Monday, December 30, 2013

The price of eggs just went up again

If you've followed my blog since the beginning, you'll remember that I had a rough first year.  I read about all the things chickens can get and thought, I had chickens growing up and never once had to deal with ANY of those things.

But, my first year with chickens, I had to deal with nearly all of them.  I had bullies.  A hen turned out to be a rooster.  There was sour crop and a strange respiratory condition that took down two hens.  There was broodiness that was contagious.  Bumble foot, scaly leg mites and that day I came home to find Lulu missing her entire toe nail.  And let's not forget the fatty liver disease, just to name a few.

And as awful as those all were, I was very thankful that I hadn't had to deal with an impacted crop or egg binding.  Well, add impacted crop to my list above.

Honey is going through her first molt and she was clearly not happy about it.  Molting can be really uncomfortable.  So I was trying to give her some special attention and hand feed her some extra protein each day.  When she stopped eating, I knew I had a problem.  The silly girl was eating leaves instead of her feed.

I took her to the vet who tried first to flush out her crop.  But it didn't clear out the blockage.  So today, Honey had surgery to remove the blockage in her crop.  So Honey is going to be a house chicken for a few days until she's feeling back to her old self.  And so I can CLOSELY monitor what she puts in that beak of hers.

What's really troubling is the vet says that she frequently sees these cases as the first sign of Marek's Disease.  Honey was vaccinated.  But I've read that sometimes it doesn't take.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet.  I REALLY want her to raise another batch of babies for me this spring.  Honey was the BEST mama hen last year raising those three Andalusians for me.

Please say a prayer for her that she makes a speedy recovery and that she does NOT have Marek's.

Honey's new home away from home until she's feeling better.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Chicken Wreath

I saw this first photo of a chicken wreath online about a month ago.  I don't remember where I saw it but I quickly pinned it to my Pinterest board because I thought it was fabulous.  I wish I could remember where I saw it.  I like to give credit where credit is due.

Anyway, as much as I aspire to be cleaver and crafty, I'm simply not.  I have many half finished projects in the garage that I set aside when get frustrated.  But this one just didn't seem like it could be that difficult to make.

Then my friend who blogs for Tilly's Nest made one that was even more fabulous.

She wrote a blog that gives step by step directions on how to make one and I couldn't improve on that so I'm going to just post the link for those who want to give it a try.

Tilly's Nest - Chicken wreath instructions

I love how it doesn't matter what you use to make it.  Just go collect interesting leaves and greens from the garden.  My yard is a bit sparse this year as we re-landscaped earlier this year and plants are still quite small or very much hen pecked.

But I had a little free time this afternoon and the weather had warmed just enough that made me want to be outside so I thought I'd take a stab at my own version.

I don't think I quite nailed it but I don't consider it a flop either.  She really does have a beak but the ribbon is covering it up.  And she does have feet too but when I picked up the wreath, the leaves settled and covered up her feet.

The fresh greens look nice on the gate into the hen's run and it makes me smile each time I go out to see them.

I'll definitely keep wreath making in mind as I cut and dry things over the summer months so that I have a few more items on hand come December next year.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


It was bitterly cold here this week.  But cold is relative.  While it's been in the 20's when I get up, at least my girls don't have to content with snow or ice.  And the sun does provide some warmth once it comes up.

The girls are much more subdued when it gets this cold.  They are also still molting which is very tiring.    Coco and Poppy are just finishing up molting and Honey is just beginning.

I do try and let them out of their run into the big garden once a day.  And they come up to me to see if I've brought them a treat.  Once that's gone, they just go stand under a bush where they feel safe.

Below are some photos of the girls from last weekend.  The orange treat is an overripe persimmon.

Poppy still needs to push out a few last feathers but she's got a full tail once again.  And she knows how to rock that tail, wagging it and working it for agility as she works the garden.
Honey on the left is just starting to really molt.  But being a HUGE fluffy bird, you'll probably never be able to tell.  Coco is just finishing and is fully feathered and soooo beautiful. 

Honey had some messy fluffy feathers and since she's molting I just oped to cut them out rather than give her a bath.  But I cut too many and she's got a bit of a hole on her backside.  Ops! 

I didn't plan on getting eggs from the girls until March when the days are noticeably warmer and longer.  But Coco squatted for me yesterday.  Something she hasn't done since she started molting back in September.  So I might be back in the egg business sooner than anticipated. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Rest in Peace Ginger

Some birds are just destined to be VERY special and Ginger was one of those.  She was on of my original four that I brought home just over three years ago.  And she will always be one of my most special hens.

