Saturday, May 4, 2013

Chicken Run

I didn't get any pictures, and it's dark now, but the chicken run is done!
Today started as a weird day. I went to put the chickens out and they refused to go in their tractor. Usually I can get them to follow me/breakfast and go in, but not today. They wanted none of it. Instead, they started scratching around excitedly all over the place. It rained all day yesterday, so I'm sure there were a ton of bugs and worms out. Eventually, they all piled under the coop (it's raised about 18 inches off the ground). We have it 70% wrapped with fence due to the design of the run area, so we trapped them under there with their breakfast and ran to town for some washers and latches to finish up their run.
During baby's one and only nap (only baby in the WORLD that refuses to sleep while sick), we got the whole bottom portion of the run fenced. We chose to fence it in two sections, a top and bottom section. So once the bottom was totally fenced in, and the latches were on the gate, we opened the blockade and let the girls out to roam in their new area. They loved it. While I tended to sicky baby and lunch and general household duties, Alann worked on the bottom edge of the fence. It was gappy in places, so we put dirt all around it and logs in some areas to hold it down, chickens in, and other animals out. Claire offered to "watch" Elizabeth for me, so I went outside and worked with him. (She did a pretty good job too, and would come out on the deck and tell us when Elizabeth pooped or needed something.) After a while, I tried to put baby back to bed. While she screamed for I dunno, half an hour, we started the top portion of the fencing. She finally fell asleep for like 20 minutes, and we got the rest of the top done. Alann went in (he was going to move the dog fence to a new area to rest the ground in places) and I started using some cage clips to hold the top and bottom pieces of fence together. It went fairly quickly. As I was finishing, he came out and told me he had been holding baby the whole time and had finally slipped away without her noticing. I felt fairly confident about the fence so I went in to tend the kids while he worked on the dog fence.
I would say the run works pretty well. No chickens went missing today, no one escaped, and they even put themselves to bed! I went out after the kids went to bed and they were all tucked in their coop happy as clams. Or rather, happy as very full chickens! I strung some fishing line crossing the top of the run as a hawk deterrent. I wanted bird netting, but haven't gotten any and heard this works too. I may add some CDs as reminders to duck my head and additional deterrents.
While we were working in the run, Alann found a huge ant nest. There was a hill of dirt in the run and we were using that to cover the fence bottom. He dug in and found a bunch of ants. The girls ate them. All of them. In about 2 hours. Some may have escaped, but they were in the same spot for 2 hours straight and kept coming over later in the day to double check. We also saw some new personality features in some of our chicks. The unnamed buff orpington was recently named Sunny by our neighbor girl. It's a fitting enough name and meant I didn't have to name her. She is a pretty bright yellow. Anyway, Sunny figured out pretty early on (even before the ants) that when Alann dug into the hill, he would uncover bugs. So she would stand next to him and politely wait for him to shovel out some dirt, then jump in and eat, then wait again. She followed him all around the run, just waiting for him to uncover more bugs. Later on, I was in the run, not uncovering bugs, and she was following me around too. So she is apparently the smart one and now equates people with food. Even though it was a lot of work, I had a lot of fun too working with and watching the chickens. And I am quite relieved that it's done. It makes life a lot easier. I can take them out to the tractor when I want to, instead of feeling like I need to every day so that they can get out and be chickens.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sad day

