Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How to Tell if Chickens are Hot

This is Sable, one of our very unhappy auracanas. With the temperature hitting 106F, and slated to be that way for much of the week, our lovely hens with extra plummage are struggling in a way that our black australorps, and barred rocks are not. On the flip side, these same hens with extra plummage are the ones who continue to lay in the coldest weather.

How can you spot a chicken struggling with the heat? Sable is doing a great job of demonstrating both the open beak for panting, as well as the "droopy" wings. Chickens will try to keep their wings held away from the body or droop them to try and increase air circulation. I wanted to make sure folks could view a picture of this, since the first time I saw a chicken doing this I thought perhaps they had a broken wing!

The next few posts will high light the methods I like to use to help our chicken flock cope with the heat. Keep in mind that we live in the temperate rainforest that swaths the Pacific Northwest, so not all of our solutions are a perfect fit for every region.

What to Do When it's Hot Out part 1

The photo above is one of our dear light brahmas, panting during the current heat wave. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are on severe weather alert, with daytime temperatures expected to reach 103F, and little night time cooling. Last night it was still 90F at 10pm, and 80F at midnight.

Many of the breeds we chose for our flock were selected in part because of their ability to produce eggs reliably during the colder winter months. Since high heat usually comprises only a small portion of our annual weather here in the Pacific Northwest, the task during a heat alert becomes providing as much comfort as we can for all our hens, but particularly those with extra plummage.

One of the first things we did was purchase additional large water dishes. I like to use ceramic crock pot dishes because they are the right height, and with their thick dish walls they keep the water temperature cooler longer. The additional dishes, as well as the food have been moved to a part of the chicken run that gets full day shade. What this will mean for the hens during the hottest part of the day is that they will be travelling into the coolest part of the yard to get water and food, instead of into what will turn into the hottest part of the yard.

Even so, in the shade the ambient temperature is at least 90F during the hottest part of the day!

At this point I have opened every venting hole in the coop that I can. During the day I also open the main coop door, and put an old screen door in front of it to allow maximum air flow in the coop. The chickens still want to lay their eggs inside the coop--some are smart enough to choose the coolest part of the coop, and others keep travelling to the west-facing part of the coop where the nesting boxes are.

Either way, we are doing everything we can to adapt our routine to try to keep the hens comfortable.

What to Do When it's Hot Out part 2

Poor panting Seiji Brown! All the auracanas, the buff orpingtons, and especially the light brahmas certainly struggle in the heat with their extra plummage. To further help the birds, we utilize a bit of water and "swamp cooler" technique.

Folks from the Southwest will be familiar with the use of coolers that run water over a blower in order to circulate cool air. We use the same principle in the chicken run to try to help cool the chickens down in the run.

I will set up a circular or misting sprinkler in the chicken run, and usually turn this on for a few minutes every 30 - 60 minutes. If there is any wind at all, this helps circuluate more cool air through out the run. It also cools the largest thermal mass the chickens have to deal with, which is simply the ground (more about this later).

One other variation of a home made swamp cooler for a chicken run is to take a wet cotton sheet, and throw this over one side of a fence for your chicken run. As the breeze blows through this, it will cool the air. Likewise, if placed strategically, you can also provide additional shade for your flock.

For us here in the Pacifc Northwest, these techniques work reasonably well. If you are in a region struggling with drought, or high humidity, these techniques may not work quite as well, or might require modification to reduce the amount of water you use.

What to Do When it's Hot Out part 3

Working with the concept of thermal mass is also one of the most important things we can do in terms of trying to help our hens be comfortable during high heat. In the above pic, you see the back portion of the coop, which is west facing. While we do have a bank of trees and high shrubs, the reality is that during the highest heat portion of the late afternoon, the sun will cook the area directly bordering the west facing portion of the cook. This heat will build up in the earth (and especially surrounding pavement), and later the stored heat will radiate back up.

With night time temperatures slated to be 80-90F for most of the night, the last thing we want to do is extend the duration of heat exposure the coop and the hens get.

