Wild Wednesday – Spring Chickens

Brrrr!  It’s the depths of winter.  We haven’t had snow yet in Seattle, but we have had cold, fog, and the ever-present rain.  My garden is sleeping, buried in a warm bed of straw.  It’s dark, cold and wet.

But it won’t be for long.  I’m already planning which seeds I’ll be starting early indoors; grapes, peas and beans.  Maybe more, with me, you never know.  I know what I’m not planning for this year…baby chickens.  The flock Hub and I raised last year are laying beautifully.  They’re coming up on their 1-year birthday.  It’s hard to believe in just a few short months they went from this:

We are chicks with 'tude!

We are chicks with ‘tude!

 

To this:

She's so well behaved.

She’s so well behaved.

 

To all grown up and laying delicious eggs:

 

Brahma Mama

Brahma Mama

Isn’t she gorgeous?  You want chickens now, don’t you?  Have you always had a secret desire to be an urban chicken farmer?  Do you realize the benefits of raising your own food, even if it’s only in small quantities?  If so, now is the time to start planning for your new flock, and I’m here to help.

Before you go any farther, check with your local government, and familiarize yourself with the city codes concerning livestock.  In Seattle, they recently upped the number of chickens you can have in the city from three to eight.  Lucky me, I’m in an unincorporated zone where the only requirements are minimum square footage per animal.  It’s also a good idea to have a friendly chat with your neighbors about your chicken plans.  Usually, free eggs help ease any concerns, and you’ll likely have plenty to share.

How many chickens should you have?

Chickens are flock birds, so just one is not a good idea.  She’ll be lonely, she may make extra noise trying to find friends.  Two are okay, but they’ll constantly be vying for top bird status in the pecking order, and that can get noisy, not to mention uncomfortable for the birds.  It’s best to have a minimum of three hens so they can keep each other company.

This time of the year is perfect to plan what size flock you want, where you want their coop, and what breed of chicken you want.  You can check out these earlier posts on some basics of chicken coops and care, and the breeds I have right now.

What breed should you have?

I can hear you asking; you mean there are different breeds of chickens?  There are actually hundreds of chicken breeds!  Check out the wiki list for an overview.  But which breeds are going to best for you, a new chicken farmer?  Here are some suggestions for your consideration; these breeds are generally easy-going, hardy, and readily available.

Buff Orpington

BuffOrps

Pretty gold ladies with mellow temperaments, often described as calm and friendly.  They are excellent egg producers, and lay light pinkish-brown eggs.  Buff Orps are heavy-bodied birds, that can tolerate colder climates.  They are considered dual purpose (eggs and meat) if you are inclined that way, but to be honest, egg-layers are tough and stringy after a year and take a lot of cooking.  Buff Orpingtons will likely be available at your local feed store (if they carry chicks) come spring.

Wyandottes

Silver Laced Wyandotte

Silver Laced Wyandotte

Wyandottes come in a variety of color schemes; gold, silver, blue, to name a few.  Like the Buff Orpington, Wyandottes are heavy-bodied birds with an easy-going nature who are also very good egg producers.  You can expect about 4 brown eggs a week from one of these girls.  Wyandottes are hardy in cold weather.

 

Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island Red

These birds do it all.  They are excellent egg-layers (some report 6 or 7 eggs a week), hardy in winter and heavy bodied.  They are even the state bird of Rhode Island!  Most report mild and friendly temperament in these birds, although my two girls were the dominant birds in my first flock and were on the bossy side.  That’s okay, every flock needs a leader!  For a first time owner, 3 or 4 Rhode Island Reds will provide you with more than enough eggs for you and your family.

Have you kept chickens?  What are your favorite breeds?  What birds would you pick for your flock?  Would you want a variety or keep all the same breed?  Good luck, and be sure to check back for more chicken, garden and animal training tips!

Wild Wednesday – What I Did This Summer

For those of you with offspring, do they still have kids write the obligatory essay on summertime activities in school?  I thought I’d give you a little reminder of summer if, like me, fall has closed you in with clouds and rain.

Instead of being in front of a computer, this is where I spent most of my free time during June, July and August.  And a good chunk of September.

Strawberries, corn, carrots, raspberries, grapes, potatoes and onions.

Also garlic, peas, beans and basil.

