Wednesday, September 8, 2010

5 Months and Loving It

It's only been 5 months but it feels like I've had chickens forever.  Sometimes I get asked if I'm liking my chickens.  My answer is:  I'm loving them.
I went out and took pictures today.
Buckeye pullet.  This girl is wonderful.  She is larger than the other buckeye pullet.  I think she is sister to the huge male I have.  She is a watchdog and very protective of the other birds.  I have seen her chase the cat away after she lets him take a drink.  She also thought the sandbox was a chicken thing and tried to chase the kids away.  I corrected her.  She lays me an egg every couple of days.
Up close and personal.  She is an interesting bird.
The little Buckeye pullet.  She gets picked on a bit but not too bad.  I tend to watch over her somewhat.  She lays me an egg almost everyday.
There she is again.  She tends to stay fairly close to the larger buckeye pullet, who is quite protective.

This is Rosie.  Yes, she has a name.  At this point she is the only one who has a name and we are trying to keep it that way.  The reason she has a name is that she was the first one to fly over the fence and wander the yard around the house all day.  She was also the first one to lay an egg.  She laid an egg a day for several days before the others began to lay.  She acts differently than the others.  Much more inquisitive about us and extremely friendly.  She will hang out on the deck and run to me when I call her name.  She is a self-made pet.  She will probably get to live to a ripe old age as long as she can stay away from predators.
This is a picture of the inside where the nesting boxes are.
Ok, so I told her there was a box two doors down.  But she insists that this is the box for her and if her sister doesn't like it she can jolly well move.
Mark built a barn for his boat.  Rosie the white hen decided it was the best place for her to lay her eggs.  She would go behind the door and lay so I put some straw there.  She did this until something scared her and now she lays in the coop with the other girls.
He also installed a fan in the side of the coop for those hot windless days.  Painted it for winter and insulated the roof.  It looks much better.
He also made a gate for the boys pen.  It is completely movable.  I would like to take the fence down before winter.  The gate could stay there I suppose.  Might look unique.
No matter what the weather they do not go in the shelter, they sit on top.

Here is my big buckeye.

Roosters don't take much at all.  Food, water, grit and plenty of foraging space.  They have there own thing going on.

They do like it when you take an unneccessary trip back there to see them.  But don't bring the net or you won't see them.  They know what that is.  I never go in there pen without a short stick or broom.  They are curious but also defensive.  I keep control that way.  Never use it but just the idea of it keeps them respectful.

This is a fine looking buckeye for 5 1/2 months old.
Here are the two darker ones.  They are the same age just smaller and slower growing.

They look perfect to me.  I'm not seeing red in the eyes but the golden color is getting darker.  So maybe it's gets more red the older they get.

Serious looking bird.
There aren't as many WPR roosters as there were.
Only a few left.  This is what happens to roosters.  They get to grow, have fun, enjoy the life they have.  Be as natural as possible and then they get harvested.  And we are so thankful.

This is another view of the shelter.  They sit up there and keep an eye on the hens and there surroundings.  They can fly right out of there, but don't like getting caught so they mostly stay in.  The ones who wouldn't stay in are in the freezer.

I just love looking at these birds. 
Maybe you do too. 
So here's another picture.

So we've had very little rain since the first part of July and a lot of very hot days.  The pullets have used up there yard and since they are laying eggs now and I'm bragging that the eggs are better because they eat grass, I started feeling bad for them.  My blog is called "Chickens in my yard" after all and there's plenty of grass there for all.  So I opened the gate and let them all out.  Here's what happened.
Chickens everywhere.
They love the playcenter and the sandbox.

They were so happy.

In the ferns.
He gave them some bread.  Now they are friends for life.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Roosters, roosters and more roosters

18 months old.  It is definitely that time of year.  While roosters are the more beautiful in the species they are a pain in the butt.  We had too many roosters for the pen and for the number of hens.  We made a portable pen and put the biggest ones in there.  But they fought terrible and I couldn't stand that the ones getting picked on were trapped.
They did alright the first night, all a little confused about why they were in there.  Chloe sang to them that evening, bedtime songs.  We moved the box the next day, away from the regular pen so they couldn't see the other chickens.
To me they were looking pretty good and healthy.

They seemed pretty happy in there for the most part.

