Category Archives: Chickens

How chickens can make their own bed (ding).

I love my Chicken Mulch Cycle!

The chicken make the straw for their bedding, add fertilizer, and their bedding becomes mulch.  Zero cost.

Hardworking little haymakers

First, cast the feed in the grass for the hens to eat.  Maybe 2-3 days in the same place.  They scratch it all up, and then it looks like this:

Rake it up.

The only sorta laborious part

I rake it into feed sacks, because we have lots of feed sacks.

My full feed sacks in the greenhouse for no particular reason (it's dry)
My full feed sacks in the greenhouse for no particular reason (it’s dry)

The chickens produce far far more hay than could ever be needed in their coop.  They could probably keep me in enough straw for all my gardening mulch needs if I raked assiduously enough.

Fill the coop with the straw.  I find it’s nice fluffy straw, too, like angel hair.  Maybe that’s the grass, not the chicken effect.

Today the poopy coop is getting emptied, not layered up.

Chickens poop on it.  Every day I cover the poop with another light layer of straw, to keep chicken feet and chicken eggs nice and clean.

When the straw mat comes up to the perches, it’s time to clean out the coop.

I find I can just roll up the straw/poop cinnamon bun

and put it in the wheelbarrow.

This is the dog’s favorite part, because dogs are disgusting,  and equal-opportunity turd-eaters (let no turd go untasted).  Usually the chickens want to inspect the process at this point too.

Everything else we do around here and you want us to make hay too?

Then the coop gets a thorough raking out and a new starter blanket of straw.  I used to sprinkle some diatomaceous earth around at this point too, but am desisting in this season because DE is deadly toxic to all bees.  The birds are at their healthiest now, anyways- unconfined, with lots of bathing options, so the DE stays stowed during the summer.

With my dozen chickens, I clean the coop every 3-4 weeks.

Then the wheelbarrow goes a-mulching trees and the garden, completing the cycle.  I think of it as a slow release nitrogen dose.

Box upgrade for the Brown Brood

Still in small box, new big box at the ready.
Still in small box, new big box at the ready.

2015-08-03 10.12.55
She gets a big roomy box, too, for all that family.  They will stay in here together for a few days, and then the In’s and Out’s will begin again with her.  Now the white hen’s chicks have it all figured out- I can count on them to get in and out of the coop without assistance- I get a short reprieve before it begins again, this time with SIX chicks.

Moving mama.
Moving mama.

It’s nice they are all the same age, too, since she did it right.  I can barely tell the youngest chick, the late hatcher, but there is one a tiny bit smaller.

Two!
Two!
Four!
Four!
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You can see their tiny eggteeth.
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It amazes me that they are so tiny, a third or less the size of a “normal” chick, and yet, there are any number of songbirds that are no larger as adults. A hummingbird egg must be the size of my pinkie fingernail.
Six!  Look at those little wings!
Six! Look at those little wings!

I’ve given them a lovely first meal – quinoa with ground sun and flax seeds, finely grated (zested?) carrot and cucumber.  It was a big hit with the white hen’s chicks, also with chopped apple.  I couldn’t believe how much of it the four of them would consume in a day.  They are only tiny, but they’d polish off a cupful twice a day.  Quinoa is fast becoming the number one choice of bird food around here.

Settling in.
Settling in.

It seems to me that once hatched, the chicks spend at least 24 hours under mom, adjusting or something, before they come out and begin to eat or drink.  It’s not like they just can survive 72 hours on the energy supply from the egg, but that it’s natural for them to have a long transition from egg to outer world.  Even once they were all hatched, it seemed with both hens that it was two days before the chicks started to come spilling out and express interest in what’s beyond mom’s feathers.

Chicks!

Just when I was starting to worry- she’s been sitting on those eggs forever- HW comes in in the morning and says Have you looked under the brown hen lately?  Oh, you’re gonna be excited!