I learned a TON from Ginger.  More than any book will ever teach me.  For the most part, she was an adorable chicken.  But she did have her moments where she tested my patients.  One of her nicknames was Sunday Dinner.  But I would NEVER!

Below are just a few of my favorite photos of her.  Rest in peace my sweet Ginger.  We miss you terribly.

Ginger was a princess.  Never had a feather out of place.  Even when she molted, you could never tell.  This is the dirtiest photo I have of her with one little spot on her beak.

Selfie with my buddy.  She's in the middle of her molt here.  No tail feathers.  If it were not for that, you wouldn't be able to tell she was molting.

Her safe spot under the coop where she'd spend most of the day.  Again, look at those feathers.  Not a single one out of place.

She could also be the biggest pill in the world.  Here, she's viciously gone after Honey who's gone broody again.  I really dislike pinless peepers but they DO work.

Here she's discovered an easier way to smooth out the feathers on her back.

She HATED change.  Here I've left the coop clean out door open and she was not happy about this.

She was an ADORABLE baby.  I mean ADORABLE!!!

She never went though that awkward phase as her feathers came in.  She was always just adorable.

She's probably three or four days old in this photo.  Just a ball of downey fluff.

She LOVED her coop.  She would frequently go inside to explore while the other hens were out in the run.

Nap time in the sun always made her yawn.

Do you see a feather out of place?  Dirt on her beak?  She was a princess all the way through.  If I let her be a house chicken, I have no doubt she would have in a heart beat.

Here she's about 3, maybe 4 months old.  She always loved treats.  Course, what chicken doesn't.

She also loved to be up on my shoulder.  She would just jump up there.

Ah, a nap in the sun with my original four.

And one of my favorite photos.  Honey has hopped up first and Ginger (in the middle) was right behind her.  Ginger is taking turns pecking at Honey (in my arms) and Sugar (closest to my knees) trying to get them to get off of HER lap.  She never wanted to share me.

Friday, November 22, 2013

New Coop

As I stated in my previous post, I got the girls a bigger coop for their birthday this year.  This is the coop I should have bought in the first place.  I was naive when I started this and when I saw that the coop held 3-5 hens, I thought it meant it would hold 5 hens.  But what they really meant, was 3 full sized birds or 5 bantams.  So my cute little coop w/ the red roof was always a squeeze for them.

Being in California, they only went in to lay eggs and sleep.  I never put their food or water inside as it was never necessary.  And it has 3 nests which was nice.  So it kind of worked.

Where I ran into trouble was integrating new hens.  The girls want to sleep next to certain buddies.  And there was really only one arrangement that worked.  Now, would they go in and take their respective positions?  No!  They'd quibble and peck and argue at bedtime.  Which upset the new birds and also upset me.

I tried a few other cheaper coops but they just didn't work.  So I finally just ordered up the larger Amish built coop.  What kept me from doing this all along was the fact that I had to have it flat pack shipped and then assembled inside my run.  Because it wouldn't fit through my gate or into their run.

But as you can see, it really isn't a big deal having it arrive flat.  The guys unloaded the truck in no time and got to work assembling the coop in place.

Here they have most of the coop assembled.  The nests and roof are still missing.

I didn't have any place to put the hens while their run was wide open.  And the guys kept going in and out the back gate.  I was worried about a dog coming in and the hens getting out so I hung out with them in their favorite corner of the garden.

Here the guys have JUST finished and I let the girls back into the run.  Honey and Poppy are by far my most curious hens and were first to hop up inside for a closer look.

New coop on the left and the old coop on the right.  I couldn't bring myself to part with the old coop.  It's just so cute with that red roof.  I thought I'd use it as a maternity ward when the time comes.  Turns out that Honey likes laying her eggs in there so I leave it open for them.

Here's the inside of the new coop.  I added a third roost mostly to make it easier for the hens to step up to roost at night.  I also installed some dowels and created a sort of "poop hammock" to catch their droppings.  The concept is great.  But one morning I could hear Honey calling.  She only calls when there's a problem.  And when I went outside, she had slipped between the two roost bars and was standing in the hammock with no way to get out.  So that was the end of the hammock.

