Sunday, February 26, 2012

If you like chickens, you'll love this time of the year

Whether or not you celebrate Easter, this is a great time of the year to pick up some "chicken" themed items.  And the stores are full of them.

I found this wreath of pastel eggs today and had to have it.  I think I'll hang in my kitchen so I can spend more time admiring it than if I put it outside.

And if you are like me, you follow a bunch of other blogs where you get great ideas.  Someone posted that she found this adorable plastic chicken that she was putting in her kids Easter baskets.  You wind it up and and it walks forward while dropping out gum balls in the shape of eggs.  I had to go to five different stores to find it and the store where I finally found some, they were down to their last few.  So I'm not the only one who loves my chicken themed items.

I picked up two so I could take one into the office.

I refrained from buying any candy but I was amazed at all the egg shaped confections.  There are eggs made out of just about everything you can imagine: solid chocolate eggs, eggs filled with other nummy things such as peanut butter, Cadbury eggs, sugar eggs and my personal favorite malted milk eggs.

Marshmallow Peeps come in every color of the rainbow.  It just wouldn't be the season without Peeps.  Now the question is, do you eat them while they are fresh and soft?  Or do you let your sit and dry out for a bit?

There is gum in the shape of eggs that come dropping out of the back of my chicken featured above.  And jelly beans.  And well, you get the idea.  Truly, something for everyone out there.

I'm also amazed at the variety of egg coloring kits that are available today.  There was a whole aisle dedicated to these kits.  This was always my favorite part of the season.  But today, I leave that job up to my girls.

I guess it's time to pull out all those wonderful recipes for hardboiled eggs.  I do love an egg salad sandwich and deviled eggs.  What are your favorite things to create with hardboiled eggs?  Do share.  I get the best ideas from all of you.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gardening with Chickens

I love to garden.  It's like therapy for me for me to be outside in the sunshine whether is summer or winter.  I get a real sense of satisfaction watching things grow.  So getting chickens seemed like a logical addition to the garden.  They would eat the bugs, produce fertilizer, their eggs were an added bonus, and I'd have someone to "legitimately" talk to while I worked in the garden.

But they can  destructive.  I vaguely remember reading an article where they were described as "Eco-terroists."  And yes, those little feet, beaks and pretty much their entire body can do a number on your garden.  But with a little effort,  you can have a lovely garden AND have chickens.

Coming up with some ways to barricade plants will be key.  And the good news is, it doesn't have to be heavy duty.  Simple chicken wire is enough to keep chickens out of a certain area.  And I find that it only needs to be 2-3' fall to keep my heavy hens out of a certain area.

Rounds of welded wire secured with zip ties or more wire work great.
Super simple to make and you can move them around easily to protect plants.
This one even has wire over the top.  I originally made it to put over a strawberry planter to keep the squirrels out. 
I have a bunch of these rounds in different sizes.   Sometimes, just putting them over a
plant for a week or two gives the plant enough time to get established and give them a chance. 
This is the top half of one of those inexpensive tomato supports.  My hens were both eating and scratching
the living daylights out of my Liriope and putting one of these over the top prevents them from using their  feet
to dig at them.  But they can still get their beaks in there to eat the bugs that live in there.
And here's another Liriope that is doing much better with the tomato support for protection.
The nice thing is once this plant get a tad bigger, you won't even see the protective support.
These are 3' fence panels that slip together.  You buy them two at a time from the hardware store .
I used four to make a square and used that as my brooder.  Here I've got two leaning against the house
to protect my strawberry plants  Yes, the hens can sneak down the sides but this is a great deterrent.
And these are those same fence panels as above.  Two at an angle to protect my blackberry vine. 

Chickens are AMAZING at eating bugs.  I stopped using any sort of chemical pest control about 6 months before I got chickens to be sure my yard would be safe for them.  I don't have any trouble with snails, slugs, earwigs or any pests in my garden.

Now, that said, I've read that snails and slugs can introduce worms to your hens.  I've also read that wild birds and their droppings can bring in parasites.  And since I don't have any way to really protect my hens from all external things that can introduce parasites, I've decided to let them do their bug control thing in the garden.

I realize this could be exposing them to worms and I'll just have to cross that bridge if and when we get there.  The hens have SOOOOO much fun in the garden and I just can't deny them that fun.

I don't rake up the leaves that fall to give the hens something to scratch in.  They have the best time
kicking the leaves around which also helps break them down.
Just before I snapped this photo, Ginger found the BIGGEST worm I've ever seen in my yard.
It was so big, I thought it might be a small snake at first.
The melon rind was appreciated by Coco who kept coming over for a few bites.
An inexpensive green house is not only a great way to start seedlings early but
is also a great way to protect young plants from the hens.
Chickens can dig holes the size of small moon craters to take dust baths in.  The key here is to give
them a desirable to do this and deter them from doing it in other parts of the garden.
So with some creative barricading, and limiting the time they spend in the garden, I've struck a healthy balance between my hens and my garden.  And I couldn't be more pleased.