Working with thermal mass is a great passive heating or cooling method for building architecture, but a nightmare if not properly dealt with for live stock. In this case, a back yard umbrella has been set up to provide a buffer which will keep the immediate ground around the coop from accumulating too much heat. While it's not fool proof, this small shade buffer will later radiate whatever accumulated cooling energy it has to offer. At dusk or just after I will run a sprinkler for a short time, which will further cool the ground and radiate this back.

The other thing I will do in the early evening after the hens retire to the coop, is I will throw open every available coop door, and stay near the back portion of the house. While I believe the pomeranian early warning system largely dissuades most raccoons from trying to take a chicken again, I think being cautious is wise in this case. Trying to let in as much of the meager cooling air as we can, helps the chickens better weather when I lock down the doors of the coop at midnight.

Keep in mind that most of these methods will work great for us in the Pacific Northwest. Take what can be useful for you in your region, and adapt it as best you can to keep your flock comfortable.

Friday, July 24, 2009

You Can Do this Too and Great Resource for Those in New England

Once a year I like to give praise where it is due, to the true goddess of urban chicken farming. Katy of The City Chicken remains my inspiration for keeping chickens in the city. Her site laid out in a step by step fashion how to begin, and she posted great pics of the incarnation of her various coops, flocks, etc. If you are a chicken enthusiast or someone cautiously researching what this urban chicken thing is all about, I highly recommend you visit her site.

She is the reason I believed we could do this!

For anyone who lives in New England, or has family or friends in Massachusets, I would like to recommend you visit the web site of Roy Nilson. He is a farmer and poultry enthusiast who makes and sells chicken tractors. He is also a draft horse teamster, and as someone in love with farming, he is fighting the good fight in the state of Massachusets. Please support him in his endeavors, including a farming school for local children, as well as many other activities.

"The Older Flock Isn't Laying Much Anymore"

Yeah right! Look at this gorgeous dozen!

That doesn't include the 2 extras that didn't fit in the carton, so clearly some of the hens are working overtime and laying double.

It seems as if some of the hens weren't laying due to molting and/or brooding behavior. First I was only receiving 1 egg per day, then 5, then 6, and today 14! I do expect that with the return of colder weather in the Fall and Winter, that likely this shift in temperature will have more of an effect on the older birds, than the younger ones. But for now, it's nice to see such lovely output.

Now I'm swimming in eggs, so if you are in the area and would like to purchase for $2 per dozen, let me know.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Changes to Our Flock

We first started our backyard flock when my daughter was in Kindergarten. She is now 10, so that provides some perspective of how long hens have been a part of our family. While we did bring in new chicks for 2 or 3 springs, for the most part, we are now living with hens who are 3-5 years of age.

As mentioned in another post, there have been many changes that made my life rather busy, and took me away from blogging about our flock, and some that have given us impetus to accept some attrition among the birds.
Some time ago I divorced. As part of this, my ex husband has "custody" of the truck that was used for hauling the straw. I had many, many extra bales on hand for quite some time, so only recently did this become an issue.

Likewise, our next door neighbor who allowed us to yard share moved. This meant the space for the chickens to roam was reduced. The reduction in space may not seem too important coming from the perspective of factory farming, but our goal was always to provide the flock with ample room to roam.

All of these things, as well as changes to our lives simply becoming busier have put me on a course with our beloved flock of ushering them into their old age, and allowing nature to take its course. At the peak, we had 2 dozen hens. Today we have 12. Deaths due to raccoons, old age, and illness have all taken a toll. My goal is to allow as many of the hens to run the normal course of their lives as I can, since they were so very generous with their egg laying for many years.

At this time I'm not completely sure how many laying hens we have left, as several are just finishing up a molt and one is coming out of a broody phase. I believe one or two are still laying, and in coming months I believe I'll have a better count on this. I've been told that 3-4 years is considered normal for egg production, and I believe that is true.

The Long Break from Blogging

Hello Everyone, and I'm glad to see people still visit here after the very long break from blogging. Since I last posted in 2006 life got even busier--full time work, daughter getting older and busier, and then a divorce all kept me quite occupied. I'm finding spots of breathing room here and there now, and want to get caught up to date with the flock.

