Well it’s been awhile since I’ve posted with our little farm update. We officially started a rabbitry, and the kids joined the rabbit program in 4H. Since December we’ve been to two 4H rabbit shows, bought 4 beautiful pedigreed rabbits, and rescued/found homes for a bunch more. Our show rabbits are “in the family way” and we are expecting kits next month.
We still have 3 rescues with us – one mutt, one 15lb Flemish, and one previously emciated Angora we are trying to bring back to his former glory. We have 8 rabbits right now! More info about what we are up to to can be found here: http://singingsparrowrabbitry.weebly.com/
Rabbits number 6 and 7 were deliberate purchases (not the usual rescue mission). The kids needed a dwarf breed to be able to show and handle, and our rabbits are just too big. Meet Cocoa and Sunshine- purebred Polish with pedigree.
The Wednesday rescues will hopefully find families after mom has her litter and weans – I’m hoping to take us back down to 5.
Baby was quickly adopted! We were up to six rabbits there for a few hours. Now we just wait for mom to have babies and find a home for dad (and later babies).
With 6 laying hens I figured they would like more than one nesting box. I brought home two more and they refused to used them. I read online about tricking them with cermaic eggs so I picked up two. My Rhode Island decided she would use the new box after seeing the decoys in there, but one of my ladies isn’t tricked and kicks out as many eggs as she can out of the new box.
Results? Every morning Rhode Island’s plus one or both ceramic eggs is outside the new nest box, and the other 5 eggs are in the old one.
Fake egg set up…
I found this great article on sprouting seeds for chickens. “You get your grains or sprouts, soak them in water for the first day, and then rinse them out twice a day until they sprout to the desired length you want.” Sounds easy! 2 tablespoons in a quart jar and off you go. http://www.naturallyloriel.com/growing-sprouts-as-treats-for-chickens/
I ordered 1lb of clover seeds from Amazon: 1lb of Clover Seeds
This is a slower process than I thought it would be…maybe I’m doing it wrong.
2 weeks later, they’re still not quite ready. I’m starting to think that these may not be worth the effort, given that they have to be rinsed out a few times a day…
Ok. I gave them another week and gave up and fed them the girls. They liked them, but they didn’t go nuts for them either. I might as well make another batch, but this took longer and was more work tham I wanted.
Harold and Daisy are now 18 days old, and are pretty much poop factories. They eat, poop, swim, sleep, and eat and poop even more. I can’t believe how quickly ducklings grow, it’s no wonder they eat do much! I cannot wait to get them out of my garage and into the outdoor brooder. They aren’t quite ready though and really need some feathers, so another week or two in the garage it is.
It’s done! I finally built the coop I’ve been trying to get around to making for the last year and a half. I spent $100 making it, which I think is pretty damn good. The loft bed (frame) was something we were given freely, as was the plastic roofing, old window, and some of the wood.
– $55 of it was on paint, I needed exterior paint and I wanted just the right colors.
-$10 on hinges
– $25 on wood/trim
– $10 on a tarp and paintbrush
And the pullets gets the big girl’s old set up (red). Doors stay closed until they are old enough to hold their old in the pecking order though (another month or two). It’s low to the ground because I had to fit it in my van and had to cut off the legs! I was going to put it on cinder blocks, since the chicks are locked in there doesn’t really matter.
It’s not my fault. I’m putting 100% of the blame on the feed store for carrying breeds I don’t have. 😉
Also, the ducks should hatch tomorrow. We should have 3, but not all 3 are garunteed to hatch or survive. Ducks need other birds – it would be very hard on a lonely single on duckling. Although you I do have 5 other chicks, but they’re too big. I have 14 chickens now…
2x light brahmas (fuzzy feet!)
The original be looked a lot like this.
Now it looks like this. The bed support will be the floor (need to add some plywood over the slats to the bottom and make it water resistant). It of course needs a door and a roof and a ton of paint! I cant decide on the color yet, but either blue or red. I’ll likely put the duck house underneath it.
