November 28, 2012

Sunflowers, First Frost And Flock Blocks...

We had our first heavy frost last night, even though we have sunflowers and a few roses still blooming. The daytime temps are chilly and after a few false starts I think winter is pretty much here for awhile.  No snow or sleet yet, that usually holds off till the first part of January. The chickens have finished molting, finally, and are now close to getting all their new feathers in. They look fatter and fluffier (especially their fluffy butts) and ready for winter.

Sunflowers in November
We spent part of the summer researching, reading and YouTube-ing for info  on how to keep the chickens warm once winter hits. We decided to use the deep litter bedding method to keep the chickens warm during cold weather. We started, a couple of months ago, with about about twelve inches of straw, shavings and leaves in the coop and run. It's great because we can throw raked leaves straight into the run and the girls love that. Dried-up, crunchy, leaves (along with hiding insects) seemed to be really special. Normally the leaves would go into the compost pile for the breaking-down process but the chickens do a much better job! This method of adding straw, wood chips and other safe organic materials and letting the chickens have fun with it is quite interesting and time saving.  It's amazing how fast they scratch, dig, peck and turn all of this into fluffy bedding. This is where the scientific part comes in about how everything actually breaks down and heat is produced but I won't bore you with a science lesson today. But we've seen it work - no stinky hen house and deep bedding for them to burrow down in.

"Someone PLEASE stop the wind!"

The addition of organic materials when needed, and a weekly light turning of the existing  bedding material with a garden fork turns the run into a new playground for the girls. They love to attack the piles of straw and leaves and fling it everywhere (like a cartoon whirlwind)!  In the afternoon, before they go up to roost, we toss in cracked corn or scratch. We read that this helps their digestion in some way that affects their ability to build up body heat. We have no proof that cracked corn actually helps but they love it and it's become a  bedtime/roost-time ritual. If they're happy we're happy!

"Keep looking. I know we dropped it around here!"

The ladies go out for supervised free-ranging several times a day -except when the weather is bad. And by bad I mean very cold and torrential raining. There is a place for me to sit and supervise them where I can tolerate the cold, but until I get some industrial strength rain gear, they have to stay in the run till the rain turns to a drizzle. They don't understand this run confinement and become grumpy and hold me responsible. If I'm in the kitchen they can see me through the windows. They think the sight of me moving around inside is a cue that I am coming out the back door. They have a lot to say if I don't come right out!  I can hear them easily from the kitchen if they get loud enough. They really do have a nice, cozy coop and run. And it's not the weather I worry about so much as it is their being cooped-up, literally, for long periods of time. Boredom among chickens can present safety issues. I've seen mine pick, peck and fight with each other…not causing any wounds so far but that's something that is possible and you need to watch for.

There are a lot of ways to keep chickens entertained - food is the best one. You don't want to give them junk food for any reason! But there are ways to make healthy food entertaining. We use a small wire basket filled with pumpkin or greens and hang it just high enough that they have to jump and peck at it to get the goodies, - a Chicken PiƱata! There are also gadgets you can use to mount solid food, apples, flock blocks etc., on walls.

I recently tried making my own Flock Block (also very entertaining for them). I combined several recipes I'd seen and tweaked it with what I already had on the shelf.

-Another version of a Flock Block

1/2 to 1 Cup - Water (depending on what type feed you use)
1/2 Cup - Chicken Feed ,either mash or powdery left-over stuff  bottom of feed sack
1/2 Cup - Corn Meal Mix
2 Eggs
1/4 Cup  - Molasses1/2 Cup - Sunflower Seeds and/or Cracked corn

These are optional-
1 tsp  -  Cinnamon
1/4 Cup - Wheatgerm

Mix all together in no special order. Make sure eggs are mixed in well. The main thing to know is you  may need to adjust the amount of water - a lot or a little.  It should look like really thick, dryish cake batter. Spread it out in a glass or metal baking dish to about an inch and a half thick. I did add a very tiny amount of oil to grease the pan. Bake in oven at 300 degrees for about 30 min., enough to make sure the eggs are cooked and the 'block' is somewhat hard but not burned (because of molasses watch closely). When it has cooled enough you should be able to take a knife and cut it into smaller squares if you made a lot or leave it as is.

When I put it out for our chicks they acted like they were getting more Thanksgiving leftovers!

 (Another version) Home Made Flock Block


So sweet!
Edit to yesterday's post-  I was moving straw around in the egg box and found 2 eggs. The chickens weren't due to start laying till mid December so it was a BIG surprise. I didn't even  have my good camera ready so I posted a photo on Facebook. They're are tan with dark brown speckles and on the smallish side. Pretty sure they are from one or both of the barred rocks!


