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Turkey Candling

Chicken egg candled, day four. Source: click image.

Now, I don’t know much about candling eggs, but I thought I’d take a peek at our turkey eggs today (day nine). I’m borrowing a Brinsea OvaScope from my friend Annie (Hi, Miss B.!), which she used in her elementary school classroom this spring for their own hatch of chicken eggs (some of the eggs were from our farm – and four of them hatched!). She had hers hooked up to a webcam for seeing on her laptop, which is awesome, but my only webcam is integrated into my laptop, so I can’t do the same thing. I had to do it the old-fashioned way (stick my eye in the hole).

The result? Out of 13 turkey eggs, 11 have developing embryos, and two are “clears” (all I can see is the shadow of the yolk). Since I’m new at this, I’m leaving all the eggs in, but I marked them with question marks (using pencil). If they are still clear during the next candling in the week or so, I will toss them.

I tried candling the chicken eggs, which have only been incubating for less than two days, but of course I couldn’t see much yet.

The girls enjoyed peeking and seeing the difference between the eggs with embryos and the eggs that were clear. Maya was continually worried that I was leaving the incubator open too long (“They’re going to die!”) but I reassured her that mama hens leave their nests for up to 20-30 minutes a day to eat, poop, take a dust bath, etc. and the eggs are fine with the temporary cool down. Of course, one should take care in handling the eggs gently, and leaving them alone is generally best, but I have only moved them one other time. While I was in there, I filled up one of the humidity channel with warm water. The incubator (a Brinsea Octagon 20 Eco) recovered its temp within two minutes (love that thing!).

Bourbon Red turkey poults. Source: click image.

So, we have up to 11 poults waiting at the end of the journey. Very exciting. I’m praying for them all to hatch!

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Turkeys!

There are currently 13 turkey eggs incubating on my kitchen counter! And now, five chicken eggs, as well. I can hardly wait until 5/18, when they are due to hatch. You can bet I’ll be posting updates and pictures.

This is how I brought the eggs home from the breeder, who lives 45 minutes from me.

The kids and I drove out to Steinbacher Poultry Farm and picked up our dozen hatching eggs last Wednesday (April 20, 2011). The farm was fun to see, with all the geese and turkeys and ducks and chickens (and one gorgeous Kangal livestock guardian dog – so jealous – to keep the predators away). The Krebs were very kind people, nice to talk with, and they gave us one bonus egg. I kept the shoebox full of eggs (turkey eggs don’t fit in a standard egg carton) in the passenger seat next to me all the way home, holding it steady on sharp turns. It was an uneventful ride.

These channels are underneath the tray that holds the eggs. I fill one of them up with water to maintain humidity during incubation, and both will be filled during hatching (the last three days).

A few days earlier, our new incubator, the Brinsea Octagon 20 Eco, had arrived in the mail. We set to work cleaning it, setting it up, calibrating, etc., so we were all ready for the new eggs. Why did we buy an incubator, you ask, after successfully hatching chicks underneath broody mamas last year, and after swearing never to brood baby poultry myself again? Well, two factors swayed me: cost and education. First, cost. Hatched poults are $9/bird, making them $108/dozen, whereas hatching eggs are $36/dozen (or $3/egg, if your math is fuzzy). I purchased my incubator on sale, plus had a coupon, so the cost of the incubator and hatching eggs combined was not that much more than just buying the poults hatched. And now I have the incubator for future use, like if a broody hen quits on me, or if I want to hatch rare breed eggs or something. This incubator came highly recommended and is really neat. It takes up very little space, is super easy to clean/sanitize after hatching, recovers temp/humidity quickly, and doesn’t require opening to turn the eggs. The ends are octagon shaped, see? So you simply rock the whole incubator back and forth 90 degrees at least three times a day (I usually end up doing it 5 – 7, because I’m home) instead of having to open the lid to turn the eggs (which messes with the temp and humidity every time).

Oh, and that second factor – education. My children love seeing baby chicks, but they’ve never seen them hatch, because all our hatches have been at a hatchery far away (for our first ever chicks) or underneath broody hens (three hatches last summer). Broody hens are often awesome moms, meaning they’re very protective, so they kids never got close up looks at the little fuzz balls. This incubator will have the side benefit of letting the kids watch the whole process.