Boy did it keep me busy, but I loved every second of it.  I learn something new with every season, and I think that is the best part about gardening.  Exercise for the body and the mind.  Although if you look close, at the end of the row you’ll see I’m not above sitting to do my weeding.  That is one of the beauties of raised-bed gardening, it’s that much less distance you have to reach down to weed.  The other bonus is, you can plant more closely, so fewer weeds sprout.

I learned that if you plant beans (and peas) too close, you will end up with a towering mound of vines.

 

 

In my head, I nicknamed it ‘The Monster Pile’ because it really was a monstrous pile o’ beans and peas.  The peas only produced so-so, and I ended up with these little worms inside the peas on half the harvest, so the humans didn’t get much.  The chickens, on the other hand, were delighted with the infested peas, and ate them up happily worms and all.  The beans produced like crazy, with no issues.  I ended up freezing some for Hub and I and donating the rest to the local food bank.

Next year though, it’s all about the placement.  Hub has kindly volunteered to put some work in on making another planting bed in another part of the yard just for the beans and peas.  Love him!  This will let me space the plants better, and improve harvest.  Many of the beans ended up choked, or tangled up in the vines because they just swamped each other and couldn’t be harvested or weren’t useful.  Again my chickens benefited.  When we pulled the bean plants at the end of the season we just tossed them to the flock.

The girls also got the cobs from the corn, after I’d blanched and frozen the kernels.  I was greedy, I kept all 4 gallons of corn and it’s sitting happily in my freezer just waiting to be steamed, or made in to chicken corn chowder.  Yum!

I did put some pretty in my garden too.  From the showy:

 

To the simple:

 

But seasons turn as they always must, and my once overflowing garden is now (mostly) bare and dying away.  The asparagus has been put to bed for the fall, the carrots and grapes have been plucked, the strawberry plants are starting to lose their leaves, and the potato bags have been moved into cold storage in the garage.

 

Now, I’ve begun my next garden experiment.  Fall/winter garden.

 

Carrots, onions and beets.  I dropped the seeds in the rows and figured if they sprout, I’ll see if I can make them overwinter for early spring harvest.  Well, they sprouted, and are still looking remarkably happy.  I am equally happy because I no longer have to water the no-so-little guys anymore, Mother Nature is taking care of that chore for me.  I have to do more research on just how to get them through the winter and growing again, but I suspect I’ll mulch them in a few more weeks, and then hope for spring goodness.

And that is how I spent my summer.  In addition to what I’ve put up, I donated a little over 20 pounds of fresh produce to the local food bank, fulfilling a promise I made to myself at the start of the season.

Here in Seattle, I’ve heard lots of moaning and groaning about fall and winter coming, and how much they miss the sun.  I’m often asked if I miss Southern California and all the sunshine.  My answer is no, not one bit.  I love how the seasons turn up here, and the grey and rainy days are the perfect excuse to sit and write.  During the summer, my creativity just wasn’t flowing, so I put all my energy into the garden.  Now, the ideas I let lie fallow during the summer are springing forth renewed.  Everything has a right time, a right season; something we humans are prone to forget in our hyper-technological world.  The trick is connecting to that seasonal, earthy energy that is part of our very being, but once you do, wonderful things happen.

How do you connect?  How do you renew yourself?  What pastimes fulfill you and recharge your mental, emotional and spiritual batteries?  I would love to hear your stories!

 

 

Also….the pictures in this post are all under copyright to me.   Please ask before you use.  Thank you!

 

Wild Wednesday – Taming The Wild Garden

A gardener’s work is never done, but even if you let things slide you can still reclaim what you’ve neglected.  I certainly neglected a corner of my garden.  It looked awful; scruffy and overgrown with weeds and grass.

This is half-way tamed.

See how long and luxurious that grass is back behind my grape and trellis?  Now picture that grass spreading all the way across the rest of the picture, surrounding the grapes and filling in wherever there’s dirt.  That’s what I started with, this is about half-way done with getting rid of the grass and weeds.

Have you ever pulled out a thick carpet of healthy grass by hand?  It’s not easy, I definitely got my workout today!  But what to do with all that grass?

Wild Wednesday Chicken Tip:

You can feed your weeds to your chickens, as long as you haven’t used any pesticides or weedkiller around them.  Hub and I call it ‘giving them some chicken salad.’  Okay, maybe that’s only funny to us.  Anyway, chickens love dandelions and grass, luckily two things I have in abundance.  They best part is you don’t even have to knock all the dirt off the roots, they love to scratch through it for bugs!