If you’re raising chickens, keeping the eggs shells is a fantastic way to give your hens some grit and calcium at the same time. Just let them dry out for a few days (I tried putting them in the oven to hurry up the process and they don’t smell very good), and then crush them up. They’re also great in the garden for tomatoes and roses if you aren’t raising hens.
Man chicks stink! Truly. The wyandottes are 5.5 weeks and the amber white and Easter egger are 3.5 weeks and it’s time to go outside. It’s a little early for the little ones, but they have 3 big girls and their EcoGlow (warmer) and are doing just fine. Their old brooder (a rabbit cage) was getting too small, so I moved them to this franken-brooder. It’s a baby cage with a tarp wrapped around it to keep out the wind and keep the shavings in. They have a tarp on the top to help retain warmth, but there is still an area not covered by the tarp on the front to maintain good ventilation.
It’s sunny and warm today, and on those rare NW Pacific sunny spring days that means it’s time to start gardening! The first project was to plant our blueberry and raspberry bushes. Unfortunately we have a ton of invasive grass to dig out first… good thing I had a helper.
Oh yeah! The garden bed. We’re late on getting some of the cold-hardy plants in, but late is better than never. I got the bed assembled (after spending an hour looking for a lost drill bit. Grrr.) We pulled up the sod and flipped it over. I’ll cover it with weed barrier and soil, and it will break down just fine.
Chickens LOVE grass. Their sad bare coop used to be flush with grass – if you want grass gone from a patch in your yard, fence chickens in it for 48 hours. Problem solved. I try and do something daily that keeps the hens from being bored, and today it was a strip of sod I puled from the garden bed. They will make quick work of the grass, bugs, and even the soil (they pick out small stones to help them break down food).
Home Depot trip: 3 x 3 cu ft of peat, 3 x 3 cu ft garden soil, 4 x 1.5 cu ft manure, 2 x 1.5 cu ft compost (I have more of my own compost to add). Also 7 x 60lb bags of sand for the chicken coop, a can of paint, rollers, and blue tape. This weekend might be busy…
All the soil has been mixed up and added and watered. We didn’t buy anything for starts yet but we bought pumpkin seeds (those will be in a different bed) and snap pea seeds. After the peas sprout I’ll add a nice trellis.
“Go in search of eggs in most foreign countries and you might encounter a strange scene: eggs on a shelf or out in the open air, nowhere near a refrigerator.
Shock and confusion may ensue. What are they doing there? And are they safe to eat?
We Americans, along with the Japanese, Australians and Scandinavians, tend to be squeamish about our chicken eggs, so we bathe them and then have to refrigerate them.
But we’re oddballs. Most other countries don’t mind letting unwashed eggs sit next to bread or onions.
The difference boils down to two key things: how to go after bacteria that could contaminate them, and how much energy we’re willing to use in the name of safe eggs.
“The egg is a lens through which to view the entire craft of cooking,” says food writer Michael Ruhlman.
To understand when the rift happened, let’s rewind. About a hundred years ago, many people around the world washed their eggs. But there are a lot of ways to do it wrong, so the method got a bad reputation in certain parts of the world. A batch of rotten eggs, which had been washed in Australia, left a bad impression on its British importers.
By 1970, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had perfected the art of the wash with the help of fancy machines, and it required all egg producers to do it. Meanwhile, many European countries were prohibiting washing, and Asian countries never got on board with it. The exception was Japan, which joined the egg-washers after a bad spate of salmonella in the 1990s.
So what’s the deal with washing and refrigeration? Soon after eggs pop out of the chicken, American producers put them straight to a machine that shampoos them with soap and hot water. The steamy shower leaves the shells squeaky clean. But it also compromises them, by washing away a barely visible sheen that naturally envelops each egg.
“The egg is a marvel in terms of protecting itself, and one of the protections is this coating, which prevents them from being porous,” says food writer Michael Ruhlman, author of Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient.
Chicks in the Perdue hatchery in Salisbury, Md. The company says an increasing number of its chickens are now raised using “no antibiotics, ever.”
Bob O’Connor, a Foster Farms veterinarian, holds an 11-day-old chick at a ranch near the town of Merced, in California’s Central Valley.
