Category: Chickens

The Chicken Chronicles

This is the third week in a row that egg laying has increased.  I wasn’t really expecting this until later in the winter, when the days are longer than they are now, but I am sure not complaining.  This week the ladies laid 33 eggs: 20 from the Rhode Island Reds and 13 from the Easter Eggers.

Speaking of the ladies, they sure are enjoying the Back to Eden garden!  They love getting in there and scratching it up, looking for bugs or worms underneath the covering.  I am sure they won’t be very pleased here in a few weeks when I put a stop to that.  I can’t have them digging up my plants come spring though.

I have always heard they are not smart animals, but you sure can’t tell that with these birds most of the time.  In particular, we have at least one Rhode Island Red that will go up to Charity when she has let them out to run in the yard, letting her know she is ready for Charity to put a shovel in the ground and turn some dirt over.  This bird will then eat all the worms, then look back up at Charity, as if it is asking her to please do that again.  😀  Some of the others join in, but most of the time it is just one who starts it.


Rhode Island Red with an Attitude

You Lookin’ at Me?

The Hazards of Backyard Chickens

If you happen to own chickens, do yourself a favor and check out this video from One Girls Rant:

She is so right.  Our chickens have names.  They are basically pets that lay eggs.  Not only do they have names, but they are entertaining to watch, as they all have different personalities.  In fact, Charity can tell me a story about one of them, and I can figure out who it is most of the time by the actions she is describing.

Know this, if you get chickens you will not be unaffected.  😀

The Chicken Chronicles

I am not sure I have even seen the chickens except from a distance this week.  Praise God for my lovely wife who has mostly taken care of them.  It has been a bit of a chaotic week that ended with me feeling a bit under the weather.  Thankfully I think that has mostly passed now.

The ladies aren’t feeling under the weather though, it seems.  I have been pleasantly shocked to see more of the Easter Eggers’ eggs in the egg cartons this week.  Even though the days are still short, perhaps they are itching to start laying again.  When I gather eggs I remind them, “I either have egg layers or meat birds, one of the two!”  This reminds me of a cute cartoon I saw sometime back:

Why the Chicken Crossed the Road


I decided to validate that they are laying more, and I was wrong!  The Rhode Island Reds have had a good week (20 last week, 22 this week), but the Easter Eggers are actually down from last week (9 last week, 8 this week).  That being said, they are laying more than they were just two weeks ago (2)

One of the big projects I need to get done is expanding the chicken run.  Our birds are fortunate in that we have a decent sized run for them, but they sure do enjoy getting out of the run and stretching their wings.  You ought to see these little ladies when they find some new bugs or worms – it is like Christmas morning to them!  Of course, expanding the run isn’t going to replace that free time out in the yard, but it sure will help us feel a little better about it when we aren’t home to let them out.

The Chicken Chronicles

As mentioned yesterday, this was a big week with the chickens – the annual changing of the litter!  (listening for hens everywhere to start cheering)  It isn’t quite as gross as it sounds.  We use the deep-litter method with our hen house, which means I fill the coop with a very thick layer of oak leaves once a year.  During the year the hens poop in it, stir it up, aerate it, tear it up, and cause it to compost.  This means you never really have a strong smell, but instead you have soil being built.  However, you must change that out periodically, not only for the hens, but for you to have the benefits of it.  This past weekend was that time.

Okay, here is what it looked like before we began:

Year-Old Chicken Litter

Year-Old Chicken Litter


You may notice it was not thick everywhere.  That is because of the hole in the floor.  The silly ladies knock the leaves down into the bottom of the coop, into the run, over time.  I typically then use a pitchfork to move it from the run back to the coop to keep a good thick layer there.  I haven’t really stated it yet, but as I understand it, the thick layer is essential to give enough dry brown material to keep the stench down.  It is really much like composting.

I first moved all the old chicken litter out of the coop and the run while the ladies were out stretching their wings:

Chicken Litter

Chicken Litter/Compost

You can see how much compost this created in a year, and this is far better compost than you might get from any store.  It is all organic, all homegrown.  I know what is in this compost, and I know it is good.

I then took a large pile of leaves that were good and dry, and I move them into the coop and run.  I know this looks like it would be uncomfortable for the chickens, and it may be, but it won’t stay this way for long.  I happen to think they enjoy it though, digging through all this new material looking for any sort of life (read: bugs) that might be in it.  As I said, it won’t stay this way for long though.  Soon the leaves will become shred under their constant picking and foraging, and it will pack down.  Anyhow, here is what it looks like in the coop:


Fresh Oak Leaf Chicken Litter

Fresh Oak Leaf Chicken Litter

I also put it in the run because I need plenty of material to add to the coop throughout the year.  It is essential to keep a thick layer there.  As the litter in the coop runs this, I will scoop some from the run up into the coop.  Believe it or not, this will all be smashed down to a thin layer in just a few days.

