Posts in chickens
Chicken Diary : Chicks!

The Buckaloo View flock has grown in size! On Monday, 16 new babies arrived. There are three of each: Buff Orpington, Rose Comb Leghorn, Silver Spangled Hamburg, Black Australorp, and Araucana (which lay green/blue eggs.) Plus one Golden Polish. Eventually, they will join the nine layers and one rooster we currently have. But for now, they are happily and healthily in a toasty warm tub in the basement, just being adorable.

Have a nice weekend!

Chicken Diary : Winter Challenges

Winter has only just begun and the challenges of keeping animals in colder months are becoming apparent to this newbie. I know with time I'll learn more about what works best for myself and my chickens and I, too, will become more acclimated to the cold, but for right now, I'm stumbling through with cold fingers, mumbling many curses and fending off worries. When I first got the chickens, a lot of people have asked me what I'm going to do to keep them warm in the winter. I'll admit, before learning more about chickens, I had the same fear---How will they keep warm!? But, I'm a human and require outside sources of heat and layers of materials to keep myself warm. Most livestock is built to stand the cold much better than we are. For starters, the chickens are eating more, throwing more fuel on their little internal fires, plus, their layers of different feathers insulate them very well. That doesn't mean I can rest easy. As we sink deeper into the colds of winter and the temperatures plummet, I will have to keep an eye on how they are faring and perhaps supply a little warmth for the coldest of nights.

Water, on the other hand, will freeze. I have two waterers, one in the run and one in the coop. I had come across those base heaters but got sick at the thought of spending $50 for one. Luckily, the Chicken Chick had a great DIY. And even more luckily, I scrounged up all the pieces needed in the barn and have a dear friend who was an electrician in his early days. I only had to put out for the thermocube outlet (which turns on when temperatures drop below 35F and off when they go over 45F) as well as a few craft brews as a 'Thank You.' I only set it up on nights I know its going to dip way down below freezing since inside the barn and coop it doesn't get as cold. Luckily, with two waterers, I can (and do) have the option of rotating them: bringing one inside to thaw overnight and then swapping it out for the frozen one in the morning. It's very important to make sure chickens (and all animals) always have access to water for the obvious reasons. Plus going without water for even a short period of time can affect their egg production for weeks.

Another issue in winter is snow. While they are pretty good at handling the cold, chickens are prone to becoming "snowblind." My Grandma and others warned me about it but, of course, I had to learn the hard way. We had a big, heavy (albeit beautiful) snow on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the next day, in between setting the table and helping guests off with their coats, I ran outside to let the chickens out of the run. They made a sharp turn into the honeysuckle and hid under the eaves of the barn, where the snow was sparse. I chuckled and figured they wouldn't stand for it and go back into the run. (Being a bunch of chickens and all.) So I went back inside and had my fair share of turkey, sweet potatoes, wine and pie and forgot all about the chickens. Until dark, when I went to close them up for the night. Only four of my ten birds were safely on their roosts. Luckily, I found four of them clustered together in one spot. Unfortunately, that spot was deep in a pine tree and digging them out was not how I planned on spending the evening. Considering he isn't a big fan of my chickens, I was very thankful that my brother grabbed a flashlight and helped me hunt for last two. He spotted one in the shed and finally I found Chuck hiding by the silo. So I crawled down in their, in my pretty dress and tights, and scooped him up. 

Needless to say, lesson learned. As long as the ground is covered in snow, the birds are staying in the run. 

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Chicken Diary : The First Egg

Early last week we started a pool on when we'd see the first egg. The birds were officially over 20 weeks which meant they could start laying any time. Guesses ranged from as early as October 14th to as late as November 15th. Turns out Friday, October 10th was the magic date! Since then, there has been an egg a day. It is such a joy to see an itty bitty egg sitting in one of the nesting boxes, a feeling that will doubt take a while to get old.

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Chicken Diary : Butchering

Two weeks ago, early in the morning, my mother and I dropped our chickens off to be butchered. Later that day we picked them up, individually wrapped in bags, cleaned and ready to go in the freezer. This is not a surprise. It is not out of left field. It was planned from the very beginning. I ordered six male birds that were being raised for meat. Since May, I worried about it. I second guessed it. I even joked about it. But in the end, I went through with it. And last weekend we had some family over to sit down and enjoy a home-raised chicken dinner with us. During this week, the leftovers were turned into much needed chicken soup. 