The coating is like a little safety vest for the egg, keeping water and oxygen in and bad bacteria out. Washing can damage that layer and “increase the chances for bacterial invasion” into pores or hairline cracks in the shell, according to Yi Chen, a food scientist at Purdue University. So we spray eggs with oil to prevent bacteria from getting in, and refrigerate them to keep microorganisms at bay.
Empty shelves where eggs should be at a Whole Foods Market in Washington, D.C. The store blames increased demand for organic
Why go to the trouble of washing eggs? A lot of it has to do with fear of salmonella.
“It just sort of seeped into our culture that chickens are dirty, or crawling with bacteria,” says Ruhlman. (The Salt stumbled into this when our post started a #chickens*$!storm.)
Salmonella enteritidis can infect a chicken’s ovaries, contaminating a yolk before the shell firms up around it. Cooking usually kills the bacteria before they can harm you; still, eggs contaminated with salmonella are responsible for about 142,000 illnesses a year in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration.
In some European countries, egg-laying hens are vaccinated against salmonella. In the U.S., vaccination is not required, but eggs must be washed and refrigerated from farm to store, and producers must follow a host of other safety measures.
“They’re different approaches to basically achieve the same result,” says Vincent Guyonnet, a poultry veterinarian and scientific adviser to the International Egg Commission. “We don’t have massive [food safety] issues on either side of the Atlantic. Both methods seem to work.”
The important thing, he says, is to be consistent.
“Once you start refrigeration, you have to have it through the whole value chain, from farm to store. Because if you stop — if the eggs are cold and you put them in a warm environment — they’re going to start sweating,” says Guyonnet.
No one wants sweaty eggs. They can get moldy. Another perk of consistent refrigeration is shelf life: It jumps from about 21 days to almost 50 days.
In a lot of countries, constant refrigeration just isn’t possible because it’s simply too costly.
“Some of the countries cannot afford cold storage during the whole supply chain,” says Chen.
And as for why the U.S. and Europe developed such different attitudes about washing, it’s also hard to tease apart how much is about safety versus egg aesthetics.
“In North America, we like to have everything superclean. So they probably initiated the washing of the egg very early on,” leading down the refrigeration path, says Guyonnet.
But in a lot of places, “a dirty egg with poop on it is no big deal. You brush it off when you get home,” says Guyonnet, who was raised in France and now lives in Canada.
A 38-country survey by the International Egg Commission found that people feel strongly about how their eggs should look. The Irish, French, Czechs, Hungarians, Portuguese, Nigerians and Brits hanker for brown eggs. Canadians, Finns, Americans and Indians prefer white shells. Dutchmen and Argentines don’t seem to care.”
I had a leftover egg from when I needed to buy some from the store during our move. I thought this was a great demonstration of the difference in egg quality between hens that have access to greens and bugs and sunshine and those who are raised in factory farms (this farm egg was “free range” to boot).
A sad morning at our house today – we woke up to a sick or injured chick. I have no idea what was wrong with it, it was fine yesterday and this morning it wasn’t. It happens sometimes, and we know this.
The chick is alive in this pic (I won’t post pics of dead animals). The other chicks were running as usual and stepping on it so we brought it in for a more peaceful passing.
I thought this was a great article from Erica at NW Edible Life, and worth reading. It resonates with me because I have yet to cull a hen, and I am in the position where there are only so many hens I can keep. I’m not interested in a chicken retirement home, so I will be faced with the idea of “cowboying up” in a year or two.
“YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD NOT GET BACKYARD CHICKENS
I was talking to a friend the other day. She’s a gentle soul, a kind-hearted person who says, “I could never kill an animal” with wide, pained eyes that let you know she’s not talking in hyperbole.
She wants chickens. She wants them bad. She wants the experience of fluffy little chicks and she wants hens to weed for her and she wants her daughter to have that mini-backyard-petting-zoo experience.
She has, up until now, not given into her chicken-keeping desires. For this I am so proud of her.