Araucana chick playing queen of the hill.

It took me all day, but I managed to transform my cluttered, scruffy neglected garden corner into this:

I had stared at that corner for weeks thinking, I gotta do something about that, but wasn’t sure what.  Aside from the obvious need to remove the overgrown sea of grass, I wanted to make it a useable space, but I didn’t know what I wanted there.  I was dealing with other projects, and because I wasn’t ready to do anything with the raised bed in that part of the garden either, I just sort of shrugged my shoulders at it.

As I tugged on grass, sifted the rocks out of the dirt, and carried each and every one of those pavers, it occurred to me that gardening is good for a number of things.

It teaches me that it’s okay to prioritize things.  That corner could have grown quietly for another week or two if need be, and had gone to the wild side while I took care of more critical projects.  Did the heavens fall from my neglect?  Heavens no!  One of the best lessons I ever learned was that perfection is not necessary.  I learned to let go of the obsessive perfectionism of my youth, and it’s done wonders for my stress level.

It keeps me active and physically fit.

It gets me outside, closer to nature.  I’ve learned to appreciate the movements of the seasons, and it gives me a deep sense of spiritual satisfaction to take my garden through the yearly cycle.  Gardening is a very spiritual experience for me, the physical activity is fairly routine, and this frees my mind to practice certain meditative techniques.

I take time to appreciate the beauty surrounding me, and say a little prayer of gratitude.  Does that sound cheesy?  Take a few moments with the flowers in my garden and see if you still feel the same.

I’m kind of into purple and pink, and it shows in a lot of my flower choices.

Gardening also teaches me patience.  Somethings are really worth the wait, the time and the care you put into them.  Even if you don’t get immediate dividends, the waiting itself can be a positive experience.

For example, I started an asparagus bed.

That’s not very exciting at all, is it?  Asparagus is best started as a crown, every little mound there contains one of these little beauties:

Kind looks like one of those face-hugger beasties from Alien, doesn’t it?  I’m lucky to live in a place where asparagus will grow like a weed…once it’s established, which is the tricky part.  You can see I’ve dug down (well to be honest, loving Hub dug the bed for me) made little mounds and lovingly placed each crown on it’s own little pillow of dirt and compost.

Cover them up, water and watch them put up little spears, adding more dirt as they grow upwards until the whole bed is filled in at the end of summer.  I’ll watch them put up little spears, which will turn into little ferny things, waiting for the bed to establish itself.  During that time, I’ll still have to maintain them, keeping their bed weed-free and watered.  I’ll do this for the next three years, only then can I enjoy my delicious, home-grown asparagus.  No, that’s not a typo…three years until I can harvest.  Once that bed is established though, it will produce for up to 30 years.  It’s a good thing Hub and I love asparagus, huh?

One of the best things my garden has taught me, is the value of delayed gratification.  It’s helped me develop my patience and, as odd as it sounds, an appreciation for waiting.  Think about that.  We all spend, or waste, time waiting…in line, at a stoplight.  Do you spend your time building your irritation, and focusing on how tense you are?  What if instead you gave yourself permission to let go of your anger and frustration?  Give yourself permission to take one or two deep breaths, and relax.  Focus on something you’re grateful for…your kids, your husband, your dog, your health, the list goes on, instead of concentrating on how angry you are to be sitting in traffic.

Try this a few times and see if it doesn’t put you in a better frame of mind.  I’m really curious to hear how it works for you!  Please drop me a comment and tell me if you found sitting at stoplights or standing in line a little more bearable if you take a few seconds to breathe, and relax.

Wild Wednesday – How To Raise Chickens In The City

What You Need To Raise Chickens

 

1 month old Araucana pullet

 

At work, I am affectionately (I think!) known as the Crazy Chicken Lady.  Not many people raise their own meat and egg-producers, and as someone pointed out, “You know, they sell eggs and chicken at the grocery store, you don’t need to go to all this work.”  Yeah, I did know, thanks!  I raise chickens because I really enjoy knowing that some of the food my family and I eat is raised, and killed ethically, treated humanely and that I provide them with the best life possible while they are with me.

But that’s not the only reason…chickens are fun, they give you eggs, they’ll rid your garden of pests, and they’ll eat your weeds.  With the right handling they can even be affectionate.  Really!  Okay, I also know not everyone wants to commit to this level of urban farming, and no worries, it’s not for everyone.

