The new coop is done!!

New coopIt took about nine months…long enough to birth a child, but I got instead a wonderful new chicken coop.  Small barn, really.

Before the chickens moved in, some friends came to see it and thought it would make a great guest house.  Fat chance!  I have needed the extra space for some time.

My husband and son did  a great job!  They used a lot of material that we had stored in our garage.  The windows were a find…special-order windows from Lowes that were returned.  About 90 percent off the original price!

new coop front steps

I’ll put it to the test this winter…I hatched out about 75 chicks in August…insane, I know.  So we’ll see if the house can handle my 30 adult birds plus a large number of adolescent Buttercups.  But, in the hot days of early August, I won’t worry about that.

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How to add new birds to your flock

ImageIt’s a question that comes up this time of year quite a bit.  Some people want to add in the young birds they’ve raised from chicks, while others have bought new adult birds.  

But they don’t call it a pecking order for nothing….

Check out my latest post on Earth Eats, the NPR affiliate program on WFIU.

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Sick chick blues

Its the question of the century for chicken farmers:  what do I do with my chicken that is (fill in the blank:  injured, sick, not eating, not drinking, sitting with ruffled feathers).

I know some old veterans who will cull a bird that is the least bit sick, with the theory that they can’t afford to feed a sick bird and once sick, never completely recovered.  Then I know others that have taken their pet chickens to expensive avian vets and paid lots of money to find out that nothing really could save them.

She was one of the lucky ones

It’s a dilemma, for sure.  I have found there is a happy medium in there somewhere.  Knowing the difference between the ones that won’t last, the ones that might last and the ones that probably will recover has taken me a lot of time.  And, I’m not always right.

But, case in point:  about four years ago I had a lovely pullet that I was going to show at the Ohio National in November. Three days before the show she began to sit outside with feathers ruffled, and I knew something was up.  I picked her up and found a soft eggshell hanging out of her vent with some yolk attached.  Uh oh.  Egg broken inside, probably infection, probably death impending.  Still, I decided to give it a try.  I brought her inside, sat her vent area in some warm water and watched the rest of the eggshell come out in the water.

I had some penicillin tablets, and decided to dose her and keep her inside, wrapped up and warm.  I held her or put her in a box in the kitchen for the next two days, then had to leave for the show.  I told my husband to watch her and make sure she ate and drank.  After about two more days, she got up and started moving (my husband reported by phone).

Long story short…she recovered and I still have her, and she is hale and hearty.  It could have ended badly, and I have it end badly with sick chickens.  I guess the best answer is to talk to others who are more experienced, read from sources you know to be reputable, and learn. Often the hard way.

I have a blog post on Earth Eats this week that talks a bit more about what you can do when your chickens are ailing.  I’s a never-ending learning process for me.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wade in the water

Let’s deal with it:  I’ve taken a prolonged leave from this blog because I started a new, full-time writing job at a medical device company.  A great job, but I arrive home out of words.  And dealing with the long days, taking care of the animals, family and occasionally cleaning the house, blogging hasn’t been top-of-mind.  But, perhaps the word bank has had enough deposits.

 

The heat of this summer has been/is something I’ve not seen in many years….well, actually, make that ever.  Though we had had some hot summer, I didn’t have chickens, so perhaps didn’t notice the weather quite so much.  Now I am aware of every nuance, as it can affect my livestock.

Luckily the Buttercups are a Mediterranean breed, light of body, large comb to cool off the body.  They’ve been ok. But a new behavior has emerged that I’ve not seen before:  wading chickens.  I’ve read pro and con about spraying water on chickens to cool them off.  Doesn’t matter much for me, my birds wouldn’t hold still even if I tried.  But…one of the hottest days of this summer I had put out extra water pans for the birds.  All I had were those shallow black feed pans, so I scrubbed several  out and filled them with water.

I noticed when I got home that night that some of the pans were filthy with dirt.  And, as I watched, several chickens walked through the water pan and out again.  Could it have been an accident?  I kept watching and saw that they were taking turns standing in the water to cool off and then moved into the shade.

I filled an extra kiddie pool for my large pen of birds–just a couple of inches–and left it under a shady tree.  Success.

So until the heat abates (which I don’t think is going to happen for some time), I’m keeping the shallow “wading pool” pans in all of my chicken pens.  Its a bit more trouble scrubbing those things out every night, so darn, I still can’t get to the vacuuming or clothes folding

Such is life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Let there be light!

I’ve heard so many people talk on various chicken forums about eggs…or the lack thereof.  More this year than ever before, really.  I wonder if it is because more people have started raising chickens, hence the additional worry about eggs?

If you read my blogs often, you’ll know I’m not a proponent of additional light in the coop to encourage egg laying. After watching hens work so hard laying eggs most of the year, I’m happy to let them take their time off, build up nice feathers, take it easy before the work begins again in late winter/early spring.