You see, there’s a reality to chicken keeping that doesn’t show up when you are scanning Pinterest for gorgeous coops. (I maintain a Pinterest board of chicken keeping and coop inspiration, by the way, if you are into that kind of thing.)
A continuous supply of plentiful eggs requires a continuous supply of hens at laying age. For us non-commercial chicken-keepers, a good rule of thumb is that hens will lay pretty consistently (with periods off for molting, reduced day length and broodiness) from about 6 months old until about 3 years old. Although you will hear a lot of anecdotes about individual hens that keep pumping out eggs until they are 5 or 6 years old, the general consensus is that three years old is usually the beginning of the end for consistent egg laying.
Call it Henopause.
A well-kept backyard hen, protected from hawks, raccoons and Fido, can easily live to be 8 or 10 years old, and ages of twice that are not unheard of.
Bear with me here as I do some Urban Homesteader math. One layer hen eats about 1.5 pounds of layer feed per week. (Pastured birds will eat less purchased feed – yet another good reason to buy this book and study it before you design your coop and run.)
If a chicken starts laying at 6 months old (this is a bit later than average but it makes my numbers easy) and has essentially stopped laying by 4 years old, and lives naturally to be 8, a backyard chicken keeper is looking at 3.5 years of egg production time, and 4.5 years of Pets Without Benefits time. That’d be 351 pounds of feed going to a hen that isn’t making eggs!
Current, local prices for the layer rations I feed my hens is $28 per 40 pound bag, or $.70 a pound. Admittedly, this is a bit spendy, but I get the locally produced, happy-hippie, GMO-free feed from the lovely folks at Scratch & Peck. At those prices, it costs $245.70 to maintain a hen into theoretical old age and natural demise while you aren’t getting any eggs.
Which means those half-dozen cute peeping balls of fluff you take home from the feed store in spring could cost you $1474 during the time when they are not giving you eggs. And of course I’m not including the cost of bedding, a fractional share of the coop, potential vet bills, etc.
Meanwhile, if you live in a city or suburb, you have an even bigger problem: your now non-laying hens are taking up your legal urban chicken quota which could be filled with younger, laying hens, and you are stuck. You can’t just keep adding to your flock indefinitely when you live on 1/12th of an acre in Seattle. So now you are a Backyard Chicken Keeper without any Backyard Eggs.
If your hens are pure pets, this is all totally fine. These are very reasonable amounts of money to spend on a pet, and if you are not resentful in the least at having to buy both chicken feedand grocery store or farmer’s market eggs, then Chickens As Pets is a wonderful path to take.
There is another option, of course. This is the option you won’t tend to run into on Pinterest. It’s not the solution of a soft heart so much as a calculating head.
You can make the decision to cull your birds when they are past prime lay. This is what all commercial egg operations do, and what “real” (as opposed to “urban”) farmers do, and what everyone who makes a living and not just a hobby from animal husbandry does.
Culled laying hens aren’t good for roasting or frying but they make unbeatable stock and stewing birds.
So basically those are your two choices: you continue to pay and care for chickens that barely give you eggs or you cowboy up and you deal with the slaughter of no longer profitable hens.
Back to my friend who really, really wants chickens.
Could she kill her chickens?
Oh no. Absolutely not.
We both agree, she doesn’t have that in her. Fine, I’ve no problem with that, and I’m glad she knows herself.
Does she want to pay for chickens even if she gets no eggs?
Well, not really.
Fine, I wouldn’t either – I totally understand.
I told her quite bluntly (as is my way) that she should not get chickens.
Can I give them to a chicken sanctuary when they get too old to lay? Some place that has a no kill policy?
No. No. You cannot do that.
She can’t, and no one reading this can. You know why? Personal responsibility. Your chickens, your adoption, your decision, your responsibility to see it through to the end. You do not get to embrace the idea of a more intimate relationship with your food chain and then make that food chain – the food chain you specifically set up – someone else’s problem when shit gets real.