November 14, 2012

Wild City Chicks...

Yesterday the chickens were out free-ranging for quite a while. In fact I'm sure they left no bug or blade of grass uninvestigated. They hopped  up on low limbs of trees, made sure they had lots of playtime on the patio table (not where I want them to be so  I have to shoo them off). Their favorite places to get though, are our refurbished metal  chairs and glider (the glider really glides and it's a challenge to them to get on and work their way up to the highest point ad try to hang and balance there)! They went to one of the compost piles and did a little work on it for us, went to Harry's lettuce garden and made sure everything was okay in it. They heard our next door neighbor come out, get in her car, crank the engine and back out. They all stopped what they were doing and looked in the direction of the noise…I think it fascinated them since there is a fence and they couldn't see the actual noise-maker.

While they played I did a little cleanup around the hen house -cleaned out and refilled water and food containers, turn the bedding in the run, refresh the bedding in the coop. The most exhausting thing I did though was herding them back into the hen house.

I've spent so much time bragging on those SWEET babies I should have seen this coming. Mass mutiny in the backyard! Six chickens going in six different direction and none toward the hen house. I tried all my usual tricks to get them to go in, treats, food, toys, me sitting in there -no luck. One of the first things I thought about was maybe there was a good reason they didn't want to go in so I did check the coop and run to make sure there were no scary creatures hiding out.

Talulah is the best at escaping ME
I have a beautiful Japanese lace-leaf maple tree that of I have pruned/bonsaied and babied for twenty years. The low shape makes good cover for the chickens and they like scratching and pecking at the dirt around it. They also know that when they are under there it is hard for me to reach them. I tried diving under the tree to catch one and ended up breaking a really nice limb. Ugh!  I got the water hose and sprayed the tree just barely enough for them to decide it wasn't such a great place at the moment.

 Oh, the indignity
I finally tried picking them up one at a time and putting them inside the hen house. That, however, was their chance to show off their circus skills. I'd finally get three or four in, close the door and turn around to go after the last few… only they were ALL out again. This went on for a long time. I think they were trying to wear me down (which they did) but not to a good end for them. I got a wagon and some chairs near the hen house and finally got them corralled into a controllable area. In they went, one at a time, giving me the dirtiest looks possible for chickens.

Night, night sweeties!  Finally...


November 11, 2012

Learning How to Roost

Let me put this into perspective. I had to learn how to roost. The chicks were already programed and they had to teach me. Before I started this chicken thing I had to read, learn from other post but the best advice came from the girls.

In the coop-et

I guess their first roosting spot was in their coop-et we built. It was also an experiment to test round verses square perch. The chicks appeared to be more stable on the square. Also I had it only 4 “ off the floor. I was thinking chickens don’t really fly and they looked too fat to make the effort to jump. I learned this was not true every time we opened the top and they attempted escaping.

Whats this thing?

When the big day came and they moved into the coop and run, it was Sunday evening and no time to put in perches. So I had an old ladder we put into the coop to use until the next weekend came. This was OK but everyone wanted the top position.

The first set of perches

So the following week came and I prepared 1.5” x 1.5” perches and beveled the edges. To position them, I notched out boards and attached to the side. I put in small wood wedges to make them tight. My logic was to put in three perches, two in the back and one closer to the front where the door was. This would give them plenty of room to spread out.  I was also thinking the back of the coop with the lower roof would be more cozy and this was also the location of the ladder we were using.

Front perch by door

Back two perches that I thought would be their favorite

On the first night they came in and seemed excited about their new sleeping area.  I was concerned about the height being too low but that was no problem. They settled in, 3 in the back and 3 in the front.  As the next few nights rolled by it became apparent that the front of the coop was prime position. There was an argument every night and two would be pushed off to move to the back. By the in of the week all 6 were crowding on the front perch. I am guessing it is in front of the window on the door and they like looking out.

Front to back perch added. I took out the front cross perch the first night

So a few weeks later I considered an update due to their continued growth and there was no way they could all fit on one perch. I had some old metal brackets that came out of my dad’s green house used for shelving. So I cleaned them up and put them in the coop so they would have one long perch from front to back. I removed the other three perches. That night they came in looking a little confused. As they settled in, three were perching on the metal cross bar holding the perch close to the window and the others seemed unhappy with the 90° change in position.
Added back the front cross perch the second night

So I put the original cross bar back in and added a piece of wood on the metal bracket. So far everyone seems to be happy. There is still a little pushing and shoving to be closest to the widow but I’m sure there will always be some drama.