The only other thing going on with the hens this week is a bit of an upswing in egg product.  Last week was eggs, whereas this week we had 29, and 9 of them were Easter Eggers!  If we compare that to last week, we see the Rhode Island Reds laid the same amount (20) and the Easter Eggers upped their production by 7 eggs!  Go Easter Eggers!  It won’t be long until we see those numbers really jumping up.  I am very anxious for that.

Happenings Around the Homestead

Like much of the US, this past week has been a nasty week, so there wasn’t much happening around the homestead this week.  That certainly hasn’t stopped my mind from wandering on spring planting though.  😀  Like most gardeners, I get so ready to spend time in the garden this time of year that I cannot hardly stand it.  This year is that and more.  I am so ready to get this larger garden planted and see what comes from it.

One of the things I had hoped to be able to accomplish this week was some winter sowing.  What is winter sowing?  Ah, I am glad you asked!  😀  Winter sowing is something I read about not long ago where you make miniature greenhouses out of 2 liter bottles, quart or gallon milk jugs, or any other container that is mostly transparent and made of plastic.  You then set the containers out in your yard in a mostly sunny place and let the seeds do their thing.  They freeze and thaw, and eventually start growing inside this somewhat protected container, which allows you to have the benefits of a greenhouse combined with the benefits of not having to harden off your plants.  Oh, I can see I need a whole post on this!  Let me do just that later in the week.  In the meantime, you can see a really good video on it here:

I also roasted some coffee this weekend, but essentially botched it.  I had my fire too hot and ended up with a French Roast instead of my normal light roast.  SIGH.  It is still a very smooth cup of coffee though.  Surprisingly smooth.

The other big project around the homestead that I did get to this week was changing out the litter in the chicken coop.  You’ll be able to read more about that in The Chicken Chronicles this week.  However, this is one of the big reasons we have chickens.  They are fertile soil making machines!  I like the way some describe it – my chickens are fertile soil making machines that happen to also lay eggs.  😀


The Chicken Chronicles

Whoa! Talk about a tough week for relatively new owners of outdoor chickens – this week has been one of the hardest so far. We had an some unusually cold weather come through the region this week, like much of the country, and it really challenged my thinking on taking care of the ladies.

If we step back a short month or two ago, we had some temperatures in the high teens, and at that point in time I chose to attempt to heat the coop with a red heat lamp. It was obvious the birds did not like the light, and I didn’t feel it was helping that much anyhow. When they started talking about single digit temperatures this past week, I was really puzzling over what I would do.

We had already insulated the coop with plastic on most inside walls, which helped more than the red heat lamp in my opinion, but it still was not enough for single digit temperatures, at least it wasn’t enough to make me feel comfortable. I wasn’t worried about our hens dying, but I was worried about the Rhode Island Reds getting frostburn on their combs and waddles. They are cold hardy bird, but that exposed skin worried me. The Easter Eggers, on the other hand, do not have much exposed skin, so I wasn’t too worried about them.

I spent some time reading up online to see what others had chosen to do, and it seemed I wasn’t the only one suffering from indecision. I think it is because most chicken owners look at their birds as pets that happen to lay eggs. That is certainly how they are seen here. I was able to find references of folks who used the red heat lamps as I had done before, and others who used other heaters, but the resounding message from the experienced chicken owners was that people worried too much. I found examples of people who lived in some very cold places who had never heated their coops, and from what I could tell, if you could keep the wind out and the coop dry inside, the birds would likely be fine. So, I decided that was what I would do.

Even so, there was a small concern: water. How would I keep the water from freezing? I decided to use a heated growing mat under their water dish to try to slow down the freezing. When that didn’t seem as effective as I had hoped, we surrounded the water bowl with some insulation (old towels in plastic bags), which seemed to help quite a bit.

Second, we took a large tarp and draped it over the coop on three sides and part of the fourth. This provided two things: a reduction in airflow and a insulation.

The Coop Wrapped in a Tarp

The Coop Wrapped in a Tarp

I was shocked at how well this seemed to do. Thankfully we had built the coop with enough ventilation at the top that even with three sides covered, there was plenty of ventilation for the moisture to escape. This seems to be one of the largest concerns. I read a great piece of advice that said if you notice frost on the inside walls of your coop, you have too much moisture. We did not notice that at all.

After a day or so, I began to be a little concerned at the lack of light in the coop. I didn’t want to introduce the extra heat or risk of fire, but I wanted to add some light in there, so I mounted a fixture on the ceiling and put an LED bulb in it to help with the light.