One of my Dark Brahma’s looking like a baby pterodactyl. Complete with ‘prey’ in her beak!

However…if you’ve ever thought you might like to try your hand at chicken ranching in the city, go for it!  I’ll bet you find it’s easier and more rewarding than you thought.  Here’s what you need:

 

  1. Some chickens
  2. A safe place for the chickens to sleep and lay eggs
  3. A safe place for the chickens to spend the day
  4. Chicken food
  5. Water

 

See?  Simple, but, of course there is also the time commitment factor.  Expect to spend some time every day with your flock, feeding, watering, gathering eggs and cleaning their pen.  It’s important to get to know your birds, so spend some time observing their behavior and how they interact.  If you know how your girls act normally you’ll be able to quickly spot if one starts to exhibit signs of stress or illness.  On workdays, I take between 5 and 10 minutes in the morning to let the girls out and make sure feed and water is full for the day.  I take 15 minutes or so in the evening after work to check each one, gather eggs, top off water and food, and close them in for the night.  Weekends and days off I move them to different pens for variety, clean pens and scrub feeders and waterers.

Where do you get your chickens?  I ordered mine from McMurray Hatchery but most feed stores will have live chicks in the spring, or you can search online through places like Craig’s List or even the newspaper will likely have a pet or livestock section.

 

Chicks Or Older Girls?

Ball of fluff?

Or teenager?

This is entirely up to you.  Chicks are fragile and require extra care, can die easily and often without warning or sign of sickness, but they will be the least expensive option.  For best success you should keep them indoors, in a draft-proof pen (I used a large cardboard box) and a heat lamp is a must.  They won’t start to lay until they’re around 4 months old, so you’ll have to be patient, but you’ll get the most eggs out of a bird in her first year or so; after about 2 years, egg production drops off.  Pullets (hens under 1 year) or hens will be anywhere from $8 to $20 per bird, but less likely to die on you spontaneously.  You’ll have the instant gratification eggs almost immediately, but if you buy older girls, you may have slower egg production.  You might consider this a bonus if it’s just you or one other person and you don’t know what you’d do with a bunch of extra eggs.  I just sold my 2 ½ year old hens, 4 of them, to a family that wanted to try chickens but didn’t want to bother with chicks this year.

 

Where Chickens Come Home to Roost

Literally. This is where my chickens roost at night to sleep.

Hens need a henhouse; someplace they can sleep at night, with nest boxes for egg laying.  A henhouse needs to be secure from predators; things like foxes, coyotes, cats, raccoons and even rats love to find henhouses with easy access.  Chickens shut down in the dark.  Their eyesight is poor at night and they know that lots of things out there in the dark like to eat them, so their instinct is to find a safe place to roost when the sun goes down and not move until morning.  If a night-roaming predator makes it into your henhouse, your girls will not have a chance, and the predator will have an easy meal.

Nest boxes should be big enough that your hens can stand up, 12” x 12” x 12” should do.  Make them easy to access for egg collection and cleaning.

Chickens also need some land they can forage around in during the day, but you still need to protect them from wandering predators.  Cats, hawks, roaming dogs are all a danger to your flock.

There are plenty of online chicken supply sites.  Check out places like My Pet Chicken, Omlet, or Backyard Chickens for more information on breeds, chicken coops for sale, plans to build your own coop, feed and equipment.  A plethora of chicken information is available to you.

You should check your local laws regarding keeping chickens in your town.  Some have limits on how many birds you can keep, and many prohibit roosters.  You also want to be a good neighbor; let yours know you plan to add chickens to your yard.  Generally, free eggs help smooth things over.

Luxury! An indoor henhouse, no standing in the rain and snow to clean!

This is my henhouse.  It’s in my garage, so my hens are doubly protected from the elements.  It also means I can clean it in the coldest and wettest seasons and still stay dry.  The nest boxes are on the left, the perches are on the right, and there is a door cut into the garage wall that gives them access to their enclosed run.  The run is roofed over with chicken wire, and it runs on two sides of the garage, giving the girls plenty of room to roam.  They are safely enclosed in the run, and I don’t worry that the neighborhood cats are stalking my hens while I’m at work.  I’ve never,  ***knocks on wood***, lost a bird to predation.  Also, I have two other pens that I can rotate my flock to during the day to give them some variety and a change of scene.

