 days for an egg to hatch, Kristi candled the eggs at day 10 and at least four of the RIR were progressing, but the Delaware eggs were clear (not fertile).  ChesterChester is not quite a year old, so he will keep trying 😉

Since we need to increase egg production to meet customer needs, and will be brooding at least four RIR chicks we’ve decided to order a dozen Black Australorp pullet chicks.  We pick them up on May 5th which is the same day the RIR’s should be hatching.  I can hardly wait!!

 

Raising spring chicks.

Our neighbor is increasing their laying flock this year.  I’m so excited for them!!  Their original flock of six are no longer producing as many eggs, which happens as chickens age.  This will be their first time brooding chicks.  We have some experience, although limited, and have offered to help out how ever we can.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Two years ago we decided to raise our own meat chickens after learning it took about eight weeks for a Cornish Rock Cross to reach a decent butcher weight.  We ordered 50 chicks that April and set up a place in the garage to brood them.  Rod made a nifty two foot high ring which we covered with sheets to keep heat in and drafts out.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne little guy appears to be a stickler for the correct temperature.

By the third week they began to develop their wing and tail feathers . . . OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby the forth week they were ready to get out into the fresh air, and we were glad to have the dust and smell out of the garage!!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After a good deal of research Rod built our first chicken tractor.  This is the term used for a portable pen/coop.   The first week we got by with moving it every couple of days.  By the second week we moved it daily and even twice a day the last couple of weeks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They created a good deal of fertilizer which is why we grazed this first batch up near our house.  The lawn was in dire need of good organic nutrients – WOW did it grow and green up after that!!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Brooding chicks is a fair bit of work, which is why we were excited last Mother’s Day when one of our Delaware’s decided not get off the nest.  Rod built her a nice quiet broody box, we the set a dozen fertilized eggs under her and about 21 days later the hatching began. Mom & chicks #2  This was great no heat lamps or special pen needed. The hen keeps the chicks warm . . .
and teaches them to forage.  She is such a good Mama!!babies in the yard
I just love my chickens –