There are lot of things that can stop a hen from laying eggs. The first and most common reason is:  lack of light!  The hens need about 14 hours of light a day to really get started. Having said that, some of my Buttercups began laying shortly after the first of the year and they are going strong. My few other breeds are not yet laying, but I know they will soon.

Other reasons?  The best article I’ve read on the topic is from a blog on Murray McMurray Hatchery . In it, they outline nine reasons why hens may not be laying well, including stress, poor feed, parasites or disease, extreme temperatures, and lack of fresh water.  It’s worth looking at all of  them to ensure your hen has the best conditions possible.

I think sometimes in our busy, instant-gratification world, we might be expecting a little too much from everything, including our animals.  I try to appreciate the chickens for what enjoyment they bring to me.  And so, if eggs are a part of that, so be it.  If not, that’s ok, too.

eggs

But with the days growing noticeably longer, many of my chicken friends now have eggs again.  I hope most of you do, and if you don’t, hang in there.  You will have eggs again, in the fullness of time.

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“Earth Eats” and chicken eats

I’m excited to have found another outlet to write about chickens and other things:  Earth Eats.  My second column posted recently, all about winterizing your chickens.  Never fear, this blog will continue, and may even have some complementary posts, so all is well.

But writing about winterizing your chickens makes me think about feeding the chickens to keep them healthy over the winter.  If you keep your chickens inside during really bad weather, they can become really bored. Having something to do…like say, eat…does help them keep from pecking on each other.

And if your birds go outside during the day–as most of mine do, in nearly all kinds of weather–they just may need a little extra boost of calories, as they are working twice as hard to stay warm.

So here are some suggestions for both boredom and warmth:

1.  Inside–Hang a cabbage inside an old onion bag about head-heighth of the birds.  They’ll get hours of enjoyment picking at the cabbage.  You’ll be surprised how quickly it goes!  I try to buy cabbages at the grocery store around holidays like New Years Day when lots of people eat cabbage and it goes on sale.

2.  Inside and out–I’m not promoting any particular product, but an outstanding poultryman from Indiana, Doug Akers, recommends “Flock Block SunFresh® Recipe” that is made by Purina. It has whole grains, molasses, oyster shell and grit.  He says it keeps his birds from pecking at each other on those horrible cold days when he keeps his birds inside.  I’ve used it outside as well, though its best to keep it covered from rain and snow.

3.  Outside–Wild bird seed suet cakes are available everywhere, and I buy a few whenever I am at the grocery store (especially if they are on sale!).  Some of my birds gobble them up and others totally ignore them.  But I do feel the extra fat helps keep their weight up when they are outside on the coldest days.

If you want to try your hand at making your own, here’s a recipe from Chef Daniel Orr of Farm Bloomington.

4.  Outside–This is an old poultry trick I’ve read about many times, but it makes lots of sense to me.  Cracked corn!  It is mostly carbohydrate and like carbs in our body, burns off quickly and creates heat.  So throw some corn in the coop at night and let the birds scratch around,which both gives them a last-minute snack and helps keep the bedding turned over for you.

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Preserve some pickled peppers

I get e-newsletters of all kinds.  One of my favorites is one from Grit. In a recent issue, there was a blog posting from Desert Homesteading about preserving hot peppers. As I am wont to say, “Why not?”

The farmers market is teeming with hot peppers this time of year, it really overwhelms me.  But I bravely marched in and chose a bunch of different peppers, plus got some from my CSA basket, and got to work.

Here is the secret recipe:

1.  Put peppers under a broiler or on a grill.  Check.

2. Grill until skins turn black.  Check.

3.  Put in a paper bag and let cool.  Scrape off blackened skins.  Check.  Use gloves.  Uncheck.

4.  Cut open and clean out the seeds.Pack the pepper halves into clean pint-size canning jars which have been heated in boiling water. Then cover them with a mixture of 2 cups distilled vinegar, 1 cup water, and 1 teaspoon salt, heated to boiling. Leave 1/4 inch between the top of the liquid and the rim of the jar, apply the lids, and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.  Done!

This is surprisingly easy to do, though what started out looking like a lot of peppers ended up only filling two jars.

However, since I don’t even know if I will like these peppers, I think that’s enough for this year.  They look pretty, I’ve actually canned something besides jam, I’m good.

On to the next project!

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Digging in


Potatoes in the ground

The email came from my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture): come, help us harvest crops on the farm and we’ll pay you in extra produce.  Given that I live in the woods and can never produce more than two tomatoes a year, how could I pass up an offer like that?

So one sunny Friday morning I drove out to the country.  I followed directions and found myself on a dirt road, driving back into…a giant garden.  The CSA I belong to is run by The Center for Community Empowerment , headed by Michael Hicks.  He put me to work immediately digging up potatoes under a row of hay.

Michael explained that they plant the potatoes a bit shallow and then cover them with the hay to create a mulch protector. So all I had to do was pull off the hay, put it in piles by the row (the hay will be used later for more mulch and compost) and put the potatoes in a crate.  It was cool when I started the day, but after a couple of hours, I began peeling off layers in the warm autumn sun.