The temperatures did get very cold, with two days being in the singe digits.  If it didn’t hit 0° F, it sure came close.  When I woke one morning it was 1° F, and I suspect it had been colder.  The second wave didn’t get quite as cold, but it was still single digits.

A several things I noticed through all this. First, there was no frostburn, and the ladies seem little bothered by the cold. Second, they miss their recess breaks out roaming the yard. Third, I think they like the light during their daytime hours. Fourth, the Easter Eggers are either smarter than the Rhode Island Reds, or they need more heat. Why would I say that? Because those little ladies finally started roosting on the big plastic container which contained by heated growing mat and the water bowl.  ALL SIX of them made this their sleeping quarters. 😀

Easter Egger Hens Huddling Around the Water/Heating Pad

Easter Egger Huddle

The big plastic container is to keep their water from spilling into the coop’s bedding.  The heating pad is in the big plastic container.  There is a 1 gallon water bowl in the big container, and it is surrounded by towels to hold in the heat as much as possible.  The hens are either in the container, on the side, or at the edge.

Thankfully this bitter cold spell is over, but I feel better about future cold spells now that we have been through this one. I am sure the birds do too.

Oh, even throughout the cold spell, the Rhode Island Reds continued laying, though I think the numbers were a little less than they have been. Perhaps that was due to the decreased lighting for a few days.  I show the Rhode Island Reds laid 20 eggs this week, and the Easter Eggers laid 3.

Yesterday Charity let the hens out to play for a while, and they were thrilled.  I guess they had cabin fever after being locked up for so many days.  Freckles must have really been that way.  As we were trying to get them back into the coop, she flew up into a tree!  This is at least twice as high as I have seen a chicken fly, if not three times the height:

Freckles in a Tree

Freckles in a Tree

We finally got her down though after threatening to clip her wings and poking her with the blunt end of a pole pruner.  😀

Oh, I also had to repair the coop some yesterday.  Both doors to the run had boards that had broken which was causing the doors to not be able to be propped open easily.  Both are fixed now, though I sure wish they would break in warmer weather next time.

Happenings Around the Homestead

Like most of the country, we have been in the middle of a bitter cold spell the last week or so, which has resulted in not much happening around the homestead other than protecting the chickens.  More on that tomorrow.  Even so, I have been blessed with another surprise shipment of seeds this week, which gave me a bit of a mystery to solve.

On Thursday I received a package containing numerous bags of corn.  The name on the package wasn’t entirely familiar to me, though the last name caught my attention.  The corn included one I was very interested in, Texas Gourdseed, which happened to be one I have been trying to find.  It also included Drought Hickory King, Kaanga Pango (a New Zealand corn), Cascade Maple Gold, and Cherokee White Flour Corn.  After further research, each of these were corns that could be used as flour corns, which is something else I had been looking for.

I headed off to a gardening forum that I frequent, and I felt confident after a few minutes of research that I found my benefactor, a very nice lady in California who knew I was looking for the Texas Gourdseed Corn, but there was still a mystery to this: how did she get my name and address?  I sent her a message, thanking her for the corn, and asking how she knew my contact info, to which she replied that I had given her that some time back when I was searching for flour corn, and she had been unable to send it then.  So, the mystery was solved, and now I have a ton of new corn to plant this year!  Woot!

The Texas Gourdseed is one that particularly interests me, and I actually already have a post written on why that is.  I will make a few edits to that this week and get it posted soon.

The Kaanga Pango also caught my eye some, as I had never heard of this corn.  I am having trouble finding a lot about it out there, but it seems to have come from the Wellington (New Zealand) Seed Library.  It certainly looks to be a flour-type corn, and from what I can find on the Internet, the Maori, the indigenous New Zealand people, “historically used corn to making a fermented corn, they ate corn fresh, they make something that looks like a tamale, and they ate a pudding/mush from corn.”  That doesn’t tell me for sure they used this corn this way, but it is probable.  Again, it seems flour-like to me, so it will go in my flour landrace this year.  Here’s a picture of the Kaana Pango Corn:

Kaanga Pango Corn

Kaanga Pango Corn

On another note, the popcorn trials are complete for the year, the results of which I am going to share in a post of it’s own.  Despite some challenges in the testing of popping ability, I finally got through all my samples and have a great selection of popcorn to grow for the new year.  More to come on that.