It was too many roosters for this size cage and the cage is very heavy so I couldn't move it daily to give them new grass to work on.  They became aggressive with each other.
That weekend we processed roosters number 2 and 3.  And then Mark got to work on making a pasture area for them.  We put the cage in the fenced off area so that they could sleep in it at night.  But they don't.  They sleep on top of it.  We put the rest of the White Plymouth Rock roosters in the back pen.  For the next couple of weeks we were rounding up roosters and putting them back in the pen since they would fly over the fence.  On the 14th while rounding up a rooster, he got hurt and we did an emergency processing.    He was 20 weeks old and dressed up at 3 lbs 9 oz.  So by this time 4 roosters were in the freezer.  Actually 2 were cooked and enjoyed.  By Aug 20th, most of them were staying in the pen, but I was still having trouble with one in particular, so on a friday with the help of the two kids I took care of him by myself.  He was 20 1/2 weeks old and dressed up at 4 lbs 3 oz.  There were 8 left in the pen now. 
After we moved the White Plymouth Rock roosters to the back pen we began having trouble with our large Buckeye rooster.  He was hanging out in the coop and the hens had started to lay.  He had actually been very laid back and unassertive.  He had a wonderful personality, calm, mild and generally minded his own business.  But with the other roosters gone he suddenly assumed the leadership role, not just of the two smaller Buckeyes but of the hens as well.  I spent a lot of time peeking into the coop to find him chasing hens around and broken eggs on the floor and in the nest boxes.  I even found eggs laid outside because she didn't want to deal with him.  I really didn't want to put him in the pen with the other roosters but it seemed like my only recourse.  One evening I put him back there with the others.  They immediately converged on him.   I watched for awhile until they settled down for the night.  In the morning I checked on him before I did anything else, he was a sorry sight but still alive and no blood.  Most of that day he spent running from the others.  I was pretty upset because I couldn't think what to do.  That evening he jumped both fences and proceeded to boss the hens around in the coop.  I knew he couldn't stay in there so I put him in the cage we had made, which was still in the rooster area and closed the door.  I gave him water, food and grit and let him be.  He was pretty upset for a couple of days and refused to eat, but I saw him drinking.  I relaxed a bit about him because he was safe.

Meanwhile, the pullets began laying.  We got our first egg on August 6th.  I was so excited.  I took pictures of it.

This is what it's all about.
It was so small.  Here it is next to a size large store bought egg.
She was 19 weeks old when she began laying and laid one each of the next 2 days before her sisters followed suit.  After she began laying she wouldn't stay in the pen with the other hens but jumps out every morning and wanders around the yard until bedtime when she wants back in the coop.  She laid her eggs in different places.  I try to let her in the coop when she starts cooing and she will go in but jumps over the fence and lays her egg in the yard.
All told we got 157 eggs in August.  That's a lot of fried eggs, cakes, cookies, pasta etc.  We shared also with our family and neighbors who are all very impressed with my project.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Cooler Temperatures Welcome

High temperatures and humidity have not made for a very good first year with chickens.  The groups, chats and blogs have been super helpful.  I'm glad I have only a few chickens, comparatively, but it still seems like too many on some days.  The chicken's are ok now that temperatures have dropped, but humidity is on some days unbearably high.  One day this week everytime I went out the back door my glasses completely fogged up.  Probably because I keep the house too cool.  I do that because I lose a lot of energy and begin to feel nauseous when I'm in humid air for too long.  The airconditioner keeps the house a lot drier.  As a result the garden has suffered from neglect.  I'm not giving up on it for the future but for now it is still difficult to spend mornings out there with toddlers in the house.  They will get older and it will get easier I'm sure.
This spring I bought a straight run of chicks, because of this I have way too many roosters.  Even though they are not fully mature they can be quite a handful.  We watched them a lot trying to determine which ones were the worst.  One evening, July 28th we decided to try our hand at processing one, get a system started and see how it goes.
So here we are.  Nervous? yes.  Could we back out of this? no.  Once you have a livestock, you cannot turn your back on it.  It doesn't matter what kind it is.  So better pull on those boots, get the gloves and get on with it.  We actually caught and processed the wrong one.  Catching it was so hard.  But that's ok really because I'm not trying to breed chickens.  All the roosters are eventually going to the same happy place.  It has been many years since I last processed a chicken, 34 years exactly.  So yes I'm nervous, I also wanted to try something different to what we did at home when I was a kid. 
I want to use a cone instead of a chopping block.
Here is a picture of our little rudimentary set up.  The homemade cone attached to the end of an old homemade sawhorse.  A piece of plywood straddled across two smaller sawhorses and the old kitchen trash can.  The hose is conveniently nearby.  Two very sharp knives and a bucket you can barely see, under the cone and one not visible for the hot water.  We used hot water from the house and boiled a smaller pan of water.  We used a thermometer to check the waters temperature.  At this age I've read that it should be between 140 - 150 degrees F.  We had a rope hangin in the barn door.
Here's me holding the lucky guy.  This was our first.  He dressed out at 3lbs 5oz.  Not too big for this kind of chicken, but not too bad either.