I wasn't sure what all to go into in this post. The specifics? The ethics? The taste? The emotions? I'll spare you all the mundane details about my diet journey but I will say I spent the bulk of my twenties as a vegetarian (even a few years as a vegan) which only adds to people's varied reactions when learning about what I'm doing now. Some people are confused, others are proud and, yes, some are even humored by it. As of now I'm trying to find a happy place with my dietary choices (both nutritional and ethical) but I'm very grateful for this step, raising and eating happy, healthy chicken.

To transport the birds, we borrowed a crate from a friend who also raises chickens. When picking it up, my Mom and I expressed a little doubt and worry about this whole process. Emotionally, would we be able to handle it? He reminded us that these chickens lived their lives experiencing only one bad day: their last. I feel very confident that I can stand by that statement. I gave them the best life I could. (In fact many people think the chickens here are overly spoiled.) Overall, it was great experience, from start to finish, and I plan to do it again next year but on a larger scale.

(The photos above are from a few weeks ago when we first let them outside to roam around the yard. The remaining birds now go out every evening for a few hours when they aren't as prone to wander too far and I'm around to listen for any trouble.)

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Chicken Diary : Waiting

The chickens are about 14 weeks old. Right now, we are at a waiting stage: waiting for the boys to reach a decent market weight and more importantly, waiting for the girls to start laying eggs. A lot of friends and family are asking about eggs. I have to keep telling them “not yet, not yet.” (Maybe in September?)

While we wait, their antics and behavior are providing great therapy and entertainment. It’s a lot of fun to watch them get so excited about kitchen and garden scraps (they especially love corn cobs.) Actually, just watching them in general is fun. Someone came over for a visit and spotted the row of chairs we had lined up and said: “Do you guys, like, sit there and watch your chickens?” “Yeah, we’re simple people.” Two of them are crowing (one being Chuck.) When we sit on the deck and call out to them, they crow (talk?) back. The cat is oddly calm around them. One evening I spotted her bathing herself right in front of them. The dog is afraid of them and won’t go anywhere near the run. When they hear me unlocking the run latch in the morning, singsonging a “Good Morning, Chickens!” suddenly, a handful of little chicken faces appear at the coop window, looking at me eagerly. It’s slowly getting darker a little earlier each night so I no longer have to wait so long to go out and lock them in. The biggest boy is definitely the head honcho. (He is the white one, easily seen in the last photo.) He doesn’t seem to appreciate me being around his girls.

(These photos were all taken over the course of the last month.)

Chicken Diary : The Breeds

Last week, I introduced you to Chuck, the Silver Polish rooster. He definitely stands out among the standard breeds I have. The remaining 15 birds are made up of four varieties. I specifically chose four separate colors so I could tell the chicks apart, even at only a couple of days old. I went with very classic breeds for the layers. Six Rhode Island Reds, which are a reddish-brown and three Barred Rocks, which are a black and white speckled.

Out of the six meat birds, half are Orpingtons (the golden buff color) and half are Wyandotte (white.) I say “meat birds” because that is what I am raising them for even though they are considered a standard dual-purpose breed, good for both eggs and meat. Maybe next year, I can try raising one of the specific meat birds, like Pioneers or Red Rangers. However, there will be no eggs from these six as all are male and, if everything goes well, will be butchered in about a month.

I really like the Buff Orpingtons. They are a pretty bird and, so far, these boys are very docile and sweet. I’ll probably get some layers next year. Friends and family are pushing for more exotic breeds as well. Normally, I’m a classic kind of girl (and aiming for hens that are more notorious layers, therefore, earning their keep) but, on this one, I agree with them and hope to get a couple of “top hats” like Chuck, just for a little interest in the flock. Also on the list next year are Araucanas, which produce the colorful “easter” eggs.

Those of you with chickens, do you have a favorite breed? Or anything to share on notable differences between the breeds?