Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Random Updates

Yeah, yeah, yeah...it's been awhile since I've updated the blog.  Not much happens in the chicken world from day to day that warrants a post. 

Egg production
All the girls are laying now.  A 'slow' day is eight eggs.  An average day is ten-eleven eggs.  Record day so far has been fourteen.  I've gotten that a few times.  I'm waiting for my first 18 egg day (it would have been 19 until recently), but the girls can't seem to all sync up their productivity yet.

Red is still living in the basement.  He's pretty miserable down there.  Chickens are meant to be social animals (or so I'm told), so he's not digging his bachelor pad.  He's been molting (i.e. losing feathers) and his once proud tail feathers are frayed.

One of the many updates I promised back in April that I never got around to is about the three new chickens I was getting.  I picked up three straight run (i.e. non-sexed) Blue Laced Red Wyandottes. Guess how many ended up being roosters?  No, not all of them.  Two.  And guess what happens to boy chickens at five months old?  Yep, they start sexing up the ladies.  Oh, and they start crowing. 

For now, only one of the two 'upstairs' boys is making noise.  Unlike Red, he is not as loud nor does he crow as long (Red could go for hours in the morning; new boy only for 10 minutes at a couple of different times and i've only heard him crow later than 7am once.) 

Depending on his behavior, Red may be getting a room mate soon.  Or they may all end up at freezer camp.  I'm not sure yet.

Light and Winterizing the Coop
It's October, and that mean crap weather coming soon.  I added an additional light source to the coop already so the chickens don't slow down production.  The light is on in the morning from 5 - 7 then again from 6-8 at night.  It's weird in that the chickens are 'up', but don't really want to be outside until there is natural light.  

For winterizing, I do have a heated waterer, but shouldn't need to plug that in for a few week yet (I hope).  The coop walls were insulated when it was built, but the roof wasn't, and there is open air up there.  My initial intent was to leave the eaves open, but to insulate the roof, so there isn't a build up of condensation in the coop.  Damp coop leads to frostbite in the winter.  That's still the plan, but I haven't gotten around to execution yet.  Soon.

Nesting boxes
Oh the nexting box.  I'm about as far from handy with tools as you can get.  The nesting boxes I built looked great, but they fell apart when it got hot.  I used particle board and glue to build it.  Not the smartest thing, but live and learn. 

First, the interior walls fell apart.  Great!  One big box that multiple chickens can use at the same time.  That lasted maybe a couple of weeks.  Then the whole thing fell down.  Hmmm...all that weight, hot weather, glue, and no support.  Wonder what could possibly happen?  Luckily, no chickens or eggs were harmed due to my negligence.

I've been meaning to rebuild them, but the chickens seem content laying on the floor in two 'community' nests - one under the nesting box bottom (which is still attached to the wall) behind the feed, the other behind the nesting box boards that collapsed.  Apparently, as long as they feel safe, the chickens will lay where ever.  I'm good with that solution. 

So now the chickens just use the bottom board as a night time roosting spot.  I'm good with that.  Easy clean up.

RIP Effie - December 2010 - October 8, 2011

Well, he finally did it.  I had plenty of warning, but thought he outgrew this behavior.  Kenny finally killed a chicken..and it just happened to be my favorite one - the grey naked neck, Effie (short for favorite chicken).

She was my first to lay an egg.  She was the chicken that was tormented and almost pecked to death (a story for later), but I nursed back to health. 

She was always happy to see me and would follow me around the yard, would always come up to me and want to be hand fed, she would always let me pick her up, all-in-all the perfect pet chicken (I even decided I would let her hang around after her egg laying days were over.)

I got home Saturday from the St Paul Oktoberfest and Dachshund races (no, none of my dogs raced - but I may start training for next year).  As with most days, the dogs were let out upon getting home, they chase around, do their dog thing, then go back inside.  Meanwhile, I go let the chickens out and collect the eggs.  Effie was, as usual, hanging out in the coop/run after the other chickens run out and start doing their chicken thing in the yard.  I hand fed her some scratch and she went to lay her egg (or at least she sat on the nest of eggs.)

A little while later, as the dogs were eating their dinner, I went out back to do something in the gardens and i recall hearing a dog go outside (the front door doesn't shut tight, so they can push the door open and let themselves out).  This is part of the routine so I didn't think anything of it.  I came back inside a few minutes later (maybe 5 minutes?).  Kenny wasn't at the front door, so I went out and called him.  He wasn't responding, but I could hear him.  The noise was coming from the behind a bush, next to the garage.  I thought he was chasing a chipmunk (it's where they hang out and all the dogs go mental back there from time to time).  I turn the corner and there's Kenny on top of a very dead Effie.  I'll spare the readers the state she was in.    Needless to say, I picked Kenny up off the carcass, loudly scolding him and putting him back in the house.  I grabbed a bag and bundled her up while I thought about what to do with her.