Little bit skinny. But not too bad.  Tasted good too though not as tender as I had hoped.  But that's what you get for having flying running chickens, and giving them lots of room to do so.  The flavor was great.  I think we'll have to experiment with the actual cooking of the birds to find the best way.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

16 Weeks Old

It has been such a busy time.  The fourth of July came and went.  All my kids from all over with their children came to visit.  Raspberries came and went.  Jam was made.  Beans began to ripen, jalepenos and eggplant followed suit.  Good times all around, even the exhaustion was resemblence of good times.  I thought I would be able to give my son a taste of homegrown chicken while he was here but that didn't happen.  To start with I totally suck at catching chickens.  My favorite man in the whole world, Mark, became sick and needed care.  So it turned out great for the chickens, they get to live longer.  Good thing too, I discovered when I finally managed to catch one and weigh him.  He was 5 lbs at 15 weeks and again I weighed at 16 weeks and still came up with 5 lbs.  Good thing I can't take a picture of myself trying to catch chickens.  Probably not a very flattering thing.  I've been reading about how to cook homegrown heritage chickens and the proper way to handle them before and after slaughter. I will add a post to share the information on that. 

Serious Mr. Rooster.
Come on we can share this thing.
Alright, we'll see who's boss.
I am the boss.  Cock - a - doodle - doo!
Aren't I beautiful?  I know I am.  I'm a buckeye.
I'm beautiful too.  Mama said I was.
Me too.
The July heat has been a serious issue.  I've been busy trying to keep them hydrated and cooled off.  Ice bottles in the afternoon water.  Watermelon in the late afternoon.  Temperatures in the upper 80's at bedtime.  Still I was worried about the poor things.  One afternoon I noticed some blood in and around some poop.  I asked on the AmericanBuckeyeClub, a yahoo group, about it.  The advice I got was closer to a disease called Coccidiosis.  That was scary.  I learned from the Chicken Health Handbook that Coccidiosis will run through the flock in 5 - 7 days.  I was also advised to get them back onto the medicated feed.  I thought and thought about all this.  Very stressful.  When I went to the feed store I found a pint of Corrid.  This is the medication, amprolium, which is in the medicated feed.  I bought it just in case.  Good thing to have on hand.  I also found a packet of vitamins and minerals for chickens, in a powder form.  I didn't buy the medicated feed.  When I got home I replaced their water with vitamin and mineral boosted water.  I also began putting a mixture of molasses and garlic with olive oil and water in the morning grain.  I mix it up and spread it out for them.  They love it.  My reasoning is saying that, if they are strong they will beat this sickness if they have it.  I have not found any more blood but I am watching them carefully.  They seem fit and healthy.  Running, flying, eating, drinking, fighting.  It has been three days now since I found the first clue to sickness.  I will watch and see if there are other symptoms before I treat with medication.  So far none.  It could be that one ate something it found in the ground that was sharp.  It could be due to dehydration from this unbearable heat.  By next Thursday I will know.  So for now I am fortifying them with vitamins and minerals.
Very hard to keep the coop cool.  Mark put in a fan to draw the air out.  But the air being sucked in is hot and heavily humid.  It rained this morning, hard and so far the air is much cooler than it has been.  We are looking forward to a week of cooler temperatures.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

13 Weeks

13 weeks old now and looking good.  I just had them tested by the NPIP, will have to wait on one of the tests but the other one is instant and clear.  Yay.  Lots of crowing going on now in the mornings.  Some are sounding professional and others are still trying to get it.  We had a couple of very hot weeks.  Very stressful for the birds but this week has cooled down by 15 - 20 degrees, F.  Gives me a break from the worry of keeping them cooled. 
Some pictures of my chickens at this age:
in the
in the
of the

Big beautiful Buckeye Cockerelle,  he is so friendly and mild mannered and growing so big.  I would like to keep him but he may be too tall and he has crooked toes.  I may keep him anyway.  Not sure.  He would make a great pet.