It was a tragic day at the Severinsen household today. One of our chickies vanished. Just poof, gone. I put them out in their tractor after church, around 2pm. They've been out in their tractor a lot since it's been  so sunny, and haven't had any problems. At about 5pm, we went out to check on them and see if they were ready to go to bed. And realized that one was gone. We found a spot in the tractor where some feathers were. I honestly didn't even realize she could fit out the hole. Likely what happened was she slipped out and then either went off foraging or tried to get back in but couldn't. They tend to want to stay together and don't like being separated, but she may have gone off to find bugs once she figured out she couldn't get back in. After an exhausting search of the nearby woods and front of the house, I have to conclude she is gone. I held a bit of hope that she would show up before bedtime. So far, nothing. Maybe, just maybe, she will hold her own tonight, and show up tomorrow. Or she wandered so far that a neighbor found her and is taking care of her. But I kind of doubt it. Chances are, something got her. Probably a hawk. I went into this knowing we would lose chickens. That's the nature of raising animals. They die. I think what bothers me the most is that there is NO trace of her. Nothing. Beyond the few feathers where she got out of the tractor, there is nothing. No blood. No body. Nothing.
What makes me the most sad is I had just last week figured out that she was a difference breed than the others. I thought I had 4 Buff Orpingtons. But as they grew up, I realized that she had yellow feet, and the others had white feet. So I looked it up, and sure enough, she was a Buff Rock (A cross between a buff orpington and a plymouth rock I believe). I thought she came out of the assortment bin, but actually queenie and security came from the assortment bins. So her egg must have been mixed in with the other buff orpingtons and nobody caught her feet color. I know I didn't for a long time.  I was really excited to have a different breed bird, even though she was basically the same as the other buffs. We had named her Rarity, since she was one of a kind.
The kids are handling it pretty well. They keep talking about how we need to find her and she will come back. I am gently reminding them that no, she is probably gone. Alex said "we will have to buy another!" No, sorry dude, we aren't going to buy anymore. Maybe a rooster, if I decide I want one to protect the flock. But that won't be until all the girls grow up and I am sure they are girls. Someone has some doubts about Silver. If she turns out to be a he, that would be okay, as long as she/he is friendly. I wouldn't mind a nice white rooster. Especially if it's a Jersey Giant rooster. Those things are huge! 15 pounds I think. She does seem to be growing faster than the others, so even though some people say she's an easter egger, I still think a giant. (I posted her picture on a chicken forum asking for opinions on what breed she was. That's where someone said she looked like a rooster.)
So goodbye sweet rarity. It was nice knowing you. I hope you enjoyed your time with us.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I guess I will start out by explaining why we got chickens. We wanted to. End of story. Just kidding. Okay, I had chickens when I was small and I fondly remember them. Okay, not terribly fondly, but I do remember them. Alann and I have talked about having chickens (and pigs and possibly a cow for that matter) for a long time. It wasn't really easy in Kearns. There were city restrictions and a permit and we were working a lot and Claire was a tiny baby and Alann was in school ALL THE TIME. It just wasn't right. This last winter, we've been collecting various pieces of construction materials from Alann's work. He had to demo a shed at a property, and a lot of good material came from that. So we finally (okay I finally) just said, "let's do it." So we are. We went out and bought some chicks. We created plans for a chicken coop that isn't terribly large (i.e. possibly portable or we can disassemble and move should we need to). We have plans for a run that won't be on established grass, though grass will grow very well when we are done with it (You're welcome Debbie). It's also going to be rather temporary in nature (as Mark and Debbie have no interest in having chickens when they come back). And while we do talk about eventually moving closer to St Louis, we might even long for and pine for it, chances are, it won't happen this year. If we decide we don't like having chickens, fine. We can sell them or eat them. Until then, we will enjoy their company and their eggs.