Easy access to nestboxes, and perches.

 

Note how the door to the outdoor run is blocked with the metal bar to prevent any predators from pushing into the henhouse at night.

The litter tray pulls out, making cleaning easy.

 

Feeding.  There are lots, and lots, and lots of commercially available chicken feeds out there.  I give my girls a locally milled, non-GMO, organic feed, but your local feed store should have a good selection or be able to answer any questions.  You can also give your chickens scraps:  left over greens or fruit, plain yoghurt or cottage cheese.  They love to hunt for bugs; if you turn them loose in your yard to forage they will help control pests.  However, if you have delicate or valuable plants, you will want to protect them from scratching chickens.  Laying hens need extra calcium for making shells, be sure to provide plenty of oyster shell (again available at feed stores).  I just fill up a feeder and leave it to the hens to eat it when they need it.  I figure they know better than I when they need more calcium.

Hens drink more water than you think.  Provide them with plenty of fresh water daily.

Enjoy those fresh, delicious and good-for-you eggs!  Read here about why your eggs will be healthier than those produced by factory farm chickens.  Yes, there is a difference!

Have you raised chickens?  What are some of your favorite breeds?  Do you long for some little cluckers of your own?  What else do you think you’d need to make your fowl fancies come true?

I always enjoy reading your comments!  Thank you for stopping by and please share your thoughts with me.

All pictures are taken by and under copyright to me.  Please ask permission before using. Thank you!

Welcome To Wild Wednesday

Usually on Wednesday I post dog-training articles.  Lately though I’ve been including posts on my growing chickens and spring gardening and I’ve been considering including some of my animal training stories from my zoo days.

The dog-training themed Wednesday posts needed some expansion, and thus the inspiration for Wild Wednesday.  If it’s about animals, animal training or the environment, I’ll be writing about it.

Dark Brahma chick

Two week old egg-layers

The chicks are chicks no longer, and the garden is growing along.  The fuzzy little balls of fluff now more closely resemble the dinosaurs they’re related to, with a crazy mix of real feathers, old down and bare skin.  Scaly, too long legs and protruding eyes make them ugly cute.  When I watch them establishing their pecking order, flapping their tiny wings and bobbing and weaving, facing off with their sisters, I can’t help but think of their extinct relatives.  It makes me wonder just how old the behavior rituals I’m watching really are.

The Cornish Crosses, also 2 weeks old.

 

The Cornish Crosses on 4/25/12

 

 

We’ve separated the meat birds from the egg-layers, and moved them into the outdoor pen.  It doesn’t matter how many articles I read about the incredible growth of these Cornish crosses, I am amazed at how big they are.  At just a few days over a month old they are more than double the size of the egg-layers hatched the same day.  They have blossomed too, being able to scratch in the dirt, eat grass and bugs and in general, act like chickens, has them bobbing and wing-flapping like their smaller sisters.

 

A Partridge Rock 4/25/12

 

Dark Brahma 4/25/12

We’ve been graced here in the Northwest with some glorious spring weather lately, in a much appreciated pattern; beautiful, warm, sunny weekends, with off-and-on showers during the week.  In Seattle?  I know, right?  Shocking!  Seems we’re getting the benefit of the climate change train at this point in time.

I added some pretty to the temporary herb garden.  Love me some pansies, dahlias, and gerbera daises.  I’m loving the location, but I’m not so sure the plants will.  I know it’s still early, but they’re not getting sun until about 1:00 p.m.  That’ll change I know, just not sure if it’s going to be full enough sun for herbs or flowers.

 

I am helpless against herbs and veggie starts, and, okay, plants, at a nursery, but I also really enjoy starting seeds.  It is so reinforcing to watch those baby plants poke out of the soil.  I swear last weekend I watched the things grow; checked them in the morning and they were barely nosing above ground, checked them in the evening and there were two proud leaves spreading toward the light on almost all of my carefully prepped soil.  Look at them now, just a week after breaking ground.

I also went through a bunch of old pics, and scanned a few in.  Here’s me, with an old friend; Akela helped inspire my first novel.  Don’t worry, I’ll be filling you in on that too in the near future.

Are you a seasoned gardener or a newbie?  Are you looking for animal training tips?  Do you just plain love animals like I do?  Do you long for fresh eggs, and the delicious taste of fresh fruit and veggies out of your own yard, but are afraid to take the huge step of keeping your own chickens or starting your own garden?  Then come on in!  Drop me a note, let me know your thoughts and ideas.  I really love hearing from all of you!