Much has changed. That was the first year we began to see signs of aging amongst the flock, with our first couple of birds who passed from age-related causes. Racoons took several others. Much of my early postings were largely about how to get started with chickens, but I've yet to see a blog that covers the aging of a flock, particularly if the goal is to perhaps not continue to bring in new hens. From that perspective I'll do my best to get current, so that folks can understand the full life cycle.

Many times we bring home the chicks and are so excited--from their cute fluffy peeps to the first eggs they lay, it's an incredible journey keeping hens in the city. While I would dearly love to continue my flock indefinitely, because of where we live, and changes to our property sharing with our neighbor, at this time it is best for me to let this flock that we have go the full life cycle. The only change I see to that would be if we found ourselves in a different living situation, which would allow for a more private yard. I adored having 24 hens, but with a smaller family, I don't think I would again have a flock that size.

With that in mind--some of you may find yourselves in the same position, your flock has aged along with mine, or perhaps you are wondering what lies ahead for your older birds, as you continue to rotate in new chicks each year. We went through at least 2 seasons of bringing in new chicks, and I've written extensively about integrating multi-age flocks in past posts.

Thank you for continuing to visit the Happy Chickens blog, and I'll do my best to post about the life of our flock as it stands today.

A note to those who have posted comments--my apologies for not replying earlier. I have approved all pertinent and non-duplicate comments, and will respond to them this week. Many of you have questions about health issues, broodiness, and especially molting. I will try to touch on these topics, however coming at this from the context of an older flock, you would do well to check some of the older posts on this too.

In the coming month I will be trying to make the blog a bit more keyword or search utility friendly, so that folks needing information on broody hens, molting, diet, etc. will be able to find the posts more easily.

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

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

And Now, Molting

OK, so you're enjoying your first season of small scale urban poultry farming and then in the Spring or the Fall after your birds have been around for about a year, you go outside one day to find your hens look a little shaggy...and seem to be losing neck and tail feathers...until one day they look almost exactly like Harriet, pictured above.

Is it some bizarre parasite or mite? Does your hen need medication or a good bath? No, it's just a molt, the shedding of old feathers and replacement with new feathers. Quite frankly we haven't figured out what the cycle is, because half the flock molted in the Spring, and some unlucky few are going through it now in the Fall--while it's rather chilly out!

Although Harriet looks pretty raggy, she's actually on the feather growing side of things, thus all the weird pokey looking things on her neck--those are called pin feathers. She still losing a few of her body feathers, but for the most part that has slowed down and new feather growth is beginning.

During this phase of feather growth, chickens require more protein to support the additional feather development, and they usually stop laying during molting. We typically try to increase cultured dairy, give more seeds, and also supplement with occaisional raw meat. (If you're a new visitor, please see my previous posts on this--chickens are not vegetarian. They will eat any protein they can beg, steal or hunt.)

I remember a more experienced chicken enthusiast warning me about the first molt--but even so, when our first hen began molting I was worried it was feather mites or some such thing. At night Michael and I went in to the coop, and while the poor molting hen was sleeping we accosted her with diatomaceous earth (like forcing a dust bath). In the end she didn't really mind it, and probably enjoyed the mid-rainy season dust bath--but it didn't stop the molting!

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It Was a Dark & Scary Night...

Talk about a scary night! It's getting dark much earlier now that fall is here--and with some of the hens still practicing their Houdini tricks, it can be a challenge to make sure we get home in time to put them in before the raccoons begin to prowl. And finding a missing black hen in the dark can be a real trick.

(It might be helpful to note that our part of town is technically in the city, but in some ways underdeveloped--we have a high raccoon population, and see many of them wandering our neighborhoods in search of eatables. Some of our friends had a taken from their coop and eaten by a raccoon, and the same raccoon later returned trying to drag another hen out through a hole in the coop roof.)

Puja (pictured above) is my daughter's favorite hen, and ours as well. She's pleasant, smart, doesn't screech, lays reliably, and best of all, seems to tolerate if not enjoy my daughter's special attention. If all Black Australorps are this pleasant, then perhaps we need a few more.

