Thursday, May 11, 2006

Happiest Girl in the World

I had to include this photo of the happiest girl in the world--new chicks in the household marks one of her favorite times of year, right up there with Christmas! Posted by Picasa

The Easter Chicks

Here you can see one of the distinctive features of the light brahmas, evident even in chickhood--feathered leg shanks and claws! We named this one Hippy Chick. Posted by Picasa

Happy Easter! Our daughter decorated the chicks brooder with apple blossoms. This was a very hard won shot of my favorite auracana chick, Sable. The auracanas will lay green-blue eggs, and have a little wildness left in them as a breed. The chicks rarely sit still, as you can see from the fluttering wings! Posted by Picasa

The Cloth Mommy

The chicks arrive 1 day old, and for better or worse, have never met the mama hen who laid them. Although a great many traits have been bred out of modern poultry fowl (including mothering instinct, ability to forage, etc.) the basic need for warmth and something that reflects that back still exists in these chicks.

We have always found that the first few nights the chicks need something aside from the impersonal heat lamp, something to "snuggle" with. A wash cloth or old cloth diaper usually fits the bill. Here you see the chicks bedding down on their wash cloth--change it nightly, because it gets messy. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Cuteness of Epic Proportions

This is one of the sweet little light brahma chicks. Hard to believe this little chick could grow into something much larger! Posted by Picasa

Brace yourself for cuteness of epic proportions--the chicks have arrived! Every year right around Easter/Passover we try to bring in a few new chicks. With the loss of a few flock members this last year, we brought in 6 sweet little peeping balls of fluff, 3 more auracanas, and 3 light brahmas (pictured). Sigh, did you ever see anything cuter? Posted by Picasa

Introducing Broody Hen

I've talked some about broody hens, and I'll touch on the topic again since the Buff Orpinton pictured is so persistently broody. In short, broodiness is a hormonal response that drives a hen to sit on a clutch of eggs until they hatch.

That would be great and all, except we don't have a rooster. So no amount of sitting will cause the eggs to hatch.

The hen pictured is so persistently broody that we have simply taken to calling her "Broody". I was hoping to capture in the photo one of the tell tale signs of the broody hen--they fluff out their feathers on a near permanent basis in order to raise their body temperuture. Their increased body heat is what incubates the eggs. Other indicators your hen might be broody include oddly raised tail feathers, as well as a particular high-pitched cackling when you approach the hen on the nest. We've posted previously about how to "break" broodiness--and will wait until summer before we actively pursue that.

For the time being we do check on our broody hens regularly, to make sure they are getting food and water. (Usually once a day they will leave the nest to eat, drink, and deposit one extremely large poop.) Prolonged broodiness can lead to poor hygeine and diminished immunity--when we see this in a hen we might lock her out of the run for several days until she starts to look a little better (letting her in at night of course), or take more serious steps to "break" the hormonal cycle she is stuck in.
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Chickens in the Snow

Let's pretend it's not May as I post this--in March of this year we had snow! I grew up in Alaska, so this won't seem very special, however in our area it is a rarity--especially in March! In our area it never really gets cold enough to be a serious problem for the chickens, nor does any snow stay long.

In colder climates, folks have to mind their flocks more carefully, since chickens can get frostbit combs, wattles, and even feet. Some breeds are more cold tolerant than others, such as the light brahmas and the buff orpingtons.

That said, our birds do feel the dip in temperature, and we tend to provide additional heat at night, as well as using old wool blankets to try to cover the windows and gaps in the coop--along with straw! Expect your hens to slow or stop laying eggs during cold weather as most of their energy goes into maintaining their body warmth. Extra protein during this time can be helpful.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Naughty Mary Meets an Untimely End

Note: This is a story that may disturb some children and adults.

We reported several weeks ago, that Naughty Mary, our New Hampshire had gone to live in the country with our friend's Joe & Shelly. Joe had also acquired a rooster from friends living close by, a lovely Auracana named Mr. May. Mary and Mr. May were very happy in their new environment. Things had been going well, until a careless neighbor living close to Joe stopped monitoring his dogs. One of the dogs began making visits to Joe's property to chase and sometimes catch hens. Joe approached his neighbor, and for whatever reason the neighbor continued to be careless about monitoring his dogs.