But yes, sigh, I will likely be brooding the poults (and their companion chicks, more on that below) indoors. Well, in the garage, because I don’t intend to have baby poultry in my actual living space ever again (famous last words). They are so poopy and dusty – they give off this fine dander that is impossible to clean. No, no, not in my bathroom again, like the first year. We’ll rig up a brooder in the garage, where they will be protected from drafts and off the ground, for at least the first eight weeks (eeps, that seems like forever). Turkey poults are more susceptible to disease and death than chicks, though I’ve read that after eight weeks, they are even hardier than chickens. Our chickens free range all over here, plus we have lots of wild birds, and both can be carriers of Blackhead (a disease that won’t kill them, but is fatal to turkeys). So I keep reading that you need to really baby your poults at first, and they’ll reward you by possibly not dying.

We’ll see what happens. Honestly, if I get a broody hen before the poults are due to hatch, it will be very difficult to keep myself from giving her the eggs and letting her brood the poults/chicks herself. She would likely do a better job than I, and I have my own human brood to keep me busy. I’d love to avoid the heat lamps and bedding changes and brooder additions as they grow. But I’ll do what I have to – I’m excited about these turkeys.

Photo Credit: Mother Earth News

The breed we’re going to be raising is Bourbon Red, a heritage breed. They are on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s watch list, meaning they are still in danger of being lost altogether. They’re beautiful turkeys, sturdy and flavorful, and I hope we’ll keep a small flock year-round and butcher most in November for Thanksgiving. (We’ll have free range turkeys for sale this fall – let me know if you’re interested!) We have lots of wild turkeys nearby, and I know that domesticated turkeys are not that far removed from their wild counterparts, so I’m worried about our turkeys running off and joining their freer brothers/sisters. I don’t mind if the wild turkeys stay close, but I’d rather not have my expensive heritage turkeys wandering off!

So, back to incubation. I started the 13 turkey eggs last Wednesday (4/20), right after I got home from picking them up. They need 28 days to hatch. Today, exactly a week later (4/27), I added five of our own chicken eggs (we raise mostly Buff Orpingtons). They take 21 days to hatch. See, they’ll all be due 5/18! Adding a few chicks to your poults is supposed to help with the survival rate, as chicks are less likely to forget where the food/water is. Supposedly. We’ll see. It’s worth a try, as we have plenty of fertile eggs around here. I had to get a little creative to five chicken eggs in there, but I got ‘er done. I’ll post pictures of the updated layout later on. Basically, if you look below, I put chicken eggs wherever you see wax paper.

Here's how I fit them in. The crumpled bumpers are wax paper. This incubator can hold 24 chicken eggs, and now I know I can fit up to 15 turkey eggs.

The incubator recovers temp and humidity so fast. It was back up to 100 just minutes after shutting the lid. (See the pink countertops I have to endure in my kitchen?)

My little homemade incubation record sheet. It has lots more chicken scratch on it now.

I’m very excited for this new adventure on our little farm. The next round will be hatching Buckeye chickens, whose eggs I will have shipped from an Ohio breeder. Shipped eggs have a lower hatch rate, due to rough handling in transport, so I will be buying two dozen to fill up our incubator. These chickens are going to be a great addition to our farm. They are cold hardy, dual purpose (good for meat and eggs), and have great personalities. I still plan to keep the Buff Orpingtons, and maybe play around with a few crosses, but I will largely keep the breeds separate. My Buff flock is hatchery quality, whereas my Buckeye flock will be from a reputable breeder.

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Chickentown Update

Speedy (L) and Mr. Hawk hanging out and being wary of my camera.

Small update from Chickentown, where things are calmer, quieter, and a little less chicken-y:

  • We are down to 21 chickens: 1 Buff Orpington Rooster, 18 Buff Orpington Hens, 1 Easter Egger Rooster, and 1 Light Brahma mix Speedy (whose gender is still yet unknown; that lil guy/gal is tough to figure out!).
  • 18 roosters went to a local processor last Wednesday. By Friday, they were in our freezer. At $2.65/bird, it was completely worth it. Without a plucker, we just couldn’t do it easily in the frigid temperatures. Lesson learned: always process chickens before snow fall! (And, get a plucker!)
  • Our beloved rooster, Hot Cocoa (so named because then-toddler Asher thought that’s what his crow sounded like – “Hot Cocoooooooa!”), had to be culled on 1/25/11. He arrived with our first ever batch of chickens as a day-old chick on April 1, 2009. He was the first cockerel to crow and was the biggest, so when we took our 12 cockerels to our friends to be processed that July, he got a stay of execution. He has done a remarkable job of protecting the hens, showing them food, keeping the hen fights to a minimum, and keeping those eggs fertilized so we could have farm-grown babies. He was a big, beautiful bird, with a wide chest, tall stance, and perfect coloring. However, over the past couple of weeks, he had become overly docile, and let the hens pick at his already frost-bitten comb (this is a problem with this breed – their combs are huge and prone to frost bite in the coldest weather). His comb and head got completely bloody, and he didn’t do a thing to stop the picking. He just sat there and let them pick at him, getting weaker and weaker. We’re not sure what happened, or if he was sick, but finally he just went out of the coop and sat in the snow. He wouldn’t move, and let me pick him up and move him (a first). Sadly, we had to put him out of his misery. Also sadly, we couldn’t eat him (such a big bird, such a waste!) because you never eat a bird whose cause of sickness/death is unknown.
  • As the time came to take the roosters to the processor, I had to choose which rooster(s) would be our replacement(s). Initially, we planned on keeping Hot Cocoa, as he did a great job and could show the new rooster what to do. But when it became clear that he wasn’t going to be around anymore, we chose one of his first two sons (born in June) to be his replacement. (The other wandered off at dusk and got himself killed a few months back.) We have named our new Buff rooster Junior, short for Hot Cocoa Junior, because he looks just like his dad. He’s the cockerel/rooster who matured the earliest and has been breeding the hens for a while. He is big enough that the hens respect him and don’t run him off (like they do the littler cockerels). He was already sleeping in the big coop with the hens and was accepted into their flock, so he made sense.
  • Since we have 18 hens and I want more babies, we needed another rooster to ensure fertilization of all the eggs. Since we’ve had so much trouble with the large single combs getting frost bite, I chose one of our Easter Egger roosters (pictured above) with a pea comb. The comb is small and close to the head, and this guy has weathered the cold with no trouble at all. He is smaller than I’d like from a meat bird, so his sons might not grow as big, but I’m hoping the Buff lineage will contribute to the boys sizing up a little faster. I chose this guy because his coloring is great for a free range bird who wants to blend in and avoid getting attacked by aerial predators. He is appropriately named Mr. Hawk, because he looks a lot like a hawk. (The “Mr.” part was added so we don’t yell “Hawk!” and get confused by whether or not we’re concerned about predators or a naughty rooster. Also, we’re hoping he’s a gentleman.) He is sharing a coop with Speedy.
  • Speaking of Speedy…(s)he is doing well since surviving a nasty hawk attack on January 3. She is still a little lopsided and awkward in her walking style, and she holds her neck to the side, and we think she’s blind in one eye, but she’s otherwise fine. (I’m choosing this pronoun because I really hope she’s a pullet! I want her to lay eggs and make more cute Speedy babies.) She’s as cuddly as ever and will let us hold her. She’s shacking up with Mr. Hawk, and I guess this arrangement will make her gender clear, as they will either fight for dominance (or rather, she’ll hide in a corner, because she won’t fight back, ever) or he’ll mate her. Eventually, we will move these two in with the bigger flock. For now, Speedy needs to be separate from all the hens, because they are nasty and will pick on her. She just hides in a corner and won’t fight back, so until she learns to stand up for herself and find her place in the pecking order, she just lets herself get picked on and bloody. (I tried to put her in with them once, unsuccessfully.) She and Mr. Hawk get along fine, as she had been living with Mr. Hawk and the other 18 roosters (who largely left her alone) already.
  • We have a light on in the coop to extend daylight hours, and we are getting 8-9 eggs a day from our 18 hens. Probably 3 – 4 of the hens are young enough to not lay yet, and the rest are just not laying. 8-9 eggs is better than no eggs, which is what were getting for months and months.
  • Can’t wait to see what our little mixed breed chicks will look like in the spring!

Coming soon: turkeys!! We are buying a dozen hatching eggs from a local-ish Bourbon Red turkey breeder, and we’re hoping a broody chicken hen will hatch some out for us in the spring. We intend to butcher turkeys every fall and keep a breeding pair year-round. Turkeys can be a bit trickier to raise as babies, so I’m hoping it goes well for us.