Working in agriculture is not for everyone. Michael said that he had had some people come out to the farm to help him and left after 15 MINUTES!  How is it that folks can work out in a gym for hours but can’t dig or pick a few vegetables?

But no matter, it was a lovely day, I was happy to be out in the sun working and the promise of extra produce for my efforts was sweet.  Even better were the fried potatoes we got to eat at lunch, freshly dug and cleaned.  My turkey sandwich and apple never left the car.

Field of greens

Later that afternoon we covered the rows of kale with small hoops and plastic, preparing for the upcoming cold nights. It was hard to imagine frost and cold when I looked out over the lovely rows of multi-colored greens.

Six hours after I arrived it was time to go. True to his word, Michael loaded me up with potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, greens, peppers, and pumpkins!!  Lots and lots of pumpkins!!  He was very excited to hear that my chickens love greens and tomatoes, so I got POUNDS extra of cracked tomatoes, split or undersized cabbages and damaged greens.  He was glad that less food would go to waste, as I imagine it must be frustrating to see even one tomato not get used after you work so hard to grow it.

Michael Hicks rolling some pumpkins along

Seeing where my vegetables have been coming from this summer was, well, rewarding.  I have renewed admiration for anyone who can make a living off the land.  Its hard work, just plain hard work.  But its also worth the effort when you see what you have produced, touched it, arranged it and, ultimately, sold it to pay for the next generation of food.

Me, beside my morning's work

I thought I was used to hard work from the chickens, but this takes it to another level.  I fell asleep in a chair at 8 p.m. Still, if and when the call comes again, I’ll be there if I can.


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For chickens it’s molt bene

I am always surprised to find not everyone knows that chickens lose a bunch of feathers every fall and grow new ones.  Its called molting.

What is it?  Basically, a large number of the chickens’ feather fall out and new ones grow in, usually in autumn. Many of the old feathers are broken, ragged, and at the end of the laying season, lackluster. By molting, they have new ones that will protect them from the cold and–in nature–ensure they can fly adequately if a predator comes after them.

When hens molt, they also stop laying eggs so the energy of developing eggs goes into growing feathers. It’s like a rest for the hen from laying eggs for a short while. Like many things, the molt is triggered by the amount of light a bird receives.  So, when the days grow shorter, its a signal to the bird body that its time to take a rest from laying and start growing new feathers.

Its always a shock to come out to the pen and see a huge pile of feathers lying on the ground or inside the coop.  Often, my first thought is:  which bird was eaten last night?  But, happily, most often its the beginning of molt season.

There are some who keep artificial light on their hens to keep them laying year-round, but I say the hens have worked hard all year, its fine and natural to let them have a rest.

I always hate the fact that I have to buy store eggs a few times a year, of course most often around Thanksgiving, but I figure its a price well-paid to let the hens have a rest and start back up when they are good and ready.

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On becoming The Armchair Homesteader

It seems to happen when the economy is down:  people want to turn back to the basics.  Whether its chickens, canning food, quilting, beekeeping, or something else, many of us want to turn back to the land and its comfort in turbulent times. I have decided to try once a week for the next year to try something, explore something, talk to someone about what they are doing in terms of living more sustainably.  Closer to the source is the phrase that comes to mind.

So, Week 1:

It’s that most wonderful time of the year:  local produce is abundant, really coming out of our ears.  But if you don’t do something about it, its gone for good. So much pressure!!

This week I got a bunch of small tomatoes in my CSA basket and, gosh, you can only eat so many cherry tomatoes in a salad. What to do, what to do? Luckily, with the power of Google, I found the perfect thing:  Dried Tomatoes!  I can’t really call them sun-dried and oven-dried does not sound very appetizing. But no matter the source of drying-ness, I love these things.

Here’s the secret recipe I found on Google:

1. Cut tomatoes in half.

2. Place on foil lined baking dish.

3. Bake at 200 degrees for 8-10 hours

These tomatoes are just right

4. Store in jar with olive oil or plastic container if you are freezing them.

It was easy enough, though I have to say that drying cherry tomatoes is a lot quicker than, say, roma tomatoes.  So per the instructions, I started checking them at 8 hours.  Big Mistake!!  They already were nearly black and very crunchy!  Back to the Farmer’s Market for more cherry tomatoes. I left the “mistakes” in a bowl on the counter, however, and they were gone pretty quickly.

These tomatoes below turned out just right after SIX hours.

I can’t wait to have these in the dead of winter.  Like pesto, they just remind me of summer, which right now is not a distant memory.  But in January or February, I will be glad I did this.

It’s almost embarrassing how easy that was, really.  The only down side that I see is that when you are done drying them, it doesn’t look like nearly enough.  I want more!

Hmm, what next?  Stay tuned.  I am on a preservation kick.  Thoughts, anyone?

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