There is a local urban farming message board that is filled – filled – with people trying to give away their three year old chicken to a “good home.” Are you kidding me? You own the chicken. Your home is a good home. And once it’s not, your soup pot is a good soup pot. I once joked to a good friend that I could stock my freezer for the entire year off no-longer-laying hens being given away free “to a good home.”
This pisses me off, as you can probably tell. There is absolutely nothing ethically superior – and quite a bit that is ethically dubious, if you ask me – about enjoying the benefits of a young laying hen and then turning over the care or slaughter of that hen to someone else once it stops laying.
That is not how animal husbandry works and it’s not how pet ownership works, and those are your two choices. I don’t care which path you take with your chickens, but pick one. Playing Little Suzy Farm Girl until it’s time to get the axe and then deciding you aren’t up for chicken ownership just doesn’t fly with me.
Normally I am a Rah-Rah Cheerleader for this quirky way of life, and I think any fair assessment would deem me particularly encouraging to beginners. But a chicken is not a seed packet, it’s an animal and a responsibility. If you can’t cull your own birds or can’t provide for them all the way into their Chicken Social Security, then please, do not get chickens.”
Do you ever have a “duh!” moment? I had one last night. I realized that I didn’t need the back panel of my 4 panel run, because the run is against the fence anyway. I significantly increased the size of the run from 10×10 to 10×20 by using the fence. Duh! I did run some wire fencing along the wood fence, mostly to make sure there weren’t gaps where the fence met the panel. I don’t want the hens squeezing out or a raccoon squeezing in.
The hens were so happy to have a new area full of sticks, bugs, and grass to dig through they abandoned their feed! I only feed them once a day to make sure I don’t have a buffet for rats. They do always have water, of course.
I do, however, need to get some deer netting for the 10×10 open area I created that isn’t covered by the tarp because in the NW pacific eagles are very pretty until they fly off with your chickens (it happens, I kid you not). Also raccoons, minus the flying, but they will drag one over the top of the fence. Assholes.
Before (10×10 square):
A video for fun
This is our chick set up. It’s not particularly exciting but it’s good for when they are small. I turned the lamp off for a sec to get a better pic, but you can see they have food, water, a lamp, and a place to perch. In about 2 weeks they will be too big for this, and will move over to one of those hexagon folding gate things, and the ducks will hopefully hatch and use this.
When you’re setting up your brooder keep in mind that chick poop smells bad. This wasn’t something I had considered last year when we raised our first chicks, having them indoors would be exceptionally stinky (even if you changed the shavings every 48 hours). We are lucky to have a garage!
I check for eggs and feed the girls once a day, which means sometimes I bring in as many as 7 eggs (but only because yesterday I only brought in 1). Hens lay at different times of the day, and not everyday. Different breeds lay more/less frequently than others, they lay a different amount seasonally, and then of course older hens don’t lay as frequently as the young ones. I actually have no idea who’s laying and who isn’t! There are some tips you can Google to try and see which hens are laying in which aren’t, but at the end of the day I don’t really care as long as I’m getting eggs from somebody!
I convinced my husband that an “Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder for Chicks or Ducklings” would be a good idea, even at $80. My current heat lamp uses 250 watts, which is quite a lot if you consider that it’s on day and night for at least 2-3 months (between chicks and ducklings). The EcoGlow brooder uses 18 watts and is radiant heat. I’ll post pics when it shows up!
This is our current hen set up. The chicks are still in the brooder, and I’m going to need more space pretty soon, but for now this is the setup we have for our 6 hens. We got a free 10×10 chain link dog run through our local Buy Nothing group, and it’s great at keeping the predators out. I have a pop-up tent with a tarp over it over them to keep them dry and keep the eagles out. I do need to put down a ton of sand in there, but it will have to wait until another day.
At the old house they had a big fenced yard to roam in, eat grass dig in the garden, and poop on the deck – but our new property has a forested area that isnt yet fenced. Since I had no idea what’s lurking back there, just for now, they stay in the run. Next summer we will be clearing out the brush (the “forest” is about 2/3rds of an acre of big beautiful trees surrounded by 6+ foot tall razor sharp blackberry bushes).