I'll have to blog about composting and their droppings in a future blog.  It's definitely a labor of love keeping that process going.  But I no longer buy chemical fertilizer and only use my chicken manure compost to help my garden grow.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Versatile Blog Award

I've been awarded the Versatile Blogger Award from Tilly's Nest and I'm so touched and honored.  I never expected to receive an award when I started this blog a little over a year ago.  It was little more than an outlet for me and and an avenue for those who are interested in my adventures in raising chickens could follow my trials and tribulations.

One of the rules for the award is to answer the following questions:

1. Add the award to your blog.
 - Done!

2. Thank the blogger who gave it to you.
 - Thank you Tilly's Nest. I am so touched to receive this award and hope I can continue to live up to it's honor.  PS:  I love your blog too and am inspired every day by your blog.

3. Mention seven random things about yourself.
 - I grew up in the house where Steve Jobs passed away.  I LOVE having brunch at the Ahwahnee hotel in Yosemite Valley.  I can ID over 100 birds by sound alone.  I love all things chicken (surprise, surprise).  I have a weakness for cookies.  My favorite vacation is a tropical one.  And I worry about my hens CONSTANTLY!
4. List the rules.
 - Done

5. Award to 15 bloggers.
 - Oh boy, I'm not sure I follow 15 other blogs.  But I will pass the award on to those that I follow.

6. Inform each of those 15 by leaving a comment on their blog.
 - Will do.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Happiness is...

A nice long dirt bath in the garden.

Eventually, all three babies joined in and had a blast.  It was killing the big girls who kept trying to come over and disrupt their fun.  But their Flock Mistress stood in between the two groups and kept them separated.  I just couldn't rush this lovely scene.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Coco laid THREE eggs in one day

Now before you go calling the Guinness Book of World Records, let me explain, because they were not all eggs you'd want to eat.

She laid a normal egg yesterday at some point.  And then last night she dropped a soft shelled egg and a "fart" egg off the roosting bar.  So clearly, we're dealing with a calcium deficiency.

I transitioned the big girls off their layer rations a few weeks back and put them on grower/finisher feed.  Which is basically, the same thing, minus the high calcium content.  This way, I could transition the babies out of their brooder and into the big girls run and they could all safely eat the same food.

And then you are suppose to put out a bowl of oyster shells and the big girls will know to eat that to boost their calcium.  And they were eating the shells.

I also read that feeding the hens back their egg shells is a great way to boost their calcium.  But when I put out the egg shells, the babies also eat them.  Which is bad.  They don't need that high level of calcium.  Chickens don't urinate and don't have a way to flush that extra calcium out of their systems.

Here's Coco's normal egg.  She definitely lays an extra large egg.
The "fart" egg is on the bottom left and the soft shelled egg is on the upper right.
So a quick trip down to one of my favorite feed stores was in order for some advice.  And they recommended a liquid calcium which also contains vitamin D to help with absorption.  Now, ideally, you'd put this in your bird's water and let them get a little bit all day long.  Obviously, I can't do that.  So the directions also say, you can mix in a little bit with some soft food or fruit and feed it to your birds that way.  JACKPOT!

Coco and Ginger LOVE treats.  So mixing some in with a scrambled egg was no problem this afternoon.

Unfortunately, I'll need to do this five days a week for the next three months or until I can transition the little ones to layer rations.  Ugh.  I'm trying to simplify my life.  Not complicate it.  But this is a pretty easy solution to help keep Coco and Ginger healthy and happy.

And as an added bonus, this stuff is manufactured just a few miles from where I live.
Now the only thing I'm not 100% certain about is the bottle says that it is not for human consumption.  I'm assuming that the chickens will process it and that it's not a problem for us to continue to eat their eggs over the next three months.  But to be certain, I have a message out to the manufacturer.  I'll let you know if I have to toss eggs.

Monday, February 6, 2012

One BIG happy family (almost)

I wasn't going to turn the babies loose this weekend because of my hectic schedule.  But when I let them out for some free range time with the big hens, I realized, they were ready.  They were all ready.

The babies know to stay out of the big girls way.  And since there are three of them, the big girls are outnumbered.

And the big girls were not showing the kind of aggression towards them that made me think they might hurt or kill them.

And it's funny but I was most concerned that Coco would try and eat one.  Coco is big, bossy, loud and has an appetite like a Hoover vacuum machine.  But Coco was indifferent.  She never even tried to peck them.  She was most interested in eating feed out of their feeder.  (ALL the feeders have the same grower/finisher feed in them.)

Ginger on the other hand, is still having some issues with the babies.  She isn't hunting or stalking them.  But if they get within a few feet of each other, Ginger will lunge and peck.  Which is so surprising because she's always been so docile and sweet.  But she's also been the bottom of the pecking order her entire life.  And I think she's just decided that she's in a good place now and she's not going down a notch.  So she's defending her position as the number 2 hen.

This is Sugar.  She's 10 weeks old and looks so big.  But she's just feathers over bones.

The three babies do EVERYTHING together.  It's really very sweet.

They are really transforming from babies to pullets.  

And despite how many times I tell Coco that the food in the kids feeder is the same as in her big feeder,
she is convinced that their food must be better and I find her eating more out of their feeder.

Sorry I don't have better photos but there was lots of activity and movement and it was tough to pay attention to everyone AND try and take photos that were not blurry.  More to come...