chickens, farming, Uncategorized

1 Chick, 2 Chick

When chicks are no longer chicks, but they are not yet hens, they are pullets. Adorable, awkward, patchy feathered, long legged teenagers that are still trying to learn to navigate the world. I got my first four pullets last Saturday¬†and I couldn’t be more in love with them.

Considering the fact that we have not had any new chickens since August, it was more than time to get some new girls for the coop. After losing a clutch of eggs one of my hens had been setting on, I decided that would be the last time we tried raising babies. We need some girls who haven’t quite started laying yet, but are more than a few weeks old to hold their own.

I could raise chicks, it’s doable, but it would require some major renovations. The chickens live in a converted horse barn, so you can imagine there are several gaps in the boards where little babies can slip through.

Plus, if for whatever reason, Mama doesn’t want to raise them, you’re looking at a minimum of one heat lamp – which requires power to the barn, which we don’t currently have – a secure but well ventilated cage for them to grow up in, and food and water that can hang from the ceiling so they can’t knock it over then poop in it. Like I said, major renovations.

Well once I picked up the first batch of 12 week old ‘babies’, that was it. I think I’m hooked. I got two more ducks, then met a lady at Lowe’s on Sunday evening to get five more pullets. I just got back from meeting a girl at Dollar General to get a Buff Bantam Hen and Rooster. Bantam’s are known for being adorably teeny tiny: think pony-to-horse-ratio, except with feathers. Too cute. I named them Leonidas and Queenie, a big name for a little pair.

Last week I met a family at Weigels in the pouring rain to trade homemade strawberry jam for a Barred Rock Rooster and 3 hens. I might have a problem. I AM planning on stopping soon. Honestly, we need some new blood in the coop but we’re not set up for a big-time egg production. At least, not yet.

We do have a smaller chicken coop that Sadie used years ago, it’s near the barn where all the chickens are now, and it’s very old. We found a picture of Uncle Jack in front of it that was taken in 1966, and it didn’t look new even then. It’s a rectangular building, smaller than a one car garage, with a sloped roof and wire windows above the doors. There is a wall down the middle so you can separate different flocks.

With young pullets on the way, I decided to give the smaller coop some much needed TLC. Older, established laying hens aren’t a big fan of teenagers running around, so it’s a good idea to let them do a little growing up before putting everyone together. The smaller coop has a shelf for laying on one side and a perch on the other. The roof had holes and the siding near the ground was soft with rot.

I went to work. We have extra tin from when Sadie re-did the roof years ago, I put that up first. Then I dug around the outside of the coop and replaced several boards that were beyond repair. I nailed baseboards along the outside, then put the dirt back to hopefully deter the lazy predators.

Once I started on the inside, I realized it was a two-day-project. The coop faces east and sits with it’s back on the upper part of the hill. Most of the ground eroded around the front, leaving huge gaps between the front doors and the dirt. I pulled old board, bricks, and blocks out, making a burn pile nearby away from the surrounding trees.

After making such a substantial mess, I dug out and laid more baseboards on the inside. Fresh shavings went down, and that made all the difference. I cleaned the laying buckets out and put new shavings in there too. Then I went to work on the perches.

Chickens go to roost every night. They have poor eyesight in the dark, so they find somewhere way high off the ground to spend the night. Little pullets still sleep on the ground, but they would grow and soon want somewhere safe to roost. Instead of using cut lumber, like we have in the big barn, I found some fallen tree limbs and nailed them to posts on the right side of the coop.

I’m not a carpenter, but when I was finished, it looked fantastic. It looked like a tree house! I went from floor to roof, as the pullets grow, they will begin roosting higher off the ground. Like a feathery graduation.

After hanging the self feeder and water-er, I just needed a yard for the Pullets to spend the day in. As you can imagine, exercise is very important for chickens. Although they won’t lay for a few more weeks, hens need about 8 hours of sunlight to produce an egg. Plus, it’s good for them to scratch around for grass and bugs.

I used some of the chain-link fence panels from when Sadie and I dismantled the dog lot, there were 5 left with one big gate. I prefer wooden posts and chicken wire, but the panels worked just fine! The last thing it needed was a rusty piece of farm equipment. A small hand plow did the trick, and I stopped to survey my work. It was about 6pm, everything looked great, except for the big mess pile. Casey was sleeping on the lumber I didn’t use, and there were bricks, old cool-whip cartons and buckets everywhere.