Kenny knew he did something wrong.  Normally, he's all over a person (usually me) looking for attention.  But on Saturday night, he was just laying on the floor, cleaning his paws, not looking at people.  Even at bedtime, he didn't even put his chest on someones foot (his signal to let him out).  He did come to bed, but just burrowed at my feet.

Sunday morning, he was acting like nothing happened.  In his dog world, it was so long ago, that the murder was old news.  I, on the other hand, was still annoyed, but really, what could I do?  It's in his nature to hunt prey.

Anyway, Sunday was yard work day.  (Back story:  Saturday morning I had dug out a bunch of overgrown bearded irises and day lilies but didn't know what I was going to do with them or where to put them.)  I pulled out all the dead/dying annuals from a few gardens and decided this is where a good number of the plants could go.  I paired an iris bulb with a group of the day lilies and circled the gardens.  I'll put something else in the center in the spring - or i'll do annuals again - whatever...not really relevant to the story at hand. 

Why do you care about gardening?  You don't, but it was while I was preparing the garden at the mail boxes that I decided on what to do with Effie.  I couldn't just put her in the garbage can to be picked up on Thursday.  Instead, I buried her in the garden.  I made sure it was deep enough and hopefully compacted enough to keep predators from digging her up (the dogs can't get there, but wild predators could). 

My hope is that she will be able to give back to the flowers I have planted/will plant in that spot.  I may even put up a sign "Effie's Garden - Dogs not allowed." 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


The younger batch of chickens have started laying.  I'm not exactly sure which ones are all laying yet since I'm not home during the day to witness the act.  However, I have my suspicions on which ones they are.

How do I know they younger ones are laying?  I'm getting 6-7 eggs daily now yet about half are smaller than average - not that there's anything wrong with that.   Smaller eggs or double yolked eggs are very common in newly laying chickens.  Here are some fun facts about eggs.

Smaller eggs are the chicken god's way of preparing the chickens for pushing something large through the vent.

Double yolk eggs tend to occur when ovulation occurs too rapidly or when one yolk gets 'lost' on the way to the shelling station and is joined by the next yolk.  Basically, the newly laying chicken is still figuring out what's going on with its body.  I saw a lot of these with the first batch of chickens.  I've only seen one so far with the second batch

No yolk, or fart eggs, can seen in the very first egg a chicken lays.  The chicken decided to try laying before the body actually sent down a yolk to be enveloped.  Luckily, I haven't seen this yet.

Okay, 12 year-olds, here's another fun fact about no-yolk eggs.  Back in the 'olden days' (like when the Office Skeptic was a child), no yolk eggs were called cock eggs because it was thought that these eggs were laid by roosters.

No shell eggs are 'normal' in young hens.  They may lay a shell-less egg or two right as they begin to lay eggs for the first time, before their systems have "gotten into the groove" of laying.   The inner membrane is all that is around the yolk/white.  The hard outer shell didn't form.  I have actually seen two of these this week.  The first one was outside on the ground under where the window sleeping chickens are.  So I'm guessing it is one of them.  The second one was in the nesting box yesterday.  The first one was still in tact, but the shell was really soft - it felt like a water balloon.  The one yesterday, there was a partial shell and then a gooey mass in the shaving.  Kind of gross.

The other time this can happen is if there is a calcium deficiency.  I don't think this is the case as all the chickens are on layer fee, which has extra calcium.  To be safe, though, i am going to put extra oyster shells in the coop for a few days.  Supposedly, if a chicken is missing something from its diet, it will go searching for a source for the deficiency.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chickens and Heat - Follow Up

All the chickens ended up surviving the extreme heat waves over the past month.  Buffy ended up breaking her broodiness almost immediately.  I took her inside and placed her in the basement where it was about 20 degrees cooler than it was outside.  She still was panting heavily for about an hour or so before she was able to relax and take some water.  I left her inside until just before dusk - her bedtime.  She was back to her normal self and had even laid the egg she was struggling with in the heat.

The Man is Keeping the Chicken Down

The inevitable has finally happened.  The 'man' stopped by yesterday.  Red has got to go.  Can't say I blame them.  The past week or so, he's been pretty noisy.  Usually, it's just in the morning and at random intervals throughout the day.  But lately, he was crowing pretty much non-stop.  With the weather a bit cooler this past week, I'm guessing the neighbors had windows open and finally had enough. 

After the man left, I had to chase Red around the yard (he knew something was up because I usually just ignore him, even when he tries challenging me for dominance.)  I chased him around the big oak a couple of times, then down into the pines, then finally got him corralled into the coop/run.  Once he was cornered in the coop, he kind of gave up and let me pick him up.  He had to move into chicken jail in the basement.  He is not very happy down there.  He was crowing very early this morning - well before the sun came up.

I'm hoping Red doesn't go to freezer camp, so I posted an ad out on Craigslist.  If you know anyone who wants a rooster, send them my way.