There's a little head in the wing.
There’s a little head in the wing.

FIVE chicks!  Five healthy, brown and mixed (spider markings) chicks.  OMG, so, so SO cute.  And an egg with a tiny hole in it.  I didn’t even know she had six eggs under her.

2015-08-02 07.56.17I peeked at that egg later in the morning and it had a slightly larger hole in it.  A whole day behind the others, though.  Will it hatch?

At coop-closing time, I wiggled my fingers under her to see if there was still an egg, or a shell to pull out.  The hen firmly pushes her wings against the floor, making a barrier (while growling, a most amusing sound).  You can only nudge in under her chest or butt.  All underneath her was tiny legs and little squirming bird bits.  She contains multitudes.  The egg was there, intact.  I pulled it out.

It’s not every day that an egg, in your hand, shouts at you.  It’s disconcerting.  CHEEP!  The bird inside was very much alive.  Although still all crammed in its box without hinges, key or lid, it let me know- it’s alive, and busy.  Put me back!  I swiftly tucked it back in to the mom furnace to finish hatching.

Wow.  A 100% turnout from the brown hen.  She’s smaller, but smarter.

One chick down.

The white chick expired.

In a bizarre and macabre turn, her body was stuck to her mother’s belly, and the white hen was dragging her tiny carcass around, legs stuck out straight.  So strange.  What happened?

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I had to chase her around, trying to dislodge the body stuck to her.

Eventually, it came loose.  But why?  How did it get stuck on?  There were no indications of what happened.  The white chick was the tiniest chick.

Chicken Mom / The In’s and Out’s.

Sure enough, the first night out, they did not go back into the coop.  Dusk fell, and the rooster finally retired, leaving the hen downstairs, under the coop, settled into her chick-warming shape.  She’d been doing this most of the day, as the chicks could only handle a few minutes scurrying around before running under mom for a warming.

The Silkies have been fortress-ized with hardware cloth for the weasel and bird netting for predator birds.
The Silkies have been fortress-ized with hardware cloth for the weasel and bird netting for predator birds. The whole thing is portable, in two parts.  As HW says, it’s more like a chicken mobile home than a chicken tractor.  “In theory, you can move it, but it’s no fun”. 

Ok, I thought, when I realized she was committed for the night, I’m gonna have to crawl in there.  Since the Silkie fortress is much more robust, it’s also a lot harder for me to access.  I have to climb over at the end by the pine tree, and crabwalk under the bird netting.

I incorporated their favorite pine tree, and anthill, into the fortress
I incorporated their favorite pine tree, and anthill, into the fortress.  The Silkies are so low impact and perfectly happy with a small area, this is very spacious for them.

I take the hen and put her up on the ramp.  She comes flying back down, wings out, on the attack, mad! I scoop up chicks and pass them into the coop as quickly as I can, getting pecked and pinched.  The cheeping is desperate from over my head, and the the rooster is making his excited sounds.  Then I have to grab mom and toss her up on the ramp, and her squawking instantly changes to clucking when she sees her young (How’d they get up here?) and she strolls up into the coop and settles down.  I crabwalk out of the chicken run, hoping this doesn’t go on for weeks like last year.

Evening two:
Almost an exact repeat.  This time I go for the chicks first and deposit them at the top of the ramp.  Then the hen hops up on the ramp and goes up herself.

Evening three:
Yep, same.  Hen settled in under the henhouse, most responsibly keeping her chicks warm.  The chicks are getting faster, but the process of putting them upstairs is smooth now.

Evening four:
That’s what I was afraid of!  The hen’s in the coop, tucked in most comfortably, and all the chicks are huddled under the henhouse, crouching pathetically against the food dish.  I guess three days grace was all they get before…what? They get left to their own devices?  I crawl in and start grabbing the chicks.  Uhoh!  At the sounds of distress, mom comes rocketing down the ramp, on a rampage!  Flying attack beak!  She’s battling me so fiercely, I have to protect the chicks I’m trying to grab with one hand from stabbing beak with the other hand.  I should mention that being attacked by a two-pound hen, even giving all she’s got, is not all that threatening, even while crouched awkwardly in the small space under the coop.  I got, like, one little scratch.

