Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Spice busted out

I came home tonight to find that Spice had busted out of her temporary pen with Honey and Sugar and was in with the big girls, Coco and Ginger.  I have no idea how long she'd been in with them.  But the good news is, they didn't kill her.

She was doing a good job at staying out of their way.  And they were focused on me as I had some treats in my hands.  But my heart really did skip a few beats when I walked up to that scene.

I quickly scooped her up and gave her a once over and she seems fine.  So I put her back with Honey and Sugar and stood there baffled as to how she got out.  As I stood there dumbstruck, I watched her as she  hopped back up on the dog crate and awkwardly launched herself skyward and up and over the fence.

I was horrified.  What would posses her to want out that badly and into the pecking line of Coco and Ginger.  I guess the grass seems greener.

I was really hoping to keep them separated for another two weeks while the babies grew up just a bit bigger to give them a better fighting chance once I put them in with the big girls.  But I may have to rethink that.

Monday, January 30, 2012

My husband says we live in a chicken coop

And to a degree, he has a point.  I will readily admit that I love all things chicken.  Who doesn't?

Over the years, what started out as a chicken or two has grown into, well, okay, we live in a chicken coop.  I tried to confine it to the kitchen but it's slowly spilling out into the dining and living room.

And it's obviously taken over the yard.

But today, a quick tour of our indoor chicken coop.

BEAUTIFUL 1950's glass chicken I found on our front porch one evening.
Took me months to figure out that my very sweet neighbor found that and felt he should come live with us.

This guy was one of the first hens to the party.

Found this fabric and just had to have it.  It's a rooster motif inside chicken wire.
I mean, who could walk away from that.  So I had a cover made for my mixer out of this fabric.

Love this little guy.  I don't remember where I found him but I knew he'd fit right in.

Started to run out of space on the counter so I had to go vertical.

This is actually a note card but loved it so much, I framed it and hung it in the kitchen.

These two little guys are my most special possessions.  I made them in ceramic class many years ago.

This is my alpha hen.  She rules the kitchen.

Love this little lady.  She's got her beak wide open and is always happy.

This is Bob.  Not all the chicken have names but Bob will bob if you gently tap his head.

Another glass chicken.

And a Navajo chicken.

Bamboo and straw chickens.  Ooo, a little dusty.  Sorry about that.

More chickens on the wall.

I had a lady hand paint these tiles and they are on the backsplash behind the stove.
I'm going to be seriously bummed the day we have to move and leave these guys behind.

A metal chicken.  Hmmm, he'd probably make good friends w/ Rusty my rooster.

Working chickens.  This is Salt & Pepper.

And chicken towels, placemats and napkins of course.

More metal chickens on the wall.

And we have silly chickens.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Babies are 8 Weeks Old

Whew!  I finally feel like we're making some progress.  I will NEVER brood chicks in December and January again.  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER!!!  What was I thinking?

Well, I know what I was thinking.  Coco was bullying Ginger to no end and I was really afraid I was going to lose her.  I knew if I picked up chicks in December, that I'd be ready to integrate them with Ginger and Coco in mid-February.  The alternative would have been to pick up chicks in February.  And then I wouldn't be able to mix up my flock dynamic until close to June.

But I've been a wreck worrying about these little guys these past two months.  Are they warm enough?  What if the power goes out?  What if the heat lamp bulb blows?  UGH!!!

They are finally outside and not quite ready to live with the big girls full time.  And they were just crammed in this 3' by 3' pen.  So I picked up two more fence panels today from the hardware store which doubled the size of their pen.  And they do seem much happier. 

Not only did I double the size of their outdoor space, I can put the dog crate in there with them.
They like it in there.  I think they feel safe.  And the nights have been mild so they can now sleep out there too.

This larger space also let's me put more things in there for them to perch on and play with.
And more importantly, it give them more space AWAY from the fence line where
Coco and Ginger stand and try and peck at them when I'm not watching.

The big girls also got a BIG bag of leaves from a neighbor.  I put it out there in one big pile and sprinkled some sunflower seeds on top and an hour later, you can hardly tell this was once a pile.  The leaves work great inside my run.  It gives them something to scratch at all day.  I toss out a few seeds each morning so I know there's something interesting in there.  And when they have destroyed most of the leaves, into the compost bin they go.

And finally, Ginger and Coco got a visit from their Flock Master.  They love to walk around and peck at him to see if treats might fall out of his pants or shoes.  They rarely do.  But doesn't deter them from trying.
Spring is in the air.  The bulbs are all pushing up out of the ground.  And some of the flowering trees are starting to open.  They days are nice and warm and getting longer.  Both Ginger and Coco are once again squatting for me so I'm very hopeful that eggs are not too far behind.