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Speedy Update

Speedy’s hanging in there. He’s still living in a cardboard box in our lower level – very nice accommodations for a sick chicken, with fresh bedding, no wind, and food that is all your very own. We never found any visible injuries (aside from the bloody eye the first day, which has since healed), but he is clearly not well yet. The good news is that he is eating, drinking, and pooping just like a normal chicken (mostly), and that is a good sign. The bad news is that his neck is still bent funny; he has difficulty standing up straight, and his neck wobbles when he reaches up to eat. I have his feed up at his normal head level, as he can’t seem to find the food if it’s on the floor. He’ll reach up and almost look normal as he goes in for a wobbly bite; as soon as the food is in his mouth, he retracts his neck and it flops over to his left side. I don’t know how else to describe it. I think I’ll take a video, just to see if I can get some help with diagnosing him somehow. I have a feeling he’ll either get better or he won’t; I’m not sure there’s anything we can do to help (except what we’re already doing). Perhaps he’ll be okay and crooked the rest of his life, and that will be something we’ll have to accept.

I’m very concerned about his ability to keep up with the rest of the flock after this incident; he was just starting to fit in, find his place in the pecking order, figure out what being a chicken means, etc. I’m afraid we’ll have to go through the integration process all over again. I’m also concerned about his ability to hide from hawks. I kinda thought he was more vulnerable – he doesn’t have great vision, he’s slow, and he is only now just realizing what it means to be a chicken. He is watching chicken behaviors being modeled for him (like darting to the nearest underbrush when hawks fly overhead) but it’s taking him a while to catch on.

I will try to keep you posted, but if I forget, comment and bug me to tell you. I am more optimistic now than I was that first day. He is such a sweet bird; whenever he hears me walking down the stairs, he starts to cheep for me in his bubbly Speedy-talk that is so cute. “I miss you! Give me attention!” he calls, and I try very hard to do so. I do have four little birds of my own to homeschool and care for, so sometimes Speedy has to wait. But I’ve got him shoved up right against the sliding glass door where all the other chickens like to come and sit during the day (it’s warmer there), and he can see them and find plenty of interesting things to watch.  I hope. Hang in there, Speeds.

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Prayers for Speedy

Our little chicken friend, Speedy, who came to live with us from another family (and who was raised alone and thinks he’s a human), was attacked by a hawk today. We are so stunned and saddened. He is still with us, but we aren’t sure if he’ll make it. He is currently in the house in a box, staying warm and resting. I brought him into the kitchen tonight to try and hand-feed him some scrambled eggs, but he just couldn’t aim correctly and get it in his mouth. If it’s the sort of thing you care for, please pray for Speedy to heal completely.

Sigh. This is why I shy away from having pets. My heart dropped when I ran out and saw which chicken it was…

He has no visible wounds aside from an injured eye. But he is holding his neck sideways and has difficulty standing. He can support his weight, so I know his legs are okay. I will update tomorrow.

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Plum Tuckered Out

I have mostly enjoyed posting every day of November thus far, but today is one of those days that I’m all NaBloPoMoed out. Just tired from a busy weekend, but I’m sure I’ll be back, fresh-as-a-daisy, tomorrow morning. I’ll postpone the Christmas Gift Ideas 2010: Dress Up post until then. But see? Here I am, still posting, because I want to see this thing through ’til the end. A few bullet points for you, then I’m relaxing these typing fingers:

  • Had fun celebrating Thanksgiving with J’s side of the family Thursday, and my side of the family today. It was great to see everyone and remember how much I have to be thankful for.
  • I’ve pretty much been eating non-stop for the past four days, and it really must stop. All that baby weight I finally lost is going to creep right back on!
  • Speaking of baby weight – I have recently dropped all of my Cal, Asher, and Ellery pregnancy weight. But that stubborn 20 lbs. that I gained after having Maya (it’s really nursing weight, not baby weight, as my body likes to add/hang on to fat while I nurse) just won’t let go. I’m hoping that someday, when Cal is done nursing, I will have a chance to lose that last 20 lbs. (and perhaps a few extra, too). That would make me pretty happy.
  • In the mean time, I’d like to get out and walk more, just to stay in shape. I am plenty active with these kids and taking care of our little farm, but sometimes nothing beats a meditative prayer and/or thinking walk, you know? Good for body and soul. It’s difficult to find the time, as my days are packed to the brim, and my husband isn’t around when it’s daylight for me to go walking. I need creative suggestions for ways to make it happen. Got any?
  • We lost one more chicken over Thanksgiving. To a hawk. In the woods. (Many chickens,  including ours, are good at hiding from hawks in the woods/brush. But no one told these hawks that they’re not supposed to hunt there. Our first hawk attack, wherein the chicken survived, was in the woods, still lush from summer growth. This last death was also in the woods, though a more barren late fall variety. Apparently we have smart hawks who don’t avoid the woods like others do?) The chickens have been kept locked up since yesterday. Today, I looked out the window and saw a hawk brazenly land on top of one of our chicken coops! He was looking for a way in, no doubt. He waited a minute after seeing me before flying away. I know he can’t get it, so I wasn’t worried.
  • But what am I going to do? I hate locking those chickens up.