Scraps of wood went in the burn pile, I stacked the bricks behind the coop (if you live on a farm, you should never throw away extra bricks. Ever. For any reason.) and piled the trash in the trailer that was hooked up to the 4-wheeler. Before I knew it, it was 7:00, and I put a wire dog kennel in the back of Sadie’s van to go pick up my new pullets. I was filthy, sweaty, covered in dirt, and grinning. The best days on the farm end with sore muscles and brand new chickens.

 

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farming, Uncategorized

Butterfly Blvd.

On Saturday, Sadie and I went out. We call it out because we live about 12 miles from anywhere and, to be honest, we don’t get ‘out’ that much. I usually try and consolidate trips, if I’m going out for feed, I’ll pay the electric bill, return library books and swing by walmart too. Because when you get back to the farm, alllll the way back, it’s hard to get up the momentum to go again.

She took care of the horses across the road and I went up to the chicken coop. I have a pretty hen sitting on the nest, I’m not sure how many eggs because every time I peek over there she lets out this awful screeching sound I have never heard of before. I’d rather let her be, Mama’s can get protective you know.

With babies on the way, I knew we needed a safe place to let them grow up. The last batch of babies we had late summer disappeared one by one. And with that fox creeping around, there’s no telling how fast they would go. We have another small coop a few feet from the barn, our neighbor was keeping his chickens there but they’ve since moved. I went to check it out.

Baby Kitty followed me over, there was grass growing from all the seeds they left behind. I poked around for a while, it looked sound – there’s a door between to separate the hens if I needed to. One side had a few buckets full of hay for laying, and the other had a perch made from a long branch. Hanging from the ceiling was a feeder and an aluminum water-er that didn’t look very new.

The feeder had leaves in it, I tipped it over and shook it out. Want to guess what fell out with the leaves? Two baby birds. I felt like a villain. Fortunately, Mom and Dad were out at the grocery store, because I wasn’t immediately dive bombed. They both sounded pitiful, so I didn’t have very long.

One baby hopped off, the other one just lay there, stunned. I scooped him up quick and dropped him back in his upside-down nursery. The sibling was no where to be seen. I ended up leaving the coop, walking around the back, raking through the dry leaves, and there he was. He was so tiny, a little dark brown thing with a yellow beak. He wasn’t bigger than a walnut. I scooped him up and he fit right in the palm of my hand.

I felt his little tiny heart beating like a hummingbird, I dropped him in with his brother/sister and got out of there fast. I haven’t gone back to see if they are still there, because I feel like I did enough damage in 90 seconds than most people do in their whole lives. They had been traumatized enough, they didn’t need to see my big face again and go into a panic. I still haven’t moved Mama Hen either.

So Sadie and I went out, when we passed Gap Creek Middle School, she hit a butterfly. A beautiful Monarch got stuck in her one working wiper blade. We pulled over and I said ‘You killed it!’ She got out and plucked that thing from the car and laid it in the grass. It didn’t look very good. Our track-record today was pretty grim.

We finally made it to White’s Hardware just in time to see everyone else. People were walking around, loading their trucks, looking at plants, chicks, feed, you name it. I followed Sadie right inside to a row of shelves full of oil-pans. Each one was full of different seeds – marbled brown beans, bright yellow corn, pale pumpkin seeds, olive green okra seeds that would fit inside a cheerio, and hundreds more. They were all beautiful.

I grabbed a bag and she grabbed a scoop, and we began to measure out our garden. 1/2 a pound of White Half Runner beans, 1 ounce of Rattle Snake Beans, 1 pound of white sweet corn, 1/2 a pound of okra, we got squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and a big back of fertilizer. We got loaded up and drove across the road to Loveday’s Market.

The Loveday’s live on our road, they operate the produce and plant market from Spring to Fall. Outside are rows and rows of every kind of flower you can imagine, tables full of fresh local produce, all shadowed by hanging flower baskets. We picked out several tomato seedlings and a few pepper plants. I don’t know if you have ever smelled a tomato plant, but they smell like summer. It took me right back to gardening last year, I got so excited I about jumped out of my skin.

We went inside and said hello to Tim, he sold us on a big bucket of fresh strawberries, then we hit the road, snacking the whole way back. I told her about the baby birds, and we decided what we would plant first, and where. It was just another day to some people, a traumatic day for some baby birds, but to me and Sadie – it’s our whole world, I wouldn’t trade it for all the grain in Egypt.

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