Not only did the man not like the crowing, but apparently, he doesn't like free ranging chickens, either.  Again, it's not as though I blame him.  As the chickens have become more
Free-ranging in the front yard.
comfortable in their environment, they have been expanding their territory.  They are crossing the street and hanging out in Inver Grove Heights in the morning.  Later in the day, they cross the private drive and hang out under the trees in the neighbor's yard. 

Even before the man stopped by, I noticed a four-pack of chickens wander across the street.  They didn't stop at the trees like they normally do, but rather were running through their yard near the kid's play set.  I can see that being very irritating to non-chicken owners because the chickens will poop wherever they feel like.  They won't care if kids are barefoot in the area.

So the man is going to make me stick to my permit by not allowing the chickens to free range any more unless someone is home to keep them contained the yard.  That's going to be tough, but I'm going to try to keep them in the back yard somehow.  There are plenty of trees and stuff for them to keep entertained with.  During the day, though, they are going to have to be contained to the run.  The run is plenty big enough, but I think they'll get bored easily.  I need to expand the run so I'll be in the market for dog kennel fencing this week. 

Hanging out under the oak.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chickens and Heat

Here in the Twin Cities, we're having our second severe heat wave of the summer.  It's been in the mid-90s for the past few days with dew points close to 80.  The heat index has been hovering around 110.  You can just walk from the building to your car and break a sweat.

Now put on a down coat.

The chickens are doing their best to stay cool.  They hang out in the shade, dig holes into the dirt under trees, flap their feathers, and drink lots of water.  I do my best to make sure their water stays full and cool (I put ice filled water bottles in their waterers). 

I keep the coop as wide open as I can, both day and night - even when they go to bed.  But there just hasn't been a decent breeze - except when storms blow through.  Then I can't keep the windows open for fear of getting wet litter or chickens.

If you're a hen, and you're ovulating, well, you have to push out an egg in this weather.  In the coop.  In a nesting box. Now, today, all the chickens did this - I got six eggs today.  However, Buffy seems to have decided today was the day to go broody - that's when a chicken decides she wants to become a mom and sit on a bunch of eggs.

When I got home from work, I went to check on the chickens and there she was in the nesting box, panting up a storm.  I thought maybe she was just trying to push an egg out in this weather.  Hard work, I imagine.

An hour later, she's still in there.  So I reach in and under her to see what's up.  That's when I found four of the six eggs (one was on the floor, one was with Basement Chicken; aka Favorite; aka Effie; aka Grey Naked Neck).  From what I read on the message boards, I should immediately take her off the eggs and not let her back in the box. 

Fear set in for about a minute, as Buffy is the HBIC.  She's pecked at me before when I tried to mess with her when laying.  I slowly reached in and she let me pick her up.  Uh oh.  This doesn't seem right.

I tried to get her to drink some water, but to no avail.  She just wanted back in the coop, and specifically into the nesting box.  I wouldn't let her.  I shut it down.  I wanted to force her to be outside where it was a little cooler and where the colder water was.  Nope.  She wasn't having it.

Well, dumb chicken.  If she wants to kill herself due to dehydration, who am I to stop her.

Really?  You thought I would let that happen?  Maybe with one of the unnam..., um un-descriptive chickens.

After dinner (my dinner, not hers), I reopened the coop.  She went right back in like I knew she would.  But I had a plan.  I picked her up and brought her to the basement.  Now she can cool off and she and Effie can rebond.  Or fight to the death.  One or the other.

But seriously, my hope is the cool basement (it's like 72 down there) will allow here to stop panting, drink some water and get over her brooding tendencies.  I'll let her back out in the morning if she seems better. I don't want her gone too long.  She worked too hard to be Red's number one girl.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why did the chickens cross the road?

They didn't...they got scared by traffic and ran back into the yard.  Luckily.

The experiment in letting the chickens free-range is going (mostly) well.   They are most active first thing in the morning - they have a few favorite spots under some trees where there are lots of ants and other bugs.  They scratch around and do their chicken thing.

By noon time, they are hot and tired.  The younger chickens rest under the cedar trees that line the east side of the run/coop area.  The older ones hang out in the run or the coop itself.  Then by late afternoon/early evening, everyone is ready for another bug run.

Here's where the experiment is failing me - or rather, the chickens are starting to make a nuisance of themselves in the neighborhood. 

There is a line of trees on the south side of the property.  lots of shade, most ground, dead leaves, etc for them to scratch around in.  They love it under there.  However, it is also right next to the street.  Granted, I lived on a dead end so the only traffic are the people that live up the street.  With the decreased traffic, the kids in the neighborhood tend to come off of Robert St pretty fast and start barrelling down the road.  If they are coming south, they can round the corner and plow into a chicken pretty easily.  Chickens are pretty dumb.

Yesterday (Sunday), this almost happened - except it wasn't a kid.  The car slowed down and the startled chickens ran back up into the yard.  After a few seconds, they didn't know what happened and went back to doing their chicken thing.  But it gave me one more thing to worry about. 

I hope I don't see dead chickens when I get home tonight (other than the ones in the freezer, of course).