Last night it was already dark by the time we got home, so with my flashlight in hand I rushed out to the coop to lock up the door and do the nightly head count. Although I counted several times over to be sure, I seemed to be missing Puja, the favored black hen. I then went outside to see if I could find her, and no luck. After 40 minutes of searching I went and got my daughter to see if perhaps her young fresh eyes might spot Puja, but again no luck.

Finally, as we were getting ready to get in the car and go house to house on the street behind us (thinking Puja had jumped over the back fence perhaps), we checked one last time and found Puja on the cinder blocks bordering our neighbor's compost pile! Naughty Puja for continued escapism, but we were so relieved to find her!

The shot above is one relieved child, walking her favorite chicken back to the coop for a safe night of sleep.
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Autumn is Here Again

Autumn is here, and the big maple in the yard is beginning to drop leaves. The hens love to scratch in the leaves. We also like to gather the leaves and put them in a large mulch pile mixed with poopy hay from the straw. Over the rainy winter months the worms take over and break down the leaf pile--and the chickens venture in and eat the worms! Posted by Picasa

New Improved Access for Egg Gathering

Our daughter demonstrating the special access for the egg laying station. We've seen nicer nesting access, but it's pretty good for our needs--and it's easier to clean. In the summer we may put in special raccoon proof screens for improved ventilation. Posted by Picasa

Coop Renovation or One Big Happy Flock

Our other big news--the entire coop is finally integrated. We cut a hole in the wall separating both coops, and turned the back half into the nesting box/egg laying station, with a separate access for gathering eggs. Initially the roosts were all 2 X 4's but the hens hated this. Every morning we found most of them crammed on one roost that was a tree branch, so we took the 2 X 4's out, and put back in tree branch roosts. The back section has one remaining 2 X 4. Posted by Picasa

Naughty Mary has a New Home!

Many exciting changes since we last posted--the change I'm most happy about is that Naughty Mary, our New Hampshire (looks like Rhoda, just much smaller, and much more difficult) has found a new home.

Naughty Mary pioneered the finer points of chicken run escapism, repeatedly decimating our neighbor's garden, as well as ours. She also developed the uniquely annoying habit of roosting every single night in the maple tree, forcing us to use the ladder to retrieve her every night--before the raccoons could get her. And then, who could forget her primary method of communication, a screech that sounded like fingernails on a black board? For all these reasons and more, we found Mary another home. (In fact, it was the day we discovered Naughty Mary had eaten the neighbor's winter garden starts again that I looked at Michael and said, "That's it--we're getting rid of her tonight!")

Our friend Joe, who has a 5 acre property with a free range small flock, adopted both our Naughty Mary and a friend's highly aggressive auracana rooster, Mr. May. Joe reported, "Yeah, Mary is a hellion, but I don't understand why you think she's difficult." That is a sure sign to us that Mary was not cut out for the city chicken life. Initially her introduction to the new flock was tough, but then Mr. May arrived and levelled the playing field.

Apparantly Naughty Mary (who is now not so naughty), Mr. May, and all their new flock mates are doing well.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Snowy Anne, with the White Undies

This is the highly fashionable silver laced wyandotte, Snowy Anne in profile view. Posted by Picasa

This is the 3/4 view, where you can see that, um, Snowy Anne has white pantaloons shall we say? The amazing thing is that her sister silver laced wyandotte, Rosemary River, has a fuzzy grey/black bum, and the gold laced wyandottes likewise have brown/black bums. Posted by Picasa

Is it so wrong that we noticed that from the right vantage point, Snowy Anne's bum looked like a white fluffy heart? Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

City Chicken & the Savage Chicken-Inspiration & a Giggle Respectively

If by this time in the blog you might be thinking, "Hey, I'd like to do this too! I'd like some chickens, but where do I start?", I'd like to turn you on to the site that got me started, Katy Skinner's magnum opus The City Chicken

Katy's site takes you through the basics, FAQ, how to house the chickens, legal issues (not everyone can legally keep chickens in the city), how to care for chicks, as well as her totally cool pictorial history of her various flocks and their domiciles. Her helpful links include some of the best online resources available for the home poultry enthusiast. Katy's site literally convinced me that we could raise chickens successfully in the city. When I had questions, her encouraging response was great too!