I think I'll give the babies another two weeks before I really work and integrating them.  They know enough to stay away from the big girls.  And I don't get the sense that the big girls would kill them at this point.  But I'm not going to chance that.

I do think that Ginger is going to be more of a pain than Coco when it comes to getting everyone to get along.  I'm not sure if that's because Ginger has been at the bottom of the pecking order her whole life and is not going to take it anymore?  Or if she doesn't like the fact that these new kids look just like her.

Who knows what goes through those birds brains.  I've long since given up trying to figure it out.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The babies move out for good

Or unless Mother Nature decides we need another freezing night.

I ordered this mini hutch online.  It was $70 so fairly reasonable.  And screwed together in just a few minutes.   You get what you pay for in that the whole thing is pretty light weight.  I wouldn't trust it outside up against night time critters who are looking to dine on chicken.  But if you can put it inside a protected run, a barn or garage, it will get the job done.

If it was just for the chicks, I'm not sure I would have bought it.  But I'm almost positive that Coco is going to need some serious timeout time as we work to introduce the babies to her and Ginger.  So it will come in handy should I need to separate her for a time.

What's nice, is that the babies now have a place to sleep.  I just set in a 2x4 in the nest box area so they can continue roosting.  And I think I'll cover the whole thing with a tarp for a while longer to help keep them protected from drafts.

The solid area on the end is one big nest box or sleeping area.

The temperatures dropped into the low 30's and high 20's last week, so I brought the babies back into the garage each night to sleep in the dog crate.  But that was a real labor of love.  Not to mention it seemed to incite Coco and Ginger each morning when I'd bring them back out.  It was like they were saying, "Not them again.  They're coming back again?!?"  And the big girls just went ballistic when I gave the babies meal worms.

I'm hoping that if the big girls wake up and the babies are there that they will start to get more used to each other.  But maybe that's just wishful thinking.

I had planned to do a test run with Ginger today to see how she'd react towards the babies if they were in her run.  But when I knelt down with one of the babies, Ginger charged for her and she meant business.  I was really surprised.  So no getting to know one another this weekend.

I did notice that Ginger's comb is much redder than it was just the other day and I think she's FINALLY coming back into lay.  She hasn't laid since September when she started molting and our days are starting to get longer.  So she may just be a moody hen with some hormone issues going on.

I do hope I can start working on integration soon.  Otherwise, I'm going to have to figure out something else.  Maybe I can unscrew the end triangle of this pen and open it up into the dog crate to give them some more real estate.  These babies seem to grow a little more every day.  It's really quite amazing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

That's my sweet Ginger who's today's Workday Chicken Picture model!!!  Can you tell I'm excited.

So let's see, she's been on TV twice.  She has a blog.  Now this.  I hope it doesn't go to her head.  Not bad for a hatchery bird who entire life has been at the bottom of the pecking order.  But her Flock Mistress loves her and watches out for her.  I do hope this doesn't go to her head.  She hasn't laid one of her beautiful brown eggs since September and I sure do miss them.

Monday, January 16, 2012

How do you isolate?

Boy, will I think twice about raising chicks again in the future.  They are adorable and loads of fun but it is a process.  Especially, if you are going to integrate them with an existing flock.  And it's tough for us small back yard flock owners who just have a few chickens as we don't typically have extra pens or space to isolate birds.

I have my 3 seven-week old BO chicks in a make shift brooder pen out inside the big girls run.  But I have no way to seal them off safely at night.  And I'm worried about rats or mice getting to them.  It's not typically a huge problem and I don't think I have a full on infestation.  But I do trap a rat once or twice a month so I know they are out there.  And I'd be beside myself if I lost a chick this far along in the process to a rodent.

So for now, I'll be bringing the chicks into the garage at night to sleep in the dog crate.  It's a bit warmer in the garage.  And more importantly, it's safe in the garage.

The problem with that arrangement, it that it's lots of work on my part to collect them at the end of the day and then put them back out in the morning.  And it get's Coco all riled up when I bring them back out.  I think she would do better if they were just out there in the morning when she gets up.

I have to say, I'm REALLY worried about her ability to accept them.  We'll cross that bridge when we get there.  But I'm seeing signs that tell me I should be worried.