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Speedy

Meet our new chicken, Speedy. Isn’t (s)he cute?

Speedy is a transfer from friends of ours; she arrived last week at an estimated 7-8 weeks old. She had never seen another chicken, was loved on by five children and two parents, and pretty much thought (thinks) that she’s a human. Transitioning her to life with the flock has been challenging, but we keep on keepin’ on. She is by herself most of the time, as the other chickens freak her out. I try to let her out once or twice a day for an hour or two, supervised, to mingle with the other chickens. She mostly just hides in a corner and tucks her head down as far as she can. It’s really sad. The other chickens peck at her, but that’s totally normal. They do that to each other, as well, and the new chick is pretty much guaranteed to get some pecking. The thing is – she doesn’t fight back. She doesn’t even try sometimes. She just hides. Sometimes she at least runs away.

Speedy is pretty much a pet. She comes when called, jumps in your lap, likes to be held and petted, etc. When I let her out, she follows me and the kids, and stays as far away from the other chickens as possible. It’s completely endearing and we really like her. I really, really, really hope she turns out to be a she, and that she can get used to the other chickens in time. I’m willing to give it time. But if she’s a rooster, we might have to re-home her. We can’t have too many roosters around here, and I’d hate to turn such a nice chicken (who is so loved by her original family, and now us) into dinner if I don’t have to. For the time being, I’m willing to be patient and hope she at least learns to tolerate the other chickens.

The chickens had all been cooped up for nearly two days due to the hawk situation, so when my sister and niece were visiting this afternoon, we let them all out for some play time. We were outside, too, but I was still nervous. Then we got cold and went in, and I kept a watchful eye/ear on the field and woods, and thankfully, there were no hawk sightings. I don’t know what we’ll do long-term, but for today, all our chickens are happy and exercised. Except Speedy. I can’t let her out of the little cabin portion of the A-frame coop because the other chickens pick on her and she’s miserable, and I couldn’t let them out to range to give them more space. So she’s been largely alone for the last two days. I take her out and play with her when I feed and water the chickens, as unlike the rest of them, she comes when called and will go right back into her home. (I have never met a chicken like her. She’s like a puppy. She doesn’t even try to run away from me.) But I’d really like for her to make some friends so I can worry about her a little less. I tried locking her up with one of the most docile (fraidy cat) cockerels we have, but even he picked on her, and she just hid in the corner. Experiment over.

Just givin’ it time. Oh, and I posted over at BackyardChickens.com to inquire about her breed and gender, and most folks think she’s a Light Brahma cockerel – that is, NOT a she. But I still think she might be a she, so I’m sticking with feminine pronouns for the time being.

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It Happened.

After months of hawk trouble, sometimes several times daily, we’ve had our first confirmed chicken loss due to a hawk. I found the remains of a chick in the pasture yesterday, just minutes after it happened. I counted and re-counted as I tucked the chickens in and locked their coops, and the lost chick was from the coop with the mama chicken. (I couldn’t tell from the remains because, well, they were remains. And the chicks are big enough that it was hard tellin’.) She hasn’t lost any chickens herself, and has been a model hen mama. This loss can be chalked up to nature.