After you visit Katy's site, you might want to cruise on by Savage Chickens for a giggle. All cartoons are done on post-it notes.

Let This Be a Lesson to You

This week we learned a painful lesson. Saturday I purchased not quite 40 winter garden starts, various boc choi, tatsoi, collards, and rainbow chard to plant for our summer garden. I was very excited that our weather had forecast rain and cooler temperatures for Monday and Tuesday, as winter garden crops don't like high heat.

Saturday hubby slaved bringing a truckload of compost, and I shoveled most of it into the garden, on top of some buckwheat cover crop and coop poop-laden straw (say *that* three times fast). Sunday Michael slaved breaking up the soil and mixing it all in, and I planted, watered heavily, very happy with myself that we were just in time to utilize the wet weather.

At work Monday, I waited excitedly for the rain to begin, and was so pleased that I wouldn't have to water in my starts again because it was being done for me.

When I arrived home I walked over to the garden to see how happy the starts were and noticed what appeared to be a start eaten by a slug. I thought, "Oh drat! Oh well, they do get some of the starts." So I looked at the start next to it, and it was eaten down to the stem too. Then I looked at the start next to it and it was also suspiciously missing leaves.

At that point I panicked and looked over every single area we had planted and saw nothing but bare spots or stems! Our slugs in the Northwest are aggressive in the garden, but no slug, even with the help of a little slug army, could eat nearly 40 starts in one evening! In fact, only one creature would be interested in such a thing--chickens!

I was so furious, that I will confess I thought about cutting a few feathered lives short. Later, when I talked to Michael about it, he did mention that Rocky, Mary, and another hen did get out and he put them back, but it never occurred to him that they had decimated the newly planted garden. While I was upset for a fair amount of the evening (ok, I confess, I don't get over things as quickly as I'd like), I'm happy to report all the hens are present and accounted for.

The moral of this story is good fencing is everything. Make sure all your chicken fences are high enough to keep chickens from flying out, with no gaps they can easily go under. We found at least one area where the chickens could easily get out and increased the height of that fence. We are now down to 2 hens that still get out, Seiji, who is so well mannered she would never destroy our garden, and Mary Mary Quite Contrary, who obviously didn't hesitate to eat a garden to the stems. At this point her main escape route letting her into the garden has been sealed off, so hopefully we will not have a repeat of this.

Portrait of Man Relaxing with Hens & Cats

Here is a portrait of the lead coop builder with the hens...sad thing is this was such a sweet shot just about 1/2 second earlier. All the flock was milling about him, until I came out with the camera. Unfortunately I think they thought it was food, and they rushed over to see what I had. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Leann's Happy Hen Gourmet Mash

Here's an "action shot" of the hens enjoying my world famous Gourmet Mash. 9.5 out of 10 hens agree this is the meal of their lives!

The mash often consist of a small quantity of layer pellets with yogurt, cottage cheese or kefiili (like kefir, a cultured milk product) plus odds and ends of whatever is available. The cultured milk products are very, very good for helping chickens stay healthy.

This weekend I made an amazing gourmet mash which made the hens extremely happy, and wanted to share this recipe with you poultry enthusiasts. Since it involves meat, if you are a new visitor, please check the archives for my post on chickens as omnivores--other poultry enthusiasts have assured me they see the same dietary behavior in their flocks too! We don't often feed them meat, but it has a dramatic positive health benefit when we do. Consider adding meat to your mash recipe in the early spring to help boost immunity after a long winter, after an illness, and during a molt to help protein depleted birds (feathers are all protein). You can also omit the meat or other items from this mash and add your own ingredients.

Leann's Happy Hen Gourmet Mash
feeds a flock of 20 (with enough left over that everyone gets some)

1-2 pints yogurt or other cultured milk product
1 pint low-salt cottage cheese
2 pounds ground beef
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch lemon balm
1 head garlic
1-2 cups raw pumpkin seeds
1 pint baby tomatoes
enough pellet feed to make a mushy consistency

2-3 casserole type pans

Put all the pans on a counter or work space where you can evenly divide the ingredients between the 3 pans.