So I bought a mini chicken hutch over the weekend.  It's super small.  But just big enough to house the chicks while they grow up into hens.  And I should be able to lock them inside that little nesting area at night to keep them out of cold drafts and safe from rodents.  The whole hutch will sit inside my predator proof run.  I've read reviews that say the latches on it are sub-par and that just won't be an issue since the chickens can't get it open.
And it might just come in handy if I need to remove Coco from the picture for a week or two after introducing the chicks.  If she decides to go after them.  I'll remove her and try to re-set my pecking order.  And I'm sure it will come in handy in case I need to isolate sick chicks in the future.

Unfortunately, some assembly is required.  Not my strong point.  But hopefully by next weekend, I'm posting pictures of this hutch with three 8-week old happy Buff Orpington chicks lined up inside.

It is under $100 so the price was right.  And we've talked about getting a bunny so I suppose that would be just the perfect house for a bunny should we go that route.  Anyway, if you are the keeper of a small flock.  This little hutch is worth considering.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I can safely say, no one is happy right now

I knew today would be a big day and I had been both looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time.  Today, I moved the babies who are 6 1/2 weeks old of the garage and into the big girls run.

I let the big girls out into the garden which is something they love.  So I knew they'd be distracted for quite some time.  I broke down the fencing of the brooder and moved everything into the outside run and set it all back up.  I then brought the babies out to the run and turned them loose. This was their first time with this much freedom and their first time in the dirt so they were having a blast.  And I was enjoying the moment of peace and harmony while everyone was happy.

And then it happened.  Coco realized that the gate to their run was closed.  I never lock them out of their run.  And she started to scream.  Which got Ginger's attention and the two of them came up to the closed gate and saw the baby chicks in their run and went ballistic.  I've never heard those two make so much noise.  I was frankly, horrified.  So I ushered the babies into their brooder pen and opened the big gate so the girls come come back in.

But that did nothing to quiet them down.  They were not at all happy about their new guests and the modifications to THEIR run.

And before I realized what was happening, Spice, who is the leader of the babies, rushed up to the fence and puffed up her chest at Coco to inform her that she was in charge of this three-some.  At which point, Coco stuck her head through the fence and BAM!  Nailed Spice on the head to inform her that she was the Alpha of anyone and everyone in these parts.

Okay, good.  Got that out of the way.

Well, all 5 of them whined and cried and whined for what seemed like hours.  I stayed close by to make sure that nothing crazy went wrong.  But I could clearly see from Coco's posture that given half a chance, she'd kill each and every one of those intruders.  ACK!!!

Coco is trying to figure out how to get inside the chicks brooder.
She's convinced they have better food in there and desperately wants to sample it.

But I'm glad I did it.  It was time to get the babies out of the garage and sooner or later, they were all going to have to get to know one another.

I'll bring the babies back into the garage for another week or two as the temperatures have been dipping into the low 30's at night.  The garage stays around 50.  And then we'll see about having them actually spend the night in their brooder outside.

It's going to be weeks before I let the 5 of them co-mingle.  The babies need to at least double if not triple in size up to about 3 lbs before I'll even consider letting them all get together.

And another shot of the babies in their brooder with Coco inspecting them closely.
That blurry blob in the foreground on the left is Ginger who desperately wants to be in the shot.
And is also convinced that my camera is food.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Pinless Peeper

As you know, back in early December, I had my Vet put a pinless peeper on Coco.  Coco was bullying Ginger to no end and I was really afraid Coco was going to kill her.  And really, one should be able to do this themselves.  It's not that difficult.  But I couldn't do it and Coco being such a feisty bird, it really was a two person job.

So for starters, be sure you are putting it on correctly.  Many people accidentally put them on upside down.  See the image of Coco to get the idea.

They say that you don't need a tool to do this.  Either pry the plastic apart if you have strong hands, or soak the plastic in hot water for a few minutes.  But a pair of snap ring pliers really do make it easier.  If you soak them in hot water first, the bird has a better chance of knocking it off with its foot before the plastic has a chance to cool down and set.

Either way, once on, the bird can't see what's in front of her.  And it DOES work.  I'd put treats into their treat bowl and Coco would give Ginger a warning Bok Bok.  But when she looked up to peck Ginger, she couldn't see her, and would go back to eating.

But it forced Coco into a molt.  Which I felt awful about.  Depriving a bird of food is a sure fire way to force them into a molt.  And she just wasn't getting as much food as she was used to.  And she molted hard and ugly as you can see from some of my older posts.

So I removed the peeper after about three weeks.  Coco was much more passive and docile and it gave Ginger a chance to finish her molt and get some much needed weight back on her.  So I don't regret doing it.  But would I do it again?  Tough question to answer.

