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Monday, August 9, 2010

Ideas for Beating the Heat

Texas summers are notoriously miserable and this summer does not disappoint. It seems we are constantly under a heat advisory with temperatures reaching 107. Though we have yet to lose a chicken to the weather, the chickens look miserable most of the time, panting and holding their wings out. Chickens don't sweat and they stop drinking water when it gets tepid, so we do a few things to make their lives better in this awful heat and help them stay hydrated.

1. Watermelon - this is by far their favorite way to cool off. When watermelon is on sale at the store I buy one or two and keep it in the fridge. Once it's cool I cut it up and put it out in the hottest part of the afternoon and the chickens eat all the red and white meat and leave a sliver of a rind. They cool off and gets lots of liquid at the same time.

2. Cheap fan - There is a small portable fan in the corner of the coop. Then hens fight on the roost at night to get in front of it and it keeps them from getting overheated when laying eggs or eating.

3. Hillbilly Air Conditioners - Refilling empty 2 liter drink bottles (or similar containers) 2/3 full with water and freezing them is pretty easy. Placing these in the coop allows the chickens cool spots they can be near or sit against to cool off. The same containers can be reused several times.

4. Chicken bath - I used the top of a birdbath left here by the previous home owner and a slow dripping hose to create a little bird bath on the ground. The dripping provides fresh water, drips a bit on the ground for cool mud the hens love, and provides a cool spot in the run. Sometimes the hens even stand in it to cool off.

We have mixed the juveniles with the hens (they kept sneaking in and out of their run anyways) and now our (their) biggest problem is hen pecking. They are not kind to the little ones and keep them from the coolest spots in the yard.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sad Day for Goldie

I was in Florida yesterday on assignment and returned home to find the chicks that just hatched are gone. Unfortunately one of the chicks was crushed only halfway out of the shell but two chicks were hatched. Goldie is still sitting on the remaining three eggs. Their coop door was closed and secured before dark last night so I'm not sure what could have happened. We can't find any trace of them. I'll let her sit for another couple of days and is none of the other eggs hatch, we'll have to break her broodiness.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Updates on the flock

The chicks are big now and they should be at almost 9 weeks old! I put them outside when they were about three weeks old because it was so hot outside and I worried that lowering the temperature on the babies would give them a tough adjustment to the hellish temperatures outside. They've done great there and it was nice to not have chicks take over the storage room. I did make an impulse purchase immediately after we got the chicks and bought two Americana chicks from the feed store. One got wet (I think) and died within two days. They other was thriving with the baby flock until last weekend. The chicks were receiving their favorite treat - watermelon - when I noticed we were one short. I found a gruesome scene in the coop - a possum or similar night creature snuck into the coop and ate the whole middle part of the remaining Americana. We now have a chicken cemetery in the backyard.

There is at least one rooster in the six young chicks but maybe as many as four or five. Their fate hangs in the balance... Hopefully we'll know in the next month. After the hateful Sampson I have no more desire to have full size roosters in our flock. I volunteered at a local sustainable family farm on their chicken slaughter day with the hopes I'll be able to do the same when the need arises. I never thought having chickens would get me so very close to my food in more ways than our eggs.

In the meantime I read about Japanese Bantams and we have four in the storage room. The advantage of these guys is that they are beautiful, the bantam crow is miniaturized, and this particular breed is an ornamental garden bird that won't tear up grass or your garden. But they seem like a very fragile breed. We started with three and one died, got three more and one of those died. I am very worried about putting them outside.

We also had a Buff Orphington go broody on us. I tried to break her by pulling the eggs out from under her and locking her out of the coop, but in the end she was so determined to sit the she would sit all day and night on nothing. So I went to Bagience Farms and got six eggs for her to sit on. Three are Americana (the easter egger chickens) and three assorted bantam eggs (one Rosecomb, one Japanese, and one Old English). This was probably a mistake - I read later that the bantam eggs hatch early. We'll see if she allows all of them to hatch or stops sitting after the little eggs hatch.

I just went outside to find one of the eggs is hatching! She has been sitting on them 18 days - the big eggs should take 21.

So the little urban farm has grown...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cheeky chicks...

I was in New York this weekend and was delighted to get a voicemail from Laurie, the egg hatching wonder-woman in Ennis. "Letting you know they're hatching, hatching, hatching! They started Friday and should be finished Sunday, if not the stragglers will be done Monday."