If you don’t let your hens free range it’s important to give them something to do. Add what you can to make the coop interesting for them. I always say hens are dumb as rocks (and they are), but bored hens will eventually start pecking at each other. Some fun chicken stuff includes tossing in a rotting tree limb (lots of bugs to peck at under the loose bark), a lettuce pinata, a tire full of compost (they love to scratch it in for bugs and tasty nibbles and even poop in there. Its a quick way to make garden compost!), and a dust bath made by putting dry sand mixed with food grade dichotomous earth in a tire. Or just dirt. I doubt they care either way.
Chicken dust bath, photo credit to Sheila on backyardchickens.com
Some folks have made chicken swigs by hanging a branch in the coop! Here’s a pic from PetDiys.com:
It’s a good thing hens don’t know their names, but because apparently I can’t keep track.
- 2 Buff Orpingtons (Cupcake and Nugget), 1 year old (bought from another family)
- 1 Silver Laced Wyandotte – raised from a chick last spring. I honestly cant remember her name (it might be Rainbow).
- 1 Salmon Faverolles (Jojo), 2 years old and one of our first hens
- 1 Barred Rock (Sunshine), 1 year old (came from the other family)
- 1 Rhode Island Red, 1 year – craigslist purchase. No idea what her name is.
It’s March and yesterday for the first time I got 4 eggs! I’m so glad the sun is coming back, because I’m way too lazy to run a light out there.
1-2 days old
A week old
2 weeks old
Here’s a cute video of our brand new chicks. 2 are Amber Whites and 1 is an Easter Egger. The bigger girls you see at the end of the video are Gold Laced Wyandottes.
Those of you familiar with raising chickens probably have heard of “chicken math”. If you’re not, it goes like this…
You’ve decided that you want to have a small coop in the back yard with a couple of hens. Maybe 2-3. Maybe you’ve planned ahead: you build/acquire a coop, the feeders, the run and the finally the hens. Maybe you went to the feed store to pick up dog food and “ohmygodlookatthosechicks!” and you ended up needing to build a coop.
So a few months go by and your hens are laying, and you think “we really eat more eggs than this, this isn’t as hard as I thought. Maybe a few more.” You find someone with hens but they have 4 and you really only needed 2… but those other 2 aren’t breeds you have and sometimes hens die for no good reason… Maybe I can sell the eggs!”. Now your 2-3 hens has turned into 6-7. A little time goes by and you hear a story about a lone survivor hen that had her entire flock eaten by a raccoon! Wont you take her in? And you do. You’ve got 8.
Time goes by and you see a picture of a silver laced wyandotte, or a silkie, or a speckled sussex and they’re just so pretty! Spring hits again and you’ve been doing this a year. You’re a pro. You’ve suffered a loss or two and you’re down to six, and you go to buy layer feed and it’s chick season again and guess what? They have wyandottes and Easter eggers and you remember how pretty that photo was and how cool it would be to have blue or green eggs. The kids would think blue eggs are amazing! But you’d better get 4 in case they die or one is a rooster. On the way out you notice schedule says tomorrow they’ll have specked sussex. A week later, you’re at 12.
This is chicken math.
For your viewing pleasure, this is a photo I found on Pinterest (not my hen, but I would give the photographer credit if I knew where it came from!)
Welcome to my little blog! As we unpack in our new home (my husband is literally sitting next to me unpacking) I decided to document the challenges and adventures our family has learning how to turn 0.86 acres into a small but fantastic suburban homestead.
Our old home was our first home my husband and I ever owned. It was on 0.28 acres, and it’s where my desire to learn canning started. It was where I planted my first veggie garden right in the ground. It’s where we expanded our family to the size it is now. It’s where we brought home rabbits and they had their own litters (whoops! those weren’t both girls) and I built my first chicken coop.
In time our children will grow up and hopefully one day bring home grandchildren. Our vegetable stalks will return to the earth. The hens and rabbits will “retire” and be replaced by younger broods. My husband and I will grow old, too. In the meantime lets raise the kids, the chicks, the hens and the drakes and make jam in there too. And take pictures. And blog.