However, when I put the chicks up at the top of the ramp tonight, because they are cold, and mom is at the bottom of the ramp waging war, they come skittering back down, to her, crying.  I may as well be putting marbles on top of the ramp.  Mayhem.

Now here comes the rooster, roused from bed. Finally I toss the chicks into the straw in the coop behind him and their way is mostly blocked by the rooster, and as soon as I get them all up there at once, the hen runs right back up, purring.  Sigh.

Evening five: Exact repeat of evening four.

Evening six:  What’s this?  They are all, magically, in the coop together!  They figured it out!

2015-07-31 19.10.04 2015-07-31 19.10.24So much for the In’s.

But can they get out in the morning?

Morning one:  No, they can’t.  I see the hen patiently going up and down on the ramp, talking to them (she’s such a good mom), but they don’t all figure it out.  Surprisingly, the diminutive white chick makes it down and the brown chicks are left upstairs, confused.  I nudge them down on the ramp and they run down, relieved.

Morning two:  This time one brown chick is left behind.

Morning three:   Interesting.  The white chick is upstairs.  Didn’t she already pass this test?

Morning four:  Yay!  They’re all out!

Morning five:  Not so fast.  Two brown chicks left behind again, confused.  Weird.  They’ve all managed it at least once.

There’s no physical challenge negotiating the ramp.  They seem to have a problem with the visual barrier.  Once the hen goes down the ramp, they can’t see her, and so she must have disappeared.  They can hear her, because she’s right underneath them, but since they can’t see her, they don’t move. If I put them onto the top of the ramp, they don’t drift down the ramp, they just hop back into the straw, unless they catch a glimpse of her.  Then they scamper down like lightning for a warming.   You’re alive! Maybe their little chicken brains just need to develop past the peekaboo stage, where one understands that just because you cannot see it, it does not cease to exist.

Now the brown hen has been placed in her broody box.  The brown hen is a little duchess compared to a cranky fishwife.  The white hen is fierce- irritable, feisty and spitting.  The brown hen is prim and quiet, hunching firmly over her eggs and protesting, but politely, when you touch her.

Pie in the face, chicken!

Hens eating whipped cream (that’s gone off), may be the funniest thing I’ve seen hens do.

2015-07-09 11.43.51(0)First they get it all over their faces.  Then one of them shakes their head, to get it off their face, and that spatters cream all over the other chickens.

2015-07-09 11.43.17By the end of it, they’re just festooned with it, and they all look like they’ve just been pied.

Then the beak-wiping begins.

You got something on your face!  What?  Get it off!
You got something on your face! What? Get it off!

 

 

First day out for the chicks!

Unfortunately, I lost my phone in the woods, so I lost all the pictures of the first day of freedom for the chicks, a lovely sunny day.

2015-07-30 16.03.09By the time these were taken, the chicks were several days older and taller.

I split the (dirty, beat up) broody box open so that the hen could lead the way out, and make her way down the ramp on her own time.  She completely ignored the opening, although the chicks were interested, and quickly began scampering around the rest of the coop.  They move like water bugs.

Ten, twenty minutes later, they’re all still in the box.  I’m hoping to capture wondrous, triumphant first excursion from the coop, first time ever for the chicks, first sunlight in a month for the hen.

An hour later, she’s still in the box.

Two hours.

In the afternoon, HW comments offhand that he sees the chickens are outside.  What chickens?

All the chicks, and mom, are outside, and I missed it all!

2015-07-30 16.03.00

Phew, I get to throw out the dirty broody box they’ve all lived in for a week.

Now, how bad will the daily bedtime return-to-the-coop drama be this year?