On Wednesday our neighbors (Ann and Krista) and I hopped in the car and headed for Ennis. Laurie's been hatching eggs for 15 years and will hatch them for an incredibly modest fee per egg or for half the hatchlings. We opted for the latter. 13 of our 14 eggs hatched though one chick died shortly after. When we arrived Laurie showed us her setup with the incubators, brooder, and a hatching goose! (and yes, I would highly recommend Laurie for hatching eggs - her email is kiaranch@msn.com) I carried a small box down with me and carefully selected six chicks. And and Krista brought home eight (though coincidentally they had a hen go broody in the meantime and she hatched nine chicks so they have 17 babies!)

So here are our six newbies...

Somehow we ended up with a feather-footed gray baby. She's my new favorite.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sampson's Legacy...

Sampson has a new home. As a last ditch effort before his slaughter I put an ad on craigslist and he is now living in the country with two Rhode Island hens, one of which is broody. Brian drove him out to meet his new owner. Hopefully he'll behave in his new digs!

The slow food tour came through and we had such a blast showing off our coop and talking about the girls. I made a silly, over the top last min touch to the coop. I'm sure we were the craziest people on the tour.

We also delivered  14 of our fertile eggs (and 22 of our neighbors') to a woman with an incubator in Ennis (just south of Dallas). She hatches eggs all the time in three incubators and she candled eggs for us. We even saw a turkey beginning to hatch - if you held the egg to your ear you can hear it scratching around. There were a few brooders full of new babies - the little geese were excited and just talked to her, trying to nibble on her lips. It was so insanely adorable. Made me want geese chicks (like we need any more animals in our backyard!). I was in heaven walking around her miniature horses, peafowl, turkeys, geese, and chickens. She even has two Great Pyrenees puppies being trained to protect her flock. They live with the poultry!

The eggs went into the incubator yesterday and in 21 days we should have chicks! She'll keep half of the hatch and we will have a few little chicks to add to the girls. I'll be anxious to see how many roosters we have out of our seven possible hatchings. I'm not going to dwell on it until after we get them. Sampson's legacy...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rooster Madness...

Sampson is maturing in a huge, strong Rhode Island Red rooster. He doesn't have his spurs yet and his crow is still a bit sad - sounds like a teenage boy going through puberty - but he is a screamer! I thought I was so clever - I trained him to follow at my heels on the short walk from his dog crate in the converted garage to the yard in the mornings. He did it perfectly a couple of times (most likely because he hates being in the house and loves being with his hens). Brian wanted to try and he did pretty good, but a min or so after getting in the yard Brian (still in his underwear, t-shirt, and flop flops mind you) was screaming bloody murder! Sampson had turned on him in the middle of the yard before Brian could get him in the run. When I got outside Sampson was puffed up aiming for Brian again. I said his name and he calmed instantly and came to me. We figured it was a gender thing.

Two days later Sampson did the same thing to me - morning, middle of the yard. He came at me, flying and aiming his claws at me. Determined not to let him win a fight and dominance over us, I kicked him with a bit of gusto. He landed on his back and then CAME RIGHT BACK AT ME! I couldn't stop him from coming at me a few times and screamed for Brian who brought me a broom. Once he saw it he dropped his fight.

Now he is wholly unpredictable and has attacked me about ever couple of days. I handle him at least twice daily and he never gives me grief when I'm doing that, but he attacks me in the run when my back is turned or when I am dumping into the compost. I carry a branch from a Nandina bush I trimmed with tons of leaves. I use it to defend myself. It's big and soft but the size makes him hesitate when it comes to attacking me. But I am worried about those spurs. Once those come in we will really be dealing with a crazy (albeit small) beast. I wish now we'd kept Frank and eaten this guy. I do like watching the hens with a rooster - he keeps them together and is very alert all the time so that they can sort of be oblivious. But RIR roosters have a reputation of being very aggressive. Our dilemma - give him to someone else and he'll be just as bad (but probably worse). I'm afraid he might also be destined for the dinner table, but this time without the sadness I felt with the other rooster. I think Sampson's time is soon...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Slow Food Dallas Backyard Chicken Tour

Slow Food Dallas has arrange a unique tour of six chicken coops in the Dallas area on May 1st. We are excited to be one of the coops on the tour! The group meets in the morning and carpools to locations - the cost of the tour includes lunch at Smoke. Hope to meet some of you then and introduce you personally to the flock!
Details here: http://www.slowfooddallas.com/

and a REMINDER - A Peep at the Coops, a tour of coops in east Dallas happens tomorrow, with a rain date of April 25.  More info here: http://apeepatthecoops.blogspot.com/