Added wood on top of the support bracket to keep their feet warm

In the case of our chickens, they like to sleep together. I guess they keep each other warm. So forget the books and discuss directly with your chickens what they like!

I'd really like to hear your experiences with roost-building and pecking order!


November 8, 2012

Six Chickens And Two Dogs - Becoming One Flock

Ruby and Raquel
We have two Australian Shepherds that are getting older and settling down -as much as an Aussie can settle anyway. When we got the chicks we made sure that they were (from a safe distance) in a place where the dogs could watch us interact with them from the first day. Anyone who has Aussies can imagine their reaction to these chicks. I'm sure, to them, they looked like fluffy tennis balls. Aussies become absolutely OCD at herding SOMETHING…even if it's a tennis ball!  So there we are, two bouncing dogs and six chicks. If you are familiar at all with chicks you know they grow fast. Several of my first posts were mostly exclamations of how fast the chicks were growing.

The photos we got of the chickens and Ruby are bit blurred  but at the time we were focused on the safety of everyone but the photos not so much.

Ruby and Julie
Through the summer the dogs watched the chicks grow and evolve into something more than tennis balls. The chicks became used to the dogs running and barking. Once they got to big for the brooder we moved them to the coop-et (since the hen house was not quite finished). The coop-et sat near the back door so the chicks got to experience and get used to us and the dogs coming and going. The dogs of course got used to the chicks and their cheeping, squawking and flying circus act. 

Beautiful Raquel!
Just so you know, this set-up was designed with the safety of everyone the top priority!!! By doing things this way we hoped to 'grow' the chicks into our already amassed herd, instead of having almost full-grown chickens suddenly appear one day. The dogs would think those feathery things don't belong and the barking and chasing  and chaos would ensue!

The (fully enclosed) hen house has been completed and the chickens have been living in it since mid summer and they are very comfortable with the dogs' constant running amok. And the dogs probably don't remember the hen house ever NOT being there.

We finally did the big dogs-and-chickens-in-the-backyard mix. But we only let Ruby, the calmer female Aussie, out with them. Teddy, a little wilder, will get his test run later. Harry took Ruby out on her leash and I let the chickens out. The chickens were really busy with their foraging at first and didn't notice the dog. Ruby just sat and watched the chickens. Harry got one of their tennis balls and started tossing it to her. He finally got comfortable with her behavior and took the leash off. I was biting my fingernails down to the quick while all this was going on. The chickens were watching Ruby but not with any type of anxiousness the they might be in danger.

Taking cues from the chickens and the dog, we slowly let them begin to mingle. They were okay with each other it appeared (Ruby only got her nose pecked once)!  I really feel if it ever came down to any kind of danger for the chickens, they would have Ruby running for cover…she's just a big chicken herself.

Okay,Teddy's turn coming soon ...

NOTE :  We do not and will never leave the dogs and chickens out together unsupervised.  Even the chickens, alone, don't get to free-range without supervision!


November 5, 2012

Now For Your Chickens' Musical Entertainment

I'm not sure if this is even worthy of a post but evidently MY chickens certain preferences in music. Curious....

I like music from every genre. I have playlists for my own different moods, for entertaining and holidays, even a list I put together specifically for cleaning the kitchen (it helps).  While they were free-ranging this morning I sat down on the glider to relax (really) and watch them NOT get in trouble. My iPod was on and the playlist was made up of a lot of random music. Including a few Jimmy Buffet songs. The girls were all over the yard scratching and pecking to their heats content -until one of the Jimmy Buffet songs came on. They ALL stopped at once and came over by me. Audrey hopped up in my lap which something NONE do voluntarily! The look they were giving me and my bright red iPod was hysterical, heads turning and bobbing like cartoon chickens and they hung around quite a while. Chickens are super curious, I already know, so I thought the music was just new to them. Except, Harry always has his music (totally different from mine)  on while in the backyard working and they've heard it and never reacted like this.
Wanna' dance?
Do I now have to play nothing but Jimmy Buffet when I'm out there? And not let Harry play ANY of his?
So, if your chickens are where they can hear music do they seem to know it's not regular noise? Can chickens really have a preference for different types of sounds
(why didn't I note which Jimmy Buffet songs were playing) ?


Note: Although I really enjoy Jimmy Buffet's music I don't think I could handle nothing but that for very long...even for the chickies!