Ok, the chickies.
I walked in to take a picture and this was the tableau. Like they knew I was coming.  
11 in all- two buff orpingtons for sure, 2 red sex links (so called because you can tell boy from girl at hatch), 2 barred rocks, 2 rhode island reds, 2 likely buff orpingtons (from an assortment bin) and one who knows (from same assortment bin.)
 So, from L to R, starting with the Black one. Bo on the Go (a barred rock and very friendly.) Security Alarm (not sure the breed, probably buff orpington. Called Security because she is RIDICULOUSLY LOUD!). Silver Shadow (yes, named after my dog. Probably a white Jersey Giant. Possibly a Blue Andulusian. Time will tell.) Laying down in front of Silver are one buff orp and one Red Sex Link. They are unnamed at present. The Tiny brown is a Rhode Island Red. Her and her buddy are a week younger than the rest of the flock. They are yet unnamed, because we bought them today. Shh. Alann doesn't know yet. Standing up and staring me down is Queenie. I named her that because she has always been the biggest and while not the leader, is definitely regal. She is the one that likes to sit on the feeders. Laying down in front of her and to the right of her are the other buff orpington and the other red sex link- also unnamed. The black guy laying down is Piggie- another barred rock and so named because she is a piggie. Okay, not really, she is just so friendly and inquisitive that she is constantly the first to come over to any treats I give, and if she likes it, she eats as much as she can before the others catch on. I unfortunately have my doubts about her....girlness. She may be a rooster. I don't remember if I bought sexed pullets or straight run. Okay, I didn't even realize they might sell chickens that were mixed gender! When I was buying chicken feed (and the new chicks) today, I realized that they offer both sexed and straight-run. Straight-run basically means that they don't sex the chicks- they just ship what hatches, boy or girl. The reasons for my doubts are several. 1) Her feathers. Bo is very distinctly stripped already. Piggie- not so much. 2) spots on head are different- Bo is pretty contained, Piggie is spread out (supposedly a tale of maleness). 3) legs are colored differently (also a supposed male trait.) I'm not opposed to a rooster, especially if he is friendly. And Piggie is definitely friendly. Claire LOVES the black chickies, probably because she can tell them apart like I can. She holds them more than any of the others. Piggie likes a good-night cuddle. She hops up on the box and waits for me to pick her up. I'm fairly confident that the rest of the girls are girls. Other than Silver and the Reds. I would ASSUME that the chicks labeled "assorted rainbow layers" would be sexed pullets, and therefore "layers" but what do I know? And the reds I forgot to check the sign when I bought them. They were a bit of an impulse. I LOVED the look of Silver. She was the only one in the box that looked like that. But it felt weird buying one, even though I knew I had more at home to keep her company. And they had rhode island reds, and I wanted reds but they didn't have them when I bought the first set. So I bought them. Apparently, I should not be allowed in the feed store unsupervised. Children do not count as supervision. Claire wanted to buy them all. As far as age- Queenie and Security were shipped the 8th (born on the 7th or 6th), the reds are from the shipment on the 21st so not quite a week, Silver is as big as everyone else, so I will assume they are all from the shipment on the 14th. I didn't see Silver when we bought the rest, but the bin was fairly full.

I've already got them trained. They know that I bring treats. When I come in, Queenie and Piggie immediately come over and stare at me to see if I have something for them. Queenie will eat out of my hand. Piggie will sit in our hands and eat.

Another picture of Silver.
 She is likely a Jersey Giant. The man at the store wasn't sure. She was the only one in the assortment like this. This breed would be nice. A bit of a slow grower, but supposedly a fabulous winter producer. I wanted to get some chicks that would lay during the winter. I don't mind if most of them take the winter off, but I would like some eggs. They are supposedly very friendly and inquisitive. She should be roughly the size of the rest of the girls until the others start laying. She will grow for another month or so after that before she starts laying. If she is a Blue Andulusian, that would be awesome. The original Silver Shadow (my dog) was a blue doberman. We called her Fawnee, because she looked like a fawn (or tan) colored doberman when she was born, then turned blue. She was also called whale, because she had white spots all over her belly, and she was rather portly from having several litters of puppies. Don't I know how she felt! But other than the blue color which is cool, blue andulusians are rather flighty and skittish, so a jersey giant would be better. And her wing tips are already white.

Security in the back, Queenie in the front.
 I don't really know what breed these are. They came out of the "assorted rainbow layers" box, which basically means that the assortment from the hatchery contains birds that lay different colored eggs. So you could buy from just this box and get a colored spectrum of eggs. I think they are buff orpingtons, or some similar cross. I picked them because they were bigger than the others- obviously leftovers from the week before. I really like Queenie. She has such a personality. She doesn't like to be handled by the kids, but she doesn't mind so much when I do it. And she is a stinker- always on the top of the feeder. They may be different breeds. Security is darker in color and Queenie is lighter. Queenie is definitely bigger.

Another of Security, Silver, and Piggie

I feel kind of bad that my 4 generic brown chicks are unnamed- the 2 red sex links and the 2 buff orps. I don't feel bad about the reds yet, because they are new. But they are so not distinguished yet. They don't have much personality yet. And they all look alike. One stripey one is darker than the other. The two buffs might as well be twins to me. I'm considering colored leg bands just to tell them apart. There is one that is constantly coming up to the door for treats. She is a bit braver than the rest. I try to handle all of them every day. Claire loves to "pet the baby chickies!" But she mostly holds the Barred Rocks. And tries to hold Queenie, who doesn't stand for it. So I have to handle all the rest of them. I want them to be friendly and used to humans. But I don't mind. The Barred Rocks actually only got names a few days ago, specifically because Bo got stripes. I kind of wish I had more Barred Rocks. But it's okay. This is my first time. And I talked to a friend of mine that got just barred rocks around the same time we got our assortment, and she said that she wished she had gotten a variety too, as it was her first time and maybe she won't like barred rocks. Either way, I figure one or two might stick around as pets, but most are going in the pot in about 2 years so we can keep egg production high. Cruel? maybe. No, I don't think so. I am giving them a good life- possibly better than they would get with most people. They won't free-range, but they have a decent sized run and I plan on feeding lots of scraps and the best food I can figure out. I'm considering growing mealworms for them (alann says no for now), or at least purchasing them occasionally, along with minnows and other yummy protein sources. What better way to thank me than to make delicious chicken and noodles for some poor sick day in winter a few years from now?