 

Please keep in mind that all pictures are under copyright to me, and except for Akela’s pic were taken by me.  I request that you ask before using.  Thank you!

Spring Gardening

I’ve been busy NOT writing.  At first, I was stressing, because I wasn’t doing it ALL!  You know, 10 pages a day on the WIP, blogging multiple times a week, social media socializing, AND raising a bunch of baby chickens, getting my garden started, plus that little day job and keeping the house running, keeping Hub happy.  Does the list ever end?  What’s a multi-tasking, writer/Reiki Master-Teacher/blogger supposed to do?

I went to play outside.

Here’s some of the planting I did:

It doesn’t look like much now.  But that green mist on the left is actually two rows of carrots.  The skinny green spires are onions, and I’ve sown more carrot seeds on the right.  Those are still under a cold frame at night.  Behind them are garlic, some spinach and lettuce seedlings.  At the far back, bush and pole beans.  So Yummy!

 

 

I’m toying with the idea of putting in an herb garden.  One of those that’s just packed with plants, no stuffy borders, just the plants making a showy display.  So I’m experimenting with the spot I’m thinking of, and I put in a bunch of herbs in pots to see how they do.

 

Yeah, I’m dangerous in a nursery.  I have to avoid them or I just end up with more plants.

My garden just was too tempting to resist.  I find gardening rewarding on so many levels; first, I’m out getting exercise, always a plus!  It’s also a very meditative and spiritual practice; it helps connect me to the earth and the seasonal cycles by planting and nurturing growing things.  I love watching them grow.  It helps keep me grounded, and I always offer Reiki to my garden and chickens when I’m out there.  Some of my best insights, and writing inspiration have come to me while I was out in my garden.  Today was gloriously sunny and gorgeous, I even had to put on sunscreen! My chickens were loving the sun too!

No, they’re not dead, they’re dust-bathing!  They have a grand time flinging the dry, loose dirt over themselves, and they kind of coo with pleasure while they’re doing it.

Hub and I also put the baby chickens outside for the first time.  They learned about sunshine, and grass, dirt and rocks, and bugs.  Now they’re all sacked out, tired and happy.

 

Hard to believe these dinosaur looking birds were once these tiny balls of fluff!

 

Hey, I managed to get some writing done after all!  I love weekends like this!

How did your weekend go?  Were you enjoying the sun?  Running around with friends?  Hanging out with your kids?  Hope that it was awesome!

 

 

It’s So Good To Be Back!

 

Yeah, remember that song, Sister Golden Hair by America?  I always loved this line:

“I’ve been one poor correspondent, and I’ve been too, too hard to find,  but it doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind.”

As the song says, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about all of you out there, blog followers, and fellow WANA’ers.  I will be catching up and getting back in the round of reading, following, blogging and tweeting away this week.

Some of the time I was dealing with life issues, some of it I was helping some friends through a few crises, some of it was my own body needing some down time, and demanding it by catching cold.

Mostly though, I needed to step away from writing.  Part of that was my own process in writing my WIP, but I also had a breakdown in my faith in myself.  How many of you out there have had that moment of questioning:  “Is this really worth it?  Can I really make this writing thing work?”

The short answer is yes.  No, I’m not getting paid yet, but in the round of distractions that kept me from the computer, I kept finding my thoughts straying to, ‘oh, I should write that down’, or, ‘that’d make a great blog post.’  I found the direction I needed for the major conflict in my WIP.  I found that even though the words slow down for a while, they always come back.

I recently read an article that said our best solutions come from our unconscious.  When we ‘let go’ of an issue or problem that is bothering us, it frees our subconscious mind to put its supercomputing powers to work.  I have had plenty to take my mind off my writing angst.

What distractions?  I have 26 of them to be exact; chicks arrived!  A little over a week ago, Hub went to the post office and collected our order of chicks.  Yes, post office, they came through the mail from McMurray Hatchery.  And yes, they do just fine without food or water for the trip.  They still have a remnant of yolk sac that provides them with enough nutrition and hydration, so they do not need to eat or drink for the first three days.  This adaptation allows mama chicken to hatch all her eggs, which can take a few days, and then she takes them out of the nest to get food.  It also allows hatcheries to ship live chicks via priority mail.