I'm now trying the deep litter method.  Where you keep adding more pine shavings and leaves and mixing up the droppings and they sort of compost inside the coop.  It sounds disgusting.  But people have been doing it for many, many years very successfully.  And the decomposition process can keep the coop a few degrees warmer in winter.  It sure is easy.  And will be nice to have the droppings all ready to go into the garden come spring.  We'll see.  I promise to blog more about the deep litter method  once I have more data.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It's been 3 years

First off, I do apologize for not blogging more.  I think just about everyone will understand that life gets in the way sometimes and while it's not a good excuse, it's the only excuse I have.

October was a big month.  Coco and Ginger turned three years old.  I can't believe it's been three years already since I got my cute little balls of fluff.  That means that Honey Bear is nearly two years old and Poppy turned one in August.

To celebrate, the ladies got a new coop.

It's really just the next size up from their previous coop but somehow it seems SOOOO much larger.  There are two four foot long roosts and four cozy nest boxes.  And as there is so much more space under the roosts, I've switched over to the deep litter method.  So instead of cleaning out the coop weekly or monthly, I'll keep adding leaves, pine shavings, etc. under the roosts and stirring up the mix until spring time when it will all go into the garden.  Stay tuned for a blog on how that goes.

On a happy note, I decided to participate in my vet's office Halloween contest this year.  Dressing up Ginger as a Bucket of Chicken.  And she WON for most creative costume!  I have no idea how I'll top that next year but I have eleven months to come up with something.

And on a very sad note, we had the vet put Ginger down last Friday.  She has something wrong with her.  That I knew months ago.  Xrays showed a mass inside of her and blood work indicated some sort of tumor or cancer.  She was clearly slowing down throughout the fall but was still eating and drinking so we let her be.  But when I came home from work on Friday, the other hens were cuddled up around her.  And would not leave her side even when I opened up the gate for them to come out.  That is not normal.  Usually they rush to come out once I open the gate.  When I went in, the big hens stood up and when Ginger tried to stand up, she toppled over.  And I knew that it was time.

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Ginger.  She could be an enormous pain in the "you-know-what".  But she taught me so much about chickens.  My only regret is that she never got to be a mama hen.  She did play the role of auntie to the three Andalusians.  And my gut told me that if I bought home babies, that she would mother them with out going broody.  But it was never a good time for me to chance that knowing in the back of my mind that if she rejected them, I'd have to raise them.

And I did give away Lulu and Sprinkles about two months ago.  They were always on the wild side and I think they sensed that Ginger was not well and were challenging her for her number two position in the pecking order.  And like I said above, I have a very soft spot in my heart for Ginger.  So I found someone who lives on acreage with other hens and a rooster which I think is just what those two wild childs needed.  Last I heard, they were integrating just fine.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ginger laid an egg

Yea, so, you say?

Let me tell you about Ginger.  She's a beautiful Buff Orpington who will be three years old this fall.  She's your classic hatchery bird where they breed for quantity and not necessarily quality.  So she's a on the small size as BO's go and more blond that golden in color.  She wouldn't win any show awards but I love her and she's a five star in my eyes.

She had a rough up bringing.  She was one of the original four I purchased and I knew buying a mixed batch of birds might set her up to be bullied as BO's can be very sweet and docile.  And right from the beginning, she was destined to be the bottom of the pecking order.  She was the loudest and the most needy of the batch.  I always said she should have been raised by a mama hen and not in a brooder.  She hated being separated from the other chicks.

Ginger is the blonde one jammed in between Pumpkin on the left and Coco on the right.
And the other hens frequently used Ginger as a pillow.  And she let them because she so desperately craved that that security chicks feel when tucked under a bigger bird.
As the four grew up, it became apparent that Poppy was a rooster and had to go, and then there were three.  And something was never quite right about Pumpkin.  I was always suspicious that she didn't see as well as the other two.  But I was never able to confirm that.  Regardless, Pumpkin a bit more aggressive.  Coco was clearly the alpha so no one messed with her.  Meaning Pumpkin took out her aggressions on Ginger.

I thought I was doing a good job keeping things in check.  And I thought if they had lots of food and water and plenty of real estate, they'd have nothing to bully over.  But it's called a pecking order for a reason and while lack of food, water and confinement can cause bullying, sometimes birds are just bullies.  So when the hens turned one, I re homed Pumpkin.  And then there were two.