I can see how people with larger flocks swear by these things.  They really do work.  But when you just have two hens that you treat as pets, they do seem rather cruel.  But it did nothing to reset my pecking order or change Coco's "alpha" ways.

Coco is definitely my alpha hen and makes her position known.  The problem with only having two hens, is that all her aggression is directed directly at Ginger.  Thus, the reason for me to get more chicks to help mix up my flock dynamic.  But out of this, Ginger has learned to recognize Coco's warning Bok Bok's and quickly moves out of her way when she gives her warnings.

The babies are growing up quickly and I'm eager to integrate them in with Coco and Ginger.  I'm hopeful that out of this, Ginger will have a buddy she can relate to, since the new chicks are Buff Orpingtons just like her.  And that as Coco asserts her position as the alpha hen, it's not all directed at Ginger as there will be three other hens roaming around.

And I also have to wonder if Coco won't have a run for her money as the alpha hen.  Spice is quite the feisty chick and clearly in charge of Honey and Sugar.  Her name fits her PERFECTLY!!!

So stay tuned.  I promise to keep you all updated on the process of integrating Honey, Sugar and Spice in with Coco and Ginger.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

They ROOST!!!

The babies are roosting!!!  They are 5 weeks and a few days old and I wondered why they were not yet interested in roosting.  Maybe they just needed one to start so they could all follow suit.  They do love to copy one another.  If one goes to eat, they all go to eat.  If one drinks, they all drink.  And so on.  Everything is a group sport in the chicken world.

Anyway, I peeked out at them last night around 10pm and this is what I saw.  Of course they hear the door open so they all croon their necks to see if I'm going to come out to give them treats.  The camera flash woke them up and they all stood up and started running around so this was the only shot I got but you can clearly see they have all mastered the art of roosting.

Guess I'd better get over to the hardware store and buy an extra 2x4 so I can modify the big girls house to accommodate them once they are big enough to roost with them.  Probably in another 4-6 weeks.

Still growing up and finishing molting...

I don't have much new to report this week.  The babies are growing up so fast.  They are just over 5 weeks old now and are mostly feathered out.  They are getting so BIG.  They are also quite frisky and love to come busting out of the brooder anytime I open the door.

I LOVE their steely green eyes at this age.  Once they mature, their eyes will turn golden orange.  I did take them outside again today in the dog crate and let the big hens out who still show no interest in getting to meet the new girls.  And maybe that's just as well.

The sand box is still their most favorite thing in the whole wide world.  They roll around and bath in the sand, they poop in the sand and they sleep in the sand.  I thought my babies before were roosting by 5 weeks of age and while they will hop up on the 2x4 in their run, they won't sleep on it.

Ginger has finished her molt and is getting back to her happy go lucky old self.  Her wattles and ear lobs have turned red once again and her comb is getting there.  I figure we've got another week or so and hopefully, she'll begin to lay eggs again for us.  She's also put on quite a bit of weight.  I didn't get a chance to weigh her today.  But I'm guessing she's well over 4 lbs and probably close to 4.5.

Coco is still molting and at lightening speed.  I couldn't get her to hold still for a nano second in the garden today so this is the best shot I have of her.  But if you look back, you'll see that her neck was totally naked a few weeks back.  Today, she's 4 weeks into her molt and her neck and backside are totally covered with feathers.  They still need to grow in a bit, but at least the poor thing is covered.

Hopefully, in a few weeks I can move the babies brooder out to the big girls run and get them out of the garage and start integrating the two flocks.  I still think I was crazy for raising babies in the dead of winter.  But come May/June, I should be getting more eggs than I know what to do with.  Around the time most others are just working on integrating their babies into their flocks.  Then this will have all been worth the efforts.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Babies are Growing Up

My little babies are really babies no more.  They are four weeks old and just getting so big.

Today was a big day of firsts for them.  Their brooder desperately needed to be cleaned and it was quite warm today, I think it was 65 degrees and felt much warmer in the sun.  So I put them outside in the dog crate while I cleaned out the brooder.

I really wonder what goes through their little heads.  Outside for the first time and in the warmth of the sun.  It was so cute watching them perk up and listen to the other birds.  I let Coco and Ginger out of their run too and was curious to see what would happen.  Coco came over for a closer look.  But Ginger stayed as far away from them as she could.  I even gave them a small bowl of grit and tried to entice them with a small meal worm.  But they really showed no interest.  Honey, eventually ate once she saw it wiggling around.

Probably the last time my girls will show no interest in meal worms.

Here are some updated photos of Honey, Sugar and Spice.