I’m really upset about it. The day before, we had winterized the big chickens’ coop, and we were gone when night fell. When I went to lock the coop, there was only one hen on the roost, three more on the floor, and the rest were either on top of the coop or in the woods somewhere. I had forgotten that they freaked out last year, too, when we had winterized the coop, and didn’t want to go into the now-darker sleeping area and didn’t want to walk on the bedding. I spent a good hour chasing chickens around in the dark with a broom and a flashlight, and in the end, I could only get 10 of the 14 that live in that coop safely tucked in. (Chickens are even stupider in the dark, and totally blind, so it was not an easy job.) So I gave up. Sure enough, the next morning, I counted, and we had lost one of the teenage roosters. (This is okay with me, as those roosters are fully grown – only their wattles are slightly shorter than Hot Cocoa’s – and causing so much trouble. They just began chasing and attacking the hens to try and mate with them earlier this week, which just gets violent and unpleasant for everyone.) I knew that having chickens un-locked at night meant something would eat them (lots of predators around here), and I was sad about the loss (one less chicken dinner, and I have no idea how he died), but I didn’t have to see it. Nothing I could do about it.

But the hawk loss is tough. We free range because we want the chickens to be chicken-y, to eat what they’re meant to, to have a happy life. We know this means some losses. But I have never seen the bloody remains of a vicious attack. The hawks have been particularly persistent this week. I would hear a hen or rooster sound a warning call several times a day, and I would rush out and inevitably scare a hawk away. They were usually several hundred feet off, flying about or in a nearby tree, and they always flew away when I came out. The kids and I have been playing outside every day, because the hawks stay away when we’re out. Since I’m home all day, I have the ability to walk out when a chicken calls, and that has kept hawks away. Every night, I would count, and everyone was still alive and well. Today was like no other – a chicken was calling every hour, it seemed, so when Asher wouldn’t nap, I just made the kids all go outside. The girls didn’t want to, of course, because we had just brought another load of library books home and they were content to be curled up on the couch, reading. So I bundled them up and told them to read outside. Asher collected leaves in a bucket and emptied them in the coop for bedding, and Cal hung out on my back while I played with our new baby girl chicken (who still isn’t used to being around other chickens and needs humans around to protect her if she’s going to be let out). We were outside for a good hour and a half. Finally, I knew everyone was cold and tired, and trying unsuccessfully not to whine, so we headed in around 4 p.m. In the next hour and a half, I heard chickens sounding the warning squawk several times, and I went out on the deck to yell and wave my arms in an attempt to keep hawks at bay. I even sent Maya out once to see what she could do, but she said she didn’t see a hawk. When I went outside to count chickens and close the coop at 5:30, I found the remains of the chicken next to a pile of its feathers as I was hunting for two hens in the pasture (who were hiding because they were freaked out by the hawk, I’m sure).

We try hardest to ensure a happy life and a swift, painless death for the chickens we raise. This is our goal for any animal we raise for food. We could keep the chickens locked up and have few or no losses, but they would not be happy. I don’t ever want to be okay with animal losses like this. It hurts this time, but I hope it always hurts, at least a little. Otherwise, why do this? Though they are certainly not pets, we care for these chickens and want to protect them from unnecessary harm.

I will have to keep the chickens locked up for a few days and hope the hawks move on. Long-term, I’m not sure what we’ll do. They need more room to roam than their coops provide, if we’re to keep them locked up, as we designed the living set-up with ranging in mind. They’re not quite big enough to butcher or we’d just process them early (so the remaining chickens will have more room to roam). Some sort of a livestock guard dog sure would be nice, but that’s not exactly a quick or inexpensive solution, and I really don’t want a pet.

For my own records (and anyone else who cares, ha ha ha) – the numbers:

Hoop Coop

  • 26 original chickens from hatchery (4/2009) – 12 males processed (7/2009) = 14 chickens (1 rooster, 13 hens)
  • 14 chickens – four total late winter/early spring mysterious losses = 10 chickens (1 rooster, 9 hens)
  • 5 chicks (2 cockerels, 3 pullets) hatched under broody mama (6/2010) now full grown and living with big chickens + 10 original chickens = 15 chickens (3 roosters, 12 hens)
  • 15 chickens – 1 broody mama who still lives with her chicks in another coop = 14 chickens (3 roosters, 11 hens)
  • 14 chickens – 1 young rooster lost after a night spent in the woods = 13 chickens (2 roosters, 11 hens)

Little Cattle Panel Coop

  • 1 mama hen + 16 chicks (mixture of farm- and hatchery-born) = 17 chickens
  • 17 chickens – 1 hawk loss = 16 chickens (1 mama hen, 15 adolescent chicks)