They have been a handful to care for!  Feeding and watering twice a day, changing their litter, plus all my other animal and people chores meant I fell asleep as soon as I was done eating dinner, at 8:30.  It’s a good thing most of them won’t be around for very long, the 16 meat birds will be ready for the freezer in 2 months.  The 10 egg-layers are going to be the only permanent residents.  Here’s some pics of the little darlings.  They’ve grown amazingly fast just in the first week.

 

 

Check out my feathery feet!

 

We are chicks with 'tude!

 

I’ve also started my garden for the year.  Hub built me my first cold frame:

 

Grow!  Grow!

 

There is sits, with carrots, lettuce and spinach seeds safely tucked underneath and, hopefully, germinating.  This weekend I’ll work on getting my tomatoes, beans, peas and corn going.  I might try peppers too.  Those seeds I’ll start inside though, too cold still for those tender things outside.

 

So hello again to all my friends out there in the CyberWorld!  It’s pretty fast paced out there I know, hope you all remember me.  If not, I’ll remind you!  I’m looking forward to catching up on all of your blogs too!

For Love of Little Chickens

Wednesday is usually dog-training day, but I’m expanding the topic to include raising backyard chickens.  Eventually I’ll add in some of my zoo animal stories as well.  Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of dog-training tips and advice coming!

Monday I ordered my new crop of chickens!  I’m so excited!  Before, I’ve always tacked my chicken order on with my friend’s and she’s taken delivery.  So I have not had the joy of hurrying to the post office to collect my fluffy little peepers.  This year though, I have no one to share a chicken order with, and so placed my order for 25 to arrive at the end of March.  Yes, you read that number right; I will soon be the proud parent of 25 fuzzy little babies.  They are every bit as adorable as they look in pictures, too!

Ten of the little cuties are egg-layers, and I picked 5 different breeds, some I’ve had before, and some are new to me.  The other 15 are meat birds, Cornish crosses, and will end up on my dinner table.  Yum!  They mature at 2 months, and in that time they grow amazingly fast; they go from little and cute, to huge, to my freezer in that shockingly short time frame.

Most people though, get chickens just for the eggs, and I have 10 new egg layers on their way.  This year I’m getting 2 Buff Orpingtons, 2 Partridge Rocks, 2 Black Minorcas, 2 Araucanas, and 2 Dark Brahmas.  Plus, the hatchery is throwing in one very rare, exotic chicken for free!  Yippee!  Too bad they’re not telling what breed, and it could be a male, which would not be good.  But it’ll be a cool surprise, can’t wait to find out!

You probably know there are white eggs and brown eggs, but did you know some birds lay pale pink eggs, some lay blue-green eggs, and some lay a brown so dark it looks like chocolate?  Buff Orpingtons lay pale pink, Araucanas lay blue-green, Black Minorcas lay white, the rest of my girls will lay brown eggs.  I’ll have an Easter basket with all the different colors and shades!  If you ever get close enough to a chicken, look at her ears.  The color of the skin of a hen’s ears is the color of egg she will lay.  No joke.

Why do I grow my own chickens?  Taste and nutrition. Have you ever had eggs fresh from a small farm?  Maybe you have had chickens yourself at some point in time?  If you’ve only had store bought eggs from large production farms, then you are missing out.  The egg of hen who has access to fresh air, sunshine and is able to move about and do normal chicken things, like scratch in the dirt and eat bugs, is richer in vital nutrients than one kept in tiny cage it’s whole life.  Eggs from pastured chickens have:

1/3 less cholesterol

1/4 less saturated fat

2/3 more vitamin A

2 times more omega-3 fatty acids

3 times more vitamin E

7 times more beta carotene

(Thank you, Mother Earth News for the above info, and read more at: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx#ixzz1myKaftR9 )

Have you ever thought about keeping chickens?  It’s easily done in the city, and many are discovering the joy of having these beautiful birds share their home.  I’ll bet you never thought of a chicken as beautiful before, but just check out what my girls will look like when they’re fully grown:

Dark Brahma

Partridge Rock

Black Minorca

Buff Orpington

Some of my girls from previous years

Araucana

Isn't he gorgeous? But Brewster was a rooster and had to go.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share with you some of my chicken stories.  Keep checking back for hints on housing, raising and enjoying a small flock in your backyard.  If you have questions or hints, please share them!  I’d love to hear about your own adventures in chicken keeping.