-Add the yogurt & cottage cheese
-Remove leaves from lemon balm and add to pans
-Take parsley, and using scissors, snip entire bunch into small pieces
-Put in ground beef, yes, raw
-Slice all tomatoes in half and add

Mix with hands, getting ground beef and cottage cheese thoroughly mixed

-Add a small quantity of pellets to mash, enough to make it thicken
-Peel most of paper husks off garlic cloves, and add cloves to Cuisinart
-Add pumpkin seeds to Cuisinart, and blend until both garlic and seeds are in bits
-Add this mixture to mash

Mix well, and serve (put the dishes in various parts of the run so all hens, low and high in terms of pecking order, can eat freely)

I don't always use all these ingredients, but a little about what the benefits are for your flock:

Cultured dairy products are as beneficial for hens as they are for humans. Cultured dairy is high in protein and calcium, and the friendly flora helps prevent diseases and parasites in a flock.

Meat, as I've already mentioned, can be an excellent periodic supplement to a flock diet. This is especially true after winter, illness, or a molt when a hen's protein needs increase dramatically. Additionally, according to the Weston Price Foundation, there are fat soluble vitamins and activators that only meat can provide. Since raw is better, put your meat in the freezer for 2 weeks prior to feeding to your birds, to kill any possible parasites, etc. Feel free to search the archive for a post about feeding raw deer liver to the flock--they loved it!

Lemon Balm is a powerful antiviral--our flock was exposed to viral poultry pox, which is sort of like human oral herpes in that it is non-fatal and they carry it for life. So for our flock, treating with lemon balm is a good thing.

Parsley is extremely high in minerals and vitamins. I've also been known to use granulate kelp and dulse.

Garlic is a potent antiviral, antifungal, antiparasitical, and antibacterial. Organic poultry farmers rave about use of garlic, and the mash is the best way I've found to get the girls to eat it.

Raw pumpkin seeds are noted in Chinese medicine to be excellent at expelling worms and other parasites in humans, I hope this is true for hens. If nothing else, it's a great vegetarian source of protein and zinc for the flock. Zinc is another immunity booster. Sunflower seeds are a great substitute if all you want is the protein boost.

Tomatoes are reputed to be useful in changing internal ph so that a hen's body is not hospitable to parasites and other disease bearing invaders. I have also heard that pomegranete seeds and cranberries are useful for the same thing.

Have fun making your own mash--your hens will love you for it!

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Protocol Change

Hi Folks,
One of my other blogs was comment-spammed by a bot--translated from geek speak that means some programmed spam found its way into the comments field on another blog. For now, folks will need to complete a verification prior to posting comments. Thanks for that extra effort, it keeps the blog on track and free from unwanted advertising. Back to our regularly scheduled chicken post!

Eggs-citing News!

And now for something completely happy! Here's a comparison pic of the egg laid by Mary, our first hen in the younger girls group to begin laying. This is officially her 2nd egg--yesterday's was even smaller if you can believe it, but our daughter wanted it for breakfast so this morning so I don't have a picture to share.

The first eggs a hen lays are always smaller; compare Mary's egg with the egg in the photo from a mature 1 year old hen. You might remember I wondered about whether Mary was a rooster since lately she seemed, well, generally not nice. Her transition to laying might explain why she took a turn for the worse, personality-wise. (Just the other day, when retrieving her from someplace she wasn't supposed to be, she was flapping at me frantically and I found myself saying, "Mary, you make me want to cook you! Now cut it out!") We noticed a general irritability in the older flock hens as well, right before they started laying. It seems like they know they should be doing something, can't figure out what that something is, and might even be physically uncomfortable until they lay that first egg.

Frankly, it makes sense to me--I can imagine I'd be pretty darn uncomfortable too, and I really don't understand how they lay eggs day in and day out and stay so even tempered! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Rest in Peace...

Today has been a very sad day. The hen pictured in the foreground, Heather, suddenly developed a condition that quickly proved to be fatal. We had a very sad evening burying her, and hope that she is enjoying the chicken equivalent of Happy Hunting Grounds, where the dandelions are always green and leafy, there are plenty of worms and bugs to be had, and enough grain to fill the gizzard...sleep well hen Heather. Posted by Picasa