A-Frame Coop

  • 17 hatchery chicks + 2 farm-born chicks from another mama integrated into the flock at five weeks = 19 chicks
  • 19 chicks – 4 early losses on a cold night = 15 chicks
  • 15 chicks – 1 chick hiding in the woods at bedtime and presumably eaten by a predator (the night after I returned from CA, 10/30-31) = 14 chicks
  • 14 chicks – 1 mysterious death (Barred Rock chick found at pasture fence, dead but completely whole and intact) = 13 chicks
  • 13 chicks + 1 female chick given to us by a friend (she’s such a pretty little thing) = 14 chicks (13 cockerels, 1 pullet)

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Random on Sunday

Bullet points for you today:

  • Added baby carrots to this recipe yesterday, and WOW. It was delish. Roasted carrots taste like candy.
  • Need to winterize the chicken coop(s). It’s cold today.
  • We got a new chicken! A friend gave us a new little gal. She looks to be just a little younger than our current chicks, and she has cute feathered feet. She’s really gorgeous. Since she’s only ever been around humans, never other chickens, I think she’s going to take a little while to adjust. So far, she won’t come out to play with the others. But she’s eating and drinking just fine, and stopped the non-stop cheeping after the first few hours.
  • Haven’t started Maya’s hat yet.
  • Realized just how much Christmas crafting I want to get done in the next month or so. Eeps.
  • We have a new living room rug! Sorta. Pics pending. I know at least three of you are holding your breath in anticipation.
  • Cal has successfully taken an antibiotic for three days now. This is monumental. I have hopes that he might actually get better this time!
  • Speaking of Cal, he waved at me for the first time yesterday. Little sweetie.
  • As Trish commented in my last post, my girls got bangs last week. They look so darling, and so different.
  • Now that I’m finally healing from this weeks-long cold myself, I suppose I need to catch up on laundry and dishes. Pft.

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The Great Roo Search

So, since last spring, we have been chicken farmers to up to 26 Buff Orpingtons. We butchered 12 males at 15 weeks, leaving us with 13 females and 1 lucky rooster. (We’ve lost four hens since this spring, so we’re down to nine hens and one rooster.) They have been our laying flock for a year and a half now. Currently, all the hens are moulting, so we are getting exactly ZERO eggs/day. It is so difficult for me. I actually bought eggs at the store this week! For shame!

Anyways, we added to our flock with five homegrown babies,  hatched by a broody mama on June 2. It was so exciting! Those five (two cockerels, three pullets) are now nearly fully grown and live with the laying flock full time. The cockerels are too feisty and cause lots of trouble, so we intend to, ahem, process them rather soon. I’m tired of their antics.

Buffs are a great breed. Somewhat docile, gorgeous and fluffy, good layers and mamas, good foragers, cold hardy. All what we’re looking for. However, we could use a little more cold hardiness, a little more production, and a little less broodiness. That is, we need to mix things up. So when two more mamas went broody in late July, we eventually decided to order this All Heavies assortment from Murray McMurray Hatchery. It’s 25 males of dual-purpose breeds. This would accomplish two things: give us meat birds to butcher in 16-ish weeks, and give us a fresh crop of roosters to choose from for a potential replacement. We intended to sneak these chicks under our broody mamas, which was only half successful. (Oh, the chicken books I could write. I hope you enjoy learning right along with me, because chronicling what I’ve learned has been part of the fun!)

Anyways. We aren’t going for show birds here, and don’t feel the need to stick to a single breed. In fact, a little hybrid vigor could really do our farm some good. So, again, we are breeding for: egg productivity, foraging ability, cold hardiness, quick growth (for males, who will be meat), good feed conversion ratios (less food, more eggs). We will always want some broody moms, but we don’t need our whole flock to exhibit broodiness. We have our Buffs for that right now. So now I’m shopping among our 12-week-old cockerels to see who might make a good replacement rooster candidate.

Here are some pictures from a few days ago. It is amazing to me how quickly they change – these boys already look different. I’m still trying to figure out what breeds these guys are. (If you want to chime in on this debate, you can comment on my thread over at BackyardChickens.com.) I already have favorites, based on personality and color (aren’t they so pretty?). But some boys are clear contenders due to their size (mostly those red chickens, see bottom pictures). I don’t know if they are hybrids or not, so I can’t be sure they’ll breed true. Can you guess who my favorite roo is from the batch below?

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