I'm looking forward to the coop being done and the chicks being feathered so I can turn them outside. I'm planning on my coop being as low maintenance as possible- automatic door, high capacity feeders and waterers. I intend to visit and scrap feed daily, but I don't want to get up at dawn to let them out. No thank you. I'm currently trying to figure out a few things. 1) the automatic door. It's proving to be a hassle. 2) What to feed them. I don't like that most (all?) commercial feed (that I can find anyway) use soy as the protein. I am not sold on soy being safe. I will consume it in small quantities, preferably as close to edamame as possible. But for the most part, I don't like the idea of processed soy. Let's not even talk about the fact that most of it is genetically modified. So I am considering a whole grain diet for the birds, supplemented of course with various animal and bug protein sources. We will see how that works out. Right now, they are on chick feed. Unmedicated. But it has soy. But I give them lots of treats. We found some grubs while leveling the ground for their coop. I had the kids help pick them up and put them in a cup, then we had fun feeding them to the chickies. (when we came inside, the grubs warmed up and started moving, so the chickies were a big unsure of what to do with them at first.) Of course Piggie (I assume, this was before names) had the first and second and third grub before anyone else was brave enough. But soon it was a full on chicken war with keep away and running back and forth. It was great. I love watching them. I find them generally soothing and funny. I definitely don't enjoy cleaning out their current house (Tanner's kennel). I have to clean it every 2 days or so. Or it smells. Like Chicken. And not in the delicious way. So I am looking forward to them being outside. But otherwise, I enjoy them. They are pretty neat. I was looking at pictures today to put up here and it's amazing how much they have changed since we got them just a few weeks ago. We already opened up the whole kennel for them. We started them off in just half. They are definitely bigger and more feathered. Queenie is losing most of her fluff. She and Security are almost all feather now. The other buffs and sex links are catching up in feathers, though queenie and security are still much larger. I love that Silver is about the same size as the barred rocks. And then we have the cute tiny reds, that are so fluffy and cute you just want to squish their little chickie cheeks and give them kisses. (which we don't do, by the way. No one wants salmonella, thank you very much. We take hygeine very seriously and the kids know to "hanitize" (Claire saying hand sanitizer) before handling and wash with soap and water afterwards. I tried to enforce soap and water before and after, but that ended quickly. So I will be content with the current situation. Baby is not allowed to touch chickies at all, and no one is allowed to touch baby if they are touching chickies. 

Oh, and any rooster that attacks me or my kids gets the pot. Immediately. 
Whew, that's the longest post I've written in a while!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Death by tiny razor claws

So I've decided, if I ever get to choose the way I die, death by a million tiny paper cuts will NOT be it. Why you ask? While nursing, baby has taken to lovingly scratching the tar out of whatever tender flesh she can sink her claws into. My breasts are obviously favorites and easy targets, but she also likes the back of my arms and on occasion my face. It doesn't matter what I do. I've cut her nails, given her things to hold (which she then hits me with), covered her in a blanket with hands outside the blanket (so she can't reach my skin), held her hands. Nothing makes her stop. I'm already at that point where I feel like "OK kid, you've been calling the shots with my body for 18 months. I'm ready to take it back for myself." This doesn't help me want to continue nursing. And she will take a bottle from me now, so I have no real reason to keep nursing. (Other than the obvious benefits: no bottles to wash, no formula to buy, no worrying about if I have enough water or formula or a bottle when I leave the house, no formula to run out of, or if we get caught out of the house for longer than I am expecting I can just feed her again without a problem). And a million tiny scratches don't give me any incentive. She also likes to pinch. I can't decide which is worse. 
Alex weaned around now because he just lost interest so supply quickly declined. I though Elizabeth was starting to do that too, but she seems to have rebounded, and is sleeping through the night without a bottle of formula. So onward we go. One more month and she will be my longest nurser.