One day Joe heard a ruckus from the coop, and thought perhaps Mr. May was overly interested in a hen. He went out to chase Mr. May away from the hen, and when he entered the coop he was met with a scene of carnage--the neighbor's dog had somehow gotten into the coop, and a door closed behind him. He had already killed 2 hens, when Joe arrived, and Mr. May was putting up the battle of his life.

Joe removed the dog from the coop and then did what Oregon law entitles him to do with dogs who kill livestock--he put the dog down. Then he tended to Mr. May's wounds and buried his dead hens. Naughty Mary was one of these. Joe's flock had been reduced to Mr. May and one remaining hen.

This is a painful story to tell, but we are hopeful that dog owners reading this will take extra care with their dogs--and realize that in many states when an unattended dog kills livestock or even other pets, these dogs can legally be put down. Additionally, for chicken owners--fencing, fencing, fencing! Make sure your fencing is substantial and strong enough to withstand a stray dog entering your yard.

There is an unusual positive note out of all this--one of the reasons Mr. May had gone to live with Joe is that he had become way too aggressive for the urban environment. Joe has reported since the incident where Joe put down the dog, Mr. May seems to regard Joe as something akin to "Top Rooster"--but has also noticed that Joe doesn't seem to have any interest in the hens. Mr. May no longer charges Joe, and Mr. May seems to have developed an affinity for the "Top Rooster".

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Keeping Hens Happy During Winter Rains

We live in what is referred to as the temperate rainforest--our version of winter is rain, rain, and then for some added variety, lighter or heavier rain. Domesticated chickens are not noted for their love of moist conditions. In fact, I have to ascend the soap box briefly here--please folks, don't force ducks and chickens to live together. It can produce ill health in both, since ducks like the moisty muddy and are carriers of illnesses that can kill chickens (such as the current strain of avaian flu that is notably decimating chicken flocks only in areas of Asia where ducks and chickens are being reared together!) and chickens need dryer conditions where they can scratch around, consume gravel, and have dust baths. We have seen folks successfully rear ducks and hens where there is ample separate environments created to meet the needs of these different fowl.

We've attempted to provide our hens with adequate dry zones for our rainy Willamette Valley winters. You'll notice directly over the feeder there is a tarp hanging from the fir tree, and behind the feeder is a less than attractive wood lean to--this keeps the feed dry, even if there is wind. (Chickens can become very ill from wet feed.) As part of our regular chicken care, we do have to periodically poke the tarps to empty the "pooling" zones that create, otherwise the tarps would eventually be ripped from the tree tops by the accumulated water weight.

What appears to be the backside of the feed covering tarp, is actually about 20 yards away--that is a much larger tarp (perhaps 25' X 25"), also suspended from a fir. This provides a large enough area during heavy rain that, even with pecking order rivalry, all the hens can have adequate dry shelter. We've also put a composting/mulch zone for worm forage, and the hens have created their own spa zone--you guessed it, dust baths! They seem much happier and healther for it this winter, since last winter they didn't have a nice dusting area.

We've also found it important to cover the ground with straw to prevent a mud bog from developing. The chickens seem to appreciate this, since unlike ducks, their feet are not well suited for traction on mud. They enjoy picking out the seeds, but that's a fringe benefit. Posted by Picasa

Neighbor in Need or Devious Predator?

Sometime in late November, early December, we became aware of how frequently racoons were visiting our yard. I think I've mentioned in previous posts the challenges that critters like racoons can pose for the small scale poultry enthusiast. Like all animals, racoons need to eat--and when they get the chance to eat chickens they will not hesitate!

We were particularly alarmed when we began seeing racoons in the daytime, as this is supposed to indicate that the racoon is sick. However, the visitor in the picture was very persistent about his visits to our cat dish--and typically showed up mostly in the day. We noticed this racoon only had use of 3 legs, with a back paw always being favored, so we began calling this racoon "Limpy".

Limpy comes for the cat food, as do the squirrels and occasional possum. Poor Limpy doesn't move very fast, even when we chase him off--and sometimes shows up with large gashes in his back, which we suspect come from being cornered by dogs or possibly other racoons. We have felt rather guilty chasing off a racoon so visibly injured, and with a rather uneasy feeling we do allow Limpy to eat from the cat dish sometimes...I hope we don't regret this in the future.

Did I mention we also have some of the fattest squirrels I've ever seen in my life? I think between the steady stream of cat kibble and chicken feed, they are living off the fat of our land! Posted by Picasa