But the damage was done.  Ginger was this timid little hen.  She started to molt and molted hard.  I really thought I was going to lose her she was so miserable.  So I hand fed her scrambled eggs and pretty much anything I could get her to eat.

All of that has shaped who she is today.  She's a grumpy, moody little hen that won't take anything from any of the other hens.  And if she lived just about anywhere else, she would have been "Sunday Dinner" a long time ago as she starts to molt in June and stops laying eggs.  She won't finish molting till November and won't start laying again till March.  Or so she's done in the past.

Most people who are in the business of raising chickens for eggs can't afford to house and feed a chicken who's only going to lay three months out of the year.  Doesn't matter to me as I get plenty of eggs and she's part of the family.  So she's got a good gig going on here.

Today I came home and collected eggs and found this tiny brown egg.  It's BARELY in the medium category and darker than Honey Bear's brown eggs.

I think Ginger may have laid this egg today.  That's Coco's egg on the counter with the dark end cap.
For comparison, here is Honey Bear's egg on the scale.  Usually, hers are more in the middle of the Large category, but she is molting so I'll cut her some slack.  Ginger's egg is on the counter on the left.  It's darker and more even than Honey Bear's egg.
And this is Coco's egg.  Coco is a Jersey Giant and she's a BIG hen who lays a BIG egg.  And her signature is that dark end on the egg.  Not sure why, but she always does it.  Coco is also molting so her eggs are a bit smaller than normal too.
So with no camera in the coop, I can't be certain.  But I do believe that Ginger did indeed lay an egg today.  And I still can't believe it.  Strange things CAN happen.

Ginger has never gone broody.  Unusual for a BO.  Honey Bear goes broody every four weeks.  Which is sooooo frustrating so I suppose I should count my blessings.  But I told Ginger that if she ever went broody, that I'd get her some babies to raise.  I'll bet she'd be an awesome mama.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Fall Cleaning

Spent the morning cleaning up the girls run.  I was a big fan of sand on the floor of the coop.  Makes it really easy to scoop up the droppings each morning and know the girls have a clean house for the day.  But the sand just gets nasty after a while so several times a year I remove all of it completely and replace.  But this time I opted to go back to shavings.

I've had my eye on a new and larger coop for the girls for a long while now.  A coop that allows me to install a poop board under their roost so that scraping out the bulk of the droppings every day or every other day is a snap.  And I'm finally ready to order it.

So then the question is, what to do with the old coop.  Honestly, I'm not positive we could get it out of the run thru the gate.  And I do still love it.  So I'm going to have the guys move it to the opposite side of the run and use it as a maternity ward.

Honey Bear seems to go broody every four weeks and I might just have to let her be a mama once again.  She was an excellent mama a year ago when she raised the three little ones.

Last weekend the hens got baths.  Have been putting oil on their feet to get rid of a light case of scaly leg mites and couldn't stand that their tummy feathers got dirty.  Here's Honey Bear in the tub.  She LOVES a bath.  If you watch to 1:40, you'll see her nibble uncontrollably on the sink, she's SUPER ticklish.  I promise to get a better video of this with her in my lap on the patio.  It's hysterical.

Coco is molting.  For some reason, she did not molt last year so her feathers are trashed.  She started by replacing the feathers on her head and neck.  If you look closely, you can see how glossy black her new feathers are compared to the duller, almost brown ones.

Look at her tail feathers!  Or what is left of them.  Most are broken and all are frayed.  I can't wait for her to grow new tail feathers.

The inside of their clean coop.  I scrubbed the inside and sprayed for bugs.  I also made nest box curtains.  The little hens really want privacy when they lay and if anyone comes in and stares at them, they make an awful racket.  The curtains  were new and scary today but I'm hopeful that in a day or two, they come to appreciate them.  If nothing more, they can look at the pretty roosters while they lay.  ;-)

Honey Bear had an egg to lay and stayed in the coop the whole time I was in there.  You can see that she fills up the whole nest with her 8lbs of girth and feathers.
I turned the ladder flat and put it up on cinder blocks.  It's up against the fence that will get sun all winter long and I think the girls will like hanging out up there, warming themselves when the sun is out.

I also loosened up the dust bathing area.  It's a huge area full of damp, loamy soil, sand, rice hulls, etc.  The girls love to roll around in it.

Honey Bear has the sweetest face.  She also makes an excellent mama hen and while I'm not ready for more chickens, I might just have to let her be a mama again in the spring in the newly appointed maternity ward coop.