The Chicken Chronicles

Whoa!  Tonight and tomorrow night are going to be interesting nights around the homestead with regards to the chickens.  It is supposed to get down to the low temperature so far for the season, a bitter cold 6 degrees F.  WHOA!  I have read and read and read on this, and the experts say to not worry about the chickens.  If they have a draft free coop, they will be fine.  Furthermore, the experts mostly advise against heating the coop, which I have already done once this year, as it is a tremendous fire hazard.  I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little bit worried.  Two things I have read give me comfort though.  First, the wild birds make it without the conveniences these birds have.  Second, each one of these birds basically carries a down filled coat at all times.  I guess I feel better about 16 degrees F after the last couple of bitter cold spells, and after this one I will feel better about single digits.

There are several changes coming up with the chicken pen.  The next one, which might happen in as little as two weeks, is an extension on one side of the run.  This will serve a couple of purposes.  First, it will give the chickens more area to move around, but more importantly, it will allow me to attach a chicken tunnel to the run.  A chicken tunnel, or a chunnel, is basically a small semi-circle that runs wherever you wish it to run in your yard, allowing the chickens easy space to stretch their legs and beat boredom.  It also gets them out into the grass more, which allows them to supplement their diet with more bugs and greenery, both of which are important for healthy eggs.

Speaking of eggs, I am so ready for the days to lengthen where the Easter Eggers will start laying regularly again.  They are producing almost nothing at all, and the four Rhode Island Reds are having trouble keeping up with the egg demands of this house.  😀

Oh, speaking of eggs, I thought I would give an overview of the laying for 2014:

  • Easter Eggers (6): 313/2.07 a day/3.28 eggs per week, per bird
  • Rhode Island Reds (4): 425/2.81 a day/4.92 eggs per week, per bird

So basically our flock of ten produced 61.5 dozen eggs since August 3, when they started laying.  Not bad.

The Chicken Chronicles

The little lady layers are ready for winter to be over!  It has been shocking to me to see the tremendous difference in their egg production now and just a few months ago.  There were days we were getting eight or nine eggs a day back when it was warmer, and now we consider ourselves fortunate if we get four in a day, and those are almost exclusively eggs from the Rhode Island Reds.  It is somewhat rare to get an egg from the Easter Eggers right now, and it is very rare for more than one to show up.  This is the reason we added the Rhode Island Reds to the flock though – they are egg laying machines.

One of the issues the Easter Eggers are having is that some of them are molting.  It may be that all of them are molting, but two of them are showing it more.  In fact, one reminds me of a little Indian boy with one tall feather sticking up from its tail.  We have added some more protein and fat to their diet, which is a good idea in winter anyhow, but it also seems that it helps hens through the molting process.

I had someone ask a week or two ago if it was normal for a hen to molt in the winter.  I didn’t know the answer, and it seemed illogical to me, but after researching it I found that it is not unusual at all.  I am supposing they stay closer to their sisters during this time to keep a little warmer.

One other thing we have learned is the importance of an insulated coop.  Just this morning I noticed a container of water outside the coop was frozen, but one inside the run, just under the coop was not.  The run is not even really insulated, but it does have wind breakers on two sides.  It seems that those wind breakers made enough of a difference that it was able to keep the water from freezing.  Amazing, really.

One thing we are finding is commonly recommended for the hens in the winter is black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS).  I have added this to my list of things to grow next year, as I sure would love to be able to feed the chickens as much as possible from the garden.  That reminds me, I am also growing a considerable amount more greens (kale, lettuce, chard), brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage), squash and beets to help feed the ladies more from the garden.

The Chicken Chronicles

After yesterday’s post on the BIG weekend, I am sure you know the chickens had an eventful weekend too.  The poor ladies started out pretty scared of all the work that was going on, even staying upstairs in the coop for a while.  After they got used to the front-end loader, they began venturing downstairs, and were as exuberant as ever to get out and run around.  They curiously watched to try to figure out what was going on, but in the end, all they cared about was finding treats amount the wood chips.  😀

The laying is still slow, as I am sure it will be until the days start getting longer, though the Rhode Island Reds are real troopers.  The four of them laid 24 eggs this week, whereas the six Easter Eggers only laid 8 eggs.  This was the whole reason added the Rhode Island Reds to the flock though, as they should continue laying most all winter.

Charity noticed a problem below the coop though.  It seems the ladies are thinking the insulation foamboard I put there is for their dining pleasure.  SIGH.  I don’t think I will work on that today, but sometime I will have to cut it out where it is not within their reach.

One of the next big projects I have it to get a portable chicken run built, so I can actually let them stay out in the yard for extended periods of time without someone watching them.  Ideally, this would allow me to let the work the unplanted garden areas as well, with the chickens aerating and fertilizing the soil while they have fun.  I am thinking of building something out of cattle panels, but I need to work on this more.

